Author: Emily Goodwin
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: October 6
Grayson King is anything but royal…
Pepper Davenwood is the embodiment of class…
They say opposites attract, but what happens when they collide?
Recently released from prison, the only thing Grayson wants more than a fresh start is a chance to prove himself to the only woman he’s ever loved. But with a past he can’t talk about, a criminal record he can’t explain, and the mess his father left in wake of his sudden death, Grayson knows it’s not going to happen.
Until it does.
And now that he’s back in her life, Grayson realizes the very woman he’d give up everything for might be the one to take it all away. Because the heart knows no limits when it comes to love, and Grayson will do whatever it takes to keep Pepper safe.
Even if it means breaking the law…again.
Copyright 2016 Emily Goodwin
I stop in the middle of the driveway, hot sunlight warming me in my leather jacket, and watch her cross through a breezeway, heels softly clicking on the cobblestone. Wind blows her hair around her face, and strands of gold shimmer in the sun. Laughter floats through the air, hardly audible over the bubbling fountain surrounded by perfectly groomed white flowers. She’s busy talking on the phone as she gets into a black Tesla, and doesn’t even see me.
But it’s not the first time I’ve seen her, nor is it the first time I’ve walked up these thick, stone steps leading to the Davenwood Manor. I set my gaze on the dark oak double doors, covered in intricate carvings and the letters “D” and “W” etched into the frosted glass.
The Tesla quietly comes to life and takes off down the driveway. I turn, unable to help but admire the beauty of both the car and the driver. I don’t like the way my heart flutters when I get a glimpse of her face in the rearview mirror. Her golden brown hair tangles behind her in the wind as she accelerates. She’s so grown up, miles from the scraggly girl I used to run around with. I blink and turn back to the doors, noticing a security camera tucked away in a corner of this ostentatious covered porch, and knock on the door.
Just seconds later, the door is pulled back and I’m hit with a blast of cold air.
“Good afternoon,” a voice comes from inside. I’m not able to see the speaker in the dark foyer. “Mr. King, I presume?”
“Yes,” I say gruffly.
The outline of a butler dressed in all black comes into view. He bows his head slightly and extends his arm. “Come in.”
I step inside the century-old mansion, remembering the first time I set foot in this place twenty years ago. I couldn’t wait to get inside then, thinking it looked like a place Bruce Wayne might have spent his childhood before he turned into a vigilante. And maybe—just maybe—there could be a badass billionaire living in here too that I’d stumble into when I got lost on my way to the bathroom. That never happened, of course, much to my childhood disappointment.
“Mr. Davenwood is waiting for you,” the butler continues and turns, leading me through the foyer. The place is dim, and all the dark wood and faded paintings aren’t helping. Weird, how I feel so closed in from the lack of light when this place is fucking huge. The same familiar smells hang in the air: wood polish, leather, and an earthy perfume. The scent of the rich.
I follow behind the butler. I’ve been in here before, but can’t navigate around all 20,000 square feet. The house darkens the further in we go, and I can’t help but feel like I’m walking into the belly of the beast. The butler opens another set of heavy oak doors, and steps to the side. Sunlight pours through two-story windows that are surrounded by bookshelves that run from the floor all the way to the ceiling. A balcony runs around the perimeter of the bookshelves, and a metal ladder is attached to the shelves. A large desk is situated in front of a cast iron spiral staircase. A man who I haven’t seen in years sits at that desk. I pause, keeping my face neutral. Those years have not been kind to him.
“Grayson King.” With a crunch of leather, Alcott Davenwood rises from the tall chair and buttons his navy blue jacket. “It’s been too long.” He gives a curt nod to the butler, who steps out of the library and closes the door. Alcott turns his attention back to me with a slight smile on his thin lips.
I move my head up and down, unsure of the etiquette of the rich. I don’t really give a shit, but I’m too curious to make a wrong move and piss the guy off. We haven’t seen each other since my father’s funeral six years ago, and suddenly he’s calling me, asking that I come from my home in California to this estate in New York with no explanation as to why.
“Thank you for coming,” he says and moves around the desk. “You look well, considering.” Standing a few feet in front of me, he looks me over before clapping me on the back. The greeting is over quickly, and he extends his hand to the velvet couch. I sit on the edge, flicking my eyes around the library.
Alcott goes back to his desk, and with a heavy sigh, sits in the tall chair. He puts his elbows on the desk and swallows. “You’re wondering why I called.” He’s not asking; he knows I’m in the dark. “There’s no easy way to put this, and you know I’m not one to bullshit around things.”
I don’t know that, because I don’t know Alcott Davenwood. My father did, and the years of friendship and trust between them has created some sort of weird bond between the man and myself. If my father trusted this man, then I trust him. My father didn’t hand out trust and friendship to just anyone. And if it wasn’t for Alcott, his attorney, and his money, my father wouldn’t have been able to get custody of me and I’d never escaped my drug addicted mother living in a run down apartment in the ghetto of Chicago. I’ve only seen Alcott a few times in person, but I know I basically owe this man my life.
That’s never a good debt to have.
“I’m dying.” Alcott’s voice cuts through my thoughts.
“What?” I say, even though I clearly heard him.
“I’m dying,” he repeats and puts his hand to his chest. “Lung cancer.”
I blink, not knowing what to say. “I’m sorry…but why are you telling me?”
Alcott lets out a hearty laugh. “A fair question. I’m a businessman, Grayson. Protecting my assets is a priority, and there is nothing more important to me than my daughter. I’m sure you remember her.”
Of course I remember Pepper Davenwood. She’s not someone you can ever forget. Though judging by the way she peeled out of the driveway in her expensive car, she sure as shit doesn’t remember me.
“Pepper is safe, well guarded. She knows this. Hell, the world knows this. No one will touch her…while I’m alive.”
Silence falls between us as things click into place. “How long do you have?”
“The doctors gave me six months.”
“How long ago?” I find myself leaning forward.
“Six months ago. I’m on an experimental drug that’s giving me more time. But as with life, it’s never enough.” Alcott inhales deeply and looks out the window. His face remains stoic, but I catch a glimpse of emotion in his eyes. A ruthless businessman coming from a long line of rich assholes, Alcott Davenwood has made a fair share of enemies in his day. His gray eyes move back to me. “I assume you know why you’re here now.”
“I need someone capable,” he begins to explain. “You’re a man with a particular skill set, one that can come in handy while protecting my daughter.”
I feel my chest begin to tighten as it hits me that Alcott Davenwood knows me a hell of a lot better than I know him. It makes sense though; I wondered how the hell my father was able to pay my bail and afford that lawyer just months before he passed. I swallow hard and look at Alcott, still having a hard time wrapping my head around how someone like him—a high society man, with an aristocratic family tree, and more money than God—could be such good friends with a man like my father, who’s biggest claim to fame was becoming VP of The Jackals Motorcycle Club for three years before his heart attack.
Alcott Davenwood and Nicolas King were polar opposites. Maybe that’s why they made such good friends, kept the interest in each other’s lives. My father rarely spoke of his time in the Army, but I know that’s how they met.
“And,” Alcott lowers his voice, leaning forward over his desk. “I need someone I can trust.”
I raise an eyebrow. “You trust me?” I could bust out laughing right now, but don’t. The thought of something happening to Pepper is sobering.
“I do trust you,” he says, speaking each word slowly. “You are your father’s son.”
“You know my past…I’ve done some bad things,” I blurt.
Alcott’s eyes narrow and his weak smiles widens. “So have I.”
The man before me is aged, weakened by sickness. Yet I find him more intimidating than anyone I’ve ever met, and I’ve met some fucked up people. Because a man like Alcott Davenwood has money, and money can buy anything.
“Don’t you have hired guards?” I can’t help but ask.
“Many. But the thing is, they work for me. And when I’m gone…” He trails off with a shake of his head.
Yeah, I get it. Once Alcott is dead and gone, the company and all the Davenwood riches fall to Pepper, his only child. And last time I checked—granted it was years ago—Pepper had no interest in taking over the empire. She’ll sit back and let whoever the hell her father assigned assistant status to make the decisions. She’ll be a sitting duck, at the mercy of the highest bidder.
“My Pepper is a smart girl,” Alcott goes on. “Smart, and kind.” He says it like a flaw, like he’s saying she’s lazy or vain. Alcott might be the only person in the world to think kindness is a flaw, but when people are constantly trying to pull the rug out from underneath you—and that rug happens to be made of billions—maybe you see the world differently.
“So,” he continues. “Are you interested in the position?”
“What exactly do I have to do?” I ask, though it doesn’t feel like I have much of a choice. If I say no, I’m fairly sure Alcott Davenwood would see to it the rest of my life is even shittier than it already is.
“Learn Pepper’s habits, where she likes to spend time with, who her friends are…without being seen.”
“You want me to spy on her?” I lean back on the soft velvet couch, cocking an eyebrow.
“I wouldn’t phrase it that way,” Alcott tells me, though really, I could think of worse things than watching Pepper all day. “Knowing who she associates with now before the public learns of my demise is imperative.”
Before the pubic… “Pepper doesn’t know, does she?”
“Only the doctors at Good Faith Methodist Hospital and now you know. And I’d like to keep it that way.”
I move my head up and down, looking right into Alcott’s eyes, and wonder why the fuck would he keep this from his daughter? My old man and I weren’t exactly best buddies, but when it came down to his final hour, I wished I’d known and taken advantage of the time we had together.
An image of Pepper flashes in my mind, to the fleeting time I got to call her mine. She was eighteen and full of rebellion and lust. I remember the times I’d sneak over, coming through the woods and meeting her in the courtyard. She’d bring me up into her room, and we assumed no one knew. Judging by the blinking red light in every corner of this room alone, this place has as much security as the White House.
It’s a wonder Alcott never skinned me alive. Though in hindsight, I wasn’t a threat. I didn’t care about her money or her family name.
“I will pay you well,” Alcott says. “More than double what you’re making and Cal’s Customs, and more than you’d ever be able to earn on your own given your…your status.” My criminal record, he means. “And I will provide you with a place to live, a new phone number, and a vehicle more conspicuous than that hunk of metal you ride around.”
My fingers twitch, wanting to curl into fists. Don’t insult my bike, no matter who you are…and how the fuck does he know all this? Right. You can buy information. I internally shudder. No wonder he needs someone from the outside to watch over Pepper.
“I prefer to provide you with whatever you need…leave the past behind you, so to speak,” he says and narrows his eyes. He leans forward, looking me right in the eye. “This may be presumptuous of me, but I assume you want out.”
My mouth goes dry and sweat breaks out along my back. Alcott knows fucking everything. And of course I want out. I never wanted in. No one gets out alive. No one. I look Alcott hard in the eye, and he raises his eyebrows ever so slightly, telling me it’s possible.
No one has gotten out alive…but no one had a billionaire buying their freedom either. I might have a snowball’s chance in hell, but if I can get out, get away, and keep the skin on my back…fuck. It’s worth it on its own.
“Glad we can come to an agreement,” Alcott says.
“I haven’t accepted the job yet,” I remind him.
Alcott looks at me, the smile gone. I keep my face set, a bit of a permanent scowl darkening my features. It’s in my nature to play hardball, to not let anyone not let anyone know what’s going on beneath the surface. If I were a betting man, I could make a decent profit by betting that Alcott already knows what I’ve worked so damn hard to bury.
Because if he didn’t, he wouldn’t have called me. And I wouldn’t have risked everything to come here. But I’ll be damned to admit it to anyone else, let alone myself.
I’ve been in love with Pepper Davenwood since the day we met.
Emily Goodwin is the New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author of over a dozen of romantic titles. Emily writes the kind of books she likes to read, and is a sucker for a swoon-worthy bad boy and happily ever afters.
She lives in the midwest with her husband and two daughters. When she's not writing, you can find her riding her horses, hiking, reading, or drinking wine with friends.