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with USA TODAY Bestselling Author 

Julie Miller!


NOVEMBER Book GiveAway!

Bad Girl by Julie Miller

Congratulations to Donna Santos and Leanna Bonneau! Maggie selected these two readers as the winners of my October Book GiveAway contest. Donna chose a copy of my brand new NOIR release, BAD GIRL, and Leanna chose a print copy of my 50th Harlequin, CROSSFIRE CHRISTMAS. It was fun to see how each title intrigued readers. Thanks to all the entrants who shared their valuable opinions with me!

Since CROSSFIRE CHRISTMAS and BAD GIRL are both on sale and easy for readers to get their hands on right now, I thought I’d offer a harder to find copy of HEROES OF S.W.A.T. as the prize in my November Book GiveAway. HEROES OF S.W.A.T. is the 2-in-1 reissue of two of my Precinct books featuring those uber-protective S.W.A.T. cops.

To enter, just email me your answer to this question:
What is your favorite kind of romantic suspense hero?

Deadline to enter is November 24th.
And please enjoy the excerpts from







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 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.


Nov. 1 - 30th

Nov. 3

Harlequin Intrigue NOIR Launch Party on Facebook  

Nov. 10 - 14

Intrigue NOIR Discussion at  



Julie in San Antonia, TX at the 2014 RWA National Conference


50 Book pin presentation is Craig Swinwood-CEO Harlequin Enterprises, Dianne Moggy-Editorial Director, HQ Ent, Moi, Leslie Kelly-fellow 50-book award recipient, Lorianna Sacilotto-VP, HQ Ent

Sitting beside me at the Harlequin party is Linda O. Johnston


BJ Daniels, Delores Fossen and me


Julie in Atlanta, GA at the 2013 RWA National Conference

Julie with good buddy B.J. Daniels

Delores Fossen, Julie Miller, B.J. Daniels



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.




Crossfire Christmas by Julie Miller


Copyright  ©2014 by Julie Miller

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










Teresa drummed her gloved fingers against the steering wheel and hummed along with the Christmas music on the radio while she waited at the stoplight.

She tilted her gaze up to the big flakes of snow drifting from the charcoal sky into the light from the streetlamps. “See, Emilia?” She taunted the invisible big sister she felt arching a warning eyebrow over her shoulder. “Shopping’s done. Traffic’s fine and I’m on my way home with nary a problem whatsoever. And I did it all by my little lonesome.”

Not like a couple hours of defiant refusal to heed Emilia’s warning and go straight home in the nasty weather could really quell the nagging, indulgent voices of her siblings in her head.

Youre so good with children, but if you want any of your own, youll have to get serious about a man first. Id already had Olivia and Maria by the time I was your age. A girl cant wait forever.

But she could wait for the right one.

My husband has a friend I want to introduce you to. He has a good job at the college business office and hes stable.

Dullsville. Sounded like another overprotective trap in the making.

You should move closer to us. Theyre building new condos across the street. And its a better neighborhood.

She liked her apartment—had it decorated just the way she wanted. The neighborhood might not be prime real estate, but there were some good people living in her building. Besides, big brother AJ had taught each of his sisters, wife and nieces the basics of self-defense and personal safety. She could take care of herself.

I dont want you driving without an emergency kit in your car, especially in winter. Flashlight? Jumper cables? Kitty litter? Make an appointment to get the tires rotated, too.

Done, done and done. Even before AJ, Emilia, Luisa or Ana had all mentioned reminders about winter driving safety to her.

Just because she longed for her family’s respect for her choices and a little bit of independence in her life, didn’t mean she was a naive fool. An optimist, yes. A resourceful go-getter. A hopeless holiday lover. But not a fool.

“Why can’t they see that?”

The light turned green and Teresa cranked up the radio, turning her thoughts to something more pleasant. Like sugar cookies. And wrapping gifts.

She drove through the intersection after the cars ahead of her turned off toward the highway, and she continued on to the back-road shortcut to her neighborhood. The busy roads and businesses open late for holiday shopping gave way to country homes on hilly acreages. Then civilization thinned out to a recycling center and a shooting range. Finally, she was winding through woods and farmland. She’d pass through about two miles of bare trees reaching up like dark, gnarled fingers in the foggy twilight and pretty hillsides of undisturbed snow.

Although the twisting road was more dangerous than the straight lanes of bypasses and city streets, she loved this drive, especially in the winter. When the stars were out and the moon was full, it could be as bright as all the holiday lights on the Plaza. And on cold, damp evenings like this, with big flakes of snow swirling in and out of the shadows, it conjured up images of gothic romance, with mysterious heroes, hidden castles and storm-swept moors.

Teresa was imagining a castle hidden behind the frosted branches of the trees when she crested the hill and saw the tire tracks cutting through the snow at the side of the road. Automatically, she pumped her brakes and slowed, peering over the edge of the blacktop.

“Oh, my God.”

A silent alarm tightened her grip around the steering wheel. She braked again and pulled onto the shoulder for a closer look, angling her headlights toward the trees.

The tracks ran down into the ditch and up the next incline, leading to a black pickup truck that had finally been stopped short by the trunk of an old pine.

The truck’s lights were on. The plume of exhaust making a black spot in the churned-up snow meant the engine was still running. The accident was recent. Or else the driver wasn’t able to turn off the motor.…

Gamberro is your middle name. Despite her sister’s teasing, Teresa didn’t believe she caused that much difficulty or misfortune. But she wasn’t about to walk away from trouble like this when there was something she could do to help.

Teresa clicked on her hazard lights and pulled her cell phone from her pocket. She glanced ahead at the dark road. She checked the pavement behind her in her mirrors—equally dark. A curtain of falling snow seemed to mask her and the accident below from the rest of the world.

Had the driver called for help yet? Was he or she even able to call?

Taking a deep breath, Teresa pulled the hood of her parka up over her dark hair and unbuckled her seat belt. She pulled out the flashlight AJ had insisted she keep in her glove compartment and braced herself for the blast of winter outside. Deciding to leave the engine and heater running in case the driver was able to move and needed a warm place to sit and wait for a tow truck, she climbed out and circled to the front of her car.

Dots of blowing snow melted on her cheeks and nose and obscured her vision as she huddled inside her coat.

“Hello?” Her shout was swallowed up by the cold, damp air. Her flashlight was too small to pierce the gloom at this distance. “Is anyone in the truck?”

Her sigh formed a puffy cloud in the air. The snow was knee-deep for a woman who was only five-three. And even though she’d changed from her work clogs to wool-lined ankle boots, she knew they wouldn’t be tall enough to get her past that first drift where the road crew had piled snow when they’d scraped the road.

“What’s a little wet and cold, anyway?” she dared herself, tightening her scarf against the biting wind.

She punched in 911, put the phone to her ear and plunged into the shallowest part of the drift. By the third step, she was sinking in up to her thighs, and the snow quickly chilled her through the scrubs and long underwear she wore. When she lifted each foot, she scooped the icy crystals into her boots, where they melted, wetting her socks and freezing her skin.

The dispatch operator answered. “This is 911. What is the nature of your emergency?”

“I need to report a vehicle off in the ditch by… Oh, heck.” Teresa glanced back up the hill. Since she’d been daydreaming, she had no idea how far she’d come or how close she was to reaching the nearest subdivision. “I’m somewhere along old Lee’s Summit Road—between the medical center and 40 Highway. On the east side.”

“Are you in the vehicle?”

“No, I just drove up on the accident.” She broke through the snow at the bottom of the ditch and stepped into ankle-deep slush that soaked her to the skin in icy water. Her teeth chattered through the dispatcher’s next question. “I’m sorry, what?”

“Is there anyone inside the truck?”

Teresa’s wet feet left her shivering as she climbed out of the ditch. “Just a minute. Let me check.”

She tilted her flashlight up to inspect the damaged vehicle. The driver’s-side window was down—no, it was missing. It must have shattered with the impact of the crash, leaving tiny blunt shards along its bottom edge. Still, with the coming night and no light on inside the cab, she couldn’t make out any driver or passenger. Not for the first time in her life, she silently cursed her diminutive height. When she reached the door of the jacked-up truck, she was too short to see in.

“Hello?” she called again. She reached up and tried the handle, but it was locked. She knocked on the door panel. “Is anyone in there?”

No response.

“Just a sec,” she warned the dispatcher. Finding a safe spot to grasp the edge of the open window, she tucked the flashlight into her pocket, stepped onto the running board and pulled herself up. Madre Dios.

There was a man inside, slumped over the steering wheel. His dark blond hair was frosty with moisture. There was blood oozing from a knot on his forehead, and his skin was far too pale.

“Sir?” The ice cubes of her toes and the woman on the phone were forgotten as alarm, compassion and her years of training kicked in. “Sir?” She stuck the tip of her wool glove into her mouth and pulled it off with her teeth. She slipped two fingers beneath the collar of his padded leather jacket and pressed them to the side of his neck. Even with the thick jacket and the heater running, his skin was cold to the touch. But she could feel a pulse. It was faint and erratic, but it was there. “You’re alive.” She spat out the glove and raised her voice for the dispatcher to hear. “He’s alive.”

Pushing up onto her frozen toes, she gently leaned him back against the seat. With a groan, his head lolled toward his shoulder. A quick glance across the cab revealed a heavy nylon duffel bag but no other passenger to worry about.

“One victim,” she reported. Hooking her arm inside the door to free her hands, she reached across his lap to turn off the ignition and saw more blood staining the front of his coat and the left leg of his jeans. “How fast were you going?” she mused out loud, wondering at the extent of his injuries. The wreck hadn’t looked that bad from the road. Plus, he was still wearing his seat belt.

An answering moan silenced the random thoughts and she moved her chilled fingers to his face, willing him to open his eyes. “Sir? Hey. I’m a nurse. I'm here to help.” She pushed aside the damp spikes of straw-colored hair on his forehead to inspect the gash there. It might need a bandage, but no way could it account for all this blood. She pushed open one eyelid, then the other. Honey-brown irises looked back at her, trying to focus. She smiled. Good. Probably no concussion, then. “I need you to talk to me. I’m Teresa. What’s your name?”

His pale lips drew together. “Don’t need a candy striper, kid. Run along.”

His speech was slurred. But it could be from the cold.

Kid? A little defensive fire crept into her veins before common sense reminded her to ignore the dig. The man was in trouble and needed her assistance. “I’m a registered nurse and you’re badly hurt. You want me to hike back to the road to get my hospital ID or do you want me to help?”

“Bossy little thing,” he muttered. His eyes blinked open again, long enough to assess her face. “You’re…nurse?”

“What’s your name?” she repeated.

He inhaled a quick breath, gritted his teeth, then squeezed the words out. “Charles. I’m Charles.”

“Like Charlie? Or Mr. Charles? No, don’t close your eyes.” She cupped her palm against the sandy beard stubble on his jaw. “Keep looking at me. Can you tell me where you’re hurt?”

He pulled his left hand from his lap and grabbed the steering wheel. By sheer will, his vision seemed to sharpen and his gaze dropped to the phone tucked to her ear. “Is that 911?”

“Yes.” When he reached for it, she handed it over. “Good idea. You can tell them exactly what hap— What are you doing? Give me my—”

“No cops.” He disconnected the call and tossed her phone onto the dashboard. With a jerky shift of his broad shoulders, he pulled his right hand from beneath the duffel bag.

“¡Oh, mi Dios!”

He had a gun.

Teresa instinctively recoiled, but before she could jump off the running board, a big gloved hand anchored her arm to the door with surprising strength. “Let go!”

His fingers tightened around her wrist, trapping her beside him as he pounded her phone with the butt of the wicked-looking pistol, smashing it into pieces.


And then he turned the barrel of the gun on her. Bleeding Charles tilted his eyes up to the shoulder of the road. His voice was raspy, deep. “That your car, kid?”

Teresa’s answer was a frozen gasp in the cold air. “Yes.”

The gun barely wavered as he pushed open the door, forcing her into the snow. She landed on her butt and slid down the hill a few inches, but her bare hand, numb toes and panic slowed her efforts to scramble back onto her feet. He swung one long leg out, then the other, his black cowboy boots sinking into the snow, his breath hitching when his feet hit solid ground. Leaning against the cab for support, he pulled the duffel bag across the seat and tossed it at her. It hit her square in the stomach, knocking her onto her bottom again.

Judging by its weight and rattle, whatever was inside was heavy and metal and… “Son of a…” More guns.

Teresa shoved the bag away and climbed onto her knees, letting gravity pull her down into the ditch, farther away from the bleeding man, until she could find solid ground and bolt away.

She’d come to the aid of some drug dealer or gunrunner or mass murderer.

She was the one in trouble.

“I’d stop if I were you.”

The ominous double click of a bullet sliding into the chamber of his automatic weapon rang clear in the crisp, frigid air, spurring her to her feet.

“I said stop!”

The deafening report of a gunshot froze her in her tracks. Teresa pushed her hood away from her face and turned her head, lifting her gaze to the tall, pale man with the narrowed eyes and bloody coat.

The mysterious Charles-slash-Mr. Charles was still leaning against the truck to hold himself up. But the gun he’d fired into the tree behind him was steaming in the cold air. The smell of sulfur filled her nose as he pulled the weapon down to aim it right at her. “Don’t get any idea that you’re going to run from me.” His raspy, low-pitched threat was a whispery cloud in the night air. “Now you’re going to pick up that bag and get me the hell out of here.”





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Bad Girl by Julie Miller


(Harlequin Intrigue NOIR)

Copyright  ©2014 by Julie Miller

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





Chapter One
            Doreen Riley sat in her dark car beneath the harsh glow of neon lights and street lamps, staring at the wrinkled old photo in her hand. There wasn’t much she valued from her childhood, even fewer mementos she treasured.
            This picture of her and her younger sister, Megan, taken at some Fourth of July picnic in the years before Sal Fusco had entered their lives, was one of the few items she’d taken with her the night she’d run away nine years ago. She brushed her thumb over the image of her sister’s strawberry-blond hair, feeling a stab of guilt—along with something darker, angrier, and something decidedly more ruthless—curling in the pit of her stomach.
            Riley—only her family and people she didn’t care to know called her Doreen—looked up from her past and surveyed the world outside her windshield. Rain fogged up the autumn night, making the sidewalks and pavements shiny, creating numerous places in the alleys and corners of this downtown Kansas City street for the cockroaches and lowlifes to hide.
            Surfing through online porn sites that had left her skin crawling, and putting questions to old friends and enemies she’d known from her time on the streets, had all led her here, to the posh gentleman’s club called After Dark. A sandblasted brick building, with etched glass windows and a double front door, velvet drapes with gold trim, and a side door off the parking lot sporting a secret panel reminiscent of a 1920’s speakeasy made After Dark look like a modern, no-expense-spared homage to times gone by.
            But she was certain there was more to After Dark than a million-dollar renovation and a discreet ambience that promised titillating fun and an assurance of privacy for its paying customers. Rumors she trusted more than the online newspaper articles she’d researched warned her there was more than a legitimate trade in alcohol and lap dances happening here.
            And if this was where Megan had ended up…
            “It’s getting bad, Dee.”
            “Has he hurt you?”
            “Not yet. I keep my door locked or spend the night at Nate’s.” Riley didn’t think her teenage sister’s twentysomething boyfriend was much of an alternative to their stepfather, Sal. But when Megan had phoned her at 4:00 a.m., talking in hushed whispers so she wouldn’t be overheard, Riley sensed it was better to listen than to preach. “But something’s wrong.”
            “Besides Sal’s perverted inability to keep his hands to himself?”
            “More than that. He’s not just drinking and pretending like none of us knows what’s going on. He’s gambling again.” That meant he was losing money. “He’s angry. A lot. And he’s taking it out on Mom. I called the cops on him last night.”
            Like they’d listen. “Did she press charges?”
            “What do you think?”
            Shit. “You can’t protect her, Megan. She didn’t have to go back to him. I offered her a way out.” Once Riley had gotten off the streets, landed a job and found an apartment, that had been her first call. “Do you need a place to stay? You know my door is always open. For Mom, too. I’m not afraid of that son of a bitch anymore.”
            “I’ll try to talk to her. I’m going over to Nate’s after school.”
            Okay, so she’d earned the right to preach a little. “Sweetie, if he’s back with his old friends, you can’t be with him, either.”
            “Nate’s been clean for months now. And he’s really sweet and protective when he’s sober.”
            Riley had buried her face in her pillow and groaned. She could see the same pattern happening all over again. Riley might be alone, but at least she was nobody’s punching bag or codependent or… No. Sal Fusco wasn’t even an acknowledgment in her random thoughts anymore.
            She sat up on the edge of her bed, not bothering to hide her concern for Megan. “Keep me in the loop. You know where my spare key is, right? Even if I’m at class or work, and you need to get away, you come on over and make yourself at home. Okay, sweetie?”
            “I will. I’ll talk to Mom before Sal gets home from work and call you tonight.”
            Only, Megan had never called.
            Not that night.
            Not any night, day or in between for three days now.
            Megan was gone. Missing without a trace.
            No one at her high school and none of the friends Riley had talked to had seen her.
            Nate Osborn, Megan’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, claimed she’d been talking about going away to a school for some kind of modeling opportunity, but he hadn’t heard from her and didn’t know where she was. His clothes smelled like cat urine and his speech and gestures were manic enough that she knew he’d been using crystal meth again. She’d been half relieved that she hadn’t found Megan with him.
            Even a visit to the home she hadn’t been to for nine years to talk with her mother and rat’s ass of a stepfather about what might have prompted Megan’s disappearance hadn’t revealed a thing. Her mother had cried, spouting some nonsense about a modeling agent stealing her baby girl away for her fresh face, while Sal had poured himself another drink.
            There were no clothes or personal belongings missing from Megan’s room, indicating she’d left on a trip of her own free will. No money missing from her checking account to show she’d paid for a class or bought a bus ticket or even a square meal.
            She was just gone.
            Riley glanced down at the photograph of a happier time and swore at the irony of it all.
            KCPD had listed Megan as a teenage runaway. But Riley’s gut was telling her that wasn’t right. Riley was the runner. She was the bad seed who’d fought back against her stepfather’s twisted abuse and paid the price. Megan was the good sister. The responsible one who got top grades and kept a part-time job at a grocery store, in spite of the trouble at home. Megan was the one who’d stayed and tried to help after Riley had finally had enough and left for good.
            Riley knew about running away. She knew about living on the streets and supporting herself in necessary ways for two years until she’d saved up enough money to walk away and go back to school to get a decent job in an office while she earned her business degree.
            That was why she was here tonight.
            Megan wasn’t the only young woman to go missing in Kansas City apparently. Every rumor she’d managed to latch on to said that the answers to the mystery of the missing girls could be found right here.
            Riley knew this part of town. It was a haven for runaways and hard-luck cases needing to make a buck. For every bright light and renovated exterior, there were two shadows and a back alley where pretty much anything—or anyone—could be bought or sold for the right price.
            Her gaze drifted back to the gentleman’s club across the street. The velvet ropes where men lined up to gain entrance, and the dark wood blinds in the windows didn’t change a thing—After Dark was just a fancy name for a strip joint.
            But she suspected it was a different story behind the facade.
            Yes, there was a Mercedes-Benz, a BMW and two vintage muscle cars that had to be worth a pretty penny in the well-guarded private parking lot on the building’s west side. But the two bruisers at the gated entrance weren’t any typical valets taking tickets and parking cars. The blue-and-black security uniforms didn’t fool her.
            She’d chatted with counselors from homeless shelters, even an old friend she’d run into outside the Cheap Peep on the next block. Word on the street seemed to point to an illegal sex trade specializing in providing escorts of a young age or with a certain look—like Megan’s fresh face. Anyone who’d been willing to answer more specific questions had indicated that one of the trendiest nightclubs in the Kansas City area, After Dark, seemed to be the place where she’d find someone who might know about Megan—or at least answers about where she might look next to find where a missing eighteen-year-old strawberry-blonde who hadn’t shown up in the morgue might have gone.
            Riley also understood the laws of the street. No one around here would be anxious to answer a lot of questions, especially from an outsider.
            So she was going to revisit that part of her life she’d hoped she’d left behind and make herself an insider. Again.
            The thought of what she was about to do made her cringe. Even after a lot of time and a lot of hard work, the memories still felt fresh. They made her raw inside. But she’d survived. She could harden herself against them.
            Because the thought that Megan might be going through the same thing—or something worse—would kill her.
            As ready for this charade as she was going to get, Riley hid the photograph inside the glove compartment. She didn’t want to arouse anyone’s suspicions about her real reason for being here. Plus, she’d learned the hard way not to get caught with anything sentimental that might reveal a vulnerability that could be used against her.
            After locking up both the picture and her emotions, Riley unbuttoned her sweater down to a glimpse of her black-lace bra, pushed up her boobs to deepen her cleavage, and mussed her long auburn hair around her shoulders. A touch of ruby lipstick and a smack of her lips in the rearview mirror provided the final layer of armor. She was ready.
            Climbing out into the cool night air, she locked the car behind her and strode across the street to interview for a job that hadn’t even been listed.
            She spared a coy smile for the line of men who lacked the money and credentials to get in through the private side entrance. With a purposeful sway to her ass[AL1] , she waltzed past the hungry looks and catcalls and pushed open the double front doors to the din of music, clinking glasses and chatter.
            “Hold it, sweetheart.”
            The bouncer at the front counter rose from his stool and grabbed her arm as she went past. She was no shrimp at five-seven plus three-inch heels. But this bruiser with the shaved head and surly attitude towered over her by half a foot as he pulled her back to face him.
            “No one gets in without coming through me first,” he announced. His voice was deep-pitched, resonating through a square jaw and a prominent nose that had been broken at some point in his past. His brown eyes were dark and shining with suspicion beneath equally dark lashes.
            “Surely you aren’t carding me,” she challenged.
            His gaze traveled up and down her body without apology or flicker of appreciation before he snorted a sound that must be his version of a laugh. “You’re of age. What do you want?”
            His unfortunate looks were offset by the midnight pitch of his tough-guy drawl and the utter masculinity of his imposing build. Riley ignored a traitorous ripple of feminine awareness at his brawny strength and bold assessment. Focusing on the bear paw locked on her arm, she offered up a dismissive smile. “I’m not here to talk to you, big boy. I’m here to see the man in charge. I’m interviewing for the bartending position. Mr. Russell is expecting me.”
            She’d gleaned the owner’s name from an online newspaper interview. Talking as though she knew someone usually convinced people that she did.
            “No, he’s not. Mr. Russell isn’t here.”
            “Oh.” She pursed her painted lips into a frown. “Do you know where he is? I said I was coming by this evening.”
            But the big brute wasn’t buying it. He wasn’t letting go, either. If anything, his fingers tightened above her elbow as he dipped his head toward hers. She heard his whisper loud and clear, despite the noise of the club. “What do you really want?”
            The man didn’t mince words. Was he this distrustful of everyone? Of women? Or maybe just her?
            Fine. Her bold sortie hadn’t worked. So she’d go straight to plan B and pour on the sexual distraction. If he liked to look, she’d show him. “I want a job. I don’t suppose you could help me, could you?”
            Riley shook her hair off her cheeks and pulled back her shoulders, giving him a clear view of the creamy swells of her breasts before she traced the barbed-wire tattoo circling his left biceps. She lingered on his warm skin, as if curious about the ink’s symbolism. Then she tiptoed her fingers up his broad chest to touch the dimple beside his mouth, realizing after she’d made contact with the rigid skin that it was the pucker of a scar, not a smile line. But she didn’t let his harsh features or shaved head dissuade her. Instead of pulling against his grip, she aligned her body more fully with his and let the tips of her breasts tease the swell of pectoral muscles beneath his snug brown T-shirt. And though her nipples puckered into hard beads at the intentional contact, he didn’t so much as bat an eye.
            Was this guy gay? Back in her street days, she’d pulled in fifty-dollar tips for giving a guy a similar show. Unused to the snub, she put her brain to work. Logically, she supposed a disinterest in making full-body contact with her girls was probably a good qualification for a club like After Dark, where security often meant protecting the women who worked there without getting involved with any of them.
            But she had more weapons in her arsenal to get what she wanted if seduction wouldn’t do the trick. Whatever this guy was into, she’d deliver it to get what she needed—access to the inner workings at After Dark…without this dedicated security chief getting her way.
            Riley retreated a step and gave the bouncer her best I-need-a-friend act. “I just got fired because I wouldn’t sleep with the boss. But I’ve still got bills to pay, and I like to eat at least once a day.” She tilted her green eyes up to his and used her free hand to tuck her hair behind her right ear for a more innocent, less outright flirtatious, look. “If Mr. Russell isn’t here, is there someone else I can talk to? I’m a good bartender. Guys like me.” She shrugged and tapped his chest in apology. “Most guys do, anyway.”
            At last the vise grip loosened and he turned his head toward a black-haired man wearing a suit with no tie. The short man was lecturing a cocktail waitress who was nearly in tears at the end of the bar. “You’ll want to talk to Rocky. He manages the place for Mr. Russell. No guarantees that you’ll get the job. Not even sure why you’d want to work here. But you can try.”
            “Thank you. I heard tips could be really good at After Dark.” Riley added a shy little twitch to her smile. “I just need a break.”
            At last he released her completely. He stuffed his fingers into the back pockets of his jeans, stretching the cotton of his shirt tightly across his chest and shoulders, creating an even more imposing wall of defense for the club. “Rocky’s in a mood tonight, so you be careful. I don’t like trouble.”
            She ignored the dig that he still suspected she might not be on the up and up. “Why is he in a mood?”
            A sharp rap at the door diverted his gaze for a second. “Hey, when can we get in?” the man at the front of the line shouted through the glass.
            “When I say so,” the bouncer answered, just loud enough and forcefully enough for the man to retreat behind the velvet rope.
            Riley glanced around the club, taking in the stools at the bar, the small tables around the U-shaped stage and the curtained-off private booths that lined one wall. It looked like the place was certainly full to capacity. The sex business was booming. Surely, someone here could answer her questions about Megan, and where a slender young beauty like her sister would go to follow a bogus modeling offer or to whom she’d turn for help when her home and her boyfriend were no longer safe places to be.
            Then the bruiser’s brown eyes were back on her to answer her question about the manager. “When things aren’t running smoothly, Rocky takes it out on whoever’s close by. So keep your distance.”
            “Thanks for the tip.” Riley shook her hair loose again and straightened the sleeve of her red sweater, making a show of exposing just enough cleavage to be sexy without looking like she was here for a job dancing up on the stage. Still no reaction from the Neanderthal. She was definitely leaning toward gay. What a waste of testosterone. “Wish me luck.”
            His hand was on her arm again. “If you get the job, you can stay. Otherwise, I want you out of here ASAP. After Dark isn’t a place for ladies.”
            Sweet. He thought she was a lady. So chivalry wasn’t dead. Not that she’d ever relied on a man to do the right thing by her. “You don’t have to protect me, Mr., um?”
            “Josiah Kemp.” He shook his head. “I’m not worried about your safety, sweetheart. I’m just doing my job. Mr. Russell wants the customers focusing on the women onstage and buying drinks. He doesn’t like distractions keeping the clientele from spending their money.”
            Ah, so maybe there was a chink in his male armor, after all. She pouted her lips into a smile. “You think I’m a distraction?”
            Nope. Her mistake. He touched two blunt fingers to her chin and turned her focus out to the soulful music, boozy smells, and velvet and brass, leather and dark wood appointments of the club. “Do you see any other women here? It’s staff only.”
            Riley glanced around at the colorful lights and secretive shadows. The only women she saw were cocktail waitresses in short shorts and too-tight jeans—and the dancer onstage with her leg wrapped around a pole, wearing little more than a G-string.
            When the stab of a memory tried to take her back in time, Riley quickly buried the thought and focused on the fact that not one of the women she saw was Megan. She wondered at the back doors on either side of the stage. Were there rooms back there for special customers? Maybe the ones driving the luxury cars and coming in the private side entrance? Could Megan be back there? Or inside one of the secluded booths?
            Her blood ran cold at the thought of her innocent little sister being subjected to the selfish whims of any one of the men here. “You don’t, um…” She lifted her chin from Josiah’s callused touch and tilted her face up to his. “The club doesn’t offer other types of entertainment besides drinking and…dancing, does it?”
            “What kind of question is that?” His dark eyes narrowed. “You’re going to be trouble for me, aren’t you?”
            A firm no would have been more reassuring. Riley chose not to respond to his suspicions. If there was something more sinister than sleazy going on at After Dark, and Megan had somehow gotten sucked into it… “I just need the job.”
            Doubt lingered in his eyes. “Don’t play me, sweetheart,” he warned. “I’ve got no problem tossing you out on your ass if I find out you’re up to something besides that ‘poor me’ shit.”
            Tough guys didn’t scare her. Of course, she’d never met one so immune to her charms before. But she’d figure out how to handle this one, too, if necessary. She arched an auburn brow. “It’s okay, Josiah. I don’t trust you, either.”
            The snippy statement earned her a chuckle and half a grin that bled into the rugged line of that scar beside his mouth. “I’m glad we understand each other.” He inclined his head toward the manager. “Go on. Give it your best shot.”
            Riley schooled the urge to breathe a sigh of relief. As she turned toward the bar, she caught Josiah’s gaze landing on her butt. Maybe he was just keeping an eye on a woman he didn’t trust. But her lips curled into a smile as the half-hooded gaze followed her weaving path through the tables.
            Sucker. You’re not so tough, after all. And he was definitely into women. Maybe even into her, especially, judging by the unblinking interest warming her backside. She just hadn’t offered him the right bargaining chip.
            Savoring the silent victory over at least one man here, Riley carried herself a little straighter, strutted a little harder. She had this. The bad girl who’d survived two years on the streets was alive and well, and about to make After Dark—and whatever secrets it could share about her sister—her own.
            She spied the short, muscular man who seemed to be in charge and sauntered right up to him. “Are you Rocky?”
            “I don’t want to hear any more complaints. Now go make the customers happy.” The manager swatted the rump of the waitress who was near tears at the end of their one-sided conversation and sent her on her way.
            The stab of compassion she felt for the dark-haired woman didn’t show anywhere on Riley’s full-lipped smile when he turned to face her. “I’m Rocky Calibrisi.” His gaze settled on her cleavage. “What can I do for you, sugar?”
            “I was hoping I could get a job tending bar. I’ve got lots of experience.” Riley raised her voice over the clinking of glass and chattering of voices around the bar. “The bouncer, Josiah, said you were the man in charge and I should talk to you.”
            His dark eyes met hers. “We’re not hiring, sugar. All our girls are on the stage or waiting tables. Go home.” He walked away from her to shake hands with two men at the end of the bar. “Are you gentlemen enjoying your evening?”
            Uh-uh. Doreen Riley didn’t give up that easily.
            As the friendly guy talk ensued between Rocky and his guests, she slipped beneath the gate at the end of the bar, dropped her purse beside one of the cash registers on the mirrored back wall and hurried past the bartender filling trays at the waitress station to join them.
            “Excuse me, gentlemen.” Riley poured on the flirt, and pointed to their watered down drinks. “Old-fashioned and a Colorado bulldog? Can I get you another?”
            The two men, maybe little more than college-aged, trust fund frat boys, were suddenly more interested in her than in Rocky.
            “You can get me anything you want, babe.”
            Trading sympathetic nods with the harried bartender, Riley quickly made fresh drinks and returned to the end of the bar. She removed the used glasses, wiped away the condensation on the bar top and slid the fresh drinks in front of the frat boys. Both of them slapped bills on the counter, eager to make an impression on her.
            Riley looked beyond them to the short man in the light gray suit. “That’ll be…?”
            Rocky nodded approvingly. “Four-fifty each.”
            The young man who’d laid down a twenty pushed it across the bar. “Keep the change.”
            “Thanks.” Riley rang up the drinks on the cash register’s computer screen, then stuffed the extra bills into her bra. When she winked her thanks, the two men practically drooled into their drinks.
            With a little direction from the bartender who seemed relieved to have the help, Riley filled several more orders. She made sure that the manager saw how quickly and accurately she worked—and how her red hair and teasing flirtations lured several more men to come over and buy drinks.
            Forty-five minutes later, when the lights dimmed and the music changed for a new performer to take the stage, Riley could finally catch her breath. The mirror behind the prime-label bottles she was wiping down revealed Rocky Calibrisi coming behind the bar to join her.
            She smiled at his approving nod in the mirror. She kept smiling when he palmed her hip and pulled her aside. Riley had learned long ago how to hide any kind of reaction to the free grope. She let him corner her against the polished teakwood of the bar gate. “What’s your name, sugar?”
            “Doreen Riley.”
            “What do you go by? Doreen? Dorie? Dee?”
            She didn’t have to look up to meet his hooded gaze. “You can call me Doreen.”
            He fingered the top button of his silk shirt, perhaps hoping to draw her attention to the black chest hair curling at the open collar. “When can you start?”
            This guy was almost as easy to manipulate as the frat boys had been. “I already did.”
            “Take a break at ten. Pour a tray of sodas and take them around to the bouncers then.” He pointed to the dark-haired waitress he’d chewed out earlier. “Introduce yourself to Mary Sue. She can help you with the staff drinks. She’ll show you the back room and an empty locker, too. Stop by my office after closing and we’ll fill out some paperwork.”
            “Will do.” Paperwork? That sounded more legit than the kind of operation she was looking for. But rumors about shady dealings at After Dark had to be gossiped about for a reason. She’d find out the truth, and she’d find Megan.
            “Thanks.” She deliberately dropped a hint that she was willing to get closer to him, and hopefully to the inner workings of the club. “I owe you one.”
            Rocky nodded, looking smugly pleased with that response, before turning away and disappearing through the door to the left of the stage.
            “Hey, babe. How about some service down at this end?” A customer slapped a twenty on the bar top and gave her an order. Riley pulled two draughts and smiled.
            Josiah Kemp could stuff his suspicions about her.
            She was in.






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Julie Miller




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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