Someone had broken into Tess Graver's home and trashed the place. But this was no random robbery. The intruder was looking for something specific--but what? With her own secrets to keep hidden, Tess reluctantly turned to neighbor Ethan Rogers for help. The been-there, seen-that former DEA agent wanted nothing to do with the big-city crime from his old life. But Ethan wasn't about to let the dangerous thugs take over his small town. Or scare strong, sweet Tess into running away--not when he'd just found her.
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May 12, 2008
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Excerpt from Danger in A Small Town by Ginny Aiken
"So they kicked you out," Tess Graver said into her cell phone, her breath labored from jogging.
Uncle Gordon sputtered, "I tell ya, I'm fine. And now that I got 'em to put a cast on my leg, I'll prove it. You didn't have to quit your fancy-pants job in Charlotte just to come babysit me."
Tess slowed; she'd run close to three miles. "Let's talk about that later. I'll see you after supper, once I've showered, and then tomorrow morning I'll spring you from the hospital."
After a few more "Hmphs!" Tess's great-uncle hung up. She'd have to tell him about the thefts at Magnusson's Department Stores soon enough, but not over the cell phone while jogging. The situation at her last job had affected her more than she would have thought. She'd been under suspicion for a few weeks. Even after she was cleared of all wrongdoing, her fellow workers had withdrawn, and the odd looks had kept on coming her way.
She could no longer manage the Finer Footwear department under those conditions. Uncle Gordon's accident had given her the push to quit the job she'd once loved, and come back home--
Tess flew when a body hurtled out of the dense woods on the side of the road and crashed into her. She held her hands out to brace for the fall, then landed in a muddy patch, the ooze sliding between her fingers. "Hey, come back and help me up!"
Footsteps pounded down the road toward town.
Disgusted, Tess took stock. Nothing hurt more than what she could expect from the fall. The worst part of her predicament was the thick mud on her legs, belly, chest and hands. Fortunately, she'd kept her face up and only felt muck on her chin.
With slow, measured movements, she got to her knees. As she rose to her feet, she heard a rustling in the woods, more than the balmy, breezeless day warranted.
What was going on?
First a jerk had knocked her to the ground, and now...now she heard what sounded like a whimper. A shiver ran through her.
Should she go check? She had no idea what she might walk into.
Should she call the police? She might look like a fool if the sound came from an injured squirrel or something? Did squirrels cry?
Another whimper. More thrashing leaves.
Something was there. Maybe the guy who'd hit her had dumped a dog.
Maybe a child was hurt.
Tess couldn't just walk away. She eyed the heavy layer of vines, fallen twigs, branches and last fall's blanket of leaves.
She shivered again. "Lord? If you could somehow manage it, can you make sure there's no poison ivy or worse--a snake--in there?"
Taking a deep breath for courage, she stepped over the ground cover and parted the tall weeds, then made her way toward what sounded like a whimpering pup.
But as Tess rounded a massive tree trunk, she stopped. "Oh, no!"
A woman lay sprawled against a fallen tree, her too-thin face shiny with perspiration. As Tess watched, the slender body went into a spasm, her arms and legs twitched and sweat poured off her face.
Tess cut off her question when a major seizure seemed to grip the stranger on the ground. She tried to remember anything and everything she'd heard about helping someone through a seizure. From the hazy, cobwebby depths of her memory, details of a college first-aid class floated up. The most important thing was to try and keep breathing passages unblocked.
Her heart pounded. Lord, help! I need you here...now. Tess hurried over. "Easy," she murmured. "Let me help you."
When Tess went to roll the quaking body onto its side, another convulsion hit, and she had to dodge the flailing limbs. Determined to help, Tess grasped a shoulder and pushed, but as thin as the woman was, she proved to be unbelievably strong.
Tess wrestled to get her on her side, but between the convulsions and the superhuman strength, she came close to calling it quits. Sweating, her breath coming in short, frightened spurts, Tess wedged herself between the stranger's back and the soggy ground to keep her from flopping onto her back again.
And then the woman quit her fight.
Tess slumped, panting, and ran the back of her hand across her eyes to clear away the sweat. Silence. She glanced at the still body propped up against her arm and leg.
"Oh, no..." She was still, completely still.
"No...no, no, no!"
Tess scrambled onto her knees to check for a pulse. But before she took hold of her thin wrist, the woman's body rolled onto its back, and she knew there was nothing to check. The chest didn't move.
A scream ripped from Tess's lips. Bile rushed up her throat. She froze for a moment, but the horror propelled her to her feet. She grasped at a branch to get her balance, glanced at the corpse, then put a hand over her mouth to stop the next scream.
Stepping back on trembling legs, she couldn't look away from the woman on the ground. Abstractly she noticed how her pretty hairdo hid her face.