Imminent danger, p.1

Imminent Danger, page 1

 

Imminent Danger
 


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Imminent Danger


  “Tell me I’ll be safe here, Jesse. I just need to know that for a little while I can let go of the fear.”

  As Jesse saw the haunting of her eyes, felt both the tragedy and the fear that emanated from her, he wished he could reassure her, promise her sanctuary, but Jesse had never been one to make false promises.

  He knew nothing about her situation, knew nothing about what danger might find her here. He wouldn’t lie, couldn’t give her guarantees that didn’t exist.

  Something—an expression of need in her eyes—touched him, and he didn’t like it. She was a job. Nothing more, nothing less. In two weeks she’d be gone, back to where she belonged.

  Dear Reader,

  As you have no doubt noticed, this year marks Silhouette Books’ 20th anniversary, and for the next three months the spotlight shines on Intimate Moments, so we’ve packed our schedule with irresistible temptations.

  First off, I’m proud to announce that this month marks the beginning of A YEAR OF LOVING DANGEROUSLY, a twelve-book continuity series written by eleven of your favorite authors. Sharon Sala, a bestselling, award-winning, absolutely incredible writer, launches things with Mission: Irresistible, and next year she will also write the final book in the continuity. Picture a top secret agency, headed by a man no one sees. Now picture a traitor infiltrating security, chased by a dozen (or more!) of the agency’s best operatives. The trail crisscrosses the globe, and passion is a big part of the picture, until the final scene is played out and the final romance reaches its happy conclusion. Every book in A YEAR OF LOVING DANGEROUSLY features a self-contained romance, along with a piece of the ongoing puzzle, and enough excitement and suspense to fuel your imagination for the entire year. Don’t miss a single monthly installment!

  This month also features new books from top authors such as Beverly Barton, who continues THE PROTECTORS, and Marie Ferrarella, who revisits THE BABY OF THE MONTH CLUB. And in future months look for New York Times bestselling author Linda Howard, with A Game of Chance (yes, it’s Chance Mackenzie’s story at long last), and a special in-line two-in-one collection by Maggie Shayne and Marilyn Pappano, called Who Do You Love? All that and more of A YEAR OF LOVING DANGEROUSLY, as well as new books from the authors who’ve made Intimate Moments the place to come for a mix of excitement and romance no reader can resist. Enjoy!

  Leslie J. Wainger

  Executive Senior Editor

  IMMINENT DANGER

  CARLA CASSIDY

  Books by Carla Cassidy

  Silhouette Intimate Moments

  One of the Good Guys #531

  Try To Remember #560

  Fugitive Father #604

  Behind Closed Doors #778

  †Reluctant Wife #850

  †Reluctant Dad #856

  ‡Her Counterfeit Husband #885

  ‡Code Name: Cowboy #902

  ‡Rodeo Dad #934

  In a Heartbeat #1005

  ‡Imminent Danger #1018

  Silhouette Desire

  A Fleeting Moment #784

  Under the Boardwalk #882

  Silhouette Shadows

  Swamp Secrets #4

  Heart of the Beast #11

  Silent Screams #25

  Mystery Child #61

  Silhouette Yours Truly

  Pop Goes the Question

  Silhouette Books

  Shadows 1993

  “Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”

  Silhouette Romance

  Patchwork Family #818

  Whatever Alex Wants… #856

  Fire and Spice #884

  Homespun Hearts #905

  Golden Girl #924

  Something New #942

  Pixie Dust #958

  The Littlest Matchmaker #978

  The Marriage Scheme #996

  Anything for Danny #1048

  *Deputy Daddy #1141

  *Mom in the Making #1147

  *An Impromptu Proposal #1152

  *Daddy on the Run #1158

  Pregnant with His Child… #1259

  Will You Give My Mommy

  a Baby? #1315

  ‡Wife for a Week #1400

  The Princess’s White

  Knight #1415

  Waiting for the Wedding #1426

  The Loop

  Getting it Right: Jessica

  CARLA CASSIDY

  is an award-winning author who has written over thirty-five books for Silhouette. In 1995, she won Best Silhouette Romance from Romantic Times Magazine for Anything for Danny. In 1998, she also won a Career Achievement Award for Best Innovative Series from Romantic Times Magazine.

  Carla believes the only thing better than curling up with a good book to read is sitting down at the computer with a good story to write. She’s looking forward to writing many more books and bringing hours of pleasure to readers.

  Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Epilogue

  Chapter 1

  They hadn’t told him she was blind.

  Jesse Wilder stared out his living room window, watching the beige sedan that had pulled up at the curb. The driver helped a woman from the car then handed her the traditional white-tipped cane for the blind.

  Jesse frowned, his mind racing with how the woman’s sight limitations might complicate things. Already everything was complicated enough.

  As the couple drew closer, Jesse studied them intently. He knew the man was Kent Keller, the U.S. Marshal who, along with Bob Sanford, had set up this whole thing. He didn’t yet know the woman’s name, and in any case would probably never be privy to her real name.

  In Jesse’s eight years of working in law enforce ment, the last four as Sheriff of Mustang, Montana, he’d never been involved in anything like this. He wouldn’t be now if Bob Sanford hadn’t asked for his help.

  He narrowed his eyes, studying the woman, her cane awkwardly tapping the sidewalk in front of her.

  It was difficult to discern much about her features. Oversize glasses and dark bangs obscured the top portion of her face, and the late-summer breeze blew a strand of her long dark hair across her cheek, further cloaking her features.

  Protective custody for a week or two. Jesse’s responsibility was to keep this woman out of harm’s way.

  He moved away from the window as the couple approached the house. A moment later a knock sounded. Drawing a deep breath, Jesse answered the door.

  “Sheriff Wilder?” The tall, gray-haired man had eyes like flint and his face looked as if it had never known the softness of a smile.

  “Yes, sir,” Jesse replied, fighting the automatic impulse to salute the stern man.

  “I’m Marshal Keller.”

  He shook Keller’s hand hard and met his icy gaze unflinchingly.

  Jesse stepped aside to allow them entry into his home. “Please, come in.”

  As he closed the front door, Keller helped the young woman to the sofa. She sank down on the cushion and Keller sat beside her. Jesse sat in a chair facing them, waiting patiently, knowing Keller would tell him only what he needed to know.

  “Sheriff Wilder, this is…”

  “Cecilia, Cecilia Webster.” Her voice was low and soft, and he knew instantly that the name was a lie. It fell uneasily from her lips, as if she were testing the sound of it.

  “Nice to meet you both. I assume you had no trouble finding the place.” Jesse said.

  “No problems,” Keller re
plied, offering no information on how long they’d been driving or how far they’d come.

  “Have you ever been to Montana before, Ms. Webster?” Jesse asked.

  “No. It’s never been particularly high on my list of places I wanted to go.”

  “But now we’re here, and that’s that,” Keller said flatly.

  “Would you like something to drink? Something to eat, perhaps?” Jesse offered.

  “No, thanks,” Keller replied.

  An uncomfortable silence fell among them. Keller looked at Jesse and nodded toward the door. “Why don’t you walk me out? You can get Ms. Webster’s things from the car. I need to get back on the road.”

  Keller stood. “Cecilia, I’ll be in touch.”

  She nodded, appearing to grow smaller as she wrapped her arms around herself and sank deeper into the sofa cushions.

  Jesse followed Keller outside. The older man said nothing until they reached the car. “We thought the investigation she’s involved with would only take a couple of weeks, but it’s taking longer. For the last month we’ve had her in dozens of motel rooms. But mentally she hasn’t been handling it real well, so we decided she needed something more permanent.” He opened the trunk and withdrew a large suitcase and a smaller, overnight bag.

  “Why not the Witness Protection Program?” Jesse asked.

  “Because the people she will be testifying against could possibly have access to information from the Witness Protection Program. We couldn’t take the risk. We decided to go outside the system to try to find her a safe haven.”

  Jesse was definitely intrigued. “But why me?” It was a question that had plagued him since the initial phone call from Sanford.

  For the first time a ghost of a smile lifted the corners of Keller’s mouth. “Mustang, Montana, isn’t exactly a well-known metropolis. I don’t know of anyone who even knows Mustang exists.”

  “I wouldn’t say that to the citizens that call Mustang home,” Jesse said dryly.

  Keller closed the trunk, then looked at Jesse once again. “We chose you for several reasons. The town is small, your record is excellent and you have no family.”

  Jesse almost smiled. Keller obviously didn’t know about small-town living where everyone considered everyone else family of sorts.

  “We also know you have no close personal relationships, no wife, no girlfriend.”

  The smile that almost made it to Jesse’s lips instantly dissipated as he wondered how deeply they’d delved into his private life.

  “Besides,” Keller continued, “Sanford said you owed him and you wouldn’t tell us no.”

  Bob Sanford had been his mentor when Jesse had gone to the police academy. Without Bob’s personal interest and patience, Jesse would not have made it through the grueling training.

  “So, is there anything specific I need to know?” Jesse asked.

  “Just go about your business as usual. As much as possible, try not to break from your normal routine. Tell anyone who asks that she’s your girlfriend, come to stay for a brief visit. Basically your job is that of glorified baby-sitter.” Keller walked around to the driver’s door and opened it. “We aren’t expecting any problems. There are only three of us who know her actual location. Still, you shouldn’t forget that she is at the center of an investigation that puts her life at risk.

  “She’s a material witness that’s vital to the investigation. Trust nobody, and make sure she doesn’t, either.” Keller slid behind the wheel and started the engine. “I’m sure everything will be fine. She’s a long way from the bad guys here.”

  Dozens of questions whirled in Jesse’s mind. “How do I get in touch with you if I need to?”

  “You don’t.” Keller slammed the car door and pulled away from the curb.

  Jesse watched the car until it disappeared from his sight, then he turned and eyed the neat, three bedroom ranch-style house he called home. For the next week or two he would share his home with a blind material witness whose life was in danger. How could a blind woman be a witness to anything?

  Questions spun through his mind, but Jesse knew he could expect no answers. Keller had told him what he absolutely needed to know—nothing more, nothing less.

  When he walked inside, Cecilia was sitting exactly where they had left her, the dark glasses still perched over her eyes.

  He wondered about her blindness. How long had she been blind? Had she been blind since birth or had she enjoyed the wonder of sight only to lose it through some tragedy?

  Some place deep inside him, a grievous memory stirred to the surface, but he mentally shoved it away as he had done countless times in the past.

  “Sheriff Wilder?” There was a slight panic in her voice.

  “Yes, it’s me,” he answered hurriedly and set down the two suitcases. “But you’d better call me Jesse. According to Keller, I’m supposed to tell everyone that you’re my girlfriend.”

  “Lucky you,” she said, an underlying bitterness scoring her words.

  Jesse shifted from one foot to the other, unsure what to do next. “Can I get you something to drink? Are you hungry?” He’d asked before, but she hadn’t replied.

  “No, I’m fine for now.” She lay the cane next to her and entwined her fingers in her lap. “If I’m going to play the part of your girlfriend, then I guess we should come up with some background story.”

  Jesse once again sat in the chair facing her. He’d never before realized how he depended on seeing a person’s eyes to assess their character. He found the dark glasses rather disconcerting.

  “Since you’ve never been to Mustang before, we would have to have met someplace else.” He frowned thoughtfully. “A couple months ago I took a week’s vacation and went camping. We could tell people I met you then.”

  She frowned, her nose wrinkling. “I don’t know anything about camping. Besides, who would believe I was out in the wilderness setting up a tent?”

  She had a point. “Well, then maybe we could have met in a café as I was driving home,” he offered.

  “And what was I doing there? Serving coffee? Short-order cook?”

  Unexpected irritation surged in Jesse. “Lady, you’ve got to help me out here,” he said.

  Her cheeks pinkened and she tugged off the glasses, exposing beautiful large green eyes fringed with dark, thick lashes. “I apologize. Perhaps I’m more tired than I realized. Would it be possible to show me to my room and we can discuss the details of everything a little bit later?”

  Jesse instantly regretted snapping at her. Without the glasses, he could see bruiselike dark circles beneath her eyes. That, coupled with her pale com plexion, gave her the appearance of sheer exhaustion. “Of course. Let me get your bags into the room, then I’ll come back for you.”

  “I appreciate it.”

  For the first time since buying the house, Jesse was grateful the guest bedroom was stark. A double bed, a chest of drawers and a nightstand were the only furniture. At least it wouldn’t be too much of a challenge for a blind person to maneuver.

  He set the suitcases in the bottom of the empty closet, then returned to the living room. She was standing, cane in one hand, the sunglasses propped on the top of her head.

  “Here we go,” he said, self-consciously taking her by the elbow. “There’s a long hallway and your room is the second on the left. The bathroom is the first door on the left.”

  She held herself stiffly, as if she were unaccustomed to another’s touch. Jesse could feel the tension that rippled from her, waves of nervous anxiety almost visible in its strength.

  And why shouldn’t she be tense? he asked himself. Under the best of circumstances, it would be difficult to be blind. She had the added burden of knowing she was in danger, and she’d just been dropped off at a stranger’s house in an unfamiliar town.

  “The bed is straight ahead, the chest of drawers to the left, the closet on the right,” Jesse explained as they turned into the bedroom doorway. “There’s a nightstand on the left of the b
ed, and I put your suitcases in the closet.” He hesitated a moment, unsure about her needs. “Do you want me to help you unpack?”

  “No, thanks. I’m sure I can manage just fine.” Her voice was cool, as if he’d irritated her with his question. She stepped away from him, so he was no longer touching her.

  “Then I’ll just leave you to rest,” he said. “Do you want the door open or closed?”

  “Closed.”

  Jesse shut the door, then returned to the living room. Moving to the window, he stared outside, his thoughts now focused on his new houseguest.

  Cecilia was blind, beautiful and prickly as a cactus. Of course, not knowing exactly what had happened in her life, what she found herself involved in, it was difficult for him to cast stones because of her irritable mood.

  Jesse rubbed his hands down the sides of his jeans, realizing his palms were damp with nervous sweat. A blind woman in his care. Was this somebody’s idea of retribution? Reparation for the unresolved trauma in his life?

  Again that distant memory knocked in his brain. For an instant, he saw everything as it had been on that night so long ago. The headlights of his car shining on the black glaze of the road…the pull of the steering wheel as the car went out of control…the thick, twisted tree that loomed closer…closer until… Jesse gasped and forcefully shoved the memories away. He turned from the window.

  One week. Two at the most, and then she’d be gone from his life. Surely for two weeks he could take care of her, keep her safe and not think about the past, about the man whose life he’d destroyed on a wintry slick road almost thirteen years ago.

  Seven steps from the doorway to the edge of the bed. Five steps from the bed to the chest of drawers and four from the bed to the closet. Her entire world had become comprised of steps.

  She sank onto the edge of the bed. “My name is Allison Welch,” she whispered to herself. “Allison Welch. Allison Welch.”

  Like a mantra, she repeated it over and over again, afraid that one of these days Allison Welch would somehow cease to exist altogether.

  Allison Welch had the world by the tail. She was an up-and-coming interior designer, and her shop, Comforts Of Home, was gaining more and more popularity in Chicago.

 
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