Lola Bridges witnesses the murder of a US Marshall and runs. Jared is tasked with finding her and compelling her to testify no matter the consequences. He's determined to have justice for his fallen partner and Lola is just as determined to stay alive.
The unexpected passion that burns between them causes both to take risks they never anticipated making and Jared learns the truth of his partner's murder. He's forced to put his faith and trust in a long-legged showgirl from Vegas in order to get the justice he desperately wants.
Blood. It was the only thing she could think, the only thing she could see. It contrasted vividly against the white carpet of Phil Moretti’s executive office. Anthony Gallo lay bleeding to death on the floor in front of her. Horrified but trying to be brave, she left the bathroom where she’d been hiding and went to him.
His head had moved slightly; words and blood spilled from his mouth. “Run, Lola.”
“I’ll call someone.” She grasped his hand in panicky fingers.
“No. I’m dead already. You have to run.” He pressed a digital recorder into her hand. “Go.”
“I can’t leave you like this. I can’t.”
“Run, damn you.”
* * * * *
Lola bolted upright in bed and drew in a ragged breath. She took in all four walls of her studio apartment in one swift glance, looked at the door and relaxed. Pushing aside the covers, she crawled from the single bed and walked into the tiny closet that served as the bathroom. The reflection of her face in the mirror gave her no illusions. She looked like what she was, a woman who’d been on the run for a year. Her hair needed trimming, her skin was dull, and her full lips were prominent on her face. Brushing fingers that used to be soft over the dark circles under her eyes, she wondered if she’d ever be safe.
The Zodiac Hotel and Casino was her past; today she was Mandy Barrister. Sweet, unaffected Mandy Barrister who worked two shifts a day waiting tables, flirted with the customers, and never took more than a tip. Her boss would have told you she was a model employee, if you could get him to admit she worked for him.
She’d worked at Sid’s Café in downtown Chicago for three months, off the books. One look at her face and hard-hearted Sid would have agreed to anything. He figured she was running from an ex-husband or lover. Little did he know that she was running from a mobster named Phil Moretti. Maybe he would have still hired her, but Lola didn’t take chances. She’d stuck to the same story with every city she’d been in. It was easier to answer to now; a part of her could almost forget that she wasn’t Mandy Barrister from Miami.
* * * * *
“Hey, what’s your sign?”
Lola turned and grinned. “Oscar, that line is a bit outdated.”
Oscar tapped his newspaper. “Come on, play a little.”
She topped off his coffee and replied with a smile. “I’m a Cancer.”
Oscar ran his finger down the column of the paper. “Let’s see...ah...sounds good. With the sun rising in your house, romance is in the air. A man will enter your life and take your problems for his. Sit back and enjoy. He’ll be a keeper.” He grinned. “See? It’s in the stars, Mandy. So when are you going to run away with me?”
She offered him a friendly smile, cleared his area of the counter efficiently, and pretended to think over his offer. “Oscar, you’ve got grandchildren older than me!”
Lola pocketed tips from two other place settings along the counter. Sid’s Café was small and chic; it catered to both the young and the old. Lola moved around the renovated streetcar easily, working and making the money she would need to disappear again. The customers flirted but never went too far. They knew better than to hassle a waitress at Sid’s.
She was twenty minutes into a ten-hour shift, and already her feet were starting to ache. Although, if she were honest with herself, her feet hadn’t really stopped hurting from her last shift. Taking the opportunity to rest, she leaned against the counter and watched the tables that were still occupied. “Sid, I don’t know how you talked me into the graveyard shift.”
Sid grinned. “I can always count on you, kid. Money talks.”
She nodded and chewed her gum thoughtfully. “So, what’s up Sid?”
He was nervous and had been since she’d walked through the door. “I think it’s time you moved on.”
Lola’s swallowed. “What do you mean?”
“I mean there was a man here passing around your picture. ’Cept he wasn’t calling you Mandy. Gotta figure your man’s catching up with you.”
She forced herself to remain still and calm. “What did you tell him?”
“That I didn’t know you, but I think he’ll be back. I don’t lie worth a damn.”
She knew that. In fact, everyone knew Sid couldn’t lie to save his own skin. It was one reason she trusted him, and had trusted him the five months she’d been in Chicago.
“What did he look like?”
“Like a cop or an ex-cop working on the side.” Sid sighed. “Look, kid, are you in legal trouble?”
Sucking in a deep breath, she met Sid’s gaze. “No. I didn’t break any laws.”
“Are you in the kind of trouble that could get you killed?”
She wanted to lie but didn’t. “Yes.”
* * * * *
“Sid, she’s a beautiful woman. I can see how you’d want to protect her.”
Sid sat back in the booth and studied the man in front of him. “She’s a good and decent woman. I told you she’s gone. She left after I told her you’d been here.”
“You told me this morning that you’d never seen her before,” Jared snapped and then rubbed his face. “She’s in trouble, serious trouble. If I don’t catch up with her first she’s going to be killed.”
“She’s gone. I don’t know where she is.”
Jared eyed the man wearily and then reached into his jacket and pulled out his shield. “I’m a U.S. Marshal. Lola Bridges witnessed the murder of my partner. She’s the only witness to his murder. Instead of doing what she could to save him, she ran, and I’ll be damned if she’ll let the bastard who killed him get away with it.”
“She isn’t the sort who would let a man die.”
“He bled to death.”
“You don’t know her. I do.”
“You didn’t even know her real name until I showed up.” Jared ground out between clenched teeth and then left the booth. “If you care about her, you’ll tell me where she’s going. I want justice, but the other men searching for her just want her blood.”
He turned away from Sid and started to leave. A pair of curious eyes followed him so closely that he paused and walked back to the older man. “Good evening.”
“You scared our Mandy off,” Oscar muttered. “Don’t know if I want to talk to you.”
“Her real name is Lola.” Jared slipped up onto a stool beside him. “She was a showgirl.”
Oscar chuckled at Jared’s unintentional reference to the song. “Yes. She’s a beautiful woman.”
“Yep, saw her three or four times in Vegas. I even saw her first show as a headliner. When I came in here and saw her behind the counter, my poor old heart nearly gave out.”
“There is a three-hundred thousand dollar reward for her capture,” Jared said in shock.
Oscar snorted. “Damned insulting if you ask me. A woman like that? Hell, maybe a million.”
Jared couldn’t help but laugh. “I see.”
Oscar straightened out his paper. “What’s your sign?”
Jared glanced at the paper. “Scorpio.”
“Oh yeah? Sex god of the Zodiac...” He tapped the paper. “Fate will play on the path of your life and give you the only gift that matters. Cherish it and be happy.”
Grinning, Jared slid off the stool. “Only thing I’m interested in crossing on my path is a long-legged showgirl from Texas.”
* * * * *
Lola zipped up her duffel bag, grabbed her teddy bear, and took one last look around the apartment she’d been living in for four months. It hadn’t been a bad place, far better than some of the places she’d ended up. Shaking aside weariness, she shouldered the bag and walked quickly toward to the door before she could give into the urge to get some sleep.
A banging fist connected with the door before she could reach it, and she stumbled backward, startled. Grimacing at the crashing lamp, she stilled as the fist banged again. “U.S. Marshal, open the door.”
Lola tightened her grip on the teddy bear and hurried across the small space to the window. She had the window up far enough to squeeze out of it when the man broke through the flimsy excuse of a door she considered her protection. Cursing the small space, she gripped the bars of the fire escape and pulled hard.
The man grabbed her by the ankle and jerked her back into the room as if she weighed nothing and tossed her on her back. Startled, she was still for an instant, then she kicked out against him and sent him sprawling. Grabbing the bear and the bag, she made a run for the door. He tackled her, and they both hit the floor with a dull thud.
Holding her down, he straddled her hips and glared. “You are under arrest for obstruction of justice, depraved indifference to human life, and for generally pissing me off.”
Lola struggled under him. “Get off me, bastard.”
“Resisting arrest isn’t going to add to your less-than-sterling image in my book.”
“Do you have a badge, or do you physically abuse strange women like this for kicks?”
Jerking her roughly upward, so they were eye to eye. “You are no stranger to me, Lola.”
“Badge,” Lola ground out through her teeth.
“We’re both going to get up, and you aren’t going to try to run.”
Lola nodded and grimaced when he stood and pulled her up with him. With a less than gentle shove, he pushed her into a chair and tossed his badge in her lap.
Lola wet her lips as she opened the badge case and stared. “Jared Copeland.” She glanced at her door, which was half-open. He took the nonverbal clue and walked to the door to shut it.
Carefully, she closed the case and handed it to him.
“I’m not guilty of anything you are trying to arrest me for.”
“You are Lola Bridges.”
“You witnessed the murder of U.S. Marshal John Castor in August of last year. You were seen leaving the Zodiac Hotel and Casino, and you are currently number one on Phil Moretti’s hit list. You tell me if I missed anything.”
“His name was John?” Lola asked softly. “He was nice to me, didn’t try to get too friendly. A lot of the other security men were just waiting to cop a feel.”
“John Castor. He was married, and his wife gave him a son six days after she buried him.” Jared sucked in a breath. “You left him to die.”
“There was nothing I could do,” Lola finally said. “I was in the bathroom when Phil and another man entered the office....” She trailed off. She could tell that nothing she said would matter to him. “I’m not going to testify.”
“You’ll testify, or you’ll go to jail.”
“Anthony was shot....” She closed her eyes and corrected herself. “John had eight bullets in him.”
“Eight,” Lola responded in hard voice. “Trust me. The sound of each one of them being fired will be with me for the rest of my life.”
“Get your bag. We’re leaving.”
Lola stood and walked to the bag. She picked up the teddy bear with shaking hands. “I thought if someone caught up with me, it would be better if it was law enforcement.” She looked at him then. “But in the end, I guess it doesn’t matter. You want me dead just as much as they do. At least they’re honest about it.”