Fashion Designer Avery Cockburn lost everything in one New York minute. Her fireman fiance was gunned down next to her and her business is in shambles.
NYPD Detective Jason Burnett shot the killer and saved Avery’s life, but a year later, he still has no leads and the case has gone cold. He believes Avery is still in danger so he stalks her — to the gun range, through clubs and parks, and hopefully into her heart.
Avery Cockburn was on top of the world.
Here she was, twenty-six years old.
Manhattan Fashion Week and her very first show under her own label, Club Cockburn.
Her models strutted on the runway, and the fashion press was going gaga over her daring designs.
Haute couture with a wicked flair.
Her longtime boyfriend, fireman Brando Bonet, fidgeted with his suit jacket and tie, and she hung onto his arm.
They’d take the trademark ramp walk together, trailing the last model and accept the accolades of her fans, competitors, the press, and industry buyers gathered at the base of the runway.
“Ready?” She graced his handsome visage with an encouraging and adoring smile.
She loved this man. How could she not?
He’d saved her life. She was a complete stranger and a nobody back then—a design student staying late at her drafting table when a fire broke out at the institute.
Ivanna, her model wrangler, signaled her. “It’s looking good out there. And, you’re on.”
Striding in a more subdued gait than the slinky models, Avery placed one slender leg in front of the other, letting the slit of her off-shoulder evening gown part, barely. Her steps were in between mincing and assertive, and beside her, Brando’s hunky fireman’s body was solid and fluid like a symphony of testosterone and alpha manhood forged with power.
The applause and cheers were deafening as they walked out onto the runway. The spotlight heated her face enough to draw tiny prickles of sweat, but Avery was safe underneath her makeup. The heady, spicy scent of Brando’s cologne was enough to invigorate her from the stage fright she suffered—unbeknownst to her colleagues.
This was her moment of glory. She had nothing to be afraid of. It was her hometown crowd, and she was the hometown favorite. With Brando at her side, she’d foregone her anti-anxiety meds. She could do it.
Brando shined a proud and admiring glance on her, bucking up her spirits. They strode past the applauding models to the end of the runway. The cheers were deafening over the electronic pulses of techno music, and the plethora of photographic flashes shot stars into her eyes.
“We did it,” she whispered, glancing up at her hunky hero.
“Love you,” his mouth formed the words.
Pop. Pop. Pop.
“Get down!” A man’s voice roared, followed by more popping sounds.
Avery tumbled off the runway. Pain showered her, punching the breath out of her and slamming her ribs. Her head thumped onto a hard surface, and her arms and legs flailed helter-skelter.
A collective scream arose around her with the sounds of chairs toppling and footsteps running. Avery pushed and shoved underneath a big, heavy body.
“Brando. Brando,” she cried, unable to see past the red blurring her vision. Hot, sticky blood dripped over her, and she could taste the salty tang in her mouth.
The heavy man weighed over her, still warm, but silent. The coppery scent of blood overpowered the manly cologne, but Avery knew every inch of her lover’s body.
“No! No! No!” her screams rose in a wail of anguish. She didn’t have to listen for a pulse to know there was none. No breath, no heartbeat, not a single muscle twitch.
What happened? Why?
She held onto him, moaning, sobbing. “I love you. I didn’t get to tell you. I love you. Come back. Come back. You can’t leave me. My love. I owe you. It should have been me.”
“Man down,” someone shouted close by, but she already knew.
A fusillade of what she now recognized as gunshots followed. Shells clicked to the floor, and a strong hand yanked her from underneath her precious Brando’s body.
“No, no, no!” She was reduced to a single word. “No, no, no, no, no.”
Pop. Pop. Pop.
“You got to get out of here.” The stranger wrapped her slender body with one arm while shooting at the same time.
“No, no, no!” She struggled and clawed at his face, hands, anything.
Bullets whizzed by her, but strangely she didn’t care. She turned her head, looking back through the red mist. Brando’s eyes were still open. He lay on his stomach with his arms spread out. He’d protected her, and she was soaked with his blood.
“No!” Avery’s wail was thin and forlorn. “No …”
“Get down.” The man shoved Avery through a doorway and fired off more shots. “Got him.”
He spoke into a shoulder mic and holstered his gun.
“You killed him.” Avery kicked him with the heel of her stiletto. “You killed my Brando. Who are you?”
“Officer Jason Burnett, NYPD.”