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Authors: Mia Kay

Hard Silence

Hard Silence
By Mia Kay

FBI profiler Jeff Crandall returned to Fiddler, Idaho, to work on new Bureau protocols in peace...and because he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about Abby Quinn. Kind, beautiful and quietly sexy, the petite rancher next door is loved by the entire town but keeps fiercely to herself. She’s a mystery that doesn’t want to be solved, though he’s desperate to try.

Whether that interest is professional or personal is a question he’ll sort out later.

Abby knows sharing her secrets would bring death and destruction to Fiddler. She survived her childhood, barely, but a long list of stepfathers weren’t nearly so lucky: their bodies are buried across the country, waiting to be discovered. The best protection is silence, anonymity and isolation, though the handsome agent next door seems hell-bent on destroying all three.

And he just keeps
kissing her
...

When Jeff is called in to investigate an interstate serial killer case spanning two decades, Abby knows it’s only a matter of time before he connects the dots, sees her for who she really is and walks away. But it’s when he’s standing in the crosshairs of Abby’s past that Jeff faces his biggest challenge yet: how to give the woman he loves the life she doesn’t believe she deserves.

Book two of Agents Undercover

This book is approximately 90,000 words

Dear Reader,

Maybe the term
antihero
isn’t a new one, but it does seem to be something that’s been getting a lot of buzz in the past year or so in the romance world. But what is an antihero? In my mind, the antihero is one who has to be redeemed, providing a delicious platform for character growth and emotional conflict. But even though he’s an antihero, perhaps doing morally questionable things we can’t always approve of, he still proves his love and devotion to the heroine, providing us as readers with the opportunity to enjoy seeing a real bad boy get his happy ending.

I love a great antihero, and this April I’m pleased to introduce you to Haithem, from
Didn’t I Warn You
by Amber Bardan. Mysterious, foreign, gorgeous, Haithem has a secret, and it’s one he’ll kill to protect until he accomplishes the goal he’s set out to achieve. Lucky for Angelina, he chooses not to kill her...but he does kidnap her, holding her against her will, using her body against her. And when he ultimately becomes incredibly possessive of her... Haithem offers Angelina a chance to feel again. But can she love the devil who’s destroying her, even as he keeps her prisoner?

Mr. Sexy
Bazillionaire
CEO Gregory Ryans might not be an antihero, but that doesn’t make him any less compelling. The second installment of Laura Carter’s darkly sexy Vengeful Love trilogy,
Vengeful Love: Deception
, is packed with tension. Adrift in the aftermath of a murder, each desperate to protect the other, Scarlett and Gregory are faced with a harsh truth: there are some things money can’t buy.

Jen Doyle debuts with her contemporary romance,
Calling It
. After a car accident nearly ends his career and with paparazzi surrounding his Chicago penthouse, professional baseball player Nate Hawkins can only think of one place to go: home. But when he finds his old apartment occupied by a half-naked woman wielding a baseball bat, he’s not sure what to think...except that maybe his luck has finally changed for the better.

Also with a contemporary sports romance release this month is Elizabeth Harmon and
Getting It Back
. If you’re a sucker for a second-chance romance, this one will be right up your alley with a former top men’s figure-skating champion who’s willing to risk everything for a comeback—except a new start with the only woman he’s ever loved.

Mia Kay keeps things suspenseful. In her romantic suspense
Hard Silence
, an FBI profiler chasing an interstate serial killer never expects his love life and his professional life to collide. But he gets more than he bargained for when he falls for the lovely, secretive ranch owner—who just might hold the key to his investigation.

Move a little mystery into your life! In
Permanently Booked
by Lisa Q. Mathews, May-December sleuthing duo Summer Smythe and Dorothy Westin are back on the case after the murder of a dedicated librarian. To lure the killer out of hiding, they revamp the once-dull Hibiscus Pointe Book Club—and discover someone’s added more than wine, cheese and book talk to the agenda.

If antiheroes are something you’re looking for more of, we hope you’ll check out
Didn’t I Warn You
. And maybe take a peek back at Joely Sue Burkhart’s
One Cut Deeper
and
Two Cuts Darker
. Coming in July, don’t miss badass biker Dare as he takes on his feisty heroine in Jade Chandler’s new erotic motorcycle club series, The Jericho Brotherhood.

Coming next month: The fantastic conclusion to the Vengeful Love trilogy, male/male new-adult fare to make you happy, make you sigh and make you wish the authors would write faster, and an erotic new series from Anna del Mar.

As always, until next month here’s wishing you a wonderful month of books you love, remember and recommend.

Happy reading!

~Angela James
Executive Editor, Carina Press

Dedication

To my mother. This book is not about her.

Chapter One

Body Found In Well.

The Lewisville Clarion
headline was brief, and the story wasn’t much longer. Beau Archer’s remains had been found in an old well on his property in Virginia. The man had gone missing twenty-eight years ago and, without family to keep it open, the investigation had gone cold.

Abby Quinn read the story three times, scrolling through the online version of the small-town paper in the hopes of finding more information. When she didn’t, she wavered between relief and regret.

Beau Archer, her first stepfather, had stumbled into her life when he’d married her mother in Atlantic City. He’d taught Abby to ride a bike. She could still hear his boots pounding on the hard-packed dirt of the country road in front of his house, his heavy breath in her ear. He’d whooped with laughter when she’d turned at the end of the lane and made her wobbly way back to him. Then he’d taken her for ice cream.

A month after that memorable bike ride, his
loving
wife Wallis had shoved his lifeless body down a well.

He deserved more than one paragraph in the newspaper, but at least now he’d get a headstone.

Toby—her third Toby in almost twenty years—whined through the screen door, reminding her of the time. She deleted the alert email, cleaned out her trash folder and cleared her browser history. It was time to get to work.

Walking out onto her front porch, Abby let the door slap closed behind her as she stood and enjoyed the brisk Idaho spring morning. Past the security light illuminating the yard, the still-early lavender sky met the dark hills on the horizon.

Stretching her muscles, she winced as pain lanced from her neck down her left side. Most days she could ignore it, but she’d pushed too hard yesterday. She’d felt the muscles cramp as she’d fixed fences and then stayed at the computer, perched in her chair squinting at code until late in the evening.

And then the nightmares, and the news about Beau.

Already halfway to the stables, Toby looked over his shoulder to see if she was following. Abby swore the border collie was smiling. She could always count on her dog.

“Work. Yeah, I know,” she grumbled good-naturedly as she tramped down the steps and toward the paddock. At the outer edge of the light, she faced the darkness beyond and hesitated.

Nineteen years, sixty-nine hundred mornings, and she still gritted her teeth and held her breath when she stepped into the shadows. But she did it.

She did it again when she swung the stable doors open. Reaching around the wall, she turned on the lights before she stepped inside.

On either side of the aisle, her horses poked their heads over the stall doors, blinking under the bright lights, chuffing and huffing hellos.

“Good morning, George,” Abby whispered as she put a calming hand on the palomino’s velvety nose. “I told you I’d be back this morning.” After a year of working to earn the animal’s trust, it was rewarding to look into eyes no longer hazy with disappointment. Still, the minute the gate opened, George trotted into the misty dawn, as though afraid someone would slam the door and trap her inside.

The other horse remained quiet in his stall. “Good morning, Hemingway,” Abby whispered as she stroked the giant black gelding’s nose and danced her fingers through his forelock. He was becoming such an elegant animal. “How are you, handsome? Ready to work this morning?” He dropped his head to her waiting hand. “I’ll take that as a yes.”

She forced her left arm up, ignoring the persistent pain, slipped the halter over his head and scratched his ears until he quieted. “No saddle today, I promise. Let’s get used to this first.” She opened the door but let the lead rope dangle as she walked away and let him follow. He needed to know she wouldn’t tug and pull. His clopping tread reminded her of Beau and her wobbly bike ride.

Shaking the memory free, she stood in the stable doorway. The pasture was cloaked in fog, and dew silvered the grasses not already trampled. It was like looking through a soft-focus lens. In this moment, right before sunrise, the world was fuzzy, tinted green, blue and gray. The birds chirped quiet, sleepy greetings. Hemingway froze when she picked up the rope.

“I won’t hurt you.” Abby took one step, keeping the lead slack, and waited. When the animal moved forward, she took another step. They inched through the paddock and the gate to the edge of the field.

“Good boy,” she murmured as she offered him a carrot and stroked his graceful neck. “See? No pain.”

Leaving him there, she went back into the stable only to run out when an equine scream ended in canine yelps and snarls. All that remained of Hemingway were his thundering hoof beats and the waving grass.

Abby knelt next to Toby and ran her hands over him, checking him for injuries. The dog’s shame gave way to a plea for a belly rub.

“I know you want to herd him,” she scolded as she gave in and scratched his chest, “but he hates to be crowded right now.” She stood and sighed. “Let’s go get him.”

Hem’s trail was marked in the dew, and easy to follow. The tall grass swallowed Toby in a gulp, and Abby waded through the swaying fescue to the river, her bag of carrots and apples bouncing against her hip. Stepping carefully on the slick rocks, she hopped to the Simons’ pasture and continued up the hill.

Off to her left, a covey of quail clattered clumsily into the sky, scaring her as much as she’d startled them. Toby shot off, intent on catching the slowest prey. Abby trudged on alone.

The giant gelding was stopped at the fence, munching on Deb Simon’s newly budded shrubs. He watched her approach with one dark, wild eye.

“Shh.” She touched his neck and pursued him when he flinched away. When he quieted, she rubbed his sweaty coat and stared down at the ragged plant. “I hope you haven’t killed that. I’ll never find a replacement.” At least the Simons were gone for the summer. It would be enough time to determine the damage and do some shopping, if necessary.

Comforting pats grew to long strokes as Abby ran her hands over the horse’s shoulder and then down his back. When she reached his ribs he stepped away and tossed his head. She kept a steady grip on the lead rope. “Quiet. I need to see if you’ve reinjured yourself. It won’t hurt. I promise.” She hoped she was right.

She got farther the second time. “Good boy, Hem.” He moved away again, and she started over.

It took four tries before she could run a light hand over his bones and feel the spots that were once jagged pieces. The horse shook beneath her, but he stayed still. “Good boy. I know it’s scary to trust someone, but you’re a brave man.” She pulled an apple from her bag. “You’re going to be good as new.”

The horse ignored the treat and stared over her shoulder, his nostrils flaring at a new scent. They weren’t alone.

Abby’s skin tingled as her muscles tightened. If she faced the intruder, she risked chasing Hem again. She tensed and moved her weight to the balls of her feet and whistled for backup. Toby came at a run. The dog was too well trained to bark, but his eyes stayed glued on their observer. Abby kept her focus on her dog.

Instead of growling, he wagged his tail. He’d seen whoever it was before. Convinced it was safe, Abby turned to face their audience.

“Hi, Abby.”

Jeff Crandall stood on the Simons’ porch, barefooted, in a wrinkled T-shirt and faded jeans. Lounging against a newel post, he was sipping a cup of steaming coffee, holding it with one hand while the other was shoved into the front pocket of his jeans.

Abby swept her gaze from him to the yard. She’d been so intent on the horse, she’d missed the car parked in front of the barn Hank Simon used as a garage. The silver Audi roadster with Illinois plates was the sort of car she only saw in magazines, and it would have easily fit in her horse trailer.

Maggie Harper’s reminder echoed through Abby’s scrambled brain. Jeff was renting the house for the summer, something about a project related to his job with the FBI.

He descended into the yard and started toward them with an easy gait, frowning slightly like he always did when she caught his eye. She’d seen that look for so many years, from so many people—teachers, doctors, ministers...stepfathers.

Would she ever get used to him appearing without warning? For the past year, since Gray Harper had asked for his help figuring out who was stalking Maggie, Jeff had come and gone with predictable unpredictability, always keeping her on edge.

Abby slipped her hand under Hem’s mane and stole his warmth, using it to ground her.

Disheveled in the early morning sun, Jeff looked less like an FBI agent than ever. His salt-and-pepper hair hung to his shoulders, but it stayed swept back out of his face. That was good—otherwise it would’ve been caught in his well-trimmed mustache and beard like Velcro.

Abby kept herself safe by reading facial cues, and the beard hid Jeff’s expressions, which was another cause for worry. Then he’d get close enough she could see the mischievous twinkle in his green eyes, and she’d leave abject fright behind for a frisson of nerves. Like now.

“Hi. Jeff.” She stroked Hemingway’s proud neck, letting his presence soothe her while she crafted one syllable at a time.

“How have you been?” His smile was now so big his coffee cup couldn’t hide it, and her nervousness faded to curiosity. What could be so funny this early in the morning?

Hemingway nudged her hand for the apple he’d ignored earlier, pushing at her baggy shirt. When she shifted, wet denim slapped her calves. Her. She was the early morning comic relief.

“Fine. Thanks. You?” She’d spent her adult life practicing pleasantries, learning both how to make polite conversation and when to stop. Everyone in town had become accustomed to her limits.

Jeff wasn’t from here, though. He took the deep breath that always signaled a long conversation, and she panicked.
Not now. It’s always more difficult in the morning, like my tongue forgets it shouldn’t move. And with Beau’s headline—

Hemingway snorted and tossed his head, slinging the lead until it snapped against the brim of her cap. Abby grabbed for it on reflex, then flinched and dropped her arm, curling it against her as pain lanced from her shoulder to her waist.

“I got in late last night,” Jeff said as he caught the rope.

“Go easy,” she snapped.

“Of course,” he said before he shifted his attention to the horse. “Quiet, boy,” he murmured, his words complementing his firm grip on the rope and his careful removal of the halter. “No one’s going to hurt you. What’s his name?”

Hemingway, because he was so beat up he reminded me of a war-horse. You should have seen him. His coat was dull and brittle, and his ribs were broken. He screamed every time I touched him. It took him weeks to look at me.
“Hem.”

“Him?”

The horse had abandoned the shrubbery for fescue, munching on the correct side of the fence, and Toby had bounded off in search of feathered quarry. It left her with nothing warm, and her voice faltered in the cool air. “H—. Hem-ingway.”

Jeff’s bright, teasing smile softened to one she’d never seen before. “Nice name. It fits him.”

“I thought so.” Abby stared after the animals who were now making their way home. “I should—”

“Coffee?” Jeff asked, lifting his cup.

The smell on the breeze made her mouth water, and her fingers twitched in vain for something to hold. She hadn’t had time for a cup this morning, but she shouldn’t stay. “We should—”

“It’s the least you can do since he woke me.”

Embarrassment heated her skin. Not a great start to neighborly relationships. “He did? I’m sorry.”

“I made too much anyway,” Jeff said. “It takes a while to get accustomed to making it for one person again.”

Slinging the halter over his shoulder, Jeff stepped on the lower course of barbed wire and lifted the upper one, making a hole for her to crouch through. “Stay for a minute. Let him calm down.”

It would’ve been rude to leave him standing there holding the fence, and to refuse an offer...and to waste coffee. Abby bent double, slipped through the fence and straightened in time to see Jeff’s smile fade.

They walked in silence to the back door, which he held open. He had a habit of doing that, whenever he visited and wherever they were, and it always made her feel both dainty and terrified. She stared at the pristine kitchen floor and then pointedly at her muck-covered boots.

“I’ll bring it out,” he offered. Tilting his head, he stared down at her, frowning again. “Cream and sugar, right? I think I saw powdered creamer in the pantry. Will that work?”

She nodded and sat in the nearest chair while he went inside. When she saw her shadow stretch across the porch, she snapped straight and whipped the cap from her head. Then she ripped the rubber band from her ponytail, hissing as strands tore free. Blinking the tears from her eyes, she raked her hands through her hair—only to realize they were filthy. Scurrying to Deb’s garden sink, Abby scrubbed her nails and then squinted into the window to check her reflection. Jeff poked his head in the window, ruining her view. She jumped backward, and his snicker drifted through the thin pane separating them.

He backed out onto the porch, a coffee cup in both hands, and let the door swing closed behind him. “What was that about?”

I hate things popping out at me.
Abby wrapped her fingers around the hot cup he gave her. “Cleaning. Up.”

“You look fine. Relax.” Stretching his legs in front of him, he sipped his coffee. “What have I missed?”

They found my stepdad’s remains in a Virginia well.
“Not. Much.” Despite the breeze chilling her skin and the forbidden words building in her throat, she needed to talk to him. He’d remembered how she took her coffee, for pity’s sake. “What have. You been. Doing?”

She sounded like a moron. Or like one of those people in the hallway at the nursing home who talked only as much as their oxygen supply would allow.

“I’ve spent the last few weeks in Tennessee with my family, but they kept me from writing and now I’m behind. Gray arranged for me to rent this place as a retreat.”

Abby knew the questions she should ask.
What’s your family like? What are you writing? How was your trip?
Those questions had been surrendered when she’d allowed Toby his freedom. “You. Drove?”

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