Ever since her father was killed when she was eight years old and claimed as another victim in the senseless turf wars in her hometown of South Brier, twenty-year-old Jules Hanover has been dead set on becoming a police officer. She can't stop until she finds the man responsible for destroying her childhood. Fresh out of the police academy-with no one taking her seriously-and coming out of a bad relationship, her friend offers to take her out to the hottest nightclub in town to lift her spirits.
Only she has no idea she's walking into trouble.
When her ex shows up and the club erupts into chaos, forcing two undercover officers to reveal themselves, Jules thinks she's ruined. But when the tall, handsome bartender saves her life and takes a special interest in her, a door opens. Suddenly, Jules is thrown into a world where no one is exactly who they appear to be and the slightest misstep could mean forfeiting her life.
To stay under the radar she'll have to stick close to the man who saved her, but the longer she's in this world, the harder it gets to remember the truth from the lies. Before the mission is over, she may have to answer questions she's not ready to face.
When her phone rang for the fifteenth time that day, Jules was beginning to think she might actually need to change her number. She looked at Ash's number flashing on the screen and hit the red end button to decline the call before switching her phone to silent. She moved to pocket her phone, though not quickly enough. Her eyes lingered over the last messages he'd sent.
I'm sorry babe. Please call me back.
You're making a mistake Jordan, you need me. Call me.
You can tell yourself you didn't want it Jordan, but I know you loved every second of it. Let's not play games. Come home.
She could imagine it, practically hear the bite of his words, see the way the corner of his eyes tensed, and feel the way his fingers pressed into the softness of her neck while he pulled her in. The way her heart stuttered while she braced herself for the sudden loss of air while he squeezed and the way he slowly drove her back onto the bed. How her eyes went unfocused and she left her body to ignore everything that came next.
They were stopped at a red light and Landon was watching her with one hand on the steering wheel, the other fixing the radio at his shoulder. "Sorry. Log's done," she finished writing down the rest of the details of their last call and then placed the notebook under her seat.
"Good, let's go ahead and get back to the station."
"Great," she kept her eyes locked ahead, closing off any questions he might have. The sun was starting to set over the city of South Brier, which meant two things: her shift was over and she had officially been awake for over twenty-four hours. Coffee had gotten her through most of the day, but she could feel her body on the verge of crashing.
At least she could look forward to crashing in a bed instead of a sofa now that Sarah had cleared out space in the guest room.
It would be a bitch starting over. All her things were back in the little one-bedroom she had shared with Ash for nearly two years. She could go back for them. She knew exactly when Ash would be gone for work, could wait until he was gone, and then go in. Jules' chest tightened at the thought.
No. She couldn't go back there.
The drive back to the station passed in a blur. Her mind hardly remembered the trip to the locker rooms where she somehow managed to throw her clothes back on correctly and grab her keys. God, she seriously needed some shut-eye. Jules made the drive back on pure auto-pilot without killing anyone. Well, ninety-five percent sure. The doorman greeted her with a smile. "Morning Ms. Hanover."
For the life of her, she couldn't remember his name, so she gave him a brief hello and called down the elevator. She'd have to ask Sarah again. The moment she stepped inside Sarah's apartment she let loose the sigh that had been knotted in her chest all day. Her body was screaming for sleep but also a good long shower and some food, but she was very likely to pass out doing either of the latter. So she threw her bag onto the floor and kicked off her shoes.
When she fell onto the guest bed her whole body seemed to give a collective sigh and melted into the soft, cool comforter. She couldn't even bother to crawl beneath it. For a while, her mind was blissfully numb. But then her fingers curled in, grasping at the sheets and her breathing grew heavier.
Last night played over again. That look in his eyes, cold and electric. Like a snake about to strike. His hand coming to her throat. Squeezing tighter and tighter. She could practically feel it. Her knees weakening and her body following her down, down, down. Her hands shook while she heard the belt slip loose.
"If you're gonna act like a slut, I'm going to treat you like a slut."
She was shaking. Suddenly the room felt too small. The air pressed in around her. She couldn't breathe.
Her eyes flew open and her hand came over Sarah's where it touched her shoulder. "Sorry. You were…" the words trailed off. Like maybe she could see the shame in her eyes.
Jules brought her hand up, pushed long amber hair out of her face, and glanced at the clock on the nightstand. It was nearly eleven. "Did you just get home?"
"No, no. I did some grocery shopping and got in around seven-thirty. I saw your stuff by the door so I figured you were in here and I'd let you sleep in for a while." Unlike Jules, it was clear Sarah still had energy to space. Her sleek copper brown hair was pulled back in a neat ponytail, makeup done up impeccably to bring out her sharp green eyes, and she had on a tight little black dress that showed off her figure.
"You got a date tonight?"
"Actually… we have a date tonight." Before Jules could protest she had taken her hands. "Listen, I know things have been seriously shitty lately. And I just think you need to get out and have a little fun. Just a girls night!"
Jules groaned, even with six hours of sleep under her belt she just didn't think tonight was the night. "Not tonight Sarah. I'm not really in the partying mood."
"Are you ever?" she teased, but then her eyes softened. "But seriously. When's the last time you did anything fun? You've been stuck between work and home. I think going out for a little bit might help… take your mind off things." It was the way Sarah's eyes lingered on her face, studying the tired lines and tension that seemed to settle deep into her neck that made Jules look away. She could hardly blame her for being worried. "We'll go for a little bit, just try it out. If you really hate it we can come back. I promise."
Jules looked down at their hands. More than anything, she wanted Sarah to believe that she was okay. She hated being another weight on someone's shoulders, especially her. She'd already done so much… taking her in and staying up with her half the night until she finally felt like she could breathe again and he wasn't there in every shadow.
"Okay? Okay!" Jules blinked as she felt Sarah's full weight careen her way. The hug caught her off guard and she felt the bubble of laughter build in her chest.
"Uh, just one problem with this plan Sarah."
"I don't have anything to wear."
Everything she owned was back at her and Ash's apartment. The only things she'd managed to grab last night were some clothes and whatever was in her purse, but she hadn't exactly been thinking about girls' night out when she'd packed up her suitcase.
"I know. That's why I made an extra stop on the way home," she darted out of the room and came back holding a shoebox in one hand and a slinky wine-red dress in the other. "Before you say anything-I only bought the shoes because I didn't have any in your size. The dress is mine. And no, you will absolutely not pay me back."
The words she'd been about to say died on her lips. "Fine, but I'm cooking dinner tomorrow." Not like that was ever a debate. They both knew Sarah's cooking was okay at best. She took both items from her friend and started to change into them while the other girl disappeared again. When she came back she was holding a makeup case and smiling like a kid who'd just gotten a shiny new doll.
"Time to make a little magic."
Forty minutes later, Sarah finally declared her work done and let Jules walk over to the full-length mirror by the dresser. Eyelashes curled, nails painted, hair teased into a half-up-half-down style with a couple of braids thrown in at the sides. When she looked into those pale gold eyes streaked with silvery blue she hardly recognized herself. She couldn't remember the last time she'd even worn makeup. Sarah had made her look… beautiful.
"What do you think?" She beamed from beside her.
Jules worked hard to swallow past the aching in her throat. If she ruined this mascara she was pretty sure Sarah would kill her. "That you're the most amazing best friend and that there's an eighty percent chance I'm going to die in these heels."
"One, I know. And two, at least you'll go out looking like a badass bitch."
"Let's go break some hearts."
They'd ended up heading out into the west side of town, deep into the nightlife district where all the best clubs and restaurants were in South Brier. Apparently, there was some really hot club that she'd been meaning to hit up for a while but it was a little hard to get into.
Sarah seemed pretty convinced that with Jules at her side they had a pretty decent shot of getting in.
Jules wasn't so sure.
"Girl, no one is turning you down. Not with those boobs and that ass."
She couldn't help but blush. Jules was fit, she knew that. But she'd never really considered herself much to look at beyond that. She spent most of her time in uniform-which wasn't exactly made for showing off the figure. And when she wasn't at work she usually threw on an oversized t-shirt or sweater and some shorts or leggings.
When they pulled up to the club and joined the line, Jules really started to question her decision. The cold night air thickened around her. The strapless dress with a plunging neckline that only came halfway down her thighs really didn't do much for warmth. She wrapped her arms around herself, missing her baggy sweaters all that much more.
Thankfully they weren't out there long. One of the bouncers came down the outside of the rails, picking out men and women from the line to send to the front of the line. He pointed at Jules and waved her off. She started to ask, unsure if he was really pointing at her, but Sarah linked their arms together and led the way forward in long steady strides. No one even looked at them twice as they made their way toward the doors. She looked like she belonged there, like the world was there at her feet and it had never been any other way.
Jules looked like the little girl tagging along to her older sister's party and trying her best to look like she belonged.
She blinked at the burst of color. Bright magenta and violet lights cascaded down from the ceiling, broken up by beams of teal that cut through and crossed across the dance floor in a mesmerizing way. Booths and tables were lined up around the main floor, sectioned off by small half-wall partitions and gauzy tulle hanging drown off metal hoops suspended from the ceiling. A small bit of fog coiled around the floor, giving it all a very otherworldly feeling.
And also made her feel like turning around and heading straight back to the car. Especially when she caught a few guys staring at her like they were considering how to approach her. She wanted to say 'No, you don't want me. Trust me'. Her eyes practically begged them to. "Sarah I don't-"
"C'mon!" she tugged Jules forward into the throng of bodies before she could say more. Even if she tried, she wasn't sure her friend could hear her over the waves of music that crashed into her from all sides. If not for the fact that she'd probably get lost and never find her way out again, Jules would've turned back around. But she held fast to Sarah's hand, trusting in her as she led them to a space where they could stand without bumping elbows with someone every time they moved. "Just follow the music," Jules shouted and threw her head back while moving her body to the rhythm.
At first, she couldn't move. What was she supposed to do with her hands? She'd never gone to a proper dance or even a party like most other teens. She was too busy getting shuffled from one group home to another and trying not to let her grades slip. There was never time for anything else.
But in the frenzied crowd, she was the only static and it showed. People were glancing her way and it felt like they knew she didn't know what she was doing.
Follow the music.
If she could drag a hundred and fifty pounds for the exam and earn a 340 on her marksman test then she could figure out how to dance. Or at least fake it. Jules was a bit awkward at first, but she watched Sarah's movements and started to copy them. It was like her body was waking up for the first time. Sluggish, inelegant. But then her body loosened up and she stopped looking at the crowd. Stopped wondering about who was watching and what they were thinking. Stopped thinking about Ash and how he would've dragged her out and told her to cover up.
She didn't have to worry about that anymore. It was over between them. And didn't she deserve to be a little happy?
Sarah beamed at her over her shoulder.
Jules felt herself smiling back.
It wasn't long before she felt her mind go blissfully numb. She closed her eyes and let her body go. She felt lighter than she had in a long time. And the guilt she felt melted away.
But eventually, she came back down and laughed as she clutched Sarah's hands. They leaned in closer together so Jules could tell her she was going off to find a drink. Sarah offered to go with her, but she was having fun so she told her to stay. Weaving through the crowd was harder without Sarah as a compass, but she managed. The room felt cooler off the dance floor and she breathed in the gentle scent of gardenia and honeysuckle. Just enough to catch it without it feeling stuffy and overpowering.
Jules waited at the bar to order her drink. Though just when she was about to order a figure overshadowed her and jostled her to the side. The guy didn't even bother to look at her. He was too busy flirting with the shiny, platinum blonde at his side. She cast him a look. She didn't know what came over here, but the words just came out.
"Actually, I was next."
The guy, to his credit, glanced back at her long enough to stare down her dress before scoffing and turning back to his date. She wasn't worth his time. Jules sighed and was ready to just let it go.
"What're you having?" The bartender passed a drink down to another patron.
"I'll have a-"
"Wasn't asking you." The man behind the bar shook a few messy chestnut waves out of his face as he set both hands down on the counter. When he leaned forward to meet her eyes they never strayed from her face. She felt the color rise to cheeks as she held back a smile.
The asshole beside her was fuming.
"Spritz," she answered and tried to not look so pleased.
"You got it." The slow smile was enough to put a little warmth in her belly.
The guy and his date ended up walking away, leaving the end of the bar now mostly empty. "Thank you, by the way," she pulled her hair together over one shoulder.
"Don't need to thank me," he finished pouring and slid the drink toward Jules, but his hand lingered. She hadn't expected him to, so she reached for it and felt their hands touch. Pulling back felt like it would've seemed awkward, so she didn't. His baby blue eyes fixed on her, completely unfazed. "Guy was an asshole."
She smiled. "I don't think he's ever heard the word no before."
"He'll get over it." The man pulled his hand back finally and started cleaning up the bar a little, but he didn't dismiss her. Which surprised her. "First time?"
Jules blinked. It wasn't until he looked back up from his work and stared at her that she realized he was still talking to her. "Oh uh, yeah actually. Came in with a friend. Well, more like dragged me in."
Something in him shifted and his smile was softer. "Boyfriend?"
Ash immediately jumped to the front of her mind. Her shoulders dropped a little and she grasped her arm tensely. "No. Just a friend."
The guy's smile fell and he watched her carefully. It'd been the wrong thing to ask, he knew. But he didn't press. Just nodded. "You and your friend got a name?"
Jules opened her mouth to answer.
Her stomach plummeted. She forgot to breathe and her hand closed around her drink so tight she was sure she'd shatter it. She turned around carefully, slowly. She didn't even notice the bartender tense and head toward the bar hatch. He came around, stepped closer to her.
"Ash." His name was an exhale, a whisper.
"This is why you're too busy to pick up?" He glanced around, rubbed his jaw with a smile that was all too sweet. "You know I was worried. I thought you might be hurt. I even called you at work."
"I'm sorry. I didn't -"
"You didn't think what?" He stepped closer. "That I fucking care what happens to you? And while I'm thinking you might be dead in an alley you're over here dressed like this."
Their little exchange had drawn a crowd. Even people on the dance floor were starting to look their way, their attention pulled from the haze. Someone was pulling out a cell phone and it suddenly hit her. She'd left her phone in the car but… "How did you find me?"
Ash's jaw worked. "You're coming home Jordan. Now."
"Did you track my phone?" She kept backing up three steps for every one he took forward. A solid chest pressed into her back and then she was pushed behind someone. The bartender.
"I think you need to go."
There was a flicker of something sharp in Ash's eyes. "Are you fucking him? Wow, you work fast."
"C'mon, you don't want to do this. You're drunk. I'll call you a cab."
"How about you stay out of this? Jordan," he tried to peer around the man's tall frame to meet her eyes. "Let's go."
"That's not happening."
It all happened so fast. Ash reached behind him and she saw the flash of metal. He was ten feet away, but it felt like he was only inches away. Gun. Her mind froze even while someone shouted around her and she was thrown back. A loud pop exploded into the silence and someone crashed on top of her. A second later she was dragged behind the bar counter and screams ripped through the club.
Somehow through the chaos, she heard a voice tearing through it all. Calling her name. Sarah. She hoped she stayed far enough away. There were more shots fired off. People rushing for the doors and knocking into one another to be the first ones out.
She tried to sit up, but he was still sprawled over her. "Are you okay?" He moved off her enough to allow her some room to breathe but kept low. "Can you move," he eyed the door behind them. They needed to get to a safe place until help came. Someone must've called the police by now.
"Yeah," she moved to set up and immediately came crashing back down when her hand slipped on something slick. Her head hit the floor hard. She winced. When she brought her hand up to her face it was wet with blood. It was pooling just beneath her leg.
The last thing she saw was a pair of blue eyes staring back at her and then darkness.