King of Hearts by Kay David
She loved him so much, she was willing to kill. He loved her so much, he was willing to die.
One night with bad-girl biker Jessie Delacort should have been enough for straight-laced cop Kingson Landry. But she got under his skin and hasn't let go. Discovering she's an undercover Texas ACES agent makes it even harder to resist her. But he must, because his past could kill Jessie just as easily as it has the other people he loves.
When Jessie Delacort rides into town on her Harley, the last thing she wants is to fall in love with another man who is hiding secrets too dark to reveal. But when they're forced to work together to bring down a powerful drug cartel, Jessie knows she's got it bad for the quiet cop with the haunted eyes.
When the cartel's vengeance-driven leader sets his sights on the two of them, King knows he'll do whatever it takes to keep Jessie safe. Even if that means giving up their chance of turning the white-hot attraction between them into love.
About the Author
Kay David is the author of over thirty romantic suspense novels and holds degrees in behavioral psychology, computer science, and English literature . She has lived extensively overseas in exotic locales, including the Middle East and Latin America, but currently splits her time between Houston and Florida with her husband, Pieter and her two Bengals, Jake and Elwood. Reading is her passion, and when she isn't remodeling homes, running her business, or traveling, you'll find her hidden in her sunroom with a stack of books and a plate of chocolate chip cookies.
Read an Excerpt
The danger that Kingson Landry had fled as a child was closer than ever before. He could smell it better than his horse could smell the rain.
He guided Fancy through the vast darkness, her tail swishing as she walked under a black sky pierced by stars. A harvest moon hung low on the rugged West Texas horizon as the mare chose her path through the scrub brush with confidence; the midnight ride was a ritual they'd shared over the past couple of years. Sometimes King needed it to clear his head, sometimes he needed it for entertainment. More times than not, he needed it to escape the demons — real and otherwise — that relentlessly followed him. Tonight they'd found him anyway. He only hoped nothing else had found him, too.
He rode another hundred yards before the horse stutter-stepped. Pulling on the reins, King spoke softly, trying to reassure the animal. "Whoa, Fancy, hang on ... What's the problem?"
Everything looked the way it always did. Dried grass, skeletal bushes, rocks jutting here and there. The nighttime sounds were normal, as well; the scratching of animals, the wind whistling through a cedar tree, the ticking of the cicadas. But the horse hopped again, this time almost rearing, her disquiet clearly growing.
King had come across a drug courier the night before who'd been using one of the arroyos near the back of his ranch to smuggle in dope. The runners had no respect for anyone's property, fenced or not, including the ranches owned by lawmen. He had arrested the man and thrown him in jail, but he'd posted bail then disappeared. Suspecting something even more ominous was going on than a lone stray drug runner, King had headed out tonight to be certain.
He brought the horse around and trotted her back the way they'd come. Tying her to a skinny mesquite, he slipped from the creaking saddle.
Easing his Sig Sauer from his shoulder rig, he edged forward, holding the pistol in a two-handed grip, his trigger finger resting on the guard. Because he was a Rio County deputy, he never left the ranch house without being armed, but few people in their right mind went without weapons in this part of West Texas. There was too much crime and too few lawmen to quickly respond, as well as the long distances between the ranches.
He was halfway down the ravine when he heard a low growl. A movement to his left caught his eye. He swiveled, tracking his gaze with his weapon.
Two coyotes, scrabbling over a scrap of cloth, froze at his arrival. In the bright moonlight, he could see they were only pups.
In different circumstances, he might have enjoyed watching the animals. Instead, he studied the area where they'd been rolling in the dirt. Loose soil was scattered over the open ground, and broken limbs hung from the nearby bushes. The coyotes' muzzles were dark, covered with something wet and sticky. The rag they were pulling apart was wet-looking, too. Their noses quivering, they took off running, their loping grace carrying them into the darkness. The smell hit King a moment later.
He swept the ravine with his gaze, first one way then the other. The night whispering around him, he waited. Nothing else moved or made any noise. Even the cicadas fell silent as if waiting to see what happened next. When he decided he was alone, he proceeded to the spot where the animals had been squabbling, a prickly pear plant pulling at his pants leg.
He bent over to get a better look at the ragged remnant that'd been shredded by the animals. It was the collar of a uniform of some sort. Buttons gleamed in the moonlight, and part of a seam was clearly visible. One edge looked as though the material had been dipped in something tacky, like glue or syrup. But he knew it wasn't, because he recognized the odor.
His gaze backtracked the pups' progress. They'd dragged the scrap over the rocky soil at least a dozen yards. Their trail was clear in the moonlight, their paw prints showing the way. He straightened and climbed a small rise, then went down into a dip.
A dismembered head sat in the gravel, what was left of its neck lodged in the small stones to make the empty eyes stare straight ahead. The hair was buzzed and dark, and the jaw wore a stubble.
Near one ear, King suddenly caught a glimmer of something shiny. Crouching down and balancing on his fingertips so he wouldn't disturb the scene more than he already had, he studied what turned out to be a dangling earring.
A small gold bead held the post snug against the head's pierced ear. Suspended from the ball hung a delicate chain, no more than a quarter-inch long. A heart hung at the end of it, with a tiny diamond at its center. The charm twirled gently as if set in motion by an invisible hand.
A soccer ball had hit King in the gut when he was ten years old, and the wind had been sucked from his lungs. He'd had no time to prepare, to defend himself, to realize what had happened while he'd been looking the other way.
He felt exactly like that now, his mouth pulling for a breath that refused to come.
The last time he'd seen that earring was the day his father had been murdered. The jewelry had been a gift for King's sister.
She'd never gotten to wear it. Two days later, she was dead, too.
As Jessie Delacourt reached King Landry's ranch, she couldn't help but recall the first time they'd met. She'd thought Texas summers sizzled until that night, when she'd learned what hot really meant.
It had also been the first time they'd made love.
Driving by the cattle guard that protected King's place, she did a U-turn down the highway, pulling to a stop on the shoulder of the blacktop. Her Harley's engine rumbled into silence. The pavement stretched forever on either side of her, the vast loneliness eating away at the moonlight. She'd often wondered if her feelings of isolation had been responsible for that one- night stand. She didn't normally fall for the allure of a hookup, but something about the deputy had made the temptation too strong to resist.
He'd had the whole cool Nordic look going with the icy blue eyes and tall, lean form, but the moment he'd put his hands on her, she'd realized his calm collectedness was a faÃ§ade — inside, the man smoldered. He'd generated a need inside of her that had begged to be satisfied, the secrets behind his cold stare ceasing to be important. He hadn't known her, but he'd been a quick learner, finding all the spots she longed to have touched. If she hadn't been blown away by what he was doing, she might have wondered how he had figured her out this quickly.
She shoved the memory of that night into the back of her mind.
Punching a button on her helmet, she turned on her phone, using her voice control to call Timothy Santos, her boss and the leader of ACES, the undercover unit of Texas Rangers. He'd invited her to join the Ammunition, Contraband, and Explosive Suppression Team after she'd left the military three years ago where she'd served as a medic. ACES had been Santos's baby from day one.
"I'm here," she said when Santos answered, letting him know she was outside King's ranch, where he'd ordered her to go ten minutes before without anything in the way of explanation.
She was accustomed to following Santos's commands without question. ACES had come to Rio County with one thing in mind. They were searching for a vicious cartel leader who killed or tortured everyone who got in his way. Working under the name of El Brujo, or the Sorcerer, he sold drugs, guns, and women, not necessarily in that order. His real name was Pablo Ortega, and he used the local bikers to do his dirty work. Disguising themselves as the Smokin' Aces biker gang, the agents of ACES had made it known to the local clubs that they were ready to help with their shadier activities in any way possible. The closer they got to Ortega, the faster they could arrest him.
"Can you see anything from the road?" Santos asked.
Her eyes scanned the darkness. "Not a soul," she said. "What's up?"
"Rose called. King found a body on his ranch about an hour ago. Or if I want to be accurate, I guess I should say he found a head."
When ACES had first come to town, Jessie hadn't liked Sheriff Rose Renwick, but a lot had passed in that time. The sheriff and Santos had a history, and if their relationship now was any indication, it looked as if they had a future together as well. King was her deputy. And since the ACES worked in concert with local law enforcement, both knew about and protected the ACES' true identities.
Jessie wished she could forget her history with King, too, damn him. Along with his touch.
She forced herself to concentrate on the matter at hand. "A head and nothing else? That doesn't sound good."
"I'm sure the guy who used to have it on his shoulders feels the same way."
Someone yelled in the background, and Santos's voice turned harsh as he called in return, "Hang on, dammit, I'm coming."
She heard an old Allman Brother's song playing in the background. Santos had to be at the Ice House. Most of the bikers for two hundred miles considered the scuzzy bar their second home, the Smokin' Aces among them. While undercover biker Jessie loved it, it wasn't Texas Ranger Jessie's favorite spot in the world. She wasn't a Neiman Marcus kind of gal, but she did like a place where fighting off hairy bikers with sex on their minds wasn't part of the atmosphere. Maybe she'd been in the military too long. She liked her bars cleaner and her men a little less rough.
Over the phone, Santos spoke to Jessie again. "This shit's got Ortega's signature all over it. He's the only cartel man operating in Rio County now — he'd never allow anyone else to do something like this in his territory, not to mention that either side of the border, there's no one who cuts off heads like he does. I'd come over there myself, except we're stuck here waiting for a truck making a run to El Paso."
Contraband flowed through Rio County in a never-ending stream, and the local cartel controlled the faucet. As part of their undercover status, Smokin' Aces offered "protection" for some of the runs, doing whatever was necessary to stay in the game.
"Do you want me to try and get closer? I could go down his driveway a bit —"
"No. It's too risky. At this point, we don't know what's going on. Someone might see you going through his gate or riding up the road to the house. Stay where you are and see what you can see."
Santos spoke as she started to disconnect the call. "Keep a sharp lookout, Jessie," he warned. "All this commotion is bound to lift a few rocks. You never know what might crawl out if the bikers get nervous."
Like a rising ghost, thoughts of King returned as she switched off the Harley's engine and removed her helmet, shaking her hair loose. The silence was as deep as the darkness until she heard the faint whine of a car engine. Staring into the distance, she couldn't tell where the sound had originated. The expanses of mountain ridges and empty spaces affected noises strangely, sometimes delivering them from — or sending them to — unexpected directions. She'd come to accept West Texas for what it was, the vast vistas, the lavender sunsets, the mountains and the ravines, but the emptiness still left her uneasy. Sometimes she imagined she was the only person left in the world, especially on a night like tonight.
She'd felt that way the night she and King had run into each other at the Ice House. She'd been there working the room for information as she was almost every night, and he'd been there for the same reason everyone else was, to blow off some steam and scratch an itch that couldn't be scratched anywhere else.
In uniform or not, he had the bearing of a Texas lawman. The main thing that didn't fit the mold was the blond hair that curled a little too long beneath his hat. She'd immediately wanted to thread her fingers through that hair and learn if it felt as silky as it looked.
She'd always been a sucker for men who filled a room and took control of it the minute they walked in.
That was what he'd done that night, causing something to flip inside her gut. He'd acted as if he owned the whole damn state but not in an arrogant way. He commanded that kind of attention, whether or not he meant to. They'd walked outside together after sharing a few drinks, and he had suddenly pulled her toward him and kissed her with an intensity that hijacked her good sense. After that, she'd had no control over her emotions or her body. They'd stumbled toward his pickup and ripped off each other's clothes like a couple of teenagers with crazy hormones.
She'd never forget his reaction after he'd learned she was one of Santos's undercover agents. Shock, fury, disappointment — she'd seen each reaction flash in his angry gaze. She hadn't understood, and he hadn't bothered to explain. His attitude had hurt, but she'd chalked it up to the nature of their encounter. One-night stands weren't meant to be anything except incredible sex with a stranger you couldn't resist. Afterward, you went your separate ways. Anything else was called a relationship.
And that was the last thing she wanted. She'd had one before with a lawman whose cool demeanor hid disturbing secrets, and that had almost done her in. Didn't they say stupidity's definition was repeating a bad situation and expecting a different outcome?
With a quick glance over her shoulder to check the road, Jessie pulled out the night-vision binoculars she kept in her saddlebags and lifted them to her eyes. Her world turned green and black, a few flickers of movement catching her attention: a jackrabbit here, a mule deer there. Otherwise, nothing but darkness. The engine noise died, and she heard the distant thump of a car door slamming.
Dropping the glasses to her side, Jessie listened closely. The voices of a man and a woman drifted by on a puff of wind. She swept her gaze across the horizon, the night folding over her like a black blanket.
The growl of a motorcycle, possibly another Harley judging by the sound of it, broke the silence, and she pivoted to stare down the highway. A single beam of light split the road before dipping out of sight again. When it jumped back up, she knew the bike was definitely a Harley. The rider was caning it, driving so aggressively Jessie didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of taking off before he reached her. Throwing the binoculars into her saddlebag, she grabbed a wrench and kneeled beside her bike.
The light of the headlamp jerked toward her as the rider apparently spotted her. He downshifted and began to slow, popping through his gears. Thirty seconds later, he rolled to a stop behind her, a tailspin of dust accompanying him. Jessie held her hand up to protect her eyes from the grit and light, then cursed under her breath when she saw who straddled the Harley.
Dickie Barclay was a lowlife from a local chapter who'd been pestering Jessie since the day she'd arrived. He clearly thought if he kept trying long enough, she'd give in to his advances.
"Well, if it ain't Miss Prissy Pants," he drawled after cutting his engine. "What are you doing out here all alone?"
"Just checking things out," she said, her voice low and easy. "Engine felt a little rough. What are you doing?"
"I been working." His answer was vague as he pulled off his gloves and grinned at her. "But I'm ready to par-tay now. Wanna join me?"
"Nah, I'm good. Gonna fix this and get on home."
Coincidence was a fairy tale she didn't believe in. Was Dickie one of the things that had crawled from beneath the rocks Santos had mentioned? Had he been sent by one of Rio's less-than-reputable citizens to see what she was doing? The chances were slim to none that the tall biker would randomly appear outside King's ranch when a body part had been found on it.
When she stood and hefted the wrench, he stopped short. She pretended she hadn't noticed. "I got it covered."
"You sure?" He smirked. "I'm pretty good with my hands."
She pretended to ignore his innuendo, too. "I appreciate the offer. But I don't want to hold you up."
"The night's early yet. No rush. Border ain't going anywhere. You sure you don't wanna go with me? We could get your bike tomorrow when we mosey on back. Hell, no one ever comes by here. It'd be safe."
How did he know that? Had he been out here on a regular basis for some reason? Like scouting for a place to leave a dismembered head?
"I got things to do." Her answer was as ambiguous as his had been. "Sorry."
"I don't like leaving you out here with no one nearby." He leered at her again. "Somebody bad might come along and try to take advantage of you."
Excerpted from "King of Hearts"
Copyright © 2013 Carla Luan.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have not read the first one but felt like this could be used as a standalone novel. Secrets will never stay hidden is what I always believe. And in this story that is for sure. Kingson has many of these and when they are slowly starting to come back up, what is a man suppose to do to keep these buried. The author described Jessie Delacort as a bad-girl biker and let me tell you in my mind I would definitely have to say she is correct except with a more descriptive word that I can’t use on here. Love kills I would almost say and these two are definitely in for a ride of their life because with Kingson’s past and Jessie’s love they will have to battle the war that is coming towards them. The author couldn’t have picked out two better characters than what they did for this book because I think these two balance each other out. While one wants to keep the other safe, the other wants to take the horns and run full speed ahead. I always love to see what authors do with uncover characters and to me the author did a great job with this book especially when they added the extra excitement in. Who wouldn’t want to take down the drug cartel? Lol I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. ~ Sue Ellen (Girlygirlbookreviews)
I really enjoyed this book and even though I haven’t read the first book I didn't feel like I was missing anything (although having read this book I want to go back and read the first one). The history between King and Jessie added a delightful tension that kept you reading on to see where the case would take them both professionally and personally. This is my fist read from Kay David but I will be on the lookout for more from this author. I received an eARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Solid Read - Lots of Action and Heat!.....Solid 3.5 stars! Kingston Landry is a good cop, but he has secrets from his past that are catching up with him. Jessie Delacort is an undercover agent and has been burned before by men with secrets. They spent one night together months ago, and now, after a series of crimes take place, they must work together to bring down a powerful drug cartel. Jessie can’t help the wild attraction she feels for King… “He’d had the whole cool Nordic look going with the icy blue eyes and tall, lean form, but the moment he’d put his hands on her, she’d realized his calm collectedness was a façade – inside, the man smoldered.” …but she needs to protect her heart from being broken again. “His secrets separated the two of them like a curtain she couldn’t see behind, though it seemed important that she do so.” That realization jarred her. The last thing she needed – the very last thing – was to fall for another cop with a hidden agenda.” King wants Jessie like he’s wanted no one before, but because of his past he knows he needs to keep her at a distance to keep her safe – something that he can’t seem to do… “He drifted, thinking about the pleasure Jessie had brought him and his out-of-control emotions that were turning into love. Either of these could mean her death if news of this night and the depth of his feeling for her got back to Ortega.” …but those secrets continue to drive them apart. “Sometimes secrets are necessary.” She spoke as if she knew what he was thinking “Secrets may be necessary in your life, but they aren’t in mine.” As Jessie and King work to bring Ortega and his drug cartel down, King must confront not only the demons from his past but also those that stand to threaten his future. I really enjoyed this book. Even though it was the second installment in the Smokin’ Aces series, I don’t think I missed anything by not having read book #1 – Texas Hold ‘Em. I loved the all the tension between King and Jessie, especially all the bantering and innuendos that got thrown around. Loved that the ACES were undercover as a motorcycle club and Jessie’s undercover persona was a bad-ass biker chick! There were a few plot points that I thought could have been further developed, but all in all this was a good read that kept me turning the pages. I received an eARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.