OWNED: A Dark Mystery Romance (LOVE IS WAR Book 4)

1

TESS

“How is life in the office?”

I lift my gaze from my computer as Beth, one of my co-workers, walks into my office. Her eyes slide to the bouquet of flowers fanning out of the ceramic vase sitting on the corner of my desk.

“It’s not bad,” I say, tipping my gaze to my phone, furtively checking the time. “I may start working in a cubicle full time,” I mutter, a bit distracted.

Disappointment courses through me as I scroll down, sift through messages and find nothing.

I raise my gaze, prompted by her silence.

Absently brushing my new necklace with my fingers, I set the phone down and put on a brave smile.

Her eyes tear away from the flowers.

“I wouldn’t change this arrangement if I were you. Two days working in an office is more than enough if you have the chance to telecommute the other three,” she says.

I tip my chin in agreement.

“That’s true. Working from home has its benefits,” I murmur, my eyes shifting back to my cell phone.

My jaw clenches with frustration.

Why is he doing this to me?

I try to ignore the pestering thought and start tidying up my desk. I rearrange a stack of books, close the windows on the screen, and power off the computer.

“Care to join us for a drink down at the Ally’s?” Beth asks as I grab my purse.

I flick a distracted gaze to her.

Ally’s?”

“Yeah. The new bar downtown.”

I push out of my chair, checking my phone for the second time.

She notices my glance.

My tension.

“Is everything okay?” she asks.

Smiling, I slide my cell into my purse and straighten my back, squaring my shoulders.

“Yes. Everything’s fine.”

She cocks an eyebrow and tosses me a questioning look, still waiting for an answer.

“Um, drinks... Yeah. Perhaps some other time. I have plans with my sister this evening,” I say.

A smile tilts her lips.

“Sure. No problem. I’ll see you on Monday, then,” she says before she starts to spin around and waves me goodbye. “I have to go now. They’re waiting for me.”

As soon as she vanishes out the door, I retrieve my phone from my purse and sift through the messages hoping to find something that I might have missed from him.

It’s been a week already.

A week of long days and silent nights, unanswered calls, and no sightings of him.

A week of questions and no explanations.

A week in which I had enough time to mull over the moments we had spent together in that beautiful property out of town.

A week in which my mind played incessantly the moments we have shared in bed.

The lust for each other soared with every second that we spent together, but the emotions that he put in me left me almost broken, and now, I need him more than air.

I’ve never imagined that you can feel so many different things for a man. I had affection for Allan, but he never whipped up a storm in me. Not even a breeze. I thought that it was normal. I felt that it was supposed to be that way. I still think it is.

But not with Sebastien.

There are moments when I dive into him and get lost in him, relishing that feeling of being close to someone. And then there are the moments when I want to fight him, and make him bleed inside, the same way he makes me feel.

There are moments when I think I know him, but then I cruise through a world of secrets and unanswered questions, things that don’t make sense to me, and then I realize that I love a stranger.

There are moments when I trust him, and I believe what he says to me, and then I sense the edge in him and start to fear him.

Cloaked in my thoughts, I walk out of the building, my eyes scanning the street as I search for a cab.

I should probably just walk to the restaurant. The place is not far from here.

My phone buzzes in my purse.

I fish it out and take the call.

“Listen... I can’t make it tonight,” Viola says, panting at the other end.

“Tell me that you’re jogging.”

Laughter fills my ear.

“Yeah... Something like that. Only better.”

A smile tickles my lips.

“I’ll see you at mom’s place on Sunday. All right?”

“Sure. Have fun,” I say before I end the call.

I stop in the middle of the sidewalk, my eyes trained on the phone screen.

Perhaps I should call Anne, but then I remember that she has a yoga class and she invited me to join her.

I dwell for a few moments.

I’m hungry and not in the mood to stretch anything other than my fingers around a glass of wine.

I take a left turn and head to a different restaurant. It’s a new place I’ve only had the chance to go to once. The food is tasty, and the service is impeccable.

Minutes later, I walk in.

Thick curtains drape over the large windows, soft light gliding over the walls.

I ask for a table in the back, and the hostess takes me to a small spot not far from the door.

Within minutes, I get my glass of wine, and a plate piled up with salad. I start to eat and also to glance at my phone, reviewing the editing notes I made on my last freelancing project.

The chair scrapes against the floor across from me, making me raise my eye.

My jaw clenches in surprise as I lay my eyes on the woman who sinks into the chair.

I toss my phone on the table.

“Do you have a moment?” she asks.

Slowly, I start to chew, in no rush to swallow my food.

“What are you doing here, Jacqueline?” I ask, glancing around.

“He’s not here,” she says, her voice dripping with poison.

I run the napkin across my lips, checking her briefly.

A sleeveless, chocolate-brown dress with silver-tone buttons on her shoulders, molds to her slender body, highlighting her toned frame. Her hair cascades down her back in big waves.

She studies me as well, a sly smile flickering across her lips as she bats her silky lashes.

“To be honest, I never thought he’d fall for someone like you,” she says.

“Are you here to insult me? If you are, our conversation is over,” I toss at her sourly as I straighten in my chair.

A soft chuckle parts her lips, her hand gesturing dismissively.

“No, no. That’s not what I meant.”

A waitress approaches our table, prompting Jacqueline to tear her eyes away from mine.

She orders a glass of wine.

“Are we having dinner now?” I ask as the woman pulls away.

“Not even close,” she sneers.

I set my fork on the table and push the plate away from me, my appetite suddenly lost.

A server sets her glass of wine on the table a mere moment later.

He asks her if she wants to order food. She flicks her fingers up, gesturing a no.

On cue, the man retreats.

“You are just not his type...” she mutters, after she takes a swig of her drink, resuming the conversation.

“And what exactly is his type?” I ask, setting my elbows on the table and clasping my fingers together.

My lips sting with words that should remain unspoken.

She reads my eyes for a moment, watching me from above the rim of her glass.

She soaks her lips in the golden liquid before she sets the glass on the table and tilts her gaze up, locking my eyes.

“There are many things you don’t know about my husband,” she says.

Her last words run a knife through my chest.

“I’m sure he convinced you that he was some kind of saint,” she says, drawing pleasure from tormenting me. “Well, he wasn’t… Not when I met him, anyway. He was the most vicious man I’d ever seen. And I had my share of males. Trust me. But he was nothing like the average guy. He could have any woman that he wanted. Yes, that was a given. But it wasn’t enough for him. He wanted them broken, lusting after him, losing their minds. Getting addicted to him, chasing him and begging him for more. Sex was part of it, of course, but it was way more than that. He’d play games with them, and fool them into believing anything he wanted them to believe. Friends of mine got a shot at him before I had my chance. It made me curious, to be honest. He was hot as hell, but that was not what drew me to him. Handsome men were never my weakness. I’ve had plenty of them. That’s not what made me want him. What had me spellbound was his clout, the mystery, and stories that had surrounded him. You might think that all that had to do with money. Perhaps it did. At least, some of it did. Money gave him self-assurance and a sense of entitlement. It gave him the absolute power. But above that, there was something else. Something ingrained in him. He had that hunger to possess and conquer, and ultimately, to destroy. He showed no mercy. Once someone caught his eye that woman wouldn’t stand a chance. But none of them were able to have his heart. And that was no surprise. The man was cold as ice. It was not his body that he fed. It was his broken mind.”

My hair bristles as she talks, goosebumps dotting my skin.

She pauses for a moment, gauging my reaction before she continues.

“I’m surprised you’ve held his interest for so long... If that’s what this is. See, I don’t think he’s changed that much.”

She studies me for a moment and takes another sip of wine.

“I’d tread carefully if I were you,” she says, sliding her glass onto the table. “And I’d definitely watch my back. No matter what he says to you, think twice before you choose to believe him.”

I suck in a short breath and lean back in my chair.

Our eyes clash in a silent battle. Regardless of how vicious she is and how questionable her reasons, some of her words ring true to me. She knows that. She also knows how profoundly they affect me.

“Why would I listen to you?”

“Because I know him better than you do,” she says, no smile on her lips. “The man knows no boundaries. Once he sets his eyes on something, he just takes it. And once he has enough of it, he just drops it. If I were you, I’d stay away from him, or he’ll break your heart and ruin your mind.”

Silent, I look at her.

“You don’t believe me, do you?” she asks.

“Why would I believe the woman who cheated with my husband?”

A soft blush kisses her cheeks, only for a second.

She leans forward and curls her lips ready to speak.

“Listen, darling. We both know your marriage was broken. I did both of you a favor. What excuse do you have?”

I tip my head to the side, tossing her a questioning look.

“For?” I ask, puzzled.

“For bedding my husband?”

I smell a trap as vile as the darkness drifting from her.

It almost prompts me to pull back, but I stay still, determined to show her that I’m not afraid.

“What makes you think that I’m sleeping with your husband?” I ask, without batting a lash.

Surprise rolls over her face, followed by disbelief.

She leans back in her seat, the ghost of a smile lingering on her lips.

“You and my husband think that you are so smart. How could you possibly believe that I don’t know what’s going on between you two?”

“How could you possibly know when nothing is going on?” I retort defiantly.

Her eyebrows flick up, her eyes shooting a glare.

She jerks forward, her elbows sliding onto the table.

“Listen to me. I’m not stupid. I know his needs. I’m his wife after all. He doesn’t share his bed with me and doesn’t have another woman either. Except for you, of course. Don’t try to convince me that all you two are doing is sharing your love for art, or books. Or traveling...”

My heart jumps up and down, but I manage to keep my composure. It drives her crazy.

Her eyes dart back and forth for a few moments before she flicks her hands up.

Giving up.

Her back slackens in her chair again.

“Okay... All right. You don’t need to tell me, but one of these days I’ll get the proof that I need and then everything will change...” she says, quirking an eyebrow and resetting her composure.

A soft smile creases her lips as she sets a blank stare on her glass of wine.

“He must’ve taken his time with you until he got you where he wanted… Playing his best game. Compelling you to guard his secrets. I wonder how much he told you about us?” she tosses at me while raising the glass to her lips.

She doesn’t even try to hide her sly smile behind her drink, her grin daring me to step right into her trap.

Questions rush to my lips. There are so many things I’d love to know, but not like this. Not from her.

The woman is set to destroy me––that much I know, so I make an effort and push my questions back.

She registers my hesitation and quickly realizes that I’m not going to give her what she wants.

Disappointed, she starts to speak again.

“Well... He taught you well. Admittedly, he was always good at this, but lately, he’s gotten a bit foolish, taking all sorts of risks. One of these days, he will regret everything he’s done to me,” she says, pushing her chair back. “In the meantime, take my word for it. He is not the man you need in your life. You know I’m telling you the truth. Sooner or later, you’ll realize that he is much more than you can handle.”

She grabs her bag and starts to rise.

My voice shoots from my throat.

“What did you mean by not being his type?”

She stills, her lips curving into a knowing grin.

“I wasn’t talking looks–– I can see why he is attracted to you. But you seem to be a smart woman, with a bone of honesty in you. That’s what baffles me. Why would he mess with you when he knows that one day you’d most likely call him out on what he’s doing to you?”

With that, she smoothly pulls out of her chair, spins around and walks away.

My body crumbles like a heap of ash.