New life binds them.
Past ghosts haunt her.
Old secrets distract him.
And history repeats itself.
Allie Green, a rookie cop hired and desired by a private investigator, is about to knock the wind out of his chest with the biggest news of her life... right after she shakes off the fact, that her boss, lover, and the man she thought she would spend the rest of her life with, just fired her.
Tristan, owner of Cross Enterprises, has a few surprises for the love of his life, as well. And Allie won’t see any of them coming.
As pregnancy hormones heat up their love-lives, danger lurks in the background. While Allie and Tristan juggle a new relationship, work and a growing romance, ghosts from Allie's past come back to haunt her, slowly calculating the timing of their return.
Distracted by secrets from his past, and Allie’s stubborn nature diverting her focus, fate has stacked a deck against the expecting couple and the deck is about to tip over.
Because when danger comes in disguise, any distractions can be fatal.
Get absorbed in Layers Peeled as Allie and Tristan struggle to stay out of harm's way and fight to keep their happily ever after, alive.
Note: Layers Peeled is Book 2 in Layers Trilogy and should be read after Layers Deep. Intended for mature audience only.
Tristan’s words rang in my ears over and over again. “You’re fired. You’re fired. You’re fired.” That definitely wasn’t the reaction I was expecting after I’d told him I was carrying his child—which I hadn’t yet. The news stuck in my throat, and suddenly that little surprise box on his desk, wrapped in gift paper to conceal tiny white booties, didn’t belong there. How in the world did this perfect morning turn into a nightmare?
The room seemed hazy and I felt weak in the knees. The golden streams of sunlight filtering between the blinds like ribbons of silk lent the situation an unreal quality. The setting completely didn’t match what was going on inside me. Rage slowly boiled in my veins, but I couldn’t let him see it. Pigs would fly before I let a man affect me this way. I would raise this baby on my own if I had to. Forcing adrenaline into my body, I squared my shoulders, forming a quick plan in my mind. I had to get out of there, and it had to be now.
Recovering from a gunshot, pregnant, and fired now topped my résumé.
I stood there, staring at Tristan with my mouth open, waiting for that perfect moment my brain would think of something wise to say so I could leave without arousing suspicions. Unfortunately, my brain, bathed in new hormones that I hadn’t quite figured out yet, did not want to cooperate.
Shit! I should close my mouth. I cannot show him I’m weak. I am a strong woman. I always have been!
As soon as Tristan noticed my gaze darting from him to his desk, I rushed toward the gift. Yup, my brain was definitely fried with the estrogen levels of a deranged pregnant woman. He blocked my way and grabbed my wrist before I could reach for the little box. How dare he?
I knew he could be a jerk sometimes; after all, his job as a private investigator required him to act like one in desperate circumstances, but I had no idea he could be that much of a jerk. Inside I screamed for him to get the fuck away from me – but again, my mouth was perfectly shut in a straight line.
I’d left my job for him.
I’d let him place me in danger and even helped rescue his ex-girlfriend from a drug maniac who almost sold her to a pimp.
I’d spread my legs nice and wide so he could knock me up. Actually, I’d be lying if I said I regretted our sexual relationship. Tristan blew my mind every time we had sex, in the most exotic and delicious kind of way. The past three weeks of abstinence due to my recovery had left me wanton and drooling like an animal in heat. I’d wanted Mr. Sexy over there to touch me and rock my world the way he had before the nearly fatal incident, but he hadn’t. And up until now I’d assumed the gunshot wound, a whack in the head, and a near disastrous undercover operation had scared him off a bit to touch me. I’d thought he wanted me better first, when in fact he’d been distancing himself to bear the bad news.
And then in the hospital I found out I was pregnant. The little bundle of joy in my tummy was a surprise, but now that it had happened, I couldn’t be happier—except for the ‘being fired’ part just now.
This was how he repaid me? The mother of his child! By firing me from the only job I had?
Yet there he stood, all smug, with that cute dimple on his chin and the scar on his bottom lip that twisted his smile into a sexy lopsided grin. Ah, how I wished I could touch that lip! And why were my nipples hardening from just looking at him?
Stop thinking about Tristan and sex! My conscience decided to be vocal in the back of my mind.
This was all about Kendra, wasn’t it? He still loved her; and as much as I wanted to believe he would let Julian, his older brother, and Kendra be, he’d never let her go.
“What’s this?” he asked, picking up the box with his other hand before I grabbed it.
“Give it back, you jerk. It’s not for you.” Everything inside me shook. I wiggled out of his grip and reached for the box like a little girl as he held it high up above his head. I jumped up and down a few times. The scene reminded me of a playground, and I did not care a bit how immature I looked or sounded.
“’Jerk’? Allie, I think you misunderstood my intention.” The care in his voice didn’t match what he’d just done. Had he the balls to mock me? One more word and I’d make sure the two little spheres under his dick would be squared off, forever. Okay, they weren’t that little. In fact, they were the perfect size and weight to fit into my palms when I blew him.
Oh, God! Stop thinking about his balls!
But of course I couldn’t help it. It had been way too long since Tristan had made love to me. My three-week recovery had not only taken its toll on my health but also on my sex life. What kind of a relationship did we have, anyway? I knew he was my boss – ex-boss now – and once he’d introduced me to his little sister as his girlfriend. Yet we had never discussed nor defined what was happening between us. It just was. Well, now he could add ‘Daddy’ to his CEO title.
“I understand your intentions very clearly. No wonder Kendra stabbed you. You used me for a job and once it was done, you decided to throw me in the trash like a piece of meat.”
By this time the tears were rolling down my cheeks like marbles. I didn’t notice when they started. My hormones were completely out of control. I wanted to roll into a ball and curl away in a dark corner, so that someone else could clean up the mess I was in.
“Allie, baby, calm down. You don’t know what you’re saying.”
When he said ‘baby’ I broke down even further, adding an extra sob to my slurps and sniffles.
The door to his office flew open and a bunch of people yelled, “Surprise!” Among everyone were Laura, my roommate; Julian, his brother; the secretary from the front; and Gene and James, who both worked with Tristan. What was Laura doing at Cross Enterprises? I thought she had the day off?
“We may need a few more minutes,” Tristan said to them. Seeing my puffy face, they slowly backed out of the office, clearly confused. So was I. I needed to compose my thoughts.
“No, I think we’re done here.” I wobbled toward the door, but Tristan was quicker and blocked my way before I reached the closing frame.
“Allie, I beg you. Please let me explain. I have to fire you.”
“You are the boss. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want, and clearly we are not the ones you want.” I was yelling. Oh God, how loud was I? It didn’t seem like me. It was someone else. “I can get a new job. You mean nothing to me. I can do all of this on my own!”
Was that voice even mine?
“‘We’? What are you talking about?” He caught my stare at the little box.
Holding me by one hand, Tristan dragged me back toward his desk. I hated this part. I despised that my recovery placed me at a disadvantage. His pure strength was too much for my weakened pregnant body. And why did I, all of a sudden, want to sleep so badly? He pinned me between his hips and the desk, spreading his legs apart to encase me. I couldn’t escape. Warmth swooshed through my belly.
My phone buzzed with a text from Emma. I reached into my pocket to read:
Emma: I’m calling it Baby-Puss for now 😉
It was another one of her baby name suggestions I’d been receiving for the past three weeks. Tristan’s little sister had helped me keep my secret by forging my blood work at the hospital in exchange for choosing the baby’s name. So far all of them had been from the Flintstones.
Tristan tore the wrapping paper off the gift box. The clear plastic case held the booties I’d packed, which could have been the most beautiful Christmas tree ornament I’d ever seen. My body melted at the sight, and I had the urge to take the tiny cotton shoes and hold them against my chest and smell them and rock them.
“Allie, what is this?” His body slowly eased from around me.
There it was, almost over. I might as well get it out of the way. He’d already fired me. Now all that was left was to let me go. Let us go.
I lowered my hand to my belly, rubbing it gently, and whimpered quietly, “It’s Betty, or Barney. Hopefully not Puss. Here.” I pointed to my stomach.
“You’re pregnant?” He braced himself against the cherry wood desk.
I nodded, biting my lip, and just in case he doubted where I was going with the booties, I added in a whisper, “It’s yours.”
For a moment I wondered whether I’d need to find a paper bag so he wouldn’t hyperventilate. But Tristan seemed calmer than a sloth. The slight twitch of his upper lip, the scarred one that I found irresistibly sexy, confused me. Part of me, the deprived part, wanted to take that mouth and kiss it, but the wary part wondered what was going on in Tristan’s mind.
The next thing I knew I was up in the air, being spun around at what seemed like a million miles per hour as Tristan twirled us both in the middle of his office. My legs flew back. I held my arms tightly around his neck, pressing myself to his body, holding on as if for one last time. And everything inside me tightened as I wished for him to never let go. His hardened chest molded against mine and I held on to his neck wishing to never break our connection again. I didn’t want him to leave me. I wanted us together – with Betty, or Barney, or Puss. It didn’t matter as long as Tristan wanted us both.
Happiness swelled inside me and I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. Unfortunately, my body decided all on its own what it wanted to do. An odd sensation swirled in my belly, and I squeezed Tristan’s shoulders to stop the spinning. He set me down on the plush rug, and I rushed to the side of his desk. My small breakfast emptied itself into Tristan’s garbage can. Crouching, I waited until the room stopped moving and the cold sweats passed. I looked up at Tristan.
He stood in that same spot, his expression a mix of shock, fear, confusion, and joy; I figured my news had just pressed the reality button in his brain.
“It figures the moment I tell you I’m pregnant my morning sickness decides to show up.”
“We’re pregnant?” Still in shock, he pointed at me with his shaking finger. “This is for real?”
Tristan Cross was not a man who could be easily surprised. Would he be able to deal with this as well as I had? Pregnancy hadn’t been anywhere near the top of my ‘to do’ list; in fact, my only priority in life before I met Tristan had been keeping my mother safe and getting revenge on David Wright, the man who’d ruined our lives. But Tristan had taken care of the bastard for me, and had kept both my mother and me safe. And now, after keeping this secret from him for three long weeks, after building up the courage to tell him, I felt free. Like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Yeah, I know. You’d think someone like me, an ex-cop and a fearless karate champ, would have had the guts to break this news to Tristan earlier. But a man who had been scarred layers deep needed to be told at the right time. The last thing I wanted was to scare him into a commitment, like Kendra had tried to.
“Yes, it’s still early. Just over a month, but it’s certain.” I stood up and felt a cautious smile creep to the corners of my mouth, watching a glow begin to develop behind his eyes.
“And you think I just fired you?”
“You did just fire me.” I stepped from one foot to another. My hands clasped the sides of my suit, fingers begging to be cracked.
Tristan rushed to my side, handing me a box of Kleenex. I wiped my mouth.
“I need to wash up.” I headed toward what I assumed was his bathroom. The excited shuffle of his feet behind me made me nervous. Would he change his mind now that he knew I was carrying his child? Was he putting on a brave face because he’d fired me? I didn’t want a pity job, but as much as I tried to convince myself I could raise this baby on my own, the prospect of a family – Tristan and me – ignited inside me like a volcano. Could we possibly have the same kind of family Tristan had? The kind I’d always wanted but had been robbed of by David Wright.
“You misunderstood. I fired you because I need to offer you another job, at this company. And Laura too. Both of you will lead the human trafficking department. Since it’s technically part of a foundation I set up to free kidnapped victims, it’s not part of official Cross Enterprises business, but all our resources are at your disposal.”
I whipped around to face him, my voice barely a whisper. “What?” He’d do that for me? Tristan would help me rescue the women I’d seen sexually abused and mistreated? His offer had to be too good to be true. Things like this didn’t happen to people like me. My heart ached at the memory of the women I’d seen who had no hope. If we could help even one, it would be worth it.
And had my best friend known about this all the time and not told me? Could I blame her? Once Tristan Cross asked someone to keep a secret, well, they had to keep their mouth closed. I had a feeling our dinner date before the sting had been more of a business deal, one he’d set up a few weeks back.
“James would be working with us as well?” I asked. He had been there on a secret assignment that day we saved Kendra, probably trying to rescue someone.
“Yes, I’ve recruited him. He’ll be one of your resources.”
Feeling my eyes sting, I shook my head. This man I’d met a month and a half ago was not only a handsome hunk straight off the periodic chart of Greek gods, but also was more caring and compassionate than Mother Teresa.
He took my hands in his and lowered his gaze to find mine. The hazel eyes I loved so much brightened.
“You’d have your own department, here at the headquarters. Lead your team to save the women we couldn’t at the hotel, and anyone else who needs help. I thought you’d like that much better than getting dull undercover assignments. And honestly, you’d get bored as a body guard or staking out a joint for hours at a time. This way you get to do what you wanted. Your instinct as a cop is a bonus for this. It’s a perfect fit, and your office is just next door.” He pointed to one of the side walls.
I somewhat remembered looking at a set of doors leading from inside Tristan’s office, though I’d never asked him where they led.
“Really?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He didn’t fire me. Tristan wanted us to work together and had formed this department just for me. And for the girls we hadn’t been able to save before.
“You’re pregnant?” he repeated, reaching toward my belly.
I nodded, feeling my smile stretch wider. The tips of Tristan’s fingers touched below my navel, and slowly his full palm came to rest on my stomach. The warmth from his hand spread over my body to all the right places, and I felt those appetizing tingles revive between my legs. His other hand traveled to my hip, pulling me closer to him. He was looking at my belly, mesmerized.
“Yes. I’m pregnant.” I lowered my hand on top of his, holding it there, afraid to believe this moment was actually a happy one; just the way I’d envisioned. Tristan wasn’t running, and beyond his stunned response I saw a spark in his eyes I’d never seen before.
“We’re going to have a baby?” he asked again, crouching in front of me on his knees.
“Yes,” I said, feeling my eyes well up.
He lifted my shirt and kissed my stomach around the navel. At first, the tender kisses were sweet and loving. As he traced my skin lower in uneven patterns, the heat of his mouth on my skin intensified. His hands held my hips steady. The hunger of his touch on my flesh deepened. His hot lips traced around my belly, pressing gently with more yearning each moment, and I knew Tristan was as famished as I had been.