A Seattle Sound Series Romantic Suspense Spin-off
All secrets come with a price in this page-turning romantic suspense by USA Today Bestselling Author, Alexa Padgett.
Someone will stop at nothing to silence her…
Ethical hacker Tawny Reed chose the FBI over a possible criminal record….and gave up any semblance of a life to meet her handler’s stringent demands. But getting stabbed in the line of duty wasn’t part of the plan: she deals in code and algorithms, not the blood and violence that cost her father his life.
Biology professor Colt Rippey rushes to save an injured woman on the side of the road. That white-knight act tumbles him into Tawny’s world of power built on lies–and people’s lives. When Tawny reveals she has nowhere to go, Colt suggests they hide in his cabin deep on the Olympic Peninsula. There, he hopes to save Tawny and even give his life some meaning.
Danger stalks Tawny and Colt, making it difficult to know who they can trust. The sanctuary Tawny finds in Colt’s arms and bed is temporary. Isolated in a remote cabin, hunted by figures who want to silence her, Tawny must outpace and outmaneuver the men who destroyed her life years before. The hunt is on…will Tawny’s timebomb explode while Colt risks his life and future to keep Tawny safe?
**Disclaimer: The following material is copyrighted and subject to change.**
Watching my younger brother stare into his new wife’s eyes as they shared their first dance sucked massive donkey dick.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved my brother, and Clay and Abbi were perfect for each other. Perfect. And I was a jealous sack of shit who couldn’t shake the envy rippling across my skin and the soul-deep frustration that my baby brother found his bride before I managed to land mine.
Everything had been cool until Kara, my ex-girlfriend, walked into the reception venue, stopping at an archway covered with small red flowers and berries that, as my little sister Cassidy pointed out, matchedAbbi’s bridesmaids’ dresses and bouquets.
The effect, especially against the wood-beamed ceilings and the gauzy white cloths that hung around the outer edge of the space, created an epic winter wonderland—a gorgeous backdrop to Clay and Abbi’s perfect night.
The night that my now-ex, who I’d spent part of the last year trying to forget, was trying to ruin for them.
I was pissed off and shocked. For the record, that’s hard to do when your father was an international rock star. Still, she showed serious audacity, showing up at my baby bro’s wedding reception like that. No way in fuck was she invited. And where was the security my parents spent so much money on each month? Stopping breaches at important events was the whole point of having a private army.
Damn Kara for her audacity. At one point, I’d found that attractive. Not anymore. A while back, I’d thought Kara was the one. Apparently, she still managed to turn me inside out, even though I knew what a scummy person she was. This…this was why I’d sworn off women. Because I couldn’t trust myself to make good emotional decisions where she was concerned.
As I watched Kara take in the beautiful room full of famous, powerful people with a greedy stare, the last of my hope to find someone who loved me for me—not for my dad’s fame and money—shattered.
With these thoughts, I bee-lined over to Kara, my blood pressure escalating as a small smile bloomed across her lips. As if she expected me to fall in line with her plan to…I assumed…get back together.
No way. I wanted her out of here. Pronto.
The closer I walked, the more I noted the red of Kara’s flattering dress. It made her tits look amazing and had been designed to emphasize her sensuality and delectable curves. Kara’s dark hair fell in a long cascade down her back, the front swooping dramatically over her brow. She was dressed for seduction, not for celebration. Part of me was turned on. A larger part of me was pissed off that I was turned on. Kara was beautiful and smart, but she was also calculating, and clearly, those seduction tactics had worked before on me. So much so, she’d just door-crashed my brother’s wedding.
Clearly, nothing with this woman was sacrosanct. And that shit didn’t fly with me.
As I passed him, my father tossed me a look, eyebrows raised.
“You okay to handle her, Colt?” he asked.
“All right, then. Holler if you need any help.”
As soon as I reached Kara, I gripped her upper arm and led her straight back out the way she’d come.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I growled.
I wasn’t a growler. I was the thinker—a scientist, the logical, rational one in my family of artists. But, right now, I was lit up brighter than the sparklers we would use to send my brother off to start his happily-ever-after. The one this woman could ruin if I didn’t get her out of there, stat.
“I wanted to talk to you,” Kara said, fluttering her lashes. “To discuss our…future.”
I paled, worried for a moment that she was pregnant. Wait. No, she’d definitely be showing a substantial bump if I’d gotten her pregnant.
And, if anything, she looked better than she had while we were together. I also knew she never mentioned a child or had a pregnant belly in these last months before I’d stopped checking her social media photos. That was when I’d been trying to understand how she could dump me for a man twice my age.
Awareness pumped through me as I remembered that greedy look she’d cast when she entered the room. I’d never been the prize she wanted. Power, prestige…that’s what Kara craved.
I was simply a teaching assistant at Northwestern, working on my Ph.D. A nobody with a famous father. She’d latched onto me for my name—my pedigree—and when I failed to produce the desired results, she dropped me faster than a hot potato. How I’d been so hoodwinked, I couldn’t say. But more with each passing second, I realized I’d dodged a bullet.
“So you thought it would be appropriate to crash my brother’s wedding?” My voice turned more menacing.
The hurt I’d carried around all this time morphed into righteous anger. How dare she take something important to my family and trivialize it?
Kara blinked, her lips parting slightly as if she were finally beginning to understand I was pissed.
“Y-you wouldn’t answer my calls. Or return my texts.”
I straightened so I stood at my full height. I let go of her arm and stepped back, still blocking the entrance. No way she would get another look at my family, more gossip to share with her friends.
“There was a reason for that,” I snapped. “I don’t want to talk to you. Or look at you. Or ever see you again.”
“There isn’t one thing you can say to me that will make me forgive your selfishness tonight,” I said.
“I’m sorry for how I ended things. I-I want to get back with you. We were so good together.” She tilted her chin and met my gaze with hers. “Let me prove how much I want us.”
And I felt…nothing.
“I loved you,” I mused as I studied her.
She shifted, no doubt thinking she’d won this round, expecting me to fall into her bed and beg her to spend my family’s money. Yeah, that was a huge part of my appeal. Kara wanted my parents’ wealth and prestige, which would never be mine. They expected me to work for what I had, and I did. That wasn’t to say they didn’t provide me with great perks, because they did, but I adhered to a budget and refused additional offers of financial assistance. I wanted to make my own way, wanted my parents to be proud of me. Once Kara realized that, she dumped my ass for some investment broker asshole. I hoped the sex was terrible.
“I still love you, Colt.” She stepped closer; palm raised to lay on my chest. I shifted my weight and crossed my arms to block her attempt. No way would this woman touch me. She didn’t have permission to breathe my air, let alone put her hands on me.
“Bullshit.” My voice cut deep and hard, and she flinched. “You never loved me, which was why you dumped me—”
“I wanted to keep things casual. You were so intense, wanting to tie up our future. I was…” She licked her lower lip, no doubt shooting for seduction, but only managed to look nervous.
“I don’t care what you were. Or what you are now. We”—I pointed between us—“are over. We have been since the moment you fucked the banker. It just took me longer to find out.”
“Don’t do this to us, Colt,” she whispered, eyes filling with tears. “Don’t throw our great love away.”
From the corner of my eye, I caught bodies moving in our direction. Security. I grimaced. Their job had been to keep crashers like her, and all the press, out in the first place.
“You did that. You. Grow up and live with your choices.”
“He left me.”
I shrugged and stepped back as three security officers in suits swarmed around us.
“Sorry, Mr. Rippey. She told us she was your date. Had pictures of you together.”
“She’s my ex. And always will be. Make sure she doesn’t get back in the venue or get anywhere near my family—any of them—again.”
Their frowns deepened as they realized how much they’d fucked up. What had she offered them? A kiss? A blow job? Just a view of that tight, sexy body? I slid my hands into my pockets. Well, clearly, the males of our species weren’t as clever as we wanted to believe if so many of us were blinded by female curves.
“Colt—” Kara pleaded.
“Don’t ever—and I mean ever—contact me again.” I turned on my heel to re-enter the venue.
But the doorway was blocked by my mother. She frowned, a slight crease between her brows. Her makeup was flawless and natural-looking, her wild hair, that I’d inherited, tied back in a complicated style that suited her elegant neck and pointed chin. Her dress was long and silky, flowing over her frame without being clingy or suggestive. My mother owned grace and dignity, creating an even starker contrast to Kara’s blatant sexuality. Even the guards noticed, shifting again, no doubt realizing they’d thought with their dicks.
My heart rate escalated as I noted the fire in my mother’s eyes.
“Lee?” Mom said. One of the security personnel peeled off, heading back toward my mother. “If she isn’t gone in under a minute, I’m firing you.”
My mother was sweet—one of the nicest people ever. But she wasn’t happy, and she was making sure the staff understood the depth of her displeasure.
“And, Kara,” my mother added, raising her voice. “If you don’t abide by Colt’s wishes, and if you decide to make trouble at my child’s wedding or in any of their lives in the future, the entire city will find out what a diabolical bitch you are.”
Kara gasped, her gaze shooting to mine. I stood, stone-faced, as the two remaining guards ushered her away. Lee brought up the rear as Kara looked back. My mother tugged me inside.
“I never liked her, Colt. I just want to point that out.”
I smirked. “Diabolical bitch?”
Mom smoothed the front of her dress, her hands trembling. “She dumped you, then when the going got tough in her new relationship, thought she could slither back into your bed and good graces. Seemed like the term fit.”
Ah, hell. My mom wasn’t really talking about me. She was transferring her anger and resentment and other ugly emotions about my father’s affairs onto Kara. No, it wasn’t fair, but my mother couldn’t do anything about those other women. Yeah, he’d had more than one sexcapade in his years of touring—that had come out when Clay broke up with Abbi, fearing he’d end up like our dad. I didn’t know all the details, but I was glad Clay and Abbi patched up their relationship and that my father took ownership of his shitty decisions.
And it seemed that my mother had just taken out her need for revenge on Kara. While I wasn’t sure her choice was healthy, at least I could understand her reasoning.
I pressed a kiss to my mom’s cheek, hoping to relieve some of the tension sizzling off of her. “You were a badass.”
She smiled but it didn’t reach her eyes, and her face appeared pale. My father started toward us, but I shook my head, making sure he saw the warning in my expression. He nodded, his facial features pulling taut as he must have realized what set my mom off. Dad’s infidelity was a painful undercurrent to my folks’ relationship—one that seemed to be getting worse, not better.
Dad knew he’d fucked up, literally. My mother was brave enough to tell him so and then to forgive him, or at least try to. How she found that strength, I wasn’t sure. And now that I witnessed her anger and continued pain, I wondered if she would ever be able to truly let Dad’s affairs go. The possibility of my parents failing to reconcile and return to a loving marriage left me with a hollow, haunted feeling in the pit of my belly.
None of those thoughts should be going through my head on my brother’s wedding day. I should be focused on Clay’s love for Abbi, not the implosion of my love life and the continued fallout from my dad’s bad decisions.
Even if those realities gave me yet another good reason to steer clear of romantic entanglements.
I pulled my mother to the edge of the dance floor and into my arms. “I need to dance with you, BAM.”
“BAM—Bad Ass Mom.”
She smirked, some of her color returning. I glanced down at the violet dress she wore so well. My mother was a lovely woman. Her hair gleamed under the lights. I knew she dyed it, but she didn’t have many grays to begin with. Her features were delicate without being fragile and her eyes held humor and secrets that would probably break me.
She let me take her fine-boned hand and lead her in a waltz.
Mom was hurting. Dad was, too. Maybe you got a shot at real love and maybe it fucked you over. I glanced at Abbi and Clay, hoping they had the lasting kind, the kind I wanted so badly I could taste the tang of envy on my tongue.
But I’d give up my own eternal happiness for my brother and my parents. In a heartbeat. Maybe less. So, it was time to stop being a jealous ass and start paying attention, start being a better brother and son.
By the end of the dance, both Mom and I were in better moods. My father appeared at Mom’s side, his eyes questioning. I handed Mom off to him and he held her close to his chest like the treasure she was.
Good. At least they were enjoying the wedding. I looked around for my younger sister Cassidy, who was in an animated conversation with Abbi’s thirteen-year-old stepbrother, Mason. They were the same height, but that wouldn’t last long. Cassidy’s dark hair hit her shoulders, such a difference from the fly-away blond locks of her youth and before her cancer treatments.
Clay and Abbi sat at the head table, grinning at something Abbi’s mom, Dahlia, a beautiful woman with serene gray eyes and long reddish hair, and her stepfather, Asher Smith, said to them. Both Asher and Dahlia beamed as they looked at their daughter and son-in-law.
Clay and his bride sparkled brighter than a Times Square billboard. My parents joined them; their smiles effervescent.
As I watched, Clay raised their clasped hands and pressed a kiss to Abbi’s knuckle, right above her wedding ring. She met his eyes, her smile warming. Her hair was tucked back in some intricate twist thing with curls touching her temples and the back of her neck. Abbi looked like the picture-perfect bride, but it was more to do with how she looked at Clay than what she was wearing.
I inhaled deeply, then exhaled. Getting rid of Kara once and for all felt good. Damn good. As did setting a course for my life. Like I was finally letting go of my past and ready to take steps toward my future.
I snagged a glass of champagne and lifted the flute, draining the liquid in two gulps. Not my first glass and it wouldn’t be my last—I wanted to release the residual tension from my flare up with Kara. I’d already given my speech and planned to let loose. I wouldn’t ponder how Clay managed to try to throw away love, and yet got it so right, while I utterly failed at relationships. I glanced at the open bar Asher Smith so generously provided. I lowered my glass and ambled over, winking at the pretty bartender who smiled back, flashing a dimple even as she plucked a clean glass and a bottle of champagne from the row lined up in front of her.
Up close, she was prettier. Desire pooled low in my belly.
Nope. Not acting on that, no matter how pretty she was. Had I learned nothing from my altercation with my ex? From my parents’ continued struggles?
“Got any scotch back there?” I asked.
Her brows pinched but she nodded.
“Great,” I said. “Fill ’er up.”
I winked. “I’m the brother of the groom.”
Her mouth twisted, her eyes cooling. “And you’re in love with his bride?”
My jaw dropped, slack with shock. “What? Fuck, no.”
She shrugged. “Wouldn’t be the first time I had a jilted brother having a drink and sobbing out his woes at my station.”
I was deeply offended she thought I’d ever do something so callous and unbearably stupid.
But I did yearn…no that wasn’t a strong enough word. I burned for a woman to love with the same all-consuming passion and focus that Clay and Abbi shared.
“My ex showed up tonight,” I said, my voice flat.
“That’s uncool—unless you wanted her back.” The bartender leaned forward on her station.
“Nope. I don’t take back cheaters or liars.”
A dimple flashed in her cheek. “Smart man.”
“Allows me to avoid some emotional baggage. I hope.”
“Will it?” she asked.
I stared down at the glass as the amber liquid began to glug into it. I didn’t want the liquor. I didn’t want anything to dull the way I was feeling now. Remembering how terrible I felt as my old love tried to reinstate herself in my life—that was my best line of defense.
One I needed to remember.
“Fuck if I know.”