Trust Me

Trust Me

_She’s running for cover—and right into his arms.

After three months on the run, Detective Maxine Walker figures no one will find her behind a counter in a small Canadian town. It might even be safe to grab a beer with the sexy stranger who’s just come through the shop door. Then the bullets start flying.

When he saves her—then takes her prisoner—she assumes an arms dealer who set her up for murder has put a price on her head.

Lucas McAllister has doubts as to whether Max killed his partner, but it’s his job to bring her in. Plus, she could be his only lead to a missing biological weapon. That means he’s not letting her out of his sight, not for a second. Which shouldn’t be tough given the possessiveness that rushes through him with every touch. When the resourceful detective uses their attraction to attempt distraction, his hands-off policy is blown all to hell.

As the real hit men close in, trust is in short supply. But if they can’t trust each other, their lives—and their hearts—may get caught in the crossfire.

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REVIEWS.

Trust Me is like a high speed chase, it gets the adrenaline pumping from page one and doesn’t let up until you cross the finish line. – Joyfully Reviewed.

…a story filled with everything I love to read about; lots of heart-pounding action, witty dialogue, humor and some pretty intense sexual tension…Romance Junkies.

With a whirlwind of events, this suspenseful story was completely engaging and filled with edge of your seat action and romance. Romantic suspense fans, don’t miss this one! Long and Short Reviews

EXCERPT_

CHAPTER ONE

Babysitting a gift shop wasn’t the smartest way for an alleged murderer to keep a low profile. But then what were friends for, right?

At least that was how Maxine Walker interpreted the look on her friend’s face a moment after Sherri insisted she watch the place while she took her daughter to the hospital.

Max winced at the blood running down Ellie’s leg from where she’d split her knee open after falling off her bike.

“You’ll be fine.”

For a second she wondered if Sherri was talking to her or nine-year-old Ellie.

“Sherri—”

Her friend finished wrapping a hand towel around Ellie’s knee. “You can handle it, Max.”

“That doesn’t make it a good idea.” In fact, it was a very bad idea. Bad like the first time Sherri had talked her into going to a keg party. Only this time she could end up with more than a crescent-shaped scar on her chin and fuzzy memories of people chanting Chug. Chug. Chug.

Like twenty-five to life in prison.

“Since when has that stopped you?” Scooping her daughter up, Sherri carried Ellie out to her car. “You will be fine, but my shop won’t be if I have to close early with only a week left to go before tourist season is over.”

She stuck to Sherri’s heels, hoping her brother’s high school girlfriend would come to her senses and remember Max excelled at shooting range targets and busting drug-pushing criminals, not selling stuffed humpback whales and chocolate-covered peanuts some marketing whack-job had repackaged as Reindeer Poop.

“There could be a customer inside right now.” Sherri finished getting Ellie settled in the back seat.

“Maybe they can run the shop.”

Sherri rolled her eyes, her determined expression eerily mirroring the morning after said keg party when she had insisted a breakfast of stale beer, marshmallows and three-day-old pizza would cure Max’s hangover—and Max had believed her.

“You know how to use the cash register and debit card machine. If anyone thinks you’re slow or awkward, just tell them you’re still in training.”

This is what she got for hanging around the shop helping Sherri with stock. If she hadn’t wanted to pay her friend back for giving her a place to stay for a while, she could have insisted she didn’t have a clue how either machine worked.

“I could take Ellie,” Max hurriedly offered, knowing she’d be way more comfortable with blood and stitches than gift wrapping and customer service small talk.

Ellie made a sound of distress, a few more tears tracking down her cheeks, and Max winced in sympathy, wishing she could make her feel better.

Sherri slid behind the wheel. “Call me on my cell if you run into any problems.”

“Like someone recognizing me?” If anyone in Riverbend, New Brunswick even followed news from New York City, which was unlikely given the local Canadian coverage of American stations, they would doubtfully link her to a four-month-old story of a detective wanted for murder, at least that’s what she tried telling herself.

On the other hand, over half the tourists who waltzed through the gift shop doors were American and many from the upper east coast.

“I was talking about problems with the store. Your own mother would pass you on the street without recognizing you, let alone anyone else.”

Unless someone was looking specifically for her. She knew better than to believe cutting her blond hair to shoulder-length and dying it black would be enough to keep her safe.

“Just relax and try not to pick an argument with Dave if he gets bored and stops by later, okay.”

Max shuddered at the thought of the sporting goods store owner from across the street stopping by at any time.

Seeing the look of exaggerated horror on Max’s face, Sherri laughed. “He’s not that bad.”

“That man has his head up his ass more often than all the dogs in the local shelter combined.”

Ellie sniffed and used the back of her hand to smear her runny nose across her cheek. “Mr. Stiles sticks his head up his ass?”

Ignoring Sherri’s scowl, Max grinned down at Ellie, relieved she’d stopped crying. “Yes, he does. Your mom just can’t say it out loud since Mr. Stiles owns her building.”

Owned half the buildings on the street and took the opportunity to remind Max of that every time their paths crossed. Listening to the man yammer about his real estate prowess was as nauseating as him sharing intimate details of every woman he’d dated but turned out to be not good enough for him.

Sherri started the car. “I’ll check in with you in a little while. You’ve got this,” she added, probably to encourage Max to release her white-knuckled grip on the driver-side window.

“Okay.” She stepped back from the car, preferring not to lose a toe. Sherri had a great head for business, but behind the wheel of a car, she was a maniac.

Max waved as the car pulled away, finally dragging her butt inside when she swore she glimpsed Dave in the window across the street, watching her.

She hadn’t planned on staying with Sherri and Ellie for more than a night or two after she’d crossed the border into Canada. Two days had turned into three weeks when she found herself relaxing for the first time in months, lulled by the laid back pace of the community.

But she still wasn’t any closer to figuring out her next move, and after spending the afternoon watching the shop, assessing every person who stepped foot inside, she knew she couldn’t hide out here forever.

Thankfully the last two hours had passed without incident—knock on wood—and in another five minutes she could flip the sign in the window to Closed and lock up.

Max glanced at the guy looking over a selection of homemade preserves, placing him in his early thirties, a couple years older than her maybe.

Dressed in expensive running shoes, beige cargo pants and a black T-shirt that showed off his muscular arms, he was likely an outdoor enthusiast with a bike or kayak strapped to an SUV parked out on the street. Maybe he was part of the group staying up at the lodge that had come for some fishing or to check out the sea caves. Sooner or later most of them wandered in for a look around.

He was the type Sherri had suggested Max should hook up with for a night to relieve some tension. Tall, good looking and preloaded with the kind of stamina it would take to really wear her out, according to Sherri.

Max could think of numerous things she needed more than a fling with an outdoorsman—like her name cleared and her job back. Even if she gave serious thought to Sherri’s suggestion, she would go with someone less…intense.

She’d dealt with enough scrutiny before her suspension to be remotely interested in the kind of thorough study Mr. Weekend Warrior seemed to excel at. Everything he stopped to look at seemed to capture his complete attention before he moved on, his expression serious despite the occasional crooked grin that curved his lips.

Startled by the sound of her prepaid cell phone, Max dragged her gaze away from him and answered.

“How are things going?”

Max smiled at the sound of Sherri’s voice. “I didn’t burn the place down.”

“Not ignoring customers?”

She glanced at the tourist she hadn’t so much as waved at. “Nope. How’s Ellie?”

“She needed ten stitches, but she’s been a trooper. Especially once I promised her ice cream on the way home.”

Max laughed, but the mention of ice cream suddenly made her stomach rumble. A hot fudge sundae when she got out of here would take care of that.

“I’m going to take her home and I’ll close out today’s sales first thing in the morning. Did you lock up yet?”

“Just waiting on a last-minute customer.” She watched said customer bend down to look at something on a lower shelf. The guy did have a really great ass.

“Is he hot?”

“I never said it was a guy.” She angled away from him and lowered her voice, though he probably couldn’t hear her from across the room with the radio playing from overhead speakers.

“You wouldn’t have sounded as impatient if it was a woman. Guys make you twitchy.”

“No they don’t.” She just tended to be a touch more suspicious of unfamiliar men, and with a drug and arms dealer gunning for her, who could blame her?

Maybe the right guy wouldn’t make her twitchy at all, but she wasn’t about to find him while on the run. Even before she’d become a fugitive, decent guys who weren’t intimidated by the fact she was a cop were hard to come by.

“What color are his eyes?”

She chanced a quick glance, but he was still too far away to tell. “Blue,” she guessed.

“Liar. You hesitated, Max. You don’t have a clue, which means you haven’t even approached him to see if he needs any help.” A fact Sherri clearly expected her to correct ASAP judging by her the-customer-always-comes-first tone.

“I’ll take care of it.”

“Him, not it. And ask him to meet you for a beer afterward while you’re at it.”

Rolling her eyes, Max stared at the display of ships in bottles behind the counter. “I never said he was good looking.”

“With you it’s all about what you don’t say. When was the last time—”

“If you’re about to ask me how long it’s been since I got laid, I’m locking the guy in the store and leaving him here for you to deal with.”

Sensing movement behind her, Max whipped around to find the guy in question had soundlessly crossed the room and stood on the opposite side of the counter.

A little rattled by the slick approach, she forced a smile. “Gotta go, boss. See you later.”

“Be nice,” Sherri warned before Max hung up.

If there had been any question in her mind about him standing there long enough to overhear the last bit of their conversation, the knowing smile on his lips said it all.

 

Awesome.

Ignoring both the warmth she felt creeping up her neck and the tingling that started low in her belly at the undeniably sexy grin, she set her phone on the counter. “Was there something I could help you with?”

“I’m not holding you up, am I? I know it’s probably almost closing time. I can always stop by tomorrow if it’s a problem.”

“No problem at all.” She owed Sherri more than a couple hours of her time for giving her a place to stay without asking too many questions and promising not to tell her family where she was.

She knew Samuel Blackwater wouldn’t hesitate to hurt any of them if he thought they knew something. She’d made sure of that when she’d screwed up his last deal and left him with a token to remember her by.

“Are you sure? Because if you’ve got plans or someone waiting at home for you…” His tone was nothing more than polite, but his eyes, a deep penetrating green, were almost…hopeful?

She smiled easily. “It’s fine. But if you happen to be around tomorrow, feel free to pop in and remind my boss that I didn’t ignore you.”

“The same boss who thinks you should meet me for a beer later?” He looked down, his expression bordering on remorseful. “Sorry, I’ve got really good ears.”

“What was it that I could help you with?”

“Should I assume the quick change in subject means you wouldn’t be interested in grabbing a beer?”

Laughing, she crossed her arms. “You can assume whatever you’d like.” He wasn’t the first guy to hit on her while she was hanging around the shop, but he was the first to tempt her to follow Sherri’s advice.

Maybe if it had been another time or place, or if she’d been living her life instead of running from it.

“Can I see the small blue dream catcher?”

Lucas McAllister let his attention slide all the way down her body, his interest genuine enough to mask his surprise at finding Maxine Walker less than two feet away.

If he wasn’t caught in some surreal place between attraction and utter disbelief that he’d stumbled across the woman he’d been hunting for months, he might think he’d absorbed some of Eli’s inherent good luck through osmosis or something.

Whether it was women, contraband or intel, it always landed right in Eli’s lap like a gift from the heavens. Today though, Lucas’s luck was definitely on the upswing. That might have been enough to lift his mood if finding Detective Walker didn’t slam the past right to the forefront of his brain, bringing with it emotional baggage he really didn’t have time to deal with.

“Here you go.”

Lucas took the offered dream catcher, noting the dark purple polish on the detective’s nails. Part of her disguise? It certainly fit the slightly goth image she had going for her with the dark hair and heavy liner around her eyes. The only thing throwing it off was the pink sweater that was probably borrowed since it looked a couple of sizes too big.

He’d spent weeks learning everything he could about the woman linked to Cara Beckett’s death, hoping for a clue that would lead him right to her. Every member of the Lassiter Group, a private paramilitary unit outsourced by the U.S government for covert operations and intelligence gathering, had done their homework, but none of them had been able to get a line on Walker when she’d disappeared.

Since no leads had panned out and there hadn’t been a price tag put on Walker’s head, either Blackwater was looking for her quietly or she was dead. A dirty cop wouldn’t be useful to him once exposed. Either way, it had left them with jack shit.

The rest of the team had slowly given up, assuming drug and arms dealer Samuel Blackwater had taken her out.

Before Cara’s death, the Lassiter Group had been tasked to gather intel on Blackwater after word got out that he was stepping up his game and entering the biological weapons market. They’d been working on identifying all the players involved in an upcoming deal when things had fallen apart and they’d lost Cara.

Unfortunately, Lucas’s boss had ordered him to let it go as of three weeks ago. He would have been reassigned along with the rest of the team if he hadn’t insisted on some vacation time. The vacation time Joe had been pushing him to take for weeks.

If Joe had learned Tess passed along the tip that led Lucas to Riverbend, he would’ve had his ass in a sling before he’d stepped so much as a toe into Canada.

Lucas glanced around the shop. Was she alone, or was there someone else here with her, like the owner, Sherri, or another employee?

“Was there anything else?”

He held up the dream catcher, but his eyes remained locked on the detective. “Does it work?”

A small grin curved her lips. “You’ll have to let me know.”

“What, no nightmares you want to escape?”

An unreadable emotion blinked across her face, then she offered him that polite smile that looked as genuine as the chocolate-covered peanuts with the Reindeer on the package. “I think everyone has bad dreams they wish they could wake up from.”

“Some more than others,” he said, holding her gaze. “Actually it’s not for me. I screwed up and took my nephew to a scary movie and my brother is holding me accountable for his bad dreams.”

“Well, for your sake I hope it works.”

“You and me both. I don’t suppose you’ve got a gift box?” Or anything else that would drag this out a little longer. He needed to know whether or not anyone else would be interrupting what came next. Like someone out back.

“Sure.” She bent down to check under the counter. “Looks like we’re out.”

“Too bad. My nephew likes opening the package as much as finding out what’s inside.”

“I can check out back.” It came out almost grudgingly.

He nearly smiled in triumph. “That would be great. I wanted to check out the snow globes anyway. My brother’s wife is a sucker for them.”

“Okay then.” She moved around the counter, and although she betrayed no suspicion he had an ulterior motive for being there, she was careful to keep him in her peripheral vision, never turning her back on him entirely.

Smart girl.

She turned a corner, and instead of bolting down the narrow hall toward the back door, she disappeared into a room on the left. He let out the breath he’d been holding, half-anticipating that she would run.

A chime over the door tinkled.

So much for being alone with her. He glanced at the front of the store and went perfectly still. Fuck.

Picking up a red and blue windmill from the closest display, he ran through his options, eliminating every one that involved walking Maxine Walker past the two men who just stepped through the door.

The first one inside—tall and dressed in a green Aloha shirt—had a tattoo that wrapped around his throat and supposedly ran down the length of his body. James “Snake” Martin was Blackwater’s muscle and had been working for the dealer for over twenty years. He usually stuck close to Blackwater though, unless he was with…

His gaze darted to the second guy through the door.

 

Fantastic. Blackwater’s son.

Christ, he needed to talk to Tess. Whoever her source was, they’d apparently shared their information with Blackwater, and god knew who else. It would be really helpful to know who else might end up breathing down his neck before he got Max the hell out of here.

He was hardly a fan of hers, considering more than one person had implicated her in Cara’s death, but he could guarantee what he had in mind didn’t involve roughing her up for the hell of it. He’d bet his next bonus that neither man wandering around the front of the store could claim the same.

Sensing movement, he spotted his target in the doorway, a box in her hand. He started forward, planning an interception that began with getting her down the hallway and ended with them slipping out the back door, without attracting the attention of Blackwater’s men.

It would have worked out fine if she’d kept her eyes on him and didn’t glance at the two men who’d joined them. He had to give her props, though, since the only indication she’d recognized them was the squaring of her shoulders as she strode to the counter, closer to the men.

He knew from his homework that Maxine Walker was a risk taker, reckless according to some, and had earned the nickname Mad Max. If he had doubted what he’d read, every determined step forward would be proving him wrong.

Either she was confident neither man would recognize her, or there was some tactical advantage in heading back to the cash register. Moving to catch up with her since she’d dodged around another display to get ahead of him, he undid the snap on the side pocket of his pants where he had stashed his Sig Sauer.

Seeing as he was supposed to be fishing in Florida, using the pistol was at the bottom of his to-do list.

Ahead of him, Max set the box on the counter, hollered out about the shop being closed in a deeper-sounding voice than earlier, and bent down to grab something. He saw her dig a gun from a bag beneath the counter and tuck it in the back of her waistband as he approached from her left.

She stood, sparing him only a glance before slipping the dream catcher in the box.

“Just had a couple questions.” Snake strolled closer. “For the owner, actually.”

Max’s hands momentarily stilled, then she continued to slip the box into a paper bag with the shop’s logo on the front. “She’s away on vacation,” she lied. “Won’t be back for a couple of weeks.”

“That’s too bad. Maybe you can help us. We’re looking for someone.”

“Sure. Just give me a minute.”

She motioned to Lucas. “The dream catcher comes to nineteen seventy-five.” She kept her face angled away from the two men the whole time, but Lucas didn’t doubt she was keeping track of them.

Still, there was no way she’d be able to have a conversation without one of them seeing right through her new look.

Lucas turned toward them, cutting them off before they got any closer to the counter. “I’m friends with Sherri, the owner. Maybe I can help.”

Blackwater’s son shrugged and dug a picture out of his pocket. “We’re tracking down a missing person.” He offered the photo to Lucas.

It was the same one he had in his own file on Maxine Walker. “She’s pretty, though I don’t usually go for blondes myself. And she’s missing? Do you guys think anything bad happened to her?”

“Not yet. We hope,” Blackwater tacked on, forcing a smile that was probably supposed to pass for concern.

“I haven’t seen her around town. Is she local?”

“No. It’s an old case, actually.”

“You know, you should probably talk to Constable Herring. He’s the RCMP officer running the BBQ on the wharf today, the big guy massacring the burgers. He’s pretty vigilant about what goes on in Riverbend. He might have come across your missing woman.” All of which Lucas had learned in the two minutes he’d spent scoping the area out earlier.

Turning his back, he kept his body between them and Max. He offered her the picture. “Have you seen her?”

Her eyes snapped to his, suspicion glittering in the steel-blue depths. “I don’t think so. No.”

Before Blackwater Junior got any closer, Lucas pivoted around, handing back the picture. “If one of you guys has a business card or contact number, I’m sure Sherri would have no problem getting in touch with you guys when she gets back into town.”

Blackwater’s son tucked the photo back into his suit. “We’ll be in touch with her later.” He nodded to Snake, who lingered another moment, then headed for the door.

“You need to go,” Max hissed under her breath, all but shoving the bagged and boxed dream catcher down his throat. “Now.”

He lowered his voice to match hers. “I can’t do that.”

She stepped around the end of the counter, putting herself a few feet closer to the back door. “Who are you?”

The chimes sounded and Lucas waited to hear the door close. And waited…

Max froze. The cool resignation in her eyes said it all—Snake had recognized her.

How in the hell had Blackwater’s men found her? And of all the lowlifes he could have sent after her, why did one of them have to be Snake?

Three months ago she had figured out how he’d earned the nickname, had witnessed the sick bastard drape his albino python around a snitch, grinning as it wrapped itself around the guy and squeezed the life out of him.

But it was the presence of Blackwater’s son that really unnerved her. Samuel Blackwater wouldn’t have sent his oldest son, his right-hand, if he wasn’t dead set on getting her back to New York. She knew she’d crossed the line in that rundown warehouse three months ago, had made it impossible for him to forget her.

The same way he’d made it impossible to forget what had gone down that night. The nightmarish images hovered at the back of her mind, and she quickly shut them down. She couldn’t afford the distraction. Not when she was determined to avoid being stuffed in a trunk with Snake’s python and taken back to Blackwater.

The stranger opposite her snapped his head around, his gaze locking onto Snake. Whatever he’d come looking for, it didn’t have anything to do with a souvenir for his nephew. He knew who she was, which left him with the advantage. He also knew who Sherri was, and the local law officials. How long had he been hanging around town?

Across the room, Snake went for his weapon.

“Down!” Max threw herself against Mr. Unknown, and they crashed to the floor.

She ignored his surprised grunt and rolled to a crouch, yanking her gun out as the first set of silenced shots tore into the display case behind her. Shattered glass rained down on her head.

Damn it. Sherri was going to kill her. Thank god she’d said she planned to wait until morning to come back in.

Angling around a shelf filled with some locally crafted pottery, Max slid to her feet, catching sight of Snake. Her first shot missed, but the second nailed him in the side. Since she hadn’t pegged Mr. Unknown—who’d crawled off somewhere—as anything but a tourist, it was good to know her aim wasn’t as far off-base as her instincts.

Heart drumming against her ribs, she edged behind the counter. She dug another magazine of ammo out of her bag and tucked it into her pocket for the time being before looping her bag over her head and across her body.

Another of Blackwater’s guys could be waiting outback for her, but she’d have to take the chance seeing as she wouldn’t be leaving through the front.

Counting on the men’s view of her being obstructed by more overflowing shelves—and to think she hadn’t appreciated Sherri’s determination to use every square inch of space before now—she maneuvered behind a stack of wooden crates.

Breath held, she waited. The only sound in the shop was the occasional sharp breath—more of a wheeze really—from Snake. With her eyes on the shelf in front of her, she inched backward around the last corner between her and the back hall.

At the sound of a magazine sliding home, she spun around.

A gun pressed against her side, and she lifted her head to find Mr. Unknown inches away.

 

Who was this guy?

A ghost of a smile touched his mouth, and then vanished as she nudged the tip of her Glock against the inside of his thigh. One dark brow arched, but she couldn’t tell if he looked impressed or annoyed.

“I’m on your side.”

Uh huh. And tonight Santa Claus would bring her a cherry-red Chevy Silverado pickup truck and an all-expenses paid vacation to Maui.

“Who do you work for?” Her eyes never left his face as she heard the other two men move in their direction. She was running out of time.

Gunfire ripped apart the model ship display next to them.

“No one needs to get hurt, Detective. Just come along and your friend gets to walk out instead of being carried in a body bag.” The strained voice came from the right.

Her friend rolled his eyes, then tipped his head to indicate the hall behind him. “You go, I’ll cover you.” He started to stand.

Max yanked him back down. “So you can shoot me in the back?” she hissed.

Splinters of wood skimmed above their heads.

“Fine.” He sprang up, fired off a few rounds and then crouched beside her. “You cover me and I’ll go.”

With no way to believe him and Snake and Edward Blackwater closing in, he was the lesser of two evils. She hoped.

“Better get going.” Before she could argue, he moved around the crate in the opposite direction of the back door.

There wasn’t enough time to speculate on who he was, or more importantly, who he worked for. A succession of shots plowed into the far wall, and she ran low, sprinting down the back hall. She only hesitated for a heartbeat, unsure if anyone waited for her outside.

Short on options, she shoved the door open and pressed back against the inside wall. Outside, the private parking lot was deserted.

At least something was going for her.

She sprinted across the empty lot, digging her keys from her pocket. With nothing worth stealing in the ancient, battered pickup, she hadn’t bothered to lock the door earlier.

Breathing hard, she slid behind the wheel, jammed the key into the slot and turned it over. The engine sputtered and died.

“Son of a bitch.” She cranked the key in the ignition again. The engine coughed, almost caught and quit.

 

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

On her third try the engine jerked, shook like a bulldozer overdosing on nitro and died.

Darting a look at the shop’s back door, she realized she hadn’t closed it. Anyone who pursued her would have a clean shot.

Slamming the heel of her hand on the wheel, she glared at the console. “Start or I’m going to shoot holes in your fucking transmission myself.”

As if it understood her perfectly, the truck revved to life on her next try.

Her foot remained on the brake. So go already.

She glanced once more over her shoulder wondering what the hell she was doing. The guy was armed and knew who she was. Clearly he wasn’t in the area to check out the hiking and fishing opportunities, and if he was a cop or belonged to some agency with an interest in Blackwater he would have said so.

 

Screw it.

Max wrenched the gearshift into drive and punched the gas. The tires spun in the gravel before tearing across the lot.

Something thumped in the back of the truck, and she twisted around, not surprised to see the back of a black T-shirt pressed against the window.