Authors: Marata Eros
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There are two sides to every story. In this dark and sexy companion novel to
New York Times
A Terrible Love
, experience the sizzling
passion and pulse-pounding suspense through FBI agent Cas Steele’s eyes as
he hunts down a psychopath...and falls for the killer’s prey.
Cas has been charged with an unsavory task: manipulate the hauntingly beautiful
Jewell MacLeod—a woman he has every reason to hate—and slowly gain her trust in
order to use her as bait to lure in a killer. But as the killer draws closer, Cas realizes
that he can’t deny the scorching chemistry that ignites between him and Jewell, even if
giving into his physical desire for her means jeopardizing his mission...and opening
himself up to the possibility of a real and terrible love...
New York Times
bestselling author of dark, romantic new
adult novels, including
A Terrible Love
and its companion novel
A Brutal Tenderness
. A passionate
writer who loves interacting with her readers, Marata lives in South Dakota with her husband.
You’re the one
You are the hurt inside of me
And you are the one that makes me weak
Shadows that crawl all over me
Swallow the light that lets me see
Have I fallen too far away, away (I keep running away, I keep
running away, I keep pushing away)
Now that it’s over
It’s hard to stay sober again
You’re the one
I watch from a distance as the umbrellas become a tangled
wen of black, linked together by mourning.
My hands grip my long-range binoculars, special issue.
With a flick of my wrist, I snap them open and feel rage,
impotent rage. Faith, who was like a sister to me, is being
lowered into the ground, and that merciless fuck walks free—a
pretender among those of us who grieve, those of us who will
never be the same again without her. I want to kill the bastard
who stole my Faith. Dead because of a coincidence that I
might have stopped. If only I’d paid closer attention. If only I’d
been prepared. The guilt batters against my soul, unforgiving,
“Cas . . .” Agent Luke Adams begins.
“Don’t,” I say. In my peripheral vision, I see Luke breathe
out in a frustrated hiss. He says something low into the mike
hidden underneath his protective gear, wrapping him in false
safety against guns and most knives. A cloak of protection that
won’t be needed today.
We’re following direct orders. The senator of South Dakota’s
son, Thaddeus MacLeod, will not be taken into custody,
even for the hint of a whisper of questioning. Circumstantial
evidence and a high-profile family have kept our team of FBI
waiting for the go we’re not going to get.
We’re crippled by politics and protocol. The senator, a newly
anointed presidential candidate, will not have his bid for the
highest office in the country threatened because a group of FBI
operatives determines that his son is the most obvious suspect
in this murder. Hell, I don’t even need evidence; my gut tells me
it’s him: Thaddeus MacLeod raped and murdered my cousin
while the spoiled bitch she had taken under her wing listened
in the safety of a nearby closet. Doing nothing to help, nothing
to stop it.
I tried to shove away the memories of her recorded
recounting. But I’m haunted by parts of Jewell MacLeod’s
confession. She did not speak for two days after being found
in that dark hole of torment. But when they finally got her
talking, it was clear that she’d been living in a special kind
of hell since it happened. A hell she created for herself by
listening to another die and yet doing nothing.
Choosing to do nothing.
My skin crawls as my eyes move over the crowd of
mourners, my gaze traveling past Jewell’s stepmother, in a
crimson dress, before they reach Jewell, dressed in black, her
red hair burning from the distance I’m keeping from her. I’ve
seen the tapes. I know her face. I’m not a fan of the Witness
Protection Program; the ones we protect should be aware of our
protection. That she will, but I understand why it’s necessary.
Given Jewell’s public position and the delicacy of the mission,
we want an ironclad acquisition and subsequent conviction.
My eyes narrow as I watch her, the woman Faith protected
with her life and who now plans to flee. The FBI is deep into
the MacLeods’ lives, a finger in every pie, and her emptied
trust account first alerted us. Just as the acquisition of her
new identity—provided by FBI, unknown to her—confirmed
our suspicions. Luring the suspected killer into our hands is a
dance of strategy and unorthodox methods. In this case, Jewell’s
ignorance keeps the advantage in our favor. If she were to know
that we protect her, her behavior might reflect that and give
the killer subtle signals to stay away. Just as we need him to get
A smile spreads across my face. She’s unknowingly tipped
our hand, shown what her plans are and therefore pegged
herself as the first person to be in Witness Protection without
realizing it. It’s really perfect, I think.
The program will give her a sense of control. She doesn’t
know she’ll be a pawn in our pursuit of the murderer, Thad, that
bastard stepbrother of hers.
My gaze shifts to Thad. Tall and good-looking, a poster
child for prodigal son, and I see the monster that Faith told me
about lurking beneath the veneer.
I try to shake off the shattered remnants of my haunting
guilt. But it grips me, carrying me off on the current of my
memory like a captured leaf, forever churning as the water of
my emotions takes me back to the night that Faith called me.
And I didn’t answer.
“Come on, ass wipe, don’t be a sissy girl. Bring it,” Luke Adams
goads from above me as I toss my head to the side to shake
off the sweat that runs into my eyes. The beads fling like paint
spatter as I grunt and slam the bar high, locking my elbows as I
ram the bar into his palms, and Luke smiles like the ass clown
he is. I strain for balance, the huge discs forcing grace when I’m
tired as shit.
“Nice Cas, you still have the balls . . . today,” Luke says,
I don’t say anything but carefully lower the bar, clanking it
softly in the bracketed cradle of the seated weight bench.
I snake my hand out and latch on to Luke’s thigh, giving
him a horse bite that should last into next week.
“Fuck!” he howls, trying to give a well-placed retaliatory
wrist chop. I feel the breeze of his hand as I jerk my own back.
Sitting up, I swivel around on the bench and rip a towel off one
of the many pegs hanging from the wooden towel tree.
“You dick!” Luke hisses with a laugh, holding his abused
“No commentary when you spot, Adams,” I instruct dryly,
dabbing at the sweat now chilling on my neck.
“I’m just trying to get you to focus, you jag-up. Jesus, that’s
going to bruise.”
“Yeah, let’s call 1-800-who-gives-a-shit,” I say with a smirk.
Adams gets so worked up. It’s all fun and games until someone
loses an eye, he always says.
Luke gives me a disgusted look and rubs his leg. “You’re a
prick, but you’re a strong prick, so I’ll let that slide, Steel.”
I grunt a half laugh as I scroll through messages, many of
them encrypted updates about the Scent. That’s my code for
what I call an investigation when it’s wrapping, when all of us
on the same team are closing in on the suspect. And right now,
the Scent is so powerful I’m gagging on the stench.
We’re closing in on a suspect. A male who’s been profiled to
fit the serial killer model to a t.
“Well?” Adams asks, dabbing at his own sweat-coated hair.
“Looks like he’s waiting for something ”
Adams touches his nose. “How’s your . . .”
I swivel my face up to look up at Luke as he stands there,
sweaty and tired after our workout ritual. “He’s here,” I say.
“The sick fuck is here.” I feel my eyes take on a thousand-mile
stare. Then I say, almost to myself, “I think he knows.”
Luke grows still, looking around the deep bowels of the
FBI compound where we work out six days a week. It’s like
goddamned Fort Knox. He looks around anyway. In a whisper,
he says, “He can’t know, Steel. We’ve been tight on this at every
I shake my head, wiping down my forearms, the last place
to sweat, the last place to dry. “Nah, I think he’s been successful
for this long because he’s just that instinctual.”
I let Luke chew over that mental morsel.
Finally, he nods, then grins. “Kinda like you, Cas. Raw
instinct.” He makes a sudden fist with his hand as his grin
widens. “In fact, you should have been a serial killer.”
“Fuck off, Adams,” I say casually, flicking him with the edge
of my towel. It snaps like a firecracker and catches his leg in the
exact spot I’d horse-bit him minutes before.
“Ow! Ya masochistic fuck!”
A little too close to the truth
, I think.
I smile and he throws his towel over my head before
Just another day in the gym.
When I’ve made Adams submit to my satisfaction, we clean
up. The locker room fills with steam, along with the reek that
all guys’ locker rooms have:
eau de ass
with a chaser of rotting
socks. Yeah, I walk over to the mirror above the row of basins
and swipe a forearm across the murky surface, my armband tat
flashing black geometrics, the sun tat at my shoulder gazing
back from my upper pec.
My longish hair is wet from the shower, and I comb my
fingers through it to keep it out of my eyes until it gets a
natural blow-dry on my bike—a 1965 vintage Harley. My pride
The mirror begins to fog again before I can fix my hair, and
I sigh in disgust. Doesn’t matter, I’ll be sporting a different look
on the next assignment. I’ll be fucking thrilled to get rid of the
long shit. “You’re beauttee-ful, Steel,” Luke says, fluttering his
eyelashes as I finish sweeping my nearly black hair off my face,
and I flip him the bird in the mirror. He laughs.
“What’s put that shit-eating grin on your face?” Then Luke
snaps his fingers. “I got it: You’re gettin’ some.”
I turn around and give Luke a glare as I grab my leather
jacket and punch the locker door open ahead of us. “No,
asshole, just dreaming of a long bike ride.”
“Goddamn! It’s a bike. It’s not like a chick, Cas ”
“Well . . .”
“Okay, you ride both, but”—he spreads out his hands—“it’s
not the same, just sayin’. ”
I can’t help it; Luke always gets me grinning. Even in a
long case, as wide and unyielding as the ocean, Luke struggles
through and pulls out the humor. Thank Christ, because I’m
feeling the strain. How long has it been since I’ve gotten laid?
Sat and had more than two cold ones and a half-day’s ride to
someplace unknown but by the black ribbon of road and the
beast under my seat? Too fucking long.
We walk in companionable silence, making our way
through the security checkpoints. Finally, when we’re released
from the subterranean section of the FBI, the dungeon where
the bodies of the federal defenders of the good old US of A are
fine-tuned, we break away for our separate vehicles and Luke
turns with a finger in the air like a flag.
I throw my gear over my shoulder, my body begging for
sleep without nightmares.
“How’s it going?” he asks suddenly.
I shrug, a strand of hair falling forward as I blow it to the
“I don’t know, I’m hanging in there with it.”
“You want to kick his ass,” Luke easily guesses.
I nod. “More every day.”
“Listen, don’t compromise your cover because of this
personal shit, Steel.” His eyes, not normally serious, hold mine
with an intensity that’s uncomfortable.
“She’s family, man. I can’t just call the neutrality card or
some shit like that.”
“You’re too in your head on this, Cas. Be there for her, but
not all the way.”
I throw my hand out in frustration. “What would you
do if your cousin brought you these stories?” My eyes search
his and I take a step closer, casting him in the late shadows
that summer’s brought as it kisses twilight’s descent. “They’re
grooming this man for president, Luke,” I say in a low voice, my
implication obvious. I hate to consider a suspect’s environment
as anything but that: surroundings. But it matters that our
prime suspect’s dad is running for president. If we’re wrong, if
we can’t garner the proof necessary to put him away, the FBI
won’t recover from the fallout.
Luke catches my meaning instantly. Luke and I go way
back. He’s well aware of the close relationship I had with Faith.
How Thad MacLeod’s abusive and perverted behavior toward
Jewell had escalated. He hadn’t stopped at animals. We’re sure
of it, yet not sure enough to charge. “We know he’s got a son
who’s busy torturing and killing animals. Are you sure there’s
nothing sketchy about the sister?
“Stepsister,” I clarify. Then I wonder why Faith couldn’t have
chosen a different best friend.
Luke shrugs. “It’s sick as fuck, but it doesn’t mean anything.
Faith shouldn’t have gotten involved, man.”
I shrug again. Must be my family curse: We’re everyone’s
champion, always pulling up the downtrodden. That’s the Steel
way. Faith comes by it naturally.
“We’re the G-men, Steel. You know we can’t touch local; let
the PD have it. He’s not president yet, just a senator. It’s not on
“Jewell’s afraid, Blaine”: Faith’s words to me whisper
through my head, her level-headedness making the situation
feel that much more urgent.
“Besides, you don’t need this noise now. We’ve got the
noose of pressure in place around our prime suspect and it’s
tightening as we speak.” Luke throws his hands up, palms out,
We’re all gunning to catch this serial killer, but things have
a way of slipping out of the most capable of hands. Maybe it’s
just nerves, but I have a bad feeling. I feel my cell in my hand
like a talisman, a comfort knowing Faith can reach me if she
needs to. My eyes drop to the screen as I swipe my thumb
across it, my fingerprint password opening it . . . to a black
“Shit,” I mutter.
“What?” Luke asks.
I grunt. “My fucking phone’s dead as shit.”
Luke grins. “Kind of running with the undercover role,
I give him a sour look. It’s not easy to switch gears; I’m
so deep into my latest gig I find it hard to remember where I
begin and the persona ends.
Luke shrugs. “So what? It’s your day off,” he says, dismissing
the importance of a dead cell.
But that disquieting feeling intensifies like a slow-blooming
orchid inside me as the instincts that Luke noted earlier are so
much a part of me come alive.
When Luke’s cell vibrates, he looks at the message that
comes in. He turns to me, and his eyes confirm my fear.
My life turns on a dime right then. I can almost feel the
slow spiral like an internal slide of vertigo that threatens to
The serial killer has been given too much rope, and instead
of strangling himself with it, he has taken down one more
victim. Thaddeus MacLeod had us feds fooled like trained
dogs. He slipped our noose entirely.
In a pivotal moment of destiny inserting its will, he shatters
my life. I pick up the pieces, my hands bloodied and raw. A new
promise is put into place that day. The day Faith dies.
Thaddeus MacLeod will pay with his life.
I don’t understand it then, but later I realize he’s not the
only one accountable for Faith’s death. Jewell isn’t an innocent
party in this. She’s the only one who in that moment could
have stopped it. And she made the conscious decision not to.
We’re too late to stop what was put in motion: Faith stolen
in a huge gulp when a fortuitous moment presents itself. My
cell phone not working when Faith called me sealed her fate.
Accidental . . . final.
We race to the nearest vehicle.