Authors: Linda Wisdom
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Romantic Suspense, #contemporary romance
As a one man crusader against violence and abuse in a small desert town outside LA, Assistant District Attorney Josh Brandon has helped a lot of women. Now he has a new admirer. She sends flowers. Leaves phone messages. Everywhere that Josh goes, she goes too. And when he starts dating another woman, she goes right over the edge.
Medical Examiner Lauren Hunter has never known anyone like Josh. Handsome, kind and tender, he’s everything she has ever wanted in a man. Until someone starts phoning her with threats. Breaks into her home and rips her clothing…a vicious sneak attack that could have left her scarred for life. Someone is determined to come between Lauren and Josh. Someone whose rage is growing…
In the shadows of night, someone watches. And waits…for the perfect moment to strike. For if she can’t have him alive, she’ll see him dead.
Either way…he’s hers.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 1994 by Linda Randall Wisdom. 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.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
Visit our website at
Ignite is an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
Edited by Harlequin Enterprises/Silhouette Intimate Moments; and Terese Ramin
Cover design by Heather Howland
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition August 1994
Second Edition September 2014
A thank you to my awesome agent, Laurie McLean, for always being there, and for my equally fantastic editor, Terese Ramin. You two know me best!
Obsession hung in the air. The fragrance, that is.
Carol had taken Josh out to dinner to celebrate his birthday, and then drove him back to her apartment to give him his present in private. After a few hours of heavenly comfort in her bed, he regretted having to return home because of an early morning court appearance the next day.
It wasn’t until he entered his house via the back door that the musky perfume lingering in the air penetrated his sated brain. Josh quickly flipped on an overhead light and viewed the scene before him.
He wouldn’t dream of placing a snowy white linen cloth on the butcher-block table set off to one side in the breakfast nook. He also didn’t own the two china place settings facing each other, nor the delicate crystal bowl filled with dead honeysuckle blossoms set precisely in the middle of the table.
Dominating a serving tray next to it was a birthday cake decorated with the appropriate number of candles…except it didn’t look very festive with a champagne bottle upended in its center. Equally unappetizing was the charred roast he found dumped in the sink. Ironically, he noticed that the coffee cup and plate that had held his toast that morning had been washed and set in the drain board. The dishwasher had been run and the contents emptied.
He didn’t touch anything as he quickly checked out the rest of the house. As he walked down the hallway, looking into the other rooms, he could still smell the exotic designer fragrance that seemed to increase in strength the closer he moved to his bedroom. He used his elbow to push the bedroom door open.
The scene before him was worse than anything he could’ve imagined. It was easy to guess the room had originally been set up with seduction in mind.
Now, it looked more like a scene out of a nightmare.
Candles had been mashed into the top of the chest of drawers and nightstands, burn holes marring the once-polished wood. The burgundy-and-silver paisley comforter hung askew off the bed, while the burgundy sheets had been pulled back and slashed by an angry hand. What really got his attention was the sight of the open closet doors with piles of ripped clothing thrown across the floor.
That was when he noticed the faint light shining from the partially closed bathroom door. He crossed the room slowly as he wondered what he would find in there. He stopped short at the doorway as the door slowly swung open the rest of the way. The drawers were pulled open and their contents dumped onto the floor.
But the unsettling part was the words written in bold red lipstick on the mirror.
That slut will regret taking you from me!
Josh was back outside in a matter of seconds to use his phone to contact the police. He had another break-in to report.
She parked her car far enough up the street so she wouldn’t be noticed by Josh or anyone in the neighborhood, but close enough that she had an excellent view of him sitting inside his car, talking on the phone.
She kept her gaze fastened on him as her right hand stroked the front of her black dress in a long, slow, lover’s caress. Her eyelids drooped to half-mast as she imagined it was his hand loving her. It was his hand reaching inside the deep V-neckline to stroke her, his voice whispering in her ear that she was the only woman for him and how much he loved her. Her other hand dropped to stroke herself between her legs. Her breathing grew harsh in the cramped space as her passion escalated. Then reality took hold as she remembered why she’d sat in the house for hours waiting for him to come home and he hadn’t. An animalistic sound of pain mingled with fury escaped her throat.
The gentle touches turned rougher, until her red polished nails scratched and tore the fabric. The sequined material shredded until the top of her bra showed before even that delicate material tore under her savage motions. She was so caught up in her mental pain she didn’t feel her skin burning from the deep scratches she’d self-inflicted, nor care about the warn trickle of blood trailing down her chest.
“Would you mind if I asked you a simple question, Mr. Brandon?”
“Not at all, Your Honor.”
The judge stared at the prosecuting attorney over the top of his reading glasses. His gaze was most definitely not kind. “Does the county not pay the Assistant District Attorney enough so that he can afford a tie? Or is there a personal, perhaps religious, reason why you are not wearing one in my court?”
Josh Brandon grinned, not the least intimidated by the older man’s sarcasm. “It’s more like a personal reason, Your Honor. I feel they restrict my breathing.”
The judge frowned at an age-old argument. “I suppose that also goes for your refusal to wear a suit.”
“I figure I’m getting paid to prosecute the guilty, not for my fashion sense.”
Judge William Collins sighed. “All right, let’s get on with it.” He nodded toward the defense attorney. “Mr. Martin, I believe you had a motion to make before the court. And try not to be too long-winded for once. I’d like to wrap this up before lunch.” He settled into his high-backed chair.
So this was Assistant District Attorney Josh Brandon. Not bad
—not bad at all. She leaned forward and rested her arms across the back of the bench as she studied the man questioning the witness. Her expert eye estimated him to be a couple inches over six feet, two hundred pounds, two-ten at most, and it looked to be all muscle. Very nice for a man in his early thirties. She continued to take her mental photographs.
His thick, dark brown hair and mustache revealed a few bits of early gray, and his casual ease made him appear more like a man who fought with a gun than with a law book.
She remained in her seat for a little over an hour, watching Josh argue his case with a drawling ease that she sensed was deceptive. Now that she knew what she’d be dealing with, she was ready to get back to her own work.
As she walked down the courthouse hallway, more than one man paused for a second glance.
“Get a load of that lady, Frank. Now those are the kind of legs I’d like to have wrapped around me,” one of the bailiffs muttered to a friend.
“The lady might look like a walking sex ad, but I wouldn’t want to lie down around her. And you don’t, either.” He leaned over and whispered in the other man’s ear.
?” The first man looked green around the gills. “Someone who looks like her works down
The other man shook his head. “There ain’t that many good-looking women around, and now one of the sweetest-looking ones around turns out to be…
well, I don’t even like to think about it. No good-looking woman should be doing something that disgusting.”
Josh considered cocktail parties on par with a visit to the dentist. If he could have gotten out of this one, he would have. Except this get-together was thrown to honor Sam Daniels, who was retiring from his position as District Attorney after his partial recovery from a near-fatal heart attack. The restaurant’s banquet room was decorated with black and white streamers overhead and posters listing his convictions and a few listing less-than-victorious cases.
“Talk about a miracle—do my eyes deceive me, or am I seeing you wearing a tie tonight?” Judge Collins walked up to Josh and nodded at his shirtfront. He peered at it a bit more closely. “For a minute, I thought you might have had it painted on,” he joked.
“Oh, Judge, you know very well Josh never does the expected,” Beth Langley, one of the other prosecutors, cut in as she passed them. She cocked her hand, holding the glass of scotch out of harm’s way as she paused long enough to get her dig in. She pursed her lips in an exaggerated kiss to Josh before moving on to another group who was seated at one of the round tables set along the sides of the large room.
Josh shook his head in exasperation at her outrageous behavior. “I figure Sam’s only going to retire once, so I thought I’d give him a treat and wear a tie in his honor.”
“Are we sure the man can survive the shock of the county’s own cowboy looking respectable?” A woman’s laughing voice intruded.
“Hi, Gail.” Josh wrapped an arm around her waist and kissed the police detective on the cheek. They’d dated a few times after Gail’s divorce, but he’d soon realized she might be putting more emotion into the few dinners they shared than he did, and he’d gently broken it off. “How do you like working in Vice?”
She wrinkled her nose. “I can think of better ways to spend my evenings than in the company of hookers. Trouble is, Bill doesn’t have the legs for a miniskirt, and Larry’s chest is too hairy to carry off a tube top. I wish I could get into Homicide. At least there, all you deal with are dead people. They don’t talk back or try to strike a deal when you arrest them.”
Josh chuckled. He looked over her shoulder. “No date?”
The pretty brunette shrugged. If the gaze in her eyes was a trifle hopeful, he chose not to see it. “Not tonight.”
“Hey, Josh, who’d you steal the tie from?” One of the defense attorneys laughed as he walked past.
“I only hope he’ll accord me the same honor when I retire,” Judge Collins joked.
Josh started to reply when he looked past the judge’s shoulder and froze. His arm, still draped loosely around Gail’s waist, dropped to his side.
Judge Collins turned his head to see what had caught Josh’s attention. “I see you’ve noticed the county’s newest member.”
“Who is she?”
The older man chuckled. “I can’t believe you haven’t met Dr. Hunter before and tried to impress her with that good-ole-boy charm of yours.”
“There’s no reason why I can’t do that now.” He wondered if he was grinning like a fool. A hint of a woman’s smoky voice reached his ears. “That and more.”
The judge chuckled. “Maybe I should warn you that rumor has it the lady has turned rejecting a man’s advances into a fine art. Although, I admit if I wasn’t a happily married man for the last thirty-two years, I’d be willing to try my hand at it.”
“Then it’s a good thing I’m a stubborn guy. If you’ll excuse me.” Josh headed for the group.
As he approached them he, looked again at the woman who was the center of attention of a group of men near the door. Long, showgirl-like, lightly tanned legs showcased a black silk wrap skirt that moved with her to reveal even more silky looking skin, and a black sequined low-cut top with skinny straps. Her ash blond hair was pulled back in a coil that should have made her look demure instead of sexy as hell.
“Hey there, Brandon,” one of the other prosecutors greeted him, when Josh stood just behind him.
“Ted.” Josh looked around for a place to set down his glass. “I thought you and Missy had something going.”
“Hey, I’m not dead yet.” He lowered his voice. “Plus, Missy didn’t want to come to this, since I told her it was a retirement party. And what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. I’m only doing the political thing by showing up and now by getting to know Dr. Hunter.” He lit up a cigarette, easily ignoring the non-smoking rules in the restaurant.
“Political, hell. No man would mind having a doctor who looked like her,” Josh said.
Ted laughed so hard he started coughing. “You might change your mind after you find out just what kind of doctor she is.”
“Why, is she a vet for the K-9 units?”
He grinned as if he knew something very funny. He patted Josh’s shoulder. “Let’s just say I hope the good doctor won’t have to examine me for a very long time.”
Lauren Hunter turned her head just then and fastened her dusky blue eyes on Josh.
“Josh Brandon, isn’t it?” She smiled and held out her hand. “I’m Lauren Hunter. I observed you in court a few days ago. You really enjoy throwing people off guard, don’t you?”
Josh was never one to believe in love at first sight or that touching a person could send electric signals up his arm. Meeting Lauren Hunter changed his mind on a lot of points. The lady had a firm, no-nonsense handshake, an equally no-nonsense way of looking directly at a person that she liked, a throaty voice that had him thinking of hot sex, and best of all, she didn’t wear Obsession perfume.
“I watched Perry Mason when I was a kid, and to this day, I like to get a highly emotional confession from the guilty party while he’s on the stand.”
“And did anyone ever fulfill your dream?”
He grinned. “Not unless you count the guy who broke down and admitted he did tear out the parking meter in front of his store in the dead of night and plant a tree in its place.”
Lauren nodded with the gravity necessary for the topic. “It must have made you feel powerful that you brought down such a dangerous criminal.”
Josh leaned over and whispered in her ear. “The man’s crime was that he overwatered the tree and killed it.”
Lauren lifted her wineglass to her lips. “I’m grateful that was one homicide victim I didn’t have to deal with.”
Josh frowned. He hadn’t missed the faint snickers going on around them or the cryptic statements made by the others. He decided it was time to find out why. “Okay, okay, you’ve all had your fun. Luckily, I’m adult enough to ask a stupid question. Why would you want to meet a homicide victim? You don’t look crazy enough to be a cop.”
“Once again, Brandon, you played wastebasket basketball with those all-important memos that were passed around. Which meant you didn’t bother with the memo announcing Dr. Hunter’s new position here that made the rounds last week, did you, Josh? That’s how you end up with these surprises,” Pat Kerns, one of the prosecutors, confided, winking at the others. “So who wants the pleasure of giving this guy the news?”
Josh handed his drink to Pat. “I read everything that’s addressed to me.”
Lauren’s smile widened as she realized the reason for his confusion. “So you don’t know exactly who I am.”
Josh deliberately tuned out their avid audience. “You’re Dr. Lauren Hunter, who happens to be a very classy-looking lady.”
“I hate pretentious wines and five-star restaurants, I can bait my own hook, I prefer to watch movies that aren’t subtitled, and I once stayed up all night watching the Creature Feature marathon on cable. I love the older horror films that didn’t need tons of blood and guts to scare a person.” She ticked off each item on her fingertips. Josh’s eyes lit up as he realized he was hearing the words of a kindred spirit.
“Oh no, another one!” Mike Kerry, one of the DA’s office investigators, groaned, slapping his forehead with his palm. “Now they’re going to compare notes on which B movie was the best.”
“William Castle’s Homicidal,” Josh intoned.
Lauren began laughing. “It’s one of my favorites! Right next to The Tingler and House on Haunted Hill. What can I say? Vincent Price is one of my heroes.”
“How can a coroner not like blood and guts?” Mike asked.
“When you deal with it at the office, you don’t care to see it at home, too,” she said.
Josh digested this surprising piece of news. Just at that moment, he glanced at the table filled with an array of hors d’oeuvres. He discovered his appetite wasn’t as strong as Mike’s words sank in. “So, you’re the new coroner?”
She nodded. “I am the new coroner.”
“How did Igor get so lucky?” Josh muttered with comic displeasure, mentioning the assistant coroner. “I get a Steve Buscemi look-alike, he gets Nicole Kidman. Where did I go wrong?”
“You went to law school,” Lauren quipped with a saucy grin, liking the fact that Josh was willing to laugh at himself. That and more. Although, as she stood there talking and laughing with Josh and others, she felt a chill travel along the back of her neck that escalated into faint nausea.
For a moment she swore someone nearby was directing waves of hate at her so strong she sensed they could knock her to her knees. She resisted the urge to look over her shoulder to see if she could find the source of this ugly sensation. Instead, she concentrated on Josh. Pretty soon, the feeling diminished and she was able to draw a faint breath of relief.
“I gather the Igor you’re talking about is Pete Ignatius?” She mentioned the assistant coroner.
“Igor, Ignatius. He can’t help looking like something out of a B horror film.” He glanced around, a slight frown on his face. He moved his shoulders as if shrugging off something unpleasant.
“Lauren, I’m glad to have met you, and unfortunately, I’m sure we’ll meet again under different circumstances,” Mike intruded, deliberately stepping in front of Josh. “If I wasn’t a happily married man and leery of people who prefer to spend their workdays with the dead, I’d carry you off to Hawaii and a beachfront condo.”
“This from the man who hates to fly,” Josh muttered.
It took a few moments for the good-natured arguing to recede until Lauren and Josh were alone.
“How do you put up with it?” she asked.
He shrugged. “I ignore them. Or threaten to snitch to their wives when they misbehave.”
She gave him a direct look. She never did believe in beating around the bush. “So I gather that means there’s no wife they can snitch to when it comes to you.”
“Probably because no one wants to put up with me.”
Lauren noted the way Josh’s smile lifted one corner of his mustache and warmed his eyes. That and his lazy drawl were pleasing. She had to remind herself that she was still experiencing the aftereffects of a nasty divorce and the last thing she needed was even considering interest in a man. She looked at her watch.
“Well, I have a busy day ahead of me tomorrow. My house is still filled with unpacked boxes.” She managed a bright smile and again offered her hand. “It was very nice to meet you, Josh Brandon. I suppose we’ll be seeing each other again.”
“We will.” He deliberately held on to her hand longer than necessary.
Lauren extracted her hand, very aware of Josh’s gaze on her as she turned and walked out of the banquet room. And even more aware of someone else watching her with another emotion in mind. She never felt more grateful than when she left the restaurant and the unsettling feeling slipped away. It brought back unpleasant memories she’d succeeded in suppressing. She didn’t like the idea of them resurfacing when she felt as if she’d finally put her life back together again.