Dirty Little Lies

Men Of Summer Book 3

The Heart has its Secrets. Zack Richards knows he’s asking for trouble. Trying to protect a member of the notorious Maddox family could get a man killed- even a battle-scarred, muscle-ripped alpha like Zack. But the woman who has captured his wildest fantasies is nothing like the rest of her power-hungry clan. She’s innocent, beautiful, and has quickly become the one shining light in his dark, desperate world. The only woman worth fighting for…and dying for…

But Passion Never Lies. Her name is Grace Maddox- and everybody knows that she is a marked woman. Targeted for her family’s sins and hunted like a wild animal, grace has no choice but to accept Zack’s protection. In his arms, she finally feels safe. In his eyes, she sees an insatiable desire that mirrors her own. But the truth is dangerous- and could end up tearing them apart. Will surrendering to Zack end up being the biggest mistake of Grace’s life?

Read an Excerpt »

Chapter One

Annapolis, Maryland
Brigham Estate

Damn, he didn’t want to be here.

Pulling into the circular drive of the Brigham Estate, home of the Brigham Security Agency, Zack Richards fought back the coil of rage and betrayal that tensed in his gut every time he was ordered to show up.

The Brighams liked to call themselves his family; he liked to call them a pain in the ass. He would gladly have kept well away from them if only that were possible. Unfortunately, his uncle, the head of the Brigham family, had found a way to get Zack back to D.C. periodically.

Alexander Brigham hadn’t found a way to make him like it, though, and Zack made certain his uncle knew how very much he despised each visit. A bit childish, perhaps, but it kept Zack from hitting a man whose health was said to be suffering.

Zack hopped out of the mud-spattered pickup he’d driven in from Tennessee and strode across the drive to the imposing two-story brick colonial and up to the wide, wooden front doors, wishing he’d get a chance to pound on the wood and expend a little of his irritation. Instead, as usual, just as he set foot on the porch, the panels were opened smoothly by one of the young agents Brigham employed.

“Mr. Zack, Mr. Brigham’s assistant will show you to the office.” The younger man nodded to the aging assistant, Peters, who waited at the end of the huge foyer.

Nodding, Zack strode past the agent and over to his uncle’s assistant, scowling at the other man. “He ordered this little visit … and now he’s not available?” Zack sneered as the assistant turned and led the way down a wide hall. “Why am I not surprised?”

Not that the assistant deigned to comment. Or to speak at all until they reached the office. “Mr. Alex will be right in, Mr. Zackary,” Peters stated, his precise lack of inflection raking Zack’s nerves more than normal.

John Peters still stood tall and stiff, his shoulders militarily straight, his expression—well, he was rather devoid of any particular emotional look. For as long as Zack had known the man, he’d never seen a single emotion, opinion, flash of sympathy, compassion, like, or dislike on his long, now aging face. His gray hair was still marine short, though now it was silver gray rather than the nondescript brown of his youth.

Zack went straight to the bar, lifted the decanter of Alexander Brigham’s finest aged Irish whiskey, and poured a short glass half full before tossing half of it back with a grimace of pleasure. Refilling the glass, he tried to convince himself that this meeting wasn’t going to piss him the hell off within five minutes of Mr. Alex’s entering the room.

He knew better, though. Getting ticked off was just a given.

He turned back to Peters with a slow, mocking tilt of his brow. “Sure, Peters,” he drawled. “Tell him to take his time. I’m in no hurry.”

The assistant inclined his head with a measured move before turning on his heel to retreat from the office, closing the door silently behind him.

Zack gave his head a little shake. The man never failed to amaze him—and maybe even intimidate him just the slightest bit.

While moving around the office, Zack stared up at the mahogany shelves filled with books from floor to ceiling. He noted the cherry hardwood floors, a heavy mahogany desk the size of a bed, the comfortable leather chair behind it. A Victorian settee and matching chairs were placed in front of the fireplace on a centuries-old tapestry rug, while the walls on the opposite side of the room held portraits of four generations of Brigham patriarchs.


Taking another sip of Ireland’s finest, Zack continued to pace around the room. He shifted priceless figurines from their various places, turning them, sliding them forward or back.

Childish, he admitted again with a sneer, but it did so irritate Old Man Brigham. His uncle’s irritation would increase with each object he had to reset and place just so.

Zack walked behind the enormous desk. Once he took a seat in the heavy, far-too-comfortable leather chair, he shifted picture frames and, not for the first time, removed the silver frame of a laughing red-haired young woman, her gray eyes filled with life and love. He slid open a bottom drawer of the desk and placed the picture there, facedown.

It wouldn’t take Brigham long to find the portrait, but his uncle would get the message loud and clear. Closing the drawer, Zack turned his attention to the files stacked on the desk, intent on pulling pages from inside the folders and distributing them haphazardly throughout the pile.

One file label caught his attention, causing his jaw to clench and suspicion to tear through him. He opened the folder and scanned the pages carefully, white hot fury rearing inside him.

A weekend meeting in D.C.? It was no more than a ruse. He just hadn’t imagined the depths of the deception involved.

Zack quickly closed the folder and shoved it under his jacket, holding it in place beneath his bicep. As he stalked to the door, it pushed open and Old Man Brigham himself stepped inside the office.

“Zackary?” A frown flitted across his heavily lined face, disapproval glinting in his gray eyes. “You needn’t come looking for me—”

Zack grunted at the admonishment. “I was just on my way out.”

“The hell you say!” The protest was rife with arrogance.

“The hell I did say.” Zack stepped around him, barely glancing at his uncle as he entered the hallway.

When he neared the wood-encased steel entry doors, the agent stationed there opened the panels with a smooth flourish, his expression as bland as Peters’s when Zack strode past him.

Come to think of it, the entire household, family and help alike, showed little if any emotion. Ice water ran in their veins; he was certain of it. Pure, coldhearted logic and a touch of the psychotic.

Stepping into his pickup, Zack tossed the file to the seat beside him before starting the motor and putting his foot heavily to the gas. He probably left a few skid marks on the old bastard’s brick driveway.

At least, he hoped he had.

Any other time, he’d have felt a measure of pride over that. If he wasn’t already so damned pissed. If he didn’t want to leave the skid marks on that son of a bitch’s head instead.

Driving through the iron gates with inches to spare as the electronic release eased them open, Zack headed back to Loudon, praying he was in time. Whatever had made him believe that the Brigham family would keep their damned noses out of the mess that had arisen in the mountains of Tennessee at the beginning of summer?

He should have known better. They’d sent a traitor home in a casket with no judge, no jury to order the execution. Why imagine they’d give the Maddox family so much as a warning before executing a possible threat, and without a shred of evidence other than the traitor’s word for it?

Forget “innocent before guilty.” The Brighams believed it was innocence that had to be proved, rather than guilt.

Glancing at the file that lay on the seat beside him, Zack could feel that core of rage, normally carefully hidden, rising inside him once again. And not for the first time, he thanked God he was never part of the family his mother had fought so hard to be free of.

And he never would be part of it, no matter their seeming desperation or their threats or their games. He wouldn’t have a moment’s hesitation over foiling their plans—and this time, he might even be looking forward to it.

The strident pulse of his cell phone in the pocket of his jacket drew his attention. Hitting the Bluetooth control on the steering wheel, he answered with a terse “Hello?”

“You alone?” asked Jazz, his foster brother.

“As can be,” he answered, clenching his hands on the steering wheel, filled with a heavy foreboding at the other man’s far-too-serious tone. “We have a problem?”

Jazz’s fiancée, Kenni, was the long-lost Maddox princess. For eight years, she’d been the target of a traitor determined to kill her. The Maddox family suspected that the traitor wasn’t working alone.

“Kenni, Slade, and Jesse are fine,” Jazz assured him. “But we have a big problem. Grace Maddox was attacked yesterday evening, at the Maddox farm. Her assailant escaped. Her uncle Vinny’s not letting anyone in or out—even Kenni. That Rottweiler you gave her last year managed to catch him off guard, but one of the farmhands sent a message to me that the dog was hurt pretty bad. I haven’t been able to find out more.”

Vince wouldn’t dare refuse to allow Zack to see Grace. It would be the one time Zack would use the power the Brigham name gave him. And Alex Brigham would back him up, no matter the problems he and Zack had. No matter the plans the bastard might have to take Grace in for interrogation. He’d still back Zack.

All Jazz could tell him about Grace now though was that she was alive. Son of a bitch.

Tiny, delicate, as sweet-natured as anyone he knew, that was Grace. Fighting off an assassin would be impossible for her.

“Put our men on alert,” Zack told him, the rasp of rage in his tone clear now. “I’m just leaving the estate—”

“Slade has a plane waiting at a private airfield about twenty minutes out of D.C. You remember Chaz McDougal?” his brother asked. “His plane is hangered there.”

Tall, red-haired, Scottish to the core, and detested by the Brigham family, that was Chaz McDougal.

“I’ll be there in five,” Zack assured him. “I’ll have the pilot notify you once we’re airborne.”

“No need, Chaz is flying you in himself and knows to contact us at lift-off,” Jazz informed him. “Get here fast, Zack. They’re not letting any of us in, Kenni’s sick with worry, and we have a report that Mad Max and Beau-Remi are heading in from NOLA. Things could be getting ready to get bad.”

Kenni Maddox and her cousin Grace had worked together for two years to try to uncover the traitor threatening Kenni’s life. Neither woman had suspected how close that threat had been, though.

Maxwell Maddox and Beauregard Remington, Grace’s half brothers, were a whole other set of problems.

Big problems. The kind neither Zack nor the Maddox family needed right now.

“As quick as Chaz can get me there,” he promised. “I’ll call as soon as we land.”

Disconnecting, Zack hoped—for Alex Brigham’s sake—that the Brigham family hadn’t ordered that attempt. If they had, the war brewing in the Tennessee mountains would end up boiling over, and that was something none of them wanted.

Except, perhaps, whoever had been working with the traitor who nearly murdered Kenni Maddox more than once. They still hadn’t identified the accomplice, but he knew it couldn’t possibly be Grace Maddox.

* * *

The file was gone, just as Alexander had suspected it would be. Staring down at the disarranged papers on his desk, he blew out a relieved sigh and shook his head.

Behind him, Peters was carefully resetting the figurines to their proper positions. Books were out of order; the framed picture of Zack’s mother was missing once again. No doubt stored in the bottom desk drawer Alexander kept unlocked for Zack to hide it in.

The boy delighted in upsetting the office, but even more, he seemed to enjoy hiding the picture of Alex’s baby sister—Zack’s mother, Nicole—to show his disregard for the family. There was no changing his mind, and Zack refused to hear why his mother had run away to the mountains of Tennessee or what had been the cause of her and her husband’s murders.

The boy was nosy as hell, too, hence the reason Alex had left the file for him. Making a move against anyone in Zack’s hometown—Maddox, the Kin, or otherwise—would ensure his nephew’s complete hatred, especially where that girl Grace was concerned. At least this way, he could say he’d given Zack a chance to save her. If she was innocent, then his sister’s son would delight in thinking he was rubbing it in Alexander’s face.

The sound of Peters’s cell phone ringing and the assistant’s quick response drew Alexander’s attention. The other man listened attentively for long seconds, the corners of his eyes tightening in concern at whatever the other party was saying before disconnecting the call.

“Sir, there’s a development in the Loudon situation.” Peters stepped closer, his brown eyes showing a glimmer of concern. “It would seem Grace Maddox was attacked at her uncle’s home last night. She’s been wounded, and the pet Mr. Zack gave her last year is reported to be seriously injured. News of the attack has also reached her half brothers in NOLA. Should we send a team in?”

NOLA? Mad Max and Beau-Remi? Have mercy!

God help them all if those two became involved.

“Her condition?” Alex rasped, the fingers of one hand curling into a fist as frustration began to rise inside him.

Dammit, this wasn’t supposed to happen. Word of her mother’s confessions shouldn’t have leaked, not yet.

“Her family has all access to her limited to her uncle and his three sons,” Peters reported. “There’s no report on her condition or the extent of her injuries.”

The other man worked on the electronic pad he held, his fingers quick as he began searching for information.

“Send Victoria in alone,” Alex ordered, knowing his daughter would gain access to the family before anyone else from the house or the agency could. “She and Grace are friends, and the family seems to like her. They shouldn’t refuse to allow her to see the girl. Have a team on standby, just in case the situation deteriorates. Whoever our enemy is, they’re moving to start a war between the Kin and the agency. We can’t allow that to happen.”

He’d seen it coming for years. It was the reason his sister, her husband, and Grace’s father, Benjamin Maddox, had been targeted to die over two decades before.

He waited as Peters typed, his assistant’s fingers moving quickly over the tablet despite his age.

“The team will be ready to head out by nightfall, but Miss Alexandra demands to speak with you first. I’ve already sent orders to our pilot to expect her.”

Alexander nodded at his assistant’s quick response.

“And it would appear Mr. Zackary has stopped at the McDougal property. Our contact within his estate reports Mr. Chaz is flying him to Loudon himself.”

Alexander grimaced at that piece of information. “Figures,” he grunted. “Damned Scots bastard. I should have known Zack was friends with him. Loyalty to the family isn’t exactly in his vocabulary, is it?”

There were days he wished his father were still alive just so he could prove how wrong the old man had been all those years ago.

“I believe Mr. Zack merely likes to poke at you however possible,” Peters defended the boy yet again. “Mr. Chaz isn’t a bad sort, though, as you’ve stated yourself. He’s not exactly his father.”

“Yet,” Alex snorted before giving a heavy sigh and gazing around the office once again.

He tried to remind himself that his nephew, the son of his beloved baby sister, just didn’t understand the past. He feared Zack, like his parents, would never allow himself to hear the truth either. Not that any of them were blameless, but neither were any of them monsters.

It was a lesson young Grace Maddox would be learning soon as well.