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Risky Bargain

Risky Bargain

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"RISKY BARGAIN is a fast-paced, action-packed Romantic Suspense that is both a complex thriller and a heart-warming romance. It’ll blow your socks off and make you feel warm and fuzzy, all at the same time." Toni Anderson, New York Times Bestselling Author

FBI Agent Lucas Raines is a man on a mission, desperate to find a kidnap victim, the billionaire CEO of a video game company, who disappears during a horrific home invasion that leaves two people dead and others terrorized.

Kat Parrish never thought that sneaking into a billionaire's party would end with her hiding in a closet, her clothes spattered with blood, her ears ringing from the sound of gunshots. But her problems don't end with the arrival of the police. In fact, they are just beginning, especially when a handsome but ruthless FBI agent starts asking the hard questions. She has to decide whether a lie or the truth will not only save her life, but that of her friend.

As Lucas and Kat dive deep into the world of gaming, it quickly becomes clear that there are games being played on different levels. The players keep changing. The goal posts are constantly moving. No one is who they appear to be. There's a bigger mystery behind each door they open, and soon they can only trust each other. But should they?

Is their reality a game, or is the game their reality? Will love keep them alive or be their final play? 


great edge of your seat suspense with a healthy dose of romance we have come to expect from the FBI series, but the scenarios are original and a great read." Debbie, Goodreads

"The story is 
filled with nonstop action, a twisting road filled with clues…a lot of which lead in opposite directions, terrific character backstories, and a budding romance." Jane, Goodreads

"Lots of suspense and twists in this exciting story. 
You’ll never see the end coming." Cheryl, Goodreads

Risky Bargain by Barbara Freethy is writing at its best. A can’t put it down thriller with love thrown in. Loved this book and proof is I stayed up most of the night reading it." J. Stryker, Goodreads


Kat Parrish was running out of time. Only six guests remained at what had been a huge launch party for the newest video game from Spy Maker Games. The caterer had already instructed her to make one last sweep through the house to pick up any errant glasses or plates and make sure the remaining guests had everything they needed. But that wasn't her primary focus as she walked from the kitchen to the living room of the huge Malibu mansion with floor-to-ceiling glass views of the Pacific Ocean. 

She'd taken the server gig for one reason only, and it wasn't to earn extra cash; it was to get a chance to talk to the host, the billionaire owner of Spy Maker Games, Spike Cabot. She'd been trying to speak to him for almost a week, but as a lowly level-one employee at his company, she hadn't been able to get anywhere near the penthouse office suite where Cabot oversaw his fast-growing empire. Desperate, she'd found her way onto the catering crew as a server, and she'd spent most of the evening serving drinks and waiting for an opportunity to speak to Cabot. 

Unfortunately, she hadn't been able to get him alone. Coworkers, friends, influencers, and a pesky girlfriend who was constantly clinging to his arm, had surrounded him all evening. She couldn't blame the girlfriend. Spike Cabot was a very attractive forty-three-year-old male with black hair, a dark tan, and a muscled physique that was apparent tonight in his very expensive jeans and button-down shirt. Cabot prided himself on being a man of the people, a former soldier, an ex-CIA agent, and a patriot. It was a great story, but she didn't know how much of it was real. 

What she did know from the past three hours was that Cabot had only mingled with a few of the guests at his party, while what he called his elite army of executives touted the new product to the influencers who would then spread the word around the world, creating more demand and more profit for the company. She should be happy about that. Her actual job depended on the success of their games, but she was too worried to feel anything but stress. 

One of her best friends at the company, Audrey Bell, had disappeared four days ago after a late-night meeting with Cabot, and Kat needed to know what they'd talked about. While Audrey had left her a short text telling her not to worry, that she was leaving town for a while, she couldn't stop worrying. Audrey's mother was ill, probably dying, and she hadn't seen or heard from her daughter in four days. There was no way Audrey had taken an impulsive, spur-of-the-moment vacation. Something was terribly wrong, and that something had to do with Spike Cabot. 

Audrey had told her prior to her meeting with Cabot that there was trouble at the company that the CEO needed to know about, but she hadn't been any more specific than that. 

Was that trouble the reason no one had heard from Audrey?

She had to get answers, and she couldn't wait any longer. Her window of opportunity was closing fast. The last of the gamers had just left, and as she walked into the living room with a tray containing six glasses of very expensive merlot from Cabot's wine cellar, she assessed the remaining guests. Cabot's girlfriend, a French model by the name of Paige Devereaux, had finally moved away from Cabot to speak to Jason Meyer, the chief operating officer. Jason was a good-looking guy in his forties, with blond hair, a golden tan, and a killer smile. Since his divorce several years earlier, he'd become a very eligible bachelor. Jason and Paige seemed to be having a rather intense conversation, considering their surroundings. 

Seated on the couch was Caroline Branson, vice president of marketing. She was talking to Henry Stodden, the vice president of engineering. Caroline was in her late thirties and was a sophisticated blonde wearing a tight, royal-blue dress. Stodden was in his late forties with pepper-gray hair and a thick beard. Henry looked completely disinterested in whatever Caroline was talking about. He kept checking his watch, as if weighing when he could make his escape.

Her gaze moved to the fireplace where Spike Cabot was speaking to Robert Hartley, who was Cabot's head of security. Hartley had been by Spike's side all night. He was a tall, stocky guy, a former NFL tackler. Hartley would try to block any conversation she wanted to have with Spike, so she was going to have to force the issue. 

Taking a deep breath, she headed toward Cabot. She needed to separate him from the group, and there was only one way to do that. She was about three feet away from him when he saw her approaching. As he raised a hand to wave her off, she tripped, stumbling forward, dumping several glasses of red wine all over him. 

Cabot swore as he was quickly covered in merlot. 

"I'm so sorry," she said. "I don't know what happened. Can I get you a towel?" 

Cabot bit back what was probably going to be a rude response. "It's fine. I'm going to change. I'll be right back," he told Hartley. 

She followed Spike out of the room, but before she could go down the hallway that led to his bedroom, she was confronted by the caterer, Marguerite DeLeon, who had come out of the kitchen, fury written across her face. "What did you do?" she screeched.

"I tripped. I'm sorry I spilled the wine."

"Get in here." Marguerite dragged her into the kitchen. "You might have just cost me a very large tip."

"It was an accident. Let me take Mr. Cabot a fresh glass."

"No. You stay away from him. You can take the empty dishes to the van." 

She couldn't leave the house. She had to get away from the kitchen and from Marguerite. "I will take care of the dishes, but I have to bring Mr. Cabot a towel. He asked me specifically to do that." She ran out of the kitchen and down the hall before Marguerite could stop her. The marble-floored corridor moved around a corner toward the east wing of the house. Up the flight of stairs, she would find the master bedroom and several other guest rooms. She was almost to the stairs when the guest bathroom door opened, and Hartley stepped out, blocking her way. 

"Where are you going?" he asked with a suspicious glare.

"Uh…" Before she could say anything, she heard a crash, then a bang, followed by screams, then gunshots.

They both whirled around. A man came around the corner with an enormous gun that exploded in a series of shots. The force of the blasts knocked Hartley toward her, his blood spattering across her white shirt. 

Diving into a nearby closet, she scrambled into the deep darkness with panic and terror racing through her. She cowered in the corner, holding her breath. She heard screams and footsteps, doors banging, and more shots—at least five or six. 

Then it was quiet—deadly quiet. She couldn't move. She was paralyzed with fear and shock, waiting for the door to open, waiting for someone to find her, to kill her. It seemed unbelievable. How could this be happening in Spike Cabot's beautiful, luxurious mansion?

As another minute ticked by, she wondered if by some miracle the gunman hadn't seen her. Maybe Robert Hartley's massive body had blocked her from view. She buried herself deeper in the closet, covering herself with heavy coats, hoping that she could somehow stay safe. 

She thought about who else was in the house. Was the group in the living room dead? Was Marguerite? What about Cabot? 

She should move. She should try to help. Maybe someone was injured. She dug into her pocket for her phone, but it wasn't there. Her phone was in her bag, tucked away in a kitchen cabinet. The sudden sound of sirens brought forth blessed relief. Several minutes later, she heard people coming into the house, announcing they were LAPD. It still took her a minute to move. 

Finally, she crawled toward the door and used the handle to pull herself up. Taking a deep breath, she cracked it open. Two uniformed officers stood by Hartley's body.

His body—God! The horror of what had just happened made her physically sick. 

One man swiveled around. 

She jumped back.

"It's okay," he said. "You're safe now. I'm Officer Green." He took a few steps toward her. He was a big, imposing guy, which didn't make her feel better. 

She put up a shaky hand. "Don't come any closer."

He halted, his sharp gaze raking her body. "Are you hurt? There's blood on your shirt."

She looked down at her blouse. "It's not my blood. It's his." She tipped her head toward Hartley. "Is he…dead?"

The officer's lips tightened. "Yes. Do you know his name?" 

"Robert Hartley. He's head of security for Spy Maker Games." 

"And your name?"

"Kat Parrish." 

"Were you working the party?"

"Yes, for Marguerite DeLeon, the caterer." She drew in a shaky breath. "Was she shot? Is anyone else…" She couldn't bring herself to say the word. Her stomach clenched once more as her gaze moved to the pool of blood on the floor. She'd come so close to losing her life. 

Putting a hand to her mouth, she ran toward the bathroom. She heard the officer say something, but she didn't care. She barely made it to the toilet before she threw up. 

As she knelt on the marble floor, she heard more sirens, each one seemingly louder than the next. There were voices in the hall and footsteps above her head, doors opening and closing, shouts that she couldn't understand. And then there were more sirens. They started out loud and then faded away. 

A knock came at the bathroom door. "Ms. Parrish?"

"I'll be out in a second." She ran cold water over her very white face and patted her cheeks dry. She wished she could take off her blood-stained shirt, but she had nothing else to put on. She tried not to look at it as she took a deep breath and then left the bathroom. 

Officer Green was waiting with a compassionate gleam in his eyes. "Are you all right?"

She shook her head. "I don't think I can say yes." 

"Understandable. Why don't you come with me? I need to ask you a few questions, but we can do it elsewhere."

She followed him down the hall, trying not to look at the body or the blood. Fortunately, there was an officer blocking her view. When they got to the foyer, she saw a dozen more officers and another body lying near the front door. She couldn't see who it was, but it had to be someone from the party. Her heart raced. She felt hot and dizzy once more. "I—I need some air." 

Breaking away from the officer, she stumbled down a short hallway to a side door leading onto one of the smaller decks that surrounded the house. She sat down at a table, her legs feeling like they were about to give out. Leaning over, she took one deep breath after another. As her panic eased, she realized she was alone. Officer Green had not followed her onto the deck. It seemed strange, but she was relieved to have a few minutes to pull herself together before she had to talk to the cops. 

She'd never had a good relationship with the police. They'd always shown up at the worst moments in her life, and those moments had never gotten better with their arrival. She'd learned a long time ago not to trust that they were going to help her. But this situation was different. This wasn't about her; it was about Spike Cabot. It was about the other people at the party who might have been injured, not that she could tell anyone anything. 

As she straightened, she glanced around the deck, wondering if it was through this side door that the gunman had entered. The deck could be reached from an alley where the trash bins were stored. From her position, she could not see inside the home, but every light seemed to be on, including the upstairs bedrooms. She could still hear voices, but there were no more sirens. 

What did that mean? Was there no one who still needed to be rushed to the hospital? Was everyone as dead as Robert Hartley and the unknown person by the front door? 

Bile rose in her throat, as well as terror. If she hadn't run into Hartley, she would have been alone in the hallway. She wouldn't have been able to hide behind the imposing presence of the head of security. He'd probably saved her life. But he wouldn't have lived long enough to know that. 

A chorus of voices suddenly got louder, and she jumped to her feet, her nerves still tight, her body ready to take flight. Officer Green came out of the house, accompanied by another man. That man was not in uniform or in a suit, but in dark jeans with a black T-shirt. He was tall and fit, with light-brown hair and a confident stride. Definitely law enforcement, she thought. Probably a detectivea very attractive detective. He had a sexy scruff running across his jaw, and while she couldn't see the exact color of his eyes, she guessed they were green or hazel as they sparkled in the dim light. 

"Ms. Parrish? I'm Agent Lucas Raines. I'd like to ask you a few questions."

FBI? She felt even more nervous now. "Okay. But I didn't see anything."

"Why don't you have a seat?" 

She sat back down because she needed a solid chair underneath her. Her legs still felt too wobbly. 

He took the chair across from her as Officer Green returned to the house. 

"I understand you were working the party as a server," he said.

"Yes. We were just about done."

"Can you tell me where you were, what you saw?" 

"I was in the hallway by the guest bathroom."

"What were you doing there?" 

It took her a minute to remember. She'd had this grand plan, but how ridiculous that seemed now. "I was taking Mr. Cabot a towel. I spilled red wine on him, and he went to his room to change his shirt. I ran into Mr. Hartley in the hall, and he stopped to speak to me. Before he could say anything, we heard a loud crash, then screams and gunshots. He started toward the living room, but someone came around the corner and…and shot him," she said, struggling to finish her sentence. "I dove into the closet and hid. I thought someone would yank open the door and shoot me, too, but somehow that didn't happen. I didn't come out until the police arrived. That's when I saw Mr. Hartley. There was a lot of blood." She swallowed hard, her stomach growing queasy once more.

"Did you get a glimpse of the gunman? Do you know if it was a man or a woman?"

"I think I saw a leg. Probably male. I don't know. Mr. Hartley was blocking my view. I ran into the closet as fast as I could."

"Then the shooter didn't see you?"

"I guess not."

"What about Mr. Cabot? Did you see him?"

"No. Is he all right?" 

Agent Raines stared back at her with an unreadable expression on his face. 

"Is he alive?" she pressed. 

"I don't know."

"What do you mean? How can you not know?"

"He's not here."

"He's not here?" she echoed. "I don't understand. Are you saying he escaped during the shooting?"

"I'm saying that I don't know where he is, but we're looking for him. You said he had gone to his room."

"Yes. He wanted to change his shirt." 

"Why would he ask you to bring him a towel if he was headed to his bedroom, which presumably has a bathroom?"

"Uh, I—I don't know." She realized that she'd just tripped over her own excuse to Marguerite. Cabot hadn't asked her for a towel. She'd simply told Marguerite that so she could cover herself. 

The agent's gaze sharpened, as if he could tell that she was lying. But it was such a harmless lie. She couldn't let him dwell on it because it didn't matter. 

"What about the others?" she asked. "Please tell me someone else survived."

"There are two fatalities and three injured. Can you tell me who was here in the house at the time of the shooting?" 

"There were six people in the living room when I made my last round. Mr. Hartley was there with Mr. Cabot, as well as Ms. Branson, Mr. Stodden, Mr. Meyer, and Ms. Devereaux. There were also two people in the kitchen: the caterer, Marguerite DeLeon, and her nephew Enrique." She blew out a breath. "Please tell me they're all alive."

"The caterer is fine. She's on her way to the hospital with her nephew, who was hit in the shoulder. They exited the house and called for help."

"Thank God. What about the others?"

"The injured have been taken to the hospital. A man and a woman are currently being questioned on the pool patio. I believe they are Ms. Devereaux and Mr. Meyer."

"Who was the other person killed? Besides Mr. Hartley?"

"James Robinson."

She stared at him in confusion. "Who's that?"

"He was apparently working security outside the home. He entered when he heard the shots." The agent paused. "Did anyone exit the house right before the shooting?"

"There were a couple of gamers who left about ten minutes before it happened."

"Do you know their names?"

"One was Jessie Marlowe. She's a famous social media gamer. There was a guy with her. I didn't know his name."

"Were there open doors to all the deck areas?"

"Yes, the doors were open all night. There were over a hundred people here earlier, but it was down to Mr. Cabot's close friends and associates."

"It's interesting that you know all their names and their job titles," he said, giving her a sharp look. "Weren't you just serving drinks?" 

She started, realizing how easily she'd been caught by her own deception. But her reason for being in the house had nothing to do with what had happened. Did it? 

"Marguerite likes us to know who the important people are, so we can take care of them." The lie fell from her lips. "I had to study the guest list before the party started." She paused. "Can I go now? There's blood on my shirt, and every time I see it, I feel nauseous. If I knew anything, I would tell you. I—I never saw anyone die before."

"I know you've had a rough night, Ms. Parrish."

"I've had rough nights. This was beyond that."

"When you were in the closet, did you hear anyone go by?"

"I think so, but my heart was pounding so loud, I'm not sure."

"The hallway where you were—was that the only way to get to Mr. Cabot's room?"

"No. There is a back stairwell at the far end of the wing that someone could have used." 

"For coming or going," he murmured.

She met his gaze. "I suppose so. That would have been Mr. Cabot's best way out if he heard the gunshots. Maybe he escaped."

"I hope he did."  

"What else could have happened to him? Do you think they kidnapped him?"

"Why would you say they? You said you only saw one gunman."

"I did only see one shooter." She thought for a moment. "It seemed like there was gunfire coming in different directions. It felt like there was more than one." She shook her head, feeling more confused by the minute. "I don't know exactly what I heard. I was so scared. I never imagined something like this could happen, especially in a beautiful, rich place like this."

"Was anyone fighting at the party? Were there any disgruntled guests?"

"No. Everyone was having a great time. Mr. Cabot didn't mingle a lot. He mostly stayed with his executives. I didn't see or hear anything odd. It seemed like a fun party."

"Is this the first time you've worked a party here?"

"Yes," she replied, happy to answer one question honestly. "Can I go now?"

He thought for a moment. "How did you get here?"

"I came in the catering van with Marguerite and Enrique." She frowned. "It's probably not here anymore, is it?" 

"It's here, but it's blocked by a half-dozen police vehicles. I can have a patrol officer take you home."

"Thank you," she said with relief as she got to her feet. 

Agent Raines also rose, his sharp gaze taking in her wobbly stance. "Are you okay? You look like you might pass out."

"I'm sure I'll feel better when I get away from here. I really hope Mr. Cabot is okay." 

"Well, there's a chance that spilling red wine on him might have saved his life."

"I hope that's true." It would be crazy if it was true. But the fact that Cabot was nowhere to be found made her wonder if he'd escaped or been kidnapped.

Agent Raines walked her back into the house. They stopped in the kitchen so she could grab her bag from the pantry. Seeing him in the light made her a bit more nervous. He was taller than she'd first thought, with broader shoulders, and a sharp, speculative gaze. She needed to get away from him as fast as possible, before he realized what a big liar she was. 

This entire night had been a horrible idea from start to finish, and she'd accomplished nothing. She hadn't gotten to speak to Cabot about Audrey, and now she might never speak to him. 

As she put her bag over her shoulder, she considered whether she should mention Audrey to Agent Raines. Audrey's disappearance might be tied to what had happened here tonight. But Audrey had told her not to tell anyone she was gone. And, really, what was she thinking? She couldn't trust a cop or a federal agent. Not when her friend's life might be on the line. 

Officer Green came into the kitchen. "Agent Raines, the other witnesses are waiting for you on the pool deck. Shall I stay with Ms. Parrish?"

"Actually, I'd like you to get a patrol officer to take her home."

"I can do that." 

Agent Raines gave her a questioning look. "Is there anything else you wanted to say, Ms. Parrish?"

"No, nothing."

His gaze narrowed. "You're sure?"


"All right." 

As he left the kitchen, she blew out a breath, then followed Officer Green through the kitchen door. He called over one of the police officers, and the next minute, she was ushered into the backseat of a squad car. When the officer slammed the door, she had to forcibly remind herself that this wasn't like before. She wasn't a child at the mercy of the cops. She was an adult, and she was just getting a ride home. 

As the car pulled away from the house, she took a deeper breath, her brain still trying to make sense of the nightmare she'd just lived through. When she'd taken the serving gig, she'd worried about what might happen. She'd thought Cabot might throw her out, that she might lose her job, or even that she might find out something terrible about Audrey, but what had happened had been so much worse. 

Audrey had told her there was trouble at the company. 

Had that trouble been behind tonight's home invasion? Should she tell someone what she knew? Or should she do what Audrey had asked her to do in the first place, mind her own business?

THE FBI SERIES takes readers on thrilling, romantic, and suspenseful adventures! While an overarching mystery plays out over the first five novels, every story stands completely on its own and there are no cliffhangers!

The books feature complex and exciting storylines ranging from kidnapping to organized crime, terrorism, and espionage. Personal stories often play out against a bigger, broader storyline, and surprising twists will keep you up all night. Start reading today!

Check out more books in the series!

  • Perilous Trust
  • Reckless Whisper
  • Desperate Play
  • Elusive Promise
  • Dangerous Choice
  • Ruthless Cross
  • Critical Doubt
  • Fearless Pursuit
  • Daring Deception
  • Risky Bargain
  • Perfect Target
  • Fatal Betrayal
  • Deadly Trap