Sheriff Pete Morrison knew the the secret in his past could destroy his father. Yet instead of resigning his job and exposing the lie, he found himself protecting Andrea Allena beautiful astronomer who witnessed a gun-smuggling operation and a college student's abduction. Determined to be independent, a relationship with her conflicted protector isn't in the cards. No matter how safe she feels in Pete's strong arms. But when things take a turn for the worse and Andrea exchanges herself for the abducted student, only Pete can save her from the horrible fate that awaits her.
About the Author
Using actual Texas settings and realistic characters, this USA Today and Publisher's Weekly bestseller, creates stories with characters who put everything on the line. Angi is an 11th generation Texan who lives there with her husband and 'four-legged' kids. Find her at AngiMorganAuthor.com
Read an Excerpt
"This is not happening. Aliens are landing and I can't find the camera."
Lights moved in an erratic pattern low in the sky. Not aliens, but it was fun to think so. Someone on the ground? No. The lights were moving too swiftly. It had to be a chopper. It could not be a phenomenon. And especially not a UFO.
Andrea Allen was very familiar with everything that flew. She had to be when she was the only child of an astronaut and a pretty good pilot herself. It was definitely not a plane. It didn't look like a chopper, but it had to be. The lights weren't in the correct place. It hovered and disappeared.
Pulling the cords from her ears, she heard the faint drumbeat of "Bohemian Rhapsody" rocking in the background, but no mechanical sounds echoing in the distance. She rubbed her eyes and found the hovering object with the telescope. Whatever it was, it just wasn't producing enough light to distinguish an outline above the desert with a mountain ridge in the background.
Normally, she was bored out of her mind with the study on the Marfa Lights. Even though several tourists had posted seeing activity recently, no one with credentials had verified anything. Tourists posted all the time. Didn't they know it was just an occurrence similar to the aurora borealis? Everyone had heard of the northern lights, right?
The UT students studying the local phenomenon from the McDonald Observatory got excited, clamoring for a turn to watch the uneventful sky. Three nights later with no activity, everyone assumed the sighting had been tail-lights from the highway and then they all wanted the weekend off for a party.
Bored. Tonight had been no exception.
Nothing happened in this West Texas desert except lots of star time. Which she loved. She loved it a lot. Much more than she missed friends and family. Staring at a clear night sky was something even her astronaut dad didn't understand.
Since it hadn't been her night to stare through a telescope at the far distant universe, her coworker Sharon had begged Andrea to take her place on the university study. Sharon wanted the night off because she had a hot date with her boyfriend, Logan. Granted, the young student had been here three nights in a row, since it was part of her class assignment. Andrea didn't mind. She needed to switch sleeping to days anyway.
Another sparkle of red twinkled. Just a bit closer than the last spot.
With her spare hand she dug around in the disorganized bag her coworker had dropped in her front seat before leaving the observatory. "Where's that silly camera?"
She lost sight of the floating light through the scope and bounced her gaze to the horizon. Nothing. Had it disappeared?
If the darn thing came back, she needed the camera to record it. Dumping the satchel upside down, she searched through the assortment of items that resembled a loose picnic basket. Snacks, bottles of water, gum wrappers, a notepad, a small tripod, a spoon to go along with the empty yogurt containers, three different bags of candythe butterscotch made her pause and unwrap a piece to stick in her mouth. No video camera.
She scooped everything back into Sharon's UFO-watching sack.
Where's the camera? It was just here. She closed her eyes to visualize getting in the car. Sharon had run outside with the bag in her hand as the car backed out of the parking space. The window had been down. "Passenger side. It must have fallen under the seat."
"My gosh." The adrenaline rush grew each time she saw the light a bit closer. A burst of red. A burst of blue. A plane would have red or green running lights on its wings and a white strobe light would be a consistent flash. A chopper, same thing. There were ways to identify what was in the air. Flight patterns.
Amazed, she just stared.
"Camera!" She ran to the car, pausing when she caught sight of the red flash again. She still couldn't distinguish an outline of what was flying haphazardly and low to the ground. It couldn't be a UFO. There were no such things.
Did she really believe that? No life in the universe other than on Earth? No time to debate, she needed pictures. Lots of pictures and evidence.
No one was around for miles to break into Sharon's tiny compact car, so it wasn't locked. The keys were still even in the ignition. Andrea yanked open the door, immediately feeling under the seat. "Gotcha!"
The strap was caught on something. The sky behind her was empty as she switched to the backseat, dropping to her knees again to get low enough to search.
If she could obtain evidence of the Marfa Lights, she could publish in addition to her PhD, make a name for herself as an astronomer. Finally be worthy of her Allen heritage. It all hinged on concrete evidence. Could it happen?
She recognized the sudden nausea and shakiness as fear. Fear ofjumping to conclusions and being discredited. She'd verify the facts.
"What am I thinking? I have my own study to finish. I'm not chasing another subject. This is university work. I. Can't. Switch. Again." Her teeth ground against each other in frustrationnot only with the silly camera strap, but also with the lack of focus her parents had accused her of. "What is this stuck on?"
The flashlight was back on the viewing platform with the UFO bag, and the dome light had been out for months. She couldn't really see anything under the seat, even bent at another awkward angle. But she finally came up with the handheld video camera, pressing Record and immediately scanning the sky for her mystery lights.
Andrea maneuvered from the tiny car, resting the camera on the door frame. "I don't know if it's appropriate to talk while recording, but I think it's better to describe what I'm seeing. Mainly because I don't know what I'm seeing. Five minutes ago there were flashing lights. Nothing about it suggests standard aircraft. And yet nothing suggests the Marfa phenomenon."
The corner of her eye caught a blur, something running from the darkness in her direction. She swung the camera toward it.
"I can't tell what that is. For the record, I'm Andrea Allen and alone out here. There's nothing close at hand to defend myself from wild animals or Good grief, what is that?"
She kept recording, squinted. Still couldn't make it out. "The lights have disappeared. I don't know what's weaving toward me, but I think I'm going to get back in the car and roll up the windows."
Proud of herself for continuing the recording, she felt with one hand until finding the window handle. It was the first time she was grateful she'd paid extra for electric windows. But she wasn't in her car, she was in Sharon's old sedan. Backseat ready, she pushed the lock and shut it, then moved to the front door.
During the transfer, she lost where the movement was, spotting it again when she found the handle. Closer. More in focus. A man. Staggering.
She dropped the camera on the seat, using both hands to tug at the window stuck on the old car. "Not now. Uh. Give me a break."
"Help? Not likely." She ran to the driver's side. If she couldn't get locked inside her car, she didn't have to stay there.
Marfa was nine miles away. This was a police matter.
"Please. Help. Night of aliens."
She heard him loud and clear as he tripped and stumbled into her. Shirtless, his skin horribly dirty. His lips parched and cracked. With his short-cropped military cut, she could see the gaping wound on the side of his head. There were cuts and bruises all over his arms. Some fresh, some old.
Where was the nearest hospital? Alpine. She couldn't leave him.
He fell into her arms, knocking her into the car frame. She kept him moving, guiding his fall onto the backseat. She pushed at his legs, tried folding them so the door would close.
"Come on, man. Help me out here." He was unresponsive and most likely unconscious. She ran to the other door, forgetting it was locked, wasting precious time reaching through the window. She yanked and pulled until he budged enough to bend his knees on top of his body and shut both doors. It had to be uncomfortable, but the man wasn't complaining.
She left everything on the viewing platform, including her cell phone, only having a moment of disappointment about not documenting evidence. This guy was clearly not from a UFO. It looked as if he'd been in the desert for days.
There was no question the man's life was much more important than any research. She pointed the car east toward Alpine. Marfa was closer and had a doctor but no hospital. The dashboard lights showed smudges of the man's blood on her hands and forearms. She felt the stickiness of a heavy damp saturation just above her hip.
"Are you bleeding to death?" she screamed at the unconscious stranger and threw on the brakes. "Were you attacked by coyotes or something?"
Twisting to look at him closer, she searched the middle compartment for anything, even napkins. There was nothing here to stem the loss of blood. She pulled her long-sleeve shirt over her head and shifted to reach his body, searching with her hands until she found a wound. Her fingers found a distinct puncture. She'd never seen one in real life, but there was no mistaking the bullet hole.
Dear Lord. "What happened to you?"
She pressed the shirt into his side, moving his arm into a position to hold it in place. He moaned.
"Thank God you're alive, but who knows how long that will last."
The lights were closer, then gone again.
Using all the training her father had taught her about control, she forced her thoughts to slow and hold herself together. She readjusted in the seat and buckled the seat belt in place before putting the car in Drive.
One at a time, she swiped her hands across her jeans to remove the man's damp blood before pulling out of the parking lot. She dipped her head to her shoulder, trying to push a loose piece of hair, stuck across her cheek, off her sweaty face.
What in the world was she getting involved in? A secret chopper? Maybe a new stealth plane? "Are you military or something? I sure hope you're not a fugitive or a drug runner. But whoever you are, you're dying and I have to get you to a hospital."
Nothing was around for miles. No homes, no businesses, no help. Help? She should call for help. Where was her stupid phone?
Oh, no. It was in the chair where she'd dumped Sharon's bag. She needed to call, tell someone she had an injured man and get directions to the hospital in Alpine. She turned in the small lot, prepared to jump from the car and dial on the way back. A one- or two-minute delay was better than getting lost. Maybe they could send an ambulance to meet her.
Bright spotlights blinded her in all her mirrors. She couldn't see and tilted the rearview up. Forget the phone. She punched the gas and could smell the smoking rubber of the slightly balding tires.
"It's following us!" Whatever it was, it was practically on top of the trunk.
The road was straight so she couldn't stop or it would crash into her. There was no way to outrun it in an old four-cylinder economy.
Colored lights flashed. The inside of the car looked like a blinking neon sign. She could barely see the two-lane highway, and then whatever followed rammed the little car. Andrea's neck jerked back. Her body smashed against the seat belt. Her wrists slammed into the steering wheel. Her father would be proud she didn't screamas much as she wanted to let out a string of obscenities at whoever was flying that thing.
Another hit. The thing had to be a chopper. The man in her backseat had to be in serious trouble and now so was she.
The car skidded sideways onto the shoulder and beyond. She maintained her grip, steering through the grass on the side of the highway. The chopper blocked her path back to the road. They bounced a few seconds before she aimed at the wire between fence posts and gunned the little engine again.
She had no idea what was out here. She could be headed straight to a small boulder or a ravine. The unknown was definitely frightening, but not as much as the chopper on her tail.
As suddenly as the thing appeared behind her, it was gone. No lights. No sounds. She wanted to slow down, but it wasn't safe. Too late she wished she had when a slab of broken foundation forced the car sideways.
* * *
Driving this empty length of pavement could put him to sleep if he wasn't careful. Pete Morrison stretched his neck from side to side, turned the squad car's radio up a bit louder and rolled down the window for fresh air. A quick trip out to the Lights Viewing Area and back to the office for some shut-eye.
Probably just a plane and a waste of taxpayer gas.
"I saw some strange stuff out there," a trucker had told Dispatch. "I don't believe in UFOs or nothing like that, but if it is, I want the credit for seeing it first. Okay?"
"Sure thing" had been the standard reply to every driver who thought he'd seen a UFO. And each report had to be checked out. It was Marfa, after all.
Griggs would get an earful in the morning about honesty and the law. This was the third time in two weeks Pete had covered the son of a gun's night shift at the last minute because of illness. Everyone knew the deputy had gone to Alpine to party. If he wanted to change shifts, he just needed to ask. There were twelve other deputies on the payroll, and yet Pete was covering. Again.
Partying hadn't been something he'd personally wanted to do for the past couple of months. But since Griggs had transferred from Jefferson Davis County, he'd been covering his shifts a lot. Covering wasn't the problem. He got extra pay and could normally sleep on the back cot. Nothing ever happened in Marfa beyond speeding citations and public intoxication.
Tonight was one of the exceptions. He'd make a quick pass by the official Marfa Lights Viewing Area, drive back and get some shut-eye.
"Dispatch, I've got an all clear. Not seeing anything unusual. But I might as well make a run to the county line."
"Okey dokey, Pete. This is Peach. See you in a while."
He laughed at Peach's official acknowledgment. No sense trying to get her to change. Everyone called her Peach. She insisted on it. Her sister, Honey, got the day shift since she was older. He supposed nicknames were better than Winafretta and Wilhilmina. They'd been in Dispatch for as long as his dad had been a deputy or sheriff of Presidio County. Or longer. His dad swore no one could remember hiring either of them. They'd just shown up one day.
When his dad officially retired, the new sheriff could request replacements for them, but he'd like to see anyone tell Peach she was too old to handle things at night around the office. A shot of regret lodged like a clump of desert dirt in his throat. He'd have to withdraw his name from the election so someone else would step forward. Galen Rooney had only been on the force for a couple of years and just didn't have the experience needed to run things.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Loved the quirky banter and steamiess that these characters had.