Crimson Footprints
by Shewanda Pugh
Genre: Romantic Suspense

On the night of her brother’s murder, Deena Hammond stumbles upon Takumi Tanaka, lost and on the wrong end of a .32. After rescuing him from the certain fate driving through her neighborhood in a Porsche will bring, a sweet kind of friendship begins. A balm for her grief.

Maybe, Deena likes to think, it happened the day her mother killed her father. Or maybe, it was always a part of them, like DNA gone bad. Whatever the case, Deena knows that her family would never approve, hell, never acknowledge, her fast-growing love for Tak. And had he never made love to her in that unraveling, soul-searching sort of way, she could’ve done the same. But loves a devil that way. So, their game begins. One where they hide what they are from everyone. Anyone.

Tak understands this for now. After all, Deena’s career hinges on the favor of her mentor and boss: his hard-ass of a father. And the Hammond family is already stretched thin with grief. Yet, each step Deena takes toward family and career brings her closer to an acceptance she’s never had—and away from him.

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At the front of an empty church, Takumi ran an appreciative hand over the brass cymbals of a drum set. It was a Tama Swingstar, good quality at a great price. When he was seven, he fell in love with the sound of a birch Yamaha, and had remained true ever since. He didn’t get to play much anymore though, as the crashing sound was counter conducive to being neighborly. These days, Takumi relied on the guitar or keyboard for a bit of melodic retrospection. But none of that had a thing to do with the price of dairy in Denver. So why the hell did he linger?

The doors of the sanctuary opened and he looked up. Just then, his reason for lingering stepped in and made her way down the aisle. Takumi stood up straighter.

She didn’t so much walk as flow, the black silk of her dress like a caress against curves. Ample in that perfect way only a woman could be, the undulations of her body reminded Takumi of the Salween, the last free-flowing river in South Asia.

 “It’s you,” she whispered. She looked up at him with eyes that were blue: a shimmering shock of blue under long, thick lashes. He didn’t even see how they were possible.

 “I was thinking the same thing.”

She hesitated. “What are you doing here?” 

Takumi looked away. He couldn’t tell this woman whose name he knew only from a funeral program that he’d not come to pay his respects, but because he knew she’d be there.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I saw what happened in the paper and…I’m sorry.”

They fell silent. Finally, she gave a rough nod and blinked back tears. When they fell anyway, she dashed them away in impatience. He wasn’t sure what to do.

Suddenly, she looked up at him. “Why were you there? In Liberty City that night?”

He hesitated, not sure why he felt embarrassed. His work had never embarrassed him before. “I was, uh, looking for inspiration.”

She raised a brow. “Inspiration?”

“Yeah.” He shifted his weight. “I’m an artist. I paint.”

“Paint what?”

Takumi shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know. Hope. Happiness. Regret. Stuff like that.”

An almost-smile crept to her lips, lips that were fuller than he remembered, like strawberries ripe to bursting. Her eyes widened.

“Fascinating,” she whispered.

He couldn’t have said it better himself.

“So…Did you find it? Did you find your inspiration?” And there it was—a twinkle. A twinkle behind weary ocean eyes. She was teasing him. And he liked it. 

Takumi grinned. “Like you wouldn’t believe.”

Shewanda Pugh’s a tomboy who’s been writing romance since an inappropriate age. While she’s been shortlisted for a few awards and snagged a bestsellers list or two, there’s nothing she enjoys more than hearing from her readers. 

In another life, she earned a BA from Alabama A&M University and an MA in Writing from Nova Southeastern University. Though a hardcore native of Boston, MA, she now lives in Miami, FL, where she sulks in the sunshine, guzzles coffee, and puzzles over her next novel. 


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