Escape To Romance Reviews
Slow Handsby Lauren Bach
THE GIRL HE LEFT BEHIND...
Alec Dempsey swore he'd never go back to Freedom, Arkansas. But that was before the ATF special agent learned that Keira Morgan was being targeted by a vengeful ex-con. Seeing her again brings back memories that have haunted him for ten years...memories of first love, first kisses and Keira in his arms. He walked away from her once when… See more details below
THE GIRL HE LEFT BEHIND...
Alec Dempsey swore he'd never go back to Freedom, Arkansas. But that was before the ATF special agent learned that Keira Morgan was being targeted by a vengeful ex-con. Seeing her again brings back memories that have haunted him for ten years...memories of first love, first kisses and Keira in his arms. He walked away from her once when he was a small-town kid with nothing to offer. Now he desperately wants her again. But can he get her to trust him? And can he keep her alive?
THE MAN SHE CAN'T FORGIVE
Danger just strode into town with the same reckless sensuality and killer charm that made Keira fall in love with Alec years ago. When he had left her without a backward glance, she had sworn she'd never let him hurt her again. Now Freedom's prodigal son is back, vowing to shield her from danger. But who's going to protect her from the only man who had ever touched her - body and soul?
Escape To Romance Reviews
Romantic Times Columnis
Romance At Its Best
- Grand Central Publishing
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 4.14(w) x 6.76(h) x 0.95(d)
Read an Excerpt
By Lauren Bach
Warner BooksCopyright © 2002 Kathleen G. Holzapfel
All right reserved.
Chapter OneKeira Morgan ignored the posted speed limit, her gaze flicking between the clear road and the speedometer. Sixty in a forty-mile zone and still running late. She punched it. Sheriff Cowart's men knew her truck. They wouldn't stop her unless she exceeded eighty.
It was the middle of June, and the Ozarks baked in an early-summer heat wave. The surface of the asphalt roadbed melted beneath the sun. Even the trees looked wilted.
She eased off the gas as she crossed the railroad tracks near the new Chevy dealership they were building, yet another sign of Freedom's growth.
And another reminder of things gone awry. Like the fact the Barry brothers undercut her bid for that job. Jerks. And the fact her truck's air conditioner had picked a ninety-six-degree day to conk out. Damn thing.
All she needed was a flat tire or two, and the day would be perfect.
"Just perfect," she grumbled.
Sweat trickled down her neck. She thought longingly of her apartment. It had been a grueling week, and the only thing she wanted was to go home. The AC there would put frost on these windows. And the long-neck bottles of beer in her 'fridge would be exactly two degrees above freezing.
Unfortunately, she had an appointment at Franny's Style Salon.
She glanced at the dashboard clock. Luckily, Franny was her best friend. She was also the only reason Keira broke her neck to get back from Hot Springs.
Tonight was the big kickoff dance for their ten-year high school reunion. Personally, Keira wanted to skip the entire weekend. A trip down Memory Lane to her senior year held as much appeal as elective brain surgery.
Especially now. It had been a week of rotten news followed by even worse news.
On Monday, she'd received a call from the FBI, informing her that Ian Griggs, the man who'd put her in a hospital five years ago, had had his sentence for armed robbery commuted-for good behavior!-and was expected to make parole in a few weeks.
His postparole destination: A halfway house in Freedom.
With that little bombshell, she'd learned the real reason the FBI was calling. They wanted to plant an undercover agent in Freedom, to keep tabs on Griggs. The agent's sympathetic noises and reassurances fell on deaf ears. Keira was livid. She had been told-promised-Ian Griggs would serve his full sentence of life in prison without chance of parole. Now some stupid judge commuted his sentence? Just like that?
"Can't you stop it?" she had asked. "Or can I protest it?"
"We understand your concern. But it's not that simple." The agent launched into a laundry list of excuses. Prison overcrowding. Rehabilitation.
The pieces fell into place as soon as Keira remembered that the money from the robbery had never been recovered. The FBI was after the two million. Their regard for Keira was window dressing.
She'd told Agent Phelps exactly what he could do with his little request. Wanting to scream, she'd hung up and tried to digest the news. It felt like she'd been kicked. Betrayed.
After the shock wore off, Keira started formulating her own plan. While the news of Griggs's pending release still infuriated her, she was determined not to let it frighten her.
Agent Phelps said they expected Griggs to retrieve his money and run. Maybe within days of being released. Well, forewarned was forearmed. If Griggs came near her, she would use whatever means necessary to protect herself.
Then two days ago a different agent called. Miles Ostman.
He'd explained new information had been received indicating Griggs plotted revenge against her grandfather for the part Keira had unwittingly played in his arrest. An eye for an eye. A family member for a family member.
Ian Griggs blamed her for the deaths of his brothers. If Griggs had wanted to go for her weakest spot, he'd found it. Willis was the only family Keira had.
Her first instinct was to ship Willis off, get him out of town. Except her grandfather would never leave Freedom. Willis had never set foot outside of Arkansas and was proud of it.
And while news of Griggs's release would be made public after his parole hearing, she didn't dare tell her grandfather the truth about Griggs's threat of revenge. Willis was old school and stubborn as bedrock. He'd force a showdown.
Mano a mano.
Even though she'd place even money on her grandfather, it was a lose-lose situation. If Willis harmed Griggs, he'd go to jail. Worse was the thought on the other hand.
As much as she hated to, Keira had been forced to reconsider the FBI's request-to protect her grandfather. Which might actually mean shielding Ian Griggs, the bastard. Once Willis learned Griggs was returning to Freedom, he might pick a fight anyway, to balance the scales. She had swallowed her pride and relented. And nearly choked when she learned who they wanted to send in. Alec Dempsey.
Satan himself would have been more welcome. Or so she told Miles Ostman.
If Ostman knew what Alec had done to her, he didn't let on. Instead the agent rambled on about how Alec was a rational choice. He'd been born and raised in Freedom. He knew the area-or had once upon a time. "It would be easy to concoct a plausible story to explain Alec's return," Ostman said. "Has anyone in town even heard from him since he left?"
"No," Keira admitted. Last she'd heard, he'd joined the army. That was ten years ago. It was strange to think he was with the FBI now.
"Then anything we choose to say about his homecoming can't be disproved," Ostman said. As much as she didn't want to see Alec again, she had to admit, grudgingly, that Agent Ostman had a point.
Once Griggs returned, the town would be inundated with press and treasure hunters. Just like before. Freedom would close ranks, and all strangers, newcomers, would be looked at with suspicion. As a native son, Alec had a better chance at blending in.
And if Alec kept Griggs under surveillance, then Gramps would be safe.
Feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place, Keira agreed.
Ostman said Alec would contact her a few days before Griggs showed up to discuss the particulars of his cover. Which gave her at least two weeks to get used to the idea. She sighed, already wishing she had more time. She hadn't thought of Alec Dempsey in years. Well, maybe with all the talk of the high school reunion, he'd skittered in and out of her thoughts lately-like a cockroach avoiding light.
Keira had just turned twenty-eight, which meant Alec would turn thirty soon. He'd graduated two years ahead of her, so there hadn't been any danger of his being invited to the reunion. It was just the recollection of her senior year ...
Her truck bounced as she hit a deep pothole, jolting her. Slowing, she forced her mind back to driving. There'd be time to think about Alec and Griggs later.
Within minutes, she pulled onto Main Street. Grand old Victorian houses graced this end of Main. A few years ago, her friend Franny had bought one at auction, turning the ground floor into a glitzy, full-service salon, while converting the second floor into living quarters. After Franny's success, others followed suit and helped breathe new life into the historic downtown district.
These days, Freedom was known as a chic, antique Mecca. One of the South's hidden jewels, to quote the guidebooks. Many of the people returning for the reunion would be shocked by the town's metamorphosis. Freedom had changed.
Keira slid into the single empty parking spot on the street. One of the salon's doors opened, and a blond head popped out. Franny.
From this far away, Keira couldn't hear her words, but judging by the way she waved her arms, she wasn't happy that Keira was running late.
Slamming the truck into PARK, Keira jumped out of the cab and headed up the sidewalk.
A man and a woman stood in the middle of the concrete walkway, blocking it. The woman made eye contact with Keira and sneered, dismissing her.
Great. Just who Keira wanted to see. Her nemesis, Scarlet Chambeau, class bitch and cochair of the reunion. Scarlet was yammering excitedly about tonight's dance. It was obvious by her perfectly coifed brown pageboy that she had just left Franny's.
Keira raced by, eyes averted. Ignoring Scarlet wasn't a problem and the man had his back to her. Keira spared a glance for his denim-clad rear. Nice ass, but not one she recognized. Probably someone in town for the reunion. As she sidestepped the pair, a hand reached out and grabbed her upper arm, wheeling her back around in a tight semicircle. "Hello, babe."
Keira's pulse skittered. "Alec?" Time ground to a painful halt as she stared at the long, strong fingers. She looked up, past his broad shoulders, her breath catching as he peeled off a pair of Serengeti sunglasses.
The past decade had only improved his tall, dark perfection. His coal black hair, inherited from his Italian mother, was a little longer now, brushing his collar, but still thick and straight, without the first hint of gray.
His black-brown eyes glittered in some secret amusement as his mouth played into a raw, sexy smile, exposing a single killer dimple.
Her heart swelled, then constricted with an intimate memory of that mouth. Of being loved. Of being left. What the hell is he doing here now?
Rattled, she tried to play dumb. "Ahhh, Darry, Darwin? I'm sorry, I forgot your last name." The smile grew and included a wink. "Dempsey. You remember."
"Vaguely." It gave her hives to remember. She'd dreamed of sharing that name. And more ... Long-buried hurt scratched at her lungs. What in the world had made her agree to the FBI's request? Had she honestly believed she could do this and feel nothing?
She blinked. "Well, it was nice seeing you again. You, too, Scarlet."
She yanked her arm, to break his hold, felt it yanked in return, only harder. The move caught her off guard, pitching her almost flat against his chest. His little show of strength pissed her off. The hurt disappeared, reminding her she had been the injured party. Technically, this man had no right to breathe the same air she did. How dare he touch her? She met his gaze, willing him to back down. His eyes held, the challenge plain. Make me.
"In a hurry?" he taunted. For a moment, she debated giving him a knee in the groin. Lord, he deserved it. Instead, she shot him a dirty look and stepped on his foot, hard, twisting free. "I'm late."
"Better let her go. She looks like she'll need extra time as it is." Scarlet wrinkled her nose and gave Keira a toothy, badgerlike smile before placing her hand on Alec's arm and moving closer, shoving Keira off the narrow sidewalk and into the neat flower bed.
Keira's arms windmilled as she tried to avoid crushing the newly planted pansies with her heavy work boots. "Oops." Uncontrite, Scarlet batted her eyes at Alec. "The dance starts at eight, and I won't take no for an answer." Alec reached for Keira's elbow as she struggled for footing in the soft dirt. "Scarlet invited me to the reunion dance tonight. See you there?"
Keira dodged his hand, stepping into the grass. "Maybe. Gotta go."
It was all she could do not to run the remaining distance to the salon.
Franny held open the door, her voice a whisper as she squeezed Keira's hand. "He stopped by earlier. I tried to reach you on your cell phone to warn you. I was hoping he'd be gone before you got here, but ole' Scarlet-the- Harlot sank her claws into him."
Keira trembled, and for a moment she couldn't catch her breath. Her mind reeled. "I wasn't even expecting to hear from him till after next week!"
Franny knew everything that happened in Keira's life, so in spite of the FBI's warning for Keira not to tell anyone, she'd told Franny. Franny had been furious, but promised to take the secret to her grave.
"No one could get a word in once Scarlet opened her mouth." Franny tugged Keira off to one side. "And believe me, I tried."
"Did he say why he's here now?" "Shhh. No, he didn't. We'll talk later." Franny pressed a finger to her lips, then cocked her head toward the salon's main room. "Cissy's here."
Keira glanced around the salon's bright silver-and-pink interior. Two of Franny's employees were still there, but Cissy was the only customer.
"Great," Keira muttered. "Bad luck does travel in threes."
"Well, well. Look what the cat dragged in." Malice permeated the air as Cissy Odum, Scarlet's best friend and cobitch of the reunion, spotted Keira. Cissy's eyes glittered as she lifted the dryer hood. "You just missed the love reunion of the century."
"Love reunion?" Keira repeated.
Cissy sashayed over to one of the styling cubicles, where she started taking out her own rollers. "Why, Alec Dempsey and Scarlet! Guess he heard she and Jake are divorcing and knew the ten-year reunion would be a great place for him to pick up with Scarlet."
"Pick up?" Keira felt heat rising in her cheeks. Was that the cover he planned to use? Chasing Scarlet?
"Why else would he come back?" Cissy asked. "Scarlet was one of the few people willing to overlook his past." By his past, Cissy could mean several things. In high school, Alec had a bad reputation for a short temper. He smoked, he drank, he cussed. He fought, usually in defense of his illegitimate lineage. Guys avoided him, girls swooned-much to their parents' chagrin. "Some people were never bothered by his past to begin with," Keira shot back.
Cissy shrugged. "Personally, I always suspected he had a secret thing for Scarlet." Franny turned on Cissy. "Alec never had a thing for anyone but Keira."
Cissy plunked down in the stylist chair, clearly enjoying herself. "Right. Look at her."
Keira looked down at her clothes. She was wearing canvas overalls that looked as if they hadn't been washed in a week. Her T-shirt was soaked with perspiration and smeared with dirt.
She caught her reflection in the mirror behind Cissy. Frizzy tufts of bangs stuck out from her grubby baseball cap, her red hair streaked white with plaster dust. But the worst was the thick black smear of grease across her cheek.
Keira caught Franny's gaze in the mirror and groaned. "Have I ever looked more terrible in my life?" "Yes," Franny defended.
"No," Cissy attacked simultaneously. Then she stood and started singing. "Here she comes, Miss America."
That was the final straw. Keira opened her mouth, then closed it. She wanted to lambaste Cissy, but couldn't. A week's worth of frustration simmered just below the surface. Hot, angry tears prickled at her eyelids. Dammit! She hadn't cried over anything in ages. And the last thing she wanted Cissy to think was that she was crying over Alec.
Franny sailed over to Cissy's side. "Too bad you have to leave. We just closed."
Excerpted from Slow Hands by Lauren Bach Copyright ©2002 by Kathleen G. Holzapfel. 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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