Copyright ©2013 by Julie Miller
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.
(Excerpt from Chapter 1)
Although the small lot was well lit,
the emptiness between the brick walls of Robin’s building and the next
one on the opposite side of the lot hitched up her apprehension a bit.
Besides the shop’s delivery van, parked near the alley behind the
building at the end of the loading dock, the only car left was hers,
parked in a circle of light beneath the lamp-post nearest the street.
Lights were working; doors were locked. Street-level shops were closed
and the storm seemed to have driven any tenants who lived on the upper
floors of the neighborhood high-rises inside.
Still, the rain hitting the awning
over her head and rhythmic rumbles of thunder drowned out any telltale
sounds that would alert her to approaching footsteps on the sidewalk or
to vehicles passing on the street. She knew that, despite all her
precautions, there was an inherent danger to a woman walking to her
vehicle alone at night in the city. It required a deep, fortifying
breath and the knowledge that she had a child to protect from the
elements for Robin to pull her hood up over her chin-length hair, stick
the whistle in her mouth and step out into the rain.
With her head slightly bowed against
the rain drumming on her slicker, Robin hurried across the lot. Hugging
Emma’s carrier in the crook of her elbow, she made sure there was no one
hiding beneath or around her car before tapping the remote and unlocking
As challenging as it had been at
first to learn all the buckles and straps and tabs and slots of loading
Emma into her car seat, Robin now made quick work of opening the back
door and sliding the carrier into place. Once everything had locked and
the car seat was secure, she spit the whistle from her mouth and leaned
inside to open the vent on Emma’s pink carrier cover, hoping to find a
sleeping baby inside.
Instead, blue eyes stared up at her.
With her darling face crinkled up with displeasure and looking as if the
tears were about to let loose again, Emma swung her tiny fists in the
air. “Oh, sweetie. Just give up the fight and go to sleep.”
After wiping her wet fingers on the
leg of her jeans, Robin reached beneath the damp material that had kept
Emma dry and guided a thumb back to Emma’s mouth, earning what Robin
interpreted as a resigned whimper that things were okay. For now.
“You’ll be just fine in a minute, sweetie. I promise.” She straightened
Emma’s cap, cupped her soft cheek and smiled. “Mommy loves you.”
A flicker of movement reflected off
the back window. Startled by the darting shadow, Emma grabbed for her
Before she could blow it, something
hard smacked her across the back, throwing her against the frame of the
car with bruising force. She thought the wind had slammed the door
against her. But just as it registered that the rain was falling in a
straight curtain around her car, she was struck again. This time, lower
down. Something hard, narrow and unforgiving cracked against the back of
her knees, toppling her to the pavement.
Robin screamed as another blow
slammed across her back. Her palms scraped over the wet asphalt as she
spread-eagled on her stomach, the wind knocked from her chest. As the
pain radiated through her legs, and she struggled to inhale through her
bruised lungs, she realized the baby backpack she wore had probably
saved her from a crippling or killing blow.
The same backpack also served as an
easy handle for her attacker. He latched onto the straps and dragged her
several feet away from the car. Terror poured into her veins, thrusting
aside the shock that had addled her thoughts. This was it. She was about
to become the Rose Red Rapist’s latest victim. She needed to shake off
this oxygen-deprived stupor, ignore the pain and fight. She had a child
to live for and protect.
Her world spinning, her lungs
burning, her legs wobbly as a toddler’s as she pushed up onto her hands
and knees, Robin quickly realized three things. Her attacker’s hands
weren’t on her anymore. She squinted against the strobing effect of the
lightning flashes overhead to see that he had stepped over her prone
body and was rifling through the contents of her car. Her attacker was
dressed in black from head to toe. There was no face, no hair color to
see and identify. And he carried a baseball bat in one gloved hand.
Clarity seeped into her brain with
every breath, each one stronger and deeper than the last. Maybe this
wasn’t a rape. Maybe he wanted her purse. Or it could be a carjacking.
And that meant…Robin staggered to her feet and lurched toward the figure
in black. “Get away from my baby!”
She stuck the whistle between her
lips and blew. The shrill alarm pierced the air. She blew it again as
she lunged for the arm with the bat. Robin got her hands on his wrist as
he whirled around. She banged it against the fender of her car, trying
to shake the weapon loose.
Despite her assailant’s muffled
curse, he quickly regained the upper hand, spinning Robin to one side.
With her arms up to struggle with the bat, she left her body exposed and
her attacker seized the advantage, ramming his fist into her already
sore ribs, doubling her over and robbing her of breath. Robin’s grip on
the man loosened and he easily pulled away, raising the bat. He grunted
with the effort of his swing as he brought it down toward Robin’s head.
She ducked to the side, saving her
life as the bat crashed into the top of her trunk, denting the metal
hard enough that the blow must have tingled through her attacker’s arms
and hands. He hesitated a moment, flexing his fingers, and Robin slipped
away and reached into the car for Emma. “Come on, sweetie.”
Before she could release the latch to
remove the carrier from the car seat, she was struck again. She absorbed
another blow to the backpack that drove her to the ground.
“Stay down!” her attacker whispered
on an angry curse. Yet, almost as soon as he’d issued the order, he was
hauling her up to her knees.
“Take my purse. Take my car. Take
whatever you want,” she begged, slapping at his gloved hands and
struggling to get to her feet. “Just let me get my baby!”
“Shut up.” Huffing and puffing from
the exertion of the attack, the man fisted his hand around the straps of
Robin’s backpack and dragged her across the parking lot. This was more
than getting her out of his way this time. He was hauling her to the
alley behind the shop, around the far side of the loading dock, hiding
them from any view from the parking lot, much less the street.
With her hood long gone, the rain
splashed in her face, reviving her will to fight. “Let go of me!” Robin
clawed at his grip. She twisted and kicked. “Please,” she begged. “I
just want to save my baby.”
“Shut up!” He dropped her behind the
delivery van, glanced up and down the alley as though making sure they
were all alone. “I gotta do this.”
Cold, stark terror swept through
Robin like the rain soaking into her clothes. She smacked at his hands
as he ripped open her jacket and unhooked the belt at her waist. “Stop!”
He popped the buttons on her blouse
and unzipped her jeans. The cold rain hit her stomach, soaked into her
panties. Robin thrashed and clawed at him. She was in mortal danger,
about to become the next victim of the Rose Red Rapist.
And her baby was all alone. Abandoned
once more. Helpless, without a mother. Alone at night in the rain.
“Please. I have a child—”
“Quit fightin’ me.” He cuffed her
across the face, stunning her. He rose to his feet and straddled her.
“You want it this way? Then this is how we’ll do it.” As the man raised
the bat, Robin kicked out, aiming for that most vulnerable part of his
But the man was quicker. The bat
switched its target, swinging into her calf and deflecting her blow.
But the bruising strike didn’t stop
her. Ignoring the pain, Robin rolled into the man’s legs, knocking him
back against the side of the van. With one swift, jerky movement she got
to her feet and limped around the bumper of the van toward freedom.
“Emma?” Robin gasped the word on a
But bruised and battered, she was no
match for the stronger man. She never saw the bat this time. She only
knew the stinging blow that caught her at the juncture of her shoulder
and neck, spinning the world out of focus and knocking her to the
This time, he grabbed her by the
ankle and dragged her back to his killing place. He flipped her onto her
back and stood over her. The stocking mask he wore obscured his face,
but she had no doubt about the hateful displeasure in his voice. “Is
this the way you want it?”
Robin got up onto her elbows and
tried to scoot away. “I won’t leave my baby.”
But he followed. Shaking his head, he
closed the distance between them. Her back hit the concrete wall of the
loading dock and she knew there was nowhere left to run.
“This ends now.” The bat swung up
again and Robin braced for the blow.
But it never came.
A white-haired ghost materialized
from the rain with a guttural roar. Strong hands closed around the bat,
wrenching the weapon from her attacker’s grip.
The bat skittered away into the
darkness as the ghost lifted her attacker off his feet. Her mysterious
rescuer wrapped a meaty forearm around her assailant’s neck and carried
him off into the shadows. The attacker’s body went limp and her savior
tossed him aside into the alley.
Robin grabbed hold of the wall behind
her to push herself to her feet. But her knees buckled and her world
blurred as the ghost’s craggy, disfigured face came into view in the
light above the loading dock. He was real. Big. Frightening. He growled
something her stopped-up ears couldn’t make out and lunged for her.
Icy blue eyes and her own scream were
the last things Robin remembered as her world faded to black.
Question: What book from Julie Miller’s backlist or upcoming titles
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