Authors: Violetta Rand
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A Loveswept Ebook Original
Copyright Â© 2016 by Violetta Rand
Property of J.T.
by Violetta Rand copyright Â© 2016 by Violetta Rand
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
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colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.
This book contains an excerpt from the forthcoming book
Property of J.T.
by Violetta Rand. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition.
Cover design: Caroline Teagle
Cover photograph: Â© Lorand Geiner/iStock
Weddings brought out the worst in Tina. Through the patio windows she watched her best friend, Lily, slide into the back of the limo with her husband, shit-eating grins plastered on their faces. The ceremony and reception had been perfect. But what could have gone wrong at an event attended by Philadelphia socialites and 1%er outlaw bikers? Everything. She sucked down a shot of peppermint schnapps, their drink of choice when she and Lily had roomed together at college. They'd snuck off twenty minutes ago and cracked open a celebratory bottle, clinging to the last minutes of their old lives. Because once Lily walked away, nothing would ever be the same.
She'd never been happier for her friend, but a pinch of envy surfaced still. Knowing she hadn't gotten her own life together enough to find that special someone made her feel inadequate. So Tina swallowed another mouthful of liquor.
“Maid of honor?”
Tina closed her eyes; Vincent's resonant voice did funny things to her. “I believe we achieved the highest level of success tonight.” She twisted around, hiding the bottle behind her back.
“Did we?” he asked, filling the doorway.
Her gaze swept over his tux-clad body. The tux must have been spray-painted on, because the material gripped him in all the right places. No one would ever suspect he wore a Sons of Odin cut and leathers regularly. Nope, her dreamy colossus pulled off “normal” in a way she'd never imagined possible.
He freed himself of the maroon bow tie and loosened his collar. “Goddamned monkey suit,” he complained, crossing the threshold. “But it's done.”
“Guess we'd better see to the guests?” One thing remained certain: after planning a wedding with Vincent, Tina had discovered an attraction she couldn't manage. Mix it with alcohol, and she was pretty sure she'd end up on her back with her dress hiked up, fucking Vincent with prejudice.
He waved his hand. “Only a few stragglers left taking advantage of the open bar.” He grinned. “Hiding something behind your back?”
“I can see the bottle,” he said. “Give it up.”
“Girly stuff,” she admitted. “I won't tell anyone if you take a swig.”
He swallowed an inconceivable amount. “Mouthwash,” he complained, wiping his lips with the back of his hand. “Girly shit is right.”
She laughed, liking the thought of getting drunk with himâthe treasurer for the Sons of Odinâthe guy she'd wanted to sleep with since the night she met him at Tito's six months ago. A dead end. But Godâ¦She inched closer, snatching the schnapps out of his hand; the idea was to take turns. After she took another taste, he tugged her into his arms. Eighties dance music still filled the rental space, and Vincent apparently appreciated it, because he started to sway. Her hips wouldn't be denied the opportunity to simulate sex with him.
He smelled of whiskey and cigars, with maybe a hint of citrusy cologne mixed in. It went straight to her core. He guided her to the side of the room, where she abandoned the bottle on the nearest tabletop. Hands free, she wrapped them around his neck, gazing into his eyes, trying to guess what he was thinking. But his expression remained as unnavigable as a cloudless sky. Just fathomless blue stared back.
“I like this song,” he whispered.
She couldn't remember the artist.
“Cutting Crew,” he said as if reading her mind.
She strained to make out the wordsâ
I just died in your arms tonightâ¦Yeah, she'd do more than that.
Hugging her tighter, he nipped her earlobe, and a violent chill spiraled up her spine. She sighed, already struggling to remain upright, blaming it on slutty-maid-of-honor syndrome. He'd never touched her that way before, and judging by the glassy condition of his eyes, he'd slammed a few too many drinks. Not enough to make him sloppy, though.
The schnapps had taken the edge off for her too, so she threw caution to the wind and risked biting his lower lip. One of his big hands squeezed her ass in response. Maybe if she made another move, he'd do the sameâthey'd progress like a chess game.
“You're determined to make me horny as hell, aren't you, Tina?” This time there was no mistaking the look on his face.
“Tit for tat,” she said.
“Really? Let's test that theory.”
“No reason to, Vincent. I'm more than willing to play.”
He released her. “Why do you always talk like that?”
“What?” she asked innocently.
“Everything is saturated with sexual innuendo. You want me?”
Feeling under the microscope, why deny it? People said stupid shit after drinking too much. “Would it bother you if I said yes?”
“No.” He took a step forward.
“Then, yes. I want to fuck you.”
He licked his lips. “I'm not the relationship kind of man.”
“What makes you think I want one?” Where did he get that impression? In her experience, men were the ones guilty of begging for commitment after she slept with them.
He rubbed the back of his neck like he didn't know what to do next. Hunger flashed in his eyes as he corralled her against the closest wall. Desperate for contact, Tina's lips parted in anticipation.
She'd agree to anything at this pointâ¦
IVE MONTHS LATERâ¦
Tina killed the ignition on her Escalade, staring across the street at the entrance to Tito's, her favorite downtown club. Unaccustomed to partying alone, she'd already visited two other hotspots before finding herself here. Fall vacations were encouraged in her law office; for some reason caseloads eased up between October and December. Blame it on the holiday season. Even her favorite coworkers, Alicia and Max, were in the Bahamas together. In the mood for a girl's night out, she ventured out alone.
Truth be told, she missed Lily, who had disappeared on a belated honeymoon. Three weeksâthat's how long it had been since they'd talked on the phone. Oh, she received the occasional text message or caught updates on Facebook. But it would be another month before Lily returned from Paris. To be fair, Tina had been invited to France. Not wanting to be the third wheel, she declined, using work as an excuse.
Get over it,
Tina thought as she slid out of her SUV, her five-inch stilettos hitting gravel. Change made Tina uncomfortableâblame it on her upbringing. She clicked across the street, her mid-thigh-length skirt blowing up in the fall wind. She smoothed it down as she approached the entrance, where a doorman perched on a barstool just outside the glass doors waited to card whoever wanted to go inside.
“Tina,” Chris said. “Alone tonight?”
Pleased to see a familiar face, she smiled. “I'm bored.”
“You alone on a Friday?” He didn't sound convinced. “Guess you should have given me another try,” he said nonchalantly, stamping her hand so she could buy alcoholic drinks.
Not into second chances, after a few dates she'd lost interest in him. “Thought the owner was going to drop the under-twenty-one crowd.”
“He decided to keep them on Thursday and Friday nights onlyâhe makes too much money when live bands are playing. And they don't mind paying five dollars for juice and sodas.”
“Understandable.” She opened the door. “Talk soon?” she called over her shoulder, focusing on the throng of drinkers gathered nearby.
She caught Chris's last words as the heavy door shut behind her. The bass from the large speakers hanging overhead reverberated through her chest. The marquee listed No Trust, a Scottish rock band that frequented the Texas nightclub circuit. The strange blend of bold guitar riffs and electronic bagpipes surprisingly appealed to her.
Finding an empty spot at the bar, she ordered a whiskey sour and turned to check out the band. Through the sea of swaying bodies and seizure-triggering strobe lights, she found a focal point on the stage. After nursing her drink for half an hour, she decided to head to the booths in the back.
She didn't recognize the voice and kept walking.
She stopped dead in her tracksâno one used her full name, except her mother when she was pissed off.
Dark, kaleidoscopic eyes met hers.
Oh God, the douchebag from three weeks ago.
A client she helped get probation instead of a jail sentence. First-time offender or not, she didn't socialize with clients. And the sooner she made it abundantly clear, the better.
“Hello, Mr. Barnes,” she said.
“Please.” He edged closer. “Call me Kline.”
She eyed his designer suit with distaste. The wealthy bastard had assaulted his ex-fiancÃ©e for getting an abortion. “I can't do that, Mr. Barnes. Please respect my privacy; I'm here to enjoy myself. If you need to discuss your case, feel free to call my office on Tuesday.” She turned to go, but he touched her arm.
“No.” She backed away, wanting to put distance between them. “I don't fraternize with clients.” Without giving him a second look, she continued on her path and found an empty booth.
A server placed a napkin on the table in front of her. “Can I get you anything?”
“A whiskey sour.” She preferred sticking to the same drink. “Easy on the ice.”
The waitress smiled and headed for the bar. No Trust started a new song with a haunting bagpipe solo. She watched in amazement as the redheaded lead singer hummed into his microphone while taking center stage, his dark blue and black checkered kilt showcasing a set of muscular legs.
A girl could dreamâ¦
Then a violinist joined inâthe acoustics in the bar were amazingâthe crowd silenced by the music.
“Did I do something to offend you, Ms. Bethel?”
Obviously the asshole didn't take rejection well. Tina peered up at him, his expression indiscernible. “I thought I made myself clear, Mr. Barnes.”
“Did you?” His eyes widened in challenge. “Women typically say one thing but mean another.”
Though she was exposed to a lot of unsavory characters in her profession as a junior associate attorney, Kline Barnes made her skin crawl more than most. Privileged and educated, there was no excuse for what he'd done. “Shall I speak in plainer terms?” she asked, irritation setting in. “Get the hell away from my table.”
Her harsh tone didn't have a visible effect.
“Pretty sure I'm well within my rights to stand here.” He crossed his arms over his chest.
She would have loved to smack the smug look off his face; his behavior bordered on harassment. But she preferred to leave than deal with it. She knew she should have trusted her gut the minute she parked and reconsidered going inside. Sometimes she didn't like spending time alone at home, though. Whenever she did, her overactive imagination caught up with her and she'd remember all those failed relationships. Fifteen boyfriends, three marriage proposals, and one cancelled wedding. Not exactly a winning record. In fact, her win/loss record as an attorney was more impressive, and it was not something to brag about.
She unzipped her purse and grabbed a five-dollar bill from her wallet. She slapped it on the table for the waitress, then stood up, avoiding Kline.
Without a word, she rushed for the exit, happy to call it a night.
Fifteen minutes into her drive home, lights reflected back at her from her rearview mirror; a black Mercedes tailed her dangerously close. Traffic on South Padre Island Drive was light, as most people were still out partying at the clubs. She signaled to change lanes, slowing down to forty-five miles per hour. The sedan did the same. Then she switched to the fast lane, accelerating to seventy-five, well over the speed limit. Again, the Mercedes kept pace behind her.
“Shit!” No doubt Kline was following her.
She decided not to lead him to her apartment complex. And what would she tell a 911 operator? Unfortunately in cases like this, the police were seldom able to do anything preventive. Fear and paranoia didn't constitute the right to arrest somebody for a crime the person hadn't committed yet. One of the fatal flaws in modern law.
With Lily and Lang out of town, and her officemates gone too, her options were limited. Lily's husband was the former president of the Sons of Odin, a 1%er motorcycle club based in Flour Bluff. It had been months since she'd visited the club-owned bar, Valhalla. But Tina knew some of the Brothers and their old ladies. And Lang had extended an open invitation. An offer she couldn't pass up right now.
She checked her rearview again; the black car was still in pursuit.
Speeding all the way down Laguna Shores Road, a long, curvy two-lane street that ran adjacent to the water, she finally pulled into a parking lot, then checked her rearview again. Goneâthe Benz was nowhere to be seen. Maybe she should wait a couple of minutes and make sure Kline had given up, then drive homeâproblem solved. She tapped her fingers on the steering wheel and gazed at the bright neon sign on the familiar white brick buildingâ
It had never looked so good.
Lust spiked inside her. Every time she thought about the Sons of Odin or this place, she remembered VincentâLang's best friend. A man she could never get enough of. After experiencing someone as creepy as Kline Barnes, she needed someone as big and strong as him to scare the shit out of Kline. If she were being honest, she'd admit how nervous she was knowing he might be here. But Tina had a way of ignoring her fear. She jumped out of her car, all attention focused on the front doors.
“Tina?” Kline's voice sounded from somewhere behind her.
Tension set in. How did he beat her here? Or was she imagining it? Her gaze zigzagged around the dark parking lot. No one. Blame it on adrenaline.
She'd had her fair share of problems with men but hardly qualified as a trouble magnet. Blessed with a quick mind and a gift for sarcasm, she usually deflected unwanted attention with ease. Not this time. Was he a serial stalker? Did seeing her trigger some kind of psychotic break with reality? She'd technically won his case, sparing him the usual two-year prison sentence for the assault charge, so he had no reason to be angry.
She needed to get inside.
She gasped as she barreled into something solid and skidded backward on her heels. Unable to keep her balance, she twisted her ankle as she dropped to her knee.
“Holy shit,” another male voice rumbled. “Are you okay?”
Tina snapped her eyes shut for a split second, appreciative that someone had come to her aid.
“Tell me you're all right.”
Waitâshe recognized that Barry White baritone. She gazed up as Vincent lifted her to her feet.
“Vincent?” She smiled, his concerned expression a welcome sight. When she tried to put pressure on her right foot to get up, she winced in pain. “Crap.”
“You're hurt.” He gazed down at her foot. “In a hurry?”
More than he'd ever know. “I, um.” Speechless. She'd met Vincent the same night her best friend met her husband a year ago. Apparently he still intimidated herâall six foot five of his muscular frame. “Yeah,” she admitted. “Some asshole followed me from downtown, and I didn't know where else to go.”
Vincent snaked his arm around her waist, supplying the extra support she needed to stand. “Where?”
“He called out to me a second before I collided with you. His name is Kline Barnes; he drives a black Benz.”
Vincent scanned the farthest reaches of the parking lot. “I don't see anyone. How well do you know this guy?”
“Not personally. He's a client at my law firm. That's what confuses me most; he pled no contest on an assault charge and I brokered a reduced sentence. It's a matter of public record.”
He rubbed his chin. “You're safe now. Let's get you to the clubhouseâDoc can check your ankle.” He swept her into his strong arms and headed for the compound behind the bar.
She stared at the clear nighttime sky full of stars. By whatever providence she'd arrived at Valhalla at the same moment Vincent was outside, she didn't care. She liked being in his arms again.