A serial killer is targeting Detective Vanessa Connor's oldest friends, and evidence--the sicko left his calling card in her home--shows she's the next victim. But Vanessa refuses to run scared. She's a cop. And she's determined to make full use of her years on the force to trap the murderer herself. So when a federal agent is assigned to protect her and catch the perp, Vanessa isn't exactly cooperative. She doesn't need a bodyguard--particularly one as dangerously attractive, dangerously seductive as Rick Maguire. His powerful arms make Vanessa feel safer than she wants to admit. Especially when the killer gets close enough to cross them both off his list.
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August 11, 2008
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Excerpt from Dangerously Attractive by Jenna Ryan
Two weeks earlier...
"Hi, Van. Working late?" A woman in a blue linen suit smiled as she passed Vanessa near the nerve center of police headquarters. "Whoa, wait a minute." She hooked a hand through Vanessa's arm. "That's awfully formal detective gear you're wearing."
"I'm off duty." Vanessa slipped out of her pinstriped jacket, baring her arms to the relative cool of the station house air. "I swear the temperature hasn't dropped five degrees since sunset."
"Uh-huh." A suspicious light entered the other woman's eyes. "You've been in court, haven't you?"
Vanessa couldn't resist a smile as she pushed through the door. "Guilty, Counselor Kruger."
"Testifying against my partner's client?"
"He robbed a credit union at closing time, Ger. He was red-faced, high, and he stabbed one of the tellers."
"With a needle."
"Which he claimed was infected with HIV. Makes it armed robbery. I was questioning the manager about another matter. I heard the threat, saw the guy who uttered it. I testified."
Geri's perky features lost their light. "I gave Ted that client so he could test his legal wings. I should have checked the witness list first." She smacked Vanessa's hip. "Who'd expect a homicide detective to be lurking around a credit union at closing time?"
"What can I say, we're unpredictable creatures."
Geri's gaze shifted. "Who's the gorgeous guy in Palmer's office?"
Vanessa swung her head to see. The captain's verticals were up, and by the light of his desk lamp she spied a tall, dark-haired man. He was dressed entirely in black and that dark hair was actually long enough to skim his shoulders. Even at a distance and behind dusty glass, his features were-- well, arresting was as good a description as any, she supposed, though sexy might have sprung to mind in different circumstances.
Geri smoothed her skirt. "Who is he, Van? New cop on the block? Because if he is, I'm going to be representing a lot more clients from around here. Not that it'll help me since he'll take one look at you and go blind."
"Not Medusa blind, I mean blinded by your beauty."
Vanessa grinned. "Apparently you didn't see me and three other detectives hiding in a Dumpster two weeks ago. It took five long, hot showers to get the cabbage smell out of my hair."
Sighing, Geri transferred her attention from the mystery man's face to Vanessa's. "You could sleep in a bed of cabbage every night and men would line up from here to the Mexican border to shampoo your hair. Let's do it this way. You don't want the guy, for whatever reason, tell him about this public defense lawyer you know and how she and her husband split up recently, and she's looking for a little fun." Her expression clouded. "Talking of fun, and I know the comparison sounds callous, but I heard about Deirdre Morton and Sandy Lewis."
All amusement faded. "Did you also hear about Mara Chan?"
"Oh my God, Mara, too? Where did they find her? Was she still in Hong Kong?"
"She left Hong Kong in July. She'd just moved to Houston to work for one of the airlines."
"You must be so freaked."
"Say nervous," Vanessa replied, although truthfully, it went far deeper than that.
She'd known the victims well in college. With the exception of Mara, she hadn't seen any of them for years, but that didn't diminish the haze of fear that tended to creep in whenever she lowered her guard.
"I spoke to Mara a week after she landed in Houston. We talked about going to Deirdre's funeral, then found out there wasn't going to be one, just a small family gathering in Chicago."
Geri shook her head. "From what I remember of Deirdre Morton, she liked big bashes. If her spirit's hanging around, it'll be plenty pissed off. First she's murdered behind a cheap bar, then her family gives her a subdued send-off." She laid a hand on Vanessa's arm. "No heartlessness intended, but you were tight with these women once. If you're not scared, then I will be for you. Palmer must be tearing out what's left of his hair."
Vanessa seesawed her hand. "He suggested I take a leave. When I reminded him that Sandy Lewis was killed on vacation in Scottsdale, he backed off. If someone wants me dead, Ger, he'll find me, whether I'm here in San Francisco or camping at the base of Mount Everest."
"Yes, but Everest would be a harder reach."
"I'm not running."
"I'm not surprised. I have to say, though, for the first time in my life, I'm happy to have only been part of the wannabe 'in' crowd at Berkeley. How many others were in your clique?"
A trace of irritation marred Vanessa's features. "We weren't a clique, just friends." She moved a shoulder and returned her gaze to the captain's office. "Sylvia Porter."
"Right. Can't forget her. Oh, now she was really snotty."
"Spoiled," Vanessa amended.
"To the point of rot." Geri fanned her face with her hand. "Where's she living these days?"
"Palmer's having her tracked, but there's no address on her after five years ago and no family to ask since her father died and her stepmother couldn't care less about her."
"So poor Snow White has flitted off to some unknown tropical forest to drown her sorrows in money, booze and, I'm sure, far more than seven little men."
"I thought you were happy to be part of the wannabe 'in' crowd."
"I can be bitter and happy at the same time, however, for the sake of our friendship and my nerves, I'll change the subject." She nodded forward. "Palmer's visitor has great hands. If you don't know, in some cultures, hands like his mean a man's probably really well..."
She broke off as Vanessa was bumped by a passing detective.
"Captain wants to see you," the man grunted.
At his curled lip, Vanessa laughed. "Your great-hands guy must be a Fed, Geri. FBI or CIA?"
"Don't know, don't care. It's you Palmer wants, not me."
Always a sobering thought. From Geri's perspective, however, the spin was more positive.
"Great hands, great hair, great face, great body." She pushed on her stomach. "Is there a way to lose twenty pounds in five minutes?"
"Yeah, drop your briefcase. Oh, damn. Palmer's coming out." Vanessa started to turn, but checked herself. "Wait a minute. I'm off duty. I can walk."
"Good luck with that in those heels." Geri drew up to her full height of five feet four inches. "Good evening, Captain Palmer."
"Ms. Kruger. I don't care if you are off duty, Connor, we're going to talk. You, me and Agent Maguire here."
Of course he'd have a guy name. Geri's lips curved into a knowing smile. Vanessa braced and turned. "Agent Maguire," she acknowledged, and was surprised by the quick surge of-- she wasn't sure what--that jolted through her. Could have been lust. Or appreciation. Whatever it was, it mingled swiftly with suspicion. "Why do I need to talk to a federal agent?"
Palmer glared. "Courtroom time make you dense, Connor? I know you know about Mara Chan. That makes three of your old college roommates dead inside ninety days."
"We weren't roommates." But it was a technicality, and Vanessa was dragging her feet, something she rarely did. "I don't want a leave of absence, Captain, and I don't need a federal agent breathing down my neck." She flashed Agent Maguire a quick smile. "No offense."
"I'm used to it."
Geri chuckled. "Great voice," she mouthed to Vanessa, before holding out her hand. "I'll take that as my cue to exit. Nice to have almost met you, Mr. Maguire."
His answering smile was friendlier than expected. "You, too, Ms. Kruger."
Geri gave Vanessa a discreet nudge. "Stay safe," she whispered, and headed for the door.