Paying The Debt
Mailing List Sneak Peek
My heart races and my knees knock — literally knocking together — as my eyes drag up to the huge, massive wooden door. The house is enormous, even by Malibu standards. All glass and exposed beams — sexy, lavish, huge, and expansive.
Some people come to Malibu — the shining jewel on the crown of Los Angeles — to seek their fortunes. But most are here to show off the fortune they already have. I mean, every house on the drive here is easily pushing twenty million a piece, with another couple million in cars in the driveway or boats out on private marinas.
But this house trumps them all.
I’m not here to seek my fortune, and I’m certainly not here to show off, since I don’t have any fortune to speak of, at all. I’m the opposite of rich — not just poor, because “poor” would be an improvement than the current state of things for me. No, I’ve moved beyond “poor” into something worse.
Not mine, but now it’s mine to shoulder. Mine to bear. I swallow, glancing back at the driver. As scary as he was on the ride over here, he’s at least a face I know, even if he didn’t speak a word and hardly even looked at me the entire way over here. This time is no different. The hulk of a man stands motionless beside the Bentley, impassive as the door I stand in front of, his shaded eyes not meeting mine.
I have no idea what to expect beyond these doors. Servitude? Prison? Torture? I shiver, my heartbeat racing and my innards turning to jelly as the weight of the reality of this hits me. Because as of right now, I belong to a monster.
I’ve never met Jagger Kovac before, but I of course know of him. Most people might not, truth be told, but in my house, the name is like the Pope. Mr. Kovac operates in the shadows. He’s the boogeyman — the man pulling the strings for most of the syndicated crime in California, if not the entire western sector of the United States, after taking over from his uncle a few years ago.
He’s not a gangster — not one of those people you hear about, or see in flashy blingy cars, or read about in the papers when they get caught.
Jagger Kovac is above all that. Filthy hands that never get dirty.
My father is one of the underlings — a low level drug pusher, not to mention a mean drunk, a gambler, and a frequent and sore loser. And that’s why I’m here — a bet. A damn gambling table bet that he was stupid enough to get into with Jagger.
With me as the prize.
No, really. My father loses a stupid poker hand, and now I belong to Jagger Kovac. Payment for a debt.
I’m shivering again at the thought when the door swings silently open in front of me. A demure, quiet older man ushers me inside the enormous foyer — the doorway inside flanked by two towering indoor palm trees. From where I stand, I can look through into the massive living room, and out beyond it, the sparkling azure of the Pacific Ocean glittering in the So-Cal sun.
“This way, Ms. Jensen.”
The butler, or servant, or whatever he is, says only those four words before he gestures with his chin, leading me through the house into the living room. The view is striking in here, and I’m practically dragging my jaw across the floor when he nods at a chair overlooking the view by the window — indicating for me to sit.
“Please wait here for Mr. Kovac.”
I nod quickly, demurely, trying to act as if this is something I do all the time. Like arriving at gorgeous, palatial houses because the mob bosses who live in them now own me is a regular thing for me. The butler doesn’t meet my eye though, merely nodding at the chair and waiting for me to take a seat before taking his leave.
The house is silent, and I can feel my heart racing all over again as I look out over the water. My hands smooth the cream-with-pink-flower-print sundress I’m wearing down over my thighs. It’s the nicest thing I own, and for whatever messed up reason, something inside of me wanted me to look nice for today.
We’ve never met, but again, I know who he is, and I certainly know his reputation. Ruthless, brutal, and dominant. Jagger Kovac runs the empire he controls with an iron fist — demanding loyalty and obedience like a king of an ancient land. And when even mean, hardened lowlifes like my father and his friends are scared of the man, you know it’s more than just rumor and reputation.
That’s the part that should terrify me. It’s knowing all that about the top man in a vast criminal empire that should have me trembling in fear, or crying, or begging for mercy. But there’s another part of Jagger Kovac, and it’s not stories I hear from my father’s drunk, drugged up friends. It’s not from reputation as a fearsome, domineering crime boss.
It’s that one time, a few years before, I saw the man that barely anyone sees, and after that, something inside of me caught fire.
It was at a wedding for the son of one of Jagger’s underbosses. How my scumbag, middle-management drug-pusher of a father got an invitation I have no idea, but he insisted on bringing me. And that’s where I’d seen him.
That’s when I’d felt wicked, heated, illicit feelings like that somewhere deep inside of me for the first time in my life.
He’d only appeared for a moment. After all, this was soon after he’d taken over the empire, and I’m sure there were more than a few people out there who wanted him dead to try and take it from him. But the man whose son was getting married had been one of Jagger’s uncle’s top men, so duty mandated he make an appearance.
And God, what an appearance.
Because for all of the scariness, and fearsome, brutal reputation surrounding him, there’s one thing I hadn’t known about my father’s boss before that night: Jagger Kovac was gorgeous.
It wasn’t in a Brad Pitt, handsome Hollywood kind of way, or one of those pretty boys cooing out wimpy love songs in music videos. No, Jagger Kovac was beautiful, and dark, and gorgeous in a very grown up way. Dark hair and even darker, haunting eyes. A jaw carved out of wood, and strong, eastern European features that highlighted his Serbian background. He’d worn his dark blue suit without a tie that night, the crisp white dress shirt open at the neck and the swirling ink of his dark black tattoos peeking through. Broad, muscled shoulders, like those of a football player or something, stretched the material of the suit. I’d watched, dry-mouthed and panting, at the way his biceps rippled and strained at the sleeves as he’d shaken hands.
I’d never before felt the wicked, teasing feeling I’d felt inside the instant I’d laid eyes on him back then, but I knew one thing.
I liked it.
I liked the way looking at this dangerous, brutal, ferociously sexy man made me feel — dirty, tingly, excited, and scared, all at the same time.
But that was years ago. And besides, even if he’d seen me back then — and I’m sure he didn’t — all he’d have seen would’ve been a gawky, silly little girl staring at him like a weirdo. So, as much as my dirty, inappropriate fantasies want to pretend that that was why I’m here, I know it isn’t. No, I’m here, in this gorgeous, glass castle of a house, because my scumbag father went on a bender, then went on a losing streak, and then decided to stake me on one last hand.
I’m not here because Jagger Kovac wants me, like my teasing little fantasies want to pretend. I’m here because I’m his now, and all because of a bad draw in a game of cards. If my father weren’t the cruel, spiteful human being he is, Jagger might just have another stack of poker chips, or keys to a car, or maybe even an IOU in his possession right now.
Instead, he has me. I shiver, smoothing down my sundress again as I let my gaze drift over the beautiful, serene view of the ocean.
I feel his presence before I hear his footsteps, and as my heart jumps into my throat, I start to stand.
The voice is like that of a Viking’s — strong, powerful, commanding, and menacing all at once. And yet, there’s a touch of something heated there too — a tinge of something fiercely protective.
I freeze at the command, breath coming fast, and my skin tingles as I hear him move towards me from behind.
I nod quickly, smoothing my sundress down as I do as he says. The silly, girly fantasies and daydreams vanish, replaced by the cold fear and the brutal reality that I’m now in the possession of this fearsome man.
He moves right behind my chair, and I shiver at the feel of the heat from his body. I can smell the scent of his aftershave — something woodsy and manly. Something that smells expensive, and powerful, and clean. For a second, I have a funny thought that a man with this sort of reputation should smell like smoke and sulfur — like the devil I’ve been told he is. And yet instead, he smells, well…
Really, really good.
His hands find my bare shoulders, and I tremble at the contact. I’m not sure if I want to jump out of the chair and run or melt into him. The warmth of those hands seep into my tensed muscles, the strong, powerful fingers brushing across my skin and leaving tingly, teasing trails as they trace the straps of my sundress.
I very suddenly know I don’t want to run. I want to melt.
“You’re here now.”
His voice is a smooth, steely baritone, rough and yet warm, with the hint of accent from his background.
“Yes,” I say quietly.
“And do you know why you’re here?” he purrs, this time the voice lower and closer to my ear. I tremble again, my eyes half closing as those powerful hands stroke my skin and that dark, deep, dominant voice melts through my ears.
I nod again, panting.
“Good,” Jagger growls lowly.
“Because you’re mine now.”