He’ll get his revenge, one way or the other…
The one righteous act of Trace Graham’s life cost him ten years in prison, and now that he’s out he’s looking for a little payback. His fury has one focus, the woman whose life he’d defended that long ago night, Serenity Lynn Jameson.
She’s spent a decade atoning for her father’s sins…
Police detective Lynn Jameson has her hands busy with a missing person and drug smuggling case. The last thing she needs is Trace bulldozing his back into her life. She knows better than to get involved with a recently released convict, even if his touch is something she’s dreamed of for years.
Opposites attract…or do they collide?
As things heat up between them, Lynn’s investigation paints a target on her back and Trace has to decide how far he’s willing to go for revenge and love.
WARNING: Defending Serenity was previously published as a 20,000 word story under another pen name. It has been rewritten and expanded to 40,000 words. It contains violence, explicit language, and graphic sex. For mature readers only.
Holman Correctional Facility, Atmore, Alabama
About ten minutes after noon, I step out of the gate of the prison that has been my personal hell for ten years. I’m a free man. Excitement surges through me. It’s something I haven’t felt for years. I spread my arms wide and lift my face to grin at the weak December sun.
Lowering my hands to my hips, I take a good look around the outside of the place that swallowed up years of my life. The prison is an hour north of the Gulf of Mexico, but there is no sign of the sea here. The place is surrounded on all sides by tall pines, and the rotten-egg smell of a paper plant drifts faintly on the wind. I can’t wait to get home and away from this stink. Paper mill or guards, I’m not sure where it’s coming from.
A car turns down the row in front of me and screeches to a stop, the driver throwing it into park and jumping out. Walker, my younger brother jumps out and catches me up in a bear hug. I pound his back and laugh. The sound is rusty from disuse. I haven’t had reason to laugh in years.
We step back and size each other up. Walker is one of the few people in the world who gives a rat’s ass about me. He’s not the scrawny kid he was when I got sent away. I knew that but it seems different without that sheet of Plexiglas between us. His chest and back are broad, his biceps bulge and are covered in tattoos. He looks as tough as me. I have to remind myself that he’s proved himself while I was stuck behind bars. Somehow he’s managed to stay out of jail over the years, but he’s had a string of close calls. I don’t ask about that. It’ll be time to talk business soon enough and bringing it up here feels like bad luck. I decide to wait until we’re on the road.
Instead, I grin and harass him. “Been hittin’ the iron, kid?”
Walker snorts. “Get in the damned car. I haven’t been a kid since I was ten.”
I stop and take my first good look at the vehicle. My car. The wreck I’d in won in a poker game twelve years ago has been completely restored.
“Looks good, doesn’t she?” Walker asks with pride and I admit he’s earned it.
Afraid it might be a mirage and disappear on contact, I reach out cautiously and skim my hand over the surface of the roof. My fingertips meet midnight black metal and I swallow the lump in my throat. It’s just a fucking car. Well, as much as a 1968 Camaro could be just a car.
I lift the gleaming door handle to swing the heavy door open. Removing the pack from my back, I toss it over the seat and slide in, pulling the door closed behind me. The reupholstered leather seats are soft and plush, and as we exit the parking lot I start to relax for the first time in ten long years.
It’s a three hour drive home to Madison. The small town on the Chattahoochee River in Alabama is only a stone’s throw from both Georgia and Florida, just on the outskirts of River City. It’d never seemed much like home until I couldn’t go to it. We pull out of the prison and turn east. It really starts to sink in. I’m free.
I study my little brother. He’s confident. Assured. I know few details of the last few years. It’s not like we can speak freely when he visits. He owns the only garage in Madison. I don’t know where he got the cash to buy it but I’m guessing it was fights. Walker is a talented mechanic, always has been, so the move makes sense. Makes him look legit. And the place will give me gainful employment, too. Of course, there’s also the gym. Our friend Hunter Wallace inherited the building our last year of high school. The rest of us–me and Walker, Ryder Malone, and Lake Palmer– went in with him on equipment. We were just starting to make a profit when I got sentenced. I’ll have enough income to eat while I get my bearings. A man will do desperate things if he’s hungry and I have no plans on going back to prison.
Since I’ve served every minute of my ten year sentence, I’m a totally free man, not encumbered by any asinine rules of parole. I try not to think too much about that. I should have been out of prison years ago, finishing my sentence on parole. Unfortunately, the warden is an old school buddy of Judge Jameson’s, the man who’d presided over my trial and sentenced me to ten years. Even after the man’s death, the warden made sure I stayed in prison. Every time I came up for a parole board review some minor infraction against me was manufactured and presented. Every time I was turned down. Taking a deep breath, I suppress my rising anger and concentrate on life as a free man.
I hadn’t been in an all-fired rush to return to Madison until I heard she was back. Closing my eyes, I call up her memory. Serenity Lynn Jameson. The woman responsible for my ten years of hell. The last time I saw her in the flesh she was sitting across a small table from me in the county jail’s visitation room, close to tears and wringing her hands. If not for the guards, I might have reached to comfort her, and that had fucking pissed me off. It still does.
Serenity was innocent and demure. I’d watched her grow from a skinny gangly kid to a knockout eighteen year-old. I knew better, but she was a woman I just had to sample. And sample I had. Once. Only, once wasn’t nearly enough. She’d been meeting me for the second go when the trouble started. Billy Thompson started hitting on her the minute she walked in the door. When she shrugged him off, the man turned dangerous, aggressive. I defended her, why, I can’t fathom, and Billy was killed, the simple bar fight ended by Billy’s knife in my hand. The one righteous thing I have ever done landed me in prison.
The last time I saw Serenity she asked me to forgive her and promised I’d be out soon. After all, her daddy was the judge. Why would he send away a man for defending his daughter’s virtue? I snort. Yeah, right. I’d seen the writing on the wall. I’d screwed Judge Jameson’s daughter. One man was dead, and the other from the wrong side of the tracks was in handcuffs. I didn’t have a chance in hell.
Serenity went north to college before the trial started. For some reason I’d expected to see her there anyway. Her not showing up for it felt like rejection, something I wasn’t accustomed to, a chink in my armor. I beat the emotion down, but not before vowing to make her pay. When I’d heard my sentence, ten years, in my mind I’d doubled her sentence, too. She’s spent the first ten years in her own kind of exile, on the other side of the state.
And now she is back in Madison as a police detective.
“You’re quiet,” Walker cut into my thoughts.
I smile, the movement tightening muscles long unused to such action.
“Just contemplating revenge, brother.”
Walker arches an eyebrow. “Lynn Jameson?”
“I call her Serenity.” I breath her name.
Since her father, the judge, died just weeks after sending me to prison, Serenity is the only one left to receive my wrath. The only one left to seek vengeance from. Walker shakes his head.
“Don’t go there, Trace. She’s a cop now, and she’s dating Tim Monroe.”
Rage roils through me. That is my pussy and I’m not done with it yet. I’ve spent years dreaming of my one taste of her and the things I’d do to her when I was free. Most of them are illegal in Alabama. I don’t care, and neither will she. I’ll make her beg. It is a vision that has carried me through the years. The perfect Serenity Jameson, on her knees before me.
“Monroe can’t have her,” I bite out through clenched teeth. “Not until I’m done with her.”
“Fuck,” Walker mutters.
This time my smile is for real. “I intend to.”
“No, man,” Walker looks over at me after he steers the car onto the highway heading home. “She’s not the girl you remember.”
Of course she isn’t. The woman I remember was sweet and innocent, and I’d been unable to resist her. I’d held back, afraid I might hurt her, and I hope life has hardened her as much as it has me. When I start fucking her this time, I won’t stop. She better be able to take it.
“She’s a real ball-breaker now,” Walker adds.
I smile. Good. I’ll break her of that. Will revel in doing so, actually. I’m going to make her need me, crave me, the way I do her. And when I’ve satisfied my longing for her, I’ll move on. Then Monroe can have her.
Lost in my plans, the hours fly by and I’m surprised when we pull off the road into the gym’s parking lot. I should have known Walker would bring me here first. I get out of the car but I don’t go anywhere for a minute. I stare at the building. It’s been so long and it doesn’t look any different. It’s like not one year has passed. Except the cars parked out front. A lot of new models I’ve never seen, lots of trucks, some bikes. I’m surprised at how full the lot is actually. Business must be booming.
I move forward and Walker falls into step beside me. Inside, the place is totally different. It’s still a huge open space with several rings on one side, but now there are weight stations and treadmills for crissakes. What the fuck? Walker takes the lead to the back of the building, where I assume the office still is. As we walk through the gym I swear I see a couple cops from the old days sparring in a ring. No fucking way. I know Hunter is running a legit business here but there’s no way he’s gone straight enough that cops feel comfortable working out here.
We reach the office and for a moment that leaves my mind. I’m engulfed when we enter. Surrounded by Hunter, Ryder, and Lake. After the back thumping is done, Hunter hands me a beer.
“Welcome home, brother,” he says.
I’d be lying if I say I don’t have a lump in my throat, but I hide the emotion. They know anyway. They’ve visited over the years. I know a little about their day to day lives. Hell, Ryder and Lake have even done some time with me. But to be with them all again, it’s so different. It’s better than I imagined.
“It’s good to be home,” I say.
I look through the one way glass into the gym.
“Are there seriously cops in here?”
I have to ask. Exactly how much has changed? Hunter laughs.
“Yeah. Don’t worry about them. It’s cool. We’ll talk business in a couple days. Get your bearings, man. Get drunk. Get laid.”
There are some snickers at that suggestion but the pointed looks aren’t at me. They’re at Hunter. He rolls his eyes.
“What?” I ask.
“Oh, just a sweet little thing that won’t give him the time of day,” Ryder drawls. “And get this, her name is Honor. Apparently she actually has some.”
She doesn’t sound like the kind of woman who’d get involved with men like us but who am I to cast stones? I have every intention of having a police detective under me in the next twenty four hours. I give myself away somehow, or maybe Hunter just wants to direct attention away from himself. He gives me a harsh, cold look. The boss’s look. In anything else, I’d follow his lead.
“Some women are more trouble than they’re worth. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of that,” Hunter says.
I nod because he’s right, but it’s not going to stop me and he knows it. He sighs. “Haven’t you lost enough because of her?”
“Too much,” I agree. And I intend to get some back.
I drink my beer and listen to them talk about the legit businesses. The gym which we all have a stake in. Walker’s garage, which it turns out I’m half owner of. Ryder and Lake actually own a bail bondman’s company which blows my mind. Hunter apparently has his fingers in quite a bit of local real estate and construction. I know there’s other stuff. I’m not sure why they’re keeping me in the dark. Maybe the gym isn’t safe to talk. Maybe they don’t trust me anymore. One more thing Serenity took from me. It isn’t long before the group splits up. Hunter walks out with us, stops me at the car.
“Yeah?” I ask.
He nods and cracks a smile. “It’s damn good to have you home, brother. Walker will fill you in. We’ll talk soon.”
I nod, still not quite sure how to read the situation but willing to wait until I can get my brother alone to chat. I climb in the car and we’re on our way. It’s only a few miles until Walker pulls off the road into the garage’s parking lot. We drive around back and I spot the small white house, which looks exactly like the pictures Walker sent me. It appears to be well cared for, with a narrow porch stretching across the front. I’d expected to see it, to live in it, although I’m not sure if I’ll ever consider it home.
To my surprise, a woman lounges on the porch waiting for us. Her booted feet are propped on the rail as she gently rocks in one of three rocking chairs near the door. Her long legs are encased in jeans, and she wears a tight T-shirt with a light jacket thrown over it. Her long brown hair is caught up in a ponytail at the back of her head. My heart races when I realize who she is.
I get out of the car and take my time approaching her, halting when I reach the bottom step. Her feet thud to the floor as she stands up and looks me over from top to bottom, and then up again. She’s thinner than I remember, but nothing else about her is different. Her eyes are still icy blue, her skin still smooth and lightly tanned, freckles dust her nose. Tempting red lips curl up in a slight social smile.
“You look good, Trace,” she says, in the husky voice that haunts my dreams. My cock hardens in a half second flat.
“Serenity.” My voice is hard. Edgy. I can’t keep the anger from it and don’t really try. “I didn’t expect you to be part of my welcome home committee.”
There is no change of expression on her face. No sign she thinks of the past at all. Feels any remorse or guilt for her part in my incarceration. It fuels my anger. I want to shake her up, want to crack that serene composure to expose the passionate woman underneath. I walk up the few steps, don’t stop moving until I’m close enough that she is forced to tilt her head back to look at me. Her eyes flash, but she doesn’t back away. She thinks she can handle me. I see it on her face and almost smile. She has no idea what I’ve become, but she will.
She frowns. “Why would I be?”
“You’re the reason I was there in the first place.” I let some of the rage I work so hard to control–at my imprisonment, at her abandonment–color my voice. And wrapped up in that rage is always, always, the lust. The craving for a girl, a body, I’ve only had once. Her calm mask slips. So many emotions cross her face, but the only two I care about are the guilt and the desire. She gets control of herself quickly, hides herself back behind that infuriating calm mask, but this time it was okay. I know what she hides, know I can reach it. She steps back, as if she finally realizes what kind of danger she’s in, and looks around him to Walker.
“Can we go inside a minute?”
“Sure.” He steps to the door with a key. Serenity shakes her head and arches an eyebrow, no doubt wondering why someone would need to lock their door in tiny Madison. Well, let her wonder. Walker extends his arm, like he’s a fucking gentleman or something. I snort.
Serenity steps through the door and leads the way down the hall to a small kitchen. I hate the suspicion that snakes through me. How does she know my brother’s house so well? My curiosity must show on my face, because Walker laughs.
“It’s not what you’re thinking, brother.”
Walker reaches into the refrigerator, pulls out three beers and passes them around. Serenity twists off her cap and takes a long swallow. I stare at the movement of her throat as she gulps down the cold brew, wondering what it will look like full of my cock. Tonight, I promise myself. I’ll have her tonight.
I feel Trace’s gaze on me, and remember with a start what drew me to him all those years ago. He has a way of making a woman his complete focus, and the naïve girl I was hadn’t stood a chance in hell against him. Good thing I’m all grown up now.
But I’m dismayed to learn I’m not immune to his intense masculinity. It takes all I have not to cross my legs against the heat pooling in my pussy as his cool dark eyes spear me with a mixture of lust, anger, and hate. I feel it like a blow to my stomach. I didn’t know he hates me. And he wants me to know it. Almost as much as he wants me to know he plans to fuck me again. I can see it all on his face. In his eyes. This is a major problem. I’m not sure if I can resist him if he touches me. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to. I’ll probably melt at the first stroke.
Walker clears his throat and I wrench my gaze from Trace to see him leaning tense and coiled against the counter. I almost laugh. Who does he expect trouble from? Anxiety stiffens my muscles. Maybe from where he stands, it’s a toss up.
“I found your thief,” I say in the hushed room. Then I take another draw of beer. It’s not my preferred drink, but the situation and my nerves seem to call for it. I can feel Trace’s focused gaze, can feel his intent, and struggle not to respond to it. It’s a losing battle. I need to fill Walker in and get the hell out while I still can. “You were right. Jimmy Richards.”
“I thought so.”
I roll my eyes.
“You need to press charges, Walker.” I hold my hand up when he starts to interrupt. “Not pressing charges is just going to lead to more trouble for this kid.”
I know I’m wasting my breath. Walker ain’t exactly clean. I know he strips cars. I know he’s involved with underground fighting. And I’m pretty sure he’s got a nice sideline in illegal loans. I can’t prove any of that and I’ve never tried. Odd as it sounds, he’s my friend. As long as he’s staying away from drugs or murder (though I wouldn’t put that past him either) I won’t actively try to bust him. And he and his buddies are very careful. They aren’t flashy. They don’t flaunt their money or power. But I’ve seen Hunter Wallace in River City, the city just a few miles from us, and in Montgomery and Panama City. He commands respect without even trying and that says a lot. I know it’s time I get out of this business. I don’t see in black and white anymore, and it doesn’t feel right to keep doing police work. I’ve been on the verge of making this decision for weeks now. But what else can I do? I’m sure as hell not going dark side.
Walker shakes his head. “Trust me on this, Lynn. He’s not a bad kid. He just needs a firm hand. A little guidance.”
Fuck. Walker is smoking crack if he believes that. From the corner of my eye I catch Trace’s incredulous look and snicker. I don’t know what his objection is, but mine is easy enough to voice. Jimmy Richards is a juvenile delinquent who is fast on his way to becoming an adult delinquent. He doesn’t need a firm hand–he needs to spend a night in my jail. I’ve told Walker as much, but our conversation was frustrating and got me nowhere. Just like now. Finishing the beer, I put it down and walk to the kitchen door.
“Fine,” I say, hand on the doorknob. “Do it your way. But the next person will press charges, Walker.”
“There won’t be a next time,” he responds calmly. “I’ll track Jimmy down tomorrow and put him to work. He can pay off what he took that way.”
I roll my eyes. I’ll be amazed if that straightens the kid up. Of all the hard cases I’ve known over the years, Jimmy is at the bottom of my list of likely reformers. I have to concede that maybe reformation isn’t what Walker wants. He might want someone he can control. Who will work for him.
“You’re dreaming, Walker. Let me know if you need me,” I add as I open the door, careful not to look at Trace. If I do I know he will see I want him so bad I’m quivering inside. If I see that craving reciprocated, I might throw caution to wind and beg him to come over later. I’ve spent ten years building my defenses and one touch will shatter them. I refuse to contemplate what a rejection will do to me. “See y’all later.”
When I pull the door shut behind me, I release a pent up sigh of…what? Angst? Lust? I don’t stop examine it too closely. Can’t. Whatever I feel for Trace, whatever his hold over me is, any real chance at exploring it ended years ago. I have to focus on the life I have now and quit yearning for something that never really was. And this fucking sucks because it’s so clear to me now. Seeing him. I’ve led the wrong life. If he hadn’t gone to prison, we’d probably be together. I wouldn’t be a cop. He wouldn’t hate me. I want to sob but I know it’s my own damned fault. I gave up and he knows it. There’s no way to go back now. I just need to get someplace safe so I can have the mini breakdown I know is coming. I can’t change the past. I can only deal with the present. But it hurts and I need to deal with that. Accept it. I need to get home.
Our little cove off the river is visible down the slope of the backyard. Lit by the glow from the back porch and the dock Christmas lights, I stroll that way, meeting the parallel path and turning toward m house. Forcing my mind away from Trace, I spend the five minute walk concentrating on work.
Something is very wrong in Madison, but I don’t know what. Not yet, anyway. In the normal course of events there isn’t much activity in our little town off the main flow of the Chattahoochee. But a few days ago, someone turned in ten thousand dollars found on the riverbank, and I have reports coming in all the time of strange activity on the river. Boats running without lights, and lights where there shouldn’t be any. Of course, by the time I arrive on the scene each time, there are no sign of anything. I regret I haven’t taken the incidents more seriously—didn’t until the money showed up. Very stupid of me. We don’t have much in way of crime in my town. The major stuff takes place over in River City or down in Panama City.
My back porch comes into view and I quicken my pace. The house is a replica of Walker’s, down to the peeling paint. I’d caught the look on Trace’s face when I’d entered the house and was familiar with the layout. For a minute, he had actually wondered if I have something going on with his brother.
I imagine my smile is bitter. No way. I’ve learned my lesson about screwing the town bad boy. Then there’s the small matter of conflict of interest. Hello? Cop and criminal? Very bad combo. Walker seems to have it in his head I’m off limits, anyway. We make for an odd friendship, but it’s real. Trace doesn’t have a friendly bone in his body. Not that I blame him.
So why does his presence turn me on so much? Even now my pussy is wet and throbbing. It’s a sensation I’m not used to. The few men I’ve spent time with over the years never turned me on the way Trace did when I was eighteen. I’ve started to think that maybe I just have a very slow fuse. I groan. Apparently not. I obviously have a thing for men who redefine the term bad boy.
I pause at the bottom step and look up at the stars. Why did he come back? He is such a threat to my self control. I’ve spent ten years paying penance for what happened between us. Ten years dating the right kind of men. Okay, maybe they were a little boring, but I’m a cop and they aren’t criminals. A definite plus. Shaking off the funk, I jog up the steps and open my back door.
I don’t bother with a light and stalk straight through the kitchen to my bedroom, tugging my shirt off over my head as I go. A bath is just the thing to ease the tension strumming through me, and maybe I’ll use my new waterproof vibrator for good measure. I peel off my jeans, step into the small bathroom, and flip on the light. Doing a quick mental inventory of what I need–a towel, a glass of wine, a book and the vibrator–I hurry back into the bedroom and come to a complete standstill. Trace lays stretched out on my bed.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“Enjoying the view.”
He leers at me and I resist the urge to try and cover myself. Instead, I give him my coldest look.
“Leave,” I bite out between clenched teeth. “Before I arrest you for breaking and entering.”
He jumps up from the bed and looms in front of me. I hate that I back up, and what is worse, his display of aggression turns me on. Oh God, please don’t let him touch me. There is no way I’ll be able to resist him if he closes the inches separating us. His head dips down and my breathing hitches. This is it. I’m a goner. He will either kill me or fuck me and I don’t really care which. I’m an idiot.
“Waited ten years for this,” he murmurs before catching my lips with his.
His tongue is slow and gentle as it slides over my lower lip and pushes inside my mouth. Gliding over my teeth, thrusting in and out, it is a tease of a kiss. Frustrated with its taunting nature, I groan and lean into him, pressing my breasts against his chest hoping to spur him on. He withdraws, breathing hard from his effort to stay in control.
With one arm around my waist, he holds me still as his other hand wiggles inside my panties and finds my clit. Arching my back, I press my mound against his fingers. I’m so close to coming. A little harder, a little faster. I’m not sure if I pant the words out or he has an instinctive knowledge of my body. I’m right on the edge, with little tremors beginning in my legs, when he stops.
I almost howl with disappointment. My eyes snap open and I meet his gaze, recoiling at the fury I see there. If he’s that angry with me, why is he here? His hand still cups my pussy and his finger flicks over my clit. I can’t repress the shudder of response or the groan that escapes my lips.
“Have you let Tim Monroe touch you here?” he rasps, one long finger pushing into my sex.
I gasp, riding the sensation, ignoring the question. A second finger joins the first and they slide leisurely in and out of me. After a moment he stops, walking me backwards until I’m against the wall, and he bites my neck.
“Ow,” I yelp, although I feel more liquid pool against his fingers at the singular assault.
He chuckles. “You liked that. I can feel it here.” He wiggles his fingers deep inside me.
“I asked you a question, Serenity,” he says, and though his tone is soft, I hear an underlying edge of menace.
“What was the question?”
“Tim Monroe,” he reminds me.
“I don’t see that it’s any of your business,” I respond, knowing my answer is ridiculous under the circumstances. Trace is not a man to trifle with. He’s capable of anything. I’ve seen him kill a man.
His eyes narrow on my face and I feel a spurt of fear. He lowers his head until we are nose to nose and the hand that only moments ago had cupped my waist now rests on my collarbone…and twitches. Sliding it up, he lightly strokes the sides of my neck. The movement is both tender and threatening at the same time. I gulp.
“No,” I whisper. “He hasn’t touched me.”
“Good,” he says in a hard tone. “This is mine.”
Removing his fingers from my pussy he pinches my clit hard enough to send sparks through me. I ride a wave of pleasure/pain and when he releases his hold on my clitoris to rub against it, the orgasm breaks over me. I cry out and tremble in his arms.