This month we are pleased to share an excerpt from the first book in the series Courted by a Cowboy by Mindy Neff.
If today had been a fish, Sunny Carmichael would’ve pitched it right back into the water.
She swept up the broken water glass and dumped it into the trash can, adding the clear shards to the shattered jelly jar already there. The jar’s sticky contents lay smeared over the crumpled paper plates and napkins like a gooey mosaic decorating the den.
Putting away the broom, she noticed that her Doc Martens made sucking noises on the faux marble floor. Oh, well, she thought, sitting down at the kitchen table. She wasn’t the greatest housecleaner. Animals were her forte.
Simba lumbered over and rested his huge head on her knee, looking up at her with velvety brown eyes that had snagged her the moment she’d seen him in the pound four years ago, surrounded by a litter of kittens. Part Labrador retriever, part Irish Wolfhound, and part who-knows-what, he was roughly the size of a month-old colt, with a tail that could knock a bull on his butt in one exuberant swoop, and a canine smile that apologized beforehand for his clumsiness.
“What’s next, Simba? Mama says things break in threes. We’ve had two in one day…” She patted Simba’s wide skull. “Three, if you count Michael.”
Michael Lawrey had been her fiancé for the past two years—until three days ago, when he’d dumped her. Wealthy, passably handsome and powerful, he was on a political climb with an eye toward the governor’s seat.
Evidently, he’d decided she no longer fit in with his plans.
Sunny stared at the sticky floor, but couldn’t work up the energy to do anything about it. She was bored and vaguely upset, when she should have been totally torn up. After all, the man she was to marry had chucked her. Something was wrong that she felt more embarrassed and inadequate than heartbroken.
She wasn’t sure what to do with herself. Here she was on a beautiful summer Saturday evening, sitting alone in a plush condo in Malibu.
Finding herself all alone felt weird. The condo was quiet. The right side of both the bathroom cabinet and bedroom closet were empty. Michael had always stored his personal items for the nights he stayed over on the right because he was left-handed. He claimed it gave him more elbow room to brush his teeth, blow-dry his hair and dress.
“Why in the world didn’t I object to the way he’d taken over?” she asked Simba. “It’s my house. Maybe I would have preferred the right side.”
Simba’s tongue snaked out to lick her wrist. His eyes darted away as though he had no idea who’d delivered that sandpapery slobbering caress. It was a vice she’d yet to break him from. Like a chocoholic sneaking sugar, Simba sneaked licks.
Lately, he was the only mammal she cuddled, and that seemed wrong. Her love of animals was part of her life, a soul connection, deep and profound. It was what had compelled her to become a veterinarian in the first place.
The phone rang, and Sunny jumped. She didn’t immediately answer, even considered letting the machine pick up. By damn, she wasn’t up to a pity call now—or talking to some shallow gossipmonger spouting false concern just to get the skinny on what had happened between her and Michael.
By the time she got to the phone, the machine had switched on. The sound of her mother’s heavy Texas drawl made her stomach lurch.
Just what she needed. A lecture from her mom on the merits of hanging on to a man. Still, nothing said she had to tell her mother about the breakup. Anna Carmichael was clear over in Austin. It wasn’t as if she would know what was going on in Los Angeles.
Sighing, Sunny finally reached for the receiver. “I’m here, Mama,” she said, cutting off Anna in mid-syllable.
“Oh, I’m so glad I caught you at home. This being a Saturday night, I worried you and Michael would be out.”
“Michael’s out.” Literally. “I’m not.” Obviously.
Anna paused. “Is everything all right? Are you and Michael having troubles?”
Sunny sighed again. Trust her mother to hone in on the “man” angle. Accurately this time, damn it. She ought to keep her mouth shut, but knew she wouldn’t. Some strange failing inside her made her feel that she was sinning if she didn’t admit every little thing to her mother.
“Michael and I are splitsville.”
“We broke up.”
“Oh, Sunny. What did you do?”
“Me?” Her voice trembled despite her efforts to keep it even. “Why do you assume it’s something I did?”
“Perhaps I stated that poorly. You misunderstood.” Sunny didn’t think so. She’d spent twenty-nine years trying to measure up to her mother’s expectations and Southern standards of what a woman should be. She didn’t think she’d hit the mark yet.
“Sunny?” Anna said when the silence stretched. “Are you all right?”
“Yes. I’m fine, Mama.”
“Would you like to talk about it?”
“There’s not much to say. Michael and I were trying to mesh our calendars and carve out a convenient time for a honeymoon, but he seemed to have a conflict with every date I chose.” More likely, he hadn’t wanted to take time off. He’d reminded her that they were both aiming for the top of their respective fields, and it was imperative that they not let the competition get there first.
“He is busy, Sunny.”
She felt her insides clench, but continued on with the conversation. “Yes, but so am I. Which is neither here nor there at the moment, since there won’t be a honeymoon, anyway.”
“Is this a problem the two of you might overcome?”
Sunny leaned against the kitchen counter. “No, Mama. Despite what you might think of me and my single status, I do want children and a family someday. Michael doesn’t.”
“Not at all?” Anna sounded scandalized.
Sunny found she could smile after all. Her mother believed in family, reminded Sunny and her brother, Storm, at every opportunity that she wanted to be a grandmother, that it wasn’t fair Trudy Fay Simon continually lorded it over her about her fifth grandchild when Anna had yet to claim even one.
“Not at all,” Sunny echoed.
“Well. I knew that man wasn’t right for you in the first place. He had one of those phony-politician smiles. His teeth were simply too perfect”
Sunny felt her heart soften. She and her mother had had their trials, but when it came down to it they were family. And even if they didn’t often agree, family stuck together. “He paid a fortune so those teeth would be perfect.”
“Figures. So what will you do now?”
“Actually, I’ve taken some vacation time so I don’t have to answer a lot of questions.” “Then I called at the right moment. Come home, Sunny. Your room’s just as you left it.” Returning home was an ongoing argument, one they had often. Anna didn’t seem to respect or place any importance on what Sunny did in California. “You know I can’t—”
“You must. We’ve got trouble and we need you in Hope Valley. You’re the only one we can trust to handle it.”
Sunny was momentarily speechless. Her mother had admitted a need. That was a first. But Sunny could only focus on the words Hope Valley. Her hometown was a blip on the
Texas map. It lay just west of Austin, where verdant grass carpeted the ground in a feast for the eyes, and livestock grazed contentedly on ranches that ranged from small family operations to million-dollar enterprises. The town was quaint, and truly Southern in attitude. Everyone knew everyone else’s business, and the townsfolk accepted it as their God-given right to pass along every morsel of gossip that came their way.
Sunny had been born and raised in Hope Valley. Her family and her childhood friends were there. She’d lived and laughed and loved there.
And she’d had her heart broken there.
What she felt now after her split with Michael was nothing compared to the devastation she’d suffered in Hope Valley ten years earlier.
She twisted the phone cord around her finger and closed her eyes for a moment to steady herself. Simba, who’d been lying on the cool kitchen floor, scrambled to his feet and pushed against her leg in his canine version of a hug. How this goofy-looking dog was so attuned to her every emotion was uncanny.
“What kind of trouble?”
“On Jack Slade’s ranch. Now, hear me out,” Anna said, obviously knowing Sunny was about to object. They’d made a shaky deal years ago not to discuss Jackson Slade. Anna didn’t always keep up her end of the bargain. Especially when Hope Valley had been close to economic ruin and Jack had returned to town like a prodigal son. He’d taken over his father’s ranch and turned it into a highly prosperous spread.
From the moment he’d come back to the small community, everything he touched seemed to thrive. Where once he’d been a motorcycle-riding, earring-wearing, bronc-busting heartbreaker, now he was Hope Valley’s golden boy, and there were very few people around these parts who weren’t eternally grateful to him. According to Anna Carmichael, the guy had single-handedly made the town flourish once more.
Of course, Anna rarely missed a chance to remind her daughter what she’d given up.
Sunny rubbed her temples where a headache was forming. “I’m listening.” “This is for your ears only, and it could well be nothing.”
“What, Mama?” She wasn’t in the mood for a whispering campaign.
“Jack’s had some cattle up and die on him. We don’t want Hope Valley splashed across the national newspapers, with speculations on mad cow disease or something.”
Her fingers tightened on the receiver. “Does Jack think it’s mad cow?” The thought was horrifying. So far, livestock in the United States had escaped that epidemic. More t han likely her mother was only using the term because it was familiar.
“I don’t know, dear. That’s why I’m calling you.”
“How many cattle?”
“One or two, I think.”
“Only in Jack’s herd?”
“So I’ve heard.”
“What does the vet say? What are the symptoms?”
“Honestly, Sunny, I’m not the one to be asking these questions. You need to come see for yourself.”
“The vet, Mama…” she prompted.
Anna sighed. “Doc Levin skipped town. We have no earthly idea why. Just packed up his belongings and that young lady he’d taken up with, and left us high and dry. And it’s just as well, if you ask me. He never did fit in. We need one of our own here, Sunny. Someone who cares about us. To investigate, to get to the bottom of this sudden illness, give us an unbiased report so we can handle it quickly among ourselves.”
That was how the people of Hope Valley had always operated. As a community. “If it’s just a couple of steers, that’s hardly an epidemic. Still, you know I’m bound by law to report any outbreaks of infectious diseases once they’re confirmed.”
“Yes, I’m aware of all that, and I’m certainly not advocating we hide anything. But we can trust you not to jump the gun. You’re the best there is, Sunny Leigh. The only one who can do this. We don’t want to be gettin’ the wrong dog by the tail and startin’ an uproar of hysteria.”
Sunny slid down the kitchen cabinet and sat on the floor. Her heart pounded and her brain felt fuzzy.
You’re the best there is, Sunny Leigh.
How many years had she yearned to hear those words? Words of acceptance. Of praise. From her mother.
This was truly out of character for Anna. Sunny had rarely gotten more than a “That’s nice, dear” when she’d called home with career news.
Now Jack was in trouble. It bugged her that even after all these years, Anna’s immediate concern was for him, not her own daughter. But this was the first time her mother had reached out to her, hinted at pride in Sunny’s successes, recognition for the professional she’d become, acceptance of the choices she’d made.
You’re the only one who can do this. Powerful words to a woman who’d longed for years to hear them.
Sunny looped her arm around Simba’s thick neck. She had a month’s vacation and comp time coming to her. Lord knows her life in Los Angeles hadn’t turned out the way she’d thought it would.
She could use some weeks away, time to reflect on the influence her relationship with Michael had had on who she’d become.
Because if she was truthful, she’d have to admit that what she’d started out wanting in the beginning had morphed into something entirely different.
She needed to clear her head. Go back to chasing her dream. Learn to be a woman who stood firmly on her own two feet, made solid decisions based on the facts as she saw them, and stuck by them.
And by God, the lure of showing her mother her expertise was too great to ignore.
Plus, the opportunity to connect with true friends, the kind you could always depend on, was a draw she couldn’t resist.
Sunny, Donetta Presley, Tracy Lynn Randolph and Becca Sue Ellsworth had called themselves the Texas Sweethearts. They’d formed their secret society when they were kids. Even years and miles hadn’t dampened their bond. Seeing her pals again would be good.
“I’ll square things away here and be out there by Wednesday,” she said.
The problem was, if an infectious disease was plaguing Jackson Slade’s cattle, even
Wednesday might be too late to save his herd.
Beau could hardly believe it. His father was sixty years old! The girl sitting across from him in a booth at the Pleasant Hill Café looked like a teenager. A very pregnant teenager.
“Everything’s going to be okay, Missy,” Beau Reese said. “You don’t have to worry about anything from now on. I’ll make sure everything is taken care of from here on out.”
“He bought me presents,” the girl said, dabbing a Kleenex against the tears in her blue eyes. “He told me how pretty I was, how much he liked being with me. I thought he loved me.”
Fat chance of that, Beau thought. His dad had never loved anyone but himself. True, his father, a former Texas state senator, was still a handsome man, one who stayed in shape and looked twenty years younger. Didn’t make the situation any better.
“How old are you, Missy?”
At least she was over the age of consent. That was something, not much.
Beau shoved a hand through his wavy black hair and took a steadying breath. He thought of the DNA test folded up and tucked into the pocket of his shirt. He had always wanted a baby brother or sister. Now at the age of thirty five, he was finally going to have one.
Beau felt a surge of protectiveness toward the young woman carrying his father’s child.
He looked over to where she sat hunched over next to her mother on the opposite side of the pink vinyl booth. “Everybody makes mistakes, Missy. You picked the wrong guy, that’s all. Doesn’t mean you won’t have a great kid.”
For the first time since he’d arrived, Missy managed a tentative smile. “Thank you for saying that.”
Beau returned the smile. “I’m going to have a baby sister. I promise she won’t have to worry about a thing from the day she’s born into this world.” Hell, he was worth more than half a billion dollars. He would see the child had everything she ever wanted.
When Missy’s lips trembled, her mother scooted out of the booth. “I think she’s had enough for today. This is all very hard on her and I don’t want her getting overly tired.” Josie reached for her daughter’s hand. “Let’s go home, honey. You’ll feel better after a nap.”
Beau got up, too, leaned over and brushed a kiss on Missy’s cheek. “You both have my number. If you need anything, call me. Okay?”
Missy swallowed. “Okay.”
“Thank you, Beau,” Josie said. “I should have called you sooner. I should have known you’d help us.”
“I’ll have my assistant send you a check right away. You’ll have money to take care of expenses and buy the things you need. After that, I’ll have a draft sent to Missy every month.”
Josie’s eyes teared up. “I didn’t know how I was going to manage the bills all by myself. Thank you again, Beau.”
He just nodded. “Keep me up to date on her condition.”
“I will,” Josie said.
Beau watched the women head for the door, the bell ringing as Josie shoved it open and she and Missy walked out of the café.
Leaving money on the table for his coffee, he followed the women out the door, his temper slowing climbing toward the boiling point, as it had been after he’d first received Josie’s call.
His father should be the one handling Missy’s pregnancy. He’d had months to step up and do the right thing. Beau figured he never would.
As he crossed the sidewalk and opened the door of his dark blue Ferrari, his temper cranked up another notch. By the time the car was roaring along the road to his father’s house, his fury was simmering, bubbling just below the surface.
Unconsciously his foot pressed harder on the gas, urging the car down the two-lane road at well over eighty miles an hour. With too many tickets in Howler County already, he forced himself to slow down.
Making the turn into Country Club Estates, he jammed on the brakes and the car slid to a stop in front of the house. The white, two-story home he’d been raised in oozed Southern charm, the row of columns out front mimicking an old-style plantation.
Climbing out of the Ferrari, one of his favorite vehicles, he pounded up the front steps and crossed the porch. The housekeeper had Mondays and Tuesdays off so he used his key to let himself into the entry.
On this chilly, end-of-January day, the ceiling fans, usually rotating throughout the five-thousand square-foot residence, hadn’t been turned on, leaving the interior strangely silent, the air oddly dense. The ticking of the ornate grandfather clock in the living room seemed louder than it usually did.
“Dad! It’s Beau! Where are you?” When he didn’t get an answer, he strode down the hall toward the study. He had phoned his father on the way over. Though he’d done his best to keep the anger out of his voice, he wasn’t sure he had succeeded. Maybe his father had left to avoid him.
“Dad!” Still no answer. Beau continued down the hall, his footsteps echoing in the quiet. As he reached the study, he noticed the door standing slightly ajar. Steeling himself for the confrontation ahead, he clamped down on his temper, rapped firmly, then shoved the door open.
His father wasn’t sitting at the big rosewood desk or in his favorite overstuffed chair next to the fireplace. Beau started to turn away when an odd gurgling sound sent the hairs up on the back of his neck.
“Dad!” At the opposite end of the desk, Beau spotted a prone figure lying on the floor in a spreading pool of blood. “Dad!” His father’s eyes were closed, his face as gray as ash. The handle of a letter opener protruded from the middle of his chest.
Beau raced to his father’s side. “Dad!” Blood oozed from the wound in his chest and streamed onto the hardwood floor. He had to stop the bleeding and he had to do it now!
He hesitated, praying he wouldn’t make it worse, then with no other option, grabbed the handle of the letter opener, jerked it out, gripped the front of his dad’s white shirt and ripped it open.
“Oh, my God! What are you–”
Beau glanced up. “Call 9-1-1! Hurry, he’s been stabbed! Hurry!”
The woman, a shapely brunette named Cassidy Jones, his father’s recently hired personal assistant, didn’t pause, just pulled her cell out of her pocket and hurriedly punched in the number. He heard her rattle off the address, give the dispatcher the name of the victim and said he had been stabbed.
Beau’s hand shook as he checked for a pulse, found none. The wound was catastrophic, a stab wound straight to the heart. No way could his father survive it.
Cassidy ended the call, ran over and knelt on the floor beside him.
“Here, use this to seal the hole.” She seemed amazingly in control as she handed him a credit card then ran to the wet bar and grabbed a towel, folded it into a pad, rushed back and handed it over. Beau pressed the towel over the credit card on top of the hole, all the while knowing his father was already dead or within moments of dying.
He checked again for a pulse. Shook his head, feeling an unexpected rush of grief. “His heart isn’t beating. Whoever stabbed him knew exactly where to bury the blade.” And compressions would only make it worse.
Cassidy reached down to check for herself, pressing her fingers in exactly the right spot on the side of his father’s neck. She had to know it was hopeless, just as he did, must have known Stewart Reese was dead.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
Beau studied his father’s face. Pain had turned his usually handsome features haggard and slack, nothing like the athletic older man who kept himself so fit and trim.
Sorrow slid through him, making his chest clamp down. Or maybe it was sadness for the kind of man his father was, the kind who had wound up the victim of a killer.
“Just hold on,” Cassidy said to him. “The ambulance should be here any minute.”
His mind went blank until the sound of a siren sliced into his conscious. Cassidy hurried off to let the EMTs into the house and a few moments later they appeared in the study.
“You need to give us some room, Mr. Reese,” one of them said gently, a skinny kid who looked like he knew what he was doing.
Beau backed away and Cassidy followed. He felt her eyes on him, assessing him with speculation–or was it suspicion?
It didn’t take long for the EMTs to have his father loaded onto a gurney and rolling down the hall, back outside to the ambulance. Beau strode along behind them, Cassidy trailing in his wake.
It occurred to him that she could be the killer. But somehow the timing seemed wrong and her reaction seemed genuine. The thought slid away.
As he climbed into the ambulance and sat down beside his dad, he flicked a last glance at the house. If Cassidy Jones hadn’t done it, who had? Had the killer still been inside when Beau arrived? How had he escaped? What was his motive?
The ambulance roared down the road, sirens wailing, blowing through intersections, weaving in and out between cars, careening around corners. All the way to the hospital Beau held his father’s hand. It was the closest he had ever felt to his dad.
The ambulance turned again and Pleasant Hill Memorial loomed ahead. The vehicle slammed to a stop in front of the emergency entrance and the back doors banged open.
After what seemed an eternity but was only a very few minutes, Beau’s father, Stewart Beaumont Reese, was pronounced Dead On Arrival.
Beau’s throat closed up. There were times as a boy he had wished his father dead, but that had been years ago.
Now his dad was gone and Beau wanted answers. He vowed whatever it took, for no matter how long, he wouldn’t stop until he found the man who had murdered his father.
As a writer, I’m always looking for new story ideas. I often find that past experiences can be a great help. Have you ever survived a dangerous situation? How did you do it?
When I was first learning to snow ski, I got caught after dark on top of Stowe Mountain in Vermont. It’s a huge ski area. It was my first day on skis and, somehow I got separated from my friends. I wound up on a black diamond run and of course I started falling—throwing myself down in the snow was the only way I knew how to stop!
By the time I got half way down the mountain, the ski lifts had all stopped running and it was dark and freezing cold. I tried taking off my skis and walking, but the snow was deep, and it was even harder than trying to ski. I knew I was in big trouble.
Maybe the reason I started writing Romantic Suspense had something to do with that day. Just when I was ready to give up and just wait for whatever was going to happen to happen, a guy came skiing down the hill out of nowhere.
Instead of skiing on by, he swished to a stop right next to me. He must have realized I was in trouble and if I didn’t get down the mountain, I could die in the subzero weather that night. The guy—my hero—helped me get up and start “skiing” back down the mountain. He showed me how to snow plow, helped me turn and never left me, no matter how many times I fell.
It took hours to get off that mountain. We wound up in an empty parking lot, where I his car was parked, and he drove me back to the main lodge where my friends were waiting. I never saw him again, but I’ve never forgotten him. There is a chance he might have saved my life that night.
So, I guess there really are heroes out there in the real world. At least I believe that. Beau Reese, the hero in BEYOND DANGER, is that kind of guy.
Mega-rich, black-haired, and blue-eyed, Beau was a highly successful race car driver before he left the circuit, sort of a Texas Paul Newman. Beau loves fast cars and fast women, but under it all he’s a one-woman man and Cassidy Jones is just the right woman for him.
Unfortunately, Beau is wanted for murder.
The good news is, Cassidy is a detective. She’s convinced of Beau’s innocence and determined to prove it.
I hope you’ll watch for BEYOND DANGER, and in June, you’ll look for BEYOND CONTROL, Josh Cain’s story. If you haven’t read BEYOND REASON, I hope you’ll give it a try.
Till next time, all best and happy reading, Kat
Pick Six Author Interviews are occasional features on A Slice of Orange. We send a bunch of questions to the author who then picks just six of the questions to answer. This month we are featuring a Pick Six Author Interview with best selling and multi-published author Jennifer Lyon.
Jennifer Lyon is the pseudonym for USA Today Bestselling Author Jennifer Apodaca. Jen lives in Southern California where she continually plots ways to convince her husband that they should get a dog. After all, they met at the dog pound, fell in love, married and had three wonderful sons. So far, however, she has failed in her doggy endeavor. She consoles herself by pouring her passion into writing books. To date, Jen has published more than twenty books and novellas, won numerous awards and had her books translated into multiple languages, but she still hasn’t come up with a way to persuade her husband that they need a dog.
Is coffee a ritual? I like to write with a cup of coffee. I don’t have a lot of other rituals, but I do like to write at my desktop computer in my office. I also have a laptop that I can use when necessary. For me, when a book is going well, I can write anywhere.
I’m neither. I’ve found that word or page counts don’t work for me. I become artificially focused on the numbers, instead of the story. I’ve learned that the first 100 to 200 pages of my book will be painful, slow and awkward. If I can just get through it, no matter how long it takes, then the second half usually goes much faster. For me, my trick is to show up at the computer and try. Some days are good, and some days are not. But what counts is that I keep showing up, and somehow, I’ve managed to write 25 books that way.
I really want to write more Wing Slayer Hunter books (my paranormal series), and I want to tell the stories of the four other members of the Savaged Illusions band. Someday I’d love to try my hand at a really intense thriller too. I always have more books I want to write, it’s the time to do it all that’s in short supply.
I’m currently working on SAVAGED DEVOTION, the final book in the Savaged Illusions Trilogy. Justice and Liza finally get their happily ever after in this book! Writing this trilogy has been an epic rollercoaster ride for me, and I hope readers will love it as much as I do. It’s a rock star romance about the price of fame vs the power of love. SAVAGED DREAMS is book one, SAVAGED VOWS is book 2, and SAVAGED DEVOTION is book three.
I get to live realities I never would in real life. I’ve solved murders when I was writing mysteries, been a witch, fought demons and made an ancient dragon fall in love with me in my paranormal series, and now I’m living the life of a rock star, and he’s falling in love with me too, LOL!
Being an author is a journey into a new and exciting world with every book I write, and ever better, I get to meet incredible characters who overcome huge obstacles to win against evil and find real love. The down side is that coming up with ideas is easy, but writing them into a compelling and emotional book is hard work that keeps me awake nights worrying and trying to find the best way to tell the story. Deadlines are brutal, and juggling writing and promotion is exhausting. But as hard as it is, I loved it and can’t imagine doing anything else.
Usually the only time I listen to music while writing is to get amped up for a fight scene. Hard rock helps me get into that adrenaline fueled state I need to write the action scene. Otherwise, I like quiet. When the writing is going well, I “hear” the voices of the characters in my head. If it’s going really well, then I can’t type fast enough to keep up. When it’s not going well, I resort to wine over music 😊
On the flip side, I sometimes bake to stir my creativity, and then I have music going full blast in my kitchen. Music has a way of bringing out our emotional truths, and that in turn, helps me get to my character’s emotional truths, which many times will solve my writer’s block.
No, first off I don’t know if they have coffee. I mean…shudder. And secondly, I’d miss my family too much. However, if they had French bulldog puppies, they could probably lure me into their spacecraft.
Thank you, Jen for taking time to answer our questions. We think you should get that French bulldog puppy for answering a bonus question.
Carly pulled the pickup into her garage, saw the single headlight of Linc’s impressive black Harley coming down the street behind her. He’d insisted on following her home. She waved as she got out of the truck, hoping he would take the hint and leave, but instead he pulled his motorcycle into the driveway behind the truck and turned off the engine.
As she took the pistol out from under the seat, Linc walked up beside her.
He eased the gun out of her hand. “Stay here till I make sure it’s safe.”
She didn’t argue. Now that she was home, the whole terrifying chain of events came rushing back with stark clarity. She followed Cain into the kitchen, thought of the Glock, and wished she’d had it in her hand when those men had attacked her.
She sank down in a kitchen chair to wait while Cain walked through the rest of the house. Tears welled. Dammit, she didn’t want to cry. Joe had taught her to be tough. He’d known he wouldn’t always be there for her.
But deep down inside, she was still the frightened ten-year old who had walked into the bathroom and found her mother on the floor, dead of a drug overdose.
She closed her eyes, bit back a sob. She didn’t realize she was crying till she felt Cain drawing her out of the chair and into his arms.
For several seconds she let him hold her, let the tears come, just wrapped her arms around his thick neck and hung on. Then she realized what she was doing and felt like a fool, eased back and turned away.
“I’m sorry, I’m not…not a cryer. Not usually. I’m sorry.” She wiped her eyes, mortified that he had seen this side of her.
“Hey. It’s been a helluva day.” His mouth edged into a smile. “Maybe I’m the one who needed a hug, okay?”
She managed a smile in return. She wouldn’t have thought he could be sweet. “Thanks for checking the house.”
“No problem. You sure you’ll be okay?”
Her smile returned, more real this time. “You’re bigger than I am, but I’ve got the gun.” Now resting on the kitchen table.
He chuckled. “All right, if you’re sure, I’ll see you in the morning.”
He’d see her in the morning? Dammit, she’d forgotten he was coming to the office tomorrow for the call to his private investigator. “Good night.”
Cain left the house through the garage, swung a long leg over the seat of his Harley and fired up the engine. The biceps in his huge arms bulged as he grabbed the handlebars. Carly pushed the button on the garage door as he started backing away, turned the bike and roared off down the block.
Exhaustion swamped her. Dragging herself into the bedroom, she stripped off her clothes, pulled on an XXL navy blue Drake Trucking T-shirt she liked to sleep in and crawled beneath the covers. The pistol rested on the nightstand. She should have been able to sleep.
But she couldn’t.
Linc got up Sunday morning at the crack of dawn, loaded his fishing gear onto the back of an ATV and took off to one of the two lakes on Blackland Ranch. He’d called Townsend way too late last night and told him what had happened at the roadhouse. He’d instructed the investigator to set up security on Carly Drake twenty-four/seven and find out everything he could about a guy who called himself El Jefe.
Linc had slept a little after that, not much. He’d awoken early and decided he needed to clear his head. Tossing a line in the water, kicking back and waiting to get a bite, worked almost as well as morning sex.
Well, almost. Hell, he hadn’t been with a women in nearly a month, too damned long as far as he was concerned. He needed to make a phone call, talk to Renee or maybe Melissa, see if one of his friends with benefits was up for a good time when he got back to Dallas.
Something stirred deep and hot inside him. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an image of Renee or Melissa. It was Carly Drake who fired his blood.
As he leaned back against the trunk of a tree, the end of his line jerked. He waited for another tug, set the hook, and started reeling. Dammit to hell, whenever he thought of Carly, he felt like the fish on the end of that line. How had the little blonde managed to sink her hooks into him? How had she managed to snag his interest so quickly?
In fairness, she wasn’t even trying. He knew women, knew she was attracted to him. He also knew she wasn’t interested in climbing into bed for a couple of nights of fun.
Bestselling author Kat Martin is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara where she majored in Anthropology and also studied History. Currently residing with her Western-author husband, L. J. Martin, in Missoula, Montana, Kat has written sixty eight Historical and Contemporary Romantic Suspense novels. More than sixteen million copies of her books are in print and she has been published in twenty foreign countries. Her last novel, INTO THE FIRESTORM, took the #7 spot on the New York Times Bestseller list. This will be the 15th novel in a row to be included on that prestigious list. Kat is currently at work on her next Romantic Suspense.
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