The Fall and Rise of Kade Hart (A STAND ALONE Hart Brothers Novel)
*Contains strong language and sex so is not suitable for younger readers.
If you think this is just another Romantic Suspense—think again. Get ready for your paradigm to shift and be prepared to step into another world.
"Hello, my name is Kade Hart and I’m a drug addict." Isn't that what recovering addicts are supposed to say? Hell if I know. I’m not sure about anything anymore. Not since I met her. Juliette. She's my game-changer.
I’ve lived on the streets, been in places no one ever wants to see, survived pure hell with the bastard who raised me. I thought I'd finally managed to put all that behind me, come to terms with who and what I am. Until she walked into my life. She’s running from the people who slaughtered her family, people who want her dead, too, and she makes me want to be the kind of man who can protect her, who can save her. But I'm not sure I’m that guy. I'm no one's hero.
Or am I?
One day, on her way home from work as a sales manager, A. M. Hargrove, realized her life was on fast forward and if she didn't do something soon, it would quickly be too late to write that work of fiction she had been dreaming of her whole life. So, she rolled down the passenger window of her fabulous (not) company car and tossed out her leather briefcase. Luckily, the pedestrian in the direct line of fire was a dodge ball pro and had über quick reflexes enabling him to avoid getting bashed in the head. Feeling a tad guilty about the near miss, A. M. made a speedy turn down a deserted side street before tossing her crummy, outdated piece-of-you-know-what laptop out the window. She breathed a liberating sigh of relief, picked up her cell phone, called her boss, and quit her job. Grinning, she made another call to her hubs and told him of her new adventure (after making sure his heart was beating properly again).
So began A. M. Hargrove's career as a Naughty and Nice Romance Author. Her books include the following: Edge of Disaster, Shattered Edge and Kissing Fire (The Edge Series); The Guardians of Vesturon Series (Survival, Resurrection, Determinant, reEmergent, and Beginnings); Dark Waltz, Death Waltz, Tragically Flawed (Tragic 1), Tragic Desires (Tragic 2), Exquisite Betrayal, Dirty Nights; and lastly Freeing Her, Freeing Him, and Kestrel—all part of the Hart Brothers Series.
Other than being in love with writing about love, she loves chocolate, ice cream, and coffee and is positive they should be added as part of the USDA food groups.
Two Years Ago
My car was loaded with all my belongings. It was sad to leave my friends but wasn’t that a part of graduating from college? Commencement had taken place two weeks before and we’d all decided to hang around for an extra week. That expanded into two. My parents finally put their feet firmly down and said it was time to head home and start job hunting. Then we made a pact. We swore we’d text or call each other every single day and post the worst pictures possible of ourselves on Facebook. After our laughs turned into tears, we cried. I mean ugly cried. If that hadn’t been bad enough, I was teary-eyed all the way home, too.
As part of my graduation gift, my parents promised to take the family on a vacation. We were supposed to leave the following week for a trip to the Caribbean. We’d been once before when I was a kid, but my little sister didn’t remember. She and I were both excited because it had been ages since we’d hung out together. We were three years apart and I adored her, so this would be a special trip for us.
When I pulled in the driveway, I honked the horn. They knew when to expect me because I texted them when I left my apartment. I thought it was weird that no one came to the door. Some kind of homecoming, after all that begging to get me back here. Instead of lugging my stuff inside, I decided to enlist their help.
Barging in the front door, all smiles, I came to a screeching halt. Furiously, I blinked to clear my vision. The scene that greeted me could in no way be real. It wasn’t possible to process what I was seeing. Was this some kind of a cruel joke? Was this a staged scene to make me regret staying so long at school?
I squeezed my eyes shut, praying when I opened them again it would all be gone, because I knew none of the above could be actual … concrete. It had to be fictional. It was the scent of blood that clued me in … that brought me out of my frozen state. I never knew what a distinct and pungent odor blood had. And why would I? I had never been around such an enormous quantity of it before. There were rivers and ponds of it, forming into pools as it still trickled from the bodies of my mom, dad, and sister.
“Oh, God. Oh, God, oh, God.” I swallowed and then tried to scream, but only a weird squeak emerged from my mouth. It was only when I tasted my own blood that I realized my hand was clamped over my face so hard, my teeth had gouged into my lips. My baby sister, Sylvie, was stripped naked and lay slumped on her side, one arm bent across her stomach, the other stretched out, palm open. My mom, my beloved mother, was facing my sister, both arms reaching out to her as if she tried to get to Sylvie before she died. And next to my mom was my dad, flat on his back, vacant eyes staring at the ceiling.
“Noooo!” I finally screeched. There was so much blood everywhere. I wanted to hug all of them, hold them in my arms, but all I could do was stare at the gruesome scene in front of me. The thought never occurred to me that whoever did this could still be in the house. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew I should call 911, but the shock of seeing it all took every bit of rationality away from me. My head involuntarily jerked between the three of them, eventually settling on my dad. My shaky legs carried me as far as the sofa until my hip slumped against it, and my butt slid to the floor.
I sat and stared at their faces for I don’t know how long. They say right before you die, your life flashes through your mind. I don’t know if that’s true, but as I sat there staring at my murdered family, memories zoomed through my head—almost like a slide show on fast-forward of photos from family events. It began when I was a young girl and ended at my college graduation just a couple of weeks ago. My whole being vibrated with agony, knowing those were the final memories I would have of them.
My entire family lay dead. Not just dead, but slaughtered, each one dying their own heinous death. My dad’s neck was ripped apart, jagged pieces of his flesh lying open. One arm was extended toward my mother, and the index and middle fingers of that hand were missing. My mom’s neck was sliced wide open from one side to the other, not jagged like my dad’s, but cleanly slit, almost to the point of decapitation. Both of them had their legs split open from their groins to their knees. The blood was still seeping through their clothing, the mangled threads edged with their bloody tissue. But Sylvie was the one that got to me the most. Her neck was bruised and slashed, just like Mom’s. Only there were puncture wounds all over her body. Some were about an inch wide where others were cylindrical shaped. Blood seeped from each of them, running into lines creating zigzags of red all over her pale skin. I couldn’t even allow myself to imagine what had made them. Worse yet, there was no sight of her clothing anywhere. What kind of cruel people would have done such a terrible thing to them? Was this a mob killing? Or some kind of gangland initiation?
Even though they were the victims, I felt like my guts had been sawed out right along with their souls. My belly heaved and I forced the bile back down. The piercing pain that slashed my heart to shreds radiated through me ceaselessly. I hugged myself in a stupid attempt to ease the pain, but I should have known better. That would’ve been like putting a Band-Aid on an amputation. And that’s exactly how I felt. Like someone had cut off my arms and legs. For some reason I was unable to wrest my eyes away from the horror movie I was seeing. It was hideous. Too final. Who could’ve done such a thing, I kept asking myself. And why? My mind raced. Suddenly, my heart gave a massive lurch and a surge of adrenaline coursed through me. Body tingling, a jolt of panic instantly flooded my veins and I found it impossible to expand my lungs. I crashed sideways to the floor and it was then I saw it. Next to my dad’s hand, scrawled in his blood, he’d written two words.
JE. Those were my initials. Juliette Emilie. Why would he write my initials in his blood and the word “hide” right after them? The “e” on the end of hide was barely formed, as if it took all of his effort to complete it. Oh, Jesus. Oh, God. He must’ve known something. He was telling me to hide. Hide from what? What did he know? Did he know who did this to them? And if so, were they looking for me now? Oh, shit. If so, I needed to get out of here. But where would I go?
Sometimes a sense of intuition seeps into you and you have no idea where it came from. At that very moment, something settled over me and I crawled toward my dad, reached for his arm, and using his sleeve, I dragged it through the blood to smear the words he’d written. Scrambling to my feet, making sure I avoided any of the congealing blood, and nearly crashing back to the floor several times, I staggered out the door to my car. My hands shook so violently I couldn’t put the key in the ignition. It took several stabs until I was successful, but I roared out of the driveway, tires squealing. It was a battle to stay conscious as I fought hyperventilation, but I did. My brain was scrambled eggs. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. Shit! My family had been mutilated and my dad left me a message in his own blood that told me to hide! That meant I couldn’t call my friends. That meant I was alone. I slammed my hands against the steering wheel. What the fuck was I going to do?
I couldn’t think straight. Images of my butchered family kept speeding through my head. My hand clenched my hair, grasping a handful of it. I wanted to rip every damn strand of it out. I screamed as loud as I could as I drove. Then it hit me. I needed money. Dad always said he kept an emergency stash of cash in his safe. That’s where I needed to go.
My dad didn’t believe in keeping his valuables at home. Dad was a gemologist and owned a jewelry store. He always said that keeping his safe at an obscure location was a much smarter place for it than storing it at home. My next stop was a storage facility where dad kept the safe. He’d chosen a facility that wasn’t under surveillance—one that didn’t attract attention. If you ask me, it looked sketchy, but he said that was the idea. No one would ever think he’d be foolish enough to keep a safe there.
I drove to the location and it was dark and creepy. Under usual circumstances I would’ve been fine, but I was so freaked out and panic-driven, I wasn’t sure I could make myself get out of the car. I knew I needed cash to go on, so I had no choice. The more I thought about it, using my credit cards wouldn’t be an option. If Dad told me to hide, then whoever did this would probably know when and if I used them. Then a new surge of fear almost did me in. What if they followed me? What if they were watching the house? I craned my neck to see if there was anyone about, but nothing appeared out of the ordinary, so I opened the storage unit door and went inside. I ran to Dad’s unit, unlocked the combination lock, and lifted the door. It was noisy and made me even more jittery. After I pulled the string that turned on the overhead light, I noticed the only thing in the unit was the safe. He used to keep odds and ends in here, but they had all been removed. I didn’t spend time thinking about it, but went directly to the safe, unlocked it, and dumped the contents of it in an empty duffle bag I had in my car. Not even sparing a second to see what was inside, I closed everything back up and was back behind the wheel in minutes.
With my heart still clanging my chest, I headed toward the interstate, to an unknown destination. Then a thought hit me. GPS! My cell phone. It had GPS. Could I be tracked? I couldn’t remember. I would dump it anyway, just to be on the safe side. But I had to delete everything on it, as in my contacts or they could find me through my friends. Shit, shit, shit!
“Calm down! Think, think, think, Jules.”
I wasn’t cut out for this. I was twenty-two years old and had just graduated from college with a degree in computer science for crying out loud. Coming up with a safe house wasn’t in my repertoire. So I did the only thing I could think of. I drove to the most obvious place—the police station. I even thought about walking inside and reporting what I’d found, but a voice in the back of my brain advised me against it. Again, call it intuition. As I sat in the parking lot, I quickly did a mass delete on all my contacts, and texts. Then I drove to a dumpster, where I ran over my phone several times, effectively crushing it, before tossing it inside.
Not much later I was on I-10 headed west to an unknown destination. In less than an hour, my life had taken a one hundred and eighty degree turn. I had just driven this way as I came home from LSU, in tears because I was leaving my friends behind. Now I was in tears for a much more compelling reason. My family had been slaughtered in our own home and the carnage left behind would haunt my waking and sleeping hours until the day I died. Forcing back the tears that threatened to overcome me, I drove on. I needed to push it all aside and figure out a plan. If I didn’t, I feared I would be in the same situation as they were. I had to pull off the road a few times when my sobs and tears made it impossible to see or drive. But later, my vision blurred for a different reason—exhaustion. It was right before midnight when I checked into a Days Inn outside of Houston, Texas. I paid for the room in cash and took the duffle bag I filled in the storage unit, along with my overnight bag in the room. I was thirsty and should’ve been hungry, but the contortions in my guts were so damned awful, I knew I’d never be able to swallow a bite.
Once settled, I dug out the contents of the duffle bag. As expected, there was a lot of cash. I counted over fifty thousand. That was good and bad. Good, because I would need the money to survive on for who knew how long. Bad, because I would have to be very careful. Carrying that much cash was dangerous. There was also a metal box that contained loose diamonds. What I would do with those, I had no clue. I would hide them somewhere and figure that out at a later time. Then I found an unusual necklace. It was a black metal chain and some kind of odd-looking gemstone—one I had never seen before. With it was a folded up note in a strange script. I couldn’t read it, but there were also notes in my father’s handwriting. His notes read:
Necklace brought in by customer and left with me. Unknown substance. Never before seen. Checked all data entries to date and could not identify. Customer also gave me the untranslatable note. Took to linguistics professor at Tulane and he was unfamiliar with the language. Predates anything he’d ever seen. My best guess—some ancient tribal torque. Stone seems to pick up unusual traits when exposed to heat, cold, darkness and light.
And that was it. There was also a Bible with it and a few passages marked. That wasn’t surprising since my dad was a very spiritual man.
But then as I was putting everything away, a small slip of thick paper fell out of the Bible. All it said was:
To the keeper: wear at all times. Let not it fall into false hands lest ye face universal destruction.
The handwriting was odd and not my father’s. What did this mean? Why was it so important to wear this all the time? And if it were so important to be worn, what was it doing in my father’s safe, obviously not being worn by anyone? What did it mean by false hands? And where did Dad get this? And why wasn’t he able to identify the stone? He was a gemologist, for crying out loud. He should’ve been able to identify any kind of stone. So many damn unanswered questions. I looked at the paper again. It was yellowed and thick, like old parchment. The letters were drawn and looked more like symbols, now that I inspected it more closely. What did this mean? As my fingers brushed across the surface of the paper, I found that it wasn’t really paper at all, but a type of stiff cloth. I lifted it up to the light, not quite sure what I was searching for. As I stared at it, something seemed to go in and out of focus. I blamed it on my sleep-deprived state. I’d been up late the night before, partying with my friends. And now dealing with this, my brain was not functioning properly. I knew I needed to crash, but I doubted I could actually sleep. I decided to turn on the TV and see if a movie might lull me into a calm enough state.
I drifted off and woke up about five-thirty. As I lay there, I thought I heard someone sneaking around in my room. I quickly turned the light on and didn’t breathe easy until I made sure I was safe. Since I was awake, I grabbed my computer and got on the hotel’s internet. I immediately checked the New Orleans news and saw there were no murders reported. Since it was still early, no one had probably realized my family had even been killed. The idea that they were gone brought another round of body-racking sobs, but I forced them back. I couldn’t let myself grieve for them, as much as I wanted to. I couldn’t let myself curl up in that tiny ball and wither away, even though that’s what I wanted. They wouldn’t want that. They would want me to push on and survive. So that’s what I did. I came up a plan. I would drive to Oklahoma City. It seemed like an obscure enough of a town, and no one I knew would ever think to look for me there because I didn’t know a soul in Oklahoma. I stopped in Dallas for a couple of hours and made it to Oklahoma City by mid afternoon, where I got a room at a Hampton Inn.
After I checked in, I took a badly needed shower. Luckily enough, I had organized and packed my bags for vacation, so all my stuff was in one suitcase. After my shower, I got on the hotel internet again to check the New Orleans news. I was shocked to see there were no reports of my family’s murder. What was going on? Why wouldn’t someone have called it in? My dad owned a jewelry store and my mom worked there with him. Surely someone had noticed they hadn’t opened in the last day. What was going on? I came up with all sorts of weird explanations, but none of them were solid. And then there were my sister’s friends. Why hadn’t they come around and reported it? None of this added up. Maybe I was wrong to have run the way I did. Maybe I should’ve stayed and called the police. But Dad’s note was clearly meant for me. He wouldn’t have written it in his own blood as he died, if he didn’t think I was in danger.
I needed a reality check. Was my mind lucid? I went back and ticked through the facts as I remembered them. Left school and all was fine. Talked to my mom that morning and texted her in the afternoon as I was leaving. Got home to a macabre scene. Found Dad’s note next to his body, telling me to hide. Left home and went to the storage unit to retrieve the contents of his safe. Then I hit the road. How could I not be lucid? I was as sane as ever.
Then something nagged at me. I grabbed my computer and Googled Dad’s jewelry store. Nothing came up. That was odd. He’d had a website forever. I revamped it two years ago and would help him whenever he had issues with it. I just did maintenance on the thing a month ago. His business should’ve come up in a Google search. Next I entered his website’s address, which was only his business’ name. That directed me to a search page, as if the website didn’t exist. I knew the website existed, damn it. What the hell was going on here? So I tried it again and the same thing happened. I entered “Bressan’s Gems” into Google again. Nothing showed up. It was as if the store had never existed. I went to Yellow Pages to look them up. There was no listing. Okay, this was really weirding me out. How could that be? How could all this be wiped out in a matter of a couple of days? A business can’t just disappear. That’s not possible.
Or is it? Whoever killed my parents must have ties to the government or someone really powerful to be able to do something like that. You can’t erase stuff from the internet like that. Not unless you know people. Powerful people. Shit. I’m in deep ass trouble. What the hell did my dad do? Who was he mixed up with? Was he involved in diamond smuggling or something? I couldn’t believe my dad would do anything like that. Dad was as honest as the day is long. He and Mom emphasized that no matter what, never ever lie. No, Dad wouldn’t do anything illegal. This was something else. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to find out.
I slammed my computer shut, packed up my stuff, and left. I needed to get the hell out of there. If they were tracking anyone Googling the store, they could track the IP address where I Googled it from. I had no time to spare.
Nine hours later, I pulled into Albuquerque, New Mexico. There would be no hotel for me this time. Instead, I headed to an outdoor and camping store and purchased a tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. I also bought a bunch of other equipment, such as a lantern, cooler, and items one would need for camping. Dad used to take us camping when we were young, so I was familiar with the basics of it. Then I asked the sales clerk where a good campground was. He gave me several options and off I went. That tent became my temporary home. During the evening, I also devised a new a plan. I didn’t know if I could pull it off, but if I knew if I didn’t, I would most likely die because I had no doubt the people who killed my family would find and kill me too. It was a huge risk, and I would have to be as convincing as I’d ever been, but if it worked, it would be the key to saving my life.