Chapter One

He had tortured her. Not on the outside, she could have handled that. It wouldn’t have been the first time she had been hit or kicked or well other things.

No, he had messed with her mind. She had nightmares seeing his fangs as they punched through his upper lips to descend huge and gruesome, followed by the feel of his hot breath on her neck. The more she bottled them up, the worse they became.

She was becoming afraid someone might commit her. That someone, of course, was Rena, her best friend. She tried to avoid her nowadays. It was better for both of them this way.

She flipped the covers off, getting up. The pretense of sleep was long gone. She slipped on her work clothes and went out. It was only four a.m., but she would spend the rest of the night walking around the dark streets.

After what she had been through, the streets no longer scared her. She knew there were real monsters out there and they only looked like men.

She felt the hair on her neck vibrate. He was following her again. She knew if she looked over her shoulder there would be no one there. There had been no one there for months, but he was there somewhere.

She refused to say his name as if saying it would make him appear. SB it was, it was the local twenty-four-hour coffee shop, and it was also her little slice of comfort complete with great coffee. If she were inside, he would protect her from the outside. If she chose to walk, he would be so close she could touch him, even though she couldn’t see him.

She shook her head. These were the things she couldn’t tell anyone. They sounded insane. She was scared to even tell Rena and she told Rena almost everything—they had been best friends forever.

She walked into SB smiling at the two familiar faces. They were there most nights when she came in. One was a writer she knew; they had talked several times. She said she got some of her best writing done at night.

The other was a friendly, elderly gentleman. His wife had passed a couple of months ago and nights were the hardest for him. The bed was too empty he would say.

She went up and greeted Jim, the barista. He was a twenty-something college student who was working his way through. He was friendly as well as intelligent. She always enjoyed talking to him.

“What brings you back, Dee?”

He had called her Ma’am more than once when they first met. She found it imperative to make him stop that. It made her feel old. When had thirty-one become old? She finally convinced him to call her Dee.

“I couldn’t sleep again.” She looked into his bright eyes—sky blue and felt like she was outside. His dirty blonde hair fell into his face. If she were five years younger, with more patience, she would be all over him.

Now all she thought about was a cup of coffee and sleep that didn’t terrify her.

“The usual?”

“Yes. Wait. No. Give me a pastry too, that one, the chocolate one that looks like pure sin.”

She took her glorified coffee drink and her pastry and found a comfortable over-stuffed chair to sit in. She set the pastry down and looked at it.

She could almost see her mother’s disapproving face. ‘Dee.’ Her mother would say. ‘Remember, you have to keep your body slender. How else will you get a man?’

She would love to tell her mom about slender bodies and men, but her mom was no longer with her. She had learned the hard way that having a man wasn’t always what it was cracked up to be.

Dee picked up the pastry and sunk her teeth into it. Damn, it was good. Maybe she would just eat and eat until the opposite sex never looked at her again. She was okay with being the local cat woman.

She turned to the window and licked her lips, taunting without remorse the imaginary male watching her.

When the pastry was gone, and the coffee had warmed her insides, she slumped back in the chair. She wrapped the handle of the purse around her arm and then stuck the rest under her ass.

Yes, she was paranoid. She deserved to be after all that had happened to her. Then she closed her eyes, hoping she might cat nap for the next two hours.

Once she swore her invisible bodyguard was standing over her, she felt a warm sensation. It made her tired, and she slipped off to sleep.

When an unfamiliar noise woke her, four hours had passed. It was the most sleep she’d had since the kidnapping. She almost felt human. She got up and stretched. Jim was gone and the new day was in full swing.

She shivered as she thought of how she had been taken as bait to capture Rena. They both made it out alive, but she would never be the same again.

Already late, she needed to go. She worked for Dare Security. They were a large security company with contracts all over the world. She always wondered how a security company became that big.

She knew from her best friend, who happened to be living with the big guy himself that they had government and military contracts. Wow, she had no idea when she started the job.

She waved to security when she walked in. She was an accountant. Yeah, Mom, I can take care of myself. They paid good wages here. They could afford to. She knew since she did the books. They employed several accountants. The company was that vast.

“Dee. How are you?” Cheryl, one of the secretaries, called out to her.

She changed course to stop and talk for a minute. “Doing good, but as you can see, I’m late.”

“Hun, you look like you slept in that outfit.”

“That’s because I did. See you later.”

Anyone who knew her knew she wasn’t the same anymore. There was a time when she wouldn’t have been caught in anything but the finest, sharpest clothes. Now she didn’t care.

She still cared about herself, barely, but she didn’t care about the outer trappings of clothes or even hair. Her extensions were gone, nothing but tracks anyway.

She now wore her long, but way too fine hair straight. It was funny how different it made her look. She was still attractive, but not really cover girl model material anymore.

The smell of donuts stopped her march towards her desk. Her stomach rumbled. She had just eaten that pastry five hours ago. Her stomach protested and before that you ate three days ago.

Oops, she had forgotten that. So much for sticking it to her Mom. She went over and picked up a nice big fluffy donut and grabbed another cup of coffee. Coffee was appropriate at all times as far as she was concerned.

Finally, she was at her desk. Maybe her boss would not notice she was late. He would notice. The man noticed everything, taking another bite of her donut, she logged into her computer and hit the net.

She wanted to start by looking at the bank account. Although the money in there wasn’t hers, now that Rena was tied to it by the owner, she wanted to make sure none of it was missing.

She noticed a month ago that money seemed to be rerouted. Not only was she not a thief, but she also didn’t want one on her shift. She told Vance, who was head of the department.

Many times the brothers headed each department personally, but they brought in managers not too long ago, because of different incidents that had happened. She wasn’t sure she trusted Vance. Then again she was justifiably paranoid. She did try to remember that.

She had informed Vance of the suspected missing funds. Fortunately, it was not from the job sites for which she was responsible.

She started with checking the balance. They had such a healthy bank account in this economy that hundreds of thousands of dollars could go missing with no one except the accountant being any wiser.

She checked the beginning balance with the ending balance last night. She looked at every withdrawal and deposit. Money was still being directed elsewhere. There were two withdrawals she couldn’t account for, again neither in her particular job sites.

Should she bring them to Vance’s attention again or leave well enough alone? The question became a moot point when Niko walked in.

Niko was one of Aran’s brothers, or at least they called themselves brothers. None of them looked alike. Maybe they had different mothers, although they all shared a last name.

Ironically, it was Dare. Niko Dare. The man who haunted her dreams when the nightmares gave her a few minutes of peace. She dreamed of him as she slept in SB’s earlier. He stood over her and sang her to sleep in a language she had never heard before.