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Gabby stared at her best friend Kate and willed her to show a reaction. Any reaction at all. Something for her to go on. Laugh? Tell her she’s an idiot? Something….

“Would you please stop?” muttered Kate.

“Well, read faster! I want to know what you think!”

Kate scoffed. “You already know what I think. I think you’re crazy.”

“I’m not crazy. I thought about this a lot, Kate. I can’t fully move on until I get closure. I’m not going to get closure until Hunter and I are face-to-face. Since I don’t know how to find him, I need to get his face to me. I don’t see crazy anywhere in that plan.”

Kate tilted her head, and those brown eyes were immediately filled with judgment. “You’re emailing some security company that has nothing but some fake-looking website, and you’re planning to lie to them and ask them to come and save you from a shady organization that wants you dead.”

Gabby was more than ready to refute this. “One, a website can’t be fake. It’s obviously a real webpage.” Even if the only information on the page was an email address and the notification that demand was more than supply and not everyone would get a reply. Which meant that this crazy—er, rational—plan probably wouldn’t work anyway. “Two….” She was at a loss to explain the logic that had made so much sense to her last night as she’d furiously typed up her damsel in distress story to lure Hunter back to town. “Two, Ryan has been all over town with that tramp, and I feel like this is a necessary step.”

“No, Gabby. Online dating is a necessary step. Using deception to get in touch with some long-lost ex-boyfriend is definitely not necessary.”

“He wasn’t my boyfriend,” said Gabby so quickly that she only belatedly realized that it didn’t help her case in any way. Hunter and she had a sordid past, but she’d never touched him. Not once. And that was why she needed closure so badly. Maybe if they’d kissed and it had been horrible, she wouldn’t feel a pit in her stomach whenever she thought of him. Maybe if she knew that he was happily married with a horde of children, she wouldn’t feel the wet blanket of guilt every time she remembered the way he’d looked at her as he’d been carried away in that police car.

She couldn’t move on from her disaster of a marriage and try to figure out where the hell her life was going without getting rid of this baggage first. All of a sudden, Gabby reached forward, grabbed the laptop, and hit the Send button.

Kate’s lips tightened, but she thankfully didn’t say anything.

“It needed to be done,” said Gabby, feeling the need to defend herself from the silence.

“Well, there’s no turning back now. What do you think you’ll say to this mysterious Hunter if he does show up on your doorstep?”

Gabby had imagined Hunter coming back for her thousands, if not millions, of times over the years. And after a long time, she’d finally come to the perfect conclusion. “If hell freezes over and this actually works? I’m going to kiss him the first chance I get.”

***End of Sneak Peek!***



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She could feel herself coming closer and closer to the edge; she tossed her head back and blinked as the orgasm approached. Except the mystery man wasn’t between her legs anymore. He stood above her and stared down at her as she worked on herself.

She gasped in surprise at the strange turn the fantasy took when she realized it wasn’t a fantasy. There really was the silhouette of a man standing over her bed and staring at her. One big scary ass man.

And that’s when she screamed.


Slade shouldn’t be surprised. If he’d been in the middle of what this woman was clearly in the middle of, he would’ve probably screamed too. Yet he found himself in momentary shock. He wanted to shut her up, but he already knew he’d overstepped too many bounds, and touching her after he had already entered her room without permission was a step too far even for him.

He held up his hands as a sign that he wasn’t a threat, even though he knew the gesture was mostly pointless. “I’m not here to hurt you,” he said, even though he didn’t think she could hear him over the sounds of her screams.

Then she bolted to the side of the bed and he saw the cell phone out of the corner of his eye.

He cursed in frustration as he admitted defeat and bolted into action. She was fast, but he was faster. As soon as she grabbed the phone, he was around the bed and had both of her wrists in one of his hands. She tried to twist around to fight him, but as she moved and writhed, she just wiggled herself right where he wanted her. For her safety, obviously.

The closer she was to him, the easier he’d be able to control her. Unfortunately, that involved tucking her in close with one arm around her waist, holding her flush against him while his other hand still controlled her wrists to keep her from twisting around or wildly swinging at him.

Since she wasn’t wearing any pants, as she kicked at his shins, parts of her body writhed against parts of his. He had to grit his teeth and pull on all of his self-control to detach himself from what was happening and try to get some semblance of control over himself and the situation. “Whoa,” he said carefully into the woman’s ear. “I’m not here to hurt you.”

“Well, you are!” she screamed before she slammed her bare foot particularly hard into his shin, a move that had to hurt her more than it hurt him. He stifled a grunt and gripped her tighter.

“I’m not trying to,” he said weakly as he belied the words by pulling her wrists closer until she was completely held in his arms. The only parts of her that were free were now her legs, and even those kicks were becoming weaker and weaker as she saw how ineffective they were.

But he knew she wasn’t becoming docile. On the contrary, he could see her mind working and calculating the next way she was going to attack him. He had to respect the fighting spirit in her, but at the same time, he didn’t want any trouble.

“If you don’t want to hurt me,” she said carefully, “why don’t you let me go and let me—”

She didn’t finish the sentence but he had a feeling it had to do with her current state of undress. He thought it would be a damn shame to see any part of her curvy body covered up, but he knew they wouldn’t get anywhere if he kept her half naked.

But letting her get some pants on had its own set of troubles. “If I release you, you’re not going to go for your phone. We’re going to talk about this like two rational adults and then we’ll laugh about it. Got that?”

There was a pause before she nodded, and he could tell she was lying out of her curvy little ass. But if he didn’t let her go, they sure as hell wouldn’t get anywhere. He released her and in one fluid motion bent to snatch up the phone that had fallen on the carpeted floor in the struggle. She immediately pulled her shirt down, stretching the soft fabric to its limit to cover as much as she could of her upper thighs and behind. Slade backed away and gave her room to get dressed without actually turning his back. Just because he had her cell didn’t mean there was no other way for her to reach for help.

She glared at him as she grabbed some shorts— noticeably no panties, though—and pulled them over her hips. The pajama set was probably too big for her and looked as if some soccer mom who had long since given up on life should be wearing them. But the clothes still showed the curve of her breasts, and her hard little nipples poked against the fabric as though saying, “Look at me! Look at me!” and it took way too much effort for him to avoid that silent command…

~~~End of sneak peek! ~~~

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The Reluctant Thief Chapter Four

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“You have to be kidding me.”

“Nope.” Scott opened one eye to see Toni staring at him with a look of utter disgust. “You didn’t really think I was going to let you get rid of me that easily, did you?”

“Easy! What the hell did you think was easy about yesterday?”

She had a point there. But he’d had a bit of time to think after she dropped him off at the train station. It was too convenient. Everyone had been in Chicago on Friday and all of a sudden they were dispersed all over the country? And now she was sending him away even though she was certain he wasn’t going to be on America’s Most Wanted or the twenty-four-hour news?

No, she was planning something. And considering that she was sending her family, her very capable badass family, as far away from her as possible, that meant she was planning something stupid.

Not only would Jennifer and Melody kill him if he let anything bad happen to Toni, but he owed it to Isobel to watch over her daughter. He was half the reason Isobel had ended up dead. The least he could do was make sure her legacy, no matter how morally dubious, lived on.

“I think you owe me the truth about what you’re doing here.”

“I don’t owe you a damn thing.” She kicked off her shoes and walked toward the desk. She seemed to abruptly change her mind about sitting down and paced back toward the door. “Get off my bed,” she demanded. “I’m taking a nap. And get out of my room, while you’re at it. How did you even get in here?”

“I told the guy up front I lost my key. He wasn’t very thorough.”

“Son of a—I hate this hotel,” she muttered. “Doesn’t that kind of thing go against your moral code?”

“You go against my moral code,” he said in a deadpan voice. How often had he had to make exceptions for Toni’s questionable methods? But at least she’d been open before instead of sneaking around. “Tell me what is going on.”

“Nothing is going on. Now leave my room before I make you leave.”

That had him opening his eyes. “How exactly are you going to make me leave?”

“I’ll….” She drifted off without answering.

He wondered whether that meant she couldn’t think of a way or whether the ideas going through her head were too violent for his delicate ears. Toni was hard to read. She always held her cards too close to the vest. Which was exactly why he wasn’t leaving. He wanted to respect her personal space and all, but damn it, he just didn’t trust her right now.

“If you want a nap, you’re just going to have to deal with me being here because I’m not letting you out of my sight.”

“I’m not sharing a bed with you!” she half yelled and half squeaked.

Scott frowned. He hadn’t meant it like that. There was just one bed in the room, and considering it was a big bed, he hadn’t really thought much of it.

“It’s not fair for you to show up like this and take over all my space and—” Toni stopped talking and instead sat on the edge of the bed, facing the wall away from him, and he could tell she was taking deep, calming breaths. He debated moving onto the floor, but there were no extra blankets in the room, and judging from the rest of the hotel, he didn’t want to share the floor with however many bugs were also making the place their home.

“I’m not trying to piss you off,” he said carefully.

She pulled back the blankets and climbed under, still facing away from him. “I’m in bed in jeans, thanks to you. I hope you’re happy. I never sleep in jeans. No one in their right mind would sleep in jeans.”

He couldn’t argue with that. “You don’t have pajama pants?”

“I don’t sleep in bottoms!” she snapped. Then, a second later, there was a bunch of rustling from beneath the covers. She threw the jeans away from her and they hit the wall right next to the tube TV on the dresser. “Screw you. I don’t have to change a thing about how I live because you want to be an ass.”

“I don’t want to be an ass. I want to know the truth. What are you doing?”

She was quiet as she adjusted the pillow under her head and pulled the comforter up to her neck so she was cocooned.

He turned to face her back and willed her to tell him what he wanted to know. “Toni—”

“Shut up.” There was a bunch more rustling before she tossed something else against the wall. It wasn’t until it fell on top of the jeans that he realized it was a bra.

Somehow, when she’d taken off her jeans, he hadn’t put much thought into it. But knowing she was just in a t-shirt and panties made the whole thing more… intimate. He felt his cock harden and he closed his eyes, trying to regain control of his body. It was just a natural response. It had been too long since he’d been with a woman, and the thought of being so close to a half-naked one, no matter who she was, was apparently a trigger for him.

The erection refused to leave, so he decided to pretend nothing strange was happening. “I thought we were in this together,” he said finally, trying a different angle.

That must’ve gotten through to her because she rolled over to face him, still almost completely cocooned in the ugly purple patterned comforter. “We were in this together. That was before Sterling knew what we all looked like and that we were all coming for him. What are you going to do, Scott? We’ve played all our cards and we haven’t won a hand lately.”

“I would believe that if you weren’t being so damn sneaky. You have an ace up your sleeve that you’re not telling me and that’s terrifying.”

She raised an eyebrow as she looked him over. “You worried about me, Hart?”

“I owe it to your family to keep you safe.” Her lips tightened and he could tell she wasn’t happy with that answer. What had she wanted him to say? “Yes, I’m worried about you.”

She scoffed and turned onto her back and stared up at the ceiling. “I’m going to end it, Scott. I’m going to kill Sterling.”

“We’re going to do it together,” he insisted.

She shook her head. “No. That time has passed. He knows who you are. He knows who I am. We don’t have any more friends. I talked to him today.”

He thought he misheard her. “What?”

“I walked right into the building I knew he was working at and asked to speak to Sterling. I was escorted into his office and I looked him right in the eye.”

“What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“Nothing is wrong with me. I see the truth for the first time in so long. I know exactly what we have to do.”

“You’re out of your mind.”

She rolled to her side to look at him. “No. I’m going to go to work for him. I’m going to gain his trust. And the second I see an opening, I’m going to do it. I’m going to kill Jonathan Sterling.”


Toni had to admit that she’d imagined being in bed with Scott thousands of times in the past, but never under these circumstances. And she had to admit that if she wasn’t under this kind of duress, she probably wouldn’t have been spilling the beans so easily.

But Scott had a way of messing with her mind under the best circumstances. Now that she was all horizontal with him, it was much harder to keep her head on straight.

“How exactly are you going to kill him?” he asked carefully.

At least he hadn’t freaked out. That was a plus. But she could already see the wheels turning as he tried to figure out how to talk her out of this.

“I told him that I wanted him to lay off my family. In return, I was going to work for him.” He opened his mouth, but she continued, trying to get her reasons on the table before he told her how stupid she was being. “I know he assembled some of his employees through blackmail and dirty means. And I know that I’m one of the best at what I do. He would be chomping at the bit to get me on his payroll. After what he did this weekend, he proved that he’s willing to kill whoever he needs to in order to get us off the table. So I acted like I was scared and realized I was up against something too powerful because bad guys love flattery. So I’m going to a designated location today and I’m assuming I’ll be shown the inner workings of Sterling’s operation.”

Instead of yelling at her or telling her how idiotic her idea was, he just nodded. “That simple, huh?”

She tightened her lips and got firmly in defensive mode. “I know it’s not going to be easy. He’s going to try to test me and cut me off from everyone. But I don’t need anyone to do this, Scott. I’m strong. And I’m dangerous.”

“You are dangerous,” he said, surprising her. “You’re dangerous from behind a keyboard.” There it was. “Have you ever killed a person?”

Toni clenched her jaw. “No. But this is the man who killed my mother. I think I can figure it out.”

“You think? You’re not going to have time to think. You’re going to have a split second to do something that is going to change your life forever, and you’re going to be all alone. And that’s assuming Sterling doesn’t get what he wants from you and kill you before you have the chance.”

“Don’t bullshit me. If our situations were reversed, you’d go through the same crisis. The difference between you and me is that I know what I am. I’m the daughter of a criminal. The sister of a criminal. A thief. Through and through. I’ve always been one of the bad guys. In fact, killing Sterling might be one of the least bad things I ever do in my life. What about you, Boy Scout? You’re used to being the good guy. The one who helps little old ladies cross the street. So you’re going to get your hands dirty with Sterling? I don’t care what an angel your wife was—this kind of stink don’t wash off too easily. At least I’m used to it already.”

He was quiet, but she could see a muscle tic in his jaw, signaling that she’d gotten through to him. “I’ll be able to do what needs to be done,” he said simply.

“So will I.” They were both quiet then, at a bit of an impasse.

Toni hooked an arm underneath the pillow to prop her head up a little bit. She could tell Scott wanted to fight her more, but she knew there was nothing he could say. They were so different in most ways and so alike in others.

And he knew it was going to take a hell of a lot of convincing to get her to change her mind.

Besides, it wasn’t as if he disagreed with her goal. He wanted Sterling dead too, no matter what the cost.


Toni didn’t think she fell asleep, but when she checked her phone, it was five p.m. Somehow she had managed to doze off. She looked over at Scott. He was in the exact same position, with his eyes closed. He seemed too tense to be sleeping, but she wasn’t sure he ever really relaxed.

Toni carefully pushed the comforter back and started to inch out of the bed.

“You’re not sneaking out of this room,” warned Scott.

“I know.” She gave up all pretense of silence and sat up, belatedly remembering that she wasn’t wearing pants. She debated covering herself with the sheet but remembered that Scott was still weighing it down. She could grab a pillow but, if anything, that would bring more attention to her ass.

For the love of— They’d just had a serious conversation about murdering someone. Really, a little PG-13 skin was hardly something to get embarrassed about. Besides, Scott had more than proved he didn’t give a damn about her body.

She stalked over to where her jeans were and started to pull them on. She meant to be cool, as if it were no big deal, but she found herself looking over her shoulder to where Scott was on the bed, expecting him to be lying serenely still. But to her surprise, her eyes met his. She froze for half a second before she snapped out of it and pulled her pants up the rest of the way.

It was probably a fluke. She’d moved and he’d happened to look in that direction. It wasn’t like Scott to check out her ass.

Pushing all the out-of-place thoughts firmly in their place, she got to work packing her few belongings in her oversized suitcase. If she had to leave quickly, she could grab her laptop and make a run for it, but she really preferred to travel in style. Namely, every different type of style available to her.

That was coming in handy considering she had no idea how long she’d be wherever she was going. Though if they killed her right away, she really wouldn’t need that many clothes at all.

No, she had to stop thinking like that. If Sterling had wanted her dead, he could’ve taken care of her right in the middle of his office and there was nothing anyone could’ve done. He obviously had the cops in the palm of his hand, so even if there were fifteen witnesses who saw his guy carry her dead body out, Sterling would go on living his lavish lifestyle.

As unsettling as that thought was, she clung to the logic that Sterling wouldn’t go out of his way to send her back to her hotel and then go to the location where he was going to kill her.

She’d never fully unpacked, so it only took a few minutes to get everything put away and zipped up.

Scott sat up on the bed. “Where are we going?”

“We’re not going anywhere. If you show your face anywhere near Sterling or his guys, they’re going to shoot you in the head.”

“But you’re safe?”

Toni ran her fingers through her hair as she turned to face him. “Sterling needs me.”

“Really? What does he need you for?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’re not good at this whole debate thing.”

She rolled her eyes. “Listen…. What I’m capable of….” No, that wasn’t right. She tried again. “The things I can do with a keyboard and Internet connection aren’t easily teachable, okay? Sterling knows that. He thinks he can use my love for my family as leverage over me to get me to do what he needs.”

“There’s a problem with that theory,” said Scott.

There were about fifty problems with it, but Toni was refusing to think about it. “It will be fine,” she said, soft enough for them both to know she wasn’t all that sure about it.

“The problem,” continued Scott, “is that Sterling can use your family as leverage against you.”

“Then I guess I’ll have to get to him before he can get to me then.”

“I’m not going to let you go in alone.”

She studied him and tried to figure out what he meant by that. Obviously, the literal meaning was clear, but was he just saying that because he felt some obligation to her family to keep her safe? Or was he really worried about her?

Toni winced and shook her head. What a stupid thought. She needed to get over this stupid crush and figure out what to do about Scott. She couldn’t afford this kind of distraction right now. “You can’t mess this up for me,” she said finally.

“Mess this up for you? You’re putting yourself directly in the line of fire, but somehow I’m the one messing things up for you?”


“That’s bullshit.”

“You’re a distraction, Scott! You’re a distraction I can’t afford. If anyone is going to get me killed, it’s going to be you.”

“You’re so full of it.”

She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him. “You’ve given up your entire life on your little quest for revenge. But yeah, I’m full of it. Get off your damn high horse, Scott. I’m doing this for my family. I’m doing this for my mother. And, believe it or not, I’m doing this for you too. So get the hell out of my room and leave me alone.”

She expected him to yell at her more or list out the reasons she was going to get killed or, even worse, call and tell her sisters on her. But to her utter shock, he held up two hands as if in defeat before he pushed past her and walked out of the room. She stood motionless for a good thirty seconds, just staring at the door, waiting to see whether she’d just imagined the whole thing. Had it really been that easy to get Scott to give her space?

He had to have something up his sleeve. Maybe he put a tracker on her? But where the hell would he get a tracker? She was the one who set stuff like that up for him. He’d just gotten out of jail a day ago. Hardly enough time to set up a base of operations. Or even get a laptop to use.

She’d think he was working with someone else, but he didn’t have any friends in Chicago and she’d been keeping tabs on Melody and Jennifer. As soon as they’d confirmed that the police had no evidence on Scott, they’d scattered and left Chicago.

The only other option was that he was going to manually follow her, but he was in for a surprise.

She was going to make damn sure that it was impossible for anyone to tail her where she was going.


Scott opened his hand and looked at the address he’d scrawled out with the hotel-provided pen. He knew that the longer he stayed arguing with Toni, the further he’d get from where he wanted to go. But she didn’t know that, while she was sleeping, he’d taken a few minutes to rummage through her stuff, including the pockets of her jeans. If she were anyone else, he’d feel guilty, but it was hard to feel guilty when he knew his rummaging might be the only thing standing between her and a bullet in the head.

But she wasn’t completely wrong. If he followed her, he would undoubtedly be in a hell of a lot of danger. He didn’t really have a choice, though. He couldn’t let her go off and get herself killed while he just sat back and twiddled his thumbs. He didn’t think he’d be capable of that under any circumstances, let alone when she was going after Sterling.

He wanted in on this, no matter the danger. He turned the key in the ignition of the car he’d rented with the fake ID that Toni had provided and pulled onto the busy street. He’d beat Toni to her destination and she’d never even know he was there.



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The Reluctant Thief Chapter Three

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Toni crossed her legs in the plush office and then uncrossed them. It was impossible to find a comfortable way to sit when waiting for your archnemesis to walk into the room and confront you.

She looked around at the wood paneling on the three walls that weren’t windows. It was strange that it wasn’t a corner office, but maybe Sterling knew that so many people wanted him dead that fewer windows were better.

Or maybe it was because he was pretty much never in town and technically didn’t have any ownership rights in this company. That was Sterling’s long game in his criminal empire. He didn’t really own anything. He owned shell companies that owned shell companies that owned shell companies.

When they’d taken out Greg Stranger, his money man, they’d dealt a huge blow to complex web of lies and cash. But they hadn’t destroyed it, and he went so deep into hiding that it had taken months for him to get the balls to pop out again. And now that he was back, he was cleaning house, ordering the death of Jadon Belli, one of his former right-hand guys, and killing all those people to frame Scott for murder.

Toni heard the door behind her open. The hair on the back of her neck stood up. A silent warning to run. To get the hell out of there. But she stayed seated. She didn’t look behind her or stand. Just stayed in place and awaited her fate.

All of a sudden, there he was. Jonathan Fucking Sterling walked around his desk and took a seat right across from her.


“Ms. Murray. This is quite a surprise.”

He wasn’t alone. Standing off to the side of the room was a big bodyguard. He looked as if he spent too much time in the gym, and his dark, hooded eyes were dispassionate and blank. If Sterling wanted her dead, she knew without a doubt that it would be this man doing the dirty work.

Sterling didn’t get literal blood on his hands.

She avoided looking at the stranger because the longer she stared at him, the more terrified she got, and she couldn’t afford the fear to get in the way of her plans. And she tended to get a bit bitchy when she was scared. She needed to be the right amount of humble right now.

“I didn’t want to surprise you. That’s why I told the desk guy my name.” Nope, that was still too much bitch. Some habits were hard to break.

“I have to admit, there’s a lot I want to say to you, young lady. But why don’t you start by telling me what you’re doing here.”

Young lady…. She took in a deep breath and tried to control her anger. She supposed Sterling was older than her. From her intense research into his history, she knew almost everything about him. He was born to a poor mother and father and had one older brother. The childhood had been mainly rooted in tragedy. His brother had been murdered right after high school, and his father had left his mother after rumors of infidelity.

He had been raised in a sea of lies and pain, which would make her feel bad for him if he wasn’t such an asshole. But he’d crawled his way to a scholarship and ended up with a business degree. After he was apparently unsatisfied with the money he could make legally, he got to work in the eighties, filling his pocketbook any way he could.

He started off simple, working in the drug business. Except not the street corner drug business. He started wholesale, arranging for massive shipments from South America into the States. After five years of success, he’d garnered the attention of the FBI but avoided prosecution. That drug circle was disbanded, but he regrouped and diversified. Now he worked in trafficking all sorts of things in and out of the country, including stolen art, drugs, and, even worse, people.

Sterling was the worst of the worst, and now he was young lady-ing her. Toni clenched her hands into fists until her nails bit into her palms. “I’m here because we’re at an impasse,” she said carefully. “After what happened with Hart… I think it’s time we talk.”

“I don’t think there’s anything to talk about.”

“I don’t want my family getting hurt,” she said carefully. “I don’t want there to be a national manhunt for Hart. So tell me what I need to do to get you off our backs.”

He pointed a finger at her. “Your family is the one that started this.”

She wanted to scream at him. You killed my mother! You were going to kill my sister! You started this, you crazy fucker! “You’re right,” she choked out. “And now I’m here to end it. Tell me what I need to do.”

Sterling licked his lips as he leaned forward on his elbows and looked her over. “A girl like you has many talents.”

Oh, please don’t let this be a sex thing…. “Yes…” she said cautiously.

“I have a team of people who do some more… difficult tasks for me. They could use someone with your expertise.”

Bingo. She was careful not to let any signs of victory show. “A team?” she asked, as if she didn’t know what he was talking about.

“A man is only as good as his employees, right? Of course, there’s one big problem. I don’t trust you.”

Nor should he. She stayed quiet. If she tried to defend herself too much, it would be suspicious. If she was too aloof, it would be suspicious. Silence seemed like the best option.

“But,” he continued, “I think by now you know what I’m capable of when I get angry.”

“I need to know that my family and Hart are going to be safe.”

“Your family, maybe. But Hart has proved to be rather persistent in his belief that I’ve wronged him somehow.”

Calm. Remain calm. “I took care of Hart. He’s going to be out of town for the next few months. I’ll make sure he stays away for good.” By then, Sterling should be long gone. But she couldn’t exactly tell him that.

“And you expect me to take your word for this.” Sterling looked her up and down.

“No. I expect you to test me.” She glanced out of the corner of her eye to the guy who was standing silently. Had he been through this same initiation? Had he made the same promises? What had kept him from ever turning on his boss? Was he truly loyal or did Sterling still have dirt on him? Those were questions she might very well never know the answer to.

Sterling took out a sticky note and scribbled something down before he handed it over to her. “Go to this location tonight by eight p.m. Bring clothes. You’ll be staying for a while. If you don’t show up, there is no deal. This is a one-time offer of leniency from me and that’s not an offer I give regularly. Do we understand each other?”

Toni looked at the address he wrote down. It seemed to be one of the suburbs outside of Chicago. “I got it.” She stood. She gave a quick nod to the silent man in the corner but didn’t say good-bye to Sterling. She didn’t owe him any pleasantries.

The man didn’t nod back, but Toni didn’t read much into his reaction, or lack thereof. She was too relieved to make it out of the office and to the elevator. She was well aware that there could be cameras watching her every move, so she kept her face blank and expressionless the entire ride down and on her march out of the lobby.

Once she was on the street, the nerves took over. The fear she’d suppressed all morning came to her full force. Her hands trembled and her knees were shaky. She focused on walking in a straight line, one foot in front of the other. She’d seen him. She’d looked Sterling right in the eye and she hadn’t told him what she really thought. She hadn’t attacked him. Nothing. She’d played the good little girl and asked for leniency.

But she would get her revenge. She just needed to play her cards right. If she made her move at that office, his bodyguard never would’ve let her get a chance to pull out a weapon. Then Sterling would still be alive and she’d be dead, which would be a shit show.

Her plan was solid. Her plan would work. She repeated that mantra over and over until she reached her hotel. When she opened her door and was ready to use her last few hours of freedom to relax and decompress, she realized she was never going to get that chance.

Because in the middle of her king-size bed, Scott Hart was taking a nap.



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The Reluctant Thief Chapter Two

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GIVEAWAY ALERT! The first four Stolen Hearts books spanned the entire United States, but the second wave of sexy criminals is about to arrive. Slade, Gage, Hunter and Tristan all have stories to tell and who knows where their exploits will lead!

Comment below with your FAVORITE or ideal setting for a Stolen Heart book for your chance to win the SECOND SIGNED COPY  of THE RELUCTANT THIEF! Good luck!!!



THE RELUCTANT THIEF: Chapter Two (It’s short! I’m sorry! But when you see the end of the chapter, you’ll totally understand why I had to end it there!)

Scott could tell Toni was hiding something from him. Hell, her natural state of being was hiding things from him. The main question was whether he should be worried.

There were some things he knew without question. Toni wouldn’t betray him. She wanted Sterling dead as much as he did. Sterling had arranged her mother’s murder and her sister’s kidnapping, so Toni’s fight with Sterling was personal.

But he also knew that Toni was too damn talented for her own good. Those kinds of smarts had a strange effect on people. The mixture of a superiority complex and talent led to an isolating life. And when you lived in an isolated bubble, sometimes you made choices that normally smart people wouldn’t make.

And that was what scared him. Now that she was shipping him out of state, she would be in Chicago alone. And that was damn terrifying because Chicago wasn’t a safe place for either of them at the moment.

“Do I have a phone?”

“It’s in the front pocket of the bag,” she said. “The numbers for all the important players are under the contacts file.”

He decided to not beat around the bush any longer and came right out with it. “What are you planning, Toni?”

“Scott, it’s been a long weekend. I’m going to go to my shitty hotel, take a long, hot shower and try to wash off any memory of me ever wearing this horrid suit for you. That’s honestly what I have planned.”

Whenever someone said “honestly,” he was inclined to not believe them, but then he got the sudden mental image of Toni in the shower. An image that was much easier to conjure considering he’d actually seen her take off her shirt in front of him just a few minutes ago.

Who the hell did that? He knew they’d been working together for a while now, but she should care enough about her body to try to keep random guys from seeing her black lacy bra that was cut just low enough that it barely covered her—

“I’m not going to stay out of town for long,” he warned abruptly, forcing all of the unbridled images from his mind.

“Yeah, yeah.” She closed the trunk and took a step back. She tugged at her hair until the bun came undone and her blonde hair tumbled around her shoulders. “Take a breather, Hart. I have a feeling jail wasn’t a relaxing weekend getaway.”

He could still feel the pain in his cheekbone from where his head had been slammed into the concrete wall by one of his former coworkers. He’d never worked in Chicago, but he had acquaintances here. They’d all been quick to jump on the “traitor” bandwagon and made sure he felt the full weight of their disgust in his supposed terrorist activity.

He had never roughed up a criminal, no matter how heinous the crime, but he couldn’t say he blamed these guys all that much. People had died in that explosion. The ones who hadn’t died might be scarred, physically or mentally, for life. This country wasn’t supposed to have buildings coming down in the middle of the street. It was what he spent his entire career trying to prevent.

Not that he had a career any longer. He had quit his job awhile back to devote himself full-time to bringing Sterling down, but he always assumed he’d go back eventually. Now it was looking as though he’d never have that opportunity.

Which meant he needed to get Sterling more than ever. Because he was losing everything he had to live for, one by one. Right now, the only thing he had left was Sterling and fuck if that wasn’t the most depressing thought he ever had.

He wanted to say good-bye to Toni, but didn’t really know what to say. She was right that he owed her thanks for what she’d done to save him, but it was damn hard to get the words out. The entire situation never should’ve happened. He respected the law. He respected the force. Even though Sterling was manipulating it to his benefit, the vast majority of those guys just wanted to make the world a better place. By manipulating the system like she’d done, she’d gone against so much of what he believed in.

But that was her entire life. She didn’t play by societal rules or government laws. It was Toni’s law of the land, in her mind. She was an overall good person, so he mostly approved, but she still had a tendency to cross the boundaries of right and wrong with startling frequency.

Now that he was on the run from the law, he couldn’t exactly make his disapproval known. Not that she would care anyway. “I’ll see you when I get back to town,” he said finally.

“Can’t wait,” said Toni in an unenthusiastic voice that made it more than evident that she wanted to get rid of him sooner rather than later.

He picked up the bag and backed away. He thought he should say a better good-bye, but gave up and instead turned and walked away without looking back.

He might just have to reconcile the fact that he and Toni would never be friends. Which was probably a good thing for his sanity, but it made him feel damn uneasy.




Toni hadn’t been lying. She really did go back to her shitty hotel and take a long shower. The wallpaper might be cracking and one of the outlet covers might be missing from the wall, but the water heater worked damn well.

She probably stayed there for over half an hour, until her fingers were pruned and exhaustion threatened to take over. When she stepped out from the relaxing spray, she flipped on the news. They were still talking about the explosion in the posh side of Chicago, but they weren’t naming names, which was a good sign. She’d erased all pictures and mentions of Scott from the local news stations servers, a task that had tested the boundaries of even her endurance and abilities, but by now they could’ve gotten new information.

If Sterling hadn’t supplied it, maybe he was going to let Hart go. Maybe he was hoping he’d gotten rid of him. She just needed Sterling to hold his cards for the next eight hours. She glanced at the clock as she lay down on the bed. She wasn’t looking forward to what she was going to do the next morning, but she’d run all possible scenarios through her mind and this was the best way to get Hart off the national radar and to get Sterling where she wanted him.

She sighed and closed her eyes. Her biggest scam ever was either going to start tomorrow or she was going to end up dead.

The next morning, she felt as though she was in a daze as she got dressed in jeans, sneakers, and a feminist t-shirt. She didn’t let herself overthink anything. If she did, she’d wimp out of this.

She needed to keep her head on straight, buckle down and get this done. She’d gone through all possible routes of how she could get to Sterling. She’d made lists and charts, but this was the quickest way and put the fewest of her loved ones at risk.

Because this whole thing with Scott being arrested had been a wakeup call. Sterling wasn’t pulling punches any longer, so Toni couldn’t either. She was going right into the belly of the beast.

And those were her thoughts as she told the cab driver the address and when she walked up to the security desk.

“How can I help you?” asked the friendly guy behind the counter.

“I’d like to talk to Jonathan Sterling,” she said in a monotone voice. “Tell him it’s Toni Murray. He’s going to want to see me.”



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The Reluctant Thief Chapter One

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GIVEAWAY ALERT! It took me a long time to figure out who my inspiration for Scott Hart. He not only had to have the edge of a man who has been pushed to the breaking point, but he needed to still be enough of a “good ol’ boy” so that you believed he used to be a respectable cop. I used to be a big fan of the show Las Vegas, and thought Josh Duhamel walked that thin line perfectly.

Do you think Josh fits or do you have another celebrity in mind? Comment with your choice casting for Scott Hart for a chance to win the FIRST SIGNED COPY  of THE RELUCTANT THIEF! Good luck!!!


Toni drummed her fingers on the metal table and looked at her reflection in the one-way mirror. She’d spent her entire life avoiding rooms like this and here she was, voluntarily walking into one.

The things she did for Scott Hart.

She almost didn’t recognize the woman staring back at her in the mirror. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a stern bun and the oversized glasses perched on her nose were giving her a headache, even though they weren’t prescription.

Toni was lucky enough to live a life where she rarely had to leave the comfort of her own computer desk, so the fact that she was currently wearing a starchy and hideous beige suit was firmly going to be Hart’s fault as far as she was concerned. She made a mental note to remind him of that as frequently as possible.

The door to the interview room opened. Toni jumped up as Scott Hart, wearing jail-provided pants and a shirt that looked like a pair of ugly green scrubs, was led to the table, where he was pushed forcefully into the chair.

“Thank you, Officers Pearson and Sloane.” She made eye contact with both of the men and tried her best to convey her disapproval of their treatment of him. She wasn’t normally the type to hold her tongue, but in this case she had to focus on the job at hand. And if everything worked out right, she wouldn’t have to worry about the cops mistreating Scott any longer.

The second they were left alone, she looked Hart over. He looked like shit. He was still frustratingly handsome, but those good looks were under a layer of red eyes surrounded by dark circles and a bruise on one of those high cheekbones. “You look like shit.”

“Some thoughts are better kept to yourself,” he said through a sigh. “What the hell are you doing here?”

She motioned to her horrible outfit. “What does it look like? I’m your lawyer. I’m here to lawyer you out of this.”

“I don’t need a lawyer. I didn’t do anything. They don’t have any evidence to tie me to the explosion,” he said confidently.

“Yeah? Tell that to the broken capillaries on your face. I’m sure the guys in your pen love being shut up with a former cop. Do they all think you’re innocent too?”

“I’m going to be out any day now.”

“Yeah.” Toni leaned forward on her arms. “You’re getting out today.”

Scott narrowed his eyes. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about breaking you out. I put a bug in the system and power is going out in two minutes. You and I are going to saunter out like we’re allowed to and then we’re going to take down Sterling.”

“Toni, I didn’t do anything. They’re not going to be able to even charge me. They’ve been holding off on getting me in front of a judge but within the day, I’ll be in court. When the judge sees how little they have on me, they’re going to have to set bail and I’ll walk out of here, legally.”

Toni ran a hand over her forehead and hair, rolling her eyes so hard it hurt. “You beautiful moron. It’s going to be damned hard to take the moral high ground when you’re dead.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“I mean there’s not hardly any evidence against you. There’s no evidence against you.”

“They couldn’t arrest me if there was nothing.”

“They could arrest you if there was nothing and they knew you’d never get in front of a judge.” She’d had a feeling that this would be an issue and she reached inside her jacket to pull out some papers she’d printed off ahead of time. The top page was a dummy page if she was searched; underneath was what she actually wanted Scott to see. “Take a look at this.”

She slid it across the table and he eyed it warily. “They’re transferring me?”

“Before you ever get in front of a judge, by the way. Sounds rather illegal to me. What do you want to bet that you’re not going to make it to the jail they’re taking you to?”

She saw his eyes widen right as the lights flickered off and then a soft glowing of the lights powered by a generator kicked in. “Now you can stay here and put all your faith in the legal system that has already failed you, or you can walk out of here a living man, and live to fight another day.”

“Another day as a wanted man.”

“I’ll take care of that. But it won’t make a difference if I clear your name and you’re dead.”

He was quiet for a moment and she could practically see the two sides of him at war. But the war was pointless because there was only one right answer. Finally he held up his hands. “Here.”

She pulled the key out of her bun and undid the cuffs. It was a high-quality plastic so it got through the metal detector easily. Her sisters could all probably pick the lock no problem, but she had a different roster of talents.

“Aren’t we on the cameras?” He rubbed his newly freed wrists.

“I can’t hack into the police station without setting off alarms, but I was able to manually pull the wire that hooked up the generator to the cameras when I snuck off to the bathroom earlier.”

Scott looked at her with a look of horror. “They need those cameras.”

“I’ll send them a very nice anonymous email to fix it once we’re out of here. Let’s go.” She pulled him up by the bicep, but Scott moved out of her grip and led the way. She wasn’t sure whether it was because he was a control freak or because he knew the layout better than her, but she decided to let him have it.

“I need a change of clothes,” he said as they approached.

“Gotcha.” Toni pulled off her jacket and then started to unbutton the horrid blouse underneath.

Scott glanced at her and then covered his eyes as if he’d been burned. “Whoa. A little fucking warning.”

“Like you’ve never seen this before.” Once the blouse was off, she pulled the oversized black t-shirt off and handed it over to him. “Here you go.”

He took it and she saw his eyes bounce along her bared stomach and black bra. Just as quickly, he pulled the shirt on and Toni got dressed again. Was it totally necessary to go topless in front of him? Maybe not. But it would be nice if he could act as if the sight of her was at least somewhat pleasant.

But no. He showed as much interest in her as he would pay to a table or chair or any other inanimate object he’d never want to have sex with.

“Let’s go,” he said as he started out.

Toni was just buttoning her shirt as she followed him. The power outage was an annoyance, but it didn’t exactly leave people scrambling for cover. However, when Toni had gone to the bathroom, she’d put together one more little surprise. As they walked down the hallway, she took out her cell phone and text the number associated with the burner phone she’d strapped to the device. A few seconds later, a boom echoed through the building.

Scott froze before he turned to glare at her.

“What? I assassinated a bathroom door. Move, Boy Scout.” For good measure, she gave him a pat on the ass as she moved to stand in front of him. She didn’t look behind her but she could hear his growl of frustration as they made their way to the front of the floor. They would have to go down the stairs because the generator didn’t power the elevators. At the end of the hall, Scott turned left while Toni turned right. They both looked at each other. Even in the dim light, the annoyance was plain on his face. “The stairs are closer this way,” she said quietly enough that it wouldn’t draw attention but loud enough for him to hear her annoyance.

“There are less people this way.” He pointed to the mostly empty hallway behind him.

“Scott, I have this entire thing planned to the T. Now we need to get out before they realize you’re gone and shut the whole place down.”

“I agree. Which is why we’re going the best route.”

“I’m not going that way.”

“Fine.” He turned away and walked away from her.

Son of a— Toni twisted around and made her way to the closest stairwell and took the stairs two at a time, determined to beat Scott down. When she hit the first level, she found the nearest exit that wouldn’t sound a fire alarm and opened it onto the street.

After glancing around to make sure no one was chasing her, Toni walked calmly along the side of the building and right when she reached the corner, Scott appeared in front of her. But instead of acting happy she’d made it out, he gave her a frustratingly smug smile. “I told you.”

“You told me? You told me? I put my ass on the line to get you out of there and—” She stopped herself before she started to strangle him on the spot. People would probably notice that. “My car is over here.” She led him to the nondescript blue sedan across the street. She got into the driver’s seat before the control freak she was obsessed with tried to take over driving duties. Once she was a few blocks away, she hit the button that caused the dummy license plate to fall off.

Scott kept on looking over his shoulder and Toni checked her mirrors constantly. “We’re not being followed.” She took a sharp right.

“You should’ve left me.”

She gripped the wheel until her knuckles turned white. “Is a thank-you really so hard to say?”

“Thanks for what? For making me a wanted man?”

“I didn’t do that! Sterling did it. What the hell is wrong with you?” She took the next left a bit too sharply and Scott had to hold onto the handle to keep in place but he didn’t say anything.

Finally, after a few blocks of silence, he admitted, “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

Well, that didn’t do a thing to make her feel better. But she stopped from yelling at him any longer and instead said, “There has been some movement on the Sterling stuff.”

That got his attention. He leaned forward in his seat. “What happened?”

“Willa Belli was attacked by one of Sterling’s guys but she managed to talk him down when she told the hitter that we were close.”

“That makes no sense.”

“It makes a lot of sense. Sterling is an ass. Not even his own guys want to work with him. That could give us exactly what we need to take him down. Added to that, I got a hit on some facial recognition software I plugged into the local CCTVs on Sterling. He’s in town.”

“You have facial recognition software on the CCTVs?”

“Yeah, but it’s not as effective as I’d like. Give me a year and I’ll catch up to TV, I promise.” Why was she downplaying her awesomeness? If there was anyone she should be bragging to, it would be Scott.

“Great. Where is everyone based out of?”

Toni scoffed. “Based? Our last base was blown right out of the sky. We’re not based anywhere.”

“You could get a new apartment in a heartbeat.”

“Yeah. An apartment for you, who is currently the most wanted man in the city; Melody, who used to be the most wanted woman in the country; and Jennifer and Austin, who have had their faces all over the security cameras at the Cordon building. No, the team is temporarily disbanded.”

“The team isn’t disbanded. Sterling is closer than ever. We need to move forward while we can.”

She knew that under normal circumstances, Scott was calm and logical, but these were hardly normal circumstances. He didn’t seem to think clearly when Sterling was involved and for good reason.

This was the man who had ordered the murder of Scott’s wife—Catherine Hart, the constant shadow that seemed to loom over Scott’s life.

Toni knew that kind of anger could lead to questionable judgment and, considering Hart’s frustrating morality, his judgment was already questionable. When helping others, she trusted him a hundred percent. But when it came to helping himself…she was wary.

“I’m taking you to the train station,” she said. “I have a passport and ID for you in the backseat. You should be able to get out of town before any major searches start. I’ve looped the CCTV feed for the station we’re going to, so if anyone is monitoring, they will be looking at what happened yesterday. Once you’re out, we’ll give it a month or two and wait for things to settle down.” The lie slipped off her tongue easily. It wasn’t as hard to lie when you were keeping someone safe.

“I’m not going to be any less wanted by the cops in a month or two.” Scott looked out the window. He seemed to be coming off the adrenaline rush of the station escape now and relaxing into the seat.

“I think I have a way to get you off their radar,” she said carefully.

“What? You can’t hack into everyone’s mind and make them forget me. People saw my face in jail. They saw my name on the arrest warrant. This isn’t going to just go away.”

“You’re right. That’s why I need a month or two. But I got your picture away from all the news stations, so at least you’re not all over the twenty-four-hour news cycle. And since they have no evidence on you, they’re not going to keep up with a nationwide manhunt.”

“You and I both know that lack of evidence wasn’t enough to keep them from arresting me and it won’t be enough to keep Sterling from coming after me again.”

Well, yeah, she knew that. But because she knew Scott would flip a lid if he knew her true plan, she was trying to act as if she had this all under control.

She pulled into the train station parking lot and immediately got out of the car and pulled a pre-packed bag out of the trunk. “This train is going to take you to Phoenix.” She handed Scott the bag and an envelope with his new ID documents and train ticket. “Weston and Willa will pick you up and you get to be their awkward third wheel.”

He took the bag and the envelope, setting the bag on the ground so he could flip through the documents skeptically, as though looking for any mistakes in her work. Even though she knew those fakes were the best fakes a person could get, she still held her breath as she waited to hear what he thought.

“It’s scary what you can do,” he said finally.

Was that a compliment or an insult? It was hard to tell with Scott. She shifted her weight awkwardly. It was easy for her to fight with Scott or yell at him. But whenever it was time for normal human conversation, Toni found herself at a loss. Normal just wasn’t her specialty and Scott had a way of making her brain function at a lower level. “So, um, the train isn’t taking off for about an hour. Did you want to grab dinner?” Had she just asked him out on a date? No. This was a dinner between friends. Had she ever had a dinner alone with a guy friend? Well, she didn’t have all that many friends so…

“I’d rather get on the train and settle in,” said Scott, immediately stopping all of her mental conversations with herself.

“Right,” she said, as though she should’ve thought of that first. “Forget I said anything. I’ll be in touch, Hart.” She gave him a little punch on the shoulder as though that wasn’t the stupidest thing ever as she went back to her car. But Scott reached out and wrapped his fingers around her upper arm. She sucked in a breath and looked up to meet his dark-brown eyes.

“Toni, we’re going to get Sterling. I promise.”

She swallowed nervously as she pulled free from his grip. “I know,” she said softly.

And she did know. Because she was going to be the one to get Sterling and she was going to do it once Scott was safely out of the picture.

The only problem was that once he found out that she was cutting him out of the job, he was going to want to kill her—if Sterling didn’t get the job done first.



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June 5th 2017 Giveaway

Since I’ve been working to be more in touch with my readers, I’ve been trying to do more facebook live videos! I had my Facebook Group give me some great suggestions for the last video and now I wanted to open it up to everyone. For a free paperback copy of The Bewitching Hour, comment below with something you’d like me to talk about in an upcoming video!

(In case you’re interested, I’ve uploaded a copy of my last live video onto youtube! Check it out below 😀 )



The Dangerous Thief Chapter Three

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GIVEAWAY ALERT! This is the third book in the Stolen Hearts series and each one holds a special place in my heart… Jennifer and Austin were so strong and clashed together in the best possible way. Melody and Adam started off in such a dark place and together were able to find themselves. And Will and James each undergo such a massive transformation through THE DANGEROUS THIEF. Comment with your choice of favorite couple (or go outside the box and put in an advance vote for Toni and Scott!) for a chance to win the THIRD SIGNED COPY  of THE DANGEROUS THIEF! Good luck!!!


(Read Chapter One here: )
(Read Chapter Two here: )


He hated her. Willa had been on her best damn behavior during the entire infuriating ride down here and somehow the guy who was supposed to be keeping her alive hated her. She wished she could shoot daggers at him through her eyes, but he had already disappeared through the door that led to the kitchen. Even though she’d had nothing but junk the past day, the idea of eating just then made her stomach turn.

She wanted to stand there and bask in her annoyance for a while longer, but her bladder had other ideas. So she walked down the hallway he’d mentioned until she found the bathroom. It was small, with just a pedestal sink, medicine cabinet mirror, stand-up shower, and the toilet. Still, it managed to feel more homey than the rest of the place. He thought her shock was because of how small his house was, but that wasn’t it at all. In Chicago, her luxury apartment was probably smaller than the square footage here. But the space was so bare, it was impossible to believe it was occupied.

The living room had one worn leather armchair and an end table next to it. That was it. No television. No sofa. No artwork. Just nothing. That was why she couldn’t believe someone actually lived here.

Before leaving the bathroom, Willa gave herself a once-over. She hadn’t put on makeup in over a day, so the dark circles under her eyes were more evident than ever and her skin was about to go into withdrawal from the lack of her normal moisturizing routine.

Out of nowhere, the image of her father firing that gun came to her and she blinked away the memory, along with the self-pity. She was here for a reason. A good reason. She couldn’t lose sight of that.

She went back into the hall, just as plain as the living room with worn hardwood floors and beige painted walls, and looked at the various doorways. There was one closed door at the very end, which she assumed was James Weston’s room. Instinctually she wanted to take the room farthest from him, but then she remembered what his role was in this. He was supposed to be protecting her, so she should stick as close as possible.

She gravitated toward the open doorway right next to his. It was small, but at least it had more furniture than the living room. There was a double bed with a plain white comforter, a nightstand, and a dresser against the far wall. Willa set her bag at the foot of the bed and then went to the window. The blinds were shut and she twisted the plastic latch until they creaked open to let in the bright desert sun.

The view wasn’t surprising. The same thing she’d been looking at for hours as they made it out here: lots of sand, with sparse bushes and vegetation and the silhouette of mountains off in the distance.

She’d always enjoyed the desert. Sure, she had never spent any time besides the drive from the Las Vegas airport to the Strip, but it was a pretty sight and the mountains had always looked so majestic in all the pictures.

But now it was almost like a prison. The miles of nothingness serving as the walls to keep her in.

No, that was a bad way to look at it. She should think of it like a moat. A protective barrier between her and the world out to get her.

She let out a breath and fell back against the bed. It was lumpy and soft at the same time, but she was so tired that she didn’t mind. Now that she was finally done running, she was going to try to catch some rest and for once not let the nightmares catch her….



1 Week Ago


Willa tripped over her own feet and stumbled forward, carefully balancing the glass in her hand so she could keep as much of the drink in it as possible. As the mixture of pineapple juice and coconut rum sloshed down her fingers, she let out a little giggle. “Julie!” she called, even as she kept her voice down and turned the corner to the entryway of the apartment. “I don’t think I can—” Willa sobered up in an instant as she saw something she couldn’t quite comprehend.

She blinked through the alcohol-induced haze in her mind and kept hoping the hallucination would fade away. Not that she’d ever hallucinated after drinking before, but this couldn’t be real. Because her current BFF, Jules Charleston, was on her knees in the middle of the floor, and Daddy held a gun to her head. A gun. Willa didn’t even know he had a gun.

“Daddy, it’s okay,” she rushed out, trying to stop things before they got any more out of hand. “I know I should’ve told you we were coming by, but my liquor cabinet broke and I was out of everything and we happened to be at this party down the street and when the bars closed, we decided to come here for a nightcap. I thought you’d be sleeping the whole time, but obviously we woke you up and I’m really sorry, but it was a totally honest mistake and—”

“Do you have any idea who this is?” bit out Jadon.

Jules knelt absolutely still on her father’s prized Persian rug. She wasn’t shaking, but her eyes were hard as stone as she looked up and met Willa’s eyes.

Willa fought through the buzz still swimming in her head and remembered that her father had asked a question. “Of course I know who she is. Jules is my friend.”

“She’s a fed.”

For a moment, Willa forgot how to speak. She knew the words coming out of her father’s mouth, but the meaning behind them—along with the gun—just didn’t make sense. “Fed? Like short for federal agent? No. She’s a college dropout who….” Willa saw the determined glare on Jules’s face. She didn’t look like a terrified girl. She looked like, well, like a fed. “What does it matter if she’s a fed?”

Jadon tilted his head and looked at her, his face full of something she’d never seen from him. Pity. “Honey, there’s a lot you need to know.” And then he fired.


Willa shot up in bed and her gaze darted around the room, looking for the blood on the Persian rug. But there was no rug. Ancient-looking hardwood floors and boring beige walls looked back at her.

She caught her breath as she got her bearings back. She wasn’t home. She wasn’t even in Chicago anymore. She was stuck in the middle of the Arizona desert with James Weston. As she got control of her breathing, she could still feel her heart beating out a frantic rhythm in her chest.

She wished she could write it off as just another nightmare, but she couldn’t. It was no dream or hallucination. That had actually happened. The night that had ruined everything.

Her stomach growled but she knew that if she ate anything, she’d end up throwing it right back up.

Willa looked out the window at the slowly setting sun. It wasn’t quite twilight, but it was getting close. She had eked out an hour or so of a nap, so she’d never be able to get back to sleep anytime soon.

Fantastic. No television. No phone. No civil company. Maybe there would be something she could do in this expanse of nothingness to keep herself from going crazy.

Or better yet, maybe Melody would come through with something that would allow her to go back home. Going to Melody for help had been a calculated risk. And the calculation had been that Willa could do nothing and know that she was going to be in a living hell for the rest of her life, or she could do her best to get justice for Jules.

And after she’d gone to her father’s head of security for help, his mode of refusal had been trying to put a bullet in her head. So her option of pretending nothing had happened was cut off. It was run for her life or hope her father would show her mercy for trying to turn on him.

Considering how little he’d thought before firing that gun at Jules, she didn’t want to test the limits of his mercy.

Willa didn’t want to think about this any longer. After the long, boring trip here, her mind was sick of overthinking and second-guessing every little thing. She already felt as if she were about two steps from falling over the edge of absolute insanity, and she had to try her best to cling to the top of that cliff.

What she really needed was a good, long shopping trip. She was currently wearing a pair of old yoga pants and a loose graphic shirt from a more bohemian designer with a foil design of the Taj Mahal. An outfit that was an old go-to for her, but now that she’d been wearing it for two days straight, she was about ready to throw it in a trashcan and burn it. To make things worse, her hair was stringy and damp from the humidity and her skin was begging for moisturizer.

Not only was she totally in over her head, but she was so out of her element, she barely knew what her next step would be.

But there was one person she could ask.

Willa tentatively opened the door to her room and glanced around the hallway. There was no sign of Weston, not that she thought there would be. There was only one door to her left, Weston’s room, so she turned right. Her bare feet softly padded across the hard floor, but every few feet, the floor would let out a moan or groan, giving her no chance at all of sneaking around. Not that she would want to, but the paranoia had been escalating lately. Could it really be called paranoia if you’ve seen someone murdered in front of you?

The living room was just as depressing as before, so she turned in the direction of the kitchen. The cupboards were a fresh white color. They seemed to be much fresher than the rest of the house. Maybe Weston wasn’t as careless with his home as she thought. The hardware on the drawers and pantry were all clean brushed nickel. The counter was an older laminate that seemed to have been through the ringer. A lot more wear than she’d expect for a guy who lived alone, but she supposed she knew almost nothing about Weston, so what did it matter?

A deep double sink beneath a window looked out over the flat scenery outside. A newish gas stove and mismatched beige dishwasher and a black refrigerator filled out the room. Maybe if Weston kept her alive, she’d get him an interior decorator as a thank-you gift.

Something told her he wouldn’t appreciate it.

Even though she wasn’t hungry, she pulled the fridge open to examine her options. It didn’t exactly look like a bachelor’s fridge. There were two cartons of eggs, a jug of milk, and the produce drawers were all full. And from what she could see, it was all reasonably fresh.

When she opened the freezer section, it was a bunch of Ziploc bags of beef and chicken and some packages of salmon and trout. Considering how buff Weston was, she shouldn’t be surprised that he was a health nut, but somehow she hadn’t been expecting it.

She supposed it had something to do with the health nuts she knew in Chicago. She knew dozens of guys who spent half their days at the gym and the other half trying to impress women with the bodies they’d sculpted at the gym. Weston sure as hell hadn’t seemed interested in impressing her.

Though, considering how she looked at the moment, maybe there was a good reason. Besides, she didn’t want him to try to impress her. She wanted him to keep her safe from her homicidal father. Then she could go back to Chicago and get back to her old life of hanging with health nuts and vapid socialites who were not federal agents undercover.

Willa shut the fridge and continued on her little tour. There was only one other direction to go from here and it was a closed door on the far end of the kitchen. Except this wasn’t a door to a bedroom or anything. At least she hoped not, because there was a high tech-looking electronic keypad next to the knob. What would be behind there that was so important to him? She figured that being all the way in the middle of nowhere was protection enough….

She walked up to the door and stared at it for a moment, considering what Weston would want to keep under lock and electronic key. Money? Drugs? Sex dungeon?

Maybe she’d read Fifty Shades of Grey a few too many times….

She figured she’d try her luck. She reached out to the knob and gave it a little turn to see whether anything would happen.

“What are you doing?”

She jumped back a good foot from the door as she turned around, trying to keep the guilty expression off her face. “Just exploring.”

Weston wore the same jeans and T-shirt he’d worn their entire trip, but now he had taken his shoes off. It was always strange to see someone barefoot for the first time. Such a small thing could change someone’s entire appearance. Except Weston. She didn’t think she knew anyone else who could look so intimidating in bare feet. “You can’t explore there.”

“I didn’t mean to snoop. I just….”

“If you didn’t mean to, why did you snoop? Not something that happens accidentally.”

“Wow. The most words you’ve said to me at once and it’s to scold me. I’m guessing you don’t get a lot of houseguests here, do you?”

He tilted his head. She had seen that look before. It was the look someone got the second they realized she wasn’t going to be railroaded. Every time she walked into a room, people assumed that because of her reputation for partying and not working—a well-earned reputation, to be fair—that she was an airhead who could be pushed around.

Even though she’d never met a man like James Weston before, she was sure she was strong-willed enough to take on even the toughest desert hermit.

“I’m not here to show you around and paint your nails. I’m here because you said you could help us take down Jadon Belli,” he said between clenched teeth.

“Great. Let’s talk about that then. Tell me what I need to do.”

“Give me the financial records to get your father to give me whatever I want.”

She pursed her lips. He knew she didn’t have those. She wouldn’t even know where to start. “Be reasonable.”

“I am being reasonable. I’m working on finding a way for you to help. Until then, you have to lay low and stay out of locked rooms.”

“If I’m going to stay here, I’m going to need some supplies then.”

“I have everything you need.”

“Really? You have some fresh underwear for me? An extra change of clothes? Because I am running out of things that don’t smell.” She’d run out of her apartment in such a rush that her haphazard packing job had been almost pointless.

“All right.”

She blinked at his quick agreement. “So we can go shopping?”

“Sure. We’ll need supplies eventually anyway.”

She thought back to how full the refrigerator had seemed. “And when will that be?”

He shrugged. “When we need to go into town.”

“Well, aren’t you a fount of information,” she muttered. “What am I supposed to do until then?”

“There’s a washing machine. We even have one of those high-tech dryer things out here. It’s amazing how much use you can get out of clothes when you wash them.”

She tilted her head and glared at him. “I liked you better when you were refusing to speak to me.”

“Hey, I’m here to keep you alive, not to be your personal servant. So you will make do with what we have.”

Her mouth fell open but nothing came out. It wasn’t as though she never dealt with rudeness. She’d pissed off her fair share of people in her time, but there was absolutely nothing she could think of that she’d done to get on his bad side. If anything, she’d been on her best behavior, which was strange for her.

She was about to defend herself before she thought better of it. If he wanted to hate her, fine. She didn’t need some desert redneck’s approval, and she’d be damned if she was going to bend over backward to make him happy.

Willa squared her shoulders and walked away from the mysterious locked door. Her shoulder bumped his arm as she walked by because he refused to fully move out of the way. Screw this. She didn’t have to put up with his attitude. She was going to do the same thing she did every time someone tried to remind her exactly how little she mattered.

She was going to run.



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The Dangerous Thief Chapter Two

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(Read Chapter One here: )

James Weston glanced over at Willa out of the corner of his eye. She was trying to sleep but he could tell from the tension in her body that she was still awake. He didn’t really know what to make of the socialite next to him.

She would talk nonstop if he let her, so he tried his damnedest not to encourage her. He was well aware that he came off as a dick, but he wasn’t worried about her liking him. He was being tasked to keep her alive and help take down Jadon Belli, not make friends.

And he had a feeling a girl like that would never be friends with a guy like him. There were just too many rungs on the social ladder separating the two of them. She probably had a cell phone full of contacts who were all friends of some sort. She didn’t need to add him to that list.

They were just passing over the edge of his property line and it would only be a few minutes until they reached the house. James had a good setup here. Nothing fancy like the high-rise apartments she was used to, but it served his purposes.

The borders were set up with motion sensor cameras to let him know when someone entered the area, and he had stashes of supplies set up at various locations all within walking distance of the main compound. Well, walking distance for him at least.

But if Willa was running from something and wanted to stay off the grid for a while, this was the best place for her. He knew of a few safe houses he could’ve taken her to, but this would also make it harder for her to change her mind.

There were no cab or car companies that would venture this far out in the middle of nowhere. If Willa decided to bail, the only option she’d have would be walking off, and she probably wouldn’t survive the trek.

Because he’d lied to her. Yes, he was going to keep her safe and help her go after her father, but that wasn’t the true target. Jadon Belli was the last puzzle piece that needed to be solved before he found his true target. Sterling. The man who had orchestrated Isobel Murray’s murder and Melody’s kidnapping.

He was tasked with retrieving Melody, and not only had he failed to get her out, but Isobel had died in the process. Even if Melody wasn’t paying him, he owed their family, and that meant he was going to help them bring down Sterling, no matter what.

So if Willa could provide them with leverage to get Jadon Belli to flip on Sterling, he’d consider his mission accomplished. And he liked to accomplish missions, no matter what.

As they left the paved road and started to bounce along the gravel, Willa opened her eyes, giving up her attempts to sleep. “Are you sure you know where we’re going?”

He wasn’t sure whether that was a rhetorical question or not, so he kept quiet. She would see the house any second now and that would answer her question.

Sure enough, they turned a corner and there was the main house. His hundred-and-fifty-acre property had a few buildings on it, but only one was livable. The old ranch house wasn’t much, but it served his purpose.

The house was rather square. There wasn’t fancy architecture or anything. The white vinyl siding had turned beige with age and the porch had an old rocking chair that had been there since he bought the place and which he’d never used.

Willa looked the place up and down and James couldn’t figure out what was going through her head. Strange, considering he was pretty good at getting a read on people. During the twenty-six-hour drive there, he’d gotten a mixture of fear and annoyance from her, but at the moment it was blank.

He ran through the few facts he’d been given about his newest assignment. Willa Belli. Twenty-four. Daughter of Jadon Belli, COO of Cordon Enterprises, a consulting firm based out of Chicago. Education level: high school. Job: none. Talks: nonstop.

He’d pretty much nipped the talking down, but he’d have to make sure she would stay out of his hair for the time being while he figured out how to proceed.

“Come on.” He started inside, leaving Willa to pull her own bag out. It might not be polite, but the few second head start he had was enough for him to immediately confirm that no one was in the house waiting for them. The motion sensors on the property were rigged to send a warning to his computer set up in the home and the app on his phone, but he’d be damned before he put a hundred percent of his faith in technology over his own senses.

“So are we just staying here for a few hours?” Willa brought her one designer bag inside.

“We’ll be here as long as we need to. Stay here.” James didn’t look at her to make sure she was following his orders, but he didn’t hear the familiar creak of the fifth board after the door to signal that she’d moved. He ran through the house quickly, flipping on lights and verifying that no one was in the shadows.

When he came back, Willa was exactly where he’d left her. “It’s clear,” he said. “Pick whichever room you want and bunker down.”

Her dark eyes bounced around the place, still not really giving anything away. “Where are you going to sleep?”

James shrugged. “My room.”

Finally she showed some emotion. Surprise. “Wait. You live here?”

“It might not be as big as you’re used to, but it keeps the elements out,” he said dryly, not used to having to defend his lifestyle to anyone.

Her eyes widened as she glanced around the place once more. “This place isn’t small. It’s empty. There’s not even a TV. How do you live like this?”

“There’s a TV in my room.”

Her mouth opened but no words came out. She tilted her head and considered him for a moment. Then she ran her fingers through her hair and sighed. “It doesn’t matter. Where’s my room?”

He pointed down the only hallway. “Like I said, any one you want. My room is the last door on the right, so anywhere but there. I need to eat some real food and then I’m going to crash.” He didn’t have time to socialite-proof the place right now, but after the long trip, she was probably ready to pass out for a bit too. Which was good. The more she stayed out of his way, the better.

He might need her to take down Jonathan Sterling, but he already knew what kind of person she was. And he didn’t have time for a spoiled socialite who had gotten in over her head.


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