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Term of Service: A Small Town Romantic Thriller

Term of Service: A Small Town Romantic Thriller

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Main Tropes

  • Romantic Thriller
  • Forced Marriage
  • Touch Her and Die Vibe

Synopsis

Strapped for cash when I lost my job, I made a deal with the devil.

In exchange for money to care for my dying father, I agree to work in a remote region near the Canada border.

When it's time for me to fulfill my obligation to my employer, I'm sent to a little town out in the middle of nowhere. Walking out of one nightmare and running into the next, I immediately start working on a plan to escape my handsome captor.

But I'm about to find out there is no escaping my term of service.

Intro into Chapter One

A tingly numbness ached my icy palms, and I rubbed them together as I got closer to his office.

When I knocked on his door, he smiled and came out of his seat, motioning to the chair in front of him. "Miss Sullivan. Please have a seat."

Easing myself into the tufted leather lounger, I tried to smile through the jolt of electricity shooting through my back and down my right leg. Cringing at myself enough for him to catch, he fluttered his blue eyes at me. "Are you alright?"

My cheeks puffed as I rearranged myself to my other hip. "I took a little spill yesterday when I was getting Dad out of his wheelchair, and my back is kind of angry."

Victor dropped his eyes to his hands clasped before him and sighed from his nose. "Have you considered putting him in a facility?" Peeking up at me, he untwisted his fingers for a moment. "It's taking such a toll on you. You need to be selfish sometimes, or you'll be too burned out to care for anyone."

About to burst into tears at what a disaster my life had become, I grumbled the burn from my throat. "Yeah. I looked into those. All the local nursing homes have a wait list of six months plus, and the hospice is at capacity right now."

While he tried to figure out how to break the news to me, he scratched at his short blond hair. So, I put him out of his misery as I jerked my eyes open wider. "It's okay." Half laughing and crying, I wiped my cheek dry with my cuff. "Honestly, I'm surprised you've kept me on so long after all the time I missed."

The pen he picked up flicked back and forth against the desktop. "You're a brilliant engineer, and it's a damn shame to waste talent like yours. I don't enjoy doing this, but my hands are tied."

Shaking my head, I pushed my hands into the chair's arms to lift myself. "Don't worry about it." While I hovered above the seat, another pain shot through me, sending me back to the soft leather again.

The debacle of my life was as pathetic as anything could be, and he pulled another chair from the wall to sit beside me. "I think I have a solution for you if you can keep an open mind."

Between sciatica and knowing my father would die any day now, I was sobbing uncontrollably when he put a few tissues on my lap. "This company has many interests worldwide, and some are in extremely remote places that are nearly impossible to staff."

"Oh." Nothing in the world would make me happier than escaping the nightmare I woke up to every day. Still, I waved off any hope that my problems could be solved so easily. "I appreciate the offer, but I can't move right now."

Trapping me with his arm slung over the side of my chair, he shook his head and softened his voice. And if I weren't so sleep-deprived and hungry, I would have sensed the snare he set. "No. I understand, and we wouldn't expect you to until the time comes."

Motioning to the map of the mines our employer owned, he pointed his thumb over his shoulder. "You're from coal country, so you understand about the old company stores that used to run the towns there. Right?"

Nodding at him, I narrowed my eyes. That old mining town way of life made more drug addicts than it did millionaires, and when anyone in a suit mentioned it, I always got a little nauseous. "Yes, sir. A member of my family has worked for this company since it opened."

With an impressed hum, he pushed himself back in his chair. "Well, then, we owe you a fresh start more than anyone. Don't we?"

The lie was wrapped up in such a pretty bow I missed how he avoided my eyes as I listened to him. "Ironclad will front you and your father's living expenses until" — he sighed and tossed his head back and forth — "you're free to move. In return, you'll be expected to commit to a three-year stint at one of its facilities in those underserved areas."

I dabbed at my eyes with the tissue. "What's the catch?"

Shrugging, he turned down the ends of his mouth. "Aside from the mandatory term of service, you'll sign a nondisclosure agreement about anything you witness or hear about there. Should you breach it," — three fingers unfolded — "you'll be required to pay back three times the amount we front you and any legal fees."

People where I come from know how to keep secrets, and that wasn't a problem for me. But three years of my life was a lot of time to be owned by someone. "What if it doesn't work out? Your people don't like me, or I hate the place? Can I transfer or…"

A soft snicker brought the side of his mouth up. "In all the years we've had this program in place, we've never had a single person default." A finger came up from his knee. "Not one. People are happy. The workers we send rarely ever leave, by their own choice."

My mind swam in a million things I needed to take care of, and as I rubbed at the stress in my forehead, he laid his hand on my knee. "You can stay home and take care of your father. Hire nurses, so you have a break. Take a little vacation when it's all over." He tugged at the edge of my ex-husband's flannel I wore over the last clean t-shirt I had in my apartment. "Buy yourself a new wardrobe. Whatever you need to be comfortable."

His palm left my leg and flipped up at me as he backed away. "All you have to do is live in a safe little town in the middle of nowhere for a few years while all your bills and necessities are taken care of. Doesn't sound too bad. Does it?"

Pulling a little holder from his chest pocket, he slid a business card from the back of the stack. "This is a good deal for you and Ironclad. So, give it a day or two to think it over. You're already vetted, so you can start whenever you want."

Only a simple black card with a phone number came from his fingers when he held it before me. "Just give me a call, and I'll start the wheels turning."

As soon as he opened the door, I remembered why I came up here, anyway. "Yes." Without a second of hesitation, I nodded at him. "Yes, sir. I'll do it. Sign me up."

Smiling at me, he pinched my chin and winked. "I'll make some calls."

Pausing at the door, I remembered how I rolled into the parking lot on fumes this morning. "I know this is horrible timing, but I was on my way up here to ask for another advance on my salary. I…"

Already digging out his wallet, he clicked his tongue until he pulled out three hundred-dollar bills. "Consider it the first day of a better life, Aubrey."

Not once in all the time I worked for him had he ever made me feel bad about having to grovel, and that should have been a warning. "Thank you again. You're a lifesaver."

Shutting the door behind me, he smiled. "You're welcome, Miss Sullivan. Take care of yourself, and someone will be in touch very soon."

The past year or two was a nightmare. A blur of bad news, doctor's appointments, and rigid medication schedules I couldn't escape from.

Breathing a little easier on the walk of shame back to my cubicle, I held onto the tiny card like it was the answer to all my prayers. As they say, though, things that seem too good to be true usually are.

If I wanted to change my mind, it was already too late. There was no way out for me now.


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