This mysterious stranger just helped rob a convenience store. But that doesn't explain the bruises on her jaw and rope burns on her wrist. Though intrigued, Roan is suspicious of her claim that she doesn't remember what happened. Two things are clear to Roan. One: she's lying. Two: someone is trying to kill her.
There's only one place safe enough for a lady in danger. Right by his side. Because in Louisiana, a man holds on to what he wants .
About the Author
A writer of international bestseller status as well, her books have been published in 17 languages for worldwide sales approaching 22 million. She was honored with the position as writer-in-residence for the University of Northeastern Louisiana, and is a charter, and honorary, member of Romance Writers of America.
She has received numerous awards for her work, but among those she values most are the Golden Treasure Award for Lifetime Achievement from Romance Writers of America, induction into the Affaire de Coeur Romance Hall of Fame, and the Frank Waters Award for Excellence in Fiction.
Since 1998, Jennifer and her husband have lived in a lakeside Caribbean-styled retreat in North Louisiana. They often entertain friends and family, especially their four grown children and 13 grandchildren. Always a gardener at heart, she spends much of her free time encouraging her newly planted lawn to bloom with her favorite daylilies and azaleas, and with her transplanted antique roses.
Her love of history and antiques has given rise to her newest hobby, quilting. But evenings find her and her husband lounging on one of the expansive verandas, enjoying cafe au lait and listening to the gentle lap of waves.
Here, as Jennifer says in her own words, "I write my fantasies of love and adventure in the romantic South. And sometimes, when I sit on the porch with the sunlight falling across the lawn and the smells of magnolia, sweet olive, honeysuckle, and roses wafting on the warm air, I live them."
Read an Excerpt
The chance Victoria Molina-Vandergraff was waiting for came on the third night. She was ready, primed with rage, disgust, and a tentative plan. Still, she almost missed it.
One minute, she was trussed up on the floor of the stolen panel van as it careened around a curve on the dark dirt road, silently cursing the two jerks in the front bucket seats and cheering the cop who was hot on their tail. The next, she was tumbling over the gritty carpeting as they slid on rain-wet gravel. The vehicle left the roadway and bounced across what felt like a shallow ditch. For a breathless instant it was airborne. Then it slammed into a tree.
The screeching crunch of folding metal filled the air. Safety glass rained with a musical tinkling. Tory slid helplessly, scraping dirt from the carpet with her cheekbone before she hit a side panel. The van jolted back, shuddering. The engine died.
Headlights stabbed the darkness as the police car rounded the bend behind them. Brakes screamed and gravel flew as it slued to a halt. Seconds later, the officer's amplified voice, deep and edged with anger, blared from the unit's loudspeaker.
"Out of the vehicle! Hands in plain sight. Move!"
"Holy shit! What we s'pose to do now?"
The kidnapper that she'd dubbed Zits long miles back along the road from Florida growled the question as he glared at his pal behind the wheel. Big Ears whined an excuse as usual, even as he started the van and slammed it into reverse, spinning its wheels in the mud.
Zitslet fly a string of curses as uninspired as they were virulent. Craning his neck to see out the window, he said, "Christ, if it ain't the sheriff of that hick town back there. Says so on his car hood."
"All I see is his big-ass gun," Big Ears moaned. He gunned the van hard, hunching in his seat at the same time as if he could make the vehicle move with his body. "We gonna die. I told you ripping off that convenience store was a dumb idea. 'Nah,' you said. 'They're backward as hell in a little old place like Turn-Coupe, Louisiana. Won't be no security camera,' you said, 'No alarm, no cops this time of night ...'"
"How the hell was I to know?"
"You're the brains, ain't you? Now we're screwed. Backcountry sheriff like that don't give a shit who he shoots."
"It ain't gonna be me!"
Zits hit the glove compartment latch with his fist and reached inside for his pistol. Then he heaved from under the mangled dashboard and crawled between the seats into the cargo area.
"Where you going?" Big Ears demanded, even as he gunned the van again, gaining a few inches.
"To fix us a way out."
"And how the hell you gonna manage that?"
Zits, going to one knee beside Tory on the canted floor of the van, didn't answer.
She could see his teeth glinting in the glare from the police cruiser's headlights. She pressed back against the side panel as he shoved the pistol into his waistband and pulled a knife from his boot. Before she could draw breath to scream, he slashed the duct tape around her ankles. Jerking her upright, he cut the tape at her wrists, then ripped it off along with several centimeters of skin.
"There now," he drawled in vicious sarcasm. "Looks like it's your lucky day."
"What are you going to"
Zits didn't let her finish. He hauled her around and gave her a hard shove toward the rear cargo doors, even as he pulled his pistol free again with his other hand.
In that instant, Big Ears shifted the van into drive and stomped the accelerator. It roared and bucked forward into the tree again. Tory plunged toward the back door. Zits crashed into her. His shoulder hit her head, smacking her into the door glass. Her brain jarred in her skull. She was blind for a second as a red haze appeared before her eyes and pain surged in her head. Still, somewhere in her mind was the memory of the hollow thud made by Zit's pistol as it fell to the floorboard.
Zits cursed. Shoving away from Tory, he scrambled for the lost gun.
"Out of the vehicle! Now!"
"Damn lawman's coming after us," Big Ears gabbled in panic. "We got to rock this heap free, get her moving."
Suddenly, everything was surreal to Tory. The deep, vibrant voice of the sheriff coming out of the night was like that of some hero in an action movie. She dragged herself upright in slow motion. Through the back door glass, she could see the sheriff as a dark silhouette against the glare of the patrol car's headlamps. He stepped forward, and his shadow stretched across the road as tall and wide as that of some legendary giant. Behind her, Big Ears rammed the van's engine into reverse again, spinning the wheels until the stench of burning rubber filled the air and double sprays of mud spewed from the ditch to plop across the gravel road like small explosions.
"Yeah, we'll get out, but our gorgeous rich bitch is going first." Zits reached past her to shove open the rear door.
He meant to use her for a shield. It worked in the movies, using the victim to gain safe conduct, but Tory wasn't so sure the hick sheriff out there would cooperate. He had no idea she'd been kidnapped, didn't know her from Adam's Eve.
"Wait a minute!" Big Ears yelled as the van plunged forward again, rocking in its ruts. "We moved, feel it? We're 'bout outta here!"
She wasn't going with them.
Tory surged to her feet as Zits turned his head to measure their chance of escape, but the lurch of the van sent her sprawling. Her elbow came down on the missing pistol. Instantly, she shifted position, scooped it up.
Zits swung around. She saw the flash of the knife in his hand.
"Stop!" Tory leveled the pistol, tightened her finger on the trigger. She could use the weapon, thanks to private lessons in self-defense before she went off to college. And she would if it was her only choice.
Zits wrenched to a halt. They hovered in a stand off.
"I got it, Chris!" Big Ears yelled. "We're gone!"
The van was moving. She had to get out. There was no time to think, no time to plan. Lunging away from Zits, she scrambled for the open back door. She grabbed the frame and staggered upright, wavering an instant to gain balance. Then she jumped.
It was sheer instinct, what happened next; the results of years of adolescent gymnastic lessons and demonstrations from a skydiving team captain on how to hit the ground without breaking your neck. Tory rolled with her forward momentum, letting it carry her toward the sheriff, away from her kidnappers, At the maneuver's peak, she found her feet and came erect with wobbly grace and the heavy pistol still in her hand. She faced the sheriff, threw the heavy ponytail of her hair behind her back to clear her vision as she searched his dark features for some sign, any sign, of safety.
Then Tory knew. She felt it coming even before she saw the tall man in front of her steady his weapon, before she saw red-orange fire streak from its bore.
The single shot exploded like a cannon's roar. It punched her backward like a hard blow to the upper chest and shoulder. Her ponytail whipped over her shoulder and across her face. The pistol flew out of her hand. The gravel roadbed rose up and slammed into her. She lay too stunned to breathe, staring into the night sky while at the periphery of her vision the dark stain of blood spread across the dirty silk of her once-white jogging suit top like some night-blooming flower.
She heard the van's engine revving in the distance, felt the jolt in the roadbed beneath her as the vehicle spun free in a hail of mud and gravel. The lawman shouted an order, fired again. She flinched at the sound, a muscular reaction without meaning. But the van with Zits and Big Ears inside didn't stop. It hurtled forward with a clash of gears and the screech of dragging metal. Then it roared away into the night.
The pain hit Tory in a silent eruption. It tore at her shoulder and chest, a living thing clawing under her collarbone. She wanted to cry out, needed to fight it or get away from it. She couldn't. Her lips parted in a gasp of silent agony.