She's a city girl.
He's a country boy.
And their worlds are about to collide.
Eager to move up the family business ladder, Emma Cross is counting down the days until her big promotion. When the witty private investigator finally receives an assignment worthy of her talents, keeping her wits around her new horse-riding and mouth-watering cowboy client, is more difficult than she expected.
Seeking justice, Eric Waters hires Cross Enterprises to find the man who’s threatened his family for decades. While Eric doubts Emma’s abilities to find the brute responsible for his family’s murder, he can’t stay away from her.
The moment their paths cross, the partners realize that mixing business with pleasure may prove more risky than Emma bargained for, and more deceitful than Eric’s honest heart can handle.
With a foundation of lies and fear, their blossoming relationship is tested by family, friends and enemies, until their only choice is to turn to each other. As threats loom, trust and honesty are broken and Emma and Eric’s lives are flipped upside down.
Join Emma and Eric in their story of perseverance and beating the odds, in Layer Crossed.
Note: Layers Crossed is intended for mature audience only and can be read as a stand-alone novel.
Tonight, I promised myself, would be the last time I ever made a bet with my best friend. Standing nearly naked back stage of a strip club was definitely not the sort of place I’d ever imagined to find myself. The two jewels covering my nipples glittered in the light, and my bedazzled private parts were beginning to itch. My attire gave me a new appreciation for the term ‘vajazzled.’
What have I gotten myself into?
“Stop shaking like a leaf. You’re going to rock this joint!” My best friend Grace was lucky I loved her like a sister – otherwise she’d be on the receiving end of my fist.
“This is the last time I’m listening to you. I swear if Tristan or Julian find out about this, I’ll be in the dog house for months. They’ll have me followed everywhere!”
“They won’t find out. Your brothers wouldn’t be found dead in a place like this, Emma.”
“That’s not making me feel any better! If this ever gets out, I’m holding you personally responsible. Remind me again why I’m here?”
“Because you said I’d never stick to one man, and I proved you wrong. Our one year anniversary is officially today. Enjoy, Em!”
And Grace chose to celebrate by dragging me out here. “Shouldn’t you be with Hunter?”
“He’s working and then meeting an out-of-town friend. They haven’t seen each other in months. Besides, Hunter said he’d make it up to me next weekend.”
I had only one person I could truly blame for this – me. I was the one who had decided to play a frickin’ matchmaker, desperate for my best friend to find ‘the one’ she’d claimed each man to be, yet never expecting her to fall head over heels for Hunter. I gave it one month tops, maybe two. Yet here we were, a year later, with me regretting those words. I’d been lucky enough to drag this bet out for months, but now it was time to pay up.
And with a swift push on my back I found myself wobbling onto the dark stage. I swore under my breath, wishing I weren’t so susceptible to my friend’s crazy ideas. I might have seemed like a wild one, but this was way over the top, even for me. Yet Grace, knowing very well the kind of life I’d led for the past two years, insisted it would be good for me to let loose and experience life beyond the walls of Manhattan. When we made the bet, she failed to mention I’d end up in a run-down strip club that hosted tumbleweeds in its parking lot. At least there weren’t too many men here; or was I mistaken? Had the room filled during the time Grace was helping me glue jewels to my lady parts backstage? What if it had? My eyes still hadn’t adjusted to the darkness, so I couldn’t tell.
As I began contemplating how to get back at her and the two other betrayers I called friends, who were sitting in the small audience, the silence in the club started to unnerve me. Either there was no one else here, or I was really that bad. I hadn’t even moved a hip or flashed the jewel line running down the crack of my ass in disguise of a panty line, and I swear I could hear the mice I’d seen earlier by the bar nibbling on leftovers.
A white spot light flashed onto my face. It skimmed the crowd in front of me, confirming that there was not an empty seat left in the audience. Knowing I was the focal point of the room, I felt my body drizzle with the heat of embarrassment.
Fuck it! I may as well try my best.
That was my motto – nothing less than the best for Emma – and if you preach it, you better practice it. Music sounded from the speakers above, and I began moving my body to its smooth rhythm, making my way toward center stage and the freshly waxed metal pole in the middle. I’d taken a few pole dancing classes for the fun of it – okay, maybe more than a few – but my friends didn’t know that little secret. Maybe that’s why I’d jumped in on the bet. Perhaps I secretly knew that once Grace took Hunter home, her life would be changed and she’d forget about the bet I was about to fulfill. But then again, I’d never normally get a chance to do anything this crazy in my life. My over-protective brothers and the family’s company reputation wouldn’t allow it. As a private investigator at Cross Enterprises, I had a duty to act in a certain way. Prudence was expected of me, yet I wanted nothing to do with it. It may have been arrogant, but I blamed my caring brothers for this. As the youngest child and only girl, sometimes it seemed I had three fathers instead of one – my two brothers acting twice more cautious around me than my dad.
I let the thought pass through. If I was going to complete this dance and not get booed off the stage, I’d need to stop thinking about the people I deep-down held responsible for my actions. For me, the quiet rebellion had never stopped. What was the point? I’d lost enough in my life, and now I was determined to live it up until I joined David in his everlasting peace.
Grasping the pole with my right hand, I stepped around it. The light shifted, flashing across the floor and that’s when I noticed that the room was full. Well, for an establishment the size of this run-down hole, that was still only a few dozen people.
Holy crap! I can’t do this! A wave of nerves flew from my bare chest down the middle of my stomach to my sparkling area of jewels. I didn’t fail. I never failed. I had to do this to prove to myself that I was as brave and daring and exciting as my reputation of a fearless private investigator. Granted, I rarely got to go out into the field, but when I did, nothing and no one could stop me. There was no case I hadn’t solved or wouldn’t take on.
A few whistles sounded from my friends in the front row, bringing me back to the room.
As I made another circle around, a pair of beautifully light eyes at a table in the corner caught my attention. He was sitting by himself, with a bottle of water in his hand.
Who drinks water at a bar?
The man wore a plaid shirt and a cowboy hat that must have been covering his face earlier. There was no way I would have missed those sky blue eyes otherwise, even from a mile away. And with the dark complexion, he looked like a perfect mix of beautiful genes. The primitive way he looked at me, as if he’d never seen a woman before, warmed my insides and heated my cheeks. I was used to the “You’re so hot I want to fuck you now” looks from men. I dismissed most of them, but there was something different about this guy. His eyes held respect as he devoured my body with his gaze. I even thought I’d seen his jaw twitch – like he wanted to cover me up instead of removing the gems to see my bare flesh.
Gently swaying my hip his way, I let go of the pole and slowly made my way to the side stage. Aware that he’d get a good look at my best asset and its decoration down the middle in less than three seconds, I held his gaze. I wanted to see his reaction, and I wondered whether he’d appreciate the view as much as any other man would. I crouched lower, holding my palm over my front, covering my opening as my knees spread apart to the side, and then slowly, as if possessed by a snake, I curled my body upward.
No other man in the room mattered any longer. It was just me and the cowboy – who frowned, stood up, and left.
What the hell?
I sashayed back toward the pole and climbed up as part of the routine I’d practiced, knowing that my friends’ jaws were probably on the floor by now. Grasping the pole, I swung my legs up and above my head, twining them around the metal rod, and let the rest of my body, including my perky tits, fall back gracefully as I looked through the crowd upside down, searching for the mystery man. Finally I caught him by the bar, downing a shot. The raw charm that drew me to him disappeared and was replaced by a simple need to know more about the man who had captured my interest for longer than a minute. What had him so angered? Why was he here?
I finished my dance, and the crowd, otherwise known as a group of half-drunk and bearded men who’d left the foam on their facial hair for later, whistled and cheered.
I guess I wasn’t that bad after all.
“OMG! Emma, you were amazing. I swear you missed your calling.” Grace hugged me when I came backstage.
“Did you see that guy?”
“Honey, they’re all cowboys here,” she laughed.
Only then did I notice the field of hats. Yet the man with shining blue eyes had been the only one to capture my attention during the dance.
I grabbed the first piece of fabric that caught my hand, draped it over my shoulders, and pushed past Grace saying, “I’ll be right back.”
As soon as the side door swung open I bumped into a stone-hard chest, and was hit by the natural smell of him, mixed with a blend of burning leaves and Aqua Velva. I knew the scent from my father – to this day he used that old-fashioned cologne each morning. And where was the hint of leather coming from? The man grabbed my wrist, pulling me to the side, his brutal force catching me off guard.
“Hey, watch it!” I tried to twist away but his hold was tight. Just as I was ready to knee him in the crotch and flip him over the way my brothers had taught me, I looked up into the deep blue eyes of wonder.
“Oh, it’s you,” I said as if I’d known him for years. Distracted by the scar that cut through his left brow, I just stared at the mark that added another layer to the level of sexy he sported.
“Why are you coming out here with nothing on?” he asked.
Startled, I looked down at my silk robe and the two gems poking from underneath, which made it look like my nipples were stones, which they were
“I’m wearing a robe. And it’s none of your business.”
“It is my business when a girl, who is obviously smart, is selling her body to a bunch of perverts.”
“Are you calling yourself a pervert? I doubt anyone forced you to come here.”
“I have nothing to do with your job.”
“Exactly. And for your information, this is not my job.”
“Good, because if it was I’d have to burn this place down just so another man couldn’t look at you.”
Wow! This was the oddest conversation with a stranger I’d ever had. The moment I saw him, I felt like I was his, which was even worse. No man had ever had such an impact on me. He was so annoying, yet the power behind his voice, his confidence and domineering way, intrigued me. No matter what he said, the concern was clear – intent yet to be determined.
“Why are you judging me?” I fought the urge to smooth my finger over the white ripple in his brow.
“Because there’s no excuse for a woman to do what you’ve just done.”
“So, you’re saying you didn’t enjoy it?” I asked, watching his jaw tense the same way it had earlier. I knew he’d liked what he saw when he was watching me, adjusting his crotch before he’d left.
“You’re a hypocrite, Mr. Cowboy. If you don’t want to watch, you shouldn’t come to places like these.”
He reached into his back pocket as his phone buzzed and frowned. “I was meeting someone here, but it looks like my meeting’s canceled.”
I never believed anyone this quickly; in fact, in my job, assuming I’d heard a lie was only natural. I operated the smaller branch of our private investigations company, where most of my clients were crying wives whose suspicions of cheating husbands I had to confirm. I truly hated what I did. It was depressing because the moment one stepped into my office to hire me, I knew she’d end up leaving with mascara streaking down her cheeks, and the reason was simple: if you suspected it, it almost always meant he cheated. A woman’s intuition was rarely wrong – something I’d learned from my sister-in-law, Allie.
I’d been begging my brothers to entrust me with something different; in fact, I’d threatened I’d leave the firm and join a circus if they didn’t. My rebellion in taking the stupidest dares and bets Grace could come up with was becoming suspicious, and more than once my brothers had stopped me from fulfilling my end of the bargain. Last week I’d barely had enough time to put my clothes back on after skinny dipping in a stranger’s pool before they found me. I swear, sometimes having a family of private investigators sucked balls.
“I’d like to take you home.”
“You’re a stranger. I don’t do rides with strangers, and I have a car.”
“Don’t roll your eyes at me,” he said.
I hadn’t realized I’d rolled them. “Why?”
“Because it’s not polite.”
“Ah, so now you’re a polite cowboy?”
“And talking back is not polite either. Go change and let me at least watch you get in your car safely. Please.”
The way he asked me, his eyes begging – I just couldn’t say no. Would he follow me? I didn’t think so, but I was eager to get dressed and find out more about this man who had captivated me. There was no way I’d just get in my car and leave.
“Okay. Wait here.”
For the first time tonight, his mouth curved up slightly and I swear my insides began dancing. Pleasing him was an emotional reward I didn’t expect. My need to make another man happy had been asleep for two long years and I didn’t think it could be revived. Well, I knew how to make men happy, but a man like him, who actually cared about me and what I did – I’d never thought I’d meet anyone like him ever again. The Cowboy was so not New York, and so intriguing.
I pushed the side door to go get changed and try to rip the twins, Lisa and Lilly, off the tattooed body guard. And what the heck was Lilly doing? She was married for goodness sake! Shaking my head, I couldn’t wait to introduce them to the Cowboy. Hopefully they could tell me that I wasn’t going crazy over nobody. Just as I pulled my jeans on, I’d heard a familiar voice.
“What the hell are you doing here, Emma?” Julian, the older of my two brothers scolded from behind me, and then added with sarcasm, “Ah, Grace, how lovely to see you again.”
I whipped my body around, startled. “Uhm, we’re just having some fun.”
“Please don’t tell me you were going to strip.”
My gaze flew to Grace, who sat down in a chair, obviously nervous about the inquisition that would inevitably take place.
“Of course she is.” Tristan, my other brother, came in from behind a curtain.
“Why are you following me? This is really getting old.” I tried to figure out how they’d tracked me, but I couldn’t. I’d dismantled every single device they could have used. I even left my cell phone at Grace’s, changed into her clothes, and we’d rented a car to come here – there was no way.
They looked at each other as if unsure whether they wanted to give away their secrets – which I knew they wouldn’t.
“Once you start acting your age and stop getting into shit all the time, we won’t need to track you. Will we?”
“How did you track me?”
But of course they ignored my question.
“Do you know what happens to girls in places like these?”
Julian knew too well about the kidnappings, drug use, and mistreatment of women at bars and nightclubs. Ten years ago his wife, Kendra, had been kidnapped and held captive by a cartel, treated like a sex slave. She’d literally gone through hell and back. I was thirteen at the time but knew enough to understand what she’d endured. Julian had made it his mission to ensure I didn’t follow her lead. I’d always looked up to her. She’d gotten me through some hard times.
“It’s time to go home, Emma,” Julian said.
“I’m here with someone.” I lied, secretly hoping that for once I had a steady man in my life, like the Cowboy, who could stand up to my brothers. The memory of what could have been, had my life turned out differently, coursed through me like liquid nitrogen.
“Grace is coming along,” my brother said.
“I’m not talking about Grace. Let me just tell him I’m leaving, at least.”
Their brows rose by a fraction, somewhat intrigued. I hurried through the door, expecting my Cowboy to be there but… he wasn’t.
Great! He stood me up already.
But I wasn’t one to give up. I left a note with the barman, asking him to pass it along to the Cowboy, trying to describe every beautiful feature I’d remembered, including that sexy scar above his brow. Why didn’t I get his name?
And before I knew it, we were driving home. All I could think about was the man who had captured my attention for longer than two minutes. That was rare. Due to my line of work and my past, my belief in happily-ever-afters had dwindled. The irony was that the only examples I’d seen of happy relationships were those of my parents and my two brothers. Maybe I should start showing more responsibility after all, so that when the Cowboy called, we could start with a proper introduction. Little did I know I’d never get the phone call I was waiting for.