Going to the Chapel: A Novella


Going to the Chapel: A Novella

Book 1 of the A Welcome to Matrimony NovelSeries

Going to the Chapel: A Novella

If there’s a naughty list, Izzy Sassafras is on it—but she’s ready to make a new start this Christmas. Especially after leaving her lying, cheating, no-good husband and fleeing to her old hometown of Matrimony, Georgia. Izzy’s made herself a promise: no more men. All she wants to do is get her wedding business up and running—and mend fences with her estranged sisters. But Izzy knows she’s in trouble when her very first client, a smooth-talking Texan, makes her light up like a Christmas tree.

Desperate for business, private investigator Levi Fox reluctantly takes a case involving a runaway wife in a town called Matrimony. When he meets sweet, sexy Izzy, he decides she can’t possibly be as innocent as she seems. At first, posing as her client is the perfect cover; but he soon imagines himself as a groom—with Izzy as his Christmas bride! Will this case end with a trip to the chapel…or the jailhouse?

Cold Case at Carlton’s Canyon


Cold Case at Carlton’s Canyon

Book 4 of the Cold Case Series

Cold Case at Carlton's Canyon

Two officers’ badges—and hearts—are on the line in Rita Herron’s Cold Case at Carlton’s Canyon

Sergeant Justin Thorpe has dedicated his life to justice and won’t stop until he finds the vicious serial killer who has already claimed ten innocent lives. He works solo—until he joins forces with Sheriff Amanda Blair. The Texas Ranger can’t let his desire for his coworker keep him from his mission, especially when Amanda’s life is threatened.

Ten girls have vanished—one for every year since Amanda graduated from Canyon High. And as she tries to fight her attraction to a man as independent as she is, a trap is being laid to make Amanda the final victim in a killer’s terrifying endgame….

Her Stolen Son


Her Stolen Son

Guardian Angel Investigations Series

Her Stolen Son

A little boy hired a brooding detective to bring his mother home…and then the child disappeared.

Detective Colt Mason’s latest “client” was impossible to resist. Not only was he just five years old, his teary-eyed pleas to prove his mother was innocent of murder pulled at Colt’s hard to reach heartstrings. But before he could investigate, the child disappeared without a trace. Now, with Serena Stover desperate to find her son and clear her name, Colt took one look at the beautiful widow and knew this little family would change his life forever. As the search intensified, Colt unearthed a far-reaching— and deadly— conspiracy, making him more determined than ever to solve this case and keep his promise that Serena’s smile would return when she was reunited with her little boy.

“Mister, will you get my mommy out of jail?”

Colt Mason glanced up from his desk at Guardian Angel Investigations and stared at the dark-haired little boy, surprised at his request.

He was probably what, five or six years old?

“I don’t gots a lot of money,” the boy said, then hoisted the piggy bank he held in his arms onto Colt’s desk. The change inside clanged and rattled as he shoved it toward Colt. “But you can have it all if you’ll help me.”

Colt grimaced. The last thing he wanted was the boy’s savings.

Besides, the kid’s eyes were red and swollen from crying, and he was breathing hard as if he’d been running.

Where had he been running from?

“Why don’t you sit down, son, and let me get you some water. Then you can tell me who you are and what’s going on.”

The boy slid into a chair, his shoulders hunched. Colt stepped from his office into the kitchen, grabbed a bottle of water, brought it back and handed it to him.

The kid’s big brown eyes studied Colt warily, but he took the water, unscrewed the lid then took a long drink. Finally he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and sighed. “My name is Petey Stover. My mommy said people here help kids. And she’s in trouble so I come here.” Petey pointed to the nameplate on Colt’s desk. “You gots the name of a gun.”

“Yeah, I do.” Colt fought a small smile. “Now, tell me what happened, Petey. How did your mother end up in jail?”

Worry tightened Petey’s bowlike mouth. “Last night my mommy had a date with this man named Mr. Lyle. But he pushed Mommy against the fireplace, and then he grabbed her neck.” Petey gulped and Colt noticed his hands shake. “I didn’t like him hurting her.”

Cole clenched his jaw. “I wouldn’t like that either. What happened next?”

“She stomped on his foot and kicked him in the? you know—” he pointed to his private parts “—where it hurts.”

Colt barely resisted a smile. “Yes, I know. Then what?”

“I tried to pull him away ’cause now Daddy’s gone I’m the man of the house.” Another deep breath and he squared his small shoulders as if to prove he was a man. “But he knocked me down on the floor.”

Anger made Colt grip the chair edge. “He hit you?”

Petey nodded. “Then my mommy got the fire poker and yelled at him to leave.”

Colt narrowed his eyes. “Did your mother hit him with the fire poker?”

“No.” Petey took another swig of water. “She acted like she would though ’cause she was scared. Then the man got mad and said she’d be sorry.”

Colt wouldn’t have blamed the woman if she had killed the bastard. “What did he do then?”

“He gives her a mean look but he left.” Petey sighed. “So Mommy and I wents to bed. But this morning when I was eatin’ cereal, the sheriff came and he said Mommy killed that mean Mr. Lyle, and they taked Mommy away. And this lady with big orange hair took me to kid jail.”

Colt’s head was reeling. “Kid jail?”

Petey pointed toward the door. “To that big spooky house down the street.”

Ah, Magnolia Manor, the orphanage. DFAC had obviously gotten involved.

“But I runned away when they went in for lunch, cause I don’t wanna stay in jail, and Mommy shouldn’t be there either.” He squared his little shoulders. “Jail is for bad people, and my mommy is good. She didn’t kill nobody.”

Colt took a moment to process the situation. “Where’s your father, Petey?”

Petey looked down at his hands where they clenched the water bottle. “He was a policeman, but he got shot and he died.”

Poor boy. And now his mother had been arrested.

Petey’s chin quivered as he looked back up at Colt. “Will you get her out, Mr. Colt?”

Colt stood. He didn’t know if the woman was innocent or guilty but he wanted more details on the matter. “Let me talk to her and we’ll see.”

Petey jumped off the chair. “Then let’s go.”

Colt knelt beside the boy. He wasn’t a babysitter. Hell, he didn’t know much about kids at all.

In fact, he’d screwed up bad when he’d been left in charge of his own brother?.

But how could he refuse this little boy? “Petey, I’m sorry, bud, but the sheriff won’t allow children in the jail. One of my friends will stay with you here while I talk to your mom. All right?”

“You won’t send me back to kid jail?” Petey touched his arm, his voice pleading.

Colt winced. Petey’s hands were tiny, just like the rest of him. Yet he had the weight of the world on his shoulders.

He’d been fifteen when he’d lost his own dad and he’d felt that weight on his shoulders. A few months later, he’d failed and lost his brother, too.

Petey was nowhere near that age. Still, he couldn’t lie to the child. He would have to call Magnolia Manor sooner or later. “Let me talk to your mom and then we’ll make a plan.”

Petey nodded, his trusting acceptance sending a streak of guilt through Colt. Still, he went to get Derrick. Derrick could phone Brianna at the manor and smooth things over. She must be frantic.

He hurried to Gage’s office, pausing at Derrick’s to ask him to join them.

“What’s going on?” Gage asked.

“This little boy just came into my office asking for my help. His name is Petey Stover.”

Gage switched on the TV in the corner. “His mother was arrested. It’s all over the news.”

Colt watched as the special news story aired.

“This morning, Serena Stover, wife of former police officer Parker Stover of the Raleigh Police Department, was arrested for the murder of a man named Lyle Rice. Rice was supposedly killed at his home, but police have yet to recover the body. However, evidence quickly led the sheriff to Serena Stover’s door.”

The camera zeroed in on Sheriff Gray handcuffing and escorting an attractive woman with long, curly, copper-colored hair from her home. She was arguing and protesting, trying to break free to reach her little boy.

Petey was crying and kicking and shouting, determined to wrestle away from the deputy who was hauling him toward another vehicle. A woman Colt assumed to be the social worker was trying to soothe the boy, to no avail.

The camera panned back to Serena as the sheriff pushed her into the back of his squad car. Tears streaked her big eyes as she turned and watched her son beating on the window, screaming her name.

Colt’s gut clenched.

“As you can see,” the reporter continued, “the arrest quickly became an emotional scene. However, the sheriff feels he has sufficient evidence and motive to move forward.”

The camera panned back inside to focus on the crime scene. Massive amounts of blood stained the bedroom floor, and the sheets were blood splattered, one corner dragging the floor. A crime scene tech lifted the corner to reveal more blood.

In fact, Serena’s name had been spelled in blood on the wood floor.

“Police believe that Rice scribbled his killer’s name in his own blood before he died,” the news reporter continued. “More on this story as it develops.”

“That’s not good,” Gage said.

“If Serena killed Rice and got rid of the body, why wouldn’t she have cleaned up?” Colt asked with a frown. “Besides, she sure as hell wouldn’t have left her name there for the police to finger her.”

“Maybe she was in a hurry and didn’t see it,” Gage suggested. “The name was covered by the sheet.”

Colt shrugged, questions nagging at him.

“Petey was taken to Magnolia Manor, Derrick,” Colt said. “Will you let Brianna know he’s here and safe?”

Derrick nodded. “She’s probably frantic. I’ll call her right now.” Derrick stepped from the office to make the call.

Gage drummed his fingers on the desk. “This isn’t our usual kind of case.”

“I know,” Colt said. But something about the poor kid and that emotional scene had gotten to him. “The boy is so upset, though. And his story made sense. I’d like to at least talk to the woman.”

Gage hesitated, then gave a nod. “All right. But be careful. And don’t make an enemy of the sheriff. So far, he’s cooperated with us on other cases. I’d like to keep it that way.”

Colt agreed and headed back to Petey. He’d be civil to Sheriff Gray, but if he thought the man was wrong about Serena, he wouldn’t hesitate to rattle some cages.

There was no way he’d sit by and let him railroad a single mother away from her child if she was innocent.

Serena stared at the ink on her fingertips, still stunned that she had been arrested, fingerprinted and was locked in a cell.

Not that it was the first time. But she’d thought her juvenile record was sealed.

She had to get out. The first chance she had, she’d make a break for it. Then she’d find Petey and get him and run.

What kind of life would that be for him, Serena? Hiding out, always making up new names, always afraid?.

No, she couldn’t do that to her son.

Poor little Petey. He’d been through so much the last two years. His father’s murder. Their move to Sanctuary because she’d wanted a nice small town where they could both heal. And they both had started to heal.

Then her friend from work had encouraged her to start dating. A huge mistake.

Lyle Rice had been a charmer at first, then turned into a snake. When the arrogant animal had pushed Petey, she had wanted to kill him. But she hadn’t, dammit.

And she couldn’t run either. She’d given up that life when she’d married Parker. She’d vowed to give Petey a more stable life than she’d had?

Footsteps pounded, the shadow of movement in the hall indicating the sheriff or his deputy had returned. She’d requested her phone call, but the truth was, she didn’t even know the name of a good lawyer to call.

Of course, the state would give her a public defender, but she’d had one of those before and that had ended with her in a juvenile facility.

Suddenly the sheriff appeared, along with a broad-shouldered man with hair as black as coal and eyes just as black. He looked powerful, lethal even, with a strong, square jaw and arms that were as big as her legs.

Definitely an alpha guy who was accustomed to being in control. And judging from his short haircut, muscular physique, that laser-intense look and the tattoo on his arm, he was former military.

Either that or a hardened criminal.

Her stomach pitched. Surely, the sheriff wasn’t going to lock him in the cell with her.

“Ms. Stover,” Sheriff Gray said. “You have a visitor.”

Serena crossed her arms, confused. Frightened. Wary.

Who was this man and what did he want with her? Remembering her husband’s horror stories about how

devious police interrogation tactics could be, she braced herself. She had to be careful.

He might be here to trap her into giving a confession.

Chapter Two

Serena adopted a brave face. “Who are you?”

“My name is Colt Mason. I’m a detective with GAI, Guardian Angel Investigations.”

Serena frowned, confused even more. “I don’t understand. Why do you want to talk to me?”

“It’s about your son, Petey,” Colt said gruffly.

Serena’s mouth went dry, the room swirled around her, and she reached for the bars to steady herself to keep from passing out. Today had been too much, and if something had happened to Petey.

The sound of the cell opening registered, the men murmuring something indiscernible in low voices. Colt gripped her arm and led her to the cot by the wall. Her legs buckled, and she sank onto it, then leaned over, the room spinning in a dizzying circle.

“It’s all right. Take a deep breath, Serena,” Colt said in a low voice. “Then another.”

His soothing tone brought a flood of tears. Angrily she brushed at them and inhaled, determined to regain control. She had to know what had happened to her son. But when she tried to speak, nausea rose to her throat.

The sheriff returned, then Colt pressed a cold cloth against the back of her neck.

Dammit. She needed to be strong. But she’d lost Parker. She couldn’t lose Petey. And that blasted woman had promised to take care of him.

Clawing for control, she jerked her head up, removed the cloth from her neck and tossed it aside. Colt Mason was staring at her with those intense black eyes again as if he was trying to see into her mind and soul. Maybe even her heart.

She wouldn’t let anyone there, not ever again.

Besides, he was probably trying to judge whether she was a killer.

“Where’s my son?” She clutched his shirt. “Is he hurt?”

“Petey is fine,” Colt said. “He’s at my office.”

“What? I thought that social worker took him to a foster home.”

Colt covered her hands with his and peeled her fingers loose. “She dropped him off at Magnolia Manor, but as soon as the children went inside for lunch, he bolted and ran down to GAI. Apparently you told him that some nice men there helped children.”

Relief mushroomed inside Serena, and she found herself hanging on to his hands. Caution told her not to trust him, but the fact that she had used those exact words with Petey made her relax slightly.

“You have fifteen minutes,” Sheriff Gray interjected.

Colt nodded to the sheriff, and he strode back to the front of the jail.

“He must be so scared,” she whispered. “Are you sure he’s okay?”

“I’m certain.” Colt hesitated, an awkward second passing as he released her hands. “Do you feel better now?”

She nodded, searching his strong face for the truth. This man looked hard, cold, forceful, as if he’d seen the worst in humans and was trying to figure out where she stood on the pendulum, if he should be protecting her son from her. That suspicious look cut through her like a knife. “You scared me to death. When you said GAI, I thoughts”

“That he’d been kidnapped,” Colt said darkly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you. Petey is in my office. One of the other agents, Derrick McKinney, is staying with him. His wife, Brianna, works at Magnolia Manor where the social worker took Petey.”

“So you’ll send him back there?”

“We have to follow the law, but Brianna is a great lady,” Colt said. “She has a son of her own, and loves those kids. Trust me, she’ll be like a second mother to him.”

He obviously meant to make her feel better, but rage churned through Serena at the thought of anyone else taking care of her son.

“Petey should be with me.” She scanned her bleak surroundings. Concrete floor, dingy concrete wall covered in graffiti. Scratchy, faded wool blanket on top of a cot with a mattress so thin the springs bore into her. “And I shouldn’t be here. I haven’t done anything wrong.”

Colt’s gaze scrutinized her. “Petey told me a little bit about what happened,” Colt said. “But I’d like to hear your version.”

Serena hesitated, doubts creeping in. “Do you have some ID?”

Peek-a-Boo Protector


Peek-a-Boo Protector

Seeing Double Series

Peek-a-Boo Protector

Police chief John Wise admired Samantha Corley’s courage when she discovered her remote cabin ransacked and an adorable baby girl in need of a bottle. The only clue to her identity was the note pinned to her blanket, stirring John’s protective instincts like nothing before. Agreeing to help Sam find out the truth, he claimed it was a purely professional pairing. But he couldn’t ignore the way his heart clenched watching Sam care for the innocent child, or the feelings baby Emmie stirred in his soul. With the danger escalating, John knew he was in way too deep. Bad guys he could handle. Caring about the fate of both baby and guardian was out of his jurisdiction….

You’ll be sorry you messed with me.”

Leonard Cultrain’s angry words echoed through Samantha Corley’s head as she drove up the winding graveled drive to her cabin. His mother, Lou Lou, one of the most bitter, crotchety old ladies she’d ever known, had insisted that her son was innocent of murdering his wife, that he never should have been arrested in the first place.

But everyone in town knew Leonard was out of jail on a technicality, and the residents were on edge.

Gravel spewed behind her as she pressed the accelerator and screeched up her driveway. Normally she wasn’t skittish, and could hold her own, but she’d feel a hell of a lot better once she was inside her house with her shotgun by her side.

Usually Sam liked living out here alone in the wilderness, but today the isolation felt eerie.

The thick dense trees rocked with the wind, the branches dipping like big hands trying to reach her, hands like Leonard’s.

Hands that could choke her just like he’d choked his wife.

Stop it; you’re just being paranoid. You’re home now.

But her headlights flickered across the lawn as she braked, and she spotted a strange car parked in front of her house.

An uneasy feeling rippled up her spine. Had Leonard come to make good on his threat?

No, this wasn’t Leonard’s old car.

The license plate was from Fulton County, the Atlanta area. She didn’t know anyone from Atlanta.

Maybe she should call the local police. Chief John Wise’s strong masculine face flashed in her mind, and for a brief moment, she wished that he was here. That he’d take charge and make sure she was safe.

But she couldn’t depend on a man. She’d learned that a long damn time ago. Besides, John wouldonly fuss at her for going out to Leonard’s. He thought she was foolish to go up against bullies like him.

The infuriating man was like most others she knew. They wanted a dainty little female, one they could protect—and control.

Sam was none of those things. In foster care, she’d learned to do the protecting and to stand up for herself.

Besides, tangling with the tall, dark brooding cop rattled her every time—and made her want things she couldn’t have. Like a man in her life?.

No, she’d check this out for herself. Maybe she simply had a visitor.

Yeah, right. Sam didn’t have a lot of friends. Acquaintances, yes, but no one she shared her secrets with. No one to sleep over.

Not since Honey had left.

Clenching her cell phone in one hand, she grabbed the baseball bat she kept with her from the backseat floorboard and climbed out.

Slowly she moved up the porch steps, glancing at the windows and searching for movement inside the house, listening for sounds of an intruder. If a car was here, someone had to be around. But where?

Her senses sprang to alert at the top of the steps. The front door had been jimmied. She held her breath and inched forward, then touched the doorknob. It felt icy against her finger, then the door swung open with a screech.

She exhaled shakily. Inside, the house was dark, the smell of fear palpable. But another scent drifted to her. A man’s cologne. Heavy. Cheap. Too strong.

She hesitated and moved behind the door. She’d be a fool to go inside. She had to call for help.

But a baby’s cry pierced the air. A baby? God, what if the child was hurt? If the parent was here for her help?

It was a small town. Everyone knew what she did for a living, that she was a children’s advocate, a guardian ad litem, and sometimes they needed her help.

Her heart stuttered in her chest. If the child was in danger, she couldn’t wait.

Still she had to be cautious. She inched into the entryway, but froze at the sight of blood in the kitchen.

Someone was hurt.

Trembling, she slipped into the corner behind the door and punched 9-1-1, then whispered that she had an intruder.

“We’ll get someone there ASAP,” the dispatch officer said. “Stay on the line.”

But the baby wailed again, and she ended the call and slipped up the stairs. Gripping the bat in her hands, she paused to listen, searching for the direction of the noise.

It was coming from her room. She scanned the hall, the extra bedroom and bath at the top of the stairs, but they were empty.

Her eyes had adjusted to the dark now, and she peered into her bedroom. The windows were closed, the bed made, nothing amiss. No signs of an intruder.

She crept inside, then realized the cry was coming from her closet. She eased opened the door and her heart clenched.

An infant was kicking and screaming from an infant carrier on the floor, a darling little girl wrapped in a pink blanket.

She knelt and scooped up the child to comfort her, her mind racing. What was going on?

There had been blood downstairs?. Someone was hurt.

The baby’s mother?

<p”>Police Chief John Wise gripped his cell phone with his fist as his father lapsed into a diatribe about his plans for John’s future.

“You know you were meant to do more than work in that hole-in-the-wall town,” his father bellowed. “The most serious crime you’ve solved has been the theft of those stupid Butterbean dolls. And that was just a bunch of kids selling them on eBay.”

John silently cursed. “You don’t have to remind me.” The case had been the talk of the small town. All the parents had been in an uproar, divided on the issue. Some blew it off as boys being boys while others wanted the kids punished for tainting the town’s biggest tourist draw.

CNN had picked up the story, plastered photos of Butterville Babyland Hospital on the news, panning the rooms where the Butterbean babies were birthed from their butterbean shells along with a picture of him in uniform as if he were guarding the dolls. Miss Mazie, the doll’s originator, had her five minutes of fame.

And he’d looked like a country bumpkin fool.

“You need to move on,” his father continued. “We want the political supporters to take you seriously when your name comes up for office.”

Sweat dribbled down his jaw. “I know, Dad. But the town needs me now. Leonard Cultrain has been released from prison and poses a threat.” Especially to the women.

His phone beeped that he had another call, and he jumped on it. “A 9-1-1 is coming in. I’ve got to go.”

“What this time? Someone’s cat up a tree?” his father said in disgust.

His father was probably right. But he’d heard enough for tonight. “Later.” He disconnected the call and clicked to dispatch. “Chief Wise here.”

“We just got a call from Samantha Corley’s house. An intruder.”

He scrubbed a hand over his face, scraping beard stubble. “Did you remind her not to go inside?”

“I told her to stay on the line but then the line went dead.”

John swore, then hit the siren, wheeled around and raced toward Samantha’s cabin. The damn woman was a magnet for trouble. That job of hers was going to get her killed one day.

Not that he didn’t admire her dedication to her calling—and her killer legs—but he wished she’d choose another line of work. Let someone else deal with the parent abusers and troubled families in the county.

But she’d grown up in a foster home, so he guessed it was her nature. Still, sometimes he worried about the blasted woman.

Why, he didn’t know. He’d known her since high school, but she’d never given him the time of day. Except for that friend of hers, Honey Dawson, who’d left town months and months ago, Sam hadn’t made many friends. And as far as he knew, she’d never had a boyfriend.

He guessed the morons in town couldn’t see past that quiet, independent demeanor of hers. That and the gossip about her father being a bad cop, killed because of it.

Coupled with the fact that she was a tough girl from a foster home and that she could outshoot most men in town, she intimidated the hell out of them, too.

But he actually admired her guts and her skill.

His mind ticked over the possibilities of who might want to harm her. Leonard had just been released today and now Sam was in trouble—could the two be connected?

Adrenaline shot through him, and he pressed the gas and sped up. If the son of a bitch had hurt her, he’d be back in the pen tonight. And this time no technicality would get him off.

His heart rate kicked up as he rounded the curve and turned onto Pine Bluff, then raced around the winding road, fighting the curves at breakneck speed. He swung onto the gravel drive leading up the ridge to her cabin on two wheels, bracing himself mentally and physically for what he might find.

He approached the cabin and screeched to a stop, then he grabbed his gun and jumped from the vehicle, scanning the periphery for an intruder, and for Sam. If the fool woman had any sense, she’d have waited outside. But he didn’t see an intruder or Sam anywhere.

It figured she’d try to handle things on her own.

He saw a dark green sedan with a dent in the front fender, then noticed the plates were Fulton County and frowned. Why would an intruder have parked in front of the house?

A coyote’s wail rent the night, trees rustled in the wind, and an owl hooted. The chill of the night engulfed him, warning him trouble was at hand. Too close by to ignore.

He inched forward, searching the porch, the windows, the doorways for signs of movement, and sounds of an intruder.

When he pushed the front door open, he saw the blood splattered on the kitchen floor, and his chest clenched.

He hoped to hell that wasn’t Sam’s blood.

Gun at the ready, he crept toward the kitchen but it appeared empty, although the blood trail led out the back door. It looked as if the intruder might have gone into the woods. God, he might have Sam with him.

Then a sound disturbed the quiet. He hesitated, tensed, listening.

A crying baby? He hadn’t seen Sam around much; surely she hadn’t had a baby without his knowing.

He pivoted to search for the child and realized the cry had come from upstairs. He slowly moved toward the staircase, but glanced in the dining room first just to make sure it was empty. Satisfied the downstairs was clear, he tiptoed up the steps, pausing to listen. If the intruder had Sam up there, he wanted to catch him off guard.

But just as he turned the corner of the staircase, a shadow moved in front of him. He reacted instantly and raised the gun. “Police, freeze.”

A strangled yelp made him pause, then an object swung down. He jumped back to dodge the blow, and the object connected with the floor.

What the hell?

He flipped on the light aiming his gun at the source, then Sam screamed.

His heart hammered. “Sam! For God’s sake, I could have shot you.”

She pulled back, her eyes huge in her pale face. “John?”

He heaved a breath, trying to control his raging temper. She could have killed him with that damn bat.

“Did you see anyone?” she whispered shakily.

Feeling like a heel for yelling at her, he reached out and stroked her arms. Her dark curly hair was tousled, her cheeks flushed, and fear glimmered in her vibrant brown eyes. “No. It looks like the intruder went out the back door.”

“There was blood,” she whispered. “Someone’s blood?.”

He pulled her up against him, surprised at how soft she felt when she was such an athlete, was so well-toned. “I know, but it’s all right,” he murmured. “I’mhere now.”

She allowed him to soothe her for a brief second, then Sam suddenly pulled away as if she realized she’d let down her guard and shown a weakness by letting him touch her.

He stiffened. What was wrong with him? He had a job to do, and this was Samantha Corley, Miss Cool and Independent.

Although he had to admit that he’d liked the way she felt up against him.

“I’m sorry, I was just shaken for a moment.” Sam blushed and squared her shoulders, chastising herself for acting so wimpy. But the thought that the little baby might have been in danger frightened her.

“Don’t sweat it,” he said. “Let’s go sit down and you can tell me what happened.”

She nodded, but the little girl whimpered from the bedroom again, and she whirled around. “Let me get the baby.”

“Baby?” his gruff voice echoed behind her as he followed her into her bedroom.

He paused at the doorway as if uncomfortable entering her private room, then cleared his throat and walked on in, following her to the closet.

She opened the door, then knelt and scooped up the whimpering child in her arms. “Shh, sweetheart, it’s all right. I’ll take care of you.”

“Good grief, Sam, what’s going on? You have a baby in the closet?”

She wrapped the blanket snugly around the child and patted her back as she turned to him. “Whoever was here, the mother maybe, left her in my room.”

Shock strained his features for a brief second, then she saw the wheels turning in his mind. “I see.”

She swallowed, cradling the infant to her chest, then gestured toward the diaper bag as the little girl began to fuss. “Can you grab that and bring it downstairs? She might be hungry. I’ll give her a bottle.”

He gave a clipped nod, then yanked the frilly pink bag up with one hand as if it were a snake, and she almost laughed.

She started toward the stairs, but John reached out a hand to stop her. “Let me go first just in case the intruder decided to return.”

Her chest tightened, but she nodded. He braced his gun again as they descended the steps, his gaze scanning the foyer and rooms, but the house appeared to be empty.

She headed to the kitchen, but again he stopped her. “That room is a crime scene now, Sam. You can’t go inside.”

She bit her lip and jiggled the baby up and down. “But the baby needs to be fed.”

He shifted, looking uncomfortable, then glanced into the kitchen, which adjoined the den. “All right. Sit down in the den and tell me what to do. We can’t touch the blood or door. I want a crime unit to process the kitchen for forensics.”

She nodded, took two steps and settled in the rocking chair, cradling the baby to her and rocking her.

“Let me call for backup first.” He phoned the station. “I need a crime scene unit out at Samantha Corley’s house along with officers to search the woods.” He hesitated and glanced at Sam. “And bring the bloodhounds. We might be looking for a body.”

A shudder coursed through her as he disconnected the call. Then he turned to her with a helpless expression as he searched the diaper bag and pulled out a plastic bottle. “No ID or wallet inside. What do I do with the bottle?

Under His Skin


Under His Skin

Nighthawk Island Series

Under His Skin

He’d been a top-notch cop until a fire forced Parker Kilpatrick out of uniform and into the healing hands of nurse Grace Gardener. Grace’s bedside manner and haunting blue eyes pulled at every protective string in Parker’s body — and threatened to soften his famously gruff facade. Then Grace was attacked, trusting them both into the line of fire. As Parker learned more about Grace’s past, new clues inextricably linked a cold case to the recent violence on Nighthawk Island. Now the enemy had left Parker no choice but to put his beloved job on the line…and break every rule to keep an innocent — and irresistible — woman safe.


Don’t Say a Word


Don’t Say a Word


Special Agent Dubois is no hero… Groomed by a covert operative of elite killers, Damon left the secret society to join the FBI after a mission went brutally wrong and an innocent woman died.

When his brother is arrested for murder, Damon investigates and finds a “Jane Doe” who holds the key to the case, along with a darker terror – one that threatens to expose Damon’s deadly secrets and destroy them all.

Despite the danger, he’s drawn to the nameless beauty, igniting a passion that burns hot between them. But with a madman out to silence her forever, Damon knows he must deny their love. And to stop the man responsible, he must return to the one place he had desperately tried to leave behind – the dark shadows of a killer’s mind.


May, New Orleans

The woman had no name. No voice. No face.

Dr. Reginald Pace studied her near lifeless form as she lay on the shiny surgical table. The harsh fluorescent lights glowed off of her charred skin and raw flesh, painting an almost inhuman picture.

Her silent, pain-filled, vacant eyes begged for mercy. For death.

But the voice inside his head whispered that he could not fulfill her wish. That her body craved the transformation that only his gifted hands could offer.

As a plastic surgeon, he had seen the ruins of people’s faces and bodies on a daily basis. But never had he beheld a sight like the one before him. She looked almost inhuman.

Mangled, charred skin had peeled away from the severed tendons and crushed bone. Lips that might have once held a feminine smile now gaped with blisters and raw flesh. Eyes blinded by pain had flickered with a plea for death to end the agony before he had swept her under with the bliss of drugs.

His healing hands would piece her back together.

His healing hands and time…

Layer by layer he would rebuild her. Repair severed nerve endings, damaged cartilage. Replace tissue. Mold the monster into a beauty.

Without a face, a name, a picture, he could shape her into whatever he chose.

The woman of his dreams, God willing.

He gently brushed the remnants of her singed hair from her hairline. She would be in agony for a while, but he would be there with her every step of the way to offer her comfort.

And she would recover; he wouldn’t rest until she did.

A smile curled his mouth as he picked up the scalpel to get started. Yes, she would thank him in the end.

And then, she would be his creation.

His to keep forever…

Chapter One

A year later, New Orleans

Damon Dubois was a dead man.

At least he felt dead inside. As dead as the soldiers who’d fallen and given their lives for the country. As dead as the ones who’d lost their lives during the terrible hurricane that had nearly destroyed New Orleans.

As dead as the woman he had caused to die.

He could still see the flames licking at her skin, see the smoke swirling above her face, hear the crackle of the house as wood splintered and crumbled down on her body.

Ironically though, his heart still beat and blood still flowed through his veins, forcing him to go through the motions of life.

A punishment issued by the gods, he was certain.

For although his head hadn’t touched the pillow yet on this dreary evening, nightmares haunted him with the cries of that anguished woman screaming in pain.

And then there was the bebe’s ghostlike cry…

’Tite ange,” he whispered. “Little angel, you did not deserve to die.”

Perspiration beaded on his neck and trickled down into the collar of his shirt as he opened the French doors to the hundred-year-old house he’d bought on the bayou and breathed in the sultry summer air. The end of May was nearing and already the summer heat was oppressive. Sticky. The air hung thick with the scent of blood and swamp water. A Luis Armstrong blues tune floated from the stereo, the soul wrenching words echoing his mood.

Still, eerie sounds cut through the endless night. The muddy Mississippi slapping at the embankment. A faint breeze stirring the tupelo trees. The gators’ shrill attack cry in the night. Insects buzzing for their next feed.

Though a thick fog of blessed darkness clouded the waning daylight, morbid images bombarded him. A hand outstretched, begging for help. The fingers curled around the tiny bebe’ rattle. The accusing horror-stricken eyes.

He blinked to stop the damning images, but they flickered in his mind’s eyes like flashes of lightning splintering the sky.

The scream tore through the air again, and he swallowed back bile. Its shrill sound refused to stop, pounding against his conscious with a will that he couldn’t defy. Reminding him of his past. His sins. His vow of silence.

So many secrets…tell and you die.

Inside his pocket, his cell phone vibrated, jarring him back to the present. Hauling him away from the pain and self-recriminations clawing at his mind.

He gripped the mobile unit with sweaty fingers and connected the call.

“Special Agent Damon Dubois.”

“Damon, thank God you answered.”

His little brother Antwaun’s strained voice rattled unevenly over the line. Something was wrong. What kind of mess had his youngest sibling gotten into this time?

Hell, not that he had a right to judge anyone.

But the family knew nothing of his secrets. Or his lies…

“You have to come out to the bayou. We found a woman…at least part of one.” Holy Christ. “I’ll be right there. Where are you?”

Antwaun relayed the address, and Damon snapped the phone closed, grabbed his badge, then his weapon and strapped it onto his shoulder holster. Fifteen minutes later, he parked and headed through the densely packed stretch of the swamp. The scent of murk floated from the marshy water as the mud sucked at his feet. The voices and faint beam of flashlights ahead served as his guide through the knot of trees, and when he reached the crime scene tape the police had already strung up, he identified himself to the officer in charge.

Through the shadows, he spotted Antwaun and strode toward him. His brother’s forehead was furrowed with worry, the intense anger in his dark eyes warning Damon that this was not an everyday crime scene. It was personal.

“What’s going on, Antwaun?” he asked quietly. “Is this a federal case? A serial killer?”

Two uniforms frowned and muttered curses at his arrival, already the thread of territorial rights adding tension to an anxiety-ridden situation.

Antwaun leaned close to him, his voice a conspiratorial whisper. “Hell, Damon, I think I know the victim.”

Damon’s gaze shot to his brother’s, his pulse racing. “How do you know her?”

“I can’t be sure, but …” his gruff voice cracked with emotion, “but if it is who I think it is, we dated.”

The oppressive heat thickened, causing a cold clamminess to bead on his skin. “You recognize her or what?”

Antwaun scrubbed a hand over the back of his scraggly hair, his face as pale as buttermilk. “Like I said, we only found part of her.”

Damon sucked in a sharp breath, then followed Antwaun over to the edge of the swamp. The murky, wet slush chewed at Damon’s shoes, the stench of blood and a decaying animal hitting him. Somewhere nearby the hiss of gators warned him that the hungry creatures lurked at the edges of the river. Yellow eyes pierced the inky darkness, the scaly predators hiding beneath the water’s surface, taking stock of their prey. Biding their time. Waiting to strike.

Then he saw her. At least the part that was visible.

Her hand.

Just a single hand sticking up through the sludgy quicksand of the bayou.

Brittle, yellowed bones poked through skin that had been gnawed away. The fingertips were half gone. Blood dotted the remnants of mangled flesh, revealing exposed veins that had been sawed away by the jagged teeth of the animals that now watched in silent reverie.

“How…” he had to clear his throat, push away the mounting fury and choking bile. No woman deserved to end up like this. Had she been dead or alive when the gators got her? “If this is all they found, what makes you think you know her?”

Antwaun’s hand shook as he pointed to her third finger. At least what was left of it. “That ring…”

“Yeah?” Damon squinted, moved closer, knelt and spotted the thin thread of silver glinting thought the mud and debris. Amazingly the simple silver band still clung to the bone.

“I gave it to her,” Antwaun said in a low tortured voice as if his heart had been ripped out. “Right before she went missing.”

She lived in the darkness. Had known nothing but pain for months.

And all that time, she had been missing, but no one had come looking for her. Why?

Clutching the sheets of her hospital bed between bandaged fingers, she begged for relief from the agony and the mental ache of her own tormenting thoughts. Time bled and flowed together, sometimes non-existent. Sometimes slipping through the hourglass in torturous slow motion. Sometimes chunks and days, even weeks gone by without notice.

Isolated, starved for human contact, she lay waiting for his visit.

The bleep bleep of hospital machinery became her music. His voice, her salvation.

Gruff. Soothing. Coaxing her to sit up. Eat. Fight for her life. Heal.

His touch offered comfort, compassion. Murmured promises that she might recover one day. Be human. Even beautiful.

His miracle.

Yet as much as his manner evoked concern and care for her, even growing feelings, the scent of medicine and the hospital permeated his clothing, reminding her that he was her doctor, she his patient. And she had yet to see her reflection because he had stripped the hospital rehab facility of mirrors.

She was only one of many he had helped. But she’d heard the rumors. The hushed voices.

She was the woman without a face. A human monster.

He had repaired what he could. Endless, countless surgeries over the past few months. Bandages and medication, and hours on end of mind control techniques to keep from going crazy.

Sometimes she feared she walked a tightrope to insanity.

Then he disappeared.

But another came. A monster like her who whispered in the shadows. The man with the scale-like skin.

Her one and only friend here. Lex Van Wormer.

He seemed to sense when she was teetering on the edge, and reeled her back in, sewing the tethered strands of her mind together with some fanciful story. Silly dreams of a future she had to look forward to.

One he dreamt about as well, but one that eluded them both. Instead they had become prisoners of the darkness.

A gentle knock sounded at the door, and the heavy wooden structure squeaked open. A sliver of light from the hall sliced the black interior causing her to blink. Slowly over the past months of her imprisonment, her vision had adjusted and returned to near normal, although she still preferred the shadows. Whether to shield herself from having to face others and see the disgust or pity in their eyes, or because she’d begun to view the darkness as her best friend she wasn’t certain.

Her breath lodged in a momentary panic in her throat as she listened to the approaching footsteps. One of the nurses with another round of injections? Dr. Pace with his soothing voice and promises that she would get better? Or Lex, somehow sensing that she had suffered another nightmare?

Nightmares or memories – she could no longer distinguish the difference. She only knew that night after endless night, some fathomless sightless, black-hearted devil chased her. That he waited around every corner, watching, stalking, breathing down her neck. That she had to escape. That he wanted her dead and would stop at nothing until he achieved his purpose.

The door closed, blanketing the room once again in the gray fog of twilight, offering her safety.

It was always twilight in her room.


“Lex.” She exhaled a sigh of heartfelt relief. Though he called her the foreign name, she hadn’t recognized it. But the first time he’d seen her, he’d commented that her eyes reminded him of sparkling crystal cut glass, so he’d given her the name and the nurses had latched onto it.

That she’d been blind at first and hadn’t been able to see him hadn’t mattered. She’d relished his company.

Then, finally, on a pain-filled admission to prove to her that she wasn’t alone in her world of shadows, he’d allowed her to touch his hand. She’d felt the scaly dry patches of leather-like skin and had understood his reason for withdrawing from the world.

The condition caused by exposure to an unknown chemical in the war had disfigured him and eaten away at his body like battery acid. For a brief time before the bandages from her eyes had been removed, she’d feared she would react to his impairment and hurt him.

But she had grown accustomed to the sound of his voice as he read her poetry at night, to the cadence of his laugh as he’d fabricated stories of journeys he’d taken, and his looks hadn’t mattered. In fact, she hadn’t even cringed when she’d finally rested her eyes upon him.

Apparently, he had adjusted to seeing her without a face, and covered in bandages as well. Who else would be so accepting?

He dragged the straight chair against the wall near her bed, then reached for her hand. A light squeeze, and her breathing steadied.

“Thank you for coming.” Heavens, she hated the choked, childish quiver of her voice. But she had been so lonely.

“I’ll always be here for you, Crystal. Always.”

She closed her eyes to stem the tears threatening. Theirs was an odd relationship. Two misfits thrown together, two survivors hanging onto life by a severed thread. Yet they weren’t really living either.

“I’ve missed you, Crystal,” he said in a low voice.

She tensed. She’d sensed that his friendship ran deep, that he wanted more from her. She loved him in a platonic way, yet something was missing.

Too many pieces of her past lost. Too many questions unanswered.

Another man…maybe waiting.

The sound of Lex turning his harmonica over in his hands with fingers brittle from his disease, forced her to open her eyes again.

“Our quote for the day,” he began, “is from Ecclesiastes 49:10. Two are better than one, for if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow.”

A sliver of unease tickled her spine as his words washed over her. Lex was her friend, but if she healed as Dr. Pace promised, and she had to hold onto the hope that she would recover, she couldn’t imagine Lex as her lover. And she knew that he wanted more from her.

He lifted his harmonica and began to wail out a blues song that gripped her with sadness. Regret fed the flames of her emotions. She loved Lex, and she didn’t want to hurt him.

But she had to find out who she was. Where she’d come from. How she had ended up here.

If she had a family, a husband, other friends. A lover.

And why in the past nine months, not a single person had cared enough to hunt for her.


Her Eyewitness


Her Eyewitness

Her Eyewitness

Her alibi…
Blinded in the line of duty, police officer Collin Cash received a transplant to regain his eyesight—and woke to a vision of murder. He alone knew that the beautiful woman accused of the crime was innocent—but who would believe he was an eyewitness?

And Lover?

Sydney Green had never met this man who knew more about her than a stranger should. But one look in his bedroom eyes, and she knew just where she wanted him. With a killer stalking her, Sydney had to accept Collin’s protection. His secrets would save her—if only she could resist the heat simmering in his strangely familiar eyes…

With an innovative plot line, Rita Herron will grab your attention in Her Eyewitness, but she takes a few too many roads to reach the conclusion. ~ Debbie Richardson, Romantic Times