An Excerpt from Bounty Hunters Book Four: Removing the Mask

by Melanie Atkins

"Cherry, you know I can't talk about wedding plans at work," her fiancé snapped in her ear. "How many times do I have to tell you? We'll talk logistics this weekend."

"But you said--"

"I don't give a flying damn what I said," he bit out, his tone so strident she almost dropped the phone. "I can't get into it right now."

"Well, fine." Anger fired to life inside her, yet she somehow found the strength to tamp it down. "Goodbye."

"'Bye." The deep silence that followed told her Mike had already hung up.

Resisting the urge to fling her phone against the wall, she lowered it away from her ear and muttered a curse. What in hell had him so riled up? He'd been acting different lately, sure, but he'd never bitten her head off like that.

"What's wrong?" Crystal Lynn Mayberry, a co-owner of Oopsie Bail Bonds along with Cherry and their friend Addison Hawk, halted on her way out the door. "Was that Mike?"

"Yeah," Cherry said, a crevice of uncertainty opening inside her heart. "Said he didn't have time to talk."

"Well, that's not like him."

"Not usually, but--" She broke off before she said too much and gnawed her lip. "He snapped at me like I'm some criminal instead of the woman he's about to marry."

"Well, that's a first for Mr. Smooth and Laid Back." Crystal's eyes gleamed with a combination of sorrow and amusement. "Addie and I have been jealous of you since day one for landing such a handsome, even-tempered guy."

"Well, he might be handsome, but you sure as heck don't need to be jealous." She blew out a weary sigh. "He's just proven he's an ass."

"Oh, honey, that's not true. Mike's a sweetheart."

"Then what's gotten into him? Why'd he snap at me?"

"Maybe he's just having a bad day."

"Maybe," Cherry said, although she didn't believe it.

The old Mike didn't have bad days. He was the only person she'd ever met who took life and its complexities in stride with a smile on his face. Even their discussions about wedding prep had been peaceful and in sync, even while deciding how much to spend, considering possible venues, and sharing ideas for their honeymoon.

Now, however…Crystal smiled. "I'm sure he'll get over it soon and apologize."

"Hope so, 'cause The Mill just canceled on us. They have some sort of major electrical problem." Cherry told the warning bells going off in her head to shut the hell up and focused on her friend. "That means we have to find another place to hold the reception."

"Holy cow!" Crystal exclaimed with a gasp. "Your wedding is in less than a month."

"I know. Tell me about it."

"I'll be happy to help you look for another place if you want, at least until you can get Mike on board."

"That would be great."

"No problem." Her pal caught her hand, squeezed it, and gave her a reassuring smile. "Best friends, right?"

"You bet. Thanks, Crystal. You're a peach." Releasing another weary sigh as her friend released her hand and left the office with a wave, Cherry sank into her chair and dropped her head into her hands. No matter what she did, the warning bells pealing inside her brain refused to quit.


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