Authors: Julie Miller
HIS ONLY JOB WAS TO PROTECT HER—NOT GET HER INTO BED
When his coinvestigator was attacked just moments after Detective Nick Fensom left the scene, he swore he’d never let her get hurt again. Thanks to their tense relationship, criminologist Annie Hermann wasn’t happy to have Nick as her newly appointed protector. And although Nick couldn’t blame her, being together 24/7 caused him to see Annie in a whole new light. Before long, he couldn’t stop picturing the beautiful brunette wrapped up in his arms—and in his sheets. But allowing unfamiliar feelings to get in the way of the job was completely unprofessional…especially once Annie discovered the evidence that could cost her her life.
“Twelve hours ago, a man nearly killed you. He knows where you live. Are you going to trust that he has no reason to come back to finish what he started?”
“If you stay here, we can'tâ¦ You have to promiseâ”
“You'll know when I make a promise to you, Annie.”
Before she could guess his intent, his hand snaked out to cup the back of her neck. He stroked his thumb against the thumping beat of her pulse.
“I am keeping you safe whether you like it or not. You're right. We are on this task force job togetherâso you do your brainy thing and I'll do what I do so that you can get us whatever clues you can. I'm tired of this Rose Red bastard and his sick fan club having the upper hand on us. You will not be hurt again. Not while there's breath in my body. Understood?”
USA TODAY Bestselling Author
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Julie Miller attributes her passion for writing romance to all those books she
read growing up. When shyness and asthma kept her from becoming the
action-adventure heroine she longed to be, Julie created stories in her head to
keep herself entertained. Encouragement from her family to write down the
feelings and ideas she couldn’t express became a love for the written word. She
gets continued support from her fellow members of the Prairieland Romance
Writers, where this teacher serves as the resident “grammar goddess.” Inspired
by the likes of Agatha Christie and Encyclopedia Brown, Julie believes the only
thing better than a good mystery is a good romance.
Born and raised in Missouri, this award-winning author now
lives in Nebraska with her husband, son and an assortment of spoiled pets. To
contact Julie or to learn more about her books, write to P.O. Box 5162, Grand
Island, NE 68802-5162 or check out her website and monthly newsletter at
Books by Julie Miller
947—BABY JANE DOE*
966—BEAST IN THE
1009—UP AGAINST THE WALL**
1090—PRIVATE S.W.A.T. TAKEOVER***
1138—PULLING THE TRIGGER
1176—BEAUTY AND THE
1245—MAN WITH THE MUSCLE
1296—PROTECTING THE PREGNANT WITNESS†
1350—THE MARINE NEXT DOOR††
**The Precinct: Vice Squad
Precinct: Brotherhood of the Badge
†The Precinct: SWAT
CAST OF CHARACTERS
A KCPD detective with a protective streak that fills every inch of his broad shoulders. He’s as baffled by the eccentricities of the brainy Annie Hermann as he is by his attraction to her soulful eyes and curly hair. But what’s a man to do when a killer targets the woman he has to work with? He becomes her round-the-clock protector—whether she likes it or not.
The quirky criminologist understands science and lab samples better than she understands most people, and has grown used to a lonely existence. When she’s attacked while processing the Rose Red Rapist’s latest crime scene, it’s Nick Fensom who charges to her rescue. But with the two of them sharing a history of getting along like oil and water, can she trust her life—or her heart—to Nick?
Annie’s neighbor takes his job very seriously.
Nick’s uncle is the deputy commissioner of KCPD.
Nick’s youngest sister.
Nell’s bad-news boyfriend.
Annie’s ex-fiancé didn’t think she’d fit in with the life he wanted.
Gobel and Ramirez—
What happened to the two cops on duty that night?
A fellow criminologist from the crime lab.
The Rose Red Rapist—
His attacks on the women of Kansas City are growing more frequent—and more violent.
The Rose Red Rapist’s accomplice. Psycho fan? Or key to breaking the task force’s investigation wide-open?
With thanks to my editor, Allison Lyons.
Some books are harder to write than others.
Your patience, insight and support make a difference.
And the Italian food was yummy!
The screech of brakes clawing at the frosty pavement set the driver's teeth on edge as the van up ahead careened around the corner and jerked to a stop near the alleyway by the Fairy Tale Bridal Shop. “Of all the stupid...”
Rolling to a quieter, gentler stop half a block away, the curious driver following the van turned off the headlights and shifted the car into Park. Hugging long arms around the steering wheel, the driver leaned forward to watch the van's door open and see the reckless daredevil climb out. Ethereal snowflakes drifted from the low-hanging sky, turning the illumination from the streetlamps translucent, and making it difficult to pinpoint an exact height for the man, or even determine the color of clothing he wore beyond something dark. But one could make out broad shoulders as he hunched them against the wintry air and looked up and down the street.
The one who watched sank back into the shadows of the car as the man's gaze swept past. His face was obscured by a stocking mask and the puffy clouds of his warm breath in the cold night air. Apparently satisfied that the snow, the holiday and the late hour had chased most of Kansas City's residents inside for the night, he moved to the back of the van and pulled open the double doors.
A rush of adrenaline quickened the hidden watcher's pulse as the mystery man reached inside to pull out a long, cigar-shaped package draped in a blanket or tarp. Catching a breath and holding it, the one who watched without making a peep could see he was clearly up to no good.
He dragged the bulky cargo out of the van and bent his knees to toss it over his shoulder like a duffel bag. After another visual sweep along the sidewalk and street, he carried the rolled-up delivery into the alleyway where he dumped it into a pile of trash bags.
The watcher leaned forward again when he pulled away the covering with all the finesse of a magician revealing his latest illusion. Something tumbled out of the cover and rolled behind the bags, out of sight. Was that...a body?
The watcher gasped.
The pulse was racing now, thundering inside the watcher's ears. Gloved fingers clenched again and again, tighter and tighter, around the steering wheel.
The man wadded up the cover in his arms before unzipping the front of his coat. The spare light from the street barely reached into the alley, so one couldn't be quite sure of the subtle movements, but it seemed he was pulling something out of his coat.
Whatever it might be was small and slender, scarcely discernible in the dim light. He placed the object behind the trash bags, on top of the body. Then he straightened, pulling another object from his coat. He bent forward, backing out of the alley. He held a small windshield brush in his hand and was dusting off the sidewalk, wiping away his footprints and any sign that he had been there at all.
He cleaned up after himself, retreating until he reached the van. The watcher waited for the man to toss the brush and the cover into the back, then quietly shut the doors before hurrying around to climb in behind the wheel and drive away.
A few numbers off the van's license plate were visible through the falling snow. But there was scarcely enough time to write anything down as it turned at the stoplight on the next corner and sped away into the night.
Once the street was quiet again, once the watcher was certain it was safe to move, a cell phone appeared, in case someone needed help. It was clutched tightly in hand as the watcher slowly opened the door. This might not be the smartest thing the watcher had done, but it was by far the bravest.
The winter wind was damp and bitter, biting through wool caps and exposed skin. Big, fluffy flakes of snow clung to the watcher's eyelashes and had to be blinked away. The watcher looked up and down the street, just as the man had done. This particular block was deserted tonight. The interior of every storefront, cafÃ© and coffee shop was dark. Although, with a tilt of the head, one could see the lights in apartment windows high above, where several end-of-the-year parties or lonely vigils must be happening.
A keening moan rose from the alleyway, snapping the watcher's attention back to the mysterious disposal of trash the curious driver had just witnessed. It
a body. Steeling both shoulders and resolve, the watcher hurried across the street.
A woman staggered out of the alley, clinging to the brick wall for support. Her mouth was bruised and swollen, her lips scrubbed pink. Her hair was a snarled mess, her eyes were glazed. She clasped something sticklike in her fist. “Help me. Please help.”
Her words slurred together as if she was high on some drug. When she reached out, the injured woman tripped over her spiky heels and began to fall. But the person who'd followed the van snapped out of shocked immobility and hurried forward to catch her.
“Easy there. Are you all right?” The woman stumbled, knocking the watcher back a step, as well. Hugging arms around the woman to steady her, the would-be rescuer turned her toward the light from the closest streetlamp. There was another cut in the woman's scalp and a puffy red mark beneath one eye. She'd clearly put up a struggle with someone. “I saw that van speeding away. What happened?”
The woman's coat had been buttoned crookedly over her dress. A party dress. Had she been hurt on her way to one of those parties in one of the newly remodeled loft apartments upstairs?
“I've been raped. That man...” Now she could see the slender object clutched in the woman's hand. It was the stem of a blood-red rose. “Oh, my God.”
She tossed the flower into the snow and turned away to throw up into the bags of trash from which she'd just crawled.
“Was it the Rose Red Rapist?” the driver from the car asked.
The terror the serial rapist had struck into the minds and spirits of women across the city was evident in the injured woman's wild eyes as she wiped her lips on the sleeve of her coat. “I was on my way to a friend's party...above the florist shop there. They must be so worried. He hit me from behind and...I thought I was being mugged. I've been to one of those women's self-defense courses at KCPD and I...” Tears welled in her eyes, and she pushed her fingers into her hair to brush the scattered tendrils off her face. That's when the driver from the car saw the scrapes on the victim's knuckles from where she'd tried to fight off her attacker. But the wounds had been doctored. In fact, the woman's hands and fingernails had been scrubbed clean. “What did he do to me?” The battered woman saw her sterilized hands and sobbed. “Will you help me?”
“Of course.” The driver who'd followed the van wound a supportive arm around the shaken victim to help her walk.
“Are you a cop?”
The watcher guided her back into the alley, farther in than the bags of trash. “Did you see his face?”
The woman's blank eyes suddenly focused. “Yes. I grabbed his mask. That's when he hit me again and I didn't remember anything until I came back here.” She grabbed hold of her rescuer and begged. “I need to call 9-1-1. Or there's a bar near hereâThe Shamrockâbut you probably know that.”
“Yes. There's a shortcut through here.”
“If we turn left...or is it right... Where's my purse? My phone?” She rubbed at the pain that must be throbbing through her temple. The light from the street was fading. The falling snowflakes were barely visible now in the shadows. “It's so hard to think... Wait.” She tried to stop and pull away. The watcher from the car let her. The watcher had found what was needed and stooped to pick it up. “What did you say? You're not a cop?”
“I said I'm here to help.” The woman's terrified gaze dropped to the brick in the watcher's hand, understanding coming far too late. “Just not you.”
The watcher swung before the woman could scream, and kept swinging until she would never scream again.