Almost Dead (Lizzy Gardner #5)

by T.R. Ragan


After work, the first thing Jenny Pickett did when she walked into her house off Glen Tree Drive in Citrus Heights was carry the mail to her office. Her sturdy heels clacked against the wood floor as she made her way down the hall to her study, adjusting picture frames as she went. She then sat down at her desk and turned on the lamp.

Using a letter opener, she sliced open one piece of mail after another. All junk. She then carefully slid each slip of paper into the shredder, one at a time.

Jenny was a creature of habit. She couldn’t help it.

She looked at the far right corner of her desk. The article she’d clipped from the Journal of the American Chemical Society was like a magnet, begging to be read again and again. She had brought the article home three weeks ago, read it hundreds of times already, even crumpled it in her fist and threw it into the garbage. An hour after tossing it, though, she’d pulled it out, smoothed most of the wrinkles from the glossy paper, and then left it leaning against a stack of books—where it was now. She didn’t need to bring it closer to know what it said. She had most of the article memorized.

She glanced at the clock. In a couple of hours, Brandon Louis would be paying her a visit, making this day one of the most important days of her life. For this reason, she refused to allow herself to continue on her recent downward spiral into depression—a dark mood she’d found herself in ever since she’d learned that Terri Kramer, an old college classmate, one of the few people she had considered to be a friend, had betrayed her.

Unable to help herself, she reached for the article and stared at the small picture of Terri. Her dark-brown hair was tied back, revealing the same round face and cobalt-blue eyes.

The entire industry had been abuzz about Terri Kramer’s supposed discovery of a new antiaging serum. Terri Kramer had been quoted as saying, “Of course this discovery wasn’t mine alone, but the result of the hard work of my team.”

Jenny felt a rush of heat swoosh through her body. Three weeks had passed since she’d heard the news, and yet she couldn’t look at the article without feeling as if she was sliding deeper into a seething funk.

It wasn’t a bad dream. Terri stole my formula.

You knew she would. You don’t have any friends. Nobody likes you.

Ignoring the voice in her head, Jenny inhaled, noticed the time, and then carefully placed the folded piece of paper back against the books. Brandon would be here in two hours. She didn’t have time to think about any of this now.

Tonight was the night Brandon would propose. Woman’s intuition had her body thrumming with excitement. Brandon was a pilot, and, although he didn’t call often, he’d left a message with the receptionist at her work: we need to talk.

Only four words, but she knew. He wanted her to be ready. And boy, would she be. Although their time spent together was usually a quick romp in bed, she’d been seeing him for almost a year now. He was going to propose. It was time.

Don’t be an idiot. Nobody loves you. You know that.

“Not tonight,” she said aloud. “Leave me alone.”

After one more glance at Terri’s picture, she came to her feet. She walked into the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and sprinkled the water with lavender bath salts.

As the tub filled, she examined her recent purchases laid out on the bed. The formfitting red dress was beautiful. The undergarments made her blush. Should she wear the sexy mesh-and-lace corset with lace V-string or the red bombshell garter slip?

Tonight would be special—different from all of their other nights spent together.

Brandon was smart and funny and ridiculously charming. Every so often he would take her to dinner. Then they would return to her place to sip wine and talk—about everything.

Time raced, and although the next two hours felt like minutes, when the doorbell rang, she was ready. Giddy with anticipation, she opened the door. Before she could wrap her arms around him, Brandon made his way inside without so much as a hello.

She shut the door and swiveled around, her heart pounding. His hair was slicked back, the smell of his cologne woodsy and familiar. Tonight he had taken the time to change out of his uniform. He wore dark slacks and a white buttoned-up shirt.

“What’s with all the candles?” he asked.

She waited for him to notice her, wanted him to take a good long look. She’d taken her time with her hair. Soft silky curls fell over her shoulders. There wasn’t one part of her body that hadn’t been pampered. She had to remind herself to breathe as she moved toward him, hoping to hypnotize him with the sway of her hips.

He didn’t say a word. He was speechless—exactly the effect she’d hoped to have on him.

As she brought her lips to his, she untucked his shirt so she could slide her hands over his warm skin. Brandon’s body felt like chiseled marble. Her breathing quickened. When she pressed her breasts against his chest and her lips to his, swirling her tongue around, his breathing quickened, too.

Much too soon for her liking, he pulled back and said, “We need to talk.”

Those four words again. Her heart hammered. She’d keep it light, playful. Looking at him through dark lashes that had taken much too long to apply, she pouted. “Seriously, Mr. Louis? It has been weeks since I saw you last, and you just want to talk?”

He reached under his shirt, took hold of her wrists, and pulled her hands away.

This time when she looked into his eyes, she saw something she hadn’t seen before—a dash of something she couldn’t quite read. “What’s wrong?”

He scratched the back of his head and then gestured with his chin toward the table she’d set for two, complete with candles and crystal glasses. “What’s this all about, Jenny?”

“I’ve missed you. I wanted to surprise you.” She tried to step closer, but he clasped his fingers around her forearms to keep her at bay. She looked at his hands. “You’re hurting me.”

He let go. “I don’t know how to tell you this, Jenny, but under the circumstances I think it’s best if I just blurt it out.”

“Please do. You’re scaring me. I have no idea—”

“I’m engaged.”

“Engaged,” she said, slowly enough to let the word wrap around her brain. “Engaged to be married?”

He nodded.


She rubbed her temples, tried to think, but his words did not make any sense. “I don’t understand. How can that be true? When did you meet her?”