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Close to the Skin

The Wild Rose Press

Heat Rating: STEAMY
Word Count: 90,695
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Never back down, never turn your back, and never fall in love. Head of a multi-million dollar criminal enterprise, Vernon Newell doesn’t let family ties or misplaced sympathy get in his way. But there is one chink in his armor—Sirena Patras, the beautiful young Greek girl he seduced and deserted eight years ago.
When Vernon discovers that Bella Bell, a prospering tattoo artist in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is actually Sirena, he sets out to woo and to win her. Despite her attraction to the fabulously sexy man, Bella wants nothing to do with a hard-headed, ruthless criminal.

But when threatening messages start arriving, and Vernon disappears, Bella must choose to abandon the man she loves, as he did her, or risk her life to save him.


When she raised her head again, the pale gray light of dawn crept through the gaps in the drapes, and down below the early morning traffic emitted the low rumble that would soon become a roar as the city awoke.

The apartment had chilled. Gooseflesh covered her body. Only her feet were warm, thanks to the furry cat blanket curled around her ankles. She leaned over and picked Pussyballs up. “Sorry to give you such an uncomfortable pillow.” He wiggled his way under her arm and rubbed against her. She ran her hand down his sleek fur. His purr grew louder. “Yeah, I know. You think it’s time to eat. You always think it’s time to eat.”

The cat jumped down and headed for its food dish.

Bella rose to follow, shaking her head to rid it of grogginess. Her phone lay on the coffee table where she’d dropped it. She picked it up and swiped her finger across the lock screen, hoping she’d dreamed the ghostly call. But no, the name was there in the phone log like a bruise that wouldn’t fade.

Her stomach roiled and heaved, and she rushed to the bathroom and hung her head over the toilet. But all that came up was a trickle of bile that burned her throat and nose.

She stood up and leaned on the sink, shaking her head. Bella Bell had faced down a lot worse than a phone call from a dead guy. She would not be turned into a pathetic weakling. She filled a glass of water and gulped it down. There had to be an explanation. The man was dead. Her brother had killed him in front of her eyes.

Or had it all been a lie?

If anyone knew what was going on it would be Vernon. She moved back into the living room and peered out the window. The sky was still dark. The street light still burned. Dare she call him? He’d think she’d capitulated. Wanted him.

She dropped the curtain and straightened her shoulders. She wanted him all right. She wanted answers. She wanted to know why dead men were calling her and threatening notes appeared in her mail.

Hands shaking, she punched in Vernon’s cell number. It rang once. Twice. She imagined him holding her, kissing her. His low, rumbling voice whispering in her ear. No, she couldn’t talk to him. Not yet. She was still addicted to the man.

She tapped the phone off and curled back up on the sofa. Tomorrow. Tomorrow, she’d send him an e-mail—a nicely worded formal request.

At that moment, the phone in her hand rang. Vernon returning her call? She hesitated. Then flicked it on.

A low pitched voice spoke through heavy static. “Does Vernon know what you did?” A frisson of fear crept down her spine and burrowed deep into her core. She tossed the cell phone onto the floor and buried herself under the silk shawls, struggling to breathe.

Forget all the reasons why Vernon was the wrong man for her. She needed him. She needed him now.

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