Authors: Alice Raine
THE DARKNESS WITHIN
Untwisted Book One
An erotic novel
If you enjoyed
Fifty Shades of Grey
Bared to You
, you will love the
series which starts with
The Darkness Within Him
and follows the highly addictive relationship between Nicholas Jackson and Rebecca Langley.
A dizzying, all-consuming affair with famous pianist Nicholas Jackson drew in bookshop owner Rebecca Langley, engulfed her with his passion and dominance, and then spat her out heartbroken and bruised.
Now, Rebecca is left trying to move on from the relationship she shared with Nicholas, but just as she starts to clear her head, he reappears in her life determined to win her back.
But seeing as Nicholas has already shown once that the darkness within him is lurking just below the surface, can Rebecca really take that risk again with her heart and body?
People are like stained glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.
I’d like to express my greatest appreciation and thanks to my editors Alexandra Davies and Elizabeth Coldwell, not only for dedicating countless hours to editing my work and answering my multitude of questions, but for taking a chance on me in the first place.
I must also thank those working with Alex and Elizabeth at Accent Press, in particular Beth Jones, Stephanie Williams and Ieuan Matthews. Whilst too many to name individually I must also extend my thanks to all the other people and departments at Accent who have made my dream to become published a reality.
A special thank you must go out to my long-term friend Helen L. for all your support throughout this process. For staying up late reading drafts, suggesting improvements, and being amazingly supportive. Without your friendship and encouragement, this book would never have left my computer!
My thanks also to Ruth W. and Charlotte B. for reading and advising. Charlotte, you have become my ideas guru ;) – thank you for loving my characters enough to spend time with me discussing possible plot lines and pushing me to expand Nathan's character.
Also my test readers, Karen W, Debbie, Rosie .M and Olivia M for reading through my book during the writing process. Your support, feedback and advice was invaluable. Also thanks to newer friends made via social networking – Laura Mc and Katie N. We’re all going through the new author experience together and you two have made the difficult times so much more bearable!
Thank you to my husband for indulging me when I told him, ‘I want to be an author,’ and for never once complaining when I sat at my laptop night after night tapping away and generally ignoring him, I love you.
Finally, thanks to my family for their support of my writing: not that they will ever be allowed to read this book!
What the fuck had he been thinking?
Clearly, he hadn’t been thinking at all. In fact, in all his twisted years alive this was probably the closest he’d ever come to losing it,
Apart from the time long ago when he had very nearly lost everything, Nicholas thought with a grimace, finally picking himself up from the floor and pushing his dark hair from his face in agitation.
Looking back to the empty bed in disgust, he attempted to pull on his discarded shirt, but felt a strange sensation growing in his chest like a steel band being tightened around his ribs. The silk scarves that, up until ten minutes ago, had held the wrists of Rebecca as he’d knelt over her provocatively now hung limply from the bedposts, and as his eyes strayed across the crumpled white sheets, Nicholas saw small red dots expanding on the cotton in several places.
Fuck, he’d never drawn blood before. But as horror spread across his face, Nicholas counted at least ten red dots of blood from the cane he had used on Rebecca’s beautiful arse. Lovely, unsuspecting Rebecca whose only wrongdoing had been to make him think he might be falling in love with her.
But he didn’t do love,
. His past had taught him that, and now Rebecca was gone. Gone for good if she had any sense.
He’d completely lost control, which was so unlike him – and a cane? Why the fuck had that seemed like a good idea? Engrained, dark memories had ensured Nicholas never used canes in his twisted sex life, so why had he done so today? With a grunt, he shook his head in disgust; deep down, he knew exactly why he’d picked the cane, but he refused to listen to the voice in his head telling him he’d chosen it on purpose to show her
she should leave him.
In a sickening realisation that had him bent double and clutching at the mattress, choking for air, Nicholas knew he hadn’t wanted Rebecca to go at all. He’d only doubted his feelings because of his damn brother. God, he felt like he was going to throw up.
All he’d really wanted was for her to help take the pain of his past away, hold him and reassure him that how he lived was OK.
But it wasn’t, she hadn’t, and now she had walked out.
Shaking his head, Nicholas ran his hands roughly through his sweat-slicked hair as he remembered the look upon her face when she had left. Tear-stained and utterly furious, apparently at both him for his actions and herself for believing that she could ever change him.
He closed his eyes. Nicholas’ nostrils flared as he thought of her beautiful face again. If only Rebecca knew just
much she had changed him over these last months, he thought as he dragged the sheet from the bed, unable to bear the sight of it any more. But it was too late now. He would never get the chance to tell her because Rebecca had gone and there was no way she was coming back – not after what he had just subjected her to.
Three weeks later
One week turned into two, and two merged miserably into three as I struggled through each post-break-up day in a trance-like bubble. I was finding life without Nicholas a lot tougher than I had first imagined it would be. We’d been together for nearly four months: not that long a time, really, but they had been four incredibly intense, passionate months, and it had felt so much longer.
Knowing what Nicholas had done to me with the cane should have made it easy to leave him, walk away and never look back, but the haunted, almost terrified expression on his face as I’d left for the final time was still plaguing me daily and haunting my dreams at night.
As was now the norm for me, last night’s pathetic attempt at sleep had been yet another fitful one. With more time spent on taunting nightmares than actual rest, I probably got three hours, maximum, which was nowhere near enough for a sleepaholic like me. As such, it really wasn’t surprising that I found myself exhausted and leaving my little flat earlier than usual to head to work. Anything was better than sitting still and allowing my mind to saturate itself thinking about my failed relationship with Nicholas Jackson again.
Taking a breath as I prepared to leave, I forced thoughts of Nicholas momentarily from my head and tried instead to focus on the positive things in my life. I’m blessed with good health, a loving family, and a secure job, so I really should stop with the whining. Who needs a saucy love life anyway, I thought with a roll of my eyes as I exited my flat and slammed the door with far more force than necessary.
As the bang of the door reverberated around the small landing, I grimaced at the thought that I had probably just woken the three neighbours who shared my floor. So as I ducked out of the landing I made a conscious effort to close the second door more quietly, while wondering if maybe subconsciously I’d been using the slam to try once and for all to shut out memories of Nicholas too. Sighing wistfully, I shook my fuzzy head. It would be so good if it were that easy – to shut out my feelings like closing a lid on a box. If only.
To be honest, my thoughts and behaviour had been so erratic since my spilt from
that I’d given up trying to self-analyse my actions. I doubted that even a week-long session with a team of top psychologists could unravel the myriad of messed-up issues currently lurking in my head.
Striding across the landing, I made my way down the stairs and out into a bright, cool morning, tucking my hands into the pockets of my worn leather jacket as I went. It was a beautiful day and I
smiled to myself as I glanced around. As pathetic as it might seem, there hadn’t been too many smiles on my lips recently – another thing to blame on Nicholas. Seeing the already busy street, I tried to straighten my shoulders and appreciate my situation in life because I’m lucky enough to live in Camden Town, a very popular and sought-after part of London.
If I turned right from my front door I could be at Chalk Farm tube station in under two minutes, hop on for one stop to Camden Town station, and then be at my bookshop in less than five minutes. But with last night’s tumultuous dreams of Nicholas still lingering in my mind, I wanted to distract my brain the best way I could, and for me that was to walk for a while.
No matter what the time of day or night, Camden seemed to be pulsing with energy; there was always something, or someone, new to look at and I simply loved people-watching. So it was a walk I did whenever I had enough time. Or needed a good distraction, like I did today.
By taking just a small diversion off the main road on to some of the side streets and courtyards, I knew I could immerse myself into the fizzing bustle of the Camden markets and their multitude of colourful stalls, which is exactly where I headed this morning. Even in my current mood, there was just something so all-consuming about the bohemian atmosphere of the place. It seemed to seep into my veins and recharge me.
After just a few minutes’ walk, I crossed the busy main road and headed under a railway bridge and up a familiar side street into The Stables, the first of the famous markets that draw thousands of tourists every year. Allowing my mind to be swamped with the images and delicious smells wafting around me, I felt the muscles in my face protest as I smiled genuinely for the first time in what seemed like weeks. Even with the big-city-loneliness that I inevitably felt on occasion as a resident of the sprawling metropolis of London, Camden somehow had a way of making me feel like I belonged.
Cutting under a brick archway, I made my way up a short flight of stairs to a bridge that curved over the railway, but just as I was about to descend on the other side, a sound caught my ears and I came to an abrupt halt. The man behind me ran straight into my back, nudging me rather painfully with what I hoped was the point of an umbrella, but to be honest I was so distracted I didn’t care. He muttered a curse as he shoved me unceremoniously to the side before he and a stream of other uptight suits made their way down the steps toward their highly important destinations.
For several seconds I was unable to move, frozen to the spot as my ears searched for the sound that had stopped me so suddenly in the first place. I strained my hearing so hard that blood started to pound in my eardrums, but just as I thought I’d imagined it, the taunting noise washed over me again, stealing every molecule of air from my lungs.
Someone nearby was playing a piano. It seemed crazy, as I was standing on a bridge in the middle of an outdoor marketplace. But as I listened to the notes flowing over me, there could be no mistaking it. The bustling stalls around me instantly vanished and instead I saw Nicholas in my mind’s eye, sitting with graceful elegance at his impressive grand piano, a focused expression on his handsome face as his fingers moved skilfully over the keys to produce the most beautiful music I had ever heard in my life.
The sound was so poignant to me because it had been his exquisite piano playing that had brought us together in the first place. I’m not a skilled pianist myself, but I do love listening to music, and three years ago, I’d attended a concert by a jazz group comprised of Nicholas Jackson, Anthony Gurage, and Isla Burren.
The concert was fabulous: I mean out-of-this-frigging-world good. As musicians go, the trio were some of the most skilled I’d ever had the pleasure to listen to. As was my habit, I wrote an online review of the concert afterwards, expressing my appreciation for their skill and stating my completely unqualified belief that they had the potential to become some of the best jazz musicians our country had seen for decades.
Somehow, somewhere, a hotshot musical producer called Greggor Marks happened upon my review and, going purely on gut instinct, tracked the three of them down. At the time, they had been relatively unknown, playing gigs at small concert halls and churches, but in a bizarre twist of fate, Marks signed them on the spot strictly on the basis of my review – and no doubt a quick personal performance.
Things had spiralled rapidly out of control and Anthony, Isla, and Nicholas pretty much became stars overnight, playing with jazz bands and orchestras all over the world, and even working with several big Broadway productions as musical advisors. And that as they say, is that.
All because of
Well, more specifically, my compulsive habit of writing online blogs. As an avid lover of books and a wannabe fiction writer, my obsessive blogging about everything I did was as close as I had ever got to being “published”, and spoke volumes about the amount of free time I had. Social life? Ha! Hardly. And now I didn’t even have a boyfriend, I thought bitterly.
Even after accidentally making the trio famous with my blog, I’d never had the opportunity to meet Anthony, Isla, or Nicholas. I’d seen them from afar at the concert all those years ago, of course, and spoken to Isla on the phone once, but they had been so swept up in their newfound fame that saying thanks to the girl who wrote a nice review probably hadn’t been high on their list of priorities.
Stumbling to the side of the steps, I took hold of the handrail to support my suddenly numb legs and clear the stairs for other morning walkers. Blinking wildly at how deeply the mere sound of a piano had shaken me, I shook my head in an attempt to clear the fog that had descended on my already tired brain. I couldn’t believe it had come to this. More precisely, I couldn’t believe
come to this: a quivering, pathetic shell of my former self, embarrassing herself by having some sort of breakdown on a bridge in the centre of a busy marketplace. God, it was positively shameful.
I sighed heavily, wishing now that I’d never been to that stupid concert or written the damn review. In short, I was wishing I’d never met Nicholas Jackson. You know the saying “It’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all?” Well, it’s a load of rubbish as far as I’m concerned, and it certainly didn’t carry much weight with me at that moment. Not that I was actually in love with Nicholas, I thought, frowning.
I didn’t think I was, but I supposed the explosiveness of our final time together might have tarnished the view I had of him.
As hard as I strained my ears, the piano melody had vanished. Perhaps my twisted mind had conjured it up in the first place to taunt me further about Nicholas. Even without the music, I somehow felt reluctant to leave the bridge, so I retreated up the three steps to a small coffee shop at the top and bought myself a cappuccino to go. Maybe a dose of caffeine would kick-start my brain back to usefulness.
Returning to the railings, I resumed my position overlooking the marketplace so I could watch the tradesmen set up their stalls and banter easily with each other.
As I took the first sip of my coffee, it practically scalded the taste buds from my tongue and I grimaced in a way that must have screwed up my entire face. I only just managed not to spray it out down my front and over the stalls below.
, an incinerated tongue. Just another thing to be joyous about today.
Peeling off the protective lid to allow the coffee to cool, I indulged in a little people-watching while I considered how my world had changed so drastically over the last year. My social life was still non-existent, and apart from the kinky fling with Nicholas, my love life also remained pitifully empty. However, thanks to some significant inheritance money from my granddad, I now owned the bookshop I’d worked in for the past seven years.
Mr Garland, the previous owner, had been only too happy to sell up when I’d made an offer and was now enjoying his well-earned retirement somewhere on the sunny coast of southern Spain, no doubt with a margarita in one hand and a señorita in the other.
The business was doing well, keeping me busy, but this meant my blogs had to take a bit of a back seat. It was quite ironic, really, that the thing that had led me to Nicholas in the first place was now leaving my life, just as he had. Although, technically, it was me who’d left him, I remembered with a dry swallow as I turned my now misty eyes over the first busload of early-morning tourists rushing about below me.
Stupidly, as I forced my tense body to relax against the cold metal railing, I let my mind wander back to better times, memories that would only cause me pain but that I couldn’t stop flooding into my brain. Memories of Nicholas before I knew about his darker side, before I had begun to fall headfirst for a man so completely wrong for me that he had left my heart, body, and soul crushed into pieces.
A shuddering sigh escaped me as I played back the events that had led to my first meeting with Nicholas Jackson, my now ex-boyfriend, a dominant and passionate man and the only person I’d ever thought I might actually be able to fall in love with.
Several months ago, I had got a call out of the blue from Greggor Marks, the music producer who had signed Nicholas, Isla, and Anthony all those years ago. He had informed me that the trio’s schedules were easing then went on to say that they were in London for some concerts at the Palladium so would I like to meet them? I had been quite touched that he remembered me, and at the time had thought, would I like to meet them? Hell yes. If I’d been ill that day and missed his call, or turned down his offer, I wouldn’t now be making a complete fool of myself in the middle of Camden Market, nursing a broken heart. But I hadn’t. I’d been thrilled and of course accepted his offer immediately.
After getting the Tube down to Euston, I changed onto the Victoria line for the short journey to Oxford Circus. Tugging self-consciously at my jacket, I was glad that in my dressed-up attire – high heels, black trousers, and a silk camisole – I didn’t stand out among the assortment of outfits being worn around me. This was London in all its impersonal glory: you could wear whatever you wanted and people would simply look the other way and ignore you as if you weren’t even there. Ah, the joy of big-city living.
Emerging from the station, I traversed through the bustle of commuters and early-evening shoppers on the rain-slicked pavement of Oxford Street, before turning off and heading down a side street toward the impressive frontage of the London Palladium. The stretch of pavement outside had become a waiting area and was full of similarly dressed people loitering around and talking excitedly about the performance they were about to watch.
Two hours later, after what had possibly been the best night of live jazz music I had ever heard, I found myself waiting to be escorted to the backstage area. Still flushed from the heat in the theatre itself, I knew my face was also red from excitement because in about two minutes I would get to meet the trio I had inadvertently made famous by blogging about them on the internet – Anthony Gurage, Isla Burren, and Nicholas Jackson.
Tonight’s performance was the opening night of a new musical called
set around the development of jazz piano playing over the years. Nicholas had agreed to perform at the première, with all proceeds to charity, before another skilled pianist would set off with the orchestra and tour the country with the show. Apparently, he was too in demand to do full tours these days. If I were big-headed, I’d take the credit for that too, but luckily, my ego was well in check so I merely let the though flit through my mind with a small, indulgent smile.