Mine to hold, p.1
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       Mine to Hold, p.1

         Part #3 of Mine series by Cynthia Eden
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Mine to Hold


 

  Prologue

  The gun pressed into the center of Claire Kramer’s forehead. She didn’t move, not an inch, too afraid to even breathe as she knelt in the middle of the old, rickety wooden dock.

  It was her grandfather’s dock. Her grandfather’s fishing cabin. Her haven.

  She should have been safe there. Instead, it seemed she was about to die there.

  “Why did you leave me, Claire?” Ethan Harrison asked her as he held that gun to her head. “Why?”

  Her gaze darted to the right. His bright, red sports car gleamed in the nearby parking lot, sticking out like a sore thumb.

  Please, please, someone notice that car. You have to see it. But there just weren’t any people out then. No one was there to help her. If someone would just pull into the lot. If someone would just come—

  “I love you, Claire,” Ethan whispered, his voice actually sounding sad as he stared down at her with his soulful green gaze. “You know that.”

  Claire was sixteen, but she still knew that love didn’t involve a gun. It also didn’t involve hitting, punching, hurting. Her parents had wanted her away from Ethan. She’d wanted away from him.

  But in Alabama, escaping from a Harrison wasn’t exactly easy. The cops hadn’t believed her story about Ethan’s attacks. His daddy was a state senator. Ethan was old money. Power.

  And she…she was the girl kneeling on the dock, with a gun to her head.

  My family believed me. She’d been trying to get her parents on the phone just moments before Ethan had surprised her. He shouldn’t have been able to find her. Only her parents, her sister, and her grandfather knew she was at the little cabin on the water.

  “Why did you leave?” Not a whisper this time, but a bellow.

  Claire flinched. Her hands were twisted behind her, her fingers fisted, and her nails sank deep into her own palms. “I-it was over, Ethan. You said you-you didn’t want me anymore.”

  The sunlight glinted off his blond hair. “I will always want you, Claire.” Ethan never eased his grip on the gun. “You’re my one and only.”

  My one and only.

  “You shouldn’t have run. Never run again, understand? Because I can find you anywhere, Claire.”

  A tear leaked down her cheek. “Don’t hurt me.” She was begging. She knew it. “Please, don’t. Please.”

  He smiled. Once, that wide grin had made her heart melt in her chest. Now it just made her body ice with fear.

  “I like it when you beg me, Claire.”

  She knew he did.

  She also knew that he liked to hurt her.

  This isn’t the way love is supposed to be.

  She’d seen her parents together. Her dad loved her mother so much. He would never hurt her mom. But Ethan wasn’t like Claire’s father.

  Claire still had the bruises from Ethan’s last attack on her skin.

  Ethan exhaled slowly. “Begging won’t work this time. You shouldn’t have left. You knew that you belonged to me.”

  No, I don’t. Claire shook her head.

  His handsome face twisted with fury. “You’re mine!”

  And he pulled the trigger.

  Claire screamed. The frantic cry burst from her throat as her eyes instinctively squeezed shut. She knew that she was dead. She’d never see her parents again. Never see her sister, Sara. She’d never do anything but—

  He was laughing at her.

  I’m still alive.

  Her eyes opened. More tears coursed down her cheeks.

  “Oh, Claire, I forgot to mention…I already used the bullets that were in this gun.”

  The chill on her skin got worse. So much worse.

  He glanced toward the phone that had fallen from her fingers when he’d surprised her before. The phone sat on the edge of the dock. “You were trying to call your parents, right? Sorry, sweetheart, but they’ll never be answering you again.”

  I already used the bullets that were in this gun.

  He pulled the gun away from her head. Numb, she could only kneel there and gaze helplessly up at him.

  Ethan tucked the gun into the back of his jeans. Then his head tilted to the right as he studied her. His hair fell loosely over his forehead. The good-looking college boy. The heart breaker. “You have a choice,” he told her flatly as that good-looking veneer twisted with rage. “You can be mine, or you can be dead. Because I swear…you will never leave me for another.”

  She hadn’t been leaving him for another boy. She’d been afraid of him, and she’d fled. For her own survival. “I-I didn’t—”

  Claire couldn’t say any more. His hands were at her throat. Squeezing so tightly. “Mine or dead, Claire. Mine. Or. Dead.”

  Her fingers flew up. Her nails clawed at his skin.

  He jerked her, twisting her body, and hauling her down the dock with his fierce grip on her throat.

  He was going to take her away. This was the end for her. No matter how hard she fought, Claire couldn’t break free. Her throat hurt so much—

  A gunshot rang out. The bullet sank into Ethan’s thigh, just a few inches away from Claire’s face. Blood sprayed onto her.

  Ethan screamed and he let her go.

  Claire jumped to her feet. She ran for the end of the dock even as Ethan bellowed her name. She didn’t stop. Faster, faster.

  Then she saw them. Men in uniform who were coming from the woods near the small parking lot. Their badges gleamed. They had their weapons out.

  “Keep my boy alive!” That shout, it was familiar. Her gaze whipped to the left, and she saw Senator Colby Harrison standing behind a uniformed officer—that officer had a rifle in his hands.

  “Claire, it’s okay now.” The sheriff came toward her. Jim Brady’s face was lined with concern. “We’ve got you.”

  Jim hadn’t believed her when she’d tried to press charges against Ethan. But…but the deputies were all there. They all had to believe her now.

  I already used the bullets…

  Claire grabbed Sheriff Brady’s shirt-front, clenching it beneath her fists. “My…my parents…”

  Other deputies rushed past her. They raced toward the dock. Toward a still-screaming Ethan.

  Sorrow flashed on Sheriff Brady’s face. “Claire, I’m so sorry…”

  No, no. Her body started shaking. “I-I need to call my mom.”

  Sheriff Brady shook his head.

  “I have to call my mom!” Now she was screaming.

  Sheriff Brady wrapped his arms around her. “They’re gone, Claire. He…he got to them first.”

  And at that moment, Claire broke.

  Chapter One

  I can do this.

  Claire Kramer stared up at the tall, imposing lines of York Towers. The building seemed to touch the sky, and windows—far too many to count—gleamed as they reflected the bright sunlight back on her. The Towers were located in the heart of New York, and the streets were packed with people.

  So many people. Their bodies brushed against her as they passed her on the sidewalk.

  Claire took a deep breath. That breath was supposed to fortify her. She’d come this far. She had to go inside the building. It wasn’t like she had much of a choice at this point.

  Her savings were gone. Her apartment—um, she didn’t have one. She had nothing but a hotel stay that would last for two more nights.

  She was desperate, and desperate times sure called for desperate measures.

  After one more glance up at York Towers, Claire straightened her shoulders. She smoothed down her jacket for what had to be the tenth time. Fall had hit the city, and the brisk air chilled her skin. Or maybe that chill just came from the fear she felt. What if he doesn’t help me?

  Going to York Towers…it was her last option.

 
So do this. With her chin up, Claire approached the entrance to the hotel.

  The rich and famous usually stayed in places like this one. Claire wasn’t rich, and she sure wasn’t famous.

  Just infamous back home.

  But New York was a long, long way from Fairview, Alabama. No one knew her in this city. No one but Noah York. The man who was York Towers. Young, dynamic, mysterious…Noah York was a powerhouse in this city and around the world. He had dozens of luxury hotels and getaways.

  He was also the sexiest man Claire had ever met. That sexiness made him dangerous. The last time Claire had fallen for a good-looking, rich boy, she’d lost everything.

  This time, I have nothing to lose.

  A doorman hurried to open the door for her. He tipped his hat, a friendly smile on his face. Claire found herself nervously smiling back. She’d worked in plenty of other hotels during the last few years. It wasn’t as if she was totally out of her element.

  She’d seen gleaming marble floors before. She’d seen other lobbies filled with complimentary welcome champagne and roses.

  It was just that…this was Noah’s hotel. And Noah made Claire very nervous.

  She headed toward the concierge desk. The woman there immediately stood to greet her. “May I help you?” she asked. Her ID listed her name as Janelle.

  Claire cleared her throat. “I’m here to see Noah York. My name’s Claire—”

  The woman’s brown eyes lit with curiosity. “Of course! Mr. York told me that you’d be here for a meeting this morning.”

  Because she’d broken down and called him last night. She and Noah had met a few months ago. They’d both been caught in a terrible nightmare in Chicago. She’d been stabbed. He’d been shot.

  They’d both survived.

  Sometimes, Claire felt like that survival had linked them. Or maybe it was just the odd, instinctive awareness that she’d felt for Noah since the first moment that they’d met. When he was close, Claire was hyper-aware of the man.

  An elevator dinged behind her. She heard the doors slide open.

  And goosebumps rose on Claire’s arms.

  Instinctive awareness. Almost like prey, sensing danger.

  Claire glanced over her shoulder. Sure enough, Noah strode from the elevator. His golden eyes were locked on her. Such unusual eyes—they reminded her of a lion’s. Noah was certainly a top notch predator, both in the boardroom and, judging by the gossip columns, in his personal life.

  As she turned to fully face him, Noah smiled, a flash of his perfect, white teeth, and his steps quickened as he approached her. “Claire, you’re late,” he chided as he closed in.

  She shook her head. “I…it’s only nine.”

  “Five minutes after nine.” He raised one dark brow. “And here I thought you’d be more punctual.”

  Oh, crap. What a way to begin a job interview. Claire felt her cheeks sting with embarrassment. How did she go about explaining that she’d actually been outside of the hotel for thirty minutes? She’d just been trying to work up the courage to step inside the place.

  Noah scares me.

  Her gaze drifted over his face. He was too handsome. Handsome men were dangerous. That was rule one in her book.

  Rule two went something like…Never trust handsome men.

  And Claire didn’t trust Noah. The man was too much of a mystery for trust to enter the equation. But then, Claire didn’t actually trust anyone. Not completely.

  Noah’s cheekbones were high, sharp slashes. His nose was straight and strong. His jaw was perfectly square. His lips appeared hard but sensual. His hair was midnight black and his eyes—

  They were like a lion’s. A deep, beautiful gold.

  Those eyes seemed to be looking right into Claire’s soul then.

  Nervously, she pulled at the sleeves of her jacket, making sure they covered her wrists. Then she stopped, catching herself.

  Noah reached for her hand. “Come along, Claire.” He nodded to the concierge. “Morning, Janelle.”

  “Sir…” Janelle said, giving a quick nod.

  Then Noah pulled Claire toward the elevator. A private elevator, she noted, because he had to use a keycard to get the control panel to function. Once they were inside, he pressed the button for the top floor.

  She knew that floor would house the main luxury suites.

  The elevator doors closed, and they were sealed inside. The space seemed far too small to her, or maybe Noah was just too big. His broad shoulders stretched the tailored suit that he wore, and the guy had to be at least six foot two, maybe six foot three. A raw power clung to him.

  Claire inched back a bit.

  “Don’t.”

  Her gaze flew to meet his.

  Noah shook his head. “You have nothing to fear from me, Claire.” He smiled at her. “Besides, from what I remember, you’re pretty strong in your own right.”

  She blushed. Again. She couldn’t help it that she had the annoying skin type that flushed way too much. No, she couldn’t help it, but she could hate it. “I was…” Claire cleared her throat. “I didn’t know who you were then.” When a strange man appeared out of seemingly nowhere and came at her, Claire’s immediate instinct had been to attack. She hadn’t wasted moment on questions. Instead, she’d gone in fighting.

  These days, Claire knew it was better to be safe—

  Than dead.

  “And to think,” he murmured as he advanced in that little space, “you look so…deceptively delicate.”

  Claire was tall, about five foot ten, but she still had to tilt her head back a bit to keep meeting his stare. “Appearances are always deceiving.” She’d learned that lesson at sixteen.

  His mouth hitched into a half-smile. A smile that made her heart race too quickly. He was definitely a handsome bastard, she’d give him that. And the fact that he could make her heart jump so easily—

  That tells me to be careful with him. So careful. The last time she’d fallen for a man with a heart-jumping smile, she’d nearly paid for that mistake with her life.

  “You remembered my offer,” Noah murmured.

  How could she forget?

  The last time that she’d seen Noah York, Claire had been at her sister’s funeral. Grief had nearly choked her as she stared down at Sara’s coffin. Noah had been there. Right at Claire’s side. I want to help you. His words whispered through her mind. He’d slipped his card into her hand. I owe you. I owe your sister. If you ever need me, I’m a phone call away.

  When the funeral had ended, Claire hadn’t stayed around to talk with Noah or any of the others at that gut-wrenching graveside. She’d run away from them all. Claire had gotten good at running.

  But there was nowhere to run now. She needed him. A week ago, she’d lost the job that she’d counted on, and Claire had forced herself to come to Noah. Even though he scared her.

  “My, what big eyes you have,” he murmured. His smile slowly faded as he searched her gaze. “I’ve never seen anyone with eyes quite like yours. That deep blue is really quite incredible.”

  Her lashes lowered, hiding the blue in question. She found herself staring at his throat. At his tie. At anything but—

  His fingers slipped under her chin. Claire jerked at the contact and tried to back away from him.

  Her elbow rammed into the wall of the elevator.

  “I don’t…I don’t like to be touched.” The words were sharp. They were also true.

  Normally.

  But she hadn’t jerked away from Noah because the press of his fingers brought the usual cold fear.

  She’d backed away because his touch had scorched her.

  “It’s a pity,” he told her as his hand dropped back to his side. “Because I think that I could enjoy touching you.”

  The elevator had stopped. She just realized that. How long had it been still? “Ah, why aren’t the doors opening?”

  He glanced at the control panel. “Because I haven’t opened them.”

  So he wanted the t
wo of them to be trapped together in that elevator?

  “Are you afraid of small spaces?” Noah asked her suddenly.

  Claire shook her head.

  “Good to know.” He inclined his head. “I’m making a list, you see.”

  She was totally lost. “A list?”

  He pressed a code into the control panel. The doors opened seconds later. “I’m finding out what scares you. What you like. What you don’t like.”

  She hurried from the elevator, but then hesitated on the lush carpet in the hallway. “Why does any of that matter to you?”

  He shrugged. “Because it does.”

  Talk about an incredibly vague answer.

  “We’re almost to my suite.” He headed down the hallway.

  Claire didn’t follow. “I’d expected that we’d meet in your office.” Not in his suite. If she hadn’t been so nervous on that elevator, she would have brought up this point sooner.

  Noah glanced over his shoulder at her. “I can get the best privacy in my personal suite.”

  They were having the meeting in his personal suite? The breath that she sucked in felt icy, but Claire soldiered on. Noah opened the suite door for her. She slipped past him, casting a quick glance up at the chandelier that hung in the entrance way. The huge chandelier gleamed, casting light all over the massive foyer of the suite. A suite that is way bigger than the home my family used to have down in Alabama.

  Noah shut the door behind her.

  “Do you always have business meetings in your suite?” She asked him, not buying the privacy line for a minute.

  “I didn’t know we were going to talk just business.” He slid by her. Not touching, but close. He headed into the next room. She did, too, then momentarily lost her breath at the stunning view she discovered. The New York skyline was spread out before her, on perfect display thanks to the floor to ceiling windows that lined the wall. Just to the right of that wall, Claire saw a glass door that led out onto a balcony area. When she’d been staring up at the hotel, she hadn’t even noticed the balcony. She glanced back at Noah. He was watching her.

  Noah motioned toward the windows and said, “I saw you.”

  Her shoulders tensed.

 
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