The Halo Effect (Cupid Chronicles)

Table of Contents

THE HALO EFFECT

SHAUNA ALLEN

SOUL MATE PUBLISHING

New York

Praise for
 
Inked by an Angel

“Tattoos, cupids, and bad boys: Shauna Allen delivers one heck of a read.  Fresh, sassy, and witty—she brings a new voice to romance that readers are gonna love!”


New York Times Bestselling Author, Christie Craig

“A charming romance from start to finish. Shauna Allen's fresh, new voice makes
 
Inked by an Angel
 
a must read.”


Author of
The Trouble with Cowboys
and
Seduction Under Fire
from Harlequin Romantic Suspense, Melissa Cutler

“An impressive start to a sassy new series.  When Shauna Allen writes, “The Angel made me do it,” how could you not read more?  This delightful, witty, unpredictable romance is downright heavenly.”


2012 Golden Heart Finalist and author of
Powerless Consent
, Janet Nash

THE HALO EFFECT

Copyright©2013

SHAUNA ALLEN

Cover Design by Rae Monet, Inc.

This book is a work of fiction.  The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved.  No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the priority written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher.  The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law.  Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials.

Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

Published in the United States of America by

Soul Mate Publishing

P.O. Box 24

Macedon, New York, 14502

ISBN-13: 978-1-61935-
232-2

www.SoulMatePublishing.com

The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.

For Mom.

You’ve laughed with me, cried with me,

and loved me unconditionally.

The only thing I’ve got up on you

is that I can say

I’ve loved you longer—my whole life.

Thank you for believing in my happing endings.

Acknowledgements

I’m so excited I get to do this again! Thank you so much to everyone who’s loved, supported, and believed in me through another baby. I mean book! I can hardly believe my angels are a reality.

Thank you, Lord, for letting this dream live and breathe in me. What a blessing.

Again, much love to my wonderful husband for his continual love and support as I wile away the hours on my writing and editing. And writing and editing. And writing and . . . you get the picture.

And my super-duper, beautiful children, whom I adore. They are awesome! And not to be unfair, but a tiny extra shout out to my son, Jacob. Because without his input, influence, and general awesomeness, the character Tristan wouldn’t have been born. So after reading this book, all of you will have just a tiny taste of my precious boy.

As usual, I must give tons of respect to my critique partners and best friends. Without you my books wouldn’t be what they are and I would be a much sadder person. You all fill my tank in so many ways—thank you! Jaye and Stella, thank you for your support. Jan Nash, thank you for your critiques, love, and prayers. Love you, girl!

But my biggest thank you’s and love have to go to my goddesses—Jenn Uthoff and Susan Muller. I can honestly say without these two ladies, this book and my heart would not be what it is today. I adore you both so much more than I can say in one measly page. Mwuah!

And, lastly, I am at a moment in my life where I am reflecting on not only my blessings, but what it took to get me here. And I know I haven’t gotten here alone. So much of what I am today I owe to the people who brought me into this world and raised me. So, I want to close these acknowledgements with a note of gratitude to my mother and father that is so much more than mere words can express. Thank you for all you’ve done, for all your love, your support, your unwavering belief in me and my dreams. You are wonderful parents, and I hope I make you proud and carry your legacy well. I love you more than I can say. Always.

S~

Prologue

Braelyn let the phone fall from her numb fingers.

Her mind raced. What should she do first?

Her friend Susan had called from the hospital to warn her that Julian had stormed out after being reprimanded by the peer review council and having his medical license officially revoked on narcotics charges. Braelyn had sputtered in disbelief, never aware that Julian had a drug problem, being blissfully cocooned in her new life, finally having some semblance of normalcy for her and her son.

Yes, Julian had been increasingly moody and difficult to live with lately, but she’d never suspected drugs. Well, now she knew the truth.

And she’d been waiting for a proposal. So stupid.

She scrambled for her purse, hoping to grab her son on his way home from the pool so they could both avoid Julian and his bad temper.

Behind her, the front door softly clicked shut. Her heart slammed into her throat.

Too late.

His rage filled the room like a monstrous hurricane hovering just offshore, its angry gray clouds letting her know it was there but not unleashing his full fury. Not yet.

Her gaze skittered to the open window, and she found herself surprised that the Indiana summer sunshine could smile through her red gingham curtains past his seething anger. In the kitchen, the rooster clock crowed the six o’clock hour as her pot roast and potatoes, left in the crock-pot that morning, scented the air. Sweat beaded on her upper lip as she thought about Tristan walking through that same door at any minute.

She faced Julian as he stalked her like a predatory jungle cat. Ice clawed at her stomach when she saw the hateful glare on his face. “What’s wrong? What-what happened?” she asked, hoping he couldn’t sense that she already knew he’d been fired.

His nearly black eyes sizzled. “Why don’t you tell me?
Braelyn.

He was within a step of pinning her to the wall. His overpriced designer cologne suffocated her and she longed to take a breath, but he filled the air around her with his scent, his fury. She peered up into his face and the cool mask that was covering the brewing storm finally slid off. His features contorted as he crowded her into the corner next to her grandmother’s antique hutch.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, baby,” she whispered, hoping the strained endearment would calm him. She swallowed nervously and searched for a means of escape.

His eyes tracked hers. His arm snapped out, blocking her only means of retreat into the kitchen. He used his other hand to pinch her chin painfully and force her to meet his eyes. Eyes she no longer recognized. “So, you know nothing about the narcotic charges? My peer review?” His voice grew low, strained. Evil. “My license being revoked? Huh, Braelyn?”

Oh, God. He thought . . .? She tried to shake her head, but he held too tightly. He wasn’t listening anyway.

“You know.” His eyes bored into hers. “Your little
intervention
backfired. Now it’s all gone!” He bellowed into her face, ruffling her hair. “We have nothing! I have nothing!”

Behind them, the front door slammed. “Mom, I’m home!” Tristan called out.

Julian’s eyes narrowed. He pressed his mouth to her ear and lowered his voice to a menacing growl. “I’m still a powerful man,
mi amor.
And all is fair in love and war. So, if you take from me . . .” He stepped back and glared into her eyes again. “I take from you.” He glanced over meaningfully as Tristan ambled into the room. “You understand me?”

Oh, she understood all right. She understood it was time to go.

Chapter 1

Crash!
Noble bolted up in bed at the resounding clang of metal hitting concrete. The ear-splitting
rah-bah-bah
drone of hardcore death metal music made his head pound. He glanced at the digital clock on his nightstand.
Shit
. He’d only managed to snag a couple hours sleep.

He padded to the window and cracked the mini-blinds. He reared back when the sun pierced his tired eyes and let the blinds snap shut with a curse.

He was about to give up and slide back into bed with a pillow over his head when the hideous grating noise started again followed by a screeching sound, then the obnoxious wailing music cranked up infinitely louder. His new neighbor wasn’t usually this noisy. Cute, yes. Loud, no.

With a tired sigh, he squinted his eyes to prepare for the sunny onslaught and tipped the blinds open again to figure out what in the hell all the racket was about. How could one tiny woman make so much friggin’ noise?! He wouldn’t be so tired if his boss and best friend, Jed, hadn’t left him babysitting the business while he went away on his honeymoon. All those extra shifts kept him up too damn late.

He scanned the tidy, postage-stamp-sized yard next door. She’d already planted some pink flowery things. That probably explained the sweet scent on the breeze when he came home at night, but there was no sign of her right now. He had no idea what her name was or her story. Only that she was little and cute and had a killer ass.

Wait
. A movement caught his eye from inside the open garage. But it wasn’t
Sweet Cheeks
, as he’d come to think of her. A lanky figure dressed in a black hoodie snuck inside and disappeared almost as quickly as Noble caught sight of him. His heart began to beat double-time as he wrestled with what to do. Call the cops? Go make sure she was all right?

“Damn it.”

He let the blinds slap closed again and threw on the same jeans and T-shirt he had discarded just a couple of hours earlier. Barefooted, he ran down the hallway, ducked out the front door and raced across the yard.

Quietly, he pressed himself against the brick exterior wall, which was already warming with the sun’s rays. His eyes darted around, searching for any sign of his neighbor, but he didn’t see anything. The music was unbelievably deafening now and his eardrums rattled with each beat of the bass drum.

How could she not hear this? Was she already hurt? Had she turned the shit on and this guy was using it as his cover to get in and . . . His heart rate picked up speed as he thought of the possibilities.

He peered around the corner into the garage and caught sight of the guy in the hoodie and black jeans tinkering with something in the corner of the room near the door to her house. A protectiveness surged through Noble and he knew he had only moments to keep this hoodlum from getting inside.

Never taking his eyes off the back of the guy’s head, he inched his way inside the garage and along the wall. The pungent mixture of gasoline, degreaser, and fertilizer combined with the punch of adrenaline that pumped fast and furious through his veins, forming a potent cocktail. The bass drum now beat so loud it thrummed in his chest as he got almost close enough to grab the hoodie. Just two more steps. One more.

Noble grabbed the guy from behind and pinned him against his chest. He reached over and flipped off the stereo. His ears rang in the deafening silence. His ragged breathing filled the grease-scented air. “What do you think you’re doing?” he growled into the hoodlum’s ear.

The guy squirmed against him. He was much smaller than Noble had originally thought. “I, um . . .” His voice cracked.

Noble spun him around and stared him down. He was just a kid, and he was wide-eyed with fear. He looked ready to piss his pants.

The door to the house flew open. “How many times have I told you about that blasted . . .? Tristan?”

Noble and the kid both looked over.
Oh, shit. Sweet Cheeks.

“Mom?” the kid croaked.

Sweet Cheeks morphed into Mama Bear as she stormed over and ripped the kid from Noble’s grasp. “Get your hands off him!” She pushed her baby cub behind her back and eyed Noble with true disdain. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” She glanced over her shoulder. “Tristan, go inside.” The kid swallowed and eyed him for a moment before disappearing into the house. Then all bets were off when she turned back with hellfire in her amber eyes.

Noble might’ve been turned on if he wasn’t so stunned by her whirlwind temper. He held up his hands in surrender. “Whoa, there.” He tilted his head toward his house. “I live next door? I saw the kid and I thought you were being robbed.” He shrugged. “Sorry.”

She studied him, her eyes still wary and full of venom. “So you thought you’d come over here and what? Tackle a fourteen-year-old kid?” She scanned him up and down, obviously thinking him a big bully.

Fourteen?
Jeez. With her tiny frame and cutesy haircut, the woman barely looked legal herself. He took a breath. “Look, lady, I didn’t know he was a kid. I was only trying to help.”

She just stared at him. Probably trying to decide if she believed him or not.

Screw this. He strode toward the open garage door and headed back home. He needed some damn sleep. “You’re welcome, by the way.” He left her staring at his back.

Braelyn watched The Hulk amble back to what she was sure was his man cave next door as her heart rate slowed to something near normal. She’d only seen glimpses of him coming and going at odd hours—mostly at night. But, Jiminy Cricket, she’d never seen anything like him up close and personal before. He summoned visions of an Indian warrior with the way he towered at least a foot taller than her, his midnight hair well past his shoulders and skin like smooth caramel. And those deep, dark, bottomless eyes . . .

The door next to her cracked open with a squeak. Tristan poked half his face out. “Mom? Everything all right?” He took in the empty garage. “Is he gone?”

She took a breath. “Yes, he’s gone.” She scanned her son up and down. “You okay? He didn’t hurt you, did he?”

He shook his head emphatically, as if trying to prove his toughness. “Nah. Just rattled my chain a little.”

She nodded as her eyes unconsciously drifted to the dark, nondescript house next door with the tightly drawn blinds. Who was he?

The boy stepped out and eyed the stranger’s house as well. “He’s a scary dude. He just came outta nowhere.”

She turned and ruffled her son’s hair, making him duck from her touch. Her heart missed her baby boy sometimes. “He thought you were a burglar.”

Tristan grinned. “Really? Cool.”

She grimaced as he turned his stereo back on and his mind-numbing music came blaring out again. She shook her head and adjusted the volume, earning herself a glare. “No, not cool.”

She watched Tristan a few minutes longer as he tinkered around with what he wanted to be the motor on a dirt bike, and wished for the umpteenth time that his father wasn’t such a prick. He should be around to help him with stuff like this instead of playing house with his new flavor of the month. Well, if he hadn’t done it when they’d lived in the same state, he sure wasn’t going to start now that they’d moved over a thousand miles away to Texas. Poor kid.

But at least he was safe.

“I was coming to let you know lunch was almost ready. You’ve got a little while to finish up here.” When he didn’t answer, she leaned in close to him. “Anything I can do?”

He grabbed another socket. Or a wrench. Heck, she didn’t know. He shook his head. “Nah.”

She pressed her luck and brushed a kiss to his cheek, catching the scent of grease instead of her baby boy, before slipping back inside. The teachers had been sending home notes and calling her with concerns that he had been acting out at school. Class clown stuff. Missing assignments. Luckily, he hadn’t totally spiraled out of control into the realm of flat-out rebellion. Yet.

She was wondering what she could do to help her son when a loud creak reverberated through the room. She’d spent the last month doing all she knew how to fix up this crappy old house, but she was no Bob Villa.

Her gaze flew about the room as the noise became something akin to an unholy belch.

“Oh, fudge!” she cried as the pipe under her kitchen sink gave one last shriek for mercy and began spewing ice cold water like it was demon-possessed.

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