Category Archives: July

[Review] Hot Pursuit by Lynn Raye Harris

Hot Pursuit by Lynn Raye Harris

Release date: July 17, 2013

<div style=”font-size:11px”>Publication date: 05/01/2013</div>Series – Hostile Operations Team , #1

Pages: 778

Overview: 

The last man she ever wanted to see…

Evie Baker’s luck just ran out. Thanks to an ex-partner with organized crime ties, she’s lost her restaurant, her money, and nearly all her self-respect. Forced to return to her hometown and work as a shampoo girl in her mother’s salon, she doesn’t think her luck can get any worse.
But then someone starts shooting at her, her sullen baby sister is suddenly missing, and the high school heartthrob who stole her heart—and her virginity—is the only man big enough and bad enough to help.

Might be the only one who can save her…

Captain Matt “Richie Rich” Girard can’t afford to get involved. He’s already on the verge of a court-martial after a Top Secret op gone wrong, and he’s been ordered to stay out of trouble while he’s home for his sister’s wedding.

But when Evie’s ex-partner turns up dead, staying out of trouble is the last thing on Matt’s mind. He failed Evie once before; he can’t fail her again. If he’s going to protect her from a killer, and find her sister before time runs out, he’ll have to risk his entire future—and both their lives—to do it.

Things are about to get HOT in the bayou!

Hot Pursuit is available to order from the below:

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iTunes
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B&N
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My Review: 
4.5 Star Review – Hot Pursuit – Hostile Operations Team #1

I highly recommend this book.



I enjoyed this book by Lynn Raye Harris.  Look forward to the next book in this series.  Lynn managed to stuff betrayal, a kidnapping, murder, a car chase, an explosion and hot sexy passion all in the same book!!  So really the book has something for everyone lots of twists and turns you don’t see coming. 

On a side note the cover is drool worthy.

Evangeline “Evie” Baker’s stuck as shampoo girl in her mother salon.  She is back in her home town Rochambeau, Louisiana after trusting the wrong person, her ex-partner; David West.  She was betrayed and lost her small bistro in Florida, and her money.  She also found out after he disappeared he might possibly have organized crime ties.  Really how could her life get worst?

Captain Matt “Richie Rich” Girard is on leave from the Army after a mission went horribly wrong.    He was running an OP for HOT “Hostile Operations Team” when he was captured and two of his team members were killed.  He has a bad feeling about the OP and felt it should have been called off but he followed orders and lost two men.  It is eating away at him. 

Matt has returned to town for his sister’s wedding.  He needs to stay out of trouble.  Just attend the wedding and keep his head down.  Matt goes into Evie’s mother’s salon to get a haircut.  These two have history as they were once best friends.  She offered him her virginity and after they were together he got drunk and bragged and she was shattered by his betrayal.  Then he left town and so she had to deal with all the bullying from the kids.

She decides to go out, the first time since coming home, and shots are fired at the lake party.  Someone pulls a knife on her and Matt has to save her.  He apologizes to her and although she is still hurt for the way he treated her she knows he was only 17 at the time and really just a kid.

After her little sister; Sarah is kidnapped they find out David was also skimming money from the mob and they want the money and the records he took back.  They have to figure out what those records are as the people who kidnapped Sarah have killed David and injured her mother.

Matt’s team is pulled into the book as he calls them for help and advises them they could get into trouble by helping but as “brothers” they all pitch in anyway and help out.

Read the book to get answers to the below: 

What are the records the kidnappers are looking for?

Will Matt’s team get into trouble from helping him?


Will Evie and Sarah be reunited?


Some favorite parts from this book:

“Stay on my six,” he said, nuzzling the hair at her ear and breathing deeply the sweet scent of her.
You remember what that is, right?”
“It’s your ass.”
He bit back a chuckle.
“Yeah, that’s right. You watch my ass and I’ll watch yours.  That’s how a team operates, got it?”
“So we’re a team, huh?”
“We’re a team”
“Then let’s go get ’em.”
“Easy, tiger.  We’re going through the back door, but only after we’ve set up a perimeter.”
“Lead on, Superman.”
Matt bit back another laugh. “It’s Richie Rich, actually.”
“What?”
“My team name. Richie Rich.”
He saw the flash of her teeth in the darkness. “Of course it is.”

“If you admit to that, then I got to admit I authorized it. And then Kev and the boys will have to admit they were involved. That cell’ll get mighty crowded out there in Leavenworth. And if you think I’m sharing a shower with you, stud, you’re crazy. You’ve been eyeing my ass since you came to work here.”

Matt couldn’t help laughing. “Respectfully, sir, you ass notwithstanding, I’d rather shower with a rabid monkey.”

She regarded him seriously. “No, I don’t think you’d make a good chef. Better stick to being the muscle babe.”

His head dropped for a moment, his eyes closing briefly. When he looked at her again, his smile lit up her world. “I’ll move heaven and earth to make you happy, Evie. I want you there when I wake up every morning and there when I go to sleep at night. I love you, even if you don’t do a damn thing I tell you to do.”

 

Contact Info for Lynn Raye Harris

 

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 About Lynn:

Lynn Raye Harris read her first Harlequin Mills & Boon romance when her grandmother carted home a box from a yard sale. She didn’t know she wanted to be a writer then, but she definitely knew she wanted to marry a sheikh or a prince and live the glamorous life she read about in the pages. Instead, she married a military man and moved around the world. She’s been inside the Kremlin, hiked up a Korean mountain, floated on a gondola in Venice and stood inside volcanoes at opposite ends of the world.

These days Lynn lives in Alabama with her handsome husband and two crazy cats. When she’s not writing, she loves to read, shop for antiques, cook gourmet meals and try new wines. She is also an avowed shoeaholic and thinks there’s nothing better than a new pair of high heels.

Lynn was a finalist in the 2008 Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart® contest, and she is the winner of the Harlequin Presents Instant Seduction contest. She loves a hot hero, a heroine with attitude and a happy ending. Writing passionate stories for Harlequin is a dream come true.

Read an Excerpt
“I think you lost your drink.”

Evie knew that voice. It slid over her like hot silk and she spun to find Matt Girard standing behind her, holding the bottle she’d just ditched. Why did her heart skip the second he showed up? And why did he have to look so delicious?


“I didn’t lose it.”


He stood there in faded jeans and a dark T-shirt that molded to his hard pecs and biceps. But it wasn’t his clothing that got her attention so much as his eyes. There was something in them, something she didn’t remember seeing when he’d been seventeen. He’d been part of this crowd long ago, much more than she had, but he no longer looked like he belonged—in spite of the longing looks some of the women cast in his direction.


His gaze dropped over her before rising again, slowly, and her body reacted as if he’d brushed his fingers over her. There was something hot and sharp and thrilling in that gaze—and she was way more susceptible to it than she wanted to be.


Once, she would have given anything for him to look at her like that. Now, she wasn’t certain she’d survive the experience.

“Great dress.” His voice was silky.

Evie swallowed. She was tingling and that wasn’t a good thing. The last time she’d tingled over this man, it had not turned out so well. “Thanks. I think.”

He grinned. “It’s definitely a compliment.”

Evie crossed her arms and tried to look cool. “Thought you weren’t coming tonight.”

“Now what made you think a thing like that?”

Her blood slogged like molasses in her veins. “I believe you said ‘probably not’ in response to Julie’s query.”

His teeth flashed. “Yeah, but that’s before I knew you’d be here.”

“What do you want, Matt?” Her heart thrummed like she was sixteen again.

His gaze dropped once more. “Maybe I might like to see what’s under that dress.” His voice sounded low and sexy. It pooled in her belly, sent hot waves of need spiraling outward.

“Forget it,” she said with a conviction she didn’t quite feel. “As I recall, the last time didn’t turn out so well for me.”

“I know, and I’m sorry.”

“You said that earlier.”

“I did.”

She tossed her hair over her shoulder. “So why’d you come then? I heard you the first time.”

He sighed. “Evie, Jesus.” He raked a hand through his hair, and her blood hummed at the ripple and flex of muscle. “I just got back from the desert. Life out there is…unpredictable. It makes a man think. And I’ve decided that I don’t like feeling like a shithead for something that happened ten years ago. I want to clear the slate.”

Evie let out a breath. She’d been so hurt, and then she’d been angry. But it was a long time ago and she couldn’t hold a grudge forever. Even now, she recognized that most of her feelings about the incident were still tied up with having her love so cruelly flung back in her face. The other stuff, while definitely unpleasant at the time, hardly mattered anymore.

“We were kids, Matt.”

“I hurt you.”

She didn’t flinch from his gaze. “You did. But I’m not sixteen anymore. And like I said today, it was my fault too. I asked you to do it. And I told a couple of my friends about it, so it wasn’t just you telling the boys.” She shrugged with a lightness she didn’t quite feel. “What happened was probably inevitable. The guys thought I was easy. The girls who were jealous said I was a slut. They made my senior year difficult in some ways. But what hurt the most was never hearing from you again.”

There, she’d said it. She’d told him what really hurt, and she’d given him a window into her feelings back then. He’d have had to be an idiot not to know, but it was always possible he hadn’t.

“I should have called you.”

The music changed, the beat slowing. Evie took a step backward instinctively, but Matt caught her hand and held it tight. She tugged once, and then stopped. They faced each other across a few feet of space. Around them, couples began to slide together, fitting into each other like pieces of a jigsaw.

Evie’s pulse beat harder. Her skin sizzled where they touched, his big hand engulfing hers, his palm calloused in a way that shocked her. He was a Girard, rich, entitled—and he had a workman’s hands.

“One dance.”

Her insides melted a little more. “I’m not sure it’s a good idea.”

But what she really wanted to do was say yes.

His eyes were bright. “Why not? We’re adults now, Evie. No one’s getting hurt here.”

He said it like it was so easy, but was it really? Wasn’t she still vulnerable on some level? She was down on her luck right now, feeling like a loser, and here he was, the same gorgeous, cocky, beautiful creature he’d always been.
Except, no, he was more than that, wasn’t he? There was something behind his smile now. Something dark and sad. Pain flared in his grey eyes and then was gone so quickly she wondered if she’d imagined it.

It shocked her. She suddenly wanted to know what had happened to him. She’d heard about him being held captive by terrorists. How could he not be affected by something like that? Of all the things she’d expected Matt Girard to do with his life, putting himself into danger had not been it. He had everything. Why would he want to risk his life that way?

She remembered when his mother had died. He’d been twelve. Mama had taken her to the wake out at Reynier’s Retreat. There were so many people crowding the beautiful rooms of the mansion. The house was heavy with sadness and thick with grief and it had scared her. She’d escaped to run down the wide lawn. She’d known where to find Matt. He’d been curled inside the hollow of a tree they’d found a few years before.

He’d been dressed in a black suit, his dark hair slicked back carefully, his grey eyes wide and wounded as he looked up at her. Her heart had lifted into her throat then. She’d only been eleven, but she’d felt something in that moment that rocked her world—and would continue to rock her world until she was sixteen and shattered by his casual cruelty.

But not that day. That day, she’d slid into the hollow and sat down beside him. When she’d put her arms around him, he’d turned his face into the crook of her neck and wept.

Evie sucked in a breath. How could she walk away from him now, knowing there was something behind those eyes? Something that hurt him?

“One dance, Evangeline,” he said softly when she hesitated. “Make a soldier’s night. I just got back from the desert a few days ago. I’d like to dance with a pretty woman and forget about that hellhole for a while.”

Evie swallowed. “That’s not fair.”

He grinned. “Because you can’t say no now?”

She nodded.

“Good for me then.”

“Just one dance and we go our separate ways, got it?” Because she didn’t want to feel this tangle of emotions again. This tiny blossoming in her heart that said she was going to be in so much trouble if she didn’t shut it down quick.

“If that’s what you want.” His voice was rough.

He took her other hand then, ran his palms up her arms to her shoulders. Little sparks of sensation swirled in her belly, lighting her up like the fourth of July. He pulled her into his arms right there on the edge of the floor.

Evie braced her hands against his chest, pressed back when he tried to bring her closer. It was already overwhelming to be so close to him. To feel his heat and hardness next to her body.

To feel everything she’d once wanted so much…

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Filed under 2013, Hostile Operations Team, July, Lynn Raye Harris, Review, Romance

[ARC Review] Escaping Reality by Lisa Renee Jones

Escaping Reality by Lisa Renee Jones

Release date: July 22, 2013

<div style=”font-size:11px”>Publication date: 05/01/2013</div>
Blurb: He is rich, famous, and secretive and he will become her passion, her desire, her escape from a dark reality she so desperately craves… At the young age of eighteen, tragedy and a dark secret force Lara to flee all she has known and loves to start a new life. Now years later, with a new identity as Amy, she’s finally dared to believe she is forgotten-even if she cannot forget. But just when she lets down her guard down, the ghost’s of her past are quick to punish her, forcing her back on the run. On a plane, struggling to face the devastation of losing everything again and starting over, Amy meets Liam Stone, a darkly entrancing recluse billionaire, who is also a brilliant, and famous, prodigy architect. A man who knows what he wants and goes after it. And what he wants is Amy. Refusing to take “no” as an answer, he sweeps her into a passionate affair, pushing her to her erotic limits. He wants to possess her. He makes her want to be possessed. Liam demands everything from her, accepting nothing less. But what if she is too devastated by tragedy to know when he wants more than she should give? And what if there is more to Liam than meets the eyes?

Read the first chapter of Escaping Reality on Lisa’s Website! Here
Pre-Order Escaping Reality Here!

My Review: 
5 Star Review – Escaping Reality

I highly recommend this book.


As always I enjoyed this book by Lisa. 

This is really a steamy sexy book with some suspense.  A little advice, don’t try to guess what is going to happen next as Lisa loves to throw you off and keep you guessing.  She moves on as you are sitting there saying WHAT?  I could not put the book down.  At the end I was still trying to turn the page…..   I thought there is no way Lisa would leave us hanging…..

The suspense pulls you right in from the start.  Amy who is in hiding has been in danger and needs to get out of town.

For the past 6 years Amy has believed she is doing good and hiding well.  She is working at a museum in New York and has good friends and also believes she is safe.  One night during a party she finds a note taped to a mirror from her handler.  She must go on the run.  Leave everyone behind and move to a new city.  Her handler who has previously saved her has left her instructions in a locker to go to Denver with a new identity.  Her new name is Amy Benson.

While waiting in the airport for the plane she notices a handsome man that she wishes is she was different and not on the run she could get to know.  After getting on the plane is realizes that they are sitting next to each other.  Liam Stone is an architect.  He is nice and doesn’t push when she doesn’t open up.  She can feel herself getting attached and trusting him which terrifies her.   She escapes off the plane before him as he was going to go to baggage claim with her but he finds her outside the airport.  He takes her to her apartment to verify it is okay and no one is going to get her as he can feel she is running from something.

When she gets to her apartment her handler has not supplied her with the usual information about work and money.  She gets information from the leasing office in a package about a job but wonders if the job is even real.  She starts to question is she can trust her handler.

Jared Ryan her neighbor from across the hall seems familiar.  While talking to him he mentions he is from Texas which is where she is from originally.  Is he out to hurt her?

She is so afraid to like or be friends with anyone as everyone she has ever loved has been killed.  If she pushes everyone away at least they will be alive.

Every time she is out shopping or running errands in the town she feels as if someone is watching her.   

She tries to push Liam away but he can see through her and knows she does not really want to be alone.  Can she hope that Liam will be someone she can trust? 

As she remembers more of her past with her mother, father, and brother (Chad) she has more blackouts.  You find out her name was Lara.  Can she spill her secrets to Liam and depend on him?  Or is he out to get her also?

Okay for the ending I just have to say cliff hanger of epic proportions.     

I cannot wait see what happens.  Hurry Lisa we are all waiting for the next book….

***ARC provided by author in exchange for an honest review***

Excerpt: “Do you have a ride to wherever you’re going?”


“A friend is picking me up,” I croak out, and the lie is like wet cotton in my throat. He wants this…this whatever we started to continue and so do I, but I can’t know his real motivation any more than I can risk his safety by being seen with him. 

“Male or female?”

I blink, snapping back to the present. “What? Male or female?”

“Your friend picking you up. Male or female?”

I know the safe answer is “male”. I know that if his motivation for the question is simple male interest, it will discourage him, and still I hear myself say, “Female.”

His eyes darken, heat, and I think he’s pleased with my answer. “I’ll help you with your bags.”

“No, I—”

“I’m helping you with your bags, Amy.” 

There is command in his voice, and I am instantly, unbelievably aroused, and pleased at his insistence, when I should be running for the hills. I will run for the hills when the doors open. “Thank you,” I murmur and turn away from him, afraid he will read my intentions to flee. Quickly, I make sure my folder and bag are intact, sliding the leather strap over my shoulder, and I am ready for action. 

The plane parks at the gate, and Liam stretches his long, perfect body to retrieve my bag from the overhead compartment. Once he hands it to me, I lift the handle and tell myself to make my escape, but for a moment I am frozen in regret over leaving him. Too soon, he jerks his bag free, and I am out of time. A man moves between myself and Liam and I take the opportunity to dart for the exit. I don’t look back. I want to look back. 
A few minutes later, I am outside in a cab line that stretches a good fifteen cab lengths long, with no actual cars in sight. Thanks to several conventions and some Hollywood event, it appears I have plenty of time to savor my regret over leaving Liam behind. And I do. I savor it like I would water in a desert. 

I’m busying contemplating how good he might have tasted when a black Town Car stops directly beside me. The door opens and to my shock Liam steps out and grabs my bag. “Come with me,” he orders, and he doesn’t give me time to argue. 


I haven’t moved yet and he’s already at the trunk where the driver lifts my bag to deposit it inside. I consider leaving it behind and running. I should leave it and run. I charge toward him and meet him at the back door. 
My chin lifts and he is taller than I realized, and his sleek goatee is impossibly sexy, nearly distracting me from my anger. “You can’t just take my bag and demand I come with you.”

“And yet that’s exactly what I did. Get in the car, Amy.” 

I bristle at the command. “I don’t know you.”

His piercing blue eyes darken. “I have every intention of remedying that.” 


A thrill shoots through me at the obvious promise that he will be my lover, and there is no denying that I am seduced by this man, drawn to his confidence and dark good looks. To the gentle lion I believe will take control of everything around him, including me. The man who will demand much of me, and perhaps take more than I should give. And yet, beyond all reason, I want to experience those things. I want to experience him. It almost feels…necessary.

About The Author!
New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author Lisa Renee Jones is the author of the highly acclaimed INSIDE OUT TRILOGY which has sold to more than ten countries for translation with negotiations in process for more, and has now been optioned by STARZ Network for a cable television show, to be produced by Suzanne Todd (Alice in Wonderland).

Since beginning her publishing career in 2007, Lisa has published more than 30 books with publishers such as Simon and Schuster, Avon, Kensington, Harlequin, NAL, Berkley and Elloras Cave, as well as crafting a successful indie career. Booklist says that Jones suspense truly sizzles with an energy similar to FBI tales with a paranormal twist by Julie Garwood or Suzanne Brockmann.
Prior to publishing, Lisa owned multi-state staffing agency that was recognized many times by The Austin Business Journal and also praised by Dallas Women Magazine. In 1998 LRJ was listed as the #7 growing women owned business in Entrepreneur Magazine.
Lisa loves to hear from her readers. You can reach her through her website and she is active on twitter and Facebook daily.

Connect with Lisa:
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Filed under 2013, ARC, July, Lisa Renee Jones, New Adult, Review, Romance

[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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