Ellie Watt is used to starting over. The daughter of a grifting team, Ellie spent her childhood being used as a pawn in her parents' latest scam. Now she's much older, wiser and ready to give her con artist life a rest. But returning to the dry desert town of Palm Valley, California means one more temptation than she bargained for - Camden McQueen. Once known as the high school weirdo, Camden is bigger and badder than the boy he used to be and a talented tattoo artist with his own thriving business. Ellie's counting on Camden still being in love with her but what she's not counting on is how easily unrequited love can turn into obsession over time. When Camden discovers Ellie's plan to con him, he makes her a deal she doesn't dare refuse, but her freedom comes with a price and it's one that takes both Ellie and Camden down a dangerous road.
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An hour later, Camden was drunk, attempting to make a fire, and we had finally settled on a name. He had wanted to do a nod to some of his Irish ancestry on his late mother’s side, so his new persona was called Connor Malloy. It wasn’t too similar to Camden McQueen, but because of the pacing, the words rolled off the tongue the same way. To tell the truth, he kind of looked like a Connor.
Though he’d always be Camden to me.
“Come sit with me,” he said. He had gotten the fire going and was sitting cross-legged on a Mexican blanket in front of it. The very same place we’d shared some wine and, uh, certain parts of each other. It felt like ages ago. It was amazing how fast everything had changed, even our names.
I hesitated. He was drunk, which was fine. I mean, I’d seen him drunk before. But things were so different and so unpredictable, I wasn’t sure who I was going to get. Camden? Connor? Caithness? Today had been the first time we’d been together in a few days, and while things were going smoothly at the moment, I didn’t want to push my luck.
“Please,” he said, patting the ground beside him.
Feeling he probably wouldn’t ask nicely next time, I got up and sat down beside him. The fire wasn’t too hot since it was a Duraflame log, but it was pleasantly warm and toasty. I brought my knees up to my chest and watched the flames dance.
“So when do I start becoming Connor Malloy?” he asked in a dull voice.
I turned my head to look at him. The flames reflected in his glasses, making it hard for me to see his eyes.
“When we run,” I said.
“Do you ever get tired of running?”
I managed a weak smile. “Why do you think I came here?”
“I thought you came here to screw me over,” he said. It was so emotionless and he watched the fire as if hypnotized.
“I didn’t come here to screw you over, Camden.”
“Please, call me Connor.”
“Seriously, Camden, listen to me. I know you don’t believe me or trust me but…you have to know, you weren’t why I came here.”
“No? Then I’m a bit disappointed,” he said sadly.
“I didn’t think I’d know anyone here. That’s why I came back. I figured everyone was either too old to remember me or had moved on. No one stays in the town they were raised in unless they have a reason. I thought I could just start over. I thought my uncle could help me. Or at least try. But he didn’t want me.”
“You could have gotten a job like everyone else. A real job.”
“You didn’t try.” His eyes snapped to mine, taking me by surprise. “You wanted the easy way out. Don’t you know by now that there is no easy way out?”
His tone put me on edge. I tried to placate him with kind eyes. “I’m getting out now,
aren’t I? We both are.”
A savage smile slowly spread across his lips. “But you think this is easy. Don’t you? You’re relieved that all you have to do is help me with something you’re good at. Somehow, in the end, you’ll walk away. Maybe not any richer, but you’ll walk away. And you’ll feel great about how much you helped Camden McQueen or Connor Malloy or whatever my name will be. You’ll walk away feeling like a winner. That’s not fair, Ellie. You don’t deserve to feel that way.”
I couldn’t figure out what to say because what he was saying was the truth. He removed his glasses and put them on the ground beside him. His eyes, heavy lidded with drink, drifted to my mouth. I gulped nervously, not liking the tension that was jagging between us.
“How do you think I should feel?” I asked thickly. My nerves were on fire. Everything was on fire.
“Like this,” he said. Slowly, he leaned over and kissed me. His lips were soft and tasted like bourbon. I couldn’t kiss him back if I wanted to; I couldn’t do anything but freeze. He pulled back a little, his eyes inches away. I could see my frightened reflection in the black hole of his pupil. “See? You’re afraid.”
“You want to scare me?” I whispered.
He kept his lips an inch from mine. His fingers smoothed the hair off my face, tucking it behind my ear.
“Yes,” he murmured. His lips brushed mine as he spoke. My breath hitched as his other hand slid the strap of my tank top and bra off my shoulder. I shivered from his touch, from his eyes, from whatever was buried in his heart and eating him alive.
“Camden,” I warned, my voice shaking.
He placed his lips on my shoulder and started kissing down my arm. He was right. I was scared. I was so, so afraid. Yet a terrible part of me wanted him to continue. I was turned on and frightened, ready to run, ready to fight, ready to grab him and kiss him, devour every part of him. I didn’t know what was going on, but I was stuck in a cage with something that might or might not harm me, that might give me everything and leave me with nothing.
His lips came back up my arm and across my collarbone. Slowly. Very slowly. The slowest, softest kisses I’d ever felt. Then his mouth edged down my chest. I was sure he could feel my heart underneath, pounding wildly. With his hand, he pulled down my top and bra and exposed my right breast. My nipple was already hard and now puckered in anticipation. His lips circled it, then his warm tongue lashed it gently, teasing, tempting. He let out a small sigh then tugged at my nipple ring with his teeth. The pleasure traveled along my nerves like lightning strikes.
I couldn’t swallow. I felt like I was drowning under his touch. “Camden, please…”
Please stop, I was thinking. This isn’t right. It feels right and it feels wrong but it isn’t right. There’s a
motive and it isn’t lust. It isn’t lust. It’s revenge.
Revenge never felt so good.
He nipped at me, and my back arched. A low moan escaped my lips. I wanted him. I wanted the person that didn’t exist. I wanted the wrong thing.
About the Author
The daughter of a Norwegian Viking and a Finnish Moomin, Karina Halle grew up in Vancouver, Canada with trolls and eternal darkness on the brain. This soon turned into a love of all things that go bump in the night and a rather sadistic appreciation for freaking people out. Like many of the flawed characters she writes, Karina never knew where to find herself and has dabbled in acting, make-up artistry, film production, screenwriting, photography, travel writing and music journalism. She eventually found herself in the pages of the very novels she wrote (if only she had looked there to begin with). She’s hard at work on her next novel.