The Reluctant Apprentice

an excerpt



Chapter One

Bronte flicked her corkscrew curls back and stared at the message on her mobile. It was direct and to the point.

At once, the trembles filled her. Bronte hated the fear that devoured every rational thought. She wondered what misdemeanor her father was about to accuse her of this time. It mattered not if she were guilty; as usual, he'd take his anger out on her body using it as a punching bag.

Terence Fletcher wasn't paternal; he rarely spoke to her except with his fists. His idea of a conversation meant placing bruises where they couldn't be seen. That included the scarring across her back and stomach. They were a network of silver streaks.

It made her want to throw up. He came across in front of people as if she were the light of his life. Yeah whatever. He had frigging hated and barely tolerated her for years. It was as if he blamed her for her mother's affair. One that he'd constantly tormented her with, how her mother was a slut. How she followed the whore.

Like fuck, Christ she didn't go out, couldn't, not with the bloodhound of a father. Although that description was way overrated.

Bronte pushed a red strand of hair behind her ear, unable to stop the flutter of panic as her fingers shook. Hell since being abandoned by what she'd been told was a loving mother Bronte had led a miserable existence. One that was filled with pain, isolation and bullying. She'd been reared by several nannies; because as soon as they started to bond with Bronte they were fired and replaced. Terence had decreed that Bronte would never experience love. Nor would he allow anyone in her life that might care for her.

She'd hoped to escape when it came down to her education, and had begged her father to let her go away to college. It had taken two weeks to recover from that beating, two weeks locked inside a dark cell of a room. She had been sixteen at the time, and even now nearing twenty-five small dark spaces terrified her senseless.

Yet soft images invaded her thoughts, ones of a red-haired woman kissing her. Laughter and bittersweet memories filtered in a tortured haziness, or were they dreams for something she'd never had? Wishful thinking. Bronte didn't know because if that had been her mother why had she abandoned her?

Bronte pushed her thoughts aside; unless she hurried, Terence would find another excuse to hit her. Quickly dragging her hair back into a ponytail, she spared a brief glance at her reflection in the mirror. She gave a long sigh, because Bronte didn't like what she saw.

There was simply too much of her widthwise, and not enough lengthwise. She drew herself up to her dumpy five foot two and a half inches. Bronte studied her features, she wasn't ugly, but the spate of freckles across her nose and cheeks made it look like she had frigging measles.

Her phone chirped again with another text.

Shit.

Darting out of her room, Bronte raced towards the small study her father used. That was when he wasn't operating some sort of surveillance at the headquarters of F.I.A. She often wondered what his colleagues would say if they knew the real Terence. Would they be disgusted? Or were they cut from the same cloth?

Reaching the dark mahogany door, the brass handle gleamed and she took a hold. Attempting to steady her breathing Bronte pushed it open.

The silver haired head of her father glistened beneath the light, his obsidian eyes fastened on her. They were cold and emotionless. A shark had more empathy. On hesitant steps, she trod toward him. Already her palms were soaked with the sweat of fear. Terror that Terence had ingrained in her with his psychotic temper.

She knew as soon as she opened her mouth, that she would start to stutter. Which usually earned her a cutting remark from him one that dripped with acidity. Although insults she could deal with, it was his mammoth fists that scared the shit out of her. Along with the vicious buckle on his belt that had cut into her skin, flailing her flesh and leaving lasting scars.

Bronte had thought many times of escaping, leaving him to create a life of her own. Even now his threat chilled her. It was as if he'd read her mind. She recalled his words.

"You ever try running away and I'll hunt you down. There is no place where you'll be safe from me." He'd tilted her chin with a forefinger, forcing her to look at him. The viciousness of his words and his oath was imprinted on her. "You'll be stripped and tortured, both physically and sexually. Because I know for a fact you're a virgin, but you won't be when some bastard rips into you." He gave a glimmer of a smile. "The choice is yours, remain here, resign yourself to being punished and you'll be safe." Slowly he'd circled her. "Or I'll see you gang raped on a daily basis along with beatings that I will personally carry out."

She'd almost burst out laughing, safe? Yet the alternative terrified her. Bronte wished she was brave, but she'd been reduced to a nervous wreck over the years. Her personality molded by Terence.

She stood on the opposite side of the desk where Terence sat in the large high backed chair. The silence made her shudder and she wished he'd say something. Whenever she was summoned here the shit was usually about to hit the fan.

"Sit," he ordered.

At once, without thinking she obeyed. Hell she was better trained than frigging Lassie. Sitting demurely before him, her head slightly bent she waited. Bronte knew better than to stare back at him, he took it as a challenge to his authority.

"Later today I'll be taking you to HQ where you'll be introduced to your boss and colleague."

She blinked in disbelief. He was giving her a job? A thrill shot through her body, followed by suspicion. Why? Yet she didn't voice her thoughts.

He picked up a pencil and drew small circles on the sheet of paper in front of him. It irritated the crap out of Bronte but she'd never let on. Because that action usually meant he was about to drop a bombshell.

She wasn't disappointed.

"You're about to become an apprentice working with Jaxon, Captain of Team Alpha, the ultimate group of hard fighters." He cricked a bushy brow that resembled a senile caterpillar.

This didn't sound too good, because Bronte knew she was unfit, and beyond useless in any confrontation. In fact she would be a definite hindrance, and there was no way Bronte would ever risk her life. Coward was her second name.

"I don't understand, I mean…" She jumped when his huge palm slammed onto the surface of the desk.

"Don't question me you moron, I'm giving you a chance of a lifetime. The least you could do is be grateful." Rising he lumbered towards her. Terence wasn't simply tall, he was also vastly overweight. His huge paunch rose above his trousers whilst the shirt he wore strained over the bulge. His jowls waggled testimony to his love of rich food and expensive wines. Even though he ran the agency, his job was sedentary which meant he burned off zero calories.

When she'd bought him a gym membership for Christmas two years ago Bronte had almost ended up in casualty. Lesson learned, no keep fit presents.

"I er am g-grateful, h-honest."

His hand flipped out so fast she didn't see it coming till she was knocked off the chair. Gripping her cheek where he'd back handed her she lay still, curling into a ball. Bronte winced at the kick on her thigh and bit her lip to stop the whimper.

"Fucking bitch, don't lie to me. You're exactly like your mother."

Another kick followed, this time hitting her arm just below her shoulder. "I'm s-sorry." The damn tears glazed her eyes and filtered down her cheeks. She knew he hated it when she cried.

"You will be, Bronte, unless you show a little bit more enthusiasm for this chance," he all but growled. "Get up before I lose my temper."

She crawled to her feet and sat back on her chair.

Her scream rang out when her head was wrenched back as Terence gripped her hair.

"Did I tell you to sit?"

She mumbled, "N-no."

Another slap hit her face rocking her back. "So why the fuck did you retard? Jesus how such a useless piece of shit came from my loins I'll never know."

Bronte didn't dare speak, instead swallowed down the bile that rose, and waited. She tried not to breathe a sigh of relief when he released her and returned to his chair. The creak echoed around the room as his vast weight settled on it.

"Remain standing, this won't take long."

She hoped it wouldn't because her body felt as if it had gone ten rounds in a boxing ring. Bronte still couldn't understand why her father hated her so much. Was it her fault? God knows she'd tried to please him, but she didn't know anymore.

"Go pack a bag, you'll be moving in with the captain and…"

The words he'd threatened came back to haunt her. "Please, no, I'm s-sorry, I'll do a-anything, but don't, I can't be raped."

Terence closed his eyes. "God give me strength. Come here," he ordered, rising and slowly pulling the belt off his trousers.

Bronte's legs felt like jelly knowing what was to come. Yet she daren't disobey, her punishment would be far worse. What had she done? She truly didn't know. Reaching him her whole body shuddered with a bone racking numb terror.

"Pull your top up and turn around."

She almost fell but did as he ordered; tears already trickled down her face.

"Don't you ever interrupt me again." He pulled his arm back. "One."

The belt cracked and snapped across her back, the buckle slamming into her stomach. A hiss of pain racked out from between her teeth.

"Two."

Another followed, catching her across her rib cage. The warm trickle of blood soaked against her skin.

"Three."

This time it hooked low catching the bottom of her belly and grazing across it leaving in its wake a trail of red.

"Return to the front of my desk and remember I want no interruptions when I'm talking."

Bronte stumbled away from him, pulling her top down knowing she'd need to tend to her injuries when she returned to her room.

"Now, no more hysterical theatrics. You will pack and be ready to leave at exactly five today. The job entails living in the spare room at Jaxon's flat. He will not touch you because you're too goddamn ugly and fat."

Bronte winced, did he have to tell her that again? She was more than aware of her looks.

"No man in his right mind would get a hard on looking at you."

She hated his crude words. Yet remained quiet. He'd scalded her with the same insults all her life. The fact she wasn't going to be raped filled her with hope. For the first time in her life she was moving out, getting away from Terence.

"You will be an apprentice, learn the ropes and how to be a competent member of Team Alpha. They're the best around, so don't disappoint me."

She still didn't speak, but stood with her head bowed uncaring now of what she'd be doing. Bronte could have punched the air with joy, if she was able to.

"You can leave now to prepare."

She was about to turn when he called her name.

His voice hissed snake soft. "Don't ever mention what I do to you, because I'll know if you tell anyone. To say I'll make you sorry is an understatement."

"I w-won't, I swear."

"Good, just make sure you're ready at five."

When the door closed behind her, he picked up the phone and dialed. "The first part of my plan is in place. As soon as she's completed basic training we move on to the next stage."

His thin lips curled into a smile and he disconnected the call.

Soon she would be dead and he'd be rid of the bitch.