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Excerpt - Witness on the Run by Hope White

Witness on the Run
by
Hope White


A gun firing. A man killed. Running for her life. That's all Robin Strand remembers of the shooting she saw. With fear-induced amnesia, she can't identify the killer, no matter what the police say. The only one who believes her is private investigator Jake Walters. And he's the one who steps in to rescue her when her safe house is discovered. As they struggle to stay one step ahead of danger, Robin needs Jake more than ever. With his faith and training as a guide, they work together to bring back her memory. Before the killer can ensure that she never remembers.

Excerpt of chapter one:

Monday couldn't come fast enough for Robin Strand.

As she packed her briefcase with the printouts of checklists and sign-up sheets for tomorrow's pediatric cancer walkathon, she took a deep breath and reminded herself she loved her job as a special events coordinator. And she really did, but sometimes having alternate hours than the rest of the world was a drag.

On cue, her cell rang. She eyed the caller ID. Jenn.

"Hey, Jenn, what's up?" Robin said.

"We're waiting for you at the Five Spot."

"What time is it?" She swung her briefcase over her shoulder and flicked off the desk lamp.

"Nearly nine."

"I don't know, Jenn. I've got so much work to do before the walkathon Sunday."

"You're not at work, are you?" she scolded. "Uh…"

"You so shouldn't be there, Robin. Come on, swing by the Five Spot. Right now. I'm ordering you a longhorn burger as we speak," Jenn said.

Robin's mouth watered. "You're cruel, you know that?" She locked up the office and headed to the elevators. Being a part-time receptionist, Jenn didn't have the same level of commitment that Robin had for her work.

"You really need to come join us," Jenn added. "I got us a two-for-one deal on dinner."

Robin noticed light streaming through an office down the hall. She thought she was the only one dumb enough, or most lacking a social life, to be at the office on a Friday night. Then again the building was home to its share of overachievers like Destiny Software Design, Remmington Imports and Vashon Financial.

Then there was Robin, whose job was her life. Since she was in charge of Sunday's walkathon for the Anna Marsh Pediatric Cancer Foundation, she would probably be back here tomorrow working on volunteer rosters and donation lists.

"Hey, Trevor just showed up," Jenn announced.

"Great. My hair's a mess, my make-up is nonexistent, and I'm exhausted."

"Tough. Get your fanny down here."

"Thanks, but…" Her voice trailed off as movement caught the corner of her eye. Robin glanced into the Remmington Imports office on her right.

And froze at the sight of a tall, bald man aiming a gun at a second man who slowly raised his hands. Shocked and unable to process what she was seeing, Robin couldn't move.

A resounding bang made her shriek. Every cell in her body screamed run! But for half a second her legs were paralyzed.

"What was that?" Jenn's voice cried through the phone.

Robin stared through the window at the limp body on the floor. Blood spread across his crisp white shirt and seeped into the carpeting.

"He shot him." Then her gaze drifted up from the wounded man to the shooter.

Cold, black eyes stared back at her. Death eyes.

He stepped toward Robin, pointed his gun.

She took off like the eighth-grade, track-and-field champ that she once was. Do it for your brother. Make him proud.

Her brother, Kyle. Looks like she'd be joining him soon.

In heaven.

"No," she groaned, turning a corner. She had more to do. She wasn't ready to leave. She had to raise money for children's cancer research. And, she wanted to raise a few kids herself someday.

Swiping her card, she ducked into the break room, flipped the lights off and crouched low to keep out of sight. She'd hide in here and call the police. Her phone, where was it?

The door beeped, and her heart jumped into her throat. The shooter had a passkey? She dropped to the floor, crawling through the darkened break room away from the killer.

Killer. She'd just seen a man murdered. In cold blood.

"No use running," a male voice called out.

Robin took a slow deep breath and continued her crawl toward the exit. Think! Pull the fire alarm. That would bring help. But they wouldn't show up fast enough to save Robin from this monster.

"I like the dark, too," he taunted.

In the window's reflection she spied the guy pointing his gun under tables, ready to pop off another round. Into her.

She whipped open the door at the other end of the room, lunged into the hallway and pulled the fire alarm. Water sprayed from the ceiling as she scrambled to the stairs and hurled herself toward the ground level.

Pfft!

A bullet ricocheted off the wall mere inches from her head.

Focus, girl!

"Get back here!" the man called. "A witness is on her way down. North stairs," he said in a calm voice. "Take her out."

Hoping to throw him off, Robin flew down three flights, whipped open the door and raced to the south stairwell. She couldn't die tonight. There were a thousand people depending on her to run the cancer walk Sunday.

Strange, the odd things that rush through your brain when you're being chased by a killer.

She practically tumbled down the last two flights of stairs to the street level and threw open the door. Now that she was outside, she couldn't get to her car in the basement garage.

"Hey!" a tall, broad-shouldered man called, crossing the street.

"Take her out," the killer had ordered.

She spun around and sprinted in the opposite direction, braced for the bullet that would surely hit her square in the back.

But he didn't shoot her. She sensed he chased her, but she was fast, fueled by adrenaline.

For Kyle, Robin had said, as she'd placed her medal on her brother's trophy. His one trophy. He hadn't had time to win more.

"Stop!" the man called out. Closer. He sounded too close. She glanced over her shoulder—

A car horn snapped her attention to an SUV careening toward her, brakes screeching. Before she could react, it hit her, slamming her to the pavement and knocking the wind out of her lungs. As she struggled to breathe, all she could think about was how disappointed Mom would be. After all, it was Robin's job to make her parents doubly proud in order to ease the pain of losing a child.

Robin glanced up at the dark sky, hoping her brother would be the one to take her to heaven. Suddenly, her view was blocked by a man's blue-green, intense eyes.

"Don't move," he said. "Everything will be okay."

She closed her eyes, and a tear trailed down her cheek. I'm coming, Kyle, I'm coming.

Jake Walters paced the emergency room like a man waiting on the birth of his first child—only the woman he worried about was a complete stranger.

He couldn't shake the terrified look he'd seen in her eyes.

Or the look of surrender before she'd closed them.

He'd thought for sure she was dead, killed running away from him and into the path of a moving vehicle.

But he'd meant her no harm. He'd been on a stakeout for his cop buddy Ethan Beck when he'd seen the petite woman flee the building as if she'd just seen a ghost.

Or a murder.

Minutes after the ambulance arrived at the scene, Ethan, a detective with the Seattle P.D., had called Jake to let him know a report of shots fired at the Chambers Building had been called in by a cleaning crew, and Ethan was on his way with backup.

Jake had told Ethan about the woman fleeing the building, and Ethan had asked Jake to stay with her until the ambulance arrived. Yeah, like anything could have ripped Jake away from the woman's side? He'd felt responsible for her condition.

Now, an hour later at the hospital, Jake paced the E.R. waiting area and fisted his hand. The brunette was a stranger, and Jake had no legitimate reason to be here, but he'd stay close until he knew she was okay.

He leaned against the wall next to the E.R. doors and waited. He'd done his share of waiting with Mom as she'd fought the cancer that had taken her life.

Waiting drove him nuts.

"Jake?" Ethan said, walking toward him. Two of his men trailed close behind. "Hey, man, thanks for hanging around."

They shook hands. Ethan and Jake had grown up together, fought off bullies in their Seattle neighborhood together, and joined the army together. Although they'd been split up in Iraq, they'd reconnected after they'd shipped home and had ended up in similar fields: Ethan, a detective for the Seattle P.D., and Jake, a Homeland Security agent, recently turned private investigator.

"How is she?" Ethan asked.

"They're not telling me anything. I'm not family."

Realization colored Ethan's eyes. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked you to hang around a hospital. Go on. Take off."

"I'd rather stay, thanks. I feel responsible for this woman."

"Yeah?"

"She was running from me when she got hit."

Ethan eyed him. "Was she running from you or someone else?"

"She tore out of the building like it was on fire."

"I'll bet she witnessed it," Ethan said, his voice low. "Detective Cole Edwards was shot and killed tonight."

"Man, I'm sorry."

"Did she say anything, give you any indication she saw what happened?" Ethan pressed.

"She whispered a name—Kyle, I think—then fell unconscious."

"Thanks, buddy." Ethan slapped Jake's shoulder. "I'll take it from here."

"I don't think she's in any shape to talk to you."

"Oh, she'll talk."

Ethan nodded to his men to stay in the hall and pushed open the E.R. door.

"E," Jake called after him, but Ethan had disappeared. Jake didn't like that Ethan might plan to pressure a fragile woman.

Robin Strand. Jake had looked at her ID in her wallet so he'd be able to give the hospital a name to go with that adorable face. There, he'd admitted it. The woman was adorable with her round face and subtle freckles dotting her nose. He glanced at the E.R. door. He hoped Ethan was being gentle with her, but considering a cop had been murdered, Jake wouldn't be surprised if Ethan had a hard time being sensitive to her condition.

"You're Beck's army buddy?" asked a tall cop with a crew cut. He had a scar running across his right eyebrow.

"Actually, we've been friends since grade school."

"Long time."

"Yep."

"I'm Detective Henry Monroe." They shook hands. "This is Gabe Dunn."

Gabe nodded and shook hands with Jake.

"You were with Homeland Security?" Monroe asked.

"Yep. Took a leave of absence and decided to go into business on my own."

"How's that working out?"

"Long hours, but it pays the bills."

"Your connection to the girl?" He nodded toward the examining area.

"Don't know her. ID says Robin Strand. Lives in Seattle, Greenlake, I think. I'm guessing she works in the Chambers Tower. She had a building pass."

Detective Monroe pulled out a small notebook. "What were you doing at the Chambers Building?"

"Stakeout for a client."

Jake suspected that Ethan hadn't told his men that he had enlisted Jake's help. Ethan had called last week asking if Jake had time to keep an eye on the after-hours activity at the Chambers Building, keep track of who came and went and at what times. Ethan knew something was going on in that building after hours, he just didn't know what.

"What client?" Monroe asked.

"Confidential." Jake wasn't giving that up until E gave him permission to do so. When he'd called Jake, he'd said he suspected some kind of police corruption and needed to keep Jake's involvement on the q.t.

Monroe narrowed his eyes at Jake. "Uh-huh. What time did you see her leave the building?"

"At 9:07."

"Was she alone?"

"Yes."

"And she was running?"

"She was. I got out of the car and called out to her. That freaked her out even more, and she took off down Seneca. She didn't get more than a block when the SUV nailed her."

"We've got officers at the scene questioning the driver."

"It wasn't his fault."

"Perhaps, but there's a good chance Ms. Strand witnessed the shooting of Detective Edwards and needed to be silenced."

"Was Edwards working a case?"

"That's confidential."

"Where did you find the body?" Jake asked. "I'm supposed to be asking the questions," Monroe said. The E.R. doors swung open and Ethan marched out, worry lines creasing his forehead.

"Well?" Detective Monroe asked. "She doesn't remember anything."

"About the shooting?" Jake asked.

Ethan pinned him with angry eyes. "Anything. As in, she can't remember her name, where she's from, what day it is."

"That's convenient," Detective Monroe said, snapping his notebook shut.

Jake eyed the detective. "Convenient?"

"Sure, if she's involved."

Not in a million years, Jake thought. Fragile Robin Strand was no more a criminal than Jake was good father material.

"Doctor is calling it traumatic amnesia due to the blow to her head," Ethan explained. "It's temporary."

"How temporary?" Monroe pushed.

"They don't know," Ethan said. "We all want this guy, Monroe. We're just going to have to be patient or find him another way."

"If the perp thinks she's a witness and doesn't know about this amnesia thing, then she's still in danger," Jake said.

"Then she should remember quick so we can put the guy away," Detective Monroe snapped.

"It's not like she's choosing to forget," Jake said.

"No?" Monroe challenged.

Ethan stepped between Jake and Detective Monroe. "Dunn, you stay and watch over Ms. Strand. Monroe and I will get with the crime scene investigator."

Detective Monroe didn't move at first. He stared at the E.R. doors.

It was devastating to lose a brother in blue and frustrating to know the eyewitness was unable to help. Or unwilling?

"Thanks, buddy," Ethan said, shaking Jake's hand again. "You've done more than enough."

"Hey, E, I need to—"

"Later, okay?" He started down the hall with Monroe, turned and said, "Go home, Jake. Get some sleep."

"Hey, I don't take orders from you anymore," Jake said in reference to their childhood roles. Ethan had played an army major and Jake a sergeant. Even then, they'd dreamed of serving their country.

Ethan waved him off and disappeared outside.

Jake glanced at Detective Dunn, who stood rigidly beside the E.R. doors pressing buttons on his cell phone. Dunn was tall, husky and angry-looking. Sure he was. A brother had just been killed, possibly a friend. Jake had lost his share of those in Iraq.

"How long have you been a cop?" Jake asked. "Ten years," Dunn said, not looking up. "Before that?"

"Military."

"Yeah. Me, too. Which branch?"

The E.R. doors burst open and a young nurse glanced at Jake, then Detective Dunn. "Who came in with Miss Strand?"

"That would be me," Jake said. "Jake Walters."

"She's asking for you." Detective Dunn raised a brow.

Jake shrugged and followed the nurse. Dunn shadowed Jake—a bit too close, in Jake's opinion.

The nurse hesitated beside a curtain and turned to Jake. "We had a hard time calming her down and didn't want to oversedate her because of the head injury, so please don't upset her."

"Yes, ma'am."

The nurse slid the curtain open. "Robin? This is Detective Dunn and Jake, the man who brought you in."

Robin slowly opened her eyes.

"I'm Detective Dunn." Dunn identified himself.

"You wanted to see me?" Jake said.

She looked at Jake and furrowed her eyebrows as if she struggled to focus. Then she frowned. "You. You were in the street. When I was…I was running…." Her breathing quickened and she looked like she was going to hyperventilate.

The nurse eyed the blood pressure monitor. "It's okay, Robin." She motioned to Jake. "Please leave."

He hesitated, not sure what had just happened or how to fix it. "Sure. Okay." Then he shot Robin a comforting smile. "I'll be right outside."

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