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The Outsider Series
The Forgotten Child
The Unexpected Storm
The Friessens: A New Beginning
The Price to Love
A Different Kind of Love
A Vow of Love
The Business Plan
The McCabe Brothers
Don’t Stop Me
Don’t Catch Me
Don’t Run from Me
Don’t Hide from Me
The Wilde Brothers
A Matter of Trust
Married in Montana
A Promise of Forever
Kate & Walker
Edge of Night
Walk the Right Road
Lost and Found
Blown Away, The Final Chapter
The Saved Series
He Came Back
Links to Lorhainne Eckhart’s Booklist
About the Author
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I sincerely hope you enjoy this compiled sampler of all the first chapters from all my books. I created this special edition for all my fans who are unsure of the series, the order and how each series is connected. Included are all the sample first chapters from the Outsider Series, The Friessens: The New Beginning, The Friessens, The McCabe Brothers, The Wilde Brothers, Married in Montana, Kate & Walker, The Saved Series, Walk the Right Road, and all of my single title novels. I have not included in this sampler my new series The Parker Sisters that will be releasing in May 2017.
Thank you so much for downloading this sampler, for taking a moment to check out my work. If you would like more information on my books and upcoming titles please stop by my website at www.LorhainneEckhart.com.
Included in this sample you will find handy links to your favorite retailer for ease in downloading any of the books.
All the best,
This edition includes the free bonus novella,
A Baby And A Wedding
‘Over 500,000 copies sold worldwide. Now translated into German & French’
The Forgotten Child is the first book in The Outsider Series and introduces the oldest brother Brad of The Friessen family. In the upcoming books you will meet all the family, Jed, Neil, Andy, and of course Brad’s parents Rodney and Becky. Included in this edition is the free novella A BABY AND A WEDDING
How do you tell a man there is something wrong with his child?
—“This is by far one of the best books I have read. Lorhainne Eckhart proved herself yet again by pulling you in with a heartfelt story and keeping your attention with the passion that fills the pages.” — ROMANCE JUNKIES
—“A Real Tear Jerker: Omg, I loved this book. I stayed up all night trying to finish it. I cried, My heart broke, I have an 18 year old with autism. This would make a fabulous movie.” Reviewer – Tammy
—“Brilliant, there is no other word for it, heart grabbing, heart warming, gut wrenching, well written well researched, wanted to read it over & over again.” – Maureen
—BLACK RAVEN’S REVIEWS — “Ms. Eckhart has crafted a delightful story with engaging characters, enough drama for a Hallmark movie, and enough unconditional love to last a lifetime.”—Rated 5 Ravens and a Recommended Read by AJ!—
—“I didn’t expect I’d fall for the four main characters as hard as I did, but The Forgotten Child is an amazing book, not just for a romance fan like myself, but for single parents who may or may not have a child with autism.” — Reviewer — Adria
In THE FORGOTTEN CHILD, Brad Friessen wasn’t looking to love again. But what he got was a woman who shook his lonely bitter world upside down, and touched him in a way no other woman could.
Emily Nelson, ends a loveless, bitter marriage and strikes out on her own. She answers an ad as a cook and live-in caregiver to a three-year-old boy on a local ranch. Ranch owner Brad Friessen hires and moves in Emily and her daughter. But Emily soon discovers something’s seriously wrong with the boy, and the reclusive, difficult man who hired her can’t see the behavior and how delayed his son is. Emily researches until she stumbles across what she suspects are the soft signs of autism. Now she must tell him, give him hope, and help him come to terms with this neurological disorder–to take the necessary steps to get his child the help he needs.
As their lives become intertwined, their attraction is unavoidable–a connection sparks between them. But just as they’re getting close, Brad’s estranged wife, Crystal, returns after abandoning the family two years earlier.
Crystal must’ve had a plan, as she somehow gains the upper hand, driving a wedge in the emotional bond forged between Brad, Emily, and the children. The lengths to which Crystal will go, the lies, the greed, just to keep what’s hers, are nothing short of cold and calculating. Brad fights to save his boy, to protect what’s his, and struggles over his greatest sacrifice–Emily, and the haunting question: Has he lost her forever.
Every woman, at one time in her life, will experience the phrase, I had an epiphany. Well, that’s exactly what happened this particular spring morning. Emily Nelson’s eyes popped open just as the sliver of light, at the break of dawn, crept up the horizon; and, for a moment, there was peace. Until she blinked a couple of times and reality set in. She glimpsed the lump beside her in their king-size bed—her husband, Bob. Emily pushed her thick, dark hair back, and slid to the side of the bed. She was hit by an irritating turmoil, an unwelcome friend, twisting up her insides as if wringing out a wet rag. Not even a shred of interest remained for the man she once loved. She’d more empathy for the crotchety old geezer at the end of the street.
So what made this morning different? She didn’t know how to explain this awakening, this unfolding, from deep inside some place she thought had long since been closed and sealed off. Find some courage. Believe enough in herself, and then she’d soon be living a life that was hers, for the first time, filled with an amazing peace and hope. And that’s what compelled Emily to shake off her 10-year funk, throw her thin, pale legs over the side of the bed, and get up.
Emily, a 35-year-old, average-looking mother and wife, slipped into the ugly brown bathrobe her husband bought her this past Christmas. The one he meant to give his mother but got confused after he wrapped them, since the boxes were identical. His mother got the old lady polyester pants with the elastic waistband meant for Emily, so she supposed she got the better of the deal.
She held her breath when she chanced a glance at Bob, who lay softly snoring on his side of the big bed; the fact he was still asleep eased her anxiety. Emily suppressed a sigh of relief. She had no interest in spending time in a room with this man, any more than the grumpy old geezer up the street. Maybe that was why the knot in her tummy loosened when she left the room and stood outside their daughter’s door. Katy, her blonde two-year-old beauty, was sleeping like an angel in the bedroom across the hall, in their average, very plain, box-style rented bungalow. Emily tiptoed across the cheap neutral-colored carpeting, the same quality you see in most rental homes, which showed every stain imaginable, even after shampooing year after year. She pressed her hand on the doorframe and pulled Katy’s door closed so she wouldn’t hear Emily at this early hour. Five a.m. was her personal time, when her head was clear, when her creative juices flowed, when she faced reality and could make the tough decisions with absolute clarity.
Today’s the day. When he comes down, I’ll say it. Her gut twisted, but she knew that it was nothing more than fear of the unknown. She couldn’t wait anymore; it had to be today. It was past time and she knew she’d ignored this decision for too long. The signs were all around her—they had been for months. Now, with no chance to think it to death or get cold feet, the floor squeaked as his heavy footsteps thumped down the hall toward her. Her skin chilled and she had a buzzing sensation in her ears, as if the floor were about to drop out from beneath her feet. Bob, her husband of twelve years, shuffled into the kitchen past her as she leaned against the counter. What made it worse was the way that he looked away, as if to dismiss her; a woman of no importance.
“It’s over between us.” Wow, she’d said it. Her courage wavered, but she crossed her arms over her small breasts and stood her ground, feeling enormous in the bulky robe even though she kept her body slim with womanly curves.
Bob turned and, for the first time in months, he really looked at her. His dirty blond hair was gelled and impeccably groomed. His pale face was flushed and his icy blue eyes appeared so dull and tiny in his round face. His body was ordinary, average height and build—a man who wouldn’t stand out in a crowd. She felt nothing for him, just a hardness; whatever love had been was now long dead and gone.
Time stretched out painfully; it took an eternity to pump the blood through her body, roaring louder and louder in her ears between breaths. Bob turned away. He poured himself a cup of the coffee she’d freshly brewed, dismissing her again. He’d mastered that skill long ago, hammering her pride down a little further each and every day. No wonder it took an act of sheer courage for Emily to look strangers in the eye. Hadn’t her dad done it to her own mom?
“You know we haven’t had a marriage for a long time, Bob. There are no feelings left between us. We don’t communicate, and Katy’s picking up on the tension in this house.”
He dropped his mug on the counter, and fired off his delusion. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I think you’re the one with the problem. Katy’s fine if you’re not around.” His words stung, even though Emily knew it wasn’t true. Why didn’t she expect this? Because her mind didn’t play those kinds of games, that’s why.
“No, Katy is not fine. You’re always yelling at her. You won’t spend time with her. When you’re home, you sit in front of the TV 24/7. You do nothing to help me.”
Shouting, he stepped toward her, “You know what I think this is really about? Money! It’s your fault that we have no money!”
Okay here we go. She’d expected an attack. He was really good at twisting things to his way of thinking. This man she’d married, at one time loved, had become an unwelcome stranger. “I think it has to do with no communication,” Emily rebutted. “The only time I know what’s new with you, is when I overhear you on the phone. You know… those nightly conversations with your mother. And come to think of it, that’s part of the problem. The only relationship you have is with your mother. And it’s just plain weird. You’re not a child. Grow up. It’s disturbing that you talk to her about what’s going on in your life, and not me. If you were being honest with yourself, you’d admit you’ve made no attempt to have a relationship with me. And I’ve ignored how you’ve treated me for years.”
Emily held up the flat of her trembling hand, unable to stop her mouth from spewing everything she’d suppressed for so long. She continued, “You’ve always had this strange relationship with your mom. What’s really sick, is that I’ve had to stoop to eavesdropping when you’re on the phone with her—just to find out your latest news. A vacation you’re planning with friends of yours. A new job you’re applying for in Seattle. Taking a few courses at night school. Don’t you think that as your wife I have a right to know about these things?”
He dumped his coffee down the sink. His face hardened into someone she didn’t know. “It wasn’t as if I was hiding it from you, but you’re sure happy to launch a war with my family. You could have just asked.”
Emily shut her eyes and let out a heavy sigh. Katy would be awake soon, and Bob needed to leave for work. “This is going nowhere,” she said. “I’m not going to keep fighting with you. I’d like you to move out. Take whatever you want.”
He didn’t answer her. What he did instead was grab his coat and storm out the door, slamming it behind him hard enough to rattle the double-paned windows. But apparently he wasn’t done with his temper tantrum, because he followed up by gunning the engine of their two-door rusted Cavalier; the tires squealing down the driveway. In her room, Katy screamed. Across the street, lights came on in the front window of the Hanson’s house. Great! Now she needed to apologize for Bob disturbing them, before six a.m., with his irresponsible behavior.
Emily raced down the hall to comfort her daughter, furious at Bob for yet another mess he’d created for her to clean up. Except this time, it didn’t stick—the mad, that is. With the words finally out of her, Emily felt the dark, oppressive weight lifting from her shoulders, leaving her with a light peaceful feeling flowing through her body. You know, the feeling you get when you know you’ve finally done the right thing. Even though she had no money, no job, a child, and no idea how she’d make ends meet… still, the right thing. A dismal sounding outcome, but for the first time in years, Emily Nelson felt the sun shoot out a powerful ray of hope.
Get THE FORGOTTEN CHILD now!
Including the exclusive bonus short story ~ The Search
— Another great book in this series and by this author. I am going to start reading The Awakening right after I am done with this review; I cannot wait! – Paula
—When life deals an innocent a bad hand it isn’t surprising when they want revenge. This story handles the situation in a simple fashion. Turning anger and distrust into love. Well written, and a story which leaves you wanting to read more about this family. – Voracious Reader
[_ —Deals with some social issues but never strays from taking a chance on love and over- coming insurmountable issues and losses to let heroine find and claim true love against all odds.- Billie Miller _]
A cowboy who walked away from his family’s fortune. A woman who returned for justice. What they didn’t expect was to find love.
The Search, A bridge short story (Andy, Jed & Diana)
In THE SEARCH, after Jed goes missing, Diana is desperate and calls the one man she knows she shouldn’t, Jed’s cousin Andy.
But when a very pregnant Diana follows Andy on the Search for her husband early labor sets in and Andy may have taken on more than he can handle.
Diana pushed aside the creamy, lace curtain and gazed out on a yard adorned in pinks and frothy whites, with ribbons and bows and enough flowers to decorate the entire county. The midday sun had turned the sky a deep blue, and mixed with the flowers and miles of open land, it would seem to anyone as if they had stepped into paradise. Several long tables were draped with lacy white cloth, glasses stacked in pyramids. Waiters in black vests and white shirts, all starched and impeccably groomed, weaved through the hundreds of wedding guests all dressed in their Sunday best. Rows of white chairs faced a beautiful arbor covered with pink and white roses, and baby’s breath woven through the chain of flowers, a spectacular sight. Everyone was here: her groom, his family, and what appeared to be every resident of North Lakewood. But there would be no family for Diana, and no father to give her away.
She let the antique, lace curtain fall, and stepped away from the window, when her soon-to-be husband glanced up at her from the yard, his dark eyes mirroring her piercing love and never failing to take her breath away, always letting her know she was his. Looking back and picturing where she’d come from, she wanted to pinch herself to make sure this wasn’t all just a dream that she had never imagined would come true. After all, coming back to North Lakewood had been risky, but she’d followed her heart and was now going to marry her fairytale prince, having survived her trials and faced her demons while holding her head high. He loved her for it, accepting her for who she truly was.
Their love was so precious, and just thinking of being his wife had her heart pounding furiously, and her hands trembling. But it wasn’t fear or dread that had her shaking. It was the thought of being Mrs. Friessen—loved so completely for who she was, respected by the community and accepted for being just Diana.
He’d buy her the world. She knew that now, and he’d fight all of her battles for her if she let him. He was a proud man and could be ruthless in a fight, and she needed all her wits about her to face him without backing down.
Diana glanced in the antique mirror one last time. Tracing her finger under her eye, she wiped away a tear she hadn’t realized she’d shed. Her makeup was perfect—not too heavy, just enough to enhance her healthy glow. Her fiery, red hair was combed and pinned up with cascading curls, a shimmering white veil with roses fastened to the back. She smoothed the chiffon of her wedding dress down, feeling like a princess about to wed her handsome prince, when a soft knock on the bedroom door interrupted her thoughts.
“Diana, are you ready?”
She nodded to herself in the mirror and pulled the door open, accepting the lovely bouquet of pink and white roses.
“Yes,” she answered.
Get FALLEN HERO now!
A young woman who’s lost everything, and the wealthy rancher who must choose between his family’s power and his conscience to help her.
—Well written story about overcoming the stigma of “lower” class and “upper” class! It was love story that kept me reading to see if it would turn out the way I hoped! …Bartow
—“The author brought to life a story that is all but too often right in front of our faces, but we are too busy to see.” Amazon Reviewer Grammy
In THE AWAKENING, Laura, a young single mother is barely making ends meet working as a maid at the Friessen mansion. Until one day she is fired, the next day she is evicted, and two days later her son is taken away.
Wealthy rancher Andy Friessen can have any woman he wants, but when Laura is fired by his mother over something he was responsible for, well his conscience gets the better of him and he steps in to help. The problem is when he goes looking for Laura he not only discovers she’s been living in her car, but the state took her child away.
With Andy standing beside her through a courtroom fiasco, they must fight together to regain custody of her son.
“Get this god-awful tree out of here!” Andy shouted as he stormed into the grand library, his dark hide boots barely making a sound on the rich scarlet carpet as he cut a path toward his large mahogany desk. The library was his domain, a showpiece of the Friessen mansion. It was a very masculine room, filled with browns and reds, dark wood, leather chairs, oil paintings worth more than the estate, a room Andy had appointed as his office.
“Sir, your mother ordered this tree and left instructions for it to be set up and decorated in this very room,” Laura, a very young, pretty blond maid responded without glancing Andy’s way. She pursed her soft red lips and continued to hang bright green ornaments on the vibrant white tree.
Andy slid his large hand under a branch of the Douglas-fir. “I didn’t know that fir trees grew white. What, did you have this dyed?”
This time, the maid glanced at Andy with those sea-green eyes, wearing the ugly maid uniform that hung like a grain sack from what he could only imagine was a slim body underneath. It was the most unflattering getup, with a starched collar and buttoned up to her chin. And, of course, Andy being Andy, he couldn’t help wondering how she’d look in something low cut, slinky, and black. Preferably something that fit her like a second skin and showed off the generous bust he was pretty sure was buried under that stiff black cloth.
Maybe she’d guessed where his mind drifted, as her face colored and her eyes sharpened into narrow slits. “Your mother made sure all the trees were colored specifically for each room. The one in the living room, you’ll be happy to know, is green.” She averted her gaze and started yanking the ornaments off, pine needles dropping to the blood-red carpet, which was the only thing in this house he’d had a say in.
“So, Laura, is it?” Andy didn’t know why, but there was something about this girl who’d been working in his household since the spring, when he’d first seen her cowering and petrified in the hallway the day Jed disappeared. His cousin, whom he loved dearly, was married to Diana, a woman who haunted his dreams but would never be his. Andy and Diana had worked together to find an injured Jed, thrown from the stallion he had been training up toward blue meadow, and Diana had added to the excitement by going into labor, delivering their baby boy, Danny, Andy’s godson, that same night. He’d seen Laura in town shortly after holding a little boy’s hand, and he’d since wondered who he was. She didn’t look old enough to have children, as she appeared fresh out of high school. But, then again, he never asked, because he, unlike his father, didn’t become personal with the staff, especially attractive young things who worked for him, because that wasn’t okay. It was morally wrong, and he was having a hard time remembering what the other reason was. Ah, yes, sexual harassment.
“Yes?” The girl was staring at him with those big green eyes. He’d swear they were tinged with flecks of gold, which only illuminated her silky pale skin. She had not a spot of makeup on, but then, she didn’t need it. She had soft skin that just begged to be touched, and, frankly, Andy was tired of all those women who caked on the pounds of makeup like a mask just to hop in their cars to go to the store.
“Sorry, been distracted lately. I was just wondering how things are going, if you’re being treated okay. Do you like working here?”
Damn, that wasn’t what he really wanted to know, but he had to remind himself again that she worked for him, for his family. As he thought about it, he didn’t rightly know who had hired her, but the sizeable staff in the house and on the grounds was generally handled by Jules, the head housekeeper, a plump older lady who’d been with the family since Andy was in short pants. Andy wondered, too, if the deep lines on Jules’ face and the thick gray in her hair were a result of him and the wily pranks he had played on her as a child.
Laura dropped her gaze again, her cheeks tinting a hint of pink as she boxed up the ornaments. “Everything’s fine, sir.” She said it so abruptly and carried on as if trying to ignore him, and that irritated the hell out of him. She worked for him. She’d damn well give him her full attention, and he’d see to that now.
“Laura, you work for me. So when I ask you something, I expect your attention and a truthful answer,” he growled.
Her face colored a brighter red, and she glanced back at him warily. Andy, being as astute as he was, didn’t miss the hint of dislike that she was doing her damnedest to hide, but it was a piss-poor attempt.
“You’re right about one thing: I do work for you, but you don’t own me, and you don’t know me well enough to tell whether I gave you a truthful answer. So again, I’ll repeat it, everything’s fine, sir,” she responded in a tone that was pure business. This time, she didn’t look away as she continued to blush furiously, her lips pursed and trembling slightly as she stared up at him.
“If that’s all, sir, I’ll finish taking down these ornaments and haul the tree out of here.” Again, she stared him down with those green eyes, resembling a very enticing witch, a witch he wouldn’t mind getting to know a little better.
Andy uncrossed his arms and moved to his desk, pulling out his leather chair and sitting down. He propped both his booted feet on the sleek polished wood top of the desk, crossing his legs at the ankles, and watched her, lacing his fingers behind his head. She seemed startled, as her eyes widened. Maybe she expected him to leave.
“Carry on” was all he said.
She took a moment to collect herself before continuing to yank ornaments from the branches as if she were being timed. Pine needles flew everywhere. She was in a hurry, all right, not just to finish but to get the hell away from him.
When she bent over in that god-awful uniform, the dress rode up her thighs, and he was treated to a view of her shapely legs. She was tiny, her head wouldn’t have topped his shoulders—and nervous as hell, too. He could see her trembling. Although not obvious, it was something he sensed, just like he sensed she wasn’t thinking about the poor tree. She was just ripping those damn ornaments from that tacky tree as fast as she could, and he had no doubt she’d bolt as soon as the last one was off. For the life of him, he’d never experienced a woman running from him. This was intriguing, or it would have been if he didn’t feel so irritated by the fact that it bothered him. Women didn’t do that, not to Andy Friessen. Women found any ridiculous excuse to find a way to be around him. In town, at the store, dropping items, a purse, a bag—one woman even unbuttoned her blouse to expose a generous amount of indecent skin before crossing the street to him, putting an extra sway into each step. He’d never had a problem finding a woman for anything. The fact was that most of them bored him to tears, except Diana, his cousin’s wife. And she’d never be his.
Andy was so deep in thought, he only glimpsed Laura as she took a header into the white Christmas tree, and it came crashing down, all twelve feet of tinted fir needles, with a whoosh and scrape of wood. Something thumped hard, and glass shattered.
Andy jumped up, slamming his feet on the thick carpet as he raced around the desk. Laura was tangled in the tree. Her dress had ridden up, showing the elastic of her old-lady panties. The only thing Andy could think was what a waste they were on such a lovely round, curvy butt.
“Are you okay?” Andy reached down and lifted Laura as he would a child, and he sat her on the edge of the desk.
“Mr. Friessen, whatever is going on in here?” Jules, the older, graying, plump housekeeper who ran the estate, hurried into the library but was stopped by the downed tree. She slapped both hands to her round cheeks and shrieked. Shattered ornaments, bits of fir needles, and broken branches were strewn across the plush red carpet and the sofa table. The huge tree had knocked over one of the leather chairs and the bar that had been moved to the other side of the room to make room for it. Decanters and liquor bottles lay on their sides, the crystal shattered, liquor pooling and seeping into the carpet. Laura sat perched on the edge of Andy’s desk, white fir needles sticking out of her blond hair, though they were hard to see unless he really looked. Her neat bun had drooped, and her hair hung in an untidy mess. Her entire expression had turned into that of a lost young girl, as if she couldn’t believe what she’d done.
“Oh my God!” Caroline, his mother, shouted as she strode in with all the elegance of a queen, dressed in a deep green silk knee-length dress that hugged her every curve and showed what an attractive woman she still was. Her shoulder-length light hair was impeccably groomed, and when she stopped beside Jules, her mouth opened as if she couldn’t think of what to say. Then her shrewd gaze landed on Laura, and her pale blue eyes turned frosty and unforgiving. “What a mess you’ve made, girl.”
Even Andy was taken aback by the iciness of her tone, and he didn’t miss the way Laura cringed, like a dowdy school girl. Hell, Andy had cowered under his mother as a little boy when she’d have one of her tantrums, generally after he’d broken some useless and really expensive trinket of hers.
“I’m so sorry, ma’am. I tripped, but I’ll… c-clean this up,” she stuttered and pressed her small hand to her throat.
Andy narrowed his eyes and watched Caroline, as she appeared to just be winding up for one of her many tantrums. As far back as Andy could remember, his mother had never shown an ounce of empathy toward anyone, not even her own child. And this time was no different. She glared at Laura with as much feeling as a viper and the energy of one that was about to strike, and then she surveyed the damage, the disarray, and the mess with a swift, well-organized glance. Lifting her chin and straightening her back, she spoke clearly: “The damage will come out of your last check. Jules, see that she’s escorted off the property within the next five minutes.” She looked over to Laura. “Do not ever return. If you do, the proper authorities will be called.”
Andy jerked his gaze from his mother to Laura’s wide eyes, now filled with tears. He could tell she was struggling to hold it together, as she appeared to have trouble swallowing. “Mother, it was an accident. You’re being a bit hasty. For God’s sake, it’s just a stupid tree, and I ordered her to get it out of here. I made it clear to you before that if you want to decorate the rest of the house, it’s fine—just stay out of my office,” Andy said to his mother, but Caroline, who could be so prickly at times, stood unbending and in fact raised one eyebrow.
“Anderson, the tree stays. The girl goes. I have guests arriving for our annual Christmas party. You’ll have your office back after Christmas. Jules, the girl, get rid of her.” She literally snapped her fingers, and Jules jumped, saying, “Yes, Mrs. Friessen,” and motioning frantically at Laura.
Caroline didn’t stay but strode from the room, the heels of her silver pumps clicking across the marble floor of the grand entry and down two steps to an exquisite living room, with fancy white trim, which was decorated in peach and gold, floor-to-ceiling windows, and velvety white carpet. A twelve-foot cream-colored Christmas tree was also decorated to perfection with gold, silver, and red.
Caroline walked as if she were in a beauty contest, head high, striding to a small round dinette set where one of the maids had set a china tea service. Caroline had to know he was following her, but she ignored Andy, which was a skill she’d perfected years before. It was amazing—his mother broke the mold in snobbery, and he’d never met anyone who could look right through him and choose whether to see him quite like his mother could.
She brushed aside the white napkin that had been folded over the gold china cup, pouring tea and adding a generous amount of milk. She sipped and picked up the day timer sitting on the antique glass-top desk by the window. She never glanced up as she sat in the white leather chair that was matched to all the furnishings in the room. “Is there something you would like, Andy? As I said, I have a million things to do today to organize this household and be ready in time for the party.” She glanced up at him and pasted on one of her practiced smiles that always charmed the senators.
“Mother, I am not going to continue butting heads with you. What you did, firing Laura just now, wasn’t okay. For God’s sake, she didn’t deserve to be treated like that,” Andy stated, rather annoyed, and gestured toward the library before setting his hands on his hips. He stood in front of her desk, glaring down at her until she slowly, with the control of a seasoned politician, set down her tea and folded her hands neatly on the desk, eyeing him coolly.
“Anderson, this is my house. Therefore, the servants work for me, and I will decide how they are treated and who stays and who goes, not you.” She picked up her cup again and sipped, then gave him one of her disapproving looks. “Laura, really? Already on a first-name basis? In some ways, you really are like your father.” She said it with such disdain, and the fact that she had alluded to the possibility of him playing hanky-panky with the maid irritated the hell out of him, even though, less than ten minutes before, he had been imagining Laura dressed down in something completely indecent and doing all kinds of lewd things with him. He often wondered what kind of sixth sense his mother had for the perverse. But then, she had to, being married to his dad, Todd, who had the uncanny ability to sniff out a new mistress as soon as he tired of one, just to keep his interests alive and his bed warm. His father could be like a hound dog when he was hot on the trail of a new scent. Andy liked to think that trait was Todd’s alone, and he would ram his fist in the face of anyone who accused him of being a scoundrel, toying with women’s hearts and tossing them away when he was done. There was a very big difference between Andy having any woman he wanted and Andy being like Todd Friessen.
So he bared his teeth and growled at his mother, because he was damn tired of cleaning up after his father and putting up with his mother’s arrogance. “You know what’s absolutely amazing? How you treat people and have for years, just by snapping your fingers and expecting everyone to jump, with no care to anyone’s feelings. You and Dad are so much the same, it’s absolutely terrifying.”
“I am not like that…” Caroline sputtered, but Andy didn’t let her finish.
“You are exactly like him. You believe everyone is replaceable and have little care for anyone’s feelings. Dad, with every woman he beds. You, with the servants, how you treat everyone. You know what? I’m done cleaning up. I’ve got my own life to live.” Andy was shouting, but Caroline hardened her expression better than any snake he’d ever met. When she did that, even Andy felt a rush of worry, because the woman was the only one who could yank the rug out from under him—there was no way to know what she was thinking.
“I’ve invited Alexis Johnston. You remember, the senator’s daughter. She just graduated from Stanton, and I told the senator that you’d be her escort for the party. He’s counting on you. Don’t disappoint me, Andy. Whatever you’re doing with your maids, keep it in the closet, where it belongs.” She issued the order as if she expected him to fall into line, then picked up a stack of envelopes and started filing through them.
Andy laughed so hard that tears came to his eyes. His mother really was a piece of work. “You must have been drinking or something, because you don’t ever order me to do anything. You certainly are not fixing me up with any woman.” He ground his teeth together before growling, “Not ever, Mother.” He could feel the irritation biting the back of his neck as he strode out, and he wanted nothing more than to ram his fist into a wall.
But he didn’t, and he wasn’t even out of the room when Caroline spoke in a loud, clear voice: “Oh, I think you will, since Senator Johnson is on the very committee that your cousin Jed approached for funding for his therapeutic riding.”
Andy’s blood chilled, and all the fiery anger he had been containing moments ago was replaced with an array of worry he hadn’t experienced in a long time. Only his mother could knock him over and leave him absolutely speechless. He turned slowly to meet the sharp gleam in the woman’s ice-blue eyes. A woman who had given birth to him, a woman he had no doubt would sell him down the river for the right offer if it was in her best interest.
“Yes, the senator and I had quite a chat about how tight funding is now, with the national debt this country carries and how selective any new programming must be. It’s quite a project, really, that your cousin is starting with that Claremont he married. I mean, really, the senator can’t be providing funding to just anyone.” Her face was hard as stone, not a flicker of emotion. He wondered for a moment if she had a bone of feeling in her body.
“Diana is her name, and she was a Fulton when she married Jed. She never deserved to be treated that way as a child. Diana and Jed are good people, Mother. You stay away from them, and stay out of Jed’s business.” He ground out each word, reminding himself she was his mother and, no matter what, it was never okay to strangle one’s own mother. But he also knew his mother never made threats; she insinuated, she dug, and she destroyed those she didn’t like, and she never gave any warning. The Art of War, she could have written it. But Caroline, being Caroline, always had an agenda, and it was never wise to let her know what mattered to him, because she would use it. Andy had learned that the hard way over the years. When he was twelve, she’d gotten rid of his pony, Chantelle, the one he’d whispered all his dreams to. Just because he refused to go to some fancy boys’ school in England that her father, uncles, and brothers had all attended.
“I told the senator you’ll pick up his daughter when she flies in tomorrow. She’ll be staying here at the estate.”
This time, Andy walked away before he could respond, the fury pouring out of him with each step. Back in the library, two servants were righting the downed Christmas tree, and another scrawny maid in a sack-like dress was on her knees, cleaning up the shattered glass and decanters. Another one was scrubbing the liquor seeping into the carpet.
“Get out!” Andy roared, and each of them stopped what they were doing and left.
Andy was breathing hard as if he’d run across the estate. He jammed his fingers in his hair as he paced and froze in front of the large window, watching as Laura was escorted down the front driveway.
Get THE AWAKENING now!
Jed always told me he’d take care of everything. And I believed him, I trusted him, I love him.
—“Wish there were truly men in the world like the Friessen Men.” Reviewer Sara
—“This is an emotionally charged well written portrayal of a couple faced with a tragedy and the secrets that could destroy them.” – Rita Herron, Author
—“The whole Friessen family show up in this story, and it was good to catch up with them all. The author really knows how to tug at your heart strings. Jed has a really tough time of it in this book, but I won’t say more as I don’t want to spoil the story.” – Loves Reading
—“ This was an excellent story, emotional and tragic, with a deeply heartfelt love story. – Melody
In SECRETS, for Diana, Jed was the first man she trusted. He was the first man to show her what true love was. He was the father of her child, the one man she could always count on. Until one spring day Jed falls from the roof of the barn and Diana’s world as she knows it begins to unravel.
Diana is forced to face two things, her husband’s secrets, and what if… there was no Jed.
Jed Friessen slid back the covers and slipped out of bed, his bare feet hitting the cold wood floor and rousing him further from his restlessness. He’d tossed and turned most of the night, as he had the previous night, and the night before that. The clock now ticked two in the morning, and it was pitch black outside as he stood naked, resting his arm against the bedroom window, squinting at the shadowed outline of the barn and horse paddock. Every stall in the barn was full, six horses tucked in for the night. His eyes burned as he stared into darkness, and though he could see nothing amiss, he sensed an impending darkness that just didn’t sit right. He raked his hand through his sleep-tousled brown wavy hair. It was on the longish side, and even his wife, Diana, had been nagging him to get a haircut, another thing to do—something else on his plate.
A horse nickered from the barn. Another answered softly in a way that said everything was fine. Maybe they knew he was watching, wondering; Jed could still feel that something wasn’t right, and he didn’t know exactly what it was. Maybe it was the worry plaguing his mind that wouldn’t ease. It could also be the fact he’d been working day and night for months, readying this place for Echo Springs Equine Center, the official grand opening. It would be something different from just the trail rides and pack trips. This was for Diana and her need to help others. He’d struggled past every single hurdle tossed in his path, from overpriced lumber, to his grant being yanked, to cancelled horseback riding pack trips that dried up his income stream through the summer and fall.
It was a simple dream. Diana’s dream. His wife, whom he loved more than his next breath. A horse facility specializing in bringing a special needs child together with a horse, because Diana believed, as did Jed, that allowing a child with special needs to learn skills through a connection with a horse provided a different advantage from your average therapy. It didn’t replace the children’s much-needed therapy, but it complimented and went hand in hand with it, centering the children, bringing balance into their life. And Jed would do anything to make sure his wife’s dream came true.
Diana, his redheaded beauty and the mother of his ten-month-old baby boy, Danny, lay sleeping in the small double bed. She was the most stunning woman he’d ever met, a woman who had no idea how beautiful she was. And no idea how broke they were. The thing was, Jed was determined to provide for his family, on his terms, in his way, and only with his money, which wasn’t much. After breaking his leg training that young squirrelly stallion, Jed had lost the spring and some of the early summer revenue from trail rides and pack trips. That money had always been enough to set him for the winter so he wasn’t living hand to mouth, and it would have helped with some of the start-up costs.
Diana had a law degree and had tried to set up a law practice in North Lakewood, but the people still didn’t give her the same trust they’d given some old white-haired fart. The only thing she’d managed to pick up, work wise, was a handful of wills and minor contracts, which amounted to squat. Besides, Jed made it clear to her that he wanted Danny raised at home by his mother, not stuffed into some daycare. They were a family, and he had no intention of seeing his wife in passing as she rushed off, working on some case that would drag her from him and Danny. It was selfish on his part, and he knew it, but he also knew Diana craved a family and deep roots more than her career.
Jed had bought this ranch outside North Lakewood a few years back at auction, and for a damn good price. But then he’d had to rebuild and fix just about everything in the house, the barn, and the three cabins he used for summer guests who booked horseback riding trips each year. He wasn’t wealthy, but his family was. Jed was the only son to not take a plum dime from his father. Ever since he left home, he’d had no desire to take a handout, even though his father said it was his birthright. His two brothers, Brad and Neil, and his cousin, Andy, accepted the wealth handed to them in property and money. Jed didn’t begrudge them for their easy lives, but he just didn’t believe he could look himself squarely in a mirror and call himself a man if he was taking money from his family. A man stood on his own two feet, made his own way in this world, and that was how Jed chose to live his life.
Even as he struggled now, he couldn’t bring himself to call his father for help, because to him that would be an admission that he had failed. So Jed had spent every spare minute turning over every rock to find the money to expand the barn, buy the extra tack, saddles, and horses, all at a bargain, thankfully. Except it had left him with nothing in his bank account and hours and hours of restless worry every night, and that was after the grant they’d been promised from the state had mysteriously disappeared. When he called the funding unit after getting the politically correct letter, they’d said funding had been cut for all areas for special needs. It was the economy, they said; but Jed learned that with governments, the first cuts always happened to the special needs, because they were the one sector of the population who didn’t have the voice, the money and the time to fight back. They were and always would be an easy target. This knowledge also added to his irritation, like a sliver stuck under his nail so far that he couldn’t get it out.
Jed hadn’t told Diana about losing the grant. He knew she would have been crushed and would have insisted on picking up legal work, anything to help him out. Except the problem was Jed didn’t believe a woman should ever support a man. That was his job, and as of late he wasn’t doing so great. All they needed was cash, so as long as the students who’d signed up for the first classes next week all showed and paid in full for their six-week class, he’d have enough to pay the mortgage, buy feed for the horses and food for them. But they still needed to advertise, and there was the phone bill, medical insurance….
“Jed, what are you doing up?” Diana called out as she leaned on her elbow. The duvet slipped and exposed a hint of her creamy white breast as she sat up. She brushed back her long mussed hair with hands that brought him so much pleasure and blinked her tired, bright blue eyes. “Come back to bed.”
Jed slid back under the covers and pulled her against him, running his hand down her slightly rounded belly.
Diana linked her finger with his. “Hmm, don’t think I don’t know you’ve had trouble sleeping.” She rolled over and touched his cheek. “I don’t need any light to see you’re worried about something. What is it?”
“Go back to sleep. Just thought I heard something, is all.” He brushed back her hair and kissed the tip of her nose.
“You’re working too hard, but I think it’s more than that. I don’t need you to protect me. I need you to share what you’re thinking, what you’re worried about.”
Jed rolled onto his back, rested his arm over his forehead, and sighed. Diana sometimes just wouldn’t let things go. “It’s fine, Diana. It’s my job to look after you and protect you. What kind of husband would I be if I couldn’t do that?” He realized too late he sounded sharp, abrupt, because next he knew, Diana sat up and slid her legs over the side of the bed.
“Diana… where are you going?” He reached over and grabbed her arm, feeling her tense up.
“Jed, I’m tired of you hiding things. And don’t think I haven’t noticed the stress this new horse center is putting on you. Is there something more I can do to help? What else has to be done? Maybe we should hire help.”
Hire help! He couldn’t believe she wanted to hire help. He ground his jaw, as that was the last thing they were going to do. “We don’t need help. I’m almost done, just got to finish the roof, and then, when we start that first class next week, everything will be fine.” And it would be, because the few who were interested and had signed up would be paying next week.
Diana slid around and rested her head on Jed’s chest, and then her chin as she gazed up at him. “You’re sure that’s all?”
Jed rested his hand on the back of her head. “Next week everything will be fine. Let’s get some sleep so we’re not both tired tomorrow.”
“I could help you get back to sleep.” Diana slid her hand up his chest and drew circles with her fingernail around his nipple. She pressed a kiss into his navel, and then, trailing down, she pressed kisses lower until he pushed his head back into the pillow and felt himself sinking into a mind-blowing bliss that only Diana could give him.
She traced her fingers up his thigh and followed lower, tracing kisses to his knee and over to the other side. Jed sucked in a breath, drowning in his desire, and slid his own hands down her back, pulling her up and rolling her over onto her back.
Danny whimpered from his bedroom in their small two-bedroom home. Jed groaned. “Your timing sucks, Danny,” he muttered.
Diana patted his arm to move him off her and started to get up.
“No, I’ll get him” he said. “He may just need changing.” Jed slid out of bed, the icy floor cooling his desire.
“Bring him back with you if he won’t go back to sleep. We’ll snuggle him between us. He loves that,” Diana called out.
“Let’s hope he goes back to sleep.” Jed picked up Danny, who was now sitting in his crib, rubbing his tired eyes. “You’re soaking wet.” He kissed his head, his cheeks, and breathed in the fresh baby smell of his baby boy and changed him into a dry diaper and sleeper. Jed wrapped him in his blanket and sat in the rocker in the corner of the room, gently rocking him until he fell back asleep. And when Jed climbed back in bed, Diana too had fallen back to sleep. But not Jed, as he lay beside his wife, her warmth pressed against him, and he continued to worry he’d let his family down.
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“Just when you think the story can’t get any hotter, you’re sadly mistaken.”
[_ — “Another hot Friessen Man. It is a pleasure watching Andy learn how to be a real husband and father.” -Reviewer, Miranda _]
—“This definitely proves money doesn’t buy love. What a suspenseful love story.[_ ” -Reviewer, April _]
—“Loved it !!! Better than the others… This book is one of my favorites of the series. It’s a must read series.”Elizabeth Lopez
—“I loved this book as much as I loved the ones before. All of the books about the Friessen men are great. Hard to put down. I can’t wait for the next one to come out.”Petra Byers
—“I was blown away by this book. Loved it. Was not a huge Andy fan in the beginning but I really do like him now.”Locabear
In RUNAWAY, Andy Friessen has been looking for his wife for six months. After Laura walked out with her son, no goodbye, with no money and leaving everything Andy bought for them behind.
But he knew she’d come crawling back, she needed him. After all he married her to protect her. And any woman would give their right arm to be his wife.
And then for six months his conscience poked at what an ass he’d been. Until he’s served…for divorce.
Even though Andy is the first man she’s every truly loved, and the first to break her heart, Laura plans to never see him again. After all, to him she was nothing but a nuisance, someone he could order around, just another woman to warm his bed at night.
But Laura is hurt and she’s thought nothing through including the fact she’s keeping the biggest surprise from him yet:, and when Andy finds out … all hell will break loose.
Jed & Diana
Runaway to[_ The Unexpected Storm_] bridge short story
Diana and Jed are expecting a baby, a week ago. And when this overtired couple finally reach their breaking point, it’s Jed’s mother, Becky, who steps in with a creative solution.
“Are you Andy Friessen?”
Andy didn’t bother to glance up from where he was bent over the hoof, picking mud and gravel from his three-year-old buckskin, Ladystar. Andy dug out the last dried chunk of mud, wanting to snap at whoever was bothering him. “Damn kid I hired didn’t clean out her hoof after riding her,” he muttered. He put her hoof down, and she stomped and pranced as Andy pressed his hand to her hind quarter. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and picked up her front hoof, starting to dig around the frog, picking out all the dried mud. Bent over as he was, Andy could see a pair of blue jeans on some man who was standing behind his horse. “I wouldn’t stand there if I were you,” he said, setting down the mare’s hoof and standing up. “It’s a good way to get yourself kicked.”
A short man wearing shades and a tan sports coat stepped sideways around a pile of fresh manure. “I’m looking for Andy Friessen,” the man said.
“Yeah, well, you found him. What do you want?” he snapped, irritated because all he wanted to do was saddle the horse, head onto the trail, and ride for the next few hours without one more person asking him another stupid question. He just wanted some peace.
“You’ve been served.” The man slapped court papers in his hand and then hurried the other way as if Andy was going to chase him down and pound the crap out of him.
“Hey, what the hell is this?” Andy barked at the man now jogging up the driveway.
Andy swore as he flipped open the document and read Petition for Divorce in bold black letters. Laura was suing him for divorce! He couldn’t believe it. Hell, any woman would give her right arm to be married to him, to have his name. As he read on, he felt like ice shards were ripping through his veins as he saw Diana Friessen’s name written at the bottom as the lawyer of record. She was his cousin Jed’s wife and the one woman he’d probably go to his grave loving. How could she do this to him and not call him? Did Jed know?
He hadn’t heard from Laura in over six months. She’d walked out the door without saying goodbye to him, taking her son, Gabriel, with her and leaving everything he’d bought for them behind. Andy had been furious at first. Hell, he’d even tracked her down to where she’d been staying with the old cook, Aida, who still worked for Andy and his family. But Laura had refused to speak with him, and Aida sent him away and asked him not to come back again. Six months ago, he had expected Laura to return home to the estate with her tail tucked between her legs. After all, she had no money, no family, and no resources, with a little boy to feed, clothe, and shelter. She needed him.
But she didn’t come back. And she didn’t phone.
Then he worried. He’d married her to protect her when she’d been forced to live in her car after she couldn’t pay rent because his mother had fired her when she worked as a maid—all because she’d knocked over a Christmas tree. When the sheriff had found her living in her car, the authorities took Gabriel and stuck him into a foster home that wasn’t even fit to care for a dog. Andy had stepped in and married her to help her get Gabriel back. Why had he done it? Because the whole messed-up situation that had spiralled from bad to worse had been his fault.
As Andy read through the black print and legalese, he fought back a rising tide of anger and disbelief. Well, to hell with her. She appreciated nothing he’d done for her. What should he expect from someone so young and ungrateful and…? He stopped cold when an icy chill raced through him as he realized she’d asked for nothing from the divorce, not one red cent from him.
Andy came from one of the wealthiest families in the county; she could easily have asked for a fortune and gotten it even though they’d been married less than a year. Andy knew she wasn’t a fool, and deep down he knew she was no gold digger. She was hurt and vulnerable and innocent, and he hadn’t treated her with a lick of respect. The fact was that he was having a hard time admitting what a prick he’d been. He was ashamed of the way he’d taken charge of her life, of Gabriel’s, without sharing anything of his life with her.
Well, to hell with her. He would just wash his hands of her and say good riddance. He crumpled the papers and went to stuff them in his pocket, then stopped when he glimpsed the back door open. Aida, the old cook, stepped out of the staff entrance of the vast Friessen mansion, carrying her coat and purse, having finished her work for the day.
Andy rested his arm against Ladystar’s side. The mare nickered and then stomped her hoof impatiently, but Andy patted her flank. “Just give me a minute, girl.”
He stepped away. His feet had obviously had a mind of their own, because the last thing he should have been doing was exactly what he was doing, making a beeline straight to Aida, cutting her off before she reached her old compact car.
“Aida, please tell me where she is. I know she moved out of your place,” Andy called. He strode toward Aida, really digging in to each step, swatting the papers in the air as if taking out a few flies here and there.
For a short woman in her seventies, Aida was quick as she darted around him. Andy spun around and jogged after her. This wasn’t the average stroll he took when walking with a woman.
Aida yanked the hairnet off her short, graying bob, reaching behind her back to pull on her apron strings. “Andy Friessen, don’t keep asking me, because I won’t tell you.” She jerked open the driver’s door and tossed her apron and purse in. Andy gripped the top of the door so she couldn’t slam it closed in his face again, as she’d done yesterday, last week, and every time he’d tried to talk to her after work. In the kitchen, she would ignore him and then order him out. When he didn’t comply, she would threaten to quit.
Andy couldn’t blame Laura for leaving him, really. After all, they never had a chance to get to know each other. There was no burning love between them, the kind where he would count the minutes—the seconds until he could see his wife again; the kind that would distract him and drive him crazy, his whole being sizzling in anticipation of that one touch, that smile, or just hearing her voice, the kind of deep love that would touch him inside his soul so that the thought of never seeing or hearing her again would shred his every last bit of good sense and he would question his will to live without her. No, there was none of that with Laura. He did, however, feel responsible for her even now, with these cursed papers burning a hole in his hand. Just what the hell was the matter with him?
Maybe it was because she was so young. She’d just turned twenty-one last week, and even though he hadn’t seen her or heard from her, he had found himself buying her a gift—a solid gold locket. Of course, it remained wrapped upstairs in their room along with all of the other things he’d bought her. He had bought the gift on a whim, as he hadn’t seen Laura or spoken to her since that day outside of the Seattle Hospital where Jed was recovering from surgery, when Andy had been a total ass. In hindsight, he’d love to go back and kick himself in the butt, to apologize, to not walk away and leave her standing there alone. She was honest, hardworking, and her only sin had been getting pregnant at fifteen with Gabriel and being cast into the street by her judgmental parents, who were too worried about how the situation would look and how it would influence Laura’s younger brothers. Andy had never met her parents, and didn’t plan on it, but he still couldn’t soften his heart toward them.
He swung the paper in the air again. “She filed for divorce. I was just served. I need to talk to her, Aida.”
The old woman stared straight ahead and said nothing.
“She asked for nothing, Aida. How is she paying rent? Where is she getting money from? Does she have a job? What about Gabriel?”
“Andy, let go of my door.” Aida stared up at him with her plump, wrinkled face and her gray eyes, which were etched with tiny red lines as if they’d seen every good and bad thing in life.
Andy yanked out his wallet. “I need you to give her some money. How is she going to look after herself?” He pulled out all of the bills, knowing there were only a thousand dollars there. He handed the stack to Aida, and she stared at the bills as if they were dirty. “Aida, did you give her the money I sent before? I know she didn’t cash the check I gave you,” Andy said, pleading.
She pursed her pale, wrinkled lips. She didn’t look away, though she did appear to be considering what to say to Andy. Andy had no doubt she’d go to her grave without parting with one secret of where Laura was hiding.
“I gave her the cash, but do not ask again where the girl is, as I won’t tell you. I promised her, Andy. She doesn’t want to see you again,” Aida said. However, bless her heart, she did fold the cash and tuck it into a side pocket of her purse before folding her plump body into the compact car.
“Aida, I want to see her and Gabriel. Could you ask her to meet me. Please?” Andy squatted down so that he didn’t have to look down on the old cook.
“Andy, she has a right to be angry with you. You treated her horribly and made her feel as if she was a nuisance to have around. You may have married her to protect her and Gabriel, but the way you talked to her after you were married, it was as if she still worked for you. And she was a nice bed warmer, too, hey?”
Andy blushed, which was something he didn’t do. Aida was right. He’d bedded her, but he hadn’t shared one aspect of his life with her. Time did have a way of opening his eyes, especially when she’d taken nothing. He was worried about how she was managing to pay for anything just to survive, let alone feed her and Gabriel.
“Aida, I am a bastard, I admit, but I’m worried about her. Telling her I’m sorry doesn’t even begin to make up for what I’ve done. I know words mean nothing, but please just ask her to meet me. How am I supposed to make things right if she won’t see me?”
Aida gripped the steering wheel. She let out a heavy sigh. “Andy Friessen, I will talk to Laura, but I won’t make you any promises.”
Andy reached in and patted her arm because he sensed he was getting through to the tough old bird. If he could convince Aida he was sincere and win her over, she would be his best ally and his best hope to reach Laura. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Aida, and thank you. Please tell her I’ll go wherever she wants to meet, at any time, please…” Aida shut her door and Andy stood behind one of the ranch hand’s pickups, watching as Aida drove away down the long, paved driveway, beside the manicured lawns and gardens, out to the highway.
His cell phone rang, and he yanked it from his back pocket. “Andy Friessen,” he answered, distractedly watching the now empty driveway.
“Hey, Andy. This is Brian. I’ve got some news on that wife of yours,” answered a familiar voice. Brian Rivers was a private detective that Andy had hired a few months back to keep an eye on Laura.
“If it has anything to do with her filing for divorce, I already know. I was just served by some law school dropout.”
There was a clatter and brief silence on the other end. “No. I didn’t know that. Well, how about that? So how much is she trying to bleed you for?”
“Not a damn thing, so I want to know where she’s getting her money from. Is she still in that old house at the edge of town?” Andy watched Ladystar, who was tied to the rail outside the barn. The feisty thing was getting impatient, stomping her front hoof and pawing at the ground.
“Well, that’s why I’m calling. She moved. Your cousin and that pretty redheaded wife of his were there, and they picked her up. She doesn’t have a car. She’s staying out at their place. They built a studio above their barn and I’m pretty sure they moved her in.”
Andy remembered Jed telling him just last week about the new studio. Hell, he’d even seen it; a cozy open loft with a kitchen, bathroom, living room, and bedroom all in one area. He thought Jed had told him it was for a manager he was hiring.
Then he wondered… No, it couldn’t be. Laura was the manager and working for his cousin? Jed wouldn’t do that to him and not say anything. But then, as the reality sank in and the stiff white paper burned a hole in his hand, Andy remembered that Diana, Jed’s wife, had filed this petition, and not one of them had said squat. “I gotta go,” he said.
“But, wait, don’t you want to know—” Brian tried to interrupt.
“Not now, Brian. I’ve got to go. I have a cousin to visit.”
Get RUNAWAY now!
—“You can’t help but fall in love with Neil and Candy. Neil is Candy’s knight in shining armor” – Reviewer – April
—“It is nice to know that a story can be so powerful that a man can consider a woman’s feelings and show her that love can conquer all and be lover’s and friends” – Reviewer – Theresa
He can have any woman, except the one he wants.
In THE UNEXPECTED STORM, Candy McRae is barely making ends meet. She’s heartbroken and alone with her horses and baby donkey living hand to mouth on the most sought after oceanfront property. Everyone wants it, including the wealthy hunk who owns the estate next door. And when he offers to buy it she refuses. His first mistake was asking her out. His second was not meaning it. Even though he could solve all her problems, she’d rather sell to the devil himself.
Smart and sexy Neil Friessen is quite the catch. He’s not only drop dead gorgeous with a body women dream of. He’s wealthy, stubborn, arrogant and thoughtful. He attracts women, and million dollar deals, and plans to build a resort on the property next to his. He has the plans, the money, and the resources. The only thing standing between him and his sweet deal is the dark haired beauty who owns the property he wants.
When a storm forces everyone to evacuate Candy refuses to leave her animals, and her property. But it’s Neil who shows up, Neil who rescues her. Except by the time he finds her, vulnerable and hurt, they can’t get out. Neil is alone with the one woman he’s always wanted. And he’ll have to choose between this dark haired beauty that fills his dreams every night, and building his million dollar resort.
Every once in a while, your heart has a mind of its own. It aches, it weeps, but there are days it soars and pumps with so much joy that you want to shout out to everyone just how wonderful everything is: The sun is perfect, the stars have all lined up, and you feel absolutely mind-blowingly freaking fantastic. The heart can also be responsible for you doing the most stupid, dumb-ass things ever, such as sliding your arms around the first good-looking babe you see and leaning in to taste her sweet lips with an out-of-this-world kiss that zings rockets right through your body, blowing off the top of your head, further proving you’ve checked your brain in to the nearest broom closet.
Maybe that was why Neil Friessen was standing barefoot, his shirt wide open, with the stinging outline of the sexiest hand imprinted on his face, after being slapped by the dark-haired babe he’d just kissed. She was drop-dead gorgeous, even with those smoky brown eyes sizzling with the fires of hell and shooting sparks his way. She had the most stunning set of long dark lashes, full rosy lips, a narrow nose, cheekbones that shaped her oval face, and a strong jaw. My God, this woman had him, Neil Friessen, a tall, “smart and sexy”—the exact words his sister-in-law Diana had used to describe him—man taking a nosedive in the dirt like some fumbling twenty-year-old. And Neil was definitely not fumbling or twenty.
Neil always had women hitting on him anywhere he went, and he loved it. It stoked his ego and made him feel damn good, not to mention he loved the ladies, especially those with mile-long legs and thick dark hair that had that bedroom look, as if he’d just run his fingers through those luscious locks. That was the babe standing before him on the sandy banks of the Atlantic Ocean, about thirty miles northwest of Cancun on the Yucatan Peninsula, where the forest met the ocean and where her horse, a beautiful smoky gray Azteca gelding, was ground tied on the sandy beach.
It wasn’t as if he didn’t know who she was: Candy McCrae, the daughter of Randy McCrae. Her father had bought this spectacular piece of paradise, two hundred acres of beach and rainforest, a property Neil had been trying to get his hands on for five years. The property backed onto the ten-thousand-acre parcel that Neil owned with his father, Rodney, and it was the missing key to their own paradise, the exact spot where Neil planned to build his five-star resort.
“Just what was that?” she spit out, and he could see the way she struggled to breathe, as if she’d just gone three rounds in a fight.
“Sorry. Lost my head is all, Candy. My brother Jed and his wife had a baby. Just got the news.” Neil held up his cell phone as if to show her he was telling the truth.
She didn’t cry or yell. What she did was fist her hands as if she was going to come at him again and pop him in the mouth this time, not that he didn’t deserve it. But, hell, he’d wanted to kiss Candy as far back as he could remember. The trouble was that she hated him. No, it wasn’t hate—it was the fact that she wished he’d die some horrible, painful death. He was pretty sure those had been her exact words when he asked her out for dinner two years ago and then a second time when he saw her in Cancun, getting supplies, eight months ago. That time, she had added in the “Drop dead” look she’d mastered just for him, and she did so every time since he tried to talk to her.
“Let me get this straight. Because you get news of something great happening in your life, your family, it gives you the right to trespass on my property, sneak up behind me, grab me, and kiss me. Or is there something else you’re planning to do to ruin my life?” she snapped.
Her words were the second slap Neil had gotten in the past five minutes, and then it hit him: the vile, disgusting realization that she thought he, Neil Friessen, who could have any woman he wanted, was trying to force himself on her.
Hell, no! It was the first time he actually stuttered and backed up, waving his hands in front of him. “No, no, I don’t think so. You got this all wrong, Candy.” Then he rammed his fingers through his thick brown hair and took another step back. “Look, Candy, I am sorry. I just saw you sitting there….” Had he lost his mind? He almost said he’d wanted to taste her lips and take them for a test drive for as far back as he could remember. She’d looked so lost and innocent, sitting there in the sand, when he stepped over the dune and saw her. “Well, you stood up, and when you turned to face me, you had a look on your face as if you wanted me to kiss you. I kind of lost my head.”
Neil didn’t think she could get any angrier, but he was wrong. Her mouth gaped, and she appeared to lean closer, as if she was getting ready to blast him. Then she shut her mouth and crossed her arms tightly to her chest, tapping her foot.
“I was excited, and, my God, you were just there….”
“So you thought you could, what, have some fun with me? A romp in the sand and then send me on my way?” She gave him her back and stormed toward her horse, a few yards away.
“No, Candy, wait. I was actually on my way over to talk to you when I got this call. Look, I’m sorry.” This was not going well. Neil was a master at working people, wooing women, and getting what he wanted. He’d always had a silver tongue, and he knew just the right thing to say and the perfect time to say it. He could always make everyone feel good about themselves, even when life dumped shit all around him. He saw the good in everything, including this feisty broad who stared at him as if he were a disease she had no intention of catching. Neil’s sharp-witted tongue and nimble mind, which he counted on to talk him out of this mess with Candy, were, for the first time in his life, blank.
“Look, I want to talk to you about your property. I heard you went to Francisco Kan and asked him for help, offered him part ownership of your land, your property here.” Neil swept his hand out in a dramatic gesture, but she stopped and spun around, planting both fists on her slim, sexy hips, which were exactly where his eyes went. She wore light khaki pants with a drawstring tie and a short sleeveless tee that showed her belly button and pale, flat abs.
“What? How the hell would you know anything about that?” She smacked her hand to her forehead as if she had realized something. “Why, that son of a bitch! Just what the hell did Francisco do, go running to you after he turned me down?”
“Is that what he did, turn you down?” Neil couldn’t believe she wouldn’t have come to him. When she didn’t answer him, instead staring at him in a way that let him know she had shut down, he was certain something more was going on. He knew she struggled, and he didn’t know how she made ends meet. When Francisco, a short, dark-haired Mayan in his late fifties, had come to him that morning and mentioned in his very calm way, without disclosing whatever it was that Candy was trying to hide, that she had come to him to ask him to invest in her property, well, Neil had decided to go and see Candy.
He should have known better, except he couldn’t help worrying about her. He cared, even though she’d kicked him in the nuts one time after another, and he couldn’t figure out what he’d done that had her loathing him. It bothered him, and he’d lost sleep over it, because she was the one woman who could push every single one of his buttons, turning bubbly and sharp-witted Neil Friessen into a raving lunatic.
“Look, I just want to talk to you. Would you come back here?”
“What do you want?” She made no move toward him. In fact, he could see every muscle in her arm tighten, and if he dared to step any closer to her, she’d probably deck him again.
“Candy, I’ve made you several generous offers to buy your property, and you’ve turned me down each time. If you’re looking for a partner, I’d love to sit down with you and discuss it….”
“Oh, I just bet you would.” She cut him off, grinding her teeth and spitting out each word. “Well, let me tell you something, Neil Friessen: I don’t want you as a partner. I would rather go into business with the devil himself than have anything to do with the likes of you. Now get the hell off my property.” She jabbed her finger angrily to the tree line and the path he’d taken to walk there.
“What the hell did I ever do to you, Candy? I can’t for the love of God figure you out, woman,” Neil barked. As he scrambled to think, he was sure he’d never done anything inappropriate. He liked her, he wanted to date her, and she fascinated him.
Candy narrowed those smoldering eyes, and this time he knew he’d get blasted. “You are a piece of work, Neil Friessen. You destroy people, you buy people, and you walk all over them if you don’t get what you want. You use them and toss them away as if they’re nothing, but you won’t ever get that chance with me.”
Candy stomped toward her horse, picking up the lead rope and looping it around his neck. His long mane appeared freshly brushed, and Neil wondered why she never trimmed it. They were both wild in a beautiful, mesmerizing way, completely in sync with each other, reading and anticipating one another’s movements. He could actually picture the feeling of love between them. She mounted easily, riding bareback, and then turned her horse, staring down at Neil with the same blazing anger. It was so intense that even her horse sidestepped and pranced.
“If I find you on my property again, I’ll shoot you.” She kicked her horse and took off in a canter down the sandy beach to where her small two-bedroom home had been built just inside the shelter of the trees.
Neil watched, completely dumbstruck by her. His unbuttoned cotton shirt rustled in the breeze, and he rubbed his hand over light brown chest hair, wondering what the hell she thought he’d done. He spit on the ground. “Well, good riddance.”
He was so done. He had come over here to offer his help, and she had practically spit on him again. Well, no more. He was so over her. He wasn’t a masochist, so why did he keep acting as if he were? It was time he moved on and stopped thinking about her and allowing his guts to get so knotted up over her. He’d date other women, sure one of the two dozen women who’d been flirting with him for months would distract him. At least they appreciated who he was and what he had to offer. He was a fine catch, and he just knew one of them would interest him. Tonight would be the first night of the rest of his life.
Candy spurred her horse on. “Come on, Sable!” she shouted. She leaned forward, racing over the thick white sand. The salty air mixed with the sound of the waves crashing against the shore, and she wanted to run and run. Her horse was responding, flying along with her. “Whoa, easy, boy.” She sat heavier to slow the horse until he walked, and he snorted, breathing heavily just like she was.
They were completely in sync, understanding each other, her and her beautiful gray horse. He had reacted to her jolt of anger at Neil Friessen, her fury, her rage, and she knew better than to allow her blood to boil and her every emotion to spin out of control around her horse.
Being around Neil was an emotional roller coaster. She wanted to hate him, but every time she saw him, his presence shot fire right through her. She tried to tell herself it was because he was the best-looking man in these parts. Attraction and sexuality oozed out of him in a boy-next-door, best-friend kind of way. He had silky short brown hair and a strong, powerful face that reminded her of all those hot movie stars, but his eyes were the color of whiskey, endless, always dancing with a spark of light. Every time she saw him, she couldn’t shake the image of him looking down on her in bed, and then she’d be furious at herself for going down that road—even though he had a body she’d love to explore, with tight abs and pecs under shirts that fit tastefully against his biceps. Lord, with those broad shoulders, it was clear the man worked out, but he probably owned some fancy home gym with a personal trainer and all.
She pulled up to the corral where she kept her horses and slid off Sables’ back, hitting the ground. He was sixteen hands high, a big boy, all solid muscle, but he was sweet and loyal, and he always knew what she was thinking. He nuzzled her cheek, and she kissed his muzzle and patted his shoulder before loosely tying him to the corral fence.
As she brushed her horse down softly, she had to remind herself that Neil Friessen was just playing with her, and it hurt like hell. She wanted to be loved, not toyed with, and she knew the only reason he was nice to her and was pursuing her, all flirty and interested, was because he wanted her land. The first time he asked her out, her dad had still been alive, and he warned her that they were sitting on prime real estate and that the Friessens wanted their property. Going out with Neil would only get her heart broken, because he had an agenda. Her dad had said that Neil would do anything to get their property, even pretend an interest in Candy. She’d listened thankfully, even though it stung beyond belief, because she wanted his interest to be genuine. The last time she saw Neil, he’d just finished with some blonde, carrying her bag and setting it in a cab, hugging her. Then he’d spotted Candy. Candy had been stunned, because she couldn’t believe he had the gall to ask her on a date less than five minutes after he’d been with another woman. Although she was proud of what she’d said, telling him to drop dead, she really wanted to hate him. It would be easier, and her heart would stop flip-flopping from her toes to her head every time she saw him. Even today she’d been embarrassed by how much she wanted that kiss, which was why she’d slapped him as hard as she could. She had known he was there, striding behind her, and when she stood up, her heart had flipped a switch, as if lightning zinged through her when his lips touched hers.
She touched her swollen lips, still burning, and licked the taste of Neil from them. It was so much like the sweetest dessert she anticipated and loved, and she wanted seconds. But she couldn’t have firsts, and she couldn’t have seconds, so she watched her horse prancing in the corral with her two other horses, a dark thoroughbred and a palomino, and she focused on her problems, wondering what she’d have to sell next to buy their feed, to pay the farrier and the local vet. There, it had worked, and she felt like absolute crap.
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—“I love the alpha males and their ever strong headed wives. The love hard and strong but forever. Don’t miss out on how Neil and Candy finally get their happily ever after.” – Reviewer, Janet
—“Loved the deep family bond she gave all the characters even when the plots took them to fighting they stuck together. Something we don’t find often today.” – Reviewer, Pebbles
[_ —“Read the book- bittersweet but sometimes love has to go through fire to temper it and make it stronger.” – Reviewer, AVTanner _]
—“It has heartbreak like you wouldn’t believe but most importantly, love that will have you reading it over and over. I got this one the day after I first read Neil and Candy’s story. It really is a beautiful book.” – Reviewer, Ramona
A man who’s always planned everything, and a woman who’s struggled alone—The Wedding will change their lives forever.
In THE WEDDING, Candy McCrae has everything she could ever want, and she’s about to marry the one man she’s always loved. He has money, he’s powerful, he’s drop-dead gorgeous, and he has a very close, attentive family with babies, nieces, and nephews running everywhere. For the first time, Candy has someone making decisions for her. So why is she so nervous?
Candy is the one woman Neil has always wanted, a woman who doesn’t care about flash and glitter and status, and he can’t get her to the altar fast enough. He has plans for his bride-to-be. He wants a family, lots of children, and for her to be a part of his world, with all its money, power, and million-dollar deals. He’ll look after her so she’ll never have to struggle again, and he’s planned and organized everything.
She goes along with it until the wedding, when she takes Neil’s hand to be his wife, and what she’s refused to share will change their lives forever.
“Wake up, sleepyhead.” Neil slid his hand under the satiny sheet and over the inside of Candy McCrae’s thigh. He was a rascal in the morning, and Candy was tired and could still feel the effects of being well loved the night before.
She rubbed her knuckles over her tired eyes and pressed into the corners, wiping the sleep away, then shoved her long, dark hair back. She hissed when he slid his hand higher and then pressed a kiss into her bare shoulder. “Neil, oh my God. I’m tired. What are you doing?” She gasped as his touch sent a jolt of pleasure through her.
He moved under the covers, touching her skin to skin, his hand skimming over her rounded cheeks and then across her flat stomach, up over her breasts. His touch was like a brand, saying to her without uttering one sound, “You’re mine, my woman, and every part of you is mine alone to touch.” She loved it! What woman wouldn’t?
Candy tried to roll over to face Neil, but he stopped her with his body as he cupped her breast and pulled her against him. She slid her hand over the flexed muscles of his thighs, rubbing hair that was a mix of soft and masculine. He wouldn’t let her turn to face him.
“Neil, I don’t know if I can stand this. Let me touch you,” she said, gasping when he nipped the back of her neck.
“Soon enough, but I mean to have you and taste every part of you,” he murmured before running his tongue over her earlobe and nipping it with his teeth. Before she knew it, he’d rolled her over and draped her legs over his shoulder, sliding into her. The light from the morning sun highlighted gold flecks in the deep brown of his short hair, which was amazingly neat for a man who had spent most of the night inside Candy, doing all kinds of things to her that had her screaming out his name half a dozen times. It was a wonder she could still walk; the man was insatiable, and she stared into his brown eyes, which appeared to simmer the color of whiskey and burned into her as if he could read everything she tried to hide.
He held her head between his hands, pinning her down to have his way with her again. She couldn’t move as he slid in and out, holding himself just above her, watching her, and she knew he could do anything to her and she’d let him. He loved it when she called out his name, and he’d wait until he knew she was nearly breaking apart before he’d tell her, “Say my name. Who do you belong to?”
She could never hold back. She couldn’t stop herself as she screamed out, “Neil, oh my God, I’m yours!”
He filled what felt like every part of her, possessing her in a way that made her think she’d go mad, and in that same moment she knew that if he never touched her again, something inside her would slowly die.
After a moment, maybe two, they lay together; he was still inside her, his heartbeat matching the rhythm of hers and their breathing synchronized as one. She thought she heard voices outside, the sound of a car door slamming, but Neil didn’t move. She ran her hands over his back, smoothing his tanned skin and taut, sculpted muscles with her fingertips. Still he didn’t move, and she realized by his deep, relaxed breathing that he’d fallen asleep.
Candy glanced up at the window behind the bed and listened to the familiar voice of Maria, Neil’s housekeeper, and two voices she’d never heard before. When Maria said, “How was your flight back, Señor Friessen, Señora?” Candy couldn’t make out anything else, because she went into a full-blown panic. Neil’s parents were here—now! A knot tightened in her stomach, a building anxiety, as she worried about what they would think of her. After all, she had nothing, and she wasn’t sophisticated or worldly. Maybe they’d hate her, look down on her. She’d never said one word to Neil about her worries, because she knew he wouldn’t have taken them seriously, but she couldn’t help it. She stopped herself from waking Neil. Avoidance was sometimes a good thing. She decided she’d just hide out there and avoid them for as long as possible.
A loud, squeaky, braying and a crash as if something had shattered outside made Candy’s blood turn to ice, and she shut her eyes. “Oh no, Ambrose,” she muttered. Neil stirred, blinking just as a shout sounded below:
“What the hell is a donkey doing in my garden?”
The worst thing possible had just happened, and Candy widened her eyes in horror. She’d accomplished the one thing she had never wanted to do—start out on the wrong foot with Neil’s mother.
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—“Author Lorhainne Eckhart is adept at showing deeply felt emotions through actions, instead of just telling us. The insecurity, fear and paranoia practically emanated from Laura at the beginning of the story and watching her find her strength was truly an honor.” ~ Reviewed by Natasha Jackson, Readers Favorite
—“This book will steal your heart & have you waiting for the next one. It will also teach you to speak your mind when necessary. I do hope this situation never happens in real life! Don’t miss a very good emotional read.” – Whodunnit, Reviewer
—“I love these Friessen men and their families. Was so excited the stories are going to keep on how going. Andy and Laura had a plate full with a sick child and moving to a new state along with twins. Andy has a strong personality and I appreciate him more after this book. What a man won’t do for his family. Please read!” – Janet Murphy, Reviewer
—“I’m like your other fans, absolutely in love with this family. I so wanted Gabriel to get well and can’t wait until Andy’s mother finally gets what’s coming to her. I’ve never read of such a vicious, manipulative, heartless character like her before. I love how this family comes together for each other, and the hubbies, momma mia, so masterful, hunks personified. I personally could see this as a series on TV.” – Arkansan, Reviewer
—“I loved this book! Thank You Lorhainne Eckhart for bringing the Friessens back. You make the Friessen men so alive and the kind of men us women wish we could meet. The Deadline is a touching story of unconditional love and strength.” – Amazon Customer, Reviewer
In[* THE DEADLINE*], Andy Friessen has packed up everything and moved his family two states away, to Montana, to protect his wife, Laura, his newborn babies, and his stepson, Gabriel, from the threats of his mother. What Andy doesn’t know is that they’ll soon face a new threat, one he never saw coming.
Gabriel is sick, and a trip to the doctor confirms Laura and Andy’s worst nightmare: Without a lifesaving transplant, their son won’t survive.
What Andy doesn’t count on, as he tracks down the young man who fathered Gabriel, as well as Laura’s estranged parents, is that a whole host of problems are about to be unleashed.
How do you describe the feeling you get the first time you drive down a long, winding road to a place that is all yours? To Andy Friessen, this wasn’t just a house or a piece of land: he had staked a claim in another state, in another part of the country, uprooting his family and selling everything, all for a brand new beginning.
Andy took in the miles of vast hillside and the cleanest pastures he’d ever seen. The green grass swayed in the wind and, for the first time, he sensed the sun, the moon, the stars and the changing of the seasons more deeply than he ever had before. This was a part of the country he had never travelled, but it felt like coming home. He glanced over at his wife, Laura, asleep in the passenger seat, her head resting against the door, her breath whispering softly in and out. He always knew when she was overtired, as she snored in her soft, delicate way. This time, she stirred a bit before settling into a deep sleep, as if her body had finally run out of steam.
She was on edge and had been for some time, but that wasn’t unusual for a mother of newborns. For Andy and Laura, there was twice as much stress with their six-week-old twins, Chelsea and Jeremy, who were sound asleep in the backseat of the truck. Their five-year-old big brother, Gabriel, Laura’s son from a pregnancy at fifteen, sat beside them.
Laura was so young but had lived through more heartache, rejection and struggle than most people would in a lifetime. As a teenager, she had been tossed out onto the street by her judgmental parents, who thought she was a bad influence on her younger brothers. Laura had only mentioned it once to Andy, and only when he pushed. He wanted to know what had happened, to know everything about her family, but he saw the deep hurt like a tread mark on her soul. No matter what he did, he wondered if that was something she’d never be able to make peace with. Andy wouldn’t, not in this lifetime. In fact, George and Sue Parnell were the first people Andy had ever hated without even meeting them.
They had come so far, Laura and him. At first, the only reason he had married her was to save her son when the state took him away. Laura and Gabriel had been living in her car, and Andy had married her because he felt responsible for the entire mess. After all, it had been his mother who fired Laura from her position as a maid in the Friessen house. Andy had treated her horribly at first, but so much had changed since then. He loved her—his child bride, as everyone teased him. She had recently turned twenty-one, legal in every state, and Andy would soon be thirty-three.
Andy pressed the brakes to slow his pickup as the ruts deepened on the driveway. The horse trailer rattled, and he glanced in the side mirror and rolled down his window just as his three-year-old buckskin mare, Ladystar, nickered. Apparently, she’d had enough of this two-day trip, leaving North Lakewood behind and moving two states away to a seventy-two-acre spread Andy had purchased outside of Columbia Falls, Montana.
“Where are we?” Laura said. She didn’t open her eyes as she yawned. Her short bob was a tangled mess, but it was cute. Andy had been irritated when she cut off all her hair, saying it was easier to look after. Maybe so, but he liked her long hair. “Andy?” she said. The leather seat rustled as she sat up.
Andy had to clear his throat. “We should be close. …”
He stepped on the brakes when a sprawling one-story ranch house came into view. It had a light wood finish and a post-and-beam front deck, but something about the place didn’t look right. The railing appeared broken, with pieces of wood scattered here and there. Everything looked unkempt. Piles of debris littered the yard, including a rusted-out pickup with missing wheels parked in waist-high grass that was now weighted down by the melting snow. Maybe he had the wrong place? He eased on the gas pedal and started up the slight incline that circled the house. It was similar to the photos he had seen, but the house in the photos had been newer than this. A couple of the shutters were hanging sideways, and the fence surrounding the house was falling down, as was the corral, but it was the junk, the debris, the plastic, garbage and scattered metal parts, that pissed him off.
“What the hell is this?”
He’d bought the place unseen. The Montana realtor had sent photos of the exterior and interior, and maybe Andy should have asked when they had been taken, but he’d been in a hurry to get Laura and the kids as far away from his family as he could. He parked in front of the house and spotted the red and white realty sign leaning against the front step.
“Andy, this doesn’t look like the pictures the realtor sent,” Laura said. “Are you sure this is the right place?”
One of the babies started fussing, and Ladystar nickered from the trailer.
“Andy, are we here?” Gabriel called out from the backseat, rubbing his eyes.
“Yeah, just stay there, bud,” Andy said as he opened his door. Laura was reaching over to unbuckle Jeremy from his car seat, his tiny hands flailing. “He hungry?”
Laura appeared so tired as she nodded. “I think so. Wet, too.” She patted his bottom and rested him on the seat. “Andy, can you reach the diaper bag on the floor in the back?” She had already unfastened his sleeper as Andy lifted the blue bag, shut the back door and set the bag on his seat.
“Just stay in here until I check things out,” he said.
Laura glanced up with a weary smile. “Okay.”
He shut the door and stepped around the truck, taking in the mess. Ladystar nickered again. “Okay, girl,” he murmured, unlatching the horse trailer and leading his horse out before tying her to the side and bringing out a flake of hay for her. “Better find you some water, too,” he said, pulling out his bucket. Around the side of the house, he found a barn with a missing door, another gated pasture, and a round ring. As he stepped closer, he noticed the round pen appeared intact, with no missing posts and all the rails up. It was probably a safe bet for tonight, at least for Ladystar, until he got a better look around.
He found a water tap at the back of the house and turned it on, but rusty water poured out. “Crap!” he muttered, waiting for it to run clear before he filled the bucket. When he took it back to the trailer where Ladystar was tied and eating, Laura opened the door of the truck and called out, “Andy, Gabriel has to go to the bathroom, and so do I. Can we go inside?”
Andy took in what was supposed to have been a ten-year-old sprawling rancher, with a wraparound deck where they could spend evenings and mornings looking out over their spread. Instead, it resembled the kind of house his cousin Jed would have picked up for a good price to gut and renovate—not something Andy was interested in doing.
“All right,” Andy said. He opened the back door and lifted Gabriel, who was already unbuckled and waiting. “Stay here, Gabriel. Hey, Laura, Chelsea is still sleeping.” Andy lifted his very quiet daughter from the car.
Laura slid down, carrying Jeremy, who was fussing again. She had on just a beige sweater. “Ooh, it’s cold,” she said. She reached in the truck for her jacket and pulled it out, holding it out to Andy so he could help her as she juggled the baby.
Laura started up the steps, and Gabriel and Andy followed. At the sound of a vehicle coming down the road, they both turned to see a newer pickup truck flying over the ruts and then pulling in just behind the horse trailer. A woman with a round face, bright smile, and dark hair tied back in a ponytail stepped out, wearing a sheepskin coat and blue jeans.
Laura shrieked behind Andy. He turned just as the screen door Laura had pulled fell over and crashed to the front deck. Chelsea, who had been sleeping, whimpered and then started howling along with her brother.
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—“The Price to Love is an emotional story about a marriage on the brink of falling apart and how two people cope with changing relationships. Lorhainne Eckhart has written” ….5 Star Review from Natasha Jackson Readers’ Favorite
— “Lorhainne Eckhart, is courageous to write a story with a “good guy” who is so despicable in his behavior. That does not ruin the story, though; if anything, it adds realism and volume to the plot.” –Susan
—“Any book that has me wanting to cry and yell at the characters this much … a story that holds me to it so much I don’t want to put it down … .THAT is a good book!” –Lorna
—“I don’t know if I should love him or hate him, but I couldn’t put it down”—Amazon Customer
—“I loved this emotional roller coaster.”—Mimi Barbour, Author
—“I was pulled in on the first page and could not put it down until I got to the last page. I love when a writer tells the story about a complete family.”—Susan, Reviewer
She could give him everything except the one thing he wanted—A child.
Candy knows that her husband wants a baby, but she can’t give him one. When Neil pays for a surrogate and moves her into their home, he tells her not to worry, but she suddenly feels as if she’s on the outside looking in.
Then, one day, she meets a little girl who steals her heart, a little girl with a damaged, scarred soul filled with the kind of despair and hopelessness that should never be in the innocent eyes of a child. But neither Neil nor his family understand her need to help.
As their marriage hangs on brink of disaster Candy is forced to make a choice between her husband and helping this child.
There was something about the breeze, the way it drifted across the bay in harmony with the waves as they slapped against the sandy shore. It was stirring, peaceful, and powerful being this close to the salty spray of the ocean, and it helped clear her head. Candy Friessen rolled her shoulders and breathed in the fresh morning air as she walked beside Sable, her smoky gray Azteca and best friend … though she could never tell her husband that she considered her horse her closest confidant!
Neil Friessen would never understand, because the fact was that he believed her world should rotate around him, not in an arrogant, conceited way but more a way that showed her devotion to him and their family. Neil was so committed to family—his family, his picture-perfect idea of how his family should look. Candy knew he believed they were as close as two human beings could be, and he thought of her as his best friend. He was her husband, her lover, and, at times, her confidant, but there were still some painful parts of herself that she couldn’t share with him. Those fears and dark thoughts she could only share with Sable.
Neil wanted to be a father more than anything. It was his dream, his burning desire, to have a family—but it was the one thing Candy couldn’t give him; a child, his child. That had been taken from her at her darkest hour, when she had been left barren after an emergency hysterectomy was performed to save her life. She had been so young! She knew it wasn’t fair, but she’d learned to live with this agonizing, hollow feeling deep inside; though it was an emptiness she couldn’t share with her husband, only Sable, who understood the deepest parts of her soul, the things she couldn’t say to anyone.
She also knew there were still options if they wanted to have a family. One door had closed while another had opened. The doctors, and their family, all meaning well, had said so—but Candy knew her husband well enough to realize that his dream of having a child of his own was the one thing that would always come between them. Oh, he loved her. She knew that, as he wouldn’t have married her once she’d given him the opportunity to walk away. She wondered, though, if there were times he regretted what he’d done. Maybe she was reading too much into it, but this was what she did on her mornings alone with Sable as they walked side by side down their sandy white Cancun beach.
When she tossed around the idea of what was next in their journey, it always came down to one thing—how much she loved Neil. To stop loving him would be like suffocating herself. She couldn’t do it. She loved her magnetic, charming, and powerful husband—and he was hers. Every time he was with her, he touched her, talked to her, took over her thoughts and senses. His hold over her was unsettling, now that she was away from him and had the space to think, but she had to admit there was something addictive about him giving her all his attention. He knew how to look after himself, too, which added to the attraction and the dynamics between them. Of course, his confidence and inner strength made her believe he would always take care of everything. He made her feel safe, loved, and cared for … as if she were in a bubble that could burst at any moment.
Neil Friessen was everything to her, and the man still had the ability to take her breath away. She just wished she could be as confident in their love, especially considering Neil was oblivious to the fact that any warm and breathing woman would have given him a second look, doing everything she could to get closer to him. It bothered Candy, though she knew this was a sign of a lack of faith on her part. Neil was smart and loving, always holding her hand and waking her with a wild, burning passion every morning, and she loved all of that about him, but she still couldn’t tell him about this feeling she had, this building confusion, as if something was about to change everything—all because of what he was proposing now—a surrogate. He had mentioned it the night before, out of the blue, but just the idea of another woman carrying his child was too much to bear. Candy shut her eyes at the thought of another woman stepping in to do something she couldn’t. It left her feeling impossibly lonely.
Sable nudged her shoulder as they walked side by side down their beach until the resort, in full construction, came into view. She stumbled and slowed at the chaos of the pounding, the constant buzz of power tools, creaky scaffolding, and workers. She stopped by the fence that was the gateway to her private beach—and to Neil’s multimillion-dollar resort. He was erecting it where her house had once been, the property owned by her father, which he had left to her when he died. What had once been there had been swept away by a storm the previous year.
It had been her land, though she had lost it to her creditors. Neil had coveted that land for years, but after buying and paying for it, he’d given it back to her. It had been a gift of love, and she hadn’t been able to deny her husband his dream. The beachfront resort he was now building had once been an obstacle between them, but she trusted him to do what was best for the land because of how much she loved him.
Candy looped the lead rope around Sable’s neck and slid the halter around his muzzle and over his nose before tying it at the post. He was starting to skitter from the noise, and their connection had been lost. She held him steady when a sudden bang had her heart racing and Sable spooking. “It’s all right, Sable,” she murmured. “Let’s turn around and head back home and away from this noise.”
It was loud and chaotic, a huge project that provided jobs to a community that desperately needed them. She understood that, but it was hard to let go of what had once been. The tide had turned, changing her life in ways she could never have imagined. She had once fought this sort of change, but her love for Neil had helped her overcome her fears.
“Candy!” she heard her husband call out, and she picked up their pace, starting back down the beach until she spotted him.
He was dressed so neat and tidy, with dress pants and a white shirt. His dark hair was neatly groomed, and he walked purposefully toward her. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me you were taking your horse out and coming down here to the beach?”
She kept walking toward him. It was always his eyes, their intensity, that reached out to her and pulled her to him. She could never look away—even though being with Neil, being his wife, sometimes made her feel as if she were drowning.
“Next time, let me know if you’re coming down here,” he said. He glanced over her shoulder at the fence and the workers on the other side; there was something in his expression that had her looking back.
“Neil, I always came down here before,” she said. What was going on? At times, Neil could be overbearing and overprotective; it stoked her temper, but there was something about the way he watched the workers that bothered her.
“I don’t want you down here alone anymore. Can’t that just be the end of it, Candy? Why do you have to question everything?” Neil said, sounding annoyed.
This was so unlike him, and she found herself watching him the way she would Sable, trying to figure out what was going on. He sighed and shook his head, gesturing toward the construction.
“I didn’t mean to say it like that,” he said. “I just can’t explain it. There’re a lot of riffraff around right now, workers coming in from all around Mexico, and I haven’t had the chance to get to know any of them yet. I don’t want to be worrying about you right now, and I don’t want something to happen to you. Do you understand?” He stepped closer to her, and Sable nudged him as he put his hands on her shoulders. His eyes slid down, and she knew he was taking in her very short white shorts, white tank top, and sneakers. He lifted her long, dark hair over her shoulders and tucked strands behind her ear. For a moment in time, it was just them. “Tell me you’ll listen to me,” he said, “just this once.”
How could she deny him when he looked at her the way he did, as if she was the only thing that existed for him in that moment?
“You know how much I love this; the beach, the ocean, spending time with Sable,” she said. “I need to do this every morning. It’s who I am, Neil, and you agreed to keep this part of the beach ours.”
He touched her cheek and rubbed the pad of his thumb over her lips as he tilted his head closer, really taking her in. It was distracting, he had to know. “I promise I’ll come down with you every day,” he said. “It’s just not safe right now. It won’t always be like this, Candy. I promise.”
She could smell his minty breath. She could feel his warmth even though his lips hadn’t touched hers yet.
He took a deep breath and said, “I got a call from a possible surrogate.”
She couldn’t help the way her body instantly stiffened.
Thankfully, Neil didn’t appear to have noticed, as his hand slipped away and dropped to his side. He stepped back, looking impossibly happy. “She’d like to meet us in an hour.”
She felt as if she were being sucked into a vortex. Her ears rang as she watched joy fill his expression. She hadn’t even had time to digest the idea, and now he was barreling right ahead as if he wanted no further discussion. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t see eye to eye with him on this. Why did he always have to move so quickly on his ideas?
Maybe her feelings were showing, as his smile faded and his expression became serious. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I just don’t understand why you feel a surrogate is the only answer. I mean, you haven’t even considered adoption, and there’s an orphanage so close by. There’re a lot of children, young children, who need parents, Neil.”
“Candy, you know how I feel,” he said. “I want a baby, a child of my own. You already know that with an international adoption, there would be a waitlist, interviews, red tape. We’re Americans, Candy. As difficult as it would be to adopt in the U.S, we wouldn’t even know what we were getting into here. We’d be old by the time a baby became available. No, this is better; less mess, fewer problems.”
She wanted to finish for him, to say what she knew he was really thinking. He wanted a child with his blood, his genes, one that was biologically his. If there was one thing about Neil Friessen, it was that when he wanted something, he never allowed anything to stand in his way.
“I see. So your mind is made up?” She swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat.
“Candy, we’ve discussed this. We’ve already decided. I know you want a baby. I saw how much you loved looking after the babies when we stayed in Montana at Andy and Laura’s. You have no idea how happy I was to see how comfortable you were with Chelsea. You loved holding her. I could see how much you wanted a baby. Let me give that to you.”
“Neil, I loved caring for Chelsea and Jeremy. Your cousin’s twins are adorable babies. But I’m also a realist. I think we need to talk about other ways. You only mentioned surrogacy last night! I need time to digest this, to discuss all the aspects of it with you. I need to be comfortable with this entire process.”
She could feel him pull back even though he hadn’t moved one step. He looked away and sighed. She knew he felt disappointed, annoyed, frustrated—the same way he felt whenever he couldn’t get her to think his way. She was smart enough to let him believe he’d convinced her, and she remembered what his mother had once said: The Friessen men are so strong, both physically and emotionally, that , at times, it would have been easy to lose herself.
“Candy, why do you have to argue and overanalyze everything when a good thing comes along?” he said. “Sometimes you just have to go with it. Please don’t fight this, baby. Let’s talk to her. We’ll figure it out.”
He went to reach for the lead rope to take Sable from her, but she held tight and started walking. “So where are we meeting this woman?” she asked, swallowing again. This feeling, whatever it was, had stirred up all her vulnerabilities; the ones she thought she’d put to rest long ago.
“Here,” he said. “She’s coming to the house.”
Every nerve in Candy’s body zinged, and she stopped suddenly. Sable picked up on her shock, prancing and raising his head. Neil reached for the rope before Candy could gather herself and took it from her hand.
“Let’s go,” he said. “You have enough time to get cleaned up and put on something nice.” He started walking away with her horse. “Candy, come on,” he called out over his shoulder.
Candy watched as Neil walked away. He was her husband, who had taken over everything and in turn had provided her with a life any woman would give her right arm for. For some reason that she couldn’t explain, their marriage was snowballing into something else, and she realized she was quickly losing who she was—losing her sense of self and her ability to stand on her own two feet. It bothered her because he was making it so easy for her to slip into that role of being cared for, allowing him to handle everything. The problem was, that if something ever happened to Neil and she found herself alone, she would be more vulnerable than ever.
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—“I just finished reading this book, and I loved it. I have been reading each book starting at the beginning with The Outsider, and I am hooked on the Friessens and Wildes. In this book you feel the emotion and love that a mother has for a child she has raised as her own for years, who has autism, and then, on his thirteenth birthday, his birth mother comes back into their lives. It is an exceptional book. I highly recommend any book by Lorhainne Eckhart.”
—“I love the sense of family and pride in the book. I wish I could find a ‘real’ Friessen man.”
A Different Kind of Love brings back the couple that started it all: Brad and Emily. You fell in love with them in The Forgotten Child. Now, years later, they face an entirely new set of challenges with their preteen autistic boy when his mother, Crystal, returns. She wants a relationship with the boy she abandoned—something Brad and Emily never expected.
She says she’s changed, but can the Friessens believe her?
She swore it had happened overnight, a shift from hot days and comfortable mornings to a noticeable chill in the air. It was earlier than usual, this very distinct change in seasons from summer to fall. Emily preferred easing in gently, being given time to adjust, over always feeling as if she was on a roller coaster ride and couldn’t get off. But this was her life, and if given a choice between this one or one completely different and easy—well, she wouldn’t change it for anything. She was human, though, and there were days she wished for nothing but peace.
She could hear the creak of floorboards upstairs where she’d left her husband, Brad, sleeping. He would be wondering where she was when he reached for her. That was just the way it was between them in the mornings, even though they slept curled against one another, his legs entwined and twisted with hers. There wasn’t a part of him she didn’t love to touch and feel against her. He was the first man to truly have her heart.
He loved her, she loved him, and their children meant everything to them. This was her family, and it was good—better than good. It was amazing. She loved them all: their little girl Becky, the one child Brad and she shared together, and Katy and Trevor, who were their children from their first marriages. Now she was Trevor’s mother, and Brad was Katy’s father.
He was on the stairs now. “Em?”
She still loved the sound of his voice; after all these years, he still had the ability to turn her insides to putty. It was so deep and masculine and sexy that she had to fight the urge to run to him, which was something people might call her crazy for if she ever admitted it.
He pushed open the screen door, and she took in his frown from where she leaned against the pillar, bathed in streaks of pink and yellow from the rising sun. “Why didn’t you answer me?” He slid his arms around her from behind, pulling her to him, running his flattened palm over the cotton of her nightgown, rubbing against her stomach.
She leaned back into him. He was so warm, and she couldn’t imagine ever tiring of the way he held her and how she fit so easily against him. The strength in his arms … she loved running her hands over them, feeling the contrast of the muscle and soft skin and dark hair. He made her feel so secure, as if nothing bad could ever touch her. She sighed in his embrace. He had pulled on a light blue shirt, and its freshly laundered scent mixed with his warmth soothed and stirred her at the same time.
He swayed with her, holding her. She could feel the cut of his biceps, triceps, and pecs, his solid abs pressed against her back. She pictured the feel of them as if they were burned into her memory. She loved to run her hands over all that hardness. She barely passed his shoulders, and he leaned his chin against the top of her head. They rocked together.
“What’s wrong?” He pressed a kiss to her forehead, and she breathed him in again. His scent always grounded her.
“I don’t know,” she replied—and she really didn’t. She had woken early and hadn’t been able to go back to sleep. An odd stirring feeling had unsettled her. She could feel Brad try to pull back, so she held more tightly to his arm. “No, just hold me like this.”
“Are you not feeling well?” He wasn’t going to let it go, but then, Brad wasn’t a man to just ignore things, not with his family and never with her.
Any fights they had stemmed from him not letting things go. He pushed at times, never letting her hold on to things and sulk. Not that she did. He prodded, always knowing when something was bothering her. They were so in tune with each other. He had such a need to protect her and their children, to the point that she sometimes worried about what would happen if she ever had to stand on her own two feet.
“I couldn’t sleep,” she said. “Maybe I’m just overthinking things, with school coming up. I’m just …” She couldn’t figure out how to put into words this unsettling feeling that kept coming at her over and over. Something wasn’t right, but she couldn’t put her finger on it or explain it to Brad in a sane way.
“You’re doing too much again,” he said. “I told you to stop planning everything. The kids are back in school. Just let them go.” He always made it sound so easy—typical man, thinking everything that worked out wasn’t the result of some hardworking woman behind the scenes, planning, organizing, and doing.
“Our little girl is going into first grade, and she’s going to be gone all day.” Emily’s throat thickened.
He didn’t laugh at her, and she was so grateful for that. Maybe he understood. “We could have another baby if you want, and then you’d have your hands full again.”
It wasn’t as if she hadn’t thought about it. “I don’t know, Brad. Do you want another?” They hadn’t tried to have another baby after Becky was born, and she had been completely unplanned. It wasn’t that they were being careful or anything now—just that it hadn’t happened since.
“You know I would love a houseful, but you’re their mother, and most of the work falls to you, honey.”
She knew he loved children and he was their protector, but he had a ranch to run, too. She didn’t know if she wanted to start over again with diapers and toddlers and not a moment to herself. Although she wouldn’t trade one moment of the time she had with her children, she also realized she had more freedom now, and she didn’t want to give it up. “Katy is in gymnastics twice a week now, and Trevor … we need to meet with the school again. His consultant is coming out next week to meet with his teacher to get everything started for the new year. There’s just so much to do, Brad.”
“Hey, Trevor is fine. You see how far he’s come, Em. School’s going good. Don’t start finding things to worry about. You have everyone so organized that nothing can go wrong,” he said. At times, she thought, he didn’t worry enough.
“Brad, every year we’ve had something with the school … some problem, some new teacher who wants to change how we do things, and I have to start at the beginning. Remember two years ago when we had that new teacher who refused to work with our consultant or to make any changes in her teaching methodology to accommodate Trevor? She refused every one of the suggestions we made. I thought you were going to lose it,” she said.
She could feel him tense behind her. Sitting with Brad in that meeting room at the school, that had been the first time Emily ever thought he could come unglued. She’d made an excuse to get him out of there: “Don’t you have a golf game you’re going to be late for?” He didn’t golf, of course, but he was sharp enough to pick up on her meaning, and he had nodded and left. When she got home, she had barely walked through the door before he gave her an earful, cursing that teacher with every imaginable fate as he paced the kitchen like a wild beast. He’d calmed down eventually, four hours later. Then the principal had phoned, apologizing profusely and assuring them he’d find a way to make it work. He had, but only when he was teaching. It had been a lost year, and without the education assistant who worked with him in the classroom, Trevor would have learned nothing.
“You don’t know that, Em. Besides, we already met the teacher, and you said you liked her.”
She could feel her heart tightening. She knew it was just her anxiety working overtime, but maybe he could feel it too, as he kissed her ear and slid his hand up and over her heart, her breast, pressing her closer to him. “I know,” she replied. “And I’m sure I’m just expecting the worst, all these back-to-school anxieties. It’s just that Trevor has come so far. He’s independent in so many things; I don’t want someone coming in and screwing it up.”
He actually chuckled in her ear, and this time she slid around, taking in the humor in his amazing whiskey-colored eyes. They reached inside her, and they had a connection so deep that she couldn’t hide anything from him, even if she wanted to. He had this way of making her feel … better.
“Why are you laughing at me?” she said.
“Em, our kids are so lucky to have you for a mother, and God help any person who tries to come in and mess with them.” He slid his hand over her cheek, pressing in, and his fingers brushed her ear. She couldn’t help leaning in closer. He kissed her, holding her other cheek, pulling her to him as he deepened the kiss, which brought that stirring deep inside her that happened every time he touched her. She needed to connect with him, skin to skin, and only he could satisfy her.
“Why don’t we go upstairs for that good-morning wakeup you denied me?”
He kissed her again and started leading her into the house, but she pulled back and whispered, “Don’t you have cows to feed?”
“They’ll wait,” he said, and he had her halfway to the stairs when they heard the first sounds of little feet jumping out of bed.
“Yeah, but the kids won’t,” she said with a groan, leaning into him.
He patted her bottom and then tilted her chin so she was forced to look at him. “I may have to tie you to the bed just to make sure you’re there in the morning.”
She rolled her eyes. “As if you’d ever do that.”
“Hey, if I wake up and my wife isn’t in bed with me again—I may consider it!” he said, and he kissed her just as she heard the pitter-patter of their three kids hitting the stairs.
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—“Absolutely brilliant.Got my coffee, said to hell with the housework, and devoured it slowly. I was gobsmacked at Rodney’s story. Poor Becky. This family series is a bloody good read. Thank you.”
—“Compelling, emotions run high throughout this story.” – Bookzilla
—“Neil and Candy have had a dynamic relationship with a lot of passion and disappointments. Can true love and a renewed trust get them their happy ever after?” – J. Murphy
—“Loved this so much! Neil and Candy have such a special love that has touched me and even more so now. This book is a must read!” – Susan
—“I read this book in less than 24 hours on my vacation with my husband and two year old. I couldn’t put it down, I have already fallen in love with Becky and had to see what happened with Maria. Loved it.” – Amanda
—“The Friessen family is a family that really touches my heart and they will touch yours heart too.”
Sometimes families need a helping hand
Holidays are about family, love, and giving, but this Christmas, the Friessens are in for a rough holiday season.
Thirteen days before Christmas, a letter arrives that Candy Friessen was never meant to see. When she opens it, she discovers a lie that rocks her world, and she begins to question everything she and Neil have created together, including his love for her and their family.
Seven days before Christmas, her heart breaking, Candy considers leaving her husband for good, and she begins making plans—until a call one night alerts all the Friessens that Becky, their mother, is in the hospital, fighting for her life. Without a second thought, the entire Friessen clan is on a plane to her bedside. Faced with uncertainty, Brad, Neil, Jed, and their wives are together for Christmas, but there’s no happy celebration, no gifts piled under the tree.
For Candy and Neil, once trust is destroyed, can their family bond be strong enough to save their marriage?
Would she ever get used to this cold, damp weather? Candy pulled at the collar of her thick wool sweater and rubbed her arms as a chill went through her. She pulled back the curtains and took in the steady drizzle of rain over the brown fields, which she supposed would be green come spring. These were fields Neil had promised to fence in, where her horse and donkey could one day graze. As she took in the heavy blanket of clouds that filled the sky, turning it a dreary gray, she wondered how long it would take her horse and donkey to acclimatize. After the hot days of Cancun, Mexico, life in Washington would be a rude shock, she was sure. Would they miss the sun as she did? It had been so long since she’d seen it. After endless days of rain, she missed the brightness of it against the crystal blue ocean, the warmth, and her animals. Even though this property was oceanfront, it was darker, different—colder.
Neil had been on the phone, making arrangements to close up their Arizona apartment and to have everything shipped to their new home, an acreage outside Hoquiam, Washington, in the Pacific Northwest. It was close to Brad and Emily and to the family home where Neil had grown up. This was a new beginning for them and their children, and she never questioned his need for a fresh start. She could leave everything behind, except for her horse, Sable, and her donkey, Ambrose, whom she’d rescued as a newborn after his mother was killed on the side of the road. She still couldn’t believe all the hoops Neil had to jump through to move her animals up here. Passports for animals? She’d never heard of such a thing, and Neil was just ending his call with a customs broker, compiling all the paperwork that was involved.
“Candy, didn’t you hear me call you?” Neil was standing in the middle of their sparse living room. It was finished in light woods and currently held a lone black easy chair, which was the only furniture they had. It had been brought over by Neil’s brother Brad to tide them over until their furniture arrived. They could have stayed with Brad and Emily, but Neil insisted after purchasing this house that they all needed space, they needed their own home. Not for the first time, Candy disagreed, but she said nothing. There was something about Neil: Once he set his mind to something, no one could change it. She sensed this was more about his needs, as there was a tension she couldn’t put her finger on between him and his brother.
“Sorry,” she replied. She swallowed as she watched Neil, his dark hair a little on the longish side, touching the top of his ears with a natural wave she hadn’t seen when he kept his hair short. Threads of gray were now woven through his thick hair—even more this morning, as if it had happened overnight.
“The kids asleep?” He glanced at the carpeted stairs and the open railing leading to the second floor.
“Cat’s sleeping in our bed,” Candy said, referring to an air mattress on the floor. Their new bed, along with a kitchen table, a living room suite, and a bed for Cat, would be here Friday. Just two more nights of rambling through an empty house. “Michael’s only been quiet a few moments,” she continued. “I hope he’s sleeping. He’s been so fussy lately. He didn’t sleep much last night.” At least he was sleeping in his own bed, a crib, the one given to them by Brad and Emily.
Neil didn’t say anything about the baby. If it had been Cat having trouble, he probably would’ve gone to check on her. The difference wasn’t lost on Candy. He seemed so distracted as he glanced down at the paper he was holding. “The broker needs papers on Sable—registration, birth date. Since there aren’t any, I need to at least know where you purchased him so that I can trace the paperwork. Ambrose, since you had him from birth and found him abandoned, is a little trickier…”
She had her back to Neil and parted the sheers again, looking out at the steady rain. The day was so gray and depressing. Maybe it was the lingering silence that made her realize Neil was no longer talking. When she faced him, he was watching her in that way he had when he was trying to get into her head.
“What’s wrong?” he said. He knew her too well, and sometimes she supposed that wasn’t a good thing. There were times she needed space, but Neil wasn’t a man who would give it to her.
“Tired is all, and cold.” She shivered again.
Neil, too, was wearing a thick dark blue sweater and faded jeans. “We’re just not acclimatized yet. You’ll get used to it.” He glanced at the fireplace. “A fire will help cut through the dampness. I’ll call Brad later, get some wood from him.” He went over to the wall, plain white, and touched the thermostat. “I can turn up the heat, but it’s already as high as it should be.”
“No, it’s fine. It’ll get too warm upstairs. Neil, even if there was paperwork for Sable, everything would have been lost in the storm. He was a gift from my dad. I don’t know where he purchased him. Is that a problem?” She hoped it wasn’t. Worry nagged at her. Would she ever see her horse and donkey again?
Neil started toward her and touched her arm, sliding his large hand over her shoulder and caressing her. He was so close, and she loved when he touched her like this. He didn’t need to say anything to let her know how he felt about her. Their love was strong, and this bond between them…she knew deep in her soul that it was unbreakable. They’d been tested by things other couples hadn’t, and she believed that had made them stronger, more connected. Nothing could ever come between them. “Neil, am I going to get Sable and Ambrose back?”
“Of course.” The way he said it, she believed him. But then, Neil had this way about him. When he put his mind to something, he could move mountains. At the same time, she believed he’d do anything for her now. “I’ll just have to be creative, is all. Don’t worry about it. I’ll find a way.”
“Are you still planning on leaving Monday? What if you can’t get the paperwork together, what then?”
Neil rubbed her arm, touching her still. He was right in her space, taking over as he always did, trying to fix everything for her. He ran his hand under her chin, and she had to look up. He was so tall. So was she, but he was amazing. Strength oozed from him. “I’ll have it together,” he said. “Don’t worry. The guy I hired is good. Don’t lose faith in me.”
She had to hide her smile. Did he have no idea of how she believed in him? He was her hero, a man she looked up to, with all his flaws and bossiness. She truly believed that after finding their way back together, they wouldn’t allow anything to come between them again. Neil had done that once, and it had almost destroyed her, but she could see his regret and feel his determination. It was unsettling but comforting to know she was loved so much.
“Are we ever going back to Cancun?” she asked. It wasn’t that she wanted to go back. Cancun was filled with memories of hurt and betrayal—memories of the surrogate who had almost destroyed what Neil and Candy had.
Neil’s expression darkened. “No, it’s time for a new life here. We’re done in Mexico.”
She nodded. Maybe that was what she needed to hear, just a confirmation. At times, though, she couldn’t shake the sense that they were hiding from something. “What about the resort, Neil? You haven’t talked about it lately. Don’t you need to be there to run the day-to-day operations? I know this was a really big deal for you.”
The resort was being built on the oceanfront property that had once been hers. After a storm destroyed her home and she lost the land to her creditors, Neil had bought it and given it back to her. She had believed she couldn’t live without it, but she was wrong. Her family was more important, and her life with Neil.
“I wanted to talk to you about that,” he said. “It may be time to sell.”
Was he serious? She had never seen him look so disinterested. After all the years of wanting that property, obsessing about building his resort—a resort that had been the biggest obstacle between them— he wanted to walk away now?
“I don’t understand, Neil,” she said. “Why would you sell it? You promised me a part of the beachfront would always be mine. You know how much it means to me.”
“I won’t sell if you don’t want me to, Candy, but I don’t see a reason to keep it. Our life is here now. Think about it. I don’t plan on going back. We need to cut ties, sell, and move on with our lives.”
She could hear Michael whimpering from upstairs. She sighed, and maybe it came out sounding uneasy, but she hadn’t meant it to. She loved her baby, their baby, the little boy they’d adopted, but she was so tired. Michael had been more and more demanding as of late. “I’d better get him,” she said.
She knew he wouldn’t wake Cat, their deaf little girl, whom she’d found in a Mexican orphanage. Cat was such an inspiration to Candy, and she loved watching Neil with her, fussing over her, talking to her, reading to her when her cochlear implant was on. He did everything he could for a little girl he had wanted nothing to do with in the beginning. On the other hand, she’d yet to see him fuss over Michael, their baby, which was disconcerting. Maybe from the way Neil appeared distracted, not glancing at the stairs, she knew he wouldn’t go up—not for Michael. For Cat, he’d already be taking the stairs two at a time. She should talk to him about it and make him listen this time, make him tell her why he was so distant when he’d been the one so obsessed with the idea of having a baby.
He waved the paper in the air. “I need to make some more calls,” he said, then he left the empty living room through the kitchen, the floor creaking under his heavy footsteps to the small office at the back of the house, which still held a desk left by the prior owners. It was made of solid wood, old, probably something even Goodwill wouldn’t want.
“Coming, baby,” Candy called out as if that would reassure Michael, and she started up the stairs just as he let out a wail.
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Or grab all the books in one boxed set edition. THE FRIESSENS: A NEW BEGINNING
The family you thought you knew.
A reunion you’ll never forget.
A love that lasts forever
This emotionally charged big family romance will reunite the Friessen family in a heartwarming celebration.
—“I love love love these Friessen men. To have a love so deep and pure for their women is awesome. They show the true meaning of family and togetherness.” – Kindle Customer
—“This is a tight knit family, along with their cousin Andy, his wife and their children. The kind of family we all wish we had.” – Susan
—“This is a series you will go back to time and again to re-read. Lorhainne is that type of writer, you love her stories about family and their journey.” – J. Moore.
—“Through thick and thin this family sticks together.” –A. Tinsley
This wasn’t home.
After a moment, when she allowed the confusion to clear, she understood this was where she lived now. It was her new home. She’d survived a stroke, but even through her days of hell, balancing on the edge of leaving this world, she’d never once considered not fighting her way back. She’d lost faith only once in her life, and never again would she believe that taking the easy way out was actually easier. Some days were harder than others, but she pushed on. She couldn’t give up.
She’d done that once. That had been a time in her life when she was young and foolish, believing everything she wanted was something she couldn’t have. She had always been looking for something better, not understanding that what she already had was all she needed. It was right in front of her, but then, at times she hadn’t been able to see it. She had been making choices in fear, acting as if she knew everything. She soon discovered, as the years went by, that she knew nothing at all.
There was a lot to be said for age and wisdom, for living through every heartbreak imaginable—many of her own making. She hoped she was a better person, all her choices having brought her to this one moment in time. She was Becky Ann Friessen, Rodney’s wife, mother to Brad, Neil, and Jed and their wives, Emily, Candy, and Diana. She was a grandmother, a friend.
A breeze picked up, whistling as it stirred the waves over the salty ocean. Becky could hear them pounding the white sandy shore. She could smell the salt in the air, and she breathed again until it settled her. She wanted to go down to the water, to walk there herself and wade into and through the waves as they slapped against her legs, soaking her linen pants. But she wasn’t there yet. Almost, she told herself. She believed it as she stared at the cane resting against the light oak nightstand beside the bed, beside the easy chair she was sitting in.
Her skin was damp even with the breeze blowing in. It was warm again, like every other day in Cancun, the home she and Rodney had retired to. She was in the perfect chair before the open window, staring out at the vibrant colors from the gardens below: the reds, greens, oranges, and pinks. Her roses, orchids, and lilies were all in full bloom, and it was in moments like this, when she caught a scent from her garden, that she would remember the young girl who fell in love, had her heart broken, and then pulled a knife across her wrists, allowing the blood to flow out of her just to make the agony stop.
She stared at the white lines now, faded from forty years ago. The memory too had faded over the years—what she had done, what her husband had done. Something happened when you stood between life and death that reminded you of everything you’d forgotten. Becky tried to forget and blank it out as she moved through life, becoming stronger, more confident, and finally feeling as if she was worthy of her husband’s love.
She took a breath to clear her head and took in the warm tones of her room, the white trim, and the floor-to-ceiling windows in the pocket doors that could transform the bedroom into a veranda on a whim. This was new, and her son Neil had taken it upon himself to change this bedroom into a paradise while Becky was recovering from her stroke in the rehab center. It was comfortable and nice—and because it was Neil’s idea, as always, it was over the top.
She took in the ivy green sectional, the ottoman, and the large flat screen mounted to the wall. She had teased Rodney that their large bed was made for a king, but to her, Rodney was a king, not just for who he was but because he had stayed with her and worked on their marriage, loving her for her.
Rodney wasn’t a saint. He was rough around the edges, and he’d made his share of mistakes, her tall, dark-haired, devastatingly handsome man. At times in his younger days, she’d teased him about what a stick in the mud he could be, so set in his ways. He was cocky, arrogant, confident, and there hadn’t been a woman around who didn’t try to get his attention. He was the son of a wealthy rancher, a senator, a rodeo star. He had been everything to her, as only a young girl with starry eyes could see him.
Rodney had always known what he wanted. Anyone who paid attention could see that. It was in his walk, the way he took in what was going on around him and everyone he was with. He was brilliant. Even at such a young age, as a young man of nineteen, he had known there was more to people than what they said. She didn’t know that at the time, but then, everything she’d learned now from her years of struggles allowed her to see how truly special her husband was.
Rodney was the eldest Friessen son. He was a hard worker who made a success out of everything he did: the cattle ranching, his time in the rodeo. He had set eyes on Becky for the first time when they went to the same school, Berkley. She’d heard he was in the rodeo, and she remembered their first date, when she had tagged along with him to the rodeo grounds. He’d ended up facedown in the dirt, scrambling to get out from under a bucking bronco after making his time. He had been amazing.
She remembered it as if it were yesterday. The blueness of his eyes had made her heart skip a beat in her slender chest. Her throat had squeezed at something in his expression that she couldn’t put her finger on. His powerful eyes had been set on her. Maybe that was what had made women from everywhere want him. She sure as hell had. He was heart stopping, the best-looking man she’d ever seen, with a body she had wanted to step closer to. The way he moved, his slim hips and long legs…even his deep red checked shirt hadn’t been able to hide his chest and shoulders. Rodney Friessen had grabbed her attention.
She’d been sitting on a worn bench, wearing a yellow sundress, watching him. A white sunhat perched on her head, her waist-length hair flowing in soft waves. He glanced her way, then looked once, twice, three times. There was no mistaking it: He’d noticed her. Then he had dug in with each step and walked towards her. It had been a moment in time she’d never forget, burned into her memories. That had been their first date—and the moment she realized she had to have Rodney, that he was the one.
“There you are,” her husband’s deep voice called out behind her. “Your nurse is downstairs, ready to go for the day. Are you sure you don’t need her to stay?”
She had to blink as her memories flashed from a young, dashing Rodney to her tall, older husband. She swore the man was even more handsome today than he’d been forty-five years earlier. How was it possible for a man to have aged better than a woman? His eyes softened as he stepped closer, resting his large hands on his hips, his gold band flashing on his finger. Then he touched her where she sat in the easy chair, another of Neil’s new additions.
Rodney didn’t pull away, instead running his large hand over her shoulder and leaning down to kiss her cheek. She pressed her hand over his, maybe to hold him there. She loved his touch and didn’t want him to walk away.
“I’m good,” she said. The words were coming easier, not as slurred and unclear, but then, she’d fought an aging body and a debilitating stroke that had left her with paralysis on one side. Her mind had remained clear, but she was stuck in a body that didn’t want to work. It had been so hard in the beginning, because in her mind, she was still that young, beautiful girl who had stolen Rodney Friessen’s heart. Only when she caught a glimpse of the old woman in the mirror staring back at her did the icy reality crash in.
“You sure? This is your first day home.” He was worried. She could see it in his expression even though they’d both wanted this for so long.
She patted his hand again and then forced herself to slip to the edge of the chair and push herself up. She reached for the cane as she stood, willing her body to move as she once had. Rodney, of course, didn’t let her go but instead held on to her, helping her stand up.
“Don’t look so worried. I’m stronger than you think,” she said. This was the man she’d married, and she couldn’t imagine spending another moment away from him. At the same time, she didn’t want him playing nursemaid to her—to see her as useless, frail, and weak. “I wouldn’t be home if I couldn’t look after myself. You know that. Now why don’t you take me downstairs so I can talk to my son about his need to redo our bedroom?”
“You don’t like it?” He was still holding on to her, and she loved his touch as a husband, not as a man worried she couldn’t keep herself together. “I wanted you to have a space you’re comfortable in. I wasn’t sure…”
What was he going to say? Was he expecting the nurse he hired to sit up here all day with her? She hoped not. Although she liked Nola, she needed to look after herself. She had struggled to bathe and dress herself for weeks, and she’d be dammed if anyone would treat her like a child incapable of tending to her personal needs. It was degrading, that’s what it was. She wouldn’t have come home if that were the case. Maybe Rodney needed to understand that.
“Rodney, my love.” She reached up and patted his cheek, taking in her wrinkled hand and the dull gold band still on her finger, the same one she’d worn for almost forty-five years from the day Rodney had slipped it on her finger. She didn’t think she could get it off now even if she wanted to. “Stop worrying so much. I’m home, and I don’t need Nola hovering over me as if I’m going to fall at any moment. This change…” She took in the newly renovated bedroom and the sheer curtains that fluttered when a breeze swept in. “It’s lovely. Now let’s go.”
When she slipped her hand on his arm, he gave her a look as if he didn’t quite believe her, but at least this time he started walking with her to the door. His hand latched over hers to hold her to him.
“So tell me, when are all my children arriving?” she asked. They made it to the top of the stairs, and she focused on the circular stone steps. At one time, she’d loved the deep orange tile, but going up and down these stairs now was better than an aerobics workout at the nearest gym.
She nearly dropped her cane at the chorus of voices, looking down into the open foyer where her grown boys, their wives, and her seven grandkids were waiting. “You’re here already! Oh, this is wonderful.”
One, two, three—she counted them again: Brad, Jed, and Neil with Cat sitting on his shoulders. Her daughter-in-laws, Emily, Diana, and Candy, stood with their husbands, each with an eye on their children, her grandkids. There was something about each one of them, something in their tired, distracted expressions, that Becky recognized all too well. Each woman was holding on to something.
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Wow….Wow!!! A Must Read—I love the Friessen men! They are strong, hunky, and love their women. In spite of their tendency to treat their women with kid gloves, they are endearing. Andy’s story took me by surprise…
Susie Amazon Reviewer
“Who wouldn’t want a man like Andy!” Kindle Customer
“Andy’s story took me by surprise.”
“This book says so much more than just the words. It will make you think about what’s really important in life.” Lora
I, as a mother, could not believe what his mother put him through. I was very proud of the man Andy Friessen has become. I have loved following his “growing up” and this book just tops that off. — Chris
Andy Friessen has two guarantees in life:
1. His wife, Laura, and his children are safe from the control of his family.
2. A safety deposit box holds evidence that could blow his mother’s world apart.
But nothing is ever simple or easy, and one night tragedy strikes, yanking the rug from under him. This time, secrets and lies could destroy the solid foundation he’s built for his family.
The numbers just weren’t adding up. As Andy stared at the spreadsheet on his iMac, his eyes started to go blurry. He could just pass this off to his accountant, but he felt it was important to know every detail of his business before he contracted any work out. Right now, he was missing five more longhorns from the extensive herd he had amassed.
“Andy, do you want some tea?”
He didn’t need to glance up to his wife, Laura, to know she was already bringing him some, the herbal kind he couldn’t believe he actually liked. He leaned back in the dark leather chair behind his desk, neat and dust free, just the way he liked it.
“How did you know?” He took the steaming mug, breathing in the orange spice and taking a welcome sip.
Laura leaned down on the desk, resting her arms and just looking at him. She had such a soft smile, so genuine that she made him feel he could do anything. “Oh, you’ve been working in here for hours, holed up. Heard you swear a few times, so I knew things weren’t quite working out the way you wanted.” She had their baby monitor hooked to the waistband of her jeans—jeans she filled out in a way that drew every man’s eye. Some women had great asses, and his wife was one of them.
She was a welcome distraction, considering there had seemed to be a constant loss of cattle over the past twelve weeks. “It’ll be fine,” he said. “The baby asleep?” He took another welcome sip as the warmth eased some of his frustration. So did she, the way she leaned on his desk, giving him an eyeful of her cleavage. Andy needed the distraction. He was getting worked up because someone or something was taking his cattle from him—taking what was his, what belonged to his family. Right now, someone was messing with his livelihood, and his next move would be to hire more help to find out what was happening to his sizeable herd: three hundred head of longhorns, including breeding stock and yearlings. It was the yearlings who were getting picked off.
“She went down about an hour ago,” Laura said. “Sarah’s so good, just like Chelsea. She’s an angel, the way she sleeps on her side, her tiny little thumb in her mouth.”
He didn’t think he’d ever get tired of hearing everything about his children. Sarah, the baby, had been born eight weeks ago. It had been an easy birth. They’d made it to the hospital just in time, and Laura had eased through her contractions. Two hours later, Sarah had been born—an easy baby, a content baby, and the youngest of their four.
“What about the munchkins? No one’s been bugging me,” Andy said, not that he’d ever once considered his twins, Chelsea and Jeremy, who were just a few months shy of three, an annoyance. They were happy, healthy, full of life, radiating joy from their innocent smiles, which filled his heart so full at times he thought it would burst.
“Napping, too. Jeremy insisted he wasn’t tired and argued with me up until he fell asleep, and that was before I even got Chelsea tucked in.”
He reached out and skimmed his thumb over Laura’s cheekbone, under her eyes. The dark circles she’d had from nursing the baby the first few weeks had disappeared, and she now had a healthy glow. Her blond hair had a natural wave it hadn’t before, and it was pinned up in a messy bun that made her look gorgeous. Did she have any idea what she did to him? He doubted it. “So there’s just you and me and a quiet house for…” He reached out, sliding his hand down Laura’s side as she leaned on the desk beside him.
“What are you doing?” she teased as he put his tea down, and she straddled his lap, her arms linked around his neck.
He couldn’t get over how well she fit him, how she moved against him, a touch, a breath. Giving herself to him was a gift he had once taken for granted. What a fool he’d been. Never again would he disrespect Laura or be ungrateful for all she had given him: his children, her love, herself. “Touching my wife,” he said. Maybe it was arrogant and selfish, but he could only hold himself back from loving Laura for so long. He’d been patient for months during her late pregnancy and after, and he was making up for lost time, needing to bury himself in her heat, in her love, and connect with her.
He ran his large hand down her stomach, which still had a slight bulge from where she’d carried his children. It was a miracle how his seed had created the lives that filled this house, making it a home. His family.
Her breath hissed, and he could feel the way she trembled as he ran his hand up and over both her generous breasts, which fed his baby girl. His other hand followed as he shoved his fingers in her hair, pulling it loose, pulling her down so he could taste those full, kissable red lips.
Her eyes…the green had become brighter, he swore, over the past year. For a woman so young, she had carried a lifetime of living, of hurt, of love. It was in her expression, the shadow of her eyes, always there, and those memories were the first place she went whenever something bad happened. Then she’d stop and take a breath. He saw it time and again, thankful it was happening less as the days passed and she was starting to believe that Andy would always protect her and keep everything bad from touching her and the children. If something happened, he wanted her first thought to be free of worry, knowing she was safe, believing he’d protect her and their family.
She leaned in to his touch, and she didn’t have to say a word for him to know she trusted him, giving herself to him so freely to touch, to caress, to taste, and to be with whenever he needed her. She was so damn responsive to him, and he didn’t think he’d ever have enough of his woman.
He kissed her neck as his hands slid under her light T-shirt, lifting it over her head and tossing it to the floor. His other hand slid up her back, over the soft skin and up her spine, and again she pressed closer to him, her hands gripping his shoulders tighter. She gasped as he unclasped her bra and divested her of it, and he stood up and laid her on her back against the glass top of his desk. She was so bewitching as he pulled away and slid her zipper down, pulling off her jeans and socks until she was naked on his desk, and then he just studied her for a second, every inch of her creamy white skin: the tiny marks across her almost flat stomach, her breasts, which had always been a generous handful but had grown a cup during her pregnancy. They were firm and large, and he savored the moments he could run his tongue over her nipples and kiss and touch every inch of her after he made love to her over and over, marking her so she knew she belonged to him. He could be gentle and rough, hurried and slow, but every time he came in her it was with her coming around him. It was a connection so strong, so powerful, and one he had never expected.
“Are you going to just stare at me, or are you going to have your way with me before the kids wake?” She raised her arms above her head and spread her legs so he could see all of her.
He said nothing as he unzipped his jeans, freeing his erection. Laura wiggled on the desk as her face flushed, maybe anticipating how he’d take her.
As he ran his hand up her thigh and then spread her wider, he took her deep and hard, forcing another squeak from her lips as he moved the way he knew she loved. Being together was instinctual as she wrapped her legs around his waist and ran her hands up his chest, clutching his shoulders and hanging on while Andy made love to her, drawing out just enough that he could send her over the edge and have her scream out his name as he filled her over and over.
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Falling in love with Jed Friessen was a dream come true.
Married to Jed, Diana has a family and is living her happily ever after. She knew heartbreak and suffering as a child, and the pain of rejection, but she now understands what it means to be loved.
However, when the past comes knocking on her door, reminding her of everything she’s left behind, everything she was, and everything she’s lost, her guilt and doubt threaten the life she’s built with her husband.
There were two realities. The first was her picture-perfect life in the countryside on a ranch with her handsome and overly protective husband, Jed, and their two little boys, Danny, five, and Christopher, three. It was her happily ever after, and nothing bad could ever touch her there. In the second, Diana Friessen, daughter of the town whore, would forever be tainted by the sins of her mother, always having to remind herself she was worthy of being loved.
It was difficult, if not downright impossible some days, to process her past, which she had long since separated from the person she was now. Who was Diana Friessen? She had defined herself for so long by surviving, by carrying the weight of someone else’s wrongs. She had brought that weight into her picture, making the ache, the pain, and the hurt part of her story until she left, only to return years later and be swept off her feet by love.
She was loved by Jed. She could see how much she was a part of him from the moments they spent together and everything he did for her. He wanted—no, needed to have her here at home, raising his boys. She had once believed this was because he didn’t want to compete with her career, and truth be told, Jed was not a man who could ever come second. He wasn’t made that way, and she didn’t think she could love a man who could settle for the bits and pieces tossed his way. He was her everything, and she’d given up all she’d chosen just to be his. He had built a business conducting horse clinics, working with children, some with special needs. He was an amazing man, and he filled her with such hope and completeness that she would never have loneliness as her bed partner again.
She’d give it all up again, too, even though she loved knowing she had a law degree, an achievement all her own, and she could begin a practice at any time. It was something she’d begun thinking of more and more as of late: having something that was just hers.
“What are you thinking?” Jed slid his hand around her stomach, pulling her against him so she could feel all his hardness and the way his amazing body molded against hers. They were made for each other, and she loved how she fit him so perfectly, comfortably. He pressed his cheek, which was rough with whiskers from two days without shaving, against hers.
She reached her hand back to touch him, his face, his head, as he held her as he always did, in a way that let her know he’d never let her fall.
“Oh, life and things,” she said as he kissed her cheek, and of course she smiled, as being loved by Jed was something she had to remind herself every day never to take for granted. He gave her all of himself.
“Tell me,” he said without letting her go as she swayed against him.
“I was thinking of a lot of things, how you make me feel safe, and for so long I’ve felt as if I could finally heal, knowing you were taking care of everything, me and the kids, and just being loved by you.” She sighed, and he didn’t say anything but slid his other arm around her front, over her breasts, and then held her shoulder, wrapping her up in him so she could touch his wrist and hold on. “I realized, too, I’m not who I used to be.”
“Sounds like you’re bothered by something.” He kissed her cheek again as she breathed deeply, relaxing.
“Not so much bothered but considering.” She noticed a car coming down their long driveway in the distance. With the dust and the fact that they lived so far out of town on flat land she could see for miles, no one could sneak up on them. “You expecting anyone?” She started to straighten when Jed stepped to her side, sliding his hand around her hip, holding her to him.
“No,” he replied.
She didn’t say anything else, her stomach knotting at the sight of a faded blue compact.
For a minute, she wished Jed would say something, because he had to know how uncomfortable she was. The man could read her like no other, and she couldn’t hide anything from him.
“Isn’t that…?” He stopped, frowning, as the car pulled up in front of the small house, zipping in beside Diana’s SUV.
Diana’s hand slid up to her throat on instinct. She wasn’t sure whether she had gasped until Jed touched her arm, drawing her gaze to him. She hadn’t realized he’d been watching her.
“I can’t believe this. Your mother is back. What the hell is she thinking, after I sent her on her way?” Jed sounded really mad, and Diana didn’t have a chance to answer when the car door shut.
“Oh, hi there!” Faye Claremont said as she darted around the front of the car in a light blue T-shirt and matching pencil skirt, wearing inch-high sandals. Her deep red hair was brushed back into a ponytail, her lips painted bright red, and she had a curvy body that screamed sex. “Well, just looky here at all you’ve done to this place. It’s looking mighty fine from when I was here last.” She stopped at the bottom of the stairs, taking in the one-story house and the addition Jed had built. It had white siding, green trim, and a front deck with a finished railing. Diana wanted to scream at her to shut up.
Jed said nothing as he glanced between Diana and her mother. “And when exactly was that?” he asked. For a moment, Faye’s bright vivid smile faltered before she stepped on the bottom of the stairs.
“Why, just last week. Didn’t Diana tell you I stopped by?”
She could feel Jed’s fingers digging in to her hips, holding her to him as she touched the railing of the front deck, which looked over the acres of flat land. She looked away to the barn and indoor arena where Jed held his clinics. She could hear a horse nicker from the barn, and she swallowed, her tongue thick, unsure of what the hell to say, wishing she could crawl away and hide. Yes, her mother had stopped by not once but twice after how many years? It had rocked Diana’s world, and each time had been unannounced. Faye was trying to worm her way back into her life, or so it seemed.
“So what can I do for you, Faye?” Jed said, not giving a hint that somehow, he and Diana could keep secrets from each other.
“Well, I wanted to see my daughter and try to make amends, and I feel as if we’re making some real progress. Ain’t that right, baby?” Faye smiled brightly to Diana, and she wondered whether Jed could hear the strangled noise she was making or if it was all in her head.
“Faye, I made it very clear to you the first time that you’re not to come back here. I don’t want you coming around here, upsetting my wife.” Jed was quite direct, and Diana also knew he’d likely have a word or two with her later. The overwhelming guilt ate away at her, because she hadn’t shared with Jed the fact that Faye Claremont had ignored his decree and kept coming back. Even now, she couldn’t explain why.
“That isn’t my intention. It was never my intent to cause any upset to my daughter, and I feel honestly that we were making progress.” She was looking toward Diana, and this time Jed was also staring down at her.
“Why do you keep coming here? I didn’t ask you to come.” Diana had finally found her voice, and it sounded so strange, so weak.
“I need to make amends, and I told you that. I can’t even begin to make things right after what happened, being taken from you. I just had a lot of years to think about it, and you’re my daughter. No matter what’s happened, I know there’s no excuse for what I put you through. I made a lot of bad choices. I know that now.”
“Faye.” Jed leaned on the railing, resting on his forearms, looking down on her. He was no longer touching Diana, but he hadn’t moved from her side. “I appreciate you wanting to make amends to my wife, but I was also clear that you weren’t to come back here and were to leave my wife be. I don’t take kindly to anyone messing with my wife, hurting her, upsetting her. You understand that your bridge here has already burned.” He said it so calmly and flicked his hand toward her, but there was no mistaking his meaning.
Faye flashed her big blue eyes, smiling up at him. What was she thinking, trying to turn the charm on Diana’s husband? Maybe she realized her mistake, as she suddenly dialed it back a bit. This was the first time she’d had a chance to admire Jed, to ogle him, but she must have understood clearly that Jed was not the man for her to be setting her sights on. Diana wanted to smack her for crossing that line.
“You’re a very lucky woman, Diana, to have a husband like the one you have. I’d have given anything for it, but it wasn’t in the cards for me. I did the best I could, and maybe that wasn’t good enough. It was what it was.” She opened her purse and pulled out a pamphlet, then stepped closer and held it out, but Jed reached around Diana and took it. She couldn’t make herself look at it, just stared at the woman who’d given birth to her, whom Diana favored, who’d made her childhood hell and made her doubt everything good in her life.
“It’s my group.” Faye gestured to the paper Jed was holding. “We meet on Thursdays, and I’d really like you to come.” Instead of pushing, going on and on as she always had about everything, her life and her crap, she stepped back, looking sadly over at Diana before turning and walking back to her car, where she slid behind the wheel.
As Faye drove away, leaving a trail of dust behind her, Jed turned to Diana and said, “So how about you explain why you lied to me?”
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Neil Friessen has almost everything he’s ever wanted:
Until one day, that is, when he comes up with the business plan.
“What did you do?” Candy said. She wasn’t sure exactly what she was looking at when she took in her husband, Neil. His dark hair had once been short and impeccably groomed but was now curling around his ears and the back, brushing his shoulders. He also had a beard going on, and if truth be told, if someone asked her what she really thought about his new badass transformation, she would have to admit it was beginning to grow on her. She was thankful he had at least kept the beard trimmed, though, and hadn’t took it upon himself to grow a pair of chops—because those would have to go.
“Do you like it?” He was dressed in a faded pair of jeans and a black T-shirt that was looking a little worn as he pulled off a pair of shades and tucked them in his shirtfront. A gleaming diamond stud sparkled in the light within his newly pierced left earlobe.
She just stared at her hunk of a husband, who was far too good looking for his own good. He had everything going for him: He was smart, sexy, and confident, with linebacker shoulders, six-pack abs, and full red lips that had tasted every inch of her. He was her lover, her husband, and the only man to ever have stirred her passion.
He raised his eyebrows, and his whiskey-colored eyes were filled with teasing and amusement. They were always filled with such confidence, such mystery, and were so intense that she could get lost in them forever. “It’s my new look. Seriously, don’t you like it?”
She couldn’t help the laugh that bubbled out of her. “One, yes, I do—but, Neil, seriously? You’re the most conservative man, or you were, who has ever graced my presence. Where the hell is my husband, and what have you done with him?”
She was holding Michael, who was now walking and into everything, and he even pointed at the tiny jewel in Neil’s ear. “Dada,” he said, pointing, his other hand on her shoulder, grabbing a fistful of her shirt.
“Yes, Daddy got an earring,” Neil said, making a playful face to Michael, who laughed and reached out to him, leaning his little body so Candy had no choice but to pass him over.
Neil lifted his son, who was looking more and more like him every day, up high and then brought him down and kissed his cheek. The man was positively gaga over his children, Michael and Cat, the little deaf girl they had adopted in Mexico. Both adored him, and everything he did was for them.
“So what brought on this need to get an earring?” She had noticed Neil slipping into this change, becoming someone different—not the man she’d married but an evolution, someone trying to become someone else. He was charming, fun, loving, and still possessive, which she doubted would ever change, but she saw the changes in him every day. He listened to her now, and at the same time she couldn’t help sensing him slipping, as if he were lost, trying to find his footing and searching for who he was. She frowned, or maybe he’d noticed where her thoughts had gone, as he furrowed his brow and looked deeply at her.
“What?” He made a face at Michael again before pretending to take a bite of him. Michael giggled, a full-bellied laugh that filled Candy with such joy.
“I’m starting to get a little worried about you, Neil.”
His expression told her she was being ridiculous. He was trying to shake her off. “I’m the last person you should be worrying about. Seriously, over an earring? I thought you’d like it,” he said.
“It’s not just the earring, which I have to admit I kind of like. It’s this change in you, as if you’re transforming into your evil twin.” She held her hand out to stop him when she knew he was about to lay into her, probably with some line about how she was misreading everything again and this was him changing to be a better man for her. “Seriously, Neil, I know how hard you’ve tried for me. You told me you were going to change, and I’ve watched you over the last year, how you’ve gone out of your way to put me and the children first. You stopped pushing and demanding and organizing—no, wait! You haven’t stopped. You’ve toned it down some, which I appreciate, but…” She held up her hand again when he opened his mouth to say something. “I have the floor. Let me finish, please.” She tapped his arm.
He gestured between them and then wrapped both his arms around Michael, holding him on his hip. “Please, by all means, lay it all out there.”
“You sold the resort for me.”
“Sale isn’t final yet,” he added rather matter of factly, as if she needed reminding.
“Okay, it’s in the works is what I meant to say. Your dream…you walked away from it for me.”
When he looked at her that way, he gave all of himself. It could be so disconcerting at times, but she knew he was taking all of what she was saying in, as if he were listening with every one of his senses. She was sure that was what had made him such a success in business.
“You’ve moved us way up here, about as far away from Cancun as we can get, and I’m not complaining. I find it rather nice, being this close to Emily and Brad, and the kids have their cousins close by, even though the cold and damp here is something I’m still trying to get used to. But, Neil, for the last while you’ve seemed to be floundering, as if you don’t have any idea what it is you want to do. That’s what’s causing me some concern. It’s this.” She gestured to his earring. “When you walk out the door and say you need to run an errand, I don’t know who’s going to walk back through it or what idea you’ve come up with to be your new project here. Last I looked, you have the deck you still need to build, a patio half started, and, oh yeah, then there’s the corral, the shed for my horse, and the pasture you keep telling me you’re going to fence off so I can have my horse and donkey there instead of having to run over to Brad and Emily’s all the time. The thing is, it’s all great and everything, but you haven’t finished one thing here.”
Neil frowned and glanced at Michael, taking in his expression, his face, as if studying him, then looked back over to Candy. She wondered for a moment whether she’d hit a nerve. After all, the Friessen men had their pride, and she was pretty sure Neil’s had taken a hammering.
“Maybe there are days I wonder, too,” he said. “Trying to figure out what to do…I had my entire life planned out and saw everything happening one way, and then this curveball had me scrambling like I never had before. I get it, it’s all on me. I screwed up big time, all because of my need to make things happen a certain way. This other stuff here, I really will finish it. There’s just so much, and spending time with these guys…” He made another face at Michael and kissed his chubby cheeks, and Michael giggled and patted at him.
He looked over at Candy with such intensity she had to hold her breath. “But we can’t control things, life. It’s the other way around. And once you realize you have no control, it’s amazing, this feeling of freedom that happens.” His eyes simmered with warmth, with love, which had her heart flip flopping.
She was resting her hand on her chest at the open V of her light sweater, skimming over the bare skin, thinking of what this was with him. At times, Neil took her breath away, and at times, like this, he left her speechless. She was about to say something more, but this evolved Neil had Candy scrambling, her mind blanking. At the same time, she was freaking out, wondering what the next transformation for Neil Friessen was going to be.
“Maybe you should call Brad. Maybe this new and improved Neil could use some grounding from his big brother, help you get your head on straight and focused in one direction.” She stepped forward and reached for Michael, who went easily into her arms. “Come on, baby. Time for lunch.”
When she glanced back at Neil, what she saw was him checking out his image in the hall mirror, taking in his look. On second thought, maybe it would be a better idea if she called Brad herself.
Get THE BUSINESS PLAN now!
The Friessens, stars of the bestselling series, are back with THE DECISION, another heartwarming fan favorite romance from New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Lorhainne Eckhart.
Emily Friessen has everything a woman could want: a husband who’s the love of her life, a family that stands together, and children she wouldn’t trade for anything. To everyone around her, she’s confident and strong—but then, she has to be with a man like Brad, who is all about family and too handsome for his own good.
Emily isn’t as together as she appears, though, and when life throws her and Brad a curveball, it tests their relationship, leaving Emily scrambling and feeling very much alone as both are faced with a decision no parent should have to make.
Brad walked the ridge overlooking his land, taking in the browns and golds of the drying pasture to the tree line, where the forest thickened and thinned closer to the many outbuildings, big and small, on his ranch—a ranch that had been in his family for generations. This was Friessen land, and being the eldest son to Rodney Friessen, he had inherited everything. At the time, Brad had never questioned how only he, the eldest of three, could have all this. That was what happened in families: The eldest son inherited the earth. Was that not the saying?
His brother Jed, the youngest, had been left to set out on his own and had bought a piece of shit property in Snohomish County, where he had built something from nothing. Jed was pigheaded, at times so closed off that Brad wondered what he was thinking, but he loved him. He loved all his family. His father had retired down in Cancun, having bought a huge ranching operation on the Yucatan Peninsula with his brother Neil, a Harvard graduate who owned a multimillion-dollar resort. Brad, meanwhile, had been handed all of this, and at times he wondered whether he had earned any of it. Yes, he worked hard, but he’d never had to work to gain something, to create something.
He’d never considered himself fortunate or privileged. He’d never thought much of it until recently. Maybe it was age, becoming older and wiser. He smiled to himself, wondering, if it were possible, would he go back and change anything, trade in all the pain, the heartache…and the love he had now? No, he supposed he wouldn’t. All the choices he’d made, both good and bad, had brought him here. They had brought him Emily, their children, and a life filled with struggles. It had been a bumpy road, but he wouldn’t trade his family for anything. He had everything he could ever want.
Being a rancher, one could say, was in his blood. He didn’t want to do anything else. He was a part owner of his brother’s fancy resort in Cancun, but, as he’d said to Neil, as long as he didn’t have to take part in the daily operations, that was fine with him. There was one thing Brad understood and knew deep down that many people didn’t, something people struggled and searched for their entire lives. This was where he belonged, on this fertile rock in the Pacific Northwest, with his land. The only problem was that Angus Friessen, his grandfather, being old, Irish, and proud of it, had added an addendum on the property that it could only pass to the eldest son—not the daughter! What the man had been thinking was beyond Brad. Considering times had changed, it seemed over the top even to him.
He realized, as he took in the vast acreage, with a spectacular view of the pastures below, the grazing cattle, the field of hay, and his horses, that having a male heir was going to be a problem, as his son, his only son, had autism.
He took a deep breath, seeing his ranch hands and a dusty trail in the distance. He had to squint to see who was coming, but then, it was late afternoon. The kids would be home soon. It had to be the school bus pulling in. Trevor, Katy, and Becky, his youngest, would be racing down the driveway and turning their once quiet house into a lively affair for Emily. With only a few weeks left until the end of the school year, they needed to have a heart to heart about what was next for Trevor. Emily had already mentioned it four times. (Brad had heard her the first time, but she’d needed to repeat herself because he hadn’t replied.)
Trevor would be seventeen soon, and the girls were growing up fast, too. From Emily’s first marriage, Katy was a year younger than Trevor and was blond and slender, with a young lady’s figure that was turning the heads of a few young boys, who were calling all the time. It was giving Brad a few gray hairs as he considered, now, how to handle his girls. It was time he and Emily sat Katy down and laid out the rules for dating. Of course, he wouldn’t hesitate to put the fear of God into each and every one of those boys who came knocking. Becky, their little girl, was just entering her teenage years. He’d already noticed the change in attitude, as she was giving Emily more lip than before, testing her boundaries. He needed to have a chat with her, too.
Maybe that was why he’d spent the last week walking the ridgeline, looking over the property as he did his best to get his head on straight and figure out what was next. He felt for the first time that they were fast wading into the new and different territory of raising two teenage girls and a young autistic man. What to do? Tonight he’d take Emily aside and they’d make some decisions about what was next for their family.
And this land.
He took in the trail he’d climbed up and slung his rifle over his shoulder just as his cell phone rang. He reached for it from his back pocket and saw “Home” displayed there, smiling because Emily was probably wondering where he’d gone off to. “On my way,” he started.
“Dad!” Katy cried out in a tone that had the hair standing up on the back of his neck.
“Whoa, what’s going on?”
“It’s Trevor, Dad. Mom said to call you and get you back here. Someone hurt him…” She was starting to ramble on and heading toward hysterics, and he couldn’t understand a word she was saying.
“Katy, stop it, calm down. I’m heading back to the house.” He was running down the trail, sliding sideways in spots with the phone to his ear. “How bad is he hurt? Put your mom on!” He knew he was shouting, but he couldn’t do a damn thing, being this far from the house, and that made him furious.
“I can’t put Mom on. She has Trevor upstairs. She’s trying to stop the bleeding. It’s horrible, Dad.” He could hear the edge in her voice, and of course his head was going to some pretty bad places.
This was one of those times, as he broke the tree line, that he wanted to kick himself in the ass for not saddling a horse. “Did she call an ambulance?”
There was silence for a minute.
“Katy!” Brad yelled into the phone as he waved in the air to Cliff, who was on the tractor, but then thought better of it. He started running toward the house, pounding the ground, his rifle over his shoulder.
“No,” Katy said, sounding confused.
In that second, as he got closer to the house, he realized something wasn’t quite right.
“Why not?” he said into the phone as he raced up the back steps, hanging up the phone and seeing Katy in the kitchen, standing and holding the phone to her ear. “Em!” He shouted as he took in Katy, pale, wide eyed, looking to him and then the phone and then hanging it up. He was out of breath, sweating as he rested his hand on her shoulder. Just then, there was a squeak on the stairs.
“Daddy!” Becky raced down. “You should see all the blood from Trevor.” She seemed excited and impressed, and Brad wanted answers.
“Brad, up here! Emily said. “Trevor has a nose bleed.”
Seriously? He glared down at Katy, who was standing there and shrugging. “A nose bleed,” he said. “We’re going to have a talk later about your dramatics.”
He walked to the back door, opened the gun cabinet, and unloaded the rifle before setting it back in, locking the cabinet up, and putting the key in his pocket. He started up the stairs and into the bathroom, where Trevor was holding a wet cloth to his nose. There was blood on his yellow T-shirt, but he appeared far from hurt.
“Hi, Dad,” he said in a nasal tone, smiling as he pulled the cloth away. His nose was still dripping and appeared a little pink but not swollen. Otherwise he looked fine.
“What’s going on here? I get this panicked call from Katy that Trevor is hurt, was beat up or something bad, and she made it sound as if he needed to go to Emergency.”
Emily had spots of fresh blood on her sleeveless pale blue shirt, her brown hair pinned up in a messy bun. She raised an eyebrow, shaking her head. “No, I didn’t get the whole story from Katy, though, as she pulled Trevor in, both her and Becky. All they said was that he’d been hurt on the bus. I told her to call you and get you back here so we could find out who we need to hunt down.” She sounded really mad, and he could see she was probably jumping to conclusions, considering they weren’t getting the entire story.
“Girls, get up here!” Brad called out. “Trevor, what happened?”
“I fell,” he said, then looked in the mirror as if studying his nose.
“What is it?” Katy appeared with her sister behind her. They were both staring at Trevor.
“Katy, I didn’t tell you to call your dad and scare him, making him think the worst had happened with Trevor. I don’t understand why you’d do that.”
She shrugged. “Sorry, but it was a lot of blood, Mom. Even you were worried when you saw it.”
“It was really gross,” Becky added.
“We’re going to talk later about that, Katy, but right now I want to know what happened here. Trevor, you said you fell?” Brad rested his hand on Trevor’s shoulder as Emily leaned in, fussing again, dabbing at his nose with another cloth.
“Katy tripped me.”
“I did not trip you, Trevor!” she yelled out, sounding truly affronted.
“Oops, sorry, my mistake,” he said and laughed.
“It was Deanna Miller. She’s in grade twelve. I saw her stick her foot out when Trevor went past, and she tripped him. She’s not very nice,” Becky said. “I heard her talking with that awful Jason Cresswell, saying they needed to take down the idiot.”
Brad was trying to figure out who these kids were, and he found himself looking to Emily and then over to Katy. He was stuck on the “idiot” part. What kid would say something so hurtful, so wrong?
“It’s okay,” Trevor said, putting the washcloth in the hamper.
“No, it’s not okay, Trevor,” Brad said. “If someone hurt you, you have to say something. Tell us, did this Deanna trip you?”
Trevor just shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Dad, I was ahead of Trevor when he fell,” Katy said. “I didn’t see it, but Deanna is not nice. Trevor, you shouted when you fell. I helped you up, and you were holding your nose, and there was blood pouring out. I heard the bus driver asking all the kids what happened when we got off.”
“She was really mad,” Becky added.
“Who is Jason Cresswell? I don’t think I know him,” Emily said. Trevor was now looking in the mirror, examining the side of his nose.
“He’s in grade eleven. He’s a bully. I don’t like him,” Becky said.
“I think maybe I need to go and have a talk with the school,” Emily said.
“How about, since we’re not rushing off to the emergency room now and everyone appears to be okay, you go work on your homework?” Brad said to the kids. “I’m going to have a talk with your mom.”
“I don’t have homework, Dad,” Becky said.
“I don’t have homework, either,” Trevor announced.
Katy was frowning. “That’s so not fair. Why do I have to have it all piled on me? Trevor never gets anything.” She was crossing her arms as if she wanted to argue her point.
“That’s because he has autism,” Becky added with dramatics, rolling her eyes.
“Okay, enough. Katy, go do your homework,” Emily said. “I know you haven’t finished that book report you were supposed to do. Oh, yes, I got an email today from your teacher. Becky, go read a book. Trevor, you too.” She took a breath, sounding as if she was nearing the end of her rope.
Brad took in the large main bathroom with its dated tub and shower. “So, sounds like we have a problem with some kids picking on Trevor,” he said. Emily turned and stared at him, firming her lips, appearing frustrated as she walked out of the bathroom and into their large master suite. Brad followed, closing the door behind him as Emily pulled off the bloody shirt and tossed it in with the dirty clothes. She lifted a peach T-shirt out of their six-drawer chest and pulled it on.
“You’re not answering me now,” he said. He couldn’t believe she’d walked away from him, and he was trying to figure out what was going through her head when she turned around and stumbled a bit.
“Em!” He reached her before she fell, lifting her in his arms, resting her on the bed. She was pale and had an odd look on her face as she widened her eyes and blinked.
When she looked up at him, she said, “I’m pregnant.”
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Or grab the first 5 books in one boxed set edition. The Friessens (Books 1 – 5, Box Set)
EVERYONE SAID THEY WERE TOO YOUNG TO LOVE.
“Best family series ever! I love the dynamic of this powerful close family. Three brothers, a cousin, and all the spouses and children make for an interesting, spellbinding story you won’t want to put down.” Amazon Customer
“This is a series that you will go back to time and again to reread. Lorhainne Eckhart is that type of writer. Love her stories about family and their journey. This is a great read, full of love for family that sticks together.”, Joann Moore
“I have read all of Lorhainne Eckhart’s Outsiders and Friessens books. In fact, I rarely read the same book more than once, but I have read the entire Outsiders series twice and some of the individual books more than that. Ms. Eckhart’s books are so filled with raw emotion and family relationships and all of those dynamics.” Aherman
“This is a tight-knit family, along with their cousin Andy, his wife, and their children. The kind of family we all wish we had.” Susan H.
Katy and Steven have planned out their happily ever after: marriage, family, and a place of their own. A simple life in a small town with big dreams, just like Katy’s parents, Brad and Emily.
However, life’s hardships soon threaten the future Steven and Katy have planned together.
Yellow was Katy’s favorite color, and having the sun stream in the bedroom window, casting light over the white walls and the vivid yellow print of her duvet first thing in the morning, brought a smile to her face. She stretched and, like every morning, could hear voices outside on the ranch, clatter downstairs from her mom cooking, and then the familiar call of “Katy, Becky, time to get up!” Trevor, her older brother, who had autism, would already be up, of course, as he was every morning.
Her mom was Emily Friessen, formerly Nelson, and Katy still carried her other dad’s name—not that Brad wasn’t her dad. Technically, he was her stepdad, and he had become her legal guardian, taking care of the question of who was responsible for her if something happened to Emily. Her name now told the story: Katy Nelson-Friessen. Brad would always be the father who had raised her, had been there for her through all the good, the bad, and the everyday events of life. He was the father she needed, trusted, looked up to, the one she went to for everything.
Her real dad lived up in Olympia, and she saw him as often as she could, but he just stayed in touch and played a background role in her life. He was not the type who, when push came to shove, would stand and fight for her or be the watchdog at her door. That was Brad. No, Katy’s birth father, Bob Nelson, wasn’t made that way. He loved her, but he had a life elsewhere and didn’t have an alpha bone in his body. Maybe that should have bothered her more, but it didn’t. He was just her dad.
Katy had a home, a family, parents she loved and looked up to, a baby brother just learning to walk, a sister who annoyed her at times, and a stepbrother who was a few years older. She and Trevor were close. He counted on her, and she looked out for him. Helping him was second nature. Tomorrow she would be eighteen, graduating grade twelve in two weeks, and she was in love with Steven Bennett.
She knew people didn’t take their commitment seriously and maybe considered them too young to understand what love was, but what they needed to understand was that Steven was her first love, her true love, her only love. Her cell phone buzzed from where she’d tucked it under her pillow. She didn’t need to look to know who was calling, but his handsome face with dimples flashed on the screen.
“Hi,” she said. She always felt her insides turn to mush at the sound of Steven’s voice.
“Have you told your parents yet?” His deep voice had her wanting to wrap her arms a little tighter around her stomach, dreamily wishing he was there and that she could touch him. She loved the feel of him, his touch, his kiss, just being with him. She ached when he was gone.
“No. I will today, I promise,” she said, glancing at her door, hearing the footsteps and fearing time was almost up.
“I should be there with you.”
“Katy, I called you already…” Emily opened the door, gesturing at her because she had the phone stuck to her ear again. “Hang it up already. You need to be ready for school. You’re not even dressed.”
“Steven, I’ve got to go.”
“Love you,” he said, and she couldn’t smother the big grin that swept across her face.
“I love you, too.”
Her mom stepped into the bedroom. Her baby brother, Jack, was resting on her hip in just a diaper and T-shirt. His thick dark hair, unusual for a baby, was sticking straight up. He had Brad’s expression, her mom’s eyes, and a strong personality. She’d heard her mom say many times that Jack was stubborn and difficult just like the Friessen men.
She dropped her phone on the bed as she got up, her pale green nightgown riding higher as she slipped from bed. “Mom, can I get dressed?” she said, wondering about the way Emily was watching her, her expression. Katy knew her mom was wondering whether she was keeping something from her. She’d seen it a hundred times before as if her mom was trying to yank her back to being the little girl who had shared everything.
“So what’s going on?” Emily said. “Steven’s calling again, and so early.” Her mom was making a face, and then something in her expression, around her eyes, seemed concerned. “I know we’ve talked about this love thing, how you think you and Steven are—”
“Oh my God, Mom, would you stop? We are in love,” she snapped, interrupting Emily before she could tell her one more time how to feel, how it was impossible for someone almost eighteen to understand grownup love, how it was just infatuation. It hurt the way her mother made her feel she didn’t know her own mind. Even Brad had stepped in a few times and warned Emily to stop.
“Watch your mouth, Katy.” Emily stepped back, frowning again, looking to the window. “Just hurry and get dressed or you’re going to miss the bus, and I don’t have time to drive you today.” She started out the door but stopped, her hand on the doorknob as she faced Katy again.
“You know, Mom, I could drive myself—should drive myself. I don’t understand why you have to treat me like a child. The few times you’ve let me get behind the wheel, it’s a wonder I know how to drive at all.” She’d even asked her dad if she could have a car, but he’d said no, as he’d gotten rid of all the old vehicles parked around the house except for her mom’s minivan and his brand-new truck, one her mom didn’t drive very often.
“You can when you have a car of your own—which you need a job to pay for. Oh, and to get a good job you need to have an education, so get dressed, hurry up, and maybe focus more on school today and less on Steven.”
She just had to say it again, and now Katy couldn’t help worrying about what else her mom was going to ram down her throat about how she thought she should feel or act. She didn’t talk this way to Becky or Trevor, and Katy was beginning to resent her mom’s interference more and more.
Maybe it was her growing frown, as she could feel her radiant good mood heading right into the trash, that had her mom sighing and backing out. “Never mind. Just get dressed,” Emily said, and she closed the door behind her.
Katy couldn’t help reaching for the phone again and dialing before she heard a tap on the door. It opened again.
“Oh, yeah, and no more phone tucked under your pillow, Katy. Your room is for sleeping, not talking on your cell phone. I want to see it downstairs from now on, plugged in with ours, or no more phone. Understand?”
Katy dumped the phone on the bed again, and this time when the door closed she went over and pressed the lock in the center of the brass handle. She leaned against the door and listened to her mom in the hallway, now on to Becky, nagging her about something she was wearing. Good! Katy smiled as she reached for her phone to call Steven again as she searched her closet for something to wear.
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When the unthinkable happens a family’s life is changed forever.
Katy and Steven never imagined their happily ever after could go so wrong, but six months in and this newlywed couple’s carefully crafted future is crumbling. Even after the couple overcome the distance, the secrets and a divided family that could have Steven walking away. The couple is faced with their biggest challenge yet when a shocking disappearance and the questions being asked could lead to answers that could ultimately destroy this family.
The thumping above her head had finally stopped. It was so sudden that it took her a moment to realize all was quiet except for the buzzing in her ears. She was holding her breath, counting, waiting for it to start up again, but it didn’t.
“Thank God, you fuckheads,” she muttered, staring at a bedside clock that read two a.m. Okay, so they were early tonight. She lay there waiting, wondering whether they would decide to start up again with the loud music, the bass that vibrated the ceiling. She held her breath again, counting the seconds and waiting for footsteps, jumping, something to warn her that the insane noise was about to start up. There was nothing except the buzzing, which she put down to a ripple in the air from that godawful club music the boys upstairs continually cranked.
Then there was Steven, sound asleep, breathing even and soft with not a care in the world beside her. How in the hell could he sleep through all that?
She rolled onto her back, now wide awake. How could Steven be so oblivious as to sleep through what seemed to be a heavy metal club opening its doors in Suite 3B, the two-bedroom apartment directly above theirs? Tim and Jake were good-looking single guys, friendly enough, but they partied almost every night of the week, tunes cranked, always with a girl they brought home from the bar. As Katy lay there, wide awake, she found her outrage shifting from the upstairs tenants to Steven, who somehow always managed to sleep through the craziness.
She stared at him in the dark, her elbow now touching him. She should let him sleep. It would be the right thing to do even though she never could. No, she spent every night with a pillow crushed over her ears, awoken by the constant thudding of the worst music she’d ever heard, and she was so exhausted by lunch time that she wanted to keel over and sleep. But she couldn’t, not when she was at work. Every day, as soon as she opened the apartment door and staggered in, she walked right to the bedroom and fell into bed, which was where Steven would find her when he came home from work.
She was done with that—being tired alone, that is—so she nudged Steven until she heard him stir and roll over, his arm falling over her, landing on her breast. He squeezed her as he snuggled against her.
“You awake?” He was nuzzling her neck, his hand under the sheet, running over her flat stomach and lower. She could feel him stirring and knew he’d be on top of her, her legs probably looped over his shoulders as he buried himself inside her and then fell asleep again. He was always on her, inside her, taking her everywhere and anywhere in this tiny one-bedroom apartment, right below two guys who were taking their carefree lifestyle way too seriously.
She pressed her hand to his chest and shoved when he tried to kiss her. “Okay, you need to go upstairs and have a talk with Tim and Jake. Tell them to knock it off with the music and partiers. I’m tired, and it seems they have that stereo cranked so loud the walls are shaking every single night. My ears are ringing now, and I can’t sleep. I have no idea how you can. Why is no one else complaining in this godforsaken building? There are other people here, lots of people. They should be up there pounding on their door, telling them to knock it off. Why hasn’t the super kicked them out?”
She couldn’t believe that those two young men, although nice and friendly, hadn’t been evicted. No one seemed to be doing anything about them.
Steven pulled away and was now lying on his back. He sighed, and she could tell he wasn’t happy about having this conversation again. His solution to everything was to just ignore it and tell her that she was making way too much of things.
“They’re quiet now,” he said and gestured to the ceiling.
Jerk. She sat up, the sheet dropping to her waist as she faced him in the dark. “Just,” she said. Some light streamed in the open bedroom window from the courtyard, and it was enough that she could tell he was staring at her breasts. She definitely had his attention, as his hand slid around her waist, and somehow he managed to maneuver her so she was on her back. He was settling between her legs, determined. He had a one-track mind.
“Steven, be serious…” was all she could say. He was kissing her neck, her collar bone, as he moved inside her. His hands were touching her everywhere, and she couldn’t fight him anymore. One of the best parts of being married was that there were times Katy wondered who enjoyed sex more, her or him. She knew she couldn’t move in bed without him touching her, and sometimes he woke her in the morning as he slid inside her.
She was lost now in just feeling Steven. Everything that had mattered moments ago faded into second place. What was it that had been so dire? She couldn’t think, didn’t want to think, as she moved to a place where it was only her and Steven, and the rest of the world didn’t matter at all.
“So what time are you going to be home tonight?” Katy asked. She was stirring milk into her coffee. Her long blond hair, which she had yet to brush, hung tangled past her shoulders, and she appeared tired, but that did little to take away from all her loveliness. Steven loved her slender body, with curves in all the right places. He could see it all as she stood barefoot in the tiny galley kitchen in nothing more than a cotton tank and boy shorts that clung like a second skin.
“I don’t know. I’ll call you later.” He leaned down to Katy as she walked into his arms, and he nuzzled her chin and neck. She pressed against him before running her hand over his arm. He had to step away as he realized how much he wanted her again. He cleared his throat, his jeans feeling a little tight, and Katy smiled, taking another step toward him, teasing. The minx knew exactly what she was doing as she settled her mug of coffee on the counter.
“No, you stay right there.” He rested his hand on her shoulders and leaned in to kiss her, holding her back just as her arms looped around his neck. Her tongue was in his mouth, and his eyes popped open, as she somehow had her legs around his waist, pressed against him. He had to fight like a drowning man as his brain started to disintegrate, all his sound reasoning gone. All he wanted was to tear Katy’s clothes away and…
His cell phone buzzed in his back pocket. He looped his arm around Katy’s waist as she slid down, all the way down his front, pressing all her softness against every hard part of him. Lord, he wanted to weep as he pulled his phone from his back pocket, taking in his boss’s name. Crap, his timing sucked.
“Mr. Miller.” He held up his hand to Katy when she was about to touch him again. He stepped back out of her reach, mouthing “No.”
“Change of plans today, Steven. Meet me at my office.”
He could hear the sound of a car engine in the background. Hank must have been driving. “I haven’t finished out at the Kranskis’,” Steven said. “I still have to get the panel on in the pump house, then test the wires—”
Hank cut him off before he could finish. “I took care of it. Finished up early.”
Of course now Steven was worrying. Had he done something wrong? “Was there a problem?” He glanced over to the clock on the stove, for a second wondering whether he was late, but it was only twenty after eight. He still had forty minutes, and he was, as always, intending on being early.
“No, your work was fine. Everything was good. Just got a call from the mister that they decided to put the house on the market. Had the realtor coming by this morning, and they wanted things wrapped up beforehand, so I was out there at dawn. Just finished up.”
“Oh, okay.” He still couldn’t help feeling as if he’d done something, maybe because the work left to be done was his job, his responsibility, and it had been taken from him—even though it was Hank Miller’s company, and, technically, it was him the Kranskis had hired. “You could have called me. I would have gone early to finish.” That sounded like a whine, and for a second he wanted to take it back.
His boss sighed on the other end, and Steven realized he may have pushed it just a bit.
“I’ll meet you at your house,” he added quickly, trying to save face, picturing the small office Hank had built onto his bungalow. It was nothing special, but then, all the work they did wasn’t in an office but in the field.
“Great, see you shortly.”
He was staring at the disconnected phone, trying to make sense of the call.
“Everything okay?” Katy was standing there, holding her coffee, watching him, a question on her face. He could see it in her expression as she took a swallow from her mug, the old deep brown mugs his mom had given them.
He shook his head. “No, just a change of plans, is all. Have to meet Hank at his place. He went early and finished the job I was doing, which is odd.” This was the first time Hank had done something like that, and he still couldn’t shake the unease.
“Okay, well, have a good day.” Katy stepped in, rising up on her tiptoes, and brushed her lips to his. Where he could have lingered before, sucked into feeling Katy, enjoying the heat in her touch, he found himself thinking, distracted. He rested his hands on her shoulders and ran his fingers over her hair to brush it behind her ears, then stepped away.
Get FAMILY FIRST now!
Fifteen years ago, Vic McCabe was headed down a one-way road to destruction with the love of his life. But then the unthinkable happened, a mistake that changed their lives forever.
Successful billionaire contractor Vic McCabe is a man every woman wants, but he gives his heart to no one. However, one day a reporter shows up, asking questions about a past he’s buried, a mistake he made fifteen years ago that could destroy his future and that of the woman he’s tried to forget.
After evidence surfaces, dredging up details of the night that changed his life forever, Vic is forced to seek out the only woman he’s ever loved—the woman who has sworn to hate him forever.
There were times memories would come out of nowhere and hold him still for a moment as if he were a hostage. If he were ever to tell anyone about his fears, about the events he still couldn’t believe he’d survived unscathed…well, he knew no one would believe him. He would never share his past, his secrets. They were his—his pain, his hurt, his mistakes. Vic McCabe didn’t share with anyone.
He took a moment, brushing back the thin gauze of the curtain and staring into the darkness, seeing only the glow of the street lights in the distance and hearing the rain, which had picked up in intensity. It was late, and every sane person was tucked in for the night, sleeping soundly, maybe dreaming of something that wouldn’t give him nightmares and have him sitting up in the dead of night, sweating. No, those people most likely had wives, kids down the hall, and maybe a cat and a dog, a minivan and a small compact. Their biggest worry was whether they could afford to take the kids to Disneyland or skiing in Tahoe for spring break.
It would be an easy life, simple, something Vic could never imagine living.
There was nothing about Vic that fit the mold of comfortable, simple, or easy. He wasn’t made that way. He’d been carved out of the gutter. He wasn’t a nice man, and he knew well he should have come with a warning label.
He heard a rustle behind him: the sheets, crisp white cotton, clean and fresh. They would need laundered again now.
“How long have you been awake?” she asked.
He didn’t turn around. He didn’t have to to picture her running her hands through her long dark hair, sweeping it back from her face. He could hear it, sense it.
“Are you coming back to bed?” There it was in her voice. It was always the same, and again he didn’t have to turn to know she’d most likely sat up, pulled up her legs, feeling the awkwardness of the moment.
“I’ll call a car for you,” he said, but the fact was that he had already sent a text and could see the headlights in the distance down his driveway. The black town car was from the executive service he used when he traveled.
“So that’s it?” she said.
He could feel the muscles tighten in his back as he rested his arm on the window frame with the bite of the cool night air on his naked skin. It was welcome in his discomfort.
He heard the rustle again and this time turned only when the bedside lamp flickered on. She was lovely, slim and curvy as she pulled on her underwear and awkwardly stepped around the bed to find her dress on the floor. It was purple and white, sleeveless, but it did nothing for him now as he watched her hurry, slipping her feet into black pumps. Her hair was dark and full, the way he liked it, a tangled mess, and her cheeks were round and her lips lush. Her face had already blended into all the nameless faces of the women he’d bedded and tossed away. Her eyes were the wrong shade of brown.
She was staring at him now, watching him with dark smudges under her eyes from the mascara she’d caked on, the shadow on her lids that had fooled him for a moment, an image of someone else. It was always the same, the appreciation for his body, the marks on his back and the tattoo he shared with no one, always the same. He knew women loved his body, every solid hard part of him, but then, he worked at it with running, weights, and hitting the bag in his gym at dawn before he started each day.
It was the same thing each time, the same way. He was now walking across the hardwood floor, reaching for the black robe he had tossed over one of two blue easy chairs. He slid it on and belted it just as the woman’s expression became set and distant. Yes, he’d hidden himself from her, and he reached for her jacket, also tossed on the floor, and held it up. She stared up at him for a second and then accepted his help, shoving her arms into the sleeves as he settled it over her shoulders. He stepped back, careful not to touch her again.
“Just give the driver your address and he’ll take you home,” he said as she stood there again in front of him, close, with the same familiar expectation. She was waiting for a kiss, some gentlemanly gesture after he’d fucked her, but the problem was that he wasn’t a gentleman. He was everything bad, everything a mother should warn her daughter to stay away from.
“Can I give you my number?” she asked with dimming hope in her eyes, which he couldn’t allow to remain. He had to crush it and slam the door firmly closed so there would be no question in her mind.
“Don’t bother,” he said.
She took a step to the door and paused for a second. “So you really did mean no names.”
Yeah, he really did, and he’d also been clear that he’d never see her again.
Get DON’T STOP ME now!
He stopped a robbery. Now he has to do the right thing.
Having left his life in politics, lawyer Chase McCabe is on his way to meet his brothers and sort out family matters when he stops for gas and walks in on a robbery in progress. However, he discovers the culprit is just a kid, and her situation may not be as clear as he thought. Authorities have written the girl off, and his need to fix everyone’s problems sets in, putting him on a collision course with a mysterious woman with secrets of her own and entangling him in a precarious relationship that ties him to a place he was just passing through.
How long had that light been flashing? Chase reached over and flicked off the music he’d been blasting from the satellite radio he’d picked up outside Salem. He took in the gas gauge, which was sitting close to empty.
What had he been thinking—or not? He should have stopped at the last pullout two hours ago, but he’d been distracted after speaking with his brother Aaron about his upcoming UFC fight and with Luc about his dating woes, then coordinating a time for both brothers to meet in Vegas before seeing their mom and dad in Henderson.
Their parents hadn’t been together in years, not since his mom had walked out after the savings account suddenly hit zero, as his dad had gambled away every last cent. His mother, who’d adopted all of them, who’d wanted them, had left them as well. Why was he going back again? Oh, because of his need to fix everything for everyone. His dad had called him, freaking out after secretly dating his mom again, because he’d just found out after all these years that he had a daughter, a biological daughter. Chase was still struggling to make sense of all of it.
He couldn’t stop himself from giving his all to everything he did: talking, organizing, mediating. He had put everything else out of his mind, including his obvious need for gas.
“Shit, fuck!” He slapped his hand on the steering wheel and looked into the distance for a sign, anything that would give him the reprieve he so needed.
He had to be close to the Nevada border, but he hadn’t seen a sign for miles, nothing but the flat brown land and hills in the distance. Then he saw what looked like a gas station, and as he got closer, he saw it had four pumps.
Chase pulled up to the pump and took in a pickup parked off to the side at the other pump, a rusty seventies model, faded red with wooden panels in the back. He guessed it was often used for livestock. There was not a body around. He half expected tumbleweeds to blow past from the dry dust in the air and the bright desert sun.
He climbed out of the car, taking a minute to roll up the sleeves of his white dress shirt. His dark blue suit pants were creased from having sat too long. He ripped off his loosened tie and tossed it over to the passenger seat, where his suit jacket was also folded, along with his cell phone.
“Hello?” he called out, expecting some grease monkey to appear, but there was no one. He could pump the gas himself, but he wondered whether prepaying was an option here. He was about to open his gas cap when he thought he caught some movement inside the station.
He stepped around the pump, taking in the garbage bin overfilled with takeout packaging and the dirty windows that made up the front of the station, which appeared as if it had never been cleaned. He rested his hand on the door and pulled it open to see a man with an overly bushy mustache and a receding hairline, the remaining dark hair slicked back in some eighties style.
It was in his face, the expression stuck there: Something was off.
It all happened in a manner of seconds as Chase took in the man behind the counter, pale, alarmed, eyes wide, staring at him. The guy said nothing. His hands were up. Chase saw movement, and then someone was pointing a gun toward slick behind the counter. The guy holding it was short, wearing a wide-brimmed hat, and the only thing that registered was that the gun was now pointed at him. Someone was yelling, and everything went into slow motion: the yelling, the movement of the gun and the skinny guy holding it.
“Drop the gun,” Chase said. His hand went out, knocking over a rack of candy, and he grabbed the guy’s wrist as it swung toward him. He took in the scar that ran up the inside of the arm holding the gun—slender, not a lot of muscle.
Someone screamed behind him, and the gun went off. Glass shattered, but he didn’t let it go. Was he hit? Adrenaline surged. He had no idea. He knocked the hat off the guy, and long hair spilled out, a freckled face. Huge bright blue eyes stared up at him from the face of a girl, a teenager. Shit!
“Seriously, a kid?” He had the gun now, and he pinned the girl against the counter, his arm holding her. She was fighting him, kicking back with her hard-soled shoes, nailing him in the shin. He groaned. Christ almighty, the girl had fight. “Stop fighting, kid! Settle yourself down.”
“Let me go!” she shouted and was squirming still. He shoved the gun in the back of his dress pants before he could lose his grip.
“Cops are on their way, you little shit,” the store keep snapped. He was holding the phone, rightfully furious. He was still yelling, but Chase wasn’t looking at him. He was staring down at the teen, who was squirming and trying to break free, giving everything she had to breaking away.
“Tie up that little hellion until the sheriff gets here and can haul her ass away,” some guy with a deep voice shouted from behind Chase. He only glanced back to see an older man in overalls, short and stocky, with white hair that was in bad need of a cut. Behind him was a woman in a pink ball cap. Must have been the screamer. She said nothing now, but then, Chase couldn’t exactly chat when he was occupied with holding the girl.
Then he felt teeth bite into his arm, deep. That damn wildcat had sunk her teeth into him!
“Fuck!” he yelled, worried she was biting into his bone. He didn’t think as he reacted, grabbing a handful of her dirty brown hair and yanking hard. She screamed, which was great, since she no longer had her teeth sunk into his arm. He yelled in his head as he stared at the ragged gouge and the imprint of her teeth now embedded in his forearm, oozing blood.
“Let go of me!” she shrieked again.
“Yeah, I think not,” he said as he lifted her and dropped her onto the ground, pinning her arms behind her as his knee jabbed in her back. “How old are you, anyway?” He took in his right arm, which had blood running down it. He squeezed his fist and shook it, the throbbing giving way to burning and stinging as he took in the trace of blood still on her lips. Fuck, now he was going to have to get a tetanus shot and most likely a round of antibiotics.
Suddenly the girl went quiet, her lips tight. After all her screeching and hollering and fighting to get away, she was lying there as if she’d given up. He expected tears, but instead he was staring at pure stubbornness, the kind he’d seen in the faces of his brothers growing up. So he tightened his hold on her, because that kind of stubborn didn’t give in so easy. She was thinking, trying to give him a false sense of security. Not likely.
“Anyone know her?” he asked, looking up at the three faces. The grungy guy in the overalls was frowning. The guy behind the counter had just hung up the phone, and he could hear sirens in the distance.
“That there looks like one of the Humboldt kids,” the overweight farmer in the overalls called out, rising up on his toes, spitting as he talked. “They have a brood of kids they foster. Hey, kid, you one of those no-good troublemakers?”
The girl didn’t answer, but Chase was staring at her face and didn’t miss the flinch. “Is this Humboldt family where you’re from?” he asked.
Her cheek rested on the dirty speckled floor, and she glanced up to him. “And what’s it to you?” she snapped with an attitude that had him looking a little closer. Yeah, it was nothing but piss and vinegar to cover up how scared she really was. He could see a lot now.
“I asked you how old you are,” he said, his voice lower, sharper, demanding, the kind he used on all the minions who worked in the Massachusetts congressman’s office—correction, the former congressman’s office, where he was the former aide and chief of staff. They were both retired now and exploring their options.
He was sure she wouldn’t answer when two cop cars squealed in. He could see the dust flying, and the older farmer was out the door, lifting his hand to get their attention.
“Please, mister, let me go.” She was scared for sure and begging, too.
“Not happening. Name, age, now,” he snapped.
“What in all hell is going on here?” someone said from the doorway. “What a damn mess this is. Someone please tell me what happened.”
Chase was looking at two solid cops, one short, one tall, wearing tan uniforms and badges, with guns on their hips. Another older man stood behind them in blue jeans, with a star pinned to his chest. It was this man who had spoken, and it didn’t take Chase more than a minute to figure out he was the one in charge.
“You get off her,” the man said. Had to be the sheriff, with a thick mustache, threads of gray in his hair, and a stomach that hung over his belt. He was now standing over Chase.
Chase stood, and the girl he’d been holding down slowly sat up. He took in her face. The tough kid was doing her best to hide how scared shitless she was. “I’ve got the gun tucked in the back of my pants,” Chase said. “Got it away from her.” He went to reach back for it.
“Stop right there. Hands up where I can see them. Don’t be reaching for anything,” said the sheriff.
Chase lifted his hands and waited as the sheriff stepped around him, his hand resting on his holstered gun, and lifted the gun tucked in the waist of Chase’s pants. He stepped back and handed it to the tall cop over by the door.
“Goddamn little shit came in here and pulled a gun in my face,” the man behind the counter said. He’d been crapping his pants when Chase walked in, but he was now working his way up to being an asshole.
“Near as I can figure, I heard the commotion from where I was at the back of the store,” said the overweight farmer. “Saw the gun. Then this numbskull walks in, and everything went to hell.” He was actually pointing to Chase as if he were responsible for all of this, and he seemed angry at Chase for having put an end to something that could have gone really badly. The woman in the ball cap still hadn’t said a word as she crossed her arms, but her eyes made a God help me roll to the ceiling. She obviously knew the farmer.
“Vern, you carry on worse than any woman,” she said. “And truth be told, the only thing this holdup stopped was you shoving another one of those Twinkies down the front of your baggy overalls.”
“What the hell you accusing me of, woman? The girl’s the thief. I’m just a victim, minding my own business, stopping to gas up my truck.” The man was spitting, and patches of red appeared on his round pockmarked face, the kind that hinted he spent his evenings drowning his sorrows in some cheap bottle of Jim Beam or a godawful version of Keystone. Whatever it was, Chase was sure there was probably an empty bottle and dozens of cans tossed in the back of that rundown flatbed.
“That true, Vern? You shoplifting?” the sheriff said, taking a step closer to the fat man. His scuffed boots scraped the floor, his hand resting on his belt. “And you, girl, stay right there.” He jabbed his finger to the girl. Chase was still waiting to learn her name. She’d yet to say one word.
“Hell, no. She’s the damn criminal. What the hell you all doing looking over here at me?” Vern said, spitting again, sounding overly outraged. Chase couldn’t help glancing down at the bulge in his middle, wondering whether maybe he had something else stuffed down there.
Chase took in the girl on the ground, her back resting against the wall of the counter, her knees pulled up. She was looking down, contemplating something. “How old are you?” Chase asked her again just as he tuned out the sheriff and this idiot, whom the sheriff was now demanding to show what he’d stuffed down his overalls. It was crazy like a bad sitcom, back and forth.
The girl wouldn’t answer, and he finally squatted down in front of her.
“What the hell you doing?” he heard one of the other cops say, and he glanced over to the shorter one, who had a pissed-at-life look on his face. “You just stand up there and move away from the girl,” he said. He had cuffs pulled from a pouch on his belt, moving to the girl as Chase stepped back, noting how the cop pinned her down and cuffed her hands behind her back, patting her down—a little too grabby and rough, in his opinion, anyways.
“Hey, jerkoff, get your damn hands off my boob,” the girl said. She had a smart mouth, and Chase could see she wasn’t going to make this easy on herself.
“Hey, take it easy. Can’t you see she’s just a kid?” He was standing behind the cop.
“Get your ass back there out of my space,” the cop snapped at him again. “Armed robbery is something we take seriously around here. Don’t care how old she is. Shoving a gun in someone’s face isn’t just a slap on the wrist.”
“I wasn’t robbing anyone.” It was the first time she’d said anything.
“You just shut your mouth, girl,” the shop keep said, jabbing his hand toward her, his face dark. Chase couldn’t help wondering what the hell he’d walked in on.
“If you weren’t robbing the place, then what were you doing?” Chase asked, taking a step toward the girl, who was now standing. The cop was holding her arm, maybe interested in her answer.
“Just getting what was owed to me,” she said. She wasn’t looking at anyone, but Chase heard a breath catch behind him and took in the shocked expression on the face of the woman in the ballcap. He had a sinking feeling in his stomach that he wasn’t going to like what was coming.
“Owed? What is owed?” the other cop asked. Everyone was looking at the shop keep, who had wide eyes, his hands raised now as if he were the innocent one here and everyone had forgotten it.
“Thirty dollars he didn’t pay me for services rendered,” the girl said.
“She’s a damn liar!” the man shouted, and Chase took in the debacle of a scene and quietly kicked his ass for not filling up in the town forty miles back.
Get DON’T CATCH ME now!
From a Readers’ Favorite award—winning author and “queen of the family saga” (Aherman): Fresh out of the fighting circuit and to those that didn’t know him, Bad Boy Aaron McCabe seemed as if he had it all. Except what everyone doesn’t know is the nightmares that haunt him, the woman he loved who left him and a tragedy that’s driven him to who he is today.
But soon Aaron is caught up in a complex web of secrets, second chances and a gripping twist with two mysterious women that entangles him in a relationship he never believed he was ready for.
A compelling emotional tale about the undeniable power of second chances.
Aaron flexed his fingers and then squeezed his hands, the red and black wraps tight. He was ready, hearing the crowd, the noise, the cheers as the match before him went on: Dregar, unbeaten, versus Trooper, a new guy from Oregon. The crowd was electric, and the announcer on the overhead was loud, raising the crazed energy in the coliseum.
He was waiting for the call, for the locker room door to open. He could hear the frenzy. The energy was through the roof tonight, and he needed a minute to get in the zone, to focus on what he had to do and keep his thoughts from all the dark places they continued to slip to. He would focus on the fight and every punch he landed. He had trained for this, his body was ready for this, his mind was ready for this… He just needed to keep his thoughts centered and in the present.
The door squeaked.
“They’re ready for you,” said Jim, his trainer and manager. Jim knew Aaron well, knew his moods and his routine before every fight. He knew not to go on and on, because Aaron wouldn’t hear him. Aaron wanted quiet, with no one in his face.
He fisted his hands again, feeling the wraps snug, protecting his callused skin. His bare chest and abs were smooth, and he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror by the door. He was toned, hard. His bare feet were shoved into sandals, his red shorts low on his hips, a black robe resting over his shoulders. He slung his arms into it, knowing the routine.
Jim just walked with him without saying a word. Aaron was in his head, not hearing him or anyone else right now. He needed to settle his thoughts. He needed to contain the ache that always started in his chest, in his heart, eating away at his guts and moving up until it stuck in his throat and he would do anything to get it out. It was the same before every fight—the same pain and crushing loss. Her face would come to him slowly, then her scent.
Jim was in front of him as he left the locker room. The stench of sweat and cologne hung heavy in the air. The beefy security guys dressed in black sports shirts and blue jeans, all muscle, were controlling the crowds and lined the rows and the entrance. Then there were the fans in the arena, which was always jam packed. It was loud chaos, and he walked with his head down, focused, seeing only hands reaching out into the aisle as he passed.
He didn’t hear his name, but he heard the fans chanting, and that was when he felt the loss of her. The tightness filling his chest turned to fire and rage, and everything disappeared from his peripheral, the sounds drowning into a hum that built as he approached the cage. He was warm even though he knew the air conditioners were cranked. Jim pulled his robe off, and he stepped out of his sandals. A hand touched his shoulder. Jim said something, but Aaron was too focused on his pain, his hurt, and the fight he was facing. He nodded out of habit and to get him to stop talking. There was a zone he needed to get into to fight, but Aaron was past that now.
He was never scared.
He was ready to fight. He wanted to fight.
He stepped into the ring and heard the announcer, his name echoing in the arena. His opponent was on the other side: Matterson, from Georgia. He wore black shorts, the same tight second skin, five foot ten and one hundred eighty-five pounds. Aaron had three inches and fifteen pounds on him, but that wasn’t his only advantage.
As soon as the bell rang, he saw her. That was when it all hit him, not her face but the screams, the noise, the fear and the panic and the fact that he hadn’t been able to do a damn thing to help her, to get to her. He had been caught up in his own hell. He hadn’t been strong enough.
When he went at his opponent, even though he could hear his fists, feel the punches, the pounding of flesh, the connecting of bone, the blood, he didn’t stop. He kept going. His adrenaline surged and roared in his ears, and his two realities merged in that moment just like they did every time he stepped into the ring, stepped into a fight.
He would win, but he had already lost.
This fight, like every one, was a do over. What he’d once struggled against had been too much, and he was reliving it again and again in a different time, a different place. He could win his fights now, but the one that counted couldn’t have been won. He hadn’t been able to save her—Brittany. He relived the horror of that day twelve years ago. He’d been young, eighteen, believing he knew everything and could do anything. The fact was that he’d known nothing at all.
He fought for her now, but he still couldn’t save her.
His arm was raised as he was declared the victor. He was out of breath, seeing Matterson on the ground, his team around him, helping him to his feet. Aaron had won again, as he did every time he stepped into the ring, but it was a win that filled him with nothing as he took in the crowds. He could hear the noise, the cheers, the chanting for him. McCabe, McCabe, over and over. The energy should have lifted him, but it left him a spectator, seeing it all from the outside looking in.
He saw the groupies, the screaming women and cheering men. The vibration of adrenaline was still crashing through him. He blinked, suddenly back in the arena, seeing the lights, the rumbling crowds, and the flashing cameras. He took in the banner strung between two women, one in a tight stretched white tank, with no bra, leaving little to the imagination as she jumped in the air: McCabe, I love you! But she was just a face in the crowd, because the woman he loved, the one who haunted his dreams, the one he fought for every time he stepped into the ring, this was all for her.
He was doing now what he hadn’t been able to do then, but none of it made him feel anything except the crushing weight of loss, because she was gone now, and it hit him harder than it had after any other fight. Brittany was the only woman he’d ever loved.
He climbed out of the ring and slipped into his robe. Hands dabbed at something on his face—a cut, most likely. There were smiles, cheers, slaps on his back and his shoulders from his team. He’d made his fans happy, his coach happy, the screaming women happy, except Aaron didn’t care about any of them.
The only person he wanted to make happy was the one person who wasn’t here: Brittany, with her sweet face, her hazel eyes, her auburn hair, and the dimples he loved.
He hung his head, his hood pulled up. Again it hit low in his gut, the thud of emptiness as he saw it clearly, the plea in her eyes as she’d reached out across a courtyard to him. That second had changed his entire life, because Aaron hadn’t been able to do then what he could have done now. He hadn’t been able to save Brittany.
Get DON’T RUN FROM ME now!
Sometimes what we can’t see is standing right in front of us all along.
From a Readers’ Favorite award—winning author and “queen of the family saga” (Aherman): Luc McCabe is a man on the edge. Not only has he given up on his ideal happily ever after, which includes a man who’ll love him and children of his own. He’s leaving behind his old life that has been only been about endings.
What Luc doesn’t realize is sometimes love happens unexpectedly.”
Luc pushed himself the last mile over a path still damp from an overnight shower. The humidity had already cranked up, though, sticking his T-shirt and shorts to his skin. He ran through Lincoln Park, his earbuds plugged in as he listened to his playlist, spanning Eminem to U2, which drowned out the sounds of the midmorning Chicago rush.
This was his last run, his last night in Chicago—a city that held nothing but endings for him. His entire life had been all about finding his place, but he had never fit in. Unsettled, that was it. He had always needed to fit into situations instead of the other way around. He often wondered whether anyone truly knew who he was, or would he continue to keep everyone close to him at a distance? He realized he had always tried to conform to be included, in his family, his job, his life.
He pushed himself to a sprint, pumping his arms, his new Adidas runners pounding the ground as he circled the park for two and a half miles. The gate was just ahead, and he pushed through, welcoming the burn just as the playlist shuffled to Queen’s “Somebody to Love.” It had been his and Bruce’s song, a song he now hated, and it filled him with memories of everything that hadn’t worked.
He yanked his earbuds out and slowed to a walk, dragging in each breath, his army-green T-shirt soaked with sweat, and beads of it trickled down his neck as he walked it off, not looking into the face of anyone who passed. His iPhone chirped a ridiculous bird call, and he pulled it out, seeing a picture of his brother.
“This is the second time today you’ve called,” Luc said, swiping at the sweat on his forehead. “Even for you, this is a little much.”
“Just checking on where you’re at,” Chase said. He sounded distracted and to the point.
“I’m running—or was. Finished packing. The movers are arriving this afternoon, and then I’m heading to the airport. Anything else, Mom, or do you want me to call you again as I’m leaving?”
He didn’t miss the chuckle. At times, Chase needed to organize everyone and everything as if he specialized in everyone else’s problems. Luc had never let his brother organize or fix him, though, and he never would. “Sorry, habits,” Chase said. “Listen. I was wondering if you could do something for me.”
Luc pulled the phone away and stared at it, then took in the clear and sunny day in the park, staring up at the sky. “Uh, I’m not sure I heard you right. You need help from me?”
“Stop being a smartass, would you?”
Luc couldn’t help wondering what was up, considering Chase never asked anyone for help—not that Vic, Aaron, or even he did either. It was just that Chase was always shoving his nose in everywhere, trying to fix each of them. This was a first on so many levels. “Couldn’t help myself. I thought for a second the world had tilted on its axis.”
“It’s just a simple yes or no, Luc,” Chase said. Now he sounded irritated and short, which wasn’t like him. Maybe Luc should have been worried.
“It goes without saying,” he said. “Just ask. You know I will.” He circled the edge of the park, taking in people crossing at the lights, everyone in a hurry, impatient, the cars stopped.
“Rose is in Chicago, closing up some personal financial matters. I’m not really happy about it, but since her ex has been served for divorce, there are some delicate issues that still need to be resolved there.”
“Whoa, wait, what do you mean, delicate?” Luc said. “Didn’t you say her ex was that senator who used her as a punching bag?” He was sure that was what Chase had said, or maybe it had been Aaron. When Chase met Rose, she had been hiding from the scumbag she was married to, believing he’d eventually kill her.
“I did say that, which is why I’m hoping you’ll hang beside her, get her on the plane with you. I have to finish up here or I’d be there. I have Billy Jo and can’t leave. For some reason, Rose didn’t want to wait. She’s developed this confidence, thinking Travis won’t touch her now after the sit-down I had with him. She thinks I’ve made sure he’ll behave—which I have, but he’s a politician, so his word means nothing.”
“A sit-down, what? Are you kidding?” Then again, this was Chase. That was what he did with everyone and everything.
“He’s a successful man, ambitious, with a one-way focus on the White House. A scandal of this nature, him being an abuser of women, that isn’t something he’d want made public. It would hurt him. I made sure he understood just how much. It was necessary, but still, he is who he is: a monster who wouldn’t think twice about pulling some underhanded shit. Wouldn’t put it past him to pull something, now that he knows where Rose is. He probably even knows she’s in Chicago.”
“So you want me to babysit your girl?”
“I want you to show up and glue yourself to her side until she finishes her business, and then get her to the airport with you. She’ll get on a flight to Salem, and Vic will pick you both up. I’ll meet you at Vic’s, and then I’ll be able to breathe a little easier.”
Maybe that was it, the unease he was hearing in his brother’s voice. Chase lived and breathed drama, problems, solving what others couldn’t, but this was the first time Luc had heard something in his brother’s voice that made him stop and really focus on what he wasn’t saying. Chase never asked for help, and Luc was well aware that he’d never once called on him this way before.
“She’ll be fine,” Luc said. “Just tell me where she is. I’ll leave now.”
“She’s booked into the Hyatt downtown, room 403. I told her to stay put until you get there. And, Luc, thank you.” Chase sighed on the other end.
“Don’t mention it,” Luc said, and as he hung up, he also breathed a little easier. Not only had Chase backed off from giving him the third degree about what his plans were, from prying into his business, love life, and everything else that had gone to shit, for the first time ever he was the one reaching out to Luc for help.
Luc looked up to the sky, expecting to see pigs flying.
Get DON’T HIDE FROM ME now!
—“Once again Lorhainne has captured me in her writings. A wonderful book, just like the books about the Friessen men. This series is going to be just as good.” Reviewer, Petra
You never know when you’ll suddenly meet[_ The One_]!
In THE ONE, Margaret Gordon was once a prominent Seattle surgeon, and after an accident returns to her hometown, the perfect spot to hide out from everyone and to lick her wounds, with no one around but her horse.
Margaret never considered herself a horse person. But when the now-widowed Joe Wilde drives in one morning with a teenage boy and a horse with a problem, Margaret turns into that klutzy teenage misfit that silently carried a torch for Joe all through school. But when smooth-talking Joe convinces Margaret into working with the temperamental horse, sparks fly and sizzle between them. Only Joe believes Margaret has despised him all his life, and when life throws Joe a curveball he soon finds out the right woman he’s been looking for has been there all along.
Can Joe and Margaret put aside their differences and realize that the other is, The One?
Margaret Gordon leaned against the splintered front steps, watching the sun rise from the privacy of her front yard. There were only two things that could have irritated her as she stood outside the older two-bedroom farmhouse she’d inherited from her grandfather—which she still found odd, him leaving everything to her and not her mother, who felt slighted. The first thing was the possibility of having her morning coffee interrupted by anyone, and the second was the sight of an uninvited guest, driving a dark blue truck spewing dust and gravel down her very private driveway.
The large four by four pulled in, stopping a few feet in front of her. Margaret froze. Instead of turning, running back into the house and slamming the door, she found herself rooted to the spot, suffering a sudden lapse of basic social skills. Her eyes widened, and she stared in horror as a tall, dark-haired man dressed in a tan barn coat and blue jeans stepped out of the truck. His wavy hair was a little shaggy, falling just past his ears and flickering almost black under the early morning sunlight. He was handsome, with a square jaw and the kind of body a woman would never tire of…and he was staring at her now with an unusual amount of interest.
When the passenger door slammed, Margaret jumped, spilling what was left of her coffee on the wrinkled jeans she’d pulled on that morning. “Shit…” she muttered, biting her tongue before she could embarrass herself further. She wiped the wet spot on her pants before fisting her hand and giving up. A tall, gangly boy fell in behind the cowboy. Obviously, they were father and son, but what did the pair want with her? Margaret yanked down her wide-brimmed cowboy hat and yanked up the collar of her grandfather’s old wool coat. She’d just climbed out of bed and hadn’t taken the time to splash water on her face or run a brush through her long, dark hair. Her first priority had been coffee, outside, in this cool April morning on her very private twenty acres that no one ever visited. She was horrified. For a minute, she wondered if she smelled, and then she worried about how bad she looked.
Margaret wished she was sitting down as she lowered her gaze, fighting the urge to press her hand over her pounding heart. She dumped out the rest of her coffee, creating a puddle at her feet, and then stared at the tall man, all muscles and arrogance, striding toward her.
“I’m looking for a Miss Gordon,” he barked.
“You found her. What can I do for you?” Margaret didn’t move, nor did she offer—in any neighborly kind of way—a cup of coffee, a hello, or any sort of welcome.
“Mister Jerow at the feed store mentioned you do some work with horses,” the man said.
Margaret watched as he stepped closer still, but the gangly boy beside him took one look at her and hung back. She guessed that was her answer: without grabbing a mirror, she knew she looked rough and untidy. She frowned. The kid appeared scared of his own shadow or, she supposed, her prickly attitude. Scaring kids was not something she wanted to be known for. As it was, Margaret Gordon, former neurosurgeon from Seattle, was already known for destroying kids’ futures. At least that was how she saw herself, anyway.
“You do work with horses, don’t you?” he said. He had a deep, smoky voice that rattled her insides.
Margaret stared at him, thinking there was something seriously wrong with her to be so affected by some backwoods cowboy, and then shook her head. “Don’t know why Mister Jerow would have told you that,” she said. Though the truth was, that since Margaret had returned to Post Falls, Idaho, in a haze of shame, she was more comfortable with animals than she was with people, because animals didn’t lie.
The man looked away, confused, and let out a harsh chuckle. “Sorry to have wasted your time,” he said. Her horse nickered from the rough bark corral her grandfather had built from the trees on the land. “That your horse?” the man asked as he wandered closer to Angel, her five-year-old Egyptian Arabian.
Margaret couldn’t believe how he walked right up to Angel and stroked her with his large hand. Angel never lets anyone near her except Margaret, and she nickered again as the man touched her forelock and rubbed her neck, turning heavenly blue eyes on Margaret. Her stomach flip-flopped and her cheeks burned. Out of the corner of her eye, she glimpsed the awkward teen, who wore baggy jeans and a dark hoodie, with the same dark hair as the man who leaned against her corral. The teen wore a baseball cap over hair long enough to cover his ears, and he shuffled his scuffed sneakers, kicking up the dust. He dropped his gaze to the ground.
“You don’t talk much, do you?” the man said from where he leaned over by her horse.
“I already told you I can’t help you,” she snapped, swinging her favorite mug and wishing she could slip back into the house and shut the door. Why wouldn’t they just leave?
“I don’t think you really answered me,” the man replied.
She couldn’t believe it—the man was smiling at her. What made it worse was that he had one of those million-dollar smiles, with a set of dimples that had her legs softening to limp noodles.
“What are you looking for?” She tried to cross her arms but was hampered by the cracked mug she held. She felt like an idiot.
“My boy’s horse, he can’t get near it. Forget riding it. Told him unless we can find someone to straighten the horse out, I’m getting rid of it. I’m not paying to feed a dangerous animal that’s of no use to me.”
Margaret watched the boy’s face hardening as his father spoke. A glimmer of hurt flashed in the teen’s eyes. She recognized that tough, pain-in-the-ass, don’t-give-a-crap attitude written all over the kid’s face. It was the same expression she had worn as a twelve-year-old tomboy sent to live with her grandfather, Carl Spick, by a corporate mother busy fast-tracking her career as a top-ten stockbroker in Seattle. Being unwanted and considered a nuisance had produced all kinds of attitude and a profound, deep hurt in Margaret. What was this kid’s story?
“That true, kid?” she asked the boy.
The kid jerked his head up and stared at her, wide eyed. He flushed as he glanced at his father. “Yeah, I guess.”
“What’s your horse’s name?” Margaret asked.
The boy’s father, still leaning against the corral, answered, “Storm. He’s twelve, a gelding, Percheron–Quarter Horse cross. Old enough to know better.” He was coming toward her, his hands on slim hips molded into a pair of wranglers, and he was digging into each step with a dusty pair of boots. Margaret wanted to shrink back and find someplace to hide—maybe because she noticed he had arms a woman could get lost in. She figured he must have an arrogant attitude, too. The kid wasn’t talking. It took Margaret a moment to realize how quickly he had shut down, instantly becoming a shadow behind his father.
“There are all kinds of horse people not more than twenty miles from here, around Spokane. They could do wonders, I’m sure,” Margaret said. “What is it you think I can do for you?”
She didn’t know why she was still talking. She wasn’t qualified to do much of anything but lie out here and lick her wounds. It didn’t help matters that she had also been falling on the wrong side of everything lately, including a three-hundred-year-old Kootenai County code. Living alone on a twenty-acre ranch in the entirely conservative northern Idaho panhandle wasn’t entirely bad if you were a single man, but if you were a single woman, it just wasn’t done. She knew that, and so did everyone else around here. What was wrong with this man? Didn’t he know who she was?
“I’m not interested in taking my kid’s horse to some yahoo in Washington State,” he said. “Look, can you just take a look at the horse? That’s all I’m asking.”
The man was in her space now, right in front of her. Holy shit, was he tall. She was five foot nine, so he had to be at least six two, six three. She sidestepped away. Maybe he was one of those guys who got a kick out of tormenting women, because he stepped closer again, matching each step she took, like a slow dance, until she bumped the steps that led into the small house. She would have fallen flat on her backside if he hadn’t reached out and grabbed her. He held her in a way that was familiar and close, stirring feelings in her that couldn’t possibly be real. No, that was definitely not a road she would go down any time soon. She’d been there, done that, another reason she was hiding out here now.
“Kind of nervous, are you? Or is it me? Do you have a problem with me?” he said.
She couldn’t look at him. Her face was burning, as she yanked herself away, pushing past him, fighting the urge to rub her arm where his hand had lingered almost possessively. She yanked the brim of her hat down and searched out the kid, who was pressed against the driver’s door, hiding behind the rear-view mirror.
“I can’t make any promises,” she said, “but I’ll take a look.”
The man was standing right behind her. “Great. Can you come by today, say, this afternoon?”
No no no, she thought. She didn’t want to go anywhere. She didn’t want to leave this property today or any time soon. What had she gotten herself into? She couldn’t do it, and she felt the icy fear paralyzing her like a surge of adrenaline until she glimpsed the boy. He searched her out with pleading eyes before jamming both hands in his baggy pants pockets and staring at the ground again. Margaret couldn’t find her voice, so she nodded, swallowing a hard lump.
Mr. Good-looking stuck out his large, calloused hand. “Great,” he said. “I’m Joe Wilde. My son’s Ryan. We’re five miles up the road. I’ll draw you a map.”
Joe Wilde. Of course, she thought. He was one of the five Wilde boys she knew from childhood, all of whom had run the school and the county with their shenanigans. She had thought against hope that it might be him, the boy who’d haunted her childhood, teasing her mercilessly and christening her with a horrible nickname that had stuck with her until she moved away to attend medical school. The icy reality set in that unless he had suffered some sort of head injury, it would only be a matter of time before he realized who she really was. Then again, he only knew her as the “orange giant”—and every other crude version of the name that the kids had whispered in the sterile school halls. She doubted very much that he knew what her real name was.
Joe ripped an envelope in half from inside his truck and drew out a rough map. “Here, it’s easy to find,” he said. His fingers skimmed hers as he handed her the paper, invading her space again, standing right beside her. This time, he touched her shoulder as she struggled to decipher the pencilled lines and accompanying chicken scratch that would’ve made any doctor proud. She stiffened and smelled something pleasant before realizing it was him, not aftershave or cologne. She wondered how in the world soap and water could make a man smell that good. He might as well have been pressed right against her, as his heat was seeping into her as if they were two Eskimos pressed together under a bed of furs…. [_Stop it! _]she barked silently to stop her mind from going down that road.
She sidestepped again and dropped her hand, crumpling the paper. She went to step back but then tripped on his foot, dropping the mug. It shattered across the steps. He grabbed her and lifted her, knocking her hat off, and her mousy brown hair fell loose in disarray past her shoulders.
He set her down and then bent over to pick up her hat, brushing off the dust as he handed it to her. She snatched it away, stuck it on her head, and raced straight for the front door.
“So we’ll see you this afternoon around two?” he shouted to her retreating back.
She didn’t turn around as she stumbled up the two steps. “Yeah, uh-huh,” she managed to mutter as she opened the door and slammed it behind her.
Joe stood outside the old log house with single-paned windows, the Spick house, watching the closed door Margaret Gordon had slammed in his face as if he were a leper and she couldn’t get away from him fast enough. Just what the hell was the matter with the woman, anyhow?
She had always acted as though she had a stick shoved up her ass. All through school, she’d gone out of her way to avoid him, though she had mile-long legs that he had often pictured wrapped around him. Her long, thick, dark hair framed the most gorgeous smoky brown eyes and a cute round face. To top it off, she had a light smattering of freckles on her nose and cheeks that she never tried to hide with a pound of makeup. Her skin was flawless, and those lips—he dreamed of taking them for a test drive.
It was obvious the woman thought he was lower than a dung beetle. To tell the truth, he was embarrassed that his son had watched that woman try to emasculate him. Just what the hell was she doing, living out here all by herself, anyway? Last he heard, she’d hopped the first bus to Seattle for medical school. He’d seen her a few times over the years, and she had always had the same snobbish, stuck-up attitude, walking around as if she was better than everyone, looking right through him as if she didn’t see him.
He’d seen her in town a few months back. She was tall and gorgeous, with a set of breasts he dreamed of running his hands over, feeling the weight of them. He had pictured what they’d look like, full and creamy with dark red nipples. Well, at the time, he’d nearly gone over and asked her out, but his common sense had kicked in, and he remembered that she had fought over money with her mother when her grandfather hadn’t even been cold in the ground. Carl Spick would’ve rolled over in his grave if he’d seen the way his granddaughter and daughter acted, like two selfish moneygrubbers. Joe didn’t need a woman like that in his life. Even now, he could barely make ends meet. With the economy in the toilet, he’d all but given up on ranching. He’d sold off the last of his cattle the year before Carl died and had started taking out trees here and there in the back, milling the lumber himself.
Here he was again, all because Stan Jerow had told him Margaret was still here. He had insisted that Margaret was who Joe needed for Ryan’s horse, that she could work magic with any animal. Her grandfather had said Margaret had a special connection to them, a certain touch. Whatever was going on with his horse, Ryan’s horse, Margaret would figure it out. When he’d driven in and seen her in that ratty old hat and wool coat, he’d felt poleaxed. He would never have believed a woman could make anything that frumpy look sexy. The way she had walked, all sexy in those faded blue jeans, along with the fact that she didn’t need to curl and primp just to step outside, had all his good sense taking a hike, which was the one and only reason he had worked her until she agreed to come and see Storm. Whatever he was thinking with, it sure in the hell hadn’t been his brain. As he bent over and picked up the broken mug, he reminded himself that he had until that afternoon to pull his head out of his ass, have her look at the horse and then send her on her way.
Get THE ONE now!
—“I wish I could find a man like the Wilde Brothers.” – Tina
—“Read the whole thing in one day. A page turner from start to finish. Makes me wish I lived in Idaho.” – Diane
In FRIENDLY FIRE, after a roadside bomb ends his career in the marines, Logan Wilde struggles to put his life back together, taking a job as a sheriff in a small Idaho town. He expects a quiet, peaceful life that will bore him to tears. Until he walks through the door of Julia Cooper’s cafe.
From the moment the new sheriff walks into Julia’s cafe, she fights the attraction from the new sheriff, a man she recognizes is ex-military and has baggage that comes along with it. Even though she’s never felt this way for another man, Julia isn’t willing to take a chance with Logan. No she’s convinced herself she needs stability, someone average, someone who has never handled a gun. Except when her daughter disappears its Logan who’s there for her, it’s Logan she turns to, and Logan who turns the town upside down searching for her.
But what Logan realizes is the disappearance of her daughter may not be as it seems, and while Julia waits on the sidelines she wonders if she’ll ever be able to trust again and open her heart and take a chance on love.
Don’t choke, don’t hesitate, the voice in his head urged over and over as Logan Wilde pounded the ground, kicking up dust and sand as he ran through the field, his finger locked on his rifle. As the squad leader, he was never supposed to go first, but he wanted—needed—to; even though his heart was pounding. Adrenaline surged through his veins like cool liquid from an IV. Sweat made his T-shirt and uniform stick to his chest, a second skin…and the smell, it was something he might never forget. The dirt and grit scraped his lungs, his nose, his mouth. He had been told he would get used to it eventually.
The heat and dirt and grunge didn’t get to him, though, no matter how uncomfortable they were. What got to him was the guilt and worry, needing to be first through the door, because if anyone was going to take a bullet, it had to be him. These were his men. He had trained them, and they were his brothers.
He hunkered down, resting his rifle on the sandy mound and looking through his scope, eyeing the roadblock ahead as his marines took their position. His men all knew what to do. Many of them were still kids, but they trained together and lived together, and they knew each other better than most families. To Logan, these men were family. He didn’t have to look to know that Sergeant Mike Duffy was manning the tank-mounted machine gun or that Corporal Jeff Starly had his back.
He gave the order right before a high-pitched whistle caught his attention—then there was a flash, heat and pain. His muscles seized at the long, rough droning sound, intense pain ripping through his leg. He gasped, fighting past the sense of being strangled. He couldn’t get his breath. His eyes were open, and he was on his back, staring up at the light blue sky. Was it the sky? He blinked. The sound was deafening; everything happening in slow motion. Where was the brightness, the obscured sun, and the colorless desert? It made no sense, this dingy, speckled ceiling.
He blinked again. The buzzing kept going on and on, irritating him. It just wouldn’t stop. His heartbeat was a booming sound in his ears, and something twisted around his legs, pulling him down. This time, he couldn’t get away. He was drowning, he was sure. Something had him, and he thrashed and fought. There was a crash, then silence. No noise, no buzz—nothing. He just stared. Logan blinked, trying to make sense of what he was seeing.
He took a breath, beads of sweat rolling off his forehead as he tried to swallow past the dryness in his throat—his heart hammering in his chest. When he went to lift his hand, twisted in the sheets, he yanked it free and heard the cloth tear. He was naked, out of breath as if he’d been running for miles, and he was drenched with sweat. His face, his chest, even his hands were damp. He stared at a spot on the wall and then lower, to a shattered black alarm clock in the corner, then to his gun on the nightstand beside him.
Logan Wilde lowered his face to his hands and scrubbed hard over a day-old beard. “Get a grip,” he muttered, his hands trembling as he tried to shake off the dream that returned every time he closed his eyes. He never knew when the dream would hit him. It always crept up on him, sucking him back into the insanity of war. It took him a minute now, as he stood on shaky legs, staring at the plain, boxlike bedroom, his clothes stacked on a three-drawer dresser, before it started to come back to him. He had taken a job in MacKay, a small town, part of a ranching community nestled in a charming valley with Idaho’s nine highest peaks right at its back door.
This should have given him peace. MacKay had everything he wanted, everything he needed. He had told himself over and over that this would be good for him. He took in the rumpled double bed, nightstand, and dresser that had come with the older two-bedroom house he was renting at the edge of town. It was all he needed, since it was already furnished with everything, including a coffeepot in the kitchen. It was perfect, no stress, easy: So why was he still having these damn dreams?
He sat back on the edge of the bed, the mattress dipping, and lowered his head in his hands. He ran his fingers roughly through his short, rumpled hair and over the back of his head. His damn hands still wouldn’t quit shaking. He held them up in front of his face, worried for a minute that he’d see blood; and let out a sigh of relief when he didn’t. He blinked, sweat rolling off his brow and down the bridge of his nose. His large, calloused, tanned hands should have been steady and sure and solid—instead he felt like some wet-behind-the-ears kid.
“Get a grip. Come on, it’s not real,” he said, his gruff voice sounding strange to his own ears. He was a man on the edge; losing control. He had dangled between life and death, seeing all the horrors of battle. He had teetered with one foot over that edge during the seventeen days he had been in a coma; tubes sticking out of him, a ventilator breathing for him. He had been left without a spleen, his skull fractured, his leg having to be pieced back together—all because of the roadside bomb he had never spotted. The explosion had ended his career as a first sergeant in the marines, but that wasn’t the worst of it. No, the worst thing was his memories of the people he had lost because of that mistake.
Get FRIENDLY FIRE now!
Ben Wilde is sure of one thing, it’s that Carrie Richardson is trouble. (Guest appearance by Logan Wilde.)
—“I have read the series of “ The Wilde”; books full of strong family minded men. They care and love their women. Lorhainne Eckhart is one of my favorite writers, she never disappoints her fans.”
The name Ben Wilde means something in the oil and gas industry. Admired as one of the top ten bachelors in Idaho, he’s a man who has it all…except when it comes to love.
That is, until he meets Carrie Richardson: an environmentalist, a fiery blond beauty, and an absolute thorn in his side, and Ben soon learns that she is none other than the spokesperson for the group that has aggravated him throughout the entire project.
The advice about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer backfires on Ben and Carrie, though, because the fact is that they want each other badly. However, Carrie can’t let her community down—and Ben has a job to do.
He really was a handsome cuss.
Ben Wilde took in the shiny magazine cover bearing the headline Idaho’s oilman: a dream catch! in bold lettering just below his photo. As he thumbed through the magazine and took in the other men who had made the list, a special feature on the top ten bachelors in Idaho, he was stunned that his profile was the one they’d chosen for the cover. This type of Hollywood-ism really wasn’t for him, but he paused for a moment as he remembered the magazine editor, a slim redhead who had phoned him a dozen times until he agreed to an interview.
She’d been cute, flirting with him mercilessly the entire hour she had been there. Ben realized now that he should have asked for more details about the article…not that he was mad. He was more uncomfortable, maybe, considering his entire family would see him plastered on the front page like some male model. He would never hear the end of the teasing and smart remarks, even though the photo was good—really good. In fact, it was one of his better ones. His brilliant blue eyes really stood out, and the open collar of his starched white dress shirt showed a hint of his dark chest hair.
The editor had asked him to take his tie off, saying that an undone button or two would tease the women. He had humored her, the editor. What was her name? He supposed he could look it up, but she hadn’t made that much of an impression on him aside from surprising the hell out of him by putting his picture on the front cover. As he looked closer at his picture, he realized that even his short, dark hair, with the cowlick on the left side, was flattering in a disheveled, bad-boy kind of way, but it was his expression that showed his strength and determination, even his arrogance, which his brothers often teased him for.
In the photo, he stood with arms crossed on the front steps of the corporate office, the corporate sign of Kootenai Kounty Oil in the background. Maybe this article wasn’t such a bad thing, especially considering all of the bad press that KKO had been subjected to over the past few months. This was good, making him seem personable and likeable.
Ben sighed. He was starting to sound like their PR department.
“Ben? I have another ten messages from Melissa, Kim, Lizzy, and Tina,” his secretary said, interrupting his thoughts. His secretary, Verna Barnes, was a plump, middle-aged woman with shoulder-length, dark brown hair and a square face. She was wearing a purple blouse and a knee-length black skirt as she strode through the door in low heels. Verna was confident and never shy, with four nearly grown children and a husband at home. She was well rounded, all about family, and Ben loved her motherly ways. That was a part of her that defined who she was, whether she knew it or not. She’d had her first baby at eighteen—still a kid, at least in Ben’s eyes. Verna loved her family and her job, though some days he wondered if she loved her job just a little more.
She hovered beside him as he lounged in his leather chair, giving him a flirty expression as if she was holding on to something before setting a handful of messages down in front of him and then tapping the magazine on his large, glass-topped desk. “You’re proud of that picture, hmm? Well, apparently, so are your girlfriends.” She tapped the messages. “These are all from them.”
Ben reached for the messages and thumbed through each one. Melissa was a tall, stacked brunette. Kim was a blonde, medium height, with a runner’s body—tight and toned. Lizzy…she was fun, with dark hair in a short bob, a bright smile, and dynamite cleavage that he loved. He had been on a few dates with Tina, the redhead. She wasn’t as stacked as the others, though she had a generous handful, and he’d discovered that her red hair was artificial while stripping her down one night, but that had been a night to remember—the best sex he’d had in a long time. Tina had stamina and could keep up with his needs.
He smiled as he set the messages down. Even though each of the women were lovely, not one of those ladies had left him with the burning desire to call and make plans for the evening. A pity, really.
Verna raised one of her thick eyebrows. She seemed to have figured out that he wasn’t interested long before he had. “You know that article portrays a side of you that folks don’t often see,” she said, actually reaching over and picking up the magazine to thumb through the pages. “Right here, I love this line: ‘Ben Wilde is a name that means something in the oil and gas industry. Well dressed, handsome, and smart, he’s a man who has it all, and he’s responsible for putting Kootenai Kounty Oil on the map as one of the biggest oil and gas pipeline projects in the Pacific Northwest.’”
Ben continued to lounge in his leather chair, watching Verna as she held the magazine open. She grinned proudly before glancing down at him with a mischievous look, one he’d seen many a time from the only woman, aside from his mother, who truly understood him. Verna was the one person in this industry he trusted implicitly, and he knew anything he said would never leave her confidence. He would go to his grave believing that. She had the kind of loyalty that couldn’t be bought. He had recognized something special in her when he’d pulled her from the secretarial pool six years ago, after he had been recruited by Peter Stillwell, the founder and CEO of this mega oil company. Peter was a self-made man in his sixties, and he was responsible for Ben’s success in the industry.
“How mad do you think Rick is going to be about this article?” Verna said. She closed it up and tossed it down on the desk in front of Ben, putting her hands on her plump hips over the unflattering dark, pleated skirt that fell just past her knees.
Ben frowned. Now in his late twenties, Rick Stillwell had always been in his father’s shadow. The only reason Rick had the cushy corner office down the hall from Ben was because his father owned the company. In Ben’s eyes, he hadn’t earned his place, including his title of vice president of operations. As Ben was the president, Rick had to answer to him, which didn’t go over too well for the pompous, spoiled ass—and the worst part was that Ben didn’t have the freedom to toss Rick’s lazy, unproductive butt out the door.
The man was a freeloader, and that went against everything Ben believed in, all the hardworking morals that had been drilled into him and his fellow Wilde brothers. However, Ben had also learned that there were times to push an issue and times to let things go. He had learned long ago to play the cards he had been dealt, so he knew that although Rick was a pain in the ass, he wasn’t going anywhere. Ben just needed to manage him and keep him on a tight leash.
“I don’t really care what he thinks,” he replied. Every time the conversation drifted toward Rick, that slimy son of a bitch, Ben had to move his thoughts along to something else or risk having a really bad day.
Verna didn’t say anything more. She didn’t have to. Rick had also been a problem for Verna ever since she’d started working for Ben. Every so often, he would quiz Verna on what Ben was up to, not only his projects but also his personal life. The last time, after she told him to stop bothering her, Rick had threatened to have her sent back to the typing pool unless she became more forthcoming. Ben had put a stop to that, cornering Rick in the elevator and staring him down, making it clear that if Rick bothered Verna again, he would be having a problem with Ben—a problem he would wish he didn’t have.
“Look, he’s a prick,” Ben said. “It doesn’t matter what I do. He’s always going to have a problem with it.”
“If you say so,” Verna said. “So what do you want me to tell all the ladies who keep calling and asking questions about you?”
“Excuse me?” He reached for the messages, wondering if his “girlfriends,” as Verna would say, had called more than once.
She rolled her eyes. “Since the article, all kinds of anonymous women have been phoning, leaving messages for you. One wants to fly in and have dinner and would like to know what day you’ll be available. Another offered to have your baby…” she trailed off. Maybe it was the way he was staring at her that had her stopping and giving him another teasing smile. “Oh, there’ve been many more, and I guarantee you there’ll probably be more to come. That article is going to have every warm-blooded woman hunting you down, trying to stick their brand on you, chasing a wedding ring.”
“Uh…” he started. Although he liked women, a lot, he was not too interested in being stalked—and God forbid being tied down to only one woman. Terrifying, indeed! “Tell them that I left the country,” he said, wondering if he had paled at the fleeting, panicked thought of having women showing up at his workplace to press their interest. No, he definitely wouldn’t be able to handle that.
“For how long?” Verna asked from the doorway, a hint of humor in her tone, as her phone had started ringing again from her desk.
“Indefinitely,” he said. “Oh, and to be safe, alert security. No unauthorized visitors!” he added as a chilling whisper of creepiness touched the back of his neck. He had to fight the urge to shiver.
This time, Verna did laugh. “Already done!” she said, starting out the door. “Oh, Mr. Stillwell, how are you today?”
Peter Stillwell, the CEO, flashed Verna a smile as he stepped past her and into Ben’s office, showing off his capped, white teeth. It was a practiced smile Ben had seen all too often on this sharply dressed man. Today, Peter was dressed in a navy Armani suit, with silver cufflinks, a starched white shirt, and a red tie. He was distinguished, and, as always, his white hair was freshly cut. He was tall, though not as tall as Ben, and he kept himself in good shape. His confidence showed in the way he carried himself.
Ben couldn’t make out what else he said to Verna as he leaned in toward her, but whatever it was had her giggling—and Verna wasn’t one of those women who often giggled like a silly schoolgirl. Ben couldn’t help wondering what was up. Although he liked and admired Peter, there was something about him, and Ben didn’t want him taking too much interest in his secretary. Peter was a family man, in theory, married to the same woman for the past forty years. In this day and age, considering the divorce rate, that was unusual, to say the least, especially for a man of his status. On the other hand, Peter’s faithfulness was questionable, as Ben suspected Peter had a mistress or two. Ben may not have approved, but he didn’t judge him, either. He just didn’t want Peter expressing any interest in Verna. He tapped the desk, considering. Yes, maybe he needed to talk to Verna about this.
“Hey, Ben,” Peter said. “I wanted to talk to you about that new pipeline project.” He closed the door, and his smile for Verna vanished. Ben noticed his hesitation as he took in the large office. Instead of taking a seat in one of the two chairs in front of Ben’s desk, Peter wandered over to the black leather sofa, unbuttoning his jacket before sitting down and putting his arm over the back of the sofa. He tapped the leather as if considering what to say. “We’re having some trouble from the natives—figuratively speaking, of course,” he continued. There was no humor in his expression, but something put Ben on alert.
“What kind of trouble?” he asked. He knew the small community of Kit Cove on the coastline was not too happy about the pipeline project passing through their town. He’d already heard it a hundred times, and he’d been watching carefully from the sidelines.
“Apparently, the community has sent over a list of questions they want answered,” Peter said. “I’ve forwarded it to our PR department to handle, but the people in that community are already staging protests. Normally, we’d ignore it, but they’re getting media coverage. A little too much attention, if you get my meaning.” Peter brushed a piece of lint from his cuff, taking a deep breath as he looked at Ben again. He smiled this time, but it didn’t reach his eyes.
Ben knew well that Peter hated all of the “riffraff,” as he called them, who caused trouble for his drilling projects. That was reason enough for Peter’s irritation. Ben didn’t share Peter’s distaste for environmentalists, certainly not to the same degree of hatred. He found them a pain in the ass at times, and some were even over the top and dangerous, but most were those he called “weekend protestors,” who would go back to their busy lives and forget about the issues after everything was said and done. The problem ones were enough of a threat that KKO had files of information on them: pictures, backgrounds, whereabouts, and a list of everyone connected to them. Their security team made it a top priority to keep track of where these people were, but then so did the country’s top intelligence service, which was where some of their current information had come from.
“I’m going to need you to take lead on this, Ben,” Peter said. “Go on up to Kit Cove; calm the people, answer their questions. Convince them that our project is going to bring millions in revenue into their community, creating jobs and feeding their children. Clean up the squalor. Get them on our side.”
Ben paused. This was outside his job description. Normally, their PR rep handled these types of problems. “I can do that,” he said, “but I have to ask: What’s got you so worked up, more than usual?”
“This is a big deal, Ben—huge. It’s the biggest project we’ve ever been part of, and we stand to make billions. I don’t have to remind you that this is also your baby. You negotiated the pipeline project, the Pacific Gateway. You met with the state senators and congressmen who’ll benefit the most. You should be the one to meet with the community and let them know we’re on their side. Smooth it out. People like you, a small-town boy with deep roots in the community…you can use that,” Peter said, gesturing for emphasis.
As Ben watched Peter, he realized that, maybe because of the size of the project, the problems were much bigger than either of them had anticipated. If that was the case, it would be too much for Janet Taylor, head of their public relations department, to handle. Sometimes, problems took on a life of their own. Maybe this could only be defused by the head of the company. “When do you want me there?” he finally said.
This time, Peter gave him one of those good old boy smiles as he stood up, buttoning his jacket. “Tonight,” he said. “Take the company helicopter. Janet can schedule a meeting with the community for tomorrow. Give yourself a night to get a handle on things. Figure out how to win them over.” He started toward the door and then paused. “Oh, and great article, by the way.” He gestured toward the desk, where the shiny magazine was sitting. “It wouldn’t hurt to use all that charm. Talk about your family, too; your values, how your father was a logger, how your large family grew up on the land…”
Ben had begun to tune Peter out. He was really pushing the “family roots” angle, and Ben hadn’t even realized that his boss knew about his family. It had been tough times growing up in rural Idaho, with five boys, five mouths to feed. Hunting, fishing—they had done it all just to survive. Ben somehow didn’t think a group of environmentalists would be too friendly with the fact that his father had cut down trees, probably old growth, too, just to make a living.
He said nothing as Peter left his office. The Stillwells may have come up from being dirt poor, as Peter had recounted so many times, but Ben couldn’t help wondering at what point Peter had lost his understanding of how the average person perceived big, bad corporations like KKO. Peter had clawed his way to the top, through the trenches, not allowing anything to get in his way. Maybe he didn’t want to remember what it was like, Ben realized. Maybe that was what happened when the wealthy got wealthier.
Get A MATTER OF TRUST now!
Some scars just don’t heal.
Logan Wilde has always been the big brother, holding the family together, ever since a crisis made their father leave when Logan was just a teen. He was a surrogate father to his brothers even after their own father returned, and the brothers have always sought out Logan when they were in trouble.
However, this Christmas, Logan and his brothers will face their biggest crisis yet.
The door was white, with a brass handle and diamond-shaped cutouts in the Plexiglas. This was the sort of suburbia that Jake could never have imagined his brother Logan living in, this cute bungalow on a quiet street buried in a foot of snow. No, out of all the brothers, Jake thought this would best suit Samuel, the lawyer who lived a mile from him in Seattle, the brother he’d done everything with. He wondered for a moment, as he went to knock, whether he should have called. He hesitated a second and then rapped on the door, then squeezed his cold hands, wishing he’d brought his gloves. He wasn’t dressed for snow, for the Idaho cold, and he shivered in his leather coat and stomped his feet in the Oxfords he also should have left at home. Then he noticed the doorbell.
He didn’t bother to push it, though. He could hear the footsteps, the creak of the floor, and voices inside—his brother’s deep voice, which always grounded him. Today he felt odd, out of place. Everything felt so different. Logan had his own family now.
The front door opened, and there was something about looking into Logan’s blue-gray eyes, strong and confident as always, that made Jake feel as if he could handle anything life threw his way. Maybe that was why one look at his brother let him know everything would be okay. This softness was a side of Logan that Jake hadn’t seen before, though. The hard edge his brother had always carried now seemed smoother. Must have been a woman’s touch.
“Hey, I didn’t know you were coming tonight!” Logan held the door and gestured for Jake to come in, and Jake listened to the chatter and footsteps inside the house—Julia and the twins.
“Hope it’s okay,” he said. “I didn’t even think about calling until I pulled up here. Guess I’m used to just showing up, but it might not be okay to do that now that you’re married.”
For a moment, he ached at the thought that he might be intruding on his brother, a brother who’d always been there for him, anytime, anywhere. Logan was everything to him—had been everything to all of the younger brothers: him, Samuel, Joe, and Ben. But Logan wasn’t just any brother, he was who Jake had always looked up to. He knew that out of everyone in his family, Logan would walk through fire for him. His brother would always be there. For a moment, he found himself taking in the threads of gray that were taking over his brother’s dark hair. He looked older, probably from carrying the weight of everyone else on his shoulders.
“Get in here, would you?” Logan said.
There was something in his gaze, in the way Logan studied him, that made Jake need to figure out what was going on with him. Logan didn’t often say much, but he always knew when trouble was lurking around each of the brothers. He called often just to check in and make sure they were okay. Jake may have never told him, but he missed Logan calling, tracking him down. He still called, but he no longer grilled Jake like he used to. Even though it irritated Jake to be treated as if he were twelve years old, knowing his brother loved him and was there for him made him feel as if Logan always had his back.
Logan narrowed his eyes. Yeah, he could still read his brothers well. Jake had never, out of all the brothers, been able to hide anything from him.
Jake dropped his overnight bag on the beige carpet with a clunk. He didn’t wait for Logan to hug him like he always did. Instead, Jake reached out first and felt the muscles bunch in his brother’s back at their embrace. Logan had always looked after himself, and even though Jake was the football star, with ripped triceps, biceps, pecs, and abs—and those linebacker shoulders—Logan came in a close second. He’d noticed something else, too, the last few times he’d seen Logan, in the lines around his eyes. Ever since a roadside bomb had ended his career in the marines, Logan had changed, and even more so now that he’d married Julia. As he stood there with his brother, Jake flashed back to a moment he never wanted to relive: getting that call and not knowing whether Logan would live or die. It was something that stuck with him, the fear of losing someone so important that life wouldn’t have been the same without him.
Logan patted his back and then held his shoulders when he stepped away, looking at him closely. “You okay?” he said.
“Logan, who’s here?”
Jake heard Julia before he could come up with an excuse. She waddled around the corner wearing a long nightgown, a pink housecoat overtop, too pregnant to close it. She had short dark hair and the most beautiful green eyes, though they were puffy and shadowed with traces of darkness. Her hand was pressed to her back as she walked, and her face lit up when she saw him. Logan reached out to her, and she went right to him, sliding up against him, leaning into him.
“Hi, Jake! I didn’t know you were coming,” she said, snuggling against Logan. He leaned down and kissed the top of her head, her hair sticking up in front. A gold band flashed on Logan’s finger as he held Julia and slid his large hand over her shoulder and arm, caressing her. It seemed so natural, the two of them together, and Jake was glad for his brother and thankful for this happiness he’d found. Out of everyone, he deserved it. Jake found himself wondering for a moment whether Logan would continue slipping away from them, though.
“I just found myself driving,” Jake said. “I was supposed to go up to Mom and Dad’s first, but I saw the sign to McKay…and, well, here I am. I hope I’m not intruding?” He felt Logan’s hand on his head, rustling his short dark hair.
“You’re kidding, right? You’re always welcome, you know that.”
Jake wondered for a moment whether Julia felt the same way. Women could be funny about that sort of thing—as he’d found out with Jill.
Julia glanced up at Logan and then back to Jake. “Logan’s right, Jake. Of course you’re welcome. You were coming with the rest of the family for Christmas dinner anyway, so what if you’re a day early?” She reached out and touched his shoulder, and then she yawned. “Oh, I’m sorry. I haven’t been getting much sleep. I can’t get comfortable at night now. I wake up often.”
“Maybe I am intruding,” Jake said. He didn’t know the first thing about babies or pregnant women.
“Uncle Jake!” Trinity, one of his eleven-year-old nieces, ran toward him and threw her arms around his waist. Dawn, her sister, was right behind her. Dawn’s dark hair was shorter than Trinity’s, which fell to her waist. They were both barefoot in pajamas. They were cute—a handful, he thought, although he didn’t know them well.
“I hope I didn’t pull you two out of bed,” he said. It was late, of course. With single Logan, Jake had never had to consider the time. Married Logan meant he had to think first before just showing up.
“We’re just getting ready for bed,” Dawn said. “We weren’t there yet, though, and we’re not tired!” She beamed up at Jake, and he noticed her green eyes were lighter than her sister’s.
“Hey, it’s late,” Julia said. “Even though you don’t have school tomorrow, you’re still going to bed.” She looked to Logan, maybe for backup, Jake thought.
Logan kissed the top of her head, squeezed her shoulder, and said something to her in a low voice.
She glanced up at him and rolled her eyes. “Okay,” she murmured.
“Girls, why don’t you help me make up the sofa for your uncle to sleep on?” Logan said.
“I’ll get the blankets!” Trinity yelled and started down the hall after her sister.
“Are you hungry? Did you have dinner?” Logan said. “Julia made a beef stew, with fresh bread she brought home from her cafe. Thankfully, today was her last day.”
Julia rolled her eyes. “I told you I can’t just hand my business over to anybody. I had to hire and train someone to fill in for me when I have the baby.”
Jake wasn’t sure what to say. Logan had told him that Julia owned a small cafe in town that served specialty coffees and lunch, but that was all he knew. Logan exchanged a glance with Julia. Whatever passed between them, Jake was pretty sure it had to do with him.
“No, I’m good,” he replied. “I grabbed a burger on the road.” His stomach still burned from the greasy, soggy burger he’d picked up at a truck stop. It had filled the hole, but that was about all.
“How about a beer, then? You look like you need one,” Logan said as he slid his hands over Julia’s shoulders and back as he walked with her into the kitchen.
Jake followed the couple. “Wouldn’t mind some water.”
Julia started to the sink, but Logan stopped her, turning her around. “No, I don’t think so,” he said. “You’ve done enough today. I want you off your feet.” He pulled out a chair and then scooted another chair in front of her, lifting her feet so she could put them up. Julia sighed as she leaned back, resting her hands on her protruding belly and letting Logan take care of her. It was a sight that shouldn’t have bothered Jake, but Logan was now so focused on his wife that he wondered whether he’d forgotten about his brothers.
“Just sit there.” Logan leaned in and kissed her, and she reached for his cheek and slid her hand over it. Jake could hear the rasp of whiskers as Julia ran her hand over the dark shadow on his brother’s face. It looked as if he hadn’t shaved today. Their kiss lingered for a second, a kiss so private and intimate that for a moment, Jake wondered whether he should leave. Then Logan tapped the table, watching Jake.
“You sure you just want water and not a beer?” He reached in the cupboard for a glass and filled it with water.
A beer or six would have been great, but then he’d have to talk, and he didn’t want to talk right now. He felt odd in front of Julia, and there were some things he could say only to Logan, so he didn’t say anything as Logan put a glass of water in front of him. Logan was watching him and then glanced over to Julia, who was resting her chin in her hand, her elbow propped on the table. They exchanged another look as if they could read each other’s thoughts. She really was connected to him.
“You know what? I’m really tired, and if it’s okay with you, Jake, I’m going to go to bed,” she said, flattening her hand on the table toward him. “I’ll leave you two so you have a chance to catch up.” The girls were chattering excitedly in the living room, and Julia ran her hand through her hair. “The girls are making you a bed on the sofa, Jake. They’re sure excited you’re here early.”
She had a sweet smile. Jake could see how suited she was for Logan.
“Logan, will you send them to bed when they’re done?” she said. “I’m done arguing with them. They listen to you better.”
Logan flashed her a cocky smile as he helped her up. “That’s because I’m not a pushover like you are. They know they can’t get away with anything with me, so they don’t bother trying.” He kissed her again, his hand sliding down her back and over her behind as she started out of the kitchen.
Jake chugged down his water as Logan followed Julia and then stopped just outside the living room, calling out to the girls and sending them to bed.
Dawn raced into the kitchen first. “Goodnight, Uncle Jake! We made you a bed on the sofa. Do you promise to be here in the morning?” She didn’t wait but threw her arms around his neck and hugged him.
Trinity appeared right beside her. She didn’t hug him right away, frowning at him. Maybe she was picking up on his uncertainty just being here with them. Then she leaned in and hugged him. “We’re glad you’re here. Don’t worry, everything will be all right.”
He was startled by what she’d said. How did she know he was struggling with so many things? Smart kid.
“Ah, thanks, girls,” he said. “You bet I’ll be here. I’ll even have breakfast with you. Have a good sleep.” His throat was thick as he watched Logan with the girls, watching over them in the same way he had once watched over him.
“Bed now.” Logan gestured for them to go and hugged both of them before sending them off to their room. He rested his hands on the back of the chair and appeared to be thinking about something. When his gaze rested on Jake, he wore the same expression he always had when one of the brothers did something they shouldn’t have. Jake remembered looking up into that stern face—the face of a brother he loved, feared, and depended on. A brother he could never pull anything over.
“Out with it,” Logan said.
“Out with what? What are you talking about?” Jake lifted his glass to finish off his water and realized it was already empty. Logan noticed, of course. He never looked away. He had a way of studying and watching a person, and if Jake hadn’t have known him, he would’ve been mighty nervous.
“Cut the crap, Jake. This is me. I know you. Weren’t you on your way up to Mom and Dad’s?” He tapped the back of the chair with his fingers, and there was a shrewdness in his gaze that had often made Jake squirm when he was young. How could he still manage to do that now that Jake was a grown man?
“Do I need a reason to stop in and see my big brother? Maybe you would rather I leave?” He was about to get up when Logan shook his head.
“Sit down. Don’t be an ass. What’s going on with you? You were coming down for Christmas dinner anyway, but didn’t you say you would drive Mom and Dad here? Don’t you have that big game coming up right after Christmas, too?”
Yeah, the Seahawks did, but not with Jake. He was the man out this time, with one too many wide receivers on the team. The fact was that he had torn his ACL, and though he’d pushed through the pain, the doc had benched him this time. “No,” he replied, “and Samuel can drive them down. He’s supposed to be there now, anyway.” He slid the glass back and forth on the table, taking in its blue flower pattern. He could feel his brother’s gaze burning into him. When he looked up, Logan was still waiting. He wondered whether his brother could stand there all day. He knew his dad would have, too, but Jake had always been closer with Logan, and Logan seemed to know when something wasn’t quite right in a way his father never could.
“Hmm, well, the girls will be happy to have you early when they open their presents. You are staying, right?” Logan walked to the fridge and pulled it open to lift out two cans of beer. He stopped in front of Jake and held one out, waiting as if he knew Jake would take it, which, of course, he did.
Jake popped the top and watched a slow, easy smile touch his brother’s lips. Logan could be a smug bastard sometimes.
“So what is it, Jake, girl trouble or work trouble?” Logan asked. He opened his own beer and waited.
“Both,” Jake replied.
Get THE RECKONING now!
Jake Wilde has two loves, but neither is going his way.
Jake Wilde, the youngest of the Wilde brothers, has it all. He’s a pro football star with the woman of his dreams by his side…or so he thought.
In a desperate attempt to keep the woman he loves, he asks her to marry him. The last thing Jake Wilde expects is for her to turn him down and walk out the door at the same time that his football team decides to trade him.
Chris Jeger, a legal assistant and part-time cheerleader for the Cardinals, has been waiting for true love. When she overhears Jake Wilde making a personal plea to some woman on the phone, she can see he’s heading down the road to disaster. Instead of walking away, she steps in to offer him advice so he doesn’t turn his life upside down the same way she once did.
Their friendship develops, and one night their emotions collide—but when someone unexpected suddenly knocks on his door, Jake learns that sometimes, what you wish for isn’t what you really want.
As real life interferes with her hopes and dreams, will Chris once again be brokenhearted, left on the outside looking in?
“Son, that’s the way things work here. You being traded is a part of life, and Phoenix is a great team, great place to live. It’s hot, never rains, plenty of women to choose from.”
Jake stared into the deep-set blue eyes of Murray Donnelly, his about-to-be former coach for the Seahawks. The man had a heavily lined face and thin white hair, and he rapped his knuckles on the desk before leaning back in his chair. He had been behind this crappy old beat-up desk in the basement office for probably half a century. Hell, the team could afford better, had better, but Murray had a thing for old and beat up. Or so Jake often thought.
He squirmed in the wooden chair, and it squeaked under his weight. It wasn’t that he was overweight: Jake Wilde, the youngest of the Wilde brothers, was in the best shape, he figured, of his football career. At six foot two and packing a solid 230 pounds, all lean and hard muscle, he wondered if the chair would hold his weight. It sometimes seemed like all the furniture around him had been made for a kid.
“Look, I know you didn’t want this, but let’s get real, son. You’re young, at the prime of your life, and you’ve already been out with how many injuries?” Murray scowled and then ran his tongue over his coffee-stained teeth. He wasn’t much to look at, but he’d kicked Jake’s ass from one end of the field to the other and had been the closest thing to a father that he’d ever had—that is, next to Logan, his older brother.
It hurt to be tossed away, turned away by a man he’d thought would fight for him.
“Cardinals are a good team. Bucky Phillips is a good coach.”
Jake wasn’t a moron. Murray always called out in great detail who was who and who sucked big time. Jake wondered if he’d had to choke out the “good” part, as Murray and Bucky were about as friendly as two hounds circling the same bitch. His lips actually twitched when he pictured them both snarling in the same undignified way.
“Look, son.” Murray fidgeted in his chair, leaning back, resting his elbow on the seat arm as he turned to the side. He pulled away just enough that Jake could tell the old man was getting nervous. Feelings were the one thing this man didn’t do, didn’t talk about.
“I know, Coach. It wasn’t your decision.” At least he hoped it wasn’t. He spied a flash of color on Murray’s cheeks. Maybe he was wrong. His stomach tightened at the thought that Coach could be responsible for sending him on his way.
He cleared his throat, which thickened when he thought too much. Reading too much into a situation was one of his flaws. “So I’m replacing Brown?” he said. “He was a second-round pick, a favorite.” He couldn’t say anything else, as he knew he had tough shoes to fill. Brown had been fast, but Jake was faster—or had been before his ACL tear. Now the Phoenix quarterback would be looking for Jake on that field, and it was their relationship, the trust between them, that would mean the difference between winning and losing and being part of that team.
“Yeah, Brown’s out. Tough card he got dealt with that last injury. Retired young, retired early. But not you.” Coach swung around, setting his feet on the ground and standing up, sticking his hand out to Jake. It was his way of saying they were done, so long, get out of here.
It was awkward and impersonal. Jake thought the old man would have hugged him after all they’d been through: the games, hotels, travelling, training. They had been closer than family at one time, or so he thought. He stood up, feeling a twinge in his knee, and shook the old man’s hand, looking down at him.
Murray slapped his shoulder with his other hand. “Get out of here, and make sure you listen to the doc. Stick with your physio. You can’t afford any more injuries, because right now the entire world is watching you.”
Jake knew what he was saying. The football world was the only world that existed for the coach. Anyone or anything else out there was a nobody.
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New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Lorhainne Eckhart brings you the final book in THE WILDE BROTHERS series, UNFORGIVEN, a big family romance that will rock your world.
Samuel Wilde is one of the brightest young lawyers in Seattle. He’s handsome, smart, and sexy and has an unbreakable bond with his brothers—that is, until one woman comes between them, threatening to divide the Wilde family forever.
His lungs were on fire.
It wasn’t so much that he enjoyed the burn as that he needed it. He pushed himself hard, driving himself to a place that welcomed the burn in his legs, the bite in his chest, the pace he set for himself—brutal, to the point that anyone watching might wonder if he was punishing himself. Samuel Wilde, junior lawyer at Pike and MacGregor, wasn’t about to admit that he had done anything wrong in his current caseload, so he pushed on harder, faster. His feet pounded the pavement, and not even the puddles soaking his track pants could slow him down. He welcomed the rain, though it was cold enough to leave him chilled inside and out. Even that wasn’t enough to stop him.
The truth of the matter was that Samuel was good at being a lawyer. He was sharp, and he picked up on details others missed. In fact, he’d recently been evaluated by the managing partner as being exactly the type of lawyer they wanted for partner, because Samuel could find the weakness in his opposing counsel and use it to his advantage.
He tried to tell himself that this need to punish himself wasn’t because of the growing rift dividing his brothers—or the fact that no one in his family had shown up for his wedding…his wedding to a woman who’d once been with his brother.
But he, not Jake, had had Jill first.
He stared up at the gray concrete and high rises and clouds as he ran. The steel and the endless dismal rain matched his mood. He could see home just ahead, the high rise where his condo was and where Jill would be waiting, but he needed this time to himself. Just him and his thoughts, his dark thoughts.
A horn blared when he stepped off the curb. He jumped back, lifting his arm to shield his face from the splash of the car speeding curbside. “Asshole!” he shouted, but the rain drowned him out along with the sounds of the morning traffic. It had been his fault, anyway, almost running out into traffic without looking. What was wrong with him? His legs were shaking as he stood there and then started jogging in place until the walk light flashed. This time, the traffic had stopped, and he started across the street, making himself look twice, right and then left, at the stopped cars crowding the intersection.
He pulled open the glass front door to his building, his sneakers squeaking on the dark tiled floor. He swiped his hand across his face, wiping away the water, and pressed the button for the elevator. In the shiny steel doors, he glimpsed the reflection of his light beard, his wet gray tracksuit with his hood up, everything drenched. Droplets of water ran down the side of his face, and he was unsure if it was sweat or water from the mess looking back at him. Even Samuel had to admit, looking at himself, that the people he had passed on his run were probably wondering whether he was a thug. At the very least, they would have known he wasn’t someone in the mood to be messed with.
The elevator dinged, and he shivered as he stepped inside, jabbing the button for floor thirty-three. He leaned against the back of the elevator, feeling his legs start to tighten, his heartbeat racing. He should have stretched before stopping, as he’d pushed himself hard this morning, much as he had every day for weeks, but lately he had embraced the burn in his muscles as he pushed himself to the brink of madness, maybe because this was the only thing he could feel that was real. This physical pain made sense, and he understood it, although it did little to help the hurt he felt from his family.
The elevator slowed and opened to his floor. He nodded to his waiting neighbor, a portly man with thin hair in his sixties, who was wearing the same blue trench coat he wore every day. What was his name? It would come to him, he was sure. All Samuel knew was that he was a banker and had visitors every Wednesday night, always a different college girl dressed in some slinky number, most likely from a local escort service.
The only things he knew for sure about the man were his impressions, and that was all he wanted to know.
Samuel slipped his key into the lock and opened the door, then tossed his keys on the counter. He could hear the clock ticking and the low hum of the appliances.
“You’re back? I didn’t know you’d gone out.” Jill was holding a mug of coffee as she walked into the small walkthrough kitchen. She was so quiet. She’d cut her dark hair shorter, framing her round face. She was lovely, and there was something about her dark eyes that haunted him.
“Should you be drinking coffee?” he said.
She put the mug on the counter as he pulled back his wet hood from his head and peeled off his hoody, dumping it over the back of a kitchen chair. The four-piece dinette was crammed against the wall, but then, this one-bedroom apartment was only five hundred square feet. He should really think of getting something bigger. Jill had already asked twice, but he hadn’t answered. He knew she wouldn’t push. She never did, never had.
“It’s only one cup.” She was behind him.
He should turn around and look at her, talk to her. He reached for the mail on the table, flipped through the bills, and then dumped them back down. “I’m going to grab a shower,” he said—a hot one he could lose himself in.
“Do you want company?” she said.
This time, he had to make himself turn around, his hand gripping the door frame as he looked at Jill, at her rounded belly, the baby she carried. “Not this morning. I need to hurry. I have to meet a client.”
She stood across the room. The tension between them was so thick he could feel it like a wall, so heavy that it kept him where he was, away from her. Why didn’t that make him sad?
“What time are you going to be home?” she said. She crossed her arms over her breasts, which were larger now. At one time, he hadn’t been able to get enough of her, touching her, making love to her, being inside her. But something had faded. He didn’t know what exactly, only that it was something between them or in him that had died.
“Late,” he said. “Don’t wait up.” He turned away, walked into the bathroom, and shut the door.
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A love they thought would last forever.
Kim and Bruce were inseparable as teens and believed their love was strong enough to overcome everything. Bruce promised they would be together forever, but when he left for medical school, everything changed—and Kim married someone else.
When they both return to their hometown after Kim’s divorce, they end up fighting the attraction between them. Neither is willing to talk about the promise Bruce made…until one summer night.
There wasn’t a day that Kim hadn’t loved Bruce. Never in a million years had she doubted that they would be together. At seventeen, they were inseparable. She couldn’t imagine, as she stared up at the thousands of stars in the dark Montana sky not kissing Bruce or feeling his touch on every other day like this one, when she would gaze up at the light of the moon or the bright blue sky.
But then, you never forget the taste of your first love. He touched her the way no other man could. It was imprinted on her soul—the way she molded against him, skin to skin, with each breath. Each moment with him, kissing, touching, or just talking, the sound of his voice melted her soul and had her yearning to see him again before he even left.
She didn’t believe her lips would ever forget the taste of his love. His touch, his smile, the light in his hazel eyes when he held her face in his hands the very first time he’d kissed her—it was all burned forever in her memory.
“Hey, baby.” He came up behind her, sliding his hand over the flat of her stomach. He lifted her hair and pressed a kiss to her cheek before sliding his lips down the soft skin on her neck. He was pulling her back with him into the shadows.
“Where are you taking me?” she asked, then giggled. She couldn’t help it, as he had his hand under her shirt. He’d pulled the long cotton fabric free from the waistband of her jeans and was running his hand over her skin. His belt buckle was pressing into her. She craved the feel of him all the time and mourned his touch when he was gone.
“Where your daddy can’t find us,” he said. He had his hand on the rail of the wooden ladder that led up to the loft. “Go on.”
She didn’t hesitate as she climbed the rail. She could hear the tractor purring in the field. The sound carried, so she knew as long as she could hear it in the distance, they had time alone. “You weren’t supposed to be here today,” she said. “You said you couldn’t come, that you had to pack.”
He pulled her to their space in the loft where the hay bales were stacked against the dark planks. She climbed over the two bales and into their hidden spot, a bed of hay with an old blanket thrown overtop. It was where they always met, where they hid out together. It was where they’d met last night, when she’d snuck out of the house after her parents were asleep. It was where they’d last been together—touching, tasting, exploring each other.
“I couldn’t leave without seeing you again.” He pulled her down with him so they were lying side by side. Her body had a mind of its own and responded to Bruce, moving closer to him, her legs tangled with his, her hands pulling at his shirt, kissing him as she threaded her fingers through his short brown hair. She loved his hair, how it too seemed to do whatever it wanted. The natural waves always had that messy bad-boy look, and every time he cut it, it made the smile that lit up his face and his eyes stand out on his cheeks. And his lips…full and so kissable. Oh, and could Bruce kiss. She loved his long, lean body, his legs, how much taller he was than her—how much stronger. She truly believed he was forever hers, and he wouldn’t let anything come between them.
But she was wrong. Oh so wrong.
“Just one more kiss,” he said as he leaned over her. “I need to know you’ll wait for me.”
“You know I will. I wish you didn’t have to go.” She wanted to cry. It would be ninety-three days of hell until she could feel his touch again, feel his lips on her again, feel his love again. Life was so unfair.
“Kim! Kim!” It was her mother calling out.
“I have to go, but I don’t want to,” she said, rolling onto her back, her hands above her head.
He kissed her one more time and pulled a strand of hay from her hair. “I’ll call you. I promise I will. Baby, remember I fall in love with you over and over every single day. Nothing will come between us. Remember this, feel this.” He took her hand and pressed it to his beating heart. “It’s for you, only for you, that my heart beats. This moment, the way you look now, the blueness in your eyes and how they smile only for me and beg me into your loving arms, the way your long hair teases me and has that curly, messy look even when you try to brush it straight…”
Not a day had gone by without her remembering those last moments together—almost twenty years ago, now. She’d promised to be his forever…that was, until she married someone else.
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Kim and Bruce are finally getting married after postponing their wedding not once but twice because of unforeseen emergencies. But then, what could Kim have expected from a busy doctor like Bruce Siegel?
However, as their wedding day approaches, it isn’t just nerves that get the best of Kim. To her and Bruce’s dismay, problems seem to be tossed in front of them, threatening to end their happily ever after.
Getting married is a dream come true for any woman—except Kim, since her first wedding had tied her to a man she’d settled for and didn’t love, and their divorce had created a giant lonely hole in her heart. She had waited twenty years for the love of her life and was now planning her second wedding, which should have been her first, anyway.
It had been postponed twice because of Bruce’s busy schedule, first an emergency and then a medical conference he couldn’t miss, both of which had Kim fighting the panic that some disaster would stop them from reaching the altar. Then again, maybe this was her own fear and insecurity. Kim often found herself acting like the insecure teenager she’d been when Bruce had first left for medical school. At the time, she’d believed he’d left her, but the truth was that she’d left him.
It haunted her still that she’d allowed her parents to plant the seed of doubt in her head, telling her that Bruce had left her when he’d done nothing but pursue his dream of becoming a doctor. He was now one of the best pediatric surgeons in the country. He had come home, back to Columbia Falls, three years, five months, and six days ago after leaving and promising Kim they would be together forever. She’d promised to wait for him, but she hadn’t. Instead, she had married someone else. Those were days that haunted her and brought a giant ache to her heart.
She stared at the lacy white wedding dress that had belonged to her grandmother. It was a tradition in their family. Her mother had worn it, and Kim had worn it when she married Craig, though she had divorced him only two years later. It was unsettling, looking at it now, even though, growing up, it was what she’d dreamed of wearing for her wedding. Now, after she’d married the wrong man, the dress seemed tainted, and it felt wrong on so many levels to even consider wearing the same dress she’d married another in.
She’d always planned to wear her grandmother’s gown when she married Bruce, but that dream had been crushed so long ago when she believed Bruce had forgotten her. Once again, her heart sank as she sat on her bed, reliving the moment she’d learned not long ago that her parents had made her choice for her by hiding his messages and putting another man in her path while she nursed a broken heart. It was unforgivable, and she was angry at her mother, her father, who had believed they were doing what was right at the time.
Now the dress her mother insisted she wear at her wedding in a few short weeks was staring back at her, and all she could see was Craig, the young man who’d loved her, who’d given her everything, a man she could never have loved back. Of course he hated her now, and he had every right, as the only thing he’d wanted was the thing she’d already given away: her heart.
She pushed the dress aside, sitting on the bed—neatly made, with a patchwork quilt of reds, blues, and greens, a quilt made by her grandmother and given to her for her first wedding. It would have to go. There were so many reminders of Craig here. This had been their place, but this was the bed she loved Bruce in, not Craig, the bed where she came alive from Bruce’s every touch, kiss, and caress as he loved her at night and woke her in the morning by slipping inside her, driving her again and again to the ecstasy only someone she loved could. The closeness when they were together…he took her breath away, and it was in those times that she was so vulnerable that every part of her mind, body, and soul was given to him, open to him.
“Fresh start is exactly what’s needed,” she said. She scooped up the dress, pulled the quilt from the bed, and folded both up before stuffing them into the small hall closet, which was jam packed now with linens, towels, and bedding. She heard a car, but she only turned her head slightly. She knew the sound of Bruce in his two-seater BMW. At the feeling that came over her, knowing he was coming home to this house that wasn’t hers, even though it was, she shut her eyes. For a second, she rested her hand on the shelf of the closet and then took in everything, all the towels, so old they too had to have been wedding presents. She needed to shake this craziness off, because after all these years, why was she feeling this way, unable to get past this sense of wrong at her own hands? She hadn’t earned this home but had taken it from a man who had given everything to her, one to whom she in turn had given nothing.
The screen door slapped closed. “Kim?” Bruce called out and then appeared beside her as she pulled herself together, swallowed the uneasiness in her stomach, and closed the closet door. “What are you doing?” he asked. His brown hair had hints of gold, the ends wavy and rather messy, as if he’d run his hands through them. He was a handsome man, tall, a man who could never be considered average—long legs, a great butt, and those eyes…
“Just cleaning up,” she said, “putting away things I should have a while ago.” She leaned against the closet door as he turned away and started into the small boxlike bedroom. It was tiny and square, just like this older home. The light cotton curtains fluttered over the tiny bedroom window, which was wide open, allowing a breeze in, but it wasn’t a window that cooled off a room quickly, and the single pane did little in the winter to keep the room warm. This place had been so old already when Craig bought it, but now it was ancient, with paper-thin walls, turn of the century plumbing, and wiring that wasn’t much better. But then, Craig was a man who could fix anything, and he had bought the house for them with intentions to renovate.
She glanced over to Bruce again, who seemed distracted. It was the expression on his face. He appeared to be thinking of something, a life he had saved or lost. Some days, she was afraid to push. He let out a sigh, one that told her it had been a long, challenging day. But then, his work was far from easy. It was demanding, and he had to be the best of the best. It was who he was.
She watched in silence as he unbuttoned his light blue dress shirt, pulled it off, and dumped it in the small plastic hamper in the corner. His sculpted back showed the three times a week he worked out in town at the gym, and his abs as he turned showed how determined a man he was. As a doctor, he really did practice what he preached.
“Doing laundry?” he said, and it startled her. Maybe it was the quietness that had him watching her, the way he was taking in the room, gesturing to the bed with the white sheets, minus the quilt she’d pulled off and packed away. Then he smiled at her in his teasing, cocky way, obviously noticing how she’d watched him undress.
She didn’t need to look over to know what he was talking about, but she didn’t know how to make him understand. “It didn’t seem right anymore to keep it on the bed.” She stepped closer to him, needing to touch him.
He frowned. Every emotion he had deepened or lightened the hazel of his eyes. It had taken her a long time after Bruce came back to understand the man she’d fallen in love with, whom she still loved. She had told herself he wasn’t the same, even though he was, but the thing that most attracted her to him were his eyes. They were the gateway to his soul—who he was, who he’d become, and the love he had for her. She had her hand on his broad chest, running over it, staring up and into his eyes, which were bright and deep and could reach inside her and touch her heart, as if he knew there was more she was keeping from him.
He was giving her all his attention now as he pulled off his rimless glasses and set them on the dresser beside the small white jewelry box Craig had given her their first Christmas together. She turned her head, shutting her eyes as if needing to hide her traitorous thoughts about bringing another man into this bedroom. She moved her foot back as his hand slipped over her chin, her cheek, her face. He slid his fingers through her hair so she had to look at him.
“Want to fill me in on what’s going on? You’re worried about something, I can tell. Is it the wedding? Your mom giving you problems still?”
Her mom was taking over—had taken over planning the wedding for her only daughter, and Kim had let her, knowing it was easier than having to deal with the strong, opinionated woman her mother was. “It’s just that nothing is mine,” she said, fighting the urge to step closer to Bruce, to slip into his arms and rest her head against his chest. Instead, she just stood there, her hands at her sides, willing Craig to be out of her life and the pain of what she’d done to him to go.
“You lost me.” Bruce stepped closer, sliding his other hand over her cheek, holding her. Of course her hands went to his wrists, holding on to him as if her life depended on it. “Kim, come on. We don’t keep things from each other.”
She could feel the strength in his arms, the muscles in his wrists flexing as he held her. He was so strong, every part of him: mind, body, and soul. He was a man who could get them through anything. “This is Craig’s house,” she said. “The quilt on the bed…”
He glanced to the bed again and frowned. “I thought your grandmother made that for you. I know how much it meant to you.” He was closer, right in her space, where he had every right to be. Now she felt silly for saying anything, wondering whether she should just run her hands over his chest, feel the curves and maybe distract him, but she also knew Bruce wasn’t a man who could be easily distracted. He was patient, most times, holding on to things and waiting her out. It was that damn strength and control that he had. She envied that at times, something she’d never managed to have. She wondered how he’d react to knowing. If this entire situation were the other way around, she’d have been jealous beyond words.
“She did, but…” She touched her tongue to her lip.
“But what, Kim?” He tilted his head, and his thumb skimmed her cheek before settling on her shoulder, gently rubbing.
“She made it for my first wedding, with Craig. It shouldn’t be on a bed I share with you.”
He dropped his hand and stepped away as if it was no big deal—not the reaction she’d expected.
“So it doesn’t bother you?” she asked him. Why was she pushing this? She wasn’t happy with how unsettled she was. She wanted her happily ever after, and after waiting twenty years, she was angry with herself for allowing anything to come between them.
He gave her an odd look she couldn’t make sense of as the emotion in his eyes dimmed. It was what he did when he pulled into himself. “It’s a blanket, Kim. I’m going to take a shower.” He unfastened his belt and slipped out of his dress pants, giving her his back and showing his great butt, firm and tight. He sighed as he walked away on those amazing long legs into the small bathroom and turned on the shower. Kim stood there, wondering if maybe Bruce was right. It was just a blanket.
“Stop thinking this to death, Kim,” she said to herself before walking into the small second bedroom, where Bruce had piled many of his things. She lifted the dark blue quilt that had been on her bed growing up and was now on the spare, and she walked back into their bedroom and shook it out before spreading it on the bed. “Better,” she said, then walked out of the bedroom to finish dinner.
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Sheriff Blake Gatlin has moved to rural Montana for a fresh start, but when he meets Brandyne, a single mom of five struggling to make ends meet he is determined to be the only man around helping her out.
But Brandyne is determined to stand on her own two feet very aware that Blake isn’t jumping in for a ready-made family. But when Brandyne’s past comes knocking she is forced to decide between love and what is right for her children.
Brandyne Parker was most noted for her starring role in a Christmas pageant at the age of six. She had been voted head of student council in middle school and most likely to succeed at the age of fourteen. She had a mother and a father, who’d also had six mouths to feed. She, being the eldest and the wisest, as her mother had pointed out, only had to follow some common sense: stay focused at school, work hard, and don’t fall for some no-good dreamer. After all, Brandyne had everything, brains and beauty, and she was expected to be homecoming queen in high school, which would only have opened more doors for her. The problem was that everything changed the day she met William, or rather Willy, Barkley. It had all started one sunny June day when Brandyne’s good friend talked her, against her better judgement, into cutting biology class and slipping off to the rodeo that was in town for the weekend.
Truth be told, this was the first time she’d skipped, but her favorite teacher, Mr. Rheaume, had been away sick, and instead Mrs. Potter, an old woman with thick glasses and a bad attitude, cranky as all hell, was filling in. Because of that one moment in time, Brandyne’s bright future slipped away. Yes, all her goals, her carefully charted plans, got tossed out the window because of a cocky smile, a handsome face, and the skintight wranglers of one cowboy riding the broncs. Add in a beer or two, and their chemistry was off the charts. She let him sweet talk her into the back of his pickup at a pullout at the edge of town, and she not only lost her virginity but fell head over heels for a rodeo star. Nine months later, she had Rita, the first of five, in Sweet Rock, Wyoming, at the age of eighteen. Rita was now fifteen years old, and she had been followed by Colton, now fourteen, Hadley, now ten, Nora, now six, and Emma, now four. Each had been born on the road in a different town, a different place, each a symbol of another rodeo lost.
But Brandyne and Willy were far from a love story. Willy followed the rodeo circuit, and Brandyne tagged along, living in tents, trailers, whatever Willy could find as he chased the buckle, the booze, and, if she was honest, the women. Soon he became a washed-up rodeo star, dumping Brandyne and their five kids in Columbia Falls at a local park and promising he’d be right back after he took care of a few things. Now, almost a year later, she hadn’t set eyes on him again.
“Mama, where’s that white blouse of mine?” Rita asked. Her eldest had stunning dark hair, an oval face, and long legs—the image of Brandyne as a teen. Unfortunately, she was also far too boy crazy for her own good.
“It’s hanging out back on the line,” Brandyne called out from the small living room in the older three-bedroom house where she lived rent free, courtesy of a nice older couple from the community church. Her new friends Kim and Bruce Siegel and Andy and Laura Friessen were also all about helping out when they could, and this house and all their assistance had come at a time when Brandyne couldn’t have sunk much lower. With not a dime to her name after Willy had cut and run, she’d been found squatting in a rundown shack behind Andy’s place with her children by the sheriff, Blake Gatlin, a man who had terrified her before surprising her with his kindness.
No, Brandyne knew she needed more time to figure things out, to get back on her feet, to keep her kids fed and try to make sense of this mess. She was folding clothes, making three piles, one for clothes the kids had grown out of and two for everything else that needed patching, from holes in the knees to tears. The smallest pile would be the clean clothes that still fit, which she could put away for her kids.
“Mama, how come Rita is going out on a school night?” asked Hadley, who was looking more and more like his daddy every day, with his big blue eyes and square jaw and a stubbornness that reminded her he was his father’s son.
“She’s not going out on a school night. Whatever would give you that idea, anyway? Now put these clothes away and help me out here so I can get dinner finished,” she said as Emma raced into the living room barefoot, wearing only her underwear. Her brown curls were a tired mess, and freckles dotted her face. “Where are your clothes? You turn around and go put them on right now. Nora?” she called out. Her second youngest was supposed to have been watching Emma.
“She is going out, Mama,” Hadley said. “I overheard her on the bus today from school making plans with Mark Overland, and they said they were meeting at the Tasty Freeze after supper.”
Brandyne stared down at Hadley as Nora walked in. She could hear Rita and Colton, both teenagers, arguing about something. “You must have heard wrong.”
“What is it, Mama?” Nora asked. Her shoulder-length mop of hair was in need of washing, and her faded yellow t-shirt was too small.
“I thought I told you to watch your sister. Why is she running around half naked?”
“She won’t keep her clothes on! She keeps pulling them off. Why don’t you make her keep them on? She won’t listen to me,” Nora said, frowning.
Of course Nora didn’t want to watch her sister. For a moment the scene reminded Brandyne of her and her own siblings—and of her mother, who’d struggled to keep things together. Dirt poor seemed to be a legacy she was proudly continuing. Brandyne reached for a yellow nightgown folded in the pile on the sofa and grabbed her youngest to pull the thin gown over her head. “Rita!” she called out as a lock of hair dangled in her eyes, coming free from the messy bun she wore.
“What?” Rita said.
Brandyne glanced over to see her eldest in a nice white blouse, her dark hair brushed straight, a hint of blush on her cheeks as she stood with her siblings. “What is this I’m hearing about you planning to go out, and on a school night, no less?” she said just as Emma grabbed her leg and started bouncing. She heard a sizzle from the tiny kitchen and knew the potatoes she’d put on had just boiled over. “Oh no…” She reached down and lifted Emma into the tattered old brown easy chair that had come with the furnished house, and she raced to the kitchen and lifted the lid from the boiling pot, then turned the burner of the old yellow stove to low.
“I’m just meeting my friends for an hour or so,” Rita said, having followed her into the small galley kitchen. Its white cupboards and brown wallpaper were at least three decades old.
“Sheriff’s here, Mama,” Colton called out.
Brandyne heard voices and the door squeaking. “Were you not planning on asking?” she said. “What’s going through your head there, girl?”
She opened the oven door and took a look at the chicken legs, which appeared done. She slipped on a pair of blue hot mitts and lifted out the casserole dish, just one of many items the church people had pitched in and donated. She’d never expected this kindness from strangers. Even the sheriff stopped in often just to check and see how she was doing, as he said— to chat, to listen. Every time he seemed to come bearing something. Just the week before it had been used bikes for the kids, and the week before that, the church had donated a box of food, a grocery mart gift card, and some bounty from someone’s garden. Blake was always a bearer of kindness from the townspeople.
“Of course I was going to ask you, but you were busy, as you usually are, and I was waiting until dinner before bothering you.”
Little arms reached around her leg and grabbed hold again.
“Here, be helpful and take your sister off my hands for a bit,” Brandyne said, handing Emma to Rita as Hadley and Colton slid into the kitchen. Just then, the sheriff appeared behind them. He had thick dark hair and handsome features, not a pretty boy but a man who took things seriously, tall and lean and solid. He looked damn fine in just about anything he wore.
Rita didn’t say a word, just huffed out a breath and stomped out, holding her sister’s hand and all but dragging her. All Brandyne could do was gesture helplessly to where Rita had walked out before pointing at the boys. “Go get washed up for dinner and then set the table for me.”
Then there was no one in the kitchen but her and the sheriff, a man who, over the past year, had stopped in often to see how she was doing, whether she needed anything. He had been a friend, a confidant, but the chemistry that zinged between them was, at times, like lightning. Not once had he ever crossed a line with her, though. It was a pity, but then, what could she expect? At her age, with a houseful of kids, she had baggage that could fill a semi.
“Looks like you’ve got your hands full,” he said.
All she could think was Yeah, any man in his right mind would keep his distance.
Get A PROMISE OF FOREVER now!
Or click here to grab all the books in one box set collection: Married in Montana, The Collection
New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Author Lorhainne Eckhart brings you ONE NIGHT, A high-stakes suspense and sizzling, red-hot romance!
A blind date goes deadly on a night she’ll never forget!
Kate Sikes has it all: she’s smart and sexy, she has a great career, and she really does believe in happy endings—only she always picks the wrong guys. Nonetheless, she’s determined to meet the man of her dreams, and she believes she’s finally found the one when she turns to online dating. However, her high hopes are once again dashed when Mr. Right turns out to be Mr. Wrong, with some seriously heavy baggage that has Kate running for her life.
When Detective Walker Pruett comes to Kate’s rescue not once but twice, he realizes the only way to keep her safe from a crazy stalker is to keep her close. But his life is far from easy. He’s a lone wolf, and the last thing he’s looking for is attachment. After One Night with Kate, though, Walker can’t fight the chemistry sizzling between them. Not only does he find her irresistible, he feels compelled to protect her. And Kate soon discovers just how far Walker will go to do so.
—“Lorhainne Eckhart works are a “must buy’ ‘must read’ for me. – Bookzilla
Kate Sikes’s short-lived online dating venture started with a MacBook Pro, a pair of killer heels, and a trip to the salon. How it ended was deadly.
For nearly her entire young adult life—she was now at the ripe old age of twenty-two—Kate had continually dated the wrong guys, losers looking to freeload off her success. She’d remained hopeful even though each guy she fell for lacked ambition. When she met the last guy, Todd, she’d been convinced her luck had changed, as he was an up and coming stockbroker whose one and only fault was that he lived with his mother. However, she soon discovered that Todd had anxiety issues and preferred to consult his mother before making any plans. So Kate, in one of her smarter decisions, had said goodbye.
Kate Sikes was the assistant front desk manager at the Hotel Monaco. She was smart, attractive, a hard worker, and on track for manager. She lacked nothing in her career. She was ambitious, a self-starter, and had the ability to think outside the box—at least according to her last evaluation. Kate decided that whatever kept attracting her to the same passive-aggressive, noncommittal losers was about to change. That big old “S” for “stupid” tattooed to her forehead was going to be erased. She was turning over a new leaf, reevaluating herself, and determined to find a suitable match.
So she signed up for one of the premier dating sites, submitted her credit card information, and completed her profile—all accurate, except for her weight. Although she was curvy, not overweight, she decided it was best to keep that last detail to herself. Then she started shopping through profiles. It was like being in a candy story, looking for a match among all those drop-dead gorgeous guys. She waited for a response from all the matches flooding her inbox, weeding out the ones that sounded too good to be true, and voila. It was like hitting the lottery of man-candy heaven.
But not only did she soon discover this wasn’t as easy as it had sounded in the dating site’s ads, she also found that most men were as noncommittal as the losers she’d been dating—until match number twenty-five: Ryder Connelly, five foot ten, athletic, dark haired, with a smile to die for. He was a dentist who worked out regularly and wanted to meet her. Oh my God! Kate was both excited and a basket of nerves as she finished her shift at the four-star resort. She’d watched the clock all afternoon, knowing she had to be out the door as soon as her shift ended. That left her three hours until she needed to be at the restaurant to meet Ryder and kick off a night of many firsts.
“Taking off for the night, Keith,” she told her boss, tapping the frame of the door to the back office.
A short, compact middle-aged man typing away on the computer glanced up. “Have a good night, Kate,” he said, leaning back in his ergonomic chair. The hinges squeaked. He twirled a pen between his fingers as he glanced up to her. “Listen, did you handle that room service complaint?”
“I did. Comped them a free dinner in the dining room. The wife was happy. I don’t think anything will make the husband happy, though. He was more interested in rehashing how the kitchen put onions on his burger even though he’s deathly allergic to them. The wife did tell me he’s not really allergic to the onions, he just hates them. At least Jerome is the head waiter tonight. He’ll make sure they’re given the best. If not…” She waved her hand and stopped talking as Keith shot her an unreadable glance, the same one he always did when he was about to cut her down for something. She hated when he did that, making her feel inadequate.
“I’ll follow up, make sure it’s handled. Just don’t be too liberal with all the freebies you’re handing out.”
She wanted to roll her eyes. What did Keith expect? He wanted the guests happy but implied that the front desk, at times, should work with nothing. She was about to ask what he would have done to appease the disgruntled couple—who were two of the most frequent reviewers on Trip Advisor—but then decided it was best to drop it before he could question her about something else she’d handled or, worse, suddenly rope her into picking up another shift. Keith was famous for that. So she slipped out the door, telling herself to let it go.
She glanced at her watch as she raced outside onto the concrete sidewalk and next door to the hotel spa, where she’d booked a hair appointment. Theirs was one of the better salons in town, and considering she got a reasonable employee discount, it was a safe bet. She’d considered all afternoon what to do with her hair. She’d added highlights a month ago, but she needed a trim, maybe something different that would frame her round face and bring out her hazel eyes. Her hair was thick, a mousy brown highlighted with blond.
“Hey there, Kate,” Darlene said. “Right on time! Come on back to the sink.”
Darlene, one of the beauty advisors, was the junior hairdresser on staff. She was tall and slim, close to Kate’s age. Because she was a junior, she was half the price but still good—one of the better ones, as far as Kate was concerned. Kate hung up her black blazer on the coat tree in the corner. She smoothed down her staff uniform, a black skirt and white shirt, and followed Darlene to the sink in back.
“Any ideas of what you’d like?” Darlene asked as she scrubbed Kate’s hair with shampoo.
“Well, I need a trim for sure. Trying to look my best for tonight. I have a date.” She couldn’t help the grin pulling at her lips.
“Oh, do tell. Who’s the man?”
“He’s someone I met online. We’ve talked some by email and once on the phone, but tonight’s the night I get to meet him,” she nearly squealed.
“Well, good for you, girl. Let’s see what I can do. Are you looking to go shorter or just clean up the style you already have? I’ve got to tell you, you have great hair.” Darlene wrapped a towel around Kate’s head and led her to a chair, then pumped it up as she dried the ends of her hair with the towel.
“I don’t want to go too short,” Kate said. No, she liked that her hair wasn’t too long, just past her shoulders. Long enough she could pin it up and short enough it was still manageable. It was thick and had body.
Darlene combed her wet hair and seemed to study it for a minute. “Well, I could layer it a bit to give it more body. That will frame your face nicely, bring out those to-die-for cheeks you have. Do you want me to style it for you too? That will cost extra.”
“I planned for it, all the extras, so make me look good,” Kate said.
“You got it. By the time I’m through with you, this guy is going to be drooling across the table.”
True to her word, Darlene had Kate out of there in under an hour, her hair cut, styled, and shaped, looking better than she could have ever done herself. That left her two hours until she had to meet Ryder at 525, the new hot and trendy restaurant everyone was talking about.
Kate hustled the seven blocks to her building in downtown Portland, to her small one-bedroom apartment on the fifth floor. She bathed, careful not to get her hair wet, and then took her time applying her makeup—not too heavy but enough to give her eyes that smoky, sultry look. Satisfied, she pulled on a red sheath with cap sleeves. It hugged her curves and was low enough that it showed her generous C-cup cleavage. She checked her image in the mirror, turning sideways to see if her control-top hose were working.
Damn, if she didn’t look good. Her butt was round and firm, and there was plenty there to hold on to without being too much. She put in a pair of simple gold hoops and slipped on her black stilettos, then stood on a chair in front of the mirror to see if they worked. Damn straight they did, and then some. Fuck-me heels for sure. For a minute, she worried about whether they would send the wrong message. She glanced into her closet, spying her brown wedge heels, which were two inches shorter, manageable, and easier to walk in but did nothing for her legs.
“Stop questioning everything. You look fantastic,” she said to herself as she climbed down and then glanced at the clock to see that it was nearly six thirty. Time to go. One last stop on her MacBook Pro. She checked her email and then looked at Ryder’s photo from his profile page, memorizing the dimples and the killer smile. Damn, he was good looking. Then she grabbed her keys, her black clutch purse, and her black and white coat and hurried out the door. She heard it click shut behind her, already locked. That was handy, but she worried that if she wasn’t careful, she could lock herself out.
Instead of walking the four blocks, which she could easily have done in flats, she hailed a cab and arrived ten minutes early. In front of the busy restaurant, alive with chatter, suits, and all the downtown action, she paid the cabbie and climbed out. The restaurant had a crowded bar on one side and a busy dining room on the other. It was simple, all glass, open concept, with clean lines. The waiters dressed in white and black, serving the best of the best. When Kate pulled open the door and stepped inside, she looked at all the faces filling the waiting area—and then her heel caught on something, and she went down.
She landed on her knees, letting out a squeak. Her palms scraped the carpet, her ass in the air.
“Are you okay?” A man touched her arm, and his grip firmed as he helped her up.
He had a welcome strength, as her legs were shaking and she wasn’t sure she could get up on her own, especially in her godawful heels, which were starting to hurt. She could feel her face warming—no, burning—and the sting of where she’d landed on her knees. She glanced into the faces around her: people waiting, staring, watching. She was sure someone was laughing, and of course she was embarrassed as she struggled to remain upright on the stilts she was wearing.
“Yeah, fine, thank you,” she said.
She could see into his green eyes. Nice, she’d never seen a man with green eyes before. He had short red hair, not bright or orange but a lighter color. He also had one of those light beards guys got after not shaving for a week. On some guys it looked messy, but on this guy it looked hot. Kate realized he still had her arm and he had a look in his eyes that bordered on appreciation, humor, or maybe annoyance. As he took in her dress and shoes, by the way his eyes lingered, she had a feeling this was a man who didn’t apologize for anything.
“Hey, you must be Kate,” said a man behind her.
She was startled when the face in the picture she’d memorized appeared beside her. He had the same killer smile with dimples. In person, he was even better looking and could have replaced any of those guys on the cover of GQ.
“Ryder!” she said quite exuberantly, attracting more glances. She wanted to kick herself and tone it down a bit. “Hey, it’s a nice to see you,” she added, a little softer, feeling about as awkward as she had on her first day of school. At the same time, she wondered whether he’d seen her ass on the floor after her ungraceful entrance. She plastered a practiced smile to her face, the one she used when she was working. When she tried to glance over to the handsome stranger who had helped her up, he was gone.
Get ONE NIGHT now!
Kate and Walker return with more high-stakes suspense and sizzling, red-hot romance.
Kate Sikes has finally met who she believes is Mr. Right, only Detective Walker Pruett isn’t all about flowers and living happily ever after. In fact, after the greatest night of sex Kate’s ever had, she hasn’t seen Walker once.
However, she refuses to pine away for him or call him even though he invades her thoughts and her dreams—that is, until he shows up to investigate a case of robbery at the hotel where she works. Once again, Kate is left to fight Walker’s charms, though she knows he can’t commit and she’s convinced he’ll eventually break her heart.
Staring off into space through the window had become Kate’s pastime of late, one she wouldn’t admit to anyone. She’d never been the type of woman to pine for a man, but pining was exactly what she was doing for the likes of Walker Pruett, the man who had turned a night ruined by a psychotic killer trying to end any chance Kate Sikes had of ever dating again into a night of the hottest, down and dirty best sex she’d ever had in her very young adult life. Kate was only twenty-two, and anyone would remind her she still had a lot of living and learning yet to do, but there were days she felt as if she’d lived a lifetime of bad choices, considering, when it came to men, she always picked the wrong guys.
Although Walker knew how to fuck and had driven Kate wild with a night of the kind of sex she’d never dreamed of having, he was the same as every other man she’d dated. Correction—she hadn’t dated Walker, she’d fucked him, and he’d have been the first to correct her. It was sex, so she shouldn’t call it anything other than what it really was.
Walker had been the detective on duty when a crazed woman had driven her car through the window of the restaurant where Kate and her date had met. The woman had headed right for her with every intention of taking her out, then had broken into her apartment to write in bright red lipstick on her wall, all because of a guy she’d met online, who, as she looked back now, hadn’t been one of her better choices. No, Walker had taken her home to his place to protect her but had ended up fucking her in ways that still made her wake from a dead sleep, sweating and wanting, craving. God, how she hated him now.
It had been a month since Walker had dropped Kate off at home after her tumble down his stairs, nursing a sprained wrist, a cut to the neck, and bumps and bruises. He’d waited only long enough for her to open the door, then pulled away.
That had been the last time she saw him.
She’d expected him to call, even just to retrieve his T-shirt, which she’d worn home. It was currently washed and folded, stuffed into a drawer with her other shirts, but she pulled it out and slipped it on when she was feeling particularly lonely. Sometimes, though she’d never tell anyone, she even slept in it.
“Kate, didn’t you hear me?” Keith, the front desk manager, tossed a stack of brochures on the front desk counter, behind which Kate stood in front of her computer. Her boss was a short dark-haired man with heavy brows, a round face, and a prickly attitude, and she jumped because she couldn’t help feeling as if she’d been caught doing something she shouldn’t have been doing. Then again, daydreaming fell under that category. Her cheeks burned.
“Yes, Keith, sorry, what do you need?” She didn’t look up, instead bringing up the current check-ins and the room inventory on her screen. It was quick thinking, and she wanted to pat herself on the back, as it had kept her from landing in hot water time and again, especially as of late.
“You were staring off into space again. You need to focus on the job while you’re here. Save your slacking off for when you punch out,” he said in the same condescending tone he always used with her, a tone she could only put down to his need to make sure she knew her place as the assistant, not the boss. No, he was the boss, the person who could make her life easy or difficult.
She took a breath and opened her mouth to say something smart. As she looked up and across the lobby, that was when she saw him.
The panic hit her first, pulsing through her, sucking her breath out. She almost wheezed. How could she have forgotten how forbidden the man looked? He had the same short red hair and rugged shoulders, shoulders that had pinned her legs up as he rammed into her over and over, shoulders and arms she knew the feel of all too well: skin to skin in the most intimate of places.
Walker Pruett was standing not more than twenty feet from her in the lobby by the pale sofas, talking with two men, corrections cops, and damn, did he look good. She could see his badge fastened to the belt of his jeans, and his white T-shirt had her curling her fingers, as she wanted nothing more than to slide her hands over those arms, feeling the muscles flex, feeling his strength.
“Kate, are you listening to me?” Keith tapped the counter with his finger, and she felt like an idiot. At the same time, she wanted to run and hide from Walker. Of all times for Keith to be an asshole!
“Yes, Keith, I’m listening.” She turned to face him, hoping he wouldn’t embarrass her. He dropped another pile of brochures and papers on the counter.
“I need you to make up these kits for sales. They’re short staffed today, and Shelley has calls scheduled with a group on Friday.”
She couldn’t believe he was passing this off on her, the grunt work he usually passed on to the front desk clerks when sales were really backed up. “Isn’t this Andrea’s job?” she said, reaching for the brochures and papers as the phone started to ring. She reached for it and answered. The caller wanted reservations, so she transferred it on, and Keith was still there. Maybe he was waiting for her to mess something up. As a boss, he was the worst, always focusing on what people could and would do wrong. He thrived on it. She hated that.
“Andrea is busy, and since you have all this free time to daydream and stand there looking out the window, you can put them together. It’s your job when I tell you it’s your job—”
She turned her head as Walker approached the front desk, glancing from her to Keith. She was positive her boss got off on grinding her nose into the dirt, belittling her every chance he got. Had Walker seen, heard? Of course he had. Everyone within ten feet would have picked up on Keith doing his best to make a point to Kate that he was, in fact, in charge and could make her life at work a living hell. That was a detail he had, as of late, pointed out to her on a daily basis.
“Hi, can I help you?” she said, wishing Keith would lose interest like any normal person and walk away.
Walker gave her an odd look. The way he quirked his brow, the humor or something in his expression, had her wanting to ball up her fist and ram it into his gut. So he’d fucked her and walked away, and now she was supposed to pretend…what?
She said nothing else as he tapped the counter and rested his forearm on the pale tile, his shirt doing little to hide the amazing chest she knew was waiting underneath for her touch. Stop it!
She squeezed her hand, fighting the unsettled feeling she knew all too well Walker could stoke inside her, making her crazy under him. She remembered what it felt like. Of course her eyes went right to that arm, seeing the shape and strength, how he had held her legs apart…
“Sir, can I help you with something?” Keith added. Kate felt her cheeks burn. She stared at her fingers, cleared her throat roughly, and tapped some keys. The screen went blank. Shit.
When she glanced up, Walker was looking down at her. His eyes, those amazing green eyes, were no longer smiling.
“Thanks, but I’m here to speak with Kate. Police business.” His fingers tapped the badge fastened to his belt. She’d never seen him in jeans before. Maybe there wasn’t a thing he didn’t look good in: hot, sexy—asshole, because now Keith would be on her, thinking she’d done something illegal.
She pasted a smile to her lips, the one she reserved for guests she was anything but happy to deal with.
“Oh, I see,” Keith said. “Has Kate done something I should be aware of?” He turned from her to Walker, and, of course, he was still standing there, giving her the impression he had no plans to move any time soon.
“I don’t know, has she?” Walker said in a voice that made him sound so much like a man in charge. It was something she had known all too well under him, riding him, pressed against the wall or wherever he’d wanted her.
“You know what, Keith? I’ve got this. I’ll have all the kits put together before I go today. Is there anything else?” She glanced over to Keith, and the way he watched Walker and then looked over to her, she knew he was going to pile the questions on after, maybe make her life miserable for a while. Right now, she wanted him gone so she could give Walker directions to the door.
“Sure, don’t be long. You still have another two hours before you’re off.”
She would have rolled her eyes, but Walker was right in front of her, and she’d had enough of both these guys. “And you will have every second of my time,” she added, but the moment it was out of her mouth, she realized Keith was likely to add it to his list of her shortcomings. She didn’t have to look over to know, as he walked away, back into his office behind her, that he would be leaving the door open so he could hear every word spoken between her and Walker.
“I’m busy. Is there something I can help you with?” She wondered whether she could make her voice sound any more icy. She’d have loved to flip him the bird, and maybe it was the thought of doing so that added an ease to her forced smile.
“Your security footage from the cameras in the lobby and the bar for the last seven days.” He gestured toward the cameras, and his expression was one she recognized: all cop. Asshole, not even a “How are you?” or some fucking excuse for why you did the dump and run. Had he lost her phone number? Had he suffered a head injury and been stuck in the hospital in a coma for the past month? She had to fight to uncurl her fingers from where her nails were digging into her palms.
“I see,” she said. “Well, you would need to speak with Hollis McPhail, head of security.” She lifted the phone and punched in his extension, staring down at the receiver, feeling Walker’s gaze burning into her.
“Security,” he answered, sounding as he always did: distracted, busy, as if answering the phone was a chore.
“Hollis, it’s Kate at the front desk. I have a Detective Pruett out here who says he needs to see some security footage. What would you like me to tell him?” She was hoping he’d say something like “Until he has a warrant, he can go fuck himself.” She would have been more than happy to relay that message.
“Fishing for something, is he?” Hollis said. She could hear noise in the background, a pen or pencil tapping on his desk. He let out a sigh of frustration.
“What would you like me to tell him?” She looked straight at Walker, who didn’t seem rattled in the least. In fact, the way he watched her and then dropped his gaze to her breasts had her wanting to reach out and slap him.
“I’ll be right there. Tell him to wait.”
She replaced the receiver. “Hollis will be right out to speak with you.”
Now what was she supposed to do? Awkward was all she could think when Walker still hadn’t moved but seemed to be settling in. Why wouldn’t the phone ring or a guest appear so she could ignore this man who’d turned her world upside down with a night of the best sex she’d ever had? Not that she’d tell him as much. No, this smug bastard probably made a habit of bedding women and tossing them away, and she was just another notch on his bedpost. She couldn’t remember if she’d actually looked at his bedpost and counted the scratches.
“You’re welcome to wait over there.” She gestured with the flat of her hand to the sofas in the lobby that faced the fireplace. At least then she wouldn’t have to keep up the smile that was beginning to ache from how hard she was forcing it in place.
“So how have you been?”
[_Are you kidding me? _]“Great, actually. You?” What the hell was she supposed to say, that she’d spent nights sitting at home, not going out, because she’d thought he’d call? How about the number of times she’d picked up the phone just to make sure there was a dial tone? She’d had to stop herself from calling him at least thirty or forty times, because she wasn’t one of those girls. She’d never, ever pine away for a guy, chase him down and leave endless messages for him to call her when it was clear he wasn’t interested.
“Pretty good.” He was nodding, his gaze dipping again to her breasts.
She reached for the edge of her black sports jacket and pulled it over her breasts. Even though her white blouse was decent and far from low cut, it didn’t hide the size of her generous bust. No, she was proud of what she had, and she didn’t skimp on bras, choosing ones that added extra lift and more cleavage. He smiled as if he knew what she was doing, but he didn’t stop his ogling. The man was positively a dirty dog.
“Well, Detective Pruett who’s pretty good, if you don’t mind, I have work to do, so if you’d like to wait over there, I’m sure Hollis will be right out.” She gestured again rather sharply, and this time she didn’t smile. The fact was that she didn’t want to.
He didn’t move. In fact, he rested his other arm on the counter, taking in all of her as if he had every right. He was a man who wouldn’t accept the brush off. He was infuriating.
“What is it with you…?”
“Detective Pruett.” Hollis approached and tapped the counter before she could finish, and again Kate felt her cheeks burn. She was rattled.
“You must be Hollis,” Walker said, still leaning on the counter as if he had no intention of moving. He didn’t take the hand Hollis held out but instead looked and turned his head, so much the man in control, toward Kate. He winked. “Take care, Kate.”
Then somehow he had his hand on Hollis’s back and was walking away, far enough that she had to strain to hear. Hollis had his back to Kate, but Walker was facing her, his attention on the head of security, who was dressed in the same black jacket Kate wore, the uniform reserved for all management. He was on the overweight side, considering he spent most days glued to a desk. Whenever she saw him, he was shoveling a sandwich, donut, or whatever he had sitting on his desk beside him into his mouth.
How was it that Walker could face her from across the room and talk with Hollis, who was nodding to whatever he was saying, and Kate couldn’t hear one word? She was staring at him now as he gave all his attention to Hollis.
“Kate!” Keith barked from behind her, and she jumped. “Stop daydreaming and get back to work.”
When she looked back up, Hollis was walking away, and Walker was staring at her, so she picked up the brochures and papers and started sorting. When she looked up again, Walker was gone.
Get EDGE OF NIGHT now!
The adventure continues for Kate & Walker in LAST NIGHT as Walker proposes marriage to Kate realizing he can’t live without her. Only an intruder from Walker’s past puts his relationship with Kate in jeopardy.
The glitter staring back at Kate from the velvet green box had her bringing her hand to her chest, doing her very best to breathe and make sense of what she was looking at.
“Aren’t you going to answer me?” Walker asked. He was now seated across from her at a small window table for two at a local Italian restaurant in a part of town where she’d never been. The tablecloth was white, the dinnerware was silver, and the atmosphere was cozy. Then there was Walker, who was such a contrast to this place. As Kate took in the men seated by the door, though—their dark hair and olive skin, their suits, their concrete expressions—she realized maybe Walker did fit in, after all.
Her other hand was in her lap, pressed against her blue jeans, and she was feeling warm in her black turtleneck. Walker had just finished at the precinct and was dressed in dark dress pants and a suit jacket, the two top buttons of his white dress shirt undone. He looked dashing tonight, sexy as hell. She loved watching him. As her gaze flicked up to his deep green eyes, something in his expression had her throat closing up again. Her hand was shaking as she touched her chest once more and tucked her shoulder-length hair behind her ears. She’d recently had foils done to bring out a lighter shade, a hint of auburn.
“Kate, you’re making me kind of nervous, here. I just asked you to marry me, and with you not answering, I’m starting to wonder if maybe I already have my answer.” He was starting to sound defensive—no, mad, and she was still trying to figure out what the hell was going on.
She shut her eyes for a second to give herself a mental shake. “Stop,” she said, holding up her hand. “I just need a second, Walker. You walk in here after telling me to meet you for dinner at this address and leaving me waiting for twenty minutes, and then you just dump this box in front of me. And, just for the record, you didn’t ask me to marry you. I opened the box, and I suppose—”
He rolled his eyes as if she was creating a problem where one didn’t exist. “What did you think I was giving you? It’s an engagement ring, Kate. What did you think it meant?” He gestured to it as if he was the sane one and she was supposed to just read his mind.
What was he thinking? Was he serious? She actually had to place her hands on the tabletop, as she wanted to reach across and smack him. Walker was anything but easy, and at times like this he had her wanting to pull her hair out. “You need to use your words, Walker,” she said as she somehow found the nerve to close the ring box and move it across the table in front of him. She set it down with a hard smack. “Ask me nicely, because I want to hear you grovel and treat me the way a woman should be treated. Ask me the way a man should when he wants to marry a woman, not just by showing up late and tossing me a ring as if this is just another task you’re glad to be done with. That…” She pointed to him and the ring, which was now hidden from view. From her first glance, it had been a stunning ring.
“You want me down on my knees,” he said, though he didn’t appear any closer to doing just that. In fact, he was leaning back in his chair, giving her the impression that she was being ridiculous.
When the waiter appeared beside her, she smiled brightly at him, lifting her menu, which she’d studied from front to back four times, given how long she’d waited for Walker since ordering a glass of chianti to start.
“Are you ready to order?” the young Italian man asked.
“No,” Walker said at the same time Kate said, “Yes.”
She glanced up to the waiter, who seemed to hesitate as he slowly looked up from his notepad over to her and then Walker, maybe realizing he had walked in on something he should have backed away from.
“Why don’t I give you a few more minutes?” he said, and before Kate could contradict Walker again, the waiter hurried away.
“Walker, seriously, let’s order dinner. I’m starving, and I’ve been waiting here for you, which seems to be the story of my life.” She’d lost count of the number of dinners she’d eaten alone because something had come up and Walker hadn’t made it home. After the first dozen times, she’d started texting him whenever she decided to cook up something nice, which was several times a week now, since she still didn’t have a job and had all this free time. She’d found that in order to save her sanity, she needed to text him a reminder that (A) dinner was ready and (B) she’d been cooking for hours for him. That seemed to be what he needed to at least come home and eat, knowing she was going to some trouble for him.
Walker crossed his arms, narrowing his gaze as if determined to wait her out. “No, I want an answer,” he said. “Do you have any idea what I’ve put out there?” He lifted the ring box. “This rock I bought for you, Kate, my ring that I want on your finger…this is a huge step.”
“And maybe one you’re not ready for,” she couldn’t help adding, because he didn’t seem to be any closer to getting on his knees and saying the words she wanted—no, needed to hear.
He seemed to be thinking, considering, maybe, as he stared at her in that dark way of his that let her know she was pushing him further than was wise. Walker was a man with many complex sides, far from easy, far from predictable—especially when he was screwing her brains out, riding her hard and fast. That was when she saw his dominant side, not that Walker wasn’t a very masculine male. He was, being a cop who saw the dark side of everything. Bossiness was just another side of him, and getting Walker to see her way was akin to moving mountains, at times. So it really was no wonder that she had to fight the urge to rap her head against the table as she stared back at him this time, not willing to give an inch. As she lifted her hand to get the waiter’s attention, she heard the scrape of a chair.
Walker was standing, pulling on his jacket as he walked around to her.
“What are you doing?” She was nervous now. Walker had just thrown her for a loop. She didn’t know what he was doing, and that was freaking her out. She looked around to see interest from the waiter and the few tables of men turned their way.
He didn’t say a word as he stood in front of her, set the ring box back on the table, and went down on one knee.
“Walker, it’s okay. Get up,” she said. The other men were smiling at the scene Walker was making.
“No. You want the whole shebang, and that’s what you’re getting. Kate, my darling, my sweetheart, I would like very much to marry you, to make you my wife, who’ll torment me and test my patience…”
There were a few laughs from the other table, and she couldn’t help shooting a glare their way as she lifted her chin. When she glanced over to Walker, he wasn’t smiling but watching her, waiting.
“That was about the worst proposal I’ve ever heard,” she said.
He stood up, opened the ring box again, pulled the ring out, and reached for her hand. She allowed him to slip it on her finger as she took in the six diamonds, not large and gauche but square, simple. It looked fantastic on her finger.
“Just say yes. Come on, Kate. You know you want to.”
She tried to look mad. She wanted him to finish, to add in some terms of endearment, to say how much he couldn’t live without her, that he’d love her forever—but as soon as the thought crossed her mind, she had to toss it away. Walker was not a man for sentiments or flowery words, and as she stared at the ring on her finger and back to the man who’d turned her life and emotions and world upside down, she knew she’d never want him to be.
So she took a deep breath and made him wait a little longer than she needed to just because she enjoyed driving him to the edge, making him a little crazy for her. When she heard him swear under his breath, she smiled and said, “I’ll think about it.”
Get LAST NIGHT here!
Or click here to grab all the books in one box set collection. Kate and Walker: Deadly, Dangerous & Desired
What would you do for someone you loved?
—“The Choice will leave you questioning your own morals and motivations and leave you asking others what they would do in that same situation. This is a genre-bending novel that will surprise you”— Amazon Reviewer, JRA
—“From the Pacific Northwest to New Orleans, with its rich Cajun heritage, dialect, food…and voodoo, comes this spellbinder from Ms Eckhart.”—Reviewer, Elysabeth
—“This book has everything I love. Romance, suspense, action and spiritual life struggles. Loved it! Kept me on my toes. The author creates characters that the readers either love or hate or a little, of both.” – Reviewer, Tina Marie
Marcie is crazy in love with Dan who has been using her and promising his love in return. And she’ll do anything for him, which is fast becoming a one way ticket to trouble. But in a freak accident she loses her memory landing in the path of sexy DEA Agent Sam Carre.
For DEA Agent Sam Carre when this attractive stranger lands in his path he just can’t resist helping her, even though he’s haunted by a past that gives him no peace. But as the sparks fly so do questions of what she’s really involved in.
And a choice that could kill her…
This complex case pushes them both to explain the unexplainable bringing them face to face with generations-old evil and a haunting question. Sam’s forced to make a choice: walk away from the attraction connecting them or risk losing everything.
It was too quiet. Unnaturally quiet.
The sort of unusual quiet that happens right after a big storm rips through. But there hadn’t been one—a storm, that is. This was just another sunny day, exactly like hundreds of other brisk autumn Fridays on this off-the-grid, rustic island of Las Seta in the Pacific Northwest.
DEA Agent Sam Carre squinted from the blazing sun that brightened the calm, blue sky as he walked out of the shade. From the edge of the old-growth forest, he glanced back into the heavy foliage to where he’d separated from his partner, Diane, two hundred yards back, along the hidden fence line.
This island was an absolute crown jewel to any logging company, but a nightmare for Sam’s team. It provided too many hideouts, the wrong kind—the dangerous kind—along with the perfect cover for marijuana agriculture.
Sam popped on his dark glasses and cut around three parked cars. He snagged his black jeans on some thorny bushes as he hurried toward the six solid, sure-footed male agents in front of the wrought-iron gate protecting Lance Silver’s secure estate.
“Nobody goes until I say so.” Sam kept his authoritative voice even and his charming grin hidden as he thought about slapping steel cuffs around Lance Silver’s wrists. Tonight they’d celebrate, because today they finally had all the proof they needed to bust Silver and lock him up for life. He was a dangerous and connected man who had, until now, controlled the highway of drugs flowing down the west coast and across the country, with deep ties into South America.
“What’s taking Diane so long? Can she even make it over the fence?” Agent Donaldson, a junior member on the team, pulled his ball cap over his prematurely balding head. He stood with Agents Craig, Daniels, Green, Mercer, and Winters. They were suited up in their Kevlar vests and dark glasses, weapons holstered and ready to go.
Sam cursed under his breath. Donaldson was pushing it again. It’d only been five minutes since Sam’s partner, Diane Larsen, climbed the security fencing, leading four agents, two of them women, into the forest behind the house. And this was after she’d disarmed the wire triggering the alarm. Sam wasn’t in the mood to argue with the young agent who liked to challenge Diane’s authority. He undermined everything she did, which was absolute crap. Diane, the only woman on this team with a leadership role, worked ten times harder than any of these guys. She was kind hearted and respectful—yet capable of kicking ass when she had to. She’d been a rock for Sam when he needed a supportive friend to help him keep his head together. But since she’d fallen apart at the field office—the news her dad had died after accidentally mixing up his meds had hit her hard—she’d been getting all kinds of grief, especially from Donaldson. One incident, just one time, and it was all these tough-ass pricks could remember.
Sam moved away from the gate and back into the shaded forest to see if he could spot Diane.
“That kid’s really vying for Diane’s spot,” said Agent Green as he dogged Sam’s heels. He resembled a middle child, always trying to fit in, his round baby cheeks a contrast to his quarterback shoulders.
“Yeah, well, he ain’t going to get it.” Sam crouched down. “Can’t see anything.”
Green chuckled softly. “These damn renegades love this, off the grid, wilderness. It’s the perfect hideout. Nothing but a bunch of hippies, musicians, and artists live here.” Green spat on the ground a few inches from Sam’s black boots.
“Hard for those families raising kids here, you’d think. No electricity, no stores.” Sam breathed in the clean air.
“Sam, we’re inside,” Diane’s low, silky voice whispered over the radio.
“Let’s go, let’s go.” Sam signaled the six men with him.
Mercer stepped forward to cut the padlock with heavy bolt cutters. It broke, and he yanked the chain and tossed it to the ground. He and Green flung open the double gates. Sam jumped into the passenger side of the first car, and Donaldson climbed behind the wheel. As he slammed the door shut, Donaldson floored it. Craig, Daniels, and Winters followed in the two cars behind him, whipping up a trail of dust. Green and Mercer raced behind on foot.
Two hundred feet up the long, narrow driveway, the two-story estate house appeared magically out of the secluded forest. It rivaled any mansion from the Old South, with a fancy porch, woodwork, and gardens on all sides. Nothing moved; not even a curtain shielding the floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Lance Silver had people, a lot of them. The place should have been buzzing right about now. Sam pulled the warrant from under his Kevlar vest. He flicked the holster of his Glock and ran his fingers through his short brown hair. His gut warned him that something was wrong. Where was everyone? They shouldn’t have been able to drive in without creating mayhem. This had been too easy—and too easy meant a problem. “Shit!”
Sam pressed his hand to his earpiece. “Keep your heads up, eyes open. Something’s not right here.” As a seasoned cop, Sam had learned, the hard way, to see and analyze things others didn’t notice. It was a coping mechanism that had become his mode of survival, especially after what happened to Elise. They pulled closer to the front door. He felt the downward slide of something he couldn’t put his finger on, but Sam knew—something was off.
Donaldson slammed the brakes and skidded to a stop at the front door. Sam placed his hand on the dashboard before jerking open his door and jumping out into a cloud of dust. Donaldson bounded over the hood and raced Sam up the stone stairs. Craig and Daniels hurried around the side of the house. Winters, Green, and Mercer flanked Sam.
Donaldson banged on the door. “DEA, open up.”
Nothing, no response, and Sam really listened. By now, they should have heard footsteps, some kind of rustling from inside.
Beads of sweat covered Donaldson’s face, and he appeared to vibrate, as if he itched to kick open the door.
“Open it.” Sam stepped to the side, holding up his gun. Craig took the other side. Donaldson pulled up his knee and kicked hard with the heel of his black boot over the dead bolt, letting out a rough oomph. The doorframe splintered as the mahogany door crashed open.
“DEA, we have a warrant,” Sam called. His adrenaline was pumping as he aimed his weapon and went in. Everything went into slow motion. Details stood out. In his peripheral vision, Sam caught a glimpse of the shining black steel of a gun and nearly crapped in his pants. It took a second to register that it was his gun, his image, in a floor to ceiling wall mirror. It filled both sides of the massive front hall. “Christ almighty,” he muttered before gripping his weapon and shouting to the others: “We’re in. Green, Winters, check the basement. Donaldson, upstairs.” His gut twisted tightly as he struggled to listen. Where was the scrambling, the shouting, something—anything to break this chilly silence? “DEA, show yourself,” Sam shouted again, clearing the front hall and the sunken living room, through an open archway to a huge chef’s kitchen; which was extremely neat and tidy. Not even a measly cup had been left sitting on the counter.
Floor-to-ceiling windows filled every room. He could see Diane and the four agents out back behind the solar panels as they searched the outbuildings. Sam frowned and leaned against the double-pane glass door. This massive house was silent except for his agents, who were scouring every room.
Winters’ deep voice grated through Sam’s earpiece: “Basement’s clear.”
Everyone checked in. The garage, the greenhouse, all empty. This upscale, state of-the art, energy-efficient estate had been abandoned. Not even the caretaker remained.
“Sam, there’s no marijuana. There’s no equipment,” Diane said through his earpiece.
Beads of sweat popped out on Sam’s forehead. Beneath his Kevlar vest, his snug T-shirt stuck to his well-sculpted back. The radio buzzed with furious updates from their twelve-man team on the mainland, which included the Sequim sheriff’s detachment, the Coast Guard, Interpol, and the DEA. This had been a simultaneous sweep of all Lance Silver’s property, both here on Las Seta and in the underground truck trailer at his compound across the water in rural Gardiner, Washington. All empty.
Sam pressed his microphone close to his mouth. “Diane, where are you?” He slid open the glass kitchen door and walked onto the massive stone patio overlooking the pond and the luscious, well-tended rose garden. He slumped against the patio door and tried to rub away the pulsating pain between his eyebrows. Since this investigation started, he’d begun to experience a sudden sensitivity to light and sound. It could be gone in several hours, but the usual warning had been there for the last few days—a blue aura in his peripheral vision, black spots. But he ignored it; told himself it was the stress of running, what had started out as, an independent investigation by the DEA but had escalated into an international taskforce targeting the marijuana grow-ops running rampant on the isolated islands in the Pacific Northwest.
World-renowned high-grade marijuana was being shipped and traded for cocaine and guns. This was big time, a major business and an international problem that law enforcement had yet to defuse—as if they could.
He never heard Diane approach. Her words stretched out long and loud. It took forever for his senses to override the roaring in his ears. His blood began to pound through his body, pulling him deeper into throbbing misery.
“Here, take this.”
He opened his eyes when Diane tapped out three pills from a small bottle. He didn’t question it. He just swallowed. There wasn’t much Sam wouldn’t take from his trusted friend. Diane was a woman of medium height and build, compact and tough, with tan short-cropped hair; the type of woman who didn’t distract a man with flirtatious curves. But she was the kind of partner who’d do the gritty groundwork while keeping her partner focused, which was what she had done on the boat ride over this morning; ignoring Agent Donaldson’s crude jibes, and guzzling coffee with Sam.
“If you don’t pull it together, some woman on this team’s going to fulfill her dream and have you bedded and nursed before we can wrap this up.”
Whatever she gave him took the edge off the pain, which would have otherwise been blinding.
“Eat this.” She tossed him an energy bar. He didn’t argue, ripping open the foil wrap with his teeth and chewing the gritty bar.
“He knew we were coming,” he said.
“Click off your radio, Sam.”
He ripped the headset from his ear. “You know we followed the letter of the law to make sure this scumbag didn’t get off on some technicality. All those stakeouts—we did our homework, Diane. We know who the little guys are; every fucking one of them on the street. We have video footage and rock-solid evidence that the drugs were here!” Sam pounded the fleshy part of his fist against the smooth fir siding.
“Agent Carre, you better get in here and see this,” Donaldson beckoned quite arrogantly, undermining his superior, Diane, by not addressing her.
Diane, one to always hold her emotions close and rarely show what she thought, tilted one eyebrow up as her face hardened. This prick was deliberately pushing her buttons and deserved a one-on-one ass kicking. Personally, Sam would have liked to plant his foot far up that kid’s ass by now, except this was Diane’s fight, and if she wanted those guys to respect her, Sam couldn’t fight it for her.
Sam and Diane followed Donaldson down a long hall, which resembled an art gallery, to Lance Silver’s study in the solar glass wing. Green, Mercer, Winters, and Craig looked up, but only Winters—a big, dark Irish and African-American guy with long, fuzzy hair—would honestly look at Sam. The tension multiplied when the other tough guys turned away slightly, crossing their arms and glancing awkwardly at Lance Silver’s palatial mahogany desk. All of its drawers hung open.
“We found this in the top drawer of the desk.” Donaldson appeared to own the room when he picked up a crisp yellow piece of paper from the cluttered desk and passed it to Sam.
Diane peered closer, her head never topping Sam’s shoulder.
His vision cleared. Bold black letters spelled out his name. He didn’t miss how still the room had become. He could feel the heat from every agent while they waited for Sam to explain, but then Diane ripped the note from his hands and stepped in front of him.
“What the hell is this, some kind of game?” she snapped.
No one answered.
Sam was ready to clear out. When he replaced his headset, he could hear his boss, Dexter, shouting over the radio, bypassing Sam as he spoke directly to Diane. Diane pressed her hand to her ear to listen.
“I want your asses back here now,” Dexter said. “We got a problem. A tip was called into the Sequim sheriff’s detachment telling us to check Sam’s locker at Ocean’s gun club. The tipster said we would find a key to Lance Silver’s estate and implied that my golden boy is on Lance’s payroll.”
Sam looked up so fast that his head spun. Dizzy, he stepped back and leaned against the mahogany bookcase. “What the hell? That’s bullshit.”
Dexter yelled, “There’s a chopper en route to get you now. Two deputies from the Sequim detachment just opened your locker, and they found a key, along with five pounds of marijuana.”
Sam’s blood chilled. The bad feeling he had earlier had just become a clear epiphany. He could almost see that suave, tight-assed bachelor, Lance Silver, laughing at him. Instead of Silver going to jail, all this shit flying around had landed hard right on top of Sam. Not only did he look like the leak in Lance Silver’s back pocket, but there was also doubt of Sam’s true allegiance painted on the faces of the agents surrounding him. He could feel their censure.
Amazing how quickly they turned. They thought he had tipped Silver off about the raid. Pissed and completely furious, Sam gazed hard at all of the turncoats until each one stepped back. He wasn’t about to dignify this with a response, not after how hard he had worked to nail that bastard, following every lead the other agents missed or brushed off. Sam hadn’t missed a thing—he lived for this investigation. He had breathed life into it and lost sleep because of it. Those guys should have known that, out of anyone, Sam wouldn’t be the one to betray this team. He ground his lips together so hard that they trembled. He felt as if the rug had been ripped right out from under him, and he was positive that he could hear a toilet flushing six months of steady, solid work away. How could this have happened again? Why was he such a target?
Well, for one, this was Las Seta, an unpoliced, reclusive island, part of the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest. History alone should have warned him this job wouldn’t be easy. The explorers and adventurers who had claimed this island over a hundred years before landed there quite by accident, for one reason or another. Whether hiding or running from something, they had all insisted on a land free from politics and civilized order. Families and clans remained year after year, protecting each other, and, staying true to tradition, they followed their own way of doing things. So, while Sam hunted Lance Silver; Lance Silver and the island of Las Seta had changed the rules of the game and ambushed Sam.
Get THE CHOICE now!
—Touching story of how love wins in the end. Loved the suspense, went through a lot of emotions in this book, I was an emotional wreck. I got into the story line so deep I couldn’t put the book down. – Debi
—“LOST AND FOUND is one of the best romantic suspense books I have read this year! I will forewarn you, you will need a box of tissues and a punching bag while reading this dynamic tale.” Romance Junkies
—“A heart-rending tragedy of grand magnitude, faced by one innocent family against whom it seemed the whole world had rallied. It will pull you into the thick of the action, and not let you go until the final page.” Lee Ashford for Readers’ Favorite
—“It starts with a heartrending description of every parents’ worst nightmare, and keeps the suspense and drama level high all the way through.” Loves Reading
—“If you want to read a book that will make you think about the depth of relationships, this is the book. What would you do for the person you love?” KitKat
—“Growing up I have always been a fan of books that contain messages and stories that can relate to real life situations. This definitely covered both of those and more. There were parts where I wanted to curl up with a box of tissues and keep reading and then others I was too caught up in the book I just couldn’t put it down.” Reviewer – Nicole
—“This is one of the best books that I’ve read in a long time. It was a page turner, a thriller from page one until the very end.”
A hit and run
A deserted country road.
A parents worst nightmare.
On a warm fall morning in Gardiner, Washington, Richard and Maggie celebrate happy couple Sam and Marcie’s return. What happens next changes their lives forever. A hit and run driver on a deserted country road, and Richard and Maggie suffer a parents worst nightmare.
Now a year later Maggie McCafferty struggles to put her life back together…hiding her pain with outrageous behavior and her own secret she’s unwilling to share. Until her friends step in and her strong willed soon to be ex-husband sets out to bring Maggie home— the only way he knows. Just as Maggie begins to trust again, Dan McKenzie calls after disappearing for over a year. But now he’s back. And instead of Richard coming clean with the truth of their involvement, Richard digs himself in deeper, with mounting debts, a partner who refuses to buy him out—secrets shared only with Dan. Until one night a mysterious 911 caller witnesses a fight and Richard shooting Dan. But when the police arrive at the deserted construction site the only evidence of a crime is a pool of blood, and a surveillance video.
Under mounting pressure from the police Richard's arrested and interrogated -except fiery secretive Richard is adamant he was home all night. In this bizarre twist of fate, Sam, Marcie and Diane work against the clock and wonder how well they really know their evasive friend. With Maggie by his side, Richard stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Richard didn't do it, where is Dan? And who is the mysterious 911 caller?
“Hey, you two look great.” Richard McCafferty propped his axe against the woodshed and strode away from the large stack of chopped firewood, wiping beads of sweat from his forehead with the back of his heavy work glove.
Marcie shivered underneath her purple down vest, her fingers linked with those of Sam, the love of her life. She leaned against him, into him, and couldn’t erase the smile she’d swear was now etched permanently into her face. She couldn’t explain the joyful sense of lightness that filled every part of her. Maybe that was why she needed to touch Sam and be with him, near him.
Richard gripped Sam’s hand the way good friends do. He winked at Marcie as if he could read her every secret. She dropped her eyes; after all, when had she ever been successful at keeping something from Richard?
“Your cast is gone, Marcie; you’re all tanned and healed. Those beaches down in Mexico look like they agreed with you. So when did you guys get back?”
Sam wrapped his arm around Marcie’s shoulders and rested his chin on the crown of her head. “Last night. Rented a car in Seattle and drove around the peninsula. Thought we’d stop in, check on you and Maggie before heading over to Marcie’s granny’s place.”
The screen door squeaked.
“Hey, you two! Didn’t know you were back.” Maggie dashed down the stairs, yanking on a thick green sweater. She skidded around the pile of leaves, nearly tripping over a garden rake before she hugged Marcie and then kissed Sam on the cheek. “You’ve got quite the glow happening there, Marcie.” Maggie shoved in between the couple. “The way you two are glued together, you’d think you hadn’t seen each other in, like, forever.”
Sam smiled broadly and leaned against the black SUV he’d rented. His blue eyes, brighter than before he had left for Mexico, watching Marcie in a way that let her know how much he loved her. His look would have told her even if he hadn’t said the words a few hours ago and every day since she’d told him the big news. Maggie was watching Marcie, and her toffee-colored eyes lit up as if she’d guessed her secret.
“Should we tell them, Sam?” Marcie said. She was teasing, and Richard stared first at Sam and then her.
“Okay, guys, what gives?” he asked.
Sam blurted out, “Marcie’s pregnant.”
Richard grinned and high-fived Sam. “Congrats, guys.”
Maggie squealed and hugged Marcie, patting her still flat stomach. “So, how far along?” Maggie was almost bouncing with excitement as she tucked her shoulder-length, dark curly hair behind her ears. Her pale cheeks glowed a natural rosy pink from the chill in the late fall air.
“Not far, just a few weeks.” Marcie could swear her joy shimmered in the air between her friends.
“Mom!” Ryley called from the door.
“Oops. Come on in, guys,” Maggie said, hurrying to the steps. Ryley burst out the door, his sneakers undone, wearing only a dark long-sleeved T-shirt hanging outside jeans with patched-up knees. “Put your coat on, young man,” Maggie said with a laugh, “and go finish raking those leaves before I kill myself. And this time, put the rake away when you’re done.”
“Hey, Ryley. No school today?” Sam bent down and retrieved the rake while Ryley pulled on his red jacket.
“Nah, it’s a conference day, and Mom won’t let me play on the computer. She’s making me work,” Ryley said, skulking down the steps. Marcie couldn’t hear what Sam said when Ryley took the rake, but he laughed so hard he wiped what she assumed were tears from his eyes.
“Sam looks pretty happy, Marcie,” said Richard. “He wants kids. See how he is with Ryley?”
Marcie looked up. Richard was so tall, and his dark hair was a little on the shaggy side. “Yes, he does.” Marcie swallowed. Her head felt a little thick this morning, but she’d heard that was normal.
“How are you feeling? Maggie was sick the first few months with Ryley. With Lily, she was just tired all the time,” Richard said. The lines around his eyes made him appear older, wiser and damn handsome. He knew darn well he still had every woman taking a second look when he entered a room.
“Tired. Feeling like I’m coming down with something. But it’s good.”
He shook his head; a grim line stretched taut across his lips. “You know, Marcie, I’m glad you and Sam had time to get away. Does Sam regret leaving the DEA?”
“He hasn’t said. But being with him in Mexico, just us and nothing hanging over our heads … I’ve got to tell you, Richard, I didn’t want to come back. It was magical, as if I was inserted into my fairytale ending where everything was perfect and nothing could touch us. I worried coming back on the plane if maybe there would be some repercussions when setting foot back here. I can’t say this to Sam, but I can’t shake this feeling there’s something brewing in the wind with Dan and his crew. You know … payback.”
Richard pulled off his work gloves and stuffed them into his back pocket. He stared up at the house for a moment before turning and looking at her in a meaningful way. She was sure he knew more than he was telling. “Marcie, this game, this business … even the people who aren’t involved but know about what Dan, Lance and that whole underworld do, they don’t talk.”
“Richard, are we in danger?” Marcie shivered as a light breeze swirled her hair. She swept her fingers through the strands, distracted for a minute by how silky, wavy, and long her hair had recently become.
“You need to know something—and I haven’t told Maggie this. I found out one of the disabled kids Sandra Carter had at her home the night you and Maggie delivered all the marijuana … well, he died last week. Whoever his fulltime aide was had a way of communicating with the boy, and she said the kid was scared of Sandra. Before he died, he told her … Sandra hurt him.”
“Are you sure? I thought those kids couldn’t talk. Why does Sandra still have a contract to care for them?”
Richard just shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know everything, just what Diane told me. But they’ve suspended Sandra’s contract pending an internal review.”
“Well, how did the kid die, and how’s Sandra responsible?”
“I don’t know that, either, except they’re presuming a mix-up in his meds. Both kids were on so many. Look, Marcie, the reason I’m telling you this is that Sandra’s out for blood. She’s made drunken threats to some friends against Maggie, and you too. Both of you broke the cardinal rule and ratted them out, her and Dan, and that’s her quote. But you understand that world. You knew this was going to happen—we all did when we set them up. This underworld has a way of looking after things in its own way. We all need to be careful. Lance Silver is one dangerous and powerful bastard, and Sandra and her family are unscrupulous. Remember, Dan won’t cross Sandra. Not once during that whole mess did he ever point the finger at her.”
Marcie glanced over just as Sam dumped a handful of leaves over Ryley’s head and then tossed him on the pile. “Why would he protect her, Richard?”
“You still don’t get him. He and Sandra go way back. He’s cagey, and he knows who he can screw over and who he can’t. She encouraged his behavior, and he controls her to a point. If he crosses her, he knows he’ll be dead. Have no doubt he’ll protect Sandra, because that will protect him, too.
“He casts illusions, even with me, keeping me off guard. He was scared I’d kill him for involving Maggie. What goes through his mind after he screws people is … what he can say to keep from getting the shit pounded out of him. Lance Silver, Sandra, that whole underworld Dan slithered his way into, it’s … let’s just say that Dan doesn’t play by their rules. He’s not part of them; he’s an outsider who slithered in. Sandra’s a part of that world because she grew up in it. I still can’t figure out Lance and Dan’s connection, or why’s Dan’s still walking around. I know he’s screwed one too many of them.”
Marcie frowned, looking back at him, and tried to read past the sudden hardness encasing Richard. “How do you know this, Richard?”
He didn’t look at her; instead, he watched his son. “Marcie, you’re a big girl. If you’re going to live out here, you need to be aware of what’s going on around you. There’s some ugly stuff, and the people involved lead outwardly picture-perfect lives. You and my wife got dragged into something.…” Richard yanked his gloves from his back pocket and swatted the leather across his jean-clad thigh. He lowered his voice and said, “What you see and what is real are two different things.”
Marcie looked away, toward the bare towering willow that would shade the front lawn nicely all summer. “Have you spoken with Dan?”
“Nope. I’m just saying you need to constantly watch your back. Retribution doesn’t always come in ways we expect.”
“Richard, Sam said he took care of everything so we’d be safe.…”
His jaw stiffened, and he scratched his head as he watched Sam and Ryley turn a big pile of leaves into a spread-out mess as Ryley dove in over and over. “There comes a time when you need to look after home first. Sam did that for you. He did what he needed to. For me, that’s Maggie and the kids. But make no mistake, whatever Sam and I do, anything can still come out of left field. We all need to be aware and not just trust that we’re safe, because that’s when mistakes happen … and someone gets hurt.” He continued to watch Ryley.
Marcie hadn’t noticed before, but tinges of gray now threaded through the strands of hair by his ear. It was thicker than before. Richard turned and smiled at her, but the light didn’t reach those steely blue eyes. “Come on, O Pregnant One. Let’s go on in and have some coffee.”
“Tea for me, please,” Marcie said.
This time, Richard laughed, and it wasn’t so forced.
Marcie leaned against Sam in the warm, cluttered kitchen. Richard shoved a log into the wood stove while Maggie picked up the spoon Lily had tossed under the table—for the second time since they’d walked in. Five-year-old Lily, severely autistic, swayed in her booster seat at the table, lining up Cheerios instead of eating.
“Maggie, leave her. I’ll take over,” Richard offered.
Maggie handed Richard a clean spoon. “Good luck. She’s driving me nuts this morning; she’s already dumped her first bowl on the floor.”
Richard gently squeezed Maggie’s shoulder and then moved to the messy table, kissing the top of Lily’s curly dark bed hair. “Come on, my girl. What’s this about giving your mama a hard time?”
Marcie would swear Lily smiled in amusement. She was definitely a daddy’s girl. Marcie needed to speak with Maggie about adding some natural remedies to aid in Lily’s therapy. Focused on diet and vitamins, the holistic approach was controversial, with no track record or data, but it was an approach Marcie was convinced would help Lily be more responsive. Maybe before they left today, she’d broach the subject.
Richard spoon-fed Lily, who leaned in for her daddy and took each bite.
“You know, Marcie,” Maggie said, “I remember the first few months with Ryley, just the smell of coffee would send me racing to the nearest bathroom.”
Marcie clutched her warm mug of green tea. She could feel how relaxed Sam was behind her. He hadn’t worried, like she had, about coming home. Marcie had asked him twice what he meant by “taking care of things” so they would be protected from Lance and Dan, but he wouldn’t elaborate. And, try as she might, she couldn’t figure out what he’d done.
“Thanks for the coffee, Maggie.” Sam’s southern charm whispered like honey when he spoke. Marcie would never tire of listening to him talk, because he meant what he said, and he spoke from his heart—always. She knew by the way Maggie smiled at him that her friend, too, loved listening to his smooth southern accent.
“All done, my girl.” Richard helped Lily down from her chair. She still wore her fuzzy pink pajamas and fluffy elephant slippers, and she bolted straight for the screen door and pushed it open. Richard grabbed her before she went any farther.
She screamed “Sa, sa!” and reached for the door.
“Let’s put your coat on. It’s cold outside, silly girl,” Richard said. He had just zipped up her purple down jacket when she dashed out the door that he held open. Ryley was raking leaves as Lily dashed past him. “Ryley! Watch your sister. Take her over to the swing and keep an eye on her. I’m going to grab a coffee, and I’ll be right out.”
“Aw, Dad, why do I have to watch her again? You wanted me to rake the leaves. Why do I have to do both?” he whined, like any young boy tired of being responsible for his sister.
“Go … now,” Richard said. His voice was direct while he pointed toward Lily, now running in circles on the grass. Ryley dropped the rake and stomped after her.
“Richard, did you put her shoes on, or is she still in her slippers?” Maggie asked.
Richard leaned past her and poured himself a coffee. “She’s fine, Maggie. Stop fussing so much about what she’s wearing. At least she’s got something on her feet.”
Bile suddenly, burned the back of Marcie’s throat and rose up like a sharp wind. She grabbed Sam’s arm and nearly dropped her tea as she was flooded by a wave of dizziness. A harsh chill rushed through her. “Oh no,” she mumbled.
“Marcie, are you okay, babe?” Sam grabbed her mug and set it on the counter.
Marcie pulled away from Sam just as she heard Ryley’s irritated yell: “Lily, come back. Lily, stop!” Richard and Maggie pushed past Marcie and bolted out the door, and Sam and Marcie followed.
“Marcie, what’s going on?” Sam asked.
“Something’s wrong, Sam.”
“You’re scaring me. Is something wrong with the baby?”
“No. I don’t [_know _]… something …” She stared off toward the road as Sam’s hands fell away from her shoulders.
Time slowed. Sam started running and raced past Maggie, yelling something that stretched out long and loud, waving frantically at Lily, who stood in the middle of the desolate gravel road. Ryley stood only a few feet from her. Marcie blinked through the blur as a black car sped around the bend and hit Lily. A sleek sports car with dark tinted windows, it skidded on the gravel but didn’t stop or even slow, speeding away.
Marcie’s head ached, and she struggled to breathe, feeling as if her chest had been ripped open by a sorrow she couldn’t put into words. Screaming pierced her dreamlike state. A sharp wind rustled the trees as Sam, Richard, and Maggie huddled around Lily, and Marcie moved down the steps, across the grass, and reached Ryley, who hovered frozen behind Sam.
“Marcie, call 911. Now, Marcie, now!” Sam shouted as he crouched over Lily.
Marcie grabbed Ryley’s arm and ran. Her ankle, not quite healed from her recent break, throbbed. Ryley said nothing as she all but dragged him back to the house. She grabbed the kitchen phone and dialed. Ryley leaned against the wall, his face white, his big eyes nothing but empty pools. She knew he couldn’t grasp what had just happened.
“Oh, God. Please let her be all right,” she begged as she closed her eyes.
“Nine one one. What’s your emergency?”
“Lily’s been hit by a car,” Marcie said. “She’s five years old. She’s lying on the road.”
“Is she still breathing?”
“I—I don’t know. Her parents are with her. She’s covered in blood.”
“We’ve got paramedics and police on their way. I need you to stay on the line with me.”
Marcie gripped the cordless phone and glanced back at Ryley, who didn’t move. “Ryley, I need you to stay here.”
He didn’t move—he didn’t even look at her. She dashed out the door and could see Maggie on her knees, sobbing. Sam appeared to be giving Lily CPR. Richard was beside him. Marcie relayed everything to the 911 operator until she heard sirens wailing in the distance. She hung up when she saw the first red flashing lights.
She hurried back to the road, limping as she held the disconnected phone. Emergency vehicles arrived—an ambulance, the sheriff, and volunteers from the Gardiner and Sequim fire departments blocked the narrow gravel road. Two paramedics raced over and dropped down beside Sam and Richard as emergency personnel crowded around, leaning in. Lily was still alive, but barely. Marcie pressed her hand against her chest. “Hurry,” she whispered.
“We need a medevac here now!” one of the men shouted.
“They’re en route. They have to land at the fire hall. Let’s move it!” another replied.
Richard pushed past Maggie, ignoring her as if she were of no importance. “Is she going to make it?” he cried desperately.
Sam glanced at the female paramedic, who shook her head. Sam stepped in front of Richard as Lily was loaded on the stretcher.
“I’m going with her!” Maggie screamed.
“There’s no room!” someone yelled as three paramedics climbed into the ambulance beside Lily. She appeared so tiny, hooked up to an IV, with splints and a neck collar, strapped to the gurney. A state trooper grabbed Maggie by the waist and held her back when she tried to jump in the ambulance. Richard stalked over to the sheriff and state troopers, who leaned against their cars at the side of the road, lights still flashing.
“What the hell are you still doing here? Get your asses out there and find that murdering coward who hit my little girl!” he yelled.
Sam stepped in and took Maggie from the trooper. She collapsed in his arms, clutching his shirt. “Marcie,” Sam yelled, “come here!”
So many people hurried around as the ambulance sped away, lights flashing and siren blaring, just as an SUV raced in and slammed its brakes, sending dust flying. Whoever was driving, Marcie couldn’t see, but an angry deputy stormed toward the person who jumped out.
“Sam, Richard!” Diane called, flashing her badge. She pushed past the deputy. Marcie took a step—but then stopped, as Richard abruptly punched one of the deputies before being tackled by the sheriff and another officer. One pinned his knee in
Richard’s back, laying him face down on the car’s trunk as the other cuffed him.
Marcie touched her head. She didn’t know what to do as Diane and Sam hurried over. Everyone was yelling, but the sheriff didn’t care. He shook his head and stuffed Richard in the back of his car.
Marcie watched Maggie standing alone, sobbing. The spot she stared at was coated in blood. One fuzzy slipper lay there—alone. She needed to go to her but was stopped when a hand touched her sleeve.
“Ma’am, you need to sit down. Are you family?” It was one of the local firemen, his kind hazel eyes appearing through a film of her tears.
“Ryley. I left Ryley at the house,” Marcie said.
Her vision blurred even more when she looked up at him, unable to make out any of his features. Her nose was plugged, and she swiped her hands over her eyes and wiped her nose with a sleeve.
“He’s their son, Lily’s older brother. He watched this. He saw Lily get hit. Oh, God.” She couldn’t hear him reply as he led her over to the fire truck and helped her sit on the back bumper.
“We asked him his name, but he won’t talk. One of the volunteers found him on the road, over there, watching the ambulance leave.”
Marcie nodded. “Please keep him away. How bad is it?” she asked. She knew by the way he grimaced that he didn’t want to say. “You … you don’t think…”
The volunteer had an honest face. “Miss? You’d best be getting the parents to the hospital. Prepare them for the worst.”
“She’s being airlifted to Seattle.”
Marcie didn’t know how she did it, but she stood up and hurried to Maggie, pulling her into her arms as crime scene technicians arrived and taped off the area. “Maggie, we need to go.”
Maggie pushed her away and swept her trembling hands through her hair as tears fell. “Where are they taking her? Is she all right? She was still breathing, Marcie.”
“Marcie!” Sam approached at a jog. The lines around his eyes had deepened, and his face was pale. Marcie wanted to fall into his arms, but Maggie was there first, her arms around Sam. He stared at Marcie and rubbed Maggie’s back. “They’re airlifting her from the fire hall to Harborview Trauma. She’s still alive, but it’s touch and go. Diane arranged for another chopper, waiting for us in Sequim.” Sam hurried Maggie along, and Marcie fell in step beside them but stopped after a few strides.
“Ryley. I forgot about Ryley. We can’t leave him,” she said. “And Richard, where is he?”
As the sheriff pulled away with Richard in the back, Diane jogged over. The sheriff could be a hard-ass and didn’t take kindly to his officers being hit—even by a distraught parent.
“Diane, please bring Marcie and Ryley with you,” Sam said as he hustled Maggie to his SUV and helped her in. Marcie stood at the side of the road, alone, and watched as Sam drove away while Diane hurried off to find Ryley.
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[_ --Dan is the bad guy- his dark actions have been the cause and effect of every bad deed and harm that has occurred - from death to bankruptcy - very malevolent machinations that caused untold harm and heartache. About time he met his match!! ~ AV Tanner _]
—Walk the Right Road Series…Ok, I will start off with I am not a reading addict. However, I could not put this one down. There are surprises on every turn! ~ Barb Jones
—Exciting, suspenseful, not your normal ending. Good triumphing over bad was not the case so that twist gave the book a surprise ending. Liked it very much. An excellent read for anyone that likes suspense and not so normal ending. ~ P. Williams
In MERKABA, Everyone thought he was dead and that’s exactly how he needs it to stay. Until one day he stumbles across a mysterious dark haired beauty. Only, there is nothing average or ordinary about this secretive woman, and she knows exactly what and who he is.
He tries to get close to her, to figure her out and what she’s really doing in the field of the state park. But when trouble finds her, he’s the only one who can save her; even though she’s the one woman who could ultimately be his undoing.
He watched her from the shadows, hiding behind an old fir tree in the thick, forested parkland. She was in the clearing. He’d seen her there yesterday and the past four days before that.
He’d stumbled upon her quite by accident. Wednesday, five days ago, just after breakfast, he had been intrigued by what she was doing. At first, he couldn’t figure out what the woman was about, as she appeared to be searching for something in the grassy ground of the clearing and then in the brush. She would reappear with a rock and drop it in the center of the open meadow again and again until she had a pile of different-sized rocks. And she was always sprinkling something from a leather-fringed pouch at her waist.
Had it been any other woman, he wouldn’t have given her his attention for this long, but there was something about this one he couldn’t read. She remained mysterious as she stood tall, shoulders squared and back as if nothing in life could hold her down. She nodded to herself and smiled as if someone was with her. He looked twice and then glanced behind him, and he knew that she was, in fact, alone. This strange woman was stunning, with silky, dark hair tied back in a ponytail that draped to her waist. She was slender, in an athletic way, and had long, tanned legs that he could only imagine entangled with his. Every day, she dressed the same: tank top and beige shorts, with gray wool socks sticking up from the tops of old brown hiking boots. Her outfit was practical and cool on this extremely hot July day in the state parkland just outside Gardiner, Washington.
He appreciated a woman who knew how to look after herself, and by the looks of this one, she didn’t let an idle moment pass. This had piqued his interest, as had her determination as she planned and built a circle of rocks, closing her eyes and then muttering something he couldn’t make out from this distance. After she had finished, she pulled a lighter from her pouch and lit something in her hand, smoke drifting up and trailing as she walked clockwise around the entire circle before tucking the smoking bundle between the rocks.
Now, today, five days later, she was sitting on the ground, watching the circle with a peaceful expression he hadn’t seen on anyone since the shaman he’d met in San Pedro, Chile—the shaman responsible for his return to Gardiner.
Shoving his hands in his pockets, he cut through the bushes and long grass until he faced the woman and her circle. Standing on the other side of the rocks, with the morning sun nearly blinding him, he raised his hand to block the light as he gazed down on her. She didn’t acknowledge him right away, but his heart thudded when she glanced up slowly with the most amazing green eyes. Her face was tanned, with rounded cheeks, and she stared in a way that made him realize she wasn’t about to make this easy. Damn, a difficult woman, but that would just be a minor challenge.
“How’s it going?”
She stared at him, her hands folded in her lap. Her lips thinned in a way that made him think she was irritated.
“Ah, I was out taking a stroll and stumbled upon this.” He gestured down at the circle. “Wow, it’s nice.” He flashed her one of the killer smiles that all the ladies loved, and he knew she would soon melt and invite him to sit down with her.
Instead, she frowned, glancing away and wiping her hands together as she stood up. Tough chick—maybe he needed to start a little more formally.
“The name’s Dan McKenzie, Miss…” He waited, but she wasn’t biting.
“If you’ll excuse me.” She inclined her head and gave him nothing of herself, not a glance, not her attention—nothing. In fact, she turned, taking a step to walk away.
He couldn’t believe it. “I didn’t mean to intrude or anything. Was just trying to be friendly.” He stepped aside.
She placed her hands on her very curvaceous hips, definitely a spot he’d like to have his own hands on, and watched him in a hard way that had him clearing his throat. She was a tiny thing, too. The top of her head didn’t clear his shoulders, but then not many reached his height of six-foot four.
“Dan, is it?” She flattened her palm in a motion for him to stop, and her tone was pure annoyance. “I’m not interested in whatever it is you’re selling. Been there, done that, honey. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
“Whoa, wait, I’m not selling anything. I just stumbled across you and wanted to say hi. Being neighborly is all.”
This time she laughed, chuckling at him in a way that had him stepping back and crossing his arms. He knew when someone was mocking him.
“Are you for real? Hell, I’ve come across way better liars than you. Let me see. On Saturday, when I came out here, you were hiding right over there.” She pointed through the crop of trees where he had, in fact, been hiding.
But there was no way she could have seen him. Or was he slipping?
“God knows what you were up to, and I still don’t want to know. And then every morning this week, when I came here… Let’s see. Sunday, you were over there, just under that cedar. Monday, you were over there by that crop of alders, and Tuesday, back under the cedar, which I presume you figured was the best spot to watch me. Did you learn anything? Like what you see?” She didn’t give him a chance to respond. She grabbed her small, beaded-patterned pouch before she turned her back, much like a cat would, and started walking away. She hadn’t gone two steps before he called out.
“So will you be back again tomorrow? Same time?”
She glared over her shoulder, picking up her pace as she strode away. She didn’t look back as she hiked onto the trail that weaved its way through the thick forest, which opened onto a rough back-roads parking lot that had barely seen a dozen vehicles all summer.
He blinked, wondering who this strange, sexy woman was. She had discovered him before he had a chance to figure her out, and he laughed, trying to brush her off, but the woman was an absolute puzzle, one he meant to piece together. Before this day was out, he intended to know everything about her.
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‘Some pasts are best forgotten.’
—This is truly an epic series. This one book had me enthralled till the end I can’t wait for the final book to come out.—Reviewer, DAA
—A compelling read Diane’s childhood horrors have haunted her forever and Zac’s experiences in Iraq have transformed him. –Reviewer, Bookbabe
[_ —Bounty is a suspenseful and hot romantic book- loved it! Lorhainne Eckhart draws you into her wonderful story with well written characters, tight pacing and steamy romance. Busy Happy Mom _]
Most cops have a past.
A past, they can speak of.
A past, they can share.
But not Diane….
That is until one night a body is discovered on the highway close to her home. But Diane Larsen, a tough cop chick who has had to prove herself over and over to the cops she works with is ordered by her new boss to investigate the one case that could be her undoing.
When she meets Zac the mysterious and sexy new forensics guy, and former military surgeon with secrets of his own, he somehow discovers through her bizarre behavior all she’s been hiding. Instead of outing her, he steps in and helps her investigate this case that has hit way too close to home. And Diane finds herself face to face with the one man, who can find a way into her heart.
She slid out from behind the wheel and checked her holster, flicking her finger over her Glock and the smooth shiny badge she had clipped to the waistband of her jeans. She balled her hands into a fist once, twice, yanked on the edge of her jean jacket, and stepped forward, putting all her attention into first one step, then another, on the pavement that was glistening under the half moon. Her breath misted in the damp night air, picking up the scent she had always associated with a fresh kill. She shivered as goose bumps pricked her skin, not from the cold, and she fought the instinct to cross her arms.
Flashing red lights cast an eerie shadow over the thick trees that lined both sides of the dark highway; headlights from a dozen vehicles spotlighting the scene. It was unnerving, and every sound of the night—the shouting, the whisper of the wind through the treetops, voices over the police radio, footsteps, and car doors opening and closing—became more defined, drawing her attention to each minute detail. Diane nodded to a uniformed deputy who was holding a bright red flare and turning away the few cars that travelled the highway this late at night back toward Port Townsend. The state police and deputies lingered around the scene.
“Diane.” Baby-faced Green, now a lieutenant for the Sequim detachment, strutted over to Diane, holding his hand out as if to stop her. He wore a ratty tweed jacket and faded blue jeans. The skin on his bald head shone like a smoothly polished billiard ball from the backdrop of the headlights. “Hey, Stan.” Green waved to another uniformed officer Diane didn’t recognize and pasted on one of his phony good ol’ boy smiles.
She hated the prick, so she decided to ignore him and tried to step around him, but he matched her strides step for step as if trying to cut her off. On any other night, she would have cut him down with one of her hard, unforgiving glares and then finished him off with a sharp remark, telling him to get lost, but not tonight. The prick could say or do anything, and even though Diane itched to slam her fist in his face, it would be unlike her and would stand out as a red flag to everyone. For the life of her, she still couldn’t figure out how Green had ended up as a lieutenant, but he could pull rank and she’d likely find herself written up. She reminded herself again, Keep your cool. Calm down.
Her entire focus was riveted on the scene in front of her as she strode straight toward the five crime scene technicians hunched down over a young woman who lay on her back across the yellow line in the center of the highway. It would have been a bone-chilling sight to anyone, but Diane’s attention wasn’t drawn by the fact that the woman was lying spread-eagle across the center line, her legs and arms set perfectly straight, nor by the fact that the young woman’s once beautiful face was marked with fresh bruising, nor by the black mark around her neck from where she’d been strangled as her sightless eyes stared heavenward. Even her long plain dress, a tired blue, was neatly pulled to her ankles, smoothed down as if the woman had simply lain down on the road and straightened it. Her long dark hair hung in one thick braid across her breast. She wore only one tennis shoe on her left foot and a thick white sock on her right.
It was none of that which filled every part of Diane with a terror so icy that she wanted to shut her eyes, get in her car, and drive and drive until she was a dozen counties away. She couldn’t run—not again—not from this. She stared at the one thing that could unleash the deep-seated fear she’d safely tucked away. She broke out in a cold sweat. A note was pinned to that serviceable dress, written in uniform black letters: Keep sweet.
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From New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Author Lorhainne Eckhart comes the final book in Walk the Right Road Series.
—“This is the FINAL PART OF a great series. I don’t want to say anything much about the story but it’s extremely fast paced with brilliant narration which keeps the readers at the edge of their seats. The characters are built throughout the story and are extremely true to the story. This book falls under the hard boiled crime fiction category and everyone should read this book. – Reviewer – Luke
—“Lorhainne Eckhart is one of my favorite authors. Her works are not light-hearted or easy to stop reading!” ~ Reviewer – Bookzilla
—“This is captivating from the first page, and the story follows up with a feast of romance, suspense, and mystery.” Reviewer – Katy
In BLOWN AWAY, THE FINAL CHAPTER, Imagine that the man who’s been the source of all your misery shows up on your doorstep. Imagine this man wants your forgiveness for every bad thing he’s done to you and your friends. Would you believe him?
Marcie, Maggie, and Diane all have one thing in common: Dan McKenzie, an unscrupulous man who uses women. His motto in life is “Lie, cheat, and steal.” He faked his death and tried to frame Maggie’s husband with his murder. He blackmailed Marcie to run drugs for him. And Diane, a cop, had to stand by, knowing he was responsible for planting drugs in her partner’s locker. He’s always walked away scot free. Until now.
As the friends move on with their lives, Maggie and her husband plan for another child after surviving the loss of their daughter. Zac asks Diane to marry him, though he hides a secret from his past that could destroy the future they have planned. And though Marcie and Sam are expecting their second child, their relationship teeters on the brink of disaster.
What these three friends don’t expect is that sometimes, life has a way of evening the score.
His eyes had gotten to her from the first day she met him. The cocky son of a bitch had always been able to throw her. He had the perfect mix of humility and humble arrogance that could weasel its way in until he had her under his thumb—to toy with, to play with, to destroy. He was a master, the devil, and he was supposed to be dead, but he had planned the entire scheme to frame his partner for murder just because he could.
Marcie’s hand trembled as she held the door open. She slid her other hand around her belly to protect her unborn child. “What do you want?” she asked as she stared up into the face of the one man who’d turned her world upside down, making her doubt everything she’d ever believed in, blurring the fine line between right and wrong. At one time, just the sight of him had made her do all kinds of crazy, stupid things because of her need to be with him. Her love for Dan was so confusing, and no lick of common sense could drown out all her worries about keeping him happy.
Dan McKenzie took her in with his familiar eyes: amber tinged with a hint of green. His square face was far more slender than she remembered, and even his sculpted nose, still bearing the bump where he had broken it as a kid, seemed different. For a moment, she wondered what had changed. At one time, Dan had been the sexiest man she’d ever known, but that illusion had thankfully been replaced by a good dose of common sense when she was smacked in the head in New Orleans—literally. She had been robbed and injured, landing in Sam Carre’s path.
Dan inclined his head and swept his hand through his reddish locks, which were a little on the longish side. He wore a light brown suede jacket and khaki pants, with white running shoes, and when he glanced away, she noticed how unusually nervous he appeared. But that couldn’t be. It was a trick. It had to be.
“What do you want?” she repeated, realizing it had come out a little harsh. She couldn’t help it; she was freaking out because Dan McKenzie was back and standing on the doorstep of her granny’s cabin on the isolated island of Las Seta. No one would hear her scream.
“I wanted to talk to you,” he said before looking away again.
Was someone else waiting nearby—or hiding? It would be so like Dan to pull something like that, to have some lowlife thug lurk around the corner to watch his back. He liked having protection. Drones was the word that always came to Marcie’s mind. They were people who didn’t know better, whom he manipulated and drugged with his charm. Bastard!
Marcie’s mind was spinning, and she blinked, moving her hand over her rounded belly when the baby kicked. For a moment, she felt icy fear squeeze her chest, making the next breath she took a struggle. He could hurt her or kill her and no one would know, because no one would find her for days.
“I won’t hurt you. I wanted to… apologize.”
She knew her eyes had widened, and she could feel the tightness in her face. He’d done it again, caught her off guard. She started to shake her head and shut the door on him, but he set his palm on the heavy wood and said, “Please, Marcie.”
The way he said it, he sounded almost sincere. He shuffled his stance on the wooden porch, which creaked.
“I don’t believe you,” Marcie said. “Why would you apologize to me about anything? You don’t apologize unless you have an agenda. This isn’t an apology, it’s just another way for you to get into my head and fuck with me again. No, Dan, you’re only out for yourself. Look at what you’ve done! You used me and tried to suck me into your world of drugs, making me believe you cared for me, when you’re incapable of love. Look at what you did to Richard and Maggie, faking your death and setting Richard up…” She couldn’t finish, wondering how he could live with himself. Even for him, he’d gone too far. Everyone had a conscience that could eat away at them, but she knew he was only pretending. He didn’t have any remorse, except maybe for his failed plans, which were always dark and greedy.
“It was a crappy thing to do,” he said. “I know that, and I also know you could never forgive me, but I wanted to say I’m sorry for what I did.” He ground his jaw and firmed his lips to a fine white line. She’d never seen that kind of struggle on his face before. What was he up to?
“You can’t come in,” she said. “I don’t want you here or around me and my daughter.”
He nodded and glanced away as if considering something. “I know, but I still had to come see you. I don’t know how to make things right with you. I met someone.” He almost smiled when he glanced back at her, eyes filled with sadness.
For the life of her, Marcie couldn’t figure out what to say. “You found new prey, some new woman to screw around with,” she snapped. “You’ll never change. I hope she’s smarter than I was.”
He let out a sarcastic laugh, and she could see the slip as he seemed to let his guard down. She knew darn well that she was seeing the dark side he thought he’d hidden.
“You’re slipping,” she said. “Maybe you’re out of practice. I still can’t figure out what you’re doing on my doorstep.”
“I should never have mentioned Alecia,” he said. “I haven’t done anything but protect her, but she saw through me, and she’s gone back to Boston. I do plan to see her again. I just wanted to make things right with you, but maybe I can’t.”
“A woman who can see who you are?” Marcie said. “You’re unbelievable. Why, Dan? Why do you want to make things right with me? What about Richard and Maggie, what you did to them? He would have gone to prison for killing you. Nice job, by the way. You should be really proud of yourself. And I had to…” She stopped talking and set her teeth on her tongue to stop herself from blurting out that she’d gone to see Lance Silver, the drug king who ran Las Seta and the entire west coast corridor. Silver was connected, ruthless, dangerous, but he had helped Marcie by making a few calls, unearthing the hidden witness who could make it all go away for Richard and Maggie.
“What, Marcie, you made a deal for Richard? You think I don’t know you went to Lance Silver?” He shook his head as if she had done something he knew she would regret.
“Are you kidding me?” she snapped. “I’d do it again for Richard and Maggie. Did you know Child Services were going to take Ryley away from her? Were you behind that, too?”
He was shaking his head before she finished. “Now, I had nothing to do with that. I’m not that cruel. I know how much Ryley means to them, especially after losing Lily the way they did.”
“Hmm,” Marcie murmured, crossing her arms over her breasts. They’d all figured Dan had been behind the sudden investigation into Maggie’s fitness as a parent. He had a way of swaying people, especially women, getting them to do something by making them think it had been their idea.
“You shouldn’t have had to go to Lance Silver,” he said. “He’s a dangerous man, Marcie, and he’ll own you now. How does Sam feel about that?”
She couldn’t believe he knew. For a moment, she felt herself reeling because he had asked her about Sam, her man, who’d left her instead of staying and fighting for her and telling her how much he loved her. He’d hopped on a plane and gone back to New Orleans after their last fight, when she had come clean about going to Lance for help.
“Don’t ask about Sam. You don’t have the right,” she said. She didn’t want him knowing that Sam had left and she was alone with her daughter. Right about now, she didn’t feel so safe. Maybe that was what he saw when he moved to touch her shoulder. “No, don’t touch me,” she snapped, moving back, and he dropped his hand, squeezing it into a fist.
“Look, I’m sorry,” he said. “The last thing I want to do is scare you. I’m just concerned because I know you’re alone here—everyone does. I’m sorry he left you.”
She couldn’t say a word as she scrambled to figure out who had told him. How did he know so much? She had told no one on the island, not even Lance. She said nothing for a few seconds, giving her brain a chance to catch up with how freaked out she really was.
“If you’ll excuse me, I’d really like you to leave,” she said. She started to shut the door again as she heard Kyla, her two-year-old little girl, whimpering from her bedroom, the small room that had been her granny’s.
Dan set his hand on the door, and Marcie backed up, bumping the table behind her. He stepped inside and shut the door behind him. “Go look after your little girl,” he said. “I’m not going to hurt you. I’ll wait.”
She watched him for a minute as he took in the square kitchen with its woodstove, older fridge, and small electric stove in the corner. The woodstove crackled and popped, and Kyla started crying louder. Marcie set her hand on her five-month rounded belly and stepped through the archway into the small, comfortable living room. When she looked back, Dan was watching her, his arms crossed as he leaned against the wooden buffet, the one Sam had made her the year before.
“Mama!” Kyla called out.
“Kyla, I’m coming, honey,” Marcie said, turning down the narrow hall. She glanced into her room at her unmade double bed, the floral duvet in a heap. Sam’s jean jacket still hung off the back of a chair where he’d left it.
Kyla was rubbing her eyes as she sat up in her toddler bed. Marcie opened the curtain to allow some light in as her little girl reached for her. When Marcie lifted her, she discovered Kyla’s blue sweatpants were wet.
“Oh, Kyla, stand up, baby,” she said, standing her daughter on the bed. She pulled down the sweats and the disposable Pull-Ups she was so glad she had bought, helping Kyla into a dry pair, some socks, and clean pants. When she lifted her in her arms, she turned, and her heart lurched. She gasped when she saw Dan leaning in the doorway, watching her. She set her hand to the back of Kyla’s head, resting it against her breast.
“She’s beautiful, Marcie. She looks just like you. Being a mother suits you.” He looked around as if he was comfortable being there, but then, how many nights had he spent there with her when they were together?
“You need to apologize to Richard, to make things right with him. I don’t want to hear your apology. I just want you out of my life,” she said.
He nodded, shoving his hands in his pockets. “I need to do a lot more than that with Richard. He probably will kill me this time, but I deserve it.”
What was he up to? She knew he wanted something from her, but what? Could she come right out and ask? No, she couldn’t ask this snake anything, because he’d lie for everything he was worth. She never had been able to read him.
“You shouldn’t be alone here, Marcie. I’m sorry about everything I did to you. I’m sorry for using you and dragging you into my world. Whether you believe me or not, I have regrets, and I did care for you, but I wanted everything: money, power, more. I would have destroyed you, and you didn’t deserve that.”
Kyla was quiet in her arms, staring at Dan, and Marcie couldn’t make sense of what he was saying. “Well, thank you for apologizing, but I don’t understand what it is you want from me.”
He fidgeted in the doorway. “Marcie, I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
She felt her jaw slacken in disbelief, and she set Kyla on her hip. “You have a hell of a lot of nerve to come in here and say that to me. You hurt me! You damn near destroyed me and brought me to my knees, the way you messed with my head. Sam loves me. He would never hurt me.”
“I’m not talking about Sam,” he said, resting his arm on the door jamb, “although he shouldn’t have walked out on you and your daughter.” He gestured toward her as if he had every right to say what he had.
“Oh? I’m confused. Who are you talking about, then?” She stared up at him and how he filled the doorway. He was tall, lanky, and he’d always been in good shape, but he seemed smaller.
“Mister Lance Silver,” he said. “Everyone knows you’ve been seeing him. You made a deal with him, Marcie. He never does anything without an agenda.”
Okay, that was it. She wouldn’t stand for any more of this. “Well, this time you’re wrong,” she said. “He did it with no strings attached, and he’s shown me nothing but kindness. He cares for me.”
Dan gave her an odd look, as if he was concerned, but that was impossible. “Marcie, seriously, give your head a shake! That man is a master at getting people to believe what he wants them to. At one time, I wanted to be like him. You’ve let him right into your life. Is that why Sam left you?”
She looked away. She wasn’t about to discuss Sam with Dan.
“Marcie, there’s one thing you’ve never been good at: lying. I could always read you. You’ve never been able to hide things. I may not like that you’re with a former DEA agent, but I know enough about Sam to know that he wouldn’t be okay with you keeping company with the one man responsible for setting him up and ending his career. To him, this would be a betrayal.”
She couldn’t believe Dan McKenzie was standing in front of her, preaching right and wrong, and she was even more stunned at how he appeared to be siding with Sam, who wasn’t even there. For a moment, she wondered if she was hallucinating, and she almost poked Dan to see if he was real.
“You’re wrong, and so’s Sam. I’m not a fool. I know what Lance is, but I’m not in his world. He’d never drag me into that.…”
The phone started ringing, interrupting her. Dan glanced toward the living room, moving from the doorway to let her pass. Marcie could feel him behind her as she hurried barefoot, her long skirt rustling against her legs. She moved to pick up the receiver, but hesitated, watching him watching her. He shoved his hands in his pockets.
“Hello?” she said.
“Marcie, it’s Richard.”
She didn’t take her eyes off him. She couldn’t take her eyes off him. “Richard, hi.”
“Marcie, what the hell is going on? I just got off the phone with Diane. She said Dan was at your door.”
Marcie could feel Richard’s fury coming through the phone. She was also sure Dan had been right about one thing: Richard would kill him with his bare hands if he saw him again.
“Yes, he’s here now,” she said, watching as Dan raised an eyebrow mockingly and crossed his arms.
Richard stuttered for a second, most likely winding up to yell something crude and threatening. He was her friend, and she had no doubt he’d be on the first ferry over.
“What the fuck…? Did he hurt you? Is he threatening you?” he yelled through the phone with such bite that Marcie had to lift the receiver from her ear. Even Kyla whined in her arms, and she could feel her daughter’s tiny fingers squeezing into her breasts. She was hanging on for dear life.
“No, no, nothing like that. He said he came to apologize,” she said. Dan shook his head and chuckled as if she had said something funny.
“Put him on the phone, now!”
She imagined Richard spitting as he ground out the words. She held out the phone to Dan. “Richard wants to talk to you,” she said.
Dan didn’t hesitate, stepping toward her and taking the phone from her hand. His finger skimmed hers, and he pressed the phone to his ear. “Richard,” he said with a sigh.
Marcie couldn’t hear what Richard was saying, but Dan paled. His face hardened, and he turned his back on her. Richard was yelling loud enough that Dan lifted the receiver away from his ear and just took it, which was unlike him. Marcie’s heart was hammering in her chest. She wondered what Maggie must have been thinking on the other end.
Dan set the phone to his ear again. “I’m sorry, Richard. I know an apology can never make up for what I did to you―” He stopped talking as if he’d been cut off. Even though he was wearing a heavy jacket, Marcie could tell that he had tensed. He lifted the phone from his ear again, and she could hear all the obscenities Richard was yelling.
Kyla gave her a worried look, so she took her into the kitchen and settled her with a cup of juice and some crackers. She didn’t hear Dan come in, but he was suddenly there, standing in the archway, his hands shoved in his coat pockets. He gave her an odd, meaningful look she’d never seen from him before.
“You need to call Richard back before he has every cop in the county over here, pounding on your door.” He paused as if no longer worried, and then he said, “Marcie, I know you don’t believe me, but there are just some things you’ll never understand. As far as Lance Silver goes, it takes a snake to know one—and Marcie, he’s not just your average poisonous snake. He’s a king cobra.”
Dan didn’t say another word as he took in her pregnant belly and her daughter, munching on her crackers. When he left, pulling the door closed behind him, Marcie didn’t have a moment to consider what had happened, because the phone started ringing again.
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“A Passionate Tale of Love during the Iraq War.”
—“Eckhart knocks one out of the park with this great story.” RT Book Reviews
—“Taken! Okay you had me at the first page”Katy M.
—“God Bless our Military Men! It takes a horrible, but real tragedy and shows how love can be a true healer. We need more men like the Captain!!” Reviewer, Spring Hale
“Growing up I had dreams that one day I’d fall in love, get married and start a family. Then one night I was taken. But I survived, I escaped and I was saved. Eric didn’t see me as damaged. He didn’t see my baby as a monster. He protected me, he kept me safe … he saved me.”
The Northern Arabian Gulf
There was a point right at the break of dawn when darkness parted swiftly, much like a curtain drawn open making way for the coming day. On a typical morning, this was welcoming, a sign of a new journey to look forward to, but for Abby, today could very well be the last day of the rest of her life. She knew it, she felt it deep in her bones, but she also had hope.
As she watched the bright orange and yellow reflection at the edge of the water, she wondered if maybe today would be different—maybe today she had a chance, maybe today she’d finally make it. She’d come this far against all the odds, so she needed to hang on just a little longer. She rested her head against the stiff side of the rubber dinghy and shivered under the dark abaya, damp and sticky from her sweat. It was so humid, the air thick and heavy, that she struggled to breathe as she stared at the miles and miles of open water, still with nothing in sight. She probed her tongue gently to the side of her chapped, swollen lips. She was so thirsty she’d do anything for a cup of cool water. It was painful, horrible, being so thirsty, because that was all she could think of. Staring at miles of open water only tempted her. How long could she go without water before her body started breaking down? The dew clinging to the side of the dinghy glittered like a handful of diamonds, and, like a starved woman, she licked it with her tongue and gagged from the saltiness. She dropped her head to the side again.
She was so tired. She’d lived in fear for so long that it had become her constant companion, keeping her on her toes, awake in an instant, as if her soul knew it wasn’t safe to sleep. As always, she felt it slice out of nowhere, the buzz that ripped through her, keeping her body and mind on the edge of sanity. She couldn’t rest, even though she needed to. Abby peeked over the side, her eyes burning into the shadows, and she squinted, wondering if she was seeing things. Was he coming for her? Was that a boat on the horizon? She swiped her palms hard across her eyes and looked again, and for a minute she stopped breathing, moving, but she couldn’t still the thudding of her heart. It had a mind of its own and pounded the walls of her chest so hard she thought her ribs would crack. She waited and blinked again.
“It’s just water. Come on, get a grip.” It hurt to speak, but she needed to believe it. Those brave words weren’t convincing her at all, though, because it was only a matter of time—and time was not on her side—until he found her. She knew he’d search to the ends of the earth to find her. He never let go of what was his, ever.
Abby had no idea where she was, as she was floating with no paddle. Being at the complete mercy of the waves meant just one more thing she had no control of. Each minute the sun rose higher, she could feel the heat climb. Out here it was so intense, rising as though someone had switched on a furnace, slowly building until it scraped her lungs as she struggled for each breath from air that was so thick and humid that she’d swear a knife would have trouble slicing through it. Out of nowhere, a sharp gust of wind blew from the northwest, rocking the dinghy up and over the waves, and for a moment the breeze was unexpected and welcome. Then the dinghy bounced faster, higher, moving through the water and crashing down as the water slapped the sides, awakening her again to the reminder that she wasn’t safe. Any minute, he could appear on the horizon, and there was nowhere to hide. Maybe that was why she didn’t think as she dropped down and curled onto her side. A burning jab poked her ribs, shooting shards of fire through her, and she bit on her lip, drawing blood as she fought not to scream. “Don’t move, stay still and you’ll be fine,” she whispered to herself and panted out huffs of air. Even though there was no one to hear her breathing, she was still afraid.
The skill she had survived on, always being on guard, wouldn’t let her stay still, so she peeked up again, her shoulders taut and wound so tightly her head was starting to throb. She couldn’t think about tomorrow, only now, this moment, because her future wasn’t anything tangible—it was a speck of ashes that could disintegrate in an instant. She stroked her dry, chapped hands over her rounded belly and blinked back tears. Their future right now wasn’t looking like a mother and child’s should. It should have been a magical time when Abby dreamed of holding her tiny baby, whispering her love while planning their future. But what possible future could her child have?
If it was a boy, maybe. For a girl, there was no hope. Not here. Not now. “One day at a time, Abby.” She stripped off the dark abaya and took in the pale blue cotton of her loose dress. The front was splattered with blood, and she couldn’t remember if it was hers. If it wasn’t… she might very well come to wish she were dead. Her body seemed to follow her mind, as it started shaking and couldn’t stop. It had too much adrenaline, and she recognized that her fight or flight instinct had been all that was keeping her running for so long now. As she stared up at the blue sky, she wondered about the inevitable and whether she’d have the strength to jump in the water when the time came. Could she do it, allow the weight of the abaya to pull her under? Drowning herself would be better than the alternative, if she had the courage to do it, to end her life and her baby’s, too.
“How will I ever survive this?” She ran her tongue over the swell of her bottom lip. It was split, and she tasted dried blood. “Ugh.” She touched it with her fingers, and, pulling them back, she stared at the fresh blood. She pressed her fist to her mouth. “Shh,” she whispered, but she was so tired she didn’t think she could stay awake much longer. She had to stay awake, though, and keep watch, even though she didn’t have a clue what she’d do if she spotted his boat. Her eyes ached, and she’d swear sand coated the whites of her eyes. When she shut them, the back of her lids scraped her eyes like broken glass. Closing them seemed almost worse, but her lids were becoming so heavy it hurt to keep them open, so she gave herself a minute, and then another, until warmth and a bright light surrounded her, and for one moment she felt peace. She breathed softly again, and again, until there was nothing more.
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She thought her nightmare was over….
[_ —“I'm an advocate for women in sexual assault, abuse and domestic violence, and I have to give this author two thumbs up for how she writes her stories.” – Amazon Reviewer- Jamie _]
—“Lorhainne Eckhart is a very prolific and talented writer. Get to know her work, you won’t regret it.” – Amazon Reviewer – Karen
—“Loved this book…Five stars don’t come from me easily. Tugged at my heart!”—Kivey
—“The focus on a woman taken was a very classic ideal because it was set in a military arena. YOU have to read these books, but make sure that you have e box of tissues because you will need them.” — Faybe
In VANISHED, Abby has married the man of her dreams. He rescued her, and he’s the father of her child. Everything should be perfect, but she begins to relive her nightmare from when she was taken… and one night she disappears, leaving her children alone in the dead of night, her husband on a military ship halfway around the world.
But when Eric arrives home and the search begins, there are two disturbing questions: Was someone in the house? And how is it possible for Abby to simply vanish?
“Push. Come on, baby. You can do this.” Eric was behind Abby on the hospital bed so she could lean against him. Her hands gripped his with a strength most men didn’t have. She was damp and sweaty, and she was exhausted from being in labor all night, more than twelve hours.
“Almost there, Abby. Just give me one more push.” The military doctor, Chase Hargrove, was a young, round-faced man of medium height and build with light curly hair. He glanced at Eric and lifted the baby, setting him on Abby’s stomach. “Here he is, your boy.” Chase grinned, flashing two dimples, and stood up, glancing at Abby through his round, fashionable glasses. “How are you doing, Abby?”
“I’m okay.” She set her hand on the baby’s back, trying not to nudge her IV. She watched the baby, and Eric leaned down and kissed her forehead, brushing back the long blond hair that was tangled and stuck to her skin. She gazed up at him with heavenly blue eyes that appeared tired and a little glassy. Exhaustion—it had to be.
“You did good, baby. You okay?” he asked. His arm was around her, and she leaned against him. Her knees were still up as the doctor finished delivering the placenta. She lifted her hand from the baby and rubbed her forehead, pressing her cheek into Eric’s chest.
“I’m just tired. Can you take the baby?” She had lifted her hands as if the baby lying on her was a burden. She sounded off, too, Eric thought, or maybe she was just tired and he was reading too much into it.
The doctor glanced up but didn’t seem concerned. A nurse set a blanket over the baby and wiped off most of the blood, and Eric lifted him as another nurse set a white cotton hat on his head. Eric stood up, and Abby lay back down, the head of the bed raised as high as it could go, as a nurse started to check her vitals.
“We’re going to get you moved and settled pretty quickly. You should be able to go home at the end of the day,” the doctor said.
Eric held his newborn baby, so tiny, in the crook of his arm. He flicked his gaze away from his quiet son, who had yet to make a peep. He had round cheeks and a pink face with a tiny button nose just like his mama’s. His eyes were still closed. Eric smiled until he noticed Abby looking away, appearing uninterested in what the doctor was saying. Eric added, “How about some sleep first? With Rachel at home, we risk a very happy two-year-old climbing all over Mommy. I don’t think Abby is anxious to get back just yet.”
“It’s all right, Eric. I just need some sleep,” she said from where she lay, turning her head toward him.
It had been ten days since Eric stepped off the destroyer in homeport, met by his very pregnant wife, Abby, and their two-year-old plump little girl, Rachel, whom he had delivered after rescuing Abby in the middle of nowhere in the Persian Gulf. She had escaped her abductor, Seyed Hossein, the man who’d bought her, kept her, and abused her until, one night, she escaped. She had been eight months pregnant. Abby was a human trafficking success story. Of the women who disappeared in Europe, most were never found again, but Eric had found her and saved her, and she was now his wife.
Rachel had dark hair and olive skin, and she didn’t resemble Eric at all, with only hints of Abby. She was the only reminder of what Abby had survived, and Eric loved the precious little girl as if she were his very own.
Eric cuddled his son, a light-haired baby who fit in the crook of his arm. He glanced down at Abby, and her eyes were closed. The baby was settled and seemed so comfortable, as if he knew his daddy would always keep him safe. His tiny hand rested over his eyes, and he started to work his lips.
Eric was about to wake Abby when the doctor said, “No, let her sleep. The baby’s good. We’ll send him into the nursery, and the nurses can give him a supplement of formula if he needs it.”
There was a tap on the door, and a nurse poked her head in. “Captain Hamilton, there are people out here to see you.”
Eric started to the door because he knew who was out there. “Well, let me go show off my son,” he said, heading to meet his old friend Joe, who was his current XO, and his wife, Mary-Margaret.
She could smell the blood, the antiseptic, and hear voices: deep, low, close whispers. She told herself to pretend to be asleep, to concentrate, to keep breathing in and out, nice and easy. She relaxed her eyelids. She couldn’t let them see she was awake. The floor squeaked with footsteps, and the door closed. She heard someone walking away just outside the door, but she also knew someone was still there, waiting quietly in the corner. She felt as if she had suddenly been thrown into the middle of a cat-and-mouse game, and she could feel the room, the locked door, the stiff mattress she lay on. She was so cold, and, try as she might, she couldn’t stop the chill that racked her body. She trembled.
A hand touched her, and she jumped. Her eyes flew open, and she gasped at the dark-haired woman standing over her. Who was she? Where was she? She winced as she sat up. The woman’s hand was still on her shoulder, and she took in the small, box-like hospital room. It was dim, though the curtains were open.
“Are you okay?” the woman asked. She was wearing a pink scrub top, and Abby stared at the V cut of the neck and wondered why the woman hadn’t covered herself. She had pale bare arms, too, and she took Abby’s wrist and glanced at her watch. Abby stared at the door—a locked door, or was it?
The door opened, and Eric, her tall, dark-haired husband with vibrant brown eyes, entered and frowned. “Abby, you’re awake,” he said. “I just showed off our son to Joe and Mary-Margaret. They’re here now, and they wanted to come in and see you, but I thought you were sleeping.” He glanced down at the tiny baby in his arms. Eric was so happy, as if he was staring at the most precious thing ever. He was so strong, her husband, her man. He was out of uniform, wearing blue jeans and a snug black T-shirt that showed off the finest biceps, triceps, and six-pack abs, as well as the rock-hard chest that had always comforted her.
She watched as he held his son, and her heart pounded with each step closer he took. She couldn’t take her eyes off the blanket and the bundle he was holding. She couldn’t see it—she didn’t want to see it. She feared the face that would stare back at her. His footsteps became slow and drawn out, and all she could hear was an echo as they came closer. She could feel a pressure on her arm as she stared at the blur in front of her: white, closer now. There was a hand on her face, touching her, warm and strong and familiar, and she grabbed hold.
She could hear him, and she stared into a demanding, strong, and a worried expression. Another man appeared, with glasses and light hair. A light flashed in her eyes, and it burned. She pushed his hand away.
“I’m okay,” she said to a room that seemed suddenly full of people: nurses, doctors. The lights were on now, bright above her.
“Abby, what happened?” It was Eric. He was beside her on the bed, his arm around her. She leaned against him, just him, no baby. Then she looked up at the dark-haired nurse holding her son. She pulled back the blanket and the wool cap on his head, and Abby sagged in relief at his light red chubby cheeks and the light hair plastered to his head.
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“I must say it’s a very good story and one that I believe sheds an important light on an issue that usually falls under the heading of out of sight, out of mind. I wait impatiently for the third installment in this series to see where the author takes these characters and this issue, this book is worth the time and money to read” – Reviewer – Sherry
“Great love story. I couldn’t put it down. Living near Norfolk we hear about lots of navy stories. This one was riveting for start to finish.” — Reviewer – Deborah
Captain Eric Hamilton is now settled on base after giving up his first love, the sea, for his wife, Abby, and their children. He watches day in and day out as his friends are deployed, burning with an empty feeling as if life is passing him by—that is, until his friend Lieutenant Commander Joe Reed is captured while deployed in Iraq.
While his family is at home, helpless, Joe’s life hangs in the balance, and Eric is forced to make a decision he swore he would never make again: Should he leave Abby and their children to go halfway around the world in search of a friend who may be dead?
He needed a minute, maybe a little longer, to feel something other than regret and a sense of having been left behind. This was ridiculous, or so Eric tried to tell himself repeatedly, but the reassurance only deepened the feeling that some part of him was slowly dying. He took in his home, the brown frame bungalow with a sidewalk that curved around to meet the driveway and the double garage. It was a nice home, for navy housing, in a nice community. Everything was safe and predictable and the same. The bushes around front needed trimming, and the flower beds were now filled with dead and composting perennials in the chilly fall air. Even the leaves had turned yellow and were dropping at a steady clip, covering the once green grass. It was average work and would be the excitement of his weekend. There was always something to do for his house and home.
He slid his hand over the sturdy black steering wheel and pulled his keys from the now silent ignition. He loved this car, a ’67 Shelby Mustang GT 500, one of the best cars—in Eric’s humble opinion—ever built. The 320-horsepower engine alone was an adrenaline rush. It had been a steal. He had picked it up from a sergeant, a man with a wife and three kids and another on the way. The man had loved the car, or so he said, but he was being re-stationed across the country, and it was time to say goodbye to his toy. Eric suspected those orders had come from the sergeant’s wife, because Eric would have moved heaven and earth to take this car across the country with him had he been in the sergeant’s position.
For Eric, this car was an indulgence he believed he was entitled to after giving up the sea for Abby. He would never say that to her, though he wondered whether she knew. She was so kind and fragile, and saying how he felt would only be cruel. It would hurt her, and she’d blame herself. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself, seeing the hurt in her eyes. Even though he felt empty on land, he’d choose Abby and his children over the sea any time. Most sailors and career navy men had both, but then, the married ones often had strong, stable wives manning the home front. Even though Abby had pleaded with him not to give up his career, he knew that her demons and nightmares and the pain of being taken still haunted her. No, he couldn’t take a chance and leave her and the children again. He needed to protect her. He needed to be her rock. He needed to be here to wake her, holding her when the nightmares took hold, reassuring her that she was safe.
A tap on his window startled him. He glanced out before opening his door to see Mary-Margaret, the wife of Joe, his best friend and former XO. She stepped back, wearing blue jeans and a cream sweater. Her dark, straight hair touched her shoulders, and she wore tiny gold hoops in her ears. She was holding a dish covered with a towel.
“Are you planning on sitting in your car all night, mooning over your new toy?” she said, her right dimple flashing as she teased him—though for some reason she seemed less put together tonight than she normally was.
He gave the heavy door a shove, and it clicked closed. Taylor, Mary-Margaret and Joe’s eldest boy, was hovering beside her uneasily. At fourteen, he’d grown again, and he towered over his mother by almost a head. His dark hair was getting long, covering his ears, and his hands were shoved in his jeans pockets.
“Are you missing some kids?” Eric asked right before he heard her two youngest arguing as they came out of the house next door. It was good having them close by, as Mary-Margaret and Joe had been his saving grace when Abby broke down. At the time, he’d been shipped out, and Abby had walked out on the kids in the dead of night. If Mary-Margaret and Joe hadn’t been so close…Eric still cringed as he relived that panicked call when Joe told him Abby was gone. He took a breath to push away that painful memory. He didn’t like going back there and reliving what had happened.
Janey stomped across the grass toward her mother, wearing blue jeans and a hoodie, her long, dark hair in a ponytail. Her face was a picture of preteen surliness. Steven, who had celebrated his eleventh birthday last week while his dad was away, slammed the door of the house and leaped off the front step into a pile of leaves, calling after his sister. His tan jacket flapped open, his short, dark hair sticking up. Eric could see that the kids had had enough of their dad being away. They needed him and had held it together, but the tension was building. When Eric glanced over at Mary-Margaret, she rolled her eyes.
“The joys of sibling rivalry,” she muttered.
“What’s going on?”
“Joe’s been gone too long, three months…” She stopped and glanced up at Taylor, who was listening. “Run on inside, Taylor. Give Abby a hand with the kids.”
Eric took in all the kids. Steven and Janey had stomped right past him as if he didn’t exist. He could see that Taylor and his younger siblings were at an age where their independence shone through. It didn’t help that Joe was stationed over in Iraq—which was the reason the kids and Mary-Margaret were at his house now. Joe was going to Skype in, having actually arranged it with Eric…which he now thought was odd, considering how close Joe and Mary-Margaret were. Maybe there was something going on that Joe needed to talk to Eric about.
Eric realized that Taylor was still standing there, ignoring what his mom had asked. He wondered whether Taylor was going to argue with her, as he stayed where he was, shifting from one foot to the other, shoulders slumped.
“Taylor, your mom asked you to do something, and I don’t see you moving,” Eric said. This time, the boy snapped his attention to Eric and shrugged. He said nothing but started up the sidewalk into the house through the open door. Eric definitely needed to have a talk with the boy. “What’s going on there?” Eric asked, taking in Mary-Margaret’s annoyance.
Was she angry at him for stepping in? He didn’t think so, but she was losing control here. The kids were growing up, but a sadness lingered over them—and something else was going on, something he couldn’t put his finger on. He’d never seen Taylor not listen to Mary-Margaret before. For a moment, he wondered whether Joe’s distance was sowing dissension in the ranks. They needed their father, his authority. But Eric was here, and right now it fell to him to step in and take them in hand while Joe was away. Another thing he had overlooked.
Mary-Margaret sighed and shook her head. “Hormones, I think, and Dad’s not here. They miss him more than usual. We seem to be fighting more, and Taylor ran into some trouble at school.”
“Oh, what kind of trouble?” He glanced up to the house and the open door, listening to the voices of Abby and the kids, along with the squeaky chatter of his four-year-old daughter, Rachel.
“You know, the usual with kids his age: mouthing off to his teacher, was caught smoking in the bathroom at school with a couple of his friends. Stupid stuff.”
He gave her all his attention, fighting the urge to drag Taylor back outside and give the kid a lesson he’d never forget. Disrespect was a line he shouldn’t have crossed, and Eric would make sure he never made the mistake of smoking again. “I’ll talk to him. Sorry, I should’ve been over more. I’ll make sure to stop in every day until Joe gets back. As for this smoking thing, rest assured, I’ll put an end to it,” he said, glancing up to the house again. Another thing had been piled onto his plate, another thing he’d slipped up on. Taylor was at an age where he needed more of everything, more guidance and direction. Now he was going down the wrong road, experimenting and making bad decisions.
Mary-Margaret was watching him under thick lashes, her lips tight. He wasn’t sure what was going through her head now. She appeared to be carrying the weight of the world, and she let out a sigh. “Would you? I’d really appreciate it,” she said. “Joe calls, but we’re so used to saying all the superficial stuff, how everything is good even though sometimes I feel as if everything is falling apart. I have to hide so much from him, pick and choose what to tell him and when to tell him. At the same time, I know how mad he’s going to be when he finds out I didn’t tell him something because he’s been off fighting, playing soldier or whatever it is you guys do over there.
“When he comes home and finds out, sometimes he doesn’t take it well. He thinks I’m hiding things from him, so there are things I just never tell him. It becomes this balancing act you get good at the longer you’re in the military.” She glanced away and then forced a sad smile to her lips. “Sorry, I think maybe I’m just tired of holding it all together and going through this song and dance. But you know, Eric, what hurts sometimes is that I don’t think Joe really wants to know. He wants to go play war, and I hold everything together for him.”
“I’m sorry,” Eric said. He didn’t know why he felt the need to apologize. That was exactly what he’d done to Abby, but at the same time he’d understood Joe’s need to go off and fight and serve. It was a part of himself he’d had to give up, a piece of his soul that he’d now lost—that need to go off and save the world, to be in the fight, the action, to have that adrenaline driving him.
“Taylor and I have always been so close,” Mary-Margaret said, “but he needs a man to talk to.” She swept her hand in front of her face and set it on top of the dish she carried. “Never mind me. I’m just tired and missing my husband.” She stopped and glanced down. “Eric, is there something going on with Joe?”
He frowned, not really sure what she was getting at. “You know I can’t tell you what Joe’s doing or where he’s stationed.”
She appeared almost embarrassed, licking her lips. After all the years he’d known Mary-Margaret, he’d never known her to be nervous. “I know,” she finally said. “I don’t want to put you in an awkward position, but Joe has been so distant—unusually so, lately. We’ve been married a long time, and the navy life is all I know, so I understand there are things you can’t tell me…but you can tell me if my husband’s having an affair.”
It took him a moment to realize she was serious. “Uh…I don’t know where this is coming from,” he replied, “but Joe is probably the last man to cheat. If he was having an affair, we wouldn’t be friends. If there was even a hint that he was stepping out on you, well, you know I would break his face.”
Perhaps that wasn’t what she wanted to hear, because she suddenly let a tear fall as her face crumpled.
“Hey, what’s going on?” he said. He put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close, and she instinctively rested her head against his chest. She was taller than Abby by a few inches, but shorter than his six feet two inches. As he looked down at her, she sniffed, trying to pull herself together, nodding anxiously. He could tell she was trying to find her voice.
“I don’t know, Eric. There’s something different about Joe, and it’s not that he’s distracted. I know the difference. Do you know why he insisted he Skype here, at your house? He didn’t answer the email I sent yesterday asking what was going on.”
Eric wasn’t sure what to say, but he too was wondering why Joe had insisted on Skyping here. It seemed odd, but he wasn’t about to fuel Mary-Margaret’s suspicions. He needed to have his own chat with his friend. “I’m sure it’s nothing. He’s been training is all I know, and being in camp instead of onboard a ship may be throwing him off. He’s got a lot on his plate is all, I’m sure.”
It sounded good, anyway, but Eric still couldn’t get over Joe’s choice to join a ground team as part of ordinance training, to be part of a convoy clearing the way. It was dangerous, and Eric wondered why he’d put in for this posting in the first place. It was something he’d expect from someone younger, someone without a wife and three kids. This posting had been a choice, even though Joe had told his wife otherwise. Maybe this was his midlife crisis. Eric really needed to take his friend aside and have a talk—but not tonight.
“You haven’t heard when he’s coming home, have you?” Mary-Margaret asked.
They started walking up to the house. Eric was in his uniform, and he tucked his hat under his arm. He then extended his hand so Mary-Margaret could walk ahead of him. He didn’t like seeing her like this, and he really hoped Joe would set things straight or fix whatever this was with his family. “Friday,” he replied. “I don’t think anything’s changed, but we’ll find out soon. He’s Skyping in at six.”
“Six, are you kidding? I thought it was at seven. It’s almost six now. Why the change?”
He hesitated, grinding his jaw as he tried to make sense of what could have been a misunderstanding. Damn it! What was he doing, putting himself in the middle of his friend’s marriage? Maybe Joe had been hoping Mary-Margaret wouldn’t be there. Eric hoped not, as he followed the frantic woman into his house. There had to be a good reason for the mix-up, or at least he hoped to hell there was. He was taken in by the spicy aroma wafting from the kitchen and his wife’s concern as she saw Mary-Margaret dashing past her.
Eric closed the door behind him, and his gaze went to Abby, who wore a red apron over a black turtleneck. Her blond hair was tied back in a ponytail, and she wore dark-rimmed glasses, a recent addition after she started having headaches and found out she was nearsighted. She looked cute.
“Hi,” she said, taking him in. She hesitated a moment, holding a dishtowel in her pale hands, and she gestured to Mary-Margaret, who snapped at Steven in the kitchen as he helped himself before everyone was ready to eat. Abby took a step closer to him. “Everything all right?”
She was so petite, curvy in all the right places. She still struggled with nightmares from when she had been taken in Paris and sold to an Arab. She’d escaped, beaten and pregnant, which had been how he’d found her. She still woke in a cold sweat some nights from nightmares that would have her crying and begging, always after something upsetting happened during the day. Eric found himself taking a minute every day when he came home just to look at her, to get a sense of how she was doing. He’d talk to her and sometimes question her, trying to figure out if she was upset or hiding something. From there, he always had a pretty good idea of how her day had gone. He’d learned, too, to keep anything upsetting from her. When the TV was splashed with everything horrible and dramatic happening overseas in the war in Iraq, he turned it off.
“Joe’s Skyping in at six, which is any time now, but he told Mary-Margaret seven,” he explained. “He must have been busy, and their wires just crossed.” He was trying to lighten the mood, but she frowned anyways.
“Does he do that often? That doesn’t seem like Joe,” she said, looking up at him. Of course, she’d also figured out there was more to it.
“How was today?” he asked, and she took another hesitant step and then another until she was standing so close he could smell her sweetness and feel her heat. She reached up and touched his face. He could hear the scrape of whiskers as she slid her hand over his cheek, her light blue eyes taking him in. She didn’t try to hide from him now like he knew she had before, not wanting to burden him. She’d almost destroyed herself, their children, and their relationship in the process, and she promised never to do it again. He could see the effort she made every day.
“It was a good day,” she said. “I missed you. How was your day?”
He leaned down and kissed her, sliding his hands over her cheeks, smoothing over her soft, silky hair, caressing her for a second with his thumbs. She smiled up at him, the light flickering in her eyes, chasing away the shadow that had been there a moment before.
“It was good,” he replied. It had sucked, actually, getting dragged into meetings most of the day. He missed the action of being at sea on his ship, in the thick of it. Now he was pushing paper, commanding from shore, something he had never wanted to do.
She smiled at him and leaned into his hand before he pulled away. “Liar.”
He raised his eyebrows. She’d never called him that before. He didn’t like it, and he moved to pull his hand away. “Abby…”
“You think I don’t know what you did for me, for us? You gave up what you loved.”
Rachel ran into the small living room, surrounded by brown plaid furniture—plain, serviceable. “Daddy, you’re home!” she cried. She was always so happy. She had dark hair, dark eyes, round cheeks—a happy girl. Eric prayed she would never know where she came from.
He stepped back and lifted her, giving her a little toss. She giggled, and then another set of tiny hands grabbed his leg. He didn’t miss the pure joy in his little boy’s face. Charlie had his mother’s eyes and his father’s expression. Eric couldn’t believe he was a year old already, into everything. He never walked anywhere, he ran.
He leaned down and set his hat on Charlie’s head. The boy giggled and then raced in a circle as the hat drooped over his eyes. When Eric looked at Abby again, she was frowning, watching him, waiting. Over the past year, she’d become stronger, more understanding, and at times she pushed issues with him when he wanted to just leave things alone. She talked more, listened, and had even started calling him out when she didn’t believe him, like now.
“You’re more important,” he finally said, hoping she’d drop it. She was, after all, and so were his children.
Her gaze changed to understanding. He could see the moment where she suppressed whatever she was thinking and nodded. “I love you,” she said, lifting her hand and hesitating only a second before touching his arm softly, confidently.
“I love you, too.” He leaned down and kissed her.
He glanced up when Taylor and Janey wandered into the living room, ignoring them and plopping on the sofa. Abby looked over at the same time he did. Anyone could see how unhappy the kids were.
“I’m going to get dinner finished so we can eat. Your father’s Skyping in soon,” Abby told the kids before wandering into the kitchen to put dinner on the table.
Eric connected his laptop to the TV so everyone could see and hear Joe when he called. This was the first time they’d ever gathered together for the call. He’d just opened the screen when he wondered if Joe wanted to talk to him first, alone. There wasn’t much he could do at this point. He’d just presumed Joe would want to talk to everyone, and he’d asked Abby to invite Mary-Margaret and the kids over. There was one thing Eric knew about his former XO, though: Joe didn’t do anything sloppily. He was deliberate, organized, and knew what everyone’s roles and schedules were better than they themselves did. No, this mix-up with the times definitely wasn’t normal for him. Eric shook his head, cursing Joe under his breath. He didn’t like this bullshit, not one bit.
The Skype signal rang on the computer, and Eric clicked “Answer.” Joe’s face filled the screen. He was sitting in front of his computer, wearing a brown T-shirt. His short, dark hair was a mess, his face a little scruffy, and he was looking down, probably at the keyboard.
“Is that Dad?” It was Janey who called out, and everyone came into the living room. The kids were chattering excitedly in the background.
“Joe, everyone can see you,” Eric said quickly. “Your wife and kids are here, but you must have gotten your wires crossed.”
He didn’t know why he’d said it—maybe to warn him, maybe just to let him know he was on to him. More than anything, Eric wanted to make sure Joe watched what he said. He didn’t want to see Joe screw up something so good. He had family responsibilities, and although Eric wanted to have time alone to talk to his friend, that wouldn’t happen tonight.
“Hi, guys! How’re you doing? Boy, do I miss you all,” Joe said.
Eric stepped back as the kids started calling out to their dad and flooding him with questions. Even Eric had to sigh, unable to tell who’d said what. Joe was smiling and leaning down closer to the screen.
“You didn’t shave today, Joe,” Mary-Margaret said as she held her arms across her middle. She may have sounded calm, but Eric could see how tense she was.
Joe was grinning ear to ear. “No time. It was either shower and shave or Skype. I only have so much time here.”
“You’re still coming home Friday, Dad?” Taylor was hovering just behind Eric, who glanced at him. The young teen was struggling with awkwardness. He needed his father.
Joe was flickering in and out, and he squinted as if having a hard time hearing. “Taylor, I’m coming home Friday, yeah. Listen, how is school going?”
Taylor shrugged as if Joe were right there. “Good.”
Far from good, Eric now knew, but Joe didn’t need to hear that right now. On Friday, he could learn everything about his kids and his wife—and then he could have a word with Eric. Eric was also planning on having a much-needed talk with Taylor, and he’d sit down with Steven and Janey, as well, make sure there was nothing else going on.
A bang had Eric glancing back at the screen, which was flooded with bright light and wobbled a bit. “Joe, what’s going on?” Eric said. He was right in front of the screen, close to the mic.
There was commotion behind Joe and a lot of static before the screen went dead.
“Eric, what’s going on?” Mary-Margaret said. She was right beside him, gripping his arm, and the kids were calling out, “Dad! Dad!” Janey started crying.
“It’s probably just the connection,” Eric said. “Everyone needs to calm down. It happens from here to there. Damn satellites,” he snapped, feeling bad immediately for losing his temper.
“So that wasn’t an explosion?” Mary-Margaret said. She ran her hand through her hair, shaken and wide eyed as she reached for her kids, who all went into her arms.
“That could have been a hundred different things. I guarantee you it was most likely a problem with the satellite, so whatever you’re thinking, stop it.”
Even as he spoke, though, Eric was thinking the worst. He wouldn’t share any of his suspicions until he found out what was going on, but Eric knew what an IED sounded like, and the screen between them had muffled the reality of how bad it really was. Where Joe was stationed, anything could happen. His wife didn’t know that, though, and neither did his kids, and Eric didn’t intend for them to find out now. Eric had lived and breathed war for most of his life, and he knew the drill. Whatever it was, the family would never find out the truth.
This anxiety, though, the worry and not knowing, wasn’t something he was familiar with.
“Abby,” he said. When he turned, she was holding Charlie, and Rachel was gripping her leg. Both kids were quiet, taking in the stress in the room. “I’m going to make a call just to ease everyone’s minds, find out what’s going on. Why don’t you get the kids ready for bed?”
Her eyes darted to Mary-Margaret and the kids and then back to Eric, and she rubbed Charlie’s back, resting him on her hip. She started to say something and then hesitated, glancing at the kids. “Janey, Steven, Taylor, why don’t you give me a hand getting Rachel and Charlie bathed and ready for bed?”
Good distraction. Man, he was proud of her. She met his gaze, and for a minute he knew she understood. Abby called the kids again, and this time Mary-Margaret let them go. Before Abby could move and step away, he touched her face, and she leaned in. It was only a second, but it was a connection he needed. She could be so grounding at times. He could see how she’d changed, having become more confident, handling a situation he knew she wouldn’t have been able to before. She nodded before putting her arm around Janey and leading the kids down the hall. He turned back to the blank screen and the sound of Skype trying to reconnect. But there was nothing, just a quiet room and Eric and Mary-Margaret, alone.
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HE CAME BACK is a standalone novel and spinoff of the bestselling WALK the RIGHT ROAD series from New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Author Lorhainne Eckhart
One woman’s haunting journey when her husband returns home and everything she thought she knew about their life together has suddenly changed.
Each breath he pulled deep inside his chest should have been enough for him to finally believe he was alive. Yes, he was breathing. Yes, he had all his fingers and toes. And yes, he was all in one piece. But even that physical reminder wasn’t enough for Sean to really believe he was whole—or to remove the feeling that everything inside him was dead.
Sean lay on the sofa, feeling the cushions give under his weight, feeling the tension in his muscles, wound so tight he didn’t think he could relax if he wanted to. He couldn’t even summon rest, the absolute necessity in any person with sound reasoning. The fact was that he’d lived this way for too long: on edge, on alert, ready to jump up at a moment’s notice and survive at any cost. Even though he was home now, he couldn’t step out of it.
Everything had changed. He was no longer the same.
He was no longer idealistic.
Sean Robert Green had once been sheltered. He had lived comfortably and believed he knew everything. He’d been so wrong. Born in Greenville, Pennsylvania, he felt as if he’d lived a lifetime at his ripe old age of twenty-eight. How had someone who came from a small, idealistic community along the Shenango River become the mess he was now? His father, Ed, was an accountant—small time, taxes—and part-time councilman. His mother, Marion, was a homemaker, middle class with middle expectations, with three kids, two boys and a girl, each three years younger than the last. His brother, Tom, the doctor in the family, had two kids and another on the way. He was separated from his wife now and had hooked up with a nurse in Manhattan. Susan, his sister, the baby of the family, was a high-powered executive in LA with some government contracts. He didn’t know what exactly she did, but she drove a Mercedes, owned a condo, and travelled extensively.
They were family, but to him they were all strangers now—all because he, the middle child that he was, had decided he needed more. He could do more. He could do better. He had joined the US military to defend his home, his family, his community. Yes, he was a hero. It was what he’d wanted in the beginning, but sometimes what we want isn’t what we should have. He knew that now.
He’d made his choice, opting for life in the military, not just any part of the military but the navy, in law enforcement and security. Having Uncle Sam fund his four-year college degree and then Officer Candidate School, he thought he was saving his parents the burden of financing another child. He figured it would be exciting. He wouldn’t be a grunt, on the ground, in the thick of it.
Oh, had he been wrong.
Now he was a stranger in a familiar body, moving through life, going through the motions. He squeezed his hands, fisting them so tight he could feel the moment his nails broke the skin, but that was just one more thing to cut through the numbness that filled his body, his head, his soul. Nothing could penetrate the intense horror that haunted him.
As he lay there, far from relaxed, he listened to the rustle upstairs on the second floor, the master bedroom, where his wife, Annie, slept. He knew the moment she was awake and the sound of her footsteps, knew exactly where she was and what she was doing. The toilet flushed and then water ran, and he could almost see her stopping at the door and waiting, wondering, considering. Of course she knew he wasn’t there. He’d never been with her in this house, in this bed.
What was she doing? What was she thinking? She’d either come downstairs and look for him or crawl back into bed. What would she choose?
Come on, Annie. What are you doing?
He wanted his time alone, but at the same time he wanted her to walk down the stairs and come to him so he could see her face, see the innocence in her deep blue eyes, which had never seen the darkness he had. But, at the same time, he was angry. If she did see any of that darkness, it would come from him, and he didn’t want that. It would be better if she weren’t here at all. He wanted her away from the evil and darkness that now tainted his soul and would without a doubt kill everything good inside her. Why didn’t she understand that?
The stairs creaked, and he shut his eyes, but he felt her before she stepped down the two steps into their living room, painted in soft greens and blue. Pretty, like her. It was why he’d chosen this place. Then he was watching her and how she looked in pajama shorts and a T-shirt, her dark hair sweeping past her shoulders and hanging in soft waves, even just from bed.
She stopped a short distance from him, taking in where he’d moved the sofa against the wall so he could see who was coming, no blind spots and no way anyone could sneak up on him. His eyes had long since adjusted to the dark, and he noticed the way the shadows lightened from the approaching dawn. The curtains were open, allowing the light in. That way, he could see if anyone was out there.
“You didn’t come to bed,” she said, then crossed her arms just under the swell of her breasts. “Again.”
He didn’t move as he took in how distant she sounded: worried, as if they had become two strangers passing in the night. At one time, he’d have been across the room, touching her, being with her, tasting her, loving her—but not now. Not anymore.
It had been so long ago, the last moment he’d been with her. Maybe it was to protect her from him and the darkness that had become a part of who he was. It hadn’t killed him yet, but he wished it would. That would destroy her, though.
“Couldn’t sleep,” he said. “Go back to bed.”
He couldn’t get up no matter how much he wanted to. And, good for her, she didn’t take another step closer. He mourned the necessary loss. He could see the way she hesitated, her lips firmed as if she wanted to say something. Then she must have realized there was no point, as this wasn’t a fight she had a chance of winning. He was lost to her. She had to know that.
She turned, and he shut his eyes as she glanced back at him once more from the top of the stairs. “Well, good night, then,” she said.
He listened to her footsteps on the stairs, the creak of the wood and the click of the closing door, and let out a breath that sounded far too much like relief, except it was anything but. It did nothing to alieve the burning swell of emptiness that had taken over every good thing in him. It had stolen the part of him that belonged to Annie, because where Sean had gone was a place even the devil didn’t go.
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A heartwarming romance for the holidays from New York Times bestselling author Lorhainne Eckhart. A novel filled with love, hope, and the same deep family ties you’ve come to love from her big family romance series, The Friessens and The Wilde Brothers.
In LOVING CHRISTINE, Derek doesn’t believe in miracles, fairytales, or happy endings—but he believes in Christine.
She didn’t just teach him how to live. She taught him how to love.
He would survive without her. He might not want to live without her, but he knew he could. Loving Christine had been the greatest gift in Derek’s life, though. She was kind, she was honest, and she was beautiful.
She saw the best in everyone, including him.
Maybe that was what had attracted him to her that day three months ago in the park: Her smile had radiated, and her laughter had been infectious. He had wanted to be a part of it. Of all the hundreds of people filling the park, it had been Christine whom he saw, like a breath of fresh air on a sunny day. Just like her picture, which he found himself looking at in moments like this, when she wasn’t with him.
He put the picture down on the fireplace mantle beside the one she had taken with him, in which she was laughing and he was holding her. Beside that was an older one taken with her daughter, Sally, a precocious auburn-headed eleven-year-old with freckles, a toothy grin, and the same magical eyes as her mother.
He heard the rattle of the key in the lock before the door opened, and the once quiet apartment filled with mother and daughter banter. Christine was carrying a paper bag of groceries, and apparently, from what he could tell by the way Sally was dogging her, protesting whatever it was that an eleven-year-old girl would be focused on in a given day, she was determined about something.
“No, I said—and it’s the last time I’ll say it, too. Why do you need to ask me something five different times in five different ways when you know I’ve already said no? Have I ever changed my mind and given in when you’ve carried on?” Christine was wearing a glorious green fall coat with a white scarf, and Sally was dressed in a red down coat, wet from the constant rain that hadn’t let up since Sunday.
Sally could be as determined as her mother, and where Christine said no, Derek always found himself bending. Maybe it was Sally’s persistence.
“No, you’ve never given in,” Sally said, taking the carton of eggs her mother had unpacked from the paper bag and putting it in the fridge. It was an unspoken commitment between them that he admired: Sally always helped without being asked.
“So why do you keep asking like you’re someone else’s child? Because I can tell you my child doesn’t behave that way,” Christine said.
Derek kissed her on her cheek, and she turned her head, smiling broadly, and touched her lips with his, a quick hello kiss. Except there was nothing quick about the chemistry between them.
“Because it’s fun, and I like talking to you,” Sally added with a mischievous smile.
“At least she doesn’t whine,” Derek said. Sally was quick, smart as a whip, and she talked constantly, but what set her apart from other girls her age was that she was kind, just like her mother.
Christine rolled her eyes and took in Sally, who was putting away the rest of the groceries on the counter in the open kitchen.
“Derek’s right, Mom. I’m also a great kid and a ton of fun, so please can I go to Jenny Howserman’s party?”
Instead of answering, Christine just laughed at her. “No, and you know why.”
Derek must have been out of the loop, because he didn’t understand why Christine was so hell bent on keeping her daughter from this party. Maybe she had anticipated what he was going to ask, as she slipped out of her coat and set it around the back of a kitchen chair before shoving up the sleeves of her beige turtleneck.
“They don’t even like each other. Jenny and Sally are on the outs,” she added before picking up the package of wrapped sirloin and putting it beside the stove, then turning on the oven. She reached into the pantry for a bag of potatoes.
“But my friends are going to be there,” Sally said, handing her mother the cutting board. Derek was still wondering what this was about. Girl crap, he assumed. Maybe he didn’t want to know.
“I thought the Howsermans were friends of ours?” he said, because they often exchanged dinner invitations. Bill was a local realtor, and his wife, Sandy, twenty-five years his junior, was a stay-at-home mom of two girls, Jenny and Trish.
“They are, but Jenny’s a drama queen. She’s apparently been going around, demanding that everyone choose sides in her and Sally’s circle of friends. She’s saying they can’t be friends with Sally if they want to stay friends with her.”
Derek glanced over at Sally, who shrugged and didn’t appear phased. She was such a levelheaded kid, likeable, and thankfully didn’t suffer from the irritating full-scale dramatics he’d often witnessed from Bill and Sandy’s two girls. “And you still want to go to Jenny’s party after her pulling this?” he asked. He didn’t get this kind of behavior, far from the kind of thing guys pulled.
She glanced to her mom and then back at Derek, appearing to consider all that had been said. “I guess not.” She then turned away, leaving to hang up her coat as if none of this was that big of a deal.
“She’s a girl. It’s just girl crap, is all, dear,” Christine said nonchalantly. She must have noticed his puzzled expression.
“Yeah, well, if that was a guy pulling the kind of crap Jenny is, he’d likely earn himself a bloody nose.” Far more effective, as far as he was concerned.
Christine leaned on the counter, flashing that million-dollar smile. “Let’s hope girls never stoop to something like that. Devious and dangerous are two qualities that should never exist together in a woman.”
“Yeah, like a psychopath,” Derek said, grateful that Christine’s daughter was neither of those.
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The following Lorhainne Eckhart titles are available in ebook, audiobook and paperback. Please scroll down for the links or visit her website at for available retailers.
The Forgotten Child (Brad and Emily)
A Baby and a Wedding (An Outsider Series Short)
Fallen Hero (Andy, Jed, and Diana)
The Search (An Outsider Series Short)
The Awakening (Andy and Laura)
Secrets (Jed and Diana)
Runaway (Andy and Laura)
Overdue (An Outsider Series Short)
The Unexpected Storm (Neil and Candy)
The Wedding (Neil and Candy)
Or click here to grab all the books in this sizzling romance series in one boxed set collection, The Outsider Series: The Complete Omnibus Collection.
The Deadline (Andy and Laura)
The Price to Love (Neil and Candy)
A Different Kind of Love (Brad and Emily)
A Vow of Love, A Friessen Family Christmas
Or click here to grab all the books in this romantic family saga in one boxed set collection, The Friessens A New Beginning: The Collection
The Bloodline (Andy & Laura)
The Promise (Diana & Jed)
The Business Plan (Neil & Candy)
The Decision (Brad & Emily)
Now available, The Friessens: (Books 1 – 5, Box Set). Click here to download your copy.
First Love (Katy)
Family First now includes Leave the Light On
Don’t Stop Me (Vic)
Don’t Catch Me (Chase)
Don’t Run From Me (Aaron)
Don’t Hide From Me (Luc)
The One (Joe and Margaret)
The Honeymoon, A Wilde Brothers Short
Friendly Fire (Logan and Julia)
Not Quite Married, A Wilde Brothers Short
A Matter of Trust (Ben and Carrie)
The Reckoning, A Wilde Brothers Christmas
Now Available! Click here to grab all the books in this big family romance series in one collection. The Wilde Brothers The Complete Collection
A Promise of Forever
Edge of Night
Lost and Found
Blown Away: The Final Chapter
Or click here to grab all the books in the Walk the Right Road series in one boxed set collection, Walk the Right Road: The Complete Collection.
Or click here to grab The Saved Series: The Complete Collection, with all the books in this military thriller.
He Came Back
The Wilde Brothers The Complete Collection
The Outsider Series: The Complete Omnibus Collection
The Friessens A New Beginning: The Collection
The Friessens Books 1 – 5 Box Set
Walk the Right Road: The Complete Collection
The Saved Series: The Complete Collection
Married in Montana
Kate and Walker: Deadly, Dangerous & Desired
A Father’s Love, Illustrated
Der Vergessene Junge
Der Gefallene Held
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Lorhainne Eckhart recently received the 2016 Readers’ Favorite Award for Suspense and Romance for her two titles Vanished & The Bloodline. With over fifty titles under her belt, her big family romance series are loved by fans worldwide. Books that celebrate love, family, commitment, hope, and making a relationship work. With flawed strong characters, characters you can relate to. Lorhainne writes the kind of books she wants to read.
She is frequently a Top 100 bestselling author in multiple genres, such as romance, western, military, and mystery/suspense. She has written multiple series, including The Outsider, Walk the Right Road, The Wilde Brothers, Saved, The Friessens, Married in Montana, Kate and Walker: Deadly, Dangerous, and Desired, and her newest addition and spinoff of the bestselling Friessen Series THE MCCABE BROTHERS.
Lorhainne loves to hear from her readers! You can connect with me at:
Grab this compiled sampler of all the first chapters from all my books in series order. I created this special edition for all my fans who are unsure of the series, the order and how each series is connected. Included are all the sample first chapters from the Outsider Series, The Friessens: A New Beginning, The Friessens, The McCabe Brothers, The Wilde Brothers, Married in Montana, Kate & Walker, The Saved Series, Walk the Right Road, and all of my single title novels. I have not included in this sampler my new series, The Parker Sisters, which will be releasing in May 2017. Stop by Lorhainne's website for more information about all the books LorhainneEckhart.com