Southern Regions Excerpt

Don't miss Book Four, Southern Regions. Pre-order your copy now! Release date 2/28


Chapter One


A bead of sweat rolled down Kevin Collins’s brow. He’d given up. Staying cool in the bayou in June was impossible. The temperature felt more than a hundred degrees most days, and the nights weren’t much better. He smelled as rancid as the stagnant black waters and the foul critters that inhibited them. But, this wasn’t about comfort. There were lives at stake, and he couldn’t afford to forget that. General Floyd had taken extreme measures to conceal the whereabouts of the chemist and the highly sought after research. If either fell in the wrong hands, it could be—no, would be—catastrophic.

Normally Kevin spent his time in the cockpit of an F-35B instead of doing ground recon. He wasn’t about to let a branch of service or rules and regulations stop him from doing what was needed. Protect the chemist at all costs. Too many people had already died to ensure she didn’t fall into the wrong hands; he wasn’t about to let their sacrifice go to waste.

Although he, with the help of Mark’s team, had taken out a majority of the terrorists in West Virginia who were searching for her, everyone knew it was far from over. The terrorists would never stop until they had what they were searching for, and anyone in their way faced an untimely death. Which wouldn’t be so concerning if their deaths weren’t covered up by one side or the other. Everything that occurred on The Mountain in West Virginia was hushed, and no one could tell them why.

His phone vibrated. Mark. His brother never called to shoot the shit. It was all business on this line.

Even though he hadn’t seen another living soul in the area except for the chemist, he kept his voice down. Kevin trusted nothing and no one, with the exception of Mark.

“What’s the status?” Mark asked.

“All quiet.” Too quiet for someone whose life is supposed to be in danger. He’d expected to be watching a woman nervously pacing the deck, cautiously peering out the window. Instead, she appeared to be relaxed and confident as though this was an everyday way of life for her. All the more reason to track her every move. Something isn’t right. Someone so intelligent can’t be so ignorant as to what’s been going on all around her. She knows something, but what? Kevin wasn’t leaving until he had an answer to that question and many more that were haunting him.

“We have secured a safe location. I’ll send the chopper with some of my team to pull you both out of there.”

Mark led one of the elite Navy SEAL teams and was used to giving orders without being questioned. Kevin had a lot of respect for his brother and normally would abide by his call on such matters. This was one instance he needed to go with his own gut. Something told him leaving this place right now wasn’t a wise choice.


“It wasn’t a question, Collins,” Mark barked.

“I’ve been sitting here for two weeks. The only movement around here has been the thick moss that constantly moves in the trees. Not one other living soul has been here. Moving her is going to create a risk we don’t need to take.”

“This isn’t your call, Kevin.”

“Neither of us are under orders right now, so don’t try pulling rank on me. I’m telling you, for right now, this is the place to be. Unless you know something you’re not telling me.” Kevin knew that was very possible. No matter how close they were as brothers, Mark’s loyalty was to his team.

“Another member of General Floyd’s team was found dead. Same method as the general.”

A heart attack with no mention of a bullet through the head. Shit. That confirmed his concerns. This was far from over. Only a very select few knew where the chemist was, and each of them would die before divulging her whereabouts. Kevin still felt this was the safest place at the moment.

“All the more reason not to move.”

“You might be right, but this is not something that can be done alone. I’m sending Johnson and a few men to relieve you.”

Regardless of the lack of comforts, he still wasn’t going to walk away. Like Mark, Kevin was all in. There was no way he was leaving her protection to anyone else, even someone as qualified as Johnson. In the last few months Johnson had earned Kevin’s respect. He’d witnessed firsthand Johnson’s skills and determination. He was a valuable member of Mark’s team, and his being here would be an asset. That didn’t mean Kevin was stepping aside. I said I was all in, and I’m not backing down now. “Send him, but I’m not leaving or taking orders from him, understood?”

Mark didn’t argue. They may serve in different branches of the military, but they both knew what was at stake.

“They’ll arrive after dark. Do you need anything?”

A shower. “An answer as to what the fuck these bastards need her for.”

“Roger that.”

Kevin disconnected the call and slipped the phone back in his pocket. He’d heard the concern in Mark’s voice. With Floyd dead, no one seemed to know exactly what she was working on or why it was so highly guarded. Anyone who had any information about the project had met their maker early. It was evident those bastards found everyone expendable. The difficulty was finding the source of their information. Do they still have people in the government on their payroll? They’re still pulling someone’s strings, but who the hell is it?

Kevin hoped Mark could unravel that mystery in time. If not, more people would die, and these guys had no objection to collateral damage. He clenched a fist, thinking of Derrick Nash’s wife and daughter and how they died. He’d promised Derrick he’d make them pay for what they’d done, and he wasn’t going to stop until every last one of them was accounted for or dead, whichever came first.

The murders were senseless. Floyd had moved the chemist before the attack on the top-secret lab in North Carolina. If they’d known about the dam breaking, Penny and Kim Nash would still be alive and so would the four Marines who were assigned to guard the “vacant” facility.

Kevin looked at the quiet cabin and wondered if she had any idea that what she’d been working on would cause such destruction.

He pulled out his phone again and scrolled through his photos. Until coming here, all they had was a name: Marina Brimlow. She wasn’t old and bookish as he’d pictured; Marina was anything but. The only time she made an appearance was when the temperature cooled enough to tolerate being outside for any length of time.

He’d come to learn she was a creature of habit. For the past two weeks, she’d appeared at exactly the same time. He’d looked forward to her brief appearances each night. Kevin would like to blame it on the heat or the solitude he’d endured, but it was something more. She was like a cool breeze in the middle of a heat wave, sunshine breaking through a blizzard. She was stunning, and he couldn’t get enough of her. I’ve been in the heat too long.

He looked at his watch and gave himself a ten-second countdown. He saw the cabin door open right on time. Picking up his binoculars, he watched closely. Sure enough, Marina was standing under the moonlight in a sheer tank top. He could see the outline of her large breasts and could tell she’d left her bra inside. Her red lacy panties screamed she had a hidden wild side.

Marina stretched her arms high above her head, pulling her tank up to reveal the sweet curve of her hips and flat stomach. Fuck. Like I need to be any hotter than I already am.

She stepped behind a solid cedar fence so she was only visible from the shoulders up. Slowly she lifted the tank over her head and put in on the fence. Then she bent out of his sight only to return holding her red panties. Turning her back to him, the water began to flow from the outside showerhead above her.

Kevin dropped the binoculars from his eyes and reminded himself why he was here. It was on him to ensure her safety. Nothing he was thinking at the moment had anything to do with protection. It was a distraction, and sweet as it may be, it was still one he couldn’t afford. His body was telling him one thing, but for all he knew her beauty was only skin deep. Floyd had hidden her away for a reason, one that no one knew. Both he and Mark suspected it was more than just what she was working on. Could it be who she was working with? Was she a traitor to the country just like Floyd? Did the general hide Marina for her protection, or was he holding out for a better price? Was she here willingly? There weren’t any guards holding her here, so he had to guess she knew something was not right. Yet there was no sign of any communication between her and the outside world.

There were too many important questions left unanswered. He would do his job and protect her. Hell, he might even enjoy the view at times, but he would never forget what was at stake. Too many people had already lost their lives because of her. He couldn’t change that, but he’d be damned if he’d let his physical attraction to her cause another person to suffer. Whether she was working with the terrorists or they were only after what she knew, Marina was one person he couldn’t afford to look at as anything more than a job.

He didn’t want to admit it, but having Mark’s team close by was a good idea, yet the thought of any of them watching her like he did rubbed him the wrong way. Remember Collins, for all you know, she’s the enemy.



Marina felt so useless, trapped. What had started as a short-term relocation quickly became a way of life. Over the past six years she’d been moved around from one lab to another so many times she’d lost count. No matter how she tried to explain what delicate, dangerous work she did, no one understood what she needed most: time to concentrate.

I should’ve watched what I wished for. Now all I have is time, but nothing to fill it with. I’ve been here so long I’m on a first name basis with the alligators. If I don’t get out of here and back into a lab, I’m going to go stir-crazy. The cabin had been stocked so well someone could stay there for years and never need to leave. It didn’t have any of the conventional comforts of home but had every canned good and non-perishable one could imagine. That should’ve told her something when she arrived four months ago. This stay wasn’t going to be brief.

At first it was nice, not dealing with lab techs or military officers hovering over her, but this was beyond anything she’d ever imagined. The only electricity was generated by solar panels. There was absolutely no Internet connection for her laptop or reception for her phone. She wasn’t sure if it was her location or if it was intentionally blocked, but one way or the other she was totally cut off from the world.

It gave her plenty of time to think and reanalyze her data, but there was a limit on how much solitude one could stand. Even though she didn’t have any Internet connection, she found documenting her theories prevented her from going completely insane from boredom. Marina wasn’t one who went to the gym to exercise but she did like to go out for a daily jog. Even that wasn’t an option out on the bayou. I’d probably get lost or eaten by a gator. No wonder why I was dropped here by chopper. No one is getting in or out of here any other way. I hope they calculated storm surges when they picked out this location for me.

She’d thought for sure she heard a chopper close by a few weeks ago and her heart raced with excitement. The thought of her stay being over elated her. Yet no one came. It seems you’ve forgotten me, General.

She didn’t have a husband or children to miss or look after. In fact all she had was her work. Normally that was enough, but calculations and simulations on a computer were only the beginning. She needed a lab, a full functioning laboratory so she could test her theories. Now all she could do was hope her findings were accurate. I don’t function on hope. I function on facts.

When she first arrived, it was a nice change from the freezing cold weather and snow up north. But now in June, she felt like she’d melt. All she had were large ceiling fans that did nothing but move the hot air around. It was better than nothing, but Marina found the heat unbearable. She was grateful she’d hidden her experiments before being dropped here. It was so hot there was no amount of air-conditioning that could cool her, never mind keep her prototypes viable. The specimens needed to be in a climate-controlled environment, and her living arrangements were anything but. At least my work is safe. I just have to live through this heat to get back to it.

Marina wiped herself dry from the outdoor shower and put on a clean tank top and panties. She stopped putting pants and a bra on months ago when she realized there was no one to dress for. The critters outside are just going to have to enjoy the view. If I wasn’t so self-conscious, I’d be naked all day, but at least no one is here to complain about what I look like.

She was tired of being cooped up in the cabin all the time. Tonight there was a breeze, and even though it was hot, she was going to be outside to enjoy it. Grabbing her laptop, she went out on the deck. Putting the computer on the table, she walked over to the railing and looked out into the dark. Although the moon was bright, she could only see fireflies flickering off in the dark and the reflection of the gators’ eyes.

Looking up, she spotted a shooting star. The average woman would be all excited for such a sight and take it as a good sign. I don’t even know why people wish on shooting stars. They aren’t that special. It’s just a space rock burning up as it falls through the atmosphere. It’s a rock, just a falling rock. Never before had she wished upon a star. That was something a child would do, but tonight she closed her eyes. Star light, star bright, or however the hell it goes. Even though no one could see her, she felt foolish. If any of her colleagues saw her now they’d question her sanity. They should too. With everything that’s been going on since my discovery years ago, any person would break.

That’s exactly how she felt at that moment. Broken and all alone with no end in sight. What do I have to lose? I’ve already lost my freedom. Squeezing her eyes even tighter she began again. Star light, star bright. The first star I see tonight. I wish you’d send me someone. Someone to make me feel . . . alive again. I don’t want to be alone anymore.

Marina opened her eyes and looked around. “Just like I thought, I’m still all by myself. What was I thinking? That a tall, dark, handsome man would magically appear before my eyes and make love to me until I forget how hot and miserable it is right now?” She laughed out loud at how ridiculous this all seemed. She was one of the government’s top chemists, and here she was outside in her underwear, wishing on stars, and the only thing she wanted was some sexual gratification. I could have wished for world peace or an end to world hunger, but I wasted the world’s one wish on a hot piece of ass. The government may need to rethink my qualifications when I leave here. The heat obviously has gotten to me.

What troubled her most came from a place deep within her. It was a yearning she’d thought no longer existed. Years of being only the chemist, she forgot she was still a woman inside. One who wanted what every woman did. Someone to love me. To care if I make it home at night. Someone to bring me coffee in bed just because he thinks I deserve a bit of pampering. And me so irresistible that he can’t keep his hands off me. I really must have heat stroke.

There was only one problem. She needed to love and forgive herself first. Until she fixed what she did, forgiveness wasn’t going to happen. Marina never intended things to go as they had. Logically she knew she was innocent. She was only doing the job she was paid to do, research and development. Yet if she had stopped long enough to look past what was in front of her, see the big picture, and think about what it all could mean if she moved forward with her research, she never would’ve continued.

Instead she had become absorbed in her findings; each one intrigued her more. Everything would have been wonderful if the final product had been what she intended it to be. What should’ve been a cure turned out to be more deadly than any biological weapon they already had in the arsenal. How could my vision have been so clouded that I couldn’t see how something so good could be used for evil?

The answer was simple: she’d been so focused on gaining General Floyd’s approval as a scientist that she forgot just how cruel the world could be. Marina let herself be used and manipulated. Even now in the bayou, she was still his pawn. Stuck here until he needs me again. Guess what, General? I quit working for you a long time ago. You just haven’t figured that out yet.

Marina would continue her work here. If she could create something so powerful, she knew she could also create the vaccine against it. It wasn’t needed now, but if her specimens or even more dangerous, the formula, ever got out, it was going to be needed or life on this planet would change. I need to get my head out of the stars. No one can help me. Heck, no one would believe me even if I told them. So face it. I’m all alone. No amount of hoping and wishing is going to change that.

She was about to sit on the chair next to her computer when she heard a soft hum off in the distance. It was barely noticeable but slowly became clearer as it approached. Planes flew over all the time, but this wasn’t one of them. That sound was all too familiar, and one she’d almost given up hope hearing again. A chopper.

Marina ran back to the railing and looked up. There wasn’t anything in sight, no lights, no movement in the reeds, just stars and gators. What would’ve discouraged others only gave her more hope than before. If the general sent for her, it wasn’t going to be some flashing rescue. It would be some covert mission that everyone was left in the dark about. Not that I’m excited about it or anything.

The sound abruptly ceased and her heart sank. Please don’t let this be heat exhaustion. I know what I heard. This has to be over. He can’t leave me out here forever. I know he’s sending someone for me.

Although her heart still held hope, logic prevented her from rushing into the cabin to pack her belongings. Instead she stood there, gripping the rail tightly as though if she squeezed hard enough her desires would become a reality.

There was nothing. Not a sound. It was as though everything became silent all at once. “Please just come and take me away from this. I can’t stand it any longer. Can’t you see what this is doing to me?” Marina shouted out into the darkness. Her voice didn’t even call back with an echo. Is this how alone I’m meant to be, that even my own voice won’t return to me?

She was normally a strong confident woman, but over the past few years she’d changed. And the last few months seemed to have broken her. Her pain and guilt were almost too much to bear. No longer caring what happened to her, she just wanted out. Out of this place, out of the controlled labs the general put her in, and out of this project. This is not what I signed up for. I want to do good, but all I’ve become is . . . a pawn in some horrible game between powers. I’m not sure anyone even cares what happens to me anymore. All anyone wants is what I know and finding my specimens or formula. Guess what? You’re getting neither, General.

Tears began to stream down her sweaty cheeks. “Good. Let me die in this heat, and you’ll never find what you’re looking for. Never! You’ll have done all this for nothing. You hear me? All this will have been for nothing!” Marina shouted again into the emptiness. She was filled with anger, hurt, and frustration. That was exactly how she felt, her life and existence had been for nothing.  What good had she done anyone?  I just want to go home.

Dropping down to her knees, she sobbed into her hands. Home. It was a funny word because she had no home to return to. Her mother had been killed in a crash when her brakes failed, sending her car into a ravine.  Marina had been a freshman in college.

Growing up, her mother had told her that her father had been killed while serving in the military. As she grew older she wanted to know more about him, but her mother wouldn’t divulge anything, not even a name. Her lack of information only made Marina want to know more. Eventually she stopped believing he was dead and started researching on her own. Against her mother’s wishes, not only did she find her father but contacted him as well. Her mother had begged her not to. She told her he was a self-absorbed man who could never love anyone. She’d been so right, and now Marina regretted the day she called him.

Her father only saw her as a genius he could use to his own advantage. She could never recall him asking how she was doing. As far as she knew, he didn’t know her birthday or her likes or dislikes. There was only one topic he ever spoke about with her. My research.

When she called him about her mother’s accident, he sounded indifferent. She begged him to come to the funeral, but he told her he was busy with work. That was the day she stopped referring to him as Father and only as his rank, General. Even when they spoke she called him General Floyd. No matter how much she hated him, he was still her father and the only family she had. Like any child she wanted his approval. She’d gotten it, and now wished she hadn’t.

Maybe I could have had a normal life if I’d listened to you, Mama. Instead I’ve spent almost half my life in a lab. The closest thing I have to friends are the security guards taking pity on me during the holidays. How she wished for friends and family, anyone to be close to. If only she could get away from here and disappear, start a new life where no one knew her.

Tears flowed harder. She could run, but she couldn’t hide from herself. She’d created a biological chemical that, if in the wrong hands, could kill thousands of people. It wasn’t the life-saving drug I’d been working so hard to create. Now my life has to be spent preventing the evil I’ve created.

Although she’d wiped out as much of the information as she could and hid the specimens so not even the general could find them, she couldn’t erase what her mind held. No matter how hard she tried to forget, it was impossible. Her photographic memory was a curse. Because of that she had no choice but to do everything the general said. He made it very clear that if she fell into the wrong hands, they would torture her until they got what they needed, kill her, and use the information against the country she loved so much.

Marina would never let that happen. So no matter how much she wanted a normal life, it wasn’t possible. It was the price she had to pay for what she thought had been a gift. I wish I never took a science class, never earned that scholarship. All it’s done is brought me heartache.

Her body shook as she cried. She was thirty-six, trapped, and helpless. Why did I get on that helicopter? The general has had me on the run for so long I don’t think it’s ever going to end. I’m not just his prisoner. I’m a prisoner within myself.

She grabbed the rail and pulled herself up. The emptiness came in waves and tonight she felt like she was drowning in it. Wiping her tear-streaked face, she looked into the darkness. There was only one reality for her, and this was it. No one cares about “Marina.” They only care about “the chemist.” Well, to hell with them. From now on, she doesn’t exist. Neither of them do. From now on I’m going to be . . . anyone but me. Looking up, she saw a bright light. Venus. If anyone asks, from now on, I’m Venus from the bayou.


Chapter One: Virgin For The Fourth Time: Barrington Billionaire's Series: Book Four

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Chapter One

“I think requesting to meet in North Carolina was a bit dramatic,” Bennett Stone said as he sat down in the empty chair across from her.

Zoey Henderson wasn’t about to dispute that fact. Visiting Thomasville hadn’t been on her bucket list, never mind meeting Bennett here. Yet, when she left her appointment in New York yesterday, she needed time alone to think, to clear her head, and to process what the doctors had discussed with her. That wasn’t going to happen in Boston. So she took I-95 and headed south. The Florida Keys sounded like the perfect place to unwind in February. Although, when she encountered a major detour taking her off the main highway, she’d been too deep in thought to pay attention to which turn she needed to take. It was too late when she realized she was lost and eventually ready to give up.

Calling any of her brothers would have them swooping down to her rescue. That’s what she was trying to avoid. They didn’t know about New York. She needed someone she could trust, someone who understood confidentiality. Unfortunately, that also meant calling the one person her brothers didn’t want her around. I hope calling him wasn’t a mistake. The last thing I need is anyone finding out what’s going on. At least, not until I’m ready to tell them.

A strong gust of wind blew off her wide-brimmed hat, and her dark hair whipped in front of her face. As she struggled to pull the unruly strands back into place, she saw Bennett trying to retrieve it. Each time he bent to grab the hat the breeze took it away again. If she weren’t here to discuss a serious matter, one potentially regarding life and death, she could’ve enjoyed the sight much more.

When he handed it to her, he sat beside her instead of across from her. “What’s going on, Zoey? Are you in trouble?”

Over the last two years, they’d crossed paths several times. Today he was all business, which was the first time she’d seen that. In the past, he’d flirted with her. That was probably just to piss my brothers off. I get it, but damn, a little flirting would be nice right now.

One thing she did understand? No man wanted her. Most fathers would do anything to protect their daughter’s reputation, but her father was on the opposite spectrum of what was considered normal when it came to raising children or anything else for that matter. Why would I think Bennett would be any different than what he’d read? After all, it was in black and white for the entire world to see. Thank you, Dad, for making my life a living hell. Zoey tried to brush those thoughts out of her mind. She hadn’t asked him to meet her for personal reasons. If anything, she should be grateful for his strictly professional manner. Then why am I also disappointed?

“Trouble? No. But I need your help.”

He arched a brow as he watched her. Bennett made her feel uneasy. Most people asked questions, but he wasn’t like most. Instead, he studied her. She felt her pulse quicken as though she had something to hide. That was the truth. She did. Otherwise she wouldn’t have asked him to meet her in such a secluded area. Her brothers hired him for a reason. Bennett wasn’t the laid-back, easygoing guy he often portrayed. In fact, looking at him now she saw a powerful, intimidating man who made her question her judgment in calling him.

“Coming here to meet was probably a mistake.”

“Only because you’re here on business. Let’s keep it that way. Tell me what’s going on. Why do you think you need my services?”

“Do you question my brothers when they hire you? Or is it just because I’m a woman?”

“Hell, no. I’m not chauvinistic. I understand why your brothers need my expertise and my protection. You’re different. I can’t see you pissing anyone off enough that they’d want to hurt you.”

Is that the only reason my brothers hire him? There has to be more to it than all that delicious muscle he has to offer. My brothers aren’t fools. They surround themselves with the best. That’s why Bennett’s my only choice.

“You’re right. But I’m not a pushover either,” Zoey said firmly as not to appear weak. “Remember, these men you’re talking about are my brothers, and I can hold my own with them.”

“Yet you dragged me here. Why? Hmm. I’d say because you don’t want your brothers to know. Am I correct?”

Darn him. He’s good. I need him. “Can I count on your discretion?”

“I won’t tell them, but I haven’t said I’ll take the job either.”

“My money not good enough for you, Mr. Stone?”

“Money doesn’t determine who I work for. If I don’t like who you are or what you want me to do, then I won’t take the job. No matter how much you want to pay me.”

He almost looked as though she’d insulted him. Good. A man with integrity. Maybe he won’t tell my brothers. “Nothing illegal. But I need you to understand, no one can know what you’re doing for me.”

“Understood. So what do you need? Protection?”

She shook her head. “No. I need you to find my mother.”

Zoey could tell he hadn’t expected that request. 

Bennett sat back and asked, “Wouldn’t one of your brothers know who she is?”

“No one has ever spoken about her. It was . . . forbidden, growing up. My father was a . . . difficult man.” Even now she couldn’t bring herself to speak badly against him. God knows she had many valid reasons she should, but that wasn’t her. Zoey held all her pain inside, never allowing others to see it and unfortunately never dealing with it either. Taking this step to find her mother on her own was significant in itself, and something she couldn’t afford to fail at. “We don’t even have a name or photo. When my father died, I searched everywhere, hoping to find a clue, but there was absolutely nothing to go on. For some reason, he didn’t want us to know who she was.”

Bennett didn’t question what she’d said about her father. She could only assume that meant one of her brothers had shared information, or lack of any, with him already. For all I know one or all of them are looking for our mother too and are trying to hide it from each other. We are that family that holds everything inside, even things we shouldn’t. It wouldn’t surprise me if Bennett was already on the payroll.

“I sense an urgency in your voice.”

Zoey snapped her head away. She wanted him to do his job, but she didn’t want him knowing exactly why she needed the information. “Isn’t it enough to want to know who my mother is?”

His voice was softer than she’d expected when he spoke next. “If it were just that, then you wouldn’t be here with me. So let’s start from the beginning and with the truth.”

“I just want to find my mother.” No matter how hard she tried to look him straight in the eyes, she couldn’t. She looked down at her hands that were clasped in front of her. “Okay. I need to find her. There are questions that I can’t answer, and I’m hoping she can.”

Once, again he watched her. Hiding anything from him was going to be difficult if not impossible.

“It’s personal, Mr. St—”


“Bennett, can’t you just take the job as is without asking why?”

“I could. But I won’t. Knowing why is the only reason I may take it. It sounds as though you need a private investigator instead of me.”

“I want you.” She reached out a hand and grabbed hold of his forearm. Zoey couldn’t believe how desperate she sounded.

He looked down at her hand, then back into her eyes, and said, “So let’s get back to the truth.”

Zoey let out a deep breath of defeat. Her options had run out. Going home would only mean she’d have to ask her brothers for help. And they’d want to take full control. She was almost thirty-four and didn’t need anyone pulling more control away from her than she’d already lost. Why had her brothers decided it was their role to be her personal protector? She needed them when their father was alive, but now, when no protection was needed, they were worse than ever.

“I met with a specialist, and they’re asking for family medical history.”


“I’m having a few medical issues right now, and this is going to be important for them to help pinpoint what it is I . . . may have.”

“You’re sick, and you don’t want to tell Logan? Isn’t he a world-renowned physician?”

“Yes, a neurosurgeon. But I don’t want any of my brothers knowing yet. Once I have some facts, I’ll work out who I’ll share the information with.”

“I might be overstepping here, but you do know your brothers love you and would want to be there for you?”

“They’d argue about what’s best for me and browbeat me until I did it their way. It’s like having six fathers telling me what to do. I love them, but this is my life, and right now I need to do this for me. Can you understand that?” She could feel her hand tremble on his arm. It wasn’t just the fear of him ratting her out to her family, but it was also what the results may be.

“What exactly are we looking at health wise?”

“Does it matter?”

“To me, yes.”

She didn’t want to say it out loud. Doing so was only making it all feel more real than it already did. They’d done various blood tests to eliminate what it wasn’t, but still no answer to what it was. Her brothers had used Bennett in various ways for over the last few years. She knew he would be meticulous and would leave no stone unturned when working for them. She trusted him, but she never let people into her personal life. Surely knowing personal medical information shouldn’t be required to find her mother. This was going to take a certain level of trust on her part. She never let anyone into her personal life, not even her brothers. Yet Bennett was the one person she believed could pull off what no one else had. Although her brothers didn’t say they had tried to find their mother, she knew they had. “I have some lymph nodes which have become enlarged in my right axillary armpit. Also, my right kidney is not functioning fully. I continue to have reoccurring kidney infections. The ultrasound, X-ray, and CT scan don’t show anything, yet I have continual pain on that side.”

“And a family history will help narrow down the diagnosis?”

“Exactly. So you understand why this is so important to me?”

“I do. What puzzles me is why you want to do this alone?”

“I’m not. I’m doing this with you. That is if you’re taking the job.” Bennett shook his head, and she instantly panicked, thinking he was going to say no. “Please, Bennett. I need you to do this for me. I can’t trust anyone else.”

“I take it you’ve checked your birth certificate? And your brothers’ as well?”

She nodded. “No one listed under mother.”

“And hospital records? Records of birth filed with the city and state?”

“Blank as well. No city or state listed. I’m surprised we even have a date of birth, because every other detail is missing except my father’s information. It’s like a fairy tale where a stork delivered us.” If it wasn’t such a painful subject she might find telling this story humorous. But nothing about her childhood was funny. She pulled a paper from her purse and handed it to him. “Here is mine. My brothers’ look similar.”

She sat quietly as he looked over the copy of her birth certificate. Although his expression didn’t change much, she noticed his jaw twitch ever so slightly. Guess he’s never seen such a thing either. Maybe now he’ll understand why I need him.

“And you weren’t adopted?”

“No, I wasn’t. Well at least . . . no. I know I wasn’t.” She’d never thought about that before. Was it possible? If she was, her brothers would’ve found some record of it long ago. Besides, they looked like family.

Bennett acknowledged her answer, but she could tell he wasn’t fully convinced. It didn’t matter. She might not know who her mother was, but she knew her father. There have been many times I wish I didn’t, but James Henderson was my father.

“How are you going to explain me to your brothers? They’ve made it very clear you’re off limits.”

Off limits? That’s putting it lightly. They might as well put a sign on me that says trespassers risk getting shot.

She was thrilled she had at least piqued his interest. Good thing I brought proof of how crazy this is. Step one complete. The rest is on him. That is why I’m hiring him. But surely there won’t be much cause for him to be around me. He’ll be researching. “Hmm. You don’t strike me as a person who plays by someone else’s rules.” Zoey meant to challenge him on that. And from his reaction it worked.

“No one stands in the way of something I want. Don’t forget that, Zoey.” He got up, but before leaving her, he said, “I’ll take the job, but from this point on, you hide nothing from me. Understood?”

Bossy. She nodded. “What do you need from me?”

“DNA samples from you and your brothers.”

“And how do you expect me to get that without raising suspicion?”

“You’re going to host a Valentine’s Day party for your family and show off your new boyfriend.”

“I’m what? And who is this mystery man of mine?”

He pulled her up into his arms and looked deep into her eyes. She wanted to pull away, but couldn’t. There were many times she’d fantasized about him, but she knew a man like Bennett would never want her.

His lips were so close to hers, she parted them, waiting, wanting. But he didn’t kiss her. Instead, Bennett said, “I’m your latest lover, Zoey. You pull together the party, and I’ll do the rest.”

Before she could regain her composure, he let her go.

“That’s only three days away.”

“I move quickly. If you want my help, we do this my way.”

And now you take the control away from me. Zoey wanted to tell him what he could do with his assistance, but she had to push past her frustration and remember he was result driven. And that was the only thing important right now.

“Then I guess I better get back to my hotel. I’ve got a party to plan.”

As she walked past him, she heard him say, “Good, my love. See you at the party.”

Zoey didn’t even turn back as she rolled her eyes. There is no way that man is going to make it out of that party in one piece, acting like that. He won’t be collecting DNA. He’ll be spending the night in the emergency room.

She was glad he didn’t probe any further. The last thing she needed was for him to find out these issues were caught during in vitro testing. Her biological clock was ticking. Zoey was willing to accept that no man would want her with her tarnished reputation, but that didn’t mean she should go without a family too. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen until I know what’s going on with my health. I’m going to get those answers one way or another.


Zoey Henderson. Beautiful, off limits Zoey Henderson.

Bennett watched her as she walked back toward the hotel across the street. He ran his hand through his hair in frustration. What the hell was I thinking? I’m her new lover? That’s a bullshit line even for me.

He knew he should follow Zoey and tell her not to plan any party. Bennett was damn good at what he did. He’d spent many hours undercover to obtain what he needed. However, this wasn’t one of the instances where being undercover was required. He had access to most of the family. He didn’t need DNA for all five brothers, but when he’d seen the copy of the birth certificate he knew something was off. Zoey might not question if she was adopted, but he never ruled anything out. The DNA testing would do exactly that.

When he said he’d pretend to be her lover, he’d been testing her to see how badly she wanted his help. The Zoey he’d come to know over the last two years never would’ve accepted that option. No snappy retort took place. Instead, she hurried off worried about how she’d pull a party together in such short notice. At one point, it looked like she wanted me to kiss her. Kiss. Her.

There’s still something she’s not telling me. Until I know everything, I’ll look, but the answers are staying with me.

Bennett was in no rush to head back to an empty hotel room. Instead, he pulled out his cell phone and started researching the family history. Finding a mother of six children of one of the most influential families in New England can’t be too hard.

If her brothers had searched before, why hadn’t they found anything? He could understand if it was one child who never had seen the woman, but there was no way Brice couldn’t remember her. Brice would’ve been six years old when Zoey was born and ten for the youngest, Dean. He knew something but for some reason wasn’t sharing. That alone was a red flag.

He came up with a lot of articles regarding the father, James Henderson, but not one mention of him with any woman, never mind the mother of his children. How could one man father six children and there be no evidence or knowledge of the mother? There was no marriage certificate on record, and all their birth certificates listed the father only. He’d never witnessed such a thing.

These people weren’t hatched or dropped off by aliens. They have a mother. So why not list her? Were they closed adoptions? They look enough alike to be siblings but that doesn’t mean they are.

After two hours of research turned up nothing tangible, he closed Google and slipped his phone back in his breast pocket. Bennett hadn’t been sure he wanted to take on this assignment. Honestly, it sounded like something that’d bore the shit out of him. He should’ve remembered he was dealing with the Hendersons. They weren’t the average family by any means. What looked like run-of-the-mill details always had more twists than a roller coaster.

Zoey’s situation wouldn’t be any different. Hell, I know better. Usually, the one you don’t expect is the one who’ll throw you for a loop. He thought of how her deep brown eyes were practically pleading for his help. When she’d grabbed his arm, he was already lost. He’d been attracted to her since their first meeting two years ago when Brice hired him to ensure the safety of his family and Lena. He’d thought her easy on the eyes. But the more they spoke, he’d realized she was so much more than she appeared to be. He wouldn’t call her fearless, but she liked to challenge authority. He found that sexy, and it made things a bit complicated. But rules were rules, and he knew better than to get emotionally involved with a client.

I know better than getting involved with someone I find . . . interesting. I need to tell her I can’t take this job. I know people to recommend. Hell, even my buddy, Beckett Davis, would be better for this than I am. The Hendersons know him as well. She should’ve called him. It would have been better for everyone if she had.

He was about to give Beckett a call when he saw a familiar number calling in. Well, that’s fast.

“Stone here.”

“Bennett, it’s Dean Henderson. I’ve got another job for you. I need you to look into something for me.”

Gee. Should I even guess? Your mother? “Did you piss someone off again so soon?”

Dean laughed. “I’m about to, and she can be a tyrant when angry.”


“Yes. My sister, Zoey, just informed the family she’s having a Valentine party and we must all attend.”

“Lucky you.”

“Not lucky for the bastard she’s bringing with her. I want to know everything you can find on this man. Leave no stone unturned. Got it?” Dean’s voice lacked all hint of humor.

Bennett restrained his laughter at the situation. It had only been a few hours, and her brothers were already scouring for information. She was right, they were overbearing. Whoever was going to take this assignment was not just finding her mother; they needed to act as a buffer for Zoey. Whatever she was going through, she needed some space to deal with it . . . her way.

Damn it. No one is going to be able to handle those guys without raising suspicion. They won’t question me. They won’t like it, but they won’t question it.

“She’s a grown woman, Dean. Just ask her.”

“I don’t want a name. I want information. Everything.”

“When is this party?”

“Three days. I’ve seen you pull off bigger requests in less time.”

Oh, that I can. But you’re not going to like the answer. I think I’ll wait to tell you.

“Your usual fee.”

“Should I ask why?”

“Nope. But you’ll have the information by the party. Guaranteed.”

Bennett disconnected the call and looked toward the hotel. This job might be fun after all. Not only getting to bust on Dean’s ass, but being Zoey’s lover will be icing on the cake. Even if it’s all for show.


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Southern Delight excerpt!

“Don, I don’t want to talk about it.” Bailey tried to get up off the bed, but Don threw a leg and an arm over hers to bring her closer to him.

“Please, babe, don’t shut me out.” He was surprised by the sincere need that was in his voice. He was not used to letting that side of him show.

Bailey stopped and lay back down. When she looked up at him, he could barely control the urge to kiss her. But if he did, the tender moment they were sharing was going to be gone.

“It’s not easy for me to talk about it, Don. I’m still working on getting comfortable with the realization that I’ll never be the same again. How can I share that part with you, when I barely understand it myself?”

“Who better to start with than me? Someone who cares about you very much.”

He saw the doubt in her eyes. Opening up about something so personal wasn’t going to be easy for her. If the tables were turned, he probably would’ve shut her out as well.

“You don’t know what you’re asking, Don.”

“I know that I have to earn your trust before your love so when you’re ready you’ll come to me and won’t have any doubt that I’ll be there waiting. That I understand. I wish you’d tell me what I did that you won’t let me close to you anymore.”

Bailey looked at Don with tears in her eyes and said, “Don, you've done nothing, but I'm not the same girl I was when we had our time together.”

Tracing his finger over her wet cheeks, Don said, “Those gorgeous green eyes are the same as I remember them.” His fingers moved to trace her lips. He never forgot how sweet they tasted the first time he kissed them. He yearned for their sweetness now.

Although his intention was to console her, his actions seemed to have the opposite effect. Bailey burst into sobs.

“Don, I can’t.”

“Why? Help me understand,” Don pleaded.

“Because I’m . . . disfigured . . . ugly. I don’t want . . . can’t let you see me now.”

How could she think this? She’s still just as beautiful to me as she was so many months ago. He wanted to shake her and tell her how foolish she was for thinking in such a way. But he knew words were not going to change it. Knowing he was one of the reasons she was crying was like a knife in his heart. He would take the pain over and over again if it helped her heal in even the smallest way. Yet he didn’t know what to say to make her feel better. Do such words even exist? You were so full of life: fun, happy, and playful. How do I show you that you’re still that woman?

He remembered how adventurous she’d been in the bedroom before. How could he bring that into something now to help her? Don finally asked, “Do you trust me, Bailey?”

Bailey didn't hesitate one bit as she nodded.

Don got up off the bed and started to remove his tie. “We're going to play a little game, if you make me stop then I will know you don't honestly trust me.”

“I’m tired and don’t feel like playing games.”

He could tell it had nothing to do with her being sleepy. He watched her as she lay on the bed nervously biting her bottom lip.

“You won’t need your eyes open for this game.” It will be better that way.

Reluctantly she said, “Okay.”

“Stand up, please. And any time you say no, it means you don’t trust me.” Don finished removing his tie.

She shot him a look that said she wasn’t sure she was going to like this game.


“No. It’s just that . . .”

“You don’t trust me.” He hoped that wasn’t the case. If she didn’t then, he was the wrong person to be there. But his gut told him he was the only one who could help right now.

He was relieved when she did as he asked.

“Okay. Now turn around and close your eyes.”

Bailey huffed but did as he requested. Once her back was to him, he lifted the tie and put it around her head and covered her eyes. Her hands came up like she was going to pull it away from her eyes, but she didn’t. She let her hands drop to her side.

Bailey’s voice was barely a whisper as she said, “Don, I don't know about this.”

Don turned her around to face him again. He knew he was asking so much of her. He wasn’t sure he could ever open himself up to anyone in this way, but if he could, it’d be with Bailey.

He reached into his pant pocket and pulled out his iPhone. He scrolled through his music list until he came to what he was searching for. He hit play and the room filled with classical music. Don reached out with his right hand, drawing her close to him. Then with his left hand he took her right into his and said, “Your left hand goes on my shoulder.”

“I don’t dance, Don. And I certainly can’t do it blindfolded.”

“Left hand please.”

Slowly he saw her raise her hand and feel her way up his arm until it rested on his shoulder. “Do you feel my hand on your back?”


“All you need to do is concentrate on my touch and let me guide you.”

He leaned into her slightly and stepped forward with his left foot urging her to step back with her right. She clung to him as he moved his right foot and then stepped it to the side then back again.

He felt her stepping on his toes a few times. “Don, if you let me take off the blindfold, maybe I won’t be on your toes all the time.”

“Stop concentrating on what you think you should do and feel the music, feel me. There is nothing else but us right now,” Don whispered.

Southern Delight (Southern Desires Series Book 3) Excerpt

Available on Amazon Dec 1

Available on Amazon Dec 1

“Good morning, Bailey.”

When he spoke her name she turned in her chair and looked up at him. Don had prepared himself to see the same sparkle that she’d had the last time they were together. But it was not there. If anything, her beautiful, full-of-life greens eyes were filled with pain. What did I do to you that makes seeing me so damn hard? I thought we had a connection. I was so wrong.

“Hello, Don. Do you want to join us?” Bailey’s voice was sweet and enticing, but her bottom lip trembled as she spoke, hinting, almost begging him to decline her offer. Are you afraid Kevin will pick up on what we once shared? Don’t worry, sweetheart; I won’t say a thing.

“Do you want coffee, Don?” Hannah asked.

Without breaking contact with Bailey, he nodded. “Strong and black.” Normally he didn’t like it strong, but his gut told him he was going to need it. Maybe more than one cup.

There was an open seat next to Bailey, but Don decided to take the one next to Kevin so he could keep his eye on Bailey without Kevin noticing. Not that I give a shit what he does or doesn’t know. Why torture myself? She’s made her choice. 

Hannah brought his coffee then went back to sit by Mark. They were chatting about the wedding. Mark warned him the topic would be girly and emotional, and he was right. Hannah was speaking a mile a minute about some poem she’d read online that made her cry for almost an hour. When she grabbed her phone, Don worried she was about to pull it up and start reading it to them. I’m going to need something a lot stronger than coffee.

Thankfully Mark and Kevin seemed to feel the same way. “Why don’t I show you to the room you’ll be using while you’re here?” Mark asked.

“Let me help you with your bags,” Kevin offered.

Although Don didn’t want to hear the poem, he also wasn’t ready to leave Bailey yet. So he reached into his pocket, pulled out his keys, and tossed them to Kevin. “I appreciate that. Why don’t you bring them in for me? I’ll find my room on my own later.”

Kevin caught the keys mid-air and looked like he was about to throw them right back, but Mark got up out of his chair and said, “We’ll put you in the same room you stayed in the last time.”

Kevin glared at Don but got up and was about to follow Mark, then abruptly turned back and kissed Bailey on the top of her head before leaving the room.

Although he was glad Kevin was no longer in the room, part of him wished Hannah would follow suit. He wanted to speak to Bailey alone, yet he remembered the signs of someone recovering from chemo. His mother had the same pale look. Bailey had only the slightest hint of color, which probably wasn’t any more natural than the blonde wig she was wearing. Seeing her like this made his stomach turn. Not from her appearance, but from knowing what she’d been through.

Sweet Bailey. I know you’ve been through hell and back. There are things I want to ask, need to know, yet you’re trying to avoid looking at me, so I know it’s too soon. You’re not ready. I’m here for the week. The conversation will happen, but when we’re alone.

Southern Spice (Excerpt) brings Spicy Intrigue

I love taking a story to unexpected places, and the Southern Desires series has twists, turns, and intrigue...and plenty of heat. I hope you enjoy the excerpt below from SOUTHERN SPICE, and I am so excited that SOUTHERN DELIGHT (Southern Desires Series Book 3) will be available December 1! :)

Casey woke alone in his bed. That’s a birthday I won’t ever forget. Stretching, she’d had very little sleep yet felt more rested than she ever remembered. If she were a person who wrote in a journal, pages would be filled. From her surprise party to lovemaking that still had her body tingling, everything had been perfect. Well, almost. What was I thinking going out into the wilderness and getting naked? If I thought driving my truck off the road was embarrassing to explain, how was I going to explain a snake bite in the middle of the night while I was naked? Even though it had been scary as hell at that time, she found herself laughing at it now. She lost all common sense when she was around that man. And I’ve never felt more alive.

Getting out of bed, she wrapped the sheet around her and made her way downstairs, hoping to find Derrick. As it was each morning before, the house was quiet. He did say it was only for a night. Tomorrow was here and . . . he’s not.

The thought made her ill. She didn’t want to want him, care about him, but she did. It wasn’t his fault he was incapable of giving her anything in return. He’d been nothing but honest about that. Somehow her heart wasn’t accepting that as a viable answer. The risk of getting my heart involved.

As she began to climb the stairs to go back to bed, the front door opened and Derrick walked in.

“Good morning, I thought you’d left.”

He smiled, which was a rare but amazing sight. “I had an early morning errand to do.” He lifted a bag, puzzling her. “Figured clothes scattered all over the hillside might lead to some unwanted questions.”

Casey blushed. Thank God, since they are not mine. I don’t want to explain to Sissie how I misplaced the clothes she lent me. I might as well take out an ad in the newspaper if she finds out. “Thank you. You didn’t happen to grab my phone while you were there, did you?”

Derrick reached into his back pocket and pulled it out, tossing it to her. “I had to shut it off. That thing was making a racket the entire ride back here.”

When she reached to catch it, the sheet began to slip. Quickly she tugged it back in place. Although she would love nothing more than spend the day in bed in his arms, she needed to remember she was here to work. And he had only promised one night.

Turning on her phone, she scanned her missed calls. Her mom and dad had called, leaving her a voicemail. She would listen to that later. It would be what they always do, sing happy birthday to her. No matter how old she was, she would never tire of hearing them. The next call was Mark. No message. Oh, that’s not good. Please don’t show up here. I don’t need the questioning looks from you today.

There was one number that appeared several times. It was from her coworker; she expected an email, not a call. What was in the report that they didn’t want to put in writing? Did they have the answer she’d been waiting for? This call was one she needed to do privately.

“Thank you, Derrick. It looks like work is trying to reach me. Would you mind if I took the call in your office?”

“The office is all yours.”

His expression became unreadable before he turned and left the house. Why such a drastic change? Had she said something? Was it because she asked to use his office? That didn’t make sense, but then again, nothing between them did.

Casey had two choices: spend her morning trying to figure it out, or hop on the phone and see what her coworker had to say. Maybe one will answer the other.

With Derrick no longer in the house, there was no longer a need to use his office. Settling herself on the couch, she returned her coworker’s call.

“Casey, where the heck have you been? I’ve been trying to reach you since dawn,” Donna whispered over the phone.

“Donna, why are you whispering?”

“I’m not sure I should tell you. I’m not even sure I want to send you this report.”

Donna seemed overly concerned. Casey hadn’t followed protocol for obtaining a copy, but there wasn’t anything illegal about her reviewing it. “It’s okay. I just want to see what our take on the situation was.”

“That’s exactly what I’m worried about.” Donna voice was muffled as she spoke. “If anyone finds out you’re looking into this, there’s going to be trouble.”

Why was she so darn dramatic? What possibly could be in that report to cause concern? Guess there’s only one way to find out. “Just send it to me. I’ll deal with the repercussions.”

“Casey. If what I think I’m reading is right, you’re going to be in way over your head.”

What? We document facts, so there shouldn’t be anything questionable in there. “Don’t worry. I’ve got this. I promise if anything happens, I won’t mention your name. Now please send it.”

Casey’s phone beeped announcing the arrival of a new email. She quickly confirmed it was from the agency. Too much drama to start the day.

“Thank you.” Donna didn’t respond as she disconnected the call. Maybe the office is getting more stressful than when I was there. I’m glad I’m out in the field.

Opening the document, something jumped out right away. The report was lacking major details. Most importantly: documentation of Derrick’s accusations regarding the faulty dam. Everything in the report stated the damage was due to flooding from the hurricane. She knew there should’ve been an inquiry of some sort, particularly with a fatality, but none took place. If it had, the results never made it into the official report. If it hadn’t been for her conversations with Derrick, the report wouldn’t appear to lack details, but she knew otherwise. With the amount of anger that man had, he never would have kept his suspicions to himself. Could he be right? Was there a cover-up, and did it involve FEMA? There was only one name on the report, and it wasn’t their local FEMA agent. It was the supervisor in charge, Jeremy Talroy. JT had signed off on this report? Why would JT not follow protocol?

Donna was right. Digging deeper meant things were about to get very ugly. If JT was part of a cover-up, then seeking internal help could put me at risk for a lot more than just losing my job. What the hell do I do now? This nightmare is so not what I thought I was going to find.

Casey got up and paced back and forth. Should she tell Derrick? What could she tell him? That she believes he was right concerning a cover-up, but she had no proof except lack of information? No, that was only going to cause him more pain than he was already feeling. She needed someone impartial.

Going to Donna wasn’t going to work as she was already afraid, and for good reason. No, she couldn’t ask anyone else to risk themselves for this.

What if I find out the truth? It won’t bring them back, and I’m not sure how big this is going to get, or who else is going to get hurt. This was something she couldn’t decide on her own. She needed a sounding board. Someone who would look at all the pieces and know where to go from here.

Grabbing her cell phone, she made the call she never thought she would.

“Late night?”

“I need to see you right away. Are you still in Honeywell?”