3. Keeper: A Dark Captive Romance
Keep scrolling for the chapter one excerpt!
Some men aren’t meant to be found. They weren’t made to get close to. Their homes are off-limits. Touching them is forbidden. Because breaking into the fortress of a man like that can obliterate him.
I always hunt the truth. Ever since my sister disappeared years ago, my insatiable need for answers is never satisfied. It’s what I want most of all. More than men. More than sex. Being a journalist is the only thing that’s been able to get me though each day. To help me survive.
Finding Chase Vandershall will be my biggest challenge yet. They say he’s unreachable. That a man who goes that high up into the mountains doesn’t want to be found. But the hard part isn’t getting to him. It’s making sure I stay sane. Stay away from the power of his eyes and the strength in his hands. Remember who I am and what I came for…even as my desire for my captor swallows me whole.
I want this Layla woman gone.
Only a desperate person would seek me out. And only a person with a death wish would actually make it. But this woman—this smoldering, sexy as hell woman—is unlike anyone I’ve ever met, even before I holed myself up on top of this cold, lonely mountain.
She’s learning things about me I don’t want her to know. Things that if the rest of society knew, would put me in prison and leave me there to rot. And even though she’s forced her way into my solitary fortress, I can’t let her expose me. Can’t let her tell the world the dark details of my past she’s uncovered.
But the longer I keep her here, the more I don’t want to let her go. And the more I don’t want to let her go, the more she destroys me.
Chapter One Excerpt:
I should turn back. The road is near impassable, its surface studded with rocks like spikes from hell. The bridge is washed out.
But I won’t turn back.
The thing in me that craves information like a ravenous beast starved to be fed will not let go. It’s raw with a need for the truth so fierce it will only be satisfied with the whole story—even though it’s not my story.
It feels like my story.
It may as well be my story, as likely as I am to ever find my own.
My gaze tracks across the rapid flowing creek to the dirt road on the other side. Up and up, two thousand feet up it goes, above the tree line to the top of the mountain pass. There’s nothing and no one out here. I left civilization fifteen miles ago for a lawless land of endless pine forest and aspen grove, ruled over by jagged peaks so towering, the sun will disappear behind them in an hour, though it’s mid-afternoon.
There’s one law out here: the law of nature.
I shouldn’t be here. But even if I turn around now, I’ll barely make it to town before dark.
If I keep driving, I could find nothing and be stuck spending the night alone in the wilderness in my truck.
But going by the “no trespassing” sign three miles back, something is out here—besides the bears and the rocks. Maybe the something I’m looking for—the someone.
Him. The missing man. The one who could solve all the missing pieces of the puzzle.
I get out of the truck, and a chill far colder than usual for October blows through the air. I grab the paper map from the cab of my truck, the one the gas station attendant convinced me to buy when I learned there’d be no cell service up here.
The creek in front of me flows more like the Colorado River, the sky-blue water rushes by too fast to see the bottom. There has to be a way across it. Otherwise the road on the other side wouldn’t be so gouged out.
I can’t give up now.
I sit on a boulder at the edge and study the flow of the water—the way it breaks around the rocks and swirls in pools.
I have secrets to learn. The best kind—the ones that keep me from having to solve my own.
Someone stops a truck at the creek crossing, and I squint through the binoculars. My first reaction is territorial annoyance. Good thing I brought my shotgun. He’ll get the same treatment all the others get: one warning shot to get the hell back to where he came from.
But then he gets out of the truck.
Or . . . she.
My second reaction is a bit foreign—a roiling anger, one based solely on the fact that she’s a woman—here—alone.
“Oh, that’s gonna be fun,” Keegan says beside me. “It’s a woman, right?”
“Yes.” We stare from the treeless ridge line into the valley below
He chuckles. “You could scare her away.” He leans closer and whispers, “Or you could seduce her. Get her to come home with you. No one would know but me.”
I elbow him in the ribs. He grunts and backs off.
It’s a joke he shouldn’t make. He knows I would never do that, but he also knows the instinct is there.
Living up here, away from people, away from the norms of what civilized behavior looks like, it plays with the senses. It awakens things that living around people deadens. But up here, urbanity is something of a past life. The only currency of value is the need to survive.
And a need for other things.
The things a person misses while being alone for days and weeks at a time.
Even from here, through magnified lenses, her curves are visible. The long stride of her leg, the determined set to her shoulders, the fall of her hair over her neck—my mouth goes dry.
A carnal urge, more forceful than mere attraction, storms through my veins.
Keegan grabs for the binoculars in my hands. “Give me those. I want to see.”
I growl and shove him away.
His eyes widen. “It’s like that, is it?” He shakes his head. “Careful, Chase.”
“She needs to go back to town. Now.” I look again, unable to resist the desire to watch her.
She must be up here for a reason, a wrong reason. No casual tourist ventures this far into the backcountry alone unless she’s looking for something.
If she knew anything, she’d know that people are the most dangerous predators in this wilderness. But there’s no way she knows that.
She should not be here.
It doesn’t matter though. “She can’t make it across the creek. She’ll turn around.” She examines the water of Hell’s Creek then gets back in the truck, but rather than backing up, she drives forward. “Shit.”
“She’s driving into the water.”
Keegan moves closer to me. “Turn around, damn it.” He voices the same worry I have. The creek will eat her alive.
If she swerves downstream her truck will hit a pool no truck can survive and do a somersault through the water. But by some luck, she swerves upstream, missing the obstacle, and though she has to gun it and bottoms out on the bank, she clears the water.
“Did she make it?” Keegan asks.
“Yeah.” Which isn’t really a relief. It’s a whole different set of problems.
“At least you don’t have to retrieve a body.”
I glare at his smug face.
He points at the clouds. “I have to get home before that comes.” A storm is brewing above us, the scent of snow sharp on the cool air.
By nightfall, there’ll be a whiteout too thick to see your own feet. By sunrise, a coat of snow will blanket the gray cragged peaks, and the aspens that haven’t shed their leaves will be creaking in angst.
“You’ve got a serious problem on your hands.” He rubs in that it’s my problem. His house is down the south side of the pass. She’s not heading for his place. She’s heading for mine.
She would venture up here today.
If she’d waited until tomorrow, there’d have been no getting over the pass in the snow. Now though, if she doesn’t turn around before it starts, even in her fancy four-by-four, she’ll be stuck up here for days, a week. Or if it’s like last year, where storm after storm pounded the castle peaks through the fall, her truck will be snowbound for months.
She’s now my responsibility.
Keegan shoulders his pack. “Maybe she’ll prove to be good company.”
I stare at the ground. “Not if I can help it.”
He scoffs. “By the time you get down there and turn her around, there’s no way she’ll make it out before the storm comes.”
“Not my problem.”
“Good luck with that.” His voice oozes sarcasm. “I’ll see you day after tomorrow on the ridge?”
“Yeah.” Same as we always do, day after every storm. But I’ve got bigger problems right now.
“Chase.” He barks for my attention. “Don’t forget to watch the storm and not just her.”
I pass him a who-the-hell-do-you-think-I-am look.
His shoulders shake with humor, and he heads down the ridge.
I look back to my new problem. She’s coming closer. My only option is to hike down there and scare her into turning back.
I lift my pack and adjust the shotgun strap over my back. Good thing I brought it. I want to leave no doubt in her mind that she doesn’t belong in the wild, especially not with me around. I cannot be found by anyone, and the risk that she’s looking for me is one I can’t take.