USA Today Bestselling Author
From the moment of my birth I’ve been rejected by those who should have loved me, labeled as a freak because of my birthmark, bullied and tormented because I look different. When you’re told every day that you’re ugly and worthless you start to believe it. I managed to escape my malicious family and build a life for myself, but they’d broken something inside of me. I’m afraid to go outside, afraid to be around large groups of people, afraid of any type of confrontation and my panic attacks have left me pretty much house bound. If it wasn’t for my online friends I probably would have given up on life long ago. But there is one special friend, a man by the name of Mark, who keeps me going. He’s brave, smart, strong, and kind…and has no idea that I’m secretly in love with him.
Once I was a good man with a perfect life. I had a job I loved training dogs for the police with my wife, had a great family who filled our lives with laughter, and I woke up every day with a smile on my face. I was completely content in my blissful ignorance. I had no idea about the criminal world that thrived all around me, no idea that I’d made some powerful enemies who do anything to destroy me. Including killing my wife. I swore my revenge, and got it, but in the process I lost my soul. It was during these dark times, after my vengeance was fulfilled and I was drifting in anguish, that a beautiful soul rescued me from my own personal hell. I tried to keep my distance, tried to shield her from the villains of the world, myself included, but the evil that surrounds me wouldn’t be denied. Despite my best attempts to keep her safe, someone is out to destroy Layla, and I’m the only one who can protect her.
But who’s going to save her from me?
Author’s Note: Each book in the Cordova Empire series can be read as a stand alone, but for the most enjoyment I’d suggest reading them in order.
If you’ve been reading this series, like me you’ve been waiting for Mark’s story. Now it’s here and it was worth waiting for.
Just a reminder this is a look at things from the Cartel world, whose views are just not the same as other folks.
Mark is the right-hand man to Leo, the torturer of the Cordova Cartel. In the previous books saw Leo and the way he found his HEA with Hannah and also his brother Ramon find Joy. These are not the easiest stories to read but they do have that HEA.
I really liked the beginning of this book, it shows the more vulnerable side of these men, especially Mark.
Getting stuck in the elevator in the Cordova building he meets Layla. An unusual woman from the start with her dog Vali.
This is a favorite scene.
My wife loved the outdoors. Gracie connected to nature in a way few people could understand, and that link gave her an incredible gift with animals. When we trained police dogs for the Detroit police department together, I always marveled at her ability to communicate with our pack. Hell, with any animal. They instinctively understood that she had a good, pure heart.
After she’d been murdered…
My gut clenched and my heart gave a hard thump. The agony of that thought still caused me physical pain three years later.
The elevator vibrated again, strong enough to pull me from my thoughts.
The lights flickered overhead then went out, and my heart gave a hard lurch right before the small space plunged into darkness.
Pure panic washed through me, robbing me of my breath as I stumbled back. My hand hit a wall, and my imagination insisted I was trapped inside a coffin. Alone and surrounded by the stinking corpses of those I’d once loved. Blackness closed in, slowly choking me as I clawed at the roof of my casket like a crazed animal.
“Hey!” A woman’s voice, husky and beautiful, pulled me out of my waking nightmare. “Sir? Are you okay? Sir? ¿Hablas español?”
I tried to answer her, but the unrelenting black and the walls behind me furthered the illusion—trapped in a coffin, swaddled in wet cotton, drowning with weights strapped to my body. The air was thick—so fucking thick—and I couldn’t catch my breath. I swear, my heart felt like it was going to pound its way out of my chest, and I thought for sure I was about to die.
Then a miracle happened. A wet, cool nose nudged my hand. A dog’s nose. An unexpected sensation, it made my panicking mind slow down and process my environment. The blessed, solid weight of a good-sized dog leaned against my leg, and I let out a shuddering breath. A wet tongue licked my wrist, further pulling me out of my fucked-up head.
“Vali,” the woman in the elevator with me hissed, “Get back over here. Sir, please don’t be afraid. I know he looks scary—”
My voice sounded like I’d been gargling glass, but I managed a shaky laugh. “I have no idea what he looks like. I’m not a bat. I can’t see in the dark.”
“Oh, I thought you saw us when we got on. We…kinda stand out.” Her voice broke at the end before she quickly added, “Because of his size and his bright red service vest. Plus, he’s half lab, half pit bull, so some people tend to be a little intimidated when they see him. He’s all black except for a big white blaze on his chest. And he’s big, but I promise he’s a marshmallow. He’s the kind of dog that just loves everyone. I mean, I guess he intimidates people because he has an overbite and his teeth stick out sometimes. Wonder if I should get him dog braces? Do they make dog braces?” She gave a short, forced laugh, then said in a higher pitched voice, “Uh, I think I’m babbling, which I normally don’t do, so I’ll shut up now, but I promise he won’t hurt you. Please, don’t be afraid of him. It breaks his heart when people are scared. He’s got a gentle soul.”
The dog at my feet lightly butted my hand with his head, and I scratched behind his ears with trembling fingers. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was extremely grateful I wasn’t alone. If this mystery woman and her dog hadn’t been with me, I might have had a panic induced stroke. I had to get ahold of this shit. Take some damn pills and pass out for a few days to give my brain a fucking break.
“Are you okay?”
“Fine,” I growled as suspicion crept into my exhausted mind. “Why do you care?”
She sucked in a quick breath, one that somehow conveyed a sense of hurt. “I’m sorry… I just wanted to help.”
Guess her dog wasn’t the only gentle soul. Shit, I was acting like a complete asshole to some random lady trapped in an elevator with me. If Gracie was here right now, she’d cuff me on the back of the head for scaring the woman. It wasn’t the mystery woman’s fault fate stuck her with me in a broken elevator.
“Hey,” she asked in a tense voice, “Do you have a phone?”
Once again, the paranoia that came from feeling vulnerable reared its head.
She gave a soft, nervous laugh. “I wanted to see if the cell towers were down, or if we could get a message out to someone that we’re stuck in here. The battery on my phone is dead, otherwise I would have used the flashlight during your panic attack.”
“I wasn’t having a panic attack.”
She cleared her throat. “Of course.”
Anger, and a big dose of denial, made me growl. “I wasn’t.”
“Look, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.” Her lush voice took on a soothing tone that made my bones want to melt. “I used to have them all the time. That’s how I recognized the sound.”
“Yeah, the sound of your breathing. There’s…how to describe it? There’s a certain pitch to your gasps, a feeling of desperation like you just can’t get enough air in your lungs. Like you’re drowning. It’s a terrible feeling. I hate it.” The sound of a dog’s tag jingling along with a dog’s panting filled the small space. “Vali here has been specially trained to help me through my panic attacks. Honestly, if you’re claustrophobic, or afraid of the dark, or whatever, you couldn’t have asked for a better pair to be trapped with.”
She was right, but I hated how her words exposed my weakness. “Yeah, well, I’m fine.”
“Okay.” Her doubt came through loud and clear by her tone.
“I’m not saying you aren’t.”
I stewed in silence for a moment, but the longer I sat in the all too quiet dark, the more I swore I could smell the mineral scent of dirt surrounding me.
“So, do you have a phone?”
I felt my pocket and wanted to thump my head against the wall. “No. I must have left it up in my office.”
“Oh, you work here?”
“What do you do?”
“My job is boring. I’d rather not talk about it.”
“Okayyyy,” she said slowly, obviously confused by my abrupt answer.
Things went still again, and my skin began to prickle as the sound of my heartbeat seemed to pound louder and louder.
When she spoke, I eagerly grasped onto the sound of her voice as tangible proof that I wasn’t alone in the eternal dark. “Do you think it’s another haboob blackout?”
“Haboob,” she said slowly as if speaking to a child. “You know, those big dust storms we’ve been having? I live up north of Carefree, so they haven’t hit us, but I saw it on the news last week. A big one wiped out the power grid in Phoenix for over six hours. Man, it would suck to be stuck in here for that long.”
I slowly slid down the wall until I sat. Vaguely, I remembered the city being coated in a cloud of dust, but I’d been barely aware of anything outside of helping the Cordova family with their grief. From the moment we found Fernando’s son’s abused body, nothing else really mattered. I frowned as I realized how disconnected I’d been. Just going through the motions while wrapped up in my own head. I’m lucky as fuck none of my enemies used the opportunity to come after me, ‘cause I would have been a pathetically easy hit.
“You still there?”
I cleared my throat as some of the cobwebs seemed to lift from my brain. “Yeah, I’m here. Could be another haboob, you might be right.”
She sighed. “Then we might be here awhile. Glad I went to the bathroom before I got on the elevator.”
The corner of my mouth quirked up in a smile. “I wish I had. Hopefully we won’t be here long enough for it to become an issue.”
“Don’t worry, I have extra diapers for Vali. You can borrow one.”
“You have diapers for your dog?”
She was silent for a moment, then sighed. “I do. I also have emergency food for both myself and Vali, two bottles of water, a bowl, and three doses of my meds, just in case I get stuck somewhere. Oh, and a multipurpose tool, a compass, and some pepper spray.”
“Please don’t use the pepper spray in here. That would suck.”
Her soft, purring laugh stroked over me, and I froze at the surprisingly pleasant sensation. “See, my mind likes to think of worst-case scenarios for whenever I’m out in public.”
Eager to keep her talking, to experience more of her lovely voice, I said, “Worst case scenarios?”
“Yeah, like…what if the zombie apocalypse happens while I’m in town? What if a meteor strikes? What if a nuclear bomb goes off?”
“You really think about that stuff?”
“I have iodine tablets in my purse.”
She laughed softly, and it wasn’t a happy sound. “No on the iodine tablets. Yes on everything else. I’m a freak.”
The self-deprecating tone of her lovely voice caught my attention. “Yeah, well, you’re a freak who won’t pee their pants, even if you have to borrow a dog diaper to do it. That makes you a winner in my book.”
Ann Mayburn. Secret Obsession (Kindle Locations 72-144). Honey Mountain Publishing. Kindle Edition.
I absolutely loved the interactions between Layla, Vali and Mark, although he does his best to keep his distance, for her protection of course.
From her sculpting to gaming this book was delightful and full of surprises. It does get a bit dark but nothing worse than some of the military novels out there.
It’s not an easy road for Layla and Mark, but every page brought something to bind them. I loved seeing Leo, Hannah, Ramon, Joy and their children and we also got a glimpse of Raimon and Fernando.
I can’t wait for the next book in this series!
5 Contented Purrs for Ann!
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With over forty published books, Ann is Queen of the Castle to her husband and three sons in the mountains of West Virginia. In her past lives she’s been an Import Broker, a Communications Specialist, a US Navy Civilian Contractor, a Bartender/Waitress, and an actor at the Michigan Renaissance Festival. She also spent a summer touring with the Grateful Dead-though she will deny to her children that it ever happened.
From a young Ann has had a love affair with books would read everything she could get her hands on. As Ann grew older, and her hormones kicked in, she discovered bodice ripping Fabio-esque romance novels. They were great at first, but she soon grew tired of the endless stories with a big wonderful emotional buildup to really short and crappy sex. Never a big fan of purple prose, throbbing spears of fleshy pleasure and wet honey pots make her giggle, she sought out books that gave the sex scenes in the story just as much detail and plot as everything else-without using cringe worthy euphemisms. This led her to the wonderful world of Erotic Romance, and she’s never looked back.
Now Ann spends her days trying to tune out cartoons playing in the background to get into her ‘sexy space’ and has accepted that her Muse has a severe case of ADD.
Ann loves to talk with her fans, as long as they realize she’s weird, and that sarcasm doesn’t translate well via text.
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