Release Date: September 10, 2021
Publisher: Champagne Book Group
Can they face their demons and find love?
Trent Jacobs had everything he wanted in life until the flash of a muzzle ripped his world apart. Now he only has guilt. Permanently removed from fieldwork due to questionable events, Trent retires from the FBI. He retreats to the small town of Mill Creek, Idaho, to become the town sheriff.
Margaret King knows what it’s like to be alone and isolated. Losing her parents as a child was impossible, but the death of her brother damn near killed her. When a strange van appears on her street and her apartment is broken into, she turns to Trent, the only man she knows she can trust.
After Maggie shows up terrified and haunted, Trent’s guilt explodes. She makes him want things he doesn’t deserve, including her. As their past collides with the present, Trent is forced to face his demons to protect her. Or risk losing her.
The rapid knock at Trent’s front door had him hoping that this unexpected interruption would spare him another lonely evening. Hastening his steps, he twisted the knob and sucked in a sharp breath. Nothing would have prepared him for this sight. His partner’s sister and the woman he had dated. Margaret King’s haunted green eyes stared back at him. Her blonde hair was thrown into a loose ponytail.
Several strands had escaped and fluttered in the evening breeze. Even disheveled, she was still beautiful.
Dread settled in his gut, anchoring a weight to his chest as Dalton’s last words filtered through his mind.
Promise me you’ll look after her and keep her safe.
“Maggie, what brings you here?” Trent’s mind raced with possibilities and none settled the growing dread that rotted in his stomach.
Her eyes widened briefly before she found her voice.
“Can I come inside?”
“Of course, sorry,” he stammered, moving aside and making a sweeping motion with his arm.
She hesitated for a second, then looked over her shoulder toward the driveway. Turning back, she met his gaze and released a deep breath. Remorse slapped him in the face as she entered his home. The last time he’d seen her was about ten months ago at Dalton’s funeral. Not once had Trent reached out to see how she had adjusted to life without her brother. Now, the weight of his mistake stood in his entryway. Guilt riddled his body and his gaze shifted toward the floor because he’d let her down.
The subtle scent of oranges and vanilla floated by him as she passed. The moonlight shining through the open window cast a silvery glow across her pinched face. He
clicked the deadbolt then flipped on the light before he sat on the sofa, waiting for her to join him. Her feet didn’t budge, but her gaze circled the room.
Maggie raised an eyebrow, her eyes blank. “I’m sorry I didn’t call first. I thought this discussion would be best in person. I can’t believe I had to search the internet to find your address.”
“I’m glad you’re here, and I should have given you my address. There’s no excuse for that…”
The tension in the room increased with every second of silence that followed.
“I-I don’t know what to think anymore. You might think I’m crazy or worse, have overreacted to drive all the way here.” Her voice sounded like sandpaper on wood.
Trent grabbed her hand and swiped his thumb softly across her knuckles. A rush of emotions flooded his system with that simple touch. He hated the strain emanating from her body. “Are you okay, Maggie?”
He released her hand and patted the spot next to him.
The cushions dipped as she sat, her gaze lingering on the room and surroundings. “Why do you have scaffolding outside? Did something happen to your home?”
Trent smiled and shook his head. “No, I just finished renovating the interior and have decided to upgrade my roof. What’s going on, Maggie?”
She turned to him, flashing a brief smile. “Good. I’m glad nothing bad happened to you. Could I have a glass of water?”
“You can have anything you’d like.” He meant those words and vowed to himself he’d prove it to her. “But you need to tell me what’s upset you. What made you drive all this way to find me?”
The single tear traveling down her cheek gutted him.
Her resolve and strength may have had her sitting beside him, holding herself together, but her vulnerability undid him. He tugged her body against his, to feel her warmth and
the pulse of her heart as he held her tight, to remind her she wasn’t alone to deal with whatever worried her. Even if his actions these last ten months told a different story.
A niggle of hoped bloomed in his chest when she hugged him back just as fiercely. This wouldn’t erase his absence from her life since the death of her brother, but maybe she’d see it as an olive branch to reconnect them to days long past. To the days when they were friends and all three of them spent time together.
When she sat back against the cushion, dark circles marred the delicate skin beneath her eyes. Trent’s mind whirled with a million questions. Had someone hurt her?
Had Maggie been with a man who threatened her? Why was she here? All of them remained unspoken because shame swamped his system. Not only was he a shitty person, but he’d broken a promise to his friend.
If only I’d taken out the shooter in the rafters, Dalton would still be here. Suffocated by the memories of that horrible day, Trent shot up off the sofa, desperately needing air and space. “I’ll get you that water. When I return, how about you start from the beginning as to why you’re here?
We’ll figure this out together.”
“Thanks. You’re the one person I knew would understand,” she said in a mere whisper.
Jesus, what had she been through that would make her run? The woman he’d known was full mirth and energy. He hated the mixture of defeat and uncertainty radiating from the depths of her green eyes
“Here you go, Miss Margaret King.” Trent handed her a glass of water.
“Ugh, call me Maggie, you know better. My parents called me Margaret, and that was when I was in trouble.”
She stared into the distance for a moment. “Maggie Moo was the nickname my brother preferred,” she added with a slight wobble in her voice. “Sorry, I miss him so much. I just never thought I’d lose him after my parents died. I figured
we’d grow old together. It’s been difficult knowing I’m all alone in the world.”
Trent’s heart clogged with condemnation. “Never apologize for missing him. Dalton loved you. He would’ve done anything for you. You were his little sister. Hell, I’d known him since training at Quantico, and I knew then, he’d be the biggest pain in my ass and best friend. His death left a hole in our lives.” The words he left unspoken was that he’d abandoned her too.
A soft giggle escaped her lips. “Yes, he could be a pain.
He also tried to control my life right down to who I dated.”
Trent nodded in agreement. “Yes, he had very strong opinions on who should date you and why.”
“If I recall, you did too, since you cited your job as a complication of our relationship. Anyway, blood or not, you’ve always been a part of my family, which is why I’m here.” She forced a slow steady stream of air into her lungs.
“You were both logical and rational men, who worked from facts to solve life’s problems. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve endured a lecture about being observant and always aware of my surroundings.”
He interjected, “A smart person assessed their situation and acted accordingly. That coincidences rarely, if ever, exist. Yes, I speak that same dialect.”
“You are cut from the same cloth as Dalton, which is why I’m in Mill Creek. I’ve analyzed my situation and my findings have shocked me to the core.” She gulped the cool liquid. Straightening her spine, she continued. “Dalton made me promise—almost to the point of ritualistic chanting—that if I were ever in trouble and couldn’t reach him, I should call you. I always thought he’d meant while he was alive…”
Tears streamed down her face. “I think someone has been following me because I’m Dalton’s sister.”
Trent’s eyes narrowed. She’d piqued his curiosity with that assessment. He then schooled his features so they’d remain neutral. “Why would you think that?”
“At first, I noticed a white van parked on the street facing my apartment. It appeared after Dalton’s death. The days and times were random, but it was the same van. It disappeared for a while, then returned a few weeks ago. I can’t explain it, but I got a strange feeling about it.”
Maggie fidgeted, cracking her fingers one by one. He sat quietly while she fidgeted with nervous energy. He didn’t want to add to her stress, so he gave her the time she needed to process her thoughts.
“How? What made it seem unusual?”
She lifted her gaze to meet his eyes and shrugged. “I only saw the driver and passenger twice, but I’m pretty sure they were the same men from the first time. This sounds crazy, I know it does, which is why I didn’t report the van to the police. Those men could have lived in the complex or in the area. What happened the other night changed my mind, but instead of calling the police, I headed straight to you.
This is personal, Trent, and it scared me.”
“I’m glad you came to me.” He gently urged her to continue by nodding and trying to keep his expression neutral. Deep down his stomach knotted with apprehension over what came next.
A tiny smile crossed her lips. “God, you remind me of him, fierce and protective. I appreciate that you’re not judging me—at least until I’m done.”
“You’re doing just fine, now, keep going.”
“Early Saturday morning, I was working at my computer when the fire alarms went off. When I went outside to check, the adjacent unit had smoke billowing from inside. My neighbor appeared outside with her child, panicked and talking into the phone about a grease fire and that the firemen were coming. I ducked back inside my place to retrieve my messenger bag which held everything that mattered to me and waited outside with my neighbor.
After the firemen arrived and controlled the scene, I was informed that the fire was out but it would be a couple hours
before I could return. I decided to head to our local coffee shop to hang out while the chaos passed. When I returned…”
Color drained from her cheeks. She lowered her head to stare at the carpet between her feet. “My front door was ajar, again, which I figured was so the firemen could finish their investigation. I caught a glimpse of that white van pulling away. When I entered, everything seemed fine…
until I reached my office. Drawers were opened with papers and folders scattered across my desk and floor. Then I noticed a knife stabbed into my desk holding a note that read, ‘What did he know?’”
Trent snapped his brows together, his mouth drawn tight. He couldn’t quell his reaction to what he’d just heard.
The hairs on his neck bristled. He didn’t know how, but he’d find a way to slay each and every one of her demons…or die trying. He owed Dalton that much.
“Why didn’t you call the police? Do you know if anything was taken? Were other rooms searched?” Trent squeezed her hand a few times bringing her gaze upward.
With her other hand, she reached for the glass and gulped the last few sips before she answered. “In my gut, I know this reaches beyond the police. The only ‘he’ in my life was my brother. My brain went into survival mode. I had to get out of my apartment and get to you. You’d know what to do. I-I didn’t look any further. All I kept thinking, was this can’t be good to have a knife stabbed into your desk, especially with how he died. I took my bag then hit the bank withdrawing as much money as allowed. I left my car at the office and called a car rental company. I decided leaving my car behind was best. I stopped at one truck stop along the way to rest, used only cash, then drove until I pulled into your driveway.”
She sat still as if she waited for him to say something.
Processing what he just heard shredded his insides. The last time they had spoken was at the funeral, and that
encounter was strained, not ugly or mean, just distant because of him. A complete opposite to how he and Maggie normally interacted. Instead, he struggled with his anger and self-condemnation while nursing the injuries he’d sustained that day alongside Dalton. As a result, Trent’s job and assignment changed which deprived him of retribution.
He hated the exhaustion etched across her face. Starting now, he would atone for his wrongs.
“Brave and resilient is what you are.” A surge of pride and respect flood his system. “You did damn good with disappearing off the grid and adapting in the face of adversity. You’re far from an agent, but you acted with caution and logic.”
Fatigue, stress, and fear radiated from her, but he also saw a brief glimmer of relief. That was something he would build upon.
“Your brother would be proud. Hell, I’m proud of you.
I’m also so damn sorry I haven’t reached out before now. I own that. I know my apology doesn’t change anything, but I hope my actions will. If you give me that chance. I’d say you read the situation right—a clusterfuck for sure.”
Her eyes closed for a moment, and her shoulders dipped as tension seemed to fade from her body. Something deep inside Trent’s stomach twisted painfully. Had she thought he might deny her his support and protection? Of course, why wouldn’t she? It wasn’t his intent, but he’d basically removed her from his life. Another epic screw-up to add to his list that he needed to fix.
He cupped her chin. “I understand why you weren’t sure about coming to me for help, so I’ll clear up that misconception right now. I will always protect you, Maggie.
You have my word.”
She shifted her head from his grasp and stabbed him in the chest with a finger. “You hurt my feelings, but I’m not blameless either. You have to promise you won’t put
yourself in jeopardy in any way. I can’t stand the thought of losing another person.”
The painful truth behind those words constricted his chest. The vibrant woman he had known seemed to have retreated somewhat. Trent snatched her hand, loving how buttery soft her skin was under his fingertips. “Give me your keys. I think it’s best to put your rental in the garage for now.”
She stood and dug into her front pocket to retrieve the key ring. “Thanks for allowing me into your home, especially with my trouble in tow.”
Trent extended his palm and caught the keys. “You always were trouble. I’ll give you the grand tour first and point out the highlights from my renovation.”
“I thought you liked living out of boxes. You know, afraid of commitment.”
“Smart ass,” he groused. “I’m working on unpacking everything.”
He couldn’t imagine what she thought when she first arrived, but he was glad she’d come. He started in his kitchen, explaining how his friend Kane had updated everything to stainless and gas.
“This is amazing. I love the gas stovetop. That refrigerator must keep you fed for months. It’s huge.”
“I’ve heard that bigger is always better,” he deadpanned.
She rolled her eyes and protested, “Seriously? You haven’t changed one bit.”
He flashed her an exaggerated wink and guided her though the rest of the house. When they reached the master bathroom, he showed her his second favorite feature from the renovation: his walk-in shower with multiple adjusting heads that also produced steam. He owed Kane for this gem too. Her small whimper when she spied the shower didn’t go unnoticed. Trent also hadn’t missed how closely she followed him the entire time. He’d do anything
to diminish the worry radiating from her body. He ended his tour with the room she’d be using and the bathroom.
At the door to the bathroom, he paused and met her eyes. “Why don’t you take a shower in my bathroom while I move the vehicle? You can give me a woman’s perspective on my shower.”
She leaned her head against the doorway and sighed.
“A shower sounds heavenly, but I’ll use the guest bath. Will you grab my bag from the front room and put it on the bed?
“Sure, do you have anything in the car I should bring inside?”
Her mouth twisted into a frown. “No, I didn’t pack any clothing or think to bring my bathroom supplies. In my haste, I went with the less is more theory. Do you have a toothbrush and paste? And if I could borrow a few things to wear that would be awesome. Walking around naked might be kind of awkward.”
He groaned internally as his mind conjured several inappropriate scenarios involving her sans clothing. Built like a goddess, with her curves and creamy skin, he’d love nothing more than to see her naked. He caught her staring at his reflection in the bathroom mirror and knew he’d been nailed. His traitorous cock stirred behind the confines of his pants. This woman still caused his mind and body to want more from her. Definitely his cue to leave.
“I’ll put a T-shirt and a pair of sweatpants on your bed.
Leave your clothes outside the door, I’ll wash them for you.
Tomorrow, we’ll go shopping to fill in whatever else you left behind.”
She opened her mouth as if to speak, then clamped her lips together as she moved into the bathroom.
“What’s on your mind?” he asked.
“Do you have any cereal or yogurt? Something easy to fix.”
He put both hands on his waist and cocked one eyebrow. “You won’t go hungry in my house, and you can
have more than cereal. When did you eat last?”
Her eyes narrowed, and her mouth gaped. “I-ah, a granola at the truck stop.”
“You’re my priority. I take care of my guests. That includes food, sleep, protection, and whatever else I’ve forgotten to mention. Get that through your thick, stubborn, and beautiful head.” Trent punctuated his point, because he wasn’t sure what else to do, and wrapped her in a crushing hug. Like the many times before when he and Dalton had visited between assignments or while on break.
He sighed as her curves melded perfectly against his frame and in all the right places. A surge of possessiveness roared to life within him, and not only did it startle him, it made him back away, breaking their connection
“Shower, then kitchen,” he said in a tone that encouraged no debate.
He headed down the hall and heard the snick of the door as it closed behind him. Needing to put space between them, he’d take care of her car. This woman in his home was Dalton’s sister. The same baby sister his partner proclaimed off limits to any man who worked in a risky profession.
Dalton was adamant Maggie should marry a man who had a stable job, which allowed him to come home every night. A man whose existence wasn’t nestled in danger, with the potential to cause her harm, because his job encompassed every aspect of his life. Trent had squashed his attraction to her because he hadn’t wanted to ruffle Dalton’s feathers.
Even he hadn’t been exempt from Dalton’s censure, but he had to agree with the man, she deserved better. She deserved a marriage where her husband would be around every damn night. Whose job wouldn’t risk her safety or threaten their lives. A fact of his employment he couldn’t offer.
About the Author
Her wonderful husband encouraged her to chase her dream of becoming an author and continues to be her greatest champion. Being able to write these stories has been a thrilling experience that is truly special to her.
When she’s not behind a computer working on her next deadline, she’s reading her favorite authors, playing with her fur-babies, and spending time with her husband. They love to watch movies, sports and play all types of games.