Savage Ice

June 25, 2024 – Ice Breaker Cold Case Romance – Ice Breaker, Book 10

He’s been protecting her since he was sixteen years old…

Beau LeBlanc has a killer grin, a voice that can seduce a saint, and a serious reputation for being mad, wickedly bad, and exceedingly dangerous to know. Growing up, everyone always thought he was trouble with a capital T…until one night the bad boy became a hero. He rushed into a burning house and saved her—Avalon Trahan. He still bears the scars from the flames on his body, but it was Avalon who marked his soul. For her, he wanted to be more than just the most dangerous guy in town.

They grew up. He kept watching her.

Beau knows that he’s obsessed. He also knows that someone has to look after Avalon because the fire wasn’t the last time that her life was in danger. Over the years, he’s had to step in when she needs help…not that she knew he was there. He stayed in the shadows. Watching. Waiting. And eliminating the threats that came her way. You didn’t screw with what belonged to him.

She’s been his fantasy for years. He’s been her dark hero.

He never expected Avalon to walk into his bar. To come straight to him. But when she does, she’s a temptation he can’t resist. Beautiful, bold, and smart, she’s everything he has ever wanted. Desire explodes between them. A need he has fought for so long is suddenly a blazing inferno that he can’t control.

But Avalon needs Beau now more than ever before. A killer has her in his sights—a man who loves to see the world burn. And this predator won’t stop until he finishes what he started years ago…The fire is going to come for Avalon again. And this time, he’ll make sure no one is there to save her.

Author’s note: The Ice Breakers are back once again! A serial arsonist is ready to set the world ablaze. To stop him, Beau and Avalon will have to trace a trail of murders back to the killer. Avalon is a true-crime author with ties to the Ice Breakers, and she will need their backup to unravel the mystery of her past. She’s also going to need some serious protection. Good thing Beau is more than willing to get up close and personal with her. Prepare for smoking-hot pages, danger that will chill your heart, and a hero who is too well acquainted with the dark side of love…and obsession.

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Excitement hummed through his blood.





The engine purred to life before Beau LeBlanc could even finish counting down to one. A sleek, beautiful purr of power from the Jag—a ride that had to be worth an easy one hundred grand. If you were gonna buy something so expensive, then you really should protect your possession a whole lot better. And not say, let a teenager swipe it in less than five seconds.

A wide grin curved Beau’s lips as he prepared to get the hell out of⁠—


He stilled right before pulling the driver’s side door closed. The night was still. Damn quiet. Nothing was happening in the Garden District. Sure, he knew folks would be partying it up hardcore on Bourbon Street, but this was the tamer part of the Big Easy. The sophisticated, rich-as-hell part. Gated homes. Security cameras. Fancy rides that just begged and sweetly pleaded to be stolen by an enterprising person such as himself.


The scent of smoke grew stronger.

He should ignore the scent. He had a job to do. People who would be waiting on this car. Drive away. Yep, that was exactly what he should do.


Had he just heard the faintest crackle of flames?

Beau found himself sliding out of the Jag. He didn’t turn off the engine. He was just going to take a quick peek and come right back. Satisfy his curiosity. He hurried around the edge of the tall bushes. Turned the corner on the street and staggered to a stop.

Holy shit.

The house was en-freaking-gulfed. Flames were bursting from the mansion. Red, orange, and gold, the fire seemed to be eating the lower level of the massive structure. As he watched, one window erupted and sent chunks of glass spraying into the night. A soundless whistle escaped him because he’d never seen a fire like this. Maybe in a movie once. Not in real life. Not up close. Not so wild and hot and so⁠—

Help me!”

His gaze whipped up to the second floor. Then up higher. Third damn floor. Because the house—mansion—was huge. A window was partially open on that level, and he saw a small arm waving in the night.

Someone was trapped in that house.

The rest of the rich-as-hell street was dead quiet and dark. No one was rushing to the rescue.


So he…did.

Beau hurtled from the darkness and straight toward the flames. He didn’t slow down when he reached the front door. Instead, he just barreled into it as hard as he could. It flew open. He’d thought it would be locked and that he’d have to ram his way in, but it gave him no resistance. Smoke filled his lungs and he coughed and choked as he raced for the stairs. He felt the fire grab his shoulder. A white-hot, burning touch that pierced him straight to his soul, but Beau didn’t stop.

He rushed up the stairs. The smoke followed him. Seemed to choke him. His eyes watered and his chest heaved and somehow, he actually made it to the third-floor landing. But then he froze because the smoke was so thick, and he didn’t know where the hell the victim was and…

He was no damn hero.

Why was he in the house?

Criminal. Piece of trash. Should lock his ass up. Gang thug.

Whispers filled his mind as he hesitated. Beau knew exactly what he was.

His shoulder throbbed and ached. He needed to get out of there.


The scream came from the right. Spinning in that direction, he yanked up his shirt in an effort to cover his mouth. With one hand, he held the shirt, and with the other, he reached in front of him as he searched for the door. The acrid scent of smoke—and was that gasoline?—surrounded him.

It was freaking pitch black up there. His hands touched something. Big. Sturdy. Wooden?

He’d thought to find a door, but, hell, this felt like some kind of shelf or cabinet or⁠—


The scream was coming from behind whatever the fuck this was. Beau heaved and shoved, and he heard wood grate as the damn thing gave way and flew to the side. Then he stumbled into a room and⁠—

“Thank you!” A body collided with his. Much smaller. Softer. Feminine. She coughed and shuddered against him. “Someone—someone put the bookcase in front of my door—” Coughs interrupted her. “I-I couldn’t get out!”

He grabbed her hand. “We’re getting out. Now.” He felt dizzy and sick, and her hand was way too fragile in his grip. He had to get her out of that nightmare.

They turned, hurried back to the stairs…and saw hell waiting.

The flames were eating their way up the stairs. Smoke was so thick.

His lungs seemed to clog.

She trembled against him. He hauled her back into her bedroom. Kicked the door shut. Grabbed a cover from her bed and shoved it beneath the door.

“We’re going…” Coughs broke through her words. “To die…”

The hell he was. No way was he dying as some dumb teen. He had plans. He was gonna be feared. Respected. He would have his own bar. Have his own crew. Have his own damn Jag that wasn’t stolen.

He was going to have everything he wanted.

She threw her arms around him. “I don’t want to die.” Her hand scraped over his right shoulder. Pain blasted through him and almost brought Beau to his knees.

She had some kind of nightlight glowing in her room. Small. Square. The only illumination in the place. But her window was open. Open a few precious inches, anyway. The window she’d been using before when she called for help.

He pried away from her and grabbed the pillow from her bed. Beau ripped the pillowcase in two. “Put it over your mouth.” One part for her. One for him. Like the scrap would do much good, but it was better than nothing. Then Beau rushed for the window.

“Jammed,” she muttered. “I-I couldn’t get it…h-higher…”

Yeah, it was jammed. Screw it. He drove his fist through the glass. The glass shattered. He started bleeding, and he just punched harder. He punched until the windowpane was gone, and he could gulp in air. Except that air just tasted of smoke, too.

If they didn’t get out of that room, they were dead.

He looked back at her.

Small. Long hair that tumbled over her shoulders. Oversized pajamas. Hunched shoulders. Shudders shook her body again and again.

What was she? Like, a hundred pounds? He could handle that. Maybe. His idea was a real shit one, but it was the only idea he had. “Get on my back.”

She didn’t move.

“I’m—” He almost hit his knees as dizziness flooded through him, and Beau threw out a hand to grip the window frame. His blood smeared over the edge. “I-I think I can crawl down.” There was some kind of gutter or drain or some shit that extended down the length of the house. He’d spied it a moment ago. Or at least, Beau thought he had. With all the smoke, it was hard to be sure of anything.

Fuck. Maybe he should just jump. It was the third story. He could survive a jump from that height, couldn’t he? Sure, maybe he’d wind up with some broken bones, but getting his bones smashed would be better than burning alive.

She hopped onto his back and held on tightly. A death grip.

He might survive the jump, but Beau didn’t want to risk her. He needed to make sure she got down without any broken bones. Or burns. Or…

Hell, I don’t even want her scratched.

Slowly, carefully, he climbed out of the window. Grabbed his lifeline—because, yeah, that was how he thought of what was some kind of long drain—and started to descend. Her legs were curled around his waist. Her arms locked around his neck. His right shoulder pulsed with pain, but he ignored it. Down, they went and⁠—

And he felt the fucking lifeline give way. Heard the screech over the crackle of the flames and knew in that stunned instant that they were both going to fall. He twisted his body, moving so that he’d be beneath her and the ground rushed up to him as⁠—


He hit. They’d made it halfway down before the fall. The impact shuddered through him because he’d taken the worst of it. She was on top of him, and as he fought to suck in a gulp of air, she rose above him.

“Be okay!” A choked plea from her right before her fingers ran over his face. “Please, please, don’t be broken!”

Too late. He’d been broken for a long time. Ask anyone. His would-be foster parents. The social workers. The mom who’d ditched him long ago when she left him sleeping in a church pew and never looked back. The asshole dad who’d never cared a bit about him. He was no good to anyone. Worthless. Trash. He was⁠—

“My hero,” she breathed.

He blinked and stared up at the angel above him.

“You’re my hero.”

Sirens wailed in the distance. And, beyond his angel, he saw the flames shoot from the third story window.

* * *

Someone was stroking his hand. A soft, gentle touch.

Beau slowly opened his eyes. At first, he wondered where the hell he was. A white room. Antiseptic smell. Bright light trickled through the shades to his left. But then he saw her.

A pretty teen with long, reddish blond hair. She perched in the chair near his…hospital bed? She held his hand, and she sent him the sunniest smile he’d ever seen in his life. Dimples winked in her cheeks.

“You saved my life.”

The hell he had.


Oh, yeah, he had.

“You’re a hero.”

Nah. He was a jackass. A car thief. A gang⁠—

“You’re the most amazing person I’ve ever met.”

His chest began to ache. Beau lifted his right hand to rub it and—shit, his shoulder hurt.

She clutched his left hand all the tighter. “You got burned on that shoulder, but you’re going to heal. You ah…” Her eyes—a truly incredible shade of deep, dark green—drifted down his body. “I’m afraid you broke a lot of bones when we fell. When I…” A rush of her breath. “When I fell on top of you. You’ve got some cracked ribs, too. But I swear, you are going to heal. The doctors say that you will be fine in a few weeks.”

He didn’t look down at his body.

He looked at her hand, holding his.

“My name is Avalon,” she said. “And…what’s your name?”

Avalon. He swallowed. Could have sworn he tasted ash. But Beau made his gaze lift to her face. She looked close to his age. Maybe a little younger. Innocent. Beautiful.

And she…she was staring at him like he was some kind of superhero.

“Beau,” he heard himself mutter.

Her smile came again. A smile that flashed her dimples once more.

His heart beat faster. Beau knew trouble when he saw it. And he was staring straight at some serious, serious trouble. Only that trouble was disguised as a cute teen girl.

“You’re my hero,” she told him.

He’d never been that before. And he knew he never would be again. He was on a different path. One full of destruction and pain. But…

But for just a moment, with her, he became something else.

Something—someone—who wasn’t so disturbed. Who wasn’t chased by demons and pain. Someone who could touch something good and not destroy it.

He became Avalon’s hero.

And she…

She became his hope.

Chapter One

Avalon Trahan sat across the table from an ice-cold serial killer. His bright blue eyes showed no emotion. No curiosity. She wasn’t sure that Everett Thomas actually felt emotions. At least, not the way most people did. Normal people.

Though, over the years, Avalon had come to understand that “normal” was really a very relative term.

Two guards were in the small room at the prison with her. Everett was cuffed—ankles and wrists all connected together and secured to the floor. She shouldn’t be afraid of him. There was no way he could hurt her in this environment.

But staring into his soulless eyes, Avalon felt her stomach drop.

This was the man who had brutally murdered four women before finally being apprehended and found guilty. Georgia had the death penalty, and Everett was in line to get a needle shoved into his arm. Death would be coming for the man who’d so cruelly tortured others.

“Pretty lady, what do you want with me?” Everett asked softly. His gaze never left hers.

“My name is Avalon. I’m a writer.”

He didn’t change expressions.

“I’m curious about your story.”

Now, for the first time, his eyes did seem to lighten with emotion. An almost feverish intensity. “You want to hear about what I did to them?”

Them. The women he’d hurt. Viciously abused with his knife.

Avalon kept her hands beneath the table. This wasn’t her first time to speak with a sadistic killer. Actually, her job involved talking to the worst of the monsters out there. Plenty of people thought that she was crazy to do this particular job, but it had called to her over the years. Darkness always called to her. Or at least, it had since the night her life had changed when fire swept into her world.

Her chin lifted. “I want to hear about the night the police caught you.”

His eyes narrowed.

“They found you handcuffed and unconscious in that barn.”

He leaned forward.

The guard on the right tensed.

Avalon didn’t alter her pose. “You seemed to be in the process of fleeing. You had a bag found in the trunk of your car.” The bag had contained clothing.

As well as several knives. Duct tape. Photos of his vics.

Everett grunted.

“But someone…stopped…you from running.” A mystery that had been in the news ever since Everett’s arrest. “I would like to know what happened.”

“You and the fucking world,” Everett rasped.

“Yes.” She nodded. “The fucking world would like to know. That’s why I’m here. I write about people like you. Your motivations. Your crimes. Your punishments.”

His breath came a little faster. He leaned forward just a small bit more.

“Who caught you?” she asked. Because this was something that had captured her attention. Everett would have gotten away from the cops. His car had been gassed up and ready to go.

But someone had gotten to him first.

Given him a concussion. Knocked him out. Left him for the cops with an honest-to-God red bow tied around his neck.

“If I knew…” A low rumble from Everett. “I would have found the bastard, ripped out his intestines, and tied that shit into a bow.”

What a lovely visual. “So you have no clue.”

His jaw hardened.

Everett was a handsome man. Technically speaking. Chiseled jaw. High cheekbones. It was his physical appeal that she believed had disarmed his victims. People tended to go through life expecting, well, expecting monsters to look like monsters. And not like handsome movie stars. Or male models.

They want the bad guys to look as dark and twisted on the outside as they are on the inside. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. In her experience, the worst monsters tended to have perfect exteriors. The better to lure in their prey.

Her breath whispered out. “My goal is to find the person who left you in that barn.”

His head cocked to the left.

“I solve mysteries.” She rolled one shoulder in a calculated shrug. “You are the second killer to have been left—bound and unconscious—for the police in the last two years.”

“I never confessed to being a killer.”

No, he hadn’t. But the evidence was clear. His DNA had been found on three of the four vics.

“Since I never confessed, I prefer that you don’t use the term with me.”

She swallowed. “You are a convicted killer. A jury found you guilty. Don’t blame me if you don’t like the label you were given by the court system.” A deliberate attempt to antagonize him. “In fact, you should blame the person who left you in the barn.”

“I do fucking blame him.”

Heat. It lanced beneath the words. Her head dipped. “Then perhaps you can assist me in finding him.”

He scoffed at her.

Right. Like it was the first time that had happened to her, either. Over the years, most of the criminals and killers she met tended to underestimate her. Their mistake. Her secret skill.

“How the hell would you find him? The cops couldn’t find him.”

She didn’t know how hard the cops had looked. They’d been more excited to just have Everett Thomas in custody. Everyone had been glad when the Slasher was off the streets. “I’m not law enforcement. I can work around the system.”

The guards glared at her. She flashed them her dimpled smile. It tended to disarm people.

They just glared more.

Oh, well. Back to her target.

She lost the dimples and focused on Everett. “You’re set to die. I would think that—before you get that swift trip to hell that is waiting courtesy of a lethal injection—you’d like to know who helped send you on your way.”

He didn’t blink.

“Walk me back through your life,” she invited, keeping her voice calm with an extreme effort of will. “The last few days, before you planned to make your big escape from town, tell me about what you did. Who you saw. What you⁠—”

Laughter cut through her words. “I was celebrating those last few days.” His grin held no dimples, and the wicked pleasure in it sent ice sliding through her veins. She knew why he’d been celebrating.

Victim number four—Holly McRae—had been stabbed twenty-two times just days before he’d been locked away.

“I went out on the town,” he said, and she could feel the memories around him. “Drinking and dancing. Found some new bars that I sure liked one hell of a lot.”

“Which bars?”

“Can’t remember.”

Yes, he could. She stared into his eyes. “You were in Savannah, Georgia. The area was your hunting ground. The bars were where you picked your prey.”

“Were they?” He glanced at the nearest guard. “I’m bored. Thought she’d have some pics to show me. I do enjoy it when reporters bring back old pics for me to see.”

So he could relieve his sadistic crimes. Yes, Avalon would imagine that he would enjoy that particular activity. “I’m not a reporter.”

The guard shuffled forward. He pulled a set of keys from his pocket. They jangled as they bounced in his hand.

“Thought you said you were a writer.” Everett’s lips twisted.

“I write true crime books.”

“So you should have seen all the photos.” He widened his eyes. “Hey, maybe we can team up and you can prove that I’m innocent.”

“Impossible.” The guilty couldn’t be proven innocent.

The guard released the lock that had bound the ankle and wrist cuffs to the floor. Then the guard curled one beefy hand around Everett’s shoulder and hauled him to his feet.

“Why is it impossible?” Everett demanded.

“Because we both know you killed those women.”

The guard stepped back. “Time to go.”

This talk had certainly not gone the way she intended.

Everett slammed his fisted hands—and the attached cuffs—onto the table in front of her. The table bounced, the cuffs rattled with a screech, and it took every single bit of Avalon’s self-control not to flinch.

“What the hell?” A snarl from the guard.

Everett stared into her eyes. A little furrow appeared between his brows. “I don’t scare you?”

“It takes a lot to scare me.”

Both guards had grabbed him now. They were hauling him away.

She kept her hands fisted in her lap. Kept her arms close to her sides. Kept her breathing calm and kept her gaze dead set on him.

Everett smiled at her. “Four bars. Moonshine. Whiskey Sour. Midnight Rave. And LeBlanc’s.”

The guards almost had him through the doorway.

“If you find that sonofabitch…cut out his intestines and tie them in a bow!”

The guards yanked him out of the room. The door slammed shut with a clang. Avalon released a long, slow breath. She didn’t get out of the chair. If she’d tried to rise immediately, she was afraid that her knees might have turned to jelly, and she’d just fall in a puddle on the floor. Considering that there were currently eyes on her—eyes that had been watching that little chat the entire time—she didn’t want to screw up her confident facade by taking a header onto the floor. So unprofessional.

Another slow breath, and Avalon turned toward the one-way mirror that waited to the left. The warden would be behind that mirror. So would the DA. After all, it wasn’t as if she could have gotten an audience with a notorious killer without their help. “Did you know about the bars?” she asked. Her head tilted, and her hair slid over her shoulder.

Then she waited. Patiently. Still in her chair because she knew her weak knees. A few moments later, the door opened. DA Douglas Baptiste strolled in. “Got to be honest, I didn’t think he’d tell you jackshit.”

“I look like his preferred victim. And I knew how to dangle the bait.” She reached for the briefcase at her feet. She made sure not to lift her arms too much as she arranged the briefcase in her lap. Not like she wanted the DA to see the giant sweat stains under her arms. Because, oh, yes, she’d been sweating bullets during her standoff with a serial killer.

“The DA’s office is very interested in determining the identity of the individual who secured Everett Thomas for us.” His dark eyes never left her face. She knew all about Douglas Baptiste. The child of Haitian immigrants who had come to this country and worked hard to create a better life—a new life. Douglas Baptiste had graduated valedictorian from his high school class. He’d gone on to edit the law review at Emory where he’d earned his JD. Douglas ran a tight ship at his office. He made sure the streets were safe.

And he did not like the idea that some random vigilante might be out there, doling out his own form of justice.

Even if he stopped the bad guy when the cops hadn’t been able to do the job.

“Did you know about the bars?” Avalon repeated her question patiently.

“I’ll have some officers check them out.”

Which she decided to translate as DA speak for…No, I didn’t know. Thanks so much for your help. You are incredible. Or at least, that was how she interpreted things. “I can check them out.” And that was her way of saying…I will be going to these bars. Talking with the staff. Looking for leads. Because in her experience, certain people didn’t share well with cops. Share well. Play well. Same thing.

“We’ll handle things from here on out. But thanks for trying.”

And that was very bluntly a…Get your ass out. We are done.

“I see.” Avalon stood. The chair legs groaned as they slid over the hard floor. “I guess that means our partnership is at an end?”

He stared politely back at her. “I’ll have a guard escort you out.”

Don’t let the door hit you in the ass.

She nodded, clutched her briefcase, and headed for the door. But she stopped and had to ask, “Are you worried that he’ll strike again?”

“Everett Thomas is in a maximum-security prison. The man spends most of his time in solitary confinement because we have to protect him from the other inmates. They want to rip him apart. The guy is a trophy to them.” A long exhale. “Everett won’t be claiming any other victims.”

Avalon looked over her shoulder. “I’m talking about the person who cuffed Everett and left him with a bow for you. That is the second time your mystery vigilante has caught a bad guy in the Savannah area. Think he’ll go for time number three?”

“I think…” Douglas cleared his throat. “I think someone is hunting very dangerous individuals. And if that person is not very, very careful, it would be extremely easy to wind up as a victim. Or to just wind up dead.”

“I’ll take that as a yes answer.”

“Goodbye, Avalon.”

Get your ass out. Now. She winked. “As always, it’s been an absolute pleasure, Douglas.”

Avalon kept a serene expression on her face as a guard did, in fact, escort her back through the facility. Past all the bars and locked doors and inmates who screamed and catcalled at her. Avalon’s pace remained steady, and her gaze focused straight ahead. When she finally got to the last door, it took all of her self-control not to break and run for the car.

The door creaked open. Fresh air hit her. Sunlight. She thanked the guard and the warden—because he’d been waiting just beyond that door. Avalon slowly made her way to her vehicle, and with each step, she was far too conscious of the crunch of her high heels on the graveled parking lot.

She slipped into her car. Shut the door. When her hands lifted to grip the steering wheel, she saw the shaking of her fingers. “Sonofabitch.” Her breath shuddered out. She closed her eyes. And saw Everett Thomas lunging for the table as he slammed his hands down on its surface.

Monsters scared her. They absolutely terrified her to the depths of her soul.

She just worked extra hard so they couldn’t learn that truth.

* * *

A ghost from his past had just walked straight into his bar.

Beau LeBlanc shook his head. He even closed his eyes. But when he opened them, the vision before him did not alter. The woman with the strawberry blond hair and killer body remained standing just inside the entrance of his place.


His hands flattened on the bar top. He stood behind the counter and tension poured through every muscle in his body. She hadn’t looked his way yet. Instead, her head was angled away as she seemed to slowly take in every single inch of LeBlanc’s.

Turn around. Walk back out. He hardly dared to breathe.

She didn’t walk out. She did turn toward him. Even across the busy bar, he could have sworn he felt the impact of her stare like a touch upon his skin. His breath heaved in when she began to walk toward him.

“Uh, boss? Why are you behind the bar?” A nervous question from the new bartender. The one he’d been determined to check on moments before.

Now, however, he just bluntly told the new hire, “Fuck off,” because he had other priorities. Priority one was currently dodging her way through the crowd and coming right toward him.

And he was not moving.

Avalon Trahan. In the freaking delectable flesh. All grown up—very grown up. With curves that could—and probably had—made plenty of men drool. She wore a simple black dress. One that fell to her knees. One that curved around her throat and shoulders. Not like the damn thing plunged daringly between her breasts or flashed the tops of her silken thighs. If only. But it did fit her like a second skin. Sleek and sexy. And when she approached the bar—gazing at him with a faintly curious expression—he wondered exactly how he was staring back at her.

With stark hunger? Dark obsession? Both?

And she probably has no fucking idea who I am. Because as far as Avalon knew, it had been well over fifteen years since their paths had last crossed.

As far as she knew.

“Uh, hello.” Her voice rolled over him. Soft and husky and fucking hot.

He growled.

Her eyebrows shot up.

The new bartender edged closer. Hadn’t he told Shaun to fuck off? Beau was pretty sure he’d been damn clear about that. Just in case, Beau’s head turned toward the bartender. “I’ve got her.” Always.

Shaun’s head bobbed in a quick nod before he did an about-face and hurried toward the other end of the bar.

Beau looked back at her. She’d reached for one of the drink menus that had been left on the top of the bar’s counter. For a moment, his gaze got caught on her delicate fingers. Then his stare trickled up. Lingered on the tattoo that circled her right wrist. At first glance, some might mistake it for a bracelet because the dark ink was so intricately and perfectly designed. But, no, that wasn’t some bangle circling her wrist. It was beautiful ink.

“So, what’s good in this place?” Avalon asked as her attention seemed to focus on the drink menu.

“There is nothing good here.” Could he sound less growly? Not at the moment. Totally beyond his capabilities. “You should get the hell out.” There. Done. He’d warned her away.

She lowered the menu. Tilted her head to the side. And stared at him with curiosity clear in her eyes. Not fear. Not anger. Curiosity. Oh, hell.

One of the many things he knew about Avalon? Curiosity was killer for her.

“Why would I want to leave? I just got here.” Her smile bloomed. Double freaking dimples. Cute on her when she’d been a teen. Sexy as fuck now. “Besides,” Avalon continued as she winked at him, “maybe I could go for a bit of bad.”

The loud drumming of his heartbeat filled Beau’s ears.

“Will I find that here?”

His hands were still flattened on the bar’s counter. He found himself leaning forward. His nostrils flared as he caught her scent. Light. Floral. Not jasmine. Was it…lavender?

“You seem familiar to me.” Her gaze sharpened on him.

The fuck, no. The last thing he needed was for her to recognize him. Fifteen years. Surely, she would not know him. He wasn’t some scrawny-ass kid any longer.

She pulled in her lower lip. Nibbled it lightly.


“Have we met before?” Avalon asked him.

He stared straight back at her. “I have no clue who you are, lady.” What? Like he couldn’t lie? He excelled at lying. Stealing. Ass kicking. Oh, he certainly had lots of useful skills. Typically, the bad kind. Ask anyone. There was a reason the cops in Savannah, Georgia, tended to skulk around him. They were always trying to lock him up for some crime or another.

Too bad for them, they had trouble making charges stick.

“No clue, huh?” Her delicate jaw seemed to tighten for a moment. “How unfortunate.”

“Not really.” Time to move away from the bar. Let Shaun do his job before the poor asshole passed out over there. Beau could feel the guy’s nervous looks. If Avalon wasn’t going to leave the bar, then he would get the hell away from her before he did something that he would regret. Something like, oh, say…

Haul her across the counter. Kiss her with all the need he’d held pent up for years.

A real-life fantasy should not walk into your bar. That shit shouldn’t happen. It was just way too much temptation for a man to handle.

“Let’s change that situation.” She flashed that killer smile again as she extended her hand across the counter. “Hi, I’m Avalon.”

I know. He’d never been able to forget her, while, apparently, he didn’t even rate in her mind. Call a guy a hero once, change his life forever, then forget him. Typical.

But then, it had been years. And she hadn’t seen him since he’d been a beaten and burned kid. While he…

Ah, yeah, he’d seen her plenty since that fateful night.


Her fingers wiggled as they dangled in the air. “Are you going to leave a woman hanging?”

Beau realized that he couldn’t hear anything else in the bar. The other conversations and the music that the band played had all become muted. Her voice rolled over him like a warm wave, and he found himself lifting his hand. Curling his fingers around hers.

Fuck me. A jolt of electricity surged through him when he touched her. Absolute awareness that came with a charge that could not be ignored.

“Wow.” Her eyes widened. He knew she’d felt the charge, too. “It’s, uh, nice to meet you.”

We’ve met before.

“Do I get a name?” she asked.

He should speak. Not just stare into her eyes like a besotted idiot. How had her eyes gotten even deeper, even greener? She had some dark shadow on her eyelids. A little liner to accentuate them. Maybe the makeup was making her eyes look greener. Her lips were soft pink. Full. Dangle earrings swayed lightly from her ears.

Her hand was soft and warm in his grip. He should let her go.

“I could just call you Mr. Mystery Bartender.”

“I’m not the bartender.”

“No?” She made no move to pull back her hand. She did lean forward a bit more, as if imparting a secret. “Don’t know if you’ve realized it, but you are standing behind the bar.”

“Yes.” Just that. Nothing more.

Her eyes seemed to dance. “You get where I have some confusion.”

He got that he needed to let her go. So with a serious effort, he did. His hand immediately lowered behind the bar where it fisted. He could damn well still feel her. Such soft skin.

She’d always been softness. He’d been calluses and rough ridges.

Why in the world was she in his bar?

“Uh, boss?” Shaun was back.

Why was Shaun back?

“Boss.” Shaun cleared his throat. “There are some cops here. They want to talk with you.”

Typical. His breath blew out. Must be a day that ended with Y.

“What should I tell them?”

Beau hauled his gaze off Avalon and took in the very obvious detectives and their bad suits as they lingered near the entrance of LeBlanc’s. “Tell them to fuck off.”

“That sounds like a bad plan.” A loud whisper from Shaun. “I don’t think they’re gonna like that.”

Beau shrugged. His bartender scurried away. No doubt, Shaun was off to deliver the message.

And Avalon kept studying Beau. “I agree with your nervous bartender.” She nodded. “Sounds like a bad plan to me. In my personal experience, cops do not enjoy being told to fuck off.” Her lips pursed. “Tried to warn Douglas about this very thing, but did he listen to me? Oh, no.”

He barely caught that last mutter because he was watching the cops as they closed in. They’d stepped around Shaun and were currently heading in Beau’s direction.

Really? Did he look like he had time for this shit?

“So you’re the boss. Not the bartender. Got it.” From Avalon. “LeBlanc’s.” She cleared her throat. “That would make you Beau LeBlanc.” She seemed to taste his name. Savor it. “I don’t suppose that you happen to remember⁠—”

“Beau LeBlanc!” The man in the stale beige suit flashed a badge. “Detective Jeremy Abbott. This is my partner, Glenn Mayo. We need to ask you some questions.”

“Um, do you?” Absolute boredom from Beau. “Tell me, who did I kill this time?”

Jeremy’s eyes nearly bulged out of his head.

Beau laughed softly. “A joke, gentleman. A joke.” One they clearly had not appreciated. Too bad for them.

Avalon’s short nails tapped on the bar. “Pro tip, cops don’t like it when you joke about murder. Any murder talk tends to make them twitchy.”

His attention shifted back to her. “Too bad. I enjoy joking about it.”

Her lips parted.

“Are you familiar with Everett Thomas?” The question came from the cop identified as Glenn. Slightly balding. Nervous hands. A gaze that flickered a bit too much toward the wall of liquor behind Beau. Sweat dotted Glenn’s brow.

How long you been sober, Glenn? Instead of asking that question, Beau rolled back his shoulders. “I think I saw him on the news.” He let his eyes widen. “Isn’t he the man who killed all those poor women? Such a damn shame.”

Glenn nodded. “We…we’re doing some background work. Got a few questions. You ever remember him coming to your bar?”

Beau gestured toward the packed bar. “Detectives, take a look around. It’s like this every night.” He smiled. “I have zero idea who comes in and out.”

“You got security equipment?” Jeremy pushed. “Cameras?”

“I’m afraid my cameras have been out of order for a while. I do keep meaning to fix things.” Bullshit. Some of his clientele just preferred extreme privacy. So did he.

But I do have cameras now. You just can’t see my footage.

Glenn darted a glance toward the cash register. “You keep a record of all your transactions?”

“Do I look like the IRS?” Beau crossed his arms over his chest. “Credit card receipts. Sure, we got those records. If someone paid in cash—as lots of the people here do—then I am not going to be able to help you much. But feel free to talk to my staff.”

The detectives exchanged a long glance. Nodded. Then they ambled off to talk to some of the waitresses. Who wouldn’t prefer talking to the gorgeous waitresses? And not the growly, always-annoyed bar owner.

He watched them for a moment. Slowly dropped his arms back to his sides. Then turned his head and⁠—

Avalon’s eyes were on him. “They didn’t try very hard, did they?” A soft sigh slipped from her. “I knew they’d do a piss-poor job. That’s why I had to come in myself.”

The drumming of his heartbeat was even louder in his ears. “I don’t follow.”

“It’s interesting that two detectives come into your bar, they drop the name of the most notorious—and brutal—serial killer to make the headlines in the past five years, and you don’t so much as blink.”

“Was I supposed to blink?” Deliberately, he blinked. “Like that?”

Her nails tapped again. “Aren’t you curious about why they’re asking about him?”

“I’m not curious about many things.” Not a full lie. He was only curious about certain things. Like…her. Beau had always been very, very curious about her.

“Oh, well, I’m curious about everything.”

He knew that already.

She rolled right on by saying, “I’m curious about cops. I’m curious about big, broody, not-bartenders who glare at me with seriously intense, brown eyes.” She held up her hand as she continued ticking off her points. “I’m curious about the fact that you don’t even blink when a notorious serial killer is mentioned, even though that killer told me, not even twenty-four hours ago, that he’d visited your bar shortly before his arrest.”

Sonofabitch. “You spend lots of time hanging out with serial killers? Is that your hobby?” It was more than a hobby.

“Ah, see, now you’re curious.”

His jaw locked. Her choice of profession had always caused him alarm. He’d needed to take extra steps to ensure her protection. You just had to enjoy hanging with killers, didn’t you?

“You’re curious about me and my questions.” Her face became very, very somber. “I can satisfy your curiosity.”

Baby, I bet you could satisfy all sorts of things. “I believe I told you before that you should leave.” If he hadn’t told her, he should have. Never in a million years should she be in his bar. She shouldn’t be so close to him. She shouldn’t be talking to him.

How am I supposed to hold on to my control now?

“I can tell you exactly why the cops are here.” She wet her lips. Nearly had him growling. But then she continued, “And when I do that, you can tell me why you’re pretending that you don’t know exactly who I am.”

He almost forgot to breathe. And he didn’t do that shit. He wasn’t some dumb punk. “You told me you were Avalon⁠—”

She surged over the bar counter and grabbed his shirtfront in her hand. Fisted it. “Listen, Mr. Big, Bad, and Dangerous.”

He looked down at her hand.

“I remember you.” Low. Even huskier. “It’s pretty hard to forget the man who saved my life, even if he has grown up to have insane muscles, a jaw that looks like granite couldn’t chip it, and eyes that have me feeling like you’ve stripped me naked a dozen times since we first started talking.”

Shit. He’d been trying not to look too hungry. But in his mind, hell, yes, he’d stripped her naked more than a dozen times already.

“I remember you,” she repeated, even softer. “Hard for a girl to forget her hero.”

His eyes slowly lifted until they locked on hers. “You are making a mistake.” She should understand that fact right now. “I’m no one’s hero.”

“You are mine.” She jerked him forward and planted her lips on his.