Shadows and Masks (Book 1 of the Chessmen series)

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She came seeking a temporary husband, something no client had ever requested. But when an assassin set his sights on her, the job became more than just a case of smoke and mirrors. Now it was life or death.

Scientist Emmeline Griffith needed to be someone’s Mrs. just long enough to prevent the loss of her inheritance. The arrangement would be all business–a marriage in-name-only, a grand subterfuge lasting only a few months. But where would she find such an unusual husband? With the marriage deadline looming, she turned in desperation to the only man her beloved uncle trusted enough to recommend–private investigator Bartholomew Turner.

Bart Turner’s clients didn’t usually seek temporary husbands. So, when the mysterious Miss Griffith asked him to find her one, he naturally turned her down. But as she left his office, someone had the audacity to shoot her right on his own front steps. Now, not only did she need a temporary husband, but she needed a professional protector as well. And someone with the skills to discover who wanted her dead. In short, she needed him. And if he were to accomplish his mission, he must accept the contract she offered.

But odd as it seemed, the arrangement was perfect. Neither Emmie nor Bart wanted a real marriage. His demons still haunted his nightmares; his world of hunting murderers was far too dangerous for someone he might love. And for Emmie, a real husband would take away her freedom and squelch her pursuit of scientific endeavors, one of which was on the cusp of success.

But, as the embers of attraction unexpectedly burst into blazing passion, one insidious truth became evident. Someone had been slowly killing off Emmie’s family and close friends. And she was next on the killer’s list.

Heat level–sensual with some graphic sex scenes. Readers interested in sweet romance–this isn’t it.

An excerpt:

Emmie’s throat constricted. Brown hair peeked through the opening of his shirt. She had seen him bare chested before, but she hadn’t looked her fill. She squelched an impulse to touch him, to let her fingers play in the soft swirls, to stroke the texture of his skin and test the firmness of his well-honed muscles.

His feet bare, he carried a small, etched brass cup which he set beside her head. The vessel contained an oil smelling faintly of almonds. His expression remained masked, but his eyes reflected dark, unfathomable emotion. He didn’t seem as irritated as before, nor as calm as he wanted her to believe. There was an aura of tension about him that sent a thrill straight to her heart.

Bart knelt, his knees a few inches from her head. “You’ll be more comfortable with your arms down the sides of your body.”

Wetting her dry lips with her tongue, Emmie followed his soft-spoken order, rearranging her limbs as he suggested. When she settled, he leaned over and placed both his hands on her covered back, pressing gently, but firmly.

Heat radiated through the layers of sheet and blanket, soaking deep into her tissues, spreading everywhere. She groaned, the pleasure at once erotic and soothing. His scent of citrus, spices and male floated above, easily distinguishable from the incense and oil. She drank in his essence, savored the tang of him.

“Feel good?”

“Uhmmm.” More of an answer became too much of an effort.

“I’m going to fold the blanket down a little so I can work your shoulder muscles,” he said several minutes later.

Emmie tensed as cooler air brushed her shoulders.

Bart dipped his fingertips in the brass cup and the rasping sound of rough skin reached her ears as he spread the oil over his hands. Then he wrapped his palms along the ridge of her shoulders.

The shock of Bart’s large callused hands on her bare flesh made her insides sizzle, his touch gentle and sure, measured in their slide across her skin. His long fingers soon found the knots he’d discovered earlier and he kneaded them into oblivion. A moan bubbled up from somewhere inside her.

Bart’s breath hitched, the sound almost a strangled groan, but his masterful hands continued pressing into her tissues as he glided along in strong, languid sweeps.

When he stopped, a sense of loss ripped through her. She loved every one of his touches, the caress of his magic fingers moving across her skin. She didn’t want him to stop. For somewhere deep inside, in places unreachable by his firm strokes, coils of tension tightened into knots of arousal.

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