Authors: Erin Ashley Tanner
Danger ignites a passion neither of them can refuse.
Ava Hill learned early in life that to survive, she has to be twice as smart, twice as ruthless as those who seek to undermine her. And as the widow of a mob boss with a daughter to raise, nothing is more important than protecting what’s hers.
Her determination to shield her child from the ugliness of her past takes a hit when a man claiming to be her late husband’s son barges through her front door.
Dominic Sambarino demands half of her daughter’s inheritance. Ava wastes no time showing him she’ll come out swinging with everything she has. But no amount of fight in the world can prepare her for the instant, smoldering chemistry between the two of them.
A friend’s invitation for a weekend getaway is a welcome chance to regroup, or so Ava thinks. But she soon finds herself caught in a circle of her dead husband’s secrets and lies that threaten to cost her everything. And her only safe haven is the one place she vowed she’d never go—Dominic’s arms.
Warning: Strong language, graphic sex scenes between a woman whose well-ordered life is turned upside down by the only man with arms strong enough to catch her when she falls.
Dirty Little Secrets
Erin Ashley Tanner
To the good Lord above for blessing me with this gift and allowing my dream of being a published author to come true. To my agent Nikki, who took a chance and believed in me. To Samhain and my editor Latoya for loving this book as much as I do. And to all the fellow writers I have met on my journey who have supported me and encouraged me along the way.
“The last time I checked, my name was on the door.”
Ava raised one well-manicured eyebrow at the short, red-haired man standing in front of her desk. He pushed his black, horn-rimmed glasses up on his nose. The file folder he clutched in his hands shook.
“Yes… Yes, Ms. Hill. I know.”
“Then what makes you think that just because you make a suggestion, I’m going to go along with it? Is it because I’m a woman?”
She stood up behind her desk and leaned forward, placing both of her hands on the glass. Ava could feel the old familiar knot of tension forming in her shoulders.
Ava, you’re not supposed to get riled up. Your therapist told you to tone it down a notch.
“No, ma’am. Absolutely not. I was just—”
“Pissing me off. That’s what you were doing.”
“No, Ms. Hill. I didn’t mean—”
“Bernard, just get out. And take the file with you.”
“Yes, Ms. Hill.”
Bernard nodded his head and backed away quickly. When the man turned around he nearly tripped over himself. Ava stood watching him until he closed her office door behind him.
“I swear to God…”
Ava took a deep breath. Her therapist had told her that deep breaths would do wonders to calm her nerves. She took three intense breaths. They didn’t help. She was still pissed off.
All the therapy in the world can’t prevent me from getting pissed off with people constantly trying to undermine me.
Ava pushed the plush blue leather chair away from her desk. She turned around and gazed out of the wall-to-wall glass windows behind her. In the dying light of the sun, her reflection gazed back at her. Chin-length honey-blonde bob. Large hazel eyes. Honey-colored skin. Dark red lips that matched an expertly tailored red two-piece skirt suit. She was well aware that she was a beautiful woman. But for a black woman, beauty was never enough. You had to be twice as beautiful. Twice as smart and twice as ruthless.
The Miami skyline always reminded her that she hadn’t gotten where she was without more hard work, more heartache and definitely more pain than the average person. The daughter of a compulsive gambler and an alcoholic mother, her life had been a true hell. Her only escape was the books she so desperately loved. At barely seventeen her life had changed. Her father’s gambling debts finally caught up with him and a debtor came calling.
“Ava, get the damn door and bring me a beer when you’re done.”
Ava sighed as she exited her bedroom and made her way through the living room. Her father, Roger, was sitting in front of the TV watching a basketball game. She was sure he’d wagered money on it. Roger betted on everything. As the insistent knocking on the door got louder and louder, Ava increased her steps. Sliding the chain from across the door, she unlocked the bottom lock and turned the knob. Before she had the door completely open, it flew back, nearly knocking her in the face.
“Where’s Roger Hill?” a tall, Italian man asked, stepping inside the doorway.
The man quickly covered her mouth and grabbed her by the arm. Ava felt sweat forming on her forehead as three more men entered the apartment. The last of the men was impeccably dressed and she recognized him instantly. Joseph Martelli. Loan shark and crime boss. What was he doing here?
“Damn it, Ava! What’s taking you so damn long?” Roger shouted.
The Italian men all looked at one another. Then one by one they entered the living room.
“Hold her, Rocco,” Joseph Martelli said.
“You got it, boss.”
He nodded and followed the other two men into the living room. Ava was nearly dragged by the man called Rocco. As she entered the living room, she felt the hairs on her neck rise. Her father had his back to them. He had no idea he was in any danger.
“That’s no way to talk to your daughter, Roger.”
Her father turned around in his seat. His eyes stretched and he rose slowly from his seat.
“Mr. Martelli, what a surprise.”
“I’m sure it is, Roger. Haven’t seen you hanging around in about, what three weeks?”
“I’ve been busy, sir.”
Joseph Martelli smiled. He clasped his hands together.
“Oh. Good. Then I suppose it means you have my money.”
Roger wiped his hands on his jeans. Ava could see her father’s Adam’s apple bob.
“I’m sorry. I don’t, sir.”
Ava’s eyes flicked to Joseph Martelli. He stood erect with his hands clasped in front of him. There was no hint of a smile on his face.
“I’m sorry to hear that, Roger. I give you a chance to do the right thing and you disappoint me. Now your daughter’s going to have to see what happens when a man doesn’t keep his word.”
“Mr. Martelli, please—”
“Vinny, Fred, let’s teach this piece of shit that no one crosses me.”
“It’ll be our pleasure, boss,” the shorter of the other two Italian men said.
“No. Please,” Roger begged.
His eyes fastened on the door and he made a move to run. He never made it. Fred and Vinny met him with fists blazing. Roger Hill fell to the ground beneath their onslaught. The sound of fists connecting with flesh made Ava sick to her stomach. She could only watch, frozen in place as they beat her father to a bloody pulp in the living room. Ava couldn’t scream. She was too afraid. Rocco held her tight by the arm.
Her mother, Cynthia, was passed out drunk in her parent’s bedroom. When one of the men stood up and pulled out a gun, Ava broke free from Rocco and threw herself across her father’s battered body.
“Please don’t kill him. Please.”
“He owes me a lot of money. A lot of money. That kind of disrespect can’t go unpunished.”
From her place on the floor, Ava looked up into the obsidian eyes of Joseph Martelli. If she weren’t so afraid she might’ve found him handsome. Slicked-back midnight-black hair. Olive skin. Dark suit. The man screamed money, power and menace.
“You’ve already punished him,” Ava’s voice squeaked.
“But I still don’t have my money.”
“Please, there must be something I can do. Please. He’s my father.”
The room was silent as the two men who had accompanied Joseph watched him to see what he would say. Ava tried to swallow down the nervousness in her throat. She was talking back to Joseph Martelli. She’d lived in Miami long enough to have heard whispers of his name. He was not a man to mess with. Why? Why of all the people in Miami to get mixed up with, did Daddy choose him? Joseph’s black eyes bored into her. She knew she had to look a mess. Her eyes were red from crying, her micro-braided hair standing wildly on her head.
“Hmm. She’s got more balls than her old man,” Joseph said to Fred, the short Italian who stood over her.
“That she does, boss.”
Ava stared up at the men, waiting. Beneath her, she could feel her father’s shallow breaths. A mewling whimper escaped from his throat.
“So girlie, what did you have in mind?” Joseph asked, finally addressing her again.
“I don’t know. I just want to help my father.”
“Girl, your piece of shit father owes me a hundred grand.”
“A hundred grand?”
“Yes. Now what do you possibly have to offer that could be worth one hundred grand?”
Ava could feel tears forming in her eyes. Her parents owned nothing that could even begin to put a dent in that debt. No family heirlooms. Nothing. Even the knife collection her father had once been so proud of was gone. It was pawned for money to support his gambling habit. They had nothing. She had nothing. No. Wait. Could she? No. She was out of her mind. The man would laugh in her face.
That one whispered word caused a glint in Joseph’s eye.
“You a virgin?”
Joseph looked at the smirking men around him, before his black eyes fastened on her.
“Then perhaps we can make some kind of arrangement.”
Ava swallowed and turned away from the window, desperate to put the memory behind her. Joseph was gone just a little over six months. So were both her parents for much longer. She was supposed to be free, but some days, nothing could keep her free from the memories. Life had a way of reminding you that no matter how far you thought you’d come, recollections never truly died. Sitting back down at her large glass desk she leaned against the back of her chair. She was tired. So tired.
It didn’t seem to matter that she was a beautiful, independently wealthy, successful media consultant. It didn’t matter that she’d busted her butt to graduate with a bachelor’s in public relations and a master’s in marketing. It seemed to matter even less that every client she’d ever taken on had gone on to increase their profits by at least fifteen percent.
No, none of that mattered because at the end of the day there were still some who thought that she wasn’t as competent as her male counterparts and could be manipulated. That was not the case. She’d put up with Bernard McKlowsky and his bumbling manner for the last time. Ava pushed the intercom button.
“Yes, Ms. Hill?”
“Call Bernard. Tell him he’s fired and that my accountant will be mailing him his last check.”
“Yes, Miss Hill.”
Ava sat back in her chair with a smile on her face.
Bye bye, Bernard. Go scam money from someone else. You’re not wasting mine.
Bernard had been recommended to her by Gina Marron, a fellow businesswoman and the closest thing she had to a friend. According to Gina, Bernard McKlowsky was the person to go to about investment advice, despite his somewhat nervous manner. Ava would be having a talk with Gina. Since attaining Bernard’s services a month ago, the man had come to her with suggestions for investments that were in doomed markets. He must’ve thought she was some kind of fool.
When it came to her money, Ava researched everything. She hadn’t gotten where she was without being cautious. And despite Bernard’s recommendations she was sticking with her gut and not investing in Jefferson Department Stores. She wasn’t sorry that she’d just tossed Bernard out on his ass. No one tried to play her and got away with it. On days like this, sometimes she wished she had Joseph’s connections to fall back on.
No you don’t. You’re just upset. There will always be someone trying to tear you down.
As much as Ava hated it, her inner voice was right. Some hurdles you could never fully get over, but she was determined to do her damnedest. Nothing and no one, especially a bungling investment consultant, was going to get in the way of her plans. She glanced down at the silver -and diamond-studded Cartier watch on her wrist. It was almost five. Time for her last meeting of the day. She pressed the intercom again.
“Karen. It’s almost time for my meeting. Has Mr. Toriyama called in yet?”
“Yes. He’s waiting for you now, ma’am,” Karen replied.
“Good. Put him through.”
Ava swiped the screen of the iPad lying on her desk. It was time to do business.