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The Mansfield Rescue

The Manfields RescueA single father discovers the price of revenge and the power of love

After his wife's murder, Grant Mansfield vowed to stay true to her memory and to protect their children. But fate has other plans. His temporary houseguest, injured smokejumper Amy Robinson, has him burning with a white-hot attraction, and the single dad's nightmare comes true when his older daughter is kidnapped.

Grant is just the man the adventurous Amy never knew she needed, his children the family she never knew she wanted. Before she can rescue his lonely heart, the handsome widower must become a hero. Only Grant can rescue his little girl. But time is running out…


"I really liked the characters in this story, especially Amy. The suspenseful tension was well balanced with the romantic elements. I also appreciated the cautious way the issue of sexual abuse was handled in the story." -- SparkyMom at GoodReads

"The flirtatious banter between Grant and Amy shines and emotionally complex characters complete a well-developed, heartfelt plot." -- Melanie Bates, RT Book Reviews


Copyright Beth Cornelison 2014

David was out of prison.

Amy's gut swooped as if she were in a free fall, and she clutched the edge of her mother's kitchen counter for support. For a moment, she considered hobbling back outside to flag down the cab she'd taken from the airport before it left and heading back to Idaho. Instead, telling herself David couldn't hurt her anymore, now that she was an adult, she growled at her stepfather. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"Is that any way to greet your family?" He furrowed his brow as if wounded by her animosity and spread his arms, inviting her to hug him.

When hell froze.

"How did you get out? When did you get out?" As her shock wore off, fury and hatred filled her veins and spiked her blood pressure. She started shaking—from rage, not fear, she told herself. Dear God, she refused to let this man cause her another minute of fear.

David lowered his arms and casually stuck his hands in the pockets of the baggy khakis he wore. His angular face was more sharply cut now, a fact emphasized by the buzz cut of his mud-colored hair and the sunken look of his dark eyes. He may have been moderately handsome years ago, but time and prison had done him no favors. Getting away from her mother's Southern cooking, dominated by frying and starches, had done that for her, too. That and her squad's intensive fitness regimen.

"I was paroled last week. Got out early for good behavior," he said, smiling.

Amy scoffed and mentally cursed the parole board that had allowed this travesty to happen. She'd sent her annual letter to the prison, arguing for her stepfather to be kept behind bars, but this year, clearly, it hadn't been enough to keep him locked away.

"And Mom let you move back in?" she asked, appalled.

"Shoot, honey. Your mama spoke on my behalf to the parole board. She helped get me released." His term of endearment and crooked grin crawled over her like spiders, and she shuddered.

Amy shook her head, refusing to believe her mother could betray her like that. "You're lying."

He shrugged. "Ask her yourself."

"I will." She narrowed a suspicious glare on him.

"Where is she?"

"Work. She should be home any minute, though. She's bringing in Gunther's for dinner. I sure missed Gunther's catfish and hush puppies while I was gone."

Gone. As if he'd been on vacation instead of serving time in the state penitentiary.

His gaze dropped to the walking cast on her foot. "I guess I don't have to ask why you're here. What happened?"

"Broken ankle. I'm out for the rest of jump season."

Again his brow dented as he frowned. "That's a shame." He had the audacity to sound genuinely sympathetic. Like any good stepfather would. "Well, despite the reason, it's nice to see you." His smile returned, and her stomach roiled with acid. "I know your mama will be glad to have you home for a while. How long are you staying?"

Her jaw tightened, and she fisted her free hand at her side. "I'm not. Not with you here."

David's shoulders dropped, and he looked crestfallen. "Amy, honey. Can't we bury the hatchet? If I can forgive you for filing trumped-up charges against me, lying about me in court and sending me to prison for ten years, then surely you can—"

Amy nearly choked on her disbelief. "Trumped-up charges? You're both delusional and perverted if you believe that!"

Pressing his lips in a thin line, he gave her a look of dismay. "Do you have any idea how much your actions hurt your mother? What you did to me caused her—"

"What I did to you?" she shouted over him.

"—more pain that you can imagine. You should be ashamed of yourself for—"

"Me ashamed? You're the one who should be ashamed! You're responsible for what happened to—"

"Hey!" The slam of the door and her mother's voice cut into their argument. "What's going on?" Dropping her purse on the kitchen counter, Bernice Holland, dressed in her nursing scrubs, glanced darkly from her second husband to Amy. Her eyes widened as she recognized her daughter. "Amy! Oh, my goodness, what a surprise!" A smile brightened her mother's face as she stepped close to hug Amy.

"Hi, Mom."

Backing out of the embrace and holding Amy at arm's length, Bernice gave her daughter a comprehensive up-and-down look. "Something's wrong. You never come home during jump season. Why—" Her face fell when she spotted the walking cast. "You're hurt!"

"It's just a broken ankle, Mom. I'll mend." She aimed a thumb at her stepfather. "Why didn't you tell me he was out on parole?"

Guilt flashed in her mother's eyes, and Bernice took a step back before squaring her shoulders. "I was going to the next time we talked. I figured you were busy, out on fire calls and…I didn't want to bother you with—"

Amy scoffed, interrupting her mother. "I guess the bigger question is why is he here, in your house?"

Bernice sent an agitated glance to her husband before returning her attention to Amy. "Because it's his home, too. He's my husband, and he belongs here as much as you do."

"After what he did to me?" she volleyed, her voice taut. "How can you let him back under this roof? How can you forgive what he did?"

"David says you misinterpreted what happened. He's just an affectionate man who was trying to express his love for you."

Amy gaped at her mother, shaking from the inside out. "I didn't misinterpret anything, Mom! He sexually abused me!"

David grunted and shook his head. Her mother pressed a hand to her throat, and her eyes filled with tears. "Honey, calm down. Let's sit and—"

"No." When her mother reached for her arm, Amy snatched it back. Stiffening, she glared at her mother. "Did you hear me, Mom? Don't sweep this under the rug again."

Bernice huffed and pursed her lips. "I'm not! It's just that term is rather harsh. David's a loving man. He's not abusive."

Amy growled her frustration. How could her mother be so attentive and caring with her patients at the hospital, and so stubbornly in denial about her own daughter's pain? "What term do you prefer? Molestation? Rape?"

"What! That's a horrid thing to accuse me of!" David pointed a finger at her. "I never raped you."

"Maybe not in the classic sense of the word," she returned bitterly, "but that's just semantics."

Her mother's jaw tightened, and she wagged a finger in her direction. "Amy, I love you. You know I do. But if you're going to stay here, you need to apologize to David for—"

"I'd rather eat glass!" Hobbling on her walking cast, she stormed back toward the kitchen door.

"Amy, wait! Where are you going?" her mother cried.

"Anywhere but here. It was a mistake coming back, thinking that anything had changed."

She ripped the door open, making the Venetian blinds on the window clatter. "Call me when you're ready to listen to the truth, and you've gotten that scum out of your life."

"Amy!"

She slammed the door, and with hurt and anger burning in her chest, Amy limped to her father's old Mustang in the detached garage. After pulling off the protective car cover, she climbed behind the steering wheel, pulled her key ring from her purse and tried to crank the engine of her father's beloved car. The back bumper still bore a Houston Colt .45 s sticker from when her father had first owned the classic model Ford. The Mustang was one of the few things she had left that had belonged to her father, and she treasured it more for its sentimental value than for its historic worth.

She had to try three times to get the engine to start, allowing enough time for her mother to follow her out to the yard and send her a disappointed look.

"Amy, come back inside and let's talk!" Bernice called over the rumble of the Mustang's motor.

"Sorry, Mom. You made your choice, and you picked him over me," she called back through the open driver's side window, evidence that someone had driven the car while she was gone. "I won't spend even one night under the same roof with him." Amy gave the Mustang gas and peeled out of the driveway, onto the rural road and headed back toward Lagniappe. She could stay at a hotel tonight and either drive back to Idaho in the Mustang or catch a flight out in the morning.

Amy gritted her teeth and choked back the tears that swelled in her throat. She was through with shedding tears over her mother's lack of support, her stepfather's destruction of her innocence and the loss of the home she'd treasured as a little girl. After David's trial, she'd fled Louisiana for the farthest corner of the country, trying to outrun the ugliness of what her stepfather had done to her and her mother's blind denial of the truth. In the Pacific Northwest, she'd discovered an exciting and dangerous career opportunity as a smoke jumper and set her sights on making the elite wildfire-fighting team, a goal she'd reached after two years of hard work and training. She hadn't minded the strenuous workouts and challenging paces the smoke-jumper program had put her through. She'd found the sweat and toil cathartic, freeing. Cheaper than therapy for her broken heart and shattered innocence.

As she sped down the country highway, Amy inhaled deeply the late-spring air, redolent with honeysuckle and pine. She let the fresh scents of the outdoors clear her mind and soothe her ragged nerves. If her mother had told her about David's release, she could have prepared herself, could have been emotionally braced for seeing him again. Or could have stayed in Boise to recuperate and avoided her tormenter altogether.

But staying in Idaho, enduring friends' commiserative platitudes, would have driven her crazy, would have meant constant reminders on the evening news of all she was missing during jump season. As much as she loved her job and the rugged mountain terrain where she fought wildfires, she missed quiet summer evenings by the bayous of her home. She'd looked forward to spending her summer back in the state where she grew up, eating jambalaya and catfish and spending sweltering afternoons at the ballpark practicing her softball swing.

But David had spoiled her plans, just as he'd ruined her high-school years. While she'd known he'd get out of prison eventually, she hadn't been prepared to see him walk free so soon.

Amy had only made it a few miles, her mind distracted by replays of the fight at her mother's house, the shock of finding her stepmonster out of prison, before she noticed the steam billowing out from under the hood of the Mustang.

"Oh, no," she groaned, pulling to the shoulder. Heart sinking, she checked the display on the dash and frowned when she saw the needle of the temperature gauge sitting squarely over the hotengine indicator. She didn't have to check under the hood to know what had happened. She'd known the radiator was on its last legs. She'd babied it the last time she was home, hoping to delay what was bound to be a pricy repair. Finding replacement parts for her classic Mustang wasn't always easy and was never cheap.

After cutting the motor, she climbed out of the car and limped up to the hood. Using the edge of her shirt to protect her hand from the heat, she popped the hood and winced as a cloud of steam wafted up to greet her. Leaving the hood open so the radiator could start cooling down, she returned to the front seat to get her phone from her purse. The towing bill into town alone would set her back close to a hundred dollars, she'd bet.

Thumbing the screen of her cell phone, she got her second unpleasant hit in as many minutes. Her battery had died. On the airplane, she'd played word games and read books on her phone all the way from Idaho, including the layovers in Salt Lake City and Dallas. She'd planned to charge it at her mom's house, but.

Tossing the phone back in her purse with a grunt, she accepted the fact that she was stuck. Her best bet was to wait for someone to drive past and hitch a ride to Lagniappe. But patience had never been one of her virtues. Amy preferred action to waiting, so she locked the door of her Mustang and set out down the shoulder of the road toward town.

The doctor in Idaho had advised her to keep her ankle propped up until the swelling receded, but she couldn't stand sitting idle. Not her style. Besides, the confines of the airplane hadn't allow her the luxury of propping her foot higher than a couple of inches off the floor. She gritted her teeth and considered going back to her mother's house. But just the thought of being under the same roof with David soured her stomach.

Hoisting her purse strap high on her shoulder, she hobbled down the side of the highway. She crossed her fingers that someone would come along soon and give her a lift to a repair shop. Her ankle ached as she limped along, but she ignored the pain. She was a smoke jumper, by God. A little pain, a long hike, less than ideal circumstances were all in a day's work for her.

The Mansfield Brothers
December 2014
Harlequin Romantic Suspense #1827
ISBN 978-0-373-27897-8

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