CHAPTER ONE

“Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”

—Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack

Emma

The Norths and the Knights are now bound by a secret, by blood.

Hunter shares my father and Jax’s mother.

But just as that blood binds us, death divides us.

The woman in red stands between me and the castle, shrouded in shadows, just outside the reach of the manor lights, too far away for me to make out her face.

I stand there watching her, the crash of ocean waves at my back, the wind tormenting my legs, now hugged by wet thigh highs, compliments of my gallant stomp into the water to dispose of a secret. My secret. Jax’s secret. A note and a DNA test left for me outside the castle’s bathroom door. I say that method of delivery either makes the note writer a ghost or a coward. I don’t know which. A coward, I think, and one who dropped a bomb on me and just ran. One who taunts me now while out of reach.

I wonder if Hunter knew his true bloodline.

I now feel certain that he did, he knew but Jax doesn’t know. I don’t believe he knows. My brother can’t know either. But the woman in red knows. That’s why she’s here, watching me, dressed in red the way Jax’s long lost mom dressed in red. She knows. She left me that note. Maybe this is his mother. Maybe she’s back, but I don’t understand. Why now? Assuming she left me the note and DNA test, I don’t understand her motivation. It didn’t just point a finger at my brother. It pointed a finger at Jax, her son.

Desperate for those answers and others, I grab my shoes, start running toward her, my feet sinking into the cold sand, slowing my progress. I’m nowhere near her yet and already she’s turning away, darting toward the castle. “Stop!” I shout. “Stop! Stop now!”

“Emma!”

At the sound of Jax’s voice, my heart jackhammers. I don’t know how he’ll react to even the possibility that his mother is here. I don’t know how the woman in red will react to him being here, if she’ll stay or go. And so I run harder toward the woman in red, pushing through the cold and wind, saltwater on my lips. That tastes triggers a flashback of me on the tower when Brody had held me over the edge. Hunter stood on the same landing and I no longer believe that he jumped to his death. He was pushed. He was murdered.

“Stop!” I shout again, but I’m shouting into the darkness now, running forward, and hoping she’s still there, in the shadows, waiting for me the find her.

Suddenly, Jax is there beside me, a force of nature in the middle of a dark night, pulling me around and against his hard body. “What are you doing, woman? It’s cold, and holy crap, you’re wet. Why are you wet?”

“I need to catch the woman who was here, Jax.” I shove against his chest, but he’s unmoving, a boulder in the sand. “I have to talk to her now.”

“Talk to me first,” he says, the darkness suffocating, the message I just tore up and threw in the water taunting me.

“Jax, please. Go back to the party. You have to go take care of your clients.”

“I have a staff. Talk to me. Why are you wet? Why are you in a panic?”

“I think your mother is here.” I blurt out what could be a shocking statement to the man who lost his mom as a child before I can stop myself.

His hands come down on my arms, his entire body going ramrod stiff. “What?”

“Just please go catch her before she’s gone, Jax,” I plead.

“It’s not her.”

“Jax, listen to me. Please. She was wearing red. It was a message. Your mother—”

His hands move to cup my head. “This is nothing but a ghost story.”

“I don’t understand. Your mother is not a ghost story. What ghost story?”

“You’re in shock from Brody holding you over the edge of that landing.”

“That was days ago, and putting aside the ghost story comment that I don’t understand, what if I’m right and that was your mother?”

“If that were my mother, and it wasn’t, I have nothing to say to that woman.” He laces the fingers of one of his hands with mine. “Let’s go home and get you dried off.”

Home.

I’m so stunned by the ease at which he uses that word, home, that I’m momentarily speechless. Everything he wanted, that I wanted, for our future, has now changed. In just that blink of time, Jax is walking and ushering me with him, forcefully moving by no means but the pure strength of his powerful body. His arm sliding around my shoulders, his big body sheltering mine against the cold and wind, but I can’t shelter him from what is to come. I can’t protect him, either, if I let him keep walking.


Tags: Lisa Renee Jones Naked Trilogy Erotic
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