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Praise for the novels of Maya Banks
“Sizzle, sex appeal, and sensuality! Maya Banks has it all ... This book is on the inferno side of hot and it shows on every page ... You will not want to miss out on this story.”
“An enjoyable tale of [a] second chance at life.”
—Genre Go Round Reviews
“Maya Banks never fails to tell compelling tales that evoke an emotional reaction in readers ... Kept me on the edge of my seat.”
“Surpassed all my expectations. Incredibly intense and complex characters, delicious conflict, and explosive sex scenes that fairly melt the print off the pages, Sweet Persuasion will have Maya Banks fans, new and existing alike, lasciviously begging for more.”
—Romantic Times (4½ stars)
“Ignites the pages ... Readers will relish Maya Banks’s exciting erotic romance.”
—The Best Reviews
“Well written and evocative.”
BE WITH ME
“I absolutely loved it! Simply wonderful writing. There’s a new star on the rise and her name is Maya Banks.”
—Sunny, national bestselling author of Lucinda, Dangerously
“Fascinating erotic romantic suspense.”
—Midwest Book Review
“This story ran my heart through the wringer more than once.”
—CK2S Kwips and Kritiques
“From page one, I was drawn into the story and literally could not stop reading until the last page.”
—The Romance Studio
“Maya Banks’s story lines are always full of situations that captivate readers, but it’s the emotional pull you experience which brings the story to life.”
FOR HER PLEASURE
“[It] is the ultimate in pleasurable reading. Enticing, enchanting and sinfully sensual, I couldn’t have asked for a better anthology.”
“Full of emotional situations, lovable characters and kickbutt story lines that will leave you desperate for more ... For readers who like spicy romances with a suspenseful element—it’s definitely a must read!”
“Totally intoxicating, For Her Pleasure is one of those reads you won’t be forgetting anytime soon.”
—The Road to Romance
Berkley titles by Maya Banks
FOR HER PLEASURE
BE WITH ME
THE DARKEST HOUR
NO PLACE TO RUN
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
A Berkley Sensation Book / published by arrangement with the author
Berkley Sensation mass-market edition / March 2011
Copyright © 2011 by Maya Banks.
Excerpt from Breaking Point by Pamlea Clare
copyright © by Pamela Clare.
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To Cindy Hwang, for her never-ending patience with this book and with me as I struggled to get it just right.
To Kim Whalen, who always goes to bat for me and tells me endlessly not to stress. I still stress, but you make it so much easier for me. Thank you.
To the MB Readers, Annmarie, Valerie, Fatin and Lillie. You guys are the best. I totally don’t deserve you.
And finally, for T.J., who shares all the ups and downs, highs and lows, and always offers me encouragement and support when I need it the most. I truly couldn’t do this without you. You’re absolutely the most integral part of my life and my career. Love you always.
THERE were any number of men who would do any job Marcus Lattimer wanted done. He’d amassed a fortune and countless connections during his lifetime, most of which were steeped in murky shades of gray. The men directly employed by Lattimer were absolute in their loyalty—he would tolerate no less—but he never allowed himself to fully trust anyone.
Some jobs ... Some jobs demanded personal satisfaction. This one was a matter of honor. Others might argue that Marcus had none. By their definition, they’d be right. But he was bound by a fierce loyal code. His honor was what mattered.
Allen Cross was an arrogant, coattail-riding asshole. The world would be a better place without his kind of filth, and Marcus was determined that the task would be completed this day.
Marcus attached the silencer and tucked the gun into the waist of his slacks. Drawing the Armani suit coat closed, he left the confines of his car and instructed his driver to wait. He walked at an unhurried pace toward the entrance of the high-rise that housed Cross Enterprises. Around him the city lights twinkled in the darkening of dusk, and headlights from passing cars bounced along the alleyways.
The streets were mostly empty and the building barren of the weekday horde of employees who scurried in and out with regularity. He paused a short distance from the entrance and checked his watch. The security guard that manned the front entrance on the weekends was a family guy and, like most family guys, had a moderate amount of debt and stretched his budget from payday to payday.
After tonight, the guard wouldn’t have the financial worries of others in his class. Marcus had seen to that. Right now, the guard would take a strategic break from his post, and at the same moment, the surveillance cameras would go down.
Money bought many things. Loyalty. Disloyalty. A blind eye. A moment’s distraction. Fifteen minutes was all Marcus needed to rid the world of Allen Cross.
Cross was a creature of habit. He came into his offices every Saturday after seven and remained until nine P.M., when his car service collected him and drove him to the same restaurant ten blocks away. He liked the few hours of solitude to go over paperwork—but what he perhaps liked the most was the freedom to victimize a helpless woman with impunity.
Marcus’s jaw tightened in fury. Predictability killed a man. As Cross was about to find out.
Marcus rode the elevator to the twenty-first floor and stepped onto the cheap, fake Italian marble flooring, his shoes issuing a faint echo as he walked through the empty reception area.
The door to Cross’s office was ajar, and a faint light shone through the crack. Marcus pushed at the door and let it slide soundlessly open. Cross was behind his desk, kicked back in his chair, a glass of wine in one hand as he read a sheaf of papers with the other.
Marcus watched, content to wait for his prey to become aware he was hunted.
After a moment, Cross set his glass down and leaned forward. He halted in mid-motion, and his head snapped up, his gaze locked on Marcus. Cross’s eyes widened in alarm and then he recovered, a sneer rolling over his lips.
“Who are you and what the hell are you doing in my office?”
Marcus strolled forward, his expression purposely bland as he loosened his coat. Cross rose, his hand inching toward the intercom on his desk.
“Get out or I’ll summon security.”
Marcus smiled. “I think you’ll find him unavailable.”
A flicker of unease skittered across Cross’s face when Marcus continued to smile. Marcus pulled out the gun, enjoying the slide of the stock over his palm. He thumbed the safety, and leveled the barrel at Cross’s chest.
“Would you prefer to die sitting or standing?”
Cross blanched, and he staggered, his hands slapping the polished mahogany of his executive desk. “What do you want?” he asked hoarsely. “Money? I have money. Just tell me how much. Anything. I’ll give you anything.”
A sneer twisted Marcus’s lips. “You couldn’t afford my shoes.”
His finger tightened on the trigger, and he watched the awareness in Cross’s eyes, the panicked realization that he was going to die.
Cross lunged sideways, and the sound of the bullet smacking into his chest resonated through the spacious office. Cross hit the floor, his arm outstretched in desperation. Blood seeped through the white silk shirt, growing as he gasped for breath.
As much as Marcus wanted to watch the life slowly fade from the bastard’s eyes, he had to finish this now. He raised the gun and aimed between Cross’s eyes. He saw the finality, the gray acceptance of death in his victim’s gaze. He pulled the trigger and then turned away, satisfied that justice had been served.
THE cab pulled to an abrupt halt outside the building where Sarah Daniels had worked for a period of six months. She hadn’t been back in a year. The mere thought of walking into Cross Enterprises made her physically ill.
She flung a twenty at the cabbie and ignored his offer to give her change. Clumsily opening the door, she bolted from the cab and entered the high-rise at a dead run.
The lobby was empty. Not even the security guard was at his post. Was she too late? What would she have even said to the man? That her brother was here to kill Stanley Cross?
She bolted toward the elevator and pounded on the up button, praying it would be here. She heaved a sigh of relief and threw herself through the doors as they slid open.
She jammed her thumb on the button for the twenty-first floor and then hit the close door button repeatedly.
Hurry. Hurry. Hurry.
She had to be on time. She wouldn’t let Marcus go through with it.
Stupid. So stupid.
She should have known. She’d seen the rage in Marcus’s eyes. He’d been way too quiet. Too collected as he’d calmly told her that he was taking her away. She hadn’t argued. She’d allowed him to make all the plans. All the decisions. She hadn’t even known where they were going, only that Marcus’s private jet was fueled and waiting for them.
Finally the elevator doors slid open, and she rushed into the reception area and turned in the direction of Allen’s office. She saw Allen’s door wide open, saw Marcus’s profile and then watched as Marcus tucked the gun back into his waistband.
Her horrified gaze tracked downward to see Allen Cross lying on the floor, blood staining his pristine white shirt.
Her hand flew to her mouth and she backed hastily away.
Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.
She was too late. She hadn’t gotten here in time.
Allen was dead. Marcus had killed him.
Nausea welled in her throat. She nearly tripped on her feet as she steadily backpedaled. She had to get away. The police would be here soon. Wouldn’t they? Surely someone couldn’t just walk off the streets and kill someone in an office building.
She turned and ran back toward the elevator, praying it was still there. She knew that at least two were taken out of service on the weekends, but that left two working on this side of the building.
She jabbed at the down button with her thumb and held her breath, prepared to make a run for the stairs if she had to. The door slid open and she fell over herself getting in. She punched the button for the ground floor and turned just as the doors started to close, only to find herself staring at Marcus’s frozen expression several feet away.
The doors closed, cutting him off. The elevator descended, sending Sarah’s stomach into even more turmoil.
She simply couldn’t process what she’d just witnessed. Marcus had killed Allen Cross. She couldn’t even muster any regret. Only fear. Fear for Marcus. How could he think he could get away with something so bold?
The elevator came to a stop and she shoved at the doors, trying to make them open quicker. She pitched headlong into the lobby, stumbling to gain her footing. Just as she righted herself, a hand curled around her arm and yanked her upright.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
She gasped and stared into the eyes of evil.
Stanley Cross, Allen’s brother, gripped her arm until she cried out in pain. His eyes sparked fury, but more than that, they warned her of just what kind of man he was. She knew all too well.
A sob welled in her throat as she faced down the man who was in her nightmares for the last year. She hadn’t seen him since that night in Allen’s office when he and Allen had forever changed the course of her life.
She hated them both more than she ever imagined being able to hate another human being.
Fear paralyzed her for what seemed an interminable amount of time. Her throat closed in and the ball in her stomach knotted painfully until it was all she could do not to vomit all over Stanley’s shoes.
“I asked you a question,” Stanley snapped. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Oh God, he’d find Allen’s body and think she murdered him. Or worse, he’d see Marcus and then Marcus would go to jail. Stanley could place them both at the scene. Even if she wasn’t herself accused of the crime, she could be forced to testify against Marcus.
Something snapped inside her. Rage mounted and swirled like a tornado. She thrust her knee into his groin, balled her fist and swung as hard as she could just as he howled in pain and doubled over.
Her fist met his jaw and he went sprawling.
As he started to scramble up, she ran for the entrance, burst into the night and bolted toward the street. She saw an off-duty cab rounding the corner and she ran in front of it, her arm held up to stop him. The cab screeched to a halt a mere inch from her knee. The driver threw his fist out the window, and obscenities blistered the air.
Ignoring his outrage, Sarah yanked open the back door and crawled in, slamming the door behind her. “Drive!”
The cabbie gave her a disgruntled look in the rearview mirror, then accelerated sharply, muttering about crazy women as he swerved through traffic. “Lady, I was not in service.”
“I’ll make it worth your while. Just drive!”
He heaved an exasperated sigh. “Where to?”
She slammed her eyes shut for a moment as she sought to regain her bearings. Where could she go?
Think. God. What did one do in a situation like this?
She stared down at the purse slung over her neck. She had some cash, her passport, a credit card, her driver’s license. She couldn’t go back to her apartment, could she?
Stanley would have found his brother’s body by now. He’d probably already called the police.
Think, Sarah, think!
“Airport,” she managed to get out.
Her cell phone rang, startling her. She rummaged in her purse and turned it over to check the LCD. Marcus.
Tears burned her eyelids. Her brother. The one person in the world who loved her. He was all she had and now he’d killed for her.
She opened the phone and put it to her ear.
“Sarah,” Marcus barked before she could even get a greeting out.
“Marcus,” she croaked out in a cracked and scratchy voice.
“Sarah, honey, where are you?”
“It doesn’t matter. I can’t ... we can’t ... I have to stay away. I need to go away.”
She was babbling, but she didn’t care.
“Sarah, stop. Listen to me.”
“No.” She cut him off, her voice firmer now. “I have to go. Don’t you see? They’ll know. They’ll know I saw you. They have surveillance in that building. All they have to do is play the security tape back and they’ll know we were both there. You have to get out of here, Marcus. Go. I’m going too.”
“Sarah, goddamn it, listen to me!”
She closed the phone and turned it off so he couldn’t call back. She leaned her head back against the seat and closed her eyes.
She had no idea where she was going or what she’d do when she got there, but she couldn’t stay here. She could never come back.
“I’m so sorry, Marcus. It should have been me who killed him,” she whispered.
GARRETT Kelly came awake with a start, his muscles tense, sweat beading his brow. His breaths came in rapid, harsh huffs. For a moment he lay there, his unfocused gaze sliding across the window to the darkness beyond.
Explosions echoed in his ears. The staccato of gunfire made him flinch, and the smell of blood and burning flesh assaulted his nostrils, making them flare as his breaths tore from his lungs.
He shook his head and raised his hand to scrub the sleep from his eyes. His shoulder protested, and he snarled with impatience at the ache, which still nagged. He rolled and sat up in bed, planting his feet on the floor. He stayed there, head hanging toward his knees, sucking in air like some pantywaist in basic training about to puke his guts up after a two-mile run.
It pissed him off when past memories ambushed him. He’d gone a long time without the images that interrupted his sleep. For some reason, after taking a bullet for his sister-in-law, he’d had a harder time sleeping. His consciousness seemed more vulnerable to things he’d shut out.
He cast a sideways glance at the clock. He wouldn’t be going back to sleep and everyone would be up in an hour anyway. Maybe a run would clear his head and get his blood flowing again.
With a sigh, he hit the shower and turned it cold to shake the cobwebs and the lingering smell of blood. After he was dried off and dressed, he walked quietly down the hall and out the front door.
It was still dark when he started off down the winding road that paralleled the lake. He ran farther this morning, pushing himself beyond his normal routine. He could still hear the explosions and still hear his teammates. He closed his eyes and increased his pace until his lungs screamed and his side ached.
It was over. A lifetime ago. He needed to get over it. He had gotten over it. All this R and R was for the birds. It had only served to make him lazy and idle. Fuck it. He wanted back in. A mission. Something besides all this goddamn free time.
By the time he returned to the house, he was sucking serious wind. The sky had lightened to shades of lavender and a diamond-sized star hung stubbornly over the lake, blanketed in the soft hues of dawn. He stood on the dock staring over the water—smooth, not a single ripple disturbing the surface—and breathed the clean, unspoiled air.
He let the peace of home and the lake he loved envelop him until all the noises of the past dulled and receded.
SWEAT beaded Garrett’s brow as he completed his last pull-up. He held himself, chin hovering above the bar, until his muscles rolled and contorted and his shoulder burned. His lips thinned and nostrils flared. When his arms began shaking, he dropped to the floor and palmed the scar on his shoulder.
Impatient with the twinge of discomfort that still plagued him, he dropped down and began a series of push-ups. He forced everything from his mind but the goal of complete recovery—a process that had already taken too long for his liking.
After yesterday morning’s run and a full day of PT, he’d slept marginally better last night than he had the night before. But he still couldn’t rid himself of the lingering images of his dreams. Dreams that hadn’t haunted him in some time but now seemed determined to shove themselves back to the forefront of his consciousness.
Garrett extended his arms to hold his position and turned to see his brother Donovan standing in the doorway to the basement.
“Why the hell are you interrupting my workout?”
“Resnick’s paying us a visit. Should be here in the next few.”
Garrett sighed and hopped to his feet. He rose and picked up the towel he’d tossed on the couch and wiped the sweat from his face. “What the hell does he want?”
“He didn’t say. But you know he wouldn’t come out here unless he wanted something.”
“Doesn’t anyone use the goddamn phone anymore?”
Donovan chuckled. “I’ll be over in the war room. A word of warning. Sophie’s on a tear in the kitchen.”
Garrett groaned. His very pregnant sister-in-law had been nesting furiously in the last week. She’d already cleaned the house top to bottom, and her next project was cooking enough food to outlast Armageddon.
Since marrying Sam, she’d bullied everyone into family time. They were her family now—as she liked to constantly remind them—and they would eat as a family, which meant everyone at the table, all accounted for, on time. The only excuse for missing a meal was hospitalization.
Garrett and his brothers indulged her because family was the one thing she’d always lacked. At first she’d been overwhelmed and cautious with the very large Kelly family, but then she embraced them all and took to her new life like a duck to water.
As he climbed the stairs from the basement, he rolled his shoulder, testing the wound. It had been months since he left the hospital, and it still wasn’t healed to his satisfaction. He had residual soreness when he worked out, but if he went more than a day without pushing the exercises, it got stiff.
He was still rotating his arm when he got into the living room. Sophie looked up from the stove and frowned. “Is your shoulder still bothering you?”
Not waiting for his answer, she hurried around the corner—as fast as a woman in her condition could—and stood in front of him. Her belly protruded, nearly bumping into his hip. She looked about thirteen months’ pregnant—not that he’d tell her that.
“I’m fine, Soph,” he said good-naturedly.
“You’ve been working out again. Should you be pushing yourself so hard?”
He rolled his eyes and dropped a kiss on her cheek. “I’m fine. It’s never going to get to one hundred percent unless I strengthen it.”
Her blue eyes clouded and she briefly looked away. He sighed. She was the reason he’d taken the bullet, and she was also the only one determined not to forget that fact. He tugged at her hair just to annoy her, and when she looked back at him, he scowled.
Her sadness lasted all of two seconds. Her shoulders started shaking and her lips split into a wide smile. “Okay, okay,” she said, putting her hands up as she backed away. “I’ll stop the guilt and the mother hen act.”
“Yeah, save it for the kiddo.”
She walked back into the kitchen and he followed, sniffing the air.
“What are you cooking? It smells good.”
“I think the question is, what am I not cooking.” She gestured at the table, which had food scattered over the entire surface. It looked like a mad chef had butchered a cow and an entire garden. “I’m making lasagna to freeze, chicken and dumplings, a few casseroles and a gumbo. You hungry?”
He rubbed his stomach. “I could eat.”
She checked her watch. “Lunch will be on the table in an hour.”
“You’re going to make me wait an hour?” he asked in horror.
She raised an eyebrow. “If I let you eat then Donovan and Sam would want to eat and then there’d be no one to have lunch with when it’s time.”
“You’re a cruel, cruel woman,” Garrett complained. “I don’t know why Sam puts up with you.”
Her look said she wasn’t impressed with his whining.
“Speaking of Sam, where is he?”
Sophie peered over the pot and sniffed. “He went over to the office with Donovan. They had some calls to make. Sam said the contractors were supposed to break ground on the helipad at the compound today.”
Garrett shook his head at her insistence on calling it the “office.” “I’m headed over to the war room now. What are we having for lunch? Do I get to pick since I’m injured?”
“Oh now you want to be all pitiful,” she muttered. “I suppose. What would you like?”
He grinned. “I’ll take chicken and dumplings. Good comfort food for someone in my condition.”
He turned to go but swiped a bite of the chicken she’d deboned and left in a flurry of threats to kick his ass.
Chuckling, he crossed the driveway to the building on the lot adjacent to the house. It had a stark look, completely in contrast to the homey log cabin that he and his brothers lived in, nestled on the banks of Kentucky Lake. It was square and imposing looking with grey cement-steel reinforced walls, no windows and a security system—thanks to Donovan’s technical expertise—the CIA couldn’t get into. Which was funny, considering the CIA would be arriving any moment now.
He punched in the access code and entered when the door slid open. Donovan was sitting in front of Hoss, the computer—the love of his life—and Sam was standing behind Donovan, reading off the screen.
He’d actually miss this place when construction was complete on the KGI compound he and his brothers had designed. They all liked to give Sam shit about his paranoia, but the truth was Garrett thought it was a damn good idea. He wanted his family protected. Especially after all that had happened in the months before, when his mom had been abducted.
If moving KGI to a secure, state-of-the-art facility would ensure that all the Kellys would be better protected, then Garrett was ready to make the move yesterday. The problem was, such a massive undertaking was going to take time. It would be months before everything would be complete.
“So what’s up Resnick’s ass?” he asked as he ambled over to his brothers.
Sam turned. “Dunno. He called, said he was about twenty minutes out. He sounded agitated.”
“When doesn’t he sound agitated? He’s an uptight son of a bitch.”
Donovan turned in his chair, looked at Sam and then both burst into laughter.
“What?” Garrett demanded.
Sam shook his head. “Hello, pot. Calling kettle uptight?”
Garrett flipped up his middle finger as he turned away and plopped onto the couch. Whatever Resnick wanted, it couldn’t be good. The last time they’d seen him in person was when all the shit went down with Sophie. He’d been quiet since. Just the way Garrett liked him. Trouble always followed in Resnick’s wake.
Sam followed and slouched on the other end of the couch. “Mom is having a party for Rusty, and she’s made it clear the entire family is to attend.”
Garrett sighed. “What’s the party for? Her staying out of trouble for a month?”
Donovan snorted and resumed typing on his keyboard.
“It’s to celebrate the start of her senior year in school. And you have to hand it to the twerp, she’s done well since Mom took her in hand and made her sit her ass in class.”
Garrett grunted. Okay, yeah, the girl their mom had taken in—another of the strays Marlene Kelly was so famous for—had shaped up despite having a piss-poor attitude and a mouth to match. But Garrett wasn’t into being all congratulatory for doing what she should be doing anyway, which was take responsibility and act like an adult.
“Jesus, they’ll probably be buying her a car next,” he muttered.
“Already did,” Donovan called out.
At that Sam’s eyebrows shot up. “They did? When did this happen?”
“I talked to Mom earlier and she said Dad was out car shopping. It’s supposed to be a surprise for this party they’re throwing,” Donovan said.
Sam closed his eyes and Garrett shook his head. “Christ. That’s just what we need. A crazy-ass teenager with her own car. I hope to hell they insure her out the yin yang. She’ll get into a wreck and Mom and Dad will be sued and living on the streets in a month’s time.”
“We can always count on you to find the bright side in everything,” Sam said dryly.
Silence fell and Garrett leaned his head back, closing his eyes. Between the haphazard sleep and two days of extended workouts, he was wiped.
“You sleeping okay?” Sam asked.
Garrett opened his eyes and turned his head to see his brother watching him with a thoughtful expression. “Yeah, I’m good.”
“Sophie said you’ve been up a lot.”
Garrett scowled. Definite drawback to living in a damn commune. “If she wasn’t up going to the bathroom fourteen times a night, she wouldn’t know I wasn’t sleeping.”
Sam chuckled but then he sobered. “Stuff bothering you, man?”