Her Un-Valentine by Justine Davis
When she's kidnapped, Taylor Burke is shocked to see her new coworker, Angus Kincaid, holding the gun. She later kisses him just to aggravate his partner and is even more shocked that she likes it. Could she be falling for the bad guy, or does Kincaid have other surprises up his sleeve?
The February 14th Secret by Cindy Dees
Colt McQuade is a soldier with a secret, and Layla Freeman is the one person who can unravel it. But someone else wants the information, too, sending the couple on the run. They'll do everything they can to protect Colt's precious knowledge--and guard their hearts in the process.
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February 01, 2011
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Excerpt from Deadly Valentine by Justine Davis
So what are you doing for Valentine's Day?"
Taylor Burke bit back the retort that immediately rose to her lips as she took the mail from the inquirer. If there was a holiday she liked less, she couldn't think of it. But that didn't mean she had to take the innocent mail carrier's head off when he asked a simple question.
"Working," she answered.
"You need to get a life, Taylor."
This is my life, she thought as she started to sort through the day's snail mail, so she could finish email, so she could get to her list of phone calls, a personnel problem and final prep for the big sales presentation.
Taylor reminded herself of that fact yet again later as she dealt with the second crisis of the day. She'd asked for, practically begged for this job. Three years later it was everything she'd wanted and many things she'd feared--mainly occasionally overwhelming.
But she shouldn't complain. She had responsibility she'd asked for, challenging work she loved, and a sweetheart of a boss who had given her a chance when anybody else would have said she was too young.
And "sweetheart" was an apt description of her energetic and clever boss, John Whitney, founder of Whitney Systems, lovingly known among his people as WhitSys. But lately the easygoing and kindly man she affectionately called J.W. except to others had been uncharacteristically tense and impatient. Something was bothering him, and she knew him well enough to see it, as if it hovered over him like a private, dark cloud.
Which in turn reminded her of her next unpleasant task of the day, due at any moment. She hated personnel problems, but it came with the territory she'd claimed as her own. And she would deal with it.
On that thought, Carrie Porter popped her head into Taylor's office. That Carrie was a friend made this both easier and more difficult.
"Happy day before Valentine's Day."
Carrie's voice was noticeably sour as she pulled the door closed behind her, which told Taylor she knew what was coming; that door was almost always open. It was the symbol of accessibility, and she wanted it that way. She was always accessible so that J.W. didn't have to be.
"I hate Valentine's Day," Taylor said, sounding almost as sour, and not simply in an effort to gain Carrie's cooperation.
Carrie blinked as she came in and sat down opposite Taylor's desk. "Shouldn't that be my line? I'm the one who just got unceremoniously dumped, via email yet."
"That's what you get in an office romance."
Carrie looked startled. "Wow. Cold."
"Maybe." Taylor sighed. "If I hadn't warned you about Will a dozen times I might have more sympathy."
And if I didn't know you'd bounce to a new guy within a week anyway.
Carrie shoved a lock of hair behind her ear. This week it was black with blue highlights. The woman considered her hair her form of personal expression, and had had the grace and humor to laugh when she'd found out about the regular office pool on what the next color combination would be. Taylor wondered if she even remembered herself what her natural color was.
"Okay, okay. I take back the early happy Valentine's Day."
"It's just stupid. What could be more fake than a forced declaration of love? Is that what people really want? Somebody buying them a frilly card and fattening chocolates only because they feel like they have to?" Taylor realized she was building up steam here and halted the flow with a flat, "I was wrong. I detest Valentine's Day."
"You're only saying that because you don't have anyone in your life. And haven't had for too long."
"Nor do you," Taylor pointed out, trying to ignore the fact that Carrie's cool--and factually true--assessment stung. There hadn't really been anyone in her life for a long time now. Not since she'd taken this job, in fact. And telling herself she liked it that way, that she didn't have time for a relationship anyway, didn't stop the occasional blast of loneliness.
"True, now. But I bet I could have by tomorrow. So could you, if you weren't so picky. You could reel in any guy you wanted, with that pixie blond hair and those eyes, but you won't even try."
"When do I have time?"
You wanted this, she reminded herself again silently.
"You're right," Carrie said, suddenly capitulating. "Valentine's Day sucks. Let's go get drunk tomorrow."
"Now there's a solution," Taylor said, knowing perfectly well this was another of Carrie's attempts to lure her out for a night of club-hopping. "And all the more reason to despise a holiday that can make people feel like they need to go get drunk."
"People in love like it."
A place I've never been, Taylor thought. Not really. "Good for them. I loathe it," she said with some finality, surprising even herself with her vehemence. When had she gone and turned bitter about it? Because that was how she sounded, even to herself.
"My, she's escalating," Carrie said dryly. Then she eyed Taylor thoughtfully. "You could always go after the new guy."
Taylor blinked, diverted from the moment of unpleasant self-realization. "The new guy? In distribution?"
An image of the awkward, almost bumbling man with the thick glasses, the every-which-way sandy hair and the unlikely name of Angus Kincaid popped into her mind. The guy had been there for about three weeks now, and was already annoying people. Including her. There was just something about him, his attitude, a certain tone of voice she could only categorize as whining. WhitSys was a great place to work, he should be happy to be here. She was biased, she knew, but it was also true.
And he was watching. Always watching. Enough to make her wonder what was going on behind those heavy, dark-rimmed glasses.
Enough to make her nervous.
Carrie was grinning at her. "Yeah. The geek."
"Thanks," Taylor said.
"Hey, he likes you. He's always looking at you."
"Why does that make me feel creeped out instead of flattered?"
"Because he's such a geek?" Carrie suggested.
"Mr. Whitney hired him personally," Taylor said. "So that's all that really matters. Besides, he watches everyone, not just me."
And it was true. When Kincaid--he'd made it clear he preferred only his last name--first started his job, most had assumed because he had a nothing sort of job that he had a nothing sort of brain. But she had noticed the way he watched people, took it all in, and the fact that he never said much didn't make her think he had nothing to say. Just that he chose not to say it to them.
Then there was the accident. An inattentive driver had struck a pedestrian almost on their doorstep, just as she--and apparently Kincaid--were leaving. For at least fifteen seconds she had stood there in disbelieving shock, unable to process what had just happened before her eyes.
But not Kincaid. He had sprung into action instantly, long before Taylor had found her wits and moved to help. Fortunately, it had been more of a bump than real impact. He had helped the victim, a customer of Charlotte's Cafe on the lower level of their building, out of the traffic lane and was checking for injuries before she took her first step. Once the paramedics had arrived and taken over, Kincaid had vanished. And she'd had a question mark about him in the back of her mind ever since.
"So, is it true?" Taylor snapped back to the present at Carrie's question. "Is what true?"
"That the guy's some dorky relation to the boss, and that's why he hired him? Because he couldn't get a job anywhere else?"
Taylor did know that the man had been out of work for some time before coming here. And she'd heard the jokes going around the office--it was hard not to--that the hapless and hopeless Kincaid was indeed a charity hire. But she hadn't--she would never--question J.W.'s reasons for doing it. Not after everything he'd done for her.
"I don't know," Taylor said honestly.
"There's actually something around here you don't know?" Carrie said in mock horror.
Taylor laughed, but knew it was time to take control of the conversation. "You've got to deal with your own situation before you start worrying about anybody else's. For your own sake, as well as the company's. You and Will have to work something out. We can't have two people who have to work together not speaking to each other."
"You blister," Taylor said dryly. "Yeah, well..."
"I know you want to strangle him, and I know he's got it coming. But here, you have to work together."
Carrie sighed mightily, but gave in. "All right. I'll be good if he will." She eyed Taylor narrowly. "You are going to have this talk with him, too, aren't you?"
"Already have," Taylor said.
Carrie nodded as if she'd expected that. "That's what I like about you. You're fair."
"No, I'm not. I wasn't as nice to him."
And finally, Carrie laughed. Knowing her goal had been achieved, Taylor joined in.
"Just don't go after the geek yourself, okay? I don't need another office romance gone bad. Too much drama."
Carrie stood up. "Hey, boring girl. You could use a little drama in your life."
"No, thanks. I don't have the energy to spare."
For a moment after Carrie had gone, Taylor sat there rubbing at her forehead to release the tension. She shouldn't be so stressed, she told herself. She'd proved herself at WhitSys long ago, and on this job for nearly three years now, after all. And it hadn't been easy. People tended to look--or rather overlook--her petite self anyway, and the fact that she was blond, and her eyes an almost glowing sort of green didn't help any; they tended to stare at them and miss half of what she was saying.
The comm unit on her desk chirped happily. She looked down at the text message scrolling by. Tylr, nd u 4 shrt 1 pis.
She smiled in spite of herself. Her boss had invented this particular system to replace an office-wide intercom. He was much more comfortable with texting messages that needed quick responses than with talking into a box or picking up his phone. She didn't miss the noise of a standard system. She found the chirps--everyone in the office had their own distinctive pattern--rather amusing.
She didn't bother to answer, she would be there in less time than that would take. She hit the acknowledge button and got to her feet, grabbing her smartphone from its cradle just in case she needed to make notes. She walked to the door behind and to the right of her desk, which was also the side door to her boss's office. She hoped the promise that this would be short held true; she had a lot left on her plate yet today.
At her light tap, he called to her to come in. She pulled open the door and stepped into the sunny office. J.W. wasn't behind his big desk, but sitting on the small couch that faced the window to the west. They were on the seventh floor--the lucky floor, J.W. always joked--so he had a view of the mirrored building next door, and a slice of space between that let them glimpse the planes coming and going from the county airport three blocks away. The building was well built, and the roar of the jets was largely muffled to a faint sound most of them tuned out.
Surprisingly, he asked her to shut the door the moment she'd stepped inside his spacious but cluttered office. Her boss had a quick mind and a thousand interests, and it showed. Had he not been capable of turning some of those varied interests into practical, money-making products, she supposed he would have been dismissed as somewhat eccentric.
"I need you to do something for me, Taylor," he said, gesturing her to the chair opposite him.
"Of course." She sat down and waited.
"And I need you to do it and not ask any questions, or tell anyone anything about it."
Taylor's brow furrowed. Confidentiality was the watchword here at WhitSys. They were in a highly competitive field, and careless chatter could cost them. For J.W. to ask for discretion over and above the norm was unusual and unexpected.
But she knew one of the reasons he'd given her the job as his executive assistant was that he trusted her. She'd literally been the girl next door, growing up in the yellow house next to their tan house on the small cul de sac. She'd known John Whitney practically all her life, and his daughter had been her best friend before she'd been killed by a drunk driver at the age of fourteen.
Taylor's life had never been the same, but Heather's father had gone gray practically overnight. And had turned into the now fifty-three-year-old man who had channeled his grief into his work and ended up a bigger success than anyone would have ever believed.
She knew he'd give it all up in an instant to have his daughter back.
It wasn't something they dwelled on now, sixteen years later, but it made their relationship different than anyone else's in the office. He was demanding of everyone, which was accepted because he pushed himself harder than all of them, and because he was also eminently approachable and reasonable. But only from her--and his wife, Claire, who was like a second mother to Taylor--did he accept concern and gentle suggestions that he slow down a bit.
"I mean it, Taylor," he said now, his voice quiet and almost grim, another oddity. "This cannot leave this room."
She waited just long enough to show him she understood that whatever it was, this was different, special, before she nodded. "All right."
"I need you to compile a list of every employee who's left WhitSys, for any reason, and include those reasons."
Her first thought was that it would be a relatively short list; people were generally happy here. The pay was good, their work respected and their ideas listened to. Most departures were for other reasons, unrelated to any job dissatisfaction. And they were a small company, so that limited the number as well. But they had been in business for eighteen years, so if he wanted everyone who'd ever left-- "Taylor?"
"Sorry. I was just thinking that there aren't all that many, relatively speaking."
"I still need them all. Even the ones before your time."
She'd been seventeen when he'd taken her on as an intern. She had just finished her twelfth year, her third as his executive assistant, and had no desire to go elsewhere. She wasn't a tech head herself, but she loved being around it all, watching innovation happen. And she loved the challenge of helping him run this place, and the satisfaction of taking as much of the administrative load off her boss as she could, freeing him to do what he did best, innovate.
"The early records are on the old system," she said, thinking rapidly. "I'll have to pull the backups to search. That may take a bit of time."