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Nothing To Lose
By RaeAnne Thayne
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"A family shattered, innocence destroyed. The tragic death of Cassie Nyland reminds us once more that the monsters we should fear most are those that lurk inside ourselves."
Enthusiastic applause burst through the bookstore just off the University of Utah campus when Wyatt McKinnon closed the pages of his latest book. He offered the audience the smile the writer for Vanity Fair had called "dangerously enigmatic" at the same time he fought the urge to rub at the familiar tension headache pounding holes in his temples and his concentration.
He hated speaking in public. After ten book tours, he probably should be used to it. But no matter how many readings he gave like this one - how many speeches, how many television interviews - he couldn't shake the feeling that it was all a mistake, that eventually everyone would figure out he was just a hick cowboy from Utah who didn't deserve any of the wide acclaim that had found him after the publication of his first book, Shadow of Fear.
Only neurotic-writer blues, he told himself again and straightened his spine to face the crowd of university students suddenly clustering around him. They all looked so young, pathetically eager, and he had the lowering thought that they were all barely in elementary school when he finished college himself a decade earlier.
"That was so wonderful, Mr. McKinnon." A perky brunette with a tight gymnast's body and a brilliant smile that must have set her parents back a small fortune in orthodonture was the first in line. "Your books are all so scary. I can't pick one up unless my roommate is home. They're scary but so gripping, you know?"
"I'm pleased you think so," he responded automatically.
"Oh, I do. Will you sign Blood Feud for me?" She thrust a copy of a book he was currently promoting. "To Brittanee, with two E's."
With a dutiful smile, he signed the book, then spent the next hour doing his best to keep that smile firmly in place while his headache cranked up a couple of dozen notches and the muscles in his hand cramped from all the books he signed.
Finally the crowd dispersed, until only a few people remained. One was Paul Cambridge, an old college friend whose family owned the bookstore. He was talking to one of the salesclerks and held up a finger to let Wyatt know he was almost ready to take him out for the seafood enchiladas at Cafe Pierpont as he had promised.
Wyatt nodded and rose to stretch, then caught sight of a woman he had noticed briefly earlier. She hadn't moved from the back row of chairs. Now that he had a moment to focus on her more closely, he thought she looked vaguely familiar.
He narrowed his gaze. It wasn't until she rose and approached him that all the pieces clicked together.
"Taylor Bradshaw, right?" he said quickly as she came to stand before him.
A flare of some unreadable emotion registered briefly in eyes a deep and lovely blue, but she quickly veiled it. "Yes."
The last time he had seen her was during the sentencing phase of her brother's murder trial eighteen months earlier. When Hunter Bradshaw had been sentenced to death by lethal injection for the murder of his girlfriend, her mother and her unborn fetus, the former Salt Lake City police detective hadn't so much as blinked in reaction.
Bradshaw's sister had been a different story. When Judge Leonis had pronounced the grim sentence, every trace of color had leached from the elegant, fragile features of Taylor Bradshaw and she had collapsed to the floor of the courtroom.
That small scene had been just one more in a string of dramatic developments in the case that had captivated the public's interest. Successful, popular television personality murdered by the father of her unborn baby. It was a fascinating case and Wyatt couldn't wait to finish his research and start writing about it.
He didn't wonder that he hadn't immediately recognized Taylor Bradshaw. Except for some shadows lingering in those huge blue eyes, the woman standing in front of him barely resembled the pale, distressed young woman who had haunted the courtroom every day.
She also didn't look much like the other college students who had attending his reading, in their jeans and T-shirts and slouchy backpacks. Taylor Bradshaw wore tailored slacks and a russet blazer over a crisp white shirt. She carried a leather briefcase and exuded an air of professional competence. Her auburn hair was cut shorter than he remembered it and her face was harder, somehow. Determined.
She looked ... driven. He couldn't come up with another word to describe her. He knew she had been in her last year of medical school during the trial and he wondered now if she had returned to finish up. He sincerely hoped for her sake that she had. Just because her brother was living on borrowed time didn't mean she had to shove her own life into the deep freeze.
"I'm surprised to see you here," he admitted.
Her gaze was as cool as the October night outside the bookstore. "I'm sure you are."
Though both of them had attended the monthlong trial every day, they had spoken only once. It hadn't been a friendly conversation, Wyatt remembered with an internal grimace. During a recess in the trial, he had slipped to the coffee shop across the street from the courthouse and discovered Taylor sitting alone in a quiet corner booth.
He remembered she had some kind of thick medical textbook propped up in front of her, but over the top of it he had just been able to see her eyes. The utter lack of hope in them still haunted him.
That despair had changed to bitter anger when he approached her booth, driven by some insane desire to try to comfort her.
"Looking for a scoop, Mr. McKinnon?" she had asked, her tone biting.
"No. Just a lunch companion. I hate eating alone." But even his friendliest smile didn't thaw the chill in her eyes by a single degree.
She snapped shut her textbook and slid out of the booth. "Too bad. I'm done here."
The full plate of food in front of her gave the lie to her words and made him annoyed at his own foolishness. She didn't want his comfort. What had he expected, that she would be thrilled to have his company?
"Come on, don't run away. You have to eat. I won't bother you, I promise."
"I've suddenly lost my appetite. Something about yellow journalism does that to me."
The denunciation had stung, he had to admit. He took pride in his work, in presenting the blunt truth, no matter how unpalatable it might be. Through his career he had received thanks not only from the families of the victims he wrote about but also the families of their killers for helping them understand what had gone so horribly wrong.
Before he could respond to Taylor Bradshaw's derisive comments, she had stalked out of the diner, and she had studiously avoided him for the remaining days of the trial.
Excerpted from Nothing To Lose by RaeAnne Thayne Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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