I loved writing Book 4 in The Dangerous Series because of the new location–in the hills of Tennessee during the fall. It’s cool and beautiful and Alexis and Luke get to enjoy the autumn colors while falling in love. But they’re about to face some hard situations that lead them into danger. Both are dealing with past issues and trying to get on with new lives. Will they put those problems aside in time to help a student who’s been assaulted? http://amzn.to/1NtbQNt
Here’s a sample:
Alexis Jergenson shoved open the door to the administration building of Appalachian Christian College and sprinted toward the stairwell. She’d left behind five years as a prosecuting attorney, and now faced her first day of class as Professor Jergenson.
Setting a precedent for tardiness had not entered her morning plans. The drive from her condominium to the college usually took twenty minutes, except for this morning’s traffic gridlock caused by a four-car accident.
Gripping her purse in one hand and the handle of her briefcase in the other, Alexis took the short flight of stairs two at a time. As she rounded the corner to the second floor landing, she crashed into a man coming from the other direction. Her purse and case flew from her hands.
He rocked backward and seized the handrail.
Alexis grabbed at his jacket to steady herself, but only managed to yank free his one-handed grip on the railing. They stumbled backwards and fell. His elbow gouged her side, a hand smashed her cheek, and the hard steps slammed against her shoulder and hip.
They hit bottom, and he rolled past her. Alexis groaned and didn’t move.
Feet pounded in their direction, and high, excited voices filled the air. Alexis straightened her legs, rolled to her side, and sat up. She did a quick inventory. Nothing broken. She tugged at her skirt. Heat rose in her face.
Beside her, the man groaned, and with an awkward movement, pushed himself into a sitting position.
“Professor Stephens!” A female student stopped beside him. “Are you okay?”
Another student leaned over Alexis, but the babble of question and comments from the growing crowd drowned his words.
“Luke!” A man’s voice broke through the chatter. “What happened?”
Glancing up, Alexis recognized Don Jacobs, the English Professor. He bent over Luke Stephens and offered a hand.
The other man shook his head, his hands slipped to his knee and did a quick examination. “Give me a minute.”
“Professor Jergenson?” The academic dean, Cliff Smithfield, stepped into her line of vision. “Don’t move. My wife is the campus nurse. She’ll be here any minute.”
Gingerly, Alexis stretched one leg then the other. She rolled her head. No sharp pains. “I think I’m okay.”
“You took quite a tumble. Wait until Linda gets here.”
“Really, I’m okay. Just bruised.”
She started to stand, and he reached to help her. Her legs wavered. The staff member next to her put a hand out, also. Alexis managed a smile, straightened and settled her feet under her.
“Thank you. I’m okay now.” She tugged at her skirt again, ran shaky hands over her upswept hair, and glanced at the man on the floor. She’d recognized him, of course, right before slamming into him.
“Professor Stephens, are you okay? Is your knee hurt?”
Green eyes shifted her way, but he didn’t answer, just climbed stiffly to his feet. The female student beside him put a hand forward but drew it back.
“Luke?” Don Jacob’s inquiry held insistence.
“I’m fine.” Luke Stephens transferred his gaze to Alexis. “And you?”
The roughness of his voice surprised her. Had the fall caused an injury? She waved a hand. “No, I’m good. Bruised is all. But are you—” A hand settled on her arm, and she glanced around to find a woman in a pair of blue scrubs standing next to her.
“Hi. I’m Linda. The nurse. Someone told me you had a fall.” Her eyes focused on Luke. “You, too?”
“Both of us.” Alexis touched a spot above her right ear and forced herself not to wince. “But I’ve been told I’m hard-headed. That’s a plus today.”
“Well, why don’t you come to my office? Let’s give this a few minutes and see how you feel. We need to do an incident report, anyway.”
Alexis shifted her gaze to the floor. Her purse was here somewhere as well as the briefcase. “I’d like to make my class first. I’ll come by later.”
“You’re sure?” When Alexis nodded, the woman’s glance went to Luke.
He dipped his head. “I’ll do that, too, Linda.”
Alexis straightened her jacket. The heat from her face hadn’t dissipated. So much for starting her class with dignity.
“All right. I’ll expect to see you both later. If you have any dizziness or any other problems, come immediately or send a student to fetch me.”
The academic dean cleared his throat. “Okay, everyone. Give Professor Jergenson and Professor Stephens some room. Everything’s okay. Classes have started. Don’t be late.”
With a rumble of conversation, the students dispersed.
“I don’t think we’ll have to hurry to either of those classes,” a student said. Another person laughed and agreed.
“Hush!” A female voice rose over the laughter. “Professor Stephens could have been hurt.”
Alexis gave a quick smile and glanced at the man. He had an admirer. Not surprising. Solid build, those startling green eyes, and young—at least in this circle of academia.
The Dean nodded. “Well, come see Linda later. In the meantime, if either of you needs to leave class, don’t hesitate to call me. I’ll substitute if I have to.”
“Me, too.” Don ricocheted a look between Alexis and Luke.
Luke met it with a wry smile. “And my students would love that. You could bring another python to class like you did last semester.”
Alexis arched a brow. “A python?”
Don chuckled. “You have to get their attention somehow. Okay. I’m off to class, but keep my offer in mind.” He hustled down the hall. The Dean and his wife headed back in the opposite direction.
Alexis shifted to face Luke. “I am sorry. I was running. I was late. I shouldn’t…” She stopped.
Those intense eyes, their color set off by the navy blue suit he wore, had lost their amusement and narrowed as he looked at her. With her heels, she was close to his height, but five foot eight was tall for a woman. That same height gave her an edge in the courtroom, and from the vibes coming from Luke Stephens, she might need help here, too.
Her guilt turned defensive as they stared at each other. She dropped her gaze from his and looked again for her bags. Well, she had tried to apologize.
“We usually tell the students not to run up the stairs.”
The man’s words caused her hands to tighten as she grabbed her purse and case. She straightened. “Oh?”
A student raced past them and disappeared up the stairs. His pounding feet echoed back down the hall. Alexis gritted her teeth. Wonderful. As if the man needed an exclamation point to his sentence.
He cleared his throat. “For their safety, of course.”
He was just as irritating as she remembered. For some reason, the man had taken an instant dislike to her at the faculty and staff meeting three weeks ago. Later, she’d told herself she’d imagined it. As two of the youngest members on staff, she and Luke Stephens should be allies. Not that she didn’t realize and admire the scope of intelligence around her, but the age of her colleagues here compared to those in Atlanta had disconcerted her.
She tilted her head. “I’ll remember that.”
She narrowed her eyes at the word, and the twitch of his mouth sent a ripple of heat through her. If he thought this was amusing… But he just gave a nod and followed Don down the hall.
Alexis stared after him. Ignore the man. You’ve faced worse. She settled her purse under her arm. Her students couldn’t be as unfriendly as Luke Stephens and not nearly as intimidating as a hostile judge.
She mounted the stairs again. At a walk.
“Come on.” Alexis made a kissing sound with her mouth, but he didn’t move. Instead, he watched her with distrust, muscles tightened across his chest, stance rigid. She took a deep breath. He was gorgeous. Ah, yes, gorgeous.
She put out her hand.
He shook his head, the chestnut mane flying from the thick neck, nostrils flaring.
She flattened her palm and watched the horse’s eyes shift. Neither moved for a moment, but just as she was about to drop her hand, the powerful neck stretched, inching forward. Soft lips brushed her palm but found nothing. He stomped and flipped his head.
Alexis gave a quiet laugh. The ride out into the country after classes today had paid off. Her first week finished, she had craved the distraction of something beautiful, totally unrelated to teaching. Approaching Don with camera held high, she asked where to go to get pictures of the fall foliage. She envisioned the pictures blown up and mounted on the walls of her condo. He’d grinned and directed her out this long, winding road that dipped and climbed at regular intervals.
Her gaze slid to her red Jaguar parked on the other side of the fence. When she spied the stallion galloping along its perimeter, she wrenched the wheel, zipped the car to a stop on the tiny shoulder and climbed through barbed wire. Of course, she’d seen the No Trespassing sign, but beauty like this couldn’t be ignored; the sign could.
“Come on, boy.” She clicked her tongue. “I have carrots in the car. Really.” And not because she’d expected to find a horse, but because since moving from Atlanta to Tennessee, she’d fought off loneliness by eating her way through an abundant supply of Theo Classic Chocolate bars. Even organic, Fair Trade chocolate had calories.
She bent, shoved a strand of wire up and eased a leg between it and the second strand, holding her camera close to her chest. Her jeans caught on one of the barbs, and she unhooked it before sliding her whole body through. She cast a backward glance at the horse. Her tongue made more clicking noises as she eased open the car door.
“Stay here, big boy.”
Alexis grabbed a couple of baby carrots from the bag on the front seat and turned back. The wind lifted the stallion’s mane, and the late afternoon sun shot waves of light through it.
Like tongues of fire. Magnificent. She lifted the small Canon camera that she’d slung around her neck. Now here was a picture…
A whistle came from somewhere over the hill, and the horse shifted.
“Wait, darling, wait.” Letting the camera drop back into place around her neck, she stuck out her hand, palm flat, balancing the carrots. The animal eyed it. Alexis made kissing sounds again. “Come on. It’s good. I’m not teasing now.”
The soft lips crossed her palm, and the carrots disappeared. A quick crunch followed, then another. A stray piece dropped from his mouth. She reached up and rubbed his nose.
Years had passed since she’d ridden. Her parents had thought it would help…
The wind whipped her hair, and she lifted her head, studying the skies. Dark clouds bunched and grew above them. She looked back to see the horse’s head inching over the wire.
Grinning, she flat-handed another carrot his way. “Here you go, boy.”
Leaves spun past them, and she scrutinized a stand of nearby trees. Sassafras, sweet gum, and hickory sent swirls of yellows, golds and reds their way. She brushed her hand down the side of her jeans, pulled her phone out and began videotaping–the horse, the trees, leaves falling like rain.
To the right, the ground dropped away, and past the trees, the farmland descended to a small road. On this side, a fence hemmed in the land; beyond it, flat pasture stretched.
Wind whipped her hair across the phone. She grabbed the long strands with one hand, holding it back, and peered through the lens again. Leaves tumbled and spun past her vision. Okay. This was what she drove out here to see–autumn and all its glory.
A whistle brought her head around and the horse’s head up.
She’d heard it before, but it hadn’t registered. A rough voice called a name she couldn’t understand.
“Here, boy, take it.” She offered the last carrot.
The call came a second time – impatient, rough. Uh oh.
The third whistle was closer, louder.
“Shoo.” Alexis waved him away, but he didn’t move. “Go. Take off.” She put a hand on his neck and shoved. “Don’t get me in trouble. Some people are protective of their property.”
She glanced at the No Trespassing sign. At least she stood on the correct side of the fence now.
To her left, at the top of the rise, a silhouette appeared. The person stopped and looked down at them. The stance, the hat, and thick jacket marked him as male. Alexis pulled her shoulders back and stared, narrowing her eyes to see him better.
Dark clouds had scurried from the west and banked above him, forcing the sun to shoot rays of light through their darkness. A flicker of caution leapt through her–a familiar feeling, never far away. She started to edge back to the car but stopped.
Don’t be paranoid.
A bridle or halter hung from the man’s shoulder, and when he started forward, she noticed the limp. Her watchfulness dropped ten degrees. Coming downhill would be hard. She eyed the sign again and stifled the desire to grab the horse’s mane and lead him uphill. That move might not be appreciated.
The stallion stood still a moment longer before whinnying and trotting uphill. When the horse approached, the man reached out and rubbed a hand down his nose. He pulled a large carrot from the coat’s pocket. The horse chomped and slobbered, and a minute later, the man slipped the bit between the horse’s teeth and another part of the bridle over his head. His hand ran along the neck, patting again. Words spoken in an affectionate undertone reached her ears before he lifted his head to look her way.
Recognition sent a sharp jolt through her nervous system.
He came the rest of the way down the short hill, leading the horse, and stopped in front of her. Stormy green eyes met hers. Neither spoke. Jacket, jeans, and boots transformed him from the college professor she’d knocked down on Monday into a cowboy.
He hadn’t been happy then; he wasn’t now. She vacillated between walking to her car and holding her ground.
Luke tipped the Stetson back on his head and broke the silence. “Anyone ever tell you that feeding someone else’s livestock is off-limits?”
Alexis cast a look at the stallion whose lips still evidenced slivers of orange veggies. From her carrots or his? Either way, she was busted. He must have noticed hers before feeding the horse himself. But whatever compassion she’d had while watching him walk downhill vanished.
“That’s the first thing you’ve got to say to me? Not hello or how are you, fellow professor?”
“My first thought was, have you knocked anyone else down lately?” A half-smile appeared for an instant, but it disappeared; and he warded off her response with a lifted hand. “And my second was did you track me down to apologize?”
“Apologize?” Her voice rose. “I apologized already or tried to. Why would I—” She remembered his sharp, indrawn breath from that morning. That combined with his limp today meant something serious. Five days had passed.
A gust of wind sent leaves swirling between them. She hadn’t seen him again this week. He taught Bible and business classes. Business classes were held in the Quad building, but students packed his Bible classes down from her office on the administration building’s second floor. She’d recognized his voice as it drifted into her office that first afternoon and every afternoon since. Her free time coincided with his class, but he never came past her office. She assumed he disappeared down the back stairwell afterward.
She crossed her arms and lifted her chin. “I had no idea you lived here. Don sent me this way when I asked where to get pictures of the trees, the leaves. When I saw the horse, I had to stop. I… He’s beautiful. But I’m sorry if the fall on Monday hurt your leg.”
“The leg is fine.” The words contained an edge that let her know the discussion had ended.
Okay. Wonderful. So, he didn’t want to talk about it.
A car zipped past, and she realized she hadn’t seen or heard another car since she’d stopped. She stepped back from the fence and away from him. The man was disagreeable, and being alone with most men made her uncomfortable. So many had that predatory look, letting their eyes slide over her like she was livestock on display. It didn’t matter what she wore – business suits for the courtroom, modest dresses for evening, a pair of jeans and loose shirt to run to the store – men were predators.
Yet, Luke’s deep-set eyes had never left hers. His clenched jaw reflected some strong emotion, though. As a lawyer, she’d learned to read faces. So, what was she seeing now? Before she could decide, he grabbed a handful of the stallion’s mane and threw himself forward onto its back. The horse circled and stomped.
Luke straightened, pulled on the reins and looked down at her. A stab of lightning lit the sky behind him. “You’d better head into town. We’re going to have a gully-washer, and the roads flood around here.”
She looked past him. Heavy clouds packed the sky, and the wind bent the trees to his right.
He nodded toward her car then turned the horse. “That Jag won’t make it far on flooded roads. Good evening, Miss Jergenson.”
Alexis watched until they disappeared over the rise. Into the sunset. Yeah, so apropos.
She climbed into the Jag and turned it back toward town. The man’s scowl from the moment of introduction at the staff and faculty retreat until now made her wonder if he didn’t like the idea of pre-law classes being offered at a Bible college.
During the job interview, Cliff, as academic dean, mentioned the opposition that rose when he first advanced the idea. With all the challenges directed at Christian beliefs these days, he told her, a number of students had applied to law school. Offering preparatory classes would be a win-win situation – good for the college, good for the students. But not everyone agreed.
She pressed her lips together. Well, whatever the reason, she was persona non grata in Luke Stephens’ life.
Rain splattered her windshield. She flipped on the wipers and glanced at her GPS. A white Honda Accord flew past going in the other direction. Glancing in the rearview mirror, she saw the car’s red brake lights flash, and it swerved on the wet cement. She wrenched her attention back to the road. The drops grew in size and intensity. She flipped the wipers to high speed.
On the other hand, maybe he had discovered her secret – that she wasn’t a Christian. Yet, the Dean said the President agreed on her hire. She understood their desperation. They’d spent money advertising pre-law classes then four weeks before the semester started, the professor they hired backed out. Alexis had received a call from half-way around the world informing her of the opening. Her sister-in-law had patched a call through from some tiny village in Indonesia to tell Alexis she needed to apply. She’d never learned how her sister-in-law knew of the opening, but the timing was right. Her desire to leave Bradley & Associates, to leave the past and the memories behind, had balanced with the need for another, different career.
Still, all the other professors were Christians. The Dean had asked her simply not to say anything; they’d assume she was, too. In a year, however, they would look to hire someone whose beliefs coincided with theirs. Fair enough.
Although her conscience tweaked her, their desperation mimicked hers. Her client’s death had come as a shock and added an exclamation point to her own problems. She’d needed a new place and a new career. Perhaps then the haunting memories would ease.
Alexis squinted through the downpour and slowed. Shoulders along this part of the road didn’t exist, just ditches. A line of rain pelted the windshield, dropping a gray curtain around her, obscuring her vision. She jerked and hit the brakes, sending the car into a slide. Heart pounding, she gripped the steering wheel and held tight. The car slowed and stopped. The front wheel on the passenger side hung over the ditch.
She sat a moment, insides jumping. Heat radiated throughout her. Her back wheels were on the asphalt. That was good, wasn’t it? In her mind’s eye, she could see the Jag flipped on its back in the ditch. She swallowed and straightened.
Could she back out? She’d need to do that. Slowly. She didn’t want to spin out going backwards. Her dad’s instructions from years ago crossed her mind. Don’t overcompensate. The rain drummed against the roof, and her stomach quivered. Stop it. You’re all right. Just get moving.
She put the car in reverse, eased on the gas. Nothing. She pushed harder on the pedal. The tires spun. Come on. Come on. A sudden bounce and the car shot backwards.
She yanked her foot from the gas and let the car slide. It whirled in a circle, slowed and stopped. Her heart reacted like a light with a short in it. Alexis put her head against the wheel and inhaled. Where’s a paper bag when you need it?
After a minute, her heart leveled; and she raised her head. The rain had eased, and she could see that the road before her dipped into a gully. The downpour had erased the asphalt and filled the ditches on either side. Luke’s words came back to her, and she understood what he meant. The Jag’s body hugged the ground, great when taking curves at high speeds, not good at getting through flooded roads.
The trouble with being new in town is that she didn’t know alternate routes, and neither she nor her GPS had any idea what roads would be passable now. Her eyes focused on the rearview mirror again. No other cars had come this way since the white Honda, but the danger grew the longer she sat there.
Okay. She made a slow Y turn and headed back the way she came. Even Luke Stephens would shelter her until the rain stopped. Wouldn’t he?
Groaning, Luke backed up from the fireplace and dropped into the lounge chair. He’d been desperate enough to jump on the horse and ride back without a saddle in spite of his leg. Feeding and stalling the stallion and the two mares had eaten away more time, and the pain mounted with each passing minute.
When he got inside, he tore the bathroom cabinet apart looking for the pain meds even though he’d quit taking them some time ago. His head dropped back against the headrest.
Twice now, the woman had caused him more pain than he’d dealt with in the last year, and pain did things to him he didn’t like. He’d wanted to take her head off, only God wouldn’t let him. The strong rein on his spirit had choked back his words.
He took a deep breath, glad of the Hand that had kept him from saying things he would regret. The woman had not meant to cause him pain. Something stirred in his soul. He opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling.
What is she doing here, Lord? Someone special to You?
Leaning down, he pulled off the boot and rolled up the left leg of his jeans. He’d overdone it. Walking as far as he did, and downhill at that, had pushed things too far. Not to mention the fall on Monday. Amazing that neither of them had suffered a broken bone or worse. God, again. He remembered her apology, the flush staining her cheeks and her indignation. His mouth curved into a smile.
Luke stretched his neck and rolled his shoulders. The room darkened around him. The rain started, a few scattered drops that grew into a thunderous cascade. Moments later, a torrent hit the roof. Luke turned his head and stared through the large window facing the front of the house. The downpour grayed and blurred the image of the huge tree outside.
Good thing he’d fed up. The stallion, the two mares, and Farley would ride this out in the barn. Maximus never liked the rain nor the thunder and lightning accompanying it, but he’d be fine in the closed stall. The dog would keep him company. The mares at the other end of the barn would be fine, too.
He opened his eyes and watched the tree outside bend and shift in the wind. The line of rain increased only to drop to nothing a moment later. Then it returned with mounting intensity. The meteorologists had predicted a series of squalls. That’s why he’d gone to find Maximus.
And found her.
The lash of the wind and pounding rain filled his ears. He rolled his shoulders again. With the number of low places on the road between here and town, she’d never make it in that car. His truck sat higher, which was one of the reasons he’d bought it.
Not the main reason, of course; that had to do with starting over – after the divorce. He’d bought the truck and this house with twenty-five acres. Four years later, it felt like home. And the pain of someone who couldn’t live with the “new” him had dimmed.
Or so he’d thought…until he saw Alexis Jergenson.
Lightning stabbed across the sky and jerked him back to the present. Rain pummeled the ground. How far had she made it before the storm broke? Numerous gullies and valleys made the road between here and the main highway treacherous during storms. Someone would need to rescue her.
Meeting her at the faculty retreat along with the other new faculty members had shook him. She had reached forward to shake his hand, and the dark depths of her eyes and the way her long straight hair swung as she nodded at his introduction brought back memories he didn’t want. Too much like Teresa. Too pretty. The sight of her had sent pain and anger ricocheting through him, surprising him.
Thunder rumbled. He sat forward. If the woman needed rescuing, he’d have to do it. Who else knew she was out there? He groaned and sat forward. Pain or not, he needed to find her. She’d be somewhere between his place and the bridge.
He headed to the front door, threw it open and almost collided with her.
She’d raised her hand to knock, and her hair and jacket dripped water. She looked like foliage curling beside a waterfall, droplets clinging to her eyebrows, her eyelashes, and mouth.
Rain and wind blew into the house as they stared at each other. Lightning tore across the sky. Luke grabbed her arm and dragged her into the foyer, slamming the door behind her. She jumped and slid further into the hall.
Even dripping wet, she was still one attractive woman. And, like Teresa, she probably needed the proverbial bullwhip to beat the men off.
His jaw tightened. Pretty women were Trouble. Capital T. “You’re drenching the floor.”
She jerked her head around, and scooted back to the rug against the door, clutching her purse under one arm.
“Better?” she asked. Cynicism filled the word. “You were right about the rain. I’ve never seen it come down like that. The road flooded right in front of me. And you’re right about the car, too. It won’t make it through puddles the size this storm is dumping. I didn’t know where to go, so I—” She stopped, eyeing him with a look he could read easily enough.
She wasn’t any happier being here than he was having her. When he said nothing, her gaze shifted past him to the living area. The crackle of the flames in the fireplace reached him.
“Do…do you mind,” she asked, trying to hide the shakes starting in her shoulders, “if I stay until it stops?”
He kicked himself inside. Quit being a jerk. She’s wet and cold. Not every pretty woman is selfish and unfaithful.
Pushing past his reluctance, he indicated the room behind him. “Sure. The fire will warm you in no time.”
Here’s the link: http://amzn.to/1NtbQNt