Some people would think being stuck on a private island is heaven, but this is my hell.
Because I'm not here as a guest. Not even close. I'm a prisoner. I'm his.
Julius King. Powerful. Wealthy. Dangerous.
There are parts of me he wants that I can't give him. When he looks at me, there are times I swear he sees someone else. And the scary part is that sometimes, when he touches me, I think he may be someone else, too.
Though my body might be tempted, and he might control everything else, I can't let him have any piece of my heart. I won't. But every day, the fight gets harder, and Julius manages to slip past my defenses in the most unexpected ways.
I have to find out the truth about Julius King. Even if it destroys me.
This book is approximately 81,000 words
One-click with confidence. This title is part of the Carina Press Romance Promise: all the romance you're looking for with an HEA/HFN. It's a promise! Find out more at CarinaPress.com/RomancePromise
A twig creaks. I jerk upright in the swing seat, where that day has been rolling through my mind like a snippet of a movie reel that’s been hacked to pieces, then glued back together.
Him—the reason I’ve spent the last three years in this tropical Caribbean prison.
Leaves crunch. He wants me to hear him coming. Julius enjoys anticipation.
I brush my dress over my knees. Pale blue chiffon picks up with the breeze. “Hello, Julius.”
“Good morning, baby.” He reaches my side and bends down and plants his lips on my cheek.
My eyes close for an instant. His kiss is deceptively warm, but then, hell is warm, no surprise the devil should be too.
“I’ve brought you something.”
The bitterness of his cologne coats my breaths. Like everything about him it’s a bit too much.
He leans closer, his watch right by my face.
Tick, tick, tick.
One tick to every two of my heartbeats.
He lays a rolled-up newspaper in my lap. I don’t open the paper.
“Have dinner with me tonight.”
Not a question, but then, nothing he says ever is.
My gaze collides with his. It’s like looking into the wind, makes me want to blink and look away.
“We’re having guests.” The corners of his eyes wrinkle. “I’m trusting you’ll be polite company.”
“Have I ever been anything else?”
He smiles his serpent smile and takes my chin between his thumb and forefinger. “No, you’re perfect.”
I’d bite him, but he has a nice firm grip on my lady-balls, and he knows it.
Leverage. He has it—I don’t.
It’s the reason why, even if I could escape, even if he didn’t control all transport on and off the island, I’d still stay.
Everything here is in his control, even me.
Except for one thing.
I smile back at him, a real smile. There’s something I have that he doesn’t. Something that makes me want to gloat. Captivity has made me petty.
“Thanks.” I keep that satisfaction inside.
There’s a reason visitors make me giddy. There’s one thing I know that Julius doesn’t. There’s something that gives me hope.
“Dinner’s at five.” He releases my chin.
His sharp gaze disappears under the aviator sunglasses he slides over the bridge of his nose. I watch him leave, and wait until he’s rounded the corner to the house.
Only when he’s completely out of sight, I unwind the newspaper. He gives me many gifts, and on Fridays it’s always this. A weekly recap of a world moving along without me. It’s been rolled for too long and tries to curl back in on itself. I scan the headlines, flicking through the features and articles. Royals got married. A celebrity named their baby something that’ll plague the poor kid for the rest of eternity. Politicians broke election promises and sports happened. I circle back through the paper, trying to suck in this one taste of the outside world I ever get.
I scan one more time, pausing over my horoscope. “Do you really require the messages your forecast reveals? You have all the answers the cosmos can provide. Connect with your intuitive—”
I sigh and turn the page. What happened to the days when I could rely on the little strip in the back of the paper to tell me something useful, or at least hopeful—like to expect a tall dark stranger to sweep me off my feet? Please bring back that astrologer now. As much as I like my feet rooted in the dirt, I’ve spent the last three years praying for the stranger.
Some small clue.
Now not even my fortune can be bothered pretending to reveal a sign. I close the paper, and fold it in half. Run my finger over the date.
My finger stills. I can’t move it from the number. I don’t want to see. Math was never my subject but I get this math right away.
I drag my finger aside.
I have exactly one month left until the first of October. The ticking in my head clicks louder than his watch had.
I’m almost out of time.
* * *
For a man with a fully staffed private island, it’s surprising the things Julius insists on doing himself. He likes to cook. More specifically, he likes to barbecue. Fat hisses on the grill. My tongue moistens despite myself. The empty plate in front of me seems bigger, somehow more empty. No one does meat like Julius.
He’s a master of flesh.
I’ve seen him butcher a calf himself. Make his own sausage, hang and cure charcuterie. I’ve watched him massage salt into a whole pig with his hands—impale lambs for the spit.
Today his table is full. So the barbecue will be too.
Unfortunately, I know all the faces crowding the twelve-seat outdoor setting. None of them are ones I care to see. Next to me, Dan pops the lid on a beer. His third. Don’t know why he bothers, it’s nonalcoholic. Not that Dan doesn’t enjoy his drink. I’ve seen the man stumble back to the table with piss on his jeans when he’s “off duty,” which isn’t often. Even off duty, Julius’s Men are always Julius’s Men.
And Julius likes his men and his muscle sober.
I glance at him briefly. He’s so big it’s heinous. Yet, for a guy who occasionally pisses on himself, I’ve seen those thick arms move quick enough to shoot a glass out of a person’s hands as they’re drinking. Unlike Julius, this snake doesn’t cover its scales. He wears jeans, and T-shirts that leave enough skin bare to let everyone know exactly how much time he’s done. Some days, if he’s had to stay over unexpectedly, when he lifts his arm to take a swig of his nonalcoholic beer, the odor alone is enough to knock a person dead.
No disguises, he’s a thug.
Julius lifts a T-bone with the prongs of his meat fork, then drops it onto the grill. A wave of smoke drifts over us. I wave my hand in front of my face, then reach for a glass of orange juice. The tang cleanses my palate. Sweet, and full of pulp I have to chew. Fresh-squeezed by Pa, the elderly man sitting two seats from me on the left. The seat between Pa and me remains empty. I set the juice next to the glass of wine beside my plate, untouched as always.
“Potato?” Dan hands me the stainless-steel bowl filled to the brim with potato salad. I take the bowl but pass it past Pa, who I know full well doesn’t believe in mayonnaise, to Leo.
Leo, Julian’s younger muscle, takes the potato salad without looking. He knows his eyes don’t belong on me. All of them do.
Almost all of them.
Julius joins us at the table with a platter full of meat. He serves his guests first. Jack Connelly and his five “brothers.” Then me. He lays a steak on my plate. Rib eye. Meat of the day is T-bone, but I have rib eye. My favorite, cooked medium how I like it. He’s never asked me to choose a cut, never asked me how well I prefer meat cooked, but he knows.
He had my tastes figured out in the first month. I can’t begin to think what he’s learned about me in three years.
“Thank you,” I say.
I give him only detached politeness. Formality. While he figures out my personal tastes, I figure out how little I can give him before he feels the need to reel me closer.
It’s a game—push-pull-push.
Julius always being the pusher.
He dishes up meat to his men, Dan, Leo, Pa and the new guy. I don’t look at the new guy. He hasn’t learned the rules yet and frankly I’ve got no desire to watch him bleed, despite the fact that if he’s working for Julius, he most likely has it coming.
The table’s split six to six.
Julius prefers things that way—even.
Even or in his favor.
He places a dripping steak on his own plate, then puts the meat tray in the center of the table with the mountains of other food.
My spine creaks more than his chair when he sits.
Dan used to sit where I’m sitting. Before I “came along.” Now I sit here, on Julius’s right. Yep, I’m his right-hand girl. I’ve brought nothing to this table, contributed nothing, but here I sit at his right.
I stretch for the garlic butter, and fork a large knob on top of the rib eye. You can bet your sweet ass I don’t hold back on that stuff. Never know when a girl might need a little garlic breath on her side. Male voices laugh and boom across the table, joining a chorus of scraping knives and clinking glasses.
They don’t speak to me, so I don’t speak either.
One of them, the stupid new one, watches me, though. He’s careful. Only glancing at me for a heartbeat or two before moving on.
But I don’t miss that throbbing pause. If he’s not careful, neither will Julius. He’s too stupid to live, that one. I make new guy a black spot in my vision. Don’t see him. Don’t hear him. When I look around the table, it’s like that chair is vacant.
“Something wrong with your steak, baby?”
The voices around us dull. Everything grows quieter when Julius speaks.
I set down my fork, one untouched morsel on the tines. “It’s a little overdone.”
It’s not, it’s perfect. No steak would ever suffer overcooking in Julius’s care. I don’t smirk. By some divine miracle the satisfaction stays under wraps.
“You should have said something.” He leans closer, leans right over me. “You know I’ll always take care of you.” His voice is low, dropped down to some husky key that seems to be reserved solely for me. My breath hiccups. Yes, he takes care of me. Every single moment of every single day. It’s Julius who feeds me. He who clothes me. He who keeps me safe.
He who can take all away.
He drags the steak off my plate with his fork, and tosses it onto the grass with a sharp swing of his arm. Not on a plate or in the bin, onto the lawn that looks as though it’s been trimmed by a thousand leprechauns with nail clippers, not a blade out of place.
Julius did that. Julius, who likes everything just so.
My pulse pounds in my ears like it’s trying to tell me something. I’ve heard this same thudding warning for years.
Watch out, watch out, watch out.
My heart doesn’t seem to realize I never stopped doing just that.
He cuts his T-bone, then scoops half up. Blood drips in the space between us. He drops the cut on my plate. So rare it’s almost blue.
I stare at his arm.
His shirtsleeves are rolled up, his right arm exposed to the elbow. That’s the benefit of sitting on his right. I get his clean side. Don’t have to stare at the evil thing on his neck. Dark hairs run down his forearm to his wrist, growing finer as they bridge the top of his hand. I wonder how far I’d get if I rammed my fork in that arm—right in his wrist joint—if I just lodged it right in there...
How long would it take for him to reach for the gun at his side?
How far could I get?
To the dock, maybe, with the help of a little adrenaline? Before Danny boy got to me. Before I remembered that every way off this island is Julius’s.
Before I remembered the other things keeping me here.
“Happy?” There’s that soft personal tone again, and it’s impossible not to hear. Impossible not to catch the switch when he speaks to me.
I look at him, something like a smile biting the corners of my lips. “Thank you, Julius.”
He turns back to his guests. The Connellys all sit together on the other side of the table. Jack Connelly in the middle. If Jack is here, it means one thing—today’s business is guns.
The kind Julius carries around tucked in the back of his pants.
Until I met him, I’d never seen a handgun.
I’d seen plenty of shotguns. At home even our gardener walked around with one on his back. Growing up, I thought everyone who worked on acreage carried a shotgun. Dad told me they were for snakes. Yet, in all my years, I never saw a single snake.
But then, there were a lot of men with a lot of guns on our ranch to keep them at bay.
Now I know they were always waiting for a different kind of snake.
After spending years imagining fictional adventures, Amber finally found a way to turn daydreaming into a productive habit. She now spends her time in a coffee-fuelled adrenaline haze, writing romance with a thriller edge.
She lives with her husband and children in semi-rural Australia, where if she peers outside at the right moment she might just see a kangaroo bounce by.
Amber is an award winning writer, Amazon Bestselling Author, and member of Romance Writers of Australia, Melbourne Romance Writers Guild, and Writers Victoria.