Excerpt: Witness Undercover
Inspirational Romantic Suspense
Laura Prentiss hadn’t wanted a new beginning, a new name, but that was what she’d gotten. After the mess she’d made of her life, she was lucky to be alive.
Thanks to witness protection, she was now Laura Parker, assistant manager of Miss Behavin’, a ladies’ boutique in Pueblo, Colorado, that was currently closed for the night.
Thanksgiving was only weeks away. This would be her first here in Pueblo, her first without family. Laura tried not to feel sorry for herself.
She had a job and friends, even if they didn’t know her real name. Jesus had left behind his family without complaining. She would be fine.
Just as she opened a case of potpourri to stock, she heard a knock on the back door.
Laura froze, her hands going clammy. It couldn’t be a delivery, as it was after business hours. She reached for the bat in the corner kept for protection.
After her months in WitSec, had Vin Arrico finally found her?
The thought that her past might have caught up to her had Laura’s stomach knotting. She crept to the door at the back of the storage room.
The knock sounded again, making her jump.
“Laura? Miss Parker?”
She recognized the thick Texas accent. “Marshal Yates?”
“Yes. I need to see you.”
If the US marshal who had handled her case from the beginning had driven down from the field office in Colorado Springs, something was wrong. Very wrong.
Setting the bat aside, she unlocked the steel door and stepped back as the tall lanky man entered. He was followed by one of the biggest men Laura had ever seen. The stranger closed the door behind him, looking around at the shelves of candles, women’s shoes and boxes of unpacked jewelry before shifting his attention to her.
Her shoulders tensed. In the light of the single-bulb fixture, she couldn’t tell the color of his eyes, but they were piercing and glittered like steel. A strange sensation fluttered in her stomach. She turned to Floyd Yates.
“Has something happened with Vin? ”
Laura had no doubt her ex-boyfriend could find her even from prison.
“No, nothing like that,” Floyd said. “Sorry to alarm you.”
He gestured to the man beside him. “Laura, this is Griffin Devaney.”
She nodded at the stranger with neatly trimmed dark hair and whisker stubble. His six-foot-four frame filled the space. He studied her with a quiet certainty that made it difficult to breathe. Who was he? Why had Floyd brought him?
The open space seemed small and cramped with Griffin Devaney there. His well-fitting denim jacket was faded to a soft blue, as were his jeans.
The marshal turned to her. “Devaney works with your aunt at Enigma, Inc.”
Laura started. Her aunt, Joy Langston, had worked at that company for years. Laura had never known how to label the enterprise. Private security? Personal security? Search and rescue?
Yates continued. “She sent Devaney for you and he contacted me.”
How had Devaney known she was in witness protection? Even though Laura knew she shouldn’t have done so, she had told her aunt about WitSec the night she’d left Oklahoma City.
Joy knew Laura’s situation, knew the danger posed by exposing her. Why had Floyd brought Devaney here?
Palms clammy, she clasped her hands together, her attention locked on the man who had protected her for the past ten months. “Just tell me.”
“Your father has cancer,” Floyd said. “A relapse of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”
Relapse? Panic punched her in the chest followed quickly by resentment and regret. Her mother had died from cancer. Was her father close to death? Did he want to see her?
“He was first diagnosed nine months ago. He was cautioned that if the cancer returned, he would need a bone marrow transplant.”
Devaney spoke up. “A lot of people have been tested, but you’re the only match.”
She frowned. “How do you know that?”
“You had a blood sample in the donor registry.”
Before going into hiding, Laura had regularly donated blood and made sure to put herself on the register for both blood and bone marrow donors. She turned to Floyd. “You said my dad had relapsed.”
“Yes. Two weeks ago, during his monthly check up, he learned the cancer was back.”
Two bouts of cancer. A bone marrow transplant. Her guilt over their years-long estrangement pinched at her. Laura was the last person on earth her father would want to help him, but Floyd and Devaney didn’t need to know that.
She glanced at the marshal. “Have you known about this since Dad’s first diagnosis?”
“No.” He hooked a thumb at the big man beside him. “Not until Devaney told me tonight.”
Even if Floyd had known, it would’ve done no good to tell Laura. She wouldn’t have been able to help her dad and her dad hadn’t needed her then. But he did now.
“What about Vin?”
“My boss called to tell me that Devaney was coming. He’s convinced this man can keep you safe. Devaney made a compelling case himself. He’ll be with you 24/7 and he has backup if he needs it.”
She could read nothing in the younger man’s rugged features, the tight mouth or eyes that she could now see were a perfect mix of blue and green. There was a stillness about him yet also a hum of coiled energy beneath the surface, as if he could explode into motion faster than she could blink.
She drew in a deep breath. The everyday scents of perfume and potpourri and a light citrus cleaner were comforting. “I’m supposed to just disappear? Again?”
“I’m sorry, but yes,” Floyd said gently. “I’ll have your apartment packed up and your things sent to you when you’re ready for them.”
“I’ll have to cancel my lease,” she said, half to herself. “Are you sure my leaving witness protection is safe?”
“It’s a risk. I won’t lie. Nobody would blame you if you said no. If you say no, we can all just forget about this conversation.”
“I can’t do that,” Laura said quickly. “Not if my dad really needs me.”
“I think he does,” the marshal said.
She trusted Floyd. He had never lied to her or put her in unnecessary danger.
She was going home. Aunt Joy needed her. Her father needed her. And then she would have to start all over again.
Having the marshal here and disappearing without notice meant her identity had now been compromised. After everything was done, she’d have to be moved, assigned another fake name and background. Get another job.
Sadness tugged at her. She’d made friends here and she really liked the store’s owner, Ann Childress, but Laura had never let herself forget that she might someday have to leave. And now someday was here.
“We should get going,” Devaney said.
Still off balance, Laura nodded slowly.
He frowned. “I’d rather you ride with me, but we can’t leave your car here.”
“Because it would look as if something bad happened to me.”
“I’ll have to call my boss,” she said faintly. “If it’s okay, I’ll tell her it’s a family emergency and make sure she knows I won’t be back.”
She glanced at Floyd. “So, we’ll drive to Oklahoma City?”
“No,” the older man said. “I won’t be going with you. I’ll meet you there later. Devaney has brought Enigma’s jet.”
“The pilot is on standby,” her new protector put in. “We can leave your car covered and in the hangar where the plane is stored. I’ll follow behind you. Do you know how to get to the airport?”
“I didn’t even know Pueblo had one.”
After a last look around, she grabbed her winter coat and followed the men outside. Floyd put a hand on her shoulder.
“I wouldn’t have brought Devaney here if I hadn’t checked him out forward and backward. The director personally vouched for him. If I thought for one minute this guy wasn’t on the level or that he couldn’t protect you, I would’ve sent him packing.”
Aware of how careful the marshal had been with her up to this point, Laura knew that was true. Even so, she was nervous. Vin was alive and as long as he was, she was in danger.
Devaney waited for her to lock up, then gave her directions to the airport. In the darkness, he was nearly invisible until he slid behind the wheel of a dark sedan. She said goodbye to Floyd, then settled into her red compact. After the taillights of the older man’s SUV disappeared, Devaney waved her out of the parking lot and followed.
He appeared able to protect her. She hoped he was, but what if she needed to be protected from him? The thought drew her up short. Where had that come from?
She drove through the quiet streetlamp-lit streets of Pueblo, glancing in her rearview mirror frequently.
The man who’d come for her stayed close as she battled a mix of resentment and fear and uncertainty.
Griffin Devaney had just wrecked her manufactured life like an EF5 tornado. He hadn’t just brought up her past. He was sweeping her right back into it.
© 2014-2015 by Debra S. Cowan
® and ™ are trademarks of the publisher. The edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books, S.A.