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Hart of Darkness

The road to love is paved in the dark!

Enjoy this romantic suspense novel by bestselling author S.B. Alexander

Dillon Hart atoned for a troubled youth by joining the U.S. Merchant Marine. But when he returned home from service, his little brother was in jail and his sister missing. After four painful years of searching that led only to heartache, everything changes when a blast from the past darkens his door.

Crime reporter Maggie Marx will do anything it takes to get the story. But what she really wants is revenge on the gang who left her for dead. When she brings a battered woman to a shelter, she’s shocked to learn the owner is her handsome former rival.

Discovering she has information that could lead to his sister, Dillon puts aside their differences to hunt the criminals that wronged them both. And as the trail heats up, so does the chemistry between the two sleuths. But when Maggie’s source brings her too close to the truth, their wakening romance may end with their lives.

Will walking the path of vengeance bring Dillon and Maggie together or tear them apart forever?

Hart of Darkness is the dark, standalone first book in The Hart romantic suspense series. If you like nail-biting tension, gritty settings, and complicated affairs, then you’ll love S.B. Alexander’s hard-boiled tale.

About the Series:

  1. Hart of Darkness
  2. Hart of Vengeance
This may very well be the best book this author has written! Hart of Darkness has all the key elements for a great story: an excellent plot, romance, suspense, and a HEA ending.
Goodreads Reviewer

Chapter 1

DILLON

 

Tearing my gaze away from my banking program, I rubbed my eyes before I checked the time—almost midnight. I threw my head back, blowing out a long breath.

The couch across from me was calling my name. I’d been sleeping in my office on and off for the last two months since I’d opened a shelter for girls—runaways, girls who needed to get off the streets, or girls who needed to get away from abusive partners. Actually, I’d been exhausted since I purchased the three-story home eight months ago. I’d scoured estate auctions, yard sales, and thrift stores like the Salvation Army and Goodwill for beds, linens, and any type of furniture. I’d been lucky to find couches, desks, kitchen appliances, beds, a ping-pong table and other necessities at a low cost.

I considered myself frugal. I didn’t need fancy stuff. I wanted to make sure the girls who landed at the shelter had at least a decent bed with linens and a cozy environment so they would feel protected.

My attention drifted to the small framed photo of my sister, Grace, that sat next to my computer. Her picture was a reminder of why I’d opened the shelter, and I hoped that one day she might walk through the front door.

Her tawny-brown eyes had flecks of gold, much like mine. If any of my siblings resembled me, it was Grace. My brother Denim was the blond in the family, with striking blue eyes. He took after our father’s side. Duke had a lighter shade of brown hair than Grace and me, and his eyes were reddish-brown, or chestnut-colored as I remembered my mother saying

“Where are you, sister?” I mumbled to no one. “I’m sorry I left you with that monster we called Dad.” I traced my finger over her small nose. “I’ll never give up looking for you.”

My stomach knotted as I dipped back in time to that day.

“Dillon, please don’t leave me,” Grace cried. “I can’t handle Dad alone anymore.”

I moved a strand of wavy hair behind her ear. “Duke and Denim will watch over you.”

She threw her arms around me. “They’re not you. You take care of me. You protect me from Dad.”

“I promise, our brothers will make sure Dad doesn’t beat you.” I held back tears, thinking about how I’d caught my old man slapping the shit out of Grace on more than one occasion. “You remember what I taught you? Don’t walk away. Run.”

Pain zipped up my arm, and I blinked, realizing I was trying to crush the frame with my tight grip. Grace had taken my advice and ran. I hadn’t meant for her to run away or disappear off the face of the earth. I’d only wanted her to get the fuck out of the same room as our alcoholic father.

Regardless, the shelter was dedicated to her and every girl who needed a place of refuge. Sadly, though, I could only take in ten girls max. It was a start. Shelter or not, I wasn’t giving up hope that Grace was alive, although after four years of scouring the Boston streets, it was hard to stay positive. I hadn’t found one damn sign of Grace, not even a dead body.

If I hadn’t gone into the merchant marines, she would have been here. But I had trusted my brothers to watch over her. I’d trusted that they wouldn’t let anything happen to her. Instead, when I’d returned home, my family was a mess. Grace had left home. My younger brother, Denim, was in jail for murder. My older brother, Duke, was into some bad shit as a loan shark and probably other illegal crap I didn’t care to know about. And my old man was still a drunk, oblivious to his sons and daughter.

I didn’t talk to Duke much. I couldn’t. Every time I saw him, I wanted to beat the crap out of him. I blamed him more than I blamed Denim for not taking care of Grace. He was the older brother. The one who was supposed to watch over all of us. The one who I’d looked up to. The one who’d broken my old man’s nose the night he wouldn’t stop kicking me in the gut, all because I’d smarted off to him over something as stupid as dinner. I didn’t like waxy green beans, so I’d thrown them in the trash. My old man had caught me, removed every one of them from the trash, and shoved them down my throat until I was gagging and throwing up. Then he’d proceeded to use me as his punching bag, only he’d used his steel-toed boots, ramming them into my gut over and over again.

“I work hard to put food on the table for you,” he’d yelled then kicked. “How dare you throw my money away!”

The door to my office groaned before my best bud and right-hand man, Rafe, waltzed in, sporting his usual buzz cut. Since we’d met in the merchant marines, he’d never wavered from his hairstyle. I, on the other hand, grew out my hair the moment I’d stepped foot onto dry land.

He flicked his chin at me. “It looks like a hurricane hit your desk.”

I arched a brow, more at Rafe than at the pile of receipts and bills littering the desktop. It looked like a game of Go Fish that Grace and I had played many times as kids. “What are you doing up?”

Rafe removed his gun from his lower back and set it down on the coffee table as he dropped his large body onto the couch across from me. “I let Josh have the night off. I was patrolling outside and saw your light on.”

I tapped a key. My screen flashed into camera view. “It seems quiet out there. Unlike last night.”

“If that fucker returns tonight, I’ll tear off his head.” Rafe’s deep voice could scare a brown bear.

Leaning back in my chair, I locked my hands behind my head. “Norton is going to be a problem. I need to talk to the Guardian. They have some badass motherfuckers on the security staff. We could use more help.” The Guardian was owned by Jeremy Pitt, Russian mob boss. He stacked his team with mostly ex-military dudes who knew how to defend and protect anyone and anything. But I was going to request Hunter Thompson, who was non-military. I knew him. I trusted him, and he was as much of a badass as his colleagues.

Rafe propped his big-booted feet up on the coffee table. “Are you good on the budget for this place? If not, I could float you some. I have a ton saved from our days at sea.”

I tapped another button on the keyboard. “I’m good. Just making sure the checkbook balances, that’s all.” I had a lot of money invested in stocks and bonds. During my time at sea, I’d learned everything about the stock market, thanks to the captain of the ship. He’d been into investing, and on many nights, he and I would talk stocks. I’d made a nice nest egg. I also had a kick-ass financial advisor, who’d helped my nest egg grow.

My cell phone vibrated and bounced across my metal desk. A call at this time of night was never good. I suspected it was the cops, calling to tell me that my old man was in jail again for drunken and disorderly conduct. I wasn’t sure why they called me. I’d always told my father he could rot in jail. Maybe he was hoping that his persistence would pay off. Not in this lifetime.

Eddie’s name brightened the screen on my phone. My heart skipped a beat. “It’s Eddie at the morgue,” I told Rafe. Then I pressed the phone to my ear. “What’s up?”

Clang. Clang.

“Shit,” Eddie said. “Hold on.”

I heard another clang, followed by what sounded like an explosion.

“Eddie?” I asked.

“Sorry. My tray fell. Look, we had a young girl come in tonight. We haven’t been able to identify her.”

The blood drained from me. I hadn’t heard from Eddie in several months. His last call had brought me down to the morgue to identify a Jane Doe who he’d thought matched Grace’s description. The girl hadn’t been Grace.

“So you think she could be Grace?”

“Maybe,” he said.

“On my way.” I disconnected before he could say anything else. It was best to see the body.

Rafe rested his elbows on his knees. “Still trolling the morgues? Man, you need to stop. I’m not saying give up hope, but it’s got to be gut-wrenching to see dead people, let alone a young dead girl who could be your sister.”

He was spot-on, although I could count on one hand how many times Eddie had called me down to the morgue. Still, the five times Eddie had lifted the sheet or opened the body bag, I’d lost my dinner. Each girl had either died from a drug overdose or had been murdered.

I was still wrestling with my feelings on how my own brother could murder someone. As teenagers, my brothers and I had been in a gang. We weren’t innocent in the least. We’d drawn blood on many occasions during our gang fights, especially when our rivals had hurt Grace to get back at Duke for slashing the tires on one of their cars. That had been a bad night for Mike Santos, the boy who had taken his fists to my sister. I would’ve liked to say that I’d gotten satisfaction out of beating him until he couldn’t see, but it had only served to give me a wake-up call, especially after both of us had ended up in the emergency room.

Rafe snapped his fingers. “You’ve been spacing out a lot lately.” He loomed over my desk. “You look like shit too. Seriously, man, you need to let your quest to find Grace go.” Casually, he backed away, maybe because of the scowl I was sporting. “I’m only saying consider your health and yourself.”

I ground my back teeth together as I snagged my phone, wallet, and keys off my desk. “I know you’re looking out for me, but I’ll decide when I’m ready to give up on looking for my baby sister.”

He scrubbed a hand over his head. “I’ve always been straight with you. I’m not going to change now. So put yourself first. Find an outlet, or better yet, find a woman. When was the last time you were with anyone?”

I chuckled. Rafe was worried about my love life, which was nonexistent. I didn’t have time for a steady relationship. I didn’t want one either. I had sexual needs, of course, but I took care of those with an occasional hookup now and again.

I skirted around my desk. “The talk of my sex life is off-limits.” I didn’t fear much in life, but I cringed at the idea of settling down or even meeting someone who would steal my heart. I’d never been in love, so I couldn’t say what the feeling was all about. With my luck, the woman would learn of my fucked-up family and run like a gazelle. “Grace is my life.” I waved a hand around. “The Hart of Hope shelter is now my life.” At least I was doing something good.

Maybe that would negate all the bad shit I’d done as a rebellious kid. Maybe that would erase all those memories of driving a knife into someone or getting kicked and punched by my drunken old man from the age of six until I reached puberty. Then I’d gotten up the balls to punch my father right back, and he’d let me until he unleashed his strength, sending me to the hospital with a broken nose.

Fucker.

“Hold down the fort. Camera is live on my screen.”

Rafe nodded as I walked out.

The first floor of the shelter had an open floor plan, which consisted of a living area that melted into the kitchen toward the back of the house. I wanted women to feel warm and protected and give them space to relax as if they were home.

Aside from the bare walls that needed some artwork, the place was coming together. I’d gotten the idea for a safe haven after seeing young girls walking the streets at night, being beaten by their pimps, getting high on drugs, or even sleeping on the streets. The idea had cemented itself even more when I helped Bee and Allie, two girls I’d found one night. Allie had been her pimp’s punching bag, and Bee had been eating out of the trash. I’d taken them into my home and given them a chance to rebuild their lives. Recently, they had saved up enough money to move out and into an apartment together. I was so darn proud of them.

I hoped like hell that maybe Grace had found someone like me or a refuge somewhere in the country.

I fingered my keys as I approached Norma’s desk, which had a direct view of the open floor plan and sat adjacent to the entryway that led out to the front door.

My eyes landed on a sticky note on her computer. Remind Dillon to pay the electrical bill. I snagged a pen from the cup and scribbled on her note, I paid the bill this evening.

My mouth curled on one side. I’d met Norma through Kross Maxwell’s wife, Ruby. Both of them had lived on the streets, which was one of the reasons I’d asked Norma if she wanted a job working at the shelter. She knew how to relate to the girls we brought in.

After I punched in the key code to lock the door, I heard a muffled voice. I reached for the gun I usually carried at my back but came up empty.

Fuck. I’d left my weapon in my desk drawer.

The shelter was situated on a corner lot in a half-decent neighborhood in Boston. The street was usually quiet. The neighbors kept to themselves, and two houses around me were for sale and vacant.

I didn’t advertise or have a sign out front. I didn’t want to risk an abusive pimp or partner showing up and wreaking havoc. Sure, news about the shelter could spread to the wrong people, but that was the reason we had security.

I climbed down the steps of the wooden porch, scanning the area. The tall and dense oak tree in the yard kept the home semi-private from the neighbors across the street.

Instead of heading to my car in the driveway, I walked down the brick path from the house to the sidewalk. I spied Norton staggering toward me with what looked to be a gun in his hands.

My pulse picked up speed. A drunk with a gun wasn’t a good sign.

I could have darted back in the house, but then Norton would have made a scene and woken the neighbors, who weren’t all that thrilled about having a shelter nearby. It was best if I attacked the situation head-on.

The good news was the gun was at his side.

I backtracked until I was in my driveway. If he came onto my property, then I had a leg to stand on if I had to use force.

He stopped at my mailbox.

I raised my hands in the air as if in surrender.

The one streetlight stood tall between the shelter and the vacant house next door, giving me the light I needed to see that Norton’s eyes were glossy.

“I want to see Angel.” He slurred his words.

My pulse rarely ticked higher than sixty-five beats per minute unless I had a lead on Grace. But a skinny, gaunt drunk with a gun was rather terrifying. The liquor oozed off him in waves.

“What makes you think she’s here?” I asked, even though I had an idea.

He cocked his scruffy head, stumbling closer. “I followed her this morning.”

Against my wishes, Angel, one of my guests, had gone back to her house to get some clothes. I’d counseled her that it wasn’t a good idea, but I couldn’t stop her. She’d said Norton always left for work at dawn so he wouldn’t be home.

I lowered one arm and stretched out the other as I inched two steps closer. “Hand me the gun, Norton. You’re not a killer.” I didn’t know that for sure. I knew he’d beaten Angel until she was black and blue.

His hand began to shake more as he swayed before he lost his footing on the curb. I lunged at him, more to catch the gun than him. Once the twenty-two was safely in my hands, I tucked it in the back of my jeans, quietly blowing out a breath, relieved that neither one of us had gotten shot.

Sweat trickled down Norton’s temple as he stared at me with glossy eyes, reminding me of my old man and how he’d done wild things when the liquor overpowered his senses. One time, he’d stumbled into the kitchen with a steak knife pointed at me. Luckily, a chair had saved me that night during dinner.

“Man, get clean,” I said. “Take a shower. Get off the alcohol. If you want, I can give you an address where you could get help.” Manny, a guy I’d met from checking shelters around the city for Grace, would take Norton in. He had a sore spot for alcoholics since he had been one himself. Now he gave his time, effort, and money to helping men like Norton.

Norton pivoted on his heel, staggered, then darted down the street.

Rafe cleared his throat behind me.

I handed the gun to Rafe. “I would like to say he’s harmless, but I’m not sure.”

“Never assume, dude,” Rafe said.

I marched up to my car, my pulse slowing. “I’ll be back as soon as I can. I suggest you call in Josh. Norton will be back.” I was certain about that. He’d been a pain in the butt the last two nights, and if he showed up with a gun again, we were in for some trouble.

An incredible start to a new series. Love Dillon, Denim, and Duke and can't wait to read more. The last quarter of this book was unbelievably suspenseful, and I was practically chewing my fingernails to the bone.
Siobhan Davis, USA Today Bestselling Author of the Kennedy Boys Series.

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