Genre: Romantic Suspense
Release Date: March 24, 2011
Length: 27,000 words (novella)
Journalist Eve Newman stumbles across the murder of a prominent member of her west Texas town and finds herself the target of a shadowy killer. When the body goes missing and the police don’t believe she saw it happen, she turns to the only man in town she can trust; her deceased brother’s best friend.
Former Marine, Macklin Quinn, has been half in love with Eve since they were kids, but he’s always considered her off-limits. When she turns to him for help he can’t send her away. Within twenty-four hours it’s clear she’s in trouble and someone wants her dead. Mac will do everything in his power to keep the feisty journalist alive and help her bring down the killer. And if they can stay alive long enough, he’ll do whatever it takes to convince her they’re meant to be together.
Eve Newman pressed her back up against one of the stone pillars at the entrance to the Underwood’s long, winding driveway. She wasn’t exactly sure what she was doing here but for the tenth time in the last hour she regretted her decision to put any credence to that anonymous email. ‘Want the story of the year? Underwood mansion. Nine o’clock. Tonight. Don’t trust anyone and don’t be seen.’
The cryptic message annoyed her. As one of the few journalists in the small town of Hudson Creek, Texas, she’d had no choice but to follow up on the lead. She certainly wasn’t going to give the story to someone else and her curiosity wouldn’t let her ignore it.
Since she’d grown up here—and had attended a few high school parties at the mansion courtesy of Tara Underwood—she knew exactly where the security cameras were and how to avoid them.
Squashing the twinge of guilt at using that knowledge against her friend’s parents, she peered around the pillar. A full moon hung in the sky illuminating only one car. The District Attorney’s Mercedes. Made sense Richard Underwood would be home. She doubted he’d sent her the email because what could Richard be doing to warrant such a mysterious message?
Frowning, she glanced down the long street. The upscale neighborhood was quiet tonight. Still she tucked her long hair into the thick knitted cap she’d brought and pulled it down low on her head. Without it, her strawberry blonde hair would be like a beacon for anyone to see. Wearing all black and feeling like a thief, she gritted her teeth and sprinted toward the closest oak tree on the property.
Using the darkness and shadows as her friend, she hurried toward the six foot wall surrounding the property. Her heart pounded wildly and her palms were clammy inside her gloves. She hadn’t even told her boss where she was going. But she wasn’t totally unprepared. Her Glock 33 was tucked into the back of her pants as a precaution.
As she crept down the length of the brick wall, the sound of a male voice shouting made her pause. She was right in line with the main house but the voice was farther away. Almost like it was outside, but too muted. The pool house.
Careful to dodge two of the security cameras, she moved fast until she was hunkered down by a couple of overgrown bushes. The lights from the pool house were on, but the blinds were shut. She could see two silhouettes moving around inside. The shapes were too blurry to make out whether the people were male or female.
After glancing around the back of the large property to make sure she hadn’t missed any more video cameras, she pulled her cap down lower and began making her way across the grass. It was almost nine o’clock so maybe this meeting was what her anonymous email had been talking about.
A man started shouting again and her curiosity surged higher. She couldn’t understand what he was saying but his tone was angry. As she started to move closer, the very distinctive sound of gunshots erupted.
Pop. Pop. Pop. One shot right after another.
Then silence. Adrenaline surged through her like a raging river.
She was standing right in the middle of the yard like a freaking target. Not caring if any of the cameras caught her, she ran toward the cluster of bushes lining the pool house and jumped behind them. She needed to call the cops, but hiding was her number one priority. Eve held her breath and when there were no other sounds she raised her head and tried to look in one of the windows.
The blinds were drawn shut and she could barely see through the sliver between the edge of the blinds and the edge of the window. Immediately she spotted a pair of male dress shoes. Expensive shoes. From the awkward angle it looked like they were attached to someone lying on the ground. Someone not moving.
Slowly, she reached down to grab her cell phone out of her pocket. When she patted nothing, she inwardly cursed. Sure, she’d remembered her gun but she’d left her damn phone in her purse…which was in her car a few blocks over. A lot of good that would do her now.
If someone was dead or dying, she had to get help.
The sound of a door opening then slamming shut made her duck back down into the bushes. She hoped her dark clothing would help conceal her. Even though she hated to move, she withdrew her gun.
Her hand shook slightly but she’d spent countless hours on the range. When the time came, she knew she could use it if she had to. At the sound of footsteps running away, she inched above the foliage only to see the French door that led into the main house slam shut.
A light went on in one of the rooms downstairs then a few seconds later a light upstairs flipped on.
Taking a chance, she hurried from her hiding place and ran to the front of the pool house. Eve cringed as her boots thudded against the stone patio at the front of the small structure but she couldn’t do anything about it.
Her time was limited.
Easing the door open with her shoulder, she kept her gun tight in her hands. Her gut roiled at the sight in front of her. Next to the splatters of blood on the slick tile floor, the pale yellow walls seemed garish and too bright. Right beside the billiard table in the corner of the room, Allen freaking Martin lay on his back. His dark unblinking eyes were wide open, and a look of shock covered his handsome face. Her gut told her he was dead.
Eve hadn’t exactly liked the guy but, damn. She quickly peeked back out the door and when she saw no one was there, hurried over to the body. After spending months embedded with the troops in Afghanistan, she’d seen her share of dead bodies and she had a feeling he was gone, but she checked his pulse anyway.
Crimson slowly seeped out from the three gaping holes in his chest and was beginning to pool on the tile floor. The coppery scent of death filled her nostrils.
Instinctively she started to step back. She didn’t want to contaminate the crime scene and she really didn’t want to leave any evidence behind. She had no business being here but she did need to call the cops—even if she didn’t have much faith in their abilities. Her car was blocks over and she couldn’t waste that much time. She hoped Martin had a phone on him.
Avoiding the growing pool of blood, she felt the front of his jacket pocket until she found his cell. Once her fingers clasped around it she hurried back to the door. When she looked out she saw the light upstairs in the main house shut off.
Whoever had done this was probably coming back. She just couldn’t wrap her mind around the fact that Richard Underwood had shot Allen Martin. Sure, Martin was sleazy, but Underwood was a good, honest DA. Or she’d thought he was. Now it looked like he might be a killer.
Hurrying back the way she’d come, she paused once she was outside the fenced yard to use Martin’s phone. She dialed 911.
As soon as the operator picked up she started whispering into the phone. “There’s a dead body at the Underwood mansion. 685 Kent Ave.”
“Ma’am, can you please repeat that address?”
“There’s a dead body in the pool house behind the Underwood mansion on Kent Avenue. Allen Martin has been shot three times in the chest and he’s not breathing. Hurry!”
“Ma’am, are you telling me that Allen Martin is dead in the DA’s pool house?” Eve doubted the operator was supposed to let her disbelief show, but in a small town the woman would have no doubt where the Underwood mansion was and exactly who owned it.
She sighed at the woman’s question. The dispatcher should already be contacting a patrol car. Another strike against the police department of Hudson Creek. They’d screwed up the prosecution of the man who’d killed Eve’s parents. Why not screw this up too?
“Yes, that’s what I’m telling you. Send someone now. The killer is still here.” It was hard to keep her voice a whisper when she wanted to shout at the operator.
“We’re sending a patrol over but I need to know who I’m speaking to.”
Not freaking likely.
Instead of answering, Eve hung up. She couldn’t afford to say anything else. She’d trespassed on the property and admitting that to the sheriff would give him an excuse to waste hours interrogating her.
As she glanced around she realized no one must have heard the shots because the street was deathly quiet. She desperately wanted to wait around and make sure the cops showed up but knew she couldn’t. If they found her here she’d be in a world of trouble. Hurrying, she continued her escape down the sidewalk.
When the phone she’d taken started ringing, she jumped. The caller ID screen said restricted.
“Hey, I hear it,” a thick, accented male voice said from behind the fence of the Underwood’s place.
Panic jumped in Eve’s chest. She pressed the end button, effectively silencing the call as she started running down the sidewalk. Her boots thudded loudly but there was nothing she could do about it. She wanted to turn it off completely but didn’t have time to waste.
“Hey! Stop!” the same voice shouted behind her a few moments later.
A sharp pop blasted through the air and the trunk of one of the trees lining the street splintered. The pop sounded again and Eve felt a gush of air rush past her face. Someone was shooting at her!
Taking a sharp right, she darted across the Hawkins’ lawn. Even though they had an incredible house their security was shit and she knew they had an opening in their wrought iron fence in the backyard. If she could just make it.
Her leg muscles strained and for the first time in years she was thankful for her daily jogging routine. Pumping her arms and legs, she cleared the edge of the house. A spotlight on the side of the house flipped on—likely motion sensors—but she didn’t pause.
It almost felt as if someone was breathing down her neck, but she knew it was fear and adrenaline surging through her. Then she heard a muttered curse farther behind than before. At least they weren’t still shooting. Probably because whoever it was didn’t want to draw more attention to themselves.
She needed to make it to the opening and hoped no one saw her slip through. Her car was on the next street over. Her heart pounded that erratic tattoo against her chest as she dove over a cluster of bushes lining the back fence.
Blood rushed loudly in her ears as she began to slowly crawl toward the opening. When the phone started ringing again, her chest tightened. They were trying to track her using the sound. She silenced it again then slid the back casing off. She’d only have a few seconds to do this. Sliding the SIM card out, she put it in her pocket then left the phone lying in the dirt.
As she continued crawling, she pulled her gun out. When she reached the small gap in the fence she shimmied under it. Ignoring the dirt coating her hands and the underbrush caught in her cap and clothes, she shoved up and ran through the neighboring backyard.
After risking a brief glance behind her, she saw she wasn’t being followed. She allowed herself a small measure of relief but didn’t stop running. Even if they were still looking for her, they weren’t going to find her. She wouldn’t let them.
Unfortunately she couldn’t go home. She hadn’t recognized the accented voice, but she couldn’t be sure whoever had been chasing her hadn’t identified her. That left one place to go.
Macklin wasn’t going to be happy to see her, but Mr. Tall, dark, and too-sexy-for-his-own-good would have to deal with it. He was one of the few people on the planet she would trust with her life.