Welcome to my stop on the When I Find You tour! i have an interview with the author, Dixie Lee Brown, and some information on her latest release!
tell me about yourself, and your writing.
Hi! Dixie Lee Brown here. Thanks for having me join you today. I love being a writer. I’ve been writing things and squirreling them away almost all my life, but I didn’t get serious about writing as a career until three years ago. That’s when I wrote ALL OR NOTHING which turned out to be the first book in the Trust No One series published by Avon Impulse earlier this year. It also placed third in the 2011 TARA contest in the romantic suspense category. I’m very excited that the second book in the series, WHEN I FIND YOU, has just been released!
When I’m not writing, I’m probably reading. I’m pretty much a homebody, but I do love the beach and go there as often as I can.
How long have you been writing? How many published books do you have, and what genres?
I’ve been writing for twenty years or better, but seriously for about three. My new release, WHEN I FIND YOU, makes two published books in romantic suspense. There’ll be at least one more in that series.
Do you write in multiple genres or just one? If just one, do you ever consider straying outside your genre?
So far I’ve only written romantic suspense and, no, I guess I’ve never considered anything else—yet!
Are you a plotter or do you write from the seat of your pants?
I’m a devoted pantser. After a conference I attended last year where a guest speaker extolled the virtues of being a plotter, I decided to give it a try. Long story short, after spending about a week plotting and outlining, it took me about thirty minutes to veer completely off course. The seat of my pants seems to work for me!
What is a typical writing day like for you?
My writing day starts as soon as I get home from my day job, feed the dogs, and grab some dinner for myself. Then from about seven sometimes until midnight I write and do whatever promotion type items need to be done.
Who do you love to read? Favorite authors, favorite books?
I seldom read outside the romance genre, but whenever Lisa Gardner has a new book out, I’m there. She makes writing look easy. My new favorite romance is SHE’S GOT DIBS by AJ Nuest. Fabulous book!
What is something you'd like to accomplish in your writing career next year?
I want to continue to learn my craft and hone my skills, and hopefully there’ll be a couple more books to write next year.
If you could have one paranormal ability, what would it be?
I guess I wouldn’t mind being able to fly.
If you could keep a mythical/ paranormal creature as a pet, what would you have?
Absolutely nothing with claws, fangs or the ability to breathe fire! Maybe a unicorn.
Tell us a little about your latest release.
WHEN I FIND YOU, second book in the Trust No One series, is the story of Walker, an ex-Marine, sent to find a nanny on the run from the mafia. Should be fairly easy, but he has no idea how hard it will be to convince the nanny he’s on her side.
Darcy knows who pulled the trigger and left her boss for dead. Now, someone is after her, including a dangerous stranger who won’t give up until he finds her.
What is something that you absolutely can't live without? (Other than family members)
Could you ever co author a book with someone? If so, who would you choose, and what would you write?
I think co-authoring would be tough for me. I’m somewhat of a control freak!
If you could spend a day with anyone from history, dead or alive, who would it be, and what would you do? What would you ask them?
My maternal grandparents immigrated to this country from Russia and died when my mother was a teenager. I think it would be very interesting to meet them, learn what their lives were like, and what prompted them to leave Russia.
What are some of your other hobbies outside of writing?
I love to read, see movies, and travel—and spend time with my dogs.
What is something you've always wanted to do, but haven't done yet. Why not?
I really, really want to fly first class sometime! Silly, huh? I haven’t done it because obviously it’s a little expensive, and if I’m going to pay that much, it has to be a long enough trip to make it worthwhile!
If you were on the staff to have a book adapted to movie, what would you pick?
Well, running the risk of sounding shamelessly self-promoting, I’d have to say WHEN I FIND YOU. Lol!
What is a talent you wish you had, but don't?
Oh, there are so many! I wish I was good at interior decorating.
Favorite color? Blue
Weather: Hot or cold? Hot
Favorite place to read? In bed—makes it easier when I fall asleep!
Favorite meal? Chicken livers and rice
Favorite non-alcoholic drink? Sweet tea
If you could travel anywhere and do anything, no limits or money holding you back, where would you go?
It’s on my bucket list to fly first class to New Zealand! (See question above!)
When I Find You
A Trust No One Novel
By: Dixie Lee Brown
Releasing July 16th, 2013
Dixie Lee Brown continues her heart-racing Trust No One series with a sexy veteran determined to protect an innocent woman on the run.
As a former Marine, Walker could find a needle in a haystack. But when he's asked by the U.S. Marshals to track down a nanny fleeing from the mafia, he's sure she'll be more trouble than she's worth. Especially after the sexy little thing clubs him and leaves him for dead. Walker's stunned by her courage—and her curves—and can't help feeling drawn to this damsel trying to dig her way out of distress. He'll find her, and when he does, it'll take more than the mafia to tear him away.
Darcy Maddox never expected to be running for her life. But when it suddenly looks like foe may become friend, Darcy's faced with a choice: Go it alone or trust a man she just met—never mind the way his touch gets her heart pounding. The choice seems simple enough until she realizes it's not just her life at stake—it's her heart.
Link to Follow the Tour: http://tastybooktours.blogspot.com/2013/06/now-booking-tasty-virtual-book-tour-for_28.html
DIXIE LEE BROWN started writing romantic suspense nearly twenty years ago. Then life took a few unexpected turns, and the writing career was put on hold in favor of starting a new life and a new job. One’s passion is not easily forgotten, however. Two years ago, Dixie started writing again-a YA novel-but, before she could finish, another idea pushed to the forefront and wouldn’t go away until a full-fledged novel was completed.
That idea became All or Nothing, the first book in the Trust No One series. All or Nothing placed third in the 2011 TARA Contest (Tampa Area Romance Authors) in the romantic suspense category.
Dixie now lives in sunny Central Oregon with two small dogs and a cat for company while she writes the third book of the Trust No One series. When she’s not writing, she enjoys reading, movies and trips to the beach.
That idea became All or Nothing, the first book in the Trust No One series. All or Nothing placed third in the 2011 TARA Contest (Tampa Area Romance Authors) in the romantic suspense category.
Dixie now lives in sunny Central Oregon with two small dogs and a cat for company while she writes the third book of the Trust No One series. When she’s not writing, she enjoys reading, movies and trips to the beach.
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The sharp crack of a gunshot echoed through the silence. Darcy jerked upright in bed, the troubled thoughts keeping her from sleep suddenly forgotten. Her breath caught in her throat as she froze, staring into the darkness, listening. She had to be wrong. It couldn’t be gunfire. The slamming of a cupboard door maybe or a car backfiring on the street at the end of the drive. That was all. She released her pent-up breath and forced herself to relax while easing the tension from her neck, her spine, her stomach…except, apparently there was no help for the ball of dread that knotted her stomach. She shook her head. Since when had she become so paranoid? Her imagination was really working overtime tonight.
The next shot shattered the rosy image she’d conjured and propelled her from the bed to the door, her hands braced against it as though she were strong enough to barricade herself from the evil that lurked outside.
She lost track of time. Seconds blurred into minutes as she waited. No voices. No doors opening or closing. Not even the creak of a floorboard. Nothing. She opened her door a crack and held her breath. The gunfire had come from downstairs, but the only sound now was the tick, tick, tick of the grandfather clock in the hallway outside her room. A ribbon of light revealed the top few steps leading to the lower level. Her heart drummed wildly in her ears, and she forced air into her lungs and let it out, fortifying herself against the lightheadedness that made her legs weak and shaky.
She couldn’t stay here hiding. She had to do something—but what? Go downstairs? Johnny and she were the only ones in the house, at least the only ones who were supposed to be here. What if he was hurt? He might need help, but whoever fired those shots could still be down there. The police? It would take them forever to get here. She leaned her forehead against the cool wooden door, squeezed her eyes shut and fought the indecision and terror that immobilized her.
Darcy had known there was something wrong this morning as she’d watched the two young boys she cared for follow their mother to the cab parked out front. Any other day, she’d have been helping them get ready for school. After they left, the threat still hung in the empty hallways and deserted grounds, and the silence that descended over the house tonight practically shouted a warning.
She’d bet anything her employer, Johnny Fontana, knew there was something wrong too. Why else would he have given the entire household staff a three-day weekend and sent his wife and sons to visit family in California? He’d wanted Darcy to leave today too and even insisted on paying her expenses to visit her parents in Oregon.
The thought of seeing her father filled her with dread, so she’d used a doctor’s appointment as an excuse to delay her departure. She couldn’t explain to Johnny how one sad smile from her father reawakened all the pain and guilt and reminded her in vivid detail why she’d left Oregon in the first place. She loved her father and missed her mother terribly, but there was too much left unsaid between them. Johnny wasn’t completely satisfied with the compromise she’d offered but eventually gave in, and Darcy had made arrangements to leave tomorrow afternoon to visit a friend from college.
Now, the stillness settled around her and a feeling of impending doom sucked the air from her lungs. A grimace twisted her lips. Clearly Johnny had a very good reason for insisting she go. Perhaps it wouldn’t have hurt to be a little more flexible.
She should have known something like this would happen when she decided to stay and work for Johnny, even after she learned who he was. What rational person takes a job as nanny to a gangster’s sons anyway? Her father didn’t have any trouble deciding the extent of her foolishness from clear across the country, and he didn’t hesitate to tell her what she should do. Pack her bags and get out. Was that why she stayed? To prove to her father she could take care of herself? Clearly not the wisest decision she’d ever made.
Her head snapped up. Voices floated to her ears as heavy footsteps ascended the stairs. She caught a few words—girl…take her out…upstairs—and her heartbeat picked up another notch.
Icy cords of fear tingled along her spine. She knew the man behind that voice. Reggie Allen. A week ago, he’d come to the house in the company of an older man. She’d never seen either of them before, but she wasn’t likely to forget them. Reggie’s lascivious perusal had filled her with cold dread. The older man’s graying hair sported a serious comb-over, and his soft, fleshy neck and face matched his rotund body. It was his eyes, though, that sent a chill racing up and down her spine. Evil was the word that came to mind when she looked in those eyes.
Later, one of the kitchen staff filled her in. The older man was Frank DeLuca, the head of a well-known crime family…and Johnny’s boss. When DeLuca left that day, Johnny stormed to his study and slammed the door. Reggie came alone each day after that, and with every visit, Johnny grew more anxious. That, and the presence of armed guards on the grounds, should have given Darcy a clue as to how serious the situation was. If only she hadn’t been so busy pretending none of it existed, she might have left this morning like Johnny wanted.
Reggie’s head and shoulders suddenly appeared at the top of the stairs, and she could have sworn he stared right at her through the narrow crack of the open door. She jerked back, closed it a little too hard and swung around. Fear choked her as she struggled to control her breathing and slow her runaway heartbeat.
There was no more time. She had to get out.
Her gaze swept the room, stopping at her purse and the small bag she’d packed with enough clothes for the weekend. Buffeted by uncertainty and fear, she hesitated, unable to think beyond the terror that gnawed at her confidence. A shudder rocked her as she remembered the dark intensity of Reggie’s eyes and the scornful looks he’d reserved for her on his visits to the house. Did he come here tonight to hurt Johnny? It was unthinkable…but she wasn’t hanging around to find out what he would do next. After she was safely away, she’d call the police and send help for Johnny. She couldn’t worry about whether it would come too late.
A loose board creaked in the hallway, sending another dose of adrenaline pumping through her veins. Time was up.
She flew to the window and threw it open, hoping to leave a false trail Reggie would follow. Then she grabbed her bags and crossed to the adjoining door that accessed the children’s room next to hers. She closed it silently behind her and picked her way around favorite toys and beanbag pillows until she stopped in front of the far wall. Nick and Eddy had shown her the secret passageway behind the bookshelf in their room one day when the three of them were playing hide-and-seek. She’d laughed because it was so James Bond. It didn’t seem quite so funny now.
Darcy stuffed down the panic as she searched in the dark for the release that would trip the lock and allow the bookshelf to swing out from the wall. On her tiptoes, her fingers swept the top shelf and finally found what she was looking for—a two inch thick, leather-bound copy of A Tale of Two Cities. She pulled the book out a half inch and the reluctant turn of the lock grated in the silent room. Expelling a sigh of relief, she moved the bookcase away from the wall enough to allow her to squeeze through the narrow opening.
As hurried footsteps signaled Reggie’s entrance from the hallway into her room on the other side of the adjoining door, she tossed her bags into the black chasm behind the bookshelves and slid through after them, then pulled the shelves back into place with a soft click. Her back pressed against the secret entrance, she froze and held her breath, listening as Reggie’s footsteps encroached on the children’s room, circled, and stopped just on the other side of the wall from her, then retreated until she couldn’t hear him anymore. She gulped air, rested her head against the wall for a few seconds, and prayed for the strength to keep going.
Darcy couldn’t see her bare feet in the darkness that engulfed the secret passageway. No matter how much time she gave her eyes to adjust, the inky blackness clung to her. The pungent smell of damp earth invaded her nostrils and images of freshly dug graves swirled in her mind. She spread her arms to gauge the width of the narrow corridor and relief coursed through her when she could touch both sides. Fear of the dark had never been an issue for her before, but the complete void unnerved her. She took a deep breath and swallowed hard against the dread that churned her stomach.
The day the boys had led her through these tunnels came back to her in surprising detail. She groped for her bag, pulled the strap over one shoulder, and slung her purse over the other. Closing her eyes again, she let her fingers trail along the rough walls and took her first tentative steps, using memories to guide her. The corridor ran along the back of the house for about twenty feet before a rickety set of steps descended to the basement level. It turned into a dirt tunnel at that point and angled east, away from the house for about two hundred yards, ending abruptly at a ladder leading to a trap door that opened into a thick grove of trees.
When she reached the top of the ladder, threw back the cover, and clambered from the hole, she drew in huge gasps of fresh air, and the cool night breeze dried the sweat that beaded on her face. For all she knew, Johnny Fontana could be dead, and she’d done nothing to help him. She couldn’t think about that right now. What was she going to do? Returning to the house was out of the question. Reggie would surely be looking for her. She was in way over her head and didn’t have the first clue how to get herself out. If Johnny was dead, she’d just lost everything—her boss, her job, her home and…oh my God…Nick and Eddy. Were they in danger too? She drew a deep breath and searched for calm somewhere in her frantic mind. It would do no good to panic. Now was the time to be smart and make the right choices, or she could easily end up dead too.
Darcy stared out the window of the 737 at the layer of clouds below. The sting of tears burned her eyes. She had only vague memories of stumbling through the dark passageway, throwing on clothes outside the trap door in the woods beyond the house, and calling the Chicago Police Department to anonymously report a disturbance at 4220 North Magnolia Drive. Buying her ticket and boarding a plane for Oregon was a complete blur, but the image of Reggie Allen when he appeared at the top of those stairs and looked right at her, and the words she’d overheard him speak that sent her on the run, were etched into her memory.
There was no mention of Johnny in the morning paper she read while awaiting her plane’s departure, but she’d had a bad feeling. He wouldn’t have allowed Reggie to come after her if he’d been all right. At the very least, he was probably wounded. Her mind shied away from the idea that he might be dead. Nick and Eddy’s father simply couldn’t be dead.
What would Reggie have done to her if he’d found her? Was he still looking?
When Johnny asked her to leave for the weekend, he’d given her cash and instructed her not to use her credit cards for anything on her trip. She hadn’t thought much about it at the time. He was always very generous. Now she was painfully aware he’d been trying to protect her, just as he’d been doing since the first day she showed up on his doorstep.
The au pair agency was negligent in not telling her that the Fontana family was associated with the Mafia. Maybe they were afraid they’d never find anyone to fill the position if they disclosed that information, or maybe they were as clueless as she was. In any case, seven-year-old Eddy and nine-year-old Nick were great kids. Courteous, intelligent, mischievous. The boys won her heart almost immediately. Two weeks later she overheard one of the landscape crew mention the mob and the name Fontana in the same sentence. The revelation came just a little too late. Darcy couldn’t leave her job…leave those two boys. So she ignored the truth and avoided Johnny’s associates when they came to the house. For three years she’d been accepted as though she were part of the family. Not once had she been afraid…until now.
Darcy dismissed the idea of visiting her friend the minute she got to the ticket counter at O’Hare International. Her father was the one she needed now, even though she knew it would hurt facing him again. A retired chief of police with thirty years on the force, he’d know what to do.
She purchased her ticket with cash and wore ragged blue jeans, a dark brown corduroy jacket over a long-sleeved yellow shirt and a baseball cap pulled low over her eyes, her telltale shoulder-length red hair tucked out of sight. She was on the run with no idea what she was doing. How could she? In her darkest dreams she’d never imagined she’d be running for her life.
After she boarded the plane, she relaxed a little. Surely Reggie wouldn’t bother to follow her once she left Chicago. She’d be safe if she could only get home. For what must have been the hundredth time, she glanced around the cabin, unable to shake the feeling someone watched her.
The two seats beside her were unoccupied. A man sat in the aisle seat opposite her. The window seat beside him was empty. He was about her age, maybe a little older, dressed in jeans and a light blue polo shirt. His sun-streaked blond hair and tanned skin suggested he hailed from somewhere warm and tropical. If it was sun he was looking for, he’d be disappointed in Portland. An iPad balanced on his lap, and whatever he was studying kept his gaze glued to the screen.
After another furtive look around, Darcy turned back to the view from her window and her thoughts as the plane shuddered and rocked its way through a rough patch of turbulence.
Darcy’s gaze flew to the man across the aisle as he latched onto the armrest of his seat with a white-knuckled grip. As soon as the plane evened out again, he glanced around the cabin, a sheepish expression on his face. He caught her watching him, even though she ducked her head and tried to hide under the brim of her hat.
His self-deprecating laugh pulled her gaze up again. “Sorry, but that scared the crap out of me, and you’re making me look like a wimp.”
She laughed. “I’m not a huge fan of flying either. That whole defying gravity thing is hard to wrap my head around.”
He looked directly at her with dark brown eyes that searched hers intently. “Then why aren’t you a sweat-soaked basket case too?”
The thoughts foremost in her mind today apparently overruled any anxiety caused by a little turbulence, but she couldn’t explain that to him. She shrugged. “I guess I’m a little distracted today.”
“I tried that.” He pointed to his iPad. “Can’t say it worked all that well.”
Darcy smiled. The poor guy tensed again as the plane hit another bump.
In the next instant, a heavyset man in a brown suit shoved himself into the aisle seat of Darcy’s row. She gasped as she jumped to her feet, banged her head against the overhead bin, and scattered her magazine, purse, and cell phone on the floor beneath the seats. Reggie’s words invaded her mind—girl…take her out…upstairs. Pressed against the interior wall of the aircraft, there was nowhere to go and nothing to do but wait for his next move. Two painful breaths later, the man glanced at her with glazed eyes that barely focused, and his red, blotchy face told her the rest of the story. This guy represented a danger only to his liver. She had majorly overreacted.
The blond man across the aisle stood, his concerned gaze on her face. “I take it he’s not with you?”
She shook her head once, then gave a dismissive wave with one hand, hoping he hadn’t noticed the terror on her face or the way her pulse still hammered in her neck.
The blond man frowned and set his iPad on his seat, stepped into the aisle and leaned toward the drunk. “Excuse me, sir. I think there’s been a mistake. Do you remember where you were sitting?”
“Huh?” The man tilted his head. “This isn’t my seat?” He glanced at Darcy, then did a double-take. “No-sir-ee! I’d remember sitting by a hot babe like you.” He hoisted his bulk up and the younger man stepped back to allow him into the aisle.
Darcy watched his progress toward the front of the plane and tried to force her breathing back to normal. Probably too much to hope that the blond man would go back to his reading and let her recover her composure in private. Sure enough, when she looked at him, he waited in the aisle, studying her.
“He startled me.” She avoided his eyes, dropped into her seat and leaned over to pick up her things.
He stepped toward her, slid into the middle seat next to hers, and snagged her purse from the floor. “I noticed.” He handed her purse over as his gaze swept her face again. “Okay now?”
“I’m fine. Thanks for your help.” Great. She’d managed to arouse his suspicions without even trying. The last thing she wanted to do was attract attention to herself. She had to get a grip.
“My pleasure, but I expect something in return.”
His voice teased, but she waited apprehensively for him to continue.
“I may need you to talk me down off the ceiling the next time we hit turbulence.”
She smiled faintly. “Sure. It’s the least I can do.”
“I’m Grant, by the way.” He stuck out his hand.
“I’m pretty sure he’s harmless, but I could hang out with you for a few minutes just to be sure.”
“That’s really not necessary. I’m sure you’re right about him. I don’t want to take you from your reading.”
“That book will be there when I get back…unless you want to be alone.” His gaze rested questioningly on her.
He gave her the perfect out. She should take it if for no other reason but to keep him from getting involved and possibly becoming a target. Not to mention the fact she didn’t know him. How did she know he could be trusted?
He came to her aid immediately when he saw her distress, and his fear of flying wasn’t an act. She really was being paranoid now. Would it hurt to sit and visit with him for a while?
She pushed her doubts aside and smiled. “Some company would be nice.”
Grant settled into the seat beside her. “What’s in Portland, Darcy?”
“A rental car, I hope. I’m on my way home to Tillamook.” Doubt fluttered at the back of her mind. No need to tell him her life story.
“You’re kidding! I’m from Pacific City. We’re practically neighbors.” He turned sideways in his seat to stare at her. “You look familiar. Have we met? What year did you graduate?” He went on without giving her a chance to respond. “Ever go to dances in Pacific City?”
Darcy dropped her gaze and the familiar shame warmed her cheeks. “I…didn’t go to dances much.” Talk about an understatement. One prom was all it took to learn her lesson.
He watched her for a moment with a puzzled expression before he turned toward the front again. “I worked in Tillamook one summer.”
“It was a small hardware store just off the highway. They’re probably not even there anymore.”
“Yeah. You know the place?”
“Intimately.” Darcy laughed. “My aunt and uncle used to own it. I worked there every summer while I was in high school, except the year I went to see my grandparents in Colorado. That must have been the summer they hired you.”
“That explains why they never hired me back. I thought they didn’t like me.” Grant’s eyes twinkled with humor.
“Don’t feel too bad. I don’t think they liked me very much either.” She grinned. He was easy to talk to and reminded her of things she used to like about small towns. She’d been away a long time and had forgotten what it meant to trust your neighbor or leave your car unlocked or have people you could count on. She missed that and, for just a moment, she forgot all the bad things about small town life and indulged in the nostalgia that crept over her. When she glanced up he was watching her, and heat crept into her cheeks again.
He looked away and cleared his throat. “You live in Chicago? What do you do there?”
“I’m a nanny.”
“Really? Kids and diapers and school work?”
“There’s much more to it than that.”
“You enjoy it?” He cocked an eyebrow skeptically.
“Go ahead. Make fun of me if you want to, but helping children grow up is not wasted effort. I make a difference in their lives.” She stopped when he smiled.
“I’m just giving you a hard time.” His expression grew serious. “I see it’s no joke to you. I apologize.” A second later a mischievous glint shone in his eyes. “Wow! I wish I’d had a nanny like you.”
It wasn’t the first time someone had suggested being a nanny wasn’t a real job, but she didn’t care what anyone thought. She was proud of her profession, even if her father thought she’d wasted the education he paid for.
“I didn’t mean to embarrass you, and as for being a nanny…I bet you’re a damn good one. We all have to do what we think is right.”
She met his eyes and, just for a second, there was something in his expression that seemed out-of-place. Darcy puzzled over it but then smiled in relief as he steered the conversation to things less personal. The tension left her body as they laughed and talked. For a little while she was able to forget about Johnny and stop worrying about whether Reggie would follow her. The time passed quickly, and she was almost sorry when the plane touched down in Portland.
Neither of them had checked any luggage, so they walked together to the same car rental booth. Grant was about to step up to the counter when he turned back to her. “Why should we both rent a car? I have to go right through Tillamook.” He held up a hand as she started to answer. “I know…we’ve only known each other a few hours, but we don’t exactly qualify as strangers anymore either.”
Yesterday Darcy would have refused the offer without a second thought. Why was she even considering it now? Sitting and talking with him in a plane full of people was one thing. Accepting a ride from him was just something a woman alone didn’t do. She was comfortable with him, however, and felt safer than she did on her own. They grew up just a few miles from each other. He knew her aunt and uncle and had been to football games at her school. First dates were almost always with someone you’d just met and that was considered acceptable. Admittedly, the whole dating scene was out of her area of expertise by choice, but what was so different about this?
“It’s nice of you to offer, but I can’t. I’m sorry.” She bit her lower lip and watched him for any sign of offense taken.
“Okay. Maybe next time.” He smiled, walked up to the counter, and was soon occupied with paperwork.
The other window was closed, so while she waited her turn, she wandered a short distance away. People-watching always proved entertaining, and nothing brought out the socially-challenged quite like big city airport terminals. Near the baggage claim area, a teenage girl with black hair, lipstick, and fingernails swore profusely and screamed at an older man who Darcy assumed was the girl’s father. Frustration and hopelessness settled in the father’s eyes.
As he corralled his daughter and moved away toward the exit, another man caught Darcy’s eye. Thirty-something and tall, a close-cut beard gave him a rugged look, his long black hair tied back with a strip of leather. In an army green canvas jacket, he leaned against a column in the center of the room. Confidence emanated from him in the casual manner in which he looked around the crowded terminal, hands partially shoved in the front pockets of his jeans.
Curiosity and something akin to excitement stirred in her as her approving gaze wandered up his muscular legs to his narrow hips and trim waist, lingering on his wide chest and broad shoulders. When she reached his face, she tensed as steel gray eyes met hers boldly. His lips quirked in a crooked smile, and he took a step toward her.
Fear wrung a tiny gasp from her throat even as she had to force herself to break eye contact. Could he be one of Reggie’s men? Could they have found her already? As she backed away, her gaze darted from side to side. Anyone in this terminal could work for Reggie. Suddenly unable to breathe, she had to get out of this airport. She swung around and ran right into Grant. He held up his car keys.
“Your turn.” He swept a hand toward the kiosk.
“I changed my mind. I’d like to go with you.” The words tumbled out in one breath.
His questioning gaze swept her face before he smiled and nodded. “Ready to go?”
As she followed Grant from the building, she glanced back toward the man in the canvas jacket. He was nowhere to be seen. She let her breath out slowly and scolded herself for overreacting yet again.
In a parking garage near the terminal, they found their car—a late model blue Toyota Corolla. She threw her bag onto the backseat with his, removed her jacket and laid it neatly on top. Then they headed out of town, stopping only long enough for Darcy to use the bathroom.
When she returned to the car, Grant handed her a super-sized soft drink in a paper cup. “Thought we could use some caffeine,” He jabbed a straw in his own drink and raised it to his lips.
“You read my mind.” She sucked the sugary liquid through her straw. Trepidation gnawed at her stomach. Accepting a ride from Grant was outside her comfort zone, a decision made in the heat of the moment. He represented no danger—she was sure of that, but still the situation bothered her. Knowing her father would have plenty to say about her reckless and irresponsible behavior added to her unease. The worst part was her father was right, but she couldn’t insult Grant by refusing his offer now, after he’d been so nice. Besides, she was almost home.
Traffic was heavy and they crept along, waiting for unending lines of cars to get through green lights that never stayed green long enough.
Darcy couldn’t stop yawning. Being up all night was finally catching up to her. Conversation should help to keep her awake. “Are you home on vacation, or are you staying?”
Grant laughed. “Don’t get me wrong. Pacific City if a great place to visit, but I don’t recommend living there.” He glanced her way. “How about you?”
“Oh, no. Just a long weekend.”
“Then back to Chicago?”
“Yes…uh…no…frankly I’m not quite sure.”
His expression was sympathetic, and Darcy braced for the questions she couldn’t answer. To her surprise, he didn’t press her.
“I’m a law student at University of Chicago. I have to be back in a couple of days.
“Wow. Law school? I would never have guessed.”
He cocked his head toward her. “Not sleazy enough?”
Darcy threw her head back and laughed. “Yeah, that’s it exactly. What kind of law will you practice when you’re finished?”
“Corporate law. My uncle runs a large international business, and he’s footing the bill for my schooling. It’s a great opportunity for me, and I could end up in Paris or Geneva or Dubai. He has connections all over the world.”
By the time they reached the freeway, she couldn’t keep her eyes open. She missed large segments of Grant’s monologue on the job he hoped to have and life at the University of Chicago.
Once, when he stopped and stared at her and the terrible realization she’d missed a question dawned on her, she groaned. “I’m so sorry. I’m having a little trouble concentrating. What did you ask?”
He smiled and kept on talking, and she felt like a jerk. She forced her eyes open and swallowed large gulps of her soda, hoping the caffeine would do its job. But the road noise, the radio, and Grant’s voice all blended together and soon lulled her to sleep.
Darcy woke abruptly when her forehead bounced off the side window. Her hand flew to her head and she opened her eyes, staring in disbelief at the landscape that now surrounded them. Grass, brush and rocks edged an overgrown dirt road that wound up a steep hillside and disappeared into the trees ahead of them. Where were they? They’d left Portland…the freeway…the traffic. Wow, her head throbbed. She felt funny—dizzy and nauseous. Why were they in the middle of nowhere? It made no sense. Why couldn’t she remember? She glanced at Grant as he stopped the car in the middle of the road.
“Get out.” His voice was cold and his eyes lacked any sign of friendliness.
Fear flickered somewhere in her groggy mind. “Where are we?” Her words slurred together. What was wrong with her?
“This is as good a place as any.” He reached beneath his seat and pulled out a gun. “Get out.”
She inhaled sharply. “What…what are you doing?” As she stared at the cold, black steel in his hand, bands of fear tightened around her throat.
“I’m sorry, Darcy. This wasn’t my idea. I like you, but I’ve got family in Chicago, and when one of them asks for a favor, I can’t say no.” He motioned with the gun for her to get out and opened his door.
Terror, laced with adrenaline, provided her first lucid moment and she finally started to think clearly. Reggie wanted her dead. He must be Grant’s family in Chicago. Grant drove her out here, away from anyone who might witness…My God! He was going to kill her. Was he that blindly loyal to his family? She’d trusted him—thought she knew him. The cold determination in his eyes told her she’d been wrong about that. Through the terror that pounded in her heart, one thought ran through her mind over and over again: Don’t make it easy.
The instant he turned his back to climb out of the car, Darcy threw open her door, struggled to her feet, and ran.
The tree line was fifty feet away. Her body moved sluggishly as she stumbled through the brush. She’d never make it to the safety of the forest, but giving up was an automatic death sentence. Ducking her head, she zigzagged around rocks and stumps and downed trees. Behind her, Grant swore. A bullet ricocheted off the rocks to her left. She pushed herself faster. Her chest burned with the effort to breathe. Her foot tangled in the underbrush, and she fell against a log. Pain shot through her shoulder and down her arm, and she stifled a scream. Forcing herself up, she swung her legs over the log just as his second shot slivered the wood two inches from her hand.
Darcy pushed herself away from the log and broke into a run again. She had to keep going. Nothing else was acceptable. Don’t make it easy. She could feel the gun aimed at her back, and she braced herself for the pain that would explode through her and send her crashing to the ground. Five feet from her goal, the gunshot cracked and echoed through the stillness. She almost stopped, so sure the bullet would tear through her. One more stride and then another and another…she was still on her feet. Somehow he’d missed.
She broke through the dark forest curtain and kept running. The trees gave her cover for the moment, but it wasn’t over. There was no way he would quit. Obviously, he couldn’t go back to Reggie and tell him he’d failed. Grant would keep coming until she was so exhausted she couldn’t put one foot in front of the other. Then he would catch her.
She had to think—come up with a plan—but her mind was already on overload, panic the order of the day.
Twenty feet farther she stopped and collapsed against the trunk of a tree, the scaly bark scratching her skin through her cotton shirt. No sounds of pursuit carried through the forest, but that could change any minute. Keep going. Don’t give him a chance to close the gap. She rested barely long enough to catch her breath before she stumbled to her feet again. At a more careful pace, she moved deeper into the shadows.
Even if she managed to evade Grant, she was in trouble. Her father taught her how to survive in the wilderness when she was a kid, but she’d slept when Grant drove the car up the dirt road. Plunked down in the middle of a mountainous forest, she was on foot and ill-prepared. If she got too far away from the road they came in on, it would be that much harder to find her way out. It was only about an hour until sunset. The possibility of spending the night here with no light, no warm clothes, and no way to start a fire alarmed her. Wild animals roamed the forest at night. She pushed that thought away. No sense worrying about that unless she had to.
Thirty minutes later, a group of three large fir trees gave her cover as she dropped to the ground and leaned back against one of them, lungs aching with exertion. Her bruised shoulder and arm throbbed with each beat of her heart. She still had no real plan beyond staying ahead of Grant. Should she circle around and try to find the road? Was there any chance he’d given up and left? There was still no sign of pursuit. She couldn’t keep going deeper into the forest or she’d be lost for sure. No one knew where she was. No one would come rescue her.
She rested longer than she’d intended. A dry branch snapped somewhere close by, and she jerked to attention. Was that…? Don’t jump to conclusions. It was just a deer walking by or a squirrel dropping a pinecone from a tree. No need to panic. She drew a steadying breath.
Another crack—closer this time. Whatever it was, it moved toward her. She went still and strained to hear. Was it her imagination or had the birds and chipmunks scurried for cover as well? Frozen in place, she waited, listening. Nothing. There was no one there. She’d let her imagination get the best of her.
Then she heard his voice, deeper and gruffer than his obvious charade in the plane and in the car, and the sudden sensation he was right beside her, whispering in her ear, sent shivers up and down her spine.
“Darcy, it’s over. You could save us both a lot of trouble and show yourself. Don’t be afraid. I won’t hurt you.”
What a load of crap! Did he think she was a fool? That she’d really fall for that? She’d been stupid to trust him, but she wouldn’t buy his hometown boy routine again. A wave of anger rolled over her. The next time she trusted a man, there’d be twenty feet of snow in hell—if she lived that long.
His words pinpointed his location. He was too close for her to make a run for it, and he moved toward the trees she hid behind. Don’t make it easy. The words screamed in her mind. She looked for something to use as a weapon and found a broken branch on the ground. Not too heavy. She could handle it even with one shoulder that throbbed like crazy. The limb clutched in her hand, she rose to her feet. Closing her eyes, she concentrated on hearing his approach. She gripped the branch like a baseball bat and stood ready.
A whisper of sound against the trunk of the large fir to her left snapped her eyes open as she pivoted. The next instant, she stepped toward the sound and brought the limb around in an arc toward the man who stepped into view. Gray eyes regarded her with surprise as he brought his arm up to block her swing. He didn’t have a chance. Her blow caught him on the side of his head and dropped him where he stood.
Blood ran from a gash above his eye. Sickened by what she’d done, Darcy dropped the tree branch and backed away. She shook uncontrollably as she stared at the man slumped against the trunk of the tree. His long black hair pulled back in a ponytail and tied with a leather strip, his close-cut beard, and his army green canvas jacket were easily recognizable. It was the man from the airport—the one who stared at her.
Damn. There were two of them hunting her. She backed away, and when she could no longer see the man slouched against the tree, she whirled and ran.