Under Faith Malone’s soft exterior lies a woman who knows what she wants: A man who’ll take without asking—because she’s willing to give him everything…
Dallas cop Gray Montgomery wants only to find the guy who killed his partner and bring him to justice. What he’s found so far is a link between the killer and Faith—and if Gray has to get close to her to catch his man, all the better. She’s everything Gray desires in a woman, but he suspects she’s playing games. No way would she allow a man to call the shots in their relationship. Or would she?
Faith sees in Gray the strong, dominant man she needs, but he seems determined to keep her at a distance. So she takes matters into her own hands to prove to him it’s no game she’s playing. She’s willing to surrender to the right man. Gray would like to be that man. But catching his partner’s killer has to be his first priority. Until Faith is threatened and Gray realizes he will do anything to protect her…
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“Definitely a recommended read…filled with friendship, passion and, most of all, a love that grows beyond just being friends.”
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“I guarantee I will reread this book many times over and will derive as much pleasure as I did in the first reading each and every subsequent time.”
“A compelling look at love between friends.”
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—The Road to Romance
Heat / New York
“I don’t want you to go back on the job yet.”
Grayson Montgomery plunked his coffee cup back on the worn diner table and stared at Mick Winslow in confusion.
“What the fuck are you talking about, Mick?”
The older man shoved a tired hand over his face, a face that was now deeply grooved with wrinkles and fatigue. He’d called Gray earlier in the morning and asked him to meet him here for coffee. Gray was due for his physical and psych evaluation in a half hour. The last obstacle in his return to work as a Dallas cop.
He’d been plagued with doubts. What sane person wouldn’t be? He hadn’t been completely sure he could return to a job when Alex, his partner, wouldn’t. Ever. But, of course, he’d go back. Alex’s killer had to be caught. Justice had to be done. All that was standing in his way was a doctor’s okay on his physical condition and a shrink’s assessment on the state of his noggin. He could easily bullshit his way through that one.
“You don’t think I can hack it anymore?” Gray asked when Mick still didn’t respond.
“That’s not what I’m saying.”
“Then what the hell are you saying?”
Mick focused grief-stained eyes on Gray. He seemed so worn down now. Not at all like the big, barrel-chested man with a booming voice and personality to match.
“Hear me out. I have a favor to ask. Son.”
Gray flinched, not because Mick called him son, but because Mick’s real son was gone. Lost to them both.
“I want your help bringing Alex’s killer to justice.”
Gray should have seen this coming. Mick was beyond frustrated at the lack of progress in Alex’s murder case. Understandably so. It mirrored Gray’s own burning sense of injustice. Which was why he was so eager to get back on the job. So he could find Alex’s killer and make the bastard pay.
“But you don’t want me back on the force.”
“They dropped the ball on this investigation,” Mick said harshly. “You know it, and I know it. They’re all standing around with their thumbs up their asses while my boy’s killer is running free. They don’t even have a suspect. Alex was a good cop. Damn good cop. He didn’t deserve to go down like that.”
Gray’s eyes narrowed at the slight. It wasn’t directed personally, but still, it raised his hackles to have Mick question the departments’ handling of the case. Nothing he’d seen had led him to believe anyone was taking Alex’s death lightly.
“Why don’t you want me to go back?” Gray prompted, trying to push Mick back to the point. He didn’t want to dwell on Alex. Not now. Not when it had taken him this long to be able to think about his partner without feeling like someone torched his insides.
A waitress walked over with a coffeepot and started to refill their cups. Mick waved her away with an irritated gesture. She quickly retreated, eyebrows raised at the dark scowl on Mick’s face.
“I’ve been doing some investigating on my own.”
Gray frowned. Was this why Mick looked like death warmed over? Had he been devoting every hour of the day, forgoing sleep, in a desperate attempt to bring a killer in?
“You’re retired, Mick. Leave the police work to us.”
Hurt filled Mick’s eyes. “I’m going to forget you said that, son.”
Gray shook his head. “What have you found?”
“I think I have a solid lead on who may have killed Alex. He was at least at the scene that night, so if he didn’t do it, he damn sure knows who did. But my gut is telling me he’s the bastard who shot Alex in the back.”
Gray’s stomach churned, and all the coffee he’d consumed burned like acid. Images of Alex, facedown, like a piece of discarded trash, blood pooling on the ground.
“If you have evidence, why haven’t you gone to Billings, and why are you here asking me not to go back to the job?”
“Because Billings is an obnoxious prick who has his head so far up his ass he can smell last week’s dinner,” Mick growled. “I went to him when I uncovered information on the guy who was there. Samuels. Eric Samuels.”
“You know his name?” Gray broke in.
Mick held up his hand. “Let me finish. I know a lot more than the asshole’s name.”
Gray nodded and tried to relax in his seat. He glanced at his watch. He was going to be late.
“I went to Billings. Told him everything I knew. He blew me off. Told me I was a washed-up has-been who needed to leave the police work to the professionals. Told me when he needed my help, he’d damn well ask for it. It’s going around the department that Alex was at fault in the shooting.”
“What? What the fuck?”
“I’ve been hearing rumors, Gray. Seems that the prevailing belief is that Alex acted without cause, and that his death was an unfortunate consequence of his actions. The words ‘blatant disregard of duty’ were thrown around more than one conversation.”
Gray stared at Mick in disbelief. “You can’t be serious. I was there. I gave my report.”
“You’d say anything to cover for your partner.”
Gray curled his lip in a snarl.
Mick held up his hand. “That’s what they’ll say. Not me.”
Gray leaned back, taking deep breaths to calm the rage boiling inside him. He took a long, hard look at Mick. Was he jacking with him? Trying to get him pissed off enough that he’d agree to whatever Mick wanted? He’d never known Mick to be anything but straight up, but losing a son had a way of bending one’s conscience.
Mick propped his elbows on the table and leaned across, staring intently into Gray’s eyes. “You go to your evaluation, son. You talk to Billings. If you think I’m full of shit after you’ve been back at headquarters for a few hours, then by all means, you go back to the job and forget we ever had this conversation. But if you find out I’m right, you give me a call this afternoon. I’ll come over, and we can talk about how we’re going to nail the son of a bitch who killed my son. Your partner. Your brother.”
Mick slid out of the booth and threw a few wadded-up bills on the table before stalking toward the exit.
It had been hard to calmly request a leave of absence when what he wanted to do was put his fist through the wall. Gray had considered tanking the psych evaluation, but that shit went on his personnel record forever, and he didn’t want that to follow him for the next twenty years.
He stood in the living room of his apartment, pacing, too agitated to sit down and wait for Mick to arrive. The old man hadn’t sounded the least bit surprised when Gray had called him. Didn’t even ask what the word around headquarters was.
But then he knew. He’d told Gray, but Gray hadn’t believed him. Gray had gone back fully intending to ignore Mick’s request. No matter what, Gray wanted to be here where he could help with the investigation, not on some wild-goose chase. But Billings had drawn a hard line in the sand. Gray wasn’t allowed anywhere near the investigation. Too close and all that bullshit. Like he needed a bunch of psychobabble when his partner’s killer was on the loose. When he’d point-blank asked about the rumors floating around about Alex being at fault, Billings had flatly denied it, saying the investigation was ongoing and that the department would do everything in its power to bring the murderer to justice. Gray had also asked about Samuels and his possible connection to the murder, but Billings had refused to comment.
He’d left the office frustrated, only to be met with many sympathetic stares from fellow cops. Many murmured their opinion that no way had Alex done anything wrong. But the fact that they had to say it pissed Gray off to no end. There should be no question. It had raised questions in his mind about the direction the investigation was going.
Mick walked in the door, not bothering to knock. Gray met his gaze and found raw determination simmering there.
“So now you know,” Mick said quietly. “Are you going to help me?”
“I arranged for a six-month leave,” Gray said shortly. “Now tell me everything you’ve found out so we can nail this bastard.”
Mick walked over to the couch and sank down on the cushion. He eyed Gray purposefully. “I need you to go to Houston.”
“What’s in Houston?”
Gray folded his arms over his chest. “What does she have to do with Eric Samuels?”
“Maybe nothing. But she’s the only lead I’ve got right now.”
“So what about her? Who is she?”
Mick scratched at the back of his neck then shifted his head. “Eric Samuels hooked up with her mother right about the time of the shooting. They both disappeared just a few days after Alex got shot. No one’s seen them. I had her investigated. Pretty much a loser like Samuels. Goes through jobs like candy and has a history of drug abuse.
“Her daughter works for William Malone, the man who adopted her. He owns Malone and Sons Security. Top-notch firm. Colors outside the lines. You’d like him.”
Gray waited impatiently for Mick to get to the point. It didn’t much matter if he’d like Malone or not. All that mattered was whether or not his daughter could lead them to Alex’s killer.
“Apparently Faith took care of the mother for most of her life until a few years ago when the mom OD’d, and Malone stepped in and took Faith back to Houston. Since then, Mom has sporadically called the daughter up, mostly wanting money from what I’ve gathered.
“Last time she called her was a year ago. Now, my thought is, if the mom is in the habit of calling up the daughter when she needs money, she might very well start calling her again now that Samuels has entered the picture. Samuels is desperate. He needs money now that he’s on the move. Money that the mother doesn’t have.
“If you get close to the daughter, do some snooping, she might very well lead us to Samuels through the mother.”
Gray nodded. So far it made sense. Mom and boyfriend were on the run. Probably low on cash. She might very well contact Faith and ask for help. For all he knew, the girl might know exactly where her mother was.
“My buddy Griffin is friends with Malone, and Malone owes him a favor,” Mick continued. “I’ve arranged for you to have a job with his security company. He knows who you are, that you’re a cop and that your partner was killed.”
“But nothing else, right?”
Mick shook his head. “What he knows is that you’re on leave while you deal with the death of your partner and make the decision about whether or not you want to return to the job.”
Gray looked sharply at Mick.
Mick shrugged. “It seemed a plausible enough explanation.”
Whatever. He didn’t give a damn what Malone thought his reasons for taking a leave of absence were.
“Does Malone figure into this in anyway? Does he have anything to do with Faith’s mother?”
Mick shook his head. “Griffin filled me in on this much. They were briefly married ten years or so ago. Hasn’t had anything to do with her since. He’s a good man. His son is ex-military. He has two other guys working for him. One was in Special Forces, and the other was a cop before an injury took him out of the line of duty. They do good work.”
“So it’s only his daughter I need to be concerned about then.”
Mick nodded. “Exactly.”
It sounded simple enough. Go in, get the information and get out. Hand it over to the department on a silver platter. Sounded like a cakewalk after some of the cases he’d been handed over the years. And yeah, he could use the break. Then he wouldn’t have to think so much about returning to a job without his partner.
Mick stared at him for a long moment before he seemed to crumple right in front of Gray. “Thanks, son. I knew I could count on you.”
“You don’t have to thank me,” Gray said shortly. “Alex would have done the same for me in a heartbeat.”
He walked over and sat down by Mick. Neither spoke for a long moment, and then Gray reached out and put his hand on Mick’s shoulder. “Alex will get the justice he deserves, Mick. I swear it.”
Faith Malone curled into John’s limp arm and tried, tried really hard not to allow the slow roll of disappointment to wash over her.
Her lover’s soft, even breathing filled the room even as he gathered her closer to his chest. His hand curled into her hair, stroking the back of her neck.
She pressed her cheek further against him and tried to relax. Tried to find some measure of contentment in the aftermath of their lovemaking.
“Was that good for you?” he whispered.
“Yes,” she lied. Well, it wasn’t really a lie. She’d certainly had worse, and John was a considerate lover. But he was extremely passive.
She sighed and rolled over on her back and stared up at the ceiling. What was wrong with her? Why couldn’t she find satisfaction? Why was she so afraid to push for more?
“Faith, I’ve been thinking.”
She turned her head back to John. Panic hit her square in the chest. Surely nothing good ever came of a man saying he’d been thinking. Men just didn’t think, and they certainly weren’t prone to expressing those thoughts over pillow talk.
He shifted until he lay on his side facing her.
“I’ve been thinking too, John,” she blurted.
He raised his eyebrow. “You first.”
She rose up on her elbow and stared nervously down at him. Her mind raced to come up with a coherent way to put what she wanted to say.
“Why don’t you plan our date tomorrow night? You decide what we’ll do, where to eat. And maybe afterwards we could come back here, and you could…I don’t know, tie me up, or do something kinky. Basically whatever you want to do. Your choice.”
What a disaster. Could she have stated it any more awkwardly? She bit her lip as she waited for his response.
His eyes widened. Was that surprise or was it excitement?
“Uhm, I’m not sure I follow,” he said uneasily.
Definitely not excitement.
“I want you to take charge,” she said softly.
He sat up in bed and rubbed his head. “Faith, where on earth did this come from?”
Her cheeks burned, and she swallowed. God, she felt stupid. Nothing like sending a man running in the opposite direction.
“Are you unhappy with the way things are? Is that what you’re trying to say?” he asked.
She thought about lying and backtracking. It’s what she’d done in the last relationship. And the one before that. But that wasn’t getting her anywhere.
“I wouldn’t say unhappy. Exactly.”
“Then what would you say?” he prompted.
“I’m not satisfied,” she said quietly.
“You mean sexually?”
She looked up to see him staring intently at her, irritation lighting his eyes.
“No. It’s not just about the sex, John. If it was, maybe I could deal with it. It’s more than that. I want…I want a man who can take charge. Make decisions. Be…in control. And not just in the bedroom.”
“And I’m not that man.”
She twisted her fingers together, bending and squeezing. “You haven’t been.”
He cursed softly under his breath. “You want me to change?”
She gazed sadly at him. “No. That’s not fair. To you or me. I guess…I guess I just hoped maybe you could be that man.”
“Damn it, Faith, you make it sound like it’s over between us. What is this? Some fantasy you want me to act out? I can do that. I mean if you mean role playing, but it doesn’t sound like you want a temporary situation.”
She shook her head. “No, I don’t. I want—no, I need this. And that’s the thing. There have been men who would be more than willing to spend a night playing the dominant male, but it ends there. I don’t want it to end.” She leaned forward, willing him to understand. “Does that make sense?”
He scrubbed a hand over his face and rubbed his eyes tiredly. “Yeah, it makes sense.”
She reached out to touch him, and he flinched away from her. “I don’t know what to say. Are you angry?”
A harsh sound escaped his lips as he blew his breath out in a rush. “No. Yes. Hell, I don’t know. I feel like you dropped a damn anvil on my head.”
He reached out and cupped her chin in his hand. He stroked his thumb over her cheek as he stared into her eyes. “I knew…I knew something wasn’t right between us. I didn’t expect this, but I knew you weren’t as happy as you could be. Or should be. I want you to be happy, Faith. Hell, I want me to be happy. And I guess we just don’t do it for each other.”
He quirked one corner of his mouth up in a semblance of a grin, and she relaxed.
“You weren’t satisfied either,” she accused.
His smile turned into a rueful grin. “I guess I won’t get into trouble for saying no then.”
She flopped back onto the bed and let out a giggle. “Don’t we make a good pair. Lying here naked after sex, breaking up.”
He leaned over her, his expression serious. “You’re a terrific woman, Faith. I’d hoped for more between us, and I admire the guts it took for you to tell me what you wanted.”
“So you don’t think I’m a perverted sicko?”
“No, but I want you to promise me you’ll be careful. A lot of men out there would take advantage of the type of situation you want. They wouldn’t have your pleasure or best interests at heart.”
“Thanks, John,” she said softly as she reached up to touch his face.
He bent and kissed her cheek before sliding out of bed to get dressed.
Faith sat behind her desk at Malone and Sons Security and nibbled absently at her pencil. The office was quiet today. Pop and the others were out on a job bid with the new guy, and she was left to ponder alone. Never a good thing.
John had left the night before instead of staying over as he usually would. But then breaking up had a way of pushing a man out of bed. She could console herself with the fact that apparently, he’d been as unsatisfied with her as she had with him, so she doubted he was suffering a broken heart.
She, on the other hand, was well on her way to major funkdom. Maybe she had been too subtle. Too afraid. Too ashamed of her needs and desires. It certainly wasn’t something she’d ever discuss with her girlfriends, not that she had many. They’d probably vote to kick her out of the league of women upon hearing just what it was Faith wanted in a man.
Last night had been the first time she’d actually voiced the dark desires floating around in her head. Not that she’d gone into any great detail. Just the brief mention had made her cheeks burn with embarrassment.
But that had to end. Now.
Subtlety was not her friend. It wasn’t getting her anywhere with the men she’d been involved with. Hinting and hoping wasn’t the way. No, she had to be more proactive. More forceful. If she didn’t make it clear what she wanted, then how could she ever expect to get it?
The ringing phone interrupted her melancholy train of thought, and she reached gratefully for it.
“Malone and Sons,” she greeted.
“Hi sweetie, it’s Mom.”
Faith’s heart plummeted. A sick curl began swelling in her stomach, and she had to physically restrain the urge to hang the phone back up. God, it had been a year since she’d heard from her mother. A year of no hysterics, no martyr acts, no lame excuses.
“Mom,” she said faintly. “How are you?” Stupid question. Her mother was never all right. Always some crisis.
“I’m in trouble, Faith. I need your help.”
Faith closed her eyes and bit down on her lip. Through the receiver, she heard a sound like cars passing on a highway. Was her mother at a pay phone? It wasn’t likely Celia could afford a cell phone.
Don’t ask, Faith. No questions. You don’t want to know anyway.
“Faith, are you there?”
“I’m here,” Faith whispered. If only she hadn’t answered the phone.
“I need to borrow some money, baby. Just a little to tide me over until I get another job and a place to live.”
Faith swallowed back the stark disappointment and closed her eyes to call back the sting of tears. As dumb as it was to hope that one day Celia Martin would get her act together, Faith clung to it nonetheless.
Why couldn’t she have a mother? A real mother. Someone not so bent on screwing up everything in her path who could have a real relationship with her daughter.
“Faith, I really need it this time, honey. I’ll pay you back, of course.”
Of course. What a laugh. Faith’s hand squeezed the receiver of the phone until a sharp pain snaked up her arm.
“Not this time, Mom,” Faith said, surprising herself with her refusal.
The long, silent pause that settled over the line told Faith that her mother was just as surprised.
“But honey, I need the money to get by.” Desperation edged Celia’s voice. She became more forceful. “I told you I’d pay you back. I have to find a place to live, buy gas and food. As soon as I get settled and find another job, I’ll be okay.”
“That’s what you say every time,” Faith said quietly. “Only it never ends. I can’t continue to bail you out. It’s time you took some responsibility for yourself.”
Before Celia could respond, Faith gently replaced the phone on the receiver. Her hands shook as she pushed away from the desk.
“Is everything okay?”
She jerked her head up as she heard the strange voice. Leaning on the doorframe of her office door was a man. And not just any man. He took up the entire doorway.
“C-can I help you?”
He stood upright and walked the remaining distance to her desk. He stuck out his hand to her. “Gray Montgomery. The new guy.”
Her mouth rounded to an O. She slid her hand into his and instead of shaking it, he merely held on and squeezed gently.
“I’m Faith Malone.”
He smiled, and his blue eyes twinkled at her. “I know.”
She blew out her breath. “Of course, you know. I’m the only woman who works here, so I couldn’t be anyone else.”
“Am I interrupting anything?” he asked as he let go of her hand and gestured to the phone. “You seemed upset.”
She shook her head and continued to stare up at him. Lordy, but he was an intimidating sort. “It was nothing. Was there something you wanted?”
The phone rang, and she jumped about a foot. The sick feeling in her stomach returned with a vengeance. It was probably her mother. She continued to stare at the phone, unwilling to pick it up, not wanting to deal with an overwrought mother who manipulated her at every turn.
A large hand covered the receiver and yanked it up.
“Malone’s,” Gray bit out. There was a long pause, and he looked up at Faith with that searing gaze. “I’m sorry, but she stepped out for a moment. Can I take a message?”
Please, please don’t leave a message. She couldn’t take some hysterical spiel from her mother. Not to a complete stranger.
Gray put the phone back down.
“Thank you,” she said quietly.
“No problem. Are you okay? I got the impression you definitely didn’t want to talk to whoever was on the phone before.”
She shivered as he continued to stare at her with those intense blue eyes. “I’m fine. Really. Now, was there something you wanted?” she asked again.
The corners of his mouth quirked up in an amused smile. “You trying to get rid of me?”
She flushed. “Sorry, of course not. I’m very glad to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you from Pop and Connor. Are you settling in well? I haven’t seen you around the office.”
Shut up, Faith. She wanted to drop her head on her desk. She sounded like a complete airhead.
He cleared his throat. “I’m glad to meet you as well. I’ve also heard a lot about you from Pop and Connor. I’m moved into the apartment just fine, and this is my first time in to the office.”
His eyes twinkled as he continued to regard her with a smile. Beautiful eyes too. Deep, rich blue. He wore his hair short, spiked slightly on top. Probably didn’t have to do much more than rub a towel over it, wave a comb in the general direction and go.
“I was hoping you could direct me to my office?”
She blinked and yanked herself from her slow perusal of his attributes. She stood up, knocking her knee against the desk. Pain shot up her thigh, and she grimaced.
He raised a brow but didn’t comment. She opened her top desk drawer and rummaged around a few seconds before pulling out a set of keys.
“These are the keys to your office and to the building. I’m sure Pop has given you all the security codes, but if not, I’ll write them down for you.”
She thrust them toward him, and his hand closed around hers once more. A warm tingle skittered across her skin as his thumb brushed across her knuckles. She yanked her hand back and walked around the desk toward the door. When she reached the hallway, she turned back to see him still watching her. She was pretty sure he’d been eyeballing her ass, but as soon as she’d turned around, his gaze shot upward.
“If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you your office.”
He pushed off from where he’d leaned his butt on her desk and started toward her. She swiveled back around and walked three doors down to the vacant office that had been assigned to him.
She opened the door but didn’t go in. She gestured inside with her hand. “Here you are. If you need anything, let me know.”
“I’ll do that,” he said in a low voice as he walked by her.
Gray felt her gaze, knew she was watching him as he moved inside the doorway. They’d both done their share of looking. When Mick had given him details on Faith Malone, Gray hadn’t expected her to be so beautiful. Or so innocent looking.
“I, uhm, I’ll get back to my office now. I’ll see you around. If you need anything, just holler.”
He turned to see her back from his office and hightail it down the hall. He shook his head and smiled to himself. He made her nervous. She’d been on edge ever since he walked into her office.
Once he was sure she was gone, he backtracked to shut the door then pulled out his cell phone to call Mick.
“I finally met Faith Malone,” he said as soon as Mick answered.
“Not what I expected,” Gray confessed.
“What do you mean?”
Gray paused and once again conjured up the image of her sitting in her office, her face a mask of upset. Her distress bothered him more than he wanted to admit.
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"A measure of BDSM, a flavor of suspense and a whole lot of interpersonal conflict make Banks' latest an utterly compelling story." -Romantic Times