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By Toni V. Sweeney

Connell Ambers was fifteen when she was raped and left for dead by her brother’s best friend. Ben Reed was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and confined to a psychiatric hospital but Connell received a worst sentence; a victim of agoraphobia and continual nightmares, she becomes a recluse, taken refuge on Blood Bay Island, with only her pets and her painting to console her.

Tucker McKenzie was just doing a friend a favor: stopping on his way to Florida to check on a frat brother’s sister, and finding a woman for whom he feels a startling attraction. In spite of Connell’s fears, they begin a tentative love affair, as Tuck encourages her to take the first steps toward again leading a normal life.

Then Ben Reed escapes, leaving behind a trail of bodies as he makes his way to Bahia de Sangre to finish what he started nine years before…

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Romantic Thriller

Sensuality rating: 3

Cover Art by Blaise Kilgallen

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Author: Toni V. Sweeney
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Chapter 1

The pounding on the door pulled Connell Ambers out of the deep pit she called sleep. She’d been having The Dream again, so she should’ve been grateful, but she wasn’t. Being awake held its own nightmares, ones she couldn’t dispel by opening her eyes.

Throwing back the covers, she sat up, spilling Brad Pitt, who’d been sleeping on her chest, onto the floor. She swung her legs over the edge of the bed, wincing as her feet touched the bare wooden floor and one toe scuffed up a splinter.

Ouch! Got to get that sanded.

The pounding continued. Boom...boom... Slow, steady, like a persistent drum. Boom... Boom... Boom... But not hollow. With the solidness of a fist behind it.

Like the muted thump of knuckles against soft frightened flesh.

“Where’s my robe?” Eyes still dazed from sleep, she stared around blearily. Come to think of it, where’s my nightgown?

It had been a hot night, nightmare-filled and sweat-drenched. Neither garment was in sight. Favoring her stabbed toe, Connell limped to the window, stepping over Conan the Barbarian sprawled on the floor, while nearly tripping over Mr. Spock who appeared as if transported from Berengaria-One or somewhere and darted under her feet.

Boom...boom... The noise became an unsettling rhythm. Who the Hell can it be? Tico, Maybe? Sent by Mama Sanchez with one of her fresh tamale pies? Guaranteed to put las rosas in your cheeks, chica! Or Papa Pepe, making certain she’d heard the latest weather report and knew a storm was rolling in?

Boom...boom...

“The natives are certainly restless this morning. ”

Conan stretched and yawned and growled agreement.

Somehow, she made it to the window unscathed, calling, “Quien es? Que desea?” as she leaned out, one knee resting on the window seat. Mr. Spock leaped to the threadbare cushions and began to entwine himself back and forth between her legs, his arched spine tickling the inside of her bare thigh. She placed a steadying hand on the cat’s head.

“Ms. Ambers?”

A man’s voice. And not one she recognized.

“Que--” Wait a minute. He doesn’t sound Spanish. She shook off the sleep haze and switched to English, asking the question in a cautious growl, “Who is it?”

Damn, how suspicious that sounds! Well, didn’t she have a right? She leaned out a little farther, peering at the man a story below her.

One hand to his eyes, he was backing away from the door into the little yard as he searched the expanse of tabby exterior. Found her. Stopped just before stepping into the pine needle-filled fishpond.

Good thing, too. She’d hate to see those beautiful boat shoes ruined by pond scum. Stuff was hard to get off.

“Ms. Ambers?”

Shit, a stranger! The total kind!

Connell ducked back inside the room, reaching for the first thing available to cover herself. The curtain. Holding the frayed and shabby length of lace before her like a veil, she leaned out again.

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