Soon Kate’s on the brink of discovering what happened that fateful night. Her own life is now in danger and she’s stunned by the man who comes to her rescue. Together they must fight to stay alive as they’re dragged into a corrupt world of secrets and lies. When the threat hits terrifyingly close to home, will Kate choose vengeance, or the man who has ignited a fire inside her she thought would never burn again?
Want more sizzling chemistry and scandalous action? Don’t miss Books One and Two in the Capital Confessions series, Flirting With Scandal and Playing With Trouble.
I stared out at the vast expanse of dark, the Chesapeake Bay inky black in the sticky July night. A loud boom sounded, followed by an explosion of color in the sky. Red. Blue. The scent of burning wood filled my nostrils, mixing with the salty air. Beer flowed freely from two enormous kegs, hot dogs cooking on the grill.
I sank down onto the blanket in the sand, hugging my bare knees to my chest, staring up at the fireworks.
Music and laughter blended together, the birthday party my older sister, Blair, had thrown for me at her boyfriend Thom’s house showing no sign of winding down.
I wasn’t sentimental about birthdays, never had been. Being born on July Fourth with a U.S. senator for a father, I’d quickly learned that there was no contest between America’s birthday and mine. My parents needed to be out shaking hands and kissing babies and getting my father reelected.
When we were younger, they’d dragged me and Blair along with them—two girls in matching red, white, and blue dresses, ribbons in our hair, smiling for photos and looking like miniatures of our parents—Blair’s dark hair like our mother’s, mine blond like our father’s. Only two years apart, we’d been bookends to the family photo op.
And then I’d hit eleven and that awkward stage—one that unfairly, Blair never seemed to reach—and started protesting having to spend my birthday smiling at strangers and behaving like a fucking doll. There went the family birthday celebrations. Which was fine, really. I had a bottle of beer next to me in the sand, a hot dog in my stomach, and one hundred of my closest friends—give or take fifty that were definitely total strangers.
What else could a girl want for her sixteenth birthday?
One more thing.
And he wasn’t here.
I turned back to the party, scanning the group behind me for what felt like the millionth time that night. My gaze ran over the crowd, settling for a moment on Blair and her boyfriend, Thom, sweeping back again …
Still not here.
I wasn’t totally surprised. He was spending the summer working for his father’s security firm in D.C. He’d had to work today, but said he would drive down when he got off. Still, the traffic would be brutal, especially with the holiday. Besides, it wasn’t like he was my boyfriend or anything. It was a lot of trouble to go to for a friend’s birthday—even with a history as long as ours. But Matt Ryan had never made me a promise he didn’t keep, and I couldn’t believe he’d miss my sixteenth birthday.
I lay back on the blanket, watching the fireworks flicker overhead, my fourth beer blurring the colors a bit.
So he wasn’t here. It sucked, but whatever. It had still been a good birthday.
More lights. Boom. Hiss. Aaah. Back and forth. Over and over again.
And then the bright lights disappeared. I blinked and looked up.
Matt stood over me, blocking out the fireworks, wearing a pair of khaki shorts slung low on his hips and a blue button-down shirt, sleeves rolled. A beer bottle dangled from his hand. His feet were bare.
He smiled down at me, the curve of his lips sending my heart careening to my stomach.
I sat up, trying to steady myself. We’d been friends practically my whole life; this shouldn’t have felt so weird. My palms shouldn’t be clammy, my heart racing, my throat tight.
I winced at how strained my voice sounded, all of the excitement and nerves clogging my throat leaving little room for words to escape.
“I couldn’t miss your birthday.” Matt crouched down so that we were eye level. I stared into his dark eyes, his brown hair waving with the light breeze that had picked up over the water.
My fingers itched to reach out and touch.
He had an athlete’s body, honed from years of playing soccer. It was a body that I’d seen shirtless on so many summers playing at the beach, and never felt a thing. But now, even clothed, I felt lots of things.
Matt sat down next to me on the blanket, bringing his long legs up in a pose mimicking my own—knees to chest, wrists resting on top of his legs. Given the extra eight inches he had on me, I doubted it was comfortable.
“I’m sorry I’m late. Traffic was crazy getting out of the city.”
Why was it so hard to talk to him now? It was like all of my words had frozen up. I sat there on the blanket feeling like an idiot, wondering if we’d ever have a chance at just being friends again. Did he notice how weird things were between us? Was it just me? Did he know that somewhere along the way I’d stopped seeing him as just a friend and started wanting so much more?
My cheeks flamed.
I tilted my head to the sky, staring up at the sparkling lights, the light breeze hitting my face as I tried to hide all of the emotion that lingered in my heart and eyes.
Matt set his beer down on the sand, adjusting on the blanket. A whiff of his cologne hit my nostrils and I felt a familiar set of butterflies in my belly. His leg grazed mine. I froze. Was that an accident? But if it was an accident, why was his thigh pressing into mine?
I sucked in air, not sure if I was trying to sober up the rest of the way or keep from passing out. His leg felt good against mine—warm, strong, somehow both reassuring and terrifying. My heart pounded in a mad beat.
I didn’t move, not wanting to break the connection between us, waiting to see where this was headed, if it was even headed anywhere. Desperately praying that it was headed where I so badly wanted it to go.
“You okay?” Matt asked.
I nodded, turning to face him, realizing how close we actually were. I swallowed, staring into his dark brown eyes. He hadn’t just moved his leg toward mine; he’d leaned into me so that we were only inches apart.
He smelled amazing.
My gaze trailed down, and I could barely resist the urge to attack his mouth. We’d grown up in the same circles; I’d heard girls talk about what a good kisser he was, had wondered what it would be like if I were in their place. I wanted his lips for myself now.
“Do you want your birthday present?” he asked, a smile on his face.
I wanted him.
This was a tradition we repeated every year. Matt gave the best presents—an old edition of my favorite book one year, an Eiffel Tower snow globe the summer he’d gone to France with his family that I still kept by my bed, the fact that he’d thought of me while he was on vacation feeling like everything.
“Close your eyes,” he whispered.
This, too, was a tradition, although this year the words sounded huskier, the promise of them, more.
I closed my eyes.
He took my hand and I jerked back, ready to jump out of my skin with that simple touch. He stayed still for a moment, as though easing me into it, and then I relaxed as he uncurled my fingers, opening my palm to the sky. He set something down and my fingers closed around a small round box.
My eyes slammed open.
My fingers shook slightly as I popped the lid on the box, the contents causing a hitch in my breath.