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Duty to ProtectDuty to Protect

For years, counselor Ginny West has been helping abused women build a better life for themselves.  Then a client's husband turns his violence against Ginny, and she finds herself not only trying to protect the woman and her children but also fighting for her own life.

Responding to a call at the local women's center, firefighter Riley Sinclair saves Ginny from a burning office and resuscitates her when she stops breathing. Having already faced one tragic loss in his life, Riley vows the dangerous man threatening Ginny won't get a second chance to hurt her.

Although Ginny resists Riley's guard duty, she can't deny the sizzling attraction she shares with her fireman protector. But Riley has secrets he can't share with Ginny, and she's afraid to give Riley her love until she knows what he is hiding. While Ginny learns to trust Riley and her heart, her client's scorned husband is drawing closer... and his plans for vengeance are growing more deadly!


Coming soon!


Another curtain of water doused Riley. For a few seconds, the smoke cleared enough for him to assess the situation.

The woman's arm was pinned by the file cabinet. And she wasn't moving.

His gut tightened.

"Ginny? Ginny West?" 

No response.

He pressed his fingers to her throat, feeling her carotid artery for a pulse. A gentle throbbing met his fingers, and relief swelled in his chest.

"Cal, she's alive, but she's pinned down!" Riley shoved his shoulder into the file cabinet. The cabinet rocked.

But not enough. 

"Walters!"

Cal appeared through the smoke. "Right here."

Another fire-weakened beam collapsed near them. Riley averted his face from the blast of heat and sparks. Glancing up, he found the beams overhead equally eaten by the fire. They could come down any second. They were working on borrowed time.

"She's under here!" Riley plowed his shoulder into the cabinet again, and Cal pulled from the other side. This time the file cabinet toppled aside.

The woman's arm, though free now of the cabinet, was bent at an unnatural angle. Riley's gut pitched.

"Help me get her up. Watch that arm!"

He climbed over the woman's still form while Cal positioned himself to help lift her carefully over Riley's shoulder.

After draping her limp form over his shoulder, being as gentle with the woman's injured arm as time would allow, Riley headed out. "Let's go!" 

As they picked their way through the rubble, a loud creak rent the air above them.

"It's coming down! Go! Go! Go!" Cal shouted.

Riley staggered out of the building, the woman over his shoulder, just before the roof collapsed. Flames ravaged the corner by the fallen cabinet.

Captain Shaw rushed toward them. "That was a little too close for comfort, Sinclair."

Riley didn't spare his captain so much as a glance. "But we got her out."

Now a safe distance from the fire, he eased the woman onto the grassy lawn, protecting her head as he laid her down.

Dusk cast the outdoors in long purple shadows, and billowing smoke contributed to the dark haze.

Kneeling beside the woman, Riley ripped off his oxygen mask and helmet.

"I need help over here!" He waved toward the EMTs hovering by a waiting ambulance.

He confirmed she still had a thready pulse then gently brushed the tangle of pale blonde hair from the woman's cheeks. And Riley's heart lurched. 

He knew this pretty face.

The woman he'd just pulled from the fire was his neighbor in 3C.

And she wasn't breathing.

Riley's chest seized.

He battled down haunting images of his sister's lifeless body, her bloodless lips and pale face.

You failed her.

Grief and guilt tangled with an iron determination not to let 3C die on his watch.

Tipping 3C's head back, he pinched her nose closed and sealed his mouth over hers. He blew his breath into her lungs, willing her to take in air on her own.

Nothing.

Another puff of air.

He tasted the smoke that seeped up from her throat. And strawberry. She wore strawberry lip balm. The sweet fruity flavor stood in stark contrast to the dark, life-stealing smoke and the bitter taste of desperation that rose in his throat. A fresh twist of pain wrenched his chest.

He remembered her lips curved in an enticing smile as she flirted with him in the apartment lobby. Vibrant, alluring, alive

He forcefully swallowed the bile, the fear rising inside him as he leaned his ear near her mouth, listening, feeling, watching for signs of life. 

"C'mon, 3C. C'mon! Breathe, damn it!" he muttered through clenched teeth.

An EMT arrived and tried to shoulder him out of the way. "I'll take over."

Riley refused to budge. Instead, he bent to give her another puff of air. And another. He counted the interval between breaths with his heartbeat thudding in his ears. In his head, Riley knew only a few seconds had passed without 3C breathing on her own, but those seconds felt more like hours, years... sixteen years.

Sixteen years had passed since Jodi died.

Finally, 3C coughed, wheezed. Black smoke curled from her mouth before she dragged in a ragged breath on her own.

The relief that spun through Riley brought moisture to his eyes and left his hands shaking.

3C's eyes fluttered open as she gasped for more air. Her light blue gaze darted from one face hovering over her to another. Until it landed on Riley's.

Her eyes zeroed in on his. Widened. Brightened.

Across from him, an EMT had an oxygen mask ready and slipped it into place over her nose and mouth.

But her gaze clung to Riley's, recognition softening the panic and pain in her expression as she fought for each breath.

Again an EMT tried to shoulder Riley out of the way. He moved, letting the medic work, but he didn't leave 3C's side. He couldn't. Something in her steady blue gaze reached out to him and held him fast.

When he stroked her sooty cheek, she lifted her uninjured arm, covered his hand, and linking her trembling fingers with his. As with her gaze, he sensed in her touch a connection that went beyond the mere joining of hands.

Tears puddled in her eyes, kicking him in the gut and yanking a tighter knot in his chest.

He may have failed Jodi, but he wouldn't, couldn't let this woman down.

Leaning closer, he whispered, "You're going to be okay now, 3C. I'm gonna take care of you."

July 2008
Silhouette Romantic Suspense
ISBN 978-0-373-27592-2

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Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.  Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited.  All rights reserved.  and are trademarks of Harlequin Enterprises Limited and/or its affiliated companies, used under license.

 

 

 

 

 

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