Saturday, March 8, 2014

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Jesse's Girl by Stephanie Taylor


Jesse"s Girl by Stephanie Taylor
Contemporary Romantic Suspense
Length: 169 Pages
ISBN: 9781621352372

Blurb: Ally Roche has loved only one man her entire life, her childhood best friend turned lover.  But when she turned down his proposal one summer before he went back to college, he disappeared from her life, leaving her empty and alone.

Detective Jesse Richards is back in town and avoiding Ally like the plague…until she walks into the station and reports a murder and then promptly faints at his feet.  Faced with the knowledge the killer knows who she is, Jesse has no choice but to protect the woman he’s always loved.

And maybe, just maybe, he can protect his heart as well.


Chapter 1

Sirens blared. Lights flashed. Adrenaline rushed.
Jesse Richards chased hot on the tail of a white Honda.
“Pull over now, or I’ll shoot your tires,” Jesse announced over his loud speaker. How funny that he hadn’t been on a patrol in months, and now he was going to have to chase down a sedan. He rolled his eyes at the irony.
The car weaved over the double yellow line on the two-way street, and the brake lights angrily glared at him in the near darkness of sunset. He screeched to a halt behind the car and un-holstered his gun. His heart kicked into overdrive. It was all too reminiscent of his time in the Big Apple. He had to remind himself he was back in his sleepy hometown, not fearing for his life on every street corner.
A vaguely familiar white-haired, scrawny man, wrinkled with age opened the door and moved at an impossible speed toward his car. Jesse was out of his patrol car in a flash.
“Freeze!” Jesse shouted with his gun cocked, standing carefully behind the shield of his car door.
Fear shone in the old man’s eyes and he held his hands up as if to surrender, but his feet kept moving. Did he think he was going to tackle him?
“I said freeze!” Jesse shouted again. He kept his eye on the man, and it finally dawned on him who he was. Jesse was surprised it took him so long to recognize Ally’s father, the man who’d been much like a father to him growing up.
Jesse lost sight of the old man as he passed him and rounded the back of the car, his gun still aimed just in case. He’d learned to never be too slack with his attentiveness.
“Shoot me if you’ve gotta, officer, but that sweet tea from dinner is hitting me hard!”
Jesse tried really hard to keep his mouth from turning into a smile, but the second Mr. Roche’s pants fell around his ankles and his tighty-whities shone in the dusk of the day, Jesse bent over and laughed until his stomach ached. He heard the unmistakable sounds of the man’s full bladder being emptied. Mr. Roche had a reputation with the local law and it wasn’t failing him now.
Just to follow protocol, Jesse grabbed his walkie-talkie and called in the tag number of the Honda. After a few moments, the dispatcher called back that Mr. Gary Roche was clear. Not even a ticket on his record. The sound of the older man’s zipper echoed in the evening.
“You weren’t kidding, sir,” Jesse said, turning to smile at the man who was like a father to him.
“No, officer, I wasn’t — Jesse Richards?”
“In the flesh!”
Mr. Roche smiled and pulled him into a bear hug. “I’ve missed seeing you around, boy. Look at you, all grown up and wearing a uniform!”
“I’m a detective. Just transferred down here from the Big Apple.”
“Well, I’ll be. Does Ally know you’re back?”
Jesse hesitated. “We’ve run into each other a couple of times, yeah.”
“I never thought you guys would be separated. She sure loved you.”
Jesse shifted from one foot to another and cleared his throat. “So you were speeding, sir.”
Mr. Roche waved a hand of dismissal. “Oh, that.”
Jesse cocked a brow. “You know what I need to do as a police officer.”
The older man gave him a cheeky grin. “But as a friend?”
What could he do but smile back. Jesse shrugged. “If I catch you again…”
“You won’t. I’ll be the model citizen. Good to see you again, Jesse. You should give Ally a call.”
Jesse walked back to his car and got inside. Staring at the lights bouncing off the trees around him, he shook his head.
They didn’t call him a great cop for nothing.

****

“Any luck on fingerprints?” Lucky O’Donnell asked as he propped his hands on his hips and glowered at his new detective, Jesse Richards.
Jesse smirked and leaned back in his chair, ignoring its loud, creaky protest. “Hard to get fingerprints when the victim doesn’t have fingers.”
“Check his wallet for any?”
“Wiped clean, license and all identification gone.”
“Credit cards?”
“The perp was thorough, O’Donnell. We don’t have much except DNA and that’s already been run through the system with no luck.”
Lucky sighed and sat down across from Jesse’s desk. “Who in the world wants to come to this small town and do something so vicious? I haven’t met anyone I’d want to kill.”
“Except James?” Jesse asked with a smirk.
“I didn’t kill him. I just incapacitated him. He’s rotting in prison right now, where he belongs.”
Jesse’s lips pulled his mouth wide, but he covered it with his hand so he wouldn’t rile Lucky any more than he already was. He was a ticking time bomb these days.
“Detective, you’re going to have bathroom cleaning duty for six months if you don’t cut the attitude. Someone is dead and we have to figure out who he is and why someone wanted to kill him.”
Jesse sobered, but it didn’t last long. He cleared his throat to cover another chuckle. “Sir, I think it would help if we had a witness or went through the tapes again to try to find someone who might have seen something. So far, this is looking like a perfect crime.”
“No such thing,” Lucky argued. He abruptly stood. “I need to go to the office and call to check on Lana and Lily. I’m sure she’s going nuts with a three-year-old and my long hours.”
“Give Lana my regards.” At his words, pain sliced through him. Lana was Ally Roche’s big sister. His ex-best friend. The girl he’d loved since he was able to talk.
He’d been back in this small town for six months, and he hadn’t spoken to her. He thought he’d spotted her once at the pizza place, but she’d quickly turned and left. If that had indeed been her, the Ally he remembered was nothing like the Ally that existed today. The Ally he’d left behind for college was sixteen, skinny and pixie-like. The girl he’d seen in the pizza place had a long swath of milk chocolate hair and matching dark eyes that spoke of pain.
Jesse couldn’t help but wonder if the two girls were one and the same. But he knew wondering would get him nowhere. He was a man now, not susceptible to a woman’s charm unless he wanted to be. Ally would always be part of his childhood memories, but he wouldn’t allow her to be part of the future. Those days were over. She’d made her choice.
Clearing his throat again, he sat up, looking once more at the file in front of him. The toxicology report didn’t reveal anything but therapeutic amounts of prescription drugs for high cholesterol. No alcohol use. No evidence of drug abuse. Why would a killer pick a random Joe to kill? The man was clearly someone the perp didn’t want anyone to know about, or he wouldn’t have cut off his fingers to get rid of the fingerprints. Surely a missing persons report would come up soon enough and someone could identify the man. He had to have family somewhere.
The bell over the door to the police office jangled as a woman walked in. She wore skinny jeans and knee-high boots with a peasant top – without a jacket. It had to be at least twenty degrees outside. Her hair — milk chocolate — hung in curls in a messy updo. Jesse’s heart skipped a beat. The sun shining from behind the woman made it impossible to see her face.
Could it be?
He stood, unable to handle the suspense.
As he rounded his desk, the door closed behind her and the office turned darker. Breath whooshed from his lungs as he laid eyes on the woman he’d never been able to exorcise from his head. The girl who’d rejected him. The friend who’d loved him and then thrown him away.
“Ally?” he whispered, unsure if she was real or just a dream. She had to be real. He couldn’t have imagined those curves on her.
“I need…” Her face was a sickly gray, and she seemed to see straight through him. “I need to report a murder.”
With that, she collapsed against him.

****

Ally Roche opened her eyes to stark white lights and something cold against her cheek. Where was she? Where had she been going?
“Where am I?” She pulled up to sit but her head swam viciously.
“Lay back down. You fainted.”
That voice. She must have hit her head on the way down, because that voice sounded like Jesse Richards’, and there was no way he’d be touching her cheek so sweetly or talking in such a kind tone. He hated her.
“Where am I?” she repeated and swatted at the annoying cold compress.
“The police station.”
And with those words, it all came rushing back. The man with the hacksaw. The lifeless man before him. With a groan, her stomach heaved.
“Easy, now. Do you remember why you came here?”
Ally swallowed and took to a deep breath to force her stomach into submission. “I need to report something I saw. I need to talk to Lucky.” She tried to sit up again but gentle palms pressed at her shoulders. It was then that she focused on the man beside her.
Jesse.
Was she hallucinating? There was nothing angry in his blue eyes, but rather a tight frown of concern marring his perfect features. Oh, how she’d missed him!
“Jesse?”
“Yup. Tell me what you saw, Ally. You could be the break we need in this case.”
Slowly, Ally sat up. Jesse stood in front of her, hands out, waiting to catch her if she fell again. Wasn’t that the way it had always been? At least before, she’d sent him on his way after he gave her his heart.
She rubbed her throbbing temple. “There was a man with a saw. A small one with teeth. A hacksaw, the kind Daddy uses to cut small pieces of wood when he’s building something. He used it on… on…”
Jesse stepped closer, invading her personal space and filling her senses with his familiar, woodsy scent. “Used it on what?”
“Hands. He used it on an unconscious man’s hands. He bent down, picked up his arm and hung it over a piece of wood in his lap and then sawed at his hands. I ran away after that.”
“Did you see his face, Ally?” His warm palms framed her shoulders, and he leaned so that they were practically nose-to-nose.
“No, but he threw something in the Dumpster next to Harry’s Pizza.”
“Lucky!” Jesse called, and Lucky immediately hung up the phone and hurried toward them. “Get a unit out to Harry’s Pizza to rope off the side street. Ally saw the killer toss something in the Dumpster.”
“On it!” called a junior officer across the room.
“Ally! Are you okay? What’s going on?” Lucky demanded to know as he approached them.
Ally just looked over to Jesse. She didn’t think she could repeat the scene again.
“Ally saw our murderer,” Jesse muttered and released her from his grasp.
“Where?”
Jesse pulled Lucky to the side, but not far enough away so that Ally couldn’t hear.
“She saw the perp sawing off our victim’s fingers.”
Lucky furrowed his brows and rubbed his forehead. “Did the perp see her?”
“No,” Ally spoke up. “At least, I don’t think so. So he really did saw off his fingers? Why?”
Jesse eyed her high-heeled boots. “Were you wearing those?” He tilted his chin toward them.
Ally felt her eyes go wide, and she swallowed against the sudden dryness in her throat. She couldn’t do more than nod.
“And you were on asphalt.”
She nodded again.
“Please tell me you had sense enough to tip toe when you ran away.”
Ally swallowed again and shook her head.
Lucky spoke up. “Ally, I want you staying with Lana and me. At least until we figure out if the perp saw you.”
Ally relived the moment she rounded the corner away from the side street and remembered the thrill of fear as she thought she heard footsteps behind her. When she’d stopped inside the pizzeria, she’d stared out the door for a long time but had never seen anyone else.
Feeling faint again, Ally propped her head against her hands and leaned forward. She wasn’t sure if it was Lucky or Jesse, but someone offered a sympathetic, warm hand against her back.
“Why was he cutting off the guy’s fingers?” Ally asked again, her voice strained. She didn’t really want to know the answer, but it was like watching a train wreck.
“We’re not sure,” Lucky explained. “Probably to hide his identity.”
No fingerprints. Ally trembled. The man who died was the same one she’d bumped up against when she’d first gone into Harry’s. She’d had her debit card out, ready to purchase her dinner, and he’d bumped in to her. Her debit card landed at his feet and he’d picked it up for her.
“Lucky…” she started, at first unsure of the path her brain was on. But she was sure. The man who’d been killed was the same one she’d seen on the side street. The jacket was the same and the man had worn sneakers with his trench coat. Something that Ally had found odd.
“Lucky, oh my! Lucky!” Ally stood up, ignoring Jesse’s hovering hand. “I bumped into him.”
“Who?” Lucky and Jesse demanded at the same time.
“The dead guy. He was wearing sneakers and a trench coat. It was the same guy in Harry’s that I bumped into. He handed my debit card to me when I dropped it.”
Ally shook with fear. Not only could she have the dead man’s fingerprints on her card, but this could put her in the running to be killed next.
Jesse’s arms came around her then, solid and comforting. “It’s okay. Do you have your debit card with you right now?”
Ally nodded.
“Purse?”
She nodded again, but found she couldn’t speak if she’d wanted to. She’d definitely be staying with Lucky and Lana.
Ally watched with an odd detachment as Lucky got some tweezers and removed her card from her wallet.
“Even a partial will help at this point,” Lucky said as he cast her a reassuring smile. “You did the right thing, Ally. This man could have a worried wife and children somewhere.”
Despite knowing she’d done a good thing, Ally couldn’t stop the sizzle of terror in her spine. She’d moved out of her daddy’s house several months back, after she had graduated from the local community college. What had she done? She would never feel safe again.
Jesse released her when she pushed at his chest. For the first time, she looked at him as some of the confusion lifted. He was still the same old Jesse she’d grown up with, only bigger and more beautiful. Same blue eyes. Same thick, black hair with a cowlick right in front. He wore his hair shorter now, but she suspected it was for his job and not by choice.
His hands were still the same, gentle hands that had once held her, touched her in secret places. And his mouth was still the same one that had kissed her and spoken of a future they would never see.
For a moment, Jesse seemed to soften toward her, but he cleared his throat and gave her a perfunctory smile as he straightened his back. “We’ll need to keep the card for testing,” he muttered.
“That’s fine. I’ll get a new one.”
“Was there anyone with him, Ally? Anyone you might have noticed leaving soon after him?”
“I was in there for awhile because my pizza wasn’t ready. I think a family left shortly after him but no one else that I remember.”
Lucky had walked off to put her card in an evidence bag. When he returned, he had his best cop face on.
“Ally, I want you to go pack your things so you can stay with Lana and me. I’m sure she could use a second hand with Lily since my long hours aren’t going to be getting any shorter in the coming days anyway.”
“I don’t mind. I hate to sound na├»ve here, but how would Lana protect me with you here at the station? Have Lily talk them to death?”
Lucky smiled, and it lit up his whole face, reminding Ally how much he loved his little girl. “She would make a great negotiator, that one. But no, remember after James came back to town, Lana took self-defense classes, and she’s been trained to shoot a gun. And she’s a woman, so I suspect you’d be in better hands with her than me. Women don’t kid around when they draw a gun.”
“Thanks, Lucky. I’ll just go home and grab my things.”
“Detective Richards, if you don’t mind…” Lucky said with a sweep of his hands toward the door.
Jesse did a double take, and Ally narrowed her eyes at Lucky. What was he up to?
“Don’t mind what?” Jesse asked.
“Escorting Ally back to her house. She’ll need to gather her things, and I’d like to see that she arrives safely at my house.”
Jesse cleared his throat. “That’s not my job—”
“No, but it’s on your way to the forensics lab.” Lucky dangled the bag with her debit card in it and raised his eyebrows pointedly.
Ally wasn’t fooled for a second. Lucky was up to something. No doubt it was something that she was going to have to talk to him about. Jesse had been back for six months, and she’d managed to avoid running into him so far. It wasn’t because she hadn’t seen him. Oh no, he was everywhere. At the park where she took Lily, Harry’s, the gym, patrolling every road she seemed to drive on. It might be a small town, but how could the man have managed to be everywhere she was?
“Let’s go,” Jesse grumbled and grabbed her arm above the elbow, leading her out.
As soon as the station door closed behind them, Ally wrenched free and shot him a glare. He might be a big shot detective now, but there was no way he was going to manhandle her just because he was still angry.
Pulling her cell phone out of her purse, Ally dialed Michael’s number. Michael was her boyfriend, and they’d been together for almost three years now. She’d have him meet her at her house and take her to Lana’s. The sooner she could get out of Jesse’s presence, the better.
“Where’s your car?” Jesse ignored the fact that she was on the phone.
“I walked.”
“With a killer in town.” His deadpan tone indicated his annoyance. He shook his head as he headed over to a squad car. “Get in.”
No way. No way was she going to get in close confines with him. She was close to tears already just knowing she was going to have to uproot her life until the killer was caught.
Michael’s voicemail answered, so she said, “Michael, hey. It’s Ally. I need you to meet me at my place as soon as you can. It’s kind of important. A minor emergency I guess you could say. Everything is okay, but I’m going to have to stay with Lana for a while, and I was wondering if you could help me take some things over there tonight? Just give me a call when you get this. Love you.”
Jesse’s narrowed gaze didn’t waver from hers over the squad car. “You’re still with that creep?”
Ally felt her chin lift involuntarily. “Yes, I am. And he’s not a creep.” She wanted to add that he hadn’t been the one to snub her because she hadn’t said what he wanted to hear. He’d remained her friend even though he knew she’d never be totally his. She might not love him the same way she’d once loved Jesse, but it was enough.
Jesse didn’t say a word, but his smirk did all the talking. And Ally was furious. “Forget you. I’ll walk home.”
“No, you won’t. Whoever killed that man could be waiting at your house right now. You’re not going back alone.”
Gritting her teeth, Ally quelled the urge to give him the finger, but instead said, “The only way I’m getting in that squad car is if you handcuff me and force me inside.”
Without a single word, Jesse rounded the corner, pulled his handcuffs from his belt and twirled them. A sneer darkened his eyes as they settled on her breasts. “That can be arranged.”
“You’re a jerk. You always have been! I should’ve known you wouldn’t be able to handle rejection! I knew—”
With lightning speed, Jesse had her pinned against the squad car with his lower half while he tried to capture her flailing arms. All Ally wanted to do was get in one solid hit. He deserved that much at least.
“You’d be wise to keep your pretty little mouth shut.”
Cold metal wrapped around her hands and she was about to call his bluff when they snapped into place. Testing their strength, Ally pulled against them.
“They’re not the frilly kind I’m sure you’re used to having with Michael. They’re as real and as hard as they get, honey.” The low dip of his voice next to her ear caused her skin to heat and chill all at the same time. He could insinuate sexual things all day long, but she’d never look at him the same way she had when they were kids.
What a fool she’d been to think he was the same. This Jesse had ice in his veins.
Before she knew it, she was shoved in the back of the squad car and his chuckle met her ears.

Astraea Press Book Club

The Astraea Press Book Club on Face Book is a great way for readers to try new books and authors...for FREE! Each month one Astraea Presstitle is offered up for free to readers to read and enjoy. At the end of the month we have a chat with the author and a random drawing for an AP Swag Pack. Fun for all.

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