Authors: Beverly Long
DESIRE IS NEVER SAFE. BUT SOMETIMES IT’S WORTH THE RISK.
Secrets he didn’t see coming almost got Jake Vernelli killed once. But he’s dead certain that whatever pretty Tara Thompson is hiding is behind the frightening incidents threatening her. Unfortunately, Tara is determined to stay silent and safe without this temporary small-town police chief’s help. So to win her trust, Jake must uncover her past, reveal her deepest fears—and face his own wrenching mistakes. Now every false clue and unexpected setback is irresistibly drawing Jake and Tara together. And with nowhere left to run, the only way Jake can protect her against a relentless adversary means risking losing her for good.…
“Did he hurt you?” Jake asked.
“No.” Tara’s reply, muffled yet strong, kept him from turning the truck around and killing the man.
“What happened to your leg?”
“Honey, you limped all the way to my truck.”
“I know,” she said and then she started to cry in earnest. Jake tightened his hold around Tara. With the tip of his finger, he tilted her chin up and looked at her face. Her small brown freckles looked stark against the paleness of her skin. Her eyes and nose were red and tear streaks stained her cheeks. Wisps of her strawberry-blond hair, wet with tears, clung to her face.
He took his free hand and tucked her hair behind her ears. With the pad of his thumb, he traced the tear streaks.
Tara sighed, her sweet pink lips parting just slightly.
He bent down.
She lifted her chin just enough.
Jake kissed her. And when she wrapped both arms around his neck, pulling him closer, pushing her breasts up against his chest, he thought he might never stop kissing her….
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As a child, Beverly Long used to take a flashlight to bed so that she could hide under the covers and read. Once a teenager, more often than not, the books she chose were romance novels. Now she gets to keep the light on as long as she wants, and there’s always a romance novel on her nightstand. With both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in business and more than twenty years of experience as a human resources director, she now enjoys the opportunity to write her own stories. She considers her books to be a great success if they compel the reader to stay up way past his or her bedtime.
Books by Beverly Long
1388—RUNNING FOR HER LIFE
CAST OF CHARACTERS
She loves her café and the people in Wyattville, Minnesota, but believes she may have to run again to stay one step ahead of her abusive ex-fiancé.
Chief Jake Vernelli—
He’s a big-city cop with temporary duty in a small town. He’s certain that Tara is hiding something. Will he figure out her secret in time or will he once again lose someone important?
Michael Watson Masterly—
He’d almost killed Tara once. Has he tracked her down in Wyattville and is he biding his time before he strikes the final blow?
She is Tara’s friend and landlord, but she harbors resentment toward Tara for something her son told her.
An angry, out-of-work man who has lost just about everything. Is he desperate enough to hurt Tara, the one person who has treated him well?
He holds a prestigious position at the bank, but suddenly he has an unexpected interest in Tara that puts her in danger.
Her past is filled with secrets and she could destroy everything that Tara has worked for. Or is it her brother, Bill, who is the dangerous one?
He’s left Wyattville and is supposedly moving on. Is it possible that he’s angry because Tara wanted only to be friends?
For Jim—a wonderful brother-in-law and a dear friend.
You were an inspiration to me and to everyone else who had the privilege of knowing you.
Jake Vernelli flicked his windshield wipers to high and tightened his grip on the steering wheel of his 1969 GMC pickup. On a pleasant summer night, there’d be another hour of daylight but there wasn’t anything pleasant about this night. It was dark and ugly and it matched Jake’s mood perfectly.
When Chase had described Wyattville, Minnesota, his old friend had been characteristically kind.
It’s a little remote.
Remote? Hell, all signs of civilization had faded away when Jake had left the interstate for a bumpy, narrow, two-lane road. More than once, he’d considered making one big U-turn and pointing the nose of his truck back toward Minneapolis. But Chase’s telephone call from last week was fresh enough that he could still hear the desperation in the man’s voice.
Please, Jake. It’s only for six weeks. I wouldn’t ask if I had any other options.
And that was fact. In all the years they’d known each other, Chase had never once asked and had offered more times than Jake could count. The most recent offer had come two months ago, just days after Jake had tried to turn in his badge.
He’d told Chase he was fine, that the gunshot wound was healing nicely, and that he’d put Marcy’s funeral behind him. It was the first time he’d ever lied to his friend. But what was he supposed to say? That he thought about his dead partner every single day and wondered just how he’d missed that she was in trouble?
Could he admit that he’d thought about how miserably lucky he’d been that he’d only gotten a bullet in his leg while young Officer Howard, who’d had the bad luck to get caught in the crossfire between him and Marcy, had lost his life? Should he disclose that in the middle of the night, when his soul felt most tortured, that he questioned whether it had been for naught? Marcy had died but there would still be drugs on the street, in the schoolyard, everywhere. Should he confess that he wasn’t sure he could make a big enough difference anymore?
It was better to lie.
And pretend that he was moving on.
Jake stretched and grabbed the flashlight that had slipped into the crack between the bench seat and the passenger-side door. He pointed it at the directions he’d received just that afternoon. Once satisfied that his navigation was sound, he flicked the light off and glanced ahead.
Fifty feet in front of him, a deer stood in the middle of the damn road.
He flattened the palm of his hand on the horn, pressed his foot hard on the brake, and felt his heart jump when the back tires of his truck lost traction on the wet road.
The bed of the truck slammed into the guardrail, and suddenly he was rolling. His seat belt jerked tight and something, maybe the flashlight, struck him a glancing blow on his chin. The truck rolled a second time and then stopped so suddenly that Jake cracked the left side of his forehead on something.
“Damn it.” He fumbled for the interior light, switched it on and took stock. The cab looked fine, and he felt ridiculously pleased that Veronica was built like a tank. The only problem was, she had metal trim around the doors, and he was pretty sure that was what he’d cracked his head against. He flipped down his visor and looked into the small mirror. The area above his left eye was already swelling, and in the dim interior light he could see fresh blood oozing from a thin cut.
He peered out the windshield. His headlights were still on, but all he could see through the driving rain was two-feet-high grass. Everywhere. He’d landed in some kind of gulley. His truck was in Drive and the engine was running, but he wasn’t going anywhere.
He pulled his cell phone out of his shirt pocket, turned it on and waited. It beeped twice and then the screen went dark. He shook it, turned it on again and met with similar results.
The hinterlands evidently didn’t get cell phone service.
He shoved the truck into Park, pulled the key and unbuckled his seat belt. Using his flashlight, he saw that there was solid earth reaching halfway up the door. He scooted across the seat and looked. Same damn thing.
He opened his glove compartment, retrieved his gun and stuck it into the waistband of his pants. Then he pulled his dark green rain poncho out from underneath the seat, shook out the wrinkles with one sharp flick of his wrist and slipped the thin plastic over his head. Finally, using the butt of the flashlight as a battering ram, he knocked out a perfectly good windshield and crawled out.
Once he stood on Veronica’s hood, he realized that it was a mere foot aboveground. It was going to take a tow truck and somebody who knew what they were doing to get him out of there. The wind took his breath away and the rain beat at him as thunder rumbled and lightning streaked across the dark sky. It was a horrible night to be out, but waiting for someone to pass by wasn’t much of a plan. He hadn’t seen another car for the past half hour.
Before long some animal would probably mosey by and eat him. He pulled up his hood and started walking.
* * *
her twelve-year-old van in the dark garage, thankful that she’d managed to keep the beast on the slick roads. It had been raining hard when she’d left the café and harder still just seconds ago, when she’d jumped out to open the garage door. Shivering in her wet clothes, she pulled down the heavy wood door and stood underneath the small overhang the roof offered. She could barely see her farmhouse, just thirty feet away.
Taking a deep breath, she sprinted. She took the two steps in one leap, yanked open the screen door, unlocked the interior door and threw herself inside. Heart racing, feeling almost giddy, she leaned against her back door and tried to catch her breath.
She could hear the rain pound against the new shingles that her landlord had laboriously laid just weeks earlier. When she flipped the light switch next to the door and saw that the only thing dripping on the kitchen floor was her, she smiled. Maybe Henry had been right when he promised that her bucket days were over.
She kicked off her wet shoes just as a bolt of lightning hit close enough to shake her house. The lights went out without so much as a flicker. She stood in the dark, waiting, hoping. Minutes ticked off and giddiness seeped away, replaced by grim determination.