Authors: Sydney Somers
To my parents, who have always encouraged me to follow my dream. Your unwavering support has meant the world to me.
Babysitting a gift shop wasn’t the smartest way for an alleged murderer to keep a low profile. But then what were friends for, right?
At least that was how Maxine Walker interpreted the look on her friend’s face a moment after Sherri insisted she watch the place while she took her daughter to the hospital.
Max winced at the blood running down Ellie’s leg from where she’d split her knee open after falling off her bike.
“You’ll be fine.”
For a second she wondered if Sherri was talking to her or nine-year-old Ellie.
Her friend finished wrapping a hand towel around Ellie’s knee. “You can handle it, Max.”
“That doesn’t make it a good idea.” In fact, it was a very bad idea. Bad like the first time Sherri had talked her into going to a keg party. Only this time she could end up with more than a crescent-shaped scar on her chin and fuzzy memories of people chanting
Chug. Chug. Chug.
Like twenty-five to life in prison.
“Since when has that stopped you?” Scooping her daughter up, Sherri carried Ellie out to her car. “
will be fine, but my shop won’t be if I have to close early with only a week left to go before tourist season is over.”
She stuck to Sherri’s heels, hoping her brother’s high school girlfriend would come to her senses and remember Max excelled at shooting range targets and busting drug-pushing criminals, not selling stuffed humpback whales and chocolate-covered peanuts some marketing whack-job had repackaged as Reindeer Poop.
“There could be a customer inside right now.” Sherri finished getting Ellie settled in the back seat.
“Maybe they can run the shop.”
Sherri rolled her eyes, her determined expression eerily mirroring the morning after said keg party when she had insisted a breakfast of stale beer, marshmallows and three-day-old pizza would cure Max’s hangover—and Max had believed her.
“You know how to use the cash register and debit card machine. If anyone thinks you’re slow or awkward, just tell them you’re still in training.”
This is what she got for hanging around the shop helping Sherri with stock. If she hadn’t wanted to pay her friend back for giving her a place to stay for a while, she could have insisted she didn’t have a clue how either machine worked.
“I could take Ellie,” Max hurriedly offered, knowing she’d be way more comfortable with blood and stitches than gift wrapping and customer service small talk.
Ellie made a sound of distress, a few more tears tracking down her cheeks, and Max winced in sympathy, wishing she could make her feel better.
Sherri slid behind the wheel. “Call me on my cell if you run into any problems.”
“Like someone recognizing me?” If anyone in Riverbend, New Brunswick even followed news from New York City, which was unlikely given the local Canadian coverage of American stations, they would doubtfully link her to a four-month-old story of a detective wanted for murder, at least that’s what she tried telling herself.
On the other hand, over half the tourists who waltzed through the gift shop doors were American and many from the upper east coast.
“I was talking about problems with the store. Your own mother would pass you on the street without recognizing you, let alone anyone else.”
Unless someone was looking specifically for her. She knew better than to believe cutting her blond hair to shoulder-length and dying it black would be enough to keep her safe.
“Just relax and try not to pick an argument with Dave if he gets bored and stops by later, okay.”
Max shuddered at the thought of the sporting goods store owner from across the street stopping by at
Seeing the look of exaggerated horror on Max’s face, Sherri laughed. “He’s not that bad.”
“That man has his head up his ass more often than all the dogs in the local shelter combined.”
Ellie sniffed and used the back of her hand to smear her runny nose across her cheek. “Mr. Stiles sticks his head up his ass?”
Ignoring Sherri’s scowl, Max grinned down at Ellie, relieved she’d stopped crying. “Yes, he does. Your mom just can’t say it out loud since Mr. Stiles owns her building.”
Owned half the buildings on the street and took the opportunity to remind Max of that every time their paths crossed. Listening to the man yammer about his real estate prowess was as nauseating as him sharing intimate details of every woman he’d dated but turned out to be not good enough for him.
Sherri started the car. “I’ll check in with you in a little while. You’ve got this,” she added, probably to encourage Max to release her white-knuckled grip on the driver-side window.
“Okay.” She stepped back from the car, preferring not to lose a toe. Sherri had a great head for business, but behind the wheel of a car, she was a maniac.
Max waved as the car pulled away, finally dragging her butt inside when she swore she glimpsed Dave in the window across the street, watching her.
She hadn’t planned on staying with Sherri and Ellie for more than a night or two after she’d crossed the border into Canada. Two days had turned into three weeks when she found herself relaxing for the first time in months, lulled by the laid back pace of the community.
But she still wasn’t any closer to figuring out her next move, and after spending the afternoon watching the shop, assessing every person who stepped foot inside, she knew she couldn’t hide out here forever.
Thankfully the last two hours had passed without incident—knock on wood—and in another five minutes she could flip the sign in the window to
and lock up.
Max glanced at the guy looking over a selection of homemade preserves, placing him in his early thirties, a couple years older than her maybe.
Dressed in expensive running shoes, beige cargo pants and a black T-shirt that showed off his muscular arms, he was likely an outdoor enthusiast with a bike or kayak strapped to an SUV parked out on the street. Maybe he was part of the group staying up at the lodge that had come for some fishing or to check out the sea caves. Sooner or later most of them wandered in for a look around.
He was the type Sherri had suggested Max should hook up with for a night to relieve some tension. Tall, good looking and preloaded with the kind of stamina it would take to really wear her out, according to her Sherri.
Max could think of numerous things she needed more than a fling with an outdoorsman—like her name cleared and her job back. Even if she gave serious thought to Sherri’s suggestion, she would go with someone less…intense.
She’d dealt with enough scrutiny before her suspension to be remotely interested in the kind of thorough study Mr. Weekend Warrior seemed to excel at. Everything he stopped to look at seemed to capture his complete attention before he moved on, his expression serious despite the occasional crooked grin that curved his lips.
Startled by the sound of her prepaid cell phone, Max dragged her gaze away from him and answered.
“How are things going?”
Max smiled at the sound of Sherri’s voice. “I didn’t burn the place down.”
“Not ignoring customers?”
She glanced at the tourist she hadn’t so much as waved at. “Nope. How’s Ellie?”
“She needed ten stitches, but she’s been a trooper. Especially once I promised her ice cream on the way home.”
Max laughed, but the mention of ice cream suddenly made her stomach rumble. A hot fudge sundae when she got out of here would take care of that.
“I’m going to take her home and I’ll close out today’s sales first thing in the morning. Did you lock up yet?”
“Just waiting on a last-minute customer.” She watched said customer bend down to look at something on a lower shelf. The guy did have a really great ass.
“Is he hot?”
“I never said it was a guy.” She angled away from him and lowered her voice, though he probably couldn’t hear her from across the room with the radio playing from overhead speakers.
“You wouldn’t have sounded as impatient if it was a woman. Guys make you twitchy.”
“No they don’t.” She just tended to be a touch more suspicious of unfamiliar men, and with a drug and arms dealer gunning for her, who could blame her?
Maybe the right guy wouldn’t make her twitchy at all, but she wasn’t about to find him while on the run. Even before she’d become a fugitive, decent guys who weren’t intimidated by the fact she was a cop were hard to come by.
“What color are his eyes?”
She chanced a quick glance, but he was still too far away to tell. “Blue,” she guessed.
“Liar. You hesitated, Max. You don’t have a clue, which means you haven’t even approached him to see if he needs any help.” A fact Sherri clearly expected her to correct ASAP judging by her the-customer-always-comes-first tone.
“I’ll take care of it.”
“Him, not it. And ask him to meet you for a beer afterward while you’re at it.”
Rolling her eyes, Max stared at the display of ships in bottles behind the counter. “I never said he was good looking.”
“With you it’s all about what you don’t say. When was the last time—”
“If you’re about to ask me how long it’s been since I got laid, I’m locking the guy in the store and leaving him here for you to deal with.”
Sensing movement behind her, Max whipped around to find the guy in question had soundlessly crossed the room and stood on the opposite side of the counter.
A little rattled by the slick approach, she forced a smile. “Gotta go, boss. See you later.”
“Be nice,” Sherri warned before Max hung up.
If there had been any question in her mind about him standing there long enough to overhear the last bit of their conversation, the knowing smile on his lips said it all.
Ignoring both the warmth she felt creeping up her neck and the tingling that started low in her belly at the undeniably sexy grin, she set her phone on the counter. “Was there something I could help you with?”
“I’m not holding you up, am I? I know it’s probably almost closing time. I can always stop by tomorrow if it’s a problem.”
“No problem at all.” She owed Sherri more than a couple hours of her time for giving her a place to stay without asking too many questions and promising not to tell her family where she was.
She knew Samuel Blackwater wouldn’t hesitate to hurt any of them if he thought they knew something. She’d made sure of that when she’d screwed up his last deal and left him with a token to remember her by.
“Are you sure? Because if you’ve got plans or someone waiting at home for you…” His tone was nothing more than polite, but his eyes, a deep penetrating green, were almost…hopeful?
She smiled easily. “It’s fine. But if you happen to be around tomorrow, feel free to pop in and remind my boss that I didn’t ignore you.”
“The same boss who thinks you should meet me for a beer later?” He looked down, his expression bordering on remorseful. “Sorry, I’ve got really good ears.”
“What was it that I could help you with?”
“Should I assume the quick change in subject means you wouldn’t be interested in grabbing a beer?”
Laughing, she crossed her arms. “You can assume whatever you’d like.” He wasn’t the first guy to hit on her while she was hanging around the shop, but he was the first to tempt her to follow Sherri’s advice.
Maybe if it had been another time or place, or if she’d been living her life instead of running from it.
“Can I see the small blue dream catcher?”
Lucas McAllister let his attention slide all the way down her body, his interest genuine enough to mask his surprise at finding Maxine Walker less than two feet away.
If he wasn’t caught in some surreal place between attraction and utter disbelief that he’d stumbled across the woman he’d been hunting for months, he might think he’d absorbed some of Eli’s inherent good luck through osmosis or something.
Whether it was women, contraband or intel, it always landed right in Eli’s lap like a gift from the heavens. Today though, Lucas’s luck was definitely on the upswing. That might have been enough to lift his mood if finding Detective Walker didn’t slam the past right to the forefront of his brain, bringing with it emotional baggage he really didn’t have time to deal with.
“Here you go.”
Lucas took the offered dream catcher, noting the dark purple polish on the detective’s nails. Part of her disguise? It certainly fit the slightly goth image she had going for her with the dark hair and heavy liner around her eyes. The only thing throwing it off was the pink sweater that was probably borrowed since it looked a couple of sizes too big.
He’d spent weeks learning everything he could about the woman linked to Cara Beckett’s death, hoping for a clue that would lead him right to her. Every member of the Lassiter Group, a private paramilitary unit outsourced by the U.S. government for covert operations and intelligence gathering, had done their homework, but none of them had been able to get a line on Walker when she’d disappeared.
Since no leads had panned out and there hadn’t been a price tag put on Walker’s head, either Blackwater was looking for her quietly or she was dead. A dirty cop wouldn’t be useful to him once exposed. Either way, it had left them with jack shit.