STANDALONE (But Spin-off from The Forbidden Men Series)
Contemporary Adult Romance
Orginally published 28 December 2022
4-Flame Sensuality Rating
How do you make yourself fall in love with someone?
After his family friend, Chloe Ryan, is traumatized by a disturbed ex-boyfriend, Luke Hamilton is "encouraged" to step up and be the kind of partner she needs. Problem is, he's never been in love before. He's not one to give up on much of anything, though. His stubborn, competitive nature, mixed with the dutiful loyalty he inherited from his parents, makes it impossible for him to say no. And romancing Chloe becomes priority number one.
But his feisty contender gives him the challenge of a lifetime when she'd rather argue with him than accept a simple compliment. Chloe demands honest, genuine feelings from someone before she'll even think about opening her heart again, and since Luke refuses to back down from his determined quest, he decides to grow some feelings.
Except, uh, yeah? That's easier said than done since he has no idea how to even begin the process of falling.
Chloe is a simple woman with simple wants. All she'd like is to work her job, find a partner to share her life with, and then grow a family with him.
But apparently, that's just too much to ask for. After her ex kidnaps and terrorizes her, Chloe is suddenly put on six weeks of leave from her job to recover, she can't handle it when anyone touches her to even consider dating again, and her big dream of the simple life seems more impossible to reach than ever.
Until Luke bulldozes his way into the picture, determined to help her through her rough patch and promising her everything she's ever wanted.
The problem is Chloe loved Luke way back when she was young, and no one's ever broken her heart the way he did when he didn't even notice her in return. No way is she going to risk more heartbreak at his hands now. And so Chloe becomes just as determined to push him away as he is to stick by her side.
Let the battle of wills begin.
Well, it was official.
My taste in men sucked ass.
I sent a glare to the handcuffs that were holding my wrists prisoner and forcing my arms out to either side of me, and I blew at a bloody clump of hair that kept getting into my eyes. But movement like that with my mouth caused pain to scream through my jaw because I’m pretty sure Dax had dislocated it.
I whimpered in misery and closed my eyes, feeling a tear trickle down my cheek and drip into my ear.
At least, I think it was a tear. Could’ve been blood. That eye felt pretty fucked up, so who really knew what was dripping from it.
Whatever it was, now I had a wet ear on top of everything else.
Didn’t that just take the cake?
It beat focusing on the fact that I was chained, spread eagle and fully naked to the freezing concrete basement floor of my psycho stalker ex-boyfriend’s house, though. And I had no idea what he’d done to my friend, Lucy, and her newborn baby while I’d been unconscious. I mean, were they okay? Were they even alive? Had Dax even taken them too?
Panic tended to get the best of me whenever I thought too long about all that, though. So I went back to being annoyed about the tear—or blood…whatever it was—in my ear, while simultaneously listening for approaching footsteps overhead and wondering when he would return for more...cleansing...as he had called it.
I was still shivering and soaking wet from his last round of “getting all of the other men off me.” He had turned a water hose my way and doused me good, from head to toe with icy coldness, nearly drowning me in the process, before he’d scrubbed my skin raw with soap and one of those long, car-wash brushes. Then, he’d soaked me again, rinsing the suds away.
And I hadn’t gotten any wetness in my ears during all that, although plenty had gone up my nose and into my mouth, which I had to admit, was way worse.
Ugh, okay. Fine...
The wet ear was nothing compared to everything else. But now I was thinking about everything else again.
Lucy and the baby seriously better be okay, or…
The panic returned. A sob tore its way from my raw, dry throat. I was going to start hyperventilating any moment if I didn’t get my shit together. And that was going to help absolutely nothing.
Come on, Chloe, I gave myself the mental pep talk I knew I needed. Get it together now. You’re doing okay. You’re alive, not currently being tortured, and at least he hasn’t raped—
The floorboards above me creaked.
My entire body jolted in fear, knowing all the positive bullet points I’d just listed to myself could go bye-bye any moment.
I swallowed harshly and held my breath, my muscles tensing as I peered up at the ceiling, praying that Dax wouldn’t return for more.
The top step creaked, and I freaking whimpered.
Dammit, I had told myself I wasn’t going to snivel, moan, or cry, no matter what happened. I wasn’t going to break.
But the footsteps moved faster down the stairs as if he were jogging. And dread screamed through my ears as I went into distress, my skin prickling with cold fear, and my heart beating so hard that it made my vision blur.
He called something through the door, but I couldn’t hear his actual words over the terror pounding through my ears. And then the knob twisted. The portal swung open.
I gasped hoarsely, straining against my bonds, desperate to escape.
But when he just stood there in the doorway, gaping at me, I finally blinked him into focus long enough to realize he wasn’t my kidnapper at all.
It wasn’t Dax.
“Luh…” I gasped, unable to slur anything else. All the air had vacated my lungs.
Having known this person’s face my entire life, I blinked at it, certain I was hallucinating.
But it was definitely him. It was even his mellow baritone I heard when he uttered, “Mother of God,” as he looked me over in stunned horror.
And that finally helped me find my own voice box.
“Wha…what the hell are you doing here?”
He sighed at my demand, then stepped into the room and shut the door behind him before swaggering forward. “Oh, you know, I was just in the neighborhood. Thought I’d pop by and see what’s up.” When his gaze met mine, he rolled his eyes. “What the fuck do you think I’m doing here? I’m here to save you.”