Beth Yarnall’s sexy and emotional Recovered Innocence series continues as two broken souls discover that keeping their hands off each other is even harder than facing their demons.
Beau: Six years. That’s how long I spent behind bars for a crime I didn’t commit—the murder of the woman I loved. Now I’m free, but life on the outside is a different kind of prison. I don’t know who I am or who I want to be. At least I have my sister, Cora. She never stopped believing in me. She even got me a job at the private investigation agency that cleared my name. And then Vera Swain walks into Nash Security and Investigations and kicks my world on its ass.
Vera: There’s only one thing that would make me come out of hiding after two years on the run: finding my sister. I made the mistake of telling a monster about her, the same monster who beat me and broke me. Now I’m forced to confide in Beau Hollis of Nash Security and Investigations. He looks at me like he knows me—the real me. He sees too much, makes me feel too much. The pleasure he offers is exciting and addictive. But I can’t fall for him . . . because my love could get us both killed.
Cora goes through the photos of Vera’s sister, Marie. “What do you think of Vera’s story?”
“What do you mean?”
“You have a pretty accurate bullshit detector.”
“So do you.”
“Yup, and I’m asking you what you think.”
I drop into my chair and put a hand out for the papers and pics. She gives them to me and I leaf through them slowly, studying each one, practically memorizing them. Vera’s handwriting is precise. All of the letters are the same at the bottom, like she used a ruler to keep them in perfect line. If I’d ever taken a handwriting analysis course I could probably tell a lot about her from her scrawl. Control. Vera wants and needs control. I got that much from meeting her. The meticulousness of her lettering confirms it, but while she tries to keep her writing neat, it swirls unexpectedly, slipping past that control. I’m going to have to Google what that means.
“Well?” Cora’s impatient for my answer.
“I don’t think it’s bullshit, but I also think she didn’t tell us everything she knows.”
She nods, confirming her own suspicions. “Do you really think that’s her sister?”
“Yeah. I do.” Vera had a strong emotional reaction to the photos of Marie. They’re connected for sure.
“Well, I guess it’s time to find out if our hunches about her are correct or not.”
“What do you mean?”
“We run background checks on all of our potential clients. They ran one on me when I first came to them about you.”
“Nope. We need to make sure she’s on the up and up and that we’re not putting the person she’s looking for in any potential danger. Abusive husbands sometimes use PIs to find their wives. We want to make sure we’re not setting this Marie up to be victimized.”
“I don’t think—”
“She might not be who she says she is. She might’ve come here helping someone else out. She harmless, but you never know. We have to be sure. I want you to run a background check on her. We need to know that Vera’s legit and that we’re not putting this girl in harm’s way.”
I glance up at my sister. She’s serious. Vera didn’t strike me as someone who would purposefully hurt someone else, not when she’s been so badly damaged. Taking on this task would give me the opportunity to learn more about Vera, and that’s something I definitely want to do. But it also feels like a betrayal. I know what it’s like for people to know everything about me without actually me. I’d essentially be doing the same to Vera.
“I don’t know.”
“It’ll have to be done whether you do it or not. Please. I could really use your help.”
I can’t say no to Cora. She could ask me to cut off my right leg and I’d do it. She’s done more for me than I could ever repay.
“Leo’s coming down today,” she adds. “He can help you.”
She’s tamping down her excitement, but I see it in the smile that won’t be confined. Her boyfriend coming down to visit from UCLA means I’ll be sleeping with pillows piled on my head tonight. I don’t mind. Much. Leo makes my sister happy, and that’s pretty much all I need to know about him. If it weren’t for him taking on my case and helping Cora get trained in private investigation, I’d still be sitting in a cell and Cora would still be spending all her time and money trying to get me free. I like the guy, but it’s part of my job as Cora’s big brother to make sure he does right by her.
“You can do this,” she says, correctly reading one of the reasons for my reluctance. “It’s easy.”
Cora’s faith in my Internet searching skills is out of proportion with the couple hours I spent today learning how to do it. And as much as I don’t want to pry into Vera’s background, I also don’t want anyone else to do it.
“Okay.” All my reasoning doesn’t make me feel less shitty about what I’m going to do.
“We could use some help around the office. I was thinking of asking Mr. Nash about hiring you on . . . if you’re interested.”
“So I can terrorize Savannah permanently instead of temporarily?”
“You don’t terrorize her.”
I lift my eyebrows in response.
“She might be a bit nervous around you,” she concedes. “She’ll get over it.”
“In the meantime, I’ll have to learn to ignore her flinches and suppressed screams?”
“I’ll get Leo to talk to her.”
“Thanks for the job offer, but no, thanks.”
“I could really use the help.”
What she doesn’t say is that I need a job so I can move out of her small garage apartment and get a place of my own. She’d never kick me out, but with Leo coming for a visit, her six-hundred-square-foot studio is about to get very, very crowded. Since no one else has been interested in hiring me, this potential office job could be the start of an employment record I can build on. I need a job and money. What I don’t need is a reminder of my past every time Savannah squeaks like a mouse caught in a trap.
“This isn’t some bullshit charity offer, is it?”
“No. Mr. Nash isn’t in the office as much as he used to be. He’s trying out semi-retirement so we’re a man short. I really do need the help. What do you say?” She’s not lying. I’d know it if she was.
“You really think I’ll be any good at this investigation stuff?”
“Yeah, I do. You caught on pretty quickly, and the rest isn’t hard. Basically, all it takes is tenacity, and I know you have that in spades. Start here. See where it goes. If you don’t like the work, you can always quit. I won’t hold it against you, and neither would Mr. Nash.” She puts her hand on mine to stop my drumming fingers. “You have to start somewhere, Beau. It might as well be here.” Her voice is quiet yet pleading.
I know my inability to figure my shit out worries her and I can’t keep disappointing her. She’d tell me I’m not, but I know I am. I’m disappointing myself. She’s right. I have to start somewhere. I have to find something that makes me want to get out of bed in the morning. Maybe this is it. At the very least, maybe this job will help me figure out where to go next.
“Let talk to Savannah before you go to Mr. Nash,” I tell her.
“Okay.” She does a little bounce in her chair, her lips curling inward like she’s trying to suppress a grin.
I wish she wasn’t so excited. If I can’t get Savannah to stop looking at me like I’ll jump her, this whole conversation is a waste and so is Cora’s enthusiasm.
Beth Yarnall writes romantic suspense, mysteries, and the occasional hilarious Tweet. She discovered romance novels in middle school and hasn’t stopped writing since. For a number of years, she made her living as a hairstylist and makeup artist and co-owned a salon. Somehow hairstylists and salons always seem to find a way into her stories. Yarnall lives with her husband, two sons, and their rescue dog in Orange County, California, where she’s hard at work on her next novel.