He’d never tried to stop anyone from committing murder before.
It was definitely a nerve-wracking business, Drew Harper realized as he sat tense in the passenger seat of his sister’s six-year-old Honda Civic while she blew a four-way stop and careened around a corner, making the tires screech in protest.
He yelped out a curse and clutched the seatbelt strapped over his chest. “What in the world are you doing?”
“I told you not to come,” she muttered, her murderous glare fixed steadily ahead.
“Well, what do you expect me to do,” he retorted. “When I find you storming out the door with a gun in your hand and muttering something about killing a cheating witch?”
Good Lord, he knew he shouldn’t have stopped by her place to raid her refrigerator. But he’d been starving, there’d been no cash in his wallet and his own kitchen was bare of the essentials. And besides, he honestly hadn’t expected to find anyone home. His two nieces should be in school, his nephew in day care, and both their parents gone to work. Instead, he’d snuck in the back door to discover Amanda stuffing a handgun into her purse and marching determinedly toward the exit.
“Care to tell me what’s going on?” he asked, surprised he was able to sound so casual about the whole situation, when in truth his heart thumped against his ribcage, and he feared he just might have a stroke if his sister blew another—
“Stop light!” he yelled, already bracing himself.
Amanda hit the brake. The seatbelt caught him tight, ripping another stream of curses from his lungs.
“Are you totally out of your mind?” he exploded.
“Last chance to get out,” she said from between clenched teeth, sending a meaningful glance toward the curb.
“No,” he told her. “Mandy, this is insane. You’re a PTA mother for God’s sake. What’s gotten into you?”
The light turned green. She punched the gas, tearing through the intersection. “Jeffrey’s cheating on me.”
Drew sucked in a breath. “What?” He knew his brotherin-law looked at other women and occasionally flirted, but touching? He snorted. “No way.”
“Way,” Mandy growled. Her voice vibrated with emotion and when he glanced over, he realized her entire body quivered from a barely suppressed rage.
He figured arguing with her over the point while she was still in control of the vehicle wasn’t smart. So, he more calmly asked, “And you’re sure of this because … ?”
“Because I’m not stupid,” she hissed. “There’s a florist charge on the credit card bill. And that jerk never sent me any flowers. He never sent our daughters flowers. I called his mother today. She hasn’t received any flowers. He sent them to his little woman. I just know it.”
Drew blew out a breath and scrubbed his hand over his face.
Still trying to think up something logical to say to talk her out of, well, whatever she was trying to do, he sucked in a breath when she jerked the steering wheel to the right and slammed them to a stop. Clambering blindly for the armrest, he looked up, only to find them in a peacefully quiet neighborhood with trees lining the street and a pair of young children playing in the yard a few doors up.
“This is it,” she murmured, sounding too malicious for his comfort.
Following her gaze to a small light-green bungalow with white trim, he frowned and glanced toward his sister. Her eyes gleamed with an intensity that, frankly, spooked him.
Turning back, he studied the harmless-looking house. “This is what?” he asked. “Who lives here?”
“Her,” Amanda breathed the word. “Jeffrey’s mistress.”
He blinked. “How do you know?”
“Because I visited the flower shop,” Amanda answered. “Half a dozen red roses were delivered to this address … by my loving, faithful husband.”
The loathsome sneer in her voice made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. For some reason, he checked the address—410 South Elm—and envisioned the headlines. Mother of Three Commits Murder at 410 S. Elm.
“I can’t believe it’s true. I can’t believe he’s really seeing another woman.”
Drew came around to find Amanda pulling her purse into her lap and unzipping it.
He reached for the bag. “Mandy,” he said, anxiety growing thick in his voice. “Give me the gun.”
With a sigh, she shoved the entire purse at him. “Oh, stop worrying. It’s not even loaded.”
Not taking any chances, Drew checked the chamber. After popping out a live round, he removed the magazine to find it full as well. Arching a look across the seat, he asked, “Not loaded, huh? Then what do you call these? Fake bullets?”
Her jaw dropped. “That jerk. I told Jeffrey not to keep any of his guns loaded with our kids in the house. He promised he wouldn’t.”
Drew stared at the bullets, wondering what that meant about Jeff’s word, when the front door to 410 South Elm came open. Together, both siblings whirled to watch the solitary figure that emerged.
Drew’s jaw dropped. “Wow,” the word was pulled from him.
But really. Wow.
The woman was slim and small, just the size he liked. No thanks to his parents, he was a tad vertically challenged and felt self-conscious around tall women. He liked being the larger, more masculine half of a couple. But this petite female was, well,she was perfect.
She wore a pair of jean shorts that fit her slender frame nicely. Quite nicely. They were short enough to show off a good portion of her trim and tanned legs, but equally long to make him yearn to see more. Her short-sleeved top was just as conservative, not so tight he could see every dip and curve, but just enough snug to give him teasing glimpses of the goods, which were very good.
Toting a watering can, she turned her sandaled feet directly to the right after descending the front steps and proceeded to refresh a pair of rose bushes. Drew found himself leaning forward and holding his breath when she paused to bend over and tug a weed from the flowerbed. Though the view of her shorts pulling taut against her backside was too delicious to ignore, the innocent act only added to her wholesome demeanor. She was the ultimate girl next door.
“Not fair,” Amanda whispered beside him, sounding devastated. “She’s pretty.”
Drew guiltily jerked his eyes from the woman. “No,” he started loyally. But it was so obviously a lie, his sister speared him with a scowl. “Well, okay. Yeah,” he relented. “She’s … she’s really amazing.”
“Amazing?” Amanda cried in horror.
He winced. “I mean, she’s okay. I’ve seen better.” On magazine covers maybe. But even as he spoke, his eyes were drawn back to 410 South Elm.
“She looks younger,” his sister whined. “I bet she’s younger.”
Probably, Drew didn’t dare concur aloud.
“I just knew he’d find someone younger,” Mandy hissed. "The jerk.”
It had to be the ponytail she wore. As she crouched down, finding a few more weeds among the roses, the perky bob to her honey brown tresses gave her a youthful presence. She looked too young for Jeff by a good ten years.
That left her just right for Drew.
The dome light in Amanda’s civic came on and the car started to ding as if to warn them the keys were still in the ignition, which only happened if the door was—
Whirling, Drew found his sister sliding one leg from the opened driver’s side. Diving across the center console, he grasped her arm, keeping her in her seat. “What’re you doing?”
He snorted. “I don’t think so.”
“Drew.” Her tone turned authoritative. “I’m six years older than you. You can’t tell me what to do. You never could.”
“I’m not going to let you do something stupid, Mandy. If you get yourself arrested—”
“I’m not going to do anything stupid,” she snapped. “Now, let go. I just want to talk to her.”
“Says the woman toting a loaded Smith and Wesson.”
His sister threw him an annoyed scowl. When she saw the stubborn expression on his face, she growled out a frustrated sound. “Look, I wasn’t going to use it. You know me. I couldn’t actually shoot anyone.”
“Then why did you bring it?”
She gave a helpless shrug. “I don’t know. It was just … back up. That woman is a complete stranger.” She jabbed her finger over her shoulder toward flower girl who was still blissfully tending to her roses. “What if I went to confront her and she turned violent? I want to be able to protect myself.”
Drew shook his head, growing more incredulous by the moment. “How were you supposed to protect yourself with a gun you didn’t even think was loaded?”
Rolling her eyes, she muttered, “I never even planned on taking the thing out of my purse. Okay? I was only going to wave it around if she came at me.”
“Mandy,” he groaned, closing his eyes and running a hand through his hair. “Never point a gun at someone unless it’s loaded and you’re fully prepared to pull the trigger. What if she’d had her own peashooter stuck in her back pocket and decided to play High Noon? Come on, sis. Do you know how much trouble you’d be in if you pointed a gun at her? You’d be in jail so fast—”
“Drew,” she cut in, sighing as if she thought he was seriously overreacting.
“I’m not joking,” he ground out. “Not everyone’s as comfortable around firearms as we are. I bet she didn’t have a dad as big into hunting as ours. I bet her husband isn’t some avid gun collector like yours.”
“Probably not,” Amanda agreed acidly. “But her boyfriend sure is.”
And with that, she tried to exit the car once again.
“Amanda,” he warned.
“I just want to talk to her,” she repeated.
“And say what? You can’t walk up to a person and ask if they’re sleeping with your husband. She’s not going to just say, why yes I am.”
“I don’t have to ask,” she muttered. “I only have to look into her eyes, and I’ll know.”
He blew out a harassed sigh. “You’re not thinking right. This is absolutely insane.”
She turned then and sent him a look that caught him right in the gut. It was heart wrenching and miserable, and he couldn’t ignore the pain in her eyes any more than he could ignore his own arm if it’d been ripped off.
“I have to know,” she said.
His shoulders collapsed. “Fine,” he relented. “But you’re not going anywhere. I will talk to her.” He stuffed the bullets into his pocket as he added, “And I’m keeping these.”
Amanda frowned. “Just what would you say that’d be any different from what I’d say?”
Drew glanced up and down the quiet street, taking in the sight of the two toddlers outside, still playing with a set of toy dump trucks. Even farther up the block, an elderly woman rolled her walker toward a mailbox at the end of her drive. A sprinkler sprayed lazy circles in a yard across the street, and a For Sale side sat jammed in the grass next door.
“I don’t know,” he murmured aloud. But he certainly wasn’t going to let Mandy reenact her own version of The Nightmare on Elm Street.
Pushing open his door, his gaze settled on the woman. She really was something else.
“Drew,” his sister murmured, taking his arm. He paused and glanced back.
She smiled, looking suddenly grateful, and tugged him toward her. “Thank you,” she added and slapped a quick kiss to his cheek.
Shaking his head in bemusement, he patted her hand. “Just stay in the car.”
“I will. I promise.”
Drew shut the door behind him and looked both ways before jogging across the road and stepping onto the walkway that led straight to the front door of 410 South Elm.
Curious about what happens next?
Cool, 'cause my sweet romance story, A MAN FOR MIA, is available today, which means you can find out exactly what happens between Drew and the flower lady if you simply feel you must! It's available in print or ebook at Black Lyon Publishing (or Amazon).
Hope you all have a great weekend regardless.
PS: 7:20am CST update -- so far, the story is only available in ebook on Amazon, maybe later today it'll show up on the publisher's website...sorry for posting my news too early. Just call me a gun-jumper.
2:00pm CST update -- It's up on the Publisher's Page!