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A Kiss of Revenge
By Natalie J. Damschroder, Nina Bruhns
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Natalie J. Damschroder
All rights reserved.
One year later
Reese Templeton was all about the muffins.
Well, actually, she was more about justice and retribution. And maybe guilt. And money. But to the good people of Crestview, Massachusetts, she was all about the muffins.
"What'll it be today, Chief?" She angled her head toward the bakery case, keeping her smile easy and light despite the tension induced by police chief Andrew Laine's presence. "Blueberry's freshest."
"Then blueberry it is. And coffee —"
"Black," they said in unison. Reese grinned and bent to retrieve the muffin.
"The new movie's in town," he said casually. "You free tonight?"
Her stomach flipped. The town's one-screen movie theater was showing a second-run romantic comedy. Definitely date night material. She turned to wrap the muffin on the rear counter, and the hair began to rise along her arms. As she reached for the coffee pot, a spark of electricity leaped from her hand to the "on" switch. There was a pop and tiny wisp of smoke. Dammit. That was the fourth switch she'd fried in the bakery, all of them Andrew's fault. Hoping he hadn't seen it, she quickly poured his coffee and snapped on a lid.
"I'm sorry." She turned to hand him his drink and the bagged muffin, hoping her smile looked normal. "I have plans."
"Another time, then." His gaze was all too keen, and she knew he wasn't going to get the message. Another time, another place, maybe she wouldn't have hesitated to say yes. He had as much to offer as any guy. But her life wasn't normal, and it was never a good idea to date the local chief of police when you spent your evenings breaking into the town's mansions.
She had a better reason to give him, and she sighed, deciding it was time. There was a lull in business and no one close enough to hear their conversation.
"Andrew, I should have told you this before, but ... I'm married." She watched his gaze drop to check her bare left hand resting on the counter. It was quizzical when he raised it again, empty of judgment.
"I didn't realize that. We haven't met him."
"No." She smiled a little at the way he naturally represented the whole town. "My husband was badly injured in a plane crash over a year ago. He's in long-term care and not going to recover. But he's still my husband."
His expression softened at her declaration. "I'm sorry, Reese. That's got to be hard. But it explains a few things."
She tensed. What if his interest wasn't actually romantic? What if he was trying to get close to her because he was suspicious? "Like what?"
"You always seem to be waiting for something. And a little sad, I guess. I thought you were a widow."
Okay, so not a suspect. She relaxed. "I am. Technically." Way more than technically, but one big admission was enough for a day. She kept it to, "My first husband died."
He nodded and picked up his coffee and the bag holding his muffin. "Again, please accept my condolences. If you want a friend to go to the movies with, you know where to find me."
She raised her eyebrows. "But not the romantic comedy."
He grimaced. "Hell, no."
She laughed and waved him out the door. He held it for a group of kids coming in. The man who followed them nodded respectfully but watched Andrew several seconds longer than was normal. When she realized who he was, another, very different wave of electricity went up her arms and down her spine. She quickly turned to Kimmie and the kids in front of the ice cream case, who were babbling about which flavors they'd choose today.
"You guys are early," Reese commented to the young woman, who rolled her eyes.
"I didn't bring them in yesterday, so they insisted we do it first thing." Kimmie worked as a nanny for two families, and ice cream cones were a weekly summer ritual.
Reese could tell Kimmie was dying for her to ask about the change. "What happened yesterday?"
Kimmie bounced on the balls of her feet and squeezed her hands together. "I had an audition! In New York!"
Reese's mouth dropped open. "That's fantastic! For what?" She began scooping cones while Kimmie told her about the music video she'd auditioned for. Reese had never heard of the band, and the place the young woman described sounded pretty sketchy, but she kept her mouth closed, not willing to burst Kimmie's bubble when she was so happy.
Once Kimmie had wound down, paid for the ice cream, and escorted the kids to a big table in the corner, Reese turned to the man patiently waiting his turn.
He tilted his head toward Kimmie. "You two could be sisters."
She shrugged. She hadn't noticed, but they were of similar height and build, and their blond hair was the same length.
"I didn't expect to see you today."
Griff smiled, and her stomach did a whole flippin' somersault.
"I had meetings at the office in Boston and was headed back to DC. I thought I'd stop in and see how you're doing."
She grabbed a towel to wipe off her ice cream–sticky hands. "Crestview is not on the way to DC from Boston."
He shrugged and pointed at the butter croissants in the display case. "Close enough."
With a pair of tongs, she selected the biggest croissant and put it on a plate. "Coffee?"
"Of course." He leaned against the counter and folded his arms. "You have anything for me to check out?"
She shook her head. "Not at the moment."
"What about him?" He jerked his head toward the sidewalk outside, where Andrew Laine stood talking to the couple who owned the hardware store. "He giving you any trouble?"
"Not anymore. I told him I was married."
She cursed herself as soon as the words were out of her mouth. Griff's gray-blue eyes darkened, his rock-solid chin tightening. He'd obviously meant "trouble" because of Reese breaking the law, not because the chief of police had asked her out.
"You're not thinking —"
"No!" She grabbed the towel again and swept it over the few crumbs and coffee drips on the counter, scrubbing vigorously at one dried spot. "I didn't want to shove him too far away, that's all. As long as he had an interest, I could keep track of what he knew." Even if it kept her on edge and fried her equipment. "Anyway, he knows now. It's fine. You don't have to worry."
"You pay me to worry."
That wasn't strictly true. Griff was co-owner of a multi-city private detective firm. He ran Chase Investigations in Washington, DC, where Reese and Brian had lived before the plane crash. Reese had hired him to help her track down clues about Brian's secret partner. But they'd become friends. He'd helped her through physical therapy, been a sounding board while she dealt with the reality of Brian's condition, and was the only person on earth who knew what that lightning strike had done to her body.
"I'm paying you to do research," she reminded him. "Youchoose to worry."
He grinned and shook back his shaggy dark-blond hair. "You make it hard not to."
Another group came in, and he retreated to a table with his breakfast. Reese saw Kimmie eyeing him, and the young woman flushed at his greeting. Reese couldn't blame her. He had the classic "hunk" build, with a broad chest, narrow waist, and shoulders shown off by a tight gray T-shirt. His gray-blue eyes were nothing special at first glance, but they sparkled at everyone and made his charming smile even brighter. No doubt that smile was what pinned Kimmie in place now, wearing a slightly stunned expression.
Reese wasn't immune, but her friendship with Griff had become one of the most important things in her life. It was something she'd never had before, and she was going to treasure it as long as it lasted.
He did paperwork while he ate his croissant and drank his coffee, and when she was once again free of customers he returned his plate to the counter, keys in hand.
She tried to hide her disappointment. "Short stay, huh?"
"I have to be back in DC tonight. Just wanted to stop and say hi." He glanced over his shoulder, but Kimmie and the kids had left and everyone else had been to-go, so the bakery was empty. "What's on your agenda?"
The mayor had mentioned this morning that the Snakewells were on vacation. They lived in one of the houses in The Charms, the exclusive neighborhood that was the target of her investigation, but Reese knew how Griff felt about her investigative techniques. His disapproval was hard enough to deal with over the phone. She didn't want to face it in person, so she said, "Nothing at the moment. I'll let you know if I come across anything."
He didn't look convinced, but after gazing out the window for a few long seconds, he changed the subject. "You sure Laine's cool?"
"Of course. I've handled stuff like that before." She was used to putting men off, especially in the last year. She'd never had to play up her statuesque body or color her naturally blond hair to invite interest, and Brian had called her blue eyes "beguiling." He was no longer around to fend off the occasional guy who hit on her, but the fact of his existence was usually enough to do the job, as it had been with Andrew.
"And that?" Now Griff indicated the burned-out switch on the coffee maker.
She sighed, less confident. She had to find a way to stop that from happening. Hard work had given her some measure of control over the electricity her body seemed to attract, but even a little fluster blew it all to hell. "I'll call an electrician." A new one, because the last one she'd called had installed heavy-duty surge protectors on all her equipment. Since her "problem" bypassed the protectors completely, the last thing she wanted was to call attention to the weirdness.
Griff shook his head, his expression sympathetic. "We'll keep working on it. Call me." And then he left her alone.
The bakery did brisk business all day — not that it kept her mind off Griff, Andrew, the Snakewells' empty house, or the reason for all of it — her husband's unresponsive condition. She'd never cured herself of tensing every time the phone rang, expecting it to be the home providing Brian's care, telling her the nightmare had ended. Death had loomed over most of her adult life, but it usually took a more direct approach than this. Her two widowhoods had all been sudden, and though neither scenario was preferable to the other, she could handle sudden better. It had become almost routine, unlike this lingering, hopeless stasis.
Brian's medical insurance had paid for her recovery and given her time to adapt to the "unusual" repercussions of the plane crash that had changed their lives. It contributed to the excellent care to which he was oblivious. But it hadn't given her direction or purpose. So instead of sitting vigil, waiting endlessly, she'd used some of the money from a previous life insurance settlement to invest in the bakery. It was a good cover while she searched for the person who had tried to kill them.
The bakery was more fulfilling than she'd anticipated. No one would imagine that a young, grieving widow who baked the best muffins in town was hatching a nefarious plot in her backroom. The residents of tiny Crestview had welcomed her into their hometown lovefest. She felt part of every family who ate in her place, and it kept her life from being two-dimensional. It gave her hope for a future she wasn't sure she could see beyond her vengeance quest.
Small hope, since her secrets kept her from truly becoming part of the community. It wasn't just because she was searching their homes when they weren't there. If they knew she'd become a kind of bizarre magnet for electricity, they'd consider her a freak. Sure, some of them might think it was cool that on a good day, she could draw power into her body and channel it back out. Others would be frightened, and they should be. Static and latent energy went haywire all around her whenever her emotions did. So far she hadn't hurt anyone, but the risk was there. A risk most wouldn't entertain, which made her friendship with Griff even more special. Because he knew, and didn't judge.
Her gift, or curse, or power, or whatever anyone wanted to call it, hadn't been apparent right away. Reese blamed the drugs they'd had her on during her initial recovery. Broken bones, lacerations, and bruised organs healed while she lay sedated, working out her plan. Then she'd started rehab and her investigation on the same day. At first, she'd been thrilled to be clear-headed for once. She'd spent some time using her smartphone to research detective agencies and called Griff for an interview. He'd visited her on her second day of physical therapy. While he looked on, waiting to talk, her frustration with atrophied muscles and overly perky therapy assistants resulted in a blown-out computer monitor. A few more incidents like that, and Reese realized the prickling she felt throughout her body, the rising hair and low buzz, weren't emotional or symptoms of nerve impingement. However it had happened, the lightning had somehow turned her into a conductor, but instead of scuffing her feet across a rug and touching something to create a spark, she attracted electricity without doing anything at all.
Thank God for Griff. She never would have told anyone. She'd been on the verge of running far, far away but was still too physically weak. Plus, the authorities'd had an eye on her during their investigation of the crash, since she wasn't supposed to be on the flight and they could find no proof that Brian had a partner. Running would have amped up their suspicion, and Griff convinced her that she could get control of the electricity thing. That it was just another part of her rehabilitation. And one day, she could turn it into an asset.
He'd been with her every step of the way since.
At the end of the day, she waved good-bye to the last customer and locked the door, cleaning up and preparing the deposit as quickly as possible. She probably wouldn't find anything at the Snakewells' and even considered letting this one go. Hugh seemed to be a typical working father. His wife was president of the PTA, and his two younger kids came in for ice cream on soccer Saturdays. Still, that was all surface, and Reese knew how much could lie underneath. Hugh traveled a lot, and there was an older son she had never met. Either one could be the man she was searching for.
Despite feeling guilty for spying on people she liked, being treated like a friend wouldn't stop her. Her target had no conscience, so she couldn't allow herself to have one, either. If she couldn't eradicate the guilt, she'd ignore it.
The evening light had started to fade when she left the shop. Only a few tardy birds whistled and chirped in the oaks lining Sycamore Street during the two-block walk to the bank. Dinnertime in Crestview emptied the streets, except for three blocks over, where the hotel restaurant would still be hopping. Reese appreciated the quiet every night.
After dropping the deposit in the bank bin, she walked to her new house around the corner. She'd been pleased to find the little bungalow so close to downtown. It made things much more efficient.
She frowned as she approached the brown-painted structure that crouched in the shaggy lawn. One of these evenings she'd have to skip breaking and entering to mow ... before the neighbor-with-a-superiority-complex started sending her anonymous notes again.
But not tonight. She went inside and took a few minutes to change into a black catsuit and hoodie, covering most of her light blond hair with a black band that also went over her ears. She shoved her feet into black sneakers, tucked her keys into her black fanny pack, and went out the back door to start jogging toward the outskirts of town.
Excerpted from A Kiss of Revenge by Natalie J. Damschroder, Nina Bruhns. Copyright © 2013 Natalie J. Damschroder. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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