Read an Excerpt
Stone Cold Seduction
Set In Stone Book One
By Jess Macallan, Caroline Phipps
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Jess Macallan
All rights reserved.
The worst day of my life began with a double mocha, extra whipped cream. I burned my tongue, spilled whipped cream on my black top, and then dumped the whole thing when I tripped while walking up the stairs to my second-floor apartment. It got worse. Like a bad country song, I broke things, lost things, ran over things, and hurt things — mostly myself.
If it had stopped there, I could have slept it off with a little help from a bottle of cabernet. But, naturally, it didn't.
Now, a little past one in the morning, I'm balancing on a stone ledge outside a building that doesn't belong to me, trying to get away with gems that don't belong to me. An employee who does, sort of, belong to me, has just opened the nearest window and casually said hello.
Being caught stealing by my newest employee — who happens to be a hottie — tops my list of Worst Situations Ever.
Yes, I've had better days.
My name is Elleodora Fredricks — Elle for short. I'm not a fan of my name, especially because it comes from my paternal line. By day, I'm a small business owner, the proprietress of an organic soap store. By night, a cat burglar. I'm moderately talented at both professions. In my defense, I do my part to spread good karma. I donate pet food and blankets to the local animal shelter, I collect donations at my shop twice a year for the food bank, and the only person I ever steal from is the biggest son of a bitch in town.
I typically refer to him as the jerk who mistakenly donated DNA. He never earned the title of dad. It's safe to say we have father-daughter issues.
A small bead of sweat slid down my jaw and disappeared into my collar. It was a cool October evening, but a combination of nerves and leather had me perspiring. Face first, I pressed my weight against the building and gripped the decorative stone that surrounded the window. It had rained earlier, so the stone was slick, but the swirls and pattern in the stone made it fairly easy to grip, despite the rain.
The ledge under my feet was another matter. The eight inches of concrete I balanced on were not nearly enough to make me feel safe from the potential five-story drop. Heights made me queasy, but the gorgeous man staring at me from the window I'd just crawled out of unnerved me.
For starters, he hadn't taken his eyes off me. For a brief moment, I wondered why I'd listened to Teryl and worn the black catsuit. I was a walking cliché for cat burglars, clinging to a ledge with gemstones hidden between my breasts, wearing a freaking black leather catsuit. I'd only wanted to blend into the shadows and avoid leaving a scrap of identifiable clothing behind. Teryl had sworn the neck-to-ankle black one-piece made me look dangerous and sexy.
Teryl was a liar.
However, Teryl is a liar who also happens to be my best friend, and a key component to this failure of an operation. He's the one and only informant I have inside my father's business. Without him, I wouldn't have access to any of the information I need to stay one step ahead of dear old Dad. Too bad Teryl was striking out tonight. Big time.
Excuses to explain my position to my hot employee began to run through my mind, but as quickly as they formed, I dismissed them. It was as bad as it looked. Catsuit, theft, and all. Tonight's cache included fifty-two carats of flawless Paraiba tourmaline gemstones. It really doesn't hurt my father's bottom line — he's loaded — but it keeps him distracted. More importantly, it prevents him from murdering any more innocents. The money goes back to the families of those who weren't so lucky, and to the small few who've survived, but wished they hadn't.
Breathing deeply, I prayed for strength and slowly turned my head to look at Jaxon West, otherwise known as Jax. I'd hired him two months ago to help with deliveries, shipments, and all-around handy man tasks.
The man was hot, sweaty, bring-the-roof-down sex poured into jeans.
Jax stood a solid six feet tall, with broad shoulders, a tapered waist, and every inch of him threaded with muscle. His hair was cut short and an honest-to-God black. It's so black, it has a gorgeous blue sheen in certain light. And then there were his eyes.
Oh, his eyes.
They're a steely, flint gray. I swear, at times I've seen them shimmer with streaks of silver. Most days, they reflect a sense of calm and knowledge that you associate with the very old, very patient, and very wise.
The strange thing: he's only thirty-four.
While I stared at him, unable to form a coherent explanation, he leaned out of the window and softly cleared his throat. "Hi, boss."
His voice reminded me of my favorite chocolate. Dark, smooth, and so delicious, you can only eat one small bite at a time, because you want to wrap it around yourself to savor every little bit. Too bad this was the wrong place, wrong time.
Thankful for the dark of night, I offered him a stiff smile he probably couldn't see. "Hi, Jax. Fancy meeting you here."
He crossed his arms and settled against the window frame as if he had all night. One black brow lifted, but he said nothing.
Jax was good at silence. There were days he'd work for hours without saying a single word. I didn't get the impression he was anti-social, just quiet and observant. He didn't miss a thing, but he rarely offered his two cents. His silent presence was usually calming. Right now, I felt anything but calm.
Gritting my teeth in disgust, mostly at myself, I lifted my gaze toward the dark October night sky. He was going to be difficult, and I didn't have time to offer up the harsh details of why I was here. Plus, I really wanted to get out of this catsuit. Sweat accumulated in uncomfortable places when wearing leather.
Teryl would have to die for this.
"I know this looks bad, but if you'd let me —" I bit off the rest of my words when Jax's head whipped around to look at something in my father's office. He put a hand up to silence me.
I heard the voices, and my blood ran cold. My heart began to pound hard against my chest. If my father's men found me ... I couldn't even finish the thought as my stomach began to churn. I wondered if jumping would be a better option.
Jax motioned for me to remain quiet, and he carefully climbed onto the ledge without making a sound. He managed to close the window most of the way before the men walked into the room.
I inched my way over, so Jax could slide beside me on the slippery, narrow brick ledge.
At least I'll die with a gorgeous man, I thought morbidly, trying not to panic.
I could hear the men shuffling around in the room, their voices tense and angry. Holding my breath, I kept as still as I could. I'd never been this close to being caught. I felt knots forming into hard, heavy lumps in my stomach as I pressed into the stone wall.
"Mr. Warlow is gonna be pissed if another one goes missing," a raspy voice pronounced.
"That's an understatement" was the sarcastic reply.
I didn't recognize the first voice, but I knew the second.
It haunted me.
I hadn't seen Luke for over ten years. Hearing his voice ... it was as if the nightmare had ended only yesterday. Except it hadn't really ended. I'd merely been given a reprieve.
Luke is my father's right-hand goon. He is pure nastiness behind an ugly mug of a face. Built like a tank, Luke enjoys inflicting pain in ways that go far beyond disturbing. No amount of therapy or medication would ever get through to him. Some people are born evil, and Luke fit that description to a T. I had nightmares about that man more often than I liked to admit.
If he was involved tonight, things were going to get ugly, soon. I pushed distant memories into the furthest corners of my mind and laid my cheek against the cold, wet stone. It would be embarrassing if I got caught and cried in front of Jax in the same night.
On the bright side, if Luke was on the job, my father must be getting irritated. Maybe I was finally getting results. It thrilled and terrified me at the same time.
"Seriously man, we've got to find this bastard." The raspy voice sounded slightly panicked. "This will be the third one in four months. You know how Mr. Warlow is. Heads will roll."
Luke's reply was muffled, and I sent up a quick thanks. I didn't want to hear anything he might have to say about what he'd do when he caught me.
I could hear the men moving things around, probably looking for the small bag of gemstones I had secured against my chest. Were the police on their way? I pressed closer to the stone face, trying to make myself as small as possible. It was a futile effort. You can't hide a five-foot, eight-inch tall, catsuit-covered woman on an eight-inch ledge.
Did I mention I'm not great under pressure?
Jax put an arm around the back of my waist, for comfort or safety, I wasn't sure. I shifted slightly, distracted with the close contact. His arm was warm and hard, and a small part of me enjoyed the touch. Jax was an innocent in all this. I still didn't know why he was there, but I did know he should have never been caught up in my mess. I drew in a breath to whisper that I was sorry, but he stopped me.
"Hush." His breath felt warm against my ear as he whispered the command. "They will see the open window soon."
I ignored the shiver his words conjured. I'd rather jump from five stories than let Luke find me.
Almost on cue, that raspy voice called, "Hey, did you check the window?"
I heard someone scramble toward the window. As it slid open, I was desperate for the night to swallow us whole. Bile rose in my throat as the thought burned through me.
I saw a shaved head poke out and look both directions. Luke's cold eyes scanned the area, and I could almost feel that sharp gaze cut over me. His image wavered as I forgot to breathe, and I waited for the pain and oblivion that always followed Luke. I squeezed my eyes shut as fear wrenched me back to the past.
I stood before my father, hands clasped in front of me, eyes on the floor. He was angry again.
I tried not to cry. He hated it when I cried. He called me a sniveling weakling. Not fit to share his blood. Mom said I had to be here because we were blood. My seven-year-old mind didn't understand.
But I did understand his anger. It meant pain for me.
I heard a door creak open and dared to look up. A terrified whimper escaped before I could stop it. Father would be furious at the sound.
His fists clenched until the knuckles were white.
He never hit me. I always flinched, waiting for his blow. But he never hit me. I could see in his eyes that he wanted to.
"Luke, make sure the child understands her place," Father bit out, raking me with one last, scathing look. Shaking his head in disgust, he walked out.
Luke watched him leave, a small, cruel smile playing at his lips. His eyes were lit with an unholy gleam, and he smoothed a hand over his bald head. "Well, well, Princess. Shall we play?"
Seven-year-old legs trembled, unable to run. No longer caring about Father's wrath, I opened my mouth to scream. I knew I shouldn't. Luke loved it when I screamed.
His smile grew wider.
Tears streamed down my face and I wondered how long it would take for the darkness to come this time.
"Anything?" the unknown voice inside called, jarring me back to the present. I dared to open my eyes. This time, they were clear and dry.
"Nope." Luke's shaved head disappeared. Moments later, their voices trailed away, still grumbling.
I remained still, confused. Luke never walked away when his prey was in sight. Maybe this was a new, sick twist of his. Psych out the prey before you torture and kill it.
I hated him with every fiber of my soul.
Almost choking on my rage and fear, I held still, waiting to be discovered. He'd be back. He always came back. Maybe he'd left to call the police. I waited for the sound of a security alarm or sirens.
After a full two minutes of quiet, I worked up the courage to whisper, "What the hell just happened? Are they gone?"
Jax was silent. His body stiffened at my question. The darkness made his fierce expression even harsher. It was not a happy look.
When he finally spoke, his voice stretched between us, low and deadly. "How long have you been able to shadow?"
I wasn't sure what he meant, so I didn't answer. I was still shocked we hadn't been seen.
With a muttered curse, he grabbed me around the waist with both arms and jumped. I didn't have time to draw in a breath to scream before he gently set me down on the street, five stories below.
I gurgled and stared up to where we had just been standing. "What ... I ... I ..."
His expression was grim when he faced me. "We need to talk."
"Buh ... buh ... but how did you ..." My words trailed off as I looked up and down the street, at a complete loss. Was I going crazy? How had we gotten to the ground in one piece? How had Luke not seen us? Maybe I'd finally gone off the deep end. It sounded like a viable option.
I brushed a shaky hand against the small, velvet bag that was nestled against my chest, inside the suit. It was still there. My heart thundered against it, and I swore I heard the echo of the beat. The stress of the past few moments caught up with me, and I felt my knees begin to buckle.
I was in another nightmare. Except Luke didn't have a starring role, and I couldn't seem to wake up from this one.
Jax grabbed me around the waist before I crumpled to the pavement. He strode away from the building, half-dragging me beside him. "Let's get you home and get you a drink. We have a lot to discuss."
I stumbled along and felt my breath coming in short gasps, suddenly feeling uncomfortably awake and wishing I weren't. Jax had caught me breaking and entering, we'd barely escaped my father's sadistic enforcer by jumping from five stories up, and now he wanted to go get a drink?
The cool night air held the lingering scent of rain and the undertones of a flowering tree, but thankfully, no sound of sirens or alarms. I couldn't remember the name of the tree, but the soothing ritual of identifying scents helped calm me down.
We arrived at my apartment on Seattle's Capitol Hill a half hour later. My neck hurt from constantly looking over my shoulder for Luke or the police. I'd cringed at every shadow, real and imagined. Despite my paranoia, I hadn't seen anyone on our walk beyond the late night partygoers.
I loved the area. It had a fun, funky feel and suited my business perfectly. My building was plain, but my neighbors were great. I had a Thai restaurant to the left and an accountant's office to the right. Directly across the street was my favorite yoga studio. I didn't have to venture far for anything. My shop was downstairs, and my apartment was upstairs. As an employee, Jax already had a key to the shop. Now, he held out his hand and demanded the key to my apartment.
Don't ask me how I managed to fit a key in a leather catsuit. I did.
My limbs felt heavy with exhaustion. The long walk home hadn't helped, but public transportation hadn't been an option. I remained silent until Jax had pushed me inside and locked the door behind us.
"Am I dreaming? Because not one moment of the last twenty minutes has made much sense."
Part of me was hoping he'd lie. Maybe Teryl would jump out from behind my favorite overstuffed chair and yell "You've been Punk'd!"
Life is never that easy.
"Elleodora," Jax began.
"It's Elle. Just Elle," I grumbled. I've been telling him for two months to call me by my nickname. Only my father and my mother called me Elleodora. My mom had only used it when she was mad at me. My father used it as an insult.
Jax sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. Putting extra emphasis on my name, he said, "Elle, I need to know how long you've been able to shadow."
I still had no idea what he was talking about, so I turned away and walked into my small kitchen, and sagged into one of the chairs at my breakfast table.
I love my little kitchen. It smells like an herb garden. I keep pots of lavender, basil, thyme, and lemon balm on the counter. My favorite place to be is sitting at my table, holding a cup of hot tea. I'd found the round table at an antique shop and refinished it myself. The scrollwork on the pedestal leg shows old-fashioned craftsmanship at its finest.
The warm mocha color of the kitchen walls wraps around me like a cozy blanket. I can read the paper, eat in peace, or stare out the small window and watch people rushing by on the sidewalk below. I always find comfort here.
Tonight, that comfort eluded me. Instead, I felt cold and numb.
Folding my hands on the table, I let my head sink onto them. My breath shuddered through me as I tried to let the weight of my tension slowly slip away.
Excerpted from Stone Cold Seduction by Jess Macallan, Caroline Phipps. Copyright © 2013 Jess Macallan. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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