Ignite Your Passion For Suspense Filled Romance With Her Desert Treasure and Risk of a Lifetime

Title: Her Desert Treasure 
Author: Larie Brannick
   Genre: Romantic Suspense
Length: 178 pages
Release Date: April 14, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-62266-533-4   
Imprint: Ignite

Tagline:  Can their love save her life?

 Excerpt from
Her Desert Treasure
by Larie Brannick
Copyright © 2014 by Larie Brannick. tAll rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For einformation regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

Chapter One

Okay, now would be a good time for someone to pinch her.
“In addition, your Aunt Marge left you a sizeable amount when she died.”
“Aunt Marge?” Was it possible for a person’s brain to explode from confusion?
“Your father’s older sister, Marge Montgomery. She died a year or so after your parents. Very tragic, a fire if I remember correctly.” He scratched his wrinkled cheek. “She actually fought your grandparents for custody in the beginning. You were so young, you probably don’t remember.”
Meg searched her brain for some recognition. A vague memory of frilly dresses and miniature tea sets flickered briefly, but there was already too much information to process. God, she wanted this day to be over. She rubbed her temples. “It’s a lot to take in.”
“I know you’ve had a trying week, but we’re almost finished.” He flipped another page. “On to the last item. One thousand acres near the town of Big Rock. The homestead property—”
Meg’s heart pounded, and blood rushed in her ears so loudly it drowned out his words. Fresh tears stung her eyes. Her fondest childhood memories had been made roaming those hills with her Grandpa, hunting rocks to add to their collection, soaking up his knowledge and enthusiasm like a sponge.
“—and here’s where things get a little muddy.”
“Muddy?” Crap. Concentrate, Meg. Now is not the time for an ADD moment. “I’m sorry, Bernie. I’m afraid my attention span is a little short these days.”
“Perfectly understandable. Would you like to take a break? I know you’re probably not used to all the chaos of the last week.”
“No thank you, Bernie. I’m fine.” Meg smiled at his reference. Even with all she’d had to do, the pace here in Western Colorado was a far cry from the rat race her life had become in San Diego. She’d only been back a week, but the relaxed atmosphere had comforted her, and she embraced it. Even before returning to make arrangements for her grandfather’s funeral, Meg had been considering making a change. Now that she was here, she knew she’d made the right decision. She was moving back to Colorado. For good.
“As I was saying, this is highly unusual. A petition has been filed with the court to contest the Will.”
“I don’t understand. Who…why would someone do that?”
The older man shook his head. “Whoever it is, is trying very hard to hide their identity. The name on the suit is Goldstone Holdings, and the only contact information is a law office in Denver. I had Francine search the name. There isn’t even a website. The suit is based on the assertion that your grandfather was in negotiations to sell the land, but I don’t believe there is any evidence to support the claim. We had already received the order for informal probate, and it was pretty much a done deal until this was filed.”
Meg didn’t know whether to be impressed by her grandfather’s old friend being savvy enough to search the Internet or to be plain confused about why someone would want to contest the Will. One thing she did know was that there was no way her grandfather would ever sell the property.
Bernie patted her hand. “This is merely a bump in the road. I have every confidence there is no proof of a pending sale, and I will do my damndest to defend your grandpa’s wishes. Your name has always been on the deed, Megan. However, since the property is part of the estate, you won’t be able to access the bank accounts until this is resolved.” He hesitated. “I don’t want to assume anything, but if you need—”
“No.” She shook her head determinedly. “Absolutely not.” Squeezing his burly hand, her voice softened. “It’s so nice of you to offer, Bernie, but I’m fine. I have some savings and…well, I’m fine.” Moving expenses and the fact that she’d already quit her job might make things interesting, but nothing would keep her from her goal.
“Okay, honey. If you’re sure. I’ve already filed the necessary papers at the courthouse to request a dismissal. I’ll do everything I can to get this mess sorted out as quickly as possible.”
Another wave of grief hit her hard and her throat constricted. She needed some fresh air, time to herself to try to wrap her head around the information overload. There was only one place where Meg could find that kind of peace. Swallowing the lump in her throat, she lifted her head. “I was planning to stay at the cabin in Big Rock, Bernie. Will this petition prevent me from entering the property?”
“Hmm? Oh, no. I don’t think that should be a problem. This nuisance should blow over without any trouble.”
“Not that I would ever sell, Bernie, but what if I wanted to start construction on some outbuildings?”
“You’re planning to go forward with your living classroom idea?”
It was a dream she and her grandfather had shared. She wanted to come back home to start a living, outdoor classroom that would bring in students from neighboring schools for field trips, lectures, and hands-on experience collecting rocks and identifying them in a small lab. The property had been in the family for four generations, and Meg knew the landscape like the back of her hand. She’d always wanted to use her teaching certificate in some unique way and ached to put her knowledge of the area to good use. “Yes. Grandpa wanted it as much as I do. I just wish he were still here to see it become reality.”
“I know he did, and I think it’s a wonderful way to keep his memory with us. But just to be safe, I want you to hold off on any changes to the property. In fact, I think it’s a good idea to keep your plans between us for now. We don’t know who might be watching, possibly waiting for any reason to drag out this suit.” He pushed a few more documents across the desk. “All right, then. Unless you have any other questions, Meg, we can wrap this up.”
A few pen strokes later, he was walking her to the door. He wrapped her in a tight hug. “You call me if you need anything. Your grandpa asked me to look after you, and I intend to do just that.”
She hugged him back. “Thanks for everything, Bernie.
Jake Matthews stood and stretched after checking his patient. She was a pretty little thing, the spitting image of her mother. The prize winning Palomino mare turned her big, brown eyes from him to her new foal as she nursed. He took a few sugar cubes from the bucket nailed to the stall and held out his hand. The mare’s velvety nose tickled his palm as she nibbled the treats. “You’re doing fine, Nikki. See, you’re getting the hang of this.”
After patting her and her new daughter on the neck one final time, he secured the latch on their stall before leaving the stable.
Jesus, what a long night. And even longer day. The mare had been in labor when Jake checked on her after dinner last night, and she’d seemed fine. When he went back out to the stables after checking the other animals at his veterinary hospital, he could see she was having trouble and couldn’t just let nature takes its course. The foal had been breech, and though Jake had delivered breeches before, this one was particularly difficult. He’d left them at dawn for a quick shower before he started seeing patients.
Outside, he breathed in the fresh, afternoon air. His gaze wandered to the brick house, the animal clinic, and the kennels where he heard the dogs stirring. Sunlight brushed the red mesas and rainbow-hued sandstone formations surrounding him. He held his breath as he took in the beauty. No wonder he’d fallen in love with this place. After only two years in his practice here in Big Rock, Colorado, he was happier than he’d ever thought he could be again. He slowly released his breath. Happy? Okay, content. This place was a completely different world compared to the pressure-filled days at Wyndham Animal Hospital in Chicago. He hadn’t planned on leaving, but hey, sometimes shit happened, and Jake wanted to believe it happened for a reason.
The familiar sound of hooves turned him back to the corral. His future, in the form of a magnificent Appaloosa stallion, trotted over to him. “Hey, buddy. I just saw your daughter. She’s sure to be a champ, just like her old man.” The Quarter Horse tossed his head as if in agreement. Jake stroked the stallion’s muscled neck. He’d gambled everything he had on this horse, Destiny’s Heart, and so far, the stallion was living up to Jake’s expectations. The little filly in the stable was the first of what Jake hoped would be many in the new bloodline. He smoothed the sleek mane one last time. “See you in a few hours, Desi. I’m going to try to catch a glimpse of that elusive cousin of yours.”
Jake never tired of the view on the drive to the secluded canyon. He’d been coming here ever since meeting the property’s owner, John Clark, a couple years ago. The old man had enthusiastically introduced Jake to the wild horse herd that made the canyon their home, and he’d been hooked on sight. The herd of about two hundred mustangs fascinated Jake, and John had encouraged him to come out to observe them as often as possible. His old friend had moved into a retirement community in Gunnison about six months ago, and while they spoke on the phone often, Jake had only been able to visit a few times. The news of John’s death had hit him hard, especially since he hadn’t heard about it until after the funeral. He hadn’t even been able to pay his final respects.
Memories of his old friend brought a smile to his face. What a character. John had been one of the first people Jake met when he came to town, and the two men had become fast friends, bonding over their interest in the horses. Jake couldn’t help but wonder what would happen to the herd now. He’d promised himself he’d do everything in his power to make sure they stayed in the canyon.
After parking and locking the gate, he threw his tripod over one shoulder, his backpack over the other, and walked the half mile to the mouth of the canyon. Once his camera was set up, he settled into his camp chair to wait. The horses had become accustomed to his visits and weren’t as skittish as they’d been in the beginning. He could move about freely without spooking them, and Jake could get within fifty feet of some of the younger, more curious animals.
One horse in particular held Jake’s interest, though. The newcomer, a beautiful Bay stallion, didn’t have the shorter, stocky build of typical wild mustangs. No, this horse came from different stock. The short, refined head, the strong, well-muscled body, broad chest, and powerful, rounded hindquarters were all characteristics of a Quarter Horse. And Jake had seen this guy run. He had the great sprinting speed over short distances common to the breed. Jake wondered how the stallion had ended up with the herd.
With his worn Stetson tipped to shade his eyes, Jake leaned back in the canvas chair. The occasional buzz of a bee was the only reminder he wasn’t alone in this valley. The utter silence had taken some getting used to. Jake’s life in Chicago had been a blur of noise and activity. Between the residency program in equine medicine and volunteering at the local shelter, he hadn’t had a moment of quiet. But even the constant action wasn’t enough to distract him from the memory—
A sharp whinny broke the silence. Jake jumped out of his chair and focused the camera on the approaching horses. It didn’t matter how many times he saw it, the sight of the herd was always exciting. He and John had shared many early mornings and late afternoons watching the animals and planning for the wild horse refuge they wanted to develop.
Worry nagged the fringes of his thoughts. With John gone, what if the new owner wouldn’t follow through with his wishes? It was possible that John hadn’t discussed their plans with anyone else. Jake would keep his promise to John and fight for the horses. He would deal with any opposition if and when it came up. Right now, the equine object of his curiosity loped into view.
Tired but excited, Meg drove into the Southwest Colorado town of Big Rock. The clock outside the bank she passed read 5:20 p.m., and the oversized thermometer said 101 degrees. “Yeah, but it’s a dry heat.” Amused at herself, she smiled.
Memories came at her in a rush at the sight of the mountains in the distance. She’d grown up in Gunnison, a couple hundred miles northeast of Big Rock, but weekends and any other vacation time her grandparents had were spent on the thousand acres of desert just outside of town. Any time her grandfather wasn’t working, he was roaming the hills, scouring the rock formations looking for specimens for his rock collection. Meg had been his shadow. He’d taught her everything he knew about this land, and that had sparked her love of geology. They’d been close, but the bond between them always grew stronger when they were here in Big Rock.
The fist around her heart tightened. “Oh, Grandpa. It’s going to be so different without you here.”
She slowed her grandfather’s old station wagon as she turned down Main Street. The 1964 Ford Falcon wagon handled like a tank compared to her little Miata, but that had been totaled in a hit and run accident in San Diego. Since she hadn’t received the settlement from her car insurance yet, she’d commandeered the ‘Cherry Bomb’ until she could buy something else. It still felt strange knowing she could afford to write a check for a new car—well, if the estate ever got settled, but for now, the old wagon would be fine.
“Holy crap.” The sleepy little town from her memory was gone. Bumper to bumper traffic clogged the streets. The principal road into town was still only two lanes, barely wide enough to accommodate the huge RV’s, campers, and trucks pulling trailers. Meg managed to wind her way through town and was soon on her way to her grandfather’s property, amazed at how much the area had grown. Instead of the scrub brush and cactus she remembered, several newer, large homes dotted the landscape.
Other changes caught her attention, too. A large Keep Out sign had been posted on the side of the gravel road leading to the property. Surely her grandfather hadn’t posted the sign. He’d always welcomed anyone who came to visit. The once rough road was now fairly smooth, and it was wider than she remembered. It appeared to have been graded recently. Grandpa hadn’t spent any time here in the past six months, and she couldn’t help a niggling worry that something wasn’t right.
Soon their old cabin came into view. A beautifully carved, wooden sign hung on the gate ahead. Meg’s lips quivered, and her eyes grew misty. ‘Dolly’s Draw’. That was something else Grandpa must have added. She stopped and got out to open the gate.
Stretching, she breathed in deeply, turning in a slow circle to take in the view around her. Home. “This is exactly what I needed.” She made quick work of the combination and swung the gate wide. Butterflies of anticipation fluttered in her stomach, and tears stung the backs of her eyes as she got closer to the cabin. She parked beneath one of the big cottonwood trees that shaded their picnic area and got out to look around. Not much had changed. It was still beautiful and peaceful and Meg’s heart lifted.
Unloading her things could wait, but her need to reacquaint herself with this place couldn’t. After grabbing her water bottle and locking the car, she set off for the trail leading to the canyon. Seeing the beauty of the land through the eyes of ownership, Meg didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so she did both. She’d been away too long, and guilt nudged its way into the mix of happy memories, grief over the loss of her family, and awe of the magnificent views. Thankfully, no one else was around to witness her emotional roller coaster ride.
Lost in her own head, Meg rounded a bend around a rock outcropping and…What? The shock at seeing a stranger—a man—standing in this remote area stopped her in her tracks. An involuntary shiver of fear chased down her spine, and her heart raced. Panic threatened. Without conscious thought, her hand settled over her abdomen. Though hidden by her clothing, the thin line of slightly puckered skin reminded her to be brave. She inhaled slowly as she studied the countryside. Exhaling just as slowly, she assessed the situation. He appeared to be alone, oblivious to her as he leaned over a tripod. Was he taking pictures of something in the canyon? One thing was certain. He was trespassing on her grandfather’s property. No, her property.
A sense of protectiveness pushed away the fear, and she straightened her spine. Quit being a weenie, Meg. Not all men are bullies. She patted her front pocket for her ever-present Mace can keychain and picked up her pace toward the man, waved her hand, and called out, “Excuse me! This is private property.”
The man whirled around, ire flashing in his brown eyes. “Goddammit!” He slapped his hat against his denim covered thigh. “They’re gone.”
Synopsis: Inheriting her grandfather’s ranch is the perfect opportunity for Meg Reynolds to begin again. The land is her only chance to hold on to the last bit of family she had. But Jake Matthews has other plans. Despite the heat blazing between them, he’ll do whatever it takes to get what he wants. When someone threatens Meg and seems willing to kill her for her land, Meg doesn’t know who she can trust. And when she’s kidnapped, Jake wonders if he’ll ever be able to let her know he cares more for her than the land that stands between them…

My Thoughts

The story told in Her Desert Treasure, is indeed a romantic find.  Meg Reynolds has the perfect blend sass, brains, vulnerability, and maturity.  Making her a heroine that most any reader can't help rooting for.
Dr. Jake is the classic "knight in white Stetson" always there to serve, protect, and save.  The most appealing thing about Dr. Jake however, (Besides his bedside manner...that is.) is the fact that his need to protect Meg never overshadows his desire to nurture her free spirit.
When you add the sweet tale of their world-wind romance, to the suspense and mystery behind the supposed claims on Meg's land and threat to her life.  What you have is a great read.
This is not a hot and steamy romance.  The sex is secondary to both the relationship between Dr. Jake and Meg, and the action and suspense surrounding her inheritance.  Not to worry though, the sweet passion these two share is enough to light a slow burn in the heart and mind of any reader.

Author Bio: Larie is a Colorado girl, born and bred.  She and her husband live in a small mountain town where they are settling into life as empty-nesters.  When she isn’t writing, reading or thinking about romance, she works for two busyorthopaedic surgeons.

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Twitter: @EntangledSus  Steals and Deals

 Title: Risk of a Lifetime
Author: Claudia Shelton
Genre: Suspense
Length: 213 pages
Release Date: April 14, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-62266-534-1
Imprint: Ignite

 Tagline: Can she survive his past?

Excerpt from
Risk of a Lifetime
by Claudia Shelton Copyright © 2014 by Claudia Shelton. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

Chapter One

“I need to go to the bathroom,” Marcy Bradley said, loud enough to get the attention of everyone in the First Missouri Capitol Bank of Crayton.
All five of them. Six, if you counted the robber, Leon Ferguson, a bully from her fourth-grade class twenty years ago. These days, he clocked in at well over six feet, two-hundred-fifty pounds of sweaty stink mixed with a stale odor of wood smoke. He’d gotten their attention when he slammed the bank president to the floor. Even more when he’d shot the exit sign. Now his mud-crusted boots made a path in front of the teller windows, back and forth, back and forth.
Any other Friday morning, Marcy would be composing poetry in her mind as she waited in line to make the weekly deposit from her counseling business. Instead, she lay cheek down on the shiny, cold marble floor of the eighty-two-year-old building as Leon continued to hold everyone hostage. When this was over, she’d drop a note in the suggestion box about cleaning the baseboards.
For the past twenty minutes, Leon yelled about the “cost of gettin’ by” and bragged about the last time he went fishing. From all appearances, his tolerance level for whatever drug he was high on today had long since passed. His mean side had flashed when he’d cold-cocked the janitor with his fist for not getting down on the floor fast enough. That explained Leon’s wife’s many “accidents” the woman had told her about during their one-on-one counseling sessions. No wonder the woman ran away.
The stock market ticker tape flicked across the ceiling-mounted television. Scrolling words flashed on the screen. An antiquated fan in the opposite corner fluffed Marcy’s hair with each back-and-forth rotation.
A few alternatives to lying on the floor skimmed through her mind. Run. She could run for the door and… A gunshot wound didn’t rank very high up on her agenda for life experiences. She also decided this wasn’t the time to make one of her sarcastic remarks about how Leon had flipped her skirt up in junior high and squirted her hot-pink panties with a water pistol.
This wasn’t the time for anything except figuring out a way to keep breathing and make it to her thirtieth birthday two months away.
“Excuse me.” She really didn’t need to go to the bathroom. But, if that’s what it took to get out of the situation, so be it. Anything beat being held hostage. Almost anything.
The robber glanced around.
She waved her fingers from the floor. “It’s me. Marcy.”
By now, Leon would have usually blacked out if he was only drunk. Today was different, though. Today his demeanor reeked of disorientation and violence. Today he might blow her away before he realized he’d picked up a real gun instead of a toy.
She’d been around enough guns to know this was a Glock, a Luger, or something like that. Big and dangerous in the wrong hands. Leon’s were definitely the wrong hands.
Rule number…one…four? Didn’t matter what number. One of the law enforcement rules she learned from drop-dead-gorgeous JB, her almost-used-to-be husband and one heck of an FBI agent, was “don’t upset the perp. Be his friend.” She could do that. Be a friend…kind of…maybe.
She sorted through everything she’d learned in her psychology Master’s program. With a little luck, she could talk Leon down. After all, she was a marriage counselor. Even had a seventy/thirty rate of success. Of course, the seventy percent had ended in divorce.
Eyelids pinched to slits, he waved the gun in her direction. “Did you say something?”
“I said I’ve got to go pee.” She inched to a left-elbow lean. Smiled sweetly. “Please.”
A few feet away, Joanie Reynolds gave her a you’re-nuts look from where she’d fallen on a deposit from the previous evening’s receipts at Joanie’s Pizza, Pub, and Pool Room. Marcy had seen the bag of money disappear beneath her friend’s well-endowed body and knew there was no way Joanie would give up the stash without a fight.
“Nope. Go where you are.” He turned back toward the teller window.
“What do you mean ‘nope’? This is the first day I’ve worn these brand new, skinny-leg jeans. And they weren’t cheap, let me tell you.”
He turned back around, his gaze scanning her legs.
She eased to a sitting position. “You’re right about everything being so expensive nowadays. Do you know how high gas is? I mean—who can afford to drive anymore? My car’s gas mileage is a joke. What about yours?”
“Eighteen miles a gallon. You got to know how to keep your vehicle running good.” He leaned back, smiling his gap-toothed grin. Decay pitted the teeth that remained. “I got me a Chilton’s Guide to Automotives and a set of wrenches from Sears.”
She wished she hadn’t eaten those blueberry pancakes for breakfast. They weren’t exactly sitting right in the pit of her stomach. Besides which, it was time to use his momentary camaraderie to her advantage. She rolled onto her hands and knees, then crawled past Joanie toward a chair next to the counter.
He stepped over her friend and kept pace with Marcy’s slow movement. “Where you think you’re going?”
Using the seat for leverage, she pushed herself up enough to sit down in it. Her hand plucked at lint on her denim pants, and she sighed. “There, that’s better now. I think I need the next size up in these jeans. They were beginning to bind down there on the floor. Okay if I sit here?”
“Long as you don’t move around no more. Shut up, too. I got to have some quiet to think what I want to do with this here opportunity.” Brow furrowed, lips pursed to a scowl, he paced between the front door and the counter.
Marcy wished she’d paid closer attention to robber personality types in her college behavioral classes. She’d been more focused on marriage counseling—and revenge-killing profiles. Her dad had been killed by a hate-filled man with a vendetta against any FBI special agent that stepped in front of his gun. Her dad had been the first agent out the front door of the Bureau’s Regional Office building that day. She’d turned eight years old the week before he died.
Of course, she knew how Leon’s thought process worked from the few times he’d shown up at her office for court-appointed counseling. That should at least give her an edge up on the situation. Except his thinking wasn’t always great on a good day, and this was a bad day. A real bad day so far.
The new-as-of-two-weeks-ago president of the bank cowered in the corner where Leon had told him to sit. The teller on the early morning shift stood stone-still behind the counter. Except for the fact her eyes were wide open and rounded like silver dollars, she’d have looked like she was waiting for the next customer.
Outside, cars honked at the two drive-up windows. They apparently didn’t know there was a robbery in process. If they needed money for lunch today, they weren’t getting any here.
From across the room, Leon cleared his throat, waving the gun in Marcy’s direction once again. “What do you think?”
“Me?” she asked.
“Yeah. You got all them fancy degrees. What do you think I should do with this opportunity?”
Opportunity? What opportunity? He was robbing a bank. She glanced at the teller. No help there. She looked at Joanie. None there, either.
Well, hell, she might as well come up with something herself. “You’re right. A person doesn’t get many chances like this in life. You’ve got to be careful what you choose. Maybe—”
“We know you’re in there, Leon.” Deputy Evans’s voice vibrated from outside the bank through a bullhorn. “We’re gonna tow your truck if you don’t come out of there right now. I ain’t got time for your shenanigans today.”
Her uncle, Cal Davis, the Sheriff of Crayton Police Department, was out of town on a much-needed vacation until next week. He’d left Evans in charge. Nothing wrong with that, except this wasn’t one of the usual pranks Leon played around town.
Leon fiddled with the blind at the front window. Rubbing his palm against his pant leg, he appeared confused. His jerky head motions didn’t make her feel any safer, either.
Someone might get hurt before this was over. She wished her uncle was the one waiting outside in the street. In fact, she wished it was—
“You gonna come out, or do I have to come in there?” the deputy said.
Evans had a wife, three little kids, and a mother to support. Marcy had to think of something before the situation turned to tragedy.
She eased to her feet and leaned against the counter, quiet and nonchalant. “Why don’t you ask for a bullhorn of your own?”
Leon swung around. His gun arm veered up shakily as he focused on her. “What did you say?”
“Ask for a bullhorn. The teller could call to tell them you want one. She could go outside to get it for you.” At least that would be one less hostage in the bank.
“Why would I want a bullhorn when I’ve got all this money?” He lowered the gun back to his side. His head jerked repeatedly.
She glanced at Joanie, then the bank president, then the guard who hadn’t moved since he’d crashed to the floor. She realized she appeared to be the only one thinking in the room. Or the only one about to get sent straight to heaven for mouthing off.
“That way you could talk to them about what you’ll need for your getaway,” she said.
He wrinkled his forehead. Sweat beads popped on his upper lip. “Good idea. ‘Cept you make the call, and you go out to get it.”
That hadn’t gone as she planned. She nodded and made the call before heading to the front door.
Leon stepped in front of her, gun pointed at Joanie. “If you don’t come back, nobody else is leavin’. Got that?”
“Got it.”
                  Marcy stepped out the door into the brisk warmth of a fall morning. The clock at the corner of Third and Main struck the half hour. Her eyes scanned the scene in front of her. Two police cars stationed across the street sat silent, but their lights flashed a warning.
The stocky, sandy-haired deputy and one other cop stood behind a police cruiser directly in front of her. On her left, the tall, lean rookie crouched on the far side of the second car, his gun drawn and steadied on the top of the trunk.
Another man, likely law enforcement, although not in uniform, leaned against the far, rear fender of a car a few spots down. The man ignored the events on the street. Back to the bank and on his cell phone, he looked as if he dared anyone to bother him.
Her insides twisted when he moved away from the cruiser. Even from that angle, his six-foot-one stance and the dark-brown hair skimming the collar of his leather jacket were more than familiar. Familiar enough to make her insides zing with recognition.
Stretched taut across his back, the coat moved with him as he walked away. She knew every muscle beneath that jacket. All the scars. Didn’t need to see his face, she’d recognize those shoulders anywhere—Jean Bernard Bradley.
JB to the world. More than JB to her.
Bullhorn in hand, Deputy Evans trudged from behind the car and stepped in her direction. He looked more agitated than concerned. From the slump of his shoulders and the lines in his face, he’d probably been up for hours getting the kids ready for school while his wife fixed breakfast.
“This isn’t a prank. Leon’s got a real gun. Loaded,” she shouted as she stepped into the street.
JB stopped. Straightened. Hard-stretched his fingers a second before rolling them into fists. The moves meant he remembered her voice. He’d do whatever it took to save her. No matter what the danger. She doubted he’d changed. He’d always took the lead, took the bullet, took the victim to safety.
She had to make sure saving her didn’t get him killed. ‘Cause she damn sure couldn’t live with that. Hell, could her day get any more complicated?
He turned his head with that chin-down tilt she knew so well and zeroed in on her with a penetrating look over his shoulder. The blue of his eyes wasn’t visible from where she’d stopped, but she knew the intensity even if it had been close to three years since she’d last felt the heat. Her pulse notched up a few more beats. He always had been one gorgeous, sexy man. Nothing had changed there.
Deputy Evans ducked back behind the patrol car and reached for the radio. Backup would be on the way.
She stared at JB and said, “A real big gun. With a high-as-a-kite hand on the trigger.”
He barely nodded, but she knew he’d heard the warning.
Already he’d unzipped his jacket. In the process of shucking the coat, she saw him slide his shoulder holster off, but not before he slipped his gun behind his back. Only seconds had passed, yet he’d taken charge of the situation just as though he’d never left town. Like he was still the deputy of Crayton instead of an undercover FBI agent assigned to parts unknown.
“Evans, get down behind that car,” he said.
The deputy paused, then squared his shoulders. “My town. My responsibility.”
JB nodded, strapping on the bulletproof vest a patrolman tossed to him. “I understand. Just thought you might want the Bureau’s help. I’ve dealt with hostage situations before. Have you?”
The deputy paused only a second, then slid the horn toward JB. “The Crayton Police welcomes the FBI’s assistance.”
JB unbuttoned the sleeves on his white oxford and rolled the cuffs a couple of turns. Tugged them straight. She knew his battle mode. His routine.
Once he took on an assignment, he was tenacious. Nothing and no one got in his way. He’d get himself shot over her if they weren’t careful. Much as she didn’t want him back in her life, she couldn’t bear to think of him gone forever, either.
He scooped the bullhorn from the pavement and held his arms out to the side at shoulder level as he walked forward. When he stopped a few feet in front of her, his gaze barely scanned her face before he returned his attention to the bank building.
“How bad is it?” he asked.
“Bad. He’s all junked up on something.” She reached for the horn. “Be careful. Please be careful.”
His fingers brushed against hers as he released the horn. “Almost sounds like you care.”
“You wish!” She forced herself not to blink. If she did, she might grab him and hold on for dear life.
His eyes zeroed in on hers. What passed between them was private and personal and unspoken. She’d let him go—kicked him out, in fact—when he’d threatened to take the same job that had killed her father. Never in her wildest thoughts had she imagined he’d take her up on her offer of freedom.
One month after she’d set his suitcase on the front porch, a letter with no return address had arrived. It said he’d done everything he could to prove himself to her and he was sorry he hadn’t been good enough. . He’d told her to just send him the papers, and he’d give her her freedom. She’d called him at least once a month after that. Left voice messages asking him to return her call. No reply.
A year later, there’d been a message on her voice mail saying he’d be out-of-contact for a while. She should get on with her life. Find someone new. She could only wonder when the hell had he been in contact over the past months? A few days later, an envelope had come addressed to her. Confidential. It included a form stating she was JB’s next-of-kin, a power of attorney to make health and financial decisions for him if he was incapacitated, and an insurance policy naming her his beneficiary. She hadn’t wanted those; she’d wanted him.
That’s when she’d hired an attorney from outside Crayton and sent divorce papers. Even scribbled in bright red ink “Come home or sign these papers” across the top of the first page. Thought that would force him to make a decision. It had worked. He’d signed the papers and sent them back with a black-marker line slashed through the “Come home” part. That was the last she’d heard from him until now.
“Don’t go back inside.” The corner of JB’s mouth twitched as he refocused his attention on the bank door. “I’ll take one step forward and to the right. You jump behind me.”
“I can’t. Joanie’s in there, plus three others. Leon said he would shoot them if I didn’t return.”
“Leon may be a bully, even mean, but that doesn’t sound like something he’d do.” JB’s stare remained fixed across the street.
“Most days, I’d agree. Not today. He’s juiced. Head shakes. Crazy eyes. Sweating.” She lingered a second. “Don’t go getting yourself killed before I can give you a piece of my mind.”
A hint of a smile jerked at the corners of his mouth before he clenched his jaws. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
Damn it to hell, even after all this time, he still made her insides quiver with just a few words. Why hadn’t he come home and talked before he signed the divorce papers? Her uncle had told her it was the way she’d pushed JB away—the whole packing his bag and leaving it on the front porch deal. That’s all he would say. To this day, she still didn’t know what that meant.
But she’d decided if that’s the way JB wanted it, then it was okay with her. She’d done just fine on her own the past few years. She would continue to make it without his help…except for now. She’d be more than grateful if he could get her out of this situation without getting either one of them hurt.
She walked back to the open bank door and stepped inside. Leon grabbed her from behind, shielding himself with her body as he stood in the doorway.
“Hold that bullhorn up to my mouth.” His grip wrenched tighter across her chest and shoulders. He wrapped his arm around her and forced her further outside to the edge of the sidewalk.
Her hand shook as she raised her arm. JB still stood where she’d left him.
“Press that damn speak button before I blow your lover boy away,” Leon hissed in her ear. “You think I don’t know who he is?”
She searched the metal with her fingers for the button. “It’s on. Don’t do anything foolish. It’s on.”
His gun arm straightened as he aimed at JB. “Back off,” he shouted, “or I’ll shoot you where you stand.”
JB didn’t move except to slide a hand behind his back.
Her uncle had once told her about a hostage who’d stood so still, the SWAT team was able to take the shot at a kidnapper. Right now, that was all she could think about. Stand stone-still.
Leon swung the gun back at her. “Maybe I’ll shoot your off-again, on-again, off-again wife. What about that?”
JB backed all the way to the patrol car. “Far enough?”
                  JB focused on Marcy. At five-foot-six and what still looked to be one-hundred-thirty pounds, she wasn’t much of a shield for Leon’s frame. She didn’t move. Good girl.
Taking a shot at the bully wouldn’t serve any purpose. Not as long as there was a chance he could talk him down. His gun would be the last resort.
This wasn’t the way he’d planned on seeing Marcy again. In fact, he’d hoped to be in and out of town before she even got wind he was around. So much for that plan. Three years was a long time, and he’d learned how to live without her. Still, he wouldn’t stand by and see her hurt, either.
Leon shoved the gun against the side of her head. “No. All the way to the building behind you.”
After feeling his way around the hood of the car, JB continued backwards until the cold brick of the building bit into his shoulders. She’d been right. Leon’s haggard look spoke of bad home brew mixed with meth or something stronger.
Coming back to Crayton had been a mistake, but his dad’s estate needed to be settled. The thought of handling everything by mail had entered his mind, but his undercover assignments weren’t all that conducive to signing papers with a notary. He’d learned that with the divorce. So here he was, caught between what might have been and the reality of Marcy with a gun pointed at her head.
The drugged-out man’s day was about to get a whole lot worse if he hurt her. JB would take him out in a flash and make it look like self-defense. FBI training might have been intense, but in-the-field operations had taught him things not mentioned in Quantico’s hallowed halls. Like how far he’d go to stay alive. Or to save someone he loved. Had loved, in this case.
Leon leaned forward and set Marcy on her feet. Yanked back a handful of her auburn hair. A quick flash of fear shadowed her face as she gasped. He laughed, low and menacing.
Right now she looked like a small, defenseless woman. JB knew different. She could be a hellcat when she wanted. Her eyes, the color of dark chocolate, held fear today instead of their usual warmth. He didn’t like that. Didn’t like it one bit.
“Hey, JB, I think I’ll have me a little taste of what you had.” Leon yanked harder on her hair, then leaned in and licked her cheek from her chin to her forehead. “Not bad. Maybe I’ll have a little more once we get out of town.”
The sonofabitch had no idea how close he was to being blown away. All JB needed to do was roll and yank the gun from his back waistband. Gun up, pull the trigger, gun down. Situation resolved.
His insides edged in that direction, but his training said negotiate. Try another tactic.
Marcy closed her eyes and flinched. She clenched her fingers around the metal of the horn. JB knew she was afraid now. Mad and afraid. Not a good combination for her.
The veins on JB’s forearms pulsed to attention, and the muscles in his biceps hardened like steel. “You’re okay, Marcy. You hear me? I’ve got you.”
Her body eased as she opened her eyes and stared into his. The expression on her face softened. Even her lips had tipped upward, parted a bit. He knew that look. Surrender. Trust. Come what may, she’d put herself in his hands. He tore his focus from her. Cemented it on the man with the gun.
He relaxed into the role of negotiator. “What do you want, Leon?”
The bully waved his gun around. “A truck. And…a…a…bag of money.”
“Okay. You want a Ford or a GMC or—”
“Ford. A black Ford. And two bags money. Two big bags.”
“If we give you the pickup truck, what do we get in return?” JB stood away from the wall, took a couple steps forward.
Marcy closed her eyes again. Not in a fearful way, JB realized, but so as not to distract him.
Leon tightened his grip on her. “That bank guy. I’ll give you the bank man.”
“Why not Marcy?” JB took a couple more steps. “She’s already outside.”
“No! She’s mine.” Leon jerked his gaze upward as if caught by a movement. “I’m gonna—”
A shot rang out. Leon’s body recoiled, and she lurched to the side as his hold released. She screamed as he crumbled.
“Who fired that shot?” Gun drawn, JB vaulted over the hood of the patrol car and raced toward her. “Hold your fire.”
She turned to him, and a second shot echoed through the air. A cry of anguish escaped her mouth as a bright red trickle snaked down her arm where the bullet had grazed her. His back to the line of fire, JB caught her before her legs bent and cradled her in his arms. He knelt, shielding her with his body. Her head flung back, and her eyes went half-lidded. Was she reacting to the sight of her own blood or a wound he hadn’t seen?
He clutched her hand. “I’m here, sugar. Hold on.”
She responded with a soft press of her fingers.
Another bullet clipped through the air. Ricocheted off the concrete. Crashed through his shoulder. Her body sagged, wilted.
“Marcy? Marcy!”
He felt like the shots were directed at them instead of Leon. Why? The force of his fear for her grabbed his heart and shoved it into his throat. He scanned the area for a safe, quick path to a barrier. Nothing. Moving was not an option.
What had he heard? Silencer. What had he seen? Nothing so far. Of course, the silencer could lower the flash. This wasn’t the police taking shots. This was a sniper. The rifle scope might be off, or the guy might be nervous shooting in such a confined area, or maybe this was his first job as a hired gun, but there was one thing for sure—the guy was a damn pro.
Who in this sleepy, little town had that kind of training except for the police? And, him?
Synopsis: Three years ago, Marcy Bradley let the man she loved go so he could follow his career dream of being an FBI agent. She sent divorce papers. He signed. She never filed them.

With a killer after them, Marcy and JB run for their lives, escaping to a lakeside cabin. Their love is rekindled, and JB realizes they’re still married, but will there be time for their passion amidst the explosions and gunshots?

My Thoughts
Risk of a Lifetime is a story that is all about the action from the very start.  In fact that is what makes the story.  JB and Marcy as people and as a couple can be rather maddening to read.  He is trying to give her what she wants...and she is blaming him for wanting the career that he loves.
He is still trying to be there for her all through the book, and what does she do?  Hide. Make excuses. Lie.  See...maddening right?
While the romance may be a little hit or miss here, the action and plot twists are spot on.

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Author Bio: Award-winning author Claudia Shelton thought she wrote mainstream when she began writing, but before long, someone told her she sounded more like romance. Then those pesky alpha heroes and the women strong enough to love them, started running through her mind insisting she write their own happily-ever-after. Since then, she's focused on HEA with a splash of suspense or intrigue, becoming a two-time finalist in the Daphne Du Maurier (Unpublished) awards for excellence in mystery and suspense. During her downtime from writing, you'll find her sipping a cup of cocoa in winter's chill or enjoying a drink by the water in summer's heat--either way, she's always enjoying life. Her novel RISK OF A LIFETIME releases April 2014.

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