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Hiding His Witness

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Hiding His Witness
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Hiding His Witness
C.J. Miller

Литагент HarperCollins EUR


Detective Reilly Truman has dealt with frightened witnesses before, but his gut tells him Carey Smith is on the run.Hiding out together, there’s no escaping the desire between them. But falling for Carey is not an option, because her pursuer will kill anyone she loves to get his revenge…

“Reilly, kiss me.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

The rejection stung but didn’t stop the need. “Kiss me.”

“Carey,” he protested, only halfheartedly.

“One kiss. One innocent kiss. It’s been so long, and I…”

“You what?” he asked, his eyes searching her face.

Wanted him. Couldn’t pretend otherwise. “Need you to kiss me.”

His eyes darkened and when he surrendered, his mouth capturing hers, the kiss was anything but innocent.

He tried to pull his lips away, perhaps to apologize, but she clamped her hand around the back of his head, holding him to her.

He tasted like mint and he smelled spicy, like a man, a real man.

He finally tore his mouth away. “We can’t do this.”

Still reeling from the impact of his kiss, she blinked in confusion. “Why? Why can’t we?”

“This isn’t right. You’re the witness in a case.”
About the Author


C.J. MILLER is a third-generation Mills & Boon


reader and the first in her family to write professionally. She lives in Maryland with her husband and young son. She enjoys spending time with family, meeting friends for coffee, reading and traveling to warm beaches around the world. C.J. believes in first loves, second chances and happily ever after.

C.J. loves to hear from readers and can be contacted through her website at www.cj-miller.com.
Hiding His Witness

C.J. Miller


www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk)


To Brook, for always reading and believing.
Chapter 1


After the streetlights came on, traveling alone along the empty sidewalk was a very bad idea. But Carey didn’t have money for a cab and the bus didn’t run at this late hour. She had no choice but to walk home. Most of the time she didn’t mind being one of the nameless, faceless inhabitants of the city. City meant anonymity, avoiding eye contact, and a life so fast-paced most people didn’t remember her name or when and where she moved.

And Carey moved quite frequently.

What she did mind were the rotten jobs she’d had to work the last eleven months. Without a social security card—or at least not one she was willing to share with her employers—the jobs were monotonous, low paying, and the hours terrible, hence her walk alone in the dark at midnight.

Carey pulled her jacket tighter around her, staving off the cold and clutching her Vogue magazine to her chest, and looked over her shoulder, left then right. With the news media blasting details of the grisly serial killings committed in this neighborhood, she prayed with every step she’d make it home safely.

She kept the hood of her worn gray sweatshirt tugged over her head, her baggy clothes disguising her gender, and stepped up her pace. Steam poured from the grates along the sidewalk and the streetlights that weren’t broken illuminated her way. Her landmark was the twenty-four-hour convenience store located across from her apartment building, its bright white lights and red-and-green sign shining into her windows. Three more blocks.

In the distance, police sirens wailed, sending a shiver up her spine. Another mugging? A murder?

“Shut up. I told you to shut up,” a voice bit into the night.

Carey froze, her muscles tightening, every instinct she had going on the alert.

Grunts and the dull thud of fists on flesh escaped from the alleyway ahead. Kicking into survival mode, she reached into her oversize jeans and grabbed her pepper spray, flattening herself against the brick building at the corner of the alley. Her heart hammered against her rib cage, threatening to reveal her presence. What should she do? Scramble into the entryway of the building and hope she went unnoticed? Turn and run in the other direction? Call for help? She didn’t have a cell phone and pay phones had long since disappeared from the street. If she knocked on any of the doors along this row, would anyone answer?

Probably not. This late at night, a knock on the door brought trouble.

Peering into the alley, she made out the shadow of a man, the glint of his knife blade catching in the streetlight. A drug deal gone bad? Had she stumbled on a mugging? The man with the knife shifted, bringing into view another man cringing on the ground against the wall, his arm shielding his face.

Her father used to tell her there came a moment in every person’s life where courage was tested. Fight or flight.

Rage charged in her veins. Fight. Definitely fight.

Screaming, “Fire! Fire!” at the top of her lungs, hoping the word brought attention to the alley, Carey bowled herself into the attacker, blasting her pepper spray in his face. The liquid caught on her finger and burned like fire. A hit to the eyes had to be worse.

The man swore at her, stumbled backward, and slammed her into the wall behind them. Her spine hit the brick with a hard crack, absorbing the impact, making her teeth clatter. She hadn’t quite gathered her wits when the assailant grabbed her shoulders, throwing her to the ground like a rag doll. Her head banged into the cement, jarring her vision. The attacker wiped at his eyes, swearing every curse word she’d ever heard, swinging the knife in his hand wildly.

His face was one she would never, ever forget. Dark hair, beady eyes, a hawklike nose and thin lips. Launching himself at her, he slashed his knife through the air, and she rolled, almost managing to avoid the blade. She ignored the sharp sting on her arm as his knife brushed past her. Letting out a bellow of anger, he kicked at her, missing once. He kicked again, connecting with her rib cage.

Curling to protect her head from his blows, she tried to scramble away from him, still shouting, “Fire! Fire!” She’d been on the run for nearly a year and she wasn’t about to die in a cold, dark alley at the hands of a knife-wielding thug.

A police siren howled closer, and with a final litany of curses aimed at her, her attacker took off in the opposite direction, barreling through a line of trash cans and disappearing into the night.

Carey groaned as she moved onto her hands and knees, her body battered, her left arm stinging. She set her hand over the cut and pressed down, hoping it wasn’t too deep and wouldn’t need stitches. Dragging herself to her feet, she limped toward the man slumped against the wall, unmoving. She touched her fingers to his neck, looking for a pulse. Her hands shook so violently, she couldn’t tell if he was dead or alive. She had to get him help.

A woozy feeling passed over her and she fought for focus and control. If she lost consciousness, there was no telling where she would end up. Taking several deep breaths, she moved toward the opening to the alley. Leaning against the corner of the building, hand still pressed over her arm, she cried out again.

Mercifully, the flash of red-and-blue drew closer and an unmarked car with a dash light drew to a hard stop less than fifty feet from her.

Two men leapt from the car, drawing their weapons. “Police. Get your hands in the air.”

They weren’t in uniform and she quashed the impulse to run. Could she trust they were who they claimed? How could she be sure they weren’t dirty and corrupt?

Making a quick decision to believe them, at least for now, she held up her hands obediently, wincing as her arm and ribs cried out in protest. “Don’t shoot. There’s a man in the alley. He needs an ambulance.” She pointed behind her with her left index finger, keeping her hands in the air.

One of men raced into the alley and the second holstered his gun, rushing to her. She let her hands drop, the pain in her left arm unbearable.

He towered over her, close enough to touch her, close enough for her to feel the heat radiating from his body. His eyes raked over her and she could scarcely draw a full breath under his scrutiny, her rib cage aching with every inhale, her heart skittering frantically. Fear clashed with her desire for comfort and the sudden urge to lean into him. She was losing it. She must be losing it if she was thinking about turning to this stranger for help of any kind.

He had the slightly dangerous look of man who was a little bit reckless and lived life on his own terms. His hair was dark, worn longer than most men, and a shadow of a beard covered his jawline. With broad shoulders and slim hips, he captured her interest and that was troubling. She didn’t have the time or energy to be interested in anyone.

“Are you hurt?” he asked, his dark eyes singeing her with concern.

Carey shook her head, the lie a necessary one. The fierce cold bit into her hands, her chin stung and her arm throbbed. She turned to keep him from seeing her injury. Panic swept over her. She had to get out of here. She couldn’t stay a moment longer. She’d clean and bandage her arm herself later. The convenience store sold bandages, didn’t they? “I’m fine.”

He narrowed his gaze on her as if he didn’t believe her. “What happened?”

“I wasn’t involved. I just screamed for help.”

“I need you to come with me to the station.”

Her terror grew stronger. She needed a plan of escape. She couldn’t go with him to the police station. He couldn’t force her, could he? “I just want to go home.” Black spots dotted her vision. She needed to lie down. Soon.

He shook his head and a lock of hair fell over his forehead. “I need to take your information and a statement about what happened here.”

Her gaze drifted to that lock of hair, then to his eyes. Surprised by the smoldering heat she found in them, she felt the look as if he’d touched her. A warm shiver moved down her spine and her stomach tightened. This guy had charisma and raw, sexual magnetism in spades. A man with whom she wouldn’t—couldn’t—lower her boundaries even a fraction of an inch for fear he’d get inside.

Another siren drew closer and an ambulance turned onto the street. Carey said a mental thank-you for the quick response time and hoped the man in the alley would be okay. She needed to beat feet.

“I didn’t see anything.” The lie made her ears burn. She could see in his face he didn’t believe her.

“You saw enough to call for help.”

Why had she stopped and interfered? Why hadn’t she kept her head down and kept walking? “I don’t remember.” What a terrible excuse. Dizziness swept over her and she struggled to remain standing. Home was three blocks away. She could make it.

“Do you have ID?” he asked.

“Do you?”

He lifted a brow, never taking his eyes off her, then reached into his back pocket and drew out his badge.

“May I?” she asked, extending her right hand.

Shooting her a wary look, he handed over his badge for inspection. She opened the wallet, his ID tucked inside. He wasn’t a plainclothes police officer—he was a detective. He didn’t look older than thirty-five. Impressive that he’d made the ranks that young. Assuming he wasn’t dirty, her respect for him ratcheted up a notch. “Detective Reilly Truman. I’m sorry, Detective, but I’ve got to go.” Carey threw the badge behind her for all she was worth and took off in the other direction. She made it two steps and then collapsed, a black hole closing off her thoughts.

Reilly watched his badge sail over her shoulder. He swore under his breath, but his irritation was doused when the witness crumpled to the ground. A moment later he was at her side, rolling her onto her back and checking for a pulse.

She’d passed out beneath a streetlight, giving him a better look at her. Reilly brushed the hair off her face, looking for injuries. Except for the unnatural red color of her hair, her beauty was enthralling, her features small and delicate, and her clothes much too big for her petite frame, as if she were trying to hide her figure. Women this beautiful didn’t normally go out of their way to conceal their good looks.

He continued his assessment: a scrape on her chin, a cut on her forehead near her hairline, and her left sleeve was covered in blood. Uneasiness flooded through him. The victim’s? Or hers?

The emergency response team converged on the scene, three men treating the victim in the alley, one EMT waiting by the ambulance.

“I need some help,” Reilly called over his shoulder.

Pulling away the fabric of her sweatshirt, he saw a cut ran in a narrow slice across her upper arm. It was a recent injury and still bleeding. The urge to help her, the need to make her better, torpedoed through him, as strong as it was unexpected. He never behaved this way on a scene. Reilly was known for keeping his cool, yet his fleeing witness was making him lose it.

The EMT jogged over, kneeling down on the other side of her, spreading open his orange bag. The name “Lou” was stitched on his jacket. “What happened?”

“She passed out. Her arm is bleeding.”

Lou pulled on a pair of gloves and Reilly tore away the sleeve of her ratty sweatshirt. The sweatshirt was speckled with pieces of asphalt and the sleeve brushed with red. Her arm was thin, free of track marks or bruises. She didn’t have the look or smell of a homeless person. What was she doing on the street at this hour?

Lou examined the wound. “Nasty scratch. Maybe a knife?”

“Could be,” Reilly said. Why had she lied when he’d asked if she was hurt? Her serene face was such a contrast to the grit and attitude he’d seen a few minutes before. Reilly took another long look. Yeah, she was pretty all right. Good-looking in a way that would drive a man crazy to kiss her, touch her. In other words, Reilly needed to keep his distance times ten and remember the bad things that could happen when a detective overstepped his bounds. His former partner had taught him that.

Tearing open a packet of alcohol swabs, Lou cleaned her wound and then applied pressure to her sternum with his knuckles to elicit a response. Her cobalt eyes fluttered open then clouded with confusion.

“Hey there, stay with us this time,” Reilly said, trying to orient her. He set his hand on her right arm.

She spoke not a word and a moment later, she was kicking and fighting like a wildcat. Reilly held her shoulder and hip to the ground, pinning her body before she kicked him or Lou somewhere sensitive.

“Hey! Calm down. We’re helping you,” Reilly said.

“No, let go!” She bucked her hips in the air and tried to twist her arms free.

Did he need to call someone in for a psych evaluation? Why were the most attractive ones the most trouble? His breath clouded in the cold night air. “You need medical attention.”

“No, I don’t,” she said through clenched teeth. She stopped fighting him and instead glowered at him as if he was her worst enemy. Spunk; he liked that in a woman. Another time, another place, Reilly would find her tremendously appealing. But today, she was part of an investigation, one that required his full attention.

The air between them vibrated with tension. Reilly forced his focus on the case. “This is Lou. He’s an EMT. He’s going to fix your arm.”

He could see her working the information over in her mind. “Fine,” she replied through gritted teeth. She turned her head toward Lou. “Thank you.”

The polite words were out of place with the rest of her behavior. But Reilly was on the tail end of a thirty-hour shift, his last before a two-week vacation, and he was in no frame of mind to diagnose the mood swings of a temperamental, yet very pretty, witness.

“Are you hurt anywhere else?” Lou asked her as he cleaned and bandaged her arm.

“I’m fine,” she said.

Same lie she’d told him. What was her opposition to medical treatment? Reilly wouldn’t let her go home without being sure her injuries had been taken care of and she wouldn’t pass out again.

Lou lifted her chin with his fingertips. “You’ve got some abrasions on your face.”

She didn’t reply, but flinched when Lou dabbed her chin with another swab. He pressed his hand along her torso. “Does that hurt?”

“No,” she said, though tears sprang to her eyes.

If she was hurt, why not say so? The less she said the more Reilly wanted to know about her. He cursed his inquisitive nature and checked his interest. Witness. Firm boundaries.

“Do you think you can stand?” Lou asked. “I’ll get the stretcher if you can’t. We need to take you to the hospital to get checked out.”

The flash of indignation in her eyes told Reilly she would never allow that. “I can manage without the stretcher, and I’m not going to the hospital.”

She got to her feet, Lou on one side, him on the other. He wrapped his arm around her slender waist and every muscle in his body flexed in awareness. He ignored the heated rush of sensation. Thin women weren’t usually his thing, but as much as he tried to shut it down, an invisible force attracted him to her.

“Are you okay? Dizzy? Woozy?” Lou asked.

“I’m fine. I don’t need help.”

Reilly was tired of her saying that. She was not fine and he wanted to know why she was lying. If she was in trouble, he could help her.

“Can you tell me your name?” Lou asked.

She ignored him.

“Ma’am, you need to tell us your name,” Reilly said, realizing he personally wanted a name to put with this woman even more than he’d need one for his report.

“I don’t have one,” she said.

“Maybe she has a concussion. You really should allow us to take you to the hospital. You need a CT scan,” Lou said, furrowing his brow, stepping closer and pulling a penlight out of his pocket to check her pupils.

Reilly’s police instincts—which were never wrong—told him she was lying. What was she hiding? “She doesn’t have a concussion. And if she refuses medical treatment and doesn’t tell us her name, then we’re going to go down to the precinct and talk that over. Maybe a night in the county jail will refresh her memory.” An empty threat. He wouldn’t put this woman in lockup. He just wanted her to come clean.

The woman sighed and leveled a look at him. “My name is Carey.”

Another lie. He could see it in her eyes. “Okay, Carey. Do you have a last name?”

“Smith.”

He’d give her credit for boldness. She didn’t even pretend she was being honest.

“And what is your address, Ms. Smith?”

“I don’t have one,” she said.

Lou smirked.

Reilly maneuvered to stand in front of her, keeping his hands on her waist. She didn’t appear quite steady on her feet and he didn’t want her passing out again and injuring herself further. “The way you’re behaving, you’re making me think you did something wrong.”

She lifted her scraped chin proudly, meeting his gaze dead-on. “I did nothing wrong. Wrong place, wrong time. I was walking home. I stumbled on something. That’s all I know.”

Reilly jerked his head, indicating Lou should take off. The witness might be more forthcoming with less of an audience. Lou shrugged, quiet laughter in his eyes, and trotted toward the ambulance, looking over his shoulder once at them.

Yeah, she was a riot.

Carey knew something and she was going to tell him what it was. Reilly closed in on her space, knowing crowding her might pressure the truth from her. “So that’s it? Just walking by?” He barely kept the disbelief from his voice, letting her know he was aware she was lying.

“Is the man in the alley okay?” Carey asked, pushing his hands away from her and stepping back.

His palms itched to touch her again. He wasn’t giving her another chance to run. He stepped closer. She hadn’t answered his question. “Not sure.”

She shifted on her feet. “Can you ask someone?”

“We can exchange all the information you want. But I tell you something, you tell me something.”

She glared him and pressed her lips together.

Even when she was being difficult, she appealed to him on some primal level. Best to quash those feelings, especially when he was on the job. He had to treat her like any other witness. If she didn’t want to talk here, they could talk at the precinct. “Have it your way. I’m hauling you in for questioning.”

Sitting alone in the Denver police station in Detective Truman’s office, Carey fought the bile that roiled in her stomach. She wished she’d accepted the cola drink he’d offered when they’d first arrived. The bubbles would have settled her stomach, and the caffeine and sugar would have jump-started her brain and helped her think.

She was cold, hungry and tired.

Detective Truman hadn’t tossed her into the interrogation room, a small consolation. Instead, she was sitting on a metal chair, amidst his stacks of paperwork and disorganized clutter, waiting for him to return. He’d lobbed a million questions at her, then he’d been interrupted by a phone call and needed to leave for a few minutes. They were the first moments of peace and quiet she’d had to clear her head since stumbling out of that alley.

She tucked her hands into the sleeves of the sweatshirt Detective Truman had given her since her own had been torn. Unfortunately, this one had DPD across the front. She’d have to ditch it and get another nondescript one later.

Her arm throbbed, but at least it had been cleaned, butterfly stitched and bandaged better than she could have managed on her own.

She closed her eyes, wishing she could lie down for a few minutes. A fifteen-minute nap would revive her and help her sort her thoughts. How could she convince him to let her leave? If she pretended to be insane and babble incoherently, he might set her up with a psych evaluation. Same for pitching a fit and demanding to be allowed to go home. No, she needed a ploy that didn’t get her into more trouble.

She scanned the room, looking for clues about his personality, something she could use to play to his sympathies. He had no personal items filling the space, no pictures of a wife and children or college degrees mounted to the wall. It looked as though the place hadn’t been dusted in a decade and the trash can was filled with empty energy drink cans.

What was the fastest way to get out of this situation? Flirt with him? Lie to him? Tell him what he wanted to hear?

In her former life, flirting with him would have come easy, letting the fluttering feeling in her stomach dictate her actions. She wasn’t that woman anymore. Carey didn’t allow herself to get involved with anyone, much less a handsome detective who could undo the hard work she’d put into keeping herself hidden.

If she wasn’t running, running, always running, she’d allow herself to daydream about Detective Truman. But daydreaming led to distractions and distractions left her vulnerable.

Staying focused and alert had kept her alive for eleven months and she wasn’t about to let down her guard with anyone. She had a long list of precautions—looking behind her on her way to and from work, leaving flour at her front door entrance so she’d know if someone had been inside and never sharing personal information about her life, past or present. She couldn’t trust anyone. People could be bought. Information could be sold. And if she befriended an honest person, they might end up getting hurt. Or worse. She didn’t want that responsibility.

She begrudgingly admitted Detective Truman wasn’t pure evil. After securing her in the back of his unmarked squad car, he’d taken control of the scene, giving orders and direction. For nearly two hours, she’d watched him with rapt fascination, the way he moved, the way he spoke. The medics, EMTs and other officers on the scene had looked at him with respect and listened to him out of deference, not fear.

He was confident and sure of himself. She was lonely and he made her feel protected. It was an unsafe combination.

Detective Truman had a disarming quality about him, a “come confide in me” face, and a strong, yet gentle nature. He didn’t slam her around or handle her roughly getting her in and out of the car. Giving her the sweatshirt and offering something to drink was nice, but she wouldn’t let that break down her defenses.

If she felt anything, it was the basic need for companionship, the loneliness festering in her chest that craved human contact and conversation. She didn’t own a phone and no one bothered to check on her in her apartment. How long had it been since someone asked how she was doing and truly cared to hear the answer?

She shook her head, throwing the brakes on that train of thought. She had more important things to think about. Like how she was going to get out of this situation.

Detective Reilly entered his office, closing the door behind him with a soft snick. He’d unbuttoned the sleeves of his dress shirt and rolled them to the elbow. It made for a casual, stylish look. She doubted he’d been going for that. He didn’t seem like the type to worry about fashion. Then again, she didn’t know anything about him except that he was a detective. She’d be smart to remember that.

Should she ask for a lawyer? Was this the scene where he played good cop with her, giving her a chance to come clean before he and his partner shook her down? Maybe she’d been watching too many crime dramas on television, but without a social life to speak of, her nights were spent alone with the paperbacks she bought for a quarter at the secondhand store or the shows she managed to watch on the old ten-inch television with rabbit ears and a converter she’d salvaged from the Dumpster.

“Just you again?” she asked.

He rubbed his hand across his stubbly jaw. “Would you prefer an audience?”

His sarcasm made her lips nearly twitch into a smile. Laughter. Smiling. She missed those things, too. She forced her face to remain stoic. The important part was never getting emotionally involved. “I need to go home.”

“You can go home. I’ll take you myself right after we talk. Just tell me your address.”

Carey clamped her mouth shut. If she lied, he might try to verify her address before releasing her. And she couldn’t tell him the truth. She didn’t want her information to go on record and create another thread for Mark to find her. Mark didn’t forget about ugly, unfinished business, and he definitely considered her ugly, unfinished business.

Detective Reilly sat down at his desk. “Ms. Smith, may I call you Carey?

Her first name wasn’t Carey and her last name wasn’t Smith. She didn’t care what he called her. None of the last seven aliases she had used for seven different jobs in seven different cities meant anything.

Detective Truman folded his hands and leaned forward. “Ms. Smith, at this time we’re not holding you as a suspect.”

Magic words. She stood. “I know my rights. I’m leaving.”

The warning look on his face froze her in place. “I said, at this time. If you want to change that, I can make arrangements for charges to be brought against you.”

Outrage flared in her gut. “I did nothing wrong.” Being a Good Samaritan had been a mistake. While she was glad to know that her humanity and compassion hadn’t been stripped away by the last eleven months, it had been a mistake to get involved.

“The man in the alley was stabbed in the chest.” He spoke with clinical detachment, no hint of emotion.

Carey’s stomach twisted. “Is he going to be okay?” An image of the attacker flashed in her mind’s eye and she shuddered, a chill running along her spine. She’d see his face every time she closed her eyes for months. Just what she needed—another living nightmare.

Detective Truman stood and circled the desk, leaning his hip on the edge, staring directly at her. A nonthreatening posture, but one that showed interest, closing in on her. Nice psych trick. But she knew those little mind games. She’d played some of them. She wouldn’t believe Detective Truman gave a rat’s tail about her as anything but a witness.

“The victim’s in critical condition at St. Luke’s Medical Center. It’s important you share everything you remember.”

“I didn’t see anything,” she said, feeling as though she’d spoken those words a hundred times in the past few hours. She’d told Reilly the same thing at the scene and again on the drive to the police station.

He ignored her and pressed on. “The M.O. matches the pattern of several other cases we’re working.”

A tremor of fear coursed over her and the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. “What other cases?”

“I’m not permitted to discuss specifics at this time,” he said, his eyes holding a cold, distant expression.

Pieces and clips fell into place in a rush. The news programs warning the city. The knife and the alley. The time of night. He was talking about the case that had captured the attention of the police force, the mayor and the entire city. She had trouble taking a full breath as the impact of the realization socked her in the gut. “You’re talking about the Vagabond Killer. You think I fought the Vagabond Killer.”
Chapter 2


The Vagabond Killer had held the city of Denver and the surrounding towns in his grip of terror for months. No one had survived his attacks and no witnesses had come forward. People traveled in groups or stayed off the streets when they could, especially at night, his preferred time to attack.

Carey struggled for composure. If the attacker in the alley was the Vagabond Killer, was she in danger? Had he seen her face? She’d blasted him point-blank with pepper spray, but she wasn’t certain how long it impaired someone’s vision.

“At this time, we haven’t determined if the cases are related,” Detective Truman said.

Carey absently rubbed her finger over the bandage on her arm. If the Vagabond Killer had seen her, she was as good as dead. Staying off the grid was a struggle before the incident in the alley. Now she had two killers after her. She fought the urge to either laugh or cry, to release some of the terror mounting in her chest.

“You saw his face,” Detective Truman said. It wasn’t a question or an accusation. He spoke it as fact.

“I, um, I sprayed him with pepper spray.” She didn’t want to admit she’d seen his face. If it leaked to the media that a witness had survived and could identify him, it was the same as painting a bull’s-eye over her heart. “Did the man in the alley see him?”

“We don’t know. He isn’t up to talking. Why were you there?”

She shouldn’t answer his questions. Her sleep-deprived mind was only half functioning. She’d already revealed too much, and if she wasn’t careful, she would make a mistake and give him some way to identify her. “I don’t know.” It was a dunce answer, but the best she could come up with under the increasing haze of exhaustion and fear that clouded her mind.

An amused look crossed his face. “You don’t know? Maybe you have memory loss from your injuries and we should take you to the nearest hospital.”

Her chin shot up. She wasn’t going to the hospital. She was fine, and even if she wasn’t, she didn’t have valid identification or medical insurance. Those places asked too many questions and maybe someone would figure out who she was. If he was trying to mess with her emotions and throw her off kilter, he was doing a good job.

She mustered her courage and squared her shoulders. She was too smart to fall for his games. “I was walking home from work.” Keep the story simple. Don’t give away too much.

He loosened his tie and unfastened the top button of his shirt. “Where do you work?”

No record of her working at Tidy Joe’s would exist. She was paid under the table, in cash, and her boss would deny she worked for him. He didn’t want trouble from the Department of Labor. The answers to Detective Truman’s questions sank her deeper into trouble. Silence was best.

Detective Truman set his hand on her shoulder and her body temperature elevated. “Look, Carey. I can help you. But you have to level with me.”

His hand felt heavy on her shoulder, comforting in an odd way. The man was built like a solid rock, with intelligent, knowing eyes. Carey stared at him, weighing her options. The compulsion to tell him the truth was strong, but at the same time alarm bells shrieked in her mind. What was it about him that made her want to give away too much? She wouldn’t be taken in by a handsome man. This wasn’t about the Vagabond Killer or how much she was drawn to Detective Truman. This was about her personal safety.

He let his hand drop and she muffled a protest. She was clearly starved for affection when she craved a hand on her shoulder. It was the most physical human contact she’d had in months. Well, besides the Vagabond Killer tossing her around that alley, and that wasn’t anything to take comfort in.

She wrapped her arms around her stomach. She knew he wasn’t letting her leave until she told her side of the story. What difference did it make if she told him the truth now? She had to get out of Denver anyway. Once she was released, she’d go home, grab the emergency bag she kept locked in her closet, and be outside the city limits before the sun set on another day.

The fastest way out was the truth. “I work for Tidy Joe’s, the Laundromat about ten blocks from the alley.” She looked up at him to gauge his reaction. He had folded his hands on his knee and his face was consumed with interest, as if what she was telling him was the most fascinating information he’d heard that day. “I was walking home from work and I heard a noise. When I saw what was going on, I ran into the alley and sprayed the guy in the face.” It had happened fast and the exact sequence was blurred in her mind. “He tossed me around and I fought back. He ran when he heard the police sirens.”

“Tossed you around?”

Was it concern in his eyes? No, she wouldn’t believe it. “He cut my arm and I hit my head on the pavement.” Among other things. But if Detective Truman used medical attention as an excuse to delay her, the situation grew riskier. She had to make tracks.

Detective Truman stood and walked behind her. “Show me.”

In the short time she’d known him, she’d learned he didn’t give up. The man was relentless when he wanted something. Carey pushed back the hood of the DPD sweatshirt and touched her head, wincing at the sting. She couldn’t see the damage, but the pain told her it wasn’t good.

His fingers brushed her hair away from the injury. “Why didn’t you have the EMT treat you?” His voice was less stern than it had been a few minutes before.

“I forgot about my head,” she muttered. The burn in her arm and ribs had taken precedence over what she was sure would be classified as a nasty bump.

“Wait here,” he grumbled and left the room, returning with a first aid kit and a glass of water. He held up a packet of alcohol wipes. “May I?”

She nodded. It would save time to get it cleaned now. Who knew when she’d next find a safe place to rest or get medical supplies? “I could use some aspirin if you have it.” And a cup of coffee. And a hot meal. How long had it been since she last ate?

Reilly dug through the kit and tossed a sealed package of generic aspirin on the table.

“Could you open that for me? I’m a little shaky,” she said. Suddenly hyperaware of fingerprints, she took precaution not to touch anything. She didn’t think her prints would be in the police computer system, but she couldn’t be sure. Mark could have taken her prints from anything in the house and paid someone to put her in the system, falsely flagging her as a wanted criminal. He’d go that far to find her. How sophisticated and centralized were police computer systems?

Reilly dumped the two white pills on her open palm. Carey tossed them into her mouth, the bitter taste curling her tongue. She gripped the glass, the sleeves of the sweatshirt pulled over her hands, and washed the pills down, pouring the water into her mouth, careful not to let her lips touch the glass. Could he pull DNA from it? Or from the alcohol swab? She quelled the panic that rose in her chest. She was getting paranoid. He wasn’t going to identify her from DNA. She wasn’t in the system.

Reilly carefully moved her hair and dabbed at the cut on her head. She flinched at the pain and he murmured an apology. He was being kind and gentle, disarming her defenses. White Knight Syndrome, Carey diagnosed. He liked coming to the aid of a damsel in distress.

“Will you work with a sketch artist?” he asked.

She ignored the stinging as he cleaned her cut. “I didn’t see anything.”

Detective Truman turned her chair to face him and crouched down, putting his face close to hers. It was impossible not to notice how gorgeous he was, his dark hair and midnight eyes captivating. Her skin prickled with white-hot awareness.

“I don’t believe that. We need to get this guy off the street. You’re the first victim to see anything, the second to survive. The other guy’s not doing too well. He might not wake up from surgery.”

Tension snaked over her shoulders. She wished she could get involved, but she was already too deep into this mess, a mess not of her making. She’d done what she could for the man in the alley and now she had to go back to taking care of herself. If she didn’t, no one else would. “I can’t,” she whispered, her throat tight. His eyes pierced into her, and for a moment she thought he could see to her soul.

If he could, what would he see? A good person? A bad one? A spoiled brat who’d gotten what she’d deserved?

“If you’re worried about this guy coming after you, we can provide protection,” he said.

Carey wanted to scoff aloud at his na?vetе. Maybe they could protect her from a serial killer who worked alone and in the dark of night. But police protection from Mark Sheffield, a man with nearly unlimited resources—nope, not possible. Mark probably had one or two officers in this district already in his pocket. “It’s not that.”

He inclined his head. “Tell me why. I can help you.”

Sadness weighed on her shoulders. Why did it bother her to know she was letting him down? Why did she care what he thought of her? She’d never see him again. “You can’t help me. No one can help me.”

His face filled with compassion, his eyes soft and inviting. Did they teach him that in detective school? How to milk the answer he wanted by using his handsome face and beautiful eyes?

“Maybe you don’t believe I can help you. But you know in your heart you can help the city. How many innocents are we going to let this guy hurt?”

Carey shifted in her chair, digging her toes into the floor and trying to add some distance between them. She hated how easily she reacted to him and how much she wanted to cooperate when she couldn’t. “I want to help you. I do.” Her conscience nipped at her heels.

“Then work with a sketch artist.”

Carey swallowed. Could she live with herself if she didn’t help and the Vagabond Killer struck again? No. She couldn’t. “And then I can go home?”

He nodded. “Yes. I’ll drive you.”

No! “No. I work with the sketch artist and then I leave here alone.”

Detective Truman stood upright and rubbed his jaw, considering her offer. “Fine. I’ll take what I can get. But my offer stands. If you change your mind, I can give you a ride and I can offer you protection.”

Reilly rolled his shoulders, trying to loosen his muscles that were tight and heavy with fatigue. After two hours, Carey Smith, not likely her real name, finished with the sketch artist. She still refused any assistance from him or anyone who had offered. The only thing she had accepted was a candy bar he’d snagged from the vending machine.

Who was she afraid of? An abusive boyfriend? Junkie parents waiting at her apartment? He didn’t get addict off her—her arms were clean of track marks, her teeth white and straight, and her skin healthy pink. If not drugs, then what?

She was a contradiction in terms. She claimed to work at Tidy Joe’s, where she likely earned less than minimum wage, yet she carried herself with an air of grace that came from careful breeding. Her clothes were cheap and ill-fitting, but she wore them with a flair of style. Her red hair was one of the worst dye jobs he’d seen, but her eyebrows indicated she was naturally blonde. She was beautiful and seemed to make every effort to downplay it.

If Reilly wasn’t careful, the next time he saw her, libido would override good sense and he’d reach for her again and wrap his arms around her. And this time, not for medical reasons and not to keep her from running away.

Every sign screamed “woman on the run.” Without her real name, he couldn’t search through their criminal or missing-persons database. He didn’t get any usable prints off the drinking glass or the foil of aspirin she’d taken. The pepper spray was at the lab for analysis. Maybe something would turn up there.

Reilly paced inside his lieutenant’s office. He was too tired to sit. If he did, he’d fall asleep and he still needed to escort Carey to her apartment. She could claim independence, she could demand to be left alone, but he wasn’t letting her get killed. If he had to, he’d follow at a distance and without her knowing. No one was going to hurt her on his watch.

“How soon do you want the sketch released?” Reilly asked the lieutenant.

The sketch artists were cleaning up the image in preparation for a media blitz. They planned to run the guy’s face in every newspaper, every online site and every news broadcast the moment the lieutenant approved it. Even if they couldn’t identify the Vagabond Killer from the sketch or from the tip line, the attention might put pressure on the killer and force him to make a mistake. Reilly was certain he wouldn’t stop killing until they caught him. And the frequency of his murders was increasing.

The lieutenant scrubbed a hand over his face. “The timing is terrible. Half the staff is taking leave for the holiday. Sending this picture to the media’s going to cause a freaking avalanche of insanity. We’re having enough trouble manning the tip lines without adding the crazies who think their reclusive neighbor looks somewhat like our guy.”

Reilly stopped pacing. “You can count on me to stick around. I’ll delay my leave until this guy is caught.” His family would understand, and with the new lead and a little luck, maybe they’d close the case by the New Year.

A tap on the door interrupted their discussion. Vanessa Blakely, Assistant D.A., strutted into the office. It was the only way to describe her walk—she strutted, and in heels that looked thin as nails. “I hear we got a witness. Normally, a 3:00 a.m. call puts me in a bad mood, but this I like.”

He lifted his eyes from her pointy shoes to her face. “She’s with victim assistance, getting some counseling.”

Vanessa’s eyes clouded with worry. “Is she a street rat?”

Reilly caught the tug of annoyance at her question before he snapped at her. He was tired and hungry and Carey was not a “street rat,” Vanessa’s term for the homeless at large. “She was walking home from work.” Emphasis on the word work. He liked Vanessa. She went to bat for victims and she worked hard, but she also had a snobbish streak.

Vanessa let out her breath. “Good, ’cause I can’t make a case and use her as a witness if she’s a loon.”

Her comment lit a faint hint of aggravation in him. “Van, take it down a notch. She interrupted a stabbing in progress, trying to save a stranger and got herself hurt in the process. She could have kept walking. She did a great job with the sketch artist even though she’s terrified.”

Vanessa set her hand on her hip. “She’s a regular superhero. Good to know. Juries love an everyday hero coming to the aid of a victim. Good Samaritan angle.”

Vanessa was direct and single-minded about her cases, but she was right about Carey. With the right clothes and a little polishing, Carey would make a witness any jury would adore. If he were on that jury, he’d take one look at her expressive blue eyes, her lush mouth, and with her strength and moxie underscoring her words, he’d swallow the story, hook, line and sinker.

“What’s the plan to release the sketch?” Vanessa asked.

The lieutenant set his hands on top of his desk and pushed himself to his feet. He adjusted his belt around his waist. “We were just talking about that. I’m suspending leave for every cop in the city and we’ll release the sketch as soon as they have it ready. We’ll see if we can pull some volunteers to answer the tip line. The faster it gets out there, the faster we catch this guy.”

Reilly snuffed out the last thoughts of taking a six-hour snooze in his bed. It looked like he’d have to settle for a few hours in the bunkhouse and charge up on coffee.

“You gonna tell them or should I?” Reilly asked, glancing out into the squad room, the gold garland and red stockings they’d tossed up making a mockery of the holiday they weren’t going to have until the city was safe.

“I’ll do my own dirty work,” the lieutenant said. He wiped his brow with his hand, taking the steps into the squad room with more weight than usual. Though the team would grumble about the extra hours, they were dedicated and would do what they were asked to do, holiday or no holiday.

“It’s going to be a happy Christmas, huh?” Vanessa asked.

An image of Carey wearing a sexy Santa suit with high black boots, a short skirt and low-cut top flashed into Reilly’s mind. He could see her standing beneath twinkling Christmas lights, red and white and hot. He stamped that image out with all his might. He needed to get some rest soon. He couldn’t think of victims and witnesses as anything except people involved in his case, which made personal relationships with them off limits. His inconvenient attraction to her would disappear as soon as he’d gotten some sleep.

Ten years ago, his former partner Lucas had made the mistake of becoming emotionally involved with a victim in a case they’d been investigating. When the defense council learned of the relationship, they had twisted it in the eyes of the jury, implying Lucas had coached the victim into giving false testimony. Though Reilly didn’t believe the accusation, Lucas had been forced to leave the department, his career in ruins, and a killer had walked free. It had been a brutal lesson for every detective on the squad, one Reilly wouldn’t repeat.

Before he could reply to Vanessa, Carey appeared in the squad room, escorted by Officer Dillinger. Strong, yet fragile Carey. She’d relented and worked with the sketch artist, though she’d been under no obligation. She’d been frightened and managed to see the greater good in helping them catch a killer. He respected her a great deal for acting despite her fear.

The air in the room shifted and tensed. Was the unit catching wind their holiday plans were on hold? Or was Carey sending a vibe straight into his gut—a vibe that said protect me, help me, hold me?

Ah, for crying out loud. He needed sleep. Drumming up inappropriate feelings for a witness was a sure sign of extreme exhaustion. The fantasies his mind conjured were delusions. He opened the door to the office and strode across the squad room floor. Vanessa followed close at his back, the clicking of her heels giving her away.

“Hey, Vanessa,” Officer Dillinger said, giving Vanessa a long look up and down. “What brings you here?”

Vanessa inclined her head toward Carey. “I came to see if the rumors were true. A living witness.”

“Rumors?” Carey asked.

Vanessa waved her hand. “Don’t worry. We’ve kept it out of the media. I have a direct line from the lieutenant’s office to my cell.”

Officer Dillinger left Carey in their care.

“Will you be able to testify to what you saw after we catch this guy?” Vanessa asked, cutting straight to the point. Vanessa was watching Carey like a cat looking into a goldfish tank, scrutinizing her every move.

Carey’s eyes shuttered slightly and warning bells rang in Reilly’s head. Whatever came out of her mouth, she was lying. “I’ll do what I can.”

“Did you give the officers your contact information?” Vanessa asked.

Carey blinked twice, mustering the strength for another lie, Reilly guessed. “Yes.”

If she had told them where she lived, it was because she was planning to run.

“And you’re sure you don’t want police protection? Victim assistance explained the program to you?” Vanessa pressed.

Carey lifted her chin. “I don’t need police protection. I saw the Vagabond Killer. He had an eyeful of pepper spray. He didn’t see me.”

Vanessa appeared impressed. “Great, then you’re free to go. I’ll be in touch, hopefully soon, to do a lineup.” They shook hands and Vanessa strutted through the mass of people, stopping to chat with a few officers working the graveyard shift.

Carey shoved her hands into the pockets of the sweatshirt; her shoulders hunched low as if trying to hide inside her shirt. “I’ll see you around.”

She appeared small and vulnerable. He had to protect her from whatever had made her afraid. “Let me drive you to your apartment. You can’t walk home like that. You’ll freeze.” The sweatshirt he’d given her wasn’t enough to keep her warm in the frigid December cold.

“I’ll be fine. I’ll take the bus.” She glanced away. Lying again. “Besides, I’m used to trekking around in a sweatshirt.” Her stomach growled and she pressed a hand over it.

“I can take you somewhere to get something to eat.” He couldn’t figure her out, her body language shifting from proud to unsure, defiant to willing to help and back again.

“I’ve got things in my apartment,” she said, but she licked her bottom lip as if thinking about food that was most likely not waiting at her place. Reilly weighed pressing her, but not wanting to make her leery, he dropped it. “I’m grateful for what you did today, Carey.” Reilly took out his business card. “If you need anything, please give me a call.” He’d give her a minute lead and then follow her, make sure she arrived home safely. He didn’t have it in him to let her walk away into whatever danger awaited her without trying to help.

She took the card from him and he knew she’d ditch it the second he was out of sight.

“Take care of yourself,” he said.

Keeping her gaze to the ground, she walked to the front door. She’d made it halfway across the floor when he rushed after her, a tug in his gut telling him it wasn’t a smart idea for her to waltz out the front door of the police station. Vanessa had said she wasn’t in the news, but word of another attack might have gotten around the city.

He was five feet behind her and he called her name to stop her. The ringing phones and chatter in the police station drowned out his voice. Carey opened the front door and a flash of cameras and noise exploded in front of her. She whirled in horror and Reilly reached her, tucking her against him, shielding her face from the camera lenses.

The media had snapped a picture of a witness to a serial killing spree.
Chapter 3


“Dillinger, handle that,” Reilly barked, pointing to the front door. Dillinger leapt to his feet and went outside to disperse the mob waiting for news of the Vagabond Killer.

Reilly clutched her close to him and she lifted her face. “They took my picture,” she said, trembling in his arms.

He tightened his grip on her, wishing he could deny it. But the media was hungry for information and a serial stabbing was front-page news. She could have been a visitor to the precinct for other reasons, but he’d bet at this moment, the media was running her picture through their databases and digging into her life, searching for her identity.

“It’s going to be okay,” he said. Except rushing to her side made it easy for the media to connect her to the case through him. He swore inwardly.

Carey buried herself tighter against him. “They took my picture,” she repeated.

As if in reminder, the sound of reporters clamoring outside seeped into the squad room.

“I can protect you from him,” Reilly said, reading the terror in her voice. Holding her felt right, and in the aftermath of their mistake, it was the safest place for her to be. “I shouldn’t have let you walk out the door.”

Vanessa appeared at his side, wagging her smart phone and looking between the two of them. “Wouldn’t have mattered. They were waiting for someone matching her description. The media caught wind there was a witness from someone at the scene. No way can she be alone now. She won’t get a moment’s rest. They’ll stalk her like prey.” Vanessa swore under her breath and tapped her foot in agitation.

Carey shoved him away and seemed to shrink lower in her shoes. “I’m fine. If someone could take me home, I’ll be fine. No one in the city knows me except my boss and he doesn’t watch the news.” The tremor in her voice betrayed how scared she was.

Reilly’s chest lurched. A woman should never tremble for any other reason than passion. “We can’t take chances. You need to go into protective custody.”

Carey jammed her hands into her pockets, giving him her shoulder. “I don’t think that’s necessary.”

Reilly turned Carey toward him, nudging her chin up with his finger, meeting her gaze and reading the bottomless well of fear in her eyes. “If you try to do this alone, you won’t live through the night.”

Vanessa pursed her lips and crossed her arms. “We need you to be someplace where we can find you.”

What options did he have? Grungy motel room? His place? One of the overcrowded safe houses? Inspiration dawned on him. “We’re unlikely to find an opening in one of our safe houses and the media is going to be everywhere on this one. I’ll take you to my parents’ place in Montana. It’s miles from the nearest town and I can protect you.”

Vanessa twisted her lips in thought. “Unconventional, but that’s not a bad idea.”

Carey shook her head. “I’ll be fine. I’ll call and let you know where I’ll be.”

Reilly beat back his frustration. What did it take for her to be not fine? She’d witnessed a stabbing, been attacked by a serial killer and harangued by the media. And she claimed she was fine. Leaving Carey alone in the city wasn’t an option. The need to protect her intensified.

“Carey, look at me.” Carey swiveled her head from Vanessa to him. Reilly met her terror-stricken expression. “I can protect you. I know you don’t believe that, maybe because someone’s let you down in the past, but I won’t. I’m asking you to trust me, which I know is a lot.”

She bit her lip and nodded once. “Okay.”

That easy? His gut told him she was planning something. “I’ll clear it with the lieutenant,” Reilly said, not giving either woman time to argue. Most of the hotels in the area were booked with holiday travelers, and getting far away from the media appealed to him immensely. His parents lived in a remote part of Montana on a plot of land difficult to get to, but with a vantage point almost three hundred and sixty degrees around it.

Twenty minutes later, plans in hand, Reilly hustled Carey toward the rear entrance. He stopped in his office to snag his coat and pulled it over her head. She didn’t protest and Reilly was relieved she seemed to finally understand the gravity of the situation. This wasn’t something she could handle alone. She needed him. “My car’s parked in the gated lot in the back. Vanessa had someone clear the area and we’re not letting the media behind the building.”

“Won’t they see me when we pull out?”

“Not if you’re covered on the floor.”

She quirked up the corners of her mouth. “Are you suggesting I ride in a car without a seat belt?”

Reilly let out a much needed laugh. “Yes, ma’am, that’s exactly what I’m suggesting.” Her light joke took the edge off his tension.

This was a nightmare, but a serial killer on the loose and the media hounding her was the least of her problems.

Carey gathered her scattered thoughts and took stock of the situation, trying to figure her next move. Walking out of here unescorted with the media waiting wasn’t an option and She knew the ADA wouldn’t let her leave without a plan of protection. The easiest option was to agree to their plan, and the moment she could, she’d ditch Detective Truman. If she couldn’t get rid of him before she left the city, at least it would be more difficult for Mark to track her from some unknown place. She was reasonably sure Detective Truman wasn’t on Mark’s payroll. Yet.

Detective Truman had pressed her too hard for her name. If he’d been looking for her under Mark’s direction, he would have recognized her.

But if Detective Truman threatened her, if she caught even a whiff of betrayal on him, she was gone. She didn’t know how or where, but she wouldn’t wait around for him to walk her into Mark’s trap. Mark had proven he wasn’t afraid to use law enforcement, or anyone else, to threaten and intimidate her. This time she would anticipate it. She would be ready.

Her guard was up, and not just for her personal safety. For the safety of those around her she would keep her distance. Mark wouldn’t hesitate to hurt someone she cared about in an attempt to get to her. He wouldn’t have a problem doling out punishment to those who didn’t bend to his will and give him information he wanted.

A pang struck at her chest as memories swept over her. Her good friend Tracy had paid the price for loyalty. Tracy hadn’t known where Carey had gone, but she’d known why. When Tracy had shown up in a morgue shortly after Carey went on the run, she’d no question in her mind who was responsible.

Grief and anger burned red hot in Carey’s gut. She’d had to run. The life she’d known had been stripped from her, people she’d loved had died, and Mark was living on easy street, running the restaurants and wineries her father had owned.

Carey wouldn’t let Mark find her. If he did, she was dead.

The moment Carey opened the door to her apartment, Reilly’s senses went on heightened alert. Flour dusted the floor near the entrance, likely a cheap mechanism to know if someone had been inside. An unknowing intruder would step directly into it and leave a print. That flour wasn’t for the Vagabond Killer. He’d been right—Carey was running from someone. An abusive ex?

Carey went into the apartment first, taking a wide step over the flour. “Watch your step.”

No further explanation about the flour? He avoided the powdery mess and followed her inside.

Her apartment was a tiny closet of a space with no personal items and nothing unpacked or settled. A ten-inch television sat on a packing crate and a cot in the corner of the room served as her bed. The floor was matted with grime, the vinyl likely original from when this building was constructed in the ’70s. The place smelled of citrus, as though she’d used a gallon of lemon-scented cleaner in a futile attempt to make the place livable.

She shrugged off his coat and handed it to him. “I need a few minutes to pack and I’d like some privacy. Do you mind waiting in the car?”

Private person, or was she hiding something?

“Not a problem. I’ll wait in the lobby. I can see the stairs from there.”

She gave him a thin smile and practically pushed him out the door. He returned to his car and circled the block, pulling into the alley behind the building. No way was she planning to meet him in the lobby of the building. She planned to run, and he would be hot on her trail.

Sure as the sun, ten minutes later, he saw her fling her slim jeans-clad leg over the window ledge and her body drop onto the fire escape. With a large duffel bag slung across her shoulder, she climbed down the rusty ladder to each landing. Her fierce persistence to get away gave him insight into the passion and resolve simmering beneath those plain clothes. What was she hiding or who was she protecting?

He got out of his car and jogged to meet her at the foot of the fire escape. “Going on a trip?”

She whirled, fear in her eyes. She wiped her hands on her jeans, leaving behind bits of paint and rust that had stuck to her palms. “I need to go for a walk to clear my head.”

He called her bluff. “Great, I’ll walk with you.”

“I prefer to be alone,” she said through clenched teeth. She walked around him and started down the alley toward the main road.

He followed her. “It doesn’t matter what you prefer. The lieutenant assigned me to protect you and that’s what I’m going to do.”

She paused for a moment, stopping in her tracks. She looked over her shoulder at him, her blue eyes narrowed. “Don’t make this harder on me than it has to be. I gave you what you needed. You have your sketch of the Vagabond Killer. Do your job and find him.”

He chose his words carefully, not wanting to provoke her further. “We need your testimony.”

She hefted the bag higher on her shoulder, wincing slightly. “The ADA’s smart. She’ll figure something out.” She kept walking, stopping at the corner to wait for the light to change. “Stop following me, Detective. I’m not a suspect and I’m not required to stay in the city.”

He’d known she’d agreed to his protection too easily. “Tell me where you’re going.”

“It’s safer for both of us if no one knows.”

Reilly grabbed her elbow, stopping her in her tracks. “Let me help you.”

He held her gaze for a long, intense moment. Heat pulsed between them and arousal moved swiftly through his body. What was it about her, a simple touch, one smoldering look that made him ache for more? He wished the fabric of the sweatshirt wasn’t between them and he could feel the electric press of skin-to-skin contact.

He didn’t let go and she didn’t pull away. “He’ll kill you if you try to hide me. Don’t make me live with that on my conscience.”

The Vagabond Killer would have to find her first. And Reilly was good at hiding in plain sight. He was even better at it when he had options, places to disappear in the country. And if she was referring to whoever made her put flour by the door coming for him, it was laughable. He welcomed the attack of a woman abuser. It would give him the opportunity to pound some scum and give him what he deserved. “No one is going to kill me, and if I’m with you, no one is going to hurt you, either.” He let go of her arm.

She looked around, her expressive eyes wild. “Look, I’ll level with you because I’m in a hurry. Those reporters who took my picture are going to run it in the news, if they haven’t already. That means the man I’m running from will see it and come for me. I have to get out of town before he arrives.”

Not the Vagabond Killer. She was worried about her abuser. “Tell me his name.”

She shook her head. “I can’t do that.”

Loyalty to the man who hurt her? Nah, she didn’t seem like the type. Fear. She actually thought the man chasing her was that powerful. “I’m taking you out of town to someplace safe.”

“Thank you, but no.” The light changed and she crossed the street.

Reilly heard the fierce determination in her voice. She wasn’t going to give in and he couldn’t legally force her to comply. He tried another route to convince her. “Once he knows you’re in Denver, he’ll know you took public transportation out of here. How long before he narrows down where you went? Someone is bound to remember you.”

She huffed out a breath. “Stop trying to scare me. I’ll change buses and trains fifty times if I have to.”

“That’s expensive and you can’t make that much working at a Laundromat. My family’s ranch is safe. My father’s a retired Navy SEAL, my mom is ex-CIA, one of my brothers is military and the other is FBI. The ranch is remote, it’s protected and we’ll see someone coming for you. You’ll be safe with us.”

He glanced at her face and instantly regretted pressing her.

Carey’s cheeks were red and her eyes brimmed with tears. “What if he comes and he hurts you for helping me?”

His protective instinct plowed through him and he kept his hands pinned to his sides, a massive undertaking considering he wanted to hold her and offer some measure of comfort. “He won’t. He’ll be dead if he comes within fifty feet of the house.”

She brushed at her eyes with the sleeve of his sweatshirt. His sweatshirt. He’d gotten it years before, after he’d graduated from the academy. Funny, he had never allowed anyone—not his ex-girlfriends, not his former fiancеe—to wear it. Yet seeing Carey shivering in his office, he hadn’t thought twice about offering it to her.

“I won’t tell you anything about my past.”

He shrugged. He got the gist of the picture. Scum chasing his victim. His beautiful, and at the moment, fragile victim. He guessed under other circumstances, she was a force to be reckoned with. “I won’t ask.”

“How do you know I’m not running from the law?” she asked.

Her lips parted slightly and he was momentarily distracted by the lush fullness of them. He forced his attention to her eyes. He found them as mesmerizing as her lips. “Gut feeling. Trumans live by it. You’re no more a criminal than I am.”

“Come on inside with me,” Detective Truman said. He’d pulled his car into his garage and closed the door using the remote on his car visor. “I need to grab a few things. Clothes. Ammunition. I’ll make it fast before the media swarm starts.”

The media might be tracking her, but Detective Truman would have caught their interest, as well. That a camp of reporters weren’t waiting on his porch was a small favor.

He was taking precautions to make her feel safer, but traveling a long distance with a stranger and a gun made her nervous.

She had to be crazy to agree to his plan. Sure, he’d been kind to her thus far, but what did she really know about him? He was a police detective; that in and of itself didn’t mean he was trustworthy. If he wasn’t on Mark’s payroll, he could be added. Finding and exploiting a person’s weakness was a specialty of Mark’s. It was only a matter of time before Mark got to Detective Truman. Either Mark would buy him off or, if Detective Truman resisted, Mark would kill him. Carey couldn’t live with herself knowing she’d caused another person to be hurt. Tracy’s face flashed into her mind and Carey braced herself against the wave of grief and guilt that crashed down on her.

Detective Truman was doing this because he needed her to testify against the Vagabond Killer. But that wasn’t going to happen. If they both lived to see the Vagabond Killer brought to trial, testifying meant telling the truth about who she was—and that wasn’t possible.

“I can wait here if you want. I don’t want to intrude.” Was this her last chance to run? Could she get out of the car and force open the door to the garage? How far would she get on foot?

“Nah, you’re fine. I’ll feel better having you in sight.”

Carey had nowhere else to go and no one else to turn to for help. If she ran, her limited resources meant Mark would find her. She didn’t want to get Detective Truman involved in her personal problems, but witnessing a crime had meshed their lives together, if only for a short time.

And while Carey didn’t trust easily or often, her instincts told her she would be safe with Detective Truman for now. Not that she relied too heavily on her instincts. She’d been wrong about Mark, wrong about her father and wrong about so many things before.

She’d keep her time with Detective Truman short—a few days at most. He’d get her out of the city and make it easier to run without Mark following her.

She trailed him inside the house. It was a bachelor pad, but a clean one. No knickknacks and no pictures. He didn’t have a kitchen table, likely eating his meals at the breakfast bar or in the living room on his black leather couch. She wrinkled her nose. Black leather. Blah.

“What’s the matter?” he asked, catching her expression.

“Nothing.”

“It’s okay, you can tell me. Do you need something? Is your arm bothering you?”

Her arm was fine. Her ribs were throbbing, but she wasn’t fixating on that. “It’s your couch.” She blushed, regretting her criticism. It wasn’t like her apartment would be featured in a home decorating magazine anytime soon.

He glanced into the living room, a look of confusion on his face. “What about it?”

Polite response? “It’s so manlike.”

Detective Truman tossed her a crooked grin. “I am a man.”

Yes, he was. A big one. A handsome one. Impossible not to notice.

He grinned at her. “Try it,” he said, gesturing toward the couch.

Had she spoken aloud? “What?”

“Have a seat. Flip on the TV. You’ll see the magic. I’m going to grab a few things from upstairs. I’ll be down in a minute.”

“Okay.” Carey wandered into the living room and plopped down on the couch. It wasn’t what she’d expected. She’d thought leather couches were for frat boys and playboys, but this was nice. She ran her hands over the cushion and inhaled the smell of it. It was supple and soft. Her nerves shot lust into her veins. Yeah, the couch was magic.

How many women had fallen under Detective Truman’s charms in this exact place? And why did it bother her to think about him spending the night curled up with a woman?

Carey picked up the remote from the coffee table and flipped on the television. Sports network. Of course. She leaned back, letting her body sink into the plush cushions. She nearly let out a moan, somewhere between pleasure and pain. The pain in her ribs intensified when she reclined and since the aspirin had worn off and without adrenaline propelling her, her body caved in to the ache.

“Comfortable?” Detective Truman asked.

Carey opened her eyes and straightened. “It’s nice.”

Detective Truman dropped his bag on the floor and sat next to her. “Perfect place to watch football.”

“My father used to…” She let her voice drift away. It had been a long time since she’d spoken of her father and the mention of him cut to the quick. The rawness hadn’t gone away and the wound seeped inside her chest. She forced down her grief, trying to think about something else as she fought tears.

“It’s okay to let it out,” Detective Truman said, tucking his arm around her shoulder. “You’ve been through a rough time.”

He had no idea. The heaviness in her chest was suffocating. “My father died recently.”

“I’m sorry,” he said into her hair, moving her closer to him.

His hand rubbed her shoulder, providing comfort she hadn’t had in months. She sank against him, needing this more than she’d realized.

“I miss him sometimes.” All the time. A constant yearning she’d only dealt with by ignoring it when she could.

“Is that why you’re alone?” he asked, his voice unbearably tender, his fingers massaging her with the right amount of pressure and gentleness, her body relaxing under his touch.

Tears she’d fought spilled over and she pressed her face into his shoulder, hiding them. After all these months, she should have healed more, should have been coping better. The heart-wrenching grief hadn’t loosened its hold. “Yes. It’s why I’m alone.” Without her father, her world had fallen apart. Her good friend had died in a car accident. The people she had trusted left her. Mark had betrayed her. Her life as she knew it had ended.

Detective Truman stroked her hair gently and reached for a tissue on the side table. He palmed her chin and dabbed at her eyes. “You’re not alone anymore.”

Everything in her responded to his words. Her heart surged and her mind cried out with pleasure. As desperate as it was, they were words she had longed to hear. She didn’t need forever; she needed not to feel this lonely for a little while. So many reasons to keep her distance from this man and yet she reached for him, skimming her fingers down his arm to his hand. He tensed slightly but didn’t pull away. He was too handsome for his own good, said all the right things, and his confidence drew her, awakening her slumbering desire, tempting her to touch him, taste him.

She moved her hand under his. “Detective Truman?”

He looked at their joined hands. “Reilly. Just Reilly.” His voice was gruff. She affected him. It sent a secret thrill across her belly.

“Reilly.” His name rolled across her tongue. “Why are you doing this?”

He swallowed hard. “Doing what?”

She leaned closer to him. “You don’t have to take care of me.” But she loved that he was.

“I know.”

“Then why are you?”

“Gut feeling.”

She moved her fingers to interlace with his, in part to test his reaction. His jaw flexed and he looked at her. His eyes were filled with emotions she couldn’t read.

A second later Reilly came to his feet, pulling his hand away, and she fell forward on the couch, catching herself on her hands. Her arm burned, slamming her back into reality.

He looked blankly away from her at some point on the wall. “We need to get moving.”

What had she been trying to do? Touching him that way had been a mistake. She was lonely and hurting and she’d made an error in judgment. His rejection stung worse than it should have. She stood, humiliation darkening her cheeks. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have touched you.”

Reilly waved his hand dismissively. “Don’t mention it again. You’re going through a rough time.”

Carey swallowed hard and blotted out the sense of longing he’d roused. She’d been going through a rough time for too long. She couldn’t explain it, not without sounding like an overemotional lunatic, so she stayed quiet and followed him to his car. Working to put herself together, she focused on getting out of the city and where she’d go and what she’d do next.

Staying with Reilly wasn’t possible, not without one or both of them getting hurt.
Chapter 4


Carey fiddled with the car’s radio buttons, looking for a station with music that wouldn’t worsen her headache or make the mood in the car too mushy. She was already feeling exposed, having made the mistake of holding Reilly’s hand and being rejected. Setting the wrong tone made her feel embarrassed all over again. He wasn’t behaving as if it was a big deal and she tried to write it off in her mind. Mistake with a capital M.

He was a good-looking man and he wasn’t interested in her. She could handle that. She could move on. She was an expert at moving on.

Her hand froze over the dial when she heard the Vagabond Killer mentioned.

“…known as the Vagabond Killer. The Denver police are questioning a witness who survived one of the killer’s attacks and is reportedly able to identify him.”

Embarrassment rushed out of her and was replaced by fear.

Reilly reached for her hand and moved it away from the radio dial. “Let’s switch to satellite radio. We don’t need to hear the news.”

The contact sent plumes of fire licking at her skin. She set her hands in her lap. A casual touch shouldn’t evoke a heated response. “They were talking about the case. It’s already hit the streets. I’ll bet my picture is everywhere.”

“We knew this would happen and that’s why we’re leaving the city. There’s nothing you can do about the case now, so try to put it out of your mind.”

Carey closed her eyes and took a deep breath. The case she could block. The possibility that Mark was en route to Denver to find her chilled her to the core. Could Reilly protect her? She glanced at him, taking in the rough cut angles of his face and the strength of his body. Good looking didn’t begin to describe him. Carey had trouble pretending her attraction to him was nil. What mattered most was his ability to protect her, his strength, and the street smarts to keep one step ahead of someone tracking her. He seemed to have a surplus of that. The handsome part she needed to forget.

They drove for an hour, the radio playing an endless stream of songs. Carey focused on the lyrics, anything not to think about Mark hunting her. Reilly finally broke the silence between them. “I need to stop and get some coffee.” He turned the car onto the off ramp of the interstate.

“I could drive for a while if you want,” Carey said. He looked tired and she wondered when he’d last slept.

He raised his eyebrow. “Do you have a driver’s license?”

“No.” She’d had a driver’s license and a nice car, but those things were a part of the past. Carey Smith had neither.

“Then, no, you can’t drive.” His voice was tinted with amusement.

They drove into a gas station and he pulled into one of the parking spaces next to the minimart. Only one other car was parked, another filling up their tank at the gas pump.

Reilly turned off the ignition. “You want anything to eat?”

“Sure. I could go for some food.”

He’d grabbed a box of crackers from his house before they’d left and she’d eaten most of them. She mentally calculated how much money she had and figured she could spare a dollar or two from the emergency cash jammed in her duffel bag.

They went inside, Reilly threading through the aisles of snack foods and traveler conveniences to the coffee bar. Carey kept her head down as she followed after him. The store was mostly empty, but she didn’t want to chance anyone recognizing her.

The coffee smelled as if it had been sitting since the morning, brown stains burnt to the side of the glass pots. Reilly didn’t seem to mind and he snatched a gallon-sized jug from the line of cups and filled it, adding sugar and cream. He gestured around the store. “Get anything you want. We have another seven hours on the road.”

Carey’s stomach growled and she took Reilly’s advice, picking up a bag of pretzels and a bag of gummy worms. Reilly added a few items to their order, including some shrink-wrapped subs with wilted lettuce. He insisted on paying. They gathered their stash and returned to the car.

“Thank you for this,” she said, gesturing to the food in her lap.

“It’s nothing.”

But it was something to her. No one had bought her anything in the last year. Not a birthday present. Not a greeting card. Her throat grew tight. His kindness touched her deeply. He’d think she was overreacting, so she turned her attention to the window.

He pulled to the filling station and got out to pump his gas. Carey tore into her gummy worms.
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