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Morgan Brothers Series (Book#1)
The clock was ticking…
Detective Rafe Morgan knew that, as a psychologist, Darby Steele was used to people coming to her in need. But now she was the one in danger. A serial killer had made her a pawn in a sick game, sending her photos of his targets with clocks counting down. As a part-time bomb technician, Rafe was uniquely capable of keeping Darby safe. Usually psychologists rubbed Rafe the wrong way, but when it came to Darby, his urge to protect and serve went way beyond the badge. Getting to know the beautiful doctor had opened Rafe's eyes—and his heart. But if their elusive bomber had his way, Rafe would never get a chance to prove just how far he'd go to keep Darby alive.
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"A psychotic bomber, a phobia-ridden psychologist and a bomb tech running from his painful past, as well as a plot that keeps the tension taut, all escalate the pace until the climactic finale.” – Pat Cooper, RT Book Reviews, 4 1/2 STARS
Explosive Attraction is a finalist in the Carolyn's Reader's Choice Award!
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The door to Darby's office flew open and banged against the wall. She froze in her chair, blinking in surprise at the man standing there, his dark eyes narrowed, intent, like a predator on the hunt.
Darby very much feared she was his prey.
"Where's the letter?" He stalked across the room, his laserlike gaze settling on her.
Trapped, between the desk and the wall. She pressed back against her chair while she mentally cataloged the office supplies around her for their weapon potential. She was reaching for her stapler when it dawned on her what he'd said, something about a letter.
Her young assistant stood in the doorway wringing her hands, glancing from the stranger to Darby. "I'm sorry, Dr. Steele. He refused to wait. He just—"
"The letter," the man repeated, his deep voice gruff with impatience.
That familiar voice had Darby letting go of the stapler and studying him more carefully. Several days' growth of stubble darkened his jaw. His shaggy, unkempt hair hung just past his ears. His brows were a fierce slash on a deeply tanned face that would have been handsome if he wasn't frowning.
She'd been the recipient of that frown too many times not to recognize it.
Some of the tension drained out of her. "It's okay, Mindy," she reassured her assistant. "This is Detective Rafe Morgan."
A look of relief flashed across Mindy's face. Without waiting to see if Darby needed anything, she eagerly fled the office.
So much for having her boss's back.
Darby squelched her own desire to flee. Having Rafe Morgan burst into her office was only slightly better than confronting the drug-crazed stranger she'd first believed him to be. Especially since Rafe could barely stand to be in the same room with her.
The feeling was mutual.
Giving him the bland smile she reserved for her most difficult clients, she pushed back from her desk to shake his hand. "Detective, I almost didn't recognize you."
When he made no move to take her hand, she let out a deep sigh and dropped her hand to her side. Actually, the slight probably wasn't intentional. He seemed preoccupied, studying every detail in her office, as if he expected someone to jump out from behind a bookshelf or from behind the couch and chairs she used for her therapy sessions.
"You called the police, said someone sent you a threatening letter," he reminded her.
He was on duty, seriously? She glanced at the wrinkled shirt he was wearing and the equally wrinkled blazer that did little to conceal the large gun holstered at his waist. Since when had he started wearing jeans to work? Every time she'd ever seen him he was wearing a suit and tie, clean-shaven, with his dark hair cut military short. Then again, she'd only seen him at the courthouse, when they were both testifying—usually on opposite sides of a case. Maybe this was how he dressed when not in court.
He pulled a pair of latex gloves out of his jeans pocket and tugged them on. His gaze flicked down her suit, slowly, insultingly, past her skirt, down her legs to her heels then back up, before his mocking gaze met hers again.
Point taken. He'd noticed her looking at his clothes and was giving it right back to her. She wouldn't have expected anything less from him.
"I'm in a hurry here, Dr. Steele."
Her fists clenched at her side. "Of course. I wouldn't want to keep you here any longer than necessary."
The corner of his mouth quirked up. "Of course."
She gritted her teeth and whirled around, marching toward the grouping of furniture on the far side of the room. She reminded herself Rafe had lost his wife a year ago in a horrible tragedy. He deserved her patience and understanding. She drew a deep, bracing breath and stopped beside the couch. "I'm sure the letter isn't anything serious. I get things like this every once in a while."
"If you didn't think it was serious, why did you call the police?"
He stopped next to her, and she had to crane her neck back to look at him. In her calmest voice, she explained, "I have clients to think about. I never ignore threats, even if I don't think there's any real danger."
He seemed to consider that for a moment. "You get a lot of threats?" No sarcasm, just what sounded like genuine concern.
Darby let out a pent-up breath and moved past him to the small, decorative table where she kept her mail. "Two or three a year. People pin their hopes and dreams on a therapist. When things don't work out, they naturally blame me.
Understandable." She reached for the large, padded manila envelope sitting on top.
Rafe grabbed her wrist in an iron hold.
She glanced up in question.
"The perp's fingerprints might still be on the envelope," he said.
"My prints are already on the envelope because I opened it. There's some kind of watch inside, and a piece of paper. I didn't pull either of them out, though, because as soon as I opened the envelope and saw what was printed on the paper, I put it down and called the police." She expected he'd praise her for her quick thinking in preserving the evidence, but he didn't say anything.
Instead, he picked up the envelope and peered inside. His entire body went rigid. "You saw the word boom written on the paper inside and didn't mention it when you called the police?"
She stiffened at his incredulous tone. "It's obvious there's nothing dangerous in there. I didn't want to raise alarms over a watch and a piece of paper."
He shook his head as if in disbelief. "Lucky for you, I'm a bomb tech and can verify the envelope does not contain a bomb. But you shouldn't have made that assumption. You should have reported exactly what you found and let the police handle it. If it had been a bomb, the person who responded to your call could have been killed if they weren't wearing a bomb suit or using the proper equipment."
Meaning he could have been killed. And of course, that she could have been killed when she'd first opened the envelope. Or even Mindy—a single parent with three small children—when she'd brought the mail in.
That thought had Darby swallowing hard against her suddenly tight throat. "You're right. I'm so sorry. I didn't think about it that way. I would never purposely put anyone in danger."
His eyes widened at her apology. "No harm done," he said, sounding as if the admission had been wrung from him.
She frowned, thinking about his earlier statement. "Why would the police send a bomb technician without me mentioning the word boom?" She cocked her head to the side. "For that matter, when did you stop being a detective?"
"They sent me because I was the closest detective when your call came in. The bomb-tech part of my job is part-time, as needed." He reached into the envelope for the piece of paper.
"Makes sense, I suppose." She watched him pull the paper out and hold it up toward the light. "Actually, in a city as small as St. Augustine, I wouldn't expect we'd have a bomb squad at all. Doesn't the St. Johns County sheriff's office handle things like that?"
"We're perfectly capable of handling most suspicious-package reports without their help," he said, his tone sharp. "We just don't have the money for all the fancy equipment they have."
Sensing she'd stumbled onto a sensitive topic, she nodded and watched him examine the paper. But when he flipped it over, she quickly realized it wasn't just a piece of paper. It was a five-by-seven photograph.
Even with heels on, Darby had to stand on her tiptoes for a good view of the picture. In the middle of a large, empty room, a man sat in a chair, his posture stiff and oddly strained. The low quality of the photograph reminded Darby of one of those cheap, do-it-yourself picture-printing machines found in drugstores. She squinted, wishing the exposure wasn't so dark. "He looks familiar."
"You know him?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe."
She reached for the picture but he pulled it back.
"Fingerprints," he reminded her, holding the edges with his gloved fingers. When she lowered her hands, he held the picture in front of her.
She tapped her nails against her thigh. "Why would he have his picture taken sitting in the middle of an empty room?"
"That's a concrete floor. And those are industrial-style windows across the back. Probably a warehouse." His jaw tightened. "And he's not sitting there because he wants to." He pointed to the arms of the chair. "He's tied up."
She let out a gasp and leaned closer to get a better look. Recognition slammed into her, stealing her breath. Was this some kind of joke?
"You know him," Rafe said, not a question this time.
"Who is he?"
"An attorney, Victor Grant. He used to be in private practice, but he made assistant district attorney last week. I saw him at the courthouse just yesterday."
He set the photograph down to reach for the envelope again. When he pulled out the watch, she realized it didn't have a wristband connected to it. Rafe's eyes widened and he let out a vicious curse. He grasped the watch in one hand and yanked his cell phone out of his jeans pocket with the other.
"What's wrong?" Darby hated the alarm in her voice, but what had seemed like a harmless prank a few minutes ago now seemed like something far more sinister.
Rafe issued rapid-fire instructions into the phone to someone named Buresh. In answer to Darby's earlier question, he held the watch down where she could see it.
A stark, digital readout flashed against the white background, displaying 00:00:15. The last number was decreasing—fourteen…thirteen…twelve...