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About the author:
The thirteen authors of Dangerous Encounters are both thrill seekers and romance junkies. We love nothing more than a great mystery with a happily ever after ending. We come from all corners of the United States and all backgrounds of writing. One of our members, Mimi Barbour, just hit the New York Times Bestseller list! We’ve each picked one of our favorite romantic mysteries to include in this set and we are all so pleased with the outcome. Join us for an adventure of danger, mystery, suspense, and ultimate love.
What inspired you to write your book?
For my personal book in this set, Murderous Lies by Chantel Rhondeau, I was actually inspired by a dream. In my dream, I was my main character, Rose, and the love of my life had just walked through the door. Only problem was, I was afraid of him. In the dream, I didn’t know why this could be the case, but the next day Rose stuck with me and I couldn’t stop thinking about the dream or the ‘why’ of it all. The next day, I started plotting and figuring out why I had been so afraid of the man I was supposed to love.
Here is a short sample from the book:
Chapter One (Excerpt from Murderous Lies by Chantel Rhondeau)
Rosemary Spelling tossed the pack of cigarettes on the counter, trying not to sneer at her customer. “That’ll be five thirty-seven. Smoking, huh? You must’ve picked up a new vice in prison?”
Max Kensington didn’t answer, glancing over his shoulder. Rose became acutely aware that they were alone in the convenience store. The appeals court may have found Max innocent on a technicality, but that didn’t change the truth. She was alone with a murderer.
He pushed his too-long, brown hair off his forehead as he turned back around. Those clear blue eyes—the ones that used to fill her dreams—stared at her unwaveringly. There was hardness in his gaze that never used to be a part of Max’s visage.
“I know you think I’m guilty, Rose, but I was acquitted.” His voice was still the mellow tenor she remembered from long nights spent on the phone—clandestine calls made between lovesick high school seniors.
Well, she’d been lovesick. He was just sick.
“Why’d you come back to this town?” she asked, stooping slightly to grip the baseball bat beneath the counter. “Even though your lawyer lied his way up the appeals court chain and bribed a judge to say you’re innocent, the people here in Clarkston know the truth. You murdered my sister and those other four girls, too.”
“Damn it, Rose! That’s not what happened.” Max slapped the counter, the loud sound echoing around the small store.
Rose did her best not to flinch. This anger was a side to Max she hadn’t witnessed eight years ago, though it was obviously there all along. It took a lot of rage to beat someone to death. Rose had found Sage in the old boathouse the day after she went missing. Rose saw her baby sister’s face and the bloody mess it had become.
No doubt Max held a lot of anger inside. He’d successfully hid it from Rose for years during their courtship, but that could have been because he killed the other girls to assuage his anger. She couldn’t believe she’d once planned to marry him.
“Get out of here,” she said, keeping her tone as level as she could, “or I’ll call the cops.”
The anger in Max’s eyes seemed to soften. “Please don’t be that way. I need to talk to you.”
Rose pulled the bat out where he could see it, putting on a brave face. “I’ve taken defense classes since you were arrested. Leave or I’ll put that training to use.”
“I’m just going for my wallet so I can pay for the smokes,” he said, reaching behind his back. “Don’t smash my face in.”
Rose couldn’t stop the strangled gasp from leaving her throat, seeing Sage’s bloody face in her mind all over again.
Max winced. “Sorry. Horrible choice of words.” He pulled the wallet out and extracted two fives, setting them on the counter. “I promise I’m innocent. The real killer is still here somewhere. I worried about you every day I was gone, scared he’d come after you. Why didn’t you answer my letters?”
She shook her head, trying not to be swayed by the hurt in his eyes. “I didn’t open them. What made you think I’d correspond with my sister’s killer?”
“I told you. I didn’t—”
The bell above the door jingled, cutting off Max’s further protests.
Officer Calvin Black sauntered into the store, looking as though he owned the place—the same way he acted everywhere in the small town. “You okay there, Rosie? That ass ain’t bothering you, is he?”
Calvin knew Max’s history inside and out. In fact, he’d been the arresting officer once they found Max’s DNA beneath Sage’s fingernails. He knew what Max was capable of, and Rose was glad to have him around for protection.
She grabbed the fives from the counter and forced a smile, deciding it would be best to get Max out of the store quickly with his merchandise, and not involve the officer if possible. “Things are fine, Cal. I started a fresh pot of coffee a few minutes ago. Help yourself.”
“Sounds great.” Calvin stared at the back of Max’s head as though trying to bore holes into it, but Max didn’t turn around. “I’ll stand over here while you finish up with that…” His upper lip curled into a grimace. “…customer.”
Rose quickly counted out Max’s change and set it on the counter, not wanting to risk accidentally touch his hand when handing it to him. “Stay away from me,” she said in a low voice. “We don’t have anything to talk about. You’re the only person who poses any danger to me. Don’t pretend you want to protect me.”
“That’s not true, Rosemary. You must know that. I never did anything wrong. I was set up.” He kept his voice just as low as hers, likely not wanting Calvin to overhear. “Meet me somewhere when you’re done working. I need to talk to you. I can explain why Sage scratched me. I was never at that boathouse with her.”
“I don’t have time for this.” She shoved the money and cigarettes closer to his side of the counter. “Even if I wanted to meet you later, thanks to you destroying my family, I don’t have time for anything. Just go away and leave me alone.”
“Destroying your family? What do you mean? What happened to your folks?” He obviously wasn’t leaving.
Rose puffed out an exasperated breath, deciding he deserved to know what he caused. He apparently felt no regret for the lives he took, but he seemed to think about her a lot. He should know what his actions did to ruin her life.
“Thanks to your killing spree, Mom went out of her mind and Dad couldn’t handle it. He left us for a new family and a new town. I haven’t heard from him in years. Mom lives at the Brentwood Asylum now, has for the past five years. I couldn’t handle her increasingly dangerous delusions. She set our house on fire and almost burned us to death while I slept one night.”
Rose tried to ignore the sorrow reflected in his eyes. Max couldn’t really care. He did this…didn’t he?
She hated the doubt that crept in, but a judge did find him innocent. What if she’d hated him all these years and he didn’t do it? In the beginning, she’d argued with her parents, knowing deep in her heart that her sweet Max couldn’t have done something like that. They forced her to stay away from him, and then his guilt was proven in court.
“I’m sorry to hear about your mom,” Max said. “Ginger was always good to me.”
No. It wasn’t possible. He was the one. After all, no matter what she wished the truth to be, the murders stopped after his arrest.
“You don’t get to be sorry.” She shook her head. “Sage’s death ruined my life. I never made it to college. I had to drop out to take care of Mom. Now I work two jobs so she can get the help she needs, and I barely have enough left over to pay for my crappy little rental house. Not to mention, Sage is gone.” Her voice broke and Rose took some calming breaths before continuing softly, “So, you see, I don’t have time for anything but work, sleep, and visiting my mother on my one day off a week. Get out, Max, and don’t come back. I don’t care what explanations you have.”
He finally dropped his eyes to the counter and toyed with the edge of the cigarette pack. “Even if you don’t want to hear it, I am sorry about your mom. I’m even sorrier about Sage. She was a nice kid.”
“Your fake regret won’t bring Sage back or heal my mother. You killed her baby.”
“I can see you won’t believe my innocence, no matter what I say.” Max put the change in his wallet and pocketed the cigarettes. “I guess it was too much to hope for.”
He headed for the doorway.
“Wait a sec,” she said. “I do have one question.”
Max turned back. “I’m not sure I want to answer.”
Rose smoothed dark hair against her head, self-conscious now that she drew his attention. Still, she had to know. Wondering if she was to blame for Sage’s murder had plagued her over the years. “Sage always said if I didn’t marry you, she was going to. You knew that.”
“Of course.” He nodded. “Whenever I talked to her, I always told her to find a boy her own age, because as soon as I got my diploma, I was putting a ring on your finger, like we agreed when you said you’d marry me.”
She tried to ignore that, knowing that she had betrayed Max as far as their plans to get married. “Why did you lure her into that boathouse? It’s where you and I always went to be alone together. It was special for us.” Rose blinked back tears. “Was this my fault?”
Max took a step toward her, deep wrinkles marking his forehead as he narrowed his eyebrows. “Your fault? I didn’t do this, but why would it be your fault?”
“I told Sage that morning I couldn’t marry you. I always wondered if she told you. Did you kill her because you were angry with me?”
“You really weren’t going to marry me?” Max stared at the cracked linoleum flooring and his shoulders slumped inward. “I thought she was lying, trying to get me to be with her, like usual.”
After a few moments of silence, Rose couldn’t take it anymore. “Sage said she’d tell you, since I was too chicken to do it myself. I had a full ride scholarship and wanted to become a music teacher. If we got married, I’d have been stuck here forever instead of going to college.” Rose clutched the bat tighter, fearing his reaction to this news. “You should have killed me, not her. Sage was a fool, but a good girl.”
“I’ll only say this one more time.” Max lifted his head, the anger back in his eyes. “I didn’t kill anyone. I was too busy working, saving up money for an engagement ring that I apparently didn’t need.”
He turned suddenly, banging through the door and nearly knocking over a group of kids on their way inside.
Calvin approached the counter. “You okay, Rosie?”
She closed her eyes and nodded. “Just peachy. It’s not every day the love of my life turned murderer wants to talk.”
“Love of your life?” Calvin set a Styrofoam coffee cup on the counter. “I thought you just said you weren’t planning to marry him.”
Leave it to Officer Nosey to listen to every detail of the conversation.
“Just because I couldn’t marry him doesn’t mean I don’t—didn’t—love him.” She shrugged and placed the bat on its hook. “I didn’t want to be stuck barefoot and pregnant with no education while Max worked at his uncle’s garage. Trapped in this town forever, like my mom. Reality turned out to be a fate worse than that.”
Calvin tossed some change on the counter. “You should’ve married the psycho. Maybe your sister would still be alive.”
Thanks a lot. “You don’t know how many times that very thought has played through my mind.”
Max almost made it to his car when Jimmy Durant stepped around from the other side of the gas pump. The last time Max saw him outside of a courtroom had been the night Sage was murdered.
Walking quicker, Max hoped he’d make it to his vehicle without a confrontation. If something happened, it was clear who the police would side with. No one here was interested in evidence or the truth. They just wanted Max to be guilty.
“Well, well, well. Look who’s back in town.” Jimmy’s swaggering walk matched the sneer in his voice.
He’d always been somewhat of a punk, and Max never did understand why Sage dated him off and on. Maybe it was just to get Max’s attention, since Max always told her she deserved better than Jimmy.
“Look at your betters when they’re talking to you, you murdering bastard,” Jimmy sneered.
Max stopped walking, realizing avoiding Jimmy would be impossible. The younger man obviously wanted to hurl insults. He stared into Jimmy’s glowering hazel eyes. “I didn’t kill anyone, and you know it, since your lies put me in prison.”
“Watch yourself, scum.” Jimmy patted his pants pocket. “Knowing you were released, I decided to start carrying again. Someone has to protect the innocent girls in this town.”
A gun? Typical. Jimmy always did think he was a badass.
“My mom needed cigarettes. I’m not looking for trouble, so back off.” Max turned and opened his car door, hoping now that Jimmy had threatened with the gun, he’d feel content to let Max leave.
A heavy hand fell on Max’s shoulder.
“Not so fast, asshole. Let’s get something straight between us.”
Max shrugged the hand off and turned around, bending his fingers in a tight grip. “Even with your little gun, who do you think would be victorious in a close fight? I’m not the same mellow kid I used to be.” Max flexed the large muscles he’d acquired in prison, and Jimmy swallowed hard and took a step back. “Maybe once upon a time I allowed people to walk on me,” Max continued, “but that time is long gone. In prison, you either become the man people fear or someone’s bitch.” He held up his balled fist. “And I’m no bitch.”
Jimmy looked down, scuffing his foot in the dusty lot. “Just stay away from Rose. You killed her sister. She doesn’t want you anymore.”
The joke was on Jimmy. Apparently, Rose never did want him. Max grabbed the front of Jimmy’s shirt and pushed him against the car next to them. “You know the truth, you little prick. Sage scratched me at that burger joint, and that’s why they found my DNA under her nails. If you had just told the truth, I wouldn’t have rotted in prison for seven and a half years. I should kill you for lying.”
Jimmy’s eyes widened and he struggled against Max’s grip. “She got a note later telling her to meet you at that old boat house. You killed her. It doesn’t matter when she scratched you. I know you did it, and I stayed quiet to protect Rose. No one can prove I saw anything.”
Max pushed him again, then released his shirt. “If Sage really did get a note that night, I didn’t write it. I was too busy trying to find Rose to tell her what Sage said about our engagement.” He turned back to his car and hopped inside, glaring at the younger man through his open window. “Stay away from me, Jimmy. My reputation is already ruined so that doesn’t matter. If you push me, I will fight back.”
He started the engine, floored the accelerator, and squealed out of the lot, checking his rearview mirror. Jimmy still hadn’t moved from the other car, but Max had no doubt Rose would soon learn of the argument. And probably blame him.