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Redeemed: (McIntyre Security Protectors Series - Book 1) by April Wilson (1)

Chapter 1

Annie Elliot, 2004
Senior year in high school

Jake leans close to me in study hall on a Friday morning, nudging my shoulder playfully as his lips graze my ear. “Let’s go away for the weekend,” he whispers, making me shiver. “Just the two of us.”

I shoot him a cautious side glance, keeping one eye on our teacher, Mrs. Bates, who’s deeply engrossed in a romance novel. “Go where?” I mouth back to him.

“To my dad’s cabin in Harbor Springs.”

“Are you crazy? You know my parents would never let me—”

“Tell them you’re spending the night at Stacy’s. They’ll never know.” His eyes glitter with a challenge. “Come on, Elliot, say yes. I dare you.”

I roll my eyes at the pouty expression on my boyfriend’s handsome face and find myself fighting a grin. I’m so tempted to say yes. The idea of spending a whole night alone with him is temptation beyond belief. With my parents breathing down my neck all the time, Jake and I don’t get a whole lot of alone time, so every hour we have to ourselves is precious. A night away, alone with him? I can’t even imagine.

He reaches beneath the table and squeezes my thigh. “I’ll tell my parents I’m spending the night with Cameron.”

“But I have a ton of homework this weekend,” I whisper, thinking of the many reasons why I shouldn’t agree to this crazy scheme, starting with the fact that my parents would kill me if they found out. “And I have my calculus exam to study for.”

He shakes his head. “Not a problem. You can do your homework and study all you want. I won’t interfere—I promise.”

I sigh, so torn between what I want to do and what I know I should do. “Jake….”

My parents think Jake is a bad influence on me. And to be honest, they’re right—he is a bad influence. He’s always talking me into doing things that will get one or both of us in big trouble. But I’ve also never been happier in my life. He makes the ordinary seem extraordinary.

He lays his head on my shoulder, gazing up at me with these big puppy dog eyes. “Please? Think of all the back rubs I’ll be able to give you.”

I am such a sucker for back rubs. Just the thought of his hands on my body makes me shiver with anticipation. “Okay!” I whisper back. “I’ll do it.”

He gives me a devastatingly handsome smile, his dark eyes lighting up. “I’ll pick you up tomorrow morning at ten o’clock.”

The class bell rings, signaling the end of our study hall period. This is the only class period we have together. All of my courses are advanced placement pre-college courses, and Jake’s classes—well, academics aren’t really his strong suit. He’s more a man of action. He struggles a lot with academics, but on the football field… he’s a god. His lack of interest in school is one of the things my parents dislike about him, but I don’t care that academics aren’t his thing. I love him anyway, for who he is. My parents, on the other hand, aren’t quite so forgiving. 

Jake walks me to my locker—actually it’s our locker now. We decided to share a locker so that we’d have more time together during the school day. As usual, he carries my heavy textbooks along with his own. I’m not oblivious to all the longing glances he gets in the hallway. At over six feet tall with muscles that won’t quit, he’s the epitome of tall, dark, and handsome, and he stands out in any crowd. The girls can’t help following him with their eyes. I’m used to it by now, and it doesn’t bother me because I know he’s not returning their come-hither stares.

No, for some completely unfathomable reason, my hot-shot boyfriend has eyes only for me. Go figure.

Jake stands guard like a dark sentinel as I quickly work the combination lock and open the locker door. He shelves the textbooks in his arms and pulls out the ones we need for our next classes. He hands me my ancient civ textbook, along with my class notebook. Then he grabs his remedial math book.

After closing the locker door, he glances around to make sure the coast is clear—that is, there are no teachers within sight—and then he kisses me in front of a dozen pairs of watchful eyes, a full, on-the-lips kiss that makes my head spin. Wicked boy.

“I’ll see you after class,” he says, giving me a gentle push in the direction of my next class. “Go kick some ass, Elliot.”

Elliot. Somehow, my last name became his favorite nickname for me. When he calls me that, I go weak in the knees. With a stupid, sappy grin on my face, I head to my next class, ignoring the snide looks I get from some of the girls on the cheerleading squad as they ogle my boyfriend.

The popular girls resent me for stealing the football quarterback. Apparently, he’s supposed to be dating hot girls, not a nerdy, introverted bookworm like me. They don’t get the attraction. Honestly, I don’t get it either. I often wonder what he sees in me. I mean, he could date any girl he wanted, and for some crazy reason, he wants me.

Jake and I buck all the stereotypes, but we don’t care because we’re happy together. Ridiculously happy.

I can’t help grinning all the way to class.

* * *

When Jake drives me home from school that day, my mother ambushes me at the front door with a sour expression on her face. She watches with obvious disapproval as Jake drives away in his late-model Ford pick-up truck.

“I wish you wouldn’t let that boy drive you home from school,” she says. “He’s so reckless. You’d be much better off riding the school bus, not in that awful death trap he drives.”

“Mom.” I sigh, tired of this old argument. “Jake is a very good driver. His truck may be old, but it’s not a death trap. He takes very good care of it. You have nothing to worry about.”

She gives me a look that makes it perfectly clear that she doesn’t believe me for one second. Then, her expression transforms from sour to pleased as she hands me a fancy white envelope. She eyes me expectantly as I glance down at the envelope, which is addressed to me. The words Harvard University are embossed in the top left corner, along with the address of the most prestigious university in the country. My heart starts pounding, and I can barely hear my mother talking over the roaring sound in my ears.

Oh, my God, this is it! I applied months ago to Harvard, as well as to another half-dozen top universities in the country, including Yale, Stanford, and Princeton. I’ve received acceptance letters from everywhere I applied, as well as scholarship offers. Except for Harvard. I haven’t heard anything from them yet… until now.

“Well, hurry up and open it!” my mother says, practically ringing her hands in anticipation.

I stare at the envelope, suddenly afraid to open it. I’m nervous, yes. Harvard’s acceptance rate is just a little over five percent, so the chances of any one person getting accepted aren’t that good. But more than that, I’m not sure I want to go to Harvard any more. It would mean moving eight hundred and forty miles away from my home in Chicago to Massachusetts. Eight hundred and forty miles away from Jake.

Suddenly, I feel sick.

“What are you waiting for, Anne?” my mother says, clearly losing her patience. “Open it!”

It’s always been my dream to attend Harvard, ever since I was a little girl. My father is a Harvard alumnus. He majored in business and economics, and now he has his own accounting firm in Chicago. I take after my dad, I guess, in that I love numbers too. I love equations and calculations. It’s always been my dream to go to Harvard and then come back to Chicago to work in my father’s firm. But now… I’m not so sure. So much as changed since I met Jake. Going to Harvard would just take me away from him. He’s sort of my dream now. Shoot, in the past year, he’s become everything to me. He’s not just my boyfriend… he’s my best friend. The idea of attending Harvard pales into comparison to that.

“For crying out loud,” my mother says, grabbing the envelope from me. “I’ll do it!”

She opens the envelope and pulls out a matching sheet of crisp linen paper. As she scans the contents of the letter, her lips curve in a satisfied smile. I know what that smile means. My stomach drops like a stone.

“I knew you could do it!” she says, hugging that letter to her chest.

She hands me the letter, which is a bit wrinkled now, and I glance at it briefly, barely registering more than the words Dear Anne Elliot and Congratulations. The old me would have been ecstatic at the news. The new me isn’t.

“I have to call your father!” Mom says, rushing to the library to grab the landline. “Go get ready, Anne! We’re going out tonight to celebrate!”

Celebrate? But I haven’t even decided where I’m going to college. What I really want to do is stay here and go to University of Chicago. It’s a fine school too.

I don’t feel like celebrating. “I have homework, Mom.”

“Fine. You can work on your homework until your father gets home. But be sure to put on a nice dress because we’re going to the club tonight for dinner.”

As I head up the stairs, my mind starts racing. Harvard. My life-long dream come true—or at least it used to be.

Now it feels more like a nightmare.

* * *

Saturday morning, I’m sitting on the front steps of my house five minutes before ten, my backpack filled with a change of clothes and my toiletries. My dad is golfing at the club, and my mother went to brunch with her friends, most likely for the purposes of bragging about my acceptance and scholarship offer from Harvard. I told my parents I was spending the night at my friend Stacy’s house. Still in euphoria over my Harvard acceptance news, they didn’t bat an eye.

Right on time, Jake pulls up the circular drive, to the front of the house, and parks his slightly battered pick-up truck. He hops out of the truck and meets me halfway, swinging me up into his arms and off the ground as he nuzzles my neck.

“Hey, babe,” he says, setting me down gently and leaning down for a kiss. “Did you miss me?”

His smile is infectious, despite my anxious mood. “Hi. Yes, I missed you.”

He looks at me, frowning as he cocks his head slightly as if I’m a puzzle he needs to figure out. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” I shake my head, hoping he believes me. But I’m a terrible liar.

He gives me a look. “Come on, Elliot. I can tell when something’s wrong. Spill it.”

“It’s nothing, really. Let’s go before I get cold feet and change my mind.”

Jake gives me a look that says he doesn’t believe me, but he’ll roll with it for now. Then he opens the front passenger door and lifts me up onto the seat. He stows my backpack on the floor in front of me.

“How far is it to your dad’s cabin?” I say, when he puts the truck in gear and pulls out of the driveway.

“Two hours. Sit back and relax, baby. Enjoy the ride.”

He’s clearly happy about our little trip, so I paste a smile on my face too. Not wanting to spoil our overnight trip, I shove the thought of Harvard to the back of my mind and try to forget it.

He reaches for the radio dial, then hesitates as he looks at me. “Do you want to listen to music?”

“Sure.”

He switches on the radio to a popular station, then reaches for my hand. His big hand is warm and comforting, and we lace our fingers together and rest our hands on my thigh.

“There’s a little grocery store right on the edge of town,” he says. “We’ll pick up food and snacks and drinks. I’ll grill some burgers on the back porch for us tonight, and we can make ‘smores at the campfire.”

“That sounds perfect. Thank you.”

“Anything you want, babe,” he says, bringing the back of my hand to his mouth for a kiss. He gives me a sly grin. “I also brought a brand-new box of condoms, and I hope to use every one of them this weekend.”

“That’s pretty optimistic,” I say, laughing.

He kisses my hand once more, the feel of his lips on my skin sending shivers down my spine. I’m both nervous and excited about spending the night alone with him. It won’t be our first time together. We’ve had sex before, but it’ll be nice to do it in a real bed for once. It would be nice to have a little privacy so we can relax and not have to watch over our shoulders all the time.

“Are you sure everything’s okay?” he asks me, his brow furrowing with concern.

I smile. “Yes, I’m sure. I’m just thinking about my calculus exam Monday. That’s all.”

He squeezes my hand. “Don’t worry, you’ll do great. You’re my beautiful, smart, brainiac girlfriend, and I love that about you. I have absolutely no doubt you’ll ace that exam.”

* * *

After a quick stop at the little grocery store for food and snacks, we drive the rest of the way through the small rural town to his father’s cabin, which sits far back from the road in a clearing in the woods. We’re all alone out here, surrounded by nothing but trees and birds and squirrels. The cabin is small, rather rustic, with a quaint wrap-around porch. It’s perfect.

Jake jumps out of the truck and comes around to open my door, lifting me out. Instead of putting me on the ground, he puts me over his shoulder, making me squeal as he carries me across the yard and up the porch steps.

“Home sweet home,” he says, unlocking the wooden door and carrying me inside.

It’s cool and dark inside the cabin, which smells a little musty after being closed up for a while.

“Why don’t you open the windows to get some fresh air in here while I carry in our bags and the groceries. Have a look around. There are two bedrooms. Pick one for us.”

While he goes outside to get our things, I walk through the small, barebones structure. Besides a small living room with a stone fireplace, there’s a kitchen, two bedrooms, and a bathroom. I can see through the rear windows that there’s another porch on the back of the house.

The two bedrooms are identical, each with a double bed flanked by a pair of nightstands, a chair, and a small closet. I’m standing just inside the back bedroom when Jake walks past me and deposits our bags on the bed. “Is this room okay with you?” he says.

“Sure.”

He pauses briefly on his way out to give me a quick kiss. “I’ll bring in the groceries. Why don’t you unpack, then get started on your homework while I go out back and chop some wood for the fire.”

As I watch him walk away, I’m struck by how domestic this is. Just the two of us, away on a trip. This could almost be our honeymoon. The thought puts a smile on my face, and I feel the beginnings of butterflies stirring in my stomach. Tonight is a rehearsal for our honeymoon night.

We put the groceries away together, and then I sit at a picnic table on the back porch and do my homework while he splits logs out in the yard. I feel so achingly at peace watching him working in the yard while I do my homework.

He takes his shirt off, wielding that ax bare chested, creating quite a distraction. He’s dressed in jeans and hiking boots, his upper torso gleaming in the sun as he swings the ax with tremendous force, his arm muscles bunching and releasing with each movement.

After splitting an impressive stack of logs—certainly more than we can use in a twenty-four-hour period—he stops to take a break, wiping his sweaty face on a towel before he guzzles a bottle of water. At eighteen years of age, he’s more man than boy. His chest and arms are sculptured muscles, and the dark hair on his chest arrows down temptingly to disappear beneath the waistband of his jeans.

He catches me watching him and gives me a smile.

I smile back and then force myself to return to what I’m supposed to be doing. Good grief, how can I focus on schoolwork when he’s walking around half-naked?

By late afternoon, my stomach is starting to growl.

Jake walks up onto the porch and leans across the picnic table to kiss me. “Sorry, I’m a sweaty mess,” he says. “I’ll grab a quick shower, and then I’ll put the burgers on the grill. You getting hungry?”

I nod, thinking I’m hungry all right, and not just for food. “Starved.”

“Good. Be right back.”

I practice for my calculus exam while he puts the food on the grill for us. It’s so much fun watching him prepare our supper while I solve math equations. I can almost picture us in the future… he’ll be outside mowing the grass, while I’m helping our kids with their homework.

While the burgers are cooking, he sits beside me at the picnic table, looking ridiculously sexy in a pair of ripped jeans and a sleeveless T-shirt. He hands me a cold bottle of Pepsi while he chugs a beer he’d brought—or rather, stolen—from home.

For several minutes, he watches me solve differential equations. “I have absolutely no idea what you’re doing,” he says, shaking his head. He tugs on my ponytail, then traces the shape of my ear with a gentle fingertip. “I love how smart you are. They say kids inherit their intelligence from their mothers. I hope that’s right, because then our kids will be geniuses.”

I smile as he kisses me. He really means it. He is proud of me. I’m in running to be this year’s class valedictorian, and Jake says he gets a kick out of the fact that he’s dating possibly the smartest girl in our senior class.

“Ready to take a break?” he says. “Dinner’s ready.”

I lay down my pencil and close my math book. “Yes, thank you. It smells delicious, and I’m starving.”

* * *

That night we lie on the sofa together, the cabin dark except for the flickering light coming from the fireplace. We put a movie on, but pretty soon the movie is long forgotten as we lose ourselves in each other.

My shorts and PJ top end up quickly on the floor, as does Jake’s shorts and T-shirt. He slides his hand beneath the waistband of my panties, teasing me as his fingers slowly glide between my legs.

When his finger touches my opening, I gasp, arching my back.

“God, baby, you’re so wet,” he says with a groan.

Even though we’re alone, we whisper to each other out of habit, so used to having to sneak around for some alone time.

His finger slides between the lips of my sex, and I whimper and tremble beneath his touch. When he kisses me, his mouth is hot and demanding, and he greedily swallows the high-pitched sounds coming out of me. Before long, my panties end up on the floor too.

“Bed,” he says, standing and lifting me into his arms.

He carries me to the back bedroom and lays me down on fresh, clean sheets. I watch him dig a box of condoms out of his duffle bag, setting it on the nightstand within easy reach. Then he grins at me as he crawls onto the bed, between my legs, using his broad shoulders to wedge my thighs apart so he can settle between them.

For what seems like hours, he makes me shiver and shake, cry out, whimper, and gasp. He’s relentless, using his mouth and his finger to make me come until I’m breathless.

My sex is wet and aching, more than ready for him when he finally kneels between my thighs and rolls a condom onto his erection.

He looms over me, our gazes locked, as he carefully wedges himself inside me. Gently rocking, he sinks deeper and deeper, just a bit at a time, stealing my breath with each inch. I grab onto his muscular arms, clutching them as if they’re a lifeline.

Once he’s fully seated inside me, he begins to move, slowly at first, giving me a chance to get used to him inside me. But it’s not long before he’s overwhelmed with pleasure and begins thrusting faster, harder. He grits his teeth, his expression tight and fierce as he takes us both higher and higher.

Every muscle in his body tenses as he throws back his head with a hoarse cry. “Elliot! God!”

His movements slow, but even with the condom in place, I can feel his erection pulsing and twitching deep inside me. Finally, he sinks down on top of me, his lips nuzzling the side of my neck as he sucks on my damp skin. “God, I love you,” he groans, drawing me close.

I stroke his back and his hair, smiling when I feel him shiver beneath my touch. “I love you, too.”

Finally, he pulls out and heads to the bathroom to deal with the condom. I hear the water running, and then a few minutes later, he’s climbing back into bed with me, pulling me into his arms.

“I meant what I said, you know,” he whispers in the dark. “I love you. Forever.”

My heart stutters in my chest, seizing painfully, and I’m having trouble breathing. “Me too.”

He chuckles. “You’d better. You have me under your spell, Elliot, and you’re stuck with me.”

I laugh too, because now he’s tickling me, and pretty soon I’m squealing like a baby pig. “Stop it!” I gasp, trying to catch my breath. I bat at his hands. “Jake, stop it!” One of these days, he’s going to make me wet myself.

He finally relents and pulls me into his arms. I lay my head in the crook of his shoulder and sigh as I breathe in his warm scent.

“Marry me, Elliot.”

My heart stops. “What?”

“Marry me. I’m going to spend the rest of my life with you, so you might as well marry me and make it all legal.”

I swallow hard as my heart starts galloping, sending blood rushing through my veins. “Okay.”

He raises up on his elbow and looks down at me in awe. “Yeah? You will?”

“I said yes, didn’t I?”

“You promise?”

I laugh. “Yes, I promise.”

He nods, looking quite satisfied. Then he lies back down and squeezes me so tightly I can barely breathe. “We have to get married on March fifth, our day.”

Our day. Our very first date was on March fifth. Ever since, that’s been our day. It’s our anniversary. We’ve celebrated that date every year since we met.

Later, as we’re both drifting off to sleep, he nuzzles the back of my head, his breath warm on my neck and shoulders. “Remember, you promised. I’m going to hold you to it. As soon as we graduate, you’ll be mine, forever. Mrs. Jacob McIntyre.”

I smile sleepily. Mrs. Jacob McIntyre. There’s nothing I’d like better.

* * *

Sunday morning, I awake feeling like someone has split my head open with a sledgehammer.

Oh, no. A migraine.

What awful timing.

Feeling sorry for myself, I let out a long, soulful whimper.

“What’s wrong?” Jake says, sounding groggy as he presses closer to me.

“Migraine.”

“Ah, shit,” he says, sitting up with a groan. “I’m sorry, babe.”

He gets up and walks to the window, laying a thick blanket over top the sheer curtains to darken the room. Then he leaves the room and returns a moment later with a small plastic tub, which he sets on the nightstand next to my side of the bed. “In case you get sick. Is there anything else I can do?”

When I start crying, he sits beside me on the bed and strokes my hair. “I’m sorry you’re hurting.”

I am hurting, but that’s not why I’m crying. I’m crying because he knows me so well. This isn’t the first time he’s seen me having a migraine. He knows what to do, and he so good at taking care of me. He’s so selfless.

“Turn over,” he says quietly, helping me roll to my stomach.

He pulls the bedding down and begins running his fingers up and down my bare back, slow and soothing. The gentle, hypnotic movement lulls me into a quasi-sleepy state. Then he starts massaging my head, squeezing my scalp, which miraculously alleviates the pressure and the pain. Finally, I’m able to relax enough that I can drift back to sleep.

When I awake a couple hours later, he’s lying beside me in bed, tracing letters on my back with his fingertip.

I

Love

You

Elliot

My heart breaks in two. How can I go away to school and leave him behind? I know it’s only for four years, and not a lifetime. But how can I bring myself to leave him for a single day, let alone weeks or months at a time?

Will

You

Marry

Me

?

“Yes,” I whisper in the darkness.

But even as I say the word, in my heart I know it’s just a dream. A lovely, wishful dream.

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