Friday Excerpt: The Minister's Maid

The second book in my Fantasy Ranch series, The Minister's Maid isn't nearly as innocent as you might think. Betsy and Ian just might surprise you...

Excerpt from The Minister's Maid

Betsy couldn't stop herself from taking just one more peek at the grotesque image that would undoubtedly haunt her dreams for a long time to come. It was a picture of her, taken recently in the same French maid outfit she still had on, so whoever had gotten it either was here or had been. Whoever left it had photo-shopped her image with a noose around her neck, hanging from the barrister of the grand double staircase on the main floor. Her wrists looked like they'd been slit, and her blood pooled on the floor below.

"We're all in my suite, Ian...come on over." Harley disconnected the call and shoved the phone down in his front pocket. Looking thoughtfully at Betsy, he reached across the counter and took one of her hands. "He sounds pretty bad, sis - what were you fighting about? Did you hit on him again?"

 "I'm sure it doesn't matter," Monica said. Betsy shot her a grateful look. "Whatever the problem, I'm sure they'll get over it--"

Harley shook his head, a chuckle of disbelief escaping. "Darlin', you don't know what you're talking about. Why don't you run upstairs and make sure our guest isn't foaming at the mouth because I'm not there. I'll be up as soon as I'm done here."

Betsy's heart broke for her new sister-in-law. Ashamed, she pulled her hand out of Harley's. "Harlen Majors." No woman deserved to be treated like that. Harley's expression softened and he reached for Monica, but she ran out of the kitchen. Betsy didn't blame her.  "You should go after her," she said, knowing he wouldn't, but needing to say it. "That was uncalled for and you know it. She just wanted to help."

He met her gaze, his expression one of hurt and resignation. "I'll talk to her later. Your safety is more important right now. When did Derek get out of prison?" The front door opened and shut, and she tried to brace herself, knowing it could only be one person.

"A couple weeks ago. Look, I know I should have told you, but--" she stopped, the words caught in her throat as Ian appeared in the doorway behind Harley. Their eyes met, briefly, but she looked away, unable to face the regret in them.  Her face flamed as the minister rounded the counter to stand beside her.

Harley pushed the photo across the counter to Ian. "Someone left this under her door. We need to get her out of here, at least until I can figure out what's going on with Derek."

Ian nodded. "I’ll take her. We can be gone in an hour." He grabbed the photo and flipped it over, hot, angry vibes coming off his body in waves.

"I don't want to go anywhere," Betsy said quietly, her eyes on the stone countertop. "If I run, he wins."

"If you run, you stay alive," Harley countered. "I've got all sorts of crap going on here right now, and Derek is just one more thing. I'll find him, and I'll make sure he doesn't bother you again, but you have to get out of here so I won't be worried about you every second of the day." He curled a hand over Ian's shoulder. "I really appreciate this. I don't care where, and I don't need to know, just find somewhere safe to hole up for a week or so. Charge it to the ranch."

"But I--" Betsy stood up, ready to fight. How dare they pass her around like some errant child in need of babysitting! She trembled where she stood, her muscles tied in knots of anger and frustration. 

Harley held his hand up, giving her a stern look. "He's the only one I trust to take care of you, sis. Don't argue. Just go." He walked around the counter and gave her a quick hug, then headed for the door, pausing to glance back over his shoulder. "Don't give him any trouble, Bets. This is serious." Without waiting for an answer, he walked out, leaving her alone with her fear and the one man who could only make things worse. 

Betsy bit her lower lip as the door slammed behind Harley. Keenly aware of Ian's presence, she didn't dare look his direction. Her face burned with embarrassment, not just because of what happened earlier in his office, but for being passed off on him like some recalcitrant child. Could this day get any more humiliating?

"You know he's right," Ian said, with none of the censure she'd expected in his tone. "There's no shame in staying safe."

 She shook her head. He didn't understand. No one did. There was a reason Derek had tried to kill her before, aside from the alcohol problem everyone had blamed his actions on. He wouldn't stop hunting her until he got what he wanted, or until she was dead, preferably both. A chill settled in the base of her spine at the thought.

"You don't get it," she said quietly, pretending to examine her chipped French manicure. "He won't stop until he finds me. He can't."

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