The newest book in the Spellbound Hearts series is here!
***Trigger warning: The following excerpt contains material that may be disturbing for some readers. If depictions of domestic abuse upset you, this may not be the story for you.
Excerpt from Captivated by the Winter King
Rain poured from the sky making a steady drumming sound against the car. Kate listened as the patter of the raindrops harmonized with the swish-swish of the windshield wipers as they fought a valiant battle to keep the glass clear enough to see through. The white noise the combination made was a perfect accompaniment to the static that filled her mind. She wasn't sure, but she thought she might be in shock and she pondered that possibility in a desultory manner.
The air outside was hot and humid, but Kate had turned the air conditioning in the car up all the way, causing everything to feel cool and clammy. She shivered. It wasn't even the honest chill of winter, but instead a sticky, moist dankness that seemed to settle into her bones yet still left her skin and throat dry. But she was grateful that the junker of a car at least had a functioning air conditioner. Kate hated hot weather.
She had never wanted to leave the northeast to spend the winter in Florida. That was Erik's idea. Predictably, her mother had agreed with him and pressured Kate into making the trip. Agatha Graham was always in favor of anything that might move Kate and Erik closer to matrimony.
Tears filled Kate's pale gray eyes as she thought about her now ex-fiancé. He was a beautiful man, who seemed to have been painted in shades of gold. Even at thirty-seven, his hair remained a lovely dark blonde. His hairline started just a few inches above his eyebrows and showed no signs of thinning. He wore his short tresses slicked back in a shiny business-appropriate style that created the illusion that he wore a golden helmet. A large man, with a powerful build, there wasn't an ounce of fat on his frame. At six foot two, his height topped even her own impressive five feet eleven inches. His eyes were a warm chocolate brown, but it had been quite some time since she had seen him look at her with anything but coldness in them.
For years, she had tried to make things work between them. Not because she loved him or thought he loved her, but because her mother was so determined to see them together. She could hear Agatha's voice in her head even now. "Smile, dear, and think about how comfortable your life will be with him. He's a good provider, and will give you a position in society. A woman can put up with a lot to gain that."
Fighting back both the moisture in her eyes and the echoes of her mother's words, Kate tried to figure out where she should go and what she was going to do for money. She would be okay for a while, her Nana had left her an inheritance when she died and Kate had kept that money safe in a bank account that Erik didn't know about. But it wouldn't be long before she would need to find a job, and she had no idea how to go about doing that.
Her mother had pushed Kate at Erik since just after she graduated from high school. Kate had managed to evade her mother's matchmaking efforts long enough to start college, but by the time she finished her Junior year the combined pressure from Erik and Agatha had convinced her to drop out of school and focus her attention on pleasing her fiancé. Not that she had ever succeeded in making him happy. So, Kate never started her Senior year and had failed to earn a degree.
With no degree or work experience, she was at a loss as to how to find a job that would pay enough for her to live on. Going back to school might be an option, but she had no idea how to find out if any of the classes she had already completed could be used in a new program or how long it might take to finish a degree. Kate knew her situation wasn't unique, lots of women had been abused by their husbands or boyfriends, and most didn’t have a safety net like what her Nana left her. But she had never before realized how dependent she was on Erik and her mother.
At thirty-two years old, Kate had never lived on her own. She had never needed to find an apartment, arrange for utility services, find or hold a job, or do any of the other things most adults took for granted. Even during her brief stint in college, she had stayed close to home and lived first with her mother, and then with Erik. One of her ex-fiance's favorite things to berate her with was her utter uselessness. And, to her shame, she couldn't argue with him.
Oh, she had done charity work, served on various committees for different organizations, and decorated and kept the homes that Erik had provided for them. In short, she had spent her time doing all the things women who belonged to rich, important men did. But, as her ex-fiance was fond of pointing out to her, none of that was worth a whole lot.
In all honesty, her biggest accomplishment in life was knowing how to shop. Even her mother, ever ready to aid her only daughter with well-directed criticism, admitted that Kate always had impeccable taste and an infallible eye for aesthetics. In spite of her impossible figure, and the frizzy, orange-red hair that defied hair dye and styling products, Kate always looked well-groomed and elegant. With an uncanny nose for classic style and timeless beauty, Kate could make even flea market finds fashionable. It was that saving grace that had allowed her to decorate a man like Erik's arm for the last twelve years.
But a talent for shopping, dressing, and decorating wouldn't put money in the bank or food on her table. At least, she couldn't see how it would, and she didn't have anyone to turn to for advice. Her mother wasn't an option. Agatha had made it clear on more than one occasion that if Kate didn't make things work with Erik, she would wash her hands of her.
It had been the older woman's life-long goal to improve her position within society, and to secure one for her daughter, and she had long ago decided that marrying Kate to Erik was the way to do it. After all, Erik's family connections were beyond reproach, coming as he did from old money. And the man himself was a successful, respected attorney who was a partner in a large, prestigious law firm. He was exactly what Agatha had been training Kate to attract and marry from the time the girl was a toddler.
Her mother meant well, Kate knew that, and she did what she did out of love. But sometimes her words cut deeper than any knife could reach. Kate was never pretty enough, demure enough, or feminine enough to please her mother. She had always been tall and slender for her age, and when she hit puberty things had only gotten worse. Taller than all the girls and most of the boys in her age group, Kate had been gawky and socially awkward as a teenager. Her mother would mock her, calling her beanpole and Olive Oil when she became frustrated with her daughter's angular frame. Agatha was forever trying to get Kate to pad her clothing and had even tried to convince her daughter to have surgery to enhance her figure. But it was Kate's height that was the final straw that caused her mother to give up changing her appearance as an impossible task.
Agatha considered Kate's looks mannish and beyond redemption, so instead she channeled her energy into molding her daughter's behavior. She insisted her only child's education focus on art, music, and deportment; and refused to allow Kate to study subjects like math or science, except the bare minimum required by law. As a result, Kate's skill at balancing a checkbook was far below her ability to arrange form and color to produce a final product that was pleasing to the eye.
No, her mother would not be at all sympathetic to Kate's plight, and could not be counted upon to provide assistance. As for friends, Kate had them once, but somehow they all seemed to drift away over the years. She knew why that was, and it was her own fault for allowing it. Erik had always been jealous of Kate's time. He worked long hours under stressful conditions and expected her to always be available to cater to his needs when he wanted her. That made keeping in touch with friends almost impossible.
Of course, that suited him just fine; he'd never liked any of her friends anyway. He preferred that she spend her time at home, taking care of their apartment and making sure everything was kept the way he liked it. It had always been his argument that he was devoted to her, and so he should be enough to satisfy all her needs.
To prove his commitment, he had proposed to her in lavish style a few years into their relationship; even though they had been living together for several years. She would never forget their engagement; it had warmed her many times when the realities of their life together left her cold. On her twenty-fifth birthday, he had surprised her with a date of fairytale splendor. The evening began with him picking her up from their apartment in a horse-drawn carriage and taking her to the fanciest restaurant in town. There, he ordered Dom Perignon and beluga caviar, followed by filet mignon, grilled white asparagus, and a delicate potato mousse. He spent the entire time making her feel as if she were the only person in his universe.
They had talked for hours, and he had complimented her both on her looks and on her opinions. She had never felt as beautiful, articulate, or special as she did on that night. After dessert, he pulled a black velvet box out of his coat pocket and got down on one knee before her. Every eye in the restaurant was on them as he explained how much he loved and cherished her and that it was his greatest wish that she would allow him the privilege of doing so for the rest of their lives. Then he had opened the box and revealed a flawless, emerald-cut diamond ring. He had slipped the jewelry onto the ring finger of her left hand as she sat before him speechless. The stone had covered her entire digit to the first knuckle.
The people in the ritzy establishment had applauded and even whistled as she forced her stunned muscles to work and nodded her head in an affirmative answer to his question. He stood, pulling her up with him, and gave her the most tender and passionate kiss she had ever experienced. They rode home together in the back of a luxurious limousine, necking and carrying on like two teenagers on their way home from the prom. When they had arrived at their apartment building, he actually carried her through the front door and into the elevator.
That night he made love to her as if she were the most precious thing on earth. She actually achieved orgasm, something she had never done with him before or since. When she awoke, she was convinced she had found the Prince Charming she would spend the rest of her life with. After he had left for work that morning, she called her mother and told her all about it. Agatha, of course, had been ecstatic and had pushed for a quick wedding date. But after seven years, one had never materialized.
After that one magical night, Erik had gone back to treating her as he always had. Except that over time his barbs got a little sharper and his demeanor a little chillier. There always seemed to be some condition she needed to meet before he would agree to set a wedding date. No matter what she did, it was never good enough. She was never good enough.
She had bowed to his pressure and followed her mother's advice for years, and things just kept getting worse and worse. With her friends long-gone, it had been easy for him to convince her to give up her charity endeavors one after another. After all, if she wanted to be his wife, she would need to keep her schedule open so that she would be available to meet his needs. Anytime she left their apartment, she would first need to gain approval from him for the errand and give him a precise timetable for when she would return. This was, of course, so that he would know where to reach her if he needed her.
Then there was sex. She grimaced just thinking about it. Sex was always to be available to Erik upon demand. If she even thought about refusing or making an excuse, he would treat her coldly for days afterward and threaten to find someone else to meet his needs. It might have been bearable had she enjoyed sex with him, but after the night of their proposal he had never gone to any trouble to see to her pleasure. As a result, sex became a chore, something she needed to endure long enough for him to slake his lust on her body. Even that might not have been so bad if he had just wanted a convenient hole to pump himself into, but he began insisting on things that she didn't want to do.
It started with him getting rougher and rougher with her. If she cried out in pain, it just excited him and spurred him to hurt her more. She was afraid to find out what would happen if she complained or told him to stop. But when he suggested asking another woman to join them, she had put her foot down and refused. The result had terrified her.
That was the first time she had told him "no" in a long time. A look of maniacal fury had filled his eyes, and he flew across the room to grab her. The first blow had surprised her, but she saw it when he drew his fist back to punch her again. She had tried to raise her arms to protect herself but, for all her height, Erik was much stronger than her. He spent several minutes pummeling her, and when he let her go she fell at his feet like a rag doll, sobbing out her fear and horror.
He had stood there looking at her for a few minutes, and then stormed from the room and out of the apartment. After a while, she had collected herself and made her painful way home to her mother. Agatha had taken one look at the bruises that covered her daughter's face and made an immediate trip to the nearest high-end department store. She returned with half the store's inventory of foundation and cover-up cosmetics and proceeded to instruct Kate on how to conceal the evidence of the beating. The remaining cosmetics were gifted to Kate in case they should be needed to cover any future beatings her fiance administered. Not once had her mother entertained the suggestion that Kate should leave Erik. Her social ambitions unaffected, Agatha had insisted her daughter return to her abuser immediately.
Hurt and not knowing what else to do, Kate had complied and returned to the apartment she shared with Erik. She never asked her mother for help again. Erik had been waiting for her when she arrived home. He met her with a gorgeous bouquet of roses, an expensive diamond tennis bracelet, and a sincere-sounding apology. Begging her forgiveness, he vowed he would never lay a hand on her in anger again.
Kate knew that wasn't true. She had seen the after-school specials and knew that people who abused their partners didn't stop unless they participated in serious therapy. And even that was no guarantee. Not that she would dare suggest that Erik see a shrink, she could imagine his reaction and it sent chills down her spine. But she had nowhere else to go. Not believing him, but feeling that she had no choice, Kate had forgiven him. Of course, that was only the first of many beatings.
For a while afterward, Erik had treated her better. He seemed to make an effort to restrain his temper and had acted as though her happiness mattered to him. Things were good, for a while, and she almost convinced herself that she was wrong. For a while, she thought that maybe, just maybe, he would be the exception. That he truly was sorry and would never hit her again. For a while.