Title: Love Burns Bright
Series: Fatal Fidelity, Book Three
Author: Rien Gray
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 06/15/2022
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, contemporary, romantic suspense, nonbinary, queer, bisexual, interracial, light D/s, bondage, established couple, assassin, artist, dark, Mafia, revenge, PTSD, family issues, #ownvoices
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Love always comes with a price.
No one knows that better than Justine. Her freedom has cost two bodies and counting, but now that she’s back in the United States, the only thing she can think about is seeing her parents again. After an abusive marriage kept Justine away from them for ten years, she’s returning to New York City a changed woman—and with the assassin she loves in tow.
Campbell lost what little family they had years ago, and their cover as a killer relies on never attracting attention. Publicly playing Justine’s rich lover risks stripping that mask away, but Campbell is willing to give her anything, no matter how dangerous.
Everything comes to a head the night Justine and Campbell touch down in New York. Their friend Sofia is kidnapped by her Mafia relatives and held for ransom. The trade? Her life for that of a vicious mob boss. And the clock’s ticking. As Campbell plans the kill, the lies they share with Justine start to strain their relationship, and even a second’s exposure will destroy everyone they care about.
It only takes one spark to start a blaze, and this fire could bring the whole city down with them.
Love Burns Bright
Rien Gray © 2022
All Rights Reserved
“All rise. The Honorable Judge Matthews presiding.”
I stand, but my heart doesn’t come with me. It lingers in my stomach like a lodestone, every beat a nauseous pulse as the judge walks into the room. Matthews looks to be in his sixties, white and heavyset, trapping a pair of sharp blue eyes behind too-small glasses. He takes his high seat with the reserved poise of a man who has done it a thousand times before, and that should comfort me. People come to this courthouse every day—there’s nothing strange about it.
They just don’t do it for the same reasons I am.
“Good morning, everyone,” he says, plucking the first file off the stack on his bench: mine. “Relax, sit down. Let’s get our petitions going for the day. Starting with Ms.…Cattaneo. I don’t think I’ve seen you in my court before.”
“You haven’t, Judge.” Sofia stays standing, reflecting his early-riser cheer with her own, utterly at ease. I’m glad to be in the chair again, one hand under the desk and gripping my thigh tight, grounding myself in the moment. “I’m from New York, like my client, so I’m only serving in an advisory capacity. Mrs. Fortin asked me to attend as a favor.”
Actually, Sofia offered representation pro bono. She said it was an olive branch, extended after mistaking my intentions. Her phrasing was both far too loaded and far too vague to be anything but Campbell’s intervention. I’m used to their bloodless reserve, but Sofia is a paragon of serpentine charm, warm as the sun one moment and venomous the next. The two of them are close friends, so if she wants to be on my good side, this is a pretty clever way to go about it.
I wish Campbell could be in here with me, but bringing a gun into the courtroom is out of the question, and ever since I was kidnapped in Paris, they’ve refused to go unarmed. At least I know they’re waiting outside, ready to drive Sofia and me away the moment this is over.
I tighten my fingers again, nails biting through the black drape of my dress. Sofia said to dress as if I was in mourning, which meant a conservative length and high collar, concealing the marks Campbell left in bed last night. The garter belt I’m wearing isn’t standard funerary issue, but it’s not like the judge will know any better.
“Very well,” Matthews murmurs, flipping to the next page in the file. “This is a petition to change your client’s surname?”
“To restore her maiden name,” Sofia corrects, tone light. “The paperwork should already be in order.”
The judge nods, only to frown as he starts reading through the forms. “I see a marriage certificate here. Did you file for divorce from your husband, Mrs. Fortin?”
Instinct clenches my jaw; I have to steal a breath, force myself to relax. “No, Your Honor.”
He raises a gray brow. “Does that mean you’re still married?”
The phrasing was “till death do us part,” so I certainly don’t consider myself to be married anymore. “No, Your Honor.”
What I want to say is he’s rotting in the ground, Your Honor. Richard abused me in every way he could think of for a decade, and I knew the so-called justice system would see a successful man cast against an ungrateful woman, despite the fact that I’d funded everything from his master’s degree to the particular brand of bourbon he liked to drink. So, I took matters into my own hands and hired the best assassin I could find to cut him out of my life.
Who I found was Campbell—a consummate killer. They’re the poison slipped into your favorite cup of coffee, the knife cutting brake lines in perfect silence, a fire started in the house while you’re peacefully asleep. Fluid and deadly as mercury, quicksilver gorgeous. The person who saw their own pain reflected in the broken mirror of my life and stepped closer to help pick up the pieces.
I love them more than I’ve ever loved anyone else.
Which is why I look Judge Matthews in the eyes, calling up the first hint of tears to my own, and lie without an ounce of guilt. “Richard committed suicide last year.”
It’s so easy to say, vindication outweighing the truth. I’ve been free ever since, no one the wiser, save for this last important detail.
“Ah.” He clears his throat, suddenly awkward. “My condolences.”
“Richard Fortin’s death certificate is at the bottom of the file,” Sofia adds, breezy in her helpfulness. I barely stifle my surprise—she must have done that on purpose. “Justine has experienced undue grief and no longer maintains contact with his side of the family. She would be far more comfortable using her maiden name on documentation and ID.”
“I see you filed a motion to waive the publication clause.” Matthews gestures with the form. He has the entire file spread across his desk now, clearly keen to avoid a second round of embarrassment. “Is there a reason your client doesn’t want her name change to become public record?”
“Illinois law requires three weeks of publication in a newspaper with the declaration, Judge. That’s three more weeks of stress for Justine and could attract reporters or other media attention, especially when you consider the circumstances of her husband’s unfortunate passing.”
Sofia slips a note of sympathy around the word “unfortunate,” pitch-perfect yet utterly false. Damn, she’s good. “If Justine had divorced him, the court wouldn’t require any public notice to restore her maiden name.”
“A fair point.” The judge acknowledges it with a tilt of his head before his attention recenters on me. “Do you have a criminal record, ma’am? Have you ever been convicted of a felony in this state or any other?”
Committed, yes. Convicted, thankfully not. Conspiracy comes with the territory while dating someone like Campbell. “No, Your Honor.”
“Then this appears to be in order.” Matthews picks up his gavel and strikes it once. “Petition granted. File these forms with the circuit clerk, and you’ll have the legal right to reclaim your name.”
God, I can breathe again. “Thank you so much.”
“Have a good day, Ms. Zhang.” His eyes fall to the bailiff. “Next case!”
NineStar Press | Books2Read
Meet the Author
Rien Gray is a queer, nonbinary writer who has worked in ghostwriting, TTRPGS, and video games. They have a treasured (and ever-growing) collection of LGBTQ+ history books as well as a deep, abiding love for Greek myth. Rien has an upcoming short story in Neon Hemlock’s Baffling Magazine. They live in Ireland.