Book 5 in the Phoenix Agency series.
Lauren Cahill lives as quietly as she can, protecting her ability as a psychic healer. But danger brings Troy Arsenault into her life—along with scorching sex and intense emotions. Resisting him isn’t even a question, in or out of the bedroom. He protects her from the evil stalking her even as he teaches her what erotic sex is all about. When she’s kidnapped, his world is turned upside down and he employs all the resources of The Phoenix Agency to rescue her. He won’t rest until she’s back safely in his life—and in his bed for the rest of their lives.
Read an Excerpt
This excerpt contains explicit sexual material and is intended for readers 18 years of age and older.
Lauren Cahill opened her eyes and tried to focus on her surroundings. For a moment she couldn’t remember where she was. Then, as the simple flowered wallpaper and white furniture became clear, she remembered. Rory Flanagan. A case of measles that mysteriously wouldn’t respond to any medication. Distraught parents.
Children were always the hardest. She worried that she might not be effective. Then she would not only have failed the child but the parents also. But this time, thank all her ancestors, it had worked. And Maida Flanagan had been most gracious about giving her a room to rest in as she’d requested. Sometimes the psychic healing only required a light touch. Sometimes, like today, it took everything out of her and she was always explicit when taking a case. So the Flanagans had ushered her to their guest room, Maida crying with gratitude, and left her to nap and refresh.
A knock on the door made her sit up.
“Come in, please.” Lauren finger-combed her hair, trying to make herself as presentable as possible, and smoothed the fabric of her slacks and blouse.
The door opened and Maida came in, juggling a tray with two cups, a teapot and a plate of cookies.
“I figured you could use a little refreshment.”
“Oh! How nice. Thank you so much.” She swung her legs over the side of the bed. “How’s Rory?”
Tears welled in Maida’s eyes again. “He’s sitting up in bed playing with one of his trucks. Miss Cahill, I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to thank you enough for this.”
“Please call me Lauren. And his recovery is all the thanks I need.”
Maida covered her surge of emotion by setting the tray on the nightstand, fixing their tea and passing the cookies to Lauren.
“Brian insists he wants to give you a check. Just a token of our gratitude,” she added hastily. “I know you said—”
Lauren held up her hand. “No. Please. I never take money for this. It’s a gift I inherited from my mother and grandmother and I don’t think it would be proper to charge people.”
“No. Really. I make a very good living designing and maintaining websites. When someone needs me, I share my gift with them as something from the heart. So thank your husband very much. Perhaps you have a favorite charity you contribute to. That would be the best thing to do.”
“Then you should get some recognition,” Maida insisted. “You performed a miracle.”
“Not quite. But I will insist that there be no publicity about this. Please. It’s my only stipulation. The media creates such a circus about it and the real healing art is lost in the hoopla. Besides, I don’t need that kind of publicity and neither does my family.”
Especially my family.
She also didn’t want to mention that any time anything appeared in the media about her, a stalker she’d somehow picked up made threatening phone calls to her and sent vile letters. She’d talked to the police about it but whoever it was only called from throwaway cell phones and was smart enough to use latex gloves on the letters he sent. He even used adhesive-backed stamps so there was no way to get DNA from saliva.
Her computer technician father loved both Lauren and her mother but he didn’t understand psychic healing. He hadn’t accepted it with her mother and he refused to accept it with his daughter. He had, in fact, insisted they not ever draw attention to it. The few times word had gotten out when she was younger, he’d whisked them away to a secluded location until the furor died down. And he continued to plead with them not to do this.
But Lauren was determined to use her gift, just as her grandmother had. Before she passed away, Nonnie had spent time with her helping her refine and understand the special talent she’d been given. She worked very hard to keep it low key, not just for her family but also for herself.
“You can count on it, then,” Maida was saying now. “It’s the least we can do.”
“Thank you.” Lauren set her cup back on the tray. “I’d better be going.” She smiled. “My paying job calls.”
“Are you all right to drive? Have you rested enough?”
“Oh, yes. Trust me. If I weren’t, I wouldn’t be foolish enough to try it. The rest was great and the tea and cookies were just the right touch.”
At the front door, Maida hugged her, then Brian Flanagan took his turn, first shaking her hand then pulling her into an emotional embrace. And finally Brian’s sister, Mari, who had come to the house to pray with her brother and sister-in-law, hugged her, also.
“We’ll never be able to thank you enough,” she said.
“As I told your sister-in-law, a healthy little boy is thanks enough.”
She finally managed to extricate herself from the three of them and head toward home. It was with a sigh of relief that she pulled into the garage attached to her Craftsman bungalow, tossed her keys and purse on the hall table and went to pour herself a cold drink.
She wanted to call her mother and give her a report, then put up her feet and take some down time before attacking her design schedule. She really was grateful for her business. Her left-brained father had taught her most of her basic skills and computer design school had given her the rest. Her own website had come first, of course, and people just seemed to find her after that. As her client base grew, she found a lot of people coming to her through recommendations, more than enough to earn her a good living. And it somehow satisfied her father that she wasn’t just spending her life on what he called something illogical.
She opened up a spreadsheet on her computer where she always entered the people she was called upon to heal. Under Rory Flanagan’s name she entered the date and the results of the session. She checked the time. Four o’clock. Plenty of time to finish the other things she needed to get done today. Tonight she would relax with the book she was reading.
* * * * *
The telephone woke her in the morning, the harsh jangle reaching into her deep sleep and pulling her into the bright morning. She hadn’t closed the curtains last night, so blinding sunlight streamed in through the windows. Rubbing her eyes, she picked up the phone and tried to answer coherently.
“Miss Cahill—Lauren—I am so sorry, I don’t know where to begin.” Brian Flanagan’s voice, urgent and upset.
“About what?” She scrubbed a hand over her face, trying to wipe away the vestiges of sleep. “Is it Rory? Has something happened?”
Oh, lord. Please not that.
“No, no. He’s fine. Better than fine. And for that, we are so grateful.” Brian paused. “It’s about the television.”
“Television?” Her hand clutched the receiver. “What television?”
At that moment, she realized faint crowd noises were filtering in through her windows. Carrying the cordless phone, she made her way to the front of the house and peered through the small glass inset in the door. It was a crowd all right. The circus was back in town. Her stomach clenched and her hand tightened on the phone.
Three news vans were parked in front of her house, satellite dishes poking up from the roof of each one. Cameramen with hefty vidcams on their shoulders were jockeying for angles while reporters with wireless mics were staring at the house as if she might suddenly materialize in their midst. Other reporters, male and female, were gathered on her lawn, poised to pounce the minute she showed herself. A long row of cars and vans was strung out up and down the street.
She had barely registered the size of the crowd when her doorbell rang insistently, startling her so she almost dropped the phone.
“Mr. Flanagan, what’s going on?” She was now more angry than confused. “The one thing I explicitly requested was no publicity over this.”
“I know, I know.” He sounded as harried as she felt. “It was my sister, see. She, uh, she just—”
“Just what?” Lauren demanded.
“I didn’t realize she was dating a television news reporter, and she was so excited about Rory and he knew our son was sick. So when he asked about him…”
Lauren swallowed back the rising bile. Would they never leave her alone? She wanted to dive back into bed with the covers over her head and not come out until next week. “Let me guess. She didn’t realize what would happen if she told him.”
“I’m just so sorry about this. My wife is really distraught about it and so is my sister. After what you did for Rory, the last thing she wants is to cause you any problems. Please tell me what I can do to make this right. You healed our son. It’s not right you should have to suffer for it.”
“I appreciate your concern.” She took a deep breath to tamp down her anger and find some measure of control. People just didn’t realize the consequences of their actions. And of course if television had it, the newspapers would be next. And it wouldn’t be just local. It never was. “Just—I’ll take care of things.”
“I-I’m taking my wife and Rory away until this dies down. If you’d like to come with us, we’d be happy to have you.”
Hide out with a frightened family? Not her cup of tea. She had her own fears to deal with.
“That’s very generous of you but like I said, I’ll take care of things.” She spoke with a lot more confidence than she felt. “You just take care of your family.”
Her first reaction was to lock herself in her room as she’d done the first few times, shutting out the world and praying it would go away. But that didn’t get rid of them.
She thought of the people hounding her as wolves fighting over raw meat, each one more vicious than the next. They gave her no peace or privacy, making her a virtual prisoner in her home. The only good thing was she now had a resource that helped a little.
Retreating to her bedroom, she replaced the receiver, but the phone began ringing again the moment she did, its tone a counterpoint to the continued harsh jangle of the doorbell. Her new cell phone with an unlisted number lay on her nightstand. Picking it up, she dialed a number she knew by heart. The first time she’d called the local precinct, the sergeant on duty, Frank Hurley, had been skeptical and somewhat disdainful, almost as if he felt someone “like her” deserved the notoriety. But eventually he had taken her seriously and stopped writing her off as some whack job. After so many incidents they had even developed a weird sort of friendship.
Lauren was weak with relief when she heard his voice. At least she wouldn’t have to explain the situation to someone new.
“Those idiots bothering you again, Lauren?” he asked. His voice was sympathetic but she could also hear anger in it on her behalf.
“Yes they are. They’re all over my street as usual, annoying the neighbors and they won’t stop ringing my doorbell.” She swallowed. “Sergeant, they’re on my lawn and I think they’re even taking pictures of the house.”
“We’ll be there in ten,” he assured her. “Lights and sirens all the way. You just stay inside the house. And don’t answer the phone.”
“Believe me, I won’t,” she assured him and disconnected the call.
She figured her mother would be calling any minute now, followed by her father and then Geoff, her brother. But they knew when the madness exploded to call her on her cell.
Whoever was ringing the doorbell was being persistent and someone was also knocking loudly. Lauren wanted to shut the bedroom door and put her hands over her ears. Instead, she forced herself to take some deep calming breaths and pulled out a t-shirt and jeans to put on. She had no intention of greeting the police in her pajamas.
She had just pulled her thick brown hair into a quick ponytail when her cell rang. She glanced at the readout. Her father. Of course. That meant he’d seen the early news, probably on the channel Mari’s boyfriend worked for. She let the call go to voice mail, planning to call back after the police arrived and the crowd of vultures was gone.
Her landline had been blessedly silent for a few minutes but as soon as she stepped into the kitchen to make some coffee it started to ring again. She lifted the receiver, disconnected the call, and then left the receiver lying on the counter. Her nerves couldn’t take any more noise.
Why, why, why? Why did they have to make such a big deal about what she did? Surely, with everything going on in the world today, there was enough to write about without focusing on her and making her life miserable. Yet somehow, since the first time an episode had been leaked, she’d been high on the media radar. She was glad that when she’d started her graphic design business she’d decided to use a pseudonym. She could just imagine the reaction of her clients if and when they saw all this craziness in the newspapers and on television. Not to mention the lurid tabloids.
As Sergeant Hurley had promised, less than ten minutes had passed when she heard the wail of sirens coming closer and closer. When the sound was directly in front of her house, she headed for the living room and peeked out through the drapes. Sure enough, there were three cruisers, lights flashing, parked in the streets, and uniformed cops moving the crowd away. And none too politely, she was happy to see.
Eventually, when all the vehicles and the people were gone she saw one of the uniformed men climb the steps to her porch and knock on her door.
“Miss Cahill? It’s Officer McLean. Sergeant Hurley asked me to speak to you personally. It’s safe for you to open the door to me.”
Double-checking to make sure everyone was gone, she unlocked the door to let him in.
“Thanks for taking care of this,” she said, digging up a smile. “I appreciate it.”
“The sergeant said for us to be sure and keep an eye out,” he assured her. “These reporters are nothing but bone-pickers.”
What an apt description.
Lauren shivered. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.”
“Is there someplace you can go, away from here?” he asked. “Until this latest business dies down? They’re gone today but they might very well come back. The sergeant isn’t so sure it will be safe for you here.”
Lauren tamped down the sudden rise of anger. “Tell the sergeant I appreciate his concern and his help, but I won’t let them chase me out of my own house.”
McLean shrugged. “He said you’d say that. Okay, just keep your doors locked and call us if these assholes show up again. We’ll be doing a drive-by every hour or so for a while.”
“Thank you again. Really.”
She locked the door after him, waited until all the patrol cars had left, then went to get her cell phone. Time to call her parents back.