A recovering alcoholic, Jake Inman has found a new, healthier addiction: training for his successful triathlon career. But when his manager is murdered and beloved goddaughter kidnapped, another obsession takes hold: doing whatever it takes to find Brandon’s killer and keep Amy safe. Jake turns to a private investigator for help in solving the case, and though he finds temptation in her whiskey-colored eyes, he knows he must resist his attraction, or risk losing his heart.
After a devastating case, Winona Wall has turned her back on her skills as a private investigator, preferring a quiet life as a part-time bartender. That is, until Jake storms into the bar, demanding her help in tracking his missing godchild. Unable to resist Jake’s charm, she reluctantly agrees. But even after Amy is found unharmed, Jake insists Amy’s mother was more involved with her kidnapping than the police suspect. When the situation takes a turn for the worse, Winona must trust her instincts in order to save them all – and avoid falling in love.
Excerpt for the suspense lovers:
The Jeep bounced along the road, up steep mountain slopes, as rain fell in sheets. Winona gasped as the Jeep slid through slick channels of mud, but Jake managed to hold it tight. The roads were spongy, absorbing water, then wringing it out in a collection of goo.
She imagined water gushing around her. Imagined falling to their death. Being sucked into the earth by sludge. The sky had turned dark, merciless, and she couldn’t see a damn thing but the Jeep lights soaking an otherwise indistinguishable trail. The wind clamored across the ragtop as if it wasn’t even attached.
“We’re almost there,” Jake had assured her several times as she clenched the grab handle. They had made it past the public roads just fine, and she felt this trail was way worse than he’d described. “It feels worse than it is,” he continued. “I’ve traveled this road hundreds of times.”
“We should wait for backup.” She checked her phone yet again but had no service. She couldn’t call Garret to find out what was going on at his end, and none of her texts was going through. As a private investigator, she’d done many stupid things alone. This ranked top of her list.
She opened the glove compartment. Searched under the seats, behind the seats.
“What are you doing?”
“Looking to see if Chayton has any ammo or guns in his Jeep. Knowing my brother, he doesn’t.”
Her arsenal consisted of the .380 she’d hidden in her pants and the 9mm she kept in her purse. She’d feel much better if she had an assault rifle as backup, or at least her shotgun. Not that she could handle any more than two at a time anyway, if she was lucky to handle more than one.
Jake cracked his knuckles. “The only ammo I need is right here.”
Winona settled in her seat and faced him. He continued to peer out the window as the heavy downpour seemed to crack the Jeep’s ragtop. But the Jeep held steady. “Really, Jake?”
“Yep. That and adrenaline.”
“So your fists, your arms, will help you dodge bullets? You don’t think that whoever we meet at this cabin won’t have their adrenaline? You know we could be heading into a trap, right?”
“You think I care about that right now? All I care about is my little girl.”
“How do we know she’s even there? Lillian could be lying to you. Setting you up. If she had anything to do with
Brandon’s murder, anything at all, then—”
“You didn’t have to come!”
“We can’t just go in there without a plan.”
“I have a plan.”
“We don’t even know who’s there. How many are there. If Amy is even there.”
“I know that cabin like the back of my hand. We’re close, and I’m damn sure not stopping or turning around.”
She squared her shoulders, digging in her purse for the 9mm. She checked the clip and handed it to him.
“Do you at least know how to shoot?”
“Are you kidding me, Winona?”
“No, I’m not kidding you. If it comes down to it, can you shoot a living, breathing human being if he’s threatening your life or those you love?”
“Maybe you’re a tough street chick who carries a couple of guns everywhere she goes. I can picture you with an AK on your back and a belt of bullets strapped around your chest. But I can hold my own. I might not be a cop, but I’m probably a better marksman than most. I was four years old when I shot my dad’s rifle for the first time. I grew up around hunting and fishing, spitting and shooting.”
“Hunting is a lot different than killing a person.”
“And you would know better than me how?”
“Well, I’ve never had to kill anyone. Most of my PI work didn’t involve danger.”
Jake glanced at her. Shadows deepened the hard lines of his face, making him appear lethal. But the last time a friend had helped in an investigation, he’d ended up dead.
In many ways Jake reminded her of Naomi’s ex, Caleb. Caleb had become addicted to alcohol, ruined his relationship with Naomi, and Winona had befriended him when he came to Montana to try to win Naomi back. He was trying to change, trying to get better, when he was shot outside the police station by the cronies who wanted to kill Garret.
Caleb had died because of quick and irrational decisions. At the time, she had been holed up safely with her mother and she knew it was nobody’s fault. But she knew they hadn’t thought things through, and she worried the same thing was about to happen again.
“If my life or the life of anyone I care about is in danger, I will shoot. If you threatened Amy, I’d shoot you.” Jake patted her on the leg before returning his hands to the wheel. “You worry too much. Stop worrying.” He turned off the lights and drove.
“What are you doing?” Winona squinted through the gray. It shouldn’t be dark yet, but the unrelenting skies held the sun hostage.
Jake pulled under a tree and shut off the engine.
“I think it’s best if we walk the rest of the way.”
“Walk? I didn’t exactly bring my hiking gear.”
Jake glanced down at her tennis shoes. “Those will have to do.”
Excerpt for the romance lovers:
“A year, huh?” Winona planted her fingers on Jake’s chest and swirled circles down to his navel. He flinched when it tickled. He snatched her wrist, kissing her fingers then curling them next to his chin.
“Woman, you’ll kill me.”
She laughed as he rolled onto his back and took her with him so she was sprawled half atop him, her shoulder resting in the crook of his arm and his right arm lying under her body.
“So let’s rest. But I want to hear about your year without sex.”
Jake shifted to get comfortable and nestled their clenched hands under her breastbone. “It’s not that exciting, I promise.”
“A year without sex isn’t exciting? Come on. Do tell.”
“The last few years of my life have been crazy. Once I gave up my addiction and got into triathlon training, women were falling at my feet. One wanted to marry me after three dates, one wanted to marry me before she even went out with me. I decided sex was taking over my alcohol addiction, so I put my all into my training and stopped having casual sex.”
“You stopped having sex, period.”
“Just for eleven months and twenty-three days.”
Winona’s laugh sent a boom of desire straight to his heart. “You kept a diary?”
Jake freed his arm and tapped the side of his head. “No, I just remember. I remember the day I gave it up.”
“I remember the day you lost it.”
Jake gathered his hands around her waist, flipping her to spoon her while she squealed and giggled. He nuzzled his face in the back of her neck, relishing the scent of citrus and spice. He wanted to share this part of his life, but he didn’t want her to take his confession too seriously. At one time in his life, sex had become an addiction just as much as alcohol. It was something to do, a way to connect, a way to feel alive. To feel again, period. But he couldn’t possibly tell her he’d never connected with a woman the way he connected with her.
And that scared the shit out of him.
“Was she special?”
“The woman I lost my almost-one-year virginity to? Absolutely.”
“No. The woman who made you renounce sex.”
Jake shrugged. He could barely remember Maureen, hence the reason he gave up sex for so long. He found himself falling into a trap, a feeling of dissatisfaction, like nothing could fulfill him. Much like his past addiction had provided.
“Not particularly,” he said. “She was probably more special than any of the others, only because we were together a bit longer.”
“Almost three months.”
“Oh wow, that’s a really long time. How did you manage?” Winona’s words were coated in sarcasm and teasing. His gut stirred.