McIntire County Series
Newly pinned deputy Jolie Murdoch's first big job as a McIntire County deputy is to locate a missing girl. What Jolie doesn't expect is to stumble upon a corpse--the girl's father--with a prime suspect still hanging around. But why would local bartender Xavier Hartmann go off the deep end and bludgeon a man to death?
A former marine, Xavier is barely coping with a traumatic brain injury, and he has no memory of what happened at the crime scene. He came to Eider to confront his past, not get embroiled in a murder as the number one suspect. To make matters worse, as the mystery deepens, Xavier finds himself drawn to the reluctant deputy.
As Jolie fights against mounting pressure to get to the truth, she realizes there's more to Xavier than meets the eye. But someone is lingering on the fringes, determined to put a stop to her investigation and Xavier's freedom. Will Jolie do her sworn duty or buck the status quo to give her and Xavier's newfound passion a chance?
Sensuality Level: Behind Closed Doors
Chapter OneREAD MORE
Death had a stench that was all too familiar to Xavier Hartmann. It was pungent and meaty and carried with it the memories of acrid smoke, the screams of dying men, and an out-of-body experience Xavier couldn’t forget.
He fought hard to free himself from the dreams, becoming aware through a hail of pain stabbing at his head. He squinted at a hazy, almost ethereal vision of something slender and yet full hovering above him. The cacophony of battle noise faded, replaced by a soft swish and a rustling. Slowly, he inhaled, catching an earthy scent along with the cloying odor of death. Pushing past the poking needles, he opened his eyes, and his vision cleared. He was lying on the ground. A hot breeze buffeted his body, making the leaves flutter above him.
With a groan, he rolled up onto his left elbow and good hip. The movement aggravated his head, and he feared he had another concussion. The first one had been horrible enough to be labeled as a traumatic brain injury. If he had another concussion, it begged the question, how the hell did he get it? Managing to push himself into a sitting position, he discovered the lower half of his right pant leg was lying flat. Xavier pawed at his jeans, rolling up the empty fabric and gaping at the blank space.
His prosthetic was gone. Terror clawed at him; same as it had when he’d been wounded and glimpsed his mangled and bloodied right leg. Frantic, he scanned the area. The damn things were expensive as hell, and he couldn’t lose it. Then the fact of where he was slammed home: sitting in the middle of a park-like area. His position seemed familiar, like he’d been here many times before, but his hurting brain couldn’t wrap around the actual place.
Scooting up into a crawling posture, Xavier carefully picked his way to the closest tree, examining the ground along the way, pushing aside dead leaves from last year. Where was the prosthetic? Reaching the tree, he used the trunk to aid him onto his good leg. The change in position turned his headache into a raging, white-spots-in-his-vision migraine. He slumped back to the earth, breathing through the nausea that overwhelmed him until it subsided.
This was not good.
The coppery, rancid stench was powerful here by the tree, and the odor was making it difficult not to vomit. With a hand cupping his mouth and nose, he inched around the trunk and finally came across the source of the smell.
A man lay on the ground, his neck bent at a sharp angle; blackened blood coated his tattered T-shirt. Xavier gaped. The mangled corpses of uniformed men danced like skeletal marionettes through his mind, their bloodied and broken limbs flopping, heads twisted at odd angles with zombie sneers. He heaved, losing control, and retched. His body drenched in sweat and trembling, he collapsed behind the tree. Xavier stared at his legs until his brain registered the dark splotches on his jeans. Lifting his hands, he looked at the palms and sucked in a breath.
Dried blood blotted his skin and pants. Had he blacked out? Had he reverted to his training? Had he killed that man? The questions and the lack of answers swirled around in his head, making the headache worse. He had to stop or the damage inflicted on his vulnerable brain would create more invisible scars from which he’d never recover.
One baby step at a time. First, he had to locate his prosthetic. Gathering his flagging courage, Xavier flipped into a crawling position and carefully approached the corpse. Every cell in his body screamed to stay away, but his instinct overruled, convinced that the worst was true—that he’d lost his prosthetic next to the dead man. Lady Luck had been a cruel mistress to Xavier from birth.
He closed in on the corpse and stalled. His arms shook, straining under the effort to keep him upright as his empty stomach seized. He wanted to run—oh God, how he wanted to get up on two good legs and sprint away from here. But there would be no relief. There, clutched in the man’s dying grip, was the leg. Brown streaked the sleek calf where bloodied fingers grasped it.
Visions of bloodied hands reached for him, pleading eyes, gaping mouths. Damn these terrifying images of a zombie squad crawling after him. Xavier eased around the body, pried his prosthetic loose, then froze. Squinting at the dead man, he tried to sort through his memory. He knew this man, somehow.
His fear turned away, and Xavier gently grasped the dead man’s chin and tilted his head out of the awkward angle. Why was this man familiar? Releasing the chin, he trailed his hand down the body to the Levi’s, patting the pockets but finding nothing.
“Who are you?” he whispered.
The man had been stabbed, and as a finale, his neck broken—assassination style. Xavier swallowed hard. Something he’d been taught as a marine.
Placing the prosthetic leg in his lap, he tensed; ready to scoot back, when a sharp intake of breath made him stiffen. Slowly, he turned his head to the left, raising his arms. God, don’t shoot.
Newly minted Deputy Jolie Murdoch gaped at him, her already pale features whiter than a ghost now. “Xavier Hartmann, what have you done?”
InD’Tale Magazine wrote:
“Austin provides plenty of intrigue and suspense to keep the pages moving at a fast clip.”
Long and Short Reviews wrote:
"A searingly hot male hero fighting his inner demons and a sassy heroine who can hold her own . . . from the first page, the hook is embedded deep and it doesn’t let go until the end.”
“OMG, I don’t think I’m going to sleep tonight.”—5 stars