Free on Kindle Unlimited.
by J.S. Scott
Publisher Golden Unicorn Enterprises Inc
Free on Kindle Unlimited.
With his professional football career over due to a tragic accident, billionaire Kade Harrison takes on the task of solving a mystery for his brother-in-law, Max Hamilton. But the woman he's seeking, Asha Paritala, slips away from him every time he gets close to finding her. Asha is homeless, broke and damaged from a life of abuse and neglect. She's spent her entire life under the control of others until finally breaking free two years earlier, and she's determined to keep her freedom, but Asha is tempted by the possibility of family, and the irresistible lure of a man like Kade Harrison.
Southern California, Two Years Ago
The beaten, battered, and bruised woman lying on the living room floor of her apartment moaned weakly, barely conscious after the beating her husband had given her. She’d tried so hard to hide, to be in any room other than the one her husband had been in when he’d come home from work that day. Strangely, sadly, she was starting to know exactly when she was going to feel the pain of his wrath. Lately, it had been more and more often, usually for reasons she didn’t exactly understand. She didn’t talk back to him, she wasn’t disobedient, and she got all of her household chores done. It didn’t seem to matter. There was always some infraction, something that made her deserving of punishment.
Survive! Survive! Survive!
Opening one swollen eye, she stumbled painfully to her feet. Her husband had left in a rage. It was time. If she didn’t get out soon, she knew the day would come when she could no longer rise to her feet and leave. Her endurance was gone, but her will to live was stronger than guilt and shame.
Run! Run! Run!
Stumbling to her closet, she put together a few essentials, stuffing them into a battered bag. Grabbing her purse that held less than fifty bucks, she made her way painfully back to the living room, stopping as she heard heavy steps in the hallway.
Was he back? Please let it not be him.
Holding her breath, she waited until the footfalls passed her door, her entire body trembling with relief as she released the breath in a rush, and put a shaky hand on the doorknob. She took the keys from her purse and dropped them on the table beside the door, a symbol to herself that she was never coming back. Whatever happened to her in the future had to be better than her past.
She was alone.
She was damaged.
She was broke, with less than fifty dollars to her name.
And she was afraid.
But none of those things was going to deter her now. Taking one last, quick glance around the apartment, she acknowledged that nothing here belonged to her anyway, and it had never been home. It had been her hell, her prison. She had nothing to lose. She’d find a way to make a new life for herself.
Survive! Survive! Survive!
The woman fled and never looked back, hoping to leave her painful history behind her.
Kade Harrison had always liked games. He might even have to say that he lived and breathed just to engage in almost any type of sporting event. It was the one thing he was good at—the only thing at which he’d ever excelled—and he didn’t like to lose. Unfortunately, he’d been losing for the last two months, and it was really beginning to piss him off.
Where the hell is she?
Tracking down Asha Paritala had almost become a competitive sport. Kade had been working on cornering Asha for two months, traveling from one side of the country to the other, only to come up empty-handed every single time. He was losing this particular contest, and he didn’t like it. The woman was smart, ditching him before he could quite catch up with her. Kade had no doubt he and Asha were playing a game of cat and mouse, and she was avoiding him. God knew he’d left enough messages in various places that she must have gotten at least one of them. She was evading him for some unknown reason, but the cat was going to pounce. Just as soon as he could corner the cagey little mouse.
Letting himself into his Nashville hotel room, Kade pulled off his baseball cap and collapsed on the king-sized bed with a sigh. He’d have to call his brother-in-law, Max, and let him know that he’d failed…again. Asha had just left the homeless shelter a few minutes before he had arrived, and no one there had any idea where she was headed. She’d left her few meager belongings behind, so Kade had some hope she’d return, but nobody at the shelter really knew her, and nobody seemed quite certain where she was or if she would be coming back.
All’s fair in pursuit and winning this game. Newsflash, little mouse: I can fight dirty. You know where your stuff is…come and get it.
Grinning, Kade rolled over on the bed and grabbed up the bag with Asha’s belongings, only wrestling with his conscience for a moment about taking her things and leaving her a message where they could be picked up. He’d give them back if and when she showed up. In the meantime, he’d use any clue he could find to figure out exactly who she was and if there was any chance she was a lost sibling to Max.He’d wasted two months getting this favor done—tracking down a woman he didn’t know, a woman who could possibly be related to Max—and he was going to bring it to an end. Although his twin, Travis, did most of the work in Tampa for the Harrison Corporation, Kade did have some responsibilities that he’d insisted on taking over once his football career had ended, and he eventually needed to get back to Tampa.
He grimaced as he stretched his body out on the bed. His lame right leg was aching from two months of nonstop searching for a woman who he was beginning to think was nothing more than a phantom, an illusion. But he knew Asha Paritala existed, that she was real, and he was determined to find her. Maddie and Max deserved to know if this woman was their sister. Never mind that he hadn’t even gotten one tiny glimpse of Asha. He would. Soon. In some ways, he almost didn’t want the search to end. He’d felt more alive in the last two months than he had since his accident. Matching wits with the unknown female was a challenge, and there was nothing Kade loved more than winning a difficult game. Gut instinct told him that she knew he was looking for her. The question was…why was she running away? It wasn’t like he wanted anything except information from her, and it could gain her two siblings who she’d never known existed. There weren’t many people who wouldn’t want to be related to Max and Maddie, seeing as they were two of the richest people in the world— in addition to being two of the kindest individuals Kade knew.
“I’m not sure why I’m so damn impatient. It isn’t like I have anything else to do until Travis needs me,” he said to himself grimly, admitting that his twin rarely called on him for anything, and Travis never needed anyone. And it had left Kade feeling useless, restless. His days as a pro football player were over. His stint as a star quarterback for the Florida Cougars was nothing more than a memory, the one thing he loved having been torn away from him almost two years ago when a drunk driver had failed to see him on his motorcycle. His leg had been mangled all to hell when the inebriated idiot had moved into his lane and caught Kade’s leg between his truck and Kade’s bike. He didn’t remember much of the accident. But one of the first things he remembered with crystal clarity was waking up in the ICU, his longtime girlfriend, Amy, frowning at him as though he’d disappointed her. And obviously…he had. She’d dumped him right then and there, letting Kade know in no uncertain terms that she refused to be with a cripple who wouldn’t be a celebrity anymore.
Trying to slam his mind shut on the unpleasant and painful memories of his accident, he focused on the belongings he’d dumped on the bed: a few articles of worn clothing, a hairbrush, a toothbrush that had definitely seen better days, a large pad of paper and some well-used charcoal blocks and pencils. Pushing the other articles aside, he opened the pad of paper, mesmerized as he slowly flipped the pages, studying each drawing before going to the next.
Each image nearly leaped from the page, so real that it almost seemed as if they could jump from the paper and come to life in front of him. The drawings were fanciful—many of them looking like mythological creatures or animals—in the first part of the collection.
She’s an artist. A fucking amazing artist.
“Damn,” he whispered in an awed voice as he skipped some blank pages and came to another section, revealing her portraits. He didn’t recognize any of the individuals she had drawn. Obviously, they were ordinary people going about their daily activities, but he could feel every emotion on a drawing of an elderly woman’s face, a woman who looked like she was sitting on a bench at a bus stop, and he could almost share the joy of a group of children playing on a playground. Flipping through the rest of the pictures of people, he was dumbstruck by Asha’s talent. He was no artist, but the drawings could touch even his emotions, and he wasn’t a particularly emotional type of guy.
Kade felt his mouth go dry, and his gut lurched as he revealed the last picture, a man and a woman poised to engage in a passionate embrace. The male’s face was shaded, his head turned to the side, but the woman’s desire was so potently drawn that he could feel her naked longing, her desperation as she waited for the man she was embracing to kiss her. Long, silky hair cascaded down her back, her head tilted for his kiss, her face revealing unguarded need.
The words scrolled beneath the drawing hit Kade with a visceral reaction:
Someone! Someday! Somewhere!
Damned if Kade didn’t want to be the mystery man in shadow, the guy to kiss the woman breathless, provide the passion he could sense she desperately wanted. He knew exactly how she felt; he’d felt the same way. In fact, he still felt like that every time he saw his little sister Mia and her husband Max together, or his friends, Sam and Maddie, and Simon and Kara. All of them had found their mates, the person who made them feel whole, and the happiness that surrounded those couples was almost ball-bustingly painful for a man like him who felt so alone, so solitary.
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J.S. "Jan" Scott is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author of steamy romance. She's an avid reader of all types of books and literature. Writing what she loves to read, J.S. Scott writes both contemporary steamy romance stories and paranormal romance. They almost always feature an Alpha Male and have a happily ever after because she just can't seem to write them any other way! She lives in the beautiful Rocky Mountains with her husband and two very spoiled German Shepherds.