Heroes in the Saddle, Book 2
When the missing person he’s been searching for strolls right into his house, Detective Rex Tarrow’s investigation takes a wild U-turn. Astronomer Mina Cooper’s unexpected reappearance plunges the two of them deep into intrigue and murder, triggering a dangerous game of hide-and-seek.
Thrust together into hiding, they discover a powerful connection, and explore the surprising new emotions neither of them expected to experience. While Rex vigilantly guards their lives, Mina struggles with the secrets she has yet to disclose. Knowing that Rex will no longer trust her when he hears the truth, her foolish heart overrides her logical mind, convincing her to keep silent.
Through a violent encounter, Rex discovers no one can be trusted, not even the irresistible Dr. Mina. The information she withheld could have gotten them both killed, and Rex won’t listen to her reasons for lying. Can Mina convince him that she had no choice but to keep the truth from him, or is her deceit the death sentence to the loving relationship just starting to bloom between them?
Rex Tarrow set his badge, gun, and keys on the night table next to his bed and sat down, still fully clothed, on the mattress behind him. Dropping his head to his hands, he fisted his fingers in his black hair, which had needed a cut for the last two weeks.
This missing persons case. It had consumed him, kept him awake nights, drew his attention away from his other duties during the day. Nothing about it made sense. Doctor Mina Cooper, an astronomer at the U of Texas, way down in Austin. Why would a woman like her—single, young, beautiful—go on a turkey hunt on a ranch outside of Fort Worth, and then disappear? The woman was a friggin’ vegetarian.
The neighbor’s dog barked right outside his window. Three in the morning, and the damn thing was outside? This city living was not easy to get used to. He missed the wide-open spaces and lazy quiet of Wild Oak County. Here, his neighbor’s fence ran a foot away from the side of his house.
A beam of light flashed through the room. It had to be the guy next door. Was that raccoon after the garbage cans again?
Rex stood, even though every muscle, tendon, and bone in his body told him to lie down and get some sleep. Hell, what would one more night without rest matter? He trudged down the hall toward the back of the house as footsteps clomped up the steps.
“It’s Jeb from next door.” The man’s gruff voice nearly rattled the pane of glass out of the door and his flashlight beam caught Rex in the face.
Shielding his eyes, he pulled open the door. “What’s going on, Jeb?”
The neighbor’s flashlight redirected to a woman’s face, partially shielded by blonde hair and…sunglasses? She held up her hands at her shoulders as if in surrender.
“The lady here, she says you know her.” Jeb shifted his shotgun away from its deadly aim at her back.
Tipping her head up, she stretched to her full height of nearly six feet, just a few inches shorter than Rex.
He snapped on the porch light as she removed her glasses.
“Holy fu…” Rex had to swallow. Twice.
Dr. Mina Cooper stood right in front of him, living, breathing, and lifting an eyebrow at him. “Are you gonna keep a girl standing on the back porch all night?”
Jeb looked around her, peering into Rex’s face. “Ya know her or not?”
“Yeah, I know her.” Rex reached out and wrapped his hand around her arm, feeling more bone than muscle through the long sleeve of her black sweatshirt. “Come on in, sweetheart. You’re here to apologize, huh?” The words just flowed out of him, while his brain kept speculating over her presence at his house.
Jeb chuckled and walked away.
Rex guided her into the house, shut the door, and closed the curtains on the window. “What the hell are you doing here?”
She deflated like a popped balloon.
Rex put an arm around her and helped her onto the bench. “I didn’t know what else to do.” Tipping up her face, Mina blinked away the tears that made her sky-blue eyes glow in the low light. “You have to help me.”
He scratched the side of his head. “Why me? Why not go to a police station?”
Wrapping her arms around herself, she shook her head. “I can’t trust that the Austin PD and your police department aren’t in this together.”
“In what together?” Was he missing something in his exhaustion, or was she talking in circles?
She doubled over with a groan. “Can I use your bathroom?”
“Uh, yeah. Are you alright?” He took her thin arm in his hand and helped her up, walking her toward the bathroom door.
“I get nauseous when I run too far.” She grasped the doorframe and made her way to the toilet, pulling off the blonde wig to reveal short, choppy red hair.
Rex closed the door, giving her privacy. “Yell if you need anything.” No wonder they hadn’t spotted her, despite the APB out on her. Her photo showed long, deep-red hair.
He stepped back a few feet, but still heard retching noises. She’d been running? How far was too far? She’d been missing from Austin for five days, from the turkey hunt for three. She couldn’t have been on foot since she’d come to Tarrant County. Could she?
The sound of water running in the sink snapped him into action. He grabbed his small notebook and pen and started writing his questions for her.
Mina opened the door and stepped out. “Thanks. Sorry.” She carried her wig and glasses in one hand.
Rex looked down at her jeans and running shoes. From her knees down, she was covered with dirt.
“Hey, no problem. Drop by any time.” He gestured toward the living room.
She gave a half-smile and tottered that way, flopping down onto the couch and dropping her head back. “Can I just have ten minutes to sleep? Then I’ll answer all…your…que…” Her breathing went deep and the wig and glasses fell to the floor.
Rex just stared. This was something completely new, unexpected. Of course, almost everything dealing with missing persons was new to him. He’d only been a detective for a few months. Working his way up from patrol cop to vice cop in three years, he’d aced his detective exam and had fast-tracked to Missing Persons. Homicide was his ultimate goal, but he’d take his time and earn that.
He shook his head and sat in his recliner. She didn’t care about his history, but somehow she knew he was a clean cop, and was one of the team searching for her.
“How the hell did you know that, Doctor?” He whispered the words, then wrote a few more questions in his notebook, including, How did you find out where I live?
Should he contact his partner? Sontag had been in the unit for eight years, and knew what he was doing, but she’d mentioned corrupt cops in Austin and DFW. How much did he trust his partner? The guy was lazy and unprofessional, but dirty? Not likely.
She cried out softly, and he got up, pulling the blanket off the back of his chair and covering her with it. Mina stood six feet tall, but her weight looked to be a barely healthy one-hundred-forty pounds. Pretty, though, with her pale skin, a few freckles on her cheeks and nose, and a decent set of round, maybe C-cup…
“Shit.” He turned away and walked into the kitchen. Creepy cop, staring at her like she was flirting with him in a bar instead of passed out on his couch. He opened the refrigerator. A box of pizza from three days ago, some lunch meat, but she was a vegetarian. In the cheese drawer, he pulled out a block of cheddar. It looked a little green on the edges.
He cut off the bad parts and sliced the rest of the cheese, set it on a plate with some crackers and an apple that had been lurking in the back corner of the refrigerator. Grabbing a bottle of water, he stepped quietly into the living room.
She hadn’t moved.
He put her snack on the table next to her and looked back toward the bathroom. Why hadn’t he thought of it earlier? He must have been in shock, and it felt like he still was. He grabbed a new toothbrush and travel-size toothpaste and put that next to her plate.
Rex went back to his notebook, filling up five pages before she coughed and made a smacking noise with her mouth, then jerked and looked around.
“How long was I out?”
“About ten minutes. You’re safe, Doctor.” He gestured to the table next to her. “Have a freshen-up, a snack, then I’m going to ask you about fifty questions.
“Sure.” She nodded and sat forward. “Thank you for this.” She blinked at him. “You wouldn’t have any tea, would you?”
Rex snorted. “Do I look like the kind of guy who has tea in his house?”
Mina pressed her lips together to keep from laughing. Was it just the relief of finally feeling safe after so many days on the run, so many sleepless nights hiding?
He groaned and got out of his big recliner. “I’ll check.”
Tall, black-haired, black-eyed, and tanned-skinned, Rex Tarrow had a sterling reputation in his department, according to the records she’d accessed. After meeting him, her intuition substantiated her decision to ask him for help. He was the one person she’d risk trusting with her life, but it was still a risk. He may not be as squeaky-clean as he appeared on paper.
Watching him walk away was a pleasure, and one that surprised her, considering her current status. Long legs and a nice ass encased in worn jeans. Mina grabbed the toothbrush and toothpaste, then stood and followed him as far as the kitchen door. His wide shoulders and big arms in a white T-shirt struck her as super sexy. She’d spotted a bedroom just down the hall…
Wow, had the stress and sleepless nights finally made her lose touch with reality? She let herself take a moment to watch him stretch to dig through cabinets looking for tea for her. He was one perfect example of a man.
Mina walked down the hall to the bathroom. The house looked old and dated, but well maintained. The neighborhood wasn’t the best in the city though, and she’d had some doubts as she ran through the streets and alleys. Was a detective’s salary so skimpy that he had to live in such a marginal area?
She loaded the toothbrush and stuck it in her mouth, then wandered to the back entryway. A few photos on the wall caught her attention. Rex as a teen with a smiling older man in a law officer’s uniform. She couldn’t see the patches.
Another one showed three men in light-brown camo in the desert, holding their helmets and guns, all smiling. She looked closer. Was that Rex? Wow, short, nearly shaven hair, his skin even darker than it appeared now.
“Marines.” He walked up behind her, silent in his stocking feet.
She jumped and goobed some toothpaste onto her chin.
“Sorry, Doctor.” He held up a steaming cup with a teabag string hanging from one side. “I’ll set this next to the couch.”
“Thank you.” Her knees wobbled a little as she walked back to the bathroom and rinsed.
In the living room, she sat next to the food he’d kindly prepared for her.
Rex pulled a chair from the corner and set it close in front of her. As he sat, he opened his notebook. “I have some questions for you.” He pulled his phone from his pocket and set it on his thigh.
Panic roared through her. “You didn’t call anyone, did you?”
His brows drew down. “No. I’m going to record your answers.”
She chomped on a thick slice of cheese and washed it down with a swig of tea. “I’ll answer all your questions.” Her stomach rumbled and she paused, making sure nothing was reversing in there, then ate some of the crackers. “But we have to get out of here.”
His perfect black brows rose up on his forehead. “Why? What is going on?”
The sound of a car door closing made her jump. Her meal nearly came back up. “Is that—”
He held out a hand to quiet her, stood, and walked to the window, looking out through the side of the curtains toward the street. “Just the neighbors.” Turning, he cocked his head. “I’m assuming someone is looking for you, besides the authorities.”
Nodding, she ate as quickly as she could. She should have gotten them out of there within minutes of her arrival. What was she thinking? She was not safe yet. “The killers are the authorities, and they’re looking for me.”
That made him pause. “Killers?”
She finished everything on her plate, and stood with it in one hand and the cup of tea in the other. “I’ll tell you the whole story.” Or at least most of it. There were things he didn’t need to know. “But we have to leave. I got your address using a state database through the college, and it’s probably already been traced.”
He just shook his head. “Why me?”
Walking to the kitchen, she glanced longingly at the box of tea bags, then turned her back on them. There was no time for another cup.
“Take the tea bags with you, if you want.” He gestured to the box.
The detective was very perceptive, noticing her every nuance. Would he be able to tell that she was withholding a key piece of information from him when she told her story? She set her dishes in the sink and took a couple of bags, tucking them into her pocket before answering his question. “I called the precinct with a tip on a missing person. Me.”
Rex stood in the kitchen doorway, tall and too good-looking. With his phone in one hand, notebook and pen in the other, he looked like he was ready to force the truth out of her. “That’s how you got my name?”
“Yes, and your partner’s. Then I looked you up online. Victor Sontag has been with the unit for years, and you’re new. You have less chance of being part of the corruption.”
“Corruption? You mentioned killers. They were cops?”
She nodded. “Honestly, I will tell you everything.” She laced her fingers together at the small lie. “But we have to go someplace safe.”
“There’s a safe house about five miles—”
“Uh uh. No. If this corruption goes as high as I think it does, that’s the first place they’d look for me.”
“They. The cops who killed…who?”
A banging sound came from the back of the house.
She jumped, and the food in her stomach churned like a carnival ride. “Detective. Please.” She began to breathe too fast, started feeling a little dizzy.
His eyes narrowed as he looked toward the back door. The neighbor’s voice called to his dog. “Okay, that’s just Jeb.” He scratched his jaw. “I can see you’re serious, so I’m going to go along with this. For now.” He shoved his phone and notepad into his pocket. “Get your wig on. Let me throw some clothes into a bag.” He gestured to a door in the back room. “Grab a coat and hat out of there, just to change your looks some.”
He disappeared into the room off the hall where she’d seen a bed.
In the closet, Mina found a camo baseball cap and a dark jacket that looked three sizes too big for her. When he came back out, his holstered gun hung from his belt, and he was setting a box of bullets and a smaller pistol in the bag.
She forced her breathing to slow and relaxed her shoulders. He would keep her safe. She’d have to lie to him, but that was the only way to be sure she was taken seriously.
“Ready?” He walked to the back door, glanced out the window, then opened the door and stepped out. “Let’s go.”
She followed him outside, the yard dark, only lit by a pole light in the alley. She reached behind a bush next to the steps. Pulling out her backpack, she turned to find him frowning at her.
“Ma’am, you are either paranoid as hell, or seriously in trouble.”
“Both.” A chill ran through her. “And in case you didn’t realize it, now you’re involved, too.”