A jaded Miami detective unjustly accused of accepting bribes takes his half-brother's feisty socialite girlfriend as an unlikely partner when his brother is found beaten to death in the Everglades.
Homicide Detective Brian Swift takes a hell-bent trip down memory lane to recall traumatic details from an abusive childhood as he follows clues his brother, Tim Madison left for him.
Supper club owner, Kaylen Roberts is threatened for possession of a journal detailing Tim's activities with a local drug cartel.
Wary of each other's motives, Kaylen and Brian learn to trust and rely on each other as they fight to stay alive, clear Brian's name, unravel the mystery behind the journal and reveal a deep layer of corruption within the Miami-Dade Police Department.
Heather Ames has lived a nomadic life in 5 countries and 6 states. Aspects of her experiences are woven into the backdrops for her novels as well as her characters, but thankfully, when it comes to romantic suspense, are not autobiographical. Heather writes contemporary romance, romantic suspense and mysteries. An avid reader, she also maintains a blog with a fellow writer and enjoys hiking, gardening, music and of course, travel.
Kaylen Roberts stirred and flung one arm across her eyes to shield them from the harsh Miami sunlight.
Carefully turning away from the glare, she licked dry lips. Her mouth felt like it was lined with cotton, no doubt a punishment for drinking too much champagne. Last night she’d celebrated, this morning she was paying for it.
Light streamed through the windows, its reflection bouncing off mirrored closet doors. Confused and sluggish, Kaylen tried to gather her wits, but her mind refused to cooperate and scattered thoughts drifted through her head like radio waves from a badly-tuned station. As she slipped back into a dream state, a memory surfaced of her face bumping rhythmically against a man’s back as he mounted stairs, his footsteps echoing on concrete treads. Her hair caught on his jacket buttons as he laid her down, and she remembered pain as he pulled away from her. The image jerked her awake.
She found herself in her own bed, damp hair clinging to her forehead, the air conditioning blasting her. Shivering, she pulled the comforter up to her chin. Her clock told her it was 9:00AM. The photograph of her boyfriend, Tim Madison, smiled at her from its silver frame beside the clock.
“Don’t you grin at me like that,” she muttered, glaring at his handsome face. “What the hell did you help me do to myself last night?”
When she dragged herself upright, the room spun in sickening circles. Kaylen groaned. Despite a splitting headache, she refused to believe she had a hangover. She’d been so careful not to drink more than two glasses of champagne. None of her backers would have been impressed if she’d gotten drunk.
She clearly remembered the early hours of her supper club’s opening night. Drinks flowed freely, champagne corks exploded with the energy of popcorn kernels roasted over an open fire. Jammed wall to wall, her guests and patrons laughed, talked, and even shouted above the Big Band music. Waiters hoisted loaded trays as they ran more than walked between tables, bartenders filled glasses with beer on tap and mixed cocktails with lightning speed, and couples held each other close as they danced on the small wooden floor in front of the stage. Controlled pandemonium, Sam Wilson, her mentor and friend had called it, laughing as he lifted his glass to toast her success.
Kaylen allowed herself to drift with the snapshot memories. She’d been talking to Tim and Sam when intense nausea swept over her. Tim had half-carried her into the bathroom behind her office and held her head while she retched miserably into the toilet bowl. After that, she had only those dim recollections of being carried and then laid down. Otherwise, her memory was as black and fathomless as a moonless night on the ocean.
What had she done, or more importantly, what had been done to her?
Her mouth felt incredibly dry, her throat parched. Advil, she decided. And water. She moved carefully, anxious to avoid aggravating her pounding headache. What the hell?
Even her right leg hurt. Either she’d scraped it somewhere, or maybe Tim wasn’t as strong as he looked, and he’d dropped her after she passed out. She threw off the covers and discovered she was completely naked. Her black silk cocktail dress lay balled up on the floor several feet from the bed. Her shoes rested in positions that suggested they had been kicked off, one upside down beside the TV stand, the other balanced precariously on one end of the dresser.
Hers weren’t the only clothes on the floor. A pair of black jeans and a black t-shirt lay in one corner of the room. A pair of large black sneakers played footsie with her lace panties. Her strapless bra dangled from the door knob, and a pair of navy-blue boxers draped the bedpost.
A stifled moan moved her attention from the scattered clothing to a large hump on the other side of the bed. She tried to remember what Tim had been wearing the night before. A tux, she thought. White shirt. Dress shoes. She looked again at the sneakers on her bedroom floor. Tim never wore battered tennis shoes. He always dressed immaculately. And he wore briefs, not boxers. Her heart accelerated into an uncomfortable gallop.
She leaned over and pulled the comforter down a couple of inches. Spiky blond hair peeked out. Kaylen’s heart skipped a beat. Tim’s hair was black. She didn’t even know anyone with a haircut like that.
Oh shit, she was naked in bed with a stranger!
She carefully scooted away, but even the slight motion of the bed disturbed the man. He rolled onto his back, his face still covered with the sheet. Despite a strong urge to jump up and run as far away as possible, Kaylen kept edging slowly toward the side of the bed. She had to get rid of this guy. She’d never had a one night stand in her life. In fact, until she met Tim, she’d lived the life of a nun since her husband’s death. Whoever this man was, she wanted him out of her condo as soon as possible.
But she had to get her bathrobe on before waking him up and telling him to get out. She swung her legs off the bed and tried to stand. Her head swam. She staggered, her feet becoming entangled with the comforter. Powerless to stop herself, she fell. An involuntary scream ripped from her throat, and the hump in her bed shot upright. Frozen by panic, she stared in horrified fascination as her unwanted guest turned his head in her direction. Her own dark gaze met blue eyes deeply flecked with gold, like sun streaks. Blond eyebrows drew together as he stared at her. She discovered her limbs weren’t frozen after all and bounded for the door.
Her flight ended in an undignified tackle. Before she knew what had hit her, she was lying on the floor, her nose level with her discarded shoe. She lashed out with her good leg, her foot catching her attacker square in the stomach. He swore and released her. Kaylen grabbed her aching thigh and clenched her teeth.
“Christ,” the guy said. “Where am I? And where the hell are my clothes?”
Kaylen drew in a deep breath.
“Don’t you dare start screaming again,” he said.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him grab the comforter to cover himself. Careful, she told herself as she sat up to face him.
“Sorry I grabbed you,” he said. “That was a reflex. Long as you don’t make any sudden moves, I won’t do it again.” He rubbed a hand over his face. “I’d like to stay in one place for the next few minutes. I’ve got a splitting headache, and thanks to you kicking the crap out of me, a pain in my gut.”
Kaylen had expected assault, not sarcasm. Anger overwhelmed fear. “Bastard,” she said. She grabbed her cocktail dress and held it against her.
“Hmm.” He raised one eyebrow. “I don’t think you’re in any position to start insulting me.” He offered her the other end of the comforter. “Here. This’d be a whole lot better than that rag.”
Kaylen shook her head. She’d have to move closer to him, and she wasn’t going to do that under any circumstances. “This is a designer dress, not a rag,” she said. With as much dignity as possible, she pulled her crumpled dress over her head and zipped it up.
“Well, excuse me for not noticing,” he snapped, his voice rising. “Damn it…” He stopped and took a deep breath when he saw her recoil. “Look,” he continued in a kinder tone. “I told you I’m sorry I tackled you. I don’t know what else you want me to say.”
“Apologizing’s a start,” she said. “But that’s not nearly enough.”
“Okay...what if I tell you that you don’t need to be afraid of me?” He watched her intently. “I’m not going to rape you, if that’s what’s scaring you.”
If he thought that was going to make her feel any better, Kaylen decided, then he was an idiot.
“You’ve got some nerve, telling me not to scream or be frightened,” she said, testing his truthfulness by getting up and limping over to a chair. “What do you expect me to do when I wake up in bed with a naked stranger…offer you a cup of coffee?” She glared at him. “Who are you, and what are you doing here?”
He glared right back. “Rudeness isn’t going to get you anywhere, lady,” he assured her. “Neither is firing questions at me that I can’t answer. I don’t have any damned idea what I’m doing here.”
He sat propped against the bed, one hand clutching his stomach while the other gingerly explored the back of his head. Aged somewhere between his mid to late thirties, with a day’s growth of stubble covering his hard, angular chin, he didn’t look like a deadbeat. His hair was clean and well-cut, and he didn’t reek of sweat or alcohol. Despite the battered condition of his tennis shoes right at Kaylen’s feet, they didn’t smell, either. When she looked at them, she saw her panties again. She tried to slide them under the chair with one foot, but he was watching her, damn him, and she saw the corner of his mouth quirk, as though he thought her fear and embarrassment were amusing.
She glanced surreptitiously at the bathroom door. Ten feet, she thought. She might make it if she could get up fast enough. But Kaylen wondered what advantage she would gain by locking herself in a room without either a window or a phone. The condos were well-built. She doubted anyone had heard her scream or whether they would pay attention even if she pounded on the wall for help.
“I wouldn’t try running again if I was you. I might not be such a gentleman the next time.” He folded his arms and gave her a slow, lazy, and very annoying smile. “I’m still waiting for you to explain yourself.”
“Explain myself?” Kaylen pushed strands of tangled chestnut hair out of her eyes and shook her finger at him. “Listen, I’m not the one who needs to do the explaining. I live here. I’ll ask the questions. Let’s start with ‘who do you think you are, breaking into my home,’ and then we’ll move quickly onto a damned good reason for you being in my bed!”
A scowl replaced his smile. “I’ve already told you I didn’t break into your place, and princess, I have no idea why I was in your bed. With a temper like yours, I sure wouldn’t climb in there by choice.” He held up one hand when Kaylen started to protest. “You’ve got more explaining to do than I have. I bet you were the one who hit me over the head and dragged me into your bed. The last thing I remember about last night was getting out of my car in the parking lot.”
Kaylen stared at him. “You must think I’m really gullible. Hit over the head, huh?” She snorted in disgust. “Even if I had hit you, which I can assure you I didn’t, how could I possibly have carried you through the parking lot and upstairs? I’m not an Amazon, for God’s sake. This condo’s on the second floor.”
“I wouldn’t know what floor you live on.” His voice rose again, and his eyes turned hard and cold. “I have no goddamned idea what’s even outside this room.”
He stopped abruptly, his face contorting. Kaylen waited, unsure whether he was going to grab her by the neck or get control of himself. Mercifully, he chose the latter.
“Sorry,” he said, his tone clipped but quieter. “Shouting at you isn’t going to solve anything, and it’s making my headache worse.” He gingerly fingered his scalp and winced. “I can prove I was knocked out.” He turned away from her and pointed. “See? I’ve got a knot.”
Kaylen did see it, and the dried blood on his hair, too. “Oh,” she said. It seemed he was as much a victim of this bizarre scenario as she. A rude victim, she thought, remembering him calling her “princess.” She choked back her irritation. “Why don’t we try this again? What’s your name?”
“Brian Swift.” He settled back and grimaced as his head touched the mattress. “You?”
“Kaylen Roberts.” She looked him over again.
Muscular arms and powerful legs poked out beyond the comforter. Judging by the length of those legs, she guessed he was probably around six feet. Built like a man trained to take care of himself, he also looked like he would be prepared to do so whenever necessary. Kaylen imagined he could defend himself very successfully now that he was no longer groggy. She decided to ignore the urge to flee from the room. It was irrational, and it wouldn’t get her any answers.
“All right,” she said. “What were you doing in the parking lot late at night?”
“Waiting,” he said.
“Waiting for what?” She glanced at his scattered clothes. The black shirt, jeans and, tennis shoes looked uncomfortably suitable for blending with the night.
“I can’t tell you that.”
“I bet.” She tried to make eye contact, but he avoided her gaze. “You’re not going to tell me anything else, are you?”
“No,” he said.
“Then you’d better get dressed and go,” she told him. “Before I call the police,” she added.
That produced a reaction. For the space of a heartbeat he looked startled, and then it was gone. “You think you’re in any position to call the cops?” He gave her a disconcerting stare. “What’re you gonna tell them, that we woke up in bed together? They’d laugh at you.”
Kaylen looked at her hands, clasped so tightly the knuckles had turned white. If only she could remember how she got home. She thought again about being thrown over some man’s shoulder and wondered if Tim had carried her in, stripped her and dumped her in her bed, or whether Brian Swift was responsible.
Brian was right about one thing, she didn’t need the cops asking her the same questions and concluding she’d had too much to drink and a one night stand. Neither did she want any negative publicity wrecking her club opening. Her mind suddenly produced another disconcerting flashback of her staggering all over the bar as she tried to get to the bathroom.
Uneasily, she admitted that she might not have made it before she vomited. Her memory released another disconcerting tidbit—throwing up on a pair of jeweled shoes. Kaylen shuddered. Apart from the possibility of losing her own money, she felt even more worried that her backers would pull out if they thought she couldn’t handle the responsibility of the club. If they did, then she’d be totally screwed, unable to even make payroll, let alone the rest of the monthly overheads.
She shifted position to relieve the pressure on her sore leg and the ripped seam of her dress gaped open, exposing her thigh. She started to pull the ends of the dress back together but stopped, staring in disbelief.
“What’s wrong?” Brian leaned forward.
Kaylen barely noticed him, her gaze riveted on her leg. She released the silk, which slid away to reveal the tattoo of a rose in full bloom in the middle of her right thigh. The colors were muted yet vivid to her shocked mind. It was a beautifully drawn rose, its stem filled with minute thorns and entwined with a blue ribbon, which lay artistically coiled next to two pink petals, fashioned so well that they appeared to have fallen only moments before. It might have been beautiful on someone else, she thought, but not on her. On her it was an obscenity.
“Did you do this?” she asked, pointing to the tattoo. “Did you put this…this thing on me?”
“No, I didn’t.” He held the comforter tightly anchored around him with one hand while he retrieved his clothes with the other. “Even if I knew how to do a tattoo, I’d never put one on a great leg like yours.” He pulled his t-shirt over his head. “Besides, that rose was done by an artist, and art’s definitely not one of my talents.”
Kaylen covered her face with her hands. Tears welled up. If only all this was a nightmare, she thought, but she knew it wasn’t as the moisture from the tears trickled down her cheeks. Her head still felt thick and heavy, her thoughts jumbled. She heard Brian pulling on the rest of his clothes.
He walked over and squeezed her shoulder. “Sorry about your leg.”
Fully dressed, he looked very much in control of himself, whereas Kaylen felt more exposed and vulnerable than she had when she first realized he was in her bed. She brushed the tears away and sniffed.
“You’ve had a rough night,” Brian said. He glanced at her leg again. “Even rougher than mine by the look of it.” He leaned over to pick up his shoes, swayed and grabbed the TV stand. “Damn.” He shook his head. “I’m dizzy.”
Kaylen pulled the tattered ends of her dress together. “I just don’t get it,” she said. “I was at the opening of my supper club and having a really good time until right out of the blue I started feeling lightheaded. Then I vomited. So much. I couldn’t seem to stop.” She frowned, trying to push the fog out of her brain. “After that, I must have passed out.” Her hair kept falling in her eyes. Annoyed, she brushed it off her face. Her skin felt clammy, her tongue thick and coated. “I can’t think straight,” she said. “I feel so out of it. Like I’m…I’m...” She struggled to find the right words.
“Drugged,” Brian said. He walked over to the window, leaned against the wall and peered out.
Kaylen watched him. “You think so?” What was he doing? “Are you looking for someone?” she asked.
His eyes narrowed as they shifted from the window to her face. “Just checking to make sure the press isn’t out there or something. In case this is some publicity stunt you or someone you know cooked up.” He tilted the blinds and cut the merciless sunlight to a muted golden glow. “Kaylen Roberts. I’ve seen you on TV and in the newspapers. You’re that socialite. The philanthropist’s widow. What was his name? George something…yeah, George Bannister Roberts.”
Kaylen nodded curtly. “Yes.”
She was used to that speculative look, and to the comments that usually accompanied it.
A young woman of twenty-eight, marrying a sixty-year-old man.
What was she thinking? She must be a gold-digger.
It’ll never last.
And it didn’t, but not for all the jaded reasons brought up by the naysayers and gossipmongers. Cancer had taken George within two years of their marriage.
Kaylen forced those still-painful memories aside. She had more immediate problems to deal with than resurrecting her grief over her deceased husband.
“Do you really think I’d drug myself and then give myself a tattoo, or allow anyone else to do those things to me?” she asked Brian. “What do you think I am, some sort of freak?”
Again with the hair, she thought, as curls flopped in front of her eyes. When she raised her hand, her dress slid off her leg again and exposed her thigh all the way up to her hip. Kaylen’s cheeks flamed. She felt more helpless than she had ever felt in her life, even when the tabloids were at their worst. Tears blurred her vision, and she made no attempt to hide them as they coursed down her cheeks.
Brian turned away to look out the window again. Kaylen scooped up her panties and managed to pull them on while his face was averted. At the thought of how Brian could use this incident to his advantage in the not-too-distant future, she cringed. If he talked to the media, her backers would pull out. She’d fought so hard to win their respect and trust, but they wouldn’t want to be connected with a scandal, even if she denied it. Kaylen knew her venture had been considered a high risk investment, a young, single woman opening a supper club.
Brian might even try to blackmail her. She fought a tightness settling into her chest, making it harder to breathe. George’s ex-wife would love that. The dreaded Sylvia and her four adult children had contested the will and kept Kaylen in litigation for more than a year, even though they had already inherited the bulk of George’s estate.
Brian’s voice broke into her whirling thoughts. “Are you decent now?” he asked.
“Yes, I suppose so.” Kaylen didn’t know whether to thank him for keeping his face turned away or haul off and give him another lump on his head just on principle. Perhaps if he was unconscious again, she’d be able to drag him downstairs and dump him back in the parking lot, where he belonged. It was still early, and maybe none of her neighbors would notice.
“Some people would do more than tattoo themselves for attention,” he said, interrupting her irrational train of thought. “But assuming you’re not a freak…,” he gave her a quick smile, “…then whatever you took was probably put into something you ate or drank.”
He was way too big and heavy for her to drag anywhere, Kaylen told herself. She had to get her still-wandering mind back under control and stop these delusions from popping into her head. She watched him pull on his shoes without unlacing them.
“What possible motive would anyone have to drug and tattoo me, let alone put a stranger in bed with me?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Smells like a set-up. I think the whole thing was staged to look like you and I had a great time in here last night. Maybe someone’s jealous of you or your club, or wants to ruin your chances of success because they think it’s gonna mess up their own business. The tattoo sure doesn’t fit the rest of that picture, though.” He glanced at his watch and headed for the door. “I have to be somewhere in an hour and a half, and I can’t cancel. I can meet you later to compare notes, if you want; see if either of us has remembered anything else.”
“I’m going to call the cops and report this,” Kaylen said.
“I already told you that’d be a mistake.” He paused, started to say something, stopped himself, and strode off down the hallway toward the front of the condo.
Kaylen followed. “What are you afraid of?” she asked.
“I should think you’d be the one who’s afraid.”
“What are you implying? My conscience is clear.” She ran into his back when he suddenly stopped.
Brian turned, his smile sarcastic and annoying. “Ever heard of guilt by association?”
She backed away and tossed her head. “I’ve got no association with you.”
“Maybe, but not all your friends are squeaky clean. If you involve the cops in this, you might very well end up causing a lot of trouble for those friends, as well as yourself.”
“What are you talking about? I don’t have any shady friends. My business is legit, too.” She frowned. “I think you’re confusing me with someone else.”
“Not me, princess. I never confuse anything.”