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Marshal Clayton Caldwell figured this could be bad.
He waited at the window and watched the woman exit the dark blue car that she'd just parked next to the Marshals Service building where he worked. She glanced around, but because of the other vehicles, there was no way she could have seen the black truck that eased to a stop about a half block up the street.
Clayton saw it, all right.
And he didn't like the looks of this.
Had the driver of the truck followed her?
And if so, why?
Since Clayton had been at the second-floor window finishing his morning coffee and watching for his visitor to arrive, he'd been able to see the car and truck. Both unfamiliar. Not that he knew every vehicle in Maverick Springs, but the truck's front license plate was obscured with mud or something. That, and the fact that the driver didn't get out, made Clayton very uneasy.
Or maybe that was just a reaction to Lenora Whitaker's visit.
Until the night before, he hadn't heard from her sincewell, just since. After nearly two months, Clayton had figured it'd stay that way.
"Everything okay?" Harlan McKinney asked. His fellow marshal and foster brother was seated in the corner of the desk-clogged room. Harlan's attention was on some reports, but judging from his concerned look, he'd given Clayton a glance or two.
That's when Clayton realized he'd slipped his hand over the Glock in his leather waist holster.
Sometimes he wished he could turn off this blasted LEOlaw enforcement officeralarm in his head, but he'd been a marshal for nearly a decade now. Too long to turn off alarms. Or to get a decent night's sleep, for that matter.
"I'm not sure if everything's okay," Clayton answered. "I got a bad feeling about this."
And that sent Harlan from his desk and to the window, where he looked out, as well.
Clayton waited, watching the wipers on the truck slash away the rain from the windshield. Not a gentle April shower. More like a downpour. But it wasn't long before he heard the footsteps on the stairs. Not just ordinary footsteps, though.
They really stood out in the building where all six of the marshals were male. There were female employees in the other parts of the building, but this time of day they rarely came to the second floor.
The woman stepped into the doorway of the squad room, her attention zooming right to Clayton.
Yeah, it was her, all right. She stood there, her damp shoulder-length brown hair clinging to the sides of her face. The water dripped from her raincoat and the umbrella she had clutched in her hand and splattered onto the floor.
"Clayton," she said on a rise of breath.
Her gaze darted to Harlan, and she cleared her throat. Maybe because Harlan was just plain intimidating, with his linebacker-size body and hard lawman's eyes. Thankfully, Clayton's foster brother went back to his desk in the corner and pretended not to notice they were in the room.
"Marshal Caldwell," Lenora corrected herself.
That surprised him. Women he'd had sex with didn't usually get so formal after the fact. Of course, Lenora and he had only been together for that one nightand at one of the worst times in her life, to bootbut still she had to remember it.
He certainly did.
Despite being all mussed and wet, Lenora was a darn attractive woman. And judging from her dark green eyes, a troubled one.
"There've been no updates on the investigation," Clayton volunteered to test her reaction. Was that why she'd asked to see him?
Clayton glanced at Harlan, who was glancing at them and no doubt wondering what the heck was going on.
So was Clayton.
Lenora had been cryptic when she'd called the day before, saying only that she needed to catch up with him.
"No updates," she repeated. "Yes." And that was all she said for several seconds, before she cleared her throat again. "Marshal Walker called a few weeks ago to say there'd been no progress."
Marshal Walker, as in Dallas Walker, another of Clayton's foster brothers. Dallas was indeed in charge of the investigation into the murder of Lenora's best friend. A murder that'd happened nearly two months ago.
The last time Clayton had seen Lenora.
And they hadn't exactly parted under good circumstances. In fact, Lenora had sneaked out of the hotel room while Clayton was in the shower, and she'd left him a note saying it'd been a big mistake for them to have sex.
Since that wasn't exactly a good memory, Clayton pushed it aside and hitched his thumb toward the window. "Did someone in a black pickup follow you here?"
Lenora's eyes widened, and she practically ran across the room to look out.
"Sorry," he mumbled. "It was there a few seconds ago. Guess I was wrong about it." Funny, though, his LEO alarm was usually a hundred percent.
Lenora was breathing through her mouth now, and her eyes were still wide. Her gaze darted around the parking lot and street. "You thought I was being followed?"
"Maybe." Her bottom lip trembled. "I'd hoped it was my imagination. I'm not sleeping well, and the nightmares are getting worse."
Yeah. He knew all about those nightmares. A woman, Jill Lang, was dead. Gunned down right in front of both of them. She'd been Lenora's best friend. And a witness in Clayton's protective custody.
He didn't expect the nightmares to end anytime soon.
Clayton could practically feel Lenora's worry, and even though she'd given him the brush-off two months ago, he reached out and touched her arm. Well, the sleeve of her wet raincoat, anyway. He hoped it was a sympathetic gesture without getting too close.
"Jill's killer was caught," Clayton reminded her. And even though the man had yet to go to trial, he would be convicted of murder. No doubt about that, since there was a mountain of evidence against him, including Clayton's and Lenora's own eyewitness accounts.
But maybe this wasn't about Jill's killer.
"I know about the break-ins at your house in Eagle Pass," Clayton told her.
Lenora pulled her shoulders back, and she shook her head. "How? Why?"
Both good questions. He didn't exactly have good answers, though, and it sounded a little creepy to admit that he'd kept tabs on her. But he had. Too bad Clayton didn't know exactly why he'd done it. He'd had short-term relationships before that he'd dismissed without a second thought.
So why hadn't he been able to do that with Lenora?
Because there was something that wasn't quite right about this. Something he couldn't put his finger on.
She pushed her hair from her face and glanced at Harlan again. "Could we go somewhere private and talk?" she asked Clayton.
Maybe Harlan was making her nervous. He had that effect on people. But from Clayton's assessment, Lenora had been nervous before she even came into the room.
Clayton set his coffee on his desk and grabbed his jacket. "There's a diner across the street," he said, already walking toward the door. "Call me if something comes up," he added to Harlan.
"Tell me about these break-ins," Clayton insisted as soon as they were out of the office.
Lenora gave a weary sigh. "The first one happened last weekas I'm sure you read in the report. I wasn't there, but the person destroyed an antique panel that I'd been restoring."
Property damage. Much better than damaging her body, but he could tell from her tone that it still hurt. Clayton didn't know a lot about Lenora's job in stained-glass restoration, but he remembered her saying that she often worked with expensive antiques.
"What about the second break-in?" He stopped just outside the building and looked around. Lenora did, too. There was no sign of that black truck, so he took her by arm and led her across the street.
"You already know." She sounded upset, or something, that he'd read the police reports, but Clayton didn't intend to apologize for that.
"I still consider you my business," he clarified.
She blinked. "Why? Because my friend was killed on your watch? If so, that wasn't your fault."
The question threw him. Yeah, that was part of itthat a woman in his protective custody had died. In fact, that should have been all of it. But there were feelings buried beneath this, and maybe Lenora's blink meant it wasn't all business for her, either.
She looked away, mumbled something he didn't catch. "Back to the break-ins. Again, I wasn't there for the second one. In fact, I've been living at one of those extended-stay hotels since the first break-in." Lenora paused. "The intruder left threatening messages scrawled on my bedroom wall."
Clayton cursed. That hadn't been in the initial report he'd read from the Eagle Pass P.D., but Clayton knew this was an escalation. If Lenora had been there
But he cut off that bad thought.
Maybe their one-night stand had made her want to keep some distance between them. But she was here now, and though she hadn't said it specifically, she appeared to be asking for his help.
Which she would get.
And Clayton assured himself that it had nothing to do with the night he'd spent with her. Or this cool heat still simmering between them. He would have helped anyone who needed it.
They took a booth by the window so he could keep watch for the truck, and he asked the waitress to bring them two cups of coffee.
"Do the cops have a suspect in the break-ins?" he asked.
Lenora shook her head. "They don't have any prints, any type of trace evidence, and none of my neighbors saw anyone suspicious."
That meshed with the reports he'd read, but witnesses often came forward later. Maybe that would happen in this case.
"Tell me who you think was in that truck," Clayton said.
Another head shake. "I don't know."
"A boyfriend, maybe?"
"No. I'm not seeing anyone. And I don't think I've been followed before." Lenora blew out another breath, and she had a death grip on the coffee cup. "There's more." She said it so softly that Clayton didn't actually hear her. He saw the words form on her lips.
"What?" he pushed when she didn't explain.
This was beyond a bad feeling, and he instantly went back to the night they'd spent together. He wasn't sure he was ready to deal with what she was about to say, but he also knew he had to hear it.
"You're pregnant?" he came out and asked.
No blink this time. She nodded.
And that nod sent his heartbeat racing out of control.
It felt as if someone had punched him in the gut. All the air left his lungs. All. But he fought to get enough breath so he could speak.
However, Lenora beat him to it. "I wrestled with whether to tell you at all. I mean, we hardly know each other. But I decided if our situations were reversed, I'd want to know. By the way, I don't expect anything from you," she added.
That gave him a jolt of breath he needed. "Well, you damn well should expect something."
Lenora eased back, her attention fixed to him. "Obviously, you're not pleased about this"
"Only because I didn't see it coming."
"Yes." And she repeated that. "It caught me off guard, too. We used protection, but something must have gone wrong."
He pulled in a couple of quick breaths and hoped it'd clear his head. He needed to think. To say the right thing.
Whatever that was.
He'd never planned on being a father. Never. And this was a shock that made him speechless.
She looked up. Their gazes connected. But then Lenora looked away again. Not at the coffee this time, but rather out the window.
"Is that the black truck you saw?" Her attention was on something over his shoulder.
Clayton turned in that direction and saw the truck. Yeah. It was the same one. It was creeping along Main Street, going past the diner.
Unlike before, the window on the passenger's side was halfway down. There didn't appear to be anyone seated there, only the person behind the steering wheel. Clayton couldn't see the guy's face. But he saw the gun.
"Get down!" Clayton shouted to Lenora and everyone else in the diner.
He reached beneath his jacket to draw his Glock, but it was already too late. The bullet blasted through the window.
Clayton felt the sharp pain in the side of his head, and even over the blast, he heard Lenora yell. He tried to move. Tried to return fire and protect her, but he felt himself falling.
And everything around him turned cold and gray.