With a broken-down truck and two young daughters in a blinding Nevada snowstorm, Hallie O’Rourke had no idea she would find a new beginning—or a handsome stranger—at a roadside diner. An undeniable passion pulls them together, but Hallie is fleeing a danger so threatening she dares not let him into her heart. But will all she fears destroy her last chance for the life she’s always dreamed of?
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She looked over her shoulder, and was startled to see Joel standing by the swing, hands in the pockets of his chinos, chatting with the girls. Their faces were upturned, adoring. Hallie felt a sudden urge to race across the lawn, gather her children close, hustle them away. Instead, she froze, there where Lou had served so many summer meals, watching as her ex-husband looked up, met her gaze, and ambled toward her. His hands were still in his pockets.
He was just a few feet away when she found her voice. “What are you doing here?” she asked. Stupid question. His face was in some of the pictures, his name in the transcript.Jesus God, Lou, she thought, if you knew this stuff, why didn’t you warn me?
She knew the answer, of course. Lou had been pursuing a major investigation, and he hadn’t expected to die before it was completed. He wouldn’t have compromised the case by discussing it with a civilian, even if that civilian was his stepdaughter, with children sired by one of the suspects.
“Just thought I’d see how you’re doing this morning,” Joel said. He was trying not to look at the open cashbox and the papers, but he didn’t succeed. “What have we here?”
Hallie was surprised at how easily the lie sprang to her lips. She even managed a cordial smile. “Stocks, bonds, some appraisal photographs,” she said. “It seems Lou left me something besides this house and his pension fund.”
“Let’s have a look,” Joel suggested, as if he had every right.
Hallie shuffled everything back into the box, smoothly, and drew it toward her. “It’s all pretty straightforward,” she said. “I can handle it.”
He frowned, and she got to her feet, cradling the box. Smiling.
“Why don’t you and Barbara stop by the restaurant Saturday night?” she said, talking too fast, too eagerly. “I’ve got a new dish you might like to try. On the house, of course.”
Joel arched an eyebrow, still watching the box. “Okay,” he said, uncertainly. Then he rustled up a smile of his own. “I could take the kids for the day. Give you a little break.”
A chill danced up Hallie’s spine. “We have plans,” she replied lightly. “Stop by the restaurant Saturday night, Joel.”
He got to his feet.
“Girls!” Hallie called. “Come on. Time to go.”
“Let me have the box, Hallie,” Joel insisted, in a monotone.
“Another time,” Hallie chimed. She’d never make it to the BMW, still parked in the driveway in front of the house, but Lou’s old pickup was behind the shed, facing the alley fence, and the keys were probably in the ignition. Nobody in their right mind, Lou had always maintained, would steal that worthless truck, but he could always hope.
She started toward the girls, and the pickup truck, her strides long, her heart pounding in her throat. She shuffled her surprised daughters into the front seat of the old rig, tossed the box in after them, and scrambled behind the wheel. Joel was several yards behind her, but he was taller, and intent on the chase. Hallie had passed easily under the clotheslines, but Joel had gotten himself entangled, affording her precious moments to start the sputtering motor and push down the locks on the doors.
“Mommy,” Kiera piped up. “What are you—?”
Hallie stepped on the clutch, shifted into first gear, and drove right into the board fence, knocking it down, jostling into the alley.
“Daddy is chasing us!” Kiley announced, looking back through the oval window. “Mommy,stop!”
Hallie shifted again, and barreled toward the end of the alley, picking up speed with every jostle and bump. A glance at the rearview mirror showed Joel standing in the alley, glaring after her and swearing. It wouldn’t be long until he regained his senses and came after them, but Hallie had grown up in that neighborhood, and she knew every side street, every shortcut, and every dead end. By the time he got back to his car, she and the girls and the evidence Lou had gathered would be long gone.
Kiley tried again. “Mommy?”
Hallie took the corner on two wheels, tires screeching. “Fasten your seat belts, girls,” she said. “We’re going on a little trip.”
The first thing she did, once they had left Phoenix far behind, was hide the cashbox.