22 February 2022

Whisper a Kiss by Laura Haley-McNeil - @laurarmcneil @bookreviewtours #Romance #Suspense #CleanRomance


He broke a promise to save her life.

Hunter Whitloch’s Wall Street career is on the fast track until he learns about his boss’, Egon Gregory, underhanded dealings. Hunter’s and Egon’s confrontation means Hunter must turn a blind eye or return to Crystal Creek and walk away from a lucrative career and the only woman he’s ever loved⸻Egon’s daughter, Bryce. He won’t let her make a choice between him and her father, so he makes that choice for her.
Bryce watched Hunter walk out of her life and never expected to see him again⸻until he shows up at her father’s funeral. The mystery deepens when Bryce learns her father asked Hunter to return to New York⸻the night her father died. The authorities have ruled Egon’s death a suicide but attempts on her life unearth more questions than answers⸻namely who can she trust? The man who abandoned her a year ago, or her father’s right-hand man who wants to seize control of the company from her?
Hunter has to return to Crystal Creek, but he won’t leave Bryce as bait to someone who wants her dead. But Crystal Creek isn’t the haven he expected, and soon he and Bryce race against the clock to find out what secret died with Egon, and how to endure the pain that has them fighting to protect their hearts and their lives. 

Book Links:
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Welcome to Crystal Creek!
Hunter loves Bryce more than anything, but to protect her, he had to walk away.
Now he’s back.

Chapter One

Hunter Whitloch stood on a knoll in the sweltering June heat and looked over the New York graveyard. The small group of elegantly dressed mourners gathered around Egon Gregory’s casket didn’t hide his daughter, Bryce. She tipped her chin, her blonde hair skimming her shoulders, and stared bravely ahead. Hunter would’ve known she was here even if they’d been surrounded by thousands of people. He had a sense when Bryce was near.
He pushed down the stirring of sensations rising in his chest. He hadn’t seen her in a year, but his feelings for her hadn’t changed.
Dressed in black, a thin veil covering her face, she clutched the hand of Egon’s closest friend, Percy Wright. Hunter wondered what Percy would say when he saw Hunter had attended the funeral. Probably not much. When Hunter had worked for Gregory Enterprises, Percy rarely spoke to him.
Hunter felt a vague disquiet, drew in a breath, then strolled down the hill. He’d come to pay his condolences to Egon Gregory, the man who had taken him under his wing and taught him how to earn a few million. That knowledge would’ve satisfied Hunter if he hadn’t discovered the machinations of the underbelly of Gregory Enterprises.
Maybe Hunter was the only one with a conscience.
Once he discovered how Egon Gregory made his billions, he couldn’t condone the underhanded deals and walked away from a career most people would’ve killed for⸻including Hunter.
When he reached the gathering, he felt the stares, listened to the murmurings. Some smiled. Others frowned. He heard the minister’s prayer, but didn’t catch the words. His gaze shifted to Bryce, to the elegant curve of her neck, her graceful poise, and the emotions he’d buried surged to the surface. 
He closed his eyes and uttered an oath. He was a fool to think his feelings for Bryce Gregory could have vanished when he left New York with a promise never to return—yet here he was with his memories in tow.
Feeling a stare, he looked up to see the disapproving glower of the woman in front of him. He tried to smile. He hadn’t thought he’d said anything, but Bryce had that power over him. What he thought, and what he felt, always reminded him there was no way to get Bryce out of his system.
The minister closed the service with an amen. Others echoed the closing, then a soft murmuring waffled through the crowd as the mourners shook hands and embraced. Several formed a line in front of Bryce and offered their condolences. Hunter recognized most in attendance⸻Sylvia Fisher, Calvin Spratt, Jarrod Morris⸻chums Hunter and Bryce knew from college.
Bryce clutched a handkerchief in her small, white hand. Her smile sad, she dabbed her tears and nodded her gratitude.
The crowd thinned, but Hunter didn’t move. He could only watch Bryce who, even when she grieved, looked beautiful. She moved to the casket. Slipping a rose from the funeral spray, she laid it on the crown. Her head bowed in sorrow, she turned away. As if feeling someone watched her, she lifted her gaze.
Her brown eyes looked straight at him.
“Hunter?” She blinked in surprise.
A muscle worked in his jaw. He should’ve told her he was coming or at least asked if he could. Showing up was a tactless decision to pay condolences to the man whom he’d admired and with whom he disagreed on almost everything. A year had passed since he’d tossed his resignation letter on Egon’s desk. The older man had been surprised at first, and then laughed.
Hunter wasn’t laughing. Egon had been charming in a ruthless sort of way. The bottom line ruled his world. His list of enemies grew by the day.
“Hello, Bryce,” he said, his voice low and husky. Saying her name was like catching his heart on a jagged corner.
“I … I didn’t …” Her voice filling with the sorrow he felt, she shook her head, her eyes swimming in tears.
“I just wanted …” His voice faded. The old, familiar feelings churned in his chest.
Someone behind Hunter cleared his throat. He almost felt relieved. He’d paid his condolences to the kingpin of the financial world, but that education taught Hunter that the man he admired also lacked a heart. Hunter wouldn’t be party to the schemes that destroyed more people than they helped.
With a slight nod at Bryce, he stepped away from her. He didn’t miss her bleak glance, but there could never be anything between them. When Hunter resigned, Egon had made him swear he’d never have anything to do with Bryce again. Hunter had agreed. He wouldn’t drag Bryce into this tug-of-war between him and her father.
But walking away had been the hardest thing he’d ever done. How he had the strength, he didn’t know.
He sucked air through his teeth. He felt all over again the desolation that had surged through him when he’d left. He had thought he was strong enough to see Bryce again without her closeness opening old wounds.
The couple who had stood behind Hunter stepped to Bryce. With a look of shock, she pulled her gaze to them, fresh tears in her eyes as she hugged the woman and clasped the man’s hand.
“Hunter Whitloch, what a surprise.” A man’s rough voice brought Hunter’s head around.
“Percy.” He stared into the pale blue eyes of Egon’s right-hand man. The way the man looked at him made him catch his breath.
“I didn’t expect to see you here, especially under the circumstances.” Percy’s patrician features firmed with arrogant condescension.
“Why is that?” Hunter asked, feigning bemusement. Percy had always been cagey about what he did and didn’t know.
“I don’t have to tell you what you already know.” The skin around Percy’s eyes tightened with impatience.
“If not you, then maybe someone else,” Hunter said graciously. “Of course, I would honor Egon with my last respects. Though we didn’t agree on much, I still admired the man.” He admired anyone who came from nothing but managed to build an empire.
Percy gave a soft snort.
Hunter blinked slowly but remained silent. Percy thrived on confrontation and seemed to feel great satisfaction when he could put someone on the defensive.
Looking past Percy to Bryce, Hunter watched her turn away from the casket looking bereft. A hollowness rose inside him. The first day he met Bryce in college, he saw that hurt look in her eyes. That she hadn’t been born a boy to please her father seemed to hurt most of all.
Percy’s gaze followed his. When he saw Hunter watched Bryce, his mouth curved. “Old feelings die hard.” He gave a dry laugh.
“Or they become immortal,” Hunter said and watched a young man he didn’t recognize approach her.
Whatever the man said made Bryce smile sadly and shake her head. The man nodded slightly and withdrew.
On the other side of the casket, Calvin Spratt paced nervously. He slipped a finger inside his collar and cast furtive glances at Bryce. When the young man left Bryce’s side, Calvin took a step toward her until another couple moved in. Their murmurings filled with regret, they seemed to share fond memories of Egon from another time and place.
Calvin stopped short, frustration in his eyes. He looked around until his gaze met Hunter’s. He gave a slight nod and moved toward him. When Percy faced him, deep lines etched into Calvin’s face. Giving a dismissive wave, he turned away and strode through the headstones to the cars parked along the narrow lane.
“He better leave,” Percy said, a satisfied look on his face. “He’s the reason Egon is dead.”
Hunter’s pulse picked up its pace. “How is that Calvin’s fault? The internet sites said Egon died of natural causes.”
“They copied my press release.” Percy narrowed his eyes at him. “If you read that, then you don’t know.”
“What should I know?” Hunter frowned at him.
“Egon was found in his office, a gun in his hand.”
Hunter’s pulse jumped.
A soft gasp sounded. Hunter’s head came up, and he stared into Bryce’s dark eyes. Her face snow-white, she touched delicate fingers to the base of her throat.

About the Author:

A native of California, Laura Haley-McNeil spent her youth studying ballet and piano, though her favorite pastime was curling up with a good book. Without a clue as to how to write a book, she knew one day she would.
After college, she segued into the corporate world, but she never forgot her love for the arts and served on the board of two community orchestras. Finally realizing that the book she’d dreamt of writing wouldn’t write itself, she planted herself in front of her computer. She now immerses herself in the lives and loves of her characters in her romantic suspense and her contemporary romance novels. Many years later, she lived her own romantic novel when she married her piano teacher, the love of her life.
Though she and her husband have left warm California for cooler Colorado, they enjoy the outdoor life of hiking, bicycling, horseback riding and snow skiing. They satisfy their love of music by attending concerts and hanging out with their musician friends, but Laura still catches a few free moments when she can sneak off and read. 

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