Safe Harbor (Love Inspired Suspense)

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9780373445387: Safe Harbor (Love Inspired Suspense)

"No one's going to hurt you."

When he finds Nicole Harris cowering in a closet—a terrified witness to murder—Detective Alex Donovan's only priority is keeping the beautiful redhead alive. But Nicole is harboring a deep, dark secret—a childhood trauma that stops her from counting on anyone. Haunted by the violence in his own past, Alex knows he shouldn't get personally involved, but his own feelings blindside him. With a killer targeting Nicole as his next victim, Alex's toughest road is still ahead. Somehow, he's got to convince her to trust him with her life...and her heart.

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About the Author:

With a degree in journalism, Hope White started her writing career as a reporter but found she wanted to do more than report the facts – she wanted to give readers a happy ending. Now she's thrilled to be combining mystery, adventure and romance in her suspense stories for Steeple Hill.

When not at her computer, you'll find Hope hiking a mountain trail or enjoying a fine cup of tea with. You can find her at: www.hopewhiteauthor.com or facebook.com/hopewhiteauthor

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Personal assistant Nicole Harris dropped her messenger bag on the floor next to Mr. Lange's desk and answered her cell phone. "This is Nicole."

"Thank you so much for covering for me this weekend," her boss, Ruby said. "I owe you."

"Big time." Nicole smiled, logged into Outlook and sorted piles of papers on the computer magnate's desk. Edward Lange may be a tech genius but he had the organizational skills of a five-year-old on a sugar high.

"I just can't do weekends, not with the boys' soccer and baseball and—"

"Hey, no problem." Nicole didn't have a husband or family so she didn't mind working on the weekend, especially if it meant helping out her boss, who'd also become a good friend.

"What can I do to repay you?" Ruby asked.

"It's my job, remember?"

"And you're seriously good at it or Edward wouldn't have requested you. Did you get the passcodes I texted you earlier?"

"Yes, ma'am. Committed them to memory and ate my phone."

"Very funny."

The front door slammed.

"He's back from his run. Gotta go." Nic pocketed her phone and checked Mr. Lange's Outlook calendar to make sure he wasn't missing anything crucial by escaping the city on a whim. Nic was a natural at her job as a personal assistant, but then she'd spent her childhood keeping her younger sister and brother organized.

Voices echoed down the front hallway. Odd, considering she was told they weren't expecting guests this weekend. She blocked out the voices and focused on checking messages on Mr. Lange's smartphone.

"It's borderline criminal!" Mr. Lange shouted.

Shouted? He was usually such a soft-spoken man. Nic felt guilty eavesdropping, so she refocused on his voice mails. "Mr. Lange, this is Audrey Ross from Tech Worldwide. I'm on a deadline and I need a statement about the Tech-Link software failure—"

"I said no!"

Her shoulders jerked.

"It's okay, it's not him," she coached herself, as post-traumatic panic skittered across her nerve endings.

Something slammed against the wall, rattling the books in the mahogany case next to the door. She slowly backed up toward the closet.

"Get out of my house!" Mr. Lange bellowed.

Her pulse raced as buried memories of her abusive father rushed to the surface.

"I said out!"

She darted into the closet and shut the door with a soft click. Scrambling to the far corner, she hid behind a stack of boxes.

Some part of her brain realized how ridiculous it would look when Mr. Lange found his personal assistant huddled in the closet, but her reaction was automatic. She couldn't make another choice if her life depended on it.

"You need to reconsider," a second man said, his voice higher pitched and more clear.

They'd entered the office.

"Nothing is going to change my mind," Mr. Lange said. Something slammed against the closet door. She bit back a squeak and hugged her knees to her chest. "Why are you still here?" Mr. Lange accused. "Because you haven't called the cops."

"The only reason I haven't called the cops is because of my—"

A soft pop made her gasp. Then another. A gunshot? No, it couldn't be.

Silence rang in her ears. She focused on breathing so she wouldn't pass out.

The sound of breaking glass echoed through the door, then swearing, and more crashing. She hugged her knees tighter, fisted her hands.

She squeezed her eyes shut.

Waited.

It was just a matter of time before he opened the closet door.

Flashes of her childhood paralyzed her, rendering her unable to think clearly.

Hide in the corner. Be quiet and still, she'd coach Beau and Addy.

She had to do something, call the police, a friend, someone. Instead, she huddled in tighter, losing all sense of time and place as the memories closed in.

Then the door opened...

Detective Alex Donovan knew something was off the minute he entered Edward Lange's study. Instinct twisted his gut as he scanned the room.

"Chief Roth and the coroner are on the way," officer Mark Adams said, standing in the doorway.

Alex crouched to look at the room from another angle, wrestling with the frustration building in his chest.

Edward Lange. Dead.

The entrepreneur-philanthropist often came to Waverly Harbor to get away from the intensity of the city, demands of his work and the relentless media. When he bought the lake house three years ago, he'd asked for a meeting with Chief Roth and his staff to discuss his residing in their small town. Although community members knew about the purchase of the lake house, they'd agreed to give Lange his privacy and help him avoid the spotlight. In return he'd generously donated money to build a new community center and library. He didn't have to make those donations. Folks of Waverly Harbor were nothing if not protective, and they had embraced Lange as one of their own without expecting anything in return.

"His driver is outside," Mark Adams said.

"He called it in?"

"No. He claims he was outside in the car and didn't hear anything. The call came from Lange's cell."

Alex went to the body, careful not to disturb the crime scene. Not easy with the clutter of papers littering the floor. Someone was looking for something.

Alex crouched again, eyed the area around Edward's face, and down to his hands. "There's no phone near the body."

"Maybe the intruder took it?"

Alex studied Edward Lange's face. "Where's your security?" he whispered.

No bodyguards and the alarm wasn't set? Which meant what? That Edward knew his attacker. Was the killer a personal friend or staff member?

Alex scanned the immediate area and spotted a gold chain-link bracelet, a man's wallet and pair of sunglasses on the floor near the body.

"You want to talk to—"

Alex put up two fingers to silence the cop. He thought he heard something, a faint whimper, but he couldn't be sure.

He closed his eyes, blocked out his surroundings, and listened.

A muffled cough-gasp echoed from across the room. The closet.

Alex withdrew his firearm, slowly crossed the room and motioned for Mark to open the door on the count of three. One, two, three.

Mark whipped the door open and Alex heard a squeak. Aiming his firearm into the dark closet, he reached up and pulled the light chain. He spotted a female, Caucasian with flaming red hair, cowering behind a stack of boxes. He holstered his gun and stepped closer for a better look. Her face was buried in arms folded across her knees. She was a trembling mass of red from her hair to her red blouse, down to her red tennis shoes.

"Miss?" He crouched in front of her. "It's okay, I'm Detective Alex Donovan."

She didn't look up.

"Can you tell us what happened?" he tried. She shook her head no. "Can you tell me your name?" She shook her head no again.

Alex glanced at Mark. "Look for a purse or briefcase with ID."

Mark disappeared from the doorway.

Alex spotted a cell phone clenched in her hand. She must have made the 911 call.

"Are you a friend of—" He was about to say the deceased and caught himself. "Edward Lange?"

Another negative head shake.

"Do you work for him?"

She nodded affirmative.

"Were you here when he was attacked?"

She nodded yes, her body trembling slightly. He wanted to place a comforting hand on her shoulder, tell her it was going to be okay, but he wasn't one to make promises he couldn't keep. If she was hiding in here that meant she might have seen or heard something that could help them find the killer—and consequently put her life in danger.

"Alex?" Mark said, stepping into the closet. "Found this by the desk." He placed a messenger bag next to Alex and handed him a purple leather wallet. Alex pulled out a driver's license that read Nicole Desiree Harris.

Voices echoed through the house. The coroner must have arrived, and then some. Alex had a feeling everyone would want to be involved in this investigation, including state and county law enforcement. Edward was an influential man, a celebrity of sorts.

"Can you keep them out of here for a few minutes?" Alex asked Mark.

"I'll do my best."

Alex put the wallet in the messenger bag and redirected his attention to Miss Harris, pushing back the temptation to pick her up and carry her to a safe, quiet place.

"Miss Harris, it's going to get awfully loud in here as more police personnel show up. How about I take you to another room where it's quiet?"

She slowly raised her head and pinned him with brilliant amber-colored eyes. He stopped breathing for a second, so affected by the devastation he read there.

"Nice to meet you," he recovered, and extended his hand, figuring he had to try.

She studied it for a second, then reached out and accepted his gesture. Her trembling fingers were cold and fragile as she clasped his hand. And he prayed to God that he could do right by this one.

She searched his eyes as if wanting to say something but couldn't get the words out.

Male voices boomed from the outlying office and her fingers squeezed his hand.

"Let's get you out of here." He stood and helped her up. She was petite, probably five-three, and a floral scent drifted from her hair.

"It's okay. No one's going to hurt you." He positioned her on his left side so when they walked out of the closet she wouldn't be assaulted by the bloody image of Edward Lange.

She hugged her midsection with her free arm, but wouldn't let go of his right hand. He put his left arm around her shoulder to shield her from the frenetic crime scene.

"Is this okay?" he said.

She nodded that it was, grabbed her messenger bag and flung it over her sho...

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