Can't wait till release day? Book 4 in my romantic suspense series The O'Connells is coming soon, but you can grab a sneak peek of Chapter 1 today!
As a female firefighter in a small town, Suzanne O’Connell knows that every day will go one of two ways: Either nothing happens, or she suddenly finds herself in over her head. Firefighters never, ever say the words “It’s a quiet day!”—because that’s when all hell breaks loose, and their peaceful, easy day suddenly turns into their worst nightmare. This is exactly what happens to Suzanne when she finds herself trapped with Harold Waters, local law enforcement officer and her old flame, and fellow fireman Toby Chandler, who, according to everyone, is the kind of guy you want watching your back.
In an unusual turn of events, the stakes turn deadly, and Suzanne discovers that trusting the wrong man could leave her life hanging in the balance.
“You going to eat that entire tub of ice cream, or do the rest of us get to have some?” Marcus said as he strode into his kitchen, where Suzanne was sitting alone after rummaging through his freezer for the ice cream she’d brought over. She just stared at him as she jabbed a large tablespoon into the big tub of strawberry swirl again and lifted out a big hunk.
“Help yourself,” she said around the mouthful, feeling the brain freeze the minute she swallowed.
Marcus shook his head, taking the tub of ice cream from her and moving it near the sink, away from her. He reached for three bowls from the cupboard, and Suzanne leaned against the nicked-up blue and white counter. Marcus and Charlotte’s house was small, dated. The kitchen was closed off from the rest of the house, and the old wood floor squeaked in places, but it had a big yard and was close to their mom’s place, and Eva had her own bedroom.
Suzanne could hear the voices of her family coming from the small living room as she took another bite from the hunk of ice cream still on her spoon.
“So why are you hiding out in here?” Marcus said with only a glance over his shoulder. He was in a faded army green T-shirt and blue jeans, sock-footed, and his dark wavy hair appeared freshly cut. He also seemed very much at home, the family man with an instant family, a role she hadn’t expected for him. Six-year-old Eva came running into the kitchen in a red and white flowered T-shirt and pajama pants and wrapped her arms around his leg, standing on his foot.
“Can I have ice cream, please…?” she said. She was so damn sweet and tiny.
Marcus smiled down at her and rustled her shoulder-length brown hair, also freshly cut. Suzanne recalled that her mom had booked a “granddaughters hair day” for Eva and Alison only the day before at Delilah’s Hair, a friend’s salon.
“Just dishing yours up now, sweet pea,” Marcus said as he lifted her and sat her on the counter. Suzanne loved the nickname he had given her. “Here, you can help,” he continued and gave Eva the scoop, his hand over hers.
Suzanne finished off the ice cream on her spoon, holding it up. Her cell phone was silent, its screen still black, and she double checked to see if the thing was powered on.
“You didn’t answer me, Suzanne. What’s going on?” Marcus asked as he helped Eva down and handed her a bowl. She walked with it back into the living room, all smiles.
“You sure are good with her,” Suzanne said, then gestured toward him with her spoon. “You given any thought to what will happen when her mom is released from prison?”
Marcus was still dishing ice cream into three other bowls, and he let out a sigh before shaking his head. “You’re changing the subject—and that’s a long ways off, not something I’m worrying about right now or putting on the table for discussion. So what’s up with you? Because you’re off tonight. How come, problems?” He gestured with the empty scoop to her and the cell phone she was holding, and she forced herself to put it down on the counter.
She shook her head. “No, everything’s fine,” she said, not sure what to make of his face and the way he was looking at her.
“Bullshit, Suzanne. You’re usually way better at hiding your off-ness, so what’s got you so glued to that phone? You’ve been texting someone, and all I can figure is whoever it is has you kind of distracted. You’ve barely said anything to anyone, just glanced at your phone every thirty seconds. This isn’t like you. Then you slipped off alone to the kitchen, eating away your stress, as Charlotte says.”
She hadn’t realized he’d been watching. She had to fight the urge to pick up her phone, to look again at the texts that had gone unanswered.
“The silent treatment?” Marcus let out a sarcastic laugh.
“It’s nothing, really,” Suzanne said. “And I wasn’t stress eating,” she added for effect.
He turned around, tossed the scoop in the sink, and wiped his hands on a dishtowel before gesturing to the ice cream lid, which was still beside her on the counter. “Whatever you say, Suzanne.”
She reached for it and crossed the kitchen to hand it to him, just shaking her head when he gestured as if asking whether she wanted more. He had a way of making her seem defensive when she was anything but.
“Just for the record, Suzanne, you can keep telling me it’s nothing, but I know it isn’t, or you wouldn’t be so distracted. You may as well just save us all the aggravation and tell me.” He was still leaning on the counter and didn’t look as if he were leaving anytime soon.
“Fine, you want to know? It’s just someone who hasn’t answered me, is all. We kind of had plans, and then…” She shrugged.
His expression darkened. “Please tell me we’re not talking about that asshole, Toby.”
There it was, exactly why she hadn’t wanted to say anything.
“Tell me how you really feel, Marcus.” She was still holding the empty spoon and thought of the tub of ice cream she’d been drowning her sorrows in moments earlier. Yup, she could definitely have used another scoop—but it wasn’t stress eating, because she didn’t do that.
“Well, I’ll take that as my answer,” he said in a tone that bothered her. “What the hell are you doing, Suzanne? You can do so much better. He’s got nothing going for him. He doesn’t have a sincere bone in his body, and that phony plastic smile he gives to everyone…shallow, no depth at all. If I really have to dig to find something redeeming about the guy, that should tell you something. I mean, why him? I don’t understand why you’d do that to yourself.”
She had to fight the urge to roll her shoulders as he went on. At the same time, she wasn’t too inclined to share anything about her reasoning. The chemistry she had with Toby didn’t happen with just any guy.
“You’re being overdramatic, Marcus. Toby is a good guy.”
Marcus just shook his head, and the look he tossed her said he didn’t agree. She knew there was no love lost there, though the dislike was one sided. Her brother had never made any excuses for how he felt about Toby, but Toby had never said the same about him.
“Really? How about the fact that he’s also your boss now, even though you trained him? Doesn’t that get to you even just a little bit, Suzanne? Because it should.” Marcus lifted the bowls of ice cream, already jabbed with spoons, and stepped over to her.
She had to remind herself that Marcus knew which of her emotional buttons to push. She pulled in a breath and forced herself to look away, then back to him. “That wasn’t on Toby. You should know that. Can I blame him for wanting the lieutenant job?” She shrugged, trying to put some lightness in her tone.
She didn’t want to admit that she still felt as if the rug had been yanked out from under her, considering she’d expected the promotion and had deserved it, yet when it happened, she realized she hadn’t even been considered. She pulled in another breath and took in the way Marcus was still watching her as if waiting for her reaction.
“Yeah, you can, Suzanne, and you should. He didn’t earn it, and he doesn’t appreciate you. You dating him?”
There it was, the million-dollar question of just how committed Toby was to her. What could she say?
“It’s not that serious, you know—and how is this any of your business, anyway?”
Marcus took another step toward her, but before he could reply, Charlotte stepped into the kitchen.
“Hey,” she said. “Was wondering what was taking you so long. Alison is asking for her ice cream, since Eva is already done. Did I walk in on something?” Her long dark hair was hanging loose. Suzanne swore she could make anything look stunning, including the faded jeans and old T-shirt of Marcus’s that she wore now. Some women just had that amazing, sexy, curvy appeal, but Suzanne never had.
She watched as Charlotte slid her hand around Marcus’s waist, and he handed one of the bowls to her. Suzanne hoped her envy didn’t show. He pressed a kiss to Charlotte’s lips—and, damn, their closeness was uncomfortable. She wished they wouldn’t do that right when they were having a conversation.
“No, nothing, just Suzanne mooning over Toby,” Marcus said. “Let me guess: You’ve texted or called, and he hasn’t called you back?” The way he was including Charlotte in this private conversation only added salt to her wound.
Here she was, lonely on a Saturday night when she’d wanted—no, expected to be out with Toby. They had plans, she assumed, but maybe not. She was now questioning what they had actually agreed on. Was she misreading things? She hated feeling like she was assuming something in whatever this was between them.
Charlotte seemed to hesitate as she gave everything to Suzanne, who now felt as if her personal life had taken center stage, out in the open for everyone to scrutinize. That was something she didn’t want.
“I texted. He must be busy,” she said. Even as it fell from her lips, she knew it sounded pathetic. It was unlike her to make excuses for anyone. Her brother only grunted, and Charlotte winced.
“He’s blowing you off,” Marcus said. “More than likely, he’s with someone else. You ever thought of that?”
Then her cell phone dinged, and she practically landed on it, seeing a text from Toby.
Sorry, babe. Got hung up. How about my place in an hour?
She held the phone in front of her, feeling excitement or something. When Marcus rested his hand over the phone, she thought he was going to take it from her. As she lifted her gaze to her brother’s, his expression was anything but friendly.
“Please do not be one of those girls,” he said. Then he stepped away, inclining his head and glancing toward Charlotte and the bowl of ice cream she was holding before walking out of the kitchen. She could hear him calling Alison.
Charlotte gave everything to Suzanne. “Don’t mind Marcus. He just loves you, is all, and doesn’t want to see some guy messing with you, considering how he feels about Toby.”
Of course, she didn’t want to hear that, especially from Charlotte. Maybe that was why she felt so on edge as she pulled in another breath, realizing she was still gripping her spoon.
“Thanks, but Marcus is just sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong, and he’s way off base with Toby. Anyway, as I said, it’s not serious. It’s just a thing.” She shrugged, feeling the bitterness in the way the words rolled off her tongue. She couldn’t put a label on this thing happening between her and Toby. Yeah, she really liked him, but it seemed the effort was entirely on her side.
Charlotte must have known, as she just offered a smile and lifted her hands in a gesture Suzanne hoped meant she’d leave it alone and not offer an opinion. “You know, I’m not too sure about Marcus being off base, Suzanne. One thing I know about your brother is how well he reads everyone, better than most—and Toby, he’s a player. Just watch yourself, because from where I’m sitting, I can see that Toby is possibly stringing you along. When he texts you and tells you to come running, you may want to ask him who he was with before you.”
Before Suzanne could set her straight, Charlotte rested her hand on her arm and walked out of the kitchen. Then her phone dinged.
Let me know if you’re coming, Toby wrote, and he added two flirty emojis that would’ve been cute if she hadn’t just had Charlotte and Marcus insinuate that Toby wasn’t being straight with her.
The problem was that they just didn’t know him.
As she dumped her spoon into the sink, still holding her phone, she saw the three dots that meant he was sending another text, but she was reminded of Charlotte’s words. Where had he been, and what had happened to their plan of grabbing a few beers, going out together? Now, he was two hours late.
Have you read my latest release?
Andy Friessen has packed up everything and moved his family two states away to protect his wife, newborn babies and stepson from the threats of his mother. What Andy doesn’t know is that they’ll soon face a new threat, one he never saw coming.
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In this touching Friessen family novel, as Cat searches for answers from a past that still haunts her, she unexpectedly meets a man hired to keep her safe, a man who reaches her in a way no one else has. When a dangerous flirtation ensues and secrets are revealed, the ultimate cost could be her first love.
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