on October 29, 2017
Hi all! As you might know, Twisted Truths is releasing in two weeks on November 14th (which is my actual birthday–LOL!). I thought you might like to read the first chapter of it, so here it is:
Noni tossed her laptop and stack of maps onto the faded patchwork bedspread. Her eyes were gritty, and her temples ached. The battered electric heater rattled from the corner of the motel room, providing a surprising amount of heat. Her fingers tingled as they started to warm up.
Winter blew snow around outside, and ice scattered against the window. She shivered and knelt one knee on the bed as she spread out the closest map. Where was her pen? Scrambling for her bag on the floor, she drew out a black marker and made several notations across the mountainous Pacific Northwest. Her heart raced, and her lungs compressed. She had to be closing in. Then she crossed out several towns, including Seattle, before pulling her phone from her pocket and hitting speed dial for number one.
Static crackled and then an expletive echoed as it sounded like the phone was dropped. Something shuffled. “Eagle? This is Sparrow” finally came over the line.
Noni rubbed her aching head. “Hi, Aunt Franny. I thought we agreed to forget the nicknames.”
“So did I, dear, but Verna likes being called Hawk Two.”
Why would they have a Hawk Two when there wasn’t a Hawk One? Noni swallowed down a sharp retort. “We have to get serious, Fran. This is dangerous.” Though she’d done everything possible to make sure the two older women were out of the line of fire. “Where are you?”
“I just set up camp and am staying in the Motel Burnside just north of Portland. Verna should be pulling into Salt Lake City any second now,” Franny said. “My meeting with our private detective is tomorrow morning—he has already left Seattle and is heading here.”
“Good. I’m going to scout around here in Greenville before backtracking to Snowville in a day or so.” Greenville was near the Washington-Idaho border, fifty miles out from Snowville. People back home familiar with the street gang had told her of its affiliations in Greenville. Now all she had to do was find them. Somehow.
She was leading a team—an untrained, totally vulnerable team—in a chase after a dangerous gang member. She was a lotion and candle maker, for God’s sakes. What the hell had she been thinking?
“What about the FBI?” Franny asked.
Noni swallowed, trying to shove away self-doubt. “The FBI is a last resort.” If she contacted them, the agents would immediately send out an AMBER Alert for a missing child. If that happened, Richie might kill the baby. She couldn’t let that happen. Plus, the law wasn’t exactly on her side right now since she was working outside it because of time constraints. God, she hoped she wasn’t making the hugest mistake of her life by handling this herself.
“Any news from Denver?” Franny asked, sounding weary.
“No.” Noni lifted her chin, her heart cracking at the mere mention of his name. He had given her a fake last name, so all she had was his picture and some basic information she knew about him. “But I’ve posted a search for him all over the Internet, even on dating sites. He has to see something.” Her chest hurt to even think about the asshole who’d broken her heart so easily, but she needed his help, and she’d take the pain to save the missing baby. “I’ll find him.”
“Honey.” Fran cleared her throat. “He’s probably no better than that first private detective we hired, the one who stole half of our savings.”
Noni’s shoulders slumped. “Denver has to be better, and I’ll get our money back from that other detective. I promise.” How, she had no clue. The first detective she’d found had been a fraud. He’d taken everything he could—twenty thousand dollars. But they’d been desperate. Sharon’s baby had been kidnapped two weeks ago, and she was only three months old.
Poor Sharon. The question of what exactly had caused her death would have to be answered later—after Noni made sure her baby, Talia, was safe from her dick of a father. Noni would bet her life that Richie had given Sharon the drugs she’d overdosed on.
Was Talia safe? Was anybody reading her stories at night? She liked to cuddle with her special blanket and listen, even at only three months old. Did she miss her blanket? Noni glanced at the light pink edging peeking out of her pack. Her hand shook, and her heart felt like somebody had punched her in the chest. What if Talia wasn’t safe?
She couldn’t think like that. She had to focus on what to do to get the baby back.
The second detective Noni had hired had at least traced Richie and the baby to somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. The PI was heading to Portland, but Noni’s gut and a source back home had told her to head to Greenville. “Get some sleep, Franny.”
“I mean it. Let’s forget Denver What’s-His-Real-Name-Who-the-Hell-Knows-Because-He’s-a-Damn-Liar and just do this ourselves.”
“Let’s go back to calling him ‘dickhead,’” Noni said, with even her arms feeling heavy. About a year ago she’d met Denver, a private detective, while he was on a case in Anchorage, where she lived, and he had seemed like a bloodhound who could always find the person he was looking for. She’d fallen for him, hard. Then he’d left, and her world had been a darker place without him. A colder place. Now she needed his help, and she’d do whatever it took to get it. “We might be taking on an entire gang, Auntie. Denver is tough enough to do it.”
“I don’t know,” Franny said, drawing out the words. “I guess, worst-case scenario, we can just stand behind him if bullets start flying.”
“Absolutely,” Noni agreed, pushing the map out of the way. In fact, she wanted to shoot Denver herself. How could he just leave her? Her skin heated, and she took a deep breath to calm her emotions. “Get some sleep. I’ll call in tomorrow.”
“Honey, this has to be about finding the baby and not, ah, meeting up with Denver again.”
“I know.” The words felt hollow, just like her chest.
Fran sighed. “I know you know, but you’ve never given up on anything in your life, and you really had feelings for that man. You didn’t get any closure.”
Because the dickhead had left her without a word. Noni swallowed a lump in her throat. “Yeah, I want closure. But I want that baby back and safe more. She’s all that matters right now.” Noni had made a promise to both Sharon and her baby, right after Talia’s birth, that she’d be there for them. That she’d protect them. She’d helped take care of Talia for three months, and her arms already felt empty. “I’m focused. Get some sleep, Auntie.”
“All right. Night, sweetie,” Franny said before disconnecting the call.
Noni set the phone on the nightstand and stretched out on the bed. She should get out her notes and keep working. Her eyelids fluttered shut, and she relaxed into the worn mattress as her mind wandered.
Would she find Denver? Of course she needed him to save the baby. But that wasn’t all. She needed answers, and if she was honest with herself, she wanted to see him. Wanted at least a chance to feel that connection again. She was too tired to feel pathetic about that.
She drifted, trying to just relax.
A whisper of sound jerked her back into alertness. She tensed and looked toward the door as she partially sat up out of instinct.
Oh God. Denver. In the flesh.
He stood inside the room, quietly shutting the door against the freezing cold. The entire atmosphere electrified. Holy crap on a mutinous cracker. Denver was there. Really there. After a year of having no clue whether or not he was alive, the sight of him seemed surreal. Was she dreaming him? Again? How could he really be there?
“Noni,” he breathed, his gaze settling on her.
“I locked that door,” she mumbled, sitting all the way up, her mind blanking to avoid the rush of emotion pouring through her.
“What are you doing?” he snarled, his eyes turning a furious blue.
Her temper rolled from banked to a slow burn. She blinked. So much for her secret little fantasy of him finding her, begging forgiveness, and professing that his heart and soul belonged to her. Not that she’d take him back. But still. “Excuse me?” Her voice had risen.
“Pack. Now.” He edged to the motel room window and moved the heavy curtain out of the way to peer out.
She shook her head, trying to grasp reality. It had been so long since she’d seen him, and within seconds her entire body had flared to life. Her heart thundered. How could he still affect her like this?
He turned his head slowly back to her, as he must’ve realized she hadn’t jumped into action. Stress cut lines around his mouth. “Noni. Now.”
That dangerously deep and dark voice. She still heard that low tenor in the time between sleep and wakefulness…when dreams took her under. Like he’d taken her under.
Somehow he looked tougher than before. Even more remote and distant. So large and so…male.
His black hair brushed the collar of his battered leather jacket, and his ripped jeans led to snow-covered leather boots. A shadow covered his square jaw, showcasing each hard angle. His dark brows were arched, his eyes were a sizzling blue, and his full lips were set into a thin line. Tension choked the air around them, rolling through the room with a discernible heat.
She couldn’t stop looking at him, watching him like a starving woman would a cheesecake.
There was something unreal about him—an elusive, too-male, predatory quality she’d never been able to define. Yet she felt it. She felt him—the danger and the kindness, the complexity and the simplicity. All characteristics he’d probably deny…if he bothered to talk at all.
“Noni,” he snapped.
She jumped to her feet.
He was pissed?
Hurt rocketed through her, and she shoved most of it away, leaving a lump of coal in her gut. “Sorry to bother you and whatever woman you’re lying your ass off to right now, but I need your help.” Her knees wobbled, but she held herself upright.
He breathed out, and his nostrils flared. “Later.” Angling around her, he shoved the maps and manila files off the bed and into her bag.
She’d forgotten. How had she forgotten his terseness? “I’m not going anywhere,” she snapped.
He turned, and she instantly found herself up against the wall, his hand flat against her upper chest. How had she also forgotten how quickly he could move? He was almost supernatural that way. Her fear shocked her while her desire pissed her off. She hated being in this position, where she needed him. His face lowered toward hers. Flecks of different shades of blue made up his spectacular eyes, which glittered with an emotion she couldn’t quite read.
She was pinned easily—too easily—in place. This close, she could smell him. Male and forest and leather and something that was all Denver.
He didn’t speak. No order, no sarcasm, no words. He just stared as if he could compel her into obedience with his intensity.
There was a time when she’d responded to his looks. She’d read him—almost felt him. He wasn’t much for talking, and she’d learned to interpret his movements and expressions. Because he had mattered to her.
Apparently she hadn’t mattered a whit to him. Hurt exploded inside her again.
At the reminder, her head snapped back. Her stomach clenched. He had finally bothered to show up and now was giving her orders? Oh, hell no. She tried to struggle, and he kept her still and against the wall with one hand spread across her sternum.
His strength was unreal. Once she’d marveled at it. Not now.
His days of touching her were over. Hurt and anger mixed until she had to act. She pivoted and shot her knee toward his groin, fully intending to connect.
His free hand grasped the back of her thigh, shoving her leg to the side, and he stepping into the vee of her legs. The full length of him, heated and hard, trapped her in place.
She gasped at the contact as sparks shot through her. Her body warmed and then flashed to a boil, all from one simple touch. All from his nearness—something she’d so desperately missed. There were times when she’d wished that she hadn’t met him, that she didn’t know what it felt like to be loved by him. To feel as if she were the only one in the world for him. “Damn it, Denver.”
His nose nearly touched hers. “Are you crazy?”
Maybe. Probably. She’d been out of her mind since he’d shattered her heart. “Let me go.”
“Can’t. You have no idea what you’ve done.” A muscle twitched in his jaw. The fierce anger on his face made him look like a stranger. Not the man she thought she’d known.
Her mind spun. “What I’ve done?” Wait a minute. All the thoughts, all the fears of the last year, bombarded her. How many precious moments had she wasted wondering about him? Asking herself why he’d left without a word. Why would posting about him on the Internet cause problems? Her breath stopped. “Oh God. You are married.”
His gaze narrowed even further. “That’s ridiculous.”
All right. She scrambled. “Then wanted. You’re wanted by the law.”
He didn’t answer.
That was an answer, wasn’t it? Oh man. What had she done? Adrenaline flooded through her, and she fought for calmness. How dangerous was he? Really? Maybe she’d been wrong about trusting him to help her. “Leave now. Leave, and I’ll take down all the posts about you.” She clearly didn’t know him. Maybe she never had. For the first time fear—the real kind—shivered down her spine. He was certainly more dangerous than anyone else out there.
“Too late,” he ground out.
“I-I’m…sorry.” The words breathed out of her as self-preservation took over. The man was one long line of coiled strength, and she didn’t stand a chance in a fight, even on her best day. They were alone in her motel room, and she had no friends near. He’d left town without any loose ends. The photograph she had of them he hadn’t known about. Was she a loose end? Just what would he do to her? Could she scream?
He blinked. His eyes darkened, and his jaw hardened visibly. “Don’t be afraid of me.”
“I’m not,” she shot back, lying instantly. Free—she had to get free of him. “This was a mistake. I know that now.” It wasn’t her first time trying to survive danger, and it wouldn’t be her last. She’d find the baby on her own. “Just leave. Please.”
“Too late.” His lip twisted. Was that regret or determination?
Oh God. What did that mean—Too late? What would he do? Even more awareness jolted through her veins. Panic shook her control. She opened her mouth to scream and had barely sucked in air when his mouth crashed down on hers.
She instantly groaned from a bombardment of way too many feelings. Shock, awareness, warmth, need.
His touch was too carnal to be called a kiss. She fragmented, splintering into pieces. Fire swept her, igniting her body even as her mind rebelled. Her nipples sharpened and her knees weakened, but alarm bells clanged throughout her head. The disconnect between her feelings and her thoughts nearly dropped her to the ground.
He held her upright and in place.
His touch, his taste, his smell were so familiar that her mouth moved beneath his, and her hands rose to his chest. Instead of pushing him away, her fingers curled into the leather jacket. It had been so long. Her body separated from her brain as she kissed him back, tilting her head to take more of him.
Afraid, lonely, stripped…She stopped thinking and just felt.
He growled low, and the sound reverberated in her mouth and down her body.
Her abdomen rolled and clenched, need flaring through her quickly. What was she doing? No. God. She had to end this. With a muffled sob, she wrenched her head to the side. “Stop,” she breathed.
He stiffened, his head lifting very slightly. Grasping her chin with a firm grip, he turned her to face him again, almost too easily controlling her. “No screaming.”
She gulped, and a tremble shook her.
“I won’t hurt you.” His eyes had darkened to the hue of a night sky right before the moon softened the darkness. Now lust glimmered there along with the anger.
She swallowed, trapped. Her lungs completely gave up the fight and stopped working. She couldn’t breathe. God, she couldn’t breathe. “Okay.” Tears filled her eyes.
“Noni.” His voice gentled to the tone she remembered. “I promise. You’ll be safe.”
Her mouth had gone dry, so she just nodded. Didn’t the devil have an angel’s face? Confusion numbed her.
“We have to go. Now. Tell me you get me.” His hoarse growl rumbled between them, his breath brushing her lips.
Go. That was good. He wanted to go, so at least he wasn’t going to hurt her and leave her. But what then?
A shiver overtook her, from head to toe, while all the areas in between heated. “Where?” she breathed, not nearly as forcefully as she would’ve liked. He brought out a vulnerability in her that she had explored while in the safety of his touch, and then he’d left. The vulnerability had remained, and she tried to hide it. Had he just become the thing to fear? What did he mean that it was too late for him to leave? Her chin lifted. There was strength in survival, and, oh, she knew how to survive.
He jerked his head to the side, his attention focused on the door. His body stiffened, and he released her suddenly, moving back toward the window. “Get your bag.”
What had he heard?
The urgency in his voice propelled her toward the laptop and bag. Getting out of that room and finding some space was crucial. Her stomach cramping and her breath quickening, she grabbed her possessions and moved toward him. If she got outside, could she get away from him?
The window blasted apart with a loud shatter, spraying glass.
Denver turned and leaped toward her, tackling her to the floor. She hit with a hard thump, then struggled against him. Pain flashed from her hip.
He covered her, and the entire room exploded.
Blood Brothers Book 3
November 14, 2017
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