For those of you that have been impatiently waiting for the Martins, they are finally here.
The first book in the Martin Ranch series, Right By Your Side, releases today.
This series will follow the same style that my When the Mission Ends series had.
Lots of romance, intrigue, and suspense built around a core family of siblings...the Martins.
The first book features Scott Martin, the second oldest of the four boys.
But now, he has someone new to take care of...
Country Music Star.
All alone in a bad situation.
All alone in a bad situation.
Best Female Country Artist. Sold out world-wide tour. Record-setting album sales. It’s been a stellar year for Skye Taylor and it’s left her exhausted. All she wants to do is go home to Oklahoma, curl up in her little house, and veg out in pj’s with a pile of junk food. But when her tour bus crashes in the middle of West Texas, her priorities suddenly shift. Now she’s sitting bedside hoping her best friend and bodyguard, KC, survives.
For Scott Martin, he simply wants this horrible year to end. After the murder of his brother, his family is falling apart. With one crisis after another pulling him back to the family ranch, he’s put way too many late night miles on his truck between his family home and Lubbock, where he works as a paramedic. When he comes upon the wrecked tour bus, he has no idea this is one emergency which will change his life forever.
Skye and Scott quickly form a friendship which hints at possibilities of more. But as these two dodge paparazzi, over-zealous label executives, and stalker fans, they soon discover that everything is easier when you have someone you trust RIGHT BY YOUR SIDE. And that becomes even more important when they discover the bus wreck wasn’t an accident…
“I’m sorry,” Skye Taylor yelled at the hulking mountain of angry man glaring down at her.
KC Morelli vibrated where he stood, but Skye wasn’t sure how much of that was anger and how much of it was from the rhythm of the road below the tour bus wheels.
“How the hell was I supposed to know that would happen? It was a tiny convenience store in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t think anyone would recognize me.” She heaved a sigh at the mulish expression of exasperation on KC’s face.
He was her best friend, and she hated when they fought. But KC Morelli was about the most stubborn man she knew. Something she had in common with him, which meant they knocked heads way too often, especially since he was with her twenty-four-seven as her bodyguard.
“Skye,” he ran a frustrated hand through his hair, “we’re in Texas, the land of cowboys and country music. Everyone here knows who you are now. You can’t go wandering around without any regard to your safety. I can’t do my job if you don’t respect that fact.”
That lack of independence was the root of the problem between them. She’d wanted ten minutes to breathe her own air without someone looking over her shoulder. She loved KC, but after a year on tour and the past month filled with never-ending stress, she just needed some space.
Ever since she’d been named as Best New Emerging Artist the month before, her life had become the pure definition of crazy, with stalkers, fans, and paparazzi at every turn.
“Just promise me you won’t go into convenience stores by yourself anymore,” he said, his tone softening.
One tiny little freedom, she didn’t want to give it up. “We’re in the middle of bum-fuck nowhere, KC.” Her voice had taken a whiny tone, but she was feeling damn whiny.
“Just don’t.” His expression hardened again and she knew she’d lost the fight.
She’d just freaking needed some chocolate, something he never understood. The guy was the pure definition of health nut, and he didn’t put a single unhealthy thing in his body. As a result, he gave her a hard time when she did. Chocolate fed her hormones and kept her from lashing out at everyone around her...namely KC.
She hadn’t meant to start a riot.
She rubbed her temples. God, when had this reality become her life?
“You’re right.” She relented as guilt plagued her. “Obviously, you’re right. Those poor people. We need to do something for the ones who were taken to the hospital.” It had gotten out of control so quickly, with people swarming and only KC to fight them off. Two teenage girls had gotten hurt in the melee.
KC ran his calloused fingertips over the throbbing bruise high on her cheek leftover from someone’s elbow. “You probably should have gone to the hospital yourself to get this looked at, too.”
She shook her head, the headache throbbing behind her eyes. “No, it’s fine. It’s just a bruise. We don’t need the bad PR.”
He sighed deeply, and she could see the exhaustion pulling at him as he swayed with the rhythm of the tour bus driving down the road. It was only eight o’clock at night, but they’d been running on fumes for too long.
“Why don’t you go back and use the bed in the bedroom?” she instructed. “I’m going to try to work on some songs, and I know you could use some sleep. Grab it while you can.”
He stared at her in consternation before rubbing a hand over his strong-boned, beautiful, Italian face with a sigh. “Okay, let me grab your guitar for you so you can stay buckled in your seat. Then I’ll check in with Roger and take you up on that offer.”
He always worried about her safety and hated tour buses because no one liked to stay belted in while driving. Since it was just the two of them and their driver, Roger, on this drive, she avoided the fight and buckled up.
If only there were seatbelts for the roller coaster her life had become.
Two hours later, Skye was pretty sure she had the start of a new song. That was good. Ever since she’d started fighting with her label, agent, and manager, the lyrics hadn’t been coming to her. She’d begun to wonder if the award had jinxed her, because the arguments started right after she won it. She placed her guitar on the chair beside her and stretched her arms above her head, trying to peer through the dark windows.
Looking down the aisle toward the bedroom, she could be thankful that at least KC was finally getting some rest. She hadn’t heard a peep out of him since he’d closed the bedroom door.
She needed to stretch and reached down to undo her seat belt when the bus suddenly lurched. She grabbed the armrests on her chair in panic.
For a suspended whisper in time, they hung there and then the bus shuddered as the world began to spin. The contents of the bus crashed around her with a cacophonous explosion of noise. Her head banged up against the cabinet next to her. Instant pain exploded in her head. Everything spun in time with the rolling of the monstrous vehicle.
The seatbelt holding her in place burned against her hips as they rolled over and over. Her fingers clawed into the seat, and she said a silent prayer. Objects flew and banged into her. Midway through the rolls, the lights went out.
When the bus groaned to a stop, she hung sideways. Her breath sawed in and out, the only sound she could hear except for the metal of the bus frame shuddering and popping.
Her brain realigned with reality. They’d crashed. She tried to get her thinking to clear.
“KC!” she screamed. Oh God, he hadn’t been seat-belted in. And what about Roger? She had to get out and help them. Somebody had to help them.
She tried to see below her, but her eyes hadn’t adjusted to the dark yet. She could only see something was down there. Grasping the belt buckle, she took a deep breath, ignoring how much that hurt her ribs and pretty much everything down the right side of her body.
Out of the bus. She had to get out of the bus. She punched the seatbelt button and curled into a ball as she dropped.
Ow. Pain burst through her torso and black spots danced behind her eyes. She heaved a breath, trying to get her lungs to cooperate past the pain in her ribs and the acrid fumes that burned her nasal passages and throat. Her sight had begun adjusting to the dark and she reached forward. She screamed as pain sizzled down her right arm.
Okay, don’t move that arm.
Leading with her left arm, she gingerly felt around the sideways bus, her other arm cradled against her. The socks on her feet did little to protect her soles from the broken glass and wreckage. Her legs shook with adrenaline and pain.
From the light of the half-moon she could see the wreckage had broken apart in three separate sections. And, oh God, the back section, where the engine sat, was engulfed in flames.
KC had been back there.
Skye stumbled across the rough terrain, ignoring the pain wracking her body. She had to get to him.
Scott Martin sang along with the song on the radio, trying to stay awake after a double shift—equal to four days on-call—working his paramedic job in Lubbock, Texas. He’d been driving for twenty minutes. Only fifteen minutes to go, and he’d be within reach of his bed.
Skye Taylor, the gorgeous brunette with the body that didn’t quit, sang a beautiful ballad about life and loss on the radio. He’d watched her last month as she won her Emerging Artist award. Something about her seemed so real to him. She’d been all smiles that night, but it was the sadness that lingered in her eyes that got to him, that spoke to him. Maybe it had something to do with the broken heart she sang about in this song, but she seemed lonely.
While he knew who she was—hell, who didn’t—he had no idea what her background was. Maybe he should Google her.
He wasn’t the type to normally become infatuated by stars of any sort, but Skye…yeah, he wouldn’t turn her out of his bed. Not that he’d ever have that chance.
Hell, at this point in his life he wouldn’t turn too many women out of his bed. It had been entirely too long since he’d gotten laid.
After the craziness last year at the family ranch, he hadn’t had the time or the energy except to put one foot in front of the other. He certainly didn’t have time to romance a woman, even if someone had piqued his interest, which hadn’t happened.
And his brain had begun to wander again. He was too close to falling asleep at the wheel, so he turned the air conditioning up to full blast. Late September was actually the time of the year when they usually got a break in the incessant West Texas heat, but tonight the temperature had nothing to do with it. He just needed to stay awake.
Shit, he was so tired, but the guilt trip Andrew laid on him during that dinner break phone call worked. So he was on his way to the family ranch rather than the bed where he’d rather be. Andrew hinted that there might be something physically wrong with their father, although the old man refused to go see a doctor. No matter what was going on, it wasn’t within Scott’s character to ignore a medical issue. It went against his very nature as a paramedic.
He had the next four days off. Although he usually tried to avoid spending much time at home, he’d help out on the ranch and watch their father for any warning signs. Andrew swore their father wasn’t drinking again, but after the stress of the last year, Scott wasn’t sure his dad could resist the allure. He was a recovering alcoholic and that was never an easy thing. Scott knew the facts.
Hell, they’d all found their ways of coping, but if he was honest, none of the Martin men had taken a very healthy approach toward dealing with the stress of Thomas’s sudden death. Death. He gave a bitter chuckle into the emptiness of the car. That word sounded so mild in the face of the reality of the situation. His brother Thomas was murdered in a senseless act of criminal violence on their family ranch. Of course, they’d all taken it hard.
He shook his head, shaking off the morbid thoughts and drowsiness.
As he rounded the next curve in the road, a ball of flames erupted out of the carcass of a vehicle in the middle of the field. His lethargy scattered as adrenaline hit swift and furious. He slammed on his brakes and dialed 911 on his cell phone, grabbing his emergency medical bag as his truck skidded to a halt along the shoulder of the road.
Skye found KC buried under a smoldering wall of the bus, the upper half of his torso sticking out from under a pile of debris.
She knelt by his head. Please be alive, please be alive. Brushing her hand across the side of his face, she said, “KC, can you hear me?”
“Skye?” he asked, falling into wracking coughs.
“Yeah, it’s me. Can you tell me what’s hurt?”
“My back and legs.” He coughed again weakly. “You okay?” He tried to reach for her, but he was pinned onto his stomach. “I can’t move. You need to get out of here, Skye. Something could explode.”
She examined the huge piece of bus lying across the lower portion of his torso and legs. Smoke rose off it and the plastic buckled and rolled where it had melted, but none of it was on fire right now. Another part of the bus burned right behind it. The huge, hulking piece of twisted metal looked like the engine, which meant the fuel tank was probably nearby. In the dark it was difficult to distinguish the details. She wouldn’t leave him, though.
How much time did she have to free him before it all blew up?
She grasped the edge of the wall of the bus and tugged. It shifted slightly. KC groaned in pain. Throwing her legs into the effort, she pulled and yelled at him, “KC, drag yourself out if you can.”
He shifted, and she offered up a prayer, begging that they both find the strength to do this. She couldn’t live in this world without him by her side. She pulled harder, the muscles in her arms, her injured shoulder, and thighs screaming at the effort. The jagged edge of the metal of the wall tore into the palm of her hand, but she couldn’t let go. KC struggled in effort. She had to keep this off him so he could get out.
Suddenly—like someone heard her pleading prayer—a man ran up to KC, grabbed him under his arms, and dragged him free of the wall, hauling him a safe distance from the wreckage.
Skye collapsed in relief, but the man yelled, “Get away from there! That fuel tank could blow.” Then he went back to checking KC.
KC began to struggle against the stranger examining his injuries. KC’s focus was always foremost on her safety before his own. The damn man would hurt himself further if he continued to struggle. She rushed to help calm him down.
Oh, shit. She stumbled, and a sob burst out of her as she got close enough see KC’s back in the glow from the fire. Midway down his back and his legs, skin and clothing hung in tatters with blood dripping. Regardless of what had to be incredible pain, he struggled to get up onto his knees and hands to get to her.
The Good Samaritan tried to subdue him. “I need you to stop moving. At least let me get a collar on you to help stabilize your spine.”
She squatted by KC’s head, rubbing her hand down the side of his face. “Kase, it’s fine. I’m right here. Please, hold still so you don’t hurt yourself anymore.”
“Skye?” He coughed and blood peppered his lips.
Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. She didn’t have any medical training, but she knew that wasn’t good.
“Yeah, it’s me. It’s going to be okay.” It had to be okay. A huge rock sat in the middle of her chest over her heart. A heart breaking with the thought that he might not make it out of this. “Please, KC, just hold still,” she soothed. “I’m fine.”
“You aren’t…” he coughed again, “hurt?”
“No, I’m fine. It’s you who got hurt. So much for that nap, right?” She turned in panic to the man who had fastened a collar around KC, covered him with a thermal blanket and appeared to be taking his pulse rate. Where did he come from? He seemed to know what he was doing.
“What are you doing?” she asked, needing reassurance of some sort.
“It’s okay. I’m a paramedic. I’m trying to stabilize his spine right now.” He whispered, “Do whatever you can to keep him still and calm.”
“Is he going to be okay?”
The man didn’t answer. He simply pressed his lips together in a tight line and continued working on KC.
“Listen to me, KC. You’re going to be okay. This guy here seems to know what he’s doing and you’re going to be fine.” She swallowed against the nausea that threatened when she thought about the skin that had been peeling off his back.
How had this happened?
“I forgot Roger,” she gasped. She hadn’t even thought about her coach driver.
“Was he the driver?” the paramedic asked.
She nodded because she could already see the unspoken answer in his eyes. He shook his head. “I’m sorry,” he told her. “There wasn’t anything I could do. Was there anyone else in the bus?” He scanned over the scattered wreckage.
She swallowed against her tears. “No, it was just the three of us.”
His hands returned to flying over KC’s body as he worked on him, searching the extent of his injuries.
Oh, shit, why hadn’t they flown home like KC wanted? Now he was hurt, and Roger was dead because she’d insisted on keeping the tour bus. All because she’d selfishly wanted to keep the comforts of her home-away-from-home, and maintain a modicum of privacy. By driving she could continue to write her music and not have to deal with fans if she didn’t want to leave the bus.
“Do you know…is he allergic to any medications?” the paramedic asked.
“No, no allergies. He’s always been incredibly healthy. Not that that has anything to do with allergies, but he never has to go to the doctor. He takes care of himself.” She knew she was rambling, but panic pressed on her chest. She didn’t know what else to do to help.
“Skye,” KC gasped, sounding like it was getting harder and harder for him to breathe.
“I’m right here, Kase.” She twined her fingers in his hand so he could feel her.
“Love you…” He closed his eyes.
“No, no, no,” she sobbed and clutched frantically at his hand. “Do something,” she screamed at the paramedic.
“It’s okay,” the paramedic said as he checked KC’s pulse rate again. “He just passed out from the combination of stress on his system. He probably has a bit of smoke inhalation, too. I think he’s okay for the moment. The medevac helicopter should be here any minute now.”
Even as he said that, Skye could hear the beating of helicopter rotors and the distant wail of sirens. Oh, thank God, more help was almost here. She ran her fingers through KC’s short cropped hair. “Hang on, Kase. The helicopter’s coming. They’ll get you fixed right up.” That had to be true. She couldn’t live without her best friend.
Scott Martin watched as the girl—her boyfriend had called her Skye—became inconsolable after the helicopter took off. She was adamant that she needed to be with him, but she was in pretty bad shape, too. Her injuries didn’t look as life threatening as the guy’s had, but she was definitely getting shocky. He was worried about the injury to her head. Even though she didn’t seem aware of it, blood continued to drip down her face, running trails through the soot and grime covering her.
She appeared so small, vulnerable, and alone as she swayed slowly with her arms tucked against her stomach.
“Okay, miss, why don’t you sit down and let me look at you? The ambulance is almost here.” She wouldn’t let him touch her while she’d been focused on her boyfriend. But she was running on pure adrenaline which could camouflage any amount of injuries until her body began to shut down. He didn’t want her collapsing to the ground.
“Where are they taking him?” she asked.
“Probably Lubbock Mercy. Most the med-flights go in there, and they have a burn unit.”
Her eyes widened. He knew she’d seen the guy’s back, but denial was a powerful thing in the midst of a trauma situation.
“What’s your name?” he asked her gently, needing to keep her focused and lucid. “Can you tell me what happened?”
“Skye. That was KC, and my driver was…” A sob erupted from her as she crumpled.
Scott caught her and gently lowered her down to a sitting position on the ground.
“My driver was Roger. Oh God. I need to call his daughter.”
He grabbed his stethoscope to listen to her chest. Her heart beat way too fast. “You need to calm down,” he soothed. “Where were you all traveling?”
“We left Austin earlier today and were headed up to Oklahoma. Norman, Oklahoma. Home. I should have let Roger go on, and KC and I could have flown. It’s what KC wanted to do. Why didn’t I do that? Oh, God, this is all my fault.”
“Shh, it’s okay. Calm down. Working yourself up right now won’t do anyone any good. Why were you in Austin?” He needed to distract her.
“My label wants a new contract, so we were trying to negotiate that.” She chuckled harshly. “Not that that did us any good. Those bastards are trying to take advantage of me.”
He stilled. “Wait a minute.” He cleaned some of the blood from her face, to see how bad the head wound was, but also to see her pale face by the light of his flashlight. Her luminous green eyes shimmered. Then the name she’d said clicked. “You’re Skye Taylor, aren’t you? I was just listening to you on the radio.”
She nodded her head and then closed her eyes with a pain-filled grimace. “Yeah,” she whispered, suddenly paling even more. She tilted to the side.
“Whoa,” he said as he steadied her. “Tell me what’s happening?”
“Dizzy.” She swallowed hard and began breathing a bit heavier. “Feeling a bit sick.”
He flashed his flashlight to check the reaction of her pupils as he talked. They appeared normal. “Okay, throw up if you need to. Just try to miss me, okay?”
She glared at him, and he chuckled. Even after everything that happened she still had some sass in her. He liked that.
He lifted the chestpiece of his stethoscope. “I’m gonna use this to listen to your chest.” Everything sounded clear, but her breathing sounded shallow. “I know your head and your arm hurt. What else hurts?”
“Ribs on the right side.”
She held her injured arm clamped to that side, so he hadn’t explored the area too much. “Okay, let me check them real quick and make sure you don’t have something else going on.”
He started pressing his fingers along her side, brushing the underside of her breast.
“Wow, look at you,” she murmured on a gasp of pain. “You made it to second base, and I don’t even know your name.”
“Scott. Scott Martin.” He smiled up at her. But when his gaze met hers, he got lost for a moment. She tentatively smiled back. He knew from his examination of her pupils that her eyes were clear green with a slight tilt up in the corner to give her an exotic look even in her current disheveled state.
But then he moved his fingers again and she winced in pain. He probed those two ribs more carefully.
“I can’t tell for sure, but those could be broken. They’re at least cracked, so let’s not move too much, okay? I don’t want you to puncture a lung.”
The wail of the sirens grew louder and the red lights flashed over the crash site to signal the arrival of help. Scott patted her arm. “Hang on. Let me guide the paramedics over here.”
Scott took off at a jog to intercept the paramedics, relief flooding him when he saw the distinctive blue and gold seal on the side of the ambulance. It would be headed into Mercy Trauma Center with her, too. The same place her boyfriend was taken.
Within fifteen minutes, the paramedics had Skye strapped onto a stretcher and were loading her up. The police arrived and recorded the pertinent names and information from her so they could contact the victim’s families, although from what he heard that meant just the driver’s family. It sounded like Skye and KC relied only on each other. She’d told the cops there wasn’t anyone else to contact. Shouldn’t she have someone who needed to know what happened? She was a huge star in the country music world.
In addition to the definite injuries Scott discovered, the paramedics found something he’d been worried about. Her abdomen had been heavily bruised by the seat belt, and they were worried about possible internal hemorrhaging, especially as Skye’s condition had deteriorated.
She clutched at his hand, but as they lifted to load her, she panicked. “You’re not going with me?”
“No, there’s not enough room for all of us, but I’ll come check on you first thing in the morning.” The first rule of paramedic care was not to let emotions get involved at a trauma scene, but something was different with this one. He couldn’t tell her no.
“You promise?” She sounded so scared and vulnerable. He hated not going in with her, but knew he would just be in the way in the ER. Plus he desperately needed some sleep and to check things at the ranch.
“I promise.” He threaded his fingers through hers. “And by then you’ll feel a lot better, too.”
“I’m gonna hold you to that one,” she whispered, her voice growing weaker. “Thank you, Scott Martin. I don’t know where you came from, but I’m awfully glad you showed up when you did.” She finally relaxed her hold on his hand, closed her eyes, and lay her head back. Her face was so pale.
As they left the scene, he examined the accident site. The police had set up spotlights and he looked around the mutilated wreckage of the tour bus. They would be investigating this one since it was just a one-vehicle accident with a death, but the odds were the bus driver had simply fallen asleep at the wheel or swerved to miss a deer.
He marveled that Skye was in as good of shape as she was. She probably could be thankful to the seatbelt for that, and he shook his head. So few people in these big coaches ever wore seatbelts. She’d been extremely lucky tonight. He hoped her boyfriend proved to be as lucky, for both their sakes.