All I Need: Ian & Annie, page 1
All I Need
Ian & Annie
Callie Harper Books
15. One Year Later, Annie
Taken by the SEAL:
About the Author
Copyright @ 2016 by Callie Harper.
All rights reserved.
* * *
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without permission from the author.
* * *
This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to real events, people or places is entirely coincidental.
* * *
Cover Design by Perfect Pear Creative
Created with Vellum
Want a free book? Click to get a copy of my hot romance In Deep https://dl.bookfunnel.com/ccd60ilopm.
You’ll be added to my newsletter, which I only use to announce a new release (did you know I always launch at 99c and make sure my newsletter subscribers get first dibs?), share a sale, or to give away something for free.
I stood in front of the dark, gloomy castle perched high on a cliff above the ocean, wondering if I’d somehow stumbled onto a movie set. I’d grown up in Scotland and lived all my days in its picturesque countryside so I wasn’t exactly a stranger to breathtaking, rugged natural settings or historic buildings. But this one? This was next level.
Maybe it was the rain, or the fact that the sun was setting. The sense of decline was palpable.
Or maybe it was just how nervous I felt, picking my way along the slippery stone path in my impractical “new job” shoes. Why had I worn them? Back in my house, in the same bedroom I’d lived in for all my 25 years, looking at my reflection in a cheap mirror propped up against the wall, I’d felt polished. Those three-inch heels had boosted me up, giving me confidence so I could meet my new employer and say…
“Hello, Ian. Your father hired me and we haven’t met yet and he wouldn’t tell me much about this gig only that I’m supposed to live here Monday through Saturday and get paid ridiculously well for a caretaker.”
Pulling my hood more firmly over my head, I realized now that the whole thing sounded like the loosely-developed plot of a slasher flick. What sort of an idiot would accept a job on such little information? And show up alone to a crumbling, gothic mansion just as the sun set?
Me, that’s who. I’d had it with low-paying odd jobs. I wanted to make some money so I could hand a chunk to my mum and then head to Edinburgh where I could start doing what I really wanted. Six months at this job and I’d make enough money to do exactly that.
Firming up my resolve, I reached the front door. Under the overhang, I took off my hood, but kept on my hat and scarf. The chill in this coastal corner of our fair country seeped into your bones. I tried to shake myself off like a wet dog, hoping my new boss wasn’t watching from a window somewhere. The ones I saw all seemed to have the curtains drawn. Perfect for vampires. Or Ian Douglas, the disabled man I’d been told lived inside.
The doorknockers were brass gorgon heads, Greek mythical creatures with snakes as hair. The stone castle had two 10-foot tall, six-foot wide doors, each with a giant monster on it. I wasn’t sure this job was going to be a good fit. But what was I supposed to do, keep up my 18 hours a week at the local grocers plus occasional housecleaning and babysitting? That was getting me nowhere.
Taking a deep breath, I knocked. Nothing happened. Over to the right, I spotted a long velvet rope, the type you’d use to actually ring a bell attached to a door. I really might be on the set of a scary movie. I reached over, pulled it, and it came off right in my hand. Make that a low-budget movie. I knocked again, adding a loud “Hello? Ian?”
One of the doors creaked open a few inches. A deep voice barked from inside, “Who are you? What are you doing here?”
“I’m Annie Mitchell.”
“I’ve come about the caretaker job.”
“Mr. Douglas sent me?” I had to be in the right place. The estate dated back a few hundred years. It wasn’t Beverly Hills with pop-up mansion after mansion tucked behind guarded gates. This place rose up on the Scottish countryside, remote, isolated and visible from a few miles away.
“My fucking father.” I overheard the man inside curse. Must be my lovely new boss. I should probably turn around and bolt.
But Edinburgh. With the money from this job, if I managed to stick it out for a little while, I could move guilt-free, maybe even have a little something extra so I could take a few courses in graphic design. I pushed the door open further and stepped inside, still guiltily holding the broken bell rope.
It took a moment for my eyes to adjust. No lights on inside, dim sunlight filtered in around the edges of heavy velvet drapes. The room was vast with a high ceiling, and it clearly had been grandly furnished. About fifty years ago. Now, it looked like mice had burrowed their way into the couch and made a nest. A spring popped out of the seat of a chair. Cobwebs twined along crystal strands on the chandelier. This place didn’t need a caretaker. It needed a junk collector to come haul everything away.
“My father sent you here, did he?” Over in the corner, a man stood leaning against the wall by a dark, curtained window. I couldn’t make out much in the gloom, but he seemed both tall and broad. I hadn’t expected that.
Next to him was a wheelchair. That I had expected, though apparently he didn’t always need it. During the interview and hiring process, his father had glossed over his son’s injuries, only letting me know what I needed to know: his son was disabled and my help was required to keep the household running, including regular meals and general upkeep. He’d failed to mention either the excessive gloom of the estate, or the growling darkness of the man now before me.
I swallowed. “Yes, are you Ian?” He didn’t say yes, but he didn’t say no, either, so I continued. “Your father and I spoke a few weeks ago, then met last week. He’s hired me on as caretaker.”
He made a sound low in his throat, almost like a growl. “What are you, a nurse?”
“A doctor?” He stated the alternative as if it were even worse.
“No.” I hadn’t even been to university, but I didn’t need to go volunteering my lack of credentials.
“What are you, then?” He crossed his arms against his broad chest. I could tell he was studying me and I shivered under his attention, still unable to make out his features in the gloom. I could tell his hair was dark, and that was about it.
“I have a varied background.” That’s what I could call having spent the majority of the past seven years helping my mum take care of my three younger siblings, one of whom had Down syndrome and needed round-the-clock supervision. It hadn’t exactly left much time for career development. But I did know a lot about running a household while keeping an eye on someone with a disa
“What do you have in your hands?” he demanded.
I looked down. I’d forgotten I’d ripped off the rope on the bell. “Your thing broke.” I held it up, both feeling sheepish and refusing to feel sheepish at the same time. The place was in a shocking state of ruin.
“Wrecking things already, are you?” It was too dark to see, but I’d bet he was arching his eyebrow.
“Would you notice if I did?” I dished it right back, gesturing around to the rubble. I set down the broken rope on a fraying settee.
“Hmm.” He took in my sassy comment, adding it to his assessment of me. I couldn’t tell if he saw it as a pro or a con. “What, exactly, did he offer to pay you?”
Ice clinked in a stout glass as he took a slow sip. That golden liquid I got a glimpse of wasn’t apple juice. “My father,” he clarified. “What did he offer to pay you?”
“Quite a lot, actually.” That was a problem of mine, unfailing honesty. Bargaining skills were not my forte.
“I’ll bet.” He took another sip. What kind of a man was he, standing there drinking alone in the darkness of a crumbling castle? His father hadn’t told me much. He’d been a bit of a wanker, really, all stiff in a pinstripe suit sitting behind a giant desk. I suppose I should have asked him a bunch of questions—a smart, planful person certainly would have—but he’d dropped a contract in front of me promising the kind of money I’d never seen before. My questions had sort-of risen up in a poofy cloud, not mattering so much anymore.
Now, though? I had questions. “Do you live here in this old castle by yourself?”
“Is that frightening to you?” His voice low and steady, he didn’t move a muscle. Yet even in the cavernous, high-ceilinged room his presence felt large and commanding.
“No,” I protested, not entirely honestly. I didn’t feel frightened, exactly, but I did feel unsettled, confused, and, strangely a bit intrigued.
“I’m not sure I believe you.”
I swallowed, fidgeting, feeling vulnerable as I shifted weight from one leg to the other. I could feel him scrutinizing me in my wet clothes and it made me shiver. “I mean, is it safe out here by yourself? Are you able to walk as well as stand? Or do you need your wheelchair to get around?”
“You ask a lot of questions.” He sounded like a man not used to receiving many. His presence was so intimidating, I didn’t doubt it.
I wasn’t going to apologize, though. “I say what’s on my mind.” No use denying that fact. I had a lifetime of my foot in my mouth to prove otherwise. “You must be horribly depressed living out here all by yourself.”
“Mmm.” He took another sip of his drink, not denying my observation. “And I suppose you prefer the constant chatter of companions?”
“I don’t know if I’d say my brother and sisters constantly chatter.” Chaos was really their specialty. That very morning my sisters had erupted into a nasty squabble over breakfast involving an overturned bowl of porridge. They’d left the whole mess behind, scrambling with Brian in a mad dash for the bus.
“You still live at home?” How amusing, his arrogant tone seemed to imply.
“I do.” I wasn’t going to apologize for that, either. My mum wouldn’t have made it through the last decade if I hadn’t stayed to help.
“But you’d live here for this job?”
“Monday through Saturday, yes. It’s only about an hour and a half away, so I plan to go home Sundays.” I wished he’d come out of the shadows. It was strange, talking like this, only able to hear his deep, rumbling voice and see the outline of his large frame in the shadows.
“What have you done to get hired for this?” This time, he asked about my background as if the job was a misfortune that had befallen me. How had I taken such a wrong turn as to land me on his doorstep?
“I’ve worked as a caretaker for years now.” Of my siblings, that much was true. My mother ran the kitchen at a boarding school a half hour away from home. It kept her out of the house all day every day, but it was the highest-paying job she could get so I’d taken up the slack.
“I see.” His father had had the slight hint of a Scottish brogue, and I was currently standing in the Douglas estate so clearly the family had local roots, but Ian had no brogue at all.
“You sound like an American. Did you grow up over there?”
“I’m not interested in a get-to-know-you conversation.” All right then. My shoulders stiffened as he took another sip of his drink. “But to answer your earlier question, no, I don’t walk. I lurch along with a limp like a classic monster in a black and white movie.”
Was he serious or joking? Showing humility or complaining? I had no idea what to make of this man.
He drew the curtains aside, looking out at the gray drizzle falling steadily into the gray expanse of ocean. As the fading light illuminated his profile, my eyes widened. Standing there with a strong jaw and thick hair, his powerful shoulder and arm raised as he clasped the curtain, I realized that this dark and brooding man was handsome. Extremely handsome. My heart raced, hands grew clammy as I tried to process this newest, completely unexpected development. Disabled man in need of a caretaker? That description did not fit the powerful, attractive man standing before me.
He dropped the curtain down, then turned toward me again. “You’ve stumbled into the wrong castle during the storm, Belle. I’m not going to offer you a pot of tea by the warm hearth.”
Oh, now I understood what was happening. Everything clicked into place, the rapid manner in which his father had hired me even with my sketchy work experience, the unusually high wages. “Your father hired me without your agreeing to it.”
I studied him as he took another sip of his drink, large and lurking in the shadows. Who was this man? What had made him this way? I should probably feel afraid, common sense prompting me to run. But I didn’t. I felt something else entirely, making me want to lean in closer, learn more, maybe raise a hand up to that strong jaw covered in stubble.
“They’re over by my ear and my neck,” he offered, drily.
“My burns. The ones you can see with my clothes on, at least.”
“Sorry?” I stepped back. What was he talking about?
“I assume my father told you about my injuries. Naturally, you’re curious.” He sounded cold and detached. “It isn’t every day you get to meet someone who’s been badly burned.”
Involuntarily, I shuddered. His father had not told me anything of the sort.
“And you’re not a nurse,” he continued. “So you’re not accustomed to seeing someone so disfigured.”
Disfigured? That seemed a bit dramatic. The profile I’d seen hadn’t looked hideously disfigured. He’d looked movie star handsome. But maybe the other side of his face was scarred?
“Here, I’ll make it easier for you.” He sank down into his chair, then wheeled over to the wall and hit a switch.
I took a full look at him in the stark overhead lighting. There was no other way to say it. The man was gorgeous. The rough growth of stubble and tumult of black hair that hadn’t seen a trim in ages gave him a wild edge. Sitting up tall, he squared his broad shoulders and assessed me with dark, defiant eyes. I met his gaze, my pulse racing. Tilting his chin to the side, he lifted up his hair and directed my attention to his ear. I saw mottled skin, some pink and white mixed in down along his neck. His ear looked slightly misshapen.
Didn’t look too bad to me. “It’s not like you’re Phantom of the Opera, now is it?”
He let his hair fall back down over his ear, annoyed at my assessment. “So that’s your game? A plucky kind-of ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ approach? Has my father paid you to come talk some sense into me? Give me a good old-fashioned pep talk?”
“No, there’s no game. I’m just saying it’s not all that bad—”
“You do not—” Venom
“Maybe not,” I acknowledged, looking away. I didn’t know his pain. I really knew nothing about this entire situation.
I was basing my opinion on my own experience, how my lifetime of lumps had taught me to make the best of things, see the sunny side and all that. I’d learned a lot from my mother, single and looking after four, the youngest of whom would continue to need care his whole life. She’d never once paused to look to the heavens and ask, “Why?” She’d rolled up her sleeves and done what she needed to do, every day of her life.
But this man? He was right. I didn’t know what was going on with him. Maybe there was more than met the eye.
“Just what is it my father has hired you to do again without my consent?” He surveyed me, now sounding dismissive. Disheveled as he was, there was still something aristocratic about him, in the way he held himself and looked at me. Dressed all in black, he sat as if on a throne.
“He’s hired me on as caretaker. To cook, clean, and see that you’re well looked after.”
“Is that right?” I saw the glimmer of something in his eyes, hot and wicked. Why did it make me blush? “What’s your name?” he asked.
“How old are you?”
“You barely look 21.”
“Well, I’m 25.”
“Are you a virgin?”
“Excuse me?” I took a stumbling step back toward the entryway. I hadn’t known what to expect when I’d arrived, but the latest turn in the conversation surpassed even my wildest imaginings.
“You are, aren’t you?” He seemed satisfied with the knowledge.
“That’s none of your business!” The hot flush that had begun moments ago now engulfed me in flames.
CALLIE HARPER SERIES:
Other author's books:
- Undone, Volume 1All of Me: Liam & SophieAll I Need: Ian & AnnieUndone, Volume 3Unleashed: Volume 2 (Unleashed #2)Unleashed: Declan & Kara (Unleashed #1-4; Beg for It #1)Unleashed: Volume 1 (Unleashed #1)Undone: A Fake Fiancé Rockstar Romance
Welcome to BookFrom.Net Archieve
The free online library containing 500000+ books
Read books for free from anywhere and from any device
Use search by Author, Title or Series to find more
Listen to books in audio format instead of reading
Quick bookmark is available by clicking on the plus icon (+)
Bookmark loading occurs by clicking on the arrow icon (<-)