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The Darkest Hour

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Blurb

Royce Devereaux isn’t your average sexy professor. He has a lot of rules in his professional and personal life. He keeps both worlds separated. He has to. He’s somewhat of a public figure—and yes, he’s made enemies climbing to the top. Being a world-famous paleontology professor doesn’t mix well with his romantic life. He likes his s*x rough, and a whole lot of naughty. Which means his students are 100% off limits.

One problem. His new graduate student assistant, Kenzie. She looks at him like a kid looks at birthday cake, and he doesn’t like it. Except, he does. He likes it too much. She’s feisty and smart—which only makes him want to tie her up and master her body. And her buttoned-up librarian look—it makes him want to strip her naked…slowly. He has to find a way to ignore her. It’s only one semester. Right?

But when an enemy decides to use Kenzie to force his hand, Royce has no choice but to keep her close. Very, very close. His two worlds have just collided. He just hopes he can let her go once the danger is over…

The Darkest Hour is created by Lauren Smith, an EGlobal Creative Publishing signed author.

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Chapter 1
Long Island, The Gold Coast MacKenzie Martin rubbed her eyes, which were blurred from staring too long at her computer screen. The antique clock hanging behind her desk ticked away, and she could see the numbers reflected on the monitor. Ten minutes before eleven. It had been a really long day and she just wanted to be done with her work. Rain tapped softly against the window. Kenzie couldn't see any of Hampstead University's campus through the darkened pane. It was unusually warm for the middle of December, warm enough that she'd trudged through icy rain rather than snow to get to the campus offices. Usually the campus would be buried in snowdrifts which was typical for Long Island this time of year. All she wanted to do now was get home, take a hot bath, listen to some music, and fall into bed. But she had to finish what she'd come to do. She focused on the screen and entered the final grades into the university's online grading software. As a graduate student and teaching assistant to Dr. Devereaux in the paleontology department, she had the "lucky" job of inputting his grades for the semester. Dr. Devereaux despised logging grades into the university system, and whenever she mentioned it he went rigid before rattling off a dozen excuses of things he had to do instead before he vanished from the office so quickly papers were still ruffling. She shouldn't have been surprised. He was not the sort of man to sit idly behind a desk and read through hundreds of essays. Kenzie smiled. Royce Devereaux was anything but idle. He was a tall, dark-haired, brown-eyed walking s*x-god. With muscles that made her stomach flip whenever she saw them and an ass made for gripping during hot, wild s*x, Royce was like catnip mixed with ecstasy. During the in-person job interview, she'd had to relearn how to speak because he'd fried all of her circuits when he'd flashed that sexy I'll-f**k-you-good-baby grin at her. He hadn't made a move on her during the interview, of course. He'd been a perfect, but all-too-tempting gentleman as they discussed her duties as a teacher's assistant and the possible research projects they'd work on together. Protoceratops were her specialty, and she'd focused on that over and over in her head rather than the thought of her future boss sliding everything off his desk so he could bend her over it and take her until she screamed. She bit her lip, trying to erase that particular fantasy. It had been a recurring dream she had every night whenever she and Royce worked late into the evenings. Saturday nights were off-limits, though. He never worked that day of the week, and she knew why. When he wasn't deep into a dig in the Badlands of South Dakota, he was usually paired with the latest flavor of the month. Not that she knew that for certainshe'd only overheard the whispered chuckles and agreement to meet for drinks at some club here on Long Island. More than once she'd imagined herself as the lucky woman on Royce's arm. There was something about the feral intensity of his eyes when he looked at her that made her certain he would be explosive in bed. She was almost afraid to look him in the eye because she feared he'd see her darkest desires reflected back, that he'd see what she wanted a man to do to her. Would he tie her up with those rough hands? Lay a strong hand on her ass to punish her? His tanned skin sliding over paler, softer skin as he f****d his woman into oblivion A shiver of forbidden excitement ran through her like quicksilver. I should not be fantasizing about my professor. She felt guilty that she even had such thoughts. It was far from the professionalism she wanted to project. But she wanted a taste of that darkness so bad that it made her body ache and throb to the point of pain. I'm screwed up. I should be happy with the guys I've dated and the nice s*x I've had. Nice. That was how she categorized her past s*x life. And it more than anything else described the problem. It was a battle she fought every day. Her little desk faced his across a large office. More than once she had glanced up and seen him leaning back in his chair, wearing faded blue jeans, his biker boots propped up on the corner of his desk as he sketched out lecture notes, a pen cap hanging from his lips. He would tap a light, unrecognizable rhythm on his desk with two fingers, and his rich chocolate-brown hair would fall across his eyes. Royce would eventually get bored and toy with the tyrannosaur claw he had on his desk, a small trophy from a dig in Montana. He never noticed her watching him. It would be embarrassing if he ever found out she was crushing on him in such a big way. Besides, she couldn't be in a relationship with the professor she worked directly under. If she wanted to date any other professor she'd have to file paperwork with the department, but if she dated Royce she'd have to stop working with him. Even knowing how off-limits he was, she clung to her fantasies. Despite the fact that they were both adultsshe was twenty-eight and he was thirty-threethere was a professional code of conduct that professors and grad students had to maintain. In just five months she'd be done with her program and have her own doctorate. Then they'd be equals, at least in their profession. Kenzie had worked with him for an entire year, often late into the night, and she had gotten to know a lot about the infamous Dr. Royce Devereaux. As an undergrad she had been spellbound by the sexy professor who rode a million-dollar one of a kind Harley Davidson Cosmic Starship motorcycle and looked like an Armani model. Now she was working alongside him and was even more fascinated by him. Maybe it was totally normal to fantasize about a man she spent most of her time with. Maybe she was just bored. Her s*x life thus far had been average at best. The only time she ever got hot and bothered was when she thought of Dr. Devereaux. Sometimes just thinking about Dr. Sexy got a little too real for Kenzie, and she had to force herself to take a step back. "God, if I don't leave now I'm never going to get home." She knew she shouldn't be talking to herself, but she often did when she worked late on her own. Sometimes the campus creeped her out late at night. She exited the program on her computer and had just shut it down when she heard a distant crash, like the shattering of glass. Kenzie froze, her ears straining to pick up any sound. There was an eerie silence before a hiss of low whispers rippled up from the hall toward Dr. Devereaux's office. A janitor wouldn't be whispering or talking to anyone, right? Kenzie tried to ease out of the desk chair, but it creaked and she winced at the loud sound. The lamp on the corner of her desk was still on, calling out like a beacon to whoever was down the hall. Shit. Footsteps echoed against the stone floor outside, and Kenzie had no choice but to hide and pray they weren't interested in breaking into this office. She pushed her chair back and ducked under her desk, hiding in the space beneath. An instant later she heard voices directly outside. "It's locked," a voice growled. "I thought you said you saw someone in here." "Of course it's locked, you moron. Just break the glass, Monte." "We're supposed to be using code names. So shut the f**k up, Gary," the second man snapped. "Oh for f**k's sake, just do it!" Oh shitoh shit She held her breath, but her heart was beating like a drum. The office window shattered. The frosted glass scattered across the floor, stopping right at the edge of the desk she hid under. Kenzie stared at the pieces, inches from her hands, fragments of Royce's name scattered in wild disarray. She closed her eyes, panting as her heart raced. There were more muffled curses, the click of a deadbolt unlocking, and then a creak as the office door opened. "He's in here. I know he is. I saw the light from outside," Gary said. "I don't see anyone," Monte muttered. Black boots appeared by the edge of her desk. Kenzie swallowed the sudden lump in her throat and tried to hold her breath. "Light's still on." The man leaned over her desk. "Computer's warm too." Kenzie couldn't think. Every instinct told her to run, but she couldn't. Maybe they'll leave if I'm quiet. One man jumped down to the other side of her desk and crouched, like a cat leaping in front of its prey. She jumped up, hitting her head on the underside of the desk. His face held an evil grin. "Well, well, who do we have here?" He snagged her by the arm, dragging her out into the open. "Let go of me!" She balled a fist and smacked the man in the jaw. "You little b***h!" he bellowed, and backhanded her across the face. She crumpled against her desk, clutching her face. The man still held her by the arm, his grip now bruising. "Who the f**k is that?" Gary demanded. Monte shook Kenzie roughly by the arm. "How the f**k should I know?" Gary stepping closer to her. "Who are you, and where is Devereaux?" They're looking for Royce, here, in the middle the night? What the hell had her professor gotten himself into? "I'm his TA. I don't know where he is. I swear." Monte's eyes swept up and down her body. The predatory gaze made her skin crawl. "If you lie to us, we'll cut you into little pieces and throw you into the sea, you got me? After we've had some fun, of course." He laughed, and his friend sneered. Kenzie tried to think fast. What was someone supposed to do in a hostage situation? Negotiate? Comply? Resist? Right now she felt like throwing up and cryingbut that wasn't going to save her life. "Please, I don't know where he is. Just let me go. I won't tell anyone you're here." "Where's your phone?" Gary demanded. She didn't answer, but she couldn't stop her gaze from darting to the brown leather purse on the couch by the door. Monte jerked his head, and Gary picked up her purse and emptied the contents onto the floor. When he saw her phone, he picked it up and turned it on. "What's his number?" Gary asked. Kenzie stared at him, lips pursed in silence as she held her breath. He scrolled through her contacts until he found Royce's number. Then he pulled out a gun and pointed it at Kenzie's head. She stared down the barrel, fixated on the tiny black hole that could end her life in an instant. "Tell him you need him to meet you here," said Gary. "Make up some excuse. If he doesn't come, we'll shoot you and find him another way." "And if he comes?" she whispered. "Then we get him to help us. We have no intention of hurting him. Once we have him, we'll be on our way." "Help you with what?" She couldn't imagine Royce would have any connection to men like this. He was rich and had the world was at his fingertips. The only thing he indulged in was that club. Thugs like these weren't a part of the Gilded Cuff crowd, though. So who were they? "Devereaux has expertise in an area of our boss's latest business venture," Gary explained. Smugglers? It was the only thing that came to mind. Kenzie swallowed hard. Why would smugglers want Royce? It also occurred to her that when bad guys told someone their plans, they didn't typically leave that person alive to talk about it. Monte was still gripping her arm when his phone rang. He glanced between her and Gary as he answered. "Yeah? Stay downstairs by the van. We have a plan to bring him to us. Keep an eye out and call if you see him." Then he hung up. Kenzie focused on the details, trying to calm down. Three men. Monte, Gary, and an unknown third. Gary was short, muscled, and bald, with cold black eyes. Monte was tall and lean with hard lips and icy blue eyes. She tried to memorize their faces and their voices so that she could identify them later. Assuming they didn't kill her. Gary hit the dial on her phone and the speaker button. Then they all waited, listening to it ring. The room was so silent that she swore everyone could hear her pounding heart. Finally the voicemail cut in. "This is Royce. Leave a message." Gary nodded at her. Kenzie licked her lips. "Hey, Dr. Devereaux. It's Kenzie. I'm at the office. I know it's late, but you need to come here right away. It's really important and can't wait till tomorrow." When she was finished, Gary ended the call and lowered his gun. "f**k. He might not check his phone. We should have our guy in the PD put a BOLO on his car." He turned back to her. "Seems like we might not need you after all." He set the gun down and looked at Monte, who suddenly grinned. A wave of terror rolled through Kenzie, and she tried to think fast. "H-he could be in the teachers' lounge. They have a couch he sleeps on when he works late. It's just down the hall. I'm sorry I didn't think of it earlier." Monte narrowed his eyes. "Why didn't you say that before?" "Because you have a gun on me and I'm f*****g scared." A cold draft seeped in from the cracked window between her desk and Royce's. Although it was shut for the winter, there was always a sliver of a chill that got in. It gave her a wild and completely insane idea. If she could get Monte and Gary to leave her alone for one second, she could climb out that window. There was a drainpipe she could shinny down, and it was just one story. If she fell it might not hurt that bad, and her car was only fifty feet away in the student lot. If she could escape, she might not die tonight. "Gary, go check it out." "It's the fifth door on the left. He might have locked himself inside." If he broke the window, she'd hear it and know he was busy checking the lounge. That would leave her alone with Monte, giving her one quick chance to try to escape. Monte's fingers loosened on her arm as he leaned back against the desk. There was a phone there, an old nineties-style one that was big and hefty. She could use it to knock him out, at least long enough to get to the window. She reached her free hand for the phone while Monte watched the door. The moment she heard the glass shatter down the hall, she snatched the phone from the desk and swung it, haymaker style, right at Monte's head. He started to turn around, but it was too late. The phone smacked into his temple with a loud crack. He released her arm, and she grabbed her phone and keys from the floor, shoving them into her pockets. Then she ran for the window. It groaned as she forced it halfway up. Monte clutched his head as he staggered toward her. "You f*****g piece of s**t!" Fuck, f**k, f**k! She kicked out the still open window. The glass shattered and the windowsill fell down, but it left a space big enough for her to get through. She scrambled through the window, but just as her hands closed around the drainpipe, Monte grabbed her feet and began to tug her back inside. "No!" She screamed and kicked wildly, every instinct sending her into flight mode. Her boots connected with something that crunched, and Monte howled in pain. Her grip on the drainpipe slackened. Cold metal scraped her palms as she slipped and fell fifteen feet to the ground. The bushes crunched as she landed on them, and their branches jabbed her as her breath rushed out of her lungs. It took every ounce of willpower for her to get up and run. Everything hurt, and she was shaking bad enough that she could barely walk, let alone run. One of her knees stung, and she felt something warm run down her leg. Blood.

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