Welcome to another #FreeREADFriday. Today, I want to introduce you to the amazing Mac McNeil and the woman that drives him mad, Lexie Trevena.
In the Shadow of Pride, Book 4 of the Shadows and Light series is a book you just can't miss. This romance journey will not be an easy road, but I promise you will fall head over heels in love with Mac and Lexie. This was one of the hardest stories for me to write The End. Even after spending the last two months re-writing and editing, I'm still struggling to allow this couple out into the world. But, they deserve that moment. You can find In the Shadow of Pride on Amazon Pre-Order, release date, 02/23/2021
Before I gust all over Mac and Lexie, I'm just going to give you a chance to meet them yourself. Just a quick reminder. In the Shadow of Pride is on sale for a wonderful price. Please grab your copy before it returns to it's regular price of $4.99. I really hope you enjoy Chapter One. Come back next week for Chapter Two. Mac and Lexie were made for each other.
If you need something to read before Pride is available, I recommend checking out Mac's brother, Jason McNeil and Sarah Tu in In the Shadow of Greed, also on sale. They are all over this story.
Hugs to All,
Nancy C. Weeks
In the Shadow of Pride, Book 4 Shadows and Light
By Nancy C. Weeks
October 2012, Austin, Texas
Just when she thought the day couldn’t get any worse, fate stepped in and placed the jerk in her line of sight.
Special Agent-in-Charge Mac McNeil.
He stood several yards from her, his piercing, hazel eyes locked onto hers. Lexie Trevena stared at the ground, cutting off their connection.
A warm gust of air blew across the cemetery, surrounding her with a hint of freshly mowed grass and the roses from Rico’s coffin. The two scents had always brought a smile to her face, but from this day forward, they would yank her back to this place, this moment.
Taking a shaky breath, Lexie peered into the freshly dug grave inches from her. The crowd behind her began to shift, making their way back up the hill toward the line of cars. Her best friends, Cole Guzman and Marcus Aziz, stood behind her. Cole cleared his throat and eased next to her, taking her hand in his.
“You don’t have to stay. I—”
“The café can survive a little longer without us,” he interrupted.
“You can’t be closed during your busiest time of day. I’ll be fine.” Lexi glanced over Cole’s shoulder at the sea of mourners and planted a fake smile on her face. “I’m just waiting until some of the people leave.”
“We’ll take off if you promise to drop by and eat something,” Marcus chimed in.
“Maybe you can just bring me a sandwich at home. I need to be alone for a while. You understand?”
She reached up and kissed Cole on the cheek and repeated the gesture with Marcus. The men’s expressions were so easy to read, and their concern touched her heart. They wanted to make this all better. That was impossible.
“If you change your mind, or if you need one of us, just call, Lexie.” Cole tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear then reached for her hand.
“Go before you make me cry.”
They didn’t move. The push had to come from her. “I’m going to be fine, and you both will be a large part of that tomorrow, the day after, and months from now. I crazy love you both.”
She gave them another quick hug before they strolled up the hill.
Two groundskeepers stood off to her left, waiting patiently to lower the coffin into the ground. The thought of Rico’s strong amazing body buried under six feet of Texas clay was hard to digest. As long as she stood rooted to that spot, her nightmare couldn’t turn into her reality.
Mac McNeil trudged his way through the crowd of mourners toward her. She twisted away from him. Escape. Before she could make a move, a man whose name she couldn’t recall blocked her path, placing a hand on her arm.
“Lexie. My name is Lexie.”
“Lexie, I’m so sorry for your loss. Your husband was a good man, a fine agent. He’ll be missed.”
He seemed to want some sort of acknowledgement from her, but she had nothing to give. He finally dropped his hand to his side and left her alone.
He was a good man, a fine agent. He’ll be missed.
How was her broken heart supposed to be consoled by strangers? Lexie had no idea what to do or say to the people around her. She couldn’t focus long enough to reason it out. Grief festered into a pool of staggering anger, sending her emotions into a tailspin. It was all so senseless.
The moment Rico told her he was going back undercover, that voice in her head screamed out, no, don’t leave―the sense of dread overwhelming. It was as if her heart knew this day would come, but her pleas, arguments, nothing she said kept him from walking out that door.
Out of complete desperation, Lexie had done the unthinkable. She’d stormed into the office of Rico’s boss and handler, Mac McNeil, and again she tried reason. Every ounce of her temper came out to play that day. Rico was so furious she had gone to his boss, it took him days before he was calm enough to talk to her. She crossed an unforgiveable line in Rico’s eyes.
Now the man who’d ordered Rico into that miserable alley off some nameless street in southeast D.C. stood only a few feet away from her, eyeing her with concern, and probably just waiting for her to go ballistic.
There would be no tantrum today, not here. She refused to break down. Rico might not have known the men and women who stood at his grave, but they came from miles around to honor one of their own, one of the fallen. If they could be here, honoring her husband with such strength and respect, then so could she. She would swallow sob after sob until her throat was bone dry, but not one tear would fall onto her cheeks.
Her husband of only twenty months couldn’t be in that oak coffin sitting on the rack. There had to be some mistake.
She hugged her waist as she tried to take control of her emotions. How she wished this horrible day would just evaporate like a bad dream. She could almost hear Rico’s deep, teasing laugh. He would call her his drama princess then kiss her senseless, chasing away her fear.
She couldn’t stand glued to this spot all day like a statue. Move.
Settling her nerves, she took a step back and bumped into a solid wall of man. Mac McNeil. His hand came at her elbow until she found her footing in the gravel, then he dropped it to his side.
“If you say you’re sorry for my loss, I swear I’ll give you a nose bleed.”
“Tell me what I can do for you, Lexie.”
“Make this go away. Give me Rico back.”
A wall of silence surrounded them until Mac broke it. “I can give you a ride home.”
“Got a ride. Someone from the protocol office arranged a limo.”
“I’ll ride with you, see you home.”
Lexie turned to face Mac. His eyes displayed such sadness and grief. He was hurting. Rico and Mac weren’t just colleagues but friends, and in their line of work, that friendship almost made them brothers.
Today, her pain and grief trumped his. Unable to keep the words in her head where they belonged, she whispered, “I hate you, Mac McNeil.”
“I know. Put it aside for now.”
She scanned the crowd that still mingled. All their eyes were on her, and she couldn’t catch her breath. In fact, she couldn’t remember the last time her lungs weren’t screaming for air. “I can’t…”
“I can’t watch them… I don’t want my last memory of Rico to be his coffin lowering into the ground.”
“I’m going to walk you to the car, Lexie.”
Mac placed a hand at her waist, and before she knew what was happening, she was sitting next to him as the limo pulled away from the curb. It wasn’t until she was standing at her door that her focus returned.
“What?” she said, staring at Mac.
“I said, give me your key.”
Lexie pulled the keys from her clutch purse. “I’m fine now. You don’t have to wait.”
“Just give me the key.”
One glance at the tightness around his eyes and his arched brows, she dropped the keys into his palm. There wasn’t any fight left in her.
At least it wasn’t hard walking into the condo. Lexie had moved into the place after Rico left. Their first apartment was only one room and a small bath. Once she’d found this place, she set out to furnish it with items she loved, waiting for the day Rico could add his touch to it. But that day never came. Rico had never set foot into their new home.
As she dropped her purse on the kitchen table, the stress in her shoulder muscles eased a little from the familiar sweet scent of the rosemary that grew on her kitchen counter. The tension instantly returned when she glanced behind her at the man who stood in her doorway. How was she going to get rid of Mac?
Her eyes fell on the organized clutter sprawled over half the table. She had been working on a midterm project when Mac showed up at her door five nights ago and told her about Rico.
Her life at the University of Texas seemed like another lifetime. Her dreams for the future, the strong drive to become an engineer, had drained out of her with Rico’s death. Exams were a couple of weeks away and she didn’t give a damn.
“Thanks for seeing me home,” she tried to dismiss Mac.
“Is there anyone I can call?” His frame continued to block the doorway, but he didn’t enter the apartment. “Your parents, family?”
“Rico was my family.”
“And he asked me to look after you.” He took a step into the room. “Rico never mentioned anything about your parents. Maybe I can call—”
“My father was out of the picture before I was born. My mom and I aren’t close. The less I see of her, the better.” Lexie brushed her hair from her forehead. “My friends, Marcus and Cole, are working. I have plans to meet up with them later. I know you are trying to help, but right now, all I need is time to myself.”
“I can’t leave you alone, Lexie. Rico would have my head. So, tell me, what can I do for you?”
What she should have done was close the door. Instead, her mind reeled with too many questions.
“Tell me how my husband died. What went wrong? You promised me you would have his back.” The space between them seemed to disappear. “How in the hell is this having his back?” Before she could stop herself, the anger bottled inside spilled out all over Mac. She shoved both of her hands into his chest, making him stumble backward. “Tell me how I’m supposed to get through the nightmares of Rico dying alone in some filthy alley. And how do I face waking tomorrow knowing I’ll never hold Rico, never feel him next to me?” Lexie choked down a sob. “If you can do that, then you’re welcome to stay.”
“Rico wasn’t alone. I couldn’t prevent his death, but I held onto him until—”
“Where was Jason, his partner? Why didn’t he stop it? And don’t try feeding me that shit about how you can’t discuss details of the investigation. He was my husband and I have the right to know how he really died.”
“Jason went down first. Rico lunged in front of him and took a bullet in his chest.”
The image of Rico throwing his life away for his partner was part of the tortured dreams she had for months. She’d screamed until she was hoarse, but no one would listen to her.
She couldn’t take pride in the sacrifice he’d made for his partner, the job. Instead, her blood boiled within her veins and she had no idea where to place the anger.
The tears she had held back let loose, and she didn’t even attempt to stop them. She was going to hate herself in about five minutes, and maybe for a long time to come, but at that moment, she didn’t care. “Why do you get to have your brother back, and my Rico is in the ground?”
The room grew still, cold. “Would you rather Jason had died alongside Rico? Would that make this easier?”
Her knees trembled. She moved to the sofa in the middle of the room and dropped onto the cushion, covering her face with her hands. What happened to being the better person today for Rico? Just thinking about what he would say if he were there made her cringe.
“I didn’t mean… Rico considered Jason his brother. That makes him family, my family.” As much as Lexie wanted to avoid facing Mac, she lifted her head and met a pair of cold hazel eyes.
She should apologize. In fact, she never should have opened her mouth in the first place.
A tap on the door sounded. Without breaking his hard glare, Mac opened the door. A man Lexie never met before stood at her threshold.
“Is this the Trevena residence?”
Mac positioned his body to block the entrance. “How can we help you?”
“I’m Lexie Trevena.” She rose and took a step toward them.
It took an instant to notice the infant carrier the man held in his left hand. The tiny newborn baby slept on as the adults in the room stared at one another. Lexie wiped the tears from her cheeks with the back of her hand. “I don’t believe we’ve met. How can I help you?”
He held out a business card. “I’m Brad Winston with Winston, Botts, and Flores, a law firm headquartered in Dallas. I’m looking for Rico Trevena.”
Mac moved around the man, his eyes on the carrier. “And what’s your business with—”
“Mac,” she said quietly. “I’m Rico’s wife.” She took the business card he still held out and gave it a brief glance. “Mr. Winston. I buried my husband today.”
“Rico Trevena’s dead?” He shook his head, and the arrogance in his demeanor seemed to drain out of him. “I’m sorry for your loss. Had I known—”
“What business did you have with Rico? He had a lawyer.”
“I don’t represent Mr. Trevena. Would you mind if I put the infant on your sofa?”
“Of course.” Lexie moved out of his way and said nothing as Winston gently settled the carrier on the center cushion. Mac moved behind Lexie. The tension radiating off him made her jumpy as hell.
The lawyer cleared his throat. “I represent the mother of this baby.” He brushed aside Lexie’s textbooks, cleared a spot on the table, and flipped open the latches on his briefcase. “I don’t know how to say this so I’m just going to spit it out. Rico and my client… well, they… that’s Rico’s child, a little boy. His name is Gabriel Trevena and is two days old.”
Rico’s child? The two words stabbed through Lexie’s heart. “That’s not possible.”
Mac stalked across the room until he was nose to nose with the lawyer. The man’s eyes never blinked.
“Look, Winston. I don’t know who the hell you are, but you can’t come in here and tarnish a good man’s name and hurt his wife like this. She’s just returned from his funeral, for God’s sake.”
The attorney took a blue folder and handed it to Mac. The hitch in Mac’s breathing rocked what was left of her foundation.
“I have the paternity test,” Winston said. “Your friend here will confirm that your husband fathered this child. I’m so sorry to have to do this to you, but—”
“What do you want from me?” Lexie choked out.
Again, her lungs emptied. The beautiful, innocent child was living proof that her Rico broke every vow he made to her.
Mac’s arm came around her waist and she jerked away. Her mind screamed get out, everyone get the hell out of my house, but this time, the words wouldn’t come.
“Mrs. Trevena, I don’t mean to hurt you.”
“Then why the hell are you here?”
How Lexie got the question out of her clogged throat was a mystery. At least her words seemed to have some effect. Color drained from the man’s cheeks and his eyes darted toward the door.
“My client is from a very powerful political family. They’re not likely to accept Gabriel because Rico was—”
“Half native Indian and half black? Why, that self-righteous bitch. My husband was good enough to sleep with, but—”
“Mrs. Trevena, my client never wanted children and said her relationship with your husband was a twenty-minute drunken mistake. Rico convinced her to take the pregnancy to term. He was going to raise the child.” He paused and leaned his hip against the table. “I’m sorry to put you through this, especially today. I really had no idea of Rico’s passing, but nothing has changed. If Rico had refused the child, I have instructions to place him with a private state-licensed adoption agency. There are parents on the waiting list for infants.” He replaced the folder and shut the lid of his briefcase.
The room grew still, with only the hum of the refrigerator a few feet away filling the void. Lexie approached the sofa and eased the blanket away from the baby’s face. The lawyer reached for the carrier handle. Before he could lift it, she shoved his hand away. “Wait. Just wait a second.”
The baby had Rico’s nose and full lips, even the slant to his eyes. Every muscle in her body began to shake. Her heart hammered inside her head, and she couldn’t take enough air to fill her lungs. This panic attack was going to be a doozy if she didn’t gain some measure of control. She stood there like a moron, staring at Rico’s son while she mentally put herself through the breathing exercises she had learned years ago to calm her attacks.
“I need… space,” she gasped. The lawyer took a couple of steps away from her. Again, she shut her eyes, focusing on taking in a deep cleansing breath, then letting it out to the count of ten.
Rico, how could you do this to me?
Her eyes popped open and her heart dropped to her stomach. Rico was gone, his coffin covered with six feet of dirt by now. This child was supposed to be theirs. They’d been waiting until Lexie finished her degree. At twenty-two, she thought she had all the time in the world for children.
She couldn’t explain the need, but her arms ached to hold Rico’s son. She reached out her arms but dropped them back to her side. Warmth closed in on her, and she could almost hear what Rico would say to her if he were there.
Take him. Love him.
The four words whispered around her. As quickly as the warmth appeared, it disappeared, leaving her chilled to the bone.
Why didn’t Rico tell her about the baby? He had to have known for months. As soon as that thought sank in, another one slammed into her. She faced Mac. “Did you know about Rico and this woman… and the baby?”
“No, Lexie, I didn’t know about the baby. I never would have allowed you to be blindsided like this.” He stood completely still as if he were choosing his next words very carefully. “I knew Rico. You knew him, too. He drank like a fish—beer, hard liquor, it didn’t matter. That was a part of him neither of us could change, but it didn’t define the man. He didn’t want this to happen like this.”
“Mrs. Trevena, your name is on the custody papers that Rico and my client drew up.”
“What?” Mac and Lexie said simultaneously.
“I know this must be a shock and quite unfair, but if you are at all interested in raising your husband’s child, I have the paperwork with me.”
She didn’t know from where the strength came, but she took another step forward and lifted Gabriel, cradling his tiny body close to her heart.
This was crazy. But was it a mistake? She couldn’t let Rico’s child be placed with some stranger. She had spent enough years living with people who pretended to love children. There was no way she could stand by and chance that Rico’s son got one of the good ones. She touched her lips to Gabriel’s soft, baby-scented cheek. Dear God, could she do this?
“Lexie, think for a moment,” Mac said at her side.
“I don’t want just custody. If I take Rico’s son, I’ll adopt him. His mother doesn’t get to take him back.”
Mr. Winston opened the briefcase again. “The paperwork is already drawn up. All I need is your signature.”
Panic sliced through Lexie. “Don’t you need to clear this with his mother?”
“Mrs. Trevena, like I said, everything has been decided. After you sign the papers, I’ll file them with the courts. There is also a bank account set up for Gabriel’s needs, and yours, of course.”
“You are not paying me to take this child.”
“Of course not. But my client is a wealthy woman. She will not raise Gabriel, but she will provide for his needs.” He headed for the doorway, lifted a large plastic bag, and set it on the kitchen table. “I have a few things you’ll need until you get to the store.” He then laid the folder next to the bag and pulled out a stack of papers all stapled together.
Lexie’s heart went out to the baby in her arms as the words take him, love him pierced her heart. They were Rico’s words. She didn’t doubt it for a moment, even though the very idea pitched her emotions into a whole new plane. Before reason set in, she blurted out, “Where do I sign”
The lawyer pointed to several places in the contract. Lexie reached for the pen.
Mac placed his hand on her elbow. “Lexie, wait. You can’t sign those damn papers without having someone look them over.”
“Look at him, Mac. Gabriel looks just like Rico. This is Rico’s son. If I don’t raise him, love him, then who will?”
Before she lost her nerve, Lexie signed the adoption contract on each line Mr. Winston indicated while Gabriel slept peacefully in her arms. He placed the contract back into his briefcase and headed toward the door. “My client leaves for Japan and will be out of the country for the next several years. If you decide you can’t do this, call the number on the card.”
Just as Mr. Winston reached the door, she called out, “Wait. Could your client just be experiencing postpartum depression?”
“No, Mrs. Trevena. Gabriel’s mother never would have raised her son. I couldn’t even get her to hold him.” A slight smile appeared at the corners of his mouth and warmth entered his eyes. “I truly am sorry for the timing, but I must say I’m content with the arrangements. I think Gabriel is a lucky little boy to have you.”
“Do you want me to send you pictures, updates…?”
“No, that’s not necessary. Gabriel is your son, and you’re his mother.” With a nod, he walked out the door.
Lexie couldn’t help listening to his shoes clicking on the hardwood flooring of the hallway, the fear he would stop, turn around, and take Gabriel so raw. Mac hadn’t moved an inch, the look of shock on his face spreading into every one of Lexie’s nerves.
He straightened his stance. “I can’t believe what you just did. That was the most reckless, ridiculous…”
“Mac McNeil, go. I don’t have the strength to fight with you. I did what I had to do.”
“You have to think this through. Raising a child is for life.”
Lexie cuddled Gabriel against her chest. With her free hand, she opened the door wide. “Please, Mac. Gabriel and I will be fine.” Her knees began to tremble, and she leaned against the door for support.
He took a card from his pocket, scribbled something on the back, and set it on the table. “I don’t know what the hell just happened, but if you need me for anything, call.”
“I won’t call.”
He leaned down and kissed the top of Gabriel’s head. “Rico was one of my best friends. I may not agree with what you just did, but I’m not the enemy, Lexie,” he whispered, his attention focused entirely on the baby. When he raised his head, their eyes held. “I’m here whenever you need me.”
He eased past her and walked out the door. As if on autopilot, Lexie closed the door quietly behind him, setting the lock in place. Her knees finally gave, and she slid against the door onto the floor. With Gabriel securely asleep in her arms, she tucked her head into his blanket and sobbed.
RELEASE DATE 02/23/2021