Authors: Ashley Stryker
“Good,” he repeated. His hands released her hips and slid up and down her arms. She felt delicate under his touch, breakable.
He forced himself to take a full step back. What on Earth was he thinking? He could protect her, bring her justice but never open his heart to her. Never love her. Not the way she deserved to be loved. More than that, the way she wrecked her car in a panic earlier that day proved her fragile emotional state. And now he’d gone and let his libido compromise the tenuous trust he’d established with her. The last thing Mary needed was a man coming on strong to trigger some post traumatic stress reaction. After pulling a stupid stunt like this, he’d be lucky if she didn’t shut down on him completely. With her kidnapper still on the loose and sending her threatening messages, he couldn’t afford to lose her cooperation. Her life depended on him.
Mary stared up at him with her big rescue-me eyes and he wanted to scoop her into his arms and carry her off to his bed. Since he’d plundered her mouth she hadn’t even moved, like some vulnerable rabbit too stunned and afraid to bolt.
Idiot. Damned idiot.
“Come on,” he said, pushing open the door. She slipped past him into the dark interior. Thom grabbed his shirt off the railing, followed her inside and flipped on the lights.
Sheets covered the jumble of furniture in the center of the living room like a snow covered model of a mountain. Half the room gleamed with a fresh coat of bluebell high gloss, leaving the other half with the flat, stained original white walls. A brush carelessly left in an old plastic butter bowl of paint had hardened into a concrete piece of modern art. Thom heard the call about Mary’s abduction over his scanner in the middle of the job and he hadn’t bothered to stop and clean it up.
The scanner, pushed in the corner of the room, chattered loudly and Thom snapped it off. “Sorry about the mess. Renovations.”
Thom snapped off the sheets covering the television set and leather sofa and tossed them in a pile next to the paint cans. He rearranged the furniture quickly. “Have a seat. I’m just going to clean up.”
Mary stared at the dance of muscles on Thom’s beautifully nude back as he headed for the stairs in the back of the kitchen and mused how he possessed the physique of an Olympic diver. Her palms tingled with regret. If she hadn’t kept her arms behind her back, she could have indulged her growing desire to explore those planes and bulges. As Thom disappeared up the steps Mary blew out a breath that puffed her bangs off her forehead and barely cooled the sweltering longing that burned her skin.
And that kiss—Mary tugged the front of her dress repeatedly to fan herself—that kiss did wicked things to her nether regions. The voltage in that brief encounter surged through her like a zap from a defibrillator that brought to life parts of her body and yes, possibly parts of her heart, she hadn’t realized were dormant. A man who could kiss like that should come with a medical warning label. But who was this person who wielded such power over her? What kind of man was Thom Brady?
She strolled around the living room, taking in the environment, wondering what it could tell her about the man who awoke her on such an unexpected level. The lingering odor of paint tinged the air. As she circled the room, the thin carpet muffled her footfalls and the creaking of the floorboards, which Mary could feel flexing beneath the balls of her feet.
Thom said he reclaimed old homes like this one. Brought them back to life seemed more like it, reinvigorating them as he had her. Mary smiled at herself at such a poetic thought. He’d curled her toes and she had to admit an electric buzz still hummed in her tissues but that merely indicated her infatuation with him. With the excess of emotion from the past few days, naturally she’d be inclined to ascribe more significance to… Mary shrugged to herself. To whatever the effects of over-stimulation did to her.
But, then again, Thom had kissed her. He’d looked at her with desire—she smiled to herself—with hunger, as if he didn’t see a simple school teacher but a vibrant, sexual woman. Could he be developing feelings for her similar to the ones she felt for him? Or did his attraction stem from some protective instinct?
Mary examined the furniture in the living room. Supple suede covered the sofa and easy chair. Sensuous, Mary thought, enjoying the soft texture with the light stroke of her fingertip and knowing with some flutter of excitement that Thom also fondled this fabric with pleasure.
A half bookshelf, only two shelves tall, crouched against the back of the sofa. Tucked among the criminology texts and true crime books was a single photo album with a well-worn spine. Mary slipped the album from the shelf and brought it with her as she settled into the deep cushions of the couch.
She wondered what family memories captured in photos Thom would value enough to store in an album. Would it contain contemporary pictures of Thom and his extended family, or had he inherited a family album full of old browning and fading snapshots? Mary flipped open the cover.
A nine by eleven portrait of a teenage girl smiled on the first page. With her narrow features, Mary was surprised the girl wore her blond hair in a plain, straight style cut only slightly longer than shoulder length. Some time in the sun might have added a healthier color to her skin. The smile didn’t reach the girl’s eyes, which held a deep well of sadness. Mary wanted to ask her what could make someone so young so sad.
On the second and third pages a four snapshot spread began on the upper left, with a boy and a girl of maybe eight, both dressed in red striped softball uniforms, posing together, arms wrapped behind each other’s necks in true camaraderie.
Mary recognized the girl as a younger version of the teenager on the previous page. In the startling green eyes, dark hair and precursors of the handsome features he’d grow into, Mary saw Thom in the boy.
Both Thom and the girl appeared in the other three pictures. The pair, probably about thirteen, waved to the camera in the next shot from the front seat of a roller coaster moments before the ride would begin. In the third photo the young teens sipped from two straws poking out of a single root beer float. The candid shot caught them holding hands under the table and gazing deeply at each other.
The last picture was a formal photo taken under the arbor at a high school dance. Thom’s Irish green cummerbund and bow tie matched the girl’s dress exactly. His arm hooked around the girl’s waist and she leaned her head back against his shoulder. High school sweethearts, Mary mused, wondering why Thom hadn’t married the girl.
On the next two pages, two family portraits faced each other. On the first, a young version of the blond girl posed between an older couple, probably her parents Mary guessed based on the family resemblance. The other picture showed an older version of the girl, this time standing behind a couple. The woman in both pictures remained the same but the man switched from a slender and intelligent looking blond fellow to a heavyset dark haired man. The first one was the girl’s father, Mary guessed and the second her step-father. The girl’s smile in the second photo seemed almost a grimace.
Mary turned to the next page. A smaller version of the portrait from the first page of the album appeared in the newspaper article that spanned both pages. Beneath the picture, the caption read, “Tammy Jo Resnick, sixteen.” The headline splashed across the top declared in large type, “Local Girl Murdered.” Mary gasped, feeling the sting of tragedy for the lovely lost child.
A door slam startled Mary. She leapt to her feet, knocking the album to the floor.
The woman who’d just come in through the front door yelped at the sight of Mary. The grocery sacks in her arms slipped free and crashed with the sound of shattering glass at her feet. Still breathless, she demanded, “Who are you? Where’s Thom?”
“Thom’s upstairs. I’m his…” Mary faltered. She wasn’t Thom’s anything, she realized with a jab of regret. “Thom is investigating my case.”
The woman shook her head, “Bringing his work home again, is he? He’s such a crusader.” She crouched and collected the grocery sacks. “Sorry if I frightened you. I heard he was on a tough case and I knew he wouldn’t think to eat healthy.”
Mary followed the woman into the kitchen. As she unpacked, the woman continued, “I’m Thom’s mother, by the way. Edith Brady.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Mary offered her hand, “Mary Seeton.”
Edith took her hand and gave Mary a long, appraising look before shaking her hand. The amazing emerald glint in her eyes matched Thom’s exactly. Despite the casual design to her pastel slacks outfit, it screamed designer quality. The slight aristocratic bearing with which she held herself, suggested Edith came from money.
Edith returned to unpacking the groceries. “Oh look. I broke the pickle jar.”
“Sorry about that.”
“It’s not your fault.” Edith finished removing and wiping the cans and the bag before tossing the bag, pickles, glass and all, into the garbage. As she stacked the cans in the pantry, Edith paused and glanced around. “Something is not right,” she said, cocking her head. “I know. The scanner is off.”
“Thom turned it off.”
“Thom turned it off? You’re kidding.”
“Not at all.”
“Thom never turns it off.” Edith tapped her chin and then glanced at Mary with one eyebrow cocked thoughtfully.
“Nothing,” she said. “Have either of you eaten dinner yet?”
Edith lifted a package of frozen lasagna from her remaining sack. “Like Italian?”
After grabbing a quick shower, Thom dressed in fresh jeans and a navy sweatshirt with the department’s emblem silk-screened on the left breast. Out of habit more than anything else, Thom clipped his badge and gun to his belt.
Thom plucked his cordless phone from his bedside table and dialed Officer Brad Macosa’s cell phone. When he answered, Thom didn’t bother with any preamble. “Any news?”
“We’ve had a hit on Miss Seeton’s phone.”
After a moment’s pause, Thom heard the click of the tape player, followed by a few seconds of ominous tape hiss before the message emerged. Thom gripped the handset of the phone so hard the plastic creaked. The voice on the message snarled, “You broke your promise. Now, I’m going to keep mine.”
“Get a trace?”
“It came from a pay phone. We’re asking around to see if someone saw him but no luck so far. Forensics is checking for prints.”
“Brad, have the parents been warned of the situation?”
“This afternoon. What about Miss Seeton?”
“She’s staying with me.”
“Thom, we have to catch this guy.”
“I know. Call me if anything develops.”
Thom clicked off the phone and returned it to the nightstand before slumping down onto the bed. “Damn that bastard,” he hissed and punched his pillow. Warning the school and the families had been the right decision, despite the message left on Mary’s answering machine. If this creep planned to snatch a child, Thom intended to make it as difficult as possible. Despite the promise the kidnapper insisted upon, Thom suspected Mary would remain his primary target and Thom had no intention of allowing her out of his sight.
The tantalizing aroma of cheese and tomato sauce drifted to Thom. Had Mary decided to take advantage of his kitchen and cook something? The thought of her rummaging through his cabinets and whipping up a meal unaccountably pleased Thom.
Following the fragrance of Italian spices, Thom hopped down the back steps with a smile growing on his face. As he emerged in the kitchen he said, “Smells delicious.”
“Thank you, dear,” his mother replied.
“Mom, what brings you by?” Thom bent down to the older woman and kissed her cheek.
“Just making sure you don’t starve to death. I wish I could say I brought some home cooking but you and your new friend will just have to settle for a frozen dinner tonight.”
Thom grinned at Mary, contemplating her “friend” status and wondered if it had the potential to develop into something more. “My mother hasn’t been embarrassing me, has she?”
“Not at all,” Mary assured him.
“Thomas, dear, I can’t stay,” Edith told him. “Walk me to the door and I’ll leave you two to your dinner.”
Thom followed her to the front door, where his mother reached up to hug him goodbye. Softly she whispered, “I like her, Thom.”
“I like her too.”
“Give her a chance, will you? You work too hard.”
Avoiding that old argument, Thom muttered, “Thanks for the food, Mom. I appreciate it.”
“I opened a bottle of wine for you to have with dinner.” She stepped back from her son and smiled. “Have a pleasant evening.”
Thom watched her until she drove off. Mary, a bottle of wine and a hot meal awaited him in the kitchen. He looked forward to enjoying each of them. As he turned, Thom spotted the photo album resting on the floor in front of the sofa. He stepped around the furniture and collected the album.
How had it found its way there? Thom cut his eyes toward the kitchen where Mary set the table. She’d been snooping, no doubt. Thom flipped the pages. How long had it been since he’d perused the album himself? Years, at least. Thom closed the album and returned it to the shelf. He didn’t need to reopen that old wound. He carried the scar of his experience around with him everywhere he went.
Thom’s melancholy seeped away during dinner. They avoided unappetizing topics of conversation and instead covered their various likes and dislikes. Mary told him about her childhood growing up as the only child of an art history professor and a piano teacher. She’d been raised with an appreciation for the arts and could still play several complicated pieces on the piano although neither pursuit inflamed her passion like teaching had. On a rare reference to the case, she confided that she hadn’t the heart to tell her parents about the incident while they were both enjoying a sabbatical in Paris.
The excess of wine after so stressful a day wore on Mary. She yawned twice as they straightened the kitchen after dinner. “Come on,” Thom held out a hand to her. “You’re beat. I’m putting you to bed before you fall down.”
“I’m fine really.” Despite her weak protest, Mary accepted the hand he offered.
A surge jolted through Thom at the contact but he squashed his urge to lead her to his bedroom for nefarious purposes. Mary followed him upstairs and after she kicked off her shoes he tucked her in. As he turned to leave, she reached for him. “Don’t go. Please. I don’t want to be alone.”
Thom stretched out on top of the covers on the other side of the bed. Mary curled with her back to him, giving him a perfect view of the curves from her shoulder, down her waist and back over her hips. She reached back to him and he slipped his hand into hers. Without comment, she tugged him close up against her back so they spooned together, his arm curled around her waist and his fingers intertwined with hers by her stomach. He ached all over with the desire to press her more firmly against himself but Mary sighed contentedly and seemed to drift off to sleep immediately.
Thom expected to find sleeping so close to Mary without having her pure torture, but the poor sleep and long hours of the previous days caught up to him. The ringing of his phone at five in the morning woke him from a sound sleep.
Groggily, Thom reached over and hit the speaker button on the phone. “Brady,” he said.
“Brady, you need to come in. We’ve got another one.”
“Another one?” His sleeping mind struggled to recall to what his captain referred.
“The librarian from the school is missing. There are signs of a struggle.”
“Nancy!” Mary exclaimed. “No!”
Thank you for reading Episode 2 of
Her Dangerous Promise!
~A taste of~
Episode 3 of
Her Dangerous Promise
“Go.” Thom ordered into his radio, “Now!”
With the yell, “Police! Open up!” the front door smashed in. Thom and the others rushed up the basement stairs.
The house flooded with noise and movement. The SWAT team spilled through the front door and began checking rooms, shouting, “Clear!” as they secured areas.
“We’ve got a locked room,” one shouted. Thom hurried down the hall. While the others covered the entryway with their rifles, Thom reared back and kicked the door in. They all rushed into the large bedroom.
Someone was obviously under the covers, even though the comforter completely obscured the bulk of the person’s shape. Thom grabbed the fabric and while everyone aimed at the person, he yanked back the covers.
The smell, which had permeated the entire atmosphere of the house, exploded without the blanket to encase it. Despite their toughness two SWAT guys choked and recoiled.
Thom cursed, stepping back as if that might spare him the brunt of the odor. “He’s not here,” Thom said. “Check the rest of the house and the locked shed. See if there are any more. Have forensics begin their sweep; including the fields out back, there is potentially other evidence back there.”
The SWAT officers seemed relieved by the order and retreated quickly.
Thom stared down at the body, obviously dead for a while, laid out on the bed.
Continue the adventure!
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