Safe by the Marshals Side | Chapter 20 of 34

Author: Shirlee McCoy | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1550 Views | Add a Review

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TWELVE

At some point, Annie must have fallen asleep.

She didn’t even remember lying down.

She’d been sitting on her bed, reading from Ephesians, the winter storm raging outside. The next thing she knew, Sophia was patting her cheek.

“Mommy! Wake up!” she cried, her sweet voice pulling Annie from the edge of sleep.

She opened her eyes. Sunlight streamed through the closed slats of the blinds and dappled Sophia’s hair with gold. The storm had broken. The sun had risen.

And Annie was going to have to see Hunter again.

She wasn’t all that happy about it.

Not after she’d asked him those questions the previous night. Not after he’d held her hand and she’d felt the heat of his touch zip straight into her heart.

He’d felt it, too.

And, in true Hunter fashion, he hadn’t been willing to ignore it.

“Mommy!” Sophia tugged her hand, trying to pull her out of bed.

“Okay, sweetie. I’m up.” She dragged herself out of bed and glanced at the clock. She had a couple of hours before she had to meet with the attorney. Plenty of time to feed Sophia and get herself ready.

She grabbed clothes from her suitcase and walked to the door. She should have just opened it, but she pressed her ear to the wood, trying to hear voices. She didn’t want to face Hunter. Not yet.

“Let’s go, Mommy.” Sophia tugged her hand impatiently.

“Okay. Right. Let’s go.”

Please, don’t let him be out there, she thought as she opened the door. She hadn’t slept well, and she wasn’t in the right frame of mind to have a conversation with anyone. Especially not Hunter.

The hall was empty, and she hurried Sophia to the bathroom. She took a quick shower and searched for a blow-dryer. She came up empty.

She toweled her hair dry and took a quick peek in the mirror. The circles under her eyes looked like the black smudges football players had under their eyes during games. Her skin was as pale as paper, her hair almost black in contrast. She’d chosen a simple black shirtdress. Usually, she loved it, but it only made her pallor more noticeable. She glanced down. It also showcased the ugly scabs on her knees. She could see them through the thick black tights she wore.

“Yikes,” she murmured.

“Yikes,” Sophia repeated, tugging on the skirt of Annie’s dress. “Up?”

“Sure.” She sighed. She could put on some makeup before she left. Maybe pull her hair back. It wasn’t as if she was going to a job interview, but Mr. Antonio was constantly stressing the importance of how she presented herself during trial. Young. Demure. Respectable.

She’d always thought she was all those things, and she’d never really worried about the opinions of others, but the prosecuting attorney and his team were worried about Joe. He’d been a gambler, a liar. He’d borrowed money from people who were part of a crime syndicate that had been responsible for murders, robberies and drug running.

Annie had to be the antithesis of all of that because her testimony against the men who’d murdered Joe was the keystone to the prosecutor’s case. Without it, there was a very good chance that one or both of the men would walk away free.

She lifted Sophia, her palms sore and raw. A good reminder of her foolishness. She should have trusted Hunter, and if she hadn’t been able to do that, she should have trusted God.

He was in control. Not the prosecuting attorney. Not the marshals. Not whoever was trying to scare Annie into silence. She’d forgotten that for a while, but a long, sleepless night reading her Bible and praying had reminded her of where her strength and hope lay.

She just had to keep that in mind as she went through the day.

The house was silent as she walked downstairs and into the living room. The lights were off, the curtains closed. She braced herself as she walked to the kitchen. Burke should be pulling his shift by now, and Hunter should be sleeping or getting ready to escort her to the lawyer’s office.

Hopefully.

Because she wasn’t in the right frame of mind to face him.

She walked into the kitchen, nearly sagging with relief when she saw Burke, his head bent over what looked like a dismantled high chair.

“Morning,” he said without looking up. “Coffee is ready. Serena dropped off some stuff for breakfast. Check the fridge.”

“Thanks.”

“I’ll have this contraption put together in a few minutes, if you want to wait to feed Sophia.” He snapped a piece of plastic into place and set the high chair upright. He had a slimmer build than Hunter, his muscles less defined beneath the white dress shirt he wore. “Hunter should be down soon. I think he said you’re leaving at nine.”

“The meeting isn’t until ten.” She opened the fridge, snagging Sophia’s hands just before she pulled eggs from the side shelf.

“You’re meeting at a friend of Antonio’s instead of his office. It’s too risky to do anything else.”

“Risky?” She grabbed a yogurt and some blueberries and carried them to the table.

“The closer we get to trial, the higher the risk. Hunter doesn’t want to take any chances. None of us do.” He set the high chair into place near the table, brushed his hands on his black slacks. “There you go. Perfect.”

“Thanks, Burke,” she said, setting Sophia into the chair and strapping her in. “This is going to make feeding her a lot easier.”

“Anything for you, doll,” he said with a wink.

She ignored the flirtation.

Even before she’d married Joe, she hadn’t been much for it. She’d wanted to settle down, not play the field.

A box of Cheerios sat on the counter. She poured a few onto the tray of the high chair, cut a banana into pieces that Sophia could enjoy. They could share the yogurt. Annie wasn’t all that excited about eating. Too many cookies in the middle of the night.

“You were up late last night,” Burke said as she grabbed a spoon and settled into the chair beside Sophia.

“Yes,” she responded. She didn’t want to go into the reasons why.

“I heard you talking to Hunter.”

Her heart jumped, but she didn’t rise to the bait. Whatever he’d heard was none of his business. “I’m sorry if we woke you.”

“I was already awake. I heard you go downstairs, and I wanted to make sure you came back up.”

“I did.” She spooned yogurt into Sophia’s mouth, her appetite completely gone. This wasn’t a conversation she wanted to have, but it seemed as though she was going to.

“I know. Listen,” he said, taking the chair beside her and leaning toward her, his body relaxed, his expression neutral. “If you’re uncomfortable with Hunter escorting you to Antonio’s meeting today, I can do it.”

“Why would I be?”

“Just a feeling I have that there’s something going on between the two of you.”

“You’re wrong. There isn’t.”

“Not yet. But what’s going to happen in the next two weeks? Are you still going to be able to keep a professional distance between you? You’ve got to admit, the circumstances you’re in breed reliance and that can lead to feelings that a person normally wouldn’t have.”

She knew her cheeks were the color of ripe tomatoes, but she looked straight into his eyes. No way was she going to let him continue in the direction he was headed. “The only thing it’s breeding is a need for this trial to end so that I can get back to my life.”

He studied her for a long moment and then shrugged. “You’re lying to yourself if you really think that.”

“I’m not—”

Footsteps sounded on the stairs, the old floorboards groaning.

“That’s Hunter,” Burke said. “If you want me to play escort today, now’s the time to say it.”

She didn’t have time to respond before Hunter walked into the room. Fresh from the shower, his hair still damp, his face newly shaven, he looked better than the first spring flower after a long winter.

Her pulse jumped, and she looked away. She realized that Burke was staring at her and spooned more yogurt into Sophia’s mouth.

“What’s going on?” Hunter asked.

“I was just offering to escort Annie to the meeting with Antonio today.”

“The plan is already worked out. There’s no need to change it,” Hunter responded as he crossed the room and poured coffee into a mug. He smelled like soap and some spicy aftershave that made Annie think of long hikes in a pine forest and rafting trips on the river. It made her think of the vices that he’d said he’d get her hooked on, and made her remember the way he’d looked when he’d said there was something between them that neither could deny.

He’d been right about that.

She couldn’t deny it, but she didn’t have to acknowledge it, either.

“I think that maybe there is,” Burke said, and Annie tensed.

“Okay. Go ahead. Spill it.” Hunter sat next to Annie, his arm brushing hers. Her muscles tightened in response, every nerve in her body demanding that she lean closer.

“You two are getting too close, Hunter. I think it’s time to put some distance between you.”

“We’re not—” Annie started to say, but Hunter cut her off.

“Have I ever been anything other than professional in my job?” he asked without a hint of emotion in his voice.

“There’s a first time for everything,” Burke replied. “So, how about you tell me where Antonio’s friend lives and let me escort Annie there? You take the day off and get some fresh air. Clear your head so you can think straight again.”

“I’m thinking plenty straight, and what I’m thinking is that we have a plan in place and there’s no reason to change it.”

“I’m looking out for your better interest, Hunter. I think you know that.”

“The only person you need to worry about is Annie. Last night, we agreed that the meeting site was going to be on a need-to-know basis. Only one person needs to know where it’s taking place. Three if you count Antonio and his friend. Until we find our leak, this is the way things have to be.”

“Yeah, but—”

“You came up with the idea, Burke. Not me.”

“That was before...” His voice trailed off and he shook his head.

“What?” Hunter pressed.

“Nothing. I just thought I’d help you out, but if you don’t want it, I’m cool with taking the morning off.” Burke switched gears easily, his hard expression changing to one of easy acceptance.

Annie wasn’t sure he was as content with the outcome of the argument as he pretended to be, but both men let the subject drop.

“Are you ready to head out once Serena gets here?” Hunter turned his attention to Annie, his dark eyes blazing.

“Yes. How long do you think we’ll be gone?”

“A couple of hours,” he replied, taking a sip of coffee and grabbing a handful of blueberries from the container.

“I should probably make Sophia’s lunch and put it in the fridge. That way Serena won’t have to worry—”

“Too late,” Burke broke in. “She’s pulling into the driveway. Better get your purse so you can get out of here.”

She almost argued, but the two men were staring each other down, and she honestly didn’t want to hear them argue about her or the case.

“I’ll be right back, Sophia,” she said, dropping a kiss on her daughter’s head and hurrying from the room.

Hunter waited until the sound of Annie’s footsteps faded away, then he turned to Burke.

“What was that all about?” he demanded, glad to see that Burke had the decency to look embarrassed.

“I’m just trying to protect you, Hunter. You’re letting this case get to you.”

“The way you let the Simmons case get to you?” Burke had fallen hard for the witness in that case. He hadn’t broken protocol, but he’d come close, and they’d both known it.

When Audrey Simmons finally testified against her ex-husband, she’d gone deep into witness protection. As far as Hunter knew, that had been the end of things. He was sure that Burke would have liked more, though.

“That is exactly why I’m trying to protect you,” Burke admitted. “I don’t want you to make my mistake.”

“Don’t worry. Things are under control.”

“I hope so,” Burke muttered as Serena walked in through the laundry room.

“Everything okay in here?” she asked, her gaze jumping from Hunter to Burke and back again.

“Fine. We were just discussing today’s logistics.”

“Oh, I thought maybe you were talking about the new guy.” She poured herself some coffee. She’d chosen jeans and a T-shirt for babysitting duty and had pulled her hair into a ponytail.

“You mean Da...” Burke’s voice trailed off.

“Yes. I mean Daniel’s replacement,” she said as if it didn’t bother her.

Hunter knew it did. “We haven’t made any decisions about who that’s going to be yet, Serena. Once we do, you’ll be the first to know.”

“You’re considering Colton Philips, aren’t you?”

“His name has come up.” Colton had been working for the marshals for a while. He had a reputation for getting jobs done. He also had a reputation for doing things his way.

“And?” she demanded.

“I’m going to talk to him, but I don’t think he’ll be a good fit. He’s moved around a lot. Seems to have a reputation for skirting the rules.”

“Definitely not your kind of team member,” Burke said, his shoulder against the wall, his arms crossed. He still didn’t seem all that happy. Maybe he had a thing for Annie. Something that went beyond just natural concern for a witness.

If so, Hunter couldn’t say he blamed him.

He still wasn’t going to switch the plan. “Would he be your kind?”

“No,” Burke admitted. “I may do things my own way sometimes, but I’m not into the maverick type. They’re not good for team building.”

“Agreed. I’ll keep you guys posted.” He glanced at his watch. “I need to get Annie and head out.”

He was halfway through the living room when the floor at the top of the stairs creaked. He knew Annie was on her way down, but he walked to the staircase anyway.

She’d hooked her purse over her shoulder and pulled her hair into a high ponytail that brushed her nape. Head down, eyes focused on a piece of paper she was holding, she seemed oblivious to his presence.

“Ready?” he asked, and she jumped.

“I didn’t realize you were there,” she said with a little laugh.

“I wasn’t trying to make a secret of it. What are you studying? Notes for the trial?”

“No. I’m prepared for that. I’m just...” Her cheeks went three shades of red, and she folded the paper and shoved it into her purse.

“What?”

“Reminding myself why I’m doing this.”

“Going to talk to Steven Antonio?”

“Testifying.”

He didn’t say anything as he led her into the kitchen.

He was curious, though.

He wanted to know what was on the paper.

He waited while she kissed Sophia goodbye and gave Serena instructions that probably wouldn’t be followed. Serena would do her own thing with Sophia, and that would be fine. As long as the little girl was safe and happy, Hunter didn’t see any harm in that.

Once she was finished, he cupped her elbow and led her into the garage. He unlocked the door to the SUV, and she slid into the passenger seat. He was uncomfortably aware of her presence. He took his time getting into the SUV, letting the cold garage cool his blood and refocus his thoughts.

He had a job to do, and he needed to get it done.

Until he did, nothing else could matter.

Comments

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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