Betrayal Road

More Pre-Order Options

Torpedo Ink ,
Book 9

Release Date: August 20, 2024
Number of Pages: 464 pages
Publisher: Berkley
Language: English
ISBN: 0593638786

Betrayal Road (Torpedo Ink, #9)

  Betrayal Road

Deception cuts deep in the next propulsive novel in #1 New York Times bestselling author Christine Feehan's Torpedo Ink motorcycle club series.

The stranger frequenting Azelie Vargas's local coffee shop is a sight to behold. He's tall, dark, muscular, and a complete distraction. She's worried one look from his striking silver eyes will have her acting a fool. But it's not a look that sets Azelie aflame — it's the way he boldly tells her every dark, dirty thing he'd like to do to her. She should be scandalized. Instead, all she wants to do is say yes.

Andrii "Maestro" Federoff is in San Francisco on club business. Torpedo Ink needs information to bust up a human trafficking ring, and Maestro has found his mark. After weeks of stealthy observation, he's not sure if Azelie is involved directly, or if she's just working for some bad people. What he does know is that he needs to get close to her fast, and soon he can't get enough.

What began as a setup quickly turns real. But no matter how hot they burn, Maestro's betrayal could leave their hearts smoldering in the ashes....

Christine's Notes

Christine Feehan
Sometimes I think I know exactly how a character is going to react when they find someone to love. I was worried about writing Maestro's book because he was so opinionated. He was so sure of how he'd be with his woman and how she would have to be for him. Then, I started writing and Maestro wasn't who I thought he was going to be. Yes, he is still hardened by his past. Yes, he is still very dangerous. Threaten his woman and you find out exactly how dangerous.
The book is called Betrayal Road for a reason.
Maestro has to go undercover to help stop a human trafficking ring. While investigating he targets the person he thinks can help get the information they need. A woman named Azelie. She's beautiful, brilliant, sweet and it's his job to seduce her, make her love him, and get the information he needs. And if she is part of it ...kill her.
As funny as this may sound, I loved her and worried about her. I didn't want her to be with a jerk. I didn't want her heartbroken. She is one of those heroines you really feel for and would want to be. I worried about how his betrayal would change her. She surprised me as much as he did. This turned into such a love story. And it's Torpedo Ink, so you can expect adventure, a twist, and lots of emotion. Maestro knows what it's like to be betrayed. Now the question is - will he betray the woman who's made him a better man in order to save the victims of this human trafficking ring?

— Christine Feehan

Christine regularly writes about her books (and all kinds of subjects) in the following places:


Betrayal Road

More Pre-Order Options

Torpedo Ink ,
Book 9

Release Date: August 20, 2024
Number of Pages: 464 pages
Publisher: Berkley
Language: English
ISBN: 0593638786

Betrayal Road (Torpedo Ink, #9)

Excerpt: Chapter 1

Azelie Vargas became aware of the whispers and giggles, and she looked up to see her three favorite seniors gesturing wildly toward the window.  They were matchmakers, those three.  They came into the coffee shop, every day at the same time, and ordered the same drinks and pastries.  Sometimes, Azelie treated them, knowing they were on a tight budget.

Penny Atwater had been best friends with China and Blanc Christian for nearly sixty years.  They still lived next door to one another in the San Francisco homes that shared a walls.  None of them drove.  They’d taken the bus everywhere as children growing up and then later continued to do so as adults.  All three referred to themselves widows and shared a love of dancing.  Blanc had been a professional ballroom dancer and had taught in a shared studio with her sister, China.

Azelie loved their passion for life.  She wasn’t so certain of their enthusiasm for finding her a romantic partner.  Still, they made her laugh because they wore bright clothes and had such a joy for living.  The three referred to themselves as the “merry widows” and then would laugh with such enthusiasm it was difficult not to join them in their merriment.

Two gentlemen, Doug Parsons and Carlton Gray, had been neighbors with the three women for over forty years.  Their houses were on either side of the merry widows’ homes.  They often came into the coffee shop around the same time as the three women, sitting with them and reminiscing funny or poignant times from their past.  Azelie enjoyed listening to them.  She suspected most of those coming to the coffee shop did as well.

The coffee shop wasn’t a trendy one.  It was a mom-and-pop organic coffee shop, so the prices were a little higher.  But everyone who frequented it was loyal.  Azelie went there to study for her classes or read.  Sometimes she wrote in the book she was currently working on.  She’d been lucky enough to have three books published and had a contract for a fourth.  They were moderately successful, which meant she made money on them.  Not a lot, but it helped to pay for her college classes.

The man the three seniors were all atwitter over stood on the sidewalk just outside the coffee shop.  He’d come in twice before with another man.  Both times the women in the shop—including her—were rendered speechless at the sheer beauty and power the two men exuded.  Even Shaila Manger, the owner, came out of the kitchen to ogle the men.  Her husband, David, simply laughed good-naturedly, not in the least upset that his wife of thirty-eight years found the two men hot.

Personally, Azelie did have a bit of a crush on the taller of the two men.  Just looking at him took her breath away.  She was careful not to stare when he had come in with his friend.  In fact, she’d kept her gaze glued to her laptop.  That didn’t stop the three seniors from gesturing wildly and giggling like schoolgirls.  The men had to have noticed, they would have been blind not to, but she refused to acknowledge the matchmaking or the fact that the women had managed to ferret out the names of the newcomers.

Naturally, it was Mr. Powerful that was coming into the coffee shop alone.  She would have been perfectly fine if his friend, Lazar Alexeev, had come in.  Her body didn’t have the slightest reaction—but Andrii Federoff, holy cow, she’d gone up in proverbial flames.  That had never happened to her.  Not once. It was disconcerting and just a tiny bit horrifying that without even trying Andrii could set her body on fire.

Azelie had never seen a man quite like Andrii before.  He was tall with broad shoulders and so much muscle through his arms and chest she didn’t think his shirt could contain it all.  His hair was a true black streaked with silver.  The silver didn’t make him look older, but his eyes did.  He should have had gray eyes, but the color was lighter than gray, so he appeared to have silver eyes.  When he looked at her, she had the mad desire to do anything he asked of her.  Not a good thing.  She wanted to be independent, and over the last couple of years she had worked hard to suppress the need in her to nurture and serve others.

Clearly, she hadn’t succeeded—yet.  Not with seniors who she bonded with.  There were parents she aided in the park she frequented.  And now there was Andrii.  She was staying far-far away from him.

She had gleaned from the conversation she’d overheard between the two men that Lazar lived close, and Andrii was visiting because he had business in San Francisco.  She’d never seen Lazar in the coffee shop but that didn’t mean he wasn’t there at different hours than she was.  He was probably considered good-looking, at least the merry widows, the owner of the shop and a few other females ogled him when he was there with Andrii.

Lazar had a build similar to Andrii’s in that he had wide shoulders and thick chest and arms giving him an appearance of power.  His hair was dark, and he wore it slicked back and neat, much neater than Andrii’s shaggy hair.  His eyes were hazel and at times looked amber to her.  There were freckles all over his face, which should have detracted from his looks but only seemed to enhance them—at least to the other women.

The moment Andrii entered the shop she was acutely aware of him in the room.  She didn’t have to look up to know he was there.  She knew exactly where he was every minute.  He had such a presence.  She sat at her usual table, a small one for two people only, toward the back of the shop.  She had a good view of the windows and could see two streets as the coffee shop was on a corner.  Instead of looking at the views—or at Andrii—she brought up the book she was currently reading.  She hoped the novel would keep the butterflies from fluttering in her stomach. 
With one finger, Azelie pushed back the glasses threatening to slide from her nose. The thick black frames annoyed her when they insisted on falling right when she was reading anything exciting.  She loved books and the adventures they could take her on.  It wasn’t like she was ever going to be leading a wild and crazy life so reading about exotic places and heroes and heroines appealed to her—especially ones that were monogamous.  And happy endings were always important no matter if there was murder, mystery or mayhem. 

It was impossible to shut out the giggles of the merry widows.  For no reason at all, color swept up her neck into her face.  She was certain the women were gesturing wildly toward her.  Sighing, she glanced up over the top of her glasses, blinking rapidly several times to bring her surroundings into focus.  Her gaze collided with a pair of eyes so gray they were more liquid silver than gray and very intense.  Even his lashes, very black and thick, didn’t take away from his chiseled features.  That fact that he wore his black hair longer, and it was streaked with fine threads of silver, didn’t detract from the entirely masculine vibe he had going.  As far as she could tell, there wasn’t an ounce of fat anywhere on him.
Her stomach clenched.  Her sex clenched.  Her entire body wanted to seize.  He was intimidating just because he was so gorgeous. 
“Would you mind if I join you?  As you can see, the shop is filling up quickly.”

She blinked up at him again, trying to catch her breath.  Trying to find a way to breathe when just looking at him took everything she had not to run.  She had to look away, afraid she’d make an utter fool of herself if she tried to speak.  She looked around the coffee shop.  It was nearly empty.


His voice was smooth.  Like the brush of velvet against her skin.  She’d never heard a voice like his before.  Not ever.  He had the kind of voice that made her shiver in anticipation of …what?  Hot blood rushed through her veins and under her skin, coloring her face a bright red.  There was no controlling that wild blush any more than there was controlling the flutter in her sex.  And Zelie?  No one called her Zelie.  It was always Azelie.  But she liked the way he said Zelie.  Still?

“How did you know my name?”  To her horror, her voice came out small, not at all like she wanted to sound.  A whisper.  As if she were inviting him to be intimate with her.  She never sounded like that.  She might avoid men but when she spoke to them, she was decisive.

The table was small and he moved the chair close to her—too close.  His thigh brushed along hers.  Warm.  No, hot.  She was suddenly very aware of herself as a woman, every nerve ending springing to life.  He was definitely a man.

“The barista calls your name when your order is ready,” he said simply.  “I’m Andrii Federoff.  I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful woman lost in her own world.”
No one called her beautiful.  She wasn’t beautiful.  She was …ordinary.  Mousy even.  There wasn’t a single thing remarkable about her.  Not that she was complaining.  The fact that no one noticed her helped her to disappear into the woodwork where she could observe those around her without having to participate.
“Azelie Vargas,” she managed to get out without making more of a fool of herself.  She couldn’t drink her coffee; her hands were shaking too bad.  She threaded her fingers together tightly in her lap wondering why a man as a gorgeous as Andrii would choose to sit with her.
“What are you reading?  It must be very interesting to have you so completely absorbed in the story.”
She tried to fight the blush but was unsuccessful.  “I enjoy a variety of novels.”
He remained silent, his silver eyes moving over her face like twin lasers.  He looked a little moody.  Disappointed.  Definitely aware she’d dodged his question and not happy about it.
She lifted her chin.  She didn’t know him.  What the hell did it matter if he judged her?  “I enjoy reading romance.  Happy endings.  Stories about men and women communicating and forming families.  Being faithful to each other.”
Immediately those strangely colored eyes turned to a liquid silver, approval lighting them.  The change sent little darts of fire shooting straight to her sex.  Why in the world did his approval of her matter so much?  It made no sense when he was a complete stranger, but her entire body responded just to the look in his eyes.
“I’ve seen you typing.  Do you write your own stories?”
His voice was remarkable.  She’d never heard anything like it.  She felt as if he were wrapping her in velvet.  Azelie nodded.  He continued to stare at her with his light-colored eyes, burning right through her, exposing her every secret.
“Yes,” she whispered it.  “I do write stories.  It’s difficult to make a living as a full-time author so I work at a local club as a bookkeeper to make ends meet.”  She had absolutely no idea why she blurted out that information, but it just came flying out of her mouth.  “I’ve worked there for years, but had hoped I could quit eventually.  That isn’t looking too good.”
He nodded.  “You’re published then?”
“Yes.  I’ve sold three stories so far, romantic suspence, and I’ve contracted for one more.  I’m hoping when I turn that one in, they’ll offer me another contract.  So far, the books have sold fairly well.”  She took pride in that.  She wasn’t a bestseller, but she was definitely midlist.  That didn’t mean she could quit her day job.  She just couldn’t make enough money being an author. She understood the cost of paper and ink kept rising.

She also had tried self-publishing.  That hadn’t worked out for her either.  She wasn’t good at marketing.  On top of that, a trend had started where readers returned books after they read them, and authors had to return the money.  She couldn’t pay her bills.  Many authors went under.  She was fortunate in that she had a good-paying day job but having that hanging over her head was daunting.  She didn’t have the nerves for it.  She needed the buffer of a publisher.

“I find it interesting that you work as a bookkeeper and you write novels.  It’s unusual to do both.”

She nodded.  “I know.  I think my brain is always at war with itself.”  She flashed him a small smile.  “What do you do?”

“I work in security.  It’s not nearly as interesting as what you do.”

His voice literally sent chills down her spine.  She was grateful she was sitting because she was afraid she might not be able to keep her legs from trembling and she’d fall right at his feet.  She really hoped those strangely-colored eyes of his couldn’t see right into her.  She’d never, not once in her life, had a reaction to another human being the way she did to him.

“In novels, the man working security is always interesting.”

One dark eyebrow shot up and his lips curved into a slow smile.  No teeth, but that almost smile made her stomach somersault.  “Have you ever written a hero working security?”

She moistened suddenly dry lips as she shook her head.  Again, there was silence and she knew he was waiting for her to speak.  “Not yet.”

That earned her a flash of his white teeth.  Her heart nearly stopped.  She forced her gaze to the to-go mug she had carefully picked up and held between her palms. 

“I don’t suppose you would describe him looking like me?”

She dared to tilt her head to the side and allowed her gaze to drift over him, making certain to start from the neck down.  She couldn’t look into those mercury eyes, especially if he was looking at her with that focused intensity.  “Neck tattoos, broad shoulders, a thick muscular chest, all muscle.  If I described my hero like you, my readers would think I was relying on formula writing.”  She laughed because she couldn’t help it.  He was beautiful.  A gorgeous man who had no business sitting with her.

“Why are you laughing, Zelie?”

“I’m afraid you sat down at the wrong table, Mr. Federoff.”

“Why are you so certain of that?”

She gestured toward him, from the top of his head down his chest, grateful the rest of him was hidden.  She was finally getting to a place where she could speak to him without making a total fool of herself.  She wasn’t afraid of speaking her mind or speaking the truth, but not if she thought too much about the rest of his body.

She pushed her glasses back on her nose.  “You have to know what you look like.  Even what you sound like.  Men as beautiful as you are don’t give women, who look like me, a second glance.  I have no idea why you decided to sit at this table but it’s absurd.  Did the merry widows talk you into sitting with me?”

His eyes had gone hot silver.  Gleaming silver.  Mesmerizing.  She couldn’t have looked away if she wanted to.  “Women who look like you?  What do you look like?”

His voice made her shiver, as if she had said something that truly annoyed him. It didn’t show on his face, so she couldn’t exactly say what it was that made her think he was disappointed and even angry, but she knew he was.  The silver eyes glittered.  Moved over her face.  Dwelled on her mouth.  Dropped lower.  He seemed to be able to look right through her boxy sweatshirt to the body she hid from the world.

He leaned toward her.  “I’m going to do you the courtesy of telling you the truth since you’re so honest with me.  As for the merry widows, as sweet and funny as they are, I would never sit down with a woman I wasn’t interested in.”

His voice made her shiver.  Those eyes had come back up to hers and held her gaze captive.  He was interested in her?  She didn’t know what to think of that.

“In case you hadn’t noticed, I have scars.  Not all women find that attractive.  Evidently, you do, which is good for me.  Your hair is unbelievable.  For a man with my tastes and needs, your hair is a fucking miracle.  I think you have one of the most beautiful faces I’ve ever seen.  Every emotion you feel is transparent.  Right there.  You have incredible eyes.  I would know exactly what you were thinking or feeling just looking into your eyes.  I’ve been in this coffee shop numerous times and fantasized far too much about having your lips wrapped around my dick. Just looking at your mouth makes me hard.  You have tits and an ass, something that I look for in a woman.  You also have brains.  You’re not afraid of speaking your mind, yet you’re the kind of woman a man like me needs.  Women like you don’t come along that often.”

She wished she was offended by his plain speaking, but she had gone damp.  Her breasts ached.  Her mouth even watered.  Color crept under her skin, and there was no way to stop the way her breathing quickened so she didn’t try to hide her reaction to his assessment of her.

“What the hell do you think is wrong with your looks?”

He didn’t raise his voice at all.  If anything, it was lower than normal, but all the same, his tone was a demand for her to answer him. 
She moistened her lips.  The minute she did, her gaze dropped to his lap and the heavy bulge outlined against his dark jeans.  Her heart thudded a desperate beat, a wild drumming that pounded through her clit.

“I do have a lot of hair,” she conceded.  “It’s thick and wild and isn’t very tamable.  My eyes are too big for my face.  My lips are too much.  If I wear lipstick, especially a bright color, I look …”. She broke off abruptly.

Sometimes when she was alone at night, she applied a bright red lipstick and wore the only club outfit she had that she would never dare to wear in public.  She would stand far back from the mirror and walk slowly toward it.  She turned even redder thinking about how she performed in front of the mirror.  She loved to dance.  Loved dancing.  It was right up there with reading.
Andrii smiled at her, his gaze on her mouth.  “I can imagine how you would look and what every man seeing you would want you to do.  I would love to walk into a club with you on my arm.  You’re so fucking sexy.  I like the idea other men would know you’re mine.”

Azelie could tell he was waiting to see if he shocked her or put her off with his crude, explicit way of speaking, but her entire body responded to it.  That was her dirty little secret.  He had evidently taken the time to study her long enough to figure her out.  To realize she was the type of woman to respond to a man like him. 
“By all means, Zelie, keep going.  What else do you think is wrong with your looks?  Why do you hide your tits behind those ridiculous shirts?  And your very nice ass in those baggy pants?  What is the purpose?”
She tried to stay still under his demand for an answer.  She was ashamed of her desire to be anonymous.  She had her reasons.  She didn’t really need to share everything with him.  The bare minimum would do.  “I’ve been working as a bookkeeper for one of the local clubs since I was sixteen.  It wasn’t exactly legal when I started because I was underage.  It just sort of happened.  The bookkeeper unexpectedly quit right before an audit, and the owner, Alan, needed someone.  I’m really good with numbers.  Really good.  Really fast.”
“How did this Alan know about you?”
“My brother-in-law knew him.  He told Alan about me.  Quentin always called me the whiz kid.  He told me to wear really baggie sweats and work during the day, to never go to the club at night.  So that’s how I started wearing these clothes to work.”

She gave him a tentative smile.  She was telling him the truth.  Quentin, her brother-in-law, had gotten her the job, and he had been the one to insist she wear baggy sweats.
“This club owner trusted a kid to fix his books when he was being audited?”  There was disbelief mixed with incredulousness, as if Andrii wanted to believe her but the idea was so absurd, he just couldn’t.
Her smile widened.  “It wasn’t like he had anyone else.  He didn’t have time to find someone professional.  Alan had less than forty-eight hours.  I was taking classes at the college and Quentin wouldn’t let me go.  I worked nearly the full forty-eight hours straight.”
“I take it you were able to fix the mistakes his accountant had made?”
She laughed; she couldn’t help it.  “The point was to keep him out of prison.  I managed to do that.  Alan’s accountant had a big grudge against him.  He had an interest in the clubs. There are actually two clubs and they a lot of money.  With his partner out of the way, he might have managed a takeover.”
 “Was the accountant a full partner?”
Azelie shook her head.  “He had been embezzling.  That was blatant.  Alan trusted him.  He didn’t pay much attention to the books.  He does now.”
“Do you ever work at night?”
“I work whenever I need to, meaning if I’m behind or the boss calls me in for something, I’ll go in at night.  I don’t like to.  The clubs are very popular and both are always packed.  The clubs are mostly empty during the day so it’s easier to work when no one’s around but the security guards. They know to leave me alone.  Even Alan sleeps in late.  I can have the place to myself.”
“What club is it you work for?” He reached out and ran one finger down the back of the hand curled around her to-go mug as if the temptation of touching of her was too hard to resist. 
“The Pleasure Train.”  She rolled her eyes.  “The name is so ridiculous, I laughed the first time Quentin told me about it.  I can’t believe how many people go there.”
“I’ve gone there a few times with friends of mine,” he admitted. 
“You have?  The upstairs, Pleasure Train is a dance club.  The floor beneath it is the Adventure club for the much more adventurous.”  She already knew which floor he visited with his friends. 
The pad of his finger slowly stroked back and forth along the back of her hand.  “Most of those men claiming to be Doms are playing roles, Zelie.  They’re acting out parts, playacting.  Nothing more.  It isn’t a lifestyle for them or their partner.”
She nodded.  “I’ve been around them enough to have learned they’re only there to have fun.”
“You haven’t ever participated at the club, have you?”
Was there an edge to that soft voice?  A hint of steel?  A dark thrill crept down her spine. She suddenly had the premonition that he could be very dangerous.  “I’ve walked through every room many times and never once felt the slightest inclination to join in the fun,” she admitted.  It was true.  She wasn’t into games.  She didn’t play.
“I think it would be a good idea to keep it that way.”

She wasn’t certain what he meant by that.  He held a fascination for her no other man had ever managed to do.  It was disconcerting and a little frightening.  As a rule, she wasn’t the least intimidated by anyone.  She could not care less what they thought of her.
“Full disclosure, I have met your boss, Alan Billows, on more than one occasion.  However, I don’t know your brother-in-law.”
“Quentin is dead,” she said.  Azelie pressed a tight fist against her stomach where that knot of anger was, holding it in.  Keeping it there.  Knowing it was bright and hot and fresh as the day the murders had occurred.
“Zelie,” Andrii murmured, his tone that stroke of velvet.  “I’m so sorry.”
“He murdered my sister, my nephew and niece and then killed himself.  My sister and I tried to shield the children, but he shot me three times.”  She pressed her hand to her chest.  She could still feel the pain and horror of those last moments with her family.

She didn’t know why she told him.  But then she didn’t know why she admitted she’d fixed Alan’s books for him so he wouldn’t go to prison.  She’d never told anyone, and she knew Alan would beat her within an inch of her life if he found out.  The fact that Andrii had met him and had mutual friends with him didn’t bode well for her, yet she just kept blurting out intensely private and very personal details of her life to him.  She never did that.  Not even to the merry widows and she liked them.  She couldn’t say she was great friends with them because she was reserved around everyone…yet not so much around Mr. Gorgeous and Powerful.

Andrii was silent, his eyes going slate, then completely silver.  He cupped the side of her face with one palm, his thumb sliding very gently along her jaw.  “What a terrible tragedy, Zelie.  Have you talked about this with anyone?”

She gave a short shake of her head because she hadn’t.  She couldn’t lift her lashes to look at him.  They were wet.  She didn’t allow herself to cry over her family.  The rage was there, and it kept her going.  Kept her alert to every pitfall.

“Talk to me.  I’m a good listener.”

His voice was so dangerous.  Low and imperious.  Gentle and almost tender.  Hell. What did it matter if he knew the entire story?  It wasn’t as if it were a secret.

“My sister, Janine, was ten years older than me.  She married Quentin and they seemed happy enough in the beginning, at least I thought they were.  I lived with them after our mother died. I don’t remember my father.   My mother drank a lot.  And she was pretty violent when she drank.  She seemed to forget she had children, or she just didn’t care.  In any case, Janine mostly took care of me until she moved out.”

Azelie pushed the to-go mug away from her and stared steadily out the window. “Apparently Quentin liked to play at the club, and he played without Janine.  She worked, he didn’t.  He ran around on her a lot.  Suffice it to say, she was sick of it.”

Bile rose unexpectedly.  She hadn’t expected to be so affected by the relating that terrible tragedy in her past when her life had changed forever—even though the memory was always so raw and ugly when she allowed herself to think about it.

“The night before it happened, I was studying in my room.  I had a huge final the next day in one of my classes.  I also had to put a couple of extra hours in on the books at work.  Alan said he’d gone over them and added in income from one of the vendors he’d forgotten, but he’d done it incorrectly and messed everything up.  In any case, I knew I had to get up around four in the morning.  I had already set my alarm and was in my pajamas but was up studying.  Janine came into my room and I could tell she was really upset.”

A huge ball of acid threatened to choke her.  For a terrible moment she couldn’t breathe.  Andrii transferred one hand to the nape of her neck, his fingers strong as they massaged her neck. 
“Take a deep breath.  You don’t have to tell me anything else if you can’t, Zelie.”  He indicated the bottle of water on the table.  “You need to drink that.  A slow sip.  You’re here with me.  Safe.  You’re not anywhere near that man or what he did to you or the ones you love.”

Azelie was grateful he didn’t use the past tense when he referred to her loving her deceased family.  She did still love them.  She would always love them.  She took the bottle of water he pushed into her hand and drank from it.  The cool water did help ease the blockage in her throat.  The fingers massaging her neck never stopped moving.

She’d felt alone for a very long time.  Nobody had touched her since her sister had died.  She didn’t want anyone to get close to her.  She moistened her lips.  “She came into my room that night.”  Her voice was husky with pain.  “She came in and laid down on the bed right next to me.  I had my books strewn all over the bed, and Janine kind of pushed them onto the floor, and we both started laughing.  And then she started crying.  That’s when she told me she had to leave Quentin before her self-esteem was completely gone and she could never look her children or me in the face or herself in the mirror again.”

Quentin had been gone again that evening, as he had so many other nights when Janine told her she’d had enough.  She had everything in place for all of them to leave.  She was taking the children and she wanted Azelie to go with them.  They would move out of the house to a smaller place Janine could afford on her own.  She hated that Azelie had to contribute or they couldn’t afford the rent in the neighborhood where Quentin insisted on living.  Azelie had told her of course she would go.

“By that time, I didn’t like Quentin or his sense of entitlement.  I despised the fact that he cheated on my sister and didn’t work or contribute financially.”

Janine was very much like Azelie—she had a personality that needed to nurture others.  She enjoyed taking care of her man.  She didn’t mind that she was the one earning the money or that she cooked the meals and cleaned the house.  Even after the children came along, it had been Janine who took care of them.  Quentin, more and more, spent time with Alan at the club.  He came home drunk, reminding Azelie of her mother when she would show up belligerent and stinking of alcohol.

“He must have realized Janine was taking the children and leaving him.  I don’t know if he saw the suitcases or what tipped him off.”

She pressed her fingertips to her mouth, shocked that she kept talking to him when she was so careful not to talk to anyone.  It didn’t help that he knew her boss.  She had a distant relationship with Alan, but she was afraid of him.  After doing his books for so many years, she knew he was a criminal.  Not just a common petty criminal, but he was involved in things she didn’t want any part of. She didn’t want to know about them.  No one generated the kind of money he had, especially the way the payoffs came in, without being super dirty.  The kind of dirty she feared could get her killed.

She never should have told a virtual stranger that she’d fixed Alan’s books.  What kind of power did this man have that she was blurting out intimate details of her life to him?  She wanted to run from the coffee shop and hide in her tiny studio apartment.

“Zelie.”  He said her name softly, in that velvet voice that seemed to turn her inside out.  “You’ve been through a lot for one your age.  I can’t change the past, but I can do my best to make your future as safe and as happy as possible.”

Azelie had no idea how to respond.  She didn’t believe anyone could keep her safe.  If a man could kill the woman and children he was supposed to love and cherish, how could she ever believe in anyone?  Her father had abandoned her.  Her mother had done the same, just slower, choosing to drink herself to death.  Azelie had lived with Quentin from a very young age, yet he had attempted to kill her along with her sister, niece and nephew.  There were no feelings there.  None.  She didn’t—couldn’t—allow herself to believe in anyone.  That way led to disaster.  She was barely keeping her head above water emotionally as it was.  Keeping to herself was the most intelligent strategy she could have.

“I’ve got work to do this afternoon and promised a friend of mine I’d go to a club with him tonight.  Tomorrow, around five-thirty, will you meet me here?”

She didn’t answer him.  Couldn’t.  How could she agree when she wasn’t certain she could resist him?

“Let me have your phone number, and I’ll give you mine.”  He already had his cell out and was looking at her expectantly.

Azelie had no idea why she complied, but she found herself exchanging information with him.

“I’d like to take you to one of the nicer restaurants.  Wear a dress for me.  Something short and clingy to show off your beautiful figure.”  He tipped his head to one side, his eyes going silver.

“With your coloring, you could pull off red.  Or deep purple.  Vibrant.  Your hair is gorgeous.  Wear it down.  Smokey eyes.  Silver would look beautiful on you.  Surprise me.”

He stood up, towering over her.  She couldn’t speak.  Couldn’t make a sound.  He was the most intimidating, gorgeous man she’d ever encountered, and she just wanted to stare at him forever. 
“Zelie.”  He leaned down.  Two fingers slipped under her chin and raised it very gently, but decisively, forcing her head up.  “Say you’ll meet me here tomorrow at five-thirty.  I have to leave, and I can’t be late.”

His voice moved over her skin like the brush of velvet.

She wanted to shake her head and say no, but he mesmerized her.  She wasn’t certain why it was important to her to please him—but it was.


“Good girl.”  He touched her lower lip with the pad of his index finger, turned and sauntered out.

Touching her lips with trembling fingers, she stared out the window as she watched him walk down the sidewalk.  Very carefully she stood up, deliberately turning her back on the sight of him.  What in the world was wrong with her?  Why had she agreed to meet him for dinner?  She had actually agreed to wear a dress for him.  She had temporarily lost her mind.

He really was like one of the mythical heroes in one of the books—the romance books she read.  She secretly wanted a home and man who would love her.  She’d learned not to give into her needs, and she wasn’t about to allow a man—a stranger—to shatter her hard won feelings of independence and courage.  She deserved everything she’d fought for and she wasn’t taking one step back.  Not one.  It didn’t matter how gorgeous he was. Or what kind of voice he had.  It didn’t matter that he affected her the way he did. She had to stay on her present course.

The moment the door to the coffee shop closed behind Andrii, the merry widows rushed to Azelie’s tiny table, the three of them giggling like school girls.  Penny fanned herself.

“You just struck gold,” China said.  “We tried to hear what you were talking about, but he speaks so low.  So do you.”  She made it an accusation.

“Did he ask you out?” Blanc wanted to know.

“Give us the details, girl,” Penny insisted.

Azelie found she didn’t have to say very much.  She wasn’t about to tell them she’d made a total fool of herself, but she did admit Andrii had asked her out.  That sent the merry widows into a fluttery frenzy allowing her to sit back and wonder how she’d gotten herself into such a mess.

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Betrayal Road

Maestro's assignment to go undercover and gather intel from the beautiful Azelie has become complicated. Betraying her will help them find and rescue victims of a trafficking ring. It will also end in him losing the one woman who offers him solace and a future he longs for.