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10 years ago
“You promised me forever.”
Remy Brennan barely processed the words that left her mouth, but she felt every single one of them down to her bones. The world was silent around her. Not a sound breaking past the steady thumps of her beating heart. The streetlights cast a soft glow across the old, historic area of Stoney Creek. The coastal town in Maine was known for its fresh catch restaurants and picturesque coastal views, but to Remy, Stoney Creek was home. And that home suddenly looked abruptly different. Nothing was recognizable now, everything seemed hazy, far away, as the love of her life said, “The FBI has offered me a job. I’m leaving for Washington tonight.”
Her eyes watered as she stared into Asher Sullivan’s light emerald-colored eyes. Tall and fit, Asher had the power to make Remy melt, even after five years together. She’d known Asher for as long as she could remember. She’d been a freshman when they’d gotten together, but he was already a senior at that time, being three years older. The age difference had mattered to just about everyone but her and Asher. Nothing could have stood between their love. They’d stayed together through his high school, his college graduation, and his time at the police academy. He’d only gotten hired by the Stoney Creek Police Department a few months ago. He’d been her first date. Her first kiss. And on her eighteenth birthday, Asher had been her first everything. Her entire world. And now that world was crumbling, and she was racing to find a way to solid ground again.
“I never planned for this, Remy,” Asher said softly, not meeting her gaze, putting his final boxes into his Ford pickup. “But how can I turn down a job with the FBI?”
“Easy.” She hugged herself against the bitter chill. “You call them up and say that you don’t want the job. You tell them that your family and friends are here, and that you refuse to leave them.”
Asher planted his palms against the gate of his truck and bowed his head. “Why are you punishing both of us? The decision is made. It’s done.”
“Why am I punishing us?” She gasped, angry tears filling her eyes. “You’re breaking my heart, Asher. You said we’d get married. You promised me everything. And what…with a snap of your fingers you’re taking it all away?”
“I don’t want to hurt you.” He finally faced her, his typically dazzling and playful gaze now dark. Haunted. His baseball cap covering his blond hair was low on his face. His good-hearted was nature nowhere to be found now. “The very last thing I want to do is hurt you, Remy.”
“Then stay here with me.” Desperate not to feel this iciness between them, she closed the distance and ran her hands up his muscular arms, feeling them trembling. “I don’t understand any of this. You already have a job here, a good job. Your family is here.” Her voice blistered. “I’m here.”
A foreign coldness flashed across his expression. “My mom is gone.”
Remy’s hands tightened on his arms to keep him from leaving, and her heart reached for him to ease the pain he endured. His mother had committed suicide two weeks earlier. The strong and flirty Asher she knew had died that day too. “I know she’s gone, but your friends are your family too. We need you here, Asher. Boone and Rhett”—his childhood friends—“they all need you.”
“They’re both moving away,” Asher said, his jaw set. “Boone to New York City. Rhett to the army.”
“But they’ll come back eventually,” Remy implored. “This is home for them too.” He turned to face her again, but his shoulders pulled back. He had already decided. “And what about me?” she whispered, cupping his face, frantically trying to reach the man she knew and loved. “I need you here.”
He jerked away and stepped back, putting cold distance between them she didn’t understand. “This is my dream career, Remy. The FBI. Jobs like this don’t come around often, especially for a small-town cop.” He slammed the gate of his truck closed before addressing her again. “I need to think of myself right now, with Mom gone. What’s good for my future.”
“Then ask me to go with you.” Hopelessness began to claw at her throat, tears making him blurry. “Take me with you to Washington. I’ll go. Just ask me.”
He stared at her. Hard. Then he shook his head slowly. “I can’t do that to your nana. You need to be here. Kinsley’s here.” Kinsley was her best friend since they were in kindergarten, and Boone’s younger sister. “And you’re still in college.” She was getting her business degree to eventually open her own shop. “You need to stay here.”
Her breath caught deep in her throat, the world somersaulting around her. She held on to her stomach, pain cutting through her. “Everyone will understand if I go with you.”
Then his voice was as sharp as a knife. “No.”
Remy went rigid, taking a step back at the finality in his voice.
“Dammit,” he said, softer this time, still keeping his distance. “I don’t want this to hurt you, but it’s better this way.”
“But what about us?” Remy shot back, her pounding heart growing louder in her ears. “What about all the dreams we had together? What happened to getting married? What happened to the children we talked about having? About the house we wanted to live in?”
Sudden emotion flared in his eyes. “You don’t want those things from me.”
“I do,” she said, raising her voice. “I’ve wanted those things the day you first kissed me under the big willow tree. I have forgotten nothing, and nothing has changed for me. I don’t understand where any of this coming from.”
The sky suddenly opened, rain falling down from the heavens.
“I don’t want this life, Remy.” He took a loaded pause, then the Asher she loved was gone. In his place was a stranger she didn’t even recognize as he said, “I don’t love you anymore.”
Her breath caught again at the pain splitting her chest wide open. She squeezed her hands, trying to wake up from this nightmare, her fingernails digging into her palms. “Asher, don’t do this.”
“It’s already done.” He moved to her, and alongside the fresh rain, his earthy cologne infused the air as he pressed his lips against her forehead.
All the love, sadness, and fear suddenly vanished, replaced by cold, hard rage. “No.” She shoved him, and he took a step back. “No! You don’t get to do this. You don’t get to make yourself feel better before you go. I’ll never forgive you for leaving me, Asher. Never!”
His shoulders were high and tight, tension radiating off him. The rain beat against them, the drops of water dripping off his baseball hat. His chest rose and fell with his heavy breaths. For a single second she thought he was going to gather in his arms, kiss her, and tell her he’d stay.
He didn’t. Instead he said, “Some sins should never be forgiven.”
Without another word, Asher got into his truck. Time slowed for Remy as the headlights faded away, the icy rain hammering down, and then the dark night enveloped her.
“Today we are gathered here to celebrate Damon Lane and Remy Brennan as they proclaim their love and commitment to the world.”
Asher Sullivan wasn’t sitting in the church in his hometown of Stoney Creek to celebrate. He was in the fifth pew back from where the only woman he ever loved stood, ready to marry someone else. She wore a strapless gown, fitting her five-foot-five frame to pure perfection. Her long, blond, wavy hair flowed down her back, and every time he looked into her big light green eyes, she took his breath away. She’d been with him since she was a freshman, and even back then, she’d been beautiful. Only now she was breathtaking and no longer his.
The bastard standing next to her, about to become her husband, Asher could do without. Especially considering Remy had no idea she was about to marry a con man. Or that this impending marriage was a sham to get Remy’s half-million-dollar inheritance that her beloved nana left for Remy when she passed away. Remy’s sweet grandmother who raised her from six years old had stipulated in her last will and testament that Remy would only gain her inheritance once she married.
Asher thrust a hand through his sandy-colored hair, ready to crawl out of his skin. There was no doubt the sweat trailing his spine showed through his white button-up. A pair of handcuffs poked his thigh through the pocket of his dark gray slacks, all but teasing him with anticipation to wrap them around Damon’s lowlife wrists. But Asher couldn’t act, not until the chief of police sent word that they’d received the arrest warrant.
“We are gathered to rejoice, with and for them, in the new life they now undertake together,” the minister called out in a smooth, nearly rhythmic voice.
Asher snorted. “What a load of shit.”
Heads turned and a few glares came Asher’s way, telling him he wasn’t as quiet as he’d hoped. Remy was meant to marry him, until Asher’s life fell apart when his mother committed suicide. Everything changed after that. Asher changed after that. At one point in his life, his mother was the mother everyone loved. She was cool and funny and had done everything right for Asher. That’s what made her death so hard. She deserved a good life, but what she got handed was a life married to an abusive alcoholic. Too many times, Asher wished he could go back to that day she downed a bottle of pills when his father left. Asher would have shown her she wasn’t as small and worthless as his bastard father made her feel. And he’d always regret that the only time he punched his father was the day of the funeral, telling him to never come back.
From that day on, Asher decided to never let love control him like it had controlled his mother. Love made people foolish. It made people forget the things they wanted out of life. And Asher couldn’t have given Remy what she wanted. She deserved the life his mother didn’t have. The life Asher had no idea how to give her. He’d left to give Remy the chance to find the life she deserved, and to salvage any strength that he had left in the darkest moment of his life. Only that’s not what happened.
Ten years later, he felt more lost than ever. That’s why he’d come back to Stoney Creek five years ago. He needed his hometown roots. His friends. The life he knew. Except that, for the first four years he was back, Remy barely acknowledged his existence. Of course, he understood. He’d heard while in Washington that she’d gone into a deep depression after her nana passed away soon after Asher left. Something Asher hadn’t learned until much later. She’d dropped out of college and had ended up working as a bartender. She hadn’t dated anyone. She’d given up completely on all the dreams she’d once had about opening her own New Age shop. And Asher knew that most of that was his fault. He’d set the crumbling of her life into motion the day he left her.
After he’d come home, he’d taken it slow, never pushing, giving her the time she needed to forgive him. They might never have a relationship again, but he wanted her as a friend. No, needed her as a friend. It was a selfish want, but nothing made sense without Remy in his life. It took her a year to stop avoiding places he went. It took another two years for her to have a conversation with him. When she finally seemed herself around him, she’d begun dating. And this past year, when things were good between them, Asher watched Remy fall in love with someone else.
At first, he was happy for her. Until he met the bastard and knew Damon wasn’t who he said he was. A full investigation revealed the truth about the con man. As much as Asher didn’t want to hurt Remy, he would protect her. Always.
“You need to calm down,” Boone Knight said in a clipped voice, breaking into Asher’s thoughts. Boone was a powerhouse of a guy with neat dark hair who was usually quick to smile. But right now, Boone turned his head and set his hard blue eyes on Asher. “You’re drawing attention.”
On Asher’s other side was Rhett West. His features had always been hard, and Rhett carried heaviness and darkness with him. The man was lethal, both in the military and out of it. They were both Asher’s closest childhood friends and fellow detectives. “Where is the goddamn arrest warrant?” Asher bit off.
“Remy will never forgive you if you act before having it,” Rhett shot back quietly.
Asher restrained the curses sitting on his lips and glanced back at his phone, his leg bouncing a mile a minute. Rhett wasn’t wrong. Asher had broken Remy’s heart once. He couldn’t act rashly. His instincts had gotten him through the police academy, then hired at the FBI, and now back in Stoney Creek working alongside his buddies as a detective. Those same instincts were what had him investigating Damon Lane. It only took days to realize something was wrong, but it took weeks to gather enough evidence against Lane to go to the prosecutor.
And Asher knew Remy needed that proof too.
One call. That’s what they waited for. The month-long investigation had finally delivered Damon Lane’s real name, Kyle Fanning. And Remy wasn’t his first victim either, she was his fourth. Three previous marriages, and Fanning went by all different names.
The minister continued, “The relationship you enter into today must be grounded in the strength of your love and the power of your faith in each other.”
Asher held his tongue this time. For the briefest of glances, Remy turned her head, her gaze connecting with his. And held. Asher felt the intensity in the air between them. That had never faded, no many how many years had gone by since he last touched her. But Asher understood why she wanted to get married. For as long as he knew Remy, she had dreamed of her wedding. She told him every single detail. From the ceremony being at night under the stars, with torches lighting up the grounds. She’d shown him the exact wedding dress she wanted. He noted that this ceremony was in a church and her dress was not the one she’d dreamed of wearing. But he knew why she did this. She wanted to open up a New Age shop she’d call Black Cat’s Cauldron, and her inheritance would help make that happen. Remy believed in magic. She believed teas could bring positive energy. That herbs could heal. That burning incenses could chase away evil.
He ground his teeth and glanced down at the black screen of his phone, waiting for the damn text message to stop this wedding. Asher hunted criminals—that was his job. Most crimes he solved dealt with theft, domestic violence, and, only recently, murder. The first one to happen in town in years. But right now this crime was personal.
He came here to save Remy, but he knew he’d be stopping this wedding today. And that would devastate her. But when the time came, he’d object with or without the evidence. He just really hoped, for his life and well-being, that he had the arrest warrant and the photograph of Kyle Fanning’s last wedding.
A flash on his phone caught his attention.
Asher jumped to his feet and growled, “Stop. I object.”
Remy turned to him, eyes huge, but for one split second, Asher swore he caught a hint of a smile. A smile that she once only gave to him. The shock of seeing her look at him with such warmth and affection stuttered his mind, until he spotted the prick next to her shift slightly. Damon still held her hand and a ring. Yeah, he was a good-looking scumbag. But Asher saw Damon for what he saw, a slimy bastard who didn’t just break hearts but left a trail of shattered women behind him.
Determined to ensure Remy wasn’t one of them, hot adrenaline pumped through Asher’s veins as he charged forward, the crowd in the pews a blur around him. Damon went to take a step back, but Asher was there a second later, grabbing him by the arms and taking him down swiftly to the ground.
“Asher!” Remy bellowed. “What are you doing?”
“Saving you from this fucker.” Asher dug his knee into Damon’s back while he reached for his cuffs. As he grabbed Damon’s wrist, he snarled, “You want to tell her the truth. Or am I going to do it?”
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Damon snapped. “Get him off me.”
Around Asher, and in the deep silence of the church, he felt the weight of everyone’s gaze. After he got on the second cuff, he glanced back over his shoulder, finding Boone frowning and Rhett grinning from ear to ear. With a moment to breathe, Asher cursed softly. Perhaps he hadn’t handled this well, but he wouldn’t apologize for shit. He blew out a slow breath to steady himself and then rose, bringing Damon to his feet.
Rhett grasped Damon’s arm, pulling him back away from Remy. “And here I thought I was the one who always fucked up,” he said quietly to Asher. “Good luck dancing your way out of this.”
Next to him, Boone cringed, staring over Asher’s shoulder.
Fuck. Asher knew he had to face the inevitable, so he turned around. Tears flooded Remy’s pale face. Beside her, her bridesmaids—the blond-haired woman was Boone’s fiancée, Peyton, and the dark-haired one glaring was Boone’s sister, Kinsley. They were both wearing light purple dresses and holding Remy’s hands tight.
“You better explain yourself, and pronto, buddy,” Kinsley spat.
Peyton looked from Asher to Boone rapidly, her hazel eyes unable to find whatever they were looking for. Probably an explanation.
Asher’s heartrate began to slow. He took in the minister, Remy’s coworkers and friends in the pews. Shit.
“Asher,” Remy snapped.
He turned back, finding a thousand questions in Remy’s pretty green eyes. While he wanted to give her all the answers she needed, this was also his chance to fix the past. Asher’s leaving her was part of the reason she’d given up on all her dreams, and nearly married a con man. She’d lost everything, all because he was a stupid kid full of fear and despair.
He wasn’t that kid anymore.
Though the truth remained as it had all those years ago. Asher couldn’t give her his heart. Remy was safer and would be happier without him. But he had this one chance to right his wrongs and set her life back on the right track. No missteps this time. “We don’t have to do this here.”
She dropped Kinsley’s and Peyton’s hands and stepped forward. “Tell me. Now.”
To keep the conversation private, Asher sighed and closed the distance, becoming more aware of her trembling body. His fingers twitched to grab her, bring her close, and keep her safe until she remembered all the things she once wanted for herself. “This man isn’t Damon Lane,” he explained gently. “His name is Kyle Fanning. He’s a con man who has swindled more than three million out of his past three wives, all under different aliases.”
Before Remy could even respond, Kinsley lurched at Damon. “You motherfucker.”
Gasps came from the pews as Boone caught his sister by the waist, holding her back while Kinsley did her best to murder Damon with her bare hands. Kinsley and Remy had been best friends since they were both ankle biters, and Kinsley had distrusted Damon as much as Asher had.
The minister’s skin had turned ashen at some point, and he raised his hands to the crowd. “Please, everyone, let’s calm down.”
Remy slowly stepped closer to Damon. “This can’t be true. Damon, tell me this isn’t true.”
Asher glanced back and found the bastard’s head hanging, shoulders slumped.
“You were only after my inheritance,” Remy squeaked, tears welling in her eyes.
Asher ground his teeth against the pain in her expression and reached for her, desperate to take her away from all this shit. “I’m so sorry, Remy.”
She blinked, wobbling slightly. “Don’t be sorry,” she said to Asher without looking at him. Her gaze wasn’t focused on anything specific, so far away from there. “I’m sorry for all this. I’m sorry I believed that you loved me,” she said to Damon, and then she glanced over the crowd behind Asher in the pews. “Most of all, I’m sorry I wasted all your time today.” She took one final look at Asher, her heartbreak seeping into the air between them, and then she grabbed the hem of her dress and ran down the aisle.
Asher cursed and chased after her, meeting her by the big oak tree outside. He grabbed her arm. “Remy.”
She whirled around, tears flooding her face. “Why did it have to be you? Boone or Rhett could have stopped the wedding, why did it have to be you?”
Asher released her arm slowly. “Because this is what I do.”
The bitterness in her voice took his breath away. And yet, he deserved her wrath. “No, Remy,” he countered gently, “I protect you.” He took a step forward.
She shook her head, stepping back. “Just don’t. Stay away from me. Just leave me alone!” Her dress rustled and brushed across his legs as she ran away.
It occurred to him then that even though he knew he did the right thing by stopping the wedding today, he’d forever be remembered as the guy who broke her heart, not once, but twice.
“You can’t hide in your wedding dress forever.”
“Watch me,” Remy called to Kinsley from beneath her blanket on her queen-size bed. They were best friends, but not even Kinsley could get her out of where she’d been hiding all morning. The sunlight shone through the thin sheet, promising a gorgeous day. There was nothing beautiful about it, and Remy wouldn’t be fooled.
And she wasn’t just wallowing in finding out her fiancé was trying to con her out of her inheritance, even if her heart currently felt like Damon had put it through a cheese grater. First of all, she thought she’d wake up this morning married to a man who was as close to perfect as he could get. Damon had been sweet, thoughtful, and romantic. He’d given her foot rubs without her having to ask. He’d listened to her problems and offered gentle advice. He’d even planned perfect dates. Lies! All lies!
Second, she thought she would finally put working as a bartender behind her, would finally have her inheritance to open her long-awaited shop, Black Cat’s Cauldron, a New Age witch, herbal medicine shop, mixed with some good old-fashioned voodoo, spell making, and tarot card reading. All things she’d learned from her nana, whom she’d lived with since she was six years old after her mom decided she didn’t want to be a mom anymore, and instead went on tour with her country folk band. Only days ago, Remy had figured it all out. She planned on buying the empty shop beneath her rented loft apartment. A shop that was beside Peyton’s lingerie shop, Uptown Girl, with Kinsley’s bar, Whiskey Blues, on the other side. But that dream was now gone. And so was her inheritance. Not that she blamed her nana for putting in that stipulation into her last will and testament. Her grandmother thought Remy would marry Asher. She couldn’t have anticipated that Remy would have still been single at the age of thirty.
The other—biggest—problem was Remy’s unexpected reaction to Asher objecting to the wedding. In those long seconds after he called out, her heart skipped a full beat, hoping—hell, begging—that he had come for her because he still loved her. She hated the hurt that followed when she realized that wasn’t the case. She’d spent years getting over Asher. She’d spent even more time pulling her life together after he’d left. She was supposed to be over him. Asher was behind her.
Apparently, her heart didn’t get that memo.
No wedding. No shop. Still renting. Total failure.
And now on top of all that, she felt broken. Clearly she had nothing together if she couldn’t have spotted Damon for what he was, and she obviously hadn’t gotten Asher out of her heart.
Somewhere between waking up and when Kinsley and Peyton entered her bedroom, Remy decided to live under the blanket with her black cat, Salem, the biggest bottle of wine she could find, and a gigantic tub of cookie dough ice cream.
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- "A steamy and emotional romance with a generous dose of intrigue and suspense.... The unpredictable twists and turns of this story will keep you on the edge of your seat and rooting for Peyton and Boone every step of the way."—Frolic on Naughty Stranger
- "From the very first page Naughty Stranger will have you hooked, once I got started I just couldn't put it down. It's sultry and suspenseful story line and captivating characters drew me in and had me teetering helplessly from the edge of my seat!"—Reds Romance Reviews
- "I loved, loved, loved it!Naughty Stranger is the perfect combination of romance and suspense."—Reading Keeps Me Sane
- "I really enjoyed this story, and I loved watching two broken souls find hope, and love, in each other. Especially amidst a crazy murder plot, and all their friends nosiness!"—Alpha Book Club on Naughty Stranger
- "Naughty Stranger is just the right mix of suspense and romance. It is a well written, sexy story with lots of chemistry between the characters and it kept my interest from start to finish."—Cocktails and Books
- "From page one I was hooked!"—Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews on Naughty Stranger
- On Sale
- Oct 15, 2019
- Page Count
- 304 pages
- Forever Yours