THE FINAL CHAPTER…
Technology is the worst.
Somehow a draft version of SO WRONG IT’S RIGHT was accidentally sent out to everyone who pre-ordered the book via Amazon before release day. What does that mean, you ask? Essentially, your copy of SO WRONG IT’S RIGHT is a draft that was never supposed to see the light of day.
* sobs *
Like I said, this ONLY AFFECTS YOU if you pre-ordered your copy via Amazon. An easy way to check is to look at your chapters. If you have 16 of them, you have the draft version. If you have 17, you’re in the clear. (If you one-clicked on or after release day, or purchased from another platform, you can disregard this issue completely. )
HOWEVER, if you are one of those affected… please don’t panic! There is already a fix in place. Simply go to the “Manage Content and Devices” section of your Amazon account, then hit the “UPDATE” button next to your copy of SO WRONG IT’S RIGHT. The correct version should appear instantly on your Kindle.
Don’t want to do that? No worries.
You can read the last two chapters right here. Just scroll down.
Either way… Please read them! This is the ending you were always intended to receive for Conor & Shelby’s story.
Finally… I just have to say, this entire glitch scenario is the stuff of nightmares for an author — especially on release day. Thank you to everyone for your support. The tags, the shares, the reviews… it honestly brings a smile to my face, despite the frustrated tears still leaking from my eyes that this happened. I’m floored by your patience and kindness. Really.
I LOVE YOU ALL. xx
Conor holds the Nécessaire aloft.
It’s dazzling in the sunshine, refracting a hundred rainbows in every direction.
I can’t help gasping — at its beauty, but also at the fact that he has it in his possession. I’d thought it lost for good, after my poor treatment of it.
Before I can ask how the hell he managed to track it down, the door to my convertible opens. I flinch at the sound of Lefty’s voice.
“Kitchen. Five minutes. Come alone.” He pauses. “Any weapons, the girl dies.”
With that, the garage door begins to close with a shriek of metal gears. Tense with nerves, Conor waits until it’s fully shut before rushing forward in a burst.
“Don’t!” I exclaim, holding out my hands to stop him. “It’s not safe.”
He ignores me — what else is new? — closing the distance between us in three massive strides. He hovers scant inches away, as close as he can physically get without touching me. His eyes are locked on the vest.
“Okay. Okay, we’re going to get you out of there soon, Hunt.”
I nod. “That would be good. Before my bladder explodes.”
His eyes fly to mine.
“Bad joke,” I say weakly.
“Not funny. At all.”
“I really do have to pee.”
“You’re gonna have to hold it for a bit.” He reaches out for the vest.
“Hey!” I step hastily out of reach. “What do you think you’re doing?!”
“Can’t figure out how to get you out of the damn vest if you don’t let me look at it a little closer.”
“No! You could get yourself blown to smithereens, standing too close to me.”
“That’s not going to happen.”
“Sure. Fine. Whatever.” I pause. “Now back off. Ten feet, minimum.”
“Hunt, don’t be stubborn.”
“Me, stubborn? What about you?”
He ignores me, brow furrowed as he stares at the vest with intent eyes. “Strange. I’ve never seen a circuitry pattern like this before…”
“And you’re suddenly some bomb expert?”
“Not remotely.” He swallows hard. “But everyone at Quantico receives basic training. Plus, I did three years with the counterterrorism unit before I switched to organized crime. Seen more than one suicide vest in my day.”
“Oh,” I murmur, swallowing. That’s oddly comforting.
“The wires on this belt… I’d need the bomb squad to confirm, but there’s not enough time… we have about forty seconds before we’re due in that kitchen.” He glances up at me. There’s an edge of desperation in his eyes. It scares me. But quite not as much as the deep rasp of his voice when he asks me a question.
“How much do you trust me?”
I don’t hesitate. “Conor Gallagher, I would trust you with my life.”
“Good.” His hand reaches out and wraps around mine. With a squeeze, he turns to look at the house. “But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”
* * *
With the Egg passed off safely into Kaufman’s big hands, Conor and I step through the front door of my perfect house. We walk hand in hand to the kitchen, not speaking. I can feel the tension radiating through his body, just as I’m sure he can feel the fear thrumming through mine.
The Evanoffs are waiting for us.
Righty is gripping his assault rifle. Lefty has both hands wrapped around his Glock. I’m certain they’re going to shoot us stone-cold-dead as soon as we step over the threshold.
Thankfully, I’m wrong.
There’s a terse silence as the four of us face off from opposite sides of the kitchen.
“Didn’t I already kill you?” Righty asks Conor, smirking. “I could’ve sworn I shot you in the chest this morning, outside that safe house.”
“Can you really call it a safe house, though, Vlad?” Lefty’s voice is smug. “It wasn’t too hard to torture the location out of that Fed we caught following us yesterday.” He pauses, and leans forward, his eyes on Conor. “You know, you should really train your men better. Any Bratva would die before betraying his brothers.” He pauses. “Then again, your agent died as well. I know, because I watched the life drain out of his eyes after he told me where to find the Hunt bitch.”
I glance sharply at Conor, horrified by this news. I don’t want to believe it’s true, but I know it must be. Lefty’s earlier words are ringing in my ears.
I’ve already killed four FBI agents this week.
Conor’s face is utterly blank, but his eyes are lethal. I’m stunned by his self-control. Stunned he doesn’t pull out his gun and shoot these assholes where they stand.
But he can’t.
Not without losing me.
“Next time you try to kill me, I suggest you make sure I’m actually dead,” Conor tells them in a scary voice. “Or I promise you, I will take great pleasure in hunting you to the edge of the fucking earth. I will make sure my face is the last thing either of your see before I send you straight to Hell.”
I shiver at the burning conviction in his voice. I have no doubt he means every word of that vow. Judging by the way the Evanoffs start shifting like skittish horses, I’m not the only one, either.
“Where’s the Nécessaire?” Lefty barks. Even from here, I can see the sweat on his brow. Despite his angry tone and show of bravado, he’s nervous.
“If you think I’d just walk in here with it and hand it over, you’re sorely mistaken.” Conor shakes his head. “We’re going to settle a few things, first.”
Righty aims his gun directly at Conor’s chest. “And what’s to keep me from killing you right now? I’ll be sure not to miss this time.”
I stop breathing.
“I assumed you wanted the Egg.” Shrugging lightly, Conor somehow manages to sound totally unruffled. As though they’re discussing their favorite sports teams or TV shows. “If you kill me, that will never happen. My agents will storm this house. You will either die or be taken into federal custody. You’ll never see Russia again, let alone breathe free air.”
Grudgingly, Righty lowers his gun again.
I resume breathing.
“What are you proposing?” Lefty snarls. “Let me guess — you want us to surrender quietly.”
Conor shakes his head. “No. I want to offer you a trade.”
“A trade for what?”
“The Egg. And your chance to go free — without being gunned down in a firefight you cannot possibly win.” His eyes cut to Lefty’s hand. “In exchange for that detonator. For her life.”
Every muscle in my body freezes.
He cannot actually be considering this. Allowing these monsters to walk out of here, after everything they’ve done. All the people they’ve hurt. All the chaos they’ve caused.
“Conor,” I breathe. “Conor, no, you can’t—”
His eyes cut to mine. “I can. And I will.”
Lefty’s scoff pulls our attention back. “You expect me to believe you want this…” When his hand contracts around the small remote, I nearly have a heart attack, thinking he’s about to kill me with a careless jerk of his fingers. “Badly enough to make that trade? Badly enough that you would let us walk free?”
Conor’s jaw is clenched tight, but he gives an affirmative nod.
Lefty’s eyes are wary. He shakes his head at Conor, clearly suspecting a trap. “You would give up the Nécessaire for so little? For one suka with a big mouth…”
“Maybe he doesn’t know what it’s worth,” Righty grunts.
“Maybe he’s going to try to pass us off a counterfeit replica,” Lefty hisses. “But if he thinks he can fool us so easily, perhaps we should show him how serious we are…” His eyes cut to me and he waves the detonator again. “One push…”
I try not to flinch when his finger starts to descend over the red button.
“Enough.” Conor cuts in sharply. “No counterfeits. No tricks. You have my word.”
“And why would we trust the word of a Fed?” Righty sneers.
“Vlad, let’s just kill them both. This is a scheme to stall us. They will never let us go.” Lefty’s right hand tightens on his gun. “Better off taking them out now, then as many as their friends as possible.”
Righty contemplates this plan for a long moment, then nods. “Okay, bother. We fight to the end. Side by side. No surrender.”
I watch their fingers sliding toward the triggers and know we’re about to die if we can’t somehow change their minds about going out in a blaze of glory.
“Wait! You’ll never get back in Alexei’s good graces without the Egg!” I yell desperately. “Remember what he said — this is your one chance. You know you’ll never get another.”
The Evanoffs glance at each other, hesitating.
“But if you take this trade… you could go home. Not just that, you could return the Egg to Alexei. He would welcome you with open arms. You would be heroes.” I swallow hard, struggling to maintain an even tone. “Or… you can kill us right now, then die yourselves… and be remembered by no one as anything except failures.”
The air is thick with tension. Righty and Lefty are staring at each other and I know my words have had the intended effect. They’re hesitating. Not only that… they’re actually considering taking this deal.
“My offer,” Conor says softy. “Expires in thirty seconds. Decide.”
Lefty’s head shakes. So does his voice. “One life in exchange for the priceless Nécessaire? For something worth a limitless fortune? It’s absurd. Ridiculous! I cannot believe any man in his right mind would ever make that deal.” His eyes cut to me, full of disbelief and indecision. “No one girl is worth that much.”
There’s a beat of silence. Then, after a moment, Conor says very simply, “That depends entirely on the girl.”
My heart clenches.
One girl, for a limitless fortune.
“Your thirty seconds are up,” Conor informs them.
The Evanoffs glance at each other. They’re suspicious, but they’re also desperate. And the chance of walking out of here with not only their lives but also the Egg… the chance to restore their position by Alexei’s side and return to Russia as heroes…
It’s too good to pass up.
“We want all your snipers pulled from the roofs,” Lefty says.
“Done,” Conor agrees immediately.
“We want the barricades removed, so we can drive out of here.”
“And we want every agent in a five-mile radius gone.”
“That’ll take some time. But I’ll make it happen.”
The brothers look at each other again. They seem almost baffled by their good fortune, but they realize there’s no other choice. This is their best shot at freedom. Their only shot at freedom, really.
Lefty looks back at Conor. “When the area is clear of your agents, you will send the girl to the garage.” He jerks his chin at me. “She’ll give us the Egg. We’ll hand her the detonator.”
“I will make the exchange,” Conor snaps, letting his anger show for the first time. “She is not going anywhere near you without my protection.”
“Then there will be no deal.” Lefty smirks. “She comes alone with the Egg. No weapons. No protections. Those are the terms.”
“And how do I know you won’t shoot her on the spot, as soon as she hands over the Egg?” Conor’s fury is bleeding into every word.
“You’ll have to trust us.” Righty looks thrilled. “Just as we have to trust you’ll actually pull back your snipers and call off your agents.”
There’s a tense silence.
What an absurd concept. I’d feel more secure trusting Paul with my investment portfolio.
“Well?” Lefty prompts. “Are we doing this or not?”
“I’ll do it,” I agree, heart pounding like a wild animal inside my chest. “I’ll come alone.”
“Like hell you will,” Conor grits out.
“Conor.” My eyes hold his and I see the stark fear swimming in their blue depths. “This is how it has to be.”
“A compromise.” Lefty nods. “You have my word. After the exchange, we agree not to shoot the girl… so long as we are allowed to drive away without pursuit.”
Conor’s jaw is locked tight. A muscle is ticking in his cheek. I can’t tell what’s bothering him more: the idea of letting these two go free, or the thought of me being the one to make the exchange.
“Do we have a deal or not?” Righty asks impatiently.
“Conor,” I plead, when he doesn’t respond.
He exhales sharply. “We have a deal.”
* * *
It all happens so quickly.
One minute the street is full of agents and police vehicles and barricades. The next, it is a ghost town. Completely evacuated. Every house has been emptied, every trace of law enforcement removed. There are no sounds or signs of human life anywhere to be found. It’s eerie. Like something out of a post-apocalyptic horror film — one starring Conor and I as the sole survivors.
We stand in the middle of the quiet street, sheltered partially by his Wrangler.
Our hands are laced so tight together, I’ve nearly lost circulation. We both look up at the sound of the garage door opening.
“Are you ready?” Conor asks in a tight voice.
Inhaling deeply, I nod and pick up the Nécessaire off the front seat. Now that I’m truly looking at it, I can’t believe I ever mistook it for some cheap trinket. The craftsmanship is truly incredible — the product of months of painstaking work by Peter Carl Fabergé. The rubies and emeralds are positively dazzling in the hazy evening twilight. It’s one of the most gorgeous things I’ve ever held in my hands. (And certainly the most expensive.)
“Go,” Conor says, leaning down to kiss me. It’s a stern, no-nonsense sort of kiss — perfectly matching the tone of his next order. “And then come back to me.”
Bossy, bossy, bossy.
The walk up the driveway seems endless. I keep my eyes fixed dead ahead, listening to the roaring of my own pulse as I close the distance between me and the garage door, which is now fully open.
The Evanoffs are standing by my convertible, still fully armed, watching me approach. They both have their fingers on their triggers. The sight makes my stomach turn over.
They won’t risk their own chance at escape. Not now that they’re so close to getting everything they want, I tell myself, trying not to freak out. They gave their word they wouldn’t shoot me.
I can’t lie — I’d feel a lot better about trusting that highly-questionable word if I knew there was a team of snipers on a roof next door, watching us through a scope right now.
Ten feet from them, I draw to a stop.
“The Nécessaire,” Lefty growls. There’s a gleam of excitement in his eyes as they lock on the Egg in my hands. “Hand it over.”
“As soon as you slide me the detonator,” I counter. “Carefully. Unless you’d like your Egg to go boom as well.”
He doesn’t move.
“I came alone, like you said. I’m not armed. I kept my part of this bargain,” I point out. “Time to keep yours, Evanoff.”
“Vik,” Righty grunts. “Give it to her so we can get the fuck out of here.”
Looking like he’s just swallowed a glass of vinegar, Lefty leans over and slides the detonator down the sloping driveway. It skids to a stop by my feet and, for the first time in hours, I feel a smidge of relief.
Maybe I’ll actually walk out of here in one piece.
My hands shake as I bend over and carefully lift the small remote, careful not to put my fingers anywhere near the red detonation button.
“The Egg!” Lefty snaps, impatient as ever. “Now!”
My eyes swing up to his. “Sure. Of course. Here.”
Without wasting another breath on them, I toss the Egg straight up, as high into the air as I can manage. Gasping in horror, both Evanoffs scramble to catch it before it crashes to the ground.
While they’re momentarily distracted — and, thus, unable to change their minds about shooting me — I take the opportunity to turn and bolt fast as I can without disturbing the belt of explosives still wrapped tight around my chest.
Back to the street.
Back to safety.
Back to Conor, who’s waiting for me by the Jeep.
There’s an intense look in his eyes as he sees me coming — one I’ve never seen before. One that steals my breath, hits me straight in the chest. One with so many different layers, it’s hard to decipher all of them at once.
Impatience, anger, worry, longing, fear.
Most of all, love. It’s there, so clear I can’t deny it. Burning so bright, I can’t mistake it. Undeniable. Inescapable. And as I take it in, as I feel it rushing over me like a warm wave that starts in the left side of my chest and radiates outward, until every part of me feels set aflame, alight with the power of it…
For the first time, I find myself believing. Believing that it’s actually possible. That he really did mean those three little words he spoke to me.
This man truly loves me.
The woman I am. Not the woman he wishes I could be or the woman he thought I might be. Not the illusion I always thought I had to show the world — the perfect woman who lives in the perfect house with the perfect life.
The imperfect one.
The real one.
The real me.
Conor Gallagher loves me.
More than a limitless fortune.
And I love him in return.
* * *
Ten minutes later, thanks to Conor’s careful work, I’m breathing freely for the first time in hours. The weight of the bomb is gone from my chest. And the Evanoff brothers are long gone as well — we watched their brake lights disappear down the block as soon as they had the Egg in their possession.
The sun is setting, now, and the street is still abandoned. Before, I found it rather eerie. But now that the standoff is finally over, I look around at my empty neighborhood and think it’s actually rather peaceful.
Just me and Conor.
The only two people in the entire world.
“I can’t believe it’s finally over,” I whisper, looking over at him. We’re leaning against the side of his Jeep, arms locked around each other’s waists, watching the sun sink slowly across the sky in a gorgeous pastel tableau.
“Believe it,” he whispers, pressing a kiss to my temple. “You’re alive. Paul is in custody. Alexei Petrov is long gone. And the Evanoffs are halfway to the New Hampshire border, by now.”
I shake my head. “I still can’t believe you did that.”
“Let them go. Gave up everything — the Nécessaire. The chance to arrest the Evanoff brothers, after everything they did, all the people they hurt… just for me. That’s crazy.”
“What was the alternative?” he asks lowly. “Let them kill you?”
“Yes! Rather than sacrifice all that… rather than give up everything…” I bite my lip, feeling tears prick at my eyes. “I don’t know how you could do it.”
“Shelby.” He turns to look into my eyes, taking my face between his hands. “Haven’t you been paying attention? There’s nothing I would not do for you. Nothing I would not sacrifice.”
“No buts. No limits,” he whispers. “I love you.”
I stare at him. One, two, three long seconds. And then, without any fear whatsoever, I whisper, “I love you, too.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Honesty? I’m pissed,” Lucy Sykes says, sitting up in her hospital bed. There are bandages on her arms, a cast encasing her left leg, and some bruises on her face, but otherwise she looks remarkably good for someone who’s recently come out of a coma.
“Pissed?” I blink. “Why — do you need more painkillers? I can call the nurse.”
“Don’t you dare,” she grumbles. “Bad enough I missed all the action over the past few days. Now you’re going to call Nurse Ratched in here to force another pudding cup down my throat.”
I roll my eyes. “Trust me, it wasn’t that exciting.”
“Says the girl who had a bomb strapped to her chest while she faced off with the Evanoff brothers.” Her eyes narrow as they move from me to Conor. “Tell me you’ve got some surveillance footage I can check check out from the scene. Or at least give me some files to go over, while I’m stuck in this damn hospital bed.”
“Lucy, has anyone ever told you you’re a workaholic?”
She grins. “Only those who know me well.”
“Sykes.” Conor crosses his arms over his chest. “Just focus on getting well. We’ll need you to testify at the trial — it would be nice if you were alive and able to do so.”
“Oh, trust me, I’ll be there. Even if they have to roll me in on a stretcher.” Her ice blue eyes gleam. “Nothing in the world will stop me from witnessing the moment Viktor and Vladimir Evanoff are sentenced to life in prison without even the faintest possibility of parole.”
I can’t lie, I’m looking forward to that day as well. Knowing they’re locked up behind bars is comforting, but I’ll feel even better when we’ve thrown away the key.
I’ll never forget how relieved I was to learn that, during our tense negotiations in the kitchen, Evelson had climbed through a small window in the garage and sliced an undetectable — but extremely effective — hole in the brake lines of my convertible.
Riding off with the Egg, the Evanoffs made it approximately two blocks from my house before their luck ran out — along with the remainder of their brake fluid. They plowed through an intersection and slammed into a tree, thus putting an end to their glorious plans of returning to the Motherland as heroes.
They tried to shoot their way out, of course, but the FBI tactical teams were on them before they could so much as scramble out of the car with their guns in the air. Kaufman and Evelson had them on the ground and in handcuffs within seconds.
As for the Nécessaire… I’m sure it will look quite beautiful when we see it again next month — safely behind glass this time, during its grand debut at the MFA’s new Romanov Exhibit. And there it will remain for the foreseeable future… At least until Alexei Petrov sends more thugs to try to steal it back.
When he does, we’ll be ready.
“You know, you guys didn’t have to check on me.” Lucy’s eyes move from me to Conor and back again. “Together, I might add.”
“Was there a question buried somewhere in there, Sykes?” Conor asks.
“No question.” Her lips are twisted in a smile. “Merely an observation.”
I fight a blush. “Oh. Well… the thing is…”
“You’re together.” Lucy rolls her eyes. “About damn time, too.”
“Excuse me?” My brows go up. “I’ve known him for, like, a week! What do you mean, about damn time?”
“Oh, please. The only people who didn’t know you two were going to end up together… were the two of you.” She shakes her head. “Kaufman, Evelson and I actually had a pool going to see how long it would take. Hundred buck buy-in.”
“What?” I gasp, nose scrunching. “And, not that I condone you betting on our love life, but… who won the pool?”
“Kaufman,” she mutters darkly. “Optimistic bastard. Pegged you two falling head over heels in about three minutes. I, on the other hand, am a cynic. Thought it would take a month, given all the drama with your ex.” Her eyes light up. “Heard he finally signed those divorce papers, though. Congrats on officially being a free woman once more.”
“Thanks.” I grin. “Not being married has never felt so good.”
“Mmmm. Well, we’ll see how long that lasts.” Her eyes are twinkling playfully as they shoot back and forth between me and Conor. “May be time to call Evelson and Kaufman, get a new pool going…”
“Apparently my agents have so much free time they’re starting in-house gambling rings.” Conor’s trying to look stern, but his mouth is tugged up at one side. “Guess I’ll just have to pile on the work when you come back to the office, Sykes.”
“Bring it on. I’m bored to tears in this hospital bed. I can handle a heavy caseload but, so help me god, if I have to eat one more pudding cup…”
“Don’t worry, you’ll be plenty busy. You’re going to have to juggle some extra cases.”
“Mine.” Conor shrugs. “Since I’ll be taking some time off.”
“I’m sorry… it sounded like you just said you were taking time off, Gallagher.” Lucy’s blonde brows are by her hairline.
“Glad to know your ears weren’t affected by the blast, Sykes.”
She’s still staring. “You. Conor Gallagher. Taking time off.”
“But you never take time off.”
“You’re right. Which is why I have about ten years worth of vacation days to use up. I intend to use them now.”
“A two-month road trip across the country, for starters.” His eyes cut to mine, full of warmth. “As long as my co-pilot hasn’t changed her mind…”
“Nope. Assuming I still have veto-power over your music choices, that is…” I wince. “I can not listen to Springsteen for five thousand miles, no matter how cute you look while singing Dancing in the Dark off-key in the Wrangler.”
He shakes his head at me. “You have no appreciation for the classics, Hunt.”
“You… but…” Sykes is having a hard time processing. “I can’t believe what I’m hearing.”
“This is a whole new world I’ve woken up to, huh, Gallagher?” Sykes is still baffled. “I mean… won’t you miss it? You live for this job…”
Conor never looks away from me. “I’m learning there are better things to live for, Sykes.”
My eyes gloss over with tears. I reach my hand out to him. Lacing our fingers together, he pulls me up from my seat, into his warm chest. When his lips brush mine, they’re still curved from his smile.
“Ugh. You two are disgustingly cute. Get out of my hospital room before I go into diabetic shock from this display of sweetness.” Sykes shoos us toward the door. “Oh, and Gallagher—”
At the threshold, Conor looks back at her.
“In case I didn’t say this before… I’m really happy for you.” Her eyes slide to me. “For both of you.”
* * *
I glance at Conor as he loads the last suitcase into the Wrangler. “Ready.”
We climb into the Jeep. Leaning over, he kisses me — a long, lingering one that makes my heart soar inside my chest and my blood race with desire. When he pulls back, we’re both breathing hard.
“Maybe we should postpone this trip for a few hours,” he murmurs, eyes full of heat. “I have some very important matters to discuss with you concerning our route…”
“And where, exactly, would you like to discuss these important matters?” I ask. “Let me guess… in bed.”
He grins — a carefree, almost boyish look of such pure happiness it makes my breath catch. Seeing him like that — knowing I’m the cause — never gets old.
“It’ll be a very official, entirely legitimate vacation-planning session,” he informs me. “We can discuss more of the places we want to stop… Go over our map one more time…” He pauses. “If we happen to be naked for said discussion, so be it.”
“This is exactly what you said this morning! Which is exactly how we ended up in bed all day and missed our scheduled departure time!”
I narrow my eyes at him. “Don’t laugh, Gallagher! We are now officially late for our itinerary!”
“Know I’m new to this whole vacation thing, Hunt… but I’m pretty sure the whole point is to relax and not follow an itinerary.”
“Just start the car, bossy.”
“As soon as you strap your seatbelt, stubborn.”
He grins at me.
I roll my eyes at him.
And as we pull out of the driveway and turn down Merriweather Street, leaving behind the perfect house where I spent so many years living a not-so-perfect life… Conor reaches for my hand and a smile spreads across my face.
I don’t look back.
Not even once.
There are far better things ahead.