Kept

Book 3 in the Enforcers Series

He can’t change who he is…

A horrific childhood has made Silas the man he is today: dangerous, distrustful, and demanding. He’s lived in self-imposed solitude, convinced that no woman could ever accept his need for absolute control—in business and pleasure. That is, until a young violinist walks into one of his buildings and into his life.

She can’t change what she wants…

Hayley has been struggling to fulfill her father’s dying wish: to attend a prestigious music school in New York City. But even working two jobs, she can’t afford the tiniest of apartments. Seeing her hopeless and near tears, Silas vows to help and protect her, no matter the cost to himself. But when Hayley meets his every demand with unwavering acceptance and love, he is overwhelmed by her goodness and gentle spirit. He knows that the dark stain on his soul can never be erased—and rather than risk destroying the most beautiful thing he’s ever experienced, he knows he’ll have to do the hardest thing he’s ever had to face. Let her go. But he’s totally unprepared for the lengths Hayley will go to fight for his love and a future brighter than the sun…

Kept

Hayley swallowed her nervousness as she knocked a second time, deciding that if no one answered she would simply leave the pie on his doorstep with the thank-you card, and she’d simply write the instructions to promptly refrigerate the pie at the bottom of her note.

She was about to squat to set the pie to the side when she heard fumbling with the locks from the inside. She quickly rose, her mouth going dry. She wiped her free hand down the leg of her jeans to rid it of the clammy moisture and waited as she heard more locks being undone.

She frowned. How many locks did the owner have on his door? Was he aware of danger to the apartment building that she wasn’t? Perhaps he was simply paranoid. She suspected he was an elderly man, perhaps even retired, and renting out the apartments to supplement his pension. She could hardly fault him for wanting to feel safe.

But when the door finally opened, Hayley’s mouth fell open as she stared into the face of a man who wasn’t remotely elderly or even middle aged. She shivered at the cold flatness to his eyes and the fact that his expression portrayed irritation and surprise and was definitely not welcoming. In that moment, she knew she’d made a huge mistake by encroaching on his privacy. His irritation over the intrusion was plain to see on his face. If her feet had not been rooted to the floor in fear, she would have fled.

He was young. Or at least far younger than she’d imagined, having already conjured an elderly retired gentleman. Yet older than she was by at least ten years. Maybe more. It was hard to tell. He had a timeless look but upon closer examination, there were lines in his face that told of pain and a managed beyond his years. He was also devastatingly handsome. Tall, very broad shouldered, his chest massive. Even his thighs, encased as they were in faded denim, bulged like tree trunks. There didn’t appear to be an inch of spare flesh anywhere on him, and his thin T-shirt would certainly have betrayed such if there were.

His hair, perhaps the darkest black she could ever remember seeing, was a brilliant foil for the dark green eyes assessing her until she squirmed beneath his scrutiny. She could feel his gaze, an electric current, as it swept over her, and then when he finally met her gaze, she was thunderstruck.

A full body shiver rolled through her and chill bumps prickled and danced over every inch of her skin. It was obvious she was intruding and equally obvious the intrusion wasn’t welcome. Acute embarrassment seized her, and to her mortification, heat invaded her cheeks at the realization he could surely see the betraying flush.

“Uh, I’m sorry to b-bother you,” she stammered awkwardly. “One of the other renters told me that y-you lived here, next door I mean, and I wanted to th-thank you— in person— for renting me the apartment. You have no idea how desperate I was to find an affordable place to live.”

She was babbling and knew she should just shove the pie at him and scurry back to her apartment and never, ever bother him again, but she felt pinned motionless by his piercing stare. She felt naked and vulnerable, as if he could see inside her and was privy to her every thought. How insane was that?

Dear Lord, but the man was gorgeous. Mouthwateringly gorgeous. In her wildest fantasies, not that she indulged in many, she could have never conjured such a perfect male specimen. Her knees went positively weak as she took in every aspect of the man standing so rigidly in front of her and committed it to memory. At least she’d have a fantasy to indulge in now. Heck, he would forever be the mother of all fantasies. For the rest of her lifetime, any other man would pale in comparison. There was no comparison. She hadn’t felt this shy and awkward since junior high, and here she was supposed to be a sophisticated urbanite embracing life away from the rolling mountains of East Tennessee.

Run. Flee. Escape.

Before she made an even bigger fool of herself. She thrust the pie forward and the man’s eyebrow went upward in surprise. He stared suspiciously at the pie she held and then back up at her, wariness still lurking in the rich green pools that seemed so shadowed. She let out an exasperated sigh, barely resisting throwing up her hands in frustration or surrender. Which one, she wasn’t certain of. “Surely you don’t think I poisoned it. It’s just a thank you. A more personalized thank you, now that I know it was you and not the manager who was responsible for me renting the apartment next to you.”

As she spoke, she slipped the small floral card from her pocket, wincing now at how ridiculous it was for her to have done this. But then she should have pondered the folly of her actions before giving in to impulse. Then the most amazing thing happened. The man’s expression, which she would have sworn she could crack a brick on and one that seemed likely more permanent than not, actually faltered as his lips moved upward in a semblance of a smile.

Amusement replaced the coldness in those mesmerizing eyes, and all she could do was stare dumbfounded as the smile, small as it was, completely transformed his face. Wow, what would a full-on real smile look like on him? He took the pie from her and then seemed to be staring at her expectantly.

When her brow crinkled in confusion, the amusement in his eyes deepened and his smile grew just a tiny bit more. He had to stop now because if he smiled any more she wouldn’t be able to walk the short distance back to her apartment. For that matter, if she didn’t breathe soon, walking would be the least of her worries.

“Is the card for me as well?” he asked, his deep voice rumbling from his chest.

She looked down, having forgotten all about taking it from her pocket. She thrust it toward him as well, her hand trembling slightly. Hopefully he wouldn’t notice, though he struck her as the type who noticed everything.

“What is this for?” he asked softly, his earlier gruffness fading.

She relaxed a little. “My name is Hayley. But I guess you know that, unless of course your manager oversees all the paperwork and stuff.”

Damn it, but she was babbling again, and she never babbled. It was obvious she needed to get out more. Mix with people. Because she’d forgotten how to do something so simple as socialize.

“Anyway,” she hastened to add before he could respond. “I wanted to bake you something as a thank you and give you a card. Instead of a note, I mean.”

God, she was so lame.

His lips twitched suspiciously. “You already thanked me. The brownies were delicious. Thank you for making them for me.”

“I know, but I didn’t realize you lived here at the time and, well, I also didn’t realize it was because of you I had the apartment, so I just wrote a few words because I was in a hurry, so I thought it was only right that I expressed my gratitude more, or rather properly.”

To keep the groan of dismay from escaping her suddenly very busy lips, she gestured toward the pie. “You need to refrigerate it so the topping will set. If you try to eat it now, it will be too . . . messy. It will run everywhere. It’s better to leave it refrigerated overnight, but if you absolutely must have some tonight, let it chill for several hours at least.”

His lips twitched again and she could swear he was trying not to laugh. Then his expression became something else entirely and while she wasn’t at all certain what he was thinking or what his expression meant, it made her feel . . . hunted and wary and yet electrified.

Just as quickly his face softened and a glimmer of warmth entered his eyes. “I’m Silas,” he said in his deep voice. “Thank you for the pie. I’m sure I’ll love it. I have a sweet tooth but I rarely indulge.”

Yes, she could certainly surmise that much. The man was extremely fit. “It was nice to meet you, Silas,” she said, smiling back at him.

He went suddenly still, causing her smile to falter. She took a step back without even realizing that she had or why.

“You have nothing to fear from me, Hayley,” he said quietly. “I will never hurt you.”

What an odd thing for him to say. But maybe she had been a little frightened for a moment. Stranger still, the way he said it made her believe him, absolutely. Which made her certifiably nuts, since she knew nothing about the man.

“You’re very talented.”

Her brow furrowed in confusion at his abrupt change in topic. “I beg your pardon?”

“You play the violin. I can hear you at night. You’re very talented. I’ve never heard anything so beautiful.”

She blushed crimson. “I’m so sorry. I had no idea you could hear me. I should never have opened my window. It’s just that the night, the sounds of the night . . . I find them comforting. They make me feel not quite so alone.”

She closed her eyes in mortification at what she’d just shared with a complete stranger. God, she needed to get back to her apartment so she would shut up and avoid making an even bigger fool of herself.

“It won’t happen again. I do hope you will forgive me for disturbing you.”

His expression became fierce then, and she very nearly took yet another step back but was unable to because she was frozen solidly in place. What on earth had she done to upset him?

“No,” he said sharply. “I didn’t say that because you were disturbing me or to make you stop. I shouldn’t have said anything at all. I enjoy listening to you play. It . . . soothes me, much as the sounds of the city soothe you. And like you, it makes me feel not so alone.”

His admission seemed painfully wrung from him, as though sharing such a private thought was something he never did. In that moment, she could see a kindred spirit reflected in his eyes. So much loneliness and pain. Sorrow. Regret even.

“Please, leave your window open while you play,” he asked softly. “If I didn’t want to hear, I would have never opened my own.”

That startled Hayley. That he’d sought out comfort in her music, that it meant something to him, just as it did to her. An outlet. Not just a creative outlet, but a way to express emotions she kept bottled up. Emotions she could never share with anyone else. There was no one else.

“Then I’ll keep my window open when I practice,” she promised, her voice as soft as his.

“Just make certain you always remember to close and lock it at all other times,” he said, in what she thought to be an almost protective sounding tone.

She simply nodded, and then, because she could bear the awkwardness, and her powerful awareness of him, no longer, she pointed to the pie. “You need to get that into the fridge,” she said in a husky voice. “And I need to get back to my apartment.”

“It was very nice to meet you, Hayley,” he said, gifting her once more with that small glimmer of a smile. “If there is ever anything you need, please don’t hesitate to let me know.”

She nodded, trying to find her tongue. “Likewise, Silas. And you’ve already done far more than was necessary for me. Thank you. Perhaps I’ll see you around sometime.”

There was something in his gaze that made her nape prickle, the tiny soft hairs bristling, causing an itching sensation. Before she lost the courage to walk away, she turned and nearly fled back to the door of her apartment, keenly aware that his gaze followed her until she disappeared inside. She swung it closed forcibly and then lunged for it so it didn’t slam loudly, and then she turned her back to it, pressing her body against the wood, closing her eyes as she tried desperately to still the rapid beat of her heart.

End of Excerpt

Kept

is Book 3 in the Enforcers Series

The full series reading order is as follows: