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Sexy, gifted, and loyal, PI Jacob Decker is a tall, cool drink of perfection who had Emmanuelle Holmes at “hello.” His relationship with Emme’s best friend kept them apart for years, but things have changed. Now that a case has brought him to Gnaw Bone, Colorado, the road is wide open for Emme and Deck to explore something hotter and deeper than Emme dreamed possible. So why is she sabotaging the best thing that’s ever happened to her?
It isn’t easy to catch Deck off guard, but Emme does just that when she walks back into his life after nine long years. The curvy brunette had her charms back in the day, but now she’s a bona fide knockout . . . and she wants to rekindle their friendship. Deck, however, wants more. Emme’s always been the one; she excites Deck’s body and mind like no other woman can. But a dark chapter from Emme’s past overshadows their future together. Now only Deck can help her turn the page-if she’ll let him . . .
Table of Contents
An Excerpt from The Gamble
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Deck turned at hearing his name called in a voice he knew but hadn't heard in years. A voice he liked.
A voice he missed.
A voice that made his blood run hot.
He scanned the relatively busy lunchtime wooden sidewalks of Gnaw Bone and couldn't spot her.
What he could see was an amazingly beautiful woman walking his way. She was in tight dark-wash jeans tucked in stylish high-heeled brown leather boots that went nearly up to her knees, a distressed, feminine, brown leather modified motorcycle jacket with an expensive-looking scarf wrapped loosely around her throat. Her long, gleaming dark brown hair shone in the cold winter Colorado sun, subtle red highlights making an attractive feature stunning. From under a knit cap pulled down to her ears, her hair came out in sleek sheets flowing over her shoulders. Covering her eyes were huge, chic brown-framed sunglasses.
Her full rosy lips were tipped up in a grin.
She stopped two feet in front of him and he stared down at her with surprise as, even in her sunglasses, her face showed fond recognition, warmth and a fuck of a lot more.
But he'd never seen this woman in his life.
And Deck never forgot a face.
But if he did, he would never forget that face.
Or any other part of her.
Then her grin turned into a smile, a dimple he remembered vividly depressed into her right cheek, his surprise switched to out-and-out shock and she leaned into him. Lifting a hand and placing it lightly on his shoulder, her other hand she rested on his chest, she rolled way up on her toes and pressed her cheek to his.
"Jacob," she murmured, and he could feel her fingertips dig into his shoulder even through his coat.
That name, a name he allowed very few people to use, said in that voice, a voice he missed, sliced through him.
Deck tipped his chin and felt her soft hair slide against the skin on his cheek. His blood was still running hot but his chest now felt tight.
"Emme," he whispered, lifting a hand and wrapping his fingers around the side of her trim waist.
She pulled her head back; he lifted his and their shades locked.
She was still smiling that smile, that cute dimple shooting a flood of piercing memories through his skull. Memories he'd buried.
Memories about Emme.
"It's been a long time," she said quietly.
"Yeah," he agreed.
And it had. Years. Nine of them.
Too long to see Emme again.
"How are you?" she asked, still not moving away.
"Alive," he answered, that dimple pressed deeper and he knew, if she wasn't wearing shades, he'd see her unusual light brown eyes dance. He'd made her eyes dance frequently back then. And he hadn't had to work for it. She just gave it to him. And often.
"Em!" a man's voice snapped.
Deck's head came up and Emme moved slightly away, dropping her hands from him as she turned. They both looked at a tall, good-looking, well-built blond man wearing a mountain man uniform of flannel shirt, faded jeans, construction boots and jeans jacket standing three feet away, scowling.
Emme shifted to the man, her dimple gone but her lips still tipped up. She wrapped a hand around his bicep and leaned into him in a familiar way that said it all about who he was to her.
Deck felt that slice through him, too, but this time in a way that did not feel good.
"Dane," she began, "this is an old friend. Jacob Decker." She threw a hand out Deck's way as she lifted her sunglasses to his face. "Jacob, this is Dane McFarland. My, um… well, boyfriend."
Again, shocked as shit that Emmanuelle Holmes had a boyfriend, but not shocked this slim, stylish, stunning Emme had one, Deck opened his mouth to offer a greeting but McFarland got there before him.
"An old friend?"
Deck felt his body tighten at the man's terse tone as he watched Emme's head turn swiftly and her shades lock on her boyfriend's face. He also noted her grin had faded.
"An old friend," she stated firmly.
McFarland, not wearing sunglasses—his were shoved up in his hair—took Deck in top to toe through a glower.
He had the wrong idea.
McFarland's eyes sliced to Emme and what he said next proved Deck right.
"What kind of old friend?"
It was the wrong thing to ask. Deck knew this because, even if a man had suspicions his woman just introduced him to an ex-lover, he should wait until they were alone to call her on it. He also knew this because Emme's smile was not only gone, her face had grown slightly cold.
"The kind I'd introduce to my boyfriend?" she replied on a question that didn't quite hide its sarcasm, her smooth alto voice—something among many things he'd always liked about her—having grown nearly as cold as her face.
Emme didn't take shit from her man.
Dane's glower subsided, he started to look contrite, but none of the cold left Emme's face and Deck decided to wade in.
"Let's start this again," he stated, offering his hand. "Dane, like Emme said, I'm Jacob Decker. An old friend of Emme's, just a friend from back in the day. Everyone calls me Deck."
McFarland's eyes came to him, dropped to his hand then back to his face when he took Deck's hand. He squeezed and he did it hard, a challenge, a competition. His ludicrously strong grip saying either he didn't like his girl having men friends no matter how they came or that he'd noted Deck had three inches on him and likely forty pounds, but he felt he could still take him.
Or it said both.
This guy was a dick.
He was also a moron. Just with the difference in their sizes, any man would be smart enough not to issue that kind of challenge or think he could best Deck. But the fact that those forty pounds Deck had on him were all muscle and McFarland couldn't miss it made him more of a moron.
And Deck did not like that for Emme.
Unable to do anything but, he squeezed back, saw McFarland's flinch, felt his hand go slack in reflexive self-preservation in order to save his bones getting crushed, and his point made, Deck let the man's hand go.
McFarland flexed it twice before shoving it into his pocket.
Emme missed this. She was looking up at Deck.
"What are you doing in Gnaw Bone?" she asked.
"Could ask you the same thing," he returned.
"I live here now."
Another shock. Her family was in Denver and they were tight. She didn't have a shit ton of friends but they were in Denver too. And she was the kind of woman he thought would settle early in a life she found comfortable and stay forever.
Then again, he thought a lot of things about the Emme he knew including the fact she was sweet, funny, interesting, and no one but his best friend Chace Keaton gave better conversation. But even if it made him a dick for thinking it, she was always sexless. She made it that way. Worked at it. Her looking like she looked, dressing like she was dressed, having a man, meant her making the move to Gnaw Bone shouldn't be that big a surprise since she'd made a lot of changes.
But he didn't like that she lived in Gnaw Bone.
It wasn't her living there. It was that he had no idea how long she'd been there, but he couldn't deny the fact that knowing she lived close for however long it was, he found upsetting.
"Your turn," she prompted when he said nothing as to why he was in that town.
"Business," he answered, and the dimple reappeared.
"That's great," she replied. "Please tell me you're going to be around for a while. I've got to get back to work but I'd love to meet you for dinner."
He'd be around for a while. He didn't lie. He was in Gnaw Bone for business. But he lived in Chantelle, a twenty-minute drive away.
And he didn't have plans. So he definitely could make dinner.
He grinned down at her. "You're on."
"Uh, Em, I got shit on tonight," McFarland broke in, and both Deck and Emme looked at him.
"That's okay, babe," she told him, and Deck fought back his grin turning into a smile when McFarland's eyes flashed with annoyance. "Jacob and I can have dinner without you. And anyway, we have a lot of catching up to do and you probably would be bored seeing as you won't know who or what we're talking about."
McFarland did not like his woman making dinner plans with another man, or having history with him even if it was platonic. It showed clear on his face but he'd learned from moments earlier and kept his mouth shut.
Emme looked back at Deck.
"Do you know The Mark? It's just down the street." She pointed behind him but he nodded as she did.
"Know The Mark, Emme," Deck told her.
"Great." She gave him another dimple. "How's seven o'clock sound?"
"Works for me," he agreed.
The dimple pressed deeper even as unhappy vibes rolled off her boyfriend.
"Looking forward to it, honey," she said softly, words meant just for him, an endearment that made her boyfriend even less happy and that was reflected in the vibes rolling off him getting barbed.
But those words shifted through Deck like a razor blade through silk.
She'd always called him honey. Elsbeth had hated it. Then again, Elsbeth had eventually not been a big fan of Deck's friendship with her BFF.
In his surprise at seeing Emme here in Gnaw Bone, hours away from where he knew her to live. Seeing her as he saw her, completely changed, hair much longer, those highlights, becoming clothes, at least twenty, probably more like thirty pounds off her frame. Seeing her with a man. Fuck, seeing her at all after what went down, how things ended and the last thing she did the last time he saw her.
With all that, belatedly, he realized he should have taken more care. He should have kept his shit together. He should maybe not have agreed to go to dinner with her. He'd shut the door on her, literally, after things ended with Elsbeth. It had hurt her. And he'd been so hung up on Elsbeth, he'd never gone back to open it.
But he did make dinner plans.
And he did because she didn't look a thing like her, Deck wondered why, and Deck didn't like puzzles. He found a puzzle, he solved it. This colossal change in Emme was a puzzle he intended to solve.
He also did it because of the last thing she did the last time he saw her.
And last, he did it just because she was Emme.
He may have hurt her but if he was reading her current behavior correctly, she held no grudges.
"Me too," Deck murmured.
McFarland slid an arm around her shoulders, pulling her into his side and stating, "We gotta get back to work, babe."
She looked up at him and nodded. "Right." Her shades came back to Deck and she gave him another grin, no dimple. "Tonight. The Mark. Seven o'clock."
Because her boyfriend was a dick, and because it made sense, Deck suggested, "Give me your number. I'll give you mine. Just in case shit gets screwed, one of us is late, or whatever."
As expected, McFarland didn't like this and he gave Deck a hard look.
Deck ignored it and pulled his phone out of his back pocket as Emme moved out of the curve of her boyfriend's arm to dig in her purse.
"You first, or me?" she asked, head bent, hair shining in the sun. He had her profile and the elegant curve of her jaw was on display. Something he never noticed before. Something else that surprised him not only because he noticed it but also because it was elegant, alluring, inviting touch, even taste, and it also surprised him because he always noticed everything.
But he'd never noticed that.
And he didn't need to be thinking about how Emmanuelle Holmes's jaw might taste when she was standing next to her boyfriend.
"Me," he said. She nodded and he gave her his number.
She did the same when he was done and shoved her phone in her purse.
"Now we're good," she told him.
"We are," he agreed.
"See you at seven," she said.
"Yeah," Deck replied then looked up at McFarland. "Later."
McFarland jerked up his chin, said nothing, slid his arm around Emme's shoulders again and pulled his woman around Deck.
She wrapped an arm around McFarland's waist but still twisted to wave at Deck and give him another smile with dimple as she walked away.
Deck stood on the relatively busy sidewalk and watched McFarland load Emme up in a big, red, flash, totally pimped out, my-dick-is-small GMC Sierra.
Another reason to go to dinner with Emme. That was, find out what the fuck she was doing with that asshole.
He turned away, burying how seeing Emme again made him feel as he moved down the wooden planks toward the police station. All that shit went down a long time ago. It was over. He was over it. Finally. After nine years.
And the bottom line truth of it was, in the end he'd eventually learned that the biggest thing he lost in all that was Emme.
So, thinking on it, it didn't suck that maybe he could get her back.
He pushed into the police station, shoved his sunglasses back on his head and moved to the reception desk seeing the receptionist eyeing him.
The instant he stopped in front of her, before he could introduce himself, she stated, "You're Jacob Decker."
He wasn't surprised. There were men that were hard to describe. Deck, a few words, people would know him from two blocks away.
"I am," he confirmed.
"Mick and the others are waiting on you," she informed him, eyes going up, down, up and stopping every once in a while to get a better look at something, his hips, his shoulders, his hair.
This also didn't surprise him. Women did this often. At six foot four, there was a lot of him to take in. It wasn't lost on him that most of it, women liked looking at. And, if he liked who was looking, he didn't hesitate to use this to his advantage.
"Just go on around the counter, back down the hall, second door to the left. You want coffee, keep goin', get yourself some and backtrack," she finished.
He nodded, muttered, "Thanks," and moved.
He didn't bother with coffee. He had the means to have the finer things in life and therefore accepted nothing less. And from experience he knew police station coffee was far from the best. Deck ground his coffee fresh first thing in the morning. He bought it on the Internet. It cost a fucking whack. And it was worth it.
He went to the second door to the left. It was closed. He gave a sharp rap on it with his knuckles and entered when he heard the call.
The gang was all there, as Chace had told him it would be.
Mick Shaughnessy, captain of the Gnaw Bone Police Department, standing by his desk.
Jeff Jessup, one of Gnaw Bone's detectives, standing by the window.
Henry Gibbons, captain of the Carnal Police Department, leaning on a table across the messy office.
Carole Weatherspoon, captain of the Chantelle Police Department, standing close to Gibbons, arms crossed on her chest.
Kenton Douglas, County Sheriff, standing shoulders against the wall.
And last, Chace Keaton, Deck's best friend since school and a Carnal detective.
It was Chace Deck was watching as he closed the door behind him, and he was watching Chace because he knew the man well and he didn't like the look on his face.
But it was Shaughnessy who spoke first, taking Deck's attention.
"May be rude but I'll start by welcoming you to this meetin' but statin' plain, I don't like it."
"Mick," Chace murmured.
Deck ignored his friend and informed Mick honestly, "I'm a big fan of statin' shit plain."
"Good, then I'll state it plainer," Mick went on. "We talk this through with you, you take this contract, Kent deputizes you, you are not a maverick. Chace suggested your services and I looked into you, found nothin'. No man's got nothin' but a fully paid truck, a fully paid house, a credit card with no balance, taxes fair and square and a load of cash in the bank. Makes me nervous."
"I see that," Deck allowed, not annoyed by the check—he'd expect nothing less—but he said no more.
"So, before we talk this through with you, you know that if you take this on, you do this by the book. You're deputized, you report, you take orders and I'll repeat, you don't go maverick," Mick continued, and Deck drew in breath.
Then he stated it plain.
"My understanding of this meet is, if I wanna take this on, and seein' if I do, my usual charges will need to be significantly discounted considering you can't afford to pay them as I charge them, it'll need to be somethin' I really wanna do. And you got a reputation I admire, Shaughnessy, so I hope you take no offense but I don't take orders. I work a case how I feel it needs to be worked. I report what I feel is necessary. And last, I only do maverick."
Mick looked to the room and announced, "This isn't startin' good."
"Why don't we lay it out, see what Deck thinks and get the other shit sorted if it's somethin' he wants to do?" Chace suggested, moving to a wide whiteboard set at an angle in the corner.
No one said anything. Deck settled in but Chace's eyes came to him.
"You're gonna see somethin' you might not like on this board that probably will make Mick's warnings moot seein' as I figure you are not gonna want this case. I would have told you about it sooner, but if I did, you might not have come in, and, respect Mick," Chace glanced at Shaughnessy before he looked back to Deck, "with what happened a few days ago, we need you."
With that, he flipped the whiteboard and Deck's eyes scanned it.
Half a second later, his body froze solid.
This was because there was a picture of the man he just met on the street, top center of the whiteboard, his name in red marker written under the picture, "Boss" under his name. Coming off his picture were a variety of red, black and blue lines that led to smaller pictures with names and other information. And last, the reason he knew Chace knew Deck would not like what he saw was the blue line that led from McFarland's picture down to the bottom right corner where there were two pictures.
One, a color shot of McFarland and Emme making out at the side of his pimped-out truck. The one next to it, a black-and-white shot of Emme walking down the boardwalk, head turned to the side looking at something. She was wearing different but no less fashionable shades over her eyes, her long hair was unhindered by a hat showing she had a deep, thick, sexy-as-all-fuck bang that hung into her eyes, her body was encased in different jeans, coat and shoes but her outfit was no less stylish. Her lips were smiling, the dimple out.
Under the picture it said "Emmanuelle Holmes." Under that "Girlfriend/Lover." Under that it said "Partner?"
With practice and deduction, Deck knew that the black lines were definite alliances the team had confirmed. Red lines were hot, lieutenants or those with records, possible weak links. And blue were unconfirmed members of the crew.
"Doesn't look like it, but it's Emme, man," Chace said quietly, and Deck tore his eyes from the picture of Emme and looked at Chace. "Saw the name. Couldn't believe it until they showed me her trail. It all fits. That's her. Totally changed."
"Saw her outside, just now, with him," Deck told the room, watched Chace blink and jerked his head toward the top of the whiteboard. He then declared, "He's no boss. She's no partner."
"So you do have a history with Emmanuelle Holmes," Carole stated, but it was a question and Deck looked to her.
Shaughnessy ran his men his way and word was, Shaughnessy took his job seriously but he was as laidback as they come otherwise. Even his officers didn't wear uniforms. They wore jeans and tan shirts with their badges but that was as far as they got.
Gibbons was mostly the same, his two detectives dressed as they wanted. Officers wore uniforms, however.
Weatherspoon, who oversaw Chantelle, a town with more money, coming in top of the heap of the trinity it held with Gnaw Bone (second runner-up, a town that depended a great deal on tourist trade and took that seriously) and Carnal (not even close, it was a biker haven, mostly blue collar, definitely rougher), was in full uniform. Her officers wore full uniforms. Her detectives wore suits or sports jackets and trousers. Her elite citizenry would expect nothing less.
Deck's eyes shifted to Kenton Douglas.
That man was a wild card. Recently voted sheriff, he came out of the blue, young, attractive, African-American, in the Sheriff's Department only ten years, and he'd wiped the floor with his opponent who held that spot for twenty-five years. The old sheriff also held it while a serial killer hunted his patch and a police chief in his county got so dirty he was foul. The county was ready for change. Douglas was smart enough to know the time was ripe and slid in on a landslide.
Then he made sweeping changes.
And one of those changes was taking his sheriff's police out of uniform and giving them the Mick treatment. Tan shirts. Badges on belts. Jeans. Boots.
It was a smart move. His county was a rural, mountain county. His residents liked easy and familiar, but they were scared after all that had gone on and many of them had learned not to trust the police. Easier to trust a badge wearing jeans and boots than one kitted out in full gear.
It wasn't only smart, it was subtle. And so far, successful.
Change wasn't easy and it wasn't easily accepted.
Douglas breezed his through, didn't take a breath, and kept on keepin' on.
Deck didn't know what to make of him. He was handsome. He was slick. He was personable. He was sharp. And he had balls. So Deck was leaning toward admiration.
"She's an old friend," Deck answered Carole's question about Emme.
"What kind of old friend?" she asked, and Deck tamped down his annoyance at going through this again.
"My ex's best friend," he answered. "That kind of old friend."
"How do you know she's not involved?" Jeff asked and Deck looked to him.
"I know Emme. She wouldn't do this shit," Deck stated.
And she wouldn't. He knew what was happening. The whole county knew. It was bad shit that, four days ago, got a hell of a lot worse. With all the shit going down in that county over the last few years, they wanted this nipped in the bud and they wanted that three months ago.
Problem was, they had a multi-department task force set up to do it and they still were finding fuck all.
This was why Chace suggested Deck. Deck would find everything they needed to end this and he wouldn't dick around finding it.
"How well do you know Emme, son?" Henry asked, and Deck's eyes went to Chace's boss.
"Well," he answered.
"They spend a lot of time together," Jeff noted. "Holmes and McFarland."
"She's his girlfriend. They would," Deck told him. "But this shit?" He shook his head. "No way."
"Sometimes," Chace started, and his tone was cautious, "girls like her, girls like she used to be who turn into girls like she is now, get a guy's attention, a good-lookin' guy like that, and they can go—"
Deck cut him off. "Chace, you know Emme. You know that's bullshit. She's always known her own mind. And she's always been cool. Even when she wasn't a knockout, she wasn't that kind of person."
"It's been years, Deck," Chace reminded him. "A lot of them. People change, and it isn't lost on either of us she has in a big way."
"Yeah, and I just met her on the street. I'm havin' dinner with her tonight and she looks good, man, but she acts the same. And her man is a dick but he's also a moron. So he's no boss," Deck declared and looked at Shaughnessy. "And you just got yourself a maverick."
The mood in the room shifted. It had been alert. Now it was relieved.
Shaughnessy was the only one who didn't want Deck stepping in.
The rest of them, after all they'd seen for the past few years, wanted this done, and they were willing to take risks to get that.
"Terrific," Shaughnessy muttered, his eyes moving through the room.
"Decker, this needs to be discussed," Douglas stated, and Deck looked to him.
"You want me on the team, we talk money. I'll give a discount, see this shit sorted. I'll want a full brief. I'll want the entire file. I won't take orders. I'll keep you in the know of what I do and what I find. But, just sayin', that woman means something to me." He threw out a hand toward the whiteboard. "So even if you don't put me on the team and pay me, I'll still be seein' her clear of this shit."
"You can't let her know we're investigating her boyfriend," Carole said swiftly.
"This isn't my first rodeo," Deck returned. "What's goin' down, I wouldn't fuck your investigation. But she's still clear and she's clear in no more than a week. Not months. Not as long as it'll take you to track this crew, the way you're goin', and stop their shit."
"As contract to this task force, you cannot engage in illegal activities. We can't prosecute with fruit from the poisonous tree," Douglas told him.
"Again, not my first rodeo," Deck replied.
"You have a crew or do you work alone?" Henry asked.
"This, I'll be bringin' in my crew," Deck answered.
"They'll all need to see me," Douglas stated. "Contract is signed, you all work for my department until the case is done."
Deck nodded and his eyes went to Chace. "Want a picture of that board, want the file."
"Deck, not sure this is a good idea. You got a conflict of interest with this—"
Deck again cut Chace off. "This is Emme."
"I know it's Emme," Chace shot back, concerned for Deck and losing patience because of it. "Until just now, I had no idea you'd react the way you have when you saw it was Emme. So Emme's the goddamned conflict of interest."
"You know her," Deck whispered, also losing patience, and he watched his friend's face. Definite concern but also indecision.
He knew Emme.
Chace went from the academy into Carnal's Police Department and stayed there but that didn't mean Deck didn't spend time with Chace throughout all Deck's travels. Chace had met Elsbeth. Chace had spent time with her. And with Elsbeth came Emme. So Chace had spent time with Emme too.
"Her change is remarkable, Deck," Chace noted again. "That's something to take into account."
At his words, Deck felt the ghost of her fingers digging into his shoulder through his coat. Saw the dimple. Heard her call him honey.
And he knew her history. Elsbeth told him. He knew what she'd survived. He knew what made her what she was.
He didn't know what made her what she was now, but he was going to find out at dinner.
- "Ashley delivers a deeply emotional second installment of the Chaos contemporary romance series (after Own the Wind)... Punctuated by blistering-hot sex scenes and fascinating glimpses into the tough world of motorcycle clubs, this romance also delivers true heart and emotion, and a story that will stay with the reader long after the final page is turned."—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review, on Fire Inside
- "I adore Kristen Ashley's books!"—Maya Banks, New York Times bestselling author
- "Kristen Ashley's books are addicting!"—Jill Shalvis, New York Times bestselling author
- "[Kristen] Ashley captivates."—Publishers Weekly
- "There is something about them [Ashley's books] that I find crackalicious."—Kati Brown, Dear Author
- "I felt all of the rushes, the adrenaline surges, the anger spikes... my heart pumping in fury. My eyes tearing up when her my heart (I mean... her heart) would break." (On Motorcycle Man)—Maryse's Book blog on Motorcycle Man
- On Sale
- Dec 16, 2014
- Page Count
- 416 pages