What a thrill ride this has been! Beautifully written and wildly exhilarating, this action-packed second chance romance—set in the dangerous criminal underworld of kingpins, mobsters, and professional con artists—had me on the edge of my seat until the very end. With my knee bouncing with both anxiety and anticipation, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, desperate to piece together a story that is bursting at the seams with complex subplots and unexpected twists and turns, whilst still being infused with the kind of emotional intensity and strong romantic element I’ve come to expect from Rachel Higginson. I couldn’t have loved it any more than I did!
I didn’t leave Sayer because I stopped loving him. I left him because I found someone else that needed my love more.
When a ten-year-old Caroline Valero first laid eyes on Sayer Wesley in a dark and dingy alley in Washington, DC, she never could have imagined that that angry little boy would grow to become not only the man who would singlehandedly take down one of the scariest Russian mob syndicates on the East Coast, but also the greatest love of her life. Both born into a world they didn’t choose, they stayed in it for very different reasons, but fifteen years from the day they first met, we find Caroline in hiding, far away from the life she ran away from, but living in constant fear of her terrifying past catching up with her.
Would this be the moment they found me? The moment they ripped my safe haven away and dragged me back to hell? When I’d come face to face with the past I’d worked so hard to escape?
So when the man she’s tried so hard to forget suddenly walks back into her life, angry and hardened by the years he spent without her, Caroline’s first instinct is to run and protect what she holds most dear—even at the cost of her own heart. But Sayer has not spent the last five years of his young life surviving hell only to let the woman he loves slip through his fingers once more, even though he knows they might never be able to trust one another again.
“I’m not here to play games with you, Caro. I’m here to live out a dream I once I had with a girl I once loved.”
While entangled in a game of deception and desire that neither of them know how to escape, a cruel enemy from their past finally makes its presence known, taking from them the only thing that would make them both willingly return to the world they’ve worked so hard to break away from. And once they are back in the city they hoped to never see again, they are forced to confront skeletons from their past that threaten to annihilate everything between them. And a lifetime of careful cons and well-placed lies makes it hard for them both to believe that a love like theirs could be trusted above all else.
“If I’ve fought hard for anything, it’s been you. If I’ve wanted anything at all, it’s been you. If I’ve loved anything in this life of mine, it hasn’t been the brotherhood or the bratva or thieving, it’s been you. It’s always been you, Caro. From the day I met you till the day I die.”
There are so many intricate layers to this story I cannot tell you about, so many jaw-dropping plot twists I never saw coming, making this a riveting page-turner through and through, but also one of the most beautiful love stories I have ever come across. Through frequent flashbacks from both characters’ standpoints, we watch two young people survive a life that tried to steal their souls time and time again, their love becoming their salvation and their only reason for it all. This is one of those stories I already cannot wait to revisit in the future, and with a cast of such complex secondary characters, I remain hopeful that this is not the last we hear from any of them.
“Everything, everything I have ever done, is about you. I only want to be with you.”
Gus and Cage had returned with Sayer. I walked in, my arms laden with Target purchases. They all stood up, clearly not knowing what to expect.
“We’re going to be here for a while,” I told them by way of explanation. “I didn’t pack enough.”
“You went to Target?” Sayer asked, suspicion clear in his tone.
Adding irritation and self-righteousness to my confusion, I asked, “Is that okay?”
“I would have gone with you,” Sayer said, trying his best to remain chill. “Or Cage. You probably shouldn’t be walking around town by yourself.”
I shrugged. “I took a cab.”
“Come on, Six. You know better than that,” Sayer groaned.
The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I bristled—he didn’t get to mess with my independence. If he only knew where I’d been. But I didn’t need to poke the bear more than necessary.
“I’m going to put my things down. When I come back, we can make a game plan.” To Juliet, I said, “Come on, sweets. You need a shower.” Juliet hurried to my side and we disappeared into Sayer’s bedroom.
I closed the bedroom door and set the bags on the bed. I looked around and sighed while Juliet rummaged through my purchases. “We should probably get a hotel,” I told her.
Her eyes got wide and a huge smile broke out on her face. “Is this for me?” She pulled out a sweatshirt with a giant sparkly unicorn on the front.
“Do you hate it?” I teased her. “I can take it back if you hate it.”
She grinned and hugged the sweatshirt to her chest. “Thank you, Mommy. I love it!”
“Shower first.” She nodded and ran to the bathroom. I got her set up and came back to sort through the new clothes. A knock at the door kept me from making too much progress.
Pulling the door open a crack, I came face to face with Sayer. “Can we talk?” he asked.
“For a minute.”
He walked into the bedroom and shut the door behind him. His sharp gaze moved over the cluttered bed and our girly things all over his very masculine room. I felt self-conscious as he surveyed our mess. I had planned to clean it up while Juliet showered, but he’d interrupted.
“We’ve kind of invaded,” I mumbled, trying to internally talk my cheeks out of blushing.
A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “I didn’t know I’d like it as much as I do.”
“What do you mean?”
He turned around and leaned back against the footboard of his bed. “Your invasion.” He held up Juliet’s special blanket that I’d brought from home. “I like you in my space, Caro.”
The butterflies were back, swooping low in my belly, reminding me of last night and this man without his clothes on.
“What are we doing, Sayer?” I moved my pointer finger back and forth between us. “What is this?”
His expression darkened. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, what the hell are we doing? We can’t just keep… having… you know, late night bang sessions every time we’re alone.”
“Is that what you think we’re doing?”
Ignoring the menacing gleam in his eyes and the way his body had hardened to stone, I pushed on with my argument. “And Juliet is still trying to process this. Do you know she had no idea she even had a father? She thought she came along without one. This morning was the first time she realized that you had been missing from her life. That was a blessing I suppose, but now you’re here, and she has to learn to cope with you. I don’t want to confuse her with our behavior.”
His voice dipped low, gritty with emotion I couldn’t begin to understand. “And why would it confuse her if her mother and father acted like a mother and father?”
I stopped moving around the room, trying to tidy up, realizing I needed to face him for this conversation but unable to find the courage to do so. My heart ached, like there was a fist squeezing it tight and unwanted tears pricked at my eyes. “I don’t want to play house, Sayer. I don’t want to pretend. And I don’t want to make promises to Juliet that I can’t keep.”
“You mean with me?”
I nodded, brushing away the one lone tear that escaped.
“Because you think I won’t stick around or what?”
“You’re the one that left, Six. Not me. I’m not the flight risk here.”
“That’s not what I—”
“And you’re the one that claims we broke up. I’m still trying to remember exactly when you let me know things were over between us.”
“Wait a second—”
His gaze found mine, holding me captive, transfixing me to the spot. “When there are people around you don’t seem to want anything to do with me, Six.” He reached out and grabbed my fingers, tugging me to stand between his legs. “But… when I get you alone…” His free hand trailed up my thigh, wrapping around my hip and holding firmly. “You’re sending some pretty wild mixed signals.”
I knew he was right, even though his touch and his closeness and every single thing about him made it difficult to think straight in general. This was the part I needed to lie my way through. I needed to make it clear that I wasn’t interested in a relationship with him or making up for lost time. I didn’t want to mend the rift between us or continue on as if nothing had happened.
Because a lot of shit had happened. Starting with the reason I’d run. He’d chosen the bratva over me. He’d picked his brothers over our future. And now… now that he was back, he was as full of mystery and secrecy as ever. If he couldn’t trust me, how could I trust him? And if I couldn’t trust him, I couldn’t have him in my life.
It was dangerous enough already.
I was the best liar in the business and all I needed to do was string Sayer along until I could safely get Juliet out of this city and possibly the country. I just needed to tell him enough half-truths that he didn’t question my motives, my decisions, or why I couldn’t seem to say no to him. I formed a beautiful lie. I was going to tell him that I didn’t want anyone to see us together. I didn’t want anyone to realize they could still use us against each other. We had to put distance between us to keep Juliet safe.
Admittedly not my best con… but it could work. At least build a foundation. I called upon a lifetime of practice, opened my mouth and told him… The truth. “I don’t know how to trust you again.” And as if that wasn’t bad enough, emotion made my voice wobbly, completely revealing how upset and fragile I was.
So much for being good at what I did.
“Because you think I picked the Russians over you?”
“Because I know you did.”
He shook his head slowly from side to side, disagreeing with me in the gentlest way. “You’re a smart girl, Caro. The smartest I know. And usually you read a situation with scary accuracy, but you’re wrong about this. I have always, only picked you. Even back then. Even when I refused to leave the bratva. That wasn’t for them. Hell, that wasn’t even for me. That was because I knew I couldn’t protect you. Because I was trapped in that goddamn hellhole and I thought the safest scenario for you was if I stuck with the Russians.”
The shower shut off in the bathroom and Juliet called out, “Mommy, I’m done!”
“Be right there,” I called back, hoping she didn’t hear the tears stuck in my throat.
Sayer stood up, bringing our bodies close together. He gripped my hips and tugged me into him, holding me against him. “You’ve been running for five years. Not just from the brotherhood, the FBI, and your past, but from me too. But we’ve found you. You’re back in this city, back in the bratva, back in the fucking trenches. Stop running from me.”
I didn’t even know what to say to him or how to respond. He was right, and I hated it. I hated that he’d boiled down all of my problems and crises to the biggest issue of them all—him. I was still running from him. Like a terrified rabbit, I’d abandoned all common sense and logic in a panicked flight as far as I could get from him. Only I kept running in circles. I kept ending up back where he was.
“Mommy!” Juliet called again. I knew she must be cold.
Sayer leaned down and kissed the shell of my ear. “I will never hurt you again,” he whispered. “But you have the ability to destroy me. Figure out what you want, Six. Figure out what you need.”