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Arden, p.1

Arden, page 1

 part  #2 of  Undercover Billionaire Series

 

Arden
 


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Arden


  ALSO BY MELODY ANNE

  Undercover Billionaire

  Kian

  Billionaire Aviators

  Turbulent Intentions

  Turbulent Desires

  Turbulent Waters

  Turbulent Intrigue

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

  Text copyright © 2018 by Melody Anne

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

  Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle

  www.apub.com

  Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc., or its affiliates.

  ISBN-13: 9781503902817

  ISBN-10: 1503902811

  Cover design by Letitia Hasser

  This book is dedicated to my son, Johnathan, who I’ve enjoyed watching turn from a boy into a young man. What a joy that is to do. I love you.

  CONTENTS

  Prologue

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  Chapter Thirty-Four

  Chapter Thirty-Five

  Chapter Thirty-Six

  Epilogue

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  Prologue

  A crash sounded outside Arden Forbes’s door before a curse loud enough to wake everyone within a three-mile radius echoed through his nearly empty hallways. Arden turned, ready to take action, when the voice became clearer.

  “Dammit, stop!” the voice shouted on the other side of Arden’s oversize front door.

  The tension left Arden when he realized it was Declan, his oldest brother—and the man didn’t appear to be in a good mood. Arden was tempted to stand there for a while to see how irritated his brother might become, but his curiosity about all the noise won out over his desire to torture his oldest sibling.

  Swinging open his front door, Arden looked around in confusion. The flowerpot his mother had given him as a housewarming gift was now shattered across his porch. Declan wore a scowl as his fingers held tightly to a leash—attached to a very large German shepherd, who gazed up at Arden with perfectly innocent chocolate eyes.

  “Find a new friend?” Arden asked with a chuckle.

  Declan grumbled as he stepped forward. Arden could either get out of his brother’s way or the two of them were going to crash into each other with the force of a sonic boom. Sometimes that was fun—but tonight, Arden was tired. He’d been grading papers for the past few hours, and that was after a daily double of football practice.

  Though he and Declan were about the same height and build, both of them standing at about six foot three with shoulders made for tackle football, and had features that were too similar to make them anything other than brothers, that’s where their similarities stopped.

  Arden was the most laid-back of all his brothers, not easily rattled. Hell, as a schoolteacher, it was necessary for him to have a calm demeanor. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have lasted a single year, let alone ten.

  While Arden was the most relaxed of the siblings, the same certainly couldn’t be said about Declan. Since the time they’d been teenagers, there had been a dangerous glint in Declan’s eyes that tended to make people steer clear of him. Arden wasn’t even sure if his brother was aware of it.

  “He’s not mine,” Declan said as he tugged on the leash and the dog obediently followed him inside.

  “Looks like yours,” Arden pointed out.

  “He’s yours,” he said.

  Arden was perfectly aware his brother was a man of few words, but he waited a moment for Declan to continue. When he didn’t, Arden decided he’d better nip this in the bud real quick.

  “Thanks, but no thanks,” Arden said as he led his brother into his oversize gourmet kitchen. What had he been thinking, buying a six-thousand-square-foot house? Maybe it was the urge to start a family, or maybe he was just insane. Hell if he really knew. It was probably his other brother’s fault. Kian had made the idea of a big house and family seem pretty damn appealing. “Most people just bring a toaster or something as a housewarming present,” he said as he moved to his fancy new espresso maker and pushed a few buttons, inhaling as the scent of dark roast invaded his senses.

  “It’s eight at night. A bit late for caffeine, isn’t it?” Declan asked.

  “Nah, it’s never too late for coffee,” Arden assured him. He finished making his java, throwing in a generous dose of sweet cream, his guilty pleasure, before he moved over to the kitchen island and sat on a stool. “Really—what’s up with the dog?”

  Declan sighed before moving to the refrigerator and pulling out a bottle of beer, twisting off the top as he sidled over to the island and sat across from Arden. He took a long swallow before he looked up.

  “You have a problem at your school,” Declan declared.

  “Yeah, don’t all schools?” Arden said. “I don’t know what that has to do with the dog.”

  “We have intel there’s a drug ring going on there,” Declan told him. The fire in his brother’s eyes most likely matched his own at that moment.

  “No way,” Arden said. “There’s no damn way.”

  “We don’t have hard proof, and we don’t know who’s running it, but we need info and we need it fast,” Declan told him. “We need someone on the inside.”

  “Where did you come up with the information?” Arden asked.

  “You know there are things I can’t tell you,” Declan said.

  Arden let out a frustrated breath. “You want me to help you, but you won’t give me anything to go off of,” he pointed out.

  “I shouldn’t even be involving you in this, but I trust you implicitly, and I know you’ll want answers, as will the entire town,” Declan said.

  They stared each other down for several moments, seeing who would blink first. Finally Arden sighed, though he wasn’t happy about it.

  “I’ll see what I can find out,” Arden assured his brother.

  He’d been a history teacher at Edmonds High School for the past ten years, and he loved his job. He didn’t have to work for barely any money; he did it because the kids mattered to him—his community mattered. There was no way he was letting some twisted drug lord screw with his school . . . in his town.

  “And now you have Max to help you,” Declan said.

  “Explain,” Arden told him. He knew Declan had a plan, and since it involved his school, he was a lot more willing to listen.

  “Max is officially retired. He was injured in a drug raid last year and isn’t moving as quickly as he used to. He’s served his
community well and deserves to live out his golden years, or whatever the hell that Jeannette—the lady I got him from—said,” Declan explained. “But he’s not ready to be off the job yet. He’s brilliant and can smell drugs from a mile away. He’s also loyal. His handler got killed the same time Max was injured last year.”

  “Oh man, I’m sorry,” Arden said, now understanding that lost look in the dog’s eyes. His partner and best friend was gone. That sucked.

  “Jeannette told me she hadn’t seen him respond in such a positive way since the accident until the day I walked in. I think he was meant to be in our family,” Declan said, oddly mushy for his tough-as-nails brother.

  “So what does this have to do with me?” Arden asked.

  “He’s yours now. You take him to school, keep him with you at all times. He’ll solve this case without the kids having to be aware of what’s going on,” Declan told him.

  Arden looked at the dog. Max stared back. There was almost a challenge in the canine’s expressive eyes. He was taunting Arden, maybe even assessing him. Suddenly Arden felt as if he were in a job interview—and coming up short.

  “I give him back when this is done?” Arden asked.

  Declan smiled, knowing he’d gotten his way. “We’ll talk about it then.”

  “Declan . . .” Arden’s voice trailed off as he glared at his brother.

  “I’ll get Max’s stuff. You and him need bonding time before school on Monday.”

  With that, his brother walked from the house. Arden would normally follow his brother and give a hand, but instead he found himself locking eyes with Max.

  “This is going to be fun, isn’t it?” he complained.

  Arden would have sworn on a stack of Bibles the damn dog’s lip quirked up and he winked at him. The gauntlet was being thrown down. If it hadn’t been for the very real possibility drugs were being sifted through his school, Arden might have felt like laughing at the dog. But tonight, mirth was the furthest thing from his mind.

  He and this dog appeared to have a crisis to solve, whether Arden wanted to be a part of it or not. Max continued staring at him, and Arden was finally the one to break, looking away as Declan came back into the room.

  “You will take the mutt when this is over,” Arden said, hearing what sounded like a grumble coming from the otherwise quiet dog.

  “Yeah, yeah,” Declan said. “Gotta run. We’ll talk more tomorrow.”

  And with that, Arden’s traitorous brother left.

  This was going to be a long weekend. He refused to look at the dog again as he set up his food and water bowls. Those eyes were far too knowing for him. Kids he could handle, but apparently animals were out of his comfort zone.

  Chapter One

  Keera Thompson stopped midstride when she turned the corner and saw her office door ajar. School had been out for hours, and this was the one room in the building the janitorial staff didn’t go into unless she was right there with them. The confidentiality of her students mattered to her, and too many times private information got leaked because principals and/or teachers were lax about who was allowed near important documents.

  Though she tried telling herself she must’ve left the door open when she’d gone for a stroll to the soda machine, a sense of unease was causing her spine to tingle. Even if she thought she’d only be gone for a couple of minutes, she always shut that door. Sometimes what was supposed to be a quick stroll ended up turning into a long walk to clear her brain.

  Moving quietly, Keera stepped forward, her ears on high alert as she listened for anything suspicious. There wasn’t so much as the sound of a ticking clock, which was eerie in its own sense, but even with no unusual noises, her heart was thudding too hard to ease her sense of dread. Cautiously, she pushed her door open with her booted foot. Blackness greeted her.

  After a few tense seconds, she began to realize she was being foolish, so she moved through the doorway and was reaching for the light switch when a cold chill washed through her. Looking up, she noticed a shadow behind her desk—and it was moving.

  Her pupils dilated as her eyes adjusted to the darkness, and she realized a man was standing there, barely visible in his black clothes. Before she had even a second to process what was happening, the man began moving toward her, which brought him into clearer focus. Not a trace of skin showed; even his head was obscured by a black mask.

  Fight or flight kicked in with a vengeance—and she was definitely fleeing.

  Flight. It was time to get out of Dodge. It was late and she was utterly alone, her janitorial staff currently working in the gym and all of her teachers long gone. Before she was able to flee, the man shot at her like a bullet. Keera didn’t even have time to let out a warning cry, just in case someone happened along.

  Moving at lightning speed, the intruder’s body slammed into hers, sending her flying sideways, straight into the filing cabinets she’d been so worried about protecting. Her neck jerked to the left, and bright dots flashed before her eyes as her head cracked against the unforgiving metal.

  Pain ripped through her as she fought not to lose consciousness. Dizziness made it difficult to remain on her feet, but she didn’t know where the man was, or if he was coming for her again.

  The sound of a door shutting barely registered in her brain, and somewhere inside, she knew that meant she wasn’t alone, but it was taking her longer to process things than it should have. But then her office door hit the wall as the man fled her office, and she heard the blessed sound of footsteps fading as he got farther away. She should go after the person, but there wasn’t a chance of that.

  The first step away from the cabinet nearly undid her, the throb in her head so intense it made her nauseous. She gripped the wall as she flicked on the light and squinted around her office. She’d only been gone ten minutes, so the intruder couldn’t have been there long.

  What in the world was going on? Things like this didn’t happen in Edmonds, Washington. She’d taken this job as school principal less than a month earlier because she’d wanted out of the city. She’d needed to get away from the fear of coming to work, wondering if this was the day she was going to be attacked.

  Had she made a mistake coming to this town?

  No. She wouldn’t allow one scary incident to skew her opinion of an otherwise peaceful place where the sidewalks were clean, the merchants friendly, and her students happy and eager to learn.

  Sure, there were problems. Of course there were. No place was without them, but overall, Edmonds was a haven compared to other places in the world. Shaking her head, Keera looked around her office, but she didn’t move. It was officially a crime scene, and she didn’t want to erase evidence the criminal might have left behind.

  Her desk drawers had been opened, the contents spilled across the floor. Her computer monitor was tipped over, and she hoped not broken. The one picture she kept on the corner of the desk was halfway across the room, as if he’d swept his arm across the desktop with no regard to noise or destruction.

  She was more upset over the picture being thrown than her desk being gone through. She didn’t keep anything in there that would be of value to anyone but her. She might have thought the person was a student, but his size assured her he couldn’t be.

  The school wasn’t that big, and she’d have an inkling of who’d plowed into her if she had any future NFL players wandering her halls. She needed to call the police, but she was having a difficult time tearing herself away from her visual perusal of the room.

  She spent more time in this office, in this school, than she did in her small apartment. Work had become her main focus in life, and to have someone so carelessly come into her sanctuary and treat it with such disregard made her feel violated.

  Her shoulders stiffening, Keera stopped her mind from traveling down that path. She refused to act the victim or pity herself. She’d make sure the person was caught; then she’d have answers as to why he’d been in her school.

  Pulling her cell phone fro
m her back pocket, Keera dialed the Edmonds Police Department. As school principal, she’d memorized that number the day she moved into the sleepy town. She’d always hoped she wouldn’t have to use it, but she knew being prepared was necessary.

  The call was answered on the third ring by a very perky woman. “Edmonds PD. How may I help you?”

  “This is Principal Thompson at Edmonds High School. I’ve had a break-in,” Keera said, hating the slight quaver in her voice. She told herself it was only because her head was pounding and the adrenaline was still surging through her.

  “Is anyone hurt?” the woman asked, her voice going from perky to alert in an instant.

  “No. I’m the only person in this part of the building,” Keera answered.

  “Is the perp still present?” the woman asked.

  “I don’t think so. He ran from my office, and I heard his steps heading toward the door.”

  “Was he armed?” was the next question.

  “I . . . uh . . . I don’t know. My office was dark, and as soon as he spotted me, he lunged for the doorway,” Keera said. She’d tell the whole story when the police showed up.

  “One moment,” the woman told her.

  Keera heard her speaking to someone, or possibly into a dispatch radio.

  “Okay, there’s a unit nearby. They’ll be there shortly. I want you to step into your office and lock your door just in case the perp didn’t flee the building,” the woman said.

  “I’ll check if he’s still here,” Keera told her, moving into the hallway, doing the exact opposite of what the woman had told her.

  “Ma’am, please wait for the officers,” the woman said, her voice firm.

  Keera was shaking, but she’d already let her fears get in the way once. She couldn’t keep hiding away when her school was in danger. “This is my school, and I need to do this. I should’ve done it already.”

  The woman continued telling her to go to her office, but Keera just thanked her and hung up the phone. She made it to the large double doors at the end of the hallway, which were closed. Using her key, she unlocked the right side so the alarm wouldn’t sound, then pushed it open, her heart thundering as she looked out into the semi-lit parking lot that was nearly empty.

 
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