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       One to Keep, p.1

         Part #3 of Nights in Bliss Colorado series by Sophie Oak
 
One to Keep


  Nights in Bliss, Colorado 3

  One to Keep

  Stefan Talbot let Jennifer Waters run from him once. He knew she

  was far too young for him, but he kept a watchful eye on her,

  protecting her from afar. When she’s arrested for a crime she

  didn’t commit, Stef knows the time has come to get close again.

  Jennifer ran from Bliss only to find herself in hot water in Dallas.

  She’s longed to return to Bliss, but not in handcuffs. The only

  thing she longs for more than her mountain home is the man she

  ran from—Stef Talbot.

  In the middle of the Winter Festival, Stef and Jen find themselves

  fighting for their love and their lives because danger has followed

  them back to Bliss.

  Note: This book contains anal sex.

  Genre: BDSM, Contemporary, Western/Cowboys

  Length: 89,390 words

  ONE TO KEEP

  Nights in Bliss, Colorado 3

  Sophie Oak

  EVERLASTING CLASSIC

  Siren Publishing, Inc.

  www.SirenPublishing.com

  ABOUT THE E-BOOK YOU HAVE PURCHASED:

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  A SIREN PUBLISHING BOOK

  IMPRINT: Everlasting Classic

  ONE TO KEEP

  Copyright © 2011 by Sophie Oak

  E-book ISBN: 1-61034-428-6

  First E-book Publication: March 2011

  Cover design by Les Byerley

  All art and logo copyright © 2011 by Siren Publishing, Inc.

  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: This literary work may not be

  reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including

  electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without

  express written permission.

  All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

  PUBLISHER

  Siren Publishing, Inc.

  www.SirenPublishing.com

  Letter to Readers

  Dear Readers,

  If you have purchased this copy of One to Keep by Sophie Oak from BookStrand.com or its official distributors, thank you. Also, thank

  you for not sharing your copy of this book.

  Regarding E-book Piracy

  This book is copyrighted intellectual property. No other individual or group has resale rights, auction rights, membership rights, sharing

  rights, or any kind of rights to sell or to give away a copy of this

  book.

  The author and the publisher work very hard to bring our paying

  readers high-quality reading entertainment.

  This is Sophie Oak’s livelihood. It’s fair and simple. Please respect Ms. Oak’s right to earn a living from her work.

  Amanda Hilton, Publisher

  www.SirenPublishing.com

  www.BookStrand.com

  DEDICATION

  For Rich – I wouldn’t know anything about love and romance without

  you. It might not be like a romance novel, but every day with you

  ends in a happy ever after as long as we’re together.

  ONE TO KEEP

  Nights in Bliss, Colorado 3

  SOPHIE OAK

  Copyright © 2011

  Chapter One

  “Let’s go, Waters,” a surprisingly deep voice said. “You have a

  visitor.”

  Jennifer Waters brought her head up quickly and looked at the

  guard. She’d kept her head down because it seemed the safest way to

  survive the experience. It had been all right when her cell mates had

  been a couple of prostitutes. Annie and Roxie had been sweet, if

  totally underdressed for the February weather. Unfortunately, Annie

  had turned out to be Andy and Roxie really had a set tucked away in

  his miniskirt. They’d been taken to the men’s holding cell, and now

  Jen was left with two drunks and a woman who had already

  threatened to kill her because she didn’t like brunettes. All in all, a visitor seemed like a good thing.

  She got up from her place in the corner and followed the bulky

  guard. It was quiet this early in the morning, but Jen still felt

  paranoid. That was what happened when one minute you were an up-

  and-coming artist and the next the police were hauling you away. It

  had been a rough twenty-four hours.

  “In there.” The guard opened the door to one of the interview

  rooms, and Jen walked in.

  One to Keep

  9

  It was a small, dank room. The fluorescent lights gave everything

  a slightly green cast. There was a metal table bolted to the floor and two chairs. An expensive-looking briefcase sat on the table, and a

  man paced by the barred window. He turned immediately when the

  door opened.

  “Thank god. I thought they were never going to bring you out.

  I’ve been here for three hours.” The man looked to be in his late

  twenties, maybe early thirties. He was strikingly handsome with dark

  hair and green eyes. He wore a dark suit and a snowy white shirt. An

  emerald silk tie matched his eyes.

  “Are you the public defender?” Jen asked. It was so reassuring to

  see someone who didn’t have a gun strapped to his waist.

  The door closed behind her. It locked with a telling thud.

  Everywhere she’d been for the last twenty-four hours had a locked

  door. She sat down, her legs shaking.

  “Not exactly, but I am your lawyer,” he said, sinking into the seat

  across from her. “My name is Finn Taylor. Do you know why you

  were arrested?”

  She knew why. The police had been over it about a thousand

  times. It just didn’t make any sense to her. “I’ve been accused of

  theft. They think I stole a painting.”

  A painting worth roughly a half a million dollars, to be exact. She

  didn’t think she would ever forget that moment when her boss, Jean

  Claude Renard, led the police back to the off
ice of the prestigious art gallery where Jen had been working for the last five months. Boss,

  she thought ruefully. Jean Claude had been much more than her boss.

  He’d been an experiment to see if she could ever get over…

  Jen took a deep breath. She wasn’t going to think about him. She

  was going to do what she’d been doing her whole life, focus on the

  here and now. Thinking about Stefan Talbot and everything she’d left

  behind in Bliss would only make the situation worse.

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  Sophie Oak

  “Yes,” Finn Taylor’s voice brought her back to reality, “you’ve

  been accused of grand larceny. Renard is accusing you of stealing a

  painting from the gallery. It was a painting by Picasso.”

  “Yes, I know it well. It was one of his smaller canvases. It was

  brought in for repair. The owner had a small fire in his home, and

  there was some smoke damage. Jean Claude is a renowned restorer.”

  It was one of the reasons she’d been excited to work for him. She’d

  been in the same room with several masterpieces, so close she could

  see the brushstrokes. The first few months with him had been a series

  of wonders. The last had been a nightmare.

  The lawyer’s eyebrows quirked up as he flicked open his pen. A

  perfect white notepad lay in front of him. “Any chance that you know

  where it is or who might have taken it?”

  Tears filled her eyes. “No. I walked in yesterday morning, and it

  was gone. It was in the restoration room the night before. Jean Claude had been working on it. It was almost done.”

  “And you have access to that room.”

  She forced herself to nod. She’d been over this with the police.

  “Yes, I know the code. Jean Claude lets me work in there. It’s a large studio. There’s more than enough room for two easels. I work in there

  every day. The light is just perfect.”

  She’d been planning to work yesterday when all hell had broken

  loose. She’d gotten off the train at her stop in Deep Ellum and made

  her way to the gallery, feeling light for the first time in a long while.

  She’d known how to fix her painting. Renard had told her he might be

  able to find a buyer for her newest work. It was good, but it wasn’t

  perfect, she’d decided. She hadn’t gotten the colors just right. She’d stared at that painting for days while the oils dried. Even after they had dried, she’d stared at the painting. After the gallery show the

  night before, she’d known what it needed. Despite the late hour, she’d stayed and worked. This painting would be perfect, she’d known. It

  was similar to the first, but this one would be better. This would be

  the one that broke her out. She’d been thinking of how her last three

  One to Keep

  11

  works had sold very quickly. She’d been smiling when she entered

  the gallery because she’d felt like an up-and-coming artist.

  She’d never felt quite as alone as she had when they put her in the

  back of that police car. Her one and only thought had been to call the one man she’d promised she would never call again. Even now she

  longed for his authoritative presence.

  “When was the last time you saw the Picasso?”

  She sniffled and straightened her back. She was alone in this, and

  she needed to be strong. “It was there the morning of the gallery

  show. I assumed he put it in the safe for the show. He wouldn’t leave

  it lying around. After the gallery show, I stayed late to supervise the cleanup. I went into the restoration room because I wanted to work for a while. Jean Claude said he might be able to sell another painting for me, and I needed the money. I wanted to work fast, though. He said

  he had someone coming in this morning to look at the work. I thought

  if I could get it right, maybe the buyer would be impressed. I didn’t want him to see the first one. It’s all right, but the colors weren’t right, you see. There was too much red. I needed something soothing.

  Green. I mixed a lovely green. It had some blue tones. Emotional but

  muted.”

  “Okay, so the day before the Picasso was still there. It went into

  the safe, and you didn’t see it again.” Finn ignored her arty comments, but she was used to that. He was all business. “You didn’t see the

  painting after the show?”

  “No, I didn’t. And I had no idea it was missing. I came in late. I

  had worked until really late the night before, and then I had to take the first canvas home because Jean Claude hates it when I have two

  canvases in the restoration room. I wanted the new painting to be

  waiting for the buyer right there in the middle of the room as though it had a bow on it. The trains had stopped running. I had to walk home

  lugging that canvas. I can be forgiven for sleeping in a bit, right?

  When I walked in yesterday morning the whole gallery was chaotic.

  Jean Claude was screaming. The receptionist was crying. He

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  Sophie Oak

  immediately started yelling at me. He says I was the last one to use

  the code.”

  Finn’s lips turned down, and he made a few notes as he spoke.

  “Yes, that’s what the security company is saying. They claim they can

  produce records that show when you entered and when you left. We

  can’t tell when the safe was last open. It’s manual. Is it true that the code you used on the door was unique to you?”

  There was the rub, and Jen knew it. “Yes. When I was hired I was

  interviewed by the security company, and I selected a password. All

  employees select a code.”

  “And no one else knows this code?”

  “No. Well, I suppose the security company knows it. And Jean

  Claude gave me the combo to the safe. He didn’t like hauling stuff

  around himself.”

  Finn’s pen flew across the paper.

  “Is that important? I mean, do you think someone from the

  security firm stole the painting? Or another employee?”

  A light shrug. “Well, it gives us a place to start. The problem is

  the security camera in that room was out. The last footage the

  company has is of you handling the camera.”

  She felt her whole body flush. “I was told to turn it off.”

  “By whom?”

  “Jean Claude. He didn’t want the thing beeping while the gallery

  show was going on. I told him no one could hear it, but he gets very

  touchy when we have a show going. It’s best to just placate him. I

  forgot to turn it back on.”

  “He claims he never told you to do that.”

  Yep, that was what the police had said. Jen’s stomach turned.

  Why was he lying? The implications scared the crap out of her. Was

  she being set up? If she was then she had no idea how she would fight

  it. She had a little money saved up from the sale of her work, but it wouldn’t pay a lawyer for very long. Who were they going to believe?

  One to Keep

  13

  A respected businessman or an artist who came from the wrong side

  of the tracks?

  “I didn’t do it,” she whispered.

  His hand came out and covered hers. “I know you didn’t.”

  That was not the answer she’d been expecting. It made her wary.

  She pulled her hands back. Too many people lately had seemed nice

  and turned out to be so very cruel. It was a lesson she should have

&n
bsp; learned early in life. Hell, she had learned it and learned it well. Her time in Bliss had made her forget how fucked up the real world could

  be.

  “And how do you know that?” She sounded rude even to her own

  ears.

  The handsome lawyer didn’t seem to take offense. He smiled, a

  boyish look on his face. “I have it on the best authority I know. Let’s just say that my partner is very good friends with someone who firmly

  believes in your innocence. As my partner also happens to be my

  Dom, I never argue with him. It tends to get me spanked.”

  He said it with the glow of a man who was well loved, but the

  word Dom made her heart plunge. It reminded her of everything she’d

  lost and everything she’d walked away from.

  “Who do you work for?”

  “My partner is named Julian Lodge. He’s very good friends

  with—”

  “Stefan Talbot.” The name came out of her mouth with a thud. Of

  all the people in the world she didn’t want to know about her current

  situation, he was number one. Her shame washed over her like a

  scalding bath. She’d always meant to go back to Bliss someday. She’d

  dreamed of confronting the man she’d loved, but in her dreams she

  always returned as a successful, wealthy artist. In her fantasies, she had a man on her arm so Stef wouldn’t think she’d spent years pining

  over him. Never once did she think he’d have to bail her out of jail.

  “How did he know?” She hadn’t called or talked to anyone in

  Bliss since the morning she left. It had been hard, but it was the only

  14

  Sophie Oak

  way to go. She’d cut her ties and moved on just like her mother had

  taught her. Keep moving. It was the only way to live. Staying too long in Bliss had tripped her up. It had caused her to do the stupidest thing of all—fall in love.

  For the first time, Finn looked slightly uncomfortable. “I think it’s

 
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