Mine to Take

       part  #1 of  Mine Series  by  Cynthia Eden / Romance & Love
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shouldn’t have told Skye about his trips to the hospital in New York.

But the truth would have come out, soon enough.

Especially since he planned to take her to New York within just a few hours. “The plane’s ready?” Trace asked Reese. He’d opted to leave the Jag at home and have Reese do the driving today. He had plans that he needed to make, and he could multi-task better with Reese at the wheel.

“Yes, sir. The pilot’s on stand-by.”

“Good.” He’d wait until Skye finished her work, then they’d leave.

No one else might have believed her story, but he wasn’t like the others. If Skye said that she’d been forced off that road…

I want to find out what happened in New York.

And he couldn’t go to the city on his own. Skye was too uncertain of him now. He’d asked for her trust, and she’d hesitated.

No, he had to keep her close.

But he also had to be very, very careful. In New York, it would be easy for him to stumble. For her to discover more about his life.

About the last ten years.

There were some things that she’d truly be better off not knowing.

***

“I need a list of your lovers,” Trace told Skye when she returned to his car that evening. He’d just pulled up, seemingly at the perfect time, but she knew one of his agents must have contacted him and told Trace that she was calling it a night.

Exhaustion pulled at her, but his growled demand…

I need a list of your lovers.

“This isn’t show and tell,” she mumbled as she felt her cheeks flush. “I’m not asking for—”

“The detective—Griffin—was right. The man after you could be an ex. Someone who had you once, and doesn’t want to let go.”

She glanced out of the window. The city passed her in a blur. “It could be an ex, or it could just be some nut-job who saw me on the street. Maybe someone who even saw me dance. Sometimes, people get dancers confused with the characters we play.” She’d been plenty of people, over the years. A sleeping beauty. A wicked witch. A swan. A—

“The list of your lovers will be the starting point for us. You’ll find that my resources are much stronger than the detective’s. I can find these men, clear them—or—”

“They aren’t guilty.”

The car eased to a stop. Then turned right. Reese was up in the front. She inched forward. This wasn’t the way back to Trace’s penthouse. Not unless Reese was taking a different route home.

“Tell me their names.”

She glanced over at Trace. “They’re not even in the city, okay?”

There was only one ex-lover for her in Chicago, and he was sitting far too close and taking up far too much room in the vehicle.

One dark brow rose. “It’s not hard to hop a flight or a train to Chicago.”

No, it wasn’t.

Rain began to fall, splattering against the window. Her shoulders stiffened. Fine, if he wanted the list, she’d give it to him. In all its short and sweet beauty. “Robert Wolfe. He was…he was a choreographer that I met years ago.” Brilliant. Determined. Way too exacting.

“Who else.”

The impatience in his tone grated. It wasn’t like she had a four page list. I bet he does. “Evan Meadows, he’s an actor.” One who’d made it pretty big recently. “But he’s in California now so I don’t see how he could possibly—”

“Keep going, Skye.” His voice was clipped.

There wasn’t very far that she could go. “Mitch Loxley.”

The car’s interior got very, very quiet.

“Say the name again,” Trace growled.

“Why? You heard me the first time.” She glanced out the window once more. A frown pulled her brows low. This definitely wasn’t the way to the penthouse.

“You slept with your doctor?” Trace demanded. His voice was low and cold.

Sometimes, he did that. When he was angry, his voice would drop to that lethal softness.

“He wasn’t my doctor at the time.” She’d been so alone, and Mitch had been the only one there for her. Always smiling. Coming by with doughnuts and flowers.

One night, drinks had led to something…more.

“Why aren’t you with him now?”

“Because I couldn’t stay in New York.” Her lease had been up, and she hadn’t had the cash to renew it, not after all her medical bills. Insurance had only stretched so far.

“The fucking doctor…”

Her head snapped toward him. “Look, who I’ve been with shouldn’t matter—”

“It matters to me.” Gritted. “It matters a great deal.”

She would never figure him out. “You’ve been screwing your way through every model or actress you could find, so don’t act like some ex-lover I had does something to you. We both know I made your ancient history list a long time ago.”

He leaned toward her. In the darkened interior of the vehicle, she wished that she could see his expression. But he was still hidden by shadows. “It does something,” he said. “It makes me fucking furious.”

“Trace?”

His hand slid over her cheek. “I want you to forget them. I want to take you to bed, and I want to wipe away every memory you have of them all.”

She couldn’t take a deep enough breath. “We’re over, Trace. You know—”

“How can we be over, when I still want you so much?” His hand slid down her cheek, down her jaw, then down to the column of her throat. His fingers splayed over her neck, lightly touching the pulse that raced frantically beneath her skin. “And how can we be over, when you still want me so much?”

Because he’d ruined her for other men. It was a sad and humiliating fact. The sex had been good with the others, but with Trace…

I was always comparing. How had that been fair? Maybe that was why Robert and Evan had ended things. They’d told her—both of them—that she wouldn’t let them get close. That she put up a wall to keep them out of her life.

After Trace, she’d needed that wall. Because she hadn’t ever wanted to hurt that much again.

When he left me, I felt broken. It had taken too long for her to put the pieces of her life back together.

“If I’m wrong, tell me now.” Trace’s hand seemed to singe her skin. “Tell me to back the hell off, and I will. I won’t push for something you’re not willing to give. I want all of you. All or nothing.”

Wasn’t that the way it had worked between them before? She had given everything to him.

What had Trace given?

The car stopped.

“All or nothing, Skye. Make the choice.”

Then he pulled away from her. Shoved open his door.

She sucked in some much needed air. A frantic glance to the left made her realize—definitely not the penthouse.

Her door opened. Only Reese wasn’t standing there, holding said door. Trace was.

She scrambled out. “What are we doing here?”

And here was—the airport?

“Taking a flight. My jet’s waiting.”

He had a jet? Right, of course, the mega-wealthy guy he’d become would have his own jet.

Skye didn’t step away from the car. “Where are we going?” Why was this like pulling teeth with him? “I have my studio opening, I can’t just—”

“You want this SOB caught, don’t you? Well, to do that, we need to head back to the beginning. If he started following you in New York, then we can try to learn more about him there.”

He seriously thought she was just going to jump on a flight to New York? Right then? “I’m not going to—”

“You can make the people in that city talk to me. The dancers, your old neighbors. By you being with me, they’ll share more. Maybe someone saw something. Maybe someone saw him.” His fingers still gripped the door. “I need you to come with me. We’ll be back before the studio opens, I promise you that.”

Once upon a time, she’d loved New York.

But she’d run from it, so desperate to get away.

Only…now she wondered…had she been running from the city? Or from the man who’d been after her? The dark shadow that seemed to stalk her, with every step she took?

Before the accident, she’d started to become so nervous. Jumping at the slightest noise. She hadn’t been able to shake the feeling that her actions were being monitored. Watched. Always watched.

And he’d been in her home. She knew he had broken inside, even though there had been no indication of a forced entry.

“Let’s end this,” Trace urged her. “Come with me to New York. Let me do the job that I know how to do. I’ll find him, and I will stop him.”

She glanced toward the waiting airport. A plane had just taken off, and the rumble of its engines filled the air. “All right. I’ll come with you.”

Reese slammed the trunk. Her head jerked toward him, and she saw that he was carrying two bags. One bag had to belong to Trace, but the other bag—

It’s mine.

“I thought you might see things my way,” Trace murmured.

Confident, cocky bastard.

He took her hand. “Not still afraid to fly, are you?”

Yes, she was. Terrified.

But she wasn’t about to admit that fact to him. He already thought she feared too many things in this world.

I do.

She’d first started to fear when she was eight years old. When her parents hadn’t come home from their dinner. When she’d heard her babysitter whispering about an accident. When she’d stood in a graveyard and watched as flowers were put on two caskets.

She’d feared when she went to the first foster home. When she’d gone to the second. To the third.

She’d feared when hard hands had reached for her during the night. When she was hurt. Pain that came again and again. Her only escape had been to dance.

A social worker had introduced Skye to dancing. She’d taken her to a community center, and Skye had gotten lost in the music, in the dance.

She’d danced. Day after day after day.

And she’d feared…

Until she’d looked up and into a pair of bright, angry blue eyes.

The fear had stopped then, for a time.

But it had come back all too soon.

It always returned, eventually.

***

Alex Griffin watched as the private plane taxied down the runway. Jet-setting away…that seemed to fit with the image that was developing for Trace Weston.

He’d been digging into the man’s background for most of the day. A kid who’d grown up poor, Weston had entered the Army at twenty. His past had been easy enough to discover up until that point, but after he’d enlisted with Uncle Sam, Trace Weston’s records had vanished. There was a four-year hole in the man’s past. Four years of seemingly nothing.

Then Weston had appeared again in Chicago. He’d appeared and suddenly had deep ties with foreign dignitaries, government agencies. His security company had skyrocketed to the top of the field.

Weston had become a millionaire. No, a billionaire, according to his tax reports.

So why was a guy like that taking such a personal interest in a stalking case? That wasn’t even the type of security Weston handled. He worked with corporations, not individuals.

Alex pulled his hands from the pockets of his jacket. He’d already used his badge to gain entrance to the back area of the airport, and he was about to use the shield to help him again. People always talked freely when a badge was involved.

His eyes narrowed as he saw a man rushing away from the runway. “Uh, excuse me, sir…” Alex called out.

The man, older, balding, frowned at him. He wore one of the light blue uniforms typical of the ground crew.

“Were you just working on Trace Weston’s plane?” Alex asked, as he kept his badge out.

The fellow glanced at the badge, then back at Alex’s face. “Mr. Weston doesn’t have any trouble with me. I do my job, I—”

“I never said you didn’t,” Alex soothed. “I was just curious…”

And he had been curious. He’d pulled up at Skye’s studio just in time to see her climb into Weston’s car. So he’d followed them, and he’d watched them fly right out of the city.

Strange. An attack one day. A vacation the next?

“Where was Mr. Weston heading?” Alex asked as he cocked his head.

The guy glanced over his shoulder. “I-I think he was going to New York again.”

Where Skye Sullivan had lived for so long. “Does he go to New York often?” He could, for business, or for—

“Yeah, he goes there a lot. At least once each week.” The man tried to brush by him.

Alex just shifted and blocked his path. “Guys on the ground can sometimes hear stories.” And pick up a lot of gossip. “You hear any stories about why Weston visited New York? In the past? Tonight?”

The man smiled, revealing a crooked front tooth. “I don’t care why he flies. It just matters that he does. Gives me a job.”

Right. This info wasn’t helping him.

The guy walked away. Alex glanced up at the sky. Light raindrops were still falling down. He couldn’t see the plane any longer.

Maybe Weston had been taking all those trips to the Big Apple strictly for business.

Or maybe…maybe he’d been heading to New York for another reason.

Alex had pulled Skye’s accident report. He’d read her statement about someone following her. Forcing her off the road.

The more he probed, the more he worried.

Skye Sullivan was in danger. He just hoped she wasn’t putting her trust in the wrong person.

A mistake like that could prove fatal for her.

***

Trace kept his hand curved around Skye as they headed through the hotel’s lobby. The marble floor gleamed up at him as the concierge quickly escorted them to the private elevator.

Skye wasn’t speaking. She was barely making eye contact with him, and he hated that.

He missed how they used to be.

I’ll have that again.

He’d have everything again.

The elevator doors closed, and the ascent began. The elevator slid up, higher and higher.

“Uh, Mr. Weston?” The concierge—Max—cleared his throat. “Is there anything that you’ll be needing tonight?”

Trace didn’t even try to take his eyes off Skye. She’d slept on the plane. He’d been too wired to even consider dozing off. “I have everything I need.” His voice rumbled.

Skye’s gaze cut to his.

The elevator’s doors opened.

Max scrambled outside. “Y-your suite is waiting, sir. Of course, it’s our plaza suite, just as you always request when you visit to see the—”

“I know the suite,” Trace cut through his words before Max could say anymore. The fellow was damn chatty tonight.

Max hurriedly opened the suite room door. Skye strode inside. Her head tilted back as she looked up at the massive chandelier that waited in the great room.

“You…um…are you sure you don’t want the personal chef to come up?” Max lingered near the door as the bellhop brought in their luggage. “It’s late, but never too late for you, Mr. Weston—”

He knew that the personal chef came with the suite. Trace just didn’t want the guy up there at that moment. He wanted to be alone with Skye. “Send him up for breakfast,” Trace said. His gaze narrowed on the bellhop. “All the bags go in the master bedroom.”

Skye had paused at the windows that overlooked Fifth Avenue. It seemed her shoulders tensed.

She’d heard his order about the bags.

But she wasn’t arguing.

Yet.

The bellhop and the concierge left a few minutes later. The door eased shut behind them.

Skye kept staring down at the city below. “Sometimes, I forget what New York is like…”

Snow fell lightly past the window. They’d flown out of rain in Chicago and right into a late snowfall in New York.

Her hand lifted and touched the pane of glass. “When I was a kid, New York was everything to me. The people here…they were happy. Famous. Everyone loved them.”

When she’d been a kid, she’d bounced from foster home to foster home.

She’d found dancing thanks to a social worker who’d wanted her to have an outlet. That outlet had been at a small, community center. Skye had once told him how nervous she’d been the first day she walked into that center.

She’d been nervous, until she danced.

Skye turned away from the window. “The suite, Trace?” She cleared her throat. “There are only two of us. Do you really think we need…what is this?” She glanced around with pursed lips. “I’m guessing…four thousand square feet?”

“Forty-five hundred.” He pulled off his coat. Tossed it aside. Went to her.

“Any room would have worked. Any—”

His hand cupped her chin. “When I was a kid, I dreamed of not being hungry.” She would know this. Far better than anyone else. “I dreamed of not wearing someone else’s used clothes. Of not being the one mocked because my shoes had holes in them.” His parents hadn’t died like Skye’s. His parents just hadn’t given a shit.

They’d forgotten him most days. Left him to feed and clothe himself.

The day the social workers had come for him…how long had I been without food then?

His old man loved to use his fist. His mother…she loved to use her bottles. She’d drowned out reality and hadn’t cared when her son cried.

“I pulled myself out of the past,” he told Skye, making sure he kept his hold gentle. With her, he tried for gentleness. Only for her. “These days, I can afford any damn thing I want.”

“What you want…”

His fingers drifted down her throat. She had such a sensitive neck. Once upon
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