The only thing standing between her and disaster is a man she can't trust...
As far as Dinah Pittman is concerned, men can't be trusted. Especially cops. Her own father was a former cop and a convicted felon who stole a small fortune before dying in prison. The best part? No one knows where the money is...and someone is willing to kill off everyone who knows anything about it.
And Dinah is next.
Rafe Morales left the Dallas police force to settle down to a simpler life in the small Texas town of El Royo. Instead, he finds himself protecting an infuriating, tough-as-nails, oh-so-sexy victim—and driving himself crazy with a thoroughly unprofessional desire.
But as the body count rises, Rafe and Dinah must find a way to trust each other...before they both end up dead.
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Stranger At My Door
By Mari Manning, Alycia Tornetta
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Mary Doherty
All rights reserved.
"Hey, Dinah. Miss Pittman, over here. Did your father say anything about the robbery before he died?"
A camera flashed in Dinah's face. Damn photographer! She staggered against the curb, and a sheaf of bright pink handbills slipped from her arms and sailed down the sidewalk on a gust of hot Texas wind.
"I'm Don with the Austin Statesman. Has the money turned up?"
"No!" She was so tired of the questions, the suspicious glances tossed her way, the endless what-ifs. The robbery happened eight years ago. It was over and done with. She refused to let it tie her insides up in knots again. She'd come back to bury her father, which she'd done two days ago at daybreak when no one in El Royo was awake except the undertaker. As soon as she could sell the house, she'd use the cash to drive back to L.A., where the name Dinah Pittman didn't raise eyebrows.
She tried to shield her face, but the camera flashed, blinding her again.
So much for lying low in El Royo. A forty-mile drive from Austin apparently didn't count for a lot with the bloodsuckers at that damn newspaper. But an empty cupboard waited at home, so once the reporter's car turned into a dark speck on the horizon, she gathered up the handbills and began to slip them under windshield wipers.
"Do these belong to you, ma'am?" A deep Texas drawl flowed over her, then a hand pushed a fistful of pink paper under her nose.
She turned. A tall cop studied her from beneath the brim of a white Stetson.
"They're mine." She made a grab for the pages.
He pulled his arm back before she could take them, raised his head, and gazed down the street. Pink paper flapped against windshields and skipped merrily over the sidewalk. The sunlight hit his face full on, exposing sharp cheekbones, a high-bridged nose, and a strong chin. His mouth was generous — often the sign of a sensitive nature — and his eyes, dark and glittering, brooded unhappily on the handbills.
"Is there a problem?" she asked.
He nodded at a sign halfway down the street. "It's illegal to post bills in El Royo."
"That seems petty." How was she supposed to make enough money to eat if she couldn't advertise?
"It's still against the town ordinance." His wide shoulders lifted, drawing her attention to the hard muscle beneath his uniform. Okay, he was handsome. But he was also a cop, and he was standing between her and her next meal.
She dropped her fail-safe smile on him. "I only have a few more cars, uh ..." Her gaze slid down his gray shirt to the brass name badge pinned on his pocket. R. Morales. Esme's older brother.
She'd loved hanging out at the Morales house when she was a kid, although R. Morales — why couldn't she remember his name? — had already gone away to college. The Morales family had talked about him as if he was a god, but face-to-face, he seemed more like an avenging angel.
"Officer Morales, can you see your way to giving a poor old girl a break? Just this once?"
His eyes narrowed. Intelligence gleamed in their dark depths. Her body warmed under his frank interest, and she glanced away so he wouldn't see the sudden rush of blood to her cheeks.
He pulled a handbill from his fist and read it out loud. "Tarot card readings by Shira, gifted Los Angeles medium. All questions will be answered with pinpoint accuracy. Reasonable rates." An eyebrow rose.
The no-nonsense, silent type. It worked so well on a man. But serious or not, silent or not, they were all wired the same way. Hooking a stray curl behind her ear, Dinah propped her hip against a dusty pickup. "Not a believer?"
He snorted. "Are you Shira, or did someone hire you to distribute these?"
"I'm Shira." Meeting his gaze straight on and holding it, she dared him to say something flip. Her breath hitched.
His mouth curved faintly, revealing boyish dimples. Why couldn't he be the town drunk or the mayor? Anything but a cop.
"Can I see some identification please?" he asked.
"This is completely unnecessary. I am a law-abiding citizen conducting a legitimate business. You have no right — "
"I.D. please." He held out a hand. "Miss Shira."
A fist of fear tightened inside her. She gestured at her yellow tank top and skinny jeans. "I'm not carrying it on me. This is harassment."
He thrust his square chin at her. "You are violating a town ordinance despite posted signage, and I am asking you for I.D." A cop who stood his ground. But they all did ... until they didn't anymore.
"How does my I.D. solve anything?"
"It tells me if you are from around these parts and are therefore familiar with how things work here. Maybe you'd rather take a ride over to the station." He pulled handcuffs from his belt.
She drew back from him and clasped her hands behind her back. "My car's across the street. I left my I.D. in the trunk." She led the way, exaggerating the swing of her hips, feeling his gaze and telling herself with much satisfaction he was just another horny guy. Horny guys — both the cop and non-cop variety — she could handle.
Her ancient Honda Civic, originally lipstick red, had faded to the color of dried blood. The tires were nearly bald and the muffler was attached with baling wire, but it had gotten her out of Los Angeles. She opened the driver's side door, then bent and slid a ring of keys from under the seat.
"That's the first place a thief would look." He stood behind her, long fingers toying with the handcuffs.
She lowered her lashes and pretended to study him. "Who would steal this?"
His lips curved into a smile. She'd misread them. Not sensitive. Sensuous. "Your I.D., ma'am."
She grabbed her frayed canvas backpack from the trunk. Pushing aside several unpaid parking tickets, pepper spray, and a tin of breath mints, she dug out her driver's license. "Here." She thrust it at him.
His fingers brushed her knuckles gently as he took the license. His skin was cool and dry. "Dinah Pittman of Los Angeles, California," he read. "And Shira?" He tipped his head up and frowned at her.
She allowed herself an eye-roll. "My business name. Obviously."
He considered her for a moment, worrying the inside of his cheek. She couldn't stop staring at the play of his skin against his tongue. Then a tiny flicker crossed his face. He'd recognized her.
"Dinah Pittman. Your daddy was the cop who robbed the armored truck."
Even after hearing it hundreds of times, the question still stung. She was not her father. She had never broken the law ... or at least she'd never committed a felony.
A pickup rolled by and honked. Officer Morales waved. "Howdy, Jamey."
Damn. The driver's face was as familiar as her own. What was Jamey Brenner doing back in town? Fear mixed with a healthy dose of humiliation tumbled through her. He'd never understand what she'd become.
Dinah turned away before he could see her, fixing her gaze on the familiar adobe shops, broken only by the old canon in front of the El Royo Historical Society and grassy lawn apron of the graceful limestone library beside it. She'd loved growing up in El Royo until her father crossed from the enforcement side to the criminal side of the legal system.
"Let's see, where were we?"
She stabbed an outstretched palm in his direction. "Can I have my license back?"
Narrowed eyes studied her face as he tapped the license against the handcuffs. One corner of his mouth ticked up, and one hot dimple appeared. Relief flooded through her. He was going to back off.
"Here. You've been gone awhile, so I'm giving you a warning this time. But I expect you to clean up all those handbills you've been papering the town with."
"Sure will, Officer." She looked down the street at the sea of pink.
"Thank you, Miss Pittman." He tipped his hat and strolled off.
Dinah watched him disappear into the Limestone Diner across the street. Nice ass, amazing shoulders, an athletic roll to his gait. Her skin still smoldered where his hand had touched hers. Too bad she didn't do cops.
She jumped into her Civic and zoomed out of town. A cool bath at the old quarry, then she'd lie low at her father's house until the cop dug up a new lawbreaker to get after. She punched the accelerator as she passed the diner. The muffler rattled and coughed a dusty cloud for Officer Morales and the fine folks of El Royo to eat.
* * *
Pop. Pop. Pop. Rafe turned as the rusty Honda chugged defiantly out of town. A sea of pink handbills thumbed their noses at him from the cars in front of the diner. He should let her go. Then a black SUV with tinted windows roared past, hard on the Honda's bumper.
"Thanks for the coke, Miss Angie." He dropped three dollars on the counter.
Dinah Pittman had headed down the narrow blacktop in the direction of Hacienda Osito and Shaw Valley Ranch. He followed the tendrils of exhaust drifting along the roadside. The summer sun beat down through a thin canopy of Texas ash, and a drop of sweat trailed down the back of his neck. He turned up the AC.
He'd been drawn by her blond curls flying in the wind. They'd called to him, "Come and get me." But it was her voice — throaty, with a hint of Texas beneath the flat California vowels —
that had made him want her.
A fine layer of dust hung over the rutted dirt road leading to the abandoned Shaw Limestone Quarry. He turned, pressing his boot hard against the accelerator. What the hell was she up to? Who was following her?
Rafe hit the brakes. The black SUV was hidden in the trees beside the road. He got out and ran. At the quarry, oily black water shimmered against the pale limestone. A short, balding man in a gray T-shirt and jeans stood near the clearing with his back to Rafe.
The man had a camera pointed at Dinah Pittman's tall, slender body as she gazed into the water from the quarry's edge. Behind her, the stone outcropping curled like a furious tidal wave. She turned, as if sensing Rafe behind her. Wide green eyes that lifted at the corners met his. He couldn't turn away.
Click. The camera snapped.
Pain shimmered in her eyes. Not so tough after all.
A primal need to protect her filled Rafe. He advanced on the man and grabbed his shoulder. "Who are you? What are you doing here?"
The man turned, dark eyes under beetle-like brows frowned at him. "This is a free country."
"I said, what are you doing here?"
"Ben Pittman died a few days ago. Never said nothing about the money, either." He eyed Dinah before turning back. "Might've taken the secret to his grave, who knows?"
"You didn't answer my question."
The reporter shrugged. "The Statesman is doing a feature this coming Sunday on Ben Pittman, "Good Cop, Bad Cop." My editor wants an interview and photos of his daughter for the article."
"Go on now."
"Ever hear of the first amendment?"
"Ever hear of stalking? I'll escort you back to your car unless you'd prefer a trip to the station."
Rafe walked back with the reporter and watched him drive away. When he returned to the quarry, Dinah Pittman was gone. Behind him, an ancient motor chugged to life and drove off.
A lucky break for him. He was done with complicated women — and Dinah Pittman was the poster child for complicated.CHAPTER 2
A fist pounded the front door, shaking the walls of the old clapboard house. Dinah's half-eaten peanut butter cracker slipped from her fingers and landed face down on the cracked linoleum floor.
"Dang it all." Only a few crackers left. Silently, she cursed the no-good S.O.B. boyfriend she'd been living with for disappearing with her nest egg. It was only six hundred bucks and change, but it sure would have come in handy right about now. A heavy fist rattled the door again.
"Hold your horses."
She muttered the words as she blew out the candle sputtering on the table. Darkness dropped around her like a cloak. Beyond the screen door crickets screeched and a dog barked. The moist east wind shifted north, pushing up the yellowed curtain over the sink. Blessed cool air hit her face, then the curtain stilled, and the heat closed around her again. Through the screen mesh, her eyes searched the shadowy backyard. Nothing stirred in the thick air.
"Silly girl." She'd been jumpy since that photographer followed her to the quarry.
She lifted her unruly curls off her damp neck, securing them with an elastic band. On her way through the dining room, she dug into her backpack, still laying on the table where she'd dumped it this afternoon. Her fingers closed around the pepper spray. She really missed her old snub-nose .32. It was a damn shame her only faithful friend for going on eight years was gathering dust in an L.A. pawnshop. But a girl had to have gas money if she was heading home.
The pounding grew more impatient.
"Hold your dang horses." She pressed her cheek against the front door. "Who's there?"
"Hey, Dinah, it's me. Teke Cruz."
She didn't want to see Teke. She didn't want to see any of them.
It's all of 'em, Dinah. They did it together and pinned it on your daddy. Momma had been right.
Before the trial, while Daddy sat in an El Royo jail cell, her momma had been a furious pest on the town streets, declaring to anyone who'd listen — and some who didn't want to — that her husband had been framed.
Like hell. He'd done it sure enough. But the others had turned him in and walked away free. That was the real injustice.
Maybe, wherever she'd run off to, Momma was still fuming over the unfairness of it all. Dinah had never tried to find out.
"Go away, Mr. Teke. I don't want to see you."
"Come on, girl, let me in."
She flipped the top off the pepper spray. "Just so you know, Mr. Teke, I'm armed. Now tell me what you're doing here."
"Open the door, and I'll tell you."
He cleared his throat.
He's up to something.
"I-I-I, uh, came for a reading. You can't very well tell my fortune with a door between us."
She did really need the cash. She was down to her last three crackers and whatever peanut butter was still stuck to the sides of the jar. "It's fifty dollars."
"I want the money upfront."
"Come on, Dinah, let me in."
She left the chain in place and opened the door a crack. A short, heavy-set man in faded jeans and a sweat-stained T-shirt stood on the porch. His eyes shifted nervously.
She pointed the pepper spray at his face. "Let me see the money."
"That's your weapon?"
"You won't be laughing if I use it. Now show me the money or get."
"For chrissake." He fumbled in the back pocket and produced a roll of bills. "You satisfied?"
Dinah stuck her hand through the crack in the door. "Give me the fifty bucks, then I'll let you in."
"Twenty-five now, the rest when you let me inside." He peeled a twenty and a five from the roll.
Dinah took the money and unlatched the door. "Fifteen minutes, and the clock starts now."
"Can we talk before you read my cards? Seeing as I'm the customer and all, and it's my fifteen minutes."
"After you let my daddy take the blame for the robbery, consider yourself lucky I didn't pepper spray you and slam the door in your face."
Teke's eyes narrowed. "He deserved to go down after he took off with the money. Left us high and dry. I had plans, you know. Wanted to get myself a cabin in the hills."
"That's a real shame," she said dryly. "Let's get this over with. Follow me." She gestured toward a small table covered in a red and gold batik cloth nestled in the living room shadows.
"Can we turn on the lights?"
Electricity was a luxury she couldn't afford. "I can't concentrate if it's too bright." She pointed at a ladder-back chair. "Set yourself down, Mr. Teke."
She took the other seat, struck a match, and lit a pillar candle on the table. "How's that?"
Teke pulled calloused, blackened fingertips through his gray hair. He'd been a mechanic all his life, and the grease had soaked clear through his skin. "All that does is show our exact location in the house."
She'd been fighting the feeling all day that someone was watching her. Someone besides that journalist or the cop. She didn't need Teke spooking her worse than she already was.
"Who would care, Mr. Teke? Unless you have some real facts, keep your paranoia to yourself."
He stared at her, his forehead furled, his eyes unsure.
"What is it? Tell me," she said.
"Be careful, Dinah." He spoke under his breath, and she leaned over the table to catch his words. In the flickering candlelight, his eyes were deep, sightless wells. "It's not over. Not until the money's found."
A small shiver vibrated down her spine. Nodding at the deck, softened by age and her mother's hands, she said, "Nonsense. Go on now. Shuffle the cards."
Sweat and the scent of fear rose from his skin. "Just once?"
"I can't tell you. Whatever feels right."
His thick hands cut the deck and shuffled them. One, two, three times. He straightened the cards and handed them to her.
"Okay, let's see what we've got." She laid out the cards in a cross exactly as Momma had taught her and flipped the center card. Lightning threaded toward a medieval fortification as two ill-fated figures flung themselves from the ramparts. The Tower of Doom. Shit.
Teke was studying her. "What is it? It's something bad, ain't it?"
"Are you sure you shuffled those cards good?"
"Come on. Let's hear it."
Excerpted from Stranger At My Door by Mari Manning, Alycia Tornetta. Copyright © 2016 Mary Doherty. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved this book. It is a fast paced romantic suspense that kept me guessing until the end. I loved the way the author developed the characters and wove a complex tale that was unpredictable. Dinah has been knocked down by life and arrives back at her childhood home penniless and friendless. Before she's even gotten settled, she finds herself in trouble with a local cop who tells her she could be fined thousands of dollars for breaking the law.....money that she doesn't have. When a pregnant urchin steals what little she has, Dinah's life becomes much more dangerous. This also makes her spend more time with the same local cop that harassed her and sparks soon fly. This is the first book I've read by this author, but it won't be the last. This is a must read for romantic suspense fans.