I hope you’re all staying healthy and surviving social distancing. This pandemic is scary stuff, and as much as I’m really worried about everyone’s well being, I am enjoying all the time I’m getting with my family. Puzzles, games, video games, movies, we’re having all the fun. I’ve also been reading all the books that have been sitting on my e-reader for a year.
Today, I’ve got a love/hate thing going on. I’m so excited Rhett and Kinsley are finally here. I connected with their story so much, and I’m really proud of this book. But as much as I’m excited today, I’m also bummed that this is the end of the Dangerous Love series. I’m totally not ready to say goodbye. At all. Truthfully, I really, REALLY want to write King’s story. He kept trying to take over during the Dangerous Love series. Plus, he makes me all types of curious. But with Three Chicks Brewery and the Phoenix series coming this year, my schedule is full. Hopefully, one day, I’ll revisit his story and explore the bad guy, who might not be so bad after all.
Stay well, friends, and please let me know how you’re doing!!
START READING TODAY!
USA Today bestselling author Stacey Kennedy delivers a riveting story about a former army ranger who will stop at nothing to protect the woman he loves.
He has what it takes to protect her from everyone . . . except himself.
Bar owner Kinsley Knight knows exactly what she wants: Rhett West. How could she resist over six feet of hard, trained, physical perfection? Never mind that she’s been in love with the guy since high school, or that she’s the “kid sister” of his best friend. Never mind that one unforgettably intense and heated night they shared—and the unexpected consequences. Because Kinsley’s determined to have Rhett . . . and she’ll do whatever it takes prove to they’re meant to be.
But Rhett can’t afford to get distracted by the mind-blowingly hot night he spent with Kinsley, or the insatiable hunger he still feels for her. She’s off-limits. Especially now that Rhett’s been investigating a vicious biker gang who have invaded his town, and they’re intent on putting Kinsley out of business—permanently. Suddenly, all of Rhett’s protective instincts have taken over. Because no one threatens Kinsley on his watch. Not now. Not ever. And Rhett’s ruthless enough to protect Kinsley no matter the cost. Even if it means risking his heart . . .
“Gimme another whiskey, tits!”
Kinsley let the drunk’s rude remark roll off her back. He’d never been in her jazz club, Whiskey Blues, until tonight, and since today was her twenty-ninth birthday, the last thing she wanted was to deal with this jerk. As the owner of one of only two bars in Stoney Creek, a small town hugging the coastline in Maine, she was used to a rowdy customer every now and again. She’d purchased the dive bar with the inheritance her grandparents had left her right after college, and she had redecorated right away. She’d left the bar’s original flagstone walls, but she’d brought in burgundy velvet chairs and added an abundance of gold accents to the space, as well as four large crystal chandeliers to bring warmth and class to the bar. It had taken more than a few years to get the bar off the ground and running, but now she had a waitlist of jazz singers to play on the shiny black stage set in front of the round tables. Every single part of this bar was her heart project, and she’d never been prouder of what she’d built there and the success the bar had seen in these last six years. Therefore, a few vulgar slurs and drunken fools she could handle.
“Hey, blue eyes, did ya hear me?”
Kinsley finally sighed and acknowledged the man. She took in his lost dark eyes, the deep wrinkles set in his face. It didn’t take much to see that the man had been through hard times. It looked like he’d lived three lives already. She swallowed back the verbal lashing sitting on the tip of her tongue and met the gaze of the head bartender, Benji. He stood at the far side of the bar, wearing jeans and a black T-shirt with WHISKEY BLUES written across his chest. Benji obviously caught the conversation, his mouth set in a tight line, and his sharp green eyes locked on to Kinsley. She gave a quick nod, and Benji disappeared into the back, only to return a few moments later with Justin, the cook, who did MMA fighting as his hobby.
As the sweet and tender voice of Annabella, a new singer to Whiskey Blues, filled the room, entertaining the crowd, Justin approached with a powerful stride and a body packed full of hard muscle. “Problem?” he asked, sidling up to Kinsley, his stern gaze roaming over the man sitting on the stool.
“This gentleman needs to go home now,” she said. “He’s not using his nice words.”
Justin’s mouth twitched but any and all amusement fled when he looked at the drunken man again. “Do I need to help you leave, sir?” His voice was polite but also laced with a warning. “Or can I stay here and watch you leave?”
The unruly man gave Justin a hard look, taking in the corded muscles on his forearms and the size of his biceps, then cursed and stumbled toward the door, giving them a rude gesture on the way out.
“His nice words?” Justin laughed, turning back to Kinsley.
She shrugged and grabbed a rag near the sink. “It must be a full moon or something; that’s the third rude person tonight.” She’d seen it time and time again. Full moons made people act…wild.
“Well, let’s hope that’s the last,” Justin said.
She nodded. The shadow beneath his eye was a reminder of the tourist from last weekend who had decided Justin was his mortal enemy. Luckily, Boone had been in the bar that night, stepping in when Justin took the powerful punch. “Thanks for coming to get him on his way.”
Justin saluted her. “It’s what you pay me the big bucks for.”
She laughed. He wasn’t lying. She did pay him more than she would a short order cook, but she was glad to have the extra muscle on staff.
While Justin headed back to the kitchen, she took away the man’s empty glass and wiped down the bar.
“If that’s not your cue to get out of here,” Benji said, stepping in next to her, “I don’t know what is.” He leaned a hip against the side of the ice bucket and folded his arms. Being a few inches taller than her, Benji could certainly hold his own. “Do I need to remind you that you own this bar? You make the rules. Why the hell are you working on your birthday?”
Lately, all Kinsley had been doing was keeping herself busy. She didn’t even try and pretend she didn’t know why… Rhett. “What can I say, I just love you so much, Benji. Why would I be anywhere else but here with you?”
Benji flashed his charming grin, his unruly blond hair falling down over his brow. “I am pretty lovable, aren’t I?” He nudged her in the playful way they were accustomed to ever since they’d spent two hot weeks together—long before she hired him as head bartender.
“Truly.” She smiled.
Benji’s grin fell. “Seriously, though, get out of here. Lola and I’ve got the bar tonight.” Lola was the other bartender on staff, whom Kinsley had hired after Remy quit to open up her own New Age magic shop next door.
She knew she needed to face tonight. Another birthday…alone. “I’ll help until Lola comes then I’m outta here,” she said.
“Good.” Benji flashed her his cute grin that always won over the ladies. It had made an impact on Kinsley too, until the lust died between them and all that remained was a good, solid friendship. “Any big plans for tonight?” he asked.
Kinsley tried not to flinch. And failed. “Does watching reruns of Friends and eating a bag of chips count as big?”
Benji frowned. “Kinsley, you’re twenty-nine, not dead.”
She certainly wasn’t dead, but she wasn’t sure what she was anymore. Bored, lonely, and everything in between. She tried not to feel emotional that no one had dropped in today to greet her—not her brother or Peyton or her father or Remy. They’d all been so busy with their lives, it seemed they’d forgotten her birthday. “I’m sure we’ll end up doing something next weekend.”
“You better,” Benji said, right as the bar’s front door opened.
Three men entered. All tall and wide in the shoulders. The one leading the group held Kinsley’s gaze as he approached. Shaggy brown hair, dark eyes that held little warmth, and lips that curled at the corners like he had some wicked insight. “I’ll grab these guys,” she told Benji. “Wanna make sure we’re all stocked up before things get busy tonight?” In two hours, the bar would be packed full because of the headline singer coming in from Nashville.
Benji’s attention stayed with the men entering the bar before he looked at her and nodded. “Yeah, sure.”
When he disappeared into the back room, Kinsley closed in on the three men sliding onto the stools at the bar, catching the RED DRAGON crest on the arms of their leather jackets. The biker gang hailed from Whitby Falls, the larger neighboring city to the north. They were bad news, a ruthless, dangerous motorcycle gang, who killed often, and never asked questions. Her dad, brother, and late grandfather were all cops, and growing up, Kinsley had heard stories of these guys. Terrible stories of murder, greed, and more murder.
“Welcome to Whiskey Blues,” she greeted them, placing three circular coasters down on the bar with the club’s logo of a guitar in neon blue and WHISKEY BLUES written in a bold yellow. “What can I get ya?”
The man who’d led the group inside ignored her question. Instead, he said, “Cute place.”
“Thanks.” She forced a smile, even though his tone made it clear that he meant to insult, not praise. “What can I get for you?” she repeated.
“Whiskey. Neat. All around.”
She turned away, fighting against the slight tremble of her fingers before she forced herself to get it together. Men like these got off on scaring the public. She’d never give them that satisfaction. She reached for three shot glasses then grabbed the whiskey bottle behind her bar, feeling their gazes examining her every move.
She poured the shots. “Enjoy.”
The same man grinned darkly, sending a chill straight into her bones. With his gaze set on hers, he lifted the shot glass in salute then downed it. There was something disconcerting in the way he watched her. A little too closely, knowingly almost. Though what truly worried her was the gun she saw resting beneath his leather coat.
After a lifetime around cops, Kinsley knew to trust her instincts, and her inner alarms screamed at her. While the other two men polished off their shots, she quickly moved to the other side of the bar, the hairs on the back of her neck rising with every step. She grabbed her cell phone from her back pocket and dialed her brother.
“Dammit,” she spat.
She tried Asher.
Again, no answer.
The room began to swallow her up. A quick look back, and the leader smiled at her again. Not a nice smile, but more of a I’m-going-to-eat-you-my-dear grin. She really didn’t want to make the next call. For two weeks she’d been trying to get in touch with Rhett. He’d never returned her call. Not once. She’d even showed up at his house one night. He didn’t answer the door, even though she knew he was inside.
But the tightness in her gut and the steady thumping of her heart had her texting Rhett: 911. That was their code for call immediately.
Her phone rang a second later. “What’s wrong?”
Rhett’s low smooth voice sent goose bumps racing across her arms. “Wow. You actually called me back.”
There was a pause. A long pause. One that went on and on, with all the awkwardness that had been present between them ever since that hot night in the tropics. And yet…and yet…Kinsley wouldn’t go back and change a thing. It didn’t matter that Rhett could barely look her in the eye anymore, or that he never came into the bar, that night had changed her life. In good ways that she’d never regret.
“Are you in trouble?” he finally asked, breaking the heavy silence.
“Maybe. Are you busy right now? There’s some guys that just came into the bar—”
“I’m on my way.” The call ended.
She released a breath and slid her cell phone into her pocket then shuffled back to the bar. Neither of the three men had moved, still watching her with their creepy eyes.
“Sweetheart,” the leader said in a voice that stole any warmth from the word. “Another shot for me and my guys here.”
She avoided the coldness in his stare and grabbed the whiskey bottle on the back wall then refilled the shot glasses. “Let me know if you need anything else,” she told them.
“Oh, I definitely need something else,” he purred, a scary edge rising in his gaze.
Kinsley sighed heavily, making sure he heard. There was one thing she hated more than drunk rudeness, and that was arrogant cockiness. “Listen, I’ve already kicked out one person tonight. Wanna be number two?”
The guy’s wink sent off warning bells in her mind. “Now that sounds like an interesting night.”
And just like that, she’d had enough of men tonight. She craved her bed and some peace and quiet to have her pity party over her terrible birthday. But right as she went to turn away, the man latched on to her wrist. Hard. She whirled back to him, but any insults she planned on yelling at him died. His stare penetrated her, practically stripping her skin off and peeling back the layers until he found her weak spots.
“Remove your hand.”
The sharp order snapped her attention up. She released a shuddering breath, both in relief to find Rhett had arrived and surprise at the venom in his voice. But too soon all she felt was a heady warmth brought on by his closeness and the dangerous glint in his rich chocolate brown eyes and black hair. Rhett was intimidating. He’d left for the military as a kid and come back home stronger and all grown up. Now thirty-three years old, Rhett’s body was made up of solid muscle from dedication to being in top form. He was a bit too rough to be called handsome, but Rhett was pure masculine perfection, and Kinsley was there for all of it.
The man’s fingers only tightened on Kinsley’s wrist. “We got a problem here, West?” he asked.
Rhett slowly gestured toward her wrist, those eyes now blazing. “Do you need assistance removing your hand, Dalton?”
The fact that Rhett knew him only made Kinsley feel better about calling. The man squeezing her wrist was a well-known criminal. She sensed the bar go quiet, the customers at their tables slowly turning to watch them. She stood frozen, her free hand moving to her belly as her earlier dinner went leaden in her stomach. No sounds crept in except the quickening of her heartbeat in her ears. Until the guy squeezed her wrist again. Hard. She flinched against the pain, and then everything happened so fast.
Rhett took Dalton to the ground, which nearly pulled her onto the bar since the biker fought against letting go. The other two men jumped to their feet, their stools kicked to the side, but Rhett was ready with his weapon aimed in their direction.
A beat passed.
“Do not toy with me, Dalton,” Rhett growled, his attention on the standing men.
“You can leave,” Rhett went on, “or I can take you down to the station.” He dug his knee into Dalton’s back, easily pinning him with a fierce hold on his neck.
It was the absolute worst time for Kinsley’s attention to roam over Rhett’s bulging biceps and the corded muscles on his forearms. Heat rolled over her. Outnumbered, Rhett looked bold and brave and damn near the sexiest thing Kinsley had ever seen in her life.
Dalton laughed gruffly. “Ah, West, I didn’t know she was your girl. My apologies. We’ll go.”
Rhett was off him a second later. Both his hands were on his weapon now, not aiming at anyone specifically, but Kinsley knew that if he needed to take them out, he’d do so in a second, without a blink of an eye. The trained soldier was coiled, ready.
Dalton jumped to his feet and brushed off his jeans. “Still a quick bastard, I see,” he said, grinning at Rhett. Then his gaze swept over Kinsley, roaming from head to toe. “Didn’t realize you were a claimed woman. Too bad, princess. We could’ve had fun.”
“Go home, Dalton,” Rhett warned. “Last chance.”
It occurred to Kinsley why Rhett didn’t correct Dalton’s assumption that they were together, and it had nothing to do with caring for her. If Dalton thought she was with Rhett, a Stoney Creek detective, he likely wouldn’t come back. Which was fine by her. She didn’t want Dalton to come back. Ever.
Dalton gave Rhett a slow smile before returning those cold, hard eyes to Kinsley. She found something so unsettling about him but couldn’t quite pinpoint the reason.
Before she could figure it out, he was gone, his men following behind him, and finally, Kinsley could breathe again.
“Are you all right?”
Kinsley forced a nod. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m okay.”
But she wasn’t okay. She was anything but okay. It had been two months since she’d seen Rhett. Everything she felt for him hit her like a punch to the gut. And she realized the greatest threat to her hadn’t left the bar but was standing right in front of her.