Thursday, February 16, 2017

Showcase Close to Home by Lily Everett


Today I'm showcasing Close To Home, the 5th in Lily Everett's Sanctuary Island series.
If you like second chance love stories you'll love this one between a lonely wife and a husband with secrets.
Enjoy!





ISBN-13: 9781250074058
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: 2-7-2017

Length: 304pp
Buy It: B&N/Amazon/Kobo/IndieBound
Overview:
The best journeys take us home….
When Tessa Alexander came to Sanctuary Island, she left behind a marriage to a man who didn’t love her the way she loved him. When she finally found the strength to set them both free, she discovered friendship and self-acceptance in her adopted hometown. Now she’s settled into a quiet life on her own—never expecting to see her husband again.
Johnny spent almost two years deep undercover, unable to let his wife into his cold, dangerous world. He’s shaken to the core when he comes home to find her gone. It’s painfully clear that Tessa is no longer the timid young woman he married—she’s become a force of nature, a brave and determined beauty. Johnny can’t let her go without a fight so he sets out to seduce his own wife. But will passion alone be enough to convince Tessa that her new life should include a second chance at happiness with a man who must learn to believe in love?
Fall in love with Close to Home by Lily Everett!



Read an excerpt courtesy St. Martin's Press:

Chapter 1



“Here he is, the man of the hour. Johnny Alexander, everyone!”

He blinked, thrown for a bizarre, stomach-tightening instant by the sound of his real name, as all around him the agents and support staff of the Washington Bureau ATF office stood up from their desks and clapped.

Alex—no, damn it, Johnny—consciously relaxed his sore shoulders and forced his mouth into the easy smile that had gotten him out of uglier situations than this. A tense shootout followed by an all-night debriefing was nothing compared to living for eighteen endless months as someone else, surrounded at all times by violent criminals who would cheerfully slit his throat if they knew he was a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

Today was supposed to be his victory lap, for God’s sake. Not a test of endurance already strained to the breaking point by a year and a half of deep undercover work.

But as he moved through the smiling throng of coworkers he barely recognized, shaking hands and accepting slaps on the back, Johnny wished he could be someplace else.

With every beat of his heart, every breath of his body, he wanted to be walking into the tidy little town house he shared with Terri.

The thought of his wife’s shy half smile and downcast eyes warmed something deep in Johnny’s chest—a place that had been frozen solid for months. Months he’d survived by locking away the memory of Terri’s long, light brown braid curving over her shoulder, or the shine of tears in her green eyes when she’d seen him off on this assignment to stop a ring of gun runners.

Maybe most people wouldn’t understand the Alexanders’ marriage. It hadn’t started as the love match of the century—in fact, you could argue it wasn’t a marriage at all, more of a marriage in name only. But it was everything to Johnny.

For eight long years, since the night he found a terrified seventeen-year-old girl sobbing and shivering in his family’s barn, Johnny had wanted nothing more than to protect Terri. From her parents, from the harsh, cold world—from himself.

Terri was sweet. Clean. Pure. Everything Johnny wasn’t, after six years of heavy deployment with the army and two years in the ATF.

He needed that now more than ever. When he’d been posing as Alex Santiago, he’d kept his memories of Terri on total lockdown along with his worries about her safety. It was the only way to fully immerse himself in the role. Any slipup could’ve meant his life—and would’ve blown an op that was years in the making and responsible for the ATF’s best hope of getting a huge number of illegal guns off the streets.

“Johnny!” A tall man with a receding hairline and eyes that crinkled at the corners came forward, hand outstretched, and Johnny felt his smile turn real for the first time in a long time.

“Brad. How are you, man?”

They exchanged a brief, back-thumping hug before Brad pulled back with a grin. “Not as good as you, Mr. Hero. It’s great to see you in person. And all in one piece.”

“More or less.” Johnny shrugged, exhaustion weighing him down as if his bones were made of lead. At the same time, though, he felt twitchy, like he was about to jump out of his skin. Johnny scraped a palm over the short bristles of beard he’d grown to rough up Alex Santiago’s look. He couldn’t wait to take a hot shower and shave it all off. Now that the danger was past, his skin itched with the need to shed every bit of Alex Santiago he could.

Of course, Alex’s memories wouldn’t be as easy to wash away.

Ignoring the sharp scrutiny Brad swept over him, Johnny rolled his neck and gave him a grin. If there was one thing Johnny was sure of, it was his ability to deflect suspicion. “I’m glad there’s at least one guy from the old days still kicking around this office. It’s been less than two years, but I swear to God, I don’t recognize anybody else. And when did the ATF start hiring high school kids?”

“I know, they’re infants.” Brad slung an arm around his neck and started leading him toward the glassed-in office at the rear of the floor. When they got close enough to make out the name on the placard beside the door, Johnny turned to his handler with genuine happiness.

“Bradley Garner. ASAC. What the hell, man? Why didn’t you ever say anything?”

Brad shrugged modestly, but there was a well-deserved light of pride in his eyes. “Oh, sure. I guess I should have mentioned my promotion to assistant special agent in charge during one of your calls, in between making sure your cover wasn’t blown and you weren’t about to get shipped home in a body bag.”

“There wasn’t a lot of time for small talk,” Johnny agreed. “I didn’t get much news from home.”

The deeper Alex Santiago had gotten embedded into the gang, the harder and more perilous it had been for Johnny Alexander to get word out about their activities. Phone calls on burner phones and coded e-mails sent from library computers—and getting any info back from the home office had been even harder. Johnny could count the messages he’d received from Brad on his fingers, and most of those had come during the final days of breakneck preparation for the big takedown.

“Listen, you know I haven’t been home yet. How’s Terri doing?” Johnny paused, a nameless emotion gripping his insides. He’d had even fewer messages from home, and not a single one in the past year, but he knew Brad would’ve been looking out for Terri.

“She’s fine.” Brad’s smile was wide and easy, but tight at the corners. “Hey, come check out my new digs. Swanky, right?”

Johnny glanced around the cramped office of the new special agent in charge, taking in the immaculate desk and the old-fashioned file cabinets while trying to tell himself he was reading too much into the way Brad held his gaze with the steadiness of a man who knew how to lie and make it convincing.

“Nice. How many nights a week do you spend on that couch, and how bad does Donna make you pay for it each time?” Johnny smirked at his old friend to hide how closely he was studying Brad’s expression. “Wives. Gotta keep ’em happy.”

There it was again, the slight tightening at the corners of Brad’s eyes, a tiny twitch of muscle at the back of his jaw.

Johnny’s guts clenched. He dropped the grin. “Tell me.”

Wincing at the flat command, Brad sighed and flipped the venetian blinds over the glass walls closed. He rounded his desk to pull something out of the top drawer. “This is for you. It’ll explain everything.”

Johnny watched his hand take the thin white envelope with a strange, detached feeling.

“For what it’s worth,” Brad was saying as Johnny opened the envelope and pulled out a sheaf of papers, “I told her she was making a huge mistake.”

Every ache and pain faded under the cold rush of numbness that crashed through Johnny like an avalanche.

Dear Johnny, he read. I want to start by thanking you for everything. You’ve been my savior and my guardian angel since I was almost eighteen. But I’m not a teenager anymore, even though I know part of you still sees me that way. I’ve come to realize that you always will. To you, I’ll always be that helpless young girl you rescued. I get it, and I get why you’ll never see me as someone you could want to be with for real. I don’t blame you—it’s just how things are between us. But I want more. I deserve more.

Whew. Even writing that down was hard for me. I’m still working on believing it. But I know for sure that the first step for me is to release both of us from this marriage.

I’m sorry for putting this in a letter, but I don’t want you to feel like you have to argue with me about it or make promises you can’t keep. I want a new life, a life I can be proud of, on my own terms and without relying on anyone else to save me. I hope you can understand that.

I’ll always be grateful that I met you when I did. I don’t regret the years we spent together, and I hope you don’t,either. I know you’ll finish this mission and come home safely, because you’re the strongest, smartest, best man I’ve ever known. I won’t ever forget you, and I sincerely hope you find someone who makes you happy the way I never could.

With all my heart,

Theresa

The sound of paper tearing startled Johnny out of the cold, gray fog the letter created. He looked down at the rip in the paper where his clenched fist had crumpled it. Behind the top page, behind the letter, was a stack of official-looking documents. He didn’t need to read through them to know they were divorce papers.

“When,” he growled, clamping down on the urge to rip the pages to shreds.

“She left the package with me almost a year ago.” Brad’s reply was prompt but his tone was cautious, as if he were aware how close Johnny was to melting down. “I wanted to call you, but it was right after Valdez put you on his personal security detail, and I couldn’t have you distracted. Plus…”

Brad grimaced and broke off, but Johnny had to know. “Plus what?”

“She begged me not to tell you. I think she was worried you’d endanger yourself rushing home to talk her out of it.”

Anger flashed red-hot through Johnny’s chest, burning away the numb ache. “Maybe I would have. Damn it, Brad.”

“That would have been a bad call,” his handler said firmly.

Johnny slammed his hands down on Brad’s fancy new desk, everything inside him burning for Terri, desperate to get to her. “It should’ve been my bad call to make.”

Brad’s eyes flicked to the door of his office, and Johnny realized how loud his voice had gotten. Breathing hard around the constriction in his chest, he stood upright and backed off a step or two. He needed information. As much as part of him wanted to beat it out of Brad, the rest of Johnny knew he’d get further by controlling himself and the situation.

“Listen, I know you’re pissed,” Brad said quickly, holding up his hands in surrender. “I get why. If I came home and found Donna had up and moved out, left town—”

“She moved away?” Johnny’s head spun. He couldn’t imagine the quiet woman he’d left behind having the guts to pack up and start a new life, the way she’d written in the letter. Not that Terri was weak, exactly. She’d lived through hell as a kid, and Johnny was of the opinion that surviving her childhood meant Terri was stronger than she even knew. But the fact remained that when he was home on leave, he’d have to coax her into going out to dinner. And when he was gone, he knew she barely went farther than the grocery store or library.

Brad was nodding, a complex expression darkening his friendly eyes. “A new start, she said. For both of you.”

Feeling trapped, Johnny prowled the perimeter of the office. “A new start. Was she really that unhappy? I mean, I know I was gone for a long time, but after the navy, that was nothing new. We’ve spent most of our marriage apart, but I thought we were solid. That we understood each other.”

Except they hadn’t, obviously. Johnny hadn’t understood anything.

Unless it was the opposite … that Terri understood more than he knew. His blood went icy cold. Oh, God. Had she figured out his secret? Was that why she left?

“This is a shock.” Brad was all sympathy and gentleness. Johnny wanted to punch him in the mouth to get him to stop sounding like the shrink they wanted to make him talk to about the aftermath of the undercover assignment.

“She thinks I don’t want to be with her.” For some reason, the words grated at Johnny’s throat on the way out. “That’s what she said, in the letter. How messed up is that? Why would I have stayed married to her if I didn’t want to be with her?”

The problem had nothing to do with whether Johnny wanted Terri. He’d never wanted anything in his life more than he wanted his wife. The problem was that he couldn’t let himself take advantage of her. He couldn’t touch her. No matter how much he lay awake at night, his palms aching to trace the lines of her slim body.

“I can’t speak to why you married Terri,” Brad said, clearly choosing his words carefully. “People get married for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes it’s about companionship. Security.”

“So I married her to keep her safe. To take care of her. Is that so awful?”

“It’s not awful.” Brad paused. “But it’s not exactly true love, either.”

Johnny cursed, low and filthy, and dragged his hands over his face. “True love. Please. Love is for puppies and kids’ movies. You sound like that moron shrink.”

“Dr. Reeves isn’t a moron. She’s a valued member of the department and she’s here to help you transition back to your real life.”

“You have to say crap like that now that you’re ASAC.”

Brad shrugged. “Doesn’t mean it’s not true. Deep-cover missions tend to scramble people’s brains. Whatever we have to do to unscramble you, we want to do it.”

“My brain is fine. It’s my life that’s a mess.” Johnny leaned over the desk, spearing his handler with a glare. “And you’re going to help me clean it up.”

“Maybe you should sit with this for a few days, try to process. Take some time off, do your mandatory talk therapy with Dr. Reeves…”

The rage that had propelled Alex Santiago through countless challenges of his loyalty to the gang filled Johnny’s gut and tightened his hands into fists. “I’m not talking to a damn shrink. I’m going after Terri and I’m going to get my wife back.”

Alarm widened Brad’s eyes and he shifted in his seat. The hot, furious part of Johnny took a grim satisfaction in the knowledge that he was making his friend nervous. To Brad’s credit, though, his voice stayed steady and low, like he was talking a jumper off a ledge.

“Johnny. Think about what you’re saying. Terri left you. She doesn’t need you to take care of her anymore—maybe you should think about taking care of yourself right now, instead.”

“Where is she? I know you kept tabs on her, Brad. Tell me where she is.”

“You’re not even listening to me. Johnny, man, you’ve got to calm down.”

Johnny slammed his hands down on the desk, the sound like a gunshot impacting muscle. His brain flashed white-hot, his focus narrowing to the man in front of him—the information Johnny needed. Before he knew what he was doing, he’d shoved the desk aside to wrap his hand around the man’s throat.

“Tell me where my wife is,” Johnny snarled. “Right now.”

He didn’t even recognize his own voice, guttural and wrecked, and the shock of that was enough to loosen his grip. Brad never flinched and never broke his gaze. All he said was, “You need to let me help you, Johnny.”

Johnny froze, heart pounding. What the hell was he doing? He backed up a step, raising his shaking hands to show he wasn’t a threat. His vision was swimming, the back of his throat coated with the peculiar metallic tang of adrenaline, and he wasn’t so sure he wasn’t a threat. But Brad didn’t call in security, or one of his baby agents out there in the bullpen. Instead, Brad regarded him with eyes that saw and understood way too much.

“Okay. Maybe I do need some help,” Johnny admitted, reluctance drying his mouth out. “But I need this more. Please, Brad.”

His handler—the man who had been a reassuring voice in Johnny’s ear for the past eighteen months—studied him for a long moment while Johnny tried not to look like a basket case. He didn’t even know why he was pushing this so hard. It was Terri’s choice to leave, and maybe it was time to stop torturing himself with wanting what he couldn’t let himself have.

But first, Johnny had to see her for himself. To know for sure that she was okay. And if she wasn’t, he’d convince her to come home where he could keep her safe and close.

Close enough to touch. Not that he ever would.

With a sigh that seemed to come from the soles of his feet, Brad reached into his desk drawer and withdrew a file folder. Setting it on his desk, he tapped his blunt fingers on it and regarded Johnny thoughtfully.

“I had a feeling you were going to want to follow your wife, so I put together this file. It contains Terri’s new address and some intel about her new life.”

Johnny reached for it immediately. He had to suppress a growl when Brad flattened his palm and anchored the file to the desk. Forcing himself to stand down, Johnny crossed his arms over his chest in resignation. He knew the score. You can’t get something for nothing.

“What do I have to do to get that file?”

“Make me a promise.” Brad eyed him like an appraiser pricing out a shipment of semiautomatics. “Go to Terri. Talk to her, set your mind at ease, work out your marriage or don’t, but I’m putting you on administrative leave. And you’re going to complete the program I’m assigning you—ah, ah, just wait. You can do both things simultaneously because the program is based on Sanctuary Island.”

Everything inside Johnny went still, as if a bell had been rung in the silence of his mind. “Sanctuary Island?”

Nodding slowly, Brad slid the folder across the desk. “That’s where your wife is.”

Johnny looked up, determination quickening every muscle like a predator sensing prey nearby. “Then that’s where I’m going.”

Sanctuary Island was going to be the place where Johnny found out what the rest of his life would look like. Whether he’d spend it alone or with the woman he’d married. The woman who made his blood pound with forbidden lust, at the same time as she soothed his soul with her quiet presence.

The woman he’d sworn he’d never touch.



Copyright © 2017 by Lily Everett.
Books in the series

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Meet Lily:
Lily Everett is the author of several books including, Sanctuary Island, Heartbreak Cove, and Shoreline Drive. She grew up in a small town in the foothills of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains and has loved romance her whole life. She is thrilled to share the world of her beautiful imaginary Sanctuary Island with all her readers. She and her family currently live in Austin, Texas where she writes full-time.








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5 comments:

  1. I've read most of the books in this series and enjoyed although not reached this one yet. And as my reading is cutting back due to quilting it might be awhile before I reach it.

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    1. Oh do you share your quilting craft on your blog? I'd love to see one

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  2. I don't think I have tried this author Debbie. I will add book one to my wishlist.

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    Replies
    1. hope you like her Kim, she was one of those self published authors that got "discovered" and signed by a publisher

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  3. I keep seeing this one and thinking yes I need to read it. NEED. I've heard a lot of good about her.

    ReplyDelete