Sat
Mar 24 2018 10:00am

Tara Thomas Excerpt: Deadly Secret

Tara Thomas

Deadly Secrets by Tara Thomas is a romantic thriller and the second book in the Sons of Broad series (available March 27, 2018).

In the sultry streets of Charleston, one family, ruled by its powerful, take-no-prisoners sons, has risen to the top. But a merciless enemy is out to destroy them … and everyone they hold close.

As a lawyer and aspiring Congresswoman, Bea likes to keep things professional. But she’s hired to investigate past dark secrets embedded in the Benedict business empire―and as secret wife to Knox Benedict, the job is about to become even more personal.

Knox is the moral backbone of the Benedict family, but even a modern-day saint can have a mysterious side. He’s out to win back his estranged secret wife―but getting close to her again could destroy them both.

As Bea and Knox dig up the truth, Bea falls deeper and deeper into danger. Someone close by is watching her―and waiting to kill. Can Knox save the woman he loves from the enemy out to destroy them? And can their marriage survive the deadliest secret of all?

CHAPTER 1

Bea had to get out of the conference room before the man across the table tried to kill her.

Logically, she told herself he wasn’t dangerous. Even though she knew better than to judge people based upon their appearance, the man in question was short, on the stocky side, and, unless he pulled a gun on her, she could probably take him, thanks to the self-defense course she’d completed last week. It was the pen he kept tapping on the table that tested her sanity. The tap, tap, tapthat wouldn’t stop and she couldn’t get out of her head because it brought back thoughts of the man who almost had killed her.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Sweat trickled down her spine.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Her stomach began to feel sour.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

She closed her eyes, took deep breaths, and tried everything she knew of to make it stop. None of it worked. Not counting backwards. Not running through multiplication tables. Not even picturing herself relaxing on a deserted beach. Damn it, she was going to have a full-blown panic attack sitting in the middle of her senior partner’s meeting with a client he wanted her to co-represent.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

She took another deep breath. This was not happening. She wasn’t going to let it. But her heart began to race and she knew she was fighting a losing battle.

“Ms. Jacobs?” Skip, the senior partner, asked. “Your thoughts?”

Shit. “I, um, agree with your analysis.”

The pen stopped tapping and she was able to suck in another breath. Deep even breaths. Surely the meeting wouldn’t go on much longer and she’d be able to get up and walk. Splash some water on her face and maybe go outside for some fresh air.

Skip raised an eyebrow. “Really? You were most forceful in your opposition yesterday.”

The pen started tapping once again.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

She was going to be sick. She pushed back from her chair and stood on wobbly legs. “If you’ll excuse me.”

Without waiting for a reply, she darted from the room as quickly as possible, managing not to crash into Vicky, the office admin, who was bringing coffee into the conference room.

“Ms. Jacobs?” Vicky called as she raced by.

Bea didn’t slow down or turn around. She made it to the bathroom and shut the door, sagging against it, and forcing herself to take deep breaths. For a brief second, she thought she was going to be fine, but the panic she’d tried to hold back clawed its way up her throat. Her stomach lurched in response and she stumbled forward, desperate to make it to a toilet before losing her breakfast.

After, she rinsed her mouth out and leaned her head against the cool tile on the wall. She was still breathing heavy and she balled her fists in defiance, even as her mind replayed the seconds leading up to her attack: the sudden shift in the air that alerted her something was wrong and the feel of rough hands pushing her against a brick wall. In what she thought was a cruel mind trick, all of her senses had been super-heightened and now, almost six weeks later, she could still feel him breathing on her, still smell the stench of human waste in the alley he dragged her into, and through it all, still hear the tick tick tick of his watch that haunted her.

She stood up with new determination. The assholes who hurt her weren’t going to win. She’d be damned if they were going to get the best of her.

If she had to force herself to listen to pen tapping for hours on end, she would beat this. Maybe she should get some professional help like they’d recommended at the hospital after her attack. At the time, she’d thought she’d be fine if she could only get home and she’d thrown away the business cards they’d given her.

Little did she know that getting home was only one step in the seemingly three thousand needed for recovery. And in no way had it ever crossed her mind that she’d still be having panic attacks weeks later. Knox would be upset if he knew.

Knox …

He was an entirely different problem. Her gaze dropped to her bare left hand and she had to squeeze her eyes closed so the tears that always seemed to follow thoughts of him didn’t fall. But trying not to think of his devilishly handsome grin, his tousled dirty blond hair, and his utterly devastating charm only made her think of them more.

Someone knocked on the door.

“Ms. Bea.”

It was Vicky, bless her heart.

“Just a minute.” Bea splashed water on her face and wiped her eyes. A quick glance in the mirror told her she looked like shit, but there was little she could do to fix it at this point.

“You okay?” Vicky asked when Bea finally opened the door.

“Getting that way.”

Vicky pressed her lips together. Probably because she knew a lie when she heard one. Bea wasn’t getting better. Some days she felt as if she were barely functioning. And it didn’t help that Vicky was a mother hen and had sharp eyes.

“I don’t feel so good,” Bea said. “I’m going to work from home. I’ll call Skip when I get there.”

Vicky nodded. “I’m going to let you go, but I don’t like you being alone so much.”

Once she made it home and she called and left a voice mail for Skip, she pulled on her pajamas and curled up on her couch with her comfy blanket. It was absurd to even have a blanket out this time of the year, much less to use one. But for some reason, it made her feel safe to have it wrapped around her. Silly, of course, the blanket being a thin piece of fabric.

It was probably because he gave it to her. She snorted at the way her brain worked. Of course it was because he gave it to her. For what other reason would she bring the soft material to her nose in order to see if some small trace of his scent still lingered there?

But the softest of fabric was nothing even close to him and she shrugged the blanket from her shoulders. She turned her laptop on so she wouldn’t think about him anymore, only to have the project she’d been working on with him before the accident pop up. She shook her head, hating that she now kept track of time and events that way.

The Johnson case? Oh, yes, that was before.

The Turner case, however, that was after.

Another thing she needed to take care of and fix. Thinking that way gave her attackers too much power over her, her life, and her future. She would stop that type of thinking today. Right this minute.

She thought about opening the file containing the project, but with the memory of her recent panic attack still fresh in her mind, she didn’t dare. Too afraid that thinking about anything having to do with the Benedicts would stir up a pot of trouble she wasn’t prepared to deal with.

It shouldn’t bother her not to work on the case. After all, it wasn’t a case for work. It was a personal matter, from Knox. He asked her privately to look into some issues his family’s company had years ago. His older brother, Kipling, had thought the human resources records looked off. She had gone to work, looking into the personnel files he gave her for any kind of clue she could find, and in the end, she got attacked for it.

That last bit had come to her days later in the hospital. When she remembered the man she associated with the ticking telling her to stay away from Knox. Or else. She still recalled the cold sweat that covered her body the moment she remembered and the way goose bumps rippled her skin. But most of all, she remembered the despair she felt, knowing she had to end her relationship with Knox. Because she knew the next time she met the ticking man, he wouldn’t leave her alive. And Knox would be his next target.

Her phone rang and she grabbed it, thinking it was Skip.

“Hello,” she said, not looking to see who it was.

“Ms. Jacobs, this is Mandy at Dean Family Law. Your divorce papers are here and ready to be signed.”

*   *   *

Someone else might have described it as being watched. Jade was being hunted. Watched was much too mild of a term to describe what he was currently doing to her. There was no doubt in her mind, she was being hunted. She was the prey. He was the lion.

Perhaps if she were smart, she’d have stayed away from South Carolina, but she’d learned early in life that running from your problems got you nowhere. In fact, that had been what killed her mother. When she had time to think about it, the irony didn’t escape her.

The Gentleman had found her after her mother’s death and now it seemed he’d be the instrument for hers.

Did she hate him? Of course.

But without him, would she be alive?

The answer to that only made her hate him more. But that hate did something she didn’t think he’d counted on. It moved her forward. Consumed her with the need to bring him down. And that’s why she’d come back.

Now, if she could only stay alive to see her plan finished.

*   *   *

Knox Benedict knew he was pushing his luck with the Charleston Police Department, but surely they had more information than they were telling.

“Come on,” he told the lead investigator, Alyssa Adams. “You have to have more than you’re letting on.” After all, she’d been involved in every aspect of the threats directed to the Benedict family.

“Even if I did, Mr. Benedict,” she said. “I’d hardly share it with you.”

What Knox needed was his older brother, Kipling. Out of the three Benedict brothers, Kipling was the player and he’d often got into verbal sparring matches with Officer Adams a few months ago when she was investigating a series of murders that touched the Benedict family. Hell, she’d arrested Kipling for one of them. Of course, all charges had been dropped, but still, to say his family had history with the police officer was an understatement.

Besides, she’d shared information before. Why wouldn’t she do the same and fill him in with the latest on how close they were to finding Bea’s attacker? He’d worked in Afghanistan during the summers while he was in college. One of the skills he’d honed while there was IT security. Or to be more exact, how to get around it. He didn’t want to hack into the police department’s systems, but he would if he kept getting the run around.

“You do not have access to privileged information in an active police investigation.”

“So you’re admitting that you do have more information, but you’re just not sharing it at the moment.”

He thought he had her until she gave him a sarcastic smile. “And here I was under the impression it was your wife who was the practicing attorney and not you.”

His smile faltered for a moment, but he finally decided she’d misspoke. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You know when I first investigated the attack on Bea, I did a thorough background on her.” She said it so matter-of-factly, he almost didn’t grasp her meaning.

“You mean, you knew? This entire time? And you didn’t say anything?” He was stumbling over his words, but he didn’t care. He was shocked to find out that she might be privy to information he and Bea thought was private.

“That you and Bea are married?”

He was so stunned, he didn’t answer her question, but his shocked expression must have been the confirmation she needed.

“I only reveal what is needed, Mr. Benedict. And your marital status had no bearing on the case.”

“In that case,” he said, “is it safe for me to assume that you will not divulge our secret?”

“Absolutely, Mr. Benedict.”

He thought so, but he had learned the hard way it was never a good idea to assume anything.

“I’m not getting anything out of you today, am I?” he asked.

“Or tomorrow or the day after.”

Not ready to give up, he flashed her a smile. “How about I invite you over to Benedict House for dinner?”

She raised an eyebrow.

“I could make sure Kipling’s there,” he added.

She laughed. “That especially won’t work.”

“Then I’ll make sure he’s not there.”

“Good-bye, Mr. Benedict.”

Her tone was light, but her meaning was clear. He knew better than to keep trying. Best to wait for another day. He tipped an imaginary hat and left.

Once he made it to his car and pulled out of the parking lot, he headed in the direction of Bea’s office. She would hate it if she knew, but he drove or walked by her office or apartment at least once a day. He couldn’t say exactly why he started. He never spoke to her and rarely saw her. Yet somehow just being in her space seemed important. Even if it was an odd one-sided attachment. He couldn’t help but wonder if she ever thought of him. What he wouldn’t give to know exactly what she was thinking.

He couldn’t accept that their marriage was over. How could he when she’d not once given him a reason for why she felt that way? Even though Bea had been very adamant the few times they had spoken since her accident, he wasn’t ready to give up hope yet. He’d never thought he’d find love, not the all-encompassing type that he had found with Bea. As such, he could not imagine not living without it.

For now, he would give her space. He’d only surrendered the battle, he had no intention of losing the war.

He drove by her office, but didn’t see her car. Pushing back the uneasy feeling that always seemed to be simmering just under the surface since her attack, he told himself he wouldn’t worry until he had a reason to do so.

A short drive down the road and five minutes later, he should have been able to relax since her car was in its spot. He pulled into an empty spot and debated on knocking on her door. Just a glimpse of her would do. Even if all she did was tell him to go away and not come back like she had the last time.

He decided not to knock on her door in the hope that if he abided by her wishes maybe she’d come to her senses quicker. It still made no sense why she didn’t want him. He was her husband, he was supposed to protect her.

He remembered when they had first met. A local corporation didn’t like the Benedict Industries plans for the expansion of their docks, and had threatened legal action. Knox had spoken to the family lawyer, Derrick, who had assured him that the corporation didn’t have a case. Knox requested a meeting with them and told them to bring their attorney. He knew he was screwed when Bea Jacobs walked into the room.

Her reputation had preceded her and she was truly a sight to behold. In under two minutes, it became very clear that this was not an open-and-shut case. In fact, it soon became a real possibility that the expansion would be shut down. Sure she was beautiful, but she was also brilliant. When he’d finally made it home after that first meeting, he put his computer hacking skills to work and discovered she also did a lot of pro bono work. He ended up falling hard and fast. It took a lot of compromise and considerable expense, but an agreement was eventually reached, and the expansion proceeded.

He knew the smart thing to do would be to leave her alone. But he found he couldn’t do it. He showed up at her office, with coffee made just the way she liked, and asked her out. He thought she’d be impressed that he’d paid such close attention to her. He’d thought wrong. She turned him down, but he was persistent. Even though he believed she only went out with him to get him to leave her alone.

And yet, much to his surprise, one date led to two, two led to three, and after that he stopped counting. He couldn’t pinpoint exact when he had realized that he couldn’t live without her anymore. Yet he remembered very well the day he had asked her to marry him. He wasn’t sure who was more surprised she said yes, her or him.

After she’d accepted him, they both stood there silent for several long seconds, then they both started laughing. The laughing ended in a kiss. But all too soon reality descended upon them. For starters, her father hated him. He’d made that very clear the only time they had seen each other. Usually the Benedict name opened doors, but her father only saw him as a wealthy and reckless playboy, unworthy to serve soup to the homeless. Not only that, but Knox wasn’t sure how his family would react to her being his wife. Especially after the expansion case.

With the potential of her father’s ability to create a shit storm neither one of them could withstand, coupled with his family’s ability to do the same, they decided to keep their marriage secret. They went to Vegas next weekend, and eloped.

Neither of them had ever regretted not telling others. Or that was what he’d thought. Now he wasn’t sure.

 

Copyright © 2018 Tara Thomas.

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Tara Thomas’s love of books and writing started as a child and though she wanted to be an author, she decided a degree in science was more practical. After fifteen years in the pharmaceutical industry, she returned to her first love and hasn’t looked back since. She writes erotic romance as Tara Sue Me. Her Submissive Series novels have been on both the New York Times and USA Today Bestseller lists. Her novel THE MASTER earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and was awarded Best Romance of 2016 from Best Book Awards.

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