It’s been a long time coming, but the day is finally here: TIDE OF LIES is now available from Noble Romance! You can pick it up from Noble in your choice of Adobe PDF, HTML, EPUB, MobiPocket, Microsoft Reader, or Mobi4Kindle formats, and from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other third party sites within a week or two.
BONUS OFFER: Like freebies? Stay with me until the end. I might have a little something for you. *grin*
Last week I posted the opening scene, which you can read here. In it, Detective Holden Whitlow finds out his latest crime victim is asking for him by name, which gives her the upper hand, as he has no idea who she is. Today I’m continuing where we left off as Holden heads to the hospital to interview her, only to find far more than he bargained for.
TIDE OF LIES | blurb
A devastating secret. A shocking betrayal. A deadly obsession.
Haunted by three unsolved murders, Detective Holden Whitlow is stunned when his cold case takes a heated turn. Julia Cohen, his ex-lover, is back in town, and in the face of a brutal attack she’s ready to run. No matter how tightly she holds her secrets, for Holden, turning away from the woman he’s spent a decade trying to forget isn’t any more an option than walking away from his job . . .even when it threatens to cost Julia her life.
Julia is still reeling from a past she can’t bear to face. When she becomes the target of a killer, fate throws her back into Holden’s arms, but she’s yet to recover from a truth that has stripped her of everything—and everyone—she loves. Will she tell him the secret that will destroy him, or will her lie destroy them both?
TIDE OF LIES | excerpt
Julia Cohen. The name wasn’t familiar, but the nagging feeling Holden should know it tailed him all the way to the hospital. The unease kept him company in the otherwise empty elevator where he now stood, thumbs hooked in his pockets with his fingers tapping his thighs. The numbers above the doors lit in rapid succession before landing on six with a quiet ping.
Julia . . . Julia . . . .
The doors slid open to reveal a bustling nurses’ station. Ahead, a uniformed officer leaned against the wall, saving Holden the trouble of asking directions. He flashed his badge to the desk nurse and made his way down the hall, sidestepping an elderly woman in a wheelchair and food cart with a stack of covered dishes. The smell of the waiting dinners made his stomach rumble, reminding him he’d skipped lunch.
His stride faltered as he neared the room. He should have stopped for an update on Ms. Cohen’s condition. Now, thanks to his bull-nosed curiosity, he had no idea what to expect. With a nod to the officer, Holden knocked lightly on the door, and then waited a few seconds before letting himself in.
Afternoon sunlight bathed the room in an earthy glow, casting a deep shadow over her face and masking her identity from him. His only clue was the shape of the blankets draped over her, which suggested her frame was slight, her height petite. Lacking anything else to go on, Holden took her name for another spin. Julia . . . .
“You cut your hair,” she said.
Startled, Holden drew his hand to his head, his palm pressing the soft spikes aside.
Quiet laughter met his ears. “You didn’t know?”
Holden squirmed inside, feeling every bit the schmuck for not recognizing her, though she clearly felt she knew him. But her voice . . . it might have been familiar if not for the dry, raspy undertones—a beating could do that to a person, though. Damn. His victim knew him—or thought she did—and he hadn’t a clue who she was. After the trio of murders hit Barrier Shoals, he’d had plenty of cameras shoved in his face. Was she one of those so-called murder groupies? Either way, she had the advantage. If he could only see her . . . he struggled with the urge to turn on the overhead light, eliminating the shadows. Grasping, he tried to remember when he’d last made a change to his hair.
Seventeen. Right before his first semester of college, his mom pleaded with him to ditch the shaggy surfer cut—something to do with the world not taking him seriously with his hair in his face. She equated grooming with respectability, and Holden had fast learned the fine art of choosing his battles. Maybe that’s why he felt for the kid standing in his socks at the crime scene—Holden had been there and done a little too much of that.
But choosing battles wasn’t the only thing Holden had done that summer.
He’d been engaged . . . .
Recognition slammed into him.
“Jules.” His voice broke. He tried to hide it by clearing his throat. This was a hellfire state of awkward. It wasn’t every day a man ran into the woman who’d made a dizzying, mind-blowing play for his virginity . . . and won.
That part had been amazing. The rest, he had just tried to forget.
Finding his feet, he dragged a chair to her bedside and sank onto the hard vinyl. He fiddled with his fingers for a long moment, finally looking up from the floor tile to find her eyes. Closer now, he knew without a doubt it was her. “I never knew your last name.” Or, it seemed, her first.
Jules—Julia—held his gaze. “I don’t guess I gave you much of a chance to learn it,” she said, her voice soft and . . . wistful?
He swallowed, choking back an unexpected tide of emotion. “No, you didn’t.”
Her luminous green eyes poured over him. The darkness of the room couldn’t entirely overshadow their brilliance, nor did it hide the beginnings of some nasty bruises, but that one look did a fine job of putting to rest any ideas he ever had about being over her.
His heart squeezed in his chest. Do your job. “What happened?”
She leaned forward, and Holden automatically reached to help adjust the pillows behind her back. His fingers grazed hers over the corner of the pillowcase. The passing touch sent his stomach on a wild plummet, any chance of forgetting their past lost to the force of gravity tugging on him like a black hole.
“I was on my way to see you,” she said, drawing him from his thoughts.
“Me?” His voice came out as a manly squeak. Great. “May I?” He reached for the light, adjusting it to the lowest setting when she nodded. God help him, he had to see her again.
“Yes, you. I heard you were lead detective on that stalker case that was just in the news.” Julia toyed with the bedspread, rolling it between her thumb and forefinger. “I wanted to get in touch with you. For years, actually. But after the way I left, I didn’t know what to say.”
Holden tensed, but remained quiet. By all appearances, the recent case had ended in suicide and would be off his desk—if not his mind—as soon as the routine investigation was closed.
“It was complicated,” she said. “I couldn’t . . . .” Her eyes grew shiny, but the tears didn’t come.
“It’s okay, Jules,” he said, ignoring the part of him screaming to know why she had ducked out without a word so many years ago. The blow he took to his ego was to be expected—any guy who gave up his virginity only to have the girl bolt would be inclined to feel like a chump—but the stabbing ache in his heart back then had been a surprise. “Can we talk about what happened today?”
She nodded, the tears holding their ground, unshed. “Like I said, I was on my way to see you. Not long ago I started getting . . . notes. I didn’t think much of them at first, but when I heard about the stalking a couple of days ago, I got worried.”
Holden had been worried, too. Earlier that week, his old friend Laney Kent had been attacked and left for dead by her jealous co-worker. Although Holden’s initial assessment drew parallels to the unsolved murders, Laney’s case—unlike those in his past—had been resolved. “We got the guy,” he said, his voice low.
Julia tipped her head, her gaze piercing him. “I know. But it made me think twice about the notes I’d gotten.”
The nagging feeling returned. “Tell me about them.”
“They started out more in the style of a secret admirer. Compliments on my hair or my outfit. A line about how he smiled every time he thought of me. Flattery, you know?”
He nodded. “Any idea who they were from?”
“No. I just assumed it was someone trying to be cute. Four days of those—six notes total—then they changed, and it really started to creep me out. He was so specific he had to be watching me. He’d tell me he was displeased when he saw me smiling at the cashier when I got coffee that morning. Or I shouldn’t have eaten those fries with lunch because I’d ruin my figure. Like he was looking over my shoulder, you know?”
Holden gave another slight nod. “Did he give any details about himself?”
“No . . . I just assumed it was a man. I wasn’t sure, but I brought the notes. They’re in my”—her eyes widened—”my purse! Holden, did anyone find it?”
“What does it look like?” he asked, pulling his phone from his pocket. He relayed the details by text to Bear. “My partner is on the case, and as he likes to tell it, his closure rate is pristine. I’m sure he won’t let a handbag thwart him.” Holden smiled, hoping he sounded reassuring. “Where do you live now?”
“Atwood. It’s a couple hours away.”
He knew a uniform with Atwood PD. Holden made a mental note to ask about any similar cases there. “I know it. Did you report any of this to them?”
“I didn’t think there was anything to report. I mean, I started thinking of what happened here before and got freaked out, but I didn’t think the cops would care about a couple of notes, especially considering there were no threats made. Nothing actually happened until today.”
“So you came to see me?” Holden did his best to speak over the little lump of curiosity in his throat. He’d never wanted to completely forget the time he spent with Jules—the problem was he couldn’t forget how it ended. And after years of safekeeping in a corner of himself he seldom acknowledged, having those old feelings ripped raw unsettled him. Seeing her bruised, however, was far worse. Protective instincts prowled the fence he’d erected around his heart, the resurfaced feelings looking for a hole through which to charge.
Holden could not—would not—go there again. But his determination made her eyes no less green, the bruises no less real.
Julia shifted in the bed, dragging his attention to the shape of her legs under the blanket. His mind jumped to memories of plunging between them. His initial strokes—tentative and awkward—had fired into a two-week long, unholy streak of sin from which he’d yet to recover.
Julia showed no outward signs of sharing his thoughts, but how could she? She only knew half the story, and she’d left him the hell out of hers. He didn’t know what made her run, but it was just as well. If her secrets had anything on his, they were both better off in the dark.
She tucked an escaped lock of hair behind her ear and blew a shaky breath. “It’s like I said. I started to worry. I asked . . . well, I cleared my schedule for a couple of days. I wanted to talk to you. There are some things I need to say.” Her voice wavered, but her eyes never left his.
Holden rocked back in the chair, unsure if they were stepping around the past or headed right for it. Either way, there was a big white elephant in the corner of the room, and the sun glinting off the damn thing nearly blinded him. “We can talk later about . . . whatever you need to say to me. I need to know about the attack.” He paused, finding her gaze. “If our past is too much of a distraction, I can have someone else interview you.”
Her eyes flashed with indignation. “Holden Whitlow, if you think—”
“Wait.” That spark of emotion from her sent his mind on a skid. Something didn’t make sense. Bear reported the perp had beaten Julia within an inch of her life, but she seemed miles from it. Holden wouldn’t peg her as cheerful, but this was far from a deathbed conversation. She’d joked with him . . . she’d smiled. He sat up straight and leaned toward her. “How badly were you beaten?”
She blinked, all traces of anger faded from her expression. “What? How do I even answer that?”
Searching for a new approach to his question he asked, “Were you unconscious?”
“No,” she said, a small grin lighting her face. “I pretended I was. Thought he might quit if he thought I was out.”
“And the bruises?”
“I haven’t exactly seen them yet, but he did hit me in the face—twice. By the second punch, I realized he meant business, so I stopped fighting and fell. He kicked me a few times, but I don’t think he made a solid connection. I just balled up and went limp.”
“That move probably saved your life,” he said, studying the early bruising circling each of her eyes. A raw scrape on her cheek didn’t hide the darkening there.
She smiled. Bittersweet and sad, it didn’t reach her eyes. “I have a lot to live for, Holden.”
He fiddled with his hands, biting back the urge to ask her to elaborate. Who or what had put that wistful tone in her voice? “Can you tell me what happened during the attack? How did he approach you?”
“I didn’t see much. I got off the bus at the corner and headed west toward my hotel, the Beacon Inn. Next thing I knew, I’d been grabbed and dragged away from the sidewalk, behind the store.”
Holden nodded. The gas station sat on a corner lot, and west took her right beside the abandoned convenience store, giving her attacker easy cover. “When did he hit you?”
“I didn’t make it easy for him at first. I fought him until we turned the corner of the building away from the street, when he just let go. I probably should have run, but I was so surprised I turned to look at him. Ski mask,” she said, answering the question he’d yet to ask. “That was all I saw before he hit me. The second one came immediately thereafter.”
“So you were near the building when you went down?”
“Right beside it.”
“You were found across the parking lot,” he said. “Do you remember getting yourself over there?”
“Yes, a little while after the attack.”
Her voice was so soft it pained him. He couldn’t imagine how scared and alone she must have felt lying there. “Did you go in the bathroom at any point?”
She wrinkled her nose. “I’ve always avoided gas station bathrooms. Today was no exception.”
“When did you begin to move?”
“He stopped kicking me. I counted to a hundred . . . about five times.” She laughed, sadly, and the self-depreciation tore through him. “I don’t know how long it was, but when I figured he was gone, I started crawling across the lot. My vision was blurry and everything hurt. I didn’t want to chance running into him again, but don’t know what choice I had. I hoped someone—someone else—would see me.”
“Someone did.” The kid with the skateboard. “What can you tell me about the man who attacked you? His build? Height? Did you see his eyes?”
“Gray eyes. Cold and dark, like the person behind them was dead—soulless. He was taller than me, but then again, who isn’t?” She laughed again. “Nothing extraordinary.”
“Did he say anything?”
She shook her head. “Not a word.”
“Were all of the notes delivered in Atwood?” When she nodded, he asked, “Do you have any reason—even if it’s a gut feeling—to think this was related to the notes?”
Julia bit her bottom lip, and then winced as if it pained her. “No,” she said slowly. “I guess I don’t. No real reason. Maybe if not for knowing the guy was still out there . . . but from what I’ve read about your unsolved cases, the pattern fits. It just seems a bit much to chalk up to coincidence.”
Holden couldn’t argue with that, but thus far he knew of no real evidence connecting the cases. His next step would be to remedy that. He wasn’t one to put much faith in coincidences.
Of course, he hadn’t believed in ghosts, either.
Want more? Learn the story that leads to the LIES by checking out FAMILIAR LIGHT, an All Romance eBooks best seller (I have the star to prove it, LOL!) now only $1.50 from Noble Romance. Want to skip the LIGHT? No problem. TIDE OF LIES stands alone, so no need to go anywhere but the link below. *grin* And if you want a closer look at TIDE, check out my Six Sunday excerpts—they’ll carry you through the story six sentences at a time! ;c)
As I mentioned, the story begins with FAMILIAR LIGHT, and I just happen to have a few PDF copies to give away. (I only have PDF this time around, guys, but you can grab Nook or Kindle copies through B&N or Amazon if you prefer). If you’d like a free PDF copy, be sure to mention it in your comment with your email address and I’ll send one your way **while supplies last.** I’ll update the post when the giveaway closes, so until then, ask away!
THANK YOU ALL FOR BEING A PART OF MY “TIDE OF LIES” RELEASE!