Thursday, October 6, 2022

Read an Excerpt from Deadly Observations by Regan Black

$3.99 or FREE for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers


In this suspense-filled Guardian Agency romance by USA Today bestselling author Regan Black what appeared to be a fresh start has turned into a nightmare for Jayne Salter...

Jayne's first date in her new city takes a dreadful turn when a man she thought was a friend drugs her coffee and tries to throw her into a van. Fortunately, the kidnapping is interrupted by Ethan Shelley, a Guardian Agency protector assigned to watch over her.

But why was she targeted?

Trust has never been Jayne's strong suit, but with her illusions of security shattered she must rely on Ethan's expertise in this race to expose the person behind the attacks. Until they can determine if the threat is from her past or her present there is no hope for a future with the bodyguard she is quickly falling for.

If you like a page-turning suspense that packs an emotional punch, you'll love Deadly Observations!

Chapter 1

Ethan Shelley balanced near the top of the ladder, his neck and shoulders aching from scraping away the old ceiling from what would—someday—be a game room to envy.
Not that he had a big circle of local friends who would stop in and hang out, but it was the principle. He was creating his ideal home, one room at a time. He’d longed for a serious party room with a pool table, bar, big screen television, deep couches, and video game consoles since he was about twelve. What were a couple of decades between a dream and reality?
Unable to bear the ugliness, he’d pulled out the stained and worn shag carpeting down here within an hour of taking possession of the house. The subfloor had been a marked improvement.
Shaking his hands to loosen them up, he imagined the final result: sleek, modern, and masculine. It wasn’t an impossible scenario that an Army buddy would drop in and stay a while. Or maybe one of his Guardian Agency bosses would make time for a beer and conversation.
Patrick Gamble and Nolan Swann, the attorneys who managed the private security and investigations company, weren’t always in their Chicago headquarters. But they had the superb staff and technology support to make everyone think that was the case.
From the back pocket of his jeans, his phone rang. Ethan rested the scraper on top of the ladder before he pulled out his phone.
“Speak of the devil,” he said, his voice ringing through the empty room. Two words appeared on the text message displayed on the screen: OBSERVE DETAIL
Back to the real work he relished. He gazed at the half-scraped ceiling with a critical eye. He should call in a professional to finish this task. It would eat into his budget, but the mess would be that much worse if he let it stand half done indefinitely. When the Guardian Agency sent him this kind of order there was no telling how long the job would last.

“We need to scope that knee,” Doctor Harold Greer said in the vague direction of the battered man in the hospital bed as he reviewed the patient’s chart. “It may need to be replaced.”
Jayne Salter set her teeth, keeping her bland professional expression locked in place. It wasn’t good medicine to question a doctor in front of a patient. To argue with a doctor as influential and respected as Dr. Greer would be career suicide.
She loved her work as an emergency room nurse. As the newest hire in this downtown Charleston hospital, she had zero clout to even twitch an eyebrow at his orders.
The patient, known only as Chuck according to the friend who’d dropped him off at the ER, was somewhat over fifty years old and homeless. No identification, no family or emergency contact. Jayne adjusted the blanket and checked the drip on his IV. His eyes were glazed with the medications they were pumping into his system to ease the pain and prevent infection. In addition, Greer had ordered a newly approved drug combination designed to relieve traumatic inflammation quickly.
At first glance, Chuck was the perfect candidate for the new product. The man’s face was swollen and mottled with bruises under a thick layer of grime. They’d cut away his clothing and found more damage across his torso and legs. Chuck had taken a hard beating and unfortunately his friend hadn’t stuck around long enough to give any helpful details.
“I’ll get him on the schedule, doctor,” Jayne said.
At the foot of the bed, Dr. Greer tapped the closed chart against his palm. “Better if we do it now. I’m concerned about fluid buildup on that joint. Get him prepped. Notify my team.”
Her lips parted in shock before she caught herself. “Yes, doctor.” The patient was in no shape to sign the consent forms and yet it was on her to get that accomplished.
Greer was one of the most aggressive doctors she’d ever worked with. In her years of experience at other hospitals, the procedure he’d ordered would go through a consultation with another surgeon and be delayed until the swelling around the joint subsided.
She tried to shrug it off. Every doctor had their treatment preferences. Though her suspicions about Greer had been growing for weeks, she didn’t know the hospital politics well enough yet to speak up. She’d made new friends among the nurses and got along well with the people on her shifts, but that didn’t add up to the level of trust required to murmur any concerns about a doctor’s approach.
“Tell your dad I said hello,” Greer said, turning for the door. “I’m looking forward to our next round of golf.”
Jayne smiled, grateful that he didn’t wait for her to come up with a response. She’d first met her father, Jack Coker, a few months ago after deciding to actively search for the man on a whim.
Her search had brought her to Charleston, South Carolina from Florida. After a series of harrowing events and the heart wrenching exposure of family secrets, Jayne had been shocked to discover her biological father was a kind, wealthy, and prominent man in the area. He’d never known about Jayne thanks to her mother’s cruel manipulations. Not only that, but his wife and the daughter they’d raised had welcomed Jayne into the family.
Family ties had been too much to hope for when she’d started her search and though her first Christmas with the Cokers had been wonderful, she was still adjusting. Part of her kept waiting for the bubble of happiness to burst. At some point, the novelty of a surprise sister and daughter would surely wear off.
In the meantime, she soaked up the new experience of being included and loved. Jayne’s childhood had been filled with constant criticism, tantrums, and griping about the burden and unfairness of motherhood. She’d considered it a relief when her mother had died unexpectedly when Jayne was seventeen. A year in foster care hadn’t been fun, but she’d been fortunate enough to have that brief glimpse of a more affectionate family.
For the first time in her twenty-nine years, Jayne had her own family. A twin sister along with a mom and dad willing to listen to her chatter about topics from trivial to serious. Still, she didn’t discuss Greer, not after learning that Jack met him for a round of golf every few weeks. She didn’t want to put her fledgling relationship with her father through that kind of test. Didn’t want to confirm that his long-term friendships would trump a newfound daughter. Not that she’d blame him, but why purposely bring on that kind of disappointment?
She’d met plenty of doctors like Greer. Arrogance and fast decisions went with the territory, especially when a patient’s life was on the line. Jayne might not care for his approach, but that didn’t mean he was wrong. If his treatment protocols were a true threat, someone who had been here longer would’ve noticed.
She finished entering the new orders and waited for the printer to finish spitting out the pages of paperwork. “Not my job to fight all the battles,” she reminded herself.
“You okay, Jayne?”
Jayne smiled at Renée Babcock. The nurse had become one of her first friends outside of the Coker social circle. With her petite build, short cap of auburn hair setting off her bright blue eyes and the freckles dusting her nose and cheeks, she reminded Jayne of a pixie. In reality, Renée was closer to a superhero, able to calm patients with a few words and far stronger than she looked.
“I’m good,” she said. It was mostly true. Her sour mood couldn’t become a factor in patient care. “Prepping a patient for surgery on Greer’s orders.”
A frown flitted across Renée’s brow, there and gone too quickly to warrant a comment. “Who crashed?”
“No one,” Jayne assured her. “Just a situation he wants to correct tonight.”
“Well, it’s a slow night, so a good time for it,” Renée observed.
That must have factored into Greer’s decision as well. “I’ll be back in a few.” She waved good bye with the papers as she headed back to the bay where Chuck was waiting.
She gave her best effort to every patient, on every shift. Things moved fast in this ER and one reason they didn’t get a ton of backlog was their team approach to each crisis. Greer was part of that system and Jayne had no obvious reason to rock the boat.
As she guided her groggy patient through each page, hoping he really was understanding what he was signing, it troubled her that she wasn’t speaking her mind. Who would advocate for Chuck if she kept silent? He didn’t have family at hand to keep an eye on his best interests.
She understood how it felt not having anyone to rely on. Tackling life alone was the only way she’d known how to do things until she’d found her family.
With the paperwork completed, she proceeded with the rest of the preparations, all the while talking herself out of doing something that would get her fired. Just because she wasn’t great at trusting people didn’t mean Dr. Greer was doing anything wrong. No one else on the hospital staff seemed concerned when he rushed patients into surgery. She’d adapt and get used to his methods. As the doctor, he kept up with cutting edge protocols. He gave the orders and she carried them out.
When the surgical team wheeled Chuck out of the ER, it occurred to her that he might appreciate waking to a friendly face when he came out of recovery.
During her break, Jayne slipped outside to see if she could find the friend who had dropped Chuck off. She circled the block, nodding to the security personnel stationed at the hospital entrances. At this hour, caught between late night and early morning, the streets surrounding the hospital were relatively quiet.
There was no sign of Chuck’s friend in the immediate vicinity. Not surprising since people were discouraged from loitering for safety reasons. She glanced toward the parking garage across the street and would have walked over if she’d had more time. Heading back inside to finish her shift, she asked the security team monitoring the ER entrance to keep an eye out for anyone who might ask about Chuck.
It wasn’t likely that his friend would come back, but after being welcomed into the Coker family, Jayne found herself hoping for all kinds of happier outcomes lately.

Ethan silenced the alarm on his cell phone set to alert him to his target’s end of shift. The notice was primarily a suggestion. She often worked beyond the designated time if things were hectic in the emergency room. Either way, it was time to get into position to escort her home. From the shadows, of course. Within seconds he’d packed his gear and was moving from the empty office space in the building across from the hospital and down to the parking garage, closer to her parking space.
He liked her car, a glossy new Mini Cooper. The vehicle had style and spunk, just like his target.
After three weeks on the job, Ethan knew the ins and outs of his target’s routine. Jayne Salter walked into her shifts as an ER nurse with a big smile on her face and a bounce in her step. More times than not, she left at a more subdued pace, satisfied, but her expression etched with exhaustion. She had a couple of female friends who would take breaks with her. She went for a run—alone—within an hour of waking, no matter what time of day.
According to the background information in her file, there was no boyfriend. She had dinner with her parents at least once a week, but he’d only observed that event once so far. Her parents were on an extended vacation in Europe, celebrating her father’s retirement.
Had they been in town, he suspected she would spend more time with them since she lived in the smaller house on their property, a tidy little bungalow tucked between the main house and the marsh.
The parents were a new development. Jayne had been raised by a neglectful mother who’d kept her existence a secret from Jack Coker, her biological father. From what Ethan could see, they were delighted to have her in their lives. Also in the file was a picture of his target’s twin sister, Paige Coker. They were as identical as twins could be in Ethan’s opinion. In person the similarities were even more evident. Both women were fit and slender with fair skin and dark, shoulder-length hair. They had dynamic smiles and deep blue eyes. When he’d seen Paige, he noticed she dressed more formally, but she was some kind of consultant. He found it curious that the sister was engaged to a Guardian Agency protector, Carter Oakes and wondered how much of this file had come from that source.
So far, Ethan had not had any reason to meet or speak with Carter. The people in charge of this case had asked him specifically to avoid that scenario for as long as possible. He wasn’t sure why it mattered, but he respected the parameters.
He’d been in Charleston long enough to adjust to the weather and get familiar with the pace and layout of the city. He found the area inviting and his target intriguing. Not that either was a factor in how he went about his work. In his opinion, he was getting paid excellent money to watch a beautiful woman who was perfectly safe.
Irrelevant details, but true. Not his place to judge or even have an opinion. As a Guardian Agency security specialist, his job was to follow the orders. He would carry out his assignment to the best of his ability for as long as they wanted him in place. That meant keeping track of her movements and activities and intervening only in a life threatening situation.
By the end of his first week on the case he was sure someone in Jayne’s life was being overprotective. At the end of his second week he was equally certain she had a stalker. Well, a stalker other than him.
Ethan managed to get a few photos of the man that always seemed to be at the periphery of Jayne’s movements. He would often smoke within view of the parking garage at the end of her shifts and sometimes he used the same route as Jayne for his run.
Ethan didn’t believe in coincidence.
He and his research assistant, Jenna had been working up a file, looking for reasons why the man was so interested. Jenna had yet to find anything incriminating. The guy had a job as a bouncer at a club a few blocks from the hospital. His name was Adam Davies but everyone seemed to call him Ace, and he occasionally spent time with friends at the City Marina. He’d been picked up for a couple of fights, but assault charges were never filed. Ethan knew that came with the territory as a bouncer. Ace had been to the ER for stitches twice in the last 3 months, according to Jenna’s finesse with research.
Maybe that’s where he’d latched onto Jayne.
Ethan couldn’t blame him for that. The woman was compelling.
He’d sent a query to his boss about conducting an impromptu interview and was told to stick with his original orders and update as needed. Fine by him. He didn’t want to stir up trouble or risk aggravating a client over a misunderstanding.
The Guardian Agency operated solely on word of mouth. No advertising. Another decision well above his paygrade, which was exactly how he liked it. He didn’t want to manage people or hand out challenging or sensitive assignments. Since recovering from the injuries that ended his Army career, he wanted only to be responsible for himself.
Which was why sticking to the shadows keeping an eye on people who were supposedly in danger or dangerous was the perfect job. Working observation-only cases, he didn’t have to be seen until it was his choice.
When he reached the parking garage there was no sign of Ace. Maybe the other man’s interest had been a coincidence after all.
Ethan debated the likelihood of that assessment as he checked Jayne’s position through the app he used to track her cell phone. Looked like she was getting off right on time tonight. Good for her. Once he and Jenna had identified Ace’s interest in Jayne, Ethan had been sticking even closer than normal.
This week she was on third shift which meant he was too. In a career like his, he didn’t really bother wondering if he was a night owl or an early bird. He was just a guy taking photos or offering oversight from a distance for an operation. Time wasn’t much of a consideration on a long-term gig like this one.
Third shift also matched her up better with the bouncer’s hours. Although Ethan hadn’t seen Ace yet tonight, he was confident the man was close.
He lifted his gaze from his cell phone to the elevator and right on cue, the doors parted and Jayne stepped into the harsh, bright light filling the glass box that served as the bridge between the hospital and the garage.
But she wasn’t alone. Ace wasn’t at his post downstairs, because he was walking right beside her. From Ethan’s vantage point and his experience watching Jayne, she didn’t appear too happy with the company.
“Look I’m flattered,” Jayne said. Her words carried across the cement structure, mostly empty at this time of morning. “But it really isn’t appropriate.”
“Come on. It’s just a coffee,” Ace cajoled. “We’ve both had a long day.”
So the guy was asking her out. Finally an explanation for why he’d been keeping tabs on her. Ace was tall and brawny, perfect for his job as a bouncer. Ethan guessed most women fawned over the hard jaw, scruffy beard, and tattoos. A man as ripped as Ace should have more confidence about dating.
Then again, confidence was one of those elusive traits that few people seem to have in the right balance.
Jayne didn’t pause, walking right toward Ethan’s hiding place near her car with the bouncer on her heels. “Because it’s been a long day, I’d rather have a rain check. Please?”
“But you’re too wired to just crash, right? We have that in common,” Ace pressed. “Not everyone gets it. Come on, Jayne. Am I that hard to look at?”
The man probably didn’t have any problem hooking up with women who came to the club, but he didn’t seem like Jayne’s type. Of course, Ethan didn’t actually know her type. She hadn’t been on any dates while he’d been assigned to her. The outings with her sister and future brother-in-law didn’t count.
“Another time, Ace,” she said. “I’m not good company tonight.”
Why not? Ethan wondered. Had her shift been problematic? He’d watched her take a walk a couple of hours ago, but he’d assumed it was a normal need for fresh air.
“And what if I really have a concussion this time?”
Jayne laughed, the merry sound bounding through the cavernous structure. He’d never heard her laugh. He’d seen it from a ways off, but the sound mesmerized him. Created a pull of attraction low in his gut that he hadn’t felt in ages.
Interesting. Enticing. And absolutely nothing he could act on with a client, even if she had been aware of his presence.
“From what I’ve seen, Ace, your skull was built for your line of work.”
He didn’t care for the familiarity between these two, despite his lack of evidence to back up any dislike of the man. Ethan pulled himself together, giving the situation his full attention. Complacency led to disaster. He’d learned that the hard way when he assumed what he was seeing from a distance was the entire story.
“Fine,” Jayne relented. “I’ll have coffee with you. Then I really need to get home and get some rest.”
Ace beamed down at her as if she’d just offered him the moon.
Ethan couldn’t blame the guy. Jayne had a way of giving care and focus that made people feel as if they were the most important person in the world. Even from a distance, those skills had been clear. He’d seen her in action when she was out with her family and friends. On the rare occasions when he’d strolled through the ER, her ability had been on full display.
Would that hold up if she ever saw me? Ethan didn’t have much hope of that. Didn’t matter, they weren’t destined to meet. His job was to keep an eye on her from a distance. If he did his job right, she would never see his face.
“Why not ride over with me?” Ace offered.
“Oh, um. That’s thoughtful,” Jayne said, clearly taken aback. “But no, thanks. I’ll meet you over there.” She opened her door and slid behind the wheel before Ace could offer up another reason for her to shoot down.
Ethan was grateful she made the smart move to drive herself. Now he’d have plenty of room to follow on his motorcycle without being spotted.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...