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Authors: Susan Sleeman

Explosive Alliance

BOOK: Explosive Alliance
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RACE AGAINST TIME

The last thing Krista Curry expected to find in a soccer stadium was a time bomb. When she alerts explosives expert Cash Dixon, she becomes a local hero. But the attention could expose her real name—and the infamous past she fought to escape. Cash promises Krista protection from the bomber's retaliation. Yet she hesitates to trust him as she sees his suspicion about her grow with every question she dodges. She can't expect Cash to continue to safeguard her unless she tells him the truth. Now Cash must decide if she's an innocent woman or guilty accomplice. But the clock is ticking down—and the real bomber is still on the loose…

First Responders: Brave men and women alert and ready for danger and love.

He looked like a warrior, ready to do battle.

He downplayed the threat from the SUV he'd just chased off, his voice calm. But his body language said differently.

“If it's the intruder from last night, he's more of a danger.”

“How so?” Krista kept the mounting panic from her voice.

“Takes someone without fear to return right after the police were called. He doesn't care who gets in his way.”

This guy was persistent. Breaking in. Attacking her. Perhaps killing her if Cash hadn't arrived.

Panic threatened again but she fought it. Cash was here. Strong, capable Cash. The man she'd been fighting every step of the way.

“Thanks for being here.”

“It's what I do.”

“You can't possibly do this for everyone. So why me?”

He shrugged, but held her gaze, and she felt a change in him. Not the spark of attraction that clearly existed between them. Something softer. Something that made her forget the bomber.

“I can't put my finger on it, but I know you need me.” His voice was low and husky.

The word
trustworthy
came to mind. A man of honor. Could she really believe he was everything he seemed to be…even if he discovered who she really was?

Susan Sleeman
is a bestselling author of inspirational and clean-read romantic suspense books and mysteries. Awards include RT Reviewers' Choice Best Book for
Thread of Suspicion
;
No Way Out
and
The Christmas Witness
were finalists for the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence. She's had the pleasure of living in nine states and currently lives in Oregon. To learn more about Susan visit her website at
s
usansleeman.com
.

Books by Susan Sleeman

Love Inspired Suspense

High-Stakes Inheritance
Behind the Badge
The Christmas Witness
Holiday Defenders
“Special Ops Christmas”

The Justice Agency

Double Exposure
Dead Wrong
No Way Out
Thread of Suspicion
Dark Tide

First Responders

Silent Night Standoff
Explosive Alliance

Visit the Author Profile page at
Harlequin.com
for more titles.

EXPLOSIVE
ALLIANCE

Susan Sleeman

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

—Philippians
4:7

For the many law enforcement bomb squads
and military disposal technicians who risk their lives on a daily basis to rid our world of dangerous explosives. It takes a special person to do this job, and I hope I honor them in the way I have portrayed bomb tech Cash Dixon.

ONE

M
urderer!

The word hung in the soggy air.

Krista Curry could feel it. Taste it. Smell it.

She hunched forward, hiding her face and holding her breath, waiting for someone in the crowd to recognize her. To shout out the horrific title she'd been branded with after her husband, Toby, was murdered four years ago.

She shifted on the hard stadium chair. Risked a quick glance around Providence Park's open-air stadium. Rain flooded from dusky skies, the seats glistening, the players soaked as they slogged over a field shadowed with whispery swatches of fog.

“Watch the net.” Her grandfather's shout mingled with the crowd's cheers for the Portland Timbers. His cheeks were rosy from the cold, the pure joy of the sport widening his smile that was often marred from battling cancer.

Krista's heart creased with concern for him. She didn't know if he'd beat stage three cancer or how many more joyful days he'd have. She'd do anything for him. Including risking recognition and someone calling her out in public so he could attend the soccer match.

Oh, Opa.
Her precious Opa.

She loved everything about him, including his insistence that she use the informal German name for grandfather. He was the one man she could count on. The man who'd helped her survive the loss of her mother. Who'd stood by her when her father had gone to prison for murder. Who'd believed in her when she'd been accused of killing Toby.

She couldn't lose him to cancer. She just couldn't.

“Did you see that save, Liebchen?” he asked excitedly, using his pet name that meant sweetheart. He placed a hand on her knee. She jumped, immediately regretting her startled response when concern wiped away his joy.

He eyed her for a long, uncomfortable moment. “What is going on in that mind that has you wound as tight as a spring?”

“Nothing that's worth taking you away from your game.”

He watched her for another second before turning back to the match. The Timbers scored a goal. He whooped loudly. He suddenly clutched his neck and coughed, cleared his throat and coughed harder. He gasped for air, his chest heaving with the effort.

She grabbed his water only to discover she'd kicked the cup over. She swirled the container, grateful to find a small amount of liquid still in the bottom. He quickly gulped it down, then cleared his throat hard.

“Better?” she asked.

He sighed out a long breath. “Better.”

She took the cup. “If I go fill this, will you be okay by yourself?”

“I am not one of the preschoolers in your class, you know.” His feisty attitude returned, along with his fierce sense of independence. The same independence she'd fought since she'd come back to Portland weeks ago to care for him. The chemo treatments left him more helpless than he'd admit, and he continued to make decisions that weren't always in his best interest. Coming to the match was a perfect example. Now he needed water to stay hydrated and silence his cough.

“I'll be right back.” She slipped around his feet and avoided making eye contact with anyone. She put one foot in front of the other on the slick concrete. Down the stairs. Quickly toward the Mezzanine Terrace. Praying for anonymity.

Feeling eyes on her, she raised her head. Inch by inch, she scanned the area ahead. A uniformed deputy leaned against the railing, his focus on her.

No. Oh, no.
Did he recognize her? Did he know about Toby's murder—about the accusations? That even though the police had never brought formal charges, she hadn't been fully cleared?

Or maybe he'd simply noticed her jumpy behavior and suspected she was up to something. The last thing she needed or wanted was for a cop to start questioning her.

He caught her studying him and smiled. A sizzling, I'm-all-that kind of smile. A clear look of interest burned in his eyes. He didn't know who she was. This was a simple case of a man interested in a woman. In her. It was there in his eyes. There in his body turned toward her. Anticipation saturated his expression and he didn't try to hide it. Her heart gave a kick. Warning bells followed, telling her to look away, but she couldn't manage it.

She suddenly realized she was staring and dropped her gaze to the walkway to take the last few steps without falling.

She heard him chuckle before he said, “Evening, ma'am.”

His lazy, Southern drawl took her by surprise, bringing her eyes back up. She caught a quick look at his name tag—Deputy Cash Dixon—before the heat of a blush crept up her face.

“You look a bit flustered,” he went on. “Anything I can help you with?”

Ugh!
He knew why she was flustered. He was teasing her.

She held up the empty cup and stepped past him.

Another chuckle followed her into the concourse, but she tuned him out and retrieved the water. On the return trip, she felt his focus on her again but refused to let him bait her into looking his way and hurried up the stairs. As she neared her row, the man seated to her left got up and moved into the aisle, leaving his backpack behind.

“Your pack,” she called out and pointed at it, but he didn't look up.

She stepped in front of him to get his attention.

His head jerked up, his steely-gray eyes dark with anger meeting hers. He shoved his hands into his sweatshirt pocket, then blinked in surprise.

“Sorry to bother you,” she said, trying not to wilt under his continued study. “But you left your backpack.”

His eyes lingered for long, tense moments before he brushed by her and jogged down the stairs.

“So much for trying to be a good citizen,” she mumbled and stepped past Opa. “Did you see that guy who just left?”

Opa shook his head, but kept his attention on the game. “He blocked my view for a few seconds, but I didn't actually look at him. Why?”

“He left his backpack. When I told him about it, he got mad.”

“Odd,” Opa said absently, his focus still pinned on the field.

Krista handed the water to Opa and looked at the pack a few seats away. That unsettled feeling returned.

Stop it, Krista.
What did she think was in the pack, a bomb?

Ha!
The guy was rude, maybe a bit creepy, but that didn't make him some lunatic leaving a bomb behind. He'd likely had too much to drink, needed to use the restroom and would be right back. That's why he didn't take her concern seriously.

She ignored the fact that there weren't any empty cups by his seat and forced her attention on to the game. Not that she knew anything about football, as Opa called it, other than it involved a ball with two nets and Opa loved it. She tried to get into the game, but the backpack kept nagging at her, and she continued to check her watch. The man had been gone for fifteen minutes. Far too long for a trip to the bathroom or snack bar when long lines weren't likely due to tonight's low attendance.

Her gaze slid back to the pack.

Should she check it out? With all the craziness going on in the world today, could she afford not to check it out?

She glanced down the stairs to confirm the guy wasn't returning, then slid over to the pack. Once a vivid blue, it was now worn and dingy gray. She checked for the owner one last time, then pulled the zipper and spread it open.

A cell phone lay on a stack of red blocks. Next to it, large neon-green numbers on a timer counted down from twenty-seven minutes fifty seconds. It was strapped to the bricks resembling modeling clay with wires leading to the stack.

Timer. Bricks. Wires.

“Bo—” she started to shout, then realized what yelling “bomb” would do to nearby spectators.

A bomb! It's really a bomb.
What should she do?

She and Opa didn't have cell phones, so she couldn't call 911. So then what?

Think, Krista, think.

The numerals kept flashing their countdown—taunting her.

Twenty-five minutes ten seconds. Nine. Eight.

Panic crawled up her spine.

No, no, no!

Why had she waited so long to look? How should she handle this?

Deputy Cash Dixon
, the name barreled into her brain. She had to alert him.

She started to rise. Caught sight of Opa. In his fragile state, if she took him with her, it would take a long time to climb down the stairs. Precious minutes would be wasted before the bomb squad could be notified. She had no choice. She'd have to leave him sitting in his seat.

Here. Near a bomb.

She couldn't do that to her Opa.

You have to or all of these people could die. Go! Now!

She'd bring the deputy up here, leave this situation in his hands and guide Opa to the exit. She had enough time.
If
she hurried.

Her stomach threatening to revolt, she gently closed the flaps on the pack from prying eyes and jumped to her feet.

“I'll be right back, Opa.” She forced the words over a lump in her throat.

“Okay.” He didn't look up.

“I love you.” She hoped it wouldn't be the last time she ever said these words to him.

His perceptive gaze met hers. “What's wrong, Liebchen?”

“Nothing.” She offered him a wobbly smile, then jogged down the stairs to discover Cash Dixon now leaned against the restaurant wall, that casual pose still in place. Her confidence in him evaporated.

Could he handle this? This man who seemed to excel in flirting? Was he just a pretty face, or was he cool and calm under pressure? Steady? Trustworthy?

Because he needed to be. Desperately needed to be, if he was going to stop this bomb from exploding and bringing the building down around them.

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