By Tiffany Snow
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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 February 23, 2016. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Falling in love with polar-opposite men was an intoxicating ride that nearly ended Sage Reese’s life. Now it’s time for Sage to decide: Parker, the clean-cut, filthy-rich business magnate . . . or Ryker, the tough-as-nails undercover detective. Her choice? Neither. Because she can’t stand the thought of coming between two brothers-in-arms finally trying to repair their friendship.
Yet not everyone feels the same way, including a mysterious woman who’s come to Ryker and Parker for help. Sage knows firsthand how hard it is for the two former Marines to resist a damsel in distress. But something just doesn’t feel right.
Now there’s a danger closing in that only Sage can see, and she intends to do everything she can to protect Parker and Ryker-even at the risk of losing them both . . .
This book was particularly difficult to write, as some can be, and I have several people to thank for their relentless encouragement and endless patience:
To my editor, Leah Hultenschmidt, for whom this book is dedicated. I’ve been very lucky as a new author in this business to be surrounded by some of the kindest, hardworking, most knowledgeable people who’ve been as determined as I am to take my career to higher levels. You are one of these people. It has been an absolute pleasure working with you on this series. Thank you for the brainstorming sessions, the critiques that made this book better, the patience with deadlines and life in general. You’re an amazing editor and a lovely person, through and through.
To my agent, Kevan Lyon, for making this deal happen. I don’t know how you remember all that you do, but I’m in constant amazement. You’re an amazing agent and I feel incredibly fortunate to have you. I still recall sitting in a hotel room in Seattle, dumbstruck at your absolute confidence in the sale of this series. Thank you.
To my author friends who encouraged me and kept me going when even five hundred more words felt insurmountable: Tracy Brogan, Catherine Bybee, Jill Shalvis, Marina Adair, Melinda Leigh, Paige Weaver, and Kele Moon. It’s such a huge relief to realize I’m not alone.
To Janeen Solberg and the wonderful ladies who staff Turn the Page Bookstore in Boonsboro. Your enthusiasm and support for my work is truly awe-inspiring and humbling to me. Thank you so very much not only for that, but for all the recommending and hand-selling you do of my books to your patrons.
To my family—my wonderful daughters and patient husband—who dealt with a very stressed-out mom and still managed to love me when at times I was quite unlovable. I treasure you.
And lastly, to the people who’ve made this series so great with their many talents and skills in marketing, graphics, PR, and branding: Jodi Rosoff, Fareeda Bullert, Dana Hamilton, Danielle Egnozzi, and the entire Forever team. Thank you!
Parker and I slept together.”
The words fell with the force of a bomb. Ryker stared at the woman he loved in disbelief. With his best friend? Really? Shock froze him in place and he couldn’t move, could barely breathe.
This couldn’t be happening. He couldn’t possibly have understood her correctly. She was lying, or this was a really bad joke—
“I’m in love with him,” she continued, as though completely unaware of the pain each word was driving into him. “And he loves me, too. We were going to tell you before, but…” Her words trailed away and she shrugged.
“But what?” he asked, his voice like a rake on gravel.
“But it’s hard to hurt someone you love.”
She moved closer until she stood within a hairbreadth of her abdomen touching his. Lifting her hands, she placed her palms on the bare skin of his chest. Ryker squeezed his eyes shut, his senses assaulted with her—the heat of her touch, the smell of her skin, the brush of her hair against him as it stirred in the breeze. The ceiling fan in the bedroom was a bare whir of sound.
“Parker put you up to this, didn’t he?” Ryker said. That was the only explanation. Natalie was too sweet and trusting. She’d believe anything Parker told her. God only knew what he’d said to seduce her and make her think he loved her.
Grasping her upper arms so tightly she gasped, he pushed her back so he could see her eyes.
“Tell me the truth,” he growled, trying to keep his temper in check. “He said whatever he had to in order to get you into bed. You love me. You want to be with me. Right?” He shook her slightly before he stopped himself. “Tell me!”
“N-no,” Natalie stammered, her eyes wide. “I just can’t keep up pretending with you, pretending that I don’t have feelings for Parker—”
“He wants you for himself,” Ryker interrupted, abruptly releasing her. Turning away, he shoved a hand through his hair. “I can’t believe it.”
It was unreal. Incomprehensible. Parker and he went back—way back—and had looked out for each other through street gangs, schoolyard bullies, drill sergeants, and enemy fire. Parker knew how much Ryker loved Natalie. He’d even talked to Parker about maybe proposing to her.
And he’d thought she was there, too—or at least, almost. She’d told him she loved him. They’d made love. She was like him—they came from the wrong side of the tracks, had a rough upbringing, and done what they could to help the ones they loved. Natalie had been the first woman to work her way past his wall of defenses to the man he was inside. He’d opened up to her, trusted her, fallen in love with her…
Then Parker had seduced her. That had to have been what had happened. He’d made her believe he loved her so she’d have sex with him. For Parker to have done something like that to someone as trusting and vulnerable as Natalie made Ryker’s blood boil. Parker had finally shown his true colors. It had just taken a woman to bring out what Ryker had always suspected was there—a narcissistic asshole blinded by his own wealth and privilege. It must’ve amused him, all these years, playing the savior for the charity case kid from the shitty side of town.
A little voice in the back of his head said, You know Parker’s not like that. He’s saved your life. He wouldn’t steal your girlfriend.
But the alternative to believing in Parker’s loyalty…was believing in Natalie’s disloyalty, and he couldn’t handle that.
He felt Natalie’s hands on his back, lightly stroking his skin, gentling him.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “You must hate me. I understand if you never want to see me again—”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he interrupted her. The searing pain inside needed an outlet, but it couldn’t be Natalie. It was Parker. He was the one to blame. He’d betrayed their friendship. The thought of Parker with Natalie—
No. He couldn’t think about it, wouldn’t think about it. It didn’t matter what she’d done or been coerced into doing; Ryker couldn’t live without her. His every breath was for her. If she left him…he’d have nothing and no one. He needed her more than he cared about his broken pride or wounded psyche.
“I forgive you,” he rasped. “It’s you and me. Together. Nothing will come between us. Especially not Parker.”
Taking a deep breath, he turned around and took her in his arms, his lips finding hers in a searing kiss that melted his anger and turned his guts into a molten river of want.
She let him make love to her, their joining more desperate on his side than it had been before. As though his soul knew he was losing her, inch by inch.
* * *
Only a week later, his worst fears were realized.
Ryker didn’t announce his presence when he walked into Parker’s place. He hadn’t been able to reach Natalie for the past hour, though they were supposed to meet for dinner after he got off work. On a suspicion he didn’t want to dwell on, Ryker had come here.
He hadn’t spoken to Parker since Natalie had confessed. Unable to know for certain what he’d do if he saw Parker, Ryker had avoided him all week.
Now he stood, frozen in Parker’s bedroom doorway, aghast at the tableau in front of him.
Natalie, naked, her limbs entwined around Parker’s hips. The sounds of her gasps and moans filled the air, pouring into his ears like acid. The sheets were tangled around their legs and the sight of Parker pumping between her thighs sent fury raging through him.
With a roar, he attacked, grabbing Parker and hauling him off Natalie. Parker hit the wall with a thud and a grunt before falling to the floor.
Parker’s gaze met Ryker’s, and shock and confusion were followed quickly by horror.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Parker asked.
“Besides watching you fuck my girlfriend,” Ryker spat, “I’m here to kill you, asshole.”
He went for him, but Parker fought back, blocking Ryker’s right hook and retreating.
“She said it’s over between you two,” Parker said. “You’ve got to accept that.”
“Fuck you,” Ryker growled, going after him again. This time he landed a good hit to Parker’s jaw and gut before Parker was able to retaliate with several blows to Ryker’s solar plexus, forcing him to pause to regain his breath.
“You’ve gotta stop,” Parker said, breathing hard. “It’s not worth this.”
Nothing Parker said could have enraged Ryker more, and he yelled as he attacked again, this time his fury such that Parker’s blows didn’t stop him. Blood flowed and his knuckles ached, but all he saw through the haze of red in his vision was Natalie’s body being desecrated by Parker’s.
“Stop! You’re going to kill him! Stop!”
Natalie’s words broke through the rage at last and Ryker went still, his chest heaving from exertion. Parker lay on the floor, blood staining the skin around his mouth and nose. His eyes were closed and he didn’t move.
“Oh God oh God oh God…” Natalie was murmuring over and over. She’d dropped to her knees and tenderly brushed back the hair from Parker’s face. “I think he’s just unconscious,” she said at last.
She lifted her gaze to Ryker’s, and he was stunned to see tears streaking her face.
“I can’t do this. I can’t watch you two tear each other apart,” she said.
“You have to choose,” Ryker said, his voice flat. “Him or me. You can’t have both.” Because now he knew. He knew by the look in her eyes that she hadn’t told him the truth.
“Why do you even want me?” she asked. “I slept with your best friend. You should hate me.” Her gaze was unflinching.
“I can’t hate you. I love you.”
Slowly, she got to her feet. “You shouldn’t,” she said. “For your own sake. I don’t understand how you could possibly still love me.”
“It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. I love you no matter what.”
“How can you expect me to believe that, Ryker?” she asked, incredulous. “I’m just supposed to trust you?”
She shoved her hands through her hair in exasperation, then crossed her arms over her breasts, making her petite frame look even smaller.
“Nothing you say or do is going to make me not love you,” he said. “You just have to accept that.”
She didn’t answer, just silently gathered her clothes and dressed. When she was done, she stood in front of him.
“Kiss me,” she said, and the look of despair in her eyes was heartbreaking.
He couldn’t resist her. Hope was too strong of a pull and he leaned down, sealing her lips with his.
At last, he lifted his head, his eyes lazy to open. When they did, he stumbled back in shock.
For it wasn’t Natalie in his arms, staring at him with a look of utter satisfaction on her face. It was Sage.
* * *
Ryker woke up with a start, sitting straight up in bed. He was covered in a sheen of cold sweat but he didn’t notice. All he could see inside his head was Natalie and Sage, the thin, sharp blade of betrayal cutting him deep.
He got up and went into the kitchen, forgoing any lights. He knew his way in the dark.
Ryker absently filled a glass with water and took a deep swallow, letting the night air cool his sweat-slicked skin. Even now, years later, he remembered the horror of that night and the morning that had followed. The police had called with news that Natalie’s car had been found in the river and they had sent in a recovery team to find the body.
The hole in his soul that Natalie had temporarily filled had been empty from that night on. Guilt, loss, regret…all of it overlaid with things he would’ve done differently if he’d had the chance. Natalie had been just like him—afraid to trust anyone, afraid to let anyone too close. He’d been so sure that fate had led them to each other…that he’d found the ethereal true love that he’d never before believed in.
Then she was gone.
He hadn’t spoken to Parker since that night until four months ago, when he’d walked into Parker’s office…and laid eyes on Sage.
Now he was on the brink of losing the woman he loved, again, to the same man who’d betrayed him all those years ago.
Ryker wasn’t going to let that happen. He wouldn’t lose Sage to Parker, and he’d do anything to keep history from repeating itself.
One Month Later
Ryker stared at me, seemingly uncomprehending. Not that I could blame him. I’d just arrived on his doorstep in the middle of the night, though it didn’t look like he’d been asleep.
“They came to my apartment,” I continued, my voice flat. “They took me and they killed him. They just…killed him.” I couldn’t continue. Tears poured from my eyes as I began to sob. I’d been numb before, the ordeal of being kidnapped necessitating a distance from the horror of what had happened in my apartment. Was Parker’s body there even now?
I couldn’t breathe. Ryker was talking to me but I couldn’t hear him and I still couldn’t breathe. My knees buckled and if he hadn’t had a hold of me, I would’ve crumpled to the floor.
“Sage! Listen to me…” Ryker implored, but I barely heard him.
Suddenly, I was torn from his grasp. A hand forced my chin up and I blinked open my eyes—
I gasped, stumbling backward, but he caught me.
“I’m okay,” he said, his blue eyes boring into mine. “They didn’t kill me. I’m all right.”
My jaw was hanging open, my sobs abruptly cut off, and then I threw myself at him.
“Oh my God oh my God on my God,” I kept repeating, my arms circling his neck so tightly I had to be choking him. Not that he seemed to mind. “You’re here! You’re okay.” More tears, but this time of relief rather than heartbreak.
Parker held me just as close, his arms around my waist just this side of painfully tight. His face was buried in my neck and I savored the feel of him in a way I never had before…because I’d never been so close to losing him as I had come tonight.
The sound of Ryker clearing his throat brought me back to the here and now, and I pulled back, releasing Parker. He let me go, albeit reluctantly it seemed. An uncomfortable awareness settled over me as I stepped away to put some space between Parker and me. Ryker stood a few feet away, shirtless with a bandage covering the burn on his chest, watching us.
“So, um, how, uh, how did you get here?” I asked Parker, hurriedly swiping my wet cheeks. My voice was hoarse and I avoided both their gazes, instead sinking onto the couch. I glanced around hopefully for McClane, but remembered he was still recuperating at the vet’s.
“Ryker showed up just in time, before Leo and his men decided to finish me off,” Parker said.
Leo Shea. Crime boss, ruthless “businessman,” and the guy who’d not only tried to kill me but had decided to kill Parker, too. Lives meant nothing to him. Parker’s had been for expediency; mine was for revenge. Only luck in the former and the timely intervention of my father in the latter had thwarted Leo.
“And your apartment needs another cleanup job, by the way. I’ll call to get it done.”
Good to know. I wondered if whoever the CIA used for that sort of thing offered a discount for frequent customers.
“I knew they’d taken you,” Parker continued. “Ryker has weapons and ammunition, so we came here.”
He didn’t continue, but I could fill in the rest. They’d been on their way to rescue me. Well, at least they could agree on something at last.
And Ryker had ended up keeping Parker alive. I remembered now. Ryker had dropped me off at my place, then left to go to the police station, but had said he’d be back. Looked like his timing couldn’t have been better. He’d saved Parker, a man he supposedly hated.
Now the two men stood a few feet apart, both looking at me. The enormity of all that had happened during the past few days washed over me and I lifted a hand to rub my forehead. Ryker had said he wasn’t giving up on me, and Parker had told me he loved me. My headache seemed to grow exponentially, especially when images of Parker and me in my bed flashed through my mind.
“Let me get you an ice pack for your eye,” Ryker said, heading into the kitchen. He was back in moments, crouching down next to me and gently pressing an ice cold bundle to my eye.
“Thanks,” I murmured. The cold brought relief to my throbbing head. Leo had a mean right hook, but he’d paid for that and paid dearly.
A mobster and a bully—though that was probably redundant—Leo Shea had kidnapped me and nearly killed Parker. Leo would’ve killed me if not for the precipitous arrival of a most unlikely savior: my dad. Well, not just him, but lots of large, gun-toting men who’d taken care of Leo and his goons in a very permanent way. It seemed my dad had secrets I’d known nothing about.
But I would wait until later to think about that because I had more pressing problems at the moment—in the form of two large, alpha men staring at me as though waiting for something.
“So, um, what now?” I asked the room at large, because I honestly had no clue.
I was with two men. I’d slept with both of them, I loved both of them, but everyone knew two was company and three was a crowd. I just wasn’t sure at this point if I wouldn’t be the one tossed from the group.
“You’re exhausted,” Ryker said. “You need rest.”
Sleep. Yes, sleep sounded really, really good. My whole body hurt and my heart still ached from the beating it had taken over the past twenty-four hours. Before Leo had gotten involved and nearly killed Parker, I’d almost lost both him and Ryker to Viktor, a crazy Russian mafia guy who’d made me watch while he tortured them. I shuddered even now as images of them both—bleeding and bruised—flitted through my mind.
Taking my hand, Ryker pulled me to my feet to lead me from the room, but I put on the brakes.
“What about you?” I asked Parker. “Are you leaving?” The anxiety that thought produced had my stomach turning itself into knots.
He must’ve read my mind because he said, “Not if you don’t want me to.” He glanced at Ryker. “I’m sure Ryker won’t mind me camping out on his couch tonight.”
Something passed between the two of them, but I was too tired to examine the tension in the air. Relieved that Parker wasn’t leaving had me nodding. “Good. Okay, then.”
I let Ryker lead me to his bedroom. He sat me down and removed my shoes. I shucked my jeans and climbed underneath the covers. Ryker had on a pair of sweat pants and joined me, turning off the bedside lamp before pulling me into his arms. I settled against his chest with a sigh that felt soul-deep, and was asleep in moments.
* * *
Screaming woke me, then I realized it was my own.
“Sage…hey, it’s okay; you’re okay…”
I was sitting straight up in bed and Ryker was next to me, his hand on my arm, his voice anxious as he tried to get through to me. He’d turned the light on, but apparently even that hadn’t been enough to break through to me.
“Viktor…” I gasped. Images from my nightmare were still vivid inside my head: images of him torturing and tormenting Parker and Ryker.
The door flew open.
“Sage…” Parker said, standing in the doorway. His face was drawn in lines of worry as he looked at me. Instinctively, I reached for him. His hand was instantly in mine as he sat beside me.
“Oh God,” I breathed, my eyes slipping shut. Ryker’s hand slipped from my arm, but I grasped it, holding him tight.
No one said a word as I tried to gain control. Tremors shook me. Lord only knew how much therapy I was going to need in the future to move past what had happened, but tonight the only therapy I needed was holding each of my hands.
I lay back down on the bed, scooting until I was in the middle. Both Parker and Ryker were looking at me with their best poker faces.
“I’m tired,” I said, looking at them both expectantly. I had a hold of each of them so unless one of them tried to pull away, no one was going anywhere. An odd request? Absolutely. But I’d had a really rough few days and I figured if I wanted to get any rest tonight, my subconscious was going to be appeased only one way.
Neither man looked happy with the situation once they realized what I wanted, but they both complied, lying down on either side of me in identical, stiff positions. Ryker turned off the light and I closed my eyes. I could feel both of them pressed against my sides, the warmth of their skin heating the chill of mine. If I listened, I could hear them breathe, and that sound comforted me. A smile flitted across my face, and I relaxed.
There might be better ways to wake up than sandwiched between two half-naked men, but if there was, I couldn’t imagine what it would be.
Early morning light filtered through the window blinds as I blinked a few times and debated whether I wanted to move.
We were sleeping spoon-style, all three of us, my front pressed against Ryker’s back with Parker cradling me from behind, his arm slung over my waist. It was warm and cozy and I felt like I never wanted to move.
They were both here, whole and safe. Ryker’s chest rose and fell steadily and I could feel Parker’s breath stir my hair. The terror from my nightmare seemed a world away. I felt safe with both of them looming over me in the bed, and I memorized the feeling. I’d felt unsafe too often lately.
God, what day was it? I’d lost track with all that had happened. It wasn’t like I had to get up for work. Last I’d checked, I was unemployed, thanks to telling my boss—the man currently spooning me—that I’d quit.
Not that I’d had much of a choice. Once you sleep with your boss and tell him you love him, that’s pretty much a Point of No Return right there. Or maybe that point had been when I’d dated (and yes, slept with) his arch frenemy—the man I was currently spooning.
Being hunted by Russian mafia bosses and hit men would turn any girl’s life into a soap opera, right?
I frowned, not wanting to think about the current disastrous state of my life. At this moment in time, everything was perfect, and I didn’t want to face reality. Not yet.
Unfortunately, reality didn’t feel the same way about me, because no sooner had I thought that than Parker’s arm tightened around me. He snuggled closer, close enough for me to feel that his body was most assuredly not undergoing any lasting side effects from Viktor’s torture, but was most wholeheartedly embracing the morning.
Okay, so I was a red-blooded woman who’d maybe read one too many romance novels, but the thoughts that flashed through my head weren’t of a high standard at that moment. I cursed ethics and morals and all those things that kept me from pressing my lips to Ryker’s naked back and pushing my hips back into Parker’s.
Oh, for a bottle of tequila and an inadequate respect for propriety…
- On Sale
- Feb 23, 2016
- Page Count
- 352 pages