Alpha Billionaire Taboo Prison Break: A Contemporary Romance

Alpha Billionaire Taboo Prison Break

 

A Contemporary Romance

 

By Veronica Vaughn

 

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1.

 

The day my stepdad broke out of prison, I paid
him a visit just like any other week.

I remember sitting on the edge of a broken
chair, facing a window of bulletproof glass. The window was smudged from a
hundred desperate handprints. That was my stepdad looking back at me, no doubt
about it. But there was a hardness to Eli I didn’t remember from before.
Getting locked up changed him way too fast.

It had been what, all of six months? Going on
seven?

The man sitting across from me looked strange
and familiar at the same time. His body was all bulk, broad shoulders and hard
angles, his arms covered in prison tattoos. Eli held the phone to his ear and
barked orders in that scratchy growl of his. I was only half listening. I mean
,
we’d been over the plan a thousand times.

Stealing another glance, I couldn’t help but
notice the heft of Eli’s arms and chest, the result of too much free time
lifting weights in the prison yard. His muscles rippled and flexed, threatening
to tear through the fabric of his orange jumpsuit.

Sitting across from Eli, it drove me crazy that
a bunch of manmade barriers separated me from him. I wished Eli would just
smash the glass, climb through the wreckage and come home with me. Of course
that would never work.

We had a better plan.

I kept reminding myself to be patient, to wait
for tonight.

Feeling restless, I had a look around the room
at the other visitors. Everyone was sitting in creaky chairs like mine,
surrounded by dirty white walls. I saw wives and girlfriends, mothers and
grandmothers, and way too many unruly kids. Sucking on cheap candy from the
commissary, the little brats were so hopped up they either couldn’t or wouldn’t
sit down and shut up for half a second.

I recognized several of the women from my
previous visits. We all traveled from near or far to remind our loved ones they
are not forgotten. The sad part was, without even trying to, we also reminded
our men that life on the outside goes on without them. Kids grow up. Lovers
grow apart.

Not me and
Eli,
though.
I would never abandon the man who raised me. Eli always treated me like his own
daughter, even though we’re not
kin
.
Even after Mama was gone, and it was just him and me.

We always stick together, Eli and me.

One of the ceiling lights made a crackling sound
and flickered on. The harsh light cast a glare on the window, showing my
reflection in the glass. I swept back my long, brown hair and admired my best
feature, my stormy gray eyes.

I’m not a model or anything, but I always did to
dress up for my visits with Eli. Today I was wearing a black
halter
top
, tight jeans and two-inch heels.

My body was a little on the curvy side, and I
had the kind of figure that most guys don’t seem to notice. I was a cheerleader
in high school, but the only reason I made the squad was because the petite
girls needed someone else whose shoulders they could stand on. That period of
my life felt like such a long time ago.

Eli rapped the glass with his knuckle. The harsh
sound drew me out of my daydream, sending me back to reality.

“Hey!” Eli growled. “Over here, Avery. Focus.”

“I’m listening,” I lied.

Eli had much darker eyes than mine. They were
glaring at me with such
intensity,
I couldn’t help but
look down, breaking eye contact with him. A big part of me missed the old Eli,
the kind and sweet man who gave me a home—the man I learned to call my
father. But
a secret part of me was intrigued by the new Eli
,
too.

Those dark eyes, that prominent jawline covered
in scruff.
And the tattoos.
My god, why did he get
those tattoos? Whoever inked Eli did him no favors. The prison tats covered
both of his arms like inky sleeves, but the designs were nowhere near
professional.

Between the muscles and the tattoos, to look at
Eli you’d never guess he used to be a venture capitalist. That he was a
billionaire, right up until less than a year ago.

Now Eli looked like the villain in a big dumb
action movie. Which was funny to me, since Eli was the smartest man I knew. If
you believe what the police, prosecutors, judge and a jury of his peers had to
say
,
then Eli was also the most dangerous man I ever
met.

Tonight we were going to find out just how
smart—and just how dangerous—Eli really was.

I knew it was wrong, but the way Eli looked at
me sometimes, I might have been hoping for a little more.

2.

 

Eli’s troubles had begun during my senior year
at Shiloh High School. On graduation night, as I walked across the stage, I
glanced at the crowd and found Eli standing against the back wall. He was
beaming with pride. But I couldn’t help but also notice a look of sadness and
resignation in his eyes. I felt the same way. Soon he would be taken away from
me.

Instead of going out and partying with my
friends, I went straight home following the ceremony. I didn’t care about the
classmates I would probably never see again. I could only think of Eli.

Of course, this was before the government seized
all of Eli’s property. We were still living in the immaculately preserved
Georgian mansion that Eli had inherited from his parents. His parents had
inherited the estate from their parents, back through several generations to
his great-great-great grandfather, Buford B. Rutherford, a decorated Civil War
general and two-term governor of the Virginia commonwealth.

Thousands of slaves once toiled in tobacco
fields surrounding the mansion that General Rutherford built in Shiloh. At one
time, the
Rutherfords
owned the largest tobacco
company in America. When Eli took control of the family fortune, he cut all
ties to the tobacco industry, re-investing in more lucrative and less
problematic markets.

Eli had also transformed the farmland into a
lush private park. When I was a little girl and Eli was courting my mama, I
loved nothing more than to walk the winding trails of the Rutherford estate.
Eli and Mama walked so slowly, I grew impatient and skipped ahead, helping
myself to apples, cherries and plums from the fruit trees that lined our path.

Then we came to Eli’s personal nine-hole golf
course. He had designed and built it to run alongside the green river that ran
through the family’s estate.

“Will you teach me, Eli?” I asked.

“Sure thing, kid,” he said. “Just as soon as
your
mother and I come back from our honeymoon.”

Eli made good on his promise, and it became one of
our little rituals—a round of golf in the cool mornings before work and
school.

Mama never joined us. She didn’t care for
sports. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, though, with long
auburn hair, full red lips and icy blue eyes.

Mama was so pretty and
proper,
you almost had to tiptoe around her to keep from offending her Old South
sensibilities. I’ll never forget the time I made the mistake of tracking muddy
footprints up the stairs of our wraparound porch. Not even mud inside the
house—just a few brown footprints on the white-painted porch. I had
caught a bullfrog in one of the smaller creeks on our land. In my excitement I
had rushed home to show my prize to our butler, Maurice.

“Maurice!” I cried, holding the bullfrog in both
hands. I squeezed it by the belly, its long hind legs dangling and swinging as
I raced up the steps. “Maurice, come look!”

The door opened and I froze in my tracks. It was
Mama. The way she looked at me, I wished I could disappear under the porch.

“What’s the meaning of this?” she asked.

“Nothing, Mama,” I replied. “I just thought
Maurice would like to see this frog of mine.”

“Maurice is ironing the linens. You are not to
disturb him.”

“Yes, Mama.”

“How would you like it if he disturbed you while
you were playing or doing your homework?”

Truth was, I’d be thrilled for Maurice to
interrupt me when I was doing my homework. But I couldn’t admit that to Mama.

“I wouldn’t like it one bit,” I lied.

“But you did disturb him. Now Maurice will have
to put aside his ironing to mop up this mess you made. You have terribly
inconvenienced him. Even worse, now he must take time out from his busy day to
punish you.”

Mama cracked open
the heavy front door.

“Maurice?” she called. “Maurice? Come down here
this instant.”

Maurice was a sad-eyed black man in a secondhand
tuxedo. He knew not to keep Mama waiting. Seconds after she called his name, he
was trotting out the front door.

“Oh, there you are,” she said. “Maurice, escort
Avery to the cherry orchard and let her pick a switch. Then hurry right back,
you here? I don’t have all day.”

“Come along, little one,” Maurice said, taking
me by the arm and guiding me down the steps.

After we crossed the lawn, he took the bullfrog
out of my hands and placed him on the grass. “Now let’s get this over with.
Find the smallest limb you can.”

I pointed to one.

“Hmm, that one might sting something awful.
Here, how about this little one over here? It might not leave such a mark.”

I was trying not to cry as I imagined the
spanking I was about to get. I nodded my head through the tears, and Maurice
snipped it with his pocketknife. When we turned for the long walk back to the
porch, Mama was standing there. She was tapping one foot, but every other bone
in her body was stiff and silent as it could be. Mama watched our every move
with a look of cool indifference.

“Swat her five times, Maurice,” Mama instructed.
“Then clean up this mess before the mud has a chance to dry.”

Then Mama turned to me, shook her head and
frowned.

“I never dreamed you’d be such a troublemaker,
Avery. Terminating the pregnancy was a real option, you know. But I carried you
through to term. And this is my reward?”

Maurice patted my shoulder kindly. I bent over
and put my hands on my knees, waiting for him to strike. The
switch
hit
the backs of my thighs. I flinched at the stinging pain, clenching
my teeth to keep from crying out. When the switch landed on my skin for the
fifth time, I tumbled forward and fell onto the grass. I heard the door shut
and knew Mama had re-entered the house.

“Here, Miss Avery,” Maurice said as he helped me
to my feet. “Let’s get you out of those muddy shoes and up to your wash room so
you can tidy yourself up a smidge.”

My thighs were smarting from the lashes, but I
had known worse pain from Mama. I was grateful that Maurice had gone easy on
me.

Eli had flown to New York for the day to see
about his investments. When he got home that night I made sure I was wearing a
short dress, and I made sure to twirl in front of him so he would notice the
red marks on the backs of my legs. When I told him about my punishment I saw
anger flash in his eyes. He excused himself. A moment later I heard his muffled
shouts in another room as my stepfather lay into Mama for mistreating me.

“She’s a child, Patricia,” Eli shouted.
“Children make messes. What about that don’t you understand?”

“You love her more than me,” Mama sniffed.

“She’s my daughter,” he answered. “Of course I
love her. But I pray she never grows up to be as twisted and spiteful as you.
Don’t forget, Patricia. That girl is the only reason I haven’t tossed you out
like yesterday’s slops.”

I smiled to myself as I listened to my
stepfather. He had called me his daughter, a distinction that filled me with
pride and joy. I had never known my own father. He was a topic of conversation
that was strictly off limits.

The way Eli scolded
Mama,
I knew it would be a long time before she dared to have me whipped again.
Unfortunately she found more subtle ways to torture me. As I grew into a young
lady, Mama and I waged a cold war for control of my stepfather’s affection. The
more I won, the more Mama retreated into resentment, spa treatments, the
accumulation of uncomfortable shoes, and tall pours of her favorite wines.

By the time I was in high school, Mama’s youth
had slipped away, and she was no longer the world-class beauty that I
remembered from my childhood. She turned to plastic surgery in a last-ditch
effort to tighten her sagging skin. The collagen injections were supposed to
fill out her thin lips. But the operations turned her into a tight-faced
nightmare. Eli never said a word, but he didn’t have to. I saw the way he
turned from her in disgust.

“I’m not paying for your disfigurement, woman.”

“What do you care?” Mama hissed. “You don’t need
the money. You have barely looked at me in years. Let me have this one thing
for myself.”

“One thing? Patricia, I have given you
everything.”

“You stole my best years. I hate you. I hate
both of you.”

Mama swiveled and stared me down.

“You ungrateful little bitch. I’m your mother.
Your own mother! Someday you and your father will pay for ruining my life. I
was courted by dozens of suitors. Now … now I’m all alone in this enormous
house, surrounded by people who despise me.”

“Shut your mouth, Patricia,” Eli said. “Shut
your mouth, or leave this instant.”

Mother fled. Later, when she sent for her
things, we learned she had not moved far. She was situated in one of the guest
cottages on the far bank of the river that flowed through our estate.

She did not come back to the mansion. We saw her
occasionally when Eli and I were playing golf on our side of the river, but
Mama never acknowledged us in any way. I begged Eli to cancel her credit cards
and divorce her ass, but he refused, not wanting to put me through a bitter
custody battle.

“When you’re eighteen,” he promised, “and your
mother can no longer hold any of this over your head. That’s when we’ll
consider a change.”

I was never interested in the immature boys at
school.
With just me and Eli living in the Rutherford
mansion,
I liked to pretend that he was my husband, and I was his wife.
Our ordeal with Mama had only brought him and me closer together.

Although I thought of Eli as my dad, I had eyes
that worked just as well as the next person’s. I couldn’t ignore the fact that
Eli was the most handsome man I had ever seen. It was silly to think about, but
I had this fantasy that he would divorce Mama as soon as I was a legal adult,
and then it would just be him and me from then on.

Sometimes, when I was alone in my bed, my
thoughts would drift to other things, things that made me blush when I saw my
stepfather the next morning.

“What?” he’d ask, looking puzzled, before
returning his attention to the Wall Street Journal and the breakfast that
Maurice had prepared.

Then, one night, Mama’s cottage caught fire. I
had been out with friends. Firefighters were unable to save the structure, and
the cottage was a total loss.

My mama’s body never found, although a pair of
investigators from the fire marshal’s office did identify the traces of
gasoline used to accelerate the blaze around the perimeter of the home. When
the smoke cleared out of the kitchen, they found something the fire could not
erase—Mama’s own blood.

Her vital fluid had spilled across the kitchen
floor just minutes before the fire began. Most of the blood had boiled away
from the intense heat, but some had seeped into the grouting of the kitchen
tile, where it survived the flames.

Inconvenient clues were uncovered. Eli was the
only person at home on the night of the fire. No one else even had access to
the gated property. When the investigators learned that Eli had recently
liquidated half of his family fortune, they had enough evidence to charge him
with first-degree murder in the death of his wife.

Our neighbors were titillated by the tawdry
details breathlessly reported on the front page of the local newspaper every
morning. Because of such extreme publicity, the prosecution rushed to take the
case to trial. They would have no problem finding a jury willing to convict Eli
and sentence him to life in prison, no possibility of parole.

I felt like the only person in the world who
believed Eli was innocent. With two billion dollars missing and the rest of the
fortune used to cover his bail, Eli was unable to afford his own lawyer. Not
even the court-appointed attorney pretended to think my stepdad had a chance of
beating the charges.

When I went home after my graduation ceremony, I
found Eli sitting at the kitchen table. His suit jacket was thrown over the
back of a chair, and his expensive-looking tie was loosened at his neck. He
looked so handsome in that
moment,
it took me a second
to notice the tray of delicious-looking cupcakes on the table.

“You baked?” I asked, incredulous. “You never
cooked a thing in your life.”

Eli smiled and shrugged. “First time for
everything,” he said. “Now that Maurice isn’t around to cook for us, I had to
learn a few new tricks to keep you happy. These are your favorite, right?
Cream cheese frosting?
And they’re not half bad if I say so
myself.”

I grabbed one closest to me and tasted the
glorious frosting, then peeled the paper and nibbled. He was right; the cupcake
was yummy.

“Well, I am shocked,” I said, licking a daub of
frosting from my finger. “You’re a natural baker, Daddy.”

“I try,” he said.

“I’m serious, though,” I said between bites.
“You could seriously open a bakery if you weren’t—”

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