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NOTE: If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. secret sins Copyright © 2012 by Lora Leigh. All rights reserved. For information address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010. ISBN: 978-1-250-01701-7 Printed in the United States of America St. Martin’s Paperbacks edition / December 2012 St. Martin’s Paperbacks are published by St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010. 10

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She couldn’t stand it. She couldn’t stand being around him. Watching him, wanting to rub against the hard corded strength of his body, desperate to taste a kiss from the controlled line of his sensual lips. He looked like a pirate. Like a desperado pretending to be a sheriff, and he made her want to run even as he made her want to cling to him. She couldn’t stand it. No, that wasn’t true, Anna Corbin thought, looking over at the too-handsome sheriff. She loved being around Archer Tobias and had since she was a young girl. The problem was he didn’t seem to see her. But she was eighteen now and she could make him see her, if her grandfather and parents would stop shipping her off, like they were proposing to do once again. “You’ll love France,” her mother was saying, her smile bittersweet and filled with longing, though she refused to look up at Anna. “It’s beautiful there.” “Jacques said you can start as soon as you graduate college. Beginning two years early will allow you to begin in an excellent position before you turn twenty-one,”

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her grandfather, John Corbin, informed her. “His company is really going places, Anna. You’ll be there to watch it grow into a major accounting firm.” Yippee. Wasn’t that sure to be boring? Looking up, Anna’s eyes met Archer’s before he quickly turned his gaze back to his meal. Lifting her glass she sipped her wine, before setting the glass back by her plate. She silently ran her fingers up and down the slender stem. “Jacques is really looking forward to having you come in as his assistant,” her father said quietly, watching her intently. “Of course he is.” Her head snapped up as the words escaped her mouth. “It will be so much easier to cop a feel if I’m right under his thumb.” Silence filled the room as everyone but Archer stared back at her in shock. For his part, Archer simply stared back at her, the ice that suddenly filled his gaze sending a chill up her spine. “What are you saying, Anna?” Her father, Robert Corbin, frowned, his expression dark and forbidding as he turned and glared at Gran’pop. “Anna.” Her Gran’pop’s voice was chiding as he stared back at her with disappointment. “Jacques explained that.” Turning to his son he breathed out heavily. “Jacques fell against her while he was here last summer and unfortunately brushed her back end. It was an accident.” She could feel her teeth automatically clenching at her grandfather’s explanation. When her eyes lifted, she saw that Archer was not looking at her, but was instead staring at his plate, fingers gripping his fork, eyes glaring at his food, his expression hard. Her heart thumped. Was Archer angry at hearing that another man had touched her? Anna shook her head. Even if

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he was, Archer saw her more as a little sister, so if he was angry it was probably the anger of a big brother. Her shoulders slumped a bit. How sexy. “It wasn’t an accident,” she said stubbornly. “You can’t come back here.” That was Gran’pop, cutting right to the chase. Anna looked defiant. “I’m not going to France.” John Corbin shrugged. “Then I’ll find you a job in England.” “Let me be clearer, Gran’pop.” It was now or never. “I’m not leaving the States. I’m not working on the West, East, or Southern coasts.” “You are not coming back here.” His silverware clattered against his plate. “Then I will stay in Sweetrock.” “Over my dead body.” His aged, wrinkled face showed his age and his command. “I hope not, Gran’pop.” She shook her head as she lifted the napkin from her lap and laid it politely next to her plate. “I believe I’m finished. If you’ll excuse me.” “No, I will not,” Gran’pop declared as she moved her chair back and started to rise. “We have company for dinner, Anna. You will not embarrass this family.” Archer was staring back at her now, anger sparking in his gaze as her brow lifted. “This is probably one of the least explosive arguments Archer’s witnessed over the years,” she assured her grandfather. “Sorry, Gran’pop, but I’m not sitting here and pretending to like how very easily my parents and grandparents are planning my life for me. Especially when every one of you is very well aware you’re breaking my heart.” “You will not do this, Anna,” her grandfather ordered then. “Do what, Gran’pop? Have a life? Have something

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to do with cousins you’ve kept me from all my life? Cousins who are so obviously not the monsters you’ve made them out to be?” Her voice rose, anger, hurt, that odd hunger to know the cousins reviled for so long both confusing and drawing her. “That’s all—this is over!” he yelled, his fist hitting the table hard enough so that the dishes vibrated with a discordant sound. “Those fucking Callahans.” “Those fucking Callahans?” she sneered. “One of whom is your only grandson. Let’s lay it out on the table, shall we? For years you’ve been trying to keep me away from my own family. Away from Logan, Rafer, and Crowe and for years I had no choice. You’ve kept me so isolated, I feel like an orphan myself! But I’m eighteen now and I can make my own decisions. You can’t keep me away any longer.” “The hell I can’t,” he snarled, all but shaking with fury as all eyes turned to him. “I’ll be damned if I’ll allow it, Anna. You will return to college and you will do so immediately, or I promise you, I swear to you by all that’s holy I’ll make damned sure Crowe Callahan pays for it.” Anna felt herself pale. She could see the determination, the certain conviction in her grandfather’s expression and she knew he meant it. “The day will come that you can’t hurt him any longer,” she said. “When that day happens, Mr. Callahan”—she wouldn’t call him Gran’pop again—“I promise you, I’ll be back.” Moving from the table she strode quickly from the dining room and then from the house as the first tear fell. France and the pervert. England and God only knew what kind of deviant. Anywhere but where she wanted to be. In Corbin County with her family. And Archer.

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* * * Archer glared at John Corbin, then at his son, Robert, and daughter-in-law, Lisa. Anna’s place in Corbin County and on the family ranch had been a heated topic since the year she had been shipped off to boarding school at age nine. As he heard it over the years, each vacation, holiday, or family visit Anna had screamed, raged, begged, and pleaded to come home. She had bargained for homeschooling or tutors, and swore she’d obey every request, want, need, or command that her parents could come up with. When that had failed, she had become a terror on two legs with pretty emerald eyes. Each time a school had threatened to send her home, John Corbin had paid them for whatever trouble she had caused and then paid them more for whatever trouble she might cause in the future. She had for nine years been involved in a war that neither Anna nor her parents had escaped unscathed. And now, it seemed, she was upping the stakes. She was eighteen, they couldn’t force her into the college of their choice, and it seemed she wasn’t going to allow them to force her into the job of their choice. “She doesn’t understand,” John muttered. “Sorry ’bout that, Archer.” “Why the fuck do you keep doing this to her, John? Or for that matter, to Crewe?” Archer couldn’t hold back his own anger any longer. “She’s your granddaughter and you do everything you can to disown her without actually doing so. And who is this bastard you keep defending who dared touch her?” “This is none of your business, Archer,” he began. “You brought me into this family, John. You made it my business, especially when I learn she’s in danger

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of being molested by someone you keep trying to throw her at.” “That’s not it—” John grated harshly. “Archer, stay out of this.” Robert spoke from the other end of the table, his voice firm. “This is family business.” It was always family business when they didn’t want to explain their unjust actions toward Anna. He was getting damned sick of it. “Understood, Robert.” Following Anna’s example he lifted his napkin, wiped his lips, then folded it and laid it next to his plate with icy precision. “Thank you and your family for dinner, John, but it’s time I go.” John grimaced. “Thanks for coming by, Archer. It’s always nice to see you.” Fuck, as though he hadn’t just witnessed Anna having her heart torn out and one of his best friends trashed by the Corbins’ determined refusal to allow Anna to know a cousin she obviously ached to know. It might not make sense, but Anna didn’t have to make sense to him when it was clear her family was making demands that were so blatantly unfair. Shaking his head as he swept his gaze between the three of them, Archer left the table and strode from the room. Things had always been damned strange in the Corbin household, but now, they were approaching Twilight Zone level. Stepping onto the wide wraparound porch and closing the door behind him, he let a smile touch his lips at the sight of the curves leaning indolently against the SUV. Well-worn jeans, and a light gray stretchy top that clung to her breasts, waist, and hips to end at the band of those low-slung jeans. His gaze lifted to her breasts again.

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A perfect handful, he thought, his palms suddenly tingling at the thought of those fi rm, rounded curves fitting his palms. He gave himself a mental shake. Had he lost his fucking mind? Long black hair, waves upon waves of it, tumbled from her head, over her shoulders and one breast, and down her back almost to her curvy, tempting hips. With her arms folded beneath those breasts, her head tilted to the side, and those lush, enticing curls flowing around her, she was the image of a tempting, sensual little angel. One he was dying to touch. God have mercy on his self-control. She was a woman now. Archer felt his breath pause in his chest, felt his entire body go hot, then cold. Son of a bitch, she was a woman now. Stepping across the porch he felt the blood suddenly rushing through his body and heading south just as fast as possible. All for one tiny, tempestuous, trouble-making package. God help him. “They’re going to try to make me go back, Archer.” She lifted her head and the sight of her emerald eyes, sparkling with jewel-like brightness beneath her tears, was nearly more than he could bear. “They’re trying to do what they think is best for you, Anna.” He sighed as he moved beside her and leaned back against the vehicle, crossing his arms over his chest. He didn’t believe they were, but hell, what was he supposed to say to her at this point? “Can’t you talk to them, Arch?” Straightening from

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the car she moved to face him, standing way too damned close as she laid her hand on his forearm and stared up at him beseechingly. “I tried,” he said softly, dipping his head down toward her before he could consider the need to touch those pouting lips. He straightened quickly, a grimace pulling at his expression. “Your daddy told me to stay out of it.” She laid her head against his arm, and he wanted nothing more than to return to a time when he could have hugged her and not worried about her feeling the hard-on he was fighting. “I don’t want to leave,” she said, the pain in her voice so filled with aching loneliness that Archer wanted nothing more than to fix it for her. “Go to college,” he told her and, unable to help himself, his arms opening for her. Pulling her against his chest he laid his head against hers. “Do what you have to do first, then do what you want to do.” “I don’t want to go to France.” “Good.” He pretended to breathe a sigh of relief. “Protecting you from all those depraved Frenchmen would be hard to do from here, you know.” A little laugh escaped her. “Will you miss me?” “More than sunshine.” He grinned. He’d been telling her that for a lot of years now. “They don’t have sunshine where I’m going,” she said, sadly. “California?” He pretended disbelief. “Darlin’, I have it on the highest authority the sun shines there every day.” Her head lifted and the pain in her eyes, in her face, broke his heart. “My sunshine is here, Archer.”

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Cupping her cheek his gaze flicked to her lips. Awareness suddenly exploded between them. Like a live wire sparking around them, through them, it blazed like wildfire. His gaze jerked back to hers. She was too innocent to hide it, too damned young to know what it could do to both of them. “Are you finally going to kiss me, Archer Tobias?” she whispered, her breathing sharp and heavy, her fingers curled against his shirt as though terrified something, or someone, would jerk her away from him. “Your granddaddy’s standing in the living room window,” he said. “And I know your daddy’s not far behind. It would look real bad if one of them killed the sheriff his first year in office. Especially considering how hard they campaigned for him.” But he wanted to kiss her. God help him, he wanted to kiss her. “Will you call me sometime?” she asked, those emerald eyes so sad, so brokenhearted that, for a moment, he hated her family for forcing her away. “I’ll call sometime,” he promised, easing her away from him. “Will you kiss me sometime? I’ve been waiting a long time, Archer.” “One of these days,” he promised softly, opening the door to the vehicle and getting in as she watched him with tear-filled eyes. “One of these days.” She was too innocent, too unaware of the evil that existed. “I had a sister once,” he said, his voice soft. “I remember.” She nodded. “I heard she had died, but no one ever told me what happened and I didn’t want to bring up bad memories by asking.” “Dad didn’t know about her until after he married

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Mom and I was already born. She came to the house a lot, though, after she found Dad. She was always full of laughter, always demanding what was due her.” “What happened?” “A serial killer in Washington state.” He frowned as he stared through the windshield. “She was only four years older than me. I’d just shipped out to the Marines. The Washington state police contacted Dad weeks after it happened. Her mother hadn’t called him. He called me that night and I managed to get leave.” Reaching through the open window she touched his shoulder softly. “I’m so sorry, Archer.” Covering her hand with his he stared back at her, wishing he could make this easier for her. “You know, maybe that’s why your family doesn’t want you in Corbin County, Anna,” he suggested. “We still don’t believe the Slasher was actually caught. Until he is, no woman is safe here. Especially no woman with ties to the Callahans. If it were me, and you were my daughter, I’d keep you the hell away from here, too.” “You’d just move, too,” she said regretfully. “You wouldn’t just send your child away, Archer.” She had him there. “They love you. I know that for a fact, sweetheart.” “Not enough,” she said, stepping back from the vehicle. “They obviously just don’t love me enough.” Starting the Tahoe, Archer slid it into gear before pulling slowly away from her. He’d told her the truth. He didn’t blame the Corbins in the least for wanting her to be protected. It was how she was being protected that he found fault with. If she were his daughter, he would have gotten her the hell out of Corbin County, too. But Anna had been right as well. He wouldn’t have just sent his daughter away; he would have made damned certain he was with

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her. Because as bad as the Slasher was, there were worse, far worse, monsters in the world. The brutality inflicted on his sister attested to that fact. Archer didn’t know if he could face losing Anna in such a manner. At least Anna was safe a little while longer. She was eighteen, as beautiful as a sunrise, and he had no doubt the day would come when she would return to Corbin County with all intents of staying. And when she returned, there would be no sending her away again. He only prayed she didn’t become a target.

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CHAPTER 1 Six years later She had only been home for less than a day and the first thing she had done was seek out Archer Tobias. The man she was determined to seduce. But now, as she stood there, staring at him, she started to lose her breath. Anna could feel her body weakening, a sensual, overwhelming surge of sensations flooding her, whipping through her, tearing across her flesh like an erotic tidal wave. Dark gold eyes watched her through lowered lashes, his face set in an expression that, even in her limited experience, she knew was filled with hunger. His lips parted as she licked hers to relieve their dryness, his gaze dropping to them, then lifting to her eyes once again. She had only wanted to dance. The music was pulsing through her blood, filling her with energy as the beat wrapped around her, and invisible notes seemed to be dragging her onto the gazebo patio used as a dance floor.

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The evening air was turning cooler, but as she began to move—as Archer watched, his gaze caressing her body—heat flooded her. Perspiration dewed across her skin and a fever burned beneath her flesh as she turned to him once again. Her hips swayed, long black hair trailed down her back as she slowly, slowly shed the long-sleeved, Victorian-style velvet shrug she’d worn over a white silk camisole. The feel of the velvet rasping over her bare arms sent a shiver racing over her, electric pleasure sizzling through her. Did he see her reaction? His eyes seemed to flare with some dark emotion or hunger as the muscles of his arms bunched, his fingers clenching where they gripped the support post of the awning he stood beneath. Dropping the shrug to the top of the bistro table near her, Anna tipped her head back, feeling her hair brush past her hips. Heat surged through her. Her nipples ached, hardened, her breasts swelled in painful need. Between her thighs the swollen bud of her clitoris throbbed with the need for his touch. The feel of his fingers—his lips . . . Oh God, the feel of his lips doing all the things she had ever fantasized of. She needed his touch. She needed him like air, like water— Forcing her eyes open, Anna met his gaze again. Letting her hands caress her hips, her sides, stopping just beneath her breasts before stroking down once again, Anna teased him. Her hands reaching her thighs, she stopped, stroked back to her hips, then lifted her arms over her head and swayed, moving for him, her hips shifting and swaying—

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She lost her breath. Releasing the hold he had on the post, Archer moved slowly down the steps, striding toward her with slow, purposeful strides as the music slowly changed. The hard, driving beat slid slowly into an erotic pulse of sensual chords. Couples filled the floor as he reached her, his arms surrounding her a second before he suddenly jerked her against his hard body. “Archer—” Breathing in roughly, her hands gripped his shoulders, holding tight as she felt the hard length of his erection pressing into her lower stomach. Sensual heat swept through her. Pounding, fiery sensations burned through her, weakening her knees and her womb before they struck at her clit with such pleasure that her breath caught and new heat flushed through her face. “You’re teasing a very hungry man, sweetheart,” he growled as he began to move, stroking against her, his arms holding her as she stared up at him, caught, held by the dark hunger in his gaze. “Or you’re teasing a very hungry woman,” she suggested breathlessly. “And I’m tired of waiting for you, Sheriff.” His hands tightened at her hips as his dark gold eyes flared with open lust. “You could be asking for more than you can handle, Anna,” he warned her. “I’ve wanted you for so long that I feel as though I’ve lived my entire life with this hunger, Archer. I don’t think I’ve lived a day without burning for you.” Such an admission could end up breaking her heart. And she didn’t care. A broken heart could be a small price to pay for the chance, for just one night in the arms of the man who had held that heart forever. How many times had her friend, Amelia, warned

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her that Archer would destroy her heart? That he was the type of man no woman could ever forget? The type of man who might never belong to one woman, forever. She’d suggested that perhaps Archer wasn’t capable of loving anyone but the law. Once, though, he had loved a sister. Anna had heard the regret and loss in his voice as he had talked about her that last night she had seen him. Smoothing her hands over his shoulders to the hard, bunched muscles of his biceps, Anna told herself she didn’t care. She wasn’t going to let herself be afraid of the pain that could come later, when the pleasure was awaiting her now. Her lashes drifted closed as his head lowered, but he wasn’t moving to kiss her as she hoped. At least, not on her lips. Instead, his lips brushed over her closed eyelids, moved to her neck, their rough velvet stroking against nerve endings so violently sensitive she couldn’t hold back the breathy moan that tore past her lips. “I need you,” she said breathlessly. Thank God she had slipped out of the house, that her family hadn’t known where she was going. She prayed no one called her gran’pop. Or, Lord forbid, her parents. “What do you need, Anna?” His fingers pushed beneath the hem of her top to find bare skin, his fingertips rubbing and caressing in the small of her back, beneath the veil of her hair. “I need you,” she answered, eyes closing, her body moving instinctively against his as she felt her juices spill between her thighs, dampening the lips of her pussy and the silk of her panties. “Touching me.” Forcing her eyes open she stared up at him. “Kissing me. I

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need your kiss, Archer. You’ve never kissed me, and you did promise.” “I’ve kissed every inch of your body in my dreams,” he growled, sounding almost angry. “You torment my sleep.” “So, pay me back for it,” she suggested, her womb clenching so hard it was like a punch to her lower stomach, shortening her breath and weakening her knees. “You’ve been teasing me since you were seventeen,” he accused her roughly. “I’ve been teasing you since I was thirteen,” she countered. “You just refused to notice.” A sense of satisfaction rose inside her at the shock that filled his eyes at her statement. “I’m glad I didn’t notice,” he breathed out roughly. “Thirteen?” “I had some very naughty dreams.” She let her nails scrape down the fabric that covered his upper arms. “Dreams of us—” “Uh, damn, Anna . . .” “Of you holding me when it was dark,” she whispered, remembering those long, tear-filled nights when she’d faced the dark with no one to turn to. “Dreams of your laughter, and the way you teased me over my hair, or scowled at the older boys who flirted with me.” “Damn perverts is what they were,” he muttered as his head lowered once again, his cheek resting against the side of her head as they moved to the music, easing further into the shadows at the far end of the patiostyle outdoor dance floor. His fingertips moved farther up her back, beneath the stretchy material of her camisole top as he slowly eased her into position to allow his knee to slide between hers.

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“Then my dreams started getting really naughty,” she breathed as his thigh pressed into the soft silk of her skirt, rubbing the material between her clit and the hard muscles of his upper leg. “Please tell me you were at least eighteen.” He sighed. Despite the hungry need pounding inside her, Anna had to grin in amusement at the resignation in his voice. “The night of my eighteenth birthday—remember?— you were there.” Archer nodded slowly, the hammered gold of his eyes darkening further as he stared down at her. “I dreamed you followed me to my bedroom and gave me a very special birthday kiss.” Trembling, heat flushing her body further at the memory of that dream and how often it had repeated itself. His fingers flexed at her hips, pulling her closer as he moved them deeper into the shadows and into one of the small, private grottos, surrounded by fragrant blooms and tall evergreens kept expertly manicured. “What kind of birthday kiss, Anna?” he questioned, his voice hoarse, rough. “Do you remember the dress I wore?” she asked, tilting her head back as his lips moved along the shell of her ear. She ached for his kiss. He had never kissed her. She had never felt his lips on hers, and she needed it. “I remember,” he growled. The dress had been white, long and flowing, the soft chiffon a caress against her flesh and falling around her like a waterfall of material. “You lifted me to my dresser and pressed me back to the mirror. You pushed my gown above my thighs as you spread them, and you kissed me there.”

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She couldn’t stop the flush that surged beneath her skin at the declaration. His breathing was rough and ragged as his fingers flexed at her hips, then slid around to her rear. Clenching the rounded curves and lifting her, he ordered, “Spread your thighs, baby, grip my hips.” His cock ground against the mound of her pussy, nothing but the silk of her panties and Archer’s pants between him and the slick dampness spilling from her sex. Anna’s mind froze. For one long moment she couldn’t think or process the sensations racing through her. “I think I can make that dream come true soon,” he groaned as she felt her rear settling on the top of a table and his fingers speared into her hair and pulled her head back. The sharp, heated sensation that tugged at the roots of her hair shouldn’t have been pleasure, and it shouldn’t have been arousing. But it was. Then his hand moved, sliding around to her cheek, her jaw, his fingers cupping it as his thumb glided over her lips. The rasp of his flesh against the sensitive curves had them parting as she drew in precious air. Eyes narrowed, he watched her, the gold of his gaze mesmerizing her as the pad of his thumb stroked, caressed, building the heat inside her to an inferno. Finally, he parted her lips, the broad digit pressing against them as she flicked her tongue over the pad of his thumb. Archer froze, a hoarse growl leaving his lips as she licked, then sucked it inside and loved the feel, the taste, of him. Rubbing her tongue over the pad, she suckled at it. She felt the hard, aching clench of her womb and the heated wetness as her juices flowed from her pussy.

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“Damn you, Anna, you’re going to cause us both to get arrested if I end up fucking you here,” he groaned, pulling his thumb free of her lips. “What’s wrong, Sheriff?” she asked. “Afraid you can’t stop with a kiss?” “One kiss would never be enough.” Staring up at him breathlessly, lips parted, Anna waited with adrenaline-laced anticipation as his head lowered and his lips touched hers. As her lashes feathered closed, sensation began erupting inside her. His lips rubbed against hers, stroked and smoothed until a whimper of longing spilled from her lips. “Please, Archer, kiss me. Just once.” Trembling, adrenaline and pure hunger crashing through her system as her nails bit into his shoulders, Anna didn’t think she would survive if he didn’t kiss her. His teeth caught her lower lip, gripping it for a second before releasing it, and then he gave her the kiss she had always dreamed of. It wasn’t hard and rough. His lips settled on hers with a firm heat and an erotic caress. His tongue licked at the plump curves of her lips, parting them, catching the lower lip between his lips and licking over it before taking advantage of the fact that her mouth had parted for him. Slanting his lips over hers, his tongue slid over her lips, licked against them, and possessed her with tenderness. Oh, yes. Pure erotic need shot through her senses. Her lips parted further beneath his, her arms wrapping around his neck as her knees tightened at his hips and he ground his cock between her thighs. The rasp of material, his and hers, over the swollen bud of her

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clit sent waves of furious need whipping through the oversensitive bundle of nerves and striking to the heart of her womb with burning heat. Pushing her fingers into his hair, Anna fisted them in the thick strands, desperate to hold him to her. He nipped at her lips, licked the little wound, then came back to take hard, heated tastes of her. One hand slid from her rear, then his fingers stroked beneath the fabric of her skirt to find the curves of her rear left bare by the thong she wore beneath the frothy material. Her knees tightened further against his hips, shudders working over her body as he stroked lower, curving between her thighs to find the hot, silken juices gathering at the entrance of her pussy, saturating the silk of her panties. His fingers eased slowly, so damned slowly beneath the elastic of the thong— His head jerked up as he found the tightly clenched entrance at the same moment that slick dampness spilled from her again. Anna trembled against him, tiny, whimpering little cries escaping her lips as she felt the violence of the pleasure threatening to erupt into flames inside her. “Come home with me, Anna.” His gaze locked on hers, his body demanding, the need inside her insisting. Come home with him? No one had ever said those words to her before. Come home— She’d never had a home, but the need to leave with him was suddenly as fierce, as strong, as the need to have him. As strong as the need to belong— “Sheriff, we have a situation.” The voice that came through the radio at his hip was like a shock of ice against the heat raging through Anna’s body.

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Archer stilled, stiffening against her, his lips drawing back from hers as she bit back a cry of denial. Forcing her eyes open, staring up at him as he slowly eased her to her feet, Anna wanted to grab the radio and throw it away. Throw it so far that they could never be destroyed by it again. “Sheriff, you there?” John Caine, Archer’s deputy, repeated, his voice low but no less demanding. Pulling the radio from the case at his hip Archer brought it to his lips. Lips swollen by their kisses, sensual, sexy. “I’m here,” Archer answered, the hammered gold of his eyes slumberous with the need for sex but quickly clearing, as though that hunger had never been there. “What’s your location?” “I’ll meet you on the western edge of town, out near the Hopkins’ place. I’m on Hopkins Creek Pass, at the clearing,” John answered. “Give me your ETA.” “ETA is thirty minutes unless you need me faster.” His gaze didn’t leave hers. He didn’t blink, and Anna felt her throat tighten with the need to scream, to rage, to deny the fact that he had to leave. It had taken so long to get her nerve up. So long to tease him, to tempt him to her. “Thirty minutes.” Caine sounded as though the time wasn’t the problem. Disconnecting the radio, Archer lowered it to his hip and pushed it into the case again. “You have to leave,” she said, her hands sliding down his hard chest to the clenched muscles of his stomach as she licked her lips, suddenly uncertain. He nodded slowly. Nothing else? She waited, staring up at him, knowing, praying she was wrong; praying it wasn’t over.

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Surely he would ask to call her? To see her? Perhaps have her wait for him—in his bed? “I better go,” he said softly. Her throat tightened and she felt the rejection coming. She was intimately acquainted with being left behind, but this time it had been the last thing she had imagined happening. “Archer—” “Shhh.” A finger against her lips reinforced the command. “Think about this, Anna. Think about it, and be sure, be very sure, this is what you want.” Before she could assure him that it was, he had moved away from her and disappeared along the shadowed path outside the small grotto. The protest forming on her lips was left unsaid, and the tears that filled her eyes, as always, were left unseen. She couldn’t believe this. Staring into the dark, with music, muted voices, and laughter surrounding her, Anna realized she should have expected it. After all, she couldn’t remember a time that she hadn’t been rejected, in some way. Blinking back her tears and drawing in a deep breath, she too left the grotto. Unfortunately, she couldn’t leave the memory of what had happened in it behind her. Pulling into the clearing next to Deputy Caine’s fourwheel-drive Tahoe, Archer turned the engine off and simply sat in the vehicle, staring at where Caine sat on his haunches next to a pale form. Son of a bitch. Son of a bitch. Pushing open the door he stepped from the interior, the chill of the late summer air rushing at him as he closed the door and watched the other man straighten before moving toward him.

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“Did you call anyone else?” he asked the deputy as the other man neared him. “No, sir.” Caine breathed in heavily. “Who called it in?” Caine shook his head. “I was driving by when I thought I saw lights out here. I turned in to investigate and saw the same thing you just saw when I pulled in.” The glow of headlights off a silken, pale body. A lifeless body. Pushing his fingers through his hair, he steeled himself for the inevitable. Striding the remaining distance, he hunched down and stared into the expression of pain and horror that twisted her features. “Fuck,” he muttered as the girl’s identity registered. “Ah, hell.” What the hell was going on here? Katy Winslow, one of the waitresses from the Tavern. Her father had reported her missing the night before when she hadn’t returned home from work. “The wounds are consistent with the Slasher’s.” John sighed heavily. “And it looks like she’s been raped.” Yes, she had been raped. Heavy, dark bruises marred the skin of her inner and outer thighs, as well as her small breasts. Her eyes were open, staring out in unseeing horror and pain. A knife had cut into her body in far too many places to count them all in the dark. The most telling cut, though, was the puncture wound to her side and the one across her throat. The Slasher’s trademark wounds. Blood marred her body. She hadn’t even been cleaned before she had been deposited in this clearing. “Rafer Callahan’s place, the old Ramsey Ranch, is just over the rise.” Caine nodded in the general direction. “Callahans didn’t do this, John.” Archer wiped his

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hand wearily over his face before rising to his feet. “Call Nash in. See if he can justify that high-ass salary he demanded.” Callum Nash, Corbin County’s new crime scene investigator, had been hired specifically for crimes such as the Slasher’s. “Sheriff, Katy Winslow isn’t on the list of past Callahan girlfriends,” John stated quietly, turning to face him. “Hell, Crowe’s the only one not involved with someone right now. He would have told us if he had signed up with someone new, and he makes a point not to talk to any of the women in town.” “Yeah, I know.” Archer was well aware of that fact, just as he was aware that Crowe deliberately ensured there was no way the Slasher could target another woman because of him. “Has she been seen flirting with the other two? Talking to them?” Archer asked. John was a regular at the Tavern and Bar. It was there that most of the gossip and rumormongering began or eventually filtered through. “As far as I know, Katy doesn’t talk to many men at all. She’s been dating the bartender there since she was in high school.” Confusion filled the deputy’s voice. “Why kill her if she’s not associating with the Callahans?” “Fuck if I know.” Archer sighed. “Call in Nash and Chayna. Let’s see what we can find, and start praying that bastard hasn’t found a reason totally unrelated to the Callahans to start killing again.” Turning, Archer stomped back to his Tahoe, rage festering in his gut at the thought of the Slasher striking again. The Slasher’s attention had seemed to focus on Rafer and Logan’s fiancées, who were now under the

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protection of Ivan Resnova. There had been some incidents, but he hadn’t managed to seriously hurt either woman. But why had he targeted Katy Winslow? It didn’t make sense. Sliding into the driver’s seat, Archer slammed the door before grabbing his cell phone from the passenger seat and dialing Crowe. “Sheriff?” Callahan answered on the first ring. “Crowe, how well do you know Katy Winslow?” A dead silence came over the line for several seconds. “I only know who she is, and where she works.” Crowe’s voice was hollow, emotionless. “I’ve never spoken to her. Not to say hello, excuse me, or good-bye.” He paused before breathing out wearily. “She’s dead, isn’t she?” “It looks like one of the Slasher’s kills,” Archer confirmed his suspicion, his teeth clenching. “When I catch him, Crowe, and I will, I’m not promising I’ll save him for prison.” Katy was a good kid. She and her boyfriend had been saving up for an apartment together. She was always smiling, always filled with laughter. And now, she was dead. “You’ll have to beat me to him,” Crowe informed him, his voice so icy cold it would have sent a chill up a lesser man’s spine. “Are you at the site now?” Archer gave him the location before disconnecting the call, knowing Callum would have a fit over the interference, but also knowing the Callahans well enough to know that by not telling them he would have been risking the threat of them attempting to investigate or draw the Slasher out on their own. Leaning back in his seat and closing his eyes, he deliberately brought Anna’s face to mind. He let himself remember the touch of her, the taste of her, the warmth that surrounded him as he touched her.

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NOTE: If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

wild card Copyright © 2008 by Lora Leigh. Cover photograph © Shirley Green All rights reserved. For information address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010. ISBN: 0-312-94579-5 EAN: 978-0-312-94579-4 Printed in the United States of America St. Martin’s Paperbacks edition / September 2008 St. Martin’s Paperbacks are published by St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010. 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


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I once knew a girl who claimed to be Irish. Whether the story she told me of Wild Irish Eyes is true or not (she wouldn’t admit either way ), it still in part inspired the idea for this book. So thanks to her and other Internet friends. Stories told, hours of laughter, What Ifs, and precious memories. The world is open to us now, as are stories true or imagined, and laughter with those across the seas, across the nation, or across the street is but a click away.


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PROLOGUE I

Nathan sat beside his grandfather, Rory Malone, on the crude front porch of the shack he lived in. Nathan was only ten, but he knew exactly why Grandpop didn’t live with him and his parents. Because Nathan’s father, Grant, was ashamed of him. “He’s too fucking Irish,” Grant would rage for hours after visiting with his father. “He uses that brogue like it’s something to be proud of.” And God forbid that Nathan should let a hint of that brogue free, though he practiced it as often as he could away from his father. Nathan’s father didn’t like being Irish. He didn’t like people knowing he was Irish. If he could ship Grandpop off somewhere, then Nathan sometimes thought that his father would do it. But Grant Malone couldn’t make Rory Malone do anything. The old man was as wise as the mountains and the cliffs around them, and just as stubborn. “Nathan, my boy, look at that sunset.” Rory pointed out the majestic colors that washed over the mountains. “Almost as pretty as Ireland, she is. Almost.” And Nathan heard a whisper of homesickness in his grandpop’s voice. “Why don’t you go back?” Nathan asked. “Dad says you have enough money to live anywhere.” He looked at his grandfather’s weathered face. The bright


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blue eyes, just like Nathan’s, brighter than Nathan’s father’s and without the hints of green his father’s had. Grandpop smiled. A strange, sad little smile. “Because my Erin is here.” He pointed to the small graveyard. There, Nathan’s grandma, Erin Malone, was buried. On one side of her were buried the two sons they lost in Vietnam, his uncles, Riordan and Rory Jr., and the daughter that had died of a fever, Nathan’s aunt Edan. “Grandma wouldn’t want you to leave?” Nathan frowned. His grandma was dead, what would she care? “Oh, now my Erin, she’d smile down on me no matter where I walked.” Grandpop smiled that little smile again. “But I’d be separated from her, and I’d feel that separation in my soul, you see?” Nathan shook his head. Grandpop sighed. “You have the Irish eyes, boy. One of these days, you’ll see from eyes, not your own, feel with a heart outside your chest. Wild Irish eyes, Nathan. When you love, love well and love true, and take care, lad, because those Irish eyes are windows into not just your own soul, but the soul of the one you love.” Grandpop looked out at his Erin’s grave. “And when you lose that heart, you can’t leave the places where your memories are the best. And if I left her, I’d not be buried beside her.” Grandpop stared back at him then, and Nathan felt his chest grow tight at the thought of ever burying his grandpop in the hard, bleak soil. “Wild Irish eyes,” his grandpop murmured then. “My father gave me the same warning I give you now, boy. Don’t lose the one you love. You lose a part of your soul when you do. The legacy of those eyes will ensure it.” Nathan frowned. That didn’t make much sense, but maybe he’d ask his uncle Jordan about it later. Uncle Jordan still remembered his mother. He had been five when she died, just before Nathan’s birth. But Uncle Jordan was in Houston right now on summer break with Nathan’s older uncle Doran and his family.


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“So my eyes are bad?” Nathan finally asked. “Not bad.” His grandpop sighed. “Not bad at all, boy. You’ll see one of these days. One of these days, you’ll see. Wild Irish eyes see what they shouldn’t see, but even more.” His grandfather stared down at him sadly. “The one who holds your soul, who holds your heart.” He thumped Nathan’s chest. “They see through you as well.” “Dad doesn’t have Irish eyes then?” Grant’s eyes had flecks of green. He always frowned. He always growled. Worry flickered over Grandpop’s face. “Your dad is a good man.” He repeated what he always said. “Is he, Grandpop?” Nathan thought about the baby sleeping in the house. The tiny baby that Grandpop said was his brother. The baby Grant Malone denied. “Little Rory should have a dad too.” Grandpop touched his head gently and said softly, “Nothing is as we think, boy. There are always layers, and layers, shades of gray and shades of black or white. You gotta find why, not see what.” “Because he doesn’t love us,” Nathan whispered, accepting it as only a child can. And Grandpop shook his head. “Layers, son. Remember that. There’s always what you don’t know and what you don’t see. And love doesn’t always do what we think it should. Just remember that, and you’ll do fine.” And he grew. He looked for layers, he looked for shades of gray. Nathan Malone matured, became a SEAL, and the layers drifted from his mind. But they were there. Always shifting, always moving. Until the day he saw hell. And from the ashes of hell, he learned there were layers he never knew existed.


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PROLOGUE II Sixteen years later

Nathan Malone sat at his desk in the office of the garage/ service center he owned and watched the young woman talking to one of his mechanics. She didn’t look happy. She looked frustrated. Sun-streaked blond hair fell to her shoulders, a beautiful swath of waves that glistened in the sunlight. Nicely rounded, not too slender. She had a butt to die for beneath the black skirt she was wearing, and breasts that rose temptingly beneath a maroon blouse. Slender heels completed the outfit. He wondered if those were hose or stockings she was wearing. She looked like a stocking woman. Finally, she threw her hands up, looked around, and her gaze caught his. Her nostrils flared in determination and she moved quickly past the protesting mechanic to the door of his office. He watched as the most amazing vision stalked across the floor and planted her hands on his desk, glaring at him. “Look, all I need is a wrench,” she said forcefully. “Just loan me one. Sell me one. I don’t care. But if I have to go much farther in my car, I’m going to find myself hitchhiking. Do I look like I want to be hitchhiking today?” She spread her arms out from her body as she straightened, her pretty gray eyes cloudy, distressed, her pink lips tight as the mechanic moved in behind her.


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“No, ma’am, you don’t.” Nathan shook his head, his gaze moving over her appreciatively before he looked around her at the mechanic. “Is there a reason why we’re not looking at her car?” he asked the other man. Sammy’s eyes narrowed. “Garage bays are full, boss, I told her that.” “A wrench,” she ground out between her teeth. “Just loan me the blasted wrench.” She was frustrated. Perspiration clung to her forehead, glistened at her cheeks. Then her expression smoothed with obvious control. “Look, really.” Her voice softened and he was enchanted. Right there, to the sound of a sweet Southern belle, Nathan Malone lost his heart. “I really just need a little bit of help here. I swear. My job interview isn’t going to wait for me. I promise, I won’t take long.” She smiled, and he felt his world tilt on its axis. A sweet curve of her lips, a hint of nervousness, frustration, and worry lingered in the soft curve. But she smiled at him. Hell, he felt like a teenager again. He moved around the desk and held out his hand to the door. “Show me the car. We’ll get you back on the road.” “Boss, we’re packed,” Sammy protested. Nathan ignored him as the young woman turned and preceded him to the door. He was watching her ass as she walked and it was the damnedest view. His hands itched to touch her. Itched to cup those curves and feel them flex beneath his hands. “I’m Sabella.” She flashed him a smile over her shoulder. “I really appreciate this.” That Georgia accent was going to make him come in his jeans. No way was he going to hold it back if she kept talking to him. This one was his. “It’s going to cost you,” he drawled as he popped open the hood to her little sporty sedan. “It always does.” She sighed. “How much do you think?” She looked worried. She was definitely a woman with a


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goal and intent on getting there. Pretty polished nails, just enough makeup to highlight her features, and pretty soft lips. “Dinner.” He grinned back at her, catching the surprise in her eyes. “Dinner?” Wariness filled her voice. “Just dinner,” he promised. For now. “Tonight.” She stared back at him for long seconds, those gray eyes seeming to sink inside him, to search, to warm places inside him he didn’t know existed. Let alone knew they were cold. Finally, her lips tipped into a charming, flirtatious grin. “The bad boy of Alpine is asking me out to dinner?” she said mischievously. “I believe I just might swoon.” “That’s not me. That’s Sammy.” He pointed to the mechanic. “I’m just a poor mechanic and Navy SEAL.” The girls loved SEALs. Anything to impress her. “Nathan Malone, the SEAL with the wild blue eyes and the heartbreaking grin,” she stated. “I know who you are.” “But I don’t know who you are,” he stated somberly. “I’d love to find out.” That look again. Intense, probing. “Dinner,” she finally agreed softly. “I’ll meet you.” Whatever he could get. “Piedmont’s.” He named the most expensive restaurant in town, which wasn’t saying much. “Seven.” “Seven it is. But I’ll never make it if you don’t fix my car.” Sabella kept a knowing smile to herself. She had a feeling if she just told him what was wrong with it, he’d never believe her anyway. She let him piddle around, find the loose hose, and tighten it. There, just like she said, all she needed was a wrench. Her daddy had taught her how to work on her own car a long time ago. Unfortunately, her own wrench was missing. So she let him fix it. She played helpless. Because she liked the way he looked at her, the way his wild blue eyes darkened just a bit, seemed more neon in his tanned face. “Seven,” he reminded her as he closed the hood and stared down at her. “I’ll be waiting on you.” “And I’ll be there,” she promised. Because there was no


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way she was going to miss this. She’d seen him in town often enough, she’d even fantasized about him a time or two after glimpsing him. The hot SEAL. The bad boy of Alpine. Every woman she knew at the college lusted after him. And Sabella decided, in that moment, Nathan was going to be hers.

Two years later “Oh my God, Bella, what have you done?” Bella jumped as she turned to face Nathan, seeing his wild eyes, his pale features, his hard, buff body stalking across the front yard, his chest slick with sweat, bits of the grass he had been cutting sticking to his jeans as he strode furiously to where her car met the back of his truck. “It’s just a little dent, Nathan. I promise . . .” Her heart was in her throat. Not in fear. He would never hurt her. But he sure knew how to pout when he wanted to. “A little dent.” He gripped her shoulders, moving her aside as he stared down at the crumpled fender as it sank into the bumper of his truck. It was an accident. It was all his fault. If he hadn’t been wearing those butt-snug jeans and boots with no shirt as he cut the lawn, it would have never happened. “You hit my truck.” Male pride and offended dignity filled his voice. “That’s my truck, Bella.” Yes. It was. And he was very proud of the powerful, black four-by-four he babied worse than any woman would a child. She would be jealous if it weren’t for the fact that he couldn’t actually bring it into the house. “I’m really sorry, Nathan.” Her accent thickened as she stared up at him, biting her lip nervously as she wondered how much he would pout. Nathan could go all quiet, somber, and answer her in monosyllables that drove her insane. He would glare at her. He would watch ball games. He would come to bed late. Late. After she went to sleep. And wouldn’t give her any until the next morning. It really wasn’t fair.


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“Nathan, please don’t be mad at me . . .” “How did you hit my truck? How? It was sitting in plain view. Plain view, Sabella.” He was getting angry. He only said her full name when he was really getting angry or really, really horny. And he was not horny. Okay, this wasn’t good. She could do without for days. But she didn’t like it. She stomped her foot, glaring back at him in irritation. “If it weren’t for you, I would have never hit it.” “Me?” He stepped back, shaking his head fiercely. “How the hell was this my fault?” “Because you were cutting the grass, with no shirt, in sexy jeans and boots, and seeing your tight ass striding across the lawn made me horny. You distracted me. It’s all your fault. If you would dress properly things like this just would not happen, Nathan . . .” He kissed her. It wasn’t a gentle, easy kiss. It was rough and ready and smack full of lust as he jerked her against him, pressing his cock into her belly as she gasped in pleasure. “You are so spanked.” He picked her up, striding across the lawn, leaving her car door open, his truck abused. “Spanked, Sabella. I’m going to watch every inch of that pretty ass turn red.” He slammed the door behind him, locking it quickly before heading for the stairs. “Oh, spank me, Nathan,” she breathed teasingly into his ear. “Make me beg.” He shuddered against her, threw her on the bed and proceeded to make her beg.

One week later “I’ll be home in a week.” He was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. He didn’t look like a badass Navy SEAL, he looked like her husband, going off on a business trip. Not a big deal. She was good at fooling herself. “The truck will be out of the shop tomorrow.” She nodded as she watched him pull the duffel bag from the closet and turn to her. “I’ll have it in the garage, all nice and pretty for you.”


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She grinned back at him cheekily as she brushed the long strands of her hair back from her face. “You owe me though. I had to flash some leg to get it done so fast. Your mechanics are so easy, Nathan.” He owned the garage and auto service station just at the edge of town. A thriving little business she knew he loved. He grunted, his gaze going to her bare legs as she leaned back on the bed, her shorts riding up her thighs. “Witch,” he growled. “My ride is waiting downstairs and you know it.” She drew her shirt off and released her shorts, letting them fall down her legs. Watching him, she slid her fingers over the bare, wet folds between her thighs then lifted them to his lips. Nathan groaned. She loved that sound. His lips parted and his eyes went wild as he tasted her. “So make it a quickie,” she whispered, desperate to have him, just one last time, before he left. She straightened on the bed as he neared, her fingers going to his belt, working it loose quickly. “I dare you. Fuck me like you mean it . . .” He turned her, pushed her over the edge of the bed, and within seconds he was filling her. Hard and throbbing, stroking, penetrating, burying inside her in rapid hard strokes until she felt pure white-hot sensation wash over her. “Nathan. Nathan, I love you,” she cried out as he came over her, holding her in place as his hips jerked against her, his hands gripping her, fingers burning into her flesh. And then he whispered the words. The lyrical flow of sound, Gaelic. He whispered his love for her in a language his grandfather had taught him, and she felt it in her soul. “Always,” she whispered, turning her head to him, taking his kiss. “Forever, Nathan.”

One week later Bella opened the door, and she froze. Nathan’s uncle Jordan was standing beside the chaplain. She knew he was the


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chaplain by his dark uniform. Jordan was in his dress whites, his Navy hat in his hand, medals shining on his chest, and she felt the collapse of her spirit. “Nathan’s due home any day,” she whispered, her lips numbing as she stared back at Jordan and saw his grief, his sorrow. “You’re early, Jordan. He’s not here yet.” She was crying. She could feel the tears, hot, blistering her skin as she pressed her fists tight to her stomach and felt her knees weakening. “Bella.” His voice was thick, unshed tears glittering in his eyes. “I’m sorry.” He was sorry? Sorry? He was tearing her soul right out of her chest and he was sorry? She shook her head. “Please don’t say it, Jordan. Please don’t say it.” “Bella.” He swallowed tightly. “You know I have to.” He had to. He had to destroy her. “Mrs. Malone.” The chaplain spoke for him. “Ma’am, it is my greatest regret to inform you—” “No. No!” She screamed the words as Jordan caught her, dragging her into his arms and helping her into the house as the screams poured from her. They ripped from her chest, like a knife, brutal, merciless. The pain dragged her into a pit of such deep, stark despair that she didn’t think she could survive. “Nathan!” She cried out his name, screamed his name, she begged him. He swore he would always know when she needed him, even in death. Because he had that gift. It was the eyes, he had said, and she had laughed at him, and now she wished it were true. Because she needed Nathan, her Wild Irish eyes. “Oh God, Nathan!”

Six months later Bella came awake to her own sobs, her chest heaving as she searched the bed, her hands reaching across the distance, clawing at the sheets, the pillow, desperate to find him.


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He was bleeding. She could see the blood on his hands as though she were staring through his eyes. She could feel his agony, gut wrenching, desperate, a ragged gaping soul of unvarnished agony howling around her. It had to be a dream. Sobs tore from her throat as she ripped at the blankets, a guttural cry of raw agony tearing from her heart. “Nathan!” She screamed his name, her voice hoarse, raw from her tears, from the past horrific months. The funeral . . . They hadn’t even let her see him. She fell forward, her tears dropping to the bed as she remembered, remembered and knew it wasn’t a dream. Nathan was really gone. Forever. They had closed his coffin to her. She hadn’t been allowed to touch him, to kiss his beloved face, to whisper goodbye. There was nothing to hold on to, nothing to ease the agony breaking over her. There was only the emptiness. The emptiness of her bed. Her life. There was only the horrible, aching hollow in her soul. It ate at her, burned into her mind and reminded her every second, every day, that Nathan was gone. Nathan was gone. Forever. Except in her nightmares. Where he cried out her name. Where he touched her then backed away from her. Where he stared back at her with hollow grief. Or when she felt the pain that tore through him. Unending, agonizing, so much pain. Then as quickly as they began, as fast as she realized it was Nathan’s pain, the dreams would shift, change. “I’ll love you forever, witch.” He leaned over her, naked, his chest gleaming, golden flesh blocking out the sun as his brilliant, neon eyes watched her intently. “Feel my soul touch yours, Sabella. Feel me love you, baby . . .” An agonized cry rasped her throat as she clutched at air, the insubstantial memory drifting away, gone. Just as Nathan was gone.


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“Oh God. Oh God. Nathan . . .” She clutched his pillow to her breast, rocking herself as her head fell back and a scream ripped from her soul. “Damn you, Nathan . . .”


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CHAPTER ONE Nine months later

Nathan Malone stood in the clinical white office he had been brought to. He was six months past the most horrific nightmare he could have imagined enduring. Six months. He knew how many days, how many hours, how many minutes and seconds had passed since he had “died.” Since the day he walked out his front door and headed into hell. The mission was supposed to be simple. Rescue three young girls from a cartel drug lord in Colombia and allow himself to be captured just long enough to draw out the government spy working with the cartel lord, Diego Fuentes. There had been an electronic tracker in his heel that he could activate the moment he saw the spy. Unfortunately, the spy had known that. His heel had been sliced open before the spy ever appeared. Before Nathan could realize the danger he was in, he had been strapped to a hardwood table and the first of a series of synthetic drugs pumped into him. Whore’s dust. A powerful, blinding aphrodisiac. Hell. Because there had been no relief. Because Nathan, enraged, crazed, animalistic, had been unable to break the vows he had made to his wife. No matter the amount of drugs. No matter the provocation. He stared back now at the small group of men who had rescued him from Diego Fuentes’s hell. Three doctors, an


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admiral, some scowling bastard in a suit, supposedly a JAG representative, and his uncle Jordan Malone. Jordan wasn’t in uniform. That was telling enough. His resignation from the SEALs three months before had surprised Nathan when he’d heard about it. Of course, there wasn’t much left to do but listen to rumor in the highly secured, specialized private clinic he had been recovering in. Surgery after surgery to repair his body and his face. They’d fixed what had been damaged. They’d rebuilt what couldn’t be reset. But his mind still felt broken. The man he had once been was no more than a dream. He was still a SEAL. He hadn’t resigned. But he had a feeling he wouldn’t be one for long. “Lieutenant Malone.” The admiral nodded back at him, his lined, weathered face drawn in worry and concern. “You’re doing well.” Like hell he was. He stood to attention, but this was fucking shit. He felt like he was being stretched on a rack of fire. The three doctors watched silently. The psychologist assigned to him made a few notes. Damned bastard was always making notes. “Thank you, sir,” he finally managed to say. Hell, he just wanted to get back to the exercises he’d been doing. The ones that pushed his body to exhaustion, that made the hellacious arousal that still cursed him lessen. The admiral frowned back at him. “Are you in pain, son?” he asked him. Nathan forced patience. Forced patience didn’t sit well right now. “Yes, sir, I am.” He wasn’t going to lie about it either. The admiral nodded. “That explains your borderline disrespect. Maybe.” Nathan gritted his teeth. “Sorry, sir, protocol isn’t my strong suit these days.” He expected a snap in the admiral’s reply; he didn’t expect the old man’s face to smooth out or the understanding that lit his gaze.


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Admiral Holloran had once been not just his superior officer, but a man he respected. “Sit down, Nathan.” The admiral nodded to the chair behind him before taking his own seat. Nathan glanced at Jordan. His uncle was sitting, all protocol pretty much abolished where he was concerned. But it wasn’t disrespect, it was an arrogance, a confidence that had only been thinly veiled until now. Nathan sat down gingerly. He was still having trouble with one leg, but it was strengthening. As were the muscles in his back that he had worked to rebuild. The admiral finally sighed as silence filled the room. “I attended your funeral,” he stated then. “I grieved, Nathan. Seeing you now”—he shook his head—“makes me wonder sometimes at the decisions that are made behind my back. I wouldn’t have approved that mission.” “I agreed to it.” Simple. It was supposed to have been so simple. He still had the hole in his heel to prove it hadn’t been. “We’ll discuss that another day,” the admiral growled. “We’re facing another problem.” “Has my wife been informed I’m alive yet?” The words felt torn from his ruined vocal chords. His voice was rougher, darker than it had been, but hell, at least he could talk. “Not yet,” the admiral answered. “I still prefer she not be told.” Nathan stared straight ahead now. He was aware of the bandages that still covered his face, the wounds that were still healing on his body. But even more, he was very much aware of the effects of that fucking whore’s dust those bastards Fuentes and Jansen Clay had pumped into his body. Eighteen months of it. He had been the guinea pig. The SEAL to break with the black evil they forced into him. But he hadn’t broken. He’d become a monster instead. “Sabella’s been grieving, Nathan,” Jordan said then. “She’s still grieving. She still cries for you.” “She’ll stop crying. Sabella’s tough.” He shrugged as


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though it didn’t matter and glimpsed the admiral and Jordan’s exchanged look from his periphery. He was lying. His Bella wasn’t tough. She was soft and sweet and he swore he heard her cries in his dreams, in his nightmares. The ragged wound that was his soul would never heal, because he couldn’t get the sounds of her screams out of his head. How much worse would her screams be if she saw him now? His gentle little Bella had loved his body. When he had walked out the door that last day he had been strong, powerful, but even more, he’d been a man who knew how to be gentle. That man didn’t exist anymore. There was nothing gentle in the dark, twisted dreams he had now. Dreams of death. And dreams of Bella. And a hunger he knew he would never restrain if she came to him. “I’m dead,” he told them, his voice cold as he thought of the consequences of trying to return to her. “I’ll stay dead.” The psychologist was scribbling furiously on his pad. Nathan’s gaze jerked to him. As though he could feel the spikes of fury aimed his way, the balding little man lifted his head. His shoulders shifted beneath his ill-fitting suit jacket, and behind his plain glasses, his brown eyes flickered nervously. Nathan’s eyes jerked back to the admiral. “Would you get him the hell out of my sight, sir.” Admiral Holloran stared back at him for long seconds before nodding to the doctors and jerking his head to the door. They all filed out quickly. None of them were comfortable in his presence. They never had been. Of course, they’d had to deal with an animal for the first three months that he had been under their care. Admiral Holloran sighed wearily and stared back at him. “Last chance, son,” he said softly. “Let us call your wife. Send someone for her.” He bared his teeth in fury. “No, sir.” The “sir” was habitual, the growling rage in his voice wasn’t. It was pumping through him, numbing his mind, filling his senses with the echoed images of his nightmares.


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“Enough.” Jordan spoke into the silence. “I warned you he wouldn’t change his mind.” “Your respect has gone to hell, Jordan,” Holloran snapped. “So has my patience,” Jordan bit out. “I was given complete control of this unit, Admiral, and that supersedes even your rank.” “If he changes his mind then he can’t go back,” the admiral argued. “Is that what you want for your nephew, Jordan?” “If he changes his mind then that decision is mine to make, not yours or anyone else’s.” There was a hardness to Jordan, a bleak anger Nathan had never seen in him before. “He’ll be transferred to the command center tomorrow and the doctors there will work him with the others.” “You haven’t even asked him if he’s willing!” The admiral was in Jordan’s face now. The two men nose to nose, two incredible wills clashing. It would have been amusing if Nathan had been in the mood for it. He wasn’t. He rose to his feet and headed to the door. “Nathan.” Nathan paused before turning back to face his uncle. Jordan had once been not just family, but a superior officer, when they had both been SEALs, when Nathan had been a man rather than the animal he had turned into. He stared back at Jordan. “Make it quick. I have exercises to finish this evening.” Jordan got to his feet. “There are other options than the SEALs.” “Oh yeah?” Nathan arched his brows. “What’s better than the SEALs, Uncle? Hell? Been there, still take trips.” Jordan nodded slowly. His brilliant blue eyes, wild Irish eyes, his grandpop had called them, stared back at him. “There are other options, Nathan.” “Really?” Nathan stared between Jordan and the admiral. “Yeah.” Jordan nodded. “You walk out of here as a SEAL and you walk out as Nathan Malone. You walk out with me, and Nathan Malone ceases to exist.”


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The admiral moved from his chair with a jerky movement and paced to the other side of the room. “You leave with him and the SEALs won’t exist for you anymore, Nathan. The only men you’ll have contact with are those in your old team under Commander Chavez, to retrain. You’ll be dead forever. Nathan Malone will no longer exist. Not for you. And not for your wife.” Nathan stared back at him, but it was Bella he saw. She hated a broken nail, she worried about wrinkles. How would she handle a husband who was little more than a monster? He turned to Jordan. “So where do I sign up?”

Three years later Jordan Malone stood in his office and stared through the privacy glass at the exercise room. His hands were shoved in the pockets of his jeans, a scowl on his face as he watched his nephew. Nathan, now known as Noah Blake to the world, was only five years younger than he was. Jordan had been a surprise to his parents, a shock to his older siblings. And he had been more like a brother to the man pouring with sweat beneath the weights in the other room. The change in Nathan over the past years was nothing short of miraculous. Hell, the first six months, the very fact that he had survived had been miraculous. It had been the first three years that had been the hardest though. The nightmares and effects of the whore’s dust in his system had nearly driven Noah insane. But had he survived? Sometimes, Jordan wondered if the man who had taken that final SEAL assignment was the same one he was staring at now. His face was different. The plastic surgery had made it leaner, the bone and muscle more defined. Fuentes had done a job on Nathan’s face while he was a captive. Bones had been shattered, the repairs had been extensive. The change drastic. No one who knew Nathan Malone before would guess at his identity now. His build was different. His body


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was leaner but more powerful, rock hard, and his will was steel. He was a cold, icy-eyed killer. He wasn’t Nathan Malone anymore. He was truly Noah Blake, because Noah had made certain nothing of Nathan existed. Noah’s training with Reno Chavez’s unit in the past years had worried Jordan. Where once the Navy SEAL Nathan Malone had pulled his punches and killed only when he had to, now . . . Jordan shook his head. Noah killed with deadly, silent efficiency. Jordan remembered the night they had rescued the man who had been Nathan from Fuentes’s hold. Nearly every bone in his body had been broken at some point. He had been wasted away, nearly starved, and pumped so high on whore’s dust his eyes had glowed like a demon’s. And he had fought. He had fought not to rape the girl locked in the cell with him, he had fought to protect her. And he had fought to walk out rather than be carried out. Jordan had been certain his nephew would never survive the withdrawal of the drug and the effects to his brain. He’d never imagined Nathan would come back, stronger than ever rather than broken. Darker than ever, and so different that his identity change rarely blipped Jordan’s radar anymore. “He’s never going to be the same, is he?” Lieutenant Ian Richards said somberly, admitting what none of them had dared say aloud over the years. Ian was part of that SEAL team, had stood with the other men who had spent the past years with the man they called Noah. It had been harder on Ian in some ways, because he had been closer to Nathan than even Jordan had been. Nathan had only been ten when he heard young Ian’s screams echoing through the desert landscape of their ranch. He had awakened his father, harassed that mean-assed Grant Malone out of the house, and found the young boy whose mother was dying in his arms. Grant, in a surprising display of compassion, had helped the young woman and her child. Grant had his moments, Jordan thought, they were just few and far between.


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“No, he’s never going to be same.” He admitted the truth to Ian, as well as to himself. “This man isn’t Nathan Malone anymore, Ian. He’s truly Noah Blake. We may as well accept that.” “He’s a machine now,” Ian stated heavily, his expression saddened as he watched Nathan work out. “He’s the best damned killer I’ve ever laid my eyes on. Silent as a thought.” Jordan turned to Reno Chavez, the commander of the group. Reno shook his black head. “He’s not a SEAL any longer. He questions orders continuously, lays in backup plans out the ass, and always has a plan if that one goes bad. If he feels he needs to deviate, then he deviates. He’s not insubordinate, but he’s a leader now. He won’t follow easily unless he’s assured the plan is the only way to go. He’s a wild card, Jordan, but he’s a damned efficient one. Like a shark. Cold-blooded. Focused. And deadly.” Jordan nodded. “Thank you, Reno. I appreciate the report.” “You have my written report as well.” Reno nodded to the file that had been laid on Jordan’s desk. The monthly reports hadn’t deviated in years. Nathan was barely a man any longer. He often reminded Jordan of a robot, little more. “Jordan, he’s not going to survive like this,” Ian said quietly, turning back to the window, watching the man that had once been his friend. “He’ll self-destruct. One of these days, he’ll put a bullet in his own head.” As though Noah had heard him, sensed him, he sat up on the weight bench and grabbed a towel. His gaze sliced past the two-way mirror and stared back at them. His eyes were darker, wilder than Nathan Malone’s had been. Searing navy blue in a dark, sharply defined face. His black hair was thick, long, nearly to his shoulders now. He refused to cut it. As he turned his back Jordan glimpsed the black sun pierced by a red sword that had been tattooed on the left shoulder blade of Noah’s back. The emblem of the Elite Operational Unit was another re-


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minder of how Noah had shed his past as Nathan Malone. He had signed his life over to a unit that at times could be little more than a suicide mission. “He’ll survive.” Jordan kept his response cool, but what he felt inside was anything but cool. “He’s not finished yet. He just thinks he is.” Nathan hadn’t returned to his wife yet, and Noah, the man he was, hadn’t forgotten that woman. He wouldn’t find himself until he did. Jordan had pulled his nephew into this unit because he knew the man he loved like a brother would have never survived intact if he’d had to face the world after his release from the clinic. Or if he’d had to face his wife. The psychologist had agreed. Nathan would have taken a walk one day and just never returned. He hadn’t been ready. Noah might still not be ready either. But Jordan was going to end up testing him anyway.

Three years later “It won’t be easy to get him to agree to it,” Ian Richards warned Jordan as they watched the six-man unit of the Elite Ops working out in the gym through the two-way mirror that looked into it. Noah was stronger than ever. Lean. Powerful. Cold. “He’ll go,” Jordan said softly. “He’ll not let her remain in danger.” Ian blew out a hard breath as they stared at the man they all knew as Noah now. “Would she want him back like this?” he asked. Jordan had questioned that one himself. For six years Sabella Malone had been without her husband. In the past three years, she had finally begun living again. Dating again. There was a chance Noah could lose the wife he never admitted he had, very soon, to another man’s arms. “We’ll find out, won’t we,” Jordan mused. “We’ll be your backup in the Alpine mission,” Reno told him then. This small group of men had been assigned to the


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Elite Ops; partly privately funded, partly government backed, the unit was a test unit, a group of dead men, of rogues. In the past years they had become a highly advanced, specialized unit dealing in operations that other agencies couldn’t touch either because of political sensitivity, or the level of danger involved. Jordan nodded slowly before watching Noah once more. “We’ll meet up at the command center set up in Big Bend National Park,” he told them. “You’ll receive your orders within the next day or so.” Ian and Reno nodded and left quickly, heading out to prepare for the coming operation. All that was left was getting Noah Blake to go along with it. Jordan sat down at his desk, picked up the file he had on the mission, and called Noah into his office. Noah made him wait. When he walked into Jordan’s office, his hair was still damp from his shower, his blue eyes cold, no emotion, no life flickering within them. “Are we ready?” Noah took the seat in front of the desk that Jordan indicated. “Almost.” Jordan nodded. “Command center will be broken down tonight and flown to the new location. We should be set up within forty-eight hours.” Noah didn’t say anything, he just stared back at Jordan, waiting. His patience was seemingly endless now. But when he erupted into action there was no one faster. No one deadlier. “You’re delaying,” Noah finally drawled, that ruined voice scraping. That voice had once been flowing, deep. Now, it was guttural, almost raw. “First mission is in Texas,” Jordan stated. Noah didn’t respond. His gaze didn’t even flicker. As though nothing in Texas concerned him. No family, no grandfather, brother, or father. No wife. “Command center will based forty miles out of Alpine.” “No.” Noah’s tone was icy.


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Jordan lifted the file and slapped it down in front of him. “Read the file. You don’t want the mission, then the hell with it. You can head to Siberia for all I give a damn and babysit that scientist they had us kidnap last month, in the cold. But you will read the file first.” Jordan stomped from the office, slammed the door behind him, and left Noah to the information they had gathered. Noah, he never thought of himself as Nathan anymore, stared at the file as though it were a rattler. He didn’t want to read it. He didn’t want to know. Siberia suited him just fine. Hell, that scientist was a quiet little thing, she just liked working on her projects, she didn’t like company. She would do. He got to his feet, then stopped. He stared at the file and almost turned away. Almost. A picture had slid from just inside the file, and he knew that chin. He picked it up slowly. The center of his chest was a hard, searing knot of agony as he pulled the picture free and frowned. And there it was. That familiar curve of the brow, those pretty, soft gray eyes. But he’d be damned if he knew the woman they belonged to. She looked like Sabella. His Sabella. It was his Sabella. But she was so different. Her sun-streaked blond tresses were darker, almost brown in some places. And her hair was longer now. Well past her shoulders, thick and heavy. Her face was thinner, her expression was quieter. There was no smile on her lips. Unless she was angry, Nathan had never seen Sabella without a smile. The thought of her smiles, her laughter, her joy, followed him into his dreams sometimes. Sometimes, they held the nightmares at bay. What would he hold on to now that he saw that smile was gone? He held the picture in one hand, staring at her. He had refused to read any of the reports he knew Jordan kept on her. Refused to hear anything about her in the past six years.


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He had only two questions if her name came up. Was she alive? Was she safe? Jordan had always nodded, and Noah had always walked away. He opened the mission file. It didn’t take long to read it. Even less time for him to have to fight the howl of pure rage that burned in his throat. Sabella was smack in the middle of an operation that had already killed three FBI agents and the wife of a prominent politician. Son of a bitch. He’d asked his father for one thing in his entire life. If anything ever happened to him, to watch out for Sabella, and that lying bastard had sworn he would. But he hadn’t. Sabella was undefended. Only his bastard half brother was trying to help at this point. The mission file was peppered with information on Sabella, his half brother, Rory, his grandfather, Riordan, and the father he could feel himself beginning to hate now. And it was filled with danger. That danger could touch Sabella. He could see it. He could see the threads that, if pulled just the right way, would tighten around his wife’s neck and put her in harm’s way. Nathan’s wife, he reminded himself bitterly, not Noah’s. Noah Blake had no wife. But he couldn’t erase the past that had once belonged to him, or the dreams of a wife that had been his, no matter how hard he tried. And now she was in danger. Because he hadn’t watched out for her. He sat down and stared at the picture. It was bad enough the man she had loved had died, but the haunted shell that was left hadn’t even been able to watch out for her. He ran his finger over the picture, down the curve of her cheek, as he closed his eyes and remembered her smile. Remembered touching her. As he let himself remember, outside his dreams, of loving her.


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“Go síoraí,” he whispered, breathing in the scent of those memories. “Forever, Sabella. I’ll love you forever.” And the first crack in Noah Blake’s shell appeared. athan.” His name was breathed into the darkness as N Sabella came awake. As though the past six years had never happened, as though she had never lost him. She heard his voice in the darkness. Those words. The ones she had never asked the meaning of. Go síoraí. She stared into the dimly lit room. No Nathan. Nathan wasn’t there. Dry eyed, aching, she lay back down and closed her eyes. “Goodbye, Nathan,” she whispered back, wishing she could still cry. Wishing the pain could be shed so easily. “I miss you.”


This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. forbidden pleasure. Copyright © 2007 by Lora Leigh. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010. www.stmartins.com Book design by Jonathan Bennett Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Leigh, Lora. Forbidden pleasure / Lora Leigh. p. cm. ISBN-13: 978-0-312-36871-5 ISBN-10: 0-312-36871-2 I. Title. PS3612.E357F67 813'.6—dc22

2007 2007004302

First Edition: June 2007 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


author’s note

The Bound Hearts series is in no way connected to the book titled The Club by Lora Leigh. That is a different Lora Leigh. At the time I chose my pen name and began the first Bound Hearts book featuring the heroes who gather together in a place simply called The Club, the company I was with published only in electronic format and not in print. I didn’t check for other authors using the same pen name, because I didn’t foresee being in print. That was my mistake, and I apologize. There is no book in the Bound Hearts series titled The Club, and there are no plans for one. I’m sorry for any confusion. I hope you enjoy Forbidden Pleasure, and I hope my world grabs you as it has grabbed me. Thank you, the readers of the Bound Hearts, for all your support and your dedication to the series. I hope it continues.


prologue

SINCLAIR’S GENTLEMAN’S CLUB ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA

“I resigned.” John “Mac” McCoy picked up his drink, sipped, and let the calming heat of the whiskey seep into his system. “So I heard.” His best friend and now former partner, Jethro Riggs, took the seat across from him, set the whiskey bottle and glass carefully on the table, and leaned back to stare at his friend as he poured his own drink. “Honeymoon isn’t even over yet and your resignation landed on the desk. Wish you had told me. I could have won the office bet on how long you’d make it.” Jethro’s rakish smile went well with his overly long black hair and wicked blue eyes. The short, scruffy black beard and mustache drew feminine eyes, but the cold, bleak shadows in his gaze held them back. Mac worried about Jethro. When he left, he knew the other man would go from case to case without stopping to enjoy life. And life was there to be enjoyed. “I could have used the cash, man.” Jethro’s smile was laced with regret. Mac snorted at the thought. “Cheaters never win, Jethro.” “Yeah, yeah. So I hear. So, what are you going to do? Security?” Mac grinned. There weren’t a lot of jobs out there that appealed to a former undercover FBI agent, but Mac had always made certain he had a fallback position. “Farming.”


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“Farming?” Jethro’s eyes narrowed. “Hell, no.” “I still have that farm in North Carolina. I’ve saved enough to try to make a go at it. With Keiley’s computer work and a little side work myself working Internet investigations, we should do well. It beats getting shot at on a regular basis.” Jethro only shook his head, a knowing light filling his shadowed blue eyes. “And your membership here?” That part sucked. Mac stared around the dark wood walls, the open space, the bar at one end of what had once been a grand ballroom, the fireplace crackling at the other end. In between were two pool tables and several seating arrangements with large comfortable chairs, televisions, newspapers, and tables a man could put his feet on. But it wasn’t the ambience that drew the members to the club. It was the chance to socialize with men who understood their ways, accepted them, understood them. “I gave Ian notice earlier,” he said quietly. He was aware of the bomb he had just dropped, aware that Jethro had been waiting, even more than the others in the club, for the day Mac would choose a third. The club catered to men with a particular sexual taste. Men who had seen the darkness in the world for whatever reason, and searched for peace in the extremity of sharing their lovers with other men. Men who worshipped the female body. Who believed sex was an adventure and adventures were always more exciting when shared. Especially with someone who understood the particular pleasures to be found in pushing a woman to her sexual limits. In giving her more pleasure than she could have conceived possible. Mac loved it. He thrived on it. He came here to unwind, to drink, to discuss world affairs, and to either choose a third for his latest lover or to become a third to another man’s lover. At least, he used to come here for that. Six months of marriage, and the pressure was beginning to tell on him. The knowledge that the club members were just waiting to see whom he would choose to break his wife into the ménage lifestyle he


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practiced was beginning to fray his control. Knowing Jethro was growing more distant, more certain that the woman he had given to Mac would never know his touch, was starting to eat at him. He knew Jethro’s feelings for Keiley. Just as he knew that the other man would have never given into them. “You haven’t told her yet, have you?” Jethro said then. “I thought you were going to.” He had met Jethro during his first year in Quantico, where they had been paired together for a training exercise. Mac’s easier, more relaxed demeanor had slowly rubbed off on the too rigid, too somber Jethro Riggs. And once each learned that ménage was the other’s preferred sexual activity, they had become fast friends. Not that the friendship hadn’t been without its problems. They were both dominant men; both tended to want to control the sexual situations that involved their women. But they learned they each had their own distinctive areas that interlaced perfectly in those relationships. Mac tended to indulge his lovers emotionally, while Jethro indulged them in more physical areas. For years he and Jethro had trained together, worked together, and shared their women together. Until Mac met Keiley. “She’s heard the rumors.” Mac sipped at his drink, wishing he could just toss it back and let the fiery burn blaze through the regret in his gut. “And?” “And I told her it was in the past.” He looked around the room again before meeting Jethro’s gaze. “It’s going to stay in the past. For now.” Keiley had come to his bed a virgin. Trusting. Innocent. She would never understand her husband’s need to see another man cover her, pumping inside her, nor, he believed, would she be able to handle a ménage that would include a man she didn’t love. Keiley would have to love any man she took into her bed, even as a third. But he knew the curiosity was there. He had seen it in the flash of heat in her eyes as she questioned him. But Mac knew that right


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now, introducing her into the idea of a ménage or the ménage relationship he envisioned wasn’t something Keiley could accept. Perhaps later. He was counting on later. His new wife was adventurous, fiery, and curious as hell. But her youth held her back, whereas with other women it lent freedom. Keiley’s past experience with gossip, and the destruction that came with it, wouldn’t allow for the sexual games and the eventual bond Mac intended to see her forge with himself and Jethro. Until his wife was more settled, until maturity gained her the edge she would need to overcome her fears, that wasn’t going to happen. It didn’t mean Mac was going to forget about it. It just meant that for the time being his plans would have to wait. Moving her back to his hometown would help. The ways of navigating small towns and gossip was something Keiley needed to understand. A ménage wasn’t tantamount to the hell she had endured as a child. But until she learned low to handle the gossip, his hungers and Jethro’s would have to wait. “Doesn’t work that way, Mac,” Jethro sighed then. “I can make it work.” He was confident of that. “I made this damned job work, I can make anything work.” Jethro’s jaw clenched, and for a moment, bleak, furious pain and impatience sparkled in the blue depths before it was gone, iced over, and the agent he had become returned. “Speaking of the job, were you any closer to tracking down that Internet stalker’s whereabouts? The director was going nuts over that when I left the office.” Mac shook his head allowing the change of subject. “I turned the case over to Dell Roberts. He knows computers better than I do, and he’s just finished up a major case. He has the time to deal with it. I’ll help him online if he needs it.” The case was drawing a lot of fire. The stalker found his victims online, researched them, acquired their personal information, and spent months terrorizing them. In the latest case, he had finally attacked and nearly killed his victim. He was escalating dangerously.


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“I’m going to miss you, my friend.” Jethro lifted his drink in a toast. “To the good ol’ days.” “To the future,” Mac amended, tipping his glass to Jethro’s, then bringing it to his lips before staring around the room once again. He had drunk here, laughed here, found friends here. Hell, he had even fucked on most of the tables in the room here. Occasionally a married member had petitioned to allow his wife in long enough to get to know the members he had short-listed to act as a third. Many of those instances had ended up with the ménage playing out before the couple left the club. There had been two female members at one time. One had married and dropped out of membership, though her husband still occasionally brought home a friend. That relationship was working out much better than Mac had ever thought it would. Most of the married men in the club had found a way to balance those dark hungers with the women they loved. Just as most of them had learned their hungers through the darkness of pasts they rarely spoke of, or lives lived within the shadowed corners of deceit and lies. They all had their reasons for the hungers that tormented them, just as Mac did. But for him, the thought of his wife’s happiness meant more to him than satisfying the shadowed specter that lurked beneath his surface. “Keep in touch, buddy,” Jethro said as he rose to his feet. “It won’t be the same around here without you.” “I’m just a phone call away.” Mac grinned. “Call anytime.” But don’t visit. Not for a while. Not until his wife could handle the thought of another man in her life. Jethro nodded, but his gaze was knowing, haunted. He knew what Mac meant. As his friend walked away, Mac sat back in his chair, gazed around again, and tried to let the atmosphere seep inside him. A frown tugged at his brow, though. He’d have to remember to remind Dell to requestion the latest victim and her husband. There was


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something that kept nagging at him about her statement. Something she had left out. Something he knew he should have asked her, but he couldn’t think of what. He would call Dell from the house tonight, and then put it behind him. Within the next four weeks he would be out of Virginia and back in Scotland Neck. North Carolina was far enough away from his old friends and his hungers to allow him to contain them for a while. Keiley was worth the sacrifice. There had never been another woman who could make him feel as she did. She completed him, and he hadn’t expected that. But from the moment he met her, he had realized there was something about her that warmed the cold reaches of his soul and eased the dark loneliness that had always been so much a part of him. A man didn’t walk away from that, no matter the obstacles. Once he saw his future in a feminine gaze, he found a way to make all parts of that relationship work. And that was what he was doing. Finding a way to make it work for all of them. Especially Keiley. Her natural desires and adventurous personality had been restrained. The gossip concerning her father’s embezzling from the company he worked for had destroyed her. At seventeen she had lost her home, her father had been imprisoned, and her mother had committed suicide. There had been no one left for their community to punish except Keiley. They had watched her, gossiped about her lack of morals, predicted her downfall. If he dared let her know how desperately he needed to see her beneath Jethro now, it would terrify her. The rejection of it would be instant, and it would never falter. He would have to steer her gently toward it. And once she grew to accept a need for those darker hungers that he saw in her eyes, then he would have to steer the relationship gently as well. Jethro craved Keiley. He had seen her first and pushed her at Mac, despite his hunger for her. Mac knew the way to a woman’s heart, but he also knew his friend. Keiley had already stolen Jethro’s heart. Not that Jethro would ever admit it or do anything about it. Mac


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knew that. A committed relationship was something that Jethro shied from as fiercely as Keiley shied from gossip. His lips quirked at the thought. The woman he loved and the friend that was more than a brother to him. The three of them together would make a hell of a relationship. Once Mac managed to get the three of them together. Getting there would be the hard part. Waiting would strain his patience to its limits. And if it never happened? He would live with it. Ultimately it came down to Keiley. If she could accept it, if she could love Jethro with the same intensity that she loved Mac, then it would work. If it didn’t? If he lost them both, it would destroy him. Obstacles stood in his path. It wouldn’t be easy. But if his hunch was right, then the future that could stretch out before all three of them was one worth fighting for. It was worth risking. Sharing his wife was considered a forbidden pleasure. It wasn’t called that without reason. It was breaking rules, stepping past boundaries, and facing his own fears. His fear of losing. His fear of becoming too controlling. In the end, either they would all win or they would all lose. Mac was betting, he was praying, on the win.


≠ 1

SCOTLAND NECK, NORTH CAROLINA THREE YEARS LATER

“Mac, did you see my comb?” Keiley called from the bathroom, her voice a little sharp with irritation and simmering with impatience. “I have my own, Kei,” he reminded her in the same tone. She moved from the bathroom, naked as the day she was born, water still beading on her shoulders, her cap of dark hair mussed around her face as she began searching the tops of the dresser, the vanity, the bedside tables. Delicate and fragile. That was his wife. At twenty-six she still captivated him, made him harder than hell, and made him think of fairies on a fantasy night. A sensual, sexy fairy sandwiched between two male bodies and gleaming with moisture. He shook the image away, frustration surging through him as his control weakened further. “It was just in there yesterday,” she muttered as Mac cinched his belt and considered uncinching it just as quickly. If he moved fast enough, he could be undressed, have her flat on her back and his cock sinking into the fist-tight heat between her thighs. He was loosening his belt when her gaze sliced to him. “Don’t even think about it.” Hazel eyes were still dark with lingering anger. “I’m still in the doghouse, then?” Mac grinned as he fastened the


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belt before sitting down on the end of the bed to pull on the scarred work boots he wore on the farm. He tended to indulge Keiley whenever he could, but he had to admit, there were times he was tempted to indulge more than just her feminine wiles. That glimmer of confrontation and defiance in her eyes often tempted him to indulge a dominance he had so far managed to keep strictly under control. “However you want to consider it.” She bent down, her delightful little tush sticking up in the air as she looked beneath the bed. “Keep flashing that ass at me and I’ll show you how short that stay in the doghouse is going to be.” He felt he owed her at least a warning. She had good reason to be a shade upset with him, after all. Standing a woman up for an intimate dinner at home, complete with candlelight, because he had become distracted at a horse sale wasn’t a good idea. Especially when he had been warned to be home on time. He hadn’t forgotten a damned thing. His control was just that shaky. He hadn’t dared show up on time. She had waited up on him, too. Dressed in scarlet red silk, thighhigh stockings, and heels. She met him at the door, told him good night sweet as sugar, then went to bed. His dinner had been in the oven. The candles had burned to nubs. She had obviously eaten. And he had managed, for one more night, not to mention the hungers tearing him apart. “Touch my ass and you’ll lose your hand,” she informed him as she straightened and looked around the room with an expression of confusion. “That was my favorite comb, Mac.” “Did you look under the cabinet?” She had so much fussy female stuff in there that he sometimes wondered how she found anything. “Of course I did.” She shot him a frown that warned him he should have already known that. He flashed her a grin that had better warn her that he was getting damned horny watching her run around naked. He wasn’t above seducing her. She could protest until hell froze over, but they both knew


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that after the first kiss she was going to cave. It was a given. He knew it, she knew it, and his cock knew it. She did beat a hasty retreat back to the bathroom as Mac drew in a silent breath of relief. “You know, you need to get a handle on yourself,” she told him, causing him to catch his breath again minutes later as she left the bathroom. “That waistband is too damned low.” He glared at the sight of her lovely hip bones above the elastic band of the shorts. And the so-called t-shirt wasn’t much better. It flashed too much belly, and showed her navel ring. A navel ring that had been driving him crazy the past few months. “Get used to it, Daddy,” she pouted sarcastically. “Do I bitch over your t-shirts that stretch over your chest, or your ass in your jeans?” “My jeans aren’t low enough to flash my dick, either. There’s not enough material to those shorts to keep yourself decent, Keiley.” Let alone him. He was almost panting now. His balls were tight. He was ready to fuck and he was ready to go for it now. She was tempting a hungry man. And she knew it. Over the past year his fiery wife had become a sexual force to be reckoned with. “That’s too bad. I’m sure you would get a lot of notice if they were.” She eyed the bulging crotch before glancing back at him with sparkling amusement. “Arrested, too, most likely, but it would definitely be interesting.” “Change clothes.” “Not on your life.” She slid her feet into a pair of sandals and walked sedately out of the bedroom, her ass twitching in those damned too-tight shorts, flashing it at him like a matador flashes a red cape at an enraged bull. She’d been doing that a lot lately. Tempting him. Defying him. Pushing the boundaries he had allowed her to set when they first married. A part of him had watched the progression with anticipation. He knew what was coming. She was tired of waiting on him to push her sexuality. She was pushing it herself now.


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Her boundaries and his. Did she intend to go out in public like that? Mac jerked his shirt on, working the buttons as he stomped through the hallway and downstairs to the kitchen. “Where are you going today?” He asked as he came to a stop in the doorway, watching as she put coffee on. “Noplace, unless you start demanding I change clothes first. Then, I don’t know. Main Street shopping, or if you prefer, hooking the street corners.” She blinked back at him innocently. “Smartass.” “Don’t start, Mac.” Her frown said it all. “You might as well go ahead and forgive me, Keiley,” he warned her. “Why should I do something that stupid?” she asked incredulously. “This is three days in a row that you’ve come home late from some sale or meeting. Normally I’m in the bed asleep before you ever walk in the front door. If I did that to you, you would have a fit.” “I’d paddle your ass,” he muttered. “Don’t tempt me, McCoy. I still have the baseball bat.” Tense, narrow-eyed, and now spitting mad, she faced him like an enraged little fairy. All she lacked was the little gossamer wings fluttering for effect. “Did you find your comb?” He changed the subject quickly. She wasn’t fooled, but at least she let it slide. “No.” Ruffling her fingers through her hair, that little confused look filled her face again before she turned back to the coffeepot and flipped it on. “I must have moved it without thinking.” Which wasn’t like Keiley. Then again, the atmosphere between them had been more than a little strained lately. He shouldn’t have stayed out late, no matter how hard he was trying to avoid looking at himself in the mirror. He just had to do it again the next morning anyway. And it wasn’t as though he could forget the hungers that raged through his mind. The missing comb bothered him, though. His mind refused to let it go. “Have you lost anything else?” “You’re not an FBI agent anymore, Mac,” she reminded him as


13

she took cups out of the cabinet. “You are now a farmer and horse and cattle breeder. Remember?” “You know what they say, Kei, you can take the boy out of the agency—” He shrugged. “Well, un-agent.” She pulled the refrigerator door open and collected eggs, butter, and bacon. “I’ve just misplaced the comb without thinking. That’s all. I’ll find it before long.” Maybe he was going a little overboard, Mac thought, but it felt funny. Keiley didn’t just lose things. For all her fussy feminine girly stuff, she was so organized she made his back teeth clench at times. “I’ve been distracted lately,” she finally admitted. “It’s been a long month.” He heard the note of censure in her voice and felt an edge of guilt. Guilt wasn’t something he liked feeling in his marriage. It meant he was failing her. That he had hurt her, and the last thing he wanted to do was hurt Keiley. Hell, he had said one could take the boy out of the agency, but this had nothing to do with his work as an agent. It had to do with his sexual past. One could take the man out of the club, but the club still lingered in him. The needs were beginning to eat him alive. But if he wasn’t wrong, Keiley’s were now eating at her, as well. Restraining the dominance knotting his gut was becoming harder by the day. Restraining his sexual hungers was becoming impossible. And it was giving his delectable little wife the impression that his back was made for her delicately shod feet to walk right over. “I’ll try not to be late again,” he promised, watching her back tense as she laid bacon in a pan. “Doesn’t matter. I’ll just make certain I don’t make any more plans to surprise you.” Damn, that one hurt. Mac winced. He liked her surprises. When she met him in silk, stockings, and heels and smelling of a faintly musk and floral fragrance that made his dick pound and his hands ache to touch her. No more surprises meant no more wild sex on the coffee table, the couch, or the chair. That didn’t suit him at all.


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“I could always surprise you instead,” he suggested. “You could.” She nodded. “You could start by telling me what has you wound up tighter than one of your studs during breeding season?” She glanced back at him too fast for him to contain his reaction. Hell, he had been out of the agency too long. He knew she caught the flash of guilt in his eyes, the telltale wince of his expression. The tightening of his lips. “It’s been a busy month, Kei.” That was his story and he was sticking to it. For now. Until he knew for certain where she was headed with it. In the past three years he had watched her grow in sexuality and confidence. He’d pushed the boundaries needed to help her deal with the gossip and the people of a quickly growing community and helped guide her toward the friends he knew would aid in that. Now, Keiley was making her own steps. For the past year, she had been pushing herself and him. And it appeared she was beginning to reach for an even higher goal. His dick tightened painfully at the thought, every muscle in his body tensing in preparation for it. “As I said, it would surprise me.” She turned back to the bacon, but her shoulders were straighter, her back still tense. That damned sleeveless t-shirt was riding up her back, too, flashing skin. Skin he could be kissing right now if he weren’t such a jackass. If nightmares and desires weren’t haunting his dreams and pushing his own tension higher. A tension Keiley was obviously reading well. And reacting to as their marriage progressed. In the past three years she had found a place within the social structure that existed in Scotland Neck. As an independent computer analysis and programming expert, she had joined the Business Council in town. She was a part of several charities and worked several hours a week as a volunteer at the local women’s shelter. She was thriving here. The years she had spent under suspicion because of her father’s embezzlement at a high-level D.C. accounting firm, and his subsequent imprisonment and death, were slowly being forgotten. On the surface, their marriage seemed perfect. In a lot of ways, it


15

was perfect. If it weren’t for the darker sexual hungers that filled him, then the unnatural stress beginning to grow between them would never have been there. “Coffee.” There was a note of thankfulness in her voice as the machine beeped to indicate it had completed the brewing cycle. “Sit down, Mac, you make me nervous hovering over me like that.” He wasn’t exactly hovering over her. Just trying to get a little closer as he considered another attempt to get into those indecent shorts. Instead, he did as she suggested and sat down at the kitchen table while she cooked. It occurred to him that while she was frying bacon might be the wrong time to risk making her any madder. She only fried bacon in black iron, and if she ever decided to use it as a weapon, he was in some serious trouble. But he couldn’t help the hunger gnawing at his insides, either. Over the past three years he had become something, someone, he wasn’t. And it was beginning to leave a funny taste in his mouth. He had always been an extreme lover. The dark sexuality that drove him had always been a part of his character. It was one of the things that made him a good investigative agent. He understood the darkness, the shadows that could drive a man to extreme acts. It was a part of himself he hid from Keiley. And in hiding it from her, he was beginning to become wary of the press of darkness in his mind. “I think you miss your friends in Virginia,” Keiley announced as she set breakfast on the table, causing Mac to stare back at her warily. Mac arched his brow, allowing his expression to shift momentarily with the hunger eating away at him. It was beginning. He could feel it now; it was in the air as thick as the scent of bacon frying and coffee wafting beneath his nose. The challenge was being laid on the table. Finally. For years he watched her navigate the gossip that begun with their appearance in his hometown. Old would-be flames prodding at her. Innuendo, smug smiles, and outright lies concerning his activities away from her had gone from worrying her to amusing her. Now, she was stepping into territory she had left unexplored when


16

she escaped Virginia, and confronting the fear of his past sexuality. The fear was no curiosity. The gleam of it in her gaze had fire ripping through his body and for the first time since he realized what she meant to him, he let it free in his expression. Keiley’s lips parted almost in surprise, as though the arrogance and sexuality of the look had come as a shock to her. And it would have. Mac rarely allowed enough of a chink in his façade to let her see the shadows that tormented him. She cleared her throat delicately. “You know, all your malebonding guy things at Sinclair’s Club.” She stared back at him with supreme innocence. Her hazel eyes were bright and compassionate, her expression sympathetic. As though she were talking about a baseball buddy or guys’ night out at the local bar. But he saw the heat shadowing it, burning behind the blander emotions. “There were no bonding guy things there, Kei.” “Do you miss it?” She tilted her head to the side, watching him curiously. “You know what the club was,” he reminded her. “I don’t miss fucking other women, if that’s what you’re asking me.” Keiley kept him more than satisfied sexually. She knew how to tease him, how to make him crazy, and she was as adventurous as hell. More adventurous than she realized. “That wasn’t what I was asking you, Mac.” She rolled her eyes before lowering them to her breakfast. “Just forget I mentioned it.” That wasn’t going to happen. “Why did you mention it?” She stared back at him once again, her gaze reflective. “Because you’re too tense. You have very few friends, and despite the invitations we receive, you never want to socialize. You weren’t like this in Virginia.” “I’m busy, Kei.” “You’re hiding,” she told him. “And hiding never works. It’s definitely not going to work with me. Are you missing your sex games in Virginia, Mac? Is that the problem?”


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He wished he could have snapped at her. He wished he could have stood up and stomped out. He wished he could have avoided her. But she was staring at him with that faintly frightened expression she had used the first time she asked him about the club. Wariness filled her eyes, and he felt like a jerk. Like a bastard. Like he was failing her. Pushing her. Stealing himself against it, he let her see the lie coming. “I’m not missing any sex games.” The lie didn’t come easily to his lips. “Now eat your breakfast.” The curiosity blazed in her eyes then. He was daring her, whether she realized it or not. “What was it like?” she asked, as he dug his fork into the scrambled eggs on his plate and fought the anticipation building inside him. “What was what like?” The words nearly choked him. “Sharing a woman with Jethro Riggs? Didn’t you ever get jealous, Mac?” Son of a bitch. He was going to come in his jeans!

-

If she hadn’t been watching for his reaction, she might have missed the expression that flickered over his face. It was dark, carnal, arousing. His eyes lifted slowly from his plate a second later, his features smoothing out, but his eyes, his eyes were like storm clouds now, brewing with dangerous undercurrents. She could see his response and feel it inside herself. See the sudden shift of hunger in his gaze as he stared at her, the tension in his body, the way it whipped through the air and licked over her flesh. In three years of marriage she had rarely seen that look on Mac’s face, and it almost, just almost, frightened her. It would have frightened her if her own arousal hadn’t tempered the fear. She had to force herself to control her breathing, to control her response to him. To the thought of that forbidden act. She had suspected he missed the Club and the sexual acts he engaged in there with Jethro Riggs. Rough, edging on dangerous, Jethro’s


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sexuality drew every woman she knew. Even herself at one time. Until she met Mac. The thought of those acts had terrified her when she first met Mac, but something stronger, something darker had drawn her to him, made her love him. She had thought she had pushed back her reckless impulses years before she met Mac. But in the past year or more, Keiley had found curiosity eating her alive. Mac never mentioned his sexual past with Jethro or the Club. He never referred to it, never suggested revisiting Virginia. But that sexual darkness that had at first drawn her to him had been growing inside him, spurring her own. She needed to know what had drawn him to it. Why he had done it. For reasons that didn’t make sense even to herself, that past was now tormenting her dreams and her fantasies. “Why do you want to know, Kei?” His tone was a velvet rasp, rough, with the promise of a dark caress beneath it. It stroked over her flesh, reminded her that she had been days without feeling his possession. Why did she want to know? Because it was killing her. Because in the past three years it had grown within her mind as her confidence within her own sexuality had grown. At first, it had been tainted with fear. The knowledge of the gossip that could arise, the whispers and destructive rumors that could build. But as she had found her place in Mac’s hometown, watched it grow within the past three years even as she had grown, she had begun to wonder. Why did he do it? And did he miss it? Was that the reason why the tension within him, the darkness that glittered in his gaze, had grown as well? She shrugged uneasily. “We’ve never discussed it. We’ve talked about everything else in our lives except that.” And it was the truth. She had discussed things with Mac that she had never talked to anyone else about. The horror of facing the realization that her father had embezzled money from the company he worked from. The fear when she had lost her home, when her father


19

had been imprisoned and her mother had committed suicide. Mac knew every part of her, but there was still so much she didn’t know about him. “It’s not worth talking about.” He turned his attention back to his breakfast as Keiley watched him closely. He was hiding from her, and that only dared her curiosity. “That doesn’t tell me why you did it, Mac.” She continued to press the point even though the tone of his voice warned her that it was a subject he didn’t want to discuss. He was avoiding this subject just as he avoided other subjects when it came to explanations concerning the dark, shadowed parts of his soul. Marrying Mac hadn’t come without a little baggage. He was an alpha with a capital A, irritating, proud, arrogant, and bold. Mac didn’t do anything by half measures and he sure as hell didn’t offer a lot of explanations. He avoided issues he didn’t want to discuss, and when she pushed it they most likely ended up in bed where she couldn’t remember the subject they were arguing over anymore than she could remember her own name once he started touching her. He challenged her independence with his arrogance, and compromise hadn’t come easily to him. She had the feeling that once she opened the door he was warning her to keep closed there would be no closing it again. There were parts of Mac so shadowed inside that she wondered if he wasn’t just as wary of them as she knew she should be. She was tired of the wariness. She was tired of feeling that a part of her husband was hidden from her. That a part of her own life was missing when he grew quiet and dark. She was tired of being more frightened of losing him than she was of getting to know him. That was the mistake she had made when they married. She had known it was too soon to make their relationship permanent. Known there was too much about Mac that she didn’t know, and now it was time to figure it. It was time to get to know the man she had married, whether he wanted her to know him or not.


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His fork clattered to his plate as he laid his arms carefully on the table and stared back at her, his gray eyes brewing like thunderclouds. “Because I was horny,” he answered. “You were horny, so you shared your women with other men?” She lifted her coffee cup and drank from it as though her pulse wasn’t racing, as though she wasn’t suddenly nervous as hell and so aroused she could feel her juices heating the folds of her pussy. “That about sums it up,” he growled. “So, the women you shared, they weren’t your lovers in particular? Just someone else’s?” His eyes darkened. In the three and a half years they had been married, she had never seen such contradictory emotions roiling through his gaze. Anger, irritation, longing, and arousal. It was a little scary and a lot harder to accept the suspicions that had been brewing inside her for months. Or maybe she had just finally seen it in the past few months. She knew she could feel it. As the past three years had seen the growth in their marriage, it had also seen a vague restlessness. One she hadn’t recognized just in herself, but within Mac as well. What was happening to her? Pushing Mac like this was never a very good idea. He was indulgent for the most part, but once his dominance was roused it seemed only to push a part of her that craved more and more within their sexual relationship. “Sometimes they were my lovers,” he admitted, his voice lowering, becoming rough around the edges. roughening. “Sometimes I even cared about them, Keiley. Sometimes I cared about them a lot. The more I cared about them, the more I enjoyed it.” He was pushing her now, daring her. In that second Keiley realized she had made a dangerous error of judgment when it came to her husband. She had suspected he was missing his friends, his sexual games, that a part of him wished he were back in Virginia. But now she knew he had been waiting knowing this was coming. Now she had brought the subject out in the open. She had broken the boundary she herself had set, and she knew her husband, for whatever reason he had had for holding back, it would be gone now.


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He could be amazingly ruthless. Mac lived by his own set of rules, and over the past three and a half years they had learned how to adjust, how to compromise with each other, and keep their marriage alive and growing. But she had always known he was holding something back. Had known and feared it. “But you didn’t love them,” she said hopefully. “Not like you love me.” His lips quirked. “I’ve never loved anyone or anything like I love you, Keiley,” he admitted. “You know that.” “Then you’re not missing your friends? You’re not missing the club?” His gaze flickered with arousal and anticipation. “That wasn’t what I said. That’s what you said. And a word of warning, sweetheart. If you don’t want to wake the monster, then don’t poke at him. And right now, you’re definitely poking.” Keiley felt her lips part, felt her mouth go dry, felt the tension shimmering in the air suddenly thicken, nearly choking her with the heavy undercurrents suddenly whipping through it. She could see it in his face now, in his eyes, a desire that he kept leashed, a fantasy, a hunger, perhaps a need, she couldn’t have fully anticipated. Then, just as quickly, it was gone. He picked up his fork, resumed eating, and let the subject drop while Keiley began wrestling with the implications he left in his silence. “Stop worrying, Keiley,” he stated, his voice still too dark, still too rough, moments later. “My membership in the club in Virginia isn’t going to follow us here. No one knew for certain what Sinclair’s Club was for.” “I don’t care about the damned talk or how it follows us, Mac. I care about the fact that you’re refusing to talk about it when I know damned good and well it’s what you’re thinking about.” She didn’t give a damn what people thought about it. She had grown out of caring about gossip about six months after their move here and her realization that Delia Staten, one of the county’s leading figures, intended to make her life hell. Because Keiley had Mac and she didn’t. Delia had never forgotten that Mac had rejected her.


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It was childish and stupid. Keiley had learned from the best exactly how to weather gossip. Whether or not anyone thought she was involved in one of the many ménage relationships in this damned county didn’t really faze her. The fact that Mac’s lips had thinned warningly did faze her. It pissed her off that he was continuing to ignore the subject. “It wasn’t a whorehouse, Kei. It was simply a men’s club. A place to relax, share a drink, and unwind.” “And find a friend to share your women with,” she inserted. “That was an added benefit.” The tight, controlled curve of his lips held back the lush sensuality that could fill them. “Now, I have to get to work. I have to make a trip into town later, though. Do you need anything?” “Just answers,” she sighed. “We need to talk about this some more, Mac.” “Talking about this is the worst thing we can do at this point,” he told her. “What you need to do is drop it. Let it go away, Keiley, just as you did before we moved here. It doesn’t apply to our life or what we have here. That’s all that matters.” Oh yeah, she was just going to obey him like a good little girl. With that, he finished his coffee and rose from the table before bending to brush a kiss over her cheek and move to the back door. “I love you, Kei,” he said behind her. “I love you, Mac.” She returned the words and the emotion. “I’ll be up for lunch if you take a break, then,” he told her. “I’ll talk to you later.” About anything but what she could feel pulsing in the air now. As he left, Keiley grit her teeth in frustration. When she had first heard the rumors of Mac’s sexual history, she admitted a fear that had nearly ended their relationship. She had been terrified of the darkness of such a sexual act, and the darkness in the man she was falling in love with. She had been a virgin. Uncertain. Still wary of gossip and still wary of the strength of her desire for Mac. And the strength of her interest in his best friend and known third in his sexual relationships.


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She had first met Jethro at an office party. A few weeks after that he had introduced Mac to her. Mac had stolen her heart within days. She didn’t know how to handle Mac, let alone another man. Especially a man as hard and as shadowed as Jethro. She wasn’t that frightened little girl anymore. But she wasn’t certain she wanted fantasy to become reality, either. What she wanted, what she needed, were answers. And the only person she could get those answers from didn’t seem willing to talk. She stared at the backdoor and felt her resolve harden. That was just too damned bad. That was her husband. Her life. He could talk or he could deal with the consequences. Namely, she damned well wouldn’t leave him alone until he did.

Profile for St. Martin's Press

Three Excerpts from Romance Author Lora Leigh  

#1 New York Times bestseller, LORA LEIGH is the author of the Navy SEALS, the Breeds, the Elite Ops, the Callahans, the Bound Hearts, and th...

Three Excerpts from Romance Author Lora Leigh  

#1 New York Times bestseller, LORA LEIGH is the author of the Navy SEALS, the Breeds, the Elite Ops, the Callahans, the Bound Hearts, and th...

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