I’ve written very few books where someone doesn’t die. In Two Weeks (which is FREE, btw) no one dies during the two weeks the story takes place, but in the backstory there is a murdered mother and the hero lost a new born baby. In Dark Water, the backstory is that the Heroine’s sister was murdered. In Deadly Secrets no one dies until the end, but still, a dead body. What I love about the ending of that book is that one of the secondary characters, Stacey, is the one who takes the kill shot. And she’s the heroine of the book that comes out 6 December 2016: Murder in Paradise Bay.
You can get the first book free! I’m also giving away a limited number of copies of Dark Water. You can download your copy here. All I ask that is that you leave an HONEST review on Amazon for either or both. Review are so important to authors and I learn from the feedback!
Now, enjoy an except from the 4th book in the series…
Every muscle in Stacey Sutten’s body ached. Every joint was swollen from overuse, but she did her best to ignore the pain as she settled in a lounge chair on the sundeck of her father’s home. The water below lapped gently against the shoreline. The warm sun beat down on her face as it began its descent beyond the mountains.
Stacey’s family home stood on a private drive with four other houses near the end of Assembly Point. The house faced east, so the sun was already behind them, though its rays still stretched over the mountains across the lake, dancing on the ripples in a slight breeze that did nothing to cool the temperature.
The end of summer had always been bittersweet for Stacey. Not because it meant winter was right around the corner, with its biting cold and massive piles of snow only Upstate New York could provide. That never bothered her. She enjoyed all four seasons, but she preferred a lazy summer evening on the sundeck.
She stretched her arms over her head, trying not to flinch. Training to be a New York State SCUBA Unit was not only physically grueling, but mentally draining as well. The Academy had been tough, but not as intense. SCUBA School required a mental focus and the ability to ignore muscle fatigue. Her co-workers at the station had warned her how demanding it would be, and she’d welcomed the challenge, but she hadn’t expected her body to be so sore, nor her mind to be so frazzled.
She adjusted her deck chair so she could get as much of the late evening sun as possible, which would only be another half hour at best. Sweat beaded across her forehead. The temperatures were in the mid-eighties, unseasonably warm by about ten degrees for the end of August, but it was also humid, making it feel hotter, exactly what her trembling muscles needed.
She poured herself a glass of white wine. Actually, her second, but who was counting? She’d completed training. Finally, she was a certified rescue swimmer. Until now, she hadn’t realized the decision to enroll in the extra training had been to avoid her ex-boyfriend. If she were being totally honest with herself, her decision to be a New York State Trooper in general was partly to blame for the end of that relationship.
Ultimately, she’d made the right decision. Her relationship with Todd had been over for a long time. She’d just helped seal the deal with her current career path. She smiled. It felt good to finally be in charge of the direction of her own life, but she was going to take the one day she had off of work before going back to the station, and being in a trooper car, on patrol.
“Want company?” the deep, sultry voice of Douglas Tanner yelled from the porch of her father’s house.
God, that voice could melt a frozen tundra in one syllable. It had a husky tone with a playful twist. It was music to her ears, and just the timbre relaxed her muscles. “All I’ve got is wine and some cheese and crackers, so it’s bring your own… if you want to.” Flirting with Doug had always been fun, though in the past, she never really considered it flirting. Just banter between friends. But lately, that banter had turned into long stares, brief touching that lasted longer than appropriate for friends, and flirting with the anticipation of something more. And not just on her side. She wasn’t sure if she should say anything, or just let it go. Doug was her father’s business partner. He was nine years older, and still technically married.
The deck shook a little as Doug ran up the stairs, a six-pack in one hand, a bag of chips in the other, his idea of an appetizer. “You’re never going to believe who I saw today.”
“Who?” she asked.
“That Rictor woman who used to work for us.”
“Haven’t heard her name in years.” Stacey laughed. “She was batshit crazy.” It had been a happy day in her life the day Doug fired that woman. “Where did you see her, and what did she have to say?”
“Grocery store, and not much. Just said hello. Kind of weird. She asked about your dad. How the business was going. Even you.”
“I hope she doesn’t have plans on trying to get back into my father’s life. I want him to have a woman, but not that woman.”
“Yeah. She was a mistake, for sure.” Doug laughed. At six-foot-two, he towered over her. His shoulder-length thick dark hair, sultry brown eyes, and perpetual five o’clock shadow was sexier than any model or movie star she’d ever seen. He was broad at the shoulders, but his body was lean and tight. First time she’d ever seen six-pack abs was on him, and she still enjoyed those abs anytime he went shirtless. He had a natural dark complexion, and in the summer months, it turned copper.
“Have a good day at work?” he asked.
“I did,” she said. “Passed training, but I had to jump out of a helicopter fifteen times and save some guy three times my size. A guy who, I think, got his jollies out of making it nearly impossible to save his sorry ass.”
“Isn’t that what they’re supposed to do? Train you for the crazy drowning person?”
“They are. And I certainly showed him.” She raised her glass to her lips, wincing, and her forearm cramping. She figured by the time she woke up tomorrow, she’d be covered in bruises from that man. “How was your day?”
“The Heritage Inn is coming along nicely. Behind schedule, but all the cabins are operational, and we laid the foundation for two more three-bedroom units. Pretty cool design, if I do say so myself. We’ll have the hotel ready by March. I’m a little worried about having all the extras done by beginning of next season, but Reese seems to be fine with the progress. All depends on the type of winter we have.”
Reese McGinn had been Stacey’s partner when she first started as a trooper. “It really sucks not having him around the station. He was the only one there with a sense of humor.” He’d left when he got married and bought the Heritage Inn. She wanted what was best for Reese and was glad to hook him up with her father and Doug’s construction company, but things just weren’t the same.
“He’s a good guy,” Doug said, “and a lot of fun to work for.” He cracked open a beer and held it up. “Cheers.”
His bottle clinked with her plastic wine glass. They sat in silence for about ten minutes. It was weird how easily they fell back into their old, comfortable, easy friendship. Doug had always been a an asshole to her ex. From the first time Stacey brought Todd home to meet her father three years ago, Doug said Todd was a player and would break her heart.
Well, it wasn’t broken, not completely. Deep down, she had known they were over well before the breakup. He was in law school, and she was just starting her new job. It had been months since she’d seen him and she knew, if they were going to make it, she needed to make an effort, but when she got to his apartment, she found him in bed with another woman. It had been four months since that fateful day, and she was well past it. Thanks to the hunky man who sat next to her, giving her a nice distraction.
“How go things with the divorce?” Stacey asked.
He was loyal to the bone. Even though Stacey knew he desperately wanted the divorce to be final, she also knew he would do his best not to hurt Mary.
“Something weird is going on.” He looked at his phone, then placed it facedown on the ground next to him. “Mary’s secretary texted me this morning asking if I’d heard from her, but she said it wasn’t that important. Could wait until Monday.”
“Why is her secretary calling you?”
“She didn’t know when my meeting with Mary was, so thought I could pass a message to her. I just hope she shows up tomorrow morning. She has the papers. I just want them signed, and the entire sham of a marriage over with.”
“Good to hear you say it was a sham.” Stacey glanced at him. He leaned back in the chair, face tilted toward the sun, eyes closed. He wore a white T-shirt partially tucked into his black shorts, pulled tight across his chiseled abs. She sipped her wine while taking in the nice view, her sore muscles turning to mush. “Wasn’t she coming up here with her boyfriend for the weekend?”
“You sound bitter,” he said.
“You should be angry.”
He shrugged, eyes still closed, chin angled toward the sun. “I don’t care anymore. The house is sold. It was the last thing that tied us together.”
“We really know how to pick ‘em.”
“We sure do.” He took a slow draw from his beer. “You’re staring at me,” he said.
“In your dreams.”
“That might have happened a time or two.”
“Don’t be an ass.”
“You like my ass,” he said. “Mary always thought you had a thing for me.”
“Mary thought a lot of things. She got all upset about me being on your shoulders at one of my dad’s big summer parties during a game of king of the mountain.”
“She was mad that I said you were lighter,” Doug said. “She always thought I paid too much attention to you.” He shrugged again. “She would say and do almost anything to push me to move. She’d say, ‘We’d be happy again if we just move. We’d have a fresh start in Albany.’ It got to the point where I didn’t even hear her anymore.”
“Why didn’t you move?” Stacey asked. “It wasn’t just about the commute, or being mad over her taking the job in Albany without telling you.”
“Same reason you didn’t move downstate with Todd.” He downed his beer in one gulp, then pulled out another.
“Too darn proud and stubborn to admit when you’ve made a mistake, so just wait until it falls apart.”
“Yep.” He pushed the lounge chair to full recline then rolled to his side, propping his elbow on the chair, his hand holding his head. “Remember the summer between your junior and senior year of college?”
“That’s when I brought Todd here to meet Daddy, and you and Mary hooked up.”
“You breezed up those stairs.” He pointed behind him. “You had on this little, tiny red, white, and blue bikini. I always thought you were pretty, but damn, you looked hot.”
“I think you better slow down on them beers,” she said. “You’re talking crazy shit now.”
“Come on,” he said. “You know you’re gorgeous.”
Her heart raced. Every woman wanted to hear those words, but she never expected them to come out of his mouth. And the way he looked at her, with his dark brown eyes seeming to soaking up every square inch of her body, made her dizzy with anticipation.
He took another long draw, then smiled. “Something was different about you that day. You had always just been this funny girl that hung around and made me laugh. I didn’t notice how beautiful you were until that day.”
“Daddy did my laundry that week. I never did find out what happened to that bathing suit.” She laughed. Her father had always been old-fashioned for such a young man. She could never tell if it was his natural state, or just that he’d become a father so young.
“I’m sure it got strategically placed in the garbage,” Doug said. “I got smacked upside the back of my head. Jim said I was gawking at you like some schoolboy. Then Mary read me the riot act. But the whole time, I kept thinking about you. Not the bathing suit or how desirable you looked in it. But just you. Somewhere down the road, you grew up, and I missed it.”
“You got married that summer.” She remembered it all too well. He came over for dinner, without Mary, and said she was pregnant and he was getting married. He didn’t look like a man head over heels in love. They’d only known each other for a couple of months and it was obvious his honorable code was the only reason he even considered getting married. Her father had, at first, kept his thoughts to himself. Stacey had not.
It nearly cost her their friendship over the last couple of years.
“I did,” he admitted. “Would be three years this month.” He blinked a few times, and a sadness washed over his face. “I knew it was a mistake when I did it, but she was pregnant. With my child. A child I wanted. But even if she hadn’t lost the baby, our marriage was doomed.”
She pushed her chair to full recline, matching his position. He had the deepest brown eyes she’d ever seen, reminding her of hazelnuts. “Why doomed?”
“We didn’t know each other well enough. When she lost the baby, I thought we would try again, as if that were the normal thing to do, but she took her dream job and said kids were off the table unless I agreed to move. I dug in my heels, and so did she. We fought all the time. Then, when we stopped fighting, we stopped talking altogether. Then, the affair with her boss. Well, we both finally had enough.”
“I tried to like her,” Stacey said, “but she was always so cold to me.”
“You were a threat.”
Stacey laughed nervously, ignoring the fact that Doug placed his hand on her shoulder, then gently glided his index finger down her bare arm. “I find that hard to believe.”
He pulled her chair closer, the legs scraping against the outdoor deck carpeting. Her wine swirled out of the glass onto her hands. He gently took the glass then licked the wine off her fingers. “I probably shouldn’t have done that.”
“Probably not,” she whispered. Her pulse raced out of control. Their fingers entwined. His thumb caressed her skin, sending sensual messages to her brain and her body. She wanted to feel his lips pressed against hers so badly she could taste him. “What are you doing?”
“I have no idea, but it involves your mouth.” His eyelids grew heavy. “I want to kiss you.”
She continued to stare into his dark eyes as he maneuvered closer, his breath hot on her cheek. He pressed his lips gently on her sun-kissed skin. He’d kissed her cheeks a million times, but never did it feel like this. Like it meant something. There was intent behind the way he let his warm lips linger, electrifying her skin. His long hair brushed against her shoulder. She shuddered.
“It wouldn’t be just any kiss.” He pressed his thumb against her lower lip. “It would be the kind of wet, sloppy kiss that changes everything.”
She held her breath. Her gaze went between his full lips and his dark smoldering eyes. His thumb rolled off her lip and down her chin. His strong hand cupped the back of her neck.
“Last change to stop me,” he whispered. His lips so close she could feel them against hers before they touched.
She looked deep into his eyes while his lips danced tentatively, but with purpose, across hers. She cupped his face, meeting his lips, and entangling their tongues together in something so decadently exquisite, she couldn’t get enough.
She ran her hands across his broad shoulders, digging her fingers into his back. His hand ran down her side, gliding over her hip, and gently squeezed her ass. She wanted to be closer. Feel his hard chest pressed against her body.
When she angled herself closer, he pulled back. Her chest heaving up and down as he stared at her for a long moment.
“You didn’t stop me,” he said. Then his lips were locked with hers in that wet sloppy kiss he’d promised. There was nothing controlled about it. His hand ran up and down her leg, stopping to cup her ass. She fisted his shirt, wanting to reach under it and run her fingers across his rock solid stomach.
The shaking of the deck forced her to pull away.
Doug wiped his lips, then handed her back her glass of wine, ripped open his chips, and adjusted his chair to an upright position. He winked playfully, focusing his attention on his snack.
She barely had enough time to catch her breath before her father stood at the base of her chair.
“I got steaks,” her dad said. “Friday is steak night. Let’s grill.”
“I’m good with cheese and crackers,” she said, snagging a pillow then tucked it under her head, opting to stay reclined.
“I could eat a steak,” Doug said.
“Then how about you go grill, them,” her father said with a stern tone. “The grill is on, and the steaks are marinating. Veggies in foil. You know what to do.”
“Sure thing.” Doug took his beer then headed back down the stairs, not once looking over his shoulder. “More beer?” he yelled.
“Just a couple,” Jim said. “We need to go to the Heritage tomorrow and make some headway.”
Stacey sipped her wine, ignoring her father’s “what the hell are you doing” glare. She and her father were close. Even during her so-called rough teenage years, her father had been her best friend. Her biggest supporter. The person she counted on the most.
Doug was the same way, but different.
“Care to tell me why you were kissing Doug?” he finally asked.
“Not sure what you are referring to.”
He arched his brow.
“It’s none of your business,” she said, though she knew her father would push.
He arched both brows.
“It was a kiss,” she said.
“He’s still married. You’re just getting over Todd—”
“I’m so over that weasel.” And she was. Todd had been a waste of a few good years. She tried to tell herself he was a learning experience, but the only thing she learned was that he’d been a mistake.
Another arched brow. Her father’s go-to look. It worked for him. He was barely forty, having become a father at eighteen. A single father, no less. He had greyed prematurely, like his own father. He looked older than her boss Jared, though they were about the same age. “All right. You’re over him,” he said, “but Doug is my business partner. Not yet divorced, and if you haven’t noticed, he just had to move back in here because he had to sell his house. Not sure the two of you starting something up right now is a good thing.”
“You don’t sound opposed to the idea of us starting something up,” she said, a little surprised.
“No reason to be opposed. He’s a good man. Just not the right time.” Her father shook his head. “You’d have to be dead not to see the attraction between the two of you.”
That came as a shock. Sure, she’d been attracted to Doug for years. But him, attracted to her? That was new. Very new. And her father was okay with it? That was the biggest shocker of them all.
“I always knew your love life was going to be the death of me,” he said.
“Right now, I don’t have a love life, but if things change, I’ll let you know.”
She looked to the front yard, where Doug stood in front of the grill, smiling up at her… She looked back to her father, who was looking at Doug as well. “Things have already changed,” her father said.