Engaged to a billionaire; in love with the gardener. Which will she choose – or will her choice be made for her?
Ever Locked by Jeannie Kaye
Sometimes one must sacrifice everything for love – even love itself.
Something doesn’t add up with her engagement to Dallas billionaire, Trip Dunnavin. After he slipped the five-carat Dunnavin diamond on her finger, his winsome charm dried up, only making a rare and temporary return when she tried to break it off. Now all he does is jab her with complaints about her inadequacies, eroding her once very strong sense of self. The fact that he didn’t argue when she moved to Austin for the summer, nor does he call her for days on end, feeds her fears and keeps her wading in a sea of rejection.
When she meets Alonzo Locke, she doesn’t expect him to be the man of her dreams, nor does she want to fall in love. But the penniless, gardener, raising his little brother and working his way toward law school, captivates her like no other.
A fugitive, wanted for crimes he didn’t commit, Alonzo Locke lives under a false identity and keeps himself under the radar. One day, he plans to make certain justice is served on the man responsible.
When Iris traipses into Zo’s life, he can’t stop himself from falling, even though she wears that enormous rock on her finger—a ring she clearly wants off.
Realizing what she really wants, Iris expects it will difficult to break off her engagement. What she didn’t expect is that it would be impossible. Though she can never tell Zo the truth, she will sacrifice everything – even herself – to keep him safe.
Read An Excerpt:
Zo whistled when he pulled up to Ella’s residence. Was everyone in Dallas a billionaire? Huge iron gates rolled open, separating two halves of an enormous green shield decorated with an ornate R and two fighting lions facing each other. It looked like some sort of medieval family crest. He’d seen Ella wear a necklace with that emblem from time to time.
Her hair up in rollers, Ella greeted him in the front foyer and ushered him into a bedroom on the first floor where his tuxedo and accessories were laid out.
After getting dressed, Zo sat down on a couch in the bedroom and attempted to calm his nerves. What would he say to Iris? Would she be willing to talk? What would he see in her eyes? Love? Disinterest? Had she moved on?
Worse, how would Trip react to his presence?
Moments later, a servant appeared to accompany Zo back to the foyer. He watched in amazement as a dazzling Ella walked down the winding staircase in an exquisite, jewel-encrusted gown. She would outshine most every girl there—except, perhaps, his Iris.
When Ella arrived at the bottom step, he held out his hand. “You look stunning.”
“You look pretty incredible yourself. Can’t wait to show you off.”
Once settled into the back of the limo, Zo asked, “Why don’t you have a thousand guys beating down your door?”
Ella shrugged. “It’s well known that I don’t date.”
“It’s my heart-protection plan.”
“Aren’t you the one who told me to date?”
“Yeah. I didn’t want you to end up like me.”
They stepped out of the limo and entered the hotel. The sight of thousands of black ties and glittery gowns bombarded Zo’s senses.
“Follow me.” Ella led the way to an escalator. Up they went, then down a long hallway to a small ballroom, which held a more subdued, formal crowd. They ordered champagne at the bar then stood off to the side, while Ella filled Zo in on who was who.
Just then, the crowd parted.
Zo’s heart stopped.
Exquisite. Like a Grecian goddess, Iris floated through the throng. Half her silky hair was piled high on her head. The rest cascaded down her back and shoulders in a river of ebony. Her gown fit snugly on her body and set off her blue eyes like jewels.
Iris was the most beautiful vision he’d ever seen. Yet . . . something was not quite right.
Her face, a bit thinner, held a haughtiness Zo had never seen before. A lofty superiority emanated from her. She held her head high, her eyes showing a mixture of boredom and disdain.
She doesn’t even look like my Iris.
People bowed politely in greeting, but the couple barely acknowledged them. It was clear to Zo these two knew they were at the top of the food chain. Iris looked as if she fit in perfectly with this highbrow crowd.
She sure did a good job disguising this side of herself—the side that chose her billionaire boyfriend and extravagant lifestyle over him.
“There they are, the duke and duchess.” Ella leaned close to his ear. “She isn’t allowed to talk to me in public, at least according to Queen Bee Dunnavin. But that doesn’t stop me. Let’s go.” She grabbed his arm and strode toward the couple. Zo felt too stunned to resist.
When they reached them, Ella stood tall and put on the same airs as the royal couple. “Well, look who’s here. What an immense surprise to see you two at a social event.”
Pain crossed Iris’s face when she saw Ella, followed by panic at the sight of Zo. She immediately donned a cloak of indifference and turned her face away.
Trip’s lip curled. He blatantly perused Ella from head to waist then raised his eyebrows. “I see you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel these days, Ella.” He flicked a scornful glare at Zo.
“Oh, Tripper.” Ella laughed. “You might be able to control others with your insults, but don’t forget, I knew you before you became Billionaire Bob. You don’t intimidate me one bit, and I doubt your words have any effect on Zo, either.”
Trip’s anger flared. “You’re dating this loser now?”
“That’s none of your business. But for Iris’s sake, I’ll answer. No. Zo and I are just friends.” Before Trip could respond, Ella squeezed Zo’s arm. “Gotta go,” she whispered. “I’ll find you later.” Without a word of explanation, she disappeared into the sea of ebony tuxedos and glimmering gowns.
What’s going on? Zo had no time to wonder. A handsome man with a devil-may-care look stepped up to their circle. “Good evening, Trip.”
Irritation flared in Trip’s eyes at the interruption, but he chased it away with a smooth smile. “Well, well, if it isn’t the devil himself.”
The newcomer sneered, then smiled with obvious-but-devious delight at Iris. “Iris! It’s lovely to see you again. Still chained to my pathetic cousin, I see.”
“Blaze.” Iris gave him a curt nod.
Time to go, Zo thought. He nodded to Iris, who barely acknowledged him. “Excuse me.”
With his stomach in knots, he left the group and went in search of Ella. He made a clean sweep of the second floor but found no sign of his date. Where could she have vanished to?
Zo leaned against the wall and studied the party-goers. He watched Iris as she mingled with the guests, her head aloft. She stood regally near Trip, showing little interest in the gala. Nothing about her appeared anything like his Iris. Her whole demeanor was that of a person he could never love.
So, this is the life she prefers.
Slowly, Zo’s heart released some of its hold on her.
Iris whispered something to Trip and walked away. Trip smiled with a presumptuous gleam and turned to a young blonde, who looked up at him with doe eyes. While the cat’s away . . .
Zo wove his way behind the crowd to avoid Trip’s detection. Across the grand foyer, Iris disappeared into the ladies’ room. He positioned himself in a hallway nearby and waited. His heart hammered with erratic blows. What am I doing here? Once again, he’d let his heart lead his head.
Iris exited the bathroom with a group of girls that followed her like an entourage of handmaidens. Her face was a mask of disinterested annoyance as they clamored for her attention.
When she came within twenty feet of him, Zo checked for Trip, stepped into her path, and motioned toward the hallway. Then he ducked away and waited . . . hoping.
A few minutes later Iris appeared in the hallway, her back ramrod straight. She strode to the end of the hallway and slipped into the recesses, far out of sight of the partygoers.
Zo followed her, unsure of how to talk to this person he barely recognized. When he caught up, he kept a few feet between them and locked his gaze on hers. Her cold gaze made him shudder.
“Iris . . .” Zo swallowed the thickness in his throat. He was certain pain and turmoil filled his face.
Iris paced a few steps. Then she turned and narrowed her eyes. She said nothing. It was as if someone had snatched his Iris away and left this cold replacement. She stood with her back to the wall, staring at him with no hint of emotion.
Zo closed the distance between them; his eyes caressed her face. “You look so beautiful, Iris.”
She blinked. Then her gaze settled on his mouth and she bit her lip. A hint of his Iris surfaced for a moment. She shook her head slightly and took a deep breath.
Encouraged by this small crack in her shell, Zo dropped both hands against the wall on either side of her head. He leaned his face close to hers and placed his cheek against her temple. “You look like my little flower.” Her floral scent made his head swim. “And you smell like my little flower.” He pushed back and looked at her. “But you don’tact like my little flower, Iris. Where are you?”
Suddenly, Iris’s hands darted to the back of his head. She pulled him toward her face. “Kiss me, Zo,” she whispered breathlessly.
Zo braced his arms against the wall to resist her advances. “Iris, stop. I can’t do that.” He would not be her illicit affair, stealing kisses and letting her string along his heart. No. It was all or nothing. He would never be the other man. It went against everything he believed. Everything he wanted. “You’re not mine to kiss.”
“Please, Zo, I need you.” All pretenses had vanished. Iris grasped his hair and yanked his head down with a painful force.
Zo shoved off the wall, but she held fast. Reaching behind his head, he took hold of her wrists and removed her hands from his hair. He searched her eyes. Crazed. Unstable. He held her wrists together in front of her face. “Iris, what has happened to you?”
A fierce snarl came from her throat—unrecognizable and full of venom. “What happened to me? You really wanna know? I’ll tell you. You! You happened to me. You lured me into this hallway and bombarded me with temptation. Did you come here tonight to taunt me? Is that why you’re here—to rub into my face everything I lost?”
With every word, her anger blazed hotter, and the expression on her face grew more irrational. “Well, guess what, Alonzo Locke?” Her hand reached out and flew into his face with a loud smack. “I hate you! I wish I’d never met you. I hate everything about you! I hate the way you look. I hate the way you smell. I hate the way you make me feel. I hate every single thing about you, and I never want to see you again!”
Zo stood stock-still, unable to process or respond. His face burned hot where she’d hit him.
Iris gasped. She covered her mouth with both hands, her eyes wide and shocked. A slight squeal escaped between her fingers. Then she turned and fled.
Drained, Zo leaned against the wall and closed his eyes. He wasn’t sure how long he was there before Tag found him. “Ella’s waiting in the limo.”
He found Ella in the car, trembling.
“You okay?” He slid into the seat next to her.
“I’ve got to get out of this town. That was way too close.”
He put his arm around her shoulder. “Want to talk about it, Ella?” Zo was in no mood to hear her story, but she deserved a true friend.
She shook her head. “No. This is my personal battle.” She snuggled against him on the ride home. Slowly, her shaking tapered off.
By the time they arrived home, Zo had settled his heart somewhat. He and Ella crossed the foyer and parted to their separate rooms. “Ella . . .” Zo began.
She paused on the stairs and looked back. “What is it?”
“You were right. It’s time I let Iris go. She’s not the same person I fell in love with.”
With that, he slipped into his room and closed the door, shutting out the last ray of hope.
Jeannie Kaye Fulbright
Jeannie is many things – wife, mother, entrepreneur, life coach, personal trainer, speaker – but at the heart of all things, she is a writer. From the University of Texas student newspaper and award-winning science textbooks to romance novels, Jeannie’s writing continues to evolve and diversify.
Jeannie is best known as Jeannie Fulbright, author of seven science textbooks, 14 complementary workbooks and seven accompanying audiobooks. The books, of which nearly one million have sold, have won awards every year since 2007, including Reader’s Choice Awards, Old Schoolhouse Review and EE awards and Practical Homeschooling Reader Awards. Jeannie’s science curriculum is one of the most highly rated in the nation.
With her children nearly grown and the last textbook written, Jeannie now has the opportunity to pursue her long-time dream of writing fiction. Drawing upon her masters-level work in counseling, life coaching and marital teaching experience, Jeannie is committed to writing provocative romance stories that offer substance by dealing with real life issues, including marriage, personal and relational success and emotional wellbeing.
To differentiate her educational books from her romance novels, Jeannie writes fiction under the pseudonym Jeannie Kaye (www.jeanniekaye.com). It’s been a well-received transition – one of her early, unpublished works won the ACFW First Impressions award. Ever Locked, the first in a gripping series, is available in early 2015.
Jeannie has been featured in Georgia Home Educators Association Magazine, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Homeschool Enrichment Magazine and many state organization magazines. She’s also a well-known keynote speaker at conventions nationwide. Jeannie, a life coach with a BA in Psychology, speaks on homeschooling, parenting and college preparation.
Jeannie was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, grew up in Austin, Texas and lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She graduated from the University of Texas in 1991 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and became a life coach in 2013. She is passionately in love with her husband, who has been romancing her since they met in college. Together they have four children – two teens and two new adults – Jeannie’s very favorite people on the planet.
When Jeannie is not working, she can be found boating with her kids, traveling or writing. Always writing.