Bought by the Alpha
He’s finally found me… again.
“Run!” my father screamed. The silver necklace, the only thing I had from my mother, was torn from my neck as I fled. But I was chased, cornered in the woods and held at gunpoint… and I still can’t believe what happened next. What leaped from the shadows to save me.
It couldn’t get any worse, right? But now I knows he exists, and he knows where I am. How am I supposed to escape him? He’s not even human. He acts like he owns me. Out there, though, are our enemies. And they’re coming to finish what they started. I’m going to need a Christmas miracle to survive this… or do I just need to trust in him?
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This paranormal romance is currently available in a box set on sale now through March 22nd, and then as a standalone thereafter.
For only the third time this evening, an incoming customer set off the cheerful chimes. It was almost never this quiet. It wasn’t the good kind of quiet. It was the something-bad-is-brewing quiet. “Be right there!” I called out, picking up the pace. Of course someone came in just as my boss, Dorothy, stepped out to smoke and I was wrestling with a replacement beer keg in the basement.
“No rush,” came the answer.
My stomach twisted. Sheriff Whitmore. I dropped the keg immediately and texted Dorothy the classic warning code, a single ‘X’. There weren’t many rules that the old gal had about her bar. Show up ready to work, treat the good customers as you would family, and if you were a woman, never, ever, ever allow yourself to be caught alone by the sheriff.
I thought about dawdling downstairs, but if he decided to come down here to “make sure I was okay” that would be even worse. I sprinted up the basement stairs and darted behind the bar just as Dorothy came stomping in from the back door, a half-finished cigarette still caught between her fingers.
Sheriff Whitmore sat in his favorite spot by the bar, and his gaze dropped to Dorothy’s hand. “Why don’t you finish up your smoke. Cara here’s got me covered.” His voice was as smooth as his slicked-back dark hair. The first time I laid eyes on him, I caught him staring at the other waitresses’ asses like he owned every woman within a mile radius of him. He came into the bar at least once a week.
Whenever I was forced to interact with him, I always wanted to shower off the resulting layer of grease that seemed to coat my skin every time he spoke to me. I had no doubt that some of the shady shit that went on in this town did so with his blessing.
“I’m trying to quit,” Dorothy lied cheerfully, glancing around. She saw the same thing I did—a random trucker passing through wolfing down dinner, a local drunk sitting in a corner nursing a whiskey, and now Whitmore. Not much of a buffer if things got ugly. During other months, there were always more travelers and the occasional group of students, but with the holidays just around the corner, this place had been near-deserted all week. “What can I get you, Sheriff?”
“I want Cara here to pour me my favorite.” His eyes were flat and cunning, calculating and cold. “You know just what I like, right, Cara?”
I did my best to keep my hatred off my face. “On the rocks or neat?”
He scowled at my non-reaction. “Neat.”
I quickly grabbed a bottle of our finest and poured a generous finger into a glass. More often than not, Dorothy let him have it on the house to keep his ruffled feathers soothed when his flirtations failed, and a high-quality pour never hurt. Hell, I’d chip in to cover the costs too if Dorothy would let me. She never did, though. What’s an old lady like me gonna do with the money? she’d rasp out. Keep it. Save it. Get the fuck out of here.
I was trying. I really was. One more semester at the community college one town over and I’d be free to go wherever I could get a job. One with real benefits and a future that didn’t involve getting harassed by men with too much power.
When I slid the drink his way, I didn’t withdraw my hand fast enough and he grabbed it, flipped it over to where the band-aid was. “What happened here?” he asked. His thumb brushed over my palm. Once. Twice.
I tried to yank my hand away as non-aggressively as possible. He just squeezed harder. “Papercut from a textbook.” Total lie. I cut it trying to fix a broken cabinet in my shitty apartment, but if I told him that, he’d probably treat it as an invitation to show up at my home to “help” me fix the problem.
We all know how that would end.
“You study too hard,” he said. He still hadn’t let go. “You studying to be an accountant, right? Are you planning to leave us after you graduate?”
“Might try to get a job in town. Stay with my dad.” Another lie.
“I could help you get a job,” Whitmore offered. “Could always use more help at the station. Why don’t you give me a try?”
We stared at each other, both of us knowing the other person’s pleasant expression was only skin deep.
“Shit!” Dorothy cried out seconds before a huge crashing noise echoed around the room, and it startled us enough that he dropped my hand as we spun toward the noise. She stood at the far end of the bar, horror on her face, shattered glass around her feet.
“Dorothy!” I leaped into action, grabbing a broom and dustbin. The sheriff didn’t move, frustration clear as day on his face.
“I put the damn cups here after running them through the dishwasher and…” Dorothy trailed off. “That’s gonna cost as much as we’ve made so far today.”
Actually, I’d put the cups on the counter, and there was no way she could have knocked them over without doing it on purpose. Bless her soul. “I’ll take care of it,” I said, and Dorothy quickly stepped over to where I’d been moments ago, asking Whitmore all about his day and latest case updates while I took as long as possible to clean up the glass.
“When you’re done, how about you whip the sheriff up something to eat,” Dorothy ordered when she noticed I was running out of things to do. “He’s on shift tonight and needs a hot meal to keep him going.”
Translation: he’ll be leaving soon, hang in there.
“Coming right up,” I said, and slipped into the kitchen. Our cook had the week off to spend with his family, and things were quiet enough that Dorothy hadn’t bothered asking anyone else to fill in. For the past year, I’d been available for all holiday shifts in exchange for an easier work schedule around midterms and finals. What would I do over the holidays, anyway? Drink myself into a stupor next to my father?
A moment later, a cell rang in the other room, and after a moment of silence, the sheriff laughed and said, “I’ll be there straight away. Cara, just get me a cuppa coffee to go.”
I did so quickly. “Double-cupped it and taped down the lid so you don’t burn yourself in the car,” I said with a well-practiced smile. “Hope you have an uneventful night.”
The sheriff smiled. “Oh, I wouldn’t say that. I’ve got something…big coming up.” He winked at me as he got up to leave, like I was supposed to understand the joke. I didn’t, and it worried me.
“Well, good luck,” I said awkwardly, and Dorothy and I watched as he headed out, the chimes swaying merrily as the door swung shut behind him.
“Jesus,” Dorothy whispered under her breath. “Can you hurry along that degree? Never seen him grab one of my girls in front of me like that while sober before. I got a cousin out in Seyville if you ever need a place to hide—cops are good there. Well, better than here.”
“Doesn’t take much,” I murmured.
The door swung open again, and an exhausted-looking with four rowdy kids spilled in. “Y’all open for dinner?”
Dorothy gestured for me to take the lead, vanishing into the kitchen. I grabbed a handful of menus and led them to a spot smack in the middle of the restaurant, so that if the sheriff came back, he’d have a bunch of kids to deal with. “Welcome to Dorothy’s. I’m Cara, and I’ll be your server tonight,” I chirped, and let myself get lost in the hustle that followed.
Just as I was bringing the last of the dirty dishes into the kitchen an hour later, my phone went off. I set the dishes down quickly and fished my phone out. Unknown number. “Hello?” I asked, and a moment later, felt the blood drain out of my face.
It wasn’t the first time that I’d had to left my evening shift early to rescue my father from whatever drunken mess he’d gotten himself into, but it was the first time that the professional voice on the other end of the line didn’t direct me to another bar, but to the local hospital. My mind raced faster than my heart—What happened? What did he do?—and, most frightening of all, how the hell will we pay for these bills?
That sounds as cold as the weather outside, I know, but let me explain.
I love my father, I truly do, but I struggle to like him at times like this. Ever since my mother left, a person I couldn’t even remember, he’d been a mess. A drunken, gambling, emotionally neglectful mess. To be fair, when he was sober, he really did try, but he wasn’t very sober very often. He was a good man, but a weak one. A very weak one.
I will never be that weak.
Once I finished next semester and got my degree, I’d be able to get a job that paid a salary, not hourly. I could move out of the rickety rental that I shared with three other girls. Get a job that gave me great health insurance. Buy a car where the radiator worked well enough that I didn’t need to wear my full winter getup inside of it, too. Never step foot in the sort of small, corrupt towns my father always gravitated toward to stay low from past troubles…until the next binge drinking episode sent us fleeing again.
If my father landed himself into thousands of dollars of debt with whatever this was, he was on his own. Merry freaking Christmas to him. After last time, I swore I’d never bail him out again. He’d been dealing with shadier and shadier characters over the years, and I refused to chain myself to a sinking ship. I no longer lived with him and stayed on the other side of town as it was, but when phone calls like this came through, I had yet to find the willpower to say no.
It took me about three minutes flat from the moment I parked my car to being led through the first-floor hallway to his hospital room. What was surprising was seeing Sheriff Whitmore waiting outside the doorway. There were two unfamiliar men built like tanks leaning against the wall a few feet away. I couldn’t see much through their sunglasses, but they seemed to be staring at me.
“I’ll take it from here,” Sheriff Whitmore told a nurse leaving my father’s room. She hesitated with a sharp glance in my direction, but then nodded and hurried off. I wanted to ask her to stay close under the guise of being concerned about my father’s health, but she turned the corner and was gone. Leaving me with the sheriff.
“Cara. As much as I love to see your pretty face, how unfortunate it is to see you under these circumstances. Your father isn’t doing well.” Sheriff Whitmore edged closer, so close I could smell the egg sandwich he must have had for dinner since leaving the bar. My stomach turned over, and I fought to hide my revulsion. “If you need someone to help you, I thought…” He trailed off suggestively.
I forced a smile to my face. “Thank you so much for the offer, but I’m fine my own. He’s probably just hungover and dehydrated.”
“I could take you out for dinner while—”
“No thank you.” I cut him off, anxious to get past him and into the room where my father lay. “It really won’t be necessary. But that’s very kind of you and I appreciate it.”
Like a storm rolling in, the sheriff’s face darkened. Anger oozed from every line in his face. By his sides, his hands fisted, then relaxed. “Soon, very soon, when I ask you for something—anything—you will give it to me. You won’t like it if I have to ask twice.”
I shrank away from his quiet words, horrified. He’d always been sketchy, but this was the first time he’d outright threatened me. A quick glance around showed that we were the only ones in the hallway, other than the two bodyguard wannabes. Other rooms were open, but I could see no patients or staff.
The sheriff was well-liked by plenty of people in the town, but I’d been warned about him within a week of moving here—after I’d been hired to work the bar, Dorothy had taken me aside in the middle of my first night to point to the tall, muscular man who’d just walked in and told me how to protect myself from him.
That’s how most women learn about these things, wasn’t it? It was never what was broadcasted in public, as that sort of speech was easily squashed, intimidated, threatened into oblivion. It was the whispers in the back room, hand motions after closing doors, murmurs behind cupped hands in the restroom, where we shared and learned who we could trust, and who were the dangerous ones
I could not trust the sheriff. Yet he was between me and the only relative I had in the whole, wide world.
“If you’ll excuse me, I really want see my father.” I said it as lightly as possible, but with a firm voice. With fake confidence, I walked with strong, deliberate steps toward the door. There were few things I hated more than playing nice in mean situations, but ain’t that being a woman in a man’s world? He moved just enough out of my way that he didn’t block me anymore, but my shoulder still brushed against his chest as I walked by. Ugh. I thought I heard him whisper something under his breath, but nerves had the blood pounding in my ears and I missed it.
Probably for the best, that bucket of slime.
I walked into the hospital room and gasped. I’d seem him covered in his own vomit before. Bruised from falling down the stairs. But this? He looked like he’d gone a round with professional boxer. Both eyes were blackened, one so swollen it was completely closed. His lip was bleeding in two places, and I could see stitches held one of the gashes together. There was a large bruise on his left cheek, and one arm was in a sling.
“Dad,” I gasped, rushing to his side.
His lips moved, but no sound came out. I leaned closer to take his hand in mine. The wedding ring he always wore was missing. “You need to rest as much as you can.” Aware of the sheriff standing outside of the room behind me, I lowered my voice. “Squeeze my hand once if you’re in trouble.”
He squeezed. Shit.
“The sheriff ’s right here,” I said, hating that I had to turn to the odious man for help but willing to do so to get my father out of whatever trouble he got himself into. “Sheriff Whitmore, he seems to be doing better. Can you talk to him, see what’s going on?”
My father squeezed my hand so hard that I gasped silently in pain.
“Dad,” I said urgently. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
My father’s lips moved again, and this time I just barely make out the word he whispered.
Instinctively, I turned around to look at the door, only to find it blocked by the sheriff. The two men who had been off to the side before flanked him, their faces blank and eyes flat like a shark’s. I was trapped. “Sheriff,” I said, “What’s going on?” Just how much trouble had my father gotten himself into?
I received no answer. Just a slow, evil smile.
The last time I bailed my father out, he’d gotten blackout drunk and lost a lot of money playing cards with a small-time drug dealer. I cried when I’d had to spend the money I’d been saving for textbooks to pay his debts, and upon seeing my tears, my father swore he’d never do that again. And he’d been so good for the past few months that I’d started to think he might even stay sober through Christmas. That would be a first.
Apparently, it would also be too good to be true.
I spun around to look at my father again. There was something shiny in the corner of his least-injured eye. A tear. “You need to tell me what you owe to whom,” I said quietly, glancing around the room without moving my head to see what there was to defend myself with. The window was just open enough that I could probably wiggle through. There was nothing sharp or heavy immediately on hand other than the plastic food tray on the cart besides my dad’s bed. The cutlery was cheap plastic. Better than nothing, though. A plastic fork to the eye was still a fork in the eye.
Throwing the tray would be enough to shock one man enough to run if need be, but three? I was out of my league. The men who were supposed to protect me were right here in this room. One was incapacitated in bed, the other one acting as crooked as I’d suspected he might be. How did so many people like him? I wonder how many people were paid to look the other way.
Sheriff Whitmore laughed. “Even if he could talk, of course he wouldn’t have the balls to tell you how much he gambled away last week. He hates disappointing his angelic, darling, perfect daughter. But I did your father a favor this morning. These guys were asking for a lot of money, and he came to me begging for help. He was willing to go to jail if it meant bringing down the other guys. Instead, I promised to be responsible for his debt. And now… you owe me.”
“Get rid of…necklace,” my father wheezed out.
What was that about my necklace? Frightened and confused, I reached up to touch the tiny links. My father reached up, too, but his hand shook in midair before dropping back down to his side.
The sheriff edged into my view, looking irritated. “You always wear that, Cara. It’s a very pretty necklace. Where is it from?”
I pulled the pendant out from under my shirt and rubbed the green stone for good luck, as I often did. I never, ever, took off, ever since I got it when I was a girl. “It’s my mother’s,” I said. It was the one thing I had from her, the woman who left so many years ago that I had no recollection of her other than vague impressions of loving arms and warm smells. I didn’t even have a picture, although when my dad was really drunk, told me I was the spitting image of her. Then again, he also couldn’t make up his mind about whether she died or left us, so who really knew?
And then, when it was really bad, he would tell me I was cursed.
“I can sell the necklace to help cover what he owes,” I offered, still pretending to not understand the undercurrents. Stall, stall, stall. “It’s got a gold chain and the pendant is made of malachite. Gotta be worth something.”
The sheriff laughed. It was surprisingly lighthearted. “I have a different idea on how you can settle the debt. I’ve already told the gamblers, who are friends of mine, that I’ll pay off your father’s debt if you hold up your end of the bargain. In exchange, I’m going to need something… worth my time. You’ve always been dismissive of me at the bar. Too dismissive.”
The way he looked me up and down told me everything that I needed to know.
“And if I don’t?” I challenged him to keep him talking. Surely a nurse had to come make the rounds at some point. Was there an emergency button I could press, like the ones that went off when a patient flatlined? Should I scream that there was a fire?
The sheriff took a step forward. So did his goons. I moved back, trying to edge toward the window without anyone realizing it.
With a strength that no one in the room saw coming, my father leaped out of the cot, grabbed the heavy cart that had his lunch remains on it and heaved it as hard as he could in the direction of the three men, who were all slammed into the wall by the impact.
“Run!” he shouted, voice shredded with pain. “Run and take off the necklace so they can find you!”
Part of me wanted to stay and fight, but a louder voice cried out that if I didn’t run right now, there would be no more opportunities later. The girl who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day, my father would tell me as we’d sneak out in the middle of the night for the umpteenth time with two suitcases apiece. With a choked sob, I ran for the window, avoiding the sheriff’s grasping hand. I swung one leg, then the other, through the narrow gap, and then half slid, half slammed my hips through. If they could fit, I was good to go. My muscles screamed, skin tore, and I could feel the deep ache of imminent bruises, but I made it.
A bellow of sheer rage echoed behind me, and just before I was fully clear of the window, a hand grabbed at my neck, breaking skin and catching in my necklace and hair. As someone who’d broken up bar fights before, I instinctively grabbed the base of my ponytail to absorb the worst of the pull and yanked. Sure enough, strands of hair snapped and my scalp stung, but I was free within seconds.
To my horror, he still had a grip on the necklace.
It tore. Snapped.
And slid off my neck, falling silently to the ground.