He was the geek. She was the homecoming queen.
Now he's the only one who can help her...
Meredith Sanders was the golden girl in high school - a homecoming queen with a trail of worshipping minions. Now she's all grown up with a trail of failed marriages. The only good thing she has in her life is her brilliant and beautiful teenaged step-daughter...who's missing. But the best man for the job has a serious hate-on for her.
Back in high school, queen bee Meredith made Travis Brennan's life miserable. Since then, he's gone from class geek to a hardened, former SEAL, specializing in private security. As much as he wants to help Meredith's step-daughter, he can't help but clash with the gorgeous woman who once made his life hell.
But as they investigate the increasingly mysterious disappearance, their conflicted past threatens to turn into a very provocative present...
|Publisher:||Entangled Publishing, LLC|
|File size:||2 MB|
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Love You Madly
By Ashlee Mallory, Alycia Tornetta
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Ashlee Mallory
All rights reserved.
It was a blistering hundred and two in the shade as Meredith Sanders crossed the parking lot, her heels digging into the hot pavement. She could practically smell the ozone in the dry desert air. Stepping into the coffee shop, she welcomed the familiar nutty aroma and cool refrigerated air that assailed her. She slid her sunglasses up to perch on top of her head and glanced around the room for her appointment.
It was crowded for a late Thursday afternoon, and she counted four different guys sitting alone. Most of them were too preoccupied talking or texting on their cell phones to bother a glance toward the door. All but one. He could be the guy.
As if cued into her thoughts, he made eye contact and waved. He was very good-looking, which somewhat surprised her, since she'd expected some guy with a face slashed with scars, maybe a dozen tattoos, and a brooding, angry gaze. When she didn't move, he rose and started toward her. Fairly tall and weight lifter buff, his dark hair was as perfectly formed as his wide, white smile. He gave her a once-over glance followed by a long appreciative smirk.
He would be putty in her hands.
She only hoped he'd have some smarts to go with that brawn, since without his help, she had no clue how to go about finding her daughter.
Her new Coach leather handbag hooked at her elbow, Meredith met him halfway.
"Wow. You are certainly different than I pictured you," he said and offered her his hand.
At least he has manners.
Only, when she reached her hand out to his, she was yanked nearly out of her shoes as he pulled her into him and wrapped his barrel-sized arms around her in an overly familiar hug.
She stiffened. This was a little friendlier of a greeting than she expected from a professional ... what? Hit man? Mercenary? Bodyguard? She hadn't really asked the guy's title when they'd arranged this meeting barely four hours before.
"Here. I already found us a table." In another too-friendly move, he rested his hand on her lower back and guided her to the table. "Can I get you something to drink?"
"No. I'd rather just get things started, if you don't mind."
He gave her a salacious grin. "I can tell you right now, I really like what I see."
"Excuse me?" He couldn't be implying what she thought he was.
He laughed. "What's the play here? Are you, like, playing bitchy Barbie? I mean, I knew you liked kinky. And I've been naughty." He leaned forward, lowering his voice. "You wanna spank me?"
What the hell was wrong with his guy? She'd expected uncouth and boorish, but outright offensive and perverted were another thing.
"I don't know what kind of woman you think I am, Travis, but this is strictly a business relationship. And frankly, your attitude concerns me. If I report this behavior to my father, he'll never do business with your —"
"Whoa. Hey. Take it down a notch, babe. Who the hell is Travis? My name's Jason. And your father? Holy shit. You're too old to be one of those prissy daddy's girls who —"
Old? She was still one full year away from her thirtieth birthday.
Before she could launch herself at him, a man approached their table, his voice low and gruff. "Excuse me."
Though not nearly as tall as Jason or as bloated with muscles, there was a solidness in this guy's mass that was evident under the formfitting black tee and faded jeans. His dark blond hair was cut short and neat, almost military in its style — or lack thereof. But it was his eyes — green and cold and devoid of any obvious emotion — that caught her attention.
A thrill of something she couldn't identify rushed through her.
His voice remained quiet and calm. "A woman named Angie is here for you." He nodded toward the door, where a vapid-looking brunette with split ends Meredith could see from here and a skirt that barely covered her spindly assets was waiting.
"What? Didn't you say your name was Angie?" the guy asked her, confusion clear on that too-pretty face.
"Absolutely not. I think we must have been under some mistaken presumptions here." She rose, slinging her handbag back over her wrist. Angie could have him. Without another word, she turned and looked right into the face of the new arrival.
He was barely a nose taller than her, although the height difference might have been more noticeable had she not been wearing three-inch sandals. No pretty boy face like Jason, who was already making a beeline to the door. This guy looked like he'd broken his nose at least a half dozen times, and his face could stand to have a razor blade cross it, and ... sure enough, there was a scar under his eye. Just as she would have pictured on a security goon.
But his lips ... his lips did surprise her. Even with the frown on his face that hadn't budged, there was a sensuousness to their fullness.
"Travis?" she asked.
He nodded once and took her elbow. "I've got us a seat right behind you."
She turned to see a small alcove that had been hidden from her sight when she arrived. She must have walked right past him. He, on the other hand, would have had a clear shot of the door and everyone coming and going. From the distance their table was to where she had been seated, he'd undoubtedly heard all of the disgusting things Jason had said.
And taken his sweet time in coming to her aid.
Meredith took a seat on the leather bench of the small booth, leaving him to sit across from her. Travis didn't speak for a moment, quietly assessing her.
She cleared her throat. "You're the man my father sent?"
He gave her a single nod again. "Why don't you tell me everything about the situation."
His curtness was throwing her off more than she'd like. "Wouldn't you care to confirm who I am?"
He just looked at her. "I'm well aware who you are. Meredith." For the slightest moment, she thought she saw something other than impassivity enter his face, then it was gone. "But your daughter has been missing for approximately fourteen hours. The smartest thing would be to get the pertinent facts so I can do my job and make sure she's safe and back in her mother's loving embrace."
Was that reproach in his tone? Whatever. She wasn't here to make friends. "Darcy turned eighteen as of last week." Before he could ask the inevitable question, she added, "She was eleven when I married her father, so, yes, she's technically my stepdaughter. But it doesn't change anything about how I feel —"
"Tell me about when you last saw her and why you think something's wrong."
She gritted her teeth. "She had a babysitting job last night. Left just before six. I expected her home by eleven, midnight at the latest. Only ... she never made it home — and all of my calls go directly to voicemail."
"Could she have gone to a friend's?"
"Unlikely." How could she explain to this guy that Darcy just didn't do spontaneous things like that? Darcy was about order, lists, scheduled activities. If she was going to go out with friends, she would have called or texted.
At least, that was her daughter's usual MO.
"I already called her friends. Her best friend, Cassidy, didn't know where she was. Hasn't seen her ..." She paused, deciding how much to share. "Cassidy claimed she hasn't seen Darcy for a couple of weeks, which can't be true, because Darcy has been over there late practically every night for the past month." Or so Darcy had told her. A sinking in her heart told her that maybe Darcy hadn't been telling her everything.
"No. Darcy wasn't seeing anyone. Look. I know my daughter," she said with more resolution. "As I told the police, she is not and never has been one to just disappear like this. She started volunteering at the library a few weeks ago. Reads to the kids every Tuesday and Thursday at ten. They called this afternoon. She didn't show up. Darcy loves reading to them. She wouldn't miss that for anything."
"Okay. What did the police say?"
She scoffed. "That she's an adult and until she's been missing twenty-four hours, she isn't a priority. I filed the missing person report and was told to follow up if I hadn't heard anything by Monday."
When it would be too late.
Travis nodded. "One possible angle would be that someone kidnapped her for a ransom. You haven't received anything? No notes, odd phone calls, or hang-ups?"
Kidnapped. For the first time since she'd realized Darcy hadn't come home, the ominous possibilities were staring her in the face. She shook her head in bewilderment.
"I'm going to need a little more background. Need to make sure we eliminate all possibilities short of something more sinister. What is her relationship with her father? Her biological mother? Have either of them heard from her?"
She loathed going into any details of her private life — particularly with this man — but it couldn't be helped. "Darcy's father died five years ago. Her mother hasn't been involved in her life since she was seven. Frankly, I wouldn't even know how to contact her. Last we heard, she moved to Italy. Sends the occasional birthday card when and if she remembers."
"Would Darcy have tried to reach out to her? Maybe decide to visit her and have some long-awaited confrontation. A reunion?"
"No. Darcy has never wanted to have anything to do with that woman. Not since she — she left."
Something Meredith understood too well. Darcy and Meredith were of the same opinion on this score. If someone didn't want you, then to hell with them. Lesson learned. Because loving someone was a risk — it left you vulnerable. Better not to let anyone in until you were sure they weren't going to hurt you.
She worked to keep her voice casual. "Even if she wanted to contact her mother, I'm not sure she would know how. As for her stepfather — my former husband — they were sort of close up until recently." When her third and last husband decided to take up with a girl just barely older than Darcy. "I called him, but he hadn't heard from her. Not since graduation."
"Have a picture?"
She opened her mouth to let Travis know he could at least follow the rules of common courtesy and follow his requests with a please or thank-you. But just as quickly she snapped it shut. Focus.
This was about Darcy.
She took out her wallet and opened it. "This was taken last month. Her high school graduation."
The picture was of both Meredith and Darcy together, her daughter's clear face bright with excitement and optimism, although Meredith could almost see the frustration clouding her daughter's eyes from an argument they had that very morning. The same argument they'd been having since Darcy told her she wanted to go to a school as far across the United States as she could find to get away from her. Okay, maybe she hadn't said those exact words, but that was what it had felt like to Meredith.
She slid the photo across the table to him. If he saw any distress in her face, he didn't comment, much to her relief. He held the photo up and stared at it.
"Since that picture was taken, Darcy got a haircut, added highlights. Even started wearing some makeup, bought new clothes ..."
His green eyes had been focused on the photo, but now raised to meet hers. "And you're sure there wasn't a boyfriend?"
"No, definitely not." But she shifted a bit uncomfortably under that searching gaze. Sure, she and Darcy didn't exactly confide all the details of their lives to each other, but Meredith would know if her daughter was seeing someone. "She's leaving for college next month. Wellesley College. I think she wanted to change things up, look a little more mature. Lord knows I've always told her she really should wear her hair in a more becoming ..." She trailed off again. They had always argued about that point. It was almost like Darcy was purposefully trying to look her worst, just to test her.
It all seemed really unimportant now.
She took a deep breath and stared at her hands. If she — No. When she got her daughter back, she promised herself she would be more supportive. More understanding. Even if Darcy wanted to put two thousand miles between them. Just ... let her come back.
Travis tucked the photo in his front pocket. "You last saw her at six last night. Anything unusual happen? Did she say anything?"
This was where she'd seen the light of understanding in the police officer's eyes earlier change to skepticism. But if she was going to get Darcy home, she had to tell him everything. "We may have ... argued a little."
Sure enough, a brow shot up and he sat a little farther back in his seat as he waited for her to expand.
"It wasn't a big deal. I don't particularly care for the woman she was babysitting for and had voiced some frustration. That's all. It wasn't a new argument and nothing that would send my daughter running away. She's not hotheaded like that."
"So let me make sure I understand everything. The girl's mother abandoned her when she was a kid, her dad died, and you're basically all she has." He said that in a way that was almost insulting but she stayed silent. "Her stepfather hasn't seen her in weeks. You insist she doesn't have a boyfriend even though she's been lying to you about hanging out with her best friend the past couple of weeks, so you really don't have any idea where or who she's been with. And then the two of you got into an argument last night and now she's missing. I don't know. Sounds like a girl who would have a lot of reasons to want to leave for a couple of days. Blow off some steam."
The worst thing about what he'd just recounted to her was ... he was totally right. Except for the part where Darcy would ever take off without leaving some word.
She had to make him understand short of standing in front of him and yelling. He had to know who Darcy was.
Carefully she folded her hands together. "Since I first met Darcy, she's had one singular goal, even at eleven — get accepted into a top liberal arts college, graduate with honors, and go on to become the next Margaret Atwood. And sure enough, she earned a four-point-oh GPA and acceptance into several top-notch colleges across the country. Her education has been her sole focus her entire young life, to the exclusion of any kind of active social life — despite my urging. Now that she's accomplished her goal, I think she's been a little bored. Restless. Maybe testing her own limits, gaining some independence. But no matter what she's been doing the past few weeks, where she's been, who she's been with, she's never failed to stay in touch with me. To let me know when she would be home, when she was going anywhere. Until now."
She searched his stoic gaze for any sign of understanding. He had to believe her, otherwise she'd never find her daughter.
He studied her another long moment and finally gave a quick nod. "All right. Do you know what time she was last seen yesterday? When did she leave the babysitting job?"
"I — I don't really know." She scanned the room, unable to meet his gaze.
"Couldn't they estimate the time for you?"
"I didn't think to ask." Nor would she consider asking in a million years.
"I'll need to speak with them." He pulled out a pen and small notebook from his back pocket and poised his hand, ready for the information.
"Can't we try and track Darcy's cell phone?" She'd caught every episode of Veronica Mars and had seen this done dozens of times. "You're some sort of investigator. Shouldn't you have something that can do that?"
"Sure. But I wouldn't hold your breath. You said her phone was going to voicemail, meaning it's likely dead. Which means ... no signal. So unless you want to argue and second-guess every move of my investigation, thereby delaying and potentially putting your daughter's safety at risk, let's start with where she was last seen."
His condescension was almost over-the-top, but he had a point. She sighed. "Allie McBride. Single mom. Darcy was watching her daughter, Violet, last night."
Another flicker of something close to surprise crossed his face, but then it was gone. "Do you have an address? I'd like to speak with her in person, see if she remembers anything important that might tell us where Darcy was heading."
Excerpted from Love You Madly by Ashlee Mallory, Alycia Tornetta. Copyright © 2015 Ashlee Mallory. 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
Fantastic thriller with a touch of romance! When her beautiful step daughter disappears, Meredith Sanders uses all her contacts to find a private investigator, a former SEAL who now specialises in private security, to help find her. Back in High School, Meredith was the leader of a pack of ‘popular’ girls who made life difficult for many less fortunate than themselves, including computer geek Travis Brennan. When she first meets Travis to discuss her daughter she no longer recognises him but he remembers her very well – she made his life hell in school. That, however, doesn’t stop him worrying about the disappearance and as they uncover more, she’s also in danger. Can they work together to free her step daughter? Who has taken her and why? This is a superb suspense with human trafficking, liars, danger, dysfunctional past relationships with many to be healed and an eighteen year old to be rescued. It is a fast paced, dangerous investigation and Travis is definitely the man to have on your side during such traumatic times! I really enjoyed this fantastic tale with great characters and lots of action. Highly recommended! Thanks to the author, publishers and NetGalley, too, for letting me read an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
**I received this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review** Love You Madly is a fast-paced read full of lies, danger, and hanging-on-the-edge-of-your-seat suspense. I loved the premise of this book. The high school beauty queen who looked down her nose at the nerd, now needs that same nerd she was mean to in high school. The mystery element of this story is very well-written and keeps you guessing until the end. Travis is also great "book boyfriend" material. Great read for lounging by the pool!
liked the premise that the female lead is the jerk in this one and the male was the injured party. Travis has a dislike for Meredith but does he really? He decides to help her when her stepdaughter goes missing. Poor Meredith has had a bad rap for so long, she doesn't even have friends! You really feel how much she loves Darcy and how she truly regrets all that has happened in the past. I love the how the love evolved, it was realistic and the ending was fabulous. Oh, the opening scene, I just laughed! I did receive an ARC in exchange for an honest review.