Part 1:

Chapter 1

 

October 2003

“It’ll be ‘bout an hour til ya car’s ready, mista. Ya’ll is welcome to wait here, but seeing as you’re all spiffed up, ya might prefer the coffee shop over yonder.”

The mechanic’s overly drawled words were accompanied by a grubby finger pointing across the highway. A sign that should have been flashing Jill’s Coffee Corner hung over the door of a small establishment. Unfortunately for the propri­etor, the “J” had burnt out and was advertising “ill’s Coffee Corner.” Damon noticed his boss’s grimace, but knew that the tiny café would be better than wait­ing in the greasy garage.

“Go on, Carran,” he encouraged. “A rainy night like this deserves a cup of something hot. I’ll wait for the car and pick you up when it’s ready.”

Casting a derisive glance at the portly mechanic, Richard Carran accepted the umbrella his assistant handed him and then pulled Damon aside.

“Hold him to that hour and pay in cash,” he instructed and then disappeared out the door.

Damon watched through the glass until his employer disappeared into the café and then settled onto a hard plastic chair, feeling relieved that Carran had decided not to wait with him. It had been an unfruitful evening and his boss was not easy to be around when in a poor spirit. His mood only darkened when his expensive Cadillac stalled in the middle of the road with a flooded engine and had to be towed in the pouring rain to a local garage. Carran controlled himself expertly in any situation, but his temper was violent when sufficiently riled and allowed free reign. Damon had watched warily as Carran’s frustration increased with each passing minute. He hoped that a cup of coffee and some time alone might calm him down.

He glanced over his shoulder at the flashing sign and sighed. It was unlikely. Carran’s Armani suit and tall frame would make him stand out like a sore thumb in this backwoods town, and being the recipient of unwanted attention would not improve his frame of mind. If Damon was lucky, someone else would bear the brunt of Carran’s bad humor and hopefully leave him unscathed.

**********

A bell jingled as Carran stepped into the café and took in his surroundings. The counter-girl was fighting with an espresso machine, but looked up as he entered. He ignored the smile she beamed his way and sat down at a corner booth. His eyes continued to peruse the establishment. Five highschoolers had pushed some tables together and were playing cards. A young couple across the room shared an overstuffed loveseat and a quiet discussion. A long-haired student, probably an attendee of the community college a few miles away, clacked away on a laptop and rounded off the room’s occupants. The young girl behind the register finally won her battle with the machine and delivered two steaming cups to the highschool­ers before making her way over to him. The smile she’d given him earlier grew as she came closer. Carran was well aware of how his dark hair and features affected women and also knew how to use them to his advantage. However, the approval of a sex-charged teen meant little to him.

“Coffee. Black.” He ordered dispassionately enough to make the girl lose her smile in disappointment. She silently delivered the drink a minute later and he sat back in boredom. The other inhabitants of the coffee shop unknowingly annoyed him with their small-town look and seemingly casual approach to life. He was tempted to tell the student absorbed with his computer to give it up. Someone with a backwoods education and community college would be lucky to make more than minimum wage no matter where he ended up. He’d be better off being a laborer for some workers’ union. At least then he’d have insurance and other benefits.

His attention paused for some time at the couple on the loveseat. A casual observer would have barely spared a second glance, but Richard Carran did not fall into that category. They were probably in their late teens or early twenties. He was watchful of their body language and soon sensed a tension emanating from the pair. They were not arguing. In fact, the young man seemed in the midst of a rather long monologue. The girl was holding herself stiffly, but her head hung down as she silently absorbed her companion’s words. She remained in that posi­tion even as the boy rose with a regretful look and left. Only after the bell jingled, announcing his departure, did she look up and stagger Carran’s inner poise.

A girl of such stunning features was not something he saw every day, and his lifestyle acquainted him with many beautiful women. Her waist-length chestnut hair framed a face of soft, almost angelic, features. High cheekbones and long, dark lashes gave her a distinct look that many actresses and models went under the knife to get.

He watched her intently from the shadow of the corner. It didn’t take much to deduce that the boy who’d left her behind had taken her broken heart with him. She wasn’t crying, but only a fool would miss the misery in her expression. Not that Carran was sympathetic. He was seeing instead an opportunity to gain some­thing for himself. The thought made him smirk. Perhaps this night would not be the waste he originally thought it had been.

Never one to walk away from an open door, he took his coffee and made his way across the room, purposefully placing himself in her line of vision, but the girl was oblivious until he stood in front of her and broke into her introspection.

“Mind if I join you?” he asked and sat down before she could answer. For a moment she looked startled and confused by his appearance, and Carran watched with inner amusement as she pulled herself together and found her voice.

“Yes, I mean, no. I mean, I was just leaving.” she said, flustered and losing her composure as quickly as she’d tried to gather it.

Carran gave her a charming smile and handed her his still full cup of coffee. “Here, I think you might need this more than I do.”

“Oh, no, I can’t take your…”

“It’s ok,” he assured, gently forcing the cup into her hand. “The fact is, I know a broken heart when I see one, and a hot drink can be very comforting to the soul.”

There was just the right amount of compassion in his tone and the girl froze momentarily before staring intently into the coffee he had handed her.

“Is it that obvious?”

“No, I’m just more observant than most. Well that and the fact that you are definitely someone worth noticing.”

That comment brought her eyes up to meet his for an instant. He took notice that they were a unique shade of gray before she blushed and dropped her head again. There was no feigned innocence in her reaction, and that made her all the more desirable.

Inwardly Carran smiled. He was quite pleased with the turn the evening was taking. Offering a sympathetic smile, he patted her knee.

“Tell me about it,” he requested, and she was naïve enough to take the bait.

“It’s just, he took me by surprise. Colin and I have been together for nearly five years. It all seemed so right, and now he says that we’ve been growing apart.”

She was striving to maintain some dignity in the public place, but her voice quavered and one teardrop managed to escape her eye and slide down her cheek.

“Call me foolish, but I didn’t think things had changed that much between us. And now, I…I don’t know. I hate the thought of not having him around. We share everything, talk about everything, and he just suddenly decides to leave.”

Her voice broke at that point and a second tear followed the path of the first one. Carran placed a hand over hers, so gently she almost didn’t notice, and was forming his next words when something outside the window caught his attention. Making a quick and calculated decision, he placed a finger under her chin, lifting it until their eyes met.

“Come with me,” he whispered softly, rose with her hand still claimed in his and walked them out before she had the good sense to refuse. It was done so smoothly in fact that the girl didn’t fully grasp what he was doing until he had her with him in the backseat of his car and Damon was driving away from the curb.

“Wait! Stop!” she shrieked as she came to realize what was happening. “Let me out!”

“No, I don’t think so,” Carran said with amused sarcasm. “You’re in no condi­tion to be going anywhere by yourself and I much prefer having you here with me.”

The girl’s gray eyes were large with panic and tears. “But I don’t even know you! Where are you taking me? Please, stop the car!” She pulled forcefully on the door handle but found she was locked in and realized helplessly that the vehicle was picking up speed as it moved onto the freeway and further away from the small town. The man driving so expertly ignored her pleas to stop that it was as if he didn’t even know of her presence.

Carran, in the meantime, casually removed his tie and reached for her hands before she could make things more difficult for all of them. She struggled to pull away as he tied her wrists with the material, but his grip was viselike.

“Who are you? Why are you doing this?”

“I think we’ll save the introductions and explanations for later,” he replied and removed a pristine handkerchief from his breast pocket. She saw he meant to gag her and she pressed back against the car door, trying to swing out despite her bound hands. He easily dodged the attempt but didn’t see her foot kick out until it connected with his shin. He winced, but finished tying the handkerchief around her mouth before slapping her. The strike was just hard enough to sting without bruising and she squeaked in pain and tried to pull further away from him.

“Now listen,” he said calmly, but with no trace of the kindness he had demon­strated in the coffee shop. “Anything you throw at me will be returned with inter­est. You’re coming with me and the only decision you have in the matter is whether you will be conscious or not when we reach our destination. Understand?”

There were several long moments of silence as she looked at him in fear, judging whether he meant what he said, until she finally gave a slight nod of acknowledg­ment.

“Good,” he said gravely, and then shifted to remove his belt, an action that reig­nited her desire to fight. Fear shone clearly in her eyes, but he had no intentions of having his way just then. Instead the belt was wrapped tightly around her calves and ankles until she was settled where he wanted her.

“Just so you’re not tempted to kick again,” he explained with a sardonic mock at her expense.

With her mobility greatly hindered and the gag forcing her silence, she seemed to wilt against the seat. Her capitulation was expected and Carran used the rest of the trip to study his new acquisition.

**********

Damon retrieved his boss’s briefcase and overnight bag as Carran led the pretty brunette into the large hotel. He’d unbound her and then whispered something effective enough to keep her quiet and submissive as they’d entered the build­ing. Damon had no doubts that the two would make it to Carran’s suite with no hassles. He was a few minutes behind them, and his boss was just locking the door to the suite’s third and smallest bedroom when he entered. He handed the briefcase to his employer while glancing at the closed off room.

“You’re leaving her alone?”

“There’s nothing to be concerned about. That bedroom has no outside windows, and I’ve removed the phone. She’s not going anywhere.”

Damon sat down silently, but Carran knew his assistant well. The constant glancing at the bedroom door and raking his hand anxiously through his dark blonde hair was clear evidence that Damon was unnerved about something but not wanting to voice it.

“Out with it, Damon,” he ordered. “You’ll be no help to me until whatever is on your mind is said.”

The assistant rubbed a frustrated hand over his face. “I’ve just never known you to make a rash decision like this, sir. If you’re caught…”

“Have I ever been caught, Damon?” Carran asked without concern.

“No, but you’ve never….” His assistant hesitated, clearly trying to pick his words wisely.

“Say it,” Carran ordered.

Damon hesitated a moment longer before doing as he was told. “You’ve never been the one to dirty his hands, sir. This time you have and you took her from a public place in front of witnesses. You can be identified. We both can.”

Carran removed his suit’s expensive jacket, draped it over a chair, and moved without concern toward the end table that held a lamp and the room’s phone. “I’m bothered that you have so little trust in me. Did you use cash when you paid for the repairs?” he asked.

“Of course!” Damon declared, wondering how Carran could question that when it was so driven into him that they never use anything but cash.

“As did I. Did you see the girl struggle as we left the café?”

“No, she didn’t do that until we were driving away.”

“Exactly, and she’s not a child, so should someone try to contact her or suspect foul play the police will not do anything until twenty-four hours have passed, and even then it will only be the local police who will initially start a search. By then we will have quite a few miles between us.”

He picked up the receiver and proceeded to place an order to room service as Damon absorbed the truth of Carran’s words.

“Why her?” he finally asked after the other man hung up, knowing there was more to his boss’s actions than he was being told. The other man smirked.

“Let’s just say that she caught my eye.”

Damon couldn’t say that surprised him. Only he and two others were aware of the “business of women” that Carran was involved in—a carefully hidden business where women and money swapped hands—but his boss’s role in things was usually more hands-off. His actions this night were rather unsettling to the younger man.

“She is beautiful,” he commented carefully with hope that his questioning wouldn’t anger his boss, “but you’ve avoided being directly involved in the acquir­ing of the others we’ve passed along.”

Carran stretched out on the suite’s expensive couch and closed his eyes. “Yes, but those were business. This one’s for me.”

Damon was floored. “But you never…”

“Tell me, Damon,” he continued as if the assistant had said nothing. “Can you recall the last time I was able to associate with a woman who didn’t brazenly flirt, who had no knowledge of my financial worth, and was innocent enough to think I, a complete stranger, had nothing but good intentions for coming and talking with her?”

Damon knew the answer was “never”. His boss was a wealthy man, owner of several lucrative businesses, stockholder in others, and was often sought after by the women who attended the few social events he had been willing to show up at over the years. These women were prone to be treasure seekers, shamelessly vulgar in their manner, but ready to verbally attack any man who didn’t respond to their attentions. Their ages ranged from 18 to 80, but they were all the same, and Carran hadn’t looked twice at any of them as far as Damon could recall.

“I can understand the appeal sir, but this is still very unlike you and definitely complicates our situation.”

“Have you ever known me not to get what I want, Damon?”

“No.”

“There you have it. I wanted her. Now I have her.”

“And when you’re done with her?”

“We’re not going to have to cross that bridge for a while, I’m sure.” A self-satis­fied smile crossed his lips as his eyes closed without concern.

A knock a few minutes later announced that room service had arrived and Damon rose to let them in as Carran continued to lounge. A platter of sand­wiches, a bottle of wine, and a carafe of hot coffee was pulled in and Damon made sure the boy left with a healthy tip.

“Do you even know her name?” the younger man questioned when they were alone again. There was a very brief pause before Carran began to chuckle with rare amusement.

“No, I don’t,” he finally answered. “It never even occurred to me to ask. Not that it’s terribly important. Still,” he rose and picked up a couple of the sandwich­es. “Now is as good a time as any to find out.”

He disappeared into the bedroom where he’d left the girl and Damon spent a few minutes wondering what was going on inside before moving to make prepara­tions for the following morning.

**********

Carran had left the girl sitting on the room’s double bed with her hands, feet, and mouth wrapped securely enough to prevent release, while still allowing her some minimal movement. She shifted as far back against the wall as the binds allowed, backing herself into a corner of the wall when he entered the room.

“No noise,” he ordered with a tone few would have dared argued with.

Carran, an expert at conducting himself in any situation, knew how to keep almost anyone from defying him. This girl was no different. Her instinct to survive kept her silent as he removed the duct tape he’d bound her with earlier. She flinched, but didn’t move away as he reached for one of her hands and gently massaged where the tape had been. She was obviously unnerved by his touch, but too fearful to pull away.

“Please…” she whispered.

“Please what?”

“Let me go,” she pleaded.

“Now really,” he mocked, “how likely do you think it is that I will do that?” He let her pull her hand away, and she held it against herself protectively while trying to blink back the tears that were threatening to fall. Carran leaned in, placing his hands on either side of the frightened woman and stopping his face just inches from hers.

“We’re going to get to know each other very well,” he promised, not caring in the least that his words made the tears she’d been holding back finally drip down her cheeks.

“No,” she pleaded, raising her hands in defense against his closeness. “Don’t…I’ve never…I promised…” she choked out.

Carran paused, finding himself slightly curious. “Promised what?” he ques­tioned.

“To…to wait,” she nearly whispered.

Her meaning dawned on Carran a moment later. The grin that raised his lips was almost wolfish, doing nothing to make the young woman any calmer. “How ever did you manage to keep the men at bay?” he asked, leaning in closer to whisper the words into her ear.

It wasn’t a question that needed an answer; and even if it was, the girl was quite beyond speech at the moment. Chuckling to himself, Carran lightly kissed her cheek, enjoying the effect he was having on her and pulled away enough to settle more comfortably on the bed.

“We’ll save this for another time,” he assured. The girl relaxed only minutely at the words. “Right now,” he continued, “I’d simply like to know your name.”

She remained silent, obviously not wanting to share anything with him, but a straight threat to re-bind her served as sufficient motivation.

“Katie,” she whispered. “My name is Katie.”

Carran grinned, knowing all along that he would have his way. “Good girl,” he commended before closing the distance between them once again.