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Authors: Delores Fossen

Trouble with a Badge

BOOK: Trouble with a Badge
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A woman and baby on the run. A Texas lawman sworn to protect them both.

A tip about a serial killer's next target sends former big-city lawman Levi Crockett on a fool's errand. The willowy blonde he finds isn't the intended victim. But Alexa Dearborn is on the run and needs Levi's protection. So does the newborn she's guarding with her life.

With Alexa's WITSEC identity compromised, the Texas deputy is Alexa's best hope of survival. And although Levi isn't ready to trust her after the tragedy that tore his family apart, he'd never turn his back on the PI and baby girl in her care. Still, as a ruthless murderer stalks them, Levi finds himself fighting an even more powerful enemy: the dangerous desire bringing them closer together…

Levi did something he was certain he would regret. He pulled Alexa into his arms.

Despite the situation, he felt the very thing he didn't want to feel.

The heat.

Oh, yes. It was there mixed with all the fresh emotions and spent adrenaline from the latest attack.

“You don't want this,” Alexa whispered.

Even though she didn't qualify what she meant by
this
, Levi made a sound of agreement. He didn't want the problems that could come from the attraction he was feeling for her.

But he did want her.

And he did something about it when she leaned back to look at him. He slipped his hand around the back of her neck and he kissed her.

It felt like a truck had hit him in the chest. Oh, man. He hadn't wanted her to taste like something he was certain he could never get enough of. He'd wanted the kiss to satisfy this need stirring inside him.

Didn't happen.

The need soared.

TROUBLE
WITH A BADGE

USA TODAY
Bestselling Author

Delores Fossen

Delores Fossen
, a
USA TODAY
bestselling author, has sold over fifty novels with millions of copies of her books in print worldwide. She's received the Booksellers' Best Award and the RT Reviewers' Choice Best Book Award. She was also a finalist for a prestigious RITA® Award. You can contact the author through her webpage at
deloresfossen.com
.

Books by Delores Fossen

Harlequin Intrigue

Appaloosa Pass Ranch

Lone Wolf Lawman

Taking Aim at the Sheriff

Trouble with a Badge

Sweetwater Ranch

Maverick Sheriff

Cowboy Behind the Badge

Rustling Up Trouble

Kidnapping in Kendall County

The Deputy's Redemption

Reining in Justice

Surrendering to the Sheriff

A Lawman's Justice

HQN Books

The McCord Brothers

Texas on My Mind

Visit the Author Profile page
at
Harlequin.com
for more titles.

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CAST OF CHARACTERS

Deputy Levi Crockett—
The last person this cowboy cop wants to help is the woman who nearly tore his family apart. But duty comes first—even when duty is mixed with an attraction Levi doesn't want to feel.

Alexa Dearborn—
When her WITSEC identity is blown and hired guns come after her, she has no choice but to turn to Levi, the hot lawman from her past.

Violet McKenna—
A newborn who's the target of kidnappers. But why?

Tasha McKenna—
Violet's mother, who's been hiding out from her ex.

Elroy Lockwood—
The marshal who could be trying to silence Alexa so she can't testify against him.

Scottie Norse—
He admits he's obsessed with his ex, Tasha, but he insists he's not behind the attempts to kidnap Violet.

Marcos Culver—
A shady businessman about to stand trial, and Alexa is the witness who can put him behind bars.

The Moonlight Strangler—
A vicious serial killer who's eluded cops for nearly three decades. Now he has his eyes on Alexa.

To my amazing daughter-in-law, Dr. Tabitha Fossen

Chapter One

Was the killer already here?

Deputy Levi Crockett didn't see anything or anyone suspicious, but he felt the twist in his gut, letting him know something wasn't right. He eased his hand over the Smith & Wesson in his holster and stepped from his truck.

The winter air snapped at him, the bitter cold going right through his buckskin jacket and cowboy hat, but Levi kept walking. Kept making his way to the side of the Outlaw Bar. Not near the door. But to the back so he'd be able to see when or if the killer arrived.

The bar was within a half hour of closing, but eight vehicles were still in the parking lot. No one was inside any of them though. No one he could see anyway. The vehicles likely belonged to the cocktail waitresses and bartender. Customers, too. Maybe one even belonged to the killer.

And not just any ordinary killer, either.

But the Moonlight Strangler, a serial killer.

If the tip from the private investigator was right, the killer had staked out this bar as the site of his next murder and would be arriving any minute now.

Too bad Levi hadn't gotten more notice from the PI or he could have arranged for a better net to catch this dangerous snake. However, the call had come just a few minutes earlier when Levi was on his way home to his family's ranch. He'd literally been driving right by the place, and that was why he hadn't even bothered to call for backup.

Not yet anyway.

He would though if he saw or felt anything to confirm that the PI was right. After all, one of his brothers was the sheriff. Another was a deputy. And they could be there in less than twenty minutes if Levi needed them. Still, this was one killer Levi preferred to take care of himself.

Because it was personal.

This killer had spilled family blood, and he was going to pay and pay hard for what he'd done to all those women he'd murdered.

Levi eased into the shadows away from the pulsing neon bar lights and he listened. Waited. It was hard though to pick through the sounds of the crackling lights, the wind and his own heartbeat drumming in his ears.

But somewhere there was the sound of an engine running.

Because the driver had the headlights off, it took Levi a moment to realize the car wasn't approaching from the street, but rather from the back of the bar. No road there, just a park-like area that the local teenagers used for making out. It could also be the very route a killer would likely take.

Before the car eased to a stop, Levi whipped out his gun and took aim. He froze. And not because of the weather.

A person stepped out of the car, the watery lights just bright enough for him to see her face. Not the Moonlight Strangler, but someone he did recognize. The pale blond hair. The willowy build.

Alexa
.

Of all the people Levi thought he might run into tonight, Alexa Dearborn wasn't anywhere on his radar. Heck, she shouldn't be anywhere near him, this bar or the town of Appaloosa Pass.

Because she had a bounty on her head.

Word on the street was that the hired guns who were after her had orders to shoot to kill.

It'd been five months since Levi had last seen her. Marshals had whisked her away into WITSEC to an unnamed place. Given her a change of name, too. But five months wasn't nearly long enough for the memories to fade.

Bad
memories.

Of a woman strangled to death. Paige, his brother's wife. And Alexa was right smack dab in the middle of those nightmarish memories and images that began to jolt through him.

Yeah, this was personal all right.

“I'm sorry,” Alexa said, her voice trembling.

The rest of her had to be trembling, too, since she wasn't wearing a coat and it was just below freezing. Her jeans and thin blue shirt were hardly fit for a midnight visit on a winter night.

Levi had no idea why she was apologizing, but it did occur to him that she was the reason he was here. “Did you have a PI make a call to me about the Moonlight Strangler?”

She paused, then nodded. “I couldn't think of a faster way to get you here, and I needed to talk to someone I can trust.”

“You can't trust me,” Levi grumbled.

But he instantly knew it was a lie. The deputy's badge on his belt wasn't just for show. He was the law and would uphold it no matter what the cost.

Even for Alexa.

“I can't stay out here long. I have to get back.” She glanced behind her.

Levi wasn't sure where
back
was for her. “Then you'd better start explaining why you're here because I'm in a hurry, too.” He'd just pulled a long shift and wanted to get home.

Actually, anywhere away from Alexa, and a long shift didn't have anything to do with wanting to put some distance between them. He couldn't look at her without thinking of Paige.

“I still had your personal cell number, but I was afraid you wouldn't answer if you didn't recognize the caller. Or that you'd hang up if you knew it was me.”

“Is this explanation going somewhere?” he snapped.

“Yes. I tried calling you at San Antonio PD,” she said after she cleared her throat. “I didn't tell them who I was, but they said you didn't work there any longer, that just this week you'd taken a job here in Appaloosa Pass.”

It was his third day on the job as a deputy. Levi had put a decade of city law enforcement behind him so he could come home and devote more time to catching the Moonlight Strangler.

Well, that was the official story anyway.

Other things had played into it. Things he had no intention of discussing with Alexa, even though, in a roundabout way, she was part of that unofficial story.

“I didn't want to risk calling the sheriff's office. That's when I called the PI, James Moser,” Alexa added a moment later.

It didn't surprise Levi that Alexa would remember the PI who'd helped Levi with the footwork on some investigations. After all, James had done a couple of jobs for her, too, when Alexa had still been running her private investigations agency.

“And you talked James into calling me with fake info about a serial killer so I'd meet you here.” Levi cursed. Not just because he wasn't going to catch a serial killer tonight, but because he was a thousand percent certain he didn't want to hear anything else Alexa had to say.

“Something went wrong,” she said, taking a step closer to him.

Alexa gave another wary glance over her shoulder at the car she'd parked. She'd left the engine running.

“Why are you here?” he pressed, figuring that'd give him the answer to a lot of his questions and clarify her “something went wrong” remark.

The cold air mixed with the slow breath she blew out, creating a wispy fog around her. “I think there might have been some kind of breach at WITSEC. I think my identity could have been compromised.”

“This is the first I'm hearing about it.” Of course, he wasn't exactly in the WITSEC loop. “Are you in danger?”

A burst of air left her mouth. Almost a laugh. But there was no humor. “Oh, yes.” Another glance over her shoulder. “Look, I don't have a lot of time, but I need your help.”

Levi was guessing this was connected to the reason she'd gone into WITSEC in the first place. Because she would soon testify against a very dangerous man.

Marcos Culver.

And Marcos would have his hired thugs kill Alexa if he found her. Heck, he might kill her himself just for the fun of it.

Bottom line—Marcos would do whatever it took to prevent her from testifying at his upcoming trial. Even though the police knew Marcos was connected to another dangerous criminal, a cop killer who'd also been arrested, Alexa was literally the only person who could put Marcos behind bars.

“I'll call my brother,” Levi said, reaching for his phone so he could call Jericho, who was the sheriff. “He needs to know what's going on so he can take you into protective custody.”

But reaching was as far as he got. Alexa practically lunged at him and caught his wrist. Not the smartest thing she could have done because her hand landed in his zipper area.

Their gazes met.

Held.

Before she drew back her hand as if she'd been scalded. “You can't tell anyone I'm here,” Alexa insisted. “I don't know who's in on this.”

That wasn't just fear he saw in her eyes. It was terror. And Levi figured they weren't just talking about the possible WITSEC breach now.

“In on
what
?” he demanded.

“Everything,” she said on a weary whisper.

All right. That got his attention. Of course, his attention hadn't strayed too far from Alexa since he'd seen her step out of the car. And it wasn't because he didn't trust her.

“If you don't want me to tell anyone, including the sheriff,” he snarled, “then what exactly do you think I can do for you?”

“It's not for me,” she mumbled, and with her grip still on his arm, she began to lead him toward her car.

Levi got a bad feeling then. One worse than he already had. “You didn't make some kind of deal with the Moonlight Strangler, did you?”

That stopped her in her tracks, and when she whirled back around to face him, it wasn't just terror in her eyes. There was what appeared to be confusion. Some hurt, too.

“I know you don't think much of me.” No longer a mumble. Her words were crisp like the air. “But I wouldn't have brought you here to be killed. I already have enough Crockett blood on my hands.”

Yeah, she did.

And while Levi didn't believe she'd just hand him over to a killer, that still didn't get him to lower his gun.

“You should know up front that I stole a car,” Alexa said. “And that's not even the worst of it. It's possible I killed a man earlier tonight.”

That stopped him, as well. “You did what?”

Alexa swallowed hard. “Or at least he might be dead.”

Levi motioned for her to keep going with that explanation, but Alexa only tried to get him walking again. When he stayed put, she said something under her breath he didn't catch.

“He was a bad man,” she finally continued. “And he murdered someone. He would have done the same to me if I hadn't bashed him on the head with a flashlight.” Again, she tried to get Levi moving.

He didn't budge. “What man?”

She huffed, shook her head. “I don't know who he was. A hired gun, I'm sure. And, no, I don't know who hired him. Not yet anyway. But I
will
find out.”

That last bit sounded like some kind of threat.

“The guy wasn't alone, either,” she continued. “He had a partner.”

“You really think he's dead?” he asked.

Alexa pushed her hair from her face. “I'm not sure of much of anything right now other than he came after us. I hit him, stole his car and left him at the gas station at the edge of town. It's closed for the night.”

No one had called in a dead body on his watch. Of course, that gas station wasn't exactly in city limits, and that meant Levi needed to get someone out there ASAP to check on the guy.

“If he's not dead, he could have followed you,” he pointed out.

“Yes, he could have. And so could his partner. That's why it's not a good idea for us to be in the open. Follow me and I'll explain everything.”

Levi just gave her a flat look. She was definitely shaking now. Probably freezing her butt off, but maybe the cold would only get her talking faster, because he wasn't going anywhere with her until she gave him some answers.

“Why come to me?” he snapped.

She stared at him as if the answer was obvious. “Because if there was a breach at WITSEC, then whoever's behind it would figure that you and your family are the last people on earth I'd turn to.”

He couldn't argue with that. So, it must have taken something pretty darn bad for Alexa to make this trek to Appaloosa Pass.

Alexa led him to the back side of the bar. No lights here, but there was enough of a snow moon that he could better see the dark car. Likely the one Alexa claimed to have stolen. And yes, the engine was still running.

“I'm not going anywhere with you,” Levi insisted when she tried to get him closer to the vehicle. “In fact, I'm doing something I should have done the moment I laid eyes on you.” He took out his phone despite the fact she tried to stop him again.

“You can't call anyone,” she insisted.

“We'll see about that. I'm calling Jericho right now. He might not like you, but he'll protect you, and he'll do what it takes to get you safely back into WITSEC.”

Alexa got right in his face. “Please. Don't. Just get in the car with me and I'll explain everything.
Please
,” she repeated when he hesitated.

Damn
.

Levi cursed his hesitation. He also cursed the fact that he was affected in even a small way by her tacked-on
please
. Or maybe it was just the desperation he could see in Alexa's eyes.

But desperate why?

To stay alive?

If so, why hadn't she just taken off in the stolen car and stayed hidden until she was sure it was safe to surface?

Judging from the way Alexa's gaze drifted to the car, the answer was inside.

Levi tightened his grip on his gun and went closer, not sure what he might see. No one was in front, but a heap of blankets was on the backseat.

“She's dead,” Alexa said, and a hoarse sob tore from her throat.

The tears came. Man, did they. And Levi cursed himself again when it caused him to reach for her. A gut instinct.

One he resisted.

Barely.

“Who's dead?” he asked. He tipped his head to the blankets. “And is the body on the backseat?”

Alexa sucked in her breath and made another sob. “Tasha's dead. The man at the gas station killed her when he found us. We'd gotten away. We thought we were safe. But we were wrong.
I
was wrong,” Alexa corrected. “Her body's at the gas station, too.”

BOOK: Trouble with a Badge
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