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Year of the Dog serial novel, chapter 22

I’m posting a Humorous Christian Romantic Suspense serial novel here on my blog! Year of the Dog is a (second) prequel to my Warubozu Spa Chronicles series. Year of the Dog serial novel by Camy Tang Mari Mutou, a professional dog trainer, is having a bad year. While renovating her new dog kenneling and training facility, she needs to move in with her disapproving family, who have always made her feel inadequate—according to them, a job requiring her to be covered in dog hair and slobber is an embarrassment to the family. She convinces her ex-boyfriend to take her dog for a few months … but discovers that his brother is the irate security expert whose car she accidentally rear-ended a few weeks earlier. Ashwin Keitou has enough problems. His aunt has just shown up on his doorstep, expecting to move in with him, and he can’t say no because he owes her everything—after his mother walked out on them, Auntie Nell took in Ashwin and his brother and raised them in a loving Chri

Excerpt - Deadly Vows by Shirlee McCoy

Deadly Vows
by
Shirlee McCoy


Olivia Jarrod was newly placed in witness protection when she discovered she was pregnant. First rule of the program: no contact with anyone from her former life. That includes her estranged husband, Ford Jensen—the unknowing father of her unborn child. Despite their rocky marriage, Olivia still loves him deeply. And when Ford shocks her by tracking her down, she knows the mobster pursuing her can't be far behind. But now their baby's very life depends on both of them staying alive—and together.

Excerpt of chapter one:

She'd popped.

Olivia Jarrod turned sideways and stared at her reflection, not sure if she should be elated or horrified. The flat plane of her stomach was gone. In its place was a subtle roundness that was emphasized by her fitted T-shirt. She placed her hands on the bump, imagining tiny hands and feet, translucent skin, a swiftly beating heart.

Her baby.

And Ford's.

She frowned, pulling the fabric taut against her abdomen as she turned from side to side. Thinking about Ford was something she tried not to do. The last few months had been difficult enough without reliving her failed marriage, thinking about the year she and Ford had been separated or dwelling on the last time she'd seen him.

She frowned again, turning away from the mirror and the telltale evidence of just how easily she'd fallen for her husband's charming ways again. She still didn't know why he'd shown up on the doorstep of her Chicago bungalow just a few days after Christmas. Had he been lonely in their penthouse? Had he decided to fight for their marriage?

Olivia had asked herself the same questions over and over again in the days after she'd fled Chicago, but she had no answers. All she knew for sure was that Ford didn't want kids. Too much trouble, he'd said years ago. Too many complications. He had too much riding on his career and too little time to devote to the mess and chaos children brought.

He'd be shocked if he found out he was going to be a father.

Appalled.

Angry.

There were plenty of words Olivia could think of that would describe Ford's reaction to impeding fatherhood. None of them were good.

It was a good thing she knew it. Otherwise, she'd pick up the phone and do what she knew she wasn't supposed to. She'd call Ford. She'd tell him that in a few short months he was going to be a father.

And she'd probably end up dying because she'd contacted him.

After all, wasn't that the first rule of witness protection?

No contact with anyone or anything from the past.

People who followed the rule lived. People who didn't died. It was as simple as that.

What wasn't simple was forgetting the past. Moving on. Letting go. She'd loved Ford for a long time. Even during their yearlong separation, she'd loved him, longed for his company and prayed that someday things would be different and they could be together again.

God hadn't answered that prayer.

But He had given Olivia something she'd always dreamed of. A baby. She needed to focus on that. Forget about everything else.

Which was exactly why she shouldn't be thinking about Ford.

As the key witness in the prosecution's murder case against Chicago crime family scion Vincent "Bloodbath" Martino, Olivia couldn't afford to make a mistake. Entering witness protection would only keep her safe as long as she followed the rules, and following the rules was only easy when she didn't dwell on the things she could no longer have. Like a relationship with the only man she'd ever loved, a man who'd broken her heart a hundred times but who still deserved to know he was going to be a father.

"Just stop it!" she muttered, grabbing her waitress uniform off the bed and shoving it into the hamper. It had been a long day. A long couple of weeks, really. Being relocated from Billings, Montana, to Pine Bluff, Montana, had knocked her off kilter. Although, it was more the reason for the relocation rather than the move itself that had shaken her. Two women in witness protection had been murdered in Montana. Both women had green eyes and were around Olivia's age. The U.S. Marshals weren't sure if Olivia had been the true target of the attacks. The fact that she had blue eyes rather than green made the chances slim, but Micah McGraw, Olivia's contact in the marshal's office, hadn't wanted to take any chances.

So she'd been moved.

Quickly.

So quickly she hadn't had time to say goodbye to some of the friends she'd made in Billings or to tell her church family there that she was leaving. Nearly four months of pretending to be someone she wasn't, blending into a new community, and it was over. She'd packed a small bag, climbed into a waiting car and been whisked away.

And now she was tired. Jumping at shadows. Imagining danger around every corner.

She sighed, grabbing a sweater and throwing it over her T-shirt. What she needed was a cup of tea, a few hours of mindless television and a good night's sleep. She'd feel better in the morning.

The telephone rang as she walked into the living room, and she jumped, her heart racing.

"For goodness' sake, Olivia. It's just the phone," she mumbled as she lifted the receiver and pressed it to her ear. "Hello?"

"Olivia? It's Lorna Scott. I know this is short notice, but our preschool ballet teacher is sick. Any chance you can fill in for her?" Lorna asked, her tone brusque. Director of Pine Bluff's YMCA program, she was a frequent patron of the diner where Olivia worked, and often stopped in for breakfast during Olivia's shift. She'd been the first one in years to ask if Olivia was a dancer, and the question had sparked a long conversation about the YMCA's programs. It hadn't taken long for Lorna to offer Olivia a job as a substitute ballet teacher at the Y. It had taken Olivia a little longer to accept. She'd had to weigh the danger of participating in an activity connected to her previous life with the danger of making Lorna curious.

In the end, she'd decided that she'd rather accept the job than answer questions about why she couldn't. Too many lies made it too easy to make mistakes. "What time is the class?"

"Six."

Olivia glanced at her watch, hesitating. It was only five. Plenty of time to get ready and go. She just wasn't sure she wanted to. She'd felt off all week. Nervous and even more on edge than usual. "I—"

"If you've got plans, I'm sure I can find someone else." There was a question in Lorna's words, and Olivia knew that refusing to take over the class meant explaining why she couldn't. Unfortunately, she had no real excuse.

"That's all right. I can come," she said, knowing she had to live her life as if she had nothing to be afraid of. As if she really was Olivia Jarrod from Hollywood, Florida, newly single and starting over with a new job in a new state.

"You're sure?"

"It's a forty-five-minute class, right?"

"That's right."

"Then no problem."

"See you at six."

Olivia hung up and paced to the front window. Outside, the sun was still high, its golden presence comforting. During daylight hours, Olivia felt almost safe. It was night that she dreaded. Darkness bred fear and stirred up memories she'd rather not dwell on. Not just of the murder she'd witnessed but of the years she'd spent alone waiting for Ford to come home from work, waiting for him to remember their anniversary or to wish her a happy birthday, waiting for her dreams of a happy home and loving family to come true. So much time wasted waiting for something that would never happen.

Too bad it had taken her so long to realize the truth. If she'd walked away two years into their marriage or three or even four rather than the ten it had taken, she and Ford would have been divorced a long time ago, and nothing that had happened in the past four months would have happened. She wouldn't have let Ford into her house, wouldn't have believed that he might really want something different from their marriage than what they'd had. She wouldn't have been so hurt when he'd interrupted a conversation about their future to take a business phone call.

And she wouldn't have run from her Chicago home and straight into a scene out of a crime drama—two men walking near the river, the moon bright and full above them. One pulling a gun, pointing it at the other's head and firing. A body falling into the river. A face that Olivia recognized from the newspaper.

She shuddered, pushing the memory away. It was better to focus on the present and the future. As much as she wished she hadn't seen a man murdered in cold blood, she couldn't regret that night. It had given her a precious gift. God had given her a precious gift. She needed to focus on that and forget everything else.

"We'll be okay, baby. I have to believe that," she said. God had gotten her through that terrifying night. He'd get her through the next month, and He'd get her through Vincent Martino's trial.

Her stomach rumbled, reminding her that she hadn't eaten since lunch. It would be a good idea to grab something before going to the YMCA, but Olivia was afraid to. Her stomach hadn't been quite right since she'd gotten pregnant, and the months hadn't eased the discomfort. Her new obstetrician had assured Olivia that she'd be feeling better soon, but soon hadn't come yet.

Anxious and antsy, she grabbed the pregnancy book she'd left on the coffee table, thumbed to the section on the second trimester and tried to read, but one word bled into another and she couldn't make sense of any of it. Disgusted, she dropped the book back onto the table, grabbed her purse and jacket and opened the front door.

Outside, the day had turned cool, a brisk breeze stirring the trees and grass. Across the street, Maria and Joshua Sil-verman were herding their three kids into their 1950s ranch style home. Both waved before disappearing inside. Olivia knew a lot about them. That they'd married straight out of high school and had their first child a year later. That they were honest, hard working and that they'd believed every word Olivia had said about being newly divorced and looking to start over again. What she didn't know was what they'd think if they found out the truth. That most of what she'd told them was a lie. That she was a woman with a price on her head, and that at any moment one of Vincent Martino's thugs might end her life.

She shivered, pulling the jacket closed and glancing up and down the quiet street. Her contact with the U.S. Marshals had been limited since she'd been relocated, but she'd been assured she was under twenty-four-hour protection. Maybe so, but she didn't feel protected. She felt vulnerable and more alone than she'd ever been before. No matter where she went in Pine Bluff, no matter what she was doing, she felt exposed. As if a predator were hiding just out of sight, waiting to pounce.

It wasn't a good feeling, and when she spoke to Micah McGraw again, she was going to ask him just how much protection his team was providing.

"Headin' out for the night?" Jeb Carlson, Olivia's next door neighbor, called out from the window of his house, and she smiled. Maybe the marshals weren't watching, but Jeb sure was.

"I'm teaching at the Y."

"Pretty girl like you should be out having fun on a Friday night not working."

"Having fun won't pay the bills."

"You got a point there. You get the delivery?"

"What delivery?" Olivia went cold at the question, her heart beating rapidly. She hadn't ordered anything, and as far as she'd noticed, no packages had been left for her.

"Van pulled into your driveway a couple hours ago. Guy got out and grabbed something from the back. Thought he was going to leave it on your porch."

"There was nothing here when I got home."

"He left pretty quick. I put on my shoes and walked outside and the van was already gone. Probably realized he was at the wrong house and left. Happens sometimes."

"Yeah." But agreeing didn't make it so. Maybe there'd been a mistake. Or maybe the Martinos had found her.

Found her? Of course they hadn't found her.

If they had, she'd be dead.

Jeb was right. The van and delivery were simply a mix-up. Nothing sinister or scary about them at all.

"You okay, doll?" Jeb asked, and Olivia forced herself to smile and nod. Nothing was going on. Nothing that couldn't be explained. She really did need to stop jumping at shadows and imagining Martinos around every corner.

"I'm fine. I'd better head out, though."

"Don't work too hard. A lady in your condition needs her rest."

"My condition?" Olivia paused with her hand on the door to her car. She hadn't told anyone in Pine Bluff about the pregnancy. Though she'd shared with a few people in Billings, discussing the baby inevitably led to questions about the baby's father. Questions Olivia couldn't answer with any amount of truthfulness.

"Now, don't be worrying that I'll tell every Tom, Dick and Harry about it, but I've been around enough pregnant women to know one when I see one."

"I—" Olivia glanced down at the slight swelling of her stomach. Was it really that noticeable?

"Besides. I saw the pregnancy book on your table when you had me in for coffee the other day. I suppose it's that no-good ex-husband's child."

"Yes." She barely kept herself from correcting Jeb, from telling him that she wasn't divorced and that Ford wasn't no-good. That he was just too caught up in making money to care much about creating a family.

Or about her.

"Well, it's your business when you tell other people, but if you need anything, I'm right next door."

"Thanks, Jeb." Olivia got in the car and started the engine, her hand shaking. In Pine Bluff, keeping to herself was nearly impossible. The town was small, the people friendly and curious about the newcomer in their midst. Being standoffish or closed-mouthed would only make them talk about her more and that was the last thing Olivia wanted.

Blend in.

She could hear the words that had been pounded into her from the moment she'd agreed to enter the witness protection program. Don't do anything that is going to get you noticed.

That was a lot easier said than done when you were single and pregnant in small-town America. Soon, the little bulge of her stomach was going to grow. The baby that she'd been able to hide up to this point wouldn't be hidden any longer. When that happened, people would talk.

But, please, God, don't let any of Martino's men be around to hear it.

The sun dipped below distant mountains as Olivia drove across town, shrouding streets and alleys in shadows. As always, the darkness brought memories. The gun. The explosion of sound as it was fired point-blank into another man's head. Vincent Martino's cold face illuminated by moonlight. No matter how hard Olivia fought to let go of her old life, she couldn't rid herself of it. Perhaps that was why she felt so on edge, so nervous.

Streetlights did little to dispel the darkness or to chase away the memories, and Olivia was tense with anxiety as she pulled into the parking lot at the Y.

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Comments

Emileigh Latham said…
Ooo...I really like this one! I have added it to my Amazon wishlist.
Thanks for sharing.
Sounds like a really good story. Will be one I put on my list.

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