Anna J. Stewart
She’ll risk everything to expose the truth.
Since her twin sister Sylvie’s disappearance seven years ago, single mother Mabel Reynolds has turned grief into action and become a strong voice for victims of violence and abuse.
When new revelations shed light on what may have happened not only to Sylvie, but dozens of other women, Mabel’s hope for answers is reignited. But the new oh-so-charming DA overseeing the investigation seems more interested in a quick rather than an accurate resolution.
With little faith in the system, Mabel isn’t about to stay quiet, not when she’s finally close to the truth. She’s willing to go up against anyone—even a smug, irritating, attractive DA to get the answers she and other families deserve.
Open and shut.
That’s what Assistant DA Paul Flynn has been told about his new assignment supervising a house of horrors case. With a high-profile conviction at stake, Paul can’t afford to make a wrong move if his professional goals are to be achieved.
But Mabel Reynolds has his attention. All of it. Attraction aside, the woman knows far more than what’s in the official files which makes her something even more intriguing. But using Mabel as an asset means exposing her and her young daughter to even more danger. Danger that is closing in on them from every side. As even darker forces appear, and their lives are threatened, Paul is faced with risking not only his entire career, but also the one thing he never anticipated losing: his heart.
You have a possible concussion. Even a mild one isn’t anything to play at.”
“I’m not playing with anything.” Mabel gripped the metal bumper with her uninjured hand and ignored how her stomach pitched. “I’ve had migraines worse than this. If it still hurts tomorrow, I’ll get it checked out.”
The EMT stepped back and peered down at her as if she were a naughty twoyear-old who just got caught raiding the cookie jar. Her eyes slid over his name badge identifying him as Buck.
“I promise.” Mabel offered the most saccharine smile she could muster. “I just really need to get home.”
“Can’t let you go just yet.” Sergeant Corrine Michaels, first officer on the scene, stepped out from behind the ambulance door, her dark brown hair knotted at the base of her neck. Her Black skin glistened against the glow of the streetlamps.
“Why not?” Mabel couldn’t keep the frustration out of her voice. “I’ve given you my statement, and you and your partner took care of boarding up Mrs. Lancaster’s window.” She gestured to the now-wood-covered frame on the second floor. “So, tell me why …” Mabel trailed off at the sight of the all-too-familiar black SUV that pulled up to a screeching stop right in front of the ambulance. “You have got to be kidding me.”
So much for keeping this low-key.
Quinn wasn’t alone. In yet another surprise of the evening, the sight of Paul Flynn slamming out of the passenger side of the vehicle sent her already overwrought emotions into an out-of-control spiral. There was only one way to control that storm of emotions, and that was with forced hostility. “What are you doing here?”
“Answering a damsel’s call of distress.” In the pale glow of the streetlamps, what little humor twinkling in Paul’s eyes was muted by concern. It unnerved her that her first reaction upon seeing him was relief, followed quickly by gratitude before annoyance hit dead center of her chest.
Since she’d left his office, he’d earned himself a five o’clock shadow, and damn if that didn’t increase his sexiness factor. The man looked like a knight in shining armor or at least a rival for a once-upon-a-time movie hero who would have taken over not only the silver screen but the town that built them.
An uncontrolled bubble of laughter climbed into her throat at the very idea.
Instead of armor, Paul carried a briefcase. Normally. But not now. She wondered if it was bulletproof.
She almost … almost let herself sag into him at his cautious touch. That was how long it took for his words to cut through the fog in her mind. Her spine went steel-girder stiff. “Who are you calling a damsel?”
“You,” Paul countered with a quick look at Quinn. “Told you that would work.” Quinn’s grin was quick, and her annoyance grew. When did these two become friends? “How is she?” Paul asked Buck.
“She is fine.” Mabel looked from Quinn to Paul, back to Quinn. Her eyes ached from glaring so hard. She might be one big walking bruise in the morning, but she could fake it until then.
“She’s okay,” Buck corrected. “Glass puncture on her hand. Other abrasions and bruises. Bruised larynx, no doubt because of the choking. Possible concussion, which we’ve discussed at length.”
“More like ad nauseam,” Mabel muttered, and only now did she hear how raspy her voice sounded. She touched a hand to her throat as if she could ease the roughness. “I guess I don’t have to ask how you heard.” She narrowed her gaze at Sergeant Michaels who looked far from repentant. “Quinn, it’s after seven. I need to call Keeley, and they won’t let me back upstairs to get my phone.”
As anxious as she was to call her daughter, the idea of going back up and into that room left her nauseated.
Quinn handed over his cell, and Mabel gripped it as if it were a lifeline. “Thanks for the head’s up, Corrine.”
‘Following orders,” the officer assured him. “You want a rundown of events, Detective?”
“Yes, thanks.” Quinn touched a hand to Mabel’s shoulder. “You really okay?”
“Yep.” A little freaked out. More than a tad unsettled. And really, really restless to get home and put all this behind her. Most of all, she just wanted to hug her kid. All the rest of it could wait until she was alone and could scream into her pillow.
“I’ll be back in a sec.” Quinn moved off out of hearing distance, and Mabel looked down at the phone. Only then did she notice her hands were trembling.
“I have to call her.” It was as if Mabel had to convince herself, but she looked up at Paul. “I don’t know what to tell her. How do I explain this without freaking her out?”
“Maybe you don’t just yet. Give us a few minutes?” Paul asked Buck, who snapped his medical kit shut and hoisted himself into the ambulance.
“I don’t need coddling,” Mabel said when he sat next to her. “You’re a stranger,” she insisted in an effort to explain these feelings to herself. A stranger who displayed such concern and affection for her, he made her feel as if they’d known each other forever. She didn’t want to feel comfortable with him. She didn’t want to want or need him. “I don’t need …” The warmth of his body surged against hers. When he raised his arm over her shoulders and drew her in, she stiffened. “I said I’m fine.” She squeezed her eyes shut as the soft fabric of his shirt caressed her face. Tears she’d been trying to hold onto escaped, and when she fisted her hands to make them stop, an involuntary whimper of pain escaped.
“Humor me.” Still holding her close, Paul reached for her bandaged hand and turned it palm up. “How did this happen?”
It felt good, letting go for a moment. Being held. Having someone to lean on. For however short a time, she surrendered to it.
Award-winning, USA Today and national bestselling author Anna J Stewart writes sweet to sexy romances for Harlequin and ARC Manor’s CAEZIK (Kay-Zehk) Romance. Her sweet Harlequin Heartwarming books include the Butterfly Harbor series as well as the ongoing Blackwell continuity series. She also writes the Honor Bound series for Harlequin Romantic Suspense and has contributed to the bestselling Coltons. Her Circle of the Red Lily romantic suspense series, published by CAEZIK, will launch with EXPOSED in November of 2022.
A Holt Medallion winner (BRIDE ON THE RUN), as well as a Golden Heart, Daphne DuMaurier, and National Reader’s Choice finalist, Anna loves writing big community stories where family found is always the theme. Since her first published novella with Harlequin in 2014, Anna has released more than fifty novels and novellas and hopes to branch out even more (horror romance, anyone?). Anna lives in Northern California where (at the best times) she loves going to the movies, attending fan conventions, and heading to Disneyland, her favorite place on earth. When she’s not writing, she is usually binge-watching her newest TV addiction, re-watching her all-time favorite show, Supernatural, and wrangling two monstrous cats named Rosie and Sherlock. Visit Anna online at www.AuthorAnnaStewart.com and sign up for her newsletter (giveaways in every issue!)
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