by Rachael Wade
***THE PRISONER, a companion to THE REPLACEMENT, is a novella (approx. 25,000 words). Contains explicit material and language.***
My name is Christian Walker, and Elise Duchamp is my drug of choice.
No matter how hard I try to break the habit, it’s a lost cause. Okay, maybe I haven’t really tried to quit this particular habit. All I can think about is owning her. Making her mine. Can you really blame me? With that sinful body, luscious mouth, and wicked tongue, she’s every man’s dream, and she knows it.
No one is immune to her charm, not even me, a man who has everything—a beautiful wife, an office with a view, and more money than most people can spend in one lifetime. Only I know how to make her toes curl. Only I know her body better than the other men she screws in her free time. None of them can compare to me. But the joke is on me. I’m the prisoner.
The one who will never compare to him. The one man who makes me see red. His name is stored in her cell phone. It’s the first one she calls out to, the first one she cries for when all hell breaks loose. Ryder Jacobson. The name makes me cringe.
She loves him, and I love her. In my own way, I always will. But the bad guy doesn’t always belong with the bad girl. Sometimes the bad girl needs a good man to believe in her, to give her that final push toward ultimate transformation. I wish I was that good man. That I could be her happily ever after. I guess that’s the thing about prisoners, though. They’re left alone with their torment, and in the end, they have no one to blame but themselves.
5-star praise for The Prisoner:
“Fell In love…Christian is so…borderline obsessed with Elise, he would do anything to keep her happy…And Oh. My. It made ME happy!”
“Incredibly sexy and exciting…A great book with a twist!…At times scary and disturbing but overall incredibly addicting…”
an excerpt from
by Rachael Wade
Editor’s Note: If you’ve gotten this far, we’re sure you’re aware that The Prisoner is a very hot contemporary romance that is suitable for grown-ups only. That said, we’ve taken things one step further — or less far? — and toned this excerpt down with the use of “(…)” in a few places, since it is going out via email. We hope you’ll enjoy the excerpt, and if so, we suspect you’ll enjoy the entire book even more. –S.W.)
Her uniform taunts me again. It’s the same torment every week, when I stop in Stella’s for a cup of coffee before work. This morning I decide on a full breakfast, since I have the extra time to spare. She seats me in the farthest booth, smack in the middle of the morning rush, but thankfully I’m in her section.
I always manage to be seated in her section. I’m not sure if that’s because I work so damn hard to make it happen, or because she’s onto me and simply wants to humor me—and drive me mad. Just like that cock-tease uniform does, over and over again. How do the men in this town stand it? They don’t, I guess. They go after it, tails wagging and tongues drooling, because it really is just that damn irresistible. I know this girl. Everyone does. Elise Duchamp, loner and sex kitten all rolled up into one delicious package. This girl makes men’s dreams come true.
Only you never hear the gossip from her.
No. You hear it from them. The lucky motherfuckers who get a taste. Hey, I can’t help it. I’m bitter. This girl gets around, no qualms about it, and yet here I sit, week after week, a caged animal. A prisoner, destined to stew in my own, masochistic hell. I can look, but I can’t touch. I can say hello, but I can’t give her my number. Everyone else gets a free ride. But me? No way, no how. She’s off limits. And I’m a bastard for even entertaining the idea.
I play with the gold band around my ring finger and keep my eyes trained on the greasy menu in front of me. Everything looks good. Fuck it, I’ll get the whole shebang. If I have the time, I might as well indulge. And I’m not talking eggs and pancakes. I want to feast my eyes on those silky, smooth legs. The way her skirt rides up the curve of her ass just barely, but enough to give my very vivid imagination a good idea of what lies beneath the pale pink material. I want to examine every inch of her, and if all I get is to worship her from afar while I sit and eat my eggs and bacon, then so be it.
Once my mind’s made up, I close the menu and wipe my hands on a napkin. I straighten up and lean back, tapping my fingers in a rhythmic dance on the table top. I watch her wait on a table near the entrance, entranced by the way she speaks to the customers. Her expression is sullen, but her voice is polite. Patient, for the sake of keeping her job. As if she isn’t bored out of her goddamn mind.
Something about the way she moves when they finish their order and hand her the menus keeps me transfixed. She thanks them and turns away without ever really making eye contact with them. She’s wholly in her own world, without the slightest concern for what they think as they stare up at her. Even as she returns a moment later to hand them their check early, she slides it onto the tabletop without so much as looking in their direction. Her gaze is over their shoulders, out the windows, in some foreign place.
Anywhere but here.
She makes her way down to my table and I sit up, curling my left hand, concealing my fingers. “Good morning,” I say, voice dry. Her gaze sweeps down and she clicks her pen, readying her pad of paper.
“Morning. What’ll it be? The usual?”
My jaw tightens and my words get lost somewhere in my throat. The shit this girl does to me. “The usual? You mean—”
“Coffee. Black. One cream. No sugar. That’s all you ever get.” Her eyes find mine, and for the first time this morning—maybe ever—she looks at me. Really fucking looks at me. Suddenly there’s a slight curve to her lips, a faint smirk creeping up from some heavenly place. My eyes drop to her lips. God, what I’d like to do to those lips.
The smirk widens.
“You think I don’t pay attention. But I do.” She leans in slightly, the movement almost imperceptible, resting her palm on the edge of the table. I bite down on my bottom lip and lift my chin, raising my gaze to hers to meet her challenge. She holds my stare and bends to snatch the empty salt and pepper shakers, her elbow brushing my hands, which are balled up tightly on the table top. “You’re hard to miss.”
“I could say the same about you.” The words are out. There you have it, the caged animal has just slipped its greedy hand through the steel bars. The gold band around my ring finger seems to burn as the retort rolls from my tongue, but oddly enough I just don’t give a damn. Not enough. Not anymore.
“Wow, with a line like that, it’s no wonder you have a pretty wife waiting for you at home.”
My eyes churn with something primal. Not only is this woman talking to me now—really looking at me—she also has the tongue of an angel. Razor sharp, increasing the raging hard-on I already have for her. “You don’t miss a thing, do you?”
“Sometimes.” She shrugs, and a lock of blonde hair falls over her shoulder. She’s the portrait of vintage sensuality. An Old Hollywood movie star, dropped right here, in modern day Gig Harbor, for men like me to leer at, wishing she’d drag us back to some nostalgic, forbidden place. “And sometimes I just like to pretend I do.” With a coy wink, she scribbles something on her notepad, rips at the paper, and places it next to my hand.
The left one.
“So, you want something different today, do you? What’ll it be?” She poises her hand at the paper pad again, and I glance down at the paper near my fist. It wills me to read it, right now, right this second, but I force myself to focus. I have to play this right, because the caged animal has just unlocked the steel door. The restraints are coming off, right fucking now. I have to have her, and I have to make my intention crystal clear, then wipe the floor with the faces of all the others who’ve touched her before me. Because the second my hands are on her, she’s mine.
A slow smile spreads. “Yes. I have a few things in mind.” Her, bent over the arm of my leather couch. Me, pounding into her in the shower while she screams my name. That uniform being ripped off, torn away inch by inch.
By my teeth.
“The morning scrambler with coffee, please,” I say, sterner this time. “And drinks. With you. Right after your shift.”
“Oh, look at you.” She smiles wide and bright, like the sun. It’s rich with sarcasm, but dripping with sincere flirtation. “Getting brave on me, now.” She sticks the salt and pepper shakers in her apron pocket, jots down my order, then sticks the pen behind her ear. “Your food’s coming right up. Maybe by then you’ll be brave enough to remove the ring.”
She peels her gaze away from mine and walks toward the kitchen, leaving me dumbstruck and high as a fucking kite. The beast has been released from its cage and is flying rampantly around the diner, spreading its wings for all to see. There’s no going back now. Not like I ever wanted to. But damn, this is easier than I thought. Too easy.
I mentally kick myself in the ass for waiting so long to make a move. To even think I had to wait. To believe she was off limits. Nothing is off limits, especially not for Christian Walker. I own one of the largest luxury hotel chains in the Northwest, and that’s only the beginning. My father’s company is expanding and soon we’ll be taking over the entire country, offering the finest service for the equally filthy rich and elite.
I don’t know what Elise’s story is or why she spreads her legs for everyone in Gig Harbor. I only know I want a taste, just like everyone else. But unlike everyone else, I can give her the world. Much more than any of the other assholes can. The fact that she’s feisty and smart-tongued only sparks the raging fire. She’s not just some hot piece of ass. She’s a force. A rare diamond. An entity.
I would know. I’ve been watching her for weeks.
Had I known such a tempting siren worked right here, under Stella’s roof, I would have started coming here much sooner. Truth is, I grew up in Gig Harbor and I always avoided Stella’s. Their French toast is awful, as is most of their food. But hey, I’m used to dining on gourmet. Can’t blame a man for high standards.
My fists uncurl and I stretch my fingers, quickly sweeping up the piece of paper she’s left me. My heart beats wildly against my ribcage when I see her phone number. Even her handwriting is eye catching. Messy and untamed. Just as I imagine her to be in bed.
I fold the piece of paper and stick it inside my suit jacket pocket.
She returns a few minutes later with my plate. I’m salivating at the sight, and it has nothing to do with the disgusting, sloppy pile of grease she’s serving me. “Careful. It’s hot.” She sets it down and pours my coffee. “You need anything else?”
“Not at the moment. What time does your shift end?”
“Four p.m. But I need to go home and change.”
“I can drive you. I’ll be here at four.”
“No,” she says quickly—too quickly. “I’ll come to you.”
“Where would you like to go?”
“Anywhere but here.”
“That can be arranged.”
“Good.” She nods and eyes my breakfast. “Call me around five.”
She turns to leave but I stand swiftly, rising to full height to give her a good look at what she’s getting. She needs to know. My shoulders stretch, filling out my suit so the definition I work hard for is visible. Two buttons of my white dress shirt are opened, showing off just a hint of naturally tanned skin. My black tie is as silky as her legs, and my height hovers over hers just enough to show her I’m in charge.
I extend a firm handshake and hold her gaze. “You didn’t get my name.”
“Christian Walker,” she says, unimpressed. Her chin nods to my wallet on the table. “You always pay with the same old shiny black card. It matches your shiny black Mercedes. Flashy, flashy.”
I take a marginal, yet very deliberate step forward and grasp her hand. She eyes the gesture but her gaze slowly rolls back up, landing on mine. “I like what I like. It might be flashy, but it’s what I want. Make no mistake,” I give her hand a firm but gentle squeeze, “same old can be a good thing. When it’s good, it never grows dull.”
“I stand corrected,” she drawls, narrowing her eyes. “I think I’m gonna like you.” She releases my hand and drifts away, and I keep watching. There’s no way I can take my eyes off her now. But I have to, because I have a breakfast to finish and work to do. Five o’clock will be here before I know it.
I’m pacing. I never pace. Men like me do not pace. We stride confidently, advancing in the exact direction we know we want to go. There is no hesitation; there are no second thoughts. We act. And we always, always walk away with what we want.
I’ve dialed the number. The phone rings. I finally hear her voice. My shoulders tighten and I hold my breath. “Elise?” I finally exhale.
“You sound winded,” she laughs knowingly, a low, throaty laugh that makes my skin burn. “You didn’t get started without me, did you?”
“God, no.” I freeze. She wants to fuck me. She’s going to fuck me. This is good. Very, very good.
I glance over at a picture of Kylie, kayaking in the San Juans.
This is bad. Very, very bad.
“Yeah. I’m here.”
“I’ll come to your place.”
“Is that a problem?”
“I thought I could buy you a drink.”
“Ah, of course. The wife.”
“No, it’s not—it’s not that,” I lie. My hand shoots out and slaps the photo frame face down on the fireplace mantel. “I want to talk.”
“We can talk at your place. Is she home? What’s your address?”
“No, she’s not, but—”
“Christian. Your address.”
“4570 Madrona Drive.”
“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.” The line clicks. The quiet swallows me up, and everything in the house glares at me, every inanimate object searing me with guilt. I don’t stand there and let it turn me to ash. Instead, like the man I know I am, I move. I act.
My first stop is the bathroom for a shower and a shave. Next up is the bedroom, where I change the sheets. They smell like Kylie’s perfume, and I can’t have that. Not for Elise. Not for this girl, who will surely have a scent of her own. One I already know I want all over every inch of the bed.
She arrives fifteen minutes later, as promised, but it feels like it’s been an hour. Before Kylie, there were many women. None of them—not a single one—ever made me this high strung. I fight to conceal the nerves with every step I take toward the front door, mentally reminding myself over and over that I’m Christian fucking Walker.
The door slowly swings open and there she is, an angel of darkness, her flawless blonde hair falling in soft, sexy waves over her shoulders. Her eyes are dark, just like her intentions, and that devious smile plastering her stunning face knocks me on my ass.
“Well? Are you going to invite me in?”
“Of course.” I snap out of the haze and step back, gesturing inside. “Please, come in.”
She strolls inside, eyeing the place up and down. Her grin has disappeared, replaced with that numb, introspective expression I’ve seen her wear time and time again at the diner. I wonder what she’s thinking so deeply about. Her words and actions are so impulsive, so careless, contradicting the depth in her eyes. I can’t figure her out, but I’m not sure I want to. She’s so alluring just the way she is, I don’t want to disrupt the mysterious mirage that’s ensnared me.
“What can I get you to drink?” I ask, closing the door. My gaze darts to the fireplace. I’ve left all the pictures there, in full view. What other option do I have? Kylie will be home this evening. I can’t rid our home of every single remnant of our life together.
“Champagne?” A surprised smile teases my lips.
“I think this is cause for celebration, don’t you?” She pivots on her hip, glancing playfully over her shoulder. My fingers twitch. I need to touch her. I need to touch her soon.
I hesitate before answering. Is this cause for celebration? This could be the beginning of the end of my marriage. Not that it hasn’t been crumbling before Elise stepped through my door, but still. This is something, and I’m not sure it’s something to celebrate.
I decide to play along. “I like the way you think.”
“Where’s the bedroom?” She starts for the hallway, tilting her head to peer up the stairwell.
My fingers move swiftly over the champagne flutes. My free hand braces the edge of the bar, supporting my weight. If her words alone make me feel this weak, I’m definitely in trouble. “Up the stairs to the left,” I say, turning to take a quick swig. When I swing back around, she’s already on her way, slinking up the stairway, those long, golden locks cascading down her back. Fucking hell, she’s wearing stockings. And heels. Heels I’d give my first born to have wrapped around my neck.
A beat passes before I begin to follow her, carefully carrying the glasses as I’m pulled into her web. She lures me upstairs, and all I can do is stand there in the doorway and watch as she walks straight for the closet. She runs a slender arm over Kylie’s clothing, stopping when she reaches the wall of shoes perched neatly on the shelf. Kylie owns more shoes than any woman I’ve ever known. Her taste is fantastic. It’s one of the reasons I fell for her—the way she carries herself, with such pride, such confidence. Elise reaches out for a pair of silver stilettos, plucking them off the shelf with vigor. It becomes clear to me that I’m just as taken with Elise’s confidence. That along with her killer body, it’s what’s drawn me to her.
But it’s a different kind of confidence. Reckless. Nonchalant. It’s so natural, like breathing. Yet there’s this vacant space in her eyes, as if the confidence is a scapegoat. Not because it’s false, but because it’s all she knows.
“I love these.” She slips off her own shoes and slides into Kylie’s stilettos, smiling down at her feet. “Same size.”
“They look stunning on you.” I set our glasses down on the dresser but don’t move from the doorway, just remain there, entirely rapt by her bold observation. “Would you like to try something else on?”
“No,” she sighs, taking a leisurely stroll toward me. “I’m here to take things off.” Her eyes hold mine as she moves in, her hands landing lightly on my chest. “You’ve been watching me for a while, Christian.”
I swallow the lump in my throat. I don’t break the contact. I’m starved for it. The second her fingers brush over my chest, I swear it feels as if they’re skimming my bare skin. My shirt is nonexistent. There is no barrier. “I have.”
“Why has it taken you so long to get me here?”
“Is it?” Her hand drifts down and plays with my ring finger. She traces my wedding band, lifting it to study it, as if it’s the most drab thing in the world. What the fuck happened to this girl? Why is she so careless? How did she become so brazen? I want to know her secrets. I want to unravel them. Preferably with my tongue and teeth.
“It doesn’t bother you that I’m married?”
“Does it bother you?” She lifts her head and her eyes roll to the fireplace, where my life with Kylie is on full display.
“Yes. It does.”
“Yet here I am.”
“Here you are.”
“So what will you do with me, Christian Walker?”
I study her, the thin space between us crackling. Every inch of her is forbidden. Ripe and full, tainted and golden. There’s no way I’m turning back now. “I want to know why you do this. Why so many men? A girl like you could have any man she wants wrapped around her finger.”
“I could ask you the same thing.” She taps my wedding band. “Why do you do this? When a guy like you could be with a girl like me?”
“Fair enough.” I grin at her, lacing my fingers with hers. The action is so innocent, yet so intimate, we both glance down to watch our hands intertwine. “I’m trying to figure you out. There’s a lot of talk in this town.”
“Too much,” she whispers, lifting my knuckle to kiss it. She slides her tongue over my ring and bites it with her teeth, her lashes sweeping up to lock eyes with me. “Too much talking.”
It happens so fast, I don’t know the ceiling from the floor when her lips touch mine. The ground shakes. The earth stills. There’s an explosion, sending stars bursting all around us. In seconds, my tongue snakes out and delves into her mouth, and her hands clamp tightly around my neck. My hands fly to her hips, gripping and groping, and I’m immediately pushing her backward, toward the edge of the bed. I feel like a clumsy teenager and it pisses me off, so I latch on harder to her hips, bending to bite her neck. A sound escapes me. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before. It’s broken and strained, as if it’s fighting to claw from my throat.
“No,” she breathes. The back of her knees hit the bed. “Not here.”
“Where do you want it, baby?”
Instead of speaking, she grabs my hand and drags me out of the bedroom, through the hall and down the stairway. I’m nearly tripping to keep up with her, but I manage. I can still taste her tongue. My lips are still on fire.
“Does she play?” she asks, when we reach the end of the stairwell. She points to the grand piano in the corner of the great room, positioned next to the large picture windows that frame the room.
“My wife? Yes. She loves to play. Why?”
Elise releases my hand and saunters over to the piano, skimming her fingers over the keys. Then she slowly turns to face me, hopping up to sit on them. The keys cry out as her weight touches down, filling the room with an eerie chorus. I step toward her, eyes blazing. Just when I think she can’t get any bolder, she leans back, resting on her elbows, and lets her legs fall open, revealing a sliver of red lace.
“Here,” she says, crooking a finger at me.
My gaze falls on the wall of photographs behind her, each one showcasing me and Kylie in various, loving positions. There’s one of us at last year’s Christmas ball, and one of us holding our ski gear, looking blissfully happy. My eyes don’t stray for long, though. There’s a tempting, wicked goddess sitting here, waiting for me to show her my skills, and I am one hundred percent up for that challenge.
I move like lightning, quick and sharp, but I don’t rush things when I align myself between her legs. I take my time, trailing my fingers along her knee, skating up along the inside of her thigh. Her skin is hot. So fucking hot I think it’s on fire, just like my lips. My hand travels down her calf, over her black stockings, which match her black, lacy dress. She watches me, shifting to remove Kylie’s heels.
“No.” My voice is gruff. Commanding. Now that she’s in my house, in my hands, and at my mercy, my nerve is returning. I’m getting my shit together. This is good, because I have things to show her. So, so many things. Things that will make her writhe as she comes. I don’t care what the others have done to her before me. It means shit compared to what I’m about to give her. My hand snatches hers, stopping her from removing the silver stilettos. “Leave them.”
A little flare brightens her irises. She looks at me with a doe-eyed stare, seeming to suddenly register that I’m a man who likes control. Her hand recoils and she sits back, waiting. That single response does something to me. An internal, carnal cord snaps, and my forearm is suddenly lunging forward to grasp the back of her neck. I tug at the roots of her smooth, silky hair and she whimpers, letting me tilt her head back. I take an easy, slow step forward, wedging myself tighter between her thighs.
“You,” I say, low and stern, “are mine now, Elise Duchamp.” I lean in and bring my mouth to her throat. “Claimed.” My teeth graze up the slope of her neck, carving a path to her ear. “Do you understand, baby?” She nods, and another whimper leaves her lips, breathy and hot, floating into the silence around us. I smile mischievously, pulling back to look at her dead on. “Good.”
As quickly as I gravitated to the inside of her thighs, I wrench at her hair and waist simultaneously, yanking her down from the piano and onto her feet, twisting her around so her back is flush with my chest. Her heels smack the wood floor; she scrambles to maintain balance.
I keep a tight grip on her throat and chin as I slide her dress up, exposing her red, lacy thong. The sight sends me soaring, so high I know I’ll never be able to come down. The bright red is as bold as she is. It’s my new favorite color. I never want to see her in anything else. This is Elise. My Elise. I told her she’s mine, but she doesn’t believe me.
“For starters, always wear red.” I reach down and rip her panties, tugging them to the side. The lace slides over her soft skin, tattered and torn. “With me, it’s always red.”
She’s breathing heavily, her throat muscles clenching against my palm. “What makes you so sure this is going to happen again?”
“I know it will.” I chuck the red lace to the floor and return my hand to her round, perfect ass, giving it a good squeeze. “When I’m done with you, you’ll know it, too.”
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