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Abby Walker arrived in Severton searching for her sister. Two years later, she’s the one being hunted. Life as a cop in a small town shouldn’t include protecting tiny blonde bartenders from big city gangs, but Alex Maynard won’t ever let the bad guys win. The quietest of the Maynard family, he refuses to let anything blur his lines.
Except Abby. He knows he’s been her crush for a while, but doing anything about it wouldn’t have felt right, not when he knows she’s keeping a secret that could destroy his career.
One hot night and a scorching kiss later, the feelings between them have definitely been shaken. Abby’s life is in danger and Alex has to make a choice - the woman he’s falling for or protecting his small town and his family that lives in it.
Contains a hot cop, small town, and some serious suspense. Shaken is part of the Maynards of Severton series but can be read as a stand-alone.
- Hidden identity
- Forced proximity
- Hot cop
Intro to Chapter One
Intro to Chapter One
The lock needed oiling. Abby struggled to pull her key from the door and cursed her boss and the owner of the bar, Scott Maynard. It was meant to be her night off, but his baby daughter was teething, and she’d been able to tell early on in the evening that him serving people wasn’t a great idea since he was crabbier than normal. Plus, it was a Tuesday night and quieter than usual, just the regulars sitting around the bar, discussing the lack of rain and how it would affect harvest.
She’d switched off at that point and thought about the book she was reading, one that Keren – Scott’s wife – had loaned her. Probably so she had some kind of boyfriend in her life, even if it was a book-shaped one.
The key eventually came out. Abby cursed as she caught her finger on something sharp, dropping her keys as she fumbled in her pocket for a tissue, just in case it was bleeding. Fainting at the sight of blood was one of her talents, along with not being able to stand the smell of peanuts or the taste of brandy.
She wrapped the finger up without looking. It probably wasn’t cut, but it wasn’t worth the chance. She could faint when she got home.
Abby squatted down and found her keys, the outside light from the bar just about lighting up the pavement around her enough to be able to see where they’d landed. Next to what looked like someone’s vomited late night kebab, obviously.
This just about summed up her day. Or even week.
The night was still. Any breeze had died away earlier that day, though the humid and muggy afternoon had promised a storm, the calm air backed up that notion further. Abby liked the warm weather, the hot days and the evenings where the sky seemed as if it was fire as the sun set against the darkness of the mountain peaks as it had been earlier, before the cloak of night had settled on the town.
She clutched her keys in her hand, battered bag on her shoulder and heard her stomach growl. Despite eating a burger from the kitchen, she was hungry and as usual, there would be very little in her fridge, because Abby Walker was not the most domesticated or organised of people.
The streets were familiar now, having lived in Severton for nearly two years. It was a small town, typical of the Peak District with its stone cottages and pretty gardens, quaint little shops and pubs that felt like someone’s sitting room. Severton in summer was a haven for tourists, a key stop or end point to a day walking or climbing up the heights of the mountains, that in any other country would’ve been mere pimples. Abby knew. She’d climbed a few, back when she’d been doing a different job.
Her feet walked without her needing to think about where she was going. It had only been a few months since she’d rented Rayah Maynard’s tiny terraced house from her, but it felt like home, better than the small flat above the bar where she’d slept and showered for a few months before that. A nomad’s life, but then it had been like that for the last decade.
Moonlight was shrouded by a thin wispy cloud, one travelling quickly, although there was still no breeze.
Abby paused. The hairs on the back of her neck prickled.
Then she heard it.
She clutched the keys in her hand, the end of one sticking out in case she needed a weapon. Her heart started to beat quicker, her breath felt shorter.
Even through everything that had happened, she’d always managed to not be paranoid. A bump in the dark was probably something falling over because of a draught from the window; a creak from the floorboards would be the house settling.
The sound of shuffling from the nearby alleyway was not a cat hunting a mouse.
Something told her it was human.
Something told her it had been waiting for her.
Abby sped up, keeping her footfall soft, her pace growing. She was about seven minutes from home, three and a half if she ran. Three if she ran fast and didn’t fall.
Or she could aim for Alex’s house. Two minutes away, less if she sprinted. He wasn’t on shift because he’d been in the bar for a drink after he’d finished work, looking thoughtful and barely saying a word other than to be polite.
Her hair was a mess, she smelled of the beer she’d managed to spill over her jeans and she was pretty sure her mascara was not where she’d applied it, but the footsteps she’d heard were still there and they were getting louder.
Running would mean she’d be chased.
Going home would mean she’d be on her own.
She took the left turn and found herself on the tiny road with six double fronted cottages, the roofs thatched and the timber ancient.
There were no more footsteps behind her as she reached the last one, the fields adjacent to it filled with rape that glowed orange when the sun was setting but which cast sinister shadows in the dark while she was scared. When she got to the front door, her chest and lungs were hurting from the pounding of her heart.
Abby wiped at her eyes, realising that she was crying. Her shoulders shook. The noise she registered was her fist pounding the door and then it opened.
Alex Maynard was tall, his dark hair was usually messy, his stubble unkempt and his hands roughened from the climbing he did and the woodwork Abby knew he enjoyed during his spare time.
She’d noticed his hands a lot.
Now she was noticing his feet. Bare, black sweatpants slightly torn at the cuff and at the waist, there was just bare skin. Inches and inches of bare skin that covered muscles she hadn’t realised would be so defined. She should’ve known. She’d grown up with climbers and men who took stupid risks enough to know how you didn’t need a gym to look like a sculpted god.
How Alex Maynard looked wearing possibly two items of clothing registered hard, and even though she knew she was shaking, she wasn’t certain if she was shaking because she thought she’d been followed or because she was staring at Alex’s chest.
“What’s the matter?” He stepped out onto the path and placed a hand on each of her shoulders.
“I think I’ve been followed. I think someone was waiting for me to leave the bar.”
His face darkened, his jaw clenched. “Come inside.”
Abby shook her head, suddenly feeling ridiculous and weak. “It’s fine. It was probably my imagination…”
“Abby come inside.”
There was that something in his tone that made her comply.
She’d never been in his house before. He’d been to her flat above the bar and to her house. In fact, he’d helped her move, just like all the Maynards had. She’d wondered what it would be like inside, imagining it bare and minimal because she’d fantasized that Alex was a pretty basic sort of man, the type who didn’t need things.
She’d fantasized a lot. And not always about his home décor taste.
It wasn’t about his taste in furnishings, which weren’t minimal. There was a sofa that looked comfortably worn and two armchairs that didn’t match. Alex’s dogs, Hansel and Gretel, lounged on a rug in front of an open fire that was roaring.
He’d picked up his phone, partially ignoring her.
“Ste,” she heard him say. “You need to send patrol from the Last Temperance Bar towards my place. Look for signs that someone’s been lurking around. Abby’s been followed.” There was a pause. “She’s at mine now. Sure. Let me know what you find, even if it’s nothing.”
He put his phone down on the side, the action barely making a noise. Then he stood still and looked at her as if she was a piece of evidence.”
“Do you want a drink?”
“Come and sit down in the kitchen. Tell me how you like it.”
A range of responses to that shot through her head and she managed to push every one away, recalling the footsteps in the dark made it easy.
Abby followed him through the wooden door to the kitchen, one that looked new, almost unfinished.
“Have you done this?” It was shaker in its style and new, the wood unblemished.
“Yeah. Just about got round to it. It’s almost finished.” He sounded dismissive, as if the work he’d done wasn’t incredible. “How do you want your tea?”
She laughed quietly. “How about you tell me where stuff is and I’ll make it?” Forever the barmaid and waitress. She knew how Alex had a coffee or a mug of tea, because if he came into his brother’s bar during the day that’s what he would order.
He shuffled awkwardly. “You’ve worked all night, and probably all day. I can manage.”
“Okay.” She gave him instructions to make it the same as his, mainly because she wasn’t overly bothered.
“Do you want something to eat? I was going to do some toast.”
A dog – Gretel – slipped into the kitchen and lay down next to her feet. Abby sat on the edge of the bar stool that looked like it had been fashioned out of an old tractor seat and made to look good. Her stomach rumbled in response.
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
She watched as he fumbled with the tea, using the Aga to start toasting the bread that she recognised had come from the local bakery, run by Nancy Hurst, a newcomer to the village which meant she’d lived there less than twenty years.
Alex didn’t try to make small talk. The silence between them was comfortable, as it had been on the occasions when he’d been the last customer in the bar, finishing his pint and then waiting for her to lock up so he could walk her home, again usually in silence.
He was the quiet one of the Maynard men. Scott, the eldest and her boss, was grumpy. He was a musician by trade and singing and playing guitar made him happy, along with Keren and his baby daughter. Zack was the next eldest and ran the local nursing home for the elderly. He was the worrier, infinitely sensible and completely taken with Sorrell, Abby’s other boss, who owned the boutique hotel just outside the town. Jake Maynard was their cousin, and the wild one who had taken over the family’s farms and was this year hosting Severfest, a music festival, intertwined with a whole lot of what Zack had termed ‘hippie-shit.’
A mug of hot tea and a plate of toast dripping with butter appeared in front of her. Alex took a seat at the table before getting up to retrieve his own drink, cursing under his breath.
“What time did you leave the bar?”
She heard the police officer in his words.
“Just after midnight.”
“Where were you when you thought someone was following you?”
“At the corner of Main Street and Maple Avenue.” She kept her answers minimal, knowing he wouldn’t want any detail unless he asked for it.
“What made you think you were being followed?”
“It sounds stupid, but it felt different. And then I heard footsteps.” The fear started to rush back. Abby put the piece of toast back down, suddenly feeling nauseous. Bile curdled in her throat.
“It doesn’t sound stupid.” Alex’s word were almost soft. “I know you’re hyper-observant. I just don’t know why you have to be.”
Abby looked up at him, biting her bottom lip. Of course he would’ve noticed how she looked at every new customer who walked into the bar, because his job was to notice everyone. Cops didn’t switch off.
His bicep flexed as he lifted his mug of tea. The distraction of it was helping her push away the fear that could consume her tonight.
“I think you need to put a T-shirt on.”
She saw his mouth curve into a grin.
“I’m good. Did you have anyone suspicious coming into the bar tonight? Anyone you didn’t recognise?”
Alex’s eyes darkened; she could tell he was studying her.
She knew why. Since she’d moved here she’d given away very little of herself, a stranger to the town with no known history. There had never been any visitors or family turning up, and detail about her background had been vague. For the first few months, she’d been eyed with suspicion, especially from the older residents. Eventually they’d stopped speculating and left her be, but she knew there were still questions about her.
Alex had never asked anything. Scott had, checking one night that she wasn’t running from an abusive partner or someone she owed money to. It had been followed with an explanation of what he, Jake and Zack would do to that person, if she wanted, which had given her an odd, warm feeling inside as it had been a long time since anyone had wanted to take her corner like that.
“It was just the regulars in tonight. The calm before the storm.” Because Jake’s festival was in a couple of weeks and the bars and Sorrell’s hotel would be packed with strangers. It made her nervous. Big events were a great cover for people to come looking; they could hide in the open.
Alex sat back and folded his arms, an action which only made his biceps look bigger, his shoulders broader.
“What’s your alarm system like?”
The question surprised Abby.
“It’s the same one Rayah had installed. I haven’t changed it.”
He was still watching her.
“Stay here tonight.”
“What?” She almost fell off her stool.
“You don’t freak out unnecessarily. I’ve seen you split up bar fights without raising an eyebrow and Jake has tried at least a dozen times to scare the shit out of you by hiding in the cellar. Something’s spooked you. You go home, you’re not going to sleep.” He didn’t smile. His expression was one of steel, his eyes watching her. Assessing.
He had a point. But there was no way she’d sleep if she was here either. This was the man she’d crushed hard on since he’d first walked into the bar with his brothers and cousin when she’d been hunting for a job and that crush had not waned a single ounce. It had only increased over time.
But police officers and people living under an assumed name were better not getting close.
“I can’t impose on you like that, Alex.”
“Other option: me and the dogs sleep on your sofa. What time’s your shift at the hotel in the morning?”
She shook her head. “I have a day off.” One that she wanted to spend walking up to Felley Manor, home of Severton’s very own religious community, and talking to a woman she’d met there who had belonged to it for the period of time Abby was interested in.
“Me too.” His arms were still folded and there was a look in his eye that challenged her, almost giving her the promise of a duel.
“Then you don’t need to spend it babysitting me. It was probably a fox or something. I’ll have overreacted.” She stood up at the same time Alex’s phone rang.
He looked at the caller before answering, then glanced at her. “Ste. Tell me what you know.”
Abby heard the murmurs of conversation but couldn’t make out what was being said.
“Which alleyway?” There was a moment where Alex just listened. “How many?”
Abby took a long gulp of tea and waited.
She knew it hadn’t been her imagination or paranoia. Locking the bar up by herself was a normal occurrence. She walked around Severton late at night on a regular basis. Never had she had a feeling of being followed before. She only hoped someone had slipped something herbal into a drink that had made her feel like this and it wasn’t an actual person.
Alex said a brief thank you and ended the call.
“You’re staying here tonight. I can lend you a T-shirt. I have a spare toothbrush.” He was standing now, arms back-folded across his chest, daring her to argue.
“Why? What did your colleague say?”
“Found the remains of a joint in the alleyway, freshly smoked. No idea who it is, or why, but there was someone hanging round and that doesn’t happen in Severton.”
“Like arson doesn’t happen and people don’t get kidnapped?” She heard the tension in her voice. Over the last eighteen months, Lena Rowley, who also worked at Sorrell’s hotel, had been kidnapped and Keren’s neighbour’s house had been set on fire. Lena’s sister Lois had been taken – and found. Felley Manor had lost its main building to an arson attack – Alex’s own cousin had been trapped inside - and there had been two bodies found in burned buildings on the nearby moors.
It all coincided with her arrival in the town.
She knew it coincided with something else.
“Okay, point taken. But that means there’s no chance you’re staying at home tonight. If you don’t like the idea of one of my T-shirts, I can drive you home and come in your house with you while you get some stuff.”
She inhaled deeply and looked at the ceiling.
“Do you have a spare room?”
“Yes, but no spare bed. I’ll take the sofa. You can sleep in my room.”
She shook her head. “That’s putting you out too much, Alex.”
“I usually fall asleep on the sofa anyway. Take the bed, Abs.” His voice had gone softer. “Tomorrow I want to come over to yours and check the windows and look at the security again.”
“They probably weren’t even following me. I was probably just in the wrong place at the wrong time. You know, all this with the festival –there are going to be more people hanging around, looking for weak points with the bars and shops.” She didn’t want Alex to think this had anything to do with her, even if she didn’t believe that herself.
“It could be that.” He pushed a hand through his hair, making it stand up. “Or it could be that someone is watching you, Abby Walker, and I think you know that might be the case, you just don’t want to tell me why.”
Abby looked towards the door. “I should go. I’m sure I’ll be fine.” But her feet didn’t move. Gretel rolled onto her back and showed her stomach, the large Alsatian proving yet again she was softer than butter.
“I’m not going to start asking more questions. I know there’s more to you being here than just you looking for a change, but I’m not going to start looking through your handbag while you’re asleep.”
“I really don’t want to put you out. I shouldn’t have disturbed you…”
“And if you hadn’t, whoever was lingering round would’ve either caught up to you or found out where you lived. I’ve asked Ste to drive by your house, check it’s okay, by the way.”
“Thanks for that.” She smothered a yawn. She wouldn’t sleep at home. She wasn’t sure she’d sleep here with the knowledge that she was in Alex Maynard’s bed, but given what had happened two years ago, this was the lesser of the two evils. “Do you really not mind if I stay?”
Alex grinned. “Not at all. But be warned, we’ll be the most exciting news in Severton tomorrow when people find out you were here overnight.”
She managed a laugh. If only those rumours could be true.