Falling in love could expose a woman in hiding, in the fourth Ace Security novel from New York Times bestselling author Susan Stoker.
Former mercenary Ryder Sinclair's stunning discovery that he has three half brothers in Castle Rock, Colorado, is giving them all the chance to color in the spaces of their tragic pasts. For Ryder, establishing roots is made all the more desirable by Felicity Jones. But if Ryder's instincts are correct, this breathtaking beauty is in trouble.
Castle Rock isn't Felicity's home. Like her false identity, it's just a cover. All she wants is enough cash to keep moving to another temporary hideaway—to stay on the run from a secret that's haunted her for years. As safe as Ryder's strong embrace makes her feel, she fears that falling for him, and staying in Colorado, will put everyone she's come to love in danger.
The more Ryder learns about Felicity, the more determined he is not to let her go. It's time for her to stop running—even as a relentless danger closes in, threatening their love and their lives.
Release date: February 27, 2018
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Print pages: 262
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Ten years ago, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois
Megan Parkins put her pillow over her head to try to drown out the voices coming from the other side of the wall . . . but it was no use. She could hear her roommate, Colleen Murphy, and Colleen’s boyfriend, Joseph, as easily as if they were standing right next to her.
“You’re an embarrassment, Colleen. A complete and utter embarrassment. What’d I tell you before we left?” “Th-That I should stay by your side.” “And what did you do?”
“I went to the bathroom.”
“Did I tell you you could go to the bathroom?” “No, but, Joseph, I really had to go.”
Megan flinched at the sound of Colleen being struck. She squeezed her eyes together and clenched her teeth. She hated Joseph. With every fiber of her being. She’d told her friend over and over that he was bad news. That she should break up with him. But Colleen didn’t listen. Defended Joseph, in fact, saying that his father had been really strict with him, and he’d learned discipline as a result. And now he was just teaching it to her. Besides, she claimed, he didn’t mean it when he yelled at her . . . or when he hit her.
“I don’t give a shit,” Joseph went on. “If you have to piss your pants, you do it. The only thing I asked of you was that you stay by my side, and you couldn’t even do that one simple thing.”
“I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”
“Damn straight it won’t happen again,” Joseph told her.
Megan heard him hit Colleen again. Then again. And a third time. Before she thought about what she was doing, Megan was on the move. She couldn’t sit there and let Joe beat Colleen up again. Not after the concussion he’d given her the last time. If Colleen wouldn’t help herself, Megan would.
She picked up the phone and quickly dialed 911. Whispering, Megan told the dispatcher what was going on and where they were.
The ten minutes it took for the cops to show up were excruciating. Joe continued to berate Colleen, punctuating his words with his fists. Megan wanted to scream at Colleen to stand up for herself, or to get the hell out of there, but she kept quiet. When Megan heard the sirens, she quietly left her bedroom and tiptoed past her roommate’s room, down the hall, and to the front door. She was waiting for the pair of policemen when they arrived at the apartment and pointed toward Colleen’s door.
Within moments, Joe was being interviewed off to one side by one of the cops, while the other tried to talk to Colleen.
Ignoring Joseph’s intense gaze, Megan went over to her roommate.
“Can you tell me what’s going on?” the police officer asked.
“N-Nothing. We were just having an argument,” Colleen said meekly.
“How’d you get the mark on your face?”
“I fell the other morning in the bathroom. Knocked my head on the counter.”
“You know that’s not true,” Megan interjected. “Last week Joseph hit you when you were ten minutes late getting to his apartment because of traffic.”
Colleen was shaking her head before Megan had finished speaking. “No, I fell.”
The officer looked between Megan and the battered, scared-out-of-her-mind woman in front of him. “Did your boyfriend hit you tonight?”
Megan ground her teeth together and shook her head. “Colleen, you need to get away from him. He’s going to really hurt you one of these days.”
The other woman stubbornly shook her head. “He loves me. We’re fine. You need to keep your nose out of our business.” She looked up at Megan for the first time since she’d entered the room. “You don’t understand. He loves me. And I love him. We were just arguing tonight. That’s it. All couples do it.”
Megan cocked her head and looked at her friend. Other than the small mark near her temple from the week before, Colleen didn’t have any other obvious marks to show that she’d been hit by her boyfriend. Any new marks anyway. But she wasn’t putting weight on one of her legs and was holding one arm close to her stomach. Obviously Joseph had wised up and learned not to hit his girlfriend anywhere that would show.
“Don’t do this,” Megan pleaded in a soft tone so Joseph couldn’t overhear her. “I heard him hitting you, Colleen. Please. Press charges. Get him out of your life.”
It was as if Colleen didn’t even hear her. “Officer, nothing is going on. My roommate misheard. We were simply arguing. That’s it.”
The cop sighed. “Do you want to press charges, Ms. Murphy?”
Colleen shook her head.
“Can I press charges?” Megan asked. “For trespassing, or assault, or something?”
“Do you have a restraining order against him?”
Megan sighed. “No.”
“Unfortunately, if he didn’t strike you, and you aren’t the victim, then no. Stay here, I need to talk to my partner for a moment.”
Megan nodded, and as soon as he turned away from them, she looked at Colleen. “Why are you protecting him? He treats you like shit.”
“He loves me,” Colleen insisted.
“He doesn’t. That isn’t love. Not a normal, healthy kind, at least.”
“What would you know about love?”
“Well, I’m not an expert. But if a man told me he’d prefer I pee in my pants rather than leave his side, I’d drop his ass like a hot poker. Why can’t you see how awful he is? We’ve been friends for two years. I’ve never seen you act like this before.”
Colleen looked up and into her roommate’s eyes. “I admit there are times when he’s not the nicest, but you aren’t around him all the time. He’s the most romantic man I’ve ever met. He’s super protective of me. We were on campus one time when a guy whistled at me, and he put his hand around the guy’s throat and told him if he ever disrespected me again, he’d kill him.”
Megan knew her eyes were huge in her face. “That’s not romantic, that’s crazy,” she told her friend.
Colleen stubbornly shook her head. “No, I’m just not explaining it right.”
“I think you’re explaining it exactly right,” Megan said dryly.
“His family is amazing. His mom died when he was little, and it’s just him, his dad, and his uncles. His dad is strict, but they’re all pretty hilarious. This huge Italian family. They have each other’s backs, just like Joseph has mine. He’s just stressed about school. He doesn’t mean to hurt me. He’s always so sorry after something happens.”
“Oh, sweetie, all abusers are. They promise it’ll never happen again, but it always does. It’s just going to get worse. Please. Press charges. You deserve better.”
Megan knew her friend was going to refuse by the stubborn glint in her eye. “No. I love him, and he loves me. We’re going to get married and have at least three kids. I won’t let you mess that up for me. I was going to wait until the end of the semester to move out, but it’s obvious things between you and me aren’t working out. If I can’t have an argument with my boyfriend without you calling the cops on us . . . you’re no friend of mine.”
“Colleen, no, wait—”
“You heard her,” Joseph said as he came up next to Colleen. He slid an arm around her waist and pulled her into his side.
Megan saw the way her friend winced at the movement, but she didn’t protest.
“I’ve asked Colleen to move in with me. She agreed,” Joseph told her, a gleam of triumph, and something else she didn’t understand, in his eyes.
Megan turned to the police officers. “So you’re just going to let him get away with this?”
One of them shrugged apologetically. “If she won’t press charges and there aren’t any new wounds on either of them, our hands are tied.”
“Are you at least going to make sure this incident is recorded? So if she shows up dead, there’ll be some record of my complaint against him?”
“There will be a record of the call,” the other officer said. Then he turned to Joseph and Colleen. “Now, why don’t you two go on and get out of here. Sir, you said you had an apartment in another building. We don’t want to be called back here tonight.”
“Thank you, Officer. Me and my girl’ll get going right now. Can I press charges against her for making a false report?”
Megan’s head whipped around to stare at Joseph in disbelief. “What?”
The officer nodded. “That’s your choice.”
“I’ll think about it,” Joseph said calmly. “Thank you for your assistance tonight. We don’t want to cause any more issues. If my girlfriend needs an escort to collect her belongings at a later date, can we call the station?”
The police officers looked uneasy now, but one nodded. “Yes, if you think it’s necessary.”
“It’s necessary,” Joseph said. He turned his gaze to Megan. “My girlfriend’s roommate is delusional and doesn’t like that her friend has a loving boyfriend who looks out for her. She’s crazy, and I don’t trust her not to fill Colleen’s head with bullshit about me and my family.”
“You know it’s not bullshit,” Megan ground out.
“Enough. Go ahead and take your girlfriend to your place. Ma’am? If you can please come with me while Ms. Murphy packs a bag.” The officer motioned to the doorway with his arm.
Megan looked toward her friend, hoping against hope she’d come to her senses, or at the very least defend her. But no. She was staring at her feet, not making eye contact with anyone.
“Colleen?” She waited, but her friend didn’t look up.
Knowing the cops would only wait so long, Megan said quickly, “If you ever need anything, I’m here for you. No strings.”
“Officer?” Joseph said, anger in his tone.
“Come on, Ms. Parkins.” Megan allowed him to lead her out of the room. When they were in the kitchen, Megan turned to him. “He’s going to kill her. Isn’t there anything you can do?”
He shook his head. “If your roommate doesn’t want to press charges, there’s not much we can do.”
“So what . . . you have to wait until you find her dead body?”
The older man looked uncomfortable, but didn’t answer. Simply stared down at her.
Megan sighed and leaned back against the counter. She crossed her arms over her chest and watched the hallway. Within ten minutes, Colleen appeared with Joseph still holding her waist and the other officer following close behind them.
Megan pushed off the counter and faced her friend, but didn’t say a word.
Joseph led Colleen to the front door of the apartment, and right before they left, turned and made eye contact with Megan. “I underestimated you. It won’t happen again. See you around.” And with that, he disappeared out the door with Colleen silent at his side.
As soon as the officers left, Megan locked the dead bolt and raced to her room. She shut her bedroom door and locked that too. She backed into the corner of her room, behind her bed, and sank to the ground. The look in Joseph’s eyes scared her to death. Megan generally wasn’t afraid of much, but suddenly she was terrified of Joseph Waters.
She’d made an enemy tonight.
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