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CONTESTS & FUN

with USA TODAY Bestselling Author 

Julie Miller!

 

NO Book GiveAway in August!
 

KCPD Protector by Julie Miller

Congratulations to Maricel Aquino-Nieves! She won my June Book GiveAway, and selected a copy of KCPD PROTECTOR for her prize. Like many of you, she knew that Elise, the heroine in KCPD PROTECTOR, received 23 roses from her stalker. Thanks to everyone who entered!

 
 

 


 

 


 

 

   

Rules for Julie's Contests

  • One entry per person.
  • By entering, entrants grant permission for their name to be posted on the Julie Miller web site at www.juliemiller.org and in Julie's newsletter.
  • Winners will be chosen by random drawing from among all entries.
  • The odds of winning depend upon the number of participants.
  • Void where prohibited.


MEET JULIE!

August 1 - 2

Just Romantic Suspense Blog

 

 

Julie in Atlanta, GA at the 2013 RWA National Conference

Julie with good buddy B.J. Daniels

Delores Fossen, Julie Miller, B.J. Daniels


 

RECENT APPEARANCES

Julie Miller at the PRW 20th Anniversary

 
Julie's local writing group, the Prairieland Romance Writers, celebrates 20 years of excellence in romance fiction at an anniversary Open House in Grand Island, NE
 
Prairieland Romance Writers celebrates 20 years of excellence in romance fiction!

 

Author Julie Miller

Authors Scott and Julie Miller

Kearney, NE Booksigning, The Sequel Bookshop
Julie Miller, and Scott & Julie Miller

 

Independence, MO Booksigning
L-R Saranna DeWylde, Julie Miller, Janette Kenney, Sherri Shackelford, Cheryl St. John
 

Julie in New York City at the 2011 RWA National Conference
 

Julie Miller--Times Square

View of Times Square from Julie's hotel room
 

Julie Miller @ Transformers movie premiere

Julie at the Transformers movie premiere (Hi, Bumblebee!)

Julie Miller--Times Sqaure & Broadway

Times Square and Broadway

Julie Miller--RWA NYC 2011

My roomie, Elle James, Brenda Jackson, and my agent Pattie Steele-Perkins at the RWA booksigning

Julie Miller--RWA NYC 2011

The massive Literacy Autographing at RWA
 

 

 

Julie in Los Angeles, CA, at the 2011 RT BOOKreviews Convention
 

""The Do's & Dont's of Series Romance " workshop with Judy Duarte, Candace Havens, Julie Miller and B.J. Daniels.

"Lights! Camera! Party! the Series Romance Way" Reader Event
Back row: Kira Sinclair, HelenKay Dimon, B.J. Daniels, Lynn Raye Harris
Middle row: Judy Duarte, Crystal Green, Rebecca York, Candace Havens, Janette Kenney, Jan Hambright, Delores Fossen, Brenda Jackson
Front row: Kathleen O'Reilly, Kimberly Lang, Jade Lee/Kathy Lyons, Carol Erickson, Julie Miller

 


At the Booksigning


View from my hotel The Westin Bonaventure  in downtown L.A.


Went to hear Dean Koontz speak. Delightfully witty and educational! (and one of my fave authors!)


Barn View from my hotel, the Hollywood sign in the distance up in the Hollywood Hills.

 

 

KCPD Protector by Julie Miller

KCPD PROTECTOR

Copyright  ©2014 by Julie Miller

Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.

(Excerpt)

 

Chapter One

“Elise? I need—”

“Right here.” As soon as the lacquered black door between their offices opened, Elise Brown was on her feet, carrying the file from the corner of her desk over to her boss, KCPD Deputy Commissioner George Madigan. “Crime rate statistics for the downtown area over the past three years. I also checked the Farmers’ Almanac for the last time Kansas City had record temperatures like this and forwarded stats on the dramatic rise in reported crime incidents for that summer to your laptop. I pulled up similar stats on the increased number of 9-1-1 calls during power outages.”

“And my dinner—?”

“Done. I called the restaurant and moved your reservation this evening back to eight o’clock. Your appointment will meet you there.”

George’s firm mouth cocked into a wry grin, deepening the lines beside his steel-gray eyes as he opened the folder. “You might at least let me finish asking my questions before you hand over the answers.”

George Madigan didn’t ask—he gave orders—but Elise didn’t mind. She tipped her face up to his and smiled. “Just being indispensable.”

“That you are. I swear you could do this job without me. But I wouldn’t manage the other way around. Thanks.” He dropped his gaze to the information he held, thumbing through the pages, already engrossed in his work.

Elise smiled at the crown of his dark brown hair. It was short and thick and peppered with shots of silver that only added to the mature air of masculinity that oozed from every pore. Not that she cared one whit about how the man looked or what he oozed. All she cared about was this job and the way George valued her as a trusted associate.

There were no miscommunications when her boss spoke. No flirty double entendres she had to evaluate and dodge. No favors or blackmail or anything that could leave her feeling like a fool for not clearly understanding what was being asked of her.

She appreciated the mutual respect in their working relationship, and had no intention of muddying the waters by wishing there might be a little more charm to his authoritative demeanor or wondering how a full-blown smile or belly laugh might soften the life experience sculpted into his angular features.

The deputy commissioner and KCPD had taken a chance on her when her confidence had been so close to rock bottom that she wasn’t sure she even deserved a job in the corporate world again. Working as an executive assistant for one of the top administrators in the department, she was rebuilding the self-assurance that had been shredded at her last full-time position. Fixing her bruised heart and shattered trust in men were projects for another day. For her, the job was enough. It was everything. It had to be.

“This is good stuff,” George praised. “These numbers should help make my case for allocating more funds.”

“You hired me to be knowledgeable, efficient and to anticipate your needs.”

To make her point, she flipped the page to point out the totals he was searching for and nodded toward the office behind him where five people sat around a cherry-wood conference table, engaged in a heated discussion studded with phrases like, “We’re already short-staffed,” “Not my responsibility,” “How much?” and “Would you go there without a cop around for miles?”

Elise didn’t even need to drop her voice for privacy. “Emergency budget meeting? Complaints from the union about freezing salaries instead of paying overtime? The most vocal person in the room is Councilman Johnson. Ergo, you want to be armed with the information showing a direct correlation between hot weather and a higher crime rate, and how putting extra uniformed officers on the street during peak power demands will counteract that danger.”

A dark eyebrow arched as he looked up from the file. “Ergo?”

Elise met his gaze and shrugged. “So you can shut up Mr. Johnson.”

That earned a chuckle from deep in his throat. Okay. So the man did possess a little charm. “You’re on to me. Did anyone ever tell you that you’d make a good detective?”

Elise looked beyond the wide shoulders of his blue dress shirt to see the medals and commendations framed on the wall behind his desk. Her boss’s day might be filled with administrative duties now, but there was no doubt who the real detective was here. “I function much better behind the scenes than I do on the front line, sir.”

His square jaw tightened momentarily. But before he snapped the folder shut and gave voice to whatever thought had crossed his features, a light knock on Elise’s office door diverted her attention across the reception area.

“Hello?”

“Excuse me, sir.” Elise crossed the taupe carpet to meet the deliveryman hidden behind the extravagant bouquet of yellow roses at the hallway door. “Yes?”

“Is this the deputy commissioner’s office?” a winded voice asked.

“It is.”

“Finally. Do you know how far I had to carry these things?” When the twenty-something man poked his head around the tall glass vase, his ruddy cheeks and forehead were dotted with perspiration. She also noted that he was wearing a visitor’s badge around the sweat-stained neck of his brown uniform. Good. That meant he’d been cleared at both the ground floor and the security desk at the eighth floor elevators, and she didn’t need to screen him as any kind of threat to the higher-ups at KCPD.

“Has it topped a hundred degrees out there yet?” Elise asked, reaching for the electronic signature pad he pushed toward her. Since a heat wave was bearing down on Kansas City for its third straight week, it was a topic of conversation friends and strangers alike could share. She hoped her friendly smile might improve the man’s mood.

But she got little more than a weary grunt in return. “I just need you to sign for these, ma’am.”

Understanding how a heat index of one hundred and ten and humidity that was nearly as high could make tempers and frustrations flare, Elise quickly wrote her name. “Could I get you something cold to drink? Some ice water?”

The man’s grim expression relaxed as he traded the vase for the keypad. “I’ve got a cooler in my van in the parking garage across the street. But thanks.”

“Looks like Commissioner Madigan has a special admirer.” Elise hefted the over-the-top bouquet into her arms. Had George won some award he hadn’t mentioned? Been seeing someone during the few hours he wasn’t in the office?

“They’re for you, ma’am.” The deliveryman glanced down at his keypad screen. “You’re Elise Brown, right?”

Surprise warred with confusion inside her at the unexpected gift. “For me?”

“Yes, ma’am. Enjoy. And stay cool.” The man was all smiles as he walked away.

Elise touched her nose to one velvety blossom, cautiously inhaling its cloying, perfumey scent as she counted. Eleven, twelve…twenty-three yellow roses, complete with golden ribbons, baby’s breath and a cut-glass vase—for her?

The flowers grew unbearably heavy. Twenty-three roses. One for every day we’ve been together.

“Easy.” Suddenly, a strong hand cupped beneath hers, taking the weight of the glass. “We don’t want a flood on the carpet.”

A flash of blue danced into Elise’s peripheral vision a split second before her boss’s crisp voice startled her from her momentary paralysis. She backed away a step and hugged her arms securely around the vase. “I’ve got them.” She turned and carried them to the corner of her desk. “Thanks.”

The flowers might be a different color, but the similarity…twenty-three? Elise breathed in deeply, clearing the troubling thought from her mind. It wasn’t possible. The florist had simply miscounted. Or the deliveryman had stolen one for his girlfriend. This was just a coincidence and she’d overreacted. That part of her past was over and done with.

Dead men didn’t send flowers.

But who would?

Shuffling through the stems and greenery, Elise searched for a card that wasn’t there. She pulled the empty plastic clamp from the vase that should have held the sender’s name or a message for her, and hurried out into the hallway. “Wait a minute,” she called after the deliveryman. “Who are these from? There’s no card….”

But he’d already disappeared around the corner by the elevators and security desk. She could either kick off her heels and run after him, or solve the mystery on her own. And since Nikolai was dead… With another steadying breath, Elise had made her decision. Ease up on the paranoia. There’s a rational explanation. Figure it out.

But when she turned around, she froze, her path blocked by George Madigan filling the doorway. His sturdy forearms were exposed by his rolled-up sleeves, and their tanned strength formed an impenetrable barrier folded across the front of his chest. “Did I miss your birthday?”

Although he wore no gun, his badge was right there, clipped to his belt, its polished blue enamel and extra brass chevrons indicating he had the right to stop her and ask any questions he wanted in this office. Elise tipped her face up to his narrowed gray eyes. Was that suspicion she saw there? Curiosity? Concern?

She knew that George Madigan on a mission could be an intimidating thing. His devotion to the department, his single-minded determination to solve problems, made him a force to be reckoned with in city and departmental politics. But the idea of him turning that perceptive intelligence and laser beam focus on her was as unnerving as it was thrilling.

And that made those little ripples of awareness stirring her blood far too dangerous.

Tempting as it might be to share her fears with her boss, Elise nixed the idea. Her problems were her own. She understood George Madigan well enough to get her job done, and that was as far as their relationship needed to go. Mixing work and personal was definitely a bad idea.

“Elise?”

Oh, snap. How long had she been staring at the loose knot of his tie?

Despite the air-conditioning that cooled the building’s temperature to a tolerable level, Elise suddenly felt hot. She brushed aside a short, dark wave of hair that clung to her damp skin and tucked it behind her ear before scooting around the file he fisted in one hand. “My birthday’s not until September.”

Two months away. Elise set the card holder beside the vase and sorted through the ribbons and greenery again. She found one broken stem being held upright by sprigs of baby’s breath and the oversized bow, but still no card.

A queasy sense of unease turned in her stomach. Nikolai had sent her twenty-three red roses after he’d gone back to Russia. A thank-you, apology and do svidaniya all in one. But Nikolai was dead. Murdered by her former boss Quinn Gallagher’s father-in-law when Nikolai had dared to threaten Quinn’s daughter.

“I know it’s not Administrative Professionals’ Week. I marked that on my calendar.” George followed her to the desk and reached out to finger one of the blooms. “These are unexpected.”

It wasn’t a question.

“Yes,” she conceded, wishing she could mask her emotions as well as her boss could. “They’re definitely a surprise.”

The only men in her life were her father and her poodle mix, Spike, and neither one was the flower-sending type. Her mother was the one to remember special events, but nothing was happening in Elise’s life today, or even this week. She hadn’t completed the renovations on the Victorian home she was restoring, so any celebration of that was premature. Successfully housebreaking the dog hardly merited all these flowers. And the last man she’d gone out with certainly had no reason to send such a gift. Although they’d once shared a college romance, she’d made it clear to James this past weekend that she was only interested in friendship now that he was back in town after spending several years working abroad.

After her disastrous track record of unrequited love and getting involved with the wrong men, she wasn’t interested in any kind of relationship.

Elise startled at the warm hand on her arm and looked up into George’s eyes. “What’s wrong?”

She jumped again when the telephone rang. Shaking off his touch and any further speculation about the roses, she leaned across her desk and picked up the receiver. “Deputy Commissioner Madigan’s office. This is Elise speaking.”

There was a long pause on the line, and then she heard, “Did you get them?”

The hushed, breathy voice was barely audible.

“Excuse me?”

“I got them special. Just for you.Suddenly feeling too shaky to stand, Elise sank onto the edge of the cherrywood desk and turned her head toward the mysterious bouquet. “Who is this?”

The phone was pried from her grip by a stronger hand. “This is Deputy Commissioner Madigan of KCPD. Who—?”

The click of the call disconnecting was loud enough for Elise to hear. When she jerked her head back toward the sound, her gaze was filled with George’s paisley tie and broad chest. That chest came even closer, almost folded around her, as he reached behind her to hang up the phone.

Elise pushed to her feet, curling her toes inside her pumps to steady herself, when she realized she’d nearly turned her nose into the inviting haven of the older man’s crisp shirt and body heat.

But George didn’t move. He stood there, feet planted like tree trunks to the floor, watching her reaction. “What’s going on?”

Rubbing at the goose bumps revealed by her sleeveless dress, Elise shrugged off her confusion about the flowers as well as that sudden and inexplicable urge to take shelter against her boss’s chest. “I have no idea.”

George tossed the file onto her desk and quickly inspected the bouquet. “You don’t know who these are from?” He didn’t give her time to answer. “Did you recognize the caller on the phone?”

Elise shook her head. “I think it was a man’s voice, but he was whispering. I could barely hear him. I would have thought it was a wrong number, but he…asked about the flowers. At least, I think that’s what he meant. He didn’t actually say ‘flowers.’”

“I didn’t catch a company logo on the deliveryman’s shirt. Did you?” George was already headed for the hallway before she realized his intent. “I’ll check with Shane at the front desk to see if he remembers the uniform. He should have logged him in, so we can at least get a name and who he works for. Then we can call and find out who ordered them.”

Elise hurried after George, stopping him with a hand on his arm before he got out the door. “You don’t have to go to all that trouble.”

“Clearly, not knowing where these came from has upset you.” He turned to face her. “I may spend my days balancing numbers and taking meetings, but I’m still a cop. I know when something doesn’t smell right, and I remember how to track down a lead.”

“But there’s no crime here, Commissioner. And it’s not your job to take care of me.” As easy as it would be to let him find answers for her, Elise knew he had more important things to worry about than her self-conscious paranoia about mysterious romantic gestures. “If anything, I’m supposed to take care of you. I’ll talk to Shane before I leave this evening.” She nodded toward his office. “Besides, you’re keeping the councilman and precinct chiefs waiting, and with this weather crisis, tempers are already shorter than usual. You need to return to your meeting.”

“You’re sure?” He glanced down at the spot where her pale fingers still clung to his tanned, muscular forearm.

Feeling her cheeks heat with embarrassment, Elise snatched her fingers away from the lingering contact and went back to her desk. “These could have been delivered to me by mistake. I’m probably just making trouble for myself by worrying about it.”

It was a flimsy excuse, and George wasn’t buying it. “The price of that bouquet is an awfully expensive mistake to make. Plus, the deliveryman called you by name.”

This wouldn’t be the first time she’d had to deal with an unwanted suitor or suffer the repercussions of a relationship mistake. She didn’t have a good track record with men. But she certainly didn’t want the boss she respected, and whose opinion of her she valued, to find out what a failure she was in her personal life. Whether this was someone’s pathetic attempt to worm his way back into her good graces, a poorly timed coincidence or just a bad joke—she didn’t want her problems to ever become a concern for George or the deputy commissioner’s office.

Elise’s gaze landed on the stack of pink message papers on her blotter. She circled the desk to pick them up and hand them to him. “You have three messages to handle when your meeting is done. Denton Hale has phoned twice. He wants a private meeting without the other union reps regarding possible staff cuts.” Running interference between her boss and disgruntled officers and citizens was part of her job, and Elise had no problem doing it. Still, she felt a pang of sympathy, knowing how difficult a police officer’s job could be without having to worry about money. “If we don’t get extra funding from the city, some of the officers and support staff are going to be laid off, right?”

“It’s a possibility,” he answered honestly. “The city is pouring a lot of money into their infrastructure right now. I hope we can keep the personnel budget in check through attrition and simply not hire replacements for this year’s retirees. I pray that’s enough to avoid a strike. Hale isn’t the only police officer worried about his job.”

Elise nodded her understanding. “But he seems to be more worried than any of the others. He’s pretty chatty on the phone. I said I’d have to discuss it with you before I scheduled it.”

“Elise. What’s wrong with the flowers?”

Without answering, she moved on to the next message. “Cliff Brandt from the city power district says his people have received more threats in response to the brownouts and power outages. He wants to know the result of this meeting as soon as you do. He’s reluctant to let his people go out on calls unprotected, especially at night. And Mrs. Madigan said it was urgent that you return her call by five.”

George was smart enough to see her diversionary tactic for what it was. But he played along, respecting her unspoken request to let the mystery of the flowers drop. “Don’t stick my nose into your business, right?” Familiar lines bracketed his mouth again as he sorted through the messages. “Schedule Hale for tomorrow. Get Brandt on the phone for me in thirty minutes—it’ll help me wrap up this meeting.” He tucked the notes into his shirt pocket. “And Courtney’s my ex-wife, not Mrs. Madigan. She gave up the right to use my name a decade ago when she said she couldn’t be married to a street cop anymore. Any clue what she wants this time?”

Elise’s attention shifted from the troublesome flowers to the weary sigh in George’s tone. “A street cop?”

“I know. Hard to imagine, isn’t it? I keep my sidearm locked in my desk and carry home budget reports instead of case files.” He buttoned his collar and straightened the knot of his tie, although he didn’t touch the rolled-up sleeves. “But I did my time in Vice and Narcotics once I made detective. I got into administration because I thought the desk job would make her happy. Turned out I had a knack for paper pushing and bottom lines so I stayed with it, even after she left.”

Elise frowned, surprised to hear faint echoes of resignation and regret in his voice. “You still wear a badge. You’re still KCPD. A lot of people in the department count on you to do your job—even if your ex-wife doesn’t appreciate that.”

George nodded at her show of support, even as he dismissed it. “There was more than my job wrong with our marriage.” He picked up the folder he’d set down without elaborating any further. “When Court calls back, and she will—since she dropped Madigan, she must want something pretty badly—you can refer to her as Ms. Reiter.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Commissioner Madigan?” Henry Johnson’s voice was shrill and impatient, calling from his office.

George’s chest expanded with a deep breath. He checked his watch. “It’s almost four o’clock. Why don’t you close up shop out here. As soon as I wrap up this meeting and connect with Cliff Brandt, you can head home early. I’ll lock up.”

Although Elise appreciated the kind gesture, and knew she needed to go home to let Spike out into the backyard for a romp, the otherwise empty expanses of her torn-up house with its two overworked window air conditioners didn’t seem particularly inviting right now. What if that phone call hadn’t been a mistake and exactly twenty-three roses were meant for her? What if that ghostly voice was leaving a message on her personal answering machine or voice mail right now?

Even the unlucky coincidence of these flowers coming from James or some other old boyfriend wasn’t exactly comforting. That meant her “no thanks” on a relationship hadn’t registered, and that she had another long conversation, if not an outright confrontation, to look forward to this evening.

Right now, work—and the confines of her nicely appointed, if slightly humid, office—seemed more of a solace than the paint cans, phone calls or potential surprise visits that might be waiting for her at home.

“If it’s all right, I’d like to stay here—I need to type up the notes for your speech at the annual officers retirement luncheon.”

George groaned. “That damned speech. If Commissioner Cartwright-Masterson wasn’t expecting her first grandchild…”

Elise smiled and shooed him toward his office. “The commissioner wouldn’t have asked you to take her place on the podium if she didn’t trust you to represent her and the department in stellar fashion.”

“That doesn’t mean you need to stay late just to make me sound good at the banquet. I’ll work on it. You get out of here and enjoy the AC someplace where you actually have to put on a sweater because it’s so cold.”

Instead of laughing at what she assumed was a joke, she offered him a half truth. “Sounds tempting, but…I’m getting out of an unwanted date tonight with an old friend. The excuse I gave for not meeting him for dinner was that I had to work late. Do you mind?”

George arched one of his dark brows in a skeptical frown. “Maybe that unwanted date is who sent the flowers. Could be he’s trying to change your mind.”

“It won’t.”

“You should still ask him.”

Elise considered the possibility. Maybe she would give James a call. But later, so he wouldn’t think she’d changed her mind about his dinner invitation. “I’ll check with Shane first and call the desk downstairs if he doesn’t have the florist’s name.”

Shaking his head, George headed for his office. “Fine. I’ll alibi you out. Tell Mr. Unwanted that your boss is an old curmudgeon who works your fingers until they bleed and doesn’t allow you a personal life.”

Elise smiled at the self-effacing comment and watched him walk away, idly noting that there was nothing old or curmudgeonly about the way his shirt hugged his powerful build. And though she knew he was more than a dozen years her senior, the lines beside his eyes and salt-and-pepper hair only added to the air of seasoned authority and masculinity he wore like a second skin. There was no mistaking George Madigan for a boyish college sweetheart or a duplicitous charmer who’d prey on her vulnerable feelings to get what he wanted from her. He was an old-school, straightforward, get-the-job-done man’s man.

After an unintentional betrayal that had nearly cost her former boss at Gallagher Security Systems and his family their lives, Elise knew she was lucky to have this job. And although Quinn Gallagher claimed he didn’t blame her for any of the mess that had nearly destroyed him, Elise knew she could have saved him a lot of trouble if she’d been thinking with her head instead of a broken heart. Turning in her resignation to the man she’d loved but could never have had been the right thing to do. But picking up the pieces of her life again hadn’t been easy.

With that kind of personal and professional track record, Elise was grateful to have this well-paying, well-respected position doing meaningful work for the department and Kansas City. The deputy commissioner’s faith in her had done more to heal her self-esteem and rebuild her trust in men than any self-help book could. That’s all she should be focusing on. Noticing that George Madigan was an attractive man, noticing anything more than him as a fair leader and kind friend, could only lead to the sort of trouble she didn’t need in her life.

So she ignored those little frissons of awareness that warmed her blood and sat down to work. “Thank you, sir.”

He paused at the door, exhaling an audible sigh before glancing over his shoulder at her. “It’s ‘George’ when it’s just you and me talking. Okay? ‘Sir’ makes me feel like an old man.”

Not a chance.

But before Elise could do something foolish like tell him he was a fit man in his prime, Henry Johnson shouted from his office again. “Deputy Commissioner? Today?”

With a smile that was part relief, part sympathy, Elise shooed him on his way. “You’d better not keep him waiting any longer. You want to win his support, remember?”

George paused with his hand on the doorknob, looking as if he had something more to say. Instead of speaking to Elise, though, he opened the door. “I got the file I needed, Henry. Now let’s compare the costs of prevention strategies versus…”

When the door closed behind him, Elise turned to her computer and pulled up the memos he’d sent her for distribution and started proofing and addressing them. With the discussion on the other side of George’s door now muted, she worked in relative silence for several minutes.

But the bouquet was casting a shadow over her workspace, drawing her attention away from her keyboard and screen. Maybe she should take the time now to walk down the hall to chat with Shane Wilkins, the floor officer. Or maybe she could spare a few minutes to call James. Or her parents. Do a little investigating on her own.

Elise rose in a huff and picked up the heavy glass vase to move the roses out of sight on the counter behind her desk. “Or maybe I should just get my work done and deal with you later. I know a nice hospital where you’ll be very happy and greatly appreciated,” she said to the flowers as she set them down.

With that much of a plan in mind, Elise sat down to finish the memos and save them for George’s final sign-off in the morning.

Do you like my gift?

The breathy whisper seeped into her thoughts to distract her again. Who else knew that her murdered mobster lover had sent her twenty-three roses, thanking her for the unintended pillow talk regarding her former employer, making a mockery of the way she’d given her heart and body to him? Or was this just an unfortunate coincidence that she was turning into something more sinister?

Lots of people got roses every day. Red ones, pink ones, yellow ones—any color of the rainbow for any occasion or no reason at all. They didn’t mean anything other than “congratulations” or “get well” or “thinking of you.”

So why did it feel as though someone was looking over her shoulder now?

Elise spun her chair around and gazed at the hated gift. Then she picked it up and set the vase back on her desk.

Better to keep the things that worried her in plain sight than to let them sneak up and nearly ruin her life again.

   

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FREE BONUS READ
 
 
TACTICAL ADVANTAGE
(Excerpt)
By
Julie Miller
©2013
 
 

 

 
 

Epilogue

 
 
1 1/2 months later
 
            “Reitzie.”  Annie lifted the lazy Siamese from the domino tumble of picture frames on the mantel where he was lounging while Nick carried up their overnight bags from their weekend getaway to St. Louis.  She set the cat on the floor and shooed him off to find where his counterpart, G.B., was hiding.
            In between unbuttoning her coat and untying the pink scarf that Grandma Connie had knit for her, she straightened one beloved picture after another.  When she reached the mutilated photo from the Baseball Hall of Fame, she smiled.  Without feeling one pang of regret, she opened up her paisley messenger bag and pulled out one of the souvenir post cards she’d bought on their trip and quickly swapped out the old picture for the new one.  She crumpled the memory of her ex-fiancé in her fist and tossed it into the trash.
            “There.”  Annie was admiring the new picture of Busch Stadium in St. Louis, and the new memory it represented, when Nick came in.  He locked the door behind him and hung up their coats.  She pulled the new picture on the mantel to a more prominent position.  “That’s better.”
            Nick came up behind her to wind an arm around her waist and doff a salute to the statue of Stan ‘the Man’ Musial.  “Much better.  Maybe Stan and your dad are up in heaven playing some catch right now.”
            Feeling a pang of melancholy, Annie leaned back against his solid warmth, and found even more comfort when he slipped the other arm around her as well, and pressed a kiss against her cheek.  The sadness quickly passed and she folded her hands over his, soaking in all the miraculous changes in her life since that fateful New Year’s Eve.
            She had a reason to celebrate the holidays now.
            She had a family--one that was bigger, crazier, more accepting and loving than any she could have imagined for herself.
            She wasn’t alone anymore.
            She had Nick.
            On New Year’s Day, Nick Fensom had promised her seventy-two hours of personal protection and free chauffeur’s service.  Now, he’d promised her a lifetime together.
            Annie held up her left hand and marveled at the beauty and symbolism of the simple diamond solitaire he’d given her on Valentine’s Day.
            He cupped her outstretch hand in his, angling it to catch the light in each facet.  “Happy?”
            She nodded.  “More than I have been in...”  She laced her fingers with his and pulled his arm back to complete the snug warmth of the embrace.  “...I don’t know how long.  You gave me a family, Nick.  You make me feel like I belong somewhere, like I belong to someone, like I’m never going to feel alone again. 
            “Yeah, but do you love me?”
            “Of course, I do.”
            “Well, a guy wonders, you know, because, um... technically, you never said yes.”
            Annie spun around in his arms, mortified.  “I didn’t?”
            Despite the grin, he was shaking his head as he twirled a lock of her hair between his index finger and thumb.  “As I recall, you burst into tears, blubbered some stuff about how happy your dad would be that I asked you to marry me in front of Musial’s statue, and then you started kissing me.”  Annie arched a skeptical brow as his handsome blue eyes met hers and the Irish bluster continued.  “Now, while I’m not opposed to that sort of activity, sometimes you’re hard to read--and it can be a little tricky on a man’s ego not to be entirely sure.”
            Annie caught his face between her hands.  “Do you really have any doubts about how much I love you?  What was it you once told me?  You’ll know when I make a promise to you.”
            “Pretty pithy stuff, huh?”
            She pulled his face closer to hers and stroked her thumb across his mouth.  “Then let me make this promise to you, Nicholas Fensom--I love you.  I need you in my life.  I want to be your wife.”  She stretched up to press a kiss to his lips before standing back to raise her right hand and lay her left over his heart.  “In front of Mom, Dad, Stan and the cats... my answer is yes.”
            Nick’s grin was devilish as he wound his arms around her and pulled her hips up against his.  “I liked all the kissing better.”
            “You...”  She smacked his shoulder, taking care to avoid the newly healed wound that could have killed him when he saved her life.  The crime lab building was under repair as well, and both the detective and the lab were back at work.  “You’re terrib--”
            With a laugh, Nick’s mouth covered hers, ending the teasing, demanding that she prove with her heart and body what her words had already confessed.  And Annie willingly accepted the challenge.  Nick slid his deliciously warm hands beneath her sweater and dipped his tongue into her mouth.  Annie’s fingers went to the hem of Nick’s shirt, untucking it from his jeans, taking the same liberties to stroke and touch and grab that he took with her.
            His thighs crowded against her, driving her back into the arm of the sofa.  Annie wrapped her arms around his neck and turned, steering him around the couch.  He pulled her along with him a couple of steps, drawing his tongue along that sensitive bundle of nerves beneath her ear.  “I love the way your mind thinks.”
            “I love the way your--”  He gently nipped the spot and Annie gasped, shuddering with desire.
            She tugged on his belt buckle as Nick’s seductive assault backed her into the wall.  His hands were under her sweater again, making it difficult to recall the rest of her sentence.  But the power of his kiss, the need of his hands, the hardness of his body made her realize that words were no longer necessary.  The tension that had simmered between them from their very first meeting blazed into white-hot passion.  They were yin and yang.  Opposites attracting and completing each other.  Perfectly in sync.  Perfect together.
            Nick pulled her away from the wall to sweep the sweater off over her head, exposing her torso to the chilly air of her apartment.  But he palmed her bottom and lifted her up against him, singeing her body with the solid heat of his.  Annie wrapped her legs around his hips as he reclaimed her mouth and stumbled to the bedroom.  There, in a flurry of dropping clothes and stolen kisses, they fell onto the bed together.
            There was no more teasing, no more debate, no more doubt about the unexpected love they’d found together.  Nick sheathed himself and settled between her legs as Annie impatiently drew him down on top of her.  There was nothing wounded about his compact, beautifully toned body beyond the scar on his shoulder.  He was fit and fine and sexier than than the box score of a perfect game as he began to move inside her.
            His fingers tangled into her hair as he thrust himself in to the hilt and whispered against her ear.  “I love you, Annie.  I love you.”
            Believing that promise with all her heart, she let go and flew over the edge into pure bliss with him.
                                                                        #
            The cats had joined them in bed, anchoring the quilt around Annie’s toasty feet, when stereo pagers went off sometime later.  She startled awake, pushing aside cats and covers to reach for her phone on the bedside table while Nick rolled to sit up on his side to retrieve his phone from his jeans on the floor.
            “It’s work.”  They announced in unison.
            “I’ll call in.”  Nick pulled on his shorts and jeans and tossed her the pants she’d worn earlier.  “You get some clothes on before you distract me again.”
            As alert and worried as she’d been replete and content moments earlier, she quickly dressed.  A call from Dispatch before the sun was up could never be a good thing.  The grim look on Nick’s face echoed as much as he called his partner’s number.
            “Spence?  It’s Nick.”  Annie tiptoed around the bed and Nick circled his arm around her, drawing her close.  “Yeah, we’re both here.”
            Annie caught most of the conversation with the task force commander, and was glad she’d packed her spare kit in the back of Nick’s Jeep.  The men the Cleaner had blackmailed into killing Annie and destroying evidence were either dead or jailed.  The only one who’d survived the assault on the crime lab had been unable to give them a usable description of the woman who’d recruited him because all the arrangements, from impersonating police officers to infiltrating the lab, had gone through Raj Kapoor.  But, thanks to her and Nick, they had a trace sample to identify the rapist’s blood type, and a fingerprint they could match to the Cleaner--once they got the right suspect in custody.  It was evidence that could help put them both away in prison for a very, very long time.
            But the grim report from Spencer Montgomery reminded them both that there was more work to be done.  Nick ended the call and pressed a kiss to Annie’s temple.
            “Time to go to work, slugger.”  He strapped on his gun and his badge.  “The Rose Red Rapist has struck again.  We’ve got another crime scene.”

 


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