Monday, July 28, 2014

Read Chapter One of HIS DAKOTA BRIDE by Lisa Mondello

HIS DAKOTA BRIDE ~ Dakota Hearts Book 5

Her heart had always belonged to Wade McKinnon...

When single mother, Skylar Barnett, came to South Dakota, she thought her life was just beginning. Newly pregnant, she waited for the love of her life, Wade McKinnon, to join her so they could start their life near his family. But her joy quickly shattered after learning Wade was presumed killed during a tsunami that hit the small Asian island they'd both worked on in the Peace Corp. She'd spent the last four years making peace with her decision to marry a man she didn't love so her baby would have a father. But marrying the wrong man when her heart belonged to Wade was the biggest mistake of her life.

Secrets and circumstance kept them apart...

No one in Wade McKinnon's life knew that his work with the Peace Corp. was just a cover for his real job in a secret military agency. Not even Skylar, the woman he'd fallen hard for the moment he'd laid eyes on her. But when his mission in Asia suddenly became too dangerous and all agents in the field were ordered to disappear, using the tragic events of the tsunami on the island where they'd met seemed like the only way to keep Skylar and their unborn baby safe until the situation cooled down. As much as it killed him, Wade stepped aside when he learned Skylar had moved on with another man. But now that she's free, he's determined to do everything he can to win back her love and claim the life they'd dreamed of sharing.  

Chapter One
 

The McKinnon clan didn’t need a reason to get together and celebrate, but this Labor Day weekend they were going to get one.  Homecomings were always a good cause for a party.  But this was one homecoming no one was expecting.
He parked his car in the driveway under a shady tree along the driveway, making note of the fact that there was a pick-up truck parked next to the garage in the spot where he used to park his old sixty-seven mustang.  He recognized the truck, although the last time he’d seen Logan McKinnon driving it, the truck had been in better condition.
He paused at the corner of the house and heard laughter filtering through the air.  The boisterous laughing he always heard when his brothers were all together.  The giggles and shouts of young children he’d yet to meet.  It called to him as strong as the smell of food being cooked over an open flame that tickled his senses.  But a hunger of another kind was stronger.  The voices he heard had been missing from his life for too long.  But he listened closely until the female voice that had haunted him grew louder.
“I need to finish up in the kitchen.  Hawk can you give me a minute and then come carry a few things out to the table?  No, Kate you put your feet up.  You’re always serving everyone at the diner.  Let me do this.”
The screen door on the back deck opened and then shut.  With his heart pounding, he walked to the front door so he could have the precious few moments alone with her before the rest of the family converged on him.  He needed those few moments.
His old key still fit the lock on the front door.  Turning the knob slowly, he pushed the door open quietly and stepped into the foyer.  He glanced into the living room, taking in every detail and exchanging what was different with what he’d committed to memory long ago.  The familiar smell of the house magnified the realization that he had finally made it.  He was home.
He didn’t want to scare her.  He could only imagine her reaction when she saw him.  So he slipped through the living room and into the kitchen through the dining room so he wouldn’t startle her.  And when he finally saw her, he thought his legs would crumble beneath him.
Skylar Barnett.  If there truly was just one great love in the universe for every person, Skylar was surely his.
She buzzed around the kitchen, almost dancing on the balls of her feet as she moved.  He used to say she looked like a ballerina, dancing as she walked in the sand.  She’d told him it was only because he made her happy.
“I heard the front door.  Did I lock the screen door on you by accident again, Hawk?” Skylar asked, licking her fingers of the dressing she’d just stirred in the bowl.  “This potato salad has to get into the ice bowl on the table or it will spoil in his heat.”
She turned in the opposite direction towards the refrigerator, opened it, and then pulled out a bottle. “Oh, and I forgot the Italian dressing for the salad.  Would you mind bringing that with you, too?”
She still hadn’t lifted her gaze to him.  And he didn’t rush to get her attention.  He enjoyed just watching her move.  He’d always loved the way she moved as she rushed from one side of the kitchen to the next.
Picking up the bowl of potato salad from the counter, she turned to him, her smile as bright as the blazing sun outside, and said, “Those barbeque ribs your dad has on the grill smell so good, it’s making me-”
Their eyes met for the first time in over five years and she gasped.  He should have done something to prevent the bowl of food in her hand from slipping through her grip and crashing to the floor.  The bowl shattered and the potato salad splattered on the tile floor and the cabinet Skylar was standing near.  She barely noticed the remnants of the mess at her feet.
“I’m not Hawk,” he said, never taking his eyes off hers.
Her mouth dropped open, as tears welled up in her eyes.  “Wade?”
He barely heard the words escape her lips, but he felt them just as strong as he had the last time they’d been together.  The memory of what it tasted like to kiss her, and that small intake of breath she made before her lips touched his.
“Is it really you?”
Her voice was a whisper and surged him forward. He took a slow step toward her as she took in seeing him for the first time in years. Her hand came up to touch his face but stopped short before making contact.
He leaned closer, giving her access to reach him without overwhelming her.  When she still didn’t touch him, he took her small hand in his and pressed it against his cheek.
“Flesh and blood, sweetheart.”
He’d had years to dream about this day.  He’d waited until the time was right, agonized over the best way, and played this moment in his mind a thousand times.  And yet, nothing prepared him for what it would be like to touch Skylar again.
Tears streamed down her cheeks.  She did nothing to wipe them clean.
“Wha…where have you been?”  A sob escaped her lips before she could finish.
“We have plenty of time for that.  I just want to hold you now for a minute.”  And then he slipped his arms around her waist and pulled her close against his chest.  The heat of her body penetrated the thin fabric of his shirt, bringing back memories of their burning love making on a hot evening.
Her sob against his neck tugged at his gut.  “I’ve missed you so much.  How can this be happening?”
“It’s happening.  It’s real.  I’m never leaving you again.”
“What the hell took you so long?  When they couldn’t find you after the tsunami, I called everyone we knew in the Peace Corp.  They said there was no trace of you at all.  Then your father used whatever connections he had and called every hospital in the region.”
“I wasn’t in the hospital.”
“I heard lots of stories where people had amnesia because of head injuries.  They didn’t know who they were.  I can’t imagine what that was like.”
He pulled back just a little to look at her face.  The last thing he wanted to do now was lie to her.  “That’s not what happened.  I didn’t have amnesia.”
“Then…where were you?  Why didn’t you follow me here like you said you would?”
“It wasn’t safe.”
“Of course it wasn’t safe.  There was a tsunami, for God’s sake!  That small village we stayed at was washed away by the tide.  And all this time I thought you were washed away with it.  You know we lost six people from our group that day.”
“I know.”
“You know.”  She touched his face and searched his eyes for answers.  “Wade, what happened to you?  Where have you been?”
“Do you remember me telling you that I was involved in something dangerous?”
“Of course.  That was the reason you wanted me to leave the island so quickly.  You told me not to tell a soul until you came back and that you’d explain everything then.  Oh, my God, are you telling me you were in prison?  Couldn’t the State Department have helped you get word to us?”
She hugged him tight.
“There was no way I could get word to you.  Not at first.”
“At first.  What does that mean?  Why couldn’t you have gotten word to me?  For God’s sake, why didn’t you get word to your parents?”
“You have to believe me that I wanted to.  But it was impossible.”
“I don’t understand, Wade.  What happened to you?  Where have you been all this time?”
“Watching you.”
Her mouth dropped open.  “Watching?  For how long?”
“Ever since you came to South Dakota.  I know about Jay, Skylar.”
The screen door creaked.  Skylar abruptly pulled away from Wade, leaving him cold.  Her eyes widened with confusion and anger as she stared at him.  She turned her gaze toward the doorway, placing a hand on her chest. “I…ah…dropped the bowl.”
Wade turned to see which McKinnon Skylar was talking to and his heart filled with emotion beyond capacity when he recognized his best friend and brother Hawk standing there.  Hawk didn’t look at Skylar or the mess on the floor around her feet that she’d just confessed to making.  Instead, his brother had the same confused expression Skylar had greeted him with.
“Wade?”
The next moments were a blur filled with lots of tears and hugs and jumping up and down as Hawk pulled Wade outside into the yard and announced his return to the family.  Each of the McKinnons ran to greet him.  The moment that was most difficult was seeing his mother and how much the news of his death had worn her down.  She still had the twinkle in her eyes, but the years had taken a toll.
“My boy is home,” Kate said through sobs, pulling him into an embrace.  “I have all my boys again.”
His father wrapped his arms around both Kate and Wade and gave them a long hug.  “Now I believe in miracles,” he said.
They made quick introduction of all the new people in the McKinnon family.  Although Wade had been watching closely to make sure his family had been safe, he knew none of the details that changed the dynamics of his family.
He quickly learned that Hawk, the closest in age to him, was now engaged to Regis, a beautiful woman who’d traveled the world with her father while he was in the military.  His family as well as Hawk had won her over and now Regis was determined to dig some roots for the first time in her life here in Rudolph.
Wade had known for some time that Logan had lost his wife, Kelly, nearly two years ago and that in the time he’d been gone, they’d had a son who was now five years old.  But he was equally pleased to see that Logan’s old flame, Poppy Ericksen, had healed Logan’s broken heart.  A wedding was already being planned for the end of the year.
Wade didn’t think he’d ever seen Ethan, Logan’s twin, in love before.  But after a stellar military career as a Navy SEAL where he dealt with the tragic death of his best friend, Denny, he’d managed to capture the heart of Denny’s younger sister, Maddie.  Whatever ghosts had been haunting his brother all these years were now gone.
But the biggest surprise of all had been Sam, who’d had always had a passion for women and for fighting fires.  He’d met his match with Summer Bigelow, a dispatcher who’d moved to South Dakota from Providence.  He soon learned that the two of them had taken up residence in his old room above the garage.
As he moved through the crowd of family, Wade stopped in front of Logan and peered down at the young boy who had wrapped himself around Logan’s leg.
“I know who this little man is,” Wade said.  “But does he know who I am?”
Little Keith half hid himself from view.  “Daddy says you’re Uncle Wade,” he said in a small voice.
Wade laughed as he crouched down.  “That’s right.”  He held out his hand to shake Keith’s.  Keith glanced up at Logan who gave him the okay.  Keith reached out and gave Wade a hard shake of his hand.
Wade tried to act surprised by Keith’s grip.  “Wow, he’s a McKinnon all right.”
“And who’s this little guy in Auntie Poppy’s arms?”  The little boy buried his face in Poppy’s neck, hiding from his view.  Wade already knew the little boys name.  He’d done his homework before deciding to finally come home.
Hawk tried to pull the boy from Poppy’s arms, but the little guy wouldn’t budge.  Then Hawk turned to Wade and said, “This is Alex.  Skylar’s son.”
Looking around, it suddenly dawned on Wade that he hadn’t seen Skylar in a while.
“Where did Skylar go?”
“I don’t know,” Poppy said.  “Alex didn’t want to leave so I said I’d take him for the night.  Then she ran out.”
His stomach sank.  “Wait, she just left?  Where did she go?”
His mother’s eyes probed his face.  She must have sensed the unrest in him from his reaction.  She said to Poppy, “Why don’t you bring the boys to the table for something to eat.  I’m sure they’re hungry after all this excitement”
Poppy lowered Alex to the ground and took both Alex and Keith by the hand.  “Sounds like a good idea.  Let’s go see if Grandpa saved the hamburgers from burning.  If not, we’ll skip lunch and eat some watermelon first.”
Both of the boys yelled, “Yeah!”  Then they pulled from her grip and ran to the other side of the yard where the picnic table was set up.
Kate waited until the boys were fully out of earshot.  “What’s going on, Wade?”
He watched the two boys laughing as they climbed onto the picnic table, sitting next to each other.  “They could be brothers.”
Hawk took a deep breath and placed a hand on Wade’s shoulder.  “Close.  They’re cousins.”
Kate’s eyes widened with surprise.  “What?”
Wade stared at Hawk’s face to see if he was serious, to confirm what he’d long suspected, but didn’t know as fact.
Hawk nodded.  “Alex is your son, Wade.”

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Read Chapter One of WILD DAKOTA HEART by Lisa Mondello

WILD DAKOTA HEART ~ Dakota Hearts Book 4

Former NAVY SEAL, Ethan McKinnon, has spent ten years trying to wash away the bad boy reputation that ultimately resulted in the death of his best friend Denny Newton.  Unfortunately, that meant leaving behind everyone, especially Maddie Newton, Denny’s sweet younger sister. Ethan had faced sniper bullets and lived through black ops missions that he never should have come home from.  But facing Maddie again, and gaining her forgiveness, is the most terrifying thing he’s ever had to do.

There was a time when Maddie Newton’s sun rose and set with Ethan McKinnon.  But that was before her world shattered with her brother’s tragic death, and Ethan had left her to grieve alone while he played hero somewhere else in the world.  Old motorcycle pieces in the garage have been a constant reminder of her brother’s unfinished life.  Now that Ethan is back in Rudolph, he insists they work together to fulfill Denny’s dream of restoring the motorcycle and bringing it to Sturgis. But how can Maddie work alongside Ethan when he’s the last man on earth she wants to be near…and the only man she’s ever truly loved?    

Chapter One
 


Ten years of doing right didn’t erase one moment of stupid in the course of a man’s life.  Ethan McKinnon knew that more than anyone.  There were some things you couldn’t change no matter how much you wanted a do-over.  No matter how much you had changed.
Eight years of military service, most of them as a Navy SEAL, and the past year as a police officer, hadn’t prepared him for what he had to do in the next few minutes.
Facing Maddie Newton.
The sounds of his cruiser’s wheels on the pavement drowned out whatever thoughts cycled throughout his mind during the few hundred yards between seeing the red compact car plowed into the tree. He didn’t have to radio in the license plate to know who the driver was, making this stop all the more difficult.
Pulling the mic from the radio attached to his duty belt, Ethan called into the station.
“Dispatch, this is W17.  I’m at the scene of a one car accident on Buena Vista Road.  Vehicle is a red sedan.”  He paused to read the license plate and transmit it to the dispatcher.  “I’ll need a tow truck.  Checking for injuries now and will radio back if an ambulance is needed.”
“Copy that,” the dispatcher said.
Ethan pushed the door open and stood for a second with his heart lodged in his throat, choking him.  On pure adrenaline, he quickly moved his legs forward until he was standing just outside the driver’s side of the car.    
He’d seen Maddie from afar while he was driving in town and then down at the shelter just after the ice storm hit months ago.  But he’d never ventured this close to her. 
The last time he’d seen Madelyn Newton, she’d been crying.  She’d walked right up to him with half the town of Rudolph standing around them, her eyes lifeless and her body fragile with emotion.  Then she’d slapped him across the face, telling him she never wanted to see him again.  A few hours later, Ethan boarded a plane heading to Fort Benning, Georgia, so he could start the basic training that launched his career as a Navy SEAL.
That was nearly ten years ago.  Ethan had been back in Rudolph for nearly a year and he’d done everything possible to remain invisible to Maddie.  Until now.  
Peering in through the window, he found Maddie slightly slumped over the deployed airbag, looking down at the red on her fingers. His mind focused on the red spot on the left side of her temple.
Blood.
Instantly, all his specialized training kicked in.  His senses came alive and he quickly scanned the immediate area.  The smell of antifreeze hung heavy in the air around him and steam rose slowly from beneath the hood of the car.  But to Ethan’s relief, there was no smoke and he didn’t smell gasoline.  
As if just realizing Ethan was standing there, Maddie lifted her face and glanced up at him with a bewildered expression. Ethan opened the door and saw the red spot was now a streak trailing down the side of her face.  Panic hit him hard in the center of his chest.  He’d dealt with all types of emergency situations in his life, first as a Navy SEAL and now as a police officer.  But this was Denny’s kid sister!  And she was bleeding.
“Maddie?  Don’t move.  Just let me know if you’re hurt.”
She said nothing.  Her eyes were void of the lifelessness he’d seen the last time they’d been this close.  He’d braced himself for hatred.  Maybe even another slap across the face.  But Maddie just looked at him as if she were trying to piece the course of events that brought them there together.
“You just plowed your car into a tree.  Your airbag was deployed.  Do you feel any pain in your chest?”
She shook her head weakly.
“You hit your head during impact,” he said.  “Do you understand what I’m saying to you, Maddie?  Do you know who I am?”

* * *

Of all the cops in the great state of South Dakota, how in the hell had she gotten stuck with Ethan McKinnon?  Maddie slowly glanced  up at the familiar face of the officer as his features came clearly into focus, trying her best to keep her emotions at bay.  Her head throbbed where it had hit the window, cracking the glass.  The  adrenaline rush from swerving on the road, hitting the tree, and feeling the impact of the airbag against her chest had left her winded and a bit frazzled.
Ethan pulled the door open wider.  “Maddie, do you know where you are?  Can you tell me if you’re hurt?”
Ethan McKinnon was standing inches away from her asking her if she was okay.  If she knew who he was.  How could she possibly forget the man who was responsible for bringing her such heartache years ago?  Heartache that never seemed to go away despite the years that had passed since.
“Go away.”
“I see we have recognition.  That’s good.  Are you hurt anywhere else but your head?”
“I said—”
“I heard you the first time.  I need to make sure you don’t need an ambulance.  So please cooperate.”
There were words running through her mind that were not fit for good company and yet as much as she wanted to say them to Ethan, she held them back.
“I’m fine.  Now leave me alone.”
“Can you stand?”
She unclipped her seat belt and let it slide back into place against the door.  He extended his hand to help her out.  She took it in hers momentarily forgetting all the reasons she didn’t want to be near Ethan McKinnon.  When she was standing outside the car, she pulled her hand away and leaned against the car, glancing to the front to see the damage.
“It’s dented,” she said with a heavy sigh.
“It’s a little more than dented.  Maybe even totaled.  I had dispatch call George to come pick it up.  If it’s fixable, George can do it.”
Ethan stood very close to her by the car—enough so their shoulders touched and she could feel the heat of his body.  It was strange.  This was the hottest time of the year in Rudolph with mid-summer temperatures making the sun feel infinitely hotter than it was.  But Maddie felt a rush of cold run through her body.
“Your body is in shock,” he said, guiding her so she was leaning against the car for support.  “Can you tell me what happened?”
“A mule deer and her fawn ran in front of the car.  I tried to avoid them but I might have hit one.”
“I’ll check the car for signs of that later.  Can you tell me what day it is?”
“Tuesday.”
“Who is the president of the United States?”
“What is this, a game show? I know who the president of the United States is and what year it is.  I even know who you are.”
“That much I figured out when you told me to go away.”
“But you’re still here anyway.”
“Lucky for you I was driving by.  This road doesn’t get a whole lot of traffic these days since the bridge got washed out.”  Ethan sighed slowly.  “You have two choices, go to the clinic by ambulance or be driven there.  Take your pick.  If it were up to me, I’d call an ambulance.”
“No, thank you.”
“You could go to the hospital if you’d prefer.  Your head needs to be looked at.”
“I’m not going to the hospital and I’m not going in an ambulance.”
“Then, being driven to the clinic it is.  Stay here just for a minute while I look at the scene and radio into the station.”
Before she could protest further, Ethan was gone.  Maddie closed her eyes and tried to ignore the throbbing in her head and the ache in her shoulder caused by the seat belt.  Her heart was pounding and she shivered despite the sunshine beating down on her.  The feel of a blanket being wrapped around her shoulders had her opening her eyes again.  Ethan was careful in his movement, making sure she was completely covered.
“If you think you’re going to throw up, I’ll help you walk over to one of the bushes.”
She pulled the blanket tighter, relishing the warmth.  “I’m not going to throw up.”
“It’s not uncommon when you’re in shock.  If you need anything from the car, I’ll grab it now.”
She turned back to look inside.  “Just my purse.”
“Where do you keep your registration?”
“In the glove compartment.”
“I’m going to retrieve that for you along with your purse.  Is that okay?”
“My, you’re being so polite.”
Ethan shrugged.  “It’s protocol.”
After walking around the car, he opened the passenger side door, and retrieved her purse from the floor.  Then he opened her glove compartment and rifled through some papers until he found her registration.
“Protocol?  It’s not like you haven’t known me most of my life.”
As Ethan handed her the purse, Maddie turned to the sound of a large truck coming down the road toward them, steadying herself against the car with her hand. 
“What’s this?” 
“The tow truck.  Are you dizzy?”
“Just a little.”
“Let me bring you up to the cruiser.”
Ethan held out his arm for her to take.  Instead of doing so, she glared at him.  “I’m fine.”
“I’d prefer you not fall on your face on the way to the car.  If you want to be stubborn and walk yourself, then be my guest.  But I’m walking alongside you to make sure you don’t fall.”
She yanked the blanket around her body and started walking up the small incline toward the shoulder of the road.  Black tire marks stretched across the hot tar from her skidding when she’d swerved to avoid the deer.  She could only imagine what Ethan had thought when he’d come upon her car plowed into that tree.
No matter what had gone down, no matter how strained their relationship was, Ethan would always look out for her.  He and Denny always had when she was a kid.  Despite their shenanigans, they never once put her in harm’s way.  Denny would have liked that Ethan was still this way.
She pushed the thoughts of Denny and childhood memories aside.  She didn’t want to think about Ethan this way.  She didn’t want to be near the man after what he’d done.  Because of him, her beloved brother had paid with his life, while Ethan came out a hero. 
Maybe she was being childish, but time didn’t heal all wounds and even after ten years, hers were still very raw.  
All these years while Ethan was gone it was easier to hang on to the bitterness of losing Denny and the part Ethan had played in his death.  As Ethan eased her into the back seat of the cruiser, she laughed bitterly at the irony that he was here for her during her accident when he’d left Denny to die alone. 
“What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.   
The tow truck pulled up alongside the cruiser.  Ethan walked over to the truck as the driver rolled down the window and leaned over to talk to Ethan.  Then the driver climbed out of the truck and walked with Ethan down the slight embankment to look at her car.
Damn Ethan for still being so handsome.  The teenager that Maddie was couldn’t help but be starry-eyed over her big brother’s best friend.  She’d been a fool for him with the kind of crush that was fuel for made-for-TV-movies and teen magazines. 
Years of being in the military and working out hard had changed his body, giving Ethan muscles that were clearly visible beneath his short-sleeved police shirt.  He’d never been a scrawny kid like a lot of high school boys.  But now…  He stood tall and very sure of his every move, something Maddie had always been drawn to.
The tow truck shifted gears suddenly, startling Maddie out of thoughts of Ethan.  She was thankful for the diversion.
Ethan smiled at her as he walked back to the cruiser.  She turned her head away. 
“George will take care of this.  I had a chance to quickly look at the car.  I didn’t see any sign you hit the deer.  There was no fur or blood on anything I could see.  You more likely hit a rock or log when the car went off the road.”
She breathed a sigh of relief.  She hated the idea of an injured animal out in the wilderness, vulnerable to prey.
“There is some serious damage though.  You have a dent in your hood and your radiator is caved in.  There’s probably more underneath that I couldn’t see.  George will have to tow it back to the garage to get a full assessment.  But your insurance company might total the car.”
“What?  It can’t be that bad.”
“George will let you know.”
“The garage is clear across the other side of town.  How am I going to get home from there?”
“Your parents—”
“My parents went to Rapid City to visit my aunt.  She’s in the hospital.”
“I hope it’s nothing serious.”
“No, just minor surgery.  But they won’t be back until late.”
“That’s no problem.”
“For you.”
“After Hawk checks that bump on your head at the clinic, I can drive you home.”
“You?”
“Sure.  My shift is ending soon.  I can do my paperwork on the accident while I wait for you.”
“That won’t be necessary.”
“I could call an ambulance.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.  I don’t need an ambulance.”
“Then we’ll stop by the clinic.  Hawk is probably still there.”  He leaned closer to Maddie. “Just stay in the car for a minute while I take some pictures.”
“Pictures?  What for?”
“The insurance company.”
“It’s that bad?”
He stood next to her and just looked at her face, directly in her eyes.
She held up her hand to push him away.  “What are you doing?”
“I’m a first responder.  All police officers are.  I just want to make sure you’re not in shock.”
“Are you always this thorough?”
“Yes.  Even when dealing with difficult people.”
“I’m difficult just because I don’t want you staring at me?”
“Look, you just plowed your car into a tree.  You might think you’re fine.  And you may be.  But I have to check.”
“I’m not going to spend a few hours in the ER waiting to be checked.  Your brother can check me at the clinic.  But I’m not going to the hospital.”  His brother, Hawk McKinnon as he was known to most people, was the local doctor with a clinic in the center of town.   
Frowning, Maddie settled  herself against the plush seat. She reached to her side and grabbed the strap of the seat belt and secured it. 
The door on the driver's side opened. Ethan slipped into the cruiser, grabbing his keys from his pocket.  It had been years since they’d both been in any car together.
As he started the car, his eyes met hers. “You buckled in?”
Maddie glanced out the window. “Yes.”
And panic suddenly hit her hard with the thought that for the first time since Denny died she was inescapably stuck with the man who’d caused his death.

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Read Chapter One of DAKOTA HEAT by Lisa Mondello

DAKOTA HEAT ~ Dakota Hearts Book 3

Hotshot Sam McKinnon was always leaving town, chasing another fire until his own hometown became vulnerable during the fire season after a big flood left debris and devastation in its path.  He didn't expect out of town dispatcher, Summer Bigelow, to catch his eye or his heart.

It hadn't been Summer's idea to move from Providence to South Dakota, but when a serial murderer suddenly turns his attention on Summer, her boss insists she leave town. She's dealt with high tension, life or death situations many times in her job.  It isn’t until she meets Sam McKinnon and falls for the sexy hotshot that she really begins to know fear.  The fear of losing someone she loves.


Chapter One
 
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Summer Bigelow glared at the police chief of the Providence Police Department as she sat back against the chair.  She’d thought the parking ticket she’d found on her windshield this morning was a bad start of the day and it could only get better from there.

She’d been wrong.

Matt Jorgensen looked at her with sympathy.  “You’re one of the best dispatchers I have, Summer.  I’m not disputing that.”

“Then why?” she said.

Matt raised his voice over hers. “But I’m not going to risk your life to some crazy stalker who has already killed four women.”

Summer’s mouth dropped open.  She forced air into her lungs as she looked at the two detectives sitting in the office with them.  Jake Santos and Kevin Gordon had been working this case right from the beginning and had been doing drive-by checks on her ever since the killer had called into her line.

“There was a fourth?”

The grim look they both offered was answer enough.

“Last time he called in, he reported there was a fourth,” Jake said.  “A kid discovered her taking a short cut through a parking lot on the way to school this morning.”

“But he called in last week.  He said...”  Summer fought to think through the chain of events that had transpired over the last two weeks.

Kevin Gordon got up from his seat and walked in front of her, sitting on the desk.  She knew his wife had been stalked by her ex-husband a few years ago and was nearly killed.

“You have to take this serious.  We are.  With Daria, we knew her ex-husband was after her and she didn’t leave town.  We were watching him and he still managed to slip through our fingers.  I thank God every day we found Daria in time.  We don’t know who this serial killer is or where he’ll be next.  All we know for sure is that based on his last phone call, he’s fixated on you.”

“Look at you,” Matt said, throwing his pen on the blotter on his desk.  “It’s been a week since that nutcase called in and I can already see the toll it’s taking on you.  You’ve got dark circles under your eyes and you look like you haven’t slept at all.  And don’t blame Bobbi’s lumpy couch, either.  You walk down the hall and I see you looking over your shoulder.  That’s no way to live, Summer.”

“He doesn’t know my name.  Bobbi said I could stay at her place as long as I need to while you watch my apartment.  How could he possibly find me?”

Jake handed her a folded newspaper.  “We found this on your doorstep this morning.  He could be anyone you talk to on the street, Summer.  Anyone.”

She opened the Providence Journal Bulletin. In red marker, the words YOU’RE NEXT were boldly scribbled on the page.  Taped to the top was a picture of Summer walking out of Bobbi’s apartment.  The picture had the mark of a bullseye over her face.

Summer swayed in her seat.  The serial killer had been stalking her and she’d never even known.  The growing ball of fear she’d walked around with for the past week burned in her stomach.
She thought to this morning when she’d found the parking ticket on her car in front of Bobbi’s apartment building.  A nice man had stopped his walk when she’d ranted in frustration over what was happening and told her the day would get better.  It could have been him.  It could be anyone.  How would she know?

“For your own safety,” Matt said.  “You are going to be leaving Providence today.  I’m not arguing the point.”

“But…  You’re sending me to the middle of no man’s land.”

“South Dakota isn’t exactly the South Pole.  You’ll be working fire dispatch.  It’s a good cover.  I’ve already briefed the superintendent in charge of the fire unit in the area.”

“Fire dispatch.”

Matt looked at her file.  “You’ve been trained in it.  It’s a perfect cover.  If the killer continues looking for you he won’t be looking for a fire dispatcher.”

“Why would he look for me in South Dakota?  What the hell is even in South Dakota?”

Kevin’s voice was sobering.  “Safety.”

* * *

“You’re an accident waiting to happen, Sam McKinnon!” Kate McKinnon grabbed the knife out of her son’s hand and scowled.

“What am I doing wrong?” Sam asked, chuckling.

Kate grunted with exaggeration.  “There are too many things for me to list.  Sit down and let me make you a meal, will you?  You’ve been gone for over a year.  Can I at least enjoy having you home for five minutes before you blow up my kitchen again?”

“Hey, I told you that was an accident.  What did Logan tell you?” Sam said, stepping back against the wall while his mom moved into his spot by the counter.

She waved him off.  “Yeah, yeah, never mind.  It wasn’t always Logan and Ethan creating all the trouble around here.  You and your cousin, Ian, were always an unpredictable pair, too.” Despite her irritation, Kate chuckled quietly, clearly thrilled to have Sam home after so long.

“I don’t have time for one of your famous breakfasts, Ma. I have to meet the new fire crew in an hour.”

“You’ll be out the door in twenty minutes.  Geesh, I wish you’d been this eager to go to school when you were younger.”

Kate busied herself whisking scrambled eggs in a cast iron fry pan with one hand while pulling a toasted bagel out of the toaster and dropping it on a clean white plate.  She glanced up at Sam with that look she always gave him when she wanted to ask something but wasn’t sure if she should.

“What?”

“Speaking of Ian, have you talked to him yet?”

His stomach dropped.  His cousin, a wounded military hero, had talked about becoming a Hotshot fireman once he was done with his military service.  But a mortar blast in Afghanistan had left him without a leg and struggling to find his way again back home.

“I just got home last night.  Haven’t had a chance.”

Kate smiled weakly.  “He’ll be happy to see you.  Just don’t avoid him because you think it’s too painful for him.  He’d hate that.”

Sam leaned back in his chair.  His brother Ethan had told him as much.  Ethan, a former Navy Seal, understood what Ian was going through more than any of them.

“I’ll make sure I stop by on my way home today.”

Smiling, Kate placed a full plate of food in front of Sam along with a full glass of orange juice.

“If you keep feeding me like this, Ma, I’ll be so fat I won’t be able to get any of my fire gear on by the end of the week.”

There was a twinkle of happiness in her eyes as his mother smiled down at him.  “If that’s what it takes to keep my boy home in Rudolph, I’m game.  If I can manage to find you a girl, even better.”

* * *

The girl was new.  Sam walked around the Interagency Fire Crew basecamp with familiarity.  He saw faces he recognized from working in different locations over the past few years.  But the girl…  Yeah, she was new.  He doubted he would forget the soft blond color of her hair or the slight tilt of her head as she read through paperwork, pretending she didn’t notice the people around her.

He grabbed two water bottles from the bucket full of ice in the back of the Quonset hut and walked toward her.  She didn’t look up until he held the water bottle in front of her.

Blue eyes met his with a mixture of irritation and surprise.

“You’re dropping ice pieces on my paperwork,” she said.

He noticed the smooth as silk sound of her voice before the water splatter on the top page of her paperwork.  He immediately pulled the water bottle back a few inches.

“Sorry.  I thought you might like something to drink.”

Her face softened as quickly as it had shown irritation.  She reached her hand out and took the water bottle, and then placed it on the bench next to her before shaking her hand of the residual moisture the bottle left behind. “Thank you.”

“You’re new here,” he said as he sat down next to her.

Not looking up, she said, “So are you.”

She smelled like soap and lavender.  After breathing in smoke and dirt for so long, it was refreshing to breathe in the sweet scents of a woman.

“Not exactly.  I grew up in Rudolph.”

That earned him a lingering second glance.  One that afforded him a few seconds to really look into her eyes, at her face.

“Really?”

“My whole life.”

She glanced around quickly.  “When I got in last night I was told the basecamp here was new this year.  I didn’t realize South Dakota had a dedicated fire basecamp.”

Sam had never worked fire duty in his home state before.  And he’d never come to a new location and been so familiar with faces as well as the location.  His reason for wanting to come back to South Dakota this year was personal.

A lot of his friends who worked with the Interagency Fire Crew were still reeling after the deaths of nineteen Hotshot firemen in Arizona last summer.  Some had quit fighting fires altogether at the urging of their family.  Sam’s own mother had tried her best to do the same during many phone calls since the tragedy, but Kate McKinnon settled for having him come home to Rudolph to work.

“This was just constructed this year.  The Black Hills are a hot spot this year because of all the flood and ice damage that occurred over the winter.  When I found out they were setting up a base here to do fire control for the season, I put in a request to work here.”

She nodded.  “Must be nice to be home.  At least for the season.”


She glanced down at her paperwork again.
He chuckled at how quickly she fell into her reading again.  “You’re looking at that like you’re cramming for a final exam.”

She shrugged.  “I feel I am.  This is my first season working fire dispatch anywhere.”

“Ah, then that explains it.”

“Must feel good to be home after—”

“Summer?”

Both Sam and the girl looked up to see the chief calling out from across the tent.  The girl quickly collected her paperwork and stuffed it in a folder.

“Be right there,” she called out.  She turned to Sam, lifting the bottled water in her hand.  “Thanks for the water.”

“No problem.”

But she was already trotting over to the superintendent’s office.  He hadn’t even had a chance to get her name.  But he would before the day was done.  This was one woman he had a feeling he wanted to get to know.

* * *

Adam White sat down at his desk and glanced at the folder Summer had handed him.  She’d been given strict orders to report immediately to the superintendent of the Interagency Fire Crew she’d been assigned to on her first day on the job.

Summer hated first days on the job.  The butterflies that had been souring her stomach for the past two days as she drove from Providence to Rudolph were only getting worst.  She’d barely had enough time to get herself settled in the basecamp housing let alone look at the portfolio of information she’d been given when she’d been booted out of the police station.

She’d left her meeting with the chief to find Bobbi had already packed her bags and loaded them in her car.  Matt had handed her an itinerary and a given her an envelope full of petty cash, courtesy of an officer collection at the precinct.  It didn’t take a genius to know Bobbi had been behind it.  Her friend had been worried sick about her ever since the call came in on her phone line from the serial killer, telling her he was watching her.

When she’d counted the money, she’d gasped, not knowing whether to be flattered that the officers in the department cared that much about her well-being, or be offended that they wanted her out of town so badly.  Since Bobbi had been on duty when she left, Summer hadn’t had time to thank her friend for all she’d done for her before Summer left the city.

Adam finally closed the folder and handed it to her.  “Did you find everything you need last night?”

“Uh, yeah.  I guess.”

“Good.  It’s the dormitory is rudimentary but has everything you’ll need for the time being.  I was told that some of the local rooms at the motel in town might open up soon now that some of the emergency crew that came into town over the winter will be leaving.  You might find it more comfortable there.”

“No, it’s fine.”

“We have briefings every day in the room you were in earlier.  Most of the fire crew is required to do an hour of physical training every day, but that’s not necessary for your job in dispatch.  But feel free to use to the equipment in the Quonset hut if you want.  I just ask that you wait until most of the crew has done their daily workout.”

“Sure.”

Adam stood up from his seat behind the desk and glanced quickly out the window at the crew of fire fighters who had already arrived.  The briefing room she’d sat in earlier would soon be full of Hotshot fire fighters.

“Matt and I go way back to college.  I was glad to get his call about you doing dispatch for us this fire season.  Even though this is your first season in fire dispatch, Matt has high regard for your instinct and dedication.  I think you’ll do fine here.”

“Thank you.”

Despite being close to the same age as the police chief in Providence, Adam looked older, with salt and pepper hair and deep creases around his eyes.  She guessed him to be close to forty, or maybe a few years beyond.  As he looked at her, his forehead creased.

“What are you holding back?” she said.

He chuckled. “Matt warned me about you.  Very direct.  That’s good.  I just wanted to say that no one knows about what’s going on back in Providence but me.  Matt would like it to stay that way.  I’ll be checking in with him each week just for peace of mind.  He’ll keep me abreast of what is going on there if anything happens in the meantime.  All I want you to do is concentrate on settling in.  I see you’ve already met our squad leader, Sam McKinnon.”

“Excuse me?”

“The man you were talking to in the briefing room when I first arrived.”

How could she forget?  Summer forced herself to be as nonchalant as she could.  “Oh, him.”

Adam chuckled.

“What?”

“I’m not sure he’s used to that kind of brush off from women.  He’s got the reputation of being a bit of a charmer with the ladies.  Don’t say you didn’t notice.”

Her mouth dropped open.  “He only handed me a bottle of water.  We didn’t even have a chance to exchange names before you called me in here.”

Adam smiled knowingly.

“I’m sure that will change.  Sam likes to know the people he’s working with.  It doesn’t surprise me at all he sought you out before I had a chance to introduce you to the crew.  He is one of the best Hotshots I’ve worked with.  He doesn’t let anything get in the way of doing his job safely.”

She nodded.  “Then I guess we’ll get along fine.”


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