It’s a life of high-profile drama for the powerful Murdochs of Chesterton, Virginia, and they just keep the scandals coming . . .
Evan Murdoch hoped things had finally settled down in his life. But now he’s caught between two feuding women: his pregnant fiancée, and his recovering alcoholic wife who’s fighting their divorce with every dirty, seductive trick she’s got. But even that doesn’t compare to the dangerous secret Evan’s harboring—one that could send a Murdoch to jail for a very long time . . .
Party boy brother Terrence Murdoch is recovering from his devastating car accident. But his relationship with his journalist girlfriend may not survive—especially when she reconnects with her family, her church—and her ex . . .
After the attempt on his life, half-brother Dante Turner lays low—but not for long. A mysterious young woman may be the answer to his vengeful prayers when it comes to bringing down the Marvelous Murdochs—and this time he’s going for the jugular . . .
Praise for Best Kept Secrets
“Secrets abound in this full-bodied tale.”
“This fantastic novel is replete with scandal, entitlement, treachery and passion up to the surprising end.”
—RT Book Reviews
“Drama, hot sex, and betrayals are all wrapped up in this addictive yet well-written story.”
—AAMBC Book Club
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Lust & Loyalty
By SHELLY ELLIS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Shelly Ellis
All rights reserved.
Evan Murdoch tried not to wince with discomfort as he watched the doctor do his handiwork. He didn't want to worry his little brother, Terrence, who was already nervous and had already tried to back out of the consultation and fitting twice before Terrence's girlfriend and Evan had finally talked him into it. But now, watching it less than five feet away from him, Evan was starting to feel put off by the whole procedure. The twelve-by-twelve-foot office was starting to feel stuffy and claustrophobic, and Evan longed to open one of the windows on the other side of the room. But he tamped down that impulse and instead valiantly painted on his best impression of a polite smile as the ocularist fiddled around in Terrence's eye socket with the piece of plastic that was molded and painted to be a replica of Terrence's left eye — the eye that was mangled in a car accident nearly five months ago.
"All right, Terrence," the technician said, turning Terrence around in his chair and blocking Evan's view. "The scleral cover shell is now in place. How does it feel?"
"Uh, okay, I ... I guess."
Evan could hear the apprehension in his brother's voice.
"Okay, I want you to open and close your eyes," the technician said. "Good. Look up ... Look down ... Look right.... Now look left, please." There was another pause. "Does it still feel okay?"
"Yeah, it feels fine," Terrence said with a nod.
Evan leaned forward, trying desperately to see Terrence's new eye, but having little success. He had a perfect view of the back of his brother's head, though.
He needs a haircut, Evan noted.
"Good. Good! Now you can have a look," the technician said, extending a small handheld mirror to Terrence. He sat back in his rolling chair and smiled. "What do you think?"
Terrence held the mirror in front of his face. "Goddamn!" he shouted.
"What?" Evan asked, finally tired of waiting. He got visions of scenes from old-fashioned movies where the bandages are slowly unwound from around a patient's head, revealing a new, horrifying face, making the patient scream out in agony. He hopped out of his chair and raced to his brother's side. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Terrence said, turning to him. "Nothing's wrong!"
"Goddamn," Evan echoed, breaking into a grin.
It was like the ocularist had given Terrence his eye back; it didn't look like a replica but like the real thing. Terrence now had two perfect, caramel-colored irises. He had two eyes that winked and shifted simultaneously. Evan would challenge anyone to know which eye was real and which one was not.
"I know, right?" Terrence laughed. "It looks good."
"It doesn't look good; it looks fucking perfect!" Evan exclaimed.
"You get a tap for this one, doc," Terrence said, holding his fist up to the elderly, white-haired man who looked like he could've starred in an AARP ad. The technician chuckled, pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, and gave Terrence a fist bump.
"I'm glad you like the final product," the man said.
"So ... so that's it?" Terrence asked, lowering his fist and the mirror. "I can just walk out with it? Just like that?"
The technician nodded. "Just like that. I'll send you home with a cleanser and instructions. I'll probably schedule a follow-up to make sure everything is okay with the new prosthetic, but that's it. You're done!"
"I'm done," Terrence said softly, and Evan knew instantly he was talking about more than just today's appointment.
His younger brother had completed the last step to making a full recovery from his accident. He no longer walked with his cane. Now he no longer had to wear the eye patch over his damaged eye. He had returned to the gym and lost the weight he had put on from sitting alone at home, staring at the television all day and all night, and drinking and eating his way through his depression. He was even no longer seeing a therapist on a weekly basis. His mild depression seemed to have waned; he readily joked and laughed more now than he had in months.
Evan gazed at his brother and nodded. "You're done, Terry."
* * *
"Damn, how many times are you going to look at yourself, pretty boy?" Evan asked as Terrence pulled his silver Porsche roadster to a stop at the red light and flipped down his visor for the umpteenth time to gaze in the small mirror at his reflection.
Terrence chuckled and flipped the visor up again. "Come on, man! I just got to the point where I could look at myself and not wince. Give a brotha a break!"
"I'm just messing with you, Terry." Evan punched his shoulder playfully. "I'm glad he was able to give you such a good prosthetic eye. You've been through a lot. It looks like you're finally on the comeback."
"You sound like C. J.," Terrence said, referring to his girlfriend. He pulled off when the light turned green. "She said my eye was the last missing puzzle piece."
"She's probably right."
Terrence tightened his hold around the leather steering wheel. His smile disappeared. "I'm not sure that she's ... well ... totally happy about it, though. I mean with me getting the prosthesis."
"What do you mean? Why wouldn't she be happy? I thought she talked you into doing it!"
"She did, but ... it's not just the eye. It's my whole recovery. She told me once that she was worried that when I finally got better, I would ... that I would go back to my old ways — hooking up with all types of chicks, caring more about money, cars, and clothes than I do about her ... about us. I told her there's no chance of that happening. I'm not that guy anymore."
Evan could understand why C. J. was worried. Terrence had been the love 'em and leave 'em type for many, many years prior to the accident. And the women he had dated had been nothing like the smart, sensible, plain-Jane girlfriend he had now.
In the old days, Terrence had seemed disgusted by the idea of love and commitment. Evan had expected his brother to die at the ripe old age of eighty in some sex ranch in Las Vegas with a smile on his face and Viagra in his system. But the car crash had caused Terrence's life to veer in another direction. Terrence had become introspective and thoughtful. He did seem to be genuinely in love with C. J. But even Evan wondered how long all of this would last.
"Well, I guess time will tell," Evan said thoughtfully.
Terrence snapped his head around to glare at him. "What the hell do you mean 'Time will tell'? You think I'm going to cheat on her ... that I'm going to dump her?"
"No, I didn't say that! I just think —"
"Good! Because it's not gonna happen!" Terrence drew to a stop at another stoplight. "C. J. is the only woman for me and to hell with anybody who says any differently!"
Just then, the sound of pounding dance beats filled the car. The two men turned to find a Toyota pulling up beside them at the light. It was the source of the music. The driver lowered her tinted window and raised her dark shades, revealing her comely brown face. She leaned in her driver's seat toward their car and tossed her long, dark hair over her shoulder.
"Damn!" she shouted to Terrence over the sound of the music as her eyes scanned Terrence's Porsche from headlights to rear bumper. "That's a sweet ride, baby!"
"Thanks," Terrence called back.
"It looks brand new!"
"That's because it is," he said, tapping the buttery smooth leather along the dashboard. "Just got it a little over a month ago."
"Well, you look good in it!"
Terrence chuckled. "Hell, girl, you're making me blush!"
Evan cocked an eyebrow as he watched their exchange. He wondered if his brother realized that his voice had deepened as he spoke to her, that he was smiling ear-to-ear. He wondered if his brother realized it seemed a lot like he was flirting with this woman when he had professed only seconds ago that C. J. was the only woman for him.
"I can make you do a lot more than blush if you let me test drive that car," the driver said, licking her plump, red lips.
"Whoa!" Terrence exclaimed, laughing even harder, making Evan sigh with irritation. "That's some big talk!"
"Big talk that I can back up." She gave a saucy wink.
"Don't believe me?"
"Oh, I believe you!"
"So take a girl out to dinner next week and let me prove it."
"The light's green, Terry," Evan muttered.
Terrence turned away from the beautiful driver and glanced up at the stoplight. "Oh, shit. Uh, maybe some other time," he mumbled before giving her a quick wave good-bye, pressing the accelerator, and pulling off.
As he drove, he glanced at Evan, who silently stared out the windshield.
"Don't say it," Terrence ordered tightly, reading Evan's mind.
Evan held up his hands in mock defense. "Hey, I'm not saying a damn thing!"
"No, but you're thinking it!" Terrence pointed his finger at Evan. "Look, she and I were just talking! She was just some random chick I met on the street. It's not like I was really going to follow through and have dinner with her. I told you I would never cheat on C. J.!"
"I'm not saying you would cheat" — Evan inclined his head — "per se."
"What the fuck? Per se? Really, Ev? Are you serious?"
"I'm just saying that people grow apart, Terry. Couples grow apart."
"We've only been together for a few months! How the hell could we grow apart already?"
"But a lot has happened in those few months. You have to admit that. And people change. It's a fact of life! Maybe C. J. is more realistic about that than you are. That's what I meant."
"Well, how do you know you and Lee won't 'grow apart'?" he asked, referring to Evan's fiancée Leila. "If C. J. and I are doomed, why the hell aren't you guys? You've got a lot more odds stacked against you than we do! That's for damn sure," he spat as he turned onto another street.
Evan narrowed his eyes at his little brother.
Evan and Leila had been through a lot in the past year or so. In fact, they had been through a lot in the past ten years. Their relationship had traversed several ups and downs, including false accusations, misunderstandings, marriages to other people, their clandestine affair, and a painful breakup before they finally reunited. They were now living together, engaged, and having a baby, which should have meant they had finally reached their happy ending. But Evan was encountering a major glitch in the form of his current recovering alcoholic wife, Charisse, who was refusing to grant him a divorce. Charisse insisted that now that she was clean and sober she wanted him back. She had even threatened to drag out the divorce proceedings for years, until Evan and Leila's baby was well into kindergarten.
Evan hadn't told Leila any of this — at least, not yet, anyway. He didn't want to crush her dreams of getting married in the near future. She said she didn't want to be anyone's mistress anymore, but it looked like she would have to be that — indefinitely.
Evan knew Leila loved him and he loved her, but all these obstacles could wear down even the most loyal of couples. He worried sometimes when it would all get to be too much, and if the foundation they had tried so hard to build together would eventually crumble.
"We'll make it through," Evan said firmly, shoving down his inner doubts. "Don't you worry about us."
"Don't you worry about me and C. J., either," Terrence argued as they pulled onto the short road leading up to Murdoch Mansion. As Terrence steered onto the circular driveway, they both noticed two cop cars parked in front of the stone steps, their blue-and-white emblems glistening in the afternoon sun.
"What the hell ..." Evan whispered, unlocking and shoving open the Porsche's passenger side door even before the roadster pulled to a full stop.
His mind leapt to the worst conclusion. He wondered if something had happened to Leila — who he thought was at a meeting at the Chesterton Country Club today with his sister Paulette. Or maybe something had happened to Leila's daughter, Isabel, or her mother, Diane, both of whom lived at the mansion.
He charged up the stairs, taking them two at a time. He flung open the French doors. Terrence was only a few steps behind him.
"What's wrong?" he yelled, rushing over the marble tiles of his three-story foyer, his shout echoing off the wooden, coffered ceiling. Two officers stood near the staircase to the east and west wings, talking to his housekeeper, who looked scared and confused. "What the hell happened? Is Lee o —"
"Ah, so it's both the Murdoch boys!" Evan heard a voice call across the foyer, stopping him in his tracks. "Good! I can kill two birds with one stone."
Evan chafed at the sound of the familiar backwater drawl. Not only was he annoyed at being called "boy" — the last he checked, he was thirty-three, not three years old — but he also had no desire to talk to the owner of that drawl.
He turned to find a man in an oversize gray suit and a gray-and-white-striped tie striding toward them, chomping on a sandwich the size of his fist. The police detective lowered the sandwich from his mouth and smiled, revealing a smear of mustard on his upper lip.
"Just grabbed a quick bite to eat in your kitchen. Your cook was nice enough to make me a ham and cheese." He licked the mustard off his lip after he stopped chewing. "Hope you don't mind."
Evan crossed his arms over his broad chest. "How can I help you, Detective Morris?" he answered flatly even though, truth be told, he had no interest in helping this man at all. In fact, he had hoped to never see Detective Morris again.
They had spoken before in a sterile-looking room at the state police barracks soon after Dante had been shot. Evan had sat on one side of the table with one of his lawyers and Detective Morris had sat on the other.
"I understand that you and your brother Dante were going through kind of a row before he up and got shot. Is that right, Mr. Murdoch?" the detective had asked, leaning back in his metal folding chair.
"He wasn't one of my favorite people, if that's what you mean," Evan had quipped.
"I heard he was even screwing your wife. I know if it were me, I'd be mad as hell at him. Maybe even mad enough to kill him."
"Excuse me, but just what are you insinuating?" Evan's lawyer had barked. "Unless you're planning to charge my client with attempted murder, I suggest you keep your questions to —"
Evan had held up his hand, silencing the man beside him. "It's all right, Ben."
Unlike his lawyer, Evan hadn't been shaken by the detective's flagrant insinuations. Evan hadn't shot Dante and he had an alibi to prove it. The detective could insinuate all he wanted.
"Honestly, Detective, considering the state of my marriage at that time, Dante did me a favor by screwing my wife. I didn't want to kill him. If he wasn't such an asshole, I would have sent him a fruit basket to show my gratitude."
The detective had burst into laughter. "Oh, that's funny! That was a good one! You're a comedian, Mr. Murdoch. You should be on late-night TV!"
He had chuckled a bit longer before finally letting his laughter taper off. He had then become somber. His gray eyes had gone cold.
"You know what? I've got a joke, too ... a real funny one." He had shifted in his chair, leaned one elbow on the table between them, and tapped the edge of his Styrofoam coffee cup as he spoke. "I was talking the other day to another detective, Detective Nola at the Mannock County Sheriff's Office. I found out that he's been questioning your sister Paulette in another investigation. This time ... a homicide."
At the mention of his sister's name in connection with the word "homicide," Evan had stilled. His confident façade had faltered. He had felt his stomach clench.
"Turns out that one of her ex-boyfriends, Marques Whitney, was strangled to death just eight months ago. Detective Nola said he thinks Marques may have been extorting money out of your sister, but he can't say for sure. She hasn't been very ... shall we say ... helpful, in that regard."
Evan could no longer meet the detective's eyes. As he sat there, he had felt his panic rise, making him shift in his chair and restlessly tap his foot. Even his lawyer had noticed the difference in him. The balding man had started to eye Evan warily and frown, as if asking, "What's wrong?"
Evan had realized what he was doing, giving all the tells that made him look guilty as sin, that made him look like he had something to hide. Because he did have a secret to hide — though it wasn't about himself.
Paulette's husband, Antonio, had confessed to him a mere week before Dante's shooting that he had murdered Marques Whitney when he found out that Marques had blackmailed Paulette into giving him money and having an affair. Evan had been shocked by the revelation and immediately wondered if it had been prudent to let it slip to Antonio that Dante had also bullied and blackmailed Paulette, that the whole family would be more than happy to see Dante disappear.
Now that Dante had nearly been killed and the assailant hadn't been caught, Evan had started to wonder even more whether he'd made a mistake by blabbing about family drama to Antonio. In retaliation, in some misguided attempt to protect his wife and her family, had Antonio shot Dante, too?
Excerpted from Lust & Loyalty by SHELLY ELLIS. Copyright © 2017 Shelly Ellis. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - Evan,
Chapter 2 - Leila,
Chapter 3 - Terrence,
Chapter 4 - C. J.,
Chapter 5 - Evan,
Chapter 6 - Leila,
Chapter 7 - C. J.,
Chapter 8 - Terrence,
Chapter 9 - Dante,
Chapter 10 - Evan,
Chapter 11 - Terrence,
Chapter 12 - Dante,
Chapter 13 - C. J.,
Chapter 14 - Terrence,
Chapter 15 - Leila,
Chapter 16 - C. J.,
Chapter 17 - Evan,
Chapter 18 - Dante,
Chapter 19 - Terrence,
Chapter 20 - Leila,
Chapter 21 - C. J.,
Chapter 22 - Dante,
Chapter 23 - Terrence,
Chapter 24 - Evan,
Chapter 25 - Leila,
Chapter 26 - Terrence,
Chapter 27 - Dante,
Chapter 28 - Evan,
LUST & LOYALTY,