Pregnant and homeless, China Brown isn’t a threat to anyone. But when she accidentally witnesses a murder, the killer attempts to silence her too. Although China survives, she loses the baby who meant more to her than her own life. Distraught and alone, she finds herself turning to an unlikely source of comfort.
Hard-bitten Det. Ben English is on the case, and he thinks the victim—a celebrity photographer—was killed for the scandals his camera could expose. But there’s something even more intriguing to Ben than the secrets at the heart of the crime: the star witness. Undeniably drawn to China, Ben vows to keep her safe. But as they grow closer to each other, they also grow closer to the killer.
“In a truly riveting story, Ms. Sala draws you in from the very beginning. She delivers main characters who will touch your hearts and quirky secondary characters who will intrigue you as you try to figure out whodunit.” —RT Book Reviews
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Dallas, TexasDecember 11th, Present day
The baby kicked in China's belly as she bent down to pick up her bag, a frightening reminder that she wasn't the only person about to become homeless. George Wayne, her landlord, shifted nervously behind her as he stood in the doorway to the apartment, watching her gather her assortment of meager belongings.
"It ain't my fault, you know. Rules is rules, and you're more than three months behind on rent."
China turned, the bag in her hand, her head held high. "If you'd told me sooner that Tommy wasn't giving you the rent money, I wouldn't have kept giving it to him. I would have given it to you myself."
George Wayne frowned. "That's what you say, but you ain't got no way of provin' that to me. For all I know, you both partied up the money, and when it was all gone, he split on you."
China's heart sank. The fact that Tommy Fairheart, the father of her unborn child, had disappeared from her life eight days earlier was secondary to the fact that he'd stolen every penny she had to her name when he left. That he had also kept the last three months' rent money instead of paying George Wayne, as China had believed, was, as the old saying went, the last straw.
She gave George a scathing look, pulled the front of her coat as far as it would go across her tummy and shouldered her bag. With her head held high, she moved past George in long, stilted strides, hoping she could get out of his sight before she started to cry.
It was a long walk from the third floor of her apartment down to street level. She made it in record time. But her defiance died when she stepped out the door and turned to face the bitter bite of Texas winter.
Again the baby kicked, then rolled. China placed her hand across the swell of her stomach and shifted the strap of her bag to a more comfortable position on her shoulder. Her mouth was twisted into a bitter grimace, her eyes flooded with tears, but there was determination in her voice.
"Don't worry, baby. Mama will take care of you."
Uncertain as to how that would yet come to be, she started walking. Her plan was to find a church. She'd seen several on the bus route that she rode every day to work. Maybe there would be someone there who could give her some temporary shelter. She had a job waiting tables in a barbeque joint. The pay wasn't much, but the tips were good. All she needed was a place to stay until she could save up enough money for another apartment.
For thirty minutes her hopes were high, but after more than a mile of walking and still no sign of any church, she began to get nervous. Her feet were so cold she could no longer feel her toes, and though she'd dressed as warmly as possible in sweatpants and a sweatshirt and two pairs of socks, her lack of gloves and the bite of the wind against her flesh was taking its toll. And, as if that wasn't enough, to add insult to injury, it started to snow.
Minuscule bits of something that felt more like sleet than snow stung her eyes. She squinted and ducked her head against a cruel winter gust that parted her coat. With shaking hands, she yanked it back over her belly, as if trying to shelter the child she was carrying.
A garbage truck rumbled past her as she paused at a street corner to get her bearings. She told herself that the pain in her lower back didn't matter. The buildings looked festive in their Christmas decorations, but she didn't see anything that resembled a church. As she waited for the light to change, she couldn't help but wish she'd paid more attention to the route the bus had taken instead of putting on her makeup and adding the finishing touches to her hair as she'd ridden to work each day.
"There's got to be one around here somewhere," she said, and headed for a florist on the opposite side of the street to ask for directions.
As she stepped inside Red River Floral and closed the door behind her, the strains of "White Christmas" filled the air. She leaned against the door to rest, letting the warmth envelope her.
"Hi, honey, can I help you?"
China's focus shifted at the woman's approach. She was broad and tall, and had the reddest hair she'd ever seen. It took China a bit to realize that a goodly portion of her height came from the highly teased hairstyle.
"Um ... yes, I hope so," China said. "I'm looking for a church."
The redhead grinned. "You lookin' to join it or ..."
"No," China said. "I'm sort of lost, and I thought someone there could help me. I saw plenty of them when I rode the bus to work, but now I can't seem to find a single one."
"You ride the bus?" the redhead asked.
"Then why didn't you just get back on that bus and ride it to the church?"
China shrank within herself. Admitting she didn't have a dime to her name wasn't something she was comfortable with, especially to a stranger.
"I missed it, that's all," she said shortly. "Can you help me?"
The redhead's smile shifted slightly as compassion filled her eyes. "Well, sure. We'll get the phone book and take us a look. How's that?"
China smiled. "I would appreciate it," she said softly, and unconsciously patted the swell of her belly as she followed the woman to the back of the store.
While they were in the midst of searching the yellow pages, a bell jingled, signaling the appearance of another customer, and this time a paying one.
"Excuse me just a minute," the florist said, and moved toward the customer, leaving China alone at the counter.
She scanned the listings, one by one, trying to figure out where she was in accordance with the nearest churches. At this point she wasn't in a position to be picky about denomination; all she wanted from them was charity. She was still looking at addresses when the florist and the customer came to the counter.
"Find what you're looking for?" the florist asked.
China shrugged. "I'm not sure. Are any of these churches nearby?"
The customer, a tall, well-dressed woman in her midthirties, gave China an impatient stare.
"I'm in a hurry," she said, eyeing the florist.
"Yes, I'm sorry," the florist said, and began writing the work order.
"Do you mind?" the woman drawled, elbowing China out of the way in order to set her purse on the counter, then staring pointedly at China's bag on the floor between them.
The woman's attitude was nothing more than another slap in China's face, and for a woman who'd already had one too many blows to her self-esteem that day, it was one too many.
China picked up her bag and headed for the door without getting the address she'd come for.
"Wait, honey!" the florist called. "I'll be with you in a minute."
China paused, then turned, the length of the store carrying the clear, quiet tone of her message.
"Thank you for being so kind."
A frigid blast of wind and its accompanying sleet hit her squarely in the face, reminding her of why she'd sought shelter there. She'd wasted precious time and still didn't know any more now than she had when she went in. She hesitated, considering going back inside, when she caught a glimpse of herself in the store window. Her hair was wild and windblown, her cheeks reddened from exposure. Her all-around appearance was bedraggled. With the bag hanging over her shoulder, she looked like the homeless people she often saw walking the streets. And in that moment, the bitter truth of her situation hit.
She didn't just look like one. She had become one.CHAPTER 2
As the sun began to set, China was forced to accept the truth that pride did go before a fall. If only she hadn't stormed out of the florist's before getting the information she needed, she might not be in this fix. From that realization, self-pity moved her thoughts in another direction.
If only her mother were still alive, she would never have gotten mixed up with a man like Tommy Fairheart. Her mother had always had a way of seeing through pretty words to the heart of a person. She'd left Clyde Shubert the day after he had nearly drowned China in the shower. She could still remember her mother apologizing to China over and over as they made their way to the bus station. The determination on her mother's face had been fierce and her faith in men definitely over. Mae wouldn't have been fooled by Tommy's pretty words as China had been.
China sighed as she stopped at a street comer, waiting for the light to change. She stomped her feet and stuffed her hands into the sleeves of her coat. Never would she take being warm for granted again.
As she stood, her thoughts drifted back to Tommy. When they'd first met, he'd been so sweet. In the beginning there wasn't anything he wouldn't do for her. She wasn't so sure she would have listened to her mother — not then. She had been ready for love — for her own life to begin. She was so willing to believe his good looks were a reflection of his soul. Obviously she'd been wrong.
The light changed. Just as she stepped off the curb into the street, a car came around a corner at a high rate of speed, skidding dangerously toward her on the snow-packed street. She jumped back to the curb just in time to keep from being hit as the tires sent a nasty mix of sand, salt and slushy snow onto the legs of her sweatpants.
"You jerk!" she shouted.
The girth of her belly was restricting, and she grunted as she bent down to brush off the mess. This time, when she stepped off the curb to cross, she made a hasty sprint to the other side, breathing a sigh of relief when her feet touched the sidewalk. She started walking. A few blocks back, someone had told her about an all-night mission in the area, and she needed to find it quick. Her lower back was throbbing, her belly was in knots and now her fingers were as numb as her feet.
The streets were well lit, and the bars she was passing seemed to be doing a healthy business. The sounds of holiday music seemed to be everywhere — spilling out of passing cars and from inside different establishments as the patrons came and went. More than once she had to sidestep rowdy crowds standing in front of the doors to continue down the street. The smell of food was making her nauseous, yet she knew she needed to eat.
A few blocks down, the patrons thinned out, as did the quality of the businesses. Her steps quickened as she moved past the varying signs over these darkened doors. She'd ventured into the Oakcliff area — a place that people in the know called the Sunny South Side. Only it wasn't sunny, and it wasn't a place she wanted to be.
Topless dancers inside.
The Flip Side.
When a pair of men came out of the last bar arm in arm, she knew she was out of her element. She'd seen plenty of these places before, but always from within the confines of a car or a bus. Never had her vulnerability been more evident. And just when she thought it couldn't get much worse, three young men stepped out of the shadows of a nearby alley. One grabbed her by the arm and began pulling her toward the darkness.
"Baby, baby, come 'ere to me ... I'll show you how to stay warm."
"Let me go!" China cried, then kicked at his shins as she yanked her arm free and began to run.
He cursed in pain and bolted after her, catching her before she'd gone more than a few steps.
Anger slashed across his face, and he drew back his hand to silence her when one of the other men suddenly spoke.
"Let her go, Ruiz, she's got a baby in her belly."
The man called Ruiz snarled, "So much the better for me," and curled his hand in China's hair.
Then the man who'd spoken on China's behalf stepped into the light and curled his fingers around Ruiz's wrist. As the pair glared at each other, it became obvious to China that there was more than a physical struggle going on. The look that passed between the two was more of a challenge for dominance than for doing what was right.
Suddenly the pressure on her scalp ceased. Ruiz had turned her loose. She was free. Hastily, she reached down to pick up the bag that she'd dropped, but the man who'd spoken up on her behalf beat her to it. The look on his face made her take a hesitant step back.
Miguel Hernandez stared long and hard into the young woman's face, looking past the cold that had long ago pinched her features into frozen caricatures, then to the coat that was two sizes too small for her belly.
China held her breath, waiting to see if this savior was going to turn on her, too.
"Where is your man?" he asked.
The question was unexpected, and it cut to the pain China was carrying in her heart.
"I don't have one," she muttered.
The man pointed at her stomach. "Where is the man who put the baby in your belly?"
Her chin began to quiver. "I don't know. He stole my money and left a few days ago."
The man's dark eyes glittered. "Why are you here? It's not safe for a chica like you."
"A mission ... someone told me there was an all-night mission."
"You have no home."
It wasn't a question. It was a statement. And it cut to China's heart like a knife. She tried to speak, but the words wouldn't come. She found herself staring at him through a thick wall of tears.
"Ahhh, don't cry," he said softly. "Come ..." He led her out of the alley and back to the street, then pointed. "See? Just a few blocks away. You are almost there, little mama."
China looked in the direction he was pointing and saw the outline of a lit cross, bright against the skyline of Dallas like a beacon in the dark. It stood silhouetted against the neon debauchery like a lifeline for the lost. She started to shake. It was a normal reaction to the adrenaline rush, but it left her feeling breathless and weak.
"I see it," she said, and eyed her dark-eyed savior nervously.
He almost smiled. "When you get there, tell Father Doyle that Miguel said to treat you right."
"You are Miguel?"
He shrugged, as if remembering that, on the streets, identity was not something one easily gave away.
But China wasn't insulted by his lack of response. She glanced over his shoulder to the pair of men who'd slunk back into the shadows, then back at him. There was something in his eyes that told her he wasn't as far gone as the others. Caution told her to start walking, but she felt guilty at just walking away. Tentatively she touched his arm, feeling the strength of him through the layers of his coat.
"Thank you, Miguel, more than I can say."
A muscle jerked in his jaw, and his eyes suddenly glittered dangerously.
"Just get off the streets," he said, thrusting her bag into her hands, then disappearing into the alley.
China heard an angry exchange of voices and then receding footsteps. With a last nervous glance over her shoulder, she started walking, ever mindful of the snow-packed sidewalks and the baby she carried.
Two blocks came and went, and China's gaze stayed firmly fixed on the cross above the mission. The humble landmark promised warmth and safety and, if she was lucky, maybe some food. Because she was so focused on where she was going, she forgot to pay attention to where she was at.
One moment she was in midstride, and the next thing she knew she'd collided with a tall, elegant blonde in a full-length fur coat. Her bag slid off her shoulder onto the sidewalk as she scrambled to stay on her feet. Certain she was going to fall, she was surprised by the sudden impact of strong, gripping hands on her shoulders, steadying her stance.
"Careful there, honey," the blond woman drawled. "You don't want to hurt yourself or that little baby in there."
"I'm so sorry. I didn't see you," China said.
The woman's smile was wry, but her drawl held a hint of laughter as she brushed the slight dusting of snow from her fur. Then she patted her hair, as if checking for disarray.
China straightened her coat and bent to pick up her bag. As she did, she heard someone shouting and then the woman beside her starting to curse. Startled by the sound of someone running through the muck, she spun in fear. A series of lights began flashing, and she screamed. It took a few seconds for her to realize someone was only taking pictures.
To her horror, the blonde suddenly pulled a gun from her purse and fired three shots in rapid succession. The man with the camera staggered, then turned, trying to run. The last shot hit him square in the back. He dropped facedown in the street, sending a small shower of slush into the air as he hit. A pool of red began spilling out from beneath him, discoloring the snow.
China stared in disbelief, first at the blonde with the gun, then at the man in the street. Her mind kept telling her to run, but her feet wouldn't move. Instead, she pressed both hands over her mouth, willing herself not to scream. There had to be a logical explanation for what she'd just witnessed. The man must have been going to attack them. That was it. The blonde had been defending herself.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Butterfly"
Copyright © 2015 Sharon Sala.
Excerpted by permission of RosettaBooks.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
a really good read
This captivated you from page 1 to the very end. The twist at the end was the last thing I expected. I am loving this author and I can't wait to read more. Add this author to your reading list, you will not be disappointed. mjw
Excellrnt story...sad at times....poignant......very sweet. SharonSala is terrific and her main characters are hard to forget!
I thought this book was really good. I didn't want the story to end, China seem like a great person to meet along with Mattie, and Ben. If you haven't read this book yet, read it soon!
In Dallas, her landlord tosses the pregnant China Brown out of her apartment for not paying the rent. As been her history, even as a little girl in Michigan, China is a born victim. She gave the rent money to her boyfriend to hand over to the landlord. Homeless and hopeless, China warily heads to a mission to get inside from the bitter cold gripping the city. On the way, China watches a blonde woman murder celebrity photographer Chaz Finelli and take his camera. The killer next fires shots at the only witness, China. Somehow, China survives, but her unborn child is dead. Detective Ben English heads the investigation with his only lead a near dead China who has no reason to live. Romantic suspense fans know that best-selling author Sharon Sala always provides an exciting novel. Her latest tale, BUTTERFLY, although not quite up to her usual excellence level, is an entertaining story. The weakness to the tale lies in the cold blooded killer who murders like an Ennis developed professional hitman, protects her identity like an individual without a thought in their head and whose motives never come clean. The investigation is fun to follow because the cop and the life long victim make a charming couple, so much so that readers will want them to make it together. Harriet Klausner