Posts Tagged ‘danger’

First Chapter Excerpt – Nightfall

Excerpt from


A Vampire Romance (Book 2)


Norah Wilson

Copyright © 2011 Norah Wilson

Published by Norah Wilson

All rights reserved.




Chapter 1


Aiden Afflack hummed to himself as he lifted the brass doorknocker to summon St. Cloud Police Chief Weldon Michaels to the front door of hisCarrington Placeresidence. Rapping twice, he stepped back.

What was that tune running through his head? It had been with him since he’d risen this evening.

Audioslave? Nope.

Queens of the Stone Age? Un-uh.

Collective Soul? Yeah, yeah, that was it. Definitely. He cricked his neck one way, then the other and felt the satisfying crack. Ooh, I’m feeling better now.

The curtain in the bay window twitched, but Aiden feigned obliviousness. From inside, he clearly heard Michaels jam a clip into an automatic weapon. Aiden rolled his eyes. Nobody trusted anyone anymore.

“Who are you and what do you want?”

The voice came through the door. A very cautious man indeed.

“I’m a friend of your wife’s,” Aiden called. “Well, more a friend of a friend, actually, but I have a personal message for you, from her.”

“Nice try. Now move on, before I call the cops.”

Aiden thought about knocking the door in. It was solid oak with a good deadbolt on it, but it could have been made from cardboard and paperclips for all the challenge it would present. On the other hand, there was no reason to get messy.

He cleared his throat, did his best to summon a puzzled tone. “Well, hell, I thought you were the cops. Do I have the wrong address? I’m looking for Chief Weldon Michaels. Got a message for him from his wife Lucy. Pretty woman, ’bout an inch over five feet, brown hair and eyes? Oh, and a real cute little daughter. What’s her name?Devon? Any of this sounding familiar?”

Silence for a few heartbeats. “What kind of message?”

“She wants to come home, but before she can see her way clear to doing that, we need to have ourselves a talk.”

Another pause, then the sound of the deadbolt retracting. The door cracked open, and Weldon Michaels peered out past a security chain.

God save me from fools. Growling, Aiden pushed the door open. The hardware anchoring the security chain tore free from the wall. Before Michaels could cry out, Aiden stepped inside and closed the door behind him. In the next heartbeat, he seized Michaels’ right wrist and squeezed until the other man screamed and dropped the pistol he held. It hit the hardwood floor with a clatter but didn’t discharge.

“A gun?” Aiden released the other man’s hand. “Now I ask you, what kind of a greeting is that?”

Michaels — clearly a slow learner — reached for a second weapon jammed into the waistband at the small of his back. Before he could get to it, Aiden had Michaels face down on the floor with his right hand way closer to his right shoulder blade than God ever intended it to go.

“Jesus, my arm. You’re breaking it!”

“Not even close. You develop a feel for these things,” he said conversationally. “It’s sort of like braking when you’re driving on ice. You gotta find the threshold.”

“No, my shoulder! It’s gonna pop! I swear to God!”

Aiden reefed Michaels arm a half inch higher, eliciting a scream, followed by a stream of curses.

“See? Still plenty of play. It’s a feel thing. Now are you gonna behave yourself if I let you up?”

“Christ, yes! I’ll do whatever you say.”

“Atta boy.” Aiden helped the other man to his feet. “Now, let’s go plug the code into the alarm, shall we? And don’t fuck with me. If the alarm company or the cops call in a minute to ask if everything’s okay, things will be very much not okay for you. Understood?”


Aiden “helped” Michaels to the alarm panel, where he keyed in a five-digit number. The winking red light went out.

“Good man. Now we’re going to need your handcuffs. I know they can’t be far away, since you laid hands on that pistol fast enough. So be a darling and let’s go fetch them.”

Michaels swore again.

“I know, I know. It’s gotta sting, getting cuffed with your own bracelets, but look at it this way: they’ll be a helluva lot more comfortable than the alternative if you force me to improvise.”

Michaels sagged. “In that drawer.”

A minute later, Chief Weldon Michaels sat cuffed in one of his own kitchen chairs, a sturdy-looking oak proposition. Michaels somehow managed to look both scared and pissed at the same time.

Aiden took a seat at the table, placing both guns — one retrieved from beneath the telephone table in the entryway and the other from the small of Michaels’ back — on the gleaming wood surface. “Okay, Weldon — may I call you Weldon? — we need to talk.”

Michaels glared back. “You’re wasting your time. I don’t keep anything of value of here, at least nothing portable enough to carry off. And damn you, you’ve already scored both my guns. I suggest you just let yourself out and get while the getting’s good.”

“You think I was bullshitting earlier, don’t you? You think I was feeding you a line about your wife to get inside?” Aiden leaned back in his chair and kicked his feet up to rest on the table. “That’s rich.”

Fear flashed in the other man’s eyes, which he quickly attempted to hide with bravado. “Look, mister, if you have a message for me, let’s get on with it.”


“What’s that?”

“If you’re gonna call me mister, you might as well make it Mr. Afflack. Or Aiden, if you prefer.”

Another flash of fear. Aiden could almost hear the wheels turning in Michaels’ head. He’s shown me his face, given me his name. There can only be one reason for that….

“Not to worry, Weldy. I think I’ll call you Weldy.”

Michaels tensed. Testing the cuffs and the strength of the chair’s spindles, no doubt.

Aiden sighed. “For Chrissakes, I’m not planning to kill you. I’m just going to spend the night here chatting, much like we are right now.”

Michaels blinked. “Spend the night?”

“Forgive me. It’s probably horribly uncomfortable with those cuffs on. Let me just deal with these nasty guns. Then I’ll take the bracelets off so we can talk all civilized-like.”

Aiden picked up the SIG 9mm with his left hand, grasped the barrel with his right. Closing his eyes, he slid his hand up and down the barrel a few times to attune his mind to the metal. Then he bent it effortlessly.

“Jesus Christ!”

Aiden placed the ruined pistol back on the table, picked up the .22 and repeated the process on the gun’s short barrel.

“What the … how’d you do that?”

Aiden shrugged. “A parlor trick. You should see what I can do with a dinner fork.” He stood and extracted the handcuff key from the pocket of his worn jeans. “Now, about those cuffs….”

Michaels shrank back.

Aiden lifted his eyebrows. “What? You’d prefer to keep them on after all?”

The other man collected himself, embarrassment staining his cheeks. “Of course not. Please remove them.”

Aiden obliged.

As soon as his hands were free, Michaels immediately started massaging his sore right shoulder.

“Ah, yes, the shoulder. Sorry about that.” Aiden gave him his best aw shucks smile. “But I couldn’t have you putting bullet holes in me, could I?”

Michaels said nothing, but the stiffness in his face spoke volumes. Good. Get brave, you miserable little wife-beating worm. Get angry. Give me a reason to hurt you again.

Michaels cleared his throat. “So, this message from my wife?”

“She wants to come back toSt. Cloud. In fact, she’d like to move back into this very house, seeing as she put so much sweat equity into it.” Aiden glanced around at the tastefully appointed kitchen. “I must say she did a great job.”

“Of course she can come home. That’s all I’ve wanted since she left.”

“Ah, but there’s a catch, Weldy. You can’t stay.”

Michaels made a choking sound, but quickly found his voice. “She thinks I’m just going to clear out of town?”

“That would be ideal, but no, I don’t think she expects that. It will be sufficient if you leave this house and never darken the door again.”

Michaels started to bluster that he owned the goddamned place and no one could put him out of it, yadda, yadda, yadda.

“Save it,” Aiden commanded. “You see, I know what you did to her, Weldy.”

A pause. “I don’t know what she told you, but—”

“You systematically isolated her from her friends and pressured her into quitting work. Then, when you got her where you wanted her, you escalated the abuse. You terrorized her, Weldy. You threatened the life of her child if she tried to leave you. Is any of this sounding familiar? No? Well how about this: you used your position and power to convince her that escape was impossible.”

Michaels leapt up, his face wreathed in fury. “You don’t know the first fucking thing about my family.”

Aiden swung his feet to the floor, but remained in his chair. “Oh, I know quite a bit, Chief Michaels. For instance, I know you’ve been abusing the police resources at your fingertips to search for her, ensuring she had to stay on the run, unable to stay anywhere for any length of time. I know she’s terrified for her life and that of her daughter.”

“If she’d just—”

“Shut up, Weldy, and listen. I’m the messenger, and the message is that it’s over. She’s coming back, and you, my friend, are going to become the most obliging, most accommodating, most respectful ex-husband on the face of the planet. Oh, and you’ll relinquish any rights to the child.”

“Fuck you.” Powered by rage, Michaels gripped the table’s edge and overturned it, then bolted for the door.

Grinning, Aiden swept the table away as if it were constructed of matchsticks and gave chase, overtaking his quarry in a blur of speed. By the time Michaels reached the door, Aiden lounged against it, the picture of indolence.

“Going somewhere?”


Michaels’ face suddenly looked like it was stretched too tightly across the underlying bones. Shock did that to some people. With others, their faces went slack, as though—

“Who are you?” Michaels rasped. “Dear God, what are you?”

Aiden allowed his smile to spread, noting the precise moment when Michaels caught the first glimpse of his grossly elongated cuspids. This time, Michaels’ face slackened.

“I’m glad you asked.”


# # #


Sam Shea burrowed deeper into her denim jacket and shifted her legs yet again. The August night was soft, and three hours ago she would have called it warm. Now, however, dew was beginning to form on the blades of grass around her. Only the patch beneath her butt and outstretched legs remained dry as she sat propped against the base of a gargoyle statue.

Yes, a frickin’ cement gargoyle. Unfortunately, she didn’t have a lot of choices about where to pitch her tripod. It was the only spot in the vicinity where she could get far enough away from the ubiquitous streetlights to see even the brightest stars in the sky. Rural shoots were so much easier.

Of course, it was anybody’s guess what she was here to capture. It might have nothing to do with celestial bodies. On the other hand, what else could it be?

Well, okay, ninety minutes ago, she’d have laid bets that she was here for an electrical storm. The flashes of lightning had started to the south, illuminating the suburban landscape in an eerie purplish light. Counting the seconds between flash and boom, she tracked the storm from nearly ten miles off. She’d pack up and head for the car when it reached six miles, the safety zone. No photo was worth getting killed for, especially when she could get a decent shot from the relative safety of her rented Acura. But the storm had veered off at the last moment, making a retreat to the car unnecessary.

So if it wasn’t a fantabulous light show, what the heck had drawn her here?

For the first time in a very long time, she wondered if her vision had let her down. Right place maybe, but the wrong time? Or maybe there was anotherCarrington PlaceinSt. Cloud, and she’d camped at the wrong one. But what were the chances of that in a city of just over a 100,000 people? Of course, maybe there was anotherCarrington Placein an entirely differentSt. Cloud.

Except she knew she wasn’t wrong. She was never wrong. She’d thought so once, six years ago. After five hours of nothing more dramatic than the occasional distant meteor streaking across the night sky, she’d given up her post in disgust and gone back to the dubious comfort of her motel bed. The next morning, she’d found the local coffee shop abuzz about the dishwasher-sized meteorite that had crashed to earth in a pasture eight miles out of town. The same pasture where she’d abandoned her vigil at 4:00 a.m. If she hadn’t bailed out, it would have made a hell of a photo.

No, she wasn’t wrong. Despite the boredom of the past few hours, the raw energy that had drawn her here still persisted. Something was going to happen here, dammit.

For the umpteenth time tonight, she flicked on her hand held infrared spotlight, lifted her infrared binoculars to her eyes and did a ground-level scan. Two houses down, a skunk made its leisurely way across the front lawn, oblivious of the surveillance. Nothing else stirred. With a sigh, she lowered her binoculars and flicked the light off.

No light show in the sky. Nothing interesting on the ground.

She leaned back again, wriggled her butt into a more comfortable position and glanced up at the leering griffin’s massive head. “Don’t let me nod off, okay? I’d hate to miss the fireworks. Or whatever we’re going to have.”

Predictably, the griffin made no reply.

“Okay, be like that,” she muttered. “See if I—”

The sound of a door closing — specifically, the door of the two-story house directly across the street — cut short her one-sided conversation with the gargoyle. Automatically, she reached for the floodlight and the binoculars.

There! A man — rendered slightly greenish, thanks to the infrared technology — gliding out the flagstone driveway.

Quickly, she traded the binoculars for the tripod-mounted digital camera, flipping it to NightShot mode. A quick look through the viewfinder confirmed the target was out of range for the camera’s infrared illuminator. Dammit. She squeezed the trigger switch on the spotlight again, locked it in the on position, planted its legs in the soft earth and trained it on the adjacent driveway. This time when she found her subject through the viewfinder, her mouth went dry.

Dear God! If she could give the fiercest storm a corporeal human body, this is what it would look like. Beauty and violence, all rolled up in one gorgeous, terrible package.

Zoom, focus.

God, what a face!

Hard zoom, focus, click.

Without conscious thought, habit took over as she snapped picture after picture.

She watched him draw out a cigarette and apply a flame to it. Fascinated, she watched him inhale deeply, remove the cigarette from between sensual lips, then exhale. Then he lifted his lids and looked directly into her camera lens.

Sam pulled back, shrinking closer to the gargoyle’s cold cement base. He can’t see me. Not from this distance. He’s standing in the light and I’m buried in shadow. And he sure as hell can’t see my spotlight.

Carefully, she leaned forward again to peer through the viewfinder. And there he was, still staring straight into the camera. And then — holy mother of God — he smiled at her. A knowing, toe-curling, sex-drenched smile.

She jerked back again, but this time, she failed to suppress a gasp. Not that it mattered, because he was gone. Vanished. She searched the sidewalks for his retreating form, but he’d melted away as completely as the smoke from his cigarette had dissipated in the night air.

She exhaled the lungful of air she’d been holding. Whew! That was … interesting.

But even more interesting was the dawning conviction that nothing more was going to happen here. As she sat there bringing her heartbeat under control, she realized that the muted anticipation that kept her rooted to this spot for half the night had dissipated. Interesting, indeed.

Well, no point hanging around now. She got to her knees and packed her gear. Before stowing the camera, she flipped back through the pictures she’d captured to make sure she hadn’t imagined the last minutes. She hadn’t. There he was. Even frozen in greenish miniature, he emitted an improbable dynamism. She frowned. Could he be the force that had called her here? A shiver lifted the hairs on her arm. It didn’t seem very likely. Of course, the alternative to that scenario was that her vision had been just plain wrong, which was even less palatable than the thought that a man might have drawn her here.

Sighing, she shut off the camera and tucked it carefully in the carry tote. With a last glance around the empty streets, she headed for her car. Ten minutes in a hot shower and a few hours sleep on the pillow-top mattress at her hotel would fix her up. She’d figure this thing out in the morning.

# # #

An hour later, she turned on a lamp and crawled out of bed. The dream would just keep coming back if she didn’t write it down. She found a pen and hotel stationery and scribbled the words St. Cloud, riverbank under the bridge, tomorrow night. Call and postpone your flight!

There. Maybe now she could sleep.

Three hours later, after a poached egg and a cup of room service coffee, Sam uploaded the images from her camera’s flash card onto her photo viewer, a task she would normally have done last night. Backup was critical in this business. But since she hadn’t captured anything saleable, she hadn’t bothered. Now, she breathed a sigh of relief when she saw confirmation that the upload was successful.

She paged quickly through the first few photos, which she’d taken merely to fine-tune her settings. The house across the street with its foot lighting, the row of streetlights marching west, the retaining wall behind her. Then she reached the first shot of the man.

Ugh. Monochromatic green. NightShot was useful for surreptitiously framing your shot, but you then had to switch modes to get a normal-looking color shot. Of course, that required using a visible flash, which in turn required her to be considerably closer to the subject. It was great for photographing small critters in darkness, but not so great for capturing people. It just wasn’t socially acceptable to creep up on a stranger and blast their night vision away with a blinding flash.

Especially this stranger.

She bent closer to the display to inspect her work. She’d zoomed in on the guy, but it was a full body shot rather than tight to the face. He looked taller than she remembered, but the wide shoulders and narrow hips were the same, as was the longish, wavy hair. He wore what appeared to be a leather jacket over a dark shirt and dark pants.

She pulled back, feeling oddly disappointed.

He had the kind of body that would make any woman look twice, no question about it. But she just wasn’t feeling that same gut punch she’d felt last night. Guess she could chalk last night’s reaction up to jet-lagged giddiness and the late hour.

She toggled up the next photo, and oh, baby, there it was, that thrill low in the belly.

A high forehead pleated in a frown, and a straight nose. Several strands of curly blond hair spilled forward to graze high cheekbones, partially obscuring his eyes. At least, she thought his hair was blond. It was too pale to be otherwise. The light also illuminated lean cheeks, a strong chin and an unsmiling mouth. Beautiful. Stern. Forbidding.

She advanced the next photo, and sucked in her breath on a hiss.

His face was tilted toward her to better reveal a sinfully gorgeous male mouth, but that wasn’t what set her heart to pounding. It was his attitude of sharpened senses. She could swear he was scenting the night breeze through those flared nostrils, his head cocked to catch the slightest sound, eyes searching the darkness. She leapt out of her chair, overcome by the sensation that she was about to be discovered.

God, woman, get a grip. She snorted at her own panicked reaction. He couldn’t see her. Not now, and not last night, either. At most, he may have suspected he was being watched and played to a possible audience, but standing under the streetlight like that, looking into the deep shadows…. No, there was no way he could have seen her.

She seated herself in front of the viewer again and toggled up the next photo. Despite being prepared this time, her heart still jolted in her chest.

He was looking straight at her!

And oh yeah, he’d known he had an audience. An appreciative audience. Unlikely as it seemed, he must have sensed her. Awareness was written there in his face, in the lift of an eyebrow and that sensual, full-lipped smile.

Sam expelled her breath. “Well, aren’t you all that?”

The unknown man smiled back from the photo, his NightShot-glowing eyes maddeningly unreadable.


The word slid into her mind, making her lips tighten. Last night, she’d allowed herself to contemplate the idea that this man might be the force that drew her here. The idea was no more palatable in daylight than it was in the dark of night. To think she might have delayed her return to Sioux City after the Montreal gallery opening, extending her Canadian trip to come to St. Cloud, New Brunswick, to take a photo of a mere man?

No. No way. It didn’t bear thinking about. She’d been mistaken about the time and location, that’s all. There was a first time for everything, right? Besides, last night’s vision had rectified the mistake. She now had a very clear idea where she needed to be and when.

She toggled the curser, but there were no more images. Sam moved backwards to the final picture, the one where she was sure he knew she watched him, and shivered.

Maybe she’d do a little research, for curiosity’s sake, starting with finding out who lived at thatCarrington Placeaddress she’d camped outside of last night. Maybe something would surface to explain why she’d been called there.

Four hours later, she had a fix on the owners, a couple by the name of Weldon and Lucy Michaels. A Local Google search revealed that Weldon was the chief of police here inSt. Cloud, but turned up nothing on Lucy. Well, that let out anything nefarious going on inside that house, him being the chief of police and all.

She pushed thoughts of Michaels and his late night visitor to the back of her mind and turned her attention to preparing for tonight’s stakeout. After studying maps at the library, she drove unerringly to the downtown, parked in a parking garage, and set out on foot with her camera bag slung over her shoulder. A four-minute walk connected her with the riverfront walking trail, and another ten minutes put her practically in the shadow of the bridge. The grass was tall here, with a couple of distinct trails leading down the embankment toward the river. This was it. This was the place. She fished her digital out her bag and took a couple of shots.

The sound of crunching gravel alerted Sam to the presence of another pedestrian. She glanced up to see a young man approaching from the west. As he neared, she noted industrial facial piercings and a faux-hawk.

She lifted a hand. “Excuse me, could I—”

“Sorry,” he said, side-stepping her. “I don’t pose for tourists.”

As if. Before she could correct his assumption, he’d walked on. She jogged to catch up.

“Hey, if I wanted to take your picture, I wouldn’t want to do it here. I’d want to do it in a studio, or at least with the proper lighting equipment to do you justice. But that’s not why I stopped you. I just have a question.”

He slowed. Apparently flattery worked. “Whatcha wanna know?”

“Those paths back there, the ones leading down to the river. What’s that all about?”

He shifted the bag he was carrying from one tattooed shoulder to the other. “Homeless.”

Sam felt the truth resonate inside. Yes, that fit with the feeling the dream had left her with. “Is anyone down there now?”

Judging by the look he gave her, she expected him to say, What am I? Kreskin?, but what actually emerged was, “Dunno. Maybe. Or maybe they’d be out hustling for handouts this time of day.”

Sam chewed the inside of her lip. “The police don’t object to them living down there?”

“The cops?” He snorted. “Don’t imagine they give a rat’s ass where they sleep at night, long as they’re outta sight. All they really care about is keepin’ the panhandlin’ under control.” He glanced up the trail, obviously wanting to be on his way.

“Thanks for your help.”

“No problem.” He hiked his bag up and walked off.

She lifted her camera and took a few shots before crossing the neatly mown green to the taller grasses. She picked the closest path, which also happened to be the most well-worn, and descended the embankment, pausing occasionally to take more pictures. Passing through a thin belt of trees, she emerged to find a hard-packed footpath paralleling the river’s edge.

The smell assailed her immediately. There was the usual pungent river smell that made you think of mud and fish and silt and organic rot, but underlying it was the unmistakable odor of human urine. Ugh. She snapped another picture.

She turned west and walked toward the bridge. Before she got twenty yards, she spotted the first makeshift shelters. Made from a mishmash of plywood, corrugated cardboard and blue plastic tarpaulins, the flimsy structures huddled just inside a thin belt of trees she’d just come through. No wonder none of this was visible from the walking path. For that matter, it probably wasn’t terribly visible from above either, save perhaps for a few flashes of blue through the canopy of leaves.

Briefly, she thought about following the path all the way to the bridge and out the other side of the copse of tree. The riverbank appeared to be deserted, but she couldn’t bring herself to go further. Deserted or not, there was something invasive and ugly about wandering past these squalid refuges like a sightseer, camera in hand. Plus, frankly she was scared. These people couldn’t or wouldn’t be integrated into normal society, often due to chronic mental illness. It was the same in cities all overNorth America. Bursting at the seams, psychiatric hospitals everywhere disgorged their long-term residents into their streets to make do the best they could.

She retraced her steps and continued west along the trail until she found another path in the tall grass. As she expected, it led down to the river, then back toward the treed area that concealed the tent community. Again, she ventured only far enough down the path to spy where flashes of blue tarp began to reappear. Though less plentiful on this side, she counted six structures, some of them no more than lean-tos.

She turned and looked west. Less than a mile away, tall condominium buildings and a handful of old brick office buildings rose up against the skyline. Sighing, she retraced her steps up the incline, through the tall grasses to the manicured green bisected by the graveled walking trail. Just like that, she was back in the shiny cleanSt. Cloudof the tourist brochures.

She turned back eastward and followed the trail for a hundred yards or so before veering off toward the concealing ribbon of brush and trees that shielded the shelters. A handy thing, that little green belt. It kept the homeless out of sight and out of mind for the tax-paying, job-holding, upstanding citizens ofSt. Cloud. That same invisibility kept the ire of the police off the backs of the vagrants.

She followed the tree line with difficulty. The grass here was knee deep, and without benefit of a beaten path, it conspired to trip her with every step. But just the other side of the bridge, she found what she was looking for — the perfect vantage point for surveilling the area later tonight.

Tucked just inside the tree line, it afforded enough cover for her, and offered the best view she was likely to get of the encampment below. Also ideal was the positioning of the streetlights on the four-lane bridge above and the towering light standard that illuminated the walking trail behind her. With any luck, there should be sufficient light to monitor goings on without having to constantly sweep the area with her infrared equipment. Likewise, it was close enough that she could step out of the tree line quickly if the commotion tonight turned out to be a light show in the sky.

Satisfied, she trekked the short distance back to her car. Just one more task and she could go back to her hotel and catch a few hours sleep. Stashing her equipment in the trunk of the rental, she walked half a block toQueen Streetand found a payphone. She located the general number for the St. Cloud Police Department, plugged a quarter into the phone and dialed it.

When the receptionist answered, Sam instructed the woman to put her through to Chief Michaels, employing the tone she’d learned in her first year in business-for-self. The trick to obtaining cooperation was not to demand it, but rather to simply take that cooperation for granted. Faced with such easy, inherent authority, most people gave her exactly what she expected. The St. Cloud PD receptionist was no exception.

The phone rang twice in Michaels’ office before it was answered. “Chief Michaels,” a voice clipped. “Who am I talking to?”

“Good afternoon, Chief. I’m a reporter for—”

“Whoa. You can stop right there, lady. We have a communications officer who handles press inquiries. Call the switchboard again and they’ll route you—”

“You had a visitor last night. Is that right, Chief Michaels?”

A pause. “I’m going to transfer you to my personal line. Please hang on.”

She heard him make the transfer. Before his personal phone could manage a full ringburst, he’d picked it up.

“Dammit, what more do you people want from me?”

You people?

“I’m sorry,” he said, rushing to fill the silence. “I’m just a little tense. The moving company is there right now, packing up my belongings. I’ll be out by nightfall, just like I said.”

Sam blinked, listening to his ragged breathing. What the devil was he talking about? Channeling that voice of authority again, she went fishing:  “Very good. And the rest?”

“I won’t hurt her again, I swear it. I won’t even make contact. She can move back tomorrow. I’ll give her a divorce, full custody ofDevon, the house … whatever she wants.”

Holy crap! What had she stumbled into?

“Hello? Hello?” The chief’s voice rose on a note of panic. “Are you still there?”

“Relax, Chief. I’m still listening.”

“You have to believe me! I’ll never lay a hand on Lucy again. On either of them. God, I won’t even breathe in their direction. You’ll see. You can watch me as closely as you like.”

He’d been abusing his family? Bastard. “You can bet we’ll be watching,” she said in her silkiest voice. “Need I tell you what we think of recidivists?”

“No, ma’am. I’m sorry. Jesus … my ulcer. I have to go. I’m sorry.”

The line went dead. Slowly, Sam hung up the receiver. Well, well, wasn’t that interesting? Chief Michaels’ late-night visitor had been a friend of Mrs. Michaels. And a very persuasive one, by all appearances. What could he possibly have said or done to reduce the chief of police to the jabbering wreck she’d just talked to?

She thought about the photos back in her hotel room and the peculiar energy that had emanated from Michaels’ caller, and decided he was probably quite capable of decimating stronger men.

No matter. It was none of her concern. Michaels was still alive and well, and presumably newly embarked on the straight and narrow.

But who was the mystery caller? The estranged wife’s new boyfriend? Hired muscle? Some vigilante out to avenge victims of violence? Random whack-job?

Well, she wasn’t going to solve that mystery here, standing in a phone booth.

Correction — she wasn’t going to solve that mystery at all.

Stepping out of the phone booth, she headed for her rental and the promise of a nap back at her hotel room. She had to be fresh, had to focus on tonight. Whatever the reason she’d been called toSt. Cloud, it would all become clear tonight.


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First Chapter Excerpt – Protecting Paige

Excerpt from

Protecting Paige

Book 3 in the Serve and Protect Series


Norah Wilson

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.



Chapter 1


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.

Until now.

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.”

“Who’s 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.

“He’s missing?”

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.

“Tom Godsoe.”

“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.

“Dillon, right?”

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.”

“He’s eighteen.”

“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.

“Thanks, Tommy.”

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.”

Oh, shit.


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First Chapter Excerpt – Saving Grace

Excerpt from

Saving Grace

Book 2 in the Serve and Protect Series


Norah Wilson

Copyright © 2010 Norah Wilson

Published by Norah Wilson

All rights reserved.




Chapter 1


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?”

“It’s Grace.”

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?

Her lover.

“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.”

“Focal injury?”

“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.”

“I’m sorry?”

“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?”

“Very lucky.”

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.”

“You’re right.”

“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.

Very 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.

“You okay?”

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?”

He nodded.

“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?”

“I’m scared.”

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.


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