Friday, January 26, 2024

Chain Reaction (Brantley Walker: Off the Books Book 10) by Nicole Edwards ~ Book Review with Excerpt


From New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author Nicole Edwards comes the tenth installment in her Brantley Off the Books series.

During the two years since they created the Off the Books Task Force, Brantley Walker and Reese Tavoularis have had their share of difficult cases, but their next one hits close to home. Too close.

After Jessica James is taken in broad daylight in the center of town, the Off the Books Task Force joins forces with family and friends in Coyote Ridge to find her. When JJ turns up safe and sound, they realize finding her was only half the battle. A series of chain reactions have the task force working to clear one of their own while searching for the person responsible for JJ’s disappearance.

Some relationships are tested, while others grow stronger as the team works to stop the dominoes from falling.


(unedited excerpt) 
©Nicole Edwards 2024

Saturday, August 13, 2022
8:45 A.M.

“I knew I should’ve let Baz micro-chip me,” Jessica James mumbled from where she sat, tied to what was surprisingly a very comfortable chair. It actually looked new. Like maybe these looney tunes idiots stopped by Walmart as soon as they had the bright idea to commit a felony.

Yes, yes. Let’s do that. Let’s kidnap the pregnant woman.

Perfect. But she’s gonna need a comfy chair.

Walmart! Score!

Of course, imaginary conversations aside, JJ’s comfort didn’t really matter when there were a couple of nut jobs staring at her from across the room, likely trying to figure out what phase two of their grand kidnapping plan was since they breezed so smoothly through phase one.

To keep her mind off her fear, JJ imagined what their checklist looked like.

Empty room. Check.

Comfy chair. Check.

Silky rope. Check.

So far, they were three for three if that was their goal because here she was, the only thing in the empty room.

Except for the chair and the rope that kept her strapped to it.

Oh, and them.

Honest to God, if JJ hadn’t encountered the guy with the wild red hair and beady eyes for herself, she would’ve thought someone was playing a practical joke on her. It seemed almost surreal. Seriously.

As far as criminal masterminds went, she got the feeling neither Cheerleader Barbie nor Chucky—he looked eerily like the serial killing doll—was dealing with a full deck. Based on their hushed voices, they weren’t exactly sure what to do next.

She imagined their timeline, although she seriously doubted they’d given it any consideration.

7:30 a.m. - kidnap the pregnant woman from the bakery. 7:30 - 8:30 a.m. - drive to secondary location, deliver pregnant woman to a comfy chair, and tie her up.

8:30 a.m. - stand around and figure out what to have for breakfast.

9:00 a.m. - go get breakfast

9:30 a.m. - eat breakfast, determine how to proceed.

JJ doubted they’d made it further than that, considering it probably wasn’t nine yet. She didn’t know for sure, only that it was 8:43 a.m.—according to Chucky’s watch—when he was finished tying her up. That wasn’t too long ago.

Normally, by this time on a Saturday, JJ would be having breakfast with Baz. Sometimes, they ate while they worked on the couch, their laptops in front of them, and the news on the television. And when it wasn’t too hot or muggy, they sat on the back porch and enjoyed the sunrise, but getting up before the sun was a rarity for her on her days off. She was far too tired to do that at the moment, being that she was seven months pregnant, and sometime in the past week, it felt like the peanut growing inside her had doubled in size. And she was pretty sure the baby thrived on her getting at least ten hours of sleep each day. Since she rarely got seven, JJ realized she wasn’t getting nearly enough.

Maybe she could make time for a nap this afternoon. If and when these looney tunes got tired of holding her captive.

If her Saturday had gone as planned, she would’ve completed her original task, which involved getting up earlier than usual to run into town so she could get her favorite pastry—the miracle known as a cronut. There was only one place she knew to get them, and that was at Batter & Bliss. Ramona Weber, the proprietor of JJ’s favorite bakery, made them only one day a week—Saturday—and JJ had been showing up like clockwork to ensure she got her fill.

Man, she wished she hadn’t dropped her cronut.

Unfortunately, when she should’ve been driving home to enjoy that morning routine with Baz, her day had taken a bit of a turn. A turn that resulted in the beady-eyed guy with the wild red hair tying her to an upholstered chair with a rope that was pulled underneath it. All she had to do was stand up, turn around, kick the chair over, and she would be free to go.

Not that she would do that. Not yet. Right now, she was curious what the creepy redhead and the wacky blonde girl had in store for her.

No better time than the present to find out, right? Not like she had anything better to do.

“Why am I here?” JJ asked the blonde girl, one of the nut jobs responsible for this wackadoodle kidnapping job.

She had to give them props for trying, though. They had technically gotten her from Coyote Ridge to … wherever the hell she was now. If it hadn’t been for the blindfold the guy insisted she wore during the drive, she would’ve known exactly. Instead, JJ figured she was about forty-five minutes outside of Coyote Ridge. Or perhaps she was still in the town proper, and he’d driven around in circles for forty-five minutes. Since he didn’t seem especially adept at coming up with an elaborate kidnapping plot, JJ wouldn’t put anything past him.

“During the first stages of a kidnapping,” JJ explained, “it’s usually good to share with your captive why they’re here.”

“Really?” Molly asked, sounding ridiculously sincere as she glanced up at her partner in crime.

Clearly, she’d never done this before. Not that JJ had either, but it seemed reasonable, right?

“Yes, really,” JJ assured them, wondering whether she should be amused or scared. The jury was still out.

“Do you know who I am?” Molly inquired, walking toward her.

In the movies, that question would’ve been barked with venom from a big, burly guy with bad breath and dead eyes. That wasn’t the case in this awkward scenario. Molly Ryan looked like a high school cheerleader with her blond ponytail and big doe eyes. She wore a pair of white shorts with cuffs and a blouse that looked like she possibly got it from the little girl’s department. Molly wasn’t very big, but she could’ve used one size up. As it was, the buttons on the blouse were pulled tight across her minimal boobage.

“Molly,” JJ said in answer to her question. “Of course I know who you are.”

Oddly, that seemed to please her immensely.

“Sebastian told you about me?”

And yes, there was a hint of a sigh in the question. Disbelief? Hope?

While Molly stood there with stars glittering in her eyes, JJ weighed her options for how to answer. Baz hadn’t really told her much at all about Molly Ryan, the girl who had pretended—for the better part of eight months—that she was pregnant with Baz’s baby. That didn’t mean JJ hadn’t done her homework. Or rather, Luca Switzer had. The man whose skills rivaled JJ’s behind a keyboard had pulled up a very creepy dossier on Molly Elizabeth Ryan, born November 29, 2002, which made her … JJ did the math in her head. Ah. Right. Twenty years old. She’d been barely nineteen—posing as a twenty-one-year-old—when Baz met her in a bar, let her drive him to her apartment, had sex with her, and got her pregnant.

Only Baz didn’t have sex with her. Molly just told him they’d had wild, passionate monkey sex during his drunken stupor. And thanks to said drunken stupor, Baz had been too intoxicated to get an erection or remember anything that happened. Since Baz didn’t have sex with her, the baby she’d been pregnant with wasn’t his.

“Sure,” JJ said, gauging by Molly’s expression that an affirmation was the only correct response. “He … uh … told me about you.”

Truth was, Baz refused to talk about Molly. He probably would have if JJ had asked, but she honestly thought they’d put this woman behind them.

Molly smiled, and her eyes warmed significantly. “What did he say?”

It was so obvious that Molly was expecting JJ to relay that Baz had confessed his undying love for Manic Molly but had settled for JJ as a second prize because … well, to be fair, JJ wasn’t that much of a storyteller. Despite all her flaws, JJ couldn’t see a reason why Baz would ever choose Molly over her.

Not that she would tell Manic Molly that.

And, of course, JJ couldn’t very well answer with the truth. Then JJ’s captor would know that Baz had pretty much told her Molly, whose parents called her Liz, was the crazy chick who’d selected Baz as her baby daddy and developed a crazy obsession with him. Not necessarily in that order.

JJ also wasn’t sure it was wise to share with Molly that she knew about the three different psychiatric facilities Molly had spent a significant amount of time in since she was eleven, or that she had been diagnosed with schizophrenia at a young age, or that she had birthed three children by three different men—one when she was only fourteen, the second when she was almost eighteen, and the third, which Molly had said belonged to Baz, not quite a year ago. The first two had been put up for adoption, but JJ wasn’t sure what had happened to the third one. She assumed the same.

The guy with the red hair and dead eyes said something under his breath, which caused Molly to turn toward him. JJ watched the exchange, doing her best to figure out the relationship between these two. Obviously, Chucky—she hadn’t yet heard his real name—was Molly’s henchman. He was the one who had cornered JJ at the bakery when she’d been walking to her car. JJ had known instantly that she was in serious trouble. More so when the creepy guy pulled out a syringe filled with God only knew what.

That was the moment JJ decided she wasn’t going to let the creep-show hurt her baby. So she’d gone with him. Willingly. Kinda. Okay, she hadn’t been willing, but she hadn’t really resisted because she feared that whatever was in that syringe would’ve killed the peanut currently growing inside her—a chance she wasn’t willing to take. And since JJ worked for one of the most highly regarded security agencies in the country—Sniper 1 Security—and more specifically, the Off the Books Task Force, which was dedicated to locating missing people, she knew as long as she stayed alive, they would find her.

So here she was.

“Yes,” JJ heard Molly say. “I’ll be fine with her.”

JJ noted the way Chucky looked at her, as though sizing her up, so she put on her best victim expression. It wasn’t hard to do since, technically, JJ was the victim here. She was tied to a chair. A big chair. With fluffy arms and a cushy seat. It was nicer than JJ’s desk chair at HQ. Maybe she could take a nap while the two of them figured out what they were going to do. Or perhaps she should tell them she was hungry. Which she was. But thinking about food only made her think about Baz waiting at home for her. He was probably going out of his mind right about now.

Okay, so she had to stop thinking about Baz. And food.

If she could get Molly talking, perhaps she could figure out a way to end this standoff peacefully.

To do that, she would have to find out what Molly wanted. And if the girl said Baz … well, JJ would have to get creative because she damn sure wasn’t giving up the man she loved.

Then again, maybe if she allowed Molly to think she would…

Something to ponder.

Whatever she did, the last thing she wanted was to push these two looney tunes into doing something that might cause physical harm. JJ wasn’t worried about herself, but she would move heaven and earth to protect the peanut, so for the time being, she was going to play along.

If you have been following OFF THE BOOKS TASK FORCE, you'll recall the whopper of a cliffhanger we were left with at the end of OFF COURSE when Nicole Edwards blew our minds with having J.J. kidnapped in broad daylight right in the center of town no less. So we pick up where we left off, with J.J. in the hands of her kidnappers, now the task force is searching for her and while they're doing that we get to see what is going on in their lives as well.

Who would want to take J.J. and what do they want? Will the task force find her before anything happens to her or her unborn baby? Plus there are so many other questions you'll have but you know there's only one way to find out, you need to read the book. Here's the thing though this series MUST be read in the order of release since each story is the continuation of the previous book. If you enjoy STEAMY Romanctic Suspense, MM Romances and MF (different couples) Romances, Work Place Romances, Former Military, or Former Law Enforcement Romances, then this is the book and series for you!

Happy Reading!!! 

About the Author:

Nicole lives in Texas with her husband and their youngest of 3 children. The two older ones have ventured out in the world on their own. She has a beautiful granddaugther and a rather spoiled grand-puppy.. Oh, she and Colt  also have four dogs. Most of the time, you can find her hiding in my writing cave. If she's not there, she's probably hanging out with the family, reading, or watching hockey and football. One thing for sure... Nicole is always trying to have fun. 

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*Book Teasers and Excerpt are property of Nicole Edwards

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