Category Archives: Intrigue

[Review] Spy In The Saddle by Dana Marton

Spy In The Saddle    

by Dana Marton

Publication date: November 1, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin Intrigue

<div style=”font-size:11px”>Publication date: 05/01/2013</div>Series: HQ: Texas # 6
Pages: 224

Back of the book

Two agents must work together without letting a tense past—and a sizzling new attraction—disrupt their most important mission in Dana Marton’s HQ: Texas miniseries

It’s been ten years since soldier Shep Lewis laid eyes on delinquent-turned-FBI agent Lilly Tanner, and this time they have an even bigger problem than each other: terrorists. In the center of a smuggling operation, Shep and Lilly must partner up and protect each other.

Not even their undercover identities can mask the mounting attraction between the pair as they struggle to survive in the merciless Texas borderlands. Can they put the past behind them and focus on the mission at hand? Or will their partnership reignite the flames of their untapped passions?  



Pre-order Spy In The Saddle

AMAZON | BARNES AND NOBLE | HARLEQUIN | BAM! 


HQ: Texas series reading order


LAST SPY STANDING

SPY HARD

THE SPY WORE SPURS

MOST ELIGIBLE SPY

MY SPY

SPY IN THE SADDLE

    


My Review: 

4.5 Star Review – Spy In The Saddle (HQ: Texas # 6)

I recommend this book.

I enjoyed this book by Dana.  This book includes passion, laughs, heartache, kidnappings, murder, betrayal and a few gun fights.

If you have not read the below I would recommend reading those books first from “HQ: Texas” series.
LAST SPY STANDING
SPY HARD
THE SPY WORE SPURS
MOST ELIGIBLE SPY
 MY SPY


Shep Lewis, an undercover operative, is working a case on tracking smugglers.  The team he is on has learned the FBI is sending an agent to help them.  When the Agent arrives Shep is stunned.  He was Lilly Tanners parole officer years ago.  She got him fired after setting his house on fire, stealing his car, and sending emails to him. 

This is who the FBI wants them to work with a “delinquent”?  He is pissed off.  She is hot and he is attracted to her and does not want to be.
Top it off they have to work together as a team and have each other’s back. 
Lilly has stayed out of trouble for years.  She worked her way up the ranks at the FBI and can protect herself.  She does not need Shep but boy does she want him…
 
Lilly gets a job in the Bar they are staking out singing so she can be there each night and watch the players they think are involved with the case.  Shep pretends to be her boyfriend.  As they both want the kisses and touches more each time they are running into trouble keeping it impersonal.
When they end up in bed he apologies and she punches him in the face.  When the other guys on the team see the bruise they wonder exactly what the hell happened.  Which makes working together that much harder. 
 
When Lilly goes missing Shep is beside himself trying to find her before something bad happens.  When she calls him to lure him into a trap but gives off clues he knows he needs to save her.  He arrives and calls for the backup that is needed but is hit with a dart and is kidnapped too…

Now who is going to save the day?  Will they try getting help from the team or have to help themselves? When Lilly lets Shep know the other reason she is in town to check out the team he feels betrayed.  Will Shep be able to overcome the betrayal and forgive Lilly for not telling him sooner?  

 
 
    
The chemistry between these two is like a fire that burns bright and hot!  Lilly is funny and sweet at the same time. I love how she is not afraid to step up and lay a smack down on Shep.  Shep is all protective male.  Once Lilly lays down the law he better damn well follow!!  Dana delivers another winner.  Very good read.   


 
Look forward to the next book in this series.

A few of my favorite parts:

Shep lay next to her, spent and stunned, staring at the ceiling. A part of his world had shattered and he didn’t know how to piece it back together, didn’t know how to process what had just happened between them.

It had seemed so right, so easy. Yet now, as sanity returned, he had to seriously reevaluate his actions. He had to take responsibility for the way he’d lost control.

“I didn’t come up with this in mind, I swear.”

She made some sleepy sounds. “I’m not complaining.”

Yet the fact remained that he hadcome up to her hotel room and made love to her. She’d been tired after work and…confused. He’d taken advantage of her. That was the way Jamie would see it. And Mitch. He winced.

He had no idea how to make this right.

“Marry me,” he blurted as he looked at her and tried hard not to want her again, tried and failed. His body was stirring already. Insanity.

She turned to him, wide-eyed and a lot more awake now, as a succession of emotions crossed her face. “What?”

“Jamie and Mitch are going to kill me for this.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Did you just ask me to marry you because of Jamie and Mitch?”

He looked at her miserably.

She sat up in the bed. “Get out,” she bit out the words. “I want you to leave.”

He sat up, too. “I should have protected you. Even from myself—”

She growled as she punched him.




The familiar voice flooded her with relief. “Shep? I’m stuck in here. Can you help?”

“Give me a minute.”

He sounded strange, slow and dazed. Was he injured? Maybe they’d beaten him before they’d tossed him in the back of the truck with her. That would explain why he hadn’t responded to her banging before. Maybe he’d been beaten unconscious. “Are you okay?”

A moment of silence followed, then, “What are you doing in there?”

All the frustration inside her surged to the front. “Getting a pedicure. What do you think?”

“Okay,” he said after a minute. “Move away from the lid.”

She flattened herself to the bottom of the container and pulled some feedbags on top of her.

Was he going to try to shoot the padlock off? She didn’t think Brian and Tank would have let him keep his weapon. They’d certainly taken everything she had.

Bang!

Then suddenly the lid popped up, and Shep was there, gripping it with one hand while holding a fire extinguisher with the other. He blinked at her slowly, looking out of this world stoned, his irises wide, his movements not altogether coordinated.

“When did Brian give youa roofie?” She sat up, grateful to be able to breathe freely at last, every muscle in her body aching. Her clothes stuck to her with sweat, but she was uninjured, miraculously. She climbed out, with his help.

“Bull tranquilizer,” he said, his eyes glazed over. “I pulled it out, so I don’t think I got the full dosage.”

“Thank God.” The full dosage might have killed him. “Brian slipped me a roofie,” she told him.

He scanned her with thunder on his face, reaching for her hands.

“Not for that purpose,” she said, to ease his obvious worries. “Just so they could move me around easier.” But his touch felt nice, so she didn’t pull away for a few seconds.



Contact Info for Dana Marton

 

About Dana:

Dana Marton writes fast-paced action-adventure romances that take her readers all over the globe. She is a Rita Award finalist and the winner of the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence. She loves writing stories of intrigue, filled with dangerous plots that try her tough-as-nails heroes and the special women they fall in love with. Her books have been published in seven languages in eleven countries around the world.
She would love to hear from her readers.   
Okay, the above version is the glamour version for press releases. The truth is that my path to publication was nothing but unglamorous. I wrote for 13 years and completed 4 books (as well as having others in various stages of completion) before I finally received a call from a Harlequin editor. I was beginning to wonder if I was being tenacious or just too dense to know when to quit. But it all worked out at the end! J I love, love, love writing and would spend all day in front of the computer if I could just break my family of the habit of wanting to eat and wear clean clothes. What’s up with that? But I must get up from the desk now and then, if only because my Internet connection goes down or my ancient PC overheats. Then I do enjoy cooking, knitting, hunting for treasures at the flea market, our Beagle, Peanut the Destroyer, and gardening.

I’d love it if you picked up one of my books and emailed me to tell me what you thought of it. I’ve been known to name characters after readers. Just ask Princess Judi. 

Connect with Dana:
 

Read an Excerpt

As Shep Lewis, undercover commando, strode into his team’s office trailer on the Texas-Mexico border with his morning coffee, his bad mood followed him. To do anything right, a person had to give his all—and he did, to each and every op. But it didn’t seem to make a difference with his current mission.

He adjusted his Bluetooth as Keith Gunn, one of his teammates—currently on border patrol—talked on the other end. They all took turns monitoring a hundred-mile stretch along the Rio Grande, in pairs.

“Do you think they’ll really send in the National Guard to seal the border?”

“They won’t,” Shep said between his teeth. “It would just delay the problem.” For some reason, the powers that be didn’t see that the National Guard was a terrible solution, which frustrated him to hell and back.

His six-man team had credible intelligence that terrorists with their weapons of mass destruction would be smuggled across somewhere around here, on October first—five short days away. His team’s primary mission was to prevent that. Switching out players for the last five minutes of the game was a terrible strategy.

They had the exact date of the planned border breach. If they could somehow discover the exact location, they could lie in wait and grab those damned terrorists as they crossed the river. The bastards would never know what hit them.

The National Guard coming in to seal the border could not be hidden, however. Which meant the terrorists would move their crossing to a different place at a different time and might slip through undetected. The sad fact was, even the National Guard didn’t have the kind of manpower to keep every single mile of the entire U.S. border permanently sealed.

“The op has to be small enough to keep undercover to succeed,” he said, even if Keith knew that as well as he did.

“Except, we don’t have the exact location for their crossing.”

“We will.” But he silently swore. They were running out of time, and the stakes couldn’t have been higher—national security and the lives of thousands.

There could be no more mistakes, no distractions. They had five days to stop the biggest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. Failure wasn’t an option.

Keith cleared his throat. “The FBI’s guy will be here today.”

“Don’t remind me.” Frustration punched through Shep. Everybody seemed to have a sudden urge to meddle. “Where are you?”

“Coming in. Ryder’s cutting the shift short. He wanted to talk to the whole team at the office.”

“More good news?”

“He didn’t say. We’ll be there in ten.”

They ended the call as Shep strode through the empty office that held their desks and equipment, passed by the interrogation room to the left, then team leader Ryder McKay’s office. Ryder had been on border patrol this morning with Keith.

Voices filtered out from the break room in the back, so Shep kept going that way.

“She burned down his house, stole his car and got him fired from his job.” Jamie Cassidy’s voice reached him through the partially closed door.

Okay, that sounded disturbingly familiar. Shep’s fingers tightened on the foam cup in his hand as he paused midstep, on the verge of entering. His mood slipped another notch as old memories rushed him. He shook them off. No distractions.

“She broke his heart,” Jamie added.

All right, that’s enough. Shep shoved the door open, maybe harder than he’d intended.

He stepped into the room just as Ray Armstrong said in a mocking tone, “Must have been some love affair.” He glanced over and grinned. “Hey, Shep.”

Shep shot a cold glare at the three men, all hardened commando soldiers: Jamie, Ray and Moses Mann.

The latter two had the good sense to look embarrassed at being caught gossiping like a bunch of teenage girls. Jamie just grinned and reached back to the fridge behind him for an energy drink.

The fridge and wall-to-wall cabinets filled up the back of the break room, a microwave and coffee machine glinting in the corner. In front of the men, high-resolution satellite printouts covered the table.

This close to D-day, they didn’t take real breaks anymore. They worked around the clock, would do whatever it took to succeed.

Yesterday’s half-eaten pizza, which they were apparently resurrecting as breakfast, sat to the side. Jamie pushed it farther out of the way as he lifted the drink to his mouth with one hand while he finished marking something on one of the printouts with a highlighter.

“So—” He looked at Shep when he was finished, too cheerful by half. “Want to tell us about her?”

Shep stepped closer, in a way that might or might not be interpreted as threatening. They’d all been frustrated to the limit lately, and a good fight would let off a lot of pressure. “I liked you better when you were a morose bastard.”

Ray leaned back in his chair. “He’s mellowed a lot since hooking up with the deputy sheriff.” He turned to Jamie. “She’s definitely changing you, man.”

And not to his advantage, Shep wanted to add, but that wasn’t entirely true, so he didn’t say it.

Jamie didn’t seem concerned about the perceived mellowing. A soft look came over his face as he capped his highlighter. “Love changes everything.”

“Really?” Shep narrowed his gaze at them. “Four of the roughest, toughest commandos in the country and we’re going to sit around talking about love? What the hell? Are we still part of the top secret Special Designation Defense Unit, or is this now the Wrecked by Cupid Team? Have changes been made while I’ve been out?”

He believed in true love. He’d seen it work; his parents had had it. But he also knew that—like anything else important—it only worked if you gave it your all. People like him, and the other guys on his team, could never do that.

He wasn’t the type to do things halfway, anyway. He either charged full steam ahead or wouldn’t even start. Love just wasn’t in the cards for him.

“Romance is the kind of—” he began, trying to be the voice of reason.

But Mo gave a warning cough.

He would. He was another recent, unfortunate casualty.

He looked Shep straight in the eye. “Love is nothing to be ashamed of.”

Shep wished the best for him and Jamie, but in his heart of hearts, he had doubts about their long-term chances. Yet what right did he have to be discouraging? He laughed it off. “It’s sad to see battle-hardened soldiers turn sappy.” He shook his head, looking to Ray for support, a good laugh or some further needling in Jamie’s direction.

But, in a stunning display of betrayal, Ray turned against him. “So what’s this about your psycho girlfriend?” he asked between two bites of cold pizza, sitting a head taller than anyone else in the room.

If Mo was built like a tank, Ray was built like a marauding Viking—his true ancestry. Jamie, between them, was the lean and lithe street fighter.

They didn’t intimidate Shep one bit. “We’re not talking about me.”

A roundhouse kick to Jamie, then vault on Ray, knock him—chair and everything—into Mo. That would put an end to all the smirking.

Except that Ryder, the team leader, had forbidden fighting in the office after an unfortunate incident when they’d first set up headquarters here. As it turned out, even though the reinforced trailer was bulletproof, the office furniture, in fact, was not indestructible.

So Shep threw Jamie only a glare instead of a punch that would have been way more satisfying. “She was a kid, all right? I wasn’t her boyfriend. I was her parole officer. End of story.”

“He never pressed charges,” Jamie told Mo under his breath in a meaningful tone, obviously in the mood to make trouble this morning.

Shep threw his empty coffee cup at him. “Didn’t anybody ever teach you to mind your own business?”

Jamie easily ducked the foam missile. “How about you tell us about her and then it’ll all be out in the open? It’d be good to know what we’re dealing with here.”

When they built ski resorts in hell and handed out free lift passes.

“Any reason we’re discussing Lilly Tanner this morning?” Saying her name only made him flinch a little. His eyes didn’t even twitch anymore when he thought of her.

Ray suddenly busied himself with the printouts on the table. Jamie had a look of anticipatory glee on his face.

A cold feeling spread in Shep’s stomach. “How did her name come up?”

He’d made the mistake of mentioning her to Jamie when they’d been on patrol together a while back. He hadn’t expected that she would become the topic of break-room discussion. Jamie wouldn’t have brought her up for gossip’s sake. But then why?

“She’s the consultant the FBI is sending in,” Mo said with some sympathy. He might have been built like a tank, but he did have a good heart.

Shep stared, his mind going numb. Individually, all of Mo’s words made sense. But having them together in a sentence defied comprehension. “Has to be a different Lilly Tanner.”

The one he’d known over a decade ago had been a hellcat. He’d always figured she would end up a criminal mastermind or an out-of-control rock star—she had the brains and deviousness for the first, the voice and the looks for the second.

Jamie tapped the highlighter on the table and grinned. “She’s the one. I checked when I heard the name.”

He didn’t like the new, cheerful Jamie. He was used to the pre-love morose Jamie who could curdle milk with just a look. As a good undercover commando should.

The only thing he liked less at the moment was the thought of Lilly Tanner reappearing in his life. The possibility caused a funny feeling in his chest. “They’ll have to send someone else.”

“Unlikely.” Ray grimaced. “We’ve been read the riot act.”

“Sorry about that.” Jamie had the decency to look apologetic at least. “My bad.”

He’d crossed the border and taken out someone he’d thought to be the Coyote, the crime boss who set up the transfer of terrorists into the U.S. Except the man Jamie had shot had been a plant. The Coyote had gotten away, and the Mexican government was having a fit over a U.S. commando entering their sovereign territory.

Hell, none of the team blamed Jamie. But now the FBI was sending in their own man.. woman.

Shep closed his eyes for a pained second.

His team would either stop those terrorists from entering the country with their chemical weapons or die trying. The last thing they needed was the FBI meddling and putting roadblocks in their way at the eleventh hour.

Ray shrugged. “D.C. city girl coming to the big bad borderlands. Give her a few days and she’ll be running back to her office, crying.”

Shep swallowed the groan pushing up his throat. The Lilly Tanner he’d known didn’t run crying to anyone. He was about to tell them that, but gravel crunched outside as a car pulled up, then another.

“Ryder and Keith are coming in early,” he told the others. Maybe Jamie was wrong. Their leader would have the correct information.

Keith, the youngest on the team, came through the door first, tired and rumpled after a long night on the border. He did the best with people they caught sneaking over. One of his grandfathers was Mexican. He had the look and spoke the language like a native. People told him things they wouldn’t have told the rest of the team.

He looked around and apparently picked up on the tension in the air because he raised a black eyebrow.

“What’s wrong?”

Shep couldn’t bring himself to answer. He sank into the nearest chair and reached for a slice of cardboard pizza, then stared at it for a second. He wasn’t even hungry.

“The FBI agent who’s coming… She’s a woman,”

Mo said. “She’s—”

Ryder pushed in. “I was just talking to the Colonel, too. Lilly Tanner. Isn’t it great?”

Shep’s jaw tightened. “How do you know about Lilly?” He shot a dark look at Jamie. Couldn’t he keep his mouth shut?

But Jamie shrugged with wide-eyed innocence.

“She’s Mitch Mendoza’s sister,” Ryder said.

A moment of confused silence passed as the men looked at each other, processing the unexpected information.

Jamie spoke first. “The one he’s been looking for?”

His sister was married to Mendoza, so this was family business for him. “I thought her name was Cindy.”

“Got changed at one point along the way. You can ask her all about it when she gets here.”

Mo clapped Jamie on the back. “Hey, that makes her your sister-in-law, doesn’t it?”

A stunned smile spread on Jamie’s face as he nodded. “Kind of. Yeah.”

Ryder headed to the back for coffee. “Mitch found her just recently. Different name and everything, but it’s definitely his sister. They had the DNA test done to confirm it.”

Shep rubbed his temple where a headache pulsed to life suddenly.

Mitch Mendoza, another member of the SDDU, Special Designation Defense Unit, the large team that Shep’s smaller group belonged to, came from a family destroyed by drugs. He’d been a teenager when his father had sold his little sister for coke. Mitch had been looking for her ever since.

And now he’d found her at last.

Except that through some bizarre turn of events, Mitch’s Cindy Mendoza was Shep’s Lilly Tanner. Shep swallowed. And she was coming here.

He tried to remember if he had any aspirin in his desk drawer. “They’ll have to send someone else.”

Jamie lifted an eyebrow, a warning look forming on his face. “She’s my family,” he said, in case somehow Shep didn’t get that.

He did. Shoot me now.

“She can’t be my Lilly Tanner. There must be a hundred Lilly Tanners out there.” He stubbornly clung to denial.

“She’s yours.” Jamie extinguished that hope with ruthless efficiency. “I ran a background check on her when I got the name. Right age. Came from the juvie system. Right city.”

Shep pushed to his feet.

“Where are you going?” Mo wanted to know.

“Taking a break.” He needed an hour at the gym.

He needed a little time to clear his mind so he could focus fully on his work. His thoughts were all over the place, and he had plenty to get done today.

No distractions. He had to erase the picture that filled his mind: the seventeen-year-old bundle of holy terror that had made him quit the juvenile justice system. Sort of. Okay, fine, they fired him because of her.

But even as he moved toward the fridge to grab a bottle of water to go, another car pulled up outside. A throaty engine rumbled, sounding nothing like the team’s SUVs. A car door slammed.

He had a hollow feeling in his stomach.

The urge to run hit him, but he stood immobilized as he listened to heels clicking on the floor in the main office area. On reflex, he cataloged the weapons within range: his gun at his hip, his backup firearm in the ankle holster, the knife in his pocket.

Then the door swung open and a pair of familiar devil-black eyes, fringed with thick lashes, scanned the break room before they zeroed in on him.

Oh, holy hell. She was definitely his Lilly Tanner.

Yet she was nothing like the girl he remembered.

Her full lips stretched into a smile that made Ray stare openmouthed. Shep considered throwing the water bottle at the idiot to snap him out of it. Then he realized that the rest of them were just as bad, staring at her, more than a little dazed. Great.

“Good morning, gentlemen.” Her voice was a sexy purr, enough to make a man sit up and pay attention, nothing like the disdainful teenage tone Shep still heard sometimes in his nightmares.

She had stretched up and filled out, and somehow managed to look like a Playboy Playmate even in a straight-cut charcoal FBI suit. She wore her wild, dark curls pulled back into a no-nonsense bun, her five-inch heels a somber black, yet everything about her somehow spelled sex, which made Shep feel all wrong and uncomfortable.

She’d been his charge once. He was pretty sure he shouldn’t be standing there thinking how she was the hottest thing he’d ever seen.

Good thing he knew too much about her to fall for the new look. Hell, he even knew where her tattoos were—

He caught himself and tried to backpedal out of that thought. Too late. A strange heat flooded him.

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Filed under Dana Marton, Excerpt, Harlequin, HQ: Texas, Intrigue, Review, Synopsis

[Review] My Spy by Dana Marton

My Spy by Dana Marton

Publication date: October 1, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin Intrigue

<div style=”font-size:11px”>Publication date: 05/01/2013</div>Series: HQ: Texas
Pages: 440

Back of the book

2 Complete Novels for 1 Price!  

The stakes are higher and the danger is bigger in Dana Marton’s HQ: Texas miniseries. 


A mission gone wrong forced injured soldier Jamie Cassidy to start anew…and run right into the path of deputy sheriff Bree Tridle. The sassy, sexy Texan was as determined to uncover a local money-laundering scheme as Jamie was to keep her safe from the stalker hot on her trail. But Jamie, now an undercover operative, was also on a covert mission of his own: track smugglers threatening to bring terrorists into the U.S. Could Jamie’s and Bree’s cases be related? When a deadly attack on Bree’s home escalates the danger and their attraction, Jamie and Bree must face their enemies together to save not only their country, but their one chance at love. 
 

2 books in 1! Last Spy Standing also included in this book!

 


 

 

 

Pre-order My Spy


Amazon
 
B&N
 
Harlequin
 
BAM



HQ: Texas series reading order


LAST SPY STANDING

SPY HARD

THE SPY WORE SPURS

MOST ELIGIBLE SPY

MY SPY

SPY IN THE SADDLE

    


My Review: 

5.0 Star Review – My Spy (HQ: Texas # 5)

I recommend this book.

I enjoyed this book by Dana.  This book includes passion, laughs, heartache, a stalker, murder, handicapped characters and a bomb.

If you have not read the below I would recommend reading those books first from “HQ: Texas” series.

LAST SPY STANDING – this is included in this book 

SPY HARD

THE SPY WORE SPURS

MOST ELIGIBLE SPY

 


Jamie Cassidy, an undercover operative, is working a case on tracking smugglers.  He has to reveal his job when he almost gets arrested for spending a counterfeit bill he got from the bank on a book. 

Brianna ‘Bree’ Tridle, former beauty queen, now deputy sheriff takes him in custody.  She is working on a money-laundering case that could be related to Jamie’s case.

After Jamie is told to work with Bree he discovers that she is being stalked.  As their investigations continue the leads they get point back to each of their cases. 

As the stalker escalates the danger to Bree has Jamie in knots over his feelings and protectiveness to her and her sister. 

What is happening to the man who decided he never needed a woman?  As Bree is drawn closer to Jamie she is wondering if he will want her to choose between him and her sister.  

         
The chemistry between these two is explosive.  Bree is a cheerful sarcastic woman who is trying to keep her town free of crime and take care of her sister.  I love how Dana wrote Jamie’s character I totally love him.  The storyline in the bank where Jamie opens up a little about his feelings and his loss just about breaks your heart.  As tragic as Jamie’s back story is you can get an understanding of his feelings and concerns from it.  She totally cracked me up with him getting busted with the counterfeit bill while buying a book.  Well played Dana well played. Very good read.  


 
Look forward to the next book in this series.


Spy In The Saddle – Due out in November 2013

A few of my favorite parts:

 “I assume you didn’t go get stiches because you don’t have time, not because you’re scared of the needle?”
He shot her a dark look. He did that so well. Must have been part of his training.
“Why don’t I slap on some butterfly bandages, as long as we’re both here. Then you won’t have to go see a doc. You’ll save a ton of time that you could use to glare at people. I’d hate to see you slip off schedule.”
His eyes remained stoic, but the corner of his sculpted mouth twitched. “Make it quick.”


“I’m not asking. I’m telling you. Don’t involve yourself. Forget everything we’ve talked about earlier.”
“Or what?” A laugh escaped her and trilled along his nerve endings. “You’ll spank me? For heaven’s sake. I’m an officer of the law. I’m trained to handle myself.”
The visual of the spanking bit left him both speechless and breathless for a second.


“You know, we do have a public-indecency ordinance in place.  You seem to have a habit of going pant-less in public,” she remarked as she stood and squeezed water out of her hair and clothes. 
He glanced back as he got to his feet. “You going to arrest me for that?”
She sighed. “I kind of like it. Does that make me shallow?”
Surprise crossed his face, then a half smile formed. “You’re not what I expected.”

Contact Info for Dana Marton

About Dana:

Dana Marton writes fast-paced action-adventure romances that take her readers all over the globe. She is a Rita Award finalist and the winner of the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence. She loves writing stories of intrigue, filled with dangerous plots that try her tough-as-nails heroes and the special women they fall in love with. Her books have been published in seven languages in eleven countries around the world.
She would love to hear from her readers.   
Okay, the above version is the glamour version for press releases. The truth is that my path to publication was nothing but unglamorous. I wrote for 13 years and completed 4 books (as well as having others in various stages of completion) before I finally received a call from a Harlequin editor. I was beginning to wonder if I was being tenacious or just too dense to know when to quit. But it all worked out at the end! J I love, love, love writing and would spend all day in front of the computer if I could just break my family of the habit of wanting to eat and wear clean clothes. What’s up with that? But I must get up from the desk now and then, if only because my Internet connection goes down or my ancient PC overheats. Then I do enjoy cooking, knitting, hunting for treasures at the flea market, our Beagle, Peanut the Destroyer, and gardening.

I’d love it if you picked up one of my books and emailed me to tell me what you thought of it. I’ve been known to name characters after readers. Just ask Princess Judi. 
 

Read an Excerpt

He had two weeks to gain the information he needed to stop terrorists with weapons of mass destruction from entering the country. But everything his six-man team had done so far had been a bust.

Undercover operative Jamie Cassidy sat with his back to the wall in the far corner at the Yellow Armadillo, a seedy, small-town bar on the backstreets of Pebble Creek, Texas. Country music streamed from overhead speakers; the place was dark and dingy, the food was fried within an inch of its life. But the beer was cold, the only nice thing that could be said about the joint.

“So you have no idea who the new boss is?” he asked the scrawny farmhand across the table.

Billy Brunswik fingered the rim of the tattered Stetson on his lap, his eyes on his empty glass. A cowboy tan left the top of his forehead white, the rest of his face several shades darker. His checkered blue shirt was wrinkled and smudged with dirt, as if he’d been wearing it for more than a day or two. He silently shook his head.

Jamie had his own cowboy hat and jeans and shirt to fit in, a far cry from his usual commando gear. In a place like this—a known hangout for smugglers—being spotted as a government man could quickly earn you a bullet in the back.

He waved the perky blonde waitress over for another round for Billy but didn’t return her flirty smile. His attention was on the man across the table. “It’s tough. Believe me, I know.” He waited until the waitress left. “In this economy, and they cut off work. Hell, what are you supposed to do? Who do you go to now?”

“Nobody knows nuthin’.” Billy set his empty glass down and wiped his upper lip with the back of his calloused hand, then pulled out a tin of chewing tobacco and tucked a pinch between gum and cheek. “I can barely buy groceries for the girlfriend and me, I’ll tell you that.”

Jamie watched him for a few seconds, then slid three twenties across the table. “I know how it is.”

Billy was on the cash like a duck on a june bug, the bills disappearing in a flat second. He looked around nervously, licking his crooked yellow front teeth. “I ain’t no snitch.”

Jamie gave a sympathetic nod. “A man has to live. And I ain’t asking for nothing that would get you in trouble. Just need enough to show the boss I’ve been working.” He shrugged, playing the halfhearted customs agent role.

Billy hung his head. “I do work a little,” he admitted. “When nobody’s lookin’. Just some weed.”

“Who do you kick up to?”

“Ain’t nobody there since Kenny.”

And no matter how hard Jamie pushed the down-on-his-luck farmhand after that, Billy didn’t give up anything. Although he did promise to get in touch if things changed.

Developing an asset was a slow and careful business.

Jamie left the man and strode across the bar, looking for familiar faces as he passed the rows of tables. The two border towns his team watched, Hullett and Pebble Creek, had their share of smugglers, most of them lying low these days. He didn’t recognize anyone here today.

He paid the waitress at the bar, stepped outside into the scorching heat then shoved his hat on his head and rubbed his eyes. He’d spent the night on border patrol, then most of the morning running down leads. His legs hurt. The doc at Walter Reed called it phantom-limb pain.

He resisted the urge to reach down and rub his prosthetic limbs. It did nothing for the pain, and he hated the feel of the cold steel where his legs should have been.

He strode up to Main Street, came out by the bank and drew a hundred out of the ATM while he was here, since Billy had cleaned him out. Then his gaze caught on the bookstore across the street. Maybe a good read would help him fall asleep. When on duty, his mind focused on work. But when he rested, memories of his dark past pushed their way back into his head. Sleep had a way of eluding him.

He cut across traffic and pushed inside the small indie bookstore, into the welcoming cool of air-conditioning, and strode straight to the mystery section. He picked out a hard-boiled detective story, then turned on his heels and came face-to-face with the woman of his dreams.

Okay, the woman of every red-blooded man’s dreams.

She was tall and curvy, with long blond hair swinging in a ponytail, startling blue eyes that held laughter and a mouth to kill or die for, depending on what she wished.

His mind went completely blank for a second, while his body sat up and took serious notice.

When his dreams weren’t filled with blood and torture and killing, they were filled with sex. He could still do the act—one thing his injury hadn’t taken away from him. But he didn’t allow himself. He didn’t want pity. Foreplay shouldn’t start with him taking off his prosthetics—the ultimate mood killer. And he definitely didn’t want the questions.

Hell, even he hated touching the damn things. Who wouldn’t? He wasn’t going to put himself through that humiliation. Wasn’t going to put a woman in a position where she’d have to start pretending.

But he dreamed, and his imagination made it good. The woman of his dreams was always the same, an amalgamation of pinup girls that had been burned into his brain during his adolescent years from various magazines he and his brothers had snuck into the house.

And now she was standing in front of him.

The pure, molten-lava lust that shot through his gut nearly knocked him off his feet. And aggravated the hell out of him. He’d spent considerable time suppressing his physical needs so they wouldn’t blindside him like this.

“Howdy,” she said with a happy, peppy grin that smoothed out the little crease in her full bottom lip. She had a great mouth, crease or no crease. Made a man think about his lips on hers and going lower.

He narrowed his eyes. Then he pushed by her with a dark look, keeping his face and body language discouraging. Who the hell was she to upset his hard-achieved balance?

He strode up to the counter and paid with cash because he didn’t want to waste time punching buttons on the card reader. He didn’t want to spend another second in a place where he could be ambushed like this. The awareness of her back somewhere among the rows of books still tingled all across his skin.

“I’m sorry.” The elderly man behind the counter handed back the twenty-dollar bill. “I can’t take this.” He flashed an apologetic smile as he pushed up his horn-rimmed glasses, then tugged down his denim shirt in a nervous gesture. “The scanner kicked it back.”

“I just got it from the bank across the street,” Jamie argued, not in the mood for delay.

“I’m sorry, sir.”

“Everything okay, Fred?” The woman he’d tried to pretend didn’t exist came up behind Jamie.

Her voice was as smooth as the kind of top-shelf whiskey the Yellow Armadillo couldn’t afford to carry. Its sexy timbre tickled something behind his breastbone. He kept his back to her, against enormous temptation to turn, hoping she’d get the hint to mind her own business.

Then he had to turn, anyway, because next thing he knew she was talking to him.

“I’d be happy to help. How about we go next door and I’ll help you figure this out?”

The police station stood next door. All he wanted was to go home and see if he could catch a few winks before his next shift. “I don’t think so.” He peeled off another twenty, which went through the scanner without trouble. Next thing he knew, Fred was handing back his change.

“I really think we should,” the woman insisted.

Apparently, she had trouble with the concept of minding her own business. He shot her a look of disapproval, hoping she’d take the hint.

He tried to look at nothing but her eyes, but all that sparkling blue was doing things to him. Hell, another minute, and if she asked him to eat the damned twenty, he would have probably done it. He caught that thought, pushed back hard.

“Who the hell are you?” He kept his tone at a level of surly that had taken years to perfect.

The cheerleader smile never even wavered as she pulled her badge from her pocket and flashed it at him. “Brianna Tridle. Deputy sheriff.”

Oh, hell.

He looked her over more thoroughly: the sexy snake-skin boots, the hip-hugging jeans, the checkered shirt open at the neck, giving a hint of the top curve of her breasts. His palms itched for a feel. If there was such a thing as physical perfection, she was it.

Any guy who had two brain cells to rub together would have gone absolutely anywhere with her.

Except Jamie Cassidy.

“I’m in a hurry.”

“Won’t take but a minute.” She tilted her head, exposing the creamy skin of her neck just enough to bamboozle him. “I’ve been having a hard time with counterfeit bills turning up in town lately. I’d really appreciate the help. I’ll keep it as quick as possible, I promise.” The smile widened enough to reveal some pearly white teeth.

Teeth a man wouldn’t have minded running his tongue along before kissing her silly.

Another man.

Certainly not Jamie.

Okay, so she was the deputy sheriff. The sheriff, Kenny Davis, had been killed recently. He’d been part of the smuggling operation Jamie’s team was investigating. A major player, actually.

After that, Ryder McKay, Jamie’s team leader, had looked pretty closely at the Pebble Creek police department. The rest of them came up squeaky clean. A shame, really. Jamie definitely felt like his world would be safer with Brianna Tridle locked away somewhere far from him.

She was too chirpy by half.

He didn’t like chirpy.

But if she wasn’t a suspect, she could be an ally—if he played his cards right. Although poker wasn’t the first thing to spring to mind when he thought about playing with her. He could no longer feel the air-conditioning. In fact, it seemed the AC might have broken since he’d come in. The place felt warm suddenly. Hot, even.

He loosened the neck of his shirt. “Fine. Five minutes.”

He held the door for her, regretting it as she flashed another gut punch of a smile. She better not read anything into that basic courtesy. He’d been raised right, that was all. He couldn’t help it. He wasn’t falling for her charms, no way, he thought as she walked in front of him, hips swinging.

The gentle sway held him mesmerized for a minute. Then he blinked hard as he finally focused on one specific spot. Was that a small firearm tucked under her waistband, covered by her shirt? Hard to tell with his eyes trying to slide lower.

He looked more carefully. Damn if the slight bulge wasn’t a weapon. She’d been armed the entire time and he’d never noticed. He was seriously losing it.

He drew in a slow breath as they walked into the station. On second thought, forget developing her as an asset. Working with her would probably be more trouble than it was worth.

He was going to tell Brianna Tridle where, when and exactly how he’d come into possession of the stupid twenty-dollar bill in question. Then he was walking out and not looking back. If he had even a smidgen of luck coming to him, he’d never see her again.

“I really appreciate this.” Bree measured up the cowboy with the bad attitude.

Not a real Texas cowboy, actually. He was missing the Texas twang, his general accent making it difficult to pin down from where he hailed. And he wore combat boots with his jeans. It threw off his cowboy swagger. He had shadows all around him, his aura a mixture of dangerous and sexy. He was hot enough to give women heart palpitations on his worst day.

Not that that sort of thing affected her. She was a seasoned law enforcement officer. “And your name is?”

“Jamie Cassidy.” He didn’t offer his hand, or even a hint of a smile as he scanned the station.

She’d bet good money he didn’t miss many details.

Fine. She was proud of the place, clean and organized. The dozen people working there were the finest in South Texas. She would trust each and every one of them to have her back.

While he examined her station, she examined him.

He stood tall, well built, his dirty-blond hair slightly mussed as he took his hat off. When he ran his fingers through it in an impatient gesture, Bree’s own fingertips tingled.

He had the face of a tortured angel, all angles and masculine beauty. His chocolate-brown eyes seemed permanently narrowed and displeased. Especially as he took in the metal detectors she’d had installed just last week.

Lena, the rookie officer manning the scanner, held out a gray plastic tray for him.

Bree offered a smile. “We just upped our security. If you could hand over anything metal in your pockets and walk through, I’d appreciate it.”

She was in charge of the station until the new sheriff was elected. They’d had an incident recently with a drunk housewife who’d come in to file a complaint against her husband, then ended up shooting a full clip into the ceiling to make sure they believed her when she said she would shoot the bastard if he came into her new double-wide one more time with muddy boots.

She’d been a bundle of booze and wild emotions—the very opposite of Jamie Cassidy, who seemed the epitome of cold and measured.

He scowled as he dropped his cell phone, handful of change and car keys into the small plastic tray. “I’m going to set the alarm off.” He tapped his leg. “Prosthesis.”

That was it, then, Bree thought as she watched him. The reason why his walk had been off a smidgen. “Not a problem, Lena,” she told the rookie, who was staring at him with dreamy eyes. “I’ll pat him down.”

“No.” His face darkened as his gaze cut to hers.

They did a long moment of the staring-each-other-down thing. Then his lips narrowed as he fished around in his shirt pocket and pulled out a CBP badge.

Customs and Border Protection. And the plot thickens. She tilted her head as she considered him. Why not show the badge sooner?

Maybe it was a fake. She’d worked pretty closely with CBP for the past couple of years. She’d never seen him before. If she had, she would have definitely remembered him.

She widened her smile. Defusing tension in a bad situation always worked better than escalating it. “I need to check you just the same. New procedure. Sorry.”

For a second he looked like he might refuse and simply walk away from her. She kept her hand near her firearm at her back, ready to stop him. She preferred to do things the easy way, but she could do it the hard way if needed. Up to him.

But then he seemed to change his mind and held out his arms to the side. She wondered if he knew that his smoldering look of resentment only made him look sexier.

“It’ll only take a second.” She ran her fingers along his arms first, lightly. Plenty of muscle. If he did change his mind and began causing trouble, she would definitely need her service weapon.

She moved her hands to his torso and found more impressive muscles there. She could feel the heat of his body through his shirt and went faster when her fingertips began to tingle again, a first for her during pat down. What on earth was wrong with her today? She tried to focus on what she was doing. Okay, no shoulder holster, no sidearm here.

“Almost done.” She squatted as she moved down his legs, pausing at the sharp transition where the living flesh gave way to rigid metal. Bothof his legs were missing. Her gaze flew up to his.

He looked back down at her with something close to hate—a proud man who didn’t like his weaknesses seen.

“Enough.” He stepped back.

But she stepped after him. “One more second.”

Awareness tingled down her spine as she pulled up and reached around his waist, almost as if she were hugging him. And there, tucked behind his belt, she found a small, concealed weapon.

She removed the firearm carefully, pointing it down, making sure her fingers didn’t come near the trigger. “When were you going to tell me about this?” She checked the safety. On. Okay.

 

Side Note this book also contains the below book:

 

Last Spy Standing by Dana Marton

Publication date: Jan 1, 2011

<div style=”font-size:11px”>Publication date: 05/01/2013</div> This is the First book in the HQ: Texas SeriesPublished by Harlequin
Pages: 224

Back of the Book

 

Black ops specialist Mitch Mendoza had thought this South American rescue mission would be routine. But the jungle held unexpected dangers: deadly snakes, armed drug runners and Megan Cassidy. The undercover CIA agent had legs for miles and a hidden agenda–one that interfered with Mitch’s plans. So though he was a lone wolf, he had to keep her close, or risk letting his mission fail. After years of working alone, Mitch found himself distracted by Megan’s steely resolve and her soft curves. And he couldn’t afford that. Not if he wanted this assignment to be a success…and get both of them out of the jungle alive.

 

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Filed under 2013, Dana Marton, Harlequin, HQ: Texas, Intrigue, October, Review, Romance, Suspense

[Review] Task Force Bride by Julie Miller

Task Force Bride  by Julie Miller

Publication date: September 1, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin Intrigue

<div style=”font-size:11px”>Publication date: 05/01/2013</div>The Precinct: Task Force #5
Pages: 216

Back of the book


USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR JULIE MILLER’S THE PRECINCT: TASK FORCE SERIES HEATS UP WHEN A PLAIN JANE AND AN EXPERIENCED COP POSE AS AN ENGAGED COUPLE.

Something about Hope Lockhart fascinated Officer Pike Taylor. The cop and his canine companion had been patrolling the neighborhood around Hope’s bridal shop for months, trying to capture the criminal who targeted her. Was it the way she hid her voluptuous beauty beneath a plain Jane exterior?

Hope bore the scars of a troubling past. And despite a profession steeped in romance, she’d never known the love of a man. But when Pike is assigned to protect her by posing as her live-in fiancé, his tenderness may give Hope the courage to open her heart for the very first time.


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My Review: 

4.7 Star Review – Task Force Bride (The Precinct: Task Force # 5)

I recommend this book.

I enjoyed this book by Julie.  This book includes drama, passion, laughs, heartache, and betrayal.

If you have not read the below from this series I would recommend reading those books first they are all by Julie.

The Marine Next Door

Kansas City Cowboy
Tactical Advantage
Assumed Identity

 

Pike Taylor is part of the Task force in charge of solving the Rose Red Rapist case.   Hope Lockhart is a woman that owns a business in the neighborhood he is watching.  He has been trying to get her to talk to him for months but she is shy. 

After seeing a van that fit the description of the Rose Red Rapist and reporting it to the police.  Hope becomes one person that can possibly ID the suspect.  The task force decides that Pike and Hope should pretend date so Pike can be around to protect Hope and they can solve the case without worrying about Hope getting hurt.

But she is afraid of him or his canine partner.  As they are forced together in close quarters will the fear Hope has of him or his dog be overcome enough that she can let them both protect her?   

The more time they spend together the more comfortable Pike and Hope become with each other.  Can they make a relationship work or are they both just pretending……

Why is Hope so afraid of Pike’s canine partner?  Will she overcome her fear?  What does Hope’s father want?  Who is the Rose Red Rapist?

Love both the characters and you really feel them draw you into the story.   Hope is shy but it’s great to see that Pike can help her open up even if he is using the same things on her that he would the dog.

Look forward to the next books in this series listed below.

Yuletide Protector by Julie Miller – Due out in December

Contact Info for Julie Miller

 

 

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About Julie:

Julie Miller is an award-winning, USA TODAY Bestselling author–with a National Readers Choice Award and a Daphne du Maurier among other prizes. In 2009, she was honored to receive a Career Achievement Award in Series Romantic Suspense from Romantic Times Book Reviews. Several of her 50 books have appeared on the USA Today, Amazon and BookScan Top 100 Romances bestseller lists.

Julie joined the Harlequin family when her first Intrigue, ONE GOOD MAN, was published in 2000. Since then, she has crafted the best-selling, award-winning Taylor Clan series for Intrigue, as well as its equally successful spin-off series, THE PRECINCT. While she continues to write about cops and crime scenes for Intrigue, Ms. Miller occasionally writes for Harlequin Blaze and other special projects at Harlequin–where her romantic suspense books get a steamier twist, and her military heroes have been especially popular. In addition, Ms. Miller writes single title romantic suspense with a paranormal twist for Prairie Muse Publishing.The daughter of a Marine and a speech/language therapist, Julie is a teacher who grew up in Missouri and now lives in Nebraska with her husband (a teacher and YA author), son (a college student majoring in Music Business) and an assortment of spoiled pets. She’s been dubbed the resident “Grammar Goddess” of her local writing group, The Prairieland Romance Writers. You may write Julie at P.O. Box 5162, Grand Island, NE 68802-5162 or email her questions or comments at the contact address below.

 Check out Julie’s book giveaway contests, monthly newsletter and more on her website at www.juliemiller.org.
 

Read an Excerpt

“Really?” Hope squinted and averted her eyes from the bright headlights that filled up her rearview mirror. “You’re following a little close, buddy.”

She gripped the steering wheel more tightly and pressed on the gas to put some distance between them. She wasn’t a nervous driver at all. But normally she wasn’t out this late, and she didn’t take the shortcut off the interstate through the heart of the city. But cleanup after the Barrister-Stelling wedding had run long past the end of the dinner and dancing. And though she wasn’t the one actually bussing the tables, there were family pictures and table decorations she’d promised to hold on to until after the honeymoon. Then the gifts had to be delivered to their parents’ hotel rooms. Other than the hotel staff, she’d been the last person to leave the reception.

So what if her panty hose had long since cut off the circulation to her toes? Or if she’d have to unload every last box in the trunk and backseat of her car herself because she’d sent her assistant home. Hope had earned a tidy fortune with this event. Earned every last penny playing fashion consultant, wedding planner and family counselor. The sooner she got home, the sooner she could celebrate with a glass of wine and a long, hot bubble bath. Or maybe she’d skip them both and just fall straight into bed and sleep until Monday. “What the heck?”

The same lights rushed up behind her a second time, nearly blinding her. “Jackass.”

Hope blamed the unlady-like condemnation on the length of the day and the unwanted calls piling up on her cell phone that bothered her more than she cared to admit. She must have a stamp on her forehead that said “Pick on me” today. Just because she tended to be shy and soft-spoken didn’t mean she lacked backbone or a brain or a temper. When the driver flashed his lights through her rear window, she muttered another word in the Ozark accent that crept into her voice whenever she got a little too angry or afraid. She double-checked her speed. She wasn’t poking along, by any means. Still, if the guy was in that much of a hurry…

Pulling closer to the parking lane so he could pass, Hope adjusted her charcoal-framed glasses to try to catch a look at the driver and license plate on the beat-up white van. But it veered so close as it sped past that it nearly clipped the side mirror on her car. “Hey!”

The van shot back into the lane in front of her, forcing Hope to stomp on the brake and skid to a stop. Glass rattled and boxes shifted behind her as several brief images printed like snapshots in her brain. A shadowy figure dressed in dark clothes sat behind the steering wheel. He wore a black knit cap pulled low over his forehead and a white scarf across his nose and mouth, hiding all but his eyes. In those brief milliseconds when he’d looked down into her car, she was certain their gazes had met, although he flew on by before the details completely registered. A shiny silver bumper that seemed at odds with the rusting wheel wells and dinged-up back doors was the last image she saw before it disappeared into the night.

“Where’s a cop when you need one?” She sighed, fighting a niggling sense of unease that her sleep-deprived brain was keeping her from recognizing something important.

“Need some help, sugar?” A trio of young men, dressed in hoods and jeans and more jewelry than she owned, knocked on her passenger-side window.

Startled by their approach and frightened by their leering smiles, Hope stepped on the accelerator and did a little speeding herself—leaving a trail of rubber, laughter and catcalls in her wake.

She drove three more blocks before she eased up on the gas. Hope inhaled a deep breath and ordered herself to get a grip. It was probably just the neighborhood she was driving through that had made her suspicious of the van and driver. Besides the three young men, she’d passed a homeless man pushing his cart along the sidewalk, and at least one scantily clad woman who’d been leaning into a parked car—either picking up a client, making a drug buy or both.

If Hope wasn’t so darned nearsighted, maybe she could have read the van’s license plate, even on the dimly lit street. If she wasn’t so distracted by those unwanted phone calls, she could have gotten a useful description of the driver. If she wasn’t so worn-out, maybe she would have taken the long way home and bypassed this run-down neighborhood where she had no business driving alone, anyway.

Hope breathed a sigh of relief as she finally left the less savory section of the city behind her and drove past the familiar landmarks of renovated art deco buildings, solid midcentury brownstones and converted warehouses that now housed trendy new businesses and condo apartments like her own. Her company improved, too. Instead of the prostitute and gangbangers, and rude drivers crowding her on the street, she drove past a busy bar with a neon green shamrock sign and a group of friends standing outside the front door, sharing a laugh and a smoke.

She stopped at the next light and waited for a young twentysomething couple to cross in front of her. They were holding hands, out on a Saturday night date to a restaurant or coffeehouse in the next block. Or perhaps they were meeting a group of friends to go dancing at one of the newly opened clubs in the trendy Kansas City neighborhood where Hope lived over her own shop.

A little pang of longing squeezed at Hope’s restless heart. Even if she had a date, or a whirlwind social life that included dancing and barhopping, she was too tired to do more than drive herself home tonight. She couldn’t wait to kick off her heels, slide into that bath and curl up with a good book.

Still, it would be nice if just once she had something more to look forward to than a hard day of work and a quiet night at home. She wanted something more—something a little more exciting, something a little less lonely.

Almost as soon as she thought the wish, she regretted it.

She knew she was lucky to have built a successful business. Lucky to have a solid roof over her head and plenty to eat every day. She was lucky to have a few friends and a younger brother she was so proud of serving in the Marines. Hope’s gaze dropped to her right hand where it rested on the steering wheel. A familiar web of pale scar tissue peeked above the cuff of her tan trench coat. She touched her fingers to the collar of her silk blouse, knowing there was more scarring underneath. All along her arm, her foot, her thigh—there were scars there, too.

She was lucky to be alive.

Hope was grateful to be where she was now, considering where she’d started. She was pushing her luck to dream of something more—like holding hands or being the recipient of a look like the one Jeff Stelling had given his bride, Deanna, today.

“Damn lucky,” she whispered out loud as the light changed. And she meant it. As long as other people kept falling in love, she’d have a job—and the security she’d been denied growing up. What would she do with a man, anyway? Embarrass herself? Shy, plump and partially disfigured—what man wouldn’t want to get all over that?

With a healthy dose of mental sarcasm to sharpen her dreamy focus, Hope turned onto her street. The familiar brick facade and storefront windows she’d decorated herself welcomed her as she slowed to pull into the parking lot beside Fairy Tale Bridal.

Hope parked her car in the reserved space next to the side entrance and climbed out, keys and pepper spray in hand. As stylish and reborn as this neighborhood might be, it, unfortunately, had become the hunting ground of a serial rapist that the press had dubbed the Rose Red Rapist. She had the unwanted distinction of being responsible for the horrid nickname because one of his first victims had been abducted right outside her shop. So much for fairy tales. Several more women, including a friend who’d worked just across the street at the Robin’s Nest Floral shop, had been blitz attacked, driven to another location, sexually assaulted and then dumped back here on this very block as if they were so much trash.

A client of hers, Bailey Austin, had been that first victim. Hope still felt guilty about the night more than a year ago when Bailey—then an engaged woman having a tiff with her fiance at the shop—had stormed out of Fairy Tale Bridal and been assaulted. Although the younger woman had assured Hope that she in no way held her responsible for the attack, Hope was still looking for a way to make restitution.

Hope unlocked the vestibule and picked up the mail off the floor that had come through the slot. Then she unlocked the inner door to her shop and set the bills and letters along with her purse inside before returning to her car to unload the boxes from the wedding reception. She tilted her gaze to make sure the security lights and camera monitoring the entrance were working before opening her trunk and grabbing the first box of family mementos from her car.

With each trip to and from the shop, she made a point of scanning her surroundings and locking her car. KCPD had formed a task force to track down and arrest the elusive rapist, and they had stepped up patrols in this particular neighborhood. The Rose Red Rapist had received plenty of press on television and in the local papers, although facts about the attacks often got less coverage than the reporters’ negative opinions on the police department’s handling of the case. But every woman in town knew the dangers lurking in the darkness. Every woman who lived here knew the details of the crimes—what to look for and what to avoid.

She was one woman, alone in the city. And even though she was no slim, head-turning beauty, she wasn’t so naive to think she couldn’t become a victim, too. She fit the profile of the professional women the rapist targeted. She was successful and confident—when it came to her business, at any rate. Hope was smart enough to be on guard, especially at this time of night. But she couldn’t very well surrender to the terror she faced as a single woman in this neighborhood. Her entire life’s savings was tied up in this shop. Anything she could call her own was in that apartment upstairs.

Besides, she was experienced enough in life to know that danger could find a person anywhere—in the heart of the city, or on a dusty back road in the middle of nowhere. This building was her home and her livelihood, and no man—no threat—was going to frighten her into giving up everything she’d worked so hard for. She just had to be aware. She had to pay attention to the alerts and details the police had shared with the public.

Details.

Driven to another location…

Hope shifted the box of photos to one arm and closed the trunk as a shiver of awareness raised goose bumps across her skin. That was what she should have remembered about the white van that had cruised past her. She’d read a witness account in the paper with vague details about coming to inside a white van before being dumped in the alley across the street after her assault.

White van? A driver hiding his face on a cool autumn night?

There had to be hundreds of white vans in the city. Just because one had crept up on her bumper …twice….

And the man in black and white behind the wheel? Surely he wasn’t… Hope’s stomach knotted with fear. Surely she hadn’t gotten a glimpse of the Rose Red Rapist himself.

En route to another abduction.

Returning from the scene of an assault.

“No. Surely not.” No one had seen the serial rapist. One reason he’d never been arrested was that no victim had been able to identify him—no surviving victim. She hugged the box to her chest and tried to talk herself off the ledge of fearful possibility she was climbing on to. “He was just some jackass who was in a hurry.”

A blur of white in Hope’s peripheral vision drew her attention out to the street.

A white van moved with the late-night traffic past the entrance to the parking lot. The white van? Was the Rose Red Rapist on the prowl for his next victim?

Hope’s breathing locked up the way it had at the church. She was squarely and completely trapped on that ledge. “That can’t be him.”

Cruising through herneighborhood? Had the driver followed her home? Was he hunting her?

Hope barely managed to save the box and its fragile contents from crashing to the asphalt. “You don’t even know if it’s him,” she warned herself on a whisper. “It’s just a white van. It’s just some guy in a van. It’s probably not even the same one.”

Refusing to let her imagination turn her observation into a panic, she carefully set the box down on the trunk and took a couple of steps toward the street. Rusting wheel wells. Shiny silver bumper.

She glanced up into the cab. Dark stocking cap and… not a scarf.

A surgical mask.

Shadowed eyes met hers.

“Oh, my God.”

Hope slipped her hand into her coat pocket to pull out her phone as the van suddenly picked up speed and headed toward the next intersection. She hurried out to the sidewalk to see which direction the vehicle would turn and punched in 911. The driver might not be the Rose Red Rapist, but it was definitely the same van that had nearly crowded her off the road tonight.

“Nine-eleven Dispatch,” a succinct female voice answered. “What is the nature of your emergency?”

“I don’t know if this is exactly an emergency, but I’m not sure who to report this to.” Hope turned up the collar of her trench coat and huddled against the suddenly brisk chill in the autumn air. “I just saw a white van that matches the description the police gave in the paper about the vehicle the Rose Red Rapist drives. The man inside had his face covered.”

“Are you in danger, ma’am?”

“I…” There were a few people hanging out down at the corner where the van was waiting for the light to change. A group of young women wandered out of the dance club. Was the driver watching them? Choosing one for his next victim? “I’m not. But someone else may be.” Hope glanced around at the cars parked on the street, at the closed shops, at the deserted sidewalks here in the middle of the block. She was safe, wasn’t she? The van turned right, slowly circling past the group of women waiting at the crosswalk. “I think you should send the police.”

“Yes, ma’am. Where are you now?”

Hope relayed her location, refusing to take her eyes off the van until it disappeared from sight. A man wearing a surgical mask wasn’t necessarily a threat. Maybe it was part of his work—such as an exterminator, or someone who worked with food might wear. Or maybe he was one of those people who was phobic about catching germs. Still…it just didn’t feel right.

“We already have an officer in the area, ma’am,” the dispatcher assured her. “I’ll send him to your shop right now.”

Good idea. Go back inside her shop. Lock the doors. “Thank you.”

Hope disconnected the call, waiting a few seconds longer until the young women changed their minds and went back into the club for more dancing. The breeze whipped loose a long tendril of hair that had been pinned up in a French roll all day. The long curl hooked inside the temple of her glasses and caught in her lashes, forcing her to squint until she pulled it free and tucked it back behind her ear. Good. The women were all safely inside. She’d be smart to do the same until the police arrived to take her statement.

“Staring into space like you always did.”

Hope jumped inside her pumps and whirled around to see the gray-haired man standing behind her.

“I’ve been waitin’ for you, girl.”

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Filed under 2013, Excerpt, Harlequin, Intrigue, Julie Miller, Review, Romance, September, The Precinct: Task Force

[Review] Smoky Ridge Curse by Paula Graves

Smoky Ridge Curse  by Paula Graves

Publication date: August 1, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin Intrigue

<div style=”font-size:11px”>Publication date: 05/01/2013</div>Bitterwood P.D. #3
Pages: 217

Back of the book

 
Two former partners find their feelings rekindled when they’re forced to uncover the truth in Paula Graves’s Bitterwood P.D. trilogy! 

Assistant FBI director Adam Brand is out of time. His attempt to expose a domestic terrorist hiding in plain sight has left him with more questions than answers. Still, asking his former FBI subordinate Delilah Hammond for help is even more dangerous.
Once before, the unexpected heat between them drove her back to her mountain hometown-and Adam to the heights of the Bureau. And now, as a new sheriff, Delilah has much more to lose…even as her skills and determination leave Adam breathless all over again. Staying two steps ahead of their ruthless quarry reignites a desire neither can resist. But as Delilah puts herself on the line to set a lethal trap, will they survive to explore the future neither has given up on?



My Review: 

4.5 Star Review – Bitterwood P.D. series

I recommend this book.


As always I enjoyed this book by Paula.  Have yet to be disappointed by Paula as she adds plenty of drama, passion, and romance.  She captures the small town feel and you really feel as if the characters in her books are real.  Look forward to the next book in this series.

I can’t wait for the next book in the Bitterwood P.D. series due out in 2014.
Delilah Hammond starts her new job as detective on the Bitterwood Police department in a week. Before starting the job she is trying to keep her mother from drinking. Her mother has tried to stop drinking for years but has not been able to stop.
Special Agent Adam Brand is on the run from the FBI who thinks he is a traitor. He has been framed for espionage and murder. He has run to his former protégée, Delilah. She is former FBI but left after Brand and her had one night of passion. They both had their own reasons for not fighting for more than one night.      
As they decide what to do about Brand’s predicament someone goes after Delilah’s brother Seth. They rescue Seth and Rachel from danger and get them hidden away while they try to get Brands name cleared.
As they work together on putting the pieces of the puzzle in order the passion that is below the surface overflows.  
They are working against the clock and Delilah assumes once Adam’s name is cleared he will go back to the FBI and she will be picking up the pieces of her heart once again. 
Once they think they have the main player in the frame up. They decide to confront them in a roundabout way. Delilah decides to meet the man and play as if Adam has left her and she will give him up. But there is an explosion and Adam is wondering if Delilah is even alive.
As they uncover the players of the frame up a few of them come as surprises.  You reconnect with a few characters from the Cooper Justice Cold Case Investigation and the Cooper Security series.  If you want to get technical you also get one of the characters from the forbidden series.    

You can feel the chemistry between the two throughout the book.

To find out the answers to the below pick up the book:

Who is behind the framing of Adam?
Who does Adam see who everyone believes died years before?
What happened to Delilah and why?

 

A few of my favorite parts of the book:

He laid his hands on her cheeks, studying her face. “You have to know you’re brilliant and capable.”

“I do know,” she admitted with another little laugh. ”But I’ve never heard anyone else say it.”

He laughed in response, pressing his lips against her forehead. “I never knew you needed anyone to say it.” He pulled away, smiling down at her. “You walked into my office like you owned the place and told me what you intended to do and how I was going to help you make it happen, remember?”

She nodded, cringing a little at the memory. “That’s what you fancy educated people call bravado. I was scared out of my gourd but I didn’t dare let anyone know it. So I pretended I was a big ol’ bitch on wheels who wasn’t going to let anyone tell me no. I kept hoping that if I did that long enough and loud enough, one day I might believe it myself.”

 

“We can set up something really high-tech. We know the stuff to get. Maybe a button mike with a remote receiver. He’d never spot it.”

“This is my mess, Delilah, not yours.”

She stared at him, frustrated. “You called me Delilah.”

“It’s your name.”

 “You only call me Delilah when you’re putting your foot down.”

“It’s too dangerous.”

“No. Quinn’s bought a big building in Purgatory, Tennessee.  Turns out that’s where the old bastard grew up.”
“He wasn’t spawned, fully grown, from some alien space pod?”
Brand gave her hip a little slap.
 

 

Contact Info for Paula Graves

 

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About Paula:


Down here in the American South, we don’t hide our crazy people. We showcase them. I’ve always thought it was because eccentric people make for the best stories, and we Southerners love our stories. Faulkner, McCullers, O’Connor, Porter—these are our chroniclers, writers steeped in the slow, steady pulse of the South’s pride, suffering, honor, madness, venality and redemption. I grew up in Alabama, the heart of the South, and live here still. The need to tell stories has been a driving force in my life from a very young age.

When I was younger, my favorite books were Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries and Harlequin Romances. When I realized there were books that featured both romance and mystery, I knew I’d found my calling. Now I write for Harlequin Intrigue, where I get to play both matchmaker and murderer and get paid for it.  I’ve also recently self-published a couple of romantic suspense ebooks, available on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and Smashwords.

I work a full-time day job at a Birmingham ad agency, where I’m a copywriter and graphic designer, a background that comes in handy when it’s time to redesign my website and create promotional materials for my books. I’m also known among certain circles as the Cat Whisperer, but that’s a whole other story. I love to hear from readers, so please click the contact button and tell me what you think about my books.


 
 

Read an Excerpt

Winter had come to Bitterwood, Tennessee, roaring in on a cold, damp wind that poured down the mountain passes and shook the remnants of browning leaves from the sugar maples, sweet gums and dogwoods growing at the middle elevations. Delilah Hammond remembered well from childhood the sharp bite of an Appalachian November and dressed warmly when she headed up the winding mountain road to her mother’s place on Smoky Ridge.

Reesa Hammond was on day three of her latest hop on the sobriety wagon, and withdrawal had hit her hard, killing her appetite and leaving her shaking, angry and suffering from a persistent headache no amount of ibuprofen seemed to relieve. Frankly, Delilah was surprised her mother had bothered trying to stop drinking at all at this point, since her previous eight attempts at sobriety had all ended the same way, five fingers deep in a bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey.

Delilah didn’t kid herself that this time Reesa would win the battle with the bottle. But Reesa had taken a hell of a lot of abuse trying to protect Delilah and her brother, Seth, from their sick creep of a sperm donor, so a little barley soup and a few minutes of company wasn’t too much to offer, was it?

Her cell phone beeped as she turned her Camaro into a tight curve. She waited until the road straightened to answer, aware of how dangerous the mountain roads could be, especially at night with rain starting to mix with sleet. “Hammond.”

“Just checking to make sure you hadn’t changed your mind.” The gruff voice on the other end of the line belonged to a former leatherneck named Jesse Cooper, the man who’d been her boss for the past few years, until she’d given her notice two weeks earlier.

“I haven’t,” she answered, tamping down the doubts that had harassed her ever since she’d quit the best job she’d ever had.

“You’re overqualified.”

“I know.”

“You’re no good at small-town politics.”

“I know that, too.”

“You should have held out for chief of police, at least.”

She grinned at that. “Talk about small-town politics.”

“I can keep the job open for a month or two, but that’s it. Our caseload’s growing, and I can’t afford to work shorthanded.”

“I know. I appreciate the vote of confidence in me, but I’m ready for a change.” She tried not to dwell on just how drastic a change she’d made in the past two weeks. Going from a global security and threat assessment firm to a detective on one of Tennessee’s tiniest police forces was turning out to be a shock to the system even she hadn’t anticipated.

She still wasn’t sure why, exactly, she’d decided to stick around Bitterwood, Tennessee, after so many years away. She only knew that a few weeks ago, when the time had come to go back to work in Alabama after an extended assignment in her old hometown, her feet had planted firmly in the rocky Tennessee soil and refused to budge. She’d returned to Maybridge just long enough to work out her two-week notice, talk her landlord into letting her break her long-term lease, and gather up her sparse belongings. Two days ago, she’d moved into a rental house off Vesper Road at the foot of Smoky Ridge. In a week, she’d start her new job with the Bitterwood Police Department.

“I don’t suppose you’ve heard anything else about Adam Brand?” she added as the silence between her and her former boss lingered past comfort.

“Nothing yet. We have feelers out. I know you’re worried.”

“Not worried,” she denied, though it was a lie. “More confused than anything. Going AWOL is not an Adam Brand kind of thing to do. And there’s no way in hell he’s a traitor to this country. It’s not in his DNA.”

“Your brother still won’t tell you anything more about the work he did for Brand?”

“I don’t think Seth knows anything more,” Delilah said. “He didn’t ask a lot of questions, and Brand’s not one to shoot off his mouth.” Even when a few well-chosen words might do him a world of good, she added silently.

“Isabel and Ben have both been trying to reach him, but they’re not having much luck. They didn’t keep in close touch with Brand after leaving the bureau.”

“It happens.” Delilah ignored the stinging pain in the center of her chest. “I’ve got to go. I’m taking soup and sympathy to my mom. She’s on the wagon again.”

“Oh.” She could tell by Jesse’s careful tone that he wanted to say something encouraging, but he’d been around for three or four of her mother’s last brief flirtations with sobriety and knew better than to dish out false hope. “I hope she makes it this time.”

“Yeah, me, too. Say hi to everyone. And call me if you get any news about Brand. I don’t think this Davenport case is really over yet, and he seems to know something about it.”

“Will do.” Jesse hung up.

The Davenport case was at least part of the reason she’d stuck around Bitterwood. Two months earlier, the murders had started—four women found stabbed to death in their beds, though they’d clearly been killed elsewhere. A Bitterwood P.D. detective named Ivy Hawkins had made the first clear connection between the murders—all four women had been friends with a woman named Rachel Davenport, whose dying father owned Davenport Trucking in Maryville, Tennessee, a town twenty minutes from Bitterwood.

When Ivy had caught the murderer, he’d admitted he’d been hired to kill the women. With his cryptic dying words, he’d hinted the killings had everything to do with Rachel Davenport, as Ivy had suspected. Someone had wanted to torment Rachel until she broke, and only after several close calls had the police discovered a struggle for control of Davenport Trucking was at the heart of the campaign of emotional torture. 

If there was anything good to come out of the whole mess, it was that Delilah’s black sheep of a brother, Seth, had ended up a hero and even won the girl—he and Rachel Davenport were already talking rings and wedding dates, which seemed pretty quick to Delilah. Then again, she was thirty-four and single. Some might say she was a little too cautious about affairs of the heart.

Her mother’s house was a small cabin near the summit of Smoky Ridge, prone to power outages when the winter storms rolled in. But she had a large fireplace in the front room and a smaller woodstove to warm her bedroom, both of which seemed to be working based on the twin columns of smoke rising over the fir trees surrounding the small cabin.

A thin layer of sleet had started to form on the hard surface of the narrow driveway next to the cabin, crunching under Delilah’s boots as she crossed the tiny concrete patio to the kitchen entrance. She had to bend into the wind as it gusted past her, slapping the screen door against the wall of the cabin.

It swung back as she passed, crashing into her with an aluminum rattle.

She stopped short, skidding on the icy pellets underfoot, and stared at the offending screen door. It hung sideways, still flapping in the cold wind, as if someone had tried to rip it from its hinges.

Moving slowly, she stepped back and reached into her pocket for her keychain, where she kept a small flashlight attached to the ring. She snapped it on and ran the narrow beam across the patio beneath the door.

Dark red splotches, still wet and glistening beneath the thin layer of sleet, marred the concrete surface. Another streak of red stained the aluminum frame of the broken door.

Her first thought was that her mother had gone back on the bottle, taken a spill, and was laid up inside somewhere, drunkenly trying to patch herself up. It was the most logical assumption.

But a lot of bad things had been happening in Bitterwood in the last couple of months. And between her FBI training and her years working for Cooper Security, Delilah always assumed the worst.

Setting the bag of takeout soup on the patio table, she pulled her Sig Sauer P229 from the pancake holster behind her back and tried the back doorknob. Unlocked.

She eased the door open. Heat blasted her, a welcome contrast to the icy breeze prickling the exposed skin of her neck. Somewhere in the house, a vacuum cleaner was running on high, its whine almost drowning out the whistle of the wind across the eaves.

She shut the door quietly. Keeping her eyes and ears open, she moved as silently as she could, checking each room as she went. If there had been blood splotches inside the house, they’d been cleaned up already. The rough wood floor beneath her feet was worn but spotless.

In the den at the front of the house, the sound of the vacuum cleaner roared with full force. Reesa Hammond was running an upright vacuum with cheerful energy, dancing to whatever tune she was singing beneath the noise of the cleaner.

She swirled the cleaner around in the opposite direction and jumped when she saw Delilah standing in the doorway, weapon in hand.

Reesa shut off the vacuum cleaner and put her hand over her chest. “Good lord, Dee Dee, you scared me out of my wits!”

“Are you okay?”

Reesa’s brow furrowed. “I’m fine. Are you okay?”

After a pause, Delilah reholstered her Sig Sauer. “Did you know the screen door to the kitchen’s been nearly ripped off its hinges?”

“Really?” Reesa looked surprised. “It was fine when I got back from the mailbox this afternoon. I guess the wind’s stronger out there than I thought.”

“I don’t think it was the wind,” Delilah murmured, remembering the blood on the patio. “You didn’t hear anything?”

“I was in the shower for a little while, then running the hair dryer, and I’ve been vacuuming the place ever since. I reckon half the mountain could have come down out there and I wouldn’t have heard it.” She cocked her head. “You look tired.”

Delilah gazed back at her mother through narrowed eyes. “I thought you were feeling bad.”

Reesa looked sheepish. “I was, this morning. But when you called and said you were coming over, I didn’t want you to see what a mess the place was, so I started cleaning up. And before I knew it, my headache was gone and I was feeling so much like my old self, I thought maybe I’d surprise you by having dinner ready for you when you got here.” She sighed. “But you’re early. I haven’t put the casserole in the oven yet.”

“I brought barley soup from Ledbetter’s Café.” And left it out in the cold, she realized, where it had probably reached refrigerator temperature by now

“And I’ve ruined it for you by feeling better.” Reesa patted her cheek. “I’m sorry. I know I must seem such a mess to you.”

Unexpected tears burned Delilah’s eyes. She blinked them away. “I’m just glad you’re feeling better.”

Reesa’s smile faded. “This is the farthest I’ve gotten, you know? I’ve never reached the point where I actually feel better not drinking. It’s a surprise, I have to say!”

“Well, good.” Delilah couldn’t keep a hint of caution out of her voice. She could tell her mother didn’t miss the inflection, for Reesa’s green eyes darkened with shame for a moment.

But she lifted her chin and smiled at her daughter. “I think it’s havin’ my kids around me again. I’ve missed you both so much.”

“Seth’s been by?” Delilah asked as her mother unplugged the vacuum cleaner and started looping the cord around the hooks in the back.

“He stopped in with Rachel earlier today.” Reesa slanted a quick look at Delilah. “She’s good for him.”

“She’s great for him,” Delilah agreed. “She’s crazy about him, too. Go figure.”

“What about you?” Putting the vacuum cleaner away in the living room closet, Reesa paused to look over her shoulder. “Met anyone you like?”

“Not recently,” Delilah answered. Actually, she’d met her share of men over the course of working for Cooper Security, but none who’d interested her enough to keep seeing him long-term.

There was only one man she’d ever really wanted, and though he’d never be hers, she still seemed to measure every man she met against him.

“Maybe you’ll meet someone when you start work.”

“Maybe,” Delilah agreed in order to end this particular topic of conversation. She’d already met everyone in the Bitterwood Police Department without a single spark flying. Most were married, and of those who weren’t, only Antoine Parsons was remotely interesting. But he was seeing someone in Maryville, and Delilah had never been a poacher.

Even when the man she wanted was married to his career.

“I can put the casserole in the freezer and make it some other time, since you brought soup.” Reesa nudged Delilah down the hall to the kitchen.

“No, the soup will keep in the fridge. I’m curious to see this casserole you’ve cooked up.” Delilah spotted a foil-covered glass casserole dish sitting by the refrigerator. She sneaked a peek under the foil, recognizing green beans, carrots, chicken chunks and whole-kernel yellow corn, topped with cheese and fried onions. “You made pantry casserole!” She turned to her mother, a smile playing at her lips.

“I didn’t have much in the pantry, but I thought it would be nice to fix something for you.” Reesa’s smile held a hint of apology. “Maybe next time you come, I’ll go shopping first and make something from scratch instead of out of cans.”

Impulsively, Delilah hugged her mother. “Pantry casserole is my favorite. I make it at home all the time.”

Reese’s thin arms tightened around Delilah’s back. “You do?”

“I do. Can’t go wrong—”

“With a casserole,” Reesa finished in unison with her.

“I’ll go outside and get the soup. You get that in the oven and then we can talk while it’s cooking.” Delilah let go of her mother and opened the back door. “Mom, you need to start locking your door.”

“Nobody ever bothers me up here.”

“Famous last words,” Delilah muttered as she stepped out onto the sleet-pebbled patio to fetch the soup.

But the paper bag was gone.

Delilah froze, scanning the area behind the house for any sign of an intruder. Visibility wasn’t great, between the steady needling of sleet and the cold mist swallowing the top of the mountain. Seeing nothing out of place, she pulled out her flashlight and checked the ground around the patio table. No sign of the bag of takeout soup, but the layer of sleet on the patio had been disturbed.

She couldn’t say the streaks of bare patio were definitely footsteps—she supposed it was more likely that a hungry raccoon or opossum had grabbed himself a ready-made meal—but a thin film of blood on the edge of the table was troubling enough to send her reaching for her Sig again.

“Hello?” she called, loudly enough that a faint echo of her voice rang back to her from deep in the woods.

No answer.

The cabin door opened behind her, making her jump. “Dee Dee, is something wrong?”

“The soup is gone.”

“Oh.” Reesa looked nonplussed.

“Probably a raccoon or something.”

“Hope it’s not a bear.” Reesa shuddered. “Pam Colby said she saw a black bear in her backyard just last week, looking for a place to nest for the winter. She shooed it off by banging some pots together.”

“I don’t think it’s a bear.” Delilah’s gaze settled on the film of blood. “I’m going to take a look around, okay? I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

“It’s freezing out there. I’m sure it was just an animal, Dee. Why don’t you come back in here where it’s warm? Let the raccoon have the soup. He probably needs it more than we do.”

“I’m just going to walk the perimeter. There’s some blood on the table—maybe it’s injured and needs help.”

“Oh, poor thing. Okay, but hurry up. The temperature’s dropping like crazy out here. They’re talking about maybe our first snow of the season.” Reesa backed into the house, closing the door behind her.

Stamping her feet to get some of the feeling back into her cold toes, Delilah headed out into the yard, keeping the beam of the flashlight moving in a slow, thorough arc in front of her.

She discovered more blood, spattered on the grass in a weaving line toward the tree line. Following the trail, she spotted a white birch tree with a dark streak of red marring its papery bark about four feet up. The mark seemed to form a long fingerprint.

She paused and checked the magazine of her pistol, reassuring herself that the Sig was loaded, with a round already chambered. If her mother was right and their intruder was a bear, she didn’t want to face it unarmed.

Though she listened carefully for any sounds that might reveal an animal or other intruder nearby, all she heard was the moan of the icy wind through the trees. But she felt something else there. Something living and watching, waiting for her to turn around and leave.

What would happen if she did just that? Would the watcher let her go? Or would he pounce the second she turned her back? Not caring to find out, she backed toward the clearing with slow, steady steps. She kept her eyes on the woods, trying to see past the moonless blackness outside the narrow, weakening beam of her flashlight.

Only the faintest of snapping sounds behind her gave her any warning at all.

It wasn’t enough.

She hit a solid wall of heat. One large arm curled around her, pulling her flush against that heat, while a hand closed over her mouth.

“Don’t scream,” he growled.

She didn’t.
 
But he did.

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Filed under 2013, August, Bitterwood P.D., Harlequin, Intrigue, Paula Graves, Review, Romance, Suspense

[Review] The Smoky Mountian Mist by Paula Graves

The Smoky Mountain Mist by Paula Graves

Publication date: July 1, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin Intrigue

<div style=”font-size:11px”>Publication date: 05/01/2013</div>Bitterwood P.D. #2
Pages: 216

Back of the book

 
WHO WANTS RACHEL DAVENPORT DEAD?

Seth Hammond won’t stop until he gets answers. Tapped by the FBI to find out who’s targeting the heiress gives the former Tennessee bad boy the chance to atone for his past sins. But it’s his future he’s worried about when Seth finds himself falling for Rachel…who’s in graver danger than anyone in their small mountain town of Bitterwood realizes.

Ever since she was named CEO of her family business, strange things have been happening-terrifying incidents that could be tied to Rachel’s violence-shadowed past. Seth’s the only one who doesn’t think she’s losing her mind. Her intense, rough-around-the-edges protector has blindsided her with his passion. But Rachel also believes in Seth-believes he’s a good man looking for redemption…and possibly love?



My Review: 

4.5 Star Review – Bitterwood P.D. series

I recommend this book.


As always I enjoyed this book by Paula.  Have yet to be disappointed by Paula as she adds plenty of drama, passion, and romance.  She captures the small town feel and you really feel as if the characters in her books are real.  Look forward to the next book in this series.

I can’t wait for the next book in the Bitterwood P.D. series.  The book is due out in August 2013 “Smoky Ridge Curse” featuring Adam Brand’s story.

Rachel Davenport is trying to grieve for her father and her friends in Bitterwood who have recently passed.   She wants to appear strong even while she is falling apart inside. 

Seth Hammond was a conman who is now trying to atone for those sins.  He feels bad for all the cons he pulled and is working on becoming a better man.  He has many secrets he still has to keep especially as he is secretly working for Adam Brand from the FBI and has been ordered to keep an eye on Rachel.   When he came back to town Rachel and her father gave him second chance and he is currently working for Davenport Trucking.  While at the same time trying to figure out who is killing the people around Rachel.  Why is she targeted and for what purpose?

After Rachel is drugged and almost went over a bridge Seth decides to investigate to figure out what happened.  

Rachel is on the phone with an ex-boyfriend who came to town for the funeral when he gets attacked.  She tries to track him down and comes across Seth who has also been attacked.   They decide to team up and investigate together to find out what is going on. 

Rachel has her own dark secrets of her past that she needs to overcome as someone is trying to make her think she is going crazy. 

Seth opens up about his childhood and how it shaped him into the man he is today. 
Everywhere Rachel and Seth go to get answers everyone treats Seth like he is still a conman and he has to defend himself.  Even his sister Delilah and his old friend Sutton don’t believe him at first about his suspicions about what is going on with Rachel.  That makes Rachel question his motives multiple times.

 

 

To find out the answers to the below pick up the book:

Will Rachel & Seth figure out why someone wants Rachel crazy or dead?

What shaped them both into the people they are today?

 

Can Rachel trust Seth?

 

A few of my favorite parts of the book:

The road into Bitterwood proper from the mountains was a winding series of switchback and straightaways called Old Purgatory Road. Back in the day, when they were just kids, Delilah, a couple of years older and eons wiser, had told Seth that it was named so because hell was located in a deep, dark cavern in the heart of Smoky Ridge, their mountain home, and the only way to get in or out was Purgatory Road.

 

“I thought the first rule of the con game was that you couldn’t con an honest man.” She wasn’t sure where she’d heard that, but she’d always considered it to be a reasonable assumption. Honest men didn’t fall for deals that where too good to be true.

Seth shook his head. “Honest man can be conned. Everyone has a price, even if the price is honorable.” He grimaced. “I guess never breaking the law if you don’t have to isn’t necessarily the first rule of the con game, but it was the first rule Cleve Calhoun taught me.”


Ah, Seth thought. Now we get to the grilling part. “I knew the murder victims. I liked them, and I like Rachel Davenport, too. Her father took a chance on me when he hired me at the trucking company when most people around here wouldn’t spit on me if I was on fire.”


He was beautiful, she thought, standing there in the middle of her haven. Beautiful and feral, constantly on the edge of flight. Despite the façade civilization, despite his obvious attempts to fight his own wild instincts, he would never be fully tame. He would never be genteel or domesticated. He’d always be a wild card.

“The people at a show know what they’re seeing isn’t real,” Seth answered slowly. “They’re willing participants in their own deception.”

Uncle Rafe’s well-lined face creased with a smile. “Damn good answer, boy.” He hooked his arm through Rachel’s and led her to the second row of tables facing the large stage. “Gotta go start deceiving this room full of willing participants in their own deception.” He said with a wink in Seth’s direction. “You’ll stick around after the show, of course?”

His gaze snapped back to hers. “You know what con men really do, Rachel? The kill you soul. You start out a normal person. Caring. Trusting. And then he strikes, and you’re never the same. You trust no one. Nothing. You’re afraid to be nice, because it makes you vulnerable. You’re afraid to care because it makes you an easy mark. You meet a nice guy, a good guy, a guy who would treat you right, and you can’t let yourself believe him because you know sweet words and a tender touch can hide a monster.” He leaned toward her, his gaze so intense it made her stomach quiver. “That’s what I did to Lauren Blount. It’s what I did to God knows how many people along the way.”

She didn’t know what to say. She didn’t even know what to feel.

“I did that.” He sat back, looking away. “I don’t know how a man can forgive himself for that. I don’t know how he lives with it. He can try to pay back the money, he can promise he’ll never do anything like that again, but he can’t change the fact that he had kind of evil inside him and he let it have free rein. How do I live with that?”   

 
Contact Info for Paula Graves

 

 

Down here in the American South, we don’t hide our crazy people. We showcase them. I’ve always thought it was because eccentric people make for the best stories, and we Southerners love our stories. Faulkner, McCullers, O’Connor, Porter—these are our chroniclers, writers steeped in the slow, steady pulse of the South’s pride, suffering, honor, madness, venality and redemption. I grew up in Alabama, the heart of the South, and live here still. The need to tell stories has been a driving force in my life from a very young age.

When I was younger, my favorite books were Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries and Harlequin Romances. When I realized there were books that featured both romance and mystery, I knew I’d found my calling. Now I write for Harlequin Intrigue, where I get to play both matchmaker and murderer and get paid for it.  I’ve also recently self-published a couple of romantic suspense ebooks, available on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and Smashwords.

I work a full-time day job at a Birmingham ad agency, where I’m a copywriter and graphic designer, a background that comes in handy when it’s time to redesign my website and create promotional materials for my books. I’m also known among certain circles as the Cat Whisperer, but that’s a whole other story. I love to hear from readers, so please click the contact button and tell me what you think about my books.

 

Read an Excerpt

Rachel Davenport knew she was being watched, and she hated it, though the gazes directed her way that cool October morning appeared kind and full of sympathy. Only a few of her fellow mourners knew the full truth about why she’d disappeared for almost a year after her mother’s sudden death fifteen years ago, but that didn’t change the self-consciousness descending over her like a pall. 
 
She locked her spine and lifted her head, refusing to give anyone reason to doubt her strength. She’d survived so far and didn’t intend to fall apart now. She wasn’t going to give anyone a show.

“It’s a lovely gathering, isn’t it?” Diane, her father’s wife of the past eight years, dabbed her eyes with a delicate lace-rimmed handkerchief. “So many people.”
 
“Yes,” Rachel agreed, feeling a stab of shame. She wasn’t the only person who’d lost someone she loved. Diane might be flighty and benignly self-absorbed, but she’d made George Davenport’s last days happy ones. He’d loved Diane dearly and indulged her happily, and she’d been nothing but a caring, cheerful and devoted wife in his dying days. Even if Rachel had resented the other woman in her father’s life—and she hadn’t—she would have loved Diane for giving her father joy for the past eight years. “I sometimes forget that he touched so many lives. With me he was just Georgie. Not the businessman, you know? Just a sweet, sweet man who liked to garden and sing to me at night.” Fresh tears trickled from Diane’s eyes. She blotted them away with the handkerchief, saved from a streaky face by good waterproof mascara. She lifted her red-rimmed eyes to Rachel. “I’m going to miss the hell out of that man.”Rachel gave her a swift, fierce hug. “So am I.”The preacher took his place at the side of the casket and spoke the scripture verses her father had chosen, hopeful words from the book of Ephesians, her father’s favorite. Rachel wanted to find comfort in them, but a shroud of loss seemed to smother her whole.

She couldn’t remember ever feeling quite so alone. Her father had been her rock for as long as she could remember, and now he was gone. There was her uncle Rafe, of course, but he lived two hours away and spent much of his time on the road looking for new acts for his music hall.
And as much as she liked and appreciated Diane, they had too little in common to be true friends, much less family. Nor did she really consider her stepbrother, Diane’s son, Paul, anything more than a casual friend, though they’d become closer since she’d quit her job with the Maryville Public Library to take over as office manager for her father’s trucking company.

She sometimes wondered why her father hadn’t ceded control of the business to Paul instead of her. He’d worked at Davenport Trucking for over a decade. Her father had met Diane through her son, not the other way around. He had been assistant operations manager for several years now and knew the business about as well as anyone else.

Far better than she did, even though she’d learned a lot in the past year.

She watched her stepbrother edge closer to the casket. As his lips began moving, as if he was speaking to the man encased in shiny oak and satin, a dark-clad figure a few yards behind him snagged Rachel’s attention. He was lean and composed, dressed in a suit that fit him well enough but seemed completely at odds with his slightly spiky dark hair and feral looks. A pair of dark sunglasses obscured his eyes but not the belligerently square jaw and high cheekbones.

It was Seth Hammond, one of the mechanics from the trucking company. Other Davenport Trucking employees had attended the funeral, of course, so she wasn’t sure why she was surprised to see Seth here. Except he’d never been close to her father, or to anyone else at the company for that matter. She’d always figured him for a loner.

As her gaze started to slide away from him, he lifted the glasses up on his head, and his eyes snapped up to meet hers.A zapping sensation jolted through her chest, stopping her cold. His gaze locked with hers, daring her to look away. The air in her lungs froze, then burned until she forced it out in a deep, shaky sigh.

He looked away, and she felt as if someone had cut all the strings holding her upright. Her knees wobbled, and she gripped Diane’s arm.

“What is it?” Diane asked softly.

Rachel closed her eyes for a moment to regain her sense of equilibrium, then looked up at the man again.
But he was gone.

“I DON’T KNOW. She looks okay, I guess.” From his parking spot near the edge of the cemetery, Seth Hammond kept an eye on Rachel Davenport. The cemetery workers had lowered the oak casket into the gaping grave nearly twenty minutes ago, and most of the gathered mourners had dispersed, leaving the immediate family to say their final private goodbyes to George Davenport.

“It’s not a coincidence that everyone around her is gone.” The deep voice rumbling through the cell phone receiver like an annoying fly in Seth’s ear belonged to Adam Brand, FBI special agent in charge. Seth had no idea why the D.C.-based federal agent was so interested in a trucking company heiress from the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, but Brand paid well, and Seth wasn’t in a position to say no to an honest job.
The only alternative was a dishonest job, and while he’d once been damned good at dishonesty, he’d found little satisfaction in those endeavors. It was a curse, he supposed, when the thing you could do the best was something that sucked the soul right out of you.

“I agree. It’s not a coincidence.” Seth’s viewpoint from the car several yards away wasn’t ideal, but the last thing a man with his reputation needed was to be spotted watching a woman through binoculars. So he had to make do with body language rather than facial expressions to get a sense of what Rachel Davenport was thinking and feeling. Grief, obviously. It covered her like morning fog in the Smokies, deceptively ephemeral. She stood straight, her chin high, her movements composed and measured. But he had a strong feeling that the slightest nudge would send her crumbling into ruins.

Everyone was gone now. Her mother by her own hand fifteen years ago, her father by cancer three days ago. No brothers or sisters, save for her stepbrother, Paul, and it wasn’t like they’d grown up together as real siblings the way Seth and his sister had.
“Have you seen Delilah recently?” Brand asked with his usual uncanny way of knowing the paths Seth’s mind was traveling at any given moment.

“Ran into her at Ledbetter’s Café over the weekend,” Seth answered. He left it at that. He wasn’t going to gossip about his sister.

Brand had never said, and Seth had never asked, why he didn’t just call up Delilah himself if he wanted to know how she was doing. Seth assumed things had gone sideways between them at some point. Probably why Dee had left the FBI years ago and eventually gone to work for Cooper Security. At the time, Seth had felt relieved by his sister’s choice, well aware of the risk that sooner or later, his sister’s job and his own less savory choice of occupations might collide.
Of course, now that he’d found his way onto the straight and narrow, she was having trouble believing in the new, improved Seth Hammond.

“I got some good snaps of the funeral goers, I think. I’ll check them out when I get a chance.” A hard thud on the passenger window made him jerk. He looked up to find Delilah’s sharp brown eyes burning holes into the glass window separating them. “Gotta go,” he said to Brand and hung up, shoving the cell phone into his pocket. He slanted a quick look at the backseat to make sure he’d concealed the surveillance glasses he’d been using to take images of the funeral. They were safely hidden in his gym bag on the floorboard.

With a silent sigh, he lowered the passenger window. “Hey, Dee.”

“What are you doin’ here?” His sister had been back in Tennessee for two weeks and already she’d shed her citified accent for the hard Appalachian twang of her childhood. “Up to somethin’?”

Her suspicious tone poked at his defensive side. “I was attending my boss’s funeral.”

“Funeral’s over, and yet here you are.” Delilah looked over the top of the car toward the Davenport family. “You thinking of conning a poor, grieving heiress out of her daddy’s money?”

“Funny.”

“I’m serious as a heart attack.” Her voice rose slightly, making him wince.

He glanced at the Davenport family, wondering if they had heard. “You’re making a scene, Dee.”
“Hammonds are good at making scenes, Seth. You know that.” Delilah reached into the open window, unlatched the car door and pulled it open, sliding into the passenger seat. “Better?”

“You ran into Mama, did you?” he asked drily, not missing the bleak expression in her dark eyes.

“The Bitterwood P.D. called me to come pick her up or they were throwing her in the drunk tank.” Delilah grimaced. “Who the hell told them I was back in town, anyway?”

“Sugar, there ain’t no lyin’ low in Bitterwood. Too damned small and too damned nosy.” Unlike his sister, he’d never really left the hills, though he’d kept clear of Bitterwood for a few years to let the dust settle. If not for Cleve Calhoun’s stroke five years ago, he might never have come back. But Cleve had needed him, and Seth had found a bittersweet sort of satisfaction in trying to live clean in the place where he’d first learned the taste of iniquity.

He sneaked a glance at George Davenport’s grave. The family had dispersed, Paul Bailey and his mother, Diane, walking arm in arm toward Paul’s car, while Rachel headed slowly across the cemetery toward another grave nearby. Marjorie Kenner’s, if he remembered correctly. Mark Bramlett’s last victim.

“I know vulnerable marks are your catnip,” Delilah drawled, “but can’t you let the girl have a few days of unmolested grief before you bilk her out of her millions?”

“You have such a high opinion of me,” he murmured, dragging his gaze away from Rachel’s stiffened spine.

“Well-earned, darlin’,” she answered, just as quietly.

“I don’t suppose it would do any good to tell you I don’t do that sort of thing anymore?”

“Yeah, and Mama swore she’d drunk her last, too, as I was puttin’ her ginned-up backside to bed.” Bitter resignation edged her voice.Oh, Dee, he thought. People keep lettin’ you down, don’t they?

“Tell me you’re not up to something.”

“I’m done with that life, Dee. I’ve been done with it a few years now.”

Her wary but hopeful look made his heart hurt. “I left the truck over on the other side of the cemetery. Why don’t you drive me over there?”He spared one more glance at Rachel Davenport, wondering how much longer she’d be able to remain upright. Someone had been working overtime the past few weeks, making sure she’d come tumbling down sooner or later.

The question was, why?

“I DIDN’T GET to talk to you at the service.”

Rachel’s nervous system jolted at the sound of a familiar voice a few feet away. She turned from Marjorie’s grave to look into a pair of concerned brown eyes.

Davis Rogers hadn’t changed a bit since their breakup five years ago. With his clean-cut good looks and effortless poise, he’d always come across as a confident, successful lawyer, even when he was still in law school at the University of Virginia.

She’d been sucked in by that easy self-composure, such a contrast to her own lack of confidence. It had been so easy to bask in his reflected successes.

For a while at least.

Then she’d found her own feet and realized his all-encompassing influence over her life had become less a shelter and more a shackle.

Easy lesson to forget on a day like today, she thought, battered by the familiar urge to enclose herself in his arms and let him make the rest of the world go away. She straightened her spine and resisted the temptation. “I didn’t realize you’d even heard about my father.”

“It made the papers in Raleigh. I wanted to pay my respects and see how you were holding up.” He brushed a piece of hair away from her face. “How are you holding up?”

“I’m fine.” His touch left her feeling little more than mild comfort. “I’m sad,” she added at his skeptical look. “And I’ll be sad for a while. But I’m okay.”

It wasn’t a lie. She was going to be okay. Despite her crushing sense of grief, she felt confident she wasn’t in danger of losing herself.

“Maybe what you need is to get out and get your mind off things.” Davis cupped her elbow with his large hand. “The clerk at the bed-and-breakfast where I’m staying suggested a great bar near the university in Knoxville where we can listen to college bands and relive our misspent youth. What do you say, Rach? It’ll be like Charlottesville all over again.”

She grimaced. “I never really liked those bars, you know. I just went because you liked them.”

His expression of surprise was almost comical. “You didn’t?”

“I’m a Tennessee girl. I liked country music and bluegrass,” she said with a smile.

He looked mildly horrified, but he managed to smile. “I’m sure we can find a honky-tonk in Knoxville.”

“There’s a little place here in Bitterwood we could go. They have a house bluegrass band and really good loaded potato skins.” After the past few months of watching her father dying one painful inch at a time, maybe what she needed was to indulge herself. Get her mind off her losses, if only for a little while.

And why not go with Davis? She wasn’t still in love with him, but she’d always liked and trusted him. It was safer than going alone. The man who’d killed four of her friends might be dead and gone, but the world was still full of danger. A woman alone had to be careful.

And she was alone, she knew, bleakness seeping into her momentary optimism.

So very alone.

FOR THE FIRST time in years, Seth Hammond had a place to himself. It wasn’t much to talk about, a ramshackle bungalow halfway up Smoky Ridge, but for the next few weeks, he wouldn’t have to share it with anyone else. The house’s owner, Cleve Calhoun, was in Knoxville for therapy to help him regain some of the faculties he’d lost to a stroke five years ago.

By seven o’clock, Seth had decided that alone time wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Even if the satellite reception wasn’t terrible, there wasn’t much on TV worth watching these days. The Vols game wasn’t until Saturday, and with the Braves out of play-off contention, there wasn’t much point in watching baseball, either.

He’d already gone through the photos from the funeral he’d taken with his high-tech camera glasses, but as far as he could tell, there was nobody stalking Rachel Davenport at the funeral except himself. He supposed he could go through the photos one more time, but he’d seen enough of Rachel’s grief for one day. He’d uploaded the images to the FTP site Adam Brand had given him. Maybe the FBI agent would have better luck than he had. Brand, after all, at least knew what it was he was looking for. 

He certainly hadn’t bothered to let Seth in on the secret.

You have turned into a dull old coot, Seth told himself, eyeing the frozen dinner he’d just pulled from Cleve’s freezer with a look of dismay. There was a time when you could’ve walked into any bar in Maryville and gone home with a beautiful woman. What the hell happened to you?

The straight and narrow, he thought. He’d given up more than just the con game, it appeared.
“To hell with that.” He shoved the frozen dinner back into the frost-lined freezer compartment. He was thirty-two years old, not sixty. Playing nursemaid to a crippled old man had, ironically, kept him lean and strong, since he’d had to haul Cleve Calhoun around like a baby. And while he wasn’t going to win any beauty pageants, he’d never had trouble catching a woman’s eye.

An image of Rachel Davenport’s cool blue eyes meeting his that morning at the funeral punched him in the gut. He couldn’t remember if she’d ever looked him in the eye before that moment.

Probably not. At the trucking company, he was more a part of the scenery than a person. A chair or a desk or one of the trucks he repaired, maybe. He’d become good at blending in. It had been his best asset as a con artist, enabling him to learn a mark’s vulnerabilities without drawing attention to himself. Cleve had nicknamed him Chameleon because of his skill at becoming part of the background.

That same skill had served him well as a paid FBI informant, though there had been a few times, most recently in a dangerous backwoods enclave of meth dealers, when he’d come close to breaking cover.

But looking into Rachel Davenport’s eyes that morning, he’d felt the full weight of being invisible. For a second, she’d seen him. Her blue eyes had widened and her soft pink lips had parted in surprise, as if she’d felt the same electric zing that had shot through his body when their gazes connected.

Maybe that was the longing driving him now, propelling him out of the shack and into Cleve’s old red Charger in search of another connection. It was a night to stand out from the crowd, not blend in, and he knew just the honky-tonk to do it in.

The road into Bitterwood proper from the mountains was a winding series of switchbacks and straightaways called Old Purgatory Road. Back in the day, when they were just kids, Delilah, a couple of years older and eons wiser, had told Seth that it was named so because hell was located in a deep, dark cavern in the heart of Smoky Ridge, their mountain home, and the only way to get in or out was Purgatory Road.

Of course, later he’d learned that Purgatory was actually a town about ten miles to the northeast, and the road had once been the only road between there and Bitterwood, but Delilah’s story had stuck with him anyway. Even now, there were times when he thought she’d been right all along. Hell did reside in the black heart of Smoky Ridge, and it was all too easy for a person to find himself on a fast track there.

Purgatory Road flattened out as it crossed Vesper Road and wound gently through the valley, where Bitterwood’s small, four-block downtown lay. There was little there of note—the two-story brick building that housed the town administrative offices, including the Bitterwood Police Department, a tiny postage stamp of a post office and a few old shops and boutiques that stubbornly resisted the destructive sands of time.
Bitterwood closed shop at five in the evening. Everything was dark and shuttered as Seth drove through. All the nighttime action happened in the outskirts. Bitterwood had years ago voted to allow liquor sales by the drink as well as package sales, hoping to keep up with the nearby tourist traps. While the tourist boom had bypassed the little mountain town despite the effort, the gin-guzzling horse was out of the barn, and the occasional attempts by civic-minded folks to rescind the liquor ordinances never garnered enough votes to pass.

Seth had never been much of a drinker himself. Cleve had taught him that lesson. A man who lived by his instincts couldn’t afford to let anything impair them. Plus, he’d grown up dodging the blows of his mean, drug-addled father. And all liquor had done for his mother was dull the pain of her husband’s abuse and leave her a shell of a woman long after the old bastard had blown himself up in a meth lab accident.

He’d never have gone to Smoky Joe’s Saloon for the drinks anyway. They watered down the stuff too much, as much to limit the drunken brawls as to make an extra buck. But they had a great house band that played old-style Tennessee bluegrass, and some of the prettiest girls in the county went there for the music.

He saw the neon lights of Smoky Joe’s ahead across Purgatory Bridge, the steel-and-concrete truss bridge spanning Bitterwood Creek, which meandered through a narrow gorge thirty feet below. The lights distracted him for only a second, but that was almost all it took. He slammed on the brakes as the darkened form of a car loomed in his headlights, dead ahead.

The Charger’s brakes squealed but held, and the muscle car shuddered to a stop with inches to spare.

“Son of a bitch!” he growled as he found his breath again. Who the hell had parked a car in the middle of the bridge without even turning on emergency signals?

With a start, he recognized the vehicle, a silver Honda Accord. He’d seen Rachel Davenport drive that car in and out of the employee parking lot at Davenport Trucking every day for the past year.
His chest tightening with alarm, he put on his own emergency flashers and got out of the car, approaching the Honda with caution.

Out of the corner of his eye, he detected movement in the darkness. He whipped his gaze in that direction.

She stood atop the narrow steel railing, her small hands curled in the decorative lacework of the old truss bridge. She swayed a little, like a tree limb buffeted by the light breeze blowing through the girders. The air ruffled her skirt and fluttered her long hair.

“Ms. Davenport?” Seth’s heart squeezed as one of her feet slid along the thin metal support and she sagged toward the thirty-foot drop below.

“Ms. Davenport is dead,” she said in a faint, mournful tone. “Killed herself, you know.”

Seth edged toward her, careful not to move too quickly for fear of spooking her. “Rachel, that girder’s not real steady. Don’t you want to come down here to the nice, solid ground?”She laughed softly. “Solid. Solid.” She said the word with comical gusto. “’She’s solid.’ What does that mean? It makes you sound stiff and heavy, doesn’t it? Solid.”

Okay, not suicidal, he decided as he took a couple more steps toward her. Drunk?

“Do you think I’m cursed?” There was none of her earlier amusement in that question.

“I don’t think so, no.” He was almost close enough to touch her. But he had to be careful. If he grabbed at her and missed, she could go over the side in a heartbeat.

“I think I am,” she said. Her voice had taken on a definite slurring cadence. But he decided she didn’t sound drunk so much as drugged. Had someone given her a sedative after the funeral? Maybe she’d had a bad reaction to it.

“I don’t think you’re cursed,” Seth disagreed, easing his hand toward her in the dark. “I think you’re tired and sad. And, you know, that’s okay. It means you’re human.”
Her eyes glittered in the reflected light of the Charger’s flashers. “I wish I were a bird,” she said plaintively. “Then I could fly away over the mountains and never have to land again.” She took a sudden turn outward, teetering atop the rail as if preparing to take flight. “She said I should fly.”

Then, in heart-stopping slow motion, she began to fall forward, off the bridge.

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