Beach Blanket Bad Boys – Captivated

Chapter One

She’d really screwed up this time, even more so than usual, and that was saying something. Ella Scott shifted to swipe the hair out of her eyes, but her right wrist caught on the handcuff, rattling the steel, jerking on the tile towel rod that she was cuffed to. With a sigh, she lifted her head and surveyed the situation.Having worked the past straight month without a day off, she’d come to her Baja cottage for a desperately needed weekend to herself. But thanks to her surprise goons, she now stood between the shower and the toilet, handcuffed at chest level to the towel rack, wearing only the towel she’d managed to wrap around herself one-handed, with no key to get free, nothing within reach at all that could help her.

Such was the life of the incurably curious. She’d actually managed to parlay that lifelong curiosity into a career, not as a criminal as her mother had feared, but as an insurance investigator. Except that now, for the umpteenth time, she’d dipped her nosy nose in where it hadn’t been welcome, and here she stood in her least favorite position — that being completely helpless.

She’d been cautioned. Threatened, actually. Told time and time again that if she kept at this case, she wouldn’t like the consequences. Having been warned too many times to remember by other, more unsavory types before, she hadn’t given it a single thought.

Seems maybe she’d been a little premature in that.

But damn, it should have been so easy, a few days off. Some R and R. She’d arrived via plane, then rental car, and had taken a nice swim in the warm Mexican Pacific waves until her muscles quivered before hopping into the shower.

After that she’d planned to lie on the deck and watch the sun set over the ocean and contemplate why when she’d finally found a job she enjoyed that it didn’t satisfy her the way she’d thought it would.

But it’d all been interrupted by two beefy morons who’d hauled her naked and slippery and screaming out of the shower. Luckily for her, they hadn’t been interested in her body, hadn’t been interested in anything other than handcuffing her to the shower rod, still dripping wet. And even then, they’d only cuffed the one hand, promising her to send someone in a few days to free her.

And that’s when she’d known. They weren’t rapists or murderers, but thieves. They’d been from the yacht company she’d been investigating for suspicious loss of property. Two separate multi-million dollar boats had been sunk in the past sixteen months. Her company had found nothing suspicious with the first downed ship, and the insurance had been forced to pay out. Just two weeks ago, in fact.

Then the second boat had gone down for the count in Santa Barbara, and now Ella was closing in on why. Bad drug deals, and a greedy yacht owner wanting it all. She’d been watching their third yacht, the Valeska, all week but had been unable to get aboard because there’d been activity on it.

Now she was due to present her suspicions to the D.A.’s office, soon as she made one more trip to Santa Barbara, where she was going to get on the Valeska come hell or high water.

Clearly the suspects didn’t want her to get to the D.A.’s office, at least not before they skipped town with the money from the insurance from the first boat and any physical evidence. Chances were that had already happened, and they were long gone.

Ella shook her head. She should have taken that job at Target out of college like her mother had wanted. Sure, she looked awful in red, but she’d be willing to bet no one would bother to break and enter her place because of that job, or handcuff her naked to her own tile towel rack.

Unless she wanted them to.

A slight breeze blew in the opened window, breaking the brutal summer heat as the sun sank. Oh God, the sun was sinking, and the severity of her situation sank in. It was Saturday evening. Next week was a long time away. God knew she wouldn’t starve, not with the five extra pounds she’d been carrying around since puberty – okay, ten, damn it. Still, the amount of time looming ahead felt long, and never having been big on self discipline, she was already hungry.

She could reach the shower and the toilet. The sink was across from her, a leg’s length away. Above it was the mirror that assured her she was as frightening looking as she’d imagined, her hair air-dried and a complete frizz bomb, her face not wearing a lick of make-up. Ack. She decided not to look at herself again.

Beneath the toilet was a cabinet, which if she stretched, she could just toe open. A box of tampons, two extra rolls of toilet paper, and a tube of toothpaste. Gee, yum.

She looked out the window. The cottage was isolated, down a long, sinuous stretch of highway surrounded by bush-lined high desert hills, punctuated by dense groves of date palms and citrus trees and little else.

The sunk sank away, the daylight faded, and Ella felt anxiety pit in her stomach. But even stretching her leg out to bionic contortions, she couldn’t reach the light switch.

And the dark came.

She’d spent a good amount of her childhood chasing after her three older brothers, and feeling invincible because of them. She’d wear her blankie as a cape and pretend she was a super hero who could fly through wind and sleet and snow who could do anything.

She didn’t feel so invincible now.

Then came a noise. The front door closing. When had it opened? Heart in her throat, she froze. Or rather her body froze. Her towel did not. It slipped yet again. She grabbed it with her left hand and hastily tucked the corner back between her breasts, her heart tattooing a crazy beat against her ribs.

No other sound, but she could feel someone on the other side of the door.

Listening.

Breathing.

Oh, God. She couldn’t scream, couldn’t even draw air into her lungs.

The handle on the bathroom door began to turn.

Ella stared at it, her life flashing before her eyes. She hadn’t watered her plants. She hadn’t tried sky-diving. She hadn’t reconciled her checking account!

The door creaked open.

She stuffed her uncuffed hand against her mouth to hold back her panicked whimper at what was about to happen to her. What would they tell her family? No one had even known she was coming here, not her parents, her brothers, not even…

“Ella?”

At that low, husky, almost unbearably familiar voice, she squinted into the shadows of the opened door, thinking oh no. No, no, no, no, no.

But indeed, the form was tall, wide in the shoulders, narrow in the hip, the body built like the long distance swimmer he used to be. “James?”

The shadow stepped into the bathroom and came to an abrupt halt. Not a shadow at all but the one man she hadn’t wanted to see her like this, the one man she hadn’t wanted to see period.

Her mouth-watering, sexy, break-her-heart-and-stomp-on-it husband.

Make that almost ex-husband.