Authors: T.R. Ragan
Also by T. R. Ragan
(Lizzy Gardner Series #1)
(Lizzy Gardner Series #2)
A Dark Mind
(Lizzy Gardner Series #3)
(Lizzy Gardner Series #4)
Also by Theresa Ragan
Return of the Rose
A Knight in Central Park
Finding Kate Huntley
Taming Mad Max
Having My Baby
An Offer He Can’t Refuse
Here Comes the Bride
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2015 T. R. Ragan
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Thomas & Mercer, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Thomas & Mercer are trademarks of
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Cover design by Cyanotype Book Architects
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014949133
Joe, Jesse, Joey, Morgan, and Brittany. Each of you is a constant reminder of what’s really important. I am so incredibly blessed.
When you’ve lost everything,
There’s nothing left to lose . . .
After work, the first thing Jenny Pickett did when she walked into her house off Glen Tree Drive in Citrus Heights was carry the mail to her office. Her sturdy heels clacked against the wood floor as she made her way down the hall to her study, adjusting picture frames as she went. She then sat down at her desk and turned on the lamp.
Using a letter opener, she sliced open one piece of mail after another. All junk. She then carefully slid each slip of paper into the shredder, one at a time.
Jenny was a creature of habit. She couldn’t help it.
She looked at the far right corner of her desk. The article she’d clipped from the
Journal of the American Chemical Society
was like a magnet, begging to be read again and again. She had brought the article home three weeks ago, read it hundreds of times already, even crumpled it in her fist and threw it into the garbage. An hour after tossing it, though, she’d pulled it out, smoothed most of the wrinkles from the glossy paper, and then left it leaning against a stack of books—where it was now. She didn’t need to bring it closer to know what it said. She had most of the article memorized.
She glanced at the clock. In a couple of hours, Brandon Louis would be paying her a visit, making this day one of the most important days of her life. For this reason, she refused to allow herself to continue on her recent downward spiral into depression—a dark mood she’d found herself in ever since she’d learned that Terri Kramer, an old college classmate, one of the few people she had considered to be a friend, had betrayed her.
Unable to help herself, she reached for the article and stared at the small picture of Terri. Her dark-brown hair was tied back, revealing the same round face and cobalt-blue eyes.
The entire industry had been abuzz about Terri Kramer’s supposed discovery of a new antiaging serum. Terri Kramer had been quoted as saying, “Of course this discovery wasn’t mine alone, but the result of the hard work of my team.”
Jenny felt a rush of heat swoosh through her body. Three weeks had passed since she’d heard the news, and yet she couldn’t look at the article without feeling as if she was sliding deeper into a seething funk.
It wasn’t a bad dream. Terri stole my formula.
You knew she would. You don’t have any friends. Nobody likes you.
Ignoring the voice in her head, Jenny inhaled, noticed the time, and then carefully placed the folded piece of paper back against the books. Brandon would be here in two hours. She didn’t have time to think about any of this now.
Tonight was the night Brandon would propose. Woman’s intuition had her body thrumming with excitement. Brandon was a pilot, and, although he didn’t call often, he’d left a message with the receptionist at her work: we need to talk.
Only four words, but she knew. He wanted her to be ready. And boy, would she be. Although their time spent together was usually a quick romp in bed, she’d been seeing him for almost a year now. He was going to propose. It was time.
Don’t be an idiot. Nobody loves you. You know that.
“Not tonight,” she said aloud. “Leave me alone.”
After one more glance at Terri’s picture, she came to her feet. She walked into the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and sprinkled the water with lavender bath salts.
As the tub filled, she examined her recent purchases laid out on the bed. The formfitting red dress was beautiful. The undergarments made her blush. Should she wear the sexy mesh-and-lace corset with lace V-string or the red bombshell garter slip?
Tonight would be special—different from all of their other nights spent together.
Brandon was smart and funny and ridiculously charming. Every so often he would take her to dinner. Then they would return to her place to sip wine and talk—about everything.
Time raced, and although the next two hours felt like minutes, when the doorbell rang, she was ready. Giddy with anticipation, she opened the door. Before she could wrap her arms around him, Brandon made his way inside without so much as a hello.
She shut the door and swiveled around, her heart pounding. His hair was slicked back, the smell of his cologne woodsy and familiar. Tonight he had taken the time to change out of his uniform. He wore dark slacks and a white buttoned-up shirt.
“What’s with all the candles?” he asked.
She waited for him to notice her, wanted him to take a good long look. She’d taken her time with her hair. Soft silky curls fell over her shoulders. There wasn’t one part of her body that hadn’t been pampered. She had to remind herself to breathe as she moved toward him, hoping to hypnotize him with the sway of her hips.
He didn’t say a word. He was speechless—exactly the effect she’d hoped to have on him.
As she brought her lips to his, she untucked his shirt so she could slide her hands over his warm skin. Brandon’s body felt like chiseled marble. Her breathing quickened. When she pressed her breasts against his chest and her lips to his, swirling her tongue around, his breathing quickened, too.
Much too soon for her liking, he pulled back and said, “We need to talk.”
Those four words again. Her heart hammered. She’d keep it light, playful. Looking at him through dark lashes that had taken much too long to apply, she pouted. “Seriously, Mr. Louis? It has been weeks since I saw you last, and you just want to talk?”
He reached under his shirt, took hold of her wrists, and pulled her hands away.
This time when she looked into his eyes, she saw something she hadn’t seen before—a dash of something she couldn’t quite read. “What’s wrong?”
He scratched the back of his head and then gestured with his chin toward the table she’d set for two, complete with candles and crystal glasses. “What’s this all about, Jenny?”
“I’ve missed you. I wanted to surprise you.” She tried to step closer, but he clasped his fingers around her forearms to keep her at bay. She looked at his hands. “You’re hurting me.”
He let go. “I don’t know how to tell you this, Jenny, but under the circumstances I think it’s best if I just blurt it out.”
“Please do. You’re scaring me. I have no idea—”
“Engaged,” she said, slowly enough to let the word wrap around her brain. “Engaged to be married?”
She rubbed her temples, tried to think, but his words did not make any sense. “I don’t understand. How can that be true? When did you meet her?”
“The truth is I was engaged when I met you.”
Nervous laughter escaped her. “That’s ridiculous. We’ve been dating for nearly a year.”
“I hardly call what we’ve been doing dating.”
“What do you call it, then?”
“Fucking. We’ve been fucking, Jenny. You’ve got an amazing body. You’re great in bed. You have the mouth of a porn star. How could I resist?”
That’s why he never talked about marriage or kids or past relationships. Two minutes after you met him, I told you he was an asshole. Maybe you should start listening to me.
A flash of electricity whizzed through her head. The searing pain nearly brought her to her knees. She turned from him and went to the kitchen in search of aspirin.
He followed close on her heels. “I’m sorry.”
He’s not sorry. Look at him. He’s a cocky son of a bitch who’s been fucking someone else the entire time you’ve known him.
She fumbled with the bottle of pills. “Why are you here?”
“I had a few hours to kill. I figured I might as well tell you face-to-face.”
She opened the bottle of aspirin, swallowed the pills, and then held on to the granite counter for support. “Is this why you could never give me your number? This is why you didn’t want to be seen in public?”
No shit, Sherlock.
He didn’t answer.
“Were there others besides me?”
Do bears shit in the woods?
“Of course not, baby. Only you.”
This was not happening. They were meant to be together. She turned around and fell into him. She wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her head against his chest. “Please don’t do this to me.”
Unlatching her arms, he released a disgusted moan as he gently pushed her away from him. Then he carefully tucked his shirt back into his pants and smoothed back his hair. “Don’t make this more difficult than it needs to be.”
“I want to understand.” She took hold of his hand and rubbed his knuckles against her cheek. “You said I was easy to talk to and that we had a special connection. What changed?”
“Then tell me why you didn’t pick me. Why am I not the one you’re marrying?”
“You really want to know?”
She kissed his hand. “I do. I really do.”
“Look at you,” he said. “You’re clinging to me as if I’m some sort of lifeline. What sort of woman sits at home, night after night, waiting for a man to stop by once a month?
“A desperate one,” he said before she could answer.
The counters are covered in fingerprints and germs. This place is a mess! The butcher block is covered with bacteria and fungi. The sink is disgusting. No wonder he doesn’t love you.
Letting go of his hand, she turned toward the sink. She grabbed a clean sponge, put it under water, and began to scrub. Everything was so dirty. There were smudges and germs everywhere.
“Here we go,” Brandon said. “Hurry! Grab the disinfectant.”
Usually she moved the sponge in small methodical circles, but at the moment, every movement was frantic.
He groaned. “I’m not going to finish what I was saying unless you stop cleaning.”
Seconds passed before she dropped the sponge in the sink and told him to go on. She wasn’t ready to turn around and face him, though. She couldn’t bear to look at him.
“How many times have you told me about the people who taunted and bullied you throughout your life?” he asked. “Every time we get together, you complain about how people at work treat you with little or no respect, but do you ever do anything about it? No. You have zero confidence. You’re like a scared little trapped mouse. You need to get a spine, Jenny Pickett. Stop bitching about your sorry life, for Christ’s sakes, and do something about it. For once in your life, stand up for yourself.”
The cocksucker has a point.
Her vision blurred. He was right. She needed to stick up for herself.
There’s a knife right there in front of you, lots of them. Shut the man up, for God’s sake.
“Does your fiancée know about us?”
“No,” he said.
“I thought you came here tonight because you were going to ask me to marry you. I spent the past two hours getting ready.”
His laughter echoed off the walls, causing every muscle in her body to tense.
“You see a man once a month, and you think he wants to marry you?”
She reached for the biggest knife from the wooden knife block, whipped around, and thrust the blade into his chest, pushing as hard as she could, surprised by her strength and the ease with which his flesh gave way to the sharp steel.
The surprise in his eyes, the open mouth, the stunned expression:
was the look she’d been hoping for earlier when she’d greeted him at the door.
Slow clap. Wow, I didn’t know you had it in you. This is more like it!
Brandon’s eyes had grown big and round. Both of his hands were clamped around the handle of the knife protruding from his chest. His eyes rolled to the back of his head, and he stumbled forward.
She jumped out of his way.
For a moment, she just stared at him, wondering if she had really just killed Brandon Louis. It took a little while for her breathing to return to normal, but it did, and she felt powerful and in control.
He was right. He really was. Standing up for herself was downright empowering. She felt invincible.
Blood seeped from his body and onto the floor, sending her anxiety into high alert. Careful not to step in the pool of blood, she ran to her bedroom, pulled off her clothes, and put on a pair of sweatpants and a T-shirt. She ran through the laundry room to the garage, where she gathered cleaning products, including a pair of thick rubber gloves and a bucket. She also grabbed a tarp she’d planned to use when she painted the guestroom, then headed back for the kitchen.
She needed to work quickly. She needed to be smart.
Rolling his body onto the tarp took more strength than she’d imagined it would. Once she mopped up the blood, she put on a clean pair of gloves and emptied his pockets.
The bastard had a cell phone. He’d told her he didn’t have one, and she’d believed him. He’d told her cell phones were bad for the environment.
His phone had been powered off.
, she thought, although she was dying to turn it on so she could check his messages and read his texts. But that would be stupid.
She looked through his wallet, found a picture of the woman she assumed he was engaged to. The hair was nice enough, but she had angry eyes and a pointy nose.
Do not take the picture.
Next she found the key to his rental car parked in her driveway.
She was an accomplished research chemist known for her organizational skills, intelligence, and ingenuity. Now was the time to act like it. She needed to be careful and methodical. She could not leave behind any evidence.
Once his body was rolled tightly in the tarp, she used duct tape to secure both ends. She would drag the body through the laundry room to the garage. Her father was a pig farmer in Elk Grove. He sometimes had to get rid of dead animals. She knew just what to do. Tomorrow was Friday. After work, she would pack up the body and head for the farm.
Right now, though, her priority was getting Brandon into the trunk of her car. Trussed up as he was, he wasn’t as hard to maneuver as he might’ve been, but still, he was heavy as hell and unwieldy. A two-stage process would do it: turn him over onto the low furniture dolly stored behind her freezer and wheel him to the garage door; then drive her car into the garage and transfer him into the trunk. The transfers would be awkward, but she’d take her time. After that, she would clean herself up and get rid of the rental car.