Finding three children locked in a saferoom wasn't how Lucan O'Shay planned to spend the holidays. Taking the children and their feisty aunt into his home…well, if that's what it took to serve and protect, that's what he would do. Never mind that the aunt, Kyra Wolfstead, was making him crazy. But someone was trying to kill her and take the children. Not on Lucan's watch.
It would take all of Lucan's expertise and self-control to give Kyra and the kids a safe Christmas under his own personal house arrest. But what scared this tough Irish cop the most was his growing hope that this sentence was for life….
About the Author
The Easter Bunny is supposed to bring candy. One year he brought a bouncing baby to Dani's parents instead. She'll let you make your own association here.
Dani's parents claim they were elated, but she thinks it just took time for the shock to wear off. As the oldest of what turned out to be six brothers and one sister, Dani grew up amid noise and chaos. Mom thrived on it, Dad thought about immigrating to Australia.
She would like to say she takes after her dad, preferring order and quiet in her life, but since she seems to find herself constantly surrounded by chaos that she's either created or somehow become embroiled in, she figures you could say she got the best of both of them.
In high school, Dani met a man at the drugstore where she was working the soda fountain. Yes, they really did exist outside old movies. Dani went home and told her sister she'd met the man she was going to marry.
Almost two years later, she did. Two sons came along eventually, and thirty-some years later she's kept her promise. She told her husband their lives would never be dull. There are times she's sure he'd like to consider immigrating to Australia as well.
Reading and writing have always been part of her life. As a child she wrote plays and talked neighborhood children into performing for parents and anyone else she could coerce into sitting through them. The rest of the time she spent reading — walking every Saturday to the library to replenish her stack of fiction.
In high school Dani finally began writing her own novel. The murder mystery featured a private investigator and a mysterious, beautiful woman. (Her first romance though she didn't know it back then.) Written in pen and pencil — no crayon she's happy to report — on all sorts of notebook paper — her study hall teachers thought her very studious — she finished the story after months of labor. Proudly, she gave it to her sister and best friend to read.
Her sister was furious that Dani had killed off the female lead at the end. Her best friend pointed out the entire story took place in an impossible 24-hour period. Other than that, they both swore they liked it.
Over the years, Dani continued to dabble in writing, particularly after she discovered science fiction. Unfortunately, good science fiction requires a solid scientific background. Not her strong suit.
But the most inhibiting factor was that in the old days writing involved typewriters and carbon paper. For those of you too young to remember, typewriters didn't all plug into the wall, and none had anything resembling a "memory." They had messy ribbons and sticking keys and bells that went ding when you came to the end of the line. That's literal, not figurative.
Carbon paper is a vile substance that requires patience, discipline, and strong spelling and accurate typing skills. Dani guarantees you, if man had not invented home computers, she'd still be living the stories in her head. Block and move, and spell check, now done with the click of a mouse button, was an incredible boon to writers the world over, she declares. So when her sister asked her to write her a romance novel while Dani was between jobs, it sounded like a snap.
Ignorance is bliss. Dani says she wrote her first romance novel in something like one week. She was so pleased by the results, she followed it up with two more. Then she discovered a group of writers who met once a week to critique and offer support to one another. Shortly thereafter she discovered a local chapter of Romance Writers of America. Of the five writers who formed the initial critique group, the three who were able to persevere are now all published authors. Moreover, Dani is proud to add that all three have been nominated for RITA Awards.
Dani concludes with: "Thanks to the loving support of my very own hero and the two sons we raised, I sold 13 books in five years. I'm proud to call myself a writer. And hopefully, I've given to others some of the pleasure I've derived from a lifetime of reading."
Read an Excerpt
Christmas carols played on the overhead speakers as Lucan O'Shay stepped to one side of the drink dispenser. He watched a young boy move down the aisle of the local convenience store. No one in the busy store paid any attention to the dark-haired boy with the green backpack.
The kid couldn't have been more than eight or nine years old, and he looked as if he hadn't bathed or changed his clothes in days. His jeans were of good quality, but stained and rumpled. It appeared as if he'd slept in his winter coat, and his hair and skin were badly in need of soap and water. He was thin, though not overly skinny. In fact there was nothing remarkable about the boy except for the furtive way his eyes darted about the area around him, as if he were afraid.
Lucan tensed as the boy picked up a bag of cookies, a box of cereal and a jar of peanut butter. All disappeared into the backpack at his feet so smoothly that even watching him, Lucan had to blink. The kid moved on, effortlessly adding a small container of milk and a bag of potato chips and carefully selecting three chocolate Santas and a box of candy canes.
Stealing? But the manager had said—
Before Lucan could shift position, the boy was in line at the register behind a sweaty construction worker. He was careful not to meet anyone's eyes. Lucan waited to see what the boy would do. Behind the counter, Salman's gaze met Lucan's. The manager inclined his head as the boy very carefully pulled each item from his backpack and set it on the counter.
Salman was outgoing and friendly with all his customers, but his efforts to make conversation with the boy netted him only a shake of the kid's head or a shrug. The boy wouldn't look at him.
"No bag." His voice betrayed his nerves, as did the way he shifted from foot to foot. Obviously, he wanted to pay and leave as quickly as possible.
Salman returned each item to the backpack. Even though he'd told Lucan what to expect, Lucan's jaw dropped as the boy pulled out what appeared to be an amazing wad of bills from the deep pocket of his coat. He peeled off a one-hundred-dollar bill from the top and handed it to the clerk with a grubby hand.
The boy shoved the change into his backpack without counting it. He sealed the pack with a speed and economy of motion that was impressive. Hefting the pack, he looked up and met Lucan's gaze. Wary eyes filled with panic. He dashed for the door.
Lucan swore under his breath and began to move. Being a plainclothes police detective, he wasn't wearing a uniform. He shouldn' t have spooked the kid. And now he was impeded by the people and shelves still between them. The boy took full advantage. By the time Lucan reached the main door, the boy was disappearing around the back of the building.
Lucan sprinted after him. "Hey, wait up a minute!"
The boy never paused. He was through a narrow hole in the crumbling stockade fence behind the building in seconds. Lucan eyed the fence and hesitated. The missing boards were wide enough for the child, but not for him. The remaining fence would never support his weight.
His own house was only a few blocks over, and being a runner, Lucan knew the neighborhood well. Yet despite his speed and longer legs, there was no sign of the boy when Lucan reached the street behind the store. The row of brand-new townhouses gave way to the original development where Lucan's home was located.
The boy couldn't have gone far. Lucan began searching the area but there was no sign of him. If the boy had gone into one of the houses, there was nothing to tell him which one. A cold wind whipped over his face as he searched the yards. He was certain the boy had ducked in somewhere nearby. Only when a middle-aged woman holding a cell phone stepped out onto her deck demanding to know what he was doing in her yard messing with her Christmas lights did Lucan concede defeat. Flashing his police badge, he apologized for disturbing her and asked about the boy he'd been pursing.
Lips pursed, she told him she didn't know anyone matching that description. She hadn't seen a child like that and she wanted him out of her yard immediately. Lucan returned to the store, where only one other customer remained.
The man paid for his purchase and left. Even so, Salman looked around and lowered his voice when Lucan approached. "He got away?"
"Unfortunately," Lucan admitted ruefully. "He went through the hole in the fence out back."
"I told corporate about that fence. They say it is not their responsibility. The builder put up the fence during construction, so it belongs to the townhouses behind us. Yet the neighbors say it is not their responsibility. What am I to do?" He handed Lucan the hundred-dollar bill the boy had used to pay for his food. "It is real?"
Lucan examined the bill with a frown. "Looks like it to me, but I'm no expert. You said the bank told you the other bills were fine."
Salman nodded. "But a boy like that should not be carrying so much money."
"You got that right. I'll run the serial number just to check, but there's nothing illegal about a boy paying for items with a large bill."
The clerk nodded glumly. "This I know, but there is something wrong."
"Yeah," Lucan agreed, remembering the fear. "How often does he come in?"
"Every day since Sunday. First it was candy and cookies. Then he started buying bread and other items, as you saw. Sunday is my day off, but Ranji tells me that was the day it began."
"And he always pays with a hundred-dollar bill like this one?"
"Yes. That is why I told you about him when you came in today. It is odd. The boy always waits until I am busy, like he did this time. I try to talk to him, but he says nothing. He is very quick."
"I saw how fast he made stuff disappear inside that backpack. Be glad he isn't stealing."
Salman eyed the bill in his hand. "But did he steal this money?"
"Good question. He's definitely afraid of something. Had you seen him in here before he started paying with big bills?"
"No. Never that I can remember. Many neighborhood children come in with and without their parents. One or two have taken something without paying, but most do not. He is not one of the children that I know."
Lucan thought for a moment. "Were any of those town-houses up for sale recently—or unoccupied?"
"This I do not know. Do you not live nearby?"
Lucan rubbed his jaw, feeling tired. "I do, but I've been pulling double shifts lately. When I've had time to go out running I haven't been paying attention. Since you don't recognize him, I'm thinking the kid may be new to the area."
Salman shrugged and Lucan tapped the counter absently. How had a boy of that age come by even one bill of that denomination, let alone those he'd already spent, unless he'd stolen them? This was Wednesday. The kid had been flashing that wad of hundred dollar bills for four days.
He opened his wallet and pulled out a business card. Writing his cell phone number on the back, he handed it to the clerk. "My office number and my cell phone number. Call me if you see him again."
Salman scowled. "You will arrest him?"
"No. He hasn't done anything illegal that we know about. I just want to talk to him and to his parents. There may be a reason he's carrying that kind of cash, but it's dangerous."
"You do not think he stole the money?" Salman repeated the question, frowning intently.
Lucan shrugged. "I don't know, Salman. I'd be more inclined to think that was the case if he was buying junk food and toys, but he picked up peanut butter and bread and even milk. That sounds like hunger to me. His clothing is dirty, and so is he."
And what were the odds the kid had been abandoned?
"He wore the same pants yesterday," Salman confirmed. "Perhaps even the day before, I do not recall for certain."
Lucan knew his frown matched the clerk's. "I'm glad you told me about him when I came in. Like you, I think something is wrong at home. I just want to be sure the kid is safe. If something is wrong, we'll intervene for his sake."
Salman shook his head, looking even more worried. "I do not want to cause any trouble."
"Neither do I, Salman. Neither do I. Call me if you see him again."
"Yes, that I will do," the clerk promised unhappily as he pocketed Lucan's card.
Lucan's gaze swept the area as he walked back to his car. He didn't really expect to see the boy again, but he needed to start paying attention to his surroundings. Being tired was no excuse for getting sloppy. The last time he'd been sloppy he'd taken two slugs to the chest and spent months recovering.
Lucan pinched the bridge of his nose before putting the car in gear. A recent spate of robberies had culminated in the murder of a local socialite. The press and politicians were screaming. The entire department was on overtime, and they didn't have a single clue to the thieves' identities. He'd had to cancel his date with Jennifer for the fifth night running. Now she wasn't taking his calls.
Probably he should be more upset. Jennifer was a lot of fun. On the other hand, if she didn't understand what it meant to date a cop, then it was time for him to find a new companion. There was always that nurse who worked with his sister-in-law, Sally. What was her name? Nancy? Nina? Something along those lines. The woman was attractive, and she'd put out plenty of signals that she was interested. The only drawback was that she was a friend of Sally's.
Lucan made it a policy to stay away from friends of family members. They tended to expect their relationships to lead to something permanent. He'd been there and done that and had the divorce papers to prove it. Happily-ever-after only happened in fairy tales. He was no longer interested in anyone with commitment in their eyes.
Abruptly, Lucan realized he was pulling up in front of his house. He hadn't noticed a single thing on the drive home. He swore softly and blinked. There was no missing the fancy sports car with the vanity plate parked in his driveway. Nor could he miss the heavily pregnant woman shutting his front door and locking it before hurrying back toward the driveway. In the twinkling Christmas lights from the houses on either side of his, he could clearly see her stomach bulging beneath the coat she wore unbuttoned. She looked up and paused when she saw his car.
Lucan parked at the curb and got out to greet his sister-in-law. "Hey, Whitney, what's the rush?"
She shook her head and smiled a greeting. "What are you doing home at this hour?"
"It's six forty-four. My shift was over at three."
"Since when do you punch a time clock?"
"I don't. That's why it's six forty-four. Dropping off another care package from Mom, I hope?"
She nodded. "Lasagna, garlic bread and a tossed salad with brownies for desert."
His mouth watered. His Irish mother was an accomplished cook and he knew she was convinced that her only still-single son was going starve to death, since he didn't have a woman of his own to feed him. As a result, she sent frequent meals his way.
"I stopped by to see her on my way home from work," Whitney continued. "She was going to bring it over herself, but she said she was running late so I offered to do it for her since I had to come this way anyhow. I hope you don't mind."
"Are you kidding? Home-cooked food? I'm thrilled."
Whitney smiled back at him. "I put the lasagna and the salad in the refrigerator since I didn't know when you'd get here, but the lasagna is still warm. Everything else is on the counter," Whitney continued. "If I hadn't offered to come over here for her, maybe the two of you could have had dinner together."
He winced. "Thanks for the subtle hint. I meant to go by and see her earlier this week, but I've been so busy…."
"Don't be daft. O'Shays don't do subtle. I know. I married one."
"And we're all glad of it, but you'd better watch out, Mom's brogue is rubbing off on you."
Whitney grinned impishly. "Your mother made enough to feed an army—or you and your three brothers."
Lucan chuckled. "They aren't invited, but you're welcome to join me. Flynn's working today isn't he?" As a fireman, his youngest brother's shift would keep him at the station overnight.
"He is, but I can't stay. I promised my dad and Ruby I'd come by their place for a late supper." She tossed her brownish-blond hair back over her shoulders. "Your mom's worried about you, you know. She says you're working too hard."
"Tell it to the press. They think we're sitting on our hands with this murder. Money talks, you know, and it doesn' t hurt that the woman's husband knows everyone on the county council."
He heard the bitterness in his voice and stopped before he really vented about the pressure the force was under to find the thieves-turned-killers working the area. "Besides, you know how my mother likes to worry. I'm surprised she isn't mother-henning you to death about the baby."
"Your mother's great, as you well know, and the baby is on schedule. I've got a week yet and Flynn and I are as ready as we're going to be." She patted her rounded stomach. "Hear that, baby? You can come out now."
"Uh, let's not make it right now, okay?"
Whitney laughed and quickly sobered. "You look tired, Lucan."
"I am tired. It goes with the job. You, on the other hand, look gorgeous."
"I look like a pregnant walrus, but thanks just the same."
"Pregnancy becomes you." He nodded toward the car. "I thought you were selling that and buying a sedan."
"We tried selling it, but the deal fell through. If you want it I'll give you a good price."
"Don't tempt me." He'd driven the brightly colored sports car once and been totally hooked. "That's one sweet car."
"But it isn't practical, especially at this time of year."
No, an expensive sports car certainly wasn't practical, but he could dream. Whitney came from money. His family didn't. Even though he knew Whitney would give him the car if she didn't think it would ruffle his pride, a police detective in a flashy sports car like hers just shouted "cop on the take" to his mind.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Good book. As a cop for 30 years I really liked how it rolled in and out of trouble. Normally an officer will not see as much action in 30 years as was seen in a few months as Detective O'Shay. Great touch with the young Kip. Story kept me going. Did not want to put it down. Very involved but enjoyable.