Lost and Found (Growing Pains #1) read online free by K.F. Breene
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Lost and Found (Growing Pains #1)
Author: K.F. Breene

Chapter One

Her hands were bound!

She shouldn’t have made that joke at dinner. The one about large bodies making up for small intellect; she should’ve known it would get back to Jim. She hadn’t been talking about him, but it wouldn’t matter. Even if she explained that she and Clarissa had just been talking about riding horses, he would take it the wrong way.

Her breath came out in fast bursts but no air made it into her lungs. Something covered her eyes, the thick, rough material blinding her.

She yanked at her hands frantically. Leather bit into her wrists, keeping her in place. He didn’t want her escaping this time. This wasn’t a sport, it was punishment.

“Ah, you’re awake,” his deep voice sounded from the far corner of the room. “You had a nice sleep. Must’ve been all the wine you drank.”

She bit her lip, knowing it wouldn’t do any good to explain she’d only had two glasses. He wouldn’t want to hear it. Fear gripped her in an icy claw.

“Was it the wine that made you brave? Made you joke about me? Made you say I was rough?”

The closet door closed with a soft click. Footsteps came toward her, slow and thoughtful.

She thought back, wanting to explain. But she didn’t remember saying he was rough—why would she? That would make his temper flare.

It meant he wanted a reason to get angry. Why? What had she done wrong?

“Well?” he demanded, closer now. She could hear the excitement in his voice.

Something rustled. A sort of swish.

“Aren’t you going to answer me?”

The swish sounded again, right before blinding, consuming pain. She cried out, struggling against the bonds. Not caring that they were ripping into her skin. Trying to escape.

It was a whip. He’d gotten a new toy.

“Please, Jim! I’m sorry! We were talking about horses!” she wailed.

“Horses? You’re saying I’m as dumb as a horse?”

Swish.

A strip of skin on her leg erupted in searing, blinding agony. She whimpered, trying to scoot away, ignoring the biting pain in her wrists.

“I don’t like when you joke, Krista. Or talk about me. You know this.”

“Yes, yes! I know. I’m sorry! I wasn’t talking about you! I promise!”

“Filthy, lying bitch!”

She screamed when the next blow fell, slicing into her stomach. The pain crawled up her body and out her limbs, taking over her mind.

“Please,” she begged, the fabric over her eyes drenched from her tears. “I’m sorry! Please forgive me, Jim. I’m sorry! I’ll do anyth—“

The next strip fell across her br**sts, making her skin blister in pain. Fear raked across her chest and sliced through her head. Words failed, doused in panic. She struggled, pulling at the ropes, feeling the blood trickle down her wrists. He might kill her. This time he might actually kill her.

“Please,” she whispered.

“You need to take your punishment, you lying bitch! Isn’t that right?”

She nodded mutely, past reason. If she complied, he’d let her go. He’d unbind her and apologize for what he’d done. He would stop hurting her and show his love again. Usually he treated her like a princess. All the girls were jealous that she’d gotten the hottest man in town when no one else could.

She just had to get through this rough patch and he’d be loving again.

Trying not to whimper, she squeezed her eyes tight, acquiescing so he’d lose interest. She felt strong fingers wrap around her throat.

~*~*~*~

Krista’s eyes snapped open. Struggling against her bedcovers, she scrambled up, hands flying to her neck. Her breath came in fast, hoarse pants. Sweat covered her like a film.

The still room lay empty in the early light of a foggy July morning, the only sound the distant ocean waves crashing against the sand. Jim wasn’t here.

Standing, she waited for her nightmare to wash over her; for the panic to seep out of her skin.

She took a deep and cleansing breath, clearing her mind; a routine so practiced she’d become a pro. Another to let the residual fear dissipate. One more as she turned to look around her room two states away from the memory.

Okay…

Another breath for good measure, rooting herself in the present.

It was time to start the day.

Today was the first day of her new life. She’d already been living in San Francisco for a few months, but today she started her new job. A job that would put aside money troubles and past haunts. Today was the day she stepped through a doorway toward happiness and total independence.

She strutted down the hallway with purpose—quietly, so as to not wake the roommates—and straight in for the shower, step one in the new “prepare for the work day” routine.

“KRISTA!”

Her smiled turned brittle. Ben stood over the toilet sleepily.

“Gah! Sorry, Ben!” She threw the statement over her shoulder as she blindly stumbled out.

“Door closed means someone’s in there, Krista,” Ben grumbled as he passed two seconds later, straining his sweatshirt over his Spiderman pajama bottoms.

“Sorry Ben. New job starts today. I wasn’t really thinking...”

“Just… okay. Good luck. Please just knock, though. In the future. Hope your day goes well.”

“Okay. Sorry!” Krista whisper-yelled at his retreating backside. His door closed with an audible click.

Note to self in prepare-for-work-day routine: Knock first before opening bathroom door.

Start of the day: take two!

Two hours later she was being led out of the elevator on the twelfth floor of her new employment; a small-scale advertising company reaching for large accounts to step up to the next level. Mr. Montgomery, her portly boss with a 1970’s mustache, walked straight towards a three-foot opening in a wall of cube. Turned out, cubes had been pulled apart to create a strange tunnel-type path through the middle.

Weird.

“I had to petition for years to get this floor arranged with that gap,” Mr. Montgomery threw a thumb behind him as they emerged out the other side. “They used to have the backs of the cubes up against each other. I finally got through. Time is money! We shouldn’t have to walk all the way around.”

She disguised her grimace with a head nod.

Her new home lay across a busy thoroughfare in a darkened section of building with three other empty cubes. A glass window peeped out from behind a plant at the end of the small aisle against the wall—Mr. Montgomery’s office—making the back of her work area against the hallway beyond.

“Okay,” Mr. Montgomery gave an analytical glance around the area, looking over her desk. “The rest of our department is on the other side of my office, but as soon as Rachel leaves, you can move over if you want. It’s all ours—we just can’t hire anyone new until a big account comes through. Anyway, I’ll let you settle in. We’ll have a tour later on.”

Krista smiled at him, “Great!”

After another look, apparently just to make sure the cube planned to stay put, he nodded once, and then kind of shuffled away toward his office at the end of the hall. She stared after him for a moment, kind of at a loss. On one hand, what the hell just happened? How weird was that guy?

On the other hand, he’d been nearly that weird in the interview, and that was supposed to be his best behavior. Huh.

Shrugging, she thought, “Well, he’s Research, so that makes sense. Wait, does that make me weird…”

Yes, but would people notice?

A few hours into her day, Krista finished scrubbing her whole office and still hadn’t heard from her boss. To pass the time, she decided she’d find the amenities.

As she exited the break room, which was right down the hall, water in hand, she found the break room, grabbed a glass of water, and turned back when she caught the most delicious of scents. It smelled like a crisp, ocean breeze mixed with the most divine, mouth-watering cologne money could buy. She wanted to bottle it up and use it as an air freshener in her room.

Shrugging the thought away, Krista entered a copy alcove right across the way stuffed with office delights and whirling machines. The big commercial printer was active, and there was a hutch with note pads, staples, sticky notes, and—“Yay! Pens!”

Krista took a couple out of the box, found a pen holder, and happily turned to go pick a place on her desk where she could house her new treasures. As she stepped forward, eyes on her prize, she nearly bumped into a large expanse of chest. Backing up quickly while trying to contain the water within her cup, she looked up with an apology.

“Saaawww—”

Shock caused a sudden hatching of butterflies to explode out of her mouth, mangling the rest of the word. The smell from earlier wrapped around her head, suffocating her brain.

“What have we here?” said a silky voice with deep, masculine overtones. The man’s muscled body dominated her space.

Krista met green eyes so intense they looked Photoshopped. “I got some pens…”

Her hand stupidly raised her penholder to communicate via show-n-tell. She probably looked like a puppet in the hands of a drunk.

A devilish grin lit up his face, frazzling every coherent thought except for one: You’re acting like a pre-teen that just saw her favorite boy band! Get it together!

“I—uh…” She looked around pseudo-calmly for a prop. Settling on a piece of paper in the printer, she smashed her pens to her chest and grabbed it.

“Just needed the fax. I mean printer. Printed piece. Of paper. No big deal.” She shrugged like an idiot.

This is not getting it together!

Rallying, she said, “See?” She waved the somewhat crumpled white flag in his face.

As his smile grew in amusement, she gave up. Taking the coward’s way out, she dodged around him with the agility of a boxer, and blasted out into the hallway, splashing some poor woman passing by. She heard a deep syllable, but had no clue what shape it took.

So, yes, then. People would absolutely notice she was just as weird as her boss. Question answered.

Back at her desk, glass a quarter full, she sat down with darting eyes. She sincerely hoped that man did not work on her floor. Also that she would never see him again. Also that she was able to get a picture snapped off because holy Lord he—

“Krista.”

“AHH!”

Mr. Montgomery stood near the wall, opposite her doorway. The rest of the water was on her desk.

“Yes, it is nice and quiet in this department. I had the cubes positioned this way so as to block the noise from the rest of the company. They don’t seem to understand that we think in research, and don’t need the constant distraction of noise.”

Krista nodded emphatically—it was a perfect explanation for her giddiness.

“Yes, well, I thought I’d take you to see the rest of the company.”

“Oh, great,” Krista said as she jumped up. Her hand, still slightly wet, hovered near her notepad and pen.

Mr. Montgomery’s brow furrowed dangerously.

Taking the cue, Krista left note taking devices behind.

“You found the break room, already?” Mr. Montgomery asked as he stopped in front of the open doorway, obviously remembering the water all over her desk. A chorus of laughter floated out as Krista nodded. “Yes, well, most of the people that hang out in there are hopeless loafers. Waste of time.”

Before Krista could replace the bewilderment on her face from that comment, an older woman with a shock of dyed red hair emerged from the doorway. “Oh, James. I thought I heard your dulcet tones. Whadda treat.” Her cynical gaze slid over Krista. “And you have yet another employee to handle your enormous workload, when I can’t even stay fully staffed. Yes, now that’s fair.”

With her nose in the air, the woman walked away, loathing on her face.

Krista tried to shrink into her sweater like a turtle.

“Don’t mind her!” Mr. Montgomery said in a huff as he stared at the woman’s rigid back. “She’s just mad that they won’t hire someone to do all her work for her!”

He turned around, his own nose in the air to rival his apparent nemesis. He kick-started his plodding speed and trudged down the hall, seemingly uninterested as to whether Krista was following. It was not a great start to the tour.

When they finally walked through the last floor, Krista couldn’t say that she was sorry. Or that she’d learned anything useful.

“This is the sales floor,” Mr. Montgomery droned. “We work with them the most. They’re pushy for the most part. They don’t think anyone else besides them works.”

A smallish man shot out of one of the offices like a torpedo, heading in their general direction.

“Ah, speak of the devil. Here’s John, the junior VP of sales.”

The man, legs and arms pumping animatedly, focused on them. Seeing Mr. Montgomery, he slightly veered his trajectory, until his eyes slid past and hit Krista. He immediately swooped back and stopped right in front of them, hand out, eyes lit up.

“Hello! My name’s John!”

Mr. Montgomery recoiled, taken aback by the amicable verbal assault. He recovered with a large sigh, and said, “John, meet Krista, our new researcher. We have high hopes for her. She—“

“Krista,” John boomed, cutting off Mr. Montgomery without so much as an apologetic flinch. “Nice to meet you. How do you find our company so far?”

“Well, it’s my first day, but so far it’s nice.”

“Great! That’s great!” John gave an energetic punch with his voice. “What have you seen—“

“John!”

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