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Taken

Taken

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Kayla Sheridan had longed for love, marriage and a family. Now, after a miraculous whirlwind courtship with the man of her dreams, she is his wife. But on their wedding night, he vanishes, leaving Kayla with the bitter realization that her desire has made her an easy mark for deception. 

Nick Granville has an ingrained sense of honor and an intense desire to succeed in building the world's most challenging high-tech bridges. But when he crosses paths with a ruthless con man, he's robbed of everything he values, including his identity. With nothing left to lose, he'll risk any danger to clear his name and reclaim his life. 

Thrown together by fate, Kayla and Nick embark on a desperate journey toward the truth—to uncover the mysterious motives of an ingenious and seductive stranger who boasts he can't be caught and to reveal the shocking secrets of their own shattered pasts.

Don't miss the first book in the Deception Romantic Suspense Duo! PLAYED is book two. 

PROLOGUE

“To my wife.” Nick Granville gave Kayla Sheridan a dazzling smile as he raised his champagne glass to hers.

Kayla tapped her glass against his. As she looked into the gorgeous blue eyes of the man she had married, she felt a rush of pure joy. She could hardly believe she was married, but an hour ago she’d vowed to love this man above all others. He’d put a ring on her finger and a diamond necklace around her neck and he’d promised to stay forever, which was really all she’d ever wanted. A child of divorce, she’d split her time between two houses, two sets of parents, two cities, and she’d said more than her share of good-byes. That was over now. She was Mrs. Nicholas Granville, and she would make her marriage stick.

The champagne tickled her throat. She felt almost dizzy with delight. “I can’t believe how happy I am,” she murmured. “My head is spinning.”

“I like it when you’re off balance,” he said.

“I’ve been that way since the first second we met,” she confessed. “Marrying you tonight is the most impulsive, reckless thing I have ever done in my life.” She glanced down at the two-carat diamond ring on her finger. It was huge, dramatic, and wildly expensive. It wasn’t the kind of ring she’d imagined wearing. She’d thought she’d have something set in an old-fashioned silver band, and in her wildest dreams the stone had never been this big; she was an incredibly lucky woman. And Nick was a very generous man. He’d been spoiling her rotten since their first date.

“You do impulsive well,” Nick commented. “Better than I would have thought when we first met.”

“Because you’re a bad influence,” she teased.

His grin broadened. “I’ve been told that before. Life is supposed to be fun. You are having fun, aren’t you?”

“Absolutely. This day has been perfect. The chapel was lovely. The minister made a nice speech about love and marriage. I was afraid it would feel like a quickie wedding, but it didn’t. And this hotel room—it’s incredible.” She waved her hand in the air as she glanced around their honeymoon suite. Nick had ordered in scented candles that bathed the room in a soft light, riotous colorful wildflowers on every table, rose petals lining a romantic path to the bedroom, and silver trays with chocolate-covered strawberries, her favorite dessert. She couldn’t have asked for a more romantic setting in which to begin her new life. “You’ve made me so happy, Nick. You’ve given me exactly what I wanted.”

He nodded. “I feel the same way.” He leaned forward and kissed her softly on the mouth, a promise of what was to come. “I’m going to get some ice.” He sent her a meaningful look. “I think we’ll want some cold champagne...later.”

A tingle of anticipation ran down her spine. “Don’t be long.”

He picked up the ice bucket and headed for the door. Once there, he paused and pulled out the antique pocket watch she’d given him as a wedding present a few minutes earlier. “Thanks again for this,” he said. “It means a lot to me.”

“My grandmother told me I should give it to the man I love. And that’s you.”

Kayla wanted him to say he loved her, too, but he simply smiled and gave her a little wave as he left the room. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t said the words. He’d married her. That was what was important. She’d spent most of her twenties with a commitment-phobic boyfriend who couldn’t bring himself to pop the question. Nick had told her almost immediately that he intended to be her husband. She’d been swept away by his love and his confidence that they were perfect for each other. Now, only three weeks since that first date, she was his wife. She could hardly believe it. Three weeks! This was definitely the craziest thing she’d ever done.

Well, so what? She’d been responsible and cautious her entire life. She was almost thirty years old. It was about time she took a chance.

Too restless to sit, Kayla got up to look out the window. Their luxurious honeymoon suite was on the hotel’s twenty-fifth floor and offered a spectacular view of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains. She was only four hours from her home in the San Francisco Bay Area, but it felt like a million miles. Her entire life had changed during a simple wedding ceremony that had been witnessed by only two strangers. It was her one regret that neither her family nor Nick’s had attended the wedding. But the past was behind her. Tonight was a new beginning.

Turning away from the window, she entered the bedroom. She took off her dress and slipped on a scarlet see-through silk teddy that left nothing to the imagination. Then she drew a brush through her long, thick, curly brown hair that fell past her shoulders and never seemed to do exactly what she wanted. Her best friend, Samantha, had told her that the messy, curly look was coming back in, so maybe for the first time in her life, Kayla’s hair was actually in style.

A flash of insecurity made her wonder if the hot-red teddy was too much or if she should have gone with elegant white silk. But the sophisticated white lingerie she’d considered purchasing had reminded her of something her mother would wear, and she was definitely not her mother.

Smiling at that thought, Kayla couldn’t help but be pleased by her reflection in the mirror. There was a sparkle in her brown eyes, a rosy glow in her cheeks. She looked like a woman in love. And that was exactly what she was. She’d made the right decision, she told herself again, trying to ignore the niggling little doubt that wouldn’t seem to go away.

The quiet in the room made the voices in her head grow louder. She could hear her mother’s shocked and disgusted words: “Kayla, have you lost your mind? You can’t marry a man you’ve known for three weeks. It’s foolish. You’ll regret this.” And her friend Samantha had pleaded with her. “Just wait until I get back from London. You need to think, Kayla. How much do you really know about this man?”

She knew enough, Kayla told herself firmly. And this marriage was between her and Nick, no one else. Turning away from the mirror, she sprayed some perfume in the air and walked through it. Debating whether or not she should wait for Nick in bed, she tried out several sexy poses on the satiny duvet. She felt completely ridiculous and chided herself for being nervous. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t had sex. And it had been good. It would be even better tonight because they were married, they were in love, and they were committed.

As she stood up, the suite seemed too quiet. She wondered what was taking Nick so long. The ice machine was only a short distance from the room, and he had left at least fifteen minutes ago. He must have decided to run downstairs and pick up another special dessert or more champagne. She smiled at the thought. Nick was so romantic. He always knew just how to make her feel loved and cherished.

She walked into the living room and sat down on the couch to wait. She flipped on the television and ran through the channels. The minutes continued to tick by. Glancing at her watch, she realized an hour had passed. An uneasy feeling swept through her body. She got up and paced. Within seconds the room grew too small for her growing agitation. She had a terrible feeling something was wrong.

Returning to the bedroom, she slipped out of her lingerie and dug through her suitcase for a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. All the while she kept hoping to hear Nick’s footsteps or his voice.

Nothing. Silence.

She grabbed the key and left the suite, heading to the nearest ice machine. Nick wasn’t there. She tried the other end of the hall, the next floor up, the next floor down. Her heart began to race. She checked the room again, then took the elevator down to the lobby, searching the casino, the shops, the restaurants and bars, and even the parking lot, where Nick’s Porsche was parked right where they’d left it. She stopped by the phone bank in the lobby and called the room again. There was still no answer.

Kayla didn’t know she was crying until an older woman stopped her by the elevator and asked her if everything was all right.

“My husband. I can’t find my husband,” she muttered.

The woman gave her a pitying smile. “Story of my life. He’ll come back when he runs out of money, honey. They all do.”

“He’s not gambling. It’s our wedding night. He went to get ice.” Kayla entered the next elevator, leaving the woman and her disbelieving expression behind. She didn’t care what that woman thought. Kayla knew Nick wouldn’t gamble away their wedding night. He wouldn’t do that to her. But when she returned to her room, it was as empty as when she’d left it.

She didn’t know what to do. She sat back down to wait.

When the clock struck midnight, and Nick had been gone for almost five hours, Kayla called the front desk and told them her husband was missing. The hotel sent up George Benedict, an older man who worked for hotel security. After discussing her situation, he assured her they would look for Nick, but there was something in his expression that told her they wouldn’t look too hard. It was obvious to Kayla that Mr. Benedict thought Nick was either downstairs gambling and had lost track of time or he had skipped out on her, plain and simple. Neither explanation made sense to her.

Kayla didn’t sleep all night. In her mind she ran through a dozen possible scenarios of what could have happened to Nick. Maybe he’d been robbed, hit over the head, knocked unconscious. Maybe he was sitting in a hospital right now with amnesia, not knowing who he was. She hoped to God it wasn’t worse than that. No news had to be good news, right?

Finally, she curled up in a chair by the window, watching the moon go down and the sun come up over the lake.

It was the longest night of her life.

A knock came at the door just before nine o’clock in the morning. She ran to open it, hoping she’d see Nick in the hallway, wearing a sheepish smile, offering some crazy explanation.

It wasn’t Nick. It was the security guy from the night before, George Benedict. His expression was serious, his eyes somber.

Putting a hand to her suddenly racing heart, she said, “What’s happened?”

He held up a black tuxedo jacket. A now limp and wilted red rose boutonniere hung from the lapel. “We found this in a men’s room off the lobby. Is it your husband’s jacket?”

“I...I think so. I don’t understand. Where’s Nick?”

“We don’t know yet, but this was in the pocket.” He held out his hand, a solid gold wedding band in his palm.

She took the ring from him, terrified when she read the simple inscription on the inside of the band, FOREVER LOVE, the same words that were engraved on her wedding ring. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t speak.

This was Nick’s ring, the one she’d slipped on his finger when she’d vowed to spend the rest of her life with him. “No,” she breathed.

“I’ve seen it happen before,” the older man said gently. “A hasty marriage in a casino chapel, second thoughts...”

She saw the pity in his eyes, and she couldn’t accept it. “You’re wrong. You have to be wrong. Nick loved me. He wanted to get married. It was his idea. His idea,” she repeated desperately.

She closed her hand around the ring, her fingers tightening into a fist. Her husband had not run out on her... had he?

TAKEN is book #1 in a romantic suspense duo Each book has a complete story, but to fully enjoy the two parts, readers should start with TAKEN and then continue to to PLAYED.