While filling the display case in her bakery, the bell over the door sounds and Tessa O'Hara looks up to see the man of her dreams. Within thirty seconds he asks her out for a beer. But after four months of dating, she discovers he's an undercover DEA agent-and he's investigating her possible role in her ex-husband's drug business. For Tess, this means their relationship is over.
Brock disagrees. He's committed to his anti-drug mission, but he's fallen in love with the beautiful woman who's as sweet as her cupcakes-and he'll do anything to win her back. Standing between Tess and Brock are their own exes, one of them a drug lord who's determined to get what he wants. Now as danger threatens, can Brock break the rules he's lived by and let loose his wild side to protect the woman he loves?
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About the Author
Born in Gary and raised in Brownsburg, Indiana, Kristen is a fourth generation graduate of Purdue University. Since, she has lived in Denver, the West Country of England, and she now resides in Phoenix. She worked as a charity executive for eighteen years prior to beginning her writing career.
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By Kristen Ashley
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2013 Kristen Ashley
All rights reserved.
Fucking Great Actress
The door to the interrogation room opened and a man wearing slacks, a shirt, a tie, and an ill-fitting sports jacket strolled in, eyes glued to me, manila folder in his hand.
He dropped the folder on the table I was sitting at and sat across from me.
I kept my eyes on him and, like I'd been doing since I'd been led into that room what felt like hours ago (and what I didn't know actually was), I kept them away from the mirror. I'd seen enough cop shows on TV to know that that was where recording equipment and possibly other police officers were watching.
"Mrs. Heller," he said and I felt my heart skip at hearing that name.
"Ms. O'Hara," I replied and his gaze didn't leave mine.
"Sorry, ma'am?" he asked, but he wasn't sorry. I knew he wasn't sorry.
"Ms. O'Hara, my name," I answered, and he nodded, still not releasing my eyes and I didn't tear mine from his.
"You were Mrs. Heller," he stated. "Do I have that right?"
"Yes," I told him. "You have that right."
"For ten years," he went on.
I didn't reply, just lifted my chin a little, wondering what the hell was going on.
"Married to Damian Heller, is that correct?"
I wasn't sure this was good.
"Yes, I was married to Damian Heller," I agreed, then enquired, "What's this about?"
"Funny," he said quietly.
I wasn't thinking anything was funny, including him weirdly saying the word "funny."
"Funny?" I prompted.
"Funny you didn't ask that first," he observed. "Usually folks wanna know right off why they're sittin' in a room like this."
I stared at him.
Then I returned, "Well, seeing as you opened with the knowledge you didn't even know my name, I thought it important to get that straight before we got started with whatever is going on here."
I watched his eyes flare with annoyance as his mouth got tight.
"So," I pushed, "would you mind telling me why I'm here?"
"There're a few things we need to know."
I lifted my brows. "And those would be?"
"Can you tell me if you've been in contact with your husband recently?" he asked.
Damn it all to hell. Damian. God!
My ex-husband. A pain in my ass. Would I never get rid of that man?
"Yes, I can tell you that I've been in contact with my ex-husband recently," I answered.
"And what did you discuss?" he went on.
"We didn't discuss anything except me asking him repeatedly to stop contacting me," I replied.
He studied me.
Then he asked, "So was this on the phone or did you meet?"
"On the phone," I told him.
"You didn't meet?" he pushed.
He opened the folder in front of him and my eyes dropped to it. He flipped some papers over and finally he pulled out some black-and-white eight-by-tens, turned them, and slid them across the table to me.
In them were photos of me and Damian having lunch.
Okay. This was not good. Why were people taking photos of me and Damian having lunch?
And second, this was not good because I really had to consider never wearing that top again. It didn't do me any favors even in black and white.
"Would you like to amend your last answer?" he offered, and my eyes went to him.
"No," I replied, his brows went up but his head turned slightly to the side, toward the mirror.
Yep. People were watching.
"Mrs. Heller—" he started but I interrupted him.
"My name, sir, is Ms. O'Hara. Actually, it's Tess because no one calls me Ms. O'Hara. And I'll explain those photos and my answer," I stated, then went on before he could speak. "You asked if I'd been in contact with my ex-husband recently. I have on several occasions, as he calls me frequently. Sometimes I pick up and tell him to stop calling me. Sometimes I don't. I was married to Damian for ten years. He dislikes being ignored and he's not skilled with catching hints. He responds better to direct communication, although this endeavor unfortunately takes time because he doesn't respond well if that communication happens to be something he doesn't want to hear. Those photos"—I lifted a hand out of my lap and gestured to the photos on the table before dropping it back to my lap—"were taken of me having lunch with Damian what I believe was at least six months ago. That is not, in my definition, recent. If your definition of recent is different, I apologize that I didn't give you the answer you expected, but even so, I still gave you one that was honest."
He didn't hesitate after I spoke before he asked, "Can you tell me what you discussed during this not-recent lunch?"
"Can you tell me why I'm here?" I returned.
"I prefer to ask the questions Ms. O'Hara."
I stared at him then I pulled in a breath before I answered, "Damian wanted to discuss reconciliation."
"He wants you back," he stated.
"That is what reconciliation means," I informed him and his mouth got tight again.
Then he observed, "I would assume from your asking him not to contact you via the phone that you declined this reconciliation."
"You would assume correctly."
"And that was it? That's all you discussed?"
"No, he asked about our dog, who I got custody of in the divorce and who has since died. I told him he died. Other than that, yes. Pretty much. That's all that we discussed."
"Sir, it was six months ago and at that time I hadn't seen him in person in over four years. His contacting me at all was a surprise and not a good one. His reason for wanting to meet was a surprise too and definitely not a good one. I'm sorry I didn't take note of everything we discussed but the reason for the meeting kind of rooted itself in my brain, forcing out everything else."
"You hadn't seen him in over four years," he noted.
"Yes, that's what I said," I confirmed.
"So, if you didn't wish to reconcile, why did you agree to lunch?"
I pulled in a breath and I stated, "I forgot."
He stared at me.
Then he repeated my words in a question. "You forgot?"
"I forgot how Damian is. When he contacted me and told me his father wasn't well and that he wanted to meet me for lunch, I forgot that Damian is, well ..." I threw out a hand. "Damian. Or maybe I didn't forget. Maybe I blocked it out, considering I spent those years trying to block out everything about Damian. But I know how close he is to his father. I was close to his father, though I haven't seen him in over four years either. So I felt badly he wasn't well and I wanted to know what was happening. Damian refused to tell me any details over the phone so I met him. Then I discovered nothing was wrong with his father and Damian used that to lure me to lunch."
He stared at me again, likely letting the news that my ex-husband was that big of an asshole sink in before he changed tactics. "It was you who filed for divorce."
They'd looked into me.
Good God. They'd looked into me.
What was happening?
"Yes," I confirmed, thinking that with whatever was happening, honesty was definitely the best policy, so I kept with it.
I nodded and added verbally, "Yes."
"Repeated," he stated.
"You've obviously read the court documents so you know that's also a yes. But, yes, I'll confirm that Damian cheated on me repeatedly."
"Yes, Ms. O'Hara, I have read the court documents and the sheer number of them indicate that the papers you filed were contested. He fought the divorce. It went before a judge."
"Yes, he did."
"He didn't wish for your marriage to be dissolved."
"No, he didn't."
"But it was."
I sighed, then said, "Yes, it was."
"And you walked away with nothing except money enough for your legal fees. Did I read that right?"
It was at this point I was beginning to get scared. That was to say I was beginning to get scared in addition to the scared I already was, which was layered on top of the massive freak-out created by my home being invaded by what appeared to be about three teams of multiagency SWAT (because some had the word POLICE on their vests, some had FBI, and some had DEA), pulled out of my bed, and hauled to the Police Station to be questioned.
Therefore, my bravado melted and it came out as a whisper when I asked, "Please, can you tell me what's going on?"
He didn't tell me what was going on. Instead, he queried, "Did you ever regret that, Ms. O'Hara?"
"What?" I asked.
"Accepting nothing from your husband but your legal fees, did you ever regret that?"
I shook my head. "No, I ... no. I didn't. I wanted a fresh start. I wanted—"
I blinked at him. "What?"
"Ten years with him, multiple infidelities, he made six figures and you lived a very nice life. You could have cleaned up. But you took the dog and took off. Didn't you think he owed you? Didn't you think you should have part of the life you built together?"
I shook my head again. "No, I wanted a fresh start. I just wanted to ... go," I answered. "Is something ... has something happened to Damian?"
He didn't answer my question. Instead, he remarked, "Ten years is a long time. That's a lot to invest in a life, a marriage, a home just to walk away with nothing but the dog. Seems strange you wouldn't lay claim to something. The wedding china. The dining room set. You didn't even take a car."
"Damian paid for the cars," I said quietly.
"And you wanted nothing to do with him," he noted. "Nothing to remind you of him. Am I right?"
I nodded, staring at him, trying to read his face, but he wasn't giving me anything.
"Lotta women, they wouldn't feel like you. Lotta women, kind of money he made, kind of lifestyle they were used to, they'd feel something different," he observed.
"I'm not a lot of women," I told him.
"No, seems to me you definitely aren't. Leaving all that behind, taking nothing but the dog. Seems to me it wasn't so much leaving him as running away. Were you running away from your husband, Ms. O'Hara?"
I felt my chest compress like a hundred-pound weight had settled on it.
"No," I breathed out on a wheeze. This the first lie I'd uttered since he came in and his eyes sharpened on my face.
He knew I was lying.
"Clearly, we had someone taking photos of you at that lunch. This did not go well. We know this. You didn't finish your lunch, Ms. O'Hara. You left early, looking agitated. Hurried. Like you were running away. He tell you something at lunch that would make you wanna run away?"
"I didn't run away," I denied. My second lie, I did. "I just didn't ... when he told me that he'd lied about his father and he wanted to reconcile and I knew I didn't, I didn't think there was any reason to stay."
He sat back in his chair and threw out an arm. "Ten years together, he screwed around on you, that's tough but you married him, spent ten years with him. Time had passed. Time heals wounds. It wasn't cool he lied about his dad but he went out of his way to get you. You couldn't shoot the breeze over salads? Talk about old times?"
"Please tell me what's going on," I begged softly.
"I'd like to understand why you left your husband and why you left that lunch in such a hurry."
"I told you and so did the court papers. He cheated on me and I didn't want to have lunch when I learned the theme," I reminded him.
He leaned toward me and said softly, "I don't believe you."
Something had happened to Damian.
"Something's happened to Damian," I whispered, and he smiled.
I didn't like that smile mainly because it wasn't the kind of smile you liked.
"Now, why would you think that?"
I threw up my hands and lost a bit more control.
"I don't know. Because we're talking about him in an interrogation room in the middle of the night, maybe?"
"You know someone who would want to hurt Damian Heller?" he asked.
"No," I told him, the truth.
"Sure about that?" he asked.
I nodded. "Yes, I am."
"No one?" he pushed.
I shook my head. "No one."
"Why'd you want a fresh start, Ms. O'Hara?"
"My husband was cheating—"
"Why'd you want a fresh start?"
"Like I said, he was unfaith—"
He banged his hand on the table, so, wound up and freaked out, my body involuntarily jumped in shock at the sudden movement and loud noise and he clipped angrily, "Why'd you want a fresh start?"
"Because he raped me!" I shrieked.
It just came out, those four words. They just came right out of my mouth, even surprising me.
The first time I said them to anyone.
He shot back in his chair blinking and I heard a loud crash outside the room so my head jerked toward the wall.
My heart was beating fast and my chest was moving deeply with my heavy breathing as I stared at my pale face in the mirror.
And I stared for a long time at my pale face in the mirror.
God, I hadn't really looked in the mirror for ages. Not really. Not for years.
Was that what I looked like?
"Ms. O'Hara," he called, his voice different, quiet, weirdly gentle, but I kept staring at my pale face in the mirror, stunned by what I saw. "Tess," he whispered and my head turned, my eyes sliding to his. "Your husband raped you?" he asked softly.
"I know it sounds funny," I found my lips whispering. "He was my husband but it happened." I held his eyes and kept whispering. "It happened."
"It doesn't sound funny," he whispered back. "Not the least bit funny."
I held his eyes and said nothing.
"You ran away," he stated.
"Yes," I whispered.
I ran away. Fuck yes, I ran away.
"Had he hurt you before?"
I nodded. "He was changing. Something was happening." I hesitated, then repeated, "He was changing."
"What was happening?"
I shook my head. "I don't know. I tried to talk ... we had ... we fought. He would get ..." I paused. "Suddenly, it never happened before, but suddenly when we fought it would get physical so I stopped trying to talk."
"He fought the divorce."
"Damian doesn't like losing hold on what he thinks is his."
He studied me with eyes now as gentle as his voice.
Then he said quietly, "But he left you alone for four and a half years."
"Yes, he left me alone," I whispered.
"Then he wanted you back."
"Did he explain why he approached you after all this time?"
I shook my head but said, "He said he was ... he said ..." I pulled in a deep breath, then told him, "He said he loved me, missed me, messed up, and wanted to make it up to me."
"And since that lunch, he's been contacting you regularly in an effort to do that?"
His head tipped slightly to the side. "And after what he'd done to you, you took his calls? You had lunch with him?"
Suddenly, needing to know, needing to know since I'd told him something I'd never told anyone before, I asked, "What's your name?"
"Sorry, I'm Agent Calhoun."
"Well, Agent Calhoun, the answer to your question is yes. I took his calls and I had lunch with him. Damian is who he is and I know who he is. I didn't want him showing up at my house. I didn't want him sending presents and flowers. I didn't want him anywhere near me. He thought, throughout the whole time we were getting divorced, that I'd come back. He told me so and he worked at it. Only when I saw it through did he leave me alone. Whatever this is, whatever he wants from me, I had to see it through until it sank in with him that I wasn't coming back and he left me alone. So, I was seeing it through."
He studied me again and then he remarked, "That took a lot of courage."
"He raped me, Agent Calhoun. He hit me, but he didn't kill me. As long as I'm breathing, I've got fight in me and luckily I'm breathing."
It was at that he whispered, "You aren't like a lot of women."
"Yes, I am," I whispered back. "I'm like all women. You see this, but inside there's something else that I won't let you or him see, but it's the mess he left me. But that's mine. No one gets to it. Everything you get and he gets is a show. One thing you learn really quickly and really well when that kind of thing happens to you is to be a fucking great actress. You don't have a choice in that because a man like that does something like that to you, you lose having choices. The only choice you have is what role you intend to play. I picked my role and that ... that, Agent Calhoun, is what you see."
I watched him draw in a breath but he didn't respond.
So I asked, "Now, will you tell me what's going on?"
He held my eyes as he finally answered.
"Tonight, we swept up your ex-husband's entire operation. He's the top narcotics distributor in Denver, with ties direct to Colombia."
Excerpted from Wild Man by Kristen Ashley. Copyright © 2013 Kristen Ashley. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
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