Ali Keats never thought she’d grow up to be a cat-burglar-for-hire for a ruthless and slightly crazy billionaire mobster. However, life doesn’t always turn out the way you plan it, and suddenly Ali finds herself risking everything for the jewel-obsessed kingpin. She’d get out if she didn’t have so much at stake, and if she weren’t falling, hard, for her villainous boss’ brooding, complicated right hand man.
Leo Santello has been gathering information on his boss for years, waiting for the right moment to bring his empire toppling to the ground. However, beautiful Ali Keats is going to ruin everything, if she doesn’t get herself killed first. Leo can’t resist the sparks that fly between himself and the fearless cat burglar, but can they build a life together? Or is there no escape from the world of crime and violence they’ve become accustomed to?
A sexy, dangerous romp with plenty of pretty, shiny things to distract our heroine and her reluctant suitor! Watch the sparks fly!
By Lily Rede
“HOW IS THIS A better idea?” hissed Ali to Leo as they crossed the cemetery to join the large crowd gathered around a gravesite.
“You’re still breathing, aren’t you?” countered Leo, keeping her elbow in a firm grip.
Ahead, the mourners were putting on a credible show of grief for the sake of Hunter McLeod, a tough-looking Irishman whose soft blue eyes were at odds with the harsh line of his jaw. No matter how his eyes brimmed with emotion, Leo knew he was a stone-cold killer. An old school Irish priest performed the service as McLeod’s family, extended family, and business associates all tried to look appropriately sorrowful that Johnny Shannon, that piece of shit, had been killed in an accident aboard his yacht.
An accident in which I crushed his skull to keep him from killing Ali Keats.
Leo felt guilt hit him low in the belly – not that Shannon was dead – it had been a kill-or-be-killed scenario. However, even he recognized that turning up at the man’s funeral was not in good taste. Beside him, he could feel the tension in Ali’s frame, though she seemed cool and collected in the tasteful-yet-sexy black dress and half-veil she’d donned, worried that someone might recognize her from the yacht. Leo was less concerned – he’d checked the chatter, and though McLeod was enraged at the death of his right hand man, no one had gotten a good enough glimpse at the perpetrators to identify them.
The priest droned on and on, and Leo scoped the crowd – he recognized most of McLeod’s gang, his wife, the mistress she didn’t know about, and his four children. Absently, he wondered what it would take to be accepted into McLeod’s inner sanctum. If he survived long enough to take Nico down, targeting Hunter McLeod wouldn’t be a bad option.
Ali threaded her fingers through his, her skin warm and soft, and suddenly, Leo was assaulted by another vision – a life without guns, without violent men, drugs, brutality. A job that let him hold his head high and return home to Ali, to hold her close through the night without secrecy, lies, or regret.
Leo felt lightheaded.
“Are you sure we’re even going to get into the reception?” asked Ali.
“There are so many people here that I doubt even Hunter knows all of them. All we have to do is offer our condolences, shake hands, and sneak upstairs.”
The dark gloves Ali had in her clutch were made of a special textile that would absorb McLeod’s palm print, which would in turn allow them access to his vault. Leo had used up half his favors to discover that McLeod had moved the cooler from the yacht to his fortress-like estate just outside the city, and the other half to get details on the vault behind the hidden door in McLeod’s bedroom.
It wasn’t the most impossible mission to accomplish, but Leo had managed to convince Nico that it was a walk in the park. Leo shuddered, just thinking about how close they’d come to disaster.
He dropped his hands.
“Hey Boss, I’ve got a better idea.”
“I gave you an order, Leo.”
Nico’s voice was soft, but chilling.
Leo could feel Ali trembling against him, and kept his chin up, his eyes cool and confident.
“You want me to kill her, I’ll kill her. But it seems like a waste when we can use her to get that cooler.”
“She failed to get the cooler, if you’ll recall,” sneered Mila as she entered the room, and Leo had to force himself not to lunge at her.
“Well, if you have a plan to acquire it, I’d love to hear it,” said Leo smoothly.
Mila glared at him, fury in her eyes.
“She’s still the best option we’ve got.”
“And what is this brilliant idea?” asked Nico, pouring himself more coffee.
“I killed Johnny Shannon,” said Leo.
“Really? How thoughtful of you. The man was a vile little toad.”
“McLeod is going to go all out for his funeral. Everyone will be distracted, and he and his goons will have the public eye on them. While they’re busy playing nice with the media, we nab the cooler.”
“He’ll have moved it from the yacht by now,” offered Ali, the slightest quaver in her voice, “but there are only so many places McLeod would feel safe putting it.”
Nico stirred his coffee.
“Do you think you can ascertain the whereabouts, Leo?”
“Shouldn’t be a problem, Boss.”
Mila snorted indelicately.
“He just wants to fuck her, Nico. Why are you listening to this?”
“Sex can be a powerful motivator, my dear.”
He tapped his fingers on his cup, thoughtful.
“I don’t generally give second chances, Ms. Keats. But I do want that cooler, and Leo is not a man who has let me down in the past.”
Ali tensed further, and Leo had to struggle not to notice.
“So, let’s do this. The original deal still stands. You bring me the cooler as I asked, and when you’re done, your brother will be free, but you’ll thank Leo with the use of your body for a night. When he’s finished with you, he can decide whether or not he wants to let you go. If you fail, I’ll have Jonah brought here and he can watch Leo and my guards fuck you before I have Leo kill you both.”
“So either way, I’m fucked?” asked Ali wryly.
Leo surreptitiously pinched her ass in warning as Nico’s eyes flashed.
“Do we have an agreement?”
They were damned lucky that McLeod decided to hold Shannon’s reception at the estate. The cooler could have been moved to any number of McLeod properties outside the city, but the estate made sense – it was secure and it was close, which had Leo wondering again what the hell was in that cooler, and why McLeod would need to have it on hand.
ALI WAS ON EDGE, which was not surprising given the number of ways she’d nearly been killed in the last few days. She’d slept like the dead last night, with Leo’s hard body wrapped around her. He’d gone overboard pampering her, making her dinner, massaging every inch of her body, using his mouth and hands to pleasure her into a boneless heap. Ali had a sneaking suspicion he was trying to make up for nearly killing her in Nico’s home – or whatever he’d been planning to do. She’d tried to bring it up, but Leo refused to talk about it, so Ali simply let herself be taken care of for once, letting her thoughts scatter under the hot stroke of Leo’s tongue through her folds.
When she woke up this morning, however, her suspicions returned in full force.
“Who are you, Leo? And what the hell are you doing with Nico?” she’d asked him in the car on the way to the funeral.
“You know everything you need to know,” is all he would respond, which wasn’t an answer at all.
The silence in the car had been deafening, and Ali had wondered if Leo could hear her thoughts whirling in her head.
“Did you think I would actually kill you?” he’d finally growled.
“You’ve killed before.”
Leo hadn’t had an answer to that, but his grip on the steering wheel was white-knuckled.
“Whatever you’re hiding, Leo – if you want to get out of this life, if you’re working for someone else – you can tell me, Leo,” she’d said, softly.
“Let’s just get through this,” Leo had retorted, and that was the end of the conversation.
Ali peered around the cemetery crowd through the gauze of her half-veil. She didn’t buy for a second that a shit like Johnny Shannon deserved this kind of outpouring of compassion and remembrance, but Hunter McLeod looked legitimately distraught. Ali supposed that even mobsters had friends – once, long ago, they’d been young idiots together, watching each other’s backs. Seeing Hunter McLeod’s eyes fill with tears as the priest gave his final blessing, she wondered if anyone would cry over her own death other than Jonah. Probably Sam. Maybe Leo.
Although maybe not if he’s the one who does the deed.
But the more time she spent with Leo, the more she wondered about him. He’d killed Johnny Shannon, brutally and without mercy, but only when there seemed to be no other choice. In the past, he’d “dealt” with various enemies and traitors at Nico’s request, but one day they were there, the next they were gone. Out of sight, out of mind – she’d never seen him pick up a gun and just shoot someone, for example.
He could be remorseful.
He could be undercover.
Ali filed that away for later as the crowd started to drift back toward their cars to head to the estate for the reception. She’d moved heaven and earth and managed to bribe one of Sam’s old forgery contacts, the best in the business, to create an invitation that would fool even McLeod’s men. The drive to the estate was silent, which was just as well. Ali was nervous, considering everything that could go wrong, trying not to dwell on Nico’s threat of extreme sexual assault followed by death at the hands of a man she was growing to care about, trying not to think about Jonah. They had to make this work, one way or another.
Leo tossed the keys to the valet and handed Ali out of the car, tucking her arm in his as they joined the other fashionably dressed mourners on the long path up to the stately Georgian mansion. Leo looked beyond hot even in the conservative black suit he’d chosen, but Ali couldn’t even muster her usual snarky flirtation – there was too much at stake. Two steps from the door, Leo paused, turning her to face him and tilting her chin up with a gentle knuckle.
“I don’t suppose there’s any chance in hell you’d stay downstairs and let me take care of this?”
Ali scowled, jerking her chin away.
“Which one of us is the cat burglar here? Do you have any idea how to open the vault?”
“You could tell me.”
Ali rolled her eyes, but kept her voice low.”
“Do you have any idea how stupid that sounds? What the fuck is going on, Leo? You keep offering me a way out, when you’re the one who should be running for the hills.”
Leo was silent for a long moment.
“I don’t want anything to happen to you,” he finally admitted.
“Neither do I,” snapped Ali, “but you putting yourself in danger left and right for my sake doesn’t exactly leave me feeling all warm and fuzzy. Do you think I want to see you get yourself killed because of me?”
Leo was still, his jaw clenched tight, but emotion shone in his blue eyes, and Ali found her insides melting into gooey, fluttery squiggles as he cupped her face, his thumb stroking her jaw.
“You’re so beautiful,” he said, “Inside and out. You’re like a light. I don’t think I could stand seeing it go out.”
“Why do you stay?” breathed Ali, “What did he do to you that you would put your life on hold for him?”
“Nothing,” insisted Leo, “And there wasn’t anything to put on hold.”
Ali felt her heart break for big, tough, Leo Santello, who had revealed so much with one terse little comment.
“Will you tell me about it?”
“Maybe,” he said, and kissed her, soft but thorough, twining his fingers in her hair as he took her mouth.
He let her go, and Ali took a deep breath, licking the taste of him off her lips and taking his arm again as her heartbeat returned to normal. She adjusted her half-veil, reapplied a quick layer of lip gloss from the tube in her purse, tugged her dress down to reveal a little more cleavage, and smiled brightly.
“Now, let’s go get that fucking cooler.”
CHAPTER 13 COMING SOON!
I have six chapters of SHINY THINGS left to write, and unfortunately, other projects have taken priority. But never fear! I have not forgotten them and will hopefully have the entire novel finished by the end of 2013, along with the first chapter of PRECIOUS THINGS, so watch this space!