Unhinged, page 1
Copyright © 2017 by Natasha Knight
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Two years ago, I made a deal with the devil. That night, I lost everything. That night, I thought he died.
But he’s back. Risen, like Lazarus, from the dead. And he’s dark. Darker than he was before. More dangerous. Unhinged. A scarred, tattooed savage.
The way he looks at me should terrify me, but I’m drawn to him, to his intensity. Consumed by it. By him. Even though I know if I’m not careful, his obsession will destroy me.
I should have died that night two years ago. My mistake cost my men their lives. It should have cost me mine. But I survived. And the day I learned she did too, I made it my mission to find her.
I sought her out. Tracked her. Shadowed her every move. I’ve been inside her home. Eaten her food. Drank her liquor.
I’ve stood beside her bed and watched her sleep.
She has so many secrets, and I know one of them. It’s the one where our pasts collided. The one that destroyed me.
And it’s the reason I’ve come for her.
I never intended to touch her, but I did. And now that I’ve had a taste, I want more. I want her. But that won’t change why I’m here. It won’t change why I came for her.
Finding people who don’t want to be found has always been one of my specialties. It’s what got me into special ops.
It’s also what got me killed.
Well, almost got me killed.
It isn’t quite pitch black when I step out of my SUV and onto the street. Her street. The full moon shines bright overhead, making the clouds appear silvery, making them cast shadows as they skim past. I don’t duck into those shadows, though. I take my time walking to her house. Don’t bother hiding. I stroll, in fact—if a guy my size can stroll—right up to 13 Rattlesnake Valley Lane.
Her garden is small, but neat, not a single weed in the lush green grass. The walkway swept clean. Perfect. No cracks in the concrete. It’s just like her, actually. Perfect—on the outside. The inside’s where the damage is.
It’s a warm night, even for Denver, but she has all the windows open. Sheer curtains blow gently, but the breeze is getting stronger. It carries a storm on its heels. An omen.
When I reach her door, I slip my key out of my pocket. I made a copy a few weeks ago. She hasn’t noticed I’ve been coming and going for that long. But she’s never been home for my visits. Not yet, at least. Not until tonight.
I turn the doorknob and open the front door. I know the exact point when it will creak, so I make sure I’m in before it does. I don’t bother locking it behind me. Locks never keep those they intend to keep out, out. It’s naïve to think otherwise.
By now, I’ve memorized the layout of the small house. It’s another of my talents. I see everything, every single detail most people don’t even notice. It’s what saved my life the night I was meant to die.
The living room is picked up, and utterly impersonal. It’s like no one lives here. I wonder if she rented the place furnished because it doesn’t look like what I imagine she’d like. This stuff is all too big, too rustic. Too secondhand.
I almost nick my shin in the same spot I have twice before, but move just in time as I make my way toward her bedroom. She sleeps with the door open. I’m guessing it’s for ventilation. I wonder why she doesn’t run the AC, but maybe it’s because of her background, where she’s from. She’s lived in the desert. Grown up in it. Maybe to her, this is cool.
As I get closer, I can see her soft, feminine shape lying beneath the single white sheet on the bed. She’s on her side, face to the window. Long, dark hair is strewn across her pillow. She’s got one arm over top of the sheet and I recognize the scar where a bullet skimmed her skin two years ago. She’d been that close to dying. If I hadn’t tackled her to the ground when I had, she would have died.
And maybe six others would have lived because of it.
I can’t go there.
Right now, I need answers.
A cloud crosses the moon, casting a shadow over her face as I approach. It’s gone as quickly as it came though, and a moment later, I’m looking down at her, at Eve El-Amin. And even though I’ve been tailing her for weeks, memorizing every detail of her new life, being this close to her, it does something to me. Being near her has always been difficult, dangerous, but this time, it’s more than that. Or at least it’s different. It stirs up all those old emotions—anger the predominant one—but something else, too. Something dark and twisted inside me.
A thing that wants what it wants.
I close my eyes momentarily, quashing that last part. Shoving it deep down into my gut. It’s no use. Not here. Not now. Because too much is at stake to let that side take over.
It’s like asking the question of why. It’s no use trying to understand why. Did she know that night was a trap? Did she know she was sending us into a massacre? Why would she do that? Why, when every single man who died that night would have laid down his life to protect hers?
I feel my chest tightening, along with my jaw, my fists. Eve mutters something in her sleep. I’m not worried she’ll wake. My heart doesn’t even skip a beat when she rolls onto her back. That’s how far gone I am. That’s how little I care if she does open her eyes and sees me standing in her bedroom, looming over her as she sleeps.
And that’s what makes me dangerous. Makes this mission—my private vendetta—so fucking fragile.
I need to fucking care.
I need to get my head out of my ass and focus on why I’m here.
If she sees me now, it’ll fuck up the grand entrance I have planned. For weeks, I’ve been going through her house. Drinking her liquor. Eating her food. Leaving empty containers on the kitchen counter. Moving her mail. Little shit that makes her think she’s not paying attention or forgetting. Unnerving her. Making her look over her shoulder.
That little shit is changing tomorrow.
Tomorrow, shit gets real.
I look down at her face. She’s pretty. Always was. She hasn’t changed much in two years, which surprises me. I would have thought sending six men to their deaths would have taken its toll.
But then again, you’d have to have a conscience for that.
Her hair’s longer. I bet the thick waves she used to tie in a ponytail reach the middle of her back. Her olive skin is pale for the time of year, still smooth, still p
I crouch down. I’m so close, I can hear her breathe.
I inhale, taking in her scent, remembering it. Memorizing it. Filing it away as my cock stirs.
“Sleep well tonight, Eve El-Amin,” I whisper, and I can’t resist touching her, pushing a wisp of soft, jet black hair off her face. “Because come tomorrow, your days are numbered and sleep will become a thing of the past.”
Another bad night. Another strange feeling. Almost like I’m being watched. But something’s different this time. It’s closer. Scarier.
I brew a second cup of coffee and tell myself to shake it off when Miranda, the receptionist, walks into the break room.
“Morning, Eve.” She pushes the button on the coffee machine and studies me as black liquid fills her cup. Her head is cocked to the side. “Didn’t sleep again, huh?”
I’ve known Miranda for a little over a year and I’m still not sure I like her. Or trust her. But maybe the latter’s my own fault. My own nature. Maybe it’s the fact I can’t be trusted that I’m unable to trust anyone else.
“It’s too hot,” I lie.
“Mm-hmm,” she says and gives me a wink.
I walk past her and check my watch. “I’ve got to go. New client Devon wants me to meet.”
“I saw him.” Miranda waggles her eyebrows. “You always get the hot ones.”
I give her a half smile. “You think every man who walks in here is hot.”
She turns her attention to her cup of coffee, pouring milk and sugar into it. “True.”
I walk to my office, which is beside Devon’s. Devon is my boss. He owns Alderson Realty. It’s a small, family-run business that goes back almost a hundred years. It was started by his great-great-grandfather, Marty Alderson, and has been passed down through the generations. I’ve been working here since I got to Denver, which was about six months after arriving in the country. Here, I’m Eve Adams. And to hear me speak, anyone would think I was a native-born American. My looks give away my roots, but apart from one or two questions on background—which I lie about—most people assume I’m second-or third-generation and leave it at that.
My name change, it wasn’t my decision. I wanted to keep El-Amin, but couldn’t. I needed to become a different person after that night for so many reasons. And I’m trying hard to be Eve Adams. But there’s that old saying: wherever you go, there you are.
And here I am.
No matter how much time goes by, it’s like the past is still right here—my constant companion—always reminding me.
At my desk, I set my coffee down and take a deep breath before gathering my folders. The new client Devon wants me to meet is looking for a large property with lots of acreage. I heard the numbers and if we can get this job, it’ll be a big deal for us. I know the firm needs the money. Alderson Realty has held its own for a while, but with increased competition from larger realtors and the market being what it is, the future doesn’t look very promising.
My cell phone buzzes with a text message. I don’t need to read the display to know Devon’s waiting for me with the client. I’m running late, and he showed up early. I type a quick reply telling him I’m on my way, gather the things I need and head to the conference room. Miranda gives me a wink when I pass her desk and I roll my eyes. Once I get to the conference room door, I double check my appearance in the full-length mirror on the wall, adjust the skirt of my suit, then push the door open.
“Ah, there she is,” Devon says.
He’s facing me, sitting at the head of the table that seats twelve. He rises and touches the chair to his right. My usual seat. The client’s sitting at the other end of the table with his back to me, but he’s so close I catch a whiff of his aftershave, which seems familiar for some strange reason. He doesn’t stand or turn to greet me as I enter.
“Good morning,” I start, closing the door. I can only see the back of the client’s head. He has short, neatly trimmed dark hair, big, really broad shoulders and thick arms. It’s almost as though the chair isn’t quite wide enough for his muscular build. “Sorry I’m late,” I say, my brain trying to process the memory of the aftershave he’s wearing and the odd feeling that accompanies it. I walk around the table, eyes on my folders and the too-full cup of coffee I should have drunk before coming in here.
“No problem,” the client says.
I stop. My heart stumbles over a beat as my breath catches in my throat and that feeling of something being wrong, that I’m being watched, suddenly grips me.
“I’m early,” he adds.
In my periphery, I see he’s rising to his feet and something about that moment—his words, his voice, him—and…oh my God.
I remember why the aftershave is familiar.
A brick lands in my belly, and I stumble backward.
“Eve?” It’s Devon, he’s taken a step toward me.
I clear my throat and feel the blood drain from my face as I look up. I don’t look at the client. Not yet. I smile weakly at Devon instead.
“Are you all right? You look flushed.”
“I’m fine,” I manage, but don’t recognize my voice. I hear the old accent creeping back into my words. I turn slowly to face the man now standing beside Devon, watching me intently.
And I feel sick.
He’s smiling. I recognize that smile.
It’s not the nice one.
His eyes have gone dark, darker than I remember, and I notice scars that weren’t there before that night. He looks out of place, too big, too wild, too savage to be wearing a suit that barely contains him. He’s huge. Much bigger than before. Is that possible, or is that just my memory playing with me? Guilt fucking with my mind?
Devon comes around the table to take the folders and coffee cup out of my hands.
“You sure you’re all right?” he asks with an embarrassed smile.
“I…” I can’t take my eyes off him. But it can’t be. He’s dead. He died two years ago. He died in the explosion along with everyone else.
“Maybe you should open a window,” he says to Devon, nonchalantly. “She looks like she needs some air.”
“I’m fine.” It takes all I have to speak like I’ve trained myself to. Like an American. My voice trembles, and I lower myself into the chair Devon’s pulled out for me. I still can’t drag my eyes away from him, though.
“I’ll get you some water,” Devon says.
“No!” The water station is out in the hallway and I don’t want to be alone with him. I can’t be.
“All right then. Eve, this is the client I told you about, Michael Beckham. Michael, my top agent, Eve Adams.”
No. Not Michael Beckham.
His eyes narrow a little as one corner of his mouth curls upward. I see menace on his face, in his eyes. I see his scrutiny. It’s him. I have no doubt. Master Sergeant Zach Amado come back to life.
“Eve, are you sure—” Devon starts.
“I’m fine. Truly.” I pick up my coffee cup and bring it to my lips. My hands tremble so much it’s a wonder I don’t spill the contents onto my lap, but I manage the smallest of sips and it calms me a little. I set the cup down and steel myself. “It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Beckham,” I hear myself say with a voice that sounds slightly more like that of Eve Adams.
He extends his hand to me. I’d hoped the table between us might save me from having to shake it. I look at it for a moment, then place mine inside his.
“Nice to meet you, Ms. Adams, was it?”
“Eve is fine.”
“Eve,” he says with a nod, still holding my hand. His eyes are intent on me and I remember how once, one of his men tried to call me baby in Arabic and he’d slammed his fist down on the table. He hadn’t even needed to reprimand the soldier verbally. I was to be treated respe
But it turned out I didn’t help them at all.
Michael—Master Sergeant Zach Amado—releases my hand.
“Eve pulled some properties for you,” Devon starts.
I’m not paying attention to Devon though. I don’t know if Zach is either. He won’t stop staring at me, and I can’t look away. Not until he releases me from his gaze a full minute later. He and Devon begin going over the properties while I open my notebook and pretend to take notes.
I don’t understand what’s happening. He’s supposed to be dead. I don’t know how I feel about him not being dead. Good, I think. Relieved? It’s one less life on my conscience.
Like that will make any difference.
I sneak a glance. He’s facing Devon. God, I remember him so freaking well. Everything about him. Things you never think about, like the cowlick at his hairline. The dimple on his right cheek when he smiles. How thick his dark hair was—is—and how tanned his skin would get in the Mediterranean sun. Darker than the others. But he’s half-Italian, half-Portuguese. Born in America and raised in Italy. He has two brothers. That was all I knew about him. All anyone knew, as far as I could tell. He didn’t talk about his family or his past. And for a man in his early twenties, he seemed like he had a lot of past.
“Eve, you won’t mind doing that, will you?” Devon asks.
“W-what? Sorry,” I shake my head. “I didn’t hear you.”
NATASHA KNIGHT SERIES:
Other author's books:
- TornCollateral: an Arranged Marriage Mafia RomanceTakenDevil's BargainClaimed by the BeastGiven to the SavageTaming EmmaPierced
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