EXCERPT from Against the Storm
"You sonofabitch!" Clyde, the Mountain's, blunt, meaty hands balled into fists as he lumbered forward, swinging a roundhouse punch meant to send a man to his knees. Trace ducked, turned a little, and threw a straight-from-the-shoulder blow that sank four inches into the big man's stomach.
Clyde grunted, doubled over, and Trace took him out with an upper-cut to the chin, knocking him over a table and sending a surprised older couple scrambling out of the way.
Clive didn't get up.
Shaking off the ache in his hand, Trace reached down and picked up his white straw cowboy hat, settled it once more on his head. A few feet away, rap star, Bobby Jordane, lay flat on his back, as dead-to-the-world as Clive. Lenny the Sphinx, the third member of the rap group, stood with his mouth gaping open and his eyes wide.
"Y-you shouldn't have done that."
"You don't think so?"
"Bobby...Bobby's gonna really be mad."
Trace chuckled softly. "If you're smart, you'll get him out of here before somebody calls the police. He doesn't need anymore bad publicity.
Bobby's abused wife, Shawna Jordane, rose shakily to her feet. "Thank you, Mr. Rawlins. You have no idea how good that made me feel."
A corner of Trace's mouth edged up. "Oh, I think I do."
Shawna turned and started walking toward the door, but before she reached it, a camera flashed, capturing her retreat, then the photographer turned toward the rap star moaning on the floor next to Clive. The camera made a quick series of flashes, photos of Bobby Jordane that would be wildly embarrassing to a guy with an ego as massive as his.
Trace inwardly cursed. The redhead. Just as he'd figured, they were nothing but trouble.
Striding toward her, he reached out and jerked the camera out of her hand, turned it around and deleted the last series of digital photos.
"Hey! What do you think you're doing? You can't do that!"
"Nice camera," Trace said. Walking over to the lunch counter, he handed the camera to Betty Sparks, the owner of the Texas Café.
The sexy redhead raced along behind him. "Listen--whoever you are--that's my camera! You can't just--"
"I just did. And you can have it back as soon as Jordane and his buddies are gone." Trace tipped his hat to the redhead and her friend, a tall, svelte brunette a year or two older. "Have a nice afternoon, ladies."
Turning, he strolled out of the cafe.
"Did you see that! Oh, my God!"
Maggie O'Connell's best friend, Roxanne DeMer, stood riveted, her gaze fixed on the cowboy striding down the sidewalk outside the café window.
"Who was that gorgeous hunk of man?"
Maggie's gaze jerked toward the window just as the tall, lanky cowboy disappeared from view. "What are you talking about? That jerk just ruined my pictures. Bobby Jordane and his estranged wife? You know how much photos like that are worth?"
Maggie turned at the sound of a groan, saw the guy with the kinky hair, Lenny the Sphinx his fans called him, help Bobby to his feet. Clyde, the Mountain, swayed upward until he was standing. Wordlessly the small group staggered toward the door.
Maggie looked longingly at the lady who held firmly onto her camera, but the older woman just shook her head.
Maggie sighed. She wouldn't be getting photos of Bobby Jordane knocked senseless and sprawled on the wide-plank floor. Not today.
"I hate to remind you, but you aren't the tabloid type," Roxanne said. "You didn't come here to take pictures. You came for lunch with a friend. It just turned out to be a little more exciting than we planned." Roxane's attention swung back to the window, following the rap stars on their journey to the long white limo waiting out front. "I wonder who he is."
Maggie didn't have to ask who her friend was talking about. The cowboy was, at the very least, impressive. Tall and lean, with wide shoulders and slim hips, he had thick, dark hair neatly trimmed, golden brown eyes, and a set of biceps that were impossible to miss.
Still, she didn't appreciate his interference in her business. As the limo door closed, shutting the three men inside, she walked over to collect her camera, which the broad-hipped woman behind the counter readily handed back to her.
"So who was he?" Maggie asked. "The Lone Ranger? What was his name?"
"You a reporter?"
"I'm a photographer. Mostly I do landscape shots. I just saw an opportunity and took it--or tried to."
"Sorry it didn't pan out."
"Me, too. I can always use a little extra money."
The woman, late fifties with a cap of curly gray hair, tipped her head toward the door. "Name's Trace Rawlins. Owns Atlas Security. He's a private investigator."
Walking up beside Maggie, Roxanne sighed dramatically, a hand over her heart. "I think I'm in love."
"The redhead's got a better chance," Betty said. "Trace has a weakness for 'em."
"No thanks. I don't do cowboys."
Betty chuckled. "If I was twenty years younger, I'd dye my hair."
"You new in the neighborhood?"
She nodded. "I just bought one of those townhouses they built a few blocks away. Vaulted ceiling upstairs. Good north light, great place to work, you know?"
"Welcome, then. Maybe we'll see you again."
"If it's always this much fun in here," Roxanne said, "I'm sure you will."
Betty laughed as they headed for the door.
"You know that trouble you been having?" Roxy said once they reached the sidewalk.
Maggie paused. "What about it?"
"The cowboy...he's in the security business and he's an investigator. He might be able to help you."
Maggie started to argue, to say she didn't need any help. Then she thought of the way Trace Rawlins had handled those three men. "I hope it doesn't come to something like that."
But it might and both of them knew it. For more than a month, someone had been following her, phoning her and hanging up, leaving messages on the windshield of her car. So far it hadn't been more than that but it was frightening just the same.
When she got home, she decided, she was going to look up the number for Atlas Security.
And write it down beside Trace Rawlins' name.