Authors: Marilyn Pappano
He might resent Neely like hell, might wish she'd disappear from his life and his memory, but he didn't want her dead, hurt or in danger.
The second sensation wasâ¦hard to identify. Something weak. Soft. Damnably foolishâ¦
She looked so fragile. Vulnerable. There was a part of himâthe part that remembered loving herâthat wanted to close the door and lock them inside this safe place, then gather her into his arms and simply hold her.
Thank God the rest of him knew better than to give in to such weakness.
Silhouette Intimate Moments
The Lights of Home
Guilt by Association
Cody Daniels' Return
Room at the Inn
Something of Heaven
Not without Honor
A Dangerous Man
Memories of Laura
Sweet Annie's Pass
Finally a Father
A Man Like Smith
Survive the Night
The Taming of Reid Donovan
The Overnight Alibi
The Horseman's Bride
Who Do You Love?
“A Little Bit Dangerous”
My Secret Valentine
The Sheriff's Surrender
Silhouette Special Edition
Silhouette Christmas Stories
“The Greatest Gift”
Silhouette Summer Sizzlers
You Must Remember This
brings impeccable credentials to her writing careerâa lifelong habit of gazing out windows, not paying attention in class, daydreaming and spinning tales for her own entertainment. The sale of her first book brought great relief to her family, proving that she wasn't crazy but was, instead, creative. Since then she's sold more than forty books to various publishers and even a film production company.
She writes in an office nestled among the oaks that surround her country home. In winter she stays inside with her husband and their four dogs, and in summer she spends her free time mowing the yard that never stops growing and daydreams about grass that never gets taller than two inches.
You can write to her at P.O. Box 643, Sapulpa, OK, 74067-0643.
eese Barnett drove slowly down the main street of Killdeer, Kansas, his gaze sweeping side to side, across empty buildings and lots to empty parking spaces. The town was small, a nowhere place, and unremarkable except for the fact that it lay about halfway between Kansas City and Heartbreak, Oklahoma. Grass grew in cracks in the sidewalks, and the few buildings left standing were unoccupiedâa grocery store, a gas station, a cafÃ©. The place had never been prosperous, and these days, except for a combination gas station-grocery store-post office-restaurant on the edge of town and a handful of sorry houses, it was damn near a ghost town.
It was, according to his cousin Jace, a good place for a meeting.
Reese pulled into a parking lot that filled half the block and found a bit of shade underneath a blackjack oak. He parked facing the street, rolled down the windows, then shut off the engine. He was early for the meeting. Jace had asked him to show up first, to look around and make certain nothing seemed out of place. The only thing out of place was
scoping out a down-on-its-luck town with a population of maybe twenty, if he counted the stray cats and dogs.
Reaching for the cell phone, he dialed Jace's number. Jace answered on the third ring, skipped the greeting and went straight to business. “Where are you?”
“Sitting in front of what used to be a grocery store in the heart of what used to be a town.”
“No traffic, no people. Only the critters are out and about.”
“Good. We'll be there in about ten minutes.”
“I'll be waiting,” Reese said dryly, then disconnected. He didn't have much of a clue about what was going on. All he knew was that he'd gotten a call from Jace that morning, asking for his help. Since he was in the help-giving businessâhis official title was Canyon County Sheriffâand since Barnetts never said no to family if they could help it, he'd taken a day off work. He'd followed Jace's instructions and left his uniform and badge at home. His black-and-white Blazer, complete with a shield on each door and a light bar on the roof, was parked at his house. He'd driven his own truck, worn jeans and a chambray shirt, boots and a straw Resistol.
Also per Jace's instructions, his Sig Sauer P-220 .45-caliber pistol was tucked between the seat and the console, his five-shot .38 was holstered at the small of his back, and his department-issue 12-gauge pump shotgun was within easy reach behind the seat. He was ready for damn near anything.
He did know one other detailâthe favor Jace was asking of him involved baby-sitting. It would be for just a few days, his cousin had promised. All Reese had to do was keep this witness safe and breathing for a week, no more, while Jace wrapped up the case back in Kansas City, where he was a detective with the K.C. Police Department. Male or female, young, old, honest citizen or cowardly informantâReese knew none of that. He didn't even know what crime the person had been a witness to.
But he was about to get a few answers.
The car that turned into the parking lot was a midsize sedan
with heavily tinted side and back windows. He recognized Jace behind the wheel, but couldn't tell anything about the passenger. He stepped out of his truck as Jace parked beside it. Thanks to the window tint and the hat the passenger wore, Reese still couldn't tell much, although he presumed it was a woman. The hat was too fussy by far for a man.
Jace climbed out of the car and met Reese's gaze over the roof. Though they were the same age, the only sons of brothers who could have passed for twins, there was no family resemblance at all. Reese looked like their dadsâbrown hair, brown eyesâwhile Jace looked more like his Osage mother's family with black hair, bronzed skin and eyes so dark they seemed black.
“I appreciate your doing this,” Jace said.
“Do I get an explanation, or do you plan to just drop her and run?”
“She's a lawyer who's been getting death threats. Last week someone tried to make good on them, so I put her in a safe house that turned out to be not so safe. Last night someone tried again.”
“Which suggests that either your guy is damned luckyâ¦or you've got a traitor in the department.”
Jace nodded grimly.
“And no one knows where you've taken her now.”
“She doesn't even have a clue herself. At this moment, only you and I know she'll be in Heartbreak.”
“She have any bags?”
“Just one.” Jace opened the trunk and lifted out a pricey leather suitcase. “If you have to get in touch with me, call my cell phone and leave a message for me to call, nothing more. And keep an eye on her. So far, she's been pretty cooperative, but that could change. And keep her safe. I really want to make this case.”
While Jace opened the passenger door, Reese turned and stowed the suitcase in the cargo space at the rear of his truck. He turned back just in time to come face-to-face with the witness as she got out of the car. He stared, and she stared
back. Even with the hat shadowing her face, he could see she was stunnedâthough no more than he.
Criminal defense lawyer. Former friend. Former lover. And Reese's worst nightmare.
She looked as incredible as everâtall, slender, perfect. Underneath the straw hat that sported a giant sunflower, a few strands of silky light brown hair parted across her forehead. Her eyes were brown, too, and too big for her face, giving her an innocent-waif lookâ¦but looks were often deceiving. There was nothing innocent or waifish about her. Nothing perfect about her, either.
Clenching his jaw, he pulled the suitcase out and dropped it to the ground with enough force to scuff the expensive leather. He slammed the door hard enough to rock the truck, then headed for the driver's side.
Before he reached the door, Jace grabbed his arm. “Come on, Reese, you agreedâ”
“Only because I didn't know it was her. And you didn't tell me because you knew I'd say no.”
“You can't walk away. Her life is in danger. Someone's trying to kill her!”
Reese jerked his arm free and faced his cousin. “Good! I wish him luck.”
“You don't mean that.”
Breathing in short, controlled puffs, Reese stared stonily at Jace. Did he wish Neely was dead? He wished he'd never met her, wished he'd never touched her, never wanted her, never needed her. Hell, he wished she'd never been bornâ¦but that was a whole different matter from wishing her dead.
And not wanting her dead was a whole different matter from risking his own life to keep her safe.
Well aware that she could hear him from the other side of the truck, Reese coldly, flatly said, “Don't bet on it.” Then his anger surged again. “Why in hell didn't you tell me it was her this morning? It would have saved us all the trip. And why did you think I'd give a damn about keeping her safe? After everything that happened, everything she didâ”
“Because I know you.”
“Not well enough. Not if you think I'd agree to this.”
For one long moment after another, they stared at each other. Reese was only faintly aware of a bee buzzing nearby, of the sun's heat beating down and the sweat that trickled down his spine. He was all too aware of Neely, seen from the corner of his eye, still standing at the sedan's door, one hand gripping the hot metal, that silly, floppy hat unmoving. He scowled at Jace, who scowled back just as fiercely.
It was Jace who broke the silence. His words were reasonable, his tone aggravated, his expression belligerent. “I asked you for help in protecting a witness, and you agreed. You can't back out now. It's not my fault you didn't ask the pertinent questions. We had an agreement, bubba. Now you have to honor it.”
“I assumed you'd offered the pertinent information.”
“You know what they say about assuming things,” Jace said mildly. Then he sighed and lowered his voice. “You're right. I figured you'd try to say no if you knew up front that it was Neely. That's why I didn't tell you. But I also know you're professional enough to not let your personal feelings interfere with your job. Regardless of how you feel about her or what happened between you two in the past, she's the victim of a crime. And you're a cop, and you'll do your damnedest to keep her safe.”
Reese shook his head. “Bring me a thief, a hooker or a murderer, and I'll do what I can. Bring me a
victim, and I'll do whatever it takes to protect 'em. But not her. She's not a victimâshe turns other people into victimsâand damned if I'll do anything that makes it possible for her to continue destroying lives.”
“Get over it, Reese,” Jace said scornfully. “It was nine years ago, and it wasn't her fault.”
Nine years. He said it as if it were a lifetime, and in a way, to Reese it felt like one. In other ways, it seemed as if it were just last week. He'd never forgotten the anger, the bitterness, the hurt, the shame. He'd never quite gotten over the loss and
the guilt. And it
her fault. If she hadn't been so stubborn, so convinced that she was right and everyone else was wrong, if she hadn't been so damned unreasonableâ¦
“If she were living in Canyon County, you'd take her into protective custody without a second thought,” Jace said accusingly.
“But she doesn't live there. She's not our problem.”
“She became your problem the moment you said âSure, Jace, I'd be happy to help you out.'” Jace ran his fingers through his hair. “You've blamed her for what happened to Judy Miller for nine years. Well, bubba, if I take her back to the city and the next attempt on her life succeeds, you'll be far more responsible for that than she ever was for Miller. Do you want to live with that on your conscience?”
Reese wanted to shrug, to reply that it made no difference to him. He wanted to climb into his truck, drive away and never give this meetingâor Neelyâanother thought. He wanted to go back to the moment he'd answered the phone that morning and say “Sorry, Jace, don't have the manpower, don't have the budget, can't help you.”
Well, he couldn't go back in time, but he could drive away and leave his cousin and Neely standing there. And what if he did? What if Jace took her back to the city and she was killed? He
be responsible, because he could have guaranteed her safety but had refused. It would prove he was no better, no more honorable, than she was.
And he needed to be better than she was.
But to have her back in his life, living temporarily in his house, bringing back all the bad memories and nightmares, making his present as damned impossible as his pastâ¦. Did he need
It was an effort to unclench his jaw, to force out words he didn't want to say. “Only until you find another place for her. Today and tomorrow. That's all you get. If she's still here then, she's going in the Canyon County jail.”
Jace looked as if he wanted to argue, but knew better. In
stead he nodded grimly. “I'll be in touch as soon as I have something set up. Thanks, bubba.”
For a moment Reese simply stared at the hand his cousin offered, then grudgingly shook hands with him, then hugged him. “Today and tomorrow. And don't think I don't mean it.” After releasing Jace, he climbed into the truck, started the engine and turned the air conditioner to high. He refused to look as Jace approached Neely, and he rolled up the window so he wouldn't have to hear their conversation. He couldn't believe his cousinâhis best friend, the closest thing he had to a brotherâhad put him in this mess, couldn't believe he'd just agreed to take Neely Madison, of all people, into his home.
He was a better cousin and friend than Jace deserved.
Either that, or a damned fool.
As Jace picked up her suitcase, Neely stared at the dirty plate-glass windows that stretched across the front of the abandoned market. Sale prices were painted across the glass in faded white: Ground Beef, 3 Pounds/$1.00 and Bread, 5 Loaves/$1.00. Obviously the place had been empty a long, long time. In Kansas City, the windows would have been broken out by vandals years ago, the entire building either burned or torn down, but here in tiny Killdeer, not a single rock had been thrown.
At least, not the solid-in-your-hand mineral kind. Reese had gotten in a few good verbal tosses. He'd always been good with words, the sweet, tender kind as well as the cut-her-heart-out-and-leave-her-bleeding sort. This time she couldn't even blame him. Jace had played a dirty trick on them both, and she was no happier about it than Reese.
She was about to climb into the sedan for the long drive back home when Jace caught her hand. “Whoa, darlin', wrong vehicle. You're going with him, remember?”
She looked back at him. “You're kidding, right?”
“I don't kid about my job or your life. Reese has agreed to hide you out for a couple of days while I find someplace else for you. C'mon.”
“I don't want to go with him, Jace. I'd feel safer in Kansas City.”
“You heard what he said. He doesn't give a damn whether Forbes kills me. He doesn't want me here.” She managed to say the words evenly, without any hint of the hurt they caused deep inside. There had been a time when Reese had claimed to love her with all his heart, and she'd believed him with all her heart. But when she'd needed him desperately, he'd turned on her. He'd looked at her, lying in a pool of her own blood, and he'd walked away. And she'd never been the same againânot the same lawyer, the same woman or the same naive, trusting fool.
“You know he didn't mean that.”
She wished she did, wished she could be certain of that, if nothing else. But she couldn't convince herself and made no effort to lie to Jace. “Take me to Tulsa or Oklahoma City. There are places I can go, people who will help me, people who wouldn't rather see me dead.”