With: Katie Ruggle
He was her hero,
But one wrong move ended their future before it could begin.
Now he'll do whatever it takes to keep her safe,
Even if that means turning against one of his own.
As a member of the Field County Sheriff's Department, Chris Jennings is used to having it rough. The Colorado Rockies aren't for the weak-of-spirit, but he's devoted his life to upholding the law—and to protecting the one woman he knows he can never have. He'll do whatever it takes to keep her safe.
Daisy Little has lived in agoraphobic terror for over eight years. Trapped within a prison of her own making, she watches time pass through her bedroom window. Daisy knows she'll never be a part of the world...until the day she becomes the sole witness of a terrible crime that may finally tear the Search & Rescue brotherhood apart for good.
Something woke her abruptly. Sitting up quickly before she was fully awake, she swayed a little as she listened for whatever noise had disturbed her sleep. All was quiet, though, and she eventually relaxed.
The clock on her nightstand glowed, showing that it was close to ten p.m. With a yawn, she relaxed back against the pillows, but the spurt of adrenaline that had shot through her veins when she startled awake kept her heart beating quickly and her eyelids open. With a sigh, she resigned herself to being awake for at least a few hours.
Kicking off the covers, she slid out of bed. If she wasn’t going to sleep, there was no sense in wasting time lying there and staring at the dark ceiling. She might as well be productive.
Daisy cleaned the training room first, snickering to herself at the sight of Max’s now-covered lower half. As promised, Callum had brought a pair of sweatpants and had even dressed the dummy himself. While she stood on a bench so she could wipe down the pull-up bar, the memory of the guys having their impromptu competition made her smile again.
It had been a fun day. Before the group training session, Daisy had been worried that she’d accidentally do something or say something that would drive them away, never to return again. As much as she loved her books and computer time, it would’ve been hard to go back to seeing only Chris and her father occasionally. Now, she had Monday night’s get-together to look forward to, plus they’d been talking about making the training sessions a regular, couple-times-a-week thing.
As she moved the mats so she could vacuum, she did a mental inventory of the pantry and freezer. The Monday evening meeting would be held too late for a big meal, but she had the ingredients to make teriyaki meatballs and crab wontons. She wished she had eggs, so she could make some brownies, too.
“What do you think, Max?” she asked over the whine of the vacuum. “Would it be crossing a line to ask Chris to pick up a few things at the store?”
The dummy dangled silently on his hook, his new sweatpants hanging low on his hips.
“I know he brought groceries today without me asking, but it’s different when I request it. It changes it from a favor between friends to, I don’t know, a duty for the poor housebound girl, I guess. I don’t want him to see me as helpless and needy.”
Max’s silence felt slightly judgmental.
“I know, I know. I needy and kind of helpless. It’s stupid, but I want Chris to look at me and see a whole person, not just this living ghost haunting my house.”
Turning off the vacuum, she gave Max an accusatory glare.
“It’s a good thing you’re useful in other ways, Sir Maximillian, because as a therapist? You kind of suck.”
By the time she finished with the training room, Daisy was in full-on cleaning mode, so she decided to tackle the rest of the house. Her dad’s room had a slightly stale smell from disuse, and she left the door open to let it air. It was close to one in the morning by the time the house was done.
Feeling grubby, Daisy took a shower and crawled back into bed. She knew she wasn’t tired enough to sleep, so she grabbed a book off her nightstand. It was by one of her favorite urban fantasy authors, and it was a sign of how crazy her life had gotten over the past few days that she hadn’t finished it yet. It had been a long time since her real life was as interesting as what happened in her books.
After rereading the same page over and over for a half-hour, she gave up on the book. Her brain was spinning with so many things—the training session, Chris’s recent weirdness contrasted with his consideration, the renewed possibility that Deputy Macavoy might actually been hauling a dead body around at three thirty in the morning, the Gray case and the fact that the other women were interested in getting her, Crazy Daisy’s, opinion about it, and even the pros and cons to making brownies for Monday night, her dad returned in time to make an egg run. How could a book, even a good one, compete with all that?
Daisy sighed. Since she wasn’t going to be able to sleep or read with all the thoughts crowding into her brain, she didn’t want to stay in bed. She turned off the bedside lamp and moved to the window seat, once again feeling that twinge of guilt. It wasn’t a strong enough pang to keep her from opening and raising the blinds, however.
As usual, Ian and Rory’s house was shuttered, with no hint of light showing. Daisy waved at the dark building, feeling a glow of pleasure that she’d actually met them, worked out with them, laughed at their jokes. The Storvicks’ place was dark as well, but Daisy had no urge to meet any of those family members.
As if magnetized, her gaze moved to the white house with the for-sale sign in the yard. She wished it would sell, so she’d have a new family to watch, rather than scouring the darkness for the possibility of a second body removal. Shaking her head, Daisy reminded herself that there was a very, very slim chance that Macavoy’s burden had been a person.
Leaning against the window, Daisy shivered at the touch of the cold glass. She debated whether to take the ten steps it would require to fetch a blanket, but pulled her knees to her chest instead. It was a poor substitute, but she was feeling lazy.
The clouds were moving quickly, and Daisy watched, mesmerized, as they scurried through the night sky. She quit trying to control her thoughts and just let them run through her brain. Chris popped up more than she’d hoped, but, for once, she didn’t fight it. Ever since she’d stopped leaving the house when she was sixteen, he’d been a regular visitor. He’d always acted like an older brother, teasing and overprotective, but she’d never felt like his sister.
Thinking about the early days of their friendship made her mind drift toward thoughts of her mom. She slammed a mental door, blocking any memories of that day. Shifting on the window seat, she hugged her legs harder and replayed the training session in her head again instead.
A shadow shifted, moving from the trees to the far side of the empty house. Daisy straightened so quickly, she knocked her head against the wall. Absently rubbing the back of her skull, she peered into the blackness.
When she’s not writing, Katie Ruggle rides horses, shoots guns, and travels to warm places where she can SCUBA dive. Graduating from the Police Academy, Katie received her ice-rescue certification and can attest that the reservoirs in the Colorado mountains really are that cold. While she still misses her off-grid, solar- and wind-powered house in the Rocky Mountains, she now lives in Rochester, Minnesota near her family. Katie Ruggle: http://katieruggle.com/
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