He seethes with raw power the first time I see him—pure tattooed menace and rippling muscles in shackles. He’s dangerous. He’s wild. He’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
So I hide behind my prim glasses and my book like I always do, because I have secrets, too. Then he shows up in the prison writing class I volunteered to teach and he blows me away with his honesty. He tells me secrets in his stories, and it’s getting harder to hide mine. I shiver when he gets too close, with only the cuffs and the bars and the guards holding him back. At night, I can’t stop thinking about him in his cell.
But that’s the thing about an animal in a cage—you never know when he’ll bite. He might use you to escape. He might even pull you into a forest and hold a hand over your mouth, so you can’t call for the cops. He might make you come so hard, you can’t think.
And you might crave him more than your next breath.
A class project teaching writing within the prison community is not the assignment Abigail Winslow was hoping for. An undergrad student and bookworm, Abby is prim and proper on the outside, but on the inside she wrestles with her own demons.
Her unease with the prisoners is compounded further when she sets her sights on inmate Grayson Kane. And he sets his eyes on her. But Grayson has a multitude of reasons for his interest in Abby. Despite her fear of him, Abby is also drawn to him, and his writings intrigue her enough to research his past.
“There are so many gaps between the scared boy he was then and the scary man he is now.”
Grayson’s more than your typical bad boy. He has a calculating, criminal mind, and he’s existed so far in life via a ‘kill or be killed’ lifestyle. He’s a hardened criminal and a damaged soul, but is his heart completely cold, unworthy of real love?
Grayson gets off on the reaction he incites in Abby…and when she corrects his grammar. ;-) They have a very interesting dynamic—the things that attract them to each other…well, it’s certainly not things you ordinarily see. But that makes for some intriguing as well as enjoyable, original scenes (i.e.The library/their “nerdy outlaw date”). There is major chemistry between Abby and Grayson right from the beginning, and as their relationship grows, the more intense it becomes. By the end, I was really moved.
“Some people have a relationship that’s sunshine and roses. Ours is darkness and vengeance.”
By the very nature of their relationship—convict/teacher, captor/hostage—this is not a conventional romance. It’s dark, blooming in the shadows and existing on the outside of the law. It’s often about who has the power, but it’s also about seeing each other’s darkest secrets and loving the other person for them. The energy between them awakens something within both of them that they need.
Told via Grayson and Abby’s alternating first person point of view, readers gain insight into the damaged lives of both characters and along the way their pasts are gradually revealed. Abby’s was traumatic but Grayson and his gang’s was truly heart-breaking, and this is where the compassion for Grayson begins to emerge.
Though they seem quite different on the surface, underneath they understand each other more than it would appear. And these damaged aspects of both characters, but particularly Abby, are what make the story work and the relationship seem plausible.
The plot is very engaging and once you get into it, it’s hard to put down. The opening at the correctional facility sets up their uneven (and sometimes alternating) balance of power and control, and then the action kicks in and the story takes you on a ride. Throughout what follows, Abby, though smart and resourceful, grapples with her feelings and reactions to Grayson, some of which understandably change with the situations and some of which shift a little abruptly.
There’s suspense, action, adventure, and some gritty romance. It’s also a story about the ties that bind and the moments that form lasting bonds. Is Grayson worthy of Abby? Will Abby fall for Grayson? Will Grayson’s crew get their revenge and will they ever accept Abigail? Can Abby help Grayson discover the things he needs to be whole even if they aren’t the things he thinks he needs or deserves?
For the most part I liked where they ultimately ended up (both emotionally and literally/physically). The end setting is rather unique and mirrors the people that it conceals—dark and damaged on the exterior; the capacity for beauty on the interior. There’s a ton of potential for more stories with Abby and Grayson and his crew, of which Grayson seems the first to have the capability to transcend beyond their past. (Oh yeah, these other men need women too.) The ending isn’t really a cliff-hanger but it does leave more of the story to be told; questions of their ultimate freedom, survival, and redemption unanswered. I’m going to assume that was done on purpose to segue into future books in the Criminals & Captives series. I’m certainly on board to read more and find out what happens next.
~Coming January 2018~
Hostage (Stone's Story)
Heavy bars close behind me with a clang. I feel the sound in my bones. A series of mechanical clicks hint at an elaborate security mechanism beneath the black iron plating. I knew this would happen—had anticipated and dreaded it—but my breathing quickens with the knowledge that I am well and truly trapped.
“Can I help you?”
I whirl to face the administrative window where a heavyset woman in a security guard uniform stares at her screen.
“Hi,” I say, pasting on a smile. “My name is Abigail Winslow, and I’m here to—”
“Two forms of identification.”
“Oh, well, I already filled out the paperwork at the front desk. And showed them my IDs.”
“This isn’t the front desk, Ms. Winslow. This is the east-wing desk, and I need to see two forms of identification.”
“Right.” I dig through my bag for my driver’s license and passport.
She accepts them without looking up, then hands me a clipboard with a stack of papers just like the ones I’d already filled out.
I’ve been dreading this day for weeks, wishing I’d been assigned any other project but this one. You’d think I was being sent here for a crime. My professor—the one who’d forced me into this—warned me that prisoners were not always receptive to outsiders. Apparently nobody here is.
I complete each form, arrange the pages neatly on the clipboard, and bring them back up to the window. The guard accepts them and gives back my IDs…still without looking at me.
My hands clench and unclench, clench and unclench while the guard eyes my paperwork.
Seconds pass. Or are they minutes? The damp chill of the place seeps in through my cardigan and leaves me shivering.
Leaning forward, I read the name tag of the guard. “Ms. Breck. Do you know what the next steps are?”
“You can have a seat. I have work to do now, and then I’ll escort you back.”
“Oh, okay.” I glance at the bars I just came through, then the open hallway opposite. “Actually, if you just point me in the direction of the library, I’m sure I can—”
Thunk. The woman’s hand hits the desk. I jump. Her dark eyes are faintly accusing, and I wish we could go back to no eye contact. How did I manage to make an enemy in two minutes?
“Ms. Winslow,” she says, her voice patronizing.
“You can call me Abby,” I whisper.
A slight smile. Not a nice one. “Ms. Winslow, what do you think we do here?”
The question is clearly rhetorical. I press my lips together to keep from making things worse.
“The Kingman Correctional Facility houses over five thousand convicted criminals. My job is to keep it that way. Do we understand each other?”
Heat floods my cheeks. The last thing I want to do is make her job harder. “Right. Of course.” I shamble back, landing hard on the metal folding chair. It wobbles a little before the rubber feet stop my slide.
I understand the woman’s point. She has to keep the prisoners in and everyone else out, and keep people like me safe.
I reach down and pull a book from my bag. I never leave home without one, even when I go to classes or run errands. Even when I was young and my mother used to take me on her rounds.
I would hide in the backseat with my nose in the book, pretending I didn’t see the shady people who came to her window when we stopped.
A little green light above the barred doors flashes on and there’s an ominous buzz. Somebody’s coming through, and I doubt it will be a library volunteer. I slide down.
Pretend to be invisible.
It’s no use. I peer over the top edge as a prisoner saunters through the door, and my pulse slams in my throat double time.
He’s flanked by two guards—escorted by them, I guess you’d say. But they seem more like an entourage than anything. Power vibrates around him like a threat.
Read, read, read. Don’t look.
The prisoner is half a foot taller than the guards, but he seems to tower over them by more than that. Maybe it’s his broad shoulders or just something about the way he stands, or his imperiously high cheekbones. The dark stubble across his cheeks looks so rough and unforgiving I can feel it against my palm; it contrasts wildly with the plushness of his lips. His short brown hair is mussed. There’s one scar through his eyebrow that somehow adds to his perfection.
The little group approaches the window. I can barely breathe.
“ID number 85359,” one of the guards says, and I understand that he’s referring to the prisoner. That’s who he is. Not John Smith or William Brown or whatever his name is. He’s been reduced to a number. The woman at the desk runs through a series of questions. It’s a procedure for checking him out of solitary.
The prisoner faces sideways, spine straight, the corner of his mouth tilted up as if he’s slightly amused. Then it clicks, what else is so different about him: no visible tattoos. Tough guys like this, they’re always inked up—it’s a kind of armor, a kind of fuck you. This guy has none of it, though he’s far from pristine; white scars mar the rough skin of his hands and especially his forearms, a latticework of pain and violence, a flag proclaiming the kind of underworld he came from.
The feel of brutality that hangs about him is compelling and…somehow beautiful.
I drink him in from behind my book—it’s my mask, my protective shield. But then the strangest thing happens: he cocks his head. It’s just a slight shift, but I feel his attention on me deep in my belly. I’ve been discovered. Caught by searchlights. Exposed.
My heart beats frantically.
I want him to look away. He fills up too much space. It’s as if he breathes enough oxygen for twelve men, leaving no air for me at all. Maybe if we were in the library and he needed help finding a book or looking something up, then I wouldn’t mind the weight of his gaze.
No. Not even there. He’s too much.
Two sets of bars on the gate. Handcuffs. Two guards.
What do they think he would do if there were only one set of bars, one guard?
My blood races as the guards draw him away from the window and toward the inner door, toward where I sit. His heat pierces the chill around me as he nears. His deep brown eyes never once meet mine, but I have the sense of him looming over me as he passes, like a tree with a massive canopy. He continues on, two hundred pounds of masculine danger wrapped in all that beauty.
Even in chains, he seems vibrant, wild and free, a force of nature—it makes me feel like I’m the one in prison. Safe. Small. Carefully locked down.
How would it feel to be that free?
“Ms. Winslow. Ms. Winslow.”
I jump, surprised to hear that the woman has been calling my name. “I’m sorry,” I say as a strange sensation tickles the back of my neck.
The woman stands and begins pulling on her jacket. “I’ll take you to the library now.”
“Oh, that’s great.”
That shivery sensation gets stronger. Against my better judgment, I look down the hallway where the guards and the prisoner are walking off as one—a column of orange flanked by two thinner, shorter posts.
The prisoner glances over his shoulder. His mocking brown gaze searches me out, pins me with a subtle threat. Though it isn’t his eyes that scare me. It’s his lips—those beautiful, generous lips forming words that make my blood race.
No sound comes out, but I feel as though he’s whispered my name right into my ear. Then he turns and strolls off.
About Annika Martin
Annika Martin is a New York Times bestselling author who loves writing stories about criminals – some of her tales are dirty and fun (kinky bank robbers!) others are dark and intense (Prisoner collaboration). She also writes gritty, sexy romantic suspense and urban fantasy as RITA-award winning author Carolyn Crane.
About Skye Warren
Skye Warren is the New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author of dark romantic fiction. Her books are raw, sexual and perversely romantic.