This Year’s Black ONLY
a Killer Style novel by Avery Flynn
A fighter since birth, Allegra “Ryder” Falcon would rather trade in her all-black wardrobe for head-to-toe hot pink than let anyone ever see the cracks in her tough exterior. But one night with a stranger changes everything.
Devin Harris may have given up his MMA fighting dreams for high fashion, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t always in control. So when someone embezzles millions under his watch, he isn’t going to let the private investigator working the case go it alone—even if she is the woman who blew him away in bed and then blew him off.
Just when it seems like it couldn’t get any hotter between Ryder and Devin, the case takes them to a tropical paradise where the danger increases. From the catwalk to the pineapple fields, they have to work together to track down the missing millions before the thief finds—and kills— them.
Title: This Year’s Black (Killer Style)
Author: Avery Flynn
Length: 215 pages
Release Date: May 2014
* Prices may vary and are not guaranteed
Praise for This Year’s Black:
“Incredible writing with witty humor and scorching sex scenes. This Year’s Black belongs at everyone’s TBR list.” – New York Times bestselling author, Gina L. Maxwell
This Year’s Black
by Avery Flynn
Copyright © 2014 by Avery Flynn. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
“One is never over-dressed or underdressed with a Little Black Dress.”
— Karl Lagerfeld
Harbor City, New York
Paulie’s Gym wasn’t a fancy exercise emporium with spinning classes, personal trainers, and TVs hanging from the ceiling. The men and handful of women punching the heavy bag or trading jabs in the ring didn’t care about those things. They came to work up a sweat, not gossip over the water cooler. No one cared that the smell was enough to knock a person on his ass, if his sparring partner’s right hook didn’t get him first.
Ignoring the sweat soaking through her black spandex tank top, Allegra “Ryder” Falcon balanced soft on her feet while people milled around outside the boxing ring. Her opponent had at least a hundred pounds on her, but she had something Cam Hardy didn’t. Iron-willed focus…and the never-ending need to prove herself.
Locked in on her opponent, Ryder bounced on the balls of her feet, waiting for his attention to waver. All she needed was half a second to land a quick jab or high kick—
The gym door opened—
Cam’s eyes shifted—
Bam! Ryder’s right leg landed with a solid thump against his solar plexus.
Air wheezed out of his lungs like a fast deflating balloon.
She followed up with a quick punching combination and a roundhouse kick before grabbing his arm, spinning into position, and flipping him over her back.
He landed with enough force to make the ring’s elevated floor bounce. Used to Ryder’s weekly balls-to-the-wall sparring workouts, the other gym-goers barely glanced up from their own activities.
“Damn it Ryder,” Cam mumbled around his mouth guard. “This is the last time I spar with you. The plan was to go easy on each other. Tony’s right. You don’t play well with others.”
“You say that every time we spar, but you’re still here twice a week without fail.” She laughed and helped him up off the floor, which took considerably more effort than tossing him. “Man, have you gained weight?”
“Only muscle.” He flexed his thick biceps as he shucked off the cushioned helmet, then winked one of his ice-blue eyes at her. “The ladies love it.”
“Yeah, for the one night they get with you before you’ve moved on to the next unsuspecting sap.” Cam’s dating history was as long and sordid as a pornified version of War and Peace. If she didn’t love him so much—like a second cousin twice removed—she’d punch even harder in the ring.
“Like you’re any different. When was the last time I saw you with the same guy twice?”
That hit her right between the eyes. If Cam’s fists connected as well as his words, she would have been the one on her ass. “I don’t think my dates number anywhere near yours.” She shrugged off the all-too-familiar ache. “Anyway, I have my reasons.”
She had a type. Overly possessive, muscle-bound losers with a shaky grasp on employment and a too-tight grip on her. Then there was Heath. She shivered. He’d turned out to be even worse.
“Hey, the ladies enjoy themselves, and I never make any promises I can’t keep.” Cam put a foot on the ring’s bottom rope and lifted the top one. “Speaking of which, how about you put in a good word about me with Drea?”
“Not in a million years.” She slipped through the opening and stalked toward the locker room, leaving Cam and her bad memories behind her.
“One, she would eat you for breakfast. And two, I like Drea.”
“You like me.” Again, he winked.
How many girls had melted under Cam’s patented charm offensive? Way more than she ever wanted to know about. “Not enough to sell out one of my best friends, pretty boy.”
He laid his palm against his chest and mimed a faint. “You’re killing me here.”
“There’s not a jury who would convict me.” She pushed open the women’s locker room’s swinging door. “Especially since, with your dating history, at least half the jury would be made up of your ex-girlfriends.”
God love the man, Cam was in for a world of hurt when he finally did find someone he wanted to be with for the long-term. Dude would not have any idea what to do. She couldn’t wait to watch.
He reached out and gave her a noogie before she could twist away. “Twenty-five is too young for you to be that damn cynical, Ryder girl. You know no woman is an island, not even you.”
She shoved his hand away and stuck her tongue out. “So says the twenty-nine-year-old commitment phobe.”
“Hey, we’re not talking about me, here.” There went that million-watt grin again.
“Cam, we’re always talking about you.” She patted his cheek. “And you love it.”
The locker room door slammed shut behind her, and she peeled off her black workout clothes while ignoring the little voice reminding her of her own romantic mishaps. Mishaps. Now that was putting it mildly. More like a nuclear-level, chain-reaction explosion that gave her a nasty case of radiation poisoning so severe she could use her heart as a nightlight. For the entire tri-state area.
Ryder popped the handle on her locker right in time to hear the first buzz from her cell phone. The office number for Maltese Security flashed on the screen. As always, work rescued her from events she’d rather leave locked in a grimy basement.
She pressed the talk button. “Hola, boss, what’s shaking?”
“I need you down at Dylan’s Department Store right away.” Tony Falcon, Maltese Security’s owner, CEO, worrier-in-chief, and her big brother, had never been one for small talk, which just made Ryder want to needle him all the more.
“Hello to you, too, big brother. I’m doing great today, thanks for asking.”
“Very funny. Dylan’s is our biggest client right now. We can’t afford for them to jump ship—not if I’m going to make payroll. I’m tied up on the Bowden case, and you’re the only other one who’s dealt with George Dylan before. He’s quirky, but he likes you.”
Ryder rolled her eyes. “He likes my ass.” After their last visit to Dylan’s corporate headquarters, she was surprised she didn’t have drool soaking the back of her black trousers. Ewwww.
“Ugh, you’re my sister. Don’t go there.” Tony made a sound of disgust that reminded Ryder of her dog Kermit sucking the last bit of peanut butter from the roof of his mouth. “Here’s the deal, someone has their hand in the company till. They need us to go in and figure out who and get the money back as quietly and quickly as possible. They’re in the middle of a merger, and George is afraid if word leaks, the company’s stock will tank and the deal will blow up.”
Her pulse ratcheted up and she did a little jig. She was so in. “Sounds easy enough.”
“Oh yeah, I’m sure everything will go off without a hitch.” Sarcasm thickened her older brother’s tone. “Even though I can’t be there with you, I’ll walk you through it every step of the way.”
She slammed her locker door shut. “Tony, I have a degree in forensic accounting. You can barely balance your checkbook. I’m pretty sure I’ve got this.”
“You’re a funny girl, baby sister, but there’s a big difference between book smarts and street smarts. Anyway, you go rogue on this like the last big case you had and I’ll fire you faster than mom can dice a tomato.”
Fighting the urge to scream with frustration, she closed her eyes and sucked in a deep breath. When she opened them a second later, the red haze had dissipated. “I grew up a cop’s kid, just like you. I’m not some naif from the Midwest fresh off the bus.” She paced in front of the lockers, already jonesing for another workout to blow off sibling-induced steam. “I can do this, Tony. Trust me.”
“It’s not that I don’t—”
“Stop being my big brother and be my boss. You hired me. Do you think I can do the job or not?”
He didn’t answer.
A lump the size of her Nonni’s olive oil collection formed in her throat. She counted to five. If her phone had picked this moment to lose its signal, she was going to drown it in the toilet. “You there?”
“Yeah, I’m here.” He sighed. “Okay, it’s your case. Don’t make me regret this. But you go over the plan with me. And you stay in contact with me while you’re there.”
“Yes, sir.” She shimmied and almost tripped over her untied shoelaces.
Now, this sounded like a James Bond adventure—at least compared to the stalk-the-cheating-spouse shit she normally got assigned to as low chick on the totem pole. Add to that the fact that her family always treated her like she was still a ten-year-old tomboy in uneven pigtails and torn jeans, and it was enough to make her slam her head against the metal locker door. But this case could be her chance to prove them wrong and make them see her as she really was.
Forty-five quick minutes later, Ryder paused outside of George Dylan’s office, her hand curled around the brass doorknob, eavesdropping on the very impassioned discussion happening on the other side of the thick oak doors. As the youngest of five kids, she’d perfected the skill while still in diapers. How else would she have gathered enough intel to blackmail her siblings into doing her chores? Lucky for Tony, she only used her powers for good these days.
The door muffled most of the conversation, but she managed to pluck a few phrases from the murmur.
“Don’t need…” Something about the growly voice tugged on her memory.
“…A lid on it…” George Dylan’s signature, two-pack-a-day wheeze identified the second speaker.
“Ruin everything…” Oh, mystery man was not thrilled about bringing in professional help.
It wasn’t the first time Maltese Security had run into client resistance on a case. Just like lawyers, no one wanted a private security expert until they were neck-deep in quicksand and needed one. And then they really, really wanted one.
“Can you hear anything good?”
Ryder jumped a mile high and whirled around in the same move. A petite woman in her early sixties with her ebony hair pulled back into a tight bun and no-nonsense, orthopedic granny shoes on her feet eyeballed Ryder with unblinking eyes.
Damn, she was so busted. Heat burned her cheeks. “George’s secretary wasn’t in and—”
“I’m Sarah Molina, Mr. Dylan’s executive assistant. I apologize that my trip to the ladies’ room was not timed for your convenience.” She settled behind her desk and paused with her hands hovering above the keyboard. “Is there something I can help you with?”
Ryder bristled. She was eavesdropping, not stealing the crown jewels. “I’m here to see George. I have an appointment.”
Sarah picked up the phone receiver and spoke quietly into it. “Mr. Dylan, there is a Ms. Falcon here to see you. She says she has an appointment.” After half a minute of listening, she pursed her lips together in obvious displeasure and put the receiver down with an emphatic click. “You may go right in.”
“Thanks.” Ryder nodded, flicked her wrist, and turned the knob, pushing the door open. “Sorry to interrupt…”
The mystery man talking to the Dylan’s Department Store CEO spun around to face her, and the rest of her spiel died on her tongue.
There were men she’d slept with and never thought much about again. Then, there was a handful whose memory always put her in a good mood, like a cool beer on a warm night. Standing before her was the one man who’d bypassed the pleasant-buzz setting and had zoomed straight into the hardcore, make-your-panties-wet, two-shots-of-Tequilla-too-many danger zone.
An inch shy of six feet, Devin Harris had the body of a professional mixed martial arts fighter—complete with heavily inked skin—wrapped in a dark navy, pin-striped Brooks Brothers suit. He topped it off with short-clipped hair, model-worthy cheekbones, and a square jaw that would make Superman weep with jealousy. The combination of badass brawler and smooth corporate wolf sucked the smart-ass right out of her.
He was just her type, which was about as big of an indictment against him as there could be.
In a moment of epic bad judgment a few weeks ago, she’d ignored the quiet accountant types at the bar and had gone after the man she’d really wanted. Confident bordering on cocky. Sexy as hell. Too tempting for words. After their one night together and too many orgasms to count, she’d woken up wrapped in his arms, never wanting to leave even as she hated herself for falling back into old bad habits.
After Heath—after the hospital—she’d sworn never again.
So she’d snuck out of Mr. Temptation’s bed, gone home, deleted his number from her phone, and blocked him. But that hadn’t stopped her from thinking about him—and wondering foolishly if maybe he was different. If her guy radar wasn’t completely for shit. But in the end she knew it was.
Recognition flickered in his latte-colored eyes, and her stomach did the loop-de-loop.
His mouth flattened into a straight line, and he crossed his arms. “George, tell me this is not the crack security professional you’ve been trying to sell me on.”
Ryder’s spine straightened like a whip snapping. The pompous prick.
“You forget yourself, Devin,” George wheezed. “You work for me. I don’t have to sell you on a damn thing.”
Devin Harris bit back his scathing response because George was right, which shredded his ego like sandpaper on sliced Rye.
Ryder Falcon. Shit, with a name like that she should be in skin-tight red leather, fighting super villains in a comic book. Lord knew she was tough enough to make normal men quake in their pleated Dockers. He’d learned that for himself during their one hot night together when he’d licked his way down her toned abs and up her hard thighs.
It was a damn good thing he’d acquired an immunity to her particular brand of super-powered hotness in the three weeks since they’d hooked up. He barely noticed the way her tight body filled out the fitted, black suit that hugged her slim curves in all the right places. He’d already completely forgotten how she’d tasted of cinnamon, spice, and no-holds-barred sex so good his balls had practically sung the Hallelujah Chorus when he’d come the first time—and every other time that night. What he hadn’t forgotten was that he’d woken up alone like a loser the next morning.
How many times had he called her cell only to be met by a deafening busy signal? His father may be right that he was just a stubborn ex-jock with a dented brain, but he’d finally gotten her message. The last thing he needed in his life was another woman who sent mixed signals—no matter how sexy she was. Been there. Done her. Never want to again.
“Ryder, I apologize for my right-hand man’s rudeness. Let me introduce you. Devin Harris is our general merchandise manager.” George ambled around the desk, his over-indulged belly leading the way. “He blames himself for the troubles, which I’ve already told him is preposterous—unless, of course, he’s the one syphoning off my cash.” He chuckled at his own joke and held out his hand to Ryder. “Devin, this lovely lady is Ryder Falcon with Maltese Security.”
She shook his hand, her jaw tightening when the CEO held on for a few beats too many. Irritation tightened Devin’s spleen when he realized he’d actually counted how many seconds the handshake had lasted.
“Is there anyone who sticks out as a possible suspect?” she asked.
“All the signs point to Craig in accounting,” Devin snarled. “I’m just choosing to ignore them because I want to sabotage the deal to take Dylan’s Department Store global.”
Even to himself, his sarcasm sounded like the spoiled, petulant teenager he used to be. Ryder didn’t miss his snotty tone, either. She pivoted to face him. When he’d stripped her down to her see-through black bra and panties with her feet flat on the floor, she’d stood almost eye to eye with him. Today, in her heels, she added a good three inches to her height, putting her at just over six feet.
Looking up to a woman like Ryder would have some men on edge, but Devin relished the challenge she presented. Not that he wanted her under—or above—him again, but nothing got his blood pumping faster than someone telling him he couldn’t do something.
And Ryder Falcon was a walking stop sign.
“I’m not questioning your abilities,” she said in a tone that did just that. “I was simply starting my research. The more I know about the situation, the faster I’ll be able to track down the embezzler and recover your lost funds.”
George patted his stomach. “My thoughts exactly. That’s why I want you to come onboard and pose as Devin’s personal assistant during the investigation. That will give you access to most of our people without raising too many eyebrows.”
The wind rushed out of Devin’s lungs as if he’d gotten a side kick to the chest. “What are you talking about?” His lungs ached with the effort of sputtering out the five words. “I can do this on my own.”
Just looking at Ryder Falcon made him feel like he was on a roller coaster, and that annoyed the hell out of him. He’d spent most of his early life bouncing from good time to good time, living down to his father’s constant and loudly expressed low expectations. Now, he appreciated the solid, the steady, the predictability of a five a.m. workout and a demanding job that left him elated and exhausted by eleven at night.
“It’s perfectly logical to partner you two up. We need her expertise. She needs access, which you can give her. Everyone knows you’re going through the books prior to the merger. And MulitCorp doesn’t need to know anything about this little snafu before we finalize the merger next week. You and I both know they’ll run like cockroaches when the lights come on if they even hear a rumor that our financials aren’t what they’re supposed to be. That gives you two a week to find the culprit and, hopefully, recover the stolen funds, before I have to give MultiCorp full access to our books prior to the final signatures.”
Ryder’s face had frozen into a neutral mask, but the way she twisted a strand of long, dark brown hair around a finger gave away her nervousness. “Sir, I can work much more efficiently and effectively on my own. There’s really no need to involve Mr. Harris in this.”
Mr. Harris, was it? That extra little bit of formality, considering the sweaty circumstances of their last meeting, woke up the natural antagonist in him. No way was she working a case alone, and she sure as hell wouldn’t work it with anyone but him. “I don’t know Ms. Falcon. If I remember correctly, we can work very well together.”
If she could have slit him open with a look, his guts would have been spilled all over George’s pin-neat desk.
The old man looked from one to the other, his eyes bloodshot but still keen as ever. “I didn’t realize you two knew each other.” No doubt he had picked up on the undercurrent and planned to exploit it to his best advantage. After all, the old man hadn’t made Dylan’s Department Store the must-shop-at experience for Harbor City’s fashion elite by being slow-witted. “Isn’t this perfect?”
Devin prowled across the office, every step closer making the color rise in her olive-complected cheeks, but she didn’t give even an inch of ground. That fact excited him as much as the memory of her smooth skin under his tongue. “Don’t worry, boss, we’ll have this case solved before you know it.”
“We?” Ryder’s smooth alto tripped over the one syllable word.
“There’s millions of dollars in cash and hundreds of millions in stocks on the line if the deal falls through.” He stopped a few steps away from her, but close enough to peek into the deep V of her black linen blouse and notice the heated flush climbing up her cleavage. Looked like someone wasn’t as unaffected by him as she pretended. “There’s no way this happens without Dylan’s representation every step of the way.”
“Whatever you wish.” She’d recovered enough to sprinkle just the right amount of insincerity in her tone, relaying her feelings on the matter without being openly rude. “You’re the client.”
Devin had been told, subtly and not so subtly, to fuck off too many times to count, but this was the first time that his only response was a twitch behind his zipper.