Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Crime & Passion ~ romantic suspense and murder mystery

Happy hump day, everyone! 

Well, last night I submitted Crime & Passion to the various vendors for publication. It could be available at any time now, but let's all keep our fingers crossed that it is ready by my official release date of Friday, the 15th. I've made a few changes in the last few days after my copy editor finished up, but it's finally ready! I'm so excited for people to read this book and I hope a lot of my readers will be willing to reach out to me and let me know what they think. Every so often, someone contacts me about Always & Forever, and it always gives me a thrill to talk to the people who are reading my story.

Crime & Passion is such a different type of book from Always & Forever. Honestly, I'm sad in a way that it's over, but I'm satisfied with how everything turned out and anxious to get to work on the next book, Love & Deception, which will be available this fall in September.

For those of you who don't want to wait until Friday to get started on Crime & Passion, I'm posting the first three chapters of the finalized version.

First, here's the 'back cover' blurb:

A decorated police officer, more intent on justice than following the letter of the law, lands in trouble when a schoolteacher finds a dead body on the beach.

Officer Donovan Andrews knows how to have a good time—ask any woman in town. But when it comes to men abusing their wives or children, Donovan takes it upon himself to make them regret it.

Madeline Scott is unlucky in love. All she wants is a quiet place to heal, away from cheating, womanizing men. However, her life is far from peaceful once she stumbles across the body and witnesses someone fleeing the scene.

Terror spreads in Pleasant View when the small community hears a killer is on the loose. All evidence points to Donovan, and he realizes someone is trying to frame him. When troubling suspicions from his past surface, even fellow officers believe he’s guilty. Madeline might be the only person who can clear his name, but first he has to win her trust.

The body count rises and no one is safe. The murderer makes it clear Madeline is next. Soon, Donovan’s whole world is focused on protecting her and keeping himself out of prison. The more time he spends with her, the harder it is to fight his growing attraction. Since she’s been burned by love, convincing Madeline he’s interested in something more than hot sex may prove harder than keeping her alive.

When I woke up this morning, it was already available on Amazon Kindle and also as a trade paperback from the Createspace store I hope you enjoy this sample! 

Crime & Passion
© Chantel Rhondeau 2013

Chapter One
The glassy eyes of the corpse seemed to stare at Madeline. A brisk breeze carried the scent of salt and fish, and blew her long hair around her face. Crashing waves were the only sound on the deserted beach other than panting from Madeline’s four-legged companion. Water lapped at the dead man’s feet, devouring him bit by bit as the tide rose.

“Are you there, Ms. Scott?” the 911 dispatcher asked.

“Yes, I’m here,” Madeline whispered. “Please send someone quickly. The tide’s coming in.”

“We have a unit in the area. Don’t touch anything.”

As if I would. Madeline shivered at the horrified look on the man’s face. Pleasant View was a small coastal town. It was the type of place where everyone knew their neighbors, but Madeline had only moved here two months earlier.

Too bad she hadn’t met this particular resident under different circumstances. Yellow and blue nylon rope wrapped around the man’s neck cut off his air supply forever, ending whatever type of life the handsome blond might have had.

Madeline looked back up the beach, thinking about what she saw. When she had approached this area, she noticed a slightly built person jogging away. She shuddered again. If that person were responsible, they couldn’t have killed the blond long before she walked up.

Brutus strained at his leash, bringing her back to the present as he tried to get closer to the body. Madeline could only guess the smell of the recently deceased drove the Great Dane crazy.

She tugged on his leash. “Sit, Brutus.”

The big, black dog heaved a sigh and lowered his back haunches, looking up at Madeline reproachfully.

She heaved a sigh of her own. At 160 pounds, the muscular Great Dane allowed her the illusion of control while she held the leash, but really, Madeline maintained power only at the dog’s behest.

A police cruiser pulled into the parking area. Two officers hopped out and made their way down the beach. An ambulance stopped behind them and medics poured from the vehicle, assembling their equipment.

Not that it would do them much good. The man was beyond requiring medical attention. He needed a coroner.

“The police are here,” she said into the phone.

“That’s good, Miss Scott. We can hang up now. Have a nice day.”

Yeah, right. A nice day? Sure. Because she stumbled across bodies all the time and this was no big deal. Madeline shuddered. The man had been warm when she checked for a pulse, and the image of his sightless gaze was sure to haunt her dreams.

She put the cell phone into her pocket and watched as the rescue people ran down the beach. There was no reason for them to hurry, except for the rising tide.

The first officer approached, his attention focused solely on her. He didn’t even glance at the body. “Miss Scott, is it? Dispatch said you discovered the body?” He gave a friendly smile as he closed the remaining distance between them. “I’m sorry. That must’ve been a shock.”

Madeline nodded. “Yes, it was, Officer...”

“Andrews, Donovan Andrews.” He stuck out his hand and gave another reassuring smile.

Madeline smiled back, trying to offer some reassurance of her own as she shook his hand. No, Officer Andrews, I’m not going to faint. I promise I won’t complicate your crime scene by breaking into hysterics. Madeline almost laughed, though she wished she really could faint.

She shivered and hugged her arms tightly to her body. Having been idle for several minutes, the bite of the cold wind chilled her skin. While she and Brutus trotted along at a quick pace, she'd been warm enough. Now, Madeline wished she’d brought a jacket.

Officer Andrews must have noticed. He slipped his arms from his black windbreaker and slung it around Madeline’s shoulders, battling the wind to wrap it around her. He adjusted the collar against her neck and his fingers brushed her skin lightly, sending a tingle of awareness through her. The gesture, and her body’s reaction to it, caught her off guard. Madeline took a step back, avoiding his touch.

“Sorry,” he said. “You look like you’re freezing. I know it’s April, but you really shouldn’t go around without a jacket in the evening, Miss. It gets mighty cold.”

Madeline grabbed the edges of his jacket and pulled it tightly against her. His spicy scent tickled her senses as it wafted up from the fabric. “Thanks. I’ll remember that. Normally I run with Brutus and don’t stand around long enough to get cold. Next time I find a body, I’ll keep running.”

“Touché.” A grin flashed across his face briefly. “Seriously, though, are you okay?”

She nodded and looked up at him, pleasantly surprised she had to look up. At five foot ten, Madeline was a giant compared to most women. She’d long since given up the dream of being one of those petite, delicate things men loved to wrap their arms around.

Andrews was very tall with a slender body. His police uniform didn’t offer much in the way of discovering what his body looked like, but Madeline sensed a core of strength. At least if she dated him she could wear heels.

And where did that thought come from?

Activity whirled next to them as the EMS team attended to the body. Officer Andrews spared a glance for the corpse, and his blue eyes tightened around the corners. His face paled and when he met Madeline’s eyes again, he looked shaken.

“Did you know him?” she asked.

The officer nodded.

Great question, genius. In a town of less than 3000, of course he knew the victim.

Andrews put his arm around Madeline’s shoulders. “Why don’t I take you and your friend up to sit in the police cruiser? It’ll be warmer in there, and I need to ask you some questions.”

Madeline nodded. It seemed odd that this man would put his arm around her like this, having just met her, but she appreciated his calming presence as he led her to the car. Brutus followed along without complaint, and Madeline allowed herself to lean on Officer Andrews. She forgave herself for acting so girly in that moment.

After all, she did just discover a body.


Donovan looked at Miss Scott through the police cruiser window and ran a hand over his hair. Frank Johnson, murdered? He wasn’t surprised someone killed the bastard, but this could create problems for Donovan.

He took one last look at Madeline before turning toward the beach. Miss Scott was a rare find. She must be new in town. Donovan would remember those long legs and pouty red lips, had he seen them before. Her deep brown eyes had kept him steady when he realized just whose body the tide slowly covered.

“Donovan, did you see who that is?” Eric Sanders shifted back and forth in his excitement. “Just think. You kicked his ass yesterday and now that sucker’s dead.”

Donovan glanced at his new partner and grimaced. Frank certainly deserved the punch Donovan gave him. However, after only working with Eric for one month, Donovan didn’t trust him to have his back.

“Maybe we shouldn’t talk about that, huh?” Donovan looked into Eric’s hazel eyes.

“Worried?” Eric brushed sand off his hands onto his blue uniform and shook his head. “You were out of my sight for over twenty minutes before the call came in. I’d worry too.”

“Out of your sight? I was in the bathroom. You know I’ve been sick since we ate at the taco wagon earlier.”

“You were in the bathroom just up the street. Plenty of time for you to whack him. That could be a problem.” Eric shook his head. “I bet his wife says something when they talk to her. She was pissed at you yesterday.”

An aggressive wave surged up the shoreline and angled for Donovan’s foot. He stepped back, but Eric, whose back was turned, ended up soaked.

Donovan grinned. Petty vengeance perhaps, but he felt a little better watching his partner jump around, cursing the cold water. It was definitely a good thing he came down to talk to Eric before questioning Madeline. He didn’t want Eric voicing this suspicion about what kind of time Donovan had unaccounted for. It wasn’t as though he did anything, but every rookie dreamed of nabbing a crooked cop.

“Look, Eric, I wasn’t at that house by myself yesterday. You could have done something just as easily while I was in the bathroom.” Donovan raised an eyebrow. “Can someone in the restaurant account for your whereabouts the entire time?”

Tugging on the collar of his shirt, Eric shook his head. “I don’t know.”

Well, thank God for small favors. “Then I think it’s best we stick together on this one, don’t you? Besides, Frank Johnson deserved to be punched for hitting his daughter.”

Eric nodded. “Sure thing, partner. I was happy when you decked him, but Stephanie Johnson heard you make that threat about him watching his back in dark alleys. You know she’s going to mention it, ‘cause she got so pissed.”

It was the same story every time. Dispatch sent Donovan to the Johnson’s house for a report of domestic violence, but when he got there, no one admitted anything. Stephanie always claimed she made a mistake and Frank hadn’t touched her. Unable to find evidence he abused the kids, Donovan had to leave when Stephanie told him to.

Frank’s luck ran out yesterday. The youngest child had a fresh bruise across her forehead, and Donovan called Child Services. They quickly arrived to take the children into custody, having been waiting for an excuse to seize them for the past year.

Once everyone left, Frank made threats against the police department and said the kids were his property. He said it was his right to treat them any way he wanted.

Donovan tore into him without thinking and threatened to kill him if he ever touched Stephanie or the children again. Though Frank made threats to turn Donovan in, he never called the station to report the incident. The few times he’d had altercations with Frank in the past, Donovan’s old partner always backed up his side of the story and he never received a formal reprimand. Now, however, Stephanie was sure to tell everyone what happened, and Donovan didn’t think he could trust Eric to help him.

He looked at his young partner. “You’ve only been here a month, Eric. Trust me, there’s not a soul in town who liked that asshole. Plenty of people would’ve liked to see him dead.” Donovan took a deep breath and tried to convince himself everything would be okay. “Henry and I went out to that house over twenty times in the last year. And that wasn’t the first time I hit Frank.”

“Yeah, but it’s the first time he’s ended up dead,” Eric muttered.

Donovan cranked his neck sideways, popping his jaw. Eric had a point. “I didn’t do this.”

“I just hope Stephanie doesn’t throw suspicion on us, because I didn’t do it either.”

“Even if she does report it, that still doesn’t mean people should suspect us. I really was sick today, and I promise I never left the restaurant. Can I count on you to not say anything about me being in the bathroom so long?”

“Yeah. We have to stick together. That’s what partners do, right?”

He grinned and clapped Eric on the shoulder. “Exactly.”

Donovan looked over at the body, relieved to see the coroner crouched next to it. Now they could try to piece together what happened.

“I’m going to interview the witness. Why don’t you deal with the coroner?” Donovan suggested.

Eric snorted. “’Course you’d pick the pretty lady and leave me with a stinking body.”

Donovan laughed as he headed back to the car. “Privileges of rank, kid.”


“It’s okay, Brutus,” Madeline assured the dog, reaching into the back seat to pet his large head. Perhaps she should just finish Brutus’ walk and take him home to his mommy. There was no reason to sit around here. The cops could talk to her at her house. Still, she hesitated against leaving because she didn’t want to get into trouble with the police.

Finally, Donovan Andrews’ head popped up over the small hill leading from the beach. He unlocked the door and climbed into the driver’s seat.

He looked calmer than when he first saw the body. Sadness didn’t seem to be the emotion he dealt with. If Madeline had to guess, she would suppose it was either fear or guilt, judging by the look that crossed his face.

“Well, now,” he said, locking his blue eyes onto Madeline, “I just have a few questions about what you saw, Miss Scott.”

“Can that wait, Officer? I have—”

“Call me Donovan.”

“—Oh, okay.” Madeline took a deep breath, which flooded her senses with Donovan’s subtle cologne mixed with the scent of the ocean. “Donovan, I need to get Brutus home to his owner. You see, I’m a dog walker, and she’ll worry about him if we’re too late. I can’t afford to lose her as a client. She insists I walk Brutus without any other dogs, and she pays very well.”

“Ah...I’ve seen Brutus around. Thought he looked familiar. Mrs. Stanfield bought him after her husband died two years ago. Odd choice for an older woman, but he seems like a good dog. Still, must be hard for her to control him on walks.”

Maybe finding a dead body made her grouchy, but small talk didn’t interest her. The last thing she wanted was his commentary on whether her client picked the appropriate breed of dog. “I suppose that’s why she pays me the big bucks. I need to get back to work.”

He tipped his head sideways. “I can’t believe you’re a dog walker.”

Madeline immediately bristled, her hands forming fists against her thighs. “It pays the rent. I’m actually a grade-school teacher, but those jobs aren’t plentiful around here. Dog walking mixed with substitute teaching pays the bills.” She glared at him, daring him to make an inappropriate remark about her profession. “I also work at Woofy Cuts as a groomer. Do you have a problem with that?”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Take it easy, Madeline. I only asked for clarity.” He reached across the space between them and patted her balled fist. “I wasn’t trying to offend. It’s good work and gets you out exercising every day. Personally, I love running in the—”

“I need to finish his walk and get Brutus home, sir,” Madeline interrupted, slipping her hand out of his and folding her arms together. “Do you think we could talk about things later?”

Donovan shrugged. “How ‘bout I walk with you? Then we can accomplish everything at once.”

Madeline knew she wasn’t in a position to argue. Besides, she tried not to notice, but Donovan attracted her in a way she hadn’t felt in a while. She avoided interesting men at all costs since her failed wedding. As intriguing as he seemed, his touchy-feely nature and apparent confidence warned her to be careful. Donovan Andrews was very likely a player.

He looked to be nearing forty—a very sexy, distinguished forty to be sure—and didn’t wear a wedding ring. His actions so far hadn’t made a good impression on her. He was a man used to being successful with the ladies, no matter what he did.

Madeline reminded herself none of that mattered. She wasn’t interested, and Donovan had his hands busy with a murder investigation. This wasn’t a dating service. “Sure, you can walk with us.”

Chapter Two

“So that’s when I saw the man in the dark-colored suit running away,” Madeline said.

“Can you describe him?”

Madeline thought about the figure. She had just walked over the top of a rise when she saw the person on the beach, but had been too far away to see him clearly. In fact, she wasn’t even certain the runner was a man.

She shook her head. “I didn’t realize anything horrible happened until I found the...victim.” She tugged on the leash to encourage Brutus to keep walking instead of inspecting the same bush for the hundredth time. “I’m plenty busy with this beast.”

“I can imagine.”

Glancing over at Donovan, another thought occurred to her. “You know, it might not have been a jogging suit I saw, considering the person obviously wasn’t down there for a run.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, the color the person wore was like your outfit.”

Donovan sucked in a breath, and Madeline risked another look.

He ran his hand over his face. “You think it’s a cop?”

“No, I didn’t mean... That’s not to say...” Great. She offended him. Certainly, the other cops would love hearing she half-accused one of them of being responsible for the crime. Madeline exhaled heavily. “Look, it could have been anybody wearing anything. That’s all I meant. The color was similar to your uniform and there was something shiny the sun hit when the person turned my direction for a few moments. It could have been metal, like a badge.”

Donovan stopped walking and made a notation in the notebook he carried.

Happy to take advantage of the break, Brutus trotted over to mark a signpost. Thankfully, they were only three houses away from his owner, and Madeline could drop him off and head home. She felt in desperate need of a hot bath and some chamomile tea.

She dragged Brutus away from the post and hurried to his owner’s door. Donovan stayed on the sidewalk, watching her. That at least kept her from having to answer questions about why she had a police escort, though Mrs. Stanfield might have wondered about the jacket saying ‘Police’ in big, yellow letters. Perhaps she didn’t notice.

After Brutus was safely inside the house, Madeline returned to Donovan. “I really don’t have anything else to offer, sir. Is it okay if I head home now?”

He nodded. “That’s probably for the best. Where’s your car? I’ll walk you to it.”

“That’s nice of you, but my apartment is three blocks away, over on Holly Street. I’ll be fine.”

“Holly Street? Overlooking the ocean?” At her nod, Donovan quirked an eyebrow. “Kind of a nice neighborhood for a dog walker...or a substitute teacher.”

Madeline looked at the sidewalk, refusing to answer the unspoken question. He didn’t need to know she’d pulled out her entire life savings to chase her dream of living next to the ocean. Northern California seemed like the perfect escape once she realized she wouldn’t be marrying Cameron.

She had just enough saved to finance the apartment for one year. After that, she’d have to rethink her life plan and make a decision that wasn’t so impulsive. Still, falling asleep to the sound of the ocean, watching the waves crash into the shore beneath her picture window, taking walks on the beach—spending all her money was worth that.

“I’d better walk you home,” Donovan said, and she looked back up. “There’s a killer out here somewhere. I don’t think you should walk alone.”

Her stomach twisted uncomfortably. “I’d appreciate the escort.”


“So this Scott girl probably saw the killer but can’t give an accurate description?” Chief Kenneth Stone boomed from behind his desk. “That’s not a lot of help to us unless she remembers more.”

Donovan sighed and clasped his hands behind his back. “Sir, she saw someone in a blue suit running away, but she was on the hilly part of the beach at the time and didn’t even realize there was a body or that a crime had been committed. She was too far away to be useful.”

“She’s new in town. Do you know anything about her background?”

“No.” Donovan shrugged. “Why? You think she overpowered Frank and then stuck around to report her crime?”

“Doubtful,” Stone admitted. “Then again, a coldly calculating killer might, in hopes we wouldn’t look at her for the crime. We’ve never had something like this happen here before. New residents are automatically suspicious in my mind.”

Eric laughed from his place on the tiny office’s only guest chair. “Miss Scott’s quite a willowy thing. Tall, but I doubt she could’ve taken down a tough guy like Frank Johnson.”

“Never underestimate a woman, rookie.” Chief Stone ran a hand through his silver-streaked hair and shook his head. “Check into her more to make sure, but she’s probably a dead end. Did she tell you anything useful?”

Donovan hesitated. “She did say one thing that was interesting.” And sure to land Donovan in trouble as soon as Stephanie Johnson complained.

Stone raised a bushy eyebrow. “Out with it, Andrews.”

He knew he’d have to tell them. It would look worse if he didn’t. “She thought maybe, and she’s not very sure about this, but it’s possible the jogging suit could be a police uniform or some other type of suit entirely. If that was the killer she saw, obviously he wasn’t down there for an evening jog.”

“Hmmm...” Stone leaned back in his chair and put his arms behind his head. “And you two were the only officers near the scene at the time. What does that say?”

“We were eating dinner, sir,” Eric squeaked.

Donovan launched a quelling glare at his partner, praying the dumb rookie wouldn’t say anything else. “Like I said, Chief, Madeline wasn’t too sure about anything.”

Stone sat straight up in his chair. “Madeline?”

“Miss Scott,” Donovan amended, shaking his head at his own carelessness. He already sat in a precarious position with Chief Stone, and it wouldn’t do to act interested in another woman.

Donovan dated Stone’s daughter for a few weeks before growing tired of her possessiveness and clingy nature. Stone foolishly thought Donovan would commit to her and had been pissed when Suzie tearfully informed him Donovan had other plans. Donovan couldn’t help it if he wasn’t the marrying type.

More accurately, he couldn’t help it if most women bored him to tears. He’d dated Suzie as long as he had out of respect for the Chief. She still came around the station house nearly every day, making mooneyes in Donovan’s direction. It was enough to drive him mad.

Then again, he’d cycled through the available talent in this small town. Heavy tourist traffic wouldn’t start for another few months. Madeline Scott just might provide a much-needed break in the monotony of his current dating life. She seemed smart and definitely had a sarcastic sense of humor, even when faced with a body. They could have fun together for a while.

The Chief stood and walked to the office door. “See that you keep things on professional footing with Miss Scott, Andrews. I don’t want any problems with my witness.”

Donovan nodded as Stone opened the door, and Eric hurried past them out into the main room.

“A quick question, sir.” Donovan’s heart beat fast, but at Stone’s nod he dove on. “Who’s questioning Stephanie Johnson?”

“It’s already been handled.”

“And did she mention a reason someone might have done this?”

Stone shrugged. “She’s only interested in getting her children back. She didn’t even blink when they informed her Frank was murdered. Maybe she’ll talk to us more once she’s met with Social Services.”

Well, wasn’t that funny? Here Donovan worried about Stephanie accusing him of killing her husband, but perhaps she did it herself. “Are we looking at her for this?”

“Yeah.” Stone wiped a large hand across his wrinkled face. “She seems a more likely candidate than Miss Scott. So far, she’s the only person I’ve found who has motive. Get back to work and round me up more suspects. I don’t want those kids yanked out of her house a second time if there’s a chance someone else did this.”

Donovan nodded and walked to his desk. He flopped into the chair, fear clutching his chest. So far, at least, no one knew about him punching Frank.

Eric glanced up from the papers in front of him. “You okay?”

Closing his eyes and leaning back, Donovan didn’t respond. If word got out Stephanie was a suspect and it looked like she wouldn’t get her children back, there was no way she’d keep quiet about the threats he made yesterday.

He had to find more suspects before that happened.


“I knew California was a bad idea!”

Madeline sighed, shifting her cell phone to her other ear before taking another sip of tea. The hot bath hadn’t done anything to steady her nerves, and her mom’s hysterics weren’t helping much either. “You make it sound like I moved to L.A. There’s hardly any crime in this dinky town. I promise you, I’m fine.”

“But a body? Madeline Josephine Scott, what if the killer saw you?”

“The police are keeping an eye on me until the killer is caught,” Madeline lied. “Don’t worry.”

“I’d feel better if you came back to Utah, sweetheart.”

“What for?” Madeline blinked back sudden tears. It had been five months since she caught her maid of honor in bed with her fiancé, and the pain and humiliation remained. “Coming back is not an option. Please, don’t worry about me.”

A knock sounded against her door, and Madeline stifled a relieved sigh. “Somebody’s here. I have to go. I’ll call on Sunday. Kiss, kiss.”

Madeline hung up before her mother could respond and tightened the sash of her robe to make sure her silky pajamas didn’t show. She crossed through the small living room to the front door and peered through the peephole. Officer Andrews stood in the outer hallway, shifting from side to side.

He was dressed all in black rather than his police uniform, and his short, brown hair spiked up in front. The slight graying at his temples gave him a distinguished look. His penetrating eyes stared directly into the peephole, as though he could see Madeline on the other side.

Smoothing her wet hair against her head, she pulled open the door. “Donovan? Was there something more you needed?”

Donovan’s eyes traveled up and down her body, spending an inordinate amount of time on her bare legs beneath the short silk robe. “Nice outfit.”

Though her cheeks burned, Madeline refused to lose her composure. Her robe was perfectly respectable, even if her uninvited guest wasn’t. “Can I help you?”

He nodded. “You might be the only person who can help me.”

Madeline tipped her head sideways, considering. Donovan clearly was no longer on duty, and he already acted a little too friendly earlier. What, exactly, was he asking for? “I’m sure lots of other girls would love to help you, and probably have.”

He laughed. “I know I come on a bit strong, but I’m here about the murder investigation—not that I’m sorry I got to see your gorgeous legs.”

Madeline’s mouth worked a few times, but she was unable to form words as Donovan pushed past her into the apartment.

He looked past the short hallway to the cheerily painted living room and let out a low whistle. “Yellow walls? I’m surprised. I had you pegged for a lavender girl.”

Madeline folded her arms. “What is it that you want?”

“Is anyone here with us, or can we talk in private?”

“We’re alone.” She shut the door and led him into the apartment, gesturing toward the gray suede couch. “Have a seat. Would you like some tea?”

“Is that all you have?” Donovan sat down and grimaced. “I suppose if you don’t have coffee, that’ll have to work.”

Madeline tightened her lips and spun on her heel, marching into the kitchen. What was wrong with the man? Couldn’t he just ask politely for coffee like a decent human being, instead of acting as though she offered him dog piss? She thought about the instant coffee granules sitting in her cupboard. It would only take a few seconds to make him a cup.

Grabbing a mug, she filled it to the brim with hot chamomile tea. If he couldn’t show any manners, she saw no reason to go out of her way to please him.

She stormed back into the living room and shoved the mug into his hands. Hot liquid sloshed over the side of the cup.

He jerked one hand away and shoved it into his mouth, muffling curses as he sucked off the scalding tea.

“Oopsie,” she muttered, sinking gracefully into the armchair and crossing her legs. She tugged her robe down as inconspicuously as possible, just to make sure Donovan didn’t see more than he should. “What is it you need to know, Officer Andrews?”

Donovan sipped his tea and pulled a coaster out of a stack on the coffee table. He put the mug down and leaned back. “Officer Andrews is it? Guess I overstepped my mark. I’m just so used to women...” He shrugged.

“Throwing themselves at you?” Madeline finished with raised eyebrows. “Giving you whatever you want?”

“Something like that.” Donovan settled back into the couch, his eyes tracking her every movement. “Look, Madeline, I’m sorry if I offended you, but I could really use your help. I need to know if you remember anything else about the runner.”

Madeline had searched her mind all night. She wouldn’t impede an investigation because of Donovan’s deplorable manners. “The runner held something in his hand. It might have been a small baseball bat. Do you know what kind I mean? I think it’s called a Louisville Slugger.”

Donovan shot out of his relaxed pose and leaned toward her with narrowed eyes. “Or perhaps a police baton?”

“Could’ve been.” She nodded. “I couldn’t see it well, but the shape was cylindrical.”

“How big was it?”

She held her free hand about a foot and a half from her mug of tea. “About like this from what I remember. Might have been a little bigger.”

Donovan shook his head and took another sip of tea. “Damn,” he muttered softly.

As an officer, she thought he’d be happy to hear that news. It was another clue, at least. She’d been thinking about it all night. The victim was a big man and would have been hard to strangle unless he was incapacitated. “Do you think maybe the killer hit the victim and knocked him out before choking him?”

“It’s a good theory, especially if the killer was a smaller person,” Donovan agreed. “It’s one of the reasons my Chief wants me to look at you a little harder.”

“M—m—me?” Madeline shook her head frantically. “I couldn’t. I wouldn’t!”

“Don’t worry.” He reached out and patted her bare leg. “I told Chief Stone the same thing.”

The skin he touched seemed to burn with the heat coming from it. Why did he so unsettle all her senses?

His fingers slipped away from her knee, caressing it lightly. “I’ll need an account of your activities today for the record,” he said, “but I don’t think you’re guilty.”

“I’m glad to hear you don’t truly consider me a suspect. It would have been a bit difficult to keep control of Brutus and take down a huge man at the same time.” Madeline took deep, calming breaths and sipped her tea. They couldn’t really suspect her. Obviously, the small-town police were panicking. In cop shows, they always blamed anyone new to town. That had to be the case here. She looked back at Donovan. “I’m sorry, but I really don’t know anything more.”

“Well, remembering the bat or whatever it was is helpful.” He ran his hand over his face and shook his head, looking tired. “Unfortunately, it makes me look guiltier.”


He must have seen the shock in her eyes, because Donovan held out a hand in a placating manner. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I promise I didn’t do anything, but I have a couple very good reasons for wanting this case wrapped up in a hurry.”

“I suppose if you’re a killer, I’ve already let you in my house, so there’s not much to do about it now.” She set her tea down, pleased when the cup went smoothly onto the table and didn’t rattle. Yep, she was a cool cucumber. She had murderers in for tea every night. No problem here.

“Look, Maddie, I promise I’ve done nothing wrong. Well, not much wrong.”

“My name is Madeline,” she corrected softly, wondering if she could make it to her bedroom, lock the door, and call 911 before he caught her.

“Sorry. You look like a Maddie.”

Donovan stared into her eyes for several breathless moments, just long enough for Madeline to wonder if he was about to hurt her.

He finally shrugged and looked away. “The problem I have is Frank Johnson liked to beat his wife. I can’t tell you how many times I went to that house.” He stood and began pacing the living room like a restless beast. “Yesterday, he hit his little girl.”

She sucked in a shocked breath. How could any man do that to his own family? Especially his child?

Donovan pivoted on his toe and stalked back toward her, breathing hard and clenching his fists. “Horrible piece of shit that he was, I wish someone hadn’t picked today to kill him. I could be in trouble.”

He really did sound like a man desperate to clear his name, not a killer.

“Why might you be in trouble?” she asked.

“Because I was stupid.” His eyes met hers again. “I lost it yesterday, roughed him up, made some threats. I shouldn’t have, but I was so angry.”

“And now he’s dead.”

“Lucky for the world, unlucky for me.”

Anger emanated off Donovan like a palpable force. Madeline watched him as he prowled. He had the graceful body of a runner. Although he would definitely be strong enough to strangle someone, Madeline wondered if she’d jumped to conclusions too quickly.

If he really had killed that man, he’d gain nothing by talking to her about it. Also, he’d genuinely seemed surprised when he looked at the body.

Madeline settled back in her chair, deciding it wouldn’t be necessary to call 911. “Judging by how inappropriate this entire conversation is, I can see you aren’t great at following police procedure. However, anyone would have wanted to beat up a guy like that.”

“That’s the thing. Tons of people hate him. His wife probably killed him so she could get her kids back, but I think she’ll point the finger of blame at me.”

Madeline shook her head. “I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t be telling me all this, especially not if I’m a suspect.”

He laughed. “Probably not, but we suspects have to stick together.”

It would serve her best not to respond to that. “You said you had several reasons for needing to round up suspects. What else is going on?”

Donovan made another trip around the room and stopped in front of Madeline. He planted a hand on either arm of the chair and leaned into her. A tingling of excitement passed through her as Donovan’s warm cheek pressed against hers and his hot breath blew in her ear.

“Chief said I can’t date you while I’m involved in this investigation.” He pulled slowly away from her, the slight stubble on his cheek revving up her senses as it brushed against her. “I want to finish this case quickly...very quickly.”

Madeline tried to calm her erratic pulse as she watched Donovan cross the room and open the front door.

He turned to look at her. “Lock this behind me, Maddie.”

Chapter Three

Madeline struggled to open the door of Woofy Cuts against the harsh wind whipping through town. Wasn’t California supposed to be the land of sunshine, bikini-clad babes, and over-muscled idiots? Perhaps only the southern part of the state boasted those attractions.

She stepped into the interior of the shop, trying to smooth her tangled hair. Walking seven small dogs this morning, while dealing with the weather, was a test in patience. However, all the yappy dogs were safe in their homes, and Madeline only arrived ten minutes late to work.

“There you are, Madeline. I was just about to call you.”

Madeline glanced across the pink and blue room at her employer. Oversized bones decorated the walls and shelves of supplies for sale covered the left-hand side of the store. Her boss stood near the styling stations in the center, checking the grooming supplies.

Lindsey Butters was everything Madeline wished she could be: blonde, blue-eyed, and petite. Madeline guessed Lindsey to be in her forties, but no one would ever know that from looking at her. The woman had the looks of a short supermodel in her mid twenties, though Madeline suspected Botox had a hand in Lindsey’s wrinkle-free face.

“Sorry about that,” Madeline said, walking past the customer seating area. “I had the Pomeranians this morning. You know how much trouble they cause with the other dogs. It’s amazing I’m here now.”

“Oh, I’m not angry you’re late.” Lindsey shook her head, bobbing perfect curls against her shoulders. “But after you found that body last night, I have more reasons to worry about you walking alone out there.”

The memory of Frank Johnson’s lifeless eyes filled her vision for a moment. Madeline’s hand trembled slightly as she opened the door to the coat closet and hung her jacket. “How’d you hear about that?”

“It was in this morning’s paper. Brandon Feldman must have worked all night to prepare the story so fast.”

Madeline sighed and checked the white board to see how busy their schedule was today. She should’ve known the resident gossip, otherwise known as owner of the newspaper, would blab her life to the entire town.

It wasn’t that she didn’t like Brandon, not exactly. The man had tried many times to convince Madeline to go out with him since she arrived in town. She turned him down each time, though she wasn’t sure what made her cautious of him. He seemed nice enough. One thing was certain; he was nothing like Donovan.

Madeline pushed that thought away. She promised herself she wouldn’t think about Donovan anymore. She knew his type. Chances were high he found himself a nice little hottie to flirt with already today and forgot all about looking at Madeline’s legs last night.

“Looks like we’re losing our overnight guests,” Madeline said, gesturing to the white board and struggling to get her mind on the right track. Two dogs had stayed at Woofy Cuts’ doggie hotel all week, but they were on the grooming schedule this morning.

“Yeah, their family will be in to pick them up before noon. We’d better get to work.”

Lindsey stepped through the swinging doors to the back end of the building and Madeline followed. An underlying hint of wet dog infused Madeline’s senses, even though Lindsey insisted they cleaned the back room religiously. It was impossible to banish that scent.

“We’ll have a new boarder this afternoon,” Lindsey told her as they stepped into the kennel area. “Mrs. Stanfield is going to visit her sister. Your friend, big Brutus, will be an overnight guest.”

Madeline smiled. “I do love that dog.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear that because I need a favor.”

A tendril of dread filled the pit of her stomach. Lindsey’s voice was far too bland and innocent. “What do you need?”

“You don’t walk any dogs on Friday mornings, right?” she asked with raised eyebrows.

Madeline groaned. “Oh, no! Can’t Maria come in to work? You know I need that day.” It was the only day of the week Madeline had completely free. She worked at the school or Woofy Cuts all the other days, in addition to walking dogs every morning and most evenings.

“Pretty please, Madeline. Just come in and walk Brutus around seven o’clock and open the store. Marie said she’d come in and take over at nine.” She bit her lip, looking hopeful. “I have a dentist appointment in Eureka at eight. If I cancel, it’ll be two months before I can get in.”

Madeline sighed, but nodded. Lindsey gave her a job when no one else in this town had anything to offer. She also suggested Madeline offer her services as a dog walker and helped smooth the way so Madeline could obtain clients. Besides, it wasn’t as though she’d be stuck the whole day. She could handle a few hours, and taking care of Brutus was always a fun challenge.

“You’re a doll,” Lindsey said, flashing her perfect smile. “Just be really careful tomorrow morning when you come in."

Madeline opened the store herself on Monday mornings each week. She found it a bit offensive that Lindsey still didn’t completely trust her. “I know how to open the store by now. It’ll be fine.”

“That’s not what I meant.” Lindsey patted her shoulder. “Brandon said in the paper this morning that Frank had only been dead minutes when the police arrived.”

Madeline thought once again of Frank’s vacant eyes. Donovan said the guy was a creep, but did anyone deserve to be murdered? “That’s true. I don’t understand why you’re worried.”

Lindsey shook her head and sighed. “Sweetie, whoever killed Frank knows who you are now. If he thinks you can identify him, he might come after you next.”


Donovan parked the police cruiser, and he and Eric hopped out. It had been a wasted day. They spent most of their time reassuring frightened citizens they would catch the killer and Pleasant View’s streets would be safe once again.

Donovan followed Eric into the station. Tourist season quickly approached. Citizens worried that with news of a killer on the loose, people would vacation elsewhere, crippling the town’s revenue.

“Andrews, Sanders, get in here,” Chief Stone bellowed from his office.

They stepped into the cramped office and closed the door. Eric once again took the chair while Donovan stood with his arms clasped behind his back.

“Please tell me you got a lead,” Chief Stone said, leaning back in his chair and stacking his feet on the desk. “I’ve been fielding phone calls all day from terrified mothers who won’t let their children outside. I need this case solved.”

Donovan nodded. “We’ve been talking to scared moms too. That’s mostly who we were able to interview today.”

Donovan didn’t blame them for being afraid. Pleasant View was usually a safe town; a place people came to raise a family. The worst thing that ever happened was an occasional fight or a teenager pulling a dumb prank and ruining some property. Well, except for jerks like Frank Johnson who abused their wives.

He fished a notepad from his front pocket and opened it. “Here are the three names we were given today of people acting suspicious, but I don’t think this will lead anywhere.”

The names reported were people Donovan knew had an ongoing problem with the person who reported them. He needed real suspects to keep himself out of the line of fire. Personal grudges would not help him.

Stone grunted and swung his feet to the floor, taking the list from Donovan’s hand. “How many interviews did you get through?”

“Fifteen, sir,” Eric answered.

“I’m thinking we should get some extra help,” Donovan said. “I don’t know if six of us on the force are enough to handle this.”

Stone ran his hand over his head. His gray hair stuck up on end, as if he’d been pulling it all day. “Even if we call in the six back-up cops that come in during the summer, we’re not going to be able to interview everyone.” Stone looked at the list. “Start with these names tomorrow, and I’ll see what I can do about finding more help.”

Donovan took the notebook back. “Has anything useful turned up?”

“Only something Stephanie Johnson said,” Stone replied.

Donovan’s heart gave an extra squeeze. “What’s that, sir?”

“Someone called Frank right before he left the house yesterday.”

The band of tightness relaxed slightly and Donovan tried to muffle his sigh of relief. “Who was it?”

“Don’t know yet. We’re working on getting phone records.”

“Did Mrs. Johnson say anything about what happened at her house that day?” Eric asked. “I mean, after Social Services left?”

Donovan turned to Eric with narrowed eyes. He was getting into dangerous territory, and Donovan wished he’d just shut his mouth.

“The kids returned home this morning and there didn’t seem to be any problems. She hasn’t said anything more about the day they were taken away,” Stone said. “Why? You have anything you want to add, rookie?”

Donovan cleared his throat. “Things were a little tense in the house.” He couldn’t afford to have the Chief hear everything that happened.

Stone looked at Eric. “Is that what you’re referring to?”

“Yes, sir,” Eric mumbled, looking at the floor. “It was very heated. Frank said some things that didn’t sit too well with us, and Mrs. Johnson became upset.”

Donovan held his breath, wondering how Chief would react to that news. Eric had mentioned once again today how nervous he was about Stephanie saying something. Donovan had tried his best to reassure him, but obviously it hadn’t worked.

Eric shrugged. “It just seems like a lot of people didn’t like Frank.”

Stone gave Donovan a hard look, causing Donovan’s stomach to twist with discomfort. He wondered if Stone suspected what really happened after Social Services left with the children. It wouldn’t be too big of an assumption for him to make, since Frank had filed complaints in the past.

The Chief finally shook his head. “At least we’ll have a lead when we find out who called him. You guys write up your findings and go home.”

Donovan led the way out of the office. He sat back in his desk and pulled up a form on the computer, pushing half the hand-written notes across to Eric’s desk.

Madeline’s face once again filled his vision, as it had so many times throughout the day. He’d wanted to go see her, but given the past relationship he’d shared with Lindsey Butters, she wouldn’t have been happy if he showed up at Woofy Cuts. Besides, what excuse could he give? Madeline obviously told him everything she knew.

Then again, he could casually stop by her apartment this evening, find a new tea to take her. She seemed to love tea. Maybe it would get him in the door.

Damn...he couldn’t do that tonight. Donovan ground his teeth and punched a name into the form. He’d made reservations at The Carriage House for him and Christy. What had he been thinking, letting that girl talk him into the date? Christy was twenty-three and in her last semester of college. He knew they had nothing in common after the first date. When she’d begged to go out again, Donovan agreed, feeling guilty only giving her one chance.

Now having met Madeline—sophisticated, sarcastic, tall Maddie—he wished he dared cancel. Donovan shook his head. He’d have to go through with this one last date with Christy, but he would find a way to see Maddie tomorrow.


Madeline glanced at the clock as she handed change to Mrs. Duncan. She placed the dog toys and water dish into a plastic bag and handed them over the counter. Although the store had been slow as far as grooming appointments, it seemed everyone in town needed pet supplies. Madeline was glad this hectic day would soon end.

They all wanted to question her about finding Frank’s body. Madeline had a suspicion that was the real reason they swarmed to the shop today. She smiled and bid Mrs. Duncan a good day, though the woman left angry, unable to get information out of Madeline to fuel the gossip.

Thankful the store was finally empty of customers, Madeline walked into the back room to look for Lindsey.

Her boss poured food into an enormous bowl and placed it in Brutus’ cage. “Finally got rid of her, did you?” Lindsey asked. “I thought she’d never quit asking questions.”

“I don’t understand the people in this town.” Madeline shuddered. “Why would you want to know all the details about a dead body? I wish I didn’t have that memory.”

“I know, sweetie. It’s a horrible thing, but you have to remember how boring life is around here. This is the most excitement we’ve had in years.” Lindsey locked Brutus’ kennel and led the way to the front of the store. “Face it—you’re an overnight celebrity.”

Madeline sat on one of the styling stations and closed her eyes. “Do you think that will keep me safe if the killer thinks I know anything? Maybe I should let the townsfolk mob me. Safety in numbers and all that.”

“Well...I know one man who wants to keep you safe, and he’s headed to the door right now.”

Donovan? He’s here? I must look horrible after practically bathing with the dog this morning!

Madeline opened her eyes, running her fingers over her hair in an attempt to put it in some semblance of order. She squinted into the sunlight shining through the door and tried to make out the person on the other side.

The chime sounded as he walked inside. Madeline’s eyes adjusted to the brightness and her heart sank a little.

“Good afternoon, ladies,” Brandon Feldman said, crossing the room to place a kiss on Lindsey’s cheek. “Everything go okay today?”

Madeline bit her lip and looked into Brandon’s tanned face. She knew Lindsey was right, Brandon did seem to want to keep Madeline safe—or at least away from other men—but a secret corner of her wished Donovan had come to check on her. After last night, she really thought he’d at least casually show up, if to do nothing more than remind her he wanted a date once the case was closed.

“It’s been busy,” Lindsey told Brandon. “People want to know more about Frank, and everyone wants a piece of our Madeline.”

“I hope you’ve told them they can’t have you,” Brandon said with a wink as he leaned down to kiss Madeline’s cheek. “I have every intention of convincing you to be mine.”

Madeline tried to keep a straight face. Not a very subtle pickup line. Still, Brandon was here, trying to use it on her. Her earlier assessment about Donovan had to be right. He forgot about her the second he left the apartment and now used his charm to seduce some other unsuspecting woman.

She looked into Brandon’s startling green eyes. Even though she wasn’t attracted to him, he was a handsome man with his light-brown hair, deep tan, and large muscles. Brandon fit the stereotypical, over-muscled idiot she had been thinking of earlier. One of the beautiful people, she thought, grinning.

She stood from the styling table, which put her eyes level with his. “You’re sweet, Brandon, but I told you I’m not interested in dating right now.”

Brandon took a step back. “Really? The town’s buzzing about Donovan Andrews leaving your apartment late last night. They say he wasn’t in uniform and it seemed like a social call.” He shrugged. “I’d hoped that meant your ban on dating was over.”

People gossiped about her? Who did they think they were, judging what she might be doing in her own home?

“Oh, no, sweetie.” Lindsey shook her head. “You aren’t dating Donovan, are you? Please tell me they’re wrong.”

“It’s nobody’s business who I choose to date.” Madeline tried to keep her tone civil, but gossip irritated her. She dealt with enough of that at home once she called off the wedding.

Lindsey's mouth tightened and she put her hand on her hip. “I thought we were friends, and you talk to me like that? Donovan’s trouble, but don’t worry, I’ll stay out of your private business.” She whirled around and marched to the back of the store.

“Lindsey, wait,” Madeline called, taking a step to follow her as Lindsey disappeared through the swinging doors.

Brandon grabbed her hand, stopping her. “Let her go. She needs time to cool off.”

“But why did she get so mad? I didn’t mean to upset her.”

Brandon captured her other hand and stared deep into her eyes. “It’s not your fault. I’m sure no one told you. Donovan Andrews isn’t a nice guy. He’s dated most of the women in this town and broken their hearts.” He looked toward the back room. “Lindsey thought she was different. She thought Donovan would finally settle down with her. They were engaged two weeks before he called it off.”

Madeline swallowed hard, trying to bite back her disappointment. She thought she’d felt a real attraction to Donovan. Even though initially he struck her as a womanizer, by the time he left her apartment last night she’d hoped for something a bit different. Obviously he was good at tricking women into believing he was what they wanted. At least until he moved on to the next one.

“I didn’t know,” she whispered.

“I hope you didn’t think anything different was going to happen with him. He’ll break your heart.”

“No. It wasn’t anything like that.” Madeline shook her head. “I wasn’t dating him. He came by to talk about the case.”

Brandon grinned. “So, then, you don’t have plans with him tonight?”

“Of course not!”

“Good.” He released her hands and stepped back. “I made us dinner reservations for The Carriage House at eight. Can I pick you up at seven-thirty?”

Madeline raised her eyebrows, shocked. “The Carriage House?”

It was the most expensive restaurant in town, and she’d heard they charged a fee if anyone canceled a reservation without a twenty-four hour notice. Brandon had really gone out on a limb, since she already turned him down eight times over the last two months.

Still, Cameron was her past, and she couldn’t mourn the loss of that life forever. At some point, she had to start dating again.

Being completely honest with herself, she knew she would love spending more time with Donovan, even if he was a player. Something about him intrigued her. However, Lindsey and Brandon reinforced the fact that Donovan wasn’t boyfriend material. She needed to stop wasting time thinking about him.

Brandon reached out and grabbed her hand again. “The Carriage House is really nice. They have great food, and I promise we’ll have fun. What do you say?”

She nodded. “Sounds great.”


I hope you enjoyed that! If you want to continue with Madeline and Donovan's adventure (and see what happens when they meet up at the restaurant) be sure to check your favorite book vendor this weekend or visit me here on Monday, where I will share the links and also feature all the blogs who have graciously agreed to help me spread the word about my release! 

Thanks for stopping by and for reading. Have a great rest of your week!
~~ Chantel~~


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