Justin Ragnarson was a happily married man, at least he thought he was until his wife betrayed everything that they’d built together. He was a soldier, trained to endure pain, but he’d never thought that the pain he’d endure would be in his own home or from the woman who was supposed to love him. Cynical and disillusioned about love and happily ever after, he shouldn’t have been so easily brought to his knees by a brown beauty that he had no right to desire. He didn’t need the added complication of wanting a woman he’d never be free to love. He fought like hell to not act when every male instinct in him called to her. The Ragnarson men were men of honor, and marriage was a lifetime commitment. He was determined to adhere to his family tradition, honor his vows even if his wife hadn’t. However, his resolve was tested time and again. And then his brown beauty was viciously attacked. There wasn’t a chance in hell he could ignore that.
Nakia McKenzie had a secret crush on one of the partners of the law firm where she worked. She’d been crushing on him for years and knew that it would go nowhere, especially since both of them were married. Besides, he didn’t know she existed—until she accidently collided with him in an airport. Meeting him up close and personal made the feelings only stronger. This was no simple crush. However, she had to deny it for both their sakes.
“That is one fine-ass man,” Megan murmured close to her ear so that the others standing around in their party couldn’t hear her.
Nakia would have agreed with her except that the sight of their boss, Justin Ragnarson, always rendered her speechless. In fact, ever since he’d walked into the staff Christmas party, for the first time since she’d been working at the firm, she’d been powerless to remove her gaze from following him around the room. He looked up then, brilliant green eyes blazing, and held her gray, almost silver-colored gaze. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. Nothing existed except him, except them. She couldn’t look away.
“Girl, are you all right?” Megan gripped her shoulder and shook her.
Nakia gasped as her body finally realized that it needed oxygen to remain upright. She took a few tiny, rapid breaths to try to fill her starved lungs.
“You don’t look so good,” Megan whispered urgently. “Should I get you something to drink?”
Nakia looked down at the glass of red wine in her hand, looked at her friend in confusion, and then went back to feasting her gaze on the very gorgeous profile of Justin Ragnarson, almost drawn back into the vortex again.
“I’m okay, Megan. I just need some air.” And before Megan could respond to her statement, Nakia moved quickly to the double glass doors that led onto the balcony of the huge penthouse suite that almost extended the entire top floor of the hotel. She breathed in the clean, crisp sea air coming off the view overlooking Biscayne Bay. She moved into a darkened corner, away from the view of the party-goers in the next room, to hide and try comprehending the overwhelming feelings that had assailed her in there. With her hands braced on the railing, she took huge gulps of air. “Girl, you are such a hussy right now,” she mumbled.
“I was thinking more along the lines of beautiful. You’re beautiful.”
The deep baritone voice washed over her, caressing her senses and instantly making her pulse with need.
He moved to stand next to her and placed his palm at the curve of her spine. “You’re very beautiful, and I couldn’t stop myself from coming over here and introducing myself. I’m Justin, by the way.”
“I…I…” She had to clear her throat. The shock of his touch and his masculine heat so close to her had again rendered her speechless.
He smiled down at her gently.
She tried again. “I know who you are,” she said softly.
“Good, because I’m going to kiss you now.”
“Wha…” His lips covered hers.
After the initial shock of his daring to kiss her near a room full of people, who she was pretty sure would have an issue with the married senior partner of the firm hooking up with a junior lawyer, she returned his kiss and melted from the sheer bliss of it.
He pulled her more fully against him. She couldn’t help but feel his steely length buried against her belly, which only ratcheted up her lust even further. Trusting that the long slit in her evening gown would allow her flexibility, she curled a leg around his lean waist and rolled her hips to try appeasing the ache deep in her core. She whimpered. It wasn’t enough. She felt empty, consumed with a need, bone deep.
He gripped her ass and pulled her harder to him, grinding his length against where she wanted him most. She was so wet the satin thong she wore was soaked with her essence and probably already leaving a damp mess on his dress trousers as well.
He angled his head to deepen the kiss as he slipped a broad finger into her heat.
They both moaned loudly.
“Nakia, Nakia, what the hell is wrong with you?”
Nakia blinked and moistened her dry lips. She didn’t dare look at her husband, who she was positive was glaring at her. She’d been lapsing into daydreams ever since she’d woken up this morning. The remnants of the dream from the night before was still fresh in her mind, and she couldn’t stop thinking and reliving it.
Nakia stared up at the menu board of the airport restaurant. It was way too early in the morning for anything greasy or with too much sugar. However, it didn’t matter how long she stared up at that board. The words she’d been reading for the past five minutes weren’t going to change to give her anything healthier.
“Make up your damn mind,” her husband, Ralph, muttered irritably. He’d been fussing at her all morning about anything and everything. The daydreaming didn’t help, and apparently, she took too long with her makeup, and then she didn’t take long enough because he insisted she go fix it. Then her luggage was too heavy and she had too many bags. She wasn’t moving fast enough, and then of course, it was her fault that he was stopped by the TSA agent for the belt he forgot to take off and the coins in his pants pocket before going through the scanner.
Nakia had long since ignored his annoying ass and remained silent throughout his many tantrums, which only made Ralph more furious. She knew he was escalating to more violent tendencies. Fortunately, his abuse toward her remained verbal and non-physical. Given his past, with an abusive father, he’d always promised her that he’d never hit her. Too bad he didn’t realize that verbal abuse was just as bad as the physical kind, if not sometimes worse.
If the abuse was the only thing he had going, she may have been inclined to work on their marriage. A few months ago, she’d found some disturbing WhatsApp messages in his phone, and she did what she did best and investigated. She had found all she’d needed to know a few weeks ago. Never one to act irrationally, she was taking her time to deal with what she’d found. She had been in shock since and was still processing. Confronting him while he was supposedly on job interviews was not an option. However, when they got home, she had a big decision to make about their five-year marriage.
With her eyes still glued on the board, she took a step back with the intent to try another restaurant, but her back came up against the solid wall of a very male chest. “Oh! Sor—” She stopped mid speech as her gaze met a familiar pair of emerald green eyes, the same eyes from her dream of the night before. His dark blond lashes were sinfully long for man. And God, his lips, which were mere inches from hers, made her lick her lips. Awareness zipped through her like a high-voltage live wire.
His arm must have gone around her waist to stop her from falling when she stumbled against him, because he still maintained a tight grip on her. She grabbed his arm, which was a solid band under her generous breasts, with every intention of moving it. But the road to heaven was always paved with good intentions. His expensive cologne registered on her senses then, and she helplessly leaned into him, because she damn sure needed support then. Otherwise, she would’ve swooned right there in the middle of the crowded airport.
“It’s okay,” he murmured.
Nakia couldn’t move or speak if her life depended on it. The smoldering gleam in his gaze sent sizzling awareness licking throughout her body. The dream from the night before and the sensations it garnered collided with the reality of now, and she stumbled again.
His arms tightened around her.
“You stupid cow! Why don’t you watch where you’re going?” Ralph roared as he tried to pull her away from Justin.
And it was a try, because her Adonis refused to relinquish his hold on her. The arm that was anchored around her was massive and was attached to a body that appeared built for lethal action. Knowing his history, she knew that rugged militant look was earned. He’d been a major in the US Army until about two years ago, and he’d done something else for the US government that was shrouded in secrecy. Because of her fascination with him, she’d read everything about him that she could.
“Get away from him!” Ralph yelled in fury. He was trying to find an excuse for his questionable strength against a man who was almost the same height and body mass as him. Although, where the dark blond man was hard lean muscle, Ralph had big buffed muscles of a gym rat. Although he was no longer in the NFL as a linebacker, he spent hours in the gym daily, hoping for that call from a team to re-sign him instead of looking for a normal job. When he wasn’t in the gym, he was out with his friends, slithering around, doing his nefarious activities, which he thought she had no idea about, or engaging in his next favorite sport of holding court on their couch in front of the television playing TV sports commentator.
“You have a problem?” her knight asked him.
“Not at all.” Ralph pushed out his chest and tried appearing as intimidating as he could.
Nakia wanted to roll her eyes but didn’t dare. She knew that Ralph was trying to intimidate the man with his sheer size and muscle mass. He was used to other people cowering in fear when confronted with a six-foot-four, over two-hundred-and-fifty-pound black man who looked exactly like what he was. A formidable former linebacker. It had been one of the things that had first attracted her to him. His smooth dark-chocolate skin was a thing of beauty, and his size made her feel ultra-feminine. She had never feared him, but she sure as hell didn’t like him very much right now.
“You can let my wife go now.” Ralph was visibly seething, sweating profusely, and breathing loudly as though his air passages were obscured.
Many in the crowded airport slowed their steps or stopped completely to observe the unfolding encounter.
Justin stood several inches above Ralph, and while not as broad, he wasn’t a small man either. And he sure as hell didn’t appear to be afraid to confront Ralph. He clutched her tighter against him, telling Ralph in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t intimidated. He stood like the warriors of old, unflinching, bold, and fierce. The hard muscle at her back, his clean male scent, and his pulsing shaft nestled against her ass made her want him to never let her go. The reality of him was so much more potent than the dream.
Nakia couldn’t help her heart rate accelerating and the riot of butterflies in her stomach. She wanted a moment to simply revel in this private world of her secret desire and the searing awareness of an incredibly virile man.
She whimpered in disappointment when he abruptly dropped his arm from her waist as a petite brunette came rushing up to them. She had that pert perfect little figure that was testament to her private fitness trainer and being the trophy wife of a wealthy man. Even her perfectly fitted designer pantsuit and neat classy pumps spoke of wealth and power.
“Hi, honey, what’s taking so long? Didn’t they have my frosty cappuccino?”
He stepped back from Nakia immediately and moved toward the beautiful woman.
Nakia silently stared at the beautiful couple, and the sound of her heart breaking seemed loud in her ears. Is that me giving that little puppy-dog whine in resigned heartbreak? She was horrified when she realized that her secret crush was still staring at her and had noted her less-than-enthusiastic welcome of his wife. It wouldn’t have been so bad if she hadn’t been crushing on him since he joined the firm two years ago and then dreaming of him almost on a nightly basis since his last visit to the Miami office six months ago. She wasn’t surprised that he didn’t recognize her. Being one of the partners of his family-owned law firm, he worked at the head office in Austin, while she worked in the Miami office.
He gave her a brief pained smile, silently apologizing before he turned from her completely.
She lowered her gaze and prayed for something to go her way. It was impossible to take any more emotional trauma or disappointments this year. Jeez, how much was one person supposed to endure? She’d been humiliated by her husband’s betrayal then devastated to find out that her office crush was even more potent than she’d thought. They’d connected as no man had ever been able to connect to her, and now she felt the shame of letting this man know that she was so sexually starved that even having this brief encounter had her almost panting for it. Stick a fork in me, I’m done! Please, someone make the world stop spinning and end it now.
Ralph grabbed her by the upper arm and dragged her away before she could properly thank her knight. She looked helplessly back at her work crush, who also looked at her, despite his wife seeming to be talking a mile a minute to get his attention. They were finally swallowed up by the swelling traveling crowd. They’d barely gotten to their seats before Ralph was laying into her.
“You think I didn’t see you checking out that white motherfucker? You think I’m stupid?”
Nakia wanted to say. “Yes, you’re stupid,” but she didn’t dare trigger him further. If she didn’t have her job in Miami, a job she loved, with a law firm she loved even more, she would have considered going back home to the Bahamas. “Ralph, please give it a rest. I wasn’t checking anyone out. I tripped, almost fell, and he caught me.”
Ralph narrowed his eyes and tightened his fists. “He didn’t just catch you. Bastard had his paws all over your body, and you stood there and let him feel you up.” His voice rose higher with every word he spoke. Everyone at their gate was staring at them. Staring at him with fear or scorn and staring at her with pity or hate, She couldn’t tell which.
She couldn’t figure out the hate part, since she wasn’t the one making the scene. Nakia stood, and before she could take a step, Ralph grabbed her hand and pulled her back down to her seat.
“Where the fuck do you think you’re going?”
“Ralph, if you don’t stop this nonsense now and act like a decent human being, I’m leaving. I’m tired of your shit.”
“You think because you have all these people around us you can talk to me as you like? You know I won’t tolerate any disrespect from you. Why you trippin’?”
Nakia put in her earplugs and tried to block him out again. He was impossible to reason with when he got like this. This irrational behavior was happening more and more frequently now. Then it was followed by a long spell of contrition, where he tried to apologize for his behavior, pleading and begging for her forgiveness. He’d try every trick in the book to get her to forgive him and wasn’t above crying to get his way. Once the forgiveness came, he’d then try to make her feel sorry for him not having a job. This part lasted the longest, because everyone would have to live in Ralph’s pity party for days or weeks on end until a team called him in to practice with them. Lord, when that team sent him home after two to three weeks of his useless ass, then the cycle would begin all over again.
They were in the airport now returning from practice with the Dallas, Cowboys. Fortunately, the team had hinted at offering Ralph a contract. That should give her some peace and make what she had to do easier. She wasn’t even shocked any more at his behavior. And then she got angry at herself for accepting it, for still being there to be his punching bag yet again. She looked at him now and saw remnants of the man she’d fallen in love with when they were in college. It was so cliché, the naïve freshman girl meets a star football player who was a junior himself, falls in love and becomes his girlfriend after very little effort on his part. However, because she came from a very religious background, she’d at first not been willing to have sex with him. She should have realized then that she would have presented a challenge for Ralph. He hated being denied anything. So, after a year of dating with no sex between them, he’d proposed on the night before the NFL draft. Every sports analyst had said he’d be the top pick in the NFL draft, so he’d been high on his success and she was a bit overwhelmed by it as well. With both their families pushing for it—his because they saw her as a stabilizing factor and hers because they saw dollar bills—she found herself at the altar within weeks.
The first three years had flown by because she’d still been in college, and then she went to law school. After she’d passed the bar, Ralph had demanded she be with him in Denver where he was on the Broncos team. He was already on rocky grounds with them, and he thought her presence would influence John Elway, the general manager. That was her Ralph; he was always willing to exploit her beauty to get his way. He loved the fact that his teammates had been in awe when they’d first met her. Whenever any man showed an interest in her that seemed to turn him on more, and his lovemaking later would be almost violent. Of course, he’d apologize afterward with the same explanation—that he’d gotten carried away with lust.
Nakia had long since learned to turn off her emotions during those episodes, because, while she didn’t mind rough sex, she realized that he wasn’t trying to have rough sex with her. He was trying to punish her for being desirable to other men. She knew he had problems, but he was so sweet to her when he wasn’t being a demon, and she was trying to live a Christian life, cleave to one’s husband and all that. But Lord, this road was rough sometimes. She’d somehow talked him into letting her move to Miami after she’d passed the state bar and now worked at one of the most prestigious law firms in the United States. That was why her feelings for one of the senior partners of the Ragnarson Law Firm was such a no-go zone.
Her crush on Justin had started innocent enough, and then hearing him give a speech at a legal symposium in Miami had changed all of that six months ago. He was not only a gorgeous virile man; he was incredibly brilliant. She’d gone into overdrive researching his previous cases and arguments and had fallen even more in love with him. Nothing could have prepared her for their meeting today. Today was the first time in her life she’d feelt such intense desire for any man. She felt both ashamed and sinful that her husband had never gotten that response from her.
Ralph maintained his litany of complaints for the next half-hour until their flight was called. She was happy when he fell asleep ten minutes into their almost-three-hour flight to Miami. However, she knew her reprieve wouldn’t last for long.
They’d been home for about an hour before he lit into her again about the man at the airport. Granted, it was after he’d received a call from his agent, dropping him as client. She should have expected what happened, but never would she have anticipated such violence from him.
It happened after she’d taken a shower and was sitting on a stool in the bathroom meticulously taking off her makeup, as she did nightly.
“You won’t let me fuck you anymore! You think I don’t know what you’re about? You’ve been working in that damn white law firm too long. Now you want white cock. Is that it?”
Not turning away from her chore, she made three mistakes in that moment. First, she rolled her eyes, next she let him see her do it from the reflection in the mirror, and then she was not on her guard immediately after.
His fist connected with the side of her head, causing her neck to snap awkwardly and her head to turn and extend to an angle that wasn’t natural. The flesh inside of her cheek smashed against her teeth, causing it to split, and blood immediately pooled in her mouth. Pain ricocheted throughout her head. She was a mass of pain so intense she almost fainted.
“Are you crazy?!?!” he yelled. “You think I’ll let you fuck another man right under my nose?”
She tried to stand, but her legs and her head weren’t steady enough to navigate something as complicated as walking. She immediately fell back into the chair she’d been sitting in.
“Where the fuck do you think you’re going?” He punched her in the face again. “Maybe if I rearrange this pretty face of yours, men will stop eye fucking you all the damn time!”
Nakia knew she had to move, even if she had to crawl, and let the dead weight of her body and gravity drag her to the floor. Thank God it wasn’t far, so the fall wasn’t painful. However, his booted foot to her ribs made up for any caution she’d taken. The hard crack of something within her—she wasn’t sure what it was—seemed loud in her ear. Pain unlike anything she’d ever felt in her life crashed through her body. Then the sound of a blood-curdling scream pierced the air. She only realized then that screaming was coming from her when his boot connected to her bruised ribs again and it knocked the wind out of her. The only thought she had then was to get help, because the gun in her handbag and those self-defense classes she’d taken couldn’t help her now. She could barely raise a finger, much less a foot or a hand, to fight him off. She pressed the panic button on her watch, which was linked to a domestic violence hotline. The person at the other end of the panic call could track where she was and would call the nearest police station.
Ralph kicked her again, this time breaking something that made her numb and so dazed she had only seconds of consciousness left.
She only hoped that help arrived before he killed her.