Authors: Alexa Bourne
Dance Away, Danger
By Alexa Bourne
Dance Away, Danger
A Hanover Haven Novel
© 2014 Alexa Bourne
Cover Art by Scott Carpenter
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person or use proper retail channels to lend a copy. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
All of the characters in this book are fiction and figments of the author’s imagination.
Dance Away, Danger
Sensible dance instructor Tessa Gage likes her life organized, risk-free and on her own terms. When her cop brother goes missing, his crooked partner tries to kill her, and a handsome stranger claims he’s come to protect her, she’s forced to leave her comfort zone. With more dance and business sense than survival skills and no idea who to trust, Tessa has no choice but to rely on this man who’d rather be anywhere but by her side.
When carefree carpenter Matt Rylan gets a late night call from an Army buddy who once saved his life, he finds himself where he never again wanted to be—responsible for someone else. Honor demands Matt cooperate, but he never expects his simple babysitting job to test the limits of his self-control. Nor does he expect it to explode into a race against time for his very freedom.
As Tessa and Matt get closer to the truth, and to each other, Tessa learns to step outside the safety of her world to help set the wheels of justice in motion. For Matt, supporting this courageous woman suddenly becomes everything to him. Yet, his biggest challenge remains sharing his closed-off heart with her before the danger silences them both forever.
For Bob, John, Brian, and Derek. I can’t imagine my life without you. Thank you for being such a special part of my world
Thank you to the Digital Darlings for your continued support (and cheese trays!) during this crazy roller coaster ride. Thanks to the NSJA crew for following me and encouraging me when I need it most. Thank you also to Austin RWA for 12 years of guidance and friendship. Of course I couldn’t do any of this without the support and encouragement of my family and friends. What would I do without all of you? Finally, thank you to Kate Richards for pushing me and helping me make Danger the best book it could be.
“Hammer, I’m callin’ in a favor.”
Matt Rylan tightened his grip on his cell phone. Hammer. No one had called him that in three years, not since his friendship with Jason Gage had drifted apart.
A strained sigh pushed through the phone line. “You remember.”
Matt gritted his teeth and crushed his lucky fishing hat in his fist. “Did you doubt I would?”
“Truthfully? Yeah. It’s been a while.”
He tossed his cap into the half-filled suitcase sitting in the center of the unmade bed. “What’s up?” he asked, like it hadn’t been years since they’d spoken. From the dresser, he grabbed the plane ticket he’d reserved two weeks before. The one he’d sacrifice tomorrow because Jason had called to collect a debt. And regardless of what his old friend wanted, Matt couldn’t say no to the man who’d saved his life on a battlefield in a far-off country most Americans didn’t know existed.
“My sister, Tessa….” Jason began.
“What about her?”
Jason had shared stories of the teenager during breaks between missions. Their parents’ death in a car wreck had hit her especially hard, which was understandable, but soon after, Jason couldn’t shake her. She became a clingy, paranoid pain in the ass. Jason had to take care of everything for her while he was in high school. Apparently, she hadn’t learned to do anything for herself since.
Matt shuddered at the thought of someone clinging to him like that. He’d willingly surrendered those burdens when he signed on with Uncle Sam and left
permanently discontented sisters to their husbands.
Jason ripped something and let loose a string of vicious swear words. “I need you to protect her.”
Matt’s stomach muscles clenched like a vice grip around a two-by-four. He’d been a contractor since he got out of the Army, taking care of buildings instead of people, which was exactly how he wanted it.
“What kind of trouble is she in?” He tossed the plane ticket into the suitcase and concentrated on his buddy’s words.
“Not her. It’s all me.” Jason wheezed and coughed. “Tell me you’ll do it.”
“What about the cops?”
“I’m not…sure which ones I…can trust.”
Matt straightened at the urgency in his one-time friend’s voice. He’d left soldiering, left responsibility, in his past where it belonged. He’d carved a sweet life for himself, working when he wanted and taking off when he damn well pleased. He answered to no one.
“Come on, Hammer. I got nobody else.” Jason gasped in between words.
A cheer erupted from the TV as Matt returned to the living room. Which of the teams had scored?
No way could he say no. Man, he was a fool. “I’m in.” He switched off the game and headed back to the kitchen. So much for his plans to finish his packing and catch the last quarter. “Where is she?”
“If she’s not at her place, try Hanover Dance Studio.” Jason’s voice rattled like a jar full of nails as he spit out the addresses of the possible locations. Damn, the sound shredded Matt’s nerves. “When you get to her, tell her my middle initial stands for Jinx ’cause I’m always in trouble. Then she’ll know I sent you.”
Jason sucked in a breath, a sound filled with fluid and pain. The scars of Matt’s own chest wound throbbed in empathy.
“Got it.” Matt yanked his winter coat off one of the kitchen chairs, his keys off the table, and slid out the door. Frigid air prickled his skin. A fluorescent lamp next to the door lit up the path to his truck and chased away the shadows in the yard. The crisp smell of fresh snowflakes swirled around him. A thin layer of snow already covered the driveway.
“And Hammer, get...Dave...too.”
He stilled on the top cement step. “What? Who’s Dave?”
The phone clicked twice and went dead.
“Gage!” He hit the redial button and ran to his truck.
So much for fun in the sun.
A niggling sensation danced across the nape of Tessa Gage’s neck. What was that thumping? She yanked her thoughts from her to-do list, reached across the desk, and killed the radio. A low wind whistled outside the office window. No one would be crazy enough to knock in this weather at this hour. The night remained silent. Fingertips of unease released a shiver down her spine.
“It’s nothing, Tessa. Just your tired, overworked imagination.” If she had a social life like normal people, she would’ve left when the studio closed hours before. Instead, she’d agreed to stay late and catch up on paperwork for her pregnant boss. She glanced at the open office door and beyond. Soft light from the lamp in the far corner trickled across the wooden dance floor. The offices on either side of hers remained shrouded in darkness. No boogie men stared at her through the glass partitions. She strained to hear any movement beyond her cluttered cube and set her pen down. When she pushed away from the desk, the wheels of her chair squeaked.
Tessa cringed. Froze.
The studio remained still. Her brother’s warning sprang into her head; if something didn’t feel right, get the hell out of there.
As quietly as she could, she stepped to the doorway and studied the empty dance floor. Shadows coiled around the lobby furniture to her right, accentuated by the pale moonlight seeping through the window blinds. Everything appeared normal. And yet, it felt wrong.
A blast of frigid winter air barreled from the rear of the building.
Tessa scrambled to the desk, grabbed her cell phone.
Shadows expanded on the floor behind her. Her fingers shook as she pressed 9…
The phone slipped from her grasp and clattered on the tile floor. She swung around and came face-to-face with a dark-haired stranger.
“How did you get in here?” How the hell did the man know her name?
He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “The lock on the back door needs to be replaced.”
He took a step toward her.
“Stay away!” She clenched her fists at her sides. Good grief, he blocked her only exit.
“Take it easy.” He raised his hands. They were empty of a weapon, but he had used them to break in when most of Hanover was already in bed. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Why should I believe you?”
They stood still, facing each other. He didn’t look so tough in his brown leather bomber jacket and construction boots—average height, average build, average features.
“Who are you, and what do you want?” She raised her chin, throwing out a fearlessness she didn’t possess. Damn, how many times had Jason tried to teach her self-defense? Why hadn’t she paid more attention?
“My name’s Matt Rylan. I’m a friend of Jason’s.”
She shook her head. “I know my brother’s friends. I’ve never seen you before.” Even in her peak physical condition, she’d never be able to fight the man off. Her gaze drifted to the phone, just inches from her feet.
“Don’t call the police. I’m here to help you. Your brother called me about a half hour ago and asked me to come get you.”
Jason must have gotten her messages from earlier in the day. She’d told him she was working late but she’d still meet him tomorrow for their weekly breakfast...if he could make it. He’d been like a ghost the last few weeks, cancelling plans, leaving cryptic messages on her voice mail, disappearing for days without a word.
“He’s in trouble. He asked for my help,” the stranger continued.
“Why call you? Why not his partner?”
“I’m not sure. All I know is he made me promise to keep you safe.”
Was he nuts? She didn’t need the disturbing images parading through her mind of the last handsome male who’d
come for her.
Tessa was no longer a foolish teenager caught up in a rush of silly hormones. No, her emotions had to be locked away. “I’ve never seen you before, and you just broke into my place of work.”
“I knocked on the front door for a while. When you didn’t answer, I thought you were in danger.”
She’d had the radio on, but she’d heard him. Just not soon enough to call the cops.
Was she fast enough to reach her cell and dial before the man stopped her? Was it worth the risk of finding out? She lunged and scooped it up off the floor.
The stranger rushed forward and gripped her wrist. With his other hand, he plucked her phone free. “You’re scared. I get that, but I need you to listen. Jason said to tell you his middle initial stood for Jinx because he was always in trouble as a kid. He said you’d know what that meant.”
Synapses snapped to life.
A secret code buried in a childhood memory.
“Yeah, I remember what it means. It’s a system we thought up to keep me safe.” A young girl’s attempt to bond with her brooding older brother.
The man released her but kept the phone in his hand. “While you were growing up, after your parents died?”
She bristled. How did the man know so much about her life when she didn’t remember ever hearing his name?
“Yeah. We agreed to use the code word only in extreme emergencies. And anyone he gave it to could be trusted.”
Tessa closed her eyes, but horrific possibilities flashed inside her eyelids and she blinked them open again. “He’s got to be in serious trouble.”
“Why?” Rylan asked.
“We’ve never used the code system before.”
Tessa had to reach Jason.
Rylan scrubbed his hand over the nape of his neck. “As soon as I heard his voice, I knew what he’d ask wouldn’t be good.”
“There’s got to be some mistake. Let me call him.”
“Go ahead.” He held out her cell. “We talked for a few minutes, then he either hung up or got cut off. I tried calling him back every few minutes on my way, but he never picked up again.”
Tessa dialed. After the beep, she said, “Hey, Jase. I’m at the studio with Matt Rylan.”
Who broke into the studio
. “He says you sent him to protect me. What’s going on? Call me as soon as you get this message, okay?”
She pressed the cool metal to her lips. Mentally, she scrolled through her index of possible explanations and none of them was any good. Where was he?
“I can’t wait around and do nothing.” She shrugged into her coat and reached for her purse. “I’ve got to go to Jason’s.”
Rylan grabbed her arm. “No, you don’t.”
Tessa’s pulse skittered under the pressure of his grip. No man would stop her from her duty as a sister. As a teenager, she’d
foolishly listened to her heart instead of her head, and Jason had almost died. Since then, she’d learned to lock out her emotions and rely on her gut. The stranger had no chance of keeping her from Jason’s house. Her brother was all she had left in the world. “If he’s in trouble, I have to help him.”
have to help him.” He released her and pulled out his keys.
Oh, no. He was
coming with her. Tessa tossed her purse strap over her shoulder and stalked across the dance floor. “Mr. Rylan, you don’t have to—”
“It’s Matt, and no, you’re not going alone.”
“I don’t need help getting to my brother’s house.”
“But I do.”
She stopped before the rear door. “You need directions? If you’re so important to him, why don’t you know where he lives?” Good grief, he was tall, which only made him more intimidating standing inside her personal space.
“Of course it is.”
Tessa stepped out into the frigid night air with Rylan behind her. The metal door thudded closed and she locked the deadbolts. An eerie wind whistled across the almost deserted parking lot.
Tessa couldn’t remember ever feeling so alone. When frightening events happened, she always relied on Jason. Was she really supposed to accept guidance from a stranger?
“Every minute we argue is a minute we could’ve spent finding your brother. If he’s home and everything’s all right, I’ll gladly leave. I’m supposed to be at a beach resort in the Dominican Republic tomorrow. We’ll come get your car once we confirm you’re both safe.”
She stopped on the edge of the sidewalk and pinned her gaze on him, as if staring long enough would reveal his reasons for getting involved. What did he hide from her? White knights existed only in fairy tales.
But Jase trusted him. Maybe, for the time being, she should, too.
“Come on, then. Jason owes us both an explanation.”
Not ten minutes later, Rylan stood with her on Jason’s porch, silent but solid strength in the face of her worry. Could her brother really be in danger? Surely he’d overreacted when he invoked the “Jinx Code.”
“Hang on. I have the key right here.” The keys jingled as they dropped from her grasp. “Damn,” she whispered.