Authors: N.J. Walters
Broke and homeless, Eliza Hart is at
the end of her rope. She’s spent the last year of her life trying to evade a
dangerous stalker. In desperation, she turns to the man she once loved, the man
who walked away from her without a backward glance—Rabb Hatter.
Rabb is shocked when Eliza shows up
at Hatter’s—the club he co-owns with his brother—looking for a job. He’d left
her and hadn’t looked back when he’d thought she’d cheated on him with another
man. Now he discovers that not only did Jason Ware lie, but he’s been stalking
Eliza the whole time. The spark between them certainly hasn’t died, and when
Rabb learns she’s lost everything, he’s determined to protect her. But first he
must overcome the pain of their past and convince her she’s right to trust him
with her heart.
contemporary erotic romance
Thank you to my amazing readers for allowing me to have the
best job ever!
Eliza Hart swallowed hard and then slowly opened her hand.
Her phone, her last link to her former life, fell through the air and landed in
the East River. She watched it fall, but the splash was muffled by the noise of
She was truly alone in the world.
She couldn’t call any of her former friends. That would only
put them in danger. Not that there were many of them left. Not after the
craziness of this past year.
Eliza turned her back to the wind and finished making her
way across the Brooklyn Bridge. It was slow going and not just because of the
wind and cold, but because she was still recovering from her injuries.
She placed one hand on her stomach and the other one crept
up to her hairline. These scars would forever mark her. Jason Ware, with his
perfect blond hair and even more perfect smile, had done this to her, but no
one believed her. Not even the police.
And why would they? He was a respected businessman who
always seemed to have an ironclad alibi whenever something happened to her.
She, on the other hand, had no family and no job. It didn’t matter that the
reason she couldn’t keep a job was because Jason was always stalking her,
constantly calling her at work, spreading vicious rumors about her, breaking
into her various apartments and altogether disrupting her life.
Only one cop believed her. Detective Mitchell Zurkowski told
her to get a restraining order against Jason. She had. Jason attacked her two
days later, furious with her for smearing his good name. That same cop warned
her during his visit to her in the hospital to dump her cell phone and to lie
low, promising he’d keep digging for evidence. She had his card in her pocket
with orders to keep in touch and to call him if she needed anything.
She should move out of the city, but she had nowhere else to
go and no money to do so even if she wanted to.
She laughed, the sound bitter to her ears. She’d spent the
last year using her meager savings trying to stay alive and keep one step ahead
of Jason. Now she was flat broke and, as of an hour ago, homeless.
The landlord of her pay-by-the-week room had rented it to
someone else after she’d missed her payment. She’d been in the hospital
fighting for her life at the time, but the landlord hadn’t known that and
wouldn’t have cared either way. When she’d returned there earlier, she’d been
informed her room had been rented, he’d taken and sold what had value and had
tossed the rest in the garbage bin behind the building. She’d been too weak and
shocked to argue with him and had left.
The only bright spot in the whole mess was she’d had her
purse on her when she’d been attacked so at least she had her wallet, ID and
cell phone. She only had fifty dollars in cash and she’d gotten thirty of that
when she’d sold the designer purse to a consignment shop an hour ago. The owner
didn’t usually pay cash for items, but had taken pity on Eliza and gotten a
steal of a deal, but at least Eliza had a few more dollars.
She pushed her hand deep in her pocket and tightly clutched
She’d never thought she’d end up this way but then again,
who did? She had no family to call on for help. Her grandmother had taken her
in after Eliza’s parents had died when their car had collided with a train.
Both of them had been intoxicated at the time. After her grandmother passed
when Eliza was nineteen, she’d used the little money left over to get a place
of her own and enroll in college. Times had been tight, but she’d managed to go
to school part-time and work as well.
Bruno’s Bar and Grill had been a great gig. She’d been able
fit her work schedule around her classes. It was also where she’d met Rabb
Eliza stumbled to a halt as his image flashed in her brain.
Big, strong Rabb with his large hands and even larger heart. He was one of
those strong silent types, never saying much, but when he did speak, everyone
“Hey watch it, lady,” some guy muttered as he went around
her. His shoulder nudged her and pushed her to one side.
She watched the foot traffic for a break and shuffled to the
side of a building, taking a moment to catch her breath. She had no idea where
she was. While she’d been thinking, she’d been wandering aimlessly. Not good.
She had to stay alert. She had no idea where Jason was, and he already proven
himself to be capable of just about anything.
He’d been a regular at Bruno’s and had been asking her out
constantly even though she kept turning him down. After about six months, his
cajoling had changed to demands and then to outright anger. She’d gone over and
over the situation in her head but knew she’d never led him on, never given him
any sign she was the least bit interested in him.
But he’d persisted.
Eliza shivered and turned her thoughts back to Rabb. She’d
had a crush on him while he’d worked on Bruno’s. But he’d left just before she
had to fulfill his dream of opening a club with his brother. It was all he’d
talked about, and they’d talked often. Yet he’d left the job without even
telling her, without saying goodbye.
It had broken her heart.
Not that they’d had anything serious going, but they’d had a
few dates, talked at work. And he’d kissed her.
He’d cupped her face in his hands, holding her a willing
captive while he’d pressed his lips against hers, gently at first and then with
more pressure. She’d risen on her tiptoes to get closer and he’d slid his hands
down her back to her behind, pulling her against him. His tongue had traced the
seam of her lips until she’d parted them, letting him inside. He’d swept inside
and claimed her, tasting and touching every inch of her mouth until she thought
she might pass out from lack of oxygen. Only then had he released her and
Heat swelled inside Eliza, pushing back the chill of the
evening air. The way Rabb kissed should be illegal. He’d made her feel like the
most beautiful woman in the world.
And then he’d left without a word, and her life had
descended into hell.
Eliza pushed away from the wall and continued on to the end
of the block. She checked the street sign to help orient herself. Then she
reached into her pocket and drew out a sheet of paper with a list of shelters
that a kind nurse had given her.
She swallowed hard and checked the addresses before shoving
it back into her pocket. Thankfully, she was close to one of them. God, she was
tired. All she wanted to do was put her head down somewhere and forget all her
troubles. But she had to keep going. If this shelter was full she’d have to go
to the next one on her list. It was November and the nights were getting colder
and she wasn’t anywhere near full strength yet.
But the hospital wouldn’t keep her any longer because she
couldn’t pay. She had no money or insurance.
A tear trickled down her face, but she angrily brushed it
away. She would recover from her attack. She would not let Jason win. As soon
as she was back on her feet, she’d get a job and save enough money to get out
of New York. Maybe she’d head to California or down South someplace where it
was always warm.
She crossed at the stoplight, just one of the swarm of
people walking the streets of the city. The shelter wasn’t far now, its sign
glowing like a beacon in the distance. She picked up her pace. Help was only a
few steps away.
When she reached the door, her heart sank. The hand-printed
sign posted on the door read
. Eliza was so tired she wanted to
lie down on the sidewalk and give up. Instead, she pulled out her list and
checked the next shelter.
Turning her back on the sign, she started walking.
Eliza knew she might be making a huge mistake, but she was
really out of options, and her pride had long ago been trampled into the dirt.
There was nowhere else she could think to go for a job, at least not one that
didn’t involve taking off her clothes, and she’d rather live in an alley than
do that. Jobs that would pay her and not leave a paper trail were few. And she
couldn’t afford to let Jason find her.
He hadn’t given up.
She stared at the large red-and-black door and the sign
above it that announced the place was
. This was Rabb’s club,
the one he’d started with his brother. Although mostly underground, there were
windows. Through them, she saw the place was packed with people. Colored lights
flickered inside and she heard muted strains of music. They were busy. Maybe
she should come back another time.
But that would mean another night on the street. This close
to Christmas, the shelters were blocked. Even if she had to sleep in an alley,
at least she could have a few minutes inside, soaking up the heat before she
left. Surely, Rabb wouldn’t kick her out immediately.
Or maybe he would. She wasn’t sure she’d truly known him.
For him to walk away from her without a word when she’d thought they were
friends—more than friends—wasn’t something she would have ever believed he
“You can’t ask for a job standing out here,” she muttered.
Once she would have had confidence enough to boldly walk through those doors,
but no more. Life and circumstances had beaten her down.
Eliza tilted up her chin and hiked her backpack higher on
her shoulder. She had no other choice. If being on the streets these past six
weeks had taught her anything, it was to act bold and assured even when she
wasn’t. The denizens of the street targeted those they perceived as weaker.
Taking a deep breath, she grabbed the handle of the door and
pulled. Heat, laughter and music assaulted her. Her stomach growled and she
wished she eaten more at the soup kitchen earlier this evening, but she’d been
too nervous about tonight to manage more than a few mouthfuls. But she had
saved the dinner roll. It was safely wrapped and stowed in her backpack for
Eliza stepped over the threshold into Rabb’s domain.
Rabb Hatter loved his job, especially on nights like tonight
when things were hopping. The bar was packed, the music was thumping, the dance
floor was full and the atmosphere festive and fun this close to Christmas.
He glanced down at the end of the bar where his brother
Nevar playfully kissed his new fiancée Allison. He was happy for his brother
and proud of what they’d built here.
A sense of satisfaction and accomplishment filled him as he
looked out over Hatter’s. He and Nevar had planned every inch of the club from
the ornate iron stools in front of the long oak bar, to the booths along the
opposite wall and the café tables that filled the rest of the space. Red and
black were their signature colors with enough white thrown in to keep the place
He worked the bar filling orders, all the while keeping one
eye on the comings and goings, always watching for potential trouble. Not that
they had much of that here, but he was always prepared to deal with whatever
might happen. He loaded six drinks onto one of the waitress’s trays and three
beers onto another. Both waitresses quickly headed back into the fray. The door
to the club opened and he automatically glanced toward it.
Rabb froze on the spot. What was she doing here?
He blinked, certain he must be mistaken, but there she was,
Eliza Hart, the woman he’d lost his heart to and walked away from. His gaze
narrowed as he watched her look around the place. She looked thinner.
Then their eyes met and Eliza stumbled slightly before
righting herself. Her chin went up and she calmly walked toward the bar. The
lights glinted off her red hair, making it gleam. He frowned. Her hair was
shorter than it had been. She used to wear it long and pulled back. Now it hung
forward, covering part of her face.
She stopped in front of the bar and they kept on staring at
one another. Nevar walked by and nudged him. “Stop daydreaming. We’ve got drink
orders to fill.”
Rabb ignored his brother. “Eliza?”
Her voice was exactly as he remembered it—low and sultry. It
stroked over his skin like a caress. His cock sprang to life, deepening his
frown. She’d always affected him like that. “What do you want?” Not exactly
friendly, but it was the best he could manage. He was so hard it was painful.
Eliza paled and took a step back before stopping herself.
She squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. “I need a job.”
A million questions spun through his head. What had happened
between her and Jason Ware? The guy had been a regular at Bruno’s when Rabb had
worked there. Last he’d heard they were an item, practically engaged. Or at
least that’s what Jason had told him.
Rabb still remembered how hurt he’d been when Jason had told
him he and Eliza were a couple. Jason had seemed embarrassed and there’d been
pity on the man’s face. That had stung Rabb’s pride and he’d walked away rather
than confront Eliza. But, damn it, he’d thought they’d had something special
between them and all the while she’d been seeing Jason.
“You want a job?” he repeated.
Her fingers clutched the strap of the knapsack she had slung
over her left shoulder as she nodded.
Rabb really looked at her, noting the threadbare jeans and
the too-thin coat she wore. There were dark circles beneath her eyes and she
didn’t just appear thin, but almost gaunt.
Damn him, but he couldn’t turn her away, not even after
she’d cheated on him. Even though they hadn’t had more than a few dates, that’s
what it had felt like. She’d been sleeping with Jason all the while she’d been
leading Rabb on with kisses and unspoken promises of more.
Maybe that made him an idiot, but there was no way he could
just send her away. Decision made, he grabbed the bar towel from his shoulder
and tossed it onto the counter behind him. “I’m taking ten,” he announced.
Nevar gave him a quizzical look and then glanced at Eliza.
“Okay. Everything all right?”
“Fine,” Rabb muttered. He motioned to Eliza. “Follow me.” He
moved down to the end of the bar and out from behind it, waiting while Eliza
made her way through the crowd mingling near the bar.
“This way.” He led the way down the dimly lit hallway to the
office, glancing over his shoulder once to make certain she followed. He opened
the door and motioned her inside, shutting it behind them. It blocked out much
of the noise, though it was impossible to muffle the music entirely. The desk
lamp was on, but he flicked on the bright overhead light.
Eliza blinked at him, her long, dark lashes feathering
across her high cheekbones. Her knuckles were white around the strap of her
“Sit down.” He motioned to the chair in front of the desk
and watched as she sank down onto it. He leaned against the desk and crossed
his arms over his chest. He wanted to hug her and never let her go, and he
wanted to shake her and demand answers. It was hard to wrap his brain around
the fact that she was actually here with him. She looked tired, but still
His dick was straining at the zipper of his pants, but he
ignored the discomfort. No way he would allow himself to go down that road with
her again. It had hurt too much the first time.
“Why do you need a job?” She’d been close to finishing college
and well entrenched at Bruno’s when he’d left there. “What happened between you
and Jason?” Damn, he hadn’t meant to ask that, at least not right off. But it
was out there. Better to clear the air. Maybe if they did, he could finally
forget her and move on.
He hadn’t dated since Eliza.
Her mouth fell open and then quickly shut. “What do you
He sliced one hand through the air in front of him. “Cut the
cute act. I know you were sleeping with him while you were seeing me.” Anger
he’d thought he’d long ago conquered rose like a phoenix from the ashes of his
Eliza’s eyes grew large and then she started to laugh. Of
all the things she could have done, this was the last thing he would have
expected. Her laughter verged on hysterical and her eyes filled with tears.
“You think I was sleeping with Jason?” Her entire body shuddered and she shook
her head. “Not if he was the last man on earth. I can’t stand the guy.”
Rabb frowned. What the hell was going on here? Was it
possible he’d been mistaken? Not about what Jason had told him, he’d been
pretty explicit about that, but about the truth of what he’d been told. “Then
why would he tell me you two were an item?”
Eliza shook her head and tried to compose herself. This was
worse than she’d imagined it would be. Rabb thought she’d cheated on him all
those months ago. That’s why he’d left without a word. Just one more example of
how determined Jason was to destroy her. Damn him and his lies.
Rabb pushed away from the desk and crouched in front of her.
He placed his hands on either arm of the chair, blocking her in. But she wasn’t
the least bit frightened, not of Rabb.
He looked exactly as she remembered—big and steady. The
crisp, white shirt he wore strained at the shoulders and the black vest over it
made him look sexy as hell. The club logo—a top hat with a playing card stuck
in the band—was embroidered on the vest and she stared at that rather than at
Rabb. Her heart ached for what they’d both been through, for what might have
been. He caught her chin and lifted until her gaze met his.
“Talk to me, Eliza. Are you saying he lied?”
“Oh Rabb.” She touched the side of his face, unable to stop
herself from reaching out to him. He’d been nothing more than a pawn in the
deadly game Jason was playing with her. “I’m so sorry.”
“So you were sleeping with him?”
“No.” Just the thought was enough to turn her stomach.
“Then why did he tell me that?” The light shone on Rabb’s
brown hair, showing off the glints of dark mahogany and ash brown. His eyes
were dark and filled with questions, so many questions.
“Why didn’t you ask me that before you left? Why did you
believe Jason’s lies?” After all she’d been through, Eliza hadn’t thought she
could hurt any worse. But she’d been wrong. Her heart ached and her chest
constricted. Rabb believed she’d two-timed him.
Eliza pulled her knapsack around until it was on her lap and
hugged her arms around it.
“Talk to me, Eliza. Please.” It was the
did it for her. No matter how much she hurt, Rabb deserved answers.
“Jason started asking me out all the time. It didn’t matter
how many times I said no, he just kept asking.” She licked her dry lips,
wishing she had some water. She felt shaky and lightheaded.
“Then he stopped being so nice about it. He’d follow me home
from work and started calling me constantly. I don’t know why he told you what
he did.” Eliza shrugged. “He probably knew we’d dated. He was watching me
pretty closely by the end.”
Rabb was so close she could feel the heat rolling off his
big body. She had to fight the urge to lean forward and rest her head against
his broad chest. He smelled good too, his soap light and woodsy.
“What do you mean near the end?”
Eliza shrugged and kept her answer as basic and simple as
possible. “I left work not long after you did. Jason was hounding me so much I
moved and got a new job. But he found me again.” And again and again.
“He was stalking you?” The frown on Rabb’s face would make
most grown men quail, but it didn’t frighten her. She knew him too well and he
would never physically hurt her. The fact that he believed her lifted some of
the weight from her shoulders.
“What did the cops say?” Rabb pried one of her hands from
her backpack and held it in his. His warmth sank into her cold flesh.
“There was never any proof. He always has an alibi and he’s
well-respected in the business community.” That was the most frustrating part
of the situation. Jason had hurt her in so many ways and hadn’t even gotten as
much as a slap on the wrist for all the damage he’d done.
“So he got away with it.” Rabb surged to his feet and began
to pace. She curled her fingers into her palm, wanting to hold on to his heat,
the feel of his skin against hers.
“There was no proof,” she reiterated. “Only my word against
him.” And her word had meant little to the authorities, not with Jason
masterfully spinning is half-truths and innuendos.
Rabb stalked the small office space like a caged animal. He raked
his finger though his hair. “He’s still after you?”
“I think so.” She couldn’t be sure since she was constantly
on the move.
Rabb grabbed a pad of paper off the desk. “Give me your
address and phone number so I can get in touch with you if I need to.”
Hope spurred to life inside her. “You’re giving me a job?”
Steady employment was the first step in her plan to starting a new life.
“Maybe.” He held his pen over the paper. “Your number?”
This was the tricky part. “I can check back in with you.
Every day if you need me to.”
Rabb scowled. “You don’t trust me.”
Eliza slowly rose to her feet, still clutching her backpack.
“It’s not that,” she began, not sure what to say to placate him. She chewed on
her bottom lip. She didn’t want him to know she was homeless, that she’d fallen
Rabb’s head was spinning. Jason had lied to him. And idiot
that he’d been, he’d believed him. He’d walked away from Eliza to nurse his own
hurt feelings and had left her at the mercy of a stalker. It occurred to him he
was taking everything she’d said as truth, which didn’t make much sense
considering he’d thought she’d cheated on him.