Dana Bailey was a woman on the run, and romance was the last thing on her mind. But when her great escape led her to Detective Kurt Noble's arms, she was torn. Whitehorn's sexiest lawman could cost Dana her freedom if he ever found out her secret--and yet he'd already locked up her heart. Could she risk her future for the passion she felt only in his embrace?
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March 01, 2010
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Excerpt from Wife Most Wanted by Joan Elliott Pickart
Dana Bailey rotated her neck back and forth as she drove, then frowned as she glanced quickly at her watch.
It was only a little after five o'clock in the morning, she thought, and she was already tired, felt as though the day should be half over. Well, in a way it was, as she'd been driving since around 3:00 a.m.
She'd been unable to sleep much...again. She'd tossed and turned, then been plagued by nightmares when she managed to doze.
The problem was, she thought dismally, even when she was awake she was in the midst of the real nightmare her life had become.
It was all so unbelievable, but horrifyingly true. In just two weeks she'd gone from being a respected and successful attorney in Chicago to a fugitive on the run from the authorities. Dear God, it was so frightening, so...
"Stop it," she said aloud.
There was no time to feel sorry for herself. She knew, just knew, that if she ever started crying over the living nightmare she was now existing in, ever released her tight hold on her emotions, she'd collapse, just dissolve into a weeping mess and give up.
"No," she said, smacking the steering wheel of her compact car with one hand.
She was going to prove that she was innocent... somehow. In the meantime, she was continually on the move, keeping off the main turnpikes and freeways and staying in small towns at night.
Where was she now? she wondered, looking down quickly at the map next to her on the seat. Yes, all right. She was about a two-hour drive from Whitehorn, Montana. Whitehorn, Blackhorn, what difference did it make? As long as it was tucked out of the way and she did nothing to draw attention to herself it suited her purposes just fine.
She needed a few things from a store, so in a couple of hours she'd go shopping in Whitehorn, Montana.
"Hooray," she said dryly.
They were out there again.
Kurt Noble groaned in frustration, then rolled onto his back on the bed. He took the pillow with him, covering his head and pressing fists into the pillow where it fell over his ears.
It was no use. He could still hear them, and he would have sworn that every one wore a Rolex watch that informed them when it was 5:00 a.m.
When he'd arrived back in Whitehorn three weeks ago to take up temporary residency in his deceased mother's house, they hadn't been there on the first day.
Then, he was convinced, the word had gone out, through some strange means of communication.
The very next morning there had been two, announcing their presence at 5:00 a.m. Now, three weeks later, the count was up to at least a dozen and, damn it, they were loud.
And right on time. Five a.m.
Mumbling an earthy expletive, Kurt threw the pillow aside, followed by the blankets, then he left the bed. He snatched up sweat pants from the floor, pulled them on, then strode from the bedroom, a glower on his beard-roughened face.
Sunlight flooded the small living room, the cheery glow promising a cool, Montana-perfect spring day in May. At the moment, Kurt didn't give a rip what the weather offered.
He entered the kitchen, grabbed a huge bag leaning against a cupboard, retraced his steps, then went straight to the front door, flinging it open.
"I hear you. Okay?" he said gruffly. "So shut the hell up. Okay? Oh, man, I don't need this."
Shoving open the creaking screen door, he stepped out onto the sagging wood front porch, his appearance increasing the volume of noise from the assembled group. He did a quick count of the unwelcome visitors.
"Thirteen," he said aloud. "Dandy, just great. That's a nice, crummy, unlucky number. Hey! You guys are driving me nuts. Read my lips. I don't like cats."
The thirteen felines were not put off in the least by their host's grumpy mood. They meowed and yowled as they wove around Kurt's feet and ankles.
"All right, all right, move," he said, managing to inch forward.
Kurt poured dry food into the row of bowls on the porch, the same bowls that had been there for as long as he could remember. A baby bathtub filled with water was at the far end of the line.
The cats dashed for their breakfast and began to eat. Blessed silence fell.
Kurt stood quietly and watched the hungry crew devouring the meal. He glanced heavenward.
"Are you watching this, Mom?" he said, his voice gentling. "I'm doing this for you, you know. You spoiled all these stray yo-yos for years, and now I'm stuck with them."
A breeze whispered across the porch, and Kurt smiled in spite of himself. He turned and went back into the house, making certain none of the pesty cats managed to follow him inside.
He drew the line at letting any of them in the house, he thought, heading for the kitchen again. His mother might not have been able to resist the beasts' pleas to come in, but he sure could.
One of the memories of his youth was the necessity to remove a furry bundle from wherever he wished to sit. Cats. There had always been a zillion cats inside and outside the Noble home.
In the kitchen, Kurt plunked the bag against the counter, then began to prepare a pot of coffee, yawning several times in the process.
Yes, cats, he thought. They were just one of the unpleasant things he remembered about growing up in this small, weather-beaten structure. But he had no intention of dragging out the remaining memories.
With a mug of steaming, strong coffee finally in hand, Kurt sank onto a metal chair at the chipped Formica table at the end of the room. He took a sip, nodded in satisfaction, then stared moodily into space.
Full circle, he thought suddenly. He'd sat at this table when he was so little his feet stuck straight out in front of him and his chin nearly rested on his plate.
Now he was thirty-five years old, and the feet on his six-foot frame definitely reached the floor.
He was back in Whitehorn, Montana, where he'd been born and raised. Full circle.
But he wasn't a boy anymore, a child who believed in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy and dreams of what the future had yet to bring. There was a sprinkle of gray in his thick, short dark hair, and the lines of a life that had not been gentle were etched on his face.
And just inches above his heart was an angry red puckered scar, created when a bullet had torn through him, nearly costing him his life.
Kurt took a deep swallow of coffee.
The discoloration of the wound would fade some in time, he supposed, as would the hot pain that still rocketed throughout him when he strained the damaged area. The healing wasn't quite complete, not yet.
But the memories of how and why he'd been shot? The emotional pain he'd suffered along with the physical? The lesson he'd learned about trusting and loving the wrong person... again? None of those would dim in his mind or his heart. Not ever. And they shouldn't. They were his just deserts for being a damn fool... in spades.
Kurt drained the mug, then got to his feet. He deposited the mug in the sink, then hesitated, realizing the sink was so full of dirty dishes that the balancing mug on top might cause an avalanche.
Tonight, he thought, thudding the mug onto the counter, he'd wash the dishes. Now there was an exciting event to look forward to all day.
Chuckling at the extent of his own rotten mood, Kurt left the kitchen, his destination the bathroom, for a shave and a hot shower.
While he stood under the shower's rejuvenating hot spray, the term full circle echoed in Kurt's mind again.
That he was back in Whitehorn, albeit temporarily, was as much of a surprise to him as it was to some of the people in town.
He'd just received clearance from the doctor to return to work on the Seattle police force on a restricted basis, which was a fancy way of saying he was to keep his butt on a chair behind a desk. For an undercover cop, the prospect of being cooped up in an office all day held no appeal whatsoever.
But there had been more than just the dislike of the offered desk job bothering him, Kurt knew. During the long weeks of recuperation, which included physical therapy, a seed of restlessness within him had been nurtured by the idle hours.
He'd finally admitted to himself that the idea of returning to work on the force in any capacity didn't evoke one iota of enthusiasm.
The whole episode leading up to his being shot had cost him, physically and mentally. He was a burned-out cop, a bruised and battered man, pure and simple.
He needed... Hell, there had been the rub. He hadn't known what he needed, but the answer sure as hell hadn't been in Seattle.
Then he'd received a telephone call from his sister, Leigh, who lived in Whitehorn with her husband and two kids. He and Leigh had always been close, had leaned on each other during their traumatic childhood.
Leigh had been terrified when Kurt was shot, had not breathed a sigh of relief until she heard him tell her on the phone that he was just too plain ornery to die.
But it had been the last call from Leigh that took him out of Seattle on an official leave of absence.
Detective Dakota Winston Calloway, Leigh had told Kurt, was expecting her second child, and had just put in for maternity leave from the Blue Lake County Sheriff's Department. Sheriff Judd Hensley was now short one detective on the force.
"You could contact Judd," Leigh had said. "It seems to me that full-time work here in laid-back Whitehorn would be equal to the restricted basis you're looking at there in Seattle. Don't you think so?"
Kurt had chuckled. "You're probably right. Whitehorn isn't exactly the high-crime capital of the country." He paused. "Although the old hometown has had an amazing amount of trouble in the past."
"That's the truth," Leigh had said, sighing. "There was the murder of that Floyd Oakley at Dugin and Mary Jo Kincaid's wedding, then Dugin himself was murdered later. The finding of Charles Avery's body after all those years was big news, too."
"Then, oh, mercy, the kidnapping of baby Jennifer," Leigh had gone on. "The whole town was so upset then. It was awful. I can remember having trouble sleeping during the weeks that Jennifer was missing. I kept getting up in the night to check on Max and Chloe. I had to continually reassure myself that my children were tucked safely in their beds.
"My heart ached so much for Sterling and Jessica McCallum while they waited for news about their little girl. Jennifer is their adopted daughter, but they love her every bit as much as I love my two children. What a party Whitehorn put on when baby Jennifer was found alive and well."
"I'm sorry. I'm babbling, and you hate it when I talk your leg off. Anyway, Kurt, all those gruesome things were cleared up in one swoop when it was revealed that Mary Jo Kincaid was actually Lexine Baxter. She grew up in Whitehorn, you know. But nobody recognized her after all these years because she'd had plastic surgery. Mary Jo, Lexine, whatever you want to call her, was arrested for the whole kit and caboodle, including the murders of Jeremiah Kincaid and baby Jennifer's birth mother."
"Yeah, she was one busy lady," Kurt had said.
"She was a horrible, evil woman, with no hint of being a lady."
"Your point, chatter cheeks?"
"My point, little brother, is that Whitehorn is back to normal. Dakota told me that no one on the force has put in overtime in ages. It's business as usual. Oh, Kurt, please call Judd Hensley. I just know he'd be thrilled to have you fill in for Dakota. You're so bummed about staring desk duty in the face there in Seattle, and this is the perfect solution.
"You could stay in Mama's house. It might fall down around your ears, but... Will you think about it?"
"Yeah, I'll think about it, Leigh. I appreciate your call."
"I love you, Kurt. It would be wonderful to have you back in Whitehorn."
"It would be a temporary assignment."
"I realize that, but you'd at least be here for a while. You'll contact Judd?"
"I said I'd think about contacting Judd."
Kurt turned off the water and stepped out of the old claw-foot tub. After drying with a rather threadbare towel, he walked naked down the hall to his bedroom.
So, he'd called Judd Hensley, he thought, his mind wandering on, and here he was back in Whitehorn for a spell. Full circle. He was putting in his time, allowing his body to heal, and hoping his mind would do the same.
He was also attempting to square off against the fact that the sense of something being missing from his life was still gnawing away at him. It was a question without an answer. A piece absent from the confusing puzzle that was himself.
"Forget it," Kurt mumbled as he dressed.
He'd done so much heavy-duty thinking over the past weeks, it was a wonder his brain hadn't blown a circuit. Enough, already.
Clad in gray slacks, a pale blue dress shirt and a darker gray sport coat, Kurt stuffed his tie in his pocket, having no intention of allowing it to strangle him for one second longer than necessary. He'd put it on when he got to the office, just as he'd done each day since becoming a member of Judd's crew, two and a half weeks ago. His gun and handcuffs were clipped to the back of his belt.
Kurt left the house by the back door, having no desire to step over and around the cats on the front porch, who would now be snoozing in the morning sun.
The air was crisp and clear, with not one hint of pollution marring it. The sky was a brilliant blue, dotted with puffs of fluffy clouds.
Kurt drove the fifteen miles into town by rote, every inch of the stretch of road etched indelibly in his mind. He handled the four-wheel-drive vehicle with ease, knowing exactly how the well-maintained vehicle would react to whatever he required it to do.
Twenty minutes later, he parked in front of the Hip Hop Caf�, which was owned by Melissa Avery North.
Kurt had fallen into the routine of having a hearty breakfast at the caf� each morning. Lunch depended on where he was and what he was doing. Dinner was his own inept attempt at cooking, which resulted in a periodic sinkful of dishes that he ignored until the last possible moment.
Kurt entered the caf�, which was bright, welcoming, and beckoning with delicious aromas.