It's been a long, hard-fought battle to go from naïve ex-trophy wife to respected private investigator, but Olivia has done it. She now offers her services only to women in need...but she's made an exception for a friend. Which might possibly be the biggest mistake of her life, since Jake is as maddening as he is charming...and thoughtful...and insanely hot.
The closer they work together and the more Rockwell family secrets they expose, the harder it is for Olivia and Jake to resist their sizzling connection. But their burning almost-romance is about to go up in flames as they uncover the final revelation that could blow Jake's world apart—forever.
Release date: May 28, 2019
Print pages: 290
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Jake Rockwell loved having a twin sister, except when that sister believed she knew every single thing about him.
“I’m worried about you, Jakey. You’ve been making weird choices lately,” Isabelle told him over the speakerphone in his rental car.
Jake rolled his eyes as he pulled up in front of the suburban Los Angeles strip mall office of James Investigations. Izzy liked to treat his life like an ongoing telenovela that she had tons of opinions about. Some of the time, they were on point. But this time, she clearly didn’t understand.
“Have you met me yet? Weird choices are kind of my thing.”
“That is a good point. You did eat nothing but pickles for two weeks in second grade. Not to mention that mullet you rocked until I snuck into your room and chopped it off. And you were the one who stuck around Rocky Peak. But now you’re the only one of us who—”
“If you mention the fact that I’m the last single Rockwell one more time…”
Isabelle laughed, the sound so vivid it felt as if she was in the car with him. “I wasn’t going to. I was simply going to point out that you have your pick of girls in Rocky Peak, and yet you never get serious about any of them. Instead you’re on this wild goose chase in LA and I just don’t get it.”
“Serious is overrated. You know me. I like to keep things fun.”
“Yeah, I might believe that if you weren’t at this very moment about to hire a private investigator. That’s about as serious as it gets.”
“Maybe that depends on the investigator,” he said lightly. “This one’s kind of fun.”
“Oh ho, now it’s all making sense. Word has it Olivia James is pretty hot. Do you have a crush on her? Is that what’s going on?”
“This isn’t third grade. I’m not here to pass a note to the cute girl in the front row. This is for Mom. You know that.”
Their mother, Amanda Rockwell, had died in a car accident fifteen years earlier. All of Jake’s siblings had come to peace with that, in their own way. Jake still hadn’t, and he was pretty sure he knew why.
“But Jake, we know what happened. I’m not sure what else you’re going to find out. Isn’t it time you focused on your own life?”
“That’s what I’m doing,” he said as patiently as he could. He loved his sister, but some things a guy just had to do. “Look, Izzy, I don’t know why I can’t let it go. But I can’t. So get off my back and go canoodle with your billionaire hunk. Don’t worry about me. I got this.”
“Canoodle? Really? Trauma surgeons don’t canoodle, we—”
He ended the call and swung out of the Taurus. This was the third time he’d come to James Investigations looking for help, and he still wasn’t used to the barebones appearance of Olivia’s office. She came highly recommended—by Isabelle’s fiancée Lyle, as a matter of fact—and had a reputation for thoroughness and professionalism. But nothing about the office or its location gave any hint of the dynamic woman behind James Investigations.
Not that he had a “crush” on Olivia, the way Isabelle suggested. Absolutely not. He respected her work, that was all. He admired how smart and determined she was. He’d never met anyone quite like her before. But a crush? Please. He had more important things to think about, like this nagging suspicion about his mother’s death.
Nope. This meeting with Olivia James was all about business. Nothing more, nothing less. Especially because he knew how she saw him—as just a client, and an irritating one at that.
* * *
Her first words, after she greeted him with a handshake and they’d sat down, proved that.
“We’re going to need some ground rules.”
Along with that statement, Olivia James fixed him with the no-nonsense look he’d learned to expect from her. “No-nonsense” didn’t quite describe it, actually. Maybe “you’ve already taken up too much of my time so let’s get on with it” was more accurate.
Of all the private investigators in Los Angeles, why did Jake have to hire the one who was not only stunning, but completely oblivious to his charm? Women usually found him delightful and entertaining—or so he’d been told.
Maybe they should tell that to the all-business Olivia James.
“I broke my own rule by taking your case before. I did it as a favor for Lyle, but you should know that I normally only work for women. Cheating husbands, stalkers, harassment cases, that sort of thing.”
He hadn’t known that and would very much like to know why. But from the look on her face, she wasn’t about to explain. “If it helps, this is about my mother. And also my little sister and her biological mother. It’s not about me at all.”
“I understand that, and Ethan already said yes, so I guess I’m stuck with you.” Her wry smile took some of the sting away from her words. “Hence, the ground rules.”
He cocked his head at her. “Your standard agreement should do, right? You’ve already worked with me. I’m back because you did such an excellent job.”
“It’s because I’ve worked with you that I need some rules.”
“Ah. I take it I already broke a few?”
She studied him with eyes of a blue found only in stained-glass windows deep in a hushed cathedral. Her perfectly oval face had an old-school beauty completely at odds with the way she dressed, which was pure functionality. In the few times he’d seen her, she’d always worn jeans, boots and simple blazers over a t-shirt.
“You kept forgetting that you hired me for my professional skills, which you, an amateur, do not possess.”
“For which I apologized, remember?”
“I do. It was a very satisfying moment. One for the archives.” Another faint smile flitted across her lips. He liked seeing that, since she usually took things much too seriously, in his opinion.
“Is that the first ground rule?”
“Yes. I need to know you’re taking it seriously. Taking me seriously.”
He looked around at the office interior, which was just as generic as the strip mall where it was located. It held a large, utilitarian, steel-sided desk and two unbelievably uncomfortable metal folding chairs. The walls were blank except for a framed copy of Olivia’s private investigator license.
“Your prison warden-slash-headmistress decor will definitely help with that.”
“Second ground rule. Do not mock James Investigations.” Olivia bounced the tip of a Bic pen against the surface of the desk. “Is everything always a joke to you?”
He winced, not sure how to answer that. He wasn’t always so flippant—though he did love to joke around—but Olivia brought out the irreverent in him. It wasn’t her business-only approach. He appreciated that quality. Her slightly scornful attitude toward him was what made him want to tease her. Clearly, she didn’t think much of him.
“Sorry,” he finally said. “I do like to joke around. I find it lightens up most situations and puts people at ease. That’s my job, providing a relaxing environment for my customers. But this is different. I take it very seriously. This is about my mother.”
She pulled open a notebook and poised the pen over it. Her dark hair, cut short in an Audrey Hepburn style, gleamed in the fluorescent light. That light ought to be unflattering, but somehow for her it wasn’t. “And this is connected to the case from earlier, the names you wanted me to find?”
“Yes. They were college kids on a ski trip to Rocky Peak. Their frat-boy prank caused my mother to drive off the road. They were jumping into the road for some kind of initiation thing.”
“An accident, then.”
“Maybe. The thing is, something’s off. I went to see Rick McConor, who was the only Rocky Peak local in the group. He kicked me off his property.” Just let this go, he kept saying after Jake explained why he was there. Don’t be an idiot. Let it go. Go home to your pub and your lodge and your flirtations and let it the fuck go.
“Interesting. You’re so charming, why would he do that?”
Her dry tone made him do a double take. He grinned reluctantly. “Touché. But yes, it was interesting. Especially the part with the trained pit bull and the armed security guard.” Reflexively, he rubbed his elbow, which he’d injured while running headlong out the spiked ironwork gate. “They play dirty in Beverly Hills.”
She gave a small laugh. “Take it from me, I’d rather get lost in the worst downtown skid row than in any of the wealthy LA neighborhoods.” “Yeah. Lesson learned. None of the other former frat boys would talk to me either.”
“Yeah, I’m not used to getting stonewalled. I’m a bartender, usually people love spilling their guts to me.”
“The Last Chance,” she murmured.
He looked at her in surprise. “You Googled me.”
Of course she had. James Investigations’ reputation was for thoroughness and professionalism. She probably knew all about him.
“I did. You own and operate the Last Chance Tavern in Rocky Peak, in the Cascades. You live above the bar.”
“Killer view. Mountain peaks, forests, sky. It’d take your breath away.”
“As you can see, views are very important to me.” She gestured at the blank office space surrounding them.
Her tone was so dry that it took him a moment to register her sarcasm. When it did, he pounced. “Oh ho, what’s this I hear, a joke? Isn’t that against your ground rules?”
“Don’t get too excited. I’m just trying to put my client at ease.”
He pointed at her triumphantly. “And another one. Good God, I think I’m contagious.”
She raised an eyebrow and carefully wrote that down in her notebook. “Good to know.”
“No. Not what I mean. I promise—”
She threw up her hand in a “stop” gesture. “Please, I beg of you, I have no interest in any of your medical details. If I did, I could find that out more easily that you can imagine.”
“No secrets from you, huh?”
“Correct. Which, by the way, happens to be another ground rule. I need to know everything you know about the case. No holding back.”
“I never hold back.” He gave that sentence just enough flirtatiousness to earn another stern glance from her.
She shifted her attention to her file folder. “I’m still not understanding what you want from me. I can research the names you gave me more extensively, if you like. Maybe interview them.”
“No. Things have changed since then. Some crazy-ass family secrets have spilled out, and I’m starting to think there’s a lot more to my mother’s death than it seems.”
He started. “Excuse me?”
She leaned forward and planted her elbows on the desk. “I have a brother.”
“Yes, I met him.”
“I know that college-age boys can be idiots—and that they don’t necessarily grow out of it—but as soon as you described that so-called initiation rite, I saw red flags. I’ve never heard of a frat prank like that, have you?”
He gazed at her blankly. He’d never questioned it, to be honest. But she was right. Maybe that was why she was the professional investigator and he was the amateur who kept getting kicked off people’s properties. “You’re good.” “
Yes.” She said it matter-of-factly. He found her confidence…arousing, actually. A pull of attraction tugged at him, but he buried it with a mighty shove. The little kernel of attraction to Olivia was going precisely nowhere. He had to shovel dirt over it and maybe pour concrete on top of that.
“Want to know the reason I’m good?” she asked.
“Because you’re a badass?”
A flush of color swept across her cheeks, then receded so quickly he might have imagined it. Could she control her blushes? He wouldn’t be surprised.
“I’m not a badass. The reason I’m good is that my mind has this funny way of making connections that don’t make sense at first glance. I’ve learned not to judge when something absurd pops into my head. You never know what’s going to crack a case open, and often it’s something that seemed completely unrelated at first.”
“Then you’re going to love this case. It’s a whole bunch of crazy puzzle pieces that I can’t put together.”
With a gleam in her eyes, she put pen to paper. “Name some of them.”
“Laine Thibodeau, the movie star who’s now missing. And your first client, which is one of the reasons I came to you. Then there’s a carjacking stalker who has advanced dementia and won’t be any help.” He ticked them off on his fingers. “A marina in San Diego that got torched by an arsonist. That’s just the start.”
She blinked at him, not bothering to write any of that down. “Wow, you really do need me, don’t you?”
The impact of her deepest indigo gaze hit him right in the gut. She was so damn beautiful. But she didn’t seem to give a crap about that.
“Yeah. I really do.”
She had no idea how much. How his mother’s death nagged at him, haunted him. How everyone else in his family was able to move on with their lives, but he wasn’t.
In desperation, he’d finally decided to devote all his energy to finding answers. But he kept hitting walls. And pit bulls. He needed help.
Olivia James had no idea how much faith he was putting in her.
“I need you so much I’ll even put up with all your rules,” he said lightly.
“Why am I having trouble believing that?” she asked dryly. He was starting to really like that sneaky sense of humor of hers. “Last chance for what, by the way?”
“Your bar. Last chance for what? A beer?”
“It’s the last bar before the town limits, so yeah, something like that.” He shrugged. “It’s just a name. Nothing too deep.”
She cocked her head, looking unconvinced, but he kept his expression neutral. She really was good. There was much more to the name he’d chosen, but that was private.
He shifted on the metal folding chair, noticing that his ass had gone numb. “How about we get into all the details somewhere else? Somewhere with padding?”
Images of barstools or padded booths came to mind. So many places would be more comfortable than the barebones office of James Investigations.
Olivia squinted toward the ceiling. “You know, I think I have the perfect spot.”
“Great. I’ll buy.”
“No worries about that. I have a membership. The ground rules say that I get to pick the place.”
“Do you see me arguing with the professional?” he said virtuously.
“Lucky for you, no.”
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...