Harlequin FREE Online Read: Protecting the Witness by Jessica R. Patch
Journalist Elaina Fairchild never expected an anonymous tip would lead to her witnessing a murder. Attempting to escape from a dirty cop and a drug trafficker, she literally runs into homicide detective Tom Kensington. While he quickly agrees to help keep her safe, he reminds himself not to fall for Elaina again. Although they once dated briefly, he has his young daughter to think about and protect, and Elaina takes unnecessary risks for her job. But when Tom’s daughter is kidnapped by the drug trafficker and ransomed for the footage Elaina shot of the murder, Elaina will do whatever it takes to help him get Ava back. And Tom will have to decide if opening his heart to Elaina is worth the risk.
Elaina Fairchild cowered behind a sleek Mercedes-Benz, her heart rate elevating to dangerous levels. But it’d be worth it when she secured hard proof that Ignacio Carerra wasn’t an upstanding Florida business mogul but a criminal with his hand in pots all over the state, from drug running to extortion. The anonymous tip was clearly paying off. He was here with known drug affiliates on a Saturday evening in a dark parking garage, like something out of a gangster movie. It wasn’t like Elaina hadn’t been in similar situations before. Danger came with being an investigative journalist, and all Elaina ever wanted was to uncover truth. Too many people were hurt by lies. Including her father.
She held up her cell phone, continuing to record. Ignacio stood next to a man who held a gun in one hand, a silver briefcase in the other. The air was thick with tension. She couldn’t make out the words completely, but she had good software that would pull the conversation to the surface. A shorter, stockier guy opened up a large bag, bringing out what looked to be cocaine—maybe heroin. One of Ignacio’s men inspected the bag, shook his head.
“That was not our deal,” Ignacio boomed.
A man stepped out from the shadows. Elaina recognized him. Her throat tightened and the air from her lungs evaporated. Gentry Davidson. She’d interviewed him several times. He was a stand-up guy. Or so she’d thought.
“When someone breaks a deal with me, I break them.” Ignacio nodded and Gentry drew a gun with a suppressor. Elaina scooted backward and lower. No. This can’t be happening. The bullet knocked the man with the bag of drugs to the ground. Gentry slid his gun into a holster and Ignacio’s men retrieved the drugs and the money.
Elaina had all she needed. She covered a gasp and turned to run, only to bump into a car, setting off the alarm.
Shoes slapped against concrete. Elaina sprinted through the parking garage, weaving between vehicles. The rev of an engine drowned out the thud of footfalls.
Run. Run. Run.
If she could make it out of the resort’s garage she might be safe. A car window shattered beside her. Looking back, she saw Gentry Davidson in the passenger side of the SUV, gun and eyes locked on her.
She’d been made.
Fear coiled in her belly.
The SUV behind, the goons on foot…they were hedging her in.
God, once again save me!
She darted through a line of cars and onto the ramp as another SUV slammed on the brakes. Tires screeched; the smell of rubber singed her nose.
“Get in!” a man barked as he threw open the passenger door.
Elaina blinked and recognition dawned. Homicide detective Tom Kensington with the Turtle Bay police department. They had briefly dated, but that had gone south fast. Seemed convenient, his showing up now. Could she trust him?
“Get in!” Tom hollered again.
If he was dangerous, she could always jump from the vehicle. Bolting inside, she clutched her phone and closed the door. Tom slammed the vehicle into Reverse, backing out of the garage while her heart hammered in her throat.
“What have you gotten yourself into now, Elaina?”
Tom checked his rearview mirror. No tails. “I asked you a question.” His tone came across gruffer than intended. The fact she purposely put herself in danger for fame grated his nerves. That’s why he’d pulled the reins, after a month into their fledgling relationship. It was one thing to protect others, but to risk her life for personal gain… “Who’s after you?”
He headed south toward the precinct; the April sun had finally set. The petite brunette shifted in her seat, her espresso eyes boring into his. “You tell me.”
“How would I know? It could be anyone you’ve ticked off.” Why the accusing tone?
She kept tightlipped.
“Someone tried to kill you. You need help.”
“What were you doing at the resort? On a Saturday evening.”
He pointed to his clothing. Dress pants. Shirt. Constricting tie. “I was going to a wedding.” Grudgingly. Three years had passed since Addy died, leaving him a widower and single father to his four-year-old daughter.
“Where are you taking me?” A hint of fear laced her tone. Was she…afraid of him?
“I don’t know what just happened, but I do know when guns are aimed in your direction it’s a scary thing. We’ll figure it out. I’m taking you to the precinct—”
“No! You can’t take me there.” She gripped the door like she was about to jump.
He glanced her way as she chewed her full bottom lip. His pulse spiked. He’d been attracted to her from their first encounter—it had been a long time since those feelings had stirred—and he’d asked her out. Probably shouldn’t have. He had no idea he’d end up caring about her so fast, and he couldn’t get close to a woman with a risky job like hers—not when he had Ava to think about.
At the red light, he turned to her. “What is going on? You’re acting like I’m the bad guy here. Last I checked I saved your life. I stopped asking you out but that doesn’t make me a monster.” She was a distraction. “Neither does declining to comment on cases you’re bent on nosing into.” The media were unscrupulous sharks. “But that doesn’t mean you should decline my questions. Let me help you.”
Elaina heaved a sigh. “I got an anonymous tip—”
“Man or woman?”
“I don’t know. It was digitalized. They knew a drug deal was going down at the resort tonight and that Ignacio Carerra was going to be there. I’ve been trying to expose him for over a year. This is my break.”
“And it nearly got you killed.” Proof he’d made the right choice when he’d stopped dating her.
“He’s nothing more than a thug hiding behind an expensive suit and some legit businesses throughout the state, including here in Turtle Bay.”
“Why do you have to break the story?”
“You wouldn’t understand.” Elaina pinched the bridge of her nose.
No. He didn’t. “What did you see in that parking garage?”
“A murder. I have footage.” She gave him the lowdown from start to finish. “That’s when I ran into you. Literally.”
A sinking sensation filled his gut. They wouldn’t stop until she was silenced. Permanently. He’d thought coming to Turtle Bay from Atlanta would be quieter. Safer. Mostly paperwork.
If Carerra’s men had left the body behind, Homicide would be called. He didn’t want this case.
And yet he did. Tom wanted to protect Elaina. “So why can’t we go to the precinct?”
Elaina’s cheeks blanched. “Because the man who shot the guy with the bag of powder was Gentry Davidson.”
Tom’s stomach bottomed out. “Are you sure?”
Elaina showed him the cell phone footage. “Now you know why I didn’t trust you when you came around the corner.”
“You should have known better.” That she’d think so low of him stung.
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking straight and panicked.”
With good reason.
Gentry Davidson was a Turtle Bay cop.
A dirty cop.