The Protector Series has some beautiful new covers from Najla Qamber Designs. And to celebrate, Talk to Me, the first book in the series, now includes a never before published epilogue!
I love reading reviews from readers and one of the common themes as I read the reviews for Talk to Me was that readers were not quite ready to say good-bye to Mac and Emily. It ended too soon and they wanted more happily-ever-after before that very last page. And who am I to argue with such a good idea?
If you've already purchased Talk to Me and your copy does not automatically update to the new version, fear not! You can read the epilogue right here :) 'Cause, yeah, I'm generous like that.
And without further ado, I give you THE EPILOGUE. I hope you'll enjoy spending just a little more time with Mac and Emily.
Six months later…
Mac grabbed the last extra chair he could find and used it to close the circle of seats he and Emily had set up in the middle of the briefing room. With nothing left to do but wait, he crossed his arms and leaned against the nearest wall to engage in his favorite pastime.
She was carefully arranging snacks on a table by the coffee machine. She’d brought fancy flavored creamer and Starbucks grounds for a coffee pot that had probably never held anything better than sat-out-too-long Folgers in its whole miserable appliance life. And now, she was arranging cookies from the best bakery in town into neat rows next to the dessert napkins she’d artfully fanned out on the table.
Emily stepped back, assessing her work and chewing her lower lip.
Was she nervous? He was trying not to think about it, but he definitely was. In fact, he hadn’t felt this anxious since his high school speech communications class. Whoever decided public speaking was a good thing to make fifteen-year-old boys with cracking, changing voices do had to be some sort of masochist.
He pushed the jitters aside as best he could and focused his attention on the woman who held his heart.
The last few months of his life had passed in a blissful haze of stolen text messages during workdays apart, intimate dinners for two, and nights spent making love and sleeping intertwined.
And sure, there’d been some disagreements. But even the imperfect moments with Emily were perfect. Like when he’d made the mistake of announcing that she was going to live with him rather than asking. Apparently, asking was a bit of a thing with women. They didn’t like to be told what to do. But he hadn’t thought of it that way. To him, he’d just been coming to an obvious and inevitable conclusion. Of course they’d live together. They spent every night together. It was foolish to waste money on two rent payments. And his place was bigger. Total no-brainer.
Em, however, had seen things a little differently and told him so with no small amount of foot stomping and what-the-hell-were-you-thinkings.
And well, what do you know? He’d freakin’ loved that too.
He loved that the woman who was probably a little too much of a people-pleaser with others had no problem telling him when he had his head up his ass. That she felt secure enough in their love for one another to always tell him exactly what she thought. That she was strong enough to demand the kind of treatment she knew she deserved.
Yeah, he freakin’ loved that.
And the next time he had a bright idea, he wouldn’t be making the same mistake. Next time, he’d ask. In fact, as soon as the jeweler finished sizing the ring he’d picked for her, he’d be going down on one knee and properly begging for her hand.
He couldn’t fucking wait.
She turned from her work and glanced up at him, tucking a stray lock of caramel-colored hair behind her ear. “What?”
“Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked.
“How am I looking at you?”
“I don’t know.” She smiled, a hint of teasing seduction lighting her lips. “Like you’re ready to throw me over your shoulder caveman style and get the hell out of here.”
He grinned, pushing himself off the wall and stalking toward her. Caveman style. “You always could read me like a book.”
She giggled, stepping back a step for every two he took toward her. “Well, I don’t know about that. But I’m learning.”
Once he had her backed into a corner, he wrapped his arms around her waist and stole a quick kiss. Leaning his forehead against hers, he whispered, “Do you have any idea how much I love you?”
She smiled. “I think I might.” She nipped at his lower lip, making his entire body tighten with need. “I love you, too.”
He pulled her closer, kissing her in a way that was entirely inappropriate for the police department’s briefing room and then forced himself to step back before his hard-on became any more noticeable. “Woman, when I get you home tonight…”
She smiled and darted past him to continue organizing the refreshments. Over her shoulder, she threw him a teasing smile. “You’re going to what? Finish that sentence, I hope?”
He growled, dragging a palm over his face, as if that could clear away his current sexual frustration. And that sexy chuckle of hers sure as hell didn’t help matters downstairs.
Think of something else. Think of something else.
He shook his head, hoping to rattle his brain cells back to life, and his gaze landed on the circle of chairs once again. A nervous knot of tension settled in his gut. “What if nobody shows up?”
She turned and leaned back against the refreshment table. “They’ll show up.”
“I don’t know…” This sure as hell wasn’t something the old Mac would’ve ever shown up for. The B.E. Mac—or Before Emily Mac—would’ve thought this was a big waste of time.
The B.E. Mac was a fucking idiot. Obviously. But still…
“I won’t know what to say if they do come. I’m not the expert in this area. You are.”
“You’re an expert. No one knows better than you what these men and women face every day.” She sat in one of the folding chairs and patted the seat next her. He crossed the room and lowered himself into the chair.
“I’m proud of you,” she said softly, resting an arm over his shoulder and threading her fingers into the hair at his nape. “For having this idea and making it happen.”
The gentle massaging of her fingers eased his nerves for a moment. He squeezed her thigh, thankful for her support through every step of this process.
Turning to more fully face him, she placed her hand over his. “I know you’re not totally comfortable in this new role, but I think it’s important that you take the lead.”
“Because this is a support group. And it doesn’t need professionals as much as it needs people with commonalities. It’s not about fixing things or treatments per se. It’s about connection. And you’re the one they’re going to connect with. You’re the one who understands the challenges police officers face. I’m just here to ensure everyone plays nice.”
He nodded and felt his heart beat a little faster. He was more than ready to get this first meeting over with.
“That’s not the only reason you’re here,” he said and pressed a kiss to her temple. “You’re here because I’m damn sure I couldn’t do this without you.”
* * *
When the wall clock read five minutes to four, the first officer showed up.
Emily felt Mac stiffen next to her and knew he was nervous. But she only knew that because he’d told her so. To everyone else, he probably appeared calm and confident. Just like he always was.
Knowing that she was the only one he shared his whole self with, the only one he let see the vulnerable places he guarded so fiercely, was intoxicating, and like a fine wine, it spread warmth from her chest outward all the way to the tips of her fingers.
She smiled, watching him stand to shake hands with the officer who’d entered.
“Ben, good to see you here, buddy.”
“Well,” Ben said. “I figured if you were a part of this, then I probably should be too.”
Mac nodded. “Thanks, man. That means a lot.” He introduced Ben to Emily and continued to greet the men and a few women who’d begun streaming in.
Emily guided everyone toward the refreshments, pleased to see the easy conversation and mingling that happened naturally. It was certainly a good sign. An indication that this might be a very successful support group.
When it appeared the last of the stragglers had come in and that everyone had been able to grab some drinks and cookies, Mac cleared his throat and clapped his hands once. “If everyone could please grab a seat, we’ll go ahead and get started.”
Mac had asked her earlier if anyone would show up, and Emily smiled, noting that not only had people shown up, they’d exceeded the number of chairs in the room. A few of the officers stood just outside the circle, leaning against the wall or a nearby table. Some of them were in uniform, having just gotten off shift, while others were in plain clothes.
“I want to thank you all for coming today,” Mac said, sitting in a chair directly across from Emily in the circle. They’d discussed the seating arrangement earlier and he’d asked if she would sit across from him so he could look to her if he needed guidance. She doubted he’d need it but she loved that he’d asked.
“I decided to start this group after reading an article on a police blog about a state trooper who checked himself in to a mental heath facility and was promptly handed his resignation papers.”
There were murmurings around the room, a few soft tsking noises from those who clearly believed that was wrong, but sadly weren’t surprised.
“I think we can all agree things like that shouldn’t happen.” Mac leaned forward, his gaze making a quick trip over the officers in the room. “All too often, we’re made to believe that asking for help is weakness. I felt that way for a long time. I thought I was supposed to be strong. Handle it myself. When the department sent me to a psychologist after a fatal shooting, I thought it was my job to convince her that I was fine to return to work. But effective therapy can’t take place under conditions like that.” He glanced at Emily and she nodded encouragingly.
“I went to the chief a few weeks ago and asked him about starting a support group, and I want you to know that this initiative has his full support. From the chief on down, this department is committed to making sure its officers have what they need to function at their best.”
Emily let her gaze leave Mac’s face just long enough to take a quick check of the room. She saw some relief, some interest, and quite a bit of skepticism.
“Emily Simon, a counselor from Evergreen Health Systems, is here with us today.”
She waved at the group when Mac motioned to her.
“She’s going to talk about the ground rules for this group in a moment. But I want you to know that nothing that’s shared in this room leaves this room. Admitting that you’re struggling with something is not weakness. It’s strength. And it’s not going to result in the loss of your job. Could it lead to further support? Sure, if needed. But you will not be putting your employment at risk if you share in this group.”
The skepticism was still there. Particularly in the faces of some of the older male officers in the room, but that was okay. They were here, and that was an important first step. Maybe they would just listen for a while. But a door was opening.
And her Mac was the one opening it. She could not be more in love with him than she was in this moment.
Except that every time she’d had that thought in the last months, she’d been proved wrong. She was learning every day that she could always love him more.
It never stopped growing.
“I’m looking around this room,” Mac said. “And I see an officer who was the first to discover the body of a young mother, shot to death in her own home. I see a detective who had to stand witness to the autopsy of a three-year-old boy who’d been beaten to death by his mom’s boyfriend. I see men and women who miss their kids’ baseball games to work second shift. Whose spouses are stressed from being little more than single parents while we’re at work during family time, whose spouses are trying to be understanding but sometimes just snap after the umpteenth holiday missed in a year.”
With each phrase Mac uttered, more heads nodded. More grunts and mmm-hmms filled the room.
“I don’t think I’m being overly dramatic when I say that what we do isn’t easy. We face parts of humanity that others never encounter. And we do it over and over and over again. Which brings me to why we’re here today, and why we’ll continue to be here every other week. We’re here to listen to each other. We’re here to offer each other support and acceptance. We’re here to help.”
Emily caught Mac’s gaze, hoping he could see the love she felt for him in every fiber of her being. This had all been his idea, and she’d thought it was a good one, but looking at the faces around her she realized it wasn’t just good. It was necessary. Over a dozen officers in this room were nodding at Mac. He understood their challenges and stresses, and he was extending hope. Hope that they were not alone. Hope that others understood. Hope that they’d no longer have to carry their burdens in isolation.
Mac turned the floor over to her and she gave her spiel about confidentiality and group dynamics and the rules for listening and sharing. And good thing it was a speech she’d given so many times she could’ve done it in her sleep because it was difficult to concentrate with Mac’s brown eyes tracking her every movement. Those eyes that shone bright with promises for a future filled with love and laughter, acceptance and understanding.
She made it through her part and turned it back to Mac, who leaned forward in his chair and smiled openly at his fellow officers around the room.
“All right,” he said. “Let’s get started, folks. What’s on your mind today?” He glanced at Emily and winked. “Talk to me.”