CONTESTS & FUN
USA TODAY Bestselling Author
March Book GiveAway!
Deadline to enter March 24th.
Colleen Conklin of Arizona. She won my February Book
GiveAway, and selected an e-copy of BEAUTY AND THE BADGE
for her Kindle. Like many of you, she knew that heroine
Beth Rogers was drinking hot chocolate in the scene.
Thanks to everyone who entered!
Keeping the 2014 idea of revisiting some favorite
stories of mine, I'm sharing an excerpt from another
backlist title, PROTECTING PLAIN JANE. When it comes to
heroines, I often write women for whom relationships are
particularly challenging. They might be shy or scarred
by life or past relationships. And though they always
have brains or skills or talents that serve them well,
they struggle with love and trust. I took this idea to
the extreme when I created kidnap/torture survivor
Charlotte Mayweather, an heiress who has become a
recluse in the years since her abduction. I paired her
with one of my favorite heroes ever, SWAT cop Trip
Jones. He's a big, bad, protective cop--but he's also a
gentle giant who discovers he's a "Charlotte whisperer."
The winner will receive a title from my backlist--print
or ebook, winner's choice! Please specify the title
you're interested in, and print or ebook when you enter.
read the new excerpt
from PROTECTING PLAIN JANE answer an easy question, and
your answer, title
& format preference and location. Deadline to enter is
Rules for Julie's Contests
- One entry per person.
- By entering, entrants grant
permission for their name to be posted on the Julie Miller web site at
in Julie's newsletter.
- Winners will be chosen by random
drawing from among all entries.
- The odds of winning depend upon the
number of participants.
Void where prohibited.
|Get Lost In A Story
Julie in Atlanta, GA at the 2013 RWA National
Julie with good buddy B.J. Daniels
Delores Fossen, Julie Miller, B.J. Daniels
Julie's local writing group, the Prairieland
Romance Writers, celebrates 20 years of
excellence in romance fiction at an
anniversary Open House in Grand Island,
||Prairieland Romance Writers celebrates 20
years of excellence in romance fiction!
Kearney, NE Booksigning, The Sequel Bookshop
Julie Miller, and Scott & Julie Miller
L-R Saranna DeWylde, Julie Miller, Janette Kenney,
Sherri Shackelford, Cheryl St. John
New York City at the 2011 RWA National Conference
View of Times Square from
Julie's hotel room
Julie at the Transformers movie
premiere (Hi, Bumblebee!)
Times Square and Broadway
My roomie, Elle James, Brenda
Jackson, and my agent Pattie Steele-Perkins at the RWA booksigning
The massive Literacy
Autographing at RWA
Los Angeles, CA, at the 2011 RT BOOKreviews Convention
""The Do's & Dont's of
Series Romance " workshop with Judy Duarte, Candace Havens, Julie Miller
and B.J. Daniels.
Party! the Series Romance Way" Reader Event
Back row: Kira Sinclair, HelenKay Dimon, B.J. Daniels, Lynn Raye Harris
Middle row: Judy Duarte, Crystal Green, Rebecca York, Candace Havens,
Janette Kenney, Jan Hambright, Delores Fossen, Brenda Jackson
Front row: Kathleen O'Reilly, Kimberly Lang, Jade Lee/Kathy Lyons, Carol
Erickson, Julie Miller
At the Booksigning
View from my hotel The Westin Bonaventure
in downtown L.A.
Went to hear Dean Koontz speak.
Delightfully witty and educational! (and one of my fave authors!)
Barn View from my hotel, the
Hollywood sign in the distance up in the Hollywood Hills.
Mayweather eyed the canopy of gray clouds that darkened the Kansas
City sky beyond her front door and shivered. She pretended the
goose bumps skittering across her skin were in answer to the
electricity of the storm simmering in the morning air rather than
any trepidation about stepping across that threshold into the world
But with a resolve
that was as certain as the promise of the thunder rumbling overhead,
she adjusted her glasses at her temples and stretched up on tiptoe
to kiss her father. “Bye, Dad. Love you.”
Mayweather’s gaze darted to the flashes of lightning that flickered
through the thick glass framing either side of the mansion’s double
front doors. “Are you sure you want to go out in this? Looks like
it’s going to be another gullywasher.”
“You know storms
don’t bother me.” Charlotte cinched her tan raincoat a little more
snugly around her waist, leaving the list of things that did
bother her unspoken. “You can’t talk me out of going to the
museum. I want to get my hands on those new artifacts from the
Cotswolds dirt fort before anyone else does. I have to determine if
they’re of Roman origin or if they date back to the Celts.”
Her trips to the
Mayweather Museum’s back rooms and storage vaults--where the walls
were thick, the entrances limited and locked up tight, and she knew
every inch of the layout--were the closest she’d ever come to
experiencing an actual archaeological dig. Unpacking crates wasn’t
as intriguing as sifting real dirt through her fingers and
discovering some ancient carved totem or hand-forged metalwork for
herself. But it brought more life to her studies in art history and
archaeology than the textbooks and computer simulations by which
she’d earned her Ph.D. ever could.
It was normal for
an archaeologist to be excited by the opportunity to sort and
catalogue the 12th century artifacts. And it had been ten long
years since she’d felt normal about anything.
scrunched his craggy features into an indulgent smile. “Those
treasures will still be there tomorrow if you want to wait for the
storm to pass. Better yet, I can arrange to have them brought
here. I do own the museum, remember?”
Thunder smacked the
air in answer to the lightning and rattled the glass. Charlotte
flinched and her father tightened his grip, no doubt ready to lock
her in her rooms if she showed even one glimmer of hesitation about
venturing out into a world they both knew held far greater terrors
than a simple spring thunderstorm.
Wrapping her arms
around his neck, she stole a quick hug before pushing herself away
and picking up her leather backpack. Go,
Charlotte. Walk out that
door. Do it now.
Or she never would.
She plucked a
handful of short curls from beneath the collar of her coat and let
them spring back to tickle her mother’s daisy clip-on earrings.
“I’ll be okay.” She pulled the check she’d written from her trust
fund out of her pocket and waved it in the air. “I’m paying to have
those artifacts shipped from England, so I intend to spend as much
time as I want studying them.”
“I don’t like the
idea of you being alone.”
She zipped the
check into the pocket of her backpack. Alone was when she
felt the safest. There was no one around to surprise her or betray
her or torment her. There was no second guessing about what to say
or how she looked. There were no questions to answer, no way to get
hurt. Alone was her sanctuary.
But he was a dad
and she was his daughter, and she figured he’d never stop worrying
about her. Still, when he’d fallen in love with and married his
second wife just over a year ago, Charlotte had vowed to venture out
of her lonely refuge and live her life somewhere closer to normal.
Giving her father less reason to worry was the greatest gift she
could give him. What years of therapy couldn’t accomplish, sheer
determination and a loyal friend who’d survived his own traumatic
“I won’t be
alone.” She put two fingers to her lips and whistled. “Max! Here,
The scrabbling of
paws vying for traction on the tile in the kitchen at the back of
the house confirmed that there was one someone besides her father in
this world she could trust without hesitation.
A furry black and
tan torpedo shot across the foyer’s parquet tiles, circled twice
around Charlotte’s legs and then, with a snap and point of her
fingers, plopped down on his tail beside her foot and leaned against
her. She reached down and scratched the wiry fur around his one and
a half ears. The missing part that had been surgically docked after
a cruel prank had triggered an instant affinity the moment she’d
spotted his picture online. “Good boy, Maximus. Have you been
mooching scrambled eggs from the cook again?”
The nudge of his
head up into her palm seemed to give an affirmative answer.
father added with a grin. “When we rescued him from the shelter, I
had no idea I’d be spending more on eggs than dog food.” He bent
down and petted the dog as well. “But you’re worth every penny as
long as you keep an eye on our girl, okay?”
Her father’s cell
phone rang in his pocket and Charlotte instinctively tensed.
Unexpected calls were one of those phobias she was working to
overcome, but until her father pulled the phone from his suit
jacket, checked the number and put it back into his pocket with a
shake of his head, Charlotte held her breath. When he offered her a
wry smile, she quietly released it. “It’s your stepbrother Kyle.”
“You could have
taken it. Maybe there’s a crisis at the office.”
everything’s a crisis. That boy is full of innovative ideas, but
sometimes I wonder if he has a head for business.”
“Come on, Dad.” It
was easier to defend the family member who wasn’t here than it was
to stand up for her own shortcomings. “How long did it take you to
learn all the ins and outs of the real estate business? Kyle’s only
been on the job at JM for a year.”
He understood the
diversionary tactic as well as she did. “No one is going to think
less of you if you decide not to go in to the museum today. I don’t
want to rush your recovery.”
A sudden staccato
of raindrops drummed against the porch roof and concrete walkway
outside. Clutching both hands around the strap of the pack on her
shoulder, Charlotte nodded toward the door.
“I’m fine.” Well,
fine for her. After ten years of living as a virtual recluse, she
was hardly rushing anything by going to the museum today.
She caught his left hand in hers and raised it between them,
touching her thumb to the sleek gold band that commemorated his
marriage to Charlotte’s stepmother. “You’re moving on with your
life. I am, too.”
“I don’t want
anything Laura and I or her children do to make you feel guilty, or
push you into something you’re not ready for. I know you feel more
comfortable at the house--”
pulled his fingers to her lips and kissed them. “I’m happy for you
and Laura. I know Kyle will turn out to be a big help to you at the
office and Bailey is, well...” She flicked her fingers through the
golden highlights that her stepsister had put in to turn her hair
from blah to blond. “We’re becoming friends. I’ve seen you smile
more in the past few months than in the ten years since the
kidnapping. Think of your marriage as inspiration, not something to
apologize for.” She released him and retreated a step toward the
front door. “My hours may be a little funny, but I’m going to
work--just like millions of other people do every day of their
The silver eyebrow
arched again. “You’re not like other people.”
No. She’d seen
more, suffered more. She had a right to be wary of the world
outside her home. But therapy and a loving parent could only take
her so far. At some point, she was going to have to start living
her life again.
And stop being a
burden to her father.
“There’s no miracle
happening here, Dad. It’s not like I’m going to a party. I’m
taking advantage of the museum being closed for the weekend, and
this endless weather keeping crowds off the street. I know my
driver and don’t intend to go anywhere but the car and the back
rooms of the Mayweather. I’ll be fine once I get to work.”
“I can see you’ve
thought it through, then. Are you sure you don’t want me to call
the security guards in to watch over you?”
Her no was
emphatic. “If I don’t know them on sight, then--”
“--you don’t want
them around.” His smile looked a little sad that that was one
phobia she’d yet to overcome, but she had plenty of reasons to
justify her fear of strangers. “Make sure all the doors and windows
are locked while you’re working--even the doors into the public area
of the museum. Doublecheck everything.”
She jingled the
ring of keys hooked onto her backpack. “I will.”
The front door
opened behind her, the wind whooshed in and Charlotte instinctively
ducked closer to her father. Just as quickly, she eased the death
grip on his jacket and smiled at the retirement-aged chauffeur
closing the door. Richard Eames collapsed his umbrella and brushed
the moisture off the sleeves of his uniform. “The car is ready,
Miss Charlotte. Just a few steps from here to the driveway.”
Her father nudged
Charlotte toward the man who’d been with the family for more than
twenty-five years. “Richard, you take good care of her.”
Richard took the backpack off her shoulder to carry it for her, then
opened the door and umbrella.
For a moment,
Charlotte’s toes danced inside her high-topped tennis shoes, urging
her to run outside the way she once did as a child. It had been
years since she’d felt the rain on her face. She lifted her gaze to
the dramatic shades of flint and shale in the clouds overhead and
breathed in deeply, tempting her senses with the ozone-scented air.
But her father’s
cell rang again, shutting down the urge.
She clung to
Richard’s arm while her father took out his phone and sighed. He
held up his hand, asking her to wait while he answered. “Yes,
Kyle. Uh-huh. Your assistant didn’t inform you of the conflict? I
see. Of course, the meeting with the lawyers is more important.
No. I’ll handle your mother. You’ll report this evening? Good
okay?” Charlotte asked as he put away the phone.
of giving an answer that might worry her, Jackson turned his
attention to the chauffeur. “Clarice Darnell and her assistant
Jeffrey Beecher are coming to the house this afternoon to go over
the estate layout and setup requirements for Laura’s spring garden
party and some other events for the company. Kyle was going to
handle the meeting, but I’ll be taking it now. Be sure to return
Charlotte to the private entrance at the back of the house. That
way she can go straight to her rooms and avoid our guests.”
While Richard and
her father discussed her trip to and from the museum, Charlotte
dropped her gaze from the sky and scanned the grounds outside the
white colonial mansion. The trees she’d climbed as a child had been
cut down to allow a clear view from the house to the wrought iron
fence and gate near the road. She searched the intricate maze of
flowers and landscaping her stepmother had put in for any sign of
people or movement.
“I saw on the news
this morning that some of the creeks south of downtown are closed
due to the flooding. Do you have alternate routes planned?”
“I’ve been driving in Kansas City going on fifty years now, sir--I
think I know my way around. I’ll find a dry street to get Miss
Charlotte to the museum.”
Jackson turned to his daughter. “You have your list of numbers to
call if you sense any kind of threat or discomfort?”
“Programmed into my
phone and burned into my memory.”
down and wrestled the dog for a second before scooting him toward
Charlotte. “Keep Max with you at all times, understand?”
PROTECTING PLAIN JANE
Copyright © by Julie Miller
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.
“And Richard, I’ll
double your wage today if you stay with her.”
The older gentleman
grinned and held out his arm. “I don’t charge extra for keeping an
eye on our girl, Mr. Mayweather.”
Jackson reached out
and brushed his fingers against her cheek, as though reluctant to
let her out of his sight. It was up to Charlotte to summon a smile
and face her fears for both of them. “Bye, Dad.”
She set her
shoulders, linked her arm through Richard’s and took that first step
out the door.
The second step
wasn’t much easier. Nor the third.
With a nervous
click of her tongue, she called for Max. The dog bolted ahead and
jumped inside the back seat of the BMW as soon as Richard opened the
door. She paused, clinging to the roof of the car, fighting the
urge to dive in after the dog. “Is he still watching?”
She didn’t need to
say her father’s name. Richard knew what this brave show was
costing her. “He’s standing on the porch.”
A drop of cool
water splashed across her knuckles, momentarily snapping her
thoughts from her father and her fears. Almost of their own
volition, her fingertips inched toward the drops of rain pooling on
the Beamer’s roof. How she missed being outside in the--
Richard prompted, as the rapid patter on top of the umbrella
indicated the real deluge was about to hit.
The impulse to
reach out vanished and the paranoia returned. Curling her fingers
into her palm, Charlotte climbed in and slid to the middle of the
leather seat. Richard set her backpack beside her and closed the
door, saluting a promise to her father before shaking off the
umbrella and slipping behind the wheel.
the manual lock as soon as he was in, even though the automatic
locks engaged when he shifted the car into gear. Hugging Max to her
side, she turned her nose into his neck. The moisture that clung to
his wiry coat was as close as she’d come to feeling the rain on her
cheek once more.
Richard found her
gaze in the rearview mirror. He smiled like the caring Dutch uncle
he was. “Breathe, Miss Charlotte. I know you’re leaving the estate
for your father’s sake, but try to enjoy your day out. The car is
secure, my gun is in the glove compartment and I’m driving straight
from here to the museum. I’ll walk in with you to make sure
everything is secure, and I’ll wait outside the door until you’re
ready to come home. I promise you, it’s perfectly safe to leave the
Since that fateful night in high school, perfectly safe had
become a foreign concept to her.
The three men who’d
abducted her were now in prison, would be for the rest of their
lives. But not one of them, not Landon, not the kidnappers, had
paid the way she had. Disfigurement. Phobias. Self-imposed
That night, and the
long days that followed, had ended any hope of living a normal life.
Stay in the
high-school. This wasn’t a date. She was older, smarter. She had
Max and Richard with her. She’d be all right.
“I’m okay,” she
insisted, tunneling her fingers into Max’s fur. “Drive away so that
Dad will get out of the rain.”
Richard nodded and
pulled away. “Why don’t you get out some of those photos and
shipping manifests from the museum to distract you while I’m
driving?” he suggested. “You’ll get lost in your work soon enough.”
Giving Max one more
pet, inhaling one more steadying breath, she nodded and reached for
her bag. “Good idea, Richard. Thanks. As always, you’re a calm
voice of reason in my life.”
But she crunched
the papers in a white-knuckled grip as they drove away from the one
place where she knew she was safe.
# # #
Even inside the
pristine atmosphere of the museum’s warehouse offices, enough
humidity from the rain-soaked air outside had worked its way into
Charlotte’s hair, taking it from naturally curly to out of control.
She pushed the
expanding kinks off her forehead as she straightened from the work
table where she was documenting the artisan’s crest burned into the
iron hilt of the sword she’d been cleaning. Her back ached, her
empty stomach grumbled, and Max sat in the work room doorway staring
at her--all certain signs that she’d lost track of the time.
If she’d been at
home, more certain of the coded locks protecting her, she might have
been grateful that she’d so fully engaged her brain with the task of
cataloguing artifacts that she’d actually gone for several hours
without her obsessive insecurities dogging every thought. But she
wasn’t at home. And as she adjusted her glasses at her temple to
check her watch, she nearly flew into a panic.
“Why didn’t you say
something?” She slammed the book she’d been using, startling Max to
She’d told her
father they’d be home by nine, that it was okay for him to go out to
dinner with Laura. It was a rare treat for him to enjoy a night out
with his wife. The museum was deserted, locked up tight. Charlotte
had been in heaven to have the place and all its treasures to
herself, so yes, Dad, enjoy your evening out.
She slid the sword
back into its crate. “It’s eight-thirty.”
Half an hour past
the time Richard was supposed to pick her up. True, he’d been
parked in the staff parking lot behind the warehouse all day long,
working his puzzles, watching the sports channel on his mini
satellite TV, napping. And he’d promptly come to the door each time
she’d called him. To walk Max. To bring her lunch. Just to check
in and assure herself he was there. If she didn’t call him, he
knocked on the door. Every hour on the hour.
They hadn’t spoken
since 7 p.m.
Richard was never
In a flurry of
scattered activity, Charlotte shut down her computer, plucked her
rain coat off the back of a chair and shoved her arm into one
sleeve. In a miracle of klutzy coordination, she grabbed her bag,
pulled out her phone, tutted to the dog and raced him to the steel
door that marked the museum’s rear exit.
A nervous breath
skittered from her lungs. She couldn’t go out there. There was no
way to know if it was safe. Evil hid in the shadows at night. Men
with fists and needles and greed in their hearts lurked in the
dark. They’d lie in wait until it was late and she was alone, and
then they’d hurt her. And hurt her. And...
her eyes shut. Stay in the moment. Stay in the freaking moment!
opened her eyes and shouted at the brick walls, even as she pulled
out her phone and punched in his number. She tried to focus on
getting the other sleeve of her blouse into her coat instead of
counting how many times the cell phone rang.
Richard knew how
changes in her routine upset her.
That was the third
ring. Maybe he’d fallen asleep.
anxiously on her feet. Four rings.
the belt of her coat around her waist and held on as a flash of
lightning flickered through the darkness shrouding the unreachable
windows above her. Even though she knew it was coming, she winced
at the boom of thunder that followed.
when she realized her eyes were drying out from staring so hard at
the door. Max danced around her feet. “We need to get a peephole
She worked her
lower lip between her teeth and reached out to touch the door. The
steel was cool from the temperature outside, its texture rough
beneath her fingertips. Did she dare open it? Did she risk going
outside on her own? She leaned closer and tuned her ears to any
sounds of movement in the alley way beyond the door. But a blanket
of rain continued to fall outside, drumming against the awning over
the door, muffling all but the quickened gasps of her own breathing.
And Max’s singsongy
paranoia wasn’t fair to the dog’s bladder. “I’m sorry, sweetie.
Richard?” she called out again, doubting her voice would carry
through the steel and bricks and storm to the car parked outside.
The sixth ring.
Max left her side
to scratch at the bricks. He whimpered.
What was wrong?
Why didn’t Richard answer? Her fears multiplied with every
What the...? He
hung on up her? A burst of anger surged through her. He knew what
that did to her--how she’d received all those calls and hang-ups in
the weeks following the kidnapping. It had taken months of therapy
afterward before she’d even allow a phone in her rooms, longer than
that to carry one with her.
Richard knew that.
He knew... “Oh, my God.”
washed away her unkind thoughts, leaving Charlotte’s knees weak and
her heart racing with concern. What if Richard was hurt? What if
he was having a heart attack and needed her help? What if he hadn’t
called her because he couldn’t?
She pocketed the
phone and grasped the dead bolt above the door knob. But her
fingers danced over the steel pin, hesitating to grab hold. Could
she turn it? Did she dare? Richard had been with her family from
the time she was a child. He was family. He’d stayed on
when he could have retired because she could almost function like a
normal person when surrounded by familiar faces, by the handful of
staff she trusted. If he’d been driving her the night of her
high-school prom, he’d have gotten her safely home. He would never,
ever intentionally frighten her.
What if Richard
Listening to her
worries instead of the fear, shutting down her brain and following
her heart, Charlotte curled her fingers through Max’s collar and
turned the bolt.
She nudged the door
open, barely wide enough for the dog to stick his muzzle out.
Charlotte leaned into the crack until the moisture in the air
splashed against her cheek. Max strained against her grip to
squeeze through to the gap. “Hold on.”
She wasn’t ready to
do this. She had to do this. Face your fear.
“Okay.” Taking a
deep breath and holding it, Charlotte put her left eye to the narrow
opening and peeked outside. Her glasses fogged up almost instantly,
blinding her. But she pulled the frames away from her face and let
the lenses clear. Once she’d readjusted them on her nose, she
huffed out a curse at her temerity. She could see the light from
the street lamp at the edge of the parking lot reflected in every
rivulet of rain that streaked the polished black fender of Richard’s
BMW. The car was right there, parked a couple of feet beyond the
edge of the green and white awning.
the door open a few inches more and let Max run out to sniff the
rear tire. “Richard?” she shouted through the downpour.
She hurried out to
the car. Rain spotted her glasses, distorting her vision before she
got the back door open. But Charlotte never climbed inside.
“Are you okay?”
Reprimand gave way
to relief. Then her mind seized up with a whole different kind of
She darted around
her door and pulled open the driver’s door. “Richard!” Her beloved
friend was slumped over the steering wheel. “Richard?” Charlotte
pulled out her phone, punched in a 9. She swiped the rain from her
glasses and glanced around, making sure the narrow lot was still
empty, before lightly shaking his shoulder. She punched in a 1.
When there was no response, she slid her arm across Richard’s chest,
her fingers clinging to something warm and sticky at the side of his
neck as she pulled him back against the seat. “Oh, my God.”
Richard’s eyes were
open, sightless. Blood oozed from the neat round bullet hole at his
temple. She couldn’t bear to look at the pulpy mess she’d felt on
the other side of his head.
She jerked her hand
called her anything but ‘Miss Charlotte.’
around. “Face your fear,” she chanted. “Face your fear.”
He had her number.
Whoever had done
this had taken Richard’s cell phone. She’d called him, and now he
could call her back.
She shut off the
traitorous phone and stuffed it deep into her pocket. She checked
every corner and shadow, marked every movement--a car speeding past
on the curiously empty street, a wadded up fast food sack skipping
across the pavement and Max giving chase. “Max...?”
She put her lips
together and tried to whistle.
But any fleeting
sense of security sputtered out along with the sound. Was there
something moving beyond the dumpster at the end of the alley?
The rain had
finally pummeled its way through her thick hair and crept like
chilled fingers over her scalp. There were brick walls on three
sides of her--three-stories high with shuttered windows and iron
And the dumpster.
could she face what she couldn’t see? Her heart raced. Her
thoughts scattered. The nightmare surged inside her.
Besides the dog and
the dead man, she was alone, right? She saw no one, heard nothing
but the wind and rain and her own pulse hammering inside her ears.
But she could feel
him. A chill ran straight down her spine.
She caught sight of
the blood washing from her stained fingers, dripping down into the
puddle at her feet. She snatched her fist back to her chest, her
feet already moving, retreating from death and horror and him.
Whether the eyes
watching her were real or imagined didn’t matter. Charlotte’s
reaction was intense and immediate. Run. Hide. She clicked her
tongue. “Max! Come on, boy. Come on.”
But the scent of
trashy cheeseburger wrappers was too enticing.
in a panicked haze, she put her fingers to her lips and blew. The
shrill sound pierced the heavy air and diverted the dog’s
attention. “Get over here!”
Max bounded to her
and she scooped him up, yanking open the museum’s back door and
dumping him inside. Charlotte slammed the door behind her and
twisted the dead bolt into place. Oh, God. She hadn’t imagined a
damn thing. Softer than the pounding of her heart, more menacing
than the bloody hand prints she’d left on her coat--footsteps
crunched on the pavement outside. Running footsteps. Coming
Max by the collar, backed away.
“Charlotte!” A man
pounded on the door.
stumbled over the dog and went down hard on her rump on the concrete
She didn’t know
that voice. Didn’t know that man.
How did he know her
nightmares and reality, between Richard’s murder and her own terror,
the pounding fists seemed to beat against her.
on, girlfriend. I know you’re in there!”
They couldn’t take
her. She’d die before she’d ever let them take her again.
Scrambling to her
feet, she scanned her surroundings.
“Shut up,” she
muttered, trying to drown out the pounding on the door as much as
she wanted to drown out the hideous memories.
She wiped her
glasses clear. Yes. Safety. Survival.
She ran back to the
work room, shoved the top off a wooden crate and pulled out the
long, ungainly sword from the packing material inside. The weighty
blade clanged against the concrete floor and, for a moment, the
She pulled out her
keys and unlocked one of the storage vaults. “Max!” The dog
followed her into the long, narrow room, lined with shelves from
floor to ceiling.
coming for you!”
The banging started
up again as she turned on the light and locked the door behind her.
He was so angry, so menacing, so cruel. Charlotte crouched against
the back shelf, holding the sword in front of her. Max trotted back
and propped his paws up against her thigh. The smell of wet dog and
her own terror intensified in the close confines of the room. “Stay
in the moment,” she whispered out loud. She petted her companion,
to calm herself, to take control of her scattered thoughts, but
stopped when she saw the blood she’d transferred onto the dog’s tan
“It’s okay,” she
lied. “It’s okay.”
But she’d chosen
the smart, well-trained dog for a reason beyond his scarred ear.
Max scratched at Charlotte’s coat, nuzzled her pocket. Call
someone. The words were in her head, hiding in some rational corner
of her brain.
“I can’t. If I
turn on the phone, he’ll call me.”
We need help.
The deep brown eyes
reached out to her, calmed her.
and pulled out her phone. She couldn’t face the police on her own.
Couldn’t handle crowds. She turned it on and immediately dialed the
first number her terrified brain could come up with.
outside continued, beating deep into her head. After three rings, a
familiar woman’s voice picked up. “Hello? This is Audrey...
Kline,” she whispered in a breathless tone.
friend’s tone sharpened, grew concerned. “Is that you?” A second
voice, a man’s, murmured in the background. “Alex, stop.
Charlotte, is something wrong?”
fiancé. “I’m sorry. I forget other people have lives. I’ll call
Dad at the restaurant--”
“Don’t you dare
hang up!” She could hear a difference in Alex’s voice. He, too,
sounded efficient, rational, concerned. “Talk to me, Char.”
“I’m at the
Mayweather Museum. There’s a man at the door. Richard’s dead. I
The scratch of a
dog’s paw reminded her to breathe. “Someone shot him and I’m here
by myself. There’s a man...”
“Alex is calling
the police now.”
“What if it’s
like...?” Before. Swallow that damn irrational fear. Breathe. “I
won’t come out unless it’s someone I know. Have Alex come.”
“We’re on our way,”
Audrey promised, relaying the information to Alex. “Are you safe?”
Alex must be on his
phone, now, too. She could hear his clipped, professional tones in
the background. “He’s not calling 9-1-1, is he? I won’t come out
for a stranger.”
“Shh.” Audrey was
hushing her, talking to her like the paranoid idiot she fought so
hard not to be. “He knows.”
“I locked myself
inside. Max is with me.” Charlotte needed to hear her voice,
needed the lifeline to sanity to keep herself from flinching at
every pound on that door. “Audrey?”
“Alex is calling a
friend of his. Trip’s apartment is close to the museum. We’re
twenty minutes away, but he can be there in two.”
“No. I want you to
“Trip’s a friend.
He’s a SWAT cop, like Alex. He helped save my life during the
Demetrius Smith trial. He won’t let anyone hurt you.”
“I haven’t met--”
“We’re leaving the
house now. I don’t want you alone any longer than you have to be.”
“Wait. How will I
“Trust me, Char.
You can’t miss him. He’ll be the biggest thing in the room.”
The biggest thing
in the room? Audrey meant the description to be concise,
comforting. But Richard was dead and she was alone, and whoever was
banging on the outside door was no small potatoes, either.
stopped, filling the air with an abrupt silence even more ominous
than the deafening noise. Charlotte’s breath locked up in her
chest. Had he found another way to get in?
She jumped at
Audrey’s voice. “Biggest thing in the room. Right.”
“Trip will be right
there. The whole SWAT team is on their way.”
Charlotte disconnected the call, it rang again. The name and number
lit up with terrifying clarity.
It rang. And rang.
She pulled her hand
back in a fist, intent on hurling the tormenting object against the
door. But a paw on her thigh and a glimmer of sanity had her
shoving it onto the shelf beside her instead. She’d need it on to
know when Audrey got here.
Then she huddled in
the darkness with the sword and the ringing and her dog and waited,
praying that her friends got to her before whoever had murdered
# # #
“Audrey can’t raise
her on her phone, big guy. You have to go in.”
“Got it.” Trip
Jones stuffed his phone into the pocket of his jeans and peered over
the dumpster into the parking lot behind the Mayweather Museum of
Natural History. He pulled his black KCPD ball cap farther down
across his forehead to keep the rain out of his eyes, but it didn’t
make what he was seeing any less unsettling. “What have you gotten
me into this time, Taylor?
Trip retreated a
step after his initial recon, wrinkling his nose at the dumpster’s
foul smell and running through a mental debate on how he should
proceed without the rest of his team on the scene yet to back him
up. The rain beating down on the brim of his hat and the metallic
bang of an unseen door, swinging open and shut in rhythm with the
wind, were the only sounds he could make out, indicating that
whatever trouble had happened here had most likely moved on.
Alex and Audrey had
lost contact with their friend, and that wasn’t good. But he wasn’t
taking any unnecessary chances. He had to leave the cover of his
hiding place and go into that alley. Alone. But he’d go in smart.
Flattening himself against the brick wall, he cinched his Kevlar
vest more securely around his damp khaki work shirt and pulled his
Glock 9 mil from the holster at his waist. He rolled his neck,
taking a deep breath and fine-tuning his senses before edging his
way around the dumpster.
Alex had told him
three things when he’d called about the off-duty emergency. Find a
woman named Charlotte. Keep her safe. And... Don’t go by your
first impression of her. Odd though that last admonition had been,
the concern had been real enough to pull Trip away from the book
he’d been reading and haul ass over to the museum in the block next
to his apartment.
You owe me for this
one, shrimp. Trip towered over Alex by more than a foot, and while
he might not be quite the tallest man on the force, he was damn well
the biggest wall of don’t-mess-with-this muscle and specialized
training KCPD’s premiere SWAT team had to offer. But even he didn’t
like the looks of what he was walking into. A woman alone at night,
in these conditions--something about a murder... Trip frowned.
This was all kinds of wrong.
The place was
desolate, deserted--solid walls on three sides with bricked up
windows. Rain poured down hard enough to muffle all but the loudest
cry for help. A skilled hunter wouldn’t have to work hard to
isolate and corner his prey here.
And apparently one
Trip approached the
car at the museum’s rear entrance.
Don’t be her.
Don’t be Charlotte. He didn’t want to have to explain showing up a
couple of minutes too late to Alex and his fiancée. Or his own
Gripping his gun
between both hands, Trip crept alongside the black BMW. He breathed
a sigh of relief and cursed all in the same breath. The driver’s
side doors stood open, the interior lights were on, but no one was
home. He put two fingers to the side of the slumping chauffeur’s
neck. Hard to tell for sure with the cooling temps, but he’d been
gone for a couple of hours.
At least the pool
of blood was localized. No one else had been hurt at this
location. No signs of a struggle in the back seat. But Trip said a
quick prayer as he reached in beside the dead man to pop the trunk
of the car. After closing the door to preserve what he could of the
crime scene, he edged around the back to peek inside. His breath
steamed out through his nose.
No body. No
That left the
museum’s steel door, caught by the wind and thumping against the
bricks beneath the awning. After pulling a flashlight from the
pocket of his jeans, Trip caught the door and quickly inspected the
lock. Scratch marks around the key hole for the dead bolt indicated
He hadn’t completed
his task yet.
Gritting his teeth
and his nerve against whatever he might find on the other side of
those bricks, Trip swung the beam of light inside. The museum’s
warehouse section was dark, with tall, block-like shapes forming
patterns of opaque blackness amongst the shadows. A second sweep
led him to the switch box just inside the door.
The electricity had
been switched to the off position. The need to move, to act, to fix
something, danced across his skin. Dead man aside, someone had
broken in and cut the power.
Alex’s friend was
in serious trouble.
To hell with
stealth. “Charlotte Mayweather!”
A rustle of sound
answered his echoing voice.
That itch kicked
into hyper-drive, pricking up the hairs on his arms and at the back
of his neck. “Charlotte!”
Perp? Or victim?
He wasn’t waiting
to find out. “KCPD. Come out with your hands on your head.”
He squinted his
eyes and flipped on the power switch, creating a shorter recovery
time for his vision to adjust as the cavernous interior flooded with
light. The shadows became shelves stacked with crates from floor to
ceiling, and tables in aisles where more boxes were stored. He
swung the light around toward a shuffle of sound and discovered a
row of three closed doors marked...
“Not now.” He
focused the light at the sign on the first door--Z3CVP3 ZTOPVÇ3--and
let the letters swirl inside his head until they read SECURE
He didn’t have to
read the sign on the door to detect the movement behind it. He
lowered the beam of light. Another lock. But no signs of entry.
No key, either.
slipped the flashlight into his pocket, tucked his gun into his
belt. He jiggled the knob. Sealed tight. He slapped the door with
the flat of his hand. “Charlotte!”
Either she couldn’t
answer or someone was keeping her from answering him.
Trip looked to the
right and left, spotted what he wanted and went for it.
“Charlotte?” he called out in a booming voice that was sure to carry
through the brick walls themselves. He lifted a crate and set it on
the floor. “My name’s Trip Jones. I’m with KCPD. I’m a friend of
Alex Taylor and his fiancée Audrey. Are you able to answer me?”
His answer was a
soft gasp, the crash of a whole lot of little somethings tumbling
down inside that room, a woof and an unladylike curse.
work space around him held a treasure trove of useful gadgets--box
cutters, twine, screwdrivers, a drill. He could pop the lock or cut
his way in in a matter of minutes.
But the woman might
not have that long.
His arm muscles
tensed as he set the second crate on top of the first. “I’m comin’
Trip tilted the
table onto one end, jammed it up beneath the door’s hinges and
shoved. With one mighty heave, he separated the door from its
The table fell to
one side as he pried the busted door open. It shielded him until he
could angle around and see into the deep recesses of the closet
behind it. “Charl--”
He caught a glimpse
of short curly hair and glasses before the woman inside hollered a
piercing rebel yell and charged him.
The first blow
knocked the door back into him, slamming into his nose and making
his head throb.
“Ow!” He tossed
the door after the table, held up his hand and reached for his badge
so she could see he meant her no harm. “Relax. I’m here to help.”
that a sword? She screamed a deep, guttural sound that was all
instinct and fear. The long metal bladed arced through the air.
The blow caught him
on the forearm and Trip swore. He felt the sting of the blunt blade
splitting the skin beneath his sleeve and knew he had only one
option when she raised the archaic weapon again.
reassurances. With a move that was as swift and sure as breathing
to him, Trip ducked, catching her wrists and twisting her around.
He hugged her back against his chest, lifted her off her feet and
shook the sword from her grip. “Damn it, woman, I’m one of the good
He tripped over
something small and furry that darted between his legs and down they
Question: What is the name of Charlotte's dog?
Back To Top
1 1/2 months later
“Reitzie.” Annie lifted the lazy Siamese from the domino
tumble of picture frames on the mantel where he was lounging while
Nick carried up their overnight bags from their weekend getaway to
St. Louis. She set the cat on the floor and shooed him off to
find where his counterpart, G.B., was hiding.
In between unbuttoning her coat and untying the pink scarf that
Grandma Connie had knit for her, she straightened one beloved
picture after another. When she reached the mutilated photo
from the Baseball Hall of Fame, she smiled. Without feeling
one pang of regret, she opened up her paisley messenger bag and
pulled out one of the souvenir post cards she’d bought on their trip
and quickly swapped out the old picture for the new one. She
crumpled the memory of her ex-fiancé in her fist and tossed it into
“There.” Annie was admiring the new picture of Busch Stadium
in St. Louis, and the new memory it represented, when Nick came in.
He locked the door behind him and hung up their coats. She
pulled the new picture on the mantel to a more prominent position.
Nick came up behind her to wind an arm around her waist and doff a
salute to the statue of Stan ‘the Man’ Musial. “Much better.
Maybe Stan and your dad are up in heaven playing some catch right
Feeling a pang of melancholy, Annie leaned back against his solid
warmth, and found even more comfort when he slipped the other arm
around her as well, and pressed a kiss against her cheek. The
sadness quickly passed and she folded her hands over his, soaking in
all the miraculous changes in her life since that fateful New Year’s
She had a reason to celebrate the holidays now.
She had a family--one that was bigger, crazier, more accepting and
loving than any she could have imagined for herself.
She wasn’t alone anymore.
She had Nick.
On New Year’s Day, Nick Fensom had promised her seventy-two hours of
personal protection and free chauffeur’s service. Now, he’d
promised her a lifetime together.
Annie held up her left hand and marveled at the beauty and symbolism
of the simple diamond solitaire he’d given her on Valentine’s Day.
He cupped her outstretch hand in his, angling it to catch the light
in each facet. “Happy?”
She nodded. “More than I have been in...” She laced her
fingers with his and pulled his arm back to complete the snug warmth
of the embrace. “...I don’t know how long. You gave me a
family, Nick. You make me feel like I belong somewhere, like I
belong to someone, like I’m never going to feel alone again.
“Yeah, but do you love me?”
“Of course, I do.”
“Well, a guy wonders, you know, because, um... technically, you
never said yes.”
Annie spun around in his arms, mortified. “I didn’t?”
Despite the grin, he was shaking his head as he twirled a lock of
her hair between his index finger and thumb. “As I recall, you
burst into tears, blubbered some stuff about how happy your dad
would be that I asked you to marry me in front of Musial’s statue,
and then you started kissing me.” Annie arched a skeptical
brow as his handsome blue eyes met hers and the Irish bluster
continued. “Now, while I’m not opposed to that sort of
activity, sometimes you’re hard to read--and it can be a little
tricky on a man’s ego not to be entirely sure.”
Annie caught his face between her hands. “Do you really have
any doubts about how much I love you? What was it you once
told me? You’ll know when I make a promise to you.”
“Pretty pithy stuff, huh?”
She pulled his face closer to hers and stroked her thumb across his
mouth. “Then let me make this promise to you, Nicholas
Fensom--I love you. I need you in my life. I want to be
your wife.” She stretched up to press a kiss to his lips
before standing back to raise her right hand and lay her left over
his heart. “In front of Mom, Dad, Stan and the cats... my
answer is yes.”
Nick’s grin was devilish as he wound his arms around her and pulled
her hips up against his. “I liked all the kissing better.”
“You...” She smacked his shoulder, taking care to avoid the
newly healed wound that could have killed him when he saved her
life. The crime lab building was under repair as well, and
both the detective and the lab were back at work. “You’re
With a laugh, Nick’s mouth covered hers, ending the teasing,
demanding that she prove with her heart and body what her words had
already confessed. And Annie willingly accepted the challenge.
Nick slid his deliciously warm hands beneath her sweater and dipped
his tongue into her mouth. Annie’s fingers went to the hem of
Nick’s shirt, untucking it from his jeans, taking the same liberties
to stroke and touch and grab that he took with her.
His thighs crowded against her, driving her back into the arm of the
sofa. Annie wrapped her arms around his neck and turned,
steering him around the couch. He pulled her along with him a
couple of steps, drawing his tongue along that sensitive bundle of
nerves beneath her ear. “I love the way your mind thinks.”
“I love the way your--” He gently nipped the spot and Annie
gasped, shuddering with desire.
She tugged on his belt buckle as Nick’s seductive assault backed her
into the wall. His hands were under her sweater again, making
it difficult to recall the rest of her sentence. But the power
of his kiss, the need of his hands, the hardness of his body made
her realize that words were no longer necessary. The tension
that had simmered between them from their very first meeting blazed
into white-hot passion. They were yin and yang.
Opposites attracting and completing each other. Perfectly in
sync. Perfect together.
Nick pulled her away from the wall to sweep the sweater off over her
head, exposing her torso to the chilly air of her apartment.
But he palmed her bottom and lifted her up against him, singeing her
body with the solid heat of his. Annie wrapped her legs around
his hips as he reclaimed her mouth and stumbled to the bedroom.
There, in a flurry of dropping clothes and stolen kisses, they fell
onto the bed together.
There was no more teasing, no more debate, no more doubt about the
unexpected love they’d found together. Nick sheathed himself
and settled between her legs as Annie impatiently drew him down on
top of her. There was nothing wounded about his compact,
beautifully toned body beyond the scar on his shoulder. He was
fit and fine and sexier than than the box score of a perfect game as
he began to move inside her.
His fingers tangled into her hair as he thrust himself in to the
hilt and whispered against her ear. “I love you, Annie.
I love you.”
Believing that promise with all her heart, she let go and flew over
the edge into pure bliss with him.
The cats had joined them in bed, anchoring the quilt around Annie’s
toasty feet, when stereo pagers went off sometime later. She
startled awake, pushing aside cats and covers to reach for her phone
on the bedside table while Nick rolled to sit up on his side to
retrieve his phone from his jeans on the floor.
“It’s work.” They announced in unison.
“I’ll call in.” Nick pulled on his shorts and jeans and tossed
her the pants she’d worn earlier. “You get some clothes on
before you distract me again.”
As alert and worried as she’d been replete and content moments
earlier, she quickly dressed. A call from Dispatch before the
sun was up could never be a good thing. The grim look on
Nick’s face echoed as much as he called his partner’s number.
“Spence? It’s Nick.” Annie tiptoed around the bed and
Nick circled his arm around her, drawing her close. “Yeah,
we’re both here.”
Annie caught most of the conversation with the task force commander,
and was glad she’d packed her spare kit in the back of Nick’s Jeep.
The men the Cleaner had blackmailed into killing Annie and
destroying evidence were either dead or jailed. The only one
who’d survived the assault on the crime lab had been unable to give
them a usable description of the woman who’d recruited him because
all the arrangements, from impersonating police officers to
infiltrating the lab, had gone through Raj Kapoor. But, thanks
to her and Nick, they had a trace sample to identify the rapist’s
blood type, and a fingerprint they could match to the Cleaner--once
they got the right suspect in custody. It was evidence that
could help put them both away in prison for a very, very long time.
But the grim report from Spencer Montgomery reminded them both that
there was more work to be done. Nick ended the call and
pressed a kiss to Annie’s temple.
“Time to go to work, slugger.” He strapped on his gun and his
badge. “The Rose Red Rapist has struck again. We’ve got
another crime scene.”
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