KAREN’S KILLER BOOK BENCH: Welcome to Karen’s Killer Book Bench where readers can discover talented new authors and take a peek inside their wonderful books. This is not an age-filtered site so all book peeks are PG-13 or better. Come back and visit often. Happy reading!
A KISS AT SUNSET
US Park Rangers Book #1
BY JUDY KENTRUS
Cameron MacGregor’s lifelong dream was to become a US park ranger. In school, she’d earned the nickname Paula Bunyan. She knew more about the ecosystem of the forest than her teachers. Raised by her grandfather from the time she was nine years old, she’d come to appreciate the beauty and wonder of nature in the Alleghany Mountains of Pennsylvania.
Only one boy looked beyond the un-female personage and saw the warmhearted, sweet girl she kept hidden from her classmates. Now, after twenty years, he’s come back home to Laurel Heights. She’s well trained and devoted her life to the job she loves, but is hesitant to act on the feelings she’s harbored for Treig Taylor since high school. Could she risk him finding out about the secrets and guilt she’s harbored all these years?
Treig John Taylor hadn’t a clue what it was like to live a “normal” life. For the past eighteen years, he’s worked undercover, associating with the slime of the earth. Darkness had grown inside him and he didn’t know how to stop it from festering.
His best friend and boss brings TJ in to save himself and offers Treig a job as head of security for the Laurel Heights Inn. He’s reluctant at first but accepts the position for six months. There’s more to the “temp” job than he anticipated, including getting reacquainted with US Park Ranger Cameron MacGregor.
The woman was heart-stopping beautiful, but a whole different class. Inside he was tainted and not worthy of her. He hadn’t associated with a nice woman who wasn’t part of an assignment, in a long time. Could he climb out of the darkness and turn his life around?
No matter what TJ does to try and live a normal life, someone from his past comes back, seeking revenge in a way he never saw coming.
TJ didn’t believe his boss, who was also his brother-in-law because his voice lacked conviction. Dressed in jeans and a casual shirt, no one would take Lincoln Adams for the owner of one of the largest security companies in the country.
“Why are you busting my balls? I’ve been working my ass off the past 3 years working undercover with a bunch of murdering, drug running Columbians. I got home two days ago and moved into the garage apartment in the back of your house.”
“Yeah, and you mirror the trash you worked with. Women and children would purposely cross the street to avoid getting close to you.”
TJ pressed his hands over his unshaven cheeks and covered his ears. “Stop talking so loud. My head feels like the drummer from a rock band has taken up residence in my head.”
“And whose fault is that? You’re drinking too much and I’m far from done. Your niece saw you going up the stairs to the apartment yesterday when she got off the school bus. Edith said uncle Treig’s face looks dirty with his beard. My wife is disappointed you haven’t stopped by the house to see Noah. Your nephew is quite a handful. You better clean up before you face your mother.”
Getting reamed by his best friend was one thing, but facing his mother took things to a whole different level. “People should stop worrying about me.”
“We’re not just “people” but your family. Constantly working undercover with bottom feeders has caused you to distance yourself from normal human beings. Your assignments were all undercover, working with a different caliber of scum. Since then, you’ve taken on risky assignments we’ve coordinated with the FBI and DEA. You’ve made some powerful enemies. It’s time to step back into normalcy.”
I don’t know remember what normal is. “You know I need a challenging job,” he offered as a poor excuse.
“Living with low-life’s can change a person. We’ve got a psychologist on retainer that will be glad to talk to you.”
TJ suffered the invisible punch in the gut. “Psychologist! Now you think I’m messed up in the head?”
He shoved up from the silver-framed chair in front of his bosses’ sleek desk and walked across the thick gray carpeting to pause in front of the wall of glass. His eyes were drawn to the restored train station across from the vast parking area. From the number of cars, it appeared the six specialty shops were doing a good business. He shoved his hands in the back pockets of his jeans. “Busy place.”
“You were always good at quickly changing the subject,” Lincoln added with a short laugh. “You should see it on the weekends. We have a trolley service that takes the tourists to my grandfather’s house since it’s been declared a historical landmark. We’re currently looking for a second trolley driver. You’d get to wear a nifty cap. It would certainly be a change of pace.”
TJ caught the hint of sarcasm in his friend’s voice and returned to his chair. “Thanks, but no thanks,” he sneered, running his hands through his overly-long hair in frustration.
“All kidding aside, you know I like to hire Veteran’s and understand what they’ve gone through because I’ve been there myself, dealing with physical as well as emotional trauma.”
“But I wasn’t in the military.”
“No, you weren’t, but you’re part of an elite group that fights the bad guys who threaten the American way of life both on and off home turf.”
“Jeeze, I’m nobody’s hero. I’m just doing my job.”
“You don’t see yourself that way, but I do. We’ve been best friends since junior high school and I know you better than you know yourself. Mr. I’m Invincible, nothing can touch me, has a vulnerable side and that trash you worked with has tainted your well-being. You just turned forty. You don’t have a permanent residence, no woman in your life, no direction. You don’t own a vehicle because you’re never home long enough so you’re driving my truck.”
“So now you resent loaning me your pride and joy?”
“Don’t be such an ass! If I got an undercover assignment right now, you’d grab your duffle and be out of the house a half hour later. When we were teenagers you were always the one to push the envelope and you’ve continued to live your life on the edge. What the hell are you searching for? Or maybe I should ask, what are you running away from?”
Lincoln summed up his inner turmoil perfectly. What am I running away from? Hell, I don’t know. How could he say to his oldest friend that working for him instilled a sense of purpose and tethered him to a form of stability, one that always had his back? If he couldn’t sink his teeth into some kind of risky situation, what would he do? His mind came up blank.
“Are you really firing me?”
“Let’s just say I’m pointing you in a different direction.”
Lincoln pulled open the top drawer of his desk and took out a colorful brochure and passed it to TJ. “You were in Columbia when The Laurel Heights Inn opened. We have a full house and can accommodate small conventions.”
TJ glanced down at the front cover that displayed a rustic, two-story log building surrounded by the Alleghany Mountains. The first page listed the different types of accommodations, places to eat and scheduled activities.
“Wow, this is quite extensive. You actually think this place will support itself? Laurel Heights isn’t close to the interstate.”
“That’s exactly why it will survive. We’re one hundred percent booked through the summer. The Halloween and Christmas family weekends are already reserved.
“Adams’ is handling security and we need someone to oversee the entire operation. The near-by campground is part of the National Park Service and is overseen by the park rangers.
“Me? A security guard? Make nice and pander the prissy guests who lost their jewelry and complain about loud noises coming from the neighboring room?”
From the look of disappointment on his bosses’ face, it was the wrong thing to say. “When did you become such a winey, hardened snob? Maybe you’re not right for the job after all.”
His best friend knew him too well and had pointed out the problem he was facing. Interacting with good-for-nothing riffraff, he’d been forced to do things he’d be arrested for in the States. He had to depend on one person to survive – himself.
When was the last time he didn’t have to stop looking over his shoulder? Worry his real identity would be discovered? When was the last time he’d genuinely laughed? Was he running away from something? When had he stopped caring?
He leaned forward and rested his arms on his knees, sighing in resignation. “You’re right. You’re right,” he repeated and shook his head. “I don’t know myself anymore. Maybe it’s time to take a step back and literally smell the roses?
“Try the job for six months to see if the position is right for you.”
“Will I be required to wear one of those “mall” guard uniforms?” TJ asked the question with a half-smile.
“Not necessary. We supply light blue golf shirts with Adam’s security logo and tan shorts or trousers, depending on the season and a Navy blazer. You have a staff of six full-time security personnel who work rotating shifts, twenty-four seven.”
“Radio or cell phone communication?”
“Radios are a combo of walky-talky and cell phone.”
“You mentioned the campground. Do you know any of the rangers overseeing the area?”
Merriment danced in his friend’s gray eye before he spoke. “Your girlfriend is one of them.”
“I don’t have a girlfriend.”
“Sure you do. Your date from the senior prom. I was there when you defended her in front of a bunch of kids when they called her Paula Bunyan. Then you slipped your arm around her shoulder and declared yourself, breaking a number of female hearts.”
TJ’s brows lowered in a thoughtful frown. A picture of a teenage girl formed in his head. Curly auburn-red hair haphazardly gathered with an elastic band and nerdy glasses. Faded bib coveralls camouflaged her teenage body. “You mean Cameron MacGregor? That girl knew more about the forest and ecosystem than our teachers.”
“Same one. She became a US Park Ranger and works out of the Laurel Ridge station.
“When do I have to start?”
“Tomorrow. First get a decent haircut and a shave. I’ll let the general manager know you’ll be heading up security. Stop in Randall Byer’s office and introduce yourself before you meet your staff.”
“Are you going to tell him I’m your brother-in-law?”
“No, I’ll leave that up to you. The town has grown the past three years and there are a lot of new faces. Those who don’t know you might be of the opinion I gave you the job because we’re related. You’ll have to prove your worth that much harder.”
TJ snickered. “Like that’s something new. I’ve had to deal with the fact that my mother is a judge and a lawyer and my father before her. Growing up I didn’t dare blacken the Taylor name.”
“I’m sorry you believe that, but keep it to yourself. Your mother would be devastated if she heard your derogatory comment. Quick question before you leave. Did you cover your tracks when you finished this last assignment?”
“I took extra precautions because I knew I’d be returning home. A perk of this new job is I won’t have to keep looking over my shoulder or keep my hand ready to retrieve a weapon.”
TJ stood up with a deep sigh of surrender and held out his hand. “Thanks for not giving up on me.
TJ walked out of the newly restored brick building that was once an old warehouse and paused to take in the panorama of the Alleghany Mountains that surrounded Laurel Heights. A blanket of white clouds drifted above the vibrant green, tree-covered terrain. God’s country. Peace and tranquility at its best.
He wasn’t feeling it. A vice of uncertainty still gripped his body. Maybe it was time he ditched his wanderlust and got reacquainted with the town he grew up in. Find out who he was. Slay those demons he carried that kept him running away from reality – no – normalcy.
I’ve always been a romantic at heart and married my high school sweetheart. I make my home in the Poconos of Pennsylvania. After raising our two children, I followed my dream to publish my books. When I’m not at my computer giving couples their happily-ever-after, you can find me in the kitchen, baking, especially cookies. I’ve been dubbed the cookie queen by my family and friends. My stories are fun, sexy, romances that will make you laugh, cry and fall in love.
Links to Judy’s website, blog, books, etc.
Facebook: Judy Kentrus, Author