Private investigator Esmeralda “Peach” Morales watches in horror as the crane her uncle is operating topples into Lake Erie. He disappears and she’s convinced he’ll be the scapegoat. She’ll do anything to prove he’s innocent. Seducing the lead investigator is just part of her strategy, at least that’s what she tells herself.
Thomas Riley is at Elderberry Farm when he learns of a deadly crane accident in Cleveland. The forensic investigator suspects sabotage and amid the rubble and mangled metal he uncovers a web of lies and deception. At the center of it all is a beautiful brunette who always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Both fiercely independent, they must learn to work together––inside and outside the bedroom––to unravel the mystery and clear her uncle’s name.
Each book in the Lost series is a standalone, full-length story that can be enjoyed out of order.
Book 1 – Lost In Tennessee
Book 2 – Lost in Shadows
Book 3 - Lost in Deception
About the Author
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Saturday, April 8 mid-morning
Peach Morales stopped her grandfather's Chevy Silverado overlooking the construction site fifty feet below and a quarter mile away. She threw the Beast into park, where it grumbled like an old bear trying to find a comfortable spot. The white full size pick-up had nearly 300,000 miles under its belt and ran reliably despite sitting idle as glaucoma slowly stole her Poppy's sight. For the last two weeks, she shared the job of exercising the monster with her uncle, Rico.
Binoculars around her neck, she climbed out of the cab and then up on the hood. The wind and cold made for a brutal day on the Lake Erie shore. Inland, it may have been above freezing, but here on Cleveland's north coast, her fingers were icicles. She tightened the belt on her too-thin coat, pulled on a pair of knit gloves, and looked to the sky for her uncle.
Rico Morales was crazy, as far as she was concerned. He worked as a crane operator, and for this job, he sat in the tower that loomed three hundred feet in the air over the frigid water. Beneath it, a steel skeleton took form.
"Found you." She watched her uncle through the binoculars. She was too far away to see the details of his familiar face, lined and weathered by too many seasons in the sun. Below him, a man stood on the steel structure, guiding the crane actions. Peach waited and watched for his break to come. Then she would take the forgotten lunch down to her Tío Rico.
Raising her phone, she began to record the site. Her grandfather would get a kick out of watching Rico work. While she complained about the weather, and the wind, and the flurries that still flew, her uncle reveled in it. He had come back to Cleveland just for this job and the chance to spend a few months with his father. It had been a happy coincidence that she had returned home just a week later.
The hook was released from the load, and her uncle swung the hook around, lowering it to the ground where a decking made of steel triangles waited. Two others just like it were in place, adding ribbing to the spine of the structure. The panels were the size of a baseball diamond's infield with an arc that kept the belly high enough off the ground that a man walked beneath. The line from the crane went slack. Her uncle's silhouette twisted and stretched in the small space. She paused the video and switched to the phone, pressing the contact button next to the picture of a grinning man.
"Hola, sobrina." His voice was smooth and mellow, unhurried, characteristic of his easy-going nature.
She spoke in her grandfather's language, one she hadn't heard nearly enough of until she came home. "Hello, my crazy uncle. Are you enjoying the weather today?"
"It is a beautiful day for flying." Joy was tangible in his voice. "I have the best job in the world. I can reach out and touch heaven."
She shook her head. Around her, trees that had not yet begun to green were dancing in the wind. Wave after wave crashed against the rocky shoreline below, roaring like a lion. "If this weather gets any more beautiful, I'm going to need to buy a parka. Do you know how hard that is to do in April?"
Her uncle laughed. "Why have you come today? Certainly, you have more interesting things to do than harass an old man."
"Of course I have more interesting things to do. I'm highly sought after by every ambulance chaser and suspicious soon-to-be ex-wife in Greater Cleveland. I had to tell them all to call back later. My favorite tío ran out of the house without his lunch again. What kind of sobrina would I be if I let you waste away up there in heaven?"
"You see how good of a woman you are? Taking care of Poppy and me the way the you do? I know you took good care of that boy of yours."
Her uncle was like a dog with a bone. She had made the mistake one evening of admitting to a long-term relationship and that she'd ended it before coming back to Ohio. All of which was true. Still, her uncle caught that there was something more to the truth and found a way to shimmy the topic into a conversation at the most unexpected times. Anderson had hardly been a boy, but as it turned out, he had been a rat snake bastard. "There's nothing to tell, Uncle. I'm just ... in between boyfriends at the moment."
"You are too good a woman to be in between. Give me thirty minutes and we'll talk. I have one more lift, another of the interesting ones of the project."
After years of his stories, she knew a lift meant the stuff — equipment, materials, supplies — that he was moving with the crane. There was a lot more math involved than she would have guessed, and her brilliant uncle did it all in his head.
"What makes it so interesting?"
"That artistic pile of steel weighs half of my baby's capacity." All his cranes were female, and they were all his baby. "Add in the wind and you have a lift that eight out of ten operators wouldn't make."
Her hair stood on end, and her heart thumped hard enough she felt it in her ears. "Tío? Maybe you shouldn't —"
He cut her off with laughter. "Have confidence in my skills, niña. This is nothing compared to the lift I had to do in a tropical storm to get that storm gate to close. I will see you on the ground. Thirty minutes. Ride along with me, sobrina, but do not talk."
She muted her phone to ensure she didn't slip and distract him, then began recording again. With her fingers, she zoomed to the activity. A smaller crane went into motion, raising a basket into the air. Three men in the basket were silhouetted against the gray sky. The slack in her uncle's line was taken up.
He hummed in her ear, a silly choice she thought, a song from her childhood about a stubborn woman and a more stubborn goat. Behind his voice was the crackle of a radio. The sputtered sounds were recognized as human but otherwise unintelligible.
A second shadow popped into view. A man's head.
"Hello, Joe, whaddya know?" her uncle said. "I'd offer you a seat, but this one is occupied."
"No worries, Rico. They said your radio was dead and you needed a new one." The voice was quiet but understandable with the Midwest accent.
"What? There's the radio. It's working just fi — what the ... this isn't right." Mild surprise colored the whispered voice. "This isn't right. Abort."
"Rico?" Fear pinched her throat until her voice was the squeak of a mouse.
"I don't know how long I can hold her." The cab lurched toward the land, and a body planted against the window. Still her uncle's voice was calm. "Come on, baby. We got this." The boom swung around, a drunk trying to balance on one foot. The suspended steel frame raced to the ground. Ten more seconds and it would be — the cab lurched again, this time toward the lake. It didn't stop. Two men screamed. It was her uncle's gut-wrenching, terror-filled scream that filled her ear, her head, her body. She swung the binoculars left and right and, seeing only clouds, dropped them. She stood on the truck hood.
"RICO!" She yelled his name over and over until her voice was gone. It was then that she heard it. Silence. The sound of emptiness, of loss. Then raw shouting floated up from the construction site. She lifted her gaze to where men scrambled like ants over the immense iron structure. The voices warred with the primordial roar of a disgruntled lake. Above the tumult, metal screamed in protest as it strained and then popped in surrender. With morbid elegance, the steel bowed, burrowing itself in the waiting arms of Erie.
Same day, early evening
Tom Riley still wore his tuxedo, his emotions as turbulent as the air the little plane cut through. He had woken this morning thinking he knew what the day would bring, but life blindsided him with other plans. An accident on the construction site of a family friend had him running out of the wedding of two of his best friends. When opportunity knocked, a smart man at least listened to what she had to say. A crane had toppled, and men were dead, missing, and injured. Skills few possessed were needed. He had acquired those skills dedicating thousands of hours over the last year to the study of forensic structural engineering just for situations such as this one.
The thought flashed him back to this same time last year. He had come to the small town outside Nashville with his partner and cousin Kate Riley to build their first landmark project. Life interceded in those plans, too, putting Katie in the path of her now husband, country music star Butch McCormick, and a sinister plot. Everyone had looked at Katie for the murders, but he knew with certainty his cousin, who was more like a sister, was innocent. She needed evidence, and he found it in the most unlikely place.
That ignited a passion in him for truth and drove him to a PhD in near record time. Going to Cleveland, Ohio, to the project owned by Frank Fabrini was the next big step for his career and the first paying customer for the forensic department of Riley Architects and Engineers.
Fabrini's voice, thick as syrup, rough as gravel, echoed in his head. "There's been an accident on my site. I need to know what happened, and before you say it, fuck some government investigation. I need to know what happened, Tom. I have seven men hurt, two dead, and three more missing."
He didn't say no. He couldn't. Hand pressed to his stomach, he willed it to settle. His body was practically vibrating with anticipation, and well, it disturbed him. The scene he raced to wasn't a good one; he shouldn't be looking forward to it. But he was. His head, getting way ahead of the facts, pictured the details, the work, the conversations, and the minute he figured it all out. The crane fell because ... He would know soon.
He wouldn't be where he was without family. The sacrifices Katie had made, taking on more with their company, enabled him to jet between Tennessee and Michigan to study. Now it was Jeb McCormick, the groom, going above and beyond. Jeb had caught Tom huddled in the barn over his phone, probably looking like a junkie getting a fix. He was ex-sheriff and ex-military, and bullshitting didn't work.
"I just got a call," Tom had admitted. "There's been an accident on his construction site, and hard questions need to be asked. He wants me to come."
"And you need to go. Let me make a call or two. We'll get you where you need to be," Jeb said without pause and then made the arrangements. Jeb's wife of two hours, Carolina Walker, volunteered to do research for him.
Good people. He choked up. No, it is family.
While the wedding reception was in full swing at the home they called Elderberry Farm, Tom soared through a sky filled with voluminous clouds, each in a different shade of gray. The overwhelming emotion passed, and he focused on the file that had been emailed to him. He began with the important part — the dead. Tony Argento was an iron worker with eight years' experience. He'd been in the basket with Bill Williams, a foreman with over twenty years under his belt. When the tower crane collapsed, it hit the crane suspending their basket, pulling them down with it. The third man in the basket was among with missing. The project engineer, Joe Carter, started with F&F out of college three years ago.
Two others were missing. The crane operator, Rico Morales, was a twenty-five-year veteran operator. He hired on with F&F Construction to operate the leased crane. Finally, there was Jack Hawthorne — the name was a sucker punch to the gut. Back when Tom had been a smart-mouthed sixteen-year-old kid, Jack taught him everything there was to know about concrete. They'd lost track of each other, but time hadn't changed the fact that Jack was a friend. He'd been in the cab of the tower crane when it collapsed. Why hadn't Fabrini told him Jack was among the missing?
Tom fought back an unexpected wave of grief. There was no emotion with concrete and steel. That was one of the reasons his analytical brain loved it. When concrete and steel failed, there was a mathematical, logical reason. Figuring out that reason was the puzzle he savored. Somehow, he didn't consider that when a structure collapsed, it might take people he knew with it.
The flight had been too short to read the report in detail, but he had the night. A brief taxi ride put him at the front desk of a five-star hotel at prime dinner time. "Dr. Thomas Riley, checking in." There was a lot to appreciate in the well-appointed foyer, which included the pretty lady whose efficient fingers were busy on the keyboard. He set his driver's license and credit card on the counter.
"Welcome to Cleveland, Dr. Riley." She took his license, looked between the picture and his face, and nodded with a slight smile on her pink lips. "There is a card on file for the room and incidentals, and there is a message for you." She slid a small envelope across the counter with the license and credit card.
He withdrew the single sheet of paper. The looping scrawl was feminine, but the message all Fabrini.
The Steakhouse. 7PM. Don't keep me waiting. FF.
"No rest for the wicked," he said, shoving the note in his pocket. "Where is The Steakhouse?"
"It is across the square." She pointed to the front window where the name glowed in tall white letters. "Would you like your bags taken to your room?"
"No, thank you. I think I'll freshen up first." You don't meet a contractor wearing a tuxedo without somebody being dead. The gallows humor, for the first time, gave him pause.
"But ... it's nearly seven." Her frown revealed she'd taken the message.
He winked to put her at ease, imagining the tact Fabrini had used. "I know."
Saturday, April 8 seven twenty p.m.
Tom took his time changing from the shirt sweaty from the tight travel quarters to a crisp button down topped with a tweed coat. Outside the hotel, he dodged the cold raindrops and hustled to the restaurant. Between the dim light outside and the low-level lighting in the restaurant, it took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the darkened interior.
"Good evening. Can I help you?" a soft voice offered.
He shook his head like a dog and then focused on the feminine shape. Shoulders were bare to the swell of her breasts. Arms were exposed except for a length of gold around her wrist. Legs were equally nude, thigh to ankle, and also finished in a wink of gold.
He appreciated her style, but this was business, not pleasure. "I'm meeting someone. Frank Fabrini."
The intriguing little smile on the hostess's face fell for a moment before recovering quickly. "He is in the bar. This way, please."
He followed Micro-skirt into the long bar, which was busy on the Saturday night. There sat the man, alone at a window table, away from the hustle of the crowd. The years showed in the lines on his face and the notches on his belt. Money may no longer be an object, but he still dressed like a contractor. The button-down plaid shirt laid tight across the broad chest and belly. Sleeves were rolled to his elbows, displaying forearms still thick and sinewy with muscle.
"I see him. Thanks." Tom released the hostess and worked his way through the cramped aisle. He danced with a blonde in a white blouse until they finally slid past each other in the narrow opening. A waitress with a full tray wove through the crowd, directly in his path. He made room by stepping close to two blondes at the bar sipping martinis. At the askance glare, he used levity to dispel the awkward moment. "British Martini Authority. I do hope those are shaken, not stirred. I'm Riley. Thomas Riley. And you?"
"Tiffany," one said.
The other pulled the garnish from her drink and toyed with it. "You can call me Mz. Behaving."
He laughed out loud and then signaled the bartender. "The next round is on me." The waitress passed, and he stepped out again. "Tiffany. Mz ..."
Suddenly, harsh voices soiled the jovial space. A man in a dress shirt and tie muscled a woman with raven hair out of a chair at the bar. "I run a clean place, lady. Take your tricks out of here before I call the cops." The man held the woman firmly by the elbow.
"You moron. I wasn't propositioning him." The woman tossed her head toward the overly white blob of a man parked on the next stool.
The manager frowned at the woman, who looked too expensive to have any real interest in a man like her trick. "Yeah. Right. You're out of here," he said and pulled the woman toward the door.
Excerpted from "Lost in Deception"
Copyright © 2017 Anita DeVito.
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
Holy habanero, now that was one hell of a romantic suspense! DeVito splendidly balances the heat, drama, suspense and action with Lost in Deception, bringing this original storyline to life...not to mention it really sets it apart from other reads out there. A must-read! Please note that an ARC was generously provided in exchange for an honest review of which this is both honest and completely voluntary.
The story starts with Peach Morales going to give her uncle his lunch. She stops en route, talking to him by phone and watching him operating the huge crane. She videos it to share with her grandfather, not expecting to record the crane toppling over into the near Lake Erie . . . . She knows it isn’t her Uncle’s fault and is determined to put her skills as a private investigator to use to help discover who is and to prove her Uncle innocent . . . . Thomas Riley is a forensic investigator who is called to investigate the crane crash. Everywhere he turns he keeps meeting Peach . . . . working together could help solve the investigation but, despite their mutual attraction, they’re both stubborn, independent and determined so it certainly won’t be an uneventful collaboration! This romantic suspense is packed with drama and some very entertaining antics! The author is skilled at balancing the humour, steam, action and mystery to keep readers enthralled from start to finish. Peach is a brilliant character, sassy, feisty and sneaky and her interactions with others are memorable! Tom is the strong silent type but Peach certainly breaks down his barriers! With a wrecked hotel room, fiery encounters and so much more, this is a real page turner that I have no hesitation in highly recommending. I requested and was given a copy of this book via NetGalley and this is my honest opinion after choosing to read it.
Esmeralda “Peach” Morales sees something she doesn’t ever expect to see. She shows to what lengths some people will go to for family – do not try this at home. But the story is about the love of family and that can be tried at home. The scene is one that will grab the reader’s attention. Tom Riley is a man that likes to solve puzzles. We get to find out about who Tom is as a man and what shaped him into what he is now. But I found that I was more curious about Peach and what seems to make her tick. She was very good at holding her own and I liked the fact that she also served her country. In Tom’s favor, I will say that when he was in the same space as Peach, you could feel the heat and his interest. This was a story that is part of a series but could be considered a standalone. I can’t say that you won’t feel lost by not reading the previous book because I already did. But I could use the excuse that I will have to go back and read it again and then make up for lost time and make sure to check out book one. I loved the interactions between our two main characters and the suspense that the author scatters throughout the story. And if not for this series I might not have discovered a new author that I plan to keep on my radar. I was not compensated nor was I required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
Received an ARC for my fair review for netgalley. This was the third in the series, and it was enjoyable. This book was about Tom, who was a nerd in a gorgeous packet. Tom was hired by an old friend of the family to investigate an accident, while doing so he meet Peach, an ex military bad ass chick. Peach is also investigating the accident, but she is out to prove that her uncle was not responsible. Tom and Peach are combustible together, Peach was a trip, and we get to read about the rest of the gang, loved them, I can't wait for Noah's next.
LOVED this book! Peach is a sassy and clever private investigator that watches her uncle fall from a crane in a tragic accident. Tom is the engineer called by the company's owner to investigate the accident and determine what happened. Peach begins her investigation by eavesdropping and snooping, leading to some very entertaining scenes....and one totally trashed hotel room. I loved the interactions between Peach and everyone else. She's the type of character you'd love to have as a friend. This is a smartly written romantic suspense that fans of the genre will love - this one is a must read! I've addd the author to my must read authors' list.