Beautiful redemption, p.1
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       Beautiful Redemption, p.1

         Part #2 of The Maddox Brothers series by Jamie McGuire
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Beautiful Redemption


  ALSO BY JAMIE MCGUIRE

  Providence (Providence Trilogy: Book One) Requiem (Providence Trilogy: Book Two) Eden (Providence Trilogy: Book Three)

  Beautiful Disaster Walking Disaster

  A Beautiful Wedding (A Beautiful Disaster Novella) Beautiful Oblivion

  Red Hill

  Among Monsters

  Happenstance: A Novella Series Happenstance: A Novella Series (Part Two) Happenstance: A Novella Series (Part Three)

  Apolonia

  Copyright (c) 2015 by Jamie McGuire All rights reserved.

  Cover Designer: Sarah Hansen, Okay Creations, www.okaycreations.com

  Editor and Interior Designer: Jovana Shirley, Unforeseen Editing, www.unforeseenediting.com

  No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Visit my website at www.JamieMcGuire.com

  For Autumn Hull,

  Your friendship is invaluable.

  And for Kelli Spear,

  I'm so thankful to have you in my corner.

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Epilogue

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  Preorder Happenstance: Part Three

  CONTROL WAS ALL THAT WAS REAL. I had learned from a young age that planning, calculation, and observation could avoid most unpleasant things--unnecessary risk, disappointment, and most importantly, heartache.

  Planning to avoid the unpleasant though wasn't always easy, a fact that had become glaringly apparent in the dim lights of Cutter's Pub.

  The dozen or so neon signs hanging on the walls and the weak track lighting from the ceiling, highlighting the bottles of liquor behind the bar, were only slightly comforting. Everything else made it evident just how far I was from home.

  The reclaimed barn wood made up the walls, and the blond pine smudged with black stain had been designed specifically to make the Midtown space look like a hole-in-the-wall bar, but it was too clean. A hundred years of smoke hadn't saturated the paint. The walls didn't whisper about Capone or Dillinger.

  I'd been sitting on the same stool for two hours since I'd quit unpacking the boxes in my new condo. For as long as I could stand, I'd put away my items that made up who I was. Exploring my new neighborhood was much more appealing, especially in the amazingly mild night air even though it was the last day in February. I was experiencing my new independence with the added freedom of having no one at home who expected a report of my whereabouts.

  The seat cushion that I was keeping warm was covered in orange substitute leather, and after drinking a respectful percentage of my relocation incentive that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had so generously deposited into my account that afternoon, I was doing well to keep from falling off of it.

  The last of my fifth Manhattan of the evening slid from inside the fancy glass into my mouth, sizzling down my throat. The bourbon and sweet vermouth tasted like loneliness. That at least made me feel at home. Home though was thousands of miles away, and it felt even farther the longer I sat on one of the twelve stools lining the curved bar.

  I wasn't lost though. I was a runaway. Stacks of boxes sat in my new fifth-floor condo, boxes that I had packed with enthusiasm while my former fiance, Jackson, stood and sulked in the corner of our tiny shared Chicago apartment.

  Moving on was key to climbing the ranks in the Bureau, and I had gotten very good at it in a small amount of time. Jackson had been unfazed when I first told him I was being transferred to San Diego. Even at the airport, right before I'd left, he'd promised that we could still make it work. Jackson wasn't good at letting go at all. He had threatened to love me forever.

  I dangled the cocktail glass in front of me with an expectant smile. The bartender helped me set it soundly on the wood, and then he poured another. The orange peel and cherry were in a slow dance somewhere between the surface and the bottom--like me.

  "This is your last one, honey," he said, wiping the bar on each side of me.

  "Stop working so hard. I don't tip that well."

  "The Feds never do," he said without judgment.

  "Is it that obvious?" I said.

  "A lot of you live around here. You all talk the same and get drunk the first night away from home. Don't worry. You don't scream Bureau."

  "Thank God for that," I said, holding up my glass. I didn't mean it. I loved the Bureau and everything about it. I'd even loved Jackson, who was an agent, too.

  "Where did you transfer from?" he asked. His too-tight black V-neck, manicured cuticles, and perfectly gelled coif betrayed his flirtatious smile.

  "Chicago," I said.

  His lips pulled back and puckered until he somewhat resembled a fish, and his eyes widened. "You should be celebrating."

  "I guess I shouldn't be upset unless I run out of places to run to." I took a gulp and licked the smoky burn of bourbon from my lips.

  "Oh. Getting away from your ex?"

  "In my line of work, you never really get away."

  "Oh, hell. He's a fed, too? Don't shit where you sleep, sweetie."

  I traced the rim of my glass. "They don't actually train you for that."

  "I know. It happens a lot. See it all the time," he said, shaking his head, while he washed something in a suds-filled sink behind the bar. "You live close?"

  I eyed him, wary of anyone who could sniff out an agent and asked too many questions.

  "Will you be frequenting here?" he clarified.

  Seeing where he was going with his inquisition, I nodded. "Likely."

  "Don't worry about the tip. Moving is expensive, and so is drinking away what you left behind. You can make it up to me later."

  His words made my lips curve up in a way they hadn't in months even though it probably wasn't noticeable to anyone but me.

  "What's your name?" I asked.

  "Anthony."

  "Does anyone call you Tony?"

  "Not if they want to drink here."

  "Noted."

  Anthony tended to the only other patron at the bar on this late Monday night--or some might call it an early Tuesday morning. The pudgy middle-aged woman with swollen red eyes wore a black dress. As he did so, the door swung open, and a man around my age breezed in, sitting two stools down. He loosened his tie and unfastened the top button of his perfectly pressed white oxford. He glanced in my direction, and in that half second, his hazel-green eyes registered everything about me he wanted to know. Then, he looked away.

  My cell phone buzzed in my blazer pocket, and I pulled it out to check the display. It was another text message from Jackson. Beside his name, a small six fit snuggly
between parentheses, noting the number of messages he'd sent. That trapped number reminded me of the last time he'd touched me--during a hug I'd had to coax him out of.

  I was two thousand one hundred and fifty miles from Jackson, and he was still able to make me feel guilty--but not guilty enough.

  I clicked the side button on my cell phone, darkening the screen, without replying to Jackson's message. Then, I lifted my finger to the bartender while gulping down the remainder of my sixth glass.

  I'd found Cutter's Pub right around the corner from my new condo in Midtown, an area in San Diego nestled between the International Airport and the zoo. My Chicago colleagues were wearing FBI-standard parkas over their bulletproof vests while I was enjoying the warmer than usual San Diego weather in a tube top and blazer with skinny jeans. I felt a little overdressed and a tad sweaty. Granted, that could be from the amount of liquor in my system.

  "You're awfully little to be in a place like this," the man two stools down said.

  "A place like what?" Anthony said, raising a brow while practically fisting a tumbler.

  The man ignored him.

  "I'm not little," I said before taking a drink. "I'm petite."

  "Isn't that the same thing?"

  "I also have a Taser in my purse and a mean left hook, so don't bite off more than you can chew."

  "Your kung fu is strong."

  I didn't give the man the gratification of attention. Instead, I stared forward. "Was that a racist remark?"

  "Absolutely not. You just seem a little violent to me."

  "I'm not violent," I said although it was preferable to coming off as a vapid, easy target.

  "Oh, really?" He wasn't asking. He was antagonizing. "I just recently read about female Asian peace leaders being honored. I'm guessing you weren't one of them."

  "I'm also Irish," I grumbled.

  He chuckled once. There was something in his voice--not just ego but more than confidence. Something made me want to turn and get a good look at him, but I kept my eyes on the line of liquor bottles on the other side of the bar.

  After the man realized he wasn't going to get a better response, he moved to the empty stool next to me. I sighed.

  "What are you drinking?" he asked.

  I rolled my eyes and then decided to look over at him. He was as beautiful as the Southern California weather, and he couldn't have looked less like Jackson. Even sitting down, I could tell that he was tall--at least six foot three. His pear-colored eyes glowed against his beach-bronzed skin. Although he might be intimidating to the average male, I didn't get the sense that he was dangerous--at least not to me--even if he was twice my size.

  "Whatever I'm buying," I said, not trying to hide my best flirtatious smile.

  Letting my guard down for a beautiful stranger for an hour was justifiable, especially after a sixth glass. We would flirt, I would forget about any residual guilt, and I would go home. I'd possibly even get a free drink. That was a respectable plan.

  He grinned back. "Anthony," he said, holding up a finger.

  "The usual?" Anthony asked from the end of the bar.

  The man nodded. He was a regular. He must live or work close by.

  I frowned when Anthony took my glass instead of refilling it.

  He shrugged, no apology in his eyes. "Told you it was your last one."

  In half a dozen pulls, the stranger knocked back enough cheap beer to be at least close to my level of intoxication. I was glad. I wouldn't have to pretend to be sober, and his drink of choice told me he wasn't fussy or trying to impress me. Or maybe he was just broke.

  "Did you say I couldn't buy you a drink because Anthony capped you or because you really wouldn't let me?" he asked.

  "Because I can buy my own drinks," I said, albeit a bit slurred.

  "Do you live around here?" he asked.

  I peeked over at him. "Your stunted conversational skills are disappointing me by the second."

  He laughed out loud, throwing his head back. "Christ, woman. Where are you from? Not here."

  "Chicago. Just blew in. Boxes are still stacked in my living room."

  "I can relate," he said, nodding in understanding while holding up his drink with respect. "I've made two cross-country moves in the last three years."

  "To where?"

  "Here. Then, DC. Then, back."

  "Are you a politician or a lobbyist?" I asked with a smirk.

  "Neither," he said, his expression twisting into disgust. He took a swig of his beer. "What's your name?" he asked.

  "Not interested."

  "That's a terrible name."

  I made a face.

  He continued, "That explains the move. You're running from a guy."

  I glared at him. He was beautiful, but he was also presumptuous--even if he was right. "And not looking for another one. Not a one-night stand, not a revenge screw, nothing. So, don't waste your time or your money. I'm sure you can find a nice West Coast girl who would be more than happy to accept a drink from you."

  "Where's the fun in that?" he said, leaning in.

  My God, even if I were sober, he would be intoxicating.

  I looked down at the way his lips touched the rim of his beer bottle, and I felt a twinge between my thighs. I was lying, and he knew it.

  "Did I piss you off?" he asked with the most charming smile I'd ever seen.

  Clean shaven with just a couple of inches of light-brown hair, that man and his smile had conquered far more daunting challenges than me.

  "Are you trying to piss me off?" I asked.

  "Maybe. The way you hold your mouth when you're angry is...pretty fucking amazing. I might be a dick to you all night just so I can stare at your lips."

  I swallowed.

  My little game was over. He'd won, and he knew it.

  "You want to get out of here?" he asked.

  I signaled to Anthony, but the stranger shook his head and put a large bill on the counter. Free drink--at least that part of my plan had worked out. The man walked over to the door, gesturing for me to lead the way.

  "A week's worth of tips says he doesn't go through with it," Anthony said loud enough for the beautiful stranger to hear.

  "To hell with it," I said, walking quickly through the door.

  I passed my new friend and walked out onto the sidewalk, the door sweeping slowly closed. He grabbed my hand, playful but firm, and pulled me against him.

  "Anthony seems to think you'll back out," I said, looking up at him.

  He was so much taller than me. Standing that close to him felt like sitting in the front row at the movie theater. I had to lift my chin and lean back a bit to look him in the eyes.

  I leaned in, daring him to kiss me.

  He hesitated while he scanned my face, and then his eyes softened. "Something tells me, this time, I won't."

  He leaned down, and what began as an almost experimental soft kiss turned both lustful and romantic. His lips moved with mine as if he'd remembered them, even missed the way they'd felt. Unlike anything I'd experienced before, a strange electrical current crackled through me, melting my nerves away. We had done this so many times before--in a fantasy or maybe a dream. It was the best kind of deja vu.

  For less than a second after he pulled away, his eyes were still closed as if he were savoring the moment. When he looked down at me, he shook his head. "Definitely not backing out."

  We rounded the corner, walked quickly across the street, and then went up the stoop of my building. I fished inside of my purse for my keys, and then we walked inside, waiting in the elevator bay. His fingers grazed mine, and once they intertwined, he yanked me against him. The elevator opened, and we stumbled inside.

  He gripped my hips and pulled me against him as my fingertips searched for the correct button. He touched his silken lips to my neck, and every nerve sparked and danced under my skin. The tiny kisses he peppered along my jawline, from ear to collarbone, were purposeful and experienced. His hands begged me to be closer to him with
each touch as if he'd been waiting for me his entire life. Even though I had that same irrational feeling, I knew it was all part of the appeal, a part of the ruse, but the way he noticeably restrained himself from tugging too hard at my clothes made tiny shock waves careen through my body.

  When we reached the fifth floor, he had my hair pulled to the side and one shoulder exposed while he skimmed his lips over my skin.

  "You are so soft," he whispered.

  Ironically, his words made thousands of tiny bumps rise all over my skin.

  My keys jingled while I fumbled with the lock. The man twisted the knob, and we nearly fell inside. He leaned away from me, pushing the door closed with his back, and pulled me against him by my hands. He smelled like beer and a hint of saffron and wood from his cologne, but his mouth still tasted of mint toothpaste. When our mouths met again, I willingly let his tongue slip inside as I laced my fingers behind his neck.

  He slid my blazer off my shoulders and let it fall to the floor. Then, he loosened his tie and pulled it over his head. As he unbuttoned his shirt, I pulled my tube top up and over my head. My bare breasts were exposed for only a moment before my long black hair cascaded back down to cover them.

  The stranger's shirt was off, his torso a combination of impressive genes and several years of an intensive daily workout regimen that had sculpted the perfection in front of me. I kicked off my heels, and he did the same with his shoes. I ran my fingers over each of his protruding muscles and the ripples of his abdomen. One hand settled on the button of his pants while the other gripped the thick hardness under them.

  Holy. Giant. Cock.

  The sharp sound of his zipper made the warmth between my legs throb, practically begging to be caressed. I pressed my fingers into the backs of his arms while his kisses left my neck for my shoulders and then my chest. All the while, he slowly slipped off my jeans.

  He stood and paused for a few seconds, taking a moment to appreciate that I was standing completely naked before him. He also seemed a bit surprised. "No panties?"

  I shrugged. "Never."

  "Never?" he asked, his eyes begging me to say no.

  I loved the way he was looking at me--part amazed, part amused, part overwhelmingly aroused. My girlfriends in Chicago had always lauded the benefits of the strings-free one-night stand. This guy seemed like the perfect one to try it with.

  I arched an eyebrow, relishing how sexy this total stranger made me feel. "Don't own a single pair."

  He lifted me up, and I hooked my ankles around his backside. The only fabric still left between us was his dark gray boxer briefs.

 
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