BY: ELIZABETH BROOKS
When Kyleigh Taylor walks into a restaurant to pick up her last paycheck, about a dozen of her former co-workers are murdered by a gang of drug runners, and Kyleigh is injured. And traumatized. At the hospital, two police detectives are anxious to speak with her. One of them has a soothing voice, and the more he speaks with her, the more comfortable she feels around him. His comfort is exactly what she needs and craves.
From the first moment Detective Jordy Mitchell sees her, he feels a connection, a need to protect her. Sharing an experience of PTSD helps form an instant bond. Jordy knows he should stay away from her—otherwise, he risks the case and his career. Now Jordy has to deal with his angry police captain, Kyleigh’s grudge-holding ex-boyfriend, and a drug-running thug with one thing on his mind: find Kyleigh and kill her. Mitchell knows she’s the perfect woman for him—he just has to keep her alive long enough to prove it to her.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Protecting Kyleigh by Elizabeth Brooks, Kyleigh Taylor is the sole eyewitness to a mass murder, in which about a dozen of her friends and former coworkers are killed. Kyleigh has gone to a diner in a “bad” part of town to pick up her last paycheck after she quit because the owner, her mother’s boyfriend, wouldn’t stop making passes. Kyleigh is injured in the shooting, but she survives, suffering from PTSD. When the cops arrive at the hospital, one of them, Jordy Mitchell, also suffering from PTSD, instantly bonds with her. But the two are forbidden from having a relationship, since she’s a witness in a case he’s working. However, with thugs trying to find her and kill her, Jordy can’t possibly stay away from her—not if he wants to keep her alive…
Combining mystery and romance, and plenty of both, the story gives you a glimpse into what it’s like to be a witness, as well as what it’s like to be a cop trying to protect her while remaining objective. Fast paced and intense, it’s hard to put down.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Protecting Kyleigh by Elizabeth Brooks is the story of a young woman raised on the bad side of town. Kyleigh Taylor is determined to break away from her past and her prostitute mother and make a better life for herself. When she meets a rich man who takes an interest in her, she willingly leaves her dead-end job at a neighborhood diner and starts a new life with her boyfriend. But he quickly turns controlling and abusive. Kyleigh breaks up with him and moves in with his sister. Going back to the diner to collect her last paycheck before moving on to another job, Kyleigh witnesses a mass shooting where many of her friends and coworkers are killed, and Kyleigh is injured but survives. Before the thugs can finish her off, the cops show up and Kyleigh is rushed to the hospital, where Detective Jordy Miller and his partner are waiting to question her. Jordy immediately realizes that Kyleigh has PTSD, which he has as well, and this fact gives the two an instant bond. Kyleigh finds comfort in Jordy, something she sorely needs, and he finds a woman he could love in her. But as she is a witness in his case, and he needs to keep her alive to testify, he cannot afford to get too close—or can he?
Protecting Kyleigh is a poignant and heartwarming story that combines great character development, a solid plot, romance, and plenty of suspense to create an intriguing and nail-biting tail that will keep you glued to the edge of your seat.
Don’t go back. Those three words resounded in Kyleigh Taylor’s mind as she headed toward gang territory once again. There were more things going on at the diner than just drugs. But if she didn’t go, she knew her boss would make sure she would never see her last couple of paychecks.
She pulled a wristlet from the pocket of a new, still-stiff leather jacket, ready to pay, but frowned as her cab rolled right on past her destination.
“Really? It’s mid-day. Don’t you think you’re overreacting a little?” she chided the cab driver.
Even he was afraid to stop. Instead, he chose to drop her off at the corner just past the place. She put one of the bills she was planning on tipping him right back into the wristlet. He completely ignored her. He sat still until she paid her tab and opened the car door to leave.
Today, it appeared she would be walking in the bitter November wind, anyway. Despite her new fur-lined, leather coat, cold chills shot through her as she passed several dilapidated, graffiti-clad store fronts. Like any other major city, Alexandria, Virginia had its upscale areas and it’s bad, run-down, crime-ridden ones, like this one.
A whoosh of cold wind made it difficult to pull the door open, or maybe it was just weakness on Kyleigh’s part.
Tammy greeted her the moment Kyleigh stepped inside the diner. “Look at you, girl, all stylish and shit.”
Tammy often got the wandering hand from the boss, too. After complaining a lot about it, she and Kyleigh realized they were the only two in there that minded the not-so-gentle touches. None of the others seemed to care all that much. And why was that?
After the last touch, the last straw, Kyleigh quit on a whim, pulling her apron over her head and throwing it at the stupid boss, but Tammy, unfortunately, couldn’t do the same. Her boyfriend had recently been laid off from his much higher-paying job. If they wanted to continue paying rent, Tammy had to keep working. The unemployment checks were finally coming in, but now she was late, despite the protection they were using. Two weeks late, to be exact, and afraid to buy a test to confirm it.
“Thanks.” Kyleigh said and glanced down at herself. She almost had to replay Tammy’s words in her head to bring her back to the here and now. “I had a little help from a new friend.”
Tammy raised a brown eyebrow. “Do you mean that hot guy in that dashing suit who whisked you away from this hell hole?”
Kyleigh smiled. “Not Blaise, his sister.”
“Nice. I sure miss complaining at ya.”
Concern washed over Kyleigh, and she frowned. She wanted to take her friend in and let the boyfriend crash and burn all on his own, but Blaise would not approve.
“I’ll be okay,” Tammy assured her. “Don’t you worry about me. I have an interview on Monday. I’m gettin’ the hell outta here too.”
“Good luck. I hope you get it.”
“Me, too. It’s a receptionist job with benefits. Health insurance.” Tammy smiled, but it quickly disappeared.
Her eyes opened wide and a scream behind her made Kyleigh jump. Her focus darted to the entrance. Three men in front of the bar wearing gray hoodies pulled up over baseball caps were charging through the diner with guns in their hands. Dark sunglasses hid their eyes, but Kyleigh recognized one of them by his beard. He glanced over, and his gaze landed on her.
Oh, shit. It’s them.
The bartender yelled something about staying calm, his hands in the air, non-threatening. One of the hooded men pushed a gun in his face and demanded he empty out the register.
Tammy tugged hard at Kyleigh’s jacket sleeve, but Kyleigh felt like her shoes were nailed to the floor. Tammy’s silver dangling heart earrings swayed as she pulled Kyleigh out of her frozen, panicked terror, and both girls began to run.
A loud bang reverberated through the diner while the two fled to the back, past another waitress, and into the break room. Kyleigh glanced over her shoulder and screamed when she saw the blur of a man in pursuit, right behind them.
The man shouted, “Stop,” but Kyleigh was too scared to realize the voice didn’t match the bearded man she thought was following them.
The girls locked eyes when they realized there wasn’t a place to hide. Tammy, being ever so brave, grabbed Kyleigh and pushed the emergency door open, sounding the alarm. Shots from a larger sounding gun rang out as Kyleigh followed Tammy who stumbled outside and to the ground, clutching her upper body.
Kyleigh fell down beside her, and there was a large, ragged, bloody circle gaped in the center of Tammy’s chest. The coppery smell sickened Kyleigh almost as bad as the sight.
She gasped. “Oh, God! No!”
Tammy’s wounded chest rose and fell in a quick rhythm, which made the blood flow even faster.
“Try to stay calm.” Kyleigh tried her best to keep from panicking in front of her wounded friend, but there was so much blood.
Her eyes still had the sparkle of life. There were tears welling in them, spilling onto her face almost as fast as her blood was pouring out.
Kyleigh pulled her phone from her jacket pocket and dialed 911.
“I’m going to be okay.” Tammy’s voice shook.
Tears blurred Kyleigh’s vision. She didn’t believe those words. There was too much blood, so much red. She caressed Tammy’s hand, crying with her. Her blood felt sticky between Kyleigh’s fingers, but she tried to ignore the feeling as she waited for an operator to answer her call.
“What is your emergency?”
The crackle of pebbles under someone’s foot got Kyleigh’s attention before she could answer. She turned, and one of the three guys aimed his gun at her. “Hang up and put it back in your pocket, little sweetheart.”
She pressed the disconnect button and did what she was told, her eye on him the entire time.
He had taken his sunglasses off since it was a gloomy, dark day outside. “Now, say goodbye to your dying friend,” he said and aimed his gun toward Kyleigh’s chest.
She ducked her head, clenched her eyes shut, and a shot blasted over her heavy, panting breaths.
She tensed, holding her breath, expecting it to hurt, but it didn’t.
Where was the pain? Was she already dead? She opened her eyes when the thud of the guy’s body landed on the asphalt beside her, jolting her out of her confusion.
He had a pained expression in his eyes, and his brows were twisted in a tight frown. Though afraid, she couldn’t take her focus away from him. He didn’t look like a cold-blooded killer. He looked like an average guy. He caught her stare and returned it with a puzzled look. Then his eyes went cold.
Kyleigh turned back to her friend. Tammy’s eyes were still and lifeless, frozen in a stare. The sparkle was gone, the warm brownness of them replaced by a vast emptiness.
The sound of the alarm blared. It was like it had just started, and Kyleigh was just beginning to hear it, but it must have been blaring this whole time. Confused, she turned her head. Her boss was attempting to flee like Kyleigh and Tammy attempted, but the leader with the beard grabbed him by his shirt and slammed him up against the wall. The door remained open.
“Where the fuck is it? I’ll kill ya, God dammit!” That was the voice Kyleigh remembered. “You owe me a lot more than this!”
The bearded guy brought his handgun point blank range to the boss’s chest. The third gunman was on the other side of this one, still holding a big rifle. He and Kyleigh exchanged glances while the bearded man shook her boss against the wall. “Where is it?” He gave the boss another couple of seconds before he put the gun back to his chest and pulled the trigger.
She was almost getting used to the sounds of the blast, not even flinching at the loudness.
The boss’s body slid to the floor, leaving a red trail of blood behind on the wall.
The bearded guy was covered in blood spatter, but Kyleigh could still make out the spider web tattoo since she saw it before.
She scrambled to her feet, but before she could run, the bearded guy fired his handgun twice, getting her in the upper arm. A burning, searing pain jabbing right through the muscle sent a cry through her open mouth. She grabbed her arm, fell to the ground, and didn’t move. No doubt, there was pain now, but her fear was greater.
The two other gunmen fled the scene, and Kyleigh said a quick prayer, afraid to look up, afraid to breathe, tension holding her as tight as a giant fist. She tried to look dead.
She stopped breathing then took tiny sporadic breaths. The only clear sound she heard was her own heartbeat pounding in her ears.
It felt like years passed.
“There’s more out here,” a new voice announced, which prompted Kyleigh’s eyes to open. “Three more.”
Kyleigh raised her head from the scratchy asphalt. Ice-cold pebbles stuck to her skin.
A policewoman in uniform walked out the exit door. “Hey, there’s a live one out here,” she called to her partner, still inside, and ran over to Kyleigh. The policewoman’s male partner checked the bodies of both the shooter and Tammy for a pulse.
The woman kneeled down beside Kyleigh, turning her over. She pulled at her shot arm, Kyleigh groaned in pain, grimacing as the woman officer opened her jacket and took a look.
“It’s not bad. An ambulance is already on its way. Should be here any second.” She said something into her lapel mic, but her voice turned into a bunch of indistinct sounds, and Kyleigh somehow couldn’t comprehend a word the woman said. “Hey.” The woman shook her by her good shoulder. Kyleigh focused, and the woman asked, “Did you see any of them?”
“Yeah,” Kyleigh answered. “All of them. I’ve seen them all before.”
The woman repeated that Kyleigh could ID the perpetrators into her lapel mic. This time, Kyleigh understood her words.
Within minutes, the ambulance was there, approaching the lot behind the restaurant.
The woman cop spoke into her mic again, letting somebody know she had an eyewitness heading to the hospital.
EMTs hurried toward her and removed her jacket. Kyleigh held onto the black coat, digging her nails into the leather. It took a second before she even felt the pressure from the bending of her new acrylics. “My wallet’s in the pocket. My phone…”
“You’ll get it back, I promise,” one of them said to her. They placed her on a gurney. Inside the ambulance, they began wrapping her arm. Tammy’s lifeless face flashed through Kyleigh’s mind as she stared at the ceiling, the present moment lost in a continual flash of blood and lifeless eyes.
While fragments of the ride over to the hospital came in the form of snapshots in Kyleigh’s mind, a beeping monitor registered in her brain. Curtained in a small area of the ER, Kyleigh struggled to recall the time lapse.
Two detectives entered the open-curtained area. Distant chatter stole her attention from the beeping monitors. Although she couldn’t make out the words, she listened to the pitch of two soft-spoken male voices. They were wearing blazers and ties, not uniforms, and their voices were non-clinical and kind, unlike the others that couldn’t quite reach her.
The nurse was shaking her head at the two suits. “She hasn’t spoken a word. She won’t respond, even when asked a question.”
Those were the first words that registered in Kyleigh’s head since she had been there. How much had she blocked out? She could remember tones of voices, but she couldn’t remember anybody speaking to her. What the hell?
“Are you cops?” Kyleigh asked.
They all turned toward her. One was dark-haired, and the other had a completely shaven head.
“She looks responsive to me,” the one with dark hair said. He took a step closer, now inside the somewhat-curtained area. The nurse took a step, too. He looked at the nurse, and in a soft tone, he said, “We really need to talk to her.”
The nurse clutched a chart to her chest, crossing her arms in front of her. “All right. Give it a shot.”
Kyleigh focused on the detective, took in the sight of his short dark hair, his low, dark brows, and thought he had warm, attractive eyes.
He stepped closer and caught her stare. “Miss Taylor, I’m Detective Mitchell, and this is my partner, Detective Rodriguez.” He held out his hand toward the other guy.
Rodriguez stood beside Mitchell, who was right beside her bed. The two were so close, she could have reached out and touched them both.
“Hello, Detectives.” She gave them a nod. Her vision blurred, and she blinked rapidly, trying to refocus and not slip back into her daze.
Both of the men gave the nurse a hopeful glance. The nurse raised her eyebrows and stood still, watching and listening.
As Mitchell turned, he caught Kyleigh’s stare once again. It turned into a stare that lingered much longer than necessary.
“She seems perfectly coherent,” Rodriguez said.
Kyleigh glanced at him, but she returned her focus right back to the dark-haired one. What was his name again? Her mind couldn’t process anything, except how attracted she was to this man.
He had a thicker, muscular build, easy to see, even with the suit and tie. His eyes looked soft, calm, and kind, and they locked on hers. She felt a warmth run through her, soothing her jumbled nerves.
“Hold on a second,” the nurse said. She looked like a goth chick dressed up as a nurse for Halloween.
“Do you want me to call someone for you? Some family?” the nurse asked.
Her star earrings dangled from a chain in her earlobes, and the sparkle distracted Kyleigh. Tammy’s dangling silver earrings flashed before her mind’s eye, hypnotizing Kyleigh. She closed her eyes and clenched them, as if that would prevent the tears to follow, or the flashes of Tammy’s face. She opened her eyes but the visions kept flooding her mind.
“There she goes,” the nurse said. “I told you.”
What do you mean, there she goes? Anger helped focus her eyes again. She glanced over at them before saying, “No, it’s okay.”
Fighting the images that flashed through her mind was like fighting a fall after one’s legs were ripped from beneath them.
Kyleigh closed her eyes again for a moment. Mitchell’s touch brought her focus back. She glanced at his large hand on her little wrist with the hospital ID bracelet on it. His touch warmed her to her core.
“You keep seeing it, don’t you?” he asked. “Over and over again.”
She took in a sharp breath. With a shaky voice, she answered, “Yes.”
“Stay with me. You’re in a hospital bed. You’re in the ER. It’s over.”
She looked into his caring eyes. Tears kept blurring her vision. She blinked them away.
He ran his thumb over the back of her hand. “Focus on that beeping monitor beside you. Hear my voice. Feel the bed underneath you. Feel my hand. Stay in the now.”
Kyleigh listened to the sounds and tried to feel her body at rest, her head and neck propped up, but mostly the touch of his hand. Flickers of Tammy’s face, the sight of blood, and the sounds of gunshots and crying tried to steal their way back, but his touch kept her from going there.
“You’re all right.”
There was a moment of silence as she wiggled her hand, trying to hold his. He took her hand and gently squeezed, and there weren’t any more flickers in her mind. There weren’t any more sounds, except for the beeping. She squeezed back.
“How many died?” Kyleigh asked.
Mitchell lengthened his thin lips. “I’m not going to lie to you. At least a dozen people. I’m sorry.”
Kyleigh closed her eyes and took in a shaky breath. “My mother?”
“What’s her name?” Rodriguez asked.
“Deidre. Deidre Taylor.”
Rodriguez looked at his smartphone. “That’s not one of the names I was given by our first response team.”
Kyleigh’s focus blurred, her eyes becoming like pools for her tears. Her breath caught in her throat. She struggled with it before managing to blow it out of her open mouth. Her nasal cavity was swollen shut. Relief gripped her in one sudden surge, which was strange, considering the constant war she fought with her mother. But others had lost their lives. Many others.
Did he say a dozen people died?
He gave her hand another squeeze. “Help us get these assholes off the street.”
The nurse asked again if she should call anybody. The detective’s caring eyes became aggravated as he looked away. Kyleigh actually found comfort in that, not the only one to feel this way about the pain-in-the-ass nurse.
“Call Blaise Parker,” Kyleigh said, blinking quickly. Her voice didn’t sound like her own. It sounded faint and frail. Mitchell glanced back at her, and he quickly let go of her after she said a man’s name.
The nurse turned her head and picked up the phone. “Is he your husband?”
“No. He’s my—sort of—friend, I guess,” Kyleigh said and glanced at her upper arm in a bandage as if it were a surprise.
“You were shot. Do you remember that?”
She stared at the detective.
“What’s his number, honey?” the nurse asked, breaking Kyleigh’s stare on him.
Kyleigh tried to remember. “I’m sorry, I…I can’t think. It’s in my phone under favorites. My jacket…” she said and turned her head toward the chair. The oversized leather coat didn’t fit into her white, plastic belongings bag, so it was lying over the arms of the chair next to her. The nurse went over to it.
“Top inside breast pocket,” Kyleigh muttered.
The nurse began to look into the coat, and she dug into the pocket. “Ah!” she said and yanked her hand back. “It feels sharp in there.”
Rodriguez came over and peered over her shoulder. “It’s shattered,” the nurse said.
Mitchell joined in and ran his finger on the outside of the jacket. He glanced at Kyleigh.
“Have you got a plastic bag?” Rodriguez asked, getting Mitchell’s attention back. The nurse grabbed a red specimen bag, and the two worked together, shaking out the contents.
Broken pieces of metal and glass from her cell phone and what was a silver compact fell into the bag, along with a small, metal object.
“There’s your bullet,” the nurse said. “I guess that explains the square contusion on her chest.” The nurse turned to Kyleigh, patted a hand on her lower leg, and said, “Right where your heart is. Thank your lucky stars, kid. If this stuff wasn’t in your pocket…”
Kyleigh’s focus faded along with the nurse’s voice, and she let the events run through again. Mitchell’s face registered in her sights, and she blinked away more tears she had no idea she had even shed.
He was standing right next to her again. He leaned on the railing of her gurney, gripping the rail with his large hand.
“Maybe you two should come back another time,” the nurse said. “She’s zoning out again.”
Why wouldn’t she just shut up and leave them alone? Leave her alone? Weren’t there other patients in the ER besides her?
“No, it’s fine,” Kyleigh said. “I’m fine.” She held out a hand, all of her fingers spread out. She placed it on Mitchell’s wrist. “Please, stay.”
“Kyleigh?” a deep, booming voice called from the door, getting all eyes in his direction.
Kyleigh took her hand back, and Detective Mitchell turned toward the entryway.
A tall, blonde woman stood beside the curtain, only a few inches shorter than the blond man beside her.
“Blaise, Cherilyn,” Kyleigh said. “You’re here.”
© 2019 by Elizabeth Brooks