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Tool Belt Defender (Harlequin Romantic Suspense Series #1687)

Tool Belt Defender (Harlequin Romantic Suspense Series #1687)

4.0 9
by Carla Cassidy

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"It's party time."

That's the "invitation" shoved under her door. It's got Brittany Grayson fearing for her life…and her sanity. She's sure the monster who once held her captive for months is dead, so why his chilling words in the note? His menacing face in the window? And why won't anyone—even her


"It's party time."

That's the "invitation" shoved under her door. It's got Brittany Grayson fearing for her life…and her sanity. She's sure the monster who once held her captive for months is dead, so why his chilling words in the note? His menacing face in the window? And why won't anyone—even her lawmen brothers—believe that somehow he's after her again?

Brittany just wants a normal, independent life in Black Rock. Romance is out of the question…although she's okay as friends-with-benefits with Alex Crawford, her hunky, marriage-phobic contractor. Alex, a single dad, has his own good reasons not to fall for Brittany. But none of them matter when the race is on to find the killer who's kidnapped her!

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Lawmen of Black Rock Series , #5
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Read an Excerpt

He was a hot hunk in a tight white T-shirt, a pair of worn jeans and a tool belt riding low on his lean hips. He was nothing like what Brittany Grayson had expected.

When she'd called Chad Warren, one of the local carpenters in the small town of Black Rock, Kansas, to see about him building a deck on the back of her house, he'd told her he was already booked for the spring but would send an old college friend of his who had recently moved to town.

Chad was a good old boy, fifty pounds overweight, who believed beer pong should be a nationally recognized sport. It was silly, but she'd just assumed his college buddy would be like him. But the man standing on her front porch didn't look like a peer of Chad's; rather he looked as if he'd stepped off the slick pages of some hot-hunk calendar.

"Brittany?" His voice was deep and pleasant and made her realize she'd been staring at him open-mouthed through the screen door.

"Yes, I'm Brittany and you must be…" Her mind suddenly went blank.

"Alex. Alex Crawford, Chad's friend. You called him about a deck?"

"Yes, I did." She hesitated before opening the screen door to allow him inside. There had been no men except for her brothers inside her home since she'd moved back in a little over a month ago.

As she unlocked the screen, she realized she wasn't quite ready yet to allow a stranger inside, especially a male stranger. Instead she stepped outside where the late April sun was warm and the air smelled of newly bloomed flowers.

"It's nice to meet you, Alex. Let's walk around back and I'll show you what I have in mind," she said. She frowned as she realized there was no car in her driveway. "Did you walk here?" she asked.

His eyes were a warm blue that stood out against his tanned face and were complemented by his slightly shaggy dark hair. "I live three doors up." He pointed up the street to the Walker home that had been on the market for a while.

"How long have you lived there?"

"I moved in about six weeks ago," he replied as they walked around the side of the house toward the back.

That explained why she didn't know the Walkers had moved out and Mr. Hardbody had moved in. Six weeks ago she'd still been living at her brother Benjamin's house trying to heal from the trauma she'd lived through.

As they reached the backyard she motioned toward the small broken brick patio that existed just outside the back door. "What I'd like is a wooden deck big enough to hold a barbecue pit and an umbrella table and maybe some plants and, of course, lots and lots of people."

He nodded and pulled a tape measure from his tool belt. "An outdoor entertainment area," he said.

"Exactly," she replied and watched as he began to walk the site. The last thing Brittany had wanted to think about over the past eight months of her life was men. But looking at Alex Crawford definitely gave her a slight flutter of pure feminine pleasure.

When she'd been held captive by a serial killer for four long months, she'd spent her time thinking about all the things she would do if she escaped, if she managed to live.

She hadn't fantasized about love or having babies. She hadn't thought about men or hot sex. Rather she'd thought about a deck where she could invite all her friends and family to share good times with her. And now she was finally going to see those fantasies come to fruition.

"I'd say what you want is about eighteen by twenty-four," Alex said as the tape measure zipped back into its metal case.

"And I'd like a railing around it with an opening to step down into the yard," she said.

He nodded and smiled. "I can do that."

The man had a smile with the capacity to stop time. A wave of warmth washed over Brittany as she tried to stay focused on the matter at hand. "How long will it take?"

He frowned, the gesture doing nothing to detract from his attractiveness. "It will take maybe a week once we get started. I work weekdays from about eight in the morning until about three-thirty and I have a couple of young men who help out, but I don't work on the weekends."

Probably he took the weekends to spend with his family, she thought. A man who looked like Alex Crawford probably had a wife who looked like a supermodel. "So, you'll call me with a bid?"

"If you give me just a few minutes I'll have a bid for you now." He pulled out a small pad and a pencil.

His dark hair shone richly in the overhead sunlight and Brittany suddenly felt the need to get some distance from him. "Why don't I go get us each a glass of lemonade?" she suggested.

He looked up and smiled again and another rivulet of warmth swept through her. "That sounds great."

She escaped back into the house and went through the living room to the kitchen. For a moment she stood at the window and watched him as he once again walked off the area where the deck would be built.

Surely her response to him was nothing more than a healthy awakening of emotions that had been dormant for far too long. She moved away from the window and poured the lemonade into two tall plastic tumblers.

She would be twenty-six in two months—it was only natural that she might appreciate the sight of a good-looking man. She should be glad that normal feelings were finally beginning to return to her.

For the past several months she'd alternated between numbness and an irrational fear as she'd tried to reintegrate back into the life that had been stolen from her for four agonizing months. Nightmares, panic attacks—she'd had them all and had begun to believe she'd never have a normal moment again. It was nice that this normal moment was a healthy dose of lust.

She walked out the back door and motioned him to one of the four chairs at the old table that was on the broken brick patio. "Thanks," he said as he took the drink from her. "I've got some figures for you." He handed her a piece of paper that had his bid written on it. "If you agree, then I'll write up a contract for you to sign."

The figure was about what she'd expected. "Looks good to me." She leaned back in her chair and offered him a tentative smile. "Chad mentioned that the two of you went to college together."

"We did. I went on to law school and got a job in Chicago and Chad came back here."

"From lawyer to carpenter? Quite a leap," she observed. "What brings you back to Black Rock?"

"My wife's family is from here and after several years of doing the high-powered, high-stress corporate thing, I decided I was ready for a change of pace."

A small laugh escaped Brittany. "The difference in pace between Chicago and Black Rock, Kansas, is like the difference between a pit bull and a stuffed dog." She wasn't surprised that the man was married.

He laughed. "You've got that right, but Black Rock is just what I needed." He tilted his glass up and drained it and then stood. "If you agree with everything I can start work tomorrow, given I can get a lumber delivery."

She got up from her chair and took his empty glass and together they walked around the side of the house to the front.

"Is it your birthday or something?" he asked.

She looked at him in confusion. "No, why?"

He pointed to her mailbox where a bright red balloon was tied and bobbed and danced in the slight warm breeze. Shock ripped through her and the glasses slid from her hands, crashing to the grass at her feet.

It's party time. The nightmarish voice whispered in her brain as memories attacked her. The cell where she'd been kept, the promise of a party when all the cells were filled with helpless women, the final moment when red balloons had danced up to the ceiling of the old shed. It's party time.

"Brittany, are you all right?"

Alex's voice pulled her back from the dark abyss she'd nearly fallen into and she tore her gaze from the balloon and looked into his concerned eyes.

"I'm fine," she replied, aware that her voice was shaky and hoping he didn't notice.

"Are you sure?" He bent down and picked up the glasses.

She nodded, even though she wasn't at all sure that she was fine. Thank God the glasses were plastic and hadn't shattered when she'd dropped them. She took them from him, hoping he didn't notice the trembling of her hands. "Silly me. Just a touch of clumsiness. You'll call me and let me know if you're coming tomorrow?"

"I'll head home now and order the necessary lumber and other supplies. If they can deliver tomorrow then I'll give you a call." He eyed her worriedly, but she forced a cheerful smile to her lips.

"Do you need me to write you a check now for the materials?" she asked.

"That's not necessary." His eyes gleamed with a teasing light. "I know where you live."

"Thanks, Alex. Hopefully I'll see you tomorrow." She turned on wooden legs and headed for the house, an urgent need to get inside and lock the door filling her.

She didn't wait to watch him walk down the sidewalk toward his place; rather she turned on her heels and half ran toward her front door. Once inside she slammed it shut and locked it.

Leaning heavily against the solid wood door she told herself she was overreacting, that maybe there was a child's birthday party someplace on the street or a graduation celebration and somebody had just tied the balloon on her mailbox by accident.

Surely there was a logical reason for the balloon. It had nothing to do with the man who had called himself The Professional. He was dead. She'd seen his body after he'd been killed. He was no longer capable of having a "party" complete with red balloons and death.

Still, the legacy he'd left behind sickened her and even though she knew it was totally irrational, that balloon tied to her mailbox made her fear in her heart that somehow The Professional wasn't done with her yet.

Meet the Author

Carla Cassidy is an award-winning author who has written more than fifty novels for Harlequin Books. In 1995, she won Best Silhouette Romance from RT Book Reviews for Anything for Danny. In 1998, she also won a Career Achievement Award for Best Innovative Series from RT Book Reviews. Carla believes the only thing better than curling up with a good book to read is sitting down at the computer with a good story to write.

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Tool Belt Defender 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
## I loved reading this book. I read jacob's story first in which the heroine of this book was rescued. So it flowed nicely because i knew the background. The hero was hunky and his 6 year old daughter was adorable.
GHott More than 1 year ago
Still recovering from a recent kidnapping Brittany Grayson realizes that she’s in no shape to commit to a relationship – much-less one with a child involved – when her stomach starts jumping at the site of her new contractor. The only thing she’s committed to in months is hiring Alex Crawford to build her a deck, she hasn’t even gone back to work, so there’s no way she can handle more. Alex is not planning to spend the rest of his life taking care of another helpless woman. He needs someone who isn’t perpetually afraid. He thought that Brittany might be the one – until she freaked at the sight of a balloon. Really?!? Hott Review Suspense. ‘Tool Belt Defender’ is more fun than suspenseful. It’s got the elements but I didn’t feel pulled in by that aspect of the story. I enjoyed the book overall but it’s not one I’ll seek again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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SmittenWithReading More than 1 year ago
My Review: I don't know what I expected from this book, but it was a definitely a surprise to me. I have never read any of the books from the Harlequin Suspense line and I was surprised at how really very good, gritty, and suspenseful this one was. I also didn't realize that this was #5 in the series, although after I started reading, it occurred to me that there were probably stories for all of Brittany's brothers since they are all newlyweds in this book. Regardless, this is easily a stand-alone book. I didn't miss any of the details because I haven't read the other books, but I have a feeling that they would be equally good since several of them probably take place during the time of Brittany's original abduction. It's been eight months since Brittany was originally kidnapped and held captive for 4 months by a serial killer. She is finally trying to get on with her life and the first thing on the agenda is to build a deck onto the back of her house where she can celebrate life with her friends and family. She hires her new neighbor Alex to do the job. Alex has only lived in Black Rock for 6 weeks. He's a widower and a lawyer with a 6 yo child. After his wife died, he knew that he couldn't keep up his lawyer's hours in Chicago and still be the kind of parent that Emily needs so he moves to Black Rock where his mother in law lives. There is immediate chemistry between Alex and Brittany, but neither wants anything to do with a real relationship. Alex has tried marriage once and it was a less than stellar event. Brittany is mentally scarred and honestly doesn't feel that she will ever be able to offer enough of herself to a family. Regardless of this, these two become close. I felt like the suspense in this was really pretty good. Like I said, it was much more than I expected from a Harlequin series line. The original event was horrific and chilling and when someone starts to copy those events in Brittany's life, it is equally terrifying. I like that Alex and Emily live only three doors down from Brittany. That offered some great opportunities to develop the story that were really believable. I especially loved the sweet moments when Emily ran away. Her character in the story added such an endearing element to it. I also really liked the influence of Rose, Alex's mother-in-law, on the story. She offered some great insight that I really loved. Overall, this was a great afternoon's read. It kept me entertained. I am a huge fan of romantic suspense and this one definitely did not let me down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Once a lawyer, now a contractor, Alex has a thing for his skittish neighbor. Brittany has every reason to be skittish, since she was kidnapped by a serial killer and held for 4 months, subject to psychological terror. With a tough storyline like this, I was grateful the writer didn't make the serial killer engage in sick and twisted things. As it was, this book came out sweet enough in a protective lover, strong but terrified woman, way. Alex finds in Brittany what was lacking in his first wife, the mother of his daughter. And Brittany finds someone who believes in her --unlike her policemen brothers. She also realizes she can go back to her job as a Deputy. A good solid romance, shame about the AWFUL title.