To give his widowed
sister the will to live, firefighter Max Caldwell
promised he'd protect her baby from her
criminally-connected in-laws. But caring for his newborn
nephew is a painful reminder of the children he and his
ex-wife couldn't have...because of his infertility. When
his rescue of the newborn goes awry, he finds himself
sharing guard duty with a woman whose courage and
compassion steal his heart. Max will do anything to
protect his nephew, but can he hope fate will give him a
second chance at love?
Laura Dalton knows
what it means to grow up with no place to call home,
moved from one foster home to the next. To protect her
heart from further rejection and loss, she isolates
herself and keeps relationships at arms' length. But the
helpless newborn chips away at her defenses, and she
willingly puts her life on hold to make sure Max's
nephew doesn't suffer the same fate that she did growing
up. When she finds herself falling in love with Max,
what is she willing to risk to have a family of her own?
Awards and Honors
Winner! -- 2001 Golden Heart Contest -Romantic Suspense (Romance Writers of America)
1st place -- 2001 Winning Beginnings Contest (Valley Forge RWA)
2nd place– 2002 Lories Contest (RWA From the Heart Chapter)
3rd place -- 2001 First Impressions Contest (Tampa Area RWA)
"IN PROTECTIVE CUSTODY delivers page-turning
suspense, poignant emotions and characters you won't
soon forget." --Bestselling author Linda Castillo
4 1/2 Stars!! "This is an emotionally packed,
fast-paced read with a satisfying ending." -- Kari
"Awesome! This is just the beginning of a
thrilling read that doesn't let up even in the end.
Laura can't begin to try to trust Max even though she is
drawn to him. There was just enough suspense and just
enough romance in this terrific book! I highly recommend
this one!" -- Kathy Boswell,
The Best Reviews
Max needed a plan.
In this case, his goal was simply to get rid of this
woman and get out of town before the Rialtos came
"Don't do that!" The blonde scowled and reached for
"Don't do what?" Feelings of futility
sharpened his tone. He hated the sense of helplessness
and ignorance that had swamped him the minute he stepped
out of the hospital.
"Ever heard of shaken baby syndrome?" She plucked his
nephew from his hands and cuddled the infant to her
chest. "You can't bounce him around like that. He's too
little and that much shaking can damage his brain."
Hell! Brain damage?
He noted with satisfaction that his nephew didn't
calm down for her either. With a flash of envy, he
watched the baby nuzzle his face into her breast.
She shot him an accusing look. "Didn't they tell you
at the hospital not to jostle or shake him?"
Obviously, he was way out of his element, and
if someone didn't help him, he feared he'd hurt Emily's
son due to plain ignorance regarding babies.
He ran a hand down his face, sighing his fatigue.
"No, they didn't tell me anything about brain damage or
soy or where to send him to college. Yeah, I'm new at
this. No, I don't know what I'm doing. But I'm trying to
get it right, so would you cut me some slack?"
Her expression softened, but her eyes still blazed
with conviction. "If we were discussing your new iPod,
that would wash. But this is a baby. A helpless,
dependent little human being."
"I'm well aware of that!" He raised his voice to be
heard over the volume of his nephew's cries. "For God's
sake, can you please quiet him down!"
The pressure that had been building inside him since
he received the call about Emily's injuries reached a
boiling point. He felt ready to explode. Taking a step
back from the woman, he raked both hands through his
hair and bit out an expletive that would singe dirt.
"Damn it, I don't have time to debate with you! They
could be here any minute!"
"Would you stop yelling?" she fussed. "You're not
A movement on his driveway distracted him from the
rest of her tirade. Through his front window, he watched
two large sedans pull up to his house. Alarm streaked
through him, tensing every muscle. He was too late.
A tall, linebacker-sized man climbed from the
driver's side of the first car. Reaching under his
windbreaker, the linebacker pulled a gun from his
shoulder holster and checked the chamber.
Max's mouth went dry. Keeping a close watch out the
window, he grabbed the woman's arm and pulled her behind
"Do exactly what I say. No questions. Got it?" The
gravity of his tone obviously told her something was
"Who's out there?"
"Remember the nice guy making threats on the
"What!" He heard the concern in her voice. His own
disconcertion echoed hers with the thundering of his
pulse. Fortunately, he did his best work under pressure.
The guys at the station called him the Ice Man for his
ability to keep his cool amid the smoke, flames and
chaos of a fire call.
The station alarm was sounding. Time to get to work.
"Give me back your keys." He thrust his hand at her.
"I said no questions. You're gonna have to trust me."
"Trust you?" she shrieked.
A loud pounding on the front door blew the whistle on
their huddle. Time for action.
Max crouched low behind the kitchen counter, yanking
her down with him.
"Quiet!" he whispered harshly. "Go out the back. Take
the baby, and get in your car. Don't close your car door
until I get there. I don't want the noise to alert
"Like this screaming baby won't?"
Max gritted his teeth. She was right. They'd
certainly hear the baby.
"Are they cops?" she whispered, the hope in her voice
"Afraid not, sweetheart. These men are dangerous, and
they mean business."
Her eyes opened wide with trepidation. "But the
"Stop talking and go!"
He saw the shudder that shook her, and guilt for
placing her in danger wrenched inside him.
She scurried for the back door, clasping the baby
close to her chest.
"Stay low!" he called.
Without waiting to make sure she'd followed his
orders, Max hustled, crouched low, toward his gun
cabinet. Like most native Louisiana men, he'd been
raised on hunting. He'd learned to fire a gun before he
had his driver's license. Now he was the hunted, and he
needed his rifles for self-defense.
The men on his porch must have seen him through the
tall, narrow window by the door. He heard a shout from
one of the goons informing the others of his position.
"Caldwell, open up! That baby belongs to us!"
Anthony Rialto. So, the patriarch of the drug clan
had made a personal appearance.
Max searched the top drawer of the gun cabinet for
the key to unlock the display case. Moving with deft,
sure speed, he grabbed out his best hunting rifle. Next
he removed the 9mm Glock he kept for home protection and
shoved it in the waistband of his jeans.
His front door rattled and shook as Rialto's men
tried to break it down. Gambling precious time, Max
crawled across his living room floor to the front window
and raised the rifle. With one swift motion, he broke a
hole in the glass and aimed at the tires of the lead
His fire drew an answering assault from Rialto's men.
The rest of the front window shattered under the barrage
of bullets. Glass littered the carpet around him. The
jagged shards bit his hands as he scrambled away from
the window, leaving a trail of blood. He'd reached his
kitchen when the front door burst open.
Bullets whizzed over his head and peppered his
cabinets. Over the cracking gunfire, he heard the woman
scream. His heart leaped to his throat.
Damning the consequences, he rose to his full height
to beat a quicker retreat. A sharp sting pinched his
shoulder telling him he'd been hit.
Spinning, as he taught the kids on his Pee Wee team
to dodge a tackle, he ran for the backyard. When he
plowed through the back door, he found Anthony Rialto
stalking the blond woman. Rialto backed her away from
her car with a gun aimed at her head. She held the baby
clutched to her chest in a protective grasp that won
Max's admiration. She could easily have handed the baby
over to Rialto to save her own skin. The woman had guts.
In three long strides, Max covered the distance
between him and Emily's father-in-law. He tackled the
man from behind, knocking him to the ground. Rialto
fired, sending the bullet into an oak tree at the line
of the woods.
"Get in the car!" Max yelled.
The blonde jumped to follow his order.
The gunshot and shouts brought reinforcements around
the side of the house. Max landed a hard blow to
Anthony's temple with his elbow. The abrupt movement
caused pain to streak like lightning through his
shoulder and arm.
He left the older man clutching his head and
Shifting his focus to the men at the side of his
house, Max held the thugs at bay with a couple of blasts
from his rifle. As soon as the woman reached her car,
Max made a dash for the driver's door. His feet slipped
as he scrambled through the cypress needles littering
Bullets pocked the side of the Accord. As he climbed
in the Honda, he heard Rialto shouting.
"Damn it, hold your fire! My grandson's in that car!
What if you hit the gas tank?"
Max wasted no time cranking the engine and shifting
into Reverse. Rialto's men tried to stop the escaping
car with their bodies, but Max refused to slow down for
any reason. The men jumped out of his path at the last
second. When the thugs tried shooting at the Honda's
tires, Max swerved left then right, making their target
more difficult to hit.
"I said hold your fire!" Rialto screamed. "Follow
Max peeled across his front yard, around the sedans
blocking his driveway. He'd managed to take out the
front tire of the lead car, he noticed as they sped
past. Good. That meant only one car could pursue them.
He stole a glance at the woman as he wheeled onto the
narrow, two-lane road. Tears streaked her pale face, and
a mask of sheer terror molded her delicate features.
His gut knotted as he mashed the accelerator and sped
away from the nightmare scene. "Did he hurt you?"
She didn't respond.
"Did he hurt you?" he barked.
She jumped. "No."
Max nodded. "Hang on. We're taking the short cut."
Squeezing her eyes shut, she hugged the baby closer
and slumped down in the seat.
Bouncing across the ditch at the side of the road, he
headed down a narrow dirt road. "ATV trail. Kids in the
area use it to go four-wheeling."
She didn't acknowledge his explanation, and he
worried about her slipping into shock. "Stay with me,
darlin'. The worst is over. We're gonna be okay now."
Skeptical turquoise eyes rose to meet his glance. Her
look asked, Why should I believe you?
Good question. He'd gotten her involved in this mess,
lied to her, nearly gotten her killed. He knew he didn't
deserve her faith. But he also knew he'd move mountains
to see that she got out of this disaster safe and sound.
One more person he couldn't let down.
The stakes in this fiasco kept growing. But he'd
never been one to let an obstacle keep him from
accomplishing a goal. Results were what mattered. He
lived by that mantra as a firefighter and taught it to
the kids on his football team. No excuses and no
Especially since, in this game, they were playing for