Title: Eye of the Storm (Storm #2)
Author: M. Stratton
Release Date: February 18th
Genre: Adult Contemporary Romance
Cover Designed by MGBookCovers
Hosted by: Between the Sheets Promotions
Evie Taylor loves her life in Boston, running her bookstore and café, but an accident has made it so she needs to return home to take care of her grandmother. With extra time on her hands, she decides to start looking for the monster that haunts her best friend’s nightmares. A chain of events starts no one could see coming.
When the last person she ever expects shows up and rings her grandmother’s doorbell she finds herself in the middle of danger. Bound together in a common mission, they’ll search the world looking for answers. But can they find them in time or will they end up paying the ultimate price? As the storm rages around them, they find each other, and the calm in the Eye of the Storm.
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About The Author
M. Stratton is an International Amazon bestselling author in the romantic suspense and mystery suspense categories for her debut novel After the Storm. She is a self-proclaimed dork that loves to make people laugh and can trip over nothing. Her inner rock star is always on stage performing to a sold out crowd but is quiet and shy on the outside.
She lives with her husband and son in Arizona, which is a big difference from where she grew up north of Chicago Illinois. As an only child she learned to tell herself stories to make the long winters go by quicker while dreaming of summer vacations. Now as an adult she still makes up stories to pass the time, but now she writes them down to share with other people. When not writing you can find M. watching football (Go Bears!), NASCAR, or classic movies, watching her husband and father restore classic cars, and seeing who can be sillier, her or her son, and of course reading. Things you don’t know about M. Stratton: 1. She loves the movie Twister… she can say all the lines along with the actors. She will also use those lines in real life as often as possible. 2. Halloween is her favorite holiday. She starts planning months in advance. She has more Halloween decorations than Christmas. 3. She once made up a monologue about her love of chocolate chip cookie dough for her high school drama class. 4. There are times she thinks she is so funny she has tears running down her face while laughing at herself. 5. M. can play the clarinet but is in awe of anyone who can play the guitar, piano or drums, pretty much anything where your hands have to do two different things at the same time. 6. Cary Grant is her favorite actor. When she was in high school after Cary Grant died one of the cable stations ran a marathon, she watched his movies from 6 in the morning all day and night until 4 AM the next day. 7. Reading has always been an escape for her. She can devour a book in hours. When she moved in with her husband she literally donated over 1,000 books and saved over 1,000 for herself. She can reread books over and over again if she loves them. There are some that she has reread about once a year for the past 20 years. 8. She eloped after knowing her husband for only two months in 2006. They are still married over seven years later.
Anthony Maldono sat back in his chair and looked out the window of his home in La Jolla California at the ocean. The turbulent waves crashed on the beach and he felt it fit his mood exactly. He looked at the computer screen and scowled at the e-mail which was still waiting for his reply, he stood and walked over to where he kept his files his private investigators compiled for him about everyone and everything involved with Alexia Hanson and Jeremy Ellison. Looking through them until he came to the one labeled “Evie Taylor,” he pulled it out and started to review it.
He didn’t understand why she would contact him. Thinking it might be good to surprise her, he started moving his plans up.
Jeremy lay back in the bed, staring up at the ceiling, listening to the gossip show coming from the other room about Alexia and Noah’s wedding. Right now, he hated his life. He knew it was temporary, but he couldn’t wait for a change to come. A change he was going to make.
He formulated his plan. He’d spent considerable time and money keeping track of everybody while staying hidden. He knew Anthony Maldono as well as he knew himself and he knew what Anthony would do next. He wasn’t done making Anthony’s life miserable. Time to step it up a level.
For the past nine months he’d watched the authorities run around trying to find him and Anthony made a free man, it was time to start moving. It made his blood pump that he was finally going to be able to do something. He looked into the other room where the woman he had to depend on was shoving fist after fist of popcorn in her mouth. He wanted to get up and stick a knife in her gut. He hated her. He wanted her dead. But he had to wait since he had a plan. A plan that would increase the stakes in the game he was playing.
One month after Noah and Lexi’s wedding…
Evie Taylor sighed and flopped down in the chair. She tossed the dusting rag on the table, tilted her head back and closed her eyes. She was bored and longed to get back to Boston to run her bookstore and café. The past ten months she’d spent two extended stays back home. Once for Lexi and now for her grandmother. She’d heard from Jesse and everything was running fine, but she missed new shipments coming in and setting up the displays. Not to mention, getting to sample new desserts from the café. She loved helping a fellow booklover find a new author. In fact, she set up a whole section of the book store for indie authors. It opened a whole new world to her regular customers.
She looked around her grandmother’s living room. Knickknacks as far as the eye could see. But that was how bored she was; she’d resorted to dusting.
She’d come home to Ipswich, Massachusetts when her best friend, Lexi Hanson, now Matthews, had been attacked. She remembered the fear and anger that coursed through her veins when she got the phone call. The drive up was a blur, she couldn’t get there fast enough. In the weeks that followed, she never left Lexi. She completely amazed her with her strength.
Now she was back in Ipswich again, taking care of her grandmother who broke her arm partying with one of the male guests in a hotel room. She shivered thinking about what they were doing that could have gotten her grandmother’s arm broken. She knew it wasn’t pretty since her grandmother was naked when the paramedics arrived.
“Evie honey, do you want something for lunch?” Evelyne Stone called from the kitchen.
Evie hefted herself up out of the chair, walked into the kitchen, and put her hands on her hips. “Grandma, why am I here if you insist on doing everything yourself?”
Evelyne tsked, “Now honey, you know I need you, but there are some things I can do myself. Besides I need to get my wing back in working order, sooner rather than later, we’ve got a girl’s cruise coming up in a month and there are going to be men that need taming.” She tried to wave her arm around almost knocking over the pitcher of iced tea on the counter.
Evie rushed over and caught it, giving her grandmother a look. “Can you please take it down a notch? You aren’t fifty anymore.”
“Pah. Come on, honey, lighten up. I know you’ve got it in you. Maybe you should go with us. I know there will be some young hot guys there.”
“And how do you know this?”
“Because we signed up for a party cruise. Average age is twenty-four. I know that’s a bit young for you, but hey, you can still have fun.”
Evie closed her eyes and mentally prepared herself for the call from the cruise company to come pick up the Troublesome Trio from whichever port the ship was docked at. Although now that Lexi was married to Noah, he might have better connections and be able to get them home quicker than commercial flights. Something to bring up to them when they got back.
A knock sounded at the door. “Hold that thought.” Evie went to answer the door, absently pushing back the hair that had escaped her ponytail. They’d rented out the cottage on the back of her grandmother’s property and the tenant was due to show up sometime either today or tomorrow. They had no idea who was renting it since a corporation had completed the transaction.
She could see the shadow of a tall man through the frosted glass. Evie had hoped the renter would be a family to distract her grandmother so she might get some rest and not some man to chase around. She opened the door and looked up into the face that haunted Lexi’s nightmares. She stifled a scream and started to slam the door on him.
He slapped one strong hand on the door and stopped it from closing. “I’m not him.” His low voice with a hint of British accent washed over her. She hesitated for a moment and that was all it took for him to work his way into the house.
“Wait. Don’t come any closer. How do I know you aren’t him?” She needed to keep him talking to find out if it was Jeremy or Anthony. Her grandmother was just in the other room, hopefully paying attention to what was going on. If it was Jeremy, she could call the police without him knowing. She wasn’t sure why Jeremy would come here though, it was Lexi he wanted. If it was Anthony, why was he here?
She watched as he rolled the sleeves up on his arms. She let out a deep breath; there was no scar. She knew what Lexi had done to Jeremy with the cuticle scissors. Since Jeremy hadn’t been heard from, and they had been checking hospitals and doctor’s offices she knew there was no way a plastic surgeon could have repaired the damage so that nothing was there. She nodded her head trying to still her beating heart. “I suggest you wear short sleeves while you are here, otherwise you’re going to have a lot of explaining to do.”
“I knew this wasn’t going to be easy. You knew that when you sent me that e-mail. If you don’t mind, I’d like the keys to the cottage so I can get settled. It’s been a long day.” He ran his hand through his black, wavy hair.
“Of course, they’re just in the living room.” Evie turned and walked to the curio cabinet. Thoughts whirled through her mind as she tried to calm her shaking hands. She shivered as he came up behind her.
“You don’t have to be scared of me. I’m not here to hurt anyone.”
She turned towards him. “That’s good, because Lexi has been hurt enough. I know it was no picnic what you went through, but I won’t have you hurting her.” She stood up to him, secretly liking the fact he was taller than her own six-foot height. Staring into his shocking blue eyes, she couldn’t deny how gorgeous he was. He carried himself like he was used to getting what he wanted. “You never replied to my e-mail. So I have no idea why you’re here.”
“Don’t think I haven’t done my research before arriving. I know who you are and what Lexi means to you.” He took a step closer to her. “But don’t think I’m going to let that get in the way of getting the answers I want.”
She took a step closer to him so that they were standing toe to toe. “Listen, buster, I’ll get in the way if I need to. I’ll be keeping an eye on you.” She turned back around to get the keys. The next thing she heard was a thunk and a moan. She quickly turned and tried to catch Anthony as he crumpled to the ground.
She landed on her back partially underneath him just catching his head before it hit the ground. Letting out a grunt as his weight pinned her down she looked up at her grandmother who still had the frying pan clutched in her one good hand. “Really?”
Evelyne didn’t move. “Really? Well, what the hell do you expect me to do when I see this monster standing in my living room hulking over my granddaughter?”
“Didn’t you pause to listen what we were talking about before you came out swinging? It’s not Jeremy, its Anthony looking for answers, and now he’s knocked out on top of me and squashing me.”
She lowered the frying pan. “Oh, well, I guess that’s not good.”
“You think? I could use a little help here.” Evie tried not to notice his hard body. Their faces were close to each other. She watched as his eyes started to flutter open. She held her breath wondering what he was going to be like when he woke up.
His words were slurred as he said, “You’ve got beautiful blue cat eyes. Here kitty-kitty, don’t scratch me.” His hand came out to brush her hair back. “I can make you purr.”
She watched as his eyes rolled back and he passed back out. Oh shitcrickets, I might be in trouble with this one. Why does he have to be so fucking hot? She looked up at her grandmother who had a shocked expression on her face and her hand covering her mouth.
“Oh honey, did he just say what I thought he said? We’re going to have to watch him. Come on; let’s get you up from under him. That is no place for a lady to be.”
“Since when did you ever care about acting like a lady?”
“I care about acting like a lady; it’s just more fun to say and do what’s on my mind at my age.” She tilted her head to the side. “You know, he does have a nice ass.”
“Not helping.” Evie started to wiggle out from under him. It took more effort than she would have thought. She tried not to show how good it felt having his rock hard body on top of hers as she slid out from under his. She needed distance and went into the kitchen to get some cold water thinking she just might need a cold shower. She came back out and dumped it over his head.
Anthony leapt off the floor looking around trying to remember where he was and what dangers could be around. His eyes settled on Evie.
“Anthony, it’s ok.”
He shook his head to clear it and brought his hands up, his head was throbbing. Once he knew where he was, his heart slowed down. He squinted his eyes at the old lady trying to hide the frying pan behind her back. “I don’t think you’ll be needing that. I’d appreciate it if you would put it away.” He turned to look at Evie. “And if I could have the keys to the cottage please. I’d like to lie down after I make sure the doors are locked.” He eyed Evelyne and the frying pan who had the grace to look ashamed.
Evie walked toward him and took his arm. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to take a look at your head and get you some aspirin before you leave. It might not be good for you to go to sleep right away.”
She led him to the kitchen. He thought it might be better if he could keep an eye on the old lady. “As long as you’re sure she’s not going to try to poison me, we should be fine.” He sat down in the chair and wondered what he had gotten himself into.
He saw Evie give her grandmother a look as she went to the cabinet and got a pill bottle and a glass. He looked at her, not quite trusting, as she filled the glass with water. She took two of the pills and drank them down then handed him the glass and shook out two additional pills. He took them without a word.
Watching as she crossed back over to put the glass in the sink he was startled when the back door burst open and two more old ladies burst in each of them holding a weapon. He quickly jumped up and went around to the other side of the room keeping the table between them all the while his head throbbed in protest of moving so quickly.
“Stop,” Evie yelled at them. “It’s not what you think.”
One of them waved her brass candlestick in the air inching her way into the room. “Let me at the yellow-livered-no-good-scum-sucking-scalawag! I’ll show him not to mess with women.”
Evie rushed over to stop in front of them. “No, you don’t understand, that’s not Jeremy.”
“You can’t be sure. Let us at him, we’ll beat the truth out of him.” The other one looked dangerous as she swung a baseball bat around.
“Stop it. Listen to me. He’s not Jeremy.” She turned to Anthony. “Can you please show them your arm? You all know what Lexi did to Jeremy’s arm. Anthony doesn’t have that scar. There’s no way there wouldn’t be any damage to his arm at this point. It would be a long, jagged scar, not to mention, we know she went deep enough to ruin the muscle. Chill out.” She didn’t move until they both lowered their weapons. “Now do you want to explain why you are here acting like a couple of Charlie’s Angels?” She crossed her arms across her chest.
Anthony was doing his best to keep up with everything that was happening, but he was a little lost. He tried to remember what he’d learned about Lexi and her friends; he thought these two were Evelyne’s friends. Taking a closer look he decided the one with candlestick must be Leigh while the other had to be Marie based on the descriptions he had of them. He just wanted to get out of here with his head still on his shoulders.
Evelyne cleared her throat. “Well, see honey, it’s like this. When I got a look at who was at the door, I called the girls to come over for backup.”
Evie shook her head. “Shouldn’t you have called, oh I don’t know, the police? You know, someone trained.”
The ladies had the decency to look ashamed. Marie sheepishly spoke up. “They don’t take our phone calls anymore.”
“What? How can that be? No, don’t answer, I know why, but they can’t do that. This is a perfect example as to why they can’t ignore your calls.” Evie looked at Anthony. “Sorry, nothing personal, but what if you hadbeen Jeremy.”
She threw her arms out while talking to the ladies. “So basically you are telling me that you guys could be hurt or in danger and they are just going to leave you hanging? All because you have made a few false reports to get a look at the new young hot recruits? Seriously? I’m going to have a talk with them.” She started looking around the kitchen for something, stopping only when Anthony cleared his throat.
“Before you go, can I get the key so that I can get away from Mrs. White, Mrs. Peacock and Miss Scarlett before they decide to play a live version of Clue? Mrs. White already tried to kill me in the living room with a frying pan.”
Leigh pumped her fist in the air. “Woo-hoo, I’m Miss Scarlett.”
Evelyne shook her head. “Why do you get to be Miss Scarlett? I want to be Miss Scarlett. Mrs. White is boring.” She looked at Leigh and they smiled. “I know. Marie can be Mrs. White. She’d like that better than being known as Mrs. Peacock. And we know I love the cock.”
Anthony shook his head not believing what he just heard. He felt like he was being tossed around in a storm. He watched Evie laughing and something stirred in his chest. She was drop-dead gorgeous, tall, and loyal. He was amazed at how quickly she jumped to the defense of people. Even him, after only knowing he was Anthony, and not Jeremy, for a short time. He watched the sway of her hips as she walked out of the room. When she came back a few minutes later, she never broke eye contact. He liked the fact that she didn’t seem to back down easy. He was getting lost in her, and the magic she wove with those cat eyes. He had to get out of this house.
“Here you go.” She dropped the keys in his hand and handed him some papers. “I printed out information on concussions. Make sure you follow what they tell you to do. If you have any symptoms that they list, come get me, and I’ll take you to the hospital. Lexi and Noah are still on their honeymoon. I’d appreciate it if you let me talk to her first before you go barging in there.”
“What makes you think I’d go barging in there?” When she didn’t say anything, just staring at him with a look of disbelief on her face, he continued. “Fine, I thought they were due back yesterday.”
“Do I want to know how you found out about that? It’s not exactly public knowledge.” She shook her head. “Never mind. They decided to stay a week or two longer. I’ll have a talk with Lexi when she gets back. This is something that has to be done in person and not over the phone. I’m not going to ruin her honeymoon because of Jeremy. He’s taken enough from her already. Now let me show you to the cottage so you can get settled and we can talk more, later.”
Very quickly she showed him to the cottage not saying much. Once he was inside she left quickly. The next thing Anthony knew he was left alone looking at the back of the closed door. He walked to the window and watched her walking back towards the main house. He wasn’t sure where this journey was going to take him but by the looks of it, it was going to be one hell of a ride.