Series: Carver Ranch #2
Published by: Jelly Bean Press Co
Release Date: 06/24/2016
Contributors: Heather Tullis
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Robert (Bo) Carver is happy to be home from his final deployment in Afghanistan, especially since it means taking over the family ranch that he's always loved. When he meets the cute new nurse at the medical clinic downtown, he thinks there's a chance he can have everything he's ever wanted. Tosca Michaels, on the other hand, isn't looking for a new relationship—she's just happy to have survived the last one—but there's something about this cowboy she can't quite ignore.
Meanwhile Bo’s twin Hank struggles to ignore his attraction to the new director of the Juniper Ridge Ambulance. Joquell Westbury may be beautiful and competent, but she bought his dream home out from under him. Despite Hank’s determination to dislike her, the more he gets to know her, the harder it is to hold onto his anger in the face of his growing attraction. As much as he’d like to make things work, he doesn’t see how this country boy and trust-fund girl can make things work.
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“Will you miss me?” Margot Eggen leaned in for one more kiss goodbye from her boyfriend Charles. They stood just inside the door of his Atlanta mansion.
“Every minute. I’ll come back sooner if I can, but it’s only a week, sweetheart.” He slid his strong hands up her arms and pressed his lips to hers. “I’d rather focus on you, but sometimes business has to come first.” A noise echoed from the other entrance to his home and he smiled wryly. “Speaking of.”
With a sigh, Margot shifted back and picked up her purse, which had fallen sideways beside the little table next to his door. Her keys had fallen out and were half-hidden by the elegant cloth on the table. She scooped them up. “Call me.”
“Every day—probably more than once a day. We’ll have a terrific Christmas together when I get back.” He held the door for her, then followed her out to her car, pressing one last kiss on her before helping her into the beat up Toyota she’d bought when she turned sixteen.
Margot started the car, blew him a kiss, and wondered how she had gotten so lucky. She had only known Charles for a month but things between them had been going so well. Better than she ever expected. The man was perfect: tall, dark, and handsome to the nth degree, and he didn’t mind that she didn’t have an impressive pedigree or a fancy education. Not that she’d told him everything about her past, but she was starting to think he wouldn’t walk away from her when she came clean.
Sure, she liked that he had money, but that wasn’t nearly as important as the way he made her feel, the sweet way he always saw to her comfort.
Wanting to plug her phone into the stereo, she reached into her bag, but didn’t find the cell. She stopped at the end of the driveway to check in her purse. It wasn’t there. “This is the last thing I need today,” she muttered.
She couldn’t go anywhere without her phone. She was on call at the twenty-four-hour clinic where she worked.
Thinking it would give her an excuse to steal another kiss from Charles, Margot backed up the drive and hopped out when she pulled beside the door. She expected to have to knock at the door to have him unlock it, but when she nudged the handle, the door swung open. It hadn’t been shut tight.
Margot lifted the tablecloth and found her cell phone sitting under it. She scooped it up and heard voices coming from down the hall. She moved further into the house and heard Charles..
“You think you can just walk away, Carter? You think I’d let you do that?”
Margot stopped before entering the room, peeking her head around the doorway. There was a plant on a buffet against the wall between her and the two men, but she could see through the fronds.
Charles stood facing a shorter man with thinning dark hair. Light glinted off of the black metal barrel of a gun as Charles waved it toward the man. A silencer was attached to the weapon.
“But, Charlie, you don’t understand,” Carter said.
“I think I do. Come on, let’s take a walk.”
Margot backed toward the outside door, suddenly worried. Charles had never done or said anything that made her nervous before. He’d always been a perfect gentleman. She nearly tripped over the table by the exit and caught a pen before it rolled off the top and fell onto the hard tiles. She rushed to her car, wanting to get away. How could she have been dating someone who threatened another person with a gun?
She slid into her car as she saw Charles push the other man out through the sliding glass doors that led to the garage. Carter turned, though whether to fight or to speak, it wasn’t clear.
Charles didn’t give him a chance to say a word, however. The gun went off and, despite the silencer, the noise was loud in the dark quiet.
Carter slumped to the ground and Charles snorted in disgust. He muttered something Margot couldn’t hear and turned away, pulling out his cell phone and heading toward his house again.
Shaking, Margot set her car in neutral so it would coast down the driveway. The movement of her car, or maybe the sound of tires on pavement must have alerted him to her presence, however, because he looked up, surprise on his face. Margot cranked her key in the ignition and pushed on the gas, even as she heard him calling out her name.
Her back window shattered, and she ducked as the glass sprayed her from behind. A hole appeared in the front windshield under the left side of her rearview mirror. Margot’s heart hammered, and she thought she might hyperventilate. She turned onto the street, taking the corner much faster than normal. Trees and bushes obscured her from view and she headed for the main road, trying to figure out where to go. He knew where she lived, so her apartment wouldn't be safe.
As she pulled out of the neighborhood, she saw Charles’ red Lamborghini leaving his driveway and speeding in her direction.
She drove for several miles, aimlessly dodging down random streets, grateful when she lost Charles after several turns. Her cell phone rang repeatedly. All Charles. Suddenly she remembered something she’d heard about cell phones being traceable by GPS. It made her feel paranoid and stupid, but she gave into the fear and turned the phone off.
Her whole body shook, and she wept as she remembered the cold, merciless expression on Charles’ face when he’d shot Carter. How had she thought she was falling in love with him? Why did she always pick guys who shouldn’t be trusted? Was Carter dead? She didn’t know, but she couldn’t take any chances.
When she’d been driving over half an hour and could finally think beyond her own immediate safety, she realized she should have called the police, had someone check to see if the little man was still alive. By now, though, Charles would surely have had someone take care of him—one way or the other.
She pulled into a truck stop and got a cup of coffee at around two a.m. Hunched over in a booth listening to a bunch of truckers complain about the cost of fuel and engine repairs, she finally felt her brain click back into place.
She had to call the cops. She had to report what she’d seen.
Her hands still shook when she reached into her bag to pull out her cell phone. She turned it on, then dialled 911.
Ten weeks later
Margot had no idea what the powers that be thought they were doing sending her to the Rocky Mountains. Granted, Atlanta wasn’t exactly the tropics, but the little resort town the US Marshal drove her into was several feet deep in snow—and so small! The closest hospital was down the mountain twenty miles, and the clinic where she would be working only had two doctors.
Imagining the snow bunnies with elevation sickness didn’t help her feel better about abandoning the inner-city clinic filled with people who didn’t have anywhere else to turn for care. But staying alive was kind of high on her priority list, so Atlanta hadn’t been an option.
US Marshal John Sandoval had filled her in on the town’s attractions: a ski resort, mountain biking and golfing in the summer, plenty of hiking, and a five-star resort hotel with spa were high on the list. He’d been a little spare on the fact that there wasn’t even a Walmart within thirty minutes, or that there was only one regular grocery store and an organic food market open five days a week.
The four-plex they pulled up in front of was brown brick, old, but seemed decently maintained. It was hard to tell through the piles of snow in the yard.
In the weeks since she first called the police, who turned the case over to the FBI, she had been stuck in a safe house in South Carolina. It had taken them longer than she expected to create her new identity. Then they butchered her hair into one of those short, devil-may-care styles and lightened it from dark brown to strawberry blonde. With the use of daily toner and more makeup than she’d ever owned before, she hardly recognized herself anymore. Margot—whose name was now Tosca Michaels—was starting over as a whole new person. Too bad she wasn’t ready to leave her old self behind.
She got out of her new-to-her car and followed John to the front door. He pulled out a key and showed her into the apartment.
It was empty.
She had always lived in furnished apartments and had expected this to be the same. “Where’s the furniture?” The question was more than a little horrified. All she had was a couple suitcases of clothes. How did they expect her to fill the place with no money? And they were how many miles from real shopping, never mind a furniture store.
“You’ve been given a furniture stipend. It’s generous for an apartment this size,” John told her. He handed over an envelope and she rifled through it, noticing a large assortment of hundreds, fifties, and twenties.
The basement apartment was tiny: one bedroom, itty-bitty bath, living room, and combined kitchen/dining room. Of course, she didn't need much since she didn't get to bring any of her belongings—what was left after Charles’ goons had trashed her place was now in storage. And she’d never lived anywhere someone would refer to as lavish.
The apartment may have been small, but once inside, she could tell the place was well maintained. She smelled paint and a hint of pine cleaner. The counter-tops were a little worn, but they were scrubbed clean and the stove and refrigerator looked fairly new and sparkled inside.
Tosca looked out the window at the sound of a truck engine pulling up out front. A dark-haired man buried in a brown coat got out of a large, white truck. She hadn't met the man who was supposed to keep an eye on her, now that she was in the middle of nowhere, but she wondered if that was him. John was posing as her brother, helping her move her things in, and would only stay until that evening before he left to catch his flight back to Georgia. A member of the sheriff’s department lived next door to protect her for the foreseeable future. She wasn't sure if that made her feel safer or not.
“Please tell me he’s the one,” she said to John as the tall, good-looking man approached the stairs. He practically oozed strength and self-confidence.
John looked out the window and shrugged. “That’s not our guy. Must be a neighbor.”
If all her neighbors looked like that, Tosca thought things might be looking up. Then she shook her head. Trusting a man was what had gotten her in this position to begin with. And her previous boyfriends hadn’t been much better. Maybe she ought to take a sabbatical from dating for a few months—at least until she figured out who she was supposed to be and got comfortable enough with her fabricated background that she wouldn’t slip up.
They brought in the last of her bags, and as Tosca dumped her things in the echoing bedroom, she wondered why they hadn’t brought any furniture with them. “Where am I supposed to find a bed and table? You can’t tell me this po-dunk town has a Bassett Furniture.”
"You couldn’t afford Bassett; not on what you make,” John said. “Don’t worry, Trent promised there was a place in town where you can get some nice stuff, used but in good condition.” Trent was the ex-FBI agent turned sheriff’s deputy who would be keeping an eye on her. “He said he’d meet us at six. You want to grab some lunch and take a look around town?"
She glanced at her watch. It was only one o’clock. "Might as well; I’m starving. Do they have a pizza place?"
They climbed into the car and he directed her a couple of blocks down Main Street. The pizza restaurant was nearly empty—a depressing fact even if it was the middle of the week. If this was her future, she wasn't sure she wanted it.
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