Authors: Jennifer Kacey
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense, #Bodyguard;Erotic;Brother’s Best Friend;Soulmates;New York;Fashion Designer;Virgin Heroine;Suspense;Stalker;red hot
Without trust, their hearts—and their lives—don’t stand a chance in hell.
Surrender, Book 1
Ten years ago, Angela Meyers told everyone she went to New York to find herself. It was a lie. She fled from the aftermath of one hot night with Clay Waters. A night filled with wet heat, all-consuming releases…then his regret.
Now, with a stalker threatening to destroy her career, there’s only one man she trusts to protect her. The man she still loves, hates,
with every breath she takes.
It’s not that Clay never craved his best friend’s younger sister. With a ticket to boot camp burning a hole in his pocket, he couldn’t allow himself to love her. The moment he lays eyes on her again, the old need—to take down her tightly wound hair, press her long, lean body to his—surges inside him stronger than ever.
But this is no ordinary bodyguard assignment. The best way to identify the voice in Angela’s shadow is to lure it into the light of day. Even if it means convincing her to trust him with her heart…and surrendering his own.
Warning: When an ex-Marine reunites with his best friend’s younger sister, explosive sex is a given. So are explosive secrets. You may never look at a pair of Snoopy pajama pants the same way again.
To Clay—Without you, this story would have been lost forever. I thank you. For the inspiration…
To Latoya—HUGS for loving this story as much as I did and knowing just what it needed to be over-the-moon fantastic!
To Natalie—The cover…holy…wow…
To my Mama—For never giving up on Clay and Angela’s story being shared with the world. And for one you can finally read. Yay!!!
I thought I was safe. I was only walking down the block to get some breakfast.
For months, nothing had happened.
But the moment I walked out of the studio I knew something was wrong. Someone was there, waiting in the shadows to hurt me.
I should have listened to my gut. To the hairs on the back of my neck that told me to turn around and run.
Wanting my safety to be real overrode what I knew was happening. Checking over my shoulder as I passed a building confirmed what I already knew to be true.
He was back and he had found me…
The person who’d been hunting me, and had disappeared with no explanation, stalked closer.
I broke into a run, trying to scream, but my vocal cords were paralyzed by fear. The few people already out so early in the morning must have seen me running. I could have been out for a morning jog. I could have been late for work, or trying to catch a train.
But I wasn’t.
I was running for my life.
Half a block shattered the cocoon of peace I’d found since the stalker had vanished. I made it less than five-hundred feet before my luck ran out. He whirled me around and my arms came up to protect my face. A knife slashed across my arm, and I finally screamed. My heart fluttered in my chest like a hummingbird’s wings. Fast and faint.
I stumbled backwards to avoid another slash of the blade. My palms scraped across the concrete as I braced my fall but I was too close to a parked car. My skull cracked against it and my body went limp.
Fighting the blood spilling from my wrist, a ragged breath echoed in my head. That’s when I heard it. Someone laughing.
My eyelids shot up with the last of my strength and I saw Clay’s beautiful face poised above me. I knew he wasn’t really there. I knew it was nothing more than my brain coughing up something to ease my pain, my fear. And for that I was immensely thankful.
His mouth moved frantically. Opening and closing with words I could no longer hear past the ringing in my ears. The high-pitched cackle of the man walking closer is all I heard. The same one I’d heard for months, but it no longer taunted me from behind its electronic shroud.
I knew that voice but…it couldn’t be! Oh God help me, I had to warn them. I had to—
My heart thudded hard, one last time, before the terrifying blackness slowly obscured Clay’s tear-stained face.
“No,” I tried to scream as the frigid cold dragged me under. The face that belonged only in my nightmares followed me into unconsciousness.
Angela jolted awake, her pupils adjusting to the darkness.
The gash on her wrist burned with the death grip she had on the sheets. A scream clawed its way past her throat, which she was no longer able to stifle. The ear-piercing cry ripped through the air, belatedly smothered by a pillow she’d been clutching in her sleep.
Terrified, forced to breathe, the utter despair of her ragged breath filled her chest. To scream again or cry out she didn’t know, but it jolted her out of her dream enough to realize she was safe. At least for the moment. Slowly, she dropped the pillow next to her on the bed, focusing her breathing to slow her racing heart.
She lay in bed alone, which was normal, but she shook with fear. Afraid of who was after her, yet she couldn’t escape them, not even in her sleep.
Almost a week had passed since the latest attack. For months, whoever was after her had left her alone. Months of no creepy mail or someone following her had lulled her into a false sense of security.
Of taking her life back.
But the last week showed her that was wrong. She wasn’t safe.
Her cheeks were wet as if she’d been crying, so she angrily swiped them with the back of her hand before rolling over to look at the clock.
“Damn,” she cursed, flopping back on the bed, trying to shake off the lingering fear with a quick shallow breath.
Maybe she needed to take her brother’s advice. Find a security company to protect her. But…
She flipped on the side lamp, kicking frantically at the covers tangled around her legs and sat up.
Hiring someone to protect her at events was one thing. She could handle that. Probably. But he wanted someone with her all the time. In her house.
Her safe place.
Looking around her bedroom, she tried to clear her head.
Everything was exactly as it had been for the past five years.
She had stayed in Texas long enough to see her best friend get married, and she hadn’t been back since. But only she knew the real reason why she fled just days after the wedding, ten years ago. Once gone, she graduated from NYU with full honors and created her own fashion label soon after. With her own blood, sweat and tears she’d made a real name for herself and her brand, ANG.
Her claim of wanting to immerse herself in her new home was true to some extent, but no one knew what she ran from. Her brother Mark had his suspicions that something had gone terribly wrong, but he never came right out and asked.
He’d become a talented architect with a beautiful wife and children. They lived a few blocks away from their parents. Whenever they had time, she flew them all to New York. She claimed it was because her schedule was so hectic and she loved the city too much to leave, but the city had become her self-imposed prison.
Facing what she walked away from,
she walked away from, was a desperate clawing ache inside her. More unshed tears stung her throat as she forced herself to stand, to walk away from the bed that had been empty for all but one night. Only one man had been different. One man who still held her heart and soul.
Staring at her bedroom walls, she let a deep breath fill her lungs and exhaled his name on a sigh. “Clay.”
Four Letters, that was all it was. Just a four-letter word. She normally strung several four-letter words together when she thought of him. Ever since the last attack when thinking of Clay had helped calm her, she’d been lost in wanting him. So she’d tried even harder to think of anything but him.
God, why was tonight different? Why was the ache on the verge of consuming her? She glanced back at the clock again.
It reminded her of nights back in Texas. When she would wake up and find him there, hurting because his parents didn’t know how to love him or each other. He always sought refuge at her house when he couldn’t handle their fighting any longer. He was her brother’s best friend and her parents treated him like one of their own. She only woke in the middle of the night when he needed someone. When he needed her and didn’t know how to ask her for it.
She looked around her bedroom again, trying to shake the feeling that somewhere close, he needed her.
Her room was decorated with fabrics from every walk of life. Exquisite lighting hung everywhere to illuminate artwork many of her friends and colleagues worshipped. Most of the pieces were purchased through the Chelsea Art Galleries. Black-and-white images by Carlo Bevilacquia and mosaic groupings from Simon Evans were her most recent additions.
Amber Augustin would always be her favorite though.
A large ornate frame hung over her mantel in the living room and the image portrayed never failed to move her close to laughter and tears. Amber had a gift and Angela was forever grateful for having the good fortune to have met her after coming to New York so long ago.
Wearing only a thin, white tank top and lacy, black panties, she wrapped her arms around her stomach and walked to the glass wall of windows, perched high above the street three stories below. The city was already alive with activity and she finally took an easier breath. Calm flowed through her but the past continued to fill her mind, which was always dangerous.
She touched her forehead to the chilly glass and wondered how dark it might be at the park several blocks away. She wondered if anyone was sitting at her thinking spot.
The view from the windows in her living room allowed a glimpse of the Empire State Building, and a few short blocks farther was Lincoln Center, next to the New York Public Library. Where her dreams had become a reality.
Her dreams…someone had been chasing her in her dreams. A faceless person. Was it a man or a woman she tried to remember? She had been terrified that whoever it might be was going to catch her and she knew she would die if they did. But now, she couldn’t remember anything else about it. Nothing but the voice. The same electronic voice that had been terrorizing her for the past year.
Copies of the threats sat in a file in her guest closet. The police had all of the originals sitting in a storage bin somewhere. Undoubtedly, with a nondescript serial number printed out and stuck to the tab at the top. The folder stacked with hundreds of others that looked the same. It said nothing of her rage at being stalked, or her mind-numbing fear. Sleepless nights on top of sunken eyes. Nights like this made the closet feel like a black hole. Sucking her closer to its gaping maw, ready to suffocate her for good this time if she got too close.
TNT was how each of the threats were signed.
’Til Next Time.
At first it started out with letters of appreciation. A bit on the creepy side of admiration but innocent enough, she’d once thought. Next came the pictures, arriving by the dozens, always in unremarkable envelopes, addressed to her in a nothing-special white label. No saliva. No fingerprints. They couldn’t be traced no matter how hard she’d prayed. Images of her around town. Smiling, laughing. She had done her best not to show the outside world that she crumbled a little more inside with each new private intrusion.
Then there were the two muggings. Unrelated, she tried to tell herself after the second one. Random acts of some low-life flunkies who had wanted to steal her purse. The first one had a knife, slashing her arm when she wasn’t quick enough with her bag. That was the first night she’d heard his voice, electronically altered like they do in horror movies.
Her fingertips traced the slightly raised scar on her arm.
, he had yelled as he took off with her things. It took seventeen stitches to fix her arm that night, but no amount of new locks or credit cards could repair the dread slowly eating away at her insides.
The second mugging…damn, she didn’t need to think about that right now.
Her temples ached and she rubbed them lightly, willing the stalker to stay buried along with her past.
Sometimes, locked deep inside, there lived an uncertain young girl in the body of a full-grown twenty-eight-year-old woman. Her hips flared just enough to be considered shapely, and her breasts were as perky as they always had been. Her legs were long and tanned along with the rest of her body, and her hair was the same chestnut color she was born with. Now it trailed down her back to her waist. She’d accomplished what she set out to when she left home. She was no knockout, but she wasn’t a two-bagger either. No matter her level of success, desperate loneliness plagued her.
She had come so far in such a short amount of time. Taken the fashion industry by storm, or so the gossip mags were saying. She still found it hard to believe that she had paparazzi following her most days, her face often staring back at her from the magazine rack at the grocery store.
She remained extremely tight-lipped about her past and her personal life…well, lack thereof. The people that worked for her regarded her with the same admiration and loyalty she bestowed upon them.
A devastating loss made her smile falter. She absentmindedly rubbed her fingers across the scar on her abdomen. For just a moment, Angela closed her eyes, and gave in to regret.
Thirteen Years Prior
“What are you doing out here?” Angela asked the boy, almost a man, who was sitting outside on her parents’ porch swing in the middle of the night.
“Does it matter?” Clay grumbled, not even bothering to turn around to look at her.
It was dark and chilly outside, making her glad she had grabbed a blanket to wrap around herself when she came downstairs, knowing full well what had awakened her.
She was attuned to him like he was a part of her, but he was her brother’s best friend, sort of an adopted son of her parents. Three short years separated them in age, and no one could hold a candle to the perfection of him in her eyes.
She always knew when he was upset, when he needed someone to be with him. Angela was two years younger than Mark, her protective big brother. Clay protected her as well, though she never thought she needed it from either of them.
A chill crawled up her spine as soon as she stepped outside. It slithered along her limbs, making them tingle, as if it were going to stay a while. Blaming it on the thin socks she wore, instead of the glare coming from the darkness in front of her, seemed wise.
“Go back to bed, Angela,” Clay growled as he twisted back around to stare off the porch again.
Ignoring his bad mood as best she could, she wrapped the blanket tightly around herself and sat down next to him on the porch swing.
He moved as far away from her as he could. “Go back to bed. I’m not in the mood for company.”
“I gathered that from all the glaring and not so subtle growling in my direction,” she mumbled back, not able to muster enough courage to hazard a glance over at his strong jaw and dark unruly hair.
A scowl at her attempt at humor marred his handsome face when he looked at her face in the moonlight. His voice was low and angry. “Then why don’t you take the hint and fucking leave me alone?”
She recoiled from his brazen anger as he turned back around.
Mark had already told her that no guy was ever going to be good enough for her. Any time a guy sniffed around her at school, Mark materialized out of thin air, glaring at them until they scampered away. She felt Mark’s presence behind her even though she knew he wasn’t there. She should just be a good girl and leave Clay alone like he’d asked, but rules be damned, she didn’t want to be anywhere but next to him.
She stared at him just a few feet away, though it seemed like miles. She wanted to reach out to comfort him, but knew better than to attempt that.
She’d made her feelings known several times over the past years. He always patted her on the head and snidely told her she was cute.
Thinking of that made heat rise in her cheeks and it gave her temper a large enough boost to continue. “I woke up because you were here. You’re hurting, so why don’t you just tell me what happened.”
Clay slumped lower on the swing, visibly hating the fact that she always knew when he needed her. Normally she wouldn’t ask what was going on. She would just come out, sit with him and chat until he calmed down enough to go inside and fall asleep on her parents’ sofa bed.
His scowl darkened before he barked back, “You’re only a kid, you wouldn’t understand.”
Tears instantly stung Angela’s eyes. She blinked furiously to make them disappear before her breathing could catch in her throat. Being treated like a child made her want to scream in frustration. She wanted Clay to see who she was becoming, but he still treated her like Mark’s little sister in pigtails when she was eight.
Angela willed her voice to remain steady as she whispered, “I’ll be grown up in your eyes one day…will you tell me then?”
Clay faced her, his anger fizzling as he stared at her. “So innocent,” he whispered.
She glanced away, staring up at the moon as the first tear rolled down her cheek. He hadn’t meant to make her cry. She knew that. He wasn’t normally so cruel, but for once she wanted the rest of the world to fade away so he would just talk to her.
He reached over and wiped the tear from her cheek. Angela froze as warmth flooded her face at his touch. The darkness of the starry sky camouflaged her blush, but nothing could stop the intense desire to lean into the heat of his hand.
“My parents are getting a divorce,” he said barely above a whisper, then put his hand back down between them on the swing as he averted his gaze from hers once more.
Angela whipped around to stare at him as he hung his head in sorrow.
Without thinking, she pulled her hand from under her blanket and wrapped it around his chilly fingers beside her.
“Oh, Clay, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” she repeated again a few seconds later, not knowing what else to say.
Clay intertwined his fingers in hers, letting her share her warmth for once.
“I know they aren’t good together, I know they fight all the time,” he admitted. “I know my dad knocked up my mom and that’s why they got married, but I still didn’t think they’d split up. I always thought we’d go right along being our own little dysfunctional family. Somehow I was still shocked when they told me.”