Exiled to a luxurious penthouse fortress on Park Ave. and trailed by security teams wherever she goes, Sylvie Jenkins feels like a virtual prisoner.
She made the mistake of falling in love with her boss, reclusive bestselling author and billionaire entrepreneur, Connor Hudson. He’s a strict, demanding Dom, who imposes rules and metes out punishment. He wants her total submission, but she’s not inclined to give it. They’d been living together in his rustic mountain mansion until the day police arrived and informed Connor he was the prime suspect in a series of grisly murders. People who loved him had a habit of turning up dead!
Without a word of explanation, Connor sends Sylvie away, refusing to take her calls or answer texts or emails. He tries to stay away from Sylvie, but he can’t. They continue to see each other in secret. Their meetings are filled with painful discipline, followed by the most exquisite pleasure.
Sylvie becomes jealous when Connor squires other women to society events. He tells her it’s to throw the “real” killer off the track. But Sylvie has her doubts.
Realizing she knows almost nothing about Connor’s background, she decides to search the apartment for clues to his past. She discovers the door to a secret room. What she finds there frightens her. Sylvie had always known Connor had a dark, almost sinister side, but she hadn’t thought him dangerous or cruel. Now she wondered. She kept telling herself Connor wasn’t a murderer. But the question remained, if he wasn’t…who was?
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
This is the 2nd book in the the In His Keeping series. So the first book inspired the second one. I wanted to continue on with the story. The thing that inspired the 1st book was happening on the Westport, NY railroad station on the banks of Lake Champlain in the Adirondack Mts. while my husband and I were out taking a ride. It’s very quaint and off the beaten track. It gave me an idea for the story. A young woman, down on her luck, who’s so desperate that she takes a train up from the city to work for a man she’s never met and live with him in his remote mountain mansion. That was the beginning of the series.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I knew that I wanted my heroine to be nerdy and smart. I met a woman whose name was Sylvie and it just clicked. The name sounded spunky and sassy just like the character I envisioned. The girl in my story is poor but proud. She’s an innocent and grew up on a farm in western NY and came to the big city to work in publishing. But things didn’t work out the way she’d planned. She’s unemployed, days away from being homeless and on the verge of starvation. She needs a job and she’ll take anything she can get. I knew I wanted a billionaire alpha male hero for the story, one who was dark and dangerous. And I wanted him to be a writer. On that same ride through the Adirondacks, we saw some remote log mansions and I could visualize my guy living like a recluse in one of them. I picked his last name first-Hudson. I named him after the Hudson River which is only about 5 miles from my house, but which originates in the Adirondacks. I came up with the first name Connor a few days later.
She opened her right eye a sliver, quickly closing it again. Her head pounded and her stomach churned. “Go away!” she demanded, pulling the pillow over her head.
“It’s 7 o’clock. Time to get up!” the woman clucked. “See. This is what happens when you drink too much!”
“Will you please leave me alone?” Sylvie wailed, making the throbbing in her head worse. “I have a hangover! Let me wallow in my misery!”
“Come on; get a move on sleepyhead. Rex is waiting for you in the workout room,” she chirped.
Sylvie was fighting the urge to strangle her. She cracked her eye open again, focusing on the big black woman with the gap-toothed grin who loomed over her with a breakfast tray. Looking at the food made her want to throw up. She held up her hand, shielding her eyes from the sunlight streaming through the window. “For God’s sake Tituba, close the damn drapes! And you can tell Rex I’m not in the mood to exercise today. Or any other day for that matter!”
“Mr. Hudson will not be pleased. He says you’re to spend an hour with Rex every morning.”
“Screw Mr. Hudson!” Sylvie snapped at her. “Now get out and let me get back to
Undeterred, Tituba put the tray on the nightstand and pulled back the covers. “It’s a beautiful day. The sun is shining. There’s not a cloud in the sky. How about you get your ass out of that bed. Mr. Hudson isn’t paying you to be a layabout.”
“Who gives a fuck what he thinks! I’m tired, damn you. Bug off!”
“My, my but you’re testy this morning. Must be that empty bottle of wine I found in the sink. Didn’t your Mama ever tell you about the evils of demon rum?”
Sylvie glowered at the annoying woman. “For your information it was Pinot Grigio!”
“Whatever!” she snorted. “The point is it’s not good for you to drink alone the way you do. You’ve been here three weeks now and every morning when I come in there’s another empty bottle in the sink. You’re moping around like you lost your best friend. And, if you don’t mind me saying so, looking like hell; like something the cat dragged in.”
“Don’t hold back!” Sylvie replied sarcastically.
“Look, it don’t make me no nevermind girl. But you’re a pretty little thing and I hate to see you doing this to yourself. When’s the last time you combed your hair and put on some makeup? All you do is sit behind the computer, cry, and drink. Whatever your problem is, I think it’s high time you got over it.”
Just what she needed…a lecture at the crack of fucking dawn! The aggravating woman had done her job. She was wide awake now. Shit! Sylvie sat up in bed, staring daggers at her. “I’m up! Are you happy now?”
Looking smug, she picked up the tray. “Here, I made some nice scrambled eggs and toast for your breakfast. Eat up. You need your strength.”
“No thanks, I’m not hungry!” Sylvie insisted, turning away. The smell of the eggs roiled her stomach. She put her hand over her mouth, afraid she was going to heave.
“You’re already trying to drink yourself to death…are you starving yourself as well?”
“Would you just go? Beat it! Clear out! Skedaddle! Vamoose! Scram! Have I made myself clear? You’re not wanted here! I’m not in the mood for any of your folksy quips, lengthy harangues, or diatribes. I want to be left alone. Capisce? I had a rough night!”
“And whose fault is that?”
“Enough already. You’ve done your job. Now kindly get your ass out of my room and take the damn tray with you.”
“Well, someone certainly got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning!” she harrumphed. With that, Tituba Jones, TJ to her friends, left the room.
Sylvie crawled out of bed and looked around the bedroom. It was huge and luxurious. She could probably squeeze 50 people in here if she’d a mind to. But as pretty as it was, it felt cold, austere, lifeless. She hated the apartment. Thinking it a huge mausoleum. She’d joined the ranks of the walking dead since arriving here. A zombie, mindlessly shuffling from room to room, trapped and walled away, denied sunshine and fresh air, existing in a state of perpetual mourning. All she wanted to do was go home. Home to the mountains. Home to him! But that wasn’t going to happen. Might as well get used to it.
The Park Avenue penthouse was very different from Connor’s rustic mountain mansion. It was opulent by anyone’s standards, elegant yet edgy, definitely a rich man’s abode. All chrome and crystal chandeliers, marble floors and mirrored walls; with one-of-a-kind, designer, European furniture that resembled objets d’art…made to look at and admire, not sit on or touch. It was probably some interior designer’s idea of the penultimate in extravagant luxury and chic decor. But it wasn’t a home. It was something to look at, not live in. It didn’t seem possible that the same man occupied both homes and that both places were a reflection of him. But they were. Unlike his warm, welcoming mountain home, this place reflected the dark side of Connor: the detached, hard-hearted, insensitive man. The callous, cruel, uncaring creature that seemed incapable of love.
The building was a veritable concrete and granite fortress. A doorman stood guard at the entrance 24/7. There was a check-in desk inside the lobby where two uniformed guards questioned every visitor before allowing them entry. A cadre of security officers patrolled the entrances and exits, hallways, elevators, stairways, loading dock, underground garage and utility areas, and the outdoor perimeter of the building. No one could get in or out of the building without them knowing it. At the back of the lobby two brawny six-footers watched over a private elevator that whisked passengers to the penthouse; but only after they’d inserted a plastic keycard into a scanning device and numeric code into a key pad. There were cameras everywhere. It was intimidating and quite disconcerting. She felt like she was being spied on every minute of every day. Sylvie couldn’t wait to get out of here.
She’d tendered her resignation three times in as many weeks and all she’d gotten for her trouble was yet another raise. Mr. Larsen, head of Human Resources at Hudson Publishing, kept throwing money at her trying to get her to reconsider and stay. Thus far it had worked. She was now making $135,000 a year. Not too shabby! It was hard to walk away from that kind of money. Especially since she’d been nearly destitute only a few months ago. Connor might be a miserable, cold-hearted bastard, but he paid well. Mr. Larsen was pressuring her to sign a contract, whereby she’d be obligated to stay till all three books in the trilogy were completed. She’d taken the money, but hadn’t signed on yet. She was too fucked up to make a rational decision on anything just now.
Sylvie walked over to the window with its panoramic view of Manhattan. The busy hum of the city made her yearn for the peaceful tranquility of the mountains.
Maybe she could forget him. Start over. But that didn’t seem possible. The memory of Connor, the love she felt for him, the aching need, would be with her till the day she died. Why had he made her go? Driven her away? Tears began trickling from her eyes. She’d surrendered body and soul to him. Sylvie would never, could never, do that again for any man. It was too painful. To give so much of yourself and be left with nothing, nothing but memories of what might have been. She missed the intimacy: his touch, his kiss, the feel of his throbbing cock plumbing the depths of her soul. She sobbed at the physical and emotional distance between them. She felt needy and abandoned.
Sylvie hadn’t left this gilded cage of a prison in over three weeks except to make her weekly pilgrimage to the Hudson Publishing offices to discuss chapters of the book with the various editors now working on them. She was always accompanied by two security guards on those trips. She’d yet to venture out into the city on her own.
Sylvie had barely spoken to her family since arriving. She’d called her father to let him know where she was. That prompted a barrage of questions from him and later her siblings, wanting to know what was wrong. Why she’d moved back to the city? When they pressed her on the subject, she’d bluntly told them to “butt out.” That it was a personal matter and she had no intention of discussing it with them. The topic was too upsetting. Even her nosey sister Sarah eventually got the message and stopped prying. But they must have asked Meagan to find out what was going on, because her cousin had called her five times: twice asking to come over, once wanting to meet for coffee, and two other times trying to convince her to go out to a club to drink and meet guys. Sylvie had turned her down. She wasn’t ready to move on yet. Even contemplating meeting someone new left her bereft. There could never be anyone else for her but Connor. God, that sounded so melodramatic! But she couldn’t help how she felt. He was her first love and she suspected he would probably be her last. Once was enough!
Her attention was drawn away from the window by the sound of her cell phone playing “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol. She stared at it in shock. That was Connor’s ring tone. Except for e-mailed messages concerning the progress of the book, they hadn’t communicated since she left. The emails dealt strictly with business. He gave her a series of instructions and she was to comply and report back when she’d completed the tasks. That was the nature of their dealings nowadays. There were no pleasantries exchanged, no asking how she was doing. He obviously didn’t care! Her hand was shaking when she picked up the phone. It was a text message.
“Eat your damn breakfast and get your ass to the workout room. Pronto!”
Sylvie glared at the screen seething. She didn’t have to do what he said anymore! Out of sight, out of mind buster!
She tapped a reply in bold caps. “FU!” That should get the bastard’s attention!
She pulled on a pair of cutoffs and a tank top and headed to the kitchen, leaving her cell phone behind. Let the son of a bitch stew awhile!
Sylvie ambled into the kitchen and was greeted by a grinning TJ. She glared at the woman. “Pleased with yourself?” she hissed. “Do you always go running to Mr. Hudson to tattle on people? You know, you’re going to get a reputation as a first-class stool pigeon!”
“Want your breakfast now?” Tituba asked, ignoring the comment.
“Nope. Just coffee thanks.”
“You don’t eat enough to keep a bird alive let alone a grown woman. I should get you a tonic to perk up your appetite. Potato chips, crunchy cheesy puffs, and booze are hardly a well-balanced diet.” She passed Sylvie a steaming mug of brown liquid.
“Mmm. Perfect!” Sylvie said taking a sip. It was fixed just the way she liked it with a large splash of hazelnut creamer and a half teaspoon of sugar. “You may be a ratfink, but you make a great cup of coffee.” She took another sip and set the cup down on the counter.
“It is my job to look after you. And for your information, I report everything to Mr. Hudson. He pays my salary. Not you missy! Look at you! You’re nothing but skin and bones. You ain’t got no hips! You can’t even hold up those scraggly shorts.” She pulled on Sylvie’s waistband, revealing a big gap between cloth and skin. “Mr. Hudson will have a fit!”
Sylvie slapped her hand away, frowning. “Who cares what he thinks! Give it a rest Tituba!”
TJ stiffened. She was nearly six feet tall in her stocking feet and weighed 180 well-muscled pounds. She wasn’t used to being challenged, especially not by a scrawny little white girl who a good gust of wind could easily blow away. “I prefer that you call me TJ if you please.”
“What’s the matter with Tituba? I kind of like it.”
“You would!” TJ grumbled, scowling at Sylvie.
“It’s certainly unusual. You’re named for the slave woman who was accused of witchcraft in Salem, right? I studied the Salem witch trials in an American History in Literature class.”
TJ sighed. She detested having to tell the same story over and over again. “My father was from Nigeria and my mother was from Oakland. They met at Berkley. She was, for lack of a better word, a free spirit. She went to live on a hippie commune in upstate New York after my father returned to Africa and she discovered she was pregnant with me. A couple of the women there were practicing Wiccans. They thought it would be empowering if my mother named me after a suspected black witch. They thought it would make me a spiritual, sentient, cognizant being. Or something like that,” she explained, rolling her eyes and shaking her head. “Actually, all it did was make me a laughingstock all through school. Do you know what the nickname for Tituba is?”
The question was obviously rhetorical so Sylvie didn’t answer.
“I got called “Tits” all through school,” she said angrily. “Do you have any idea how mortifying that is for a young girl?”
Sylvie was not the least bit sympathetic; she burst out laughing.
“You think that’s funny?” TJ glared at her.
“I’m commiserating,” she said, laughing so hard she feared she’d pee her pants. “It seems we have a lot in common, you and I. Everyone called me “Pimple Tits” in high school and trust me, it had nothing to do with my name!”
TJ chuckled. “Pimple Tits, huh?” she repeated, unabashedly staring at Sylvie’s breasts. She’d never really taken notice of them before. They were a little on the small side. “I’ll make a deal with you. I promise never to call you “Pimple Tits,” if you stop calling me Tituba. Do we have a deal?”
“Fine, TJ it is!” Sylvie agreed, taking another sip of the coffee.
“Did you get any sleep at all last night?” TJ asked, concerned. “I hate to say it but you’re looking more haggard with every passing day. You look like you’ve got two black eyes. And what’s with those bags under your eyes? You need to get a grip girl!”
Sylvie glared at her. “What exactly is it you do here aside from lecturing me? I don’t want to hurt your feelings; but frankly, your cooking leaves a lot to be desired. I see the housekeeper, Mrs. Haver, in the kitchen cooking all the time. She’s constantly packaging up meals, putting them in the fridge and freezer. So I guess you’re not the designated cook, except for making eggs and sandwiches. And there are at least ten people here on any given day, cleaning, scrubbing, and polishing, carting in groceries, doing laundry, answering the door and monitoring security. So what is it you’re specifically supposed to do around here?”
“I’m to be at your beck and call between the hours of 6 AM and 3 PM every day. With an hour off for lunch of course.”
“Of course!” she snickered. “That’s your job?” she asked incredulously. “You’re being paid for that? And what does being at my beck and call mean exactly?”
“Waking you up on time. Assuring that you eat a proper breakfast and lunch. Making sure you adhere to the daily routine Mr. Hudson has outlined for you. I’m to see that you take several breaks during the work day. Mr. Hudson says you’re a workaholic and will spend hours hunched over your computer unless someone drags you away from it. Sitting at a desk all day is not only hard on your back, but it’s bad for the circulation. He told me your ankles sometimes swell from sitting too long. Mr. Hudson also tells me you’re prone to headaches and eye strain from too many hours spent staring at the computer screen. He wants me to make sure you get up from your desk and walk around for a few minutes every couple of hours. I’m also to have healthy snacks available for you throughout the day and make sure that you drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. Mr. Hudson is extremely concerned about your health and wellbeing.”
Sure he is…that’s why he threw me out like last week’s garbage! Why he turned my whole life upside down! Piss on him! Tituba might believe this crock of crap, but she sure didn’t. Not for a minute! “Please tell Mr. Hudson for me that I neither need nor want his concern. As a matter of fact, tell him that he can shove his concern where the sun don’t shine. And as for you hovering over me like a worried mother hen, I don’t need anyone to look after me. I may have to tolerate you being a nag, a flunky, and a pain in the ass, but I will not allow you to act like my nurse and nanny. I appreciate the thought, but it ain’t going to happen! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a job to do.”
“What about Rex? He’s waiting for you.”
“You deal with him!” She turned and left the room.
TJ sighed in exasperation. What was she going to do with that girl? Sylvie was behaving like a moody, petulant child. She wasn’t eating. She wasn’t sleeping. TJ was worried about her. Sylvie had lost a lot of weight since she arrived. She was beginning to look anorexic. TJ didn’t like that she was sitting alone in her room every night, getting toasted and sobbing her heart out. Someone had to put a stop to it! TJ pulled the cell phone out of her pocket and stared at it. She tapped in the number. Mr. Hudson wasn’t going to like this. He wasn’t going to like this at all.
Mia Frances is the pen name of author Mary Vigliante Szydlowski. She writes across several genres under this pseudonym and others. Her published Science Fiction/Fantasy works include novels: The Ark, The Colony, The Land, and Source of Evil, and a novella, The Hand of My Enemy. In addition to her erotic romance murder mystery thriller series In His Keeping: Taken, Banished, and Claimed, she’s also the author of Worship the Night, a tale of horror and the occult, mainstream novel Silent Song, and four children’s books.
Her short stories, articles, children’s stories, essays, and poems have appeared in anthologies, books, magazines, newspapers, and on the web.
She is a member of the Authors Guild, RWA (Romance Writers of America), SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), and SFWA (Science Fiction Fantasy Writers of America).
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