Tonia thought nothing could be worse than being the sole witness to a brutal homicide -- until the man she helped put behind bars escaped. She knew few people had taken her testimony seriously. A former exotic dancer who had been on her own since sixteen didn't exactly exude credibility, even if she had worked her way out of the gutter. No matter what a person did, certain people refused to concentrate on anything but the past.
During the entire messy situation, she'd trusted one cop. One. Now he'd been injured in the line of duty and would be hospitalized for the next several weeks. Tonia had a gut feeling that with the murderer on the loose, she wouldn't last several weeks. After he'd been sentenced, the bastard had sworn Tonia would "taste his blade."
She shuddered. His threat terrified her because she'd seen firsthand the result of his fiendish work. How could a person emanate such evil? When she thought about the bloody mess that night in the alley, she could scarcely believe any human had committed such a crime. Even animals killed swiftly and only to survive. There was no reason for what he'd done, except his malevolent pleasure.
Now he was on the loose and no doubt searching for her. She didn't trust anyone to keep her safe, and she had more than just herself to worry about. Her presence at the shelter where she worked put everyone in danger. The women there had enough trouble of their own without the threat of a psychotic killer bursting in at any time.
Willy the Carver wouldn't be content with simply murdering her. He'd relish a bloodbath with those closest to her.
The ad for a housekeeper to work for a scientist conducting research on a private island seemed like a godsend. Willy the Carver would never find her there. To her surprise, Dr. Juan Gino Perez had hired her after only a few brief questions.
Now she sat in the back of a cab on her way to the airport where Dr. Perez's plane would pick her up. She knew traveling to a private island to work for a stranger was incredibly risky, but not as risky as waiting for a known homicidal maniac to slaughter her.
Sighing, she glanced at her bare upper arm, left exposed by her camisole top. Inked upon her skin was a man with two faces. One face was handsome and almost serene. The other was primitive, with heavy facial hair and animal-like teeth.
On New Year's Eve she'd visited a tattoo artist who had opened a shop not far from the shelter. Tonia had wanted a tattoo, but wasn't quite certain what to get. According to rumor, this particular artist took pride in knowing exactly what sort of tattoo a person should have. Some believed the woman had a magical gift.
Tonia had taken the chance and while the tattoo had unsettled her at first, she had grown to appreciate it. The artist had explained that it signified change, and now Tonia realized how well the tattoo suited her. She'd already had so many major changes in her life. This move to the island was just one more.
Before leaving the cab, she pulled on a light sweater and paid the driver. Dr. Perez's personal assistant, Dave, who piloted the private plane, approached her. He stood about her height, five foot five. Slim, yet wiry beneath his simple black pants and T-shirt, he gazed at her with calm, slanted eyes of deep brown. Despite his unimposing height, he exuded a calm confidence that was almost intimidating. He wore his long sable hair bound at his nape, had tiny gold hoop earrings in both ears and a simple gold cross around his neck.
"Good day, Ms. Jones," he said in a soft, clear voice and bowed his head. "I'm Dave. We spoke on the phone. The doctor is awaiting us, so if you're ready we'll leave now."
Tonia also bowed her head and offered a smile. "That sounds fine." He took her suitcase and set a swift pace toward the plane.
Almost too soon they arrived at the island. Though she knew only the doctor and his assistant lived there, the solitude didn't hit her until they landed. The only buildings in sight were Dr. Perez's mansion, a barn, and what appeared to be a storage house.
From the burgundy walls to the stone floor, the house screamed brooding masculinity. An archway to the left opened to an equally dark living room. On the right were two closed doors and straight ahead a long staircase at the top of which hung a painting of a nighttime jungle. "Juan!" Dave called. "We're here."
Several moments passed before the door nearest to Tonia opened.
Dr. Perez was nothing like she'd expected. Tall and lean, he had a sinewy body exposed to his advantage in dark green cargo pants and a chocolate brown tank top. The sharply defined muscles of his torso indicated a strong interest in fitness. Tattoos covered both his arms from shoulder to wrist. In the lobe of one ear rested a silver stud. In the same ear he had a helix piercing with a silver hoop. The outline of his nipples against the snug tank indicated they were pierced as well. His head was shaved smooth and he wore a neatly trimmed light brown goatee. At first glance he looked rather savage, but his angular features were actually refined. The uncommon beauty of his almond-shaped blue eyes nearly took her breath away. She'd never seen such long, thick lashes or such serenity in a man's eyes.
Dave made a polite introduction, but neither she nor the doctor paid much attention to him. They stared at each other, as if drawn by an unnamed force.
Tonia's heart skipped a beat. She'd never felt like this before. With her history, she'd become jaded about men, but in Juan's presence she felt like a girl again.
Once she recovered from her initial surprise and attraction, it struck her that he didn't look like a research scientist, or at least what she thought one should look like. Though she tried not to stereotype, she couldn't help feeling wary.
What if he wasn't who he said he was? She had verified that he was a licensed doctor, but that didn't mean he was safe. After all, Willy the Carver had worked as a computer programmer by day. Still, he hadn't looked unusual. His "normal" appearance had put his victims at ease before he lured them in for the kill.
"Welcome, Tonia," Juan said, offering her his hand. Like the rest of him, his hand was long and slender, but also quite large. It swallowed hers, his grip snug and warm and his palms calloused. "Dave will show you to your room and explain your duties. You don't have to start until tomorrow. Use today to acclimate yourself to our island. Lunch is in an hour."
"Thank you," she said. Despite his soft, tranquil voice, something about him unsettled her. Though he had no problem making direct eye contact, she couldn't read his expression.
"Please excuse me. I have work to do in the lab." He stepped through the door from which he'd come, but before closing it, he glanced at her. His brow furrowed the slightest bit before his expression turned serene again, then he disappeared behind the door.
Dave guided her upstairs and showed her to a spacious bedroom with a sitting area and a breakfast table in front of a picture window with an ocean view. "As you can see, the door can be locked from the inside," he said, gesturing toward three serious-looking deadbolts. The door also had a peephole, as one might find on a front door. Strange. "We don't have many rules here, but we do ask you to use the bolts at night."
A new knot of fear formed in her gut, but she forced a smile and asked, "Why? Am I in danger?"
"Sometimes wild animals are brought here for research purposes. Should one happen to escape, you could be in serious danger."
Her smile faded. "I see."
"Sometimes the doctor or I might ask that you stay in your room with the door locked. When we do, it's important that you heed us."
"No problem." Tonia wondered again if coming here hadn't been a mistake. Then she thought about Willy the Carver and knew she had to give this place a chance.
Next Dave gave her a tour of the house and explained her duties. The basement, where Juan's lab was located, was off limits. She would only be required to vacuum and dust his and Dave's rooms once a week. Her job mostly entailed light cleaning and cooking meals. Perks included use of Juan's extensive home gym and vast library as well as lots of free time to sunbathe on the private beach. He also offered good pay.
With the tour over, she returned to her room and freshened up in the adjoining bath, then rested for a short time on the big, comfortable bed. She couldn't help imagining sharing this bed with Juan. The man's unusual appearance and sinewy body turned her on so much that she wriggled a bit. Her nipples tightened and clit ached when she pictured him looming above her, his chiseled lips hovering over hers and those gorgeous blue eyes gleaming with lust.
She closed her eyes and shook her head. Off limits. He was the boss.