Authors: J.M. Madden
Tags: #Contemporary, #Romantic Suspense, #Adult
Copyright 2013 J.M. Madden
Cover by Viola Estrella
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Do not take part in piracy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Any logistical, technical, procedural or medical mistake in this book is truly my own.
To my husband, for being ever patient. I love you dearly.
My deepest thanks to Bruce McDonald for the insightful information that has made this book as true to life as possible. I sincerely appreciate your willingness to share. You’ve brought a dimension to the story that may not have been there otherwise. THANK YOU.
Donna and Robyn, you’re awesome cheerleaders and perfectionists. You guys rock! Kally, thank you for the idea of the prequel itself, not to mention the tips and encouragement.
And most importantly, to all the service members who have given up any part of themselves to serve this glorious country, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for securing our safety and that of my family.
I’ve had the idea for this series for a long time. But I had a lot of doubts about whether I could convey the message I wanted to.
As we go about our daily grind, it’s easy to forget that there are men and women dying every day as they fight to ensure our freedom. When they come home, no matter what shape they are in, they deserve our utmost respect and appreciation for doing the job they volunteered for.
Every soldier that has served overseas will carry some type of scar, either internally or externally. It’s our responsibility, as their support, to make sure that those scars are seen as marks of courage, not something to turn away from when you pass them on the street.
I sincerely believe there is a soul mate for everybody. The external package doesn’t matter when it comes to the heart. If you are the family of a wounded serviceman, I thank you as well, for being the rock they need through their recovery. The families are just as strong as the soldiers.
hannon looked down at her rear tire incredulously. “Are you serious? Why today, damn it?”
Snow flurried around her as she stood there, hands on hips, and tried to decide what to do. She’d have to change it, of course. And call Duncan to let him know she’d be late. Grumbling, she stomped up the walk and into the house to change her clothes.
Twenty minutes later, she was positively livid. Not only was the brand new snow tire flat for no apparent reason, but so was the freaking spare. How the hell did that happen? She could hear her father’s amused voice in her mind now, as he whispered, “Oh, calamity Grace.” Little black rain clouds followed her sometimes and no matter how many pairs of boots she wore or umbrellas she carried, she always managed to get drenched.
Lisa pulled into her driveway a couple houses down just then and waved. Shannon heaved a relieved sigh and crossed the snowy ground to her. “Hey, neighbor.”
The pretty strawberry blond flashed a tired smile. “Hey, yourself. Something wrong? You’re usually gone by now.”
Shannon waved a hand at the lopsided Blazer. “Somehow, I managed to get not one, but two flat tires sitting in my driveway.”
Lisa scrunched up her face and laughed. “Really? Oh, Shannon, even for you that’s impressive.” She looked down at her blue scrubs. “Give me a few minutes and I’ll drive you to the garage. Come on in.”
Shannon followed Lisa up the walk and waited on her entry rug while she changed. “Wow, nice TV,” she called. The flat screen took up a huge expanse of wall space. Looking around, she could see evidence that a man might be staying with her neighbor.
Lisa peeked her face around the corner, grinning.
“You like that? Boyfriend’s last apology for being a schmutz.”
Shannon laughed and shook her head. Lisa’s up-and-down relationship with her boyfriend was more tumultuous than a Colorado snowstorm. “So why do you stay with him?”
Her friend’s face closed down. “There are some things you can’t change in life; who you’re related to, taxes, the nasty boss you’d like to shove off a roof. And you can’t choose who you’re attracted to.”
Oh, boy. Didn’t she know it?
Lisa drove her to the garage, then back home an hour later. Shannon couldn’t quit wondering aloud about the tire. “If nothing was in it, how did it get flat, then?”
Lisa glanced at her and shrugged, but Shannon could tell her patience was wearing thin.
“Sorry, I know I keep harping on this, but it’s driving me nuts. I also had strange tire tracks in my driveway last week.”
“Well, do what the mechanic said and drive the truck in and he’ll check the other tire too. And maybe the tracks were just somebody turning around.”
Shannon nodded and looked out the window. She needed to think about something else.
“I’m sorry I’ve delayed your sleep. Working swing this week?”
“Nah. Just pulled an extra for a friend with the flu. I’ll be back on nights after tomorrow.”
“Ah, was it a bad shift?”
Lisa grimaced as she turned into their subdivision. “Bad enough,” she admitted. “A three-year-old swallowed two quarters and a nickel, an old guy came in with chest pain, and there was a car crash out east that was flown in. Not pretty. They all managed to survive, though.”
“I don’t know how you do it, Lisa.”
The other woman shrugged. “You get used to it.” Lisa grinned. “I don’t know how you sit at a computer all day.”
“You get used to it,” Shannon retorted, laughing.
Lisa stayed with her long enough for Shannon to change the tire, then headed home. Shannon changed her clothes, again, and drove to the garage. The nice little mechanic had the truck ready to go in minutes.
“Nothing in that tire either, ma’am.”
Shannon stared at him for several long seconds, and asked him to repeat that. He did, but it didn’t make any more sense the second time. She paid the man and walked out to her truck in a daze. What would cause both tires to go flat that way?
Unease tightened her scalp, and she glanced up and down the busy street. Then she shook her head at her craziness. It was a fluke. Had to be.
John gritted his teeth and clenched the wheels of his sport chair in his fists as he listened to the men blather on about how good their lives could be. He wished they would just shut the fuck up so he could hear Shannon in the outer office. She’d come in beautiful but frazzled two hours late and said her tire had been flat. That actually hadn’t worried him as much as the unease he had seen in her eyes. She’d tried to laugh the incident off, but he’d been watching her for a long time. Everybody else accepted her explanation, but in his gut he knew something wasn’t right.
Something one of the men said snagged his attention. Pictures? Really? He was supposed to be taking part in the meeting, but the proposal was so ridiculous he’d zoned out. He focused his attention on the two…men seated beside him. Were they for real? Yes, they were competent, knew the security business and had plenty of money to throw around, but at the bottom line they wanted the publicity of financing an all-veteran detective agency. His eyes flashed to Duncan’s across the desk, and he was gratified to see his boss was as unenthused as he was, with his heavy arms crossed and his brows furrowed.
Time to end this farce.
“Are you fucking serious?” John snarled.
The men looked uncomfortable for all of two seconds, before they plowed on with their spiel.
As if it wasn’t bad enough they were disabled, now these yahoos wanted to publicize them?
No fucking way
. Even Chad seemed turned off. Texas was his home state, and he was the one who had pushed for this meeting, to talk about a possible expansion to Dallas. John personally thought that the Denver office was enough for now. They were busy, but not so busy that things slipped through the cracks.
John was relieved when the meeting finally began to pull to a close. The automatic cringe on Duncan’s face and the way he’d shut down when he heard the proposal had said it all. How were they supposed to be effective investigators if their faces were plastered everywhere, as well as their disabilities? That was the part that turned his stomach. Why on earth would he want
people to know he was damaged? He could hardly stand the stares now. He had taken the online crimes section and the technology side—the bugs and wires the guys used every day—deliberately so he wouldn’t have to deal with the public. To be offered money to flaunt their disability was just crass.
Chad, ever the laid-back Texan, deflected the conversation to a favorite sports team and Duncan told the men they would consider their proposal. John knew by the sound of his voice, though, that they would do no such thing.
The business was doing great, but he couldn’t help but be resentful that he was not part of the detectives out on the street. Looking down at his worthless legs, he was once again swamped with anger. As a Marine, it had been standard practice to run for five or ten miles a day. Now he was lucky if he could get his thigh to twitch on command. It was historic if he could get a hard-on.
Although, he thought with a slight smile, it was happening more and more often when Shannon was in the room.
The first time he’d met her, more than six months ago now, she and Mrs. Harrison had been kneeling on the floor going through files. Shannon had straightened and arched her back to work out the kinks. She’d been wearing a cute little pink outfit thing that clung to her lush curves, but she’d kicked off her high heels. The lust that had fired through his veins caught him totally off guard. For the first time in six years, he’d gotten excited looking at woman’s ass. Her legs were bare beneath the skirt. He sat stunned, soaking up her subtle beauty and the exhilaration of being turned on.
The women hadn’t seen him yet, so he cataloged everything he could about Shannon Murphy. Mrs. Harrison had said Shannon was extremely intelligent and would be a wonderful office manager, but she had not told them how exceedingly beautiful Shannon was, with her petite little shape and curly, dark chocolate-colored hair laying gently on her shoulders. Shannon was a good bit smaller than the older woman beside her, but curvy, and had a husky laugh that gave him chills. His own lips curled up in shared humor, even though he had no idea what she laughed at. Without conscious thought, he pushed his chair forward to get their attention.
Mrs. Harrison noticed him first, and pushed herself to her feet, then urged Shannon to join her. John barely heard the introduction as his eyes took in the details of her face. In honest fact, she was not classically beautiful. Actually, “cute” would more likely be applied to her mobile features and wide-set hazel eyes. Her broad smile started with up-tilted lips on one side, then spread to encompass her whole mouth.