By Shelly Bell
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 10, 2018. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Ryder McKay may be a playboy, but he’s never been a fool. Not until he met the woman he simply knew as Jane. For one night, he dropped his guard, but in the morning she disappeared—along with a copy of his top secret technology.
When it ends up in the hands of his biggest enemy—his father—Ryder knows without a doubt he’s been betrayed. And when he finds Jane again, a year later, he can’t decide what’s worse—that her mother is marrying his brother, or that he still finds Jane irresistible, despite the fact that she’s a liar, a thief, and his father’s latest protege.
Jane Cooper does have a secret, but it’s not the one Ryder thinks. As their rekindled passion changes into something deeper, they’ll have to work together to untangle a web of lies and corruption that will shatter everything they thought they knew about their pasts. Because Jane’s not the only one with a secret—and this secret is getting people killed.
I never knew how many people went into making a book until I visited the Grand Central Forever office in New York! Thank you to my editors, Madeleine Colavita and Amy Pierpont, for your patience and guidance. Working with both of you has been a dream come true. Also, a huge thank you to everyone at Forever who worked behind the scenes to get At His Mercy and His to Claim into readers’ hands.
Writing is a solitary profession, but knowing that my author friends are only a click of a button away helps me through those tough days. Thank you to Aliza Mann, MK Schiller, Heather Novak, Sage Spelling, Dana Nussio, Isabella Drake, Sienna Snow, Codi Gary, and T. J. Kline for always bringing a smile to my face.
Thank you to Jodi Ellen Malpas and Alessandra Torre for your support and all your kind words. I can’t tell you how much it has meant to me.
Thank you to Neda Amini, publicist extraordinaire, for keeping me organized and for being a champion of my books. I can’t wait until I finally get to meet you!
A huge thank you to Jessica Alvarez for helping me through one of the roughest years of my life. I’m thankful to have you in my corner.
To my husband and kids, thank you for peeling me off the ceiling when I get a little crazy. I hope you know how much I love you.
Last but never least, to my readers. I know there are thousands of books out there, and I’m honored that you choose to read mine. A special shout-out to Melanie G., Miriam L., Rachel B., Crystal B., Jennifer R., Kathleen R., Carolina L., Christi L., Amy B., Ralou, Tamara B., Jennifer A., Jennifer S., Misty P., Nicole K., Rebecca W., Susan M., Cara R., Crystal C. B., Bridget W., and the Shelly Bell Insider’s Facebook group. Thank you for going above and beyond for me. I love each and every one of you.
Twenty-four years ago
Ryder McKay woke up in his race car bed, sweaty and damp underneath his new Star Wars comforter.
The room was pitch-black.
He didn’t like pitch-black.
That’s why he had his R2-D2 night-light. But it wasn’t working, because if it was, he’d be able to see something other than black.
His dad didn’t think he needed a night-light. He’d said it was only for babies.
Ryder wasn’t no baby.
His brother, Finn, had told him he sometimes got scared of the dark, too, and Finn was fifteen, ten years older than him. Then Finn had bought Ryder the night-light from his own allowance.
Ryder missed Finn a lot. He’d gone to visit his mother in a whole ’nother state for the summer.
Ryder didn’t have no mother.
She’d died giving birth to him. That’s what Dad had said when his eyes had gotten shiny.
Ryder had killed her.
Dad hadn’t said that, but Ryder was smart, so he’d figured it out.
Ryder had never even seen a picture of her because Dad didn’t have none. It must make him too sad. Ryder got sad about it too sometimes because all his friends had mommies.
But he had Finn and that was better than a mommy. When Ryder got scared, Finn would make him feel safe.
Dad and Nanny Spector didn’t do the kinds of things Finn did to make him feel safe. No hugs. No smiles. No funny jokes. Dad just patted him on the back and told Nanny to take care of him. Nanny pretended she liked Ryder, but she liked his daddy more. He knew this because he’d seen them hugging and kissing in Daddy’s bed once. Naked! It was yucky and it made him feel weird to see, so he’d left before they knew he was there. He didn’t know why she had to sleep in Daddy’s bed when she had her own room in the house.
He didn’t like Nanny. Her breath smelled funny after she drank from the square bottle she kept hidden in her purse. Sometimes she fell asleep with the bottle in her arms like it was her baby. On those nights, Ryder couldn’t wake her up even when he jumped on her bed.
A loud bang came from downstairs, shattering the silence.
His body twitched before he lay perfectly still.
It sounded like a firecracker had exploded inside the house.
That would be so cool.
He hopped out of his bed and put his arms out in front of him to find the door.
He heard angry voices. His daddy and a lady. It wasn’t Nanny. This lady was talking in another language, but he understood one word very clear.
Ryder slid his hands along the smooth wall until he found the door. Not wanting to make any noise, he slowly turned the knob and cracked open the door. The shouts grew louder.
Careful as to not make a sound, he tiptoed along the carpeted hallway, passing by all the fancy artwork on the walls that Daddy always warned him not to touch.
“You’re not taking him, you crazy bitch!” Daddy shouted.
Daddy said a bad word.
He must really be mad.
Ryder got on his knees and looked down through the white wooden railing. Yep, there was his daddy, and he was wearing his shiny pajamas, so the lady must have woken Daddy out of bed.
The lady kept yelling at his daddy in that funny language while waving something gray in her hand. Every time she moved, her long, straight black hair swayed. He’d never seen hair so long. It was like that stupid princess stuck in the tower, only this lady’s hair was black instead of yellow. Black as his room without his night-light.
And she was just as scary.
“Give me the gun before you hurt someone,” his daddy said. He spoke to her like Ryder talked to his friend’s dog when he wanted to pet him.
But maybe the lady didn’t understand or maybe it was because his daddy didn’t say please, because she started screaming for Ryder. Then she said another word he recognized.
Ryder must have made a noise because both the lady and his daddy turned their heads toward the stairs.
Was the lady his mama?
He touched the top of his head. He had black hair too.
But his mother was dead.
The lady started running toward the stairs and Daddy grabbed her arm, swinging her around and stopping her from going anywhere. She growled like a wild animal and then they were wrestling over that gray thing in her hand. For a moment, they looked like they were dancing, and he giggled.
There was a loud bang, so loud it hurt Ryder’s ears and made him shake. Warm pee trickled down his legs and turned the white carpet yellow.
The lady slumped to the floor in front of the stairs and Daddy stood over her with the gray thing in his hand. There was bright red blood all over both of them and it was pouring out of her stomach onto the tiled floor.
Ryder wanted to run and hide, but he was too scared, so he curled into a ball, hoping he could make himself small enough to disappear.
The lady’s eyes rolled upward, and she stared at him. “Ryder,” she said between coughs. Blood was dripping from her mouth now as she whispered his name over and over.
Then she stopped whispering. Stopped coughing. Just…stopped.
That’s when he knew that the lady with the long black hair was dead.
Daddy had killed her.
Daddy spoke on the phone. “Got a situation. I need the crew here for cleanup.” He hung up without saying goodbye and looked upstairs.
Ryder’s heart was beating really fast. Would Daddy kill him next?
His eyes filled with tears. He didn’t want to die.
He crawled backward until he could no longer see downstairs. After jumping to his feet, he grabbed a towel from the closet and tried to get the pee out from the carpet. Maybe if he cleaned it up good enough, Daddy wouldn’t notice. As he worked, he heard doors slamming, lots of footsteps, and a bunch of different men’s voices.
A few minutes later, he ran to his room and stripped out of his wet clothes. He threw them and the towel into the back of his closet and changed into dry pajamas. Things began to get quieter downstairs as he fell back into bed and drew the covers over his head.
It was pitch-black again.
But this time, he didn’t mind.
Because it was much scarier out there in the light.
His door creaked and someone walked across the carpet toward him.
He held his breath, wishing that Finn were here to save him.
“I know you’re up, champ,” Daddy said, dragging the blanket off his head.
Light beamed into his room from the hallway. Ryder blinked, his eyes focusing.
Wearing different pajamas than earlier, Daddy stood over him and rubbed his eyes with his hands like he’d just woken up.
He didn’t look mad anymore.
“Was she my mama?” Ryder whispered.
Daddy’s eyebrows crinkled. “Who?”
Ryder sat up. “The lady you killed downstairs.”
Daddy grabbed his shoulders. “Nothing happened.”
“But I saw—”
“Nothing.” Daddy sat on the bed and leaned in close, his breath blowing on Ryder’s face. It smelled like Nanny Spector. “You saw nothing. You had a bad dream. But Daddy’s here now. He’ll always be here. You know why?”
“Because you’re mine.” Daddy put his hands on both of Ryder’s cheeks. “As my son, you belong to me. And that means, no matter what happens, Ryder, I’ll never let you go. Now go to sleep and don’t let me ever hear you talking about the bad dream again. Because if you do…well, let’s just say, I would hate for anyone to get hurt.”
Ryder didn’t want to belong to Daddy.
Not if it meant being trapped in this big, scary house like a hamster in its cage.
But if he told on Daddy, Finn could get hurt. And he didn’t want nothing bad to happen to Finn.
He’d have to keep it a secret.
Even if it killed him.
Ryder McKay knocked back a shot of Jameson, slammed the glass down on the bar, and grabbed the next one, relishing the smooth burn sliding down his throat. It wasn’t every day your brother was about to marry the daughter of the country’s most powerful man.
The press was calling the union a “marriage made in heaven.”
More like a deal with the devil.
Only in this case, it had been a deal between two devils. Two criminals posing as legitimate businessmen who were likely using their offspring to solidify some kind of pact between the two families. If Keane McKay and Ian Sinclair joined forces instead of working against each other, they’d have the potential to be largest crime syndicate in North America.
It had been years since Ryder had turned his back on Keane and that life. After he’d graduated high school, he’d made good on his lifelong promise to himself. He’d moved out and never returned.
Any conversation with Keane over the past decade had been limited to Ryder’s insistence that his father not contact him again. It had taken several years, but he had eventually gotten the hint and stopped calling.
To maintain his distance from Keane, Ryder hadn’t planned on attending his brother Finn’s wedding.
Then last week, he’d come across a photograph that had changed his mind.
A photo of Jane.
Recalling the vixen he’d spent one wild night with almost a year ago, he licked remnants of the whiskey from his lips and swirled his finger along the rim of the glass. Before falling asleep that night, he’d realized one time inside of Jane hadn’t been enough for him.
He’d wanted more.
Not just sex, but the chance to get to know her.
Crazy thoughts for a man who’d spent his adult life never having sex with the same woman twice.
But she’d pulled a Cinderella on him, fleeing his hotel room in the middle of the night. Other than her first name, he’d known nothing about her.
Obsessed with finding the woman he couldn’t forget, he’d wasted months searching for her. He’d checked with the organization that had sponsored the conference where they’d met. Called other attendees. Combed through photos of the conference. Hell, at one point, he’d been so desperate, he’d hired a private detective.
And what had he found?
It was as if she’d never existed.
His fingers tightened around his glass.
He’d been a fool.
Because now he knew the truth.
Shortly after their night together, he’d realized someone had copied design and software files from his computer. He hadn’t wanted to believe that Jane had been the one to do it—the time stamp didn’t match—but last week, Ryder stumbled upon a recent article online about his father’s foray into the automated commercial kitchen business, the same business as Ryder’s company, Novateur.
Then the photo accompanying the article caught his attention.
It was a photo of the company’s vice president of innovation standing beside Keane.
A muscle popped in his jaw as he acknowledged once again what an idiot he’d been that night.
He’d played right into her hands, lowering his guard when he brought her to his hotel room, not suspecting she would stab him in the back while he slept.
Novateur was one of the first in the world to bring “smart kitchen” technology to restaurants and bakeries. Already in business together providing productivity consultations to restaurants, Ryder and his best friend Tristan had formed the company shortly after their discussion that automation was an effective way to cut costs and increase efficiency in restaurant kitchens. Voice-activated appliances, robotic arms, and conveyor belts for restaurants and bakeries—even the smaller, family-owned ones—were now an affordable reality.
Novateur was the only restaurant automation company to custom design and install the technology per the customer’s specific needs—until McKay Industries.
The evidence was indisputable. Jane had been the one to steal the designs for his father.
Had she thought Ryder wouldn’t find out? Or had she thought that changing the time stamp would save her?
In the end, the joke was on her. Because anything she copied was worthless without key pieces of code. That alone should have given him the satisfaction to move on.
And yet he couldn’t. Something about her didn’t add up. He couldn’t equate the woman he’d met that night with the woman he now knew her to be. She’d acted so innocent in his bed, her eyes widening in something that looked like awe as he’d removed his clothes and given her the first glimpse of his cock.
Not that it wasn’t awe-worthy. He didn’t bother with false modesty.
But Jane’s response had seemed…honest. She’d actually flinched when he’d first entered her. Even now, he could hear her husky voice in his head and the way she whispered his name as he brought her to climax. He remembered the sensation of her silky thighs against his cheeks and how tight her pussy had clamped around him when she came.
He rubbed the stubble on his chin with his knuckles.
Since that night, every time it came down to sealing the deal with a woman, thoughts of Jane popped into his head.
And while he could admit he was bit of an asshole when it came to the opposite sex, he wouldn’t fuck one woman while thinking of another.
She hadn’t only stolen his technology.
She’d stolen his fucking mojo.
He should hate her, and yet there were nights he’d roll over in bed and reach for her, only to find the sheets cold.
According to Finn, all of McKay’s essential employees had been invited to the wedding.
Which was why Ryder was here.
Tonight, he was on a mission.
And get her out of his system, once and for all.
Whatever it took.
Even if whatever it took meant him having to dress in a monkey suit, smile at people he detested, and kiss up to his father. If he’d shown up at McKay Industries, no doubt Keane would have had security toss Ryder out of the building.
But he couldn’t keep Ryder from the wedding.
And Jane wouldn’t be expecting him.
Ryder gulped down his next shot, not even bothering to enjoy it, and returned it bottom side up to the white-satin-covered bar top. Thank fuck his brother and his fiancée had chosen to get married in the city’s only five-star hotel instead of having the traditional church wedding. He’d never make it through the next couple of hours if he had to do it sober.
“Make the next one a double and keep ’em coming,” he told the bartender.
A hard slap on his tuxedo-clad back had his teeth rattling. He didn’t need to turn around to know who had smacked the shit out of him. Finn may be ten years older but he’d never gone easy on him.
“Save some of the good shit for the other guests,” his brother said.
Ryder turned around, relieved that Finn was alone. He definitely needed more whiskey before dealing with the rest of the family. “Thought you’d be getting ready with Keane and all the other groomsmen.”
Although they shared a father, they looked nothing alike. The only thing they had in common was their gray eyes, a trait shared by all the McKay men. Otherwise, Ryder took after his Mexican mother with his dark brown hair and tanned skin while Finn was a younger version of their Irish father with reddish-blond hair. Not to mention, Ryder towered over Finn by a good five inches, something he never let his older brother forget.
Smooth shaven and with his hair cut short, Ryder barely recognized his brother. Where was the beard? His trademark long hair? This guy was a carbon copy of their father. Of course, it had been a couple years since Ryder had last seen Finn. It had killed Ryder to do it, but once his brother had chosen to take a position at McKay Industries, Ryder had been forced to put some space between them.
Finn gave him a wink. “Wanted to make sure my best man hadn’t taken off with some random chick to get his pre–wedding ceremony blow job.”
More like Finn was worried Ryder had again changed his mind about attending the wedding and wouldn’t show. Understandable, since Ryder had questioned his brother more than once as to why Finn was marrying Ciara.
Bad enough Finn had left the attorney general’s office to work at McKay Industries, but to marry into a family possibly even more corrupt than theirs? Finn must have lost his damned mind.
Ryder scratched his head. He had to try one last time to convince Finn he was making the wrong decision. “Listen, I’m sure you don’t want to hear this, but—”
“I’m marrying Ciara.” Finn held up his hand, effectively stopping Ryder from continuing. “I appreciate that you’re concerned for me, but I assure you, I know what I’m doing.”
Folding his arms across his chest, Ryder snorted and leaned his back against the bar. “Yeah, because after all, your first marriage went so well.”
His brother shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Marriage is complicated.”
Complicated was something Ryder didn’t need in his life. That’s why he was never getting married. “Especially when your wife tries to kill you.”
“She wasn’t trying to kill me,” Finn mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck. “Greta was an expert marksman. Got me exactly where she wanted to.”
Ryder would never forget the night he’d gotten the phone call that his brother had been shot. Nearly ran off the road trying to get to the hospital, only to arrive and find his brother resting comfortably on his stomach as he watched the Tigers’ game on his iPhone.
“What does your new woman think of the scar on your ass?” Ryder asked Finn.
Finn grinned. “She thinks it’s sexy.”
“Only the daughter of a criminal would find a bullet to the ass sexy.”
His brother shushed him and stepped closer, looking around the empty room in a move that hinted at paranoia. “Keep your voice down, would you?”
Ryder tamped down his urge to chuckle. Fucking with his brother rated high on his list of favorite things to do. “What are you worried about? Someone finding out that your future father-in-law is a criminal or that your ex shot you in the ass when you asked for a divorce?” he asked loud enough for anyone close by to overhear, including the bartender, who stopped his cleaning at Ryder’s words and let out a snort.
Finn only shook his head. “You’re an asshole. Do you know that?” He clamped a hand on Ryder’s shoulder and squeezed. Hard. “But you’re also the best brother any guy could ask for. I’m thankful every day that Dad boinked the maid and fathered you. Which is why I’m going to tell you that when it comes to Ciara and her family, I know what I’m getting into.”
“I thought we agreed we were both getting out of the family business. Me with Novateur and you by becoming some hotshot lawyer. We don’t need Dad’s money and we certainly don’t need his connections.”
His brother clenched his jaw and looked away, almost guiltily. “As long as Dad is still in charge of McKay Industries, we’ll never be free of him. Don’t you get it by now?”
“So you just gave up and figured you’d make him even more powerful by marrying a rival’s daughter?”
Pinching the bridge of his nose, Finn sighed. “I told you. I love—”
“You love Ciara.” He rolled his eyes. Childish, but appropriate. “I heard you the first twenty times. But I still don’t believe you.”
Ryder wasn’t completely dead inside. He had the ability to love. He loved his brother, Tristan, and an ice-cold beer at a ball game, but as for the so-called everlasting romantic kind of love?
Not in his genetic makeup.
His father was on marriage number four—no, five—and his brother’s first marriage had ended in gunplay.
The odds were definitely not in Ryder’s favor…or his brother’s.
Long ago, Ryder had made the decision never to get married or have children. Both a wife and a kid would be a vulnerability he couldn’t afford. Look at what Keane had done by stealing Ryder’s designs and competing against him. No, Ryder could never give Keane that kind of power over him.
Finn shot him a look of disappointment. “I know you don’t, but I wish you had at least a little faith that I know what I’m doing.” He puffed out his chest and straightened his bow tie, cutting the awkward tension with his smirk. “After all, I’m the big brother. You’re supposed to look up to me.”
“And I would if you weren’t such a midget,” Ryder deadpanned.
His brother grabbed his crotch. “Yeah, well, unlike you, I’m large where it counts.”
Ryder was about to challenge that comment when his brother’s smirk slid off his face and all the joy was sucked out of the room. He didn’t have to turn around to know the source of the sucking.
“Pop,” Ryder said in greeting.
A firm hand clasped his shoulder and a raspy voice, created by a two-pack-a-day cigarette habit, came from behind him. “Ryder. Good to see you, son.”
Too bad he couldn’t say the same.
He waited for the scent of cigarettes to assault his nose and was surprised when it didn’t happen. Had the old man finally quit?
His father moved to his side, giving Ryder a glimpse of the man he hadn’t seen in years.
Always robust and thick around the waist, his father had shrunk to half his old size. Still not skinny, but to Ryder, the difference was jarring. His white hair had thinned on top, showing off the reddened scalp underneath it, and his wrinkled skin seemed especially pronounced because of his weight loss.
He looked…tired. Old. Too old for seventy-one.
- "I had to constantly remind myself to breathe. Shelly Bell packs a powerful punch with her flawless writing and suspenseful, passionate love story."—#1 New York Times bestselling author Jodi Ellen Malpas on At His Mercy
- "I was at Shelly Bell's mercy from page one. This novel sucked me in, and didn't let me go until the very last sexy page. This book had some of the hottest scenes I've ever read. 10 stars!"—New York Times bestselling author Alessandra Torre on At His Mercy
- "Well-written, action-packed, and full of charm, wit, and suspense."—Publishers Weekly
- "Bell opens the Forbidden Lovers series with a sexy thriller that will leave readers breathless. This novel is sultry and hot in all the right places, with just enough plot to keep the pages turning."—Publishers Weekly (starred review) on At His Mercy
- "4 1/2 Stars! Top Pick! With a liberal dose of suspense and mega-hot sex, Bell's compelling first novel in the Forbidden Lovers series is exciting right through to the epilogue...absolutely nothing is wasted in this taut tale."—RT Book Reviews on At His Mercy
- "A roller-coaster ride of jaw-dropping sex, heated anticipation, and a perfect dash of suspense, all tied together with flawless writing. When I wasn't clenching my thighs, I was frantically flipping pages to find out what would happen next! I can't recommend this series enough. Buy it. Devour it."—Alessandra Torre (A. R. Torre), New York Times bestselling author on White Collared
- "If you love romantic suspense novels and like your stories with a little edge to them on the passion side, you will want to check out White Collared. Think of it as a cross between a thriller like Gone Girl and one of the hugely popular BDSM billionaire stories like the Fifty Shades of Gray or the Crossfire Trilogies."—The Romance Reviews
- "4 1/2 stars! TOP PICK! This is a bona fide page-turner laced with political intrigue, thrilling action and steamy sex scenes. The main characters' chemistry sizzles as they search for the truth behind a gruesome murder and encounter a plot with deadly consequences."—RT Book Reviews on Blue Blooded
- "Shelly Bell is a fresh new voice in erotic romance. She brings the heat!"—Lexi Blake, New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author
- "White Collared takes you on a thrill ride of danger, murder and lust, leaving you hungry for the next installment."—Stacey Kennedy, USA Today Bestselling Author of Bared
- On Sale
- Apr 10, 2018
- Page Count
- 368 pages