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Protection and Glory Book 1

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Protection and Glory
Book 2: THE PRINCESS SHOPPE (coming soon)
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Available in print and digital at all major online e-tailers, or order from your local bookstore:

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In the cutthroat world of biomedical research…

When computer whiz Emma O’Manny’s scientist husband dumps her on Valentine’s Day, vandalizing his office seems like a justifiable—if petty—response. But then Dan’s small plane crashes under mysterious circumstances, and Emma’s suddenly the prime suspect in a double homicide. Worse, Dan may have faked important vaccine safety research, to further his career—and the digital trail leads to Emma. Can she determine which data is correct, to prove her innocence? Or will Dan keep controlling her life, even from the grave?

…the first to publish wins…

Detective Vin Bronislovas came to Portland to rebuild his reputation, after nearly blowing a years-long investigation by believing the lies of a mobster’s daughter. A single misstep—like falling for another suspect—would destroy his career and ruin his life. But when the killer strikes again, and Emma and her children are threatened, Vin must choose between the Job and love. Can he trust his gut? Or will repeating his past mistakes allow a murderer to go free, and potentially put millions of children at risk from an unsafe vaccine?

…and anyone can make a killing. Anyone.

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Reviews

“…a gripping suspense which I couldn’t put down. I read it in one sitting. Yes, one sitting. The characters, the dialogue, the subject matter, the suspense combined together to wrap me in a cocoon of reader heaven. Emma and Vin are fantastic, fully fleshed out characters with immense depth…. I’m a huge suspense reader and even I didn’t guess the identity of the murderer until the very end…. Having diverse characters rounded out the story nicely. Fans of Harlan Coben and J. D. Robb will be as captivated as I was. Highly recommend!” ~N.N. Light, Book Heaven: Matching Books to Readers Since 1990

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Excerpt

Chapter One

Nicholas, Patron Saint of: Maidens, Murderers, Newlyweds and Thieves

On Valentine’s Day, a Friday, Emma O’Manny woke up with two kids, a minivan, a house in the Portland suburbs, and a husband with a sick sense of humor. Three days later, she woke up with a headache, a bottle of Tums, no Kleenex—and a purpose.

“God damn him!” she said into her cell’s speakerphone as she turned left onto Terwilliger. “I am going back for my master’s, no matter what he and his girlfriend say. If that son-of-a-bitch thinks I’ll lie down and take this, or that he’ll get the kids or the house—”

Emma hit the steering wheel, her sweaty palm sliding off, and the car swerved toward the nearby jogging path. Tall firs loomed in the gray pre-dawn, dark and menacing, and she jerked the wheel, over-compensating, before settling back into the rain-slicked lane.

“Emma!” Karen James, best friend extraordinaire, sounded worried. “Be careful! Hang up and call me from the lab!”

Emma inhaled the musty heat of the defroster. Counted to ten, blew the breath out, and took another one. “I’m fine—don’t hang up—please.”

“Okay. But you have to calm down—it won’t help if you…get in an accident.”

Shit—her kids were up. Karen couldn’t say “if you go over the edge and die,” because then they’d ask what the hell Mommy was doing—when they should be asking, what was Daddy doing?

As though reading her thoughts, Karen repeated, “I really didn’t know. Honest—if I’d had any idea, I never would’ve taken the kids for the weekend. Screw him.”

“I know. It’s not your fault.”

“I’m really sorry, Em.”

Deep breath. Blow it out. Focus on the taillights of the car ahead.

Her hands on the wheel felt foreign. They didn’t belong to her any more than did the white face and purple-shadowed eyes she’d seen in the mirror this morning. She was not-quite forty, blonde with brown eyes, a mother, a wife, about to go back to school and get her M.S. in Computer Science. The woman in the mirror was middle-aged, haggard from two days of lying in bed, nursing ginger ale and crackers, and about to be a divorcée.

A Catholic divorcée.

Karen’s voice was hesitant. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Emma laughed—a sound that was also foreign. Brittle. But then, she was brittle.

“What’s to talk about? He brought me flowers, a box of candy, and—” Deep breath. Hold. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. “—seduced me and then shoved the divorce papers at me and left.”

Except that was a lie. He hadn’t seduced her; she’d been more than willing. Which was the truly humiliating part.

“Bast—what a fu—” Karen choked. “I can’t even say how pissed I am, because, well…”

“Kids are there.”

“Yes.”

“And you can’t call him a bastard because that’s a ‘bad’ word, and he’s their father.”

The father of her children—her husband of fifteen years. And she’d had no clue. None.

Bored with his life? Girlfriend? Taking her to Hawaii?

She tried to relax, to un-grip the wheel, just a tiny bit, but her hands weren’t hers, and wouldn’t do what she wanted.

In ten minutes, they’d have to.

Get in. Get her stuff. Get out.

“Emma—are you sure you want to go to the lab today?”

“I have to. You’re taking the kids to school, but I have to pick them up. This is hard enough. I need to do it before I see them.”

“I’ll call in sick. If you wait a couple hours, I’ll come with you.”

“Thanks. But if I wait, Oscar and the other lab rats will be there, and I can’t face them. It’s too much—they know. I’m sure they’ve known all along.”

“I understand, honey. Do you want me to come over tonight?”

The tears threatened, and she swallowed hard. “No—really. I have to tell the kids myself.”

Tell them Daddy had dumped Mommy, gone to Hawaii with another woman, and was moving out when he—they—came back in ten days. How exactly could she explain all that? To an eleven-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl?

“If you’re sure. But tomorrow, I make lemon drops and we burn his boxers.”

Emma laughed in spite of herself. “Thanks, Kar. You’re the best.”

“Hey, you did it for me. Although even Rob looks better next to Dan. At least our dumping was mutual.” Karen hesitated. “Have you…told your mom?”

Emma’s fingers were so tight on the steering wheel, she’d never uncurl them. “Look,” she said finally, “I’m almost to the hospital. I’d better hang up now.”

Silence. Then Karen said, “You’re sure I can’t help?”

“I’m sure. I have a plan.”

“That can’t be good. You won’t do anything dumb, will you?”

“Define dumb. Would that be marrying a low-life, cheating, scum-sucking bastard? ’Cause I already did that.”

“Just be careful, okay?”

“Always. I’ll call you later. Tell the kids I love them.”

Emma hung up and turned left at the sign for St. Elizabeth’s, taking the back way on the narrow, one lane street lined with evergreens and small post-World War II houses. Old habits died hard. Five months since she’d been up to the lab—since Dan-the-bastard O’Manny had, oh so magnanimously, said he didn’t need her as an admin assistant anymore.

Take some time off, honey. It’s too late to apply for grad schools this year, but Juney’s in first grade, Justin’s in fifth. You can prep for next year. Oh—and the real reason is so I can put that skank I’m screwing in your place. In your bed, at your desk, in your role.

Shit. She was going to vomit again.

She turned right, right again toward the tiny church, left up the hill, past the odd mix of patient clinics and administrative buildings, then into the lot serving the tightly clustered research buildings that comprised the upper-hill portion of the Oregon Scientific Health University campus. Another old habit. She still had her parking pass, in case Dan’s car was ever out of commission. With a five-year wait on the permit list, it seemed prudent not to cancel. Plus, you never knew when you’d have to come back.

Ha.

She rolled into a spot and killed the engine, and the sudden stillness slammed into her.

Since Friday, she’d done little more than run to the bathroom every few hours to throw up. Her whole body had been in turmoil, her mind whipping from utter denial to wondering what she’d done wrong—why didn’t Dan love her anymore?

She shoved the door open, yanked herself up and out, and slammed it shut. Then she stomped across the courtyard to the Sion Institute for Advanced Biomedical Research.

Sion. “Idealized, harmonious community,” her ass.

There wasn’t a single Principal Research Investigator who wouldn’t stab a fellow PI in the back if it moved his grant app to the top of the pile, or his research into publication faster. Discoveries were great, but if another PI published first, it was career homicide. They were like spiders, hiding in their lab-webs, coming out long enough to sabotage each other’s work before scuttling back into the dark.

Except Dan. Loyal, honest, above-the-muck Dan.

Breathe.

Get in. Get her stuff. Get out.

She made it to the heavy glass doors just as the auto-locks clicked open at six-fifteen. Two elevator doors, nine floors, and one card key swipe later, she emerged into the beaker-, vial- and paper-strewn lab that had been her second home for ten years. She flipped on the fluorescents, saw the orange light on the alarm pad, and punched in the code before it notified security of her presence. Then she faced the room.

Everything looked the same.

If nothing changed in ten years, why would five months make a difference?

Except something had changed. She’d stopped coming in—take a break, sweetheart—Mollie McBride had started—she can be my admin and a postdoc—and Emma’s desk had been rearranged.

Bitch.

Get in. Get her stuff. Get out.

But her stuff wasn’t there. Laptop, file boxes, photos of her kids—all replaced by a new desktop system, metal wall files, and pics of Mollie’s friends. What had she expected? God—she could not vomit again—or cry. Not now. Her stuff. Where the hell was her stuff?

She checked once more on the crowded desk, shoved into a corner outside Dan’s office. The space was so tight that with his door open, the desk disappeared. She’d always hated it, put there as an afterthought—just like her marriage.

The anger boiled, and she shoved it down. This was so unlike her. She had to get a grip—for her kids’ sake, if nothing else.

Her gaze roamed the lab. Long rows of metal-topped counters crammed with machinery, books, papers, and research paraphernalia of all descriptions—but not her stuff. The food fridge, where lunches were kept. The bio-sample fridge, for anything not food, that should never, ever, be anywhere near food. But not her stuff.

And then her gaze landed on Dan’s office. Of course. She tried the door. Locked, and her key didn’t work.

Good for him. He’d changed the locks.

Bad for him. She was handy with a coat hanger.

Emma grabbed Mollie’s lab coat off the nearby stand, pulled it off the metal hanger, and threw it on the floor, stepping on it for good measure. Then she untwisted the hanger, hooking an end between the door and the jamb, around the simple knob lock. All she had to do was jimmy it up and down and—

Pop! The latch was forced open and the hanger jerked free, throwing her back. The door hung open for an instant before starting to swing shut and—she’d got it!

Pulling herself up and into the office, she flipped on the light. Sure enough, a cardboard box under the desk held a jumble of her personal effects, topped by her precious laptop.

Asshole.

The rest of the room was as unchanged as the lab. Big corner office with picture windows.

Okay, it was scientist-big, not CEO-big, but it was still more impressive than her tiny desk behind the door. Which was now Mollie’s desk behind the door, so maybe there was some justice after all.

She grabbed the box and one of the portable files. She’d have to make two trips. Maybe on the second, she’d find a Sharpie and scribble all over Dr. Dan’s big freaking windows.

Vandalism could be your friend, if you knew how to use it.

****

Day One, Hour Two on the Job, stuck in a cruiser, staring at a gas station while they drank their coffee and waited for something—anything—to come across the scanner. And so far, Vin Bronislovas was unimpressed with the kid they’d given him as a partner.

Except it was the other way around. He might be twenty years older than Joey Zitface, and have come from a precinct in South Deering, Chicago—Area 51, for cripe’s sake—to l’il ole Portland, Oregon, but he was the new guy. He was the rube.

Damn it. Bad enough the state-to-state move meant he’d had to go through the Academy a second time—the Advanced Academy, but still—did he have to start at the bottom when he got out? If only the detective position he’d coveted hadn’t vanished in a puff of bureaucratic smoke. If he hadn’t promised Azi they’d be here for Thanksgiving, and Tony hadn’t kicked his renters out to give them a place to live.

If, if, if.

He’d had to leave Chicago. Even now, six months later, he would’ve taken a desk job, anything, to get away—from the Deering Darling—the Long Island Lolita of the Midwest.

Isadora Higuera.

Vin shuddered.

At least the uniform spot had materialized. And the low-key northwest lifestyle was exactly what he wanted. Quiet. Simple. Not complicated and messy, like Chicago.

If only his partner wasn’t a twelve-year-old.

Right on cue, the kid piped up again. “So what does Vytautas Bronislovas mean, anyway? It’s Polish, right?”

Vin deliberately unclenched his jaw, reminding himself most people would’ve guessed Russian, which was worse. “Lithuanian. From Lithuania.”

“Lithuania? Where’s that?”

Vin closed his eyes, waited a beat, then said, “Next to Poland.”

“Oh. So they’re, like, the same?”

“Not really.” Shut up. Just shut up while you can.

“So what does it mean?”

Vin sighed. Shrugged his shoulders, working the kinks out, his duty belt creaking. Drank from the paper cup he held. The station coffee was better here. Northwesterners knew how to do coffee—and beer. He took another sip. Joey looked at him expectantly. Ah, fuck it.

“Vytautas means ‘chasing the people.’ Bronislovas means ‘protection and glory.’”

Joey’s jaw dropped. “You’re kidding, right?”

“Unfortunately, no.”

“’Cause that’s as bad as my phys ed teacher, Mr. Court. I’m not making this up. Your dad’s a cop, too, right?”

Another sigh. “Was. Yes. He’s dead.”

“Funny sense of humor. How’d he know you’d go on the Job?”

“I have no idea.” Vin should have picked another profession on purpose. But this was what he wanted to do—always had, and nothing else mattered.

“Hey—what about Tony? That’s Italian.”

The kid actually sounded suspicious and for the first time in a long while, a smile sneaked onto Vin’s face. Joey was persistent, he’d give him that. In less than an hour he’d weaseled out most of Vin’s vitals, including that he had four brothers, three sisters, and a dozen nieces and nephews; that Tony was the only sibling not still in Chicago; and that Vin and his Uncle Azi had moved here last fall, were crashing at Tony’s rental house, and were neither of them encumbered by anyone of the female persuasion.

Thank God. The last thing Vin wanted was a woman needling her way between him and Azi. Az was a handful all on his own.

Vin scowled out the window, then realized Zitface still waited for an answer. Cripes. “Tony’s short for Antanas—Lithuanian for Anthony.”

“Like Vin for Vytautas?”

“Sort of.”

“Does Vytautas mean Vincent?”

“No. Look—”

The radio crackled on. Joey zeroed in on it—more points for him—and when the dispatcher finished, he yanked his seatbelt on. “That’s us!”

“Relax, kid. It’s just a tripped alarm. Probably the owner punched his code in wrong. Happens all the time.”

The look Joey shot him was expressive and explicit. “You’re shitting me, right?”

The look Vin shot back was equally so. “What?”

Rolled eyes. You’re-a-dumbass shake of the head. You-don’t-know-how-stupid-you-are twitch of the lips.

“Not just any alarm.” Joey shoved the car in gear and screeched right onto Sam Jackson Park Road. “The only alarm on the Hill that bypasses campus security and goes straight to us. OSHU authorized it last month. Big dealy bop PI, researching vaccines or something.”

“PI?” Vin had only learned today that the OSHU campus, or the Hill as it was called, would be his beat, and while he knew it was a teaching and research hospital, he had no clue how it worked. South Chicago hadn’t been a hotbed of biomedical science. More like of drug and gang violence.

“Principal Investigator,” Joey explained, as he veered back and forth up the twisting, two-lane road carved onto the hillside, knocking Vin hard against the door.

“Jeez. Whose bright idea was it to put a hospital up on a hill with lousy street access? Slow down, will you? I’m telling you—I’ve got a feeling about this. We’ll get up there and find the monkeys got out of the cage or something. This isn’t a career-breaker call.”

“No. But it could be a career-making one.”

Vin just shook his head. Kids. Who the hell let kids become cops anyway? He’d never been that young, had he?

Surreptitiously he gripped the oh-shit handle and hoped they weren’t about to careen off the edge into the canyon. Oh for the unending flat of the Midwest. At least when you floored it, you went in a straight line. None of this hairpin curve crap.

Then he grinned for real. Ah, fuck it. At least they were moving.

****

Emma sat back to check her handiwork. This was so far out of character, it was like admiring someone else’s artistry. It’d taken longer than expected, but was still faster than a pen. Thank heaven the minivan still had junk in it from December—a.k.a., Holiday Craft Month.

Yes. Dr. Dan and Mollie would get quite the shock when they returned from Hawaii. Maybe they’d come in to catch the sunrise while sipping their coffee. Thanks to the angle of the building, both Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Hood were visible through the windows.

Emphasis on the were. Now the only thing visible was yards and yards of Smith’s Pink Spray Tree Flocking-in-a-Can. She’d run out or she would’ve done the desk, too—but white was almost as good. And gold and silver added nice touches to the filing cabinets and shelves.

But the pièce de résistance was Dan’s monitor. He’d needed it to complete his research—had to have a bigger screen, so he could finish his vaccine paper and rush it to publication, before someone else got there first, and he lost a decade of work. Or worse—his position at the university, or even his lab. But back then, the Sion was in start-up mode, bleeding money left and right, and none of his early grants covered equipment. So he’d been forced to dip into the kids’ college funds to pay for it.

Now, thanks to his soon-to-be-pubbed research, the National Vaccine Research Endowment had funded him to the tune of one million dollars—which was lucky for him, because his five grand, flat-panel, goddamn huge display was now solid fuzzy green, front and back, except right in the middle where she’d sprayed a huge red, furry “FUCK YOU.”

Merry Christmas—and Happy Valentine’s Day.

So what if her blouse was a rainbow of pink-gold-silver-red-green? Or that she’d mis-aimed one can and half her head was crusted white? It was all worth it.

Get in. Get her stuff. And vandalize the flock out of the place.

Queasy panic jolted through her, but she shoved it down. Wrecking Dan’s office was juvenile, petty, and wouldn’t help in the long run. But he deserved it. Jesus—he’d dumped her on Valentine’s Day. She would not feel remorse for giving in to her anger, just this once.

Emma set down the last can. Drew in a deep breath. Counted to ten. Exhaled.

And felt as free as it was possible to feel, when the whole rock-solid foundation of your life had just exploded.

She rose and flipped off the lights, bending to retrieve her keys from the floor. Started backing out of the office, still stooping, through the door she’d propped open earlier. Glanced to the right of the doorframe, just above floor level—and noticed the red blinking light of the new, additional security pad a fraction of a second before her rear bumped into something very large, very muscular, and very not-messing-around.

“Shit.”

“Yep,” a deep male voice said. “That’s about the size of it.”

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