Mine to Take

       part  #1 of  Mine Series  by  Cynthia Eden / Romance & Love
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Then she heard something else. It sounded like—like water being poured out. Water?

“R-Reese?” She called again. The alarm hadn’t sounded anymore. The system had just given that one beep when they’d gone inside.

Did we shut the door? Reese had been behind her. She’d rushed ahead, thinking he would shut the door.

Had he?

The water kept pouring around her. She took a deep, frantic breath and realized that wasn’t water.

The acrid scent told her it was gasoline.

“No!” Skye shouted and ran forward. “Reese!” She tripped over something. Something soft and warm, and Skye careened to the floor. Her left leg twisted, and pain shot through her.

Her hands flew out. She touched a hard shoulder. Hair. “Reese?” Her fingers skimmed over his face and head, and she felt the sticky wetness of blood.

A light flickered in the darkness. A match. “I will be the one.”

That voice chilled her.

The match flew through the air.

Then the fire ignited.

***

Trace slammed his Jag to a stop and jumped from the vehicle. His eyes were on the studio—on the horrifying orange and gold flames filling that studio.

“Skye!” Trace roared her name.

Reese’s car was to the left. Empty. There was no sign of the other man or Skye.

Don’t be in the fire. Don’t.

But then he heard the faint cry of— “Help me!”

Skye’s voice. Coming from the fire.

He ran for the building even as the windows shattered and glass flew out at him.

The main door was open, smoke billowing from it. He rushed inside, heading straight into the smoke.

Flames lit the scene. Skye was on the floor, coughing, and struggling to pull Reese’s unconscious body toward the door.

“Help me,” she cried again as he looked up. Tears streamed down her face. “I-I can’t get him on my own!”

Because Reese was three times her weight. The fire had circled in close to Skye’s skin. Too close. Trace grabbed her around the stomach. Yanked her away from Reese.

Get Skye to safety. Get her out.

She screamed and struggled against him. “No, I have to help Reese!” But Trace just held her tighter. The fire was too close. Trying to scorch across her skin.

He ran outside with her. She was still coughing. She’d been in the smoke and fire too long.

As soon as he put her down, Skye immediately tried to run back for the building.

He grabbed her and yanked her right back. “Don’t move.” The words were torn from him. Fear and rage beat in his blood, a deadly combination.

Her eyes swam with tears. “He’ll die! We have to get him out—”

“I’ll get him,” he swore. “But you have to stay here.” He had to know that she was safe.

Skye nodded.

He ran back to the fire. He rushed inside the building. The fire had spread even more, the greedy bitch that it was. The flames lapped just inches from Reese’s feet.

He grabbed his friend. Pulled him up. Tossed him over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry. We’re getting out of here.

The breath in his lungs burned. The place was getting too hot. He took a step toward the door.

The ceiling fell down, coming right at him.

***

“No!” Skye yelled when she saw the flames burst through the top of her studio.

Trace hadn’t come back out. He’d gone into the flames to get Reese.

And he just expects me to stay out here? While he faces the fire?

She couldn’t do that. Not for another second. Too much time had already passed. He should have been back.

She leapt forward.

Sirens screamed behind her.

She was at the door, running inside because she was getting to Trace. Only—

He was right in front of her. “Told you…” Trace growled, “stay out of the fire.”

He had Reese thrown over his shoulder. She and Trace ran from the building. Fire trucks streaked toward them.

Trace put Reese on the ground. Trace’s clothes were smoldering as he bent over his friend. “Come on, buddy, don’t do this…”

Reese started coughing.

“Hell, yes,” Trace said.

An EMT jumped from the back of an ambulance and hurried toward them.

Skye glanced over her shoulder. The fire fighters were pulling out their hoses, but there wasn’t much they could do to save the studio.

Fire had engulfed the place.

The EMTs strapped Reese onto a gurney. They pushed him toward the back of the waiting ambulance. One of the EMTs tried to take Skye’s hand.

She pushed him away. “I’m fine.” She couldn’t take her gaze off that fire. The firefighters were trying to contain it so that the blaze didn’t destroy the other nearby businesses. Businesses that—luckily—had been empty at this time of night.

The crackle of the flames filled her ears. Reese could have died in that fire. She’d been pulling him, straining with all of her strength, but she’d only been able to move him a few feet.

The fire had been so hungry. So hot. So wild.

I will be the one.

Reese could have died, because of her.

The ambulance’s back doors slammed closed. The siren screamed once more as it raced away with Reese.

“What in the hell…” Trace began as he closed in on her, “happened here?”

“That’s just what I wanted to know,” Alex Griffin said as the detective stepped right in front of Skye, blocking her view of those terrible flames.

Alex? She hadn’t even seen him arrive. But Skye glanced around the scene and saw that several police cars were there now. It looked like they were setting up some kind of perimeter.

“Ms. Sullivan,” Alex continued, clearing his throat, “wanna tell me what just happened?”

A fire just happened. Can’t you see it? Big, freaking huge, destroying my dreams.

“He was here.” Skye barely recognized the hollow voice as her own. “He set the fire. T-tried to kill me and Reese.”

And if Trace hadn’t been there, the bastard might have just succeeded.

The flames rushed into the sky, lighting the night.

The smoke drifted in the air, and Skye watched her dream burn away.

***

The fire gutted the studio. It burned and burned and even the fire fighters couldn’t seem to do anything to stop his flames.

Skye watched the fire.

Stared at it with lost eyes.

And he, in turn, watched her.

I had to punish you.

After what she’d done, Skye had needed to be taught a lesson.

As the smoke drifted into the air and the fire fighters finally backed up, he smiled.

He was pretty sure that Skye wouldn’t be forgetting this night anytime soon.

Now you’ll always think of me…the way I always think of you.

Every. Fucking. Moment.





Chapter Six


“You saw no one?” Alex demanded as he paced the small interrogation room.

Interrogation.

Trace sat with his legs sprawled in front of him. The detective had been insistent that Skye come in to the station for an interview after the fire. Trace hadn’t been about to let her out of his sight.

Because every time I do, something happens to her.

He could still smell the flames, probably because the damn smoke was in his clothes. The fire had singed him. When the ceiling had caved in, he’d had to dive fast and hard to the right. Another few inches, and both he and Reese would have been trapped. Dead?

His breath exhaled slowly. He had gotten out of those flames, and he’d carried Reese to safety.

His friend was going to be okay. But if Trace had arrived at that studio just little bit later…

“I didn’t see anyone,” Skye said softly. “But I heard him, pouring gasoline.”

“How do you know it was gasoline?” Alex stopped pacing and narrowed his eyes on Skye.

She ran her hand through her hair. A black smudge slid across her right cheek. “The smell. It’s pretty unmistakable, don’t you think?”

He stared back at her.

Trace cocked his head. This was a colossal waste of his time. “Shouldn’t you be out, detective, looking for the asshole who did this? From my count, that’s an arson and an assault, all within a few days.” Attempted murder, more like.

Alex’s lips tightened. “You didn’t see him?”

“The lights were out.” Skye shook her head. “I only saw the flash of his match, then I heard his voice.”

Trace tensed. She hadn’t told him this part, not yet.

“What did he say?” Alex pushed.

“The same thing he said before.” She was too pale. “I will be the one.”

“You didn’t recognize his voice?” Alex yanked out the chair on the opposite side of the table. He spun it around, then sat down, draping his arms over the chair’s back. “He wasn’t familiar to you, at all?”

“He was rasping, whispering.” Her shoulders rolled. “So, no, I didn’t recognize his voice. I still don’t know who this guy is or why he’s doing this to me.”

Alex’s fingers tapped against the chair. “You think he’s the same man who caused your accident in New York?” Then he reached forward and opened a manila folder that was on the table. He shoved some stark, black and white photos across the table.

Photos of a totaled vehicle. Skye’s car.

She was trapped there.

He looked up from those photos and found the detective’s gaze on him. “While you were away on your little trip, I did some more digging,” the detective said.

Good. I’m glad you’re doing your job.

“I talked with a detective Fuller in New York.” The detective glanced over at Skye. “He said you were sure someone had forced you off the road.”

Skye nodded.

Trace pushed the photos back toward the detective. “We just talked to Fuller, too. The guy didn’t buy Skye’s story—”

“Because there was no evidence of anyone else at the crash scene. No paint from another car. No sign of a rear impact.”

“My car…” Her voice was too cold for Trace as Skye said, “Rolled four times. It was smashed like a damn can. There were signs of impact all over the place.”

“Fuller thought it was a one-vehicle accident,” Alex continued. His gaze had locked on Skye’s face. “I’m not Fuller. I know you’re scared, and it sure looks to me like you have a reason to be.”

It should look that way to fucking everyone.

“I’m guessing Weston took you to New York because he thought it might be one of your ex’s, huh?” Now Alex’s gaze swung back to him. “How’d that work out for you?”

“I’m running their alibis.” And so far, turning up jack. So…no, it hadn’t fucking worked out for him.

Alex pursed his lips and nodded. “Running their alibis…that’s good.” He put the photos of Skye’s wrecked vehicle back inside the folder. “But what about your own alibi?” He pushed another sheet of paper toward Trace.

Trace stared down at a picture of himself. An image from a New York newspaper.

“You tend to catch attention when you go places,” Alex murmured. “Guess that’s the price of being so rich, huh? When you went to New York to see the ballet…Sleeping Beauty, right? Well, you were caught leaving the show early that night.” Alex paused. “The date on the image…that would be the same day that Skye here had her wreck.”

Skye’s hand reached for that newspaper clipping. She pulled it toward her. “You were in New York? At my show?” Her head turned toward him. A faint furrow appeared between her brows. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Oh, this isn’t the first show he’s caught.” Again, Alex reached into that folder. “Seems that when you were performing, Trace here made a point of coming to see you dance. At least once, sometimes twice a month. He was always there for opening night, but he’d go back, to catch other performances, too.”

Sonofabitch. The detective had been busy.

“You…you saw me dance?”

“He saw you, quite a lot.” Now Alex seemed musing. “He liked to stay at the same hotel every time he went to see you…that posh place right off Fifth Avenue. I believe you both stayed there on your recent trip?”

“Who did you talk to?” Trace demanded. Because someone had been talking too fucking much. This kind of personal leak wasn’t allowed in his organization. An assistant, an agent—someone was about to get his or her ass fired.

“I grew up in New York,” Alex said with a shrug. “I’ve still got some friends there, and they helped me with my digging.” His lips pursed. “Skye, you mean to tell me that you didn’t know he was there, any of those times? With the two of you being such old…friends…I thought you’d—”

“I didn’t know.” Her voice was even colder now. Her eyes were on Trace. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Dammit. He didn’t want to have this conversation with the detective’s watchful stare on them. “Because we were over.”

She flinched.

Hell. He was fucking this up. We were over. You’d moved on. I just needed to see you.

“He wasn’t just at your dances, though.” And, again, the cop pushed clippings aside. He extracted a final photo from that file. Another photo from the crash scene. Only this time, the wreckage was in the background. Skye was strapped in a gurney and being loaded into an ambulance.

“A reporter on the scene that night caught this shot, but his bosses were…persuaded not to run it.”

She’d stilled.

“That man, right beside the EMTs, that’s you, isn’t it, Weston?”

Skye’s breath rushed out. “You were there the night of my crash?”

Shit. He had to tread very, very carefully now. “I found your car. I called for help.”

Skye shook her head. “Why were you there?”

“I think he was following you,” Alex murmured as his brows lowered. “He’d been watching you for some time. I suspect he left that ballet early, and he waited for you to leave, too. Then he followed you.”

“That’s not what happened!” Trace snapped. He should have told her. Dammit, the minute she’d walked back into his life, he should have told her that he’d been there.

As if he could forget those moments. The pelting rain. The lightning that flew across the night sky.

The blood.

The sick, twisting fear because he could not get her out of the mangled mess that had been her car.

“You were the hero who saved her from death,” Alex said as he gave a nod. “Both in New York, then here, in Chicago. You’ve saved her…what, two times in the last few days?”

Skye wasn’t speaking. Her eyes were so big and wide and lost.

“Someone broke into her studio, slammed her head into the glass…then you appeared, just in time to play her white knight.” Alex’s voice was grim.

“I had a guard on her, I had—”

“Someone set her studio on fire tonight. Before the flames could get to her, you appeared again.”

Skye jumped to her feet.

Trace didn’t move. His hands had fisted. “You think I’m her stalker.”

Did Skye think that, too?

“I think…” Alex began slowly as his face tensed in hard, tight lines, “that you’ve been obsessed with Skye Sullivan for a very long time. Since you were kids, right? That was when you put Parker Jacobs in the hospital. According to him, you did it just because you caught the two of them kissing.”

Don’t! Help me!

Trace forced his hands to unclench. “Parker is a fucking liar. You’d be wise not to believe a word he says.”

Skye had backed away from the table. From me.

“And I’m supposed to believe you?” Alex’s question mocked him. “I tried to get access to your military service records, but Uncle Sam has those sealed tight.”

“That’s the way they should be.” He needed to talk to Skye. Alone. He’d get her to understand what he’d been doing.

“You’re a dangerous man, Trace Weston. You went black ops within months of your deployment. Vanished during your service for nearly four years, then you burst back on the scene with connections to some of the most powerful players in the world.”

He didn’t talk about his service time. Never had. Never would.

“You came back, then you fixated on the one thing that had always mattered most to you.” Alex’s gaze cut to Skye. “You watched her, you wanted her, and you couldn’t stand for anyone else to have her.”

“Trace?” She barely breathed his name. “Tell me…tell me you weren’t at the crash.”

He didn’t want to lie to her anymore.

“She wasn’t hung up on you. Skye had other lovers, so you had to put a plan in place. You needed to get her vulnerable. She was the celebrity in New York, surrounded by too many people. So you took that celebrity status away—you took her dancing away. You caused that wreck.”

“What the fuck!” Trace leapt to his feet. His chair slammed down on the floor behind him.

“She was so hurt in the crash that she had to give up dancing, and that was exactly what you wanted.”
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