Stains of Desire – Maggie Cole

THERE’S A CLOCK TİCKİNG. No one can hear it but me. It’s in my head. All day long, the farther I am from Penelope, it gets louder and faster. I promised her I would find her daughter. I pledged to her I would only come back to rescue her when her only child was delivered to safety. But I can’t find Millie. Every clue leads to a dead end. As soon as I almost have her, it’s as if they sense I’m coming and move her. When I saw Penelope last night, it was only by accident. It’s as if God himself knew I needed to see her. And touch her. And be assured that she was all right. At least for now. But they are hurting her.

She didn’t have to tell me. I saw it on her face. I heard it in her voice. And I felt it as she clung to me. When I held her, the power of our chemistry hadn’t changed. It was as potent as the day we met. My skin sizzled with a humming voltage only she had ever created within me. My body wrapped around hers as if I were ivy, spreading all over a tree, leaving no piece of bark or limb uncovered. And the sweet smell of her skin invaded all my cells. When the darkness flew by, the black turned into a white fog that you could almost see through, and we were forced to part ways.

It was like ripping a scab open. The hardest thing I’ve ever done is leave her, knowing she’s in danger and one wrong move could get her killed. She’s playing a dangerous game. It’s a match she didn’t choose to partake in, but as long as her daughter is still in their hands, there aren’t any other options. Hours later, her scent still lingers on me. The hunger I feel for her isn’t gone. If anything, it’s only stronger. The new promise I made her drives me to move forward. Finding her daughter is still the top priority. And I made a new oath about the hand of justice I’ll deliver.

Not only will I find her daughter, but when I return for her, those who hold her child’s life over her head will pay. My price doesn’t involve money, or power, or material things. Nothing they greedily value will buy their way out of their destiny. When you hurt the woman I love, a bullet is involved. Kidnapping her child and using it to keep her in distress and fear earns you a special ending on this earth. And I’ll make sure every drop of blood and breath of air is out of all their bodies before I take Penelope to safety. But I know the clock doesn’t stop. And the longer Millie is missing, the bigger the hole in my gut grows. I’m a man who’s seen the flames of hell. I’ve looked plenty of men in the eye who are as evil as Satan himself.

The ticking in my head tells me that if ever there was a miracle needed, it’s now. And it needs to come fast. 1 Penelope 21 Months Earlier “I’VE DONE what you’ve asked. I’m ready to go back to England. Please. Let Millie and me return home,” I say to William Davies, the U.K. ambassador stationed at the Panama Canal. He’s my boss and, against my better judgment, my lover. But I shouldn’t call him that.

He’s everything a lover shouldn’t be. Cold. Callous. Ruthless. Selfish beyond comprehension. Greedy. It happened a few years ago, in a moment of weakness. I had a double whammy hit me on my first day in Panama. I went to the store to buy groceries and got mugged. It also happened to be the anniversary of the death of Millie’s father, Oliver.

We were engaged and due to wed when he got into a car accident a few weeks before our wedding. Millie had only turned one when it happened, so she doesn’t remember him. When I got safely into the embassy after being mugged, and finally got Millie to sleep, William stopped by to make sure I was okay. The loneliness of being a single mother in a strange country, and the victim of a crime, hit me all at once. The only reason I took the transfer to Panama was to provide for Millie; I didn’t want to be here. But Oliver had no insurance, and my salary significantly increased when I took the transfer. William and I had known each other since we were school children in England. He was older than me by ten years, but we grew up in the same village. Before I met Oliver, William wanted me. But I never had feelings for him.

For years, I worked for him, skirting around his advances, until I hooked up with Millie’s dad. It should have ended William’s quest to make me his, but the heat in his eyes still burned whenever he glanced my way. And I always brushed it off. Moving to Panama, away from everything I knew, I couldn’t escape what he wanted. I already knew I would never have feelings for him, but the emotional day broke me. It had been so long since a man’s arms were around me. And I caved. William claimed me as his ever since that fateful error. There’s no way around it. He’s my boss.

He’s the ambassador. He’s a global leader. I didn’t know what a global leader was or that William was one at the time. But over the years, I’ve learned more than I want to know. I wish I could go back to being ignorant of the truth, but it’s impossible. “You want to leave me?” he snarls, his eyes turning darker and face reddening with anger. Stay calm. I need to get Millie out of this country. “We’ve talked about this. It’s not about you.

I miss home and you won’t be stationed here forever.” Not that I’ll come anywhere near you once I’m safely home. Who am I kidding? He’ll always have power over me. Anywhere I go, he’ll have access to find me. He snorts, goes to the bar, and pours two fingers of whiskey in a crystal cut glass. He drinks half of it and sits in the armchair. “I’m not ready to give up my position. And I’m not giving you up, either. That goes for the needs I have at the office and in my bed.” My stomach churns.

Every touch from him sends a shiver down my back. Not the hot and tingly one but the cold, dangerous, get-me-away-from-him kind. But if I don’t put up with it, I know the consequences. He’s warned me numerous times he’ll take my daughter from me. And I have to protect her. He’s going to own me forever. “Please. You told me—” “You’ve always done this.” He chugs the rest of his whiskey. “Done what?” He sets the glass down on the table with a thump, and I wonder if the bottom cracked.

He steps in front of me. His tall frame towers over me. I should love it, but I don’t. The wrinkles around his eyes intensify from his scowl, and his forehead shines under the light. “Since you were a child, you’ve been wishy-washy and indecisive. Instead of thinking with your brain, you make rash decisions based on what you feel. Well, I’ll be the one to make the decisions, since you’re incapable of making good ones.” “William—” “End of subject. You’re not leaving until I get on a plane with you. Understood?” I swallow the thick knot in my throat.

“Wil—” “Mummy,” Millie screams and comes running out in her nightgown. Big tears stream down her cheeks, rolling over her freckles. Her green eyes and red hair match mine, and everyone calls her my mini-me. I need to get her out of this house. William grunts and scowls. He finds Millie to be a nuisance. I’m constantly worried he might send her away, so I live in fear over her safety. I crouch down, and she throws her arms around me. “Did you have a bad dream, sweetie?” She hugs me tight and sniffles. I rise with her in my arms.

I don’t say anything to William and leave the room. I tuck Millie back in her bed and lie next to her. She curls into my body, and I stroke her hair. I sing her a lullaby she loves, and she’s soon asleep. I slide down, tempted to stay with her all night. But the last time I didn’t sleep in William’s bed, I paid for it the next week. He kept me working until midnight every night and had me at the office at five a.m. I didn’t see Millie the entire time. Since the nanny is on his payroll, I don’t trust her.

But I had no choice but to leave Millie with her when I went to work. I kiss her head one more time and sneak out of her room. Down the hall, the light from the bedroom illuminates the floor, and my stomach drops. Every night, I pray William isn’t in the mood. But most nights, I have to perform. I don’t dare put up any resistance or not act into it. The one time I did that, I earned another week of not seeing my daughter and had to give him blowjobs under his desk during lunchtime and beg him to let me see her. Any sense of self-respect I used to have is now gone, a mere memory of the person who existed before I stepped foot in Panama. Millie is the only person I care about. Her welfare determines my every move.

All I want to do is escape from William and hide somewhere he can never find us. It’s impossible. There’s nowhere to hide. Too many eyes are under their control. And I’ll live the rest of my life without any other man ever touching me again. If I had never let William break me down, I might not be in this position. I slowly tiptoe down the hall, trying to quiet my footsteps on the dark parquet floor. When I get to the doorway, I take a deep breath. Do whatever he needs and get it over with. “Tell the prime minister the supply is ready to be increased.

Santiago won’t know what hit him.” William stands at the window, gazing out at the bustling nighttime city life. His shoulders are tense, and his voice is as cold as usual. I should be attracted to the back of his long frame. I’m five-ten and have only been with tall men. His black hair has more silver streaks since we’ve been in Panama City, which would normally appeal to me. I’ve always been attracted to older men. But everything about William disgusts me. I go into the oversized walk-in closet and open the drawer full of skimpy lingerie that barely covers anything. Before I moved to Panama, I used to love wearing sexy numbers.

Now it only feels dirty and like a chore. But I put it on. It’s not a choice. It’s a requirement. At all times, I am to be perfectly groomed, put together, and in what William calls “appropriate clothing.” I used to love sex. Nothing was better than having a man wrap his warm arms around me and make me feel safe. Or the tension of chemistry building minute by minute from one touch, or glance, knowing that the moment an opening presents itself, you’re going to be pretzeled around each other in a sweaty state. But it wasn’t just about two bodies coming together as one. I craved the intimacy that only a man and a woman can experience.

I miss the intensity of an orgasm, as much as spending hours in bed laughing. With William, there is no pleasing me. Laughter doesn’t exist in this house, except between Millie and me. “Penelope,” William calls out, and I stifle my groan. I leave the closet, slide into the bed, and fall into my role as the dutiful woman. The next morning, I get up, but William has already left. Millie is due for a doctor’s appointment. I get her dressed, and we venture out. There’s a new driver I’ve not seen before. But he opens the door the moment we step outside, so I don’t question anything.

Drivers seem to rotate in and out of William’s life, and I never know who we’ll get. “Good morning,” I say to him. He nods. I buckle Millie in the seat and then latch mine as well. I focus all my energy on her, happy to be getting extra time with my daughter. But I should have paid better attention. I should have questioned the driver about who he was. When I look up, I don’t recognize anything. I hit the button for the divider. “Sir, I think we’re going the wrong way.

” He says nothing and rolls the divider back up. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and I try to put the divider down again, but it’s locked. Stay calm. You don’t want to scare Millie. I pull my phone out of my purse, but the signal isn’t popping up. It’s as if someone blocked me. The first stop he makes, I attempt to open the door, but it won’t open, and I can’t unlock it. For several hours, we drive. My heart races fast, and my chest tightens, but I keep reminding myself Millie is with me. When we finally stop, I pull her closer to me.

The door opens, and my stomach twists tighter. William is emotionless. This man in front of me takes it to an entirely new level. His expression is arrogant and sinister. Power radiates from his dark, cold eyes. His dress pants and shirt are immaculate, without a wrinkle on them. Long, black hair is pulled into a ponytail. Not a hair is out of place. If he didn’t represent evil, he would be attractive. But this man could be the devil himself.

I know it because he’s Santiago Gómez, the Colombian drug lord. Like the rest of the drug lords, he’s a global leader. But there’s a struggle for power going on. And the majority of the leaders have sided with his competitors. Fear roots itself in my toes, and I tug Millie closer to me. He slides into the seat next to me. “Penelope. It’s been a while.” I stay quiet, scared I’ll say the wrong thing. He takes his finger and drags it down Millie’s cheek.

And I want to rip his head off for touching her, but one wrong move could put her in more danger. “It’s time to choose sides.” “I-I don’t understand,” I stutter and pull Millie as close as possible to my side. But there is nowhere to hide or protect her. His finger freezes, and he focuses on me, then traces my collarbone. I shudder. “You know all the secrets and people. And you’re going to tell me everything you know. Then you’re going to help me make things happen.” “I don’t know anything,” I cry out.

If I say anything to him about what I’m privy to, I’ll die at the Global Leaders’ hands. William would probably put the first slice into me. His eyes turn to slits. “Daughters need their mothers. The next time you lie to me, yours won’t see you ever again.” Tears fall down my cheeks. “Please, leave her alone.” “Then choose. Answer within three seconds, or you’ll see my wrath. My side or theirs.

” I don’t need to think. No matter what might happen in the future, right now, I need to do everything I can to protect Millie. “Yours.”

.

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