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An excerpt from Dangerous Secrets:

A couple rose from a table in a corner not far from the bar heading for the door, and Keeley zipped forward to snag it, Delaney trailing behind. “This is the best table. It’s far enough from the band that we can talk without yelling and it’s an excellent spot to people watch.” They settled into their seats on the same side of the table, their backs to the wall, Delaney hooking her purse on the back of her chair. She eyed the band as Keeley’s head swiveled, eyes gleaming. “Look at all these people checking each other out. I love the human mating ritual. In fact, if I weren’t dating Oliver, I’d consider partaking in the ritual myself. There are a couple of really cute guys here.”

“You said Ollie was all surface charm without any depth and you were thinking of breaking up with him.”

Keeley nodded with a sigh. “It’s time and we both know it. But as that unhappy event has yet to happen, I can’t do anything other than look.” She tapped her lip with a fingertip. “You, on the other hand, have been out of the dating circuit for far too long. Now that Walker’s home and since I haven’t seen him in forever, I need to get a look at him. I want to judge if he’s worthy of you saving yourself for him all these years.”

It was stupid that even hearing his name made her heart skip a beat. “I have not been saving myself for Walker.”

“I’m not talking about ‘saved yourself’ in the abstaining from sex kind of way, more in the avoiding emotional investment way. You haven’t been open to a real relationship with anyone else because you’re still hung up on your high-school-early-college crush.” Keeley shrugged. “Now that he’s back, it’s a good time to figure out your feelings for him.”

Had she saved herself for Walker? Delaney shifted uncomfortably, because pining after the guy who’d made it clear he didn’t want her was pathetic in the worst way. She didn’t want to be pathetic, she thought glumly.

Musical tones drifted over the conversation as the band tuned their instruments. “Hey,” she said as a thought occurred. “You’re forgetting Josh. We went together for almost year.”

Keeley had the ‘you’ve got to be kidding’ look down pat. “Josh was so unimportant it took you a whole minute to even remember you’d dated him. He was safe because he wasn’t looking for serious either. That is, until he met your friend Annie and fell flat on his face in love. In fact, you introduced them and hosted their engagement party.”

“They are a cute couple. I couldn’t be happier for them.”

“You just proved my point. You weren’t emotionally invested in Josh. You don’t commit emotionally because you’re still in love with someone else.”

The server came to the table and Delaney breathed a relieved sigh. Anything that distracted Keeley from her pitiful and depressing love life was welcome. Since one drink was her limit, she’d make it a good one. “Strawberry margarita for me.”

“I’ll have a margarita as well, but make mine a classic,” Keeley said. “And we’d like a big serving of the loaded nachos. Don’t skimp on the guacamole and add extra cheese, with two plates. Thank you.” Keeley gave the server her sunny smile as Delaney groaned.

“How could you? You know I have no willpower when it comes to Easy Money’s loaded nachos, with not skimpy guacamole and extra cheese.”

“Girls’ night out, remember? We’re here to enjoy ourselves. Plus, you burn off the calories working on the farm. I, on the other hand, will have to put in an extra hour torturing myself at the gym. But the nachos will be worth it.”

Delaney sat back, feeling herself relaxing. It was hard not to have fun when she was with Keeley, and tonight had the added benefit of distracting her from James’s death. Keeley launched into a description of the end-of-year event her school put on, with glowing reviews of how well her students had done. “As you know, this kind of thing can be difficult, especially for kids who have autism or anxiety issues.”

“You’re so good with them, though. And it’s nice hearing how much progress these kids make in your class.”

“Thanks, friend. Now I just need my principal to agree with your assessment when he she does my end-of-year evaluation.”

“You’ll do fine, because you’re awesome. In fact –”

The outer door opening snagged Delaney’s attention. Walker stepped into the bar and completely derailed her train of thought. She’d managed to avoid him for the better part of a week, but now her heart tripped, her breath hitched in her throat, and her mind went blank. When her brain synapses started firing again, all she could think was to ask herself why she couldn’t have a reaction like that to someone nice and uncomplicated like Rafael Santana. It was her bad luck that Walker McGrath was the single human on the planet who set off this internal chain reaction she feared at some point would lead to personal annihilation.

“‘In fact’ what?” Then Keeley let out a long, multi-toned ‘ooohhh’.

Walker stopped inside the door and despite probably thirty people in the bar, his gaze immediately collided with hers. Every cell in Delaney’s body stilled, as if waiting to engage with his. That’s how it had always felt to her, like she was only truly alive when she was with him. Jeez, she was pathetic. Long haired and bearded, there was an untamed edge to him that hit all her buttons and made her feel every one of the long months of sexual abstinence. In denim jeans faded at the seams, and with a black shirt under a battered leather jacket, he’d fit in just fine at a biker bar.

Delaney forced herself to look away and break the connection and found Keeley furiously fanning herself with her napkin. “Okay, not questioning it any longer. Now I get it. Walker is so hot he’ll set off the fire alarms.” The fanning increased in velocity. “God, I love his hair, all long and dark and combed back from his forehead. He looks like Jason Mamoa, right down to those gorgeous shoulders. Every single woman in this room will want a taste of that kind of hot. And Delaney? If he keeps looking at you like that you’re going to burn to a crisp.”

“Enough, Keeley.” Delaney resisted the urge to do like Keeley and fan herself with her napkin. She was grateful for the distraction when the server set frothy drinks in front of them with the plate of nachos piled with shredded chicken, black beans, olives, pico de gallo, and loads of cheese. On top were giant scoops of guac and sour cream. Keeley immediately used a chip to scoop up a heaping bite, closing her eyes as she chewed. “Mmm, delicious. Almost as delicious as Walker McGrath.”

“Not helping, Keel.”

Delaney chanced a peek at Walker to find his gaze still locked on her. He took a step in her direction and her heart leapt at the thought he would join them, only to slow again when he seemed to exert a great effort to pull his attention away and turned toward the bar. Delaney took a hasty sip of her icy drink, hoping to cool her warm cheeks.

Walker crossed to the end of the bar on the opposite side of the room from her and Keeley. He passed crowded high-top tables and there was a ripple in his wake. People went quiet and ducked their heads, then began whispering after he passed. Rafe, who appeared engrossed in conversation with a curvy brunette wearing a tiny skirt and a low-cut halter top, gave him a nod, but other than that, not only did no one greet Walker, some who she knew damned well used to hang out with him averted their gazes and pretended not to notice him. A man sitting two stools down from the seat Walker took nudged the woman he was with and they moved further down the bar. A hot ball of anger swelled in her chest. If he noticed, Walker didn’t let on.

Delaney was suddenly furious. Many of the people in the bar had grown up with him, played Little League with him. They’d gone to the same schools. They knew he’d been wrongly convicted and spent over two years in state prison for a crime he hadn’t committed, and yet they were treating him like he carried the plague.

“Uh oh, I know that look,” Keeley muttered.

Shoving back her drink, Delaney rose to her feet, fury carrying her across the floor as she made a beeline to her target. Owen placed a glass of what looked like whiskey in front of Walker. He reached for the drink, movement checking when he caught sight of her.

He set his drink back down and swiveled toward her, and she stepped between his knees. He was seated, she wore heels, so they lined up perfectly mouth to mouth. She cupped his face in her hands, her fingers rubbing involuntarily against the texture of his beard while the dark scent of forest brought back memories of another time. His gaze, brilliantly green and aware, locked on hers, daring her to carry through on her intent.

“This doesn’t mean anything,” she murmured, her mouth millimeters from his. Ignoring the voice in her head telling her this could be the mother of all mistakes, she pressed her lips to his and did her damnedest to ignore the fireworks exploding in her brain. Big hands spanned her waist and gripped tighter while time spun out. Hot, dreamy, divine – kissing Walker was everything it had ever been, only more, now richer and darker. Finally, figuring she’d done her job and needing to preserve her sanity, she ended the kiss. There was a moment when their gazes caught and held and all sound around them seemed muffled. Raw emotion flashed across his face, and she thought he was trying to beat it beat back under control but was losing the battle. Gaze still snared in his, she cleared her throat and spoke loud enough everyone around them could hear. “Welcome home, Walker.”

His grin flashed and her knees went wobbly. God, she’d missed that smile, plus she realized she was an idiot. Getting this close to him wasn’t going to make feelings she’d tried to ignore for so long suddenly go away. The gleam in his sharp gaze told her he knew exactly why she’d kissed him. She would have stepped back but found the hand he’d planted on the bare skin of her back kept her from moving. “Not so fast, Laney. Next one’s for you and me. Up to you whether it means something.”

He took her under in a mouth open, tongues engaged, pull-everything-out-of-her kiss. A wolf whistle split the air, likely from Rafe. The first kiss had been a preview that fanned embers she should’ve known were still alive under the ashes. This one ignited a full-blown conflagration. Her hands moved through his hair to the back of his neck where she gripped corded muscle as she struggled to stay upright. Calloused fingers caressed the suddenly highly sensitized skin of her back. If she had to judge their relationship based on that kiss, she’d say they shared an explosive mutual attraction and if she wasn’t careful, they’d end up tangled in bed before the night was through. That was where this kind of kiss led. Which only told her how easily she could misjudge the man who was currently kissing her brainless. He’d made it clear that the past would remain firmly in the past. Fine with her, because no way in hell was she making that mistake again. Pulling together every ounce of self-preservation she possessed, she pushed back from him. He gave one last nip on her bottom lip and let her go.

Heat burning her cheeks, she spun on her heel and sailed back to the table, head held high.

Keeley let out a low whistle. “Holy shit, Delaney. That was intense. Now every woman in the room knows they’re out of luck with the hottest guy here because he’s taken.”

Delaney’s muscles slackened and she slumped in her seat. “That’s not why I kissed him. I wanted people to know that I, and by extension everyone at Cider Mill Farm, welcomes Walker’s return. That we trust him. He was sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, for god’s sake. He was the victim of a huge injustice that cost him his freedom for over two years. People need to get a clue.”

“You’re right,” Keeley agreed. “No matter that he’s been cleared of all charges, some people still think of him as guilty.” Then her friend smirked. “But your way of showing your loyalty may have revealed more than you intended. Trust me on this, you also staked a claim.”

“Great.” Delaney frowned, then spoke the thoughts that had never been far from her mind for the past eight years. “It would help if we could find who actually assaulted Melanie that night.”

“We’ve been over that. So has the detective.” Keeley gave her a sharp look. “I know that face. What are you thinking?”

She shrugged. “I’m going to try and find her. Melanie,” she clarified. “We were friends, and I could tell she was holding something back at the trial. Then she disappeared. I think she was protecting someone. Or maybe she was pressured not to state what she knew.”

“The detective spent months trying to figure that out and didn’t come up with anything. What makes you think there’s more?”

“Just that feeling. Someone hurt her and that person has been free to live his life while Walker went to prison. It’s not right.”

“You’ve tried to find Melanie before and came up against a brick wall. What makes you think this time will be any different?”

“I don’t know that it will, but I need to try. She didn’t want to be found before.” Delaney shrugged. “Maybe things have changed for her.”

“Don’t do anything crazy, Delaney.”

“I won’t.” She tried to shake off the mood. “Let’s listen to the music.”

The band began its first set and Delaney made a conscious effort not to look at Walker. She knew why she’d kissed him, but why had he kissed her?

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An excerpt from Hidden Loyalty:


­Bella was a pro at hiding her emotions, which was absolutely crucial given her current assignment. Her job this weekend? Be the knockout arm candy to the man in the driver’s seat next to her. A man who wore sexy and remote as smoothly as James Bond.

Chief Deputy US Marshal Seth Jameson, her boss, her current partner, the man who equally intrigued and infuriated her, had his gaze focused on the road winding ahead of them. Which she knew was misleading. While he appeared to be thinking only of mastering the two-tone red and black Bugatti Chiron, she was one hundred percent positive his brain was reviewing and re-reviewing their plan to take into custody the elusive and dangerous fugitive they were tracking.

Their mission was dangerous. Maybe the most dangerous of her career, and she needed to emulate Seth’s monumental focus to make sure she acted exactly as she’d been coached.

Tonight’s task was to gain access to and arrest the incredibly wealthy, eccentric, and heavily guarded fugitive, Hugo Montenegro. The first step had been achieved. Seth had constructed a fictitious background as a fabulously wealthy antiquities trader, one who didn’t mind skirting the boundaries of what was legal to commandeer items particularly desired by his clients.

Montenegro’s interest was in instruments of death, especially those used in ceremonial deaths or notorious killings. Seth had learned of Montenegro’s obsession with one item and had been able to use that as leverage to obtain an invitation to his home.

Bella’s job was to appear decorative. Normally when working she maintained a professional demeanor, as dictated by the policy directives of her employer. That meant wearing clothing that projected a positive image of the Marshals Service to the public and that didn’t draw attention to herself.

For this assignment, however, lowkey and staid had been thrown out the window. She’d prepared carefully, using the stipend allotted to her to purchase attire that would highlight her assets. She had the makeup and accessories to help create the look she’d wear for their overnight stay.

The kickoff was a formal dinner party, and she thought she’d hit the mark for that event. Her hair was pinned at the back of her head in a sophisticated upsweep that showed off her neck. She’d left a few stray curls artfully arranged for interest. She’d used copious amounts of mascara and eye shadow to accentuate the shape and the color of her eyes, making them appear more exotic and a deeper blue, and she’d selected crimson red lipstick to draw attention to her mouth.

Her long dress gleamed an iridescent blue that reminded her of peacock feathers and showcased her curves, emphasizing the narrowness of her waist before flaring up, and with the help of an amazing bra, lifting her breasts like a sacrificial offering.

When she’d opened the door of her hotel room to Seth’s knock, there’d been a moment when she thought he’d been caught off guard. For a span of time that’d been mere seconds, his slate gray eyes had flashed, generating a blistering heat as they’d swept her body from head to toe. By the time that gaze had met hers, any reaction to her appearance was walled off.

The ice man had returned.

His appearance had hit her equally as hard. Lust zapped her with a white-hot jolt when she’d opened her door to find him standing tall and impossibly handsome in black tie. The formalwear should have tamed him, made him look refined and polished, but somehow the smooth black jacket and the stiff white cuffs only served to provide a thin veneer of civilization.

Surreptitiously, she studied his profile which seemed to have been carved of the same granite as the home they were nearing. If she was a pro at hiding her emotions, Seth Jameson was a master. Which made her wonder if she was the only one to sense the strong emotions kept locked behind a fortress wall.

She gave an involuntary start when he reached out to grip her hand.

He raised his arched brow. “You’re messing with the ring. It looks like you’re not used to it. Montenegro will notice that. He’ll notice everything about you.”

“That’s the point, isn’t it? He’s hypersexual, and we’re counting on him noticing me. I can distract him, and he might say things to me he wouldn’t say to you.”

“Right.” He returned his hand to the steering wheel. A muscle worked his jaw. “You nervous?”

“A little, but you’ll be there.” His gaze flicked over her and she shrugged. “I’ll do my job.”

“No doubt.”

They followed the curve of the driveway to the front of the house. Big men in dark blazers and sunglasses with mirrored lenses stood at strategic spots—an upstairs balcony, the front entrance, and a walkway that rounded the corner of the house. Hugo Montenegro was taking no chances with his safety. He was a high-value fugitive shining a spotlight on himself this evening.

Seth pulled to a stop behind a high-end Benz. A valet elbowed a colleague to the side for the chance to drive the Bugatti. The young man stepped forward but Seth held him off with a raised hand. Instead of reaching for the door handle, he turned to face her. “We’ll be sharing a bedroom.”

“We’ve talked about this, sir. I know what to expect.”

“Call me Stephen, even if you think we can’t be overheard. You never know where there might be listening devices. We’re Stephen Braddock and Anna Novak.” Dark brows lowered over his stone-gray eyes. “It’s more than the bedroom. We have to display a believable level of intimacy. As you said, Montenegro is hypersexual and he’ll be aware of a beautiful woman. You’re supposed to distract him, but that’s as far as it goes. The best way to keep him from attempting anything more is for you to stay close to me and make sure he knows you’re mine. The story of our recent engagement will support that.”

“I’ll play my part, Stephen. You play yours. If you can convince him that you have what he wants, we’ll be able to complete this assignment and go home.”

He glanced out the window. “The valet is watching. We start now.” He leaned forward and pressed his mouth to hers. The shock made her rigid, then heat flashed and her lips moved under his. The hair at the back of his head, the deliciously thick hair she’d had secret fantasies about, slid through her fingers.

He broke the kiss and moved back, a look crossing his face that was gone in a heartbeat. If she didn’t know better, she’d say it was stark hunger. But, as he’d said, acting their parts was critical, and he’d already started.

She gathered her composure, nonchalantly rubbing her thumb across the skin at the corner of his mouth. “Can’t have you going to a dinner party with lipstick smeared on your mouth, darling.”

“Right. Let’s go.”

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An excerpt from Hidden Betrayal:

“Is there anyone, and I mean anyone, at home, work, social group, who might want you dead?”

“Most of my family is frequently unhappy with me, but so far they’ve held off on murder.”

Linc raised dark brows.

“Look, that sounds pathetic. I know.” Mikayla heaved a sigh. “My mom and sister simply have different ideas about what I should be doing. You know, where I should live, the type of career I should have. Even the kind of car I drive. Basically, they believe I make poor decisions on every damn thing in my life. This trip was supposed to give me some distance so I can figure out what it is I want, not what everyone else wants for me.”

“You have a husband?” When she shook her head, he reached across the table and picked up her left hand, holding it up between them. His thumb moved across her ring finger, his hand warming her chilled fingers. “You’ve got a pale line here where you’ve recently taken off a ring. You skip out on a husband?”

“No, I haven’t skipped out on a husband.”

He waited, attention unwavering.

“Okay, okay. Damn it.” She looked away. “I broke up with my boyfriend.”

His thumb brushing her ring finger again brought her gaze back to his. “Boyfriend?”

“Fine, fiancé. I broke up with my fiancé.”

She didn’t know how to interpret the glint in his eye. “And how did the fiancé react?”

She hitched a shoulder. “The usual. Peter hears what he wants to hear and pays no attention to the rest. He refused to accept it was over.”

“Was he angry?”

She tugged her hand free and jammed it into her pocket. And realized she still wore Linc’s sweater. Great. She was like the cheerleader wearing the quarterback’s letterman jacket. She set the core of the apple in her bowl and stood. “I’ll get your jacket. There’s probably blood on the sweater. I’ll wash it before I give it back.”

He held up a hand. “I’m not worried about the sweater. You said the fiancé wouldn’t accept that you broke up with him, but you sound like it’s a done deal.”

She hesitated, then sat again. He certainly knew how to stick to a subject. “Right. Well, here’s the thing. Peter doesn’t know we’re officially broken up.”

“How’s that?”

“I tried to break up with him. Twice. He simply refused to acknowledge what I was saying. I felt like he wanted to pat my head and say, ‘there, there,’ like I was a recalcitrant child. He’d slip around the conversation, and by the time we were done, I was frustrated and angry, and still engaged.”

She felt the steam rising out of the top of her head all over again. “So yesterday on my way here I stopped at a post office and put the ring in the mail to send back to him. A big, fat diamond solitaire. I never liked it. Diamonds are so cold.” She closed her eyes and willed the irritation to subside. She hadn’t meant to give away so much. “Anyway, that has nothing to do with the guy on the trail yesterday.”

“The guy on the trail wasn’t local. He was from the city.”

“How do you know that?”

“How he dressed.”

“Because he wasn’t wearing Patagonia or REI? Every hiker doesn’t wear the official outdoors uniform, you know.”

He gave a short laugh. “I do know. But even without designer outdoor gear this guy wasn’t dressed for hiking or camping. He had city written all over him. I’d say street thug, likely a cartel member. You notice the tattoo on the back of his left hand?”

“No. I was too busy staying away from that knife.”

“I didn’t get a good look either, but I’d put money down that I’ve seen it before. There’s a cartel in Mexico that cuts off the tattooed hands of this group when they can catch them.”

“You’ve got to be kidding. Aren’t we a little outside cartel territory?”

“Exactly. Which is why I’m wondering who would send a cartel thug after you.”