Three years ago, Marcy Bradley let the man she loved go so he could follow his career dream of being an FBI agent. She sent divorce papers. He signed. She never filed them.
Injured during his last assignment, FBI Special Agent Jean Bernard—JB—Bradley questions the integrity of his fellow agents. A few days recuperation back in his hometown will give him the perspective he needs. The added bonus is it'll give him time to convince his ex-wife to come back to him, despite his life of risk. But when Marcy experiences a slew of unexplained accidents, JB realizes he brought the danger to her doorstep.
With a killer after them, Marcy and JB run for their lives, escaping to a lakeside cabin. Their love is rekindled, and JB realizes they're still married, but will there be time for their passion amidst the explosions and gunshots?
About the Author
Claudia Shelton thought she wrote mainstream when she began writing, but before long, a critique partner told her she sounded more like romance. Since then, she's focused on happily-ever-after with a splash of suspense, always featuring Alpha males and the women strong enough to love them. Her advice, always remember that a warm cup of cocoa in the winter or a cool drink by the water in the blazing heat will make your day a little brighter. She is a two-time finalist in the Daphne Du Maurier (Unpublished) awards for excellence in mystery and suspense. Visit Claudia at: http://www.claudiawriting.com/
Read an Excerpt
Risk of a Lifetime
By Claudia Shelton, Tracy Montoya
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Claudia Shelton
All rights reserved.
"I need to go to the bathroom," Marcy Bradley said, loud enough to get the attention of everyone in the First Missouri Capitol Bank of Crayton.
All five of them. Six, if you counted the robber, Leon Ferguson, a bully from her fourth-grade class twenty years ago. These days, he clocked in at well over six feet, two-hundred-fifty pounds of sweaty stink mixed with a stale odor of wood smoke. He'd gotten their attention when he slammed the bank president to the floor. Even more when he'd shot the exit sign. Now his mud-crusted boots made a path in front of the teller windows, back and forth, back and forth.
Any other Friday morning, Marcy would be composing poetry in her mind as she waited in line to make the weekly deposit from her counseling business. Instead, she lay cheek down on the shiny, cold marble floor of the eighty-two-year-old building as Leon continued to hold everyone hostage. When this was over, she'd drop a note in the suggestion box about cleaning the baseboards.
For the past twenty minutes, Leon yelled about the "cost of gettin' by" and bragged about the last time he went fishing. From all appearances, his tolerance level for whatever drug he was high on today had long since passed. His mean side had flashed when he'd cold-cocked the janitor with his fist for not getting down on the floor fast enough. That explained Leon's wife's many "accidents" the woman had told her about during their one-on-one counseling sessions. No wonder the woman ran away.
The stock market ticker tape flicked across the ceiling-mounted television. Scrolling words flashed on the screen. An antiquated fan in the opposite corner fluffed Marcy's hair with each back-and-forth rotation.
A few alternatives to lying on the floor skimmed through her mind. Run. She could run for the door and ... A gunshot wound didn't rank very high up on her agenda for life experiences. She also decided this wasn't the time to make one of her sarcastic remarks about how Leon had flipped her skirt up in junior high and squirted her hot-pink panties with a water pistol.
This wasn't the time for anything except figuring out a way to keep breathing and make it to her thirtieth birthday two months away.
"Excuse me." She really didn't need to go to the bathroom. But, if that's what it took to get out of the situation, so be it. Anything beat being held hostage. Almost anything.
The robber glanced around.
She waved her fingers from the floor. "It's me. Marcy."
By now, Leon would have usually blacked out if he was only drunk. Today was different, though. Today his demeanor reeked of disorientation and violence. Today he might blow her away before he realized he'd picked up a real gun instead of a toy.
She'd been around enough guns to know this was a Glock, a Luger, or something like that. Big and dangerous in the wrong hands. Leon's were definitely the wrong hands.
Rule number ... one ... four? Didn't matter what number. One of the law enforcement rules she learned from drop-dead-gorgeous JB, her almost-used-to-be husband and one heck of an FBI agent, was "don't upset the perp. Be his friend." She could do that. Be a friend ... kind of ... maybe.
She sorted through everything she'd learned in her psychology Master's program. With a little luck, she could talk Leon down. After all, she was a marriage counselor. Even had a seventy/thirty rate of success. Of course, the seventy percent had ended in divorce.
Eyelids pinched to slits, he waved the gun in her direction. "Did you say something?"
"I said I've got to go pee." She inched to a left-elbow lean. Smiled sweetly. "Please."
A few feet away, Joanie Reynolds gave her a you're-nuts look from where she'd fallen on a deposit from the previous evening's receipts at Joanie's Pizza, Pub, and Pool Room. Marcy had seen the bag of money disappear beneath her friend's well-endowed body and knew there was no way Joanie would give up the stash without a fight.
"Nope. Go where you are." He turned back toward the teller window.
"What do you mean 'nope'? This is the first day I've worn these brand new, skinny-leg jeans. And they weren't cheap, let me tell you."
He turned back around, his gaze scanning her legs.
She eased to a sitting position. "You're right about everything being so expensive nowadays. Do you know how high gas is? I mean — who can afford to drive anymore? My car's gas mileage is a joke. What about yours?"
"Eighteen miles a gallon. You got to know how to keep your vehicle running good." He leaned back, smiling his gap-toothed grin. Decay pitted the teeth that remained. "I got me a Chilton's Guide to Automotives and a set of wrenches from Sears."
She wished she hadn't eaten those blueberry pancakes for breakfast. They weren't exactly sitting right in the pit of her stomach. Besides which, it was time to use his momentary camaraderie to her advantage. She rolled onto her hands and knees, then crawled past Joanie toward a chair next to the counter.
He stepped over her friend and kept pace with Marcy's slow movement. "Where you think you're going?"
Using the seat for leverage, she pushed herself up enough to sit down in it. Her hand plucked at lint on her denim pants, and she sighed. "There, that's better now. I think I need the next size up in these jeans. They were beginning to bind down there on the floor. Okay if I sit here?"
"Long as you don't move around no more. Shut up, too. I got to have some quiet to think what I want to do with this here opportunity." Brow furrowed, lips pursed to a scowl, he paced between the front door and the counter.
Marcy wished she'd paid closer attention to robber personality types in her college behavioral classes. She'd been more focused on marriage counseling — and revenge-killing profiles. Her dad had been killed by a hate-filled man with a vendetta against any FBI special agent that stepped in front of his gun. Her dad had been the first agent out the front door of the Bureau's Regional Office building that day. She'd turned eight years old the week before he died.
Of course, she knew how Leon's thought process worked from the few times he'd shown up at her office for court-appointed counseling. That should at least give her an edge up on the situation. Except his thinking wasn't always great on a good day, and this was a bad day. A real bad day so far.
The new-as-of-two-weeks-ago president of the bank cowered in the corner where Leon had told him to sit. The teller on the early morning shift stood stone-still behind the counter. Except for the fact her eyes were wide open and rounded like silver dollars, she'd have looked like she was waiting for the next customer.
Outside, cars honked at the two drive-up windows. They apparently didn't know there was a robbery in process. If they needed money for lunch today, they weren't getting any here.
From across the room, Leon cleared his throat, waving the gun in Marcy's direction once again. "What do you think?"
"Me?" she asked.
"Yeah. You got all them fancy degrees. What do you think I should do with this opportunity?"
Opportunity? What opportunity? He was robbing a bank. She glanced at the teller. No help there. She looked at Joanie. None there, either.
Well, hell, she might as well come up with something herself. "You're right. A person doesn't get many chances like this in life. You've got to be careful what you choose. Maybe —"
"We know you're in there, Leon." Deputy Evans's voice vibrated from outside the bank through a bullhorn. "We're gonna tow your truck if you don't come out of there right now. I ain't got time for your shenanigans today."
Her uncle, Cal Davis, the Sheriff of Crayton Police Department, was out of town on a much-needed vacation until next week. He'd left Evans in charge. Nothing wrong with that, except this wasn't one of the usual pranks Leon played around town.
Leon fiddled with the blind at the front window. Rubbing his palm against his pant leg, he appeared confused. His jerky head motions didn't make her feel any safer, either.
Someone might get hurt before this was over. She wished her uncle was the one waiting outside in the street. In fact, she wished it was —
"You gonna come out, or do I have to come in there?" the deputy said.
Evans had a wife, three little kids, and a mother to support. Marcy had to think of something before the situation turned to tragedy.
She eased to her feet and leaned against the counter, quiet and nonchalant. "Why don't you ask for a bullhorn of your own?"
Leon swung around. His gun arm veered up shakily as he focused on her. "What did you say?"
"Ask for a bullhorn. The teller could call to tell them you want one. She could go outside to get it for you." At least that would be one less hostage in the bank.
"Why would I want a bullhorn when I've got all this money?" He lowered the gun back to his side. His head jerked repeatedly.
She glanced at Joanie, then the bank president, then the guard who hadn't moved since he'd crashed to the floor. She realized she appeared to be the only one thinking in the room. Or the only one about to get sent straight to heaven for mouthing off.
"That way you could talk to them about what you'll need for your getaway," she said.
He wrinkled his forehead. Sweat beads popped on his upper lip. "Good idea. 'Cept you make the call, and you go out to get it."
That hadn't gone as she planned. She nodded and made the call before heading to the front door.
Leon stepped in front of her, gun pointed at Joanie. "If you don't come back, nobody else is leavin'. Got that?"
* * *
Marcy stepped out the door into the brisk warmth of a fall morning. The clock at the corner of Third and Main struck the half hour. Her eyes scanned the scene in front of her. Two police cars stationed across the street sat silent, but their lights flashed a warning.
The stocky, sandy-haired deputy and one other cop stood behind a police cruiser directly in front of her. On her left, the tall, lean rookie crouched on the far side of the second car, his gun drawn and steadied on the top of the trunk.
Another man, likely law enforcement, although not in uniform, leaned against the far, rear fender of a car a few spots down. The man ignored the events on the street. Back to the bank and on his cell phone, he looked as if he dared anyone to bother him.
Her insides twisted when he moved away from the cruiser. Even from that angle, his six-foot-one stance and the dark-brown hair skimming the collar of his leather jacket were more than familiar. Familiar enough to make her insides zing with recognition.
Stretched taut across his back, the coat moved with him as he walked away. She knew every muscle beneath that jacket. All the scars. Didn't need to see his face, she'd recognize those shoulders anywhere — Jean Bernard Bradley.
JB to the world. More than JB to her.
Bullhorn in hand, Deputy Evans trudged from behind the car and stepped in her direction. He looked more agitated than concerned. From the slump of his shoulders and the lines in his face, he'd probably been up for hours getting the kids ready for school while his wife fixed breakfast.
"This isn't a prank. Leon's got a real gun. Loaded," she shouted as she stepped into the street.
JB stopped. Straightened. Hard-stretched his fingers a second before rolling them into fists. The moves meant he remembered her voice. He'd do whatever it took to save her. No matter what the danger. She doubted he'd changed. He'd always took the lead, took the bullet, took the victim to safety.
She had to make sure saving her didn't get him killed. 'Cause she damn sure couldn't live with that. Hell, could her day get any more complicated?
He turned his head with that chin-down tilt she knew so well and zeroed in on her with a penetrating look over his shoulder. The blue of his eyes wasn't visible from where she'd stopped, but she knew the intensity even if it had been close to three years since she'd last felt the heat. Her pulse notched up a few more beats. He always had been one gorgeous, sexy man. Nothing had changed there.
Deputy Evans ducked back behind the patrol car and reached for the radio. Backup would be on the way.
She stared at JB and said, "A real big gun. With a high-as-a-kite hand on the trigger."
He barely nodded, but she knew he'd heard the warning.
Already he'd unzipped his jacket. In the process of shucking the coat, she saw him slide his shoulder holster off, but not before he slipped his gun behind his back. Only seconds had passed, yet he'd taken charge of the situation just as though he'd never left town. Like he was still the deputy of Crayton instead of an undercover FBI agent assigned to parts unknown.
"Evans, get down behind that car," he said.
The deputy paused, then squared his shoulders. "My town. My responsibility."
JB nodded, strapping on the bulletproof vest a patrolman tossed to him. "I understand. Just thought you might want the Bureau's help. I've dealt with hostage situations before. Have you?"
The deputy paused only a second, then slid the horn toward JB. "The Crayton Police welcomes the FBI's assistance."
JB unbuttoned the sleeves on his white oxford and rolled the cuffs a couple of turns. Tugged them straight. She knew his battle mode. His routine.
Once he took on an assignment, he was tenacious. Nothing and no one got in his way. He'd get himself shot over her if they weren't careful. Much as she didn't want him back in her life, she couldn't bear to think of him gone forever, either.
He scooped the bullhorn from the pavement and held his arms out to the side at shoulder level as he walked forward. When he stopped a few feet in front of her, his gaze barely scanned her face before he returned his attention to the bank building.
"How bad is it?" he asked.
"Bad. He's all junked up on something." She reached for the horn. "Be careful. Please be careful."
His fingers brushed against hers as he released the horn. "Almost sounds like you care."
"You wish!" She forced herself not to blink. If she did, she might grab him and hold on for dear life.
His eyes zeroed in on hers. What passed between them was private and personal and unspoken. She'd let him go — kicked him out, in fact — when he'd threatened to take the same job that had killed her father. Never in her wildest thoughts had she imagined he'd take her up on her offer of freedom.
One month after she'd set his suitcase on the front porch, a letter with no return address had arrived. It said he'd done everything he could to prove himself to her and he was sorry he hadn't been good enough. He'd told her to just send him the papers, and he'd give her her freedom. She'd called him at least once a month after that. Left voice messages asking him to return her call. No reply.
A year later, there'd been a message on her voice mail saying he'd be out-of-contact for a while. She should get on with her life. Find someone new. She could only wonder when the hell had he been in contact over the past months? A few days later, an envelope had come addressed to her. Confidential. It included a form stating she was JB's next-of-kin, a power of attorney to make health and financial decisions for him if he was incapacitated, and an insurance policy naming her his beneficiary. She hadn't wanted those; she'd wanted him.
That's when she'd hired an attorney from outside Crayton and sent divorce papers. Even scribbled in bright red ink "Come home or sign these papers" across the top of the first page. Thought that would force him to make a decision. It had worked. He'd signed the papers and sent them back with a black-marker line slashed through the "Come home" part. That was the last she'd heard from him until now.
"Don't go back inside." The corner of JB's mouth twitched as he refocused his attention on the bank door. "I'll take one step forward and to the right. You jump behind me."
"I can't. Joanie's in there, plus three others. Leon said he would shoot them if I didn't return."
"Leon may be a bully, even mean, but that doesn't sound like something he'd do." JB's stare remained fixed across the street.
"Most days, I'd agree. Not today. He's juiced. Head shakes. Crazy eyes. Sweating." She lingered a second. "Don't go getting yourself killed before I can give you a piece of my mind."
A hint of a smile jerked at the corners of his mouth before he clenched his jaws. "Wouldn't dream of it."
Excerpted from Risk of a Lifetime by Claudia Shelton, Tracy Montoya. Copyright © 2014 Claudia Shelton. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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