Author: Rebecca Shea
Series: Bound and Broken #3
Release date: April 24, 2017
(Sub)genres: Contemporary Romance
From the USA Today bestselling author of the Unbreakable series, comes a sexy, heart-wrenching novel…Betrayed by Lies.
As an ATF agent, bringing down the Estrada cartel has been my sole mission. I’m a skilled agent, determined and fearless, but a relentless pursuit and a willingness to risk everything almost killed me.
A year later, when an opportunity in Los Angeles presents itself, I jump at the chance to start over and rebuild the career and life I almost lost.
Kate Stevens was not part of my new plan. I never expected she would be the one to save me from my past. She was exactly what I needed—smart, beautiful and independent. I finally have a future I look forward to.
Only nothing in my life ever goes according to plan. Losing Kate is not an option, but fate seems poised to ruin me, and there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it.
I wake with a start, sitting straight up in my bed. Cool air fills my lungs when I gasp, pulling a deep breath in. My eyes slowly adjust to the dark room, and I rub the sweat from my forehead before swinging my feet over the edge of the bed and resting my arms on my knees. The dream is always the same, the piercing pain of the bullets hitting my flesh…and the fear of dying, scared and alone.
An exaggerated huff leaves my mouth when I see the alarm clock on the bedside table. It reads four-ten in the morning. That puts three hours and twenty minutes of sleep under my belt. It’s the longest I’ve slept since I arrived in Los Angeles three days ago.
I’m used to surviving on very little sleep, but the nightmares of that night are back and making it more difficult to find rest. I push myself out of bed and throw on a pair of athletic shorts and t-shirt. Grabbing my phone and hotel room key, I head to the gym. With no one else up this early, I play music directly from my phone while watching CNN with subtitles as I get my daily seven-mile run in.
I like running outdoors better, but it’s easier to use the gym and treadmill here at the hotel. My phone pings with incoming texts, but I focus on my run. The burn in my lungs relieves the stress in my shoulders. Sweat coats my skin and drips from my nose as I increase my speed—pushing myself harder. The treadmill roars as I increase the speed yet again, and my heart pounds wildly against my ribcage as my lungs fight for air.
Pain—it’s the only way I know I’m alive.
Pain in my chest. My mind. My body.
The treadmill slows just as my phone pings again, multiple times, alerting me to more incoming text messages—messages that I ignore. I’ve got three days’ worth waiting for a response, and I’m in no hurry to get to them. Transferring to the ATF offices in Los Angeles makes for an easy reason to avoid everyone and everything. Avoidance is what I do best.
I grab a bottle of water and return to my room for a shower before heading into my new office. New office. New job. New city. New state. New life.
A chance to start over. A chance to leave the past where it belongs…in the past. I pull a suit out of the closet and turn on the shower to let the water warm up.
Raking my hands over my face, I do my best to shove the events of last year to the back of my mind, but the life goes out of my eyes when I see the scars scattered across my chest. They’re a constant reminder of the day I lost almost everything…including my life.
Standing in front of the mirror, I run my hand up over my chest and shoulder, my fingertips brushing the smooth surface of the scars spread across the left side of my chest. I ball my hands tightly and release, repeating two more times, a coping mechanism my physical therapist taught me to deal with my anger.
I step into the shower and let the hot water ease my tension. My neck, shoulders, and back instantly begin to relax, and I allow my mind to let go at the same time. “New beginnings,” I mumble to myself as the shower cleanses me of my anger, a baptism of sorts.
I dress and am out the door in less than thirty minutes, easing my car onto the bumper-to-bumper packed L.A. freeway. A commute that would take me less than ten minutes in Phoenix takes me damn near forty-five. I find a covered parking spot just as my phone begins to ring. A number I don’t recognize flashes on the screen, and I decline the call. I don’t have the time nor patience to deal with unknown callers. Gathering my suit coat and phone, I find my way to the main entrance, using the security badge that was sent to me prior to my arrival to allow me entrance into the building.
My phone begins ringing again just as I’m weaving my way through the lobby and headed to the elevators. Same number. This time I press accept and answer. Before I even speak, the female voice on the other end catches me off guard.
“Oh my god, I didn’t expect you to answer.” She pauses. “I was leaving a voice mail and my call dropped so I was just calling back to finish the message.” I hear her sigh. “This is Kate Stevens. Nick Stevens sister. He gave me your number.” Nick Stevens, my new boss. “He mentioned that you might need a place to rent. I have a guesthouse he thought would be perfect for you, and he asked me to call you. I’m sorry if this caught you off guard. He said he was going to speak with you.” She finally stops speaking so I can get a word in.
“Hello, Kate. Nick didn’t mention this to me.”
I hear her sigh loudly. “He’s the most unorganized human being alive,” she mumbles, and I can’t help but chuckle. I’ve met the guy three times, and she’s right from my observation as well. “I’m so sorry to have called you,” she apologizes.
“Don’t be. I’d love to check out the place. I got here Friday, and I’ve been staying in a hotel while I look for something more permanent—”
“Don’t feel obligated,” she cuts me off.
“I don’t,” I answer her honestly. “I’m mainly looking for something not too far from the office and just somewhere to lay my head. Nothing fancy. I won’t be around much because all I ever do is work.”
“Sounds like Nick,” she says with a small laugh. “You’re welcome to check out the house anytime. It’s close to your office, but it’s a little off the beaten path near the foothills. Either call or text me, and we’ll schedule a time for you to stop by, or have Nick show it to you anytime. He knows where I hide the spare key. I’m also not home often so coordinating our schedules might be tough.”
I hear a horn honk in the background as she mutters a string of curse words worthy of an R-rating, and I can’t help but laugh. “That sounds great. Thanks for calling, Kate.”
She ends the call without another word, and I’m left standing in the lobby of my new office, laughing.
The morning is spent being briefed on projects that the team is working on and investigating. I’ll be taking over a case that my predecessor left when he was promoted to a position in Washington D.C., as well as anything new that comes in.
There’s a quick knock on my doorjamb before Nick sticks his head in my office. “You got any lunch plans?”
“Not today,” I toss over my shoulder as I close the folder on my desk.
“Let’s go grab a quick bite. I need to get the hell out of this office.” He loosens the tie around his neck. Nick is about my height and build, probably a few years older than me, California born and raised, and started in the San Diego field office. Worked his way up to Los Angeles and plans to retire here.
I grab my phone and slide it into the pocket of my suit jacket.
“How’s the first day treating you?” he asks as we weave through cubicles lining the rectangular office floor outside our offices.
“Good. Just briefing myself on the Navarro case.”
“We’ve been working on that for years,” he grumbles. “Hoping you can close the deal on that one.” His car beeps as we approach and he unlocks the doors. “Hey,” he buckles himself in and starts the car. “You do great work. I heard how you took down the Estrada cartel.” He slides his sunglasses on his face.
My heart races as I wonder how much he knows—if he’s aware the Estradas are my family. It was well known in the Phoenix office, but I’m not sure how much Los Angeles knows about my ‘family’ history. I nod but don’t say anything.
“You’re the best of the best, which is why you’re going to take down Navarro,” he continues as we take off down the road. “It was easy for me to approve the transfer request.”
“Thanks.” I offer a tight smile and turn to look out the passenger window.
“I’m excited for you to kick ass here in L.A. So why the hell did you want to leave Phoenix anyway? There’s so much shit going on in that office, you must’ve had years of work still.”
I blow a puff of air from my mouth. “My injuries—”
“Shit, I forgot about that. Sorry, continue.” He winces as I continue.
“My injuries fully healed with time and physical therapy, and I wrapped up the cases I was working on.” I look at him out of the corner of my eye to gauge his response. He raps his thumb against the steering wheel and nods his head slowly. “And it just felt like it was a good time to start fresh. Start over with a clean slate.”
He turns his head to look at me. “I cannot tell you how lucky we are to have you here in Los Angeles. I hope you’re fully prepared to kick ass and take names.”
I can’t help but smile, appreciating the vote of confidence.
As the day winds down and the office empties, I find myself wrapped up in the case file on my desk, familiarizing myself with all the key players, the locations where the guns are being held, and the evidence that we have to date, along with notes on what we still need to document.
Nick doesn’t knock when he enters my office this time, rather throwing himself into the chair across my desk with an exaggerated sigh.
“What’s the sigh for?” I ask him as I tuck the case file into my bag. I’ll finish combing through the remaining details tonight and make my own notes. I have a system for how I set up my case folders, and I need to rework all of these.
“Just a Monday,” he states, looking around my bare office. “You going to decorate or something? Throw a poster on the wall?” He waves his hand around, gesturing to the stark gray walls.
“Decorate? No. I do have some awards and diplomas I’ll hang once they arrive. They’re being sent from Phoenix.”
He nods, content with that answer.
I clear my throat. “Speaking of decorating, I got a call from Kate.” I raise my eyebrows and sit back in my desk chair. “She said something about having a guesthouse to rent. Were you going to tell me she was going to call?”
“I did. I sent you a text on Saturday.” He relaxes in his chair and props a foot on his opposite knee. I really need to stop ignoring my messages. He continues, “I stopped by to see her this weekend and forgot she had that guesthouse. Immediately thought of you when I saw it.”
“Thanks. I need to find some time to check it out. Living out of a hotel room is less than ideal.” I reach over and power down my laptop.
“Let’s go now. It’s just down the road a few miles. I know where she keeps the spare key if she’s not there.”
“She also mentioned that,” I laugh.
“Grab your shit and let’s go. You can follow me there.” He jumps up from the chair and quickly pulls his tie off. Nick looks more like an outdoorsman than a senior agent with the ATF. He looks uncomfortable in a suit. I see him more as the park ranger type, running around in cargos and hiking boots.
I follow suit, loosening my tie as I follow him to our cars.
A few miles is more like fifteen, and about half of those miles are in bumper-to-bumper L.A. traffic. Something that I’m not sure I’ll ever adjust to. Once we exit the freeway, we wind through gorgeous neighborhoods all the way back to the base of the foothills. I would never in a million years guess the house we pull up to is a house in a suburb of Los Angeles. It sits on what I assume is about an acre of lush green land with neighbors spread out down a long secluded, tree-lined street. The ranch style house is simple yet modern with an updated exterior, wood shutters, and wrought iron accessories.
“Not a bad drive, eh,” Nick says as we both step out of our cars in the driveway. “I should say for L.A. standards. If your commute is under an hour, you’re pretty much living the life,” he laughs.
It really wasn’t a bad commute. I eyeball the watch on my wrist and the drive was just under thirty minutes. Nick reaches inside a hanging planter that swings from the covered front porch and pulls out a key. He waves me toward the side of the house where a brick sidewalk snakes around to the guesthouse that sits just off the main house. It looks exactly like the main house, just slightly smaller.
“This is it,” he says, sliding the key into the front door. “One bedroom, a small office slash library, kitchen, living room, and one and a half baths.”
We step inside. It’s obviously been remodeled recently. The smell of fresh paint hits me as I walk deeper into the house. Everything is brand new, sleek, and modern. Bright white trim and doors offset light gray walls. A dark wood floor makes the bright white kitchen pop against the stainless steel appliances.
“The only thing that’s missing is a washer and dryer. She said she’d order those once she leased the house. The laundry room is off the back.” He points to a door off the kitchen. “It’s a large pantry and a laundry room.”
I’m impressed with what I’ve seen thus far. I walk through the open living room and down the hall to the bedroom. It’s large and bright with one wall of windows that start near the ceiling and stretch about three quarters of the way down the wall. Long, dark gray curtains hang to each side of the paneled windows that overlooks more of the lush backyard. There’s a single French door that leads to a small brick patio off the master bedroom, and a table and chairs sit out there. In the middle of the table is a fire pit. I instantly imagine myself relaxing around this table with a beer after a long day at the office.
I head back down the hallway where I stop and peek my head in the office. It’s got two glass French doors that lead into the square room. One entire wall has built in bookshelves and a built in desk. It’s the perfect home office.
I scan the living room and kitchen again and make note that my dark furniture will fit perfectly in the space and complements the gray and white theme throughout. This might be the easiest decision I’ve made since deciding to move to Los Angeles.
Nick steps out front while I take one last look around, making mental notes of the space and things I’ll need shipped from Phoenix.
After we step outside and Nick locks the door, I hear him shuffling behind me on the brick walkway. “So what do you think?”
“Perfect. It’s everything I was looking for,” I say as I spin around and am met face-to-face with the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen. I stumble momentarily because, for half a second, those words mean so much more than just the house I was looking at.
“I’m Kate,” she says, her voice strong and secure. She holds her hand out to shake mine. She’s tall with light brown hair that hangs just past her shoulders, and she’s wearing a navy blue dress and heels that put her at almost my six-foot-two. Confident. She’s confident. I can read a woman by the way she carries herself, the tone of her voice, and what she wears.
I take her hand in mine and smile. “Sam. Sam Cortez. I’ll take it.” Again, those words mean so much more than just the house.
Her lips turn into a half smile, and she holds eye contact with me. She licks her lips and tilts her head before glancing over to Nick and then back to me. “Nice to meet you, Sam Cortez. Welcome home.”
And my heart begins to beat again for the first time in eighteen months.