By Kelli Maine
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“This book hooked me from the very beginning and glued me to every page. MJ stole my heart and quickly became one of my new favorite leading men. Loved it.” — Michelle Valentine, New York Times Bestselling Author of Rock the Heart
Maddie Simcoe knows the devastation that comes from keeping secrets. Now, she’s desperate to move on from the heartbreak that almost destroyed her — trading wild passion that once made her knees weak for a life of comfortable stability. But before Maddie can start over, she must return home to put the past behind her once and for all…
When Maddie blows back into MJ Rocha’s life, nothing will stop him from proving to her that walking away from him was the biggest mistake of her life — not even the engagement ring she wears. Her every look, every touch tells MJ that the fire that once raged between them still burns hot, and MJ won’t give up until Maddie gives in to the inferno.
Trapped by a hurricane roaring through Turtle Tear Island, MJ and Maddie find shelter in each others’ arms. While the lightning flashes, MJ and Maddie are helpless to fight bonds of desire that tie them together. But just as they’re about to surrender to the torturous longing that consumes them both, the storm unleashes violent secrets from MJ’s past…secrets that could wash away all MJ and Maddie’s hopes of forever…
TAKEN BY STORM
Table of Contents
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The soles of MJ's boots echoing off the concrete driveway sounded like drum beats in his head. A raging, metal death band soundtrack to his shit life. He reached his car—a black '68 Camaro convertible bought with blood money from his grandfather—and tossed his duffel bag in the backseat.
"Don't tell me you're running away again."
Her voice sparked chills up his back. MJ turned and looked, but could only see a cloud of cigarette smoke lingering under the garage light. "Stay out of my business," he said into the darkness.
Her deep, sultry chuckle sank inside his ears and made him close his eyes. That laugh. So many nights… that laugh in the dark, under the sheets. God, how he'd ached for her when she left.
"I thought you quit smoking," he said, despite himself. Why could he never walk away from her?
Maddie slipped around the corner from the side of the garage and leaned against the door. He could just make out the faint red shine of her lips. Her dark hair loose around her shoulders. The predatory gleam in her eye. "Old habits die hard."
MJ let out a sharp laugh. "Not all of them." He opened the car door and got behind the wheel. There was no way he'd stay and get lured into her bed again. No way he'd go through that kind of torture when she took off on him.
Maddie had been his addiction, his drug, and he intended to stay clean. Clean, but not sober. The only place he wanted to be was at the bottom of a bottle of Jack Daniel's.
He fumbled with his keys, giving her one too many seconds to cross the driveway and reach his car. "The first time you ran away," she said, laying her hands on top of his car door, "you got as far as Coach's house. That time it was my fault because I spent two weeks of our summer at sleep-away camp and abandoned you here alone. Is it my fault this time too?"
Jesus, she was wearing that perfume—the one that smelled like vanilla and spice.
He remembered that summer. Two whole weeks without Maddie. She was the only bright spot in his life back then. His best friend, before she became even more.
His grandfather, Enzo Rocha, The Puppet Master, had kept MJ under his care and his thumb since he was born. MJ had been shipped from nanny to private boarding school, then another boarding school and another when he got kicked out for fighting, but he was never wanted under this roof—his grandfather's roof—this fucking mansion of a house where his grandfather would never even have had to see his face if he didn't want to. MJ's stays had been limited to short visits during summer and winter breaks.
And Maddie had always been there. The house manager's daughter. Four years older and wiser. Four years more experienced—a college girl when he was in high school. It was Maddie who had taken his virginity and his heart. It was Maddie who had destroyed his trust and ruined him for any other girl.
MJ's eyes roamed her face and down her body. The body that used to belong to him. His palms tingled with flesh memories of holding her breasts in his hands. The image of her naked was seared into his mind like it had been branded there. The way he made her sigh. The way he made her moan and whimper his name. His mouth watered, knowing exactly how she would taste, her lips, her skin, her… he had to stop himself. She wasn't his. She'd broken her promise. She'd left him.
"Where are you going?" Maddie asked him. "Can I come along?"
"My life is none of your business." MJ shot her a stony glare. "Why are you even here?" He threw up a hand to stop her from answering. "You know what? Never mind. I don't even care."
He shoved the key into the ignition and fired up the engine. When she didn't step back from the car, he glanced up at her to find her staring down at him. He tried to look away, but couldn't. She'd always had a way of seeing inside him to the pain and hurt. She could always make it go away, and damn it, he needed her to. So he kept his eyes glued to hers like she was a fucking life-line until he felt something shift and crack inside him.
"You're not doing this to me again." He put the car in reverse knowing, it was too late, his words were a lie.
Maddie slowly strolled into the backyard. She hated hurting MJ. The hurt in his eyes, mixed with anger and something close to loathing… it was more than she could bear.
She wrapped her arms around her stomach and took a few deep breaths to calm her nerves. She should've found somewhere else to go.
Maddie laughed silently to herself. She'd asked MJ if he was running away, but she was the one doing the running. She fingered the diamond ring under her shirt hanging on the chain around her neck and felt the familiar sting of anxiety shoot up from her stomach to her throat. Talan had been so understanding when she told him she needed time to think. She wasn't sure she deserved it.
The night he gave her the ring, the city skyline in the sunset took Maddie's breath away. Across the table from her, Talan's hazel eyes didn't leave her face. His expression held so much love and sincerity. She had a feeling she knew what the special night was about, why he brought her to Coach Insignia all the way up on the seventy-second floor of the Renaissance Center. A romantic, sunset dinner at the most expensive restaurant in town could only mean one thing.
They'd finished their dinners, and Maddie's dessert sat half-eaten on the plate in front of her. She couldn't eat one more bite.
She knew it was now or never.
Then the waiter approached their table with a bottle of chilled champagne and two flutes.
Maddie swallowed. Hard. Was this really happening?
She wasn't ready to be married. She wasn't ready to be with Talan for the rest of her life. Was she?
Purposely avoiding looking at Talan, Maddie watched the waiter walk away.
"Maddie?" Talan said.
She turned to him. He balanced a black ring box in the palm of his hand. She held her breath and studied his warm face, a sprinkle of freckles across his nose, amber flecks in his eyes, auburn hair to match the sunset outside the windows.
Talan was everything a woman wanted.
He was everything Maddie should want.
So, why was she so afraid?
He opened the box. A beautiful, platinum diamond ring sat on the cushion. "Will you do me the honor of being my wife?"
It felt like a porcupine crawled through her stomach. Yes. No. Her mind whirled. "I—I want to say yes, but I need some time to think."
Talan sat the ring box on the table and nodded, discouraged. "You don't want to be with me?"
"No! I do want to be with you." Maddie reached across and took his hand. "We haven't even been together a year yet. What's the rush?"
Talan frowned and rubbed his forehead. "No rush. It just felt like the right time."
Maddie's heart sank. How could she do this to him? She loved Talan and it wasn't like she'd never thought of marrying him over the last few months. They were clearly heading in that direction.
"This was a total surprise," she said. "I just need to think about it, that's all. Okay?"
Talan took a deep breath. "Maddie, maybe we need to take a break. Keep the ring and think about it." He opened her hand and sat the ring box on her palm.
It was heavier than she'd imagined it would be. "A break?"
She could tell he was disappointed and maybe even a little angry, but he wanted to break up?
"I love you, Maddie. Whatever you decide, it won't change that. But, I can't make you want to marry me. Take some time away from me to figure out how you feel. Do whatever you need to do to make your decision. When you're ready to be with me or let me go, tell me."
It had only been a couple days. The emotions the memory spurred in Maddie were still so strong, they knocked the breath out of her. She had no idea how to make this decision.
Maddie had wandered inside her father's apartment over the garage while reliving the night Talan proposed. Now, she paced the floor in her dad's living room. He should've been home from the big house by now. It wasn't that she was worried. She knew where he was, but she wanted him here. He was too old to be staying out so late. She wished he didn't need this job. The last person she wanted him working for was Enzo Rocha, the Old Man, as she and MJ liked to call him. But her dad had come to think of the Old Man as a good friend over the years he'd worked for him. She just hoped her dad hadn't mentioned the fact that she was back.
The Old Man had run her off a year and a half ago, but this time it was different. She was here for a good reason. A reason that had nothing to do with MJ.
Maddie sat on the end of the couch and dug her chain out from under her shirt. Her ring really was beautiful, a full carat emerald cut diamond set in a platinum band. It sparkled and shot rainbows up onto the ceiling.
She knew Talan would be at home, sitting up in bed with his electronic tablet wearing his black-framed glasses, no shirt and pajama pants. He'd have ESPN on the TV, but he wouldn't be paying any attention to it.
Contentment settled over her thinking about how warm it would be snuggled next to him. How he'd still smell faintly of cologne and play with her hair.
She'd been so lucky to meet Talan. After graduating from Michigan State and coming home to Sandy Springs for what she thought was forever, only to be run off by Enzo Roach, she was devastated when she moved back to East Lansing. She and Talan hadn't started dating right away. She told him about MJ, about how she'd had to break up with him, although she didn't dare tell Talan—or anyone—why she left Sandy Springs.
They became great friends first, then slowly, their relationship developed into more. He was perfect. Loving and loyal, caring, hard-working. She never had to worry about the ground shifting under her feet with him. He was stable and their relationship was what good marriages were based on.
Maddie curled up on the couch with her head on the armrest. She even liked Talan's family, and from what she knew from her married friends, that never happened.
Clearly, there were more pros than cons when it came to her decision. Any sane woman would jump at the chance to marry a man like Talan. So, what was she doing wasting time back in Sandy Springs, Georgia, at the Rocha Estate?
Don't answer that question, she told herself. It was of the rhetorical variety that had plagued her mind on repeat for the past year and a half. Every question came down to the same, one-word, one-name answer.
He hit the door of the Third Base Lounge with both hands, making it bounce back off the wall as he stepped inside. His first priority was a drink or five, then he'd move on to a distraction. Glancing around, he didn't see the female distraction he'd been getting around to knowing better. Carnally better. Too bad. Tonight would've been a night for her to remember.
He was glad Paul was behind the bar tonight and not the new guy Coach had hired who tried to card MJ two nights ago. He settled in on a bar stool and ordered a double of Jack. This was home and Coach Harting, the owner, was as close to a father as he'd ever had. MJ had grown up eating peanuts and watching cartoons with Maddie in the bar's back office while Coach balanced his books.
Coach Harting had coached every summer Little League team MJ had ever been on and sponsored them with Third Base Lounge jerseys. He was the reason MJ made it onto the GSU baseball team at all after Maddie left.
Those first few months after she'd left, MJ had been a mess. He got drunk and passed out every night, dropped most of his classes his first semester, and started fighting with anyone who wouldn't back down. Coach wouldn't give up on him though, said MJ had too much talent to let a woman destroy his dreams. Coach met with the GSU baseball coach and personally vouched for MJ, said he'd kick MJ's ass if he didn't shape up. Somehow, the GSU coach believed him and let him on the team.
Now Coach owed MJ an ass whooping.
MJ took the shot glass from the bartender. "Keep these coming." He tossed the fiery whiskey down his throat and slammed the glass down onto the bar.
"Bad day?" Paul asked, whisking the empty away and replacing it with another.
MJ rolled his head back and forth from shoulder to shoulder. The Jack warmed his stomach and dulled his senses. "You wouldn't believe the day I've had."
Paul braced his hands against the bar. "A chick?"
MJ took a deep sip of his double shot, nodding. "Kicked me square in the balls." He swallowed and winced. No need to mention his daddy issues. That situation was too fucked up to even try to explain.
Paul dropped his hands. "Sorry, man."
"Yeah. Whatever. We haven't been together for over a year anyway."
Paul leaned in, resting his forearms on the bar. "Wait. You mean Maddie? Is she back?"
MJ exhaled sharply through his nose and downed the rest of his shot.
That was all the answer Paul needed. He gave MJ a friendly punch to the arm and shook his head before striding to the other end of the bar where he was being flagged down for a beer.
Someone ran into MJ from behind, jolting him sideways on his stool. Instantly enraged, he swung his fist around, connecting with the back of the guy's head. It was one of the idiots playing pool. "Watch yourself."
The guy grabbed the front of MJ's shirt and threw him back into his stool where he lost his balance and fell off onto his ass on the floor. "Want to try that again?"
Drunk and stumbling, it took a second for MJ to get onto his feet and start swinging. The dull, dark pounding in his head was a tribal drum beat spurring his anger. The man became every guy he'd ever imagined Maddie with in Michigan and MJ threw every punch harder than the last, determined to take back what was his. He wouldn't be denied any longer. MJ slammed his fist into the side of the man's head, making him shuffle sideways against the bar. MJ rushed forward, eager to finish this asshole.
With another punch to the man's gut, the man became MJ's father, and a surge of animosity crackled under MJ's skin. He would be heard. Seen. Acknowledged. His fists jabbed hard and fast against the man's face and abdomen. The cracks of fist against skin urged MJ on again and again. Thanks to his trusty friend, Jack Daniel's, he didn't even feel the hits he took.
A pair of hands grabbed him from behind, and as he was being dragged backward, he saw Paul had a hand on the other guy's chest pushing him back.
"You've got way to much piss and vinegar in you, Son," Coach said from behind him. "Let's get you back to the office and sobered up."
Looking up into Coach's face, etched with disappointment, MJ wished he'd make good on his promise and kick his ass. He deserved it.
Your boy's drunk off his ass, Peach. Got in a fight. Come get him."
From his spot lying in the old, battered booth inside Coach's office, MJ heard Coach's words spinning around in his head. Peach. Maddie's nickname. "I'm not her boy," he mumbled, incoherently. "I'm not her boy," he said again, to make sure it was understood.
His bottom lip throbbed, and when he swiped it with his thumb, he realized it was split open and bleeding. One punch was all he let the other guy have. Or maybe it was the only one he remembered.
"Paul says you been in here talkin' about her all night," Coach said, putting a hand over the receiver to talk to MJ. "I've known you both too long to fool me, kid."
MJ could only imagine what Maddie must be thinking, must be saying on the other side of that phone conversation. The last thing she wanted was for him to be her boy. She'd made that perfectly clear.
MJ grabbed the sides of his head. Jesus, why did she have to come back? Thinking about her sent a freight train loose inside his head. Off the tracks. Derailed. Combusted into a million flaming pieces. Or was it the music blaring on the other side of the wall, and the crack of billiard balls breaking his brain in half?
Fuck, he was dizzy. And his stomach hurt like hell.
"Thanks, Peach. The kid owes you one." Coach hung up the phone and loomed over him, glaring down into the booth. "Your woman will be here in ten. Get your drunk ass out of that booth."
MJ grabbed the top of the booth and pulled himself up. "You know she's not my woman."
Coach cocked a gray, hairy eyebrow. "She's back, ain't she?"
MJ couldn't help but smirk. She was back. He didn't know why that made him feel like grinning like an idiot while facing Coach. Maybe because he couldn't hide anything from the man. Maybe because he was drunk off his ass.
"Make her stay this time." Coach smacked him on the back, sending spots flashing in front of his eyes and the room spinning.
Coach grabbed a bowl of peanuts off his desk and slid into the booth across from MJ. "You didn't come in here hell-bent on oblivion just because of her." He rested his arm across the back of the booth. "Tell me what's eatin' you."
How could he tell Coach what he'd come to the bar to drown? How could he admit that his father found out he existed and bolted without a word? Didn't even talk to him on the phone.
This fucking day. Why was he still conscious? "Same old shit, Coach. Just wasting time until classes start again. Had to get out of the Old Man's house for a while." His words slurred in his ears. Slurred or not, they didn't sound convincing.
Chuckling and chewing peanuts, Coach shook his head. "Nah. You've been tame all summer long. All the sudden you get ants in your pants about getting out of that house, get shitfaced and start a fight in my bar? Who do you think you're talkin' to, boy? Something's got you riled up tonight, and it's not just that pretty Peach coming back."
"Peach," MJ muttered. Coach had started calling Maddie Peach when MJ was in fourth grade and addicted to playing Mario Bros. video games. Coach said MJ was Mario, the Italian stallion, and Maddie was Peach, his pretty princess—even though she could field a ball better than him back then.
MJ patted the scratched tabletop with his palm. "Really, it's cool. Sorry about the fight."
Coach narrowed his eyes but didn't press him. "I'm risking my business serving you underage you know. Don't start pulling this getting into fights shit and get the cops on my ass."
MJ patted the table again. "A few more months, and I'm legal. I'll keep it straight until then."
He laid his forehead on the table. The room had just stopped rotating when the door flew open and banged against the wall. The sound was like a nail being driven into the back of his skull.
"What the hell, MJ?" He didn't think Maddie would be happy with the call to come haul his ass home, but he didn't expect her to be this livid.
He turned his head and willed his eyes to focus on her. "Hey, Mads. S'up?" Might as well stoke that fire. He could tell by her tight, drawn-in expression she was already in flames.
She stormed over to him and shoved his shoulder. It was all he could do to keep from falling over in the booth. "Don't s'up me! You come here, get drunk and start a fight? Who are you?"
Her eyes were bright and wet with unshed tears. Her eyebrows, dark tilted strips making a crease above her nose. That look made him want to crawl under the table. "Don't act all concerned. You've been back all of what? An hour?" He scoffed and shook his head. "Go back to Michigan and stay the fuck away from me."
He didn't look at her face, but by the way her shoulders sagged and her fists unclenched and fell to her sides, he'd gotten a punch in on her tonight, too.
Good. She'd beat the hell out of him without ever laying a finger on him. She couldn't come back and pretend they could be… whatever she wanted from him now. Friends? Not hardly. They couldn't turn back time.
Shit, all he wanted to do is slide his hands up her bare arms and rest them on her shoulders. Kiss her pouty lips until she smiled. Would she smile if he kissed her? Who the hell knew anymore. She'd probably smack the shit out of him.
Coach cracked him on the back of his head. "Don't talk to Peach like that. Now, get out of my bar and sober up." He grabbed MJ by the upper arm and yanked him onto his feet. "Call me tomorrow and let me know you're alive."
MJ stumbled toward the door. Maddie followed behind him. "I'm parked on the street."
"Why did I even come? I should've just left you here. Don't you have anyone else to bother at…" she pulled her phone out of her back pocket and glanced at the time, "quarter 'til one in the morning?"
No. He didn't. Is that what she wanted to hear? That he'd shoved away everyone who might want to get close enough to leave him flattened like road kill, exactly like she had? "Screw you. I'm not the one who called you."
"Fine!" She shoved past him out the front door. "Call the Old Man to come pick your ass up. I'm out of here."
She strode across the street, her hips twitching back and forth in tight jeans and that little black tank top… ugh. Damn. It. "Wait!" He jogged to catch up with her at her car.
"What?" She snapped around to face him. "I'm good enough for a ride when the only other option is your grandfather?"
Those dark blue eyes of hers flashed with rage. God, she was hot, and he hated it when she was mad at him.
"Screw you?" she shouted. "That's how you talk to me now? Well, no. Screw. You. MJ." She drove home each word with a sharp poke of her index finger to his chest.
He grabbed her finger and wouldn't let go when she tried to tug it free. He held her eyes, praying to feel her open him up again and climb inside. He needed her there. Needed someone to care as much as she used to. "Don't leave me, Mads."
He saw her anger melt away, like a wave that had crashed on the shore and rushed back out into the ocean. She sighed. "Just get in."
She had her window rolled down, and the whole way home the wind blew her intoxicating scent right in his face. There was no escaping the memories of them together that flooded his senses. The ones he'd buried so deep, he was surprised they could surface so easily.
The feel of her hair twisted in his fingers.
Her soft sighs against his neck.
The salty-sweet taste of her skin.
Jesus. The basketball-sized knot in his stomach twisted and pulled tighter. He had to get out of this car.
MJ rolled his window down and stuck his head out. There. Now he couldn't smell her spicy-sweet whatever it was.
"What are you doing?" Maddie asked. "You're not going to puke are you?"
"No. Just getting some air." He glanced over at her and watched her eyes dart from him to the road and back again.
When she'd first gotten her license, he was only twelve. She'd taken him everywhere with her that summer when he came home from boarding school. He'd still been like a little brother to her. That hadn't changed until the summer after high school. That summer was the best three months of his life. She'd just graduated college and was home again to stay. She said they'd get an apartment right off GSU's campus. They didn't though. She left. Gone back to Michigan, practically a thousand goddamn miles away from him.
"What?" she asked. MJ hadn't realized he'd been staring at her.
"Nothing." He turned his face back out the window and took a deep breath. Nothing. Nothing would ever be like that summer again. He'd never been so close to having a home with someone he loved. She offered it up like a dream and tore it away like his worst nightmare come true.
He wished she'd talk about something—anything—instead of leaving him sitting there brooding in silence.
"How's baseball?" she asked.
That wasn't what he wanted to talk about. "Over."
"When does practice start for next season?"
"It doesn't." She needed to stop asking him personal questions. It only led to things he didn't want to discuss.
She stopped at a red light. "What are you talking about?" Her fingers gripped the wheel tighter, like she was preparing to hear him say something terrible.
She knew him too well.
"Got kicked off the team for fighting." MJ propped his elbow in the window and leaned his head on his hand. He studied her face, but it didn't budge. Stone-faced Mads. It was the expression he hated the most. The one that said he'd pushed her right over the edge, and she'd erected a mental wall between them.
He wanted to kick that fucking wall down and never see it again. How many times could she shut him out? It must've been the Jack Daniel's that made him grab her wrist. "Don't do that."
She jerked her arm away. "Do what?"
The light turned green, and she slammed her foot down on the accelerator making his head snap back against the seat. Her hair blew wild around her face. He wanted to reach over and ball it in his hands.
"Do what?" she repeated.
"Doesn't matter." MJ stared straight ahead and let the lights from the other cars on the road blur and double in his drunken vision.
For the rest of the drive back to the Rocha Estate, Maddie tried to force the words out that she should've said over a year ago.
What did those words mean anyway? They couldn't take back what she'd done. They couldn't make MJ forgive her. Why bother saying them when they were meaningless?
She couldn't change the past. Leaving was the only option she'd been given. She had to protect him from getting hurt. Maddie knew hurt all too well, and she'd always stand between MJ and pain if she could.
She'd never let him feel the twinge of fiery anguish that hit her in the heart every time her mother was mentioned. Every time she fingered the smooth silver angel pendant crammed in the very back of her jewelry box that her mom left behind. Over the past sixteen years, Maddie had relived the day her mom left a million times in her head.
The pain was still raw even after all the time that had passed. Driving down the road so many years later, it still felt like her mom had walked out on her only yesterday.
"Watch it!" MJ shouted and grabbed the wheel. "You almost hit that light post."
"I did not! You're so drunk, you can't even see straight. Let go!"
He let his hand drop to his lap. Sitting beside her, MJ was painfully close. She could almost feel his body heat pulsing off his skin into hers. Or maybe she imagined it. Manifested it because it was what she wanted to feel so badly. Being so close to him and not being able to reach out and touch him drove her crazy.
But it shouldn't. Not anymore.
Maddie glanced at MJ out of the corner of her eye. When had he become so cynical? Had she done that to him? Caused him to be so jaded and cold?
- "...an interesting, exciting, heart-catching take, and certainly one I'll add to my "What to Read After Fifty Shades" list."—Maryse's Book Blog
- "I love the banter between Rachael and Merrick throughout the book..... some steamy scenes that will not leave you disappointed."—The Indie Bookshelf
- On Sale
- May 7, 2013
- Page Count
- 304 pages