Authors: Paige Tyler
Tags: #Cutler Brothers
(The Cutler Brothers Book #1)
“Cutler, my office! Now!”
At the order, Cade looked up from his computer, his brow furrowing. Shit, he thought. He’d barely been at the job two weeks and he was already being called into the boss’ office. Figuring that he couldn’t have done anything this soon that would get him fired as a U.S. Marshal, Cade pushed back his chair and got to his feet. Extremely aware of the other Marshals looking quizzically at him, he crossed the room and walked into the Deputy Chief’s office.
Still wondering what he’d done that would have his boss bellowing across the office for him, Cade was tense as the older man closed the door and walked over to his desk.
“I’ve got your first assignment for you,” Pete Conner said, picking a folder up and tossing it down on the desk in front of Cade. A middle-aged man, he had graying hair and a stocky build that made him look like he could have played football. “A woman in the WitSec Program called in saying that she thinks her identity has been compromised, and I want you to go check it out,” he told Cade. “She’s probably making a fuss about nothing, so I think it’s a case you can handle on your own.”
The momentary high that Cade had felt at the mention of an assignment for the Witness Security Program, or WitSec as it was called, disappeared in a flash. He tried to control his disappointment. He had known coming into this that he was going to have to prove himself. How well he had done on the Marshals’ written exam or the physical fitness test didn’t mean a thing to these people. Neither did the wealth of experience he had brought with him from the Dallas Police Department. He was starting from the bottom rung again, and as the new guy, it wasn’t like they were going to give him the best assignments right off the bat. But just because he knew that didn’t mean he liked it. After all of the stories his father and older brother, who had both been Marshals for years, had told him, he had hoped things would be a little bit more exciting. All he’d done since he’d been hired was sit at a desk all day.
Cade frowned as he opened the folder and glanced down at the file. Might as well do this by the book regardless, he thought. “Why do you think she’s overreacting?” he asked, scanning the first page of the thick folder.
“Because she’s been moved almost half a dozen times in less than five years,” the other man replied. “None of her claims that someone had tracked her down could ever be verified, but she insisted, so we had to move her. As you can guess, that’s kind of earned her the reputation for being paranoid, and since this is the fourth call to our office in the six months she’s been in our district, I’d have to agree.” He sighed. “The others all turned out to be wild goose chases, so this one probably is, too. Just take her statement and tell her that we’ll look into it. That should keep her satisfied for a little while.”
Cade nodded. “I’ll get right on it.”
Though new to the Marshals Service, Cade could understand his supervisor’s frustration with the woman.
Regardless of what all the B-grade movies depicted, the Witness Security Program was very successful. No one in it had ever been harmed while under the protection of the Marshals, or even had their new identity discovered.
The Program was a well-run operation, so it was highly unlikely that Riley Barnett, or Katherine Jones, as she was now called, was in any real danger. But he would check it out. At least it would get him out of the office, he thought.
Taking the file that his supervisor had given him back to his desk, Cade read through it quickly. Finding the name of the district attorney that had prosecuted the mobsters Riley Barnett had testified against, Cade gave the man a quick call to see if there was any reason to think that the woman was in danger. The DA had seemed surprised by the question, and stated that the organization Riley Barnett had testified against was completely defunct and that there was no one interested in going after her. Thanking the man, Cade hung up. Even more convinced that Conner was probably right about Riley Barnett overreacting, Cade wrote her address down on a piece of paper, and then headed over to her apartment.
Riley Barnett lived just north of Seattle, and since traffic leaving the city wasn’t heavy at that time of day, it didn’t take long for Cade to get to her apartment. Pulling into an empty parking space, he got out of the car and walked over to the building, taking in the surroundings as he did so. He did it more out of habit than because he thought there might be a threat, but nonetheless, he automatically found himself making mental notes of the area as he walked up the front steps and into the building. Certainly, nothing seemed out of place, he thought.
Riley’s apartment was on the second floor, and as he made his way upstairs, Cade wished he had taken the time to read her file more thoroughly. Not that he needed to, he supposed. Pete Conner had been doing this a lot longer than he had, he reasoned, so if the other man thought Riley Barnett was being paranoid, then she probably was.
Taking out his badge as he came to a stop in front of her apartment, Cade reached out to ring the doorbell. A moment later, he heard a woman’s soft voice.
“Who is it?”
Her tone was cautious, even a little nervous. But then Cade had expected no less.
“Cade Cutler, U.S. Marshals Service,” he said.
As he spoke, Cade held his badge up to the peephole so that she would be able to see the silver star on it. He waited patiently, figuring that if she was as paranoid as the Deputy Chief seemed to think, it would take her awhile to open the door. When she finally opened it, however, it wasn’t to let him in, but to peak out at him through the crack.
“Hand me your badge,” she directed.
Cade’s brow furrowed. He had to admit that he was a little taken aback at the question at first, but he should have realized she’d be a little suspicious.
Flipping his badge closed, Cade handed it over to her. He expected her to give his photo-ID a cursory glance, and then let him in, but instead, she closed the door in his face. He was just starting to wonder if she might be calling the District Office to check him out when he heard the chain being slid from the lock. A moment later, the door opened.
The apartment was small and simply furnished, with few personal touches. Which made sense, Cade thought as he let his gaze roam over the living room and eat-in kitchen adjacent to it. She had just been moved a half a year ago and it might take awhile to get comfortable. Of course, it was likely that this place would never feel exactly homey. When witnesses were relocated, they left their old lives behind, so that meant no family photos or souvenirs from the past.
“I called you people yesterday. What took you so long to get here?”
Cade turned to find Riley Barnett holding out his badge, an annoyed look on her face. Despite the fact that she was glaring at him, Cade couldn’t help but notice that she was extremely attractive. For some reason, he hadn’t expected that. Tall and slender with curves in all the right places, she had long, blond hair and big, blue eyes, and what he decided were the most kissable lips he’d ever seen. Whoa, get a hold of yourself, dude, he chided harshly.
Focus on the job, not what the witness looks like!
“Well?” she demanded impatiently when he didn’t answer her question fast enough.
Cade reached out to take the badge from her outstretched hand, telling himself to stay cool. “I came as soon as I could, Ms. Barnett,” he said, slipping his badge inside his jacket pocket and taking out the small, spiral notebook he carried.
Riley folded her arms with a disdainful snort. “I suppose that’s your way of saying I’m no longer a high priority,” she sneered.
Cade felt his ire rise at the derision in her tone, and he had to clench his jaw to bite back the sharp retort that immediately came to mind. This was his first assignment, he reminded himself. He wasn’t going to blow it because he lost his temper.
“Well, I’m here now, Ms. Barnett,” he said calmly. “Why don’t we sit down and you can tell me what the problem is.”
For a moment, Riley didn’t move. Everything that had happened over the past five years was finally beginning to take its toll, and the fact that the Marshals no longer seemed to be taking her concerns seriously wasn’t helping.
She had been at this long enough to have developed an intuition about this kind of thing, and someone was definitely out to get her.
But yelling at this cute Marshal wasn’t going to help her cause, she told herself. So, she might as well do as Cade Cutler had suggested and sit down. Realizing that the man was waiting for her to do just that, Riley gave him a nod and gestured toward the couch. At the movement, he edged around the coffee table and took a seat on the overstuffed couch.
Cade Cutler was different than the other Marshals she’d met, Riley thought as she sat down on the opposite end of the couch. For one thing, he was younger than the others, probably three or four years older than her own twenty-eight, she decided. And good looking, too. Actually, that was putting it mildly, she thought. Tall with broad shoulders and dark hair, he looked like he’d be better suited to modeling than law enforcement. In fact, the reason she’d taken so long to let him into her apartment after he’d handed over his badge was because she’d been staring at the photo on his ID. Even though the picture was barely bigger than a postage stamp, she’d been fascinated by his chiseled features and wide, sensuous mouth.
On the opposite end of the couch, Cade flipped open his spiral notebook and looked at her. When he’d first come inside, Riley had thought his eyes were dark, but up close, she could see that they were more gold than brown.
Wow, she thought. She’d never seen eyes quite that color.
“So,” he said. “What makes you think that your identity has been compromised, Ms. Barnett?”
He spoke with a slight accent, a drawl, her mother would call it, and Riley wondered where he was originally from as she reached up to tuck her hair behind her ear. “I’ve seen a black SUV parked outside my apartment building every night for the past week,” she explained. “And then yesterday, I saw the same vehicle parked across the street from the bank where I work. That was when I knew I had to call you.”
Cade waited for her to continue, but when she didn’t he pointed out, “A lot of people have black SUV’s, Ms. Barnett. Are you sure it was the same one?”
Though his tone in no way suggested that he didn’t believe her, Riley still bristled. She was frustrated that no one in the Seattle office seemed to believe anything she said. Each time a Marshal had come out, they had displayed less and less concern.
“Of course, it’s the same one,” she said sharply.
Cade glanced up. “Did you get a look at who was inside?”
She shook her head. “The windows were tinted.”
He scribbled something down on the notebook he was holding. “What about a license plate?”
Again, she shook her head. “I didn’t see it,” she told him.
“What about the make and model of the SUV?” he asked.
Her brow furrowed. She’d been too frightened to even think about looking at stuff like that. Besides, she wasn’t ery good with cars. She shook her head.
Cade closed his notebook and slipped it into the inside pocket of his suit jacket. “We’ll look into it, Ms. Barnett, and get back to you,” he said, getting to his feet.
Riley did the same, her frown deepening. “How are you going to look into it? Will you be posting Marshals outside my apartment building then?” She really hoped so; she hadn’t slept well the past couple of nights.
He inclined his head. “If we determine that you’re in danger, then you’ll be given protection,” he told her. “But I don’t think you have anything to be concerned about. As I said, a lot of people own black SUV’s.”
Riley stared at him in disbelief. Did she have to end up at the bottom of some river somewhere before they believed her? She opened her mouth to argue, but Cade Cutler was already walking toward the door.
Annoyed, she followed after him. “How will you know if there really is a threat from the SUV if there’s no one here to see it?” she persisted.
In the small entryway, he turned to give her a placating smile. “Like I said, we’ll look into it.”
She folded her arms to glare at him. “You’re not going to do a damn thing, are you?” she said sharply. “Now that you people have already gotten my testimony, you couldn’t care less about what happens to me.”
His jaw tightened. “I’ll be in touch,” he said, ignoring what she’d just said as he turned to leave. He was just reaching for the doorknob when the greeting cards on the table along the wall caught his eye.
Riley watched in confusion as he picked one up and read it, and then did the same to another and another. But before she could ask what he was doing, he turned to fix her with a hard look.
“What the hell are these?” he demanded, holding up the cards.
Her brow furrowed. “Birthday cards,” she said, her tone implying that it should have been obvious to him.
“I can see that!” he growled. “But this one’s from your mother! And these,” he added, gesturing with the others, “are from the rest of your family!
She shrugged. “Duh! Who do you think sends birthday cards?”
His eyes narrowing, Cade tossed the stack of birthday cards back onto the table and strode toward her. “How about, duh, you’re in the Witness Protection Program! Which means that you’re not supposed to tell anyone where you are. That includes your family! You’re so worried about your identity being compromised, and here you are broadcasting it to the world!”
Ignoring the implied insult, Riley lifted her chin to glare up at him. “My mother would never tell anyone where I am,” she told him coldly. “And neither would any of my sisters.”
His brows drew together. “Really? How reassuring,” he scoffed. “What about the people that might be snooping through your family’s mail to find out where you are? Have you thought about that?”
She frowned at the words, wondering if that could be true, but then told herself it was ridiculous. Nobody, not even Albert Donatti, the main mobster she had testified against, would bother with digging through the mail just to find her. Besides, even if he had, her family had addressed the envelopes to her new name.