Authors: Lora Leigh
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To the Wicked Readers on Sinful Saturdays.
Thank you for your friendship and for the hours
of laughter for the past three years.
Your insights and your opinions have been greatly appreciated.
And in loving memory of Dorothy Alta Marie (Few) Lucas
December 9, 1949âMarch 21, 2013
Thank you for the laughter, the love, and the memories.
And for being not just a generous loving aunt, but a true and wonderful friend.
You will never be forgotten.
Amelia at eighteen
The file was far more than he had expected.
Crowe Callahan knew he shouldn't have been surprised. After more than fourteen years of harassment, nothing about Corbin County should have surprised him in the least. But this one did.
Wayne Sorenson, Corbin County's attorney, had actually managed to convince him as well as his two cousins over the years that he was a friend. Information had come to light in the past year, though, that indicated he wasn't as loyal to the Callahans as he wanted them to think. Only in the past weeks since Crowe had begun secretly seeing Wayne's daughter, Amelia, had Crowe learned his suspicions were more than true.
This file, though.
This file detailed Wayne's deception even further. That, added to the information Crowe and Amelia had uncovered, hinted at the hatred the county attorney harbored for the Callahan family.
It was information Crowe would have never learned without Amelia's help.
But what had begun as a mere flirtation, a game to learn the truth behind his suspicions, had turned into something far more emotionally serious.
Something far more physically dangerous than even the information found in the file she had provided.
Reading each page thoroughly, his gaze narrowed against the dim light spilling through the partially opened shades of the office, Crowe restrained the urge to curse.
It was nearly too dark to read, but using the penlight he brought with him could be far too risky. And not just for him. If the young woman who had slipped him into her father's office was revealed as having aided and abeddedâabetted, he corrected himselfâa Callahan, then her punishment could be far more than her father's wrath.
It could mean her death.
But had she not warned him of the file, had she not slipped him into her father's office, then he would have never known the threat that the Corbin County attorney represented to him and his younger cousins.
The repercussions could have destroyed them all without this forewarning.
Each page listed and described years' worth of circumstantial evidence that didn't prove a damned thing. But together, tied sequentially and argued effectively, that evidence could fry not just him, but also his cousins, Logan and Rafer.
It showed him, once and for all, that when they returned to Corbin County permanently, a certain power base would have to be established before anyone learned of it. They would have to return with the upper hand and enough support to ensure that it took more than a few dirty county politicians to destroy them.
“He's been building that file for over five years,” Amelia whispered as she stood next to him. “When I found it, I couldn't believe it.”
Because her father played a damned fine game of pretending friendship and loyalty to the three cousins.
“Believe it,” he murmured, slowly closing the file before directing his attention to Amelia Sorenson once again.
Wayne Sorenson's daughter.
Crowe Callahan's carefully hidden lover and his greatest secret.
God help him, she was fucking pretty.
Long, burnished gold-and-brown hair that fell between her shoulder blades. Soft, mesmerizing, thickly lashed turquoise eyes. Innocent. Fiery. Stubborn as hell she was, and filled with so much life.
“Can he trace the disappearance of the information back to you?” he asked carefully, hiding his concern.
There were whispersânot really rumors or gossip, but lifted brows, warning looks, and a shadow of sympathyâthat certain citizens close to the Sorenson family were prone to give her. Those slight reactions indicated Amelia's father wasn't the doting, devoted dad he played in public.
“Everything's already been moved to the new offices.” She looked around slowly, her gaze lingering on the worn couch then the wide, walnut desk they'd made use of more than once since the move had begun several weeks before. “It won't be surprising that the file has come up missing. And it won't be the only one to have disappeared.”
She was slick, this one. But hell, that was something he had always known. Only in the past weeks had he begun to see just how controlled and ruthless she could be, though.
Six weeks. It wasn't near enough time, he thought regretfully. Not nearly long enough to have amassed the memories he'd begun to realize he wanted with her.
“You're taking a heavy risk, fairy-girl,” he growled as he actually considered putting the file in the drawer where she had hidden it after the desk had been cleaned out.
A little puff of air expelled from her lips at the accusation.
“The evidence itself has been dumped, and other pieces burned,” she informed him with a triumphant quirk of her lips. “All electronic backups were taken care of this afternoon.” Her brow arched in mock curiosity. “Too many hands moving too many things. It was really too bad those magnets were stacked on top of the PC, as well as his laptop. And of course there was that magnetic stack confiscated when the sheriff busted that Internet fraud group last year. Someone was just stupid enough to transport it along with his flash drives and SD cards.” Her gaze glittered with fury. “I can't believe he'd try something so evil as to frame you and your cousins. As though you haven't been through enough hell. Those damned magnets have gone over the entire house, any possible hiding place, and every inch of his vehicle. I won't allow him to destroy an entire family with lies and suppositions.” The smile she shot him was tight and mocking. “I've just been a busy little bee this week, Crowe, and every move I've made has been covered. No one could even guess that any of that information was deliberately destroyed.” She shrugged. “None of it was important enough to risk allowing him to succeed in his plans against you and your cousins.”
Son of a bitch.
She had actually found a way to erase the electronic files they feared he had. Not just the originals but also any hidden backups her father might possess.
Pride flooded his chest.
She'd done what he'd believed couldn't be done. She had found the evidence that Wayne Sorenson was building to prove what Crowe believed could not be proven, because it hadn't happened.
Wayne was trying to bring him and his cousins to trial for the murders of six young women they had slept with seven summers before. Six innocent young women whose choice to sleep with a Callahan had resulted in their horrible rapes and tortured murders.
“You're certain this is all that's left?” he asked, lifting the file.
“I've looked everywhere I could think to look,” she assured him, pushing slender, delicate fingers through her hair. She frowned thoughtfully. “His PC and laptop have been completely wiped. I've gone through every paper file myself and found nothing else. I've checked the house, the safe, this office, and every nook and cranny I could find. If there's another file out there, then he's far better at hiding it than I ever imagined.”
Taking a seat on her father's bare, scarred desk, Amelia stared up at Crowe, her gaze somber.
“How did you find out about this file?” Shoving the folder and its contents into the small leather backpack he carried, Crowe narrowed his gaze on her, wondering what Amelia gained in betraying her father for the cursed Callahan cousins.
“By accident,” she admitted, her gaze now so innocent he almost felt like a pervert for all the things he'd done to her lush body in the past weeks. “I overheard him discussing it on the phone with Aspen County's attorney. He's still trying to tie Jaymi Flannigan's murder to your cousin Rafe. He had to prove that Rafe knew she was considering a move to Aspen and leaving Corbin County to do it, though.”
“He was building a case that Rafe had killed her out of jealousy.” He nodded at his own deduction. “But none of us left the county that day. And we have witnesses.”
“Wayne's trying to find someone to prove you were in Aspen and that your witnesses are lying.” She bit at her lip before thinning both angrily. “He and Sheriff Dunmore was discussing how they could prove Thomas Jones was actually trying to help Jaymi, rather than being responsible for killing her.”
Thomas Jones had killed her. There was no doubt about it.
Crowe, Logan, and Jaymi's lover at the time, Rafer, had heard her screams and raced to her location. They'd arrived in time to see Jones shove that knife in her side before jumping from her body and attempting to escape.
“What âproof' did you destroy?” What the hell could that bastard have managed to find that couldn't possibly exist?
“Dunmore managed to convince a bartender to give the deposition you saw in the file, that you were indeed in Aspen. But he disappeared from town a week later, as Wayne's deposition states.”
“Indicating that we possibly killed him as well to keep him quiet.” God help him. When would it end?
If it weren't for the will their parents had left and the knowledge that if they left and turned their backs on the fight for what was theirs in Corbin County, then a serial murderer might acquire or inherit it, he and his cousins would have left years before now.
Amelia rubbed her hands over her face wearily before lowering them to her lap.
“There was a shoe belonging to another victim with Logan's thumbprint. A newly discovered glove with Rafer's fingerprints that, according to Dunmore, hadn't been easy to transfer after the prints were acquired from elsewhere. I'd really be careful about dishes and utensils used in the cafÃ©, bar, and restaurant here in town,” she suggested softly, her eyes gleaming with moisture. “Can't we stop him, Crowe? I'd testify about what I heard.”
Crowe was shaking his head before the words were past her lips, reaching out for her as he stepped to the desk.
“Don't even consider it.” Teeth clenched, denial raging through him, Crowe quickly pressed between her slender thighs, holding her in place before him.