As I gear up for the release of LOVE AND PROTECT on December 29th, I get more and more excited each day. I can’t wait for you guys to read Cade and Laura’s story. It’s a story that began in my head with just one scene and grew so fast, I just had to write it down. So, as we get close to the release date, I thought I’d share the first two chapters! I hope you love it as much as I loved writing it.
Laura watched the clock on the microwave and willed the phone to ring. Patrick would be home within the hour. If “John Smith” didn’t call soon, she’d… Well, she didn’t know what she’d do. If he called after six o’clock, she’d have to try to convince Patrick it was a wrong number.
He wouldn’t fall for that. Even genuine wrong numbers had gotten her into trouble before.
“Please,” she whispered to the phone, her eyes darting toward the front of the house as though she might see him coming any moment. “Just ring, please.”
The numbers on the microwave stared back at her, blank and unfeeling. Twelve minutes past five. The clock didn’t care that time was running out, that she was cutting this much too close. She wiped the counter down for the tenth time, knowing it would do nothing to still the jittery feel of hands that needed to keep busy, of palms that wouldn’t stop sweating.
Forty-eight minutes left. Laura’s heart felt as if it would jump out of her chest as she gave in and sat down, then cradled her head in her hands. The phone rang. How was it that a sound she was waiting for—hoping for—sent her into a panic?
“Mrs. Kensington?” came Smith’s voice on the other end. She had talked to him before, but hadn’t met with him in person. He sounded kind, even though she knew he was a man who spent a lot of time with unsavory people. But that was to be expected given his profession. Despite that, she’d been told he often worked with women who needed to leave a spouse and who wished not to be found again. Maybe there was an empathetic side to him. Something that touched him and made him want to help women like her get away.
“Can you talk now?” he asked and she knew right away what he meant. He had never asked why she was leaving and she certainly hadn’t volunteered the information, but it seemed as if he knew without having to ask. Just the thought that he knew her secret made her uncomfortable and itchy in her own skin.
“Yes, my husband is still at work, but I don’t have long.”
“Did you get the first package?” He had mailed it to a post office box she’d set up two towns over from where she and Patrick lived in Windsor, Connecticut.
“Yes, the temporary license and birth certificate.”
“Good. You’ll be able to use that for a little while, but I need to get you a real birth certificate and social security card if you want to be able to find a job that doesn’t pay under the table. That’s going to take time.”
“How much time?” Laura asked, wanting the answer to be days, not weeks or months, but that was unlikely.
“Not for another few weeks. It takes time to get a real birth certificate and once that’s in place, it takes a little longer for your social security number to come through,” he said with the tone of a man who had explained all this to her before. He had. She was partly just nervous and partly hoping for a different answer this time. This just had to work. There wasn’t any other option.
Before Laura could answer, he continued with instructions. “Save this phone number. I’ll need you to call me in three weeks and let me know where you are. I’ll need a mailing address.” There was no talk of payment. She’d already paid in full just to get him started on the new identity for her. He also didn’t ask when she was leaving and she didn’t tell him. He seemed to assume she wouldn’t be in town in three weeks’ time and he was right. Laura would be running next week, as soon as Patrick left on his business trip.
The sound of car tires crunching up the drive sent acid churning through Laura’s stomach. She thought she’d be sick, but that wasn’t unusual nowadays. She was nauseated for several hours every day and often had to run to the bathroom to be sick.
“I have to go,” Laura whispered and didn’t wait for a response. She tucked the phone in her pocket and turned to the stove, focusing on making her breathing normal, making sure nothing seemed out of place.
She had laid out every ingredient of the stir-fry she would cook that night for dinner. Everything was diced and chopped and ready to go. Patrick didn’t like his dinner to be ready before he arrived home, but he wanted it cooked immediately after his arrival. And, it had better be fast. Laura checked off each ingredient in her mind while she waited for the sound of Patrick’s key in the lock.
It didn’t come. A moment later the doorbell rang. Nothing could have prepared Laura for what she saw when she looked through the etched glass panes at the side of the front door.
Police? What are the police doing here?
A scene from two weeks back flashed briefly before her eyes. Her husband taping something to the bottom of one of the kitchen drawers. She’d tried to walk out of the room before he realized she was there, but she’d been too slow to process the scene and move. Patrick wasn’t often found in the kitchen and he certainly wouldn’t be looking through a drawer. She was responsible for the cooking and cleaning, for putting dishes away. She served his meals in the dining room. Always.
When he’d caught her watching as he taped something to the bottom of the utensil drawer, she’d seen the expected flare of anger in his eyes. But, she’d also seen fear beneath it. And, that was something she’d never seen before. Patrick Kensington feared nothing and no one. In that moment, she’d known her plan to leave had been the right one. It was now or never as Patrick became more unpredictable by the day.
Later, with shaking hands, she’d pulled the drawer out to peer underneath it. A USB drive. The memory of it made her shiver now, as she wrapped her arms around her waist and pulled the door open.
Two young officers stood on Laura’s steps but neither made eye contact when she opened the door. Laura swallowed the unease that filled her and smiled at the men in front of her. They were probably just collecting for a charity or an event of some sort. Not that people ever showed up on their doorstep to solicit funds—that was all handled through a family foundation—but what other reason could there be?
“Can I help you, officers?”
“Ma’am.” The older of the two—though not by much—took off his hat as he addressed her. “Are you Mrs. Laura Kensington?” he asked, as though that were necessary. Laura’s face was well known. Years of appearing beside her famous husband and his iconic family in the media had seen to that.
Tiny fingers of fear ribboned Laura’s spine. “Yes, that’s me. How can I help you?”
“Would you mind if we came in and sat down, ma’am?” he asked and Laura glanced at the badges displayed on each man’s uniform. He paused until Laura nodded and stepped back, opening the door wider to allow them to step through. They followed her to the sitting room and sat on the couch at her gesture.
“Can I offer you something to drink?” she asked, not at all sure she wanted to hear why they were here. She had given the housekeeper the afternoon off to ensure she had privacy for her phone call. Now, it seemed odd not to have someone hovering over her to take care of all of the niceties and polite offerings.
“No thank you, Mrs. Kensington. We’re here about your husband, ma’am,” said the older officer. The younger officer had yet to speak and still carefully avoided her eyes. Laura wished the older one would stop calling her ma’am. She was only twenty-five, and the title seemed more appropriate for her mother-in-law.
My husband?” Laura echoed, turning it into a question. Her mind whirled. Why would the police be here about Patrick? What could the police possibly want with Patrick? The tiny voice in the back of her mind told her she didn’t want the answers.
“I’m afraid your husband has suffered a heart attack, ma’am,” the officer said. “His business partner found him in his office about an hour ago and tried to revive him.”
Laura’s hands shook so hard she had to fold them in her lap and grip one over the other to hold them still. Years of holding a well-honed mask in place were all that kept the façade in place.
“Tried to revive…” Her voice trailed off as the implication of what the man had said began to seep through her confusion. They weren’t here because Patrick had done something illegal. They weren’t here to ask about her husband’s actions or search the house or question her.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Kensington, but your husband didn’t make it.”
The breath whooshed out of Laura’s body in one swift motion, but no new breath seemed to want to fill her lungs. The shaking in her hands only increased and she felt lightheaded.
She sucked in a breath and tried to steady herself. “Patrick?” She couldn’t finish the thought. Patrick is dead. The tears that welled in her eyes weren’t tears of anguish or sorrow, or anything else that a wife should feel for her husband.
They were tears of sheer and utter relief. After three years of terror, of never knowing what would happen to her, of walking on eggshells—after a month of planning her escape from the monster she’d married—he was gone. Laura tried to choke back a sob but it came out in a rough moan, wracking her body as relief and shock tore through her.
It’s over. Could it really be this simple?
Clearly, the officers assumed she was upset by the news of her husband’s death, and offered to call someone to come be with her. Laura couldn’t blame them. That would be the natural assumption when telling someone their spouse had died.
“No.” She shook her head. “I’d like to see my husband’s body.” If the men thought it was an odd request, they didn’t show it.
“Ma’am,” the officer repeated, “is there someone you’d like us to call before we take you over to the hospital? Another family member, maybe?”
Laura stood shakily from the couch. “No. I just need to get my purse,” she said. She needed to go to the morgue. She needed to see him for herself. To know. To know, in her heart, he really was dead. That his hands would be stilled forever. That his lips wouldn’t speak another cruel word. She needed to know she’d never look into his cold hard eyes again––eyes that had deceived the world…. Eyes that had deceived her at one time.
She needed proof that her nightmare was truly over.
Dr. Josh Samuels signed out for the evening and waved to the two remaining nurses at the desk before getting on the elevator. He really needed to give more serious thought to retiring. Long shifts in the emergency room were designed for doctors a lot younger than he, even if he had cut back his hours fairly drastically in the last year. At the moment, he wanted nothing more than to kick off his shoes, open a bottle of wine, and read a good book.
But, thoughts of an evening of relaxation left his head the minute the elevator doors opened and he caught sight of Laura Kensington, flanked by two police officers in the lobby of the hospital. He’d treated Laura three months ago for a broken wrist and several months before that for cracked ribs and another month before that for concussion. He suspected more often than not, she didn’t come to the emergency room when she was injured.
Josh saw abused women all the time in the ER and still felt compelled to help despite the odds. Getting the average woman to admit there was a problem and leave an abusive relationship was a challenge. Convincing one of America’s most well-known wives, a woman who was practically royalty as the wife of one of the Kensingtons… Well, that had proved impossible. But, Josh wasn’t about to give up. He’d been working on building a rapport with Laura and had reached out to her a few times. She’d been tolerant—she was too polite not to be—but she wouldn’t admit there was anything going on. Perhaps the police officers with her this time meant she was ready to make a change, ready to seek help and get away from her husband.
“Laura?” Josh asked as he approached, forgetting the fact that he was no longer on shift. Laura looked pale and stunned as she turned toward him, but he couldn’t see any outside evidence of injury on her body.
“Dr. Samuels,” she said politely, ever playing the part of the wife of the powerful Patrick Kensington. He’d told her before to call him Josh but she never did.
“What’s going on, Laura? Are you all right?” Josh looked from her to the officers, hoping for some kind of reading on the situation.
Laura seemed to be frozen as she answered and Josh quickly understood why. “Patrick is dead,” she said as though she were delivering a report of what she planned to serve for dinner that night rather than a life-changing event. “Patrick had a heart attack.”
“Oh, Laura,” he said, not taking hold of her hands, but wanting to. “I’m so sorry.”
But, no. He really wasn’t sorry. He watched her face carefully to decipher how she was taking Patrick’s death. He had yet to figure out if Laura had truly loved her husband, as many women who were abused did. Would she mourn his death and let the abuse fall to the back of her mind as she remembered the good in him? Or was this a relief to her? He’d always hoped he could convince her to walk away, and he had seen promise once or twice, but he also knew walking away would be a herculean effort for her. It was no simple thing for any woman in her situation, much less one who had the eyes of the world on her.
“I can take her down to the morgue, gentlemen,” Josh said to the officers, who looked to Mrs. Kensington for confirmation. “I’m her doctor,” he said.
It wasn’t entirely true since he’d only ever treated her in the ER and she certainly wasn’t currently under his care, but Josh wasn’t worried about technicalities right now. He wanted to be sure Laura was all right.
She seemed numb as she nodded to the officers, who wasted no time tipping their caps to her and making a break for the door. They clearly hadn’t relished the idea of taking her to the morgue to view her husband’s body. Josh was more than happy to. He was fairly sure that the abuse she’d suffered over the years had been no small matter. If he could make a bit of difference for her, help her come to grips with what had happened and move on, he wanted to do it. And the first step would be helping her view the body of the man Josh was sure had tormented her.
Laura stared at the body, in front of her and imagined Patrick’s death was all a dream or a sick joke. The suddenness of her freedom left her reeling. She wasn’t quite sure she wanted to trust it, to let herself believe it yet. She imagined he could still reach out to grab her. That he would sit up and trap her. That his hands would close around her throat once again, as he laughed at her struggle to draw breath.
She suppressed a shiver.
“Are you all right, Laura?” came Dr. Samuel’s quiet voice. When she had first seen him in the lobby, she hadn’t known what to think. The doctor had been trying to convince her to leave Patrick for a long time. Though she’d never told him what Patrick was doing, he always seemed to know. At first, his knowing eyes frightened her. If he pushed, if he insisted she get help, it would only make things worse. Thankfully, Patrick believed her when she’d said the doctor was trying to recruit her to serve on the hospital’s charitable foundation board.
Over time, some of the doctor’s advice broke through, and she understood he was right. She realized she needed to find the strength and courage to go. If she didn’t leave soon, Patrick would kill her. And if he did, he’d be killing her unborn child with her. Laura couldn’t put her baby at risk. She had put her plan of escape in motion as soon as she realized her baby would never be safe if she didn’t leave her husband.
She looked up into the doctor’s kind face. Hair like snow, gentle blue eyes. A questioning smile hovered on his lips. Something about him was always calming. Before she could think to say anything, his eyes darted to her arms and her stomach sank. She’d left the house in short sleeves and didn’t realize she had been rubbing her hands up and down her upper arms, probably moving the sleeves up with each brush of her hands. She was normally careful to keep her sleeves in place.
Laura abruptly dropped her hands to her sides and glanced away. She swallowed the fear that clutched at her, grabbed hold, and didn’t seem to want to let go. No one was supposed to learn her secrets. Not ever.
“I’m fine. Yes. Thank you, though. For asking, I mean. But, I’m all right.” Words seemed to blurt out from her lips now, as she tried to cover the awkward silence.
She looked back to her husband’s body. She really was all right now. Patrick was gone. He couldn’t hurt her anymore. He couldn’t hurt her baby. One thought rang over and over in her head. It’s over. It’s really over.
“You look pale. Would you like some water or to take a seat?” he asked.
Laura shook her head. The smile she gave him was one born of practice.
“That’s very nice of you, really, but I’m fine. Thank you.” She’d pasted that smile on her face permanently, but both the smile and her words seemed at odds with the fact that she was viewing her dead husband’s body.
The uncomfortable silence that settled between the two near-strangers was filled all too quickly by the sound of the automatic doors opening. Martha Kensington, Patrick’s mother, and his notorious younger brother, Justin Kensington, were shown into the room by a technician, with Patrick’s business partner, Alec Hall, at the rear. Martha and Alec were stone-faced, but Justin looked genuinely distressed.
Laura’s step toward the doctor was instinctive, as was the way she cradled her stomach in an unmistakably protective gesture. Neither move went unnoticed. Martha’s eyes narrowed on Laura a split second before the doctor stepped in front of her. Laura wasn’t sure why this doctor had taken up her cause, why he was so willing to help her, but in that moment as she realized she wasn’t free of the Kensingtons yet, she was grateful he was there by her side.
“Good morning. I’m Dr. Samuels.” He extended his hand and merely waited, as if expecting the newcomers to introduce themselves, to explain their relationship to her husband. As if he didn’t recognize them from the papers and television.
Justin met the doctor’s eyes and shook his hand. Martha did not. Justin introduced everyone, then said, “I’d like my brother’s body released as quickly as possible to this funeral home.” Justin handed a card to Dr. Samuels. He, in turn, passed it to the morgue technician who had shown them in and now hovered awkwardly nearby.
Laura thought Martha would want to see her son, that she might show some sign of grief over losing him. But, no. Martha simply turned her back on Patrick’s body and spoke in a cold, commanding voice, to no one in particular.
“We’ll be taking my daughter-in-law home now, where she belongs. Laura, come.”
Laura gasped. Martha’s words were low—a warning and a command—one that was completely clear. Martha Kensington had no intention of letting Laura walk away with Patrick’s baby. Tension coursed through the room feeling thick and weighty as realization hit. She wasn’t free. Patrick’s death had freed her from her husband’s torment, but the Kensingtons would never let her go.
How stupid could I be? Laura knew in that moment that coming to the hospital had been a mistake. When she got the news, she should have left right away. No one would have thought anything of it if she told the police she wanted to be alone, that she’d go to the morgue when she was composed. If she’d done that, Laura could have taken the money she’d put away and the ID she’d hidden and left town before Martha Kensington could have stopped her.
She raised her chin and took a deep breath. There was no way in the world she was walking out of here with the Kensingtons. Freedom was in sight and she would grab it with both hands and hang on tight.
Dr. Samuels raised his hand, palm facing out, an appeasing gesture meant to diffuse, but a firm one nonetheless. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Kensington. I can’t allow that.”
Martha looked stunned at the refusal. She drew her already tall form up to its full height. “She’ll come home with us. She’s pregnant, doctor. She needs to be with family so we can care for the baby. We’re the baby’s family.”
Laura opened her mouth to speak, although she wasn’t sure what she intended to say. But, the doctor was there for her once again, intervening with Martha in a way Laura wasn’t sure she could have. Her relationship with her mother-in-law was not a loving one. In fact, in many ways, Martha frightened her more than Patrick had and whatever lifeline Dr. Samuel was throwing her, she would take.
“Then I’m sure you understand, for the safety of the baby, I cannot let Laura go with you. She’s suffered quite an emotional blow this evening.”
“Nonsense. We have a private physician who can meet us at the house,” Martha said. Justin shifted next to her looking from Laura to his mother and back again, seemingly undecided as to whether to support his mother or listen to the doctor. Alec stepped forward as if to join the debate, but the doctor raised a hand again.
“Now, I’m sure you’ll agree, we all want the best for Laura and the baby. By the time you get her home, she could be in a state of shock, putting both Laura and the baby at risk,” Dr. Samuels said. “I’m going to keep her here under observation. We’ll monitor the baby for twenty-four to forty-eight hours and be sure there are no complications or ill-effects from the shock.”
To keep reading on December 29th, pre-order at all major retailers here!