Writer Lise Barton is used to coming up with wild scenarios for her characters, but the one that's playing out for her right now is no fiction. Someone is stalking her, someone who knows where she lives and what she does-who's even threatened her family. To protect them, she packs up and leaves Texas for the anonymity of Seattle-where it starts all over again.
Joshua Watt's mission is simple: Bring Lise home for Thanksgiving or he'll never hear the end of it from his sister. He's spent months trying to forget the taste of her lips, but the minute he sees the fear in Lise's eyes, the former Army Ranger takes control. His mission: Protect Lise and try to keep his personal feelings out of it. Because if there's one thing he's learned, it's that sex and work don't mix. So far.
|Product dimensions:||5.64(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)|
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By LUCY MONROE
BRAVA BOOKS Copyright © 2005 Lucy Monroe
All right reserved.
Chapter One Lise was used to running into walls, but falling into traffic was another matter altogether.
So, in the split second before her hands connected with cold concrete in an attempt to break her fall, she knew she had not imagined the hard shove between her shoulder blades that sent her sprawling forward. No more than the squeal of tires from braking cars, or a woman's shrill scream behind her.
She shoved herself up from the pavement to her knees, but her body kept going as someone yanked her back to the curb. She landed against a wall of bodies.
"You need to be more careful," came a burly, deep voice.
A woman dressed head to toe in Seahawks green and blue said, "You've got to watch yourself after a game-the sidewalks are crowded and so are the streets."
Lise forced her lungs to suck in the frigid November air and wheezed out, "Somebody pushed me."
She almost fell off the curb again, trying to turn around to see the people behind her. "Somebody pushed me," she repeated, her voice high-pitched. "Did any of you see who did it?"
"What are you talking about?" This from an older man, his expression disbelieving.
"I didn't see anything," a woman in a red parka said.
An older black woman patted Lise's shoulder. "I think you're mistaken."
"She's probably disoriented," the woman's companion said to her.
The voices went on, a cacophony of sound in Lise's head, but one thing came through clearly.
No one had seen him.
The light turned and pedestrians surged onto the street around her.
Shaking with reaction, she stayed where she was, but watched the mass of people pass by. No malevolent stares were directed toward her, no undue attention focused on the woman who had almost gotten hit by a car. Nothing that might indicate who he was, the man who had shoved her off the curb.
Or had it been a man? She didn't even know that much, and the not knowing was the most terrifying thing of all.
She had no clue where to look for her enemy, or how to recognize him. However, she'd thought she was safe here in cold and rainy Seattle, thousands of miles from the small Texas town of her birth.
She'd been wrong.
Lise stared at the anonymous e-mail, her stomach churning.
It was the third one in as many days. Combined with the nuisance calls and the blood-red rose she'd found lying on the driver's seat of her locked car, it was enough to make her sick with fear.
Ms. Barton, I hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving vacation in Canyon Rock. The flight from Portland will be crowded. They always are on big travel days like that, but family should always spend the holidays together. I'm sure your brother, sister-in-law, and new niece, Genevieve, miss you. That pretty little baby will grow up before you know it, not knowing her aunt. Are you sure moving so far away was a good idea?
The e-mail wasn't completely anonymous. It had been signed. Nemesis. Not the stalker's real name, Lise was sure. She was a writer. She knew who Nemesis was-the goddess of vengeance. Although the longer she was stalked, the more convinced she became that her stalker was a man.
Not a goddess, but a devil.
She shivered in her desk chair, chilled to the very marrow of her bones. She'd already turned the heat up, but she knew it wouldn't help.
This cold came from the inside.
Why had Nemesis mentioned Genevieve? It wasn't the first time he had brought up her family, but it was the first time he'd mentioned one of them by name.
Was this e-mail some sort of threat against her baby niece?
All thoughts of going home for the holidays crashed and burned in the face of her stalker's certain knowledge of her travel plans. There would be no sneaking out of Seattle and driving three hours south to fly out of PDX. Not if her stalker would just be waiting for her at the other end of her journey, ready to do who-knew-what to her family.
Joshua stopped in front of the door to Lise's apartment.
He had not planned to fly into SeaTac before going to Texas, but he'd had no choice. His baby sister's emotional well-being depended on him talking some sense into Lise Barton.
Bella was a wreck because Lise had called to cancel her visit for Thanksgiving. His sister believed she was the reason her new sister-in-law had moved to Seattle and refused to come home for the holidays. Bella had spouted some baloney about being afraid she'd displaced the other woman since she married Lise's brother, Jake.
According to his sister, Lise had said she had a cold that she didn't want to expose the baby to. That had sounded reasonable, but then Bella told him that Lise had said she wouldn't be able to make Christmas, either, because of an unexpected deadline.
Bella was sure the excuses were phony. She said that Lise planned her deadlines a year in advance. He didn't know about that, but the sexy but shy author of kick-butt women's fiction would not put work ahead of an important family event. That much he knew. He was still reeling inside from the shock of her moving across the country from them. She was too attached to Jake, Bella, and the baby for the move to make any sense.
When Bella had let slip that Lise had cancelled her arrival after discovering he was going to be at the ranch for the holidays, he'd known what the real problem was. Lise didn't want to see him again.
He was here to fix that.
He knocked, glad to see she at least had a peephole in her door. Her so-called secure building had been so easy to get into, he was embarrassed for the agency that installed the security measures and the guard at the front desk in the lobby.
A crash came from inside the apartment. Then silence. He knocked again, louder this time.
Again there was no response.
He called out her name, but absolutely no sound came from the apartment.
Had she fallen and hurt herself? She wasn't always completely aware, and he'd seen her walk straight into a wall when her eyes were hazy with a certain look she got.
His fist against the door made it shake within its frame.
He surveyed the locks on the door. They were too basic to be of any real use at keeping out the criminal element. He didn't even hesitate.
He had the door open faster than if he'd had a key.
A slight whoosh of air to his left sent him into immediate battle-ready mode. Reflexes honed by six years in the Army Rangers and a decade spent as a mercenary took over. He swung toward the faint sound, his hand coming up to block the blow.
He grabbed the poker before it connected with his head and had his assailant in a headlock before he realized it was Lise.
He tossed the cast-iron poker aside and spun her to face him, her dark blond hair flying around her face. "What the hell are you trying to do?"
Big hazel eyes stared back at him with a glazed look he'd come to know all too well in his profession.
Her breath came in shallow pants and her sweatshirt-clad arms were trembling.
What the hell was going on?
"Why didn't you answer the door?"
Her mouth moved, but nothing came out.
He shook her gently. "Speak, Lise."
Her eyes blinked and then filled with tears.
"Damn it." He hauled her against him and wrapped his arms around her.
He'd really frightened her when he forced his way into her apartment. He hadn't considered that possibility when he picked her locks. He should have.
She was a small-town Texas girl living in the big city.
Obviously, she hadn't acclimated well.
Her body shook against him and he felt like a real heel.
"I didn't mean to scare you, little one."
Lise's fingers were digging into his shirt, holding the denim so tight, he'd lose the shirt before he lost her grip. She pressed her face into his chest as if she was literally burrowing into him.
"Joshua?" It was the first recognizable sound she'd made in over a minute.
"What are you doing here?"
"You told Bella you weren't going to Texas for Thanksgiving."
Lise shuddered. "No. I'm not going."
She didn't sound like she had a cold. Her usually soft voice was strained, but not in a way that could be caused by a scratchy throat.
He rubbed her back.
It just seemed like the right thing to do.
She responded by relaxing her hold on his shirt just the tiniest bit. He kept it up, talking to her in the same tone of voice he'd used to calm the little boy he'd liberated on his last mission. He used similar words, too, telling her it was all right, that he wouldn't let anything happen to her, that she was going to be okay.
It took almost as long as it had taken him with the boy before she relaxed enough to step away from him. When she did and he got his first good look at her face, he winced.
He'd seen snow with more color than her skin, except the purple bruises under her eyes. Her bow-shaped mouth trembled.
"Lise, you don't belong in Seattle."
"H-how ..." She blinked, made a visible effort to gather herself in, and her quivering lips formed words. "How do you figure that?"
"It's pretty damn obvious to me you aren't settling into city living. You get an unexpected visitor and you're practically crawling out of your skin."
She shook her head and laughed hollowly. "Trust me, moving back to Texas won't help."
"My problems travel with me."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
She didn't answer, but this time he didn't wait around for a reply. He propelled her gently toward the bedroom. "You can tell me about it on the plane. Get your stuff together. We've got an eight o'clock flight."
"No." She twisted from his guiding hand and stopped, wrapping her arms around herself, covering the Dallas Cowboys logo on her sweatshirt.
"I can't go, Joshua." Her southern drawl was very pronounced, her voice on the ragged edge of hysterical.
She swallowed and looked away from him, her body stiff with stress. "I'm afraid."
"I don't want my family hurt because of me." Her eyes were both pleading and wild. "If I go to Texas right now it could put them all at risk, even little Genevieve."
He bit back an ugly word. "Explain."
"I'm being stalked."
Lise flexed her fingers, feeling the tension in her body clear to her fingertips.
Joshua had reacted to her announcement with absolute silence. He stood there, a formidable dark shadow in her hallway, his brown eyes trying to see into her soul. His stillness was as complete as his silence, which unnerved her, but at least he wasn't telling her she was crazy, or imagining things.
"Do you know who is stalking you?" he finally asked.
"Why do you believe you're being stalked?"
"I don't just believe it, I know it." As simple as his questions were, it was hard for her brain to form answers in her current stressed-out state. "I've gotten anonymous e-mails that make it obvious I'm being watched."
"Did you try to trace the e-mails?"
"Yes." She stopped, having lost the train of conversation, and then she remembered again. "It didn't work."
"Is that all that has happened so far?"
"It's enough." Which wasn't the whole answer, but was as much as she was willing to share right now.
"Yes, it is," he said, surprising her.
The fact that he had believed her when no one else had, not the sheriff back home, and not the Seattle police, was just sinking into her sluggish mind when he spoke again.
"You can tell me the rest of what's got you so scared on the flight. No way do I believe you're this out of control over a few e-mails."
She didn't have time for explanations. She had to get him out of there, then she had to leave. She didn't know where she was going to go, but she wasn't going to sit around waiting for Nemesis to show up on her doorstep like Joshua had.
She grabbed his arm and started shoving him toward the door. "Thank you for stopping by. Tell Jake and Bella I love them."
Her words were coming in short bursts and she wasn't completely sure what she was saying ... whatever it would take to get him to go.
He stopped in front of the door and didn't budge. "I'm not going anywhere, Lise."
"Of course you are-you're going to Texas."
"Not without you." He put his hands on her shoulders, their warmth and strength making her feel safe, but that was an illusion she couldn't afford. "I'll watch out for our family. I won't let anyone hurt them, or you."
In any other circumstance, she would have believed him, but her unknown enemy had the advantage. The minute they stepped on a commercial flight, Nemesis would know where she was. He could beat them to Texas, or follow them. Either way, the risk to Jake, Bella, and little Genevieve was too great.
"Even you can't stop a bullet shot from a sniper's rifle, or a brake line being cut on a car, or-"
"Are you saying those things have happened to you?" he asked, breaking into the litany of fears that had plagued her conscious and unconscious mind for days.
"They could happen and I won't be around my family if they do."
Her mind was splintering again, trying to figure out the best escape route least likely to alert her hidden tormentor, while grappling with the problem of getting Joshua out of her apartment.
She yanked the door open. "I'll call Bella and reassure her, okay?" Just as soon as she stopped somewhere with a phone.
Right now, all she wanted was to get into her car and drive forever, leaving her life careening out of control behind her.
Joshua said nothing; he just pushed the door shut again with his heel, his coffee-brown gaze never once leaving hers. He leaned back against it, crossed his arms, and waited with an attitude that said he'd wait there forever, but he was going to have his way.
Something snapped inside Lise.
Fine. He could wait there until hell froze over, but she was going to pack. She was leaving-not with Joshua, and not to Texas where she would put her family at risk, but she was going. She spun on her heel and rushed into the bedroom, a jumble of things she needed to take with her filling her fractured thoughts.
She was throwing clothes willy-nilly into a duffel bag when a beeping sound scared her, making her drop a pile of underwear onto the floor.
She stared at the multicolored cotton for several seconds before she latched onto the fact that the beeping sound was the phone ringing.
She grabbed the cordless phone from its base. "Hello?"
"Lise, your visitor left without taking you with him."
Her already madly beating heart climbed into her throat at the computer-digitized voice she'd come to know much too well. "Who is this?"
"You should have gone with him. Family is supposed to be together on the holidays."
"Why are you doing this to me?" she shrieked, feeling what was left of her control slipping away.
"An eye for an eye, Lise."
"What are you talking about?" None of this made sense. Her life didn't make sense. "I don't know what you want from me!"
A strong arm settled around her shoulders and she screamed before realizing it was Joshua.
"You sound upset," the inhuman voice taunted.
Joshua's lips settled next to her ear. "Is it him?"
She nodded her head violently, making her neck ache, but no sound would emerge from her throat.
"I guess it will be you and me together in our lonely solitude on Thanksgiving. I can't spend it with my family, either." The phone clicked in her ear.
A hand tapped gently on her cheek. "Lise."
He was there. She wasn't alone.
How long had she stood in paralyzed fear? She didn't know.
"The phone ..." she croaked out, her throat unaccountably dry.
"What did he say?"
"Something about spending Thanksgiving together." Stupid, weak tears filled her eyes. "He thought you'd gone and he taunted me about being alone."
Joshua's eyes narrowed at that. "We need to get you out of here."
She looked at him, unsure of what he was saying. Was he still harping on her going to Texas?
"Pack some clothes. We're leaving."
Fine by her. Joshua could get her out of the apartment and then she could disappear. "Okay."
"We'll go to a hotel," he said, even though she hadn't asked.
That sounded so good, the tears burning her eyes spilled over. "Yes. A hotel. Away from here."
He didn't answer, just picked up the pile of cotton panties off the floor and shoved them into the duffel bag. "What else do you need?"
"I'll do it." The overwhelming relief of leaving her apartment galvanized her brain enough to allow her to tackle the problem of packing. She was ready in less than five minutes.
He looked at the small burgundy leather duffel bag and then at her. "Let's go."
Excerpted from READY by LUCY MONROE Copyright © 2005 by Lucy Monroe. 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Hot, thrilling suspense and kept me reading til 5 am. Then theres willing n theres able to finishthe set ? A very good writer
I've read this series in the past and I'm looking forward to reading thm again.
good romantic thriller; not enough depth or friction between the characters, but the male character was very alpha. will definitely read on in the series
Girl gets stalked by mad fan, her brother in law comes in to save the day. Standard erotic romance, very predictable, couple of hot scenes, but essentially card board cut out characters. Not a wall banger but not a keeper either.
Well hello there" he leaned against he door frame with a grin
Ready was an adrenaline rush for me. I liked not only getting to see Lise and Joshua's plans but also getting a glimpse in to the life of the villain. The chemistry between Lise and Joshua was evident from the very beginning and was great watching them both fight it then finally give in. Getting to meet Hotwire, Nitro and Josie was great too. Just catching little snippets about Josie and Nitro made me eager for their story, those two are going to be explosive. And Hotwire's southern charm was cute and had the desired affect of putting Lise at ease. The camaraderie the three men have was inspiring. My only gripe with this book was the take down of the stalker was kind of anti-climatic. We were rushing throughout the whole book to stay ahead of him and then....bam, he was taken down without a fight or anything. Just seemed a little to perfect. Otherwise, I was engaged the whole time. Can't wait for Willing the next in this series.
This was my first Lucy Monroe book. It was ok. Not quite Shannon McKenna but okay for the romantic suspense genre. It was pretty surface and not overly deep but a quick mindless read.