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She had to get out of here. Leave Chicago and find some podunk town where nobody would find her. She needed to disappear. At least until the trial was over.
Eleanor Owens shoved an unsteady hand through her black hair and swallowed against the knot of anxiety in her throat. It’d been there since she’d been served the subpoena two days ago to testify against her ex-boyfriend.
Like hell that was going to happen.
Her stomach rolled and she let out a shaky breath. Easy for the court system to just beckon her to the witness stand to testify against James, but she didn’t trust their promises to keep her safe. If she’d learned anything from her brutal ex—besides making herself as invisible as possible when he was angry—it was that people couldn’t be trusted.
Blinking the sleep from her eyes, she moved the cursor on her laptop over the map of Oregon, scanning the cities. She picked a couple of towns and ran a population search for them on a search engine. None felt right.
Too many people… Too few people.
And then she found it, a small town near the Oregon coast called Wyattville. No towns or cities too close by, and it had a population of just over a couple thousand.
Ellie nibbled her lip and hesitated. She was risking everything. Abandoning her apartment, leaving all her yoga classes without a teacher, emptying her bank account, and essentially disappearing. Everyone would be looking for her, but hopefully no one would find her.
Was she really going to do this? Go and hide? When she was a witness who could be really effective in helping put James away…
An image flickered in her mind. Lionel Maliano, a cop, sitting in his unmarked car across the street from her apartment while she’d been served. She remembered the white curl of his cigarette smoke and the dark expression on his face as he’d watched her.
And then, the moment the woman at her door had left, Lionel had come to her apartment and knocked. She hadn’t been stupid enough to answer, but he’d gotten his message through regardless.
Calling softly though the door, “You don’t know nothing. Just remember that, bitch.”
An icy shiver of fear slid down her spine at the memory of the threat, leaving nausea in its wake. She knew exactly what her ex-boyfriend and his friends—cops included—were capable of. She bit her lip and printed the map of Oregon.
Maybe leaving town was an extreme choice, but it was the only one she had.
Tyson steered the patrol car onto First Avenue and gave a small smile at the familiar scene. Summer was in full swing, with the kids out of school and the tourists trickling into town. Even though it wasn’t even noon, a line had already formed at the Coastal Creamery for ice cream.
He cruised down the road, finding no signs of trouble stirring, but then really not expecting any. The sheriff’s department in Wyattville was made up of himself and five other deputies. Though the crime rate in town wasn’t nearly what it was in the bigger neighboring cities, there were still a handful of calls that came in during the week to keep them busy. Granted most of them were small theft or trespassing calls.
Scratching the back of his head, Tyson rolled the car to a halt at a stop sign. It was a slow morning. Maybe he should just head back to the station and catch up on some paperwork.
His gaze slid to the left, up the hill toward the residential area of town. Curiosity simmered in his gut and he narrowed his eyes, thinking about the Bakemans’ old house that had just been rented out for the summer.
From everything he’d heard around town, the renter was a woman in her mid-twenties.
Maybe he oughtta stop by and introduce himself. Hell, he pretty much did it whenever somebody new came to stay for a while anyway. And the Bakemans’ house wasn’t too far from his place, just about a half mile up a dirt road—they were practically neighbors. The area was probably one of the more isolated places in town.
Flipping on the left turn signal, Tyson turned and headed up the hill. No reason why he shouldn’t just drop on by.
Ellie set the book she was reading down with a sigh and lifted her head to gaze out the window. Beyond the hills and trees, there was the faintest hint of blue. The Pacific Ocean.
Longing twisted inside her. She was so tempted to say screw it all, leave the house she’d rented and go explore the beach. Or the cute little part of downtown she’d only been to once. Good God, anything to get outside.
It wasn’t that the house was awful or anything, it was wonderfully quaint and cozy. A small, two-bedroom cottage with a great kitchen and nice view. She knew the house inside and out. Had explored every nook and cranny. Knew every spot where the floorboards creaked. Had discovered that the hot water had a tendency to scald.
It was like she’d lived here for years. When, really, it had only been five days since she’d gotten off the Greyhound bus in the larger neighboring town and then taken an expensive taxi ride into Wyattville.
Five days since she’d emptied her bank account and fled Chicago. She’d paid cash for everything, having hidden her bank and credit cards before leaving. Fortunately, the couple who’d rented her the house had been more than happy to accept cash as her deposit and two months worth of rent.
Hearing the soft bubble of water, Ellie stood and headed for the kitchen to check on her eggs.
Maybe she could go into town today and buy some more groceries, though she really didn’t need any since she’d bought a ton during her one and only trip to the store.
The whole point of her being here was keeping a low profile, not that there was a chance anyone would figure out who she was. How could they? The trial might have been hot news in Chicago, but she was in a small town in Oregon.
As she peered into the pot of eggs, watching them spin over themselves in the water, her stomach growled. Soft-boiled eggs and toast had always been her favorite. She’d grown up on it. It was good old-fashioned comfort food, and right now she needed the comfort.
Ellie pulled the pot from the burner and was about to reach for a spoon, when the sound of crunching tires hit her ears. She stilled and listened carefully, but there was no mistaking the sound. It was a car, and it seemed to be coming down her little dirt road.
With the pot still in her hand, she rushed to the window.
“Oh, my God,” she whispered. Her heart slammed against her ribcage and her mouth went dry. “This isn’t happening.”
But the writing on the side of the approaching white car clearly identified it as a sheriff’s vehicle. How in the hell had they found her?
When a tall man unfurled himself from the car, she stumbled away from the window, her empty stomach churning and her hands shaking so badly the water sloshed over the side of the pot, scalding her hand.
Ellie thrust the pot back onto the stove as her head moved from side to side in denial. There was no way she was going back to Chicago. She couldn’t testify. She was as good as dead if she got on that witness stand.
Terror stretched its cold hands through every inch of her body, and when a knock came at the front door, she completely lost it and fled out the back.
“Well, that’s funny.” Tyson pursed his lips. He could’ve sworn he heard someone inside.
He walked around the porch to peer in the kitchen window and immediately spotted the pot on the stove. Water boiled over the sides and onto the floor.
His brows drew together as his gut tightened with the instinct that something was off. A second later, a door slammed from the back of the house.
Tyson moved quickly to the end of the porch, just in time to see a blur of black hair and bare legs, before the woman headed for the gathering of trees at the edge of the property.
Without a moment’s hesitation, he hopped the porch railing and took off after her.
Was she running from him? Why?
He shook his head, reminding himself he didn’t really need to ask why. He knew the answer. He was in uniform and driving a marked car. And when a person ran from law enforcement, it was generally because they had something to hide.
“Stop!” he hollered, increasing his pace.
But, if anything, it spooked the woman even more and she disappeared into the woods.
Tyson didn’t lose speed. Was this the tenant of the house? Or had someone else broken in? Either way, he wasn’t letting her get away that easily. Not that he thought for a minute she would. The woman was heading right toward the cliffs above the beach, so she was going to have to stop at some point. And when she did, she’d have some explaining to do.
Even as he gained ground, his frustration slipped away, and unease replaced it as they began to approach the break in the trees.
She wasn’t slowing down. Jesus, didn’t she realize once she was out of the forest she’d be right at the cliff’s edge?
“Stop!” he screamed again, almost an arm’s length behind her now. “Dammit, lady, stop before you kill yourself!”
The woman burst from the trees without decreasing her speed and Tyson’s heart tripped with fear.
Her sharp scream reverberated as she finally saw the cliff. Her toes dug into the dirt as she tried to halt her inevitable fall.
Tyson lurched forward, grabbed her around the waist and spun them away from the edge just as her right foot went over.
Her soft body slammed against his, causing him to stumble backward and farther away from the edge. He hit the ground first, falling on his ass before she fell on top of him. One of his hands fell on the roundness of her bottom, the other on her back, while her soft chest pressed against his face as her arms flailed to the ground beneath them for purchase.
Jesus. Tyson let out a strangled groan as his body instantly responded to their intimate position.
Her frightened whimper and trembling body reminded him how close she’d been to going over the cliff.
“Are you okay?” he asked gruffly, rolling them so she fell back onto the dirt and then knelt above her.
Wide hazel eyes stared up at him even as she made the tiniest nod.
He grunted and slid his gaze over her slight frame, taking in her flawless pale skin. Small breasts pushed against her thin pink tank top. Her stomach was toned and her hips flared just a bit under tiny denim shorts. Her feet were dirty from running bare through the forest, even as her dainty toes shone with a glittery pink polish.
Damn but she was a sexy little thing… and she was terrified. Whether of him, or nearly running over a cliff, who knew?
But the fear in her eyes reminded him to stop thinking with his dick and get back into sheriff mode.
“You could’ve been killed if you’d fallen off that cliff, do you realize that?” he said tersely.
Again, a tiny nod.
He narrowed his gaze. “Good. Now would you please explain why you were running from me, ma’am?”
End of Excerpt