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Ties That Bind Her

Ties That Bind Her

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About the Book

**** PREORDER ****

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Laurel Dane faces tough challenges as she grapples with betrayal, family secrets, and a dangerous criminal underworld in her Tennessee hometown.

Haunted by the dishonesty of a close family member, Laurel must confront her own feelings of anger while unraveling a nationwide kidnapping ring that targets innocent babies for ransom. Determined to bring justice to the victims and stop the criminals behind the operation, Laurel dives deep into the investigation, risking everything to save lives and uncover the truth.

But as Laurel delves deeper into the case, she's forced to make difficult decisions about her future in Appleman's Gap and her relationship with Brad Tate, the man she loves. Caught between her duty as an F.B.I. agent and her desire for a peaceful life, Laurel must navigate treacherous waters both professionally and personally.

As she struggles to mend broken bonds and find closure, Laurel discovers that the ties that bind her to her family and her hometown are stronger than she ever imagined.

In Ties That Bind Her, Laurel Dane's journey will test her strength, resilience, and determination as she fights to uncover the truth and protect the ones she loves. But will she emerge victorious, or will the secrets of Appleman’s Gap tear her apart?

About the Appleman's Gap Series:

In the heart of Tennessee, nestled east of Nashville, lies Appleman’s Gap—a town as picturesque as it is laden with secrets. Dive into a deeply emotional journey of discovery, healing, and the bonds that tether us to home.

Books are best read in order.

Preorder Book 3 in the series, Fate That Twists Her.

Look Inside

Chapter 1

It was still dark outside when Laurel’s phone rang. She groaned, then rolled away from Brad and reached for the device on her nightstand. Lilly stirred at their feet. The winter’s chill had left beads of condensation on the windows, yet they were warm and cozy inside the bungalow.

“Let it ring,” Brad said, his voice heavy with sleep.

“Have you forgotten what we do for a living?” Laurel asked. “We don’t have that luxury.”

He scooted close and kissed the back of her neck, gently moving her long, wavy hair out of the way as he did. “You’re still on leave. Which means, you’re still all mine.”

“Oh, I’m all yours, all right,” she cooed, “but I have to answer the phone.” Her tone became even more serious when she saw the caller ID on the screen. “It’s Jimmy.”

Laurel’s Special Agent in Charge at the Bureau, Jimmy Paulson, had returned to Washington, D.C. after Baby Jasper had been found safe, but Laurel knew that wasn’t the end of her boss’ business in Appleman’s Gap. The Cradler, the head of the kidnapping syndicate responsible for the baby’s disappearance, was still out there somewhere. Presumably, he was still up to no good. Despite the F.B.I.’s best efforts, they didn’t have a positive ID on the criminal, let alone know where to find him.

“What?” Laurel breathed as she picked up the phone.

Laurel and Jimmy were friends. They didn’t have to act overly formal with each other. At least, not unless his superiors were listening. That didn’t happen often.

“Well, good morning to you, Sunshine,” Jimmy quipped. “You always were a grouch this time of day. I’m glad I’m not there to experience it in person.”

“It’s 5 a.m. What do you want?”

He didn’t hesitate. “Are you ready to come back to work?”
Brad’s morning body was becoming aroused as he caressed Laurel. He slid a hand under her nightshirt, stopping to admire the growing bump in her lower abdomen. Laurel was well into her second trimester now. Brad had even been able to feel the baby kick with regularity. He found his fiancé sexier than ever while she was pregnant.

She shooed him off as she focused her attention on what Jimmy was saying. “I don’t know,” she replied. “Why?”

“Because a woman’s body was found last night in Cedar Hollow. It looks like a baby had been cut out of her womb.” His pace slowed as he said the words, almost like he didn’t want them to leave his mouth.

“My God,” Laurel mumbled. The thought made her physically sick.

She’d become soft lately, and she knew it. She wasn’t sure she was cut out to be an F.B.I. agent anymore. Especially now that she was becoming a mom.

Her reaction got Brad’s attention. “What is it?” he asked.

“Hold on, Jimmy,” Laurel said. “I’m putting you on speaker.”

She pushed the button, so that Brad could hear, too.

Hey, Brad,” Jimmy said solemnly.

“Hey, man,” Brad replied. “I take it you aren’t calling with good news.”

“I wish I was, but I’m afraid not.”

“A woman’s mutilated body was found,” Laurel said, filling Brad in. “Cedar Hollow.”

Brad stiffened. As an area outside of Appleman’s Gap, that was his jurisdiction. “How am I just hearing about this?” he asked.

“Our people found the body,” Jimmy explained. “They were following a lead in the woods when they stumbled upon it. Since the Bureau is handling the search for The Cradler, there was no reason to call in local police. I’m informing you now, as a courtesy.”

Brad didn’t like that, but he understood. He grunted his reply, then turned his attention back to the warm sensation of Laurel next to him in bed. He pulled her closer, aware that the news of a body in the nearby woods would be upsetting.

“They think a baby was … cut out of her womb,” Laurel said, hesitating over the gruesome word.

“That’s terrible,” Brad said, placing a protective hand over their own baby.

She nodded. “Jimmy wants to know if I’m ready to go back to work.”

“Why now, Jimmy?” Brad asked.

Jimmy seemed reluctant to push the matter. After all, he cared about Laurel as a friend. He knew she wasn’t at the top of her game as Agent Dane right now. Being pregnant while a kidnapping syndicate was stealing the spotlight and then finding out that her father was alive had been a lot to take in. Jimmy assumed that Laurel hadn’t processed it all yet. He was right.

“Look, if I could lead the investigation myself from down there, I would,” Jimmy said.

“So get on a plane.”

“I’m at home in D.C., though,” Jimmy continued, “and I’m supposed to leave for Antigua in two days to see my wife’s little brother get married. My wife will kill me if I’m not there for his big day.”

“What about your agents, Samira and Malik?” Brad tried.
Brad and Laurel could almost hear Jimmy shrug through the phone. “They’re good agents, but they’re green. They aren’t ready to take the lead on this.”

They sat in silence for a moment. “So, you want me to take the lead?” Laurel asked.

“You’ve done it dozens of times,” Jimmy replied. “Just another day’s work.”

It was so much more than that.

“You know, Jimmy,” Laurel said, “we’re supposed to travel to South Carolina to visit my dad today. I haven’t seen him since Jasper was returned. I wasn’t ready until now. Brad, Mikey, and I are all driving down together. The trip has been planned for weeks.”

Jimmy was growing frustrated. Technically, he could get tough and insist that Laurel return to work. He was still her boss, after all. She’d have no real choice but to either follow instructions, or resign her position and turn in her badge. He didn’t want to see the latter happen, though, and he was afraid it might.

“Look,” Jimmy said, “imagine it was you who was brutally murdered. Your baby cut out of its safe place in your womb. Both of your lives ended too soon at the hands of a vicious madman.”

“Jesus, Jimmy,” Brad said. “Easy.”

“All I’m saying is, wouldn’t you want someone to prevent the same thing from happening to anyone else? Wouldn’t you want to bring the perpetrator to justice? See him locked up?”

“How do you know it’s a male?” Brad asked.

“Because most perpetrators of violent crimes are,” Laurel replied. “You know that.”

Brad nodded, nuzzling the back of her neck.

“Hey, man,” Brad said after a pause, “how about you give us a while to talk it over?”

“I don’t need—” Laurel began, but Brad held up a finger to stop her.

Jimmy sighed heavily. “You’re my only option, Dane. Please. I can set your dad up in a safe house nearby. Bring him to you.”

Laurel brightened at that news. “You have one around here?”

“Of course. I can have it ready to go by sundown. He can stay as long as he likes. In fact, he might be able to help with some behind-the-scenes investigation. After what happened to you as a kid, he’s champing at the bit to take these guys down.”

The memories from that trauma were still in fragments. They had been buried so deep for so long, they seemed like they’d take some time to reveal themselves in the light of day. Jimmy had offered to connect Laurel with a psychologist at the Bureau who could help. She’d need to be back in D.C. to see anyone in person, though. She wasn’t at all ready to go there. Especially since she and Brad were happy right here in Appleman’s Gap.

“That might work,” Brad said. “If your dad could come here, we could hang out with him as time allows while also hunting the killer.”

Laurel still hadn’t taken her fiancé and her boss to task for not telling her that her father was alive. She’d wanted to do that when they were all together, in person. The wait was driving her crazy, though. She was angry with all three of them for keeping such important information from her. Her mom was angry, too, but Maureen was too wrapped up with Mack Roberts to properly converse about the situation. That discussion would have to happen at a later date.

Jimmy made encouraging sounds on the other end of the phone. “Exactly,” he said. “It’s a win-win.”

Just then, they heard a loud bang from the back of the house. It sounded like glass breaking. Lilly leaped up, barking furiously. Before they could stop her, she bounded down from the bed and left the room.

Terror shot through Laurel. She wasn’t normally so jumpy, but the news about the mutilated mother and missing baby had her on edge. The blackness outside didn’t help either. It was a deep darkness, the kind that can only come in the depths of winter. The kind that cloaks criminals and allows them to do their worst. That kind of darkness paired with an unexpected sound touched on something primal in a woman’s brain. She looked to Brad to protect her. At least, she did for a few seconds, before her training kicked in and she remembered that she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself.

“I’ll call you back,” Laurel whispered into the phone, then she disconnected the call.

Brad raised a hand to indicate that she should stay put, then he slowly reached for his service weapon in the safe within his nightstand. He didn’t have to tell Laurel to be quiet. That much was understood. If there was an intruder in the house and they aimed to take Brad and Laurel by surprise, it was imperative to let them think that was a possibility. The moment the intruder let down his guard is when a counter attack would be most effective.

Brad raised his weapon as he slowly stood. He never took his eyes off the doorway, making sure to keep his body between the point of entry and the woman he loved.

Laurel saw what he was doing, and she appreciated it. Her thoughts oscillated between wanting to respond like she’d been taught at The Farm and hiding to protect their unborn child. She marveled at how quickly her worldview had changed. Another person’s life depended on her now.

She and Brad made eye contact, and in that instant, a silent understanding passed between them. Laurel would make choices that would protect their baby. She had failed her nephew, Jasper, when she’d let him be taken during the carjacking. It was nothing short of a miracle that he’d been found safe. Laurel knew that it wasn’t her fault. Not technically. But she still felt responsible. She could never live with herself if anything happened on her watch again. Especially not to her own baby.

Nodding, Brad motioned toward the closet. Laurel picked up a metal lamp from the nightstand on her side of the bed, then stepped inside and carefully closed the door. She didn’t have a gun with her, although she desperately wished she did. She’d left hers in the bedroom at her mom’s house, assuming that Brad had enough firearms to take care of them both. By the look on his face, she surmised that he had plenty of firearms—just not in this room. She hoped they were in a safe that the intruder couldn’t access. Surely, Brad had all of his weapons properly secured.

Suddenly, loud music started playing, confusing Laurel and Brad. The sound was distorted. It sounded like it was coming from a phone. It took them less than a minute to recognize “Strawberry Wine” by Deanna Carter. The song had been popular when they were kids. Laurel remembered her parents dancing to it in the living room. She also remembered the part in the lyrics where it talks about thirty being old. She could only laugh, except she needed to be quiet.

“Relax,” Brad said as he loosened the grip on his weapon.

“How do you know it’s okay?” Laurel asked.

“Because Lilly stopped barking and nineties country can only mean one thing,” he explained.

Laurel looked at him quizzically. “What?”

“Jamie Beck,” Brad said, just as her voice could be heard from somewhere nearby.

“Sorry!” Jamie called sheepishly. “My bad.”

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Lies They Tell Her - Fantastic Series

This new series is the Author’s best yet! It will keep you engaged and satisfied as the story unravels chapter by chapter to an ending I guarantee you will not see coming! It will leave you wanting to rush out and preorder Book 2 which is exactly what I just did. Congratulations Kelly!!