Posts Tagged ‘Serve and Protect Series’
Guarding Suzannah, the first book in my Serve and Protect Series, is currently free! It’s featured today on Free Kindle Books & Tips, an excellent site to learn about free and bargain books.This is a great time to try the series for free. If you like it you can go on the check out Books 2 and 3.
And here’s a little known fact – my Montlake romantic suspense Fatal Hearts, while not strictly a part of the series, is set in the Serve and Protect world. If you’ve already read the series, you can revisit some of the key characters in Fatal Hearts.
So what’s the last series you discovered by getting the first book in the series free? The best series you discovered that way?
With the launch of my newest Montlake romantic suspense FATAL HEARTS just a few days away, I thought I’d post an excerpt. Since you can read the first pages at Amazon with the Look Inside feature, I’m going to post something from a little further on in the book. If you’ve read the blurb, you’ll know that Toronto Police Detective Boyd McBride has come to Fredericton, New Brunswick, to look into the death of his identical twin Josh, who was conducting his own investigation into their birth parents. Although this is a single title book and not part of my Serve and Protect series, it is set square in the middle of that Serve and Protect world, complete with roles, large and small, from characters you’ll remember from that series, if you’ve read it.
C h a p t e r 2
Boyd signed in at police HQ almost two hours later. It had taken an hour to get the slim medical file from the records department, which he counted as a minor miracle. That kind of request often took days, if not longer. Twenty minutes for lunch while he took an unrewarding cruise through the hospital records, which were very minimal, and another half hour to get out of the busy hospital parking lot and downtown. Ten minutes after that, Detective Ray Morgan strode across the police station lobby toward him.
If Boyd hadn’t met the guy already, he wouldn’t have pegged him for a cop. He’d probably have figured him for a lawyer, given the setting. For starters, that custom tailored suit looked like it belonged on a model, as did that hundred-dollar haircut. Morgan was early to midthirties by Boyd’s estimation, but it was hard to say with guys like that. The first time they’d met, Boyd had been ready to write him off as a dandified lightweight. But that was before the guy got close enough for him to get a look at his eyes and the deep grooves on either side of his mouth. That and the handshake convinced him there was a real cop under the elegant packaging after all.
“Detective McBride,” he said, his voice as smooth and perfectly pitched as the rest of him. “Sorry to keep you waiting. Took me a while to get off the phone.”
“Morgan.” Boyd stood and grasped the other man’s outstretched hand. “Thanks for agreeing to meet with me.”
Morgan led him back to the detectives’ bull pen. This was Boyd’s second visit, but it struck him again how small it was. A mind-blowing thought, considering that this detective squad was the sum total for the whole city. Of course, there were more citizens in the city of Toronto than in the whole province of New Brunswick. A whole hell of a lot more. So it made sense that it would be small.
For his brother’s sake, he hoped small didn’t translate into ill equipped. Or, worse, incompetent.
They passed several desks, some manned, some empty, but all stacked high with paper and files and sticky notes and colored phone messages. The organized chaos made him feel right at home. A detective with a phone pressed to his ear nodded at them as they passed without missing a beat of his conversation. When they reached Morgan’s desk, Boyd sat in the chair Morgan indicated.
“Coffee?” Morgan offered.
“No, thanks. I’m good.
Morgan gave a wry smile. “Good decision,” he conceded. After taking his suit jacket off and carefully draping it over the back of an empty chair, he took a seat. Then he reached into a drawer of his desk and withdrew a folder, which Boyd assumed to be Josh’s.
Boyd’s gaze fell on the file on the desk between them. “So, what can you tell me about my brother’s death?”
“Since we last talked on the phone? Very little more. I told you the coroner found no obvious problems with your brother’s heart?”
“You did. And if I understand what you told me, that’s not common, but it’s not unheard of either. What was the stat you gave me? Up to five percent of sudden cardiac arrest victims display no discernible anatomic problems on autopsy?”
“Correct. The forensic toxicology report is probably still weeks away.”
Boyd raised an eyebrow. “Weeks?”
“You know the drill, McBride. They test for probably three hundred substances. And you know there are new experimental drugs being introduced all the time and new designer crap hitting the streets. It takes time to test for all that stuff. And then if they find something, the result has to be replicated independently. If we find there was foul play, this shit has to hold up in court.”
“I know. I’m just . . . anxious.”
“We do have the hospital’s standard tox screen, as I’ve already reported, so the really obvious ones—alcohol, cocaine, yada yada—can probably be safely eliminated.”
Boyd wanted to say the illegal stuff could be eliminated without the benefit of testing, because this was Josh they were talking about, dammit. The man barely even took the occasional Advil. But he knew all too well that drugs sometimes wound up in a vic’s system through no conscious choice of their own. Just ask all the roofied girls he’d talked to in ERs while a forensic nurse prepared to give them a sexual assault kit. Boyd drew a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
“We’re also waiting for the genetic tests the coroner’s office ordered.” Morgan’s eyes were sympathetic. “Maybe those results will shed more light.”
“Right.” He dragged a hand over his face. “So, what kind of wait are we talking about for the genetics? Weeks? Months?”
“Months would be my guess. The backlog is hellish.”
Boyd nodded his understanding. He’d had to explain similar delays to many a bereaved mother or father or wife who’d just wanted to understand what had happened to their loved one.
“Maybe my results will come back first.”
“You had genetic testing done on yourself?”
“After what happened with Josh, I had everything done. I’ve been imaged, had ECGs, EEGs, cardiac ultrasound, stress tests. I’ve worn a Holter monitor for forty-eight hours. They couldn’t find even a whiff of abnormality, with the electrical system or otherwise.”
“Interesting.” Morgan scribbled a note and put it in the folder.
Boyd gestured to the file. “Any chance I can get a copy of that?”
“The file?” Morgan snorted. “You’re welcome to look at it, but I can’t be giving out copies. Which I think you knew before you asked. But I’ll keep you abreast of developments. Like I said on the phone, I’m happy to do another sit-down with you further down the line, if it seems like it would be useful.”
“I guess that’ll have to be good enough.”
The other detective’s handsome features hardened. “I’ve already assured you that when I get toxicology back, you’ll know about it. When I have the genetics report, you’ll hear from me. Short of deputizing you and handing you the case, I don’t know what more I can do.”
“Sorry.” Boyd held up his hands in a conciliatory gesture. The man was right. And the last thing Boyd wanted to do was piss off best window into Josh’s case. “I know you’re bending over backwards here. I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. I’m just—”
“I know.” Some of the ice went out of Morgan’s eyes. “Don’t sweat it.”
Boyd cleared his throat. “Look, I know you told me a lot of this stuff on the phone, and I appreciate that. I really do. But can walk me through the timeline again? I just need to understand what happened.”
Something stirred in Morgan’s eyes now. Pity, he realized. Ordinarily, that would sting. Nobody pitied Boyd McBride. But under the circumstances, he’d take it. Take it and exploit it if he could.
Anything to find out the truth about Josh’s death.
You can pre-order Fatal Hearts, or wait to snag it when it releases on August 19.
Saving Grace, Book 2 in my Serve and Protect Series, is currently free. It’s enjoying very good reviews (4.4 stars on 485 reviews), which is a relief! Sometimes when you make a book free, lots of people who wouldn’t otherwise read a romantic suspense will pick it up, and quite often they give it two or three stars because it’s not to their taste. Basically, they dislike it for conforming to a genre they don’t like in the first place. But for some reason, I haven’t had very many of those types of reviews. What I do get are reviews that begin, “I didn’t expect to like this book…” I love that!
I should note that while this is Book 2 in the series, it stands alone very nicely. They all do. But as always, there’s something to be said for reading books in order. That way, when you glimpse secondary characters, you already know a lot about them.
Oh, and Saving Grace is currently featured in Kindle Books and Tips, one of my favorite newsletters for learning about free and bargain Kindle books. Check it out. http://bit.ly/1p4w8Mu
a free Novella in the
Serve and Protect Series
Copyright © 2010 Norah Wilson
Published by Norah Wilson
All rights reserved.
“So, what’s the story?”
Nita Reynolds glanced up at her law partner, Brad Knopfler, who stood framed in her doorway, without really seeing him.
Brain tumor. A couple of bad headaches, and now they said she had a tumor in her head. Just like her father. God, she’d only had that MRI because her mother had hounded her within an inch of her life to ask for it. Neuro-imaging was not the medical community’s usual first response to a complaint of migraine with aura, and she’d felt like a major hypochondriac even asking her doctor about it.
She blinked. Shit. “Sorry, Brad, what was that?”
Taking her question as an invitation, he crossed the plush carpet to settle in one of the leather armchairs opposite her desk. “Your meeting with the Crown Prosecutor this morning,” he prompted, loosening his tie and lounging back in the chair. “How’d it go?”
Better than the visit with my doctor right after that.
“Good.” When that came out as little more than a croak, she cleared her throat. “It was good. I talked her down from indictable to summary offence.”
Brad lifted an eyebrow. “Good job. That’ll save your guy four or five years, if he’s convicted.”
“Yeah, and there’s a pretty good chance he will be.”
“Hey, are you okay, Nita? You look a little … I don’t know. Wiped.”
Wiped? Try dying.
She bit back on a bubble of laughter that threatened to erupt. Gawd, if she laughed now, she’d start crying.
“You know what? I am tired.” She closed the file she’d been staring at for the past half hour. “I think I’m gonna play hooky and go home.”
“Nita, Nita, Nita.” Brad shook his head sadly. “It’s four o’clock in the afternoon. That hardly qualifies. Hooky is when you call the office whilst tangled with your lover who is nibbling you in places that make your voice go husky, thereby lending you some credibility when you plead swine flu or bubonic plague or something.”
At his words, a mental image sprang to life. Specifically, the image of Detective Craig Walker’s hulking length sprawled on her five-hundred-dollar Egyptian cotton sheets, and her own body sprawled atop his….
Suddenly, her heart beat faster. And not at the mental image alone. She’d conjured it too often in these past few months for it to have that dramatic an effect. No, her heart beat faster at the idea taking root in her mind. The mind that could be lost to her all too soon, like her father’s was after his first surgery. But it wasn’t lost yet. She still had full mental capacity, full motor function. Full control of her life, at least for the immediate future.
Time to put it to good use.
She stood, smiling for the first time since leaving Dr. Woodbridge’s office. “You know what? You’re right again, Brad. You’re absolutely right.”
Grabbing her purse, she strode out.
Detective Craig Walker massaged his forehead as he listened to his aunt’s friend’s mother rant about the graffiti artist who’d been tagging abandoned buildings in her neighborhood in the decaying west end of Fredericton.
“I’ll ask patrol to look into that, ma’am,” he interjected, when it appeared she was winding down. Unfortunately, that only served to rev her up, as she interpreted his response to mean the police department did not concern itself with vandalism. He switched the receiver to the other ear and slouched back in his chair, resigned to listening a while longer.
Frankly, he’d driven through that neighborhood the other day and thought the graffiti was an improvement. And for once, he could actually approve the messages, which were clearly the work of environmental activists rather than the usual gang-related crap. Vegan environmental activists, judging by the two-buildings-wide Stop feeding cows; start feeding people message. But his favorite was the one with the beautiful, amazingly detailed rendition of the earth with the caption beneath: Earth. Pass it on.
“I understand your concern, Mrs. Brewer,” he said when she paused again for breath. “But I’m assigned to Major Crimes, and my Sergeant would kick my butt if I took time away for something like this. I’ve had two serious new cases just today, and dozens more getting colder by the minute. The best I can do in the circumstances is pass your concerns along to patrol, who will look into it. If Aunt Gena herself called me, I’d have to give her the same answer.”
That wasn’t strictly true. He couldn’t think of much he wouldn’t do for Aunt Gena, if she asked him. But the rest of it was true, including the grinding workload. And with the fiscal belt tightening undertaken by the newly-elected mayor, the manpower additions they’d been counting on weren’t likely to materialize.
After a few more assurances, he managed to get Mrs. Brewer off the line. A quick call to patrol/community policing, and the whole thing was someone else’s problem.
Too bad he couldn’t slough off his personal irritations so easily. Ray Morgan, a colleague in Major Crimes, was trying to set him up with his wife’s friend from the newspaper. Or rather, Ray’s wife Grace was trying to set him up. What was so hard to grasp about ‘not interested in a relationship’? These people who were so damned happy were a pain in the ass.
And on the other side of the spectrum, he kept having to stave off Denis Dallaire. Newly divorced, Dallaire was hitting the bars again, and couldn’t seem to grasp that every single guy didn’t want to be out there chasing skirts every freaking night. The thing was, Craig had caught his share. Now, it just seemed more trouble than it was worth, which depressed the hell out of him. He was only 34, for chrissakes. A healthy 34-year-old man should want to be out there, shouldn’t he? It was almost enough to make him take Denis up on the challenge.
But nah. Too much effort. Not so much in the chase, but in the extrication afterward.
And yeah, the vague emptiness it left him with. Not that he’d ever admit to it. At least not anywhere within earshot of Ray Morgan. There’d be no stopping Grace’s matchmaking.
He’d just gotten back into the flow of his arrest report when his phone rang again. “Walker.”
“Detective, it’s Nita Reynolds.”
He’d straightened in his chair even before she identified herself. He’d have recognized that voice anywhere. Confident, controlled, self-contained, but with an underlying hint of heat that was all the sexier for its subtlety. Much the way she looked.
“Ah, Ms. Reynolds,” he said, pushing down the jumbled mixture of feelings she always managed to evoke. “Let me guess. You’re representing the enterprising Edward Rayburn, who set out to find a buyer for his girlfriend’s daughter while said child’s meth-addicted mother sits out a jail term.”
“I think you mean he stands accused of trying to sell the child,” she corrected. “But no, I don’t represent him. I was calling—”
“Of course! Gordon Bohner. I wondered who he’d find to represent him.” The thought of what Bohner had done to his own mother to extract enough money for his next fix hardened his voice. “Your mother must be proud of you, Nita.”
She snorted. “I don’t think she ever got over her disappointment when I left Highpriced & Pompous to do Legal Aid work. And I’m not even going to ask what Mr. Bohner did.”
He grinned at her use of the nickname for the multi-province mega-firm Hightower Ponder. “Don’t you mean you won’t ask what Mr. Bohner stands accused of doing?”
She made a sound, but he couldn’t tell whether it was an exasperated sigh or a stifled laugh.
“God, I must be crazy,” she said.
This time, he definitely detected laughter in her voice. And in that moment, he knew she wasn’t calling about anyone’s case. The realization sent a bolt straight to his groin. He glanced up at fellow detective Sean Casey, who sat two desks over in the detective’s bullpen. Casey appeared to be engrossed in reading a file, but Craig angled his chair away from his colleague.
“I wouldn’t say that,” he said. “You had the good judgment to call me, after all.”
“Good judgment?” She laughed again. “That remains to be seen.”
He waited. Pointedly. He could have waded in there, helped her out, but dammit, why should he? He’d done the asking last time. Two times, actually. The first time, he got a polite turndown. He would never have asked again, except all the signals were still there, in flashing neon. When she turned him down the second time, she’d made it clear she didn’t date cops. Period.
“I was wondering if you’d like to go to dinner with me tonight. My treat. I thought maybe Soloman’s.”
Soloman’s. Pricey, but they had the best steak and seafood in town. They also had a relaxed enough atmosphere and dress code to attract regular Joes like him once in a while. And more significantly, Soloman’s was a two-, maybe three-block walk from Nita Reynolds’ downtown condo apartment. The thought sent another jolt below the belt. Settle down, boy.
“To be completely clear, are we talking about a date here?”
“Yes.” One word, but it managed to sound strangled.
He leaned back his chair, feeling in control. A strange sensation indeed when it came to this woman. And probably short-lived, so he should enjoy it.
Apparently, he must have enjoyed it a little too long, because her voice was a little testier when she spoke again. “What? Have I stunned you into silence? Shocked you with my forwardness, maybe?”
“Nah, I was just searching for the weather report from hell. I’m guessing it must have frozen over down there.”
“What about your no cops rule?”
“Some rules are meant to be broken, Detective. I know you of all people would subscribe to that notion.”
“Given how often I land myself in hot water with the brass, you mean?”
She made no reply.
“No comment?” he prodded.
“Sorry,” she said politely, “I was letting the record speak.”
He laughed. “Okay, it’s a date. I’ll meet you there.” After a few beats of silence, he added, “What time?”
“One last thing, Detective….”
He heard her disconnect, but still he sat there with the receiver in hand, her words echoing in his mind. Come prepared. The dial tone kicked in, and he hung up.
Jesus. He was sitting in the middle of the bullpen with a hard-on. Suddenly, he didn’t feel so in control.
Nita resisted the urge to pull her compact out of her purse and check her lipstick. It was perfect when she’d applied it, and it was still perfect. For what she’d paid for it, it wouldn’t dare smudge. And dammit, she looked good in her new DKNY tank dress, cute denim jacket and with calf-hugging leather boots. Hot without being too over-the-top, man-hunting slutty.
Or was it? Maybe the boots were too much.
Argh! Stupid to be nervous. It would be better when he actually got here.
Not that he was late. She’d come early to get away from her silent apartment, hoping that the buzz of conversation and the discreet bustle of the wait staff would distract her. Plus she’d wanted to be in place first to establish some kind of … what? — ownership? — control? … of this piece of recklessness she was about to embark on.
She picked up her wine, but instead of gulping it nervously, she forced herself to slow down and appreciate it. She swirled it in its glass, admiring its legginess a moment before inhaling its bouquet. Lovely. She’d bypassed the subtle sophistication of her usual French favorite and picked a lively Australian Shiraz. Lush and peppery, it was perfect for her mood. She took a sip, savoring the dominant blackberry flavor and the feel of the tannins in her mouth.
“Am I late?”
Dammit. She’d wanted to see his entrance, watch him cross the room. She glanced up and smiled. “Not at all.” Their gazes collided, and her pulse leapt like she’d touched a live wire. Oh, Christmas! What had she invited? He was so big, so raw, so masculine. “Have a seat.”
He did, and the hovering waiter moved in on him immediately. He glanced at her wine, then ordered a beer.
“You look beautiful,” he said when the waiter left. The frank appreciation in his ridiculously blue eyes echoed the sentiment.
“Thank you.” She inclined her head in acknowledgement. “You look pretty good yourself.”
That was the understatement of the year. Their previous encounters had pretty much been confined to the courtroom or the stationhouse, so she knew he cut an imposing, if slightly incongruous, figure in a suit. But tonight he wore a tan-colored ultrasuede sport coat over an oatmeal colored sweater with a very fine looking pair of denims in a shade of blue almost as piercing as his eyes. Her hands itched already for the tactile sensation of those fabrics. And as for what lay beneath….
She didn’t realize how hungrily she was staring until her eyes completed the journey up his chest, past his strong neck to the brutally hard planes of his face and met his gaze. Oh, yikes!
“Are you hungry?” she asked.
He lifted an eyebrow. “For what’s on the menu, you mean?”
“Depends. Is there something else on offer?”
She felt a blush climbing her neck, but held his gaze. “Most definitely.”
He stood abruptly, jarring the table and nearly toppling her wine. Flagging down a passing waiter, he said, “The lady’s not feeling well.” He pulled out his wallet and pressed some bills into the waiter’s hand. “For the drinks.”
She stood and he was at her side instantly with a solicitous hand at her back. As they wended their way among the tables to the exit, she felt the burn of that touch through her clothes. Come to that, she felt his body heat reaching out to her. God, he was a blast furnace. She couldn’t wait to get her hands on him.
“Your car or mine?” he asked when they hit the street.
“My place is just a few blocks away. Why don’t we walk it?”
“Okay, but first I have to do this.” He pulled her into the alley between the restaurant and the art gallery next door, pushed her up against the cool brick of the building and kissed her.
It was not a searching, tentative kiss. It was urgent and fiercely demanding, as were the hands that skimmed down her shoulders to her hips. Her blood leapt in response, and she met his mouth with demands of her own. Her hands found their way under his jacket, then under his sweater. His skin was just as hot as she knew it would be, but the muscle beneath was so much more solid than she’d imagined. Like no man she’d ever touched.
She slid her arms around him, and he made an approving sound against her mouth. And when she slid her hands down to test his butt through the denim of his jeans, he surged against her thrillingly, once. Then he pulled back, the cool of the August evening replacing his warmth.
“Baby, we gotta get this off the streets. C’mon.” He tugged her back onto the sidewalk and wrapped one arm around her shoulders. “Lead the way.”
Needing Nita, a 15,000 word novella, is free on all platforms. Please help yourself at the online bookstore of your choice.
Book 3 in the Serve and Protect Series
Copyright © 2010 Norah Wilson
Published by Norah Wilson
All rights reserved.
Derek Weaver ran a hand across his shaved head as he waited for the weekly call. His hand came away wet.
His eyes darted to the clock on the wall of his Union Street apartment — the nicest address he’d managed since being released from prison two years ago — then back to the silent satellite phone lying on the coffee table. He wished he could spark up another doobie, but the Big Guy would hear it in his voice. Bastard knew everything.
Cursing, he wiped away a fresh sheen of sweat before it could trickle down his face.
The phone rang. He lunged for it.
“Good evening, Mr. Weaver. I trust you have a promising report for me?”
The Big Guy was always polite. Formal, even. But Derek was no fool. He’d never met his boss, but he recognized the ruthlessness which underlay those soft, foreign-accented tones.
Derek closed his eyes. “I lost him.”
A chilling pause.
“I think perhaps you’d better explain.”
“He won’t do it.”
“Ah, but that’s where you are wrong, my young friend.”
“But he’s a straight arrow, sir. I’m not making a lotta headway with the usual tools.” Again, Derek cursed his luck. Trust him to run up against the only 18-year-old in the western world who wasn’t eager to be seduced with mega-doses of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.
“Of course he’s of sterling character. If just anyone could do the job, I’d simply have you do it.”
“But I can’t cross the border. Even if I could hide my convictions, they’d take one look at me and tear my car apart —”
“Precisely. Which is why you’ll have to bring our young man around to our way of thinking.”
“But I told you, he ain’t having no part of it.”
“Then you’ll just have to adopt new tactics, won’t you?”
“New tactics?” Distaste, the kind he’d thought he was long past feeling, rose in his throat like bile. “What kind of tactics?”
“Why, whatever tactics are required, of course. We have just three weeks left and no time to recruit a new candidate of such impeccable quality. There must be no — how do you say? — foul-ups. Are we clear, Mr. Weaver?”
Derek dug the fingers of his free hand into his knee. Hard. “Perfectly, sir.”
The line went dead. Derek closed the phone and hurled it to the other end of the sofa. Goddamn raghead! Piece-of-shit camel-jockey. By the time he exhausted his considerable lexicon of derogatory insults, his rage had passed and fear seeped in to take its place.
Shit. How’d he get himself into this mess?
He should run, dammit, and to hell with the mysterious boss he’d never laid eyes on.
But what would he do if he gave up this gig? All he knew was crime, and with his record, if he made one more appearance before Her Majesty, the judge would lock him up for a good long stretch. And Derek had good reason to want to avoid prison. Several of them, in fact. He’d gotten on the bus, sold out some cell-mates to shorten and sweeten his own stint. If he got sent up again, he just might find himself bunking down with a roommate who’d stick him with the sharpened point of a toothbrush first chance he got.
No, he couldn’t give this job up. It was his ticket out of here. All he had to do was stick to it long enough to see the big payday, then he could clear the hell out of town. Get right out of the country.
But how was he going to secure the kid’s cooperation?
He reached for the fattest of the joints lined up like little soldiers on the table’s glass surface. The answer would come to him. And if it didn’t, at least he’d be too stoned to be as scared as he knew he should be.
Constable Tommy Godsoe’s blood sang.
His breath rasped harshly in his ears as he pelted along the concrete sidewalk, but he wasn’t winded. Not yet. Not even close. Max, the four-year-old Belgian Malinois straining at the business end of the thirty-foot lead, lent Tommy extra speed. Even now, backup was falling further and further behind, but Tommy couldn’t check Max’s momentum or the dog would think he was being corrected.
Suddenly, at the mouth of an alleyway, Max slowed. Without conscious thought, Tommy took up the slack in the lead even as he studied the dog nosing the asphalt. The dog wheeled in a tight semi-circle, then turned away from the alley and shot off again down the sidewalk. Tommy fixed the location in his mind. Max had eliminated the alleyway as a direction of travel. Always had to remember the last negative sign. If they lost the trail further on up ahead, they could come back to this spot, so Max could pick up the scent again.
At the next alleyway, Max did the same check, but this time he bounded off down the narrow passageway. Tommy raced after him, his heart rate kicking up another notch.
Max cleared it in one leap, and Tommy vaulted over it right behind him. Over the sound of his own breathing, he heard backup in the mouth of the alley now. Good. No need to radio his location. He could save his breath for —
What the hell?
Tommy jerked awake, struggling up into a sitting position. The sheets, cool with sweat, pooled in his lap, and his heart pounded against his ribs as though he’d run a marathon.
Ah, Jesus wept. A dream. It was just a dream. He wasn’t a cop anymore. He wasn’t a dog handler. Bitterness, familiar as the pain in his hip, curdled his stomach.
A light tapping at his door.
“All right, all right, keep your shirt on.”
Throwing off the sheet, he swung his legs gingerly over the edge of the bed. He thought about scooping up the blue sweat pants from the floor and hauling them on over his boxers, but another peal of the doorbell dissuaded him. Grabbing his cane, he lurched to his feet and hobbled toward the living room, grimacing with every step.
Cripes, that’s what his doorbell sounded like? Something from a 50s Avon commercial? He’d lived here four years and couldn’t remember ever hearing his own doorbell. No doubt the ‘Beware of Dog’ sign had something to do with that. He and Max never stayed indoors when they could be outside, and they sure as hell never waited around for life to come to them.
The doorbell sounded again, and he wished he still had his service weapon. He’d happily put a round into that little speaker by the front door.
Reaching the door at last, he tore it open. “What?”
Paige Harmer took an instinctive step backward.
When she’d moved into this duplex last month, the other side had been vacant. The landlady’d said its occupant was in hospital recovering from surgery. But even after her neighbor had come home nearly two weeks ago, the unit next door had been unnaturally quiet. No visitors came or went, and no music thrummed through those walls. If it weren’t for the small bag of garbage that materialized at the curb beside hers every Tuesday morning, and the occasional muted sound of a television deep in the night, she’d have sworn the other apartment was deserted. Now, her neighbor stood framed in the doorway, wearing a pair of white boxers and a thunderous expression.
And oh, Christmas, he was most gorgeous thing she’d clapped eyes on in years, outside of a Calvin Klein ad.
Despite their current storminess, his eyes were blue as the July sky. Black hair, a startling contrast to his pale complexion, stood up in all directions, all the sexier for its dishevelment. Thick, black eyebrows slanted over those killer eyes. More dark hair crowned his chest in a liberal thatch, tapering to a thin line that arrowed out of sight beneath his boxers.
Runner, she thought. Endurance athlete. Just a hair over average height, with a leanness that shaded toward too thin. Yet the conformation of arms and chest disclosed enough wiry muscle to give the impression of power.
“Can I help you?”
Mister, if you can’t, there’s no help for me.
The thought barely had a chance to form before her internal censor roared to life. He was way too young for her to be ogling, for goodness sake. Hardly much older than Dillon, by the look of him.
There, that did it. Though he was clearly nowhere near as young as her son, the mental association was enough to clamp a firm leash on her imagination.
Unfortunately, the extra seconds it took to channel her thoughts in more pure directions didn’t go unnoticed. One thick eyebrow arched inquiringly, reminding her she hadn’t yet stated her purpose.
She felt a flush begin to climb her neck. No chance he’d miss that, either. Her skin was almost translucent, at least the stuff between the freckles. She lifted the foil-wrapped plate she held. “I thought you might like some dinner.”
He looked at the plate. “Thanks, but I’m not a big eater.”
“I can see that,” she said, injecting her tone with the same censorious note she might use with her son when he ignored his body’s nutritional needs. He shifted, and she finally noticed the cane, which he appeared to be leaning on pretty heavily. “Don’t worry. It’ll freeze nicely if you can’t handle it all right now.”
“Look, lady, that’s real nice of you, but —”
“I’ll just put it in the refrigerator for you, shall I?”
She angled sideways and slipped right past him before he could finish brushing her off. No way was she going back to her lonely unit to worry about Dillon. Not tonight.
“That way, I presume?” She indicated the direction the kitchen must be, if the place were laid out in the mirror image of hers.
“Uh … yeah.”
Seconds later, Paige stood in front of a white dinosaur of a refrigerator, a twin to the one that rattled and hummed in her own kitchen, right beside the commercial refrigeration unit she’d installed for her business. That’s where the similarity ended, she discovered, as she opened the refrigerator’s door.
Five bottles of beer, domestic. Some Chinese takeout cartons that bulged ominously as though approaching an explosive state. A drying chunk of cheddar cheese, circa 2008. A few bottles of condiments. No eggs, no dairy, no vegetables, no fruit.
Hearing him arrive at the kitchen door — the thumping of the cane on the linoleum-covered floor announced his progress — she glanced over at him.
“Is this the part where you tell me you’re really one of the undead and have no need of sustenance beyond human blood?”
He didn’t smile. If anything, he scowled more fiercely. “I’ve been meaning to get to the grocery store.”
“It must be hard.”
He followed the drift of her gaze. She could tell by the way his hand tightened on the cane’s handle.
His jaw hardened even further, if possible. “I manage.”
“Are you hungry? The food’s still hot.” She waggled the foil-wrapped plate temptingly. “Stuffed pork chops with mashed potatoes, glazed carrots and gingered parsnips.”
“It’s okay,” he said, after a split-second hesitation. “You can just put it in the fridge.”
Fat chance. She’d caught the fleeting look of indecision in his eye as she’d described what was under the foil. He was hungry, all right. “Aw, come on, sit down and eat. I need the distraction.”
Those cigar-thick eyebrows soared. “You want to stay and watch me eat?”
“Relax, fella. Nothing kinky. I just don’t want to go back over there yet. I’ve done two loads of laundry, vacuumed the carpet within an inch of its life, baked three cheese cakes and seven pies. I have nowhere to put any more baking and nothing left to clean. So if I go home now, I’ve got nothing left to do but worry about Dillon.”
Ah! A question. And she hadn’t even dragged it out of him. That was an improvement. “My son.”
“Where is he?”
She blew out her breath, lifting a strand of auburn hair off her face. “If I knew that, I wouldn’t be worried, would I? Or maybe I would, at that,” she amended, thinking about the hard-looking young man Dillon had been hanging with lately.
The sharpness of his tone drew her glance to his face. His eyebrows were drawn together again in a frown.
She shrugged. “He’s seventeen, almost eighteen. I can hardly describe him as missing every time he slams out of the house in a foul mood.”
That surprised him. She could see him doing the mental arithmetic, calculating her minimum age. That’s right, son. Old enough to be your mother, even if I don’t look it.
Okay, that was an exaggeration. A huge exaggeration. But older than him by quite a few years, she’d wager.
“Sit.” She pulled a tea towel off the oven door handle where it had been hung to dry after its last use and flopped it on the table as an impromptu place mat, then plunked the plate down on it. “I nuked the ceramic plate before dishing up the food so it would stay nice and warm.”
“I don’t even know your name.”
Way to go, Paige. Barge in and take over the man’s life without an introduction.
“Sorry.” She wiped her right hand on her jeans and extended it. “Paige Harmer. Your new neighbor.”
She regretted her gesture immediately, as he had to lurch forward to grasp her hand. He didn’t grimace, but she could feel the tension in his grip. Pain.
“I know.” At his enquiring look, she hastened to add, “Mrs. Graham mentioned your name.”
Paige had been impressed at how close-mouthed her landlady had been about her tenant’s private life. As a prospective new tenant, all Paige had needed to know was that her neighbor wasn’t a creepazoid. She’d found her landlady’s discretion commendable at the time, but now she couldn’t help but wish the other woman had been a little less discreet. For instance, what did Tom Godsoe do for a living? How had he sustained the injury that made crossing a room the grueling ordeal it appeared to be?
“Okay,” he said at last, “if I’m going to have an audience, I think I’d better get dressed.”
Not on my account.
Before something like that escaped her mouth, she averted her eyes from those square shoulders and lightly-muscled expanse of chest. “Take your time. I think I spotted some coffee beans and a grinder. I’ll just brew us a pot of java.”
“Be my guest,” he drawled, then turned and thumped away.
A smile tugging at her lips, Paige reached for the gourmet coffee beans.
A film of perspiration slicked Tommy’s brow before he’d made it halfway to his bedroom. Damned useless leg. He paused by the couch and leaned on the back of the hulking piece of furniture for a few seconds. Gritting his teeth against the white-hot shards of pain he knew would explode in his hip and lower back with each step, he resumed the trek to the bedroom.
Why hadn’t he given that crazy, wild-haired woman the boot? He wasn’t that hungry. He still had waffles in the freezer, and dry Fruit Loops were a perfectly adequate source of nutrition.
Yeah, right. The hospital food he’d subsisted on for so long was better than anything he had left in the cupboards. A pork chop and actual vegetables sounded like heaven. He only hoped the price of dinner wouldn’t be too high. She had the look of a hard customer to move along, if she wasn’t of a mind to go.
Of course, she’d never experienced Tommy’s post-injury brand of hospitality. He’d managed to chase off friends and fellow officers — no, make that ex fellow officers — even before he’d checked out early from the rehab center. Getting rid of one slip of a woman shouldn’t be too hard.
When he reached his bedroom, he sank down on the edge of the bed and cursed his trembling leg. Weak as a damn baby. It took another few minutes to drag the sweat pants on. By the time he’d located a t-shirt and pulled it over his head, his whole body was slicked with sweat. Pitiful. Completely done in by a twenty-foot walk.
He grabbed the pill bottle off the night stand, dumped two tablets into his palm and dry-swallowed them. His hip was gonna kill him tonight, for all this activity. Already, he pictured himself lying on the mattress in the dead of night, going quietly crazy while the pain radiated down to the soles of his feet.
Kitchen, he reminded himself. If he was going to sell his soul, or at least his privacy, for a home-cooked meal, he’d better get there before the food fossilized on the plate.
By the time he made it back to the kitchen, the crazy woman — Paige? — not only had a pot of coffee brewed, but she’d cleaned out his refrigerator as evidenced by the armload of inedible stuff she was dumping in the garbage can when he hobbled in.
She glanced up at him. “I hope you weren’t too attached to any of that stuff.”
“You cleaned my refrigerator?”
She grinned. “Couple more days, that stuff would have walked off on its own, anyway.”
As he lowered himself onto a chair, a laborious proposition in itself, she washed her hands under the tap and dried them on a clean towel she must have found in a drawer. Then she zoomed in on him again, removed the foil covering from his meal and rotated the plate so the meat was within easy reach. The delicious aroma that rose up from the hot meal was almost enough to take the edge off his irritation at her hovering solicitousness.
“I swear to God, if you pick up those utensils to cut my meat for me, I won’t be responsible for my actions.”
She started at his tone, and although she didn’t evacuate the physical space she occupied by his left shoulder, he felt her take a mental step backward. And she looked at him, really looked, which she’d managed not to do since she’d inventoried him in the doorway earlier. He met her gaze, keeping his expression flat. Best way to discourage sympathy, he’d found.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
He picked up his fork. “If I detect the merest whiff of pity from you, you’ll be taking that coffee to go, good deeds notwithstanding. Understood?”
She blinked at him in what appeared to be genuine disbelief. Her eyes were green, he noticed. Not the improbable green of those tinted contacts women wore, but a soft, mossy green.
“Mr. Godsoe, I assure you it hadn’t occurred to me to pity you. It was just the mother in me coming out.”
He stabbed a parsnip. “I don’t need a mother.”
“That’s going around, I guess. Neither does Dillon.”
She turned away to grab a mug, but not before he caught a glimpse of the worry lines creasing her forehead.
He went back to eating as she fixed her coffee. By the time she plunked down opposite him at the small pedestal table, her brow was smooth once more. He’d also devoured half the pork chop.
“This is wonderful,” he said around his food. “Where’d you learn to cook like this?”
“My fourth and final foster home. I finally figured out you had to bring value-added if you wanted to stay put.”
His question had been rhetorical; he certainly hadn’t expected an answer, let alone one like that. With her wide, inviting face, freckled complexion and burnished hair, she looked like apple pie and picket fences, not the product of an underfunded and overburdened child protection system.
Dammit. It was no concern of his who she was and where she came from. He had more than enough of his own problems to worry about. Instead of uttering one of the half-dozen questions that sprang to mind, he nodded and went back to his meal.
“Actually, I make my living cooking,” she said. “Desserts, specifically, for some of the nicer restaurants around town. Cheesecakes, pies, flans, tarts, you name it. Speaking of which, would you like a piece of lemon meringue pie? I could run home and get you one.”
Homemade lemon pie sounded great, but he wouldn’t send her out for it. “No, this is good.”
He felt her gaze on him as he used the last morsel of meat to mop up any lingering traces of juice from his plate.
“Please.” God, it felt good to have a hot meal inside him. He could almost forget the insistent throb of pain that was his constant companion.
Once again, almost.
She put a mug of steaming black coffee before him, along with a half-pint of cream and the bowl of lumpy sugar she must have found in his cupboard.
He shot her a look. “Where’d the cream come from?”
“I ran home and got it while you were changing. Eggs, too, and whole-wheat bread. Some dry cereal. A couple of bananas. Wish I’d thought of the pie.”
It was his turn to blink in disbelief. Until twenty minutes ago, he’d never laid eyes on her. Since then, she’d pushed her way into his home, fed him, cleaned his kitchen and done her level best to restock his cupboards.
“Okay, this must be the part where you smile disarmingly and tell me you’re some kind of Pacific Heights-type psycho and I’m never gonna get you to leave.”
A smile lifted the corner of her lips, making a dimple flash on the right side of her mouth. “I guess this wouldn’t be the time to confess that I really loved Michael Keaton’s tenant-from-hell character in that movie?”
Irritated with himself for noticing her mouth, he grated, “Dammit, I told you, I don’t want your pity, or your groceries. I let you in the door, and now you’re making yourself at home, digging through my cupboards —”
“Look, Tom — can I call you Tom? Tommy?” Without bothering to wait for a reply, she forged on. “I can see you don’t get around very well, whereas I do. Your cupboards were bare. Mine aren’t. No biggie. Heck, you can replace the groceries, if you feel that strongly about it.”
He scowled at her reasonable tone. “I just don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me. I’m doing fine, dammit.”
“I didn’t mean to imply you weren’t.” Her green eyes narrowed. “Do you have some tragic story I should know about?”
“Hardly.” He said it without hesitation, and just to prove how tragedy-free he was feeling, he lifted his coffee cup to his lips and took a sip.
“Good, because now wouldn’t be a good time to talk about it. It’d just ruin your digestion. Let’s talk about me instead.”
He choked on his coffee.
She turned those big eyes on him. “What? I thought we’d established you don’t want to talk about your accident or your surgery or whatever, so why not me? Or my suddenly difficult son.”
Why talk at all? He could plead a bone-deep agony in his hip and leg, which would be no lie. The pain pills hadn’t kicked in yet. Then he remembered the look on her face when she’d first mentioned her son.
She brightened. “Yes, Dillon.”
“What’s his problem?”
She shrugged, but it wasn’t the same nonchalant gesture she’d displayed before. This shrug spoke of helplessness.
“I wish I knew. We used to be really close, but now … his moods are so … changeable.”
“Not for another couple of weeks.”
“My point is, being surly and uncommunicative is par for the course.”
“I know. But he’s always been such a sweet kid.”
He watched her absently stroke her coffee mug. “Boys grow up.”
She shook her head. “That’s part of it, for sure. Maybe even the biggest part of it,” she allowed. “But he really didn’t want to make this move, or at least not as fast as we did. Consciously or not, he’s punishing me for disrupting our lives.” She chewed the inside of her lip a moment. “Maybe I should have postponed the move. But I’d already held off until he finished high school, and he’d have had to move somewhere in the fall anyway, for university, so I figured why not here, right?”
He realized she was looking at him as though she expected some kind of reaction. “UNB’s a good school. He’ll like it.”
She looked down into the depths of her coffee mug again. “Besides, I’d won a major contract that pretty much required me to relocate here. Not that he had to pick this university just because I was coming here. He’d been accepted by three different schools, and we could have stretched the budget to pay for residence, but this one really does have the best computer science program.”
What was he supposed to say? “I’ve heard very good things about it.”
“I know it was a wrench to leave his friends so soon after graduation, but I figured he could use the time to get to know the city, make a few friends here.”
Man, she’d obviously been over this ground a few times, rationalizing, regretting, second-guessing. He knew all about that. “His father around?”
Another shake of the head. “Not since Dillon was little.”
“Maybe he needs to connect with his dad.”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he recognized that he’d slipped into problem-solving mode. Dammit, he wasn’t a cop anymore. And he sure as hell wasn’t a social worker.
“That’s not in the cards.”
He pushed back his own too-raw emotions. She clearly needed to talk to someone, and he’d been elected. What had she said? Oh, yeah. The kid’s dad was out of the picture. “Dead? Dillon’s father, I mean.”
“Deadbeat,” she corrected, lifting her gaze from her mug.
“What about Big Brothers?” He found himself looking away. “It’s a good program. A lot of kids from single-parent families benefit from the influence of a male role —”
She held up a hand to stop him. “You’re preaching to the converted, here. We were in the program for four years, until Dillon’s Big Brother moved to Halifax. Now, he thinks he’s too old for that kind of stuff.”
Tommy gingerly shifted in his chair. “Again, he’s nearly eighteen. It’s natural for him to look to his peers rather than an adult.”
“I think he found something else to fill the void.”
Of course. “Girl, eh?”
She grimaced. “I wish.”
Whoops. “I see.”
“Oh, no! It’s not like that. Dillon dates girls. There’s just no one special.”
“You know, a lot of mothers might be glad there was no one special. I seem to remember my mother getting uneasy when I was that age and stuck on a girl.”
That drew a weak smile from her.
“Afraid one of those sweet young things was going to whisk her son off to the altar, was she?”
Shotgun marriage? There’d never been much chance of that. Not that an accidental pregnancy had been out of the question. He’d just been far too immature and self-involved for marriage, as had the girls he’d run with. His father would have just pulled out his checkbook. Of course, his father also would have given him a hearty thump on the back as though he’d finally done something praiseworthy. Well, at least this proves you’re not a queer.
“Something like that,” he muttered, taking a sip of his coffee. Lord, even her coffee was incredible. “So, if it’s not a girl, he must be hanging with a bad crowd.”
Her hand tightened on the handle of her mug. “Bingo.”
“It’s probably not that bad,” he offered. “Kids that age talk a good line of trash, but they’re not nearly as bad as they’d have the world believe. I’ve seen ’em fold pretty quick when —” Damn. Talking like a cop again. “What I mean is, it’s usually just posturing. He’ll grow out of it.”
She slanted him a look. “You don’t have kids, do you?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Adults.” She sighed and pushed back in her chair.
“He’s hanging around with adults. I only got a good look at one of them. He was relatively young, I suppose, but still a lot older than Dillon. Mid-twenties, probably, and way, way harder than my son, from the look of him.”
Tommy frowned. That kind of age differential usually spelled bad news. He could too easily picture unscrupulous adults feeding a troubled kid’s ego and thirst for attention until the kid was ripe for exploitation. Drug-dealing, auto theft, pornography, prostitution…. All the ugly possibilities flashed through his mind.
“And you think they’re up to … what?”
“No good,” she said darkly. “Although since I haven’t had an actual conversation with any of these men, I have to admit I’m basing that judgment entirely on prejudice and stereotypes. Which makes me feel like a total hypocrite, since it’s exactly the kind of thing I’ve tried to teach Dillon not to do.”
“Let me guess — shaved heads, baggy pants, shirts buttoned at the neck and open at the bottom, tattoos?”
“Not to mention the cold eyes. Oh, yes, and the chopped pick-up with the tinted windows, and the kind of stereo that sets off minor earthquakes with the bass notes when it drives by.”
The cynic in him said she’d probably nailed the demographic accurately, but he stayed silent.
“So?” She looked at him expectantly.
“So, what?” He shifted again, just a few millimeters, to ease the ache in his leg. The relief was exquisite. Unfortunately, it lasted about a tenth of a second, then started throbbing again.
“So, are you going to pat me on the head and tell me I’m being a paranoid, over-protective mother?”
“No,” he said. “No, I won’t do that.”
She sagged. “Damn. I was hoping you would. Hoping even harder that you could make me believe it.”
Their gazes locked for a few seconds, and Tommy felt an unexpected surge of sexual awareness rocket through him.
His first reaction was relief; he’d begun to think of his libido as KIA. Then the inappropriateness struck him. This was a distraught woman, a worried mother. A mother whose son, technically speaking, was old enough to make her a grandmother.
She jumped up and carried her cup to the sink, where she rinsed it and set it on the draining board. “Look,” she said, turning back to him. “I can see you’re in pain. You probably need to lie down or something. I’ll get out of your hair.”
“The leg’s gonna hurt no matter what. You don’t have to rush off, if you don’t want to.”
Christ, was that him talking? Had he just invited the original Velcro woman to stay?
Her green gaze caught and held his again. “Really?”
“Really,” he heard himself say. Oh, Lord, he must have taken too many of those pain pills.
“That’s very generous of you, especially after I pushed my way in here.”
“You did feed me.”
She tilted her head in an attitude of listening. “Looks like you’re off the hook. That must be Dillon now.”
He heard it too, the sound of a car’s engine. At the end of this cul-de-sac, just barely inside the city limits, they didn’t get much drive-by traffic. Good. The kid was home where he belonged, and now he could have his solitude back.
“Thanks for holding my hand,” she said, turning to pick up her plate. “No offense, but I hope it’ll be the last time.”
The latter was delivered with a wide smile, but he could see the tension and worry beneath it.
“Look, do you want me to talk to him or something?”
Oh, hell, where had that come from? She looked just as stunned by the offer as he was about making it.
“Thanks, but I don’t think so. I know my son. If I just spring you on him, it’ll be worse than if I just leave it alone.”
“Well, if you change your mind….”
She smiled at him again, and he was struck once more by a pang of desire, this one even stronger than the last.
She let herself out, and the sound of the door closing echoed behind her. For a split second, her absence felt like a hollowness, in his house and in his chest.
Damned lust. Now that the relief had passed, he almost wished he’d stayed dead that way. Didn’t he have enough aches without adding another?
Pulling himself to his feet, mainly by dint of his upper-body strength, he picked up his cane and clumped toward the bedroom. He’d almost reached his customary resting spot by the sofa when he heard the scream, shrill, female and clearly terrified.
Adrenaline ripped through his system like a shot of juice from a live electrical wire. He covered the distance to the door in a flash, with no sensation of pain. Endorphins. He’d pay for it later. Tearing the door open, he lurched out onto the step.
A hand still clamped to her mouth to stifle the scream she’d been unable to suppress, she swiveled her head toward Tommy’s voice. He stood on the steps outside his unit, looking like he was ready, willing and able to use his cane as a weapon, if need be.
“What it is? What’s the matter?”
She pointed to her doorstep.
“Jesus. What’s that?”
“I don’t know.” Her stomach did a sick little flip, but her voice was surprisingly steady. “But it’s dead and it seems to be minus its fur.”
He swore, then hobbled a few feet closer. “I take it that the car we heard wasn’t Dillon coming home?”
“Dillon’s car’s not home,” she replied, choosing her words carefully. These days, she couldn’t rule out anything where her son was concerned, even his participation in something as ugly as this. He’d closed himself off so completely from her. Not that she thought he’d lead something as gruesome as this, but he might go along for the ride, especially if he didn’t know in advance what the plan was.
“You’re welcome to call it in from my place,” he said, gesturing toward his unit. “Phone’s on the wall just inside the kitchen.”
Call the police? Without talking to Dillon?
“Ah, that’s okay.” She took a step backward, closer to her own doorstep. “Thanks for the offer, but I think I’ll just deal with this myself.”
“You’re making a mistake, Paige.”
His tone was quiet, without any detectable inflection, but it arrested her retreat in a way a forceful command might not have.
“What do you mean?”
“By not reporting this. You think you’re protecting your son, but if his new friends did this, with or without his involvement, you’d do better to tackle it head on. He needs to know that his choices have repercussions.”
He was right and she knew it, but it wasn’t that simple. Dillon was her son. He was all she had, and getting further away from her every day. She didn’t know how to guide him toward a better path without driving him to worse rebellion. Her frustration boiled up into anger.
“Who said I thought this has anything to do with Dillon?”
“So, you think it was what? Random sicko? Or maybe a customer who didn’t like your Tiramisu?”
She glared at him. “There’s no need for sarcasm.”
He sighed. “Okay, let’s say it has nothing to do with your son. All the more reason to call the cops right now. They might be able to get impressions from the car’s tires. Presuming somebody carried it to your doorstep, there could be footprint evidence. But that stuff is transitory. You have to act fast.”
She snorted. “You sound like a cop.”
“That’s because I am.”
Buy Protecting Paige here:
Book 2 in the Serve and Protect Series
Copyright © 2010 Norah Wilson
Published by Norah Wilson
All rights reserved.
Being drunk slowed Ray Morgan’s reaction time. The telephone managed a full ring before he snatched the receiver.
“Grace?” To his own ears, his voice sounded like someone else’s.
A second’s silence, then a man’s voice. “That you, Razor?”
Ray sagged back into the depths of the couch. John Quigley, from the station.
Not Grace after all. Never again Grace.
“Yeah, it’s me.” Ray dragged a hand over his face. “’Fraid I’m no good to you tonight, though, Quigg.”
Another pause. “You okay, Ray?”
“Sure. Been keeping company with Jim Beam, is all.” Ray’s lips twisted at his own wit. Okay, so maybe he wasn’t that witty, but it was either laugh or cry. “S’okay, though. I’m not catching tonight anyway. Hallett is.”
“Just a sec, Ray.”
Quigg must have covered the mouthpiece, because Ray could hear muffled conversation in the background.
“Okay, I’m back,” Quigley said.
“I was sayin’ to call Gord Hallett. He’s your man tonight.”
“I don’t need a detective, Ray. I was looking for you.”
“Huh? You’re looking for me at, what…?” He squinted across the room at the glow of the VCR’s digital clock. Grace’s VCR. She hadn’t slowed down long enough to take anything.
What had he been saying? Oh, yeah, the time. “…eleven o’clock at night?”
At the mention of his wife’s name, Ray felt the hollowness in his gut open up again, wide and bottomless as ever. Guess the bourbon hadn’t filled it after all.
Leave it to Grace to get stopped on her way out of town, in her red Mustang the boys in Patrol had come to know so well. Had she explained why her foot was so heavy tonight? His grip on the phone tightened. Had she told the uniform — a guy Ray would have to face every day for the next ten years — that she was rushing off to meet her lover and couldn’t spare the horses?
“You got her downtown?” he asked evenly.
“Downtown? Hell, no. They took her to —”
“’Cause you can keep her. You hear me, Quigg? I don’t care.”
“Dammit, Ray, listen to me. She’s been in an accident.”
Ray shot to his feet, dragging the telephone off the table. It hit the floor with a crash, but the connection survived. “What happened?”
“She missed a bend on Route 7, rolled her vehicle.”
He felt his stomach squeeze. “Is she hurt bad?”
“Hard to say. By the time I got there, they were already loading her into the bus. But she didn’t look too bad, considering she rolled that puppy like the Marlboro man rolls a cigarette. Paramedic said he thought she might have lost consciousness for a bit, but she seemed pretty with-it to me.”
Wait a minute, Quigg was off duty. Why’d they call Quigg?
Unless Grace was hurt so bad they thought his best friend should break the news.
Ray gripped the receiver so hard now his fingers hurt. “Why’d they call you?”
“Nobody called me. Suz and I were on our way home from visiting friends when we came on the scene. I stopped to see if our Mountie friends could use a hand. When I saw it was Grace, I offered to make the call.”
Okay, relax, man. Breathe. Maybe it wasn’t that bad. But she’d rolled the car.
Pressing a thumb and forefinger to his closed eyelids, he pushed back the images from every bad wreck he’d seen in his twelve years on the force.
“They taking her to the Regional?”
“She’s probably there already.”
“I’ll be there in —” Ah, hell, the booze. Morgan, you idiot. “Quigg, I’m in no shape to drive. Can you send a car?”
“Way ahead of you, buddy. Stevie B will be there in about four minutes.”
Four hours later, Ray sat across the desk from Dr. Lawrence Greenfield, the neurologist who’d just finished Grace’s workup.
The six cups of coffee he’d downed had sobered him up, but his stomach lining felt like he’d been drinking battery acid.
“So she’s going to be okay?” Ray had been through such a wild range of emotions in the five hours since Grace had dropped her bombshell, he didn’t know how he felt about this news. Christ, he didn’t even know how he was supposed to feel. He eyed the doctor, who looked way too young to be fooling around with anyone’s grey matter. “She’ll walk away with no real injury?”
“I wouldn’t go that far. At least not yet. She did suffer a Grade Three concussion.” Dr. Greenfield leaned forward in his chair, steepling his hands. “Brain injury is more of a process than an event, Detective. It can escalate over as much as seventy-two hours, so we’ll have to wait and watch for the next little while. What I can tell you is she has no focal injury we can pinpoint with conventional imaging.”
“No concentrated damage in any one area. The scans were clean. On the other hand, any time a patient loses consciousness, we have to be suspicious.”
“What do you mean, suspicious?”
“She could have a diffuse injury, where the pathology is spread throughout the brain, rather than focused in a specific spot. We’ll have to follow her for a while to rule out more subtle brain injury.”
Ray slouched back in his chair, kicking a leg out carelessly. “She’s conscious now?”
“Yes. And anxious to see you.”
Ray rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “Then I think I’d go back and look at those scans again, Doc.”
“She can’t possibly want to see me.” He congratulated himself on how matter-of-fact he sounded. “She left me tonight. She was on her way to join her lover when she had her accident.”
Dr. Greenfield blinked. “She told me she was coming home from an interview with a man who raises miniature horses, and that you’d be worried that she was late.”
The pony interview? “Doc, that interview was a week ago. The story ran on Monday.”
“I see.” Dr. Greenfield leaned back. “Well, this puts things in rather a different light.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying we could be looking at a retrograde amnesia.”
Amnesia? Oh, Christ, he was in a bad novel now. “But you said she’d escaped injury.”
“Amnesia can accompany any loss of consciousness, however brief, although I thought we’d ruled it out.” Greenfield removed his glasses and polished them. “She identified the date and day.”
“Couldn’t she have picked that up from the EMTs or the hospital staff?”
“Absolutely. Amnesia victims can be very good at deducing such things from clues gleaned after the accident. But she correctly answered a whole host of other questions for me, including the results of Tuesday’s municipal election.”
Ray digested this information. “Is it possible she remembers some things, but not others?”
“Oh, yes. In fact, it’s quite probable.” Dr. Greenfield replaced his glasses. “Amnesia can leave holes in the memory, with no predicting where those holes will appear. The location of the gaps can be as random as the holes in Swiss cheese. In fact, we call it Swiss cheese memory.”
Terrific. Freaking wonderful. “So she might remember the election results, but not the fact that she’s taken a lover?”
“I suppose it’s possible.”
To his credit, Greenfield’s gaze remained steady, but Ray could read his eyes. Faint embarrassment, carefully masked empathy for the cuckolded husband.
“Or she may not have forgotten Romeo at all, right, Doc?” he rasped. “Just the fact that she told me about him.”
“That’s also a possibility,” the neurologist conceded. “Whatever the case, Detective, I can vouch for the fact that she seems genuinely anxious to see you. She’s very much in need of some sympathy and support.”
Ray made no comment, keeping his face carefully blank.
“I should add that new memories are especially vulnerable, since it takes a few days for your brain to move them into permanent memory.” Dr. Greenfield hunched forward again. “Do you use a computer, Mr. Morgan?”
Ray struggled to follow. “Of course I do. Who doesn’t?”
“Well, to make a very crude analogy, fresh events, whatever might have happened in the last couple of days, are to your brain what random access memory, or RAM, is to your computer. If the computer unexpectedly loses power before a bit of data gets stored on the hard drive, it’s lost. You can boot up again, but whatever was in the RAM has been wiped out. Thus, with any loss of consciousness, it’s possible to lose memories that were in transition.”
Great. She’d probably forgotten she’d dumped him.
Ray stood. “Well, no time like the present, is there, Doc? Let’s go see my darling wife.”
Dr. Greenfield’s eyes widened. “Surely you don’t plan to tell her … I mean, you won’t —”
“Won’t what? Suggest she call her boyfriend so she can cry on his shoulder instead?” Ray drew himself up, growing in height and girth, and let his expression go flat in the way he knew inspired fear. Bad cop to badder cop. “Why shouldn’t I? She chose him.”
Dr. Greenfield looked singularly unintimidated, no doubt because he’d already seen the raw edge of Ray’s anguish.
Damn you, Grace, how could you do this to me?
“The fact remains that she seems to need you right now. She’s quite distraught. The last thing she needs is to be upset any further. If a diagnosis of retrograde amnesia is confirmed, I’d like to give her a chance to recover her memories on her own.” Dr. Greenfield’s intense gaze bored into Ray. “Can I have your cooperation on that point?”
Ray stared back at the doctor, unblinking. “I hear you, Doc. Now, take me to her.”
Grace Morgan felt like a dog’s breakfast.
Despite the painkillers the nurse had given her, everything she owned seemed to hurt, albeit in a distant way, and her head ached with a dull persistence. But she hadn’t cried.
In fact, she seemed unable to cry. Instead of tears, there was just a hot, heavy misery in her chest. If only Ray would come. If he were here with her, she could cry rivers.
She’d cry for her beloved Mustang, shockingly crumpled now, a red husk of twisted metal they’d had to open like a sardine can. How had she come out of it alive?
She’d cry for her carelessness.
She’d cry for scaring Ray, and for scaring herself.
Ray. He would gather her close and soothe her while the pain seeped out, soaking his shirt. He would lend her his strength, his toughness. He’d kiss her so carefully and sweetly….
She could almost cry, just thinking about it. Almost.
Ray, where are you?
On cue, the door swung open to admit her husband. Her heart lightened at the sight of him, so strong, so solid. His shoulders seemed to fill even this institutional-size doorway.
If she felt bad, he looked worse. Haggard. And for the first time she could remember in the six years she’d known him, he looked positively rumpled, and his face was shadowed with stubble as though he’d missed his second shave of the day.
Poor pet. He must have been so worried.
“Ray.” Her right arm hindered by IV lines, she reached across her body with her left arm. He took her hand, but there was something wrong. He looked … funny. Guarded. Wrong.
Oh, Lord, was she dying after all? Was her brain irrevocably damaged and nobody wanted to tell her? She could be hemorrhaging right now, her brain swelling out of control. Maybe that’s why her head hurt. Maybe….
Then he touched her forehead, brushing aside the fringe of hair peeping out from under the bandage, his gentleness dispelling her crazy impression.
“You all right?”
She would be now. “Yeah, I’m all right. Unless you know something I don’t.”
That look was back on his face again. “What do you mean?”
“They didn’t send you in here to tell me they mixed up the charts, by any chance? That my brain is Jell-O after all?”
He smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “No, your head is fine, as far as they can tell.”
She drew his hand to her cheek, pressing it there with her own palm. Some of the pain abated. “That’s what they told me, too, but you’d never know it from the way I feel.”
“Do you remember what happened?”
She swallowed hard, her throat tight with the need to cry. “I rolled the Mustang.”
“Like a cowboy’s cigarette, to quote Quigg.” Another ghost of a smile curved his lips. Lips he hadn’t yet pressed to hers.
She smiled tremulously. “I guess I’m lucky, huh?”
The tears welled, scalding, ready to spill. “I really loved that car.”
“Something tells me you could love another one.”
Again that twisting of his lips. It wasn’t humor that lit his eyes. What? A vague, formless anxiety rose in her breast.
“A newer model, with fewer miles on the odometer. Or maybe something faster, flashier.”
She wasn’t imagining things. His tone was … off. What was it she was hearing? Accusation? Grace blinked. “Are you very angry? About the car, I mean?”
He seemed to swallow with difficulty, and his hand tightened on her chin. “Grace, I don’t give a damn about the car.”
For the first time since he entered the room, she finally saw what she expected to see in his face. To hell with the car. You’re okay. You’re safe, his eyes said. Her sense of strangeness dissipated.
“I was so scared.”
He pulled her into his arms. The dam broke and her tears spilled over at last.
They kept Grace overnight for observation.
Ray stayed, planting himself in the single chair by her bed. Once he dozed off, waking when the night nurse came in for yet another check. At eight o’clock, he left Grace to her breakfast and went down to the lobby to find a pay phone.
He was a fool, plain and simple. He knew it, but knowing didn’t seem to help. He was going to take her home anyway.
Of course, it wasn’t like he had a helluva lot of alternatives. He couldn’t send her home to her mother, that frozen excuse for a human being, even supposing Elizabeth Dempsey would take her daughter in. Grace’s father had died two years ago, completing the retreat from an imperious wife which Ray figured must have begun minutes after Grace’s conception.
No, there was no place for Grace to go. Not in her current condition.
Ray dropped his quarter and punched in the number, kneading the tense muscles at the back of his neck as he waited for his Sergeant to answer. It was likely to be a short-lived arrangement anyway, having Grace back home. When she didn’t show up for her rendezvous, no doubt lover boy would come looking —
“Quigg, it’s me.”
“About time you checked in. How’s it going?”
“Grace is good. Concussed and sore as hell, but okay.”
“Yeah, I’ve been getting regular updates. But that’s not what I meant.”
Ray bit back a sigh. “Is this where I’m supposed to ask what you did mean?”
“Last night you were ready to let her rot in the lockup.”
“What’s wrong with that?” Pain shot up to the base of his skull, and Ray massaged his neck again. “Biggest favor I could do for the motoring public, with that lead foot of hers.”
“Except you don’t know how to be mean to Grace. Leastways, not before yesterday.”
“Yeah, well.” Ray rubbed at a scuff on the tiled floor with the toe of his Nikes. There was a pause at the other end of the line, no doubt so Quigg could digest that pithy comment.
“I think you should take some time off,” Quigg said at last.
“That’s actually why I’m calling. I’ll need a day or so to get Grace settled.”
“I was thinking more in terms of weeks.”
“Weeks?” The idea of spending days at home with Grace as she recovered her mobility — and her memory — filled him with cold dread. Not that it would take long. Even if nature didn’t cooperate, Grace’s paramour was bound to show up to hurry the process. Ray had been counting on putting in long days on the job, both before and after Grace’s veil of forgetfulness fell — or was ripped — away.
“I can’t take time off. You’ll be short-staffed.”
“Not for long. Woods is three days away from rotating in.”
“He’ll need orientation….”
“He’s been here before,” Quigg said. “Couple of days, it’ll be like he’s never been gone.”
“But what about Landis?”
“I’m pretty sure our small-town bad guy will be here when you get back.”
“There’s nothing small-town about that bastard, and you know it.” Ray knew he was letting the simmering fury of his domestic disaster leech into his voice, but he didn’t care. That puke Viktor Landis was a worthy target for it. “He’s got his fingers into every dirty deal that goes down in this town.”
“And some day you’ll catch him at it, but not this week. And not next week.” Quigg’s agreeable tone turned hard. “Compassionate leave, Razor. Two weeks, starting now. The work’ll be here when you get back. It’s not going anywhere.”
“But I only need a few days, not weeks.”
“Take ’em anyway.”
A definite command. Ray gripped the receiver tightly. Dammit, how could his friend do this to him? He needed to work.
“Get away from the station house,” Quigg said, his voice softer now. “Spend some time with Grace. Chrissakes, Ray, you haven’t taken a real break since your honeymoon.”
Quigg’s words stopped the retort on Ray’s tongue. Had it been that long since he’d taken a vacation? He was passionate about his job, but four years? Why hadn’t Grace said something?
“What do you say, buddy? You gonna take the time or do I have to suspend you?”
Before his promotion last year, Quigg had worked right alongside Ray in the detective bureau. Hell, he was the best friend Ray had in the world. But it wasn’t going to make any difference here. Quigg meant business.
Ray put his hand on the phone’s switch hook, ready to break the connection. “A week.”
“Two.” Another command. “And Ray? I know you’re not in the market for unsolicited advice, but I’m gonna give you some anyway. Whatever you need to do to get straight with Grace, do it. She’s a keeper.”
“Of course I’m right. She’s a good —”
“I meant about the unsolicited advice.” With that, he replaced the receiver.
He stood staring at the telephone for a few minutes. Then, feeling like a man condemned, he turned on his heel and went in search of the doctor to see about Grace’s discharge.
Six days later, Grace sat in her bedroom, battling tears.
Her headaches had receded, and her bruises were resolving nicely. The total body agony she’d come home with had faded to mere muscle pain, easily tamed by a couple of Ibuprofen. In fact, she had everything a recuperating patient could wish for.
Ray had taken time off to nurse her. He’d fixed her meals, bought her medication, ferried her to and from the doctor’s office, and generally anticipated whatever she needed before she asked for it.
In those first days, he’d massaged her sore muscles and changed the bedding regularly. He’d helped her in and out of the bath until her soreness abated enough for her to manage by herself.
He rented videos for her, most of which they watched together.
He talked to her, too. Did she remember the bird-watching trip they’d taken to the Tantramar Marshes last year? The Christmas they spent in their first apartment, before they’d bought this house? He even pulled out the photo albums she’d lovingly constructed over the years, and which he’d largely ignored, and got her to narrate each snapshot.
Yes, her husband was the perfect companion.
And she was thoroughly, completely miserable.
Oh, he was the soul of kindness, but his kindness was platonic, his touch devoid of anything remotely sexual. Even with their heads bent together over the photo album, she hadn’t managed to strike a spark off him. And she’d tried. Somewhere along the way, she seemed to have gained a care-giver and lost her lover. He even slept on the couch at night, claiming he didn’t want to jar her sore body.
That last thought had her knuckling her eyes like a kid.
Oh, grow up. He just doesn’t want to hurt you. It’s up to you to show him you’re better, that you’re ready to be treated like a woman again, not an invalid.
Though she thought she’d been pretty eloquent on the subject last night when he’d given her the back rub she’d requested. Or at least as eloquent as she could be in a non-verbal way. She squirmed as she recalled the way she’d purred and stretched under his hands, but none of her signals had slowed his firm, clinical strokes or brought that fierce light to his brown eyes.
Why, oh why, couldn’t he see how desperately she needed this connection with him, the reassurance of physical closeness?
She chewed at her lip. Maybe men really did need things spelled out. They were always complaining women expected them to read their mind. Maybe she had to be more direct about it.
Except he’d never had any trouble reading her body language before the accident. She’d never had to ask for that. The very idea made her face flame.
She’d come to Ray a shy virgin, and while he’d carefully and skillfully relieved her of that state, he’d seemed content for her to keep her demureness. More than content, she suspected. He’d grown up with a mother who prized ladylike decorum above all else. Grace grimaced, thinking how often her own nature fell short of that saintly mark, at least in thought if not in actual deed.
But in the five years they’d been married, Ray had never avoided their bed before. His disinterest had to stem from the accident, and his reaction to her injuries.
Her spirits revived as she warmed to the idea. Really, it made perfect sense. He’d always treated her gently, so careful not to frighten or hurt her. So much so that she sometimes wanted to scream. Obviously, he needed her to affirm her return to health more forcefully.
She’d do it, she decided. She’d do it tonight.
This was sheer, unmitigated hell.
Ray leaned against the cupboard as he waited for the kettle to boil. He’d been in some tight spots in his time. Hell, in the four years he’d put in on the Metropolitan Toronto force before coming to Fredericton, he’d seen some truly bad shit. But nothing had tested him quite like this.
Six days, and still she acted like everything was normal.
As far as he could tell, Grace’s recall was perfect, except for the last day or two before the crash. Which meant she must remember the fact of her lover’s existence. Much as he’d like to, he couldn’t believe those random Swiss cheese ‘memory holes’ Dr. Greenfield alluded to could excise the bastard so neatly.
Clearly, though, she had no memory of telling him.
And equally clearly, she was in the mood for sex.
The word brought down the cascade of visuals he alternately tortured himself with and ruthlessly suppressed. His wife, another man. Grace welcoming another man, opening her arms for him, parting her legs —
The shrill scream of the kettle dragged him back from the edge of madness. Cursing, he shut the burner off, forcing the images back into the dark place from which they’d escaped.
Back to the problem at hand. What to do about Grace’s amorous urges? He threw two tea bags in the pot and added boiling water. He sure as hell wasn’t going to oblige her. Thank God for that puritanical streak her mother had instilled in her. She wouldn’t ask him to make love to her, at least not in so many words. As for her non-verbal invitations, he’d continue to let them sail over his head.
How long would it take for her memory to return? Greenfield had urged him not to force the matter, allowing Grace to remember by herself. But there was a limit to how much a man could take, a limit Ray feared he was rapidly approaching.
And where was this jerk? It’d been six days. What kind of man wouldn’t come looking for a woman like Grace when she failed to show up?
The smart kind. The kind who fears the righteous wrath of a man who carries a gun for a living.
With a fierce oath, he drove the violent fantasy from his mind. Satisfying as it was, it was only fantasy. If Grace wanted to walk out that door with another man, he wouldn’t detain her.
Grimly, he put the teapot on the tray, along with the weekly rag containing the story he knew she was going to hate. Willing his face blank, he lifted the tray and headed to the bedroom.
Where was he? She’d heard the kettle whistle minutes ago.
Grace lay on the bed pretending to read, wearing nothing but one of Ray’s good white shirts.
Well, okay, Ray’s shirt and a pair of bikini panties. She wasn’t brave enough to dispense with that bit of covering. But it was literally a bit, a barely-there scrap of lace.
She flicked back her hair, lustrous from the oil treatment she’d used on it earlier. Smooth and touchable as silk, straight as a waterfall, it was her one vanity. She tossed it back again and drew one knee up, striving for a sexy pose.
Striving and failing. Shoot. She was far too jittery to pull this off. Ridiculous to get so twisted out of shape over the prospect of seducing her own husband. It’s just that he’d been so … distant. While he accepted her touch, she sometimes got the soul-shriveling impression he had to fight himself not to shake her off. And he sure as heck hadn’t initiated any touching of his own, at least nothing that wasn’t related to her care. Now that she was so much better, he hardly touched her at all.
Oh, God, what if his distance sprang from more than concern about her injuries? What if he didn’t want her? What if he found her efforts at seduction crass? What if he turned her down?
Grace pressed a hand to her stomach. It felt like she’d swallowed a dozen Mexican jumping beans, like the ones her father had given her when she was six. Jumping beans her mother had discarded with the trash despite Grace’s protests that the caterpillars inside would perish before they could emerge as butterflies.
She groaned. Way to go, Gracie. When he comes in, you can be wearing that whipped puppy look you get when you think about Mama. That’d be real seductive.
No, she needed to think positive thoughts. She needed to show Ray she was a well woman. Strong. Lustful.
Abandoning the magazine, she rolled onto her back. Closing her eyes, she imagined Ray approaching the bed, looking down at her with those smoldering, hooded eyes. He’d bend down to kiss her with exquisite delicacy, and his hand would go to her waist, careful not to rush her. Then, as she grew ardent beneath him, he’d lift his hands to her breasts.
Her breathing grew short. With one hand, she cupped a tingling breast, using her other hand to skim her thigh where the hem of Ray’s shirt left off. Next, he’d slowly unbutton the shirt —
Something — not noise, for Ray always moved soundlessly as a cat — made her open her eyes. He stood in the doorway, a tray clutched in his hands, looking like he’d been turned to stone.
Which, I guess, would make me the Medusa head.
Grace shook the dismal thought away. At least she’d captured his attention. Even as a blush warmed her face, she drew herself up on her elbows.
“There you are.” Her shallow respirations made her sound breathless as a schoolgirl, but she couldn’t help it. “I was going to come looking for you in another minute.”
Her words had the effect of unfreezing him. His movements jerky, he approached the bed, putting the tray down on the night table.
“I brought you the weekly paper.” Keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the tray, he poured the tea. “You better read it.”
Grace’s shaky confidence took a plunge. He hadn’t even spared her a sideways look after that first eyeful. To counter her flagging assurance, she reminded herself how much he loved seeing her in his shirts. He’d said so dozens of times, proved it dozens of times.
She took a deep breath, drew herself up on her knees. “I can think of things I want more than the Tribune,” she said, running her index finger along his bare forearm.
Ray sloshed the tea he was pouring. With a muffled oath, he put the teapot down and snatched the newspaper up before it could become totally saturated. Grace shrank back as he shook droplets off the newspaper.
“Here,” he said gruffly, thrusting the paper at her while he mopped the tea up with a napkin. “Front page, bottom right.”
Her face burning, she took the paper, more as a physical shield to hide her humiliation than anything else, but the photo at the bottom of the page drew her eye. The sight of her crumpled Mustang, its roof peeled back grotesquely, struck her hard. Without warning, her mind lurched backward.
She was in her car, hurtling through the night, the road black, unwinding in her headlights like a shiny snake. Her hands gripped the wheel, and her heart was heavy with misery. Oncoming cars, their headlights brilliant blobs through the prism of her tears. Tires catching the graveled shoulder. That sick feeling when she started to lose it. Then … nothing.
Grace lifted a hand to her head.
“It’s not like you didn’t expect this, right?” Ray swiped the bottom of her teacup with a cloth napkin and handed it to her. She accepted it automatically. “It’s one thing for your own paper to give the story a pass, but you had to know this other rag would run with it.”
She looked up at him, seeing black road, headlights. “My accident — what time was it?”
His gaze slid away. “Ten thirty. Ten forty-five.”
Almost eleven o’clock! That couldn’t be right. She’d been coming home from an interview with the horse guy. Garnet Soles.
The idea seemed somehow both right and wrong. She’d started home from that interview well before five o’clock. It just didn’t add up. And what was she doing out that late?
“Ray, where was I going?”
He lifted his gaze to meet hers, his expression guarded. “I don’t know.”
She searched his face for long moments. He spoke the truth, she decided at last. But he also lied. If he didn’t know where she was going, he most certainly knew why.
“I wasn’t coming back from the horse interview.”
She swallowed when he shook his head.
“I’ve forgotten something important, haven’t I?”
“That’s why Dr. Greenfield kept asking me those questions.”
Her stomach took a plunge. That’s why Ray had pored over the photo albums with her. Testing her memory, not reminiscing.
Ask him. Ask him why you were flying down that rain-wet highway after dark.
No! Whatever it was, she wasn’t ready to hear it.
Something scalded her thigh. She looked down to find she’d spilled most of her tea on herself.
Ray swore, taking the china cup from her trembling hands.
“Your best shirt,” she said.
He cursed. “It’s my fault.”
“It’s the one I bought you for your birthday last year.”
“Forget the shirt.” He strode to the bathroom. She heard the splash of water, then he was back, wet cloth in hand.
“Egyptian cotton.” She examined the brown splotch. She’d bought it at a men’s luxury store, spending the better part of a paycheck on it. Ray appreciated a really fine shirt.
“Here, put this on your thigh.”
Suddenly, it seemed imperative that she save the shirt. If she didn’t deal with the stain immediately, it would set, and she couldn’t use bleach on the fine fibers. “I’ll wash it now.”
Her fingers fumbled with the buttons, but he brushed her hands away.
“Forget the shirt, dammit. Just lie down and let me put this cold cloth on that burn.”
She lay back. He was right; it was just a shirt.
Ray perched beside her on the edge of the bed and gently applied the cold cloth to the red flesh at the top of her thigh.
As he bent over his task, Grace studied his lean face, so infinitely dear to her. Deep grooves bracketed a sensual mouth, and sandy brown hair sprang back from a high, smooth forehead. His downcast lashes lay sooty against his dark skin, shielding warm brown eyes.
Oh, God, why did it feel like she was losing him? It made no sense. Nothing made sense.
He glanced up. “Better?”
A muscle leapt in his jaw and he lowered his gaze again. “It’ll be okay,” he said, his voice gruff as he flipped the cloth to the other, cooler side.
Would it really? Something terrifying loomed at the edge of memory, just beyond her grasp. Would it ever be okay again? A shudder racked her.
“Hold me, Ray.” The words were out before she knew she was going to say them. His head came up again and she met his eyes, realizing with a shock that they were as pain-filled as hers must be. Her fear took another leap. “Please.”
He groaned, pulling her into his arms. She pressed herself against him, seeking to obliterate the fear bleeding into her soul from that dark, shrouded corner in her mind. Love me, she begged silently, her hands roaming his back.
He crushed her against his chest, trapping her arms and burying her face against his neck. Oh, Lord, he was going to rock her like a baby. He planned to comfort her in that same sexless way he’d treated her all week.
No! She wouldn’t let him do this. Her arms might be pinned by his embrace, but she still had options. She opened her mouth on his neck, tasting him with her lips and tongue.
Her name on his lips was a growl, a warning she was past heeding. She needed this, needed him. Wriggling on his lap, she inched higher, kissing the underside of his clenched jaw, inhaling the clean scent of the lemongrass soap he used.
“No, Grace.” He grasped her upper arms. “Your leg.”
“It’s fine. I’m fine. I have been for days.”
He eased her away, holding her at arm’s length. A few days ago — shoot, maybe a few minutes ago — she’d have let him put her aside. But not now. She couldn’t let him retreat to that place he’d been these past days.
She dipped her head as though giving up, and he slackened his grip. The instant he did, she leaned into him, using her full weight. Had he anticipated such a move, she never could have budged him, but as it was, she overbalanced him easily. The next instant she sprawled atop him. The look of astonishment on his face would have been funny, under other circumstances.
Oh, my God, I’m on top! What now?
Quickly, before he could recover his wits, or maybe before she recovered her own, she bent and kissed his slack mouth.
For a few heartbeats, he lay there, unresponsive. Fueled by equal parts of fear and need, she kissed him with renewed desperation. Then, just as she began to despair, she felt him catch fire beneath her. In a single heartbeat, he was right there with her. Trapping her head, tangling his fingers in her hair, he kissed her back.
Giddy, she slid her hands over him, glorying in the way he arched up into her. Could she take him like this, claim him as thoroughly as he’d claimed her so many times? The idea sent bolts of excitement zinging jaggedly along her nerve endings. Did she dare try?
Deciding she had nothing to lose, she broke the kiss and sat up so she could tackle his belt.
He groaned and pulled her back down. Wrapping an arm around her, he rolled her swiftly onto her back, pinning her beneath him. She wanted to protest, but then he was kissing her again, deep and hot and insistent, and she couldn’t think of one single thing to complain about.
Besides, it was probably best this way. She needed him to take her with an authority that left no room for doubt.
“Love me, Ray,” she urged against his ear. “Love me like you’ve never loved me before.”
His body stilled. Cursing, he levered himself off her and strode out of the bedroom.
Grace was still trying to process what had happened when she heard the front door slam. A few seconds later, Ray’s truck roared to life, reversed out of the driveway and accelerated off. As she listened to the sound of his engine growing fainter, she realized she’d felt this same black despair before.
At the wheel of her car as she sped away from her husband on a ribbon of wet blacktop.
Buy Saving Grace here:
Book 1 in the Serve and Protect Series
Copyright © 2010 Norah Wilson
Published by Norah Wilson
All rights reserved.
Detective John Quigley stepped inside Courtroom 2, closing the door quietly behind him. One or two people in the small gallery glanced up at him briefly, then returned their attention to the front of the courtroom where a young patrol officer was being sworn in.
Quigg took a seat, glancing around the drab, low-ceilinged, windowless room. Provincial Court. Nothing like the much grander Queen’s Bench courtrooms upstairs or the Court of Appeal chambers on the top floor. But aesthetics aside, they did a brisk business here. In the fifteen years Quigg had spent on the Fredericton force, he’d been responsible for sending quite a few customers through these doors. Doors that all too often turned out to be the revolving kind, the kind that spit offenders right back out on the street to re-offend.
On that thought, Quigg glanced over at the accused. Clean shaven and neatly dressed, he sat off to the right, beside the Sheriff’s deputy. His long hair, drawn back into a ponytail, glinted blue-black under the fluorescent lights. If he were conscious of Quigg’s scrutiny, he didn’t betray it with so much as a twitch of a muscle. Rather, he kept his flat, emotionless gaze trained on the witness.
“Your witness, Mr. Roth.”
At the magistrate’s words, Quigg faced forward again.
“Thank you, Your Honour.” The Crown Prosecutor adjusted his table microphone and directed his first question to the witness. Mike Langan, the impossibly young looking constable in the witness box, responded, his answer clear and concise.
Over the next fifteen minutes, the prosecutor methodically built his case with one carefully chosen question after another. Constable Langan’s manner in the witness box was confident and assured. He referred often to his notebook, which appeared to contain copious, comprehensive notes. Quigg unclenched his fingers and leaned back into his seat. What could go wrong?
His gaze slid to the one area of the courtroom he’d so far managed to avoid, the defense table. Suzannah Phelps. There she sat, primly erect, all that straight blond hair pulled up into a knot at the back of her head. Even under the black tent-like court robes, she still managed to look model elegant. His pulse took a little kick.
Dammit, why did he do this to himself? He didn’t have to be here. He was off today. He didn’t have even a glancing involvement with this case, or with Constable Langan.
Because you’re a bloody masochist.
“Any questions on cross, Ms. Phelps?”
The magistrate’s voice cut into Quigg’s thoughts.
“Just a few, Your Honour.”
A few? Yeah, sure.
Quigg glanced at Langan, saw the younger man tense. Relax man. He tried to send the thought telepathically. Don’t let her get to you. Don’t let her see you sweat.
“So, Constable Langan, you didn’t actually see my client flee the crime scene?”
“No, ma’am. Not from the actual scene. But I did see a man fitting the robber’s description running just four blocks from the scene.”
“And who provided this description?”
“And the description was…?”
“Native … er, First Nations individual, average height, stocky build, long black hair worn in a ponytail.”
“Were those the shopkeeper’s precise words? First Nations individual?”
“Did the shopkeeper describe the perpetrator as Native? Native American? First Nations?”
Quigg sank lower in his seat, suppressing a groan. This was gonna be a train wreck and Langan didn’t even know it yet.
“Exactly how did he describe him, then?”
“He made it clear that the individual was Indian.”
“Those were his words, then? Indian?”
“No.” Constable Langan shifted, glancing down at his notebook.
“What were his precise words, Constable?”
Langan glanced at the judge, then back at Suzannah Phelps. “I believe his precise words were, wagon burner.”
“Which you took to mean a member of the First Nations?”
Quigg massaged his temple. Ah, Christ, here we go.
“Thank you, Constable.”
Her voice was polite, prim, even. Which just served to show that sharks came in all kinds of guises.
Suzannah glanced down at her notes, then back at the hapless witness. “So, Constable Langan, could you take a guess how many males from our Native population would fit that description?”
“Objection, Your Honour. We have eye-witness testimony from the shop owner that the accused is the individual who committed the robbery. He was picked out from a lineup containing no fewer than ten Native men of similar ages and builds.”
Finally! An objection from the Crown. Quigg resisted the urge to rake a hand through his hair.
“As my learned friend knows, I could cite dozens of cases where eye-witness identification put innocent men behind bars,” responded Suzannah. “And those were cases where the perpetrators’ faces were not partially obscured by a kerchief.”
“Point taken.” The judge leaned forward. “Your objection is overruled, Mr. Roth. You may proceed, Ms. Phelps.”
“Thank you, Judge.” She turned back to the witness. “Again, Constable Langan, in your opinion, can you tell me how many males of Mi’kmaq or Maliseet descent could answer to that description: medium height, stocky build, black hair?”
A pause. “Quite a few, I would imagine.”
“A majority of them?”
“Possibly,” Langan conceded.
“Then any Native male observed within a reasonable radius of the crime scene might have fit your description?”
“Maybe. But then again, there aren’t a lot of them in this particular shopping district.”
Mother of God. Quigg sank even lower in his seat.
“Ah, so my client shouldn’t have been there in the first place, in an exclusive shopping district?”
“That’s not what I meant.” Langan’s face hardened. “This particular Native male was fleeing capture.”
“Is that so?” She made a show of reviewing her notes. “Was my client running when you first spotted him?”
“When did he start running?”
“When I cut him off with my vehicle. He was walking fast—I mean, real fast—down the sidewalk, in an easterly direction. I pulled into an alley, blocked him off.”
“And then he fled?”
“Yes. He turned and fled back in a westerly direction.”
“Were your red and blue bar lights flashing when you executed this maneuver?”
She shuffled some more papers. “Is it conceivable that my client’s flight might have been an ingrained response to perceived police harassment?”
“No? Constable Langan, are you a member of a visible minority?”
The judge held up his hand in the prosecutor’s direction. “Overruled.”
“Imagine for a minute that you are a member of a visible minority. What might you do if a police cruiser were to suddenly swing into your path like that?”
Constable Langan bristled. “The guy had the money on him. The exact amount that was later determined to be missing from the cash register.”
“Ah, so now we have a First Nations male, walking where he ought not to, with more money in his pocket than he should have?”
“Money he stole from that shopkeeper at knifepoint!”
Damn, the kid was losing it.
“Ah, yes, the knife.” Suzannah flipped the page on the legal pad in front of her. “A knife which bore no fingerprints and which you haven’t been able to tie to my client.”
“He dumped it down a sewer grate a block from where he was apprehended, two blocks from the scene. He still had the polkadotted blue-and-white handkerchief in his pocket. Give or take the coins in his pockets, he was carrying exactly the amount of money that was stolen. He was ID’d by the shopkeeper…”
Quigg closed his eyes, pressing a thumb and forefinger against his lids. Inside his head, he heard the theme from Jaws.
“Thank you for that summation, Constable, but I think the Crown was planning one of its own.” She flipped another page on her yellow pad. “Since you’re feeling so loquacious, maybe you can answer this question for me—do you yourself ever carry a handkerchief?”
“Would you like me to repeat the question, Constable? When you’re off duty, wearing your civilian clothes, do you ever carry one of those polkadotted handkerchiefs? Shoved in a front pocket of your jeans, maybe, or in your coat pocket?”
Five more minutes. That’s all it took to completely decimate the Crown’s case. Not that Roth surrendered without a fight. He called the shopkeeper and adduced his evidence. Evidence which the defense challenged effectively. But by the time Suzannah finished her summation, she’d planted more than just the seed of reasonable doubt. No one in the courtroom was surprised when the judge pronounced his verdict without even a short recess. Not guilty. The prisoner was released.
Quigg stood and slipped out the door as quietly as he’d slipped in.
* * *
Suzannah stood, turning to scan the gallery. The seats had emptied out, apart from her client’s two female cousins. Certainly the owner of the gaze she’d felt boring into her back for the last half hour was gone.
She turned toward Anthony Roth, whose lean, dark features were wreathed in resignation. Fiercely competitive, he hated to lose, but he was a good prosecutor. He knew his role wasn’t to secure a conviction at any cost; it was to get to the truth.
“And you made yourself a brand new friend on Fredericton’s finest, too. Quite a day.”
When young Mike Langan had finally been excused from the witness box, his body language as he jammed on his hat and tugged at his Kevlar vest had screamed exactly how he felt. Suffice to say he wouldn’t be joining the ranks of the Suzannah Phelps Fan Club any time soon.
That’s how it goes, Suzie-girl. You didn’t get into this business to make friends.
“Couldn’t be helped,” she said lightly. “You know I had to play the cards I was dealt.”
“Of course. I’d have done the same thing in your shoes.” Roth swept his briefcase from the desk. “Fair warning, though. It’ll be different next time we cross swords over this guy.”
“There won’t be a next time.”
His lips lifted in a cynical smile. “Right.”
As soon as the Crown Prosecutor moved off, her client moved in. Gripping her hand in a two-handed clasp, he pumped it enthusiastically. “Thank you, Ms. Phelps.”
“You’re welcome, Leo.” Suzannah withdrew her hand. “You still interested in a job at the graphics studio I mentioned?”
He nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I am.”
She plucked a business card from her briefcase and handed it to him. “Give this lady a call. She agrees you have talent, but you’d have to prove yourself.”
The card disappeared into Leo’s huge hand. “Thanks, Ms. Phelps. This is great.”
“And you’d have to stay clean, Leo. You understand?” She caught his gaze and held it. “Squeaky clean. No more altercations with the police.”
“I hope you do. You put a foot wrong after this, they’ll be watching.”
He cast a sideways glance at his cousins. “Gotcha.”
“Good. Now get out of here.”
He grinned and was gone.
Suzannah turned back to the desk, her smile fading as she began packing her note pads, law books and files back into the big hard-sided court bag.
Dammit, she’d won, hadn’t she? Why didn’t she feel better?
Made yourself a brand new friend today … Roth’s words echoed in her head.
“Oh, for pity’s sake.” She was such a baby sometimes. Shoving the last file into her bag, she glanced around the courtroom. Normally, she’d adjourn to the ladies room to remove her court garb, but she could do a striptease in here today and there’d be no one to witness it.
One tug and the white tabbed collar came off. Then the robe, over the head like a choir gown. She ran a hand over her hair to make sure it hadn’t come loose. Satisfied, she folded the robe carefully, stuffed it into a blue velvet sack and pulled the drawstring tight. There. Street ready. She smoothed her pinstriped skirt, slung the sack over her shoulder, hefted her bag and headed for the exit.
Despite the quick change, her getaway was not as clean as she would have liked, however. In the corridor, she ran into Renee LeRoy, half-assed reporter and full-fledged pain-in-the-ass. Suzannah searched her mind for the name of the local weekly Renee worked for, but it eluded her. Not that it mattered. She avoided reading her own press if she possibly could, especially anything this particular woman might have to say.
Well, at least this explained the sensation she’d felt of being watched back there in the courtroom. Suppressing a groan, Suzannah tacked on a pleasant smile. “How’s it going, Renee?”
The other woman didn’t smile back. In fact, her face was set in grim lines more reminiscent of a Russian forward in the ’72 Canada/Russia hockey series than a female reporter. As soon as the thought crossed her mind, Suzannah chastised herself. Her dislike of Renee LeRoy had nothing to do with the other woman’s appearance and everything to do with her attitude.
“I see your client walked away a free man.”
Oh, hell, here we go again. The woman was a broken record. “The burden of proof always rests on the Crown, Renee,” she said reasonably. “This time, they failed to meet that burden.”
“Thanks in no small part to you.”
“Why, thank you.” Suzannah offered a wide if disingenuous smile. “I’d be flattered, except I think any reasonably competent criminal lawyer would have secured an acquittal under the circumstances.”
The reporter’s eyes narrowed. “Doesn’t it keep you awake at night, Ms. Phelps? Doesn’t your conscience ever bother you, knowing you’re helping guilty men go free?”
Suzannah’s lips thinned, along with her patience. Was a little open-mindedness from the press too much to ask? “What would bother me is to see a conviction entered on the quality of the evidence we saw today. My client deserved to be acquitted. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a schedule to keep.”
A minute later, she descended the steps of the Justice Building and crossed the parking lot. The sun had already begun to dip behind the tallest buildings, casting long shadows. Even so, heat rose from the asphalt in shimmering waves.
All of southern New Brunswick had been gripped in a heat wave since the July 1st Canada Day holiday. Like the rest of her pasty-faced compatriots, Suzannah had welcomed the first real taste of summer. Now, almost three weeks later, she cursed the humidity that made perspiration bead between her breasts before she’d even reached her car.
She thought briefly about stowing her case in the BMW’s trunk, but decided that would require too much effort. Instead, she hit the button on her remote to release the door locks. She opened the back door on the driver’s side and tossed the garment bag onto the back seat. She’d started to swing the heavy bag into the vehicle when a flash of color from the front passenger seat caught her eye. She lost her grip on the handles, and the bag collided with the car’s frame and thudded to the pavement.
Oh, God, no. Not again.
* * *
“Can I give you a hand with that?”
She seemed to just about come out of her skin at his words, whirling to face him. Wide blue eyes locked onto him, and for an instant, Quigg saw fear. Not surprise. Not your garden variety momentary fright when someone startled you. This was real, raw fear. Then it was gone, and she wore her smooth Princess face again.
“Thank you, no. I can manage.”
Her voice was cool, polite, completely assured. Had he imagined the blaze of fear?
Bending, she righted the briefcase, deposited it on the car’s seat and closed the door. She must have expected him to move on, or at least to step back, because when she turned, she wound up standing considerably closer than before. Closer than was comfortable for her. He could see it in the quick lift of her brows, the slight widening of her eyes. But she didn’t step back.
Neither did he.
Damn, she was beautiful. And tall. In those three inch heels that probably cost more than he made in a week, her gaze was level with his. Throw in all that long blond hair that would slide like silk through a man’s hands, and a body that would…
“You’re that cop.”
He blinked. “That cop?”
“Regina vs. Rosneau.”
“Good memory.” They’d secured a conviction on that one, but her client had taken a walk on appeal. Though in truth, Quigg hadn’t minded over much. The dirtball had done it, all right, but strictly speaking, the evidence had been a bit thin. One of those fifty/fifty propositions.
“Regina vs. Haynes. That was you, too, right?”
Okay, dammit, that one still stung, although the insult was almost two years old now. Two defendants, separate trials, separate representation, each accused managing to convince a jury the other guy’d done it. Of course, Quigg could take consolation from knowing the noose was closing yet again around Ricky Haynes’ good-for-nothing drug-dealing neck. Haynes had since moved outside the city limits, beyond municipal jurisdiction, but Quigg had it on good authority that the Mounties were building a rock-solid case against him.
Yes, he could take some consolation in that. Some small consolation. Not enough, however, to blunt the slow burn in his gut right now.
“Keep a scrapbook, do you, Ms. Phelps? Or maybe you cut a notch in your little Gucci belt, one for every cop you skewer?”
Something that looked astonishingly like hurt flashed in her eyes, but like before, it was gone before he could be certain he’d really seen it. Then she stepped even closer and smiled, a slow, knowing smile that made him think about skin sliding against skin and sweat-slicked bodies fusing in the dark, and he knew he’d been mistaken. When she extended a slender, ringless finger to trace a circle around a button on his shirt, his heart stumbled, then began to pound.
“Definitely not the belt thing,” she said, her voice as husky and honeyed as his most sex-drenched fantasy. “At the rate you guys self-destruct under cross, there’d be nothing left to hold my trousers up, would there, now, John?”
Then she climbed in her gleaming little Beemer and drove off before his hormone-addled brain divorced her words from her manner and realized he’d been dissed.
Against all reason, he laughed. Lord knew it wasn’t funny. Certainly, young Langan wouldn’t share his mirth.
Of course, the whole thing defied reason, the way it twisted his guts just to look at her. She was rich. She was beautiful. She was sophisticated. She was the daughter of a judge, from a long line of judges. She was … what? He searched his admittedly limited lexicon for an appropriate term. Kennedy-esque.
Meanwhile, his own father had worked in a saw mill; his mother had cleaned other people’s houses. Suzannah Phelps was so far out of his league, there wasn’t even a real word for it.
She was also the woman not-so-affectionately known around the station house as She-Rex. And worse.
Except she hadn’t looked much like a She-Rex when she’d spun around to face him, her face all pale and frightened.
Quigg turned and headed for Queen Street, where he’d parked his car. What had spooked her? Not his sudden appearance. He was sure of that. She might not have much use for cops, but she wasn’t scared of him.
Maybe it was something inside her car.
He’d reached his own car, which sprouted a yellow parking ticket from beneath the windshield wiper. Great. He glanced up, searching traffic. There she was, at the lights a block away.
What could be in her car to make her look like that? Or was he completely off base? Was it a guilty start, not a frightened start? Hard to say. She’d masked it so quickly.
Damn, he was going to have to follow her.
Climbing into his not-so-shiny Taurus, he fired it up, signaled and pulled into traffic.
Even at this hour with the first of the home-bound traffic leaving the downtown core, tailing her was child’s play. As he expected, she headed back to her office. No knocking off early for Suzannah Phelps. She probably put in longer days than he did. Two blocks from her uptown offices, she pulled into another office building’s parking lot. Quigg guided his vehicle into the gas bar next door and watched Suzannah drive to the back of the lot where she parked next to a blue dumpster.
Pretending to consult a map he’d pulled from his glove compartment, Quigg watched her get out of the car and scan the lot. Then she circled the BMW, opened the passenger door and pulled something out. The car itself blocked Quigg’s view, but he saw a flash of mauvey/pinky floral patterned paper. Then she lifted the dumpster’s lid and tossed the object in. Quickly, she rounded the car, climbed in and accelerated out of the lot.
Quigg watched her vehicle travel east along Prospect. When she signaled and turned into her office’s parking lot, he slipped his own car into gear. Thirty seconds later, he lifted the lid to the dumpster.
Flowers? She’d been scared witless by flowers?
More likely by who sent the flowers, he reasoned. Maybe they still had a card attached. Out of habit, he patted his pockets for latex gloves before remembering he didn’t have any on him. He wasn’t on duty. He had some in a first aid kit in his car, but he wasn’t about to dig them out. This wasn’t an investigation.
Well, not a sanctioned one.
Grimacing, he retrieved the prettily wrapped bouquet with his bare hands. The florist’s paper appeared pristine, undisturbed, as though Suzannah hadn’t even looked at the contents. Carefully, he peeled the paper back. Then he dropped the bouquet back into the dumpster.
Holy hell! Long-stemmed red roses. Or rather, what he suspected used to be red roses. Now they were more brown than red. Rusty, like old blood. Dead. Probably a dozen of them.
His mind whirled. How had she known? She hadn’t even opened the wrapper.
Because it wasn’t the first time, obviously.
Because they’d been deposited in her car, right there in the barristers’ parking lot, while she was inside defending Leo Warren. While a commissionaire kept an eye on the lot. While her car doors had no doubt been locked.
No wonder she’d been spooked.
He picked up the bouquet again and examined it closer. No card. There’s a surprise, Sherlock.
Why hadn’t she told him? She knew he was a cop.
Domestic. The answer came instantly. Had to be. She knew the source, but wasn’t prepared to make a complaint because she didn’t want to make trouble for the jerk who’d done this, thereby increasing his rage. How many times had he seen that age-old dynamic in operation?
Except he hadn’t expected it from Suzannah. She was too much of a fighter. What could be going on in her head?
Quigg tossed the bouquet back in the dumpster and closed the lid. Climbing back into the Taurus, he sat for long moments.
He should leave this alone. He knew it.
He also knew he wasn’t going to.
“This, you dumb-ass, is how careers are ruined.”
But she’d called him John. Back there, outside the courthouse, she’d called him by his Christian name. Nobody called him John, except his mother. It was Quigg, or Detective Quigley, or Officer, or even Hey, pig! But back there, while her index finger had traced delicate circles on his chest, she’d called him John.
Stifling a sigh, he keyed the ignition and slipped the Ford into gear.
Buy Guarding Suzannah here:
Perhaps because I live in Canada where fall is already giving way to winter, the phrase “Hot Autumn Nights” conjures pictures of indoor activities for me. But before it reaches that point, I love walking in the outdoors. I’m lucky enough to live very close to a pine forest and open fields which I walk every night, although I’ll have to confess that after 30 years of marriage, my companion is usually my trusty dog, Chloe, not my husband. But I do love seeing people freshly in love out walking. It warms my heart, even if my fingers are cold.
Some other things that warm up a cool fall night for me:
Sipping the season’s first hot apple cider. Yum! It just feels so cozy.
Even cozier, sipping warm red wine in front of a fire with a special someone!
And of course, movie night with your significant other.
Speaking of watching TV on the couch, here’s a scene from Guarding Suzannah, Book 1 in my Serve and Protect series. Quigg and Suzannah aren’t as comfortable as the two pictured above. Far from it! Suzannah is attracted to Quigg, her self-appointed protector during a scary stalking situation, but she’s very skittish sexually. Quigg is a patient man and determined to show her it can be different. Let’s watch them get ready to get “cozy” on the couch:
She held up a hand to stop him. “I know what I’m talking about, John. It’s not like I tried it once and decided okay, I guess sex isn’t for me. I do feel stirrings from time to time. I am human. And when it seemed like the right thing to do, the natural progression in a relationship, I tried it.” She dropped her eyes, twisting the delicate stem of the now empty wine glass in her hand. “It never got any better.”
“I don’t believe that for a minute,” he said. “The way you kissed me –”
“That’s why I was so upset last night. For a few minutes, it felt like I could … like I might want to….”
Her voice trailed off and the room was silent for a moment. When he spoke, his voice was a disbelieving croak. “And you don’t think you can get that back? Is that the trouble?”
She colored. “You don’t understand.”
“No, sweetheart, you don’t understand.” He stood and held a hand out to her. “Come here.”
She took a step back. “That was last night. I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to go to bed with you anymore.”
God, she was beautiful. And so earnest. She really believed she was frigid. “Who said anything about bed?” he asked, advancing a step closer.
“Have sex, then.” Her voice was tight as she retreated another step.
“Who said anything about sex?” Something leapt in her eyes, and he didn’t think it was fear, though she did take another step backward. He smiled. “Don’t you want to know if you can recapture the feeling?”
The yearning and fear that chased across her face made his heart squeeze. This time when he reached for her hand, she didn’t retreat, possibly because she’d backed herself up against the antique buffet and had nowhere to go.
“Come on, Suzannah, trust me this once,” he said. “No pressure, no expectation, just some good old-fashioned necking on the couch.” He stroked the inside of her wrist, where her pulse pounded madly, though with fear or excitement, he couldn’t say. But she certainly wasn’t indifferent.
She chewed the inside of her lip. “I don’t know.”
“What have you got to lose? If it doesn’t work for you, you can tell me to take my hands off you. How’s that?”
He was gratified to see her breath come faster, but still she held out.
“I don’t get it. What’s in it for you?”
He laughed. “Baby, if you still have to ask that when we’re done, you can give me a failing grade.”
“Won’t it be … frustrating?”
“That’s a small price, and one I’ll happily pay.” Especially since he’d been fantasizing about kissing that prim mouth into a flushed, swollen bloom since the first moment he’d laid eyes on her in the courtroom two years ago.
Still she hesitated.
“I won’t let things get out of hand, if that’s what you’re worried about.” Even as he offered the assurance, he prayed for the strength and patience he was going to need to call upon to keep his promise.
With those two words and the trust implicit in them, any doubts about his self control fell away. He’d damned well die of sexual frustration before he betrayed that trust.
He stroked his thumb along the inside of her wrist again, felt the heat of her blood, the strength of her pulse. “So, what do you say?”
“Okay,” she said, her voice high and thin. He felt her fingers flex around his. “Okay, let’s do it.”
So, what’s you favorite way to heat up an autumn night? (Remember – keep it clean!) Post a comment below and you name will be entered in a draw to win one of two prizes:
- A signed copy of my newest romantic suspense from Montlake Romance, Every Breath She Takes (which is currently #1 in Romantic Suspense and #1 in Fantasy, Futuristic & Ghost!); or
- A USD $10 Gift Certificate from Amazon.com or another online bookstore of your choice that sells gift certificates.
Once you’ve commented, please continue on your way! There’s lots more fun to be had and prizes to be won, culminating with the main prize, the ginormous $155 Gift Certificate giveaway! If these links don’t work for you, please visit the bloghop host site, Bella Media Management, and pick up where you left off. Happy hopping!
- H.D. Thomson – Paranormal Romance Author (Int)
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Welcome to the Rock*It Reads Heating Up the Holidays Blog Hop. There are 15 stops on the blog tour. The more blogs you visit and comment on, the greater your chances of winning the grand prize, a $75 gift certificate to Barnes & Noble or Amazon, and a huge collection of books from the authors of Rock*It Reads. Smaller prizes will be available at each stop along the way.
Good luck, and have fun!
What better way to heat up your holidays than with the hot, sexy men of our romance novels?
I have to have a picture of my hero in my mind before I start. Sometimes that mental picture morphs a bit as I get deeper into the character, but sometimes the physical image of him holds for me through to the end. Here are two such cases.
The first hero I’ll tell you about is Tommy Godsoe, a police dog handler who has been sidelined by injury, from my book Protecting Paige (Serve and Protect, #3). It was important to the story that he be quite a bit younger than the heroine, Paige, a youthful-looking single mother. I also wanted him to be very attractive, with sensual features and a slightly dissolute look. He had to be very lean, with the body of a runner (K-9 handlers have to be extremely fit). As I searched my memory banks—and countless celebrity image sites—I found the perfect match: Jakob Dylan, of The Wallflowers. Here’s a YouTube clip of Jakob (it starts to close in on his face about 42 seconds in, if you want to advance it).
No doubt listening non-stop to Red Letter Days, my favorite CD by The Wallflowers, as I wrote the book contributed to Jakob’s image persisting throughout. But when it came to creating the book’s cover, unfortunately Jakob wasn’t available. ,-) I really like this cover, but it’s an example of the compromises you have to make. I’ve yet to land a cover where the hero truly looks the way I imagine him. That being the case, what I strive to do is capture something true about the story. I think this does that nicely.
Another character whose image I had firmly in my mind was Cal Taggart, the hero from Every Breath She Takes. He’s a former champion bull rider who has retired from the rodeo to run a cow-calf operation in the Alberta foothills. Most bull riders are very compact men. The tall, rangy ones tend to get whiplashed and battered. Cal’s not especially short, but he’s compact and wiry. I also didn’t want him to look like a stereotypical cowboy. I wanted him to have a sort of edgy cool factor where you could imagine him in a leather jacket astride a motorcycle as easily as on horseback. This time, I looked to television/film and found my model in a guy with a similar name—Callum Keith Rennie, affectionately known by fans as CKR. In fact, when I settled on my model, I decided that Cal would be short for Callum as a tribute to CKR. Here’s a Youtube homage appropriately titled “Callum Keith Rennie is Awesomeness”.
This cover was created for me by Montlake and I think they did a great job. You can’t really see a lot of detail of the hero in this picture, but they nailed the emotion.
Of course, the way I see the hero of my books might differ wildly from the way you see him, and that’s okay. That’s more than okay. And hey, if you’ve read either of those books, I’d love to know who you imagine as the model for either Tommy or Cal. Seriously!
Both of these guys are very lean, Tommy in a taller, rangier way, and Cal in a more compact, powerful way. But I’ve cast heroes who are as big and robust as Russell Crowe, as pretty as Jude Law, and as rugged and … well, craggy as Daniel Craig. It’s not really about body type for me. I appreciate a wide variety of men. What about you? Are you as eclectic as me, or do you have a particular look you favor? A guy who’s just your type? Let me know in your comment below. From the comments, I will draw three random winners, for the following prizes:
- $10 Gift Certificate
- Signed print copy of my Rock*It Reads book Guarding Suzannah, the first book in my Protect and Serve series; and
- Signed print copy of my newest release from Montlake Romance, Every Breath She Takes
Leave a comment below to enter for your chance to win!
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|Kris Kennedy||Bonnie Vanak||Erin Kellison|
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|Norah Wilson||Jennifer Lyon||Monica Burns|
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|Pamela Clare||Margo Maguire||Rock*It Reads|
To set the scene, Fredericton Police Detective Ray Morgan has been forced to take the wife he believes has been unfaithful on the lam with him while he tries to figure out who is trying to kill them. She’d shocked him to the core a week ago when she’d announced she was leaving him to go join some unnamed other man, but she’d wound up crashing her car on the way out of town and no longer remembers anything. Not the name of the guy, not even the fact that she was having an affair. Her neurologist says the memories may come back, but she needs time and peace and rest. That plan goes out the window when bullets start flying and Ray gets jammed up by an internal investigation he fears is a frame job. He has to keep them safe until he can unravel the mystery and safely go back to his life. What he doesn’t count on is falling in love with his wife of five years, for real this time.
Ray was right, Grace thought, as she clutched the towel around her shoulders. Her hair had always been her “thing”. A full, rich sable, it fell perfectly straight with the lightest encouragement with a brush and blow dryer. Everything else about her might be forgettable, but people noticed her hair.
It seemed only right somehow that she should sacrifice it.
“Okay, give me some guidance, here.”
Poor Ray. He’d dodged bullets back there in that parking lot without breaking a sweat, but his hands were shaking now. She pretended not to notice.
“Just comb out a small section, then pull it tight between your fingers.”
“Forget it, Grace. I’m not cutting it that short. There’d be nothing left for the hairdresser to fix.”
“But that’s hardly short enough to make any difference.”
They compromised, agreeing on a mid-length.
“Okay, what now?”
“Just angle your fingers like so.” She used her own fingers to demonstrate.
“Perfect. Now snip away.”
He muttered something that sounded like “Hail Mary,” and snipped.
The coppery lock fell onto her denim-covered knee. No going back now. For a moment, panic assailed her.
She cleared her throat. “That’s good. Keep going.”
The second lock fell, this one hitting the newspapers, joining Ray’s impossibly blond hairs. She blinked rapidly. It was just hair. An external manifestation of her stupid vanity. She would not cry.
Besides, her old precision haircut was fine for the woman she’d been before this nightmare started. The new Grace needed something different. It was going to take all the courage she could scrape together to get through this. Just as her smooth coif had given her poise and polish, maybe a sassier color and a rough-and-ready cut would lend her the edge she needed.
Image was everything, right? Fake it until you can make it.
“What do I do with the front?”
She glanced up at Ray. His mouth was set in that way that made his jawbones stand out, the grooves bracketing his mouth deeper than ever. He looked like a man completely out of his depth and hating it.
“Leave it fairly long, about so.” She indicated a spot at the level of her cheekbone.
“Christ, I’m probably making a mess of this.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she assured him. “With all the mousse and hair spray I bought at that drug store, I could probably make it look like the CN Tower, if I wanted to.”
That earned a laugh, but when he made the next snip, his jaw had again taken on that grim line. The chair wasn’t high enough, she noticed. He had to bend to do the job, which must be killing his back.
And that’s not all she noticed, now that her panic had passed. His hands were clumsy in her hair, compared to the brisk competence of her stylist. But they were gentler, too. He separated the next section delicately, easing the comb through a snarl. She shivered.
“It’s okay. It doesn’t hurt.”
But it did hurt. Quite suddenly, it hurt a lot. It hurt that this was the first time he’d voluntarily touched her for so long, apart from that display they put on for the clerk.
And, oh, that scene in the office! She dropped her eyelids, her face heating at the memory. The way he’d touched her….
She clamped down on the warmth flooding her belly. Nothing had changed. Their performance had been necessary to divert the clerk’s attention.
Still, awareness shimmered through her when he pushed his fingers through her hair again.
“Almost done. Then you can get that cold towel off your shoulders,” he said, obviously mistaking her shiver.
True to his word, he was soon finished. Grace didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed when he pronounced her done. Removing the towel from around her neck, she strode to the closet-sized bathroom to inspect her new appearance. She flipped the switch for the overhead light and froze.
Yikes! Was that really her? Her eyes looked huge, her chin more pointed. Lord, it even seemed to lift her cheekbones.
Ray’s reflection appeared behind her in the mirror. “What’s the verdict?”
“Sorry,” he said gruffly. “I told you it was a mistake.”
“No, it’s good. You did a better job on me than I did on you.”
“Really. A little mousse and a blow dryer and it’ll kick butt.”
He just regarded her in the mirror, unspeaking, a yellow-haired stranger.
She pushed a tendril of hair behind her ear and sighed. “I suppose I should style it now, so we can hit the road.”
“No, let’s get a few hours sleep first. We can finish our transformations in the morning.”
She met his gaze in the mirror. “I thought we were going to sneak away under cover of night?”
He shook his head. “Better to blend in with rush hour traffic tomorrow morning than travel tonight. I just wanted to pay for the room in advance so we wouldn’t have to show ourselves to the clerk after we’d morphed.”
“We actually get to grab some sleep?”
The corners of his mouth turned up at her obvious relief, his eyes crinkling the way she loved. She smiled back into the mirror. For a few seconds, despite their altered appearances, they were the old Ray and Grace, but then his face sobered again.
“You take the bed; I’ll sleep in the chair.”
He turned and left the bathroom, leaving her staring into the mirror at the empty spot where he’d stood. She drew a deep breath, then followed him.
“That’s not going to work, Ray. You’ll insist on driving tomorrow, which is fine, but that means you’re the one who needs the rest. I’ll take the chair tonight, then doze in the car tomorrow.”
“I can sleep anywhere, Grace. It’s part of the training. You, on the other hand, would sit awake all night, and we can’t have that. We’re both gonna have to be sharp.”
And you’d rather wake up with a cricked neck, a sore back and a killer headache than share that bed with me.
She felt like crying again, which was really stupid. He’d slept on the couch every night since she’d come home from the hospital. Why should it hurt that he sleep elsewhere again?
She shrugged and turned away. “Suit yourself,” she said, picking up a t-shirt and disappearing back into the bathroom.