- Pub. Date:
When Ryan Hunt receives a dead-of-night call for help from his childhood friend Lisa Moore, he knows the emergency is real. After barely surviving a brutal attack, Ryan is the only person Lisa trusts. Convinced the assault wasn't random, he realizes she is hiding a dark and potentially deadly secret.
Ryan can't ignore Lisa's silence any more than he can resist the Texas heat between them. He risks his lifeand heartto protect her. But if he can't get Lisa to confide in him, the secret could bring the town of Mason Ridge to its knees. And destroy the only woman he has ever loved.
Plus a bonus short story by USA TODAY bestselling author Delores Fossen
Related collections and offers
About the Author
USA TODAY Bestselling Author Barb Han lives in Texas with her adventurous family and beloved dogs. Reviewers have called her books "heartfelt" and "exciting." When not writing or reading, she can be found exploring Manhattan, on a mountain, or swimming in her backyard.
USA Today bestselling author, Delores Fossen, has sold over 70 novels with millions of copies of her books in print worldwide. She's received the Booksellers' Best Award, the Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award and was a finalist for the prestigious Rita ®. In addition, she's had nearly a hundred short stories and articles published in national magazines. You can contact the author through her webpage at www.deloresfossen.com
Read an Excerpt
Lisa Moore woke with a start. She tried to push up to a sitting position. Motion made a thousand nails drive through her skin and her head split four ways. Bright fluorescent lights blurred her vision. Her arms gave out and she landed hard on the firm mattress.
"Whoa, slow down there." Before she could shift her position enough to try sitting up again, Ryan Hunt was kneeling at her side. She didn't want to acknowledge just how much his presence calmed her rising pulse.
"What are you doing here?" she asked. Looking around, realizing she was in the hospital, she added, "What am I doing here?"
"I came as soon as I got the call," Ryan said, his low, deep timbre wrapping around her. An emotion flickered behind his eyes that she couldn't immediately pinpoint. At six foot two with the muscled body of an athlete, Ryan could take care of himself and anyone else around. She told herself that was the reason him being there comforted her but comforted her from what?
Reality dawned on her as a full-body shiver rocked her. She'd been attacked by Beckett Alcorn, son of the most prominent man in town. His father had recently been named a person of interest in the fifteen-year-old kidnapping case that had rocked the small tight-knit community of Mason Ridge, Texas. News broke yesterday that Charles Alcorn had escaped before questioning and a manhunt was under way to find him.
Fear seized her, cramping her stomach. What if Beckett came back? No one would suspect him, the grieving and confused son. Too bad she couldn't tell Ryan what had actually happened, what she really knew. She'd done her part. She hadn't told a soul what Beckett Alcorn had done to her. So why was he trying to deliver on a fifteen-year-old threat now?
"Who else has been here?" She glanced at the door.
"Our friends. Your sister." The questioning look he gave her reminded her that she couldn't afford to give away her true emotions. No one could know about Beckett.
"What really happened to you?" The sight of Ryanhis gray-blue eyes and hawk-like nose set on a face of hard angles softened by rich, thick, curly dark brown hairsettled her fried nerves enough to let her think clearly.
Beckett had misjudged her this time. She'd distracted him long enough to escape. He'd be better prepared next time. Lisa and her family were in grave danger and she needed a plan.
"A guy came out of nowhere and jumped me. I'm guessing they didn't catch him." Playing dumb with Ryan was her only choice. Otherwise, Beckett would hurt her sister or nephew as he'd promised.
"Must not've." Ryan's cell buzzed, his gaze followed hers to the door. "People have been dropping by or calling every half hour to check on you."
"Where's my sister?" Panic beat rapid-fire against her ribs.
"At work. Said she'll stop by when she gets off at three." His dark eyebrow arched.
Lori would be safe as long as she was in a public place. Beckett would strike in the dark when she was alone. Lisa had to make sure that didn't happen. She tried to sit up, but her arms gave and her head pounded.
"Hold on there. Where do you think you're going?" Ryan asked. His suspicion at her reaction evidenced in his tone.
"Nowhere like this." She tried to adjust to a more comfortable position.
"Do you know who did this to you?"
"No. Of course not," she said a little too quickly. It was true that she didn't remember much after escaping. Her mind was as fuzzy as her vision. One thing was crystal clear. Ryan asking questions was a bad idea. She needed to redirect the conversation. "How'd I end up in the hospital?"
"You crawled into the street as Abigail Whitefield drove past on Highway 7. She stopped and called 911 on the spot."
"I'll have to stop by and thank her on my way home," Lisa said, wincing. Speaking shot stabbing pains through her chest.
"The deputy wants a statement. He's been waiting for you to wake up." Ryan's cell phone buzzed. He checked the screen and then responded with a text.
"Everything okay?" she asked.
"It's work. It'll hold," he said without looking at her.
She'd heard that his construction business had been booming. "How long have I been out?"
"Just a day." He chewed on a toothpick.
"What?" She tried to sit up again with similar results, pain forcing her to still.
"Whoa, take it easy there. You shouldn't try to move until the doctor checks you," Ryan said, locating and then pressing the nurse's call button before tossing the toothpick in the trash. There was compassion in his eyes and sympathy in his tone, and for some reason she didn't like either. She didn't want to be the one he pitied. She wanted to be something else to him, something more meaningful than a friend. The thought appeared as out of the blue as a spring thunderstorm in north Texas. Both could be dangerous. They'd known each other since they were kids. Besides, relationships were too risky and Lisa didn't go there with anyone.
But it was Ryan, a little voice inside her head protesteda voice she quickly silenced.
Waking in the hospital was messing with her head. Her nerves were fried and she was reaching for comfort. And those thoughts about Ryan were as productive as harvesting burned corn.
"I just need a minute to clear my head. I'll be okay." The last thing she remembered was seeing Beckett's face as she ripped off his ski mask while he was trying to strangle her. He'd panicked for a split second, which had given her the window of opportunity she needed to push him away, kick him in the groin and run. Lisa was lucky to be alive.
"We'll find the person who did this to you. He won't get away with it. You have my word." Ryan's voice was barely a whisper, but there was no mistaking the underlying threat in his tone. "In the meantime, the doctor or nurse should make sure you're okay."
"So, what's the verdict so far? Have you spoken to anyone?" She scanned her arms for bruising, remembering the viselike grip that had been clamped around them. Black and blue marks were painted up and down both. "I'm guessing I have cracked ribs based on how painful it is to breathe."
"Let me go find that nurse." He made a move to stand, but Lisa grabbed his arm, ignoring the piercing pain.
"Please stay." The words came out more desperatesounding than she'd planned. "It's just nice to see a friendly face." She added the last part to cover, praying he believed her. In truth, she was scared to be alone in her current condition.
Ryan followed her gaze to the door again.
"I'm not going anywhere." When his gray-blue eyes intensified, they looked like steel.
She didn't want to acknowledge the relief flooding her or how much his presence sent tingles of awareness deep in her stomach. Whatever spark he might've felt had to be long gone by now, replaced with sincere friendship. He showed no signs of experiencing the same electricity humming through her when she touched his arm. Maybe if she'd handled things differently between them years ago.
A young dark-haired nurse wearing glasses and aqua scrubs entered the room, shuffling to Lisa's side.
"I'm Shelly. How are you feeling today?"
"Good, considering I've been dead to the world for the past twenty-four hours."
"You've been drifting in and out. There've been times when you responded to questions. The answers didn't always make sense." Shelly smiled and the look made her plain round face more attractive.
Had Lisa muttered something in her sleep she shouldn't have? Panic rolled through her. If she had, Ryan would be asking very different questions.
Shelly asked a few questions that were easy to answer, ensuring Lisa knew who she was and where she was from.
"Are you sure you don't want something for the pain?" Shelly asked. "I can manage."
Ryan stood and took a step back to give the nurse room to work.
"How long before I can get out of here?" Lisa checked the door again, half-afraid Beckett would show.
Ryan's eyebrow lifted for the second time.
"The doctor will be in to see you shortly and talk to you about your injuries. Your numbers are strong, but I'm sure the doctor will want to keep you awhile longer for observation. You took a couple of big blows to the head." There was sympathy in her voice, too.
It shouldn't annoy Lisa. Maybe the bumps on her head affected her mood. She should be grateful that everyone seemed genuinely concerned about her.
Except that she knew this was far from over. Beckett must believe she'd told someone or was planning to start talking. With his father in trouble, Beckett might do anything to keep his family's name out of the papers. Either way, she wasn't out of danger.
"I'm sure you'll be up and around soon," Shelly reassured her.
"That's the best news I've heard so far. Think there's any chance I'll be discharged later today?" Being at home in her own bed sounded amazing about now.
A thought struck her. Beckett knew where she lived. No. She couldn't go there. She'd have to find a safe place to stay until she recovered from her injuries and could do something about Beckett. A flea could take her down in her present condition, and leaving herself vulnerable would be foolish.
"The doctor can explain everything to you when she comes in, but I'd put money on you staying here another night." Shelly had stopped playing around with gadgets and stood sentinel next to the bed. She'd be all of five feet two inches in heels, or in this case thickly padded tennis shoes. "Do you have family in the area other than your husband?"
"Why?" Lisa glanced at Ryan, who shot her a look before intently studying his cell phone screen.
"We like to have additional contacts on file in case your husband has to leave," Shelly said casually.
Hold on. Did that mean what Lisa thought? Her dad hadn't been up to see her? She might understand her sister, Lori, being preoccupied with her infant son or work, but wouldn't Dad come by to make sure she was okay? Ryan had said people had been stopping by. She made a mental note to ask him about it as soon as the nurse left the room. "I can give more names. There are others here in town."
"Great. I'll send someone up from Records to take more information."
"Perfect," Lisa said, trying to sound casual.
"The doctor should be in soon." The nurse paused at the door.
"Terrific." Lisa shot a look at Ryan. "I'm sure my husband will bring me up to date in the meantime."
His lips were thin and his arms folded. He fired off a warning look. She understood. He didn't want to be caught in a lie. He must've felt that he had no choice. Ryan was one of the most honest people she knew. He wouldn't take giving false information lightly.
"What else can I get for you while I'm here? Another blanket?" Shelly asked.
"No, thank you. I have everything I need." Lisa glanced from the nurse to Ryan. If he'd been a cartoon character, steam would've been coming out of his ears from embarrassment.
"Press the button if you change your mind," Shelly said before closing the door to give them privacy.
"Was it a big wedding?" Maybe it was the pressure mounting inside her that needed release, but Lisa couldn't stop herself from poking at him.
"Cut it out," Ryan groaned.
Even when they were twelve he didn't like hopping a fence to retrieve a ball in a neighbor's yard without asking first. More than that, he detested outright lying. His older brother hadn't had the same conviction before he'd cleaned up his act. Lisa figured most of the reason Ryan despised untruths had derived from living through the dark periods in Justin's life.
"Sorry. I couldn't resist. I know why you did it and I appreciate you for it. I'm sure they needed consent to treat," she said.
"Yes. You're welcome." The corners of his lips upturned in a not-quite smile. Something else was bothering him. She could tell based on his tight-lipped expression. Whatever it was, he seemed intent on keeping it to himself.
"Has anyone contacted my dad?" she asked.
"What a minute. How did you even know I was here?"
"Mrs. Whitefield called. She said you asked for me right before you passed out on her. She needed help getting you in the car." He cocked an eyebrow at her. "She said it seemed like there was something you wanted to tell me."
"You could've called my father," Lisa redirected.
"Guess I didn't think of it at the time." Something dark shifted behind his eyes and he looked uncomfortable.
A light tap at the door sounded and then Lori rushed in.
"I came as soon as I heard you were awake. Thank God you're all right." Her hands were tightly clasped and her gaze bounced tentatively from Lisa to Ryan.
"I thought you were at work." Had Ryan really sent a work text earlier or was he covering for connecting with Lori? Why would he do that?
Oh no. Something had to have happened. Lisa's heart raced thinking about her nephew. "Is Grayson okay?"
"Yes. He's fine. Great actually." Lori's face muscles were pulled taut. "It's Dad."
No. No. No. "What happened?"
"He had an accident." Lori shifted her weight to her right foot and bowed her head.
"Where is he?"
"He's gone." Huge tears rolled down her pink cheeks. Wait. What? No. This couldn't be happening. She stared at her sister waiting for the punch line. If this was some kind of joke, it was beyond twisted. Tears already streaked her cheeks. Deep down, she knew her sister wouldn't say something like that if it wasn't true.
"What happened?" Lisa forced back the flood of emotions threatening to bust through her iron wall and engulf her.
"He was on the tractor, drinking again," Lori said, raw emotion causing the words to come out strained. "He must've had too much because he flipped it and was pinned. The coroner said he died instantly."
Ryan had moved to her side, his hand was on her shoulder, comforting her. She needed to know the details, to know if Beckett had anything to do with it. Dozens of thoughts crashed down on her at once. She also had to think of an excuse to get her sister and nephew out of town and far away from any threat.