In Two Weeks is free on all platforms. Here’s an excerpt. I just love these characters!
Ryan O’Connor shut her cell phone, dropping it in her purse. She smoothed down the front of her new denim miniskirt in a lame attempt to calm her nerves. She hated hang-ups and this was the third one today.
She adjusted her overpriced, lace-trimmed camisole. The expensive cotton caressed her skin as if it were silk. She glanced in the mirror one more time, then pointed a finger at herself. “I hope you know what you’re doing, sister.” She grabbed her purse, flicked off the lights, and headed out the door.
A sudden burst of cool Lake George air smacked against her skin and goose bumps trickled down her arms. In this part of New York, spring temperatures ranged from freezing to bathing suit weather, but she’d always enjoyed the diversity.
The moon shone high in the dark cloudless sky, casting an eerie glow. A small fishing boat hummed along the shoreline while she walked the half-mile from her rented carriage house to her brother’s restaurant, The Mason Jug.
The sound of rubber spinning wildly on the pavement caught her attention. Headlights flashed on, almost blinding her as a car whizzed by, sending pebbles in the air, pelting her legs. The wind swirled as the car sped past.
She jumped to the side. “Jerk,” she muttered, combing her fingers through her hair. Hopefully she’d gotten all the strands back in the proper place. She wanted to look perfect. Sexy. She glanced over her shoulder and listened to the tires screech as the car rounded the corner and out of sight. Idiot didn’t even honk his horn.
She gave up on the hair and slowed her steps to a snail’s pace. Propositioning Jared Blake last night hadn’t been her most brilliant idea. He barely even viewed her as a grownup, much less a bed partner. Not that it mattered. The hunky state trooper had accepted a job transfer and would be moving in two weeks.
Broken gravel crunched under her shoes as she made her way up the path toward the main door of the converted old barn. Her brother had done a bang-up job of remodeling. He had spent a small fortune on making the building look like a cozy log cabin. He’d even put in fresh perennials around the entire building. The bright neon sign hanging above the doorway was the only indication that this structure was indeed a bar and not a home. Well, that and this stupid gravel parking lot. She’d begged her brother to pave it, but he thought it added to the rustic feel of the place.
The smell of baby back ribs sizzling on the grill assaulted her nose. There wasn’t anything better than a barbecue on a cool spring night.
She clasped her hand on the doorknob, knowing her best friend Penny had been up to something. She turned her wrist and pushed back the door.
“Surprise! Happy birthday!”
She gasped, covered her mouth, and did her best to look shocked. Penny leaped at her, hurtling her into the door. “Geez, let me breathe, would ya?” Ryan laughed as she glanced at all the balloons dancing against the rugged beams. The inside of the Mason Jug still looked more like a barn, but that was part of the charm.
Her friends pulled at her like the rope in a game of tug-of-war. Although not a surprise, the party did give her a chance to relax. She’d never planned a one-night stand before. Heck, she’d never had one. But what scared her most was that Jared hadn’t run for the hills when she suggested they take a walk on the wild side.
Although he hadn’t agreed to participate in anything. Actually, he’d chuckled, kissed her temple, and left her leaning against her door, breathless. He’d probably thought she’d been joking since he had ignored the proposition.
“Wow, Pen. Great job.” Ryan checked out the decorations. Fresh red and white flowers filled the center of every table and booth, matching the checkered tablecloths. Leave it to Penny to make sure nothing clashed. A big ‘happy birthday’ sign dangled above the bar. “I can’t believe you did this.”
“Yeah, well.” Penny shrugged. “Come on, let’s mingle.”
Ryan spent the next hour alternating between laughing and looking over her shoulder for Jared. Just once, she would have liked him to put something before his job. She winced. Sex with her probably wasn’t high on his to-do list.
She licked her fingers after stuffing her mouth with the best chocolate cake in town. “This is from the baker we use at the hotel.” She poked Penny in the arm. “Who’d you get to help you with all this?”
“Not telling. Did I surprise you?”
“Not really.” The front door opened, and her stomach jumped into her throat. She held her breath for a long moment, but it wasn’t Jared who had stepped into the restaurant. Closing her eyes, she exhaled. What had she been thinking offering herself up like a desperate schoolgirl? And to Jared of all people. She blinked open her eyes only to find Penny looking at her as if she were some pathetic spinster or something. “Don’t look at me like that.”
“Like you feel sorry for me or something.”
“Well, I did hear that Jared took a transfer to some unit in Rochester, New York. And he’s selling the house. You okay?” Penny offered a hug.
“Why wouldn’t I be okay?” Ryan pulled away.
Penny tilted her head. “Please, it’s me you’re talking to. I know you’ve got the hots for him.”
Ryan used to think he’d never be able to see her as anything other than his best friend’s dorky kid sister. “And I’m going to have him tonight. Who’s the stud?” She pointed to some guy who had “Penny’s latest” written all over him.
With a sparkling, pearly white smile, Penny responded, “Chuck. I told you about him…” Her jaw dropped and her big brown eyes looked like they were going to pop right out of her head. “What did you say?”
Ryan tried not to laugh. “I talked Jared into spending some ‘quality time’ alone with me.”
“He agreed to do the dirty with you?”
“Not exactly.” Ryan quickly glanced around the room. “I can’t believe you just said that.”
“Hey, you brought it up.” Penny rested both hands on Ryan’s shoulders. “Did you ask him to sleep with you?”
Ryan tugged at Penny’s arm, pulling her to a table. “Not in so many words, but I think he understood my drift.” Ryan narrowed her eyes. “I just took your advice.”
Penny sat down and stared at her. “What, that romance is overrated, and sex is not, and that you should give it a try sometime?”
“Yep, that would be what you said.” Ryan shook her head. “You told me to stop going after the boring tax accountant type.”
“That didn’t really include Mr. Loner.” Penny leaned into the table with a scowl. “Your brother’s right.”
“Get Jared off ‘God’ status, because he’s just a man, a man who isn’t interested, and there are a dozen men out there who are.”
“Wait one minute. You told me to put my cards on the table.” Ryan folded her arms. “You’ve always said I should ask for what I want.”
Penny sighed. “That’s the problem, hon. You don’t want sex with him. You want him for the long haul.”
“Long haul and Jared don’t mix.” Ryan took a deep breath and put on her best smile. “He’s moving in two weeks. Besides, I know exactly what I’m doing. Now tell me about this Chuck guy.”
Penny pursed her lips. “Fine, but don’t come running to me when he breaks your heart.” Her eyes shifted past Ryan. “Chuck is hot.”
“You like him a lot?”
Penny’s eyes twinkled. “That’s the difference between you and me. I never go into something thinking he’s the one.” She winked. “But someday I’ll find my frog when I least expect it.” She stood and stared down at Ryan. “Now get drunk and forget about Jared.”
Sashaying away, Penny ran her hands through her thick, shoulder length, sandy blonde hair and did a quick, sassy toss for good measure. She might not have been tall and sexy, but she had all the assets that men required. Large round breasts, a tight ass, and a personality to die for.
Ryan’s purse vibrated. She dug into it and pulled out her cell phone and muttered a curse. She wouldn’t answer a blocked call again. Whoever this was knew they had the wrong number, so why did they keep trying? “Buzz off.” She tossed the phone back in her purse.
“Who?” Her brother sat down at the table with a concerned look on his face. Considering everything she and Pat had gone through, she knew that he meant well. But his overprotective ways were almost as annoying as Jared’s.
“No one.” She grabbed a handful of popcorn from the basket. “You hear from Jared?”
Pat’s face scrunched even more. “Why?”
“Because he said he’d be here.” Mindlessly, she raised a single buttered kernel to her lips. Over the past few months Jared had been sending her mixed signals. She’d finally had the courage last night to call him on it.
“Then he’ll be here. Did he put the house on the market yet?”
She shrugged. Finding a new place to live did concern her. Jared charged her next to nothing for rent and she loved the area, even though it took forever to get to work in the snow. “He didn’t say.”
Pat leaned closer. “I know Jared’s move has upset you. But it’s about time you got him off that pedestal you’ve had him on for the last few years.”
“I don’t have him on a pedestal.” She grabbed a napkin, wiped the grease from her fingers, and tried to ignore her brother.
“Come on. I see how you look at him.” He tried to bat her nose with his finger, but she swatted it away.
“Oh shut up, will you? I’m not twelve, if you hadn’t noticed.” She gave him the evil eye.
“Could’ve fooled me,” he grumbled, crossing his arms. “You can’t possibly have real feelings for the man. He’s my age.”
She tossed the napkin on the table. “Of course I have feelings for him. He’s been a dear friend to both of us, or do I need to remind you of everything he’s done.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about. You have to let him go.”
“Get off it. I’m just worried about moving. I’ve lived in that carriage house since I was seventeen.” She waved to a couple of girls she had gone to high school with.
“Didn’t Jared say the realtor was listing the property with a money-making tenant?”
“Jared has no control over what the new owners would charge, or do with me. I’m better off renting an apartment near the hotel in Bolton, anyway.”
Pat took both her hands in his. “You could always come live with Marcie and me.”
“Not.” At twenty-three, Ryan had been living on her own since her brother had married five years ago.
Pat leaned back in his chair and scanned the room. “So, how’d your date go last night?”
“How did you know I went on a date?” She glared at her brother. It seemed she couldn’t do anything without dear old brother and Jared knowing about it. Or having a say in it.
“Jared told me.”
“Figures. He was hanging out on the back patio when Tom brought me home. I have to say the date wasn’t anything to write home about, but thanks to Jared, well, let’s just say I won’t be going on a second one with that guy, ever.” Jared had made telling Tom to take a hike a little easier, but it drove her nuts that he acted more like an older brother than a friend. He had this horrible habit of scaring off her dates before they even began.
“Jared said the guy looked like a moron.”
“He thinks everyone I date is a moron.” She rolled her eyes. “Where is he? He should’ve been here by now.”
“I’m sure he offered to stay late or something,” Pat suggested.
He better not have. She glanced at her watch.
“This week will be hard on him,” Pat said. A sudden sadness washed over his face. “I told him. Too much change around this time of year wouldn’t be good for him, but he’ll never listen.”
“He listens to you, and he’s getting better every year,” she said softly.
Pat rested his hand on her shoulder. “Now that I’m about to be a father, I can have a little empathy for what he must go through.”
“It’s not his fault his son died,” she whispered.
“That’s not what he believes.” Pat rose and pushed the chair in. “Look, I’ve got to get back to the kitchen.” He nodded toward the door. “Jared’s here.”
Ryan rose and stood next to her brother as Jared approached. His broad frame stood well over six feet, and his emerald colored eyes sparkled with mischief. She took in a deep breath, trying to simply smile without letting her eyes roam over his perfect body.
An electric pulse shot up her spine when Jared touched the small of her back. Staring into his jewel like eyes, she swallowed. His full lips brushed her temple the same way they always did when he said hello. It was just his way, but it always sent her ability to speak on a temporary vacation.
He chuckled as if he knew the effect he had on her, then ran his hand across his freshly buzzed head. “Sorry I missed the big surprise.”
“She wasn’t surprised, but she faked it nice,” Pat said. “I’m short-handed tonight, so I’ve got to get going. Don’t you go running off to the western part of this state without letting me get you good and drunk for old times’ sake.”
“You’re on.” Jared smiled wide. “Come on, Ryan, I’ve got a surprise for you.”
She swallowed, then chomped down on her tongue, making sure she didn’t sound like a schoolgirl when she spoke. “Jared, you didn’t need to get me anything.”
“Don’t spoil my fun,” he drawled, slipping his arm around her waist.
The noise around her seemed to disappear. The only thing she could concentrate on was his firm, muscular body and his bad boy good looks. She tried to breathe normally, but his aftershave, mixed with his own unique scent, was just too good to pass up.
Her heart beat frantically. The only thing he truly loved was his job, and that was okay. Tonight would be a onetime thing. She’d been afraid he hadn’t heard her last night. But the way his thumb rubbed her hip and slid under her shirt to touch her bare skin told her he finally saw her as a woman.
“Ryan, wait,” Penny yelled, waving something in her hand. “I found this on the table over there.” She pushed her way through the crowd, panting. “Hey there, hot stuff.”
“Hi, Penny.” Jared chuckled.
“It looks like we missed a gift somehow.” Penny handed her a long box.
“Someone has a secret admirer,” Jared said. “Looks like a flower box.”
Ryan examined the gift. The tag had her name on it, but nothing else. She glanced around the room. The people she would expect to give her a gift had already done so, except for Jared. Her heart fluttered. He’d never given her anything like flowers before.
“Open it.” Penny poked her in the arm.
Ryan pulled back the bow and lifted the box open. She shoved the tissue aside, then gasped, staring down at a single dead rose with a note that read: “I’ll get you, you bitch.”
Jared grabbed the box. “Where did you get this?”
“I found it on that table.” Penny pointed across the room with a trembling hand. “Who would do such a thing?”
Shaken, Ryan stumbled backward.
“What’s going on?” She heard her brother’s voice behind her.
“Someone just threatened your sister. I’ll get the locals down here. For now, make sure no one leaves this bar.” Still clutching the box with the single dead rose in his hand, he started bellowing orders at everyone at the party.
“Penny?” Ryan whispered.
“Right here, girlfriend.” Penny guided Ryan to a chair. “Some idiot is just playing a stupid joke.”
“My stepfather said those exact words to me the day he tried…he almost…”
“Your stepfather’s in jail. He can’t hurt you anymore.”
Ryan wasn’t so sure about that. George McIntosh might be in jail for murder, but he wasn’t dead. And that meant he could someday get out.
About an hour passed while Jared and a local sheriff questioned everyone in the bar. No one knew where or how the box had shown up. The bar had been open to the public, with only the back room closed off for Ryan’s party. Anyone could’ve snuck in and left the box.
“Hey, babe. How are you holding up?” Jared asked after the majority of the guests were allowed to leave. He knelt down in front of her, holding both her hands in his.
She cleared her throat in an absent gesture to achieve calm. “Do you think George could’ve somehow sent that to me?”
“That’s what I’m thinking.” Jared pulled her to her feet. “Let’s get you home.” He placed his hand on the small of her back and pressed his lips to her cheek. “I didn’t drive, did you?”
She shook her head. “He’s never tried to contact me before. Why now?” Her hands clenched into tight fists as if ready to strike back at any moment. She took a deep cleansing breath in through her nose, then exhaled slowly. No way would she give that man any power.
“Let me worry about George.” Jared opened the door for her, then looped his arm around her.
“He didn’t try to rape you.” She leaned in close to Jared as they made their way down the road. She glanced over her shoulder as a car slowed, then drove by.
He tugged at her, turning toward the driveway. “Nope, just put a bullet hole in my arm.” He lifted the sleeve of his T-shirt. “Bullet went in there and came out over here.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
He stopped her at the front door of the carriage house. A firm finger hushed her words. “I know, babe.” His gaze dropped from her eyes to her lips. His mouth hovered over hers for a moment, but before she could find the courage to close her eyes and kiss him, he pulled away. “Where are your keys?”
She dug into her purse and handed them to him. The gentle splashing of the lake against the shoreline calmed her nerves. She looked out over the dark waters lit up by the moon and stars. Even in the dead of night, she could see the majestic structure of the main house, thanks to the fresh coat of white paint setting off the traditional black shutters.
The rattling of the door brought her attention back to her home. The carriage house may have been an eighth of the size, but the mini replica had the same sense of hominess.
“For now, I want to make sure all your windows are locked, and this door is secure.” Jared stepped into the kitchen, then flicked on the light. “I don’t think you should take any chances.”
“I can’t imagine anyone else wanting to frighten me like this.” She pulled out her cell. Only one missed call. The blocked call. And no message.
True to his cop form, he scoped out the room before letting her in. “What about the dipshit you went out with last night?”
“Tom? Why would he do something like that?”
“I have no idea. But he wasn’t too thrilled when you agreed to talk to me instead of having him in for a nightcap.” He ducked into her bedroom, then the bathroom, checking the windows. “Besides, I don’t trust him.”
“You don’t even know the guy.” She planted her hands on her hips. “You don’t trust anyone.”
“Not true.” He lifted a brow. “Besides, that dipshit last night didn’t want to take no for an answer, if you remember correctly.”
“I remember all right, and I was handling Tom just fine all by my little self.” She brushed her hair from her face. Tom was persistent, but that was all. “Stop acting like a crazed older brother or something. Drives me nuts.”
“I’m not your brother.” He pursed his lips and let out a whistle. “And in that outfit…” His eyes roamed over her body in a very un-brotherly fashion. “You’d attract a monk.”
“You don’t like my outfit?” She smiled and leaned against the sink.
Running his hand across his head, he took in a breath. “I like it. A lot. You’re a beautiful woman, but you’re too nice. Naïve.”
“I am not.”
“Yeah, actually you are, and some guys might try to take advantage of that.”
“Right. But since I’m not naïve, as you put it, there is no way I can be taken advantage of. I’m not twelve, if you hadn’t noticed.” She flashed him her best sarcastic grin.
“Oh, hell. I’ve noticed,” he said. “Why can’t you just be that dorky kid with pigtails and freckles?”
“I still have freckles.” She laughed. “On my ass.”
“I didn’t need to know that.” His eyes darted around the small kitchen. “Listen, about tonight.”
“What about it?” Her pulse increased sending intense messages to other parts of her body.
He stepped toward her. “Sorry I was late for your birthday.”
Her breath caught. She raised her hand to her throat and tried to swallow. Her gaze locked with his in a magical moment. The beating of her heart pounded wildly against her chest.
He approached her, putting his hands on the counter by her waist. He dipped his head, smiled, and said, “I’m going to install a new lock on that door tonight.”
“That’s not necessary.” She barely managed.
“Yes. It is.” He stood tall and reached in his pocket. “And so is this.” He held a small package in his hands. “Happy birthday, Ryan.”
Her eyes glanced between the small box and Jared. “You didn’t have to do this,” she whispered.
With shaky hands, she took the present and fumbled with the wrapper. Sometimes there was no arguing with him. But this gift just didn’t seem like Jared. In the past he’d given her practical things: a cell phone, a laptop during her college years, and a membership to Triple A after she’d landed the job at the Lakeside Hotel.
She blinked, and then lifted the top of the box. A sparkling emerald attached to a silver chain graced her teary eyes. “Oh, my. It’s beautiful.”
“It’s your birthstone.”
She lifted her gaze to meet his. He smiled like a big kid who’d just done something amazing, then scowled. “You’re crying?”
“You shouldn’t have done this.” She placed her trembling hand on his chest. “It’s too much.”
“Don’t you like it?” He shoved his hands in his pockets and retreated as if wounded.
“I love it, but…” She saw the disappointment in his eyes. Jared never did anything unless he wanted to, this she knew for certain. “Thank you.” She pulled the necklace out of the box. “Would you help me put it on?”
His smile returned. “I know it’s not my usual, but everything is different now.”
She turned and closed her eyes as she lifted her hair. Water welled in her eyes. Different. He was right. Things were different and everything was about to change.
“There.” He patted her shoulder, then backed away.
She turned and did her best to smile as if all was perfect. He stared at her for a long moment. It wasn’t a sexual glance, or even a friendly gaze. He just stared. It was as if he was meeting her for the first time.
“Well, I’d better fix this door. I’ve got to get back to the station and do some paperwork.”
“Tonight?” Her stupid tears must have frightened him away. She really needed to learn how to behave like a grown woman, or she’d never get the kind of goodbye she really wanted.
“I want to make sure that this dead rose thing doesn’t fall through the cracks.” He raised his thumb to her chin. “Sometimes threats like this get put on the bottom of the pile.” He pressed his mouth against hers, but pulled away before the kiss even began. “I’ll stop by in the morning and we can talk then.” He turned and headed toward the door. “I’ve got one of those latches hotels use in the shed. I’ll go get it, and my tools.”
She swallowed her frustration. She knew him well enough to know tonight wouldn’t be the night. “I think you’re overreacting. If it’s George, he can’t do anything from behind bars.”
“Did the dead rose scare you? Be honest.”
“Of course it scared me.”
“Then I’m not overreacting. But I’m more concerned that some sicko has decided to stalk you.”
Her heart skipped a beat. Jared had that “I’m a cop, so you’d better listen” look on his face. The one where he didn’t blink, he just stared at you with raised brow and tilted chin.
“You’ll find out who sent that rose, right?” Fear prickled up and down her spine. Even if George was behind it, someone else had done it and that alone gave her the heebie-jeebies.
“That would be the plan.” He ran a hand across his head. “Hopefully before I move.” He turned and closed the door behind him.
She reached for the refrigerator, then a beer. After twisting the top off, she chugged half of it. Jared could be overbearing. Honestly, he was downright controlling, especially when it came to his job. Under the circumstances, that could only be seen as a good thing. She’d seen enough stories in the paper about how stalker cases were often swept under the rug. She wiped the beer that dribbled down her chin. The only problem was that Jared would most likely demand to be at her side all the time. He’d tell her what to do, how to do it, even when to do it. She smiled. His being so close all the time would give her the opportunity to seduce him.
Her smile faded knowing someone planned on “getting her.” She shivered as she remembered her stepfather’s dirty hands on her body. “Bastard,” she whispered. It had to be George. Who else would want to do such a thing to her?