Posting the first few pages of CRASHED, the final story in the Barnes Brothers series…my contemporary romance series about five sexy brothers.
FYI, if you’re a librarian, bookseller or reviewer, you can request to review it from NETGALLEY! It will only be available another two weeks (roughly) so grab it while you can!
15 Years Old
Text messages sent & received
Isabel: I miss you already.
Travis: I know. I can’t believe it’s going to be a year before I can see you again. Can’t I at least call you?
Isabel: Travis, I told you about my dad. He’s absolutely the worst. He probably thinks I’ll get pregnant just talking to a guy I like.
Travis: Alright, alright. I’d just as soon avoid pissing him off since I plan on marrying you as soon as we’re 18.
Isabel: You can’t be serious.
Travis: I told you I fell in love with you the second I saw you and I meant it. You said you love me, too, right? So, why shouldn’t we want to get married, Bella mine?
Isabel: ♥ ♥ ♥ Bella mine? That’s so sweet! ♥ ♥ ♥
Travis: Yeah, well. It’s how I feel. You’re mine. I’m yours. That’s it for me.
Isabel: I don’t know how I ended up finding a guy like you. You’re so wonderful.
Travis: Is that a yes?
Isabel: You’re impossible.
Travis: I’ll keep asking until you say yes.
16 Years Old
Text messages sent & received
Travis: It’s official, Bella-mine. I hate that guy. Your dad is a dick.
Isabel: I told you. I’m sorry he was so rude to you and your brothers. Your mom, though…wow. She’s a queen. I’ve never seen anybody put him in his place like that.
Travis: I want to ask you something. Please don’t lie to me.
Travis: Do you promise you won’t lie?
Isabel: I won’t lie. But I can’t promise to answer, either.
Travis: I guess if you don’t answer, that will be an answer on its own, won’t it?
Travis: My dad followed you and your family out to the car. I know because I was kinda following, too, and I saw him. I didn’t say anything about it. I planned to, but then we got home and everybody had gone to bed … well, I went downstairs and heard him talking to Mom.
Isabel: About what? Why would he follow me?
Travis: The same reason I did. He was worried your dad would hurt one of you.
Travis: Iz, damn it, answer me or I’m calling.
Isabel: Don’t call! Please!
Travis: You’re scared of him.
Isabel: I can’t answer that.
17 Years Old
Text messages sent & received
Travis: One more month until I can see you again, Bella-mine. I can’t wait.
Isabel: Me, neither. The months get longer and longer, don’t they?
Travis: Yeah. But that’s only because we’re almost done with this shit.
Isabel: I hope so. But you have to remember what we planned.
Travis: I know. We’ll take care of all that. I’ve spun some bullshit to my mom, pretending I was thinking about a book and asked her. We can do this, Iz. I promise.
Isabel: I hope so, Trav. I really hope so. Dad did something…never mind.
Travis: What did he do?
Isabel: Don’t worry about it, okay?
Travis: Tell me.
Isabel: You’re a bully sometimes. Look, maybe it’s no big deal, but he introduced MK to some guy. It’s the son of a friend of his. Maybe it will be okay. I don’t know. But I heard him on the phone and he’s already talking about them getting married. It was…weird. Okay?
Travis: Your dad talking about them getting married and being okay with it? That’s not weird, baby. That’s straight-up Twilight Zone shit. And what the fuck? MK is 15! He doesn’t even want you dating.
Isabel: Not unless it’s some asshole he likes. And I don’t like the assholes he thinks I should date.
Travis: When did this start! WTF!
Isabel: Fuck. I shouldn’t have said anything. He’s just had a couple of guys from his office come over and SUGGESTED I accept when they ask me out. I haven’t, okay? But he’s pushy about it.
Travis: I want to kill him.
Isabel: Don’t say that. He’s a jerk, but he’s still my dad.
Travis: I didn’t say I would kill him, just that I wanted to. Don’t let him push you into anything, Bella-mine. I love you.
18 Years Old
Text messages sent & received
Isabel 9:52 PM: Travis. Something happened today.
Isabel 10:59 PM: Never mind. Forget about it.
Travis 11:37 PM: Hey, I saw your text. Sorry I didn’t answer sooner.
Travis 12:02 AM: Isabel?
Travis 7 AM: Isabel, come on, answer me.
Travis 8:31AM: Hey, are you mad at me? I meant to text earlier than I did last night, but things got a little crazy here. I don’t want to keep texting cuz it was getting late and I didn’t want to wake you. I know the gift card thing isn’t the same as flowers or anything, but you know I love you.
Isabel 8:45 AM: I’m not mad at you. It was just a shitty day. My dad pulled that “it’s time you start thinking about your future” shit again and we were all out to dinner this time and I couldn’t get away from the fucking prick he invited along as my DATE. I hate him, Travis. I hate him so much. I hate him, hate him, hate him.
Travis 8:47 AM: I hate him, too. Want me to fly out there and beat him up?
Isabel 8:50 AM: I want you to fly out here and take me away from all of this. Now.
Travis 8:53 AM: If you’re serious, I’ll be on a plane as soon as I can get a ticket. Just say the word, Bella-mine.
Travis 9:02 AM: Iz?
Travis 9:39 AM: Isabel, do you want me to come get you?
Isabel 10:01 AM: More than anything. But I can’t. My sisters need me. My mom won’t do shit to protect them from Dad. They’ve only got me. If I run off without finishing school, it will make it that much harder to get custody. But this summer, I’ll graduate, they’ll be 16 and it will be different. It’s just a few more months. Right? I can do it for a few more months. I can.
Travis 10:03 AM: You can. Then you’ll never have to see the prick again.
18 Years Old
“Hey…aren’t you Zach Barnes’s little brother? Travis, right?”
Travis glanced at the older guy before focusing back on his phone. “You’re a little old to be a Kate+Nate fanatic, aren’t you?”
Travis was used to people recognizing him. Some even mistook him for Zach at first, although that was happening less and less. Both Travis and Trey were catching up to their older, very famous brother, but over the past couple of years, Zach, the former child star and tattoo-artist-in-training, had started sporting a fair amount of ink.
The paparazzi had gone crazy over the first few tattoos, but Zach had ignored it all, pretty much as he had ignored just about everything Hollywood-related, save for his co-star, since the last episode of the sitcom aired a few years earlier.
“Yeah.” The stranger smiled, a friendly, affable grin.
Travis didn’t buy what that smile was selling. Not for a minute.
“Guilty, kid. I never watched it much. My sister did. She had pictures of him tacked all over her room. Now Abigale…” He smiled. “She’s something else.”
Snorting, Travis shot a look to the line waiting at the counter. Zach was up there, along with Travis’ twin, Trey. But the line was moving damn slow and they were too far away to hear.
“You better not let Zach hear you talking about her. He’s crazy about her. And … ” He gave the man another look from head to toe before giving a derisive snort. “She’s a little young for you, don’t you think?”
“I’m not talking about that. She’s a beautiful young woman, of course, but I’m old enough to be her father.” The man frowned, and the look of distaste in his eyes told Travis he meant it. But then he shot another look back at Zach. “They got a thing going, huh?”
Travis put the phone face down. Isabel probably wouldn’t be able to text him any time soon, but he was ever hopeful. They were on the final countdown here. Just a matter of days. That’s all it was.
But first, he had to deal with this jackass.
Leaning against the padded back of the bench, Travis gave the man a hard look. Probably close to forty, he decided. Old. But his eyes were even older. He wanted something, too. Growing up with a famous—and rich—older brother, Travis had learned how to spot the takers and users pretty young.
“What do you want?” he asked bluntly. “You’re not here to talk about Zach or Abby. Are you?”
The guy’s eyes narrowed in speculation, then, after shooting a look over his shoulder toward the front of the restaurant where the other two Barnes brothers waited, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small white card. Placing it in front of Travis, he used one finger to push it to the edge of the table. “You’re a sharp one, aren’t you? I want to talk to you about your girlfriend, kid. She’s…not exactly what you think.”
Anger punched through him, cutting through his surprise that this guy knew about Isabel. “Fuck off.”
“I’m serious. Look, I know all about the thing going on between you two. Adorable, really. But there’s a lot of shit about that girl—and her family—that she hasn’t told you. And it’s ugly, dangerous shit.” He leaned closer. “I’m talking shit that could put that family you love so much in danger. Call me. Or don’t. But if you’re as sharp as I think you are, you’ll do the right thing.”
He turned and walked away, leaving Travis to glare at his back. He almost jumped up and went after him, but stopped himself when he caught sight of his twin waving him down. Trey pointed at the sign and mouthed something Travis didn’t care enough about to parse through so he just nodded and went back to fuming.
Looking at the card, he read the simple font.
The official-looking seal on the card was what really got under his skin … that, and those three words just under the man’s name.
Federal Bureau of Investigation
“What the fuck?” Scowling, he picked up the card.
“Don’t forget the ketchup, Trey.”
Hearing Zach’s voice, he shoved the card into one of the pockets on his board shorts, zipping it shut just before Zach put down a tray filled with soft drinks—and an amber bottle.
Zach had recently turned twenty-one and was enjoying his legal drinking-age status.
Normally, Travis would have razzed him about it.
But he was too busy thinking about the card the guy had left.
An FBI agent.
What the fuck?
“You going to tell me what’s up?”
Travis shot his twin a dark look. “Nothing.”
“Bullshit. You’ve been in a mood ever since lunch.” Trey swung his legs over the side of the bed. “What’s the deal? Your girl not here yet?”
Travis glared at him. He’d never outright told Trey about Isabel. Hadn’t needed to, really, because his twin knew. The one time Trey had asked for information on whoever it was that had him twisted up, Travis told him the truth.
“I love her. We’re going to get married as soon as she graduates high school.” Travis and Trey had both already graduated and were in college—a couple of years early. “Don’t go running and tell Mom or Dad, though. Her dad is psycho—seriously psycho and if he hears anything about it, he’ll hurt her.”
“If he’s crazy, why not call the cops?”
“Because her dad is a US District Attorney, man. He’s a dick and he’s crazy, but nobody will listen if I just call the cops without any proof. She’s afraid he’ll hurt her family and none of the cops will listen if I just try to report him. I can’t risk him hurting her.”
“I told you not to talk about her,” he said now, keeping his voice low, although it was just the three of them there at their parents’ vacation house just outside of Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Zane was in Europe … somewhere, waiting tables in Italy, hiking the Alps, taking pictures in France or eating stinky cheese. Travis had no idea.
Sebastien was spending the night with one of the kids he’d become friends with during their numerous summers here.
Zach was probably online chatting with Abby, which meant he wasn’t aware of anything, or anybody, else.
Their dad had surprised their mom with a getaway to a B&B for just the two of them their first three nights in the Cape Cod area, so for the first time, it was just the three brothers.
Trey rolled his eyes but held up his hands. “Okay, okay. I’m just wondering what’s wrong, man.”
“Bullshit.” Trey scowled. “Look, if you don’t want to talk, fine. Tell me. But don’t lie to me, okay?”
Guilt twisted his gut and he sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. “Sorry, Trey. I’m just in a shitty mood, alright? That’s the truth, too—no lie.” He wasn’t going to go into detail, though. He trusted his twin, but his gut was in knots about what that Hawkins guy had said earlier.
He needed to talk to Isabel but they had just gotten into town a few hours earlier. It would be tomorrow at the earliest before she could get away from the vacation house her father owned.
“I’m going for a run, alright?”
Trey eyed him. “Want company?”
“Nah. I just need to clear my mind.”
Isabel: Dad has a fun-filled day of deep-sea fishing lined up tomorrow.
Can we meet early?
Travis’s heart almost jumped out of his chest when the text came. It was already racing from the three-mile run he’d just taken and now thundered in his chest, the beat brutal.
He’d been waiting to hear from Isabel ever since he woke up that morning—at five fucking a.m.
She’d be here today. They always got to Provincetown on August 2, rain or shine, no matter what.
He knew he wouldn’t see her until tomorrow, at the earliest. But once she was ready, they were leaving this town, getting away from her father, and getting married.
He already had everything planned, from how much money he needed to pay a guy in town to drive them to Boston, to the tickets they’d need to fly out to California—no way could they stay here. Not right away, at least. He already knew his parents would be pissed, but they’d get it, once he talked to them. They’d understand. And Mom could help, too. She might not be some hotshot US District Attorney but she was still a lawyer, and she was fucking whip-smart and she had a brain that was almost scary.
His hands were shaking a little as he lifted the phone and read the message again. Another popped up before he could text his reply.
Isabel: Travis, listen. There’s something I need to tell you. It’s really important. I
“I what?” Frowning, he waited, but no other text came.
He texted her after a few minutes of waiting.
There was no response.
Not thirty minutes later when he arrived on the outskirts of the property owned by Wilson T. Steele, US District Attorney and the man Travis had hated since he was sixteen.
He stayed in the shadows created by the hedges as he looked across the carefully manicured lawn, lip curled in disgust at what he saw. A fucking party. Steele was always having these parties here, even flying in friends he wanted to impress, making his girls and wife dress up like living dolls to parade in front of people.
A slim, almost frail figure passed by and he recognized Mary Kate, felt a wash of protectiveness run through him. Steele called her and she nodded, heading over to her father without speaking.
Gripping one of the tall iron fence posts, he searched the crowd for Isabel, easily finding Ellen, Mary Kate’s twin. He grinned when he saw what she wore, suspecting she’d worn it solely to piss her dad off. Ellen couldn’t be more different from her more delicate twin, even though their looks were identical—at least on the surface. But nobody who really looked at a person would ever mistake one twin for the other. Ellen wore a dress that was probably better suited for a woman ten years older, a bold, blistering red that ended just a few inches past her butt and dipped low in the back—and the front, he realized when she turned around to wave at her father when he called her name.
Steele glared at her but she pretended not to notice before turning back to her conversation partner, a guy easily three times her age, who couldn’t keep his eyes off the neckline of her dress.
Travis wanted to scale the fence and go hit him, even though he’d never officially met Ellen. It was the right thing to do for a sister-in-law, though, wasn’t it?
“Finally … the guest of honor!” Wilson called out, his voice carrying.
Everybody fell silent.
The hair on the back of Travis’ neck stood on end.
“Hey, kid. Fancy seeing you here.”
He shot a look to his right and saw Miles Hawkins, the FBI agent—or so the card had said. But he only made eye contact for a few seconds before Steele’s voice caught his attention once more.
“Honored friends and guests, my oldest daughter, Isabel.”
Travis saw her in the doorway and his heart twisted in his chest, the exact way it had done when he’d seen her for the first time three years ago. It almost hurt to breathe now, just as it had then, and he had to remind himself that breathing was necessary.
The crowd parted and his hand tightened convulsively on the fence post. Could he get her attention? Could he—
“What the fuck … ”
Dazed, he grabbed a second fence post with his left hand, needing the support desperately as one of the guests went to stand next to Isabel.
As the tall man bent to kiss Isabel’s cheek, Travis felt his gorge rise.
When the guy put his hand on Isabel’s softly rounded belly, Travis felt everything in him crystallize, then shatter.
Travis had forgotten he wasn’t alone. Numb, he looked over at the older man standing next to him.
“She’s pregnant,” he said, voice barely more than a croak.
His girl was pregnant. He had no idea how far along she was—he only knew the basics about pregnancy. Oh, and he knew how to not get a girl pregnant. But he did know that baby couldn’t be his. Human pregnancies didn’t last a fucking year. Besides, the two of them had done a lot of fooling around the past summer, but they’d stopped just short of actually doing it—not because Travis hadn’t been ready, though. He was a guy—of course, he was ready. But the girl he wanted—Isabel—hadn’t been. So when she put the brakes on, each time, he’d stopped.
She hadn’t stopped this guy, though.
“Yeah. They’ve been together since Valentine’s Day, according to my sources.”
Valentine’s Day. Travis wanted to hit something.
Instead, he turned on his heel and strode away.