Criminal Promises

She's been targeted for murder. Is she the one in need of rescuing?
She’s been targeted for murder. Is she the one in need of rescuing?

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Seasoned, act-first-ask-questions-later Detective BD Harte is assigned to protect Maggie Sullivan when she’s targeted by an escaped serial killer he’d put away a year earlier. Getting up close and personal with the sensuous widow he felt an inappropriate temptation for threatens BD’s emotional distance. Attraction quickly flares into an irresistible passion, forcing him to wage a battle of self-control, while memories rip open an old wound, awakening his longing for the life he almost had…and still covets.

After one too many violent taunts shatter her sense of security, single mother Maggie Sullivan invites Detective Harte to conduct his all-night stakeouts from inside her home. When her home is again broken into and she discovers Harte’s been investigating her late husband, she struggles with her attraction to him. But the comfort she finds in his arms, his understanding and tenderness, and the passion he awakens triggers yearnings she’d long ago given up on…and still desires.

Can two wounded hearts come together as one in time… Or will the killer seeking a powerful key to nuclear weaponry ensure they never have the chance?

 

Bottles and diapers and…a raccoon?

“You rotten shit. Get out…” Maggie Sullivan grunted as she swung the broom, chasing an irritated raccoon through the kitchen.

Not that she expected it to listen, but the destruction the overgrown rodent or mammal or whatever it was had caused in the few hours she’d been gone had her cringing. She would get her sister back for taking the kids and leaving. Even if Grace hadn’t know about the hidden cretin.

The raccoon jumped on the couch and scattered cushions before jumping to the coffee table and back to the floor in a flurry of magazines. “Arrrggh.”

Maggie thought of herself as a calm woman, but she teetered on violence. She’d spent the morning in her office—was nowhere near finished with the website she’d been contracted for—and had several more hours of work still to do. Now was not the time for Jared to resume his childish pranks.

She closed in on the raccoon and lifted the broom to swat at it. I feel like a rodeo clown chasing a bull out of the arena. At least they don’t have to clean a mess afterward.

The raccoon spun around and ran under a corner table, knocking her favorite decorative bowl to the carpeted floor with a muffled thud and headed to the bedrooms. At least the bedroom and office doors were closed. If Jared thought a raccoon made a good pet… He had another think coming.

Maggie hustled down the hall, shooing her furry nemesis. She just had to herd it to the door where hopefully its survival instinct would have it running outside. Then she would worry about setting things back in order.

Had she honestly been thinking she missed Jared’s stunts? The kid watched too many Crocodile Hunter reruns.

Head down, Maggie followed the beast around the corner into the entryway. “About time you get there.”

“It’s a nice neighborhood,” a deep-timbered masculine voice said from the doorway. “But leaving your door open isn’t smart.”

Maggie screamed. Her heart slammed into her ribs. She swung the broom up like a golf club to fend off the intruder, smacked the raccoon in the rear. It squealed and slammed into denim-clad legs.

A giant man crashed to the porch. The raccoon skittered across the man and scurried to freedom. Maggie barely managed to stop herself from spinning in a circle as her makeshift weapon flew through the air, missing her target.

With the man already down, she raised the broom again, ready to pop him. She’d slam the door and lock it, but his tree-trunk legs lay across the threshold. Still, if he made a wrong move…

She wouldn’t miss again. No one would threaten her or her kids. Not if he wanted to keep walking.

“What is wrong with you?” The man demanded with a slight rasp.

She didn’t bother answering as she braced herself with a stronger stance and committed his appearance to memory. Her gaze slid past his legs and over a strong, broad torso. His wide, square jaw suited his broad mouth and full lips, which sat in a harsh scowl. A bump hinting at a bad boy side marred his strong nose. Close-set, cobalt eyes glared up from his prone position. Light brown, wavy hair, still just a little too long, brushed his collar.

Crap. Chills of dread slithered along her spine. Those eyes—and the rest of his oddly intriguing face—had haunted her dreams for nearly a year.

Detective BD Harte.

His spicy scent reminded her of the cloves she sometimes cooked with and fully clothed he put half-naked romance cover models to shame. That hard body would be a masterpiece uncovered. Whoa! So not the time for fantasies.

“I realize we didn’t meet on good terms before, but I didn’t expect to be attacked,” he said as he pushed himself to his elbows.

Her pounding heart plummeted. She stumbled back, vividly recalling the other times she’d seen the man currently sprawled at her feet. In dreams, he’d sprawled naked on her bed. In person, he avoided her. Or he had at the courthouse when she’d attended the closing day of trial and tried to thank him for helping her, to thank him for ensuring her husband’s killer went to prison.

Her stomach dropped like a lead balloon. The broom slipped from her grip, landing on his chest and making him flinch. “Who’s dead?”

“Sorry?” Harte’s brows pleated as he flicked her makeshift weapon aside.

Sorry. Maggie’s shaking hand covered her mouth. He’d said that just before shattering her world. Sorry, Mrs. Sullivan. There’s been an accident. Your husband, Mike, didn’t make it.

“Why are you here? Who have I lost now?” She released a shaky breath. The kids were at the water park with Grace. Safe. She couldn’t lose them.

“No one I’m aware of.” Detective Harte jumped to his feet in a lithe move.

“Then why are you here?” Relief wiggled her knees and threatened to take her to the ground beside him. She contracted her muscles refusing to be weak. She would control herself this time.

“We need to talk.” His hard, unreadable eyes regarded her as he pointed behind him. “What the hell was that?”

Startled, either by his move or the shivers his voice sent down her spine, she raised her gaze. He towered over her by at least six inches. Lean and ropey, he was harnessed power.

She bit her bottom lip to suppress a nervous giggle. How crazy was it to find his irritation sexy? Or to have her mind jump to the sexy image of him in a prone position naked in her bed? “My son Jared’s latest attempt at a pet. Is my family safe?”

“As far as I know, yes. Why don’t you get the kid a fish?”

“They keep dying.” His presence scared her, but she remembered tenderness. The way he’d held her. And he’d gotten right to the point of delivering the bad news. He was alert and edgy, but not as foreboding as last time. He wouldn’t be talking about fish if something had happened to her family. She sagged against the wall as her mind settled.

“Suicide,” Harte muttered. “Smart fish.”

“What are you doing here, Detective Harte?” As soon as the words left her mouth, his slightly cynical smirk slid away to a flat, blank look. Her throat tightened, her stomach jittered, her heart hammered.

“I need to ask you some questions, Mrs. Sullivan.”

“About…?” Something that’s going to screw up my life again.

Harte stood on the threshold and looked over her shoulder into the living room, clicking his tongue. “Raccoon do all that?”

“Yes.” Maggie looked over her shoulder at the havoc. She twitched and turned away. The image wouldn’t budge from her mind. “What questions?”

Harte leaned back and looked briefly down the street, clearly wanting to be somewhere, anywhere else. “Can I come in?”

Get to the point already! “Sure.” She led the way into the living room, which resembled a hurricane’s path, and motioned him toward a chair. She straightened the scattered pillows on the sofa and sat. Five minutes. He could have five minutes before the mess made her skin itch with the need to clean it.

“There’s been a death in the park down the street. Would you mind looking at a photo for me?”

Murder. Homicide detectives didn’t go door to door for a natural death or an accident. She braced herself for the possibility of seeing someone she knew, cared for. She already knew the feeling of tragedy. While hoping she wouldn’t know the victim, she felt horrible for anyone who did. “Okay.”

He reached into his jacket and pulled out a photo. “Do you know this woman?”

It was a headshot. Closed eyes. Colorless skin.

“No. She looks like me.” Her skin crawled. Hadn’t she dealt with enough death? And this had been close. Too close.

“Not really.” He cleared his throat.

The once beautiful woman was lifeless. Her pain and horror-filled eyes stared straight at the camera. A purplish discoloration marred her left cheek. “Who is she?”

“We believe her last name is Dane. We’re hoping someone in the area might know more.”

“Sorry. I don’t know her.” Maggie’s throat ached with sadness and remembered grief. The woman’s family would soon face the helplessness and devastation of loss. The unanswerable question why would taunt them.

Time dulled the gripping pain, but it never seemed to go away. Even the shared grief and support of her own family hadn’t eased Maggie’s agony. Her relief had come when Detective Harte had held her and offered condolences. His words had been the same he likely offered to anyone else, and though he’d seemed to intimately understand what she’d face, as if he’d faced similar loss, she’d gotten the impression he didn’t make a habit of comforting family members left behind.

“What happened to her?”

“We’re not releasing details at this time.”

“Right.” She was sorry. Sorry he’d brought death to her door again. Sorry a woman had suffered a blatantly agonizing end. Sorry she couldn’t identify the woman who deserved to have her full name in death.

Maggie shook her head and handed him the photo. “I’ve never seen her.”

“Have you noticed anything, anyone, unusual around the neighborhood lately?”

“Aside from a black car with dark tinted windows that occasionally drives by?” She leaned forward and straightened the magazines still on the table. Time was running out on the minutes. “No.”

An odd look crossed Harte’s face as he tucked the picture in his pocket and pulled out his notepad. “Can you be more specific about the car?”

“A new Audi. Four door. Black. Expensive looking black rims.”

His pupils flared briefly before he looked down at the notebook. “That’s pretty specific.”

“Jason Statham drove the same thing in the second Transporter.”

He nodded slowly in apparent appreciation, either because she knew her cars or watched action flicks. “So it isn’t a neighbor’s? Maybe someone’s company?”

“Not unless a visitor rolls past my house at idling speed without slowing at anyone else’s home.”

“How often does this happen?”

“Once a week at least. For the last several months.” At least that’s when she’d noticed it thanks to new sleeping habits.

“You notice quite a bit.” Harte jotted notes without looking up. “Did you catch the plate number?”

“I don’t sleep much. And no.” The base of her spine itched with awareness of him as a man, but also with knowledge he was holding something back. What? Why?

“Thank you for your time.” He stood to leave, pulled a card from his pocket and offered it to her. “Please, let me know if you think of anything more.”

She glanced at the card before meeting his gaze. “I have your numbers.”

Call if you need anything, he’d said a year earlier as he placed his card on the console table. She’d thought of reaching out a time or two, but doubted he’d really intended to make the offer. Still, his card was tucked into her personal phone book by the phone.

“Right.” He cleared his throat and slid the card back into his pocket. “Well, let me know if you see anything. I’ll see myself out.”

“Sure thing.” She nudged a few magazines aside with her foot and followed him.

“Hey.” He turned with his hand on the knob. “Wasn’t your husband a professor?”

“He was a linguist. He taught at University of Texas at Dallas.” Why would he ask that? Was there a connection?

Harte nodded as he pulled open the door. “Thanks again for your time, Mrs. Sullivan.”

“I wish I’d been more help.” She followed him onto the porch and fought against the images of her breaking under the weight of searing agony. The grief and pain she’d thought had eased flooded back tightening her chest and throat in sympathy for an unknown family. She couldn’t shake the thought something big was about to disrupt her world.

“I hope you find your answers.”

Maggie watched Harte’s arresting and confident stride as he crossed the lawn toward a black Audi. He was halfway to his car when she called out to him. “Detective! About the car I mentioned.”

He stumbled as if the ground had jumped under his feet. “Yeah?”

“It’s remarkably similar to yours.” She tilted her head and looked past him. “Right down to those rims that perfectly match the paint job. They’re more subtle than traditional ones, which is what makes them noticeable.”

“Interesting.” He nodded and continued toward his car without looking back.

Yeah. Interesting. Why had Detective Harte been checking up on her?