Authors: Cari Quinn,Taryn Elliott
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This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
, Vol. 4
© 2016 Cari Quinn & Taryn Elliott
Cover by LateNite Designs
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First Rainbow Rage Publishing e-book edition: January 2016
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that enjoys a good mystery.
or our moms
. Thank you never seems to be enough.
’d just shot a man
, with a gun that wasn’t even mine.
This gun belonged to a dead woman.
Blood stained my hands, literally, as I bent to retrieve the flash of gold dropped by the fleeing man I’d shot. Precious seconds ticked away, ones I shouldn’t be wasting on trinkets. But the intruder was already halfway across the deck and blending into the darkness beyond the swath of light from the motion sensors, the sharp shouts between him and his partner melding into a single blast of sound. Then, nothing.
Nothing but me crouched in the doorway of the home I now owned, another man’s blood staining my fingers as I stared at my best friend’s cuff link.
The heavy H for Hollister in a circle was hard to forget, especially since I had a cuff link like this in a glass bowl at my own residence. One Jack had lost some time or another and I’d yet to return. Now this particular emblem would be seared into my brain for eternity.
“Blake. Oh my God, Blake.”
Grace’s voice snapped me out of my stupor. I shoved the gun in my waistband, then jerked to my feet and tucked the cuff link—fuck, the
—in my pocket before reaching out to grip her with my bloody fingers. I cursed and swiped them on my trousers, then reached for her again, drawing her against me as I turned toward the French doors. As one, we moved toward them, and I kicked open the still cracked door to step out on the deck. Already I could hear the sirens in the distance.
“You called them?” I asked her, pleased that my voice gave nothing away. Not even a hint of a quaver.
This was my first shooting, after all. First time I’d pulled the trigger at anything other than a target, first time I’d ever had another man’s blood on my hands.
Definitely the first time I’d had to grab hold of the woman I’d just made love to, in order to keep her from sprinting after the burglars who’d just attempted to rob the home we both loved.
“Who the fuck were they? What did they want?”
“Calm down? Calm down?” She whirled on me and jabbed a finger into my chest. “You were shooting at people. They broke in.” She gasped and grabbed my hand. “You’re bleeding.”
“Not my blood.” Was that truly me, sounding so dispassionate as I recounted another man’s injury? One I’d shot?
One who’d broken into Grace’s home—
home, goddammit—and had been so close to her when she’d been in a vulnerable state. Naked and soft from sleep…and me. Her eyes dreamy and her cheeks flushed and her warm curves pressed to mine in the narrow confines of that pile of bricks she lovingly called a bed.
And that bastard had been rifling through her home, looking for who knows what. Bastards, plural. I’d only gotten the briefest glimpse of the other man as he disappeared into the darkness, moving a hair faster than the accomplice I’d shot. How badly I didn’t know. He’d trailed blood, but he’d been moving awfully fucking quickly.
I still probably could have caught him. If only I hadn’t been distracted by the gleam of gold, and that quiet ping that had seemed louder than the shot I’d fired.
Jack’s cuff link shouldn’t be on this property. He had no reason to have ever been there. I’d told him briefly about my new acquisition, but I wasn’t sure I’d even shared the exact address with him. He was as familiar with Marblehead as I was. We’d lived in the area for a while, though we hadn’t met until we’d become acquaintances in business circles some years ago. He’d come to work for me at Carson Covenant Inc., the glass empire I’d built, not long after we met. Friendship had taken longer, but he was truly one of the only people I trusted.
I hated that my trust was wavering now.
“Oh, well then, no worries. It wasn’t your blood, so it’s fine you’re covered in it. Fine that someone—someone…” She stared off into the night and cupped her elbows, warding off a shiver. “This wasn’t the first time they’ve been here,” she said, almost to herself.
I didn’t shiver, but my blood definitely chilled. “Tell me what’s been happening.”
As if she’d just realized I was standing beside her, she cut me a glance and just as swiftly looked away. “I didn’t say anything had been happening.”
“Tell me, before the cops arrive,” I added, forcing my tone to gentle. I couldn’t drag things out of her with brute force. That didn’t work with Grace. God knows I’d tried to verbally strong-arm her more than a few times. As my assistant, she—
Former assistant, I reminded myself. I’d fired her.
And yet I’d gone back to her in a matter of days. She was like a siren, luring me to wreck on the rocks below. Standing here with the rocky beach only a few steps down the side set of stairs that led from the deck made the analogy particularly applicable.
“It’s probably nothing.” Her haste to emphasize that told me it was likely very much something, and my gut churned with the knowledge she’d likely faced danger before. Worse, she’d faced it when I wasn’t there to protect her. Not that she was incapable of taking care of herself—in fact, Grace was one of the most resourceful people I knew, male or female—but it felt like a task that was meant for me. When we were together, I was the one who was supposed to shield her. It was my job. She’d already been on her own far too long. Had faced too much without someone to support her.
Christ, Carson, did firing that shot knock something loose from your head? She’s not for you. This—whatever the fuck it is between you—isn’t about romance and flowers. Chemistry isn’t the same as a lifetime commitment.
“Whatever it is, tell me and we’ll figure it out together.” As difficult as it was to keep my tone even, it was worth it to see the relief filter into her expression. She didn’t need to deal with me running off at the mouth half-cocked. Or hell, fully cocked, because I was so angry that I couldn’t be sure what might come out of my mouth next.
Like asking my best friend for an alibi for tonight. An alibi, for fuck’s sake. As if he were a common criminal.
As if I hadn’t grown up as one myself.
Sins of the father always came home to roost. I didn’t know if they had yet in my brothers, Sebastian and Donovan, but I had a feeling that they were for me. Hell if I knew exactly why or how yet, but somehow I was almost certain this break-in had way more to do with me than Grace. That didn’t mean I wouldn’t gladly kill them for daring to intrude on her home. Even if it was technically now mine.
The sirens neared and I closed my fingers around her wrist, tugging her that much closer. “What’s happened?”
“Little things. Stuff not where it should be. The occasional missing item. And then last week, the day you were running on the beach—” She stopped, flushed. “I saw the glass on the built-in bookcase in the living room had been pried away. Some of the pieces of art I’d given Gram were broken on the floor. I figured it was an accident.” She lowered her gaze to where I held on tight. “It wasn’t an accident.”
“It might’ve been,” I said, ignoring my gut instinct in favor of wanting to make that darkness lurking in her gaze vanish. I didn’t want to lie to her though. Not about this, when I’d already lied and deflected about so much. “But probably not.”
She nodded and stepped back as red and blue light washed over the driveway as the police cars screamed into the drive. Marblehead PD wasn’t huge, and I was willing to bet this was one of the biggest—if not the biggest—call all year in town. Murders and robberies and most major crimes didn’t happen there.
Except they had. And more and more, it was looking like they hadn’t just begun either.
I tucked Grace behind me as one of the cops approached the back porch, hand on the butt of her weapon. Grace promptly delivered a kidney punch that would’ve laid a MMA fighter low and slid in front of me while I searched for oxygen.
“Officer,” she said smoothly. “Thank you for coming so fast.”
“Are you the homeowner?”
When Grace nodded, I cupped her shoulder. “I am.”
She stiffened and moved to the side, turning her face away from me as the officer began to question me about what had occurred. I ran through the sequence of events without editorializing, more concerned about how Grace was taking things than in the notes the cop was taking on her little pad. I didn’t expect the police to find the culprits. Where I’d grown up, that wasn’t how things were done. The only justice was street justice. I might wear the veneer of a respectable man, but beneath, I’d been formed from gutter filth. There was no way in hell I’d sit back and wait for others to handle this situation for me. That wasn’t how I was built.
But I still smiled politely and played the game.
A second cop joined the first, after having apparently done a sweep of the premises. Odd they hadn’t done that together, though I think they were certain the threat had gone. Who could blame them? The second cop was the one who commented on the blood spatter near the door and on my knuckles. That seemed to take cop number one aback. She’d most likely tucked this event firmly into a manageable category, like most other Marblehead crimes. Blood made it different.
For me, as well.
Annabelle’s gun was taken from me to be brought in for testing, in case they caught the perps and were able to compare the man’s wound to the weapon I’d fired. There was talk of DNA testing and possibly working with a sketch artist from nearby Boston. Being insanely rich had its perks, and one of them was that they’d move heaven and earth to catch the dirty criminals who’d done this.
“Likely kids,” cop number two mused.
Nodding, I fingered the cuff link in my pocket. And didn’t say a goddamn word about it.
“You know how it is, Mr. Carson. You get these punk kids in the city who hear about all the respectable folks here in Marblehead, and they think they can make some easy money fencing whatever they can get their hands on. Especially with all the summer homes in the area. This time of year, there’s fewer neighbors around to report crime, especially on the waterfront. And this particular location recently changed hands—”
“Because my grandmother died. It wasn’t voluntary. We never would have sold this property. Do you know how long it’s been in my family?” Grace held up a hand before either of the cops could answer. “Never mind. I’m sorry. I’m just emotional right now.”
“Understandable.” Cop number two said, handing her his handkerchief in advance of her tears, I supposed. Except Grace wasn’t crying. She set her jaw and refused the offering with a sharp shake of her head.
Inwardly, I smiled for the first time in hours. That was my Grace. She wouldn’t accept anyone’s pity. Why would she? She was stronger than the supports that held up this house.
“There’s one part of the story you left out. You said you were…indisposed shortly before you heard the first noises that indicated a possible break-in.” Cop number one tilted her head, her gaze cool. “Indisposed in what way, sir?”
was a title I now associated with Grace. Hearing it out of another woman’s mouth in such a patronizing way made me want to snarl. Somehow I kept hold of the impulse as I considered how to word my reply.
“Farrah—” Cop number two said with a wince, playing his good cop part to the hilt. “I don’t think that’s necessary in this case. Mr. Carson has done so much for this community. Why, he’s practically a pillar.”
A pillar who’d just fucked his assistant. Ex-assistant, but the work relationship stigma would remain for some.
“We were intimate and fell asleep,” Grace said without faltering. “I can’t give you times of release or anything like that, as we didn’t know we’d need to note them for later court documents. But I’m guessing we fell asleep around two-thirty or three.”
My eyebrow lifted. So I guess Grace didn’t need my tact in this case.
“Well then, that’s enough.” Cop one flipped shut her notebook and tucked it in her pocket. “I feel pretty certain that this is just a case of kids thinking they can do a grab-and-run and didn’t expect to encounter the home owner. The fact that you shot one of them lifts it into another realm, and we’ll do a scan of local hospitals to see if anyone comes in tonight matching the profile.” She glanced at her silent partner. “We’ll also be in touch about that sketch.”
“And about any DNA matches,” I added.
She nodded after a moment, and I knew I’d not be told that information until—and if—an arrest was imminent. But there were always ways of finding out information, if you knew which weak spot to press. And how hard.
“So sorry about the disturbance this evening, Mr. Carson.” Cop number two shot a sidelong glance at Grace as the four of us walked toward their car. There was speculation in that look, and a barely contained smirk on his lips. “You too, Ms. Copeland.”
For reasons I couldn’t define, I slid my arm around Grace’s waist and tugged her into my side. She stumbled and it was only then that I realized she had giant fuzzy bunny slippers on her feet to go with her clingy pants and sweatshirt. Home clothes, though she had no home.
Because you stole hers right out from under her, even if you didn’t know it.
“Thank you,” she said to the cops when I didn’t respond. They pulled away a moment later, and we watched them go in shared silence. It wasn’t awkward. It was…full. As if we simply had so much to say that there was no easy way to start. So we said nothing at all.
Or maybe that was just me.
There was one point I wanted to make clear. One thing I wouldn’t budge on, no matter how much trouble she gave me. I might not have known Grace in this way for all that long, but I knew she would bristle at any attempts I made to shield her. Her pride was an important consideration, just not at the possible expense of her safety.
“You’re not staying here tonight.”
“I have to clean up. There’s broken glass inside…and the blood.” She pressed her lips together. “I know it’s not my place. I know, okay? I also know you could have me arrested for trespassing if you wanted to.”
Anger spurted up inside me, hot and choking. Not just due to her deception in living at the house. Not even most of it. The bulk of my rage belonged to the assholes who’d dared to break in while we were together. We had so few of those moments. In truth, we’d had none in an actual bed since this had begun. And they’d intruded not only on the intimacy of that, but they’d damaged her home.
home. They’d put at risk something—someone—far more valuable than glass and brick and shingles, and I still didn’t know what to do with my fury. I needed an outlet.