Lena Scott is in a world of hurt. She's being forced to pay off her ex's debts to people who'd rather kill her than look at her...and are making demands she's desperate to avoid. But kidnapping and murder? Hell, no. When the threats turn deadly, Lena refuses to be a pawn any longer.
Five years ago, U.S. Marshal Dane Ryan left his old life and went into witness protection alone to keep his family safe. Working for Task Force Phoenix under a new identity, it's his job to protect others from those who'd harm them.
When the beautiful and mysterious Lena lures him into danger, he suddenly doesn't know who to trust. She has her own agenda, and they both have big secrets, but for either to survive, they'll need to work together to defeat their mutual enemy. Falling in love will only mean more to lose...
Each title in the Love Under Fire series is STANDALONE:
* Witness in the Dark
* Wanted for Life
* Witness in the Dark
About the Author
One very early morning, Allison B. Hanson woke up with a conversation going on in her head. Unable to go back to sleep, she went to the computer, and began writing. Years later it still hasn't stopped.
Her contemporary romances include paranormal, sci-fi, fantasy, and mystery suspense. She enjoys candy immensely, as well as long motorcycle rides, and running.
Read an Excerpt
Outside Denver, Colorado
No one in the history of the world had ever been this nervous at a child's soccer game. U.S. Deputy Marshal Dane Ryan knew he shouldn't be here. He'd taken every precaution, but it still wasn't safe.
Not only was he at risk of being discovered, but he was sure the fake mustache made him look like a 70s porn star.
The mothers sharing the bleachers stared at him and murmured to each other. He was a stranger, and mothers protected their young with a vengeance. Especially from men who looked like they made a living playing the part of Hot Copier Repairman.
The truth was, Dane wasn't even watching the game in the field where he was seated. His interest was in the game in the neighboring field where the ten-year-olds played with slightly more skill.
His son, Tobey, was number twenty-one. Tobey needed a haircut, and the lace on his left shoe was coming untied. Dane knew all those things, but he didn't know his son's favorite flavor of ice cream. Did he really like playing soccer, or did he feel obligated to join because his friends did?
At the other field Dane's wife, Caroline, sat next to her new husband, Randy, and cheered for their son's team. Technically, she was still his wife. Not his ex-wife. Although, since she'd been told he died in a fire, he couldn't blame her for moving on with her life. Legally, their marriage ended when his death certificate was filed five years ago.
Five years ago, when David Ryan ceased to exist, and Dane Ryan was born from the ashes.
Just then, Tobey scored a goal, and Dane yelled out. "Good job!"
Except, at the field where he was seated there was a time out for a crying child.
He gauged the spectators. The lionesses were uneasy. He should go. This was too risky. Worse, it was becoming a habit.
He'd stayed away from his old life for years, but recently, while on medical leave recovering from being shot in the leg, he'd become restless.
Restlessness had given way to curiosity, and curiosity — along with a strong wave of missing what he'd lost — had brought him here. Three times.
It wasn't healthy. This wasn't his life anymore. He'd given it up so Tobey and Caroline would be safe. So they wouldn't have to uproot their lives and start over because of his mistake.
One of the women had pulled out her phone and had it pointed in his direction.
Time to go.
With one last look at his son running down the field, Dane let out a sigh and slid out of his seat. He needed to leave before his photo ended up all over Facebook. No doubt these women would recognize him if he came back. Which meant he couldn't come back.
He'd tried to stay away but hadn't been able to. Now he had a compelling reason.
He was dead. It was time to start acting like it.
His leg was stiff from sitting for so long, and the dampness from the late- April day didn't help much. The familiar pain throbbed though his left thigh as he limped away.
He paused behind a tree to see Tobey run over to Caroline and Randy. It was obvious his son was happy and loved. That was all Dane needed to know.
It was time to move on.
This time for real.CHAPTER 2
Miles and hours away from the soccer field, Dane decided it was safe to stop for the night. He chose a hotel with a bar across the street, knowing he didn't want to be alone.
In his past life he had been a people person. He'd had clients and meetings. There had been daily interactions with people. As a U. S. Deputy Marshal assigned to Task Force Phoenix, he sometimes went days without speaking out loud.
After seeing the happy family that should have been his, he needed to feel connected to someone. If only for a night.
The usual twinge of disappointment washed over him at the idea of sleeping with a stranger. He could forgive Caroline for getting married and moving on. She thought he was dead. But Dane didn't have the luxury of that freedom. In his mind, he was still married. Regardless of how tense and strained that marriage had become before it ended with his fake death, he wasn't the type of man to walk away.
Tonight, he granted himself permission from his list of reasons. Not only was he no longer legally married, but he was not the same person Caroline had married eleven years ago. He had a different identity, a different job, and lived a much different life.
No longer the young executive who was eager to please, he was now a hardened thirty-five-year-old marshal who'd been trained to kill, and had used that training six times in the last five years.
Time had moved on, and they'd both changed.
As much as it bothered him, he knew deep in his heart that if he'd stayed, they wouldn't still be married. They'd been headed for divorce; he'd just been too stubborn to say it, and she'd refused to give up her pretense of living the perfect life. It didn't matter that they were miserable. If they appeared happy, they were.
The walls of the bar were covered with the normal sports memorabilia. It appeared hockey was the owner's favorite. The place was crowded, but naturally there were no lone women at the bar waiting for him to walk in. That would have been too easy.
He sat next to a group of people and nodded in greeting. A few minutes later, he had inserted himself into their conversation and was having a good time.
Feeling someone brush up against him from the other side, he turned to see a gorgeous brunette sit down.
"Was someone sitting here?" she asked when she noticed him looking at her. Dane had tossed the mustache as soon as he was out of town, but the residue from the adhesive pulled as he smiled.
"No. Help yourself." There was only one seat available next to him, which meant she wasn't expecting anyone to join her.
Digging through her purse, she smiled at the bartender. "Can I get a beer? The special would be great." She pulled some money out and stacked it on the bar in front of her, the international sign she planned to stay awhile.
In a matter of minutes, they were chatting easily, and she had shared her story — divorced, not looking for anyone. Lena Scott was focusing on her career in design, and she was in town for a meeting. It had gone well, but now she was second-guessing everything because they hadn't called her back yet. She took a sip of her beer and looked at him expectantly.
Right. She wanted him to share. Normal people expected a person to reciprocate. He swallowed down the urge to tell her the truth, and pushed the lies out of his mouth.
"I'm in sales. Just passing through." That was the extent of his story. He kind of blanked out while studying her eyes. They were multi-colored. Gold, green, blue, and gray all mixed together in a kaleidoscope of colors.
"Are you married?" she asked.
He shook himself from the hypnotic trance so he could focus.
"No. No, I'm not," he answered with a smile.
Things were definitely looking up.CHAPTER 3
Lena Scott smiled back at the man sitting next to her, tamping down her acute nervousness.
She'd expected this to be easier. There'd been a time, years ago, when meeting a guy in a bar hadn't made her panic. It had been easy to start up a conversation and find a common interest. All over the world, millions of people spent their Saturday evenings playing out this tried-and-true method of seeking out companionship.
Unfortunately, she wasn't really here for companionship. She had a very different motive, and it was that motive that caused her voice to shake when she'd asked him if he was married.
She let out the breath she was holding when he answered in the negative. It wouldn't be the first time a man lied about having a wife when meeting a woman in a bar, but she believed him.
About that part, at least.
The rest, she wasn't certain. Sales? She didn't get that vibe. The way he'd brushed over her questions to turn them back on her convinced her he wasn't who he was pretending to be.
Not that she should judge. She wasn't in Colorado for a meeting. She wasn't a designer. And she wasn't going to sleep with him, despite the attraction that spiked when she looked into his warm brown eyes.
At another time, she might have been interested in the lean muscles, the dirty-blond hair, and bright smile. But she had a job to do. One she couldn't afford to mess up. Getting to know him would only make that job more difficult ... but she wasn't ready to move on to the next step. She needed time to mentally prepare.
She turned up her smile and leaned closer, using her body language to promise all the things she wouldn't be able to deliver.CHAPTER 4
Dane spent the next hour talking and laughing with the beautiful woman. Lena was just what he needed to help him feel alive again. Being dead took its toll.
"I'll be flying out tomorrow," he said when it was going on midnight. It was time to seal the deal and move this somewhere more private.
He hoped she wouldn't mind if he stayed the night. It somehow seemed more respectable if he stayed rather than ran away like a thief in the night.
"What time is your flight? I'm leaving tomorrow, too," she said after biting her bottom lip.
She was a bit of a puzzle. She seemed to know where this was going, but there was something — shyness maybe? — that made him think she didn't do this very often.
"Eight," he answered honestly. Throughout their conversation there had been several times when he'd been able to tell her the truth. He'd enjoyed sharing those small facts. It made this next step slightly easier.
"Eight forty-five," she said with a smile.
"Maybe we could have breakfast together before leaving for the airport," he hinted with a grin.
She pressed her lips together and kept her gaze on the empty glass in her hands. He noticed her hands were shaking, but she gripped the glass tighter and smiled.
"What happens in Denver, stays in Denver?" she offered quietly.
He could tell by the dip of her head she was nervous. She must not make a habit of meeting men at bars and taking them back to her room. That made this even better.
His leg throbbed when he stood, causing him to suck in a quick breath as the shooting pain subsided. He'd broken down and taken a pain killer when Lena was checking her phone, but it hadn't taken effect yet.
"Ready?" he asked.
"Are you okay?" She looked down at his leg.
"Yeah. Old injury." Injuries, he corrected silently. He didn't offer the story since it was too unbelievable, even to him.
First, he'd been shot in the leg by his boss's daughter. She'd been afraid at the time, and Dane was the first person to move toward her. A few months later, he was bitten by a dog in the same leg. And just three weeks ago, he'd been doing surveillance and fell off a roof. The same leg got ripped up on a fence. He was cursed.
"You kind of got a sexy John Wayne swagger thing going on," she said with a laugh that made his body stir.
"Thank you, ma'am." He tipped his imaginary cowboy hat and grinned.
This was going well. He liked a woman with a sense of humor. Caroline had been funny when they were in college, but real life had stripped it away.
"If you like the swagger, wait until you see the sexy scars." Depending on the angle, they resembled an old woman with a pipe or a tree being stepped on by a giant chicken foot.
She laughed again. "You really know how to sell it."
He reached for her hand and tugged her into him. Their lips met, and she let out a soft sigh as she melted against him.
One thing that hadn't changed about Dane in all these years, he was still a romantic. He enjoyed the thrill of a first kiss, and the way a woman's eyes lit up when she was interested. The anticipation of slowly stripping a woman and revealing each treasure of her body.
Maybe that was the reason he didn't care for the normal bar hook-up. It lacked the natural exploration. It felt manufactured and fake.
This kiss, however, felt real.
Excitement and anticipation tingled down his spine.
His earlier concern of whether or not he would regret doing this was gone. It still might end up being a bad idea, but at the moment he no longer cared.
He wanted Lena.
He managed to release her so they could continue to her hotel room. Inside, he closed the door and pressed her up against it to kiss her lips and move down her throat.
"Let's have a drink," she said as she maneuvered away from him. He backed off, knowing she might be having second thoughts about being with a stranger.
As much as he wanted their encounter to proceed to sex, he would be content to simply be with her. To hold her and not feel so alone.
She tossed her purse on the first bed and went to the mini-fridge to pull out a bottle of whiskey and a can of cola. As she unwrapped the first of the plastic cups, he remembered he wouldn't be able to join her.
"None for me, thanks."
"I thought you were a Jack and Coke guy."
"I was up until an hour ago when I switched to plain Coke. I took a pain killer before we left so I would be able to ... move." He winked at her.
"Oh." She looked at the fifth of whiskey in her hand and set down the cup.
He stepped closer and wrapped his arms around her waist. He didn't want her to need a drink for courage. If she wasn't completely on board, he'd happily back off. While he wasn't expecting anything long term, there was a chance for something more than a one-night stand. He lived in D.C. She lived in Charlotte. They were at least on the same side of the country and near major airports.
Maybe they could make something work if things went in that direction.
"If you've changed your mind, we can just talk. Or I can go. Whatever you want."
"It's not that. I mean, I want to. It's just — "
He put his hands up to stop her. She bit her lip. This was more than just nerves. This was all out anxiety. She might think she wanted this, but something was not right.
"It's okay, Lena. I don't want you to regret this in the morning." He turned to leave. "How about if I meet you downstairs for breakfast?"
He was nearly to the door, but she hadn't answered. He could almost feel her indecision in the air. He wasn't going to pressure her, though he was going to try for another kiss before he left.
He was thinking about that kiss when something smashed into his head. A burst of light shot through his vision.
Then darkness descended, and he fell to the floor.CHAPTER 5
Dane was moving. The darkness was still there, but the cloud around his brain had subsided enough that he was awake. And definitely moving.
Realizing he was in trouble, he relied on his training to mentally prioritize a crisis list. First and foremost, he was tied up, and didn't know where he was. The thin hood covering his head caught on the stubble of his jaw when he turned his head.
He wasn't sure who had hit him or if Lena was okay. He could still smell her perfume, but he wasn't sure if she was close or if it came from his clothing.
"Lena?" he whispered, his voice raspy.
"Shh." She was next to him. Close.
"Are you hurt?" he asked, keeping his voice low. He moved to reach for her and remembered his hands were tied behind his back.
Maybe she had seen the intruder. She might have information that could help him get them out of this.
"Are you hurt?" she asked rather than answer his question.
"My head feels like it was hit with a baseball bat, and my arms are cramping up. But I'm not damaged."
"Is he awake?" a male voice said from farther away.
"No. Not yet," Lena lied. "How much longer?"
"We're almost there. Maybe ten minutes."
"Can you turn this up? I love this song," she requested.
The men obliged and Shinedown filled the vehicle, making his head throb.
"Do you have a family?" she asked, her breath right by his ear.
This was a different question than the one she'd asked before. Originally, she'd asked if he was married. He assumed she'd asked to determine if he was available. But her question now stirred a different fear in him.
"No," Dane answered, thinking about the little boy who couldn't be in his life and the wife he never really knew.
"That's good," she said. And he knew he was fucked.
A few minutes later, the sound of the tires changed from the hum of pavement to the crunch of gravel. When the vehicle bucked under him, a small hand on his arm braced him from rolling over.
The vehicle stopped. Doors opened and closed and the distinct sound of the rolling of a van door before someone grabbed his feet and yanked him across the rough carpet of the vehicle.
His leg was so stiff he stumbled and would have fallen if a large body hadn't caught him and pushed him back up.
"Easy," Lena said. "You don't have to be a dick."
"Right, we wouldn't want to hurt him." The man chuckled darkly.
Dane had been focusing his thoughts on a plan of escape, and how to help Lena until he heard that ominous laugh. Now he had to prepare himself for what would happen next. Pain. And lots of it.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Watched from a Distance"
Copyright © 2018 Allison B. Hanson.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.