FBI profiler Jeff Crandall returned to Fiddler, Idaho, to work on new Bureau protocols in peace…and because he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about Abby Quinn. Kind, beautiful and quietly sexy, the petite rancher next door is loved by the entire town but keeps fiercely to herself. She’s a mystery that doesn’t want to be solved, though he’s desperate to try.
Whether that interest is professional or personal is a question he’ll sort out later.
Abby knows sharing her secrets would bring death and destruction to Fiddler. She survived her childhood, barely, but a long list of stepfathers weren’t nearly so lucky: their bodies are buried across the country, waiting to be discovered. The best protection is silence, anonymity and isolation, though the handsome agent next door seems hell-bent on destroying all three.
And he just keeps kissing her…
When Jeff is called in to investigate an interstate serial killer case spanning two decades, Abby knows it’s only a matter of time before he connects the dots, sees her for who she really is and walks away. But it’s when he’s standing in the crosshairs of Abby’s past that Jeff faces his biggest challenge yet: how to give the woman he loves the life she doesn’t believe she deserves.
The other horse remained quiet in his stall. “Good morning, Hemingway,” Abby whispered as she stroked the giant black gelding’s nose and danced her fingers through his forelock. He was becoming such an elegant animal. “How are you, handsome? Ready to work this morning?” He dropped his head to her waiting hand. “I’ll take that as a yes.”
She forced her left arm up, ignoring the persistent pain, slipped the halter over his head and scratched his ears until he quieted. “No saddle today, I promise. Let’s get used to this first.” She opened the door but let the lead rope dangle as she walked away and let him follow. He needed to know she wouldn’t tug and pull. His clopping tread reminded her of Beau and her wobbly bike ride.
Shaking the memory free, she stood in the stable doorway. The pasture was cloaked in fog, and dew silvered the grasses not already trampled. It was like looking through a soft-focus lens. In this moment, right before sunrise, the world was fuzzy, tinted green, blue and gray. The birds chirped quiet, sleepy greetings. Hemingway froze when she picked up the rope.
“I won’t hurt you.” Abby took one step, keeping the lead slack, and waited. When the animal moved forward, she took another step. They inched through the paddock and the gate to the edge of the field.
“Good boy,” she murmured as she offered him a carrot and stroked his graceful neck. “See? No pain.”
Leaving him there, she went back into the stable only to run out when an equine scream ended in canine yelps and snarls. All that remained of Hemingway were his thundering hoof beats and the waving grass.
Abby knelt next to Toby and ran her hands over him, checking him for injuries. The dog’s shame gave way to a plea for a belly rub.
“I know you want to herd him,” she scolded as she gave in and scratched his chest, “but he hates to be crowded right now.” She stood and sighed. “Let’s go get him.”
Hem’s trail was marked in the dew, and easy to follow. The tall grass swallowed Toby in a gulp, and Abby waded through the swaying fescue to the river, her bag of carrots and apples bouncing against her hip. Stepping carefully on the slick rocks, she hopped to the Simons’ pasture and continued up the hill.
Off to her left, a covey of quail clattered clumsily into the sky, scaring her as much as she’d startled them. Toby shot off, intent on catching the slowest prey. Abby trudged on alone.
The giant gelding was stopped at the fence, munching on Deb Simon’s newly budded shrubs. He watched her approach with one dark, wild eye.
“Shh.” She touched his neck and pursued him when he flinched away. When he quieted, she rubbed his sweaty coat and stared down at the ragged plant. “I hope you haven’t killed that. I’ll never find a replacement.” At least the Simons were gone for the summer. It would be enough time to determine the damage and do some shopping, if necessary.
Comforting pats grew to long strokes as Abby ran her hands over the horse’s shoulder and then down his back. When she reached his ribs he stepped away and tossed his head. She kept a steady grip on the lead rope. “Quiet. I need to see if you’ve reinjured yourself. It won’t hurt. I promise.” She hoped she was right.
She got farther the second time. “Good boy, Hem.” He moved away again, and she started over.
It took four tries before she could run a light hand over his bones and feel the spots that were once jagged pieces. The horse shook beneath her, but he stayed still. “Good boy. I know it’s scary to trust someone, but you’re a brave man.” She pulled an apple from her bag. “You’re going to be good as new.”
The horse ignored the treat and stared over her shoulder, his nostrils flaring at a new scent. They weren’t alone.
Abby’s skin tingled as her muscles tightened. If she faced the intruder, she risked chasing Hem again. She tensed and moved her weight to the balls of her feet and whistled for backup. Toby came at a run. The dog was too well trained to bark, but his eyes stayed glued on their observer. Abby kept her focus on her dog.
Instead of growling, he wagged his tail. He’d seen whoever it was before. Convinced it was safe, Abby turned to face their audience.
Jeff Crandall stood on the Simons’ porch, barefooted, in a wrinkled T-shirt and faded jeans. Lounging against a newel post, he was sipping a cup of steaming coffee, holding it with one hand while the other was shoved into the front pocket of his jeans.
Abby swept her gaze from him to the yard. She’d been so intent on the horse, she’d missed the car parked in front of the barn Hank Simon used as a garage. The silver Audi roadster with Illinois plates was the sort of car she only saw in magazines, and it would have easily fit in her horse trailer.
Maggie Harper’s reminder echoed through Abby’s scrambled brain. Jeff was renting the house for the summer, something about a project related to his job with the FBI.
He descended into the yard and started toward them with an easy gait, frowning slightly like he always did when she caught his eye. She’d seen that look for so many years, from so many people—teachers, doctors, ministers…stepfathers.
Would she ever get used to him appearing without warning? For the past year, since Gray Harper had asked for his help figuring out who was stalking Maggie, Jeff had come and gone with predictable unpredictability, always keeping her on edge.
Mia Kay spent years writing legal documents and keeping people out of trouble. Now she spends her days looking for ways to get her characters into trouble. She lives in Arkansas with her husband, who doesn’t mind discussing (and sometimes causing) mayhem over breakfast.