Wrongfully Accused (Carina Press)
At thirty, Kate Franklin not only is a widow for the second time, she is the prime suspect in her husband’s murder. Her first husband, a software genius, left her a multi-millionaire. Now her second husband, a congressman who will do whatever it takes to pass a controversial anti-terrorist bill, has been blown out of the sky—and Kate’s millions are mysteriously missing. Did she, as the FBI and the D.C. police believe, pay someone to design an undetectable bomb and take out a Learjet carrying her husband and several colleagues?
Detective Gabriel Hugo hasn’t had a kind word for his former sister-in-law in eight years, not since his younger brother drove his car off a cliff, leaving her obscenely wealthy. The cops and the FBI want Gabe to use his connection to Kate to get inside information for the investigation, but they don’t know about the night he and Kate crossed a line he can’t forgive either of them for. If Kate was behind the plane explosion he’ll happily nail her to the wall. But being around her awakens feelings he’d believed long buried, and he finds himself defending her in spite of mounting evidence of her guilt.
Here’s an excerpt:
Officer Gabriel Hugo pressed his back hard against the cinder block wall of the apartment breezeway, Glock pointing down between his size thirteens. Sweat dripped from his forehead and off the end of his nose, trickled down his neck and chest and soaked through his shirt. The humid night air amplified the stink of garbage, piss and marijuana smoke.
Please, God, I don’t want to shoot this kid.
Kevin Brewer was sixteen at best, raised in a shithole a lot like this one and lacking a single reasonable bone in his skinny, filthy body. If he would put his fucking gun down for one minute and hear Gabe out they wouldn’t be in this standoff. But the kid was forc- ing his hand. If Gabe dropped his gun the punk would off him without a second thought. Not only did Kevin have a poor excuse for a conscience, he had something to prove, making him the most dangerous kind of adversary.
“You won’t get out of this alive, Kevin,” Gabe called. “You know there’s backup coming. Even if you shoot me you won’t get out of this building without a shitload of holes in you. Is that what you want your mama to see when she comes down to identify you? Her baby boy’s brains coming out the back of his head? Is it worth it to make your first cop kill so your homeboys’ll be proud of you?”
“I told you,” Kevin called back, his voice shaky and a little breathless, like he was hyperventilating. “Throw me your piece and you walk. Otherwise you shut the fuck up.”
Gabe blinked sweat out of his eyes and counted to three. “Drop the fucking gun, Kevin. Put your hands on top of your head and kneel on the floor, and nobody will hurt you. You hear me? Prove that you have a fuck- ing brain in your head.”
“You got a death wish, Kevin? What are you, twelve? You want to die at fucking twelve years old?”
Finally, sirens in the distance. Gabe clutched his gun with both hands as he slid closer to the corner of the wall, imagining Kevin moving away from him and to- ward the steps leading down to the alley. Praying Kevin was moving away.
Please, God, don’t make me shoot this kid.
He pictured Jeremy back at his apartment, asleep in his crib while his brother and his girlfriend kept watch. Or, more likely, while Steve worked on his computer and Kate snuggled Jeremy in her arms.
The sirens were loud, closing in. Gabe risked a glance around the corner. Kevin was coming at him, gun raised, panic and determination in his dark eyes.
No, don’t let this be happening.
“Drop it!” Gabe shouted. But Kevin took aim and was about to squeeze the trigger.
No choice, no choice, no choice.
They fired at the same time, but Gabe’s aim was truer and the boy dropped to his knees, then pitched forward on to his face. Gabe lowered his gun slowly, went to Kevin’s side and felt for a pulse. Outside doors slammed and footsteps rang up the cement steps.
And rang, and rang, and rang…
It was nearly 4 a.m. when Gabe unlocked the door to his Capitol Hill apartment and stepped inside. No sign of his brother or Kate, so they had to be in his bed. He only asked them to stay overnight with Jeremy when he got an emergency call. They always rushed over, un- derstanding that he didn’t want to call Lindsay and let her think he couldn’t handle having Jeremy spend the night. No way. He’d call the Pope to babysit if it would prove him worthy of having joint custody of his son.
He threw his keys down on the coffee table and pulled his shirt over his head. God, he stunk. The AC in the building was on but it was struggling. He peeled off his jeans and boxers and headed into the bathroom for a shower. It smelled of the girly, floral shampoo Kate used, and for a moment he stood with the lights off and inhaled. The room smelled of life and beauty and purity, not ugliness and death.
Do not think about the boy you killed back there.
He turned the jets on hard and hot and let the spray pound his chest and face, as though it could somehow batter away the pain and guilt. He lathered some ge- neric shampoo into his thick hair, then scrubbed at his body with soap and scraped the loofah over every inch of his skin until the hot water ran out. No matter how hard he tried to empty his brain, he couldn’t escape the image of Kevin falling to his knees. Kevin lying in his own blood.
Turned out the boy was fifteen.
Gabe wrapped a towel around his waist, brushed his teeth and went into the living room. He’d grab a sheet and pillow from the closet in his room and bunk on the too-small couch. Jeremy would be up in a couple of hours anyway.
But first he stepped into Jeremy’s tiny room and peered into his crib. The boy was curled up, thumb in his mouth, sweaty curls shiny in the dim glow of the night-light. Safe. Peaceful. Tears pricked his eyes at the thought of what Kevin’s mother was going through tonight.
He reached out to touch his son, but stopped himself. If Jeremy woke up he’d want to play, and Gabe was in no shape to play or talk or interact in any way with an- other human being.
Gabe’s bedroom was dark except for the glow of his digital clock, which helped him navigate around all the crap on the floor when Jeremy woke during the night. At eighteen months his son slept through most nights, but he couldn’t depend on it. He glanced at the king- size bed on his way to the closet—and saw one body instead of two.
Kate’s long dark hair was spread out on the pillow. She was curled up on her side, like Jeremy, with the cov- ers kicked off, wearing a tank top and running shorts. Gabe stood, transfixed, watching her sleep. Steve must have gone home to work on some project he couldn’t do on his laptop. Nothing stood in the way of his Internet business, not even his amazing girlfriend.
Gabe went to the closet for the bedding, then glanced back at the bed. Kate took up less than a quarter of it. If he stretched out on the other side, away from her, she’d never even know he was there. He’d wake up as soon as Jeremy made a peep anyway, so what difference did it make? This way he’d actually get some sleep, instead of twisting his body into a pretzel on the couch.
He pulled on running shorts and a white T-shirt and lay down on his back as far from Kate as possible. The ceiling fan was blowing warm air around, but the breeze helped. He must have drifted off because the next thing he knew somebody was shaking him and saying his name, over and over. Somebody who smelled like fresh flowers and soap. He opened gritty eyes to Kate’s wor- ried face inches from his.
“Gabe, are you okay?” she asked in a loud whisper.
He didn’t answer, because he didn’t know why she was there or why she thought he wasn’t okay. They were lying on their sides, facing each other, Kate’s hand on his shoulder, her warm, feminine scent overwhelming his senses.
In his bed.
His cock went rigid.
“What…” he finally managed.
In answer she stroked her thumb over his cheekbones, her eyes in the dim light filled with sympathy. “You were crying in your sleep,” she said, and he realized she’d been wiping away his tears. He couldn’t speak around the lump in his throat.
“Were you dreaming?” she asked. “Or did something happen tonight?”
He closed his eyes and it came back to him in slow motion.
Kevin raising his gun, aiming right for Gabe’s chest.
Gabe raising his gun, knowing it was kill or be killed.
The bullet hitting Kevin’s chest and the startled awareness in the boy’s eyes that he was about to die.
Kevin keeling over, hitting the cement floor with a thud. His short, short life draining out of him in a spreading pool of blood.
Loud footsteps on the stairs.
Gabe’s ears ringing as he felt for a pulse that wasn’t there.
“Oh, Gabe,” she whispered, pulling him to her and holding his head to her breasts as she stroked his hair. “Go ahead and let it out.”
Beneath his cheek the thin fabric of her tank top grew wet with his tears. He squeezed his eyes tight and tried to stop the flow, but the fact that she was holding him and comforting him made it that much tougher. Fuck. What was wrong with him? He was a cop, for chrissake. A big, tough motherfucker who did what he had to do.
But he’d shot and killed a kid. A fucking kid.
He rolled on to his back and threw an arm over his eyes while he struggled to pull it together. Kate wrapped her small hand around his biceps and made gentle sweeps across his skin with her thumb. He felt that movement of her skin against his all the way to his toes.
“What happened to you tonight?” she asked, and she was so sweet and concerned it was all he could do not to crawl into her arms and let her hold him like she held Jeremy.
“It’s not a pretty story,” he rasped.
“No, I didn’t think it would be,” she said. “But you might feel better if you talk about it. I can take it, you know.”
He sighed with effort. Little by little he told her the whole ugly story—punctuated by long pauses and throat clearing to hide the cracking of his voice—until he was drained of words and tears. But not of shame. Or grief.
When he finished she stroked his cheek and said, “Oh, God, I’m so sorry, Gabe. Try to sleep. I’ll stay with Jeremy today.”
Gabe lifted the arm covering his face and gazed into her gentle eyes. How could Steve have gone home and left this beautiful, generous woman behind? He was al- ways leaving Kate on her own. Even at family parties, it was typical for Steve to hole up in a bedroom with his laptop or take a separate car so he could leave early. Granted, his Internet business was growing phenom- enally, so he had a lot on his plate. But where were his little brother’s priorities?
If Kate belonged to him he would never willingly spend a night without her.
“Does my brother know how lucky he is?” he asked before he could stop himself.
Kate’s eyes widened for an instant, and then she shrugged and gave him a lopsided smile.
No, Steve didn’t appreciate what he had and they both knew it. His brother was brilliant and self-ab- sorbed, and he took people for granted. His mother and older sisters had doted on the precocious, diffi- cult, angel-faced toddler, and when the psychologists proclaimed him a genius they all but wrapped the kid in cotton batting. Even Gabe had put the kid on a ped- estal. Steven looked up to him, always had, but he was of little use when Steven had one of his meltdowns. Only Kate could soothe him and bring him out of his funk. She completed him, Steve had said more than once. Problem was, Steven wasn’t really there for her.
It was several seconds before Gabe realized he’d been staring at her, examining her face, marveling at the length of her thick lashes and the tiny freckles across the bridge of her nose. The fullness of her lips. Her breath warm against his skin.
Her breast pressed against his upper arm…
He wasn’t sure exactly when her breathing changed or when her heart started pounding, only that suddenly their closeness had less to do with comfort and much, much more to do with need. Fierce, hot need that spiked his pulse and drove all thought from his mind. There was only this moment. Only Kate.
Her lips parted slowly. Gabe rolled toward her and touched his nose to hers, and she expelled a soft breath that set flame to something deep and primitive inside him. He brushed her cheek with his, nuzzled his face into her silky hair and lowered his lips to the tender skin of her neck. She let out a long, ragged breath and he pulled her to him, gripping her hip. A voice inside him screamed to stop, but he placated it. Just a kiss, that’s all. One tiny kiss. To thank her.
He lifted his head and cupped her face in his hand, then leaned in and brushed his lips across hers, once, twice, then kissed her gently. She opened her eyes and he waited for permission, then got it when she eased back on the pillow and ran her hands through his hair. His cock hardened painfully.
“Gabe,” she whispered.
He let out a long breath and wrapped her tightly in his arms, then took her mouth in a deep, hungry kiss. Her lips were everything he’d tried not to imagine they would be—lush and sweet and hot. She opened for him and welcomed his tongue deep inside, sucking, tan- gling, exploring as though she, too, were starved. For this. For him.
He rolled on top of her, claiming her, then slid his hands down her sides, letting his thumbs graze the sides of her breasts. She gasped and arched her back. Oh, God, he couldn’t stop. He shifted so his erection was wedged between her thighs and felt her answering response.
“Kate,” he rasped against her lips before he angled his head and plundered her mouth again. Hard nipples pressed into his chest, driving him insane with desire. He ran his hands under her tank top, cupping her breasts while he kissed her. Kate groaned as he kneaded them, running his thumbs over their swollen peaks.
He pulled her tank top over her head and took one nipple into his mouth. She gasped, her hands moving over his shoulders, through his hair, repeating his name in a strangled whisper. He suckled hard, loving the taste of her, while sliding one hand down her back to her rounded bottom and into her shorts. Oh, God, she wasn’t wearing panties. The discovery made his cock so hard it throbbed. He pushed one slim leg aside with his foot and slid his hand down the front of her shorts. He en- countered damp curls, then reached lower and ran his fingers through her slippery flesh. Good God, she was hot and wet and he wanted to be inside her more than he wanted his next breath.
Kate arched into his hand, whimpering and begging. “Oh, God… Please, Gabe… Please…”
Something snapped inside him, and there was no thought, no will when he pulled off his gym shorts and shirt and yanked her shorts down her legs, then spread her thighs wide and pushed his cock into her tight, wet heat. He wanted to cry at how perfect, how right it felt inside her. Finally. Finally.
She dug her heels into his back, scraped the skin of his ass with her nails, begging him to go faster, deeper, harder. He lifted her hips and pounded into her with a mindless, primitive need he’d never known before. Though nearly blind with passion, he couldn’t take his eyes off the face he knew so well, transformed by ec- stasy.
She cried his name when she began to contract around him, and he came violently, throbbing inside her as she wrapped herself around him like she wanted to climb inside his skin. They rolled to one side, holding on to each other until their breathing slowed.
Reality slammed into his gut in a single, devastating blow. This was Kate. She wasn’t his. She belonged to Steve. To Steve. The brother he’d protected his whole life.
“Fuck!” He reared up, disentangling from her. “What the hell am I doing?”
She reached for him as he backed off the bed. “No! Don’t do this.”
“Holy shit,” he said, palms squeezing the sides of his head. He’d really done it. He’d made love to his brother’s girlfriend. “Holy fucking shit.” Kate climbed off the bed and clutched at his arms. “Stop. It wasn’t your fault, it was—”
He pulled away and held up a hand. “No. Don’t say it. Don’t say anything. Just get dressed and I’ll call you a cab.”
Her brows furrowed, but it was hurt, not anger he saw in those hazel eyes. “Listen to me,” she said. “I know this wasn’t fair to Steve, but there’s a lot you don’t—”
“We’re not talking about this,” he said. He snatched his gym shorts off the floor and pulled them on, cover- ing the partial erection he still had. “I’m going to call you a cab. Be dressed and ready when it gets here.” He left the bedroom quickly and punched in the numbers for a cab company, hands shaking. Then he stood by the kitchen window and waited for it to show up, cursing himself for giving into his desire for her. He’d worked at pushing Kate out of his mind for years, trained himself not to watch her move, or laugh too hard at her jokes, or lean in when she spoke. Or find reasons to touch her just…to touch her.
What kind of fucking Pandora’s box had he opened? He heard her behind him but didn’t turn around. “We needed each other tonight,” she said quietly. He pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. “I said we’re not—”
“—talking about it. I know. So shut up and listen.”
“Christ,” he murmured.
“Steve didn’t leave because he had important work to do.”
Gabe had no doubt that was exactly why Steve had gone home and left Kate in his bed. Trusting, of course, that his older brother would behave himself. “It doesn’t matter.”
“He called Ben for a ride so he could go home and get a good night’s sleep.”
“Is that supposed to be some kind of crime?”
“He prefers to sleep alone,” she said.
Gabe went still. “You live together.”
“Most nights he sleeps on the futon in the living room.”
Gabe turned toward her slowly. She was wearing jeans, thank God, but her hair was tangled and her lips were swollen from his kisses. He swallowed and tried not to stare at the hard nipples so clearly outlined through her flimsy tank top. The one he’d pulled off her. When he dared to speak he asked, “Why?”
She hugged herself. “I like to snuggle in bed, and he doesn’t. So if he’s in bed with me either I feel shut out or he feels smothered, so he goes off and crashes on the couch.”
What was this, The Twilight Zone? Steve didn’t want to wrap his body around hers during the night? Did his brother ever pull his eyes away from his computer long enough to take a good long look at the unbelievably sexy woman he lived with? He wanted to ask whether Steve ever made love to her, but that was a no-brainer. His brother might be an obsessive-compulsive geek but he wasn’t a moron.
Gabe turned back to the window. “It’s none of my business what goes on between you and Steve,” he said. “All I know is you’re practically engaged, so things can’t be so bad.”
“I’m his best friend,” she said. “I take care of him.”
“You love him.”
“Of course I love him.”
An unexpected pain stabbed through Gabe’s chest. “Great,” he said, more savagely than he’d intended. “In that case, I would advise you to stay out of other men’s beds.”
“Oh my God, you’re twisting this whole thing!”
No shit. A flash of orange on the street caught his eye. “Cab’s outside.”
“My car is here,” she said, and he couldn’t miss the misery in her voice.
He picked up his wallet off the table, plucked a ten and held it out to her. “Give this to the guy and send him away.” When she didn’t take it he was forced to look at her.
Tears glistened on her cheeks. “Give it to him yourself,” she said. “And how do think you’re going to deal with Jeremy today, huh? Just tell me that.”
“I’m a big boy. I can go without sleep for a night.”
“Fine,” she said, then took a deep, shaky breath. “I know you’re upset now and you don’t want to talk, but you know you can call me to come and stay with him later if—”
“I won’t need you to babysit anymore,” he said.
Her mouth hung open, eyes wide with hurt. “That’s not fair. I love Jeremy, and he loves me.”
Gabe shrugged, even though the thought of taking her away from Jeremy made his chest ache. “I’m not a fair kind of guy. I think I proved that tonight.”
She stepped closer. “Don’t take this out on your son, damn it. You’re pissed at yourself, and at me, that’s fine. But Jeremy didn’t do anything.”
He heard two sounds at once. His phone buzzed and Jeremy called out, “Keke?” He grabbed the phone and Kate rushed into Jeremy’s room. He told the cabbie to come upstairs and he’d give him ten bucks for his trouble, but the guy told him to fuck off and hung up.
When he stepped into the room, Jeremy was already in Kate’s arms, curly head tucked against her shoulder, sucking his thumb while she cooed and rocked him in the overstuffed recliner. Above her hung a framed pen-and-ink drawing she’d done of Jeremy lying on Gabe’s chest at six months. Like all of her work, it cap- tured the tiniest details. His wispy baby hair, the curve of his chubby cheek and Gabe’s big hand on his bare back. As always when he looked at it, Gabe was awed by her talent.
She held a finger up to her lips so Gabe wouldn’t speak. He hesitated for a moment before he backed out of the room. Then he sat at the kitchen table with his head on his folded arms and listened to her humming a lullaby. Eventually, he slept.
The next time he heard Jeremy’s voice he jerked awake, disoriented. The sun had come up. On the table lay a note in Kate’s rounded printing.
No matter what happens, I will never regret making love with you.
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