In the three years after a horrible crime claimed her family, Elise Halliwell has been alone, shut off from the world in a self-imposed emotional exile. She goes through the motions, finishes high school and moves across country to start college and begin the next step in her pre-destined life.
But her exile is dramatically cut short by the entrance of a dark haired, blue-eyed, smirking man who shakes her to the core, achieving what everyone else before him has failed to do, he makes her feel again.
As much as he wishes it were different, fate has not brought Braxton James into Elise’s life, or has it.
Brax has to keep her safe from people in her life who have ulterior motives and may want to hurt her.
Elise has no idea the threat she faces, and Brax wants to make sure it stays that way. But as Brax struggles with getting close to her, he begins to live a lie.
Unable to resist the pull that is Elise’s bright green eyes, infectious giggle, and loving heart, he finds it impossible to stay away, so the double life of being Elise’s boyfriend and keeping her safe begins.
Full of twists and turns, danger and revelations that no-one could predict, you won’t be the only one lost in distraction.
His blue eyes haunted me.
Every day they would haunt me. My morning, my day, my night, my dreams…those baby blues tormented me.
It has been five days since he left. Five of the longest days in my life.
He was right when he said I would never be the same, that I would never forget him. The way he could reach in and touch my soul with a single glance, an eyebrow quirk, or a smirk with that delectable mouth.
It was unfair that he approached me. He wormed his way into my cold, unforgiving heart and made it warm again. His appearance in my life made the sun rise and fall in my dark world, but now I was back in total darkness.
He disappeared without a trace, without a single word. One night I went to sleep in his arms in our bed, our cocoon, our sanctuary. The next morning I woke alone and unsure.
Where was he?
Why he had gone?
Why was his phone disconnected?
He caught my attention the moment our eyes met. His ice-blue eyes pierced my heart from across the room.
My life as I knew it changed the day that I met Brax. I’d never felt such love, my body had never felt such satisfaction, my soul had never felt such passion, and my life had never been so full.
Now he’s gone and my heart has never felt so broken.
When you had no hope, then had hope reborn, and then all of that hope disappears within a moment…where do you go?
Where do you go from there?
The moment I lost her forever was the moment I got in that car.
I knew in that millisecond that I would lose her, but I had no choice. My soul mate, my sole reason for being, my Elise. I knew there was nothing I could do that would make it right with her again.
It took everything I had to heal her the first time, to mold her back into the brilliant, radiant light she deserved to be. When I saw her photo I had to know her, had to get inside those gorgeous green eyes.
Knowing that I am the one who shattered her this time is breaking my resolve to stay away.
Knowing that my leaving was the end of the light and the return of the dark in her life feels like a knife being driven into my heart.
If only I could explain that I had no choice. Explain how they told me she would be safe if I left her.
If only I’d believed in us enough to stay.
I would have laid it all out for her if it meant she would stay untouched and unaware of the truth. Because if she knew the truth, the real reason why I was gone and why I even came into her life in the first place, life would not be worth living.
For all of us.
And especially for her.
Today is my first day of college. The first day of my new adult life.
You finish high school and think that you’ve hit the big time whenreally all you’ve done is finished one stage of your life so you can move onand start the next. Usually it’s a move sideways instead of forwards andsometimes backwards if you’re really unlucky. But sometimes you’re juststanding still, even when you feel like you’re moving ahead, and it is really everyoneelse around you who is moving.
I’ve had this feeling of being at a standstill since I was sixteen. Theday my parents and only sister were killed. It has taken three years, but I can now talk about it. If someone asksabout my family, I can turn around and tell them that a stranger broke into myhome when I was away at camp and shot my family dead. I often hear gasps ormuttered apologies. Better yet, I sometimes get tears and awkward hugs fromstrangers who don’t know me.
I understand it should be upsetting, and it was for a while, but nowI’m just numb. My feelings ran dry the day I came home to a house surrounded byyellow police tape and a guarded door.
I shut down.
I’ve simply been a vessel sincethen, an empty person ambling through life doing everything that was expectedof me. I’ve learned that I don’t need hope and that I don’t need love. The onlything I need is to focus on putting one foot in front of the other so I can getthrough each day.
After the murders, I withdrew into myself. I stayed with Uncle Harryand his wife because I had no other family nearby and as my godparents, theywere the next best thing . Life as I knew it died with my parents and sister.
The funeral was a highly publicized affair. I suppose that when a billionaireentrepreneur, his beautiful former model wife, and their ten year old daughterare brutally murdered, it is national news. But when the funeral was over andthe search for the killer ran cold, the media went off to hunt the next bigstory and the people who had offered their sympathy soon returned to their ownbusy lives, forgetting about me. That left me with Uncle Harry and Sylvia intheir huge empty mansion. Uncle Harry was unable to have children so he wasnever sure how to handle me. Sylvia, however, was always trying to help me andby the time I left for college, we were very close.
When I returned to school, most people didn’t know how to treat me.Some would look at me with pity, some would snigger at the popular girl turnedorphan and some were opportunists who used what happened to try and bring medown a peg or two.
Unable to deal with the gamut of emotions I was facing, I rebelledagainst Uncle Harry and Aunt Sylvie. I stayed out late, drank and triedeverything I could to make myself feel something, anything. I was emotionallynumb and refused all the professional help that Harry and Sylvia offered me. Inmy mind, I didn’t need a therapist. I just needed something to make me feelagain. Something, or someone, to make me feel alive. I hung out with the wrongcrowd and went to college parties, waking up in many different beds with norecollection of the night before.
I was on a path to self-destruction with no end in sight.
One person was able to snap me out of my rut. She was a girl fromschool that had always been a loner, but for some reason felt the need toconnect with me after the murders. Her name was Katie Jamieson and she had alsoexperienced the loss of her family. Her parents had been killed in a caraccident when she was fourteen and she had been in the crash with them, butsurvived.
When she saw my life spiraling out of control, she placed a letter inmy locker. She didn’t offer any sympathy, but instead offered someone to talkto, someone who had been through a similar situation. Looking back, I can nowsay that Katie was one of the most influential people in my life. We weren’tfriends for very long, but just being able to talk to someone else about what Iwas feeling, or not feeling as the case may have been, was exactly what Ineeded. She was a year ahead of me, so at the beginning of my senior year shemoved to London to study literature and I was suddenly alone again.
I graduated from high school and moved across the country to the EastCoast to study economics and business. I did what was expected of me. I had myfather’s business to run after I finished my degree, a multi-billion dollarindustry that he built from scratch.
But what is the point of having money when you feel completely numb tothe world around you?
Have you ever had no hope, no love, no day, no night and a feeling thatyou’re just existing?
Welcome to my life.
This morning I have an economics lecture up first. I walk into a roomfull of wide-eyed newbies who are all excited and chatting away to each other.I sit down in the middle of the lecture hall, one seat in from the aisle,hoping to just blend in with the crowd. By the time the professor walks inalmost everybody is seated and ready. He proceeds to introduce himself, thenlaunches into an explanation about the world of economics.
About five minutes into his spiel the door opens and a late studentrushes in, apologizing profusely to the professor who waves him off and directshim to find a seat. I look around the lecture hall and I realize the only seatnot taken is the one right next to me and the man who is running late isheading my way.
So much for getting through unnoticed.
My new assignment has me worried. I’ve been assigned to an heiress of amulti-billion dollar company whose family was murdered just over three yearsago. It’s a tricky situation. We know she is in danger, but have no firmevidence as to what the threat is or where it is coming from. In any case sheneeds protecting and I’ve been chosen to do it, but she can never know this.
In this business, knowledge is dangerous. It can get you killed,kidnapped, or you can simply disappear. I’ve seen it happen on more than oneoccasion. One day you’re talking to them and the next they’re gone without atrace.
This type of job is nothing new to me, but this case is different andthe difference is Elise. I said yes as soon as I saw her photo. Her deep greeneyes stared out at me, absent of any spark or life. It was as if her life-forcehad been extinguished and I was compelled to relight it. She was gorgeous, arare natural beauty with smooth tanned skin and beautiful long brown hair.
The file information I was given confirmed that her father, BenjaminHalliwell, was a self-made billionaire with a multi-billion dollar empire thatdominated the West Coast market at its peak. After the high profile murders ofBenjamin, his wife Emily and their youngest daughter Paige, the business took ahit as investor confidence plummeted. The business returned to profitability,but when Elise was named the sole heir and 60% shareholder in the company,investors got nervous again. The shareholding is being held in trust until hertwentieth birthday, which is eight months away.
From all reports she doesn’t flash her wealth around and isn’t yourtypical heiress in any way, shape or form. Our intel even suggested that shedoesn’t have a clue as to the true extent of her wealth. All she knows is thatshe has a business to take over when she finishes college.
I have a feeling that as soon as I get close to Elise, I won’t be ableto stay away. This is a problem, a conflict of interest if you will, but Ican’t stop now. If she needs to be saved, even if it is only from herself, I’llbe the one to do it.
As it happens, I’m running late for my first day. My alarm didn’t gooff, the hot water ran out, and my car didn’t start, but I manage to make it tomy first class only five minutes late. After apologizing to the professor, Iturn and look for a spare seat. As luck would have it, it is right next toElise.
I try to contain my wonder at seeing her in person. Seeing her brightgreen eyes, I know I’m definitely in trouble now. The overwhelming urge toprotect her hits me. I’ve never had a job feel so personal before and right nowI’d do it for free. It feels like something I was born to do, like I amsupposed to be here with her.
I remember when I originally looked through the file. I was saddened bythe fact that she had no close family and nobody looking after her. All she hasis herself and a company that, from all accounts, she has shown no interest in.Now there is a threat to her safety due to her inheritance of that company. Myjob is to keep it that way and keep her safe.
Making my way to my seat, I take the opportunity to look at her. Herlong brown hair curls at the ends, right at the small of her waist. She has anice slim frame with curves in all the right places. I can see that she dresseswell. Not flashy or revealing, but feminine with a touch of class. She’s closeto perfection.
Damn, this is not helping me retain my professionalism.
I slide into the seat beside her and she nods politely in my direction,then returns her focus to the professor. I can tell by her demeanor that she istrying to blend in so people won’t notice her. I’m thinking that this job, andgetting close enough to gain her trust, may end up being a bit of a challenge.I’ve always been one to thrive in the face of adversity.
This could be good, maybe even fun.
The professor continues to talk about the course structure and runsthrough the assignments that need to be completed, including one that is to bedone in pairs. I seize the opportunity to introduce myself and lean towardsher.
“Hi, I’m Braxton. Is this your first day, too?”
She sighs and looks over at me cautiously, like I’m disturbing her.“Yes,” she replies with a frown.
Feeling bold, I nudge her with my elbow which makes her glance up at mein shock. “I didn’t catch your name,” I say with a warm smile.
She looks away again and grinds her teeth together. “That’s because Ididn’t give it to you.”
Now I get it. She doesn’t want to let anyone in. She really thinks shecan make it through college unnoticed. Looking over at her tanned skin,gorgeous brown wavy hair and those damn green eyes, I feel lost, alive, andscared shitless.
This is going to take some work, but goddammit, for her I’m willing totry.
At the end of class, the professor hands out our first assignment andjust my luck, it’s an exercise to be done in pairs. Great! Just what I need,being forced to talk to someone.
I glance at the man named Braxton sitting beside me, the one with badtime management who couldn’t even make it to his first class on time. He’s alot taller than me, maybe 6’2 or 6’3 and definitely not fresh out of highschool. His hair is a gorgeous dark brown that is slightly longer on top, butwell maintained around the sides and back. He has a slight tan which tells mehe must spend some time outdoors.
Moving my eyes down, I see he has slight stubble covering his jawlinelike he was running late this morning and forgot to shave. He’s wearing ablack, short sleeved shirt that shows off his nicely toned arms. Going by thedeep drawl in his voice I would guess he’s from Louisiana or maybe Georgia.
Lost in my musings, I hear him clear his throat to get my attention.
“Uh…so, would you like to pair up for the assignment?” he asks me. Hislow voice resonating through me.
Looking up at him, I’m suddenly caught in his amazing ice-blue eyes.They’re the lightest color of blue I’ve ever seen and are almost ethereal.Shaking my head slightly, I realize that he is still waiting for my answer.
“Elise. My name’s Elise, and I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to talk aboutthe assignment with you.”
With a slight smirk, I catch him slowly scanning my body.
“I don’t think it could hurt at all, Elise.”
A gasp escapes my mouth at his outwardly flirtatious comment. Who isthis guy, and why is he acting like he wants to know me intimately? I feel mycheeks heat up. Whoa, why am I blushing? I haven’t felt anything for over threeyears and suddenly this stranger has me feeling embarrassed? I’m supposed to be numb and broken. I havenever been affected by a guy like this before. I watch the smirk on his faceget bigger, almost breaking into a full on smile. I’m totally thrown bywhatever the hell is happening between us and I don’t seem to be able to stopmyself from reacting.
“Want to go grab a coffee and talk it over? The assignment, that is.Together, since you asked and all?” I wish I could just shut up! I pause andtry to settle my breathing.
He leans in towards me ever so slightly. “That sounds great. I know agreat place down the street. Shall we go?”
He stands up in the aisle of the lecture theatre, gesturing with hisarm for me to go ahead. I give a small smile and start walking towards thedoor. As I step past him he lightly puts his hand on the small of my back,sending a jolt through me. I don’t know what it is about this man, but he seemsto have the ability to get me right where he wants me.