From USA Today bestselling author Stacey Kennedy comes a thrilling, sexy romance about a woman in danger and a small-town police detective who will do anything to keep her safe. After a sudden tragedy blew her world apart, Peyton Kerr fled her big city career and started over in Stoney Creek, Maine. So far, she's loving small-town life--no one knows about her past, and her easy flirtation with Boone Knight gives her a reason to smile. But then someone is murdered in Peyton's store, and her quiet, anonymous existence is instantly destroyed. To make matters worse, Boone--a police detective--is assigned to the case, and Peyton knows she can't keep him at arm's length any longer. She's resisted the simmering heat between them--but now this gorgeous man is promising to keep her safe--and satisfied... Boone Knight doesn't want the complications of a relationship. But when he volunteers to protect his town's newest--and sexiest--resident, he finally admits he'd like to explore their sizzling attraction. And after one incredible night, everything changes for Boone. Peyton is sweeter--and braver--than anyone he's ever met, and with her in his arms, everything makes sense. He just needs to convince her to trust him enough to reveal her secrets, or risk losing her to a merciless killer who seems to grow bolder with each passing day.
Release date: June 11, 2019
Publisher: Forever Yours
Print pages: 306
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The loud rumble of the baby blue Volkswagen Beetle quieted as Peyton Kerr pressed against the brake pedal. Stoney Creek’s Main Street was cute and quaint, with boutique shops lining the skinny road where cars were parked without much space in between them. Through her open window, she tasted the salt in the air coming off the Atlantic Ocean and drove by a young man packing large containers with live lobsters into the back of his old Chevy pickup. On the next corner was a ticket booth for the lighthouse boat tours. Stoney Creek was a far cry from the bright lights, skyscrapers, and pungent busy city aroma that Seattle carried, but it was also a most welcome change.
People came to Stoney Creek for the picturesque views of the coastline on the bay. They climbed the mountain that overlooked the town and the ocean. They ate fresh fish at the restaurants near the marina, walked the beaches, and sailed the open waters. Peyton came for those reasons too. Well, and a laundry list of others, including that Stoney Creek was the last vacation spot she visited with her late husband, Adam, just over a year ago. She’d been her happiest here. They swam the waters, ate too much, laughed hard enough to cry. That’s what brought her back to the small Maine town. She’d left Seattle a heartbroken twenty-six-year-old widow, and she returned to Stoney Creek determined to find happiness here again.
Her heart clenched at the reminder of all she’d lost, threatening to expose all the weak spots. She forced the emotion back with a deep swallow, refusing to go to the dark place again. The past was behind her. That’s where it’d stay.
Up ahead, Peyton recognized the dark-haired slender woman waiting beneath a withered store sign as Isabella, her real estate agent. Peyton squeezed her used—but new to her—car into one of the parking spots.
Before she could even get out, Isabella was already at the passenger-side door. “You made it.”
“I’m so glad to finally be here.” Peyton smiled, turning off the car and exiting. She’d done a nine-hour flight with a layover in Philadelphia, then landed at the Portland International Jetport. That’s where she found her new car, which she thought suited small-town living. After a good night’s sleep in Portland, she drove three hours, taking the scenic drive along the coast to her fresh start. “Thanks for meeting me.”
“It’s no problem. I’ve got your keys here for both your house and your shop.” Isabella reached into her purse, then handed Peyton two sets of keys. “You’re all set to move in and open shop.” She handed her a slew of business cards. “I’ve given you some names of handymen around town if you want to give the store a makeover.”
Peyton glanced up at the old sign again and took in the cracked windowpane and peeling white paint on the exterior. Both the shop and her new lake house needed work, but so did she. “Great,” Peyton said, feeling like a fish out of water. “Thank you so much for everything. You’ve been so helpful.”
“Call if you need anything.” Isabella smiled and, shocking Peyton, threw her arms around her like they were friends. “You’re going to love it here.” With a final wave, she was off, pratically skipping her way down the sidewalk.
Okay, so the people were the nice, touchy-feely sort.
Peyton turned back to her new shop and exhaled the breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding. Set in a historic redbrick building, in between Whiskey Blues, a jazz club on the right, and an empty store on the left, was her little lingerie shop with the French-style storefront. Two large display windows hugged the dark maple door with the original brass handle. The store might not be much in size, but the charm of the shop made up for it.
It was also 100 percent hers. Paid for with the insurance money from Adam’s death. Two weeks ago, in her lowest of lows, a Facebook ad for the Stoney Creek B&B, where she and Adam had stayed at when they’d vacationed there, had popped up on her screen. After that, she’d fallen down the Internet hole until she discovered the local lingerie shop was for sale. Everything from there happened so fast; she’d up and bought the shop on a total whim. Because if anything could make her feel happy again, it would be found in the place she felt the happiest. She also kept thinking that if she could make other women feel beautiful, then she’d feel that way again too.
This past year, she had no reason to wear gorgeous lingerie, let alone find a reason to get out of bed. She wore cotton bras and underwear for comfort. But she’d had a blast selling lingerie during her nursing school days. She couldn’t help but think that buying a lingerie shop was a good step forward to finding the fun parts of herself that had disappeared with Adam’s death.
Sure, she knew her mental state was hanging in the balance of her new life and her new shop. She couldn’t fail. Not because of the money. Adam had left her in good shape financially. But she couldn’t fail because this was all she had. There was nothing else giving her a purpose. And she was done playing the victim. She was also done simply surviving. She’d already been doing that in spades in Seattle. She wanted to breathe. To live.
And that’s why she’d left Seattle and her parents. She’d given up her nursing career in the ER at Seattle’s General Hospital, and she’d dumped every cent she received from Adam’s insurance money into this shop and her little house on the lake.
Was she crazy?
Oh, yeah, she was totally batshit nuts.
She glanced down at the house keys in her hand. All of her belongings would be shipped tomorrow, so tonight she planned to stay at the Stoney Creek B&B a couple blocks down Main Street.
“Are you the new owner?”
Peyton turned around, finding an older couple smiling at her. “Yes, I am.”
“Oh, so lovely to hear,” the woman said, her arm wrapped in her husband’s. “We need more young business owners coming in and keeping our downtown alive.” She offered her hand. “I’m Marjorie, and this is Joe.”
Peyton returned Marjorie’s handshake and then shook Joe’s hand. “It’s nice to meet you both. I’m Peyton.” When she drew her hand away, her stomach suddenly rumbled loudly. “I’m sorry about that. Apparently, I’m starving.”
Joe’s amber eyes crinkled with his warm smile. “The bar next door has one of the best fish sandwiches in town.”
“That sounds delicious.” Peyton returned the smile, feeling the tightness in her chest begin to dissolve. “I’ll be sure to check it out. Thanks.”
“Enjoy your evening, Peyton,” Marjorie said.
With a final wave, they continued on their walk.
When Peyton’s stomach growled again, she headed for the bar, thinking a drink along with food sounded like the next best step forward. She didn’t see any parking signs, figuring she could leave her car there for the night.
She grabbed her purse from the car, locked the doors, and entered the bar. From its original flagstone walls and restored burgundy velvet chairs to the gold accents, the bar was pure class. Four large crystal chandeliers gave the space a warm, inviting feel, and round tables surrounded the black shiny stage, where a man had his head bowed over the piano he played.
Peyton headed for the bar that had three men drinking beers. She hastily moved to the other side, keeping her distance from anyone of the opposite sex. Even the hot guy with the dark hair and muscular biceps who held her gaze, the side of his mouth curving sensually. Actually, especially because of that. She needed to find herself again, not find herself in anyone’s bed.
When she slid onto the stool, a friendly voice said, “You’re new here.”
Peyton glanced up, finding a slim, long-haired brunette wearing a black T-shirt that read WHISKEY BLUES across her chest. The bright pink lipstick she wore made her big blue eyes pop.
“Yup, I’m brand spanking new.” Peyton smiled, offering her hand. “I bought the store next door.”
“Did you?” The woman returned the handshake. “Well, that makes us friends already, then.”
Peyton laughed. “And here I was thinking making new friends was going to be hard.” She placed her hands back onto her purse. “I’m Peyton.”
“Kinsley,” the woman said, grabbing a martini glass. “Lucky for you, I own this place, which means I can call it a night and celebrate us being neighbors.” She gestured at the glass. “Chocolate martinis sound okay?”
“Sounds divine,” Peyton said, her mouth watering. She definitely wanted a fish sandwich, but a little liquid love first didn’t hurt. Besides, she hoped the drink would help dissolve the lump in her throat. She questioned her sanity, uprooting her life and leaving her family behind. But she couldn’t have stayed in Seattle another day. Seattle belonged to her and Adam. She needed to belong without him. Adam was gone. He wasn’t coming back.
Kinsley finished pouring two glasses, then held hers up. “To new friendships and new beginnings.”
Peyton lifted her glass. “Cheers to that!”
Before long, one glass turned into two glasses, and Peyton’s belly felt warm, her smile easy, the fish sandwich long forgotten. She spoke of Seattle, leaving out all the personal parts, keeping those secrets locked up tight. And Kinsley shared life in Stoney Creek, the fun places to go, the sights to see.
“I make a damn fine martini,” Kinsley said, licking the chocolate flakes off her upper lip. She placed her empty glass behind the bar. “Give me a couple minutes, then we’ll Uber it to this new house of yours on the lake and grab some takeout on the way. I gotta see this place. It sounds amazing.”
Sure, Kinsley was a stranger, but something about her laidback way put Peyton at ease. “Deal.” Peyton took another sip of her drink, watching Kinsley leave the bar and move into the back room, feeling happier than she’d felt in an entire year.
Something warm suddenly brushed against Peyton’s arm, making her shiver. She turned as Mr. Crooked Smile sat on the stool next to her. He was tall—around six foot two, pure muscle, an all-around fine specimen of a man. His intense blue eyes that appeared nearly gray in the low lighting held hers, and his five-o’clock shadow brought her attention to his totally kissable lips. He wore a navy-blue T-shirt that stretched across his chest, showcasing hard biceps, and jeans that hugged his thick thighs.
“Hi.” He grinned, voice as smooth as melted chocolate.
And she really liked chocolate. A lot.
She took in the hard masculine lines of his face, softened a little by the strands of dark hair falling across his forehead. “I’m new here, opening the shop next door,” she babbled.
“Ah, the lingerie shop,” he said, his eyes dancing at whatever was crossing her expression. “Tonight’s a celebration, then?”
God, she must have looked like she wanted to eat him. Well, she did, so whatever. Obviously, the martinis without food had been a terrible idea. “That’s right,” she said, lifting her chin, trying not to look as rattled by this guy or as tipsy as she felt.
His arm brushed against hers again—clearly intentional this time—and she shivered, hearing her own hitching breath. His gaze went red hot, those deep eyes turning darker, examining her deeper. She swallowed, trying to calm her puckering nipples and the building heat between her thighs.
What. The. Hell?
“Um, excuse me.” She slid off the stool and stumbled in the process. After she laughed at herself and hid her gaze from him, she beelined it toward the bathroom across the bar. Once inside, she turned on the water and placed her hands underneath to cool off. She looked into the mirror, finding her cheeks flushed, her eyes glossy and full of heat. Maybe those chocolate martinis had an aphrodisiac effect. Because…holy hell!
She stayed in the bathroom probably longer than necessary. When she came out, she nearly walked into Mr. Crooked Smile. He caught her by the waist to steady her, and when his hands tightened on her hips something overcame her, an emotion she could not control. His touch was warm and strong, and his potent stare pulled her in until she looked into his eyes intimately.
He arched an eyebrow. “All right?”
“Why are you waiting here for me?” she managed.
His smile was gentle and sweet, and on a big tough guy looked mouthwateringly delicious. “You’ve been in there a while. Feeling okay?”
She stared at him. For some reason she was immensely touched by his kindness, and she suddenly couldn’t remember all the reasons she didn’t want a man in her life. “God, you’re so hot.” She grabbed his face and kissed him. Passionately. With tongue.
A low masculine sound that tickled her in the best places rose from deep in his chest. Then her back hit the wall. Hard. Shock and desire flooded her as he threaded one hand into her hair, then claimed her mouth. Owned it, with every hard press of his lips and swirl of his tongue.
When she began nearly climbing up his body, a moment of clarity hit her, and she broke away with a gasp. “What in the hell are we doing?” she asked, staring at his mouth, and wanting desperately to have more of it. “You’re a stranger.” A naughty stranger.
“I believe you kissed me,” he said in a voice so low goose bumps rose on her arms, and a smile so sexy it should come with a warning label. “And were doing a fine job of it.”
Still in the man’s arms, Peyton turned, finding Kinsley staring at them with her arms folded.
“So,” Kinsley said with a sly smile. “I see you’ve met my brother, Boone.”
Detective Boone Knight was an ass man.
Or he had been until Peyton Kerr—the woman currently standing by the window of her lingerie shop, Uptown Girl—rolled into town a month ago and kissed the hell out of him. After that, he’d become an entire body man. Every inch of Peyton drew his attention and brought him to full attention.
A surprise, even to him.
Ever since his marriage ended two years ago, he’d preferred his relationships be fleeting. He had no intention of getting married again. He’d tried the marriage thing and failed epically, no need for a repeat. But he wanted this five-foot-five woman with the soulful hazel eyes, long blond hair, and perfectly curved body in his bed—and he’d already figured that one time probably wouldn’t be enough. But since that one hot kiss, she’d done her best to stay clear of him, when all he wanted to do was re-create that moment.
Not that he understood her distance. She wanted him close. He saw her responding interest in the way her gaze ate him up. Christ, he swore he could damn near smell her pheromones running wild when he stood next to her.
“Focusing on the dead might be better than the living at the moment.”
Boone’s brain snapped back to its proper position in his head. He glanced at his lifelong friend and fellow detective, Rhett West. Dark haired and dark eyed, Rhett had always been an imposing guy, even as a kid. “The scenery is distracting,” Boone admitted.
Rhett shook his head with a laugh. “You’re such a fucking goner.”
Yeah, Boone was, and he knew it. Peyton had gotten into his head, and by all appearances, she wasn’t even trying. That one kiss had played on his mind constantly. He wanted more.
He also became aware of the crowd outside being forced off the sidewalk by the yellow tape. Even from where he stood, he saw the concern on the faces he recognized outside. People he knew growing up. His high school principal was there. The lady who owned the flower shop a few blocks down. Even the receptionist from the doctor’s office was in the crowd.
Stoney Creek was a small town. Everyone knew each other. And from experience, Boone knew that as soon as word got out that there was a murder, calls would start coming in about neighbors, old boyfriends, and enemies ratting each other out. But he also knew fear would run rampant in the town he loved and served to protect.
Reminding himself of the job he needed to do, he gave Peyton one last look as she rubbed Kinsley’s back. His sister was sitting on the floor next to Peyton. Her head was over a bucket, her long chocolate-brown hair hanging over the sides. All of which didn’t surprise him. His baby sister had a weak stomach on the best of days. “Catch me up,” he said to Rhett.
“Peyton opened the shop this morning. Kinsley was with her,” Rhett reported. “That’s when they found the body.”
Boone turned his attention to the matter at hand. A few inches away from his boots lay a blond woman in a pool of her own blood. She looked in her mid-twenties, and by her body position, Boone suspected she had no idea the shot was coming. He couldn’t see any defensive wounds on her hands. Her clothes were all in place, making him believe the murder wasn’t sexually motivated.
Doing what he did best, he surveyed the scene. The lingerie shop was narrow and long and set into one of the historic buildings on Main Street. The walls were painted hot pink, with blood spatter now. In the front of the store was a sales counter and white tables set out with the lacy garments, but the victim lay in the back storage room, where a small desk sat with a computer monitor on top. The back building door was closed, and nothing seemed out of place, except for the deceased woman.
Behind the woman, the crime scene technicians were already processing the murder. “First thoughts?” Boone asked no one in particular.
“I’d say it’s a robbery gone wrong,” the third member of their rat pack growing up, Detective Asher Sullivan, said as he walked in through the back door from the parking lot with latex gloves on his hands. His blond hair was styled and gelled, and his eyes were a bright green.
They’d all become best friends in grade school—the three troublemakers back then, who all ended up in law enforcement one way or another, and now tended to work together often.
Asher stopped near the body and gestured at the safe not far from the victim. “Broken into and emptied.”
Boone squatted down, getting closer to the woman’s lifeless body. He kept his hands on his thighs, careful not to touch her, knowing full well if he did even with gloves, the medical examiner would serve him up for dinner. “A shot to the back of the head doesn’t shout robbery.” No, a shot where the victim wasn’t looking at the killer typically meant the shooter felt guilt, not wanting to look at the victim when the life faded from her eyes.
Rhett peered into the safe, then turned around. “Why hit a lingerie shop? The petty cash can’t be worth killing someone over.”
Boone agreed with a firm nod. He’d moved to New York City in his twenties and worked for the New York City PD for ten years. In those years, he’d seen crimes in the city that would always haunt him. A small, coastal Maine town like Stoney Creek didn’t have the gang violence or murders like New York City. Murders were few and far between here, with most being domestic, or resulting from organized crime in surrounding areas. Rapes were even less common. Minor robberies, thefts, and burglaries tended to be what Boone spent his days investigating. Which was a far cry from his time in the NYPD. The blood, the cruelty, the hate—Boone had seen enough death to last him a lifetime. He straightened, shoving his hands into his pockets. “And why hit this shop with a busy club next door?” Kinsley’s jazz club, Whiskey Blues, would have cash on hand, and a lot of it, compared to what the lingerie shop had.
Asher made a note on his pad, then clicked his pen closed. “I agree. Something about this one feels odd.”
Anything odd was never a good thing, and the tension spilling out from Rhett and Asher mirrored what Boone felt too.
The back door didn’t appear broken into, but the residents in Stoney Creek didn’t lock their doors. Boone couldn’t pinpoint what bothered him about what he was seeing here, but something made his skin crawl. And that sensation he trusted, telling him there was more going on here than first appearances.
He parted his lips to say as such, when a high voice snapped, “Stop right where you are.” Marissa, the five-foot-one, short-haired brunette fireball medical examiner entered the back room. “You better not have touched a single thing.”
With a smirk, Boone leaned against the doorframe, folding his arms. Marissa believed in protocol with a capital P. Her compulsive disorder had served her well and made her one hell of an ME.
“Is this still enough for you?” Rhett mused, grinning from ear to ear.
She studied him, her thin lips pinching tight. “Your mouth is moving, so no.”
Rhett laughed softly.
Marissa placed her bag down near Boone, then waved them out of the back room. “Get gone.” She believed in spirts, in energies, and she needed quiet when she worked to allow the victims to speak to her.
Boone never questioned her method, no matter that . . .
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