Do you ever truly know the ones you love?
That's the question that drives this new romantic suspense/thriller novel, Mercy Upon Us... check out the blurb and the excerpt below.
Available in paperback and all ebook formats worldwide
Back cover copy...
Doctor Riana Wolfe has a perfect life--a private practice in Dillon, Colorado, two cute kids, and a handsome husband--until one night unravels it all. Her husband's suicide rolls back the curtain on a web of lies so elaborate that she begins to question her sanity. Trapped in a spiral of deceit and betrayal, she and her children become targets and she has no idea why or who is behind it.
Brody Dalton has no interest in drama. A retired ski champion, he is rehabilitating his shattered leg and nursing a wounded ego when he hears the gunshot come from next door. He rushes to the aid of his former childhood friend, Riana, without thought of the consequences. Rumors in the small community abound about why Riana's husband committed suicide and about what other secrets she may be hiding. He is battling his own demons, yet cannot stay away from his former friend's obvious distress. As the rest of the community shies away from the widow, he puts himself in danger to help.
Drugs, secrets, and death chase Riana and Brody as they delve deep into the mysterious shadow life of her deceased husband. Through it all, they realize their bond from decades ago has never truly subsided, but the timing for love couldn't be worse. As Riana struggles to save her children from harm and to salvage what is left of her shattered life, can she open her heart enough to trust Brody? Will they be able to overcome--and outrun--the darkness that haunts them both?
**may contain emotional triggers regarding suicide and drug abuse**
Bam, bam, bam, rattle, rattle, rattle. She opened her eyes, confused about where she was and what the sounds were. She blinked at the surroundings, untangled herself from the chair, stubbed her toe on the toolbox and peeked down the hallway toward the front entrance.
Brody stood at the door, hands cupped around his face that pressed against the glass.
For someone she hadn’t seen in years, he certainly appeared everywhere lately. She glanced over her shoulder at the toolbox before closing the door to Marshall’s office.
He knocked again. Groggy from her nap, she wondered what time it was and why he stood outside the office door.
“Let me guess,” she said when she unlocked the door for him, “you are in desperate need of counseling and can’t wait until I am officially open for business again?”
“Exactly. I know you’re the best in town.” He grinned and for a minute she forgot the chaos that was now her life. Brody Dalton definitely had a way about him, an I-Have-It-All-Under-Control-You-Can-Count-On-Me way.
“What are you really doing here?” she asked, opening the door all the way to allow him access before locking it again.
“I’m on my way home, stopped at the market, spotted your car and thought you might need my help.” He glanced around at the quiet room. “But now that I’m here it looks more like I have interrupted a nap than a packing.”
“Packing?” Back to him, she combed her hands through her hair and walked back to her own space. “Why do you think I am packing?”
“Marshall’s office…sorry…it’s probably too soon for that. I thought you were here going through his things.”
"No one sent you here?"
"Why would anyone send me here?"
Instead of sitting at her desk, she sank into her therapist chair, which was burgundy suede with rolling arms. She loved this chair because it was easy to curl into, feet tucked beneath her.
Brody sat on the sofa, his gaze scanning the room.
“I needed peace. It’s a little noisy at my house these days.” She smoothed her hands over the arms of her chair. “How was work?”
“Good.” He smiled without looking at her. “Do you know how many times I have driven by your office since I’ve been back and thought about stopping in to say hello?”
“Dozens and dozens.” His gaze returned to her face. “I suppose you’ve heard I have a date with your cousin tonight. That’s okay, right? You don’t feel like I’m invading your personal life or anything, do you?”
“Are you trying to invade my personal life?”
"Maybe so." His grin faded. Their gaze locked.
Rattled by his presence, she jumped from the chair and walked to the mini-fridge behind her desk. “Water? Juice?”
“Juice would be great. And, um, I should probably tell you that some people think we've been having an affair."
She froze in mid-motion, uncertain as to if she had heard him correctly. “I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"The sheriff stopped by my work today and—"
"The sheriff did what?" She spun around and gaped at him. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end.
"I shouldn't be telling you this."
"You definitely should be telling me this."
"He had a lot of questions about how I ended up at your house before the police arrived."
"You did?" She frowned. She had no memory of him being there, only the sensation of someone comforting her at one point. Everything else blurred after Marshall had put the gun to his head.
Brody's face softened with understanding. "It doesn't matter, Ri. People are going to say whatever they're going to say, but we know the truth and that's all that matters."
"Maybe not." She returned to her task of getting him a drink.
“I want to help. You didn’t deserve any of this and neither did your kids. I want to be here even if it makes people talk. Is that lame?”
She handed him the juice without meeting his gaze. “Yeah, it’s pretty lame, Brody.”
“Seriously?” He laughed before taking a drink of the juice. “You’re calling me lame?”
“You called yourself lame and asked if I agreed.” She settled into her chair. “Piper? Seriously?”
They chuckled together in the quiet of the office, drank their cranberry juice and sat for a few minutes without need for another word.
“Piper seems nice. I’m sure we’ll have a good time.” He studied the empty juice bottle in his hand.
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll have a good time,” she muttered. “I thought you were going to cut wood for me and here you are slacking off in my office drinking my juice and dating my cousin. Something is wrong here, Brody. Piper is probably pacing the driveway waiting to see you wield a chainsaw.”
“Do you think so?”
"I guarantee it. She's practically drooling over seeing you all hot and sweaty."
"Hot and sweaty? It's like ten degrees outside."
"You're a mountain guy—you'd probably rip your shirt off if it was minus ten."
Again, they laughed as if the years between them had never existed.
She found herself wishing they hadn’t dropped out of contact.
“Why did we lose touch?” she asked, after the laughter had lapsed into silence.
“You were a college chick and I was a no-good ski bum. I never thought you would be back here. You used to talk about living in California, somewhere hot with palm trees and sunsets on the beach.” Again his gaze traveled around her office. "I actually never thought I'd be back here, at least not under my current circumstances."
"Yeah, I thought you had house in Lake Tahoe or somewhere like that."
"I still do." He nodded, gaze averted to the carpet. "I needed so much physical therapy that my parents convinced me to stay here for awhile."
She frowned. "Aren't you going back to Tahoe?"
"People in Tahoe keep expecting me to make a comeback and I hate to disappoint." He grinned and spun the now empty bottle of juice against his knee. "So why didn't you end up on a beach somewhere?"
“Marshall thought we should raise the kids in Colorado, close to his parents, back in my hometown—he sort of liked the idea of reconnecting with our roots. End of story.”
But it wasn’t the end of the story, not even the beginning or middle. She rubbed the tightness in her shoulders and closed her eyes. He had toyed with the idea of leaving, but she had brushed him off, had become complacent in her own life.
Why did I do that? I don't even remember my reasons for staying. The kids? The practice? Why can't I remember?
“That doesn't sound like you.” He stepped toward the windows. “You always had such ambition, such clear ideas of what you wanted your life to be like. Coming back here—a place you always wanted to flee when we were kids—seems like a strange move."
"Yet here I am."
"And here I am."
"Two fucked up individuals who have no idea what the next move is. Perfect."
She cleared her throat.
“Well, at least we can spare each other the small talk and bullshit.” She grinned at the easy way they had fallen into their old communication style. “Since we’re being so honest with one another, tell me if you agree with everyone else and think I have lost my mind.”
He turned abruptly at that but didn’t answer right away. He leaned his hip against her desk and studied her upturned face. “I think anyone would go a bit crazy in your situation.”
“That is not reassuring, Brody.” Her gaze drifted through her open door, across the hall and onto Marshall’s door.
“Any more news about possible suspects?”
Her gaze shot back to him. “Suspects? For what?”
“The break-in.” He motioned to her face. "Any news?”
“No.” Her fingers touched her lip as if she had forgotten.
“I get the impression that there’s something you want to tell me…what is it?”
“Who’s the therapist now, Brody Dalton?” She pushed from the chair and moved around the office as if looking for something else to do. “It’s almost dinner time. I promised the kids I’d bring home a pizza so…I should go.”
“I’ll walk you out.”
“That’s okay. I have enough babysitters waiting for me at home.” She hovered next to Marshall’s door. She needed to get the toolbox.
“I am not your babysitter.”
"What are you then?"
"Some say I'm your secret lov-ah." He winked. "But in reality I am your friend."
"It's good to have a friend," she whispered, lost in his eyes and in the ease of his presence. He made her feel safe even when her entire world crumbled around her like the Apocalypse. Maybe it was their history as two brats ripping up the mountainside back in the day or maybe it was simply the fact that he wasn't judging—whatever it was, she appreciated it.
He folded his arms over his chest and stared at her. “What’s in that room?”
“Nothing. Marshall’s office.” She leaned her shoulder against the frame and waited for him to leave. “I’ll see you at the house.”
“I’ll wait.” He leaned his shoulder against the wall and grinned. “I want to see what’s behind door number one.
They stared at each other for a minute before she decided to open it. He had no idea what was in the toolbox. With as much casualness as she could fake, she retrieved her purse and the toolbox.
“Let me take that. It looks heavy.” He reached for the handle of the metal box, his hand covering hers. When she refused to let go, he looked her in the eye. “It’s okay to let me carry some of the load, spitfire. I know more than you think I do.”
“What’s that mean?” she whispered, unwilling to release the handle.
“I lived across the river from the two of you for the past year and I don’t sleep much. I heard things. I saw things.”
“Meaning that I know that you didn’t exactly have an equal partner in the marriage. Meaning that I know you carried more than your fair share and tolerated more than most people ever would have. Meaning I know he lived in the garage apartment for at least as long as I've been back in town.” He managed to pull the toolbox from her fingers. “So let me carry a toolbox to your car for you, chop your wood, and don’t think twice about it, okay?”
She nodded, mind too busy with possible scenarios of what he could possibly know for certain to speak. The arguments that had occurred late at night after one of Marshall’s disappearances…the strange comings and goings of Marshall and his buddy Ron… She stopped abruptly in the doorway.
Ron. It could have been Ron this morning. Same height. Same build. He had acted so strange yesterday, guilty almost.
“Riana.” Brody’s hand gripped her forearm. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” She shook off the thought, determined to call the police detective who had given her his business card this morning.
She had never liked Ron. There had always been something dark about him, an aura of doom. She activated the alarm and double-checked it before walking from the curb. She swallowed the fear that welled in her throat and looked around the parking lot.
Someone watched her, she knew it.
Too many cars. Too many people coming and going. Too much to think about.
“Hey, your tire is flat.” Brody stooped to the front tire. “Actually, all of your tires are flat. It looks like someone let the air out.”
Dread expanded through the hollowness in her chest until she felt gutted with the icky sensation.
“A prank,” she said, not believing it for a second.
“Have there been many pranks like this since you’ve worked here?”
Brody looked up at her from where he squatted on the ground. He didn’t need to say a word for her to know what he was thinking. The man from this morning wanted something from her and was determined to get it.
Hands on hips, her gaze locked onto the toolbox. They wanted the stash…or money…or maybe something she had yet to discover. She needed to trust someone other than Piper and Jenna, needed a confidante but…not Brody with his shaggy chocolate-colored hair, brown eyes, lanky body, and irresistible grin. He was too...too Brody. And if people were already concocting stories of some mad, passionate affair, she didn't need to add fuel to the fire.
What would people say if she started getting openly close with Brody? Maybe the police would reconsider the suicide conclusion and think they had staged the whole scene? Maybe they already did suspect that if they were questioning Brody at his work. She swallowed the panic rolling in her chest.
People loved to talk, to speculate, to create fiction from thin air to entertain themselves.
Marshall was right. I'm consumed with what other people think of me.
"Fuck it," she muttered. She rubbed a closed fist against the center of her chest and willed herself to calm down.
“C’mon. I’ll deal with this. We’ll pick up that pizza you promised the kids, I’ll drive you home and come back here. Don’t worry about it.” He put the toolbox into the back of his truck.
“I need that up here with me,” she said about the toolbox. “I don’t trust it back there for anyone to take.”
Without questioning her, he handed it back before walking to the driver’s side. She stared at her car as they backed from the parking lot. While she had been napping, someone had been tampering with it in broad daylight.
Or maybe that someone sat next to her pretending to be her good old buddy from the past. He had needed physical therapy, perhaps had been addicted to painkillers. Maybe the real reason Marshall couldn't stand Brody was because they had shared a shady secret.
Maybe Brody had hit her this morning.
Maybe Brody knew what was in the toolbox.
She pressed her fingers against her forehead and wished she could think properly. As it was, all thoughts seemed either forced or out of control. No steadiness. No calm. No absolute answers.
I'm a little unsteady.
Damn it. She was better than this.
“Don’t worry about the car. There’s enough air for me to drive it over to the gas station in the parking lot or I’ll tow it with the truck. I’ll have dad drive me back and take care of it in no time.” Brody’s fingers thumped against the steering wheel as he talked to the windshield.
“Marshall…” she began.
“He wasn’t everything I thought he was.” She rested her feet on top of the toolbox. “I keep finding out how much I didn’t really know him. I could have helped him. I really could have. I would have. He never told me what was going on. He never told me how much trouble he was in.” She met Brody's gaze. "That's what I do...I helppeople. Did you take a lot of painkillers after your accident, Brody?"
“What kind of trouble was Marshall in?” he asked without answering her question.
“Ever since he died I keep uncovering new information, new clues about this man who I spent my life with…and I didn’t know him.” She shook her head back and forth and back and forth. "It's amazing how you never truly know another person, not even if you live with them, no matter how much you love them."
"I suppose that's true."
"Did you need a lot of painkillers after your accident?"
He glanced at her with wariness in his eyes. "Yeah, I did."
None of this felt real. If she hadn’t known her husband, then how could she ever trust that she knew anyone else at all? His death had pulled the string that had unraveled the structure of her life and she had no idea when it would stop or what would be left except a pile of tangled debris.