Authors: Ashley Stryker
Her Dangerous Promise
Copyright 2014 by Elizabeth Drake
Cover Art Copyrighted 2014 by Ravynheart Publishing
Image Copyright: conrado
Used under license from
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form without permission, except as provided by the U.S. Copyright Law. Printed and bound in the United States of America.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, places, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Scanning, uploading and/or distributing this book via the Internet or any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal, and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
Brad hailed Thom as he turned into the Black Ridge Shopping Center parking lot. A string of police tape cordoned off the section of the lot the size of two tennis courts surrounding a blue Dodge Charger. Half a dozen cruisers circled the site like mourners. The forensic team sifted through the details, while the other officers loitered, waiting to be made useful.
Thom parked as close to the scene as he could. “Listen, Mary, stay here, okay?”
She was doing the silent staring thing again.
Thom rubbed the back of her neck until she made eye contact. “We don’t know anything for sure, so don’t start jumping to conclusions, all right? Listen, you’re fairly close with Nancy Miller, right?”
“Not to socialize after work but otherwise, yes.”
“Did she tell you anything about her plans for last night?”
“No. I know she attended several singles functions but I don’t know of a specific one for last night.”
“Do you remember what she wore to work yesterday?”
“A long summer dress and white sweater. I can’t remember the color of the dress.”
Thom frowned. Mary wore a similar outfit at the time of her abduction. He’d kept hoping the librarian had simply met up with a friend and left her car in the lot overnight. Guilt trickled in his belly. Had he been sleeping while Mary’s abductor struck again? Had his lapse in vigilance given the creep the opportunity to strike again?
“I’ll be right back,” he said and then kissed her on the temple.
Brad met Thom at the police tape. “Hey,” He said. “You brought the vic with you?”
“She might have some insight. She knows the girl who’s missing and she’s seen how this perp operates.”
“Isn’t that your sweatshirt she’s wearing?”
Thom swung around to check out Mary. She’d opened her door and sat sideways on the seat to watch the investigation. Neither of them had wanted to waste time running her back to her house to get fresh clothes, so he’d loaned her his Pittsburgh Steelers sweats, the ones he always wore on game days. She swam in the top but she’d cinched down the tie string of the pants and they hugged her in all the right places. Thom grinned. The residual caveman instincts rising in him growled with pleasure to see Mary wear his clothing. He’d felt protective of her before but now he felt positively possessive. He wouldn’t let anyone harm her again and that meant busting the creep who’d attacked her. “Get your head in the game, Brad. What are we looking at?”
“A patrol car spotted the car in the lot early this morning. They ran the plates and found it belonged to one of the women on our watch list.”
“The captain mentioned signs of a struggle.”
“Her purse and her groceries are in the car.”
Thom nodded. “She probably wouldn’t leave them in the car over night.”
“There is no one at her house. She lives alone. Mail’s still in the box. She probably didn’t make it home after work.”
“I can’t believe there weren’t any witnesses.” Thom hooked his thumbs in the belt loops of his jeans and surveyed the scene. Two main streets bordered the shopping center. A video store and a laundromat blocked the view of the lot from one street. Traffic funneled through a narrow strip of asphalt to access the lot between those two buildings. The other street had a clearer view of the lot but Nancy Miller’s car was parked on the far side of the lot from the street and would have been surrounded by other vehicles at that hour. Thom scanned the shops. “There.” He pointed.
“That check cashing place. They’ll have a camera pointed toward the lot. It might have been at the right angle. Contact the owners and get a hold of that tape.
“Mary recalls Miss Miller wore a long summer dress, color unknown and a white sweater. Get a hold of her co-workers. See of you can get a better description of what she wore last. Also, find out if she told anyone about her plans for yesterday.” Thom regarded Mary. No doubts lingered in his mind. Her abductor, foiled in his desire to reclaim Mary, chose a substitute. Nancy dressed similarly enough; he might have even followed her by mistake from the elementary school. Once he nabbed her, he’d realize his mistake. Thom knew the perpetrator couldn’t risk releasing this victim, at least not alive. He couldn’t spare Mary’s feelings any longer.
Thom turned back to Brad. “Call me on my cell when you know something.”
“Will do,” he said, heading off.
Mary watched Thom working the scene. Other officers poured over Nancy’s car and rummaged around but nothing distracted her from Thom. His black tee molded to his muscles. She had firsthand knowledge of how exquisite those muscles were. The black jeans sculpted to his rear and waist like the designer made them for him. His long legs stretched down to his hiking boots.
Despite sleeping beside each other twice, Thom hadn’t made a move once. Sexual frustration accounted for a growing percentage of her anxiety. After that single lapse on the front porch, Thom stoically kept his hands, lips and every other part of his anatomy to himself, much to Mary’s disappointment. As much as his body intrigued her, Mary felt more and more drawn to Thom’s heart. A girl just didn’t stumble across a guy with traits like Thom’s every day. He worked hard, got along great with kids and animals and had a healthy relationship with his mother. Thom seemed to genuinely care for Mary’s safety, even after all the trouble she’d caused. So why, after that underwear-melting kiss, had he backed off?
Tammy Jo Resnick, she thought. Thom’s mother implied he didn’t date much. Had he ever loved anyone else? Did Thom still carry a torch for his lost love?
She couldn’t hear the conversation but she could tell by the way Thom rubbed his fingers through his dark hair in aggravation the news wasn’t good. A sinking feeling dragged her heart into her stomach. Until now, Mary clung to the hope Nancy had met up with one of her dates and left her car temporarily, that she’d show up embarrassed about all the concern and reassure everyone she was fine. After all, her abductor threatened the children in her class, not the staff at the school. But with herself and the children so closely guarded, would he have gone after an easier target?
Thom spoke with several officers before stalking back to the SUV. The way he slammed the driver’s door worried her.
Thom sat stone still, staring at the action beyond the windshield. His powerful hands clenched on the wheel until his knuckles whitened. “I can’t handle you with kid gloves anymore.”
“What do you mean?”
He cut his flaming green eyes over to her and they stabbed her with their intensity. “I’m not going to pretend this isn’t the same bastard who snagged you. We don’t have proof yet but my gut tells me it’s him.”
“Because I broke my promise to him,” Mary rubbed her thighs, trying to smooth away the goose bumps. His thick sweats couldn’t quite dispel the chills racing across her flesh.
“No,” he clenched his teeth. “Because you didn’t trust me.”
“This is all my fault.” Mary dropped her head into her hands.
“No!” he snapped. “It’s his fault.” Thom snagged her wrist firmly and forced her to look at him. “But you are the only one who can help me to stop him.”
“But how? I don’t know anything! He kept me blindfolded the whole time.”
“You know more than you realize. We are going to go over this one step at a time and you are not going to hold anything back.”
“If it will help you save Nancy, I’ll do anything you ask.”
Minutes later, they pulled into the school parking lot. A steel band clamped across Mary’s chest. The air inside the SUV seemed to become as thick as gelatin. Her knees began to bounce uncontrollably.
“Easy,” Thom rested his hand on her knee and it stilled beneath his steady touch.
The school day began half an hour ago and not a soul lingered in the packed parking lot. Thom parked and walked around to Mary’s door. Because she made no move, Thom opened the door and offered his hand. Reluctantly, she slid her shaking fingers into his palm and he helped her down from the cab. If she wasn’t so resistant, the gesture would have seemed chivalrous.
“Your car was over here.” Thom guided Mary toward the side of the lot nearest the playground. “We are going over this as it occurred. Tell me everything you remember, okay?”
He turned her toward him. “Relax. Just let your mind empty.” Thom massaged her shoulders.
Thom framed her face with his hands. Gently, his thumbs stroked her eyelids close. “Just breathe, honey. In and out. In and out.”
Despite her misgivings, Mary obeyed. With her eyes closed, she tuned into her environment with her other senses. The distant whoosh of cars as they passed interrupted the persistent beat of her heart. The breeze carried the sweet scent of cut grass and drying leaves but they didn’t compete with the fresh minty reassurance of Thom’s cologne. The radiant heat of his body warmed her, surrounding her like armor.
“Trust me,” he told her. “Trust me.”
She did trust him. The knot of tension inside her slipped a bit looser with each word he spoke.
“Now. Remember that you are safe. These are just memories. They can’t hurt you. I’m with you.” His voice caressed her soul.
“Now, open your eyes.” Thom turned her toward the cars. “Walk me through it.”
“I had my bag with the papers that I needed to grade.” She touched her shoulder, feeling the memory of the strap. “I had my keys in my hand.” Holding her closed hand out, she recalled precisely how the grooves of the keys pressed in her fingers and could almost hear the jingle as the keys clinked together. Mary stepped up to the side of the gray Le Baron in the spot where her car had been but instead of seeing it, she visualized her own white Subaru. Her window scraper rested on the backseat waiting for winter to return. A small stuffed Big Bird ornament, a graduation gift from her college roommate, swayed from her rearview mirror. “I wanted to put the bag in the car while I waited for Juwanda to return with the schedule.”
“And then something happened,” Thom baited her.
“Hands.” Mary held her own out in front of her and brought them to her throat. “They grabbed me from behind.”
“Wait. You saw his hands?” Thom’s voice caught with cautious excitement. “Back up and look closely at them. What did you see exactly?”
“The hands are fat.” Mary could see them in her mind’s eye. Meaty hands with stubby fingers that resembled overstuffed sausage. “Very white” The hands closed in, crushing around her throat. “Strong.”
“He’s Caucasian.” Thom clarified.
“Yes,” Mary gasped, feeling the phantom pressure closing her windpipe.
“His forearms. Did you see the hair?”
“I don’t know.” She couldn’t see his hands or arms anymore. The fingers squeezed and squeezed.
Thom reached around her. “Look at my arm. Was the hair dark like mine?”
“Not that dark.” Mary shook her head, trying to swallow. “No. I don’t think they were dark at all. Blond maybe. Definitely light or thin.”
“Good. Possibly light colored hair.” Thom continued, his voice softening, becoming hypnotic. “Then he grabbed you. Was it from above, or from directly behind you?”
“From right behind.” Mary turned her head slightly. The first blow of his hands against her neck pitched Mary forward, snapping her head backward and to the side. For a brief second she’d seen his shoulder, thick with muscles. “His shoulder was just higher than mine, I think.” The memory replayed and once again Mary felt the violent jerk that spun her head toward her attacker. “I think he wore a light blue tee shirt.”
“Height about five ten or five eleven maybe. Possibly wearing a light blue tee shirt.” Thom noted. “Excellent, Mary, keep going. Do you get a sense of his weight?”
“No. Not yet.”
Mary cringed, covering her face. The dank, moldy smell of a basement closed around her, transporting her back into terror. A man she didn’t know and could not see cuddled up against her. He shifted his weight. An arm snaked across her belly and hugged her firmly to him. His head rested painfully on her collarbone, so close to her bruised and aching throat. She dare not flinch away for fear of his reaction and retaliation. Her skin crawled with revulsion. Her stomach spasmed, threatening to purge itself. Her legs ached to run. Her wrists stung from the biting of her bonds.
Hands wrapped slowly around her wrists. Mary panicked. This time he would go further. This time he’d hurt her more intimately. Gripping her wrists more firmly, he tugged down, bring a flood of light.
“No!” Mary flailed. “Don’t touch me!”
“Mary!” Thom released her, concern welling in his jade eyes. “You’re safe with me.”
“I know,” Mary sobbed. “It was awful.”
“I know, Honey.” He hugged her tightly. “I know. I wish I didn’t have to put you through this.” Thom rocked her gently. His distinctive masculine scent wrapped around her. He kissed the top of her head, and then pressed his cheek into her hair. “We can’t stop now.”
“I know.” She pulled away, wiping her eyes. “We have to find this animal.”
“Do you need a break?”
“No. Let’s finish this.” Mary tugged the sleeve of Thom’s sweatshirt that she wore over her hands but still shivered without his body to warm her. “His weight. He wasn’t extremely fat but he carried a lot of weight. I’d guess it was about two hundred and fifty pounds.”
“Good. That’s good.” Thom assured her. “After he grabbed you, then what happened?”
Mary shook her head, struggling to free her voice. The ghostly clench returned. Her words cracked as they escaped. “He had me by the throat but he was behind me.” Mary knelt down. The concrete pressed painfully into her knees. “He pushed me down.” She couldn’t keep the tears out of her voice. The real world blurred behind the moisture welling in her eyes and the clear memory reenacted before her “I could see his leg. Shiny, black work boots and a gray pant leg.”
Mary braced her hand against the side panel of the Le Baron. “He slammed me against the car twice,” she sobbed, “Then nothing.”
Thom crouched beside her and hugged her to him. “I’m so sorry, sweetheart.”
Mary threw her arms around him and crumpled against him. Shakily, she sobbed out the grief she’d carried deep inside since that night. Reliving the event, pulling it out of the shadowed recesses of her subconscious and facing it head-on released her from its grip. The sensation of hands on her throat faded so she felt only Thom’s touch upon her skin. All the emotion, the anger, the fear, of her attack in the parking lot washed out of her. Throughout the transformation, Thom remained steady. He felt warm and strong and perfect.
When the tears stopped and she felt empty, Thom helped Mary to her feet. Gently he stroked back her hair from her face. He produced a cloth handkerchief, mopped at her face and then handed it to her so she could blow her nose. “Feel better?”
“I really do,” she admitted. “I didn’t expect to.”
“It’s not healthy to hold it in,” Thom said. “I see it all too often. Once you get it out, you can start to deal with it.”
Mary nodded. If she had to relive her ordeal, she couldn’t think of anyone else she’d rather have with her. He never flinched away. He never blamed her for what happened. He only asked that she not hold back on him. And she wanted to give him everything, to give him her heart.
“You did good. You’ve given us a description we can work with.” Thom wrapped his arm around her waist and warmed her with his penetrating gaze. His heat melted her, drawing her closer still.
“Do you think it will be enough?” Mary pressed into Thom’s comforting embrace until nothing but their clothes separated her hips from his, or her tingling breasts from his solid chest.
“It might,” Thom’s gaze shifted, meandering a loving path down her face and settling on her upturned lips. “But we can’t stop now. Not until he’s behind bars.”
“We can’t stop now,” she agreed, focusing in on his mouth until, as if by the flame of her need alone, those lips closed the final distance between them.
He matched her hunger. Thom crushed her mouth under his, plundering with his demanding tongue. Desperately, Mary clung to Thom, feeling his powerful back muscles move with the strength of his desire. He fisted the hair at the base of her neck to support her under the onslaught, while his other hand massaged her bottom. Pulling her tighter to him, Mary felt his firm passion straining against his jeans and her stomach.
Reality softened and faded away until only Thom and she remained. Mary wanted him and in more than just a sexual way. She wanted his body and soul. She wanted his heart, his love, his everything, for the rest of their lives.
Reluctantly, the blazing kiss ended. Thom drew back, his eyes soft and darkly green, as if passion actually deepened the color. “We shouldn’t,” he said.
Mary reached up and stroked her fingers through the dark softness of his hair. His face eased into her palm, a flicker of pain crossed his features. She asked, “Why not? Is there someone else?”
He gently caught her wrist and eased her away. He stepped back from her. “In a way.”
The attractive blond teenager from Thom’s photo album flashed in her mind. “Tammy Jo?”
Thom turned from her. “You are not the only one who’s made promises.”
Somehow his kiss acted like a drug on Mary. It numbed the pain and smoothed away her doubts. But as he withdrew from her, those feelings began to creep back like tendrils of a persistent fog woven between them. Those tendrils morphed into the tentacles of an octopus determined to drag her into an ocean of loneliness.
Thom reached back to her. “I’m sorry. I should never have…”
“Don’t,” she plastered on an understanding smile that she knew must look as forced as it felt. Mary accepted his proffered hand and struggled unsuccessfully to fight off the explosion of sparks the touch showered through her over-stimulated body.
He guided her back to the SUV and helped her settle into her seat. “Thom,” she started, wanting to say something but the words wouldn’t form. At last, his gaze met hers and with it she saw her own pain mirrored. Without a word he gently closed the door between them. The click of the latch securing the physical barrier between them tore a hole in Mary’s heart. She wanted him. She needed him. But Thom closed her away from him.
As Thom circled to his side of the SUV, he snatched the cell phone clipped to his belt. She couldn’t hear what he said and his side of the conversation halted by the time he climbed into the driver’s seat.