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Authors: Regan Black

Safe in His Sight

USA TODAY
bestselling author Regan Black thrills us with this adrenaline-fueled romance in her new series, Escape Club Heroes!

The stalker shadowing lawyer Julia Cooper’s every move is vowing to ruin her life—unless she discloses information about a major criminal case. For discreet help, she turns to the shadowy Escape Club, where investigative brainpower and brawn are for hire. Mitch Galway, a firefighter on leave, becomes Julia’s round-the-clock bodyguard. All sculpted biceps, sexy bravado and conflicted past, Mitch works overtime to uncover the identity of the person hunting her. But as they track the creep getting way too close, Julia must share more of herself with the intriguing man protecting her…which puts them both high on a lunatic’s hit list.

“Why would anyone believe I’d cave to this kind of intimidation?” Julia said.

Mitch preferred the defiance in her eyes. “Every contact so far implies the stalker intends to use you as an inside source.”

“Yeah, I got that loud and clear.” Julia pursed her lips. “We both know I can’t do what he wants. What happens then?”

“We’ll burn that bridge
if
we get there.” Somehow he’d make sure the stalker didn’t push things that far. “You won’t have to face that dilemma.”


Hmm
. Your confidence is impressive, Mr. Galway.”

He shot her a grin. “Hopefully it’s contagious, too, Miss Cooper. Take all you want.”

She smiled, genuinely amused despite the lingering worry shadowing her green eyes. “Thanks.”

As they walked back, she slid her hand into his. That expression of budding trust slipped over him, made him feel ten feet tall and invincible. This wasn’t the first time he’d made a promise with no foolproof plan for how to back it up.

He wouldn’t let this be the first time he let someone down.

*

Be sure to check out the next books in this miniseries. Escape Club Heroes: Off-duty justice, full-time love

*

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Dear Reader,

Welcome to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and a new adventure into the world of my Escape Club Heroes. The Escape, a riverside nightclub owned by a retired police officer, is known for hot bands, but it maintains a quieter reputation for helping people with problems that fall through the cracks of typical law enforcement.

When she becomes the object of an aggressive stalker, Julia Cooper seeks help from the Escape to unravel the threats to her career as well as her life. Unfortunately, she can’t decide if being under the watchful eye of Mitch Galway makes things better or worse. Julia has hidden her true motivations for her career success from the world for so long that I knew it would take a special kind of hero to crack through the wall around her heart.

Mitch, a Philly firefighter currently moonlighting as an Escape bartender, is a remarkable guy and he intrigued me from the start. Firefighters are vital, everyday heroes in our communities and they have a place of honor in my heart. I am forever grateful for the swift response, expertise and compassion of the crew that saved our family home during a New Year’s Eve party when I was a kid.

Julia and Mitch felt like dear friends to me as I was writing their story and I hope you’ll soon feel the same way. Enjoy their story and keep an eye out for more Escape Club Heroes on the horizon.

Live the adventure,

Regan Black

Safe in His Sight

Regan Black

Regan Black
, a
USA TODAY
bestselling author, writes award-winning, action-packed novels featuring kick-butt heroines and the sexy heroes who fall in love with them. Raised in the Midwest and California, she and her family, along with their adopted greyhound, two arrogant cats and a quirky finch, reside in the South Carolina Lowcountry, where the rich blend of legend, romance and history fuels her imagination.

Books by Regan Black

Harlequin Intrigue

Colby Agency: Family Secrets
(with Debra Webb)

Gunning for the Groom
Heavy Artillery Husband

The Specialists: Heroes Next Door
(with Debra Webb)

The Hunk Next Door
Heart of a Hero
To Honor and To Protect
Her Undercover Defender

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

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To Mark, for twenty-five years we’ve held hands through life’s roller coasters, speed bumps and temporary derailments. You’ve offered your belief when mine wanes, your humor when I’m frustrated and your superb lasagna when I’m on deadline. Thank you for being my forever hero every day!

Chapter 1

T
he crisp autumn breeze of a clear, late September day kissed Julia Cooper’s cheeks as she exited the Marburg Law Firm. It still gave her a happy thrill to know she belonged here in this historic limestone building with the impeccable Philadelphia-proper address.

Once again, as she walked up the street toward the Liberty Bell Center to have her lunch, she startled passersby with her persistent smile. Despite her valiant efforts, the expression couldn’t be muted when she was out of the office. It was a side effect of being unexpectedly added to the major criminal case old man Marburg himself had just picked up.

State and federal authorities had been working for over a year to crack open a highly organized car-theft ring operating out of the docks on the Delaware River. The FBI had Danny Falk, a man purported to be one of the higher-ranking locals in the operation, in an undisclosed safe house. Julia hadn’t recognized the name, only that Falk apparently had enough clout or money—or the right connections—to have Marburg canceling two of his three weekly golf games.

She found an empty bench in a swath of sunshine and opened her lunch bag, pulling out her usual blend of fresh salad greens topped with shredded chicken and a light drizzle of dressing. Eating lean and healthy in law school might have made her a little boring, but it had given her an advantage over her boozing and pizza-loving peers. The advantage carried over to her demanding job. She dug into her meal while she skimmed local and regional headlines on her phone. At a prestigious firm like Marburg, it paid to stay on top of current events.

The chime sounded for a text message and she swiped her screen to check it. The number wasn’t familiar, though the area code was local. Her assumption about a wrong number evaporated instantly.

Hello, Julia. Are you having vinaigrette or ranch on today’s salad?

More than a little uncomfortable, Julia returned her fork to the bowl, glancing around for the person messing with her. None of her fellow associates at the firm cared how she dressed a salad enough to find out even for the sake of a prank. They all thought she was odd for leaving the building most days to eat outside. The true benefit of taking her lunch break in the park was the daily boost of sunshine, another rare commodity for a new hire at Marburg.

Ignoring the juvenile stunt, she resumed her lunch and headline search.

You look better in blue. And I prefer the skirt.

This text message arrived with a picture of her in yesterday’s charcoal skirt and white sweater.

A rush of nerves skated over her skin. Who had been watching her and how had she missed it? She forced herself to chew and swallow the peppery greens that had turned to tasteless mush in her mouth. Quickly she packed the remainder of her salad and prepared to head back to the office.

Don’t go. I’d like us to be friends.

Fat chance, starting off like this, she thought. Knowing better, she sent a reply.
Who are you? What do you want?

Who I am is irrelevant. I want what most men want when they look at you: insider access.

What did
that
mean? Was that some sort of sick innuendo? Her hands trembled. She lowered them to her lap to hide her reflexive fear. Glancing around, she searched again for the jerk behind this ill-mannered trick.

Let’s take a walk, Julia.

She refused to play his game. Pulling her tote close to her side, she leaned back on the bench and stretched out her legs, pretending to watch a group of schoolkids having fun on their field trip to the Liberty Bell Center.

I said walk. You should cooperate with me. Your choices today will have long-term consequences.

She ignored those texts. Another arrived, this time a photo of her moments ago, sitting on the bench, eyes on her phone eating the salad that was now souring her stomach. She followed the angle of the picture, frustrated when no one seemed to have any undue interest in her.

I’m walking, Julia. Get up and join me.

Stubborn and feeling a modicum of safety among the numerous people in the park, she remained on her bench. The phone was blissfully quiet for several minutes. Maybe he’d moved on to someone willing to satisfy his bid for attention.

You don’t want to be late.

He might know about her lunch hour habits, but he couldn’t know anything about her wants. She spotted a policeman on patrol and gathered up her tote. Hoping she wasn’t being too obvious, she aimed that direction.

The cop is a mistake. Talk to him and he’ll die as quickly as the other witnesses.

She stutter-stepped at that message as her gaze raked wildly over the people in the park. There was only one local case with witnesses who had dropped dead within days of cooperating with the authorities: the Falk car-theft ring. She changed direction, pausing at the next trash can, making sure the cop moved by without any exchange with her. This time as she looked around, she saw a man in an orange ball cap with the city’s hockey team logo standing a few yards behind her. Her heart pounding, she raised her phone at him and pressed the camera icon.

The man in the cap didn’t react. Maybe she’d guessed wrong and he was unfortunate enough to be the object of her swelling paranoia. She crossed at the light with a group of pedestrians, picking up her pace as she neared her building, thankful she didn’t have far to go.

Relax, Julia. I need you alive.

She could hear the unwritten threat:
for now
. Almost to the front door, another text popped up on the screen.

Save my number, Julia, and keep me informed. I need to know the names your client is dropping.

She couldn’t divulge that information under any circumstances. Her personal and professional ethics wouldn’t allow it. Unsettled, telling herself it was a lousy attempt at intimidation, she hurried into the building, grateful for the sturdy shelter of limestone and the friendly, weathered face of the security guard standing by at the information desk. “How was lunch, Miss Cooper?”

“Great.” The word sounded too bright, too sharp, and it bounced off the marble columns and floor of the first-floor gallery. She forced her lips into a smile. “The fresh air always perks me up, Arthur,” she replied in a calmer tone. She caved to the mounting pressure to look over her shoulder. She hadn’t been mistaken at all. The man in the hockey cap was there, on the other side of Walnut Street, boldly aiming his camera at the Marburg building.

Just a gutsy reporter, she told herself, not believing it for a second as she hurried toward the elevators. Out of his sight at last, she took a deep breath and forced her racing thoughts to slow down. Her attachment to the case wasn’t yet in the public record. Reporters had no reason to fixate on her. A reporter wouldn’t threaten a cop’s life because she’d been tempted to seek help. Whoever had rigged this stunt wanted to scare her.

She was mildly ashamed it had worked so well. Upstairs at her desk, she took several minutes to document the text messages, a limited description of the man in the ball cap, and her gut feelings about the whole mess. She did save the number, to add it to a potential police report rather than out of any sense of obedience. The small, positive actions eased the tension in her shoulders and enabled her to sink into the Falk case, studying the raw statements the team had gathered so far.

When her phone chirped with an email alert from her personal account, she ignored it. She ignored the next two alerts, as well, and set the phone to vibrate. When the fourth alert came through within three minutes, she gave up. Saying a quick prayer her bad day wouldn’t get worse with some pseudoemergency request from her mother, she checked her inbox.

The emails appeared to be from the notifications address of her favorite cosmetics store, but instead of a graphic or coupon, the attachments were pictures of her. Julia’s breath backed up in her lungs as she examined the numerous images from the past week. It took a moment for her to realize the pictures were labeled Day 1, Day 2, etc., matching the time line precisely to how long she’d been on the Falk case.

Her stomach clenched. How had she missed this jerk following her to and from work, out to lunch and to the gym in the evenings? Pulse skittering, she clamped her lips together, biting back the scream building in her throat. Thank God she didn’t have an exterior office with a view. She was safe in here, two rows of cubicles between her and the windows.

Still, it required a significant effort to stay in her chair when she wanted to cower under the desk and hide from the man on the street below. She flexed and stretched her hands, bunching up the fabric of her slacks in her fists and smoothing it out over and over again, until the anxiety subsided. She was strong, capable. When she regained a measure of calm, she downloaded and saved each photo attachment from her email account, adding them to the file she’d created less than an hour ago.

She enlarged the single picture she’d caught of the man in the ball cap, searching out any details in the shadows of his face for possible identification against Falk’s known associates. There just wasn’t enough to go on with the shadows from the bill of the cap and the dark sunglasses that blocked his eyes. Although he seemed of average height compared with the nearest passersby on the sidewalk, the blue windbreaker hid his real build.

Julia swore when yet another email arrived. No picture this time, just one sentence:
You will keep me informed.

Her temper quickened and she fought the urge to send back a scathing reply. He might not realize it, but she would never jeopardize her career or the safety of a client over a random stranger’s overblown sense of power. Having learned the hard way that pride and temper could negate strength and capability in a challenging situation, she carefully considered her options.

She couldn’t go to the police without talking to her bosses first. Discussing this with one of the investigators on staff would have the same result. Both options would likely get her dumped from the case. While leaving the case might make her less valuable to the stalker, opportunities like the Falk case didn’t come along every day. There were fifty other associates ready to snap up her spot if she was removed. And what was there to say?
A man found my personal number, followed me and took pictures of me around the city.
So what? It was an inconvenience, a nuisance, not a crime.

She could wait him out. He’d proved he had access and he was sneaky, but she was aware of him now. Other than more creepy attempts to frighten her, there wasn’t much else he could do to intimidate her. The firm knew everything about her—all the way back to the unhappy life she’d mostly escaped—having done their due diligence before hiring her. There weren’t any skeletons in a forgotten closet to shake loose and use against her.

Her phone hummed with yet another personal email.
Damn it
. She reached to turn off the device and noticed this time the email appeared to be from her bank.

She swore again, her stomach knotted with dread as she opened the email. A screen shot showing a mobile deposit and immediate transfer of nine thousand dollars filled her phone screen. Another email hit her inbox, this one an alert from her credit card showing she’d purchased a twenty-thousand-dollar entertainment system.

“Dear God.” She closed her eyes, knowing how that sort of thing would look to her bosses, as well as an outside auditor. As if defense attorneys weren’t typically considered corrupt to start with, now her finances actually reflected bad practices.

She picked up her desk phone to report the credit card fraud, determined to keep her cool until she knew why she’d been targeted this way.

A text popped up on her phone screen, the words raising the hair on the back of her neck.
Reporting it is useless. I control your accounts now. I control YOU now.

She struggled for a calm breath, to think her way through this choking fear. He had her money? No.
No!
Panic lanced through her with razor-tipped claws. Switching to her bank’s website, she discovered he was serious. Even her password recovery email address bounced back as incorrect.

If you want your life back you will cooperate.

Mitch Galway grabbed longneck bottles of beer three at a time from the coolers under the bar. At just past ten, the Escape Club was packed to capacity and the crowd was working up a profit-turning thirst as they danced and screamed and sang along with the bands on tonight’s schedule. His next customers ordered the everyday special and Mitch popped open canned beer with one hand while pouring bourbon into shot glasses with the other.

He glanced up at the stage when the last notes of the current song faded away. In the momentary lull, the lead singer introduced the owner of the club as guest drummer for the next set. Grant Sullivan knew drums, the Philly music scene and how to keep men like Mitch from going stir-crazy when they fell on tough times.

This was Mitch’s second week at the Escape and the only thing keeping him sane since the Philadelphia Fire Department had placed him on administrative leave. More than anything he wanted to stay connected with the action at his firehouse on the west side of town, but he didn’t dare. Getting impatient would only drag out his case and keep him off the job longer. He owed Grant big-time for giving him all the shifts he could handle between now and whenever the PFD reinstated him.

Another customer served, he moved on to the next. The bustling crowd kept his mind off the troubling thought of how long it might be before he worked a fire. He took an order, admiring the approach of a striking redhead. Chin up, it was as if she dared the whole world to try to take a shot or give her a kiss. He imagined those rosy lips could level a man with a technical knockout.

She squeezed close to the bar. No wedding band. He wondered where her boyfriend was. Maybe it was a girl’s night out. “What can I get for you?” He leaned over the bar so she wouldn’t have to shout her answer.

“I need to speak with Alexander.”

Huh. That phrase meant the lady was in some sort of trouble. “All right.” Following Escape Club protocol, Mitch scooped ice into a glass and filled it with water. Anyone who came into the bar and asked for Alexander needed to speak privately with Grant. Usually it was a matter of protection, or an assist getting out of a tough situation. Mitch dropped a straw into the glass and pushed it across the bar toward her. Giving a nod toward the stage, he said, “He’s on the drums. I’ll take you back as soon as he’s done.”

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