"Riveting...readers will not be able to put this book down." - RT Book Reviews on Deadly Secret
In the sultry streets of Charleston, one family, ruled by its powerful, take-no-prisoners sons, has risen to the top. But a merciless enemy is out to destroy them…and everyone they hold close…
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SHE THOUGHT SHE’D LOST HIM FOREVER
Tilly Brock has learnedthe hard wayhow to take care of herself. Once a pillar of Charleston society, her family lost everything in the wake of a shocking scandal. And then Tilly lost the only boy she ever loved.
BUT NOW THAT HE’S BACK IN HER LIFE
Keaton Benedict is Charleston’s most notorious bachelor. But in spite of all his advantagesthe money, the women, the family namehe longs for more: the heart of the young woman he still can’t forget.
THE DANGER HAS JUST BEGUN…
When Keaton re-enters Tilly’s life, after all these years, she is torn between feelings of doubt and desire. Can they put the past behind them and learn to love again? Tilly is willing to try. But Keaton is afraid that a vengeful enemy is watchingand waiting to destroy them. Can the rekindled flame of their love defeat the deadliest rival and light their way forward in the darkest night?
About the Author
Tara Thomas’s love of books and writing started as a child and though she wanted to be an author, she decided a degree in science was more practical. After fifteen years in the pharmaceutical industry, she returned to her first love and hasn’t looked back since.
She writes erotic romance as Tara Sue Me. Her Submissive Series novels have been on both the New York Times and USA Today Bestseller lists. Her novel The Master earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly and was awarded Best Romance of 2016 from Best Book Awards.
Read an Excerpt
As the youngest of three boys, Keaton Benedict was familiar with his older siblings using whatever means necessary to beat him at target practice. But as he stood and observed the target he'd missed completely on his last shot, he decided his oldest brother, Kipling, had hit a new low.
"Damn," Kipling said. "I don't think I've ever seen you miss something that bad. You do know you're supposed to hit the circle in the middle, right?"
"Like you didn't time your announcement to coincide perfectly with my shot." Keaton unloaded his gun and watched while Kipling lined up his own shot and hit the exact center of the target. Keaton shook his head. "You know I'm a better shot than you. The only way you ever win is by cheating."
Kipling grinned and started the process of unloading and cleaning his own weapon. "Now, that's where you're wrong. It wasn't cheating. It was strategy. Cheating would have been if what I'd told you was a lie."
Keaton had purposely focused on his brother's actions as opposed to his words because part of him hoped he had been lying. Unfortunately, not only had he lost to Kipling but it appeared that the news he'd shared while Keaton was taking his shot was true.
"Elise is really coming to stay with us this summer?" Keaton asked.
Kipling ran his hand through his dirty blond hair that was just a touch lighter than Keaton's own. All three of the Benedict brothers had the same coloring. Right down to the light brown eyes that looked almost golden in the right light. Keaton remembered when they were growing up how he wanted colored contacts because he got tired of people commenting on them all the time. Now he appreciated their eyes' uniqueness.
"Yes," Kipling said. "Her father asked if she could stay with us while she worked as an intern at a local law office. They sold their Charleston place when he retired and they moved to Pennsylvania."
Keaton bit his tongue so he wouldn't say what he wanted to. There was no way he could ever see Elise practicing law. For her entire life, she'd been groomed by her mother to be the perfect Southern lady and, in her mother's eyes, perfect Southern ladies did not work. Especially as a lawyer. Odds were, the Germain family was simply using the internship as a way to get Elise to stay at Benedict House for the summer in the hopes that Keaton would see her potential as a wife and be unable to keep himself from proposing.
There was a zero-to-none chance of that happening, but the Germains were old family friends and he wouldn't disrespect his brothers or his parents' memory by being anything other than polite to Elise.
With their weapons unloaded and cleaned, they headed out of the shooting range at their country club and walked toward the bar. It was tradition for the losing brother to buy drinks. They snagged a few stools and Kipling ordered for both of them.
"It's good to have you home," Kipling said, and looked up when the bartender brought their drinks over. "Thank you."
"You mean, it's good that I can finally join the family business."
"That, too." Kipling didn't try to hide his smile as he took a sip of his scotch.
As the oldest, Kipling ran the family shipping business, Benedict Industries. Though Kipling would beat Keaton's ass for calling it a business. He always referred to it as an empire. The middle Benedict brother, Knox, also worked there and it was assumed Keaton would as well.
Keaton didn't plan to buck the plan, so to say, but he didn't relish joining the company the way it was assumed he would. However, now was not the time to bring it up.
"I've only been out of college for a week," Keaton reminded him. "I'm still considering the possibilities."
Kipling didn't reply, but gave him that I know what you're doing look that every older brother had down to an art. Keaton was almost ready to ask him when they could talk about his new potential role when a country club employee approached them.
As he drew near, Kipling frowned at the slender white box the man held.
"Mr. Kipling Benedict?" the employee asked.
"Yes," Kipling replied, still eyeing the box.
"This was left at the reception desk for you." The man held the box out, but Kipling didn't take it.
"No one saw them, sir." He placed the box on the bar beside Kipling. "The employee working the desk had turned away and when she turned back, it was there." He raised an eyebrow. "Is there a problem, sir?"
Kipling sighed. "No. No problem. Thank you."
Keaton waited until the employee left. "What was that about?"
Kipling still hadn't opened the box; he twisted the pale blue ribbon that sat on top. "It's nothing, I'm sure. More of a nuisance than anything."
Keaton wasn't sure what he was talking about. "Have you gotten other white boxes with blue ribbon?"
"Yes." Kipling untied the ribbon. "And if this one is like the others, it'll contain a single rose."
Sure enough, once he took the top off, a long-stem rose set nestled in white tissue paper. Keaton didn't see a note. "Looks like someone has an admirer."
Kipling reached under the tissue and pulled out a typed note. Wordlessly, he passed it Keaton.
There were only a few words typed on the thick card stock.
THE TIME HAS COME.
Keaton flipped it over but there was nothing on the other side. He looked up at Kipling. "What the hell does that mean?"
Kipling shrugged. "I don't know, but they've all said the same thing."
"How many have there been?"
"Half a dozen." Kipling picked up the card. "They've always come to the office before. This is the first one that I've gotten outside."
"I don't like it."
"Me neither, but it's pretty harmless, all things considered." Kipling gathered the rose and the wrappings, and asked the bartender to throw them away.
"Are you going to tell the police?" Keaton asked.
Kipling actually laughed. "What? That someone's sending me roses? Yes, I'm sure that would go over really well."
Keaton had to admit that on the surface, it would seem rather minor, but as they walked out of the club, he couldn't help but notice Kipling looking around the parking lot. He had the uneasy feeling there was something bigger going on.
* * *
There were times The Gentleman was slightly irritated and times when he was mad as hell. But very rarely did he feel like he did today. Like he could skin someone alive with only a look.
His men gathered in the room behind him and he waited until he heard the door close before talking.
"Men, we have a problem and its name is Benedict. We are going to have to step up our plan. Take no prisoners. Show no mercy. As of today there is a new plan. The roses have laid the groundwork and they're showing some concern, but the threat the family poses is growing bigger.
"The first step is to eliminate a problem I should have taken care of years ago. Unfortunately, this person isn't a Benedict."
There was a slight murmur behind him.
"Quiet," he said, and the chatter stopped. "The people overseeing her removal have already been notified. If you all do your jobs, she won't know what hit her and we can deal with the Benedicts once and for all."
* * *
The end of the night was always Tilly Brock's favorite time of day and not just because it meant she could go home. She loved how quiet the outside world was. She would step outside of what had been bustling chaos of the nightclub and into the quiet stillness of a sleeping world.
She also enjoyed the short moments she had while everybody was preparing to leave when she could chat with other employees. She was closest to the bartender, Raven. They were the same age, attended the same school, and planned to graduate at the same time. With the spring semester over, they both only had summer school to get through.
"Have you started the countdown yet?" Tilly asked Raven as the petite bartender wiped the countertops down.
"Are you kidding?" she replied with a grin. "I've been counting down since last August. Two more months and I walk out of this place forever. Maybe sooner."
The introvert bartender's eyes danced. "I have an interview coming up the day after tomorrow at Bergman and Biddle."
Tilly recognized the name of the prestigious advertising agency. "That's fabulous! How exciting. I bet you won't miss this place at all." Two blond dancers Tilly had dubbed the Wonder Twins sashayed their way past them. They had been working in the club for six months and they hated the fact that Tilly routinely got better tips and was able to keep her clothes on. Perhaps if they were better dancers, they could earn more. Club gossip alluded that they were only able to keep their positions because they provided "special services" for the managers.
"Good night, bar wenches," Twin One said, and Twin Two laughed like it was the funniest joke she'd ever heard.
Raven rolled her eyes as the duo made their way out the door. "I definitely won't miss them."
"Right?" Tilly shook her head. "But then I tell myself every job will have difficult people and you never know what pain someone is hiding that makes them the way they are."
"That's why they hate you, you know. Because you're a good person and everyone likes you."
Tilly eyed the manager as he walked out of the office. "Not everyone."
Raven lowered her voice as he approached. "He likes you. He just hates that he can't get you to preform special favors for him." She added air quotes around favors.
"The very thought makes me throw up in my mouth." Tilly forced a smile as the manager stopped at the bar. "Good night, Mr. Granger."
He grunted at Tilly and looked at Raven. "I've already locked the back. Make sure you lock the front door when you leave. It was unlocked when I got here this afternoon."
"I don't know how, sir," Raven said. "I know I locked it last night."
"Then why was it unlocked this afternoon?"
"Raven isn't the only employee with a key," Tilly said. She hadn't worked the night before, but she knew Raven and there was no way her friend had forgotten to lock up.
"I wasn't talking to you, girl." He nodded toward Raven. "If it happens again, you're fired."
"But —" Raven started.
"No buts." And with that, he turned and walked out.
"I know I locked that door," Raven said when he'd left. "I know I did."
"I'm sure you did."
Raven bit her lip, looking like she wanted to say something, but shook her head.
"What?" Tilly asked.
"I'm sure it's nothing, but when I left last night, there was a man standing outside. I didn't see him until I'd locked up and turned around and nearly ran into him. He was all nice and everything. Kept apologizing. But that's how I know I locked the door because he walked away and I double-checked."
"That sounds creepy. He was just standing there?"
"But it wasn't, really. Not after I got over the initial shock. He was nice. Wore a suit and everything. He was like someone's dad."
"I don't care. I still don't like it. You don't need to be walking out after work by yourself." She started to add that just because someone wore a suit didn't mean they could be trusted, but didn't. Raven was an adult. Tilly grabbed her purse from the barstool. "Ready?"
Neither one of them had a car, so they both took the bus to and from work. Tilly typically didn't mind taking public transportation by herself, but tonight she was thankful for the company. Raven said she was glad to have Tilly as a witness that she had locked the door, but there was an underlying hint of worry in her tone that led Tilly to believe she was a bit more unsettled than she let on.
Tilly was unsettled as well. Part of her hated the job, but the upside of it was graduating at the end of the summer debt free. She'd get her diploma and then thank her lucky stars that she would never have to wait tables or serve drinks in a micromini and crop top again. Even better, when she held that diploma in her hands, she wouldn't owe anyone anything. Years ago when her father had been accused, wrongly, she always thought, of siphoning funds from Benedict Industries, and her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, she'd feared the only way to graduate was with a mountain of debt.
She'd been working at this club for just over three years. It hadn't always been easy juggling her schoolwork with the late nights and early mornings the club required. But the tips were great and the club had a strongly enforced no-touching-in-public-rooms rule.
In a perfect world she wouldn't have to work at a gentlemen's club to pay her way through college. No, in a perfect world, her parents would still be alive and her dad's reputation wouldn't be tarnished by those false allegations of embezzlement.
And since she was naming everything that would be in her perfect world, Keaton Benedict would still be in her life.
But over eight years ago, her father had been fired from Benedict Industries when Keaton's father accused him of stealing from the company. It made no sense at the time and the following years had done nothing to lend credibility to the claim.
Be that as it may, the elder Benedict believed the worst of her father and he'd left the company disgraced. It was something her dad never got over and was, she believed, the main factor in the heart attack that took his life a short six months later.
Her mother did her best, often working three jobs at a time, but it wasn't enough. In the blink of an eye they had gone from well-off to welfare. Worse, she lost her two closest friends, Elise Germain, whose father actually replaced Tilly's dad, and Keaton Benedict, who had been her first kiss the week before her life changed forever.
"To strong booze and hot women!"
Keaton Benedict raised his glass at his friend Brian's less-than-sober toast and shook his head. One would have thought the guy would be better able to hold his liquor.
"Hell," Michael, another friend, grumbled from the barstool beside him. "Someone take him home to sleep it off before he starts to sing."
Keaton shook his head. "Let him have his fun." He smiled. "Besides, I want to see if his Céline Dion has improved."
Michael tapped his bottle to Keaton's glass. "You're a mean bastard, Benedict."
"Never claimed to be anything else."
Michael chuckled, but didn't say anything further. Keaton took a sip of his gin and tonic and looked around the smoke-filled bar of the upscale Charleston gentlemen's club they had picked for their post college graduation celebration.
One last night of debauchery. That was what his friends wanted. When they had arranged this party, Keaton had gone along with them, but as a Benedict, he knew the truth. The debauchery never had to end. Not if you knew how to play your cards right, and as the youngest Benedict, he'd never had that problem.
"There we go. Finally," Michael said, as the lights around them dimmed and everyone's attention turned to the stage at the front of the club. "Time for dancing."
Two scantily clad women strutted out onto the stage. Keaton was too far away to see details. All he could make out were tiny bikini tops and even tinier thongs. Blondes. And pretty enough to make any red-blooded man fantasize about ripping the scraps of fabric off them. A movement to the side of the stage caught his eye. A server. He only saw her profile, but there was something about her.
He slid off the barstool to get a closer look.
"Hey, man," Michael called after him. "Where are you going?"
Keaton didn't reply.
"Where's Benedict going?" he heard someone ask.
"He's interested in a dancer? Here?" someone else asked.
Keaton shook his head; it wasn't a dancer that captured his attention. He wasn't a stranger to the numerous clubs around the city that catered to wealthy men and their carnal needs. However, he'd never singled out any particular woman while at one. After all, he'd always said, one halfnaked woman was just as good as another. As made evident by the number of times his picture was in the society pages, but never with the same woman twice.
And yet, here he was, eyes fixed on the petite waitress at the side of the stage, currently trying to blend into the background and not take away from the duo on the stage. It was a horrible failure. He wasn't sure why the management even felt the need to put anyone onstage with her working here. How could anyone look at those two with her in the room?
She moved with a grace that made the two blondes look like ducks swimming alongside a swan. She stretched out her hand to pass a glass to a man sitting on the far inside of a booth. Everyone in her vicinity turned to watch her lithe body.
"Drooling over a topless dancer?" Michael asked, coming up behind him. "I have to say, I'm a bit surprised. They look a bit rough."
"Not a dancer," Keaton let slip before he could stop himself.
Excerpted from "Darkest Night"
Copyright © 2018 Tara Thomas.
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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