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To celebrate the release just around the corner, here is a chapter Sneak Peek
THRONE OF TRUTH
They have a life of their own. They multiply, divide, and conquer—not just the listener but the liar, too. They infiltrate the truth. They twist words until false is truer than reality.
I should know. I’d become a master at them.
For a while, lies had been my saving grace. They’d kept me warm on the coldest nights and kept me sheltered when only darkness remained, but now, I have wealth and family, and my lies aren’t giving me power anymore…they’re stripping me of it.
Stripping me of her.
She ran away from me.
She ran before I could tell her the truth.
It didn’t matter the truth wasn’t what she wanted to hear. It didn’t matter I had so many confessions and only the guts to reveal a few.
And then she vanished.
“GET OUT OF the fucking car, Elle.”
I cocked my chin, glowering out the window.
Get out of my life, Greg.
The slur scalded my tongue, but I didn’t have the balls to say it. My cheek still hurt. Fear still sliced my insides. The view outside the car was foreign and unwanted.
I was kidnapped, hurt, and pissed off.
I hate you, Greg.
I’ll make you pay, Greg.
My lips pulled into a sneer of contempt.
You won’t win, Greg.
“Elle!” He thumped the roof of his graphite Porsche for the third time. The rattle shook the interior, making me flinch. I’d done well for most of the journey.
He’d prattled on while miles slowly crept between me and my home. I’d remained stoic and deathly silent—I didn’t wince when he shouted for a response and didn’t cower when he raised his hand in threat.
I refused to let him affect me, even though I couldn’t ignore my body’s discomfort anymore. My bound hands were numb from the twine around my wrists. My shoulders screamed for mercy, and my butt was flat from the long drive.
For five hours, I’d tried to come up with a plan to either talk Greg out of whatever manic idea he’d concocted or figure out a way to incapacitate him.
My mind kept me entertained with images of knocking him out, leaving him tied to a tree, and stealing his car. I’d drive myself back to New York. It didn’t matter I hadn’t driven since I got my license—all David’s fault for driving me everywhere. It didn’t matter I barely knew how to operate a standard rather than an automatic gearshift. And it definitely didn’t matter I had no idea how to knock out a full-grown male with my hands tied behind my back.
I would do whatever it took to get free from this lunatic who I’d been raised with.
Starting with refusing to cooperate.
“Elle…” Greg growled, thumping the car one last time before ducking to shove his face into mine. The night sky bled with shadows and gloomy clouds. Not one star; no sliver of moon. It was as if we existed in a dead end while the roads of the world were back at a U-turn somewhere.
“I won’t ask again.”
I forced every inch of authority I could into my glare. “I don’t want to be here, Greg. Take me home.”
He laughed, rolling his eyes. “Too fucking bad. We’re here. Now get.”
I didn’t let him undermine me. I didn’t let him see my fear or frustration. “I’m not getting out of the car because you’re driving me home. Right now.”
“Oh, I am, am I?” He laughed harder, this time with a sinister echo. “That’s what you think.” He undid my seat belt and placed his fingers on my thigh. “I’m going to count to five.” He squeezed. Hard. “I suggest you get out before I hit five.”
My heart coughed.
Greg dropped all pretenses and ripped off his mask. He was done masquerading as the boring son of my father’s best friend and my employee. Out here (alone), he showed who he truly was, and I hated him.
I hated him more than I feared him.
But the longer he squeezed my thigh, the stronger my fear grew. I trembled with disobedience, cursing him, wishing the ground would grow teeth and chew him alive.
“One.” He smiled, his fingers climbing up my leg toward my core.
I gritted my teeth. I didn’t let him see how much my skin crawled to have his touch so close to where I vehemently didn’t want him.
“Two.” He crept the final distance, cupping me roughly with a harsh glint in his eyes.
I shivered as he let me go as quickly as he’d grabbed me. His touch slithered upward, stroking my belly, my hip, my waist. “Three.”
I shifted despite myself.
My legs bunched to obey—to climb out on my own willpower to avoid whatever nastiness he had planned. But he wedged himself in the door, not giving me any room to exit.
He knew that.
He nodded slyly, knowing I’d figured out that he’d blocked me. That I didn’t have a choice in what would happen next.
“Four.” His touch switched from my waist to my breast, tweaking a nipple before climbing the rest of the way to my shoulder. His fingers dug into me like barbwire, sharp and steely—ready to rip me apart.
I braced for pain.
I sniffed in retaliation.
Not that it did any good.
“Five.” The grasp he had on my shoulder became a throbbing anchor. Digging his fingernails into my flesh, he yanked with all his energy.
With nothing holding me in the car, I toppled sideways.
I had no way to fight or stop my sideways motion.
I fell out, landing painfully on my shoulder with my legs still in the Porsche and my arms tied behind my back. Sharp gravel dug into my cheek. Wind whooshed from my lungs.
With my face wedged against the ground, I had a perfect view of Greg’s black loafers as he squatted over me. “Well, that’s one success. You’re out of the car.” He nudged me with his toe. “Now, get up.”
I squirmed, wincing as every joint and ligament squealed in pain. My spine hated the way my legs pretzeled above while my shoulders slam-dunked into the earth.
Terror sprouted like weeds in my veins as Greg took a step back. I tensed for a kick or reprimand, but he placed his hands on his hips, waiting.
If I’d climbed out like he’d asked ten minutes ago, I could’ve avoided the shrapnel to my cheek and the new contusions to my body.
You were stupid, Elle.
Was it wise to refuse everything out of principle or obey to save my strength?
I knew the answer even though I hated it.
Doing my best to stifle my moan, I slowly unhooked my ankles from the Porsche and wiggled forward to give my legs room to drop down. Slowly, achingly, I figured out how to slide sideways and push off the ground with my hands behind my back—granting just enough leverage to sit upright.
It took a while, but the moment I sat up, Greg clapped condescendingly. “Finally, you listen to the boss.”
I spat out a mouthful of acrid dust. “You’re not my boss.”
“Wrong, Elle. I am. You’ve been in charge for far too fucking long. Things are gonna be different now.”
I clamped my lips together. I wouldn’t antagonize him further. He was delusional. There was nothing I could say to a crazy person. Let him think he was my commander. I’d correct him when he was in jail.
We held a staring war like children until I cocked my chin and ignored him.
He didn’t speak as I navigated my sore body into movement.
It took a few minutes to figure out how to shuffle my legs beneath me and push off on numb tingling feet to trade driveway for standing, but I managed.
The second I succeeded, Greg captured my elbow. “About time you got up.” Pulling me toward a large cabin resting on the boundary of a dense forest, he added, “Wasting my time, Elle. Gonna pay for that.”
“You could’ve helped me. Better yet, you could take me home.”
He chuckled. “Funny girl.”
The cabin reeked of disappearing CEOs and illegal activity. In any other situation, the cute windows with yellow and brown trim would’ve made any guest feel welcome. In this situation—when I’d been stolen against my will—it was a coffin I had no desire to enter.
Every inch of me did not (with a thousand did nots) want to go into that place. But I was tired, hungry, and emotionally wrung dry. My head still throbbed from his punch at my apartment, and my heart still panged for the lies Penn had told. The glittery blue of my sapphire star dangled in my mind, destroying Penn’s fibs over and over again.
Where had that necklace come from?
Was it true Penn was Baseball Cap or Adidas?
Regardless of the truth, I knew one thing for sure.
All men are assholes.
And unless my father or David could figure out where Greg had taken me, I was on my own.
I glanced out of the corner of my eye at Greg and his pompous face. Everything about him irritated me to the point of sheer rage.
He’s a moron.
A moron who can kill me with no one here to stop him.
Despite running from Penn and cursing him forever, I wouldn’t be opposed to him hunting and freeing me. He was the lesser of the two evils tonight.
Climbing the porch steps, our footsteps echoed on a stained wooden deck, weathered with a stylish décor.
Greg let me go, fumbling in his pockets for a key.
I didn’t run off or try to bolt into the forest.
My hands were still tied, and I had no idea where I was. I’d never been good at hikes in school and would rather deal with Greg than a bear in the wilderness while incapacitated.
I kept my voice icy. “Where are we?”
Greg grinned as he slotted a key into the antique looking lock. “My father’s cabin.”
I vaguely remembered Steve bragging about buying a vacation place before I took over Belle Elle. He and Dad had gone away for a weekend to do manly things.
I hadn’t asked what those manly things had entailed.
It’s true. He is a moron.
I blinked, forcing myself not to roll my eyes at Greg’s stupidity.
He’d kidnapped me and taken me to a location that his father knew about.
I wanted to thank the nonexistent stars.
Bless him for his small brain. It would only be a matter of time before the cavalry came for me.
I kept my conclusions to myself, nodding respectfully as Greg opened the door and held it wide for me to enter. He followed, leaving me standing in the foyer as he turned on lights to reveal wooden walls, cathedral ceilings, and timber flooring.
It wasn’t called a log cabin for nothing—every single inch, including the kitchen counter, was made out of sacrificed trees.
It was wood overload with a plaid couch, rustic dining room table, and a window seat that could fit ten children more inclined to read than explore the sinister forest waving its shadowy branches by the windows.
The place was big with hallways leading off to bedrooms and a second lounge down a few steps with a giant log fireplace.
Greg shrugged off his blazer, throwing it haphazardly on the back of the couch. He smiled. “Come here.”
I wanted to kick him in the balls, but slowly, I inched closer.
Once I was standing in front of him, he spun his finger in the air. “Turn around.”
I swallowed a retort and did as he asked. Instantly, my spine crawled. I didn’t like having him behind me, unable to see.
His fingers latched around my wrists.
I tensed, then relaxed a little as the tight twine slowly loosened, sliding off one wrist altogether.
I looked over my shoulder, waiting to be freed completely, but he tied a new knot around one wrist, tugging it until I turned back around to face him.
His teeth flashed in the golden light bulbs. “Can’t have you running now, can we?”
I glowered at the leash he’d formed, binding my arm into his control, tethering me to him while giving my other arm the relief of coming forward and working out the kinks in my shoulder.
“I won’t run.” I itched with the need to undo the knots imprisoning me.
“Don’t take it personally, but I don’t believe you.” Pulling me forward, he grinned as my body pressed up against his, my arm forced around his waist with the aid of the rope.
Lowering his head, he nuzzled my neck.
I shuddered with repulsion.
“Now that I’ve got you, I’m not letting you go, Elle.”
Doing my best to breathe slow and steady, rather than give into the overwhelming desire to scream, I said, “You don’t have me, Greg. You’ll never have me.”
“Well, I don’t see anyone else here claiming you.” He kissed my cheek. “You’re mine, and you’re not going anywhere.”
“I don’t need someone to claim me. I claim me.” The CEO in me came out. I looked down my nose with arrogant authority. “What do you hope to achieve here, Greg? You can’t keep me prisoner for long. They’ll find me. Whatever sick and twisted idea you have of marrying me to gain access to Belle Elle is riddled with flaws. Even married to me, I’d never give you part ownership of my company, and no judge would ever grant you my property if I said you forced me.”
My mouth ran away with things I’d promised myself I wouldn’t say. “And what about our fathers? Do you honestly think they’ll let you get away with this? My dad will either have you murdered in your sleep or thrown in jail, and your dad will have to live with the shame of what you’ve done.”
My free hand swooped up. I tapped him in the temple as if he were a simpleton and needed a good slap to wake up. “Think this through, Greg. Release me now, and I won’t press charges. I’ll tell our fathers to let it go. I’ll inform everyone that you had to get whatever jealousy you felt about Penn out of your system and then everything can go back to normal.”
His face didn’t change from the cordial playboy I knew and tolerated. His dark blond hair cascaded over one eye, giving the illusion he was easy to play and manipulate. “Normal, huh?”
I nodded. “With no repercussions. Think about it.” I tugged my wrist, jiggling his hand where he held the other end of the rope. “Release me, take me home, and we’ll forget about all of this.”
He pursed his lips as if contemplating my proposal. Then a dark veil fell over his eyes. “Too bad for you, I don’t like normal.”
Stomping forward, he jerked me through the kitchen and out the backdoor. Stumbling down the steps toward the forest edge, I swallowed my fear as his stride headed straight toward the looming forest.
Where is he taking me?
The cabin wasn’t wanted, but it was a damn sight better than traipsing through a jungle late at night.
“Shut up, Noelle. You’ve had your little speech; now, shut the fuck up.” He yanked a small flashlight from his pocket and turned on the ray of illumination as we crunched through bracken, entering the world of looming leafy giants. “You think you have me all figured out, huh? Bet you thought I was a fucking moron for bringing you to my dad’s cabin.” He laughed coldly. “Bet David is already on his way here. Too bad for him.”
He laughed harder as he broke into a jog, dragging me behind him. “I’m not a fuckwad, Elle. I’ve been planning this for months.” Beelining toward an old shed tucked up against ancient trees, he skidded to a stop.
Looking back with victorious smugness, he wrenched the unlocked padlock off the rickety doors and slithered the chain from around the wooden handles.
The rope leash lashed tight around my wrist each time he moved, giving me no slack to run. Cracking open the doors, he pulled me through and shone the flashlight onto the one thing I didn’t want to see.
Clean and new—something that would guarantee to work and not break down in exhaustion.
A black Dodge Charger.
Pulling me around to the passenger entry, he opened the door and shoved me inside. “We’re only half-way there, Elle. This was the decoy. The real destination is where no one will guess. A place only I know. A place where we’ll finally get to know each other.”
My heart switched from pissed off to manic.
Greg slammed the door in my face, locking me inside.
Oh, God, what should I do?
Jogging around to the driver’s side, he hopped in as if we were honeymooners about to explore. Inserting a key into the ignition, the car woke up with a loud grumbling growl.
He placed his hand on my knee. “A place where we’ll get to know each other very well.” Throwing the car into gear, he shot forward and rammed the shed doors wide, not caring about marking the vehicle or ruining his father’s retreat.
We fishtailed on the mulchy ground as the engine roared. He stomped on the accelerator and drove rocket-ship style through the small trail, past leering trees, over broken branches, and exploded onto a dirt track, leaving all phones, cars, and well-known cabins behind.
Penn wouldn’t find me.
David and Dad wouldn’t find me.
I truly was on my own.