Morning sickness used to be Sarah Cartwright's biggest problem--until she became the only witness to a murder. Now, newly pregnant, she had a killer on her trail--and Cooper Bellamy, KCPD's finest, by her side. Her brother's best friend and her sworn protector, it was impossible to keep Coop at arm's length. Yet the mother-to-be discovered the safest place to hide was in his strong arms. They found out soon enough they each needed the other--but would it be too late before a cold-blooded hit man made them take vows of permanent silence?
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August 31, 2007
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Excerpt from Nine-Month Protector by Julie Miller
Sarah Cartwright ran into the posh gold-and-porcelain appointments of Teddy Wolfe's bathroom and puked.
She knelt in front of the commode, clutching her stomach and grinding her knuckles against her mouth until the worst of the humiliation had passed.
What an idiot. What an idiot! "Sarah?" The millionaire owner of the Riverboat Casino rapped on the door. "Will you be all right?"
Only if the tile floor opened up and swallowed her whole.
Her mouth opened to form words, but she couldn't speak. What was there to say after what she'd just learned? After what she'd just done? Was there anything she could say that could make this whole evening go away?
She could hear Teddy outside the door, getting dressed. Fine leather creaked--a belt? His Italian oxfords? The holster and Beretta she'd seen lying on his desk?
She'd known he wasn't the average sort of sweet and dependable guy she usually dated. That air of danger about him, that unpredictability, had been what had made him seem so exciting in the first place. She should have known she was out of her league. Out of her depth. Out of her mind when she'd started trading phone calls and had accepted this date with him.
"Well," he continued in that suave British accent that she'd foolishly fallen for. "Take as long as you need. Make use of any of the facilities in my suite. Order room service from the restaurant or a bottle of champagne from the bar. But you'll have to enjoy the bubbly by yourself. I have some business to attend to. My people will take care of you."
She heard the whisper of silk sliding against silk outside the door as he continued to dress. Or maybe that was the smooth sound of careless, heartless--meaningless--seduction that she'd succumbed to like the naive, again and she leaned forward.
After growing up the daughter of Austin Cartwright, she'd always fancied herself so smart about the world. But how could she not have seen this coming? Had she really felt so lonesome? So bored with her life? So left behind in the relationship world, after marrying off friend after friend--and even her own mother--that she'd refused to see the obvious?
She couldn't call it rape. She'd been a willing participant. It had been fun and daring, and she'd had no desire to say no.
She'd been exactly the exciting new woman she wanted to be. It was the adventurous relationship she'd wanted to have.
But she hadn't known. If only she had known. "Sarah?" Teddy sounded impatient now, irritated with her silence. His evening hadn't turned out the way he'd planned, either. He probably expected her to thank him.
"I'm fine," she squeaked out on a whisper. She cleared her throat and reached for one of the crystal glasses on the counter. She pulled herself to her feet, filled the glass with cold water and took a swallow before repeating in a louder, stronger voice. "I'm fine."
It was a lie, but it didn't matter. That was all Teddy wanted to hear. Teddy with the smooth line and smoother kisses. Teddy with the money. Teddy with the gun. Teddy with the awful, awful words.
"You can tell your father we're square."
"What?" Not exactly the romantic pillow talk she'd expected after their first time together. Sarah pushed herself up on her elbows and pulled the straps of her sundress back onto her shoulders while Teddy disposed of their protection, stood and zipped his pants.
"I'll consider his debt paid in full. For now. Until the next time he loses more than he can afford to."
Whatever sense of adventure had driven her to risk her heart so quickly faded in a haze of confusion. "What are you talking about?"
"The two-hundred-and-sixty grand Austin owes me. Owed me. There's no need to worry about your father now. I'll make sure nothing happens to him." Teddy was speaking so matter-of-factly, like they'd just conducted a business transaction instead of an impulsive makeout session on the leather couch in his private suite above the casino. He picked up his shirt and leaned over to kiss her. "That was just what I needed. Thank you for the lovely evening."
Oh, no. No. "Was my father in danger?" What had Austin gotten himself into this time? Her stomach twisted into knots. "And I...? This was just...?"
Sarah couldn't even bring herself to say the horrible thing she'd just done. Her own father had put a price on her head.
She grabbed her shoes and her purse and dashed into the bathroom, locking the door, locking out the nightmarish mistake she'd just made.
"Yes, well, it's been fun, hasn't it?" Teddy was moving outside the door, ready to leave. "We'll have to do this again sometime."
Sarah gripped the edge of the sink. I don't think so. Never.
Teddy's voice grew louder as he leaned against the bathroom door. "Austin raised a gem in spite of himself. Good night."
After the outside door to the suite closed, Sarah splashed some of the cold water on her face and neck. She stared at her reflection in the light-studded mirror. She didn't look any different--straight blond hair, slightly askew around her face. Big green eyes framed by the tiny lines of worry she'd earned in her twentyseven years. She was as frustratingly petite and tomboyishly slim as she'd always been.
But there was something different about her. Something hollow in her expression. A weariness of the world that came from a lesson learned too late. "I need to get out of here."
Before something so useless as tears could take hold, Sarah scrubbed her face clean, zipped up the back of her dress and fastened her strappy sandals around her ankles. She fished her keys from her purse, put her ear to the door to make sure she was alone and pushed it open.
"Go home," she advised herself. "Go home, regroup, pretend this never happened. No, call Dad and tell him he and I are done." She crossed the Persian rug with a more purposeful stride. "There's not a damn thing he can say to make this one right."
Austin Cartwright was a sick man. His gambling addiction had cost the family plenty over the years. College funds, the dissolution of her parents' marriage, a deep rift between father and brother. Trust.
Still she'd persevered. Austin Cartwright was her daddy. The man who'd carried her on his shoulders as a little girl. The man who'd taught her how to fish, how to hammer a nail, how to keep a box score at a baseball game. He'd taught her how to have fun. Sarah remembered having fun when she was little. She'd had fun without second-guessing the motive behind an activity, without doubting the sincerity behind the companionship.
Long after her mother had left Austin to protect her son and daughter from his illness and the resulting moods and dangers, long after she'd learned that gambling was an addiction--not unlike drug or alcohol abuse--and that it diminished her father's reliability and tainted his love, she'd tried to help him. Sarah had tried to keep him in Gamblers Anonymous, tried to steer him away from the casino he'd practically rebuilt with his own hands. She'd tried to be patient, tried to listen, tried to be tough with her affection. She'd continued to be there for a man who was difficult to love.
But this was too much.
This was the ultimate betrayal.
This one she couldn't forgive.
And she'd been too blinded by her need to crash out and take a break from the heavy responsibilities of her devotion to even see it coming.