Jealous and angry, her relationship with Connor in tatters, Sylvie decides to escape her penthouse prison. She flees to an isolated cottage in the Catskill Mountains where she hopes to lick her wounds and mend her broken heart. Sylvie has a new job and a new life, far from the hustle and bustle of the city, far from Connor Hudson’s rules and control. She may have escaped her lover, but not the killer. He knows where she is…and he’s coming to claim her!
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
This is the 3rd book in the In His Keeping series. I simply wanted to continue the story begun in books 1 and 2.. 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.
Excerpt from Chapter 1
At 6:30 she was finally able to sit down and check emails. Sylvie had reams of them. Most were from Connor. She couldn’t bear to look at them. She’d been holding it together most of the day, going through her to-do list, trying to keep her mind occupied with other things…anything but him! But it hadn’t worked. Sylvie wondered where he was? What he was doing? If he was angry or sad? She’d spent the whole damn day thinking about the bastard. She didn’t know why she even cared. You can’t continue to love someone who can’t or won’t love you back. She’d ended it. She’d had no choice really. It was already over. Had been for weeks. It was better this way. That’s what she kept telling herself. But it didn’t stop her from missing him. From wanting him. Sylvie fought back tears. She really had to stop this crap! He didn’t want you! Let it go! Tears spilled from her eyes. He was obviously angry at her. Connor expected to be obeyed. He didn’t allow mutiny in the ranks. And her leaving was certainly that. If he was angry about anything, she told herself, it was about losing a good editor, not the lover he’d banished and imprisoned for the last three months. Lovers were expendable. A gifted editor was not! Except of course on those rare occasions, few and far between, when Connor showed up wanting to beat her ass and play a rousing game of hide the salami before abruptly disappearing again. She thought they’d been making love. But she knew better now. In his eyes she was, and probably always had been, part of the bimbo brigade. Someone meek, compliant, and needy, who he could screw whenever it suited him! He didn’t give a tinker’s damn about her. She’d deluded herself into thinking otherwise.
When Sylvie was with him she felt special, but she wasn’t, not really. She stared at the list of emails from him, but didn’t open a one. She’d spent months trying to connect with him, sending texts and emails, leaving voicemails. Now he’d know what it felt like to be ignored, to be left hanging. Sylvie wasn’t doing it out of spite or revenge; she was doing it to save herself. She’d done what she had to do. She’d finally left him. But the ache in her belly, the pain in her chest, made her wonder if she hadn’t made a mistake. No! No! No! Stop second guessing yourself! You’re well rid of him! The voice inside her cried out. But Sylvie didn’t feel that way. She felt lost, lonely, and bereft.
Sara was in rare form. She’d sent her four emails all wanting to know what happened and where Sylvie was that she couldn’t call or email to tell her family she was alright. She started each one begging, then demanding, she come home for Thanksgiving. Sylvie felt guilty. She didn’t want to worry her family. She just needed time alone to think things through…figure it all out. Maybe she’d call on Thanksgiving Day just to let them know she was OK. She’d put on her “happy Sylvie persona” and tell them she was fine. That she was over Connor and moving on with her life. But how could she make them believe it when she didn’t believe it herself?
Jameson had emailed her three times. She wondered what that was about? She hoped he wasn’t rescinding his job offer. She read the first one written at 11 this morning. Her eyes widened at the news. Connor had contacted him by phone, demanding to know where Sylvie was, sure Jameson had something to do with her disappearance. Jameson had denied any involvement and hung up on him. She couldn’t imagine anyone anywhere having the nerve to hang up on Connor. It just wasn’t done. Jameson wanted to let her know that Connor was livid and that she should steer clear of him because he was “extremely confrontational,” and “combative.” From the tone of the email, and the smartass digs he was making about Connor’s mental condition, saying he was “paranoid,” “delusional,” and “behaving like a lunatic,” Sylvie could tell Jameson was enjoying this. From what everyone said, Jameson was always looking to best Connor. And now he had. She’d provided the ammunition. The second one was written at noon. Connor had called him again demanding to know if he’d hired Sylvie. Jameson told him it was none of his damn business, but later admitted she was now working for him as an editor. According to the email, Connor really lost it and threatened to destroy Jameson and his “piss-ant company.” Connor had insisted he had a three book contract with her and that Sylvie would go to work for Jameson over his dead body. Sylvie couldn’t believe it. She hadn’t realized good editors were that hard to come by that Connor would actually threaten people and lie to keep her. She sent back a quick response.
“Jamison, I’m sorry for the trouble I seem to have caused. I no longer work for Mr. Hudson or Hudson Publishing. I tendered my resignation early Sunday morning. I was indeed offered a three book contract, but Mr. Hudson is mistaken, I never signed it. I am, therefore, free to work for whomever I like. I hope this clarifies things and that your offer of employment still stands. Sylvie Jenkins”
Then she read the third one which came in just after 5 pm. Her jaw dropped. Connor hadn’t left it at threatening calls. He’d barged into the offices of Bookworm Press and had a verbal and physical altercation with Jameson. Sylvie couldn’t believe what she was reading. Words led to shoves and their subordinates had to step between them, to stop them from throwing punches at one another. Sylvie sat shaking her head. They were fighting over who she was going to work for? How immature! She didn’t blame Jameson. She blamed Connor for causing the scene. This was the same man who couldn’t be bothered seeing her Saturday night, who treated her like a discarded toy, a possession he no longer wanted, and now he’s threatening to fight people for her? The whole thing was ridiculous! Why all this macho posturing? Saturday he didn’t want her. Now he wants her? Make up your frigging mind Connor! She didn’t understand men. If you throw something away, if you leave it on the curb, and someone else picks it up, you have no right to demand they give it back. You don’t want it, but you don’t want anyone else to have it either? Connor couldn’t have it both ways. She didn’t belong to him. He had no say in the matter. He’d lost that right.
Sylvie decided not to respond to the last email. Though Jameson was obviously gloating over the fact that Connor was apoplectic about Sylvie leaving his employ, she was afraid that on further reflection he might not want to get in a pissing contest with Connor after all. Articles on the internet portrayed Connor as a ruthless adversary, a coldhearted corporate cutthroat. From what she’d been told, he and Jameson had engaged in this stupid competition, this dick-slapping contest, for years. Maybe it wasn’t as big a deal as Sylvie thought it was. Maybe it was just business as usual for them.
She stared at the screen for a while then closed the lid of the laptop and began wandering the house looking for something to do. She was used to working 14 to 16 hour days, seven days a week. Sylvie was at a loss to know how she’d fill the time now. There was nothing to do except maybe bring in some wood. Then what? Watch TV? Diddle herself? No! Diddling was definitely a no-no! It would remind her too much of Connor. As a matter of fact that collection of rock-hard dicks in the living room wasn’t helping her forget him either. What she needed to do, she scolded herself, was put him out of her mind and move on!
She sighed then set to work carrying in the wood. It didn’t take long to fill both log cradles with split wood and kindling…now what was she supposed to do?
What Sylvie needed was a new purpose in life other than getting screwed by some arrogant, rich-boy asshole that treated her like shit. She went over her possible options in that regard.
Revirginze? She’d heard the term on a reality show. Maybe she’d look into that. Not the surgery, just the celibacy. She’d lived without sex for 25 years before Connor came along, and had been perfectly content. She could do it again if she’d only stop thinking about him. About the weight of his body resting on hers. The way he filled her completely. The feel of his skin, damp with sweat, rubbing against hers. His stubble. His scent. Enough already! She was never going to get over him if she kept wallowing in misery, beating her breast and crying “woe is me!” If she filled her every waking hour with thoughts of him.
Maybe she should become a nun like Mother Teresa. Join a convent of pious, cloistered sisters. Not likely! She’d written an erotic romance filled with images of illicit, carnal sex, bondage and discipline, dildos and butt plugs. Chances are they wouldn’t let her in. The Church took umbrage at such things.
What she needed to do was get back to work. Start editing projects for Jameson. Write a sequel to Intimate Pleasures. Or maybe even continue her education.
She’d always wanted to get an advanced degree, but hadn’t had the money until now. There were enough colleges within an hour’s drive of here that surely a couple of them must offer a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing or a Masters in English Literature. A lot of editors had MFAs. It might help her secure another job if being a freelance editor for Bookworm didn’t work out. But then she wasn’t really sure how much of a future she had in the publishing industry. Jameson enjoyed battling with Connor, but would another publisher be willing to go up against the great Connor Hudson and his corporate empire just to give her a job? She thought not. Was Connor vindictive? Would he have her blacklisted?
Sylvie had some misgivings about working for Jameson. He was too friendly. The kiss he’d given her the night they’d met was inappropriate. He was a prospective employer offering her a job. His behavior was unseemly, especially the tongue action! She had the unsettling feeling that this was going to be a redux of what happened with Connor. The last thing she needed was another predatory boss, looking to bang an employee. Especially not when that employee was her. She’d already been down that road. She wasn’t about to go there again! With the competition between Jameson and Connor being what it was, she figured her new employer would engage in a full-court press to get her into bed. Just so he could throw it in Connor’s face. Regrettably, Jameson was the only game in town right now; so she had to try to make this work.
Sylvie microwaved the leftover soup from yesterday and made herself eat all of it. She’d forgotten to eat again today. Par for the course! If she didn’t stop this nonsense soon, she’d waste away to nothing. It wasn’t healthy. She really needed to gain some weight back. She was little more than skin and bones. Opening the cookie jar, she pulled out two almond tea cakes and popped them in her mouth. She wasn’t hungry, but she ate them anyway.
Sylvie was determined to turn over a new leaf. No more feeling sorry for herself! No more skipping meals or working herself to exhaustion. She was going to eat healthy, get plenty of rest, and get fit. Not eating caused her to feel weak and tired all the time. Feeling lousy made her maudlin and depressed. It zapped her self-confidence and worsened her anxiety. It had become a vicious cycle. She’d spent the last couple of months in a funk: crying, fearful, and angry. Time to snap out of it! Deciding there was no time like the present to banish the doldrums and get herself fit, Sylvie walked laps in the house. Around the kitchen, through the living room, the office, and then the bedroom. She did it ten times then began marching around the house instead. That got old real fast so she danced from room to room, singing and humming tunes, alternating between the “Cha-cha Slide,” the “Electric Slide,” and a poorly choreographed Texas Line dance. The last done to Sylvie’s off-key rendition of “Achy Breaky Heart.” She stepped, skipped, slid, dipped, turned, wiggled, and kicked. If she was going to do this on a regular basis she needed to get herself an iPod. Her singing wasn’t going to cut it. After completing 30 laps, she figured she’d had enough exercise for today. Okay…now what?
She sat down in the living room and turned on the TV. She was getting more channels than she thought she would; picking up some New York City channels, as well as Kingston, Middletown, Newburgh, and a few other places. She wanted to curl up on the couch and lose herself in a movie. But there wasn’t one on. Sylvie didn’t recognize any of the shows or characters as she clicked through the channels. She’d been so busy working to make ends meet over the last few years; she hadn’t really had time to watch TV. Truth was, she never had the extra money to buy one. Meagan didn’t have a TV either. Her cousin preferred watching stuff on her laptop in her bedroom. That way she could entertain her frequent male guests in total privacy. Sylvie didn’t have a computer back then. She couldn’t afford to replace her old one when the hard drive got fried. Most nights Sylvie had amused herself reading books she’d taken out of the library. That was a thought. She wondered where the closest library was. One of the first things on her to-do list for tomorrow was to find out and get a library card. Glowering at the television, she decided investing in a DVD player might be a good idea. She’d seen a Redbox in front of Walmart’s and most libraries lent movies now. She loved old movies…the sappier the better. She’d done without for the last few years: no TV, no computer, no music. Until she went to work for Connor, her life had been focused on work, making enough money to survive. There’d been little time for leisure. This was going to be a new experience for her. She’d watched a little TV now and again at the penthouse; mostly in the middle of the night when she couldn’t fall asleep. But not very much and usually only reality shows. When she lived with Connor they’d watched movies at night. New releases mostly, currently playing in movie theaters. That’s if they weren’t working on the book; or in the bedroom burning up the sheets. No! Don’t go there!
Sylvie turned the television off and looked around for something else to do. She really needed to get a hobby. Take up scrapbooking, knitting, or painting. It was only 8:15 pm. She could always get an early start on her Christmas shopping. Get some gifts for her nieces and nephews, maybe a tree, a wreath, and some decorations. Glancing out the window, she quickly changed her mind. That wouldn’t be such a good idea. It was starting to snow. These backroads were treacherous after dark in good weather, what with all the curves and deer wandering through the area. With a glaze of ice and a dusting of snow on the winding roadways, they were an accident waiting to happen.
Sylvie left the lights on in the living room and went back to her office. Maybe she could watch a movie on her laptop. Meagan used to do it all the time. Of course she didn’t have dial-up. Sylvie sat down and started fiddling with the keys. She noticed her picture file and stared at it a moment, then choked up. Sara had sent her photos of her father’s wedding. There were several pictures of Connor among them. She opened the file and then quickly closed it again. Seeing images of his smiling face, looking at her like he cared, would rip her heart out, tear it to shreds. Connor had always told her their relationship wasn’t permanent, that he was incapable of love, but she hadn’t believed him. His words didn’t jibe with the way he looked at her sometimes. She thought… What? That she could bring him around? That he’d fall to his knees and declare his undying love for her? Didn’t happen did it Sylvie? The voice inside her taunted. Girls like her weren’t destined to marry prince charming. Fact was Connor was an aberration. Handsome men never looked at girls like her: the shy clumsy ones, the plain, skinny, flat-chested, freckle-faced ones. She wished she’d never laid eyes on Connor. She was fine with her life before. She’d accepted who and what she was. The girl who’d never had a boyfriend. Who was destined to be an old maid. Then he’d come into her life and made her believe she was something she wasn’t. She wasn’t pretty or charming or witty or elegant. She was nothing! And that’s the way he’d treated her! Tears flooded her eyes again. The pity party had begun!
Sylvie wanted to crawl under a rock and die…but then she thought of Jameson, Sean, and the Frommer twins. If she was such a loser, why were they sniffing around her? She didn’t know, but it made her uneasy. These guys were millionaires and billionaires. What did they want with her? Jameson wanted an editor and maybe a little piece of ass on the side; but what about the others? No one was going to get a “little piece” of anything from her anymore. Her new motto was “no sex, no time, no how!” She’d learned her lesson. She kept telling herself she should be flattered by their attention. What an ego builder after years of feeling homely, plain, and inadequate. Four, count ’em, four handsome, make that very handsome, extremely rich men were making noises like they wanted to go out with her; take her to dinner, wine and dine her! Five if you counted Drake’s advances at the party a while ago! He’d certainly acted interested. She obviously wasn’t the dog she believed herself to be. Sylvie thought about the last two parties. She’d looked presentable, maybe even cute. She was never going to be a Victoria’s Secret model, but she wasn’t exactly a hag either. She had a serious problem with her self-image. When Sylvie thought of herself all she saw was flaws. Her flat “fried egg” boobs. The furry unibrow that appeared every time she forgot to pluck. Her scrawny, twig-like limbs. Her boney knees and elbows. Her clumsiness, paralyzing shyness, and her big feet. She was small boned and petite; but instead of dainty little tootsies, she had big clodhoppers and crooked toes. Ugh! The only thing she took pride in was her intellect. She was smart. But most men didn’t like smart women. In her experience they avoided them like the plague. Still, these guys were interested in her and she didn’t think it was for her mind. They must not think she was all that bad. Men didn’t compete to fuck plain girls…did they? Not when they could have their pick of any beautiful babe they wanted. There had to be some hidden agenda at play here, but she’d yet to figure out what it was. She didn’t know what to make of them or their motives.
What she needed was something to keep her occupied for the next couple of weeks. Just until she got Connor Hudson out of her system. Could finally say his name or think of him without falling to pieces. She opened her documents and scrolled through her files and came up with the one labeled “classmates and possible suspects.” Sylvie opened it and took a look at the list: there were about 250 names. They were all students who’d attended Collegiate Boys Preparatory between 1996 and 2000, the year Connor had graduated. They represented both upper and lower classmen. She wasn’t doing this for Connor. She was doing it for Ernestine Shaw. Sylvie knew she wasn’t responsible for the reporter’s death…the killer was! But she couldn’t help thinking that if she’d only heard the woman out, let her talk to Connor instead of hanging up on her; maybe she’d still be alive now, instead of rotting in her grave. That decision would haunt her for the rest of her life.
By 11, Sylvie was bleary-eyed. She’d researched each name looking for evidence of any criminal behavior, but she’d found squat. These boys were either all pillars of society or smart enough not to get caught. There were no tickets for speeding or reckless driving, no charges of criminal mischief, brawls, assaults, underage drinking, or drugs. They were not only rich; they were saints!
She was about to give it up for the night when she remembered about the accident on Long Island that Sean, Drake, Alex, and Nathan had been involved in. The one that made their parents decide not to let them go on their graduation trip to Europe. She knew the accident happened sometime in April or May 2000, right before they’d all graduated; so she scrolled through the archives of small, local, Long Island papers, both dailies and weeklies, until she found it. From the pictures, it was one hell of a crash. They were lucky they hadn’t been killed. The article said they’d only suffered minor injuries, were treated at a hospital, and then released. Only two names appeared in the piece, Nathan and Drake. They were identified as being 18 at the time. Alex and Sean were never mentioned by name, just their ages. The article said they’d been racing on the highway and that alcohol had played a part in the accident. But when she looked for follow-up stories about the accident and searched the town court docket, she could find no evidence that anyone had been arrested for drunk driving, that any tickets for speeding or reckless driving had been issued, or any fines paid. She could only assume their parents’ wealth and position got the charges expunged.
Sylvie wondered if there were any similar offenses in their backgrounds. Since she didn’t think the Times or Daily News would cover youthful indiscretions unless they were serious felonies, Sylvie focused on the local papers looking for stories about boys either arrested or questioned by the police in the previous two years. “The six” and their friends all summered in South Hampton. There was more delinquency there than she would have imagined, considering it was such a wealthy enclave. The offspring of the rich shoplifted, scored drugs and got drunk, vandalized cars, knocked over mailboxes, and covered buildings in graffiti just like poor kids did. Only they got away with it because mommy and daddy had deep pockets and would pay whatever it took to avoid a scandal and keep Junior out of the hoosegow. It seemed like every weekend the cops were either scraping kids off the pavement when they decided to drink and drive; or were breaking up drug and alcohol-fueled beach parties where someone got taken to the hospital, either for injuries resulting from fights, alcohol poisoning, or drug overdoses.
She found a story about the gang rape of a young girl that occurred on September 4th, 1999 at a Labor Day weekend beach party. The victim had been rushed to the hospital, suffering from a drug overdose and internal injuries. The perps, described as a group of teenage boys, from prominent families, were not identified because of their ages.
It was 2 am. Time to go to bed. She’d get back to work on the case tomorrow morning. Sylvie shuffled through the house, checking the doors and turning out lights. After changing into a pair of flannels and a long sleeve tee, she crawled into bed and switched off the lamp. She was proud of herself. She’d survived another day without Connor!
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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