The bad news just won’t stop for Evan Murdoch. As he battles an attempted murder charge, he’s on the verge of getting forced out of the family corporation—and fears he can't trust his new wife, Leila. Evan finds himself leaning on his younger brother, Terrence, who might be the answer to his prayers—or lead to disaster like they’ve never seen.
With Evan’s future in limbo, Terrence struggles to keep Murdoch Conglomerated from catastrophe by becoming the new public face for the company. But a secret he tries to hide from his fiancée could send his best intentions—and last chance at love—down in flames.
Fiery Murdoch sister, Paulette, will do anything to protect her infant son—and her secrets. But her worst nightmare is about to come true. And with their vengeful half-brother, Dante Turner, closing in on the family he despises, the Marvelous Murdochs could pay a price that could finish them once and for all . . .
Praise for Best Kept Secrets
“Secrets abound in this full-bodied tale.”
“This fantastic novel is replete with scandal, entitlement, treachery and passion up to the surprising end.”
—RT Book Reviews
“Drama, hot sex, and betrayals are all wrapped up in this addictive yet well-written story.”
—AAMBC Book Club
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Leila Hawkins walked toward the gold hotel elevator doors, listening as her high heels clicked on the marble-tiled floor. She trembled with each step she took.
A bellhop pushing a luggage cart loaded with suitcases nodded and smiled at her as she passed. "Good evening, ma'am," he said.
She turned away, not responding to bellhop's greeting, and dug into her purse, retrieving her cell phone. She tapped the glass screen and flipped through her text messages, finding the one that contained the hotel room number and the appointed time to meet.
9:30 p.m. sharp, floor 19, room 1926, the text read. And don't even THINK about standing me up!
Every time she saw those words, she gritted her teeth in frustration. Even now, she wanted to head back across the hotel lobby, out the revolving doors, and give up on this whole idea. But instead, she dropped her phone back into her purse and pressed the up elevator button. She waited patiently for the doors to open. When they did, she stepped inside the compartment and pulled out the room key that a courier had delivered to Murdoch Mansion earlier that day. She inserted the key into the wall slot and pressed number nineteen. She leaned her head back against the glass wall and watched the digital screen above her as the elevator ascended floors. The compartment felt stifling hot, and the urge to press the emergency button and bring the elevator to a screeching halt overwhelmed her.
Just then, Leila's phone began to ring, and she reached inside her purse again. She saw her mother's number on the screen and took a deep breath.
Not again, she thought in exasperation. Her mother had already called and texted her twice, and she had ignored the messages. She knew her mother wouldn't let up if she let this go to voice mail, too, so she pressed the green button to answer.
"Hi, Mama," she said.
"Lee, where are you?" her mother asked, the worry apparent in the older woman's voice. Leila could hear her whimpering infant daughter, Angelica, in the background. "You left here almost an hour ago. I thought you would be back by now!"
"I just ... I just went out to run a ... another errand."
"Another errand? At ten o'clock at night?"
"I know what time it is, Mama," Lee answered tersely. "I'll be back soon — probably in another hour, maybe an hour and a half." She looked up at the floor numbers again.
Eight ... nine ... ten ... eleven ...
"What? Lee, I don't ... you can't just ..." Her mother sputtered helplessly. "You should be at home! With all that's going on, honey, you need to be here with your children. You have to —"
"Please don't tell me what I need to do, Mama! I'm doing what I have to do."
"And what is that? You won't even tell me where you are!"
Fourteen ... fifteen ... sixteen ...
"I have to go," Leila whispered before abruptly hanging up. She dropped the phone back into her purse and closed her eyes.
I'm doing what I have to do, she told herself again. And Evan would do the same for her if he were in the same situation.
Her fiancé had been in jail for almost a month now. Evan's lawyer had finally negotiated his release on a one-million-dollar bond after appealing to the circuit court after a lower court judge had refused to grant Evan bail because the prosecutors had claimed that he was a flight risk.
"Mr. Murdoch is a very wealthy man, your honor. He could hop on a jet and leave the country for Switzerland or Mozambique, for all we know!" the commonwealth's attorney had argued during Evan's bail hearing. "We might never find him!"
Luckily, Evan's lawyer had been able to convince the circuit court judge that the Murdochs' ties to the community — and Evan's responsibility to the business, not to mention his family — would keep him in town.
Evan would finally get out of prison in a matter of days, but Leila knew what awaited him when he exited the prison gates. He'd be greeted with lurid news stories detailing how he had tried to murder his half-brother, Dante Turner. He'd find that the stock prices of Murdoch Conglomerated had plummeted, and there were calls from shareholders and some board members to have Evan removed as CEO of the company his father, George, had built from the ground up. Evan would be shunned by the very people in Chesterton, Virginia, who had once clamored for his money and attention. And if Evan stood trial and was found guilty of attempted murder — a crime she knew in her heart he hadn't committed — his fate could be even worse: Evan could spend decades in prison.
Where did that leave her and the little family she and Evan had created? Leila and Evan weren't married; his divorce from his wife, Charisse, still hadn't been finalized. Would Charisse kick her out of the Murdoch estate? Where would they go?
Leila raised her hands to her chest, patting breasts that were still sore and full of milk. Her mother need not remind her that she was a mother, too, that her daughters, Angelica and Isabel, depended on her. She also had their lives to consider.
Accept it, a voice in her head insisted, sounding hollow. You don't have a choice.
Leila jolted as the elevator slowed to a stop. The doors opened, and she stepped into the carpeted corridor. She wasn't shaking anymore. Leila followed the gilded signs that pointed her in the direction of room 1926. When she reached the door, she hesitated only briefly before knocking. The door swung open a second later.
Dante stood in front of her wearing only a crisp white bathrobe with the hotel emblem on the breast. A glass of champagne was in his hand. He looked a little different than she remembered: his face had gotten fatter in the past year, and he looked wider through the middle. When Dante saw her, he leaned against the door frame and looked her up and down. She wanted to slap the smug smile off his face. She wanted to yank the glass out of his hand and pour his champagne over his head.
"I said nine thirty. You're late," he said.
She didn't respond. Instead, she strode past him into the hotel room. She looked around the suite as he shut the door behind her. The living room and adjoining kitchenette were in varying shades of cream, white, and gold, and decorated in an ornate, baroque style she viewed as gaudy, but she knew it suited a man like Dante perfectly, with his inflated ego and desperation to seem more important than he actually was.
"Make yourself comfortable. Have some champagne," Dante said, making it sound more like an order than an offer. She watched as he strode across the room and reached for a bottle that sat in an ice bucket on the kitchenette counter. "You look like you could use a drink."
"No, thank you," she mumbled, tugging off her coat and tossing it onto the sofa.
He poured a glass anyway and held it out to her, swirling the champagne around and around. "Come on! It'll do you good. It'll help your nerves. You look more wound up than a Swiss watch, baby."
"I'm not your baby, and I don't want a drink!" she snapped, making him pause and squint at her.
"You know," he began, lowering the champagne glass to the coffee table, "for a woman who needs a favor, you've got a lot of goddamn attitude." He pointed at her. "You're the one who reached out to me. It wasn't the other way around. If you're going to be a bitch, Lee, you can get the hell out now!"
That's right; she had reached out to him. As soon as Evan was arrested and she had found out the details of the charge against him, she had called Dante and asked him ... no, begged him to recant what he had told the investigating detective. She had asked him to rise above his unjustifiable anger toward Evan and the other Murdoch siblings. Though they had never done anything to him, Dante'd had no problem cheating with Evan's wife, Charisse; attempting to blackmail Evan's sister, Paulette, into selling her company shares to him by threatening to reveal her affair with her ex-boyfriend; or representing a woman who had unsuccessfully sued Terrence, Evan's little brother, for millions of dollars.
But Dante could change, couldn't he? He could finally be a good man for once or at least be a decent human being.
"Please don't do this," she had pled over the phone. "Don't ruin his life like this, Dante. He could lose everything! You know he didn't shoot you!"
"I know no such thing," Dante had answered with mock innocence.
"Enough! Enough, all right? This isn't a fucking game!"
"Oh, but it is a game, sweetheart — and right now, I'm winning. I've got the queen in my sights and I'm about to yell, 'Checkmate!' unless ... unless you can convince me differently."
"What the hell does that mean? What do you think I'm trying to do now?"
"You know what it means, Lee. You're a big girl. I wined and dined you and didn't get shit in the end. You lied to me! You told me you had nothing going on with Evan, that he was 'just your boss' and —"
"I didn't lie to you! While you and I were dating, Evan and I weren't together!"
"And you fucked him," he had continued, ignoring her, "and left me with a bad case of blue balls! You owe me, and if you want me to help get your man out of this mess, you know what you have to do."
Leila now stood in the hotel room, staring at Dante.
"So what will it be, Lee? Are you gonna play nice ... or play the bitch?" he asked, tilting his head.
Out of the corner of her eye, through an open doorway, she could see the hotel bedroom. Only one lamp burned bright on one of the night tables. The rest of the room was mostly in darkness. Beside the lamp was a bottle of baby oil and a box of Trojan condoms with the lid already open. The satin comforter and sheets on the king-size bed were already turned down.
Leila wondered if Dante had left the door open purposely for her to see that. Maybe it was his way of gloating, of reminding her what she had to do tonight to get him to talk to the prosecutor and call off the case against Evan. She wondered if Evan's sister, Paulette, had felt the way Leila felt now when she had been blackmailed into having an affair with her ex-boyfriend more than a year ago. Did Paulette feel like an animal caught in the bear trap left with only two choices: gnaw off your own foot to escape or accept the inevitable?
Leila pursed her lips and forced herself to take yet another deep breath.
"I'm ... I'm sorry. I'm just nervous. I don't want anything to drink because ... well, because I can't have alcohol."
He furrowed his brows. "Why the hell not?"
"I'm breastfeeding," she whispered, lowering her gaze to the floor.
He chuckled. "Oh, yeah, I almost forgot you popped out a baby." He looked her up and down again. "You can barely tell." He reached out and wrapped an arm around her, catching her off guard. Dante pulled her close so that she was flush against his chest and torso. "You've still got that tiny little waist."
She fought the urge to smack his hand away and take a step back.
"It was a smart move to get knocked up by him. You won't get that alimony money, but a child support check from a rich guy like Ev isn't anything to sniff at, either. And you get it for eighteen years. You were —"
"I didn't 'pop out a baby' to get Evan's money," she argued, feeling her irritation perk up again. She met his eyes. "I did it because I was in love with him. I am in love with him! That's why I'm here."
Dante laughed. "So you're fucking one guy to prove how much you love the other?"
"Exactly," she said coldly.
"Well, if that's the case ..." He dropped his arm from around her, took a step back, and clapped his hands before rubbing them together eagerly. "Let's get to it, shall we?" He then undid the knot in his robe belt and let both panels of the robe fall open. Leila glanced down and saw that he was naked. Her stomach dropped. Her pulse quickened. She teetered back slightly and he reached out for her again — more roughly than before. Dante wrapped one hand around the back of her neck and the other around her waist, drawing her close, bringing her mouth to his. It wasn't a kiss that could be mistaken for tender or loving. It was all mouth, all tongue, and she winced and tried her best not to pull away from him in disgust.
He reached for the zipper at the back of her dress and tugged it down with a yank that made her wonder if he had ripped the zipper off its track. He dropped his hand from her neck and groped her bottom, grabbing a handful.
"I'm gonna enjoy smacking that ass when I get you on all fours," he growled before kissing her again, then nipping at her neck and earlobe, lashing her with his wet tongue.
It's just one night, she told herself, as he tore one of her dress straps off her shoulders and panted in her ear.
It doesn't mean anything, she thought as he began to unhook her bra. He reached underneath one of the cups and grabbed her swollen breast. This time, she did wince.
Leila was doing this for Evan, for her children. She had no other choice.
Tears began to prick her eyes, but she fought to hold them back.
"I was going to do this in the bedroom, but I don't know about you, Lee — I can't wait for that shit," Dante said, wrenching his mouth away from hers. "We can do it right here."
He pushed her back against the sofa so that she landed on one of the padded arms and almost fell to the carpeted floor. He hiked the hem of her dress up to her waist.
"Condom. Condom!" she muttered against his lips.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," he said with a grin, before climbing between her legs. "Don't worry. I'm not putting it in yet," he insisted, though his erection pressed between her thighs then the crotch of her panties. He kissed her again, grabbed her wrist, and dragged down her hand. "But you're gonna have to help me out, baby."
She fought the urge to recoil from him. Instead, she wrapped her hand around his manhood.
"That's right, baby," he whispered against her lips.
"You're doing a good job," he urged as she began to slowly stroke him, hating every second of it.
"Just wait 'til Ev hears about this," Dante groaned as he closed his eyes and threw back his head.
At his words, she froze. Her body went stiff as if she were zapped with a Taser.
You son of a bitch, she thought, tightening her hold around him into a crushing, viselike grip. She yanked — hard — and Dante's face contorted with pain. He let out a girlish scream. He dropped to his knees and grabbed his crotch as soon she released him seconds later.
"You ... you fucking bitch!" he said, still on all fours, gulping for air. He raised his gaze and glowered at Leila with outrage, looking like he wanted to strangle her. "Are you fucking crazy? Were you trying to rip my dick off? What the fuck was that?" he shouted, gradually standing upright, grimacing as he did it.
"No, what the fuck did you mean by 'wait 'til Ev hears about this'?" She hopped off the sofa arm, lowering her dress hem. "This was supposed to be a secret. I told you I would only do this if this stayed between you and me! That's what I said!"
She watched as Dante closed his robe and retied the terry-cloth belt. He limped toward the kitchenette, not answering her.
"Oh, my God." She slowly shook her head. "You were actually going to tell Ev about this, weren't you? You were going to shove it in his face?"
Despite being in pain, Dante laughed. He leaned down, opened the refrigerator, and removed a soda can.
"Were you going to tell him while he was still in jail, or wait until he got out ... give it to him like a 'welcome home' present?"
Dante placed the cold can on his crotch. "What's the point of a win if you can't do an end zone dance, huh?"
Leila balled her fists at her sides. She should have known Dante would do this. He was a man with no ethics, no heart, and no soul. She was a fool to make any agreements with him. It was the equivalent of making a deal with the devil.
She grabbed her purse from where it had fallen to the hotel floor along with her coat and made her way across the living room.
"I'd think twice about this if I were you, Lee!" he called out to her, stopping her in her tracks. "From what I've heard, the prosecutor has a pretty good case against your boy. They have my testimony and the testimony of a few other people who saw him threatening me at a restaurant in D.C. less than two months before the shooting. They said he grabbed me and he pushed me. Even a cabbie saw him threaten my life." He set his soda can on the coffee table and shoved his hands into his robe pockets. "Ev could go away for a long time. Are you sure you want to be responsible for that?"
She turned around to face him. "I'm not responsible for it — you are, you petty asshole! And even if I did have sex with you, I know now there are no guarantees with someone like you. You're a snake," she snarled. "Your word means nothing."
"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," he sang.
"You are a piece of shit, Dante ... and if someone finally does manage to kill your ass one day, it's well deserved."
He raised his brows. "Better hope I didn't get that on tape, sweetheart."
She was tired of sparring with him, with arguing with him. She felt like a fool and just wanted to go home and wash the sensation of his tongue and kisses off her skin. She wanted to scrub her hand with soap and scalding hot water one thousand times. She strode to the door.
Excerpted from "To Love & Betray"
Copyright © 2017 Shelly Ellis.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - Leila,
Chapter 2 - C. J.,
Chapter 3 - Paulette,
Chapter 4 - Dante,
Chapter 5 - Evan,
Chapter 6 - Leila,
Chapter 7 - C. J.,
Chapter 8 - Paulette,
Chapter 9 - Dante,
Chapter 10 - Evan,
Chapter 11 - Leila,
Chapter 12 - C. J.,
Chapter 13 - Evan,
Chapter 14 - Dante,
Chapter 15 - Paulette,
Chapter 16 - Leila,
Chapter 17 - Paulette,
Chapter 18 - Leila,
Chapter 19 - Dante,
Chapter 20 - Evan,
Chapter 21 - C. J.,
Chapter 22 - Evan,
Chapter 23 - Dante,
Chapter 24 - Paulette,
Chapter 25 - C. J.,
Chapter 26 - Evan,
Chapter 27 - Leila,
Chapter 28 - Dante,
Chapter 29 - Paulette,
Chapter 30 - Paulette,