November 19, 2013

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Lucy Sadler Caldwell is a successful true-crime writer. But the one story she’s never been able to come to terms with is the murder of her own mother–until now. She’s returned to Dobbs Hollow, Texas, the hometown she fled seventeen years ago, to finally expose the real killer.

After a bullet took out his knee in Houston, Detective Ethan Donovan found himself without a lot of options, which is how he ended up as Chief of Police in Dobbs Hollow. Lucy sure isn’t asking for his help–she’s not big on trust–but he can’t help feeling a strong desire to come to her aid.

And though Lucy is armed to the teeth, she will need all the help she can get. When she starts digging into the past, she unearths a psychotic killer who will stop at nothing to silence her forever…


~Kind Words~

"Sexy small town suspense, with finely drawn characters that will tug at your heart and keep you up at night turning pages."
        —Dee Davis, bestselling author of the A-TAC series

"The writing is strong, the characters come to life, and it’s a treat to have an interesting, complex female character who sends the message that she can solve her own mysteries and who doesn’t exhibit TSTL behavior. Ethan is a well-drawn hero, but this is really Lucy’s story, and she absolutely owns it."
        —Sunita at Dear Author (DA Recommended Read)



Chapter 1

When Momma died, Timmy and I ran. The way I saw it, any man who’d stab a woman five times, then slit her throat and leave her lying on the floor, blood soaking into the worn carpet and running in rivulets down the ancient grout between the kitchen tiles, wouldn’t hesitate to get rid of any other little inconveniences in his life.
        from A Bad Day to Die by Lucy Sadler Caldwell [DRAFT]

Every battle called for a specific weapon, and over the years Lucy had become accustomed to carrying at least one at all times. Now, without the weight of a pistol at her hip or back, the reassuring bite of a sheath at her ankle, or even the knowledge of a can of Mace in her purse, she felt supremely vulnerable. But she could hardly walk into a police station armed to the teeth, no matter how much she might prefer to.

So instead of checking the bullets in a magazine, she patted the tight bun restraining her wavy hair, spritzed her neck with a touch of eau de toilette, and gave her appearance one last once-over in the rearview mirror. Good to go.

Sliding out of the Range Rover in a pencil skirt and high heels wasn’t easy, but when she turned to walk up the steps to the station house and caught a man on the sidewalk doing a double take, satisfaction swirled through her. The costume had been worth the effort. As she swung open the heavy iron-and­glass door, she nodded at the man, who narrowed his eyes and frowned. The disapproval radiating from him almost made her laugh, and she entered the building on a wave of renewed confidence.

Her first challenge sat behind a long counter directly ahead of her and just inside the door, ostensibly guarding against unauthorized personnel. In reality, the barrier—and guardian—were flimsy. Lucy could have vaulted the counter and knocked Marge Bollingham flat on her butt in less than a second. Marge looked up from the crossword puzzle in front of her, and Lucy saw recognition darken her eyes and pale her skin.

“May I help you?” Marge asked, her voice stiff and decidedly unhelpful.

“I’m here to speak to Chief Donovan.” Lucy kept her own tone as friendly as possible.

“He’s busy.”

Indeed, behind the counter, beyond the six desks that comprised the bullpen of the small department, Lucy could see what had to be the chief’s office. The door was open, and a dark-haired man sat behind a desk talking to a uniformed officer.
“I’ll wait,” she said.

Marge’s lips flattened. “I’ll buzz him,” she said at last. And then, as if it had only just occurred to her, “Who shall I tell him is waiting?”

Games. Why did everyone have to play games? But if Marge wanted to waste time, Lucy would oblige. “Lucy Sadler Caldwell,” she said. Then she glanced ostentatiously down at the nameplate on the counter between them. “Marge.”

The woman stiffened, but didn’t reply. She pushed some buttons on the phone in front of her and Lucy saw the man in the office pick up his phone.

“Someone’s here to speak with you, Chief,” said Marge. “Her name’s Lucy Sadler.”

At the name, the cop who’d been talking to the chief whipped around. Lucy was too far from them to make out anything distinctive, but she was surprised to see feminine features beneath the short blonde hair.

Donovan must have asked her to come back, because without further word Marge hung up and pushed a button beneath the counter and a section swung inward to let Lucy pass. Lucy carefully closed the barrier behind her and gave Marge a smile before walking back toward the office. The uniformed cop had disappeared, and Donovan was standing when she arrived. Christ, the man was tall. Even in three-inch heels, she had to look up to him, a fact she vaguely resented. Black hair fell in a shock over the front of his forehead and grazed the neck of his khaki uniform shirt, and for a split second furious heat blazed in his green eyes. But it was gone so fast, she might have imagined it.

He held out a hand. “Ms. . . . Sadler, is it? I’m Ethan Donovan, Dobbs Hollow’s chief of police.”

“Actually, it’s Lucy Caldwell. Lucy Sadler died a long time ago.” She took the hand, willing her own to stay cool and steady as Donovan’s gaze sparked with interest at her statement.

The phone buzzed, and Lucy turned to look out at Marge. But Donovan hadn’t released her yet, and he had to have felt the involuntary clench of her muscles when she saw the man standing in the bullpen as if he owned it.

Donovan let go of her hand, his calloused palm sliding against her own where every nerve in her body had suddenly focused. “Excuse me just a minute,” he said, stepping out from behind the desk and leaning out the office door.

“I’m busy at the moment, Mayor Dobbs,” he said, his body blocking the doorway. “Can I get back to you in an hour or two?”

Lucy couldn’t hear the mayor’s response, but it went on for quite some time. Eventually, Donovan nodded. “That’ll be just fine.” A moment later, still blocking her view, he asked Lucy whether she minded if someone else sat in on their meeting. “A precaution, you understand,” he said with a disarming smile that slashed deep grooves in his cheeks. “I’d like to close the door against interruptions, but nowadays that’s not such a smart move, even in small-town departments.”

Laughter bubbled up in Lucy’s throat. Was he worried about being accused of sexually harassing her? Her? In this town? Far more likely, she’d be accused of seducing him. But he’d find that out soon enough without her enlightening him.

“Not a problem,” she replied. “I completely understand.”

“Excellent.” He waved to someone in the bullpen, and a minute later the same blonde cop who’d been in his office came to the door. It took Lucy a full second to recognize her.

“Tara Jean!” She leapt from her seat, practically tripping over the blasted high heels in her shock. “Look at you!”
Tara Jean grinned back at her. “Look at you,” she retorted. “The famous author returns.”

“Hardly. You don’t get famous writing true crime.” And then the words sank in. “How did you know?”

“Why don’t we all sit?” Donovan suggested, drawing her attention back to him.

For a moment, she’d forgotten he was even there, forgotten the whole point of her visit to the police station. “Of course.” She took her seat, and TJ settled in the chair next to hers while Donovan went back around the desk.

“Shall we start again?” he asked.

“Sure.” She swallowed. “Would you like me to go first?”

“That might be best.”

“You asked my name. When Tara knew me, it was Lucy Sadler. Now, it’s Lucy Caldwell. I had no idea anyone knew Lucy Sadler of Dobbs Hollow and Lucy Caldwell, true-crime chronicler, were the same person.”

“I recognized you from the author picture in your third book. In fact”—she broke off and looked at Donovan, who nodded—“I was talking to Ethan about you when you came in.”

“You were?” Lucy recalled the way Ethan had reacted to Marge’s message, cutting short his meeting and double-checking her last name when he introduced himself.

“Ellen Wilson recognized you this morning driving through town. She called me to see if I knew why you had come home. I wanted to explain who you were, since Ethan’s only been here a few months.” 

And he’d be getting complaints the minute word got out she’d returned. “How far did you get?”

“Not far. She only called a minute or two before you arrived.” Tara Jean reached over and laid a hand over hers. “I hadn’t gotten past the fact that you used to live here, and now you’re a famous writer.”

“I can’t believe you actually read my books.”

“Of course I did. They’re incredible. I bet even Ethan’s read them.”

Lucy glanced across the desk, and Donovan’s lips twisted into a wry smile. “’Fraid not. I surely will, though. But name and occupation aside, was there a reason you came to see me today? Something you wanted to talk about?”

“Yes.” Lucy pulled a sheaf of papers from the black tote bag she’d laid next to her chair and pushed them across the desk at him. “I wanted to give you these: copies of my permits, the  concealed-carry license, and the  registration numbers.”

Donovan didn’t look down. Instead, he held her gaze with his own. In the deep, forest green of his eyes, she saw that same spark of interest he’d shown when she declared Lucy Sadler dead burn even brighter.

She dropped her eyes, squelching the urge to fidget by spreading the papers across the desk with a fingertip. “The rest are from departments I’ve worked with over the past few years. The names and numbers are for people there who can attest to the quality and legitimacy of my work.”

She leaned down and reached into her bag once more, pulled out four books, and laid them in front of him, covers up.

“If you skim them, you’ll get an idea of what I’ll be doing while I’m here.”

“I’ll read them.” Still, he never even glanced at the books, never took his eyes off her. “But how ’bout you give me a little preview.”

Lifting her chin, she met his gaze solidly with her own.

“I’ll be investigating my mother’s murder.”