Widow Sarah Johnson struggled to pick up the pieces after her life was ripped apart. After two years of grieving, she’s found contentment in her thriving business as photographer to Hollywood’s A-list and in raising her angel-faced daughter, Kylee… until bodyguard and long-time friend Ethan Cooke changes everything with a searing moonlight kiss.
Sarah’s world turns upside down as she struggles with her unexpected attraction to Ethan and the guilt of betraying her husband’s memory. But when blue roses and disturbing notes start appearing on her doorstep, she has no choice but to lean on Ethan as he fights to save her from a stalker that won’t stop until he has what he prizes most.
Hello Mad and Lillie! Thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity to share Falling for Sarah, Book Two in The Bodyguards of L.A. County Series, with everyone.
While writing Morgan’s Hunter, the first novel in The Bodyguards series, I knew I had to tell Ethan and Sarah’s story next, but I didn’t know where to take them. Every good piece of writing is centered around great characters, a strong plotline and gobs and gobs of conflict. I had my characters, but the plotline and conflicts were still iffy until everything changed with a porch beam.
Yes, you read that right. I’m addicted to Crime Television and psychology in general. Late one evening, I had finished watching a particularly disturbing documentary on serial killers. I had the ‘spooks’ and a major need for a glass of water. I went out to the kitchen and turned on the faucet and freaked myself out when I caught site of our porch beam in the window. For a moment, I thought someone was standing there peaking in. Of course, I laughed at myself, shook my head, and got my glass of water, but my imagination started churning. I asked myself, ‘what would it be like to look up and see someone in your window that didn’t belong? ‘What would it feel like to know someone was constantly watching?’ The next day I started my research on the inner workings of a true sociopath. Falling for Sarah came together quickly after that!
[Excerpt: Falling For Sarah, chapter 1]
September 24, 2010
Sarah Johnson turned the key and opened her front door. She crossed the threshold, breathing in the familiar scent of fresh-cut flowers and the hint of low-tide blowing in from the Pacific. “It’s so nice to be home. Welcome home, sweet baby girl.” She stared at her sleeping newborn, smiled, brushed her lips over the soft skin of the baby’s forehead.
“Look out, coming through,” Ethan Cooke said, loaded down with balloons and vases overflowing with cheerful blooms. “I had no idea bringing a baby home from the hospital required movers.”
Sarah stepped aside, chuckling. “I know. Kylee has quite a fan club already. Let me help you with some of this stuff.”
“I’ve got it. You gave birth yesterday, for God’s sake. The nurse told you to take it easy.” Ethan set the vase on the entryway table, released the balloons to the ceiling as he dropped the diaper bag from his shoulder to the floor. “Besides, Jake would kick my ass if he knew you were hauling things in.”
Sarah’s smile widened as she thought of her husband. “Yes, you’re probably right, but I also know he would be grateful you were able to help me out. My mother wasn’t expecting to run her shop today. Dana called in sick, so that was that.”
Ethan moved closer to her side, stared down at the baby. “I’m happy you called. I wanted to come visit you ladies again last night, but things got a little crazy while I was on duty.” He brushed a finger down Kylee’s tiny nose. “She really is beautiful, Sarah. She looks just like you.”
Sarah’s blue eyes twinkled. “Thank you, but I definitely see some of Jake in her too.” She wrapped her free arm around Ethan’s waist. He returned her embrace and she rested her head against his muscled shoulder. “I’m so happy right now, Ethan, so absolutely happy. Twenty-nine more days and my family will be whole again. I can’t wait to hug Jake and watch his face when he holds her for the first time. I could tell he wanted to crawl through the video conferencing equipment yesterday and touch her tiny fingers and toes.” She looked down at Kylee. “No more deployments for your daddy. He’ll be all ours.”
“He’ll be mine too.” Ethan grinned, wiggled his eyebrows. “I’ve been waiting just as eagerly for Jake’s return. It took me two years to convince him to join my firm. Now I need to get Hunter on board, and the crew will be together again.”
“Getting yourselves into as much trouble as ever, I’m sure. You’ll have to wait a little longer for your new security expert. He’s not leaving my side for at least a week.”
“I think I can live with that.” Ethan kissed her forehead before he started for the door. “Let me get the rest of the stuff from the truck. Then I’ll set up Jake’s surprise.”
“Oh, I can’t wait for him to see it. I’ve nixed the big screen TV idea for so long, I’m pretty sure he’s stopped hoping for one.”
“It’s a beauty, all right. He’ll love it. I’ll have everything hooked up in no time.”
“Great.” Brimming with joy, Sarah kissed her daughter again as Ethan opened the door and went outside.
Sarah took the baby to the nursery she had painstakingly painted on her own. The pale yellow stripes looked wonderful with the touches of pink scattered about the room. She put Kylee to her breast, listening to the door open and slam shut as Ethan brought their items in from his Range Rover. She smiled when she heard him rummage through the cupboards in the kitchen. If he was anything, it was always hungry.
Kylee’s mouth went slack as she fell back to sleep. Sarah fastened her nursing bra, fixed her shirt. She settled Kylee against her shoulder, walked out to the kitchen while she rubbed her daughter’s back, burping her.
Ethan stood in front of the open refrigerator, mumbling his excitement about her stocked shelves. He glanced up, grinned, and she itched for her camera. “Hey, I’m going to make myself a sandwich before I get started on the TV. Want one?”
“No thanks. Do you want me to make it for you?”
“Nah, you don’t have to do that.”
“Why don’t you let me? I have another favor to ask of you. ” She smiled. “The least I can do is make you something to eat.”
Ethan went to the pantry, grabbed a loaf of bread. “Why don’t you tell me what you need?” He pulled open a cupboard, took out a plate.
“A shower.” She smiled again and nibbled at her lip.
Ethan’s eyes zeroed in on Kylee, and he took a step back. “Geez, I don’t know, Sarah. I’ve never held a baby before. What if I drop her?”
A laugh bubbled in her throat at the sheer horror in Ethan’s eyes. Even after he’d helped her through hours of labor, watched her deliver Kylee, and cut the cord in Jake’s honor, he’d refused to hold her.
Sarah walked to where he stood. “You’re not going to drop her. Fold your arm like this.” She held her arm out, bending at the elbow.
Ethan cleared his throat and followed her lead. Sarah placed Kylee in the crook of his rigid arm. He grabbed her hand when Kylee squirmed. “She’s moving, she’s moving. She’s going to fall. Shit, Sarah, I really think this is a bad idea.”
“I think it’s a great idea. Trust me on this one.” She adjusted the baby slightly, moved his arm closer to his body, making sure his hand held Kylee under her diapered bottom. She backed away from them, grinning at the discomfort and mild panic she read all over Ethan’s face. “You’re a natural. Look at you two. I need my camera.”
Ethan groaned as she moved to the pile of bags outside the kitchen door and grabbed her case, pulling her Nikon D3 from the bag. She held the camera up, looked through the lens. For a test shot, she focused on Ethan’s arresting face. Sharp cheekbones and straight black eyebrows accentuated long, thick eyelashes and bold gray eyes. She zoomed in on the clear gray pools surrounded by dark, smoky rings, pressed the shutter closed in rapid succession. His firm, full lips and muscular torso showcased a man perfectly comfortable with his masculinity. She tightened her focus on his big hand holding Kylee’s little body, clicked away again, moved in closer, snapped more, getting lost in her passion for pictures.
“Sarah, do you want that shower or not?”
She pulled the camera back, focused on Ethan’s raised brow and lips pressed firm in annoyance. “Sorry. I got a little carried away. You two make excellent subjects. The camera loves your face.”
“So you’ve told me more times than I can count.”
She placed the Nikon back in the bag, zipped it closed. “You’re doing a great job with her.”
He glanced down at Kylee. “I guess this is okay.”
“See? I’ll be quick. She just ate, so she should sleep. Here’s the burp cloth, just in case she spits up.” Sarah draped the cotton towel over Ethan’s shoulder.
As she backed out of the kitchen, Ethan took a step forward. “Wait. Um, what if she starts to cry?”
Amused by his distress, Sarah couldn’t help but smile. The man standing before her dealt with the scum of the earth every day, yet a seven pound infant brought him to his knees. “Just jiggle your arm a little bit. She’ll fall right back to sleep.” She turned and walked toward the bathroom, called over her shoulder, “Oh, and relax. Babies feel tension.”
Alone and mildly terrified, Ethan stared down at the pretty little bundle snuggled against him. Her serene face, a miniature of Sarah’s, was so perfect. She smelled of baby powder and weighed next to nothing.
He began to wiggle his arm, just in case. “I guess this isn’t so bad. Let’s make a deal. If you keep sleeping until your mom comes back, I’ll talk her and your dad into a really kickass swing set for the backyard. It’ll be my present to you.”
Kylee’s lips made a sucking motion as she continued to sleep.
“Okay, I guess that means we have a deal.”
Relaxing with more confidence, Ethan turned back to the counter, attempting to make his sandwich one-handed. He finagled the twist tie from the plastic as Kylee curled closer against him. Startled, he dropped the bread. He bent at the knees to pick up the loaf and Kylee grunted. Seconds later, a small, wet explosion sounded in her diaper. Ethan stopped dead, still crouched. Kylee nuzzled herself against his chest and slept on.
“That couldn’t be good.” He stood, walked toward the bathroom, desperately hoping Sarah was finished. The radio played beyond the closed door as water sprayed into the bathtub.
The baby began to stir and fuss. He jiggled his arm from side to side, but Kylee’s fussing turned into a lusty cry. Panicked, Ethan almost forgot the rules of friendship and rushed into the bathroom. With his hand on the knob, he stopped himself. Christ, pull it together, Cooke. You’ve got this.
He headed to the pale pink and yellow bedroom, glancing back at the bathroom door wistfully. “Come on, Sarah. Hurry up,” he muttered.
Kylee turned a deep pink as she cried harder. Ethan stared at her mouthful of smooth, toothless gums and tiny fists curled tight as they moved about. “Okay, kid. I guess we don’t have a choice here. Let’s get you changed.” He glanced around the cheerful room with stuffed animals piled next to a rocking chair, zeroed in on the pine changing table. Stacks of diapers and wipes lay tidy on the shelf above.
He awkwardly lay Kylee down on the soft white pad, found a package of unopened diapers, quickly scanned the directions. As Kylee continued to cry, he pulled a diaper off the shelf. “My God, look at these things. My hand’s bigger than this.” He located the sides with the tape, put it down next to her, just like the picture showed. He unbuttoned her sleeper and the white onesie buttoned at her crotch. “How many layers are you wearing?” He pulled the diaper tape next, blew out a breath. “Here goes nothing.”
Ethan eased the diaper away and swore. “Jesus, this isn’t right. It’s black and yellow. I think we need to take you back to the hospital.” He focused on the browning raisin protruding from her stomach. “And look at that thing on your belly button. It didn’t look like that yesterday.” Completely flustered now, he pulled a wad of wipes from the bin, knocked the diaper cream to the floor.
Kylee’s short gasping cries shrilled louder.
“Shh, shh, shh, it’s okay, kid. I’m trying my best here. You’re all right.” Ethan took the wipes, moved them over the baby’s bottom. “This stuff’s like cement. Man, I’d rather be in an alley with three UZIs pointed at my head.”
With Kylee’s tiny baby butt clean, Ethan clumsily placed the new diaper under her. He swore again when the tapes faced her stomach. Her legs moved about in her outrage, making it hard to flip the diaper around. “You’re not exactly helping me out, kiddo.” He adjusted the diaper and fastened the tapes.
“There.” Ethan buttoned the onesie, muttered a curse when he mismatched the snaps. “Screw the pink outfit. This will have to do. You’re worked up. I’m worked up.” He placed his hand under Kylee’s neck and head, scooped her bottom up with the other, like he saw Sarah do earlier. Kylee’s cheek rested against his heart and her cries turned to whimpers before they stopped.
“There you go, sweetheart. That was pretty awful, huh? I don’t know about you, but I think I’m going to have nightmares for weeks.” He walked to the rocking chair with Kylee and sat down. His big, callused palm played with the peach fuzz on her head as he moved the chair back and forth. “I think I was about to cry myself. Let’s keep that between us, okay?”
“Here you are.” Sarah peeked in the room with her mass of blonde hair twisted in a towel on top of her head. Her face was left unframed, showcasing big, exotic eyes, high cheekbones, and a lush Cupid’s bow mouth that smiled until she zeroed in on the mess on the changing table. “I see Kylee needed a change.”
“Don’t even ask. It was exhausting and traumatic for both of us.”
She chuckled. “Why don’t I take her?”
“Oh yeah, sure, now that the hard work’s done.”
Sarah reached down, took Kylee, leaving behind the floral scent of her soap.
“Sarah, I don’t know how to say this, but I think there’s something wrong with her.”
Frowning, she pulled the baby back from her shoulder, giving her the once-over. “What is it? What’s wrong with her?”
“Her umbilical cord is brown and her poop’s all gooey and yellow. Blackish stuff was stuck to her butt. I had a hell of a time getting it off.”
Sarah’s shoulders relaxed and her grin returned. “The umbilical cord is drying up and will fall off, the black stuff is meconium, and she’s breastfed. Everything’s perfectly normal.”
As if on cue, Kylee began to cry and root around.
“How do you know all this stuff? You’re so calm. I mean, you’re always calm, but my God, she’s so little and helpless.”
“When you grow up with an obstetrician in your house and your mother is obsessed with children in general, you learn. I’ve been around babies for as long as I can remember.”
Kylee whimpered and sucked on her fist.
“Do you mind if I borrow the rocker? I think she’s ready to eat again.”
“I thought she just did.”
“She’s establishing her milk supply.”
Ethan winced. “Jesus. Let me go take care of the TV for you.”
Sarah sat and began to unbutton her shirt. “Thanks.”
He stepped into the hallway, stopped.
“Your sandwich is on the counter.”
He smiled. “Thanks.”
Ethan brought the sandwich and bowl of fruit salad to the living room. He took a huge bite of turkey, avocado, and tomato before he put the plate on the sturdy oak coffee table. He pulled the tape from the side of the massive box and prepared to set up Jake’s new TV.
While he leafed through the instructions, Sarah’s soft voice cooed to her daughter through the baby monitor. He glanced up from the booklet and around the homey living room, listening to Sarah. A flash of envy for what Jake had snuck up, surprising him. Shaking his head, Ethan looked back at the directions. Marriage and family weren’t for him.
He was screwing the plasma screen on its base when a car pulled up to the curb. “Hey, Sarah, someone’s here.”
“Hailey, the college girl from down the road, was planning on stopping by. She’s desperate to babysit Kylee. You can let her in,” she said into the monitor.
Ethan tightened the last screw, stood. He walked by the large picture window, expecting to see the short, brown haired co-ed. Instead he watched four military men, dressed in dark green and khaki, step from a black sedan. His heart hammered against his ribs, his stomach sank. “Shit, no. Oh my God, no.” He whipped his head around, making sure Sarah wasn’t coming. He yanked the door open, stepped outside, closed it behind him.
As the men approached, Ethan stood in their path as if that would somehow change the news he knew they were here to bring. “What can I do for you?”
The group stopped in front of him. “Is this the home of Mrs. Sarah Johnson?”
“Yes, it is. Is he dead? Is Jake dead?”
“I’m sorry, sir. We need to speak with Mrs. Johnson.”
Ethan saw the apology in the man’s eyes. The sudden grief knocked him back like a heavy blow. Jake had been one of his two best friends for years.
The men tried to move past him. He blocked their way again. As much as he wanted a moment to catch his breath, he needed to protect Sarah more. “Don’t take another step. I get that you can’t tell me, but you’re going to give me a minute to talk to her first. She just gave birth yesterday morning. This is going to crush her.”
“We’re here to offer any support we can, sir.”
Ethan opened the door, let them in before him. “Please, sit down. I’ll go get Sarah.” He walked from the room, started down the hall to the nursery.
Stopping outside the room, Ethan fisted his hands at his side, took a deep breath. Memories flashed through his mind, one after the other, and he braced his hands on the wall. He took another deep breath, trying to steel himself for what had quickly become the hardest moment of his life. He was about to watch Sarah’s life fall apart.
He stepped into Kylee’s room, stopped. Sarah had taken her hair from the towel. Wet ropes of smooth gold rested on her shoulders. Her eyes were closed while Kylee suckled at her breast. If this were a picture, it would be titled ‘Beautiful Serenity’. He was about to destroy it. He took another breath, walked to Sarah’s side, knelt down, took her hand.
Sarah’s eyes flew open, stared into his. “You startled me.” A smile played across her lips before it faded. “What’s wrong?” She sat up straight, broke Kylee’s latch with her finger.
Ethan tightened his grip on her hand, willing her to take all the strength he could give. “Sarah, there are some men waiting for you in the living room. They’re Marines.”
Sarah’s fingers clutched his like a vise before they went lax. The bright, bold blue of her eyes dimmed. “Oh, okay,” she said dully. She stood, covered her breast, pulled Kylee close, automatically burping her.
Ethan draped his arm around her shoulders, walking with her and the baby to the living room. The men stood as they entered and the officer stepped forward.
“Mrs. Johnson, I’m Commander Michael Driggs. I’m here to regretfully inform you that your husband, Gunnery Sergeant Jake Johnson, was killed in action today at 6:34 p.m., Afghanistan time. The United States Marine Corps is truly sorry for your loss and is proud of the service your husband provided our country.”
Sarah stared at the commander for several seconds before she slowly sat down on the couch.
Ethan sat beside her.
She spoke, her voice barely a whisper. “Jake’s gone? He can’t be. He hasn’t held Kylee yet. He’s coming home in twenty-nine days to hold Kylee. He watched me give birth yesterday. He said he was coming home in four weeks.”
Sarah’s face paled with grief. Ethan swore he heard her heart shatter while the commander spoke. Her bubbly vibrancy had been replaced with fragility. He was afraid that if he touched her, she would break into a million pieces.
Ethan glanced at the man who now sat on the other side of Sarah. “Sir, Gunnery Sergeant Hunter Phillips is in Jake’s company. Is there any word on his welfare? He and Jake are—” he closed his eyes on a fresh wave of pain “—were my childhood friends. Hunter is also very close to Sarah.”
“Gunnery Sergeant Phillips was wounded in action. He was shot in the shoulder. He’s out of surgery and is resting comfortably.” Commander Driggs looked at Sarah again. “Sergeant Phillips tried desperately to save your husband, Mrs. Johnson. Is there anyone we can call for you at this time?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know. I can’t think.” She looked at Ethan, lost. “I can’t think right now. I don’t want to do this. I want to be alone.”
He couldn’t stand to see her like this. He put his arm around her, pulled her close, pressed his forehead to her hair. “Okay, you don’t have to. I’ll take care of everything. Go lay down.”
The men stood when she took the baby and walked from the room.
“I’m sorry, Commander, gentlemen, but I’m going to have to ask you to leave. Do you have a card or a number I can take from you? I’ll have Sarah’s father call you as soon as I get a hold of him.”
“Of course, sir.”
Ethan took the card, walked them to the door, shut it behind them. He went to the small desk, found Sarah’s parents’ number programmed into the phone, and called.
Sarah lay Kylee in her crib, covered her with a light blanket. Her daughter slept soundly in the center of the mattress, unaware that their lives were forever changed. She stared at the photograph of Jake hanging on the wall above the crib. She had taken the picture the day before he left to finish his deployment, before they were aware they’d made Kylee. His big, cheesy grin and smiling brown eyes filled the frame. Oh God, Jake. You’re gone. How can you be gone? I need you. I can’t do this by myself.
The dredges of shocked disbelief were melting away. Panic and dread quickly took their place. How was she going to live without him? Sarah glanced down at Kylee again as a thought circled through her mind. It brought such crushing pain she could hardly breathe. They would never meet. Jake would never touch the daughter he had helped create. Kylee would be robbed of ever knowing her father’s love.
Jake’s deep, infectious laugh echoed in her head and Sarah buckled. She would never hear it again. He would never kiss her or hold her again. Her breath shuddered in and out.
Ethan’s hands rested on her shoulders and she flinched. He turned her toward him. She stared into his eyes, saw the grief settled there, and a tear rolled down her cheek. “Tell me this isn’t real, Ethan. Please tell me this isn’t real,” she said on a sob.
He pulled her into his arms, holding her tight. “Come here.” He picked her up, sat with her in the rocking chair. Her long legs hung over the side, just skimming the floor as the chair swayed back and forth. Ethan cradled her close to his chest.
Finding comfort in the arms of her friend, Sarah wept as Ethan’s hand ran through her damp hair. “He’s really gone. I can’t believe he’s really gone.”
He lifted her chin as he spoke, choking on his own sorrow. “I’m making a promise to you right now, Sarah. You’ll never be alone through this. I’ll be here for you every step of the way, for as long as you need me.”
“I’ll always need you.”
“Then I’ll always be here.” He rested her head against his chest again as their tears fell, mixing together on the hands they held clutched together.
[Falling For Sarah Soundtrack]
Music is a huge part of my writing process. I typically listen to Pandora or YouTube and compile a collection of songs that I feel represent my characters or the situations they face as the novel unfolds. It’s a rare occasion that my creativity demands quiet (And that’s a good thing. I’m a mother of two boys. Quiet doesn’t happen in my house.). Here are a few of the songs that ‘spoke’ to me while I created Ethan and Sarah’s story!
The soundtrack, of sorts, for Falling for Sarah:
- One Moment More by Mindy Smith
- Just So You Know by Jesse McCartney
- Kiss Me Slowly by Parachute
- Falling In by Lifehouse
- Into Your Arms by The Maine
- With You, Tonight by Matt Wertz
- Edge of Desire by John Mayer
- Wild Horses by The Sundays
- Breathe by Taylor Swift and Colbie Caillat
- Far Away by Nickelback
[ Author Bio:]
I’m a pretty lucky girl; one day I woke up and my entire life changed. I saw the light, so to speak, and decided I was going to be a writer. Now, two years later, I’m working on the fourth novel in my best selling romantic suspense series, The Bodyguards Of L.A. County.
[Amazon Author Page (buy links are there for all three books)]
Cate will be giving away 3 digital copies of FALLING FOR SARAH. For a chance to win, just leave a comment below. Good luck!