Following her divorce from her abusive husband,
Annie Compton is struggling to make ends meet as
a waitress at a diner. When she is attacked late
one night while making a mysterious delivery for
her boss, Jonah Devereaux comes to her rescue.
Ex-cop Jonah has been working undercover to bust
a gambling ring and money laundering operation
for months, and Annie has stumbled unwittingly
into the thugs line of fire. For Annie's safety,
Jonah, a sparrer and hand-to-hand combat
expert, offers to teach her self-defense, but as
the stakes rise, he realizes the young mother
needs his full-time protection. Jonah, with his
fighting skills, is the last person Annie wants
in her post-abuse life. But Jonah's gentle ways
and warm touch make battling her attraction to
her defender the most difficult fight of all.
Awards and Honors
Winner! -- 2010 Gayle Wilson Award of
Excellence - Romantic Suspense
book was very enjoyable. While it could have been easy
for it to become another book where the man protecting
woman premise becomes predictable, this one was
different. This was an enjoyable, quick read which
I highly recommend." -- Wendy,
Once Upon a Romance
handles a tough subject in a sensitive manner and
creates a touching story as two damaged souls find each
other and feel fortunate to be able to make a fresh
start." -- Sandra Garcia-Myers,
RT Book Club
weren't supposed to be off.
fumbled in the pre-dawn darkness to jab her key
in the lock at Pop's Diner. Her boss, Peter
Hardin, was supposed to have left the outside
light on to deter burglars and to illuminate the
front door for the employee who opened the diner
in the morning. Today, Annie was said employee
with the unenviable responsibility of showing up
at five a.m.
under her breath as she groped on the shadowed
door to locate the lock's slot. The door moved
unexpectedly, just a fraction of an inch, but
enough to catch Annie's attention. A bolted door
shouldn't have wiggled that much.
Annie pulled the
handle, and the heavy glass door swung open. Her
The diner had
been unlocked all night. So... turning on the
front light wasn't all her boss had neglected
when he closed the restaurant last night.
teeth, she entered the diner and flipped on the
overhead lights. The cold bluish-white glow of
the florescent bulbs flooded the dining room.
Hardin?" She scanned the empty restaurant
cautiously. Listened. Waited. "Is anyone here?"
When she heard
nothing, saw no one, she released the breath she
held and crossed the floor. Annie stashed her
purse behind the lunch counter, wishing she
could call grouchy Mr. Hardin on the carpet for
his gaffs. Considering her boss had only picky
criticism for her waitressing skills, she
figured turnabout was fair play.
She huffed a
humorless laugh as she plucked out a coffee
filter and dropped it in the brewing basket. The
man had left the diner unlocked, for crying out
loud! Compared to exposing the restaurant to
theft, her forgetting to refill the salt shakers
neglected the salt shakers wasn't her worst
mistake. Her gut clenching, she poured a carafe
of water into the coffee maker and bit her
bottom lip. She'd made her most careless error
just a few nights before– a screwup that Hardin
claimed had cost him two hundred thousand
shook as she measured out the coffee grinds. She
could never make up for losing Mr. Hardin so
much money. She was lucky she still had her job,
lucky he hadn't torn into her the way Walt would
Thoughts of her
abusive ex-husband sent a shiver down her back.
She chafed the goose bumps on her arms and
squared her shoulders. Never again.
If she had to
work this dead end waitressing job the rest of
her life, barely making ends meet for her and
her two young children, the price was worth her
freedom from her abusive marriage. No man would
ever hurt her or her children again.
Annie jabbed the
power switch, and with a hiss and the waft of
rich aroma, the morning java began dripping into
A glance around
the lunch counter revealed numerous other
closing procedures that had been left unattended
last night. The tables hadn't been wiped. The
napkins hadn't been restocked. A pile of dirty
dishes filled the tub behind the counter waiting
to be washed. She pressed her lips in a taut
line of irritation. Perhaps this was part of her
boss's plan to punish her for her colossal and
costly mistake three nights earlier. Perhaps she
deserved as much.
Acid bit her gut. How did she ever make up for
resignation, she took a clean rag from the
cabinet and headed to the kitchen for a bucket
of soapy water to start cleaning tables.
She noticed the
foul odor as soon as she stepped through the
swinging door from the dining room.
nose, she flipped the lights on and checked for
some food item that might have been left out to
spoil. But not even rotten milk smelled this
Coupled with the
unlocked front door, the putrid scent gave her
pause. Too many things seemed off-kilter at the
diner this morning.
A ripple of
ill-ease shimmied through her. Annie hesitated
by the main grill, which still sported in last
"Mr. Hardin, are
you there?" She heard the quiver of fear in her
tone and pressed a hand to her swirling stomach.
She took a few
baby steps forward, scanning the dirty kitchen.
industrial-sized freezer, she crept into the
On the floor, a
pair of feet jutted through the open door to the
Dear heavens! Had he fallen? Had a heart attack?
"Mr. Hardin!" she
cried, rushing forward.
When she reached
the office door, Annie drew up short. Her breath
froze in her lungs. Bile surged to her throat.
Black spots danced at the edge of her vision.
Peter Hardin lay
in a puddle of blood, his eyes fixed in a blank
sightless stare. Two bullet holes pocked his
chest and a third marred his forehead.
backward, horror clogging her throat.
light-headed, she edged away from her grisly
Shock and denial
finally yielded to terror.
A scream wrenched
from her throat and echoed in the empty kitchen.
Her boss was dead.
And though she hadn't pulled the trigger, Annie was
certain Hardin's assassination was her fault.