Stranger. Out of nowhere, Nick Bruno arrived at the once opulent, now decaying New Orleans mansion Jacinth Villar� had inherited.
Seducer. The sexy P.I. touched a part of her she'd never known existed.
Protector. When a gruesome crime was discovered in the walls of the Villar� mansion, Nick vowed to keep her safe.
As Jacinth uncovered the long-dead secrets of her newly discovered family, she was haunted by their spirits--and stalked by a very real killer. Though dark and menacing, her family secrets couldn't rival the one Nick kept hidden. He'd vowed to protect her, but could he save her from the truth about himself?
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October 01, 2011
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Excerpt from Stranger, Seducer, Protector by Joanna Wayne
Her heart pounded and cold sweat trickled down her face and between her breasts. There was no mistaking the creaks of the aged floorboards outside her room.
He was there, pacing, watching, anticipating the moment when he would place his cold, meaty fingers around her neck and squeeze the breath from her lungs.
The doorbell rang. Jacinth Villare's heart jumped to her throat and the gritty suspense novel she'd been reading slipped from her hands and slapped against the blue quilt. Apprehension lingered. Who would be visiting this time of night?
She glanced at the clock next to her bed. It was only ten after ten, not really considered late in the Big Easy, though Jacinth had snuggled into bed with her book a full hour ago.
The visitor at the door was likely a lost tourist looking for the bed-and-breakfast where he'd rented a room for the night. There were two in Jacinth's block alone, one owned by the friendly gay couple who lived just to the right of her.
The bell rang again. She untangled herself from the crisp percale sheets, threw her legs over the side of the bed and felt the familiar tingle of old wool as her heels and toes caressed the worn rug.
She reached back for the book to tuck it beneath the covers, and then realized the act would be a waste of time.
Romantic suspense was her secret escape from the stacks of historically accurate novels and legitimate works of nonfiction that defined her serious, academic persona.
But no one would be visiting her bedroom tonight.
Unfortunately, that was also true for every other night in the recent past and likely the immediate future. Working toward her doctorate and keeping up with her duties as a teacher left no time to invest in a relationship.
Her hands automatically grabbed for her tatty chenille robe before she changed her mind and left it hanging from the bedpost. Her nightshirt covered more than the shorts and T-shirt she'd worn to rake the yard this afternoon.
She flicked the light switch at the top of the winding staircase. Shimmery illumination from the cut-glass chandelier crept over the walls like golden wings.
Repairing and cleaning the monstrous antique had taken months, but the air of opulence it provided the old family home was definitely worth the time and cost.
The floorboards creaked eerily as she traipsed the hallway of the sprawling mansion. Reaching the wide double doors, Jacinth cautiously put her eye to the peephole. The gas lantern near the front walk painted entrancing shadows across the man at her door, but did nothing to disguise his rugged masculinity.
Hard bodied, clearly evident in the black T-shirt he was wearing. Unruly dark hair peeking from beneath a Saints cap. A face with character and craggy angles. The kind of stranger you'd invite into an erotic dream--but not into your living room at ten at night.
Jacinth unlatched the door and eased it open a crack, leaving the security chain firmly in place. "Can I help you?"
"Just thought I'd warn you that you're going to have one hell of a water bill if you don't turn off your sprinkler system."
"I don't have a sprinkler system."
"Then you've got bigger problems."
She glanced past the man and at a stream of water flowing across her soggy front yard and pouring over the curb like an infinity pool.
She groaned. "Another wretched trick of this money pit posing as a house. I know the plumber better than I know my neighbors. I'll call him."
"I can locate the outside valve and turn your water off if you like. Then you could wait until morning to call him. That might save you paying double or even triple for an after-hours emergency call."
Money she didn't have to waste. "I'd appreciate that." Her wary nature checked in again. "Who are you?"
"Sorry. Guess I should have introduced myself. Name's Nick Bruno. I'm moving in next door to you."
"Into the B and B?"
"The other next door. I rented the carriage house apartment from Gladys Findley."
Bruno. The same last name as the man who'd killed her father. Not that she could hold that against this guy, unless..."You're not kin to Elton Bruno, are you?"
He looked bewildered. "Who is that?"
Jacinth couldn't see the street in front of the Findley house from this angle, but she had noticed that the "furnished apartment for rent" sign had still been in place when she'd raked the latest deluge of oak leaves from the lawn late this afternoon. "When did you move in?"
"I haven't yet. I just closed the deal this afternoon and I was bringing over a few boxes tonight. I didn't expect to need rubber boots."
"Sorry. Years of neglect have left this house a catastrophe waiting to happen. I'm afraid that living next to me, you'll never know what to expect."
The deep timbre of his voice coupled with a seductive smile raised her pulse more effectively than her nightly sit-ups had. "I'm Jacinth Villare," she said, finally unlatching the safety chain and extending a hand.
Her cat appeared from nowhere and curled around Jacinth's ankle, feigning protectiveness. Jacinth reached down to pick her up, but the feline yowled and made a stealthy dart toward freedom.
"Come back here, Sin," she ordered a cat that never followed her commands.
Nick snatched up the cat before it could sink into the watery slush. "Sin? Interesting name for this bad boy."
"She's a girl. And Sin is short for Sinister, a name well deserved for her evil stare when the royal high-ness's dignity is affronted."
He held the cat up for Jacinth to rescue from his strong arms.
Sin arched her back and showed her claws as if ready to attack. Nick ignored her antics.
"I'd recommend filling some kitchen pots and your bathtub with water before I cut it off. But with that leak, you can expect the pressure to be low."