Convicted at nineteen of a brutal crime he did not commit, Rico Zanini survived ten years in prison because of a driving need to seek revenge against the juror who could have set him free. Mary Beth Hunter, an eighteen-year-old with the face of a Madonna, fiery red hair and a body that cried out to him to take her, had stirred his passion. For ten years, he hated her as much as he craved her.
Finally freed through The Innocence Project, Rico sets out to find Mary Beth and make her suffer the way he had. Mary Beth is now a successful attorney. They agree they have differences to settle, but their passion overshadows their best intentions.
With nothing in common but anger and insatiable desire, Rico makes Mary Beth's body sing as no other man ever has. But is passion enough to make Rico forget the past and give them a chance at love?
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Ellora's Cave Publishing, Incorporated
November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Turning Point by Lynn LaFleur
"Rico, get the door!" Leandra called out at the sound of someone banging on the glass. Where did he go? This isn't good. She hurried to open it.
"I thought you'd forgotten about me," M.B. said. A rush of cold air followed her inside. She stomped the slush off her boots. "Damn, it's hot in here."
"That's because you were outdoors. It's perfect."
"Maybe for you." M.B. pulled off her gloves, stuffed them in her pockets and unfastened her parka. Leandra gasped.
"My god, where's your shirt, woman?"
Beneath her parka, M.B. wore only a lavender tuft of lace that would have shredded under the weight of heavier breasts. She grabbed the lapels and pulled her jacket together. "I was at the gym. This woman came gliding by with a big ol' smoothie in her hand. She waved to someone as I turned. Bingo, right down the front of my shirt. You can't go out in wet clothes in this weather."
Leandra raised an eyebrow. "You couldn't have borrowed a T-shirt?"
"I was in a hurry to get here."
"Shirtless is better?"
"It's warmer than wet." M.B. opened the parka again. "Besides, isn't this bra gorgeous?"
"If you're meeting someone special for a little matinee."
"Where does it say we can't wear something sexy for ourselves?"
Leandra thought a moment, then laughed. "I'm sure my mom could quote the source, chapter and verse. It's lovely, M.B., but I'm more worried about you getting home before the storm."
M.B. waved aside her concern. "I've been ready for it for three days. Kindling's laid so as soon as I get home I'll drag in the cats, pour myself a nice glass of merlot and strike a match. I'll be good 'til Sunday."
"Synda and I were telling someone about your cat sanctuary today. He took over Buddy's job as our maintenance man. I wanted you to meet him."
"Who? Why don't I already know him?"
"You might have seen him around town. He's been here about a week." Leandra sealed the lid of the cake box with a couple of pieces of tape.
"He likes cats?"
Leandra grimaced. "Hates them."
"You'd hire a cat hater?"
"Trust me, he's a nice guy...plus we were desperate."
M.B. narrowed her eyes. "How desperate?"
Leandra hesitated before answering. "Look, even ex-offenders need a break."
"It's not like that," Leandra said. "He was wrongly accused."
M.B. dropped her head into her hands. "Oh God, I don't believe I'm hearing this." She looked up. "So what was he wrongly accused of?"
Leandra mumbled something.
"He didn't do it. We know because we Googled him."
M.B. threw her hands in the air. "But of course, if it's on Google it has to be true." She gripped Leandra's wrist. "What did he do?"
"He was convicted of rape and attempted murder."
At M.B.'s indignation, Leandra straightened her spine and thrust out her chin. "He was exonerated by a program called The Innocence Project. You must have heard of it. "
"I've heard of it. When?"
"Last year. He's perfect for the job. He's a big guy. Poor Synda's always dragging a ladder behind her. He can reach all the places she can't."
"Do you know anything about him besides what you found on Google?"
"All that we needed to know. He's a little rough around the edges, but we can help him with that."
"Lea, I spent too many months defending people who claimed they were innocent. Some were, some weren't, but none of them was moving in with my best friends."
"He's not like that."
"I don't care if you see a halo above his aura. Every con's got a sob story. You can't take them at their word." She balled her fists. "For once, girlfriend, err on the side of safety. Before you let this guy into your lives, make sure you know him. Googling isn't enough."
"He was staying at the campground, in a sleeping bag. We couldn't let him freeze to death in the storm when Buddy's cabin is sitting empty."
M.B. sighed. "I know you keep a gun in the safe. Take it out and slip it under your pillow. Promise me you will."
"I don't like guns."
"Then tell Synda to put it under hers." M.B. shook her head. "When do I get to meet this innocent man?"
"Why would you want to meet him?"
"So I can pick him out in a lineup later."
Leandra ran a hand through her hair. "I can't believe you were ever a defense attorney. You never think anyone's innocent."
"Not true. I defended a lot of folks who would have gone down if they'd drawn another P.D. I'm just not the proverbial cockeyed optimist that I used to be. I don't care if I sound like our mothers--it's better to be safe than sorry." She looked over her shoulder into the empty dining room. "So where is he?"
Leandra pointed to the sky. "Forget it. You can meet him later. Syn and I will be fine." She took a moment to tamp down her temper. M.B. could be so stubborn. "Now get out of here before the storm hits full force. It's not going to wait for you to get home."
"I'd feel a lot better if you and Syn came with me. Promise me you'll make sure this guy stays put in Buddy's place and doesn't come inside the cafe." She pulled her keys and gloves out of her pockets. "Hey, thanks for the cake. The old folks up at Piney Point get so excited when you send one over. Perfect for a dark and stormy night."
"Our pleasure, Snoopy." Leandra held the door open, then followed M.B. to her SUV. She rubbed her arms against the cold while M.B. laid the cake flat in the foot well on the passenger's side.
"Drive carefully," Leandra said. "You can feel the snow's itching to start."
They hugged before M.B. slid behind the wheel.
"Call me the minute you get home. If you don't, we'll come looking for you."
"Half an hour and I'll be there, feet up, surrounded by fat, spoiled kitties." She wiggled her fingers in a goodbye wave. "And put that gun under your pillow."
M.B. threw the gearshift into drive but sat a moment before releasing the brake.
The Innocence Project. Since Leandra had said the name, so many thoughts tumbled through her mind, none more troubling than the decision she'd made when she'd been too young to deal with the consequences of a lifetime of guilt. She couldn't make up for her past. She'd hurt someone terribly and she'd take that to her grave. But she wasn't foolish enough to allow her friends, no matter how well-meaning, to put their lives in jeopardy.
She hid her frown until Leandra stepped back inside the cafe. Then M.B. pulled out her cell phone and dialed the sheriff's office.