Authors: K.L. Kreig
The Colloway Brothers #2
Copyright © 2015 by K.L. Kreig
Published by K.L. Kreig
mobi: ISBN-13: 978-1-943443-03-1
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the author.
This book is a work of fiction. The characters, events, and places portrayed in this book are products of the author’s imagination and are either fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Cover Art by Yocla Designs
Editing by Nikki Busch Editing
Digital Formatting by Author E.M.S.
Published in the United States of America.
For my brother, Rodney, and all those who have suffered from the pain and loss of suicide. Please know that you are not alone. You are never alone.
Eight years earlier…
“Slow down, Beck.” I know my news is shocking, but I had no idea he would react so badly. I thought we were in love. We’ve even talked about getting married after I graduate this spring.
“I can’t fucking believe you let this happen, Alyse!” His hand slams the steering wheel so hard you’d think it would break.
let this happen? I don’t understand why you’re reacting this way. I know it wasn’t planned, but…”
I’m cut off when Beck takes a corner too fast, throwing me into the passenger door, tires squealing their protest. My head bounces off the window and my elbow now throbs where it slammed into the metal handle.
After I broke my news over dinner, Beck threw three twenties down on the table and stormed out of the restaurant. I barely had time to hop into the vehicle, let alone put my seatbelt on, before he took off at warp speed, no doubt leaving fresh black rubber marks on the pavement.
“Beck, slow down. Please. You’re scaring me.” But he doesn’t. He punches the gas even harder, lurching the car forward. I fumble for my seatbelt, frantic to get it on before we crash. The dark, desolate road we’re flying down—at speeds that would rival a cop chase—is winding and treacherous, especially with the slight sheen of December frost that’s now covering it. There is more than one makeshift cross that lines its deadly path. I don’t want one to be mine.
“This can’t be happening,” he mumbles to no one in particular. He seems lost within himself, which confuses me even more. This news isn’t the end of the world; it only accelerates our plans to be together, just as we’d talked about many times over.
“I’m sure they’ll understand, Beck. I know I haven’t met your parents yet, but you’re a grown man for God’s sake.”
My eyes flick between the speedometer and his angry, clenched face and my heart races. We’re now going over sixty miles per hour in a forty-five zone. He takes another bend too fast and his truck fishtails. The tires spit gravel when he overcorrects, landing the passenger side wheels on the shoulder. We narrowly miss a speed limit sign that’s mocking us to slow down before he finally regains control.
I brace my arms against the door and the armrest to my left, my long fingernails embedded in the leather fabric. Every muscle in my body is coiled and taut, ready for the inevitable collision. Fear courses through my bloodstream, nearly paralyzing me.
“You’re going to kill us if you don’t stop this!” I scream.
For the first time in nearly twenty minutes, he looks at me, and I see a man I am not at all familiar with. Pure panic is written on every inch of his handsome face. I shrink into my seat, wondering what alternate universe I have just slipped into.
“Trust me. I’m better off dead.” His soft voice is thick with fear and sadness and suddenly I’m truly terrified. The man sitting to my left is not at all the man I fell in love with. It’s like he’s been possessed by a demon or the devil, and he’s taking me on the fast, fiery ride to hell with him.
I don’t get a chance to respond to his confusing words before I register we’re quickly approaching a particularly wicked curve nicknamed the Widowmaker. The speed limit here drops to thirty, because it’s deceptively sharp and steep and many people have lost their lives by not adhering to the slower speeds. Taking this curve at forty-five miles per hour is reckless. Taking it at seventy is nothing short of suicidal.
You’ve heard people say that your life flashes before your eyes in the seconds before a near-death experience, right? That they are filled with regret for that degree they didn’t finish, harsh words they wish they could take back, or letting
Well, that’s not what’s happening with me. The only thing clouding my mind at the moment before impact with a grove of thick, life-ending oak trees is anger.
Anger at my naiveté.
Anger at my judge of character.
Anger that I let myself trust someone else who would fail me.
And anger that my life is going to end at the tender age of eighteen at the hands of a man who claimed to love me.
My screams echo in the blackness.
I stare at the stack of bills on my desk and sigh heavily, my stomach churning.
They taunt me. Remind me that unless we pull in a large client and fast, this business that I rushed to open is about one month from total, epic failure and not only will I be out of a job, my three employees will be as well. I’m almost a month behind on the loan payment and our electricity is pretty close to being turned off.
I’m not bragging, but I’m pretty damn brilliant when it comes to numbers. Not much in my twenty-five years has been easy, but school always was. It’s difficult for me to wrap my head around why someone can’t understand math. Numbers are simple, numbers make sense, numbers are to me what a piano is to an accomplished pianist. They are my home. My love. My passion.
“You have a gift,” my teachers said. And let’s face it; it’s a statistical fact that men clearly dominate the mathematics field of study. It’s a hard road for a woman to pave and be successful in, but I was very bound and determined. I still am; no white flags are being thrown down yet.
I graduated with an accounting degree from the University of Michigan at the top of my class and a year and a half earlier than others my age. I had my master’s under my belt shortly before my twenty-second birthday. Last year, I opened ARK Consulting, my own small auditing firm, where I employ two other auditors and an office manager slash receptionist slash marketing director slash assistant slash…well, you get the picture.
But for all my brilliance, the one thing I didn’t fully consider was how my young age and worldly inexperience would impact my business model.
Turns out companies are loath to hire a young, newly opened firm with not a lot of references. Not to say that our clients aren’t reference worthy. The ones that have given us a chance are more than happy with our work, but as a company, we are young.
Six months ago when I hired Al, a seasoned forensic accountant of forty-four, I found that we became slightly more successful at pulling in clients than when I walked into a meeting by myself. That stung. My pride takes a small hit every time they look to him as the more senior person, simply because he has a pot belly, an Adam’s apple, and a dick.
“Alyse, call on line one. It’s the bank.” Heather’s soft voice carries through the speakerphone, echoing off the walls of my small, windowless office. Heather, my all-around keeps-the-office-running assistant is not dumb. She knows we’re in some financial trouble, but she’s also told me she’d stick it out until the end, because she believes in me. I’m glad someone does. I doubt myself daily, especially lately. Not my ability, not my intelligence, but my decision to jump into a small business with both feet, eyes wide shut. It’s not the first time my naiveté has gotten me into trouble.
“Tell them I’m in a meeting, Heather.” This is the third call this week. And the third call I’ll be avoiding.
“Yes, of course.”
I take inventory of our projects, current and potential. Al is working on a breach of contract audit that will be done by mid-next week. Tabitha just started an audit for a bar, where the new manager is suspected of skimming funds, and I’m putting the finishing touches on a large burglary claim that was submitted to an insurance company and is believed to be fraudulent. Turns out it’s valid, just not for as much as the business claimed. I have two meetings with potential clients early next week, but even if we’re awarded both jobs, it won’t keep all three of us busy.
Damn it all to hell.
Needing to take my mind off my financial and business demise, I sit back in my secondhand rolling desk chair. My stare floats to the yellow-stained ceiling, watching the slow drip in the corner. My office is small, a bit rundown, and isn’t in the nicest part of Detroit, but it’s cheap and close to home. A small, eleven hundred-square-foot home that I’m the proud owner of.
I let my mind wander back to two months ago when the sexiest man ever created by God’s hand cornered me in his mom’s kitchen during a family dinner I was attending, because my sister is now engaged to his brother, Gray.
“What the fuck happened to your arm?” His insinuation pisses me off, even if it is somewhat true. Finn and I were arguing yesterday and he grabbed me a little too hard, leaving several dark bruises on my bicep that were clearly finger marks. It’s the first time it’s happened and it will be the last. I meant to throw on a long-sleeved shirt to avoid questions and speculation, but we were already running late and I forgot.
“None of your goddamn business.”
He steps closer, clearly not understanding the rules of one’s personal space and I have nowhere to escape. I crane my neck at his six-foot-plus height, glaring into his stormy and mesmerizing blue eyes. They remind me of dark pools of warm water. With every inhalation, my lungs fill with his manly scent and citrusy cologne and my mouth waters remembering what his skin tasted like, how his lips felt on mine.
“I don’t like him, Alyse,” he growls.
I would laugh at his bold and unsolicited declaration, but I’m too shocked. “Then lucky for me I don’t really care what you think,” I retort smartly. I had not laid eyes on the enigmatic Asher Colloway in years, so how dare he judge my boyfriend. Only
get to call him a douchebag loser.
“If he hurts you, I’ll fucking kill him.”
“What? Asher, it’s not like that.” And why do you care? I want to ask, but don’t.
“Why do you care?” Whoops, guess it slipped out.
His heated eyes roam my face. His perfect pink lips part as though he’s about to speak but doesn’t. He’s so close now, I can feel every hot breath wash over my face and the warmth from his body soaking into mine. I inwardly groan. While my boyfriend is outside smoking God knows what, I’m getting impossibly turned on by another man. I haven’t been this wet for Finn in months, despite his best efforts.
Asher slowly runs the back of his index finger down my bare arm, gently circling my bruises. Chills and fire break out in its wake. My mind swirls with confusion at both this conversation and my body’s involuntary reaction to this man after all these years. I can see the mature Alyse is just as affected by him as the immature one. “Because I hate to see a beautiful woman get abused,” he finally replies in a low, raspy voice.
Scarlet curtains descend. Maybe his concern should make me feel good or cared for, but all it does is send hot rage firing through my veins. It’s clear to me that Asher thinks I’m letting myself be used as a punching bag by some asshole and that’s the furthest thing from the truth. I am nobody’s bitch.