Twenty years ago, Leah Bannon's beloved Uncle Richard vanished without a trace. Leah, now a private investigator, begins to suspect it was murder. When she reopens the cold case, Gabriel Devlin—-the man she loves but can never have—-inexplicably stands in her way.
Only four people know the truth about Richard's mysterious disappearance—-Gabriel and three childhood friends...who have all sworn to take that secret to the grave. But a hidden enemy wants those shocking secrets brought to light...even if he has to kill to make it happen.
After experiencing an unimaginable loss two years ago, Gabriel refuses to put himself through the pain of loving someone who could be gone in an instant. But as he thwarts Leah's investigation at every turn—-both to keep his friends' pact, and to keep her safe from danger—-the sexy PI makes it impossible for him to protect his secrets. Or his heart...
Each book in the Secrets and Sins series is a standalone, full length story that can be enjoyed out of order.
Book #1- Secrets and Sins: Gabriel
Book #2- Secrets and Sins: Malchim
Book #3- Secrets and Sins: Raphael
Book #4- Secrets and Sins: Chayot
About the Author
Naima Simone is a multi-published author in contemporary and erotic romance. She's a member of RWA's Southern Magic chapter, mother of the Dynamic Duo, lover of everything Vin Diesel and wife to the fabulous husband who tolerates this affair.
Read an Excerpt
Secrets and Sins: Gabriel
By Naima Simone, Tracy Montoya
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Naima Bryant
All rights reserved.
"On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, fiiive golden rings ..."
With a smile, Gabriel hit the radio button on his dashboard. Mickey Mouse and the gang cut off mid-"Twelve Days of Christmas," and The Temptations' "Little Drummer Boy" spilled into the car.
Much better. He shook his head. He adored Ian, loved being his father, but listening to Disney's Christmas CD without his son in the backseat went over and beyond his parental duties. He chuckled and wondered what cartoon-inspired holiday music Maura listened to in the green car ahead of him. A meeting with his literary agent in New York, a late return flight back to Boston, and last-minute Christmas shopping that needed to be completed after leaving her parents' Christmas party had prevented him from sharing her fate.
He hated shopping. But with Santa making his visit in two days, Maura had charged him with picking up the eleventh-hour gifts Ian had requested. Given the choice between driving by himself or riding in the car with his family and spending those few extra moments, Gabriel would have chosen his wife with the ever- increasing "Honey, do ..." list and the boy with the high-pitched, off-key voice every time. But neither he nor his wife was strong enough to resist their son's pleas of, "I just gotta have —" How the boy remained so sweet-natured when both his mother and father spoiled him rotten remained a complete mystery.
Gabriel's fingertips tapped the steering wheel in time to the song's beat as he slowed at an intersection behind the family compact. Anticipation and delight streamed through him, lighting him up like the bright bulbs on the seven-foot tree in their living room. One week of nothing but family, friends, and relaxation. After he completed the enormous list of chores Maura had planned for him, maybe he'd go down to the pub and have a pint, soak up the atmosphere, and get another story idea brewing. The forecast called for several inches of snow in the coming days. Maybe he and Ian could get outside and build a snowman. Then he could convince Maura to take an afternoon nap. He grinned and eased his foot off the brake. God, he loved Christmas.
He slowed for the yellow light, then came to a stop as it blinked to red.
He yelled out a warning she couldn't hear as her car didn't brake but coasted through the light and into the intersection.
The world slowed until it moved through a transparent wall of glue.
A pickup truck slammed into Maura's car. The compact bowed around the truck's front fender like a steel embrace. The piercing screech of metal scraping metal. The shrill squeal of rubber on road. The scream. The horrible scream ...
In one painful instant, time warped from slow to Mach 3. "No!" Gabriel's bellow filled his car, bounced off the windows, and crashed in his head. With fumbling hands, he slammed the gear into park and reached for the door handle. Animal grunts scraped his throat as he jerked the handle over and over. The lock, a tiny, sane voice whispered. The door is locked. The part of his mind that hadn't given over to panic heeded the instruction and punched the automatic-release button on his armrest. He tumbled from the car and hit the pavement.
The impact scraped his hands and knees. The burn of grit and asphalt biting into his palms and legs rode a distant second to the horror that swamped him.
Lunging to his feet, he tore into the street.
Barely registering the pickup driver's hunched, unmoving body, he darted to his wife's car.
His feet skidded to a stop at the driver's side, and his fingers clawed at the door.
"Maura," he whispered. Her head was slumped against the window, her auburn curls pressed to the glass in a dark halo. "Sweetheart, no." A hard yank and the door shuddered open. His wife flopped into his arms, the seat belt a harness around her limp body.
In seconds, he had the belt unsnapped and her lying on the ground. Blood streaked her forehead and cheeks. A hoarse wheeze rattled from her chest.
Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.
He mumbled the litany over and over as he jackknifed to his feet and lurched for the back door. Christmas presents toppled from the car, spilling onto the street like gaily sprinkled confetti.
With a harsh curse, he yanked the last of the boxes out and crawled into the backseat.
Ian — oh, Jesus, Ian ...
* * *
Gabriel snapped upright, the bedcovers falling around his waist.
His chest rose and fell on the harsh breaths echoing like great blasts of wind in the shadow-shrouded room. Perspiration tickled the overheated skin on his neck, chest, and abdomen. Grief, a leaden weight in his gut, completed the trifecta of physical repercussions he suffered as a result of the nightmare.
Jesus. He moaned, scrubbing a rough palm down his face and then back up. He wasn't surprised the dream had come. He'd been up writing for over twenty-four hours and had been bone-weary when he'd stripped off his clothes and tumbled into bed around 5:00 a.m. He'd plummeted into sleep and had been unable to fight the night terror that had plagued him for two years now.
And yet he continued to dream in high definition and Technicolor. Pain sliced through his chest with a rusty knife. Thoughts of Maura and Ian still maintained the power to bring him to his knees.
He glanced at the digital clock on the nightstand. 9:13 a.m.
He'd slept a little over four hours. And still felt like shit.
With a groan, he fisted the covers, then threw them aside. The sweat cooled on his chest as he shifted his legs over the edge of the mattress and rose. No point lying in bed. Sleep wouldn't come back to him — even if his eyes felt as though they'd been replaced with road gravel. Might as well shower, fix coffee, and write — the routine of his life. Eating was a crapshoot and showering could be iffy, too. But coffee and writing ... well, those two kept him sane. And out of the bottle.
He stood with a sigh and unbuttoned the jeans he hadn't bothered to remove before falling into bed. Before he shoved the denim down, he slipped a hand in his pocket and removed the small coin he was never without. He reverently placed the gold piece of metal on the dresser, his fingertip stroking the engraved etchings of a laurel leaf and lion. Inhaling a deep breath, he headed toward the bathroom, threading his fingers through his hair. Residue from the dream clung to him like wisps of fog, clammy on his skin, clouding his thoughts. He reached inside the shower, twisted the knobs until the temperature and pulsing of the water was hot and punishing.
The water sluiced down over his head, stinging his shoulders and chest. It cleansed his body but couldn't wash away the metallic scent of despair that coated his nose and mouth as if he'd sucked on a penny-flavored Tic Tac. The images of Maura and Ian couldn't be scrubbed away with soap and a loofah.
He flattened a palm on the wall and squeezed his eyes closed as if he could physically block out the images — twisted metal, blood, gasoline-soaked gifts. Those fucking presents. He curled his fingers, so they resembled talons against the wet, blue-tiled wall. To this day he hated Christmas.
With a low growl, he picked up a washcloth and the bar of soap, and ruthlessly rubbed his skin. More than once he'd wondered what had occurred inside the car in those few seconds before it entered the intersection. Had Maura been talking and laughing with Ian? Had they been singing carols? Had Ian been playing with that coin he'd received at the mall while out shopping? God, I hope so. Not for the first time Gabriel prayed to an indifferent God that his son hadn't seen the collision coming.
Anger sliced through him like a hot blade. Why hadn't Maura been paying attention? Why hadn't she heeded the red light and stopped? Hadn't she known he would be lost without them?
Shame rushed in, a hot, stinging salve spread on the wound of his rage. Of course she would have never voluntarily left him. Nor would she have caused harm to Ian. Her last words had been about their son. "Save our baby first."
And he'd been unable to save either of them.
Shit. With a vicious twist, he shut off the faucets. If he could, he'd have Memory Lane permanently blocked off and a damn Do Not Enter sign posted at its entrance.
Fifteen minutes later, he jerked on a fresh pair of jeans and a black sweater and padded out of the bedroom toward the kitchen and coffee. The hardwood floor was cool under his bare feet as he entered the large, open dining area. The bright beams of an early morning sun streaked through the floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room, bathing the condominium in a cheery kaleidoscope of gold and orange. It was beautiful ... and yet completely lost on him. The pricey condo could've offered a view of a brick wall spray-painted with the symbols of whatever gang dominated the area, and he wouldn't have given a rat's ass.
When he'd searched for a place to rent two years ago, the one selling point of the Charleston waterfront apartment hadn't been the incredible view of the Charles River. Nor had it been the spacious two bedrooms, two full baths, or grand fireplace that a full-grown man could stand in — why he would do that, though, beat the hell out of him. No, the lure had been the immediate availability. When his best friend, Malachim Jerrod, had suggested he move into the condo — one of the Jerrod family's many real- estate investments — Gabriel had accepted the offer and property, sight unseen. He hadn't cared. His main priority had been escape. Remaining in his former family home had been a blasphemy, and he'd moved out days after Maura's and Ian's —
The alluring scent of freshly brewed coffee permeated the air, and he gratefully grabbed a cup from the cabinet, cutting off that particular line of thought.
Silence was his companion as he retraced his steps down the hall and into the second bedroom containing a desk, chair, and computer. He waited, sipping coffee as the computer went through its familiar clicks and whirls, booting up for the next few hours' work.
Settling into his chair, he felt a desperate anticipation stumble through him. During those first six months after Maura's and Ian's deaths, he had almost believed he'd lost the desire to create.
But as if that part of his soul, too, had required time to heal, the need to write had slowly emerged again. Altered, darker, but also stronger. Probably because his damaged psyche realized if he didn't have the outlet of creating, he truly would have climbed into a grave and not come out.
His stories, his imagination ... they were his lifelines.
Here, at this desk, Gabriel was in control. No horrible tragedies could occur unless he willed it so. No one died unless he decided they did. Here, in this makeshift office, he didn't teeter on the edge of an alcohol-and-grief- fueled oblivion. Here, with his ass in the chair, he was all-powerful, not helpless or weak.
With a few taps of the mouse, he pulled up his work in progress and minutes later became absorbed in the dark world of suspense, treachery, and murder.
Several hours later, he heard the voice as if from a distance, like the insistent annoying drone of a bee. His mind resisted its call, waved the mental equivalent of a swat, and dug deeper into his story.
"The first slice sang through him like a beautiful, sensuous aria. The soft give of flesh hit him in the chest, a soaring first note that must be followed by another ... and another ..."
"Gabe." A pause. "I know you hear me somewhere in la-la land, and I'm not going away. So you might as well come up for air and answer me."
Damn it! With a growl, he jerked his head up, bared his teeth. "What?" he snapped.
Leah Bannon, his best friend and current pain in the ass, stood at the corner of his desk, a plate piled high with two thick sandwiches and chips in her hand, a pleasant smile on her lovely face, and a determined gleam in her fairy-green eyes. This wasn't the first time she'd shown up in his apartment unannounced and uninvited with meals, groceries, a broom, rag, or bucket of warm water. He tried not to dwell on thoughts of her sweeping out empty bottles of vodka from under his bed. Or how she'd broken down in the early days after the accident, screaming and weeping when she'd discovered a .45 automatic under his pillow.
The knowledge that she'd seen him at his worst humiliated and angered him. Over the last two years, he'd ordered her to leave, get the fuck out, mind her own business. Yet no matter how many times he barked, demanded, and yelled, she refused to go away. Refused to leave him. She was a cross between Florence Nightingale and Nurse Ratched.
"Good afternoon to you, too," she drawled, and set the plate next to the keyboard. The aroma of fresh sourdough bread, mayonnaise, and the sweet tang of ham tantalized his nose and elicited a demanding rumble from his empty stomach.
She arched a slender brow as dark as her midnight-black ponytail.
Shit. He hated when she was right.
"How many times do I have to tell you that key is for emergencies only?"
Leah smacked the heel of her palm against her forehead. "And here I thought saving your skinny carcass from wasting away any further counted as an emergency."
She smiled, easing the sting from her jibe, but not its validity. Her eyes flashed with a devilish twinkle as she playfully tousled his hair. Gabriel stiffened. And not because the juvenile gesture irritated the hell out of him.
He wished his reaction was that simple. But he knew why every muscle locked — understood why tension vibrated through his body like a plucked guitar string on the verge of snapping.
Because she'd touched him.
Awareness skittered over his skin, excitement twinged deep in his gut. His groin clenched as the slow, slumberous stir of arousal awakened and stretched like some great, sleeping beast. At the same time, the acrid mudslide of shame and self-disgust coated his throat and stomach, transforming the arousal into something bitter, unwanted ... resented.
Yet that didn't prevent his gaze from tracing the delicate but stubborn line of her jaw or the elegant column of her neck. He fisted his fingers on his lap, resisting the urge to have them follow the path his eyes traveled.
Her beauty never failed to take him aback — those almond- shaped emerald eyes set in such an exotic, lovely face of sharp cheekbones, full lips, and caramel-liberally-dipped-with-cream skin. She'd inherited James Bannon's Nordic height, but the striking features bequeathed from her Filipina mother made Leah a rare beauty.
Sometimes Gabriel resented her for making him notice her loveliness, her desirability. Resented her for reminding him that his heart could still thud with want, his stomach could still clench with need. His cock could still harden with desire.
He knew it was cowardly, blaming Leah for his own weakness and his body's betrayal. And on stronger days, he convinced himself his reaction was purely biological, a side effect of a two- year period of abstinence. Mentally and emotionally, he still belonged to Maura.
Panic flared in his chest.
So much had been snatched from him in the past couple of years. All he had left was the fidelity and love he'd pledged to his wife seven years ago. If he surrendered his body and heart to another, nothing would remain of Maura. She would truly be gone. And this shell of a man he'd been reduced to would crumble to dust.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, picking up a sandwich and biting into the thick bread and meat. He barely smothered a greedy moan.
"Besides making sure you don't waste away from starvation?" She tilted her head before leaning against the wall and crossing her arms and ankles.
The sharp retort on his lips died a quick death as the manners his mother had drummed into him since he was a kid reared their stubborn head. Belatedly, he rose from his office chair. The only seat in the barren room.
"No." Leah waved toward his plate. "Eat. I can't stay that long anyway."
Excerpted from Secrets and Sins: Gabriel by Naima Simone, Tracy Montoya. Copyright © 2013 Naima Bryant. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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