Craig (Divorced, Desperate and Delicious) fills her new romantic thriller with a playful tone and quick banter. Law student and pizza delivery girl Macy Tucker becomes the special project of detective Jake Baldwin after her sweet but unreliable brother, Billy, escapes from jail on the heels of suspected killer David Tanks. Jake starts out focused on recapturing Tanks, his nemesis, but soon begins to feel very protective towards Macy. Unpleasant experiences with her dying grandfather, abusive father and cheating ex-husband have left her with little trust, so Macy has sworn off men, but Jake is persistent and attractive, and their families quickly begin encouraging the match. Supporting characters like Macy's sexy, yoga teaching grandmother are engaging and funny without being caricatures, and the mystery and romance plots fit seamlessly into a witty and fast-paced novel that's easy to read and satisfying to the heart. (June)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
After a lifetime of undependable men, her brother's prison break brings Mr. Right into Macy's life-a Houston detective who won't let her be the one who got away.
- Dorchester Publishing Company, Inc.
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.30(d)
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By Christie Craig
Dorchester PublishingCopyright © 2009 Christie Craig
All right reserved.
Chapter One"You lucky bastard."
Sergeant Jake Baldwin looked up from his desk and found Mark Donaldson, the new detective in the department and his sometime partner, leaning his head inside the office door.
"Why am I lucky?" Jake asked and shouldered back in his chair.
Donaldson's chickenshit grin widened. "She says she needs you, and only you will do." He looked down the hall, then shot off as if someone chased him.
"Hey, who needs ...?" Jake's question tripped over his lips as a blonde, a dead ringer for Marilyn Monroe in her chubbier years, sashayed into his office. She didn't walk. She sashayed.
About a foot from his desk she stopped moving, but her body didn't. Her breasts, squeezed into a low- cut red tank top, continued to bounce. Up. Down. Up. Behind her, two Houston police officers paused, their tongues dangling out like hounds'. Jake's tongue remained in his mouth. He'd never been a Monroe fan.
His visitor leaned over to pull out a chair, and he got a peek at her cleavage-which led him to realize maybe you didn't really have to be a true fan to appreciate a look- alike. He glanced away. Gawking was crude. Besides, he'd stopped letting women know they had the upper hand. They still had it, of course. He was, after all, flesh and blood, but herefrained from giving them the leverage that came with knowing. His ex-fiancée, now sister-in-law, had taught him better.
"What can I do for you?" he asked, but his male mind was already considering options. Then he gave her another once-over. She was twenty, maybe? At thirty-one, Jake refused to date anyone who might still believe in Santa.
Miss Monroe opened her mouth to speak, and Jake waited for her sweet husky voice to flow over him, sound effects to add to the fantasies that no doubt he'd have later on. His fantasies had no problems with a twenty-year-old. And lately, fantasies were all he had.
"My name's Ellie Chandler." Her voice, some would call it cartoonish-a really bad cartoon-came out two octaves above chalk screeching across a blackboard. "You're Jake Baldwin, riiiight?"
Jake jerked, knocking over his coffee mug. God help him. No, God help her, he thought, grabbing the cup and saving his files from the spill. No wonder the Almighty gave her that body. He'd been trying to make up for the voice.
She continued talking, and Jake would have done almost anything to shut her up. Anything but be rude. For the son of a Baptist preacher, rudeness wasn't an option, even for a religious backslider like himself. He finger-locked his hands in front of him and forced his attention on her. Every spoken syllable was like bowel surgery.
"I'm here to report a murder."
He sighed. "Then you need to talk to Homicide. I work Robbery." Please God, let it be that easy.
God wasn't listening.
"I want to talk to you."
"Why me?" he asked both the blonde and the Almighty.
"Because you know what he's like. You're the one who put him away."
"Put who away?"
"David Tanks. My ex-boyfriend."
Jake remembered Tanks. Too many tattoos. A dealer with a mean streak and a drug habit of his own.
"And because I love Billy now, David's threatening to kill him. He's even threatened Billy's sister. He called her one dead bitch."
Jake shook his head to clear her voice from his ears. "Tanks is still doing time, isn't he?"
"Yes." Ellie Chandler nodded vigorously, and her tank top strained to contain the jiggling. Up. Down. Jake had to force his eyes from lowering.
"So, the murder you want to report ... It hasn't happened? No one's dead yet?"
"He cut the man's head off. I'd say that killed him."
Jake stiffened. "Whose head?"
"I don't know."
"Where did this happen?"
"I wasn't there"- her green eyes rolled-"so how would I know?"
Okay. She wasn't making a ton of sense, but he'd give it one more shot. "When did the murder happen?"
"Last year, I think. David got drunk and bragged about it. I want you to pin it on him and then get him moved in with the dangerous prisoners-away from the good ones."
Good prisoners? Unlocking his fingers, Jake pressed his palms on his desk. Suddenly, the pieces of the blonde's story began to fit together. "Where's Billy?"
"In prison with David. But don't murderers get moved away from people who accidentally rob a convenience store?"
"Accidentally robbed a store?" Jake tried to keep the disrespect from his voice.
The blonde started chattering again, and Jake listened. His ear drums throbbed. At last he reached for a yellow notebook and wrote down her contact info. Then he jotted, Tanks-threatened to kill Billy's sister. Glancing right at her, and for the sake of politeness, he said, "Miss Chandler, I'm glad you came in." Sons of Baptist preachers occasionally lied, but only when politeness was on the line.
She blinked, and something close to intelligence flashed in her green eyes. "You're not going to do a thing, are you?"
Okay, he'd try one more time to reason with her. "Honestly, you need to talk to Homicide." He then watched her storm out.
Though the view was nice, his gaze dropped back to his pad. Tanks-threatened to kill Billy's sister. Sadly, if a cop jumped every time one inmate threatened to hurt another's mother or sister, the whole damn force would be too busy playing leapfrog to do its job.
"You're his sister."
"No!" Macy Tucker said, dropping her veggie burger onto her plate. She should have guessed something was up when her mother served a lunch entrée that didn't include butchered livestock. Macy had been a vegetarian since she was sixteen. Twelve years later, her mother still felt it was a passing fad. Of course, her mom, clueless at times, also waited for Macy's dad to walk back in and yell, "I'm home. Get me a beer, would ya?" Never mind he'd been gone for fourteen years; she kept waiting. Not that Macy would want him back.
"Siblings are supposed to-"
"It's not happening, Mom."
Macy's chest clutched when her mother's blue eyes filled with tears. Not that Faye Moore's crying would surprise anyone. In the last three years, she had taken her part-time job of hysterics and made it a full-fledged career. Hundreds of trees had fallen to make the facial tissues to dry her eyes. The doctor said it was menopause. Macy decided it was men. Macy sympathized, because she'd almost succumbed to the malady herself.
"He said he needed to see you."
"I'm not his fix-it fairy anymore." But Macy's chest ached watching her mom dry her tears. Crying could be contagious.
"You've always been there for him." Her mom snatched another Kleenex from a box on the counter and went to work with it.
"Maybe that's where I went wrong. If he'd faced the consequences-"
"It's been months since you've seen him." The used tissues got pocketed.
"I've been busy. Between work, school, and getting a divorce, my plate's been a bit full." And the thought of seeing her baby brother behind bars was horrifying.
"Just because you're ..." Sniffle.
Her mom glanced at the Kleenex box again. Macy glanced at the door. Two tissues were her limit. Any more heartfelt sobs and she'd need her own box of tear catchers.
Faye continued, "Just because you're mad at your husband, you can't take it out on your brother."
"He's my ex-husband, and I'm not mad at him." What Macy felt went far beyond anger.
"Your brother thinks you're embarrassed by him," her mom suggested.
"Well, when Father Luis asked what Billy was doing, and I said, 'Three to five in the pen,' I wasn't exactly beaming with pride."
"Oh, Mace. You can't be this way."
"What way?" The self- control Macy maintained around her mother was starting to slip. She was tired of sugarcoating everything. It didn't help. She had tried all sorts of ploys to curb her mother's tears, biting her sharp tongue among them, but all had failed. And lately, Macy was tired of failure.
Her mom sighed. "He loves you."
He should have thought about that before he borrowed my car to hold up a Stop & Go. And wrecking it didn't help, either. "I love him, but I can't fix this."
"He said he was sorry." Emotion filled her mom's face.
Anger at Billy's selfish actions and their consequences shot through Macy like blue fire. She embraced it, because anger felt better than helplessness. But as her mom reached for a third tissue, Macy reached for her purse. No third tissue! "Gotta go. Thanks for lunch." And with a quick kiss to a damp cheek, Macy fled her grandmother's kitchen.
Her mother's words chased her across the living room. "Mace! You weren't raised to turn your back on the people you love."
Macy kept walking. "It's called tough love, Mom." The front door was Macy's target, and not crying her immediate goal. Not turning into her mother? That was a lifelong challenge.
"All love is tough," her mom snapped. Then: "Men."
"Yup. We should all become lesbians," Macy countered. And she never looked back as she hit the screen door with her open palm.
Tears did spring to her eyes, however. You weren't raised to turn your back on the people you love. The lump in her throat grew as she headed for her car. Macy hadn't been raised that way, but it sure seemed all the men in her life had. First her father-no, first was Grandpa, then dear ol' Dad. Next her husband, now Billy. Of all the stupid, idiotic things to do, the brother she loved more than good chocolate, the brother she'd sworn to protect, had gotten himself a prison sentence. How could Macy take care of him now? She couldn't, and she was tired of trying.
No, trying wasn't the issue. But trying and failing was breaking her heart. And she'd obviously failed Billy, failed to teach him right from wrong.
She'd almost made it to her green Saturn when she heard the distinct clearing of a throat. Blinking the watery weakness from her eyes, Macy turned to face the music.
The music was dressed in purple biking shorts and an orange T-shirt that read BITE ME. It was Macy's grandma, who flipped the bird at the world's view of a senior citizen. No rocking chairs, no matronly house dresses or quiet home life. At sixty-eight, she biked six miles a day, taught yoga and, as Macy had recently discovered, did a few other things, probably in yoga positions.
"Your mom has a point." Nan stood beside her new ten-speed. Macy quirked an eyebrow. "Her having a point is fine. It's when she starts jabbing me with it that I get out of sorts."
"He is your brother. Would it hurt to just see him?"
"Yes. It would hurt me." The thought of seeing Billy behind bars brought back the lump in her throat. Didn't everyone know it was easier to be mad? She couldn't start feeling sorry for him. That would hurt too damn much.
A sympathetic smile deepened the laugh lines in Nan's face. "You'll do the right thing. You always do."
"I'm not going." Macy suddenly remembered the package in her purse. She pulled out the plastic bag and said, "Here. And you can buy these yourself. They aren't illegal."
Nan's smile vanished. "I ... It would be ... embarrassing."
"Embarrassing?" Macy stalked to her car and opened the door. The smell of yesterday's pepperoni wafted from the vehicle-one of the drawbacks of delivering pizza for a living. But going to law school full- time had left her with limited job choices. Never mind that her ex, Tom, was supposed to put her through college, just as she'd spent the first years of their marriage doing for him.
Nan looked at the bag. "You're young. People know you're doing it."
"I haven't done it in two years." Giving up men meant giving up sex.
Nan smiled. "Mr. Jacobs has a nephew...."
"And he's welcome to keep him." With one foot inside her car, Macy swung around and hugged her grandmother. "I love you," she said. And she meant it, too. As much of a nutcase as her sexually active relative was, she'd been the glue of their family since Macy's father walked out. She had cocooned them in her nutty life. It wasn't Nan's fault that the glue hadn't been enough. What did keep families like hers together? Macy wondered. She'd let her marriage fall apart in less than five years. How sad. Heck, even her mother had stayed married to her dad for fourteen.
"I know you love me," Nan said. "Just like you love Billy."
Macy jumped behind the wheel of her Saturn, shut the door, and drove away. "I'm not going," she muttered. "I'm not."
She hated being proved wrong, but the next day Macy sat behind the wheel of her pizza-scented, fender-dented, convenience-store-robbing Saturn, driving toward the prison. Her mom's "you don't turn your back on people" speech and Nan's "you'll do the right thing" lecture had done her in. However, she'd postponed the trip until today because she didn't know the proper attire to wear to a prison. Visions of all the men ogling her, running tin cups along the bars, had been daunting. Not that she was the type who warranted a tin cup. Men preferred bouncy blondes. Macy was brunette, and her size Bs didn't bounce without the help of a bra that pushed up, pulled in, and captured jiggle mass-and she'd burned those bras the day she found her husband in bed with his blonde, bouncy secretary-but prison inmates were desperate.
In the end, she had decided to wear her pizza uniform. How sexy could Papa's Pizza's polyester be? Plus, she had to hurry back to Houston, go to the library to do some research, and then go straight to slinging cheese pies. Then she had to study for exams. There was no time to cry to night about the emotional havoc this visit was sure to bring. No. Not to night. A vision of Billy behind bars popped into her mind. Dread pulled at her stomach.
Spotting the sign proudly announcing the prison, she pulled into the parking lot and mentally scheduled herself a pity party this weekend. But only two tissues. What was good for the mother goose was good for the ... goosette.
Oh Lord, she didn't want to do this.
Do what, exactly? Why had Billy insisted she visit? All night, Macy's fitful tossing had given her mattress springs a workout, and she'd half dreamed, half imagined her brother begging, Macy, you've gotta break me out of jail.
Her chest ached as she got out of her car. She stuffed her long, unruly hair up under her pizza cap and approached the desolate building that was to be her brother's home for the next three years. He'd only gotten three to five, thanks to the fantastic lawyer she'd hired to defend him. That was one credit card that would be maxed for a while.
Like her mom, Macy had wanted to blame Billy's downfall on his bad group of friends, on the fact that he had grown up without a father. But the pain of it all had forced her to pull her head out of that pile of kitty litter. Billy had done this to himself. He'd done it to their mom and to Nan. And, God help Macy for being angry, he'd done it to her, too.
Chin up, she entered the prison. No tin cups or bars. The impression she got was minimalism meets drab: all was linear, sterile. The only warmth in the place came from the old red-brick walls.
A guard snagged her purse and locked it away, another wanded her for weapons, then a serious- faced geezer led her into a gymnasium-type room to wait. After a few minutes of her finger-tapping the metal table, the door opened and inmates rushed through.
Tears sprang to her eyes as her brother approached. She knew it was too much, but Macy didn't see Billy the nineteen-year-old. She saw the five-year-old kid with big blue eyes fringed in black lashes, the kid who'd sneaked into her bedroom at night with his teddy bear because he was afraid of trolls under the bed. He looked scared now. All her anger vanished in a big puff of smoke. And without the anger, the anguish of knowing she'd failed him ripped at her heart.
"Hey, Sis." His voice shook as he lowered himself into the chair across from her. Once settled, he touched her hand, carefully, almost as if he feared she'd pull away.
Didn't he know she loved him with every ounce of her heart? Didn't he know the reason she hadn't come until now was because this was going to kill her, and perhaps the only way to teach him to deal with the messes he created was to leave him on his own? Tough love wasn't easy. Not for the giver or the receiver. She felt a few tears trickle down her cheeks. This visit might take three tissues.
"Hey back at you." The ache in her throat doubled as she turned her palm over and threaded her fingers through his.
"You look good. Mom said you finally got your divorce."
"Yeah. And I sure showed him. I got custody of most of his bills." Swallowing, she fought for control. Billy probably got all the tears he needed from their mom. "How are you?" (Continues...)
Excerpted from Gotcha! by Christie Craig Copyright © 2009 by Christie Craig. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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