Unmasked Dreams: A Second-chance, Romantic-suspense Novel
From award-winning author LJ Evans comes a daring and decadent, friends-to-lovers, standalone romance between a broody bad-boy-turned-hero and a vibrant, tenacious scientist…
“He was an undefinable formula. An accelerant lighting me up.”
Dawson Langley is living three separate lives and hiding secrets from those he loves most. Returning to New London and discovering Violet Banner managing the bed and breakfast he calls home isn’t just a problem, it’s a catastrophe because she’s the only person who’s ever seen right through him.
When Violet first met Dawson, he was a guilt-ridden boy who branded her heart without ever touching her. Five years later, she thinks she’s finally moved on, but one torturous skim of a hand proves nothing has changed. Except for the lab she’s built in the garage and the shadows lurking around him.
As the clandestine activity tangled with his boat race starts to unravel, Dawson is determined to keep Violet out of harm's way. But everything changes when she stumbles upon the truth and unknowingly turns the storm that’s coming in her direction.
There’s only one thing left to do―give in―and hope they can survive the swells together.
Inspired by Daughtry’s “What About Now,” comes a slow-burn, standalone romance with vibrant, heartfelt characters and an adventure that whirls the reader around the globe and back.
Release date: April 5, 2021
Publisher: LJ Evans Book
Print pages: 437
Reader says this book is...: action-packed (1) happily ever after (1) satisfying ending (1) strong chemistry (1) strong heroine (1) suspenseful (1) swoon-worthy (1) terrific writing (1)
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Unmasked Dreams: A Second-chance, Romantic-suspense Novel
“You knew it still hurts underneath my scars
From when they pulled me apart.”
Performed by Taylor Swift
Written by Dessner / Swift
As I ground the gears in Jersey’s ancient Civic for the hundredth time since starting out on this adventure, I tried not to cringe. I also tried not to think about how much she was going to kill me when she found out I’d taken the car without her okay…without a license. Instead, I focused on the one thing making my heart sing.
He’d called me for help.
I’d burst into dance for all of thirty seconds after I’d hung up with him. My heart was still dancing, and the smile that had taken over my face hadn’t disappeared since then. My body was literally quivering with joy.
“Maybe you should let me drive?” His deep voice hit me in my core, all the way down to my teenage, hyperactive, hormone-driven regions. Even when it was sarcastic and teasing, like now, it still had my entire body reacting.
Like it had ever since he’d first walked into Mandy and Leena’s with his broody, bad-boy attitude and chip on his shoulder.
“It’s good practice,” I said because I’d never admit I couldn’t do something in front of him. Not now, maybe never.
“If you drop the transmission, Jersey won’t forgive me. She’s already going to chew us both out. Why didn’t you just wake her?” he asked.
Why hadn’t I? Or Jada, for that matter? While both of them would have been disgruntled to be torn from their sleep, neither would have denied me. Denied him.
You wanted to be the one to save him, my conscience rang out.
My brain knew better, but my soul was still leaping for joy because I’d been the one he’d dialed. True, he and Truck were fighting, but he could have called a CarShare. I’m not sure they would have picked him up in the middle of nowhere, but he hadn’t even tried. He’d called me.
I’d been the first person he thought of.
The lights on Jersey’s car flickered before coming back on, and I lost my stomach for a moment. It felt darker than normal. The clouds had settled down right on top of the pavement, making it hard to see anything in the dim reach of the Honda’s headlights. If the lights went away completely, I’d be screwed. I’d never get home before Jersey realized the car was missing.
I squinted as I rounded the corner. What was that on the road?
“Violet, look out!” he shouted.
I swerved at the last minute to avoid the deer that was already sprinting away, but the jerk of the wheel had the car careening, slipping along the wet roads. My body was trying to respond with a foot on the brakes that only seemed to make the back end of the car slide worse, as if it were going in one direction while my body headed in another.
Suddenly, the cliff was there, and the brakes weren’t responding. Dawson grabbed the steering wheel, flipping it in the opposite direction of how I was turning, but the dual motion did nothing to keep the car from diving off.
A scream ripped through my chest, echoing through the tiny compartment. My heart was in my throat, and my entire body was shaking as the car headed toward the rocks and the depths of the sea.
We were going to die. I thought I’d saved him, but I was going to kill us both.
We hit the water, and my limbs went flying, hitting metal and glass. My head whipped backward and then was thrust forward again before I slammed into the airbag as it exploded. Pain ratcheted through me.
Then, there was darkness…
A brutal stabbing sensation in my wrist and my head washed over me as I was jostled awake. Warm, strong arms surrounded me. The scent of Dawson filled my senses, spicy like pine and sea blending together, but there was another smell surrounding us as well. That metallic scent of blood. Was it mine or his or both?
“Vi,” his deep voice called to me with torment and regret searing through it.
I strained to open my eyes, struggled to see if we were in heaven, hell, or some in-between place.
It didn’t matter.
One mistake and I’d ruined everything.
Violet – Five Years Later
“Life gets heavy,
Your heart's like stone.
No, I won't let you disappear,
You'll never be alone.”
Performed by The Goo Goo Dolls
Written by Kim / Kim / Ro / Park
Microscopes and music. What could be better than that?
Watery Reflection was singing about making dreams come true in my ears as I danced around the lab, putting things away. My feet were silent in my protective gear, adding a smooth, Michael Jackson-ish glide to my motions that brought a much-needed smile to my lips. Lab work always cheered me up. It was the very best kind of scientific activity. Theories trying to be proven. So much hope.
The tinge of heartache plaguing me since receiving the latest rejection from the nanoparticle committee was easing away. If I couldn’t work on my own experiment, helping one of my best friends with hers was the next best thing.
I pushed the button for the exit doors, walking through the first set of them into the gowning room. I waited for the hiss of the seal behind me before removing the white Gore-Tex suit. I threw it in the laundry hamper before pulling off the initial layer of disposable masks and shoe coverings. Then, I walked out the final set of doors to the office area, tossing the last layer of gear away.
The explosion of color and personality in the office area was a stark contrast to the metal and tile sterility of the lab itself. Proof of life. The desks were littered with coffee mugs containing nerdy science puns, and the walls were plastered with vibrant posters. It had become a joke to see how many stickers the lockers could fit even as the Stanford administration continued sending notes about it being against the rules.
Raisa walked in as I moved to the computer I’d claimed as mine. My beautiful friend could easily be on a runway. Blonde hair with dark undertones that hairstylists everywhere killed to replicate, flawless white skin, and beautiful brown eyes surrounded in the darkest lashes I’d ever seen—even when she didn’t have makeup on.
“Have you already checked the numbers?” she asked. Her excitement allowed her Russian accent to pop up when her English was usually more perfect than mine.
“I did! You’re going to be happy with them. Come see,” I responded, pulling up the stats I’d just keyed in.
Her smile grew wide, her face lighting up as she reviewed them.
Raisa was two semesters into her bioengineering doctorate, and her photovoltaic nano cells were a hair away from being viable. Changing the world one cell at a time.
My heart twisted with longing and anticipation. I wanted to be in her shoes―close to finishing my project. She was a year ahead of me, but at the pace I was going, it was likely she’d be done before I even got the okay to start.
“The committee rejected my thesis submission,” I breathed out, playing with the ends of my braid.
“Oh, Vi, I’m so sorry,” she said, meaning it.
“I knew it was a stretch,” I said with a shrug. Hadn’t Silas told me that enough times?
“Creating an organic antimicrobial should not be a stretch,” she defended my concept, and I loved her for it.
“Right?” I said, twirling the stool around. “I mean, the applications are almost limitless. Skincare. Makeup. Food. Shelf life is the real showstopper in the natural market.”
“Exactly!” she said. She didn’t even complain that we’d had this same conversation a dozen times at least.
The formulas for my antimicrobial floated through my head. Once upon a time, I’d thought I’d be able to cure cancer with insects. Then, I’d read an article on the benefits of clove and sage, and it was like a giant light bulb had gone off in my head. If we kept the crap out of the products people used, we might just be able to prevent some cancers altogether. We wouldn’t discover—like we were now—people getting cancer from formaldehyde or asbestos-filled talc.
“Doesn’t matter, they said no,” I said. “Sometimes, I wonder if getting my Ph.D. is even what I want.”
The words were out before I thought about it. I stopped the stool and met her concerned eyes with my own surprised ones. While it was a thought that had been dancing around in my brain lately, it wasn’t something I’d said out loud to anyone.
“Have you thought about sending the idea to Grâce Charmante yourself?” she asked.
The organic skincare and makeup company had been my intended target if I could get my antimicrobial to work. I’d discovered the company while falling down a rabbit hole, reading about Watery Reflection’s musical journey. The owner, Trista Colt, was the wife of the band’s original drummer. She’d started her company from the ground up. A little seedling that had grown into a giant redwood. She understood entrepreneurship, chemistry, and skincare. Her company even sponsored scholarships for females in the STEM fields regularly.
“I’d need an actual sample with real data before I could market it to her, and I’ll never get that without lab time,” I responded.
“Make the lab yourself,” she threw out casually.
I burst into laughter. “A nanoparticle lab? Yeah. Because I have the multi-millions of dollars to do that.”
She fidgeted with her perfectly manicured nails, and I felt bad for flinging my statement at her, because Raisa was rich. I wasn’t sure what range of millions she existed in, but it was rich enough for her family’s home to be an old Romanov mansion outside St. Petersburg. The last thing I wanted was for her to think I was asking her to sponsor my project.
She pushed my shoulder with a bright-red nail. “I didn’t mean jump right to the cellular level. You could easily set up a lab to do the base testing. Build a case study to show her.”
Before I could give it more thought, the office door opened again, and Silas entered. His black hair gleamed in the LED lighting, a gleam that was reflected in his almost-black eyes. He was lean and handsome, wearing his normal apparel of dress pants and a button-down shirt pressed to perfection. Even back when we’d first met at Berkeley, he’d always dressed as if he were going to work at a finance firm. It had made him stand out as much as his brain and his sex appeal.
“How’d it go?” he asked, lips stretching into a smile that lit up his eyes.
“You should see the numbers,” Raisa told him excitedly, waving him over.
He joined us, putting a hand on my shoulder and looking at the data on the screen. I’d wished the same thing I had every time he touched me lately. I wished I felt more. I wished I felt butterflies in my stomach and goosebumps along my skin. I wished I could return his adoration with more than simple admiration.
My stomach flopped.
“Wow… This is… Wow,” he said. Silas was rarely without words, so I knew he saw the truth as clearly as I did. Raisa’s energy project was going to change everything. No more piles of lithium-ion batteries leaching into the earth. No more rolling blackouts. A true gift to Mother Earth.
Raisa’s smile grew impossibly bigger. “Okay, I’m going to go take a look just because I’ll feel like I’m dreaming until I see it for myself.”
She headed toward the clean-room doors, sticking her feet in the shoe cleaner before stepping to the sticky mat. “Consider what I said, Violet. It’s a real solution.”
She left me alone with Silas.
“What’s she talking about?” he asked, moving to lean against the desk so he could see my face.
“She suggested going it on my own. Making a lab myself.”
His eyes darkened. “The committee rejected your proposal? I told you they would.”
It hurt more than it should have that the man I was dating, king of the science world, was on their side instead of mine. He’d even brought his beloved parents into the discussion last weekend when we’d been at their house for dinner. They’d all jumped to the same conclusion. While what I was talking about was a good idea, it wasn’t earth-shattering enough to justify expensive lab time or a Ph.D. thesis.
I moved away from him, opening the lockers to retrieve my bag.
“Don’t be mad at me for stating the truth,” he said, following.
“I’m not mad,” I responded honestly. I wasn’t. I was…frustrated. Sad. Hurt. Wondering when I’d feel like I was doing more than just going through the motions again. But nowhere in my mixed bag of feelings was mad.
“Why don’t you come onboard with my project? We can tear out the chemistry piece, and that should be juicy enough for the Ph.D. board and the lab Nazis to approve your thesis.”
He’d offered several times. The fact that he didn’t realize how little jumping in on someone else’s theories would ever appeal to me was almost depressing. I didn’t want to be the sidekick. I wanted to prove I could be the superhero my sister, Jersey, had once thought I could be.
When I hesitated, he asked, “Just think about it, okay?”
His soft hand rubbed my arm in a way that was meant to be comforting, and it was ridiculous that I wanted to jerk my arm away. Especially when he kissed me regularly. Since we often shared a bed and found satisfaction together. But lately, the more he touched me, the more I found it hard to block out the feel of someone else’s hand on me. The person I’d promised myself I’d given up years ago.
My phone rang, the screen lighting up with a picture of Jersey and my niece, Nell. They were both blonde little fairies who made me smile just by seeing them. Jersey’s eyes were bright blue, whereas Nell had her dad’s warm, brown eyes. Eyes that also matched her uncle’s and made thoughts of Dawson impossible to avoid when I looked at them.
“Hi, Jers,” I answered, pushing Dawson from my brain.
“Hey…so, I have to go to New London,” she said quietly.
“What? Why?” Panicked thoughts of something being wrong with Mandy or Leena hit me.
“It’s Dad. He...he died,” Jersey said, and I heard in her voice the same thing I heard whenever she spoke of our father. Loss and hurt mingled into a wound that would never completely go away, that would always be a scab easily picked to bleeding again.
“How?” I asked with a guttural growl that had nothing to do with sadness and everything to do with fear.
Silas’s face turned into a big worry line.
“He didn’t hurt anyone,” Jersey rushed out in an attempt to reassure me. She’d known my thoughts had gone right back to the day he’d been behind the wheel of the car that had killed Ana Perez, cost me my spleen, and almost ruined Jersey’s life.
“What did happen?” I asked.
“No big surprise. He drank himself to death. His parole officer found him when he didn’t check in.” The contempt in my sister’s voice matched my own feelings.
“Why do you need to go back? It isn’t like there’s going to be anyone crying at his graveside,” I said, watching as Silas’s eyes grew wider at the darkness in my tone.
“Someone has to make the arrangements. I’m the one listed as his next of kin,” she said quietly. Jersey was always quiet, but this had an extra layer of thoughtfulness to it.
I didn’t want her to have to go back to New London to deal with it. She’d escaped. Truck had found her, married her, and brought her into the light, away from the blackness our father had cast her in. Away from a town that blamed her for her teacher’s death when she wasn’t the one who’d been behind the wheel drunk.
“Truck and Nell are going with me. Mandy and Leena are thrilled to get to see us again in such a short span of time,” she told me.
The two women who’d taken Jersey and me in when we’d needed it most had become our family when we’d had none. They’d just come out in May for my graduation, but their trip had been hectic and short.
“I want to come.” I was surprised by how much I meant it—not for Dad, but to be there for Jersey. To have a chance to see Mandy and Leena again.
“You don’t have to come,” she answered automatically, protecting me as she’d always protected me.
“I want to come,” I said again, more forcefully. “Give me your flight details, and I’ll book a ticket.”
“We haven’t bought them yet. Truck is online right now. If you’re really sure you want to come, we’ll just get one for you too.”
“I can pay for it,” I told her. I had a job in the bioengineering department as part of a work-study program. Between that and my scholarship, I’d carefully saved up a teeny-tiny nest egg.
She sighed. “Violet, we got it. Truck and I can afford to buy you a ticket.”
I knew she could because she’d come a long way since our dark days of dingy hotels and mac and cheese. Truck’s Coast Guard job might not pay a fortune, but Jersey was doing extremely well off her comic books. There was even talk of making her superhero, Viola the Jewel, into a movie or a TV show. I still hated whenever she spent an extra nickel on me when she didn’t need to.
“Violet Banner, stop overthinking this,” she demanded.
“Fine. Just let me know when to show up,” I relented.
“I’ll have Truck send over all the flight information. Let us know if you want us to pick you up on our way to the airport.”
I laughed. “Jersey, you’d literally have to drive past the airport to come and get me. I can get there myself.”
She chuckled. “You’re right. I can’t help myself.”
“I know. And I love you for it,” I said.
We hung up, and I turned to Silas who’d grown more and more agitated while he’d listened to my half of the conversation. “I guess I’m going to Connecticut for a few days.”
His eyes grew wide. The only time I ever spoke about New London was when I mentioned Mandy or Leena. It wasn’t just painful memories of a dad who hadn’t loved us that held me back. It was also the memory of a dark-haired boy with a chip on his shoulder and eyes that glowed like amber lights. A boy who had never been mine, but who I’d wanted so badly I’d almost done the same thing my father had done. I’d almost cost us our lives.
“Why? What’s going on?” Silas asked when I didn’t offer it up on my own.
“Dad died,” I said with a careless shrug. “I don’t want Jersey to deal with it alone.”
He reached for me, pulling me into a hug. “I’m so sorry, Violet.”
There was true sorrow in his voice, real loss, and it made my eyes water because I didn’t feel any of the things I should for my dad.
“At least he won’t ever hurt anyone again.” That thought filled me with more emotion than his death did. “But I am sorry it’s falling to Jersey, yet again, to clean up the mess he’s left behind.”
Silas’s arms around me tightened. He could never understand my antipathy for my father. Not when he had two bright, shiny, loving parents who’d done everything they could to make sure their son soared.
“I’ll come with you,” he said.
I shook my head. “There’s no need. Honest.”
“Your dad just died. You’re my girlfriend. I think there’s a need to be there for you,” he said gruffly.
I winced at the emotion in his words and the term girlfriend. We’d started as a date that had turned into a kiss which had slipped into something more. Now, we’d been together for almost six months, and I wasn’t even really sure how it had happened. Like we’d just slid from one thing to the next without an actual conversation about it. It wasn’t until this moment that I realized exactly what I’d done by not speaking up. I’d let him think there was a chance of a long-term “us.”
I had to do something about it now. I had to break it off before it got more serious. I had to break it off before it had a chance to harden into a permanent substance that couldn’t be removed.
“An' I don't give a damn 'bout my reputation,
Never said I wanted to improve my station.”
Performed by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
Written by Cordell / Jett
The seawater sprayed up over the side of the boat as I spun the wheel sharply. Gritty droplets landed on my face, but I didn’t dare wipe them off. Next to me, Dax swore in French, and my smile grew. He clung to the side as I dropped the hammer, flying toward the pier at a speed that would have caused most people to yell a warning. Dax didn’t breathe another word. He knew me too well.
He knew exactly how I would rein the boat in before it thudded into the wood and metal structure. He also knew there was no way in hell I was letting Demario win this race.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Angelica’s dark hair flying behind her in the wind as we passed them on the starboard side. I couldn’t spend any time relishing in the one-fingered wave she gave me.
Instead, I cut them off and slid past the buoy marking the end of the race.
I’d already throttled back and was slowing down as Dax patted me on the back.
“Putain de bordel de merde,” he said. Holy fucking freaking hell was right. “You did it. That was the closest I think we’ve ever come. Can we please not do it again?”
I laughed. “That was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.”
He rolled his eyes at me but didn’t comment.
Once upon a time, racing boats had been danger and rebellion. There’d been years when it had been the worst of me instead of the best of me. But now…now I’d grown it into a livelihood. A damn good one.
The shiny black-and-red jet boat we’d used for this race was one of five boats we used on a regular basis. All different lengths, engine sizes, and fuel capacities that we could tailor to the race at hand. Our newest design was on its way to America in a container ship while we waited to hear about the race of a lifetime that would start in New York.
We tied off the boat and jumped onto the pier.
The warm sun glimmered over the crowd gathered on the dock, covering them in a hazy shimmer. Their expensive clothes and even more expensive jewelry were a statement to exactly where we were—a private yacht club in Tarifa, Spain. One whose annual membership fees cost more than the average American made in a year.
The murmur on the dock was a mass of varied emotions. Some congratulatory, some growling with displeasure, but all poised and groomed enough to keep it together and not throw punches. The wagers on the race had been bigger than the prize itself, and Demario had just lost his followers a boatload. Even if they could afford to lose the cash, it still stung to watch it wash away with the tide. It would make Demario even hungrier to agree to the terms of the next contest.
Demario docked in the slip next to us. His dark, Italian face was broody as hell, and Angelica was still scowling. If she’d been at the helm, I might not have been able to pull off the win. She put my skills to the test every single time we went up against each other.
This adventure from Tarifa, across the Strait of Gibraltar, to the tip of Morocco and back had been her idea. She’d raced it in their boat more times than I had. Hell, she’d practically grown up racing it.
Amen from the Spanish Yacht Club was one big grin as he approached. More good news. We needed him onboard if we wanted a chance at the Conquistar de la Atlántica cup.
“Quite the flashy ending,” he commented. His English was better than mine. Just like Dax’s. They’d both been raised in Europe, educated at the most exclusive boarding schools and universities, and taught an English that was full of proper vowels and full syllables.
My English was California hick town. Soft a’s and slurred s’s. But it gave me an advantage in this world I’d been living in for five years. They always underestimated me. I was always the blue-collar American who surprised them—even after all the wins Dax and I had under our belts.
We moved from the pier into the exclusive club full of eighteenth-century gold-gilded charm. At the antique bar, I ordered a round for the four of us.
“To Angelica and Demario for their fabulous attempt to displace Dax and me in the charts,” I said, raising my glass to them.
“It’s not over, Langley,” Demario grunted out.
“You’re in then?” Dax spoke before I could. “You’ll join Enzo and us in an attempt to win the cup?”
Demario glanced at Angelica. She gave a curt nod.
“Another round to celebrate,” Dax called.
I was never quite sure what Demario and Angelica’s relationship was. They didn’t seem friends or lovers. It seemed like they tolerated each other for the sake of the race. Whereas Dax and I were friends. Best friends.
Our relationship might have started off extremely unbalanced when he’d found me working as a mechanic at the marina in New London. But every time I’d passed up my winnings to put them back into the racing company we’d built, the scales had drawn a bit closer.
“I hate the idea of giving you more money,” Demario griped. “Can’t I use my own goddamn boat instead of the behemoth you’ve built?”
Dax bristled. Our yachts weren’t behemoths. They were goddamn pieces of art. A slick combination of a jet boat, cigarette boat, and day cruiser. Perfect for long-distance racing but also a design we could sell to the socialites in Dax’s inner circle who would use them as a statement to the world.
I’d designed the structure and the motor. Dax had designed the aesthetics. The Italian shipbuilder we were working with had thrown a hand in once they’d realized just what we’d envisioned. We had three finished and on their way to New York with ten more in the works.
“Quit griping, Demario. We’re practically giving you the boat,” I said, slapping him on the back. “They’ll be worth a nice little chunk of change when we win the Conquistar in them.”
Movement out of the corner of my eye brought Jada into focus. She was dressed in a bikini glittering with gems that was supposed to be hidden under a coverup, but the bright-blue material was practically sheer. Her silky black hair was tied back in a low ponytail and hidden beneath a floppy sunhat that would have given Audrey Hepburn a run for her money.
Beside me, Dax stiffened as he took her in. She was tiny with slim curves and sharp edges. Her light skin was tinted soft pink from the sunshine she’d just retreated from. She hadn’t removed her oversized, dark sunglasses even though we were inside, but I could almost guarantee her dark brown eyes had squinted in my friend’s direction before landing on me.
She put her arm through mine. “Congratulations are in order, I see.”
“You didn’t watch?” I asked with a grin.
She shook her head. “No.”
Jada Mori rarely apologized for anything. She didn’t need to. She was the star in the middle of a social circle full of elites. She led the pack, and they all scrambled after her. Except Dax.
It may have been Dax who’d brought me into the group of the world’s richest twenty-somethings, but it was Jada who’d made sure I fit. It was Jada who’d taken me shopping to buy the clothes I needed to blend in. It had been Jada who’d invited me to travel with her and stay at her family’s chateaus and mansions scattered around the globe. Dax had made me in the boating world. Jada had made me with the world’s high society.
The reason she’d done it was a splash of cold water along my back.
My joy from the water and the win slipped away.
I eyed her again. The sunglasses were for more than show.
I pulled her away from the crowd, down the bar. “What’s up?” I asked quietly.
“Ken’Ichi arrived this morning,” she said, flipping her diamond-studded phone case over and over and over on the bar.
I frowned at her nervous habit but gave a curt nod. We’d known he was showing up. I had business to discuss with him. Ken’Ichi was Tsuyoshi Mori’s first lieutenant―his Wakagashira. I’d been working for almost four years to get to this point. To have this exact meeting become a reality.
“Otōsan called at the same time. It seems my philandering ways have embarrassed the family for the last time. I am to be married off in hopes that my husband―or motherhood―will tame me,” she said.
“Were those his exact words?” I asked, concern flowing through me. Last week, the paparazzi had sneaked onto the villa’s grounds and taken a picture of her and a male companion on the balcony with more skin than clothes showing. I was the reason she’d been out there to begin with. I’d asked her to cause a distraction. I hadn’t asked her to have sex to do it, but with Jada, I should have known she’d use the one power she so deftly wielded.
“His exact words were, ‘You will marry Ken’Ichi,’” she said in a rough imitation of her dad’s strong Japanese accent compared to her almost completely Americanized one.
“Ken’Ichi,” I repeated like a moron. It didn’t shock me, and yet it did. He was in his forties and was old enough to be her father, but he was also the closest thing to a son that Mori-sama had.
Jada pulled herself from me. Before I could stop her, she’d climbed onto the bar top and called the room to order by flinging her crystal glass into a thousand pieces.
“We’re celebrating Armaud Racing’s win at my place. Gates open at nine this evening. If you don’t know who I am or where it’s at, you’re not invited.” Laughter flew through the room because the crowd allowed into the club all knew exactly who she was.
“Jada,” I said, a warning in my tone that she chose to ignore. She was poking the rabid dog.
She stumbled slightly on her way down, and it was Dax who caught her. If I hadn’t been standing right next to them, I would never have heard her whisper, “Hands off, Armaud. Wouldn’t want to taint those lily-white fingers of yours.”
A barb to her word choice that had nothing to do with his tan skin.
She pushed away and headed toward the door, calling back to me, “You coming now, Dawson? Or should I send Kaida back for you later?”
Dax and I exchanged a worried look.
“I’m coming,” I said.
I followed her out to the bulletproof sedan that Kaida Ito was driving. Part bodyguard and part chauffeur, the woman pretty much went everywhere with Jada. She was dark-haired and light-skinned with a gracefulness that spoke to her karate training, but she also had an edge to her that said Don’t fuck with me. She had a gun at her back and a knife in her boot, and Tsuyoshi Mori trusted her to keep his only child safe in a world that might use her for bait.
Jada and I didn’t say a word in the car. We couldn’t. Once we arrived at the villa, I dragged her out toward the pool. We were careful to avoid the cameras, and even then, we spoke in a hushed tone as if a million ears were standing around us.
“Is it a good idea to throw another party?” I asked.
“You need a good reason to be drunk and stumbly, and this might be my last hoorah if Otōsan gets his way,” she whispered back.
I needed to have an excuse for being loud and obnoxious when I met with Ken’Ichi Matsuda tonight. One that would allow me to get close enough to his phone to be able to clone it and drop a listening device beside it. But I didn’t need Jada risking more for me to do it.
“I don’t need you for this,” I told her.
“In for a penny, in for a pound, right?”
She was staring at me, but I couldn’t really see her eyes because of the sunglasses. I reached up and slid them down her nose. She didn’t object, but she did look away from my gaze.
Her eyes were tired with deep, dark circles underscoring them.
It was my fault.
I’d taken advantage of her friendship with Violet to get close. I’d taken advantage of the way she felt about Dax to pull us all together. I was an asshole.
No good to the core.
I could hear my father’s voice echoing through my head. It seemed to be on repeat lately. Like it had been in those final days leading up to the boat crash in Clover Lake five and half years ago. The one that had almost cost my friend Carlos everything, banished me from my father’s world, and thrust me into my brother’s Coast Guard life in New London.
I’d been out of control, a reckless twenty-two-year-old hell-bent on proving every bad thing his father had thought of him to be true.
It wasn’t me who was out of control now. Instead, it was the situation. The life I’d chosen to lead. The hidden parts that no one but Jada knew about. The risk that was growing in size and shape and form until it was surrounding us both like a black cloak. A weighted one, hanging heavy on our shoulders.
If anything happened to Jada, I’d never forgive myself. Violet would never forgive me either. I pushed that thought aside. I couldn’t think of Vi now. It was never a good idea, but these days, especially. I could only be grateful that her life had pulled her far away from Jada. That their friendship, while still existent, was more like modern-day pen pals. Text exchanges and video chats instead of slumber parties and shopping sprees. Much like how my relationship with Violet now solely revolved around our married siblings and our shared niece instead of stolen moments both simultaneously glorious and painful.
Jada walked away from me while I was still lost in thought.
Standing in the middle of the heavy, exotically scented garden of the villa, I smelled a honey sweetness and saw lilac eyes flashing before me. I shook myself out of the reverie and followed Jada. Nothing beneficial could come from being lost in those memories.
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...