Are you breaking these rules? I do! 😀
A stand alone psychological thriller.
HAVE YOU SEEN THIS GIRL?
In the middle of a fierce snowstorm in Gun Creek, Nevada, seventeen-year-old Jennifer Thomas disappears without a trace.
The second girl in nine years.
Identical cases. Identical conditions. Only last time, the girl was found. Dead, stuffed in a well beside the creek that feeds the town’s water supply.
The killer was never found.
As the small town mobilizes and searches for newly vanished Jennifer Thomas, one suspect comes to the fore. But did he do it? Or is there something else at play? Something nobody could have anticipated?
For Jennifer’s friend Cassie Carlino, the worst is yet to come. As she pins MISSING posters to store windows and joins the search, she begins to suspect that Jennifer’s disappearance might be much closer to her than she could have ever imagined.
I visit Jennifer every evening at the diner; she seems to like the attention, and I could use the distraction. I make sure to turn up just before her shift ends, and she gives me a ride home every night. The first night she came over we ended up talking for hours. My mouth hurt by the end, every sense on high alert. I was a gentleman. I didn’t lay a hand on her again, not after she started to talk. She’s in trouble. A lot of trouble. I think it eased her mind to be able to confess to somebody who pretty much wrote the book on trouble in this town.
I mean, there’s not a thing I can do to help the girl. Not unless she tells me who got her into this mess in the first place. “That’s the problem with men,” she said to me when I urged her to give me the name of the guy blackmailing her. “They always jump straight to problem-solving. Men always want to fix everybody.”
“You don’t want to be fixed?” I’d asked her.
“I can fix myself,” she’d replied. “I just need somebody to understand.”
I don’t understand. Her predicament is something I’ve never experienced. But I can listen. I listen to her talk as she drives me home in her shiny new car every night, and it makes me feel less of a fuck-up. I mean, she hasn’t killed anyone. But she’s planning to. And that’s why we’ve found each other. I am a killer and she is ready to spill blood. She is a welcome distraction from my sins, and I am a makeshift altar for her to lay her own sins upon. Because when I’m with Jennifer, I don’t think about Cassie Carlino. I don’t think of Karen Brainard. And, most especially, I don’t think of Teresa King and the way she burned beside me in that car.
* * *
The night Jennifer Thomas disappears is like all the rest. I go to the diner. Order nachos and a Coke. I’m surprised Jennifer is working. It’s Thanksgiving, and the place is deserted. Even Amanda is nowhere to be seen.
“Working on Thanksgiving?” I ask Jennifer, as she slides my food in front of me. She shrugs, that glitter lipgloss catching the light as she moves. “It’s just another day, isn’t it?”
“Besides,” she says, “It pisses my dad off. I asked for this shift.”
At ten, I help her to turn out all the lights. I wait beside her as she locks the front doors of the diner, feeling vaguely worried about the fact that somebody left a sixteen year old cheerleader alone to lock up this late at night. I note the lack of video surveillance, the remote location, the fact that everyone is tucked safely inside their houses while Jennifer is alone with a convicted criminal in the dead of night.
Jennifer offers me a ride home, which I accept. Except, instead of driving me straight home like she has done for the past six nights in a row, Jennifer pulls her Range Rover off the road into an uncleared section of pine trees that tower over us. The track is narrow and winding and she doesn’t answer me when I ask her where she’s taking us.
She stops in a small clearing and cuts the lights. The engine is still running. Bits of snow fall outside, slow and bloated in their trajectory toward the ground. Jennifer’s hands are small as they grip the steering wheel; her eyes lit up by the red illumination of the dashboard, making her look almost demonic.
“What are we doing here?” I ask her again.
“I don’t want to go home,” she says staring straight ahead.
“Fair enough,” I reply. I watch her as she struggles to find words. She squirms in her heated leather seat, her nails shiny and perfect, her shoulders sagging under the weight of something I cannot see.
“Do you think I’m pretty?” she asks me in a tiny voice, and she sounds so mouse-like and weak that I almost laugh.
“Do I think you’re pretty?” I echo, feeling a smirk cut its way across my face. “Jennifer, you’re so pretty I could die just from looking at you.”
She rolls her eyes. “You think I’m stupid. You’re just here because you feel sorry for me, Leo.”
I shake my head. “I don’t think you’re stupid. And I’m not here because I feel sorry for you.”
She swallows thickly; I can see the pulse beat nervously in her throat. “Then why are you here?”
“Well, I guess I’m here right now because you just drove us off the road and into the woods.”
“You know what I mean.”
Do, I, though? I sigh. “Because you’re the only person in this town worth talking to who will even look at me.”
She bites her lip and I have the sudden, piercing urge inside my skull to wrap my hands around her throat and drag her onto my lap. That’s some messed up shit. She’s sixteen. Six. TEEN. I’m repeating the number in my head over and over, willing my dick to settle down. I can feel the throb of wanting her in my cock, in the thunderous rush of blood that makes my heart hit my ribcage like the firing of a gun, bang, bang, bang. My need eclipses my rationality. So what if she’s sixteen? She drove into this fucking clearing and licked her lips and asked me if I thought she was pretty.
“Why have you been back to the diner every single night, just as I’m about to get off shift?”
“Umm,” I try. “It’s the only decent place in town?”
She narrows her eyes at me and there’s a fire inside her pupils; it might be below freezing outside, but it’s a billion degrees in here. We’re already fogging up the windows with our breath, and I haven’t even laid a finger on her.
“Liar,” she says. “I want the real reason.”
You’re about to get the real reason, sweetheart. I grip the armrest. I grip it so hard my fingernails ache.
“I’m here because I’m a bad guy, Jennifer.”
“Because you’re so pretty I can’t think about anybody else. Because I want to do things to you… that would probably frighten you. Things that might hurt you.”
Her cheeks are flush; her breathing quickens. I haven’t even touched her, and she’s already excited. Or scared. Or both. I want to reach between her thighs and see if it’s lust I’m reading on her face.
“What kinds of things?” she asks.
I cover my face with my hands.
“What kinds of things?” she repeats, a hand on my shoulder. I let my hands fall into my lap and fix my stare on this girl who should be home with her family, not out here in the dark in the woods and snow with a criminal. I watch in awe as she slides her seat back and reaches her hands up underneath her skirt, tugging a pair of panties down her legs and unhooking them from her heels. She can’t look at me as she hands me a pair of baby blue silk panties with a bow on the front. I grip the underwear in my fist so tight I could tear it to shreds with a single pull, but I don’t rip it. I find the damp spot of arousal in the center of the material and bring it up to my face. I close my eyes. I breathe Jennifer in.
I shouldn’t be here. Not with her. Not like this. I will get out of the car, I decide. I will walk home. I will not touch this girl.
But then, “I promise I won’t tell anyone,” she whispers.
I grab her. I drown her shock out with my mouth. I squeeze her slender neck with my prison-rough palms. I keep my promise and I hurt Jennifer Thomas until I’m sated.
It’s only after when I’m looking at the blank expression on her face, the odd tilt of her neck, the bruises blossoming on her spread thighs, that I understand what I have done.
By then, it’s too late.
The night Jennifer Thomas disappears is like all the rest.
Apart from the way it ends.
Lili quit corporate life to focus on writing and so far is loving every minute of it. Her other loves in life include her gorgeous husband and beautiful daughter, excellent coffee, Tarantino movies and spending hours on Instagram.
She loves to read almost as much as she loves to write.
“I told you, Liam. I play by house rules, and this is my house, so my rules.”
He stared her down. “What if someone doesn’t like your rules?”
She shrugged. “I can be flexible. Can you?”
No. Not on this. They weren’t talking about cards or making food. They were talking about something dangerous. Something they both wanted, but he knew he could never have. Friendship was all he could offer Julie, no matter how much more he wanted.
“We have standard fitness tests every six months. Flexibility isn’t a requirement of the FBI.”
Her smile faltered before she burst out laughing. “Oh, Liam. You’re hopeless. Fine, we’ll play by your rules. For now.” She winked. “Go set up the movie. I’ll get the popcorn.”
She moved off to the panty, and he beat a hasty retreat to the sanctity of the living room.
The words sounded like a threat, a very tempting one. He grabbed the remote, flipping the TV on. Scrubbing one hand down his face, he groaned. How the hell would he survive two weeks alone with this woman? He knew one thing, Ryder’s water heater would be getting zero use. For the next two weeks, there would be nothing but cold showers in his future.
The beeping of the microwave echoed from the kitchen. Moments later, Julie came into the room with a bowl of fluffy white popcorn. She sat on the couch, patting the seat next to her.
“Come on FBI man. Time to get our movie on.”
He glanced at the couch—which had never seemed small until this very moment—and the tempting woman sitting on it. A hot flush of sweat broke out all along his body.
Oh yeah, there would be many, many cold showers for the next two weeks.
“I thought I’d head into town after I brush down Wind Chaser.” She patted the horse affectionately on the neck. “Wanna come? We could grab dinner. Maybe catch a movie at the drive-in.”
That sounded speciously like a date. Number one on the “things not to do with Julie Ryder” list. His mind brought up an image of her riding again, bouncing up and down—okay, maybe not number one, but it was on there.
Her smile dimmed at his hesitation. “I mean unless you have other things to do. I’m sorry. I kind of just showed up and usurped your vacation time. You probably had a whole list of things you were planning on doing.”
Yeah, if that list included wallowing in self-pity and trying to figure out his life now that he might not be a field agent. Sure, big fat freaking list.
“No. You didn’t ruin anything. I really just planned on taking it easy.”
The beautiful smile returned and damned if he wasn’t glad to see it.
“Great! No better way to relax than dinner and a show. Ooooh, and we can stop at the shop for cupcakes.” She winked. “I’m on the “free cupcakes for life” list.”
It still felt like a date, but he was sure she didn’t mean it that way. She might flirt with him jokingly, but that was just her personality. Julie was friendly with everyone. He knew she kind of had a crush on him when they first met, but that was years ago. Now, he was sure she just liked to mess with him. Like cheating at cards and calling it “house rules.” Silly things like that. It was part of the dynamic of their friendship.
“Sounds good. Who can turn down free cupcakes?” Friends went to dinner and movies together all the time. No big deal. That’s all this was—no matter how much the raging hard-on in his pants wished otherwise.
“Just let me brush down Wind Chaser and change.” She tapped her heels against the horse. “I’ll be ready in about an hour.”
Liam watched the large animal lumber toward the barn. Dinner, movies, and dessert with a woman who tempted him like no other. The very same woman who was so off limits it wasn’t even funny.
“What the hell did I get myself into?”
It was going to be a very, very long night.
Reaching out, she grabbed his hand in hers. “Do I have nightmares every now and then? Yes, who wouldn’t? But I’m okay. I can go to work, run errands, even drive my hog down 225 on a sunny day.”
Eye’s shutting in a wince, he groaned. “Okay, first of all, don’t say hog. You sound ridiculous.”
“I do not! That’s what us bikers call our rides.”
“You’re not in a biker gang. You’re a lawyer who bought a very ill-advised motorcycle in a state that—may I point out—cannot accommodate bipedal vehicles half the year.”
“I like to think of it as half a year of good riding.”
He shook his head. “Optimist.”
“Pessimist,” she shot back with a grin.
He felt his lips curl in an answering grin. This, right here, was why he enjoyed spending time with Julie so much. She had such a playful way of engaging people, such an upbeat attitude. No one could be sad around her; it just wasn’t possible. That’s why it killed him whenever he saw her jubilant spirit torn down.
“Does your brother know about your hog?”
Her gaze narrowed. “No, he does not, and if you tell him, I swear I will strap you down on Wind Chaser and send her on the highest mountain trail I can find.”
“Your secret is safe with me, but for the record, I don’t think you should be riding around on something so dangerous.” The first time she told him of her vehicle purchase he nearly drove up to Aspen to take the thing from her. There was a reason doctors called them donor mobiles. He shuddered, imagining her riding one.
Scratch that. Picturing Julie clad all in leather, straddling a huge, vibrating beast of a bike between her legs did not make him shudder. It made him hot, horny, and frustrated. Knowing what could happen to her on one of those things…that terrified him.
“Ugh, if it were up to you and Jake, I’d never have any fun.”
“We’re just looking out for you. It’s our job.”
Arching one perfectly plucked brow, she leaned forward, invading his personal space. “No, it’s Jake’s job to look after me. He’s my brother. You are—”
“Your brother’s best friend,” he quickly interrupted. “Plus, I’m older than you, so I have to look out for you.”
Her gaze studied him for a moment. He shifted uncomfortably under her probing scrutiny.
“You know, Liam. Those excuses are sounding weaker and weaker every time.”
She inched forward, going up on her knees until she was so close he could feel her soft, warm breath on his face. The tiny freckles on her nose were so close he could count them. Fifteen, he knew there were fifteen because, idiot that he was, he’d been counting them for years.
“You’re not that much older than me, and just because I’m someone’s sister does not mean I’m not a woman.” Her hands snaked around his neck. “A woman with needs and desires.”
Title: Love on the Forbidden Side
Author: Mariah Ankenman
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Assistant District Attorney Julie Ryder plans to hide out at her brother’s ranch house in Peak Town, Colorado after a killer she put away escapes. Hoping for a little peace and quiet, what she gets instead is hot and bothered when she discovers the good sheriff is gone, and his sexy best friend is house-sitting.
FBI agent Liam Graham is on medical leave after a career-jeopardizing injury. He’s taking the time to rethink his professional choices while watching his buddy’s place, but he never expected to watch the guy’s sister, too. Julie is a fiery ball of sweet temptation he’s been denying himself for years. When she finally reveals the real reason for her visit to Peak Town, Liam does everything in his power to keep her safe. But with his focus on protecting her body, Liam fears he may lose his heart.
~ Author Bio ~
RWA® Golden Heart® Nominated author Mariah Ankenman began writing at the tender age of five. Her first book “George and the Green Glob” received high praise from her mother. Many years, and green glob stories later, Mariah received a playwriting degree from the University of Wyoming. After a few years in Hollywood, working in “the biz,” she came home to the beautiful Rocky Mountains. When she’s not writing Mariah loves to read, crochet, and play her ukulele. She loves to hear from readers.
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