Rescuing Emily by Susan Stoker: Chapter 1

Posted June 24, 2016 in Excerpt Reveal Tags:

I am SO excited for Susan Stoker’s next book, Rescuing Emily! Read the prologue and chapter 1 now!


Slamming his apartment door behind him and shaking the entire wall, swearing loud and long, he threw his hat across the room, not satisfied at all when it fluttered to the ground a few feet away. He paced, knowing he’d never forget the humiliation he’d felt while standing in front of the colonel, seeing the disgust in the officer’s eyes.

His squad had been excited to be picked to go through the special training, sure they’d be able to get through the makeshift city undetected. They were infantry soldiers; they’d trained for hours—no, years—in order to be stealthy in urban situations. The thirty days they’d spent at the National Training Center out at Fort Irwin in California had taught them everything they needed to know.

But somehow their entire plan had fallen apart within five minutes of the whistle being blown. Instead of being able to sneak through the city and get to the rendezvous point unscathed, every single one of his squad had been “killed,” hit with a laser from specially designed nonlethal weapons, before they’d made it even halfway through the training scenario.

Remembering how nonchalantly the other unit had been after “killing” them all had felt like salt poured into an open wound. They’d acted as if they hadn’t just ruined his career, his reputation. Sure, the colonel had said it was just an exercise. Had said that his squad had done well, but he’d been lying.

They hadn’t done well.

And it sure as hell wasn’t just an exercise.

He’d seen the colonel laughing with another officer about how fast they’d been “killed.” And the team that had beat them were acting as if what had happened wasn’t a big deal. They’d patted each other on the back and given each other high-fives. To add insult to injury, their team didn’t even have one casualty. Not one. They’d taken out his entire squad as if it was child’s play.

He went into the small bathroom in his apartment and stared at himself in the mirror for a long moment. His entire life he hadn’t been good enough.

Because you’re pathetic.

He shook his head at the voice in his head. He wasn’t. It was them. They were pathetic. And it was up to him to show the colonel that he was just as good as the other team.

Nodding as if he’d made a momentous decision, he started planning in his head. He and his friends had a lot of work to do, but by the time they were done, the other unit would regret their casual treatment of him and his squad on the simulated battlefield and he’d redeem himself with the general in charge of the post.

Knowing your enemy was the first rule in battle, and he vowed to himself then and there that he’d find a weakness in the other group of soldiers and exploit it to his advantage. The asshole soldiers wouldn’t know what hit them. By the time he was done with them, they’d regret their cocky attitude and their brush-off of his squad. He might have been beaten today, but the battle wasn’t over.

He would take them down. No matter who he had to use to do it.

Chapter One


Cormac “Fletch” Fletcher looked at the monitor sitting on the kitchen counter at the woman standing at his front door. His security cameras caught every inch of his property, starting from just outside the garage to around the back of the yard. He could tell who was driving up his driveway and who was at his door without leaving his house. Hell, he could even log into the app and check the tapes when he was thousands of miles away on a mission. All he needed was a Wi-Fi connection.

The woman at his door was probably five-nine, taller than the women he was typically attracted to. It was hard to guess her age because she looked tired. Her brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail. Fletch couldn’t tell what color her eyes were as she kept them downcast, never looking up at the door to be captured by the camera hidden in the ornate door knocker he’d placed there.

He’d received several messages about the rental apartment over his garage, and Fletch had a few interviews lined up with people who had inquired about it. The apartment really wasn’t anything special. It had a single bathroom with a shower/bath combo, one bedroom, and a small kitchen. There were a couple pieces of furniture in the apartment: a double bed, a refrigerator, and an old couch and coffee table. It wasn’t fancy by any stretch of the imagination, but it was clean, and safer than anyone probably knew, considering who he was and what he did for a living.

He didn’t have a lot of enemies, but there were always people who were jealous of him being in Delta Force. It wasn’t widely known, in fact, not many people knew at all, but there was some suspicion that he and his team were more than simple soldiers. They were damn good at what they did and didn’t seem to have any trouble attracting the ladies. The combination had spelled trouble for some of the other Deltas in the past, even without anyone knowing about their Special Forces background. Renting the apartment would mean there would be someone on his property to keep an eye on it when he was away on a mission.

Fletch wiped his hands dry after rinsing the last dish in his sink, and turned off the security monitor. Not advertising the fact that he had such intensive security was key in catching anyone dumb enough to try to rob or vandalize his property. He walked to the door and opened it wide. The woman standing there looked up with a gasp and took a step backwards after seeing him.

Fletch knew he could be scary. He was six feet two inches tall and muscular. He’d spent much of his life making sure he was in shape and that no one would mistake him for anything other than what he was…dangerous.

He had tattoos on his forearms and biceps. They were bright and somewhat gaudy. He looked like a stereotypical sailor. Some of the tattoos he’d gotten when he was young and dumb. He probably wouldn’t have chosen them if he had to make the decision again, but what was done was done. Fletch knew when people who didn’t know him caught a glimpse of him, they were weary. He was big and knew how to use that to his advantage to intimidate people. But the woman on his doorstep wasn’t someone he wanted to scare away. He pasted a smile on his face as he greeted her.

“Hi, you’re Emily Grant? Here about renting the apartment?” Fletch asked, trying to put the woman at ease.

Emily looked up at the man standing in the doorway. If she hadn’t been so desperate, she probably would’ve turned around and gotten right back into her 1998 Honda Civic and driven away. She wasn’t sure what she’d expected out of the man who’d invited her to come check out the apartment, but it wasn’t someone who, while only a few inches taller, could easily bench press her.

His tattoos were also a surprise. She’d seen lots of tattoos on the soldiers on the base, but they were usually more subdued. Black tribal designs or something similar. Instead, the very masculine man had what looked like cartoon characters on his forearms. He was wearing a plaid shirt, open at the throat—enough for her to realize he didn’t have a carpet of fur on his chest—and with the sleeves rolled back to his elbows. She didn’t get an in-depth look at the tattoos, knowing it would be rude to stare, but they still surprised her. Somehow, however, they worked for him.

Putting thoughts of his tattoos and whether he had any others aside, Emily brought her gaze up to the man’s. She needed this apartment. It was one of the only places she could find that was close enough to her work and the school, and was within her small budget.

She took a deep breath. “Yeah. I’m Emily. I appreciate you meeting with me today.” She bravely held out her hand in greeting.

Fletch smiled at the woman. He could see right through her bravado and knew she was scared to death of him. But he gave her points for not backing farther away and for reaching out to shake his hand.

He took her hand in his, careful not to squeeze it too hard. “Nice to meet you. Come on in, we can talk about the particulars, then I’ll show you the apartment.”

Emily nodded and gripped her purse hanging off her shoulder tightly as she followed him into his house. Fletch saw her looking around as if trying to figure out more about him. He knew what image the house projected: not a bachelor. It was neat as a pin, with not one item out of place…exactly how he liked it.

They walked into a small dining room off of a kitchen that could’ve been featured in any cooking magazine. Fletch pulled a chair out from the dark mahogany table and helped her scoot in once she sat.

“Would you like something to drink? Water? Iced tea?”

“No, thank you,” Emily told him, knowing she’d be stupid to take something to drink from a man she didn’t know. It would be easy to drug a glass of tea or water. Especially when she was inside his house. He could render her unconscious before she realized what was happening. She normally wasn’t a paranoid person, but lately, when she couldn’t sleep, she’d been watching too many forensics and crime shows.

Fletch could practically see the woman’s brain churning. She sat uncomfortably in the chair at his table. Her purse was in her lap and she was holding it as if she thought he’d reach across the table and snatch it from her. He wasn’t offended, far from it, he was impressed she was being as cautious as she was. He made sure to sit across from her, keeping the table between them to give her space.

“Do I know you?” Fletch thought the woman looked familiar, but he couldn’t quite place her.

She shrugged. “I work at the PX. You might have seen me there.”

Fletch nodded. Now that she mentioned it, he did remember seeing her there a time or two.  “That must be it. My name is Cormac Fletcher, but everyone calls me Fletch. I own the house and live here by myself. I work on base and am called away on trips somewhat frequently. I’m discreet and won’t get in your business, and I expect anyone who rents from me to do the same. I’m past the point in my life where I need or want late-night parties. I like to live quietly and I’d like for anyone who lives on my property to be the same.” He paused, gauging her reaction to his words. Emily sat still, giving him her complete attention.

When she didn’t immediately protest or even show any emotion other than curiosity, he continued, relieved. “The apartment isn’t fancy, I’ve had two people look at it recently and wrinkle their noses and decide it wasn’t for them. Rent includes all utilities. It’s too much of a pain in the ass for me to separate out how much electricity you use versus what I use. All I ask is that you don’t get a wild hair to grow marijuana or something that would make the bills spike every month.”

“No marijuana, check,” Emily mumbled under her breath as she nodded.

Fletch wanted to smile, but he controlled it and went on with his rehearsed speech. “You can use one side of the garage for your car, but any boxes of other stuff you want to store will have to be either in the apartment or you’ll have to rent a storage unit. There’s simply no room in there for more. I usually park next to the side of my house, so don’t worry about taking the empty spot inside the garage for your own vehicle.

“When I’m gone, I’d appreciate it if you could get my mail and look after the place, but if that’s outside anything you want to do, it’s not a deal breaker for renting. Rent’s due in the first week of the month, whichever day works best for you. Any questions?”

Emily tried not to fidget under Fletch’s direct gaze. His eyes were ice blue, and had her pinned in place. His hair was longer than she thought anyone in the Army was allowed to have, and it looked like he hadn’t shaved in a couple of days. He was good looking, but even though she was attracted to him, Emily wasn’t looking for any kind of relationship at the moment. She had enough on her plate. Knowing there was one thing he had to understand before she could accept the apartment with any good conscience, she cleared her throat.

“You should know, I have a kid. Her dad’s not in the picture. She’s six and in the first grade. I didn’t know if that would be a deal breaker for you or not. I didn’t see anything in the ad that said whether or not kids were allowed or not.”

“Does she scream all day?”


“Steal? Draw all over the walls? Destroy property?”

“No!” Emily sat up straighter, getting irritated. “She’s six. She’s not a thug. She doesn’t hang out on the street corner with her homies every night. She plays with her toys. She reads books and watches cartoons.”

“Then I don’t think we’ll have a problem,” Fletch said with a smile, amused at how easy it was to rile the woman sitting in front of him.

Emily chewed on her lip, as if contemplating her next words. Fletch saw the moment she worked up the nerve to tell him what was bothering her.

“She can be very inquisitive though. She asks questions…lots of questions. Some people have gotten annoyed with her in the past.”

“Annoyed?” Fletch asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah, annoyed. The thing is, Annie’s smart. Really smart. I try to keep her busy and find things to help stimulate her, but she has an unrelenting need to learn. Some of my neighbors in the past have gotten irritated with her asking them questions all the time. But she doesn’t do it to be annoying, she just likes to figure stuff out.”

“Of course she does. She’s a kid. I have no problem with questions, Emily.”

“Okay, but—”

“Is she gonna break into my house and come up to my room in the middle of the night and interrogate me about how the garage door opener works?”

Emily giggled. “Maybe not in the middle of the night, but I’d say there’s a pretty good chance that sooner or later she’s gonna want to know. And, as far as I know, no one has taught her how to pick a lock…yet.”

“Good to know,” Fletch said with a grin.

“I just…some people don’t like kids and I don’t want to live anywhere again where she’s made to feel like a freak.”

“Again?” Fletch asked in a low pissed-off voice. “You lived somewhere where someone made her feel like a freak? A six-year-old kid?”

“She was four, and yes.” Emily’s answer was succinct and she didn’t offer any other details.

“I haven’t been around kids all that much, but anyone who sees the thirst for knowledge as anything but a good thing, is an asshole, and you’re better off not being around them, and having your daughter around them.”

“Yeah. Thanks,” Emily said softly.

Fletch tried to relax his shoulders. It pissed him off that someone would be cruel to a kid. Growing up, he’d also been smarter than his classmates, and he’d experienced some of what Emily was describing himself. Probably not to the extent of her daughter though, if Emily’s protectiveness was anything to go by. “Want to see the apartment?”

“Yeah, but…uh…can I ask how much the security deposit will be? There’s no use in me seeing it if I can’t afford it.”

Fletch tilted his head as he looked at Emily. Really examined her. He hadn’t taken the time before because he wasn’t sure if he’d be renting to her or not. But he liked what he’d heard so far.

She was wearing a T-shirt and jeans. She had an old pair of sneakers on her feet. She looked casual, but Fletch could see something he hadn’t seen in any of the other people he’d interviewed so far—desperation. He saw it all the time at work at the missions they went on. People frequently put on a front all the time, but he could see that this woman needed this apartment. He didn’t know her story, but recognized that for whatever reason, renting the little space above his garage was vitally important to her.

Fletch was also impressed with her candidness about her daughter. He’d interviewed someone just that morning who he knew had been hiding something from him. Given time, he would’ve figured out exactly what, but he didn’t feel like going through the hassle. He didn’t get good vibes from the man, and it wasn’t worth the effort to find out something that would make him want to turn the man down when his intuition was telling him to do so from the get-go.

But Emily laid it out there, making sure he knew not only that she had a young child, but that she was gifted, and that others had found her annoying in the past.

He made a quick decision and cut a couple hundred dollars off of what he’d planned to rent the apartment for; he didn’t need the money anyway. He’d prefer to have someone reliable and responsible living on his property to keep an eye on it when he wasn’t around.

“I haven’t had good luck in renting it so far,” Fletch told her in a nonchalant tone, “so if you’re willing to help out with the house when I’m away, I’ll rent it to you for five hundred a month with only half that for the security deposit.”

Emily gaped at the man. Five hundred dollars? And only two-fifty for a deposit? Was he kidding? “Is that a joke?” She couldn’t stop her incredulous question.

Fletch smiled at the disbelief on Emily’s face. He didn’t blame her; he knew he could probably get double that if he pushed. But it was obvious she needed a break. “No joke. You interested in seeing it? Don’t agree until you check it out. It’s only got one bedroom, so you’d have to share with your daughter. It’s nothing special, you might hate it.”

“I won’t hate it,” Emily whispered, still in shock at her luck. She’d taken the day off work, knowing that even though the missed hours would hurt her budget, she needed to find a better place to live for her and Annie. The landlord at the seedy apartment complex they were currently staying at had gotten more aggressive in his pursuit of her, and Emily knew it wasn’t because he was interested in her—but because of Annie.

Her daughter was beautiful. Yes, she was only six, but she was tall for her age and slender. She had long, beautiful blonde hair that she’d inherited from her father. She had blue eyes and never met a stranger. Annie was friendly and bubbly and Emily knew the landlord, damn him, had a sick interest in her daughter.

Money was always an issue. Ever since Annie’s father had left while Emily had still been pregnant, she’d fought to provide Annie with a safe and happy life. She worked at Fort Hood in the PX, the Post Exchange. It was the general store on base. She wasn’t able to work full time, because she didn’t have the money to pay for child care for Annie. She’d relied on neighbors to look after her daughter before she’d started kindergarten full time, but now that Annie was in the first grade, and in class all day, Emily could work a full six hours every day. She dropped Annie off at the elementary school at seven-thirty, and was able to get to work by eight. She worked until two, without a lunch break, then picked Annie up around two-thirty.

Emily had no health insurance and no retirement plan, but Annie was loved and happy. It was worth it. But to be offered a reliable, secure, and quiet place to live for only five hundred dollars a month? It was as if Emily had hit the lottery.

Even before seeing the ad in the paper for this apartment, she’d planned on leaving the scummy place she lived in before the month was up, even if she had to live in her car. She’d done that when she’d been pregnant, and had sworn to herself that Annie would never know that kind of life. But Emily had been losing hope of finding anything appropriate.

The cheapest apartment she’d been able to find had been eight hundred a month, and it looked scarier than where she was now. Since the building was close to the Army base, Emily had thought she’d feel safe living with other soldiers, as the landlord had told her most of the other occupants were single men and women who worked at Fort Hood, but unfortunately, that hadn’t been the case.

Annie’s father had taught her in more ways than one that just because someone was a soldier, it didn’t mean they were a good person. While she’d thought they were starting their lives together, he’d apparently just been in it to get laid. Somehow he’d arranged to get transferred to another base not too long after she’d happily told him she was pregnant with his baby, and informed her that he didn’t want her following him.

Emily knew she could probably go to the Army and do a paternity test and force him to pay child support, but she didn’t want that for Annie, or herself. Years of relying on someone else to send her money made her stomach churn.

She and Annie had been okay so far, and Emily knew she’d continue to do whatever it took to keep her daughter safe and happy…without help.

Nodding at Emily, Fletch stood up. “All right, let’s go and check it out, then if you like it, we can come back here and do the paperwork, okay?”


Ten short minutes later they were back at the dining room table in Fletch’s house. Emily had immediately said the small space was perfect, even though it was obvious Fletch told her there were all sorts of things he should probably do to upgrade it.

“I’ll need to make a copy of your ID,” Fletch told Emily, being as nonchalant as he could. He didn’t really need it for her to sign the lease, but there was no way he’d let anyone live on his property, no matter how fragile and lovely she seemed, without doing a background check. It wasn’t completely legal, but his friend, Tex, was discrete and could have it done within an hour.

Tex was a medically retired SEAL living out in Pennsylvania. He used to live in Virginia, but had moved his entire operation after meeting a beautiful woman named Melody on the Internet. Tex was the eyes and ears behind the scenes for their Delta Force team, and several other Special Forces groups. The man was pure genius with a computer and could find information that someone would swear was locked up tighter than the money at Fort Knox. No one ever questioned how he was able to pull off some of the things he did, they were just grateful he was on their side.

Fletch watched as Emily bent her head and pulled her wallet out of her purse. She handed her license over to him, saying, “If you laugh at my first name, I’ll have to hurt you.”

Emily watched as Fletch looked down at the small plastic card she’d handed him and he tried to hold back his smile. His lips twitched, but he looked up and said with a mostly straight face, “Miracle?”

Emily sighed, obviously used to telling the story about her given name. “Yeah. My parents were older. They’d always wanted kids and when I was born, they called me their little miracle.”

“But you go by Emily?”

She nodded. “Yeah. Definitely.”

“Miracle is a pretty name.”

Emily made a face. “Maybe, but memories of being made fun of throughout my elementary and middle school years made it not so pretty after a while.”

“Kids are cruel.”


“Your parents still around?”

Emily didn’t really want to get into this with Fletch. He was still a stranger after all—but she didn’t want to be rude either. “Unfortunately, no. They died when I was in college.”


That was the understatement of the year, but she merely said, “Yeah.”

Fletch carried Emily’s driver’s license to the small printer he had off to the side of the room and made a copy.

“So, you’re not married?” Emily asked, deciding if he could be nosy, so could she.


Emily waited and when he didn’t elaborate, she pushed. “This place looks like you’re married.”

Fletch barked out a laugh. “It does, doesn’t it? I actually hired someone to decorate it. I didn’t give her much assistance, and this is what I got when she was done.”

“She did a good job,” Emily observed, looking around.

“Yeah. Apparently it’s fun to spend someone else’s money.”

Emily didn’t smile, but continued to run her eyes over every inch of the room she could see. “I bet it is.”

Fletch leaned against the wall next to the printer and watched Emily check out his house. He wondered what she saw. He looked around to try to see it from her eyes. He had two leather couches that looked stiff and formal, but when you sat in them, you melted into the cushions. He had a large flat-screen television on the wall and a coffee table that looked perfectly normal, but had a secret compartment under it that currently held a Sig Sauer 40 caliber handgun. He was always prepared for the unknown. But thinking about the various weapons lying around the house made him realize that he needed to make sure they were all secure. If there was going to be a child in his house, he wanted to be sure to protect her.

Not that her daughter would be hanging out with him, but if she came over with her mom to bring in the mail, the last thing he wanted was for her to find one of his weapons and accidentally set it off. He shuddered at the thought, and vowed to move them all way above kid-level as soon as Emily left.

There was a pair of boots lying on the floor next to one of the couches; he’d left them there the day before when he’d gotten back from the base. Other than that, everything else was in its place and there were no stray papers or magazines or any kind of “stuff” that could be seen.

“I’m a bit of a neat freak,” Fletch told Emily unnecessarily as he came back to the table to sit next to her.

“Yeah, I can see that,” she laughed, turning her eyes back to him. “But it’s nice. She did a good job. It’s formal without being fancy. Comfortable without being stuffy. I hope you don’t expect mine to look like this,” she teased. “Annie and I are not neat freaks.”

Fletch laughed and handed her license back to her. “No, I don’t give a shit what your place looks like, as long as there aren’t mice and cockroaches.”

Emily shuddered. “Oh no. We might not be neat, but we’re clean.”

“Then we’re good.”

They smiled at each other. Fletch pushed the lease papers over to her. “Take these home. Read them over, get them looked at by a lawyer if you want, but I want to make sure you completely understand everything and agree before you sign.”

Emily looked at him in confusion. “Did you hide anything weird in here?”


“Yeah, weird.”

“Weird how?” Fletch asked.

“I don’t know. Like my car only gets four-point-two feet of space in the garage and if I violate it, I’m out. Or weird like if you see Annie after four in the afternoon, I owe more on the rent, or weird if I’m late one day on giving you the rent money, I’m gone.”

Fletch started out smiling at her, but was frowning by the end of her comments. “Fuck no. Look, Emily, I’m a lot of things, but I’m not an asshole. If you’re having issues paying the rent, just talk to me and we’ll figure something out. I already told you that I don’t care if your daughter is around. I might get upset if she plays with something inappropriate in the garage, but only because it could hurt her, not because I care about anything out there. It’s all just stuff. Stuff that can be replaced. The lease is a simple one, I printed it off the damn Internet. There’s nothing weird in there.”

“Okay. Thank you.” Emily’s voice was low, but she didn’t break eye contact. “I just wanted to be sure.”

“Good. Look it over, make sure it’s amenable to you. Bring it back and you can move in whenever you’re ready. Today’s the twentieth, if you want to move in before the first, feel free. I won’t charge you for this month, consider it a gift.” Fletch narrowed his eyes and leaned toward her. “If someone is giving Annie a hard time for asking questions, I’m okay with you getting out of there and moving in here now. No kid should have to feel bad for being herself.”

“Again, thank you.” Emily had no idea how she’d gotten so lucky, but she’d never been so glad in all her life that she’d seen the ad in the paper about the apartment. She’d been actively looking, but had found the Sunday paper in the recycle bin behind her current apartment. She usually looked over the paper at work, but since she wasn’t working that Sunday, she’d rummaged in the recycles for the paper.

“Can I drop this by after work tomorrow?” Emily wanted to have her boss at the PX look it over. She couldn’t afford to take it to a lawyer, but Jimmy liked her and he’d be able to tell her if it looked okay or not.

“Of course. I’ll leave a key under the mat by the stairs that go up to the apartment.”

“Uh, you know that’s the first place burglars would look for a spare key, don’t you?”

Fletch barked out a laugh. If someone did manage to somehow get on to his property undetected, his face would be recorded from so many different angles, he’d be caught before he could get too far away. “I think it’ll be okay for a day or so, Em.”

Emily smiled shyly back at Fletch, teasing him, “Okay, but if I come back and someone has stolen the couch up there, I’ll expect you to replace it.”

“Deal.” Fletch smiled. Maybe having a renter wouldn’t be so bad after all. He’d make sure Tex got the background check done on one Miracle Emily Grant before she returned the signed lease the next day. It’d be child’s play for the man.

Fletch would sign it after making sure she was everything she seemed to be. He didn’t think he had anything to worry about. The woman seemed open and honest, and relieved to have a place for her and her daughter to live, even if it was a small, barely furnished, hole in the wall.

Being safe trumped material things, and he understood that in a way not a lot of other men would. He’d seen too much in his ten years in the Army, and five years in Delta Force. People would lie, cheat, steal, and kill to feel safe. He’d seen it over and over. Mothers who did whatever the local terrorists and bullies ordered them to, simply to protect their children. Kids who joined gangs, just to feed their families. The horrors of the world went on and on.

But Fletch could tell that the woman sitting in front of him now was a completely different woman than the one he’d invited into his home thirty minutes ago. She was more relaxed and at ease, whereas before she was tense, cautious, and suspicious. Simply because she’d been offered a safe place to live for her and her daughter.

Fletch liked that he could give that to her. It felt good. He’d helped too many people to count in his lifetime, but he could feel the relief emanating from the woman all the way to his gut. “Go tell Annie she has a new home and I’ll see you when I see you. Yeah?”

Emily nodded. “Yeah.”

They stood up and Fletch walked her to his door. He stood in the entryway with one arm braced on the doorjamb and watched as Emily walked toward her car. She stopped when she was halfway there and turned to him. “Thank you, Fletch. I know you’re totally giving me a break on the security deposit and rent, and I appreciate it. I’ll do what I can to help around here, you just need to let me know what you want me to do. I can rake, mow, sweep and—not that it looks like you need any help—I can even clean your house if you wanted me to.”

“You’re welcome, Emily. But I didn’t hire you to be my maid or groundskeeper. I’m actually getting as much out of this arrangement as you are. I have a responsible tenant who isn’t interested in robbing me blind or throwing crazy parties, living on my property. It’s a win-win situation. I’ll see you later.”

Fletch mentally rolled his eyes at her offer. It was sweet, but there was no way he’d ask her to do anything manual. She could look after his house when he was on a mission, but other than that, there wasn’t much that needed to be done that he couldn’t do himself.

“Okay. See you later.”

Fletch closed his front door and heard her car start up, complete with the muffler backfiring. After turning on the security monitor, he watched as her car backed out of his driveway and disappeared onto the road next to his house. He picked up the piece of paper with Emily’s information on it and called Tex. He was ninety-nine-point-nine percent sure Emily was just who she said she was, and what she looked like—a woman who was down on her luck and wanted a quiet place for her and her daughter to live.

Suddenly, he was looking forward to meeting her daughter. From what little Emily had said, she sounded precocious and fun. Fletch hadn’t ever really thought about having children, or even been around many, but it occurred to him that it might be fun to teach a child things like how a garage door opener worked.

As far as he was concerned, the sooner Emily and Annie moved in, the better he’d feel. They’d be safe in the small apartment above his garage. He’d make sure of it.

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