(unedited first draft)
Chapter 1 sneak peak
Miranda swallowed hard at the gritty command. She was not supposed to be here. As days went, it had been ordinary. Get up. Go to work. Fantasize about Eli. Go home.
Only that last part hadn’t quite gone to plan.
When the evacuation alarm in the office tower of BACE Corp had blared just after the lunch hour, clearing the building, Miranda had set up a temporary headquarters in the café of a neighboring building. Eli didn’t stop work just because there might be a fire. It was after seven by the time the fire department had declared it a false alarm. When Eli told her to go the hell home, it was much later.
And now this.
That morning she’d tossed Anilisa the keys to their old v-wagon before walking out the door. Ani had a late class on Tuesdays and if one of them had to walk home in the dark, Miranda figured it was one of those jobs that fell to the eldest. But really, who liked walking to the subway in rain that resembled sludge, at eleven o’clock on a New York City night?
No one sane. Or with an ounce of self-preservation.
So when Eli offered her a ride home she’d locked down the flutters in her stomach and accepted. It was the sensible decision. Really, it was.
Who would ever expect they’d be abducted?
“Strip.” The gritty command came again, spoken by the taller of the two bastards who had taken them.
“No.” Miranda’s denial was instinctive and for a moment she was proud of how strong it sounded. Until he backhanded her.
It cracked across her face and she tasted blood.
Tears rose, but she ground her teeth against the pain and they subsided. Oh God, they’re going to rape me. It was her first, panicked-stricken thought. Her second, which only followed after two deep breaths, was the realization that they’d been talking to both of them. As enticing as her boss undeniably was she doubted they were after Eli’s body.
“Miranda. Just do it.”
Two more thoughts surfaced as she looked over at Eli. Nike sure had come up with a winner in that little slogan—she was understandably a little fucking frazzled, okay?—and Elijah had never called her Miranda before.
Granted, she’d only worked for him for eight months, but it was always, ‘Miz Mann.’ Neither of them had ever commented on how much he liked drawling her name, never mind he wasn’t from the south.
She looked at him. His features were set in an unfamiliar expression. Reassurance. She swallowed and unconsciously her tongue flicked over her cupid’s bow as her hands went to the top button on her blouse.
Yep. She really shouldn’t be here.
And the last thought that filled her head was one that affected her in a way that none of the others had. If she wasn’t here, Eli would be alone.
Elijah looked at Miranda, careful to keep his expression from revealing the depth of his fury. Not at her. Never at her. He would give anything to spare her this humiliation. He could see the shock in her eyes and the red mark across her soft cheek. The sight of it made him fucking ballistic, but he kept it in check. Couldn’t risk her because of some territorial overreaction.
But he was keeping tally and restitution was due. Not because they’d taken him, although it was reason enough, but no one messed with Mira.
And that slap was the least of their worries.
He couldn’t ditch the image of them holding a gun to her head. It was burned into his brain.
A small part of him was locked down, biding his time to kick his own ass, as well. He’d been wary when the town car had turned down an unexpected side road, but all of his focus had been on the fact that Miranda was in his car, and how he could get her from that seat over there, to this seat over here.
That inattention cost him.
He was unprepared when the car abruptly stopped, the doors were opened and Miranda was hauled out and dropped to the pavement. She was so damned tiny and they threw her down like dirty laundry.
He’d lunged out the door after her but was cut off by the two dead men standing in front of them now. He’d fought. And as ex-special forces he knew how to fight, but they weren’t novices, and they weren’t unprepared. He’d yelled at her to run and moved to cut them off. But she didn’t stand a chance. Before she could even pick herself up from the pavement a third asshole had dragged her upright. He’d held a nine mil under her chin, forcing her head up and onto his shoulder, exposing the vulnerable arch of pale skin.
And the moment they had her, they had him.
Now they were sedately driving away in the back of a big black delivery van.
Eli watched Miranda.
Her hands hesitated at the top button of her damp blouse. She swallowed—hard—and colour flushed her cheeks. She was about to strip bare with three men watching her, two of whom had abducted her, and one who was her boss.
They were after GPS transmitters, but he couldn’t tell her that. They were a common security measure, tiny and easily embedded in electronics or clothing. As a corporation that dealt with personal and national security, Bace used them with their own clients. Fucked and oh-so-fucked obviously wanted to dispose of any he was carrying before his security sent a response team. That wasn’t good. It meant they weren’t just organized, they were experienced. It was why they were making Miranda strip, even though they had to know he’d never given her a ride home before. When he’d seen her leave the front of the Tower instead of exiting from the basement car park, where she unknowingly occupied his former space, conveniently near the elevator bank, but also the security room, he hadn’t been able to pass up the opportunity. Goddam his dick.
They were too well trained not to take Mira’s presence in stride. But that kind of training taught you to err on the side of caution. Either way, they’d already slapped her once for refusing. Protesting wouldn’t change what was about to happen. It would only reveal more about what she meant to him than was wise. They were both going to have to obey.
Only thing was, all eyes were on Miranda.
Eli unclenched his fist, concealing his feelings. He couldn’t stop this, but maybe, subtly, he could help her through it. He reached for his jacket at the same time he added this latest offense to the score card.
Miranda watched, hands frozen in front of that first button as Eli shrugged his suit jacket off.
It fell to the floor.
He loosened his tie and pulled it free, the material sliding against his shirt collar. Then he began to unbutton his shirt, starting at his cuffs. His grey eyes met hers and she could see all sorts of messages there that she couldn’t interpret, but when he gave her an almost imperceptible nod, she understood.
Her hands began to slowly undo the first seed pearl at her throat. She watched Elijah undo one of his buttons and she undid one of hers.
One of his.
One of hers.
He didn’t rush, just moved from one button to the next. She followed him, until her shirt hung open to reveal white lace softly cupping her curves. Eli pulled his shirt off and, taking a deep breath she followed, telling herself her demi bra bared no more skin than a modest bikini.
Eli’s hands moved to his belt. He began to unbuckle it. His eyes were impassive but locked on Miranda as she pulled off her blouse, baring sweet C-cups in a brassiere that shouldn’t have looked nearly as wicked as it did. Eli pulled his belt free and moved on to the fly of his pants. He flicked open the button and slid down the zipper.
Her hands went to the side closure of her knee-length skirt, unzipping it. But she couldn’t let it go. It would just fall to the ground. Her hands clenched in the fabric.
Eli toed off his shoes. Then, bracing a hand against the wall to steady himself against the motion of the van, he brought one foot up at a time, stripping off his socks and letting those too fall. She couldn’t take her shoes off so easily. They were buckled on to her feet and she’d have to bend down to undo them, letting go of her skirt.
She watched Eli slip his thumbs into the waistband of his pants, lower them down his hips to the floor and step out of them.
She swallowed. Longed to reach out and trace the line of his hip bone. She’d often imagined him sans clothes. Never mind that his stripping was done in a clinical, expedient manner. On a visceral level, she reacted to the very sexy sight of Elijah Kane in black jockey shorts. But she was so damn scared she rigidly controlled it, showing in neither expression nor reaction that he’d done it to her again. Even now.
Privately she compared it to the El Niño effect. Although she called it the ‘El Kane’ effect. He made her mouth dry up like a drought and wetness flood down south. How she could be thinking about it now she didn’t know—but she had been having considerable trouble with her thoughts since this whole thing started.
She saw him look at her and knew what she had to do.
She let go.