“Where to now?” she asked.

“Your house.”

“What about you? Don’t you need to go to the station?”

“I’m not going to leave you alone. Detective Isaacs will stay with you while I head to the station. After all this it seems like you need a break,” Braden said, his voice gentle.

She did but she was more worried about how he’d react when he got the call that she’d gone behind his back. “Did they get any information from Abby Murphy?”

“Yeah, don’t know if any of it will be helpful though. Vanessa—Detective Isaacs—is still questioning her. She said Mrs. Murphy has calmed down some but was still pretty irate.”

“So she actually thinks I’m having—or had—an affair with her husband?” Lilly shuddered at the thought of that freak anywhere near her.

“Yep.” He shook his head.

“How could she get that from those photos? It’s so obvious I didn’t know he was taking them.”

“She also stays with a man who beats her. Her reasoning isn’t sound,” Braden grunted.

“Good point.” Lilly leaned back against the leather seat. The steady rhythm of the tires humming over the asphalt was enough to make her fall asleep. She closed her eyes until the harsh ring of Braden’s phone cut through the silence.

“Sheriff Donnelly here…What? There must be a mistake…where are you getting your information…thanks for calling.”

When he didn’t speak, she broke the silence. “Everything okay?”

He shot her a quick look and by the annoyed gleam in his dark eyes, she guessed he’d just been informed that she’d put in a call to her boss. “Got something you need to tell me?” he ground out.

“Like what?” Lilly pasted on an innocent smile.

“Like the fact that you tried to get officially assigned to this case.”

“Wait, tried?” Crap, maybe her boss hadn’t come through for her after all.

“Your boss tried to pull some strings, but it’s a conflict of interest.”

“And it’s not a conflict of interest for you?” she shot back.

“It’s happening in my town and the FBI can’t seem to find the resources to help us in a timely manner. What the hell am I supposed to do, ignore the killings? I have to be involved. You don’t. When did you even contact your boss?”

She almost wished she could feign guilt, but she wasn’t sorry. “I called him when you were in the Murphys’ house. He wasn’t too happy about it, but he said he’d see if he could get me on the team.”

“Damn it, Lil. I’ve already stuck my neck out for you bringing you along. What the hell are you thinking?” He didn’t look at her but his fists tightened around the steering wheel.

“I’m thinking that my life is in danger and I want to do everything I can to make sure I don’t end up dead.”

“That’s why you’re under protective custody!”

She crossed her arms over her chest. “And how has that changed? I’m still going to be under your custody. I don’t have a death wish.”

“You shouldn’t be involved any more than you have to be!”

“I’m already involved. And don’t yell at me, Braden!”

“You are the most infuriating woman,” he muttered. “You’re just making yourself an easier target.”

She snorted and shifted away from him. “I’m already a target. It doesn’t matter what I do. This guy wants me dead and he obviously wants you to suffer. At least you won’t be worried about where I am or what I’m doing if we’re working together. And it stands to reason a new set of eyes might spot something your team missed.”

Braden mumbled something under his breath, then flipped on the radio. Lilly gritted her teeth, but refrained from making any more comments. If he didn’t want to talk, that was fine with her.

When they pulled into her aunt’s drive, she jumped out the second he put the truck in park. As she rushed up the stone walk she could hear Braden’s door slam, but she didn’t wait for him.

“Lilly, will you hold on?” Braden’s voice didn’t stop her, but the hand on her shoulder did.

She swiveled to face him. “Why did you come to D.C. a year ago?” Almost instantly she wished she could take the question back. She hadn’t meant to ask. It had just slipped out.

For a split second, his dark eyes flashed wide with surprise. He shrugged, but his words came out tight. “Your aunt asked me to.”

“Is that the only reason?” She bit her bottom lip. Why couldn’t she keep a rein on her big mouth? And why did she even care what the reason was? What they’d had together had died a long time ago.

He didn’t respond.

Okay, then. She swallowed hard. “For the record, I didn’t know about it until today.”

Braden frowned and she didn’t miss the trace of disbelief play across his face.

“My boss mentioned it when I told him I was under your protective custody. It’s a little late, but thank you for coming.”

He shrugged as if it didn’t matter. As if he hadn’t come to see the woman who’d left him a decade ago. The pain in his eyes tugged at her heart. Without caring about the consequences she took a step forward and placed a hand on the middle of his chest. He might have said their earlier kiss was a mistake, but he wasn’t backing away. If anything, he looked ready to jump her. At this point, she couldn’t have stopped herself if she’d wanted to either. She felt almost drugged.

Under her fingertips, Braden’s heart beat just as erratically as her own. His chest swelled and rose rapidly, but he didn’t step away. When his heated gaze narrowed on her mouth, she instinctively moistened her lips.

A low growl came from Braden as he lowered his head. She had no choice but to meet him half way. It was like an invisible magnet was pulling her toward him. As their lips hungrily clashed, she slid her hands up his chest and around his neck. A lot of things might have changed, but the taste of him was still the same.

One of his hands gripped the back of her head as the other rounded her waist and tugged her tight against his hard form. She could feel the energy and barely restrained desire humming through his body and hands. Shivers snaked through her veins that had nothing to do with the cold. Braden’s hands on her felt so right. So familiar.

Arching her back, she leaned further into him, needing to be closer. Raw desire clawed at her insides. A soft moan escaped when he tugged her head back and feathered hungry kisses along her jaw.

“Lilly,” he murmured against her skin, his deep voice reverberating straight through to her bones.

Her knees wobbled as she clutched his shoulders. They needed privacy. Now.

But he didn’t seem to care that they were on her aunt’s front porch for the world to see. He lightly raked his teeth against her neck, right on the sensitive spot that drove her crazy. Her fingers dug into him even harder when one of his hands slid up her sweater.

His callused palm slid up her stomach, inching dangerously close to her breast. The feel of Braden touching her bare skin after so long—even if it was just her stomach—made her ache. Her nipples tightened against her bra to almost painful points. She not only wanted his hands on her, she wanted to feel his mouth teasing and licking her everywhere.

“Braden,” she managed to rasp out. She pulled her head back, ready to tell him they needed to get inside when a piercing sound echoed around them, slicing through the quiet air.

“What the—” She stopped abruptly as realization set in.

“That’s your alarm.” Instantly Braden went into battle mode. It was like a switch flipped. He withdrew his hand and turned away from her before reaching into his jacket and pulling his gun from his shoulder holster. “Stay close,” he ordered, shouting above the shrill note. Braden moved parallel to the overgrown butterfly bushes and hydrangeas as he inched toward the side of the house.

She was two steps behind him. Her already pounding heart beat even faster. As they reached the side of the house, she hugged the wall and stayed as close to Braden as possible.

The noise box was located at the back corner of the house so the alarm continued to blare even louder the closer they inched to the backyard. As they passed the kitchen window, she peered inside. Nothing appeared to be disturbed.

It amazed her that Braden seemed totally unaffected by the blaring noise. He swept the backyard, then made a motion for her to stay put. She did as he asked and crouched down against the wall.

She wanted to go with him to watch his back but knew arguing would distract him and waste time. Her palms dampened as he disappeared inside the back door. The door she knew had been locked that morning. Wanting to stay alert, she continued scanning the small backyard and the sandy beach. It would be hard for anyone to hide in the sand. The alarm abruptly stopped so she pushed against the wall and stood.

When Braden stepped outside he still held his gun, but his face had relaxed. “The house is clear.”

“Is anything disturbed?” Her hands balled into fists at the thought of someone going through her or her aunt’s things.

He shook his head. “Not that I can see, but you’ll be able to tell better. The back door was unlocked.”

“It was locked this morning. So were all the windows.”

Braden’s frown deepened. “There was no sign of forced entry so it’s possible the intruder had the key, but not the alarm code. Or someone picked the lock and didn’t count on the alarm.”

“Why did the alarm stop?”

“She gave me the code,” he said the words as if it should be obvious.

Before she could ask why, the low hum of an engine registered. “Do you hear that?”

Frowning, he nodded and headed across the yard. She wasn’t far behind.

As they rushed toward the seashore, the noise grew louder. “There!” She pointed, though there was no doubt he could see the forty-foot troller hurriedly reversing from the sandbank. The sound of the waves crashing was almost drowned out by the engine.