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Single Title Novels

from USA TODAY Bestselling Author 

Julie Miller!





Make Mine A Marine Boxed Set by Julie Miller
ISBN #978-0-9916513-0-6

Romance and danger collide in USA TODAY Bestselling Author Julie Miller’s anthology, MAKE MINE A MARINE.
Three very special heroes take charge in these full-length stories of military romance and suspense. Once, they put their lives on the line for their country. Now these former Marine Corps operatives are putting their lives on the line in the bodyguard business. Brodie, Hawk and Drew have what it takes to uncover the mysteries surrounding three very different heroines, and protect them from the threat stalking them. And though love may not be part of their assigned mission, their heroic hearts just might lead these hard core vets to a happily ever after… if they survive.



Immortal Heart by Julie Miller


Golden Heart Finalist!

IMMORTAL HEART   Read an Excerpt

Nothing can save you from your fate . . .

BJ Kincaid was a genius, a former child prodigy who had built a multimillion dollar software and gaming empire. But the danger she was facing now was no game. She was losing chunks of time, coping with the sudden onset of crippling headaches. Threats to her company, her friends, her life, now shook her sheltered and shy existence to the core. She’d dealt with enemies pirating her ideas before, and had solved any problem she’d ever faced. But this was a puzzle she couldn’t solve, an enemy she couldn’t defeat on her own. Was she the traitor this time? Or did the mysterious blackouts and terrorization of LadyTech mean she was simply going insane?

Brodie Maxwell is the security consultant BJ’s partners hire to investigate the threats to their company and their friend. But this beast of a man with deep battle scars inside and out is unlike anyone BJ has known. Powerfully drawn to Brodie, BJ soon discovers he is a self-imposed outcast from society, and a kindred spirit who understands how hard it is to be different. His loneliness matches her own, and his mix of fiery kisses and surprising compassion rock BJ’s heart. She has no doubt this former soldier can protect her physically. But will this man of mystery, who claims the woman who loves him is destined to die, destroy her soul?

Are they fighting an ancient curse? Or battling an enemy who’s all too real? Either way, BJ and Brodie are fated to be together…if they live long enough to make the fairy tale come true.

Immortal Heart by Julie Miller
Original Cover
Leisure Love Spell 



Shadow of the Hawk by Julie Miller 
"A great romantic adventure!"

PRISM Award-Winner!

SHADOW of the HAWK   Read an Excerpt!

A Dangerous Field Trip . . .

Sarah McCormick had one last shot at adventure. Resigned to the life of a spinster after a disastrous love affair, the shy school teacher planned to lead five teenage girls to the jungles of Isla Tenebrosa. There, amidst the ruins of an ancient civilization, they would learn something about history, archaeology and perhaps even about themselves. But a mountain of a man upset her plans—a handsome Native American who claimed she and her students would be in peril on the mysterious island. And when the virile former Marine invited himself on the trip and swore to protect them, Sarah wondered which was in greater jeopardy—her body or her heart.

As mystifying as the island itself, Hawk had seen a vision of the brainy schoolmarm and believed their fates were intertwined. Although tempted to school Sarah’s lithe, surprisingly lush body in lessons of passion, he could sense the evil lurking amongst the jungle ruins. Still, the bond between them was undeniable. As death closed in on them, Hawk used every skill he possessed to keep Sarah and her students alive. But he quickly learned that Sarah herself, that the power of her sweet kisses and brave heart, might be the only thing that could save them all and finally bring this noble warrior home.


Shadow of the Hawk
Original Cover
Leisure Love Spell 




Always Faithful by Julie Miller



PRISM Award-Winner,   Daphne du Maurier Award-Winner,   RT BOOKReviews Top Pick 4 1/2 Stars!

ALWAYS FAITHFUL  Read an Excerpt!

When Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Ramsey disappeared during a covert operation on the dark isle of Tenebrosa, he vowed nothing could keep him away from his family—not even death. By faith and determination, the Marine would return to his wife and child. But the guardian angel that gave him back his life blundered—Jonathan Ramsey was born again…as someone else.

Emma Ramsey never questioned that she would see her beloved husband again. But after five years raising a daughter on her own and managing the multimillion-dollar LadyTech computer empire, she was alone in her quest to find the man she loved. The government had disavowed her husband’s team. The military had exhausted its resources tracking down the missing hero. Only one man, a streetwise private detective with battle scars of his own, criminal connections and no memory of his past seemed willing to help with her search. Drew Gallagher’s strong arms and piercing green eyes made her want and hope again. But was she falling in love with a hero…or the man who had killed her husband?

Drew’s quest to find his past leads him straight into the arms of the classy, sexy brunette and her fragile daughter. He couldn’t be more wrong for Emma—and yet the desire exploding between them couldn’t feel more right. As he wrestles with his conscience, evil closes in around them—heralding danger, death and something not of this world.

Can these two uncover the truth with their hearts and lives intact? Or will they toss aside logic and learn that true love never dies—and that the greatest hearts are…Always Faithful.

Always Faithful
Original Cover
Leisure Love Spell 





Julie Miller

(Original copyright 1997; Update and Reissue 2011)

A remote corner of England, c. 1216

Flames ripped through the night as another timber fell from the ceiling to the dungeon floor, casting an eerie phantasm of light over the clanging swords and thrusting, twisting bodies of men in combat.

The rebels surged forward, sheer number giving them their only strength against their oppressors. The soldiers should have been easily taken, their cruel devices easily destroyed, but darker forces aided them. And the rebels had no such powers for themselves.

Simple peasants, the rebels knew nothing of war. Nothing of magic spells. Nothing of combating tyranny and oppression. They fought against the minions of a former counselor to the crown, a high priest of mysterious power bent on securing the loyalty and tribute of the remote villagers.

They faced an enemy, not of flesh and blood, but of shadows and evil. Soldiers could be gutted with a dagger or run through with a sword. But a sorcerer .. .

It seemed no weapon could defeat him.

Still, the peasants had a champion, an aging knight who had long stood against King John. He thought he had retired that day at Runnymede when he and other barons forced the king to sign the Magna Carta, putting into law the ideals of justice and honor he believed in.

But when he had passed through the peasant villages and seen how their spirits were abused, how their backs were broken, and how their hopes were shattered, the mighty warrior took up his sword once more. Weary of battle, but never of the cause of justice, he rallied the peasants and urged them onward through the sorcerer's dungeon.

He swung his heavy sword in a mighty arc, striking a guard in the neck and shoulder, felling him with the blow. Another uniformed opponent stepped out of the smoke. The warrior spun around, splitting the man in two with his knife.

He surged forward, his pale eyes cutting through the haze of smoke to spot the sorcerer. The evil man's silvery-white robe, with an odd arrangement of stars and half-moons embroidered with iridescent gold threads, glowed like a beacon in the dimness of the burning castle above them.

“Sorcerer!” he bellowed. The graying visage turned toward the challenge and the warrior strode onward. “These people are not yours to command and defile. Be gone from this place. Take your evil and suffering with you!”

He tucked his dagger beneath his tunic and clasped the sword in both hands. All the while, the sorcerer fixed his eyes on him. Those eyes burned into the warrior's memory. He would never forget them. Dark and mocking. Devoid of humanity.

“You threaten me?” The sorcerer laughed, not once flinching from the advancing warrior with his sword raised to kill. “Even now, your cowardly comrades flee. They run from what they cannot understand. They leave you to fight alone.”

“I would die before I'd run from an evil being like you.”

“If you wish.” The sorcerer flicked his hand into the air and the warrior's sword crashed to the stones at his feet. “Your puny rebellion does not amuse me. You shall pay the price.”

“I swear I'll kill you with my bare hands.” He reached out but felt himself pushing against an invisible wall. Rage swelled within him. “Damn you!”

“Father!” A third voice severed their duel. “Please, no more!”

The warrior stumbled forward as the unseen wall crumbled with the sorcerer's distraction. A torch flared to life, illuminating the aura of dust and smoke engulfing him. Instead of closing his hands about the sorcerer's throat, he, too, turned.

The maiden stood between two peasants, a captured prisoner. Her tearstained face trembled as one man clutched her tightly and held the point of his sword to her throat. A second spoke.

“Release our village and farms from your spells. Take away your soldiers and return to the place from whence you came. Or else we'll slit your daughter's throat.”

“No, she is an innocent!” The warrior's protest surprised them all.

“Do you not stand with us?” the peasant demanded. “Do you not see this is the only power we have over him? Look how his spells are broken when he fears for her safety.”

A shadow passed across the sorcerer's black eyes. “If you harm her, I will bring a wrath of destruction upon you that your descendants shall never forget.”

“Father, no. Please. No more.”

The girl's plea touched a chord in the warrior's heart. He'd seen too much killing in his time to stand by and watch the slaughter of an innocent, no matter where her allegiance lay. “Release her.”

“You would betray our cause?” The peasant drew his knife and pointed it at the girl's stomach. In a brashness born of years of despair, he plunged the knife into the folds of her cloak.

But the warrior knew more of fighting than did the peasant. He lunged forward and twisted the peasant's arm, sending the knife skittering into the darkness. He shoved the peasant with the sword aside, and positioned himself beside the girl.

“Betrayer!” The first peasant rushed at the warrior. “He'll kill us all!”

The warrior pushed the girl toward her father and braced to face the angry peasant. In that same instant, the sorcerer flattened his palm and shoved it skyward, muttering a foreign incantation that sent the attacker flying through the air. The man landed in a heap, dead as though struck with a blow to the head.

The peasant with the sword ran, but the sorcerer touched his ring. The man stumbled and fell, his neck broken.

“No!” screamed the warrior. “She lives! Stop the killing!”

Enraged by the senseless deaths, and knowing there would be countless others if the madman wasn't stopped, the warrior picked up the sword of the fallen peasant. He raised it above his head.

The sorcerer didn't sense the attack until it was too late. He reached for his ring. But before he could utter one word, his daughter jumped into the path.

“Not Father!”

The mighty blade sailed through the air. The warrior cried out, powerless to stop its flight as it sliced through the only shield the sorcerer possessed.

His daughter.

The girl toppled to the floor, instantly dead. The sorcerer wailed unintelligibly and dropped beside her, cradling her spiritless body in his arms.

Horrified by his deed, the warrior fell to his knees. He bowed his head and prayed for a forgiveness he could not give himself. “I didn't mean . . . Forgive me. . . .”

He lifted his gaze to the sorcerer. There were no words he could say. He had slaughtered the very innocent he meant to protect.

The sorcerer rose, removed his cloak, and draped the silver and gold shroud over the girl's body. “For this, they will all die.”

“No!” The warrior shot his head up. “Take me instead! Punish me!”

“I intend to.” The sorcerer's voice echoed with a hollowness that extended to another time. He turned, extending his hand toward the warrior. But it was not a gesture of conciliation. His eyes blazed with an eerie force before he spoke again. “You have taken the one thing that mattered to me in this world. My child. My future. You shall know the same anguish I know.”

A chilling numbness crept into the warrior's limbs. He grew weaker, powerless to fight off the dizzying sensation.

“My wife is long dead, and my daughter was all that remained of her. You, too, shall never know a woman's love. Nor shall you ever sire a child.”

The warrior collapsed to the floor beside the dead girl. The smoke thickened. His lungs struggled to fill with air. The sorcerer was killing him. Through some evil power of the mind, he was killing him. Slowly, by degrees.

The warrior's mouth went dry. “Spare the villagers. Punish me alone, I beg you.”

“Punish you, I shall. I swear eternal vengeance upon your soul.”

Smoke clouded the warrior's vision. He lay paralyzed on the cold stone floor.

“Not until the one you love is willingly sacrificed in exchange for your life will you ever know peace.”

Mist filled the warrior's head. The sorcerer's incantations made no sense. The sorcerer touched the warrior's chest, scorching his skin. “I mark you now. You are a visible tribute to this day's battle. You will bear witness to every battle you fight.

“You wish to fight for a noble cause. You wish to give your life defending those weaker than you.” The sorcerer looked down on the warrior, laughing with a sound that haunted the warrior's soul. “I promise you will spend eternity doing just that.”

The warrior's eyes shut and the last mortal gasp left his body.

Chapter One

The Present

A monster of a man.

Brodie Maxwell read the teenage boy's opinion of him as easily as he might read a road sign. He ignored the curious gawking. Other heads turned but quickly looked away. He knew what they were thinking. He banished mirrors in his house so he, himself, couldn't see the monster.

He stood a shade over six-feet six and weighed in at 250 pounds, with impossibly broad shoulders, brawny arms, and legs like tree trunks. But the brutish appellation didn't stop with his size and dimension. Strands of silver sliced through his coffee-colored hair, which he wore cropped to a short length that emphasized the harsh angles of his face.

That face, an unforgiving landscape, reflected the horrors of his existence. His once-aquiline nose bent at two separate spots, reminders of a couple of lucky punches. Mottled ridges of a grayish-white scar filled the hollow beneath his left cheekbone and zigzagged into the corner of his mouth. The inflexible tissue pulled his face into a grotesque grimace whenever he smiled.

Long ago he had learned not to smile. Not even with his eyes. His steel gray gaze scanned his surroundings at the LadyTech headquarters building in Kansas City. He routinely memorized the number of people, their positions, the accessible exits. The icy eyes missed nothing of the chaotic, cluttered environment around him, just as they revealed nothing about the man inside.

Another old habit.

No one had ever called him handsome. His driver's license said he was forty, but life- experience beyond his years had taken his ugliness and shaped it into something more than physical. It shrouded him like a tangible thing, a shield he wore to keep all but the bravest and most foolish at a distance.

Brodie liked it that way.

Once he was familiar with the layout of the first floor, Brodie strode from the entryway. Judging by the bustle of activity and torn-up work stations, some major redecorating was going on. He crossed to a makeshift table with a sign marked Reception. But the chair behind it sat vacant.

The high school-aged boy, carrying a stack of boxes, stopped several feet away. Brodie felt his stare, curious, fascinated, repelled. Brodie turned his head and nailed the boy with a piercing look. Startled and ashamed of being caught, the boy lowered his gaze to a point about equal with Brodie's collar. He cleared his throat awkwardly, “We're getting ready for our open house, sir. The receptionist is . . . I'll see if I can find someone to help you.”

The boy tucked in his chin and scooted past Brodie. Most people did that to him. Too lazy to strain their neck muscles, or too afraid of what they might see—strangers rarely made eye contact with him. Brodie didn't mind their rudeness. That way he didn't have to see their shock and revulsion when they got a good look at his face.

“Hey, you, punch up the con panel and see if the screen lights up.”

Brodie's gaze shot around the foyer again, scanning for the source of the disembodied female voice. It made him edgy to think he had missed accounting for everyone in the area. It wasn't like him to make that kind of mistake.

“Hit any button on the keyboard.” The voice drizzled into his eardrums a second time. From the vicinity of his feet.

A woman's hand popped out from under the table and groped at the toe of Brodie's snakeskin boot.

“Yoo-hoo, out there, can you help me?”

Brodie stared at the hand, an ordinary left hand, without a fancy manicure or jewels to adorn it.

“Yes,” he finally replied when the hand refused to let go of his foot. The woman couldn't see the whole package, he thought, or else she wouldn't be so relentless in asking for his help. Her voice sounded warm, like honey and laughter. Not at all the sort of tone one used with a stranger.

Or a monster.

“It's okay if you don't understand computers. Just hand me one of the remotes. I can get it online from down here.”

Brodie bit back the cutting remark that would have straightened out the woman's misconception. He was a creature of duty and chivalry. If a woman requested a favor, he felt honor bound to help. That was the only reason he'd agreed to this meeting in the first place. Because the widow of an old friend had asked for his help in finding out who was pirating creative designs from the LadyTech Software Communications Corporation.

Dutifully, Brodie searched the tabletop and picked up a small black box with a series of buttons on one side. He bent over and placed the remote in the palm of her outstretched hand. He lowered the bulk of his body, casting his shadow across the hand and darkening the opening beneath the table.

“Hey, who turned out the lights?”

Once, he would have bristled at the remark. Now he accepted it without comment.

Seconds later, a company logo flashed to life on the computer screen. “It's on,” he rumbled, reporting reluctantly.

“Piece of cake.”

A body materialized at Brodie's feet.


BJ Kincaid scooted out on her backside, the remote clutched in one hand, a tray of tools in the other. She paused a moment, leaning back on her elbows to look up at her unwilling assistant.

“Whoa.” Land of the Giants, she thought to herself.

BJ's gaze started at the booted ankles and travelled up a pair of jeans that fitted over the longest, sturdiest legs she had ever seen, past a black suede bomber's jacket, beyond an outdated necktie, over a vicious network of scars, all the way up to the stark gray eyes of the man who towered above her. It was a long trip. From her perspective, his spiky, military-short hair seemed to brush the ceiling.

A living mountain. A dark, battered, unsmiling mountain.

An image from a Frankenstein movie leapt to mind. Immediately, she shook off the comparison, ashamed of even thinking it. BJ knew better than most what it was like to be different from mainstream society. She should be the last person to judge someone else by a first impression.

Hoping she hadn't revealed her uncharitable thoughts, she scrambled to her feet. She dropped her tools on the table and brushed at the untucked hem of her Kansas City Royals baseball jersey. Standing eliminated only part of the distance between them. He still stood chest, shoulders, and head above her five-feet, five-inch frame.

She stuck out her hand and looked him squarely in the eye. “Thanks for your help. I'm BJ Kincaid.”

Ironically, he seemed the one unwilling to touch her. A silent moment passed before his hand, nearly double the size of hers and scored with a dozen scars around tanned knuckles, wrapped around her fingers and swallowed them in his handshake.

“One of the partners.” BJ could see him sizing her up, checking his internal data on her. “Along with Emma Ramsey and Jasmine Sinclair. You're the creative one. You design LadyTech's programs.”

“Most of them,” she amended, pulling her hand away. This man knew more about her than a regular customer would. The observation put her on guard. “Can I help you?”

“I'm here to see Emma. I'm Brodie Maxwell.” He flipped out an ID that labeled him a security consultant. Before BJ could question exactly what that meant, he returned his billfold to his back pocket. “She hired me to investigate a security leak. I worked with her husband in the Corps.”

Emma's dead husband had led a team of crack Marine intelligence operatives. That meant this man possessed certain skills at which she could only guess. All of Jonathan Ramsey's men had been specialists. BJ wondered what this guy's specialty was. Stopping tanks with his fists, perhaps?

BJ shivered. Emma had mentioned bringing in outside help. She knew Emma had only the best interests of the company at heart. But Brodie Maxwell's presence confirmed that she was a traitor to both LadyTech and the partners who were her two best friends.

BJ had developed the missing designs. They had been her responsibility. Hell, the only way an industrial spy could get past her self-designed failsafe systems would be for her to give out the access codes. Which she hadn't. She would never betray her partners. She would never betray herself. LadyTech was her baby, after all. Most of its concepts and products originated inside her head.

Therein lay the problem.

BJ had mapped out preliminary designs for languages, games, and programs that could mean millions of dollars to the company. Yet no trace of them existed. Not on printouts, not on disks or memory sticks, not on the server or any hard drive at LadyTech or her home office.  Her own shadowy memories provided the only evidence that those ideas had ever existed.

But could her memory be trusted?  Where was the proof?  Brodie Maxwell looked like a man who wouldn’t quit until he found answers.  BJ dreaded what those answers might be.

      She averted her eyes and busied her hands with rearranging her tools.  “I guess you’re really here to investigate me, then.”

      “Excuse me?”

      She swiveled her face up to his, unable to retrieve a welcoming smile.  “You want to solve the mystery, right?  I’m giving you your most likely suspect.  Me.  I’ll show you to Emma’s office.  She’ll be expecting you.”

      BJ cleared the screen of the computer she had just installed before pivoting on her heel and crossing to the grand staircase leading to the executive offices on the second floor.  Brodie’s long shadow overtook her, chilling her with the impression of a beast closing in on his prey.

     Brodie ascended the staircase three steps at a time.   He debated the woman’s sudden mood swing.  She had been smiling, unguarded, almost—accepting—of him when she first crawled from beneath the table.  But when he mentioned the purpose of his visit, she closed up.  Grew defensive.  A fire lit in her eyes, shouting anger and distrust. And something else. Fear perhaps?

But of him? Or his mission?

Her bottom swayed on the steps ahead of him. The loose shirt and baggy jeans camouflaged her figure, but they couldn't mask the rigid set of her spine. What was she hiding?

Brodie knew the first step in drawing information out of a suspect was to engage her in innocent, neutral conversation.

“BJ stands for Bridget Jacoba, doesn't it?”

“You've done the research—you should know.” The sharp bite of her words bounced off Brodie's tough exterior, but the visible sagging of BJ's shoulders told him she regretted saying them.

She softened her voice and flashed an apologetic smile over her shoulder. “My mom was Bridget. My dad was Jake.” She topped the stairs and pointed down an empty corridor. “Emma's office is at the end. You'll probably . . .”

BJ froze mid-stride. Her voice faded. “No. Not now.”

Brodie collided with her back, and would have sent her flying if he hadn't snatched her shoulders, steadying her. “Miss Kincaid?”

“Get out of my head!”


Her hands flew to her temples, her fingers dug into the short curls there. “Get out!” Alarmed, Brodie turned her, keeping the shelter of one arm around her shoulders. He gripped her chin and tilted it upward. Her eyes squeezed shut. Was she having some kind of seizure? He couldn't recall any mention of a physical disorder in her profile. He searched her twisted features for an answer.

“Stop it!” Her voice sounded like cracked, brittle pottery smashing to bits on concrete. Thinking his touch frightened her, Brodie immediately released her.

Wildly, she clutched at his arm, clenching it with both hands until her knuckles turned white. Then she began to shake all over.

Her fingernails bit through leather and cotton into his forearm, but he ignored the bruising pain. If she needed something to cling to, he presented the most solid object at hand. He hardly qualified as an adequate nursemaid, but at that moment, he appeared to be the only one available. “What's happening? Do I need to call someone?”

“Not this time. I won't let you.”

Brodie realized she wasn't answering him. He wasn't sure she even knew he was there with her.

“BJ!” He shook her, roughly. “Bridget!”

The demon that possessed her disappeared as swiftly as it had come. Her body went limp. Her knees buckled and he scooped her up in his arms. Her head lolled against his chest, the crown snuggling just beneath his chin.

Damn. The woman was a cuddler. Even semiconscious, she turned and pressed her soft cheek into his neck. Every protective instinct that had ever gotten him into trouble surfaced, unbidden. Briefly, Brodie tried to remember the last time a woman had nestled against him so needfully without hesitation or fear or an ulterior motive.

Nothing came to mind. He muttered an angry epithet and refocused on the situation at hand.

He carried her to the first door on his right and kicked it open. He allowed himself a moment of stunned surprise when he entered the room. Other than the antique oak desk with its two computers in the center, it looked like a child's playroom. A truckload of toys lay scattered about the floor and on the furniture. Dolls, models, a train set, games. Floor to ceiling bookshelves, filled with collections of several kinds, lined one wall. Baseball cards. Heart- shaped pillows. DVDs.

Without a conscious thought as to why, he knew this was her office. BJ Kincaid, former child prodigy with a Mensa-level IQ, multimillionaire partner in one of the hottest companies on the market, worked in an office overflowing with toys.

He determinedly thrust away a flood of unwanted emotions, and moved to a sofa behind the desk. Brushing aside a slew of quilted teddy bears, Brodie laid BJ on the cushions, propping her head on a stuffed plaid heart.

“Monster in my head. . .” she murmured, stirring as he elevated her feet.

Brodie knew all about the monsters that haunted a person's dreams. He got a reminder of his own tortured demons each time he caught his reflection in a storefront window or rearview mirror. For him, it was natural, as much a part of him as breathing. But for BJ, this couldn't be right.

He squatted on the floor beside her. With one hand, he took both of hers and began rubbing them, kneading warmth into her limp fingers. He smoothed her bangs from her forehead. Her skin was cool to the touch.

She had short, soft curly hair, in a nondescript brownish-blond color. He saw nothing striking about her even features. She wasn't pretty. She wasn't plain. She was just—average.

Brodie thought it strange that he’d noticed her looks. And even stranger that he wasn't disappointed. Maybe it had something to do with the friendly, open smile with which she had first greeted him. Or the way her eyes boldly met and held his gaze, despite the way she had to crane her neck to do so.

Or maybe it just had to do with the fact he was a male animal who had been too long without a mate, and the sensation of holding a living, breathing female in his arms was all it took to send his hormones into overdrive. It wasn't a comforting thought.

“Wake up, BJ,” he whispered, his voice dark and bass deep. “C'mon. Wake up.”

Footsteps on the carpet alerted him to company. “BJ!” Emma knelt beside him, frowning with fear. “Is she hurt?”

“Don't know. She hit the top of the stairs and had an attack of some kind. When it stopped, she collapsed.”

“This isn't the first time. Sometimes she loses track of hours. I have no idea how to help her. That's why I went through Jonathan's journal to track you down.” Emma went to a built-in bar and brought back some wet paper towels to dab on BJ's face. “I wasn't sure you'd come.”

“We all made a pact to look out for whoever was left behind.”

Emma flashed him an apologetic look. “I led you to believe that I needed help, that the company was in trouble. But it's really BJ I'm concerned about.”

He shrugged off the misinformation that had gotten him here and jerked his chin toward BJ. “Looks like she needs a physician or a psychiatrist more than she needs my services.”

“There's a slight problem with that. BJ has some real hang-ups about men in lab coats, especially shrinks. I can't get her near one. Jas and I have both tried.”

Brodie wondered what someone as smart mouthed yet ingenuous as BJ had to fear from a psychiatrist.

Emma continued, “Besides, tomorrow at the stockholders' party, we're announcing the opening of our new Tokyo office. BJ doesn't want any bad publicity concerning her mental condition to scare off potential backers.”

BJ moaned, shifted on the pillow, and groaned again. “Tell him all of it, Emma. If he's the savior you say he is, you'd better tell him everything.”

Her eyes fluttered open. For the first time, Brodie noticed their unusual color. Not just green, but dark and blue-flecked, like a shadowy spruce forest. Earlier they had sparkled with humor, gleamed with intelligence. Now, a haze of uncertainty and fatigue clouded her eyes.

Her gaze wavered over Emma, then settled on Brodie. “It's not just my ideas that are being stolen. They're taking my sanity. Somebody's playing with my head. It's as if they're tapped into my brain, pulling out ideas before I can even get them on paper.”

“Enough.” Emma chastised BJ with a worried frown. “Nobody believes you're going insane.”

“So what just happened was normal behavior?” BJ's caustic remark echoed in the quiet.

“What did just happen?” Brodie asked. He rose and walked around the room, looking for hidden surveillance devices, getting a feel for BJ Kincaid.

Emma helped BJ sit up. BJ waved aside any further help and focused on Brodie. “You won't find any bugs—audio, visual, or tapped into the computer lines—I've checked.”

Brodie admired her astuteness. Nonetheless, he remained quiet. A long silence passed before BJ continued.

“These episodes happen two, three times a week. For about three months now. It's like . . .”

He heard her breath catch. The recollection obviously pained her. But he said nothing to ease her discomfort. It wasn't his place to do so. He’d agreed to help Emma because he owed her husband a favor. But when the job was finished, he intended to get back to his own life, solitary hell that it was. He didn't need to worry about anybody else's pain.

“It's like a shadow creeping into my brain. I feel it coming, pushing out everything else. Suffocating my ability to reason. Sometimes I beat it back, like today. Other times . . . I don't know when I lose it. Next thing I know, I wake up. I have a memory of the time passing, but nothing tangible to show for it. I'd write them off as dreams except they're too real. And afterward, I have the most awful headache you can imagine.”

Brodie paused at the DVD collection on the shelves. The movies consisted mostly of science fiction, including a vast assortment of old monster movies. Frankenstein. The Thing. Godzilla. She must think him a real-life extension of those video monstrosities.

“See anyone you know? You're not even listening to me.”

Decades of training in steely self-control kept him from starting at the sound of BJ's voice near his elbow.

“I heard every word.” He angled his face toward hers. She had incredibly expressive eyes. And the pissed-off message she broadcast to him now was unmistakable. He had to admire her courage. People rarely stood up to him. A savage look or sharp word usually deterred any challengers.

He'd enjoy going a few verbal rounds with BJ. She didn't intimidate easily. She spoke her mind and teased him more than most people ever dared try. But while the idea sounded provocative, he was in no position to indulge himself. Personal involvement meant risk. It meant the possibility of caring. And caring meant death.

He would never take that risk again.

Brodie hooked his thumbs into the front pockets of his jeans, hunched his shoulders and scowled at BJ. “You talk about monsters in your head. Ghosts taking over your thoughts.” He nodded toward the shelves of movies. “You're sure you're not imagining this?”

Color flooded her cheeks. Then she caught him completely off guard and shoved at his chest, knocking him back a step. “You . . . You . . . Get the hell out of here!”

After the emotional release of the first blow, BJ attacked him in earnest. Brodie shifted his weight to balance himself, and stood immovable while BJ punctuated each word with a furious, desperate shove.

“I'm . . . not . . . crazy . . . !”

“BJ, stop.” Emma gently reprimanded her friend and hurried over to help. But Brodie shook his head and warned her off.

BJ couldn't damage him, so Brodie took the brunt of her outburst, lifting some of the burden of coping from the two women. That much he could do for them.

“I am not crazy,” BJ repeated through sobbing breaths, clasping his hands and clinging to him like a lifeline. “Somebody's doing this to me. I'm not crazy.”

He absorbed the last of her fury and frustration into his calloused palms. When she was spent, she leaned forward and rested her forehead against him, seeking comfort.

From him?

The trusting gesture surprised him even more than the first blow of her attack.

She must have finally realized he had nothing to offer her, because she pulled away. She took a step back and hugged herself tightly, giving herself the solace he could not. She lifted her face to his.

BJ's eyes were dark, desperate, hopeful.

“I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that. I promise to keep it all together if you stay and help me. Please.”

This wasn't right. Expecting him to be anybody's rescuer. Missing data or industrial espionage he could handle.

But asking him to help a damsel in distress? In the cobwebby recesses of his mind, he tried to remember what laughter sounded like. He should be laughing at their ludicrous expectations of him.

Emma stepped behind BJ, squeezing her shoulders in support.

“Jonathan said you handled unusual cases for him.” Emma's concerned focus was on her friend, while BJ still concentrated her pleading eyes on him. “But more than that, he said you never quit until everyone was safe. Until everyone was accounted for. You weren't on his last mission, were you?”

Brodie shook his head. Jonathan Ramsey never returned from that last mission. The team had searched for over a year but found no body. Brodie still followed up any remote lead that presented itself. But his friend seemed to have vanished from the face of the earth.

Emma blinked moisture from her smoky blue eyes. “I believe if you had been on that mission, Jonathan would have come home to me. He believed in you that much. Because of that, so do I.

“Emma, I don't deserve that kind of trust.”


Brodie's attention quickly attuned to BJ's husky, honeyed whisper. “Beowulf?”

“That's you.”

He thought he had left fear far behind, but the innocent hope in her deep green eyes frightened him.

“You're comparing me to one of the monsters in the story?”

“No.” She reached for one of his hands and gently spread it open, palm up. With her thumb she traced the expanse of his long, blunt-tipped fingers, touching each scar and callus as if his hand were a rare, precious thing. “You're the slayer of monsters.”

Even more than her words, BJ's guileless, gentle touches rocked him to the core. She didn't even know him. The damn fool didn't have sense enough to understand that he could break her neck with that hand. Yet she held on to him, fearful only of the monster inside her head, not of the one standing before her.

Brodie swore violently to himself. This job was going to get personal, he could tell. Yet, despite his misgivings, he accepted that he had already signed on for the duration.

Delaying the inevitable, he thrust BJ and her soulful eyes away from him and stalked across the room. He swiped a hand over his stubbly hair before turning to speak.

“I don't think you're crazy.” He wasted no time in getting down to work. “I suspect you're under the influence of mind control.”

“Mind control?” BJ and Emma echoed together.

      “Posthypnotic suggestion. Brainwashing. I can't be certain, but that's my guess. The attacks come on suddenly, then vanish, leaving a vague memory, but no tangible proof.”  He saw the wheels turning in BJ’s head, first evaluating, then accepting his hypothesis.

      “You think someone has programmed me?  How?  Who?”

      He shrugged his shoulders.  “Figuring out how it’s being done, and who’s responsible, is harder to solve.  It will be pretty damn difficult, in fact.”

      “But not impossible.”

      “No.”  He paced the room, needing an outlet for the sudden wellspring of energy coursing through him.  He always experienced this rush when he geared up for battle.  And this could only be described as a battle.  A battle with an unseen enemy haunting an innocent woman’s mind.  And an ongoing battle within himself.  He couldn’t afford to lose either one.

      “I’ll become your shadow,” he explained.  “Learn your habits, your friends   At home and at work.  I’ll need to observe these episodes firsthand, plus see who has a motive and the opportunity to trigger them.  You’ll feel like a lab rat with the scrutiny I’ll put you through.”

      He paused when he saw that his words made her look uncomfortable.  “Lab rat?  Just what does that mean, exactly?”

      “It means I’m going to move in with you. I’m going to drive you wherever you need to go.  I’m going to be at every meeting you attend.  I need to know everything in order to figure this out. I'll be closer to you than your own shadow.”

“Is that really necessary?”

He could see some backbone returning, and he felt encouraged rather than put off by her accusing look. “It is if you want me to find out the truth,” he said.

“Can't you just ask me some questions?”

“Do you have the answers?”

Defiance sparkled in her eyes. Then she looked over at Emma and sighed with quiet resignation. “Okay.”

He wondered what concession she had just made. “Everywhere, BJ. I mean it.”

After a tense moment, she smiled.  It was like the sun breaking through the clouds. Bright and beautiful. The kind of smile you couldn't resist returning. Unless you never had any reason to smile. Like Brodie.

“I'll get used to it. I'm warning you, though. Folks will talk. I don't usually keep company with tall, dark strangers.”

She was teasing again. Where the hell did she get her misplaced faith in him? Slayer of monsters? Ha! Couldn't she see the truth right before her eyes?

Still, her innocent trust touched something in him. His intrinsic code of honor, no doubt.

“I'll help you,” he heard himself promise. “I'll find out who's playing with your head, and how it's being done. I'll put a stop to it.”

Or else he’d always be haunted by BJ’s frank green eyes, wide open and trusting. Looking to the big, ugly monster of a man for answers. And asking for—of all things to expect from a man who held none for himself—hope.

Back To Top




Julie Miller

©1999, 2011

Sarah nodded mutely and watched the leaves of the jungle swallow up her host and his warning. She seethed with anger, unable to move, unable to find any scapegoat except herself. Luis might knowingly have hired some lecherous pedophile or rapist or God knew what kind of creep to work on his crew, but it was her fault they were there. Her fault the girls might be in danger. Her fault she didn't know how to read men. Her fault.

Hawk was right. She had no business coming to Tenebrosa. She should be grateful to Luis for at least giving her a concrete reason to stay away from the place. Hawk had yet to prove so helpful. She didn't want to alarm the girls, but she had better get back and make sure they understood the need to stay together with her or a friend at all times.

As she followed the trail of hand-cut leaves and branches along the jungle floor, she lifted her long braid from the natural valley between her breasts. With an annoying realization, she conceded that Hawk was right on at least one point. Wherever the weight of her hair touched her, she broke out in beads of sweat.

The unaccustomed heat only added to her aggravation with him. Silently cursing him with each step, she stalked back toward camp until a movement caught her attention from the corner of her eye. She froze in her tracks and swung the light to her right, catching the end of a green tail scurrying away into the underbrush.

And then, while she waited for her heart to settle back down out of her throat, she became aware of another sensation. A feather light cloak of awareness settled over her shoulders. Gentle as a caress, the unseen touch nevertheless chilled her with its unwavering intensity.

Drawn by some untapped sixth sense, Sarah slowly turned and shined her light over her shoulder. Hawk stood there, several paces behind her, looking at her. Looking into her. His dark eyes blazed with that unearthly light she'd seen back at the airport, and she was struck by the sensation that he knew what she'd been thinking. Knew how damning her thoughts had been.

"You shouldn't be out here alone." His voice vibrated across the distance, a bare whisper in the encroaching night.

" Are you following me?" He advanced on her, and Sarah involuntarily backed away as he quickly closed the distance with his long strides.


She jumped back from his hoarse command. The flashlight clattered to the ground, and her hair snagged on something behind her. She reached back to free her braid from its entanglement, and Hawk lunged forward.


He grabbed her wrist and yanked her toward him. At the same instant, he reached into a pocket of his vest and pulled out a knife. Not a knife. A sword! A wicked, twelve-inch killing thing that glinted in the twilight.

He raised it above his head and swung it down with deadly force. Sarah screamed. She jerked her shoulder away from the sure blow and rammed into the brick wall of his chest. His arm trapped her there like a steel vise and lifted her clear off the ground. She pounded with her fists and kicked with her legs, pummeling for all she was worth, frantic with the knowledge that he would attack her, desperately frightened to realize how much bigger and stronger and unyielding he was than she.

"Sarah! It's over now. It's okay." Her feet touched the ground and his shoulders curved over her, blocking out the rest of the night.

His chest muffled her screams. Through her daze of panic she heard low-pitched reassurances crooning in her ear. The arm that had cinched her to him still held her just as tightly but he splayed his fingers and stroked up and down the side of her rib cage, soothing her like a frightened animal.

As the hazy grip of panic began to clear, she realized that she felt no pain. He hadn't stabbed her after all.

"What?" She gasped, gathering her composure as much as her breath. "Why?" Her senses returned and she remembered the knife. The big knife. She angled her head back because she could move no further and slapped at his shoulder. "What are you doing with a weapon like that here? It's stupid and dangerous—"

"That's better. I'd rather see you spitting mad than afraid." She wanted to stay angry with him. She wanted to vent her frustrations, but his unexpected teasing undid her. She stopped her tirade and noticed his mouth, mere inches from hers. Smiling.

She caught her breath at the sheer masculine beauty of it. Straight white teeth framed by firm, thin lips. They were close enough that she could feel his warm breath fanning across her face. She inhaled the soapy, clean, masculine scent of him, tinged by the faint pungency of the insect salve he, too, wore.

Sarah's stomach flip-flopped. An unusual heat sparked there and curled lower as a whole new set of sensations vibrated through her, every bit as powerful as her anger, but much more pleasurable. His chest was so hard, his hold unbreakable yet so gentle, his mouth so tempting.

She stared at that temptation and discovered she couldn't speak. Her throat tightened with a customary clench of shyness. She damned her cursed inability to voice her desires. She wanted to savor the rush of adrenaline coursing through her. She wanted to channel it in a way a woman and man could share together. She wanted him to kiss her. She wanted him to want to kiss her. And yet she knew he wouldn't. All she could do was lecture him. All he could do was put up with her.

"You were backing into a web." As if sensing her clouded ability to speak, Hawk took over the duties for her. Grateful for the change of topic that doused both her desire and her embarrassment, she relaxed and followed the inclination of his head.

He twisted his right wrist and lifted his knife to eye level. Skewered at the end was a brown, hairy spider the size of two Ping-Pong balls stuck together.

"Spider! Big spider!" she shrieked.

She spun and buried her face in his shoulder. As hard as she had hit him before, she now clutched him tightly, clinging to fistfuls of his shirt and vest. She felt his arm flinch as he flicked the horrid creature into the jungle and wiped the blade clean on his pant leg.

He shifted his stance and wrapped both arms around her, catching her more fully in his embrace. He tugged at her braid, picking out the sticky white residue that had caught her hair. He bent his head and cooed into her ear, calming her with whispers in a language she didn't understand. The ups and downs of the day caught up with her and she sagged against him, weary with emotional fatigue, grateful for his gentle, steadying strength.

"That's it, honey. You're gonna be all right. You'll beat this like you beat those bureaucrats back home."

Hawk heard the endearment slip out and questioned the wisdom of his actions. He'd never had a woman melt into him with such guileless abandon before. She fit him just right, with the crown of her hair nestling beneath his chin and her long legs placing her hips just at the juncture of his thighs. He doubted she had any idea how provocative it could be to empower a man with that kind of trust.

What could be the harm in just holding her? he reasoned weakly. She'd been through a real scare. First him, then the knife, then the spider. Any decent man would comfort her. And he liked to think of himself as a decent man.

She sighed and burrowed into him, unwittingly rubbing against the one place she shouldn't, and all thoughts of decency popped out of his brain. Prim and proper Miss McCormick wasn't a shapeless bag of fragile female as he had first envisioned. Even in the trim knee-length shorts and sensible blouse she was wearing he could feel the shape of her. Her hips flared, full and womanly, hinting at an earth-mother fertility he loved, but which most women tried to diet away or camouflage. Her breasts were small but unexpectedly sassy, like their owner. Having them flattened against him like this, he couldn't help but notice their proud tips.

And when she looked at him with those big eyes, golden pools flecked with green that revealed raw, uncontrolled emotion, he nearly lost all perspective. She wanted to be kissed. Even if he couldn't read the desire swirling about her face in a fiery halo, he could see it in the breathless parting of her lips. And man, was he tempted to give her what she asked. Tempted to forget decorum and missions and taking care of business, and sample what she unconsciously offered him.

He could just tilt her chin up and slide his mouth over hers. Play a little game with her, teach her and tease her with his lips and tongue.

He knew instinctively that this was a woman who would respond to a man's touch, a sensual woman made all the more appealing because she wasn't aware of her sensuality. She didn't flaunt her assets or make coy come-ons to a man.

It was that ladylike reticence that brought him to his senses at last. He eased his hold on her, but didn't pull away because she had yet to let up her death grip on the front of his clothes. As base as his own thoughts had been, he couldn't leave her without the support she needed until she could summon her own strength.

Now was the time that he should reassure her. He should explain that the spider's bite wasn't poisonous, though its size alone could leave a nasty wound that would need medical treatment to prevent infection. He should tell her that all of Salazar's men carried big hunting knives, too, that it was standard equipment for jungle travel.

But he didn't want to talk. He didn't want to say anything that might break the spell that anchored Sarah to him.

Because the wishful part of him that he guarded so carefully didn't want her to leave. He might be a god to some, a freak of nature to others, but he was still a man. And like a man, he relished the joy of simply holding a woman. He found a rare contentment in savoring the fresh, unperfumed scent of her. His hormones churned with renewed vigor as his thoughts wandered into the realm of fantasy.

The soldier in him knew he should move on. He should separate himself from irrelevant complications like discovering a sexy side to Miss Schoolmarm here, and get back to the business of seeing her safely back to camp. But he didn't listen to the mystic or the soldier. He listened to the man.

He leaned back and sheathed his knife in the leather casing inside his vest. As expected, her eyes lit with a spark of nervousness, but still she clutched at him. He brushed his fingertips along her cheek, quieting her as he'd soothe a skittish colt. And then he slipped his fingers beneath her chin and tipped her face toward his. The unpainted angles of her cheeks and forehead were flushed with the colors of fear and anticipation.

He studied her mouth. Asymmetrical in shape, it was precisely drawn on top and full on the bottom. It had blossomed like a flower when she smiled. Would it do the same if he kissed her? He touched her bottom lip with the pad of his thumb. Just as he imagined, it was soft as a petal beneath his callused touch, pink as a rosebud against his bronzed skin. The contrasts alone aroused him, lured him. He bent his head, seeking just a taste, a crumb to feed his lonely soul. But before their lips met, she trembled beneath his touch, ever so slightly, stroking him with an unintentional caress.

He felt the tiny tug all the way down to the soles of his boots.

The electric jolt snapped him back to reality.

Hawk cursed himself for dropping his guard like that. What was he thinking? The last thing he needed was to turn his curiosity about a prim and proper virgin into some kind of mystical experience. She had to be an innocent. She was too damn naive and trusting for her own good. She had no idea what she'd been asking of him. No idea how he wanted to answer her.

Hawk released her, holding his hands out to either side as if she had scorched him. "Not tonight, schoolmarm."

Her gaze snapped at him at the intentional use of the nickname. He braced himself, waiting for her to go all prissy on him. Waiting and deserving to hear her chew him out good for playing with her like that.

She shoved her fists against him and he willingly stepped back, putting much-needed breathing space between them. But she didn't yell at him. She didn't lecture him for putting his hands on her. She didn't accuse him of forgetting his place. She didn't do anything to him.

Instead, she closed herself off. The aura he read so easily vanished as if she'd flipped a switch. She folded her arms across her stomach, protecting herself. Not from him, but from something hidden within. A memory. A secret. A forgotten fear or disappointment that he'd stirred up accidentally.

"Sarah, I'm sorry. I couldn't believe Salazar left you out here alone. I didn't mean to—"

"Of course you didn't mean to. No one ever does." She shuddered, shaking off whatever unwanted feelings he'd roused in her. She squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. Hawk waited for the onslaught.

The fact that it never came bothered him more than he cared to admit. Being shy and inexperienced was one thing; he found her natural timidity endearing. The way she got tongue-tied at times made her human, vulnerable. But her shutting everything off inside worried him. At the very least she should slap his face for holding on to her like that, for flirting like a man when she needed an impersonal bodyguard. It was wrong for her to accept blame or embarrassment or whatever it was that shut down that tart tongue of hers.


"I'd better get back. I don't like what Luis said. I should be with the girls now." Impersonal and efficient as an automaton, she picked up the flashlight and started off. She halted after two steps into the darkness. "Darn it."

She turned around and held out the flashlight. "I think I broke it."

He could be coldly efficient, too. Hell, nobody, not even Miss Priss, was better at that game than he was. He snatched the flashlight and inspected its metal casing. He tightened the cap, then slapped the butt of it twice in his palm. The light snapped on, canceling out the shadows surrounding them.

He ignored her outstretched hand, reminding himself of the reason he'd come to Tenebrosa in the first place. Evil was a dark thing. And the shadows of the jungle gave evil plenty of places to hide. Sarah and her band of teenagers were innocent lights. He'd come here to make sure their light didn't go out.

He'd come to reclaim a lost part of himself from the shadows.

His mind clear to its purpose once more, he handed her the flashlight, but kept hold of his end, binding them together for a brief moment of understanding.

"I heard what Salazar said. Martín won't hurt the girls. I promise."

She dropped her aloofness once the topic turned to someone other than herself. "How do you know that?"

Should he tell her he could read the black-tipped auras of deceit surrounding Martín and Antonio? Should he tell her how much it concerned him that he couldn't get a clear impression of Salazar himself? That he'd spent all day looking for nonmystical clues to either confirm or deny his suspicions of the man?

He answered by pulling himself up to his full six feet, four inches of height and turning his face into her light, purposely enhancing the angles and shadows of his face. "Do I look like somebody they'd want to mess with?"

She smiled at him then, not the least bit intimidated by his show of force. "I guess not."

Caught off-guard by her unanticipated reaction, Hawk thought her generously curved mouth was the most incredible thing he had ever seen. Stunned by the surprising revelation of beauty, he released the flashlight and murmured a response to her good-night.

"Hawk? What's your real name?"

Preoccupied as he was, the query came out of left field. But not since a painful day on the playground back in second grade had he let that one slip. "Un-uh." He shook his head. "Family secret."

Her smile remained fixed in place, and Hawk basked in the glorious gift that pierced the darkness around his heart. "I'm a smart woman, you know. I enjoy figuring out puzzles."

"Believe me, you'll never figure me out."

Her mouth flattened into a serious line. "I believe you when you say you'll protect us. I hope it doesn't come to that, though."

Accepting her trust was a dangerous responsibility, one he couldn't guarantee living up to. But for his own sake, he had to try. "It won't."

"I'll see you in the morning, then. Save a seat on that last truck for me."

Hawk followed the sweet little sway of her tush all the way back into camp, torturing himself with thoughts that were sure to shock Sarah. Talk about puzzles. No one, not once since he'd lost his father early in the war dubbed Desert Storm and his great-uncle Otis had stepped in to teach him how to be a man and how to use and respect his special gifts, had ever been curious enough to figure him out. No one except Otis and his mother, Lily, had ever cared enough to try.

But the schoolmarm wanted to. He didn't mistake her curiosity for caring. He'd known a couple of women in his time who were intrigued enough to peel away a few layers of the mystique he'd carefully built around himself for protection and survival. But once they got to the weird stuff, they fled, repulsed by the unnatural powers of the man beneath the facade.

The difference this time was that he felt equally intrigued. What made the men of Marysville ignorant of Sarah McCormick's quiet beauty and amazing courage? What made her cling to him like a bee on a flower, then force him into battle mode to defend himself against that wicked, preachy mouth of hers?

The prim and proper schoolmarm was a puzzle he wanted to solve. But he couldn't allow himself that pleasure. He was here on a mission, determined to keep history from repeating itself.

Forgetting that might turn Sarah into another victim of Tenebrosa's evil history.

And he had yet to forgive himself for the last victim he'd lost here.

Back To Top




Julie Miller

Ebook edition © 2012


Chapter One

The Present

Drew Gallagher shifted on the cold stone bench, stretching his long legs into a more comfortable position. After five hours on stakeout, he felt about as comfortable as the men who had worn the suits of armor on display in front of him must have.

He'd already studied them in detail. He'd memorized every hinge, every clamp, every bit of protective shielding on those figures hours ago. Just as he'd analyzed and catalogued every visitor, volunteer, and employee who strolled along the black marble halls of the Nelson-Atkins Art Gallery in Kansas City, Missouri.

He sighed. This sorry case he was working on didn't fall into his usual area of expertise. Anybody could do a simple stakeout. He preferred the challenge of going undercover, assuming a new identity, becoming whoever he needed to be. At that, he was an expert. The charge of danger electrified him, gave him a focus, made him feel alive.

Lying in wait for a suspect who might not even show up was a tedious assignment by comparison. It gave him too much time to think, too much time to ask questions. And too much time to realize how few answers he had.

The D.A.'s office must be falling behind to hire a freelancer like himself. And since his own private investigation business had slowed during the post-holiday season, he'd taken them up on their offer. He didn't need the money. He needed the favor in his portfolio. He'd made a couple of questionable moves on his last case, and a little brown-nosing with the county courts might ease their scrutiny of his work.

Otherwise, he wouldn't be here. All Drew had to do was wait for Stan Begosian to show his face, then record the man's activities for the alleged child pornography case they were putting together against him.

"Here we have examples of medieval suits of armor." The tour guide's voice broke into his thoughts, the over-rehearsed monologue a slight distraction in his continuing surveillance of the room. It was the third group of students to come through in the last hour. First- or second-graders, judging by the size of them. About the same age as Begosian's usual victims.

"Are these ch-children's sizes?" A dark-haired girl, front and center of the group, whispered the question.

"No." The guide laughed. "This armor was built for full-grown men, the warriors of their time. The average size of humans has increased over the years."

"Are they from the eleven hundreds?" one boy asked.

"I believe so. You know, around the time of King Arthur."

The dark-haired girl tipped her head back. "The real K-King Arthur lived in the s-s-sixth cent-tury. My Aunt Jasmine saw where he and G-Guinevere are buried in G-Glastonbury, England."

"Yes, of course, dear."

Drew felt himself sitting up a little straighter, worrying for the little girl stuttering through her explanation. He silently applauded her for sticking to her guns in the face of the guide's sugary condescension. She might have stumbled over some of the big words, but she knew her stuff. Smart kid.

"Kerry." A woman's voice, soft and throaty, sounded beside him, and a figure in a navy blue suit walked past to join the students. "You can ask more questions later. We need to move along before the next class comes through."

"O-k-kay, Mom."

"Thank you, Mrs. Ramsey."

Drew hunkered back down on his bench, watching the cool way Mrs. Ramsey ignored the tour guide's fawning. Drew listened as she talked to her daughter, and he found himself drawn to her voice. It was seductive. Not that it was lewdly overdone like a woman making a come-on. She still sounded like a mother, all right. He just liked the sound of it. A lot.

The woman joined three other parents to herd the thirty or so students through the doors at the opposite end of the room. Drew enjoyed the view. Now she was something that could truly distract him. He adjusted his glasses, peering through the narrow-framed lenses to get the best view possible. The woman had legs.

Great legs that ran all the way up to her tight little bottom. A picture made even more appealing by the fact she tried to camouflage her sleek curves beneath the sensible cut of a navy pinstripe business suit.

Everything about her spoke of sensibility. She was taller than most women, almost his height, in fact, though she wore low-heeled pumps to try to play it down. Dark, rich waves of hair that must feel like soft silk to the touch were pulled back by a clip at her nape.

She had money. He could tell by the expensive leather purse she carried. But she didn't advertise it in any other way. No artful fingernails. No fancy jewelry. Just a plain gold wedding band with a diamond solitaire on her left hand.

Moving nearer, Drew leaned back against a stone pillar and watched unobtrusively until she vanished into the next room. She was nice. Very nice. But not his type. Definitely not his type. The whole air of the woman, in addition to the Grace Kelly figure, said wholesome suburbia. Class. Culture. Respectability.

Pure trouble for a guy like him. Not that he didn't enjoy playing out of his league every once in a while. There was a perverse satisfaction in knocking one of those class-acts out of her Ferragamos. He felt occasionally obligated to wake them up to reality, proving that he wasn't so far beneath them on the social register as they might think. Or as close to the seedy world of the streets as he might feel.

But he drew the line at married women.

Look, but don't touch.

The sign near the room's entrance mocked him. "As if you need the reminder, Gallagher."

Drew sighed and rolled his neck to loosen the muscles cramping there. He'd enjoyed the show while it lasted. Mother Pinstripe would never know how closely he'd scrutinized her. It was time to get back to work.

"That place on his boot is shiny because all the boys and girls rub it for good luck."

Drew turned at the high-pitched tenor of a man's voice. He'd slipped. A man in a brown tweed overcoat with its collar turned up to his ears had moved into the room without being spotted. The man's face remained hidden, but Drew's hackles shot up, and a time-tested sixth sense that alerted him to danger pushed him to his feet.

Kerry. The name stuck in his head as something familiar. Mother Pinstripe had used it. Kerry, the intelligent little girl with the stutter, had slipped away from her class to study the armor more closely. Mr. Tweed Coat sauntered in her direction, speaking calmly, knowledgeably.

"Upstairs, the museum has tapestries that were made in the Middle Ages. One of them portrays the legend of Arthur and the Round Table. Would you like to see them?"

Though she sidled a few steps away, Drew crept up close enough to see Kerry turn her big blue eyes on the man. "My Mom says I shouldn't t-talk to s-strangers."

* * *


Of all the dark heads scattered throughout the miniatures room, none belonged to her daughter. Emma choked down the swell of panic. A second survey of the room confirmed her worry. No Kerry.

Emma quickly retraced her steps toward the main concourse. Her daughter had led the way in, while she'd brought up the rear. But then she'd gotten to talking with Mrs. Simmons about arrangements for the class's Valentine's Day party, and she'd lost track of her daughter.

Calm in a crisis. Emma Ramsey had earned that reputation running the administrative side of LadyTech, a software communications corporation she owned with her two closest friends.

She'd be damned if she'd lose her composure now just because her little girl had wandered off. Kerry was bright. Curious. And Emma worried about her only child way too much. She trusted the girl to be sensible. To stay safe.

It was all the other bozos and maniacs in the world she didn't trust.

The armor room had several patrons milling about inside. But it was empty of the one person who counted.

And that man.

She'd felt his presence when she'd entered the hall earlier, felt the cool weight of his eyes on her.

Blond, she remembered. Longish hair, with a lock that fell beside his temple. Glasses. An artist, perhaps. No? Too much danger, too much mystery. Despite his golden good looks, darkness hung around him like a cloak.

A chill raced along her spine, knowing he'd  watched her. A chill matched only by the heart-numbing fear of knowing he'd now disappeared, along with her daughter.

She alerted the security guard at the entrance, giving him a succinct description of Kerry. While he radioed his staff, Emma walked back to the main concourse in Kirkwood Hall, turned in a slow 360-degree arc, then waited for some instinct to tell her where to look.

She imagined a tap on her shoulder, nudging her feet into motion. She started walking, searching for either the blond man or her daughter. The museum had two large wings, three floors and a basement. A lot of square feet for a little girl to get lost in—or for a dangerous man to lurk in.

The sculpture garden would be closed because of the snow, so she didn't bother to look there. Something urged her up the stairs to the west.

Fear hastened her steps. Her world had shattered five years ago when her husband, Jonathan, disappeared. Lost on a mission, she'd been told. MIA. The authorities had given her no body to bury. No culprit to blame. He was just gone.

She'd rebuilt her life and heart around her only tangible link to Jonathan—their daughter.

She couldn't survive losing Kerry, too.

* * *

"Th-th-this isn't the way to the t-tapest-try room."

Drew hurried down the deserted marble hallway, following the little girl's halting voice. He coached her beneath his breath. "That's it, kid. Tell him off. Make a scene."

It was his duty to save the girl. Despite the D.A.'s instructions to simply observe, he intended to take Begosian downtown. But if Drew showed himself too soon, the dirt bag would bolt—maybe escape. And the knowledge that he'd be free to molest some other child, especially if they were all as gullible as this one, burned in every chivalric bone in Drew's body.

Where were the damned security guards who swarmed all over the first floor? He unzipped his jacket and unfastened the catch on his holster before stepping into the Modern Art wing. Large paintings of stripes and geometric figures and cans of soup lined the walls, and unfortunately placed partitions blocked his view through the center of the room.

"Are y-you real?"

The girl had stopped in front of a strikingly lifelike figure of a patron staring at one of the murals. Drew had read of this famous sculpture, and how startled visitors often apologized for getting in its way before realizing it was one of the artworks on display.

Drew rounded a partition and walked straight over to the girl. Begosian jumped in his shoes, alarmed as if Drew himself was a statue come to life.

"Put your hands where I can see 'em, Stan." He pulled out his wallet and flashed his ID at the little girl without taking his eyes off his prey. "I'm here to help you. Get over here behind me."

Instead of obeying, the little girl stopped beside Drew and reached for his hand. Startled by the unexpected touch, he glanced down. The brief distraction was enough to send her stocky abductor running toward the far exit. Drew's instinct to pursue jolted through his legs, but the girl's trusting grip around his fingers anchored him in place.

He bent his knees and hunched down to the girl's level. "You need to find a security guard," he said softly. "Tell him you're lost and you have to find your mother. He can call her name over the intercom."

Drew straightened, took a step. But Kerry tugged at his hand. He glanced over his shoulder, saw Begosian near the archway. He turned back.

"Are you a g-good guy?" The little girl batted her eyelashes, her curious blue eyes watching him.

He shifted impatiently on his feet. "I try to be, kid."

"Faith t-told me I'd meet a g-good guy today."

Drew squatted down, took the girl gently by the shoulders, and fought to comprehend how a child's mind worked. "Is Faith your mom?"

Her sable curls bobbed around her cheeks as she shook her head. "She's my friend. Mom can't t-talk to her because she d-doesn't b-believe she's real."

Drew frowned and looked at the exit. Begosian had vanished. Recalling the presence of his pint-sized companion, Drew swallowed his curse. An invisible friend? What the hell would his psychologist tell him about such childish fantasies? Well, this girl had been kidnapped and rescued—both by strangers. That should be enough stress to trigger a busload of imaginary friends. Drew lifted his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He was way out of his league with children.

"Are you oh-k-kay, mister?"

Drew nodded. He even dredged up a rusty smile for the girl. "Let's go find your mom."


"Let go of her!" A Louis Vuitton purse loaded with bricks slammed into Drew's arm, knocking him off balance.  "You stay away from her!"

Falling to one knee, he felt the girl snatched from his grasp. He reached for his gun, but the brick bag struck him in the face, sending his glasses flying.

"Help! Security!"

Fortunately, his astigmatism didn't prevent him from seeing the bag hurtling his way for a third time. He deflected it with his arm, twisted the straps around his wrist, and yanked the offending weapon toward him.

Ms. Navy Blue Pinstripe came with it. They tumbled backward, crashing onto the marble floor, her long legs twisting with his. There was no time to enjoy the fantasy that sprang to mind. In a split second she shifted, and Drew guessed the direction her knee was headed.

"Damn it, lady, I'm on your side!"

He rolled over, pinning her to the floor beneath him. She struggled valiantly, a sinuous, writhing, dangerous opponent whom he dared not release if he intended to be physically able to chase down Begosian.

"Mom! He's the g-good guy I told you about. He s-saved me from the bad man! He's a policeman."

The girl's words stilled her mother's struggles. With wary precision, Drew shifted the lower half of his body off hers and knelt beside the woman. He helped her to a sitting position, but she quickly jerked from his grasp, adjusting her clothes as she scooted away from him.

"Show me your badge." Her throaty voice contained more venom than sex appeal at the moment, and Drew judiciously obliged.

"I'm not a cop. I'm a private investigator working for the district attorney's office," he explained. He pulled his wallet from his pocket and opened it so she could match the picture on his I.D. to his face.

All at once, Drew's world stood still. Face to face, up close, he looked into eyes of deep smoky blue. She had porcelain skin dusted with freckles, high cheekbones, and a regally straight nose. Her perfect oval face, framed by dark brown hair, looked familiar. Felt familiar

"Have we met before?" He heard his own voice as little more than a rasp in his throat.

Her eyes narrowed. She studied his photo, then looked at him. She scanned him from head to knee, from the crown of his shaggy blond hair to the faded threads where his jeans had worn thin.

Then her gaze met his, guarded and dismissive. "I don't think so, Mr. Gallagher."

She curled her legs beneath her. Drew stood and extended his hand to help her up. Once on her feet, she pulled away as if his touch might transfer some horrible disease. She circled her arm around her daughter, the ewe drawing her lamb into the fold. "Thank you for helping Kerry."

Drew choked back his annoyance. As verbally polite as leggy Ms. Priss might be, she'd relegated him to the status of that Begosian creep. What had he wanted, really, an invitation to dinner?

"Sure. You'd better have a talk with her about strangers, though."

The woman released the girl and squatted in front of her. "How many times have we talked about trusting people you don't know?"

Kerry shrugged. "Faith said it was oh-k-kay."

Her mother bristled. Her deep, controlling breath made Drew wonder what she might have said if he wasn't standing there. "Sweetie, you shouldn't listen to Faith if she tells you things you know are wrong. Use your common sense."

"Faith s-said she'd protect me." The girl grew agitated in her defense, and her struggling speech became almost incoherent.

"Kerry! She's not real. Angels don't… "  The rest of the reprimand disappeared behind a cool mask of control that slipped onto her face as though it had been there all along.

She stood and faced Drew, a woman of backbone and grit. With a quivering chin. That acknowledgment of her emotion was fleeting, and quickly hidden with an arrogant thrust of her jaw. "Sometimes my daughter's imagination gets the better of her."

Drew wondered why she fought the display of weakness. Most moms would be sobbing with relief or cussing up a storm by now. But not this one. Maybe her detachment had nothing to do with him, after all. Maybe she'd keep all her feelings locked up no matter who she was with, whether it was a smooth talker in a three-piece suit or a cynical bum like himself.

"No problem. Just glad I was here."

The woman's expression softened a bit. "I'm Emma Ramsey. Do you need me to file a report?" Even in this clipped, businesslike demeanor, her voice had a sexy undertone.

He fought the nagging feeling of recognition. Where would a no-name like himself run into a class act like her? Only in his dreams. He shook off his confusion. "I'll take care of it. I'd better see if he's still on the premises."

Emma nodded. "Thanks again."

"You'll need these t-to c-catch the bad guy." Drew looked down and found Kerry offering up his glasses.

"Thanks." Acting on an unusual impulse, Drew reached out and cupped the girl's cheek. Her soft skin reminded him of home. At least, it reminded him of the kind of place he wished he could call home. The gentle touch earned him a shy smile that warmed him despite her mother's frosty dismissal. "You listen to your mom, you hear?"


Drew put on his glasses and gave a mock salute to Mrs. Ramsey. She clutched her daughter in front of her. He turned and walked toward the exit where Begosian had disappeared. This do-gooder stuff wasn't exactly his thing. The reluctant gratitude shining in that mother's eyes and the wide-eyed trust placed in him by that little girl were undeserved. And unwanted.

He came out at the top of a back stairwell. Begosian was a cockroach kind of criminal. He'd keep to the dark, try to blend in unnoticed if people were around. Drew pulled out his gun and slipped down the stairs, noiselessly closing in on his prey. The cockroach might not have escaped yet. He had probably moved slowly, not wanting to draw attention to himself. Drew had no intention —

"Freeze! Drop your weapon!"

A door swung open and a security team swarmed in. Surrounded, Drew slowly lowered his gun to the floor, keeping his free hand raised in surrender. "Easy, guys, I'm with the D.A.'s office. I have a permit.  I was cleared when I came into the building."

One of the guards thumped him on the back, forcing him to the floor. "Face down and stay put!"

The clock ticked away as Drew seethed with indignant frustration. Several guards frisked him. One found his wallet and identified him.

But Drew's opportunity had passed. The guards returning his gun and i.d., dusting off his jacket, and apologizing repeatedly did little to reverse Drew's darkening mood. Begosian was long gone, and by now the trail would be cold. He'd botched what should have been a textbook assignment for a seasoned pro like himself.

Nope. This was definitely not a good day. Sweet little girls and sensible mothers weren't just out of his league. They were bad luck, pure and simple. They'd never mix with a man like Drew Gallagher.

* * *

Emma waited for the school bus to pull away before hurrying across the parking lot to her customized van. After talking to the police, it had taken a considerable degree of willpower to let Kerry get on the bus with her classmates. What she really wanted to do was bundle the girl up in her arms, take her home, lock the doors, and stand watch over her.

But Kerry had begged to finish the day with her friends, and Mrs. Arnold, her teacher, had assured Emma that maintaining a normal routine would be beneficial to her wayward daughter. So Emma had waved good-bye and buried her fears deep inside.

She concentrated on reviewing the rules of self-defense that Jonathan had taught her, and she made a mental note to reinforce those same precautions with Kerry. She had her keys ready as she approached her van, and casually scanned the area, alert to spots that offered hiding places for the kind of man who would steal a child from her mother. Or detain a woman with bad come-on lines.

Have we met before? She allowed herself one, short laugh. She'd heard all the lines—good and bad—and had turned them all down. She was a married woman, after all. Although her heart might be gathering dust on a shelf, it still belonged to her husband.

A voice inside her said he was still alive somewhere, struggling against captors or injury to find his way home. The men Jonathan Ramsey had served with continued to pursue any leads on his whereabouts. She'd traced him through military channels. Foreign embassies. Police. Private investigators.

But in five years, she'd found nothing. Nothing but heartache and loneliness and a dying faith that he would one day return to her.

Emma glanced beneath the frame of the neighboring car and her van before stepping between the vehicles. She fought off a feeling of guilt. Somehow, that Gallagher man had diverted her attention long enough for her to lose track of Kerry. He was lanky and lean. So intense, so unpredictable. With those incredible eyes. Behind his glasses, Mr. Gallagher's eyes reminded her of rough-cut emeralds—deep green, without a tinge of blue or gray.

She'd been wary of him. Yet he'd helped Kerry, and for that she was grateful. But she couldn't shake the way his eyes had stared at her. Hungry. Pleading. He'd made a silent request of her, but she hadn't understood the question. Maybe they had met before. But she'd have remembered a man like him—so polished beneath his coarse veneer, with fluid strength and precise movements. He was coiled, cautious.

She had barely unlocked the van door when it was yanked from her fingers. "Get in!"

A leather-gloved hand pushed her inside. "Move over."

Emma obeyed the breathy commands. Shock clouded her ability to think clearly, but she reacted on instinct. She jumped to the other side of the vehicle, and her fingers worked like a broken toy, struggling to open the passenger door handle.


The man's fingers clamped on to her elbow and twisted it behind her back. He leaned over her, pinning her with his heavier weight. Flight would not be possible. Out of breath, the man's heavy panting fogged up the windows, leaving Emma to wonder if anyone could see her plight. She schooled her panic.

"Who are you?" Her own breath caught on a strangled whisper. "What do you want?"

"My name doesn't matter." She craned her neck to study his face. She saw sweat beading on his forehead, despite the chill of the day, and his wild gaze darted from the back of the van to the windshield, looking for something neither of them could see. She flinched when his gaze landed on her.

 "I didn't intend to hurt your girl."

"You took her?" Fury swelled in her, overriding her fear. Emma jerked against his grip, but the movement only angered him.

"You listen to me!" He yanked her arm in its socket, forcing her down onto her knees in the space between the two front seats. Emma yelped at the pain shooting through her shoulder, but chose not to struggle. She gritted her teeth and listened to his coldblooded offer.

"I have a computer disk with proof your husband is still alive. For two hundred fifty thousand bucks I'll deliver it to you."

"My God. You were going to give that message to my daughter?"

She didn't know whether to scream or cry. To deliberately involve Kerry in this cruel scheme as bait or incentive to ensure her cooperation sickened her. But Jonathan? Could this bastard really know something about her husband? The possibility beckoned her. But her husband would never want her to be a part of something like this. He'd made a career risking his life to save the world from conscienceless predators like this lowlife.

"Where is he?" She heard herself ask the question, five years of grief and despair overwhelming the morals of a lifetime.

His hot breath lapped against her ear as he bent closer. "For another fifty, I'll tell you. Deal?" The driver-side door wrenched open.

"Having car trouble, Mrs. Ramsey?"

The deadly quiet voice startled her assailant. His grip slackened, and a blast of cold air swept over her Pulling her arm down and cradling it against her stomach, she could turn just enough to see a steel handgun pointed right at the man's temple.

She looked beyond his dazed expression to see the predatory gleam stamped on the taut features of Drew Gallagher's angry face. "Hands up, Begosian."

The eyes of her assailant dulled as he slowly turned and placed both hands on the steering wheel. With his gun still resting against her attacker's scalp, Gallagher spoke. "Let me help you out."

Drew dragged the man from her van, and Emma scrambled to her feet and climbed out after them. He hauled the man by the lapels of his brown tweed coat into the open parking lot and shoved him onto his knees upon the asphalt.

"Face down," he ordered, following the man down to frisk him for weapons and handcuff him. Then, with his knee squared in the middle of the guy's back, Drew pulled a cell phone from his jacket and punched in a number.

Emma huddled inside her coat, chilled by the cool efficiency of Drew Gallagher's actions as much as by the damp January wind. The shiver drew his attention, and he finally looked at her. His strange eyes narrowed. "You hurt?"

"Nothing serious." She dropped her gaze to the dirty slush that stained the hem of her coat where she'd been forced to kneel on the floor of the van. Had she been rescued a moment too soon? Was the chance to find Jonathan about to be bundled off to the police station?

 "I thought you weren't a cop."

"I'm not." His short answer surprised her. "I'm doing a favor for the D.A.'s office."

Before she could redirect her question, his party answered and he stepped away to conduct his phone conversation in hushed, efficient tones. Emma plunged her hands into her pockets and shifted her curiosity to the man lying handcuffed on the pavement. She had to raise her voice to be heard over his cursing and muttering about his rights.

"Do you really know my husband?" she asked.

"I'm not saying nothing now! You're screwed. He's screwed. Hell, I'm—" He spat the words at her, and in an instant she found Drew Gallagher's strong back positioned between them, protecting her from her assailant's spew of foul language. She could see neither Drew's face nor the man's, but suddenly the man fell silent.

"Anything else you want to say?" challenged Drew. His lanky height topped Emma's by only a few inches, yet an indefinable energy radiated from his broad shoulders, making him seem bigger and brawnier. He shielded her, made her feel feminine. He made her feel safe.

"What's this guy's interest in your family?" asked Drew, taking her elbow and guiding her several feet away, but not so far that he couldn't keep watch over the man in handcuffs.

Her personal life was none of his business, but unnerved by the unexpected warmth that radiated from deep inside her at the protective gesture, Emma answered. "He says he has a computer disk that can help me locate my husband."

"Your husband? How long has he been missing? Have you reported it to the police?" He slipped his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket.

"He's been gone five years." Her tone silenced a chain of professional questions he no doubt wanted to ask. The same questions she'd answered more times than she could count. "And there's nothing the police can do to help me."

"Five years?" He said the words and an odd transformation took place. The intensity in his catlike eyes wavered, and suddenly Drew Gallagher was miles away from her.

Realizing the hopelessness of her situation, she tried to draw him back, to show him the validity of her concern. "How can I know if he's telling the truth? If he has that disk hidden somewhere, I may never get a chance to see it."

Suddenly back, he drilled her with a look that made her feel silly. "That's Stan Begosian. He's wanted in an investigation for creating and distributing child pornography. You want me to release him before the cops get here so he can give you a disk he may or may not have? For all we know, it's a scam. That disk—if it does exist—might contain nothing more than pictures of children he's taken. It could have been a picture of your little girl."

"That's enough."

"I'm not trying to be cruel, but whatever he claims . . . don't believe it."

Emma bristled at his easy dismissal of her last shred of hope. "He knows who I am. That has to mean something."

"It means he's a conniving lowlife." Drew splayed his fingers across his hips and stepped closer. "Look, the cops will search his place. Ask them to look for the disk."

Emma tipped her chin to look him in the eye. "Apparently your goal is simply to get your man, regardless of the cost his actions or yours have on anyone else."

He pressed his mouth into a grim, flat line. Emma clenched her toes inside her pumps to keep from backing away from the disquieting intensity of his eyes. "I rescued your daughter today from that creep. I just saved your butt. And now I'm the bad guy?"

Two black-and-white units pulled up, giving Emma an opportunity to sneak a breath she wasn't aware she'd been holding. With their hands on their holstered guns, the officers hurried out and surrounded Begosian. Drew turned to acknowledge them, then raked his fingers through his hair, shaking loose his mane of wheat-gold waves. His shoulders rose and fell in a deep breath before he turned back to her.

"This has been more fun than I can stand, but we have to stop meeting like this."

Her heart thumped in a funny rhythm at the veiled disdain in his voice. Maybe she hadn't properly thanked him. But, savior or not, he'd cost her a lead in finding Jonathan.

More than that, she couldn't be around a man whose simple eye contact made her pulse pound in her veins. The instantaneous awareness felt too much like betraying her husband.

"No, Mr. Gallagher. We have to stop meeting, period."


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