Award-winning, mystery romance bestseller Spellbound in His Arms

Jackie stopped dead in her tracks. What was that? A muffled noise from the back of the old mansion turned her blood to ice.She turned the flashlight off and stood still, holding her breath. Her mouth went dry. What if there was someone in the house? How would she explain who she was and what she was doing there in the middle of the night? Then again, would her explanations make any difference to whomever—or even worse whatever—was out there? The Demiris mansion was pitch black, far away from any living soul, and the owner was dead. So, who could it be?

Jackie instinctively flattened herself against the wall, trying to peer through the darkness and track the source of the noise. The back of her neck prickled, and her heartbeat drummed in her ears. Could it be true? She silently cursed herself for laughing at Stephanos’ warnings. What if her uncle was right? What if something supernatural was responsible for the mysterious deaths in the family of Greek tycoon Andreas Demiris?

No, she argued inwardly. Stephanos is wrong in thinking that the Demiris family is cursed. Jackie believed that the assassin was either one of the heirs or an enemy of the family. And she had come to the Greek island of Corfu to find the killer and prevent another murder.

But now, trapped here and feeling something lurking in the dark, she wished she’d thought better before flying six thousand miles from Atlanta, Georgia, to Greece on this eerie assignment. Stephanos used to say that her intuition, determination, and courage were assets for her carrier as an investigative reporter. But he’d also warned her against rushing headfirst into every new challenge. She should have known her impulsiveness would get her into trouble one day.

Fighting her rising panic, Jackie waited in the dark for what seemed like an eternity. The dim moonlight behind the threatening clouds couldn’t penetrate the stained-glass windows of the hallway. So, the mansion’s interior was as pitch black and spooky as the dense forest surrounding it.

She desperately tried to pick up the slightest noise. But there was nothing—only dead silence.

Jackie knew she was being foolish. There is nobody here, she reassured herself. The place had been deserted for months. All she needed to do was to find what she had come for and get out as soon as possible.

Blind in the thick darkness, she took a couple of steps to her right. She kept her hand against the wall while clutching the flashlight with her other hand, ready to use it as a weapon. All her senses worked overtime to detect the slightest noise or movement. She couldn’t see or hear anything, but the warning bells in her head were impossible to ignore.

Suddenly, Jackie stiffened. Something was moving closer to her…a lot closer. She froze in place and held her breath.

A strong hand grabbed her by the throat and shoved her violently against the wall. A second later, a blinding light shone on her face.

Jackie instinctively closed her eyes and struggled to breathe. But the grip tightened around her throat. Fear paralyzed her. On the cusp of fainting, she heard a deep, husky voice commanding in Greek, “Who are you?”

She gasped for air and flailed at her assailant with her flashlight. He blocked her move with impossible speed and effortlessly knocked the flashlight out of her hand. Frantically, Jackie raised her arms and tried to free her throat from the deadly grasp. But his hand was strong as steel.

A second later, the question was repeated, more insistent this time. The grasp loosened a little bit, allowing some air into her lungs and giving her a chance to answer.

“Please…” she managed to whisper in English.

Thanks to Stephanos, Jackie was fluent in Greek. But the intensity of the moment had overwhelmed her, and it was difficult to gather her thoughts. Her T-shirt was clinging to her back, her forehead was moist with sweat, and tension caused every muscle in her body to ache.

“Who are you?” the stranger commanded in perfect English, slightly tinged with a Greek accent.

Who is he, and what is he doing here? Jackie wondered anxiously. What could she possibly say? She couldn’t tell him the truth. But would he settle for anything less?

“You do speak English, don’t you?” he asked, shifting impatiently.

“Yes…but I can hardly breathe,” she whispered truthfully as his hand remained wrapped around her throat.

“Who are you?” he insisted, without loosening his grip any further.

“Jackie… Jackie Alexander,” she muttered.

“And what are you doing here, Jackie Alexander?” he demanded.

Now, that was the hard part. She had rehearsed some plausible answers in case there were questions raised about her visit to the island. But she hadn’t anticipated finding someone there in the middle of the night.

“I’m a relative of the owners,” Jackie said. Well, not exactly, she thought, as she was a relative of Stephanos Demiris’ wife. But there was no reason to clarify that.

The man hesitated for a moment.

“I’m a relative of Andreas Demiris,” she insisted.

His hand released her throat, and she sucked in a ragged breath. However, the stranger remained unbearably close, blocking every possible escape route.

Suddenly, Jackie heard a distinctive click, and the bright light of a chandelier filled the hallway. She looked around, bewildered. And then, her eyes rested on the man holding her captive. He was tall—at least six inches taller than she. And, at five feet eight inches, Jackie was no shrimp. He had jet black hair, and his black T-shirt and jeans stretched over enticing muscles that any athlete would envy. His face was handsome, with a strong jaw and amazing blue eyes that were now watching her intensely.

Jackie shifted uneasily under his piercinggaze. It was as if he could read her like an open book.

They stared into each other’s eyes, and Jackie felt her heart suspended in her chest…but not from fear this time. Even though he looked tough, she had to admit he was mouthwatering like a Greek God—a seductive stranger as Aphrodite, her romantic teenage cousin, would call him.

The thought of sweet, innocent Aphrodite jolted her back to reality. During the last few months, the heirs of Andreas Demiris had died—one after the other—under mysterious circumstances. Due to a lack of evidence indicating otherwise, the police declared their deaths accidents and closed the case files. But Jackie suspected foul play.

Stephanos and Aphrodite were among the few Demiris family members still alive, and Jackie feared for their lives. She was desperate to find out who was responsible for all those deaths. And coming to the Demiris mansion on the island of Corfu was the right place to start her search.

“That still doesn’t explain what you’re doing here in the middle of the night.” He placed his flashlight on the entry table while watching her like a hawk.

Jackie could tell he was on guard, ready to prevent any attempt of hers to escape. He was obviously stronger and faster but didn’t seem aggressive. So, she began to relax. Now that the initial shock was over, Jackie needed to regain control of the situation.

“And who exactly are you?” she demanded.

A smile appeared on the handsome stranger’s face, and he gave her an appreciative look. “You’re a tough cookie, aren’t you?”

As his gaze roamed over her, Jackie shifted uneasily. The desire that flickered in his captivating eyes—as blue as the Ionian Sea surrounding the island—set her pulse racing. Oh my, I can get lost in those eyes.

“Michael Apostolou,” he said suddenly, catching her off guard. “Police Captain Michael Apostolou,” he added.

Oh no! That was the worst thing that could have happened to her right then. She had only been on the island for a few hours, and there she was, caught by the police breaking and entering. How would she get out of that? Why hadn’t she waited until the following day to talk to Nancy Felini—the Demiris family attorney—as Stephanos had instructed her? But no, she wanted to check out the contents of the safe without anyone looking over her shoulder.

Having no idea who was responsible for the deaths in the Demiris family, Jackie had hoped to find something in that safe to shed some light on this mystery. She intended to read through every document to discover who would benefit from those deaths.

A logical assumption would be that the assassin was one of the heirs. But Jackie knew that neither Stephanos nor Aphrodite were killers. And Stephanos seriously doubted that any of the few Demiris family members still alive was a killer. So, who was left? An enemy of the family?

Knowing that the captain was watching her closely, Jackie remained as calm as she could.

“And now, Miss Alexander, would you mind explaining why you broke into this mansion in the middle of the night?” There was a touch of sarcasm in his voice.

“But I didn’t break in,” Jackie protested.

He inched closer and leaned over her, his eyes shooting daggers. “And what would you call breaking a window and climbinginto a house that doesn’t belong to you?” The sarcasm was even more apparent now.

Jackie raised her chin and looked at him, puzzled. “But I didn’t break any window.” This whole thing was getting out of hand. She needed a way out of there and as far away from him as possible.

“Oh, really?” he asked, grabbed her by the arm, and pulled her toward an arch leading to what turned out to be the living room.

Jackie gasped. A window hung wide open, and pieces of broken glass peppered the carpet. She hadn’t done that. But glancing at him, she was sure she would have a hard time convincing him of that. Those mesmerizing blue eyes were looking at her accusingly.

All of a sudden, she realized that someone else had broken the window. Her breathing quickened, and she glanced around anxiously.

The captain followed her look but didn’t release her arm. “Well?” he asked. “What do you have to say about this?”

“I didn’t do it,” she insisted, looking straight at him. “I came in through the front door.”

“Oh, is that so?” His lips pressed into a thin line.

Jackie could tell he was losing his patience. However, she was not lying. Coming out there, she was prepared to pick the lock but had found the front door unlocked. It had seemed strange, but Jackie wanted to get in and out as fast as possible and didn’t give it a second thought. Being miles away from any living soul, especially in the middle of the night, gave her the creeps.

“I swear I didn’t break that window.” She tried to free her arm from his grip.

“Now, you listen to me—”

A loud noise—like something falling on the second floor—interrupted him. He immediately released her arm and grabbed a gun from the holster attached to his belt.

“Don’t move!” he ordered and took off toward the foyer.

Her heart hammered in her chest as Jackie watched him climb the steps with the grace of an athlete and the swift moves of a panther. She hadn’t noticed the gun before. Of course, he has a gun. He said he’s a policeman. But what if he’s lying about that? How can I be sure about who he is? Dread twisted in her gut. What if he’s the murderer?

Despite the torrent of questions swirling in her mind, she was entirely lucid about one key point. I’m in grave danger!

Frantically, she scanned her surroundings for a way out. Going out the front door was out of the question. She couldn’t risk going back to the hallway and running into the captain again. Her glance turned to the window. Pieces of broken glass were still hanging from the frame. Better hurt than dead!

Approaching the window, she kicked some of the larger pieces of glass and climbed outside. A moan escaped her lips as she scratched her arms and legs. Her knees buckled, and she landed hard on the marble tiles of the veranda. The fall knocked the wind out of her, paralyzing her for a moment.

Get up! Jackie sucked in a ragged breath, and with as much strength as she could muster, she rose to her feet and took a few staggering steps. Pain shot through her body, but there was no time to waste. She needed to get out of there as soon as possible.

Suddenly, a gunshot blast pierced the air and sent a surge of adrenaline through her veins.

Run! RUN NOW! A voice in her mind screamed out, and Jackie bolted toward the forest.

*   *   *

Firmly clenching the cold piece of steel in his hand, Michael climbed the steps—two at a time. Reaching the second floor, he scanned the corridor… Dead silence.

Knowing the mansion like the back of his hand, he mobilized his Special Forces training and proceeded down the dark hallway. Without making a sound and moving swiftly like a panther, he searched one room after the other. There was no sign of anyone.

Reaching the last room, Michael carefully opened the door. Stepping inside, a breeze of fresh air struck him in the face. He flattened himself against the wall, holding his gun in front of him with both hands, and stood still.

After making sure he was alone in the room, Michael approached the window. But the moment he leaned forward to peek outside, a gunshot thundered through the air. Instincts took over, and Michael dropped to the ground, dodging the bullet.

A moment later, he eased his head up and caught a glimpse of a tall, slim man dressed in black disappearing into the woods.

“Damn!” he cursed, realizing that the intruder was way out of range.

He was ready to run back downstairs when he saw Jackie bolting toward the woods in the same direction the shooter had taken. His heart thudded in his chest as Michael stormed downstairs and out the front door. Damn that girl! She’s going to get herself killed!

*   *   *

Jackie sprinted toward the forest and plunged into the thick shrubbery, focused on one thing—surviving!

Sweating and breathing heavily, she made her way to the dirt road where she’d left her rental car—an old Honda Civic. Suddenly, dread overwhelmed her. Where’s the key?

Her fear spiked as she searched her pockets in vain. Think, Jackie commanded herself. She rummaged through her belt pouch with clammy hands. The moment she felt the cold metal in her hand, Jackie let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. Finding the car key was a huge relief, but…inserting it into the lock was another story. Damn! I should have picked the Honda HR-V that the rental place had available. The SUV had remotely controlled electronic door locks. Not to mention that it would have been better for these dirt roads.

Gathering all the strength she could muster to suppress her trembling, Jackie finally unlocked the door on the third try. Casting a look around, she jumped inside and locked the door behind her. Breathing heavily, she leaned back against the headrest and closed her eyes, enjoying a fragile moment of safety.

There’s no time to waste! A voice echoed in her mind. Her eyes flew open, and she bolted upright in her seat. As soon as she turned the key in the ignition, the old engine came to life. But within seconds, it sputtered and stopped.

“Jackie!” The captain’s voice boomed in the darkness.

Oh, no! Holding her breath, Jackie scanned her surroundings. She couldn’t see him, but the policeman had to be nearby.

“Jackie, wait!” he commanded, but she wasn’t about to stick around. She’d had enough flirting with danger for one night.

She grabbed the steering wheel with one hand and tried the engine one more time. As soon as it started, Jackie put the car in gear, stomped the gas pedal to the floor, and abruptly let go of the clutch. The vehicle jerked forward and…died again.

Her heart leaped into her throat. Damn! That serves me right for not wanting to spend the extra money on the automatic HR-V. But not picking the SUV wasn’t only about money. Jackie was trying to keep a low profile, and a fancy car like that might draw unwanted attention.

Calm down, she urged herself and gave the engine another try. As it roared to life, Jackie let out a huge breath. This time, even though she was shaking, she pressed down gently on the gas pedal while easing her foot off the clutch. Huffing and puffing, the car moved forward excruciatingly slow. Great, she thought, on the verge of tears. I’m about to die, and instead of hauling ass out of here, I’m driving Miss Daisy!

Spotting Michael in her rearview mirror, a torrent of adrenaline flooded her veins. She floored the gas pedal, and the Civic went flying down the dirt road, bouncing all over the place. While speeding around a curve, a man dashed out of the woods and into her path. She screamed and violently wrenched the wheel to the right. The car fishtailed, skidded off the road, and veered out of control toward the edge of a cliff.

Jackie shoved against the door with all her strength. It wouldn’t budge. Her heart lurched, and dread washed over her. Oh, God! I’m going to die!

Desperately clutching the steering wheel, she gritted her teeth. A scream escaped her lips as the car plunged over the edge. The vast blue of the sea filled her vision. Fear paralyzed her, and a sharp pain shot through her head. Time seemed to stop, and everything went blank…

I hope you have enjoyed the first chapter of the award-winning, mystery romance bestseller Spellbound in His Arms.

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Best wishes for the new year!

Angel Sefer