Hidden

Hidden

by Kelli Clare
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Overview

Hidden by Kelli Clare

A gripping romantic thriller that will take you deep into the dark corners of obsession and family intrigue.

“Sensual and riveting.” —J. Kenner, New York Times bestselling author
“Captivating, provocative, and fast-paced.” —Kerry Lonsdale, Wall Street Journal bestselling author
“Elegant prose … a sublimely written story.” —Kirkus Reviews


Small-town Connecticut art teacher Ellie James finds the intense connection she’s longing for when she meets Will Hastings, a seductive Englishman with an alluring darkness. But just days later, her sister and grandmother are murdered and she must confront the unthinkable: is Will a man she can trust, a killer―or both?

After surviving a near-fatal attempt on her life, Ellie makes a desperate move: she takes her young niece Lissie and runs to England with Will. There, fiery passion becomes possession, London paparazzi call her by another name, and assassins of a secret society close in after the stunning truth about Ellie’s family is exposed. When Will suddenly disappears after putting a ring on her finger, Ellie must find the strength to elude assassins, disentangle herself from the haunting lies she’s lived for twenty-seven years, and answer one pressing question: who is Ellie James?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781943006526
Publisher: SparkPress
Publication date: 06/05/2018
Pages: 328
Sales rank: 479,571
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Kelli Clare is a former human resource executive and contributing writer for a Forbes and TIME recognized website for women. She has been a progressive voice for a global coalition of bloggers focused on issues involving women, children, and world hunger. Critics have called her debut novel elegant, gripping, and provocative.

Clare attended the University of Toledo and lives in Ohio with her two children and sock-thieving spaniel. She is an active member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, Romance Writers of America, and the Mystery/Suspense chapter of Romance Writers of America.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

The first time I saw Will Hastings's handsome face was in late July after the annual Blessing of the Fleet. His bold gaze burned into mine from the opposite side of Water Street. The highland band, piping loud and marching through the center, drew the post-ceremony procession to a close, granting me an unobstructed view. A slow smile touched his lips, and despite the stifling summer heat, it drove a sensual shiver through me.

He was magnificent, the kind of man you would never find living in small-town New England. He could have just stepped right off the cover of GQ Magazine. I'd never seen a man so tall, with shoulders so broad it made me wonder if he had to have his shirts custom tailored. His taut, cut biceps emerged from the sleeves of a beautifully faded indigo T-shirt tucked into close-fitting jeans. Most women would pay a fortune for the highlights that seemed to flow naturally through the waves of his dark blond hair. His jawline was strong and commanding, reminding me of paintings I'd studied in college of ancient Roman gladiators.

The parade had ended, but Jess and I hadn't moved from the curb. My best friend released her wavy red hair from its loose bun and lifted her face to the late-morning sun, and I stared at him. She opened her eyes to drink from her raspberry mimosa and elbowed me.

"Who's he and why are you staring at each other? Wait — is he ...?"

My eyes skipped to Jess to deliver a dirty look. "The guy who followed me home the other night. Yes, I think so. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe he's staying nearby." When I refocused across the street, he was gone.

"And maybe you should say something to someone, report it to the police."

"You know, paranoia is my sister's thing, not mine. I'm not sure I feel threatened. Besides, aren't you always saying I should be more open to meeting new people?"

"I haven't seen you outwardly curious in a while, and yeah, you do need to get out of your artsy little head. Just be careful. If it happens again, promise you'll do something about it."

"I will. Promise."

I struggled with reconciling his presence in town and the sense that he watched me. After all, it was summertime. Stonington was a historically rich town, a cultural treasure, and the only one in Connecticut to face the open Atlantic waters. It attracted countless visitors. It was common to see tourists milling around town taking photos or wandering the streets at night, unaware most businesses closed long before ten. Stonington was also a colonial fishing town, and outsiders came from far and wide to work for the commercial fleet. This wasn't the first time a man from one of the crews or a tourist had looked my way.

The next day, after the last of my noisy day campers had gone, I locked the art studio door and headed for the fishing pier to sketch. It was either that or listen to another of Jess's lectures. She'd go on about how I wallowed in self-imposed loneliness and how it left her alone to test the waters in the pool of datable men. The pool was small — it was blue-plastic-toddler-swimming-pool small — and I didn't need to dip a toe to know there was nothing left in it for me.

The pier was a respite from my grandmother's and sister's intrusiveness as well. Gran and Isobel were all I had, and they meant well. Trysts with my art kept me sane, human.

I looked out over the harbor and spotted Neptune trudging her way in. The sailboats beyond paled in her presence. I don't know what it was about the old girl, but I loved that fishing boat. Her emerald-green hull had become chalky over time, and the once black and white hoists and booms were covered in rust, but she was still glorious against the backdrop of the sea. I sat and lost myself in the sketch.

No more than ten minutes had passed when the pier thrummed with the pounding steps of the lumping crew as they made their way to the dock. With a soft curse, I pulled the cover over my drawing and watched the deckhands secure Neptune's lines.

"Hello."

My shoulders jerked. I arched my neck back and blinked at the man looming above.

"Didn't mean to startle you," he said. I don't know which was more surprising — his deep, thunderous tone or the English accent. A rich, masculine scent rolled down his corded arm and circled my head when he offered his hand.

I stood without taking it and dusted off my backside. Even when standing, I had to lift my chin to meet his eyes. I was five and a half feet tall, and he towered a foot above me. I stared at him and explored those eyes. They were gunmetal blue, his gaze invincible.

"Hi. It's ... you — from the street. You were staring."

He offered no apology. Instead, he extended his arm to offer his hand again, palm facing up this time. "Will Hastings." A seductive smile played with the corners of his mouth, one side curving higher than the other. His commanding presence saturated the space around me. Power. He was power.

I bit my lip and presented my hand, distantly aware I'd edged closer. "Ellie James."

With a firm grasp, he held my fingers as he studied me. "Christ, you're lovely."

The gravel texture layered in the sound of his deep voice captivated me, as did his choice of words. My pulse sped. No words came to me. I dropped my eyes, but they were drawn back to his in an instant.

Will Hastings pressed his lips to my knuckles before releasing me. "I'll see you again." After taking a few steps back, he turned and strode away, joining the rest of the crew to unload Neptune 's catch.

"But ... wait," I called through the heat of my blush.

He tossed back one confident word. "Soon."

It was impossible not to glance once more in his direction before heading up the pier. He watched me over his shoulder with powerful arms raised high, prepared to lift the next teeming crate from its moving hook.

I reminded myself to breathe and exhaled, withdrawing from my daze.

That night, when I couldn't sleep, I pulled out my pad and finished the drawing from memory, coercing life into the old fishing boat on paper. I flipped the page and continued, allowing my mind to create whatever it wanted to see in the moment. It wasn't long before Will's eyes stared back at me. I held up the sketch and angled it left and right, considering the penciled likeness. It jumped out at me then — his gaze revealed something more than I'd realized at the pier. Something dark.

That darkness drew me to him, even on paper. But there was something more, an alluring energy, and it drove images into my head of tangled sheets and sweating, entwined bodies.

I shook my head to clear it, deciding to go to the family cottage soon. No one else used the place anymore. It was quaint and private, no fishermen, no tourists, no onlookers. I missed the beach there and needed to step into the sea. An empty feeling, a profound void caused by the lack of a genuine soul-deep connection lingered in my spirit. The Atlantic soothed me, filling that void with comforting messages from a faraway land I imagined reaching out for me.

I walked the pier several times over the next few days and visited Neptune's dock, hoping to run into Will. He wasn't there, but that was hardly surprising. He was too polished, too smooth. It was clear he was more than a longshoreman in for the season. Our paths never crossed. Still, the ache low in my abdomen assured me of his presence.

My curiosity became a preoccupation, and it haunted me. I wanted nothing more than to know why I was drawn to him. I searched the streets for him. Needed to see his eyes again to resolve what my mind had shown me only on paper.

By the time Thursday finally rolled around, I'd grown irritable, frustration grabbing hold and biting hard. God, I needed to get a grip. I was getting ready for my shift at Nick's, still preoccupied, finding it difficult to focus on anything other than getting to work, when Jess texted to let me know she was running late. Jess and I tended bar there in addition to our day jobs — mine, teaching and selling art, and hers, perioperative nursing. It was the night of the annual event celebrating the restaurant's long run in the community, and it would draw people for miles throughout New London County. Locals, fishermen, and tourists alike.

If my gut was right, and Will Hastings was still around town, I would see him there. Maybe then the possessed mood that kept me from sleeping would subside.

I pulled the red T-shirt with the restaurant's logo over my head, tucking it into cutoff jean shorts, and brushed through my long brunette layers once more. Another touch of shimmering nude lipstick, and then I slipped out the front door and headed down the sidewalk toward Nick's.

* * *

Josh Mendes insisted on getting in the way of my mission. One of Ed Sheeran's songs followed him in from the restaurant's rear patio where the twenty- and thirtysomethings hung out. He stood in silence, staring as I mixed and poured cocktails.

"I'm a bit busy, Josh. Do you want another beer?"

"Yeah." He grabbed my hand when I reached for his empty. "Come back to me, Ellie. We could be good together if you'd give it another shot. Let's try again."

We had dated on and off in the three years since I'd come home from UConn, and never got it right. He was a good man, a lieutenant with the local police department. I wanted to love him, but it never came to me — that collision of fiery emotional and physical bliss I refused to live without. Josh needed consistent encouragement, and I'd grown tired of managing the intimacy between us.

I pulled my hand back and grabbed a clean glass, filling it with Guinness. "Please don't. I can't do this conversation again. Nothing has changed. I'm sorry."

"If there's something I can do to change your mind, you know I'll do it."

"I know." I offered his beer with a friendly smile before turning away. When I glanced at the wall of mirrors to see if he'd moved on, I found Will staring back at me. Every part of me tensed, my pulse quickening from the intensity of his focused eyes. I spun and scanned the crowd. I couldn't let him get away.

We locked stares again. I searched for the dark, menacing trait that had nagged at my subconscious. It was there, but it didn't frighten me. It filled my senses and fueled my curiosity. This man would never need encouraging. He canted his head, signaling for me to follow him out the rear exit.

"Cover me for a bit, Jess. I need to do something."

"What are you up to, Ells?"

"I'll be out on the patio for a few minutes."

She bumped her hip against mine as she passed. "Got it."

The terrace was crowded, though Will was easy to find. He leaned against the building's brick wall with his arms crossed over his chest and feet spread wide. I pushed my way through the sweating mob of drinking and dancing revelers, staying close to the wall, but lost sight of him when someone grabbed me and pulled me into the mix. The guy who'd snatched my arms released me abruptly and stepped back.

Will was behind me. "Turn round, Ellie James," he said close to my ear. The warmth of his breath on my neck caused goose bumps. His words held no hint of intonation. It was a command.

I turned to meet his eyes.

He flashed his brows and rubbed his chin, a glimmer from one of the sun's last rays bouncing off his platinum Patek Philippe watch.

I ignored the odd fluttering in my stomach and waited.

He stepped closer, compelling me back against the wall. One of his hands rested against the bricks near my head. His eyes never left mine.

"Who are you?"

"I told you my name."

"Yes, but why are you here in Stonington?"

"Business. I have a job to do."

"At the pier?"

A smirk dominated his lips, his face. "No, not at the pier."

That assuming smile made him impossibly more handsome, and almost unmade me. I wiped my sweaty palms on my hips. "Why did you introduce yourself to me?"

He shrugged but never broke eye contact.

"Have you followed me?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"You should talk to your sister about that. I'd rather she filled you in."

"What does that mean? Do you know my sister?"

"Not personally."

"You're making no sense."

Another shrug. As he glanced at my mouth, his eyes grew possessive, and I was mesmerized. I wanted to reach up and touch his five-o'clock shadow. His virile scent intoxicated me. It was sensual and earthy at once, like sandalwood and peat. Peat — he was a scotch drinker.

He cocked his head and flashed a satisfied smile.

"Where can I find you?"

His smile dissolved, and his eyes burned deeper into mine. "Stop looking for me."

I matched his determined stare. "Stop following me."

"You don't have to look for me. ... I'll find you again, Ellie. Just talk to your sister."

Neither of us moved. Was I breathing? Finally, he dropped his arm and stepped back.

"It's getting dark. You should go inside."

My body submitted to his suggestion before my brain could catch it. I stopped and looked back after several steps. He was still there, watching me with his arms folded against his massive chest. Our eyes connected again. He'd be back.

When I reached the door, I glanced over my shoulder one last time, but he was gone. I spent the rest of my shift trapped inside my head, confused by what had happened on the patio. Only one thing was clear — I wanted to see Will again.

I shot a quick text message to Isobel, asking if she knew him and if she planned to meet me at closing as she typically did, but my sister never replied.

Jess gripped my shoulders and shook me, causing the beer in my hand to spill. "Ellie, did you hear me? I have to go. The emergency department needs all surgical staff at the hospital STAT. There's been some kind of street fight on the north side of town. Josh was dispatched to the scene. It's about time to close anyway. You'll wait for Isobel?"

The street and the house were quiet as usual. I waved goodbye as I turned the key, unlocking the front door. Josh had sent one of the rookies to drive me home from the bar. He gave a nod and accelerated. The patrol car sped down the street, heading north with its flashing red and blue emergency lights engaged, back into the odd chaos of the night.

There were no lights on.

There was no aromatic bouquet from Gran's evening chamomile to greet me.

There was no one around to witness my terror when I stepped inside and found my sister and grandmother lying on the floor, holding hands in an ever-widening pool of deep red. The cross of Saint George drawn in blood sullied their beautiful faces. They'd been shot.

Gran was already gone.

Isobel blinked her hazel eyes and tried to tell me something. She tugged on the scrap of paper sticking out of her front pocket until her strength was exhausted, her arm dropping to the floor. A fading whisper floated away on one of her final breaths. "Find Lissie. Get out. ..."

I screamed at her, screamed for her to stay with me, and then fell to my knees between my dead grandmother and dying sister, clutching their combined hands in mine.

Then they were both gone.

Blood soaked my bare legs as I rocked back and forth. I gagged on the coppery scent filling the foyer. Stinging tears flooded my eyes. Pain-filled moments that felt like an eternity dragged on until Gran's old clock chimed eleven times, forcing me to dismiss the pain. Fear for my life and Lissie's took its place. I had to find her.

I grabbed the crumpled paper hanging from my sister's jeans. It wasn't a scrap at all but a thick sheet, and when I unfolded it, Will Hastings's eyes stared back at me. Something senseless, something I couldn't rationalize that was neither right nor wrong skipped through my mind and banged around inside my skull.

Isobel had taken my drawing. Beneath his picture, she'd written a name — Ethan — and some numbers. Ethan? I shoved it into my pocket and jumped up, causing myself to slip in blood, righting myself briefly only to stumble and crash into the center table. I anchored there for a moment to catch my breath. My hands trembled, my mind reeling, unable to compose complete thoughts. Run.

I ran up the old Victorian staircase and called out for Lissie. Her bedroom was at the back of the house, and when I got there, the door was open. I burst through and pounded the side of my fist against the light switch.

The room spun. I reached for the doorframe and pulled in a deep breath to combat the sickening rush of adrenaline. I called out again. "Lissie, are you here?"

There was no reply — no sound at all. No sign of her even after searching beneath the bed and in her closet. I hit the hallway and headed to Isobel's room, but Lissie wasn't there either. My own room was just as empty.

A sob pushed upward into the back of my throat as I raced to the last bedroom. It was there, in Gran's room, where I heard a thump against the wall. Everything in me froze. Then it came again — another soft thump against the far wall.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Hidden"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Kelli Clare LLC.
Excerpted by permission of BookSparks.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Hidden: A Novel 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous 3 days ago
Great book. I enjoyed every page.