Sinful pleasure and forbidden desire rule in #1 bestselling author Lora Leigh's story For Maggie's Sake, previously published in the anthologies Real Men Do It Better and Taken, now exclusively in ebook format.
Maggie Chavez is in protective custody with a member of her former lover's SEAL team. Joe, her ex-lover, thinks Maggie is hiding information from him about a powerful drug lord and the deaths of some SEALs. He intends to seduce her and get the information before she can sell it back to the drug cartel. But the desire crackles between them and their attraction is undeniable. How can Joe use her and leave her, when all he wants is to hold her close and never let go?
About the Author
#1 New York Times bestseller, LORA LEIGH is the author of the Navy SEALS, the Breeds, the Elite Ops, the Callahans, the Bound Hearts, and the Nauti series.
"Lora Leigh writes compelling, red-hot romance." --Sacramento Book Review
Read an Excerpt
For Maggie's Sake
By Lora Leigh
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2007 Lora Leigh
All rights reserved.
Maggie samuels was pale. Too pale. The freckles across her creamy cheeks and along the bridge of her nose stood out clearly, emphasizing the frail, delicate look of her features. Her lush lips trembled, her wide green eyes were shocked and filled with unshed tears.
And he wanted to save her. Joe Merino stared through the two-way glass, his hands pushed into the pockets of his slacks as he watched Maggie wrap her arms across her chest and stare unseeing back at the detective questioning her. Detective Folker had been questioning her for hours.
Her husband had been dead less than a week, a husband who had supposedly adored her. Who lived for her. The same man who had supposedly been Joe's friend. And now, Maggie's life was being threatened as well. Because of that same man.
Joe knew he shouldn't give a damn. From all accounts, she had gotten herself into this; he should let her get herself out of it. That's what his head was saying. His heart was saying something different. His heart was assuring him that there was no way Maggie was involved. He had slept with this woman at one time, held her in his arms, and watched her as she climaxed. The woman he had known couldn't be cold-blooded enough to be involved with this. But then again, he had never suspected for a second that Grant was part of Fuentes's organization. That he had helped rape and torture many of the young women that Fuentes had kidnapped.
And now, here he stood, days after Grant's death, trying to harden himself to the threat that someone else he cared for could be involved in the horror that that operation had turned into. That his own life could have become such a mess.
He had let his bitterness, his distrust of women after his wife's deceit and death five years ago, stand between him and the woman he knew belonged to him. Hell, he had known it at the time. Each time he thought of forever with Maggie, the memory of Bettina's death hung over him like a haunting specter. She had died leaving him. She and her boyfriend, high on drugs, had run the car they were in over an embankment, killing them both. He hadn't been able to hold on to the woman he married, the woman who swore to love him. And two years later, there he had been, falling in love with Maggie.
Joe watched Maggie now, his jaw clenched, his back teeth grinding, as the past threatened to swallow him. Two and a half years before, Maggie had belonged to him for a few short months. But he hadn't taken what he knew could be his. Maggie had walked out of his arms, and months later had walked into Grant's.
The problem was, he hadn't stopped loving Maggie.
He stared into the interrogation room, fighting to ignore the tightening of his chest, the regret and the rage and the lust. He had been fighting the lust for two and a half years. A hunger that never slept, that never eased, for a woman he could never have again. A woman who, it appeared, was involved in her husband's illegal activities.
He ignored the gut-clenching feeling that she couldn't be involved, that she was innocent. It was the same reaction he'd had when he began to suspect there was indeed a mole within his team. He had begun the investigation on all the team members, except Grant. He had shared his suspicions with his friend, discussed the best way to flush the traitor out. And Grant had sympathized, become angry on Joe's behalf, and pretended to help.
God, he had been a fool. Just as he was being a fool again, wanting to believe in Maggie when the evidence against her was mounting.
"Mrs. Samuels, your husband was working for Fuentes," Detective Matthew Folker told her, not for the first time, his plump face and hazel eyes appearing almost kind as he watched her. "Your neighbors have seen him." He pointed to Diego Fuentes's picture. "As well as his nephew Santiago Fuentes, and his brother Jose, at your home. Surely you overheard something?"
Maggie shook her head, the silken fall of her deep red hair caressing her shoulders as her lips trembled again. He knew how Maggie reacted when she was hiding something. Her lips didn't tremble. Her lips trembled when she couldn't understand the pain she felt or the events unfolding. Her lips had trembled when she had seen another woman on his arm, and her face had gone that same pasty white.
"I saw them. They came to the house several times over the past months...."
"You met with them," Folker accused, his voice benign, confident.
"I didn't meet with them." Her voice was thin, filled with fear. It sent a surge of fury racing through Joe. Was she lying? The evidence said she was. But the evidence had come from Grant. And they all now knew how reliable Grant had been. Even two and a half years ago Joe had known he knew Maggie better than he knew his best friend. He had acknowledged it, and it had scared the hell out of him.
"Agent Samuels left evidence that you were involved in his illegal activities," the detective repeated. The accusation had been voiced a half-dozen times in the two-hour-long interview.
"God. No," she whispered, as a tear slipped free and she shook her head again.
"There is proof you were involved. Pictures, Mrs. Samuels, as well as written notes. We're prepared to be lenient here. Give us the pictures and audiotapes Agent Samuels made of his meetings with the Fuentes family and we'll forget your part in this."
She shook her head again, her breathing jerky as she stared back at the detective.
"Mrs. Samuels," Folker sighed, pushing his hand over his balding head as he stared back at her, a glimmer of compassion in his eyes. "Would you like to call your lawyer? We do have evidence that you're involved. If you're frightened ..."
"I don't know anything." Her hands tightened on her upper arms, her fingernails biting into her own flesh as a sob echoed in her voice. "I don't need a lawyer because I didn't know what Grant was doing. We've barely spoken for months."
"Mrs. Samuels, it's too late for this game." Folker slapped the table in frustration. "Look at the damned pictures." He pointed to the pictures of the young women murdered over the past two years; the morgue shots were horrendous. "Look at them, Maggie. He helped do this. You helped ..."
"I didn't do this," she screamed back, tears washing over her cheeks as she stared back at the detective. "I didn't know. I don't have anything to do with it. I swear to God I don't. Please ..."
Maggie lowered her head, her shoulders jerking from the sobs she was fighting to hold back, as Folker leaned back in his chair and looked over his shoulder to the mirror behind him. The disapproval in his gaze was heavy. He didn't like what he was doing to her, what he had been ordered to do. Detective Folker didn't believe Maggie could be involved. And, Joe admitted, he couldn't fully believe it himself.
Joe turned his head to the district attorney standing beside him, as well as the federal prosecutor observing the interrogation.
"I don't think she knows, Mark," he sighed wearily. "At least, not that she's aware of."
"Santiago and his uncle Jose will be out of jail before the day is out," Mark Johnson murmured. "We couldn't deny bail at this point because of the threats the judge has received. Our only chance is to trap them in this. If she walks out of this office without giving us the information, she's dead."
"We can't protect her, Agent Merino," Andrew Jordan, the federal prosecutor sent to oversee the interrogation, spoke up. "She's our only hope at this point."
Joe breathed in, slow, deep. As he stared at Maggie he saw Grant, his face twisted with hatred as he prepared to kill Morganna Chavez when he couldn't get her to the exit of the club and to Fuentes. The attempted kidnapping, the drugging of the women before her, the rapes, the death of Agent Lyons. It all lay at Grant's feet, and now at those of his wife Maggie.
"Are we certain she could have had access to the information?" Joe asked as he crossed his arms over his chest, ignoring the instinctive demand that he go to her, hold her, take the fear out of her eyes.
"We're certain she lived with him for two years. She would have seen or heard something, even if she wasn't involved. We've found too many lies in those damned journals to take his word for it," Johnson grunted. "Word on the street is that the price is already on her head, though. And Grant would have tried to cover his ass. He had the evidence, I suspect; the question is where."
"And if she doesn't know anything, consciously or subconsciously?" Subconsciously, yeah, he was betting she knew something. Consciously? He couldn't make it work in his own mind. Maggie would have never been able to live with the rapes and deaths of those women. It wasn't possible.
"If she doesn't, she's dead anyway. We can't do anything to protect her if she doesn't cooperate," Jordan answered.
"She trusts you, Joe. She asked for you when we brought her in this morning."
There was a question in the district attorney's voice, one Joe heard clearly. The DA was well aware of the fact that Joe and Maggie had been involved in an affair. Grant's irrational journals had been filled with furious entries raging over the fact.
"What do you want me to do?" Joe steeled himself against the denial raging inside him. He couldn't interrogate Maggie. It would destroy them both.
"We need that proof, Joe. Without it, the nephew and the brother will walk and the Navy will never find the mole responsible for the death of that Navy SEAL and the young women that drug destroyed." Johnson sighed.
Joe wanted to trust her, he wanted to hold her, to take away her fear and promise her everything was going to be okay. She was his best friend's wife. ... His jaw clenched. No, Grant hadn't been his friend — the illusion of friendship, of brotherhood, had been a game, nothing more.
In the days since Grant's death, the depth of his treachery had slowly been revealed. He had been on the take for years. More years than Joe could have imagined.
"You know me, Matthew." Joe heard Maggie's whisper clearly through the glass. "I wouldn't be involved in this."
Joe never would have thought she would be involved in this, but then again, he never would have believed Grant would betray him. The evidence supported her involvement. For now he had no choice but to go with the evidence, the tangible proof rather than his emotions. Because his emotions couldn't be trusted. Because Maggie's life depended on her knowing something, whether she realized it or not.
"Maggie, we have evidence." Matthew laid his arms on the table as he leaned forward. "Evidence that you were at the house during the meetings, that you know where the photos and recordings are hidden. Lying isn't going to help you."
"I'm not lying to you." She smacked the palm of her hand on the table, that Irish temper finally coming to the fore. "I don't know what you're talking about, Matthew, and I'm not telling you that again. I didn't know what Grant was doing."
Despite the temper, she was trembling. He could see the fine tremors racing over her body, echoing in her lips.
"I'll take care of it." It was a promise Joe made not just to the DA, but to Maggie.
He was a fool. No greater fool had ever been born than he was at that moment, and he knew it.
Johnson watched him silently. Joe could feel the other man's gaze on him as he stared through the two-way mirror at Maggie.
"Fuentes already put a price on her head. She's as good as dead without protection, until we can get the evidence she's hiding. I'll take her to a safe house, see if I can wear her down."
"If that doesn't work?" Andrew Jordan's eyes were narrowed as Joe stared over the district attorney's shoulder at the older man. Andrew Jordan was a sparse, tall man, with hawklike eyes and a jutting, pugnacious chin. He was the terror of the capital and a bulldog when it came to the cases he prosecuted.
"What do you want, Jordan?" He fought the anger welling inside him. "Arresting Maggie and terrifying her isn't going to help anyone at this point, and it won't get the evidence against the Fuentes gang. According to Grant's journal, his marriage to her was less than perfect. She wouldn't protect him."
"She wouldn't be the first woman to follow the money, Merino. You know that," Jordan pointed out, clearly referring to the rich bastard his first wife had died with.
It was well known that Joe refused to touch the money his parents made available to him. He used the inheritance his grandfather had left him, but his parents' money he had never touched. Not because of any anger or animosity toward it or his parents. There was none. He loved them, as interfering and broody as they could be. But he didn't want their money. With the inheritance he had, and his salary, he had more than he needed. More than Bettina would have needed if she hadn't gotten hooked on drugs.
"If Maggie wanted money, she wouldn't help kill to get it," he snarled. "Give me a week, maybe two. Let me see what I can learn."
"She has to go voluntarily," Johnson warned him. "We can't make it official."
Maggie had trusted him a long time ago. Once, she might have even loved him. He accepted the guilt from the past on his shoulders. That didn't mean he would allow more lives to be lost because of Grant's hatred and greed.
"I'll leave it in your hands then," Jordan murmured.
Mark Johnson nodded then. "Keep me up to date, Joe, and hurry. We need this information now."
* * *
Maggie had been telling herself for a week that she would wake up, that this was all a horrible dream, that any minute she was going to wake up and it was all going to be over. But, as she sat in the interrogation room and stared into Matthew Folker's suspicious gaze, she realized she wasn't going to wake up. It wasn't a nightmare, it was reality.
Where was Joe? The question kept racing through her mind, tearing through her emotions. She hadn't thought Joe would desert her, that he would allow Detective Folker to question her without his presence. They had been friends once, more than friends.
Then again, he had loved Grant like a brother, and had never realized how much Grant hated him. But Maggie had known. For two years she had listened to Grant rage about Joe. The petty jealousy and fury Grant felt toward the other man had begun frightening Maggie within months of their marriage.
"Maggie, let me help you." Matthew leaned closer, his hazel eyes compassionate as he watched her. "We're not interested in prosecuting you, not if we get that information. Otherwise ..." Otherwise, they would hang her out to dry on whatever trumped-up evidence Grant had left.
"So, it wouldn't matter to you if I had been a part of this?" she accused, as she waved her hand toward the pictures before her, the morgue shots of the young women who had been killed because of the horrible drug Grant had helped to distribute. "As long as you get whatever Grant had hidden, then you would just wipe the slate clean?"
"I give you my promise, Maggie. The DA will put it in writing ..."
"Then you're a fool," she screamed, jerking to her feet as she grabbed the nearest photo and slapped it beneath his face. "You look at her, Matthew. She was savaged. And you're willing to let go someone you suspect of being capable of helping in it?"
She was shaking so violently she could feel the very core of her threatening to shatter apart. She couldn't fight her tears any longer, or her rage. She wanted to leave here, she wanted to go home, and then she wanted to find whatever the hell it was she was supposed to have and throw it in Folker's face.
"Sit down, Maggie." He sat back in his chair, calm, remote.
She had known the detective for nearly ten years now, since she had come to the station with her father when he worked with the paper. It was as much her world as the newspaper office was.
"Don't tell me to sit down." She shook her head furiously.
"I did not do this, Matthew. Not in any part." She pointed a shaky finger at the pictures between them. "And if you had the evidence you say you do, you and that son-of-a-bitch Jordan would have arrested me while he was spitting his accusations in my face earlier."
The door opened at that second. Maggie jerked around, her heart exploding in her chest at the sight of the man standing there: tall, remote, his brown eyes so cold and hard they were like chips of dark ice.
"No, Maggie, they wouldn't have arrested you," Joe told her softly. "Because I won't let them. Now get your stuff together and let's get the hell out of here."
Out of there? To where? She had thought he would be her salvation, that if anyone believed in her, Joe would. But as she stared into the cold hard depths of his eyes, she was terribly afraid that Joe didn't believe in her any more than anyone else did.
Excerpted from For Maggie's Sake by Lora Leigh. Copyright © 2007 Lora Leigh. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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