Chapter 1 | Sample
Jacqueline Hughes groaned into her pillow when she saw the time and realized once again, she overslept. Stupid fucking alarm, daring to ruin a good thing like her slumber. She slammed her hand down on the button of the old alarm clock that had been her trustworthy companion for the past two decades.
How she managed to sleep through her alarm again was a mystery to her, especially when the old thing screamed bloody murder every single morning.
It was another morning of a workweek. She too suffered morning blues, except it’s not just saved for Mondays. Mornings were not usually her favorite time of the day, though she occasionally enjoyed the serenity that came with it.
No matter how much her parents drilled into her brain since she was young that she must get up early to be productive, it was never her thing. Probably it never would be. Jacqueline groaned and stretched her limbs under the sheets, yawning like a kitten, except she was sure she looked ridiculous.
With another yawn, she patted the other side of the bed, finding it empty. Ah, that damn early bird. Jacqueline, till now, never saw Matthew sleeping in late. Her husband was always up before her and out for jogs or his regular workout sessions at the local gym.
She hated waking up alone. Oh, how much she wished to wake up in his arms and cuddle lazily until it was nearly too late for both to get ready for work. That never happened, though. Her husband was a workaholic, who traveled a lot. She wished he wasn’t gone all the time, but it wasn’t like she can do anything about it. With a resigned sigh, she threw her legs off the bed and dragged her limbs to the bathroom.
After a quick morning routine, she padded to the kitchen and her shoulders relaxed seeing the steaming coffee kittle already waiting for her—perks of having her husband home; always greeted with coffee and a warm breakfast in the morning.
A wisp of a smile tugged one corner of her lips. She filled her favorite mug and her smile widened, noticing the plate filled with plain toast, scrambled eggs and a bowl of freshly cut fruits sitting ready on the kitchen island.
Matthew knew exactly what she needed to kickstart her mornings. It was wonderful how these little things made her life easy. Grabbing the plate and coffee, she walked over to the patio that overlooked their fenced back yard. Their three-bedroom home was beautiful with abundant natural light.
The fresh morning air gently caressed her skin when she stepped out. The dining area had four-piece wicker set with a red umbrella. Across from it, was a renovated swimming pool with built-in seating and an ultraviolet sanitation system surrounded by their garden.
Her gaze swept around their beautiful garden. The flowers beamed at her, performing a merry dance with the wind. It was neither hot nor cold outside. It just felt pleasant and warm. Spring has always been her favorite season.
She inhaled deeply, wishing the peace she felt at this moment lasted all day. Or maybe wished her sweet mom forgot her existence for a day. Last night’s family dinner was a disaster of the century.
Her parents never understood the concept of personal space or privacy. Throughout the dinner, they either picked up on her manners or commented on her husband, or talked about kids. It’s embarrassing; especially when you have auditions. Jacqueline just hoped they would stop talking about grandchildren for a change. But she knows it’s only her wishful thinking. With a long sigh, she quickly shut the souring thought off and focused on her breakfast.
Jacqueline bit into the toast and sipped the coffee. She liked it black without sugar. Plain and simple, no-frills or any fancy stuff that made a cup of coffee cost as much as a meal. The same went with the toast. She always needed food as soon as she woke up for her brain to function properly. And just like that, the tranquility of the morning shattered as her subconscious reminded her about the work.
She realized that she spend more time outside than intended. There was no time to cook the meal she had planned for the day. She needs to fix something else and quickly. But her frustration mounted when she stared at the contents in the fridge, unable to decide what to make.
How the hell did I lose track of time?
I fucking hate Mondays. “Why don’t you take a shower while I fix something real quick for your lunch?”
The velvety voice caressed her neck like a feather and made her lower belly clench in response, before her husband’s tall figure loomed over her. A relieved sigh broke past her lips as she turned to lock her gaze with his. He was a savior.
Stormy gray eyes smiled back at her. His eyes crinkled at the sides. She always thought he had expressive eyes. They always softened whenever their eyes met and it felt as if he could peer into her soul.
Jacqueline’s appreciative gaze traveled down his handsome features. It traced his straight nose, thin lips and chiseled jawline, then followed down his collarbones to look at his sculpted chest and the muscles stretched underneath the sweat-soaked T-shirt.
Another sigh left her from her mouth unknowingly. His right brow lifted with a knowing smile as her gaze finally landed on his face again.
“What?” she asked with a cheeky smile.
“You’re lookin’ at me again.” His voice lowered an octave that often caused her toes to curl.
“It’s more like gawking,” she counter with the same tone, adding her own charm, and it had the desired effect on him. “Can you blame me when my husband is so strikingly handsome?”
Her finger started to trace his features and his eyes flared with desire. The effect she had on him didn’t go unnoticed, Jacqueline closed the distance between them, pressing herself to his body, relishing the warmth he radiated. The toned muscles flexed under her touch. She loved the way he smelled after his morning jog. She ran a hand over his broad chest, splaying it over his heart.
“You haven’t responded to my question yet, hubby.”
“I haven’t, have I?” he whispered. “And I love it when you do that.”
And I’d love it more if you take me right now against the fridge—she wanted to add, but the words never made it past her lips. Jacqueline stepped back, feeling self-conscious suddenly. Heat rushed to her cheeks. She ducked her head to avoid his gaze. It was still hard to express these explicit thoughts.
“I… um… I should get going. It’s getting late. We are taking the kids to the museum today.”
Damn. I should have just kept my trap shut.
“Sure.” And just like that, the moment passed, and he moved aside when she walked past him.
A part of her hoped he’d join her or stop her, but he moved to the fridge to pull out the contents for lunch. The white-gray T-shirt stuck to his body, emphasizing his broad back. Should I just ask him to join me in the shower? He was her husband, after all. These things happen between couples. Then her mouth clamped shut as her feet grew cold and she shook her head to clear the steamy thoughts. Nope, not today. And without another glance at the tantalizing view, she hurried to the bathroom, shutting the door behind her.
Why do I have to ruin it every time?
She would have had hot sex on the kitchen counter then and there only if she was able to shut her running mouth about being late. But what if she was late for a day? Her role as a kindergarten teacher was not that demanding and she could definitely afford a day off, considering she rarely took days off.
Was she really considering taking a day off so she could finish what they started? I must be really out of my mind.
Jacqueline blamed her friend Maya for the provocative thoughts plaguing her lately. She nonstop talked about her fantasies, and some of those had unconsciously taken root in her brain.
However, she couldn’t blame her bestie for being plagued by cold feet every time she was near her husband. Her strict orthodox upbringing was to be blamed for that too. Her parents controlled every aspect of her life until she went to university in a different city. They demanded obedience and their teachings ingrained in her mind since childhood, still influenced the way she acted most of the time.
She was used to suppressing her desire and lust-induced thoughts of the opposite sex so much that she had trouble expressing them to her husband. While she couldn’t ask for a better man than Matthew, their life lacked the adventure she longed for. And she was partially responsible for it. However, her husband understood as usual, and never pushed her for something she wasn’t ready for.
The next hour flew by and she sat in his car, fixing her makeup as they drove through the town. The drive was smooth. A small smile spread on her lips, watching the familiar hustle-bustle of the morning going around them.
Montogomery was a beautiful and quiet place to live in; tucked along the valley of rangelands and mountains. It was one of the least crowded towns in Linnesse. Almost everyone knew each other here, and she loved the close-knit community. It was also great for people who loved to ride horses, bike and hike.
Her train of thoughts came to a halt when they arrived at her school. It was time to switch into her teacher mode. She checked the mirror one last time and once satisfied with herself, she turned to Matthew, who was patiently waiting for her attention.
“I have to leave for a business trip tonight,” he said, clearing his throat.
“What?” Her eyes widened. He just returned last night after a week of being away. “Y-You just came back.”
“I know and I’m sorry I should have told you sooner.” His expression grew sincere, and he even looked remorseful.
So much for wanting the peace to last. She should have known nothing good lasts forever. He knew how much this pained her. She put up a strong facade in front of him though she knew he could see the hurt in her eyes. They always spoke for her, showing her true emotions. She blinked a few times and looked down at her lap.
“How long will you be gone?” Though she learned not to ask, she couldn’t help it this time. She missed him already.
“A couple of days…” he trailed off.
Right. The answer was always the same. Only those couple of days sometimes turned into weeks at a time. She tried her best to mask her dejection, not wanting to be the whiny woman who complained about anything and everything.
But what could she do? She didn’t know it would be like this.
“Why don’t you look for something else?” Her voice was low. She thought he’d be here for a while. She thought––
“I’m trying.” He took both her hands in his, threading his long fingers with hers. “You know jobs aren’t easy to come by, especially these days.”
“I wish you stayed longer.” She pouted, trying her best to mask that hurt.
Tears burned the back of her eyes and she prayed he hadn’t noticed them yet. She despised crying, especially in front of him. She was eagerly waiting for him to come back and even made plans to spend the rest of the night with him cuddling in their living room and watching a movie or two.
He squeezed her hand gently. “I’ll be back before you know it.”
Disappointment washed over her like a tidal wave crashing against the shore. She’d been hearing that same excuse a lot lately.
“Okay,” she uttered dejectedly, not meeting his gaze. But why did it feel like he was hiding something?
“Hey don’t give me that face.”
What face? She didn’t ask, but looked away. How was she supposed to act? They had only been married for six months and he had been barely home for a total of two months out of that if she counted all the days he was home. He was always traveling and rarely stayed home. Sometimes he was gone for weeks at a time.
“Jackie, please…” his voice begged. “Look at me.”
No. She didn’t want to, afraid it would give her thoughts away. He was good at reading her like an open book.
“I promise I’ll be back soon.” He cupped her cheek, turning her face toward him. His index finger hooked under her chin, lifting her face to meet his gaze. “Why don’t you plan a vacation for us? It’s been a while since we spent some time by ourselves.”
A sudden emotion bubbled within her chest, and before she could mask it, the corners of her lips lifted, betraying her only to simmer when another thought struck her. Yeah, we cut our honeymoon short because of your job, she wanted to point out but stopped seeing Matthew’s beaming face.
Her heart fluttered at that dashing smile, making butterflies take wing in her belly.
“I promise.” He pecked her lips, earning a sigh from her.
A knock on her window disturbed there a moment and caused her to twist her head.
“Hey, lovebirds, the kids are watching.” Maya winked at her, leaning over the car door, resting her elbows on the window as she looked inside. “Hey, Matt, how have you been?”
“I’m alright, Maya. You look great.” Matthew’s eyes crinkled with laughter. “I see you got your hair done. Those red highlights suit you well.”
“I know, right?” She fluffed her curls with a stunning smile. “I’ve been trying to get your lovely wife here to try it out for ages but she never listens to me.”
Jacqueline shook her head. Maya and her never-ending love for the latest trends. She could never keep up with her.
“When I tried your suggestion the last time, my parents grounded me for two months and cut off my monthly allowance.” She still remembered how she had to work overtime to handle her expenses.
Maya let out an exasperated sigh. “You don’t live with them anymore and you have a job now.”
Matthew placed a hand on hers, gently squeezing her hand. “Jackie, you need to do the things that make you happy. If you want a new haircut, then you should go for it.”
This was why she loved him so much. Always understanding and giving her the freedom to do whatever she wanted. Matthew was a great husband. There was nothing he lacked. He was loving and caring; always surprised her with little gifts. However, she couldn’t care less about those material things. All she wanted was him.
“I’m fine.” She forced a smile.
“Blah, blah, blah. Whatever.” Maya pushed off the window and stepped back.
“Don’t mind her,” she smiled at her husband. “Will you be home for dinner?”
Matthew kissed her knuckles, tracing the skin with his thumb. “I’m not sure, baby. But I’ll do my best.”
She swooned a little at the term of endearment. “Okay.”
“Come here. Gimme a kiss.” He pulled her a little toward him before crashing his lip on hers.
She sighed into the kiss and let her body relax. Jacqueline didn’t know how long she’d have to wait before they were able to kiss like this again.
He pulled back and caressed her cheek with his thumb. “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Jacqueline slipped out of the car and waved at her husband, watching him drive his car from the driveway. Her smile fell along with her hand as soon as the car disappeared from her vision.
“He’s going away again, isn’t he?” She didn’t have to look at her best friend’s face to know it was etched with concern.
“Yes,” her voice broke.
“Not here. Let’s go inside.” Maya held her elbow and dragged her toward the entrance.
Jacqueline plastered a tight smile on her face, greeting the fellow staff and students as they walked through the corridor before entering the staff room. Fortunately, they both were free until eleven, which was enough time to talk.
“I thought he just came back?” Maya groaned, dropping herself into the nearest chair.
“And, he is already leaving again?” Maya continued, handing her the coffee mug, waiting for her to continue. Her brows pulled together.
“Yes.” She could feel Maya’s patience thinning. “And nothing happened between you?”
Jacqueline looked down at the mug nestled between her palms. “Just once. Then this morning we kissed.”
She noticed Maya rolling her eyes from her peripheral vision. “For god’s sake Jackie, you both are married now. Why can’t you behave like a married couple for once?”
“We are behaving like a married couple,” Jacqueline replied offended and looked up, meeting her friend’s gaze to get her point across.
“Really? Then, tell me, he came home after a week and you had sex only once? You both are still newly married.”
“Maya…” Jacqueline’s shoulders slumped. She had no answer. Matthew’s job demanded that he travel a lot, and they could barely get time to spend together. She was lucky if he stayed for two weeks at a time.
She was exhilarated when he came back on Friday night. This was one of the best weekends they had spent together. He took her out for dinner on Saturday and they had ended the perfect night by making love. On Sunday, however, they were busy with church and the family dinner her parents invited them for out of the blue.
Her mood was spoiled as usual when they reached home, and she had gone straight to bed after changing. No sex or pillow talk whatsoever. Now she regretted ruining their moment together by sulking all night because of her parents’ constant nagging during the dinner.
“You know, there was a family dinner at Aunt May’s last night.”
Maya’s gaze softened. Her best friend knew firsthand how controlling and demanding her parents were. “Did they again demand you to pop out grandchildren while cock blocking you at every opportunity?”
Jacqueline’s shoulders slumped. She loved children and would love to start her family with Matthew, but not like this. Not when she was a frustrating mess, who still couldn’t say no to her parents or come out of her shell.
Maya pursed her lips. It was clear she wanted to say something but holding it back. After a few minutes, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Okay, Jackie. You really need to step up your game if you want a vibrant sex life. I’m gonna break it down to you, and you better listen carefully. Here’s what you’re gonna do.”
Jacqueline listened––her eyes widening and cheeks heating up as the talk proceeded. Her heart raced faster as determination slowly took root in her.
Matthew peeled his eyes off the rearview mirror. His wife’s tear-filled eyes kept flashing in his mind. It hurt him to leave her like that. He wanted nothing more than to fuck her this morning when she gawked at him in the kitchen.
Damn. He loved her bed hair and tousled clothes. He wanted those long tan legs wrapped around him when he took her hard. Matthew’s hands tightened around the wheel, his arousal straining against his pants. His fucking job had put him on a leash or… and the worst part of the whole situation was that Jacqueline, his beloved wife, didn’t know who or what he did for a living and according to the rules, he couldn’t tell her This was going to be harder than he thought.
The incessant ringing of his cell phone broke his thoughts, demanding his attention. His gaze fell on the phone that was mounted on its holder. He swiped it on and entered the code for the secure line.
“How’s the weather this morning?”
“As clear as it can get.” He rolled his eyes at the usual greeting of his partner and best friend.
“What’s the news?”
“Tipple is in town again. Two students are at the hospital. You’re needed at HQ. ASAP.” His jaw tightened.
The drive to the city was short, despite the moderate traffic at this time of the hour. “I’ll see you tonight.” Matthew disconnected the call as his car slipped into one of the city’s popular garage lanes. He had reached the destination in less than an hour.
He slowed down to a stop. “Is Mr. Buccelli in?” he inquired one of the guys who was bent over a vehicle.
“Yeah, you can go right in.” The tattooed mechanic, covered in greasy red overalls, tilted his head to the right.
“Got it.” He drove further, parking in the designated space before walking to Mr. Buccelli’s office. Viktor Buccelli was a middleman of sorts for many underground dealings that went on in the area. He also sold information for the right price.
“Oh, hello, Slayer, welcome back,” the bald man with a rounded figure greeted him using the name he used for purposes like this. A fake smile stretched on his dark lips with a hint of his tobacco-stained teeth.
Matthew shook his hand and took a seat. His features hardened as soon as the door locked behind them. He reclined in the chair and crossed his right leg over the left, narrowing the hard gray eyes at the bald man before him.
“I’m sorry, man. It’s just––”
Matthew’s fist landed on his jaw and he knew it’d leave a nice bruise decorating his jawline this time. He gripped the man by his collar, dragging him over the table. “You ratted us out,”
“T-They had my daughter,” Buccelli cried when he raised his arm again. “She is thirteen.”
Matthew’s hold on him loosened. “What did they ask for?”
“They wanted intel.”
“And…” His voice took a rough edge, leaving no place for denial or excuse.
“There was an exchange scheduled downtown. A one-hundred-million-dollar deal,” Buccelli swallowed. “I tipped them off. Didn’t know you would be there.”
Matthew let go of his grasp and straightened his suit jacket. “Your daughter’s home?”
“Y-Yeah,” Buccelli nodded and wiped the sweat off his forehead. “I’m really sorry, man. I was––”
“When is the next deal?” Matthew cut his sentence in the middle, not wanting to know more than required.
“The snakes don’t share those details beforehand. You know the drill.”
Yeah, he knew all too well. The location for such transactions was only shared a few hours before it happened. However, the snakes were the least of his concerns. He was after Tipple––the new drug in town that had claimed nine lives in less than three months. Now, two more were in the hospital, fighting for their lives.
“I’ll be in touch.” Matthew walked out of the small office and back to the car.