Hey Friends!

I know we are still a month away from release, and wanted to give you a little, tiny glimpse of TTFF—a slice of cake, a bite of mystery. If you’d prefer to read it on your device click here (note: you will have to join my mailing list.) If you haven’t already, you can pre-order here.

Happy reading!

Ayden– Before

“I’ve never seen so many nerds in my life.” 

Cassidy swats at my arm and shushes me. We are backstage at the conference that she has been so excited to attend, and people keep coming up to her in awe. Word has gotten around America about the beautiful scientist who became a Marchioness. If she wasn’t a giant in her field before, she is now, after opening a charity here and back home in England, geared toward the very subject she is here to speak on, helping girls with STEM. She will still consult on projects from time to time but has decided to devote her energy to assisting disadvantaged children like she and her sisters were. 

“A lot of these nerds have done amazing things, so be nice,” she says out of the corner of her mouth as she greets another frothing fan. I glance at the program and see that the speaker before her is almost finished. 

“Are you nervous at all, darling?” I know she has worked hard on her speech and spent the last few nights practicing with me. It’s a wonderful speech, and if she says it with half of the passion I know she is capable of, there won’t be a dry eye in the house. 

“Nope. I feel good. Plus, you are sitting in the front row, so if I feel weird, I can just picture you naked,” she whispers. I snort behind a cough. 

“You don’t have to picture it, darling. I am happy to show you in person later.” She rolls her eyes, but not before I see the heat in them. “I may take you up on that.” 

“Mr. St. Devane? You may want to take your seat. Dr. Masters is up next.” The polite stage manager offers, pointing at a tall fellow with a headset. I nod and turn back to my radiant wife. 

“You’ve got two more fans who sent you a message.” I pull out my phone and show her the picture Gemma sent me earlier. It’s of Kian and Mina holding up a sign saying, “We are proud of you, Mommy!” Both are in Periodic Table jumpers, as is Brit, who showed up for the picture too. Tears prick her eyes, but she takes a deep breath with a dimpled grin. “I needed that.” 

“I need you. And I love you.” I kiss her gently on her lips. 

“I love you too. Wish me luck.” 

“You don’t need it. You’re a St. Devane.” She winks at me as the headset guy leads her down the hallway. I make my way to my seat, where Sabrina is waiting for me. 

“How is she doing?” 

I chuff in pride. “Cool as ice. Look at this.” I show her the picture of the kids, and she chuckles. “Perfect.” 

The MC thanks the current speaker on stage and takes the podium. He starts off listing Cassidy’s accomplishments beginning at age eight. Next, he talks about the Bird’s Nest Project she started at Berkeley and ends with her latest work. My chest tightens with love and pride for my wife. 

“A titan in Materials Science and Nano Technology, a trailblazer and rockstar. We are so lucky to welcome Dr. Cassidy Michael Masters!” The crowd leaps to its feet, and thunderous applause sound throughout the hall. I stand up, clapping, as does Brin, who lets out a few catcalls. The applause continues for a full two minutes before I realize that Cassidy hasn’t taken the stage. A deep sense of wrongness blankets me. I look at Brin, who is also frowning. 

“Dr. Masters, don’t be shy; get out here!” The MC tries again, but Cassidy is still missing. I move toward the stage and jump up. Brin is behind me by an inch. I push past the MC and find the stage manager running around frantic. 

“Oh! Mr. St. Devane!” There is chaos around us. “I can’t find her!” 

“What do you mean you can’t find her?” An icy hand grips my heart. The poor man looks like he is about to pass out. 

“We’ve checked everywhere. The dressing rooms, the bathrooms, I even had security check the closets.” 

“Your wife, sir, she’s just gone.”

Ayden- Chapter 1

“Lord St. Devane? 


I snap out of my worried pace and look up at Rowan Stande, the very same security expert that I hired a few years ago to find my wife. 

My wife.  Who is missing, but this time, she didn’t leave me. She was taken. 

“What did you say?” He looks at me with a tinge of sympathy, his ice-grey eyes glinting with patience and intelligence. This man has already seen me at some of my most desperate, but nothing like this. 

“He asked if you are positive about not involving the press.” My best friend, Nicholas Grant, is hovering over the screens that Stande’s computer guy, Mathis, has running. When Brin and I ran backstage and discovered that Cassidy was missing, he was the first person I called. He was wheels up within an hour and rang up Stande, who was getting back from a trip to the UK. Rowan arrived a few hours after Nick, gathering his team and flying straight to San Fransisco. 

Where I lost my love. 


“No, I’m sure. The last thing we need is to cause a frenzy. It would be putting my family in more turmoil.” I mutter and resume my pacing. Cassidy has been missing for three days now, and my mum is on the brink of collapse. The only thing keeping her going is my children, who are still blissfully unaware that the center of their universe is nowhere to be found.  “Too, the rags would take it and run. I’ll not allow that.” I’ve spent my whole life protecting the St. Devane name and privacy, much to the tabloid’s discontent. This would give them grist to chew for eons. 

Nick nods gravely, knowing I’m right. He’s had his own issues with the press and the Grant brood. “My pilot texted that the plane has landed, and Brin is on her way to Kendall Hall.” I let out a tiny bit of tension and nod. The moment we realized that Cassidy was missing, I insisted that Brin leave the country immediately. We had yet to determine if the people who took my wife were targeting just her or her whole family. She threw a complete wobbly and turned into the courtroom menace we all know she can be. I let her stream and steam, and once she ran out of arguments, I told her that I needed someone to look after my elderly grandfather, who loves Cassidy with his whole heart. She grew quiet and finally agreed, but only after everyone assured her that we would update her on everything hourly. Nick himself has taken over that task, and I don’t envy him. Brin is relentless where her siblings are concerned. 

“And Gemma?” In an effort to give the appearance of normalcy, we decided against fully moving Gemma from her city apartment out into the country. She’s stepped down into a part-time role at her job for now and has agreed to live at DelBarrow House on the weekends. 

“She got a team of six on her. No one will get near her, I promise,” Stande says rather forcefully. Nick raises his eyebrows, but I say nothing. “And Davis and his crew are rotating through the other properties.” I nod, and another sliver of tension melts away. “Who is taking Brin to Kendall Hall?” 

“Your brother picked her up, but we have two cars assisting. They are safe.” For a moment, a small smile leaks through. Brin and Bash have a true hate/hate relationship. That will be the car ride from hell. “Your family is safe, Ayden.” I nod and run a hand down my face, feeling the thick shadow of bristles covering my jaw. I’ve not slept more than an hour, and food just gets binned. I need my wife. 

“Why don’t you lie down for a little while? It might do you some good.” Nick claps a hand on my shoulder, his green eyes narrowing at what I’m sure is my haggard appearance. For a moment, I feel a spurt of anger. His wife is whole and healthy at their Chicago penthouse, while mine is lost in the sour winds of the unknown. It feels irrational and somewhat wild, so I tamp it down. None of this is his fault. 

“I don’t think I could sleep if you sedated me. I’m too afraid that I’ll miss something.” He nods, squeezing the shoulder he is still holding. “How about you take a walk then? You don’t have to leave the property—they have gardens in the back.” 

I consider it. We’ve commandeered the entire top floor of the hotel, Phyl working her magic with my name and credit card. The hotel manager himself assured me that we had no need to leave until we were ready, which, bless him, we had no intention of doing anyway. His hands windmilled in nervousness, especially when he realized Nicholas was involved. I may have an actual title, but the Grant family is royalty in America. The poor sod almost soiled himself when Nick bit out instructions and demands, bending over backward to accommodate us. 

“You’ll let me know if anything comes up? I’ll not be long.” I joined the initial search of the building but have been holed up in this suite since then. It might give me some perspective. 

“Of course we will. Some fresh air will do you good.” Nick’s phone chimes, and he grimaces. “It’s Brin. Let me get her up to speed.” I have no idea what he will tell her. We have hit a complete wall. No one saw anything, and the security cameras picked up nothing. It’s as if Cassidy turned into vapor. 

“Good luck.” I salute him and grab my phone and Cassidy’s Berkeley ball cap. I don’t need anyone to recognize me and wonder why I look like a dying phantom. Luckily, the suite has a private lift, so I don’t need to interact with other people. By American standards, the hotel is rather posh, which can feel violently new and bright. It’s one of several hotels in the center, all connected to the convention center. There are dozens of people in the garden, some walking, others enjoying the California sun. I wish I could feel the heat, have it warm me, but the freeze in my soul is too deep, too hard. Nothing can penetrate it—it just grows every day that my wife is gone. I think back to the last time I saw her, her face shining and happy, those dimples flashing at me, the ultimate heartbreaking smile. I made love to her before we left our rooms, the pleasure so profound, so natural, that I almost begged her to stay abed with me, instead of being the shooting star that she is. 

I walk around the shrubs, not smelling the late-blooming flowers or hearing the spray from a fountain I don’t see. A restlessness begins to creep into my chest, a hopeless, anxious feeling. This walk was a mistake—I should have never left the room. I make an abrupt u-turn, my tired legs moving into an almost run. I barrel around a corner and nearly smack into someone. 

“Pardon me,” I rasp, attempting to go around, but the man steps in my path again. I focus on him and rear back. He’s a good-looking chap, deeply tan-skinned with green eyes. He’s taller than me and has tattoos marching up and down his arms, with a pierced bottom lip and a deceptively bland expression. He’s wearing a black T-shirt with jeans and a leather vest over it. He looks like someone out of a movie, staring at me hard.  I glance over his shoulder and see another man wearing a hotel security guard uniform. 

“Can I help you, gentleman?” I don’t break eye contact with the man who is picking me apart like I’m carrion meat.

“Are you Ayden St. Devane?” His voice is quiet but commanding. I glance at the security guard, who gives me a slight nod. 

“Yes. Who are you?” 

“My name is Pallas. I need you to come with me. It’s about your wife.” 

“My wife?” My heart slams in my chest. 

“Yes. I have someone I need you to meet.” 

© JM Blake 2024 Unedited

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