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Authors: Naima Simone

Tags: #Secrets and Sins#1

Gabriel

Secrets and Sins: Gabriel

Naima Simone

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product
of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events,
locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright ©
2013 by Naima Bryant
. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in
any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact
the Publisher.

Entangled Publishing, LLC

2614 South Timberline Road

Suite 109

Fort Collins, CO 80525

Visit our website at
www.entangledpublishing.com.

Edited by Tracy Montoya

Cover design by Fiona Jayde

Ebook ISBN 978-1-62266-083-4

Manufactured in the United States of America

First Edition
June 2013

The author acknowledges the copyrighted or trademarked status and trademark owners
of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:
Twelve Days of Christmas
, The Temptations,
Little Drummer Boy
, Disney, Florence Nightingale, Nurse Ratched,
World of Warcraft
, Wal-Mart,
Real Housewives of Orange County
,
Dick Tracy
, Prozac,
New York Times
, SIG Sauer,
Deep Throat
, Häagen-Dazs,
Richard Castle
,
Cujo
, Stevie Wonder, Rambo, Pledge,
Beauty and the Beast
, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Homey-the-Clown,
the Hulk
, Manolo Blahnik, Band-Aid,
Boston Children’s Hospital, Chevy, Häagen-Dazs, HarborWalk, Humpty Dumpty, Matchbox
Toys, Mickey Mouse,
Ray-Bans,
Scooby Doo, Tic Tac
.

To my husband, Gary, who took my dream and made it ours. I live a fairy tale every
day, and it’s because of you—my fairy godmother and Prince Charming rolled into one.

Table of Contents

Twenty years ago, Leah Bannon’s beloved Uncle Richard vanished without a trace. Leah,
now a private investigator, begins to suspect it was murder. When she reopens the
cold case, Gabriel Devlin—the man she loves but can never have—insists she stop her
investigation.

Only four people know the truth about Richard’s mysterious disappearance—Gabriel and
three childhood friends—who have all sworn to take that secret to the grave. But a
hidden enemy wants those shocking secrets brought to light…even if he has to kill
to make it happen.

After experiencing an unimaginable loss two years ago, Gabriel refuses to put himself
through the pain of loving someone who could be gone in an instant. But as he thwarts
Leah at every turn—both to keep his friends’ pact and to keep her safe from danger—the
sexy PI makes it impossible for him to protect his secrets. Or his heart…

Chapter One

Charlestown, Massachusetts

“On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, fiiive golden rings…”

With a smile, Gabriel hit the radio button on his dashboard. Mickey Mouse and the
gang cut off mid-“Twelve Days of Christmas,” and The Temptations’ “Little Drummer
Boy” spilled into the car.

Much better
. He shook his head. He adored Ian, loved being his father, but listening to Disney’s
Christmas CD without his son in the backseat went over and beyond his parental duties.
He chuckled and wondered what cartoon-inspired holiday music Maura listened to in
the green car ahead of him. A meeting with his literary agent in New York, a late
return flight back to Boston, and last-minute Christmas shopping that needed to be
completed after leaving her parents’ Christmas party had prevented him from sharing
her fate.

He hated shopping. But with Santa making his visit in two days, Maura had charged
him with picking up the eleventh-hour gifts Ian had requested. Given the choice between
driving by himself or riding in the car with his family and spending those few extra
moments, Gabriel would have chosen his wife with the ever-increasing “Honey, do…”
list and the boy with the high-pitched, off-key voice every time. But neither he nor
his wife was strong enough to resist their son’s pleas of, “I just gotta have—” How
the boy remained so sweet-natured when both his mother and father spoiled him rotten
remained a complete mystery.

Gabriel’s fingertips tapped the steering wheel in time to the song’s beat as he slowed
at an intersection behind the family compact. Anticipation and delight streamed through
him, lighting him up like the bright bulbs on the seven-foot tree in their living
room.
One week of nothing but family, friends, and relaxation
. After he completed the enormous list of chores Maura had planned for him, maybe
he’d go down to the pub and have a pint, soak up the atmosphere, and get another story
idea brewing. The forecast called for several inches of snow in the coming days. Maybe
he and Ian could get outside and build a snowman. Then he could convince Maura to
take an afternoon nap. He grinned and eased his foot off the brake. God, he loved
Christmas.

He slowed for the yellow light, then came to a stop as it blinked to red.

Maura didn’t.

He yelled out a warning she couldn’t hear as her car didn’t brake but coasted through
the light and into the intersection.

The world slowed until it moved through a transparent wall of glue.

A pickup truck slammed into Maura’s car. The compact bowed around the truck’s front
fender like a steel embrace.
The piercing screech of metal scraping metal. The shrill squeal of rubber on road.
The scream. The horrible scream

In one painful instant, time warped from slow to Mach 3.

“No!” Gabriel’s bellow filled his car, bounced off the windows, and crashed in his
head. With fumbling hands, he slammed the gear into park and reached for the door
handle. Animal grunts scraped his throat as he jerked the handle over and over.
The lock
, a tiny, sane voice whispered.
The door is locked
. The part of his mind that hadn’t given over to panic heeded the instruction and
punched the automatic-release button on his armrest. He tumbled from the car and hit
the pavement.

The impact scraped his hands and knees. The burn of grit and asphalt biting into his
palms and legs rode a distant second to the horror that swamped him.

Lunging to his feet, he tore into the street.

Barely registering the pickup driver’s hunched, unmoving body, he darted to his wife’s
car.

His feet skidded to a stop at the driver’s side, and his fingers clawed at the door.

“Maura,” he whispered. Her head was slumped against the window, her auburn curls pressed
to the glass in a dark halo. “Sweetheart,
no
.” A hard yank and the door shuddered open. His wife flopped into his arms, the seat
belt a harness around her limp body.

In seconds, he had the belt unsnapped and her lying on the ground. Blood streaked
her forehead and cheeks. A hoarse wheeze rattled from her chest.

Oh God. Oh God. Oh God
.

He mumbled the litany over and over as he jackknifed to his feet and lurched for the
back door. Christmas presents toppled from the car, spilling onto the street like
gaily sprinkled confetti.

With a harsh curse, he yanked the last of the boxes out and crawled into the backseat.

Ian—oh, Jesus, Ian…


Gabriel snapped upright, the bedcovers falling around his waist.

His chest rose and fell on the harsh breaths echoing like great blasts of wind in
the shadow-shrouded room. Perspiration tickled the overheated skin on his neck, chest,
and abdomen. Grief, a leaden weight in his gut, completed the trifecta of physical
repercussions he suffered as a result of the nightmare.

Jesus.
He moaned, scrubbing a rough palm down his face and then back up. He wasn’t surprised
the dream had come. He’d been up writing for over twenty-four hours and had been bone-weary
when he’d stripped off his clothes and tumbled into bed around 5:00 a.m. He’d plummeted
into sleep and had been unable to fight the night terror that had plagued him for
two years now.

Two years.

And yet he continued to dream in high definition and Technicolor. Pain sliced through
his chest with a rusty knife. Thoughts of Maura and Ian still maintained the power
to bring him to his knees.

He glanced at the digital clock on the nightstand. 9:13 a.m. He’d slept a little over
four hours. And still felt like shit.

With a groan, he fisted the covers, then threw them aside. The sweat cooled on his
chest as he shifted his legs over the edge of the mattress and rose. No point lying
in bed. Sleep wouldn’t come back to him—even if his eyes felt as though they’d been
replaced with road gravel. Might as well shower, fix coffee, and write—the routine
of his life. Eating was a crapshoot and showering could be iffy, too. But coffee and
writing…well, those two kept him sane. And out of the bottle.

He stood with a sigh and unbuttoned the jeans he hadn’t bothered to remove before
falling into bed. Before he shoved the denim down, he slipped a hand in his pocket
and removed the small coin he was never without. He reverently placed the gold piece
of metal on the dresser, his fingertip stroking the engraved etchings of a laurel
leaf and lion. Inhaling a deep breath, he headed toward the bathroom, threading his
fingers through his hair. Residue from the dream clung to him like wisps of fog, clammy
on his skin, clouding his thoughts. He reached inside the shower, twisted the knobs
until the temperature and pulsing of the water was hot and punishing.

The water sluiced down over his head, stinging his shoulders and chest. It cleansed
his body but couldn’t wash away the metallic scent of despair that coated his nose
and mouth as if he’d sucked on a penny-flavored Tic Tac. The images of Maura and Ian
couldn’t be scrubbed away with soap and a loofah.

He flattened a palm on the wall and squeezed his eyes closed as if he could physically
block out the images—twisted metal, blood, gasoline-soaked gifts.
Those fucking presents
. He curled his fingers, so they resembled talons against the wet, blue-tiled wall.
To this day he hated Christmas.

With a low growl, he picked up a washcloth and the bar of soap, and ruthlessly rubbed
his skin. More than once he’d wondered what had occurred inside the car in those few
seconds before it entered the intersection. Had Maura been talking and laughing with
Ian? Had they been singing carols? Had Ian been playing with that coin he’d received
at the mall while out shopping?
God, I hope so.
Not for the first time Gabriel prayed to an indifferent God that his son hadn’t seen
the collision coming.

Anger sliced through him like a hot blade. Why hadn’t Maura been paying attention?
Why hadn’t she heeded the red light and stopped? Hadn’t she known he would be lost
without them?

Shame rushed in, a hot, stinging salve spread on the wound of his rage. Of course
she would have never voluntarily left him. Nor would she have caused harm to Ian.
Her last words had been about their son.
“Save our baby first
.

And he’d been unable to save either of them.

Shit
. With a vicious twist, he shut off the faucets. If he could, he’d have Memory Lane
permanently blocked off and a damn
Do Not Enter
sign posted at its entrance.

Fifteen minutes later, he jerked on a fresh pair of jeans and a black sweater and
padded out of the bedroom toward the kitchen and coffee. The hardwood floor was cool
under his bare feet as he entered the large, open dining area. The bright beams of
an early morning sun streaked through the floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room,
bathing the condominium in a cheery kaleidoscope of gold and orange. It was beautiful…and
yet completely lost on him. The pricey condo could’ve offered a view of a brick wall
spray-painted with the symbols of whatever gang dominated the area, and he wouldn’t
have given a rat’s ass.

When he’d searched for a place to rent two years ago, the one selling point of the
Charleston waterfront apartment hadn’t been the incredible view of the Charles River.
Nor had it been the spacious two bedrooms, two full baths, or grand fireplace that
a full-grown man could stand in—why he would do that, though, beat the hell out of
him. No, the lure had been the immediate availability. When his best friend, Malachim
Jerrod, had suggested he move into the condo—one of the Jerrod family’s many real-estate
investments—Gabriel had accepted the offer and property, sight unseen. He hadn’t cared.
His main priority had been escape. Remaining in his former family home had been a
blasphemy, and he’d moved out days after Maura’s and Ian’s—

The alluring scent of freshly brewed coffee permeated the air, and he gratefully grabbed
a cup from the cabinet, cutting off that particular line of thought.

Silence was his companion as he retraced his steps down the hall and into the second
bedroom containing a desk, chair, and computer. He waited, sipping coffee as the computer
went through its familiar clicks and whirls, booting up for the next few hours’ work.

Settling into his chair, he felt a desperate anticipation stumble through him. During
those first six months after Maura’s and Ian’s deaths, he had almost believed he’d
lost the desire to create. But as if that part of his soul, too, had required time
to heal, the need to write had slowly emerged again. Altered, darker, but also stronger.
Probably because his damaged psyche realized if he didn’t have the outlet of creating,
he truly would have climbed into a grave and not come out.

His stories, his imagination…they were his lifelines.

Here, at this desk, Gabriel was in control. No horrible tragedies could occur unless
he willed it so. No one died unless he decided they did. Here, in this makeshift office,
he didn’t teeter on the edge of an alcohol-and-grief-fueled oblivion. Here, with his
ass in the chair, he was all-powerful, not helpless or weak.

With a few taps of the mouse, he pulled up his work in progress and minutes later
became absorbed in the dark world of suspense, treachery, and murder.

“Gabriel.”

Several hours later, he heard the voice as if from a distance, like the insistent
annoying drone of a bee. His mind resisted its call, waved the mental equivalent of
a swat, and dug deeper into his story.

“The first slice sang through him like a beautiful, sensuous aria. The soft give of
flesh hit him in the chest, a soaring first note that must be followed by another…and
another…”

“Gabe.” A pause. “I know you hear me somewhere in la-la land, and I’m not going away.
So you might as well come up for air and answer me.”

Damn it!
With a growl, he jerked his head up, bared his teeth. “What?” he snapped.

Leah Bannon, his best friend and current pain in the ass, stood at the corner of his
desk, a plate piled high with two thick sandwiches and chips in her hand, a pleasant
smile on her lovely face, and a determined gleam in her fairy-green eyes. This wasn’t
the first time she’d shown up in his apartment unannounced and uninvited with meals,
groceries, a broom, rag, or bucket of warm water. He tried not to dwell on thoughts
of her sweeping out empty bottles of vodka from under his bed. Or how she’d broken
down in the early days after the accident, screaming and weeping when she’d discovered
a .45 automatic under his pillow.

The knowledge that she’d seen him at his worst humiliated and angered him. Over the
last two years, he’d ordered her to leave, get the fuck out, mind her own business.
Yet no matter how many times he barked, demanded, and yelled, she refused to go away.
Refused to leave him. She was a cross between Florence Nightingale and Nurse Ratched.

“Good afternoon to you, too,” she drawled, and set the plate next to the keyboard.
The aroma of fresh sourdough bread, mayonnaise, and the sweet tang of ham tantalized
his nose and elicited a demanding rumble from his empty stomach.

He frowned.

She arched a slender brow as dark as her midnight-black ponytail.

Shit. He hated when she was right.

“How many times do I have to tell you that key is for emergencies only?”

Leah smacked the heel of her palm against her forehead. “And here I thought saving
your skinny carcass from wasting away any further counted as an emergency.”

She smiled, easing the sting from her jibe, but not its validity. Her eyes flashed
with a devilish twinkle as she playfully tousled his hair. Gabriel stiffened. And
not because the juvenile gesture irritated the hell out of him.

He wished his reaction was that simple. But he knew why every muscle locked—understood
why tension vibrated through his body like a plucked guitar string on the verge of
snapping.

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