Book 4.5 in Pike, Wisconsin

From the romantic thriller powerhouses behind the instant USA Today bestseller PIVOT, comes three new interwoven stories about brave heroes who rise up to take down a treacherous gang bent on robbery and destruction, to keep their homes, and the women they love safe…

Three women. Three connected stories. Three bestselling authors.

When a cop killer resurfaces in Denver, enlisting the help of a pair of local lowlifes, it marks the beginning of a violent crime spree that will wreak havoc and endanger lives. Law enforcement is on alert from the first sighting of the cold-blooded trio. To take down this brutal gang, only those willing to risk everything they hold dear stand a chance…

First, a pair of Denver police officers facing each other for the first time after one night of abandon find themselves working together to stop an ambitious bank heist. In Wyoming, a string of robberies marks the gang’s arrival, and the local sheriff springs into action when the criminals discover his estranged fiancée can identify them. Finally, in the mountains of Colorado, the gang takes shelter on a peaceful guest ranch, where a fiercely protective rancher is hellbent on roping the fugitives up for good.

Trusting their sharply honed instincts, three rugged men will fight to stop the rampage before the women they’d die for become the next victims . . .

Note: Alexandra’s story, called Redemption, is the first story in the book.

Genre: Romantic Suspense

Series: Pike, Wisconsin, Book 4.5

Characters: Ian Sullivan Tessa Ralston

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Read an Excerpt


Tessa Ralston was methodically searching through a stack of files that included twenty-year-old tax returns, bank statements, and financial transactions when her phone dinged. This wasn’t her favorite part of being in the cold case unit. She usually spent her days reviewing witness interviews and scouring court records. She had a talent for picking out subtle clues that had gone unnoticed by other detectives. Her boss claimed she had a nose for sniffing out lies.

Numbers tended to give her brain a cramp.

Eager for a distraction, she grabbed her phone and glanced at the text on her screen. She’d expected a message from her mother. Or perhaps one of her fellow detectives wanting to grab lunch.

If it was work related, they would call or send an email.

A minute later she was jumping from her chair, punching her fist in the air as a jolt of anticipation sizzled through her.

She was hastily shutting down her computer and clearing her desk when the door to her office was shoved open and Rachel Fisher Evans stepped in.

At a glance the two women could pass as sisters. They were both tall with lean, muscular bodies, strong features, and dark hair that they kept pulled into a tight braid. But a closer look would reveal that Rachel’s eyes were blue while Tessa’s were a dark brown and flecked with gold. Plus, her skin was kissed with gold despite the long Wisconsin winters.

“Is everything okay?” Rachel asked, studying Tessa with blatant concern.

Tessa was momentarily confused by the question, then she wrinkled her nose. “Oh. I screamed, didn’t I?”

“Loud enough to wake the baby,” Rachel said, placing her hand against her still flat stomach. She’d only discovered she was pregnant a couple weeks ago, but she happily used every excuse to remind everyone of the babe.

Tessa smiled. “Sorry.”

Rachel chuckled. The two had been working together for the past five years and Tessa had watched her friend transform from a workaholic who had no interest outside her job to a smiling, relaxed woman who understood that life was about balance.

And all because she’d reconciled with her husband, Zac Evans who was the sheriff in a small-town north of Madison, called Pike, Wisconsin.

Sometimes Tessa envied her friend, but most of the time, she was happy to concentrate on her career.

“I’m hoping that very enthusiastic screech is related to a case you’re working on,” Rachel said.

“Not a case.” A hard smile curved Tessa’s lips. “The case.”

“I don’t…” Rachel’s words trailed away, then with a gasp realization abruptly hit. “Deacon Mitchell?”

Deacon ‘Deke’ Mitchell was a hardened criminal who’d murdered Tessa’s partner when she’d been a rookie at the Denver Police Department.

“I just got a text from his ex-girlfriend. She said she heard from Deke and he’s returned to Denver.”

“Have you contacted the Denver Police Department to let them know he’s in town?”

“I’ll give them a call on my way home to pack a bag.”

Rachel watched as Tessa looped her canvas satchel over her shoulder before grabbing the Milwaukee Bucks sweatshirt that was hanging on the back of her chair. It was the end of June, but inside the station it always felt as if it was hovering around the freezing point. She wasn’t sure if it was because northerners took pride in braving the cold or if they just enjoyed the frigid blast of air from the A/C.

“I’m guessing you’re headed out west?”

“As soon as I can get a flight.” Tessa grimaced, sending her friend a regretful glance. “I’m sorry to bail on you on such short notice, but—”

“I understand, and I’ll clear it with the boss on this end. I’ll also give a call to Denver to make sure you have access to their resources,” Rachel promised, instantly comprehending that Tessa would insist on personally working the case. She hesitated, her expression tightening. “But that’s not going to stop me from worrying about you.”

Tessa flinched. Her wounds were still raw despite the time that had passed.

“I’m not the same cop I was five years ago.”

“That’s not what I’m worried about.”

“Excuse me?”

Rachel moved close enough to grab Tessa’s free hand. “You blame yourself for what happened that day.”

“Of course, I do.” A shudder of horror raced through Tessa. She would never forget the moment she’d stepped into the shadowed alley to see her partner, Colt Maddox. He’d had his back to her, but over his shoulder she could see Deke Mitchell. The criminal had his hands in the air, but as Tessa had rounded the corner, Colt had glanced around to see who was there. In that moment, Deke had grabbed Colt’s service gun and pulled the trigger. Time seemed to freeze for Tessa, as if her brain had simply shut down. Then in shocked disbelief, she’d watched as her partner had crumpled to the filthy ground, blood pouring from his wound. With a shake of her head, Tessa tried to force away the image seared into her brain. “If I hadn’t blundered into the alley that day, then Colt would still be alive.”

“First of all, you did not blunder into the alley. You were following a lead.” That was true enough. Tessa and Colt had been investigating a string of robberies in the area and she’d discovered information that one of the perps was planning a break-in that evening. “And second you have no idea if Officer Maddox would be alive or not.”

“I distracted him,” Tessa stubbornly insisted. “And Deke took the opportunity to gun him down and escape.”

Rachel squeezed her fingers. “I’m not going to try and convince you to keep your emotions out of this, we both know it’s impossible. But I’m begging you to use your incredible instincts. Think like a detective, not a woman who is seeking revenge for the past. Deke Mitchell has already proved he’s willing to kill without conscience. I don’t want you to be next.”

Impulsively, Tessa pulled Rachel into a hug. Neither one of them were touchy-feely sorts of women. They were more take charge and kick-ass. But Rachel had been more than just a mentor over the past few years. She’d become her best friend and it felt good to know that she was worried about her.

“Take care of yourself and that baby.” Tessa stepped back, sending her companion a warning glare. “And don’t work too hard while I’m gone.”

“Me?” Rachel blinked in pretend shock. “Work too hard?”

“I’m texting Zac to warn him I’ll be gone a few days,” Tessa said, not teasing. She really was going to let Zac know. Although Rachel was much better about her hours at the office, she would have more on her plate with Tessa gone. “He’ll keep an eye on you.”

Rachel smiled, her eyes sparkling with a wicked amusement. “He keeps more than an eye on me.”

Tessa deliberately glanced down at her friend’s stomach. “So, I noticed.”

They shared a chuckle, and Tessa even managed to hide her stab of envy. How would it feel to be so completely loved? To be the very center of another’s life?

Heading for the door, Tessa was halted as Rachel called out behind her. “Tessa. If you get yourself shot I’m going to be super pissed.”

“Don’t worry,” Tessa assured her.

Rachel shook her head, her expression tense. “Too late.”


Ian Sullivan stood in front of the window of the small conference room at the Denver Metro Police Department. It was not only one of the few spaces that offered privacy, but it had an unimpeded view of the parking lot. The perfect spot.

He’d been waiting for the past half hour, but he didn’t notice the passing time. Not until the door behind him silently slid open. A wry smile curved Ian’s mouth as he turned to watch the large male step into the office. He was dressed in tactical gear that marked him as one of the elite SWAT team.

Owen ‘Striker’ Sullivan was Ian’s older brother by three years and a lethal sharpshooter. He was tall, almost as tall as Ian who stood six foot four. He also had the same broad shoulders and narrow waist that came from hours in the gym. His head, however, had been shaved bald while Ian wore his copper hair long enough to curl over his ears and cover the base of his neck. In addition, Striker’s green eyes were several shades darker than Ian’s bright emerald.

The biggest difference between them, however, was the fact that Ian was wearing a silver-gray suit with a white shirt and blue tie with soft leather shoes that had been custom made in Italy. The tailored clothing made him appear almost civilized, despite his bulging muscles and bluntly chiseled features.

Striker would never look civilized.

“How long have you been staring at that parking lot?” Striker demanded, moving to stand next to Ian. In answer, Ian lifted his hand and offered his middle finger. Striker made a sound of disgust. “If you were so anxious to see Tessa Ralston then why didn’t you pick her up from the airport?”

That’d been Ian’s plan. As soon as the chief had called him into the office to say that Tessa Ralston was returning to Denver to track down Deke Mitchell, Ian had leaped at the opportunity to spend as much time with Tessa as humanly possible. Just the mention of her name had sent his pulse racing with anticipation. He’d missed her. More than he’d even realized.

But he’d known better than to reveal his excitement, and had merely shrugged when the chief revealed that

Tessa would arrive at the station sometime this morning.

“She wanted to rent a car and get checked into her hotel first,” he told his brother.

Striker wasn’t fooled by Ian’s offhand tone. “Leaving you hanging?”

“Don’t you have somewhere else to be?” Ian sent his brother a chiding glance. “Shooting bad guys? Driving around in your SWAT-mobile?” His gaze lowered to the heavy boots.

“Adding another layer of gloss to blind the bad guys?”

“Jealousy is an ugly emotion, bro.”

Ian rolled his eyes. “Seriously, go away.”

“After I say what I came here to say.”

Ian moaned. Their dad had been a fighter pilot in the air force who’d tragically been shot down during the conflict in Iraq when Ian was just a baby. And while, their mom had been a strong single mother, who’d devoted herself to her boys, Striker had instinctively taken on the father-role.

Sometime Ian appreciated his concern, other times he wanted to punch him in the face.

“If it’s some sort of brotherly advice—”

“It is. So shut up and listen,” Striker rudely interrupted.

“Fine.” Ian folded his arms over his chest. It’d be easier to stop a speeding freight train than Striker when he was in this mood. “Spit it out.”

“I like Tessa.”

Ian arched a brow at the clipped words. “That’s it?”

“No.” Striker paused, as if considering how to get his point through Ian’s thick skull. “Tessa Ralston was a helluva cop even as a rookie and a good addition to the station. Honestly I thought she would work her way to chief someday.”

“She’s still a cop,” Ian couldn’t resist pointing out.

Striker ignored the interruption. “My only concern was your obvious interest in her.”
Ian frowned. “Why would you be concerned?”

“Workplace relationships are dumpster fires. Especially with cops.”

Striker wasn’t wrong. Ian had been around long enough to see several of his friends destroy their marriages with affairs. Or end up hating their partner when they allowed the endless hours they spent together to become overly intimate.

“Nothing came of it,” he reminded the older man. He’d never revealed what had happened between him and Tessa the night before she’d fled town. Not even to his brother.

“No, but I don’t think you’ve ever forgotten her. I also think that she’s the reason no other woman could ever satisfy you.”

Ian’s lips twisted. It was unnerving to think that Striker had sensed his frustration with dating. Of course, the two of them were closer than most brothers. Not only had the death of their father drawn them together, but they worked and even lived together.

“I’m not going to lie, I wanted more than a working relationship with Tessa when she was here,” Ian admitted. “And a part of me is hoping like hell that she’s still unattached.”

Striker’s jaw tightened, as if he was clenching his teeth. “Which means you’re going to be distracted.”

Ian lifted his hand. “I’m not going to forget why she’s here. Or that Deke Mitchell killed one of us,” he assured his brother. “There’s not one officer in this city who’s going to be satisfied until he’s in jail. Or in a grave.”

“I vote for grave,” Striker growled. Any cop who’d been around five years ago had mourned the loss of Officer Colt Maddox. And harbored a burning desire to get their hands on the bastard who’d shot him. “And I hope you’re right, Ian. Deke Mitchell won’t hesitate to pull the trigger if he feels cornered.”

Ian understood his brother’s concern. A cop’s life could hang by a thread. One wrong move, one moment of distraction, and he was dead.

“I’m past the age of allowing my dick to control me,” he said, talking to himself as much as his brother.

Sure. He was anxious to spend time with Tessa, but he wasn’t going to do anything stupid that might put her, or himself, in danger.

Striker snorted. “The famous last words of every man.”

Ian heaved a resigned sigh. “Shut up and go away.”

“Fine.” Striker pointed a finger directly in Ian’s face. “But if I think you need an intervention, I’m going to haul your ass to mom’s house. She’ll set you straight.”

With his warning delivered, Striker turned and headed for the door.

“God save me from older brothers,” Ian muttered.


Tessa was buzzing with impatience as she made her way through the Metro Police building. It’d taken longer than she’d expected to arrange for a flight and battle through the red tape so she could officially work for the cold case unit in Denver. But at last, she’d arrived and checked into her hotel. Now she was headed to meet her temporary partner so she could get on the hunt for Deke.

Walking through the hallway that led to the back of the building, Tessa occasionally caught sight of a face that seemed vaguely familiar, but she didn’t stop to chat. She had one reason for being in Denver. And nothing was going to distract her from that mission.

Reaching the door at the end, Tessa pushed it open and stepped into the conference room. She’d expected to find her partner seated at the long table that was arranged in the middle of the carpeted floor.

When she realized there was no one there, her gaze swept toward the window where she could see the outline of a man. A hiss escaped her lips as she felt a blast shock slam into her. It wasn’t fear. Even though the sun slanting through the glass put the man’s face in shadow, she didn’t need to see his features to know exactly who was standing there.

Ian Sullivan.

During the flight, she’d had more than one renegade thought about deliciously sexy cop. They’d worked in the same district, and he’d gone over and above the call of duty to give her advice when he sensed that she was struggling. Or simply a pat on the back to reassure her that she was doing a good job.

His kindness meant more than he would ever know.

And, of course, she’d been seriously in lust. The second he’d walked into the room her heart would race and her palms would start sweating. As if someone had cranked up the temperature too high.

Not her fault. He was gorgeous with features that looked as if they’d been sculpted by an artist and the brightest green eyes she’d ever seen. Plus, he had the sort of body that made a woman fantasize about stripping him naked so she could explore it in intimate detail.

The only thing that had kept her from making a fool of herself had been the promise she’d made to herself on the day she’d graduated from the police academy. Her parents scraped and saved every penny to send her and her brother to college to ensure that they could have a better life. Tessa wasn’t going to screwup everything they’d sacrificed for her because of a man.

And she hadn’t. Not until that last night…

Licking her dry lips as the memory of hot, naked bodies pressed together seared through her mind, Tessa rearranged the satchel strapped across her body and sucked in a deep breath. She hadn’t been expecting this encounter or she would have made an effort to prepare herself.

“Ian,” she finally murmured, pleased when it didn’t come out as a croak.

“Hello, Tessa.” He stepped forward and she had her first good look at his face. He hadn’t changed much. There might be a few lines fanning from his stunning eyes and his copper curls were longer. Oh, and he was wearing a suit that was a serious upgrade from his uniform. But he hadn’t aged in the past five years. “It’s been a while.”

“Yes. I didn’t mean to intrude.” She was forced to halt and clear the lump from her throat. “I was told to wait in here for my partner.”

He spread his arms. “The wait is over.”

“I don’t understand…” Her heart abruptly slammed against her ribs and Tessa glanced around the empty conference room. As if hoping she’d overlooked an alternative choice.


It wasn’t that she didn’t think that Ian was a good cop. Everyone in the station knew he was one of the best. But she was there for one purpose and this man could definitely make her forget that purpose.

He took another step toward her and Tessa was suddenly surrounded in the clean scent of pine. It teased at her nose, reminding her of the times that Ian had stopped by her desk, bending over her to help her write up a report.

She loved the smell of pine.

“Is that a problem?” he asked.

With an effort, Tessa tried to gather her scattered thoughts. “Do you work cold cases?”

“No. But a cop killer is never considered a cold case. And I’m the detective with the most experience in Deke’s old neighborhood.”

“Detective? That explains the suit.” She didn’t add that he’d always had an air of fierce authority that sizzled around him. So did his brother. She assumed they came out of the womb like that.

“Someone has to do it,” he said.

“It’s a demanding position. You must have a very patient wife.”

The words were out before Tessa could halt them and she felt a heat crawl beneath her cheeks. Where the hell had that come from?

A slow, knee-weakening smile curved his lips. “There’s no wife. Not even a lover to complain when I work long hours and fall asleep on the couch.” He held her embarrassed gaze. “What about you?”

She battled back her blush. “I’m still concentrating on my career.”

“Are you happy in Wisconsin?”

“I like my job. And the people I work with are wonderful.”

He tilted his head, the sunlight shimmering in the copper strands of his hair. “We’re pretty wonderful here too.”

“You are,” she agreed without hesitation. She loved Denver. And she loved this police department. They had taken her in as if she was a member of the family. “I just had to get away.”

“But now you’re back.”

Simple words, but they sent a strange tingle down her spine. “Until Deke is found and locked away.” She wasn’t sure if she was talking to Ian or herself.

Thankfully, her words seemed to remind Ian why they were standing in the conference room.

“The chief said you had a tip that the bastard was back in town, but he didn’t go into any details.”

“I don’t have many. Not yet.” Tessa glanced toward the large clock that hung on the wall. It was an old-fashioned type with a face that had yellowed and black hands that revealed it was later than Tessa had realized. “I have a meeting with my contact in half an hour. Want to join me?”

She made the offer already knowing he would insist on riding along. He didn’t disappoint.

“Absolutely. From now on we’re joined at the hip.” With a lingering smile, Ian strolled toward the door.

“Orders from the chief.”

Tessa pressed her hand to her stomach. It’d been a long time since a man had given her butterflies with just a smile. Actually, no other man had ever given her butterflies, she reluctantly conceded.

Just Ian.

In silence, Tessa followed her companion out of the building and into the parking lot. She needed a few minutes to collect her composure. She had a terrible fear that she was acting like an awkward teenager. Not exactly the professional image she prided herself on.

Heading directly for the white SUV, Ian sent a glance over his shoulder. “I’ll drive.”

“I remember you like being in charge,” Tessa said dryly. He hadn’t been arrogant or pushy like too many men in the station, but there’d never been a doubt he was a natural leader.

Ian turned to face her. “It’s been a while since you lived here. Plus I have a lot more firepower in my vehicle.”

He was right. Although the vehicle was unmarked she didn’t doubt it was fully loaded, in more ways than one. And not only would it have weapons, but it would be equipped with a computer system that they would need to tap into any police records.

Her rental car didn’t have any of that stuff.

“Okay,” she agreed, moving to climb into the passenger side of the vehicle.

Ian quickly joined her and switched on the engine. The scent of pine filled the interior of the SUV as he opened the map app on his phone.

“Where are we headed?” Ian asked.

“Rosie’s Café on Pennsylvania Street.”

He tossed his phone onto the charging pad, obviously not needing GPS to reach their destination.

“I remember that place.” He confirmed her theory. “I used to drive by it on my way to the district station.”

They pulled out of the parking lot and headed south. Tessa shifted in her seat to study the familiar buildings passing by. She caught sight of the golden dome on top of the capital building that glowed in the afternoon sunlight. Next to it was a few skyscrapers and apartment buildings, along with the towering spires of a church. But it was the distant silhouette of the mountains that tugged at her heart with a bittersweet longing.

She’d been born and raised in this city, and she was absolutely convinced that nothing could compare to the epic beauty of the Rockies. Mother Nature had really outdone herself, she silently acknowledged.

“Why Rosie’s?” he asked as they entered the mostly residential neighborhood.

“I used to eat lunch there,” she explained. When she’d set up the meeting she wanted someplace that was familiar. And just as importantly, someplace that would be quiet at this time of day. “It was far enough from the office so I wasn’t surrounded by a bunch of cops, but close enough to mingle with the locals.”

Ian sent her a quick glance. “You always understood the need to be a part of the community.”

Warmth flowed through Tessa at his soft words. Ian had a gift for making others take pride in themselves.

“It wasn’t only about the job,” she murmured, smiling as she caught sight of the apartment building where she used to live. The area hadn’t been the safest place, especially for a young woman on her own, but Tessa had enjoyed the diverse community. “After my parents moved to California, I didn’t have any family close by. And most of my friends had gotten married.” She waved a hand to indicate the neighborhood. “The people around here became my family.”

“Have you ever thought about moving back?”

“No.” She shook her head. “There’s too many bad memories.”

“They can’t all be bad,” he protested.

They weren’t, of course. She had endless memories that were bright and happy. But she’d shut them all down when she’d left town. It was the easiest way to deal with Colt’s death.

“Park here.” Tessa pointed toward a small lot attached to an empty auto shop. She didn’t think anyone would be following her. Or care if they noticed she had returned to Denver. But she didn’t want to take any chances of spooking Deke in case he was keeping an eye on his ex-girlfriend. “We’ll walk the rest of the way.”

With a sharp turn, Ian had pulled into the lot and shut off the engine. He paused to check the gun he had holstered beneath his suit jacket before grabbing his phone and shoving it into his pocket. With a nod, they both climbed out and he locked the vehicle before heading toward the wide, currently empty street.

In less than five minutes they’d reached the corner, where Rosie’s Café was draped in the shadows of a nearby oak tree. It was an unassuming building with white-washed bricks that were beginning to fade, adding to the old-world charm in the art deco pattern above the large window that was painted with gold letters.

They strolled past the wrought iron tables on the wide sidewalk and barrels filled with flowers that framed the glass doorway.

The warm breeze tugged at Tessa’s braid and the short sleeved yellow sweater she’d matched with her black slacks. It also brought with it the warm scent of freshly baked bread.

Ian sniffed the air. “Something smells yummy.”

“They make their own bread every morning.”

Tessa’s stomach rumbled. She had been too eager to get to the airport to bother with breakfast and she hadn’t had time for lunch.

Ian sniffed again. “It smells like home.”

She sent him a startled glance. “Your mother baked homemade bread?”

“She made everything from scratch. She claimed that feeding me and my brother was too expensive to buy frozen dinners or take us out for fast food,” he said wryly. “You can’t imagine how I longed for a Happy Meal.”

“I’ve seen you and Striker eating. Your mother has my deepest sympathies.”

He arched a brow. “I remember you could pack away a healthy portion.”

She smiled. She’d never been ashamed of her large appetite. “My mom said I never met a food I didn’t like.”

She grimaced. “I’ll admit I’ve had to cut back on the second helpings and run an extra mile in the morning.”

“Me too.” He patted his flat stomach. “Getting old sucks.”

He looked fabulous, but she didn’t doubt he worked hard to keep in shape.

Together they entered the café and paused to allow their eyes to adjust to the shadowed interior. Despite the art deco vibe outside, the dining room looked as if it was stuck in the fifties. Up front there was a glass counter filled with a selection of pastries and muffins along with an ancient cash register. The floor was tiled in a black and white checkered pattern with a tin ceiling and old movie posters framed on the wall.

Tessa swept her gaze over the booths next to the wall, easily spotting the young woman with long, brown hair wearing a casual sweatshirt. If she hadn’t been nervously watching the window, Tessa might not have recognized her. The last time she’d seen Kaye Breckwell, the woman had bleached blond hair, false eyelashes a mile long, and a thick coating of makeup.

“That’s my contact in the corner,” Tessa said.

“Diva Delight?”

Tessa sent Ian a startled glance. Diva Delight had been Kaye’s stage name when she’d been a stripper and she’d kept it when she’d moved to work for the various escort services around town.

“You know her?”

He shrugged. “I’ve busted a couple of parties where she was the entertainment. She might be more willing to talk if I make myself scarce.”

“That’s probably for the best.”

“I’ll grab us some coffee to go.” He nodded toward the counter where a uniformed waitress was watching them with a curious expression. “Black, right?”

Pleasure tingled through Tessa. He’d remembered how she took her coffee. Granted, it wasn’t complicated, but still…

“Yep.” Her stomach did another rumble. “And maybe a blueberry muffin. They’re worth every calorie.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

Tessa headed toward the back of the café, trying to put the thought of blueberry muffins and Ian Sullivan out of her mind. Both were the sort of temptations she usually tried to avoid.

Sliding into the bench seat, she studied the woman seated across the table. She appeared far younger without the makeup and garish clothing.

“Hi, Kaye.”

“Hey, Ralston. Long time no see.”

Tessa wrinkled her nose at the subtle dig for fleeing Denver. “I needed a change of scenery.”

“No shit,” Kaye said dryly. “I’d leave here too if I could convince my mother to go.”

Tessa swallowed a small sigh, glancing around the familiar posters on the wall. Ian had been right. She did have good memories. And a part of her would never think of anywhere but this place as home.

“Honestly, now that I’m here, I realize I’ve missed it,” she ruefully acknowledged.

A knowing smile curved Kaye’s lips as she nodded toward the front of the café.

“Missed this place or him?”

Tessa didn’t have to ask who Kaye was referring to. Only Ian could inspire that dreamy expression.

“Dangerous question,” she muttered.

“The best ones always are.”

Tessa cleared her throat. Time to get down to business. “You said that Deke contacted you.”

With a grimace, Kaye reached into her purse and pulled out a phone. “Not directly. He contacted my old escort service and left a message. They knew I was trying to avoid the creep so they forwarded it to me.”

“Can I listen?”

Kaye placed the phone on the table between them and touched the screen. There was a dull click as the call was connected followed by a muffled thudding, then Deke’s disembodied voice floated through the air.

This is Deke, tell the Diva, I’m passing through town. I wanna hook up and have some fun. Don’t disappoint me.

Tessa refused to react to the sound of the bastard’s voice. Rachel had been right to warn her that it was vital to approach this case like a detective. She needed her training, not her anger, to capture Deke.

Leaning back, Tessa tapped her fingernail on the metal strip that ran around the edge of the table.

“Passing through,” she repeated Deke’s words. “He’s not back in town to stay.”

“Thank god.” Kaye shuddered, genuine horror darkening her blue eyes. “Otherwise I’d be packing a bag or buying a gun. Deke Mitchell is never using me as a punching bag again.”

Tessa had been the one to find Kaye after Deke had beaten her to a pulp and left her on the street. She’d had a fractured cheekbone and two broken ribs, but she’d been terrified to stay in the hospital in case Deke came to finish her off. Tessa had promised to remain at her side until the doctors said it was okay for her to be released and had driven her to her mother’s house. It’d been then that Kaye had revealed that Deke was not only an abusive bastard, but he was the leader of a crew that were responsible for the series of robberies plaguing the area. She’d also revealed the location of the next break-in they had planned.

Neither of them could have predicted the dire result of Tessa going in search of Deke to stop the burglary.

“If you see him or he tries to contact you again, call me. Day or night.” She pointed toward the phone. “Can you forward the message to me?”

“Sure.” Kaye plucked her phone off the table and tapped in Tessa’s number. Then, grabbing her purse she slid out of the seat and straightened. Obviously she was in a hurry to leave. “I have to bounce, my mom has a doctor’s appointment.”

Tessa glanced up at the woman who’d been through more than anyone should have to endure. Despite her tension, there was a confidence on her pretty features that hadn’t been there before.

“You look good Kaye,” she said.

“I’m feeling good.” She glanced toward the window. “Or I was.”

“I’m going to find him and I’m going to lock him away forever,” Tessa promised.

“I pray to God you do. Maybe then I can stop looking over my shoulder.”

Tessa watched as Kaye hurried out of the café and disappeared from view. She sympathized with the woman’s desire to get Deke out of her brain. Tessa hadn’t been terrorized by the man like Kaye had, but she’d spent the past five years searching every crowd for his face and waking up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat.

She wanted to bury him in the past where he belonged.

She shivered as a shadow fell over her and she glanced up to watch Ian take Kaye’s place in the seat across the table. With a smile, he slid a large blueberry muffin directly in front of her. Instantly a flood of heat replaced the cold chill that had settled in the pit of her stomach.

Rosie’s blueberry muffins and Ian Sullivan?

Temptation overload.

“That was quick,” he said, placing a disposable cup with a lid next to the muffin.

Tessa unwrapped the muffin and took a large bite. She had to suppress a moan as the sugary goodness hit her tongue.

“She didn’t actually have any contact with Deke, but he left this message with her old escort service.”

Licking her fingers, she pulled her purse out of her satchel and searched for the voice message that Kaye had forwarded to her. She hit play and handed the phone to Ian so he could listen while she sipped her coffee. Rosie’s coffee was almost as good as her muffins.

“Passing through.” Ian frowned. “Why risk coming to town if it’s only going to be a fleeting visit?”

That had been Tessa’s first question as well. “I doubt he’s here to catch up with friends.”

“Bullies like Deke don’t have friends. Certainly none who want a cop killer sleeping on their sofa.”

“Agreed.” She took a bite of her muffin. “They have to know that anyone who carries a badge would recognize Deke’s face.”

“Does he have any family?”

She shook her head. As soon as Kaye had shared Deke Mitchell’s connection to the crime spree, Tessa had returned to the station to run a background check on him.

“Not in Denver. His dad is in jail in Texas and his mother died of an overdose years ago. I couldn’t find any trace of brothers or sisters.”

“So why is he in town?”

“Someone has to know.” Tessa took back her phone and dropped it in her satchel, then polishing off her muffin she took another sip of coffee before she was sliding out of her seat. “Let’s start with the bars where he used to hang out.”

End of Excerpt

Peril is available in the following formats:

Zebra • 1420154184

May 23, 2023

Pike, Wisconsin

Romantic Suspense

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