Series: Malone Brothers #2
Published by: Suspenseful Seduction Publishing
Release Date: October 15, 2016
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Romance/Contemporary, Romance/Suspense, Suspense
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“Steamy and suspenseful, with a couple to root for and an evil villain to hate, The Devil’s Spare Change is the kind of romantic suspense I love to read!”—NYT Bestselling Author Christy Reece
FBI agent Sean Malone put in a transfer to return home to North Carolina in order to be closer to his expanding family. What he didn’t expect was a pleasant surprise from his youth. Little Gracie Whitman is all grown up now and drop-dead gorgeous, and he finds himself thinking about her in ways he’d never done before.
When Grace’s parents retire to Arizona from New York, she decides to follow her dream of opening her own physical therapy center. Whisper, North Carolina, where her aunt lives and where Grace had spent her summers, is the perfect place for it—especially when she finds her childhood crush has returned to Whisper as well.
As the two get to know each other all over again, Sean’s month-long planned vacation is brutally interrupted. A deranged serial killer has settled in Dare County, North Carolina, and after three victims, the local law enforcement is bringing in all the help they can. Are the killings over or have they just begun? And if they continue, who will be the next victim?
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As he drove through the small business district of Whisper, Sean noticed the lights were on in the storefront across from his uncle’s hardware store. Grace had mentioned that was where her new business was located. She’d been lucky the owner of a former yoga and Pilates studio had closed up shop and moved south, leaving the prime location available.
On a whim, he pulled into an open parking space in front of the shop and killed the car’s engine. Through the large, plate glass window he could see Grace painting something on one of the interior walls. Telling himself he was just being friendly by stopping in to see her new place, he climbed out of his vehicle and strode to the door. Pulling on the handle, he found it locked. When he glanced up, Grace was smiling at him and hurrying over to let him in.
Unlocking the door, she held it open for him. “Hi there. Come on in.” She engaged the lock again after he entered. “Welcome to Pro-Care Physical Therapy.”
Sean chuckled as she turned toward him. “You’ve got paint on your nose.”
“Oops. Thanks.” She pulled a rag from the rear pocket of her jeans and wiped the small splotch of gray paint from her face. “Did I get it?”
Stepping further into the studio, he took in the newly carpeted floor and painted room. Grace was in the process of adding large, gray silhouettes on the pale blue walls. Each was in the shape of a male or female athlete performing different sports. The tiny reception area had a built-in desk and was separated by a half-partition from the large space which housed the remainder of the business. Both rooms were void of any furniture or equipment. He turned back to Grace. “It looks fantastic, but a little sparse.”
She giggled and rolled her eyes. “Obviously my furniture and equipment haven’t been delivered yet. The reception chairs, PT tables, and a stacked washer/dryer are being delivered on Thursday. The gym apparatus comes next Monday and the machinery later in the week.”
“That’s a lot of stuff.” He followed her back to where she’d been working.
“It is. I was able to buy everything but the medical equipment with the loan I took out. The rest is rented.” She sighed. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to buy them too after a year or so.”
“Will you be working here alone?” he asked.
Grace shook her head. “No. I’ve already hired a receptionist and a part-time billing clerk for now, and I put an ad in the county paper yesterday for another PT. I received a few responses today and set up a couple of interviews. Tomorrow I’m going around to some of the doctor’s offices in the area to introduce myself and try to drum up some business. If all goes well, I can open on time.”
“That’s great.” Sean could see the pride in her eyes. They glittered with excitement and he wondered what they would look like in the throes of passion. God, he had to stop thinking like that. She was practically family . . . yet she wasn’t, was she?
Picking up her paintbrush again, she turned back to finish painting the outline of a golfer. “So what brings you by?”
“I . . . uh, was over at the Sheriff’s Department with Matt Griffin and my brother Brian. Matt asked us to help out on a case. I saw your light on as I was heading home.” He felt funny just standing there while she worked. “Can I help you?”
“No, thanks. I’m almost done for the night. My arm’s getting tired.”
He laughed and came close to offering to massage it for her. He stopped himself, though, because he wasn’t sure how she would take the suggestion. “Listen, have you eaten yet? I’m starved. While you finish up, I can run over to Basil’s a pick up a pizza for us.”
“That sounds fantastic. Their pizza is the best. I haven’t had a chance to eat there since I’ve been back and I’m starting to crave it!”
Her eyes lit up as glanced over her shoulder at him. “Pepperoni, of course. Lots of it!”
Nodding, he pivoted toward the door. “Works for me. I’ll be back in a few.”
“Don’t forget to grab some paper plates and napkins.”
Sean acknowledged her with a wave over his shoulder as he unlocked the front door and let himself out. While he was gone, Grace finished up the silhouette and then cleaned the paint brushes and her hands. A short time later, they were sitting on the floor of her business with their backs against one of the walls that had been painted a few days earlier. The partially eaten pizza sat in an open box between them, along with two small bottles of Coke. Hungry, they ate in silence for a few minutes.
Reaching for a second slice, Grace asked, “So what case are you working on? No offense, but I assume it can’t be good if you were asked to get involved.”
He waited until he swallowed a mouthful of pizza before he answered. “No, it isn’t. It’s a homicide. Female victim under strange circumstances.” He didn’t go into it any further since it still wasn’t public knowledge a serial killer had settled into Dare County.
She looked over at him. “You can’t tell me anymore, can you?”
“Not really,” he admitted, while grabbing a third slice. He hadn’t been kidding earlier when he’d said he was starving. At least the pizza was settling better in his stomach than his sandwich had after the autopsy. “Sorry.”
“No problem. I had quite a few friends on the police force in New York. They couldn’t discuss their cases much either.” She put down her paper plate and picked up her soda bottle. “That was delicious. Thanks for getting dinner.”
“No problem.” He pointed to the golfer silhouette. “The walls look great. You’re a good artist.”
Grace let out a small snort. “Actually, I’m a good tracer. I borrowed an old, overhead projector from the elementary school, put outlines of athletes on it, and blew them up onto the wall. All I had to do was trace the images.”
Looking at an empty space on the wall next to the skier, Sean was barely able to make out a pencil outline of a baseball player holding a bat. “Well, it’s a lot better than I can do, so I’m still impressed.”
She smiled at him in thanks and he felt warm inside. Without thinking, he reached over and gently tugged a strand of her hair through his fingers. It was as silky as it looked, and he felt his groin tighten. When he realized she was staring at him questioningly, he snatched his hand back. “Sorry. You had some paint in your hair.”
It was getting harder and harder to fight his attraction to her, but he was still up in the air about whether or not he should make that attraction known. He had no idea if she shared the same feelings or not. Sean jumped to his feet and began to gather up the remnants of their meal. “I better get going. It’s been a long day. I’ll throw this in the dumpster out back.”
Grace stood also. “I’m exhausted myself. Probably sleep like the dead tonight.” She immediately grimaced. “Sorry. Bad analogy.”
“No problem. I’ve heard worse.” Members of law enforcement tended to have a warped sense of humor. “If you’re ready to leave, I’ll walk you out.”
“Okay. Let me just grab my purse and I’ll lock up while you take out the garbage.”
Later that night, Sean lay in bed, frustrated. As tired as he was, he just couldn’t shut down his racing mind. He had brought home copies of the case files to continue familiarizing himself with the facts and hopefully come up with a profile of the UNSUB. He’d struggled to concentrate on the computer printouts, but his attention kept wandering back to Grace.
What would she say if he invited her out on a date? He groaned. Fuck! What would Bonnie say? It would probably be just plain awkward for everybody. Besides, Grace probably thought of him as a brother or cousin. If he asked her out, it would undoubtedly have an “ick-factor” about it.
He let out a loud sigh which seemed to echo through the bedroom as he tried to recall the last time he’d had sex. If he couldn’t remember, it was definitely too long ago. Maybe that’s why he was suddenly interested in Grace. He rarely dated a woman past a few dates. After one or two nights of mutually satisfying sex, the woman usually moved on, which was fine with him. But Grace wasn’t one-night stand material. Not even two-night. Grace Whitman was a long-term relationship woman and Sean didn’t do long-term. Hell, he barely did short-term. The longest relationship he’d had in the past five years had lasted a few days over two months before the woman had gotten tired of competing with his job. Not many women appreciated their dates being constantly interrupted by phone calls that had to be taken, or the dates being cancelled altogether because Sean had to respond to a crime scene.
He sighed again and went back to the case reports. An hour later, his mind and body succumbed to overwhelming drowsiness, tumbling him into some much needed sleep with the files scattered around him. He hoped he would dream of Grace and not dead bodies.