Karen Harper is no stranger to RT and we couldn't be more excited for her upcoming Romantic Suspense, Shattered Secrets, which releases next Tuesday. In the book, Tess Lockwood must confront her past in order to help find a missing child, an abduction that could be tied to Tess's own childhood kidnapping. As she works with Sheriff Gabe McCord, painful memories come to light, but they may be able to save the child. Intriguing, no? To tide us over while we eagerly await this series starter's release, we have an exclusive excerpt to share. Happy reading!

“Can I come out now?” Tess called through the back door screen.

Gabe had told her to stay inside and didn’t want her to see what was in her back yard. As soon as he was done with the staff meeting tomorrow morning, he was going to question Ritter, Dane, even Sam Jeffers. They’d better have an alibi to prove they weren’t around here last night. Could three unmarried guys — loners and eccentrics, though the woods was full of them around here — have colluded on abductions over the years? And wouldn’t they take grown women instead of young girls?

“Oh! Gabe, what’s that horrible thing?” Tess cried, coming up behind him.

“I told you to stay inside.”

“I did for a while. Obviously, that’s a warning to me.”

“I called to get your lights back on but it may be early morning,” he told her, getting up and facing her to put himself between her and the back cornfield. He snared her wrist with one hand to pull her away from staring. “Tess, please go in your house, grab a couple of things to spend the night at my place.”

“But can’t you stay here for a while instead?”

“We’d be sitting ducks in the dark. We’re going to my place. I’ve got an extra room, a spare bed. You’ll be safer there.”

“We’re going through the cornfield? What if that’s his plan?”

“I think he — or they — just wanted to give you a good scare and a warning. Just do as I say, okay?”

“All right, but you haven’t confided in me. You want me to help you, but then I guess I didn’t tell you something too. I heard a woman or girl scream at the compound, but I kind of checked it out and got a reasonable explanation — if reason is any part of that place.”

“What are you, my other deputy? Here, take my flashlight, go in the house, get your things now, or I swear, I’ll arrest you for something and put in the jail cell in town for safe keeping. Now do what I say.”

Obviously as frustrated with him as he was her, Tess grabbed the flashlight from him, went in and slammed both doors. That infuriated him too, but for one thing. She was not whimpering in a corner. It was kind of the spunky, younger Tess again, animated, defiant, a tomboy before her trauma had crushed her.

He tried to keep his temper in check, but it riled him especially that he wanted to put his hands all over her even when she was defying him.

Tess came out with a full paper sack and her purse and thrust the flashlight back at him. “See, you’ve turned me into a bag lady,” she said. “Like one you’re taking off the streets because she can’t take care of herself. But I wasn’t going through that field with my suitcase.”

“Let’s go. We’ll set a timer and argue for an hour, then hit the rack, or since you’re a bag lady, hit the sack. We’re both exhausted, and I can’t believe you’d even consider staying here alone tonight after this.”

“Let’s see, how to put this … ” she said as they walked toward the cornfield with him leading. “Tess is going to ruin things if she tries to think on her own and help you find that kidnapped child. She was misled at first because you said you wanted me to help so — “

“I wanted you to remember what happened to you when you were taken twenty years ago, not take over now. Stop fighting me!  Someone wants you to leave town or worse.”

“I was just — just trying to keep my courage up.”

“Stick close, okay? Right behind me.”

As he turned away to head into the field, he heard her sniff back tears. He shouldn’t have been so rough, but she really got to him. Maybe she was right on the edge of hysteria. Actually, he knew the feeling. How many times in Iraq had he beat down a screaming fit of fear when he’d had to dissemble a bomb by hand when the robot wouldn’t work?

“Yes, I’m staying close,” she told him in a suddenly quiet voice that caught on a half smothered sob as they headed into the tall, thick corn between their houses.

***

Tess drank the hot chocolate he fixed for them in his kitchen. She remembered how it had once looked, but it had all been updated, even to stainless steel appliances. And it was neat, not even dishes in the sink or drain rack. He’d pulled down all the blinds so no one could see in. She felt safe from anything outside now, but sealed in with him, newly alert and alive as they faced each other across the wooden kitchen table.

“I can’t take you to the early morning meeting at the police station with me,” he told her. “But since you’re so involved — and I didn’t mean to shut you out except to keep you safe — I’ll call you right after and tell you what the three of us have decided.”

“I’d appreciate that.”

“But I want you to stay here until the power is restored at your place.”

She nodded. She was so exhausted her eyes almost crossed.

He went on, sounding nervous, “I’d better open up the extra bedroom for you so it heats up in there. There’s just one bath upstairs. I’ll get some towels out.”

“Your mother would be proud of your hospitality and how great this place looks. She was always a good hostess.”

“Yeah. Still is in the trailer park where she lives in Florida. Too good a hostess at times, I guess.”

She didn’t know what he meant, but bed and bath sounded so good. And to sleep at night in security, to feel safe, as she never quite had in the old house the three nights she’d been back would be great.

She followed him upstairs as he opened the door to a Spartan bedroom. Oh, it was his boyhood one, she was sure of that, though it must have been redone. It was a bit feminine, maybe in case his mother visited. So he must sleep in his parents’ larger one across the front of the house.

“Don’t you sleep in front?” she asked, suddenly feeling awkward again as his eyes swept her. Oh, no, not that over-the-waterfall sensation again.  She’d been fighting it, but feelings flew between them like pounding spray.

“No, I keep that for my home office,” he said but didn’t open the door to give her a glimpse. “I’m down the hall. I can use the bathroom downstairs, so you just go ahead.”

He got a set of towels from the hall linen closet with an extra blanket he piled in her arms. He was so close she could see how thick his eyelashes were. Little flecks of gold swam in the brown irises of his eyes. He had a slight scar on the slant of his left cheek — from the war? But surely a bomb blast had not done that to him, for that would have been more of a shock, a boom — like his very nearness was to her.

“I can’t thank you enough,” she whispered.

“Maybe sometime,” he said. Then before she knew it was coming, he leaned forward to kiss her.

Shattered Secrets, the first in the Cold Creek series, releases August 26. For more exclusive excerpts and books, visit our Everything Romance page.

Tags: RT Daily Blog, Romance
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