Identity Withheld by Sandra Orchard

Identity Withheld

About the Book

WITNESS IN HIDING
After exposing an illegal adoption ring, newly named “Kara Grant” is promised safety in Witness Protection. But someone has found her—and wants her dead. If only she could trust the handsome firefighter who catches her fleeing from a suspicious fire. Jake Steele seems to think she’s guilty of burning her own home. But how can she tell him who she really is and what she’s been through without bringing danger to the widowed father’s door? Yet with the criminals fast closing in, taking such a risk might be her only chance at survival. Because the price she’ll pay for her silence could be her life.

 

Book Excerpt

Jake Steele squinted through the smoky haze surrounding the house, his skin prickling with the sensation of being watched. There. In the hedges. It had to be their arsonist. This fire had all the signs of being deliberately set. Jake motioned to his partner Davis, and they started for the hedge.

The face disappeared, swallowed by the drizzly darkness.

Counting on the suspect wanting to avoid the street, Jake beelined to the backyard. Sure enough, a lone figure skulked along the property’s edge. This pyromaniac was going down.

Jake and Davis closed the distance fast, the commotion of the other firefighters masking the thump of their heavy boots. “Where do you think you’re going?” Jake grabbed the guy’s arm.

The scream that met his grip was no guy’s.

Jake turned his flashlight on their culprit, and her panicked brown eyes blindsided him. His grip loosened.

She twisted and squirmed, pounding her free fist against his chest and kicking uselessly at his legs. “Let go of me.”

“Fat chance,” he said, tightening his grip again. Never mind the tears streaking her sooty cheeks. Men hadn’t cornered the market on arson jobs. And with five suspicious fires this side of Seattle in the past nine weeks, he wasn’t about to let her out of his sight until he found out exactly what she knew about this one.

She went limp, her fight gone. “You’re hurting me.”

His gaze shifted to the arm he still held, the only part of her he’d touched as he’d let her wear herself out pummeling his chest. His heart pitched. “You’re burned.” He jerked his thumb off her blistering flesh, sickened that he’d hurt her further.

His partner directed a flashlight at her arm. The underside was flaming red from wrist to crook.

Cupping her elbow with just enough pressure to prevent her from escaping, Jake gentled his tone. “Are you burned anywhere else?”

“I’m fine.” She tried to tug free of his hold.

“You’re not fine.” Megadoses of adrenaline had to be shooting through this spitfire for her to not so much as wince at the pain that had to be blazing up her arm. “This is a serious burn. It needs to be dressed.”

She visibly shrank at his insistent tone. “My friend’s coming for me. He’ll take care of everything.”

Right. If she thought he was about to let her walk away, she’d clearly burned a few brain cells along with that arm. Being careful not to cause her any more pain, he steered her toward the street. “You can wait for your friend in the ambulance.”

As they came around the now-smoldering building, she dug in her heels and darted terrified glances every which way. “No, please.”

Jake caught his partner’s attention and jerked his head toward the sheriff’s car.

Davis nodded and jogged off.

Jake angled his flashlight just high enough so he could study her heart-shaped face without blinding her. How had he ever mistaken her for a guy? She didn’t look much younger than him—late twenties, maybe. Her damp hair, flattened by the rain, skimmed her shoulders, but she was all girl—and very afraid. He’d expected to see fear over getting caught, maybe regret. Not— “I want to help you,” he said, his voice cracking at her terror.

Her watery brown eyes searched his as if she desperately wanted to believe him. “I can’t go out there,” she whispered.

The rattled pitch of her voice tugged at his heart. He tilted his head, softening his expression. “I’m Captain Jake Steele with the Stalwart Fire Department. What’s your name?”

“Ni—” She coughed, the crackly sound rattling through her limbs. “Kara. Kara Grant.”

He didn’t believe her, but nodded anyway. The cough had all the signs of an attempt to buy enough time to come up with an alias. “Did you set the fire, Kara?”

Her eyes flared. “What? No!” She made another useless attempt to jerk free of his grip as the sheriff and Davis rushed toward them. “Sheriff, this firefighter won’t let go of me!”

“She needs medical attention,” Jake growled.

“He thinks I set the fire! When I’m the victim here.”

“Wait. You live here?” Jake’s surprise pitched the question a couple of octaves higher than he’d intended.

“What do you think?” She cradled her wounded arm.

“Lady, you were running away. What do you think I thought?” His department had been called in to assist this neighboring town’s volunteer department. He hadn’t caught the name of the missing victim. Her name.

The sheriff radioed the news to the chief. The firefighters who’d been searching for her inside soon emerged from the house.

Kara gulped. “They were all looking for me? I’m sorry, I didn’t realize.”

“Didn’t realize?” Jake ground his teeth to reel in his tone. “My men were putting their lives at risk while you watched from the bushes. I have a five-year-old boy at home who doesn’t need to lose another parent.”

“I—” Her expression crumpled. “Please, no one was hurt, were they?”

Jake let out a pent-up breath. “No.”

The sheriff cleared his throat. “I still need you to answer a few questions, and I think you’ll be more comfortable doing that in the back of the ambulance than a squad car.”

Her breathing quickened. “Okay, yes. You’re right. Of course.”

Since she’d stopped complaining about his hold on her elbow, Jake guided her toward the ambulance. As they stepped into view of her neighbors huddled in their yards, their Thanksgiving dinners forgotten, Kara clung to his coat. Jake scanned the crowd, looking for anyone suspicious. A bulbous-nosed man stood alone and seemed particularly intent on the firefighters’ actions.

“It’s the tenant,” a woman exclaimed.

A young man cut across the yard and raced toward them. At Kara’s sharp inhalation, Jake instinctively angled his body to block her from view.

The guy raised something in his hands. A camera.

“It’s okay. It’s just a reporter,” Jake said, shifting back.

But at the camera’s flash, Kara buried her face against his coat. “Please, just get me to the ambulance. Please.”

His conscience pricked at her sudden trust, or maybe the way she trembled against his chest. He curled a sheltering arm around her. “Sheriff, I think those questions better wait until after the paramedics check her over.”

Jake pulled back just enough to see Kara’s face. His initial assumptions weren’t adding up. He scrutinized her breathing, her eyes, her skin, for signs of assault, shock, something that would explain why she’d run from help.

Besides the obvious—fear of getting caught.

Sandra_Orchard

 

About the Author

Sandra Orchard is an award-winning author of inspirational romantic suspense with Harlequin’s Love Inspired Suspense imprint, and Revell Publishing. She is an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Romance Writers of America and The Word Guild (Canada). A mother of three grown children, she lives in Niagara, Canada with her real-life-hero husband and now writes full time…when not doting on her young grandchildren. You can learn more about Sandra’s books and bonus features at her website or connect on Facebook.

 

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