Friday, December 15, 2017

#FirstChapterFriday: Damaged by Jeanne St. James #eroticromance

by Jeanne St. James

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Two scarred souls: one physically, one mentally. Both on the mend, hiding from their pasts...

Mace Walker can't wait to get home.

Being buried deep undercover for the past two years, on the most complex case of his career, has torn him down physically and mentally. Now the FBI agent has come home to recover after having his leg badly injured from a gunshot wound. Arriving home late one night, his relief is short-lived as he's faced with a stranger pointing a gun to his head, acting like he is the one who doesn't belong there!

Colby Parks, a biochemist at the local university, had come to town a year earlier to escape an abusive relationship. She vows never to put herself in that situation again.

Then the perfect opportunity comes along: house-sitting for Mace's sister while making the house she purchased habitable. But she couldn't anticipate this big snag: the one wearing the tight Levi's and worn leather jacket, looking like he had just escaped prison.

Being forced to share a house creates sparks between them in more ways than one. However, things take a turn when their pasts catch up to them, threatening to pull them apart forever.

Note:  This book was previously published under the title Banged Up but has been reedited for this release.

Chapter One

As Mace Walker slid the key into the lock, an immediate sense of relief washed over him. He hadn’t been home in…Hell, forever. Even though he owned the house and considered it his home, he felt like a stranger when he opened the front door. He chucked his keys on the table by the door with a sigh. He’d been home for a whole thirty seconds and restlessness already ate at him.
The house was quiet, and he wondered where his sister was. Probably sleeping, dummy, since it was—he glanced at his watch—freaking one in the morning. Most normal folk slept at this hour. But then, he wasn’t normal. He couldn’t be to do his job.
But, he couldn’t do his job right now, anyway. He’d been forced home to heal. Against his wishes.
Fucking bullshit.
The foyer was dark, but he didn’t need to hit the light. He still knew the house well enough. He made his way to the stairs where he dumped his duffle bags on the floor and ran a hand through his too-long hair.
Those two small duffels held little evidence of his life for the past couple yearsjust some toiletries and a few basic items of clothing.
He turned toward the kitchen, and the foyer lit up, blinding him for a second. He blinked against the harsh light, and a young voice rang out from the top of the steps. “Hold it right there! Put your arms up and back away from the stairs.”
What the fuck?
Mace had expected to see his sister bounding down the stairway of his two-story colonial, excited after not seeing him for the past two years. Actually, more like one year, eleven months, and fifteen days. Not that he’d counted.
But instead, he stared up into the deadly eye of a Glock. And from his viewpoint, it looked like a model 27, a .40 calibera compact, but still a decent sized gun in a very small, very uneasy hand. Instantly, the hairs on the back of his neck rose.
He’d dealt with crime bosses and their flunkies—from drug to porno rings—and had managed to survive. Now he was going to be killed by some measly punk he surprised while burglarizing his house when he happened to come home? The cruel irony made him want to laugh. Instead, he did as instructed. With caution, he raised his hands above his head before stepping back toward the middle of the foyer. He avoided standing directly under the light, trying to get a better view of the top of the steps. But he didn’t have much success; the upstairs hallway and the upper section of the stairway were hidden in shadows.
If he played his cards right, this little situation would be under his control in no time at all. He just had to keep the kid calm and make the skinny punk believe he was the one in command. The Glock didn’t have a conventional safety. All the kid had to do was pull the trigger and pull it again and again until all the rounds in the clip emptied into Mace’s body. And from what he could see in the limited light, the kid’s fingers twitched from nervousness.
Not a good sign.
Where had a young punk gotten an expensive handgun like that? It certainly hadn’t been in the house. And if it had been, it would have been locked up in the gun safe.
If only he could see the boy’s face. He needed to see the eyes. Without seeing those, Mace couldn’t even begin to predict what the kid would do.
“Don’t you dare move, or I’ll blow your face off!” The kid’s voice raised an octave, making him sound more and more like…a female.
Mace tensed when the person started down the steps. At first, he could see bare toes, a slim calf, then another. His gaze flicked to the gun before returning to the shapely naked thighs which couldn’t belong to a kid. No fucking way. Especially not a boy. Those smooth legs definitely belonged to a woman, and he couldn’t wait to see the rest of her.
So far, the view almost made it worth being held at gunpoint. Almost.
He felt strangely disappointed when an oversized T-shirt—shit, was that Sponge Bob on it?—blocked his view of creamy flesh. His arms were tired, his leg throbbed painfully, and his patience was wearing thin. But he still wouldn’t move since he had no idea who this woman descending the stairs was. His curiosity piqued when she stepped down into the light, which highlighted her long, curly red hair and made her wide, glaring green eyes sparkle and snap.
Lightning shot through him and landed in his groin. Neither fear nor pain made him suck in his breath. No, her unencumbered breasts bobbing under the cotton shirt with each step she took did. Her nipples stood out like two beacons under the worn cotton.
He had to clear his throat twice before he could ask her, “You’re robbing this house dressed like that?”
Really, if it wasn’t for the gun being pointed at him center mass, he wouldn’t be taking this seriously at all.
When she hesitated halfway down the staircase, a look of uncertainty crossed her features, before disappearing as quickly as it came. Her eyes narrowed, and she scowled at him. “Am I robbing this house? The question is: What are you doing here?”
His leg began to throb again, the way it had earlier on his long drive into town. Although, he preferred the ache to no feeling at all. He was glad to even still have his leg. Hell, he was lucky just to be alive.
Well, alive at the moment. It wouldn’t take much to change that.
“I live here.”
She frowned, her eyebrows knitting together. No surprise that she didn’t believe him.
“Can I put my arms down now?” His fists clenched high above his head, and he fought not only the pain, but also the urge to drop them to rub his thigh.
“No! Don’t move! I’m going to call the cops. Back up.” She jabbed the gun in his direction.
He didn’t move. Instead, he released a long, very loud, impatient sigh.
“Back up, I said! Or I’ll shoot you.”
“It’s happened before,” he said dryly.
The redhead looked at him in surprise, her feet faltering on the last step. “What?”
“I’ve been shot before. So go ahead. Apparently, I have nine lives.” He tried not to smirk. Irritating a woman with a gun wasn’t smart. Experience, and he had plenty of it, had taught him that much.
Adjusting her grip on the gun, her knuckles turned even whiter. “Well, your luck has run out, asshole.”
Asshole? Damn. Harsh. He hadn’t done anything yet to be insulted like that. “What’s in your clip?” She glanced at the gun with just a quick flick of her eyes, but he caught it. “Ever shoot someone? Ever seen someone shot? Besides on TV or in a movie, of course. It’s pretty fucking messy.”
The arm holding the black, lightweight gun trembled.
“Did you ever hear of the saying, ‘Don’t pull it, unless you’re going to use it?’ If you decide to use it, make sure you use both hands. Be sure you kill me, not maim me.” He patted his palm on his chest. “Two shots. Right here. Center mass. If you’re going to do it, do it right.”
Shut up!”
He did.
The woman placed her free hand underneath the butt of the gun to support it. At least she seemed open to suggestions. However, his talking had unnerved her, and he didn’t need her to squeeze the trigger by accident. No matter what type of ammo she had in that clip, all bullets tend to hurt. He frowned.
“Lie on the floor! Your hands behind your head! Now!”
Christ, the bitch was getting annoying now. But at this point, she was close enough to kill him, even with a bad shot. He had enough with the games for tonight. Exhausted, he just wanted to go to sleep in his own bed in his own house.
Mace judged the distance. “Can’t.” He only needed her a few steps closer. She waved the gun at him recklessly, her left foot moving forward. “Do it!”
One more step…
“I can’t kneel easily. I’ve got a bum leg.” The bum leg was true enough, but he exaggerated a bit on the kneeling part. He’d been known to lie when he had a gun directed at him. Sometimes lies came easier than truths. And he’d had a lot of practice at that, too.
“From all those times being shot, huh?”
“Actually, yeah.”
“Down on the ground, or I’ll blow your brains all over the foyer.” Her slow words, muttered through gritted teeth, made him think she might be serious. Her right foot moved to keep her balance.
Now was his chance.
Mace lunged. He cracked her extended arm with his fist, causing a sharp cry of pain from her. The gun dropped, skittered across the tile floor, and she grabbed her injured wrist. He grasped both her flailing arms by the wrists and pushed her backward. When she fell back onto the stairs, air whooshed from her lungs, and her head missed the edge of a step by a fraction of an inch. He planted his knees on the outside of her bare thighs, pinning them together.
Mace stared down at the woman trapped beneath him. His weight crushed her into the carpeted steps. And he didn’t care. He was in pain, so why shouldn’t she be?
“Oh, God, please. Don’t—” she whispered, her voice catching. Eyes wide, she sank her teeth into her bottom lip.
He scowled. “Don’t what? Hurt you? After you just had a gun pointed at my head, you don’t want me to hurt you?”
The pulse in her delicate neck pounded like it wanted to escape.
“If…if you leave now, I won’t call the police. I’ll forget this ever happened.”
Liar. If she got the chance, she’d grab the nearest phone and dial 911.
Mace had no sympathy for her discomfort since he felt a little of his own. Damn, not just a little but a lot. His leg muscle burned like hell. “If you call the police, the only person they'll take away is you.”
She twisted underneath him, making him wince in pain. He gritted his teeth to avoid groaning out loud. That groan would not have been a pleasurable one. Not at all. And what a pity. It had been a while since he’d been with a beautiful female like the one beneath him. He’d have to do something about that and soon.
But right now, he had a problem to deal with, and that problem continued to squirm. He didn’t feel at all charitable, but he would to have to let her up. For his own sake.
Mace stood, lifting her with him, careful not to release her wrists. He angled away from her slightly, making sure a knee or foot didn’t connect with any of his vital areas. He was in enough pain already.
“Who are you, and what are you doing here?”
 “I could ask you the same.” She exhaled loudly, visibly regaining control of herself.
With a shake of his head, he tightened his grip on her wrists—a little reminder of the change of power. “No. I’m in charge now. Unless you want me to have you dragged out of here cuffed, you’d better answer my fucking questions.”
“I’m not going to tell you, a…a criminal who I am.”
If the situation wasn’t so serious, he’d laugh. “I’m not a criminal.”
She eyed him skeptically through the long mane of red hair falling over her face. “Okay, so who are you, then?”
Mace let another impatient sigh escape. Maybe he should close his eyes and count to ten…Nah, fuck it. “I told you, I live here. And stop trying to screw with me. Just answer my questions.”
“I’m not screwing with you. Go ahead and call the police.” She flattened her lips together and tilted her chin toward the ceiling.
Christ, she was stubborn. Was he going to have to try another tactic to get her to talk? He was trying to be reasonable, but his options were limited. He really didn’t want the local police involved. Not if he could avoid it, anyway. And it wasn’t necessary; if he couldn’t handle one skinny-assed woman by himself, he needed to give up his day job.
Hell, that wasn’t fair, she probably wasn’t skinny-assed. She probably had a nice rear on her, one which matched the very nice front. He wouldn’t mind checking it out, just to make sure. He loved a woman who was nicely balancedtits and ass.
“If you don’t tell me who you are and what you’re doing here, I’ll strip off this skimpy shirt of yours and anything else you’re wearing—which probably isn’t much.” He raked another look down her long, supple, hot little body. Fuck. It had been too long. His cock was already at half-mast just imaging her naked.
The threat was empty, but what little color she had drain away from her face.
Her lower lip trembled, and her eyes widened. “So, you’re going to rape me?”
Oh fuck. No. Nononononono!
Hell no, he wasn’t. But he might let the threat idle there between them if it would get her to talk. It made him feel like a complete shit for not clearing up her misconception, though.
And when he remained silent, so did she.
He couldn’t believe it; she actually wasn’t going to talk. He grasped both her wrists in one hand, and with the other, began to slowly pull up the hem of her nightshirt, revealing pink panties. Hot damn. His dick stood at complete attention now, and unfortunately caught in an uncomfortable position. But there was no way he would adjust himself and prove what a horny shit he was.
Before he could raise the soft cotton shirt above her belly—Goddamn, she was an innie—she jerked her hips away from him, the color returning to her face in full force.
“Okay, okay! My name is Colby Parks.” In what looked like defeat, she closed her eyes.
With a sigh, Mace reluctantly released the shirt, pushed away the slight regret, and watched the fabric catch on her hip. For half a second, he wished she would have been more stubborn, since she obviously wasn’t wearing a bra. He would have liked to see what was under the goofy cartoon character. He gave himself a mental shake.
“Colby Parks? Is that your real name?”
“Yes,” she whispered and tossed her head, flipping the hair away from her face.
A dusting of freckles crossed her nose. He knew better than to be distracted by something so simple like freckles. But he couldn’t help wondering where else she had them. Okay, he needed to concentrate. This woman had pulled a gun on him. In his profession, he couldn’t afford to lose his focus. “It must be. Who could make up a name like that? What are you doing here?”
“Yeah, right.” Mace chuckled. “And doing a bang-up job at it.” His humor quickly vanished to deadly seriousness. He pushed his face close to hers. His attempt to intimidate her once again failed when her soft breath, coming quickly through those full, parted lips, sidetracked him. For a second. Or two. “Who hired you?”
Colby Parks’ green eyes shot daggers at him. Now he knew where the saying “if looks could kill” came from.
“If you truly live here, you should know that!”
He squeezed her wrists tighter. His eyes narrowed as he muttered, “Lady, I’m not here to play games. Answer the damn question.”
She hesitated a second before Mace watched the resignation cross her face. Damn, he was a little disappointed she gave up so easily. He liked her firemore than liked it.
“Maxi…Maxine Walker.”
Ah, so that’s why his sister didn’t greet him. She was out of town and hired this little gun-toting vixen to watch the house.
Mace released her without warning, and Colby stumbled away, rubbing her wrists, then turned and sprinted into the kitchen. He followed right behind her, making sure he stayed between her and the gun. Of course, she did exactly what he expected. He depressed the hook switch on the phone while she frantically dialed. While he held it down, he did a quick assessment for any nearby cell phones. He doubted she was packing one in her panties.
“Don’t bother calling the police. It might not turn out well for you.”
Colby held the handset to her chest like a lifeline. She stared at him, wide-eyed. The pressure of the handset against the thin, worn cotton only emphasized what he struggled not to notice and didn’t want to admit to noticing in the first place. He turned away, picked up the gun, stuffed it into his jacket pocket, and limped to the kitchen table.
With a groan, he slowly sank into a hard, wooden chair and dragged a hand through his hair. “I’m Mace Walker. Maxi’s brother.” He didn’t bother to look at her. He hoped she would make the right choice at this point.
The receiver clattered onto its base behind him. Huh, he was right. Imagine that. He massaged his right thigh, gritting his teeth against the pain.
“Maxi’s brother.” The whisper also came from behind him, but within another second, she stood in front of him, hands jammed on her hips, eyes narrowed. “She doesn’t have a brother.”
Mace looked at the gathered cotton at her waist, trying to ignore—though failing miserably—the way the hem of the shirt now sat cockeyed, almost flashing those pink panties. Those panties probably smelled so sweet. He massaged his thigh harder.
“Well, if she doesn’t, then I’m just a figment of your imagination.”
She shot him an incredulous look. “I’ve known Maxi for over a year, and she has never—not once—mentioned a brother. And she certainly didn’t tell me he’d be visiting.”
She remained frozen for a minute and appeared undecided about how to proceed. With an exasperated huff, she pulled out the chair across from him. And with a tug on the hem of her nightshirt, she settled into it. The tug, a sad attempt at covering her long length of thigh, covered that sweet little package wrapped in pink satin.
Okay, concentrate, damn it.
“She doesn’t tell anyone she has a brother, so no one asks questions.” He stood and left the kitchen, returning a few moments later with a prescription bottle. Making sure she was paying attention, he pulled the gun out of his pocket, released the full clip and unloaded the round in the chamber. A chill ran up his spine when the lone hollow-point bullet rolled across the kitchen table. She really could have shot him. He tossed the empty gun in her lap, making her jump. Leave it to a woman to be more dangerous than the Mafia. Fuck.
“I hope you have a license for that.” Mace stuck the clip in his jacket pocket and went to the cabinet for a glass.
Relief flooded him when he found the glasses in the same cabinet after almost two years. He had horrible visions of his sister taking over his house and redecorating it all girly-like. Luckily, she had enough sense to leave things be.
When he crossed to the sink, he realized he was wrong. Maxi changed something. He frowned at the little yellow ceramic duck with a blue ribbon tied around its neck which held a sponge. That would have to go.
After filling the glass with cold tap water, he swallowed a pill and took a drink. On second thought, he popped another. He settled across from Colby again, studying her while he waited for the painkillers to kick in. Her mouth pressed into a tight linea shame for those luscious lipsand he could see the wheels turning in her head.
“Why wouldn’t she want anyone to know she has a brother? Were you in jail?” Her eyebrows rose. “Are you an escaped convict?”
Mace shook his head and couldn’t help but smile. She had to be kidding. “Yeah, I’m an escaped convict, and you’re my hostage. You must do what I say. Get naked and lie on the table.”
Mace watched for a reaction. Nothing. He was losing his touch.
Colby looked stone-cold, not even a twitch of a smile. “I want to see some proof of who you say you are.”
Lady, someone must have burned you good to make you so mistrustful you have to interrogate a friend’s brother. Oh, and carry a gun. He couldn’t forget that. But, honestly, he didn’t blame her. He would be just as cautious and suspicious if he were in her shoes—he glanced down at her naked feet—or in those cute, pink painted toes.
“What, knowing where the drinking glasses are kept isn’t proof enough?”
“Don’t toy with me. I want to see some ID.”
Her determination fascinated him. So did everything else about her.  It’s not every day he came across a woman like herstrong-minded, not afraid of guns, and one hell of a hottie…a redheaded, green-eyed, freckled one to boot. Colby reminded him of an uptight school teacherthe kind who would let her hair down and get wild at night.
She might be a sex kitten under her stubborn exterior. His type of woman. Mace grinned. His mind drifted back to their conversation, and he realized she was waiting for his answer. “ID? Like my inmate’s ID card with my mug shot and number on it?”
“Any ID would do.”
“Sorry, I left it behind when I scaled the walls. Had to pack light. It was a long swim from Alcatraz to land.” Unfortunately, she didn’t seem to appreciate his dry sense of humor. The pain in his leg slowly eased, and he released a contented sigh. But his relief was short-lived since, for some reason, he now had a headache. He glanced over at the reason. “Where is my dear sister, anyhow?”
“Yeah, thanks for that. I realize she wouldn’t have needed a housesitter if she was only on a date.”
“She’s on her honeymoon.”
Mace straightened up, his eyes narrowing. “Honeymoon?” He tried to read her expression, but it was nonexistent. At the moment, she was a rock.
“Yes, you know, the trip you go on after you get married?”
He ignored the dig, thinking her humor no better than his. “She got married? To who? When? Where did she go?”
Colby leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms over her chest. Mace wanted to protest because he could no longer see the hard pebbles of her nipples through her shirt.
“If you’re her brother, why don’t you know that information? Why weren’t you at the wedding? Did you have a falling out, or were you really in prison?”
“Neither. We were separated by necessity.” The half-assed explanation sounded lame, even to his own ears.
“Separated by necessity,” she said slowly, the words rolling around in her mouth like she could taste them. “And how long was this so-called separation?”
“I don’t know.” Of course, he knew. But saying it out loud made it sound worse. “Two years,” he mumbled.
“Two years,” she repeated with a frown. “Then, you’ll just have to wait until she gets back. I don’t feel I should tell you her personal business if she didn’t tell you herself.”
With a weary sigh, Mace rubbed a hand over his eyes. Too tired to argue, he said, “And when will that be?”
“In two months.”
Mace cursed softly. Two months? Who goes on a honeymoon for two months? “I might not be here that long.”
“You won’t be here at all. I wasn’t given any instructions about letting visitors stay while she was away. So, you’ll just have to hide out somewhere else.”
He cocked an eyebrow in surprise. Fuck. That. “Hate to tell you, but I own this house.”
He grinned when Colby stiffened in her chair, and her hands landed back in her lap.
Colby pushed to her feet and laid the gun on the table, studying the man across from her. Mace Walker’s presence alone had been enough to rattle her at first, but now, conflicting emotions tore her in two different directions. He said he was Maxi’s brother. This house was his, not hers. Why hadn’t Maxi told her? Could she trust him? He certainly didn’t look trustworthy.
His intensely dark, almost black eyes and his unshaven face unnerved her. His dark clothes seemed suspicious, and his oversized, bulky leather jacket was large enough to conceal something. Creeping into the house after dark made him even more suspect. Maybe she should call the police anyway. Though, he did sort of look like Maxi, but in a more beefy, masculine way.
“I still want to see some ID,” she repeated, more firmly this time.
With a grumble, he pulled out his wallet and flipped it open. A photo ID was tucked in the clear plastic front pocket, but he didn’t remove it, and she couldn’t see it clearly from where she stood. Instead, he dug until he found something specific.
He handed her an old, expired driver’s license, one in which he looked much younger…and his expression looked worry-free. No frown lines marred the man looking at her from the photo, but it proved he was Macen Jeffrey Walker, and the address listed this house.
“What, you haven’t had a driver’s license since you were…” Colby glanced at the date. “Eighteen? Been in the slammer that long?” She did some quick figuring on his age. Thirty-six. Even though she now had serious doubts he’d ever been imprisoned, she wanted to pay him back for scaring her earlier. It was only fair.
“No. Not any with my real name on them.”
“Ah. So what do you do, Mr. Walker, that you haven’t seen or even talked to your sister in two years, don’t have a current driver’s license with your own name on it, and have to creep into your own house after dark?” She flipped the license back to him. She couldn’t wait to hear his explanation. And she really wanted to see the more current ID he refused to pull out of his wallet. What did he hide?
He caught the license in midair and took his time tucking it back into his wallet before answering her. “Oh, this and that. You know, a lot of traveling.”
“No, I don’t know.”
“That’s too bad, Colby.”
She wasn’t sure what he meant. But one thing she was sure about was her name on his lips bothered her, for more reasons than she wanted to admit. “Not really. Your job wouldn’t have anything to do with manufacturing license plates, would it?”
“Sort of. I do the hiring, in a way.” He stiffly pushed himself up from the chair and swept long fingers through his coffee-colored hair, the kind of coffee he probably drank. Black and strong. “Well, I’m beat. I’m going up to bed.”
“Wait…” She followed him into the foyer and saw two bags sitting by the staircase. She hadn’t noticed them earlier in the tussle. “I still don’t think this is a good idea.”
As he leaned down to pick up his duffel bags, his hand gripped the banister tightly, so tightly she wouldn’t be surprised if there were indentations from his fingers in the wood.
“Honestly, I don’t care what you think. I’m tired. This is my house. And I’m going to my bed. Those are the facts. Live with them or leave.”
He clearly struggled to keep a blank face. Simply climbing up the steps caused white brackets around his pressed lips.
But he couldn’t just walk away leaving it like this. Should she stay? Should she go? And if he wanted her to go, should she leave now or in the morning? Colby followed him up the steps. She decided to test him. “If it’s okay, I’ll gather my things in the morning.”
Mace stopped abruptly at the top of the stairway before turning to tower over her. She halted in her tracks, instinctively grabbing the banister for balance.
“You don’t have to leave. Since Maxi hired you, you can stay and finish your job. I don’t know how long I’ll be in town, anyway. I’d hate to have to find another housesitter on a moment’s notice when we have a perfectly good one already.”
Colby wanted to collapse in relief. She had nowhere else to go; the house she was renovating wouldn’t be habitable for at least another two months. That’s why she was so grateful to Maxi for letting her house sit. The timing had been perfect…well, except for this little snag.
Little wasn’t the word for him. He had to be six foot three with his boots on. She was sure his jacket made him look heavier than he really was. But his legs were long and lean, especially encased in those sinfully snug, worn blue jeans. Damn, but she could appreciate a man with a good ass in well-fitted jeans.
Mace suddenly turned away to continue down the hall. Maybe he didn’t like women staring at him. Still, it was only fair after his eyes burned her bare skin earlier.
She trailed him to the end of the hall, keeping her distance when he pulled out a ring of keys and inserted one into the first door on the left. She had wondered why the room across from hers was locked and even attempted to open it one day while she vacuumed. Maxi’s room was down the hall, and Colby slept in one of the guest rooms.
Now it made sense…the secret room of the secret brother.
She tried to peer around him when he swung open the door but only saw the dust rising behind him when he flipped on the light. She wanted to follow him in to see the locked sanctuary, but he blocked her view and her way when he turned to face her.
“Well, good night.”
Colby extended a hand to stop the door from slamming in her face. She showed him her empty gun. “What about my clip?”
Mace frowned. “You’ll get it back when you show me you know how to properly handle and shoot the thing. Go to bed.” And with that, he slammed the door shut.
Colby stood, one fist planted on her hip, staring at the closed door for a few minutes. She listened to the muffled rustling and wondered what he was doing. Getting ready for bed, most likely, genius.
Tomorrow would be soon enough for her to dig for more information on him. Right now, she would take his advice and go to bed.
Back in her room, she placed the gun on the nightstand so it would be within arm’s reach. He might have handed her back an empty gun but…
She smiled as she opened the nightstand drawer. Inside it lay another clip. Along with two more boxes of ammo.
* * *
Mace threw his bags on the bed and sank down beside them. He ran a hand through his already tousled hair while letting out a long, soothing sigh. He surveyed the master bedroom. A layer of dust coated the furniture, a few framed pictures of his late parents and his sister sat around the room, and his alarm clock had never been reset after the last power outage. It flashed 12:00 incessantly. He glanced at this watch. Almost two-thirty now. Damn.
But he was home. Really home. Not in some strange motel in some unknown town surrounded by people who shouldn’t be classified as human.
He was sick of the city life: the noise, the rush, and the constant wariness. A lot of the tension in his body dissipated the moment he drove into Malvern. It was different, more laid back, and even as a large college town, its population was only a fraction of New York City’s.
He was disappointed, though. He had looked forward to spending time with his sister, the only person who really understood him. Someone who he could be completely honest with.
 He wanted to run things by her, bend her ear a bit. Hell, more like a lot. He needed to figure out his future. But now, he’d have to waitwait to be around someone who loved him for who he really was.
Not loved or even hated him for who he pretended to be.
He didn’t know how long he would last, doing what he did. The job had taken a toll. Spending time with people he reviled and couldn’t trust exhausted him. He was tired of having to agonizingly memorize details of a made-up life, an existence where one slip-up could cost his life or a colleague’s.
He rubbed his thigh. His last assignment had been a killer, both emotionally and physically. He just needed time now.
Time to forget.
Time to heal.
He thought about the redhead just across the hall from him. He felt a twinge of guilt about his brusqueness toward her. On the other hand, it was hard to be nice when you’re being threatened with a loaded weapon. Though, admittedly, she impressed him with her guts and determination, whether it was real or just an act to cover her fear.
Mace anticipated his time home would be boring. Dull. Uneventful. Colby Parks just might have changed that.

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JEANNE ST. JAMES is a bestselling erotic romance author who loves an Alpha male (or two). She was only thirteen when she started writing since it gave her an escape from teenage angst! Her first paid published piece was an erotic story in Playgirl magazine. Her first erotic romance novel, Banged Up, was published in 2009. She is happily owned by farting French bulldogs. She writes M/F, M/M, and M/M/F ménages. Want to read a sample of her work? Download a sampler book here:

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