Found in Bliss
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Holly Lang has a hard time trusting men. Eight years ago, her husband tossed her aside and took her son away from her. Finding the little town of Bliss has given her a second chance at life, new friends, and sense of belonging. Unfortunately, Bliss also seems to have filled her days and nights with dreams of two beautiful men. She can’t stop thinking about the gentle but haunted Dr. Caleb Burke, and the exotic and dangerous Alexei Markov.
Caleb Burke isn’t your ordinary town doctor, but he’s always dedicated himself to trying to be a good man. His journey to this quirky little town was not an easy one. Some of the stops along the way left him scarred in more ways than one. But when he first sees Holly, it’s like someone threw open the blinds and let the sunlight into his life for the first time in years.
Alexei Markov is nothing like Caleb Burke. Working as a hit man for the Russian mafia, he was forced to do unspeakable things. He suffered through all the moral compromises to fulfill one simple goal, killing the man who murdered his brother. When a mission led him to Bliss, he found something more precious than vengeance. A woman named Holly Lang. Throughout months of living in witness protection, testifying against his former employers, all he could think about was finding his way back to her.
After returning to Bliss, Alexei and his strange new ally Caleb discover that they aren’t the only ones interested in Holly. Someone else is stalking her and appears to want her dead. The only way to discover the identity of the killer is for all three to face up to the secrets of their past and work together to fight for everything they have found in Bliss.
Release date: October 9, 2018
Publisher: DLZ Entertainment, LLC
Print pages: 295
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Found in Bliss
The lights of the party seemed to flare and focus like a spotlight on the man who had just walked into the room. Like Caleb Burke needed anything to highlight the disaster happening right in front of his face. He felt his heart seize, a cardiac episode waiting to happen. Acute myocardial infarction. Yep. That was what was happening. He was about to have a fucking heart attack, and he knew exactly who to blame.
“No.” He said the word. He said it a lot, but this time he really, really meant it. Caleb watched as that big Russian stood over sweet Holly, his dark eyes promising all manner of comfort, and he knew he wasn’t ready to let her go.
Of course, he also wasn’t ready to take her.
“No?” Alexei turned to him, seeming to notice for the first time that he wasn’t alone with Holly. Moments before, the Russian had walked into the reception hall where Stefan Talbot and his new wife, Jennifer, were hosting their wedding party. He’d marched in like he owned the place and zeroed in on Holly.
Alexei looked the same as he had months before, but it was easy to tell he’d changed. There was a relaxed set to his shoulders he hadn’t had the last time he was in Bliss. But then the last time Alexei Markov had been in Bliss, it had been as a member of the Russian mob.
“Get your hands off her.”
“My hands are entirely to myself.” And Alexei still had trouble with English.
“Caleb, what’s wrong?” Holly asked, her face turning to him. Wide green eyes stared up at him in confusion. She was so gorgeous. Every time she looked at him, he felt it straight in his gut. And his cock. Damn it. He had to turn away from her.
“You shouldn’t be here.” Caleb couldn’t take his eyes off the Russian. It was nothing less than the truth, though he had selfish reasons for pointing it out. “You’re supposed to be in witness protection.”
Alexei shrugged, his eyes going back to Holly as though her presence was a magnet he couldn’t avoid. “I told you. The trials are over. All the men who worked with Pushkin have been put in proper jails. I finish my testimony last week. I am here today. I am free man.”
Free? After everything he’d done? Alexei Markov had blown into town eight months before as a mobster. Just because he’d turned state’s witness and saved Jennifer Waters and Callie Hollister-Wright didn’t give him a free pass. He tried not to think about the fact that the Russian had saved Holly, too. Alexei had thrown his own body over hers, taking the bullet that would have ended her life. It didn’t erase the crimes he’d committed before. “You killed a bunch of people, and they let you go free?”
“He only killed them to save me, Caleb. And Stef got a couple, too. No one’s talking about putting him in jail.” Holly was already reaching for the Russian’s hands, her face turning upward in greeting. “I’m so happy for you, Alexei. I’m happy they let you come back to Bliss.”
A cloud crossed Alexei’s face telling Caleb everything he needed to know.
“They didn’t let you come back, did they?” Caleb asked. “You’re on the run.”
“No running. I take taxi and then train and then bus. Bus drop off at The Trading Post. It was closed, but Ms. Teeny was kind enough to leave note on door telling me about the wedding.” After his quick explanation, Alexei turned back to Holly. “You look like beautiful doll.”
Caleb grabbed at his tie, loosening it. The damn thing was a noose around his neck. Why had he come to this thing? He should have done what he always did. He should have stayed at home until someone needed him. He should have barricaded himself in his office and stared at medical books until his eyes wouldn’t stay open one second more and he was forced to fall into that hell he called sleep. Yeah, that would have made for a great night. But no, he’d gotten on this monkey suit and headed to the Feed Store Church to attend a wedding, all because he’d wanted to watch Holly walk down the aisle. He’d wanted to see her in a beautiful dress and imagine for one second that she was walking toward him and he was normal. That he was twenty-five again, marrying the right woman this time with his whole life ahead of him.
Not once in that daydream had he included a second man in the scenario, though given where he lived, he should have known that would happen whether he liked it or not.
“Thanks,” Holly said to Alexei, her face lighting up.
Caleb flushed. He hadn’t told her she was beautiful. He’d nodded at her. Why couldn’t he talk to her? He’d been good at this once. He’d gone to parties and balls. Why couldn’t he talk to one small-town waitress?
Because she was the one, but he was too fucked up to deal with it.
“You do look really pretty.” He forced the words out of his mouth. He didn’t say the ones that were locked inside. She didn’t look pretty. She was beautiful. Inside and out. Holly Lang practically glowed in his mind. With auburn hair that curled and caressed her porcelain shoulders, Holly was a vision of everything feminine. She stirred his cock and his mind. He thought about her all the time.
Yeah. He wasn’t going to say any of that.
Holly turned toward him, a vibrant smile on her lips. When she smiled that sunshine-goddess, center-of-his-whole-fucking-world smile, he always thought he would turn into a puddle of goo at her feet. Yeah. That would be really sexy, Burke.
“Tell her more, Caleb. You do well.” Alexei was smiling at him like he was a toddler who’d finally managed to walk.
What the hell was that about?
“Alexei!” Stefan Talbot strode forward looking resplendent in his tux. He wore a broad smile on his face.
Alexei turned and smiled back, his face opening in a way that belied his years. Alexei was twenty-eight years old, but when he smiled, he looked barely twenty.
“I’m so glad to see you, my friend. Did the paperwork get pushed through?” Stef pumped Alexei’s hand in greeting.
“The papers are all pushed. I soon will be as American as the pie with many apples. I will pass my test. I know all of American history. Ask me anything. I love the Constitution and Bill of Rights. I can sing whole preamble to Constitution.”
“I sent him a copy of Schoolhouse Rock to help out,” Jen Talbot said, sliding her hand into her husband’s. “I bet he can sing all about lonely bills, too.”
“Indeed, I can.” Alexei bowed slightly to the bride.
“Stef, you helped Alexei get his citizenship?” Holly asked.
“You must have paid through the nose for that, Talbot,” Caleb said, well aware bitterness was dripping from every word. “There’s a nice long wait usually.”
“The government was happy with all the help Alexei gave them with organized crime,” Stef explained. “I only had to grease the wheels a little.”
“Well, hell,” a new voice said. “Alexei. Did the aliens finally let you go? They kept you for an awfully long time.”
Mel Hughes stood in the middle of the dance floor looking utterly incongruous in a white polyester tux that had to have been handed down from the Bee Gees. Of course, he couldn’t be without his lucky trucker hat and the tinfoil that kept the aliens from attacking his brain. Mel was a kook, but a lovable one. He only went slightly insane a couple of times a year, and Caleb had tranquilizer darts perfectly dosed for Mel’s height and weight. He kept them in his truck. He’d thought about using them on Max Harper from time to time, but he worried it would take more than horse tranquilizer to change Max’s attitude.
“No aliens, sir. Only federal marshals.” Alexei moved closer to Holly, stepping in like he was her date. “They were very kind to me.”
Mel’s face crinkled, but he shook his head and patted Alexei on the back. “I’m real glad to hear that, son. Now, can I talk to you, Doc? We got an emergency.”
Caleb felt a part of him relax. Thank god. Someone was dying, so he didn’t have to deal with his suddenly out-of-control love life. He looked over at Holly.
“Go,” she urged him. “I’ll be fine.”
He nodded and started to walk away with Mel. He grabbed his bag from the table he’d been assigned to. He never went anywhere without the small leather bag his father had given him when he’d graduated from Johns Hopkins University.
He glanced back to where Holly stood, surrounded by friends. Of course Holly would be fine. What did she really need from him? For the last week, she’d needed him. Bliss had played host to a serial killer, and no woman in town had been left alone. He’d spent several sleepless nights on Holly’s sofa thinking about the fact that he could have been in her bed if he wasn’t such a complete freak. He had seen it in her eyes when she’d told him good night. She would have accepted him. Hell, she’d been hurt that he didn’t make a move on her. That had made his heart ache.
How would Holly have taken it if she’d made love with him only to discover he couldn’t sleep in a bed? The list of things he couldn’t do had driven him out of Chicago. It would cost him Holly, too.
“Poor bastard,” Mel said, shaking his head as he looked back at Alexei. “He doesn’t even know he got taken. It happens that way sometimes. You should check him out, Doc. I got a distressing memo about some new experiments the Reticulan Grays are performing concerning male pregnancy. We wouldn’t want that poor Russian fellow to find himself incubating an alien.”
He wondered if Holly would reject Alexei if he became the first of a crop of male mothers. Probably not. She was an awfully tolerant woman. “What’s the emergency?”
Mel frowned. “It’s Cassidy.”
Nope. No one was dying. Cassidy Meyer was a classic hypochondriac with a bit of Chicken Little syndrome. And she believed in aliens. Cassidy was a one-stop mental disorder shop. And she was a very nice lady.
“Hemorrhagic fever or bird flu?” Cassidy had gotten over the plague several weeks before. It shouldn’t come up again so soon.
“Oh, it’s the Ebola again. It’s the third time she’s had it, Doc.” Mel shook his head. “Those alien experiments ruined her immune system, I guess.”
Caleb knew that if his colleagues were in his position, Cassidy Meyer would find herself on a seventy-two-hour mental health hold, but he’d long ago learned that sometimes tolerance best served his patients. Cassidy wasn’t a risk to herself, and the sweet lady wouldn’t hurt a fly. She simply believed she’d had a couple of alien babies and routinely got some of the world’s worst infectious diseases. As the CDC had stopped coming out when she called, he was the last line of defense between Cassidy Meyer and the brutally cold world.
Besides, he owed her son his life. In more ways than one.
Wolf sat next to his mother, his large hand holding hers. He patted her back with his free hand, an amused look on his face. “Doc, we’re glad you’re here. Ma’s organs are liquefying as we speak.”
Cassidy looked up at him, her hands shaking a bit. “My hands are numb, Doc. I’m afraid my son is right. It’s going to get me this time. I think my liver went. I feel it.”
He took her pulse. It was strong. “Let me get something ready for you, sweetheart. I can fix you right up.”
“You can stop the Ebola?”
Caleb smiled. “I can stop the Ebola, no trouble. And what I’m going to give you has the added effect of keeping aliens away for a while, but you need to come in once a week. Can you do that for me?”
Cassidy’s eyes lit up, a sure sign that no hemorrhagic fever had invaded Bliss. “I sure can, Doc.”
Caleb stepped away, allowing Mel to lean down and hold her hand while Caleb gestured to Wolf to join him.
Wolf Meyer was a big, bad Navy SEAL, or he had been until a few months before when he’d been forcibly discharged after injuries taken in battle. He was a rough son of a bitch, but he was also a loving son.
“Has she been taking the B-12 I gave her?”
“Not unless she took it with her into the bomb shelter she and Mel have been holed up in. On the plus side, she managed to knit caps for everyone in town and a baby blanket for Paige Harper. Oh, and she perfected her Crock-Pot stew. Expect to get a big batch next week,” Wolf said.
Cassidy Meyer tried to take care of the people around her. It was only right that someone looked out for her, too.
“Her blood work showed she’s anemic. The numbness in her hands is a function of her vitamin deficiency. Injections will be easy for her to absorb. Once a week should do it. If she forgets, I’ll find her. Don’t worry about it, Wolf. She’s really quite healthy.”
He’d reached into his bag. He’d known this was probably coming. Bliss had been up in arms for a week over the Marquis de Sade case. It had been a good bet Cassidy had been ignoring her health. He kept a supply of B-12 on hand.
Wolf shook his head. “You’re the most frustrating man I know.”
He measured out the proper dose of B-12 in a hypodermic needle. “I’m not known for my bedside manner.”
He was actually. He was known for having a perfectly horrific bedside manner. He couldn’t even blame it on the PTSD. He’d been a gruff bastard before his world had turned upside down.
Wolf groaned. “That wasn’t what I was talking about, Doc. I was talking about how you’re handling the train wreck occurring right in front of our eyes. Are you really going to let that man waltz away with your woman?”
Caleb pulled the needle back out, squirting up to make sure all the air was out. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Holly isn’t mine.”
“But she could be. You can’t tell me you don’t want her.”
What he wanted didn’t matter. Did it? Could he do it? He closed his eyes for a moment. He didn’t want to have this conversation, but it was hard to ignore Wolf. “I think it’s for the best. I can’t have a normal relationship with her.”
When Caleb opened his eyes, Wolf was staring at him in that “dumbass said what?” way of his.
“Normal doesn’t mean a damn thing here,” Wolf pointed out. “No one is going to ask you to leave here, Doc. Bliss is your home. The people here love you for everything you do for them. And they don’t give a crap about your bedside manner. Do you know how many doctors have tried to get me to put my mother in a mental facility?”
He glanced back where Mel was hugging Cassidy’s small body to his, his lips kissing her forehead. “She doesn’t need to be in a facility. All she needs is a little understanding.”
“Yes, and you’re the only doctor who is willing to give it to her. Those two are happy because Bliss lets them be. Why can’t you be the same?”
Frustration welled up. “Damn it, Wolf. I can’t even sleep in a fucking bed. How is Holly going to handle it when I fuck her and then go sleep in her closet because I can’t stand to sleep in the open?”
Wolf’s dark eyes turned soft. His hand came out with a brotherly pat. “You’ll tell her why, and she’ll snuggle with you after finding another home for her shoes. It’s not Holly’s reaction you’re afraid of. It’s yours. You can’t go on like this forever.”
“Sure, I can.” He could foresee many years of misery. Unchecked and unbroken. Yep. He could be lonely forever.
“Like I said, frustrating.” Wolf took a step back. “If you ever want to talk…”
“Since when do I talk?” Caleb replied sarcastically.
One perfect day on the ice was the last time he’d sat and talked about anything beyond medicine and forensic reports. He’d had to talk about autopsies way too much lately. But that one day had been nice. He’d played hockey with the Farley brothers and gotten to know a guy from Russia. They had talked about their families, mostly their brothers. He’d really talked to that man. Of course, his newfound friend hadn’t bothered to mention that he was a member of the mob in town to cause trouble. For some reason, Caleb had relaxed around that guy. The same guy who was literally waltzing off with his woman. Alexei had moved Holly to the dance floor where he was putting his enormously oversized paws all over her.
“All right, then,” Wolf said, concession obvious in the slump of his shoulders. “Well, thanks for helping out with my mom. I promise to bring her by once a week. Hey, maybe if you convince her I’m taking the shots, too, she’ll stop trying to feed me beets.”
Caleb grinned. He only owed Wolf so much. “Nope. I’m afraid this doesn’t work on your alien DNA. And I’m the one who gave her the recipe for tofu and beets. And the beet smoothie.”
Wolf’s frown made his whole face turn to granite. “You son of a bitch. Do you know how horrible that was? And I had purple teeth for days from that smoothie. Asshole. This is how you treat the man who saved your life?”
“I’m looking out for your alien DNA, man.” And he liked fucking with Wolf. It made him feel almost normal.
He walked back to Cassidy, gave her a shot in her left butt cheek because that was what he did at a wedding, and packed his bag up. He looked out at the dance floor.
Holly swayed in Alexei’s arms, her gorgeous body moving with grace as he led her around. Caleb’s hands tightened into fists at his sides. Why the hell did Alexei deserve her? And what was he going to do about it? He strode out of the room before he did something he would regret, like attack a man at Stefan Talbot’s wedding. He’d given an oath to do no harm, but he really wanted to harm that asshole. He stalked down the hall. He needed to think. His brain was running a hundred different directions, every single one of them leading to a path of rejection and humiliation.
The halls were deserted, thankfully. Everyone was in the ballroom having a great time. He could hear the music, the chatter, the clinking of glasses. It was all at a distance, but then everything was. At a distance. He was on the outside, staring in at the life that happened to everyone but him. He couldn’t blame anyone but himself. He’d wrapped himself in a hundred different walls, building them so fast and so high that he would never break them down.
But suddenly he wanted to. Because he wanted Holly. He’d wanted her the moment he’d seen her. He’d spent the last year of his life watching her at Stella’s. It had almost been a relief when a serial killer had come to town. He’d had a reason to get close to her that he couldn’t deny. He’d been able to stay near her for days.
And he’d talked to her. Or rather, he’d listened. He’d taken her with him on his rounds. He was a country doctor now, and that meant driving from place to place, practicing in unorthodox ways. Holly had been a sympathetic helper. She hadn’t flinched when he’d lanced a boil or vaccinated screaming babies. She’d held the man’s hand and sang to the babies to get them to calm down. She’d been curious and quick to learn. She was a natural nurse, and he’d been a better doctor for having her around. It had felt so good to have her next to him in the cab of his truck.
Why the fuck was he walking away?
He needed to think. He needed someplace small where he could think. He hated it, but when he needed to clear his head, he needed a closet, someplace tight where he didn’t have to worry about his back. He spied the supply closet.
He was about to open it when he heard the moans.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Doc. Not unless you want a spectacular view of Rafe and Cam’s junk in use.”
Caleb turned and saw Rye Harper leaning against the wall with a teasing smile on his face. The cowboy had a tux on, but he’d ditched his tie, and there was a Stetson on his head. “Why are Rafe and Cam showing each other their junk in a…oh. Laura’s in there with them.”
Laura Niles, Rafe Kincaid, and Cameron Briggs were Bliss’s latest trio. They’d only been together for a short time, but they seemed to be getting into the groove.
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