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Gray Turner had just returned from a relaxing trail ride in the Cascade Mountains when he sensed an intruder on his property.
He hesitated as he brushed down Maverick in the barn. Could be his imagination.
Squirt's crazed barking echoed from the cabin a hundred yards away, confirming Gray's suspicions. He tossed the brush aside, slid the Glock from its holster and readied himself for whatever waited outside the barn door.
Not many folks would risk trespassing on his land. The locals of Millsworth, Washington, knew he didn't welcome surprise guests. Or any guests for that matter.
He clicked into defensive mode as adrenaline blocked out all sound but the Border collie's warning.
Gray had to be overreacting. He wasn't in combat anymore. He'd left Special Ops three years ago, settling in this remote spot. Sure, he'd done some freelance work, but he'd never revealed his location to business associates.
The brisk mountain air whistled through the rafters. Squirt's barking grew more frantic. Maybe the guy was after whatever he could steal from the cabin. He'd be disappointed as hell.
Gray calmed his breathing, as he had so many times before an assault, and peered through the wooden slats. A mysterious figure stepped onto his front porch. Didn't the perp have the good sense to back off when the dog started barking?
Using the trees as cover, Gray made his silent approach. The intruder went to the front window and peered inside the cabin. Bold bastard.
Bold and small, judging from where the top of his head hit the window. Squirt pounded on the glass like a good watchdog.
Figuring his visitor was distracted by the dog, Gray took a few steps closer. The unwelcome guestplaced his hand to the glass.
A very petite-looking hand. Damn, it was a woman.
Still, Gray knew how utterly dangerous a woman could be, worse than shrapnel if she got too close.
He holstered the Glock and crept up the opposite side of the porch. He didn't care if she was a woman, man or a friggin' army general. She was trespassing.
Gray stepped up behind her. "Who the hell are you?"
She screamed and spun around, swinging her shoulder bag.
"Damn it, woman!" He grabbed her wrist and she lunged to bite him. He spun her around and applied an arm lock to neutralize her.
"Stop, help, police!" she cried.
"Police? Why do you want the police? So they can arrest you for trespassing?" he said against her ear. He noticed her hair was dirty blond with streaks of sunlight.
"Stop, I said stop!" she demanded.
"Calm down. I'm not going to hurt you."
"You are hurting me."
"Then stop squirming."
She did, but he sensed she wouldn't stay calm for long.
"What are you doing on my property?" he said. Damn if her hair didn't smell of fresh wildflowers. It had been too long since he'd had a woman in his bed. Maybe it was time for a trip to the city for a night of mindless sex.
"I came to see Adam Turner," she said.
Adam? No one had called him Adam since high school.
"Why?" he questioned.
"I need his help."
He released her and she took a few steps away. When she turned to face him, she clutched her shoulder bag like a shield.
"What do you want?" he said.
"Adam? Don't you remember me? It's Katie Meyers."
The wind ripped from his chest as he struggled to make sense of it. Katie Meyers. His first love. His first heartbreak.
The girl who caused him to lose his honor.
"Katie?" he whispered. He studied the once bright-faced, sweet-looking girl who'd lured him with her innocent smiles and tender voice. She looked much older even though it had been only eleven years. Faint worry lines creased her forehead; weariness dimmed her green eyes.
Not his problem.
"I know I have no right to ask"
"Then don't," he interrupted. "How the hell did you find me?"
"Luke Dunham came back to Redmond after being discharged and told me where you were."
His special ops buddy, Dunham, had given Gray up to this this what? She was nothing to him but a childhood mistake.
"Luke said you lived out here and I remembered how good you were at tracking, when you " she hesitated " were a kid."
When you hung out with Hoot, that's what she was about to say. That was a lifetime ago, and Gray had worked hard to forget the past.
To forget that Hoot was dead, thanks to Gray.
"Adam, I need to find my son."
She had a child with another man. Something twisted in his gut. Good God, you're still fantasizing about the girl who stripped you of your dignity over ten years ago?
"Call the police," Gray said.
"I I can't."
"Why the hell not?"
Gray narrowed his eyes. "Hold on, are you running from the law?"
"Of course not."
"Then call the cops."
"They won't take me seriously. Tyler is with his father."
He put out his hands. "I'm not getting involved in a domestic issue. I'm not a cop or a shrink."
He opened the cabin door, commanding Squirt to back off. "But they said you're a hero."
Her words cut him like a switchblade. Heroes don't betray friends, or run from their past.
"I'm no hero." He turned. "Just a man who wants to be left alone."
Those damned green eyes lured him in again, taunted him with the promise of love and tenderness that he knew didn't exist for dishonorable bastards like Gray Turner.
She shivered against a cool burst of wind, wrapping her red scarf tighter around her neck. Red, a fitting color. A warning sign of danger ahead.
"I've got names of guides who can help you for a price," he said. "I'm not one of them."
Following him inside she said, "I remember you being a lot nicer when we were kids."
"I don't remember being a kid."
KATIE TOOK A MOMENT TO stroke the Border collie's neck.
"Squirt, come," Adam ordered.
The dog raced to his master's side. Adam didn't look up, but rather focused on making coffee in the kitchenette. He'd kept his distance since they'd come inside.
A good thing considering he seemed nothing like the sweet kid she knew growing up. She couldn't get used to how much he'd changed, how his shoulders seemed broader, his eyes darker and his smile nonexistent.
Katie rubbed her hands together to warm them, and studied the one-room cabin. A kitchenette consisted of a wooden table for two. An overstuffed chair and sturdy rocker faced the fireplace in the main living area, and a queen bed covered with a dark green plaid blanket filled the corner of the cabin. Her gaze lingered for a second as she imagined this man sprawled beneath the sheets. She wondered what it would be like to lie beside a hero instead of a criminal.
Why had she stayed with Lee so long? Because she'd ached for her marriage to work, even after she'd found out about his business. Silly girl, she'd thought she could talk him out of being a drug dealer.
That's when she'd discovered how charming and manipulative he was. He'd promised, but had never intended to quit, so she demanded a divorce.
Yet here she was: the cops suspected Katie of being involved in his business, and her son had been taken by her monster ex-husband.
No one was concerned about Tyler because they didn't believe he was in danger.
So, she'd had no choice.
Find out how he gets the drugs out of the country and I'll make sure you and your son are safe, FBI Agent Washburn had offered.
Maybe she should have worked with the Feds sooner, but she couldn't stand the thought of spending time with Lee to uncover his plans, especially after
Can't think about that now. Focus on finding Tyler.
She'd never felt safe in her childhood home thanks to Dad's drunken rages and Mom's ambivalence. She'd promised herself that her child would not live that way, which was why she'd been drawn to the "perfect" Lee Anderson.
"Here." Adam handed her a chipped ceramic mug. Squirt stayed close to his master.
She took the mug and their fingers touched. Something sparked in his eyes and he turned away. He was still attracted to her. She sipped her coffee, a plan forming in her mind. Maybe she could convince him to help after all.
Yet there was something threatening about the adult Adam Turner. He hummed with an intensity she'd never sensed as a kid. The young Adam Turner had been gentle and tender.
As her friend Luke Dunham had warned, war changes a man.
Or had it started years ago when Gray's father figure, Hoot, had died? She inhaled the scent of strong coffee, fighting back the guilt. She'd been partially responsible for that. The things you did for the people you loved. She opened her eyes and watched Gray settle in the rocker across the room.
"I'm surprised a guy like you lives all alone in this gorgeous part of the world," she began.
He eyed her and sipped his coffee. Suddenly she wished she'd taken more time with her makeup this morning. But she didn't think she'd be seducing a stranger.
"Who did you end up marrying?" Adam asked.
He snorted in disapproval, the sound setting off self-condemnation all over again. She shoved it back.
"Yeah, I was young and naive," she admitted.
Truth was, Lee had been a decent husband in the beginning. Then he lost his job and their perfect life crumbled. He announced he was going to work for himself, selling a specialty line of chocolate.
She had believed the lie.