About The BookKy Taylor woke up one morning on a Mississippi riverboat casino with a huge headache and no idea who she was. With the help of new friends she rebuilt her life. Now, nearly two years later, a tall dark man with killer good looks comes after her. A bounty hunter, who claims she killed her father then ran out on her bail. She says he’s got the wrong woman. He says she’s guilty as sin. One of them is right . . .
Suddenly so many people are after her she can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys. But one thing she can do is KNOW WHEN TO RUN.
Did she kill her father? She doesn’t remember and you won’t know yourself until the very end.
Get Up To SpeedKy Taylor is a blackjack dealer on a riverboat casino who has a huge secret. As far as she knows, her life began just under two years ago when her employers dragged her half-dead from the Mississippi River and gave her a new life. She remembers nothing of her before and nobody seems to care.
Until Gabe McGregor, bailbondsman and temporary bounty hunter goes looking for a runaway heiress named Kathleen Templeton. Leads take him to the riverboat, where Ky immediately catches his eye and when he follows her on the boat deck, she gets attacked. He comes to her rescue but she’s not appropriately grateful and he’s beginning to regret his attraction.
This woman was just plain trouble. Still mouth-watering tempting Gabe had to admit. Even more so with that current disheveled look. Although he didn’t much like the angry red blotch on her forehead.
Ignoring the gun hanging by her side, he reached toward the injury. “Better get ice on that.”
“Ice on what?” She skittered away and half-lifted the little pink weapon she was concealing.
“Your forehead. It’s raw and it’s been bleeding. You probably should go to the infirmary. Head injuries can be iffy.”
Gabe ran a finger lightly over the bruised spot. She flinched, then looked pointedly at his other hand, which still rested on her shoulder. He let both arms drop and she put more distance between them.
“Why are you following me?”
“To make sure you were okay.” Gabe glanced at her weapon. Her hands shook and she stood too close to him for her safety. He could disarm her in a second, but accidents happened that way. Amateurs and guns were not a good mix and people were still hurrying up the deck to the dinner show. “What were you going to do with that silly gun?” he demanded to know. “Shoot the guy? You could have gotten hurt.”
“You’ve got the cart before the horse. He was already hurting me before I chased him.”
“Yeah, but I wasn’t. In case you missed the whole scenario, I’m the one who pulled him off you. So why are you taking it out on me?” He pointed at the derringer. “Do you even know how to use a gun?”
“Well enough to be asking the questions.”
“I don’t think so. Because where you’re pointing, if that goes off you’ll take out my balls. Maybe you could repay my kindness by putting it away.”
“Tell me why you were following me. For all I know you’re hooked up with that jerk.” Slipping her finger off the trigger, she wagged her gun hand again. “I had the guy at gunpoint, then you showed up. Maybe it’s no coincidence that he escaped. Who were you rescuing? Him or me?”
“I thought you were hurt. Until you took chase, that is.” God, she was beautiful in a showgirl kind of way, but she made him nervous, swinging that popgun. He moved in closer, taking his privates out of range. Course, now she’d take out his knees. He couldn’t win. “I know you aren’t going to shoot me with that little gun, Red. It’s hot pink, for God’s sake.”
She shrugged. “It still shoots lead bullets.”
“Whatever you say.” Gabe glanced around. The crowd had nearly vanished. He saw one couple race into a side door, heard it slam behind them. The din of conversation ebbed to nothing. No one close, although if that gun discharged they’d sure be back in a hurry. Hoping his move went smoothly, he took a circling half-step, prepared to disarm her.
Then, whoa, she wasn’t there. She’d countermoved, putting them face to face again, as if they’d merely traded places. Her blue eyes narrowed and she remained slightly crouched. No easy trick in those high wobbly heels.
The look on her face made him think she’d surprised herself. For sure, she’d surprised him. “Okay, mister,” she said. “How about you go with me to the trooper’s office to report the attack?”
Again the gun pointed at his balls and he was now thinking it wasn’t because she wasn’t paying attention. Somehow he’d ended up on her wrong side when he’d wanted so much to be on her right side.
Now this little misunderstanding erupted and clearly she didn’t think it was so little.
“Back to my question,” she demanded. “Why were you following me?”
“Truth?” He spread his arms as she widened the distance between them, feeling foolish about opening up. After thirteen years of fidelity, he was rusty at the mating dance. “I happened to be going that way, but I’d noticed you in the casino . . . and when I saw it was you, I kinda, well, I’m a sucker for redheads and I wanted to see if we could share a drink, maybe get acquainted.”
With some luck, his klutzy ‘aw shucks’ approach might work. Not that he should be spending his time this way.
He was met with a long silence.
“About the state trooper’s office,” she finally said.
He really didn’t want to see the troopers— there was that awkward little reporting his presence detail he’d deliberately overlooked—but this stand-off wouldn’t be over until he agreed.
On the other hand, he could take off right now. The deck truly was empty, muted music coming through the ballroom doors. But this woman was really . . . yeah, that she was.
“Sure, Red,” he said. “My pleasure.”
“Oh, good.” She smiled and dropped the gun into a purse so frivolous and silly it made the goofy derringer look substantial. Pink like the gun and the plume, but a more sickly shade, it was shaped like a feedbag with varicolored hearts stamped all over it — or maybe those were letters. Probably came from some pricey designer, but it belonged to a woman with prissy steps, not one who managed a perfect martial arts stance while wearing stilettos.
She tugged lightly at the torn sleeve of her sequined top. “I’ll need to explain this.”
“And probably the plume,” he offered.
“Is it bad?”
He grimaced. “Looks like the wrong end of a slaughtered clown turkey.”
“Charming.” She sounded sad. Gabe didn’t have the heart to tell her that the blow to her forehead was going to turn purple then green in a few days, so he directed his eyes to her blouse, grazing a rhinestone name tag pinned to her collar.
“Ky Taylor?” he asked.
“I’ve been hunting for you.”
“And here I thought—” Unfriendliness crept back into her tone. “I was told someone was asking. What do you want?”
Should he risk the truth a second time? Gabe figured maybe, maybe not. Best to play it by ear. “It wasn’t you, or not you, precisely. I’ve been tracking down relatives of an Evansville businessman who passed away last year.” He laughed lightly, because this part was true. “I’ve been looking for a man. Obviously you aren—”
“Obviously. And I don’t have any family. You’ve obviously got the wrong person, mist—” She touched her bump and flinched. “What’s your name?”
He reached into his back pocket for the MM&B Investigations business cards that he used for skip-trace work. She tilted her head in suspicion, and he was again taken away by her brilliant blue eyes. Almost unreal, possibly even cosmetic lenses, but he sure was enjoying the illusion. The river breeze lifted her mildly spiky red locks.
But shit, investigative leads were hands-off.
He gave her the card. “Call me McGregor.”
“And you’re looking for me because . . .?”
“I’m looking for the man’s heirs and was told you might know someone named Kathleen Templeton. There’s a reward for information that leads to finding her. Can you help me?”
“I’m asking the questions,” Ky reminded him sharply. “Such as how—”
A muffled pop interrupted her. A nearby pillar spewed splinters.
“Down!” McGregor pushed Ky to the deck and flattened his body on top of hers.
“Get off me, get off!” Ky pounded his back. What the hell was he doing? Her shoulder smarted from the impact of the fall. Her tote had flown from her forearm, sliding out of reach. With a groan, she tried to shove McGregor away so she could reclaim it.
Another pop. More splinters.
Was someone throwing stuff at them?
“Down! Stay down!” McGregor hissed.
“My tote. . . Why won’t– “
“Someone. Is. Shooting. At. Us.”
“Shooting? I didn’t hear—”
“The gun has a silencer.” He put a finger over his lips. “I don’t think the gunman can see us down here.”
He lifted his head.
Whup. Whup. Whup. The railing above them creaked and groaned.
“He almost hit you, McGregor.”
“The guy’s no sharpshooter. His aim’s off by yards.”
He lifted his weight off Ky, giving her room to breathe and rub her sore shoulder.
“He’s hiding in the second passage over.” McGregor rose to his hands and knees. “We’re going to scoot farther up the deck. But stay very low. He’ll lose sight of us and the only way to find us will be to come out. I doubt he wants to do that.”
Ky inched into a crawling position and couldn’t resist stretching her neck for a peek. She caught a quick glimpse of a head and arm, then another shot hit the rail.
“Head down!” McGregor’s voice was harsh, but the hand guiding her along the rail was gentle.
“Wish you’d let me get my tote,” Ky grumbled. “The derringer’s in there.”
“Lot of good two bullets will do.” McGregor inclined his head toward the entrance some fifty feet away. “When we get even with the door, make a run for it. Don’t forget to stay low.”
He reached up, apparently checking on the gunman, who was behind them now.
Whup, whup, whup, whup! Wood chips danced on the sleek deck. Ky glanced over her shoulder and saw a man in a hoodie creeping toward them. He raised his arm and let off another volley of bullets. Wood fragments peppered Ky’s arms and legs. She tried hard, very hard, not to–”
Whup, whup, whup.
“Ssh.” McGregor softly touched her shoulder. “This guy’s serious. We’ve no chance of making it to shelter.”
With no warning, he rocked off his knees onto his heels, swept her up from the deck, and lunged to his feet. Before she knew what happened, he dumped her overboard, then leaped in after her.
“Wa-a-a-ait . . .” she wailed, as the river came rushing up. “I don’t think I know how to–”
Her last word was lost in the muddy depths of the mighty Mississippi.
Bone-freezing cold and heavy with silt, the water swallowed Ky like a whale. She’d drown, surely she would drown. Feet kicking hard, arms frantically windmilling, chest burning, she aimed upward toward the light. Somehow she broke through the surface, still kicking and flailing, gasping for air.
“— swim,” she sputtered.
Then McGregor had her.
“You’re okay, you’re okay. That’s it, keep kicking.” As she calmed, he pulled her closer. “We’ll go toward the hull.”
“No, oh, no. The shore’s so close.”
McGregor’s eyes moved up the side of the Bayou Belle. Ky followed his gaze. The deck was high up, real high up, something she’d never thought about before. She shuddered at what might have happened if they’d hit a sand bar.
McGregor’s attention was elsewhere. Silhouetted by the lowering sun, a dark figure prowled the rail of the level four deck.
“If we try for shore, he’ll nail us.” McGregor warned. “Kick hard, Red, we have to take cover.”
Using a one-armed stroke, he moved them toward the boat. Ky kicked her feet like scissors on steroids but still felt dragged along. A geyser spouted nearby from a bullet hitting the water. Once, then again, and again.
McGregor sped up, giving his all to his one-armed crawl. Ky kicked furiously, heart pounding, breath ragged, trying to help.
She was slowing them down.
The man-overboard alarm blared from the boat. Feet clattered on the second deck, equipment moved across the boards. Ky heard a ramp go down. The noisy efforts muffled the pops of the silenced weapon and the falling flotation rings hit the water with heavy splashes that camouflaged the geysers caused by the bullets. “They don’t know . . . about the . . . shooter,” she gasped out, getting a knowing nod from McGregor.
A shot hit the water mere inches from Ky, the spray hitting her directly in the face. She coughed and sputtered, struggled to stay above water.
“Easy, easy.” McGregor pulled her close and kept her afloat.
Then it happened again, much like the weird martial arts move she’d executed earlier. She pulled away from McGregor, needing to find out. Except she already knew.
She could swim. It was a matter of trust . . . taking that leap. Was her memory returning?
“Ky!” He grabbed for her, but she was swimming alone, doing fine. “I thought you couldn’t swim.”
“We’re being shot at, I had to try.”
“Better late than never.” He sounded miffed.
Ky didn’t blame him. Swimming separately, they quickly reached the boat’s hull. McGregor guided Ky under the weather-roughened curve and shielded her with his body. Noses barely above water, they remained stock still, kicking their feet only enough to stay afloat. The inactivity let the cold again seep through Ky’s bones.
She shivered, abruptly aware that McGregor’s body heat eased her chill. Was she also easing his? The thought was unnerving. Feeling suddenly out of breath, she inhaled sharply.
Only to catch the aroma of bay leaves and cloves that somehow clung to McGregor despite their dunk in the river. A warm scent, decidedly male, yet homey at the same time. But not comforting, not comforting at all. It stirred an oddly familiar ache for some unidentified lack in her life.
She tightened her grip on the hull and moved away from his warmth, which also emanated heat but lacked his soothing heartbeat.
With the added distance, she had a better view of him. He’d lost his Stetson, revealing close-cropped hair, too wet to be sure of the color. He wore a speculative expression, gazing at her with gray-green eyes. Ky sensed his thoughts weren’t good. He had risked his life for her and didn’t seem too happy about it. She supposed the miraculous emergence of her swimming skills hadn’t worked in her favor.
Her lips were half frozen, but she had to get the question out. “Why is that m-man s-shooting at us?”
“You tell me, Ky.”
“The shots are for you.”
“F-For me?” She vigorously shook her head. “No. He’s a-after you.”
“How’s that? Am I the one who got roughed up only minutes before?”
She gaped at him, letting the events of the last half hour click into place. “The guy who attacked me got off the boat before the bullets started.”
McGregor’s eyebrows went up. “Guess he got back on.”
“But why me? Unless . . .”
Ky’s inner alarm went off. She’d been about to bring up the husband, but she didn’t know McGregor. If she misplaced her trust she’d endanger not only herself, but the women’s underground workers who’d sheltered her.
But McGregor had saved her life. Trouble was she didn’t know the reason. He claimed she was a lead to some dead man’s heir, but she didn’t know anyone named Kathleen.
“Couple of days b-back,” her lie began, “a gambler dropped . . . a ton of money at my t-table and was real pissed. Maybe–”
Ky gasped. Something feather-walked along her cheekbone.
An insect? River vermin? Her skin crawled — who knew what kind of slimy things lurked in this dark water? She reached up tentatively, prepared to swat it away.
McGregor plucked off the creepy-crawly. Grinning, he displayed a wiggling eyelash extension, then freed it to float off on the water.
“Oh, God,” Ky groaned. McGregor let out a discreet snicker, if there was such a thing.
She must look like a clown. Her makeup was peeling like paint from an old house, her costume ripped and her headpiece washed away. This had to be the worst day of her life. Which wasn’t an easy thing to say considering that on one of those days she’d almost died of a beating. Embarrassed, she pretended fascination with the way the fake eyelashes bobbed on top of the quiet water like a centipede.
Quiet? Quiet water. “The shooting’s stopped.” “Yeah.” McGregor peered up at the deck. “The rescue workers probably scared the guy off. Let’s give it more time, though. Sometimes these guys hang around for a second chance.”
“See. That’s what I mean. How do you know? You say he’s shooting at me, but you’re the one who knows what to do. You’ve got to be some kind of cop.”
“Not really.” He looked back at her. “We’ll wait a few more minutes, then head for shore.”
Ky nodded. Her fear resurfaced, which unaccountably raised her body temperature. McGregor’s statement about her being the target unnerved her. Despite all the elaborate ruses she hid behind, it seemed the faceless husband she’d escaped had still somehow found her. But how? Was Rosie’s organization in danger? Were all those good people at risk?
She shook her head.
“It’s true, Ky,” McGregor said, as if reading her mind. “The shooter’s after you.”
“And you know this, how?”
“The guy’s a piss-poor aim, but his shots hit closer to you way more often than to me. That’s no accident.”
“It doesn’t make sense. No one–” She almost said knows where I am. “No one has anything against me.”
“Sounds like a case of denial to me. How can you really think the attack and the shooting are unrelated?”
“Because . . .” She blinked her eyes. One of her contacts had slipped and McGregor was getting all blurry. After a couple more blinks, he came back into focus. “Who would shoot at me? I’m just a blackjack dealer.” Remembering her lie about the pissed-off player, she backpedaled. “Except the one losing player, which may explain a beating. But bullets?”
“So how does it compute that the bullets are for me?”
“You’re a stranger. I’m mystified. Let’s leave it to the troopers to figure out.” She kicked off from the hull. “I’m heading for shore.”
Uh-uh. Ky was done. She’d been manhandled, bruised, shot at and dunked in a dirty river, and while it wasn’t McGregor’s fault, he was a handy target. Let him catch up if he could.
She swam aggressively, splashing water everywhere. Her contact lens slipped again. The lens was of the disposable variety, so she plucked it out and threw it away. Wasn’t like she needed it to see. Next, a push-up pad floated out of her tattered blouse. Her damned costume was disintegrating in the river.
She swam faster.
Until a jab to her foot stopped her. She’d struck a rock in the shallows. Somewhere — on the deck, during the fall, or in the water — she’d lost her shoes. Now she had to walk barefoot through muddy sludge to get to shore.
Then McGregor was there, walking beside her. So much for her speed swimming. She was scared and confused, probably looked like a beached catfish, and had counted on leaving him behind. She sighed heavily.
“We’re almost through the muck,” McGregor said sweetly, clearly trying to comfort her.
She smiled just as sweetly, trying to appear grateful.
It wasn’t easy. He showed up and the life she’d tacked together fell apart. Not an equation designed to produce friendly feelings. She hurried on through the sludge and soon arrived on the pebble covered, sparsely grassed shore.
She could see the dock, where people rushed up and down the boarding ramp preparing a rescue cart. Behind the rescue team, paced Rosie, hands flying everywhere as she gave directions. Hoping to relieve her friend’s worry, Ky waved.
“Maybe you shouldn’t draw attention to yourself,” commented McGregor. “The shooter could be hiding among the crew.”
Good advice, and another reason to think he was a cop. He remained in the water and took off one boot, then the other. They were lizard skin, and judging from his pained expression as he poured out muddy water like from a pitcher, they were the real deal.
“Lost my hat,” he said, morosely. “My daughter gave it to me when she was a first grader.”
She wanted to take petty satisfaction in his misery, but the river had cost him, too. Although she’d bet a rack of poker chips that he looked a whole lot better sans hat and boots than she looked without her cosmetics.
The sunset glowed behind him, softening the harsh lines on his face. Without the Stetson, he looked less formidable. Almost as if he might truly be on her side.
Finished emptying the boots, he tossed them on the shore and walked over to Ky. He stopped within arm’s reach, dug into his jacket pocket, then extended his hand. “These yours?”
He held her pushup pads. Both of them.
She’d only noticed losing one.
Her gaze dropped to the V of her blouse, which was no longer filled out by the pads, and now hung open to reveal her water-puckered nipples. She flushed, tugged the blouse together. “Let those things go. They’re ruined anyway.”
He grinned wickedly. “And pollute the mighty Mississippi? No can do.”
Though at her expense, his humor was infectious. And very needed after they’d been shot at and half-drowned. She felt lighter, giddy even. She smiled despite herself.
“And, Red,” he added with a broad, theatrical wink, “I must add that you’ve never looked more natural.”
This time Ky laughed outright. She stripped off her remaining eyelash extensions and placed them on top of the foam lumps in McGregor’s large hand. “If I must look natural, I’m going all the way. And you’re in charge of carrying out the trash.”
McGregor stared wide-eyed at the mess in his hand. “You want me to slay this beastie? Oh, no. Oh, no.”
She laughed again, absorbed in the moment.
As if in blessing, the sun fell to the horizon in a last blaze of orange, red and yellow. She closed her eyes against the brightness, let the rays warm her chilled body.
Light. Warmth. Laughter. Well-being. Ky sensed these had been missing from her life for a long time.
She’d have to let go of this moment soon, have to deal with a past that might be scarier than she’d ever dreamed, but not now. . . . Not now.
She took in a deep breath, holding on for a little longer.
The name was spoken in a hushed voice — McGregor’s voice.
Ky opened her eyes to find him staring at her. He wasn’t smiling anymore.
Suddenly, neither was she.
Did you love this sample ofRead the rest of the book in the following formats:
Know When to Run?