Sweetest TabooJ. Kenner
Sweetest Taboo is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Julie Kenner All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Bantam, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
BANTAM BOOKS and the HOUSE colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Kenner, Julie, author.
Title: Sweetest taboo / J. Kenner.
Description: New York : Bantam, 2016. | Series: S.I.N. (Stark International Novel) ; 6
Identifiers: LCCN 2016027540 (print) | LCCN 2016034337 (ebook) | ISBN 9781101967492 (softcover) | ISBN 9781101967508 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Man-woman relationships--Fiction. | Billionaires--Fiction. | BISAC: FICTION / Romance Contemporary. | FICTION Contemporary Women. | FICTION Romance Suspense. | GSAFD: Romantic suspense fiction. | Erotic fiction.
Classification: LCC PS3611.E665 S94 2016 (print) | LCC PS3611.E665 (ebook) | DDC 813/.6--dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/ 2016027540
Ebook ISBN 9781101967508
Cover design and illustration: David G. Stevenson, based on a photograph (c) Lolya1988/Shutterstock v4.1
Chapter 1: Gone Girl
Chapter 2: In the Box
Chapter 3: Sleeping Beauty
Chapter 4: Revelations
Chapter 5: Lost Without You
Chapter 6: Inevitable
Chapter 7: Truth Deceives
Chapter 8: Weight of the World
Chapter 9: Into the Breach
Chapter 10: Restraint
Chapter 11: Lost in You
Chapter 12: Sunshine on My Shoulders
Chapter 13: Stars Shine Down
Chapter 14: All Knotted Up
Chapter 15: The Hills Have Eyes
Chapter 16: Too Many Maybes
Chapter 17: Shards
Chapter 18: Sacrifices
Chapter 19: Breaking Bad
Chapter 20: Lovers & Friends
Chapter 21: Perspectives
Chapter 22: Eternity & Back
Chapter 23: Something to Talk About
Chapter 24: Right Before Your Eyes
Chapter 25: Soaring
Chapter 26: Mano a Mano
Chapter 27: Liar's Game
Chapter 28: Truth & Consequences
Chapter 29: Bitch Is Back
Chapter 30: Tick Tock
Chapter 31: Hide & Seek
Chapter 32: Man Down
Chapter 33: Everything Old Is New Again
Chapter 34: 'Til Death
By J. Kenner
About the Author
She'd thought Dallas would be hers by now.
She'd thought he would understand that it was inevitable.
Was it her fault that she had to hurry him along? That she had to make him see?
Where love was concerned, a girl had to do what she had to do, and Dallas Sykes was a man with a flair for the dramatic. He liked a show. He liked to make a statement.
He might be angry at first; she understood that. Because her plan to clear the path to him was--what? Radical? Dangerous?
No. Imperative. She had no choice, really. He was, quite simply, hers. The world just didn't realize that yet.
More importantly, Dallas didn't realize that yet.
She didn't understand how he could not know. Between them it had been special. It had been pure. Not like those sluts he'd drawn into his bed. Not like this ridiculous affair with his sister, all the more vile because it was splashed all over social media, their shame making headlines and turning stomachs.
She'd never considered him dim-witted, but maybe he was. Because he should know. He should understand. And yet he didn't.
But that was okay. He would soon enough.
Well, and then he'd truly be hers.
"She's not here. Goddammit, she's not here."
Dallas Sykes's blood burned with dread and fear curled in his gut like acid as he stalked down the dark, residential block of Eighty-Second Street, his eyes scanning every nook and cranny, searching for a woman he knew wasn't there.
This late, the street was deserted, the residents tucked safe in their beds behind the darkened windows of the Upper West Side townhouses that rose like the wall of an inescapable maze on either side of Dallas.
Where? Where the fuck was she?
The area was too damn dark, the few door lights far too dim to be any help at all. Instead, Dallas used the light on his phone to cut through the night as he scoured every damn inch of the street for some sign of Jane. A broken fingernail. A shoe.
God forbid, even blood.
He shuddered, trying to push back his terror. He wasn't succeeding.
This was his fault, goddammit. His.
He'd hidden the truth from Jane, thinking he was making it better. That he was sparing her more pain. But those buried secrets had burst free, wild and vicious and dangerous. And now she was gone. Missing. Possibly dead--except she couldn't be dead; the thought was too big, too horrible to even wrap his mind around.
But captive? Oh, dear Christ, what if she'd been thrust back into the horror of their childhood, and all because of him?
"Keep looking." Liam's voice--firm, controlled--filtered through the speaker. "I'm showing a signal."
"Of course I'm going to keep looking," Dallas snapped. "But she's not here." His voice rose, matching his escalating fear. "And neither is her damn phone."
"Stay with me, Dallas. You can't help her if you lose your shit."
"Fuck." A fresh wave of fear crested inside him, and Dallas had to tighten his grip on his own phone in order to fight the almost irresistible urge to hurl the damn thing to the ground. But he couldn't. As impotent as his smart phone was at the moment, it was his lifeline to her.
His heart. His soul.
The one person in all the world he craved, needed, loved more than any other.
And Liam was right--he couldn't help her if he lost control. If he let himself drown in fear and memories.
So he wouldn't. He'd stay on the street. He'd search. He'd follow every lead. But in the end, he would find her because no other option was even conceivable. He'd find her, he'd rescue her, and then he'd kill the fucking bitch who'd taken her.
Fighting a shudder, he once again looked at the image that someone had sent to him from her phone.
Jane. Beaten and battered.
Jane. Unconscious and helpless on a sidewalk. This sidewalk. Or at least somewhere near here, because Liam was tracking her phone to these coordinates. So where the hell was she?
Slowly, he drew in a breath, then exhaled with just as much precision. "You're sure this is the location?"
"I'm sure. I'm logged in to her account. I can see the phone's location on the map. And we're looking at a circumference of about eight meters."
Dallas nodded, trusting his friend because he knew damn well that he couldn't rely on himself. He wasn't thinking straight at all. The last thing he remembered with any clarity was standing in the new apartment that he shared with Jane, a little shell-shocked after she'd laid into him about the secrets he'd been keeping. She'd stormed out, and he'd forced himself to hold back, knowing that she needed to get her anger out of her system. He'd expected her to take a walk, maybe visit her friend Brody.
He hadn't expected
that she would be attacked. Taken.
He hadn't expected a repeat of their goddamn childhood.
And he sure as hell hadn't anticipated that his phone would ping with a text message showing Jane splayed out on the street, her eyes closed and her face battered.
That image had been horrible enough. But what really gave him chills was the carnival-style mask on the ground next to her prone form. A mask just like the one the Woman had worn when she'd entered their cell all those years ago. Like she'd worn when she took him away from Jane. When she'd tortured him for hours--days--on end.
His stomach twisted as his mind filled with images of what she'd done to him. Only this time, it wasn't Dallas who was the victim of the Woman's cruel abuse, but Jane.
No. Please, God, no.
"No mask, no Jane. Christ, Liam, where the fuck is she?"
"The guys are on their way. They'll start going door to door. We'll find her," Liam said, but Dallas could hear the fear in his voice, too.
He turned in a circle as he examined the empty street in this quiet, residential area. Jane had to be somewhere, and maybe the Woman had dragged her into one of these brownstones. Maybe someone had seen something, heard something. But the street was empty now. Noah and Tony would go door to door looking for witnesses. But that would take time.
Time Jane might not have.
Her attacker could have taken her anywhere. But she could also be right there, just meters away. She could be watching from a window, her hands tied, her mouth gagged, hope fading as she saw him fumbling in the dark.
Dallas took another hard look at the area he'd already scoured. No phone.
He stepped off the sidewalk and into the street. Same as it had been two minutes ago. Except...
"The gutter," he said to Liam even as he dropped to his hands and knees, then thrust his arm in up to the shoulder. Absurd, really. If the phone was down there, it would be well out of reach in the storm drain, ready to be washed away with the next rain. He couldn't get to it, not without--
"I have it." Then he spit out a curse. Because so the fuck what? The phone wasn't the woman, and he still didn't have Jane. And now he knew with absolute certainty that she wasn't with her phone.
"Open her photos," Liam ordered. "There wasn't any location information buried in the picture you received or the text. Maybe the photo was taken in another block. Maybe they attacked her somewhere else and ditched the phone here."
"Already on it," Dallas said, a spring of hope bubbling as he tapped and swiped the screen to get the photo to open. Sure enough, there was location information attached. He read the GPS coordinates off to Liam, his body tense as he waited for Liam to send him to a new location.
But all Liam did was whisper a soft "Goddammit."
Dallas didn't need to hear more. He knew what that meant. His last line to Jane had been severed.
He cocked his head, thinking.
Maybe not the last, after all.
"Coming around," Liam said. "We loaded him up with a shit-ton of tranqs, but they're starting to wear off. I was about to dose him again. Keep him under until Quince can get here from London."
"No," Dallas said. "Let him wake up. I'm coming in."
Dallas had known Colin West since he was five years old. He'd grown up around the man. He'd comforted Jane when Colin's boneheaded decisions had put her in danger. He'd held her when Lisa, their mom, had filed suit to terminate Colin's parental rights so that Eli--Dallas's uncle and adoptive father--could adopt Jane, making Dallas and Jane full-blown brother and sister.
Dallas never had doubts that Colin could be a dickwad. After all, the guy had served jail time for insider trading, then followed that with a second stint for tax fraud. He'd made bad decisions and he'd run with the wrong crowd.
But Dallas had also seen the way Colin had comforted Jane after the kidnapping. When she was vulnerable and confused and needed to get away from her family. What had hurt the most was that it was Dallas she'd been trying to escape. Their connection--their passion--had sustained them in captivity. But it had been the one thing they absolutely could not take with them beyond those concrete walls.
So she'd left. Closed herself off. And turned to Colin for support.
Dallas had hated the distance, but he'd been grateful for Colin, who had seemingly put aside his hurt at having his rights terminated in order to be there for his daughter. So grateful, in fact, that Dallas and Colin had forged their own friendship as Dallas had moved into adulthood. And over time, Colin and his new wife, Adele, had become part of Dallas's circle of friends.
Never once had Dallas suspected that Colin might have been the force behind the kidnapping of Jane and Dallas. Never once had it even crossed his mind that the man he'd grown up around--the man who Jane still loved like a father--had been the Jailer. The man who'd locked them in a room. The man who'd whispered to Dallas that he deserved every bit of agony he suffered in captivity.
The man who allowed the Woman to play her sadistic, sexual games on a fifteen-year-old boy.
Now he suspected it. Hell, now he believed it.
It made him sick, but he believed it.
And as he sped down the near-empty street on the classic Ducati Darmah he'd bought in college, all he could think was that he had to get to Colin. He had to find Jane. Because at the end of the day, she was the only one who mattered. And once he stepped into the room with that son of a bitch, there was no way Colin was getting out alive until Dallas had answers.
He made a hard right, then opened the bike up when he saw that the lane was clear. He was going too damn fast, and he knew it, but he couldn't slow down. Not when memories of Colin still filled his head. Not when he was trying to escape the lingering memory of Jane's face when she'd told him to go.
And certainly not when the Jailer's voice still whispered in his ear, as fresh and hard as it had been almost eighteen years ago.
Do you think he's going to come for you, that man you call your father? Do you think he loves you enough to pay the price to keep you?
You better hope so.
You better hope you're more to him than just another fucking showpiece to set on his mantel. One more acquisition in the great Eli Sykes's collection.
I'll tell you a secret--I hope so, too. Because you aren't worth the air you breathe. And if he doesn't pay to get you back, I don't know why the hell I should bother to keep you alive.
With a violent jerk to the handlebars, Dallas skidded to a stop two blocks from his destination, his breath coming hard. He sat a moment, looking down the street at a half-demolished East Harlem grocery store as he tried to push the memories back. Tried to get his shit together.
He wasn't that scared teenager anymore. He was a grown man, and a powerful one at that. And he intended to wield a little of that power right now.
It was time to shove aside his goddamn memories.
It was time to get Jane back. Over an hour had passed since that horrible text had arrived in his inbox, and every second was like a knife in his gut. She needed him to be focused. Smart.
She needed him to find her, to protect her the way he'd always promised he would. And he damn sure wasn't going to let her down.
Determined, he slid off the bike and then walked toward the building that Deliverance had purchased eighteen months ago, the ownership hidden behind an impenetrable wall of shell corporations and fake foreign investors.
As far as the public was concerned, the run-down market in the transitional neighborhood was being demolished and converted into a luxury residential project. And technically, that was true. It just happened that the conversion was going at a snail's pace. And in the meantime, the project was perfect camouflage for the entrance to Deliverance's Manhattan operations center.
Dallas had formed Deliverance with the hope of locating his and Jane's kidnappers--their past kidnappers. Now five men--Dallas, Liam, Quince, Tony, and Noah--made up the
ultra-secret, elite vigilante team that did whatever it took to locate and rescue kidnap victims. But never once had Dallas anticipated that he would use Deliverance's resources to search for Jane, and the irony of that reality sat heavy in his gut.
Ironic or not, Dallas was grateful that Deliverance existed. It may have been his brainchild, but Dallas was only a small part of the reason the organization was so damned effective. He'd populated it with men he knew and trusted. And, more importantly, who were exceptionally good at their jobs. Right now, Liam was running the operation from inside the center. Noah and Tony were armed with fake police badges and going door to door on the Upper West Side street where Dallas had found Jane's phone. And Quince--who was also an MI6 agent--was on his way back from London.
On any other mission, Dallas would want Quince in the interrogation room. The man had acquired a unique skill set, after all. But this time, Dallas was grateful his friend was away. Because all Dallas wanted at the moment was to curl his fingers around Colin's throat until the fucker confessed to everything. Until he revealed who the Woman was and where she'd taken Jane.
Dallas kept his cap pulled low over his eyes as he hurried down the street and then into the construction zone. He crossed quickly under the cover of scaffolding, temporary walls, and construction debris until he exited into the airspace between the former grocery store and the building next door. Also owned by Deliverance shell companies, the six-story apartment building was undergoing renovations as well. Supposedly, anyway. He used a code to enter, then descended the stairs to the small basement before passing through a set of security doors to the operations center located in the concrete bowels.
Such precautions were probably not necessary, but Deliverance had remained completely anonymous for years, and part of its success lay in the strict rules and procedures that the team followed to the letter.
Dallas knew that.
He also knew that he was about to say a giant "fuck you" to those rules. He wanted Colin's head on a platter. He wanted answers.