Word count: 99,000
Genre: Adult Upmarket Romantic Suspense
Twenty-four-year old Kayla Petrovic doesn’t know whether the opportunity to barter her body for her students’ lives is punishment for accidentally killing her psychopathic mother eight years ago–or a chance at redemption.
When a band of miscreants force their way onto the bus carrying Kayla and her young students across the Australian Outback, she’s determined to protect the children. Scarred by an emotionally abusive childhood, she’ll pay any price to shield the kids from similar damage. But, held hostage deep within the bowels of the earth, the kidnappers’ brutality unleashes Kayla’s psychological demons. Fearing the hereditary nature of her mother’s psychosis, she discovers that trading her body may cost her sanity.
Leader of the elite Tactical Response Squad ordered to retrieve the hostages, Captain Nick Stead recognizes love as a purely physical release: frequent, enjoyable, and completely transitory. After decades spent avoiding emotional intimacy, he’s not looking for a relationship with the abused teacher he rescues–that would make him some kind of sick bastard. Yet, he is irresistibly drawn to Kayla.
Fearing the escaped kidnapper who continues to stalk her, Kayla turns to Nick for protection. However, Nick’s innate strength awakens something she thought dead: her ability to love. Taught by her mother that she’s unworthy, paranoid insecurities bloom inside her like a cancer–it’s madness to imagine Nick could want someone like her. Striving to control the fractured mind concealed within her broken body, she can’t allow emotional vulnerability; if Nick discovers the depraved secrets of her past, years of running and hiding have been in vain. And Kayla will die rather than face more punishment for her sins.
A three night break on the far side of the desert seemed like a great idea at the time. Bloody perfect, in fact–until fatigue slammed her about two hundred kilometers back, intensifying the isolation of the barren wilderness.
Her six young students, comatose with candy, sprawled across the vinyl seats. Kayla snorted; she may as well have been travelling alone. Hell, they’re too hot to even talk.
For the last three hours only eagles evidenced life beyond the windscreen, fearless and clumsy as they gorged on the dismembered corpses of road-kill kangaroos. The radio shared nothing but an angry static buzz. Kayla’s leg jiggled up and down. Her fingers drummed a tattoo on the sun-baked steering wheel. Despite the noisy angst of the air conditioner, she could just about hear the sweat dripping down her back, saturating her thin shirt.
She yawned, stretching both arms above her head, steering with her knees. The vehicle stayed true, the dusty ribbon of road unravelling into infinity beyond the glass. Blinking slowly, the temporary darkness offering blissful relief from the glare, she reluctantly opened her eyes.
Shit! Her knuckles whitened on the steering wheel, gooseflesh prickling the slick patina on her naked arms. Adrenalin spiked her heartbeat. The line of men blockading the red dirt highway would intimidate even a truck driver.