Perilous Refuge (Love Inspired Suspense Series)

Perilous Refuge (Love Inspired Suspense Series)

by Kathleen Tailer

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Nowhere to turn 

When she witnesses her boss's murder, Chelsea Rogers is forced on the run. Hiding out as a personal assistant to a wealthy matron on a Hawaiian vacation, she hopes to stay off-the-radar. But then Alex Sullivan, her employer's dashing but highly suspicious attorney, starts digging into her identity—and hired guns begin stalking her every move. Another murder leaves her with no choice—she has to trust Alex to have any chance of surviving. But when the threats against her put them both at risk, will the danger she can't outrun cost her the man she's learned to love?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781460342442
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 11/01/2014
Series: Love Inspired Suspense Series
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 270,404
File size: 274 KB

About the Author

Kathleen Tailer is an attorney that works for the Supreme Court of Florida in the Office of the State Courts Administrator on dependency and domestic violence programs. She graduated from Florida State University College of Law in 1993 after earning her B.A.from the University of New Mexico.  Kathleen is passionate about adoption and finding Christian homes for orphaned children. She and her husband have adopted 5 special needs children in addition to their three biological children.

Read an Excerpt

"She's a fortune hunter, Miss Abigail. She's going to rob you blind and you won't even know it until she's three states away, sipping margaritas on the beach somewhere in a designer bathing suit she bought with your money." Alex ran his hand through his hair in frustration. Apparently nothing he said would convince his client that she had made a mistake and hired a con artist as an accountant.

He glanced over at Chelsea Rogers who was making a purchase at the nearby airport newsstand, glad that she was far enough away that she couldn't hear the conversation. As she paged through a magazine, he saw her absently rub at her cheek, thumbing over a spot he knew held a small scar—the sort of one would get from a bullet graze. What kind of woman had a scar like that? And what trouble would her past bring to one of his law practice's most vulnerable clients?

"Pah, I don't believe a word of it. Chelsea is a sweetheart," Miss Abigail replied in a matter-of-fact tone.

Alex grimaced. "I'm not sure just how she cajoled her way into your heart so quickly, but I'm not going to let her get away with it." He knew firsthand the trouble conniving women could cause—he'd been victim to one himself. And Miss Abigail had much more to lose.

"You worry too much," Miss Abigail said gently as she gave him a reassuring smile. "But I'm glad you're coming along on this trip."

Alex rolled his eyes. As soon as he had found out about Chelsea Rogers, he had a booked a ticket to accompany the two to Hawaii. Apparently nothing he said at this point was going to change Miss Abigail's mind, so the only other thing he could do was keep an eye on Chelsea personally and prove her dishonesty before Miss Abigail executed the new will and trust that she had demanded. Miss Abigail came from old money, and her estate was worth several million dollars. Alex, and his father before him, had been her attorney for the past thirty-two years, and Alex was not about to let her go through with her plans to leave Chelsea Rogers—a woman Miss Abigail hadn't even known a month before—as executor of the estate.

He glanced at Chelsea once again out of the corner of his eye. She was still at the newsstand standing by the cash register. He had only met her in person this morning, at the airport. So far she had been extremely accommodating and helpful, but wasn't that the way of fortune hunters? Didn't they do anything and everything to ingratiate themselves into the good graces of their benefactors? The lady had been constantly at Miss Abigail's side as they had traipsed through the airport, being helpful in courteous ways that only irritated Alex more.

He ran his hands through his hair, then tried again, keeping his voice low so that only Miss Abigail could hear him. "Miss Abigail, what did Chelsea say to you to convince you that you need to provide for her?"

Miss Abigail looked at him as if horns had sprouted out of his head. "What are you talking about?"

"I'm just trying to figure out what Chelsea did or said to suggest that she should be in charge of your estate, should anything happen to you."

"She didn't say a word. I have been in this world eighty-three years, Alex Sullivan. I think I've had a chance to hone my skills at judging a person's character. Chelsea is a sweet girl with a good head on her shoulders. She'll make sure everything is handled correctly, and the salary I've factored in for her to receive while she handles it will make sure she has plenty of time to find a new job afterward."

Alex set his lips in a thin line. "It's simply not in your best interest to trust so much to someone you don't know very well. What of her background? Her family? You know next to nothing about this woman…"

The older lady sniffed, then turned and peered at him intently. "Tell me the truth. I know you've been investigating the girl. Have you discovered anything in her background that makes you suspicious?"

"I can barely find anything about her, which is suspicious enough on its own. I have the feeling she's using a false name."

He expected Miss Abigail to have a strong reaction to that, but she just looked thoughtful and nodded. "Yes," she said. "I suppose that would make sense."

Alex was flabbergasted. "Why aren't you surprised or upset that she's been lying to you?"

"Because she hasn't been—not about anything important. I realize that Chelsea has secrets. She has been frightened and jumpy since she arrived. She's wary of being out in public, and she seems to be somewhat scared of men. She shared with me that she's trying to keep a violent man with lots of resources from finding her—an ex-boyfriend, I assume. There's an awful lot of domestic violence in this world, but just because she has been victimized in the past doesn't mean she doesn't deserve my trust."

Alex frowned, clearly surprised. This wasn't the explanation he'd been expecting…but he had to admit, it made sense. It even fit with the unusual scar on her cheekbone. He had absolutely no tolerance for men who abused women—if Chelsea Rogers had escaped from that sort of situation, then he had to admire her for it. But even if it was true, that still didn't mean it was the whole story.

"If she's so wary of being out in public and talking to people for fear of being found by her ex, how did she end up working for you?" he asked.

"She responded to an ad I placed in a health magazine," Miss Abigail replied. Her aged fingers smoothed and re-smoothed the fabric of her dress. "I've told very few people this, not even your father when he was my attorney, but I have a rare blood type called Bombay blood. When I say rare, I mean really rare, but of all of the people on this planet, Chelsea actually has the Bombay blood type, as well. I can't have regular transfusions during surgery, because if I get any other type of blood besides Bombay blood, it would be fatal for me. I've been banking blood in advance for this Crohn's surgery I'm having in Hawaii, and Chelsea has also been donating. About a month ago she showed up on my doorstep and explained that she had seen my ad and that she had the same Bombay blood. We had her tested and found out that her blood would work perfectly." The elder lady paused, then looked Alex directly in the eye. "She didn't ask for a job, mind you. That was my idea. Of course I was already planning to pay her for her time and effort for her donations, but once I met her, I thought she would be the perfect traveling companion. She couldn't be any sweeter, and no matter what happened in her past, I have witnessed her caring and compassion firsthand. Those personality traits are a rare combination these days."

She reached over and patted Alex on the hand. "So you see? There's nothing to worry about. Now start relaxing and enjoying this trip to Hawaii."

Alex gave her a smile, noticing the tired lines on the matron's face. He didn't agree with her decision, but he didn't want to badger her any further. "Okay, Miss Abigail. You win for now, but I'm going to continue my investigation."

He watched her settle back with her puzzle book, then pulled out his laptop. He emailed the private investigator he'd hired this new information about Chelsea Rogers's rare blood type and a "violent man with resources," then continued researching on his own, trying to find out anything he could about the mysterious woman.

He automatically angled the laptop to obscure the screen when he heard someone approach and take the seat next to him, but it wasn't Chelsea, just a stranger wearing a Braves baseball cap. Alex laughed to himself. The Braves didn't have a chance this year. They had traded their best pitcher and he doubted they would even make it to the playoffs.

The man was totally engrossed in devouring a sausage biscuit while he messed with his phone. He punched a few more buttons, then put the phone up to his ear.

Suddenly he sat up straight. "This is Kent." There was a pause as he wiped his mouth with a napkin. "I'm still in Atlanta, but I might have a change in plans. I think I found the…package we've been looking for. I just sent you a picture via email to verify I found the right one."

Something in the man's tone sounded odd to Alex and he sneaked a glance over to the side. The stranger— Kent—didn't seem to notice Alex's attention. His eyes were, instead, firmly focused on the newsstand…right where Chelsea was standing.

"By accident, really," the man said as he shrugged. "I was heading back to Chicago and came across it at the airport. I've been keeping my eyes open and searching for it ever since you hired me." The man took a sip of coffee and then dug into his bag, pulling out a sheet of paper, an envelope and a pen. "Unknown, but I'll be happy to find out." He scribbled something on the paper before sealing it away in the envelope. There was another pause. "Understood. You want that pleasure all to yourself. Don't worry. I'll take care of it." He snapped his phone shut and leaned back with a smile.

Suddenly the man stood, walked down the row of seats and then turned and started walking straight toward Chelsea. Alex tensed, on alert to see if the man would try to interact with her in any way. He had seemed to be watching her closely during his cryptic phone call. Was Chelsea somehow connected to the package he'd mentioned? She looked wary as the stranger approached, but there was no hint of recognition on her face. He brushed past her without a word, but when he walked away, Alex noted that the envelope that had been in his hand earlier was now gone.

Strange. Very strange. But perhaps this was another piece of the puzzle. He'd keep working until he pieced them all together and figured out just who Chelsea Rogers really was.

"Chelsea, do you have a pen I can borrow? I thought I stowed one in my tote bag, but I can't find it."

A moment passed, then another. "Chelsea?"

Cecilia startled. She still wasn't used to answering to her new name. Everyone in Tallahassee knew her as Chelsea Rogers, a name she had borrowed from one of her favorite novels. The fake ID with the new name had cost her almost everything from her savings account back in Chicago, but it had been worth the price since they hadn't stopped her at the airport security checkpoint.

"I'm sorry, Miss Abigail. Here you go." She pulled a pen from the side pocket of her computer bag and handed it to the elderly lady.

Chelsea felt the aged fingers cover her hand. "Is everything all right, dear? You seem a bit distracted."

"I'm just a little nervous about flying," Chelsea admitted. "My stomach is a little upset." That wasn't far from the truth. Between anxiety over being out in public and her fear of flying, her stomach was in knots.

"You're not sick with something contagious, are you?" Alex Sullivan snapped his paper closed, folded it, giving Chelsea an intense stare as he did so. "Miss Abigail doesn't need to get sick during her trip."

Chelsea startled at the mysterious attorney's harsh question. She had been looking forward to this Hawaiian excursion, but ever since Alex Sullivan had joined her and the elderly lady she was caring for, the excitement had quickly disappeared. Alex had done nothing but glare at her since he'd arrived at the airport this morning, and his fierce expressions were sending cold shivers down her spine. He seemed to be watching her every move, and his perusal made her nervous and jumpy.

He's an old friend of Miss Abigail's, she reminded herself. He's not connected to Justin Carver.

But she couldn't seem to stop the nervousness she felt whenever anyone looked at her for too long or asked her too many questions. She was sure Carver was still looking for her—would today be the day he found her?

Stop. One way or another, she had to stop worrying—at least long enough to do her job. She forced her mind back to Mr. Sullivan's question.

"No, it's nothing contagious. I promise."

Alex's eyes didn't waiver. "I care a great deal about Miss Abigail. Her health and safety are my priority. I would do anything I could to protect her. I hope you realize that."

"Of course," Chelsea agreed. His antagonistic words were no surprise—his behavior had been harsh toward her all morning. She had no idea why he had joined them on this trip, and wasn't sure how she was going to manage several days in his company. Even in his casual clothing, the attorney seemed to exude intimidation and authority. His eyes slanted toward her and she quickly looked away, even as she felt goose bumps rise on her arms. She wished he wouldn't watch her so carefully. As far as she knew, she had done nothing to garner his interest. In fact, she didn't want anyone paying attention to her, and she had gone to great lengths to erase her identity and live inconspicuously under the radar for the past four weeks. If there was anything she didn't need right now it was an attorney asking questions.

She watched him fish something out of his briefcase and then snap the latches closed. He wasn't bad-looking, she decided, even if his behavior was driving her crazy. He had short dark hair and smoky-gray eyes that seemed to reach right into her soul and read her thoughts. He was also tall and broad-shouldered, towering above her five-foot-five height like a giant. She wondered how he would be comfortable in the small confines of the plane once they boarded, even in the first-class seats.

She quickly glanced away before he could nail her once again with his ferocious glare and watched a plane taxi and take off into the sky. Despite Alex Sullivan's unsettling presence, he might actually turn out to be the least of her problems. Besides the anxiety of being in such a public place, Chelsea was terrified of flying, and had been ever since a plane she had been traveling in nearly three years ago had given her the roughest flight of her life. Despite her fears, however, she hadn't been able to turn down Miss Abigail's pleas to accompany her to Maui. It was a vacation of sorts for the elderly lady, though the end of the trip included a surgical procedure for Miss Abigail's Crohn's disease, which was ultimately the reason for the journey.

Chelsea pulled out her phone and checked her messages. "Dr. Winchester's office confirmed your pre-surgery appointment," she informed Miss Abigail. "It's set for the day before the surgery." Dr. Winchester had been Ms. Abigail's doctor in Tallahassee for years, but had recently moved to Maui where he was semi-retired. The elderly lady only trusted Dr. Winchester to operate, and had planned the trip with time to play tourist for a couple of days before she actually had to report to the hospital for her procedure.

"Thank you for taking care of that, dear." Miss Abigail reached over and patted her hand. "It makes the vacation part of the trip so much more pleasant to know that you have all the other details well in hand. Hiring you to be my companion and helper for this trip was the best decision I ever made." She gave the words a peculiar emphasis, seemingly aimed at Alex Sullivan. Chelsea wondered what that was about, but decided not to ask.

She looked back at her phone, scanning again for a message she wanted to see that wasn't there—a message from the business manager of Southside Renovations, one of the shell corporations Justin Carver was using for misappropriating funds.

The only way she'd feel safe again was if Justin was in prison…but she didn't trust the police to put him there, and knew they wouldn't take her word against his without some sort of proof. She'd had too many negative experiences with law enforcement and the court system in the past to believe in that fallacy. No, if she was going to see Justin Carver imprisoned for his crimes, she'd need more evidence than her own sworn statement.

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