For Raegan "Rae" Storm, the trouble in her life is as permanent as the tattoo stamped on her shoulder. After witnessing a double murder, she becomes the target of a bloodthirsty mafia and enters the Witness Protection Program in exchange for her testimony. With her life on the line, the last thing she expects is to lose her heart to the mysterious, handsome Quinn Bronson, the U.S. Marshal protecting her.
Driven by honor and his commitment to his job, Bronson rescues Rae from threats time and time again, but fighting off hit men is easier than ignoring his attraction for the one woman he should never desire: the witness. As danger presses in on Bronson and Rae, neither knows whom they can trust, and their forbidden love could be what destroys them.
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Tattooed as Trouble
Vegas Vixens Book Three
By J.L. Hammer, Alethea Spiridon
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 J.L. Hammer
All rights reserved.
Absently, Rae touched the scar near the hairline on her forehead, courtesy of the headfirst dive into a sturdy piece of metal during her botched breaking-and-entering attempt six months earlier. The inch mark would always be an outward reminder of her stupidity — the curse of her DNA. It was difficult to believe that November had arrived. These past months she'd had nothing but time to dwell on her misfortune as she wasted away in a solitary jail cell with a few books, magazines, a stainless steel commode, and a built-in counter.
Bars clanked and slammed. Rae shifted on the lumpy mattress; the coolness of the metal frame penetrated into her shoulder. The memory of the interrogation that had followed her and her brother's arrests still made her pulse quicken and a rock-size lump form in her throat. At first the police hadn't believed the word of a Storm that Chicago's own Judge Eiseman, along with a mysterious accomplice whom she couldn't identify, murdered the Boczar brothers. True hadn't been much help, since he hadn't been able to corroborate her story. Although neither True nor she had gunpowder residue on their hands, the detectives had already considered them the prime suspects. Figured it had been a deal gone bad, and that True had met up with a member of the Boczar family when he'd been in the joint. The police wouldn't have stopped until True and Rae had been slapped with murder charges if it hadn't been for the appearance of the DEA, who'd wanted the location of the Boczar's drug warehouse — bad.
A week later the DEA had made one of the largest ecstasy busts in Chicago's history, and the police investigation had found evidence linking Eiseman to the Boczars. But the evidence of homicide was circumstantial. For a murder conviction, they needed Rae's eyewitness account. That sounded cut and dry, except for one thing. Rae pressed her lips together, wondering if fate had it in for her. Unbeknownst to her, she'd just snitched on the Ukrainian Mafia. In the home country they were known as the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Boczars, which translated into the "bloody Boczars," because when they were through with their victims, the bodies were unrecognizable. A shiver hit every vertebrae as it snaked down her spine. Since in all likelihood a contract had been placed on her life, she'd been safely tucked away in a solitary jail cell. But that was all about to change — today.
Rae's attention jerked to the solid door of her cell as it opened. A stout female correctional officer stepped in and set a pile of clothes on the corner of the cot. "Change into these street clothes. The marshals should be here within the hour to take custody of you, and then you'll proceed to the safe house."
The door clanked shut with the officer's departure. Raegan pushed to her feet, stripped off the orange garments — more than relieved to be rid of them — and slipped on the jeans and T-shirt. Even though she swam in the clothes, they felt like heaven. She leaned against the cinderblock wall, slid her socked feet into the off-brand white sneakers, and then tied the laces. She pondered her bleak future. Some girls dreamed of being high powered CEOs, supermodels, or teachers and here she was with a one-way ticket into the Witness Protection Program. Tears pricked the backs of her eyes. True had already been relocated. Sure, in exchange for her testimony they'd be exonerated of their crime but she would never see her brother again. Rae looked skyward, her gaze fixed on the circular air vent pushing out the stale, Lysol-scented air. If only she'd tried harder to talk her brother out of his plan. Because of that one choice, her life and True's were ruined.
She straightened, a headache taking root at the base of her neck and across the span of her brows. Judge Eiseman's murder trial had been going for months now, and any day she'd have to testify. The media was frenzied. The prominent Eiseman family also had an assistant district attorney in Chicago. Add the Storm name as the witness, and it just made the story all the more delicious.
She inhaled a shaky breath and returned to the cot. As asinine as it sounded, she was more than ready for her custody to switch to the U.S. Marshals. She craved new surroundings and hopefully interaction with a friendly face — anything to distract her from her dark thoughts and to get her out of this hellhole. Heavy footsteps sounded, distracting her from her musings. The cell door swung open and three formidable men — all appearing to be in their thirties — entered. Rae straightened on the cot. Silver stars glistened on their breast pockets. Bulky handcuffs and firearms protruded from under their suit jackets. The cell door slammed closed behind them with finality.
Alarm ricocheted through her as she peered into their narrowed eyes and absorbed the disdain reflected in the marshals' pinched faces. When would receiving that look from people stop hurting? Five years? Ten? Never? In her eagerness to get out of the cell, she'd hadn't really considered the marshals might be from the Chicago area. Rae clasped the metal frame of the cot in a death grip. Cop killer! Memories of how many times people had shouted that ugly word at her almost made her double over. Even after two years, the fact that she hadn't been directly involved — hadn't even been in the vicinity during the standoff at her parents' commune — didn't matter to anyone.
The closest man towered over her as his gaze took in her appearance with casual appraisal. He was ruggedly handsome and appeared to be the most seasoned of the trio. "Miss Storm, I'm Deputy U.S. Marshal Bronson." He spoke with a hint of a New York accent. He had sleek brown hair, long enough to run your fingers through, over a tan, wide forehead, and a raw masculinity that contrasted with the fine cut of his tailored suit. His expression was unreadable, his mouth straight, not even a hint of a smile.
Rae's body tensed even more. Her grip on the metal frame turned painfully tight.
He gestured next to him to the agent with ebony skin, unblinking eyes, and a shiny bald head. "This is Marshal Gibbs, and the tall one in the back is Kranz." His skin was a little too bronze to be natural, but Kranz's blond buzz cut, thick vein-popping neck, and scowl made him a perfect candidate for a Marine recruiting ad. The walls of the room seemed to shift and close in on her. The air grew thin.
No way! Change of plan. Locked in a house with these guys for the duration of the trial wouldn't put her at ease. She'd happily stare at these bland walls. Rae looked back to Marshal Bronson, fighting the onset of panic. "Y-you have the wrong cell." She winced as her voice cracked.
"Ma'am, everything's going to be okay. We're here to take you to a safe place," Marshal Bronson said as he widened his stance.
Yeah, right. Everything was not going to be okay. How could he actually say that with a straight face? If someone took a shot at her, he might even step aside just to let the bullet meet its target.
No. Be rational. These guys guarded witnesses they didn't like all the time. She scrutinized Marshal Bronson's attractive features. Intelligence reflected in his eyes. From the look of his broad-tipped nose and the low slash of his brows, she suspected he'd been a boxer or brawler in his youth. There was something compelling about him that made her want to stare a few moments longer. In her mind she envisioned herself as an entranced moth flying toward an enticing light ... zap! She flinched and then blew out a long breath. "Here's the deal. I-I would rather stay here. I'm really sorry you came all this way."
Tension crackled in the air as the marshals stared down at her with such intensity she fought not to squirm. From outside a woman ranted. Bars slammed.
"You don't need to be afraid. Our job is to protect you, should the need arise." Marshal Bronson's expression softened, making his square jaw, athletic build, and towering height somewhat less threatening. But that did little to reassure her as Kranz and Gibbs remained a wall of glaring statues behind him.
"Y-you all look like you could use a vacation." She bit her lower lip and then pushed out the rest of the words. "Court's only a few blocks away. I'll be closer if I stay here."
"Try seven miles. You've been here long enough. We don't want to be predictable. That's never a good thing," Bronson said, not taking his unreadable gaze off her. "You going to let go of that bed so we can be on our way?"
Rae pretended to think about it. "Sorry, but no. It's nothing personal."
For a split second Bronson's lips tilted up in a smirk, an expression she was sure he hadn't meant to waste on her but it sure did look good on him. "Boys, you ever had to convince a witness to leave a jail cell before?"
"Nope," Gibbs and Kranz said, the words coming out more like grunts.
"Try to relax, ma'am, the U.S. Marshals have been protecting witnesses since the program began in 1971," Bronson said. "We're the best, and we'll provide round-the-clock protection. I know this isn't easy, but I need you to trust us. I would really hate to have to tranquilize you."
She gasped, her eyes widening. "You wouldn't?"
"He would," Gibbs announced, sounding excited.
She directed a glare at each man and then sighed. Trust them — no. But she'd go with the gruff-looking marshals. As if she really had a choice. Being tranquilized wasn't on her morning agenda. She stood. "Fine. You don't play fair."
She smoothed her hair and felt a bit self-conscious by her total absence of makeup. From this position the men weren't as intimidating since she reached Bronson's and Gibbs's chins. She didn't bother to crane her neck to look at Kranz. "When will I have to testify?"
"We'll be contacted when it's time to bring you to the courthouse. Trials are unpredictable, lots of waiting. We won't take you into public until it is absolutely necessary," Bronson said, stepping back to give her space. "Now, when we leave, follow Gibbs. I have a hood for you to wear. Don't talk to anyone, and I'll have a hold of your arm, so just follow my lead."
A hood? Her heart rate spiked. She wanted to hide under the cot, but nodded instead.
Bronson accepted the hood from Kranz and slipped it over her head. Rae stiffened at the sudden darkness. She inhaled the scent of fabric softener from the smooth cloth.
"Go ahead and adjust the eyeholes," Bronson said.
"Won't wearing a hood draw unneeded attention to me?" Talk about being obvious.
"No. We need to keep your face hidden."
Rae adjusted the eyeholes, shoving away the uneasiness clawing down her spine.
"Okay, here we go." His calloused fingers clasped her arm and guided her out of the cell. Inside the hood her heated breath fanned across her skin. Don't think. Just move. The cement floor bounced around in her vision. Her sense of hearing heightened: feet shuffled, hollow bars slammed, a screechy woman argued with a man. All the while, Marshal Bronson led her through a maze that would take her out in the open. Would a gunman be waiting? She reached out and grabbed onto the hand that held her arm. Sweat coated her palms.
"Take even breaths, you're doing fine. Everything is secure," Bronson said in a low voice, clearly not seeing her on the verge of a panic attack inside the hood.
She was completely focused on her breathing when a wave of cool air washed over her. The faint chatter of a bird, the hum of idling motors, and the musty scent of rain made her stride falter. It had been so long since she'd been outside that if she didn't fear for her life, she'd have lain on the ground and basked in the fresh air.
"Keep walking. Almost there." Bronson's hold kept her moving forward.
She quickened her pace and couldn't stop herself from peering through the narrow eyeholes. Three similar dark sedans with tinted windows were parked at the curb. She frowned and did a double take. Two other women in hoods, both escorted by a handful of men, climbed into the other vehicles. Moments later Rae sat in the backseat of a sedan along with Bronson. Gibbs drove, with Kranz in the front next to him. Ten minutes or so passed before Bronson removed her hood. She blinked against the bright sunlight cutting through the sporadic dark clouds. Her shoulders sagged in relief. She'd made it. Leaving the jail was the most dangerous part — she hoped.
A cell phone rang, startling her. Bronson produced a phone from his belt and answered it. After listening a few moments, he said, "Roger that." He hung up and announced, "Change of plan. We're headed to I-80 West toward Jolet. Coordinates of the Ranch Motel are forty-one degrees north and eight-seven degrees west."
Someone grunted, then Kranz opened a small laminated map.
"Is-is something wrong?" She started wringing her hands.
"No," Marshal Kranz said and turned slightly in her direction, revealing the sharp curve of his bronzed cheekbone and his downturned mouth. His voice sounded like he gargled gravel on a regular basis. "Sometimes our destination changes, keeps everyone on their toes."
Rae peered over her shoulder. The other vehicles had gone different routes and were no longer in sight. She turned back and settled in the seat. She hadn't expected such a dog and pony show just to get her out of jail. Grudgingly, she had to admit the hood made sense now.
No one spoke. The engine hummed as they hit the freeway crowded with morning traffic.
A van kept a steady pace next to them. "Is this glass bulletproof?"
"Yes," Bronson murmured without looking her way. "Relax, Miss Storm, and let us do our job. Your safety is our first priority."
Rae couldn't agree. Right now she got the feeling that Gibbs and Kranz would rather toss her out of the car into a ditch. After an hour of driving around and then switching to a four-door Jeep with dark windows, they parked behind a weathered single-story motel on the outskirts of Chicago. Kranz and Gibbs stepped out and disappeared around the building. This place didn't look too secure, with a field bordered with tall, bushy trees in the rear, and a two-lane highway in front. She'd envisioned something more like a fortress, not the Bates Motel. She glanced at Bronson. His scrutiny of the area made her sink into her seat. "Do you think we were followed?"
"Why are you so tense then?"
"I'm always tense."
She guessed that was a good thing. A window at the rear of the motel lifted and the screen popped off. Gibbs leaned out of the room and motioned.
Bronson said, "Come on. Keep quiet and climb through the window."
He opened the vehicle door, snatched her hand, and practically pulled her out of the backseat. Her feet barely kept pace as he rushed her to the window. Before she even knew what was happening, Bronson grabbed her around the waist, lifted her size-eight frame as if she weighed nothing, and then stuffed her through the window into Gibbs's hands.
"Stay low and take a seat," Gibbs said as he guided her to a worn two-person dinette set.
Rae shoved long, wayward strands of hair out of her face and sank onto a vinyl chair. After Gibbs shut the window, he locked it and closed the heavy drapes. He strode across the grimy carpet and unlocked the door to the adjoining room.
Kranz strolled out of the bathroom looking like a weightlifter with camo cargo pants and a greasy muscle shirt. At his side she could discern the bulk of a gun. He stuck a thin cigar between his lips and slipped out the front door.
She released a slow breath and glanced around the outdated room with a queen bed, TV, and a kitchenette. The odor from old cigarettes crept up her nose. She stifled a sneeze. Just then the door to the adjoining room swung open, causing Rae to jump. Bronson in a Chicago Bears' jersey and jeans walked in. Their gazes met as he shut the door.
"You doing okay?" he asked straight faced, but she detected something like concern in his eyes.
"I'm gonna go change. Grocery's one block down," Gibbs said. "You got the food list?"
Bronson fished out a square piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to Gibbs.
"You want something, ma'am?" Gibbs asked.
Surprised by the question directed to her, it took a moment for her to respond. "I could use some chocolate."
Excerpted from Tattooed as Trouble by J.L. Hammer, Alethea Spiridon. Copyright © 2016 J.L. Hammer. 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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
When Rae's brother, True, asked her to help him retrieve his property from an ex-employer, she hesitated but went anyway to help. She ends up witnessing a murder. Now she and True will be separated forever within the witness protection program. Bronson is tasked with keeping Rae safe until she is to testify at the trial and then help her with a new identity. The problem is there is a contract on her life. Bronson can't believe that he is attracted to a witness. He should know better. He was taken in before by a pretty face with a sad story and he isn't going to let it happen again. Rae can't help but admire Bronson for the way he does his job with honor. Unlike anyone she knew growing up. They can never be together because she has to go into hiding and he is a Marshall. As he tries to keep her safe, they get closer, but neither of them can see a way for it to go anywhere.
U.S. Marshal Quinn Bronson is dedicated to his job and prides himself on being an honorable man, which is why he can put aside his less than charitable feelings for his current charge and focus on protecting her. But Quinn is about to get a crash course in honor and nothing will ever be the same again. An ill-advised attempt to help her brother leads to Rae Storm witnessing a double murder and makes her the target of a vengeful mafia. The only choice she has of staying alive is going into Witness Protection but she is not expecting to fall for the man tasked with keeping her safe. TATTOOED AS TROUBLE begins with action and the intensity keeps increasing from page to page. Rae has had to live with the stigma of being the child of law-breaking hippies who caused the death of a law enforcement officer, regardless of the fact that she didn't share in her parents's beliefs and the fall-out from witnessing the double murders is just one more thing to contend with. Quinn may be just what she needs but unless he can get past his issues, they don't have a chance of making something of what they feel for each other, especially because there is a leak within the Marshals' Service and Rae's life is on the line. The author put together two seemingly mismatched characters and used the danger and suspense surrounding them to show that what they stood for when it counted was what mattered, not their pasts. I disliked Quinn and his judgmental self very much in the beginning, but his concern for Rae and the chances he took to keep her safe won me over. Rae had been dealt a bad hand in life, but she never let it get her down. I really enjoyed the writing and the story. It's an action-packed combo of suspense and romance. This is the first book I've read from Ms. Hammer and I've had the previous two books in the series in my library for a while but now that I've read and enjoyed this book, it's time to go back to the beginning of the series. Disclaimer: I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Tattooed in Vegas series is fantastic rom suspense Great romance story that is in the Vegas Vixen series. Raegan "Rae" Storm witnessed a double murder committed by the mafia all because she was trying to help her brother True and now they are after her. So she is placed in the Witness Protection program in exchange for her testimony against the person who did this and WHOA the person who did is a BIG FISH-someone who is supposed to be a good guy but really isn’t. Problem is the US Marshalls do not like Rae or her brother and they aren’t too nice. So Rae tries to make the best of the situation. After having their locations compromised several times, US Marshall Quinn Bronson is thinking there is a leak. Now Quinn is one hunky man. And he is starting to thaw in his thinking and feelings toward Rae. He realizes that she isn’t as bad as he was thinking. Now Quinn is getting too close to Rae and Rae is fighting her feelings for a lawman- her previous experiences with law enforcement hasn’t been the greatest- add the danger she is in and a mole plus a hitman out to kill the witness means that they are all at risk. Can they have a life after everything is said and done? Will Rae ever find happiness and will Quinn let go of his past to embrace his future? Oh you have to read this story to find out what all goes down. This is one awesome story and the ending is wonderful. My rating: 4.5 stars **** *A gifted copy was provided the publisher for my honest review*
This story well and truly lives up to the genre romantic suspense! After witnessing a judge and his accomplice murder two drug dealing mafia, Rae Storm is taken into the Witness Protection Program. She's a great character with notorious parents who died in a shoot out with law enforcement officers at their commune which also resulted in the untimely demise of an officer. Despite the fact that she had left years before, whatever she does she's associated with them and their actions, making life very difficult for her. Her accidental witnessing of the double murder and her divulging the location of a major drug store location now makes her a target for the mafia and introduces her to the three Marshals who are to protect her. You'll have to read the fast paced story yourself to find out how she survives multiple attempts on her life and becomes attracted to one of the honor driven Marshals. Will she be able to survive to give testimony in the court case and to go into hiding with a new identity? Get ready for double crossing by people you should be able to trust, multiple dangerous attacks, kidnapping, uncertainty, love and rejection in this well written, enthralling story. This will keep you on the edge of your seat wondering if things can work out - especially as Bronson keeps rejecting Rae, usually in such an tactless, uncaring, hurtful manner. I really didn't like him or his attitude at times, which is why this isn't a 5* rating! However, keep reading to find out how he becomes the hero and a definitely different epilogue. Thanks to the publishers for inviting me to read an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review and for providing the additional materials for my blog post.
***** I was gifted this is exchange for an honest review**** 4 Stars!! Tattooed as Trouble (Vegas Vixens) By J.L Hammer was action packed and entertaining as can be, considering the title was slightly misleading to begin with. At first glance one would think that this was a book with a strong heroine most likely in the tattooing business; not a strong willed woman headed into witness protection. I loved that it ended up with an incredibly sweet HEA— I did not like, however that some of the funniest bits weren’t even related to the main characters. With a story line that keeps on spinning, this is more of a thriller than a romance novel, a refreshing spin on what woman’s lit should look like. I would absolutely recommend this to anyone who wanted something that will keep you on your toes and guessing what will happen next!
Bronson and Rae had an intense story in very intense circumstances. He was the fierce alpha protector with walls built up strong around him. Rae was the kink in his walls. She got through to him. I loved her feistiness and pushing Bronson to open up. I did get a little frustrated with Bronson when he would clam up and strike out. But he did redeem himself when he would drop everything to help Rae. This was a great read that kept me interested and delayed me getting my housework done. I needed to see how their story worked out. And it was worth it! I received this book in exchange for an honest review from the publisher through Netgalley.
I really liked this read!! It had romance and suspense all woven together to make a great story!! Although I have not read the first two in this series, I was able to pick this one up and not be lost at all. I was not able to predict what was going to happen in this story and that is part of what I loved about it. Just when I thought I knew what was going to happen, J.L. Hammer went another way and threw me all off. Raegan "Rae" has witnessed a horrific double murder and has been entered into the witness protection program. Rae knows that she will never see her brother again because of his involvement in the events that took place. We learn that Rae had a hard life growing up as well, so when she is entered into the program, she is scared to death. There are times when Rae has flashbacks that cause her to have even more hesitation about trusting the guys that are supposed to be protecting her. When Rae has some down time while the trial is going on, she gets to know Agent Bronson a little better. Quinn Bronson is Marshall that is supposed to protect the "packages" that he is put in charge of. Between he and his partners, they all spend a lot of time with Rae and Bronson gets to know Rae a little bit at a time. Bronson knows that he should not be doing this and he tries to keep himself in check, but when sparks fly between he and Rae, he is not able to control himself. Bronson knows that he can not let himself get close to Rae. He tells himself this over and over. The only way that Bronson knows how to keep Rae from getting close to him is to be blunt with her and try to keep her away with his harsh words. This confuses Rae at times because she thinks they are making progress and then all the sudden Bronson is being gruff with her. I kept thinking to myself that this would be the one time he gave into her and I was always wrong. I kept on reading because I couldn't wait to see what was going to happen with these two. Will Bronson give into his passion for Rae and risk his job or will they go their separate ways and not even look back? You have to read this one to find out. Such a great romantic suspenseful read. I loved that this story gave us insight into what the witness protection program was all about as well!
This is the third book in a series that I just loved. In it, we learn about Rae from her perspective and learn her story. She comes from an unusual background and is in witness protection. Rae makes the mistake of becoming attached to her marshal, however, he isn't allowed to be attracted to her. What follows is a romantic suspense filled with twists and turns that were difficult to predict and kept me engaged. Rae is also Lily's neighbor. We met Lily in a prior book, but I loved the way Rae's story was connected to Lily's. While part of a series, this is a stand alone novel. If you are looking for a romantic suspense that you won't be able to put down, you have found it in this book. This is a must read for fans of the genre.