In the movies there was always a warning before something bad happened. Music swelled, the good guy promised everything would be fine now or the camera suddenly went into slow motion.
Life wasn't so tidy.
Izzy Titan sat in the window seat, as she had every day for the past month, staring out at a blurry world and feeling sorry for herself. While it wasn't a career choice everyone would make, it filled the day. She ignored her sisters' pleas that she join them for lunch or shopping or even come downstairs to dinner. Like a regular person. When it got too annoying, she pointed out she wasn't regular anymoreshe was handicapped. If that didn't work, she slammed the door and locked it until they went away. She'd always given everything she had, so she was ready to become the self-pity queen, if necessary.
Finally her sisters stopped bugging her. Which should have been a really big clue.
There wasn't any warning. One minute she was sitting in her usual spot, the next, someone grabbed her around the waist, pulled her to her feet, then tossed her over a very broad, very hard shoulder.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" she yelled as blood rushed to her head, making her a little dizzy.
"My job. Go ahead and fight me all you want. You can't hurt me."
It was a challenge she couldn't ignore. But when she tried to kick her attacker, he wrapped one arm around her legs, holding her still. Wiggling didn't help either. The man had muscles like rock and a month of immobilizing self-pity had left her girlishly weak.
"I swear," she began, as the guy turned and started walking. "Do you know who I am?"
"Izzy Titan. Hey, Skye."
Izzy raised her head and tried to make the room focus. Unfortunately it was dark and blurry and she couldn't see any details.
"Skye?" she yelled. "Are you there?"
"Oh, Izzy." Her sister sounded concerned, but not worried. Not afraid. "We didn't know what else to do."
"I'm here, too," Lexi, her other sister, said. "This is for your own good."
"Having me kidnapped?"
"Nick comes very highly recommended. You told us that your doctors wanted to put you on an antidepressant, which you wouldn't agree to. This is better."
"You wouldn't leave your room or talk to us. It's been a month, Izzy."
"You're having me kidnapped because I wouldn't go shopping with you? Are you insane?"
They moved into the hallway. She could tell because the room got darker and her fingers brushed against the walls. Then they were going down, down, down into more darkness.
Each step jarred her entire body. If she'd had that lunch her sisters were so hysterical about she would be throwing it up, right about now.
"I'm not kidding," she yelled. "Stop this right now. All of you. Nick, I don't care what my sisters said, I didn't agree to this. Put me down or I swear I'll throw your ass in jail for so long, you'll actually learn to enjoy being Bubba's love slave."
"You signed a release," rock-guy said calmly, still moving through the house.
"You signed a release. I've got it here in my pocket."
Izzy wanted to scream in frustration as she remembered Skye asking her to sign a few checks so her sister could pay Izzy's bills. "She tricked me. I'm blind! I didn't know what I was signing."
They went outside. She saw the blurry outline of trees and the welcome light and heat of the sun.
"You shouldn't sign what you can't read," Nick told her.
She could hear the humor in his voice and that really pissed her off. Seconds later, he opened a car door and dumped her onto a smooth leather seat. Before he could close the door, she pushed past him and bolted for freedom. She made it all of three steps before he grabbed her around the waist and pulled her against him.
It was like pressing against the side of a mountain. She kicked and tried to pull her arm free. Irritation turned to fury and betrayal. She turned toward the houseat least she could see something that bigand assumed her sisters were on the porch.
"How could you do this to me?" she demanded. "You're my family."
"Izzy, we love you." There were tears in Skye's voice.
Good, Izzy thought furiously. She hoped Skye felt guilty for the rest of her life.
"We didn't know what else to do," Lexi called, sounding less than sure.
"I would never do this to you," Izzy screamed. "Don't think I'll ever forgive you. Ever!"
The last word was cut short as she was tossed back into the rear of a car or SUV. She couldn't tell which. The door slammed shut before she could run again. She lunged for the door handle, only there wasn't one. Nor could she open the windows.
Seconds later she discovered a thick, mesh screening behind the seat and between her and the front of the vehicle. She was trapped.
She heard the door open and vaguely saw Nick slide behind the wheel. Then they were driving away. Her sisters had hired a stranger to take her from her home and do God-knows-what to her. They'd abandoned her. No. This was worsethis was actual action on their part. The two people she'd counted on her entire life had discovered she was too much trouble and had tossed her out like the trash.
For the next three hours, Nick Hollister drove ten miles above the speed limit. He wanted to go faster, but knew he couldn't outrun the inevitable. His pretty, dark-haired passenger was staring out the window with a determination that told him she was about ten seconds from losing it.
"You can cry if you want to," he said. "It won't bother me." He'd seen a lot worse than tears.
Izzy didn't turn toward him. "I won't give you the satisfaction."
"You think I win if you cry?"
"Don't bullies always enjoy knowing they've hurt someone? You didn't win. You can't break me."
She raised her chin as she spoke, instinctively defying him. Good, he thought grimly. She was going to need every ounce of strength she had if she wanted to find her way back. Which was his jobto make sure she did.
"Break you?" he asked, ignoring that she'd called him a bully. He'd stormed into her life and taken her away from everything she knew. Hardly comfortable circumstances. He understood the fear of the unknown, although her unknown was a whole lot more controlled than his had been. "Dramatic much?"
"Hey, you're the one who tossed me into the back of a car."
"Whatever. This is kidnapping. I get to be however I want."
"Your sisters know where you are and what will happen when you get there."
"And I should find that comforting why?" She swallowed. "Don't even talk to me."
He heard the fear in her voice. He could see it in the way she kept herself stiff. Behind fear was terror and while he wanted her attention, he didn't need it that bad.
"My name is Nick Hollister," he said, using the same tone that calmed unbroken horses. "I run a school that teaches corporate survival training. That pays the bills. I also take in kids who have suffered a traumatic loss or been victims of a violent crime. I teach them how to survive in my world. That helps them cope with their own."
Izzy stared out the window, obviously ignoring him. He wondered how much she could actually see.
"Your sisters asked me to take you on for a few weeks, to help you adjust to being blind."
"I'm not blind," she snapped. "I have thirty percent of my sight."
"You're acting like you're blind," he told her. "You've been hiding in your room for a month."
"It's not like I can do anything else."
"Your life is over? Because of one little challenge? That's impressive."
"Shut up," she yelled. "You don't know what you're talking about. You can see fine."
"Wouldn't it be interesting if I couldn't?" He swerved slightly as he spoke. The SUV swayed. Izzy didn't bother looking up.
"I thought it was," he said. "Look. They care about you. Your sisters," he added, in case she wasn't following.
This time she did glance at him, only to roll her eyes. The hazel irises were unmarred by her injury. "I'm more than capable of carrying on a conversation. I'm probably smarter than you."
"I doubt that."
"How smart is sitting on your ass, feeling sorry for yourself?"
She straightened and glared at him. "I was in an explosion," she said, speaking slowly, as if to make sure he would understand. "I could have been killed."
"But you weren't."
"I was seriously injured and I lost most of my eyesight."
"Which you could get back tomorrow if you weren't such a girl about the surgery."
He glanced in the rearview mirror in time to see her narrow her gaze.
"A girl?" she asked softly.
"Yeah. You know. Chicken. Lacking in bravery."
"That's it!" she yelled. "Let me out, right here. Let me out or I swear, I'll kill you myself. I'll rip you apart with my bare hands and feed your body to the snakes."
"Snakes wouldn't eat human flesh."
"Skye didn't say anything about you being hysterical."
"Let me out!"
She grabbed the mesh screening and rattled it, but it had withstood a lot more than a scrawny woman without much muscle on her.
"She did warn me you would be difficult," he said. "I charge extra for that."
Izzy sank back in the seat and resumed staring out the back window.
"If you won't have the surgery, then you have to survive with what you have," he told her. "That's where I come in. I teach you how to make it. You're staying with me until you can be on your own."
"What if I don't want to be on my own?"
"You think your sisters want you hanging around all the time? They have lives. You're what? Twenty-five? Twenty-six? You ready to give up so fast?"
"Go to hell."
"I've already been there."
He turned onto the familiar paved, private road and drove toward the two-story main house. He'd bought the run-down ranch nearly eight years before. Neighboring ranchers leased his pasture for their cattle, while he used the twenty acres of wilderness for his retreats. He kept a dozen horses in the big barn and had built several guesthouses where clients stayed. There were meeting facilities, a restaurant-grade kitchen that could serve up to fifty at a time and a big media room that...
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