July31st, 2012 - Excerpt Two - Day Two
We continue our Special Edition Romance Previews featuring MATERIAL WITNESS by L.A. Mondello. We hope you enjoy this week's feature.
Let's set the stage for today's excerpt:
Just when Cassie thought she was safe, her world is turned upside down.
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Who does she trust when she’s living the real life horror of one of her crime novels…
Bestselling crime novelist, Cassie Alvarez, aka Cassie Lang, had murder on her mind when she walked into Rory's Bar under dressed and under cover to research her latest crime novel. Researching the cool, blue-eyed and dashingly handsome man at the end of the bar stirred her senses more than she wanted to admit. But was this man of leather armor all he appeared to be?
Playing White Knight to an innocent wasn't how Detective Jake Santos planned to spend his time under cover. But there was no way "CJ" was what she claimed to be and that nagging tightness in Jake's chest told him he'd better take her home to safety and leave it at that. Then the barroom exploded with gunfire, leaving a trail of dead that includes a notorious Providence crime boss and an undercover FBI agent. When Cassie’s name is leaked to the media as the only witness to the grisly murders, Cassie insists she only trusts Jake to protect her.
The FBI wants their star witness happy and will do anything to make sure Cassie testifies. But it is clear to Jake that the shooter isn’t the only person who wants Cassie dead. Not knowing who to trust, he vows to protect Cassie at all cost despite the fact that guarding the beautiful novelist is a serious distraction.
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That couldn't possibly be the door, Cassie groaned silently as she lifted her heavy head from the pillow. Her head was still hammering and her sense of time had shifted somewhat. But she could swear she'd just crawled into bed moments ago.
If this is Maureen…
Whoever felt the need to assault her door at—she focused on her brass wind up alarm clock on the nightstand—9:30 AM, was at it again. She dropped her feet to the carpet with all the heaviness fatigue had left her with, wondering how she could have managed to sleep a total of three hours and not feel like she'd slept at all.
When Jake had dropped her off at her apartment last night and she’d bolted her apartment door shut, Cassie had showered to scrub off all the makeup and stink from Rory's. After that, she sat in her living room with every light in her apartment on, just staring, afraid of what nightmares would assault her in her sleep. She finally forced herself to go to bed at 6:30 AM, reasoning that if she woke from a bad dream, at least she'd wake in the daylight.
The pounding on the door continued. Taking the time to throw a short floral cotton bathrobe over her nightshirt, Cassie glanced through the mini-blinds to the street three floors below. The night had been replaced with a glorious sunny morning. Jake's empty sports car sat double-parked outside the entrance where he'd dropped her off last night, as if he'd never left.
The ferocious pounding on the door matched the kind of power she imagined Jake could deliver if provoked. The kind Cassie had felt last night as his arms wrapped around her and he shielded her body, pulling her behind the bar to safety when the gunfire broke out.
“I'll be right there,” she said, and cleared the sleep from her throat. Cassie drew in a deep breath, pushing her tangled hair away from her face before yanking the door open. She was met by Jake's handsome and somewhat scowling expression, mid-knock. He slowly lowered his fisted hand.
“You didn't even ask who it was,” Jake barked.
“Good morning to you, too.”
“It could have been anyone here to do God only knows what.”
Crossing her arms across her chest, Cassie replied, “I knew it was you.”
He didn't look convinced, nor did he appear in the mood for any of her attempt at teasing, and at this hour of the morning, Cassie didn't care.
“How did you get into the building without being announced?” she asked.
“Perfect timing. I was coming in as someone was leaving through the front door. I think a crime watch meeting with your neighbors is way overdue.” Jake stared at her. “Aren't you going to invite me in?” he asked.
“Give me a minute, I'm thinking.”
He spun past her into the living room as if he hadn't heard her and tossed the morning paper to her cherry coffee table, already cluttered with reference books she'd dragged home from the library a few days before.
“Well, think while you read this. Got any coffee?”
“Ah, I'll make some in a minute. Make yourself at home.”
She pushed the door closed and padded barefoot to retrieve the newspaper.
Jake's heavy sigh had her turning to him. He looked exhausted, as if he'd had even less sleep than she'd had. The dark shadow lining his jaw showed he hadn't bothered to shave yet. Normally, Cassie liked men with a clean-shaven face, but something about the way Jake looked, rugged, almost outdoorsy, made her stir inside. It started small and began to build. She shifted in place to shake off the tingling feeling.
Jake cleared his throat. “You read. Just tell me where.”
“Coffee. Preferably extra-strength, if you have it. I'll make it.”
Uneasiness skittered through her, settling in her stomach. It wasn't the same stirring she felt just seconds ago. Cassie refused to believe it to be a premonition, so she passed it off as fatigue.
Jake's presence in her home was too intimate. He'd been an enigmatic stranger at Rory's, and a highly professional police officer at the police station last night. He was much the same now, except in her apartment, surrounded by her personal things, Cassie felt almost…naked in a way she hadn't felt for some time.
“Colombian coffee on the refrigerator door. Filters in the cabinet above the coffee maker on the counter,” she said.
As Jake treaded to the kitchen, Cassie plopped down on her slipcovered sofa and draped the afghan over her legs. This man had been privileged to see more of her than any man had in three years, and she hadn't even known him a full twenty-four hours.
It wasn't only modesty. Scratches from the flying glass and bruises from hitting the floor were now surfacing on her skin. Cassie hadn't felt them when she'd showered last night or before she went to bed, but now that the adrenaline rush had worn off, they were nagging at her.
She reached for the newspaper. “What am I reading?”
“Front page,” Jake called out from the kitchen.
Cassie slapped the newspaper on her lap, fingering the edge of the paper as she examined the headline. “The President vetoed—” she started to say before Jake came back into the room and cut in.
“Bottom of the page, big bold print.”
Her eyes grazed the page of the Providence Journal Bulletin until they settled on the article Jake was referring to. Her whole body collapsed as the newsprint screamed at her. Crime novelist Cassie Lang involved in deadly shoot-out.
Cassie’s heart stopped beating and her hands shook so violently, the newspaper slipped from her fingers and fell to the floor. When she finally found her voice, it was barely audible to her own ears as she spoke.
“You said you weren't going to reveal my name.”
Jake was at the doorway, leaning his shoulder against the doorjamb.
“Then how? Who?”
He came into the room slowly and eased himself down on the sofa beside her, draping his arm across the back in what seemed like a comforting gesture. The whole thing felt like watching a movie in slow motion. Those bottomless blue eyes she'd locked onto last night held assurance meant only for her benefit. She only wished it brought the comfort she craved.
“That's what I'd like to know,” he said.
“Just tell me one thing. Did you find Angel Fagnelio?”
(excerpt continued on Wednesday)