Summary : Dark, oddly romantic, gritty and raw. I love it.
Heavy bars close behind me with a clang. I feel the sound in my bones. A series of mechanical clicks hint at an elaborate security mechanism beneath the black iron plating. I knew this would happen—had anticipated and dreaded it—but my breathing quickens with the knowledge that I am well and truly trapped.
“Can I help you?”
I whirl to face the administrative window where a heavyset woman in a security guard uniform stares at her screen.
“Hi,” I say, pasting on a smile. “My name is Abigail Winslow, and I’m here to—”
“Two forms of identification.”
“Oh, well, I already filled out the paperwork at the front desk. And showed them my IDs.”
“This isn’t the front desk, Ms. Winslow. This is the east-wing desk, and I need to see two forms of identification.”
“Right.” I dig through my bag for my driver’s license and passport.
She accepts them without looking up, then hands me a clipboard with a stack of papers just like the ones I’d already filled out.
I’ve been dreading this day for weeks, wishing I’d been assigned any other project but this one. You’d think I was being sent here for a crime. My professor—the one who’d forced me into this—warned me that prisoners were not always receptive to outsiders. Apparently nobody here is.
My hands clench and unclench, clench and unclench while the guard eyes my paperwork.
Seconds pass. Or are they minutes? The damp chill of the place seeps in through my cardigan and leaves me shivering.
Leaning forward, I read the name tag of the guard. “Ms. Breck. Do you know what the next steps are?”
“You can have a seat. I have work to do now, and then I’ll escort you back.”
“Oh, okay.” I glance at the bars I just came through, then the open hallway opposite. “Actually, if you just point me in the direction of the library, I’m sure I can—”
Thunk. The woman’s hand hits the desk. I jump. Her dark eyes are faintly accusing, and I wish we could go back to no eye contact. How did I manage to make an enemy in two minutes?
“Ms. Winslow,” she says, her voice patronizing.
“You can call me Abby,” I whisper.
A slight smile. Not a nice one. “Ms. Winslow, what do you think we do here?”
The question is clearly rhetorical. I press my lips together to keep from making things worse.
“The Kingman Correctional Facility houses over five thousand convicted criminals. My job is to keep it that way. Do we understand each other?”
Heat floods my cheeks. The last thing I want to do is make her job harder. “Right. Of course.” I shamble back, landing hard on the metal folding chair. It wobbles a little before the rubber feet stop my slide.
I understand the woman’s point. She has to keep the prisoners in and everyone else out, and keep people like me safe.
I reach down and pull a book from my bag. I never leave home without one, even when I go to classes or run errands. Even when I was young and my mother used to take me on her rounds.
I would hide in the backseat with my nose in the book, pretending I didn’t see the shady people who came to her window when we stopped.
A little green light above the barred doors flashes on and there’s an ominous buzz. Somebody’s coming through, and I doubt it will be a library volunteer. I slide down.
Pretend to be invisible.
It’s no use. I peer over the top edge as a prisoner saunters through the door, and my pulse slams in my throat double time.
He’s flanked by two guards—escorted by them, I guess you’d say. But they seem more like an entourage than anything. Power vibrates around him like a threat.
Read, read, read. Don’t look.
The prisoner is half a foot taller than the guards, but he seems to tower over them by more than that. Maybe it’s his broad shoulders or just something about the way he stands, or his imperiously high cheekbones. The dark stubble across his cheeks looks so rough and unforgiving I can feel it against my palm; it contrasts wildly with the plushness of his lips. His short brown hair is mussed. There’s one scar through his eyebrow that somehow adds to his perfection.
“ID number 85359,” one of the guards says, and I understand that he’s referring to the prisoner. That’s who he is. Not John Smith or William Brown or whatever his name is. He’s been reduced to a number. The woman at the desk runs through a series of questions. It’s a procedure for checking him out of solitary.
The prisoner faces sideways, spine straight, the corner of his mouth tilted up as if he’s slightly amused. Then it clicks, what else is so different about him: no visible tattoos. Tough guys like this, they’re always inked up—it’s a kind of armor, a kind of fuck you. This guy has none of it, though he’s far from pristine; white scars mar the rough skin of his hands and especially his forearms, a latticework of pain and violence, a flag proclaiming the kind of underworld he came from.
The feel of brutality that hangs about him is compelling and…somehow beautiful.
I drink him in from behind my book—it’s my mask, my protective shield. But then the strangest thing happens: he cocks his head. It’s just a slight shift, but I feel his attention on me deep in my belly. I’ve been discovered. Caught by searchlights. Exposed.
My heart beats frantically.
I want him to look away. He fills up too much space. It’s as if he breathes enough oxygen for twelve men, leaving no air for me at all. Maybe if we were in the library and he needed help finding a book or looking something up, then I wouldn’t mind the weight of his gaze.
No. Not even there. He’s too much.
Two sets of bars on the gate. Handcuffs. Two guards.
What do they think he would do if there were only one set of bars, one guard?
My blood races as the guards draw him away from the window and toward the inner door, toward where I sit. His heat pierces the chill around me as he nears. His deep brown eyes never once meet mine, but I have the sense of him looming over me as he passes, like a tree with a massive canopy. He continues on, two hundred pounds of masculine danger wrapped in all that beauty.
Even in chains, he seems vibrant, wild and free, a force of nature—it makes me feel like I’m the one in prison. Safe. Small. Carefully locked down.
How would it feel to be that free?
“Ms. Winslow. Ms. Winslow.”
I jump, surprised to hear that the woman has been calling my name. “I’m sorry,” I say as a strange sensation tickles the back of my neck.
The woman stands and begins pulling on her jacket. “I’ll take you to the library now.”
“Oh, that’s great.”
That shivery sensation gets stronger. Against my better judgment, I look down the hallway where the guards and the prisoner are walking off as one—a column of orange flanked by two thinner, shorter posts.
The prisoner glances over his shoulder. His mocking brown gaze searches me out, pins me with a subtle threat. Though it isn’t his eyes that scare me. It’s his lips—those beautiful, generous lips forming words that make my blood race.
No sound comes out, but I feel as though he’s whispered my name right into my ear. Then he turns and strolls off.
Wow. Let me just take a minute to breathe. I literally just put this book down, and my mind is still racing. How about I start from the beginning?
Prisoner is a dark romance from collaborating authors, Annika Martin & Skye Warren. This is the first work that I’ve read by either of them, and I have to say, I’m going to be snatching up all they have to offer. If you like your romances dark, gritty and raw, you’re going to love this. I’m definitely going to read it again.
Prisoner opens, and we meet Abigail. She’s cute, she’s smart, she’s shy, she’s timid, and she has to teach a class of prisoners how to tell their story, how to write their memoir. Telling your story helps you heal, and Abigail’s assignment for college credit is to get hardened criminals to tell the truth. It’s scary, but doable. She can handle it, until she sees him. He’s big, and muscular and dangerous, and she seems to have caught his attention.
Greyson is a cop killer. He’s already served two years of his time, and he’s been thinking about how he’s going to escape ever since. Abigail seems like the perfect tool to use, as soon as he can figure out a way to use her in his escape plan. Things take a very dramatic and dangerous turn during one of Abigail’s classes, and suddenly she is at the mercy of her captor. Will she be able to survive? Will he?
I don’t usually give books a five star rating. I think a lot of books are great for different reasons, but rarely do I think they are as good as they can be. I gave Prisoner 5/5 stars. Why? You get characters that are multidimensional; you feel the emotions, the pain, the worry, the heartache, the tenderness and the absurdity of it all. I felt that Prisoner’s original plot, pacing and characters created the perfect storm for Abigail and Greyson.
Abigail could be strong without having to sacrifice who she is, and that makes me like her. Actually, that makes me love her. She’s capable and above all else, she’s a fighter. I can’t wait to see what the next installment of Criminals & Captives have to offer next.
Prisoner is captivating, emotional, and raw. I can’t wait to read it again. This might just be my favorite book of the year.
A free copy of the book was provided in exchange for an honest review.