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Columbella House, a crumbling Victorian mansion on the coast, is packed with secrets and danger. Now it all belongs to Mia St. Regis. For police chief Dylan Reese, the return of the beautiful heiress rekindles an old attraction, one he thought ended long ago. Before he can focus on their past, though, Mia's reappearance rouses a killer, someone who's made her the ultimate—and most prized—target. Dylan knows keeping Mia safe is part of the job. Yet the image of an elusive enemy getting anywhere near her challenges his sworn vow to uphold the law—and stirs something all too personal inside by-the-book Dylan....
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Carol Ericson lives in southern California, home of state-of–the-art cosmetic surgery, wild freeway chases, and a million amazing stories. These stories, along with hordes of virile men and feisty women clamor for release from Carol’s head until she sets them free to fulfill their destinies and her readers’ fantasies. To find out more about Carol and her current books, please visit her website at www.carolericson.com, “where romance flirts with danger.”Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Your sister is dead. The words on the screen blurred together, and Mia St. Regis slammed down the cover of the laptop to dismiss them. Why should she take the word of a ditzy psychic like Kylie Grant?
Mia stretched her arms over her head, and then slumped against the soft cushions on the love seat in the corner of the coffeehouse. Of course, here she sat in Coral Cove, but it hadn't been Kylie's email that had prompted her return.
She had to do something with the old ancestral home, Co-lumbella House, before it fell into the sea. Maybe she should just let it.
She swept her computer from the low table in front of her and shoved it into her bag. Shaking back her sleeve, she glanced at her watch. She still had time to check out the family manse before it got completely dark. She'd have to make arrangements to turn on the electricity and whatever else needed connecting out there.
"Bye, thanks." As she pushed off the love seat, she waved to the barista clearing stale breakfast goodies from the glassenclosed shelves.
The young woman peered over the top of the glass case. "Are you really going to turn Columbella House into some kind of resort?"
Mia banged her shin against the table. "Huh?"
"You're Mia St. Regis, right?"
"Uh, yeah." This girl had probably been in grade school the last time Mia graced the shores of Coral Cove. How the hell did she know her identity?
"The article in the Coral Cove Herald said you were coming home to turn Columbella into a beach resort. Cool."
Mia hitched her bag over her shoulder and strode toward the counter. She must've looked as ornery as she felt because the young woman dropped to her heels and took a step back.
"There was an article about me in that little paper?"
The barista bit her lip and pointed an unsteady finger with black polish on the nail toward the front door of the coffeehouse. "The papers are still in the rack if you want to read the article."
Mia spun around and zeroed in on a wire rack near the door sporting a few throwaway papers and the Coral Cove Herald. "Definitely want to read that."
"Okay, well, have a nice night." The young woman had backed up a few more steps and crossed her arms.
Mia's heels clipped across the wood floor, and then she paused by the rack and slid a paper off the top of the stack. Her jaw tightened as she took in the picture of her smiling face next to an article with the headline Columbella Heiress Has Remodeling Plans.
With narrowed eyes, she squinted at the byline—Jimmy Holt. She knew that name: some journalism dweeb from high school. So much for flying in here under the radar.
Another face on the front page caught her attention—windswept hair, high, broad cheekbones, strong chin, intense stare—Dylan Reese. She scanned that headline, too—Another Chief Reese.
So Dylan had filled his father's shoes as police chief of Coral Cove. The single ladies in town must be licking their chops over that news. In fact, she had to wipe a little drool from the corner of her own mouth. Even though Dylan had always treated her as an annoying sister, his general gorgeousness hadn't escaped her.
She stuffed the paper in the side pocket of her laptop case and swung out the door. She'd had a long flight from New York to San Francisco that morning, and a long drive from the city down the coast to Coral Cove. But the coffee had fortified her and she wanted a look at the old place before the darkness descended. She even had a flashlight for the occasion.
Standing by the alley entrance where she'd parked her rental, she closed her eyes and let the cool air brush her skin. Summer nights in Coral Cove never got too warm. The humidity never got too high. She filled her lungs with the salty air and exhaled slowly.
Okay, maybe she did miss a few things about her hometown.
"Chief, Chief. Someone's in my parking space."
Mia's eyes flew open and she spun around. One of the merchants on Main Street had snagged the new chief and was dragging him to his private parking space...where she'd stashed her rental car.
She strode into the alley and beeped the remote. "That's my car."
The chief, Dylan Reese, turned a pair of dark blue eyes on her and the temperature in Coral Cove, along with the humidity, shot up a few degrees.
"That's my private space. You can't park there." The merchant waved his arms around while hopping up and down next to the chief, like a bird on hot cement.
Or maybe he just seemed so agitated because Chief Reese had a silent, still presence, like he was sizing up the situation and deciding which one of them to shoot first.
Mia slid between the two men, yanked open the back door and dropped her laptop case on the seat. "Sorry. I didn't realize Main Street had reserved parking spots."
The little man jabbed at a metal sign over the space that read Reserved for Owner.
"Oops, my bad."
"Give her a ticket, Chief. She's in violation."
"She might be in violation...of a lot of things, but she's moving the car now, Leon."
Leon shook a stubby finger at her. "You may own the biggest house in town, that eyesore on the coast, but you don't own Main Street."
Who didn't know her identity?
Mia raised one brow. "Not yet."
That sent Leon sputtering and muttering back to the side entrance of his antiques store.
"Making friends and influencing people already, Mia?"
She laughed and stuck out her hand. "As usual. How are you, Dylan, or should I call you Chief?"
"Dylan or Chief is a lot better than some of the names you used to call me." He took her hand, engulfing it in a warm, rough clasp, and pulled her in for a peck on the cheek.
A brotherly peck on the cheek.
Her gaze dropped from his handsome face, a little thinner, a little craggier than she'd remembered, and then flitted across his broad chest as it stretched the khaki material of his uniform. He looked about as good in that uniform as he'd look out of it.
He squeezed her hand harder, as if he knew her mind had wandered into dangerous territory. As she slipped her hand from his, she noticed the tail end of a tattoo peeking out of his long sleeve. Had the chief taken a trip on the wild side before settling into law enforcement like his father?
She laughed again, this time to cover the confusion she felt at his touch. Dylan always had the looks, but Mia had been friends with his twin sister, Devon, and had always valued him as a brother. She'd always wished her twin had been a brother.
Your sister is dead.
A sliver of anxiety needled her flesh, and the laugh died on her lips.
"Are you okay? I'm not going to give you a ticket for parking in Leon's special space."
And just like the Dylan of old, he could tune in to her feelings. "I'm fine. Lot of ghosts in this town."
"If a ghost. .or anyone else...starts getting to you, give me a holler."
"Thanks, Chief. See you around." She scanned the sky, streaked with orange and red. She'd need that flashlight for Columbella after all.
Dylan stood with his hands shoved into his pockets, one shoulder leaning against the brick facade of Leon's store, watching her as she slipped into the car.
She cranked on the engine and waved. Why would anyone else in town get to her? Dylan's words had carried an edge of warning, or the town was already casting its spell on her.
Cruising down Main Street, she glanced right and left at the new shops and restaurants. She'd picked late August to take care of business to avoid the height of the summer tourist season.
She'd also avoided quite a bit of drama over the summer, most of it occurring at Columbella House, which had given her further incentive to take some action. She hadn't needed Kylie-the-fortune-teller's email about her sister to make a journey to Coral Cove.
She pointed her car toward the Coast Highway, but turned right toward Columbella instead of left toward her motel. She'd lingered in the coffeehouse and on the sidewalk chatting to Dylan a little too long, and now the sun had dipped halfway into the ocean. But meeting up with Dylan had been worth it.
Chewing her lip, she squinted into the headlights of an oncoming car. She should've called the electric company from New York so she wouldn't have to stumble around with a flashlight in the house. Maybe it would be better to view the house and assess the damages in the light of day...when the ghosts were sleeping.
She pinned her shoulders against the car seat. No time like the present. She'd take a quick peek and then return tomorrow.
She'd put off dealing with the eyesore, as that shopkeeper had called it, for several years. Might as well dive right in.
She took the turnoff to Coral Cove Drive and rolled down the darkened street. Since Columbella took up a huge portion of the street and no light came from the house, it cast most of the block in darkness, giving it an eerie vibe.
The Roarkes lived in Hawaii now, visiting only sporadically. A light glowed on the porch of the Girard house. Michelle had stayed on in the house after her father died. Michelle was a teacher, so maybe she was still enjoying the last few weeks of summer before school started. Lights also dotted the Vincents' place—looked like they might be home.
Mia blew out a breath—not as deserted as she'd feared, not that she feared Columbella House. After all, most of the wacky people who had done wacky things in this house were her wacky people.
She pulled into the long driveway and cut the engine. The house had been built into the rock and a portion of it hung over the ocean. Her great-grandfather had harbored some strange notions of what an appropriate beach house should entail. Stepping out of the car, she soaked in the sound of the waves crashing below, and she could almost feel the salty s...
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