“A heroine to root for, a hero to die for, Misty Dietz has crafted A classic romantic suspense in the tradition of Kay Hooper. A winning debut!”
~ Allison Brennan, NYT Bestselling Author
“Dietz brings us a fresh, interesting plot and draws readers into the entertaining story right from the start.”
~ RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars
A rebel CEO in blue jeans, Zack Goldman must draw on the survival skills he honed as an abandoned youth to prove he is no serial killer. Trouble is, as a fugitive from the law, he needs the help of a sexy, reluctant psychic to get the target off his back.
Guilt-ridden and alone, boutique owner Sloane Swift has terrifying visions that can exonerate an innocent man. But exposing her extrasensory abilities would mean revealing dangerous secrets of her own.
Yeah. Not. Gonna. Happen.
When a killer locks in on Sloane, Zack will stop at nothing to earn her trust and keep her safe. But with danger in hot pursuit and their attraction ready to combust, they’ll either lose their hearts–or their lives–pursuing justice.
Sloane slid her SUV into park in Ann’s driveway and sat there for a moment, willing herself to open the door and get it over with. Zack pushed away from where he’d been leaning near Ann’s front door, and started walking toward her car. Her heart gave a curious tug at the lost-little-boy look he masked before halting near her front bumper.
He waited there, one big hand scraping across his stubble, until she exited the vehicle. “What are you doing here? Did Ann call or show up at the store yet?” he asked.
“No, but one of my part-timers came in after you left and said Ann had a date last night. Do you know her boyfriend? Maybe you could give him a call.” Lordy, were his eyes ever a complex mixture of greens. Saturated shades of rich color like the underside of a sunlit leaf.
Those mesmerizing eyes clouded over. “You came here to tell me she had a date last night?”
“Isn’t it likely they’re still together?”
His arms folded across his chest. A really, really nice chest. And…other parts. “I don’t know about any date Ann may have had last night. Was there anything else you needed here?”
A spurt of heat warmed her cheeks. “Actually, yes. Ann has something from the store that I need to get back for a client. Have you been inside? To make sure she’s—you know—actually gone?”
His eyes darkened, but a bit of his bluster dissipated. “There’s nothing wrong. No sign of forced entry. No missing luggage, jewelry, art. Not even any dirty dishes in the sink to tell me the last time she ate. And her car is sitting in the damn garage.”
“So she was picked up and stayed overnight with him.” Sloane looked to Ann’s front door, fixing on the door handle. Her vision flickered, and she staggered forward until Zack’s warm hands grasped her arms, dispelling the gray haze in her mind. She blinked up at him. Subtle waves of energy poured into her where his hands made contact with her skin.
“You okay?” His speech wrapped around her, warm and comforting. The sudden change in his attitude was almost as disconcerting as the psychic jolt.
Or whatever that had been.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Thanks.” She stepped back as far as good manners allowed and rubbed her upper arms. “Mind if I go inside to get what I need for the store? It’s a Limited Edition crystal rhino, about yea-big—”
“How’d you know I’d even be here?” he asked.
“I didn’t, but I hoped if Ann wasn’t, you might be.” He didn’t respond, and heat crept up her neck. “Look, I really need to get that rhino back. At the store, you said you were coming here after your meeting, and I took you at your word. You have a problem with that?”
He didn’t say anything for a long while, but took her measure with those gorgeous eyes. Then he blinked, and she could breathe again.
Until he shoved his hands in his front pockets. Oh, but the man was well-made.
“My word’s good. But what’s this really about?” he asked.
“What is your problem? I just told you—”
“Lies are for cowards.”
Her breath seized at his quiet words. If he only knew how many lies she’d had to tell over the years to protect her—
She glanced to the side, looking for the source of the echoing sound, then back at Zack, but he didn’t seem to have heard it. She clasped her icy hands and faced Ann’s front door. Her peripheral vision glimmered. A rolling tightness crept from her stomach toward her esophagus. Oh, Lord, something’s really wrong here.
And Zack was watching her. Think about Ann. Ask a few helpful questions, then you can leave in good conscience. “Is there anyone else you can call? Any other family or friends she could possibly be with?”
He looked down at his scuffed work boots. “No. I’m not blood, but I’m all she’s got.”
One of his elbows brushed her shoulder when he raked a hand through his hair, turned, and started up Ann’s walkway. A blast of negative energy radiated off him, leaving her nerves vibrating in awareness. That kind of damaging aura from anyone else required use of her psychic energy shield. Why not from him? Her nausea had abated as well. “What did you just do?” she asked, trailing after him.
“What?” He halted on the walkway arranged with brimming petunia pots, his hair sticking out at all angles from hand-worrying it.
Her heart slugged away at her chest like it had in high school when she got those sideways glimpses from the teachers. “Nothing. I, uh, I’m gonna head back to the store now. I’m sure Ann’s fine.”
But Zack’s glower told her he didn’t believe it either. Which left them where? Mother had always told her ignoring her gut was equivalent to playing Russian roulette with only one empty chamber. But that didn’t make her any less determined to ignore the compulsion telling her to walk up to Ann’s front door and hold on for the ride.
Crap, crap, crap.
A woman moseyed down the walkway from the condo next door, making poor pretense of waiting for her tiny fur ball to pee while she angled her ear their direction. Zack moved closer to whisper. “If you see Ann first, have her call me.”
She’d never seen such expressive eyes in her life. Right now they were so earnest. What would it be like to have a man that concerned for your welfare? Why couldn’t you affect me differently?
He seemed to storm her defenses without even trying, so he had to be off limits. Just the thought of hurting someone again…
Suddenly his eyes crinkled at the corners and the color lightened to that sparkling green once more. They were saying something entirely different now. Butterflies began a mass migration from the pit of her belly to her chest.
He cleared his throat.
Right. Her turn to speak. “Call you. Sure thing. Bye now.” She turned to walk back to her SUV.
“What about the rhino?” he called.
She stopped mid-stride. Lord, thunder, and Jesus. She hadn’t made such a dolt of herself in front of a guy since the tenth grade when she’d tripped on her prom dress and landed in the punch bowl. She’d sworn off high heels for the most part since then. Besides, towering over your dates didn’t do much for their egos.
But when she turned around to face Zack, she realized this wouldn’t be a problem with him. Standing in her wear-once-in-a-blue-moon three inch espadrilles, she matched up mouth to mouth with him. Her eyes dropped lower. From the contours of his black T-shirt, she discerned powerful shoulders and a solid chest that made her fingers itch.
A dog yipped. She jumped like a teenager caught in the backseat, and Zack’s grin stopped her heart for a split second. Then he turned, running to catch up to the neighbor lady with the stupid pooch.
Sloane brought her hands to her hot cheeks and watched his spectacular ass jog across the lawn. Ms. Pink Polyester tugged the leash, nearly air walking the dog in her hurry to return inside. Sloane looked at her SUV longingly, but she had to retrieve the rhino first, deal with Benjamin second, and hopefully somewhere down the line launch Project Broken Wings.
Maybe in the process of helping others, she could mend herself, too.
She cut across the lawns to catch up. She’d ask his permission to go inside, get the rhino, then split.
“Excuse me, ma’am. Mrs. Bailey, right? I remember your excellent oatmeal cookies from when I helped Ann move in. I’m Zack Goldman.”
The woman stopped abruptly and the dog rammed its nose into her calf. Her faded blue eyes beamed. “Why, thank you. You can call me Agnes.”
While Zack and Agnes talked, Sloane couldn’t help looking at Ann’s portico again. All the cheerful flower pots couldn’t dispel the unease emanating from the house. Particularly the door.
Oh, she wanted to, but without Benjamin’s backing, she’d have to put the foundation on hold. Find another sponsor. There was one other possible benefactor, but he didn’t have nearly the resources Benjamin did.
She rubbed her forehead. She’d finally been able to put the past behind her and had been making all the right choices. Because her store was her passion, her employees were more than overhead. She hired deliberately, carefully, and made an effort to really get to know her people.
Problem was, this time the ideology seemed to be calling upon her gift.
Why? She couldn’t help anyone. Not like her mother who worked with the FBI. Oh, no. Hers was a broken gift with the power to hurt, not heal
And the closer you are to me, the more you stand to lose.
She peered at Ann’s door once more, then started toward her vehicle. She’d find an excuse for Benjamin and get the rhino later because even if the door handle could tell her where Ann had been going, what would she tell Zack? Hey Zack, Ann went to such-and-such place, and this is how I know…?
The skin on her neck burned. Chest, too. Please no hives this time. Almost to the car.
There was no way she could do this. That door would have to keep its secrets. She closed her eyes as guilt and relief warred within.
Startled, she thrust a hand out to steady herself, touching the metal door handle of Zack’s truck. In an instant, her peripheral vision grayed, and she was sucked into another dimension. She tried to hold on to reality, imagining a bright pulse of light rapidly enveloping her body like a white blood cell encasing a virus.
But it was too late. Contact with the door had been made before she could seal the protection shield.
A tsunami roared in her ears. She experienced the blow of residual emotion first. Frustration, anger, and anxiety slammed into her system, forming a tight knot in her belly. Then images rolled through her mind, one after the other so fast she felt nauseous.
A well-muscled man in a suit. Sandy blond hair. Attractive. He speaks to Zack: You can handle this. He has such a nice inflection.
Zack strides past the man and enters a well-appointed conference room with floor to ceiling windows. Two men in sport coats rise and extend soft hands. Zack’s disgust tastes like acid in her mouth. Their conversation swirls through her head, making her so dizzy she can’t keep up with Zack’s cascade of emotion.
Disappointment. Shame. Guilt.
She hears his thoughts. Who left the note? Why? Where, Ann? Where can you be?
Her soul wants to bleed at the pain in his tone.
The bright afternoon sunlight punched through the vision. She swayed, heard a moan, and then her stomach heaved, emptying until there was nothing left. Spent, she was on her hands and knees. Something firm braced her ribcage below her breasts. Holding her up. Zack.
Oh, Lord. She’d just puked. In. Front. Of. Him.
She tried to stand.
“Easy.” Zack’s husky drawl stirred the hair by her ear, sending goose bumps on a painful relay across her arms. Her skin, already so sensitized by the vision, tingled at the touch of the hard male curved around her.
“Fine! I’m fine. Can you…I need to sit down.” When he swung her up into his arms, her heart galloped, and her stomach quavered all over again. She wanted to cry. And Sloane Petra Swift didn’t do crying in front of an audience.
“Just put me down! On the ground. Please. In the grass. I want to sit in the grass. Now!”
Her voice cracked on the last word. Zack eased her down beside the rampant red blooms of a weigela bush. She wiped at her mouth and thrust her fingers into the grass until her nails found rich soil. She closed her eyes to imagine a pathway traveling from the center of her body through her fingertip connection to the earth. The sudden discharge of energy made her weak.
She’d avoided this shit for six years. Envisioning the aftermath of a girl’s murder as she had would probably make anyone averse. Sure, the results of this vision weren’t nearly as horrific, but what good had come of it?
Zero, zilch, zippo. Only a raging headache. And don’t forget about the heaping dose of mortification. You knew it was a pointless “gift.” Now knock it off.
A large shadow fell across her lap. She didn’t have to look up to wonder what he was probably thinking. Weirdo came to mind. How about freak? That had been a crowd favorite during her hellish puberty years.
Agnes hurried over to them, water sloshing over the sides of a glass. She thrust it at Sloane, then pressed her hands to her chest, her breathing so labored Sloane wondered who needed the water more.
Zack extended a hand to help Sloane up, his eyes questioning as his hand curled around hers. Once on her feet, she walked to her vehicle to wet-wipe her hands, swill some water, and swallow half a dozen breath mints. She returned to the site of her gutting and poured what remained of her water bottle onto the sloped pavement.
Sucked to have someone you wanted to impress witness your humiliation. Sucked worse when that same someone pulled you through it.
And wasn’t it petty to be pissed about that?
She watched the pair talking on the grass between the two condos when suddenly Agnes pointed at the logo on his tinted truck window. Her words carried all the way over to Ann’s driveway. “Oh would you look at that! Samuel’s Construction. No wonder Ann’s name always niggled at the back of my brain. John was her father, wasn’t he?”
Sloane plucked up her courage and headed their way. Agnes was on a roll now. “That Johnny Samuel was quite the catch in his day. Didn’t he court that high fallutin’ belladonna who was a visiting professor at North Dakota State? Sang opera or something. I met her once at a banquet. Prissy as all get-out. He never did marry her, though. Wait! Ann…was she?” Agnes blinked, then smiled, nodding and posturing like a rooster in a henhouse. “Ah. John and the opera diva ate supper before they said grace. Happens to the best of ‘em. But, don’t you worry, the family secret is safe with me.”
Sloane snorted. And safe with her bridge club, and her knitting cronies and…
Zack elbowed Sloane. “Listen, Mrs. Bailey, have you spoken with Ann today?”
“I haven’t seen her since yesterday. I saw her looking out her front window when my son picked me up. It was right when that storm was rolling in.”
“So, that would have been about six-thirty. Did you see her again when you got home?”
“No. She wasn’t home. I noticed right away that only the front door light was on. She usually has them all on. And I mean every last light. Real wasteful-like, you know.” Agnes sniffed, and Sloane felt Zack go very still.
“Do you remember what time you got home?” he asked.
“Maybe around ten. What’s this about, anyway?”
“I’m just taking care of a few things for Ann. I appreciate your time,” he said.
After Agnes returned inside, Zack stepped away from Sloane. “I’m sure Ann’ll show up soon.”
She wondered if he was reassuring her or himself. “No you’re not.”
He jammed his hands in his pockets in a gesture she was coming to realize he used when he was disconcerted. “It’s a good thing you own your own business because you’re not only bossy, but nosy as well.”
They observed each other for a few moments. Important moments. See-under-the-skin moments. People often attack when they feel most vulnerable. Funny how so many of her mother’s words were coming back to her today.
He apologized, and though his jaw was still set, his eyes had softened. “I’m used to working alone.”
“Working alone isn’t always good for a person.”
He arched a brow. “Oh, I don’t know. Beats getting tangled up in other people’s BS.”
“That’s not only a lousy attitude, but one guaranteed to make you lonely.”
“Probably.” The warmth seeped from his eyes, leaving her strangely sad.
He turned toward Ann’s front door. “If you want to take a look around for that rhino, now’s your chance.” They had started up the walkway when a thud and shattering glass rang out from the garage.