I Will Make You Mine
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“When I like what I see, I go after it,” he states unapologetically. Kensington Nicholas has everything he wants is at his fingertips: success, willing women, media attention. Everything that is, but her— Annabelle Tremaine. Her heart is healing. His soul is damaged. They both know the two of them could never work. But he crashes into her life without apology—disrupting her world, testing her boundaries, and uncovering the darkness of her past. Their chemistry is undeniable. Their attraction is magnetic. Their ability to help each other heal obvious. And even though he won’t let her in, there’s something about Kensington she can’t walk away from.
Annabelle sighed into the welcoming silence, grateful for the chance to escape, even if only momentarily, from the mindsuck of meaningless conversations on the other side of the door. For all intents and purposes, the people holding these conversations were technically her guests, but that didn’t mean she had to like or even be comfortable around them. Fortunately, Caleb, her was sympathetic enough to her need for a reprieve that he let her do this simple chore for him.
The clicking of her high heels was the only other sound coexisting with her scattered thoughts as she navigated the vacant backstage corridors of the old theater that she’d rented for tonight’s event. She quickly reached the old dressing room and collected the lists that Caleb had set down and forgotten in their chaotic, pre-party rush to clean up. As she started to head back toward the festivities, she ran over her mental checklist of things left to do before the start of tonight’s highly anticipated date auction.
The niggling in the back of her mind told her that she was forgetting something. She reflexively reached for her hip where her cell phone with her always-compiled task list habitually rested, but instead, she came up with a handful of the copper-colored silk organza of her cocktail dress.
“Shit,” she muttered to herself as she stopped to try and pinpoint what exactly it was that she was overlooking. She sagged against the wall, the ruched bodice of her dress hindering her need to inhale deeply a sigh of frustration. Even though it looked incredible on, the damn dress should’ve come with a tag warning, ‘breathing optional.’
Think, Annabelle, think! With her shoulder blades pressed against the wall, she shifted inelegantly back and forth to try and alleviate the pressure on her toes, which were painfully crammed into her four-inch heels.
Auction paddles! She needed the auction paddles. She smiled widely at her brain’s ability to remember, considering she’d been so overwhelmed lately with all of the various details as the sole coordinator of tonight’s event. Relieved, she pushed herself off of the wall and took about ten steps.
And that’s when she heard them.
The flirty, feminine giggle floated through the air, followed by the deep timber of a masculine moan. She froze instantly, shocked at the audacity of their party’s attendees when she heard the unmistakable sound of a zipper followed by a breathless but familiar feminine gasp of, “Oh yes!” in the darkened alcove a few feet in front of her.
As her eyes adjusted to the shadows, she became aware of a man’s black dinner jacket lying carelessly across an old chair shoved askew and a pair of strappy heels haphazardly discarded on the floor beneath it.
Mortification filled her. At the thought of them finding out she was here. For them in being overheard. At her curiosity in who was actually brave enough to do something like this. At how never in a million years would that be her there in that alcove. You couldn’t pay her enough money to do something like that in public. Her thoughts were interrupted when she heard a hiss of breath followed by a masculine, exhaled, “Sweet Jesus!”
She squeezed her eyes shut in a moment of indecision. She really needed the auction paddles that sat in the storage closet at the end of the intersecting hallway. Unfortunately, the only way to reach that hallway was to walk past the alcove currently being used as Lover’s Lane. She had no choice but to go for it. She sent up a silent yet ludicrous prayer, hoping that she could skate unnoticed past their moment of blatant indiscretion
Annabelle scurried forward, keeping her blush-stained face angled to the wall opposite them while she walked on her toes to keep her heels from clicking on the hardwood floor. The last thing she needed right now was to draw attention to herself and come face to face with someone she knew. She breathed a silent sigh of relief when her clandestine tiptoe was successful, allowing her to make it unscathed to her destination.
She was still trying to place the woman's voice when she reached the storage closet. She fumbled clumsily with the handle, having to aggressively tug on it before finally yanking it open and flicking on the light. She spotted the bag of auction paddles on the far shelf as she walked inside the closet, forgetting in her flustered state to prop the door open. As she grabbed the handles of the bag, the door at her back slammed shut with such force that the cheap shelving units in the closet rattled. Startled at the sound, she whipped around to reopen the door and noticed that the arm on the self-closing hinge had disconnected.
She immediately dropped the bag. The sound of the paddles hitting the concrete floor and spilling out was a cacophony of clatter in the small space. When she reached for the handle, it turned but the door didn’t budge an inch. Panic licked at her subconscious, but she suppressed it as she pushed again on the door with all of her strength. It did not move. “Shit!” she chastised herself. “Shit, shit, shit!” she muttered loudly before taking a deep breath, shaking her head in frustration. She had so much to do before the auction started. She didn’t have time for this. And of course, she didn’t have her cell phone to call Dane to get her out of here either.
It was when she closed her eyes in disbelief at yet another ridiculous situation she found herself in that her nemesis made its move. The long, all-consuming fingers of claustrophobia slowly began to claw their way up her body and wrap themselves around her throat.
Squeezing. Tormenting. Stifling.
The walls of the small room seemed to be gradually sliding closer to each other, closing in on her. Surrounding her. Suffocating her. She struggled to breathe.
Her heart beat erratically as she pushed back the panic rising in her throat. Her breath—shallow and rapid—echoed in her ears. Consuming her. Sapping her ability to suppress her haunted memories.
She pounded on the door, fear overwhelming the small hold she had left on her control. On reality. A rivulet of sweat trickled down her back. The walls kept moving in on her. The need to escape was the only thing her mind could focus on. She pounded on the door again, yelling frantically. Hoping someone roaming these back corridors could hear her.
She leaned her back against the wall, closed her eyes, and tried to catch her breath—it wasn’t coming quickly enough and dizziness surfaced. Becoming nauseous, she started to slide down the wall and accidentally hit the light switch. She was submerged in pitch-black darkness. She cried out, frantically searching for the switch with her trembling hands. She flicked it on, relieved to have pushed the monsters back into hiding.
But when Annabelle looked down, blood covered her hands. She blinked to try and snap out of her reverie, but she couldn’t shake it. She was in a different place. A different time.
She felt the intense, blazing pain that twisted so deep in her soul, she feared she’d never escape it. Even in death. It was her own screams she heard that shook her out of her reverie, and she was so disoriented that she wasn’t sure if they were from the past or the present.
"Get a grip, Annabelle!" Annabelle rubbed the tears off her cheeks with the backs of her hands and resorted to her previous year in therapy to try to keep her claustrophobia at bay. She concentrated on a mark on the wall across from her, tried to regulate her breathing, and slowly counted. She focused on pushing the walls out. Pushing the unbearable memories away.
She counted to ten, gaining a scrap of composure, yet desperation still clung. She knew Caleb would come looking for her shortly. He knew where she went, but the thought did nothing to alleviate her surmounting panic.
Finally, she surrendered to her primal need to escape and started pounding on the door with the heels of her hands. Shouting loudly. Cursing sporadically. Begging for someone to hear her and open the door. For someone to save her again.
In her ragged state of mind, seconds felt like minutes and minutes felt like hours. The passage of time was unknown to her, but she felt like she’d been locked in this ever-shrinking closet forever. Endlessly shouting for help. Feeling defeated, she yelled again and rested her forearms on the door in front of her. Bracing her weight on her forearms, she laid her head on them and succumbed to her tears. Large, ragged sobs shook violently through her.
And suddenly, she had the feeling of falling.
Falling forward as she stumbled into the solid length of a man in her path. Her arms wrapped around a firm torso while her legs lay awkwardly bent behind her. The man instinctively brought his arms up and wrapped them around her, catching her, holding her weight, and absorbing her impact.
Annabelle looked up, quickly registering the shock of dark hair spiked haphazardly, bronzed skin, the slight shadow of stubble... and then she met his eyes. A jolt of electricity—an almost palpable energy—crackled when she met those guarded, translucent green irises. Surprise flashed through them fleetingly, but the intrigue and intensity with which he regarded her were unnerving, despite her body’s immediate reaction to him. Needs and desires long forgotten inundated her with this one, simple meeting of eyes.
How could this man she’d never met make her forget the panic and desperation she felt only moments before?
She made the mistake of breaking eye contact and glanced down at his mouth. Full, sculpted lips pursed as he regarded her intently, and then very slowly, they spread into a lopsided, roguish grin.
Oh, how she wanted that mouth on her—anywhere and everywhere all at once. What in the hell was she thinking?
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