Authors: Barb Han
A Texas bodyguard never thought he'd see Melanie Dixon againâor learn he was the father of her little boyâ¦
A shotgun blast shatters the night and Dawson Hill foils a ruthless stalker. Now the fearless bodyguard is committed to protecting Melanie Dixonâthe alluring woman who left him two years ago without a word. Not only is he surprised she's back in Mason Ridge, Dawson is doubly stunned to learn they have a son.
Now the three of them are on the run, and Dawson is determined to protect the baby boy he never knew he could love so much. With his passion for Melanie reigniting like Texas wildfire even as he struggles to forgive her deception, a madman closes in. A madman who threatens the family Dawson never dreamed would be within reach.
“Why didn't you tell me about the baby?” Dawson asked.
“I was scared.”
He shot her a look.
“Why didn't you really?”
“What aren't you telling me?” he demanded.
“It's going to take time to learn everything about him, Dawson,” she hedged, trying to redirect the conversation back to a comfortable place. “Maybe it's enough for the two of you to get to know each other. We don't have to do this all in one day, do we?”
“No. Of course not. But I have every intention of being there for my son as he grows up.”
lives in north Texas with her very own hero-worthy husband, three beautiful children, a spunky golden retriever/standard poodle mix and too many books in her to-read pile. In her downtime, she plays video games and spends much of her time on or around a basketball court. She loves interacting with readers and is grateful for their support. You can reach her at
Books by Barb Han
The Campbells of Creek Bend
Harlequin Intrigue Noir
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CAST OF CHARACTERS
The secret she's been keeping from Dawson Hill is about to be exposed just as a stalker from her past sets his sights on her.
Losing his little sister so early in life to a terrible and rare disease is something he never recovered from. Melanie pulled him back from the depths all those years ago and was his best friend until she cut off contact and disappeared after their friendship turned romantic. Now that she's being stalked, he'll have to come to terms with his past and face his own fears in order to ensure her safety. Can he save her in time?
The son Dawson didn't know existed.
The little sister whose death forever haunts Dawson.
While in jail, he gave up his partner, Jordan Sprigs, in exchange for leniency.
He's been obsessed with Melanie for years. Now that he's wanted in connection with a criminal child abduction ring, he has nothing to lose.
I owe a debt of gratitude to Allison Lyons and Jill Marsal for the chance to work with you both, the best editor and agent in the business. Thank you to the entire team at Harlequin Intrigue, led by Denise Zaza, for brilliant editorial, art and marketing. I'm blown away every time.
There are a few people who inspire me, breathing joy and laughter into every dayâ¦Brandon, Jacob and Tori; I hope you know how much I love you. And to John, my one great love, for being the person I can't wait to talk to at the end of each day.
A huge thank-you to Chrissy McDowell for her medical research help and to her daughter, Morgan, for her all-around awesomeness and bright red hair.
Dawson Hill stared at the two-story Folk Victorian across the street intently. It was two o'clock in the morning and he'd been in the same spot at the front window an embarrassing number of hours already. He was staying the night at his childhood home in hopes that he would figure out a good reason to approach her. If he thought he could get a straight answer out of Melanie Dixon, he'd stalk over and ask her outright. As it was, he could only guess why she'd disappeared two and a half years ago, not long after they'd started what he thought was a real relationship. Normally he'd be able to let it go and not look back, but they'd known each other since they were kids and it wasn't like her to pull such a stunt.
Movement across the street caught Dawson's eye. A dark silhouette crossed the front window. Was someone on her porch? Why would anyone be moving around outside in the dark at this time of night? The thought sat in his gut about as well as eating a handful of nails.
Beckett Alcorn, aka The Mason Ridge Abductorâthe most notorious criminal in Mason Ridge's historyâwas in jail where he belonged. That should have ended the terror that had haunted this town for fifteen years. Except that, in return for leniency, Alcorn gave up his partner's name. He and Jordan Sprigs had been running a child abduction ring throughout Texas for the past fifteen years. Sprigs was believed to be out of the state, in hiding.
The town should be able to rest easy. It couldn't. The feds had been brought in to actively look for Sprigs. This was the last place anyone expected to find him. And yet no one felt safe. This case never seemed to close. Maybe that was the reason Dawson didn't believe it was over, either.
Now that Alcorn was behind bars and every available law enforcement officer was seeking Sprigs, the town was supposed to be able to move forward. Go back to their normal lives. And yet little things were still going bump in the night. Or in this case, shadows were moving across windows.
Melanie's parents were on the road, so Dawson already knew she was home alone. Her parents had spent every summer in their RV traveling around the US since retiring from the post office half a dozen years ago.
Because she was by herself in the house and Dawson's creepy radar was on full alert, he slipped out the back door to investigate.
A quick walk around the perimeter followed by peeking in a couple of windows just to make sure she wasn't in trouble would allow him to rest peacefully. Rest? He suppressed a laugh. Knowing Melanie was across the street alone while one of Mason Ridge's most notorious criminals was on the loose wasn't exactly the cure for insomnia.
Making sure she was safe would go a long way toward giving him the peace of mind he needed to sleep, he told himself. And this had nothing to do with the fact that he needed to see her again.
Dawson ignored the little voice in the back of his mind calling him a liar and slipped across the street.
With every step toward Melanie's place, the hair on Dawson's neck pricked. What was that all about? He didn't believe in the hype about black cats walking over graves or bad luck following walking under a ladder. He believed what was right in front of his nose. If he could see, touch or hear it, then it existed.
The front curtain moved as he positioned himself inside the Japanese boxwoods lining the perimeter to gain a better view over the porch. Whatever was on the other side of the wall five feet away had his senses screeching on full alert. The sirens in his head were so loud he'd have one helluva headache if he didn't silence them soon.
Climbing onto the wraparound porch, he listened carefully. The inside of the house was pitch-black, and there was no sound of breaking lamps or noises associated with stumbling into chairs or side tables. Whoever was in there most likely knew the layout. This was knowledge Melanie would have, but why would she creep around in her childhood house in the dark? Didn't make any sense, which was another reason the warning bells inside his head were ringing so loud his ears hurt.
If he covered all the possible scenarios, then he had to consider the notion that she had a boyfriend. There could be a guy in there trying not to wake her.
Dawson glanced over at the carport. All he saw was Melanie's vehicle, which revealed nothing. She could've picked the guy up in order to keep their relationship under wraps.
Thinking about Melanie with another man didn't do good things to Dawson's blood pressure. And yet he had no right to be angry.
There were other possibilities. Melanie had a sister, Abby. Dawson was sure he'd seen her around town yesterday, but he'd assumed that she'd gone back to Austin when her car disappeared last night.
The RV was gone, so there was no chance her parents had returned.
An ugly thought struck. Was Dawson making an excuse to spy on her? Had he really seen what he thought or was his mind playing tricks on him? He quickly dismissed the notion. Even though she'd been more frigid than crab fishermen's waters since their breakupâif he could call it thatâhe needed to make sure she was safe, especially while Sprigs was still free. Their mutual friend Lisa was still recovering from being attacked in connection with this case.
Dawson peeked through the front window. He couldn't see a thing.
How many hours had he spent inside that house as a kid?
How many since? He and Melanie had started things up between them when she took a job as a paralegal a couple years after she'd graduated from college. Things were going well until she'd abruptly told him it was over and then pulled a Houdini, moving to Houston and cutting off all contact. Said she'd moved on and had meant it literally and figuratively. Her stuff had disappeared from her parents' place where she'd been staying, and she hadn't taken his calls since. Didn't he lick a few wounds over that?
The time or two he'd been drunk enough to torture himself by looking at a picture of her online hadn't given him any more of a clue as to what he'd done wrong. Her privacy settings on her social media pages were set tighter than perimeter patrol at Leavenworth, so he couldn't see much beyond her profile picture.
Dawson slipped around back of the house and onto the screened porch. He'd remind her to keep that locked the next time he saw her. Yeah, he'd be the first one she'd want to talk to. She'd been home four days already and had managed to avoid talking to him so far. Since they shared the same friends, that took effort.
A shadow moved in the hallway toward the kitchen. Based on the size of this one, Dawson assumed it belonged to a male. Shadows could be deceiving.
The figure retreated. Dawson crouched low to make himself as small as possibleâwhich was difficult given his six-foot-three frameâin case the dark figure returned. His eyes had adjusted to the darkness and there was just enough light coming off the appliances to see the kitchen fairly well.
Years ago, the Dixons used to hide a key in a fake rock near the porch. He dropped down to the bottom of the stairs now and felt around. Bingo.
Dawson slipped the key in the lock and then froze. If memory served, the Dixons had had an alarm installed for when they went on long road trips. He had an auxiliary code for emergencies, so he was good there. His grip tightened around the door knob.
Hold on a second.
If the door chime was on, he'd be given up the second he opened that door. He muttered a curse.
The telltale double click of a shotgun engaging a shell in the chamber sounded from behind.
Dawson spun around and stared at Melanie.
“Put that thing away before you hurt me.” He waved her off.
“What are you doing here, Dawson Hill?” She studied him intently. Her legs were apart, positioned in an athletic stance, and the determination on her face said she'd shoot if she had to. She had the feral disposition of a mama bear protecting her cubs.
“Hold on there.” Dawson's hands came up in surrender. “Why don't you lower that thing before you accidentally pull the trigger?”
She dropped the barrel, allowing it to rest on her forearm. It was the easiest spot to pull up and shoot from, Dawson noted.
“You didn't answer my question,” she said, a look of sheer panic in her eyes. And there was another emotion present that Dawson couldn't quite put his finger on, but it was intense.
“Trying to make sure no one's breaking into your parents' house.” His hands still in the air, he stared at her. Damn, she looked good. It was too dark to see all the flecks in her honey-brown eyes, but she still had that dancer's body she'd earned at Nina's Dance Studio in town. Her hips had filled out in the sexiest curves. The silhouette of her long, wavy blond hair said she'd let it grow out since he'd last seen her. He flexed his fingers to distract himself from wanting to reach out to touch her smooth glowing skin and he wondered if she would still quiver if he ran his hand along the lines of her flat stomach.
Given the fact that a shotgun barrel was pointed right at his groin, his thoughts couldn't be more inappropriate. Dawson sidestepped the line of the barrel.
“What makes you think someone's trying to get in here?” The edge to her voice was another slap of reality.
It was clear that she'd rather face down a robber than see Dawson again. Now, wasn't that interesting? Apparently she regretted the time they'd spent together, especially given the way she'd bolted without a word not long after. Personally, he thought the sex had ranked right up there with the best he'd ever had.
Since Dawson didn't want to admit he'd been staring out the window half the night just to catch a glimpse of her, he decided to say, “Woke to a noise across the street and followed it here.”
She gave him a quick once-over, her disbelief written all over her expression.
Yeah, he was still fully dressed. She would know that he slept in boxers and nothing else.
Her gaze narrowed as she took him in. “Looks like you just woke up all right. And I'm the tooth fairy.”
“That's good to know, because I've been meaning to talk to you about that nickel you left me in second grade.” Normally a statement like that would make her smile and then she'd fire a snappy comeback at him. He'd always loved her sense of humor. She wasn't buying in this time. Her glare could crack ice.
“No one's here but me and you.
should go.” Didn't her tone just send an icy shiver down his back? Who needed air-conditioning with the chill she put in the air?
He needed to man up and ask her what was really on his mind while he had her here. He couldn't pinpoint the reason, maybe it was her mood, but he decided not to push his luck. In her state of mind she might just tell him. Brutal honesty could be the most painful kind, and a small part of himâthe part that still had feelings for herâdidn't want to know.
“Just as soon as I know you're okay.” He took a step toward her. “And you put that shotgun away.”
“You're looking at me. Do I seem fine to you?”
He wasn't about to touch that statement. “Let me double-check the place to be sure. I saw someone moving around inside. I won't be able to go back to sleep until I know you're safe.”
Her cocked eyebrow and the way she looked him up and down again said he needed to drop the act. They both knew he wasn't asleep before.
“I can handle myself, Dawson. I don't need your help.”
Most women would balk at the idea of going inside a house alone if there could be an intruder present. Melanie had always been able to stick up for herself, but she'd never been foolish. What was going on? Did she hate him so much that she'd be willing to risk her own safety just so she wouldn't have to look at him again?
“Then do it for me,” he said.
“I already told you no.” She moved around to block his access to the door, her back to the kitchen.
If he didn't know her any better, he'd say she was hiding something...or someone.
Reality hit him hard. She wasn't alone.
The last thing Dawson needed to see was the other guy. That would be an image he'd never be able to erase. It would burn into his retinas and his heart. “Suit yourself.”
He turned and took a step toward the screen door.
A noise pierced the awkward silence. Then a sudden burst exploded behind him and he turned in time to see a little kid, bawling, running toward Melanie.
What the hell?
The kid had to be at least a year, maybe two. His friend Dylan's daughter was three and she looked much older than this guy.
Melanie swore under her breath, loud enough that Dawson heard but quiet enough to shield the kid.
The little boy moved closer, into the light, and Dawson's jaw fell slack.
Staring up at him was the spitting image