Authors: Jill Sanders
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense, #Contemporary
Sandi has escaped her old life. She’s shed her hijab and her family obligations to start a new life, alone. It’s been five years since she first stepped foot in America to save her life. She’s earned enough money to live comfortably, thanks to her artwork. But just when she finally feels like she can start to relax and not jump at shadows, her past returns, hot on her heels. Now she must trust the man who saved her years ago, and ask him to do it once again.
Mitch risked it all to bring the young girl to America years ago. And when she shows up at his door in the middle of the night all grown up, he’ll do everything he can to help her again. Dodging her past has gotten a lot harder this time, but they might survive—if he can keep his hands off her.
Other titles by Jill Sanders
– Pride Series #1
– Pride Series #2
– Pride Series #3
– Pride Series #4
– Prequel to Pride Series #5
Red Hot Christmas
– A Pride Christmas #6
– Secret Series #1
– Secret Series #2
– Secret Series #3
– Secret Series #4
– Secret Series #5
– Secret Series #6
– Secret Series #7
– Secret Series #8
Cowgirls Ride Harder
– Book one Cowgirls Series
Cowgirls Ride Faster
– Book two Cowgirls Series
Cowgirls Ride Longer
– Book three Cowgirls Series
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
© 2013 Jill Sanders
Edited by Erica Ellis – http://ericaellisfreelance.com
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
To women everywhere
who have been oppressed.
There is hope.
The young girl sat huddled against the cold metal of the ship. She shivered, not from the lack of warmth, but out of fear. She’d never left her home before. She’d never been on her own. Now she looked around the large room at all the men surrounding her and realized she’d never been around so many people of the opposite sex. Her life had been full of gardens, women, family, and rules.
Reaching up, she felt her short hair, tight against her scalp. Gone was the long flowing soft length that reached all the way to the bottom of her back. It would grow back, but she still missed the weight of it. She looked down at the strange clothes; she was still trying to get used to wearing pants. Dressed as a young soldier, she realized she fit right in with all the men surrounding her. It was the first time she’d ever wore pants or boots. I guess there was quite a list
of firsts for her now.
“Are you okay?” the large man asked her. His name was Ethan, and she owed him more than she could ever repay. He’d told her he was just the delivery man, that it was Mitchell Kovich whom she owed. She nodded her head at him, and he crossed his muscular arms behind his head and closed his eyes as he laid back on the cot.
She sat on her bunk, afraid to close her eyes, as the large vessel slowly made its way towards her freedom.
Her mind conjured up images of Mitchell Kovich. He’d be tall, blonde, and very handsome. She’d spoken to him on the phone several times and knew his voice was smooth and rich sounding. She enjoyed his American accent and had even privately
worked on getting rid of her own Eastern dialect. In her mind, she practiced during the long trip. A
t least when she wasn’t thinking about her new life or Mitchell Kovich.
andi threw down her brush and glared at the canvas in front of her. There were drops of every color of paint on the floorboards that creaked under her feet. The old wood showed the true meaning behind her art. She’d once thought to rip it up, board by board, and frame it. Now, as she stood back and looked at the piece she had just completed, she started to smile slowly.
The painting was a mix of bright colors and when she unfocused her eyes, she could just make out the memory in her head. She was spun back in time to a place full of sights and sounds. Large trees hung overhead, leaves blew in the warm wind. The laughter of children could be heard, and the scent of spices and home filled her nose.
Hearing a fog horn bellow in the distance brought her back to the present. She looked around the large room that had been her sanctuary for the last two years. The large windows overlooked the New York harbor. The loft was one of the most expensive in the waterfront building. She’d worked hard for the comforts she had, and she paid dearly to get where she was. After meticulously cleaning her brushes and pallet, she walked over to the glass, looked down, and felt a sense of comfort. People walked on the streets below. She was ten stories up, so she couldn’t make out their faces or their expressions as they passed by. Happy, excited, relaxed, tense, nervous, stressed, upset, sad, and scared—every person’s emotions looked the same this high up.
Turning back to the room, she looked around. Here there was an obvious void of color. She’d chosen to leave this room white. Walls, furniture, everything was clean and clear. In this room, her art was all the color she needed. Leaving her latest masterpiece to dry, she walked from the room into her living area.
The absence of furniture here was her choice. One large couch sat in the middle of the floor. A small flat screen television hung on the opposite wall. This room was smaller than the other, but here she had splashes of color. Dark purple pillows on the couch. Green and blue jars sitting in the windowsills. Royal red tapestries hung on several walls, each with its own unique story to tell.
She enjoyed collecting these small things on her outings into the city. She didn’t know why the colored bottles called to her, but she couldn’t seem to resist their charm when she found one. The light in her windows always shown through them, casting different hues onto her walls. As for the tapestries, well, she had a weakness for art and to her, true art was woven centuries ago. She could just sit there and stare at the different works, making up the lives of the person who had painstakingly taken their time to create the masterpieces.
She walked into the kitchen and started to make herself a cup of coffee, a sin she started shortly after her trek across the world. The taste was nothing compared to the tea she had grown up drinking, but she had purposely decided to end all her old habits when she had stepped foot on American soil five years ago. She stopped and looked down at her hands. Five years ago. Had it really been only five years?
She placed the small container in her new toy that made her coffee just right. The single-cup coffee maker was something she had splurged on. Its brightly lit screen showed so many different settings, and it even told her the temperature of her coffee.
Now, as she began to smell the hazelnut coffee brewing, she leaned back on the marble countertop and enjoyed the peace and quiet of her life. She didn’t mind living alone; actually, she enjoyed having the space to herself. When she’d first arrived, she had lived in a small apartment with three other women, all of whom had been smuggled out of various countries. Protection had been instilled into her mind that first year. The shelter she had lived in trained her how to live on her own. She took self-defense classes for the first two years. She learned how to pay her bills, how to grocery shop, even how to interact with other people without giving up vital information about who she was or where she was from.
She owed everything she was now to a group of people, and she didn’t think she could ever repay them. Since her art had taken off almost two years ago, she had slowly been shuffling a big chunk of her income back into the shelter, helping the group of people who had helped her start her new life. She had also found a women’s shelter in her home town back in India that she donated to. Someday she hoped to visit it and see firsthand the wonderful work they did to protect young girls and women from falling into the same dangers she had.
But there were still a few people she had yet to make contact with since her arrival, three men in particular that she owed most of her gratitude to. It was strange to think that men she knew and loved had caused all her problems, and yet it was men whom she hadn’t even met that had bailed her out of it all.
She could still remember seeing the first man’s face as he hung upside down from her father’s balcony. It had been so dark, for a second she had thought he was a man of color. Then the light had reflected off the paint he had used to darken his skin. She had thought he was there to kill her. She had prepared herself for the worst and was relieved that her suffering would be over quickly. But when he had quietly told her to come with him, and that he was there to take her to America, she knew she had been saved.
The long trip over here was something she would never forget. Neither was the first face she saw when she had woken that first morning. She’d woken to low voices and realized she was no longer in the small cot on the boat, but instead she was lying on a soft couch. When she had opened her eyes, she had seen the most beautiful man she’d ever laid eyes on. Of course, at eighteen she had only ever seen three men before: her father, her uncle, and her cousin. Though she could hardly call her cousin a man since he was just a year older than her.
Just then her phone rang, causing her to jump. She realized her coffee was done and getting cold. She really had to stop daydreaming so much. She supposed it was a side effect of being an artist. Rushing over to the phone, she checked the caller ID and saw her agent’s name. Eve Taylor was someone she had known and come to trust over the last three years. Eve worked for The Kovich and Edwards Agency, which was the company passed to her by Ric Derby to help her sell her art, when she had started her journey over five years ago. Ric was one of the other men she owed everything to, especially since Ric and his wife Roberta had almost been killed by her uncle five years ago.
“Hello?” She smiled, knowing the simple task of answering the phone was something she was now allowed to do. She was no longer controlled to a point where she couldn’t do simple things.
“Hi, it’s Eve. I’m just calling to see if you have the last two pieces ready for the show this weekend.”
“Yes, I just finished the last watercolor. Would you like me to bring them over later today?”
“Oh, how about we meet somewhere for lunch. I’ve been meaning to chat with you about another show. This way we can write lunch off and charge it to the corporate card.” She listened to Eve laugh, then she heard her cover the phone and speak with someone else. The muffled voices were obviously arguing about something. Sandi knew from her past experience that Eve and her boss, Carter Edwards, didn’t always see eye to eye.
“I’m sorry, as I was saying, before I was
interrupted, how about we meet down at that cafe just down the street from your place. What was the name of it again?”
“Hell’s Kitchen Cafe?”
“Yes, that’s the one. They have such wonderful soup. How about we meet there in ... two hours?”
Sandi looked over to the clock on her stove and saw that it was a quarter past ten. She hadn’t even made it to bed last night. Yet somehow she was totally refreshed, and she hadn’t even had her coffee yet.
“That sound great. I’ll see you then.” After hanging up with Eve, Sandi took her lukewarm coffee and started up her long staircase towards her room. Drinking her coffee on the way, she felt energy slowly flowing back into her. After grabbing a quick shower, she donned a simple brown skirt and a tank top made of red silk. She tied her long dark hair up in a braid and smiled when she noticed how light it was getting. She’d spent quite a lot of her summer outside in the park. She enjoyed bringing her easel and working in the sun. Her skin even had an extra glow to it. For her heritage, she was oddly pale.
She had heard a story once as a child that her great-great-grandmother was Anglo-Saxon and the woman had been brought over to India on a slave ship. Her great-great-grandmother's yellow hair and pale skin had caught the eye of her wealthy great-great-grandfather and she had been quickly bought up and taken in as his fifth wife. Sandi had been told when she was younger that she was cursed with her great-great-grandmother's pale skin and had lighter hair to show for it. Even her eyes were a shade lighter than her father’s and mother’s eyes. Her hair had a slight wave to it. It all helped her feel more like she fit in here in America and she was thankful. She had spent the first year in America learning to talk without a strong accent. She had even mastered speaking with several different accents, just to test the waters out.
Her second year here she had taken to talking with a quaint British accent. Everyone she talked to asked which part of England she was from. She enjoyed making up different stories to tell everyone she met.
The next year, after she had moved several times, she had tried an Australian accent. That one was not only fun, but very addictive. She found that she tended to revert back to it when she was tired or not paying attention.
After she had moved into this building, however, she had finally settled on a simple cross between a New York and European accent. It had been three years now and she felt like she could finally stop worrying about slipping back into her native tongue. It had taken her longer to learn the written language than the spoken words. Of course, it didn’t help that she had barely learned how to write in her native Hindi. Her mother had tried to teach her the basics as a child, but since she wasn’t allowed to attend school, she hadn’t given it much thought. Since her mother had been very short on patience, Sandi had ended up drawing most of the time.
She’d also changed her looks while she’d been here. When she’d first arrived, her hair had been cut so short. It had grown fast, and she’d tried many new styles since she’d always had longer hair growing up. She’d experimented with adding some temporary colors, decided it was fun, and so kept doing it. She currently had a few deep red streaks throughout her hair. She’d settled on keeping her hair shoulder length, and she enjoyed the slight curl that it had at this length.
Walking into her art room, she checked that her new piece was dry. Knowing she still had some time before she had to meet Eve, she took her time pulling down the other five pieces she would carry the four blocks to the cafe.
A while later, as she was juggling the large portfolio bag that was hanging from her shoulder and trying to lock her front door, she heard the door behind her open. She jumped a little and twisted to see her neighbor Mrs. Bernstein standing in her doorway in her long bathrobe.
“Oh, it’s you. I thought you might be the delivery boy. He’s always late on Tuesdays.”
“Hello, Mrs. Bernstein. How are you doing today?”
“Oh, you know, no complaints from me. Well, don’t you look pretty today. You wouldn’t by chance be meeting a young man for lunch now, would you?”
Sandi chuckled. Mrs. Bernstein was a sweet meddler, always asking her if she was meeting a boy. She had even tried once to set her up with her grandson, who was only eighteen.
“No, I’m just meeting my agent. I’m giving her the last of my paintings for that show I was telling you about.”
“Oh, that’s lovely dear. You have such a wonderful talent. Well, I won’t keep you long. You be safe out there.”