Yep, Allie Grainger is back, and she's about to grow a real spine.
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In this third in the LIVE series, Allie Grainger has a new job, a new love, and a pretty ordered life—that is, until a cop she put in jail escapes and comes after her, determined to make her pay.
Her brother wants her to pay a different price. He shows up on her doorstep, resolved to stay until she agrees to give him half of the 2.3 million dollars she inherited from their aunt. Soon, she realizes he’ll go to any lengths to make that happen.
Allie is publicly vocal that she won’t cave in to his demands, so when he disappears and foul play is suspected, suspicion falls squarely on Allie’s shoulders.
As Allie is coping with the double threat, she and her new boyfriend are making every effort to start what promises to be a hot and steamy affair, but every time they come close, someone barges in. Allie is beginning to fear they will never make a go of it.
With her mother telling Allie what happened to her brother is all her fault and her dead aunt whispering that it isn't, she sets out to find out what happened to her brother, a move that costs someone their life.
From Chapter 2:
Allie felt like a schoolgirl going to her first dance. Except that she was thirty years old, divorced, and had no intention of dancing with this man, at least not vertically. Her cheeks burned at the thought, but it wasn’t embarrassment. Rand Arbutten was hot. For months, they’d tried to get together. From that first kiss in her kitchen last August, they knew they’d end up in bed. Even Rand’s seventy-year-old grandmother Frenchie knew they’d end up in bed, but so far, it was a no go. Something or someone always intervened: his schedule, her schedule, her friends, his family. Then his law firm sent him to New York for eight weeks. Something about multiple depositions and interviews in some big case he was working on. They’d had a number of fairly steamy conversations during his absence, but that’s as far as it had gone.
Rand lived and worked fifty miles west in Orlando, which didn't make it any easier; but as he said, “What is fifty miles of good road?” He spent two days a month as a figurehead at the newspaper where Allie worked, but that only served to complicate things. Everyone at the paper seemed to know what they had in mind and, intentionally or unintentionally, managed to thwart them. Even Myrna, her friend and acting editor, wasn’t cooperating this time.
Allie had spent the past Christmas with Rand, his father Cord Arbutten, and Frenchie, but that was in a family setting not conducive to grabbing him by the hand and dragging him to bed, tempted though she was. Although Frenchie would have applauded them. Cord, too, probably.
She stepped out of the shower and wrapped herself in a bath sheet. Nothing was going to ruin today. Rand was in town for twenty-four hours and she planned to spend twenty-three of them with him in bed. That would give them an hour to eat so they could keep up their strength.
Silky pink undies, a semi-transparent pink peasant blouse. Deep burgundy capris and matching toenails. No shoes. She didn’t plan to be on her feet for long. She laughed aloud. Could it really be happening? Could today be the day?
She had it all orchestrated: a slow walk on the beach, a bottle of Chablis on ice for when they returned. Music. Something slow and sexy with plenty of saxophone. Maybe a little Sade. Fresh, scented sheets on the bed. She’d even fed and walked Spook hours early so he wouldn’t be needy once Rand arrived. Her cowardly Lhasa Apso would probably disappear to his favorite hiding spot behind the living room sofa when Rand got there and not emerge until after he left, but it didn’t pay to leave these things to chance.
A spritz of Jo Malone 154, a splurge on her last visit home to Atlanta where her mother dragged her to Nordstrom’s. Allie had paled when she learned the price, but her mother told her it was time to ratchet up her self-esteem, and for once, Allie agreed. Besides, with all the money her aunt had left her, she could afford it.
Rand told her the scent made his knees weak. She smiled. All the better.
Her best friend Sheryl probably wouldn’t barge in. Being a sheriff’s deputy, her hours were erratic, and Allie hadn’t seen her in over a week. No, today and tonight was theirs.
As she walked into the living room, she heard tires crunch to a stop in her oyster shell driveway, and the breath whooshed out of her lungs. What was wrong with her? It wasn’t like she was a sixteen-year-old virgin, although at the moment, that’s exactly how she felt.
She restrained herself from racing to the door and flinging it wide, but it was a near thing. When she saw Rand’s outline through the frosted jalousies, her heart hiccupped. Even though it was January, sweat broke out on various parts of her body. God, she was a mess. Frenchie was right. It was high time they got this over with so they could begin to behave like normal human beings again.
She counted five after he knocked before opening the door. They stood, regarding each other, Rand big and dark and tall on her puny front stoop, Allie drinking in everything about him, from his tight jeans to his narrow waist and broad chest to the stunned look on his face.
“Jesus,” he whispered. “You look sexy as hell.”
“So do you,” Allie managed before he stepped through the door and closed it with his foot. She heard the deadbolt click as he reached for her with the other arm. Then it was a tangle of clothed limbs and murmured words and pure sensation. She heard “God, I’ve wanted to…” and “waited so long…” and a lot of other half-heard phrases, but she didn’t care what he said at the moment. It was all about the doing.
His lips were on hers. His hand slipped under the back of her loose blouse—the main reason she’d worn it—and caressed her skin. She ran her hands over his face, his neck, and pulled him closer.
After what seemed like seconds or hours, he said, “Whoa. Wait.” His breath was a gasp. “Give me a minute here.”
Allie didn’t even have enough breath to gasp. She stared up at him.
He ran his hands up and down her arms and seemed to be trying to regulate his breathing. “Not yet. Not this way.”
Allie looked up at him in confusion. When she could form words, she said, “Then when? And how?”
That brought a laugh from him, but it seemed strained. “Soon. Today, I mean, but this isn’t how I want our first time to be. Flying clothes and groping hands. I want it to be— Oh hell, forget it.” He crushed her against him again and his lips came down on hers.
This time it was Allie who pulled back. “Wait.” She put her hands against his chest. “Wait,” she gasped out. “You’re right. It should be memorable.”
He pulled her to him again, his embrace looser. “It’ll be memorable. I can promise you that.”
Allie felt her blood pressure soar into the stratosphere. She managed to bite back the “No, now,” that sprang to her lips. But he was right. She, too, wanted this to be the ultimate romantic experience.
Finally, he spoke. “Would you like to go for a walk on the beach?”
She couldn’t believe it. That was supposed to be her line.
# # # #
Rand held her hand as they descended the wooden steps to the beach. Her back yard, the Atlantic Ocean in all its glory. He kicked off his shoes at the bottom of the stairs and draped an arm loosely across her shoulders. She put her arm around his waist like they'd been doing this for years. The beach was almost deserted, compliments of winter and the fact that it was early. The sun worshipers were still donning their bikinis, and the snowbirds usually slept late.
Winter or not, the sand was warm under their bare feet, the water warmer than the air. They said little. The moment was too pure to sully it with words. The slap and whoosh of the waves set their leisurely pace, and Allie knew she’d never been happier.
When they reached the Cape Canaveral jetty, they turned and retraced their path, footprint into sandy footprint. Theirs were the only tracks. That would change soon. The condos springing up on either side of her tiny house would soon be completed. Then an extra few hundred or so people would be sharing her little stretch of paradise. She didn’t know how she would bear to sell her aunt’s house, but…
“I’ve told you before, Allie. Sell the thing.”
Her Aunt Lou had been dead for almost a year, but they had these conversations in Allie’s head. They began when she returned to Cape Canaveral, and at first Allie believed it was her imagination, a product of desperately wanting a little more time with Lou. But enough things had happened that she was now convinced they were actually communicating. Their talks were infrequent and brief, but they gave Allie a measure of comfort.
“Honey, it’s only a house.”
“It’s not only a house. It’s your house. It’s all I have left.”
“That’s not true. You have our memories, a lifetime of memories. I left them in trust for you. Those are what count, Allie. Not things.”
“God, I miss you.”
Allie blinked. Had she spoken aloud? She almost didn’t answer. Rand once thought her aunt had caused the breakup of his parents. He knew better now, but was he ready to hear about Allie’s ghost? She’d mentioned these talks with her aunt once to Marc Frederick, her former boyfriend who lived in Miami. Marc had humored her and dismissed what she said. Allie never mentioned it to him or anyone else again.
“My aunt,” she offered. Let him ask if he wanted to know more.
He did. “Tell me about her. I know you worshipped her.”
Allie leaned her head against his shoulder. “You’re right. I did.”
He took her hand and she squeezed his fingers.
“She was so inherently kind and wise. With a family like mine, that meant a lot to me. She was honest almost to a fault. She lived her life her way and didn’t care what others thought.” Allie shook her head. “That’s not true. She did care, but she didn’t let it make her crazy.”
He stopped. “Like you do?”
She lifted her chin. Then she chanced a peek at him and saw his lips twitch. She smiled.
They continued walking. “I talk to her.” She waited for his derision.
“You mean have actual conversations?”
“What do you talk about?”
Allie looked up to see if he was humoring her, but all she saw was curiosity and decided to take a chance. “It’s never the same thing twice. Just now we were talking about me selling the house.”
Rand stopped in his tracks. “You mean right now? Just a second ago while we were talking?”
Allie laughed. “Not while we were talking. While we were walking and not talking. She thinks I should sell the house.”
“You mean the house you're living in now?"
“Because of all the condos springing up on the beach. It’s not going to be the same.”
He walked along for a moment in silence. “She’s right, you know.”
“I know she’s right, but it’s hard. It’s something of hers. I don’t have much left.”
Rand pulled her close and tightened his grip. “Of course you do. You have the memories of all the years you spent with her. Those are what count.”
Allie smiled. Great minds.
Rand leaned down and brushed his lips across hers. "You're wonderful, you know?"
Allie put her arms around his waist. "Why do you say that?"
"A million different reasons. You're beautiful."
"You think so?"
He pulled her closer. "Stop fishing. You know damn well I think so." He stroked her back. "You're determined. I love that. And…" His lips came down on hers hard.
Allie felt the breath whoosh out of her lungs and went lightheaded. She clutched him tightly to stay on her feet.
Wolf whistles from above caused them to jump apart. Allie squinited up into the sun and saw workers hanging off a half-completed building. Some were waiving their hands or caps. Others appeared to be making gestures of some kind. Her face burned.
Paradise, indeed. "Let's go," she said, taking Rand's hand.
Back at the house, they brushed the sand off their feet as best they could and let themselves in the back door. Allie started toward the kitchen and the wine, but Rand took her shoulder and turned her around.
Allie caught her breath at the intensity in his eyes. He rested his hands gently on her shoulders. “I don’t quite know how to say this. But…” He stared at some spot over her head, then looked back at her. “Allie, I’ve never known a woman who appealed to me the way you do. It’s not just your physical beauty. I mean, hell, there’s plenty of that, but you’re so much more. I don’t know how to say it.”
Allie smiled up at him. “You’re doing fine.”
His face remained serious. “You’re so much of what you describe about your aunt. You’re inherently kind. I watched you back when you were trying to prove my father didn’t commit murder. You’re fair and honest, even when it’s hard. You work to protect others even if it means putting yourself at risk.”
He was talking about the last summer when Rand’s mother had committed suicide. Rand had been convinced his father killed her, and Allie had almost lost her life trying to prove differently.
“I know you were married before and you want to take this slow and easy, but—oh, hell.” He ran a hand through his hair.
“Say it.” The words came out breathless.
“I—I think I’m in love with you. I know it’s too soon. I don’t mean to put pressure on you—”
Allie beamed up at him through moist eyes. “I can take the pressure. Oh, Rand…” was all she managed before his lips came down on hers.
Allie fell against him. When the kiss finally ended, she said, “You really know how to sweep a girl—”
They both froze at a knock on the door.
Rand looked at her with raised eyebrows, and she shook her head. She wasn’t expecting anyone, and that was an understatement. She considered ignoring it, but whoever had decided to invade her privacy wasn't going away. Another knock. Harder this time.
Pulling away from Rand, Allie yanked open the door.
And her mouth fell open.