When Courtney Powell is orphaned at seventeen, she loses everything and goes to live with her widowed godmother. From the beginning, the woman's grown children accept her into their family . . . but there's something about the middle brother that causes an inexplicable wariness within her. When she finally emerges from her grief several years later, it becomes apparent that somewhere along the way, without her input and much to her anxiety, she's become Nick Rule's exclusive property.
Nick crossed his arms over his chest as he stared down at her. "What are your plans? You're coming home, right?"
"Yeah, probably," she answered, uncertain.
"Probably? What does that mean?"
"I need to find a job. If possible, I want to be in a place that's familiar to me. That's either Florida or Missouri."
"St. Louis," he narrowed it down emphatically.
She nodded her head, but negated that with, "Maybe."
With her answer, he pushed off the wall and began to prowl toward her. Her stomach clenched with hot anticipation. "You promised me you'd come back to St. Louis."
"You need to make good on that. Your promise was the only reason I let you leave in the first place."
At the look in his eyes, she felt like she had to settle something with him. "Nick," she began slowly, "You didn't let me leave. I wasn't yours to control." She studied him, noting the anger that slowly spread across his face at her words. She continued, "I want to go back to St. Louis. If I don't get a job here, then after graduation, I'll--"
He cut her off when he stepped closer with a glare. "Not mine?" She backed up a step and he followed her until she bumped into the back of the sofa. When she came to a halt, he repeated incredulously, "Not mine?" and reached down and fingered the necklace that she wore. Her heart beat loudly in her ears as he gripped the charm that dangled from it. His eyes narrowed and he asked for the third time with a ferocity that couldn't be ignored, "Not mine?"
The oxygen stuck in her throat and she shook her head, as she remained trapped by his gaze.
He tilted his head as if in sarcastic thought. "If you don't belong to me, who exactly do you think you belong to?" he asked in a far-too soft voice that didn't reflect any gentleness at all.
When she remained mute, he continued, "I don't see anybody else taking care of you. I don't see anybody else flying halfway across the country to make sure you're all right and that there's nobody trying to take advantage of you." He sucked in oxygen and continued, "And who, exactly, do you think pays your bills?"
She swallowed and leaned away from him, feeling the pull from the chain around her throat. She glanced down at the tendons corded in his neck and then back up to the fire in his eyes as he continued, "Who do you think paid for these useless little pajamas you're wearing? Who do you think pays for all your clothes, the food you eat, the allowance you get?" His eyes held hers with ruthless intent. "Who do you think paid for that pretty little car you drive?"
Guilt running through her from all the things his family had supplied over the years, she licked her lips and whispered, "The corporation."
He began shaking his head as if she had it all wrong and a new agitation took hold of her senses. "Not the corporation?" she asked quietly.
"Nope. Not the corporation." His eyes blistered into hers. "Me. Just me."