Alarm specialist David has neither room nor desire for complications with his sex. But complication is exactly what he gets when he discovers his newest submissive plaything and his newest client are the same person. And they're both being threatened by an enemy he can't identify.
Complications aren't exactly among Jovanna's favorite things either. She's looking for escape, not love, during her visits to a local BDSM club. She didn't anticipate David Burke would be the man behind the best flogging of her life...or that her past would rear its ugly head and threaten to end her life just as she begins to enjoy it again.
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November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Tied & Twisted by Emily Ryan-Davis
Skeins of yarn, colorful by day but shades of gray by night, squatted in the floor-to-ceiling shelving units that lined all four walls of Punk One, Purl Two. As he picked his way around the overstuffed sofas and long tables that occupied the open floor space, the intruder fantasized about unraveling skein after skein and strangling the bitch with every variety his money had bought. Vegan threads, synthetics, one-hundred-percent merino wool--he'd strangle her slowly, one hand-dyed hue after another.
Breaking into the shop was a risk but it gave him a rush. He wore loose black clothes, a ski mask over his head, gloves on his hands. The front window declared the property protected by Burke Security Monitoring but any surveillance equipment would pick up little more than an average-sized man in black. Ignoring the high-pitched beep of the alarm and the ringing phone, he followed his flashlight beam and carefully selected blue, black and purple skeins. He wouldn't be able to bruise her greedy throat with his bare hands but he could mark her this way, choke her in the colors of death until it claimed her. The mental image pushed his balls to a painful state of arousal. If he didn't need to protect himself so diligently, he'd come in her painted mouth while she gasped for air.
The phone stopped ringing. He zipped his backpack and climbed through the frame of the front door, carefully avoiding the jagged shards of glass jutting from the frame like eager teeth.
* * * * *
Wednesday, 1:55 a.m.
Jovanna jolted from a dreamless sleep. The siren-sound of the ringtone she'd assigned to her security company wailed from the cell phone on her nightstand. Immediately alert, she snatched up the phone and answered.
"Burke Security Monitoring," identified the caller, his voice rough and ragged as if he'd recently come from his own bed. David was his name. She remembered that, along with the tempting braid of ink encircling his right biceps. "Is this Ms. Steeple?"
"It's me. Did the alarm go off? I think we have a mouse--"
"The alarm went off and the cameras show evidence of an intruder. Police are on their way to the shop," he interrupted. "They'll need access to the video footage."
Her feet were already on the floor by the time he paused. She reached for a pair of jeans. "I'm twenty minutes away."
"I'm ten. I'll meet the police." He killed the connection.
Jovanna hurriedly pulled the wrinkled jeans over her hips and threw a hoodie over her short nightgown. Dread pooled behind her ribs. Punk One, Purl Two was her baby, the dream she'd finally realized after a long, painfully controlling marriage and messy divorce. In many ways, the punk-rock-themed boutique defined her new life, a defiant middle finger in the face of social control over her existence. Freedom greeted her every morning in the guise of pointy needles and soft, cozy skeins of yarn. She'd found friendship in her small but growing clientele.
At thirty, maybe she should have more to hold onto than a twelve hundred square foot shop filled with fiber, but what she had was what she had. Burke Security Monitoring was an expense she couldn't really afford, not with all the other start-up costs, but David Burke had sold her with his astute, watchful eyes and killer abs. As she belted herself into the driver's seat of her car, she blessed the sex-driven decision to lay out the cash. Blessed the decision, tried to ignore the deeper justification for the expense. Except she couldn't really ignore her reasons now, could she? Security should have been nothing more than defense against a paranoid fear that her ex-husband might come after her. She'd never intended to actually need the alarm system.
Her ex-husband's shadow haunted her. Paul Phillips fought long and hard to keep her locked up in his sphere of control. She wouldn't put it past him to lash out at her here even though she was more than two thousand miles from Seattle.
Halfway to the store, she texted David. IS IT BAD?
COULD BE WORSE.
"I guess that's something," she muttered to the empty highway. If Paul were going to chase her down and do damage, he wouldn't do a half-assed job. If Paul were after her, there'd be no "could be worse"--there'd be only "nothing's left".
When she reached the strip mall's narrow lot, she had to navigate around three patrol cars and a dark blue SUV. The SUV belonged to David. She parked beside him. By the time she climbed from her car, he stood in the door frame. In the door frame. Door still closed. Jovanna narrowed her eyes.
"So an actual break-in. Not a lock pick," she said. Bits of glass crunched beneath the soles of her flip-flops.
"Watch your feet. There's glass inside too." He stepped back, affording her enough room to squeeze past him into the shop. No, that was wrong. Not enough room--her breasts grazed his chest during her sideways sidle to avoid the shards protruding from the frame.
She sucked in a breath. "Anything besides the door?"
But the question was a formality. Jovanna scanned the shop while she spoke. Nothing out of place. An officer stood behind the counter, she presumed checking the cash register for tampering.
"According to the video footage, the intruder took a sledgehammer to the door. Walked over to that wall." He pointed to the BIV section of her ROY G BIV organization system. "Took three skeins of yarn and left."
"Didn't even go near the register." A chill crept down her spine. That did not describe something she'd expect of her ex. Paul would have left serious damage in his wake. His violent tendencies stopped at human injury but he had no qualms about unleashing his emotions on drywall and windows. Paul wouldn't have stopped at smashing the door.
David shook his head. "I'll show you the footage."
"Ms. Steeple?" One of the officers interrupted, approaching from the BIV wall. "I need some information from you."
"Give your info," David said. "I'll wait."
Jovanna answered the officer's questions by rote and provided her ex-husband's contact information with a request he not be contacted unless evidence associated him with the break-in. She didn't want to risk drawing Paul's attention if she hadn't already caught it but at the same time, she wasn't a moron who would conceal such an important detail as a potential enemy.
The officer was efficient. David had provided surveillance footage on a flash drive so after gathering her information, the police cleared out. She planted her hands on her hips and sighed at the destroyed door.
"Reinforced glass the next time," David said from the back of the shop.
"Yeah," she said. "I didn't think yarn was something anybody would really break and enter for."
"What did you think someone would break in for?" David asked.
Revenge. To prove a point. To take something away from her. Was general paranoia enough of a reason? Unwilling to open any of those doors, she shrugged. "The cash register?"
After one last look at the door, she turned. David leaned against a bare space of wall, arms folded across his chest. With beard shadow darkening his jaw and mussed hair, he looked like he'd come from bed about as hastily as she had.
Jovanna swallowed. While the police were there, she'd been overwhelmed by too many details and unable to process them. Now she had only David to look at and her throat ran dry. His khaki cargoes sat low on narrow hips and his gray t-shirt clung to a cut set of pectoral muscles. Above the t-shirt's neck, she caught a peek at another tattoo, this one ornate and...aggressive, from the little she could see. With no more provocation than that, her nipples tightened.
David's focus dropped straight to her breasts and the thin satin camisole she'd slept in.
Jovanna exhaled. She refused to behave like a shy girl and forced her hands to remain in the pockets of her unzipped hoodie instead of acting on the instinct to shrug deep into the concealing folds and hide herself. If he wanted to look...well, she certainly wanted to look. Maybe they could work out a trade.
"I suppose I should see the footage," she finally said.
"It's brief. Only seventy seconds or so." He nudged open the door to the tiny storage room she'd reserved for his equipment.
Jovanna crossed the sales floor and entered ahead of him, David close on her heels. David just close, his chest against her back. Inside the room, wrapped in the heat of electronics, she drew a ragged breath. The space only afforded enough room for one person. Two if they were very familiar.
He reached around her to press a button and his scent invaded her senses. Definitely just out of bed, without the strong scents of soap or aftershave to disguise the earthy fragrance of his skin.
"This is right before he takes the hammer to the door. Watch over here." David tapped his index finger against the right corner of the monitor above her head. Jovanna obediently followed his direction. Nothing happened for two or three seconds but soon a shadow moved. She watched, sick in the pit of her stomach, as the average-sized male silhouette raised his sledgehammer and swung it into the glass. Even though she knew what was going to happen, even though the security monitors had no sound, she jumped at the instant of impact.
After that, everything played out frighteningly fast. David pressed another button and the angle changed. She watched from above the intruder's head as he walked across the threshold, grinding glass into her carpet. He didn't hesitate over direction. As soon as he was inside, he veered left and David changed the picture again.
"He knows exactly what he wants," Jovanna whispered. "The register's on the other side of the shop."
David didn't reply. Jovanna made herself watch the rest. The intruder selected three skeins of yarn, carefully keeping his face angled away from cameras and his flashlight beam away from his face. He turned off the light and hunched his shoulders before he turned to make his exit. All of it in just over a minute.
She hugged her arms across her chest, cold to her bones but with an unsteady sense of relief as well. Paul was a bigger man than the intruder, tall to basketball player proportions. He would've had to walk doubled over to avoid a face shot from one of the cameras. Paul was also in perfect physical condition. The intruder walked with a noticeable limp.
"Anything familiar about him?" David asked as if he'd picked up on her thoughts.
She shook her head. "Nothing. Random crime."
"Looks like a very deliberate crime. None of the other businesses in the block were targeted." He reprogrammed the monitor to show a live feed of the interior of the store and backed out of the room, leaving her space to turn and follow him.
She didn't want to talk about the odd, purposeful intrusion. "What could I have done to prevent the break-in?"
"A more secure piece of glass for the door might've helped."
"My fault for being cheap." She grimaced.
"You didn't invite him in so it's not your fault." David retrieved his wallet from his rear pocket and handed her a card. "Talk to Caleb and tell him I referred you. He'll take care of the door before ten a.m."
Seven hours until her freedom was secure again and as much as she wanted to go back to that little room and wallow in the comfort of a man's proximity, it was time for her to be a big girl. She'd made her own choice to give up that comfort, a tiny price to pay for independence. She plucked the card from his grasp. "Thanks. I appreciate your coming out so late."
"Twenty-four hour service is in the contract." He didn't smile. "Think about home security. I have a bad feeling about this."
So did she.