Apr 012021
 

A Fate of Wrath & Flame by K.A. Tucker

She would know the world of vengeful gods and monsters, and the lengths one would go for love. And nothing would ever be the same for her again.

Gifted thief Romeria has flourished from her days as a street kid pilfering wallets to survive. Now she thrives, stealing jewels from the rich under the involuntary employ of New York City’s most notorious crime boss. But when an enigmatic woman secures her services at swordpoint, Romeria is plunged into a startling realm of opposing thrones, warring elven, and elemental magic she cannot begin to fathom.

Her quest is straightforward: Steal a stone from Islor’s sacred garden without anyone discovering her true identity, which would earn her certain death. But the identity she has inexplicably assumed is that of the captured Ybarisan princess—an enemy to Islor after she poisoned their beloved king and queen on the day she was to marry the prince.

Her betrothed, the newly crowned King Zander, detests her with every grain of his handsome being. Fortunately for Romeria, she is more valuable to him alive than dead. Zander gives her a choice: life in a cell, or an acquittal of all charges in exchange for her help in exposing the growing plot against him.

Romeria sees no other option and embraces the tricky role of smitten queen-to-be until she can escape, a ruse that brings her far closer to the king than she anticipated and threatens more than her safety. As she digs deeper into this sacred garden and the ancient feud between Ybaris and Islor, she discovers monstrous truths that could spell ruin for all.

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 1 April 2021  Posted by  Tagged with: , , , ,  No Responses »
Feb 192021
 

Fallen Empire (Dirty Empire Book 4) by K.A. Tucker

From internationally bestselling author K.A. Tucker comes the thrilling conclusion to the dark and sexy Dirty Empire series.
Mercy Wheeler and Gabriel Easton’s sordid tale ends in Fallen Empire as Gabriel must save Mercy and escape his father’s grip once and for all.
Fallen Empire is the fourth book in the Dirty Empire series and should be read after Sweet Mercy, Gabriel Fallen, and Dirty Empire.

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 19 February 2021  Posted by  Tagged with: , ,  No Responses »
Nov 122020
 

Dirty Empire (Book #3) by K.A. Tucker

From internationally bestselling author K.A. Tucker comes the dark and sexy series

Mercy Wheeler and Gabriel Easton’s sordid tale continues in Dirty Empire as Mercy finds her loyalties tested and Gabriel’s attempt to break free of his family’s legacy comes with unexpected consequences.

This is the third book in the Dirty Empire series and should be read after Sweet Mercy and Gabriel Fallen.

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 12 November 2020  Posted by  Tagged with: ,  No Responses »
Oct 072020
 

Forever Wild (The Simple Wild Book 3) by KA Tucker

From the international bestselling author of The Simple Wild comes Forever Wild, a novella that continues the story of Calla’s journey to the Alaskan wild and a life she never imagined for herself.

The holiday season is upon Calla and Jonah, and with the mistletoe and gingerbread comes plenty of family drama. Jonah is bracing himself for two weeks with a stepfather he loathes, and while Calla is looking forward to her mother and Simon’s arrival, she dreads the continued pressure to set a date for their wedding … in Toronto.
Add in one bullheaded neighbor’s unintentional meddling and another cantankerous neighbor’s own family strife, and Christmas in Trapper’s Crossing will be anything but simple.

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 7 October 2020  Posted by  Tagged with: , , , ,  No Responses »
Jun 192020
 

The Player Next Door by K.A. Tucker

From the international bestselling author of The Simple Wild and Ten Tiny Breaths comes a new second-chance, hate-to-love romance.

Scarlet Reed has returned to Polson Falls, convinced that twelve years away is long enough to shed her humiliating childhood identity as the town harlot’s daughter. With a teaching job secured and an adorable fixer-upper to call home, things in her life are finally looking up.

That is, until she finds out that Shane Beckett lives next door.

Shane Beckett, the handsome and charismatic high school star quarterback who smashed her heart. The lying, cheating player who was supposed to be long gone, living the pro football dream and fooling women into thinking he’s Prince Charming. Shane Beckett, who is as attractive as ever and flashing his dimples at her as if he has done no wrong.

Scarlet makes it abundantly clear that old wounds have not been forgotten. Neighbors they may be, but friends they most certainly are not. She won’t allow herself to fall for the single father and firefighter again, no matter how many apologies he offers, how many times he rushes to her aid, or how hard he makes her heart pound.

But as she spends more time with him, she begins to fear that maybe she’s wrong. Maybe Shane has changed.

And maybe this time she’s the one playing herself—out of a chance at true happiness.

When I saw the neighbor trope and the book written by K.A. Tucker I just had to get it right away and start. I didn’t even read the blurb, but dive right in because I knew I was in for a treat!

Scarlet Reed was a 17 year old high school student madly in love of the boy who stole her heart for a summer, before their senior year. Shane Beckett, the handsome and charismatic high school star quarterback was the boy she had a crush on, who finally started dating her, only to break out with her before the school started.

After 12-13 years, Scarlet finds herself back to Polson Falls, where she will start a teaching position and  live in her dream house. But that turns out to be way more she bargained for, because Shane is now her neighbor and old feelings and grudges come rushing back.

Now Shane wants her again. Apologizes for being a stupid kid, but the problem is that he had a kid with the girl he started dating right after he dumped Scar. To make matter worse than his crazy baby mamma, Scar is teaching his kid.

This is a standalone with hot firefighters, second chances and new beginnings that will keep you with your eyes glued to this book.

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May 092020
 

The Player Next Door by K.A. Tucker

From the international bestselling author of The Simple Wild and Ten Tiny Breaths comes a new second-chance, hate-to-love romance.

Scarlet Reed has returned to Polson Falls, convinced that twelve years away is long enough to shed her humiliating childhood identity as the town harlot’s daughter. With a teaching job secured and an adorable fixer-upper to call home, things in her life are finally looking up.

That is, until she finds out that Shane Beckett lives next door.

Shane Beckett, the handsome and charismatic high school star quarterback who smashed her heart. The lying, cheating player who was supposed to be long gone, living the pro football dream and fooling women into thinking he’s Prince Charming. Shane Beckett, who is as attractive as ever and flashing his dimples at her as if he has done no wrong.

Scarlet makes it abundantly clear that old wounds have not been forgotten. Neighbors they may be, but friends they most certainly are not. She won’t allow herself to fall for the single father and firefighter again, no matter how many apologies he offers, how many times he rushes to her aid, or how hard he makes her heart pound.

But as she spends more time with him, she begins to fear that maybe she’s wrong. Maybe Shane has changed.

And maybe this time she’s the one playing herself—out of a chance at true happiness.

Releasing May 31st, 2020 on Apple, Nook, and Kobo.

Preorder now to get your copy as the book will be removed on May 31st.

Releasing June 2nd, 2020 on Amazon and KindleUnlimited.

No preorder available. Make sure you’re receiving my newsletter to get an alert as soon as the book becomes available.

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 9 May 2020  Posted by  Tagged with: , ,  No Responses »
Oct 252019
 

Wild at Heart (Wild #2) by KA Tucker

From the internationally best-selling author of The Simple Wild comes the continuation of a woman’s journey to Alaska and a life she never imagined for herself.

Calla Fletcher returns to Toronto a different person, struggling to find direction and still very much in love with the rugged bush pilot she left behind. When Jonah arrives on her doorstep with a proposition she can’t dismiss, she takes the leap and rushes back to Alaska to begin their exciting future together.

But Calla soon learns that even the best intentions can lead to broken promises, and that compromise comes with a hefty price–a log cabin in rural Alaska that feels as isolating as the western tundra.

With Jonah gone more than he’s home, one neighbor who insists on transforming her into a true Alaskan, and another who seems more likely to shoot her than come to her aid, Calla grapples with forging her own path. In a world with roaming wildlife that has her constantly watching over her shoulder and harsh conditions that stretch far beyond the cold, dark, winter months, just stepping outside her front door can be daunting.

This is not the future Calla had in mind, leaving her to fear that perhaps she is doomed to follow in her mother’s fleeing footsteps after all.

Excerpt Wild at Heart by KA Tucker

Read the first three chapters now, here!

The Simple Wild

Wild at Heart

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 25 October 2019  Posted by  Tagged with: , , ,  No Responses »
Jun 292019
 

Surviving Ice: A Novel (The Burying Water Series Book 4)
by K.A. Tucker
The nationally bestselling author of the Ten Tiny Breaths series and Burying Water—which Kirkus Reviews called “a sexy, romantic, gangster-tinged page-turner”—returns with a new novel packed with romance, plot twists, and psychological suspense.

Ivy Lee, a talented tattoo artist who spent the early part of her twenties on the move, is looking for a place to call home. She thinks she might have finally found it working in her uncle’s tattoo shop in San Francisco. But all that changes when a robbery turns deadly, compelling her to pack up her things yet again.

When they need the best, they call him. That’s why Sebastian Riker is back in California, cleaning up the mess made after a tattoo shop owner who resorted to blackmail and got himself shot. But it’s impossible to get the answers he needs from a dead body, leaving him to look elsewhere. Namely, to the twenty-something-year-old niece who believes this was a random attack. Who needs to keep believing that until Sebastian finds what he’s searching for.

Ivy has one foot out of San Francisco when a chance encounter with a stranger stalls her departure. She’s always been drawn to intense men, so it’s no wonder that she now finds a reason to stay after all, quickly intoxicated by his dark smile, his intimidating strength, and his quiet control.

That is, until Ivy discovers that their encounter was no accident—and that their attraction could be her undoing.

Excerpt Surviving Ice: A Novel (The Burying Water Series Book 4)
by K.A. Tucker
Chapter ONE

IVY
Ned pauses to stretch his neck and roll his right shoulder once . . . twice . . . before lifting the needle to his customer’s arm again, humming along with Willie Nelson’s twang, a staple in Black Rabbit for as long as I can remember. After all these years, the aging country singer still holds a special spot in my uncle’s heart. He even sports the matching gray braids and red bandanna to prove it.

“You’re getting too old for the big pieces,” I joke, pulling my foot up onto the counter, where my ass is already parked, to tighten the laces of my boot. I finished my last appointment an hour ago and could have left. Should have left, since the CLOSED sign hanging from a hook on the door is dissuading any potential walk-ins. But every once in a while I like to just sit here and watch my mentor work—his hefty frame hunkered down in that same creaky plastic-molded chair. It brings me back to my nine-year-old self, in pigtails and scuffed Mary Janes, trailing my older cousin to the shop so I could draw BIC pen tattoos on burly bikers while they waited for the real thing. It’s within these dingy black walls that I discovered my life’s passion, all before I turned ten. Not many people can say they’ve made that discovery, at any age.

“Too old, my ass,” he grunts. “Make yourself useful and grab me my damn dinner.”

I slide off the counter with a smirk, hitting the button on a cash register that belongs in a museum so I can grab a twenty. “Foot-long again?” The sub shop two blocks away gets at minimum fifty percent of Ned’s weekly food budget.

“Don’t forget the jalapeños.”

“The ones that almost put you in the hospital last time?” At fifty-eight, my uncle still eats like he’s in his twenties, even though his body is showing signs of revolt, his thickening midsection and aging digestive system begging for more exercise and less fatty and spicy food.

“I let the girl apprentice here when she was eighteen, and then she abandoned me as soon as she got her license. I let the girl come back six years later to work out of here without paying a fee to the house. I let the girl sleep under my roof without paying rent . . .” he mutters to no one in particular but loud enough for everyone to hear. “If I wanted grief about my life choices, I woulda gotten hitched again.” There’s a long pause, and then he throws a wink over his shoulder at me, to confirm that he’s joking. That he loves his niece and her smart-ass mouth and her acidic personality, and he’s ecstatic that she decided to come back to San Francisco and work alongside him again. He’d never take a dime of rent money from me, even if I tried to pay.

And I have tried. At two months, when the wanderlust bug hadn’t bitten me yet and I realized that I’d be staying longer than my usual four months. At four months, when I was afraid I was wearing out my welcome and started talking about finding an apartment to rent, and Ned threatened to kick my ass out of Black Rabbit if I did. At six months, when I left five hundred bucks cash on his dresser and came home to a note and the money pinned to my bedroom door with a steak knife, telling me never to bring up the subject of rent ever again. Except he put it in more colorful language.

I’ve been here for seven months now, and for the first time in I don’t know how long, I’m feeling no itch to leave. Between working alongside Ned six days a week, hanging out with Dakota, an old friend from high school who moved here from Sisters, Oregon, about a year ago, and hitting the streets at night with a crew of guys who are as into decorating walls as I am, I’m loving San Francisco. This time around, at least.

“I’ll be back.” I turn to leave.

Dylan, the guy sitting in the chair with arms as thick as tree trunks, clears his throat rather obnoxiously. This is his fifth session this month. One of those bulky arms is nearly all covered in Ned’s elaborate ink.

I roll my eyes. He’s clocked four hours in that chair tonight, the first half of them spent muttering in an irritatingly croaky voice about how expensive it is to eat organic. I was ready to stuff a cloth into his mouth at around the two-hour mark just to shut him up. I really don’t want to give him a reason to speak again. “Did you want me to grab you something?” I ask, not hiding the reluctance from my voice.

“Eight-piece sashimi dinner. Extra wasabi,” he says without so much as a “please,” his eyes glued to the matte-black ceiling above. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this guy showed up here flying high as a kite. Ned doesn’t care if his clients are high or tipsy, as long as they don’t stumble in and they circle “no” to being intoxicated on the client paperwork, he figures it’s their ass, should something go wrong. I’m guessing this guy has been smoking weed. He’s too calm to be strung out.

“Try again, and make sure it ends with the word ‘sub.’?” I’m not going the extra three blocks to the sushi place. I’m nobody’s fucking errand girl.

Tree Trunks dips his head to level me with a flat gaze before focusing on Ned’s brow, furrowed in concentration. “You gonna let her talk to your customers like that?”

“You got an issue, you take it up with her. And good luck, because that girl can handle herself like no one I’ve ever met,” Ned mutters, never one to coddle anybody, even a customer paying well over a grand. He’s been running this shop for thirty years “the right way,” and he’s not about to change for “a bunch of lily-whites ruining a classic culture.” His words, not mine.

The guy eyes the full length of me—from the shaved sides of my hair and my black tank top and leggings, to my full sleeve of colorful ink, which unsettles some people but shouldn’t faze him, seeing as he’s getting his own done—down to my Doc Martens, and decides against whatever he was going to say, though that pinched expression never leaves his face. “Chicken club sub. Grilled. No oil or mayo.”

I could be a real bitch and demand a “please,” but I let it go. “Back in ten,” I call over my shoulder, heading down the narrow hallway to the back door, grabbing my tattoo case on the way, knowing that if I don’t toss it in the trunk of my car now, I’ll probably forget it later.

“Watch how that new kid over there makes my sandwich. He doesn’t know a tomato from his own asshole!” Ned’s shout catches me just before the door clicks shut.

I step out into the crisp evening with my jacket dangling from one arm, and inhale the clean, cool air.

And smile.

I finally know what home feels like.

I let myself in through the back of Black Rabbit with my key exactly twenty-two minutes later with two subs: one with double peppers, one with breaded, deep-fried chicken, extra mayo and a splash of oil.

Ned was right; I had to give the dumbass behind the counter step-by-step instructions, going so far as to point out the vat of jalapeño peppers directly under his nose. He won’t survive a week before Ned revolts. Just the threat of losing Ned’s business will probably get the guy canned.

I’m going to tell my uncle that I think the dumbass is cute, and I’m going to date him. I smile, thinking about how Ned might react to that. I haven’t had a chance to parade a boyfriend through here for his guaranteed disapproval yet. In the seven months I’ve been here, I haven’t found one guy in San Francisco that even I approve of. That’s been the only downfall of this city, so far, and I’m really ready to get out of this dry spell.

Tossing my purse onto the old metal desk that serves as a catchall for mail, office supplies, the archaic security-monitoring system, and anything else that might land there on our way through, I reach for the cowbell hanging against the wall. A gag gift that Ned’s kept for years, even though the sound of it makes him wince and curse. I use it to irritate the shit out of him every chance I get.

A shout freezes my hand.

“Quit playing fucking games, old man!”

I hold my breath and try to listen, but the rush of blood flooding my veins and ears suddenly makes it hard to concentrate.

“Don’t know what the hell you’re talkin’ about,” Ned grits out, and his voice squeezes my chest, because I can tell that he’s in pain. That odd, muted sound of knuckles hitting flesh followed by a groan pulls a gasp from me, and I immediately purse my lips and dart back and out of sight, panicked. Was that loud enough to be heard?

Whoever is up front obviously didn’t hear me come in. Ned always jokes that I have the natural graces of a cat burglar, silent and stealthy even when I’m not intending to be.

An aluminum baseball bat leans against the wall next to the cowbell. If I were stupid, I’d grab it and run out front kamikaze-style. But Ned is two-hundred and twenty-five pounds of hardened man, Tree Trunks is even bigger, and someone has gotten the upper hand on both of them. I can only imagine how fast they’d have a hundred-and-ten-pound female subdued, even one that kicks and claws like a rabid wolverine. I don’t even know how many guys are out there.

The security camera.

I dive for the old thirteen-inch tube monitor sitting on the desk and hit the Power button, desperate to get a glimpse of what’s happening out front.

But only gray static appears. They must have busted the camera lens.

I do the only smart thing I can think of. I fumble for my cell phone, my fingers shaking as I dial 911. Hoping my whispers don’t carry as I beg for police backup for a robbery in progress. Can I get to safety? the dispatcher asks. I’m not leaving Ned, I snap. Stay on the line, the woman responds. We’re sending help.

The ding of the cash register sounds, and I hazard a peek around the corner and down the long hall, past the private room, and to the open-concept space at the front where Ned does as much of his work as he can. A hulkish man in dark cargo pants and a black turtleneck, with a black balaclava pulled up over his brow, hovers over the register, emptying it of cash with his left hand.

In his right, he grips a gun.

I squeeze my phone—pressed against my ear—tighter.

Beyond him, the window and front door are covered, the shades pulled to block anyone’s view inside. They weren’t like that when I left. I’m sure the front door is now locked, too, though it’s too far to see from here.

“I’ve always wondered what it feels like to be on the giving end of a tattoo gun,” a man with a deep voice and a Chicago accent says, and it’s not the same guy I see standing at the register, which means there are at least two of them. Where the hell is Tree Trunks, anyway? Is he in on this? I haven’t heard his croaky voice. “I just step on this pedal, right?” The buzz of the tattoo machine fills the shop, followed closely by a series of grunts.

Somehow, I know that it’s Ned making those sounds.

“Hurry!” I hiss into my phone, tears streaming down my cheeks, torn between the urge to run out there and pure fear.

The guy who was at the cash register is now searching front desk drawers. He glances behind him. “You know, you’re a sick bastard, Mario.”

Mario. I have a name.

“My ex used to say that to me.” A sinister chuckle sends shivers down my back. God, what are they doing to Ned? He has ink in a dozen different places. I did a design for him along the web of his finger when I got here seven months ago and he barely flinched then. “Go and see what you can find in the back.”

The back.

I’m in the back.

I duck behind the wall, my heart hammering in my chest as heavy footfalls approach down the hallway toward me. The back door is right there, and yet it’s not an option because it’s in his line of sight and he has a gun.

I have nowhere to run.

“Shhh!” I hiss into the phone, hoping the dispatcher will understand me, will stay quiet so I don’t have to hang up on her. I dive under the metal desk, tugging the chair in as far as I can, until my body is contorted around its legs and my entire left side is crammed against the wall. I thank God that I’m dressed in all black and hope it’s enough, that he won’t spot my bare skin. The female dispatcher hides with me under here, my phone pressed against my chest, smothering any sound she might make. She’s my only connection to the outside world—and perhaps the last person I’ll ever speak to—and she can surely hear my heartbeat.

Polished black combat boots appear around the corner. They stop for five seconds, and I feel each one of those in my throat.

And then those shoes swivel and stalk toward me.

I can barely focus through my fear anymore, sure that I’m about to find myself looking down the barrel of a gun. Where are the police? They should be here by now. We’re not far from Daly City, hands down the worst area of San Francisco, where cruisers circle the streets like crows over a ripe cherry tree.

Around me, boxes topple and papers shuffle, and I pray to whoever watches down from above that this guy doesn’t decide to check beneath the desk.

“Found something!” he shouts. It’s followed by a snort and a low mutter of, “People still use these fucking things?”

I know what he’s found. The VHS player that records the feed from the camera in the front on a continuous loop. Ned’s never been one to keep up with technology trends and, instead, swears by what he knows.

Sirens wail in the distance. They’re so faint at first that I think I’m imagining them.

“Fuck! Did you trip an alarm?” That angry voice—Mario—out front yells, and I allow myself a shaky breath of relief because he’s heard them, too, so they must be real. Only a few more seconds and we’ll be safe.

Ned’s laugh—deep and throaty—carries all the way back. Good. Whatever that guy just did to him, Ned’s still capable of laughing. Tough bastard.

“Come on! We can’t get caught here,” the guy above me shouts. He starts fussing with the VCR, first pressing, then slamming the Open button. I know that’s what he’s doing because she’s a temperamental bitch and I’ve done the exact same thing once or twice when Ned’s asked me to change a tape over. “Fuck it,” he mumbles, and he begins to tug at the cables plugged in beneath the desk. He’s taking the entire machine. He wants whatever video proof might be on there, I guess.

And if he reaches down to unplug the cord, he’s going to find more than just a power strip.

I yank the plug out of the socket for him and hold my breath.

The sirens grow louder, three distinct wails now. “Come on!” His boots shift away from the desk. Footfalls pound down the hallway, and the guy named Mario appears, also in polished black combat boots. I can see him only from the waist down, but it’s enough to see him peeling a black glove off.

A splatter of blood coats his wrist.

“Who the fuck called the cops? I could have gotten him to talk. I just needed more time.” I guess he was obviously expecting to work Ned over at a leisurely pace. I ruined that for them, at least.

They barrel out the back door.

I’m still frozen, unsure if it’s over or not.

“Hello? Hello?” A muted voice calls out, over and over again, and I finally remember the dispatcher pressed against my chest.

“They’re gone,” I whisper into the air, my voice hoarse.

And then I snap out of it.

I drop the phone and scramble out from under the desk, dashing for the door, my shaking hands snapping the dead bolt shut before those two can decide that it’s better to hole up in here. The dispatcher calls to me from beneath the desk. “They’re gone, out the back!” I yell, hoping she can hear me. I struggle to catch my breath and my balance, staggering down the hall toward the front of the shop, using the walls to keep me upright. I’m drenched in sweat, the relief so overwhelming. “Ned!” I’ve never been so happy to have the police coming for me. “They’re gone!” I round the corner. “It’s going to be—”

My words cut off with the sight of Ned’s slumped, still body, a puddle of blood soaking into the wood grain floor beneath him.

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 29 June 2019  Posted by  Tagged with: ,  No Responses »
Jun 292019
 

Chasing River: A Novel (The Burying Water Series Book 3)
by K.A. Tucker
In the third novel in nationally bestselling author K.A. Tucker’s romantic suspense series, a young woman travels to Dublin and finds herself at the scene of a crime—and falling for the guy who saves her.

Armed with two years’ worth of savings and the need to experience life outside the bubble of her Oregon small town, twenty-five-year old Amber Welles is prepared for anything. Except dying in Dublin. Had it not been for the bravery of a stranger, she might have. But he takes off before she has the chance to offer her gratitude.

Twenty-four-year-old River Delaney is rattled. No one was supposed to get hurt. But then that American tourist showed up. He couldn’t let her die, but he also can’t be identified at the scene—so, he fled. Back to his everyday life of running his family’s pub. Only, everyday life is getting more and more complicated, thanks to his brother, Aengus, and his criminal associations. When the American girl tracks River down, he quickly realizes how much he likes her, how wrong she is for him. And how dangerous it is to have her around. Pushing her away would be the smart move.

Maybe it’s because he saved her life, or maybe it’s because he’s completely different from everything she’s left behind, but Amber finds herself chasing after River Delaney. Amber isn’t the kind of girl to chase after anyone.

And River isn’t the kind of guy she’d want to catch.

Excerpt Chasing River: A Novel (The Burying Water Series Book 3)
by K.A. Tucker
Chapter ONE

RIVER
I weave around men and women alike with barely a pardon, struggling not to lose Aengus, nor to let on that I’m tailing him. The slick guy has done his part to make that tricky, his flinty gaze darting side-to-side as he briskly navigates the morning swell of pedestrians. Dressed in tan trousers and a plain white collared shirt, the beige tweed driver’s cap tipped low to help hide his face, he could pass for an office clerk or a salesman. Maybe a manager at one of the upscale Grafton Street stores. Someone responsible. Someone respectable.

Someone that he’s not.

It’s not even so much him that is making me suspicious. It’s that black leather satchel. The one he holds close to his body as if to protect it from being stolen or knocked by a passerby rushing to catch a bus or a streetlight.

It’s the sweat seeping through the back of his shirt, when the air this early June morning is crisp.

It’s the way he’s checked his watch three times in the span of twenty meters.

My gut churns with explanations, all of them bad.

Nothing good has come from Aengus since Portlaoise Prison spat him out four months ago. Six years inside Dublin’s maximum security walls have only fortified his connections, poisoned his convictions. Blackened his soul. They took in an ideological twenty-two-year-old Irish Republican and spat out an inspired criminal.

And here I am, thirty steps back, tracking him through the gates of St. Stephen’s Green just moments after security opened passage for the day, as if it were all perfectly timed.

Because, after all, he is still my brother.

I glance at my own watch. It’s seven thirty a.m. While they tend to open the Green earlier during summer months, this seems too early. And Aengus’s single nod toward the guard seems unusually familiar.

I haven’t been inside Dublin’s prime inner-city park in years. It hasn’t changed much. It’s still a vast expanse of winding paths and gardens—an escape nestled within a bustling city. Right now it’s serene, still waking after a night alone, free of visitors, the air misted, the pale yellow sun not yet high enough to warm the grounds. This quiet won’t last long, though.

Aengus glances over his shoulder and I dart behind the nearest bush. If he senses a shadow, he doesn’t let on, veering right at a fork ahead and disappearing around the bend. I follow cautiously, until he turns off the path and begins trudging through the open field. In a few hours, this place will be crawling with office workers and other Dubliners, lounging in the sun or reading beneath a canopy of leaves. Anything to escape their dreary day jobs and enjoy the fresh air.

Aengus checks his watch yet again as he marches briskly and purposefully toward an oak that’s cordoned off by a stream of blue-and-white tape, as if there’s a threat of the tree collapsing. Only, I notice that the perimeter reaches far past its widest branches, taking over half of the green space. Making me think that the tape has nothing to do with a hazardous tree at all.

“What the hell are you about, Aengus . . .” I mutter, touching my jaw where his knuckles landed last night, after he threw open his bedroom door and caught me eavesdropping on his phone call. I heard only bits and pieces of it—I couldn’t form even a murky guess as to the gist—but it was enough to make him throw a punch first and ask questions later.

When I shoved him into the wall—because violence is how we seem to communicate best—and reminded him that he just got out of prison, the only explanation he volunteered was that a warning needs to be delivered, no one will get hurt, and I need to keep my fucking mouth shut.

Another time check. Aengus crouches down and unzips the satchel.

I’m too engrossed in what he’s doing now to be on guard, so when his head suddenly snaps up, I can’t move fast enough. Hard eyes lock on me in an instant, freezing me where I stand.

It’s a showdown.

I shake my head, willing him to hear my thoughts. Walk away, big brother. Don’t do whatever it is you’re about to do.

His hand stalls inside the bag. For just a moment, I believe that he’s heard me. That he’s finally listening. That my presence here has derailed him from shortening that length of rope he seems so eager to slip around his own neck.

Foolish of me, really. Aengus has never been malleable to reason.

I inhale sharply, the air hissing through my gritted teeth. I watch him lay the long cylindrical tube down in the grass with careful movements and dread washes over me.

Jesus, Aengus. You’ve gone too far this time.

Hopping to his feet, he snatches up the satchel and charges toward me, his cell phone in his palm, his head revolving as he scans the emptiness around us. I square my shoulders and brace myself for a collision with his temper, as swift and nasty as a black adder’s bite.

“Are you insane?” I bark when he’s within easy earshot.

The glint in his eyes—the color of an overripe avocado, beginning to rot—would suggest exactly that.

“You said no one would get hurt.”

“Do you see anyone around to get hurt?” he snarls, continuing past me, punching keys into his phone. “You’ve got exactly sixty seconds to get the fuck out of here, River.” He takes off at a light jog, not waiting to see if I’ll follow.

Because I always have.

Oh, fuck me. A current of adrenaline shoots through my core. I glance down at my watch. One minute. Less, now. Fifty-five seconds, give or take. The muscles in my thighs twitch, ready to tear after Aengus because there’s nothing else for me to do. But a lot can happen in just sixty seconds. My conscience keeps me grounded, my wild eyes scouring the paths around me for signs of life. A jogger bobs along in the distance, so far away that I can’t be sure whether it’s male or female. Otherwise, I see no one.

I glance at my watch again, my heartbeat doing double time with each second that passes. Only forty-five remain before I look damn guilty to whoever finds me here. Unless I rat out Aengus—which will never happen—I’m as good as locked up for this.

I need to run.

Except . . . that perimeter set isn’t wide enough. If someone should come around the bend, cut across the field . . . But what can I do, really?

Thirty seconds. Beads of sweat trickle down my back. I need to get the hell out of here. Now.

I turn, intent on going back the way I came. But movement catches my eye and my stomach drops as I watch the very thing I just feared unravel before my eyes. A girl runs through the field, her attention alternating between her wrist and the unfolded map within her grip, her brow pulled tight with worry.

She’s clearly a tourist.

She’s clearly late for something.

And she’s heading directly into the blast radius of the pipe bomb that’s about to explode.

I’m out of time. I don’t have a choice.

I run. As fast as my legs can carry me, I run.
Chasing River TWO AMBER
The Fusiliers’ Arch is this way . . . I think.

I’ve always seen myself as someone with a keen sense of direction. But then I embarked on this grand adventure to find myself and, well—I’ve found myself, alright. Twisted and upside down and heading blocks in the wrong direction enough times to accept that I actually suck at reading maps. If not for the tiny charm on my bracelet that doubles as a handy compass—a gift from the sheriff, ever worried for his twenty-five-year-old daughter’s safety—I wouldn’t know which way was north half the time.

I doubt that even the compass can help me now. The tour company brochure states a seven thirty-five sharp departure and it’s now . . . I glance at my watch and my anxiety spikes. Seven thirty-three. Stupid me for booking a day trip the morning after I arrive in Ireland. Just twenty-four hours ago I was plane-hopping from Charlottetown to Toronto to Amsterdam to Dublin, going back in time one hour before jumping ahead five. Instead of sleeping, I spent the overnight flight feeding my addiction to Mad Men. By the time I stepped off the plane at three in the afternoon, I was exhausted.

Of course I figured that two years of flip-flopping between night and day shifts at the hospital would make adjusting to the time change easy for me.

Of course my alarm rang for exactly thirty-two minutes this morning before my brain actually registered the sound.

And now I’m going to miss the freaking tour.

Cutting through this park is supposed to save me a few minutes of travel time. That was one of the few pieces of wisdom my taxi driver from the airport imparted to me yesterday. But he didn’t tell me which paved path, of the countless ones that snake among gardens and forested areas, to take. So in complete desperation, I choose an unconventional diagonal route, rushing past an English garden ripe with colorful summer blooms to run across a grassy field. The morning air is crisp, leaving my legs—bare, thanks to the jean shorts I threw on in my rush, not thinking—touched by gooseflesh, even as sweat trickles down my back. It’ll be okay later, I remind myself. They’re calling for a high of 74 degrees Fahrenheit today. Well, technically, 23 degrees Celsius. Even after traveling across Canada for three and a half weeks, I still can’t seem to grasp the metric system.

Seven thirty-four. “Crap!” I scan the city map held out in my hands as I run. So distracted that I don’t notice a section of the field ahead taped off until I’m almost tearing through it. There are no construction signs or pieces of equipment lying around. Probably just freshly planted grass seed or something. Whatever the reason, it’s smack dab in the middle of my path and I’ll lose time trying to avoid it. Time I don’t have. Beyond the field, another path winds its way to a fountain and benches and more paths. A round glass dome peeks out over the tree line farther ahead. That’s the shopping center I’ve read about. And to the right of that is where my bus will be waiting.

Or not, if I don’t hurry up.

I jump over the tape with a grimace and a silent apology. I check my watch again. Maybe it’s a few minutes fast. Maybe the tour bus driver isn’t really a stickler for a prompt departure. Maybe—

He comes out of nowhere, from the left.

My only warning is the sound of his feet pounding against the grass. I turn my head just as he plows into my side, sending me sailing through the air. Pain explodes in a dozen different body parts as I hit the hard ground, my lungs grappling for oxygen.

He’s on top of me in an instant, crushing me under his weight, his thick arms roping around either side of my head, smothering me. I can’t breathe, or scream, let alone fight him off right now.

I manage just one fleeting thought—that this man, with his forehead pressed against mine and his ragged breaths assaulting my face—is about to rape me in broad daylight in a city park.

And then I’m plunged into a strange void that devours all my pain and fear.

A wave of pressure races past a split second before all of my senses are swallowed by a deafening bang that rattles my brain and the ground beneath me. Then . . . nothing at all. Only eerie silence and air.

I know that time has passed, but I can’t say whether it’s been a split second or ten minutes or an hour when I realize I’m lying on my back, staring up at a plume of white smoke, the familiar sweet metallic scent of expended gunpowder permeating my nostrils, my head stuffed with cotton. That eerie silence has given way to a high-pitched ringing and I cringe as it echoes in my eardrum. Maybe I cry out, too. If I do, I can’t hear it. I’m struggling to string together enough thoughts to understand what the hell just happened.

“Are you okay?” The question floats in from somewhere distant. And then suddenly a man hovers over me, a fringe of coppery hair like an untidy halo framing his face, staring down at me through mossy green eyes.

“What happened?” I manage to ask, though my voice sounds far away. At least I’m no longer winded.

“An explosion. A bomb.”

A bomb? A chill runs through my limbs as my brain wraps around that word, delivered in a light Irish brogue.

I sense hands slide along my thighs, over my knees, curling to the undersides, but I don’t think to deflect them. “You’ll be fine,” he mutters, a sigh of relief sailing from his lips. He shifts on his knees, making to stand.

And I seize his forearm, surprising myself with a sudden wave of strength as I hold him down. “Stay.”

His muscles tense beneath my fingertips. “I can’t. But please know that I didn’t do this.” Honest, pleading eyes implore me silently for a few heartbeats, and then he’s gone, running—albeit staggered and off-balance—before I can ask more questions. I roll my head to the side and watch him disappear into a line of trees, a dark stain blooming in the material of his vibrant green T-shirt.

Moments later, a jogger reaches me in a pant, a cell phone pressed against her ear and a panicked look on her face. Shouts sound from somewhere in the park and a chorus of sirens scream in the distance. Another jogger arrives some thirty seconds later. Next a security guard, and then a couple dressed in suits, on their way to work. Within minutes I’m encircled by people.

Despite everyone’s insistence that I stay lying down, I manage to sit up. Everything is spinning. The granola bar and orange juice that I stuffed into my mouth on my way out the front door churn and I can’t be sure I’ll keep them down. But I force myself to focus on my surroundings—the charred grass, the divots gouged in the oak tree trunk nearby, the singed leaves dangling above, their ashes floating like sooty snowflakes.

It begins to sink in.

I could be dead right now.

Had it not been for that guy, I might have been. He wasn’t trying to suffocate me. He was shielding me.

“You saved my life,” I whisper under my breath, knowing that my words will never find his ear.

Cocooned within a haze, I watch emergency vehicles and the police and bomb squad charge in, herding the spectators away from the crime scene like cattle, their radios buzzing, their notebooks and pens out and ready. Reflective yellow letters that read “Garda” stretch across bulletproof vests everywhere.

Paramedics rush over to me. I’m fine, I tell them. In shock and my hearing is still muffled, but otherwise . . .

I can’t believe I’m fine.

They help me onto a stretcher and wheel me over to the ambulance to examine me further. Again, I promise them that I know what I’m talking about. I’m a nurse, after all. The female paramedic nods and smiles, dabbing at my bottom lip with gauze. Only then do I see the blood, do I taste the copper.

I allow them to check my vitals as I watch the police dropping numbered markers all over the grass and beginning to question witnesses. I wonder how my dad would handle something like this. I’m pretty sure he’s never dealt with a bombing in Deschutes County, Oregon.

“How is she?” someone asks, pulling my attention to the left, where two police officers stand, watching.

“Only the small laceration on her bottom lip from what we can see, and her vitals are fine. Though it’ll take a while for the shock to wear off. She’s had quite the scare.” That assessment’s delivered with a wink, and then she begins packing up her kit.

“She’s awfully lucky . . .” To me, the tall, average-looking officer says, “I’m Detective Garda Garret Duffy. This is me partner, Detective Garda Paul O’Brien.” The man next to him, a pudgy middle-aged officer with a shiny, bald head, offers a tight smile. “Can we ask ya some questions?”

Despite the situation, I smile. Duffy sounds exactly like the leprechaun in the Lucky Charms cereal commercial. “Sure. Okay.”

“And would ya mind terribly if our colleagues examined your bag? This is yours, yeah?” He gestures at a man with white gloves hovering at the side.

I look down at the limp black knapsack that holds my umbrella, a couple of bottles of water, and a bag of grapes, no doubt a mess of pulp and juices now. I don’t know why they’d want to, but . . . “Go ahead.”

“Thank you,” Duffy says, smiling kindly at me, his notepad already open in his hand and waiting to be filled. “Let’s start with your name?”

“Amber Welles.”

“And you’re American, from the sounds of it?”

I nod but then answer, “Yes.” My dad taught me to always answer verbally, to avoid misinterpretation.

“Do ya have identification?”

“My passport. It’s in my backpack.”

“Okay.” He nods toward O’Brien. “We’ll get that. What are ya doing here in Ireland?”

“Traveling.”

“Are ya here alone?”

“Yes.”

His forehead wrinkles in surprise. I get that reaction a lot. I guess I can understand it. It is a bit strange for a girl my age to be traveling alone. If he knew that I have thirteen other countries to visit after this, I’m sure he’d have a comment. “Do ya have friends or family, or acquaintances, in Ireland?”

“No.”

“And how long have ya been in Dublin?”

“Just landed yesterday.”

He scribbles his notes down quickly. “And what were ya doing in the Green this morning, so early?”

“I was late for my tour bus and I was running through here to try to make up some time.” I guess it’s safe to say that the bus has left without me.

“So . . . ya were running across the grass.” His eyes and finger trail through the air, as if trying to get his bearings. “From which direction, exactly?”

I point across the way.

“Right. And then the bomb just exploded?” His impassive eyes remain glued to my face, waiting, as if readying my answer for a scale, to weigh its truth. Just like my dad’s eyes weigh on a person whenever he’s asking questions, whenever he’s digging for information that he thinks the person may be hiding.

My heart pounds in my chest as I begin to see this for what it really is. You don’t grow up with a father like Gabe Welles without learning what distrust feels like. And you don’t grow up with a brother like Jesse Welles without learning what questioning a person who you think is guilty of something sounds like.

Twenty-five years in the Welles family has taught me the art of suspicion well.

I summon whatever calm I can muster and look at the blast site—cordoned off with a new, bigger square of blue-and-white tape—through new eyes. A marker sits where I was found. Another one indicates where I’m guessing the bomb went off. A man is measuring the distance between the two points. Another man photographs the oak’s tree trunk, riddled with gashes, while his partner waits behind him, with plastic gloves and bags and tweezers to collect evidence.

I can see why the police might be suspicious. They’re probably wondering how I could have been that close and not earned a single shrapnel wound, when that tree has been brutalized. But what do they seriously think happened . . . that I set the bomb and decided to play victim?

My stomach drops.

Maybe that’s exactly what they’re wondering. When I replay the detective’s words about being awfully lucky from a moment ago inside my head, it doesn’t sound as sincere anymore. I can’t believe this. One day in Ireland and I’m being questioned by the police. This is something that happens to Jesse. Not to me.

“No. A man ran out of nowhere and knocked me down to the ground. Then the bomb exploded.”

It’s so slight that it’s almost imperceptible, but Duffy’s brow definitely jumps. “What did this man look like?”

“I don’t . . .” I frown, trying to picture his face. “He was young . . . Irish . . . I don’t know. He ran off right after.”

“In which direction?”

I point toward the bushes where I last saw him.

“What else can ya tell us about him?” O’Brien asks. They both stare at me, waiting, their demeanor having softened somewhat now that I’ve given them reason to suspect that maybe I’m just an American tourist who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“I didn’t get a good look at him. I was in shock.” I’m still in shock.

“Anything at all. Was he tall, short? Twelve stone, fourteen stone . . .”

I frown.

Duffy smirks. “Ye Americans call it ‘pounds.’?”

“Oh.” I shake my head. “I’m . . . not sure. A hundred and eighty pounds, maybe?”

“Think hard, Amber. We need to find him,” he pushes. “You said he was Irish. How do ya know that? Did he speak to ya?”

“Yes. He said that he didn’t do this,” I whisper, hearing his voice as I repeat the words. Remembering that pleading look in his eyes.

Duffy and O’Brien share a glance.

“You think he set it, don’t you?” I ask.

“Maybe,” Duffy says.

I frown. “That doesn’t make sense. Why would he jump in front of it to save me, then?”

O’Brien shrugs. “Change of heart? He saw a pretty bird and didn’t want to be responsible for her death.”

My cheeks heat with the unwanted compliment, although I really want to roll my eyes. Sometimes people with the best intentions say the most stupid things. I mean, does it all come down to looks? If I were ugly, would the guy have run the other way and let me blow to pieces?

Duffy must see my irritation. “He ran. Innocent people don’t run.”

My eyes drift to the spot in the trees where I saw him vanish, and I start to question myself. Am I a fool for believing him the second the words came out of his mouth? I didn’t even question why he might say something like that. Maybe . . . he knew the bomb was there, lying in quiet wait in the grass. He knew exactly where it was and he must have known when it would go off, the way he ran at me. If he had nothing to do with it, how would he know those kinds of details?

Maybe a bomber’s word isn’t worth much when he’s . . . a bomber.

But he saved my life. He put himself in harm’s way to protect me. Maybe innocent people don’t run, but bombers don’t save lives.

I dismiss the detective’s suspicion. After all, five minutes ago, he was ready to accuse me.

“What else did he say?” Duffy pushes.

“He asked if I was alright,” I mumble. “And then he ran.”

Duffy scribbles it down. “Good, Amber. What else? What about hair color? Eye color?”

“Green eyes.” Rich, insistent green eyes. “And I think he was hurt.” Because he put himself in harm’s way . . . for me. Suddenly, I don’t want to tell these two officers anything else. Not until I can wrap my head around this. “That’s all I can remember. I’m sorry.”

Duffy brings his radio to his mouth and begins spouting off a series of words and numbers that I can’t identify beyond knowing it’s police code. Buzzing fills the air and several uniforms scatter, directing each other with fingers and shouts. They’ll be canvassing the park and the area beyond the walls.

I wonder if they’ll find him.

“That’s helpful, Amber. We’ll check the hospitals.” He pulls a business card out of his pocket and hands it to me. “Ya may remember more after a few hours or a few days. Give me a ring if ya do.”

“They’re going to be wanting to talk to ya.” O’Brien nods toward something in the distance. I peek out around the back doors of the ambulance that shield me from prying eyes. News crews have begun to trickle in, their mammoth black cameras sweeping over the area. Fortunately they’re held back by a wide perimeter of tape and I’m still hidden.

I can see the headline now: American Girl Saved by Irish Good Samaritan, Who Then Runs.

I’m guessing this would be a story that the media would love. It would probably go viral. It would certainly be my way of making sure my thank you reaches him.

But it would also reach my parents, and guarantee that my dad’s first trip out of America would be to Ireland, for the sole purpose of dragging his daughter back in handcuffs if need be, twenty-five years old or not.

I pull the rim of my pink baseball cap down. “Any chance we can avoid them? And keep my name and picture out of the media? My dad won’t take this too well.”

Duffy eyes the gathering crowd. “They are hounds, aren’t they? Maybe we should give ya a lift somewhere.”

“That’d be great. I’m staying at a house on Hatch Street, just off Leeson. It’s a few blocks away.”

“I know the street.” He radios for a spare jacket, and I use it to shield my face and upper body as they usher me to their car.

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 29 June 2019  Posted by  Tagged with: ,  No Responses »
Jun 292019
 

Becoming Rain: A Novel (The Burying Water Series Book 2)
by K.A. Tucker
The second novel in nationally bestselling author K.A. Tucker’s breathtaking romantic suspense series, about an undercover detective who is dangerously drawn to her target.

Luke Boone doesn’t know exactly what his uncle Rust is involved in but he wants in on it—the cars, the money, the women. And it looks like he’s finally getting his wish. When Rust hands him the managerial keys to the garage, they come with a second set—one that opens up the door to tons of cash and opportunity. Though it’s not exactly legal, Luke’s never been one to worry about that sort of thing. Especially when it puts him behind the wheel of a Porsche 911 and onto the radar of gorgeous socialite named Rain.

Clara Bertelli is at the top of her game—at only twenty-six years old, she’s one of the most successful undercover officers in the Washington, DC, major crime unit, and she’s just been handed a case that could catapult her career and expose one of the West coast’s most notorious car theft rings. But, in order to do it, she’ll need to go deep undercover as Rain Martines. Her target? The twenty-four-year-old nephew of a key player who appears ready to follow in his uncle’s footsteps.

As Clara drifts deeper into the luxurious lifestyle of Rain, and further into the arms of her very attractive and charming target, the lines between right and wrong start to blur, making her wonder if she’ll be able to leave it all behind. Or if she’ll even want to.

Excerpt Becoming Rain

PROLOGUE

CLARA

It’s a modest Seattle suburban home, with two stories, steep gables, and cream-colored siding. A row of artless bushes lines the walkway, courtesy of the builder’s unimaginative landscaping. It looks exactly like the house to its left and too similar to the house to its right.

And yet the number above the garage marks this house as altogether unique.

I hunch down in the passenger seat of the cruiser, just enough to spy the glow from the second floor through the cold drizzle. A bay window frames the blond woman swaying, the little boy curled within her arms, his cheek resting against her shoulder in a way that suggests he’s asleep.

“Where are they going to go?” I ask, eyeing the large “For Sale” sign staked into the front lawn. Just another thing for the neighborhood to look at as they throw sympathetic glances on their way by.

“She can’t make the mortgage,” Officer Burk confirms through a casual sip of coffee, its pungent aroma filling the car’s interior. “Her parents have a farm outside the city. Sounds like that’s where they’re heading.”

“He had no life insurance? Nothing?”

“She had to take a loan out on the house just to pay for the funeral.”

A dull pang throbs in my chest as I watch Betty-Jo Billings drift over to the window, listless eyes resting on the driveway below, where puddles of water pool in the indents formed by the tires that used to sit there. The exact place where her husband waved to her for the last time before climbing into the passenger side of his cherry-¬red Ford F-250. The truck he had advertised for sale on Craigslist. The truck he was allowing a prospective buyer to test drive.

Seattle police found Wayne Billings’s body fourteen days later in a city dump. The truck hasn’t turned up and it probably never will. No witnesses to interrogate, except for Wayne’s wife, and all they could get from her was that the driver wore a baseball hat and he was dropped off by someone in a dark sedan. She hadn’t been paying any real attention and I understand why. With a two-year-old hanging off her leg and a three-week-old baby in her arms, the poor woman was asleep on her feet, exhausted. When Wayne left, all she was probably thinking about was the family-friendly minivan they would buy with the cash from the truck.

The wipers swish back and forth in a monotonous song and heat blasts out from the dashboard to counter the chill in the damp spring air. I arrived on the West Coast one week ago and, though locals swear it’s not usually this bad, it hasn’t stopped raining.

I don’t mind it at all. I find it soothing, actually.

“It’s a real shame. Everyone says he was a decent guy. His kids will never get to find out,” Burk murmurs in that wearied voice that tells me that this is just another case to him. He has succumbed to the job. It’s not his fault; it’s how many cops learn to deal with the kinds of things we see every day.

Detachment.

The case sits open, but the local police force has pretty much written it off. I knew that the second I made the request for the files. Under a generic guise of a Washington, D.C., cop researching similar cases on the East Coast, of course. None of these guys knows why I’m really here.

I peer up at the little boy’s angelic face again.

And make a silent promise that Rust Markov—and anyone tied to him—will pay.
Becoming Rain

ONE

LUKE

I drop my glass onto the table with a heavy thud. “Miller can go. I’m ready to run the shop on my own.”

Uncle Rust’s eyes wander over an attractive woman passing by, on her way to the restrooms of The Cellar, her hips swaying in rhythm with the throbbing bass. “I’ll tell you when you’re ready.”

The mouthful of vodka barely quells the bitterness ready to leap from my tongue. “Seriously? What else do I need to do? ¬Haven’t I proven myself yet?” I stare hard at him as he rolls his drink around inside his cheeks. Rust has always shown patience with me, but that’s a sign that his tolerance with my drunken persistence is running thin.

“All good things come to those who wait.”

“I have waited. Hell, I’ve done more than wait. I’ve done everything you’ve asked me to do! Do you think I enjoyed changing tires and going home every night stinking of motor oil?”

He drops a hand down on my shoulder, slightly too hard. “All part of the plan, Luke.”

The plan. Rust starting singing “the plan” song to me when I was thirteen. He pulled into our driveway one day, in his latest ride—a silver Cadillac—and dressed in a sharp-looking suit, and I told him I wanted to be just like him. I still remember his words. “Listen to me, kid, and I’ll set you up for life.”

Eleven years later, I’m beginning to wonder if he really meant it.

“Yeah, well, maybe you can enlighten me on this master plan of yours so I have a better handle on it. Like, why I’m looking at Miller’s ugly face across a desk and taking his bullshit. You said the garage would be mine by now.” Facing off against the current manager of Rust’s Garage—an overweight, under-groomed jerk who barks orders at me like I’m his personal bitch—every day for the past two months since Rust moved me from the mechanics bays to the office as “associate manager” is wearing on my nerves. Miller’s no idiot. He expects that at some point his fat ass will be evicted from that squeaky office chair to make room for me, and he’s been making me suffer for it since the day my feet hit that dirty concrete floor.

“I need Miller there.”

“Until when?”

“Until I say so.”

“And then what?” Rust keeps telling me I’m smart, I’m going to go far. I assume “going far” means more than the glory of filing paperwork, ordering parts, and being called “Nurse Boone” by a bunch of greasy mechanics for the rest of my life.

The revenue from the garage isn’t bankrolling Rust’s high-end lifestyle; that much I know. Neither does RTM International, the online vehicles sales company he co-owns, though that company puts him on the map as a legitimate global businessman.

I have a pretty good idea where his money comes from by now.

But he has yet to admit anything to me and, until he does, I’m nothing more than an errand boy. He can be such a secretive son of a bitch, even when it comes to family.

“I just . . .” I try to bite my tongue, but the dam breaks anyway. “Stop dangling this big plan in front of me like a diamond-¬encrusted carrot.”

I get a sour smirk in response. “How about you stop whining like a pissy brat and spend all this energy establishing yourself as a leader. Run the garage as well as Miller does. Better than Miller. Learn how to deal with people. You’ll meet all kinds when you’re in charge and you’ve got to be personable and keep them all happy, kid. I didn’t build up that place so you can drive it into the ground with your smart mouth.”

Same old spiel. “It’s hard to believe that’s really so important, considering you’ve got King Kong Grouch dealing with the customers right now.” Rust knows he doesn’t have to worry about my personality. I’m Prince Charming, for fuck’s sake. Just, maybe not after this much vodka . . .

“The customers come back. Plus, he has the guys’ respect.”

“That’s not respect. That’s working for a paycheck under constant threat. The dickhead told me he’d cut an hour from my pay today for being late. To my own fucking shop!”

“It’s still my fucking shop,” Rust throws back, his tone warning.

I hold my hands up in surrender. “Fine. But I need to start making real money, Rust. My own money.”

“You aren’t exactly suffering. I’ve taken good care of you.” His manicured fingertip taps the face of my gold Rolex—a hand-me-down from him when he upgraded last year. It’s part of the long list of gifts and cash that he’s easily doled out and I’ve gratefully accepted, just as easily as a son would accept something from his father. Because that’s the role Rust has played since I was six years old, ever since my dad skipped out on my mom, little sister, and me.

I lean back against my bench, trying to decide if this argument is worth it. I know I can’t win. Rust’s an unmovable bastard when he wants to be. “I’m just tired of Miller’s crap,” is all I say. I’m tired of punching in and out every day, of working Saturdays. It’s a sucker’s life and it’s not one I have any interest in living. It’s the one Rust promised me I wouldn’t have to live.

A harsh chuckle escapes Rust. “You’re only twenty-four years old. You’ve got too many years to go to be tired of people’s crap already. Go on . . .” He waves a lazy hand back toward the common area of the club—we’re sitting in the VIP section, as usual. It’s packed with bodies and thrumming with deep-bass trance music. “It’s a busy night here. Why don’t you cheer yourself up with a bliad.”

I roll my eyes. Go find a whore and get laid. Classic Rust advice when he’s trying to blow me off. Sometimes I listen. It’s never hard to find one. Not in this place, not looking the way I do. Like money. That’s what these kinds of girls like. And I’ve never minded playing the part of a guy who has it if the night ends with one of them naked and on her back in front of me.

I down the rest of my drink and flick the empty glass across the table. “I’m going home.”

“Probably a good idea. You’re obnoxious tonight. Doubt you’d impress anyone in your state.”

I have no interest in impressing anyone tonight. Not even Priscilla—a bartender and a sure thing, if she hasn’t already dug her claws into a true high roller for the night. “When you hear that I’ve beaten Miller to death with that fucking stapler of his, don’t say I didn’t warn you.” I slide out of our booth to the sound of Rust’s booming laughter. Pushing my way through the crowd, I keep my head down to avoid all conversation.

A sudden splash of cold liquid hits my chest, doing nothing to cool my simmering rage.
Becoming Rain

TWO

CLARA

“I’m so sorry!” I peer up through the dim club lighting to take in his face. It’s angular and masculine. He’s far prettier than the pictures do justice. And, by the deep furrow and the clenched teeth, he’s also oh so pissed.

He’s too busy glaring at the tumbler’s worth of Coke that I just dumped all over his steel-blue shirt to even bother a glance up at me. “Fucking perfect,” I hear him mumble.

“Let me get that dry cleaned for you. Please,” I offer, my voice a seductive purr, hoping the view down the front of this slutty overpriced dress will finally grab his attention. I place my hand flat against his stomach as I step into his personal space. Physical contact usually works.

Instead, he shoulders past me, pushing through the crowded bar and toward the exit.

Shit. I didn’t nurse a drink on this bar stool for the past two hours with the better part of my breasts on display so this asshole could ignore me.

Again.

Tossing a twenty on the counter, which will more than cover my bill, I weave through the other patrons, trying not to be too obvious as I chase after him. He’s at least two hundred pounds of muscle and he’s carrying himself well, but I watched him chug six glasses of vodka. He’s got to be drunk.

By the time I get up the narrow stairs of the underground club to the side street, Luke Boone is in the back of a cab and speeding off, leaving me staring at the taillights as they disappear around a corner, my ever-growing frustration weighing down on my shoulders.

“Strike five for Rain Martines,” I mutter, picking my way along the sidewalk in my painful stilettos to where my white Audi sits. “ ‘It’ll be easy,’ they said . . .” I slam the door shut behind me. “ ‘He’ll be all over you.’ ” I start the engine and lean back against the headrest. And sigh. “This isn’t going to work.”

My phone rings in response.

“Who told you this would be easy?” Warner’s heavy Boston accent fills the car’s speakers as it kicks into Bluetooth mode. “Don’t give up just yet, Clara. What happened tonight?”

I fumble with the gold dragonfly pendant around my neck until I feel the minuscule switch on the back. I flick it, deactivating the listening device. “You heard what happened.”

“Walk me through it. Step by step.”

I pull out of the parking lot and make the five-minute drive home, filling my handler in on the night’s events: how I watched my target stride to the booth—the same booth in the VIP section that he always sits at—as if he were on a mission, pour glass after glass of vodka from the bottle and toss it back, get into what looked like a heated conversation with his uncle, and then suddenly stand up and storm through the crowd.

How I did the first thing I could think of to stop him. “He didn’t even look at me,” I admit and, after a long pause, add, “I’m not his type, Warner.” Despite the posh outfit and the top-to-bottom grooming I’ve undergone to transform into the prototype of what Luke Boone typically brings home, I have yet to earn so much as a sideways glance from him.

“Yeah, you are. He just hasn’t laid eyes on you yet.”

“And probably never will, at this rate.”

“Impossible.”

I shake my head, though he can’t see it. “How many nights can I hang around that club, dressed like an escort, before you guys realize that you’ve got the wrong undercover on this?” It pains me to admit that.

“Fifteen minutes. Your place.” The phone line cuts out, leaving me to brood over my impending failure alone.

Weeks of case preparation, down the drain. I don’t know what I was thinking. When my boss called me in to his corner office and introduced me to the man in the suit filling the spare chair, my life changed. Assistant Director Josh Sinclair wanted me. Or, more appropriately, the FBI wanted me—twenty-six-year-old Officer Clara Bertelli from the Washington, D.C., Major Crime Unit. They had a big case, one that stretched internationally, one they’ve been working for eighteen months.

After two failed attempts to infiltrate the group, they were trying a new strategy and it required a very specific profile. One that they failed to find in their database of FBI agents, so they were reaching beyond their organization, as they sometimes do. They had been searching for a suitable undercover for weeks, and then my file hit their radar and winning bells went off.

My youthful look, my cool demeanor, my impeccable arrest record, my compelling court testimonials, even my diligent case notes . . . Sinclair said I was exactly what they were looking for. Then he asked me if I was interested in being a part of what could be one of the biggest car theft ring busts in U.S. history.

My own set of winning bells went off.

I didn’t give it a moment’s thought before I answered with an exuberant “Hell, yeah.”

But maybe I should have considered it a bit more. Maybe I shouldn’t have assumed it’d be as easy as a hooker sweep or busting some idiot john. All I thought about was what this could mean to my career if I succeeded—ideally a job in the Bureau, exactly where I want to be. A bit of my own digging uncovered that Assistant Director Sinclair is the kind of guy that can make that happen.

Maybe I should have considered what it would mean if I failed, where I could land if I don’t pull this off. A very likely possibility, if the past few weeks have been any indication.

I park my Audi in my private garage, appreciating the luxury car’s handling ease. Part of my undercover persona and definitely one of the perks, as is everything else that now surrounds me. Back home, my real life consists of a drafty one-bedroom apartment with cracked tiles and a squeaky fridge, a ’95 Jeep Wrangler with more miles on it than a retired cargo plane, and chain store clothing bought at 50 percent off. Sixty grand a year with student loan debt hardly buys me more. I’m not complaining—I’ve always loved my job and my life.

But then I take a smooth ride in this mirrored elevator that will lead me to the top floor with the slip of a key and step into “my” loft-style designer condo—with the computerized control panel for the lighting and sound system to my left, floor-to-ceiling windows to my right, and everything from Miele kitchen appliances to Brazilian walnut floors and travertine tile in between—and I get to experience how the other side lives. A lifestyle I will never afford to have on a regular cop salary.

I have to admit, it’ll be hard to leave some of this behind.

Kicking off my shoes, I head over to the wall of windows and take a peek out around the shades that are always drawn. A few condos in the twin boutique loft building next to mine are still lit, but most sit in darkness. There’s only one I really care about, though.

The one with my target in it.

Maybe the Feds thought this would be a cute, kismet story for Rust Markov’s nephew and me to giggle over when I finally succeeded in winning his attention—the fact that we have a perfect view into each other’s lavish homes. I certainly do, anyway. Luke doesn’t seem to believe in drawing window covers, regardless of time or state of dress. I haven’t yet figured out whether it’s due to ignorance or arrogance.

Flashes of light from the TV on the wall fill his living room, each burst highlighting his body, now clad in nothing but boxer briefs and a T-shirt. As with every other night for the past few weeks, I watch him drop down to the white shag rug and begin the nightly regime of crunches and push-ups that give him those hardened muscles. Without fail, drunk or not, he will go through this routine, his bulldog stretched out next to his head, tongue lolling. I’ve caught my own tongue lolling once or twice, when I had a brief lapse in memory and forgot what Luke Boone really is. For all else that he may be, he has a body and face for magazine covers.

Too bad he’s a budding criminal.

At least, that’s the assumption. That’s why I’m here.

I wonder if the women he brings home know. Or care. I’m guessing not. They’re not the type to care about much except what he can buy them. From what I’ve seen in the reports, the joke’s on them because this guy doesn’t wine and dine anyone. He’s after only one thing and he gets it. Thankfully, on the few nights I’ve witnessed a “guest” trail him through the door, the women had enough modesty to draw the blinds in his bedroom.

With a heavy sigh of frustration, I head to the pretty watercolor painting that hides my safe. I pull the case files for 12—our code name for Luke Boone—out, dropping them on the coffee table, one hand on my zipper as I head to the bedroom to peel off this uncomfortable dress and change into sweats.

I come back to find a six-foot shadow at my window, stealing the same glance across the way at our target that I had not five minutes ago. “Would you stop using your key? I could have been naked.”

“I was hoping,” Warner throws back over his shoulder.

I offer up a bottle of Chianti. He waves it away, instead helping himself to a can of Harpoon—a Boston I.P.A. beer that he insists on stocking in my fridge—before dropping his big body into my white leather sectional.

I flop into the couch next to him. “I just don’t know . . .”

“What don’t you know, Bertelli?” Warner stretches long legs out over my coffee table, fanning the thick folder of surveillance notes that I just set down over the glass. “That you’re a smart cop? That you were handpicked by the F.B.I. for a reason?”

I smile, giving his knee a friendly pat. “I can always count on you for a motivational pep talk.”

“We all knew this wouldn’t be a cakewalk.”

“No, I know. I just . . .” I yawn, the adrenaline that kept me wired through the night finally seeping from my body, leaving me weary. “We’ve been pinning all our plans on the expectation that 12’s going to fall to his knees at the sight of me. Dog me around and tell me whatever I want to know. That’s clearly not the case.” I won’t lie; privately, it’s a hit to my ego. I’ve never had a hard time attracting a target’s attention. With my long, wavy chestnut hair, olive skin, and light blue eyes, we all assumed I was Luke Boone’s type. On paper, I am. But either something else is at play or I just don’t quite fit into the lineup of gold-digging beauties.

Warner sucks back a mouthful of beer, his face pensive. “You said he was fighting with 24 tonight?” The Feds are so clever with their code names.

“Looked that way.”

Warner shrugs. “Drunk . . . arguing with the uncle . . . last thing he’s in the mood for is putting any work into a woman.”

“I guess . . . But what about last time?” He hadn’t noticed me last week either, and I had made sure my steps were as slow and purposeful as a peacock’s as I strutted past his table on my way to the restroom, my provocative dress clinging to my ass.

“He took the bartender home.” Warner stares at me like that answer says it all. Finally, my blank look compels him to elaborate. “Guaranteed lay with no effort and no hassle. He obviously wanted something easy that night.”

I roll my eyes. “He definitely had that.” And I got an eyeful, making it home just in time to see her do a Full Monty sashay to the bedroom blinds to draw them. Months’ worth of surveillance—pictures, written reports, videos—mark Priscilla Grishin as Boone’s “go-to girl.” Nothing more, nothing less. They’re certainly not exclusive. “I’m just not sure this is going to work. I mean . . . these women . . .” I let my words drift off. These women, they’re not common prostitutes working to pay their rent, like the ones I normally deal with. Like the ones I’ve learned to emulate. These ones stalk through life with their stunning faces and perfect figures—either naturally granted or acquired with the help of a plastic surgeon—with the single goal of climbing the boyfriend ladder until they reach the top and become the wife of a rich husband who will cater to their every high-maintenance need.

They’re vapid.

Insecure.

Unkind.

I can’t stand their type. And I can’t stand the kind of guys who are attracted to them.

“These women ain’t got nothin’ on you, kid.” His eyes dip down to survey my body, which, while well cut from a strict gym regime, can’t possibly look appealing right now.

I smack his stomach, a smile creeping out from behind my frustrations. At thirty, FBI Special Agent Warner Briggs is what a lot of women look for in their ideal man. Tall, athletic build, dark hair, square jaw. As charming as a southern boy, though he grew up in South Boston. Extremely successful. The first day he was introduced to me as my handler and lead cover on this case, I’ll admit I took a second glance. He certainly did the same of me.

But I won’t let my career or my goals get derailed by flings with coworkers and I have no interest in dating another cop. That just has disaster written all over it. Female officers already have it hard enough, without adding on opportunities to be accused of sleeping our way to the top. Besides, Warner has quickly become a friend and sounding board. Something I need far more desperately than a good lay.

“Come on, Warner. Honestly, between you and me . . . what did they think was going to happen if I actually managed to grab 12’s attention? Look at his file!” I gesture at it. Three months of gathering intel on Luke Boone. Five one-night stands. Three overnight visits with his bartender. “The guy’s not looking for a wife. He’s not looking for romance, or even great conversation. He’s bringing them home for the one thing I won’t give him! They would have been better off with an informant for this. At least they’re not bound by the same rules.”

Warner barks out a laugh. “Come on, Clara! Sinclair’s not gonna use an informant for a role like this. They’re too unreliable. Winning this case will move him up in rank, and Sinclair’s all about rank.” He stretches an arm over the back of the couch in a playful way. “Don’t worry, you’ve got this. All you have to do is string twelve along. Let him think that he’s got a shot at you. That you’re special.”

“I am special,” I mutter, earning his snort. “But this isn’t a guy you can string along. He’s not into virginal girls and he’s not looking to make money off me.” In hindsight, how the Feds thought putting an undercover on this target with the hopes of luring him with mere words and seductive gestures is beyond me. Desperation—that’s the only explanation I can come up with. They have plenty of evidence at the low level but nothing connecting it all, nothing concrete enough to pull the entire organization down. Not to mention two failed efforts by undercover agents to gain a foothold into the top level, attempting to earn their trust and friendship.

Apparently, neither Rust Markov nor Luke Boone is interested in making new male friends. Female “friends,” however . . .

Warner shrugs. “You say whatever you need to say to hook him.”

I sigh, knowing that Warner’s not going to give me the satisfaction of agreeing. He’s 100 percent committed to the job. “Well, I can’t sit in that bar week after week. People are going to start noticing.”

“I’ll get the guys to rotate. Make it look like they’re hiring you for the night.”

I shake my head. “Too risky. None of the girls 12 takes home are escorts. That may turn him off.”

“Okay then . . .” He leans forward to scoop up the case files, tossing them onto my lap. “What’s gonna work? You’re the one with your neck on the line. You’re looking to go Fed. This is a big deal for you. So you tell me . . .” He stabs the stack of paper with his index finger. “What’s our next move, boss?”

That’s one of the things I like most about Warner. He could be an arrogant, condescending dick. The big-show FBI agent versus a mere metro cop pawn. But he’s been nothing but a team player from day one. In fact, he reminds me a lot of the guys I work with back home. A tight group who take every opportunity to joke around and let loose, knowing how much we all need the release from what we see in our day-to-day.

Sipping on my wine, I start flipping through the pages of candid shots. Luke Boone is a decidedly handsome target by anyone’s standards, with wavy caramel-brown hair that he styles in a sexy mop and clothing that’s tailored to a well-honed body, courtesy of daily jogs with his dog and workouts in his building’s gym.

Son of Oksana Boone, single mother to him and his younger sister, Ana Boone. Biological father’s whereabouts unknown.

Nephew of Rust Markov, who has raised him like a son, footing his tuition for a bachelor’s degree in business, followed by two years in a mechanics program. The nephew of a man pegged as the leader behind one of the West Coast’s biggest car theft rings by a confidential informant avoiding heroin-dealing charges. The nephew who seems glued to his uncle’s side, who is now stepping into a managerial role at one of Rust’s legitimate businesses—a car repair garage—and who lives in a million-dollar condo that his uncle gifted to him, either out of the goodness of his heart or to protect his assets.

The nephew who the Feds believe is being groomed to step into a leadership role in the car theft operation.

“Be thankful. He could have been your target.” Warner taps a shot of Rust Markov leaving his office one afternoon. A man I can’t wait to see stripped of his Versace suits and sleeping in a bunk bed behind bars for a very long time.

“Wouldn’t be the worst I’ve had.” At forty-five years old, Rust’s fit and by no means bad looking. Likes younger women, from what I know. “May have been easier.”

“No, it wouldn’t. 24’s smart. You need the dumb nephew. Kid’s too new. Get him comfortable, get him drunk . . . He’ll slip and, when he does, we’ve got him.”

“I just don’t know what the best way in is with this guy. I don’t think it’s the bar scene.”

Heaving himself off my couch, Warner strolls over to the kitchen to drop his empty on the counter. “We have a few more weeks before the warrant’s up. Sleep on it. We’ll regroup in the morning.”

“ ’kay. Night,” I call out as the condo door shuts. As tired as I am, I know that the stress of looming failure—of being sent back to D.C. to bust pimps and drug addicts—is going to keep me up. I’m half-tempted to drink wine until I pass out, but I’ll only feel worse tomorrow. Not that I have anywhere that I need to be.

So I start flipping through the case files, beginning to end, like I’ve done over a hundred times. Luke Boone’s schedule is pretty basic: he’s either at the garage, at a club with his uncle, working out, or “entertaining” one female or another. There have been no reports of him disappearing into warehouses or storefronts at erratic hours of the night. The team’s never lost track of him in the few hours per day that they’re on him. Unlike his Uncle Rust, who continuously slides through their surveillance detail like a bar of wet soap.

Frankly, there’s no solid evidence that Luke Boone has any involvement with this ring. Only speculation. Enough to get a sixty-day warrant from the judge. I need to spend time with him to get a better read. Surveillance tapes and reports give me only background. They help me to speculate about what he might respond best to.

So far, all of our speculations have been wrong.

Closing the file, I pack everything back up into the hidden safe and pull out my personal phone, checking it for any messages. My parents are aware that I’ll be away for an indefinite amount of time on a case. That’s all they know, though, and that’s all I can tell them. As far as my mother is concerned, I’m only ever sitting at a desk, working behind-the-scenes detail. If she knew what I was actually doing—the kind of danger I put myself in on a daily basis—she’d beg me to quit with tears in her eyes and Sicilian prayers rolling off her tongue.

If they could see me now . . . This loft is a far cry from the small, semi-detached house they’ve owned for the past thirty-one years, complete with the original stiff-backed floral couches and the large vegetable garden they tend to in the backyard. It’s nothing special, and yet it’s their dream come true after immigrating to America from a small town outside Palermo, Sicily, with nothing but one suitcase of clothes and my grandmother’s white linen tablecloth. It took almost ten years and at least four honest jobs between the two of them at all times—my mother in bakeries, my father as a janitor—to scrounge up enough money for the down payment.

My brother Dino, older than me by eleven years, remembers those years being tough. Socks with darned toes and jeans with patches in the knees, used toys for Christmas, summer vacations at local parks. Cold winters, to save on electric bills.

By the time I came along—an accident when my parents were in their mid-thirties—they were living in luxury by comparison.

Still, it’s nothing like what I’m living right now.

No calls from the family tonight, which doesn’t bother me. I talk to them enough. A few texts from my girlfriend Aubrey, telling me about the upcoming girls’ weekend that I won’t be going to because I’m 2,300 miles away. It bothers me a little bit but I’m used to it. I miss a lot of birthdays and holidays and getaways because of my job.

What I still haven’t gotten used to is not seeing a message from David, my latest ex-boyfriend. Nine months of messages all day—every day—until I came home with a black eye and busted lip from a takedown and he decided that he can’t handle being with a cop.

I really liked this one, too. I thought he might be different. Stronger.

I thought I’d prove my police college instructor and that author with her PhD label wrong. That keeping a relationship in this field isn’t as hard as they made it out to be. I still have that stupid paperback that they handed us in class, about loving a cop. It’s at home, collecting dust. At first I thought it was a joke, until I started flipping through the pages and digesting everything I should expect in the years to come. How the long shifts and overtime coupled with the daily hazards earn this field high divorce rates. How the things I see every day make it hard for me to carry on a normal dinner conversation. How I’ll have a difficult time meeting men to begin with because of all the trust issues I’ll develop, dealing with liars all day long. With a sinking feeling in my stomach, I pushed it off as a stereotype that wouldn’t fit me. I hoped that being aware of the challenges would prepare me enough to avoid them.

The dozen or so failed relationships since then have proven that little pocket book not so stupid after all.

My mentor—a staff sergeant in her early forties, who’s been divorced twice now—only validated it by warning me to expect a whole lot of heartbreak before I find the right relationship. If I ever do. Dating a female cop may be a fantasy involving handcuffs and wild sex, but marrying one isn’t a reality most guys can stomach. The day she told me that, three days after David ended things, I went home and cried into a bottle of red wine.

With one last gun check—a habit more than anything else—I lock everything back up into the safe and head for bed. My mind is still spinning, in search of the way into Luke Boone’s life. I have only a few shots at this before accidental run-ins become too much of a coincidence.

Another glimpse past my bedroom blinds finds him now stretched out on his back, a flurry of cars racing across his television screen. His arm is wrapped around his dog’s body, and he’s stroking its belly with slow, affectionate movements.

When I look at him, all I see is just another twenty-four-year-old guy. A guy I might meet at a party or at the club. A guy my friends and I would definitely notice, would probably drool over. Who I’d gladly give my number to. A guy I’d go home with if I had one too many drinks and needed a release.

A guy I wouldn’t believe could be involved in something that left two children without a father.

But that’s the thing with so many of the worst kinds of criminals. They don’t wear signs, they don’t don a uniform. They’re hiding in plain sight. It’s my job to reveal Luke for what he truly is, which will reveal the man we’re really after—his uncle.

But how?

Women. Dogs. Cars. Three things that seem to grab Luke’s attention.

I’m an attractive, smart, confident woman—you have to be both smart and confident in a job like mine or you could end up dead—so I have that going for me. You also have to be a little crazy, but I hide that well. Maybe the issue isn’t me; maybe it’s the surroundings.

I need to find a better place to meet. A place he can’t possibly miss me.

Yes.

I hit “one” on my phone’s speed dial. Warner picks up almost immediately.

“Hey, I think I have an idea.” I smile. “But it involves messing around with that beautiful car of mine.”

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 29 June 2019  Posted by  Tagged with: , ,  No Responses »
Jun 292019
 

Burying Water by KA Tucker

BLURB:
The highly anticipated start of the “masterful” (New York Journal of Books) romantic suspense series from the beloved nationally bestselling author of Ten Tiny Breaths.

Left for dead in the fields of rural Oregon, a young woman defies all odds and survives—but she awakens with no idea who she is, or what happened to her. Refusing to answer to “Jane Doe” for another day, the woman renames herself “Water” for the tiny, hidden marking on her body—the only clue to her past. Taken in by old Ginny Fitzgerald, a crotchety but kind lady living on a nearby horse farm, Water slowly begins building a new life. But as she attempts to piece together the fleeting slivers of her memory, more questions emerge: Who is the next-door neighbor, quietly toiling under the hood of his Barracuda? Why won’t Ginny let him step foot on her property? And why does Water feel she recognizes him?

Twenty-four-year-old Jesse Welles doesn’t know how long it will be before Water gets her memory back. For her sake, Jesse hopes the answer is never. He knows that she’ll stay so much safer—and happier—that way. And that’s why, as hard as it is, he needs to keep his distance. Because getting too close could flood her with realities better left buried.

The trouble is, water always seems to find its way to the surface.

Excerpt Burying Water
PROLOGUE

JESSE

NOW

This can’t be real . . . This can’t be real . . . This can’t be real . . .

The words cycle round and round in my mind like the wheels on my speeding ’Cuda as its ass-end slips and slides over the gravel and ice. This car is hard to handle on the best of days, built front-heavy and overloaded with horsepower. I’m going to put myself into one of these damn trees if I don’t slow down.

I jam my foot against the gas pedal.

I can’t slow down now.

Not until I know that Boone was wrong about what he claims to have overheard. His Russian is mediocre at best. I’ll give anything for him to be wrong about this.

My gut clenches as my car skids around another turn, the cone shape of Black Butte looming like a monstrous shadow ahead of me in the pre-dawn light. The snowy tire tracks framed by my headlights might not even be the right ones, but they’re wide like Viktor’s Hummer and they’re sure as hell the only ones down this old, deserted logging road. No one comes out here in January.

The line of trees marking the dead end comes up on me before I expect it. I slam on my brakes, sending my car sliding sideways toward the old totem pole. It’s still sliding when I cut the rumbling engine, throw open the door, and jump out, fumbling with my flashlight. It takes three hard presses with my shaking hands to get the light to hold.

I begin searching the ground. The mess of tread marks tells me that someone pulled a U-turn. The footprints tell me that more than one person got out. And when I see the half-finished cigarette butt with that weird alphabet on the filter, I know Boone wasn’t wrong.

“Alex!” My echo answers once . . . twice . . . before the vast wilderness swallows up my desperate cry. With frantic passes of my flashlight, my knuckles white against its body, I search the area until I spot the sets of footprints that lead off the old, narrow road and into the trees.

Frigid fingers curl around my heart.

Darting back to my car, I snatch the old red-and-blue plaid wool blanket that she loves so much from the backseat. Ice-cold snow packs into the sides of my sneakers as I chase the trail past the line of trees and into the barren field ahead, my blood rushing through my ears the only sound I process.

The only sign of life.

Raw fear numbs my senses, the Pacific Northwest winter numbs my body, but I push forward because if . . .

The beam of light passes over a still form lying facedown in the snow. I’d recognize that pink coat and platinum-blond hair of hers anywhere; the sparkly blue dress that she hates so much looks like a heap of sapphires against a white canvas.

My heart freezes.

“Alex.” It’s barely a whisper. I’m unable to produce more, my lungs giving up on me. I run, stumbling through the foot of snow until I’m on my knees and crawling forward to close the distance. A distance of no more than ten feet and yet one that seems like miles.

There’s no mistaking the spray of crimson freckling the snow around her head. Or that most of her long hair is now dark and matted. Or that her silver stockings are torn and stained red, and a pool of blood has formed where her dress barely covers her thighs. Plenty of footprints mark the ground around her. He must have been here for a while.

I know that there are rules to follow, steps to make sure that I don’t cause her further harm. But I ignore them because the sinking feeling in my stomach tells me I can’t possibly hurt her more than he already has. I nestle her head with one hand while I slide the other under her shoulder. I roll her over.

Cold shock knocks the wind out of me.

I’ve never seen anybody look like this.

I scoop her limp body into my arms, cradling the once beautiful face that I’ve seen in every light—rage to ecstasy and the full gamut in between—yet is now unrecognizable. Placing two blood-coated fingers over her throat, I wait. Nothing.

A light pinch against her lifeless wrist. Nothing.

Maybe a pulse does exist but it’s hidden, masked by my own racing one.

Then again, by the look of her, likely not.

One . . . two . . . three . . . plump, serene snowflakes begin floating down from the unseen sky above. Soon, they will converge and cover the tracks, the blood. The evidence. Mother Nature’s own blanket to hide the unsightly blemish in her yard.

“I’m so sorry.” I don’t try to restrain the hot tears as they roll down my cheeks to land on her mangled lips—lips I had stolen plenty of kisses from, back when I was too stupid to realize how dangerous that really was. This is my fault. She had warned me. If I had just listened, had stayed away from her, had not told her how I felt . . .

. . . had not fallen wildly in love with her.

I lean down to steal a kiss even now, the coppery taste of her blood mixing with my salty tears. “I’m so damn sorry. I should never have even looked your way,” I manage to get out around my sobs, tucking the blanket she loved to curl up in over her.

An almost inaudible gasp slips out. A slight breeze against my mouth more than anything else.

My lungs freeze, my eyes glued to her, afraid to hope. “Alex?” Is it possible?

A moment later, a second gasp—a wet, rattling sound—¬escapes.

She’s not dead.

Not yet, anyway.
Burying Water
ONE

ALEX

IN BETWEEN

A fire.

The fragrance calls to me.

I cannot see, for my eyes are sealed shut against the wicked glow in his stare.

I cannot hear, for my ears have blocked out his appalling promises.

I cannot feel, for my body has long since shattered.

But, as I lie in the cool stillness of the night, waiting for my final peace, that comforting waft of burning bark and twigs and crispy leaves encases me.

It whispers to me that everything will be okay.

And I so desperately long to believe it.

Beep . . .

“. . . basilar skull fracture . . .”

Beep . . .

“. . . collapsed lung . . .”

Beep . . .

“. . . ruptured spleen . . .”

Beep . . .

“. . . frostbite . . .”

Beep . . .

Beep . . .

“Will she live?”

Beep . . .

“I honestly don’t know how she has survived this long.”

Beep . . .

“We need to keep this quiet for now.”

“Gabe, you just showed up on the doorstep of my hospital with a half-dead girl. How am I supposed to do that?”

“You just do. Call me if she wakes up. No one questions her but me. No one, Meredith.”

“Don’t try to talk yet,” someone—a woman—warns softly. I can’t see her. I can’t see anything; my lids open to mere slits, enough to admit a haze of light and a flurry of activity around me—gentle fingertips, low murmurs, papers rustling.

And then that rhythmic beep serenades me back into oblivion.

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 29 June 2019  Posted by  Tagged with: ,  No Responses »
Feb 072019
 

I am so excited about “Say you still love me”!!! Here you have some details.

  • Publication Date: August 6, 2019

Blurb:

The bestselling author of The Simple Wild and Keep Her Safe and “master of steamy romance” (Kirkus Reviews) delivers a sizzling novel about an ambitious and high-powered executive who reconnects with her first love: the boy who broke her heart. 

Life is a mixed bag for Piper Calloway.

On the one hand, she’s a twenty-nine-year-old VP at her dad’s multibillion-dollar real estate development firm, and living the high single life with her two best friends in a swanky downtown penthouse. On the other hand, she’s considered a pair of sexy legs in a male-dominated world and constantly has to prove her worth. Plus, she’s stuck seeing her narcissistic ex-fiancé—a fellow VP—on the other side of her glass office wall every day.

Things get exponentially more complicated for Piper when she runs into Kyle Miller—the handsome new security guard at Calloway Group, and coincidentally the first love of her life.

The guy she hasn’t seen or heard from since they were summer camp counselors together. The guy from the wrong side of the tracks. The guy who apparently doesn’t even remember her name.

Piper may be a high-powered businesswoman now, but she soon realizes that her schoolgirl crush is not only alive but stronger than ever, and crippling her concentration. What’s more, despite Kyle’s distant attitude, she’s convinced their reunion isn’t at all coincidental, and that his feelings for her still run deep. And she’s determined to make him admit to them, no matter the consequences.

Sweet K.A. Tucker has given us a real treat by releasing an excerpt of “Say you still love me”

Click here to read it.

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 7 February 2019  Posted by  Tagged with: , ,  No Responses »
Jan 102019
 

Burying Water (The Burying Water Series Book 1) by K.A. Tucker

The highly anticipated start of the “masterful” (New York Journal of Books) romantic suspense series from the beloved nationally bestselling author of Ten Tiny Breaths.

Left for dead in the fields of rural Oregon, a young woman defies all odds and survives—but she awakens with no idea who she is, or what happened to her. Refusing to answer to “Jane Doe” for another day, the woman renames herself “Water” for the tiny, hidden marking on her body—the only clue to her past. Taken in by old Ginny Fitzgerald, a crotchety but kind lady living on a nearby horse farm, Water slowly begins building a new life. But as she attempts to piece together the fleeting slivers of her memory, more questions emerge: Who is the next-door neighbor, quietly toiling under the hood of his Barracuda? Why won’t Ginny let him step foot on her property? And why does Water feel she recognizes him?

Twenty-four-year-old Jesse Welles doesn’t know how long it will be before Water gets her memory back. For her sake, Jesse hopes the answer is never. He knows that she’ll stay so much safer—and happier—that way. And that’s why, as hard as it is, he needs to keep his distance. Because getting too close could flood her with realities better left buried.

The trouble is, water always seems to find its way to the surface.

Burying Water (Burying Water #1) by K.A. Tucker

This is my second book that I read from Author K.A. Tucker, right after reading her gorgeous book “A simple wild”. I choose this novel because the title was very much intriguing and on Goodreads, she stated that:

Title: Burying Water
Author: K.A Tucker
Publication Date: October 7th 2014
Shelves: Contemporary; Romance; Sports
Format: Paperback, 354 pages
Rating: 7/10

Blurb:
Left for dead in the fields of rural Oregon, a young woman defies all odds and survives—but she awakens with no idea who she is, or what happened to her. Refusing to answer to “Jane Doe” for another day, the woman renames herself “Water” for the tiny, hidden marking on her body—the only clue to her past. Taken in by old Ginny Fitzgerald, a crotchety but kind lady living on a nearby horse farm, Water slowly begins building a new life. But as she attempts to piece together the fleeting slivers of her memory, more questions emerge: Who is the next-door neighbor, quietly toiling under the hood of his Barracuda? Why won’t Ginny let him step foot on her property? And why does Water feel she recognizes him?
Twenty-four-year-old Jesse Welles doesn’t know how long it will be before Water gets her memory back. For her sake, Jesse hopes the answer is never. He knows that she’ll stay so much safer—and happier—that way. And that’s why, as hard as it is, he needs to keep his distance. Because getting too close could flood her with realities better left buried.
The trouble is, water always seems to find its way to the surface.

Well, now I am a bit confused on my feelings regarding this reading. I enjoyed the Characters, I enjoyed the story, even if it wasn’t that great of a background story, but I assume everything comes back to how it was supposed to be. I always try to live the books I am reading, and try after that to get my own perspective of it, so that is why I am left a bit uncertain on how to proceed with this review.
Let’s start off with what I feel like it may bother some of you out there, that there is cheating on this book, but soon you start to understand that this 22 year old Alexandria Petrova, married to this Russian Mob guy is actually entitled to a pass. She is abused, beaten and mistreated by her husband, and also cheated on, repeatedly, right in front of her face and his friends / business partners. Things change when Jesse comes along, and soon they start to have feelings for each other.

A lot of things we don t know about Alex (Alexandria), because it’s written from Jesse’s POV, but soon we find out that she has a very bad accident and ends up with no memory.

Things get a bit confusing in the beginning, since there is a lot of now and then, but quickly you realize that the chapters “then” are contouring their story from before her accident.

I enjoyed their love, but the sad part is that I enjoyed more her relationship with the lady that ends up taking her in, offering her house to accommodate her. Maybe I was actually leading to read something more heart-breaking, but overall it was a good read even if it was a bit slow.

“He said the truth is like that water: it doesn’t matter how hard you try to bury it; it’ll always find some way back to the surface. It’s resilient.”


1 Burying Water

2 Becoming Rain

review soon

3 Chasing River

review soon

4 Surviving Ice

review soon

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Jan 092019
 

The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker

City girl Calla Fletcher attempts to reconnect with her estranged father, and unwittingly finds herself torn between her desire to return to the bustle of Toronto and a budding relationship with a rugged Alaskan pilot in this masterful new romance from acclaimed author K.A. Tucker.

Calla Fletcher was two when her mother took her and fled the Alaskan wild, unable to handle the isolation of the extreme, rural lifestyle, leaving behind Calla’s father, Wren Fletcher, in the process. Calla never looked back, and at twenty-six, a busy life in Toronto is all she knows. But when her father reaches out to inform her that his days are numbered, Calla knows that it’s time to make the long trip back to the remote frontier town where she was born.

She braves the roaming wildlife, the odd daylight hours, the exorbitant prices, and even the occasional—dear God—outhouse, all for the chance to connect with her father: a man who, despite his many faults, she can’t help but care for. While she struggles to adjust to this new subarctic environment, Jonah—the quiet, brooding, and proud Alaskan pilot who keeps her father’s charter plane company operational—can’t imagine calling anywhere else home. And he’s clearly waiting with one hand on the throttle to fly this city girl back to where she belongs, convinced that she’s too pampered to handle the wild.

Jonah is probably right, but Calla is determined to prove him wrong. As time passes, she unexpectedly finds herself forming a bond with the burly pilot. As his undercurrent of disapproval dwindles, it’s replaced by friendship—or perhaps something deeper? But Calla is not in Alaska to stay and Jonah will never leave. It would be foolish of her to kindle a romance, to take the same path her parents tried—and failed at—years ago.

It’s a simple truth that turns out to be not so simple after all.

The simple wild
Author: K. A. Tucker
Publication Date: August 7th 2018
Shelves: Standalone; Contemporary; Romance; Slow burn
Format: Kindle (400 pages)
Rating: 10/10

 

 

 

Wow, let me simple start by saying I don’t know others, but I don t usually cry reading books. I cry during movies, but never books. (I know, I m broken) BUT… this book almost spilled some tears.. I mean, it got to the point of falling so deep in love with all the characters that seriously, how can’t one cry, even broken as I am!!!
Book Info:

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ Calla Fletcher wasn’t even two when her mother took her and fled the Alaskan wild, unable to handle the isolation of the extreme, rural lifestyle, leaving behind Calla’s father, Wren Fletcher, in the process. Calla never looked back, and at twenty-six, a busy life in Toronto is all she knows. But when Calla learns that Wren’s days may be numbered, she knows that it’s time to make the long trip back to the remote frontier town where she was born.
She braves the roaming wildlife, the odd daylight hours, the exorbitant prices, and even the occasional—dear God—outhouse, all for the chance to connect with her father: a man who, despite his many faults, she can’t help but care for. While she struggles to adjust to this rugged environment, Jonah—the unkempt, obnoxious, and proud Alaskan pilot who helps keep her father’s charter plane company operational—can’t imagine calling anywhere else home. And he’s clearly waiting with one hand on the throttle to fly this city girl back to where she belongs, convinced that she’s too pampered to handle the wild.
Jonah is probably right, but Calla is determined to prove him wrong. Soon, she finds herself forming an unexpected bond with the burly pilot. As his undercurrent of disapproval dwindles, it’s replaced by friendship—or perhaps something deeper? But Calla is not in Alaska to stay and Jonah will never leave. It would be foolish of her to kindle a romance, to take the same path her parents tried—and failed at—years ago. It’s a simple truth that turns out to be not so simple after all.

“Helped me?” he repeats.
“Yes. Maybe now you have a shot at getting laid. As long as you don’t speak.”
The wicked smile he flashes makes my throat go dry. “Do you think I have problems in that department, Calla?”
― K.A. Tucker, The Simple Wild

The story follows Calla Fletcher and her journey to reunite with her dying father, who chose the land of the wild Alaska, and not follow her loving wife and 2 year old daughter leaving to start a life in Toronto. In the beginning it’s hard to not judge a little and put yourself in Calla’ shoes, but soon you get, man do you get it, how some things are beyond our own little world. It encourages us to give second chances to people who have done wrong in our life, that maybe it is best to listen to both part of the story to acknowledge the truth.

“What hold does Alaska have on them? What makes this place worth giving everything else up?”

The characters are very well written, complete and so so beautiful at heart. Don’t get me started on Jonah!!!! It gives me goosebumps every single time I think about them together. This is so sure one of the best slow burns that I have read in 2018, since Mariana Zapata introduced herself into my book life with her slow burns.
All in all I think I like everything in this book. This rarely happens when I don’t have at least something to wish for more to be detailed in the book. This made K.A. Tucker a go-to for me and I will read all her books next.
Wow, what a way to start reading a new author!

 

Conclusion? Now for sure I want to visit Alaska, even if the cold is a major no-no to me, but whatever… want me some “sky cowboy”
“I might take risks, but they’re always worth it.”
― K.A. Tucker, The Simple Wild



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 9 January 2019  Posted by  Tagged with: , , , , ,  No Responses »
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