The Billionaire's Caress

By: Olivia Thorne

Eve





My name is Eve Saunders. I’m an internet security expert.

I was hired (and seduced) by ultra-hot billionaire architect Grant Carlson to help him track down a possible serial killer who’s been threatening him.

But after finding myself alone in a dark art gallery in Manhattan…

…it seems that the serial killer has tracked down me.





2





Oh God NO!

I turn and run through the maze of corridors, back the way I came.

“That won’t do you any good, Ms. Saunders,” the voice says, full of mock sympathy. “I’ve already shut down the elevator.”

In confirmation, when I hit the DOWN button, it doesn’t light up. I try UP – same thing.

My mind is ticking through the options.

Got to find a stairwell – got to get out of here –

But the text was from Grant! It came from his phone number! How did –

And then I realize: if this guy could find Grant’s phone number, he could temporarily clone it, reroute it, whatever he wanted to do.

Long enough to send me a couple of text messages, anyway.

The text messages make me think of my cell. I fumble it out of my purse to call 911 –

But the screen says ‘No Service.’

I want to scream.

Actually, that’s a good idea.

“HELLLLLP!” I shriek.

“No one can hear you from the outside,” the voice informs me. “And if you were planning to call the authorities, let me save you the trouble: I’m blocking all frequencies with a jammer. So don’t bother.”

I start running through the hallways, my heels clicking on the hardwood floors. My heart is jackhammering in my chest.

“Why are you running, Ms. Saunders? Don’t you think I might anticipate where you’re going?”

Shit.

I slow down.

If he wanted me to go someplace specific – say, an emergency exit where he might be waiting in ambush – then shutting down the elevator would be the absolute best way to herd me.

But why is he pointing that out?

A line from the FBI profiler’s report jumps into my mind:

Because he views the interaction as a game to be savored.

Oh my God.

I’m going to die in here…

Then my stubborn streak kicks in.

No I’m not. I am absolutely NOT going to die in here. I am NOT dying at all – not today.

I slow down and start thinking.

First I need a weapon.

I reach in my purse, get my key ring out, and ball it in my fist, letting one single key stick out between my fingers. I learned that in a dorm rape prevention course in my freshman year.

If the asshole tries to take me down, I’m taking at least one of his eyeballs with me.

I look up at the ceiling. In the dim light it’s impossible to see much. I can’t tell whether there are security cameras or not. There aren’t any big clunky ones, anyway.

In that case, I need to be quiet.

I slip off my heels and put them in my purse.

Now he can’t hear me.

But if he does get to me, I want someone to catch the bastard.

So, in the hopes that he might leave behind my purse, I open up the Voice Memo app on my phone and hit ‘Record.’ I’m going to get his voice.

Next: logic.

What does he WANT me to do?

Stay away from the exits. He can’t cover all of them.

Was he trying to psych me out with that ‘don’t you think I might anticipate where you’re going’ crap?

“You’re probably trying to backwards-engineer my plans, aren’t you,” the voice says snidely. “Trying to outthink me. That’s… amusing. And utterly futile.”

What an ASSHOLE.

But don’t answer back. Don’t let him know where you are.

“You’re staying silent. A wise move, if there were no surveillance system in the gallery. Unfortunately for you, they have one, and I’m tapped into it. Want me to prove it? You’re standing five feet away from an Andre Rothschfin. The black and white painting.”

I look to my right. I have no idea who Andre Rothschfin is, but there’s a five-foot-square canvas with a bunch of white, oval lines outlining black shapes.

“By the way, nice touch, taking off your shoes,” the voice continues.

My heart sinks.

“You might as well talk to me, since there’s no advantage in keeping quiet,” the man says. His voice seems to float out of the maze, both nowhere and several places all at once.

I don’t want to interact with him, though. I don’t want to get distracted.

I don’t want him inside my head. No more than he already is.

“No? Fine, then,” the voice says. “I’ll just keep up a one-way conversation. That’s how it would have been, anyway. For me, that is. Intellectually.”

ASS… HOLE.

I almost want the guy to appear, just so I can stab his smug little face with my key.

I start walking again. As I do, I scan the ceilings, trying to detect the cameras. I finally see them: they’re little black domes, about two inches across, that jut out from the ceiling. They’re almost invisible in the gloom… and unfortunately, there are a lot of them.

“Circumstances preclude me from telling you my real name, but you can call me Epicurus. Like the philosopher, I’m a man of refined tastes. Unlike him, though, my tastes are somewhat… unusual. Compulsions, you might say. They’ve been entertaining the last few years… although recently, they’ve led me into some very dark territory. Very dark territory indeed.”

The voice is both terrifying in the horrors it implies… and irritating in its arrogant self-regard.

“I pride myself on controlling everything in my world. That’s what I do: control things. Create things. Seize things. Whatever I desire, I get. Whatever I want, I take. That desire – that urge – is always there. Untamable. Uncontrollable. Unquenchable. Undeniable.”

Uninteresting, I want to shout.

“And then, Grant Carlson stumbled across my path,” the voice continues. “And spoiled all my fun.”

I stop in my tracks.

“He hasn’t told you what he did yet, has he?” Epicurus asks. “He’s kept it hidden from you. Like his rooms… his secret passageways…”

My skin crawls. The fact that this guy knows about Grant’s thing for secret passageways is unnerving.

You know… in addition to the absolute terror of being trapped in a dark building with a serial killer.

“Poor, lost little lamb,” the voice mocks me. “He’s been leading you to the slaughter with all his lies…”

All his lies?

“What lies?” I shout, unable to contain myself. What does it matter, anyway? He can see me over the surveillance system.

“Finally, it speaks,” the voice chuckles.

I want to kill him.

“What lies?” I repeat.

“You have no idea what Grant is up to. But I do… because he stepped in the middle of something he shouldn’t have.” The voice suddenly takes on a darker, more menacing tone. “Ask him about the hidden room. Ask him about what he found inside. Ask him about the fire.”

I frown.

How can I ask him if this psycho is trying to kill me?

“Exactly,” the voice says, as though he’s reading my mind. “I’m letting you go, my pretty little thing. Once, and only once. Because you’re going to be my messenger. You’re going to let him know how close I actually am. Ask him if he can feel my breath on his neck. As for you, well… next time we meet will be different. Very different.”

His words send shivers down my back.

“Au revoir, mademoiselle,” the voice purrs.

Suddenly all the lights come back on at once. I hear the elevator ding far away.

I pull out my phone.

Three bars of service.

I start to dial 911 when I get a text – from ‘Grant.’

Don’t call the police – it will ruin the game.

Just run.

Otherwise, I might change my mind.

– Epicurus

For once, I’m not stubborn.

I run for the nearest exit, dash down the stairwell, and burst out into the street moments later, sobbing and shaking. The hardened New Yorkers speedwalking past ignore me completely.

Hodge and the Rolls are nowhere to be seen.

I pull out my phone, stop the voice recording, and save it. Over six minutes long. At least I have something from the terrifying encounter.

Then I dial Grant’s number, hoping I won’t hear that psychopath’s smug, creepy voice.





3





Grant roars up five minutes later in a metallic red Bugatti. I would normally go gaga over it if I weren’t so scared. The twenty people walking by certainly do a double take, though.

Grant jumps out of the car, runs over to me, grabs me by the shoulders, and looks into my eyes. “Are you alright?”

I nod, then burst into tears again as he hugs me tight against his chest.

“You shouldn’t have come,” I sob. “He might be here, waiting for you…”

“He’s not here,” Grant says darkly. “He won’t take me out on the street, not with so many people around. He wants to have his fun.”

I was getting it together until I hear ‘He wants to have his fun.’ Then I break down into sobs again.

“Here… get in the car,” Grant says, opening the passenger side door for me. “We’re going back to the penthouse.”

“We should call the police.”

“No police.”

“But he might be following us.”

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