Her Private Avenger
A killer reunion…
Journalist Morgan Kerr shouldn’t be surprised that ex-fiancé Adam Quinn wants nothing to do with her. Two years ago the rugged mercenary ran out on her, believing she’d betrayed him. But with her best friend murdered and her own father threatening to cart her away to a loony bin, she needs Quinn’s help and forgiveness. Never mind that she never stopped loving him.
Reluctantly, Quinn is in. He knows Morgan’s not crazy. With old feelings reigniting like wildfire, their investigation turns fiercely passionate. Quinn tries to convince himself it’s nothing more than lust. But when a killer takes Morgan hostage, he realizes it is something more…a second chance with the woman he’s always loved.
“I don’t like being summoned.” Quinn leaned against the wide door frame and directed a withering look at the silver-haired man behind the desk.
“I don’t like summoning you. And I certainly don’t like needing your help.” Edward Kerr’s features grew pained, as if the admission caused him physical torture.
Intrigued, Quinn stepped into the spacious office, his black boots barely making a sound as he crossed the pristine parquet floor toward Kerr. A lone visitor’s chair sat in front of the forbidding mahogany desk but he made no move to sit down. He didn’t plan to stay long. In fact, he wasn’t entirely sure why he showed up here to begin with. Two years ago he’d vowed never to lay eyes on this man—or his daughter—again. Why he’d broken that vow still eluded him.
He examined the older man’s face, saw the worry flickering in Kerr’s dark blue eyes, and his intrigue deepened. Revealing his weaknesses was not in Edward Kerr’s character. His entire career could be credited to his ruthless nature, his ability to remain poised and controlled in any situation. Which raised the question—what was causing Kerr’s obvious anxiety?
Or perhaps he should be asking whom.
“Morgan is in trouble,” Kerr said, getting right to the point.
Something that resembled concern tugged at Quinn’s gut.
He managed to paste on a mask of indifference and said, “So?”
“That’s your response? So?” Disbelief washed across the older man’s face. “This doesn’t worry you?”
“Worry suggests I actually give a damn about Morgan’s well-being.” He offered a cool smile. “I don’t.”
Quinn crossed his arms over his chest. “Is this the reason you called me, to inform me that your daughter is in trouble? If so, you’ve wasted both our time.”
A pleading note entered Kerr’s gravelly voice. “I need you to help her.”
He shook his head in irritation before taking two steps back toward the door. “Good night, Edward.”
“Goddamn it, Quinn! She’s in danger!”
Another step to the door. Don’t look back, a little voice warned. He’s playing you. They’re both playing you.
“She’s missing, Quinn.”
A flicker of alarm. Ignore it, keep walking.
Almost at the doorway. One more step and he’d be out of here. Free of Edward Kerr. Free of Morgan. Free of the tornado of memories that assaulted him the moment he’d heard her name.
“She tried to kill herself last week.”
That last revelation made him freeze. Before he could stop it, the image of Morgan’s gorgeous face swept into the forefront of his brain. Her wavy blond hair, always haphazardly falling onto her regal forehead. Those perceptive blue eyes that tilted upward just enough to make her look exotic. The stubborn slant of her chin, the delicate earlobes she refused to pierce. Then he heard her voice in his head, her sassy no-nonsense tone, spoken in a throaty pitch that made her sound as if she walked around with a perpetual cold.
And he remembered her fire, her determination, her will.
Slowly, he turned to face the father of the woman he’d once desperately loved.
“Bull,” he said flatly. “She would never try to take her own life.”
“I’m telling the truth.” Kerr’s eyes became shuttered, but there was genuine conviction in his voice.
Then again, Kerr had always been a convincing liar. He’d manipulated the press for years, making them fall hook, line and sinker for his my-poor-mentally-ill-daughter spiel.
But Morgan wasn’t crazy. Never had been. In fact, she was the strongest woman Quinn had ever met. She valued herself—her life—too damn much to throw it all away by…by what? He was even afraid to ask.
“She drove her car off a bridge,” Kerr elaborated as if reading his mind.
His head jerked up. “Pardon me ?” Once again he found himself meeting the other man’s expressionless eyes.
“I know, it sounded unbelievable to me when the police called after they’d pulled her car out of the river. Apparently she was intoxicated. There are half a dozen witnesses who confirm she had several drinks before leaving the pub and getting into her car. Her brother was there, too. He said she was quite upset.”
“Upset about what?”
“Layla Simms’s body was discovered last week.”
Quinn immediately recognized the name. Layla Simms was the young woman who’d gone missing nearly a decade ago, Morgan’s best friend from high school.
“Where was the body found?” Quinn asked.
“Autumn.” The older man sighed. “That poor family. I’d heard Wendy and Mort Simms never gave up hope that their daughter was alive. This must have been quite a shock for them.”
Quinn absorbed the information. Autumn was Morgan’s hometown, which the Kerr family practically owned before Edward was elected into the United States Senate and moved away for bigger and better things. The Kerrs relocated to D.C. a few years after the Simms girl’s disappearance, Quinn recalled. But Morgan had always been convinced Layla had been killed and that her body lay somewhere in the idyllic town they’d grown up in. She went back there at least twice a year to rustle a few trees and see if any answers fell out, but they never did. Quinn once asked her why she kept going back, kept searching for something she might never find, and she’d always replied with, “She’s there, Quinn. I know it.”
Well, apparently Morgan had been right.
He felt a startling sense of pride that Morgan had known the truth all along, but he quickly tamped it down and tried to focus on the other startling aspects of this conversation.
“Morgan went back there when she heard the body was found?” he asked curtly.
Kerr made an exasperated sound. “You know my daughter, so stubborn about this old case. She went to the memorial service, then stayed to investigate.”
The condescension in the senator’s tone made Quinn’s gut tighten. “We both know she’s a damn good journalist,” he said. “She’s perfectly capable of solving that case.”
Why was he defending her, damn it? Quinn quickly reined in the response, pasted an aloof expression on his face and added, “So did she come up with any leads?”
“We’re getting off track,” Edward said, suddenly looking frazzled. “This isn’t about the Simms girl. This is about Morgan attempting suicide.”
Suicide was the last word he’d ever expect to associate with Morgan. Had she changed so much in the two years since he’d walked out on her? With that question came a stab of guilt.
She betrayed you.
He held on to that thought, forcibly pushing the guilt out of his body. Whatever Morgan’s state of mind these past couple of years, he was not at fault. He’d had good reason to walk away from her. Damn good reason.
“She was under psychiatric observation at a private clinic outside the city,” Kerr continued. “And last night—”
“You had her committed? ”
“—she escaped,” the other man finished, paying no attention to Quinn’s incredulous interruption.
“Escaped? For God’s sake, don’t tell me you were keeping her under restraint.”
“It was for her own good,” Kerr snapped. “She’s a danger to herself. I’d never be able to live with myself if something happened to my only daughter.”
Quinn snorted. “Right, because Morgan’s best interests have always been your first priority.”
“I’ve always tried to protect her,” Kerr shot back. “Especially from herself. You know what she’s like, constantly landing into trouble. The tabloid photos, the arrest…my PR team worked around the clock trying to repair her image.”
“She was a teenager who just lost her mother. Of course she acted out. What’d you expect her to do, sit at home and knit?”
The senator’s blue eyes flashed. “I expected her to act responsibly.”
Lord, why was he still here? Looking at Kerr’s irritating face, listening to him spew the usual bull about his troublemaker daughter, Quinn was tempted to march right out the door. But one thing was stopping him.
“Where is she now?” he asked gruffly.
“I don’t know,” Kerr said, “but I need you to find her. I don’t trust anyone else with the task.”
His lips curled in a sneer. “Funny, you never trusted me before.”
Kerr uncharacteristically slammed one hand against the desk. “This has nothing to do with the past, damn it. You have to find her.”
“I’ll think about it.” He sounded like a callous bastard and he knew it. Yet he couldn’t ignore the anger and bitterness yanking at his gut. He’d lost the woman he loved because of this man.
“I understand your anger and reluctance.” Kerr swallowed. “But you simply have to find her, Adam.”
Adam. Shit. Now there was a name he hadn’t heard in years.
“You can pretend all you want,” the other man added, “but we both know you still care for her. And you might be a bastard, but you’d never walk away knowing Morgan might be in danger.”
Quinn swore under his breath. He loathed this man. Loathed Kerr’s manipulation and arrogance and those guilt cards he liked to throw out whenever it suited him.
But the son of a bitch was right.
No matter how bitter he was, no matter how angry and disappointed, if Morgan was in trouble, Quinn couldn’t turn his back.
Not by a long shot.
The cabin was deserted and shrouded with darkness as Morgan Kerr let herself in with the spare key she’d found under the porch. Good thing she knew her way around, even in the shadows. During the walk here, as she navigated the dark, slushy woods in the direction of the snow-littered clearing where this little cabin stood, she’d wondered if the place would look the same. If it would feel the same. To the former, the answer was yes. The cabin’s small living room still boasted a sofa with plaid upholstery and a coffee stain on the right arm, the gorgeous stone fireplace, the scratchy forest-green carpet.
But did it feel the same?
Not in the slightest.
Setting her purse on the table in the hallway, Morgan breathed in the scent of mothballs, dust and loneliness. Quinn obviously hadn’t been back here since they’d parted ways, and every inch of the cabin ached with loss. As did her heart.
A part of her had been hoping she’d walk in and find him here. Big, hard body sprawled on the couch, dark hair messy as always, his piercing green eyes sparkling with love and desire.
God, she missed him.
Forget about Quinn. You’ve got bigger things to worry about.
She approached the sofa and sank onto the plump cushions, a hysterical laugh bubbling in the back of her throat then spilling out and breaking through the silence of the dark room. Oh, yeah, she definitely had bigger things to worry about.
Like the fact that everyone in her life thought she was crazy and suicidal.
Morgan released a long calming breath and lifted her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them. She didn’t care what her father or Tony or those doctors said. She hadn’t purposely driven her car off a bridge.
Someone had run her off the road.
Pain seized her insides as she remembered what her father had said when she told him what really happened. You were just imagining things. You were drunk and upset and not thinking clearly. Nobody tried to kill you, Morgan.
The pain transformed into anger when she thought about the staff at the psychiatric hospital her dad had her committed to. The nurses’ sympathetic stares. The doctor’s patronizing words. And her father’s voice, drifting in from the hallway as he spoke to the doctor.
My daughter is..ill. She’s suffered with delusions and mood swings all her life.
Delusions and mood swings, her ass. Sure, she’d been rebellious as a teenager, but that didn’t make her nuts. And was it her fault the press had decided to paint her with the troublemaker brush? Senator’s Wild Child. Senator’s Daughter Caught with Cocaine. Senator’s Loony Daughter.
The memory of all those newspaper headlines had her clenching her fists in fury. She’d never deserved all those labels, and yet somehow she’d gotten stuck with them, and she’d been spending the past ten years trying to rid herself of the stigma.
She’d been doing so well, too. Out of the tabloids for years, landed a legitimate job at a respectable magazine, used a pseudonym to build her writing reputation.
And now.now she was back to square one.
A wave of frustration crashed into her, causing her to stand abruptly. A plan. She needed a plan. She couldn’t hide out in this cabin forever, no matter how safe she felt here. No matter how close it made her feel to Quinn.
If she was going to find the answers, then she needed to return to the scene of the crime.
Autumn. It started in Autumn.
And that’s where she needed to be.
The frustration eased, replaced with a rush of determination that coursed through her blood and got her adrenaline going. She was not suicidal or crazy.
There had been another car on the bridge that night. She’d seen the headlights in her rearview mirror, felt the impact of the other vehicle’s front bumper smashing into her car.
Which meant someone had tried to kill her.
And the only reason someone would’ve done that was because of Layla’s disappearance. She’d been investigating her best friend’s vanishing act for almost ten years, and the moment Layla’s remains were found, someone pushed her car off a bridge? It was too much of a coincidence. In fact, it screamed cover-up.
Lifting her chin in resolve, she headed for the little table next to the front door, where she’d left the purse she’d retrieved from the drawer next to her hospital bed. The small leather bag contained her wallet, ID and credits cards, but she was loath to use anything other than cash in case her father had someone watching her accounts. Which he probably did. She knew he wanted her back in that psych ward, where the doctors could monitor her and make sure she didn’t try to harm herself.
Her cell phone was mysteriously absent from her purse, but she could walk back to the gas station on the main road and call a taxi from there.
In the morning, she decided. She wasn’t particularly keen on the idea of walking around in the dark, no matter how well she remembered these woods.
She dropped her purse on the table and headed back to the sofa. Then she froze.
Were those footsteps she’d just heard?
She swallowed hard, then focused on the soft noises coming from outside the cabin. Snap, snap, snap. Twigs snapping.
Probably an animal. A squirrel scurrying across the clearing, maybe a coyote in search of a midnight snack.
The noise grew louder, the distinct sound of footsteps climbing up the steps. The creak of the porch as the intruder approached the front door.
Her heart pounded against her rib cage, making it difficult to breathe, let alone think.
She needed a weapon. Her gaze darted wildly around the dark room, looking for anything she might be able to use in self-defense. She spotted the fireplace poker at the same time the doorknob began to turn.
Drawing in a breath, Morgan took a desperate step toward the fireplace but she was too late. The door swung open, more footsteps, and then someone grabbed her from behind.
“Let me go,” she squeaked out, struggling to pry herself from the powerful arms restraining her. She attacked with her elbow, eliciting a grunt from her attacker.
“Damn it, Morgan. It’s me.”
She froze at the familiar gruff voice.
No, it couldn’t be him. Maybe she really had gone crazy. Because no way could he actually be here.
Heart pounding, she slowly turned to face the intruder, expecting to see a stranger, or hell, even air. Maybe she was hallucinating this entire exchange.
But nope, there he was, all six feet, three inches of him. The familiar broad shoulders, the muscles rippling beneath his hunter-green sweater. The scent of spice and aftershave she knew so well.
She blinked wildly, then studied his classically handsome features and piercing green eyes.
Oh, God, it was really him.
He was here.
Releasing a heavy sigh, Quinn crossed his arms over his firm chest and said, “I knew I’d find you here.”
She opened her mouth to respond, but no words came out. Her pulse was drumming too loudly in her ears to formulate a sentence, her brain still trying to register the sight of him. After a few seconds of silence, Morgan finally gave up on attempting speech.
Instead, she let out a shaky breath and threw her arms around the only man she’d ever truly loved.
Copyright © 2014-2016 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited | Copyright © 2014-2016 by Elle Kennedy.
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. ® and ™ are trademarks of Harlequin Enterprises Limited and/or its affiliated companies, used under license.
Harlequin (November 2010)