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The secret between them
Angela Taylor knew her sister was in trouble. For anyone but a twin, her instincts would seem crazy, and her actions crazier. Picking up and moving herself and her daughter, Celia, to Scorpion Ridge and asking questions put them all at risk. Even more risky was trusting Jake Farraday, the handsome ex-cop turned forest ranger. Years in witness protection had taught Angela to trust no one. Yet with Abigail missing, Jake was her only hope, and she found herself wanting to share more of her past with him. And more of her future. But did Jake have his own motives for helping Angela?
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Pamela Tracy, a writer from Arizona, has written more than twenty books. Her first Love Inspired Suspense, Pursuit of Justice, was a 2008 RITA finalist. Her third Love Inspired Suspense, Broken Lullaby, won the ACFW Carol award in 2009. Her devotional, Promises and Prayers for Teachers, reached number two on the Christian Booksellers Association’s bestseller list. Pamela is a past president of CWOW, Christian Writers of the West.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Jake Farraday froze, staring at a woman who reminded him of a brief moment in his past that had ultimately shaped his future.
Just in time he took a step back into a corridor and watched as she exited Sheriff Rafael Salazar's office and walked out the Scorpion Ridge police station's front door.
He didn't even think before bursting in on his friend. "Who was that?" he demanded.
Rafe turned away from his computer, completely nonplussed. "What?"
"The woman who just left your office. Who is she?"
"New to town. Your neck of the woods. Name's Angela Taylor."
"My neck of the woods?" Jake repeated. "You're kidding. She lives in the unincorporated community between here and Adobe Hills?"
"Yup," Rafe replied.
As a forest ranger, Jake's territory covered a good-sized section of the Santa Catalina Mountain wilderness area. Part of it was a ten-mile strip of homestead land peppered with about thirty inhabitants, mostly owners but a few renters, and the Bad Bear Inn, a rustic local icon that boasted a small restaurant and five cabins.
"Next door to the Rubios."
Jake wanted to kick something. He was here to see the sheriff because of the Rubios. The forest service and local law enforcement had teamed up for a joint investigation into the family's criminal activities. But this could change everything.
"I'll talk to you later," he muttered, and turned to follow Angela Taylor. He moved quickly and got to the front door in time to see her talking to a young girl as together they entered the grocery store in Scorpion Ridge, Arizona.
He did the math.
If his hunch was right, last time he'd seen the woman, her little girl had been a toddler. Now, the pudgy child had turned into a willowy young teen.
Jake couldn't take another step, so he stood, looking down the street, feeling the winter sun beat down on the top of his forehead and trying to catch his breath. He needed to focus on his small town, his people. He was making a difference here, doing good.
If he was correct, and he was seldom wrong when it came to recognizing faces, he'd wronged this woman.
A decade ago her name hadn't been Angela Taylor. She had been living under witness protection as Hilary Clifton. And he'd helped blow her cover.
Was it her? No, not possible. He'd stared at photos of her and her twin sister until they were seared onto his brain and plagued his dreams. Yet, both were masters of disguise thanks to their circumstances. No way should he be able to recognize one so easily.
Yet, his gut said it was her.
Someone bumped into him, shaking him from his reverie. He headed back into the station to find out what he could. This time he wouldn't mess things up for her, not if he could help it. He'd make keeping her safe a priority, especially since she lived next to the Rubios.
"What was that all about?" Rafe asked when Jake plopped into the chair in front of his desk.
"I thought I knew her. What can you tell me about her?"
"Seems like a nice girl." Rafe spoke casually but Jake knew the sheriff, had worked alongside the man for more than a decade. Rafe was holding something back. And he was one of the few people who knew Jake used to be a cop.
"Why was she here?"
"She was asking me questions that she probably should have asked you," Rafe said easily. "She wanted to know if it was legal for her to shoot a javelina if it tried to attack her cat."
"You did tell her to keep her cat inside."
"When did she move here?" Jake couldn't believe he'd missed her arrival. He usually knew the comings and goings of the people who lived in his territory. The faux wood, two-bedroom cabin next to the Rubios had been empty for six months because the landlord wasn't willing to clean it up after the former tenants had trashed it. Prospective renters took one look and that was that.
"Apparently, she moved in two days ago," Rafe said. "I planned to call and tell you later on today. She sure caught your attention, though. Anything I should know?"
There was a whole lot Rafe should know, but it wasn't Jake's story to tell. He was pretty sure Angela Taylor hadn't really been concerned about gun control and cat issues. She'd been here because being in the witness protection program meant contacting the local law authority after you moved to a new region.
No way did Jake want to admit that, in a roundabout way, she was the reason he'd stopped being a cop and he was the reason she'd been shot and left for dead.
"I hate it here," Celia complained. "There's nothing to do. I'm bored."
Angela looked around small-town Scorpion Ridge, Arizona, as she followed the twelve-year-old into the Corner Diner. "There's a New Year's Eve party Sunday night. We could go."
"I don't even know one person."
"You know me."
Celia gave Angela the kind of annoyed stare that only an almost teenager could produce. "I mean my age."
"Maybe we'll meet a few people. This town isn't huge. We can go to church Sunday morning. There might be kids your age there."
Angela had started attending church after going into the witness protection program. In her other life, as Sophia Erickson, she'd never so much as darkened a church's door.
"There's no mall," Celia complained grumpily.
A hostess, carrying menus, hurried past other diners, greeted them and tried to sit them at a table in the middle of the room. Instead, Angela pointed to a side booth and sat where she could see both the door to the kitchen and the door to the outside.
Had her sister done the same thing? Had Marena eaten here?
A prickle started at the back of Angela's neck. She'd fought hard to get to Scorpion Ridge, defying Buck Topher, the federal agent assigned to her, walking away from a nice house and a good job, and bringing with her a preteen who resented leaving her friends again.
A young waitress, balancing two loaded plates, stopped by their table. "What would you like to drink?" she asked. It was a few days after Christmas and the place was full.
Celia gave Angela a defiant look and ordered a soda.
Angela usually said no to soda. But today? Today all she could think about was her twin sister. "I'll take an iced tea."
The sense of misgiving she'd carried for the past few months concerning Marena—or Lorraine, as she was called during the once-a-month phone calls—wouldn't go away. Her fears had escalated until a week ago; Angela had cooked dinner, a buttery shrimp dish that Celia had turned her nose up at, but she couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. After dinner, while Celia did her homework, Angela had pretended to watch television. Instead she'd decided that within the week she'd be looking for her twin.
Angela always knew when something was amiss with Marena.
"Maybe I could get a job here? I'd like to earn some money." Celia's words jerked Angela back to the present. Her niece was smiling at a teenage boy across the room. He turned red and spilled his water.
Angela used to have that effect on guys. Now she practically had Hands Off tattooed on her forehead.
"You have to be at least fourteen, and I think we need to see how school goes first." They'd moved six times in the past decade, lived in five different states. This was their second time in Arizona. They'd not had a stellar experience the last time.
"I hope it's bigger than my last school,"
Celia said. "Only twenty kids in my grade. That sucked."
Angela didn't blame Celia for wanting to be with kids her own age. Being in witness protection limited how many people Angela involved in their lives. Celia knew they were on the run, knew they had to be careful, but it was hard on her. She was a young girl who just wanted to belong.
"Give me one positive about being here," Angela urged. It was a game they'd played since Celia was two.
Face crunched, Celia—basically a good kid—gave in. "Well, I want to explore all that land behind our cabin. Maybe I'll find an arrowhead or piece of pottery. Besides, we could use a little sunshine. You don't think my father..."
Angela put a hand on top of Celia's. "No, your father has no idea we're here."
Buck Topher had told them to change their history but to keep it close to the truth. Figuring out what to tell Celia as she grew from infant to beautiful young lady had been heartbreaking for both Angela and her twin sister: Celia's real mother.
Celia thought her dad wanted to kidnap her. In truth, her father was behind bars thanks to Angela and Marena. And despite the fact that Marena was Richard Hawking the Third's wife, he'd put a hit on the twins. In the years they'd both been in the witness protection program, Buck Topher never said, "I think it might be safe now."
Looking across at her niece, her pretend daughter, Angela hurt for the life Celia lived. She longed for safety and stability. On the day Buck finally called her and said it was over, Angela could tell Celia the truth. Then, Angela could go back to her real name: Sophia Erickson. And, best of all, she'd be reunited with her twin sister, Marena. They'd never go back to their old lives but they'd finally be able to build new ones.
"Your father hasn't a clue," Angela said again. "And we'll be fine."
The waitress brought their drinks, took their meal order and disappeared. Angela took out her iPad and searched for information on the local middle school.
"It's small," Angela noted.
Celia made a face.
Angela ignored her. "Classes resume January ninth. That will give us time to get you some clothes and figure out how you'll get back and forth."
Scorpion Ridge Middle School was small, only two hundred students.
The diner door swung open, sending a bell ringing, and many of the patrons looked up. Some smiled; some did not. The man in the door looked like the law but wasn't in uniform.
"Hey, Jake," called the older woman who'd greeted them. "Take a seat."
The young waitress didn't wait for him to order. Once he'd sat at the counter, she poured coffee and said, "Cheeseburger and fries?"
"Sounds good." He had a rich voice. Authoritative. It matched his rugged face with its deep lines near his eyes and mouth. Angela figured he was about her age and had seen a lot. He had those eyes.
Two men at a booth by the window got up, gave him a dirty look and left.
Yup, cop. In the past ten years she'd gone out of her way to avoid contact with the police. She'd never as much as gone over the speed limit. Just going to see the sheriff this morning had almost instigated a panic attack. She'd had to head right to a grocery store right after to buy chocolate just to calm down.
Angela started. "What? Did you say something?"
"You're staring off into space. Or maybe you're staring at the man who just sat at the counter."
"I don't stare at men." And she definitely wasn't staring at a second man who'd just walked through the door and joined the cop. This one might be safer, though. He was wearing a Bridget's Animal Adventure shirt. Angela figured he worked at the habitat on the edge of town.
Celia sighed. "Maybe you should."
Angela almost spewed the tea she'd been sipping. Yeah, she'd love to involve a man in her life. He'd get a kick out of hearing about the people who wanted her dead.
She might never be able to lead a normal life: be a wife and soccer mother, join the PTA, introduce herself by the name she was born with.
"We should definitely come to this diner more often," Celia said. "There're lots of good-looking guys, of all ages."
"Eat," Angela ordered as their food arrived. The waitress went back for more iced tea and a bottle of ketchup.
"Maybe I could work there," Celia said, pointing at the second man's shirt. "I love animals. Someday I'll have a dog."
They had a cat. A big gray, seven-toed longhair named Silverado who thought six thirty was wake-up time, who couldn't be trained to not walk on kitchen countertops but was always available to snuggle when the dark brought bad memories.
Sometimes Angela wondered if she'd do it all again. She'd been so indignant all those years ago; nineteen years old and thinking she could right the world.
It was Angela who had accidentally figured out that her father and brother-in-law were involved in fraudulent investments. They were stealing not only from moneyed friends but from acquaintances who were scrimping by, hoping that investing with Melvin Erickson today would mean a safe tomorrow.
They'd defrauded Angela's nanny!
When Angela had first gone to the police, she'd thought it was a simple scam. She'd been so wrong.
Looking across the table at Celia, Angela wondered if she'd really known the price, would she still have done it?
"You're off in your own world again and you've not eaten a bite," Celia scolded. "You always do this when you're wishing yourself back in time."
Angela didn't bother denying it. From the time Celia was four, she could tell when Angela was engaging in a heated internal dialogue. It was eerie.
"I was just."
"Wishing for a normal life," Celia finished. "Yes."
"I wish you would tell me more about when you were growing up. The things you and your sister would do." Celia's words were directed to Angela, but she still watched the boy who'd spilled his water. He watched her, too, only not as blatantly.
Celia didn't need to know that Angela had convinced her twin to join her in exposing their father's Ponzi scheme, or that their testimony had also revealed a larger money-laundering operation spearheaded by Richard Hawkings the Third. By coming forward they had put a target on their backs so big it could be seen from the heavens.
When the dust had settled and the twins left Illinois, no one had said goodbye let alone thank-you.
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Book Description Harlequin. MASS MARKET PAPERBACK. Condition: New. 0373367732 Ships promptly from Texas. Seller Inventory # Z0373367732ZN
Book Description Harlequin, 2015. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0373367732