Excerpt from The Alibi

Prologue

            Katie Lord knew her fiancé Tim couldn’t possibly mean what he’d said when he’d stormed out of her apartment last night. They weren’t over. It was just a stupid argument. But for the hundredth time that morning, she picked up her phone, hoping to see a message. Nothing. Despite the dozens of texts she’d sent him, she hadn’t received a single response. She checked her reception. It wouldn’t be the first time she missed a message because the cellular network was crap.

Four bars.

Dammit.

Katie slammed down the phone, no longer able to deny the ugly truth. He was ignoring her, treating her as if everything was her fault.

Hell yes, she’d been angry. Any girl in her situation with a brain in her head would be. They were engaged, and yet, he was getting text messages from a girl at work—a girl he claimed was “just a friend.”

            Just a friend, her ass. That damned girl was always sniffing around him. Whenever a group from work went out for beers, she was eager to join, and when the guys had planned an overnight camping trip, guess who wanted to tag along? Then when everyone else had dropped out... Well, it should have been obvious to Tim that the right thing to do would have been to cancel the trip. But no. They’d had to fight about it instead.

            “Don’t you trust me?” Tim had snapped, hands on his hips, glaring at Katie as if she was in the wrong.

            “This isn’t about you. It’s about her.”

            “If you trusted me, we wouldn’t be arguing about this.”

            Tim was dead wrong. If he wanted to act naïve and treat Katie like she was a jealous lunatic, then so be it, but Katie wasn’t fooled. She knew how girls operated and this one didn’t give a damn that Tim was engaged. She was trying to drive a wedge between Katie and Tim, and it was working.

            Katie wrenched the engagement ring off her finger and stared at the ugly white tan line left behind. She tried to imagine what her life would be like without him, but she couldn’t. Just the thought of it made her ache as if half of her soul had been stripped away. Shoving the ring back into place, Katie shook off her fears.

            She was being ridiculous. Dramatic. Didn’t Tim always say so? Once he’d had time to cool off, he’d call her, and they’d make up, the same way they always did.

            Until then, she’d lose her mind if she spent another minute obsessing. Grabbing her phone, Katie plugged in her earbuds and headed outside. A run would be just the thing to get Tim off her mind and quiet the drumbeat of panic steadily building inside her.

The morning had started out rainy, but now the sun had pierced a hole in the angry clouds and set the maple leaves ablaze. Stunning shades of crimson and gold adorned the trees that bordered the twisty trail through the woods to the park.

Katie didn’t bother stretching. Surely, the steep uphill walk from her apartment to the trail would be enough of a warm-up. Jamming her favorite playlist, she broke into a lumbering jog, losing herself in Meghan Trainor’s rendition of “Me too”. It was just the right song to shake off her dour mood.

A quarter mile into her run, Katie was already panting. With her chest heaving and heart pounding, she slowed. Damn, this was hard. It had been months since her last run. She didn’t expect to feel winded quite so soon. Katie promised herself she would only walk long enough to catch her breath then she’d hit it again. If she needed more motivation to get back into shape, her pathetic lack of cardio would be enough.

            Besides, just last week Tim made a crack about the five pounds she’d gained since they’d gotten engaged. Five lousy pounds.

He was the one who insisted they swing by the coffee shop every morning before he dropped her off at school instead of going for a run. She would have suggested he go alone, but Katie didn’t like the way the barista at the coffee shop flirted with him. Tim didn’t seem to notice, and when she’d finally worked up the nerve to mention it, he’d accused her of being paranoid.

            Easy for him to say. He wouldn’t much like it if some strange guy was hitting on her. And why wouldn’t someone hit on her? Despite the extra weight she was carrying, she still looked cute.

A burst of anger at Tim’s thoughtlessness spurred her into another sprint. She’d get back into shape and then she’d be the one going on hiking trips with her friends instead of wasting hours waiting for a message that might never come. The thought of Tim waiting on her for a change cheered Katie.

By the time she made it to the center of the park, her heart rate crested one hundred and fifty beats per minute. Half a mile. Not bad for her first run.

            Katie flattened her palm against her chest and waited for her breath to slow, and that’s when she felt it. The first pea-sized pellet of hail streaked down from an angry sky. Charcoal clouds gathered overhead and choked out the sun. The first strike was quickly followed by a second, and then…

            Katie uttered an indignant squeal. Desperately scanning the trail, she searched for a place to take shelter and spied a white gazebo. She hurtled across the slippery grass as fast as her neon green Nike’s would carry her and pounded up the steps. Katie slid to a sudden halt when she realized that she wasn’t the only runner seeking shelter from the storm.

            Tim.

            Just the sight of him standing in the gazebo with his back turned, sent an electric pulse of relief surging through her. Her hungry gaze devoured his broad shoulders and lean waist. She yanked out her earbuds and rushed toward him when he turned.

            Tim’s name died on her lips. Katie’s hopes plummeted as she took in the man’s face. It wasn’t Tim, but there was something familiar about the handsome stranger. She studied his bronze complexion and ebony eyes trying to place him. She’d seen him before, she was sure of it, but where? As if sensing her confusion, his mouth curved into a grin that made Katie’s heart stop.

            “Hell of a storm,” he said.

Katie’s breath sped up, forming dewy clouds in the cooling air. He had a killer smile.

“Sure is.”

            “You were running too?” he asked.

            With a self-conscious grin, Katie glanced down at her bare legs, which she hadn’t shaved in a few days, and shrugged.

            “If you could call it that. I used to run every day, but it’s been a while.”

            She was lying. Even back when she did run, she’d be lucky to make it out twice a week, but that sounded pathetic. From the way his rain-streaked T-shirt clung to his well-toned torso beneath his hoodie, he looked in shape. His buff frame showed no hint of the slight paunch that Tim’s belly was starting to form.

            “Nice shoes,” he said.

A glimmer of admiration flashed in his dark eyes as his gaze swept over her, from her flushed cheeks, all the way down to her size nine Nike’s. She warmed under his lingering appraisal, wondering how long it had been since Tim had looked at her that way.

“The trail over by the reservoir is my favorite,” he said. “What’s yours?”

            “I like the one through the woods.”

God, could she sound any more lame? Hailstones struck the gazebo’s tin roof in an atonal symphony that filled the silence between them.

            “You’re Katie, right?”

            An unexpected thrill raced through her.

            “Do I know you?”

             He flashed an amused grin. “From school. Business ethics class.”

            Something clicked inside Katie’s mind and her mouth dropped open.

“Oh my god, of course. You know how it is when you see someone out of context.”

            “Yeah.”

He gave a quick laugh and shifted his gaze beyond her, watching the ice pellets bounce off the tin roof onto the grass. Goosebumps rippled across Katie’s arms and she shivered wishing she’d brought a jacket. As if reading her mind, he stripped off his sweatshirt and draped it around her shoulders. The soft fabric still held the warmth from his body. Katie hugged it close.

“Thank you.”

“Seeing as how my run’s pretty much shot for the day, want to grab some coffee? I know a place close by…”

            Her pulse leapt at the unexpected question. It was dangerous. She was engaged. What would Tim say?

            Nestled in the armband strapped around her bicep, Katie’s phone buzzed. In that moment, a sudden realization struck her. She didn’t give a damn what Tim thought. He was the one who had walked out on her. He was the one who saw no harm in flirting with the girl from work. And the barista. And god only knew who else.

It was just coffee. Nothing more.

Besides, a little harmless flirtation never killed anyone, right?