Alpha, p.6
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       Alpha, p.6

         Part #1 of Alpha series by Jasinda Wilder
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On the coffee table was a manila file folder. Steven. I sat down on the edge of the couch and pulled the folder onto my lap. I hesitated, and then flipped it open. Front and center was a close-up photograph of Steven, taken with a zoom lens from a distance. The look in his eyes was…feral. Evil. Scary. Nothing like the gentle way he’d always looked at me…at first. The next page was a dossier, personal information on Steven. I perused it briefly, then flipped the page. I nearly dropped the folder, so surprised was I at the next photograph. It was of a young woman with blonde hair, but that was about all I could make out of her features. She’d been beaten bloody, unrecognizable. I had to choke back my own horror. The next photograph was of her as well, of her body. She was naked in the photograph, and she had a terrifying array of welts, bruises, contusions where she’d been actually whipped, it looked like, the kind of wound you’d see in a movie showing someone being flogged. The wounds covered her from head to foot, on her arms, legs, back, thighs, stomach, br**sts….

  There was a whole series of photographs of different women with similar injuries. All of them were blonde-haired and blue-eyed, similar in age to me, similar even in body shape. There were medical reports on each of them, and even a few copies of police reports. Those were the most terrifying. They read exactly how I would have described the beginning of my relationship with Steven—how I had described it. Except with them, it didn’t stop where mine had. The women described how he’d talked them into things gradually, eventually getting them to agree to be tied up, handcuffed, bound in some way, and that was when he began to truly hurt them, starting with little slaps and moving to punches, kicks, using whips and canes, all sorts of awful things. I couldn’t finish reading after learning about one girl who had been permanently blinded in one eye.

  I closed the file and set it on the coffee table, hands shaking, stomach roiling. He’d been telling the truth. If not for him, for his interference—or help, more accurately—which I’d never even known about, I’d be another series of photographs in this file.

  It took a long time before I was able to stand up and finish my exploration of my rooms.

  I moved through the doorway beside the wet bar and found myself in a bedroom, which also featured a floor-to-ceiling wall of glass. There was a four-poster bed with a full canopy, the same thick cream carpeting under foot, an enormous armoire, and a sitting area near the glass wall, two simple but comfortable-looking chairs and a small table, the kind of furniture that is understated but insanely expensive. There was no television, which was fine by me, as I wasn’t much for TV. I opened the armoire and found it to be full of my underclothes, yoga pants, and sleep tees. A single doorway opposite the glass wall led to a marble and tile palace of a bathroom. The glass wall theme continued, with a jetted soaking tub set into a pedestal near the window, a sprawling vanity already stocked with all my makeup, my brushes, my hair dyer. There was a tiled shower with an incredible-looking rainfall showerhead, also stocked with all my shower supplies from home.

  Another door led to a walk-in closet bigger than my bedroom, bathroom, and living room combined. The walk-in closet was so big it had its own sitting area: an island with shelves containing all of my shoes and purses, a three-way full-length mirror, and a glass-fronted case containing all of my jewelry. My clothes were all hung up together, taking up one tiny little corner of the closet. The rest of the space? Stocked with dresses, skirts, blouses, jeans…all brand-new, with tags, in my size, from all of the most expensive stores in the world. The scariest part? They were all my style. I’d gladly wear every single item in this closet.

  I had to sit down as I considered the implications of what I was seeing.

  He’d moved me in. Everything I owned was here. He knew my sense of fashion, which kinds of dresses and tops I’d like, and I’d seen an entire section of the closet devoted to lingerie. I’d not examined the lingerie, but I assumed it was all in my size. I was close to hyperventilating again.

  It took serious effort, but I got control of my breathing, calmed my ever-present panic enough to function, and went back into the bathroom. I wanted the taste of Scotch out of my mouth. I found my toothbrush in a little cup, along with my own half-used tube of Crest toothpaste, the end crimped and rolled partway up. It was beyond bizarre to see my toothpaste and toothbrush here, in this bathroom. I pushed away my emotions as best I could and brushed my teeth, rinsed, and used the mouthwash—again my own third-empty bottle of Listerine.

  I remembered watching Harris pack my clothes, but how had my other belongings gotten here and unpacked? He’d stuffed my clothes rather hurriedly into a suitcase and herded me out the door, and then taken me directly to the airport. So very strange. It was undeniably impressive, but creepy and unsettling.

  With my teeth brushed, my makeup retouched, and my hair fixed, I went back out into the living room of my suite and stood at the window, staring out at the view of the city and trying to get a handle on my own emotions.

  Obviously, my strongest emotion was fear. I’d been “collected” without warning, flown across the country, and brought to the palatial penthouse home of some wealthy, secretive man who claimed to own me, and who knew every detail of my life, who knew everything about me, down to my taste in clothes. I didn’t know his name, and I didn’t know what he looked like.

  But his voice…god, his voice. Every word he spoke felt intentional, thought-out, carefully chosen and perfectly enunciated. He could go from warm and tender and personal and intimate to sharp as a razor and ice-cold. His voice caressed, hypnotized, penetrated.

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  I knew the feel of his hands. He had big hands, strong hands. My entire hand had fit easily in his palm, his fingers easily closing around mine. His voice came from above me, it seemed, so I imagined him to be fairly tall.

  I was curious. I wanted to know what he wanted from me. Why me? That was the biggest question I had. Why me? He’d watched me for “a long time,” he’d said, and the depth of his knowledge about me made it clear that he wasn’t lying or exaggerating. But yet, despite this, I’d never, ever sensed his presence in my life. Never had the feeling of being followed or watched, except for those few times that he’d already explained. He’d never interfered with my life, never sent creepy letters or made stalker phone calls. When I’d been in the most direly desperate straits of my life, he’d…saved me, and claimed to not want financial repayment.

  And he’d also promised that he wouldn’t force sex on me. He just wanted me to…what? I still didn’t know. Be here? Have bizarre blindfolded conversations, blindfolded dinners and cocktail hours? Be his non-sexual blindfolded mistress? He had a housekeeper, so I doubted he was going to try to turn me into some odd Cinderella, doing his laundry or whatever. So what did he want? Just me, it seemed. I couldn’t make heads or tails of what it was he actually wanted me to do, and I had a feeling I’d never figure it out. I’d only discover that through experience.

  And yet, for all my fear, I realized—if I examined my own emotions honestly—that I felt no sense of danger. I didn’t feel threatened by him. I didn’t feel like he was crazy or unstable. Eccentric, surely. Strange and reclusive, definitely. But…dangerously unbalanced? The kind of stalker who would leave me in dismembered packages in a refrigerator? No.

  So…the arrangement? Was I going to go along with his wishes? Obey him? Or go home, and return to being one step away from destitution?

  I couldn’t do that. Cal was depending on me. I loved my little brother. He was all I really had, and he needed me. He deserved the best chance at a normal life that I could give him. Cal was a smart, good-looking kid with a solid head on his shoulders. He could go places. He was studying filmmaking, and I’d seen some of his pieces; he was talented, and I could see him making it in Hollywood. But I’d have to make sure he finished college. He was already working as much as he could and still go to school. He was a determined kid, and I knew if worse came to worst, he’d find his own way…
but I was his big sister, and I’d been his only real parent figure since he was eleven. Mom was helpless, and would never recover. Ravenwood was the best place for her. If I couldn’t pay the bills, she’d end up a ward of the state and would be moved to some shitty nursing home where she very likely would be abused by the staff. I couldn’t let that happen. And, finally, Dad was seven years dead.

  I’d already made my decision. When I let Harris put that blindfold on me in the vestibule outside the front doors, I’d made my choice. I wouldn’t back out now. I couldn’t. This was for my mother and brother.

  And…yes, for myself. I wanted to know more about this mysterious man who now owned me.

  So, with a deep breath, I touched the intercom button. “Eliza? I’m ready. ”

  3

  FIRST KISS

  Eliza was a short and slender Hispanic woman with thick black hair tied back in a long braid that was gray at the temples. She wore a simple uniform of black slacks, a black button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up to her elbows, and practical black clogs. She had kind, intelligent brown eyes that looked me over in a thorough assessment.

  “I am Eliza,” she said in her lightly accented voice. “If you are ready now, I will escort you to the dining room. ”

  “Sounds good. ” I extended my hand. “I’m Kyrie. ”

  “It is my pleasure to meet you, miss. ” She nodded at me, inclining her upper body slightly, a vaguely formal gesture. “This way, please. Would you like a tour?”

  I nodded. “Sure. ”

  She led me out of my room and into a hallway. The floors were dark wood, polished to a gleam. I followed Eliza to the end of the hallway and into what I realized was the room I’d sat in with him. I was really irked by not having any kind of name to use, even in my own thoughts. It was a small sitting room with two deep leather chairs and a small table. On one wall was a side table that held a silver tray, a decanter of dark amber liquid, and three crystal tumblers. I’d broken one of those glasses, I realized with dismay.

  “I’m sorry about the glass,” I said.

  Eliza shrugged. “It is no matter. It was just a glass. ”

  “Just a glass? Those look like crystal. ”

  She nodded. “Yes. ”

  “It wasn’t, like, a family heirloom, or anything, was it?”

  Eliza shook her head. “No, nothing like that. Please, do not worry. Such things are no matter to him. Possessions can be replaced, and he does not put high value on mere objects. ” She gestured at the sitting room, the foyer, and the hallway leading back the way we’d come. “You’ve seen this area, then. Follow me, please. ”

  From what I’d seen so far, Eliza was a quiet, efficient woman. She didn’t ramble on about the artwork on the walls, or the vases on the pedestals, or the suits of armor that stood to either side of the front door. She merely led me from room to room, occasionally pointing out items of interest. Such as the original Vermeer in the formal living room, the frame encased behind thick temperature-controlled glass. Or the suit of armor from the twelfth century standing at attention beside a regal grandfather clock. Or the first-edition copies of famous books in the library.

  God, the library. It was a dream, that library. It looked like nothing so much as the decadent extravagance from Beauty and the Beast: fifty-foot-high ceilings, shelves stuffed with books stretching the entire height, with rolling ladders for access to the highest shelves. There were three levels to the library, accessible by hidden spiral staircases, each level having nooks with deep plush chairs and reading lamps and little round tables.

  When Eliza saw my reaction to the library, she cocked an eyebrow at me. “He likes books,” was her deadpan statement.

  I gave a short bark of laughter. “No kidding. This place is amazing. ”

  “Yes, it is,” she agreed. “This building was specially designed and built to my employer’s specifications. What is usually referred to as the ‘penthouse,’ meaning the uppermost floor of the building, really encompasses something more like the upper three or four stories, which obviously accounts for the abnormally high ceilings in this room in particular. ”

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  Next, she showed me an industrial kitchen, as well as a smaller and more home-like second kitchen, saying that I’d use the secondary kitchen for my day-to-day needs. There was a breakfast nook off the secondary kitchen, tucked up against more floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the city.

  There was a single door set at the end of a short hallway just off the secondary kitchen. “What’s through there?” I asked.

  “His quarters. The door is always locked, and that is the only area that is off-limits to you,” she said, gesturing for me to follow her.

  She took me up an internal elevator to an open area with an indoor pool. The ceiling was glass, revealing the night sky. Through a door off this room were a sauna, a full bathroom, a massage room, a weight room, and a dojo, complete with sparring dummies and a rack of wooden practice weapons of all kinds.

  Finally she led me back down the main floor and halted outside a pair of French doors, not far from the kitchens. “Through this door is the dining room, where he awaits you. If you are ready?”

  Eliza held up the blindfold. I nodded, and she moved to stand behind me, tying it around my head. Once more, the world went black, and I was reliant on my other four senses.

  “I feel I should say…I have worked for him for twenty years, Miss Kyrie. He is a good man. He has his own strange ways, and likes things just so, and he demands excellence in all things, but…he is a good man. I know you must be afraid, but please, you do not need to be. If there is anything I am able to do for you, you have only to ask. I am the chef as well, so if you wish any particular foods or would like a specific dish, just ask me. You have only to call for me via the intercom, and I will respond. ” She patted me on the shoulder, and then I heard the door open and her hands took mine. “This way, please. ”

  She led me about fifty steps, my heels echoing on a tile or marble floor and far-away walls. “Miss Kyrie, sir. ”

  “Thank you, Eliza. ” His voice came from my left, approaching over soft footfalls. “We will begin with the first course when you’re ready. ”

  “Very good, sir. ” Eliza’s footsteps receded, in the opposite direction from where we’d come, and then a door opened and closed.

  I felt his hands on mine, engulfing mine, pulling me forward several more steps, and then he pulled out a chair, guided me in front of it, and settled me down with his hands heavy but gentle on my shoulders. When I was sitting, his hands remained there, thumbs massaging between my shoulder blades. I was tense, I realized, and his strong, gentle pressure felt wonderful. Too wonderful. I almost moaned aloud, but managed to hold it back.

  “So tense, Kyrie. ”

  “I’d say I have reason to be a little tense, don’t you?”

  “Mmm. I suppose you do, at that. ” His palms ran down my arms, and his thumbs worked into the knots around my spine with smooth, powerful, rolling strokes. Jesus help me, that felt good. “Are you hungry, Kyrie?”

  My stomach gurgled, answering for me. He laughed, and I heard a chair scrape across the floor beside me. “How’s this going to work?” I asked. “You can’t expect me to eat with this blindfold on. ”

  “You’ll see,” was his cryptic response.

  A few seconds later, I heard a door open, and plates were set down before us. I smelled soup, beef stock possibly, and fresh-baked bread. Eliza left, and I fumbled in front of me for a spoon, found it, and then hunted for the edges of the bowl. I found it, only to jostle it so scalding liquid sloshed onto my hand, causing me to jerk away and curse.

  “Kyrie, Kyrie. So impatient. Give me your hand. ” His voice was equal parts amused and disapproving.

  I hesitated, and then held out my throbbing hand. My palm rested against his. I heard a utensil clink against glass, and then something intensely c
old slid over the burned flesh at the web of my hand, between thumb and forefinger. I hissed in surprise, and then moaned in relief as the ice soothed the burn. After a few seconds, he set the ice cube on a tray or plate of some kind, and a cloth dabbed at my skin, drying it. And then my hand was lifted, and I his lips touched the burned place on my hand, kissing it. I felt a blush run through me, shuddering down my spine.

  “What—what are you doing?” I asked, my voice squeaking.

  “This…” he answered, between kisses. “Does it feel better now?”

  “I—I…yes…” I breathed.

  The touch of his lips was tender, sensual. The ice had soothed away the burn, leaving a faint tingle, and then his lips skated across my skin, warm and moist, and I couldn’t stop a shiver, couldn’t stop a gasp. His lips moved from the web of my thumb to the back of my hand, no longer soothing now, but kissing for the sake of kissing. Oh, god. He was kissing my hand? No one had kissed my hurts since I was a tiny child. My mother was never the kiss-it-better type, even on her best days. And my father, well, he’d been loving enough, but was often absent, working all the time.

  Now the kisses moved across my knuckles, around the edge of my hand. I swallowed hard past the distraught lump in my throat, but still couldn’t catch my breath. Another kiss, to the knife edge of my hand. He turned my palm face up, and his lips touched the center of my hand. My fingers curled involuntarily and touched a stubbled upper lip, then brushed against his nose. His skin was so warm, soft yet rough, a perfect contradiction of manhood. Lips brushed over the heel of my palm, to my wrist. Oh, god, oh lord, oh shit. The touch of his lips was…overwhelming, gentle, sweet, insistent, and almost erotic. I was panting in shallow breaths, and as his lips kissed my forearm, it finally happened. I moaned. I couldn’t stop it, couldn’t believe it had happened. The sound was blatant arousal, breathy and sensual. I felt more than heard his rumble in response, and he pressed a kiss to the inside of my elbow, a place no lips had ever, ever touched. I was rocked to my core by the electric heat that flushed through me at the feel of his mouth just there. He felt my reaction, and kissed me there again. I exhaled, tipping my head back on my neck and fighting for composure. But I had none. Not even a shred. His fingers threaded through mine from behind, his palm resting on the back of my knuckles, and his other hand cupped my elbow, holding my arm out for him.

 
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