About the book
Passion and danger collide in the latest contemporary romance featuring the Lawless siblings—from New York Times bestselling author Lexi Blake.
When Drew Lawless discovers a fatal flaw in his plan to avenge his parents’ deaths, he turns to the one woman he'd promised he wouldn't touch. He offers her a deal, one that will bring her into his investigation, his life, and his bed.
Investigative reporter Shelby Gates never dreamed how twisted the case would become—or how fascinated she would be with Drew. Every day they spend together binds them. And every night brings her closer to realizing he might be the man for her.
As Drew's feelings for Shelby grow, so does the danger. From the streets of Dallas to Austin’s high-tech business world, Drew and Shelby play a game begun twenty years before—a game they will win, or die trying.
“This is a mistake.”
Like he hadn’t heard that before. Andrew Lawless tried to remember that Bill Hatchard was simply worried, and rightly so. Drew was worried, too. It was precisely why he’d decided on the course of action he was about to take. He turned to look out his office windows. All of Austin was laid out before him, the lights of the buildings around him coming on as the sun set over the Colorado River. He could remember the first time he’d looked out these windows ten years before. It had been the first time he felt successful and knew everything he’d worked for would finally come to fruition. He’d known that he would find the three people responsible for his parents’ deaths.
If only there hadn’t turned out to be a fourth . . .
“I told you I wasn’t sharing the information with anyone.” He glanced at the clock. Only another half hour to wait. He’d set the meeting after hours in order to keep things quiet. Perhaps he should have had the meeting at his house, but he never knew when his brothers or sister and their spouses would show up. They were getting ready to celebrate Riley and Ellie’s marriage with a blowout reception, and he didn’t want to tip them off until his plan was firmly in place.
He could hear Hatch moving, and knew exactly where he would go. There was the sound of a cork popping open. Naturally Hatch went for the expensive Scotch. “You’re wrong about this.”
“So you’ve said.” About a million times since that terrible night when they’d discovered who the real villain was.
“Fine.” Hatch’s tone was short. “Explain it to me.”
How could he get Hatch to understand? He turned and looked to the man who had been his mentor his entire adult life. “Mia’s pregnant.”
That should suffice. It made sense to Drew. Mia was pregnant, and that meant he kept his mouth shut.
Hatch frowned. “What does that have to do with anything? That was inevitable the way she goes at it with that cowboy of hers. A pregnancy makes things worse. Now she’s even more vulnerable.”
Hatch wasn’t a sunny-side-of-life person, but then neither was Drew.
“Yes, she is, but I suspect she’ll be safe enough. She’s going to try her hand at fiction for a while instead of wandering the globe looking for trouble.” His sister was a reporter and a ball of chaos. Rather like the woman he was about to meet. “Case and the rest of the Taggarts will look out for her.”
“And the Taggarts would be invaluable in finding our target,” Hatch insisted.
McKay-Taggart was the premier security and investigative company in the country. Drew knew he wouldn’t have taken down Steven Castalano and Patricia Cain without them. But he couldn’t hire them for this job, and Mia was the reason why. He couldn’t ask family to put up walls, to risk relationships for his revenge.
“Do you know what Mia said to me when she told me she was having a baby?”
“Hopefully she said, ‘Do everything in your power to ensure no one kills me or my baby because there’s a psychotic bitch running around out there who wants to do just that,’” Hatch insisted. “If she didn’t say that, then she missed the point.”
“She told me she wished our mother was here. She told me she wished she could hold our mom’s hand and ask for her advice. She cried because her mother is dead.” It had ripped his heart out. He couldn’t explain to her that the mother she longed for was alive and well and had killed at least five people.
The mother Mia missed had tried to kill them all.
Hatch came up beside him, holding out one of two crystal tumblers. “You don’t want Mia to know that Iris is alive and posing as Francine Wells. I get that. It’s no reason to cut out Taggart.”
“Ian Taggart would feel the need to tell his brother.” It was why he hadn’t already brought the man in. “He would tell Case and inevitably Case would tell his wife, and Mia would find out. Once Mia knows, she’ll start to research Iris herself.”
He couldn’t bring himself to call that woman mother. Not ever again.
“So tell her not to.”
“Have you met my sister?”
Hatch knocked back his Scotch in one long swallow before turning dark eyes on Drew. “You can’t allow Iris to walk around like nothing happened.”
“I have no intention of doing that, but she was quite clear in her instructions to Carly. She told us to back off or she would finish what she started all those years ago.” When she’d murdered their father and his apparent mistress, then locked all the doors and set the house on fire with her four children inside.
Was it any wonder he didn’t want to tell Mia the truth? She needed to think about her baby. Riley and Bran needed to concentrate on the future and their partners.
He’d promised them they would be free after they’d taken down Stratton, Castalano, and Cain. He meant to honor that promise. He would handle Iris Lawless on his own.
“Do you honestly believe she’ll leave them alone?”
He had to. “She has for years. Twenty, to be precise. And I believe she’ll leave Mia alone for the simple fact that she married into a vengeful barbarian horde. She won’t want to start a war with the Taggarts. She can’t win that one.”
“But you think she can beat you?”
“I don’t intend to announce the fact that we’re involved in a skirmish at all,” he replied. “I’ve ensured that there are no records of that sketch in the police file. I’ve also investigated the police computer systems. There were no attempts to hack in before I scrubbed the file.”
“I almost missed it,” Drew admitted. “It was subtle, but someone downloaded the report the police made the night of Patricia Cain’s overdose.”
“She was murdered.” Hatch could definitely state the obvious at times. “I know that. You know that. The police in LA are calling it an accidental overdose.”
Hatch shook his head. “Why won’t they investigate?”
“Because I don’t want them to. Because I wrote a large check to ensure that they don’t.” Oh, it wasn’t anything so gauche as a bribe. It was simply the offer of a man grateful to the police for keeping his brother out of the limelight surrounding America’s most famous style maker’s rather scandalous death. It wasn’t anything new to the Los Angeles PD. They’d been happy to ensure Bran’s name had been kept out of the press and to quickly close the investigation. The tabloids had gone insane for a few days and then the reporters had moved on to different scandals.
All except one. And he intended to take care of her tonight.
Hatch swore under his breath. “I wondered about that. So if you’re not going to allow her to get away with it and you’re not going to use the police or your McKay-Taggart resources, I assume you’re going to do this all by yourself.”
“Not at all. I’m hiring an investigator, but one I can control.” One he also wanted to get into bed with, but then that was all a part of his plan.
“No, an individual.” There was a reason he hadn’t gone over this with Hatch, but if all went well, in a few hours he would know anyway. There was zero chance of Hatch buying the story he was going to sell to his family.
“So you hired a private investigator? I hope he’s also a bodyguard.”
“I intend to ensure that she’s discreet.”
Hatch went still beside him. “She? You hired a female PI?”
“She’s actually a reporter, but she’s a brilliant investigator.” After all, Shelby had realized something was seriously wrong with his parents’ case long before Drew had. She’d requested medical records, started digging in a way that led him to believe she knew something she shouldn’t. He’d stopped her at every turn, but only because he meant to control this investigation.
Shelby Gates would be allowed the keys to the kingdom, provided she was willing to sign the agreement he’d drawn up.
Then he would have her, and he would enjoy himself for as long as it lasted. Until the moment that she realized he was a manipulative asshole and walked away from him.
“Tell me it isn’t that redhead from LA. The one you got a hard-on around every time she walked in the damn room.” Hatch didn’t wait to sigh impatiently or for confirmation. “Damn it, Andrew, I thought I taught you not to think with your dick.”
Hatch had taught him many things. And then there were the lessons Drew hadn’t needed. Like how to protect the things and people he held closest to his heart. From the moment he’d felt the heat of the fire against his skin, seen his parents’ bodies and not been able to get to them, he knew that he was responsible for his siblings. He’d done a piss-poor job at times, but this move was all about protecting them.
“Shelby can get into places I can’t. She’s also innocuous. Most people don’t see past her chest and hips and all that hair to the ambitious woman inside.” He intended to use that ambition against her.
“Once I teach her how to be perfectly discreet, she’ll attract no attention to our family.”
“So you’re sending her out there like a sacrificial lamb,” Hatch mused as though the idea didn’t actually bother him. “She’ll send you information, but if Iris comes after someone, it won’t be our family.”
Hatch was very much a member of the Lawless clan. The boozy, obnoxious, brilliant uncle who fucked up but was always loyal. Hatch had been loyal to Benedict, and that fealty had switched to Drew when he came of age. Once Drew had sobered Hatch up, he’d proven to still have the business acumen he’d shown when he ran his father’s company. Hatch had applied it to 4L and they’d gone the distance. A few billion dollars later and they were still on top of the world.
And still had unfinished business.
“I don’t intend to get the girl killed.”
“But you’re willing to put her in danger. You saw what happened to the last few people who even hinted at getting in Iris’s way.”
Yes, he’d heard what the woman had told Carly. As Bran had lain there bleeding, Carly had listened to a recitation of Francine Wells’s crimes. Of course Carly hadn’t realized she was actually talking to Iris Lawless, but she knew the woman who stood before her had poisoned Phillip Stratton before he could potentially tell all, killed Steven Castalano in his hospital bed the day before he was scheduled to talk to police, and sent someone in to murder Patricia Cain.
He was well aware of the risks his black widow mother posed. “Better her than my family, and she’ll agree. She’ll do whatever it takes.”
“How can you be sure of that?”
“Because I’ve done a study on her.” He knew all her data by heart, but he was intrigued at getting to know the real Shelby Gates. He wanted to see the woman inside the warrior goddess.
Did she fuck like she lived? Would she be a wildcat in bed, or sweet and soft after a man had given her everything he had? Would she curl up next to her lover and let him take care of her, let him adore her? Could he soften her with sex, with affection? Could he soften her so much that at the end she would consider forgiving him?
“So you think this woman is going to do your bidding because you offer her cash?” Hatch asked.
“Cash is the last thing I would offer her.” “All right. What are you offering her?”
Drew knew the way to Shelby’s heart. “I’m offering her the story of a lifetime.”
Hatch frowned his way. “I’m confused, Drew. First you say you’re going to hide everything so Mia and the others never have to know what Iris has done. Now you’re turning it into a best seller.”
“I’ll give her the story. I’ll even let her write it.”
“But you won’t let her publish it. You’re going to let her put her neck on the line and then take it all away from her. Damn, Drew. That’s cold. And it could work. You have her quietly find what you need. No one ever has to know you’re involved at all.”
“I thought about playing it that way, but I can’t. I need to be able to keep an eye on her until I’m sure I have all the research, and I can’t risk letting her tell this story. I’ll stick close to her and, when the time is right, I’ll take her notes, her research, and everything else.” He didn’t like how tight his tie suddenly felt. “And I’ll offer her something in return. I’ll get her any job in the world she could possibly want. She wants to work for the New York Times, I’ll make it happen. She needs cash to set herself up as a freelancer, consider me her personal bankroll.”
“And if all she wants is what you offered her in the first place?”
He shook his head. “She’ll be reasonable in the end. She’ll see that I can’t allow my family secrets out in the open.”
“So you’re going to leave things the way they are? You’re going to let everyone believe Benedict killed your mother and himself?”
“I don’t know, damn it.” He forced himself to calm down. Cool. Calm. That was the only way he managed to get anything done. “Like I said, the situation is rather fluid at the moment. What I need to do is figure out exactly where Iris is and what she’s been doing for twenty years. My brothers and sister know our father was a victim. That might have to be enough.”
“And if she’s living it up somewhere? Are you going to ruin her life? You think that will solve your problem?”
“No. There’s only one thing I want to do to Iris.” He felt himself go infinitely cold. This was the real reason why he couldn’t bring his siblings in. He knew how this would end. “I’m going to make sure she can never hurt us again. One way or another.”
“All right. I’ll stand by you,” Hatch said, crossing the room and getting himself another drink. “How do you intend to keep an eye on Shelby?”
“I’m going to be her boyfriend.”
Hatch sputtered. It was good to know his mentor could still be shocked. “What?”
“Part of the contract is that her cover for this assignment is as my girlfriend. It won’t surprise anyone. Bran and Riley saw right through my reasonable annoyance to the illogical sexual reaction I have around that woman. And Mia and Carly tried to set me up with her. I’ll simply explain that the last time I was in Los Angeles, I asked her out to dinner and we began seeing each other.” It was a simple plan.
“I knew you were thinking with your dick.”
Luckily his dick was a strategic thinker. He sat down and sipped the Scotch. It was oaky, with a hint of caramel and smoke. Would Shelby like Scotch? He sat back as Hatch went over all the ways Drew’s penis would bring them down. Twenty more minutes and the game would begin.
One thing it definitely wouldn’t be was boring.
* * * *
“Mr. Lawless will see you now.”
Shelby looked up from her phone at the stunning receptionist. The other woman wore one of those dresses that looked like a bandage wrapped around her perfect form. “Are you serious? Is he like standing in front of a bunch of windows and wearing a silver tie? Because that would be way too much.”
The woman stared at her for a moment. “Excuse me?”
So not big on pop culture references. Her humor was going to be wasted here. “You know, Fifty Shades of Grey. That was how it all started. It was a book. It was a movie.”
“I’m a Harvard-educated programmer. I do not know Fifty Shades of Grey.” The woman’s perfectly done brow curved up in disdain. “But if you’ll come this way, Mr. Lawless will conduct his interview with you and I’ll be able to get back to work.”
Shelby followed the woman past the beautifully decorated receptionist station. She glanced down the halls of 4L Software. It was dark to her left and right, the only ambient light coming from the cityscape around them.
What was she doing here? Why had she even said yes to this asshole? Oh, Carly swore he wasn’t as bad as he seemed, but Carly could be overly optimistic. She was also madly in love with Bran Lawless, and that was keeping her from seeing the family as the ravaging sharks they really were.
So why was she following Ms. Perfection down the hall? Why had she allowed Drew Lawless to send a plane for her? Why had she accepted his phone call at all?
Oh, she knew. She’d found something wrong with the police reports concerning the deaths of Benedict and Iris Lawless. Something that got her every instinct tingling.
Right up until she’d been told by a lawyer that if she kept digging, she would be served with an injunction and taken to court by the lord of the underworld.
Well, the master of 4L Software at least.
Ms. Perfection stepped through the open doorway. “She’s here, sir, and she’s got terrible taste in literature.”
Shelby frowned. “I’m here and she’s got a two-by-four stuck up her ass.”
Ms. Perfection turned, her lips curling up. “Oh, I like her, sir.”
And then Drew Lawless, who had indeed been standing in front of a bank of floor-to-ceiling windows brooding as he looked out over the city, turned. Nope, she’d said yes because her reproductive system had taken over. Shelby prided herself on being a smart, independent woman, but at the end of the day she was like all the rest. Completely helpless against a square jawline and broad shoulders and alpha male charm.
That was one gorgeous man. Too bad he was also an ass.
“Jocelyn, I believe you’ve done your duty. Thank you,” Lawless said, his voice deep. “And Harry thanks you as well.”
“Harry owes me. She thought I was the receptionist. Also, she thinks you’ve set this up like some Fifty Shades reject. Good thing you took off the tie, or she would worry you’re about to tie her up.” Jocelyn winked Shelby’s way. “He won’t, you know. He’s quite staid. If you decide to go for something a little wilder, give me a call.”
She floated away.
What the hell had that been? Shelby watched her before turning back to Lawless. “Did she just hit on me?”
His lips curled up in the most decadent smile. “You’ll have to excuse Joss. She’s a brilliant programmer, but she’s got absolutely no filter. And yes, she was hitting on you.”
Copyright 2017 Lexi Blake