Kimberly Van Meter started her writing career at the age of 16 when she finished her first novel, typing late nights and early mornings, on her mother’s old portable typewriter. She received The Call in March 2006 with Harlequin Superromance and hasn't looked back since. She currently writes for Harlequin Superromance and Harlequin Romantic Suspense.Kimberly, her husband and their three children make their home in the Central Valley of California.
Sworn to Protectby Kimberly Van Meter
Iris Beaudoin has always been a pain in Sundance Jonson's side. But recently, she's become a sweet ache in his heart. He only wishes he realized his feelings sooner. Before she was attacked and left for dead. Before she became a victim, a survivor.As the lone tribal police officer, Sundance knows it's his job to protect his people. But with Iris, it'… See more details below
Iris Beaudoin has always been a pain in Sundance Jonson's side. But recently, she's become a sweet ache in his heart. He only wishes he realized his feelings sooner. Before she was attacked and left for dead. Before she became a victim, a survivor.As the lone tribal police officer, Sundance knows it's his job to protect his people. But with Iris, it's personal. When Iris is threatened again, the hunter becomes the hunted. Sundance can't let a monster destroy Iris. He won't stop until he finds the assailant and arrests him. Or puts him in the ground .
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A parade of pain marched across Iris Beaudoin's body as she slowly opened her eyes and squinted against the harsh white light. Her best friend, Dr. Mya Jonson, was staring down at her, an expression of fear and worry warring with her need to fix what had been broken.
"Wh-ere am I?" she managed to croak. Her clothes were gone and she was wearing a hospital gown, which meant she was at the urgent care facility, Healthy Living, where she worked with Mya. "M-Mya? What happened?"
"I don't know, honey, but you were found alongside the road before the Pititchu Bridge. You've been beaten pretty bad," Mya answered, gingerly clutching Iris's hand. "Do you remember anything?"
Iris swallowed and closed her eyes against the pain radiating from every pore of her body. "Hurts," she whispered. "I can't think ."
"Okay, honey, don't worry. We're going to get you fixed up and then we're going to find out who did this to you."
Iris nodded in a faint movement but even that small action cost her. Mya rubbed her hand and gave it a light squeeze, then said, "I have to do an SAE," she said, her voice breaking.
SAE iris was a nurse and she knew what that meant. Sexual Assault Exam. A tear leaked down her cheek and she nodded again. "Okay," she whispered.
"I'm so sorry, but we have to know," Mya said. "I'll make it quick. I promise."
Iris squeezed her eyes shut and allowed her knees to part even as she fought the shuddering cries that felt trapped in her chest. Someone had assaulted her, that much was apparent, but her brain was fuzzy in the details.
She remembered being at the bar dancing . karaoke.and then nothing.
Iris winced as Mya swabbed her insides, quickly, efficiently, yet still Iris wanted to scream at the violation.
Finished, Mya packaged the wet mount for DNA testing and then made quick work of the pelvic exam. Iris was thankful for her friend's sensitivity but she was nearing hysteria. The blank spots in her memory were frightening her as much as the realization that someone had done this to her.
"We had to take your clothes for evidence," Mya said in apology. "But I don't think you're going to want them back anyway, honey, because they're pretty messed up."
"S'ok," she mumbled, knowing her clothes were the least of her problems at the moment. She watched her best friend fight for composure and waited for Mya to tell her. But she was stalling, bringing a blanket to lay it over her, fussing over her comfort when nothing would've made a difference.
She met her friend's brokenhearted eyes. "The SAE it showed I was raped." It was a statement, not a question, and the realization sank into her slowly awakening consciousness like a brick to the bottom of a lake. She'd been raped.
Mya drew a halting breath as she jerked a nod. "There were serious abrasions consistent with forcible ." She swallowed and a tear escaped Mya's control. She wiped it away quickly but another followed. "Oh, Iris."
Iris lifted her chin but it trembled. What was there to say? Both turned at the discreet knock at the door. Sundance Jonson, Mya's brother and the tribal police officer, walked in, presumably to take her statement. She turned her head, groaning. Not Sundance. She couldn't let him see her this way. "Not you," she said, wanting to curl on her side but the pain prevented it. "Someone else."
"Iris, Sundance is the only officer on the rez, you know that. He's here to help."
"Not him," she whispered, covering her face with her hands. "Go away."
"Iris ." Mya tried again, her tone distressed, but Iris didn't want to hear it. She wanted to get off that bed and run, and if she couldn't run, she wanted to crawl. Iris felt herself folding in, anything to avoid telling Sundance what had happened to her, or rather, what she didn't know had happened.
Iris and Sundance had historynot romanticbut rather childhood history. Iris and Mya were best friends their entire lives, and so she'd known Sundance, as well.
But they'd never been friends. And he'd never seen her as anything more than his little sister's troublesome sidekick. That would've been fine, if she hadn't awoken one morning with a completely different feeling about Sundance than she'd had before. Suddenly, she saw the man, not the overbearing, control freak that she'd always seen before.
She'd gone to the bar in an attempt to get Sundance off her mind. She didn't want to see Sundance as anything other than the annoying big brother of her best friend who lived to antagonize her. The fact that she'd begun to see him as a man had disconcerted her to the point of irrationality.
A sob remained trapped in her throat. How had this happened? Her whole life had been tipped on end and it felt as though everything she held dear had fallen to shatter on the floor. How could she bear to look at herself in the mirror ever again? How could anyone else see anything aside from what had happened to her?
"Iris ." The softness of his voice nearly undid her completely. "Tell me who did this so I can bring them to justice," he urged.
"I don't know who did this," she answered, wiping at the tear slipping down her cheek. "I don't remember."
"Did you check for drugs?" he murmured to Mya.
"Yes, we'll do a tox screen with the blood and urine samples but they won't be ready right away," Mya answered. "We'll screen for every known date rape drug. Ketamine, GHB, Rohypnol if there's anything in her system we'll find it."
Iris closed her eyes, wishing she could block out their voices as they discussed her case. She knew both Mya and Sundance were doing their jobs but she couldn't handle the routine just yet. "Please go away," she whispered, meaning both of them. She turned to meet Mya's questioning gaze. "I just want to be alone for a minute."
Mya nodded but the worry remained stationed in her eyes. "Okay, honey. Just a few minutes, though. I need to scrape underneath your fingernails still."
"Right," Iris managed, but her vision blurred as more tears followed. Then Mya hustled Sundance from the room to give her the privacy she'd asked for.
Her body ached and throbbed while her numbed brain wrestled with one question: Why?
Sundance struggled to remain impartial, to stay cool but inside a white-hot poker of rage punctured his good intentions. "Is she going to be all right?" he asked, his jaw grinding on the words.
"I think so," Mya answered, wrapping her arms around herself. "What kind of monster does this?" she demanded in a harsh whisper so that her voice didn't carry to Iris in the trauma room. "There's not a piece of skin that doesn't carry some kind of mark. It's a miracle she's alive, and honestly, I think that's what this devil had in mind. When I think of how close she came to ." Mya shuddered. "I just get sick to my stomach."
Sundance understood his sister's anguish. Seeing Irisa woman he'd known his entire life and had most often found irritating, infuriating and intrusiveall tore up caused something inside him to roar like a wounded bear, swiping and snarling at anyone with the misfortune to get too close. And the reaction shocked him.
"I'm going to have to question her," he said, still processing his own reaction to the situation, trying to put it into perspective. Of course, he was bothered. It was his job to safeguard the tribe, to be the one to protect the people. To think there was someone on the reservation who could do this to one of their own . Sundance didn't want to believe it. An outsider had to have done this. And he was going to find whoever it was and show him a little justiceAmerican-Indian style.
Mya hesitated, something plainly causing her to temper her tongue, and he furrowed his brow at her expression. "What's wrong?"
"It's just that you and Iris you haven't always had the best track record with each other. I don't know that she'll open up to you. Maybe I could ask the questions for you."
"No, I have to ask them. I'm sorry but that's procedure." He understood Mya's motivation and he didn't fault her for it. His sister had a loving and protective heart, just one of the many reasons he thought the world of her. But he had a job to do. He met Mya's eyes and gave her the most heartfelt assurance he could offer as he promised to be gentle. "I know we've had our differences, but I won't let that get in the way of doing anything and everything I can to find whoever did this. I promise."
Mya searched his gaze and found truth. She exhaled and nodded. "I know you'll do your best for Iris. I trust in you, my brother."
Sundance gave his sister a reassuring squeeze on her shoulder and then returned to the room where Iris remained curled in as close to a fetal position as her injuries would allow.
Again that swell of rage welled inside him and he had to force it down. "Iris."
"Sundance, please, just go away," she pleaded with him, eliciting a wince on his part for Iris had never, in her life, pleaded with anyone. She barreled, she cajoled, she went so far as to manipulate but she never begged. But she was doing it now, with him, and it nearly broke the grip he had on the gates holding everything in check.
"You know I can't do that. I can't catch who did this unless you help me."
When she realized he wasn't going anywhere she played with the swollen tissue on her bottom lip and stared at the floor. When she finally answered, it was without any emotion. "I don't know anything. I told you, I can't remember."
"Okay, let's start from what you do remember," he suggested softly, but she only squeezed her eyes shut and sealed her lips. "C'mon, let's start from the beginning of the night. You remember that, right?"
"Yes," she answered, an edge returning to her voice. "But what does that matter? Remembering what I wore and what song I sang for karaoke isn't going to tell me who managed to drag me from a bar full of people to some secluded place where the guy raped and beat me. So just go away, Sundance. I don't want to talk about this anymore."
That last part came out as a choked whisper and his hands tightened around his pen as she plainly locked him out for reasons he couldn't really fathom.
"Forget our troubles from the past, Iris. All I want to do is help you. We can do this together." He tried again, coming at her from a different angle, but she wouldn't have any of it. Her silence was answer enough.
He swallowed a frustrated breath, not wanting to push, but needing to anyway. He felt rather than saw Mya hovering at the doorway and turned to find her standing there. "I'll come back tomorrow, Iris," he told her, giving her fair warning. As he passed Mya in the doorway, he murmured, "Try talking some sense into her, please. Maybe she'll listen to you."
Mya nodded but her expression was bleak. "I'll do what I can she's so hurt, Sonny. I've never seen her so"
"I know," he acknowledged grimly. "Me neither." Iris may not want his help but she was going to get it anyway.
Someone was going down for what they'd done. That was a promise.
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