Taken Chapter 1

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1
VERONICA

You did what?” My mother’s voice is a screech. Well, as much of a screech as a
woman of her stature can manage. Despite her distress, she’s perfectly coifed, with
her tasteful makeup, and razor-sharp, keratin-rich blonde bob. She looks exactly how a
wife of old Chicago money should look. Except for the carefully contained rage in her
brown eyes.
I understand her shock. In my twenty-seven years, the words most likely to describe
me are perfect, accommodating, and gracious. I’ve never rebelled. I’ve always done
exactly what was expected of me. So it’s understandable my mother doesn’t know how to
handle my sudden departure from the plans laid out for me when I was five, my sister was
born, and my parents were told they couldn’t have any more children. That was the day
my dad’s dreams for a son ended, and his plans for his oldest daughter began.
I’d never deviated. I’ve always towed the company line. Until today. I repress an
inappropriate laugh that bubbles in my throat. They don’t even know the half of it. Don’t
understand yet that this story only goes downhill from here.
My mother’s knuckles turn white on the wine goblet and she gives my father a
pleading glance, as though maybe he can save me from my own insanity.
We’re at the Palmer House in what is supposed to be a celebratory dinner in my honor.
Things are not going according to their plans, but they are going according to mine for the
first time in my life.
I keep my shoulders back, and my chin held high. “I didn’t accept the job.”
My father, Herald Westwood, leans forward, his eyes narrowed. “Veronica, do you
know what I had to go through to secure that position for you?”
“I do.” I keep my voice steady. I don’t want him to think I’m weak in my decision.
That I’m regretting it, because I’m not. Yes, I’m a bit in shock, and I’ve lived this day a
state of eerie, hyper calmness I can’t quite articulate, but I’ve never been so certain of
anything in my entire life. I clear my throat. “I’m sorry, but accepting the position is no
longer an option.”
My younger, twenty-two-year-old sister, Lindsey, a gorgeous, stick-thin blonde with
the long limbs of a model, rolls her eyes at me and picks up her phone sitting next to her
fork.
“Explain yourself, young lady,” my mom hisses.
I would, except I don’t know what to say. I’m not sure what happened. Or if I
understand it myself.
When I woke up this morning it had started like any other day. I’d taken a shower and
gotten dressed, carefully cultivating an image of a budding, powerful businesswoman
befitting the high-stakes world of venture capitalism. I’d put on a conservative black
business suit that hid my curves, and tucked my thick, long blonde hair into a neat bun,
applied a neutral makeup palette, and left my condo to start my mapped-out future.
Despite my father’s connections, I had gone through five rounds of grueling interviews
and aced them all. I’d been prepared to take the position as junior partner in the firm my
father deemed good enough for his oldest, and most accomplished, daughter. A highfinance
job making rich people even richer and utilized my Harvard MBA.
A job befitting of the Westwood name.
I’d done exactly what they expected of me. Exactly what I’d been working for all
these years. Exactly what I’d been groomed for. I’d never had one misstep.
My father had to settle for me and I’d made sure never to disappoint him. My entire
life I’d focused on being better than everything he’d ever envisioned for a son. Since I’d
turned out to be a disaster at sports, that left academic achievement, and I’d excelled.
Until this afternoon.
I’d sat down to sign the contract that would indenture me to the top venture capital
firm in Chicago. A position so coveted they’d received a thousand resumes, and the top
candidates were so prestigious, they’d interviewed fifteen people the first round. When
they called to offer the position I’d experienced a rush of elation. The thrill of beating out
my competition, of being granted the seal of approval that I was the best of the best. I’d
walked into that room a woman on a mission; ready to prove they had not made a mistake
in selecting me.
I picked up the pen, put it right on the dotted line, and I couldn’t sign.
In that single moment, sitting there in that boardroom with all its rich mahogany wood
and carved moldings, my whole life passed before my very eyes.
I’d work eighty hours a week.
Marry the boy my parents picked out for me and had been dating since high school.
I’d say I was going to keep working, but I wouldn’t.
I’d get pregnant and have my requisite three kids.
We’d vacation in Europe.
I’d play tennis at the club.
Lunch with the girls before our afternoon Pilates class.
My husband would have a mistress and screw high-priced escorts.
I’d ignore his indiscretions because I really wouldn’t care at that point.
My kids would be entitled little brats who had no perception outside of the world
where we belonged.
Eventually, I’d be sixty, my face still smooth and carved by the grace of plastic
surgeons and Botox, and all I’d care about was looking perfect for the galas of charities I
don’t really give a shit about but will put me in the society pages as Chicago royalty.
I could see it all perfectly mapped out and wanted none of it.
For the first time, I’d felt the full weight of my poor, little rich-girl existence. How
isolating it was, how lonely and shallow. How it sucks out your soul and leaves you
devoid of emotion. Even at twenty-seven, I could see the beginnings of our lifestyle
creeping through the women I called friends. Girls I’d known since prep school preschool.
Yes, I live in privilege. I’m lucky. There are people starving who’d kill to be me, but
what most people don’t understand is this world comes with its own type of prison.
And sitting there at that massive boardroom table, all I wanted was to break out of the
cage.
My mom, Betsy, her features honed by the expert surgeon she has on call, shakes her
head. Her hair doesn’t move. She’s very lovely, and she’s fond of telling everyone we
meet that we pass for sisters. As I study her, I wonder when she last yearned for anything.
The last time she burned with passion for something beyond smooth skin and people
thinking she’s in her twenties.
She frowns at me. “That’s it? That’s all you have to say?”
Have I ever burned with passion? Would I recognize it if I did?
I leave the esoteric questions behind and steel my spine, preparing myself.
The worst is yet to come.
Despite this display of outrage, my parents don’t really care about the job. It’s only
true function being an accomplishment they can brag about to their friends. I’m only
expected to make something of myself until I marry. Once I’m a wife, there’s a whole
other set of expectations for me, but working is not one of them. My career is merely a
check on an endless list. I’d justified this by telling myself I’d be so good, so successful,
I’d prove to them I’d be wasted as just a wife.
But today in that boardroom, I’d seen it as a lie.
So I’d apologized to the men sitting around the table, tore up my offer letter, and
strolled out of the room as though I didn’t have a care in the world. They wouldn’t miss
me. Someone had probably already called the number-two candidate.
Heart pounding, I’d started walking the streets of downtown Chicago, believing I had
no destination until I stood in front of a building and known what I had to do.
Now it was time to drop the next bombshell. I look my mom in the eye. “No, there’s
something else.”
Her knuckles whiten again.
Something in my tone must have caught Lindsey’s interest because she looks up from
her phone. At twenty-two, she fancies herself a reality star and everything bores her except
the adoration of her fans. In fairness, she does have a YouTube channel with a million
subscribers where she tells people how to curl their hair, do their makeup, and give
fashion tips. She’s everything you hate about starlets, coltishly gorgeous, vapid,
uninterested, and her phone is glued to her hand at all times. My guess is she’s waiting for
a call from the Kardashians so she can blow out of this hellhole and head to LA where she
believes she belongs.
All three of them look at me. Lindsey’s expression is placating, but my parents’ faces
are pinched with stress.
There’s only one way to do this, so I take a deep breath and give them the worst of the
news. “I broke up with Winston this afternoon.”
My sister rolls her eyes and goes back to her texts.
My mom appears as though she might faint.
My dad’s face turns beet red.
God, I hope he doesn’t have a stroke.
While I wish my father no ill will, I don’t respond to his tomato-like pallor. I can’t
show weakness in my decision.
They have to understand this is final.
I have no idea what I’m doing, why I’m doing this, or what’s happened to me today to
take such drastic measures, but there’s no going back now.
From this day on, I’m taking control of my life. I’m going to do things my way. I
refuse to turn into someone I hate.
“You did what?” My father’s voice is the low tone that used to frighten me when I was
a child.
I hated to incur his disapproval.
I keep my own voice strong and resolute. “I broke off my relationship with Winston.”
My mom presses her fingers to her lips that now tremble as though she might cry. She
won’t. It would ruin her makeup. But she can pretend to be close to tears for the sake of
dramatics.
“Why?” My dad picks up his glass of brandy and drains the entire glass in one gulp.
I tell him the truth, even though he won’t understand. “I don’t love him.”
“Veronica.” My father signals the waiter for another drink. “We are in the middle of a
merger with his family’s company. What were you thinking?”
I was thinking I didn’t love him. A reason good enough for most parents, but one lost
on mine. See, in my world, nobody really ever loves anyone. They love what that person
can do for them, how they affect their standing in our social set, but real love and
attachment is usually not part of the equation.
And Winston Bishop is the man I’m expected to be with. We come from similar
families and companies that benefit each other. He has been picked out for me since birth.
Oh, sure, they don’t call it an arranged marriage anymore, but the expectation was clear.
Growing up, I wanted two things out of life—to excel at everything I did and to be
approved of. So, of course, at sixteen when Winston finally asked me out, as was expected
of him, I didn’t think of saying no.
He was my destiny.
Except, I don’t actually like him.
He’s jealous, overprotective, and shushes me. He wants me for his perfect wife. He
doesn’t care who I am as a person. He doesn’t care about what I want. My dreams. My
desires. All he cares about is that I come from the right family, I look good on his arm, and
I’m above reproach.
“Veronica,” my mother hisses.
My parents are staring at me, waiting for an explanation, but the truth is, no reason I
give will ever be good enough. I could admit to them a week ago I walked in on him
fucking another girl, but they’d tell me that’s to be expected. Boys will be boys and all
that. It’s unreasonable of me to expect fidelity when we’re not engaged.
I could tell them, at least to provide some sort of excuse, but honestly, I hadn’t cared
much. Maybe that night—when I stood there impassive as he screwed her from behind,
against the big glass windows in his apartment and felt nothing but relief I wouldn’t have
to have sex with him—had been the catalyst.
It doesn’t matter, and with no excuse they’d swallow, I deliver my next bombshell.
“I’m moving out of the condo.”
My mom’s eye starts to twitch and she presses a perfectly manicured fingertip to the
muscle jumping under the tightly pulled skin.
My sister perks up. “I’ll take it.”
I give her a droll look. “You can’t afford it.”
She sticks out her tongue at me. “Can so.”
I ignore her. We don’t get our trust funds until we’re twenty-five, so for now she’s
dependent on my parents and her YouTube money. Certainly not enough to pay the taxes
and live in the luxury to which she’s accustom. Although maybe our parents will give it to
her anyway. Not that it matters much to me. She can have it.
My mom’s brow furrows. “That was a gift for your graduation. Why on earth would
you leave it?”
I don’t bother answering; they’d be appalled by my explanation. “You can have it back
if you want. Give it to Lindsey, or sell it, it’s up to you.” I wave a hand. “I just don’t want
it.”
Lindsey holds her hands together in prayer. “Oh my god, Daddy, can I please have it?
Please, please, please?”
“Not the time,” he says, his voice filled with anger.
My mom doesn’t even break stride. “And why not? Do you know how many people
would kill for that place?”
“I do.” It’s a massive, four thousand square foot condo in the Gold Coast. I absolutely
get what I’m giving up. Fifty-year-old neighbors, two-thousand-dollar-a-month
assessment fees, yappy designer dogs, and a state-of-the-art gym.
In return, I’m gaining my freedom. Declaring my independence.
“And?” Her voice raises an octave.
“Veronica, are you on drugs?” My father’s face is getting red again.
My mom pats him on the arm. “Herald, your blood pressure.”
“I’m not on drugs.” I keep my voice completely calm. It’s not an act; I am calm. I’m
blowing up my entire life, and I’ve never felt so at peace. “I just need
something…different.”
My sister shakes her head. “Oh my god, you’re twenty-seven. Aren’t you, like, too
young for a crisis?”
“It’s not a crisis.” I don’t care that they don’t understand. Not caring about their
approval, it’s liberating. I want to stand up and scream, I’m free, but I’m pretty sure that
will raise more suspicions about drug use, so I stay completely composed and reasonable
instead.
The waiter brings another drink to the table and my dad takes a large gulp. “You know,
I’m still the executor of your trust fund. If I have reason to believe you’re mentally
incompetent, or a danger to yourself, I can have it frozen.”
It’s a threat, that’s all. He won’t go through with it because it will look bad and he’d
have to take me to court. The publicity alone would be a nightmare. Besides, he’ll lose.
There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m completely sane.
More sane than I’ve ever been in my entire life.
I give him a steady look. “Go ahead.”
“Are you daring me, young lady?”
“Yes, I am.” I don’t bother to tell them that once I get a job I’m not going to touch my
trust fund. At least until I figure out how to live on my own like regular people, living a
regular life.
“Veronica.” My mom is staring at me as though she’s never seen me before. “What has
gotten into you?”
I shrug my shoulder. “I don’t know.”
All I know is I want to find out what it’s like to live a real life. I want to know what it’s
like to laugh, to have genuine friends, to work, and cry and struggle and strive. I need to
understand who I am and what I’m about. I’m not going to live my life as a pawn in a
chess game other people have already played out.
I want to be someone different.
Yeah, this is the very definition of first-world problems. And you know what? I don’t
care. Go ahead and judge me.
It’s my problem and I’m not going to sit around whining about it. I’m going to fix it.
Just as soon as I figure out how.

Taken

Taken

Series: Undone #4

Release Date: October 24, 2017

Genre: adult, contemporary romance

Pages: 329

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Brandon Townsend III

Rich, beautiful and entitled, once upon a time he was king of the trust fund babies. He took anything and anyone he wanted, until one day, he walked away without explanation. Now, he’s an untouchable mystery, one I’m determined to crack. And I’m not talking about anything mundane like his bed. No, I want something far more valuable.

I want into his head. 

Veronica Westwood has blown into my life creating chaos in her wake, and I don’t know quite what to do with her. Rich, beautiful and entitled, she represents everything I’ve sworn off in life, and her being unexpectedly clever doesn’t change that. Instincts warn me to stay away, and that’s just what I intend to do, no matter her attempts to wear me down. I’m good at saying no, or at least I was until I met her. I don’t understand it, but she’s like a weakness, and a man like me can’t have weakness.

I simply won’t allow it.

I hope you enjoy Brandon's story!

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