Join My Newsletter

Excerpt: Flight Risk


What the hell had she been thinking? Haden didn’t do clubs or dinners out with work friends. She didn’t make work friends. She stayed off the radar and out of sight. No social media, no personal email, and no public sightings. Stupid, stupid, stupid. She knew the rules—don’t stay anywhere long enough for them to find you, and never make friends.
Fucking Inferno. The hottest club downtown. Ronnie just had to know a guy who got called in last minute to work the front door. Now, instead of eating out and going to a low-key jazz club after dinner for drinks to celebrate Marie’s birthday, they were going to Inferno. The same Inferno listed in Get Wired as the most technologically savvy club in the US.

Inferno was a cross between chic elegance and social media nirvana. Forget about the society pages; now there were live streams and selfies. The upper deck was VIP members only. The main floor had themed alcoves for wild party photos, a dance floor, and raised seating. The entire place was wired for live streaming bursts on Snapchat.

I mean, what the fuck? If Haden got in, it was over. She’d have to pack up and get out of town ASAP. There was no possibility she’d get away with this level of exposure. She’d not survived the last four years running from Demetri and his crew to get caught now.

So, Haden just wouldn’t get in. Her friends would get over it. Marie would just have to forgive her. Haden had already tried to back out graciously when the venue changed, but no luck. Ronnie had been adamant that they all go—a special Marie-only-turns-thirty-once birthday blowout. Marie had agreed, and assured Haden they could get her in. She’d said something about Haden’s strappy sandals and perfectly fitted low-rise skinny jeans being enough. Whatever. It was not going to happen.

Haden was also running out of IDs. She needed to order a new batch before ditching this place, and new IDs took time. At least the painting was done. A new Holden Sinclair original was ready to ship. She’d just prefer not to rush, which was why she was still in the bathroom twisting her hair into a bun. The bouncer would take one look at her bulky cardigan and schoolmarm up- do and toss her out. She’d be home by ten. That was the plan, anyway.

After giving herself the no-club-will-let-you-in makeover, she headed back to the table. By a weird trick of acoustics, she could actually hear her friends as she walked down the hallway
back to the dining room. Haden caught some of their conversation. Their table was stuck in the worst possible location, but it was great for eavesdropping.

“I can’t believe she’s wearing that,” Jen said. “You told her where we’re going, right?”

“Chill out, Jen,” Marie said. “She’s new to town and didn’t know what club wear is like here.”

Jen scoffed. “We barely got her into the restaurant. I mean, look where they put us. We’re not going to be able to get her in to the club.”

“We’ll stand in front of her. The bouncer won’t notice,” Marie offered.

Ronnie laughed. “Rocky will notice. I was just so excited when he texted I forgot what Haden was wearing.”

Marie sighed. “It’s just a sweater—the jeans are hot.”
Jen snorted.
“Look, if she doesn’t get in she and I—” Marie started, but Ronnie cut her off.
“Oh, no,” Ronnie said. “You’re not bailing on me and hitting the jazz club. If Haden

doesn’t get in, she goes home. You can’t leave.”
Haden wished she could see the look on Jen’s face. She was sure the six-foot-tall blonde

Amazon was offended by her mousy friend’s dismissal—as if Jen alone wasn’t good enough to go clubbing with.

“Sorry, Jen,” Ronnie said, trying to back-peddle a bit. “I just mean Marie can’t ditch us. You piss off the bartenders and they never hear me over the loud music. Marie is the best at ordering our drinks.”

“I don’t piss off the bartenders,” Jen said, a bit louder than before.

“Shhhh,” Marie said, stifling a laugh, then added, “Yes, you do, chica. Every. Damn. Time.”

Grumbling, Jen muttered, “Who even owns a cardigan?”
“Lots of people,” Ronnie said, “but not anyone who wants to get into Inferno.” “What’s taking her so long?” Jen asked. “How much time does it take to pee?”
“Jen,” Marie admonished. “Haden’s been gone like two minutes.”
“Whatever,” Jen said.
Haden would have to tell Marie to avoid that table in the future, if she had a choice; it
really was ridiculous how well she’d heard their conversation. Unfortunately, she couldn’t wait any longer. It was time to head to Inferno.

“Holy fuck,” Jen muttered as Haden came into view. “That’s not getting in.”

“Ready?” Marie asked as Haden approached, clearly ignoring Jen’s comment and Haden’s newly non-club-friendly up-do.

Haden nodded. “I can’t wait!”

Ronnie gave Jen the side eye but didn’t say anything. Haden just had to remind herself that not getting in was the plan. Which was easier said than done. All day she’d thought, what would one night out matter? It wasn’t like Demetri was going to be clubbing in Chicago. According to the society pages, he was in Spain for the summer. But now that they were going to Inferno, the chances of getting caught were ten-fold. Nothing online ever went away. If by some miracle Haden made it into the club, she’d have to keep her head down and avoid selfie takers at all cost.

“Okay, let’s do this,” Ronnie said.

Like her, the other women were all in their mid to late twenties. Haden’s current ID had her age at twenty-nine, which was two years older than her real age.

Haden slung her messenger bag across her body, again noticing that everyone else carried tiny clutches that would barely hold their phones. It was ridiculous just how differently they were all dressed.

Jen was the CEO’s administrative assistant. At six-foot, she was taller than Haden, but not by much. The killer heels she wore tonight had her towering over everyone. She was dressed in a very low-cut red dress that did the most for her cleavage. Her long blonde hair was styled to perfection. It fell in soft curls down her back.

Ronnie was an engineer, and more than a little mousy. She had long brown hair and a decent body, but her blue dress probably looked better on the hanger than it did on her. She didn’t have the confidence to wear it. It just hung on her like a lifeless sack.

Marie was petite, barely five-foot-four in killer high heels. Her jet-black hair was stick straight, but it contrasted nicely with her small frame. Tonight, she was wearing a form-fitting green dress that hugged her body like a glove.

Haden with her skinny jeans, strappy sandals, and cream cardigan was so not like the others. Maybe she should pull her hair back down at least, but then she remembered she planned
to dye her hair again this weekend. The temporary brown color she normally used had started to fade back to its more natural reddish hue. So she ditched that idea, preferring to hide the reddening locks as much as possible.

The girls took an Uber down to Inferno. Haden always programmed her phone with the number for the largest taxi service whenever she moved to a new area. Uber and Lyft weren’t an option. She didn’t want to register her PayPal account with either service, and a taxi would take cash. Luckily, she had enough cash on hand, since she wouldn’t need it for drinks.

There was a long line waiting to get in, which would suck to wait in, only to be turned away. Thankfully, Ronnie’s bouncer friend would make this quick and easy.

“Don’t worry, I see Rocky,” Ronnie said. “But first we have to make some changes.” “What?” Haden said, as Ronnie and Jen started circling her.
Marie slipped Haden’s messenger bag off her shoulder. “I’ll hold this.”
“The hair,” Jen said. “It has to come down.”

“And maybe,” Ronnie said as she yanked Haden’s cardigan at the neck. “If we can stretch this out and do an off-the-shoulder look?”

“Hey,” Haden said, trying to pull away.

Ronnie ignored her. In a completely serious tone, she said, “If only we had a belt, we could make a micro mini dress out of this thing and ditch the jeans.”

“What is this?” Jen asked, pulling at Haden’s bustier strap.

Unlike a normal bra, it had a tiny pink bow at the top of the strap.

“It’s a Reed’s bustier,” Haden admitted.

“And you’re hiding it with this horrid cardigan?” Jen said. “It has to go.”

Before Haden realized what was happening, Jen grabbed the hem of her sweater and pulled

it up over her head. At the same time, the bun was dislodged, letting her mess of wild curls unfurl around her. A guy who walked by whistled.

“This will get you in,” Ronnie said. “It isn’t chic, but it’s edgy as hell.”

Haden stood there, somewhat shell shocked. She felt a little naked as her black bustier was now revealed to the world. She’d worn underwear as outerwear before, but nothing this revealing. The bustier was edged with a delicate ruffle and dotted with tiny pink bows at the end of every boned seam.

Jen raised one of her overly tweezed eyebrows. She gave Haden an approving once over and nodded her agreement.

Haden pushed her hair out of her eyes, remembering why she never wore it all the way down.

“Holy shit,” Marie exclaimed. “You’re so getting in now.”

Haden took her bag back and stuffed her sweater into it before slinging it back over her shoulder. She gave Marie the side eye, but her friend was too wrapped up in the moment to notice Haden’s unease. If this wasn’t Marie’s birthday, Haden would just ditch them, but she’d promised to help her friend celebrate, so bad idea or not Haden was going to Inferno.

“Let’s do it,” Haden said, attempting a smile while trying to figure out just how quickly she could pack up and get out of town if the evening went sideways.

Haden couldn’t help feeling a certain sense of dread. It doubled when the bouncer scanned her ID. The clock was now ticking. Even if it was highly unlikely that Demetri would ever see the footage from the club’s live feed, she couldn’t chance it. She would pack the painting up tomorrow and email in her resignation.

Haden had been running for too long to forget all the rules. This would be her one and only night out. So she knew she’d better make it count. Tomorrow she’d start lining up her next job, and by Sunday she’d be in the wind again, as if Haden Smith had never existed.


“It’s been eight months. Snap the fuck out of it already,” Bishop chided. “You know, you’ve now officially not had her longer than you had her.”

“Fuck you,” Drake said, not looking up from his paperwork.

It wasn’t like his friend was wrong. Sarah had been his entire world for six months, and now she’d been dead for eight. It sounded so pathetic when he thought about it like that, but she’d been different. No, he’d been different with her. There’d been no more screwing around with the hot tail that frequented his club. He’d actually considered settling down. Now she was just gone. Fucking drunk driver.

Bishop sighed. “Look, I’m not telling you to forget her, but she’s gone. It was tragic, but
you’re not dead. You weren’t even in the car.”
Drake held up his hand. “Stop. You’ve made your point.”
Drake didn’t want to think about the crash. He’d been so furious when he realized she’d

just taken off. Her last text was, “It’s something I have to do. Be back tonight.”
“The driver was investigated,” Bishop said. “He was just a stupid kid who had too much to

drink. It was a senseless accident that killed two people.”
Drake knew all of this. The local police did their job, but Sarah’s text had been out of the

blue. What had she had to do that she couldn’t wait an hour for him to be home and go with her? He’d broken one of his own rules and asked Bishop to look into it. But FBI Special Agent Scott Bishop couldn’t investigate a simple drunk driving case, and there was nothing to suggest Sarah’s errand would’ve led to a federal crime. It was a no-win situation, but maybe that was why he couldn’t let her go. The mystery of what she’d meant in that last text haunted him. He’d not been able to protect her from herself, and that pissed him off.

He knew his obsession wasn’t healthy. Bishop was right. Drake just needed to get back out there. Perhaps he needed a meaningless club hook-up. He was sure there’d be lots of girls here tonight. He could take one back to his apartment in the city, fuck her, then send her home. That wouldn’t put Sarah out of his mind, but it might help to start moving her memory into the past. Drake couldn’t bring her back. He couldn’t protect her or save her or live happily-ever-fucking- after with her. He had to let her go, or he might find himself lost to the world like his ex-Ranger buddy, Vincent York.

It had been two years since Vincent decided he’d live off the land, giving up all worldly comforts. Vincent’s trigger had been the final mission where they all almost died, and Alex, Drake’s head of security, had lost a leg.

Drake had opened Inferno after the cluster fuck that was his military career ended. Bishop went into the FBI. Alex started PT. And after six months on the outside, Vincent had dropped off the grid.

The real question: was Drake going to end up like Vincent or start living his life again? “I assume you aren’t just here to rile me up?” Drake asked.
“No. Tyson and the boys talked me into getting them free passes,” Bishop said. “They’re

all out there living it up. Join us.”
“Great, so the place will be crawling with feds,” Drake said, laughing so Bishop would know he was kidding.

“Good thing you actually do background checks on the crew then, huh?”
“Fuck you, wise-ass. My team is top-notch.”
Bishop’s jovial demeanor changed, as if he was reluctant to say something. “I got a call

today from General Davis.”
Drake’s back straightened. Davis had been their commanding officer, who was

instrumental in getting the court martial dropped. “What did he say?”
“They’ve narrowed down the list of cartels that could be responsible for the attack. All

blood trails seem to point to Ortega.”
Drake couldn’t believe it. They’d researched all the major players before the mission, but

were never able to narrow down the funding source. “Fuckin A. How close are they to busting the ring?”

“He couldn’t give me specifics. He only called because of a connection to Vincent’s past,” Bishop said.

Vincent’s past? His buddy had been one of high society’s golden boys. How was that connected to a Spanish drug cartel? “Explain.”

“Ortega has a US born son, Demetri Ivanov. That son’s mother is Russian. She’s the heir of a major oligarch dynasty and may have socialized with the Yorks. There’s no direct connection to Vincent yet. Davis was just feeling me out on the subject.”

“I don’t remember a son being listed in our intel.”

Bishop shrugged. “Apparently the lineage was a closely held secret. Recently, however, the son has started taking an active role. His tie to Vincent moved the Ortegas to the top of the general’s list, which lead to an analyst taking a closer look at the seized financials.”

“So some jackass out there is still trying to pin this on us?” Drake asked.

“They don’t have a case, but that hatred may have led them to the truth. I’ll take that as a win.”

“I’ll drink to that.”

“Does that mean you’ll join us?” Bishop asked. Drake shrugged.

“Don’t shrug. You own the hottest club in town. Take a break and enjoy it.”

Fuck, what did he have to lose? Maybe he’d find a quick one-night-stand while he was at it. He couldn’t keep dwelling on the past—his failed mission or his love life. He had to let Sarah go. “First round’s on me,” Drake said.

“Fuck, yeah, now we’re talking,” Bishop said.

Drake followed Bishop back through the outer office hallway, which exited onto the VIP deck. He almost immediately regretted his decision to join his friend. It was as if the club was too loud, but Drake knew it was his mood, not the club’s sound system.

From his prime spot at the rail on the VIP deck, Drake could see the entire club floor below. Bishop joined Drake.

“It’s packed tonight,” Bishop said. Glancing over his shoulder, he nodded toward three men lounging in Drake’s corner alcove. “The guys love it. They can’t wait to try the nod.”

Drake chuckled. He hadn’t intended the nod to become a thing. During the design phase, Drake had the architect put in a raised seating area in full view of the dance floor and VIP deck. It was designed to drive interest in premium memberships to the club and allow the club crowd to see, but not touch, any celebrities who wanted to visit Inferno while in town. The problem was, most of the premium members were local and wanted the ability to bring club girls, or boys, back to the VIP deck with them.

Eventually, Drake decided to allow the nod on Friday nights. It was the only night during the week that the general public was allowed up to the VIP deck. The catch was you had to be invited by a member, which led to a lot of chaos until the rules were put in place.

The main rule was that members could only select from the raised pit, and the pit seats were by invite only. The system may have seemed elitist, but Drake was selling a fantasy at the club. He wanted the right look within the VIP section. Clubbers knew the dress code. If they wanted a chance at the VIP invite, they had to dress to be noticed.

No matter how he tried to spin the weekly event, the members treated it like a meat market. The club girls weren’t much better. They considered it a badge of honor to be picked first.
As with every Friday since Drake implemented the gimmick, Inferno was crowded.

According to JC, his floor manager, a selfie pic had already gone viral. Once the girls were able to come upstairs to the VIP deck, it would only get wilder.

“Does anyone in the pit look interesting tonight?” Bishop asked.

Drake had scanned the area, but no one had caught his eye. “Not really,” Drake said. “They’re all the same.”

“What about her?” Bishop jutted his chin toward a leggy blonde at the bar.

“Hell, no,” Drake said, then barked out a laugh.

The blonde was ripping into the bartender. She was a real ball buster, not his type at all, and Bishop knew it.

“She’d be perfect for your man, Tyson,” Drake said.

“You first tonight, buddy,” Bishop said, slapping him on the back. Drake glanced around the VIP deck. He hadn’t noticed until now, but he was the only one

at the rail. There were a few of the newer members who kept leaning near, but none of them took the rail.

“I spread the word that you wanted first dibs,” Bishop said.

Great, that meant Drake and the girl he selected would get splashed on the society pages and reporters would camp out all night waiting to see if he took her home.

“No pressure,” Drake said.

“None,” Bishop said. “But you’ve only got until five past eleven. That’s when they were told the rail opens tonight.”

Bishop walked back over to his friends, leaving Drake at the railing alone.

Five minutes. Normally that would have been plenty of time, but Drake dreaded his task. Absently, he watched as the blonde made her way back to one of the booths in the pit. The pit had its own wait staff, and the drinks on Friday nights were comped. What was she doing at the bar?

Drake took out his phone and texted JC.

DRAKE: Who’s serving the pit?

JC: Paula and Joy, why?

DRAKE: Pit girl was at the bar. Have Mario see if they need an assist. JC: 10-4

A few seconds later, Drake watched as Mario, the club’s beverage manager, exited the kitchens. Mario pulled Paula aside. She casually nodded toward the blonde’s booth. Mario exchanged a few words with the server, then headed toward the blonde and her friends.

If the blonde and her friends weren’t happy, Mario would take care of it. Better him than Drake. The blonde was hot, no doubt, but aggressive women weren’t Drake’s thing. Not that he wanted a meek submissive, either.

As Mario talked with the ladies, Drake noticed the booth only had four girls, which was unusual. He encouraged the bouncers to fill the five seats, but there were only three other girls with the blonde. He’d mention it to JC later.

The blonde’s friend, dressed in green, sat back, giving Drake a much better view of the fourth girl.

Two of the three women were dressed like the blonde—high-end cocktail dresses, the usual club look. But the friend by the green dress looked nothing like the rest. His team was instructed to allow in the striking and different. If they pulled off the look and made heads turn, they were in. A look that men would write songs for, or fight wars for, was how he jokingly put it. The girl in the barely legal black bustier was the reason they’d been selected for the pit.

Her hair was a wild tangle of brownish-red curls that fell over her shoulders, just long enough to kiss the top of her breasts. She was sporting low-for-show skinny jeans and a black bustier that hugged all the right places.

Mario must have said something funny. All the girls laughed—wait, did she just check out Mario? Whoa, Drake, pull your shit together. She’s not your girl. What the fuck does it matter if she checked out Mario?

Drake opened his messenger app. He texted Alex, who was working from home tonight.

DRAKE: ID the girls at booth nine. ALEX: Copy that

ALEX: Anything I should know? DRAKE: No, just curious

ALEX: Indeed

Drake could hear the sarcasm in Alex’s text. Drake snapped a quick picture. He didn’t
often ask for details, usually it was when there was a problem. Never before to check out a woman.

Did he feel bad about that? Not tonight. He needed to take the plunge. He couldn’t wallow in his misery forever.

Drake stared, probably longer than he should have, but something about her called to him. He wanted to hear her voice and see her smile at him the way she smiled at Mario. He liked the way her lips curled up and imagined how soft they would be when he kissed her.

She was laughing again, then she leaned forward and said something to Mario.
What the fuck was he still doing down there?
Drake wanted to be the one she laughed with—and maybe did other things with as well.

Would she be the one who broke his lonely nights streak? Could he take her home and drive her mad with desire? Would she scream his name and beg for release as he pushed her over the top?

He’d sure as hell like to find out.

As if on cue, she looked up. Without thinking, he held his drink up in a mock toast and nodded, letting her know he was interested—inviting her up to the VIP deck as the coveted first pick.

She looked away.

For a moment, Drake wasn’t sure what had just happened. It never occurred to him that she’d turn down his invitation. He owned the goddamn club—which obviously meant nothing to her. He was frozen, until he heard Bishop chuckling. His friend had come back to the rail just in time to notice Drake’s epic fail.

“You know, buddy,” Bishop said, clearly trying not to laugh. “You just need to get back up on that horse. One of them is gonna take you up on that offer.”

“Fuck you, jackass,” Drake said.

“She actually turned him down?” Drake heard one of Bishop’s agent friends say.

Drake ignored them. Obviously, she just hadn’t seen him. No one ever turned him down, right?

Bishop’s brow was furrowed, giving Drake a mock serious expression. “Why don’t we clear out her friends for you. Make it a little easier.” Drake rolled his eyes.

Snapping his fingers, Bishop motioned for his buddies to step up to the rail.

“Let’s help Drake out. She’s at that table down there,” Bishop pointed to table nine. “Let’s clear it out. The one in the bustier is Drake’s, but the others are fair game.”

Drake ignored Bishop and his FBI pals as they played matchmaker. What the fuck was Mario still doing in the pit? Drake texted JC.

DRAKE: Get Mario out of the pit. JC: OK … Do I even want to ask?

Drake ignored JC’s question.

One of Bishop’s friends nodded to his girl’s mousey friend. But unlike the one he picked, this girl looked like she’d just won a million dollars.

Why did he always have to pick the complicated ones?

This website uses cookies for a better browsing experience, to analyze site traffic (anonymous IPs) to improve site performance, and assist in marketing efforts. Find out more about how cookies are used on this site and how you can manage cookies in your browser by reading the Cookie Policy.