• LJ Evans

Angsty Love Letter + Free Chapters


We are THREE days from UNMASKED DREAMS being out in the world for real!!! One early review said: It's "Magnetic, Electrifying. Two opposites with an undeniable attraction that jumps off the page."


I’ve got the first two chapters of Unmasked Dreams here for your today! Woot, woot. Just keep reading to see them. Plus, there’s a love letter from Vi to Dawson that’s full of teen angst. The kind of thing you might have written in your diary when you were sixteen.


Before all that, though, I wanted to ask if you missed any of the 4 prequel scenes of Violet and Dawson’s that I’ve been sharing with my newsletter subscribers? If you did, you can read them by downloading the sample here:


I NEED THE UNMASKED DREAMS SAMPLE NOW!

Are you like, wait, LJ is releasing another book? How did I miss it? Well, here's the details in case you did:


🔥💜 Unmasked Dreams 💜🔥

Release April 5th

🕴 Tortured Bad Boy

👩‍🔬 Quirky Scientist

🚤 Int’l Boat Races

💣 Crime Syndicates

💔 Second Chance

🔥 Slow Burn

🎼 Standalone


“She was never supposed to be mine.”


A daring and decadent romantic suspense that whirls the reader around the globe and back.


Violet Banner was under-aged and off-limits when she and Dawson Langley first met. It didn’t stop him from leaving a brand on her heart that followed her to college. Five years later, she’s come home to find him living under the same roof, and it feels like nothing has changed. Except for the science lab she’s built in the garage and the secrets he’s keeping.


After years of fighting off the tantalizing connection between them, Dawson isn’t sure he’ll be able to restrain himself once grownup Violet lands back in his world. Even the nearly deadly mistakes of their past and the three separate lives he’s leading might not be enough to prevent him from touching her.


When the clandestine activity surrounding his international boat race tangles Violet in its grasp, she can’t help wondering if Dawson is the villain of the story.


Only one thing is certain: there’s nothing he won’t do to keep her safe…even if it means making her his.


Inspired by Daughtry's "What About Now," comes a determined scientist and broody bad-boy-turned-hero who just might leave a mark on you in this adventurous, standalone, slow burn from award-wining author, LJ Evans.


Don’t miss Violet and Dawson as the star-crossed, younger siblings in the interconnected standalone, AVENGED BY LOVE.


Here's all the important links you need in one handy, dandy place:


I want to pre-order Unmasked Dreams on 💜Amazon


I want the FR💔EE Sample of Unmasked Dream now.


I want to enter a Gi🔥ve🔥away for a chance at a signed paperback.


I just want to add it to my TBR list on Goodreads

Here's the angsty love letter than Violet wrote "to" Dawson...well, wrote in her diary as if she was writing to Dawson, but he never really sees it. Ha. This happens five years before Unmasked Dreams takes place:


Dawson,
This letter will never find your hands. Your eyes will never read it. But I had to say the words anyway. To get them on a page where ink and paper join.
You are a chemical reaction repeating itself across my veins.
An unknown accelerant lighting me up from the inside out.
My body literally aches when you’re in the room with a longing that fills my heart and lungs to a point where it’s all I can think about. The ache. You. The missing part of me waiting to come home.
I’d say it was just my stupid teenage hormones standing by a handsome, broody guy. But my body doesn’t feel this way when I’m next to other men…even sexy ones like Mandy’s son, Eli. Or Truck’s friend, Mac. They can hardly be called schlumps. They’re tall, muscled, and good-looking just like you, but I feel nothing next to them. When I’m at your side…God…it’s like a volcano stirring to life inside me. Slowly boiling. Waiting for me to explode. Waiting for one of us to break. For a touch to become a caress. For lips to be joined.
You’re in my dreams every damn night―touching me―and when I wake and find you not there, it’s like my soul is being torn into two pieces. I have to leave part of me behind in the shadowy world of sleep and try to function with only the remaining half. A partial person.
I’m leaving in a few days for California and Cal State Berkeley. I don’t know if I hope that this feeling will go away, or if I want it to remain. Because even the thought of losing this stupid ache hurts.
All I know is: you’re not ready for me. Or, you think I’m not ready for you?
Honestly, I don’t know if our lives will ever allow us to give in to these emotions.
And that stabs a hole in me that won’t stop bleeding.
Because the thought of living a life without you is almost impossible to bear. It will leave a permanent scar on me that I won’t ever be able to remove. That I will never be able to recover from like I recovered from a broken wrist and a lost spleen.
I’ll do it anyway. For Jersey who deserves her life with Truck to be unencumbered with worry over me, but also for you. I don’t want to be the reason you hate yourself more. Underneath that I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude beats the heart of a man who is longing to be seen as honorable. A man yearning to do the right thing.
So, I’ll leave you behind with only that remaining―the knowledge that we did the right thing.
With all my teenage heart has to give,
Your Little Genius

Have you missed out on any of the other Anchor Novel love letters? You can download the FR!EEBIE on BookFunnel now if you’ve subscribed to my newsletter: https://BookHip.com/DRMDNG

I’ll be back on Monday with some more release news, and before I give you the first two chapters of Unmasked Dreams to peruse, I wanted to ask if you’ve listened to the playlist for the novel (link below)? I’ve had a couple of my readers tell me they’ve fallen in love with it, and that their teenagers are loving it also (and not just the Selena and Harry Styles songs)… What’s your favorite song on the list?


Okay, that’s it for me. I hope you all have a beautiful weekend!


Happy Reading and Stay Safe Out There!

LJ

♬ "𝒲𝒽𝑒𝓇𝑒𝓂𝓊𝓈𝒾𝒸 & 𝓈𝓉𝑜𝓇𝒾𝑒𝓈𝒸𝑜𝓁𝓁𝒾𝒹𝑒." ♬



KEEP READING FOR THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS OF UNMASKED DREAMS NOW!


Chapter One

Violet – Five Years Later


LOST

“Life gets heavy,

Your heart's like stone.

No, I won't let you disappear,

You'll never be alone.”


Performed by The Goo Goo Dolls

Written by Kim / Kim / Ro / Park


Microscopes and music. What could be better than that?


Watery Reflection was singing about making dreams come true in my ears as I danced around the lab, putting things away. My feet were silent in my protective gear, adding a smooth, Michael Jackson-ish glide to my motions that brought a much-needed smile to my lips. Lab work always cheered me up. It was the very best kind of scientific activity. Theories trying to be proven. So much hope.


The tinge of heartache plaguing me since receiving the latest rejection from the nanoparticle committee was easing away. If I couldn’t work on my own experiment, helping one of my best friends with hers was the next best thing.


I pushed the button for the exit doors, walking through the first set of them into the gowning room. I waited for the hiss of the seal behind me before removing the white Gore-Tex suit. I threw it in the laundry hamper before pulling off the initial layer of disposable masks and shoe coverings. Then, I walked out the final set of doors to the office area, tossing the last layer of gear away.


The explosion of color and personality in the office area was a stark contrast to the metal and tile sterility of the lab itself. Proof of life. The desks were littered with coffee mugs containing nerdy science puns, and the walls were plastered with vibrant posters. It had become a joke to see how many stickers the lockers could fit even as the Stanford administration continued sending notes about it being against the rules.


Raisa walked in as I moved to the computer I’d claimed as mine. My beautiful friend could easily be on a runway. Blonde hair with dark undertones that hairstylists everywhere killed to replicate, flawless white skin, and beautiful brown eyes surrounded in the darkest lashes I’d ever seen—even when she didn’t have makeup on.


“Have you already checked the numbers?” she asked. Her excitement allowed her Russian accent to pop up when her English was usually more perfect than mine.


“I did! You’re going to be happy with them. Come see,” I responded, pulling up the stats I’d just keyed in.


Her smile grew wide, her face lighting up as she reviewed them.

Raisa was two semesters into her bioengineering doctorate, and her photovoltaic nano cells were a hair away from being viable. Changing the world one cell at a time.


My heart twisted with longing and anticipation. I wanted to be in her shoes―close to finishing my project. She was a year ahead of me, but at the pace I was going, it was likely she’d be done before I even got the okay to start.


“The committee rejected my thesis submission,” I breathed out, playing with the ends of my braid.


“Oh, Vi, I’m so sorry,” she said, meaning it.


“I knew it was a stretch,” I said with a shrug. Hadn’t Silas told me that enough times?


“Creating an organic antimicrobial should not be a stretch,” she defended my concept, and I loved her for it.


“Right?” I said, twirling the stool around. “I mean, the applications are almost limitless. Skincare. Makeup. Food. Shelf life is the real showstopper in the natural market.”


“Exactly!” she said. She didn’t even complain that we’d had this same conversation a dozen times at least.


The formulas for my antimicrobial floated through my head. Once upon a time, I’d thought I’d be able to cure cancer with insects. Then, I’d read an article on the benefits of clove and sage, and it was like a giant light bulb had gone off in my head. If we kept the crap out of the products people used, we might just be able to prevent some cancers altogether. We wouldn’t discover—like we were now—people getting cancer from formaldehyde or asbestos-filled talc.


“Doesn’t matter, they said no,” I said. “Sometimes, I wonder if getting my Ph.D. is even what I want.”


The words were out before I thought about it. I stopped the stool and met her concerned eyes with my own surprised ones. While it was a thought that had been dancing around in my brain lately, it wasn’t something I’d said out loud to anyone.


“Have you thought about sending the idea to Grâce Charmante yourself?” she asked.


The organic skincare and makeup company had been my intended target if I could get my antimicrobial to work. I’d discovered the company while falling down a rabbit hole, reading about Watery Reflection’s musical journey. The owner, Trista Colt, was the wife of the band’s original drummer. She’d started her company from the ground up. A little seedling that had grown into a giant redwood. She understood entrepreneurship, chemistry, and skincare. Her company even sponsored scholarships for females in the STEM fields regularly.


“I’d need an actual sample with real data before I could market it to her, and I’ll never get that without lab time,” I responded.


“Make the lab yourself,” she threw out casually.


I burst into laughter. “A nanoparticle lab? Yeah. Because I have the multi-millions of dollars to do that.”


She fidgeted with her perfectly manicured nails, and I felt bad for flinging my statement at her, because Raisa was rich. I wasn’t sure what range of millions she existed in, but it was rich enough for her family’s home to be an old Romanov mansion outside St. Petersburg. The last thing I wanted was for her to think I was asking her to sponsor my project.


She pushed my shoulder with a bright-red nail. “I didn’t mean jump right to the cellular level. You could easily set up a lab to do the base testing. Build a case study to show her.”


Maybe.


Before I could give it more thought, the office door opened again, and Silas entered. His black hair gleamed in the LED lighting, a gleam that was reflected in his almost-black eyes. He was lean and handsome, wearing his normal apparel of dress pants and a button-down shirt pressed to perfection. Even back when we’d first met at Berkeley, he’d always dressed as if he were going to work at a finance firm. It had made him stand out as much as his brain and his sex appeal.


“How’d it go?” he asked, lips stretching into a smile that lit up his eyes.


“You should see the numbers,” Raisa told him excitedly, waving him over.


He joined us, putting a hand on my shoulder and looking at the data on the screen. I’d wished the same thing I had every time he touched me lately. I wished I felt more. I wished I felt butterflies in my stomach and goosebumps along my skin. I wished I could return his adoration with more than simple admiration.


My stomach flopped.


“Wow… This is… Wow,” he said. Silas was rarely without words, so I knew he saw the truth as clearly as I did. Raisa’s energy project was going to change everything. No more piles of lithium-ion batteries leaching into the earth. No more rolling blackouts. A true gift to Mother Earth.


Raisa’s smile grew impossibly bigger. “Okay, I’m going to go take a look just because I’ll feel like I’m dreaming until I see it for myself.”


She headed toward the clean-room doors, sticking her feet in the shoe cleaner before stepping to the sticky mat. “Consider what I said, Violet. It’s a real solution.”


She left me alone with Silas.


“What’s she talking about?” he asked, moving to lean against the desk so he could see my face.


“She suggested going it on my own. Making a lab myself.”


His eyes darkened. “The committee rejected your proposal? I told you they would.”


It hurt more than it should have that the man I was dating, king of the science world, was on their side instead of mine. He’d even brought his beloved parents into the discussion last weekend when we’d been at their house for dinner. They’d all jumped to the same conclusion. While what I was talking about was a good idea, it wasn’t earth-shattering enough to justify expensive lab time or a Ph.D. thesis.


I moved away from him, opening the lockers to retrieve my bag.


“Don’t be mad at me for stating the truth,” he said, following.


“I’m not mad,” I responded honestly. I wasn’t. I was…frustrated. Sad. Hurt. Wondering when I’d feel like I was doing more than just going through the motions again. But nowhere in my mixed bag of feelings was mad.


“Why don’t you come onboard with my project? We can tear out the chemistry piece, and that should be juicy enough for the Ph.D. board and the lab Nazis to approve your thesis.”


He’d offered several times. The fact that he didn’t realize how little jumping in on someone else’s theories would ever appeal to me was almost depressing. I didn’t want to be the sidekick. I wanted to prove I could be the superhero my sister, Jersey, had once thought I could be.


When I hesitated, he asked, “Just think about it, okay?”


His soft hand rubbed my arm in a way that was meant to be comforting, and it was ridiculous that I wanted to jerk my arm away. Especially when he kissed me regularly. Since we often shared a bed and found satisfaction together. But lately, the more he touched me, the more I found it hard to block out the feel of someone else’s hand on me. The person I’d promised myself I’d given up years ago.


My phone rang, the screen lighting up with a picture of Jersey and my niece, Nell. They were both blonde little fairies who made me smile just by seeing them. Jersey’s eyes were bright blue, whereas Nell had her dad’s warm, brown eyes. Eyes that also matched her uncle’s and made thoughts of Dawson impossible to avoid when I looked at them.


“Hi, Jers,” I answered, pushing Dawson from my brain.


“Hey…so, I have to go to New London,” she said quietly.


“What? Why?” Panicked thoughts of something being wrong with Mandy or Leena hit me.


“It’s Dad. He...he died,” Jersey said, and I heard in her voice the same thing I heard whenever she spoke of our father. Loss and hurt mingled into a wound that would never completely go away, that would always be a scab easily picked to bleeding again.


“How?” I asked with a guttural growl that had nothing to do with sadness and everything to do with fear.


Silas’s face turned into a big worry line.


“He didn’t hurt anyone,” Jersey rushed out in an attempt to reassure me. She’d known my thoughts had gone right back to the day he’d been behind the wheel of the car that had killed Ana Perez, cost me my spleen, and almost ruined Jersey’s life.


“What did happen?” I asked.


“No big surprise. He drank himself to death. His parole officer found him when he didn’t check in.” The contempt in my sister’s voice matched my own feelings.


“Why do you need to go back? It isn’t like there’s going to be anyone crying at his graveside,” I said, watching as Silas’s eyes grew wider at the darkness in my tone.


“Someone has to make the arrangements. I’m the one listed as his next of kin,” she said quietly. Jersey was always quiet, but this had an extra layer of thoughtfulness to it.


I didn’t want her to have to go back to New London to deal with it. She’d escaped. Truck had found her, married her, and brought her into the light, away from the blackness our father had cast her in. Away from a town that blamed her for her teacher’s death when she wasn’t the one who’d been behind the wheel drunk.


“Truck and Nell are going with me. Mandy and Leena are thrilled to get to see us again in such a short span of time,” she told me.


The two women who’d taken Jersey and me in when we’d needed it most had become our family when we’d had none. They’d just come out in May for my graduation, but their trip had been hectic and short.


“I want to come.” I was surprised by how much I meant it—not for Dad, but to be there for Jersey. To have a chance to see Mandy and Leena again.


“You don’t have to come,” she answered automatically, protecting me as she’d always protected me.


“I want to come,” I said again, more forcefully. “Give me your flight details, and I’ll book a ticket.”


“We haven’t bought them yet. Truck is online right now. If you’re really sure you want to come, we’ll just get one for you too.”


“I can pay for it,” I told her. I had a job in the bioengineering department as part of a work-study program. Between that and my scholarship, I’d carefully saved up a teeny-tiny nest egg.


She sighed. “Violet, we got it. Truck and I can afford to buy you a ticket.”


I knew she could because she’d come a long way since our dark days of dingy hotels and mac and cheese. Truck’s Coast Guard job might not pay a fortune, but Jersey was doing extremely well off her comic books. There was even talk of making her superhero, Viola the Jewel, into a movie or a TV show. I still hated whenever she spent an extra nickel on me when she didn’t need to.


“Violet Banner, stop overthinking this,” she demanded.


“Fine. Just let me know when to show up,” I relented.


“I’ll have Truck send over all the flight information. Let us know if you want us to pick you up on our way to the airport.”


I laughed. “Jersey, you’d literally have to drive past the airport to come and get me. I can get there myself.”


She chuckled. “You’re right. I can’t help myself.”


“I know. And I love you for it,” I said.


We hung up, and I turned to Silas who’d grown more and more agitated while he’d listened to my half of the conversation. “I guess I’m going to Connecticut for a few days.”


His eyes grew wide. The only time I ever spoke about New London was when I mentioned Mandy or Leena. It wasn’t just painful memories of a dad who hadn’t loved us that held me back. It was also the memory of a dark-haired boy with a chip on his shoulder and eyes that glowed like amber lights. A boy who had never been mine, but who I’d wanted so badly I’d almost done the same thing my father had done. I’d almost cost us our lives.


“Why? What’s going on?” Silas asked when I didn’t offer it up on my own.


“Dad died,” I said with a careless shrug. “I don’t want Jersey to deal with it alone.”


He reached for me, pulling me into a hug. “I’m so sorry, Violet.”


There was true sorrow in his voice, real loss, and it made my eyes water because I didn’t feel any of the things I should for my dad.


“At least he won’t ever hurt anyone again.” That thought filled me with more emotion than his death did. “But I am sorry it’s falling to Jersey, yet again, to clean up the mess he’s left behind.”


Silas’s arms around me tightened. He could never understand my antipathy for my father. Not when he had two bright, shiny, loving parents who’d done everything they could to make sure their son soared.


“I’ll come with you,” he said.


I shook my head. “There’s no need. Honest.”


“Your dad just died. You’re my girlfriend. I think there’s a need to be there for you,” he said gruffly.


I winced at the emotion in his words and the term girlfriend. We’d started as a date that had turned into a kiss which had slipped into something more. Now, we’d been together for almost six months, and I wasn’t even really sure how it had happened. Like we’d just slid from one thing to the next without an actual conversation about it. It wasn’t until this moment that I realized exactly what I’d done by not speaking up. I’d let him think there was a chance of a long-term “us.”


I had to do something about it now. I had to break it off before it got more serious. I had to break it off before it had a chance to harden into a permanent substance that couldn’t be removed.


Chapter Two

Dawson


BAD REPUTATION

“An' I don't give a damn 'bout my reputation,

Never said I wanted to improve my station.”


Performed by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

Written by Cordell / Jett


The seawater sprayed up over the side of the boat as I spun the wheel sharply. Gritty droplets landed on my face, but I didn’t dare wipe them off. Next to me, Dax swore in French, and my smile grew. He clung to the side as I dropped the hammer, flying toward the pier at a speed that would have caused most people to yell a warning. Dax didn’t breathe another word. He knew me too well.


He knew exactly how I would rein the boat in before it thudded into the wood and metal structure. He also knew there was no way in hell I was letting Demario win this race.


Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Angelica’s dark hair flying behind her in the wind as we passed them on the starboard side. I couldn’t spend any time relishing in the one-fingered wave she gave me.


Instead, I cut them off and slid past the buoy marking the end of the race.

I’d already throttled back and was slowing down as Dax patted me on the back.


Putain de bordel de merde,” he said. Holy fucking freaking hell was right. “You did it. That was the closest I think we’ve ever come. Can we please not do it again?”


I laughed. “That was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.”


He rolled his eyes at me but didn’t comment.


Once upon a time, racing boats had been danger and rebellion. There’d been years when it had been the worst of me instead of the best of me. But now…now I’d grown it into a livelihood. A damn good one.


The shiny black-and-red jet boat we’d used for this race was one of five boats we used on a regular basis. All different lengths, engine sizes, and fuel capacities that we could tailor to the race at hand. Our newest design was on its way to America in a container ship while we waited to hear about the race of a lifetime that would start in New York.


We tied off the boat and jumped onto the pier.


The warm sun glimmered over the crowd gathered on the dock, covering them in a hazy shimmer. Their expensive clothes and even more expensive jewelry were a statement to exactly where we were—a private yacht club in Tarifa, Spain. One whose annual membership fees cost more than the average American made in a year.


The murmur on the dock was a mass of varied emotions. Some congratulatory, some growling with displeasure, but all poised and groomed enough to keep it together and not throw punches. The wagers on the race had been bigger than the prize itself, and Demario had just lost his followers a boatload. Even if they could afford to lose the cash, it still stung to watch it wash away with the tide. It would make Demario even hungrier to agree to the terms of the next contest.


Demario docked in the slip next to us. His dark, Italian face was broody as hell, and Angelica was still scowling. If she’d been at the helm, I might not have been able to pull off the win. She put my skills to the test every single time we went up against each other.


This adventure from Tarifa, across the Strait of Gibraltar, to the tip of Morocco and back had been her idea. She’d raced it in their boat more times than I had. Hell, she’d practically grown up racing it.


Amen from the Spanish Yacht Club was one big grin as he approached. More good news. We needed him onboard if we wanted a chance at the Conquistar de la Atlántica cup.


“Quite the flashy ending,” he commented. His English was better than mine. Just like Dax’s. They’d both been raised in Europe, educated at the most exclusive boarding schools and universities, and taught an English that was full of proper vowels and full syllables.


My English was California hick town. Soft a’s and slurred s’s. But it gave me an advantage in this world I’d been living in for five years. They always underestimated me. I was always the blue-collar American who surprised them—even after all the wins Dax and I had under our belts.


We moved from the pier into the exclusive club full of eighteenth-century gold-gilded charm. At the antique bar, I ordered a round for the four of us.

“To Angelica and Demario for their fabulous attempt to displace Dax and me in the charts,” I said, raising my glass to them.


“It’s not over, Langley,” Demario grunted out.


“You’re in then?” Dax spoke before I could. “You’ll join Enzo and us in an attempt to win the cup?”


Demario glanced at Angelica. She gave a curt nod.


“Another round to celebrate,” Dax called.


I was never quite sure what Demario and Angelica’s relationship was. They didn’t seem friends or lovers. It seemed like they tolerated each other for the sake of the race. Whereas Dax and I were friends. Best friends.


Our relationship might have started off extremely unbalanced when he’d found me working as a mechanic at the marina in New London. But every time I’d passed up my winnings to put them back into the racing company we’d built, the scales had drawn a bit closer.


“I hate the idea of giving you more money,” Demario griped. “Can’t I use my own goddamn boat instead of the behemoth you’ve built?”


Dax bristled. Our yachts weren’t behemoths. They were goddamn pieces of art. A slick combination of a jet boat, cigarette boat, and day cruiser. Perfect for long-distance racing but also a design we could sell to the socialites in Dax’s inner circle who would use them as a statement to the world.


I’d designed the structure and the motor. Dax had designed the aesthetics. The Italian shipbuilder we were working with had thrown a hand in once they’d realized just what we’d envisioned. We had three finished and on their way to New York with ten more in the works.


“Quit griping, Demario. We’re practically giving you the boat,” I said, slapping him on the back. “They’ll be worth a nice little chunk of change when we win the Conquistar in them.”


Movement out of the corner of my eye brought Jada into focus. She was dressed in a bikini glittering with gems that was supposed to be hidden under a coverup, but the bright-blue material was practically sheer. Her silky black hair was tied back in a low ponytail and hidden beneath a floppy sunhat that would have given Audrey Hepburn a run for her money.


Beside me, Dax stiffened as he took her in. She was tiny with slim curves and sharp edges. Her light skin was tinted soft pink from the sunshine she’d just retreated from. She hadn’t removed her oversized, dark sunglasses even though we were inside, but I could almost guarantee her dark brown eyes had squinted in my friend’s direction before landing on me.


She put her arm through mine. “Congratulations are in order, I see.”


“You didn’t watch?” I asked with a grin.


She shook her head. “No.”


Jada Mori rarely apologized for anything. She didn’t need to. She was the star in the middle of a social circle full of elites. She led the pack, and they all scrambled after her. Except Dax.


It may have been Dax who’d brought me into the group of the world’s richest twenty-somethings, but it was Jada who’d made sure I fit. It was Jada who’d taken me shopping to buy the clothes I needed to blend in. It had been Jada who’d invited me to travel with her and stay at her family’s chateaus and mansions scattered around the globe. Dax had made me in the boating world. Jada had made me with the world’s high society.


The reason she’d done it was a splash of cold water along my back.


My joy from the water and the win slipped away.


I eyed her again. The sunglasses were for more than show.


I pulled her away from the crowd, down the bar. “What’s up?” I asked quietly.

“Ken’Ichi arrived this morning,” she said, flipping her diamond-studded phone case over and over and over on the bar.


I frowned at her nervous habit but gave a curt nod. We’d known he was showing up. I had business to discuss with him. Ken’Ichi was Tsuyoshi Mori’s first lieutenant―his Wakagashira. I’d been working for almost four years to get to this point. To have this exact meeting become a reality.


Otōsan called at the same time. It seems my philandering ways have embarrassed the family for the last time. I am to be married off in hopes that my husband―or motherhood―will tame me,” she said.


“Were those his exact words?” I asked, concern flowing through me. Last week, the paparazzi had sneaked onto the villa’s grounds and taken a picture of her and a male companion on the balcony with more skin than clothes showing. I was the reason she’d been out there to begin with. I’d asked her to cause a distraction. I hadn’t asked her to have sex to do it, but with Jada, I should have known she’d use the one power she so deftly wielded.


“His exact words were, ‘You will marry Ken’Ichi,’” she said in a rough imitation of her dad’s strong Japanese accent compared to her almost completely Americanized one.


“Ken’Ichi,” I repeated like a moron. It didn’t shock me, and yet it did. He was in his forties and was old enough to be her father, but he was also the closest thing to a son that Mori-sama had.


Jada pulled herself from me. Before I could stop her, she’d climbed onto the bar top and called the room to order by flinging her crystal glass into a thousand pieces.


“We’re celebrating Armaud Racing’s win at my place. Gates open at nine this evening. If you don’t know who I am or where it’s at, you’re not invited.” Laughter flew through the room because the crowd allowed into the club all knew exactly who she was.


“Jada,” I said, a warning in my tone that she chose to ignore. She was poking the rabid dog.


She stumbled slightly on her way down, and it was Dax who caught her. If I hadn’t been standing right next to them, I would never have heard her whisper, “Hands off, Armaud. Wouldn’t want to taint those lily-white fingers of yours.”


A barb to her word choice that had nothing to do with his tan skin.

She pushed away and headed toward the door, calling back to me, “You coming now, Dawson? Or should I send Kaida back for you later?”

Dax and I exchanged a worried look.


“I’m coming,” I said.


I followed her out to the bulletproof sedan that Kaida Ito was driving. Part bodyguard and part chauffeur, the woman pretty much went everywhere with Jada. She was dark-haired and light-skinned with a gracefulness that spoke to her karate training, but she also had an edge to her that said Don’t fuck with me. She had a gun at her back and a knife in her boot, and Tsuyoshi Mori trusted her to keep his only child safe in a world that might use her for bait.

Jada and I didn’t say a word in the car. We couldn’t. Once we arrived at the villa, I dragged her out toward the pool. We were careful to avoid the cameras, and even then, we spoke in a hushed tone as if a million ears were standing around us.


“Is it a good idea to throw another party?” I asked.


“You need a good reason to be drunk and stumbly, and this might be my last hoorah if Otōsan gets his way,” she whispered back.


I needed to have an excuse for being loud and obnoxious when I met with Ken’Ichi Matsuda tonight. One that would allow me to get close enough to his phone to be able to clone it and drop a listening device beside it. But I didn’t need Jada risking more for me to do it.


“I don’t need you for this,” I told her.


“In for a penny, in for a pound, right?”


She was staring at me, but I couldn’t really see her eyes because of the sunglasses. I reached up and slid them down her nose. She didn’t object, but she did look away from my gaze.


Her eyes were tired with deep, dark circles underscoring them.


It was my fault.


I’d taken advantage of her friendship with Violet to get close. I’d taken advantage of the way she felt about Dax to pull us all together. I was an asshole.


No good to the core.


I could hear my father’s voice echoing through my head. It seemed to be on repeat lately. Like it had been in those final days leading up to the boat crash in Clover Lake five and half years ago. The one that had almost cost my friend Carlos everything, banished me from my father’s world, and thrust me into my brother’s Coast Guard life in New London.


I’d been out of control, a reckless twenty-two-year-old hell-bent on proving every bad thing his father had thought of him to be true.


It wasn’t me who was out of control now. Instead, it was the situation. The life I’d chosen to lead. The hidden parts that no one but Jada knew about. The risk that was growing in size and shape and form until it was surrounding us both like a black cloak. A weighted one, hanging heavy on our shoulders.


If anything happened to Jada, I’d never forgive myself. Violet would never forgive me either. I pushed that thought aside. I couldn’t think of Vi now. It was never a good idea, but these days, especially. I could only be grateful that her life had pulled her far away from Jada. That their friendship, while still existent, was more like modern-day pen pals. Text exchanges and video chats instead of slumber parties and shopping sprees. Much like how my relationship with Violet now solely revolved around our married siblings and our shared niece instead of stolen moments both simultaneously glorious and painful.

Jada walked away from me while I was still lost in thought.


Standing in the middle of the heavy, exotically scented garden of the villa, I smelled a honey sweetness and saw lilac eyes flashing before me. I shook myself out of the reverie and followed Jada. Nothing beneficial could come from being lost in those memories.


Copyright © LJ Evans 2021


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