Two couples forced to face the turth…or risk losing each other forever…
Two Hearts by Maggie Shayne
Good fortune smiled on lawman Jack McCain when he wooed and wed beautiful heiress Grace Phelps. But both had secrets yet to be revealed, secrets that could change their marriage—for better or for worse.
A Little Bit Dangerous by Marilyn Pappano
When undercover agent Chance Reynard walked away from Mary Katherine Monroe, he left her with nothing but a broken heart. But when they reunited, neither one was prepared for the feelings that still existed—or for the truth lurking beneath the surface.
About the Author
Author of 80+ books, Marilyn Pappano has been married for thirty+ years to the best husband a writer could have. She's written more than 80 books and has won the RITA and many other awards. She blogs at www.the-twisted-sisters.com and can be found at www.marilyn-pappano.com. She and her husband live in Oklahoma with five rough-and-tumble dogs.
Read an Excerpt
It was almost 8:00 p.m., and Jack McCain was a mess. He hadn't shaved in a week, and he reeked of the stale beer JW had poured over his tattered pea coat and moth-eaten knit cap. The jeans he wore were slick with age and damn near black with grime down the fronts of the legs. The sneakers—yeah, he still called them that—were of the sort that seemed to talk to you when you walked, the toes opening and closing with every step. The socks underneath had holes in them.
He sat on the sidewalk, in the shadows between a couple of overly ripe trash cans, on a spring evening in the bad part of town. The sky was mud-colored, partly from the encroaching darkness, partly from the gray smog and rain clouds that hung over everything. The streetlights, the few that were working at all, were like weak, hazy eyes on the brink of death. They barely penetrated the gloom.
In his hand he had a bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag. Iced tea, not whiskey, but the look was right. His .44 Magnum was in a shoulder rig, resting heavy against his right side. Jack was a southpaw, so the mike was sewn into the cuff of his right sleeve. The earpiece was attached to the cap he wore. JW was on the other end, wearing headphones and waiting to send in the troops.
Just like he'd been waiting…for three solid weeks. The crack house Jack was watching was doing a steady business. But they were waiting for the supplier. Word was he'd be showing up in person for some major funds to change hands. He hadn't yet, but Jack figured he would. And soon. His radar was buzzing tonight.
It was off, though.
The guy who showed up instead was maybe fifty. Big guy, a little overweight, but solid-looking, shoes smacking over damp, broken sidewalk. From the cut of his suit Jack knew he didn't belong in this part of town. He was uppercrust. He wasn't the dealer. Jack knew that the same way he knew so many other things he shouldn't. He'd acquired a sixth sense from years of being a cop. A kind of radar. It wasn't something most of his colleagues talked about much. Sometimes he would just…know. This guy—he was one of the good ones. And he was headed for trouble.
He traversed the sidewalk, looking from the slip of paper in his hand to the numbers on the buildings he passed. An old newspaper page blew past his feet, past shoes that cost what five pairs of Jack's own would. And the "boyz" on the corner in their oversize clothes and stolen Nikes, looked up. They had radar, too. They smelled his money, and they'd pegged him for an easy mark.
Jack tipped up his bottle, pretending to slug back some whiskey while he talked to his worn-out cuff. "We got a man about to get rolled here. Send a black-and-white."
There was pause. Then, "They're thirteen blocks out. Two minutes, Jack."
The boyz—there were five of them—were already approaching the man in the expensive suit. Their victim spotted them, and his eyes widened. He got that expression on his face that comes when the clouds part and you realize you just walked right out in front of a speeding bus. He looked behind him, then turned to go back the way he'd come, but they were on him within a second. They surrounded him like a pack of freaking wolves. No. Dogs. Mean, ugly, mongrel dogs that have been kicked too often and fed too seldom. One of them looked around, and Jack slouched lower, closed his eyes.
"This guy doesn't have two minutes," he told his sleeve.
"Don't blow your cover, Jack. We've worked on this too long to—"
Jack didn't hear any more. His focus was all on the little group of Boy Scouts across the street. One had pulled a blade and they were backing the older man up, talking to him as his back pressed to the wet brick wall of the building behind him.
He reached for his wallet, then clutched his chest instead.
Jack shot to his feet and was across the street so fast he didn't remember his sneakers hitting the pavement. The Magnum was in his hand and he was yelling "Freeze" before he even thought about it.
One of the boys saw him coming and yelled, "Cop!" and then they scattered.
The man in the suit sank to the ground slowly. Jack brought his wrist up once more as he ran the last few steps to where the victim lay. "Get an ambulance out here, and tell that black-and-white to pick up the five little pricks they're about to see running like hell between Austin and Main."
"You got it, Jack."
Jack glanced around to make sure he was clear. He was. He could hear the siren now. No one would mess him up. Then he knelt beside the man in the suit.
The older man squinted at him, breathing quickly and too shallowly, Jack thought. "What are you, Super-Bum or something?"
Blinking, pretty much stunned that the guy could find anything humorous at all in the situation, Jack forced a smile. The older fellow was pale, and sweat beaded on his forehead. "Not exactly. I'm Jack McCain," he told him. "I'm a cop."
"Harry Phelps," he said, and a vague familiarity tickled Jack's brain then faded. "You were working undercover, huh?" the man asked.
Jack looked at the crack house, one house over, saw the faces peering out the dirty, broken windows from behind the rags that passed for curtains. "I was."
"I blew it for you."
"Doesn't matter. Do you have a heart condition, anything I should know to tell the paramedics when they get here?"
He made a face, tried to sit up, and Jack ended up helping him, because he wasn't quitting easy. "A touch of angina. I'll be…" He grunted, grating his teeth. "I'll be fine."
"We'll see what they say about that at the hospital."
"I can't…" He lowered his head as his chest, no doubt, sent another bolt of pain through him. "Have to get home. I'm expected…Hell, man, my youngest daughter is coming home from college tonight. Gracie. There's a party and—"
"The party can wait."
"You don't understand." The pain seemed to pass. Harry's face eased. "My wife will have every watered-down excuse for a man there—at least if they're single and have a pedigree."
"Your daughter's looking for a husband?" Jack asked, mildly amused.
"Gracie? Hell, no! But Mitsy can be…"
Jack was getting the picture. "Overbearing?"
"Like a bulldozer."
Jack smiled, finding he liked the old guy. "I can call your family for you. Tell them what's happened."
"And scare them half to death?"
The ambulance came around the corner, stopped in front of them, and the back opened up. "I can be tactful," Jack told him.
"Yeah. I'll be at the ER when they arrive. I can talk to them there if you want, keep them calm while they wait for you."
His eyes narrowed. "Why will you be there? Waiting for some kind of reward?" he asked, one brow cocking up.
"You try offering me one and I'll arrest you. I'll be there to take your statement, you cranky old bastard."
The old guy smiled, right through the pain, he smiled broadly. And Jack decided he definitely liked him. He was tough as nails, and there wasn't a pretentious bone in him, despite the cut of his suit.
Harry reached up, clasped Jack's arm and squeezed it. "You saved my life just now, son. I won't forget it."
"It's my job." The ambulance crew pretty much shouldered Jack out of the way as they leaned over him. He spoke to JW via his wrist mike while they examined the old guy, but he never took his eyes off Harry. He was still in pain, but damn, he looked too tough to be in any serious trouble.
They lifted him onto the stretcher after a few minutes, and rolled him toward the vehicle.
"McCain!" the old man shouted.
The attendants paused, and Jack went back to the old guy. "I'm right here."
"Don't bother calling anyone," he said. "I have a cell phone. It'll be better if I do it myself."
"All right. My partner says they picked up three of the punks who did this, and one of them still had your wallet on him."
"Good," he said. "Kick their asses for me, will you?"
Jack grinned at him. "Not on duty, I won't."
"Hell, I'll have to do it myself then." He sounded as if he fully meant it. Jack bet he could do it, too. "You're coming to the hospital, then?" he asked.
Jack glanced at the attendants. "Mercy General," the paramedic filled in.
"Yeah. I'll be there."
"Do me one favor, son?"
Jack lifted his brows, leaned closer.
"Take a bath and put on a clean suit. You stink to high heaven."
He couldn't help but chuckle at that. "Get this character out of here, will you?"
The paramedics, smiling, as well, bundled Phelps into the back and took off, sirens wailing.
Watching them go, Jack had no idea that the course of his life would change radically that night. Some radar, right? He thought later that he should have known, should have sensed it somehow. That old man had plans for Jack. Big plans. And like some unseasoned rookie, Jack walked right into them, head-on.
He headed straight back to his tiny two-rooms-and-a-bath apartment over Mike's Bar and Grill. By the time he had showered, shaved, changed clothes and headed out again to go to the hospital, the better part of an hour had passed. And that damned dog from next door hadn't stopped barking the entire time. Jack knew hospitals. He figured he'd walk in to see the old gent biding his time in the ER, awaiting the results of his blood work or the cutting of the red tape that would get him a room.
He wasn't, though, and when Jack got his name from the ER admitting nurse, he finally figured out why. "Harry" turned out to be Harrison J. Phelps. The character was one of the richest men in the country. His name was as well-known as Rupert Murdoch's or Donald Trump's. He'd been examined, diagnosed and put into a private room with all due haste, and was even now visiting with his family doctor, who must have broken land speed records to get there.
Shaking his head slowly, Jack got the room number and went to the elevator. At the sixth floor, he got off again. Jack was not usually the kind of man who worried too much about his appearance, and even less about what other people thought of him. Yeah, he had cleaned up for the old guy some, but he would have done the same for anybody. Now, though, that he knew who the guy was, he also knew he wasn't up to snuff. The suit was clean, in good shape, but even brand-new it wouldn't have fooled anyone into thinking it had any designer's name on the label—unless the designer was named JCPenney. Jack decided he'd keep his coat on. It was slightly more impressive looking. Nowhere near up to Phelps-style snuff, but it had cost a few bucks. It was a black trench coat, long enough to cover up most of the cheap suit.
Glancing at the numbers on the doors, Jack spotted the one marked 621, and tapped on it. The old man's voice called, "Come in," so he opened the door, stepped through, and got hit right between the eyes with the blinding light of an angel.
She was sitting in a chair beside Harry's bed, holding his hand in both of hers. And hers were long and strong and elegant, her nails short and neat. Jack's gaze slid up her arm to her shoulder, which was bared by the sleeveless dress she was wearing. It was pale blue, that dress, simply cut but elegant somehow. It came down to the middle of her thighs and from there on there was nothing but leg. She had long, long legs, and they ended in shoes that had pointy little toes and dainty little heels.
Jack swallowed hard, sliding his focus up her body again, knowing better, but somehow unable to do anything different. Her waist was small and her chest was small, too. Jack usually went for buxom babes with cleavage to spare—most of whom would come only up to this woman's shoulders—but there was something about her….
She wore pearls…tiny, perfects pearls around her long, slender neck. Her auburn hair was tugged back into a smooth knot. Her skin…it was like cream. Her cheekbones made her seem born of royalty. And finally Jack looked at her eyes, and thought a goddess must have given birth to her. Big, almond-shaped eyes, sizzling electric-blue, gazed back at him, and they were damn near as busy as his own, looking him over.
"About time you got here," Harry was saying. "This is him, Gracie. This is Jack McCain."
The girl blinked, and the next thing Jack knew she was out of her chair and in his arms. Tall, long and lean, she wrapped her arms around Jack's neck and hugged him close to her. "Thank you," she said softly. "Thank you for saving my father's life."
Jack blinked, pretty much bowled over at this point and trying real hard to keep in mind that this was a lady, a real lady, and not the type of girl he usually warmed his nights with. She was class personified. She was grace…they had certainly named her right. His hands were on her back, but not too hard, and he didn't dare move them. He felt as if he were holding something too clean to touch.
She smelled good. Like sunshine and wildflowers.
A throat cleared very slightly. Grace gently backed away, her blue eyes wet as she smiled up at him. Jack got the sense of other people in the room. It hadn't been Harry's throat-clearing just then. But for the life of him, he couldn't look away from the woman whose hands still rested slightly on his shoulders.
"I'm sorry," she said. "But when I think how close we came to losing him…"
"It wasn't that big a deal."
"Nonsense!" Harry boomed. "This young man saved my life. The killers had weapons!"
"They were muggers, Harry, and all they had was a pocketknife—"
"You should have seen him, Mitsy," Harry went on. "Onlookers actually applauded!"
Jack felt his brows pull together and for the first time he got that little niggling feeling at the back of his neck that told him something wasn't quite right. Gently, his hands resting at Grace's waist, he moved her to one side. "Harry, what are you—"
"I can't tell you how grateful we are, young man," a woman said. Jack looked her way, met her eyes and saw an
older, shorter version of Grace. She had to be the girl's mother.
"I was only doing my job, ma'am," he said.