Only four people know the truth about Richard’s mysterious disappearance—-Gabriel and three childhood friends...who have all sworn to take that secret to the grave. But a hidden enemy wants those shocking secrets brought to light...even if he has to kill to make it happen.
After experiencing an unimaginable loss two years ago, Gabriel refuses to put himself through the pain of loving someone who could be gone in an instant. But as he thwarts Leah’s investigation at every turn—-both to keep his friends’ pact, and to keep her safe from danger—-the sexy PI makes it impossible for him to protect his secrets. Or his heart...
© 2013 Naima Simone
“On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, five golden rings…”
With a smile, Gabriel hit the radio button on his dashboard. Mickey Mouse and the gang cut off mid-“Twelve Days of Christmas,” and The Temptations’ “Little Drummer Boy” spilled into the car.
Much better. He shook his head. He adored Ian, loved being his father, but listening to Disney’s Christmas CD without his son in the backseat went over and beyond his parental duties. He chuckled and wondered what cartoon-inspired holiday music Maura listened to in the green car ahead of him. A meeting with his literary agent in New York, a late return fl ight back to Boston, and last-minute Christmas shopping that needed to be completed after leaving her parents’ Christmas party had prevented him from sharing her fate.
He hated shopping. But with Santa making his visit in two days, Maura had charged him with picking up the eleventh-hour gifts Ian had requested. Given the choice between driving by himself or riding in the car with his family and spending those few extra moments, Gabriel would have chosen his wife with the everincreasing “Honey, do…” list and the boy with the high-pitched, off-key voice every time. But neither he nor his wife was strong enough to resist their son’s pleas of, “I just gotta have—” How the boy remained so sweet-natured when both his mother and father spoiled him rotten remained a complete mystery.
Gabriel’s fi ngertips tapped the steering wheel in time to the song’s beat as he slowed at an intersection behind the family compact. Anticipation and delight streamed through him, lighting him up like the bright bulbs on the seven-foot tree in their living room. One week of nothing but family, friends, and relaxation. After he completed the enormous list of chores Maura had planned for him, maybe he’d go down to the pub and have a pint, soak up the atmosphere, and get another story idea brewing. The forecast called for several inches of snow in the coming days. Maybe he and Ian could get outside and build a snowman. Then he could convince Maura to take an afternoon nap. He grinned and eased his foot off the brake. God, he loved Christmas.
He slowed for the yellow light, then came to a stop as it blinked to red.
He yelled out a warning she couldn’t hear as her car didn’t brake but coasted through the light and into the intersection.
The world slowed until it moved through a transparent wall of glue.
A pickup truck slammed into Maura’s car. The compact bowed around the truck’s front fender like a steel embrace. The piercing screech of metal scraping metal. The shrill squeal of rubber on road. The scream. The horrible scream…
In one painful instant, time warped from slow to Mach 3.
“No!” Gabriel’s bellow fi lled his car, bounced off the windows, and crashed in his head. With fumbling hands, he slammed the gear into park and reached for the door handle. Animal grunts scraped his throat as he jerked the handle over and over. The lock, a tiny, sane voice whispered. The door is locked. The part of his mind that hadn’t given over to panic heeded the instruction and punched the automatic-release button on his armrest. He tumbled from the car and hit the pavement.
The impact scraped his hands and knees. The burn of grit and asphalt biting into his palms and legs rode a distant second to the horror that swamped him.
Lunging to his feet, he tore into the street.
Barely registering the pickup driver’s hunched, unmoving body, he darted to his wife’s car.
His feet skidded to a stop at the driver’s side, and his fi ngers clawed at the door.
“Maura,” he whispered. Her head was slumped against the window, her auburn curls pressed to the glass in a dark halo. “Sweetheart, no.” A hard yank and the door shuddered open. His wife fl opped into his arms, the seat belt a harness around her limp body.
In seconds, he had the belt unsnapped and her lying on the ground. Blood streaked her forehead and cheeks. A hoarse wheeze rattled from her chest.
Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.
He mumbled the litany over and over as he jackknifed to his feet and lurched for the back door. Christmas presents toppled from the car, spilling onto the street like gaily sprinkled confetti.
With a harsh curse, he yanked the last of the boxes out and crawled into the backseat.
Ian—oh, Jesus, Ian…
Looking like sin and smelling like trouble…
Boston attorney Malachim Jerrod doesn’t trust anyone. His father and his ex-fiancé taught him that hard lesson. So when a beautiful stranger arrives on his doorstep his first reaction is to back away—far away. Danielle Warren wants a job, but his law business is falling apart, and her credentials are bare-bones at best. Still, there’s something about her that, try as he might, he’s unable to resist. The vulnerability in her soft voice? The way she flinches when he gets too close? The yearning he sees mirrored in her eyes when she looks at him?
She’s the last thing he needs…
Two years ago, Danielle barely escaped alive from her powerful and abusive ex-husband. Now her ex is out of prison, and he’s coming for her. She knows she must leave her new job and run. Disappear—to keep herself and those she loves safe. Including her sexy boss, who has sparked feelings in her heart she never thought she’d feel again. Yet, she can’t help but wonder...should she let down her guard and trust Malachim with the truth?
But the only one he desires.
Working together brings them closer than ever—but reveals secrets and sins best left buried in the past. Their lives and their passionate love at stake, Danielle and Malachim must fight to survive to grasp the future of their dreams.
But then again, most people didn’t have a formerly thriving law practice swirling the toilet like the Ty-D-Bol Man.
Malachim Jerrod strolled toward the brownstone that housed his law office, located in Boston’s historic Beacon Hill neighborhood. Authentic gas-burning lamps provided ample light as he passed elegant buildings with their black shutters and dark windows. Boughs of bright red poinsettias and white lights decorated the sills and arched doorways in deference to the holiday season. Usually, he enjoyed the walk—the elegant, ageless beauty of the neighborhood never failed to charm him. Time seemed to have screeched to a halt on the quiet block off busy Charles Street. If he closed his eyes, he could almost detect the murmurs of revolution and freedom, the clack of hooves and rumble of carriage wheels.
But tonight, as he headed back into his office after having left it two hours earlier, his thoughts were as dark as the shadows that stretched across the cobbled sidewalks. An image unfurled in his mind—a single sheet of paper with official letterhead scrolled across the top, the body of the message containing the words LICENSE, SUSPENSION, PENDING, DISBARMENT. A sliver of fear slid between his ribs like a shiv. With every breath he took, the cold, steel edge of it wedged deeper.
Damn, it would be so easy to just turn around, put in a call to his best friends, Gabriel Devlin, Raphael Marcel, and Chayot Gray, and ask them to meet him at the bar around the corner. There, he could drown his worries in two-dollar beers and testosterone-heavy conversation. And he didn’t doubt the three men would drop everything to answer his distress signal. He, Gabe, Rafe, and Chay had been friends since birth—before, really. Their mothers had met during their prenatal workshops and appointments at Boston Children’s Hospital. High-risk pregnancies had brought the women together, but admiration and love had connected them. Though from different social and economic backgrounds, Pam, Ana, Sharon, and Evelyn had remained close and passed down their friendship to the sons they’d all named after angels—angels God had blessed them with.
There hadn’t been a moment in his thirty-five years Malachim hadn’t been able to lean on Gabriel, Rafe, or Chay. But this evening, as he contemplated his law office’s precarious future, he knew he couldn’t burden them with his fears. Especially since Chay would carry most of the blame on his already weary shoulders.
He quickened his step as he approached the building that was a second home. Malachim had loved this place since he’d been a small boy visiting his grandfather. Samuel Resner hadn’t been a demonstrative man, but his mother’s father had gifted Malachim with the thing begrudged him at home: acceptance.
And when his grandfather had passed, the brownstone he’d bequeathed to Malachim had been the one thing in his entire life that had belonged solely to him. The one thing his father, Christopher Jerrod, had been unable to snatch, steal, or bribe away.
Malachim shook his head. Not going down that slippery slope of—
A hard gust expelled from his lungs. He lifted his hands and gripped the shoulders of the petite woman who’d barreled into his chest. “Son of a…”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
Sultry nights. Twisted limbs. Breathless moans. Malachim allowed her low, rasping tone to tease over his skin like a luxuriant pelt of fur—sensuous, beautiful. Only phone sex operators had voices like hers. Practiced and perfected to elicit thoughts of sex, sweat, and pleasure.
His fingers flexed but clutched air. The woman had shifted away, escaping his grasp and stepping into the pool of pale light cast by one of the street lamps.
Holy shit. Only a face as lovely and cool as the Madonna’s could eclipse that voice of sin and rich dark chocolate.
His breath stuttered in his throat. An image of a still, watchful animal slid into his mind. As if she waited, undecided if he was foe or friend. Part of him wanted to soothe her, murmur words of reassurance.
And the other wanted to lunge forward, scare her off so she went back to wherever she’d emerged from. Something about those large, liquid doe eyes and aloof, beautiful face stirred a distant response like dust motes in a neglected attic. The sorrow, the loneliness it evoked resonated in his chest like a clock in the distance chiming the hour. He wanted the uncomfortable feeling—and her—gone.
“Excuse me,” he said abruptly.
If she was taken aback by his harsh tone, her serene expression didn’t reveal it. The slight stiffening of her small frame did.
Shit. Next thing, he would start kicking dogs and tripping old ladies.
“I’m sorry,” he continued, softer this time. “Long day. And I wasn’t watching where I was going.” He slid his hands in the deep pockets of his coat. “Are you looking for someone?”
She briefly hesitated. “Yes. Well, no,” she said in that voice capable of coercing gold from King Midas. “I was looking for the office of Jerrod & Associates.” Pause. “Malachim Jerrod?”
His eyebrows arched high as surprise winged through him. “Yes. Do I know you?”
“No.” She stepped forward, reclaiming some of the space she’d placed between them. “My name is Danielle Warren.”
“Okay, Ms. Warren.” Danielle. He silently rolled her name over his tongue as he cast a cursory scan down her body. She shivered beneath a black jacket that was inadequate against the winter night, faded blue jeans, and scuffed sneakers. Curiosity pricked him. Hard. “What brings you by at eight-thirty in the evening?”
“Actually, I didn’t expect to run into anyone this late.” She dug into the dark messenger bag at her hip. A mass of midnight curls tumbled forward, and he stared, fascinated. It had to be the lighting that made the loose spirals appear like woven strands of silk. Her bowed head lifted as she withdrew a letter-sized manila envelope. “I intended to just drop my résumé through the mail slot.”
Résumé? Malachim frowned, inspecting the envelope she held toward him. She slowly lowered her arm when he made no move to accept the offered document. Again he noted the worn, simple clothes, the wind-tousled array of curls. Bethany, his administrative assistant, had placed an online ad for a paralegal three weeks ago. Unfortunately, he had yet to get a single decent application from that ad.
Anger and panic knotted his gut until it resembled a nautical rope. He needed an additional legal assistant to replace the one who’d quit a couple of weeks after the story of Richard Pierce’s murder hit.
Six weeks earlier, an anonymous sender had mailed a letter to Leah Bannon, a family friend and private detective, that had resulted in her reopening an investigation into Richard’s disappearance twenty years earlier. Leah had approached Gabe for help and advice. What she hadn’t known was that Gabe, Rafe, Chay, and Malachim were very much aware of the details surrounding Richard’s disappearance. And death.
While Richard had been a loving uncle to Leah, to Chay—and to countless more boys—he’d been a monster…a predator who’d violated their trust and stolen their innocence. Chay had killed Richard when he’d come after him one night. And after a phone call from their terrified and traumatized friend, Malachim, Gabe, and Rafe had helped Chay bury the body in the backyard of the Jerrod family’s second home in Cape Cod. For twenty years, the four of them had protected their secret. But with the arrival of one letter, their skeleton had come busting out of the closet.
When Greer Addison finds her future husband in bed with another woman, she runs…right into the arms of dark and dangerous Raphael Marcel. Angry and hurt, she throws caution to the wind and spends a hot night with the sexy security specialist. But when her fiancé is found dead, Greer becomes the main suspect of a crime she can’t remember.
Raphael is stunned and suspicious when Greer shows up on his doorstep claiming she’s carrying his baby. Worse, she’s the target of a stalker bent on making her pay for a murder she doesn’t recall. As Raphael begins to trust Greer, they must race against the clock to uncover a killer. Because Greer’s memory is returning…
She doesn’t see herself bellied up to the bar of a neighborhood pub a week before her wedding day because she caught her now ex-fiancé in bed with another woman.
But then again, Greer Addison reasoned, smiling at the bartender who set down a napkin and glass in front of her, dreams had the tendency to shift into nightmares. One minute life was expected, stable, a black-and-white montage of predictability. Then the next it was chaotic, confusing, a Technicolor whirlwind of lies, betrayal, and humiliation.
“Isn’t that number three or four?” her brother, Ethan, asked, arching his brow as she lifted the glass to her lips for a sip. “You don’t think you should slow down? Besides, you’re going to get sick on that. At least switch up to a vodka tonic.”
Greer hummed in pleasure as the sweet chocolate flavor and the tart vodka flowed over her tongue. Wow, she swirled the alcohol in the glass. That’s awesome. “It’s number three, my pace is just fine, and I like this.” She smacked her lips. “Tasty.”
“Sweetie.” Ethan covered the hand on her lap with his. “Greer.” Concern and a terrible sympathy softened his handsome features. The compassion in eyes as green as her own sliced into her heart like the most skilled surgeon’s scalpel. “He didn’t mean it.”
She downed another gulp, heedless of the velvety burn the large swallow of alcohol blazed down her esophagus. If only she could smooth away the jagged edges of her memories so easily.
Her father’s vicious tirade assaulted her brain like shards of broken glass—sharp, cutting…drawing heart’s blood.
What good are you? The one thing you’ve done right—the one time you were useful to me, had finally done something to make me proud—and you screw it up. Your brother’s a fag, and you’re a failure. A useless failure.
“Oh, he meant it,” she murmured, setting the glass down on the aged, scarred bar top. She stared down into the cream-colored drink with the chocolate swirl she’d almost obliterated with two healthy sips. “We both know how sincere he was.”
Ethan’s mouth momentarily tightened, as did the fingers gripping his bottle of Corona. He wasn’t a stranger to Ethan Addison II’s—no “Jr.” for him—“tender mercies.” After years of painful denial and struggling to conform to the inflexible, rigid Addison mold, Ethan had finally come out to his family. She’d been aware of his sexual identity…always had been. But Ethan had always been her protector, her rock, her confidant. Whom he loved and slept with had never mattered to her.
Their father had not been so open-minded. Or forgiving.
Three years later, and the last words he’d uttered to his son were, “I raised a son, not a daughter. When you come to your senses and remember that, you will be welcome back in this house and family. Until then, get out.”
That Ethan had actually stepped inside their parents’ home to lend her his support when she broke the news about calling off her engagement to Gavin M. Wells revealed how much her brother loved her. Or maybe he’d known she would need someone after their father finished slicing her into pieces and put her out like day-old trash.
“It doesn’t—” The cell phone in her jacket pocket vibrated. Maybe it was Mom calling to tell her Dad had calmed… She dug it out and glanced at the screen. Her stomach clenched, twisted. Gavin.
Quickly, she stashed the cell back in her pocket, lifting the glass from the bar with her other hand. The alcohol hit her stomach like a leaden weight.
“Let me guess,” Ethan said with a nod toward her pocket. “Gavin.”
She shook her head, emitting a short, brittle chuckle. “I only have one thing to say to him, and since it’s anatomically impossible, there’s no point in my answering and wasting my breath.”
“Actually, I saw this video—”
She flicked her palm up. “Stop right there. T-M-freaking-I.”
Ethan snickered, and a reluctant smile curved her lips. So her humor button hadn’t been permanently smashed to smithereens. Good to know.
“Sweetie.” He sobered, his gaze solemn and filled with compassion. “You have to talk to him sooner or later.”
“Not now.” She shook her head. Hurt and the greasy glide of humiliation pitched and rolled in her belly. She turned her head, stared out the latticed windows. The red and orange electric flame effects from the fake fireplace danced in the dark windows, adding to the multicolored flicker of Christmas lights from the office building across the street. She loved this time of year. People were kinder, the world was prettier, more joyful. Her love for the holiday season was the reason she’d chosen December 23rd as her wedding date. It’d seemed perfect.
“We were friends,” she murmured. “Before the dating, the engagement, and wedding plans, we were friends. If he didn’t want me, he could’ve come to me, been up-front. Instead…”
The images of “instead” rose in her head, wavering, solidifying, then evaporating so another picture took its place. Aubrey straddling Gavin, her auburn hair streaming down her bare back as she undulated on top of Greer’s fiancé. Gavin rising, face twisted in sensual pleasure, passionately kissing the woman Greer worked with at her father’s bank. His blank eyes and gaping mouth as his gaze connected with Greer’s in the doorway of his bedroom.
“Instead he was a cowardly sack of shit who couldn’t keep his dick in his pants,” Ethan snapped, disgust dripping from his ice-cold tone. Again, championing her.
She sighed and rubbed a fingertip over the old, tiny sickle-shaped scar on her chin. A childhood habit she’d acquired and never rid herself of.
“Pretty much,” she murmured. “But you know what hurt me most?” she asked, meeting the concern and anger simmering in her brother’s eyes. “Yes, the lies and the cheating. But if I’m brutally honest with myself, I’d admit his quick capitulation with the six-month no-sex agreement should’ve been my first clue something was wrong.”
Noah Granger, her best friend, had scoffed when she’d told him about her idea of a period of abstinence and rededication so she and Gavin could experience a true wedding night. He’d warned her no sane man would go for it, and when he’d learned of Gavin’s acquiescence, he’d bluntly informed her he smelled a rat—and the rat wore Gavin’s toothy Colgate grin.
“Greer, it’s not your fault.”
Months after security specialist Chayot Gray’s darkest secret was exposed to the world, he’s struggling to cope with the fallout. Shame and guilt threaten to consume him, and he longs for the anonymous, numb existence he’s known for two decades. Then he discovers a masked figure lurking outside his neighbor’s home. The pain-filled shadows darkening Aslyn’s eyes call to him, and her loveliness stirs a desire he didn’t know existed. Now Chay must conquer his inner-demons in order to save her from a madman determined to finish the job he started...
She straightened once more, and sweat dampened her hair, face, and body as adrenaline raced through her veins, more exhilarating and powerful than any drug. Her heart pounded a primal beat, echoing the applause and cheers of the people who’d come out to the San Antonio arena to attend her concert. The pulse reverberated in her chest, belly, between her thighs…
Hell, she was a walking, breathing orgasm.
She pressed her fingers to her lips and blew out one last kiss before waving and striding off the stage.
“Awesome performance, Aslyn!”
“Amazing show tonight!”
Maneuvering around the various coils and equipment crates littering the floor of the backstage area, she grinned at her crew’s congratulations. The heavy curtains separating the stadium and backstage areas couldn’t stifle the continued noise of the concertgoers. She had to force herself to keep walking down the hallway toward her dressing room. Either keep walking or spin around and return to that stage, run up to her piano, and play for another hour. She chuckled. While she would love nothing more, the other musicians in the small orchestra that joined her on tour might revolt.
God, nothing in this world could compete with performing in front of thousands of people with her orchestra and playing her music—her music. She grinned wider.
And hot damn. She got to do it all over again tomorrow night.
“Wonderful concert, Aslyn,” her manager and oldest friend Liam Ahearn said, passing her a towel.
“Thanks, Liam.” She patted her face and throat with the cloth. “I swear I didn’t want to come off stage tonight.”
“Two encores. I think I figured that out for myself,” he said wryly.
She laughed, accepting a bottle of water. “Hey, did you see Jeremy Sutter in the front row?” Wriggling her hips, she did a fist pump. “The man has been playing hardball, but I think he’s going to accept our offer.”
Liam grunted. “He has a decent reputation, but…”
“Decent reputation?” she scoffed. “The man is a god among agents. And think. With him on board, you’ll have even more time to manage every minute of my life down to a nanosecond.”
“As if you’re cooperative now,” he drawled. “Now, we have to make an appearance at the after party. How soon do you think you can be ready?”
She touched the damp bun at the back of her head and glanced down at her flowing, cuffed white shirt, tight black leather pants, and knee-high stiletto boots.
“Um,” she hummed, lifting the water bottle to her mouth for a deep sip. “It depends. Do I have to dress up for this thing?”
Liam’s eyebrows hiked high. “Well, it requires more than ripped jeans and one of those hideous graphic tees you hoard.”
“So yes on dressing up.” She shrugged. “Forty minutes?”
He sighed as they drew to a halt in front of her dressing room door and the massive tank of a man, Joseph, who guarded it and her.
“I’d prefer thirty, but if an extra ten means makeup, I guess I can’t argue. I’ll wait for you out here.” Liam pressed a quick kiss to her forehead, then pulled his cell phone free to probably begin making one of his seemingly endless calls.
Shaking her head, she grinned at her bodyguard. “Hey, Joe. Has my door been behaving itself?”
The corner of his mouth quirked the tiniest bit, but the aloof expression didn’t alter as he shifted to the side, unblocking the entrance to the dressing room. “I only had to put it in time-out once, Ms. Jericho.”
Turning the knob, she snickered. “You’re such a hard-ass, Joe.” She slipped inside and closed the door. Silence greeted her, enveloped her. The quiet seemed almost jarring after the past hour. She inhaled, held the deep breath, then released it on a long sigh. Rolling her shoulders, she crossed the room and lowered to the chair in front of the brightly lit vanity table. She scrunched her face at the reflection in the mirror. Heavily lashed and shadowed eyes. Scarlet lipstick that made her mouth look double its normal size. Was there any wonder she preferred no makeup when not on stage? Hell, right now she resembled a goth burlesque dancer.
Smirking, she plucked the pins securing her bun free. Long, dark red hair tumbled to her shoulders and back. She groaned, rubbing her scalp. Closing her eyes, she massaged harder.
“Beautiful.” Her eyes popped open, the reverence in the word as startling and terrifying as the voice in a room she believed empty. A cry clawed up her throat as a pale, smiling face appeared next to hers. “You’re so beautiful.”
She screamed, but a hand slapped over her lips, stinging her skin and pressing the tender tissue inside her mouth against her teeth. The makeshift gag muffled the shout to a strangled whimper.
“Shh.” Metal glinted in the vanity’s bright bulbs. Terror crawled through her veins, freezing her blood. He lowered his hand, and she watched, paralyzed, as it stroked her lips in a depraved parody of a kiss before settling at the base of her neck. “We wouldn’t want anyone to interrupt us. Now that we’re finally able to meet face-to-face.”
He leaned farther down, and his free hand cupped her chin in an implacable grip. Cold, dry lips pressed to her temple, slid down the side of her face to her jaw. His tongue flicked over her skin like a snake’s forked tongue, tasting her. Nausea churned in her belly.
“I told you my love would find you,” he murmured, a frightening warmth in his soft gaze.
My love would find you…
Oh Christ. Quinton Lakes.