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Authors: Suzanne Brockmann

Stand-in Groom

BOOK: Stand-in Groom
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Dear Reader,

I love reading books that are set in places where I’ve lived. It’s more than just knowing the street names—I love recognizing the individual vibrancy and feel of each unique American city.

As a writer, I’ve likewise loved setting my books in places that are familiar to me, and this book,
Stand-in Groom
, is set in my beloved town of Boston, Massachusetts.

I first visited Boston as a teenager, and fell in love with the history and the weirdly winding downtown roads that used to be cow paths, and okay, yes, the vibrant music scene. (Some trivia: For several years I earned a living playing my guitar and singing in Boston’s underground T [subway] stations.)

When Johnny Anziano, the hero of
Stand-in Groom
, first “walked” into my office all those years ago when I sat down to write this book, I recognized right away that he was a creative type but, surprisingly, not a musician. No, Johnny was a very talented chef, which immediately intrigued me.

Johnny’s story begins when he stops some teenage thugs from snatching a beautiful woman’s purse in the streets of the city that both he and I love.

I’m delighted that Bantam has reissued
Stand-in Groom
. I hope you enjoy this visit to Boston as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Love,

Suz

BY SUZANNE BROCKMANN

TROUBLESHOOTERS SERIES
The Unsung Hero
The Defiant Hero
Over the Edge
Out of Control
Into the Night
Gone Too Far
Flashpoint
Hot Target
Breaking Point
Into the Storm
Force of Nature
All Through the Night
Into the Fire
Dark of Night
Hot Pursuit

SUNRISE KEY SERIES
Kiss and Tell
The Kissing Game
Otherwise Engaged

OTHER BOOKS
Heartthrob
Forbidden
Freedom’s Price
Body Language
Stand-In Groom
Time Enough for Love

For Melanie and Jason

ONE

C
HELSEA WAS BEING
followed.

It was crazy.

True, this wasn’t the best neighborhood in Boston, but it was seven o’clock in the morning. It was broad daylight.

She glanced behind her. There were three of them—lean, dangerous-looking young men dressed in gang colors. She slipped the strap of her purse securely around her neck as she moved more quickly down the sidewalk. She could be wrong. Maybe they were heading toward the H&R Block that was three doors down from her office.
Maybe they were looking to have their taxes done.

They were right behind her now, and she moved aside, toward the street, praying that they would walk on past.

They didn’t.

“Hey, blondie.” The taller of the three leered at her—if it was possible for a sixteen-year-old to leer.

They were only kids. Kids with fuzz on their upper lips and chins that was supposed to pass as facial hair. Kids pretending to be grown men. Kids who were taller and wider than she was. Kids who probably carried knives and could hurt her badly before she could even shout for help.

“You part of the beautification program in this part of the city?” the shortest of the three asked, laughing at his own joke. He wore an enormous ring in his nose—obviously to make up for his lack of height. He couldn’t have been more than fourteen years old.

The third boy made animal noises—part dog, part barnyard pig—as he invaded her personal space.

Chelsea stepped out between two parked cars,
into the street. “Excuse me. I need to get to work, and you should probably get to school—”

She had to stop short to keep from bumping into the tall one.

“Excuse me,” he mimicked her. “Excuse me. We don’t go to no friggin’ school.”

“Maybe you should reconsider. You could use a little help with your grammar.” She stepped around him, but the dog-boy blocked her path. He grinned, and she pulled back. His teeth were all filed to sharp little points. He snorted and woofed at her obvious alarm.

That’s all they wanted. They wanted to scare her. Well, okay. She was scared. They could let her go now.

“You got some money we can borrow?” the nose-ring wearer asked. “We’ll pay you back—we promise.”

She felt a flash of anger, wondering how often that had worked—how often the people they intimidated simply handed over their money.

As the other boys laughed Chelsea pushed past them onto the sidewalk, aware of the cars moving down the street, aware that not a single one of them had even slowed to see if she needed help.
“Go away,” she said sharply, “before I call your mothers.”

It was the wrong thing to say.

The dog-boy pushed her, hard, and she went down onto her knees. The tall one grabbed the strap of her purse and it lifted her back up as it caught around her throat.

He was running now, all three of them were, and she was dragged and bounced along the cracked, uneven sidewalk. She heard herself screaming and she felt her shoe come off, felt her toes scrape along the concrete. Her head snapped back and her arm twisted behind her as the boy yanked her bag free.

God! All the work she did at home last night—that flash drive was in her purse! Chelsea pushed herself up off the sidewalk, kicked off her other shoe, and ran after them.

They were nearly a block ahead of her, but she could think of nothing but all those hours of work, and she ran faster.

And then it happened.

With a squeal of tires, a white delivery truck bounced over the curb, right onto the sidewalk in front of the three kids. The driver swung himself
out the open door of the cab, landing directly on top of the tallest boy. The kid was no match for a full-grown man, and the truck driver was
extremely
full grown. All it took was an almost nonchalant backhanded blow, and the big kid went down, her shoulderbag pulled free from his hands.

But the dog-boy and the kid with the nose-ring were both behind the man. Chelsea saw a glint of sunlight reflect off the blade of a knife.

“Look out!” she shouted, and the man turned. The way he moved was graceful, like a choreographed dance, as he disarmed the kid with a well-placed sweep of his foot. He moved threateningly toward the dog-boy, who turned tail and ran after his friends.

Chelsea slowed to a stop, aware that her heart was pounding, that her panty hose were torn, her clothes askew, her hair loosened from her usual French braid and dangling around her shoulders, aware that the soles of her feet burned and stung from her shoeless run down the rough city sidewalk. She had to bend over to catch her breath, hands braced above her bruised knees.

She tilted her head to look up at the man who’d rescued her handbag. He looked even taller from
this position, his shoulders impossibly broad. He was dressed in well-faded blue jeans and worn white leather athletic shoes. He wore a Boston Red Sox cap backward over a dark head of unruly curls and a T-shirt that proclaimed in large red letters
I’M TOO SEXY FOR MY SHIRT
. Given a leather jacket and a studded dog collar, he could have been those kids’ older and far more dangerous brother.

“You all right?” he asked her, moving closer, his dark eyes even darker with concern. “You need me to call the paramedics?”

Chelsea shook her head no, taking quick stock of her bruises and scrapes. Both knees were bleeding slightly, as were both elbows and the heel of one hand. The top of her right foot and most of those toes were sore. Her neck felt raw where the strap of her purse had given her a burn.

“I’m okay.” She straightened up, trying to tuck her blouse back into her skirt, trying to ignore the fact that her hands were shaking so hard, she couldn’t get the job done.

The man didn’t ignore it. “Maybe you should sit down.”

Chelsea nodded. Sit down. That would be good.

She let him lead her across the sidewalk to a
building that had a stone stairway going up to the front entrance. He helped her sit on the third step up, then sat next to her, setting her handbag between them and pulling off his baseball cap.

She glanced at him, aware that he was gazing at her.

He wasn’t what she’d call classically handsome. His nose was big and crooked, as if it had been broken one too many times. His cheekbones were rugged and angular, showcasing a pair of liquid-brown, heavily lidded eyes. His mouth was generously wide, with full, sensuous lips that seemed on the verge of a smile. His hair was dark and curly and long, and as he steadily returned her curious gaze he pulled it back into a ponytail at the nape of his neck.

“I’ve seen you around the neighborhood for a couple of weeks,” he told her. His voice was deep and husky, with more than a hint of urban Boston coloring it. “You opened up that computer consulting business around the corner, right?”

She nodded. She hadn’t seen
him
around. She would’ve remembered. “I’m Chelsea Spencer.” She held out her hand.

“I know,” he said, finally letting his smile loose as he gently clasped her fingers.

It was a smile that was set on heavy stun. Chelsea was not normally affected by such things, but this man’s smile was off the scale. It was a smile that seemed to echo the words on his T-shirt. She glanced at those words again. He followed her gaze and actually blushed, a delicate shade of pink tingeing his rugged cheekbones.

“A friend got me this shirt,” he explained sheepishly. “I’m visiting him today, and I wore it, you know, kind of like a joke?” He was still holding her hand. “I’m Giovanni Anziano. My friends call me Johnny.”

“Thank you for saving my bag.”

His smile faded as his gaze swept her scraped knees and dirt-streaked clothes. “I wish I got there sooner. They didn’t do more than knock you over, did they?”

He was watching her closely. His eyes may have been lazily hooded, but Chelsea got the sense that this man missed nothing. She shook her head. “No.”

He ran one hand down his face. “Jeez, will you listen to me? ‘They didn’t do more than knock you
over’—as if that wasn’t enough. I saw you bounce when you hit the ground. You sure you don’t want some professional help getting cleaned up? There’s a hospital not too far from here and it won’t take too long.”

BOOK: Stand-in Groom
10.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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