The only thing more dangerous than a dark secret is a damaged heart…
Shane Brandon has been pushed to the brink, torn between his corrupt family and his explosive, all-consuming desire for Emily Stevens, who he now knows is not who, and what, she seems. Has he trusted the wrong person? Will she, not his brother Derek, be the ultimate destruction of his family Empire.
Emily tries to run from Shane, but he will stop her, confront her, force her to reveal all – one hot touch and kiss, at a time, under every intimate detail of who this woman is, and what she wants, is exposed. But as he tears away the dangers of the unknowns with the woman in his bed, and in his heart, The Martina Cartel, has set their sites on his company, his family, and the one piece of leverage they believe he won’t gamble with: Emily.
This is book TWO of FOUR in Shane and Emily's story.
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About the Author
In addition to the success of Lisa's INSIDE OUT series, she has published many successful titles. The TALL, DARK AND DEADLY series and THE SECRET LIFE OF AMY BENSEN series, both spent several months on a combination of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling lists. Lisa is presently working on a dark, edgy new series, Dirty Money, for St. Martin's Press.
Prior to publishing Lisa owned multi-state staffing agency that was recognized many times by The Austin Business Journal and also praised by the Dallas Women's Magazine. In 1998 Lisa was listed as the #7 growing women owned business in Entrepreneur Magazine.
Lisa loves to hear from her readers. You can reach her at www.lisareneejones.com and she is active on Twitter and Facebook daily.
Read an Excerpt
"No more lies," I repeat, my hands pressed to the counter behind Emily, my body caging her against my kitchen island, though it's her web of lies that is now her prison, and my personal hell. "I know you aren't who you say you are."
Panic flashes in her beautiful blue eyes that I'd once thought the window to innocence, while her palm flattens on my chest, as if preparing to push me away. "What are you talking about?" she demands, no doubt weighing how much trouble she's in, yet her voice is steady, her demeanor remarkably cool. The kind of cool that takes practice and skill. The kind of cool someone undercover exhibits.
"No more games, Emily. Or whatever the hell your name is. Seth had you investigated, and nothing about who you are quite manages to add up."
"Investigated," she repeats. "Right. Because why in the world wouldn't you investigate the woman in your bed?"
"Since the person you say you are doesn't exist, clearly for good reason."
"My secrets are mine. Mine to know. Mine to share. When I'm ready."
"When exactly were you going to be ready?"
Her fingers curl where they rest on my starched white shirt. "I never meant to lie to you," she says, another lie, and her voice is no longer steady, a tremble and a quake in its depths.
"But you did lie to me," I remind her, a lock of her long dark hair slipping over her face, a veil that will be no better a shield to protect her than more lies.
"I never even meant to go to dinner with you, let alone end up this close to you." She hesitates. "I thought we'd be the sum of that night. One night ... The rest just happened."
"Ah yes. Dinner. The night the lies began."
"No," she says tightly. "My secrets didn't begin with you and they don't end with you. And I darn sure wasn't going to spill them to a stranger."
"I'm not a fucking stranger."
"You were," she reminds me. "You were a stranger when I told you who I am."
"I haven't been a stranger for a long time and we both know it. I want the truth."
"I can't," she says, her gaze falling to the buttons of my white collared shirt, the absence of my tie and jacket proof of how relaxed I'd been only fifteen minutes ago.
I cup her jaw with one hand and force her gaze to mine. "You will," I insist, the words darn near guttural, as emotions I don't want to name splinter through me.
"Let me go," she says, giving me a full-body push. "Move, Shane."
I don't even sway. "I'm not letting you go," I say, gripping the material of her navy blouse at her waist. "Who are you?"
"I can't tell you. That's it. There is no more, Shane."
"What are you after? Who hired you?"
"Right," she bites out. "I must be spying on you. Of course that's what you'd think." She shoves on my chest. "Move. Let me off this counter." After one more ineffectual shove, she glowers at me and declares, "This isn't about you or your fucked-up family, Shane."
"What do you expect me to think?"
"Just what you did. Which thinking back, is why I stayed. You were always too wrapped up in them to ever really see me. That made me safe."
I flinch with an accusation I do not want to be true. "I saw you. I thought I did."
"Clearly you didn't."
"You will not turn this on me. If this isn't about me, then what is it about? Who is it about?"
"Me. It's about me. Just me. Why does it have to be about you?"
I stare at her, searching her eyes, and damn it, I see torment and fear that I don't want to be about her betrayal. I want them to be about something else. Something I can fix, but I can't afford to be a fool. I release her, moving to the opposite side of the island, gripping the edges. I glance at the folder now lying between us, then at her. "Then explain the contents."
"I don't need to look," she says, refusing to look at it while the buttons on my shirt seem to have grown exceedingly interesting. "I already know everything there is to know about me."
"Don't you want to know what I know about you?"
She inhales and meets my stare, firming her voice. "This is just going to lead to questions I can't answer."
"Open the folder," I say, the steel in my voice and my will meant to send a clear message: I won't let her refuse.
She understands too. I see that in the way her jaw sets, the way her chest expands with a breath, which she holds. She opens the folder, flipping over a summary of her fake history, along with documents that show the many holes in her past. She has no yearbook photos. No driver's license before several years ago. I'd ruled out witness protection based on those stupid mistakes. If I hadn't exploited mistakes the Feds have made to save a few clients, including my brother and father, I wouldn't know they are far from flawless. But does she? Is she one of them?
Seconds tick by, becoming a full minute before she shuts the folder and looks at me, shoving hair behind her ear, then hugging herself. "You know I'm not who I say I am. I get that already."
"What's your name?"
"No games. Your real name."
"That person I was doesn't exist anymore."
I grab the envelope that is still in the center of the counter, removing the damning evidence of her betrayal inside. "Explain that," I say, plopping the highly confidential paperwork Seth found in her desk in front of her, the word "spying" ringing too damn true for comfort.
She glances down and immediately back to me. "Shane —"
"Who are you working for?" I demand, my voice low, tight, wrapped in barely contained anger, when nothing I do is ever "barely contained." She has pushed buttons I don't want pushed. She is a woman I let into my life and mind, who I trusted. Who I foolishly want to believe can explain all of this.
"I was collecting those documents for you," she says, giving me an answer I do not expect.
"You're going to have to do better than that, sweetheart."
"Have you even read them or did Seth just tell you they're damning so you believed him?"
"You tell me," I order. "About the papers. About everything."
"Your father is up to something with the hedge fund he's putting together. I pulled together the paperwork for you to look at."
"There's a lot more in those documents than information about that hedge fund."
"I was alone in the offices and I snuck into your father's office." She presses her hands to the counter and looks at me, really looks at me for the first time since I confronted her. "Shane," she says softly, a plea in her voice, a vulnerability in her eyes I'm not sure can be faked. "I know how this looks, but I swear to you that I did not betray you. This situation I'm in really isn't about you or your family."
I study her, trying to figure out why I want to believe her, when I have no reason to give her that trust at the point. "Then what's it about?" I demand.
"It's complicated," she says, another tremble to her voice.
I resist an insane urge to close the space between us, grab her, kiss her, and fucking tell her everything is going to be okay. "Tell me."
Rare, uncontained frustration rolls through me. "Damn it, Emily," I growl, scrubbing fingers through my dark hair, which will no doubt soon be gray. I then rest my hands back on the counter to face her head-on. "What the hell is your real name?"
"Emily," she repeats. "And this is going nowhere." She pushes off the island. "I'm sorry. I should have never gotten involved with you. I'm leaving and you won't see me again."
She walks in my direction because she has no choice. It's the only straight line to the door, and while I get that she is a caged animal trying to escape right now, that's not going to happen. "You aren't going anywhere until I get some answers," I say, shackling her arm before she passes, turning her to face me, letting her see the distrust burning in my eyes. "This isn't just about the two of us. This is about a company I pledged to protect."
"Check the hotel security footage," she says. "I was carrying a folder when I came here last night. Not that I can prove it had this information in it, but it did." She pulls against my hold, which I tighten. "Please let me go," she says, the plea laced with what almost sounds like regret, but then, what is real with her? What was ever real?
Seconds tick by, heavy like stone, and I stare at her, taking my time to reply, containing my simmering anger, but I let her see it. I let her feel the steel wire whipping here and there, and I don't give her a path to dodge it or even soften its blow. Finally, I release her, but before she can move, I've gripped the waist of her blouse again, dragging her to me, the impact of her soft curves against mine a little too right to be so damn wrong.
"Tell me," I demand, my tone roughened by the emotions I don't want to name or feel for that matter, nor do I want to be staring into her eyes, looking for whatever the hell I'm looking for that I won't find. Or maybe I will, and that's the problem. She doesn't want me to see it either, cutting her gaze to stare at my damn buttons again. "Look at me," I demand of her.
She inhales, a soft sound that I don't want to be sexy, but holy fuck, everything about this woman is sexy to me and that only pisses me off again. She lifts her chin, looking at me with those too blue eyes, and whispers, "I am sorry."
"Is that a confession?"
"It's an apology."
I don't like that answer. In fact, I hate that fucking answer, and I don't hate any more easily than I love. Worse, I'm pretty damn sure I'm headed to one or the other with this woman; maybe I've already reached both. My gaze lowers to her mouth, lingering there, mine ready to claim hers, to punish her. "I wonder," I say, my gaze finding hers, heat simmering low in my limbs, one part lust, another part fury, "how it is that I didn't taste your lies. I wonder if they'll taste differently now that I know they exist."
I lower my head, leaning into her to find out when she shoves my chest, and says, "No!" before twisting away from me, leaving me no option but to risk hurting her if I don't release her. I let her go; my idea of "punishment" is defined in many ways, and that includes her willing submission.
Emily wastes no time with her freedom, darting away from me and charging for the foyer. I stand there a moment, inhaling a calming breath and contemplating my next move and her potential departure. If I let her go, I find out where her panic leads her and to whom. But if that happens, will I ever find out how those lies really taste and why I've missed them? That's not an option, and I start walking, my long stride eating up the space she has put between us. I exit the kitchen to the foyer, just in time to see her slip her purse across her chest.
She glances up at me and dashes for the door, and I let her reach it, entrapping her from behind. Still, she reaches for the knob and I shove my hand on the wooden surface and hold it shut. She turns to find me almost on top of her, so close I could taste those lies right now, right in this moment. I could fuck her right here and now, the way she's been fucking me over and over for days.
"You're such an asshole," she hisses, surprising me with her attack. "Why can't you see that I'm protecting you?"
"Protecting me how?" I demand, all kinds of possibilities stirring in my mind. The Feds. The Martina cartel. My brother. "And from whom?" I add.
"Since protecting you meant not telling you what I have going on, I wouldn't be protecting you now if I told you. And what exactly is the difference in you pretending to fuck that woman to protect me and me keeping secrets to protect you?"
"You aren't who the hell you told me you are. That's the damn difference."
"Fucking someone else or me hiding my identity to protect you. Which is worse?"
"Since I didn't fuck another woman, but you did hide your identity, that answer is pretty damn clear."
"I could say about ten things to that, but then you'd just make some scathing remark I don't deserve. You didn't even ask me why I hid who I am. You just attacked me."
"This isn't a little thing."
"No," she says. "It's not. Not at all, but not for the reasons you assume."
"You're still trying to turn this one on me and it won't work. All you had to do was just say 'I can explain' and then do it. If you had, we'd be having a different conversation."
"Right," she says, "and starting the conversation with 'no more lies' is certainly the way to invite me to share my deepest, darkest secrets."
"I gave you every reason to trust me. Every reason to tell me what you chose not to tell me. You want delicate little questions? That's not me and it's sure as hell not me after I find out from someone else you've been lying to me and I have to question every moment I ever spent with you."
"We're done," she rasps out, delicately clearing her voice before adding, "We both know that, so let's not drag this out. Let me out of here."
I study her for several beats, reading uncertainty in her face that I want to understand, to taste on my tongue, a little too much. "Yes," I say tightly. "Let's get out of here before I strip you naked and fuck you, which I have no doubt we'll both enjoy, but I won't be sure who's seducing who. And I won't be that damn naked with you ever again."
"I told you why I did this, Shane," she murmurs, defeat in her voice.
"To protect me. Funny. My father loves to use that as an excuse."
"That was your excuse for being with that woman," she fires back, that fiery side of her I like too damn much returning.
"I wasn't fucking that woman and you know it."
"Do I? Because you're judging me by your family's actions, while their blood runs through your veins, not mine."
I press my fists on either side of the door by her head. "Being a bitch does not help you right now."
"Being an asshole just proves you're an asshole."
"Lying only makes you —"
"Honorable in ways you'll never understand," she blasts back.
"I'm going to understand," I assure her. "Sooner rather than later."
"I'd like to leave, sooner rather than later."
"We're going downstairs to the hotel restaurant to eat dinner."
She blanches. "What? No. I'm not having dinner with you."
"You will. The lies started with dinner, and so it's only appropriate they end with dinner."
"And you'll do it because you owe me that damn much."
"What is dinner going to do but draw this out, Shane?"
"We're going to dinner," I insist, knowing she could try to run, but also knowing she's being followed, and that ultimately might be the only way I find out the truth of who, and what, she is really all about.
"What keeps me from leaving?"
"Nothing but you," I assure her.
"I'm going to leave."
"Then leave, Emily. I'll find out the answers from someone else, and be colored by their definitions. If that is how you want to end this, then it says a lot about who we are and what we are."
"Don't do that to me."
"I'm just being honest, a trait I value."
"If you knew what —"
"But I don't," I say, pushing off the door, damn ready to get her out of here before I really do strip her naked, and there'd be no coming back from how cold and hard I'd fuck her right now. And apparently I'm still just foolish enough to actually hold on to a hope that she really has an explanation for all of this that makes it possible. As if she wants to douse that idea, she quickly says, "Dinner won't change what I'm willing to tell you."
Displeased in about a hundred ways, I turn her to face the door, her back to my front, her lush backside nestled intimately against me. I arch around her, my lips at her ear, my hand flattening on her belly. "Much has already changed, Emily," I assure her. The floral scent of her perfume teases my nostrils with bittersweet memories of me wrapped in that smell, in this woman, whoever she is. "And so much more is about to."
"I was weak," she murmurs. "I should have ended this before you could feel the way you do right now."
"But you didn't," I say, not bothering to ask why. That answer is in the secrets she thinks she isn't going to tell me tonight.
She leans back into me, a subtle sway before she melts against me. "I tried," she whispers, her hands sliding to my thighs, and holy fuck, her touch is too damn right for her to be wrong. The idea jolts me and I step back, taking her with me to open the door, before I then set her away from me, and into the hallway. "It's time for that dinner and conversation."
Excerpted from "Damage Control"
Copyright © 2017 Lisa Renee Jones.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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