Monday, February 6, 2012

Chapter 1 Sneak Peek of CALLER ID

Here's a sneak peek of my second suspense novel
CALLER ID Official Release Date: March 13, 2012

This work is copyrighted. 


CEDAR FORT, INC.
Unauthorized distribution prohibited

CALLER ID

By Rachelle J. Christensen

Chapter 1


            The flesh of the apple broke with a satisfying crunch as Courtney bit off another juicy mouthful. She tossed the core in the garbage and then bent to tighten the laces of her running shoes. Her cell phone beeped and she checked the text that had just come through from her father.
            They still haven’t found the murderer. Are you running with Sean today?
            Courtney shook her head. Even though she was twenty-three and able to take care of herself, Eric Beckham hadn’t ceased worrying about his only daughter. She typed in a reply:
            Yes. Running with Sean. Don’t worry.
            Courtney hurried out the front door and unlocked her car. She’d left work a half-hour early to pick up office supplies and barely had time to change into her running shorts before it was time to meet Sean.
She slid into her Mini Cooper and revved the engine, heading up Big Cottonwood Canyon. She loved her bright yellow convertible, but the heat waves rolling through the rugged Utah mountains known as the Wasatch Front had Courtney turning up the AC and keeping the top closed.
            Fifteen minutes later, Courtney parked off the side of a dirt road and glanced at her watch. It was half-past six—Sean should’ve been here by now. The dry heat assaulted her as soon as she opened the door of her car. She stepped out and adjusted her sunglasses, then stretched her arms over her head. Courtney pulled her long, dark hair into a ponytail then she walked around the back of her car and lifted the trunk to grab an extra water bottle from the arsenal she stored there.
            “Hey, Babe.”
            Courtney whirled around and ran right into a white shirt emblazoned with a red U. “Sean, you scared me!”
            He chuckled and embraced her. “Hello, to you too. Why are you so jumpy?”
            “I didn’t see your car—you surprised me.”
            “I’m parked right there past that stand of trees.” He pointed to the back end of his dark green SUV.
            Courtney squinted. “I can barely see it. You did that on purpose.”
            Sean smiled. “I’m here, aren’t I?” He rubbed her arms. “You okay now?”
            “I’m sorry. You know my dad doesn’t want me running in this canyon or doing anything alone in this area. Ever since that guy was murdered last year, he thinks it’s too dangerous.”
            “The marathon runner.” Sean ran a hand through his wavy brown hair. “I remember that. Did they ever catch the guy who shot him?”
            “No, but I’m sure the victim was involved in something bad. Normal people don’t get murdered in the mountains while they’re out for a run.”
            “Probably what that poor guy thought,” Sean said.
            “Now you sound like my dad.”
            “No, I don’t. I’m not worried. That guy didn’t have a two-hundred-sixty-pound tight-end running with him.” He flexed his arms over his head and grinned.
            Courtney rolled her eyes.
            “I just love it when you give me that look.” Sean nuzzled her neck, leaving kisses along her jawline.
            “I didn’t give you a look,” she murmured before he covered her mouth with his. She relaxed into his embrace and breathed in the tangy scent of his cologne. Her fingers brushed the coarse brown hair at the nape of his neck.
            Sean Whitmore played football for the University of Utah, and the tight end position could be taken literally when it came to his body. Sculpted biceps and triceps kept the short sleeves of his shirt taut, and he spent a lot of time in the weight room to keep them that way.
            Between kisses, Courtney inhaled and tipped her head back. “We’d better get started. Didn’t you say you wanted to run six miles today?”
            “Did I say that? I think I’d rather do something else. It’s way too hot. You’re way too hot.” He leaned in for another kiss.
            “I’m not letting you off that easy. It’ll be cooler the higher we run up the trail. You’d better drink this.” She untangled herself before Sean could kiss her again and pulled another water bottle from her trunk.
Closing the trunk, Courtney leaned against the car and drank the lukewarm water, gazing out at the city of Cottonwood Heights below her. She glanced at Sean and felt a nervous flutter in her stomach. He wasn’t satisfied with just kissing anymore. Courtney had hoped he would be different than the other guys she’d dated. Her mother had advised her to tell Sean about the incident with Felix so he would understand why she needed to take things slow, but every time she thought about confiding in Sean, she felt the old anxiety taking over.
Instead of dealing with her problem, she’d adopted a carefree, flirty attitude to cover her nerves. It was easier that way. Everyone thought things were fine and as long as she was careful she could handle herself. When Courtney finished off the water, she tossed the bottle in her car and locked the doors.
            Sean had walked to the edge of the tree line. He pulled his shirt over his head and tossed it into his SUV. “Ice cream tonight?”
            Courtney lowered her eyes and sidled up next to him. His bare chest felt warm under the sun’s rays. “If you can keep up with me.” She gave him a quick peck on the cheek and dashed toward the trailhead. Sean grumbled, and she laughed when she heard him sprinting to catch up.
            The run felt invigorating, even though the air was still dry with the July heat. The dark green branches of the fir trees stretched over the trail, shading them from the worst of the sun. They ran a full loop just shy of six miles and ended back at the side of the road next to Sean’s SUV. 
            “Thanks, Court,” Sean said. “You know how to push the limits.” He pulled her close and kissed her.
            “So do you,” she said. “You may be good-looking, but your sweat still smells like a guy.” She pointed at the sheen of perspiration on his chest and wrinkled her nose.
            Sean laughed. “We’re going to have to do this again, but the first home game is only a month away. Coach said the new assistant is gonna kick our butts with his practice schedule, so I’ll be spending my time on the field.”
            “Am I going to have to find a new running partner?”
“You’re going to have to find a new running route. Hey, maybe you can run around the practice field to help motivate me.”
“I think that’d be more dangerous than running in the mountains with a murderer on the loose.”
Sean put his arm around her waist, pulling her close. “This season is gonna be the best, thanks to my own personal cheerleader.”
Courtney closed her eyes and felt his lips against hers. A thrill tingled up her spine as Sean murmured, “You’re so beautiful.” His hands felt warm against her tank top and he hooked a finger under her shoulder strap and pulled it down her arm.
She swatted his hand away. “Don’t stretch out my shirt. This is one of my favorites.”
            “C’mon, Court,” Sean said. He kissed her again and trailed his fingers down her arm.       
Courtney stepped out of his grasp. “I’d better get going. I have a few things to finish up tonight for my dad.”
            Sean groaned. “Why do you always do this to me?”
            “What? You know my rules.”
            Sean pressed his lips into a tight line and blew out a breath. “You’re a tease.”
            “No, I’m not.” Courtney felt her face flush with anger.
            “Yes, you are.” Sean’s face was only inches from hers. “You always want to be the center of attention. You want everyone to notice you.”
            She stepped back. “What? Where’s this coming from?”
             “I used to like it. We’d walk into a room and every guy would look up and think, Man that is one fine chick. That guy is so lucky. And I was good with that because I figured they knew you were with me—you were mine.” Sean blew out a breath. “But now I know you just want to play. You’re never gonna get serious.”
            Courtney looked up at the cloudless sky above them and shook her head. “Well, I’m sorry if I’m not interested in your idea of getting serious.”
            “It’s all a game to you, isn’t it?” Sean said. “You’re just having fun, right?”
            “I was having fun, but it’s not just a game.” She rubbed the back of her neck and wished there was an easy way to explain her fears to Sean. “I’ve enjoyed spending time with you.”
            Sean swore. “What’s it been? Almost two months? And you’re still teasing me.” He clenched his fists until his knuckles turned white. “And given the chance, you’d probably make out with half the guys in that room I was just talking about.”
            “You are a self-absorbed, first-rate jerk. You’re mad at me because I’m willing to kiss a few guys, but not sleep with them?” Courtney narrowed her eyes. “What are you saying?”
            “I’m saying I’m tired of wasting my time with you.” Sean pushed past her and yanked the door of his SUV open.
            Courtney bit her lip to keep it from trembling. “I’m sorry you feel that way.” The old hurt welled up inside her chest, but she didn’t want Sean to see how he’d affected her. She headed for her car with her head held high. “Good luck with football. I hope you get your trash kicked.”
            Sean peeled out onto the road, kicking up dirt and gravel as Courtney walked away. She waited for the dust to settle before pushing the button to retract the hood of her convertible.
On the way home, Courtney refused to let herself cry. She’d seen the warning signs—a split with Sean was inevitable. Blinking rapidly kept the tears at bay—she didn’t want her mom to see her with red, puffy eyes. Sean’s words had cut her to the core. He hadn’t taken the time to see past her fa├žade. She wasn’t just a pretty face or a tease. Clenching the steering wheel, she pressed down on the gas pedal. Men. They were all the same. They didn’t want to get to know her—they just wanted action.
            Courtney swallowed the lump in her throat and swiped the moisture from her eyes. She didn’t want to get serious with anyone yet. There were reasons for that. She wanted to make some changes in her life, but it was hard when everyone expected her to act a certain way. If only she could find a guy who made her feel safe enough to open up, safe enough to be loved.
If the right guy was out there, Courtney definitely hadn’t found him and she was tired of looking. Finishing college topped her list, and most of her concentration lately had been on preparing for her final semester in the fall. She wanted to enjoy this time in her life, and that didn’t include what Sean had in mind.  Past experiences had given her a taste of caution when it came to getting serious with a guy.
With a sigh, Courtney pushed thoughts of Sean from her mind and tried to enjoy the drive. It was still eighty degrees, but as she coasted down the road bordered by pine trees and scrub oak, the breeze felt good on her skin. It took her less than fifteen minutes to drive through the forested area toward her parents’ sprawling estate nestled in Big Cottonwood Canyon.
            The paved driveway seemed to sweat under the oppressive heat as she approached the massive gates to her home. She pushed the button on her remote and the gate swung open so she could speed through. She didn’t bother to park in the garage, and flinched when her tires squealed as she turned sharp in front of the house.
            Courtney punched in the code to open the front door and called out, “Mom, are you here?” Her own voice echoed against the high ceilings of the entryway. She traipsed into the oversized kitchen and dining room. It wasn’t a surprise to find no one at home. For a moment, Courtney longed for the chance to talk to her mom about her boyfriend problems, but she pushed the thought aside. Maybe it was better this way. She wasn’t in the mood for a lecture.
A bark and a jingle preceded the family dog, Pepper. She bent to scratch the cocker spaniel’s ears, and Pepper rolled onto his back. “Okay, you silly dog.” She rubbed his tummy. The quiet of the house allowed her a moment to relax. She dropped chunks of ice into a glass of water. They clanked together and immediately began shrinking. She gulped the ice water and refilled her glass.
            Her cell phone rang and Pepper yipped and jumped up on Courtney as she answered the call. She smiled when her dad’s picture popped up on the Caller ID. People often told Courtney that she took after her father. Eric Beckham was a handsome man. At forty-nine, his black hair still fell thick above his brow line. Courtney had the same dark hazel eyes and high cheekbones, but she’d inherited her mother’s small, lithe figure. “Hey, Dad. Aren’t you at dinner?”
“Yes. Why didn’t you answer your cell earlier?  We’ve had some things come up at the office and I wonder if you could cover for Mandy in the morning.” His questions spilled out so quickly, Courtney wasn’t sure which to answer first.
“I was running with Sean, remember?” She pulled the elastic from her hair and shook out the midnight strands. “I can cover for Mandy.” Courtney didn’t want to mention that she and Sean were history because then she’d have to hear the lecture about how she wouldn’t have so many relationship problems if she would just date someone her father recommended for once.
“Have you seen your mother?” Eric’s voice sounded terse.
“Nope. She’s probably out with Heidi.” Courtney untied her running shoes and wriggled her toes.
 “Hmm. Well, I’ll see you in the morning.”
She straightened and climbed the stairs to her room. “Aren’t you coming home tonight?”
Eric cleared his throat. “No, I have too many things at the office to finish up. I’d better let you go, Sweets.”
“G’night.”
As Courtney walked down the hall to her room, she glanced toward the master bedroom. Lately, her father had been sleeping at the office a few times a week, and her mother seemed to plan her nights out to coincide with his work schedule. It left Courtney with a quiet house to relax in, but she didn’t like the uneasy feeling she had when she thought about her parents’ marriage.
She swiped a strand of hair from her forehead and grabbed her cotton pajama shorts. A cool shower would feel good right about now. Her phone vibrated and she unlocked the screen to view the incoming text.  It was from Sean.
I’m sorry about tonight. Can I make it up to you? I’ll pick you up tomorrow at six. Wear something nice.
            She brushed the keypad with her fingers, trying to decide how to reply. Part of her wanted to tell him where he could go tomorrow at six. But she knew Sean was persistent. If she refused now, he’d call her the rest of the night—maybe even show up at the house—and she wasn’t in the mood to fight with him.
Courtney frowned. Dating was such a pain. It was supposed to be fun, but there was way too much drama involved. Well, maybe she’d give Sean a taste of his own medicine. She smiled and pushed the keys rapidly.
Will a little black dress work?
            She reclined against her pillow and tried to quiet her inner conscience telling her not to tease. Her phone pinged, signaling a new message.
Yeah, you look smokin’ in black.
            Putting off the inevitable break up wasn’t a good idea. Courtney pursed her lips. She’d figure out a way to end it with Sean—but not tonight.
            With a sigh, she rolled over on the bed and flipped on the TV. She’d programmed the DVR to record the news every night so she could watch the sports highlights and stay up with Sean and his ramblings about college football. What a waste of time. She pushed “play” and began fast-forwarding through the headline news. She stopped when a ticker stating “Breaking News” caught her attention.
            She rewound and read the ticker at the bottom of the screen: Man arrested believed to be involved with last summer’s murder in Big Cottonwood Canyon.
So they finally found him. Courtney couldn’t stop the smile from spreading across her face. She thought about all the times her dad had discouraged her from going horse-back riding in the mountains near their property because of the murder. From the looks of things, the case was closed. It was time for a horseback ride.

Want to keep reading?
Publisher: Sweetwater Books (CFI National Imprint), March 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59955-990-2
List Price $15.99
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Kindle- coming soon
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