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Authors: Nina Pierce

Love’s Bounty

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Love’s Bounty

Book Two of the Tilling Passions series

Nina Pierce

Published 2008

ISBN 978-1-59578-451-3

Published by Liquid Silver Books, imprint of Atlantic Bridge Publishing,
10509 Sedgegrass Dr
,
Indianapolis,
Indiana
46235
. Copyright © 2008,
Nina Pierce
. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.

Manufactured in the
United States of America

Liquid Silver Books

http://LSbooks.com

Email:

[email protected]

Editor

Jean Cooper

Cover Artist

Anne Cain

This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and dialogues in this book are of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is completely coincidental.

Dedication

To Alan, the real hero of my life—who’s taught me to laugh and love without reservation and the true meaning of soul mates.

Chapter 1

Deirdre Tilling slammed the spade into the soil. Her booted foot thumped down on its metal edge, driving it deeper and transferring her frustration to the wounded earth. She’d been working the flowerbeds around her farmhouse since noon. And though the sun stretched the shadows of the maples long across her lawn, painting their leaves a deeper crimson, the hours of heavy labor hadn’t helped ease the pain of loneliness. Puffy clouds skittered over the tree line, reminding her of cotton candy and hometown fairs—Brianna’s favorite autumn activity.

“Don’t think about her,
Dee. Let it go,” she mumbled through clenched teeth. Deirdre swiped the back of her hand across fresh tears and turned the dust on her arm to streaks of mud. “She’s history, like these flowers.” The spade bit into the ground, collecting another load of wilted petunias. Without ceremony, Deirdre added them to the growing pile of detritus in the wheelbarrow. Summer gardens past their expiration—like her love life.

Exhaustion made her back and arms ache. But it was anguish that pinched her heart and made it difficult to breathe. It had been almost eight weeks since Brianna had announced she’d found someone else. Deirdre missed her with a physical need that made her ill with want.

Brianna had been her world.

It didn’t take much to conjure up the fair-haired beauty who’d been her lover for nearly six glorious months. Her body yearned for Brianna’s hands, her silken tongue. She could almost feel those blond tresses on her thighs, and her panties dampened at the thought. But Brianna wasn’t there, and in all that time, Deirdre’s mutinous body refused to give her one ounce of relief from her sexual frustration. One freakin’ orgasm didn’t seem like too much to ask. Her body seemed to be missing Brianna as much as her heart.

Deirdre threw the spade over the wheelbarrow and pushed the load to the mulch pile in the back corner of her property, under the pines.

A bitter sigh pushed past her lips. “What was wrong with me, Bri? Why were you looking? Why wasn’t I enough for you?” She looked up at the white clapboard house they’d shared since spring, thinking how empty it seemed without Bri’s laughter.

“Blind. I am so damn blind. Why didn’t I see it coming?”

Because she hadn’t been looking for signs of betrayal, that’s why. Her sisters had both found someone. They were happy, both of them engaged to the men of their dreams. Her parents were coming up on their fortieth wedding anniversary. There was no reason for Deirdre to think anything was amiss. She’d known only love and loyalty her whole life. She thought she’d found that in Brianna.

Everything had been perfect right up until that horrible morning in the middle of summer when Brianna had packed her things, jumped into her little Nissan and headed to
Boston. In Bri’s opinion,
Delmont,
Maine
just wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. The pace was too slow. Brianna had wanted more excitement.

Deirdre heard from a mutual friend that her ex was now living with the pretty freelance photographer who’d traveled with her to the tornado-devastated west over the summer. Who would have thought freelancing meant more than writing? Bri had said they’d shared a room together, she hadn’t said anything about the bed. Obviously, that trip was where it had all started.

Deirdre dumped the flower refuse on the compost heap. It had all gone to seed. “Rotting away to a pile of crap. Just like me.” She threw the shovel on top of the dirt and tipped the wheelbarrow on its side. She didn’t even have the energy to take care of her tools. Not a good sign for a landscaper.

Stalking back to the house, she thought about how unfair love was. She hadn’t had any luck in that department. Not with either sex—she’d tried them both. She bit her lip, staunching the flow of tears burning in her eyes. When would the pain in her chest go away?

Her feet pounded up the stairs. Mud splattered on the porch when she kicked her work boots against the house. It was a mess, just like her life.

“Enough, Dee. No more wallowing in self-pity.” It was Saturday. For one night, she needed to forget about Brianna. “Emilio invited me to that party, and damn it, I’m going.” Deirdre slammed open the kitchen door, striding toward the bathroom and a hot shower. “His invitations always lead to some good, old-fashioned, no-strings-attached sex. And tonight, that suits me just fine.”

* * * *

Ayden Scott stood at the mirror adjusting the collar of the white button-down oxford. Tucking the tails into the faded
Levis, he wondered if it was too casual for the party. Shooting a glance over his shoulder, he studied the two other shirts heaped with the chinos and Dockers on his bed. He’d never had problems dressing before he went undercover for the Drug Enforcement Agency.

It was a simple party, nothing to worry about … yeah, except blending in. He finger-combed his wet hair away from his face. This was a new look for him. The clean-shaven face and his blond locks dyed black made him a different man. Even his mother, God rest her soul, wouldn’t recognize him.

He’d been in
Maine
almost two months now. They were getting close to a big bust. He could feel it. This was the second time the DEA had given him the privilege of lead on an investigation, and he’d be damned if he’d frig this one up.

Too many times the supplier fell through their hands, and they were left prosecuting the street dealers, thugs who did their bosses’ bidding. None of them rolled over on the head honcho. Not when their only punishment was a couple years in the slammer, some probation time, or worse, a simple slap on the wrist. Man, that would just piss him off if this case ended that way.

But this was promising to be big. And Ayden wanted it. He could feel it like an addict could feel the urgency for another fix. It caused a physical ache in his belly. He wanted to bring down the guy he was chasing like nothing he’d ever wanted in the eight years since joining the DEA.

The heroin was coming in from
Canada. They knew it. They just couldn’t figure out who or where. This party at the mansion tonight promised some prime contacts. He had two other teams scouting out similar locations along a thirty-mile stretch of the coast. They’d bring the guy running the operation down—or die trying.

No, he couldn’t think like that. No one was dying on his watch. Not this time.

“Don’t go there, Ayden, ol’ boy.” He shoved the frustration into the back corner of his brain, encapsulating it with all the other painful memories he didn’t dredge up.

Ayden had grown accustomed to his own voice in the last few years. He’d given up trying to psychoanalyze the reason he talked to himself. He’d come to accept it was simply a part of his personality. He was a loner.

“Focus. You have a job to do.” He talked at the man in the mirror.

He’d been working hard to get the little fish to believe he had a big enough operation to deal directly with the supplier. He had bogus contacts in
Portland,
Boston, and Philly, supposedly ready to distribute the goods. That ought to lure them in. Everyone wanted a share of the drug market in those cities. If those places weren’t big enough, he’d also come up with business contacts in
New York
, but that alias was flimsy at best, and he hoped it didn’t come to that.

Others, more experienced, were afraid he wasn’t ready to take on a job this big. Not after the snafu in
Miami. But that had been nearly three years ago. He’d taken the transfer to the Northeast and clawed his way back into the good graces of the DEA. He
deserved
to be lead investigator. He
needed
to bring this guy down, if for no other reason than to prove something to himself.

There were so many similarities in the two operations. Ayden was sure this cartel was somehow affiliated with the
Miami outfit as well. That ill-fated mission no one talked about, the one that had nearly pressed him over the edge. All the more reason for him to be deep undercover. He needed to bring down the friggin’ bastard who had stolen everything from him and fucked up his life in the process.

But perhaps that was all just wishful thinking on his part.

Monday, he planned a meeting with all his team to go over everything they’d uncovered in the last week. He hoped by then they would have zeroed in on the guy running the show, and he’d have something solid to tell his superiors in
Boston. He’d had no contact with them for a couple of days. Ayden knew, given his track record, they’d be getting antsy.

To top it all off, someone was breathing down his neck, keeping an eye on him. He sensed it like a shadow that never materialized. He had to be close if they were tailing him. If, on the other hand, he found out he was being watched by his own men, heads would roll. But his gut told him that wasn’t the case.

Despite the danger, or perhaps because of it, he loved undercover work, bringing down the bad guy, keeping the drugs off the street. But he knew from firsthand experience, it wasn’t without its pitfalls.

You had to mesmerize the bad guys with a fake persona while your feet remained firmly planted in reality. He was definitely walking a tightrope stretched taut between both sides of the law. So far he’d skirted around the need to sample the goods. He wasn’t sure how long he could tiptoe around the edge of the precarious precipice before falling victim—again. Undercover work was a slippery slope of acting and real-life drama.

His fist flew out, denting the sheetrock next to the mirror.

“Not me,
not
this time.”

* * * *

Deirdre didn’t know what she’d find when she drove the forty miles from Delmont to Cutler, but this posh residence on the coast definitely hadn’t even been on her radar. She’d triple-checked the address posted on the stone pillars before driving through the open wrought-iron gates and up the steep drive.

The grounds were in desperate need of care. The limbs of the maples, resplendent in the sunset hues of fall, hung precariously low over the winding driveway. Come winter, burdened with layers of ice, they would droop within inches of vehicle roofs.

Pulling into the circular drive in front of the pristine mansion, she noted the hydrangea and lilac bushes were in wretched condition and in need of pruning. The same was true of the cedar shrubs planted along the crushed-shell walk. The lawn was mowed, but showed signs of blight in several spots.

As she handed her keys to the valet, Deirdre scrutinized the front and side gardens. It was obvious no one had mulched last spring, nor bothered to do much more than a cursory weeding over the summer. Most of the flower beds were going to seed. Such a beautiful property. Such terrible landscaping. She clucked her tongue against the roof of her mouth.

She wondered about the new owner of the recently acquired property. Perhaps she’d have an opportunity to meet the man—or woman—and mix a little business with her pleasure tonight. It would only take ten days, two weeks tops, for her landscaping company, a portion of
Tilling
Gardens
and Plants, to have this place tucked in for the winter and ready to awaken from slumber with the first spring rains.

Automatically, she started ticking off a quote in her head. From the size of the real estate, she assumed the owner must be some corporate bigwig from
Portland, maybe
Boston. Her friend, Emilio, had been purposefully vague about the details of how he knew the owner. She laughed. Hell if she cared if it promised a big job and a one-night fling that would bring her desperate need for sexual release back under control.

The thought had her springing up the wide, front steps in the three-inch heels. The hem of her black dress swirled about her thighs. Her thong pressed pleasantly against her clit and sent a frisson of anticipation sliding up her spine. The music floating out the open doors sung promises of unfettered sex with some willing partner. Her thrumming body was all too eager to find that person and get on with the festivities.

The night air blowing in from the ocean was cool, but not unpleasant, even as the sun slipped lower. The mild September weather was prolonging the usually short
Maine
summer. Deirdre inhaled a great gulp of the briny mix as she crossed the stately front porch.

“Excuse me, miss, I need to pat you down.” One of the bald twins flanking the massive front doors laid a thick hand on her shoulder, impeding her progress.

“Oh, what the heck, pat away.”

Deirdre threw her arms out wide, feeling every bit as naughty as the glint in the man’s hazel eyes. What was up with the body inspection? She ventured a guess as to what roaming hands was looking for. Weapons? Drugs? Wires? She laughed at her own musings. What, did she think she was in some crime novel? This was
Maine
, for goodness’ sake, not
New York
or
Miami.

As the broad fingers lightly brushed over her breasts, then down her back, his hand lingered longer than necessary on her ass, and she wondered if he was looking for sex toys and laughed again.

He flashed her a million-dollar smile. She might have stayed to chat, if she was into him. But his biker charm did nothing for her simmering libido, so she batted her long lashes flirtatiously and moved over the threshold into the throng of revelers already enjoying the evening.

The foyer she entered was open. A crystal chandelier cast shimmering light on the partygoers standing at the foot of the stairs and spilling in all directions. The curved banister snaked up to the second floor in a graceful arch that opened to a balcony. People moved about on both levels.

“It’s about time.” Emilio strode up to her. “We’ve been watching for you. Weren’t sure you were going to come.” The collar of his silk shirt fluttered as he walked toward her. Open nearly to his navel, it exposed the bronzed musculature of his torso and the gold chain he habitually wore. Strong pecs covered in silken black tufts accented a well-sculpted abdomen.

BOOK: Love’s Bounty
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