BOONE JUST WANTED TO GET HOME…
A Marine thinks a lot about home when serving back to back tours overseas. Home is supposed to be safe, full of love and laughter, but Lt. Col. Ballestra’s care packages stopped coming months ago. His sister and niece sought shelter under his roof when her ex vowed revenge for her court testimony so, he expects a bit of drama, but not a near kidnapping before his duffel even hits the floor!
HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS…
While overseas, Boone’s relied on long distance help from Savannah’s favorite teacher, Brianna Parrish. Brianna’s had his family’s back when Boone couldn’t, but now that mafia in-law Hadrian Royle is stepping up the heat, she’s put her life on the line for young Savannah.
Back home, Boone learns knowing 100 ways to subdue an adversary is useless when it comes to your basic preschool princess wrangling but Brianna's insights console his traumatized niece. She decodes parts of Boone he's kept camouflaged from the world (& himself) almost as easily and even teaches the man with a boatload of concerns to 'cast his cares' on God, (which sounds just dandy, until Brianna foils the mob’s plans one time too many & puts herself in their cross-hairs.)
THE HEART ENDURES ALL, SACRIFICES ALL…
Brianna's too important to Boone to risk further, so he pushes away the love he’s lacked all his life in order to keep her safe. It's the perfect plan, (if only she were the kind of gal to abandon the people she loves).
When she doesn't, Brianna’s marked for death, and Boone will trade his freedom for hers in a heartbeat---
----which it just might cost them.
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Read an excerpt:
“Don’t let him take me! Please don’t let him take me!”
A child’s panic screeched through the headset and jolted spring camp director Brianna Parrish into high alert. Her standard end of day phone call stopped mid-sentence. She’d been conferring with her lead instructor and friend, ever calm, salt-of-the-earth Carolyn Thigpen. Come to think of it, Carolyn should be finished and back here by now. Something delayed her today. She supervised the afternoon pick-up of children to their drivers, a suitably rowdy task, but normally calm enough to allow for telephone strategy sessions. Not today. Brianna flung her calendar to the desk and leaned forward on her chair.
This didn’t sound normal at all. “Carolyn, what on earth is going on down there?”
The even keel of Carolyn’s voice rippled as she jogged toward the howling child. “I need you! Some man has hold of Savannah Royle, and she’s screaming her head off. I don’t think he’s on her list.”
Her ‘list’ included adults deemed safe by Savannah’s mother to take her home. Many parents arranged carpools, so having someone different pick up Savannah wasn’t noteworthy. Her mother, Kinsey Ballestra, was more overwhelmed than most, and Kinsey’s list, far longer, because their entire lives were noteworthy. Savannah’s mother would soon provide starring testimony against her ex, Drake Royle, who was allegedly involved in organized crime and awaiting his trial for murder.
Kinsey’s courageous decision to help stop him complicated her life (and Savannah’s), considerably.
Brianna and Carolyn, like many at Dawnville Church, admired her strength and courage in the face of evil, but harbored fear for the young mother and daughter. The two friends couldn’t bring Drake to justice, but made it their business to ensure Savannah’s time at camp was as happy, secure and peaceful as possible, insulated from the ongoing drama of her parents.
‘Peaceful’ did not describe Carolyn at present. Her voice was farther from the receiver but easier to hear as she roared a she-bear command. “HEY!! You let GO of that child!”
The fear in her friend’s voice shattered Brianna’s shell-shocked hesitation. She dropped the landline and her chair slammed into the wall behind her as she sprang to action. She raced for the stairwell, flew down the concrete treads, skipping the ball of one foot on the front edge, and then switching to the other, her body aloft as if borne on angel wings for most of her descent. With a hard yank of the heavy steel door, she leapt out to the main hallway. She careened around the tottering form of Lillie Macomber, (a fixture at Dawnville for decades, whose look of reprimand at Brianna’s precarious pace turned to concern as she yelled over her shoulder).
“…Possible child abduction in the pick-up line, Savannah Royle! Tell the pastor! …And the custodian if you can find him!” Grateful for comfy shoes worn for today’s expedition to the local park, Brianna bolted for the exit and made record time to the parking lot.
…Not fast enough to keep young Savannah’s terror from escalating. No wallflower in a calm setting, her urgent pleas for rescue turned incoherent as she bawled in panic. The camp director’s arrival bolstered her courage. “Miss Brianna!” she screeched. “Help!”
She seemed physically fine, so Brianna paused half a second to grab a breath but a large older man yanked the little girl off balance.
You bully! Brianna channeled her rage into action and bolted toward them. “Let. Her. Go!”
The command distracted him, but his hard grip still dented into the soft tissue of Savannah’s upper arm. Since Carolyn’s first warning, he’d managed to drag the squirming child from the building to his vehicle. Divots dug out of the lawn testified to the strength and tenacity required to budge the child. A woman argued with Carolyn and body blocked her from helping the little girl. Brianna darted around them as the man’s hand pincer-gripped Savannah’s arm even harder. He yanked open the passenger door.
Savannah’s grass stained heels tried to dig into asphalt as she shrieked in pain and terror.
Her abductor was mere moments from locking the child inside and Brianna knew if he succeeded, the only hope of stopping him and sorting this out would involve blocking his car with her body. The look on his face said the only thing that might make him hesitate to run her down, is the threat of damage to the luxury sedan’s finish.
Courage under fire is an admirable trait, but even courageous people aren’t always smart under pressure. Brianna sprinted toward trouble with a speed she didn’t know she could possess. Her hand slammed the door shut again before the man had any chance to shove the terrified youngster onto the seat. Stunned by her boldness, he gasped in shock for the briefest of moments. Savannah seized the tiny opportunity to break free. Tears streaming down her face, the frightened pre-schooler scrunched into the space between the car and Brianna. Her adversary grabbed around Brianna’s waist for the petrified child who cowered behind the slim protection of her favorite teacher’s body.
Savannah almost didn’t recognize her instructor’s voice.
Usually warm and welcoming, Brianna sounded as coolly authoritative as an interrogating cop. “Touch me, and I’ll have you arrested for assault.”
Stunned not so much at the threat, but that she had the temerity to issue it, the man backed up, but he wasn’t nearly ready to quit. He seemed to grow larger and inhale venom into his spirit. He definitely recovered, and fought back. “Move away from my granddaughter, or I’ll have you arrested for kidnapping.”
Granddaughter? Brianna grabbed her phone to punch in 9-1-1. If he spoke the truth, the presence of a police officer, or better still the U.S. Army, wasn’t a bad idea. “Allow me to help you.”
He snatched for Savannah again but Brianna’s elbow popped out to deflect him. That’s gonna bruise…
“You don’t know who you’re dealing with, lady.”
He sounds like bruises are the nicest thing he has in mind… Brianna shoved the thought aside. “If you’re really Savannah’s grandfather, I do.”
Savannah’s father and paternal grandparents were all on a list, one explicitly denying them access to the child. Copies of restraining orders were in a file created especially for Savannah in case they were needed. It’d been a quiet this far, but Drake Royle’s impending murder trial date must have changed things for the worse. With all that was going on in his son’s life, terrorizing his granddaughter seemed like a huge waste of grandpa’s time. Whatever his intentions, his lack of concern for Savannah’s fears further cemented Brianna’s determination to defend her.
“Spencer P.D.” The voice of Brianna’s friend and cycling partner Michelle came on the line. “What’s the nature of your emergency?”
“-Attempted child abduction in progress at Dawnville Church, back parking lot.” Brianna was surprised her anger barely showed in the professional tone of her voice. She could’ve been ordering finger paints for craft day.
Grandpa wasn’t so gifted at composure. “You’ve messed with the wrong person,” the man raged.
The sound of tires screeching into the parking lot bolstered Brianna’s courage.
Wow, that was fast. Well done, Spencer P.D.! Record response times must be another perk of small town life.
She would have preferred lights, siren and a S.W.A.T. brigade, but this would do. It was excellent timing, for at the same moment Savannah’s trembling form pressed tighter against Brianna’s back. A reckless tomboy who never shied from a playground challenge (and subsequently knew her way around the first aid clinic), Savannah quaked in fear of her grandfather.
The transformation of the feisty poppet into this frightened soul made Brianna’s blood boil. Royle had messed with the wrong person this time and the arrival of the police only bolstered her confidence. “You stole my line. Before anyone takes any child from this facility, they’ll produce appropriate credentials.”
Royle’s lip contorted in a practiced, uneven curl. “Or what?”
Fact is, Brianna wasn’t exactly sure ‘what’. Things had never actually come to this point. Most of the children at Dawnville had the normal problems of modern life, and unfortunately Savannah wasn’t the first child to have a judge deciding who could give her a ride, but this ride was different. Every instinct in Brianna’s head screamed if Savannah left with this man, she would never return. Despite her present panic, the little girl possessed a strong will and a stronger sense of justice, and if she lived a life with Drake Royle or his father Hadrian, Savannah was destined to live a very short and violent one.
Truth be told, Brianna didn’t know ‘what’, but she did know somehow Savannah wasn’t leaving with this man. She just needed to keep things under control under the police got over here…
Please God, give me the courage, the right words, the right help…
Tires squealed around Hadrian’s sedan and stopped at an angle, blocking the luxury car’s exit.
Their arrival gave her additional courage, and a sense of humor. Good thing the city replaces the police cruiser brakes on a regular basis, or he’d have crashed into it.
Brianna looked away from the intruder long enough to see if one or two officers were in the patrol car and stared in disbelief. A man in scruffy Marine fatigues and three days growth of beard bared teeth as he took in the sight of the glowering grandpa, the angry woman, and the child cowering in fear behind her. He stomped in battered boots toward them all, trained and ready for battle. His gaze narrowed on the frightened little face which peeked around Brianna’s hip. A massive hand evaded Brianna and clamped down onto Savannah’s shoulder. “Savannah Royle?”
Savannah stared up at his intense, interrogating face, too shell-shocked to speak.
Not so, Hadrian. “Riata! She’s called in a rabid S.E.A.L.! In the car! Let’s go!”
Brianna took Savannah’s hand and moved her toward the building as Riata disengaged Carolyn and squeezed into the back seat just before Hadrian slammed the sedan into reverse. His transmission howled a protest at his inelegant shift to first. He cursed Brianna and waved his fist (and other gestures Brianna did not want to explain to the child) out the window as he sped out of sight.
Savannah was so dumbstruck by the newcomer she failed to notice Hadrian’s antics.
Brianna didn’t blame her. Granted, he’d saved the day for them, but the “S.E.A.L” towered over Brianna and absolutely dwarfed the little girl. He’d positioned himself between Savannah and Hadrian as they moved away from the vehicle and his hand now curled on her small shoulder again. The man would look intimidating scooping ice cream at a church social. The way he looked now, Brianna steeled her jaw just to return his gaze, and the child was two seconds away from going into shock.
“Honey,” Brianna did her best to sing-song every word to calm the frightened little girl as she knelt by her side. “Go inside with Miss Carolyn, OK?”
Savannah nodded, but the man kept his steady hand in place.
Brianna rose to full height and stared hard at the newcomer. “I don’t know who you think you are, but you are going to let this child go, immediately.”
He heard her emphasis, but had encountered far tougher characters than Brianna overseas. Naturally, her warning didn’t faze him one whit. “She is my niece, isn’t she?”
Anything is possible, I suppose. Savannah has one uncle this protective and capable.
The clean cut Major was out of the country however, and wouldn’t be caught dead looking or behaving as ragged and undisciplined as this man. A by-the-book man with a heart of gold, he’d approached Brianna via email, and solicited her help in watching over his sister when he got wind of his new brother-in-law’s true profession. Brianna sighed. If only he were here. He’s far more polished and gentlemanly than his older brother.... Savannah is one lucky little girl to have someone like Boone so in love with her. This man might mean well, and he looked capable of hoisting his brother over his head if the urge hit him, but he just didn’t have the Major’s finesse. Despite those lacks, Brianna wouldn’t mind having someone like him in her own life, (if he also knew how to use a bar of soap).
Savannah didn’t appear to recognize him and used the tail of Brianna’s t-shirt as a security blanket, slim protection from two hundred pounds of grimy, sweaty, irritated muscle. Brianna hardened her gaze against this new threat. Or maybe this guy’s lying. Neither Kinsey nor Boone mentioned a black sheep in the family… “Let her go, now. We’ll discuss things later.”
Hadrian’s “or what?” taunt echoed in Brianna’s head, because the same look was now on SEAL’s face. Defenseless, she ran a quick mental inventory in case S.E.A.L’s determination to take Savannah grew more aggressive. My purse is back in the office. I have a phone in my pocket, and a few unbroken fingernails....
In other words, zero options unless fainting on this big lug can make him fall over long enough for Savannah to run for Carolyn.
The bluff was pretty much all she had to defend the child, so Brianna stared the man down as she switched her weight onto one foot and subtly readied a knee so she could engage him if it became necessary without provoking him further by appearing overtly combative.
She should have known a man with his experience and training would never miss the change. The tension in her body all but screamed she was seconds away from putting up her dukes, slim and manicured and essentially useless as they were. Sure enough, S.E.A.L.’s eyes zeroed in on the subtle muscle contractions of her thigh. With an exhausted sigh, he held Brianna’s gaze but released Savannah’s shoulder.
The little girl stumbled and raced to Carolyn, who intercepted her with open arms. After a quick reassuring hug, she hauled her inside the building with a worried gaze back at her friend and the “rabid” imposing stranger.
“I’m not a S.E.A.L, but I wouldn’t try it if I were you. It wouldn’t go well for you, Ma’am.” The emphasis on the word ‘Ma’am’ was meant to underscore his point and change who was in charge.
On a normal day it would’ve worked, but the encounter with Hadrian still had Brianna’s adrenaline buzzing. A smart person would heed his ominous tone with the respect one gives a rattlesnake’s alert, but most of her blood had shunted to her muscles for fight or flight, and she just wasn’t buying. “The police are arriving at any moment. If you don’t want to be identified as a child snatcher, start talking, knee or no knee.”
“That’s the worst bluff I’ve heard in years, unless you have a mind meld link to the cops.” Not S.E.A.L.’s grin sobered. “Here’s a tip, lady. Most people have to call them first. Now, I am here to take my niece, Savannah Royle, home. I am not leaving without her, knee or no knee, imaginary cops or no imaginary cops. Wasn’t that her?”
“Who are you? I’ve never seen you around here, and I doubt you’re on Savannah’s security list.” Brianna pressed her lips tight. “….Assuming Savannah is even here.”
“It is her.” Not S.E.A.L. sighed again, longer and with greater fatigue. Whatever he’d been up to before arriving here didn’t involve relaxing showers or swinging in a hammock. “I’m Savannah’s uncle. I’m straight off the world’s longest red-eye after back-to-back tours. My sister and her daughter are supposed to be smiling and I don’t know, holding homemade cookies or a welcome home banner. Instead, no one’s home, Kinsey changed the locks on my house, so I have break-in my own back door, the neighbors called real cops on me, and when I finally decompress inside my own house, there’s no chow, no hot shower, no warm bed, no cookies, just some dog I’ve never seen before desperate to pee, my boots in a yellow puddle, and a note saying Kinsey can’t retrieve Savannah from camp and I have to pick her up about twenty minutes ago.”
Your house? Brianna could have sworn the house Kinsey lived in was Boone’s, but perhaps she just assumed it because of his other efforts for Kinsey. Kinsey’s habit of telling him everything was OK, especially when it wasn’t, activated Boone’s big brother radar. Befriending Brianna allowed the Major to get the truth even though he was half a world away. Their working friendship saved the day for Kinsey on more than one occasion, the latest being when the women couldn’t locate an attorney to represent Kinsey in her divorce. When Brianna mentioned their struggle with Boone, within hours he found a retired military attorney unafraid of Hadrian and his men to fill the bill. Any anger of Kinsey’s over the ‘spying’ disappeared once she realized Boone not only could help, but stopped nagging her. (The solid friendship he formed with her best friend didn’t hurt, either. Kinsey quickly decided Boone should date Brianna and never missed a chance to sell her brother’s good traits to her friend.)
Not that she needed to. Brianna already enjoyed Boone’s solid character and sense of humor and looked forward to any exchange with him, even the more stressful ones involving Kinsey’s predicament. Following her cop friend Ike’s security recommendation, she didn’t post an image of herself online, but Kinsey’s protective brother had no such qualms.
If Boone is half as imposing and handsome as his social media pic, he’d put a fireman’s pinup star to shame.
Unlike the dubious character facing off with her now, Boone Ballestra defined squared away, with clean-shaven chiseled jaw, perfectly cropped hair, sharp astute gaze, and intelligent turn of phrase. This long-haired, bleary-eyed, military reject had his muscle, but no sense of humor, none of Boone’s sharp intellect or polished chivalry, and he blathered on and on in a way his brother, if he is family, would find embarrassing.
Brianna wished the Spencer Police would arrive. “You …talk a lot for a man.”
“I talk a lot for a tired, frustrated guy who’s worried about his sister and her kid. Can I please have Savannah now, or do we have to ‘dance’ first?”
Cranky Face could be a brother to Boone I suppose, which would make him an uncle, and the black sheep of the family I can’t blame Boone and Kinsey for not mentioning.... Brianna sized up Mr. Personality again. His bone structure looked more like the Major’s than Kinsey’s. The eyes were a dead ringer for both… She owed it to Savannah to be sure this guy was family. “You have identification?”
He sighed, pulled out his dog tags and handed them to her. She arched a brow as he explained. “My wallet’s still on the counter right next to where some cop frisked me.”
Brianna stifled a smile. Whoever you are, you have had a bad day.
To her shock, the tag he handed to her read: “Boone Ballestra.”
You’re not a black sheep, but there’s no way you’re the Major, either. Brianna pressed her lips together to hide the anger flaring in her heart. Someone, probably Hadrian Royle, had gone to a lot of trouble to find a doppelganger and thought they could pass this look alike off as Boone. She’d read of his antics and reach in the papers, but Royle’s resources never failed to impress and terrify her. If anyone but she or Kinsey met this man, he’d succeed in his nefarious masquerade. As it is, he could still ruin Boone’s stellar service record with his antics if he wasn’t stopped. Outraged, she forgot her goal of not provoking him until Spencer P.D. arrived. “The last name on these tags matches, but I know Boone Ballestra, and neither one of you is on Kinsey’s security list.”
Boone’s head went skyward. “Lady, I really don’t want to tango with you. Not that way anyway and not smelling and feeling like this. Have a heart, will ya?”
The call went in a while ago. They can’t be that far away, can they? I wish Ike would come with them… The only thing better than the arrival of the police would be to have one of them also be a long-time friend. She just had to keep things as calm as possible for a few more minutes…
“I can see you’re tired and upset. I’m sorry you’re homecoming has been so …adventurous. Try to understand my position. The other man was trying to take away a child who categorically should not go with him. Actually, he might’ve succeeded without your help.”
If Royle hired him, why would he interfere with the old man stealing Savannah?
Maybe he saw how young Savannah is and grew a conscience.
Not likely. Besides, Royle ran from him. This doesn’t add up. I’m missing something here. “Just, give me a moment, please. I’ll sort this out.”
To his credit, he could easily stalk after Savannah and snatch her from Carolyn’s arms, but he stood, hands on hips, studying Brianna as if she were an exotic dessert he once enjoyed but couldn’t recall where....
Confused by her thoughts and his open, assessing, interest, Brianna shot him a reassuring smile and pulled out the security list. She dialed Kinsey’s emergency number and Kinsey confirmed the change of driver but rang off before Brianna could start to ask for more of an explanation.
Brianna sighed with relief. Thank you, God. I’m glad I didn’t tear into him. Savannah’s had it bad enough lately, and from the looks of him, so has he. Brianna summoned her best poker face as she tried to erase all previous assumptions and gazed up at him.
The wreck of man before her was Kinsey’s brother.
Her mind still had trouble believing it, but he deserved her full respect. “Um, welcome home, Boone.”
Blue lights flickered across Boone’s face as he squinted at her. “Who are you? Are you the camp shrink or something?”
Before she could respond, two uniforms rushed up and barked orders at Boone to place his hands on his vehicle. With a shrug, Boone complied, but he stared in amazement at Brianna. “It figures. You do have a mind meld with the cops. This is great, just great!”
“It’s OK, officers. This isn’t the guy,” Brianna called this out as they advanced but they sized up Boone and approached with hard-as-nails expressions and steady hands ready to draw weapons at any moment. “The troublemaker left a few minutes ago, without the child. This man is family. He’s more than that. He saved the day for us.”
OK, maybe not the usual greeting in this type of situation, but she didn’t expect the older officer to laugh. He called back toward a late arrival’s vehicle. “Hey Porter! This is the guy! This is the Marine we nearly hauled to jail for breaking into his own house!”
Boone groaned but relaxed. “Stalking me now, Officer Shepard?”
Shepard laughed. “I ought to. The story of your ‘arrest’ won me a free dinner tonight, right Ike?”
It was Boone’s turn to grin. “Ike? Ike Porter? As in, lousy, stinkin’, fly boy Ike Porter?”
“Boone Ballestra, you clumsy jarhead! So, Major Headache’s finally rejoined the world.” Sergeant Porter’s grin was as quick and solid as the hand he proffered.
“It’s Lieutenant Colonel Headache now.” The two men finished the handshake with a synchronized pat on the back. “The world’s rejecting me big time, Ike. Mid-E looks mighty friendly compared to this.”
“What a spoiled brat! You’ve got a beautiful woman like Bri by your side and you’re complaining?” Ike shook his head in mock disappointment. “You’ve lost your edge, Boone.”
“I get it…. She’s a detective with you guys, right?” His broad grin shaved years of stress off his face. “That explains the mind reading tricks. Bri huh? Just one name, like Elvis?”
The mind reader laughed. “It’s Brianna Parrish, and I’m the Spring Camp program director here at Dawnville, not a detective.”
“You’re kidding. Parrish as in, the same woman who’s been helping me out with Kinsey while I was deployed?” Boone’s smile held but his eyes squinted in confusion. “But …you’re a middle school teacher aren’t you?”
“Yes, during the school year. Welcome back to the States, Lieutenant Colonel Ballestra.” This guy sounded more like the man she expected Kinsey’s brother to be. Brianna suppressed the urge to hug him, settling instead for beaming a smile at him as she extended a hand. “Usually, I handle introductions before there’s any frisking involved, but you’re just a magnet for law enforcement, aren’t you? It’s like it’s a sign…”
Now who’s blathering on and on?
The colonel went back to studying the tempting dessert from long ago again and she felt her pulse pick up under his scrutiny. “So, not a detective, or a shrink.”
“No....” Brianna looked from the Marine to her police friend for some sort of explanation.
“Good guesses, Boondocks. She is skilled at getting people to talk. Looks like she’s already got your introvert alarm firing,” Ike winked at Brianna. “Relax Ballestra. She won’t divulge any national security secrets you share. You’d better mind your manners if you want to save your toes while on leave, though. Brianna here’s the first woman I ever met who could out dance you. You’re going to wish you’d been sweeter to her once you rest up and,” Porter’s nose wrinkled as he turned his head. “Go Hollywood in the showers for a day or two.”
The only thing better than finally meeting Boone in person, was seeing Ike so full of strength and humor again. His transformation was good, miraculous, really. Only three Christmases ago, one last merry trip to the mall had ended in the tragic murder of the love of his life, his wife Lori, and their unborn child.
The successful young pilot had crumpled in a black grief and loss no one had been able to touch or ease. …Not that Brianna and others hadn’t tried. If Boone Ballestra could spark Ike’s playful nature even during his grumpy Gus moments, she could only imagine the mischief the pair could get into on a good day.
She joined in on Ike’s fun. “Hollywood?”
“…To shower without turning off the water, a big no-no on ship, but in Ballestra’s case, a public service.” Porter nudged his partner, who left to retrieve a case report. “Come by my place Saturday evening, Boondocks. I’ll grill some meat and start filling out those bones of yours. You look awful.”
“We can start on that now,” Brianna added. “Come inside. We don’t have a welcome home banner, but I can round up some cookies for you …and Savannah.”
The traces of a tired grin crossed Boone’s face. “Thanks for watching out for Kinsey and for facing off with that guy to protect Savannah today. I knew you were smart, but it took uncommon courage to confront that creep.”
Impressing a force of nature like Savannah’s uncle pleased Brianna. She smiled up at him. “Thanks but there’s one thing I haven’t figured out.”
“Shoot.” Boone pulled open the door for her.
“You were in a hurry to get here because you were late to pick up Savannah.”
“But she was hiding behind me. You didn’t see her until you were almost with us.”
“Right.” Boone scanned the interior of the lobby before concentrating on Brianna again.
“So, why were you so angry?” Brianna tilted her head up to read his response. “You seemed ready to throttle one of us before you saw Savannah.”
The question stiffened his shoulders and turned his jaw to steel. “I know the look.”
Brianna almost didn’t dare ask. “The look?”
“Of a man who’s about to hurt a woman. I promised myself as a kid, when I grew strong enough to neutralize the situation it would never happen on my watch.” He turned to Porter. “What does she do, wear sodium pentothal for perfume?”
Porter laughed. “Get used to it if you’re going to hang around here, buddy.”
Brianna wouldn’t mind that at all. She appreciated how he’d saved Savannah from the intruder, but felt gratitude beyond the logistics of the little girl’s safety. The intruder’s anger still seemed to bore down on Brianna and the naked vulnerability she’d felt left her uneasy even in the company of so many capable and well-trained hero types. The façade of civility Royle presented was thin, and the consequences of thwarting his plans too dark to contemplate. Used to looking out for others, Brianna enjoyed the feeling of someone having her back for a change. She swallowed, surprised to realize it meant almost as much to her as Savannah’s well-being.
A cold shudder skidded down her spine as she contemplated the child’s other ‘ride’ home.
Fascinated by the feminine distraction of Brianna’s company, Boone might be exhausted but still recognized a host of emotions battling in her mind. The last one shadowed her beautiful face with concern and pinged a warning in his gut. “What’s up with the cranky old guy, or can you share?”
“I have to share with you.” Brianna stopped and checked the hallway for young eavesdroppers. The steely gaze he returned was as serious as her own. She regretted being the one to put it there, but war-weary or not, Boone needed to know. “Apparently, he’s Hadrian Royle, Savannah’s paternal grandfather. Kinsey has a restraining order against the entire Royle family.”
Every muscle tensed back into full alert. “That monster was trying to take my niece away? He’s a feared criminal mastermind! I sent you a written briefing. Didn’t you read it?”
Brianna swallowed and nodded. Of course she’d read it. She read it twice, like just about everything else he wrote her, only this time instead of for the sheer pleasure of it, she read the briefing as if her life, or rather Kinsey’s, might depend upon it. Hadrian Royle was an unbridled madman with power Brianna could only imagine. Few dared to challenge him, and no one lived to cross him twice. She kept her shoulders strong and squared but couldn’t see how her face paled at the thought of what could have happened to Savannah, or to her, if Boone hadn’t arrived when he did.
But Boone saw her pallor and the brave, quiet, terror that fed it. Since childhood, battles like this were fought solo, but this time, someone else protected one of his own. Boone finally understood the humble awe on the faces of people he’d risked himself to rescue. He finally felt what they did. “You didn’t care about your safety. You knew and you …stopped him anyway.”
Too overwhelmed by her thoughts to speak, Brianna simply nodded.
The fatigue on Boone’s face faded beneath admiration and wonder. The hard countenance years of difficult and dangerous service etched into his face softened. His brash no nonsense voice transformed to an intimate rumbling baritone. “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
“You’re welcome.” Brianna looked back through the glass door to the place where Hadrian Royle nearly succeeded in hijacking his granddaughter. She leaned in closer to their rescuer, eyes intent and measuring his every reaction. “Are you going to be around, Lt. Colonel? Are you staying in Spencer, because-. Boone, I’m not at all certain he’s done trying.”
About K.D. Harp
Award winning author K.D. Harp enjoys world travel, volunteering and educating people about the appropriate use of the phrase "Bless his heart," the original meaning of which has nothing to do with sarcastically calling someone a sucker or dimwit, and is properly used to imply a 'there but for the Grace of God'.
The Atlanta native is a graduate of Georgia State University, and loves truly smart female leads, so most of hers will MacGyver their way out of some sort of situation (whether it's jury-rigging a flamethrower with kitchen supplies or finding new uses for a fire extinguisher to escape an inferno). Bored and dismayed by the trend in fiction to equate genuine love with the pale imitation of lust without personal investment, K.D. portrays people of character engaged with a world that lacks it.
When they do it without losing the physical passion and sense of humor God would give to them, it's a total win.
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Twitter: KD Harp, Author