FROM FAKE RELATIONSHIP TO TRUE LOVE…
A broken engagement drives Susanna Kelly back to her hometown of Sweetheart, Texas, and the arms of its quirky, lovable citizens. But her peaceful return to her roots is shattered when heart-shaped notes with sinister messages start appearing. The support of Daniel Sheppard, Asian American bestselling author and her childhood friend, gives her a much needed ally amidst the turmoil. He offers to play the role of her boyfriend to discourage the stalker, but Susanna resists. Pretending to be a couple? And with Daniel of all people? Who would buy it?
The note writer’s mind games force her to reconsider. Susanna accepts Daniel’s crazy plan, but the make believe romance has the opposite effect intended. Harmless notes turn into life-threatening accidents, and Daniel and Susanna must find out who’s behind the chaos before they can decide if their temporary relationship is a heaven-sent gift meant to last forever.
Daniel waved the pink paper in front of her nose. “What’s going on, Zanna?”
“Why were you digging around in my apron?” She snatched the note from his hand and turned her back. “It’s none of your business.”
“That’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever said.” Daniel stepped in front of her. “Anything that involves you is my business. We’re not just friends.” He paused with a grin. “We’re each other’s backup. We signed a contract, remember?”
“Backup?” Susanna’s mouth twisted in disbelief as she crossed her arms. “We were ten.”
“The contract was for life. Signed in blood.” Daniel shivered. “I didn’t want to, but you insisted. You even brought the safety pin.” He stepped closer and placed a hand over her crossed arms. “Don’t lock me out, Zanna. If you have even the tiniest trouble, I’ve got your back.”
Her lower lip trembled. He spotted the tears before she covered her face with her hand—the pink paper clenched in her fingers.
“It’s so stupid.” Her hands muffled her voice. “I don’t even want to talk about it. But they keep coming.”
“They?” Daniel reached over and pulled her hands down to hear her better.
“The notes.” She bent her head to rub an eye against her shoulder and sniffled. “They started three weeks ago. I thought it was a prank. Or a secret admirer.”
“What did they say?”
“Nothing too awful. They didn’t make much sense.”
The wind shook the tree branches above their heads, clacking the spindly twigs against each other. A high-wheeled truck with mud splashes on the rims drove down the street. Its headlights blinded them, and they turned away from the glare.
“Where did you find the notes?” Daniel asked.
“Everywhere around the café. On the front door. The trash can out back.” Susanna rubbed her hands up and down her arms. “That’s when it started getting creepy. They showed up out of nowhere. In fact—” She looked up at him. “Did you notice anyone in the kitchen while I went outside with Buck? Maybe through the back door?”
“The kitchen? No.”
“Did anyone come in the café while I was gone?”
Susanna held up the note. “I found this in the dining room after the breakfast rush.” She dug her other hand in her pocket and withdrew an identical paper. “And this was in the kitchen under a bowl.”
Daniel took the new paper and read it. His gaze jerked to her face. “Expiration Date?” He studied Susanna. The purest, kindest person he knew. Only a sick whacko would torture her like this. He crumpled the note in his fist. “This doesn’t sound like a secret admirer. More like a stalker.”
“Stalker?” She grabbed the lapel of her jacket and tugged it across her body. “In Sweetheart, Texas? That kind of stuff doesn’t happen here.”
“Weirdos aren’t confined to the big city, Susanna.” Daniel shoved the wadded note in his jacket pocket.
She gave a pitiful small laugh. “Now who’s overreacting?”
“What about the fire?”
She averted her gaze. “The fire chief said it was an accident.”
“The fire chief doesn’t know about the notes. If he did, he might have a different opinion.” Daniel set the cake box on top of a nearby bench and took out a small book and pen from his jacket pocket. “Tell me everything you can remember about the notes. When did they start?”
“Almost three weeks ago.” Susanna twisted her hands together. “It was a Monday morning. I found the first one on the front door when I came to work.”
“Did you only find them at the café?”
“How many notes have there been?”
Susanna unzipped her purse and dug around until she found a plastic bag with a thick bunch of notes inside.
Daniel’s eyebrows shot up. “That many?”
“I numbered the papers and wrote the date I found each one.”
“Your penchant for organizing things finally came in handy.” Daniel took the bag and opened it. Holding up a note, he read, “Please pay attention. Don’t cause dissension.”
“That was the first one I found on the door. It didn’t make much sense so I threw it on my desk in the back and forgot about it.”
He moved to the next note in the stack. “Someone cares about you. It’s too good to be true.” He flipped the paper over to check the date. “Two days later.”
“Yes. They were spaced out more in the beginning.”
Daniel turned to the next one. “Oh, Suzy-Q. What’s wrong with you?” He checked another. “Love is a dangerous game. If you lose, you’re to blame.” His jaw hardened the more he read.
Daniel crammed the notes in the bag. “I’ve seen enough. Let’s go to the sheriff.”
“What?” Susanna took a step back. “I don’t think that’s necessary. It’s probably a practical joker.”
“That’s why you kept them all and dated them?” He held up the bag and shook it. “Admit it. This terrifies you.”
“Okay. It’s disturbing. But I can’t go running off to the sheriff. At least not now.” She took the notes and returned them to her purse. “The cake auction starts in half an hour. How about tomorrow? The café is closed on Sunday. I’ll go after church. Deal?”
Daniel looked down the darkened street. He didn’t like it. But this was her decision. All he could do was stay close and make sure she was safe.
“Zanna, someone is watching you. He knows when to leave the notes so you won’t see him.”
Her shoulders bunched as she looked around.
“That’s right. He might be spying on us even now. Why are you downplaying it?”
She moved closer. Her eyes raised to his. “Because I don’t want it to be true. I don’t want something that ugly and scary anywhere near me. Near my home. Near my memories. I don’t want to walk down this well-known, comfortable street and have to look over my shoulder every minute.” Her voice cracked. “I don’t want things to change.”
Daniel wrapped his arms around her. He tugged her close. Her hands slipped underneath his coat and encircled his waist. She burrowed her face against his chest like she was begging him to hide her. His heart twisted at her vulnerability.
“Don’t worry, Zanna.” He pulled the sides of his coat to cover her in a soft cocoon. “Your backup’s here. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
His stomach tightened, even as he said the words. He scanned the street. Paper mâché hearts hung from the lampposts and white lights strung around iron benches and store windows. A romantic wonderland. But somewhere a villain hid. Ready to spoil the fairy tale setting. Could he keep his promise and protect her?
Dear God. He raised his eyes to the sky. What should I do?
A thought popped into his mind, but it didn’t seem Heaven-sent. It seemed crazy, even to him. His brain flashed through the other options, but he kept returning to that first idea. Susanna needed round-the-clock protection. His scenario was a little unusual. Even over-the-top. But it might discourage more than one unwanted man in Susanna’s life.
He cleared his throat and moved back. “I have a suggestion. Buck’s been bothering you. And you never know when the next note is going to appear.”
“Thanks for recapping my terrible day.” Susanna tugged at the scarf around her neck.
“I’ve got the perfect plan.” Daniel almost lost his nerve. He took a deep breath and went for it. “Let me be your valentine.”
A cowardly inclination urged him to play it off. Say it was nothing. Instead, his mind shot a quick prayer to Heaven, and he dived into the deep end.
“I said you should let me be your valentine.” He swallowed. “Your boyfriend. Then everyone will see you’re taken.”
Susanna stared for a full five seconds. “Are you plotting another novel? That’s crazy!”
“Why is it crazy?”
Her face scrunched, and her head tilted. “You’re kidding, right? We’ve been friends since forever. No one would buy it.”
“That’s exactly why they’ll buy it.” Daniel turned the argument around. “Give the town twenty-four hours, and everyone will brag that they always knew there was something more than friendship.”
“How long have you known me?” Susanna lowered her head and looked up at him through her eyelashes. “I’m a terrible liar.”
“Then don’t lie about it.” It popped out before he’d sent the words through his friend filter. Daniel pasted on an easy smile to hide his confusion.
“What do you mean?”
She had that same look on her face like she used to wear in Algebra class. Totally lost. He had to tread carefully. Too much pressure would spook her.
“I mean we make it official.” Daniel locked his hands behind his back, and hoped he looked relaxed instead of awkward. “Make me your real boyfriend and then it won’t be a lie.”
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About the Author:
Shannon Kent gains inspiration for her novels from her many travels around the world. She holds a special place in her heart for South Korean culture and loves to infuse her stories with a Kimchi-flavored spice. Her other two romances are Flower Boy Tour Guide and Reality Show Romance.
You can follow her at Facebook.com/shannonkentauthor.
Shannon has graciously offered to give away an eBook copy of Decoy Valentine to one commenter.
Winner of the eBook: CONNIE QUEEN