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Secret Obsession (The Cordova Empire #3)
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From the moment of my birth I’ve been rejected by those who should have loved me, labeled as a freak because of my birthmark, bullied and tormented because I look different. When you’re told every day that you’re ugly and worthless you start to believe it. I managed to escape my malicious family and build a life for myself, but they’d broken something inside of me. I’m afraid to go outside, afraid to be around large groups of people, afraid of any type of confrontation and my panic attacks have left me pretty much house bound. If it wasn’t for my online friends I probably would have given up on life long ago. But there is one special friend, a man by the name of Mark, who keeps me going. He’s brave, smart, strong, and kind…and has no idea that I’m secretly in love with him.
Once I was a good man with a perfect life. I had a job I loved training dogs for the police with my wife, had a great family who filled our lives with laughter, and I woke up every day with a smile on my face. I was completely content in my blissful ignorance. I had no idea about the criminal world that thrived all around me, no idea that I’d made some powerful enemies who do anything to destroy me. Including killing my wife. I swore my revenge, and got it, but in the process I lost my soul. It was during these dark times, after my vengeance was fulfilled and I was drifting in anguish, that a beautiful soul rescued me from my own personal hell. I tried to keep my distance, tried to shield her from the villains of the world, myself included, but the evil that surrounds me wouldn’t be denied. Despite my best attempts to keep her safe, someone is out to destroy Layla, and I’m the only one who can protect her.
But who’s going to save her from me?
Author’s Note- Each book in the Cordova Empire series can be read as a stand alone, but for the most enjoyment I’d suggest reading them in order.
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Three years ago
A slight vibration shook the smoky, mirrored walls surrounding me while I stared at the closed elevator doors. My gaze darted up as the lights embedded in the shiny gold ceiling flickered. After another brief dimming, they held steady when we stopped at one of the floors on our way down. People got on, people got off, but I couldn’t care less. Normally, I’d study every person that breeched my personal space.
Looking for my enemies everywhere I went.
Today, I stared at the display above the door, watching as the pale blue digital numbers counted down from thirty-eight. My mind was dazed, and my thoughts floated like poisonous bubbles inside the razor-sharp confines of my skull.
One of those bubbles burst, releasing toxic memories when the elevator stopped at floor twenty-four.
Gracie was twenty-four when she was murdered.
Sweat prickled on my palms as I struggled to suppress memories of a life that no longer existed.
Of a man I no longer was.
A happy guy back then, someone who greeted every day with a smile. Why wouldn’t I? Married to my beautiful high school sweetheart and owner of our own successful police dog training business—our lives had been complete. I’d been so fucking happy, so secure in the knowledge that I’d have kids and grow old with the love of my life. We’d even talked about starting a family, and she’d thrown away her birth control pills the month before she’d been killed.
One of the thoughts that tortured me was wondering if she’d been pregnant when she died. What if a tiny, perfectly innocent soul had been stamped out that terrible day?
Usually, I was good at not thinking about my personal history.
Usually, I could live in the now, with no regard for the past or fears about the future.
But today, on the anniversary of her death, my sweet Gracie haunted me.
The events of the past week—the senseless murder of a child I’d loved—shattered my normally strong mental walls. Jason, the treasured and only grandchild of the heads of the infamous Cordova Cartel, had been adored every day of his all-too-short life. Such a good kid, he always smiled and laughed. He made even the most hardened of men fall in love. You couldn’t help it; the kid was love. Jason would hug you and for a moment, with his little arms wrapped around your neck, all would be right in the world.
He’d been a beautiful, caring little boy—his only crime was being born to a greedy cunt of a mother.
Flashes of sorrow laden images from Jason’s memorial service a few days ago hit me, mixed with heart-wrenching memories of burying Gracie’s charred remains in a closed casket funeral.
While Gracie’s funeral had been soaked with rain, Jason’s burial took place on a bright sunny day.
Regardless of weather, the pain and grief had been the same.
Jason’s father Fernando had screamed in mortal agony as the first shovel of dirt hit the coffin, the terrible sound enough to drive most people to their knees.
I could sympathize with the horrified misery that comes from putting someone you love in the ground.
When the hauntingly familiar plink of earth falling onto hollow wood reached my ears, I’d nearly thrown up.
My twisted mind focused on what it must be like to be them.
To wonder if they were still aware.
Paralyzed, trapped in a rotting corpse, being buried alive and sealed away from those they loved.
In the dark.
All alone in the suffocating dark.
Unable to stop the shovelfuls of dirt cutting them off from the world of the living forever.
Trapped in the unbreathing dark.
A shudder whipped down my spine, and I tried to think about something—anything—else. These dark torments had been haunting me for days. They robbed me of any sleep or sanity. I felt fragile, brittle, and on edge—a dangerous combination for a man of my profession. One wrong move, one mistake caused by my inattention, and the people I cared for and guarded could be dead.
I had to get a hold of myself.
I had to find control.
I had to stop thinking about Gracie before I drove myself crazy.
I vividly recalled the way her dark blonde hair gleamed in the sunlight coming off the lake at my parent’s house. Each individual strand glowed with glints of gold, framing her heart-shaped face. She’d been seventeen years old, dressed in a cherry red bikini that showed off her curvy frame. That memory was shortly after we had sex for the first time, so we were still going at it like rabbits. Which reminded me of making love to her in a sleeping bag on one of our endless camping trips in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I’d proposed to her beneath those brilliant stars.
My wife loved the outdoors. Gracie connected to nature in a way few people could understand, and that link gave her an incredible gift with animals. When we trained police dogs for the Detroit police department together, I always marveled at her ability to communicate with our pack. Hell, with any animal. They instinctively understood that she had a good, pure heart.