Witness Protection (Harlequin Intrigue Series #1537)

Witness Protection (Harlequin Intrigue Series #1537)

by Barb Han
Witness Protection (Harlequin Intrigue Series #1537)

Witness Protection (Harlequin Intrigue Series #1537)

by Barb Han

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Overview

How far will U.S. Marshal Nick Campbell go to protect his innocent witness? 

US marshal Nick Campbell's life is a lie. But when a devastating explosion nearly kills Sadie Brooks, the one woman who can put away a murderer, only the truth will keep her alive. Revealing his secrets connects Nick to Sadie in ways he never expected…and unleashes an attraction he can't ignore. 

Minute by minute, they race closer to justice but sink deeper into the crosshairs of a deadly criminal ring. To protect his witness, Nick has to gain her trust. But once he tastes the temptation of Sadie, he's torn between breaking every boundary for a life with her…or breaking her heart and letting her go.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781460343982
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 12/01/2014
Series: Campbells of Creek Bend Series
Sold by: HARLEQUIN
Format: eBook
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 266,338
File size: 264 KB

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.

Read an Excerpt

A clink against the back door of the bakery sounded again. Sadie Brooks lost her grip on the twenty-five pound sack of flour she'd held. It struck the floor and a mushroom-shaped cloud of white powder formed over the bag's lip.

Creek Bend, Texas, was a far cry from Chicago, she reminded herself. No one from her past knew where she was. No one could hurt her. No one cared. And she was no longer Laura Kaye.

It was four-thirty in the morning in a town that rolled up the streets by eight. The noise was most likely a cat rummaging through trash. No big deal. Nothing scary.

"Only you and me are crazy enough to be up this early," she said to her two-year-old rescue dog, Boomer, while forcing air in and out of her lungs. He didn't so much as crack an eyelid. "And I think we both know I mean me."

Working when everyone else slept suited Sadie just fine. She'd had very little use for daylight or people ever since she'd been kidnapped two years ago.

Yes, she still flinched at every noise. Constantly checked over her shoulder at the slightest peep. But she was always ready. Always expecting the worst. Always on guard. And yet, the past year had been peaceful. There was no reason to believe anything would change save for the all-too-real feeling in the pit of her stomach screaming otherwise.

Being constantly on alert felt a lot like parking and then leaving her high beams on. Pretty soon her battery would run out.

Boomer whined in his sleep. Her protector? Now that was funny. She'd rescued a big dog for protection. She got the Scooby Doo of golden retrievers. All he wanted to do was eat, and he wouldn't scare away a cat. But he did make noise and his low-belly bark sounded fierce. Sadie figured it was good enough to make anyone think twice.

As she bent over to pick up the sack of white powder, another noise sent a chill skittering across her nerves. Boomer's head cocked at the unmistakable snick of a lock. Her heart drummed against her chest.

Using the lock was good, right? That meant someone with a key was most likely standing on the other side of the door. She thought of Claire, her very pregnant boss who was her only friend. With her baby due any day, she would be asleep right now.

Boomer, shackles raised, stalked toward the stockroom to investigate.

"It's okay, boy." She scoured the area looking for a weapon just in case. Was there anything she could use to defend herself? To protect Boomer? She moved toward the nearest counter.

A sparkle caught her attention. Light reflected from the blade of a knife. Her fingers shook as they curled around the black plastic handle.

Then everything went dark. No lights. It was too much of a coincidence to think the breaker could've been tripped. This blackout was on purpose.

Boomer's low throaty growl nearly stopped her heart. It was the same noise he made when a stranger approached the lake house. Boomer had found an intruder. And they weren't familiar.

His barks fired like a machine gun, rapid and ear-piercing.

Sadie's adrenaline kicked into high gear. Her fight, flight or freeze response jacked through the roof. Every instinct inside her screamed, "Run!"

But she couldn't.

She wouldn't leave Boomer defenseless. Could she signal to him without giving away her location? No.

What about help? Her cell? Good luck finding her purse in the pitch-black.

She crouched and felt her way behind a rack filled with pastries. A hand covered her mouth. Her fingers, which had been curled around the knife handle, flexed cold air. She had been disarmed with frightening ease.

"Shh. Don't say a word or they'll hear you. Be very still." A second ticked by before she recognized the voice as Nick Campbell's. Why in the hell would a radiologist show up at the bakery in the middle of the night?

The last time a man took her by surprise she ended up spending two weeks in the ICU with facial lacerations and cracked ribs.

Determined to break free this time, she ignored the shivers running up her arms and bit Nick's hand.

"I said, 'be still,' and don't do that again," Nick said. His deep, quiet tone was different. Dark and dangerous. Experienced. And she knew instinctively not to push him.

With a total stranger somewhere in front of her and Nick's big frame behind her, she was trapped.

"I won't hurt you," he whispered.

What on earth was he doing here? And how had he gotten in without her noticing?

Boomer's barks mixed with growls and intensified.

Before she could wrap her brain around what was happening, Sadie felt herself being hauled toward the front door. The recollection of being snatched in daylight two years ago flooded her. His behavior brought up horrible memories. No way would Nick Campbell abduct her. Not a chance.

But what, besides a feeling that she could trust him, did she know about Nick? His brown eyes and black hair were almost always covered by a ball cap and shades. His shoulders hunkered forward, masking his true height. She hadn't fully realized his lethal potential until he stood behind her, his masculine chest flush with her back. She was five-foot-seven and he dwarfed her. He had to be more than six feet tall. Maybe six-one?

Neither his height nor his mannerisms had intimidated her before. She'd felt a sizzle of attraction, but then most of the women in Creek Bend seemed eager to get to know him better. With his forearm locked like a vise grip around her waist, she suddenly realized just how strong and buff he truly was.

"What do you think you're doing?" she whispered, choking down the anger rising inside her.

"No time to explain."

Hell if she'd wait. She wasn't about to be caught with no means of self-preservation again. She wasn't defenseless as she'd been before.

The first principle of judo was never to oppose strength to strength. Sadie shifted her weight enough to kick off the wall. She bucked, trying to throw him off balance while bracing herself to land on the painted concrete floor.

Didn't work.

Strong as an ox, he'd anticipated the move and counteracted by placing his feet in an athletic stance and tightening his grip. "I'll drag you out of here kicking and screaming if I have to, but we'll most likely both be killed."

"I can't leave my dog. Boomer's back there," she said, hating how her voice quivered and got all shaky with fear. She'd sworn no man would make her feel defenseless again. She realized, on some level, he was there to help, but she could walk for herself.

She kicked and wiggled. His grip was too tight.

It surprised her that a nerdy work-at-home radiologist knew how to counteract her martial arts moves. He also knew the back of the bakery well enough to navigate in the dark. She couldn't even do that without bumping into something and she'd worked there for a year.

Fighting was no use. She would bide her time and break free the second the opportunity presented.

"I'll go back for him. Once you're safe in the truck," he said. "Trust me."

She snorted. "Why? Because I know so much about you? "

"I can explain everything. Once you're out of danger."

Bright Christmas lights lit a cloudless sky. Once they were out of the building, she could see. Nick's expression was that of soldier on the front line.

He tucked her in the truck and then closed the door. The lock clicked. Trust him?

The door handle didn't work. She rammed the door. All that did was hurt her shoulder. Try again and there'd be a nasty bruise. There had to be another way. She banged on the window. "Hey!"

She tried to pop the lock. Nothing.

Spinning onto her back, she used a front kick to drive the heel of her foot into the door, praying she could find the sweet spot. No good.

She scrambled to the front seat. By the time she gripped the handle, she heard a horrific boom from the alley. The bakery caught fire. She couldn't catch her breath enough to scream.

The world closed in around her, and her stomach wrenched. Boomer!

Shattered glass littered the sidewalk. Thick black smoke bellowed from every opening.

What was left of the front door kicked open and out strode Nick, coughing, with her hundred-pound mutt in his arms.

As soon as she got a good look at him saving her dog, her heart squeezed and a voice inside her head warned, Uh-oh.

Out of the ashes and burning timber, he moved toward her, carrying her dog as if Boomer weighed nothing. Nick opened the back door of the truck and gently placed the dog on the seat.

"What's going on? Who are you really?"

There was something about his compassion with the animal, something nonthreatening about him that kept Sadie's nerves a notch below panic.

His face was stoic. His jaw set. Determination creased his forehead now dark with ash. "You're in serious trouble."

Icy tendrils closed around her chest. "What are you doing here showing up out of nowhere like that? Who was coming in the back door?"

He started the ignition.

"Start talking or I'm going to scream." She crossed her arms over her chest. "Or, better yet, take me home."

"No can do. And you needed help."

"Dammit, Nick, you're creeping me out. You have to give me something more."

His determination was written all over his squared jaw. He had obviously saved her life. He wasn't there to hurt her. She didn't know why he'd shown up. Nothing made sense. "At least tell me where you're taking me. I deserve to know what's happening."

He kept one eye trained on the rearview mirror as he reached in his pocket and pulled out a badge. "I'm a U.S. Marshal."

Her brain scrambled. Where was Charlie? He was her handler. And what did Nick mean he was a U.S. Marshal? All those times he'd stopped in the bakery and led her to believe he was flirting with her caused a red blush to crawl up her neck. A piece of her had enjoyed his attention, too. What an idiot. Was he monitoring her situation the whole time? She needed to call Charlie and find out what was going on. For now, it was best to ignore her embarrassment and play dumb. "You're a radiologist."

His lips parted in a dry crack of a smile. "You don't believe me."

"Why didn't you mention this before?"

"It would've blown my cover."

Anger flashed in Sadie's big green eyes as her gaze darted around the vehicle. Her phone was her only connection to her handler, and it was just as lost as she looked. She turned her attention to him, glaring as if this was all his fault.

"Sorry about your cell." He pulled a new one from the dash and handed it to her. The movement called attention to the bruise she'd put on the inside of his forearm when she'd tried to kick out of his grasp earlier. The memory of her slim figure and sweet bottom pressed against him stirred an inappropriate sexual reaction. Her flour-dotted pale pink V-neck sweater and jeans fit like a second skin over a toned, feminine body. Her fresh-baked-bread-and-lily scent filled the cab. "I didn't have time to retrieve your purse."

She looked at the phone as if it was a hot grenade.

"Why should I trust you?"

Nick couldn't blame her. Her world was about to be turned upside down again, and he sensed she knew on some level. "You don't have a choice. I apologize for that."

She recoiled, most likely remembering being forced away from the only life she'd known in Chicago two years ago. His surveillance told him she'd made a home in Creek Bend and a friend in her new boss. The two had become close. Claire and her baby were a surrogate family to Sadie. He didn't like taking it all away again. He bit back frustration.

"Where are you taking me?" The fear in her voice was like a sucker punch to his solar plexus.

"Somewhere safe. Charlie's dead."

She gasped. Her shaky hand covered her mouth.

"How do you know? Did you…?"

"No. Of course not." She'd been taught not to believe anyone but Charlie. He had no idea how she would react now. He'd have to keep a close eye on her during the ride. "I know this is a lot to digest."

She sat there tight-lipped, looking as though she'd bolt if given the chance.

"This is real. You're in danger. I'm here to help."

Her angry glare trained on him. "Prove he's dead."

"Can't. Not tonight, anyway."

"Why? Shouldn't there be a news report? A U.S. Marshal dying should make the headlines."

"It's complicated."

"Then explain it to me slowly." She clenched her jaw muscles. Impatience and fear radiated from her narrow-eyed glare.

With her wavy brown hair pulled off her face in a po-nytail, she could pass for a coed. Her lips were full, sexy. Not that they were his business. "He was found in his bed. A bullet through his brain. The agency is keeping his death under wraps."

"Oh, God. He was a nice man."

Nick bit out a derisive snort. "Good guys don't get in bed with the enemy."

"Are you saying what I think you are?" she asked incredulously.

"Yes, ma'am."

"I don't believe you. He brought me here. Set me up with this job. He would not help them."

He arched his brow. "Because he did a few nice things for you, he can't possibly turn into one of them?"

She stared at the road in front of them. If she bit down any harder on her bottom lip, she might chew right through it. "Don't twist my words. I know he was a family man. He cared about his work. I knew him better than you did. He wouldn't turn on me. Not now. Not after two years. Besides, what would he have to gain in hurting me?"

"Malcolm Grimes has been broken out of jail and someone on the inside helped. Your handler showed up at the prison two days before he escaped."

Her tight grip on her nerves shattered. Just like when a rubber band broke, Nick could almost see the pieces of rubber splintering in all directions. Her eyes closed. Her fingers pressed to her temples. Her body visibly shook.

"He's out? Just like that?"

"I'm afraid so."

Her eyes snapped open and her gaze locked on to him. "How can you let that happen? Now he's free to come after me?" Her voice shook with terror.

"That's why I'm here."

"Let me get this straight. Grimes is out, and you automatically suspect Charlie? Wouldn't he be alive right now if he'd helped?"

"Not if he crossed Grimes. He was executed in his own bed. Someone was making a statement."

Weariness crept over her face as she gripped the phone, closed her eyes again and rocked back in her seat. "The first thing Grimes does after killing Charlie is come after me? Why? Wouldn't he figure you'd be waiting for him?"

"Your file's missing from Charlie's place."

She drummed her index finger on the cell.

"I'm supposed to tell you 'Pandora.'"

The tension in her face eased slightly even though she didn't speak. Her movement smoothed, timed with her calmer breaths. She stopped tapping on the cell. The safe word resonated. "Any idea why my boss chose Pandora as your safe word?"

"Yeah."

"Care to fill me in?" It wasn't as if he was asking for her Social Security number.

"Not really." A solemn expression settled on her almond-shaped face. "The bakery. Did they blow it up because of me?"

"Most likely."

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