Rhapsody the teplo trilogy

After Anton Vetrov brutally murders a young girl as a warning to Tristan Riley, the broken DEA agent believes the best thing for Lillian Maddox to do would be to stay far, far away from him. But Lillian knows a thing or two about fear, and she’s not willing to let the man she loves push her away that easily. If he won’t fight for them, she will… even if that means risking her life to prove she’s strong enough to live in his world.

Her plan ends in disaster when she’s dragged out of Teplo at gunpoint, forcing Tristan onto a collision course with the Vetrov family and Pedro Francisco. With nothing left to lose except the only woman who has ever mattered to him, he will do whatever it takes to stop Vetrov and Francisco from ever hurting her again.

But he doesn’t know they’ve been waiting for him to make his move. When he does, all hell breaks loose, and his life is on the line. It’s up to Lillian and the DEA to save him, and she’s terrified they won’t make it in time.

Thrust headlong into a violent, bloody confrontation with the Vetrov family, Lillian comes face to the face with the heartbreaking realization that maybe she doesn’t belong in Tristan’s world, after all. When the smoke clears, will he be able to convince his ballerina that she’s the best thing for him, or will he lose her and the chance at a real future once and for all?

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Chapter One

“Ugh!” Lillian Maddox cried, throwing her hands up in frustration as loud electronica music invaded her home through miniscule cracks, slipping in like unwanted guests. Disembodied peals of laughter and shouts from the nightclub across the street floated through the room between loud pulses of sound, rubbing raw her already frayed nerves. Once upon a time, she’d craved those sounds and the connection they gave her to the outside world. Not anymore. She knew them for what they were now: false promises of something better.

Teplo had nothing to offer her except heartache and tears.

Why didn’t anyone else see what she saw? Hear what she heard?

She paced back and forth in her living room, her gaze riveted to the clock on the mantle. Despite the lateness of the hour, the crowd at Teplo had not dispersed, instead growing larger and more frenzied. Those within were content to party away the night, happily snatching up the drugs passed around like candy beneath the vivid lights beamed throughout the club. Those lights hid all types of awful deeds: drug abuse, prostitution, trafficking, murder.

The fact that not a single one of the people who trickled through the doors cared what really happened within was a damn shame. They were too far gone, the demons on their backs screaming for the drugs that kept the crushing weight of sobriety at bay.

Even if Lillian stepped outside and screamed the truth, they wouldn’t listen to her.

No one cared what happened inside Teplo. Not those who found their way inside, and not those who stayed firmly outside, turning their heads so they didn’t have to see the grim reality the Vetrov family and Pedro Francisco had engineered so many weeks ago. Teplo was the DEA’s problem, not theirs. What did it matter to them if another addict died?

It mattered to Tristan Riley.

“Where is he?” Lillian asked for the thousandth time, her fingers tapping restlessly against the edge of the mantle. It’d been three interminable hours since he’d sent her home from Teplo, fury burning in his beautiful blue eyes. After learning of yet another death, he’d stormed off, refusing to tell her anything. He had yet to come back from wherever he was. From whatever he’d decided to do.

The first hour, she’d sat on the couch, trying not to think too hard. A futile attempt, of course. She couldn’t stop thinking. The Vetrov family had murdered the only person she and Tristan had spoken to inside the club, a young girl named Emma. Lillian was horrified, scared, and angry. All she wanted was for Tristan to walk through the door and tell her there’d been a mistake. That she’d heard wrong, and the girl she’d met wasn’t the victim. Or that no one at all had died this time. And that he hadn’t done something incredibly stupid as a result.

She wasn’t nearly naïve enough to mistake that fantasy for reality, though. For weeks, his cover had been tenuous, nearly blown before he’d ever dragged her onto the dance floor and into the middle of an investigation she had no business participating in. From day one, he’d been at risk, and so had she. But she’d agreed to help anyway: for him.

And now all of her efforts might have been for nothing.

“Dammit,” she growled, pacing back and forth from one side of the room to the other until her bad leg ached from her restless, endless circuits. She called Tristan’s boss, Jason Ames, and got no answer. She called his cousin, Zoë, with the same result. She tried his number again and then again.

No one answered. No one called her back.

Waiting was agony.

She made her way into the kitchen, her eyes glued to the clock over the kitchen table. Anger and fear battled for dominance in her head, and in her heart. Tristan had shut her out. After promising her that he’d try to let her in a little, he’d shut down and sent her on her way like a child.

Had he even heard her tell him that she loved him?

Oh God, what if he had heard her and simply didn’t feel the same? What if he avoided her now because he didn’t want to have the awkward conversation that ended with him moving back into the guest room, and her being forced to continue their fake relationship while her heart broke?

“No,” she said to herself, refusing to believe that. Tristan felt something for her, she knew he did. She felt it in his every touch, saw it in his blue eyes when he gazed at her, and heard it in his desperation to keep her safe. Maybe he didn’t love her, but he was as caught as she was, tangled in lust and the web of lies and truth they’d weaved to save his case.

Was it their fault Emma had died? Is that what happened when people like Lillian, people with no business in the middle of a federal investigation, forced their way inside, refusing to leave because of foolish pride? God, she hoped not. But she had a feeling it did.

Tristan had tried to warn her, tried to tell her how badly things could go, but she hadn’t listened to him. She hadn’t wanted to listen to him. Sure, she knew how dangerous drugs were and how far people would go in the pursuit of them. She was living proof of how much people could hurt others for a drug. A year ago, her dance partner had viciously attacked her, seriously injuring her leg and destroying her ballet career. But she hadn’t really considered that forcing Tristan into a corner, forcing him to ask for her help because she refused to leave her home, might end with innocent people dying.

“Oh God,” she groaned, realization making her sick to her stomach. This was her fault. Because of her, Emma was dead, and Tristan was…God only knew what he was doing right now.

Was he okay? Was he safe?

She couldn’t breathe at the thought that he might not come home. That he might not be able to do so. She felt as if a weight sat atop her chest, forcing air to come in shallow, painful pulls. Forcing blood to pump in sluggish, cracked drags. She was stretched thin, brittle, ready to snap in half.

Someone tapped on her back door.

Lillian jerked in her chair, nearly falling out of it as she attempted to get her feet beneath her. Her bad leg protested, the aching muscles knotting painfully. She ignored them, her heart thumping loudly as she pressed her body into the wall, the gun Tristan had bought for her clutched in her trembling hands.

“Lillian Maddox?” a male voice called through the door.

She’d heard that voice before, but she couldn’t place it. She bit her lip hard, fear running like a current through her. She was alone, defenseless. Where the hell was Tristan? Or Jason? Or anyone who could keep her safe if whoever stood on the other side of the door came from Teplo on behalf of the Vetrov family?

“Jason Ames and Tristan Riley sent me,” the man said.

Lillian said nothing, barely daring to breath. She fumbled with her phone, gritting her teeth when it knocked loudly against the weapon in her hand. With stiff, trembling fingers, she tried to dial Tristan’s number, only to have to backspace and enter it all over.

“My name is Michael Kincaid. I promise I’m one of the good guys,” her unexpected visitor called out. “Can you please let me in before someone across the street realizes I’m out here and Riley kicks my ass for putting you in danger?”

The line went straight to voicemail.

Tristan still had his phone off.

Lillian hesitated for long moments, terrified to open the door, but unsure what else to do. She couldn’t reach Tristan or Jason to confirm that the guy on the other side of her door really was Michael Kincaid, one of the DEA agents helping with the investigation into Teplo.

“I have a gun,” she warned him.

“Awesome,” he said, his tone laced with dry amusement. “I’m not really feeling the whole getting shot thing, so if you’ll step up to the door, I’ll show you my badge.”

Reaching deep for a little courage, she shoved her phone down her bra, clicked the safety off, and aimed the gun at the door. Taking a step in that direction, she sent up a prayer that she wasn’t being a complete moron for trusting that Tristan really had sent Michael.

A bolt of relief wound through her when she saw the silver DEA badge held to the windowpane of the door. Wariness whispered right on its heels. “Put your face to the door, please.”

A loud sigh sounded from outside before the badge disappeared. “If you shoot me, I’m going to haunt Riley for the rest of his life,” Michael muttered. Despite expecting it, Lillian still reeled backward when he shoved his face against the window, offering her a cheeky smile.

She had only seen him once, but a flash of recognition shot through her at the sight of his familiar close-cropped blond hair, hard blue-gray eyes, and disconcerting dimples. Letting the arm holding the gun sag, she flipped the deadbolt.

He stepped away from the door long enough for her to pull it open and let him in. As soon as he crossed the threshold, she took a quick step away, eyeing him nervously. He wasn’t quite as tall as Tristan, but he was intimidating. Tristan was a solid wall of lean, contoured muscle, raw emotion, and piercing good looks. With dark hair, olive skin, and scorching blue eyes, he looked exactly like the fierce, intelligent man he was.

Michael Kincaid looked nothing like she expected a DEA agent to look. He had a piercing in his left eyebrow, and small gauges in his ears. Dressed in faded jeans and a white tank that stretched across his defined chest, he appeared dangerous even without the gun tucked into his pants. Vivid tattoos ran up and down his muscular arms, bold words inked in flowing script amid tribal designs and what reminded her of the gang graffiti sprayed across parts of the city. He was beautiful in a way that screamed trouble.

He flipped the deadbolt and stepped further into the room, his eyes roving over her. Lillian tugged at the hem of her skirt, trying to make it longer when his eyes lingered on her legs before raking up her body.

Heat suffused her cheeks, his blatant perusal unnerving her.

“Damn, Little Mama,” he whistled, one brow arching and an appreciative smirk lifting the corners of his lips. “No wonder Riley’s all fucked up over you.”

“Excuse me?”

“Never seen my boy in love before,” he laughed, crossing his arms over his chest. “It’s some funny shit.”

“He isn’t in love with me,” Lillian said, averting her gaze as her heart threatened to crack wide open at the thought.

“If you say so,” he snorted.

“H-have you seen him? Is he okay?”

“He’s straight. Ames is reining his ass in.” Michael leaned back against the wall, glancing around the kitchen before looking back to Lillian. “How fast can you pack your shit?”

She blinked at him. “Um….”

“We don’t have all night, Little Mama. Riley wants you out of here ASAP.”

“Where am I going?”

“Ever been in jail before?” he asked.

She eyed him, trying to decide if he was joking or not. But he didn’t crack a smile or laugh. He appeared serious with one brow arched and his arms crossed over his broad chest. She felt her mouth drop open, but no words came out, no sound.

She shook her head, her eyes wide.

“It’s the worst damn plan I’ve ever heard next to getting you involved in the first place—no offense—but it might work,” he said, rubbing his jaw with a thoughtful gleam in his eyes.

Plan? How was going to jail a plan?

He must have seen the confusion on her face because he chuckled. “In about twenty minutes, Seattle Police Department will start pounding on your door. You’re going to let them in, and they’re going to walk you out of here in handcuffs on some fake ass drug charge,” he explained. “They’ll transport you downtown, where you’ll spend an hour or two cooling your heels, and then they’ll sneak you out the back door to me, and I’ll take you to a safe location. As far as anyone else will know, you’ll be in jail, awaiting arraignment on drug charges.”

Lillian stared at him, speechless for the second time in as many minutes.

“I told you it was the worst damn plan I’ve ever heard,” he said, flashing a mischievous grin. “But it’s the only one we could come up with that might keep you safe when the fuckers across the street send hell raining down on us.”

She licked her lips. “What about Tristan?”

He watched her for a long, silent moment, the amusement in his eyes dying. Something else flickered in its place, wariness and concern. Wherever Tristan was and whatever he was doing, Michael was worried about him, too.

“He’s with Ames,” he said.

She straightened, her shoulders going back as she crossed her arms over her chest.

“I want to talk to him.”

“Can’t. He’s busy right now.”

“I’m not leaving until I speak to him.” She stared Michael down, refusing to budge. If Tristan wanted her to go along with his insane plan, he needed to man up and tell her so himself.

Michael exhaled sharply, and then swore, rubbing a hand through his short hair. “Look,” he said, “I’ll try to reach him, but not here. This is the last place you need to be. So please cooperate because he will kill me if anything happens to you.”

Lillian stared at him for another minute before shaking her head. She had a feeling digging in her heels now wouldn’t get her very far. Michael Kincaid might not have been as bossy as Tristan, but he didn’t look inclined to stand around and argue with her, either. Besides, she didn’t really want to be right across the street from Teplo anyway. And the thought of sleeping alone in the bed she’d shared with Tristan made everything inside her squeeze painfully tight. Even jail was preferable to that intense pain.

“Give me ten minutes,” she said, stumbling away from the kitchen.

***************************************************************************************************************************

Lillian kept her head down as Officer Brett Warner led her out of her home with her hands cuffed behind her back. Michael had already slipped out the back door with her overnight bag in hand, promising he’d meet her at the precinct soon.

“We’re almost there, sweetheart,” Warner murmured under his breath, trying to reassure her.

It didn’t help. Her legs trembled as she walked, fear making her weak in the knees. Even though this was fake, little more than a performance designed specifically for the Vetrov family, the cold metal around her wrists sent a chill through her. So did the blue lights flashing through the darkness, and the unusual quiet coming from those standing in groups outside of Teplo, watching. She felt exposed, vulnerable in a way she hadn’t with Tristan by her side.

But he was nowhere to be seen, and she couldn’t back out of this now. It was far too late for that.

Warner opened the back door of his police cruiser. “Duck your head.”

She did as instructed, ducking into the backseat of the car. Her injured leg protested the lack of room, the damaged muscles cramping as she forced them into the narrow space between the metal cage and the edge of the backseat. Biting her tongue to hold off the pained cry threatening to escape, she nodded at Warner, letting him know she was ready for him to close the door.

For the first time since walking out of the house with him, she risked a glance across the street. Her eyes immediately landed on one of Anton Vetrov’s people, Malachi. He stood by the doors to the club, his arms crossed over his massive chest, a smirk pulling his lips up at the corner as he held her gaze. His propensity for violence was written all over his face. He appeared sinister, like the villain he was.

Funny how she hadn’t noticed that malice and wickedness the first night he’d lifted the rope and let her walk through the doors of Teplo. He’d looked at her like he wanted her, and that had embarrassed her, but he hadn’t seemed dangerous to her. Now that she knew the truth, knew the horrible things he’d done for the Vetrov family and for his own amusement, having his gaze on her chilled her to the bone.

Did he know she wasn’t really in trouble with the police?

Did Anton and Paulo?

She shivered at the thought of any of them finding out the truth about her arrest and broke his gaze, fear pounding through her with each beat of her heart. They’d killed so many people already, forcing lethal doses of drugs into them and then leaving their bodies scattered around the city. She didn’t know for certain if they’d killed intentionally, but she didn’t doubt it. They were working with a drug cartel, for God’s sake. Who knew how far they were willing to go to push their drug into the market? They’d certainly been willing enough to murder Emma, an innocent teenager.

Would they do the same to her? To Tristan?

She jumped when Warner slammed the driver’s side door.

His gaze sought hers in the rearview mirror. “We’ll be there soon,” he promised. Despite the shadows cast from the bars of the cage, kindness and compassion burned in the depths of his eyes. He reminded her of her father in that way, and that made her throat tight.

She missed her father so much all of the sudden. He always knew what to say to make her feel better, to reassure her that things would work out. Even when she’d been at her lowest, fighting to walk, he’d been able to give her hope and make her smile. What would he say if he knew what she’d spent the last several weeks doing? If he learned of the thing she’d let Tristan do to her in the middle of the club? The things she’d wanted him to do to her?

Lillian glanced across the street at Teplo, at the people Tristan wanted so badly to save. Would her father understand why she’d said yes? What had driven her?

She didn’t know, but she prayed he never found out the truth.

Malachi’s gaze burned as Warner pulled away from the curb, driving her away from the chaos her life had become since meeting Tristan. As Teplo faded in the shadows behind them, she had a feeling whatever waited ahead would be even worse.

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