Willa Marks is pregnant. Afraid. And can't remember anything beyond two months ago. What she does know is that she can't trust the police to keep her safe. So when two men--cops--appear at her door, all she can think about is escape. But instinct tells her to trust one of them....
Brandon Ruiz is ex-military. Sheriff of a small town in Texas. And Willa's ex-boyfriend. Or so he claims. Now that they've found her, he's determined to keep Willa safe from her would-be assassin. But to do that he has to stay distanced. He can't let her touch, her scent, reach him. Can't let her kisses inflame him.
He thinks if she remembers, she'll be safe. But he's wrong....
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November 01, 2010
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Excerpt from Savior in the Saddle by Delores Fossen
They had found her.
Willa Marks saw the proof of that when the man stepped from the black four-door Ford that had just pulled into her driveway.
He had a badge clipped to his belt.
She pressed her fingers to her mouth to silence the gasp that nearly escaped from her throat and she eased down the blinds that she'd lifted a fraction so she could peek out.
This couldn't be happening.
Willa hurried away from the window and to the wall next to the door. Her shoulder brushed against the trio of yellow sticky notes that she'd left there, and one of them fluttered to the floor.
Don't Trust the Cops, the note said.
She no longer needed the reminder. At least, Willa didn't think she did. But she'd left it there just in case. It was too important for her to forget something like that again.
"It'll be okay," she whispered to her unborn child, hoping she wasn't lying to the baby and herself.
She slid her hand over her pregnant belly, but she knew her hand wouldn't be much protection if this turned out to be the start of another round in the nightmare that just would not end.
The doorbell rang, the sound knifing through the room, and this time she wasn't able to muffle her gasp. Of course, she'd known they would ring the bell. And they wouldn't stop until she let them inside.
They had found her.
Well, by God, they weren't taking her back into their so-called protective custody. Look where that had gotten her the last two times.
She and her baby had nearly been killed.
There were ten notes around the house to remind her of that, and just in case that wasn't enough, the warning scrolled across the screen saver of her laptop: Don't Trust the Cops.
The doorbell rang again, and it was followed by a heavy knock. "Ms. Marks, I'm Lieutenant Bo Duggan from San Antonio P.D. I know you're in there."
Maybe he had seen her car in the garage. Or perhaps he'd even spotted her when she'd made a quick trip just a half hour earlier to the grocery store.
But how exactly had they found her?
She'd been so careful--using an alias, paying only with cash, leaving no paper trail. She hadn't wanted to dye her hair because of the chemicals, but she hadn't cut it in months and, with it pulled back from her face, she didn't resemble the photos that had been snapped of her four months earlier and splattered all over the news.
Apparently all those safety measures hadn't been enough.
"Lieutenant Bo Duggan," she repeated under her breath, and Willa hurried to grab her PDA from her desk next to the sofa.
There was another knock, and another, but Willa ignored them and scrolled through the pictures and names she'd assembled in case her memory failed her again. She found him. Bo Duggan's photo was there, and she'd added a caption: I Think I Can Trust Him.
It was the word think that kicked up her heartbeat an extra notch. But then, in the past four months, there was no one that she trusted completely.
Not even herself.
"We need to talk to you," Lieutenant Duggan said from the other side of the door. "We know you're scared, but there are things we have to ask you--important things."
Willa carried the PDA back to the window and peeked out again. The lieutenant's face matched the picture she had, but he wasn't alone.
There was another man with him.
The second man was tall and lanky. He wore jeans and a crisp, white shirt topped with a buckskin jacket, and he held a saddle-brown Stetson in his left hand. His dress was casual, unlike the lieutenant who had on a dark blue suit.
It was the second man that Willa focused on. Did she know him?
His face wasn't familiar.
He had thick black hair that was slightly long and rumpled, no doubt from the cold December wind that was assaulting them. With that Stetson, jeans and jacket, he looked like a cowboy from the Texas Monthly magazine she had on her coffee table.
His skin was deeply tanned, but she shook her head, rethinking that. The skin tone was probably natural. Those high cheekbones and features were Native American.
She frantically scrolled through the pictures again, but she didn't expect to find him. With those unique looks, Willa thought he might be someone she would remember without the prompts, pictures and captions.
"Ms. Marks," the lieutenant tried again. "Please, open the door."
The knocks got harder, and each blow against the thick wood sent her pulse racing out of control. She couldn't call the local cops. There were plenty of notes telling her not to trust them. So maybe she could wait out these two. Eventually Lieutenant Duggan and his Native American partner would get tired of knocking and leave.
Then she could gather her things and go on the run again.
The baby inside her kicked hard, as if protesting that. "Well, I'm not too happy about it, either," Willa mumbled.
She'd lived here at this suburban Austin rental house for two months now, and that was a month longer than the extended-stay hotel where she'd stayed in Houston.
Two months hadn't been long enough for her to settle in or to stop being afraid, but she had started to believe she might be able to remain here until after the baby was born. Or at least until Christmas, which was only three days away.
So much for her short-term dreams.
They were as fleeting as her short-term memory had been just weeks ago.
"Willa?" someone called out.
Not the lieutenant. Another look out the blinds, and she realized it was the other man who'd spoken. The man whose picture wasn't in her PDA. But he had said her name as if he knew her.
No, it was more than that.
He said her name as if he knew her intimately.
"Willa, it's me, Brandon. Look, I know you're probably still mad at me--I don't blame you. But I've been searching for you all this time so I could tell you how sorry I am about the argument we had."
"Brandon?" She repeated it several times, but it jogged no memory.
Who was he? What did he want? And what argument had they had? Better yet, just how badly did she need to know the answers to those questions?
Willa made sure all four locks on the front door were engaged, though she already knew they were. That was routine these days. The lights were green on the security panel box, meaning it was armed and ready to sound if tripped. Also routine. As were the window locks, gun and the multiple cans of pepper spray she had stashed around the house.
The lieutenant and his partner couldn't get in. Well, not unless they broke down the door or smashed a window, but that could happen if she spoke to them or not.
"Do I know you?" she called out. And Willa prayed that merely asking the question wouldn't turn out to be a deadly mistake.
She watched through the blinds, and she saw the men whispering to each other. Both of them also fired glances all around the yard and street. Not ordinary glances, either. The kind that cops made when they were worried they might be ambushed.
Of course, it was also the kind of glances that criminals made to make sure they weren't being watched.
"You know me," the man, Brandon, assured her. He said it with complete confidence, but there was also a tinge of frustration in his voice. "Willa, open the door. I want to see you."
Willa didn't budge. "How do you know me?"
He hesitated. It wasn't just a pause. But definitely a hesitation. She'd lost so much after everything she'd been through, but she'd gained something, too. Willa had gotten very good at reading people.
Brandon was on edge.
"They told me you had memory loss from a fall you took at the hospital, and that you were in a coma for a while," Brandon finally said. "You still don't remember me after all this time?"
No, but she didn't intend to tell him that.
Truth was, she had no memories--none--before the nightmare that had happened four months earlier when she and about three dozen other pregnant women and medical staff had been held hostage at gunpoint for hours on the fourth floor at the San Antonio Maternity Hospital. Questioned. Verbally abused. And worse.
People had died that day, and those who had survived did not come out unscathed.
She was proof of that.
The gunmen had even forced her to help them retrieve some computer files in the lab. Or so she'd been told because part of the hostage standoff had been captured on a hospital surveillance camera.
Willa had no recollection of that, either.
No memories before that fall she'd supposedly taken when one of the gunmen had pushed her down during her attempted escape. No memories before or immediately following the coma she'd supposedly been in when her brain had swollen from a deep concussion.
And what she had remembered since was spotty in too many areas.
The head injury had given her both amnesia and short-term memory loss. That was the last diagnosis she'd received anyway. She hadn't seen a neurologist in nearly a month.
She had made some progress with the short-term memory issues but none with the amnesia itself. She could have indeed met this Brandon, but she knew so few details of her life that anything was possible.
For all practical purposes, Willa's life had begun two months ago when her short-term memory had started to stabilize.
She knew the basics. She was Willa Diane Marks, a computer software designer from San Antonio. Both parents were dead. No living relatives. She wasn't rich, but she'd had more than enough money to decide at the age of thirty-three that she wanted to reduce her hours at the business she'd started and have a child. Since she hadn't been involved in a relationship at the time, she'd used artificial insemination, which had been done at the very hospital where, three months later, she'd been held hostage.
Willa could thank a nurse at the San Antonio Maternity Hospital for filling her in on those few details. And just so she would remember them, Willa had put them in notes in a computer file. Notes she read daily in case she forgot. Heck, there was even a note to remind herself to read the file.
"Well?" Lieutenant Duggan prompted. "Are you going to let us in? Because I have a warrant and I can break down the door if necessary. I don't want to do that, and I don't think you do either. Am I right?"
She dodged the questions. "Brandon, how do you know me?" Willa countered.
More hesitation. More whispered conversation between the men. Finally, Brandon angled his eyes to the window. Right where she was. As if he'd known all along that she was there.
Brandon's gaze met hers. "Willa, I'm your ex-boyfriend."
Whatever she had expected him to say, that wasn't it.
Her heart went to her knees.
The baby stopped kicking and went still. So did Willa. Her breath lodged somewhere between her lungs and her throat, and she forced herself to exhale so she wouldn't get light-headed. She had enough things against her already without adding that.
"My ex-boyfriend?" she challenged. She had been involved with this man, but there was no photo of him in her PDA? No yellow sticky note with his name on her wall? And he darn sure wasn't in her memory. "Prove it."
"Open the door, and I will." It wasn't exactly a promise, but it was close.
Close enough for Willa to put her PDA aside and grab the .38 handgun she kept on top of the foyer table. Before she could change her mind, she undid the locks, paused the security system and opened the front door. There was still a locked screen door between the men and her, but even through the gray mesh, she could see their faces clearly.
Brandon's eyes were a dark earthy brown.
And much to Willa's surprise, she reacted to him. Or rather her body did. There was deep pull within her.
Attraction, she realized.
She was physically attracted to him. Strange, because it was a new sensation for her. She was certain at one time or another she had been attracted to a man, but she didn't remember this feeling.
"What proof do you have?" Willa immediately asked.
Those rich brown eyes combed over her face, but she couldn't tell what was going through his mind. His gaze dropped to her stomach. Since she was seven months pregnant and huge, it would have been hard not to miss her baby bulge. Then, his attention landed on the .38 Smith & Wesson she had gripped in her hand at her side.
"There's no need for that," Brandon said, his voice mostly calm. There was still that edge to it. "Neither of us will hurt you."
"Forgive me if I don't believe you," she fired back.
"You have reason not to trust us," Lieutenant Duggan volunteered. "We didn't do a good job of protecting you while you were in the hospital recovering from your head injury."
She nearly laughed. "No. You didn't. A gunman got into my room just two days after the hostages were rescued, and he tried to shoot and kill me."
Willa didn't exactly have memories of that incident, either. Thank God. The memory loss was good for some things, and she didn't need that particular nightmare in her head. But she'd read the reports, over and over, and every time she would forget, she would reread them. She needed to remember that the cops hadn't protected her then. Or now.
The lieutenant nodded. "That gunman was caught. His name was Danny Monroe, and later that same morning when he tried to kill a police captain and another hostage, he was shot. He died in surgery. You don't have to worry about him now."
"Maybe not him. But that wasn't the only attempt made on my life," Willa reminded the lieutenant. "Some one tried to break into the safe house where you had me staying after I got out of the hospital."
"You remember that?" Duggan asked.
"No," Willa reluctantly admitted. "But I haven't had any short-term memory problems for the last two months. I remember everything that's happened during that time, and I remember all the notes I've read about the incident."