Another winner for Marliss! This is a terrific, suspenseful story with plenty of action that makes the book hard to put down. Continuing characters from previous stories only make this better. Some pretty nasty, scary villains make some scenes chilling right up to the last page. Hooray for the good guys! Can't wait for the next episode in this exciting series. Grand Central has some excellent, first-class authors who are masters of suspense and excitement.
-- Romance Reviews
Ellie reeled with mortification. Was she that transparent that he simply assumed she wanted to sleep with him? "What makes you so cocksure I even want a man in my life? You may be good with my boys, Mr. Harlan," she choked out fiercely, "but I can get along just fine without you."
"Is that right?" he murmured, his eyes glinting at the challenge.
"Damn right it is," she blurted, appalled by the quaver in her voice, dying for that kiss she just knew he was imagining, and thinking, Just shut up! Only she couldn't. "What's a man good for when all he does is take up room in the bed? Carl couldn't even watch his own kids without calling it babysittin'. And forget about changing diapers! You think I want a man when all he does when the going gets rough is run off with another woman.or off to war?" she choked out hoarsely.
The sudden wail of the baby told her she had awakened Colton. With a stamp of her foot, she whirled toward his bedroom, muttering, "Kindly let yourself out!"
To her consternation, he followed right on her heels. She plucked up the baby, realized his diaper was soiled, and turned toward the changing table. The atmosphere in the cramped little room seemed to crackle. As she popped the snaps on Colton's sleeper, fingers trembling, the silence swelled.
Suddenly, Sean edged her aside, startling her back. With a challenging look, he wrested the wet wipes from her hands and reached for a fresh diaper.
With brisk, certain movements, he pulled back the tape to release the soiled diaper and eased it aside. Then he wiped the baby's bottom, sealing the wipes and diaper into a tidy ball. In another three seconds, he'd secured a fresh Pamper in its place.
By the time he'd snapped Colton's sleeper, the baby was grinning up at him in full approval and Ellie was trembling with humiliation and dread. "You got him?" Sean asked, striding into the bathroom across the hall to wash his hands.
With her heart racing, she swung the baby back into his crib and waited to face the music.
Now she'd done it. All her life, from her earliest memories of moving from one foster home to another, Ellie's life had been a series of uprootings. How could she be so stupid as to offend her landlord, just when things were settling down for them?
He loomed suddenly at the door. Ellie swallowed hard, gripping the crib rail as she scrounged for the apology she owed him, but Sean was the first to speak.
With a mocking smile and a glint in his eyes, he said quietly, "Never challenge a SEAL, darlin'. There isn't anything we can't fuckin' do." With a wink that took the edge off his boast, he disappeared from the door.
A second later, she heard the front door open and close quietly. His truck engine roared and he pulled away.
"Caleb, quit," Ellie begged, reaching over the back of her seat to put a calming hand on Caleb's knee. "Leave the baby alone!"
The blare of a horn jerked her gaze forward, giving her just enough time to slam on the brakes as a white delivery van pulled out into the street ahead of her. Dear Lord, had she just run a red light and nearly killed them all?
Startled, adrenaline tingled in her extremities, and she scolded herself for not paying more attention. She was punch-drunk from lack of sleep. She'd taken her biology exam this morning, after studying last night until dawn. Then she'd gone straight to work waiting tables till supper time.
Then, picking up the boys from Belinda's, she'd headed back to the junior college instead of home in order to submit an extra-credit assignment she had hastily written on her break at work. The exam had proven tougher than expected, and without some extra-credit work, she was afraid her grade in the course would kill her GPA, which, in turn, would ruin her hopes for an academic scholarship for next semester.
"We're almost there," she added, speeding along the narrow rural road, a shortcut to the college. The van in front of her seemed in no particular hurry to get anywhere. She peered around it, hoping to pass, but the double-yellow line, plus the tall dark pines and ditches filled with evening shadows dissuaded her. "Come on," she muttered in exasperation.
She glanced at her watch, not altogether certain her instructor would still be there to take her assignment.
Fishing her cell phone from her purse, she divided her attention between the keypad and the road, calling Professor Sloan to tell him she was running late. "I'll be there in five minutes," she promised, hearing impatience in his reply.
As the brake lights on the van flared, Ellie braked abruptly, laying the phone on the seat before it caused her to get into an accident. "Christopher, how much homework do you have tonight?" she asked, wondering at the odds of tucking in early. God, she was tired!
Through bleary eyes, she watched in puzzlement, scarcely hearing Chris's reply, as the rear doors of the van opened right in front of her, and two strangers leapt out and circled around either side of her car.
It wasn't until her front doors opened simultaneously and her dome light illumined their menacing faces that reality penetrated Ellie's haze of exhaustion. Shock pegged her to the seat as the stranger on Christopher's side hauled her son against him and thrust a gun to his head. "Get out, woman," he growled with an ugly snarl, "or this is the first kid to die."
In the same instant, a thick arm coiled around Ellie's neck, hauling her against a sweaty frame. The barrel of a gun gouged her temple. "Out with you," he muttered, tugging her from the car.
Ellie grabbed the steering wheel. Her senses expanded to take in everything at once: the pocked face of the stranger grasping her son, his deep Southern accent, the nauseating odor emanating from the arm encircling her neck, Christopher's pinched and breathless expression of horror, Caleb's complete stunned silence and Colton's soft sleepy snores.
She saw and heard and felt everything.
"No," she wheezed as the stricture about her neck tightened, and the stranger tugged harder, pulling her upper body out first.
With the Impala still in gear and her foot on the brake, Ellie groped for the shifter and knocked it into reverse. At the same time, she jackknifed her hips, straining to reach the accelerator, but the man holding Christopher lunged across the seat, twisting the key in the ignition. The engine died before her car even rolled a few inches.
"That wasn't very smart, bitch. Take her out," he snapped at his companion. "We gotta go." With that, he thrust Christopher deeper into the seat and got in beside him, slamming the door shut.
Palms coated in sweat, Ellie's grip slipped as her assailant tugged her violently free, choking her in the process. No! she screamed in silent denial as he dragged her, kicking and clawing, from the driver's seat. With equal violence, he flung her out into the oncoming lane.
Ellie's cheek struck the rough pavement. Dazed by the impact, she rolled sluggishly to her knees, gaping with disbelief as the man hurled her purse at her and leapt into the seat she'd just occupied.
Ellie staggered to her feet. "No!" she cried, lurching toward the car. He slammed the door in her face, muting the sound of Christopher's and Caleb's cries. Ellie beat on the window. She reached for the door handle but not before the lock engaged. Even as she screamed for them to stop, both the van and her car began to pull away.
Desperate to reach her crying children, Ellie clung to the door handle. She refused to let go, screaming hoarse demands, peering through the shadows to memorize the driver's face. As the car sped up, she broke into a sprint, her gaze now fixed on the fat fingers gripping her steering wheel and the ink stamped over his first knuckle.
Her legs wheeled beneath her, her feet scarcely touching the ground as the car pulled her forward. For several seconds, she managed to keep pace. Then, with a roar, the car shot forward, tearing the handle from her grasp, spilling her with bone-jarring force onto the rough pavement, where she rolled and skidded to a stop.
Stunned by the impact, the breath knocked clean out of her, all four limbs abraded and bleeding, Ellie stared in silent horror as the blurred taillights of her vehicle grew smaller and dimmer, then disappeared altogether.