Time to Runby Marliss Melton
On the run from her controlling husband, Sara Garret has discovered she's got a spine of steel - and she'll do anything to protect her son. Now the person she must turn to is another man. But this SEAL, with his Harley and ponytail, is no knight in shining armour. See more details below
On the run from her controlling husband, Sara Garret has discovered she's got a spine of steel - and she'll do anything to protect her son. Now the person she must turn to is another man. But this SEAL, with his Harley and ponytail, is no knight in shining armour.
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Time To Run
By Marliss Melton
Warner BooksCopyright © 2005 Marliss Melton
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNext Day
Chief Petty Officer Chase McCaffrey stalked into the Trial Services Building on Oceana Naval Base in a piss-poor mood. He hadn't put a dent in the paperwork piled on top of his desk at the Spec Ops and, already, he was having to pack his bags and leave-not on an assignment this time, but to claim the land his stepfather had left to him, land he never wanted to go home to.
The young, African-American security guard on duty greeted him warmly. "How you doin', Chief? I ain't seen you here in months!"
"Twelve to be exact," Chase told him, slapping the envelope he'd brought onto the X-ray belt. He withdrew his pistol, a SIG Sauer P226, out of the holster on his battle dress uniform belt and surrendered it to the guard, along with his cell phone, neither of which was permitted in the building.
"Where you been?" Petty Officer Marcelino Hewitt asked. "Oh, wait, I guess you can't tell me that. It's classified."
"Somewhere hot," said Chase succinctly. Which had to be obvious, given his savage tan and sun-bleached eyebrows. He stepped through the metal detector, feeling vulnerable. But this wasn't Malaysia. In this building, he was safe from everything but long lines and red tape, neither of which he had time for today.
"What's wrong, Chief? You don't look so chipper today,"Hewitt needled, reverting to their habit of harassing each other.
"I am never chipper," Chase articulated, with a scowl that was half-genuine, half-pretend.
"Jolly, then," Hewitt amended, with a straight face.
"Fuck you," Chase said, without heat. "You're the one who's jolly." His gaze fell to the petty officer's ample midsection. "I thought I told you to lose weight. You've put on at least ten pounds."
The man chuckled. "You said to lay off the donuts. You didn't say nothin' about no honey buns, though," he retorted gleefully.
Chase snatched his folder off the X-ray belt as it reappeared. "No pastries, period, Hewitt," he suggested. "And lay off the soda," he added, pointing out the can of Coke in the guard's work area.
"Aw, Chief!" Hewitt protested with exaggerated grief.
But Chase was already halfway down the hallway. All he needed was for Commander Spenser, a JAG lawyer, to sign off on the document Chase carried, stating that he agreed to represent a petty officer third class in Chase's platoon who'd cracked a few skulls at the waterfront.
With a mutter of annoyance that his job at home port amounted to babysitting, Chase stalked into the lounge area outside the counselor's chambers. To his relief, only one other person, a woman, sat waiting. But then he noticed that the lawyers' offices were empty. Through the milky glass windows in the door across the hall, he could see that they'd come together in a meeting.
"Fuck me," Chase growled, throwing himself down into a hard, plastic lounge chair. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the woman's head come up sharply. "Sorry," he apologized glancing her way.
Their gazes locked in mutual surprise as they recognized each other.
She was Sara Garret, wife of the infamous prosecuting JAG from Lieutenant Renault's court-martial last year.
She'd intrigued him then. Her gray-green eyes had the same effect on him now as they moved over him, taking in his sun-streaked goatee, his jungle-camouflage BDUs, and his black, lace-up boots.
"Do you know how long they're going to be in there?" he asked, unsettled by her scrutiny.
"Um, I don't know," she admitted, biting her lower lip. "Maybe half an hour longer?"
He couldn't look away from her, just like at last year's court-martial. He'd tried to speak with her at the trial's end, only she'd darted into the restroom, frustrating his attempt. He could assuage his curiosity now. "Have we met before?" he asked, certain that they had. "Before the court-martial, I mean."
Her face took on a certain radiance. "Well, yes, actually. You were in San Diego about four years ago?"
How'd she know that?
"You jump-started my car in the library parking lot," she explained. "I'd left the lights on, and the battery was dead." He didn't remember.
"Then a couple years later, I rammed my shopping cart into yours, right here at the local commissary."
Now that he kind of remembered. Her cart had upset the six-pack of canned soda he'd slung over the side of his. Two of the cans had plummeted to the floor, spraying carbonated soda all over his pant legs. The woman had been so shaken that he'd had to call for the mop to do the cleanup himself. "That was you?" he asked.
"Yes." Flushing with chagrin, she focused on the notebook in her lap, which was what she'd been doing when he walked in.
He let himself consider her. From her mousy brown hair to the shapeless beige dress she wore, she wasn't much to look at. She was nervous and tense, and she'd perfected the art of blending in, a skill detectable by one who hid for a living, a sniper like him. He'd wondered last year what she was hiding from. He was still wondering.
"My name's Chase," he volunteered. "Chase McCaffrey. Some folks call me Westy."
"Sara," she said, with a shy nod. She kept a firm grip on her pencil. No hand-shaking allowed.
"Whatcha workin' on?" he asked, wanting to put her at ease, to solve the riddle that she presented.
"Lesson plans," she admitted, scrunching up her shoulders as if doing that would help her disappear.
She reminded him of a wild animal, wary of humans. He'd tamed a number of wild animals when he was younger. All it took was time, gentleness, and patience. "You're a teacher?" he inquired. Aside from the bun confining her hair, she didn't look like a teacher.
"English tutor," she corrected him. She glanced at her watch, and a crease appeared between her slender eyebrows.
"Something wrong?" It wasn't in his nature to be nosy, but he could feel the tension building in her. Not because of him, he hoped.
"Oh, no. I'm ... supposed to tutor at the Refugee Center in an hour, but ..." She glanced toward the closed door where the lawyers convened, and frustration dimmed the clarity of her eyes.
"You don't drive," he guessed.
A flicker of anger came and went. "Not lately," she said, looking down at the notebook.
He wasn't making much headway. Some wild animals took months to tame.
"Could you use a ride?" he heard himself ask. Like he had time to drive her places with all the paperwork waiting for him.
That got her attention. "Excuse me?" she squeaked.
"I was offering you a ride," he explained, figuring he'd overstepped his bounds.
"To the Refugee Center," she clarified.
"Of course." Jesus, did she think he was picking her up? He wasn't that hard up to be chasing a JAG's wife, let alone one who dressed like a nun.
"No, thank you," she murmured, with a pretty blush.
He watched her scratch a word onto the list that she was making. The longer he looked at her, the more tightly she gripped her pencil.
"Ma'am?" he said, startling her head up. "Could you do me a favor?" he asked. He couldn't sit here any longer, feeling the tension in her. "Could you give this envelope to Commander Spenser when he comes out of the meeting?"
"Sure," she said, managing a wobbly smile.
"Thanks. Tell him, he can mail the document back to the return address after he signs it."
Coming out of his chair to extend her the envelope, Chase felt like he was jumping into one of the green-gray pools at the base of a Malaysian waterfall. Her eyes were exquisite. "Take care," he said, unsettled by their unexpected pull on him. "You, too," she said, radiant again.
He stalked toward the exit, trying to get his mind on all the things he had to do before taking leave. But as he paused by the security checkpoint to collect his SIG and cell phone, he asked Petty Officer Hewitt, "So what's the deal with Captain Garret's wife?" "Miss Sara?" Hewitt countered with a pitying shake of his head. "She sits in there all day sometimes, waitin' for him to leave work."
"Why?" Chase asked.
Hewitt shrugged. "Captain Garret don't let her out of his sight. Sweet lady, too. It's a shame he treats her so bad."
Chase turned away. He wished he hadn't learned that. "See less of you later, Hewitt."
"Not a chance, Chief." Hewitt chuckled.
As he pushed out of the building into the balmy September afternoon, Chase felt for the woman trapped inside. She must long to be freed to the wild outdoors. He shook his head, picturing her husband, a man whose arrogant demeanor betrayed an overinflated ego.
Men who dominated women belonged to the same category as the terrorists that Chase annihilated. Too bad he'd never get orders to take that fucker out.
Twenty-four hours later, Chase filled his duffel bag with what he'd need for three weeks' leave. He stood halfway between his dresser and his bed, emptying the drawers he'd just filled a few days ago.
Jesse, his black Labrador retriever, lay with his head on his paws, ears flattened, looking devastated.
Chase couldn't take it anymore. "You want to come with me, boy?" he relented. For the last twelve months, the dog had stayed with a friend. It wasn't fair to Jesse to leave him again. Jesse's head popped up.
"Want to go to Oklahoma? It's a long drive."
The dog's mouth parted in what had to be a smile.
"Hell, you might like it so much you won't want to come back," Chase mused, picturing the woods and the stream where he grew up, paradise for a hunting dog. Jesse wagged his tail as if he could see the pictures in Chase's head.
Pictures that went from good to bad in the blink of an eye. He envisioned his mother on the front porch holding the squalling baby. "Linc, stop it!"
Linc had Chase by the scruff of his shirt. Ignoring his wife's pleading, he flung Chase as hard as he could into the door of the two-toned, 1976 Chevy Silverado. The impact was stunning. Chase felt the bone in his nose crack. Hot blood gushed out, running over his lips.
With a mutter of annoyance, he flicked the memory off. He couldn't believe Ol' Linc had gone and left him the ranch. It was probably mortgaged to the eaves, and this was his last bid, even from the grave, to torture his stepson.
If his real father hadn't originally bought it, Chase would let a Realtor sell it. He couldn't care less about the place.
But it was McCaffrey land, not Sawyer land. His daddy had bought it for his mama before he was born. "So, suck it up," he muttered to himself.
He was stuffing his socks in the bag when his cell phone rang. "Yes, sir," he said, having recognized the executive officer's extension.
"I know you're trying to leave, Chief, but did you ever get the lawyer to sign off on the paperwork for Dewey?" asked Lieutenant Renault, who was known to his friends as Jaguar.
He was referring to the document that Chase had left with Sara Garret. "It should be in the mail today or tomorrow, sir. I'll double-check that."
"Just give me a call back if there's going to be a problem." "Roger, sir."
"Listen, drive safely, and take your time. Vinny's got your paperwork covered. Luther's got the range. If you need more time, just let me know."
"Will do. Thank you, sir."
"No problem, Chief."
Chase ended the call, then looked up a number in his dial-up menu. Commander Spenser's phone bumped him over to voice mail. If he left a message on a Friday afternoon, the lawyer might never get around to calling him back.
With a long-suffering sigh, he descended the stairs to his kitchen, where he pawed through the phone book. Hopefully Sara Garret's number was listed, and hopefully she'd be home to take his call.
Her name wasn't listed, but her husband's was, identifiable by his rank, Captain Garret. Chase dialed *67 to conceal his number from caller ID. As the phone rang, he pictured her exquisite eyes and his pulse quickened inexplicably.
The jangling of the telephone startled Sara from counting her money on the bathroom floor. Stuffing the bills back into the tampon box, she shoved it under the sink before hurrying to the adjoining bedroom to snatch the phone off the cherrywood secretary. "Hello?"
"Mrs. Garret?" asked a male voice. The familiar drawl made the air back up in her lungs.
"This is Chief McCaffrey. I left an envelope with you yesterday at the Trial Services Building?"
"Yes," she said, rendered almost mute by the fact that he was calling her. Her thoughts ran wildly before her.
Chief McCaffrey. Four years ago, he'd approached her stranded car in the parking lot, offering to help. He'd been so considerate, so competent, so handsome in a rough-and-ready way, that she'd been in a daze when they parted company. Garret had berated her for her tardiness the instant she arrived home.
Running into him again at the base commissary, here in Virginia Beach, had struck her as a marvelous coincidence. And he'd been just as cordial and considerate as the last time, even though she was fully to blame for toppling his soda cans. She'd left the store amazed that such a man existed, only to have Garret seize her checkbook because she'd splurged on strawberry shortcake.
Now Chase McCaffrey was on the phone, calling her!
"Sorry to bother you, ma'am, but I need to know if you were able to give Commander Spenser that envelope."
"Oh, yes," she said, disappointed that the call wasn't personal, of course not. "I handed it to him right away, along with your message."
"Thanks," he said. "I'm headed to Oklahoma this afternoon. Just wanted to tie up all my loose ends."
Oklahoma? Had he just said Oklahoma? The word jolted her like an electric shock. Sara sputtered, searching for an appropriate way of asking whether he could give her and Kendal a ride.
"Why ... why are you going to Oklahoma?" she stammered, her head spinning so fast that she could hardly think.
"Family member died," he said shortly. "Left me some land."
Sara licked her dry lips, desperate to put her question to him. But within the confines of a casual phone call, it was inappropriate. Besides, she could hear Kendal's bus coming up the road now, hydraulic brakes screeching as it slowed beside the bus stop. "Please, can ... can I see you before you go?" she added before she lost her courage. "There's something that I have to ask you."
He kept notably quiet, no doubt thinking she had lost her mind.
"There's a park in my neighborhood," she persisted, sacrificing her dignity for Kendal's sake. "I'm taking my son there today at four. Could you meet me there?"
"Well, I'm pretty busy packin' and all," he answered, but he actually sounded like he was thinking about it.
"Just give me ten minutes." She wanted to melt into the Berber carpet for being reduced to begging favors from a stranger, but the opportunity was too golden to pass up: a ride out West without having to use public transportation.
"The park on Sherwood Drive?" he asked her.
"Yes," she confirmed, her hope flaring, "just past the pool."
"See you there," he said, ending the call.
Sara stared at the phone in her grip, dazed by the possibility that the miracle she'd been praying for had just dropped in her lap. Who better to help her and Kendal slip away than a Navy SEAL? He'd been so helpful in the past; surely he'd consider helping just one more time.
Her gaze shifted out the window to where ten-year-old Kendal was getting off the bus, his shoulders bowed beneath the weight of his backpack. He'd dressed all in black today, still mourning his rabbit.
His teacher had called yesterday evening, the day after Mr. Whiskers's death, alarmed by the change in Kendal's demeanor.
Sara was also alarmed. But she wasn't going to waste time wondering where the downward spiral would end. She was taking every conceivable measure to get her and Kendal out of this nightmare before another incident took place.
Excerpted from Time To Run by Marliss Melton Copyright © 2005 by Marliss Melton. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Marliss Melton enjoyed an exotic childhood growing up overseas where entertainment meant riding on elephants in Laos, visiting museums in Paris, and tracking tigers in northern Thailand. Her experiences traveling the world led to her love of language, music, and storytelling. She has taught English and Spanish at the high school level and linguistics at the College of William and Mary, her alma mater. A Golden Heart and RITA finalist, she has written ten books since first becoming published in 2002. The wife of a retired Navy veteran, Marliss finds writing military romantic suspense to be a perfect fit. She lives with her husband and many children near Virginia Beach, where she is inspired by real-life stories of Navy SEAL's sacrifices and their struggles to combat terrorism. You can check out her website at www.marlissmelton.com.
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