Skip to main content

Happy Girls' Day!

I realize it’s not a traditional hinamatsuri photo, but I couldn’t help it, the cat was so cute! Happy Girls’ Day!

Excerpt - Lone Defender by Shirlee McCoy

Lone Defender
by
Shirlee McCoy


When private investigator Skylar Grady finds herself abandoned in the Arizona desert, she knows two things. First, her "simple" case tracking a deadbeat dad has someone spooked. Second—that someone will kill to keep her off the trail. So even when her rescuer, former patrol agent Jonas Sampson, wants her to leave, Skylar knows she's staying. No one gets rid of her that easily. If Jonas wants her safe, then he'll have to stick by her side. But her new partner is a mystery, too—one Skylar will risk her heart to solve.

Excerpt of chapter one:

Dying shouldn't be so difficult.

At least, in Skylar Grady's estimation it shouldn't be.

The way she saw it, if it were her time to die, she should be allowed to go quickly. No fuss. No muss. No wandering through the wilderness for days.

Her time to die?

No way did she plan for it to be that. Then again, she hadn't planned to get lost in the Sonoran Desert, but there she was. Lost.

She frowned, forcing herself to keep walking toward the shadowy mesa. A couple more miles and she'd be there. God willing, civilization would be on the other side. It better be, because six days with no food and minimal water had taken its toll. Much as she wanted to deny it, truth was truth. If she didn't find her way out soon, she wouldn't find her way out at all.

And that would be a shame. Not just because Skylar would be dead but because it also meant that the guy who'd drugged her, driven her out into the desert and left her to die would get away with it.

That definitely wasn't how Skylar planned for things to play out.

Unfortunately, she wasn't sure she had much of a choice in the matter.

Desert wilderness stretched out as far as the eye could see. No roads. No buildings. Nothing but an endless landscape of cacti and low-lying desert scrub, with the mesa in the distance. It's all she'd seen since she'd left her jeep, everything she had lived, breathed and felt for six days. She wanted out with a desperation that left her hollow and empty inside.

If there wasn't something or someone on the other side of the mesa….

She pulled her thoughts up short. Going there wouldn't help things. She had to keep walking, keep moving and, above all, keep hoping.

Lightning flashed in the distance, and the quiet rumble of thunder followed. Another storm. Was it the third or fourth since she'd made the decision to leave the rental jeep she'd woken in?

Did it matter?

Another winter storm meant water. Water meant life.

Her foot caught in thick desert scrub, and she fell hard, her breath leaving on a painful gasp. She forced herself up again, shivering as icy wind seeped through her T-shirt. Warm days. Cold nights. Sunburned skin and bone-deep chill. They'd taken their toll, and she wanted to rest more than just about anything.

But not more than she wanted to live.

Not more than she wanted justice.

And she did want that.

Someone had tried to kill her. She was going to find out who, she was going to find out why and she was going to smile when her would-be murderer was thrown in jail. First, though, she had to survive.

One trudging painful step after another to the mesa.

That was the only way to do it.

All around her, the night throbbed with energy and life; creatures moving in the darkness. Slithering, creeping, jumping creatures.

Were there wildcats in the desert?

Skylar didn't know, and she didn't want to find out.

Something shifted in the blackness, a deep shadow against the darkness. She blinked and it was gone, leaving nothing but a stillness that made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end. Something was out there. Something that was stalking her through the blackness. Skylar was as sure of that as she was of anything.

Something or someone.

Maybe the guy who'd left her to die had returned to make sure she'd done so.

She crouched low, not taking her eyes off the spot where the shadow had been, her hand skimming the ground. A weapon. Any weapon. That's what she needed.

But there was nothing.

No thick tree branches.

No heavy rocks.

She grabbed a fistful of dirt, her heart thumping a hard irregular beat, the desert pulsing with tension from something she couldn't see, but knew was there. Endless seconds passed, each moment a lifetime.

Please, God, let it be my imagination.

A figure appeared inches from where she crouched, stepping from blackness so suddenly Skylar was sure he'd disappear just as quickly.

She reached out, her fingers brushing a leather boot.

Real.

He was real.

"Skylar Grady?" His voice was smooth and deep, and Skylar didn't bother asking what he wanted. No way was this guy part of a search-and-rescue team. If he were, he wouldn't be alone. She jerked back, letting the handful of dirt fly before breaking into a sprint. Endless desert stretched out around her with no hope of rescue or safety. She knew it, but she ran anyway.

Please, Lord, get me out of this alive. Please.

Please.

Please.

The prayer chanted through her mind, matching pace with the frantic thrum of her pulse. Something snagged her shirt, pulled her back and she went fighting, swinging her fists the same way she had when she'd been a runty freshman in a high school overflowing with drug dealers and gang members.

"Cool it, Grady. I'm not in the mood to have my face beaten in." The command barely registered, and she swung again, her fist connecting with a rock-hard jaw.

"I said cool it." There was no heat in his words, and he grabbed her arm, pulling it behind her back with just enough pressure to hold her still.

"Let me go!" She stepped back, trying to unbalance him and loosen his grip, but he was as solid and unmoving as a mountain.

"I'm thinking your boss wouldn't be happy if I did that. Neither would I. I've lost and found your trail a dozen times these past couple days. I lose it again, and you may be lost for good."

"My boss?" She stilled, her heart beating too rapidly, her breath spilling out in great heaving gasps.

"Kane Dougherty. He's an old college friend. He called me the day before yesterday. Asked me to take part in the search-and-rescue operation that was launched to find you." His grip loosened, his hand smoothing up her arm and resting against her neck. "Take a deep breath, before you keel over."

"I'm not going to keel over." But she inhaled deeply, trying to force her racing heart to slow.

"I'm not sure I believe you. You've been out here for six days. That's a long time." His hand dropped away, and then he was in front of her, his eyes gleaming in the darkness.

"Long enough for people to stop looking for me. I haven't seen a search plane in two days, and then it was too far away to see me. I thought for sure I was going to have to find my own way out of here." She dropped onto the ground, relief making her light-headed.

Maybe she was going to pass out.

"They haven't stopped looking, they've just scaled back."

"Because they're looking for a body?" It made sense, but that didn't mean she wanted to hear it.

"It happens all the time. People drive into the desert to take pictures of the scenery, and they don't realize how unforgiving the terrain is. They get lost or hurt, and they run out of supplies."

"Look, buddy—"

"Jonas. Sampson."

"Look, Jonas, I didn't drive myself out here. Someone drove me. I didn't choose to go on a six-day sojourn. Someone else decided to send me on one."

"Who?"

"I don't know, but as soon as I get back to civilization, I plan to find out."

"You didn't see him?"

"I didn't see anything. I was out cold."

"Then, I guess the next question would be, 'Why?'"

"That's another thing I plan to find out once I get back to Cave Creek. So, how about we get in your jeep or truck or whatever you rode in on and get out of here?" She shivered, adrenaline fading and leaving her colder than she'd ever felt before.

"Sorry. No truck. No jeep. I track people on foot. Makes it easier to follow their trail." "You're kidding, right?"

"No. Here." He crouched beside her, slid out of his backpack and pulled a jacket from it. "You'd better put this on. It's going to get a lot colder."

"Thanks." She put on the jacket, tried to zip it closed, but her hands were clumsy from too many days with no food.

"Let me." Jonas brushed her fingers away, his knuckles skimming her jaw as he pulled up the collar around her neck. Warmth lingered where his hands had been, and Skylar could feel it seeping into her.

Surprised, she shifted away, trying to see him through the blackness. Dark hair that was a little long and a little shaggy. High cheekbones. Eyes that could have been any color. He looked like an ancient warrior, and for a moment she wondered if she'd imagined the feel of boot leather, the conversation, even the scent of soap that hung in the air.

She reached toward him, realized what she was about to do and let her hand drop away.

"You okay?" he asked, and she nodded.

"Fine."

"Good. There's a storm blowing in, and we need to find shelter for the night." He offered a hand and pulled her upright.

"Five nights out here was plenty. How about we find shelter in town?"

"There's no way Phoenix Search and Rescue can send a helicopter for us until morning. No way we'll make it out on foot. Like it or not, we're stuck here until dawn."

"Then I guess we'll be walking all night, because there is no way I'm going to bunk down and accept my fate." She started walking, and Jonas pulled her to a stop.

"Even if we walk all night we won't reach the highway before morning, and there's no way you're going to make it that long."

"I've been walking for days. One more night won't hurt me." Her teeth chattered on the last word, and she rubbed her hands up and down her arms. She felt cold to the bone, tired to the core. Every muscle in her body ached, but if it meant a hot meal, dry clothes and a warm bed, she'd walk all night.

"That's what most people probably think before the desert takes them." "Nice, Jonas."

"I'm not nice. I'm realistic. You probably haven't eaten in a week and if you make it another mile, I'll be surprised. So, how about we do things my way? We head to the mesa, find some shelter and hunker down until first light." He handed her a water bottle, and she took a long swallow, letting the lukewarm liquid pour down her parched throat. Her hand shook as she wiped moisture from her lips, her stomach heaving in protest. Empty. That's what she was running on, and as much as she wanted to deny it, Jonas was right.

Her brain might be telling her to keep going, but her body was giving out. Quickly. As much as it aggravated her to depend on anyone, she'd have to follow Jonas's lead in this. "All right. Let's do this your way."

She didn't give him time to respond, just moved toward the mesa, hoping she didn't lose the water that seemed to be sloshing around in her empty stomach.

That's all she needed. Humiliation on top of exhaustion and pain.

"That was quick." His words rumbled through the darkness, a reminder that she might be cold and tired and sick, but she was not alone anymore.

That, at least, was something to be thankful for.

"What?"

"Convincing you to go along with my plan. Kane said you'd probably fight me tooth and nail on everything." "Kane talks too much."

"That worked out well for you this time. If he hadn't told me that you were too stubborn to die, I wouldn't have agreed to help with the search." He didn't say what he must be thinking, what Skylar knew to be the truth. If not for Kane's intervention, she'd be facing another night alone in the desert. She might even be facing her last night alone in the desert. Her last night period.

She wasn't, though.

That was the important thing. Kane had sent help. Skylar would survive her trip to Arizona and her six-day hike through the desert. One more night. That's all she had to do, then she'd get a hot shower, a warm bed. Food. Her stomach rumbled loudly, the sound spilling out into the darkness.

"Hungry, huh?"

"What would make you say that?" She'd didn't hold back the snarky response, but maybe she should have. Jonas was, after all, her way out of the mess she was in. No sense getting on his bad side.

"Just a guess." He pulled something out of his pocket, barely breaking stride as he handed it to her. "Eat that, but take it slow. We don't have time to stop while you empty your guts."

"Your concern is touching." She glanced down at the protein bar, her mouth watering. Not a juicy burger, but she'd eat cardboard if it meant easing the gnawing hunger she'd been feeling for days. She tore the wrapper off, took the first bite and the second and the third.

Jonas grabbed the bar from her hand before she could take another.

"Hey!"

"I said take it slow. Not inhale it."

"If I were inhaling it, it would already be gone." She snatched the bar back, took another bite, actually managing to taste the nutty flavor before she swallowed. "It's good."

"I have more. I'll get them out when we stop."

"How about we stop now? Because I could eat another dozen of those." She licked crumbs from her fingers, thought about dragging Jonas to a stop and demanding whatever food he was carrying.

"Weren't you just saying you wanted to walk all night?"

"That was before I realized you had food."

"Three more miles and you can eat all the protein bars you want."

"Is that a bribe?"

"Whatever keeps you moving."

"More food would do it."

"Sorry. Everything else is in my pack. Getting it out would slow us down." "Are we in a hurry?" "Only if we want to beat the storm." "I've weathered several storms already. One more won't kill me."

"The storm isn't the only thing I'm worried about." His pace had increased, and Skylar struggled to keep up, her sluggish movements no match for his long, easy stride.

"Please, don't tell me there are mountain lions out here. I really don't want to end up being cat food."

"Mountain lions aren't the worst predator we might run into. I've seen campfires the past couple nights. I thought members of the search party were following my trail, but the search-and-rescue coordinator said none of his people were out here."

"Maybe it's someone enjoying the desert," she offered, but she didn't believe it any more than she believed the person who'd drugged her and left her in the desert hadn't meant her any harm.

Print book:
Harlequin.com (Save an extra 10% with code SAVE10AFFO at checkout!)
Barnes and Nobleicon
Amazon
Christianbook.com
BooksaMillion

Ebook:
Harlequin.com (Save an extra 10% with code SAVE10AFFO at checkout!)
Nookbookicon
Kindle
BooksaMillion



Save 20% off all Love Inspired Suspense Books

Comments

Popular Posts

Bethany House Publishers Cover Survey Invitation

Captain's Log, Supplemental I just got this from Bethany House Publishers: Hello Reader, We at Bethany House Publishers appreciate our readers opinions about the books we publish. Occasionally, we seek your input about upcoming products. Currently, we are conducting a survey about the cover image for an upcoming novel. For your time, we are offering a giveaway in conjunction with this survey. You will be able to choose from ten recent Bethany House novels, and there will be ten winners. Winners will be notified within two weeks. Click here to take the survey, which should take about 10 minutes to complete. Thank you for your participation, and feel free to forward this email on to your friends or link the survey on your website. The survey will be available through Monday, September 17. Thanks for your time and your opinions. We value your feedback. Sincerely, Jim Hart Internet Marketing Manager Bethany House Publishers

Year of the Dog serial novel

About Year of the Dog : A month or two ago, I remembered an old manuscript I had completed but which hadn’t sold. It was a contemporary romance meant for Zondervan, titled Year of the Dog . The book had gone into the pipeline and I even got another title ( Bad Dog ) and a cover for it, but eventually my editor at the time decided she didn’t want to publish it, for various reasons. She instead requested a romantic suspense, and so I cannibalized some of the characters from Year of the Dog and thrust them into the next book I wrote, which was Protection for Hire . Honestly, I didn’t take a lot from Year of the Dog to put in Protection for Hire , aside from character names and a few relationship ties. I was originally thinking I’d post Year of the Dog as-is on my blog as a free read, but then it occurred to me that I could revamp it into a romantic suspense and change the setting to Hawaii. It would work out perfectly as (yet another) prequel to the Warubozu series and introduc

Grace Livingston Hill romances free to read online

I wanted to update my old post on Grace Livingston Hill romances because now there are tons more options for you to be able to read her books for free online! I’m a huge Grace Livingston Hill fan. Granted, not all her books resonate with me, but there are a few that I absolutely love, like The Enchanted Barn and Crimson Roses . And the best part is that she wrote over 100 books and I haven’t yet read them all! When I have time, I like to dive into a new GLH novel. I like the fact that most of them are romances, and I especially appreciate that they all have strong Christian themes. Occasionally the Christian content is a little heavy-handed for my taste, but it’s so interesting to see what the Christian faith was like in the early part of the 20th century. These books are often Cinderella-type stories or A Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett) type stories, which I love. And the best part is that they’re all set in the early 1900s, so the time period is absolutely fasci

Clean & Christian Romance Book Sale

I’m participating in this promo. Click on the graphic to check out all the Christian suspense books available and stuff your eBook reader! Clean & Christian Romance Book Sale

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

Cupid's Library Escape

Sign up for these authors’ newsletters and get free books! Click on the graphic to check out all the free books. You might find a new favorite author! Cupid's Library Escape

No Cold Bums toilet seat cover

Captain's Log, Stardate 08.22.2008 I actually wrote out my pattern! I was getting a lot of hits on my infamous toilet seat cover , and I wanted to make a new one with “improvements,” so I paid attention and wrote things down as I made the new one. This was originally based off the Potty Mouth toilet cover , but I altered it to fit over the seat instead of the lid. Yarn: any worsted weight yarn, about 120 yards (this is a really tight number, I used exactly 118 yards. My suggestion is to make sure you have about 130 yards.) I suggest using acrylic yarn because you’re going to be washing this often. Needle: I used US 8, but you can use whatever needle size is recommended by the yarn you’re using. Gauge: Not that important. Mine was 4 sts/1 inch in garter stitch. 6 buttons (I used some leftover shell buttons I had in my stash) tapestry needle Crochet hook (optional) Cover: Using a provisional cast on, cast on 12 stitches. Work in garter st until liner measures

Cover Reveals!

Here are the covers to my next books! Spinster will be the 7th volume in my Lady Wynwood’s Spies series. I don’t yet have a release date because I’m still writing it and it’s taking a bit longer than I had anticipated, but within the next few months, I’m pretty sure. This is the cover for Lissa and the Spy, a novella I’m writing that will be in Once Upon a Courtship , a multi-author box set releasing in October this year. You can preorder Once Upon a Courtship now for only 99 cents! And then click here for how you can get additional free Christian romance ebooks! When the box set is unpublished in January 2025, I’ll release Lissa and the Spy as a separate ebook. I’m thinking that I might make it only available to my newsletter subscribers, and if that’s the case, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter so you can download it for free. But that wouldn’t be until spring of next year. In the meantime, preorder Once Upon a Courtship!

A List of my Free Blog Reads

Curious about what my writing is like? Here’s a list of all my free books and the free short stories, novellas, and novels that you can read here on my blog. I’ll update this post as I add more free reads. Christian Humorous Romantic Suspense: Year of the Dog (Warubozu Spa Chronicles series, Prequel novel) (Currently being posted monthly on my blog as a serial novel) Marisol Mutou, a professional dog trainer, finally has a chance to buy a facility for her business, but her world is upended when she must move in with her disapproving family, who have always made her feel inadequate. When she stumbles upon a three-year-old missing persons case, security expert Ashwin Keitou, whose car she accidentally rear-ended a few weeks earlier, is tasked with protecting her. However, danger begins to circle around them from people who want the past to remain there. Can they shed light on the secrets moving in the shadows? Christian Romantic Suspense: Necessary Proof (Sonoma series #4.1, n

Cleo’s Drawstring Purse knitting pattern w/ @KnitPicks CotLin

Kari Trumbo is one of the twelve authors who participated with me in the Christian Contemporary Romance anthology, Save the Date . Kari’s novella in the anthology is titled January Hope . In celebration, I wrote a knitting pattern for the lace drawstring purse used by Kari’s heroine, Cleo. (In case you missed it, here are the links for my interview with Kari part 1 and part 2 . Tomorrow I’ll post an excerpt of one of Kari’s other books, Better Than First .) This is a pretty and practical little bag used by the heroine Cleo in Kari Trumbo’s novella, January Hope . Knit in a cotton/linen blend yarn, it’s just large enough for a cell phone and a small wallet. In the book, Cleo’s bag was a coral shade, but the bag I knit here is a chocolate brown color. The lace pattern is the Double Rose Leaf stitch pattern originally published on page 195 in The Lady's Assistant, volume 2 by Mrs. Jane Gaugain, published in 1847. ( You can download a scanned .pdf of the book from Archive.