Read an Excerpt
Secrets and Sins: Raphael
By Naima Simone, Tracy Montoya
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Naima Bryant
All rights reserved.
When a little girl fantasizes about who she'll be when she grows up, she envisions a mother, wife, doctor, teacher, lawyer. Even a princess.
She doesn't see herself bellied up to the bar of a neighborhood pub a week before her wedding day because she caught her now ex-fiancé in bed with another woman.
But then again, Greer Addison reasoned, smiling at the bartender who set down a napkin and glass in front of her, dreams had the tendency to shift into nightmares. One minute life was expected, stable, a black-and-white montage of predictability. Then the next it was chaotic, confusing, a Technicolor whirlwind of lies, betrayal, and humiliation.
"Isn't that number three or four?" her brother, Ethan, asked, arching his brow as she lifted the glass to her lips for a sip. "You don't think you should slow down? Besides, you're going to get sick on that. At least switch up to a vodka tonic."
Greer hummed in pleasure as the sweet chocolate flavor and the tart vodka flowed over her tongue. Wow, she swirled the alcohol in the glass. That's awesome. "It's number three, my pace is just fine, and I like this." She smacked her lips. "Tasty."
"Sweetie." Ethan covered the hand on her lap with his. "Greer." Concern and a terrible sympathy softened his handsome features. The compassion in eyes as green as her own sliced into her heart like the most skilled surgeon's scalpel. "He didn't mean it."
She downed another gulp, heedless of the velvety burn the large swallow of alcohol blazed down her esophagus. If only she could smooth away the jagged edges of her memories so easily.
Her father's vicious tirade assaulted her brain like shards of broken glass — sharp, cutting ... drawing heart's blood.
What good are you? The one thing you've done right — the one time you were useful to me, had finally done something to make me proud — and you screw it up. Your brother's a fag, and you're a failure. A useless failure.
"Oh, he meant it," she murmured, setting the glass down on the aged, scarred bar top. She stared down into the cream-colored drink with the chocolate swirl she'd almost obliterated with two healthy sips. "We both know how sincere he was."
Ethan's mouth momentarily tightened, as did the fingers gripping his bottle of Corona. He wasn't a stranger to Ethan Addison II's — no "Jr." for him — "tender mercies." After years of painful denial and struggling to conform to the inflexible, rigid Addison mold, Ethan had finally come out to his family. She'd been aware of his sexual identity ... always had been. But Ethan had always been her protector, her rock, her confidant. Whom he loved and slept with had never mattered to her.
Their father had not been so open-minded. Or forgiving.
Three years later, and the last words he'd uttered to his son were, "I raised a son, not a daughter. When you come to your senses and remember that, you will be welcome back in this house and family. Until then, get out."
That Ethan had actually stepped inside their parents' home to lend her his support when she broke the news about calling off her engagement to Gavin M. Wells revealed how much her brother loved her. Or maybe he'd known she would need someone after their father finished slicing her into pieces and put her out like day-old trash.
"It doesn't —" The cell phone in her jacket pocket vibrated. Maybe it was Mom calling to tell her Dad had calmed ... She dug it out and glanced at the screen. Her stomach clenched, twisted. Gavin.
Quickly, she stashed the cell back in her pocket, lifting the glass from the bar with her other hand. The alcohol hit her stomach like a leaden weight.
"Let me guess," Ethan said with a nod toward her pocket. "Gavin."
She nodded her head, emitting a short, brittle chuckle. "I only have one thing to say to him, and since it's anatomically impossible, there's no point in my answering and wasting my breath."
"Actually, I saw this video —"
She flicked her palm up. "Stop right there. T-M-freaking-I."
Ethan snickered, and a reluctant smile curved her lips. So her humor button hadn't been permanently smashed to smithereens. Good to know.
"Sweetie." He sobered, his gaze solemn and filled with compassion. "You have to talk to him sooner or later."
"Not now." She shook her head. Hurt and the greasy glide of humiliation pitched and rolled in her belly. She turned her head, stared out the latticed windows. The red and orange electric flame effects from the fake fireplace danced in the dark windows, adding to the multicolored flicker of Christmas lights from the office building across the street. She loved this time of year. People were kinder, the world was prettier, more joyful. Her love for the holiday season was the reason she'd chosen December 23rd as her wedding date. It'd seemed perfect.
"We were friends," she murmured. "Before the dating, the engagement, and wedding plans, we were friends. If he didn't want me, he could've come to me, been up-front. Instead ..."
The images of "instead" rose in her head, wavering, solidifying, then evaporating so another picture took its place. Aubrey straddling Gavin, her auburn hair streaming down her bare back as she undulated on top of Greer's fiancé. Gavin rising, face twisted in sensual pleasure, passionately kissing the woman Greer worked with at her father's bank. His blank eyes and gaping mouth as his gaze connected with Greer's in the doorway of his bedroom.
"Instead he was a cowardly sack of shit who couldn't keep his dick in his pants," Ethan snapped, disgust dripping from his ice-cold tone. Again, championing her.
She sighed and rubbed a fingertip over the old, tiny sickle-shaped scar on her chin. A childhood habit she'd acquired and never rid herself of.
"Pretty much," she murmured. "But you know what hurt me most?" she asked, meeting the concern and anger simmering in her brother's eyes. "Yes, the lies and the cheating. But if I'm brutally honest with myself, I'd admit his quick capitulation with the six-month no-sex agreement should've been my first clue something was wrong."
Noah Granger, her best friend, had scoffed when she'd told him about her idea of a period of abstinence and rededication so she and Gavin could experience a true wedding night. He'd warned her no sane man would go for it, and when he'd learned of Gavin's acquiescence, he'd bluntly informed her he smelled a rat — and the rat wore Gavin's toothy Colgate grin.
"Greer, it's not your fault."
She shrugged a shoulder. "I know that here." She touched the side of her head. "But here?" she asked, placing her fingers over her chest. "Well, it's taking a little time catching up with logic. I know Gavin and I didn't have this grand passionate affair." And she hadn't desired that from him. All her life, she'd stood by and watched her mother demean herself out of "love" for her husband, a distant, cold man who wouldn't know affection if it sidled up and peed on his Brooks Brothers pants leg. "Our relationship was built on sincere friendship, compatibility, and respect. I honestly liked who he was. How many people can say that about the person they're involved with?"
"I can," her brother said quietly. "And I want to jump his bones every time he walks through the door. Sorry, sweetie. But what you described you can find at the pound." A sneer tipped the corner of his mouth. "And at least if a dog humps the wrong person, all you have to do is swat him on the nose to get him to quit."
"Nice," she drawled, but the quick moment of levity faded, and the pain and disillusionment rushed back in, eager and greedy to reclaim its stake. She sighed. Rolled her shoulders back as if she could shed the weight of her fiancé's and father's betrayals as easily. "Jesus," she muttered. "Next thing you know I'm going to be crying in my cups. Literally."
"You should probably eat. Y'know, to float on top of all that alcohol you've downed. Here." He slid a battered laminated menu toward her across the bar top. "Pick something out. I'm going to step outside to return Jason's call, okay?"
She nodded, shooing him away as she bent her head over the bar's offering for dinner. After a few moments, she growled low in her throat, frustrated. When she was this tired and stressed, her concentration was nil to none. Trying to read the list of dinner food was pointless. Shoving the menu away, she reached for her glass again.
"Why, Ms. Addison," a voice heavy with amusement drawled from behind her. "A dive bar?" A taunting tsk. "I do believe you're slumming."
She stiffened. Closed her eyes. She knew that voice, its owner. She'd only met him once — the week before — but the rumbling, sexy timbre that hinted at all kinds of dark, hot secrets and promises had been etched in her memory like initials carved into a school girl's desk.
She inhaled a breath. Turned around on the barstool.
And still wasn't prepared for the gut punch that was Raphael Marcel.
A teasing smile that carried the faintest hint of mockery curved his mouth — a mouth she had no trouble imagining sensual and inviting or hard and cruel. Or maybe both at the same time. Especially as he leaned over a woman, a diamond-hard glitter in his dark-blue eyes while he drowned her in pleasure ...
That thought had her expelling the breath from her lungs in a soft gush of air. So not going there. But once introduced, expunging the image from her mind was akin to stemming up a flooding fissure with a wad of tissue. Pointless.
Raphael Marcel was an intimidating blend of sex and danger. Both had her leaning back against the bar's edge. And tipping her drink up for a healthy sip.
"So, princess, give," he said, sliding onto the stool Ethan had vacated. "What brings you down from the lofty tower to grace us lowly peasants with your presence?"
Princess. Not an endearment coming from that mouth curved in a mocking smile. But ... not an insult either. Not with that deep voice with its hint of sensuality. As if he concealed some sexy, naughty secret — about her. She blinked. They'd met once in his office for forty-five minutes a week ago. Why did he feel free to be so familiar with her? The answer immediately came on the heels of her question. Because she doubted Raphael Marcel acknowledged boundaries or protocol. No. The man with the bad-boy piercings and attitude to match probably manufactured his own set of rules.
"A drink," she shot back, scrambling for the composure that had been ingrained in her since she'd been in Pull-Ups. "And it's Beacon Hill. Hardly slumming."
"I hate to break it to you, but that's just geography." He peered at her drink, a pierced dark eyebrow arched high. "What the hell is that you're drinking?"
"I think the bartender called it a Peppermint Patty."
"A Peppermint Patty," he repeated, disbelief heavy in every word. "Um. Wow."
She couldn't help it; she chuckled. It sounded as if a rusty spoon had scraped her throat raw, but it was genuine. And the warm glow in its wake was welcome and needed. Desperately needed.
He leaned an elbow on the bar, his beer bottle with the blue-and-white Sam Adams label dangling between his fingers.
"I have to say I'm a little disappointed, though." He dipped his head toward the bar's front door. "Seeing you here with another man. Kinda ruining my Ken and Barbie image of you and your fiancé."
And that fast, the glow was snuffed out. She cleared her throat, toyed with the stem of her glass. Everything but look into this man's eyes and admit the humiliating truth.
"That was my brother," she murmured.
"Ahh." He splayed his fingers over his chest. "Thank God. My faith in love is restored." He grinned, and the mortification in her belly gave way to something else. Something she had no business feeling toward an almost-stranger when the man whom as of one week ago she'd been about to marry hadn't inspired the same leaping-off-a-high-dive sensation.
"Somehow I doubt that," she said, the observation popping out of her mouth before she could reconsider the wisdom of engaging him in a verbal fencing match. Intuition warned her he was a master.
With his long dark hair, eyebrow and ear piercings, graphic long-sleeved shirt, and black cargo pants, he resembled a rocker, not a security specialist. But unable to quash her curiosity after meeting him in his firm's office after a home security consultation, Greer had Googled Raphael Marcel. Not only was he a partner and half owner of the successful and respected firm Liberty Security Services, but apparently he was a brilliant computer programmer and information systems expert. Her search had pulled up several articles that had heralded how his skill and talent had saved several Fortune 500 companies from losing money, clients, and their reputations by detecting the weaknesses in their security and IT systems.
He might look like a sexy rock guitarist, but he possessed the mind of Steve Jobs.
"Y'know, when the two of you left after your consultation last week, the office was teeming with how cute you were as a couple." His smile widened, turned just a tad bit more wicked. Okay, way more wicked. "Gavin and Greer. G&G. Greervin." He snickered, tipping his beer bottle up for a long sip. "Where's Ken, anyway?"
"We broke up."
"Oh." He blinked. "Well. Damn."
She coughed. Chuckled. Then bent over clutching her stomach, laughter spilling free as if a balloon had been punctured in her chest. And if her hilarity contained the barest tinge of hysteria, well ... There wasn't much she could do about that. Wiping moisture from her eyes, she straightened, an arm still wrapped around her middle. Raphael studied her, the corner of his sensual mouth quirked even as what appeared to be sympathy darkened his eyes.
"I'm sorry," she gasped, smoothing her palms over her hair, suddenly restless, antsy.
"No need to apologize," he murmured. "But I have news for you, princess. If your intention is to get drunk, that frou-frou drink isn't going to cut it. And ..." As if time slowed to half speed, he shifted to the edge of his barstool, lifted his arm, and brushed a knuckle down her cheek. He silently studied her with an intensity that seemed not just to see her, but peer deep past the perfect social-butterfly persona to the flawed, sometimes scared woman beneath. "For the record, I already figured out your ex had a stick up his ass. Now I know he had his head up there, too. Because if he let you go, he's an idiot."
Her breath stuck in her throat, captured by the fist of need lodged there. And as his gaze roamed her face and the echo of his gentle caress hummed under her skin, the hunger strangling her was more than physical. Yes, he was wildly sexy like an exotic, untamed, unpredictable creature. His confidence and I-don't-give-a-damn attitude were as alluring to her as his hooded, knowing stare and lean, muscled body.
Yet there was something behind the sex and swagger. The simmering desire he didn't even attempt to conceal as he lingered on her mouth before returning to her eyes. That heat touched her, stroked her battered spirit and bruised self-esteem in ways that put her two steps above pathetic and only one above a Bachelor contestant.
But there it was.
"You don't know me," she murmured, and if there was a shade of desperation tinting the protest then she couldn't erase it.
Another gentle caress stroked under her bottom lip. "You're right," he agreed simply. "I don't know if you like the crusts on or off your PB&J sandwich. I don't know if you prefer to fall asleep to the sound of the television or total darkness and silence. But even an idiot — including that lackwit you were engaged to — can't deny your beauty, elegance, sweetness, and intelligence."
With any other man, she would've scoffed, waved the words aside as blatant flattery — blatant bullshit flattery. But not with Raphael. She wasn't well-acquainted with the idiosyncrasies of his personality, but she sensed he didn't do smooth sweet talk. Not because he couldn't — she didn't doubt he was more than capable of enticing a woman out of her panties. Most likely he just wouldn't bother. And that made his words that much more precious.
"I don't eat peanut butter and jelly."
His eyes rounded as his lips parted on a loud, exaggerated gasp. He slapped a palm to his chest as if her admission had wounded him.
"What the hell? Are you American?"
Excerpted from Secrets and Sins: Raphael by Naima Simone, Tracy Montoya. Copyright © 2014 Naima Bryant. 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.