Excerpt for The Protectors Series Boxed Set (Books 1-3) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

THE PROTECTORS BOXED SET

containing

Safe Haven, Book One

Just Breathe, Book Two

Always, Book Three

Excerpt from The Promise, Book Four


by Leeanna Morgan

Smashwords Edition

ISBN: 978-0-9941355-0-6


For more information about this author, visit:

www.leeannamorgan.com

Copyright © 2017 Leeanna Morgan



This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is co-incidental.

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the US Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior permission of the author.


Other Contemporary Romances by Leeanna Morgan

(All series are linked)


Montana Brides:

Book 1: Forever Dreams (Gracie and Trent)

Book 2: Forever in Love (Amy and Nathan)

Book 3: Forever After (Nicky and Sam)

Book 4: Forever Wishes (Erin and Jake)

Book 5: Forever Santa: a Montana Brides Christmas Novella

Book 6: Forever Cowboy (Emily and Alex)

Book 7: Forever Together (Kate and Dan)

Book 8: Forever and a Day (Sarah and Jordan)


The Bridesmaids Club:

Book 1: All of Me (Tess and Logan)

Book 2: Loving You (Annie and Dylan)

Book 3: Head Over Heels (Sally and Todd)

Book 4: Sweet on You (Molly and Jacob)


Emerald Lake Billionaires:

Book 1: Sealed with a Kiss (Rachel and John)

Book 2: Playing for Keeps (Sophie and Ryan)

Book 3: Crazy Love (Holly and Daniel)

Book 4: One And Only (Elizabeth and Blake)


The Protectors:

Book 1: Safe Haven (Hayley and Tank)

Book 2: Just Breathe (Kelly and Tanner)

Book 3: Always (Mallory and Grant)

Book 4: The Promise (Ashley and Matthew)

Book 5: Coming Home (Mia and Stan)

Book 6: The Gift (Hannah and Brett)

Book 7: The Wish (Claire and Jason)




About this Book


With these hands I will hold you

With this heart I will love you

With my life I will protect you


Tank has spent his life protecting people. He works for one of the most successful security companies in the world, makes more money than most people see in a lifetime, and has a past that no one can ever know about.


Hayley Elliott will do anything to keep her mom safe. Her sister has found a cure for Alzheimer’s and their mom is living proof that the supplement works. Hiding from the people looking for the supplement’s formula is impossible. When the threat to their lives becomes deadly, she has no option but to trust a man who’s living with a secret more dangerous than her own.


With more at stake than their own lives, Tank and Hayley have to decide what is more important—protecting the past or risking everything for love.


Safe Haven is the first book in The Protectors Series, but can easily be read as a standalone. All of my series are linked, so if you meet a character you like, you could find them in another book. If you have read, Playing For Keeps, you would have met Hayley and Tank as Sophie, Hayley’s sister, tries to keep everyone safe from the people looking for the supplement. Safe Haven is Hayley and Tanks story. For news of my latest releases, please visit leeannamorgan.com and sign up for my newsletter. Happy reading!





Dedication


To Michael Hauge

For your wisdom, honesty, and graciousness


Thank you


CHAPTER ONE


“Someone’s found us, Sophie. Mom and I have to leave.” Hayley looked across the manicured lawn of the dementia unit. She was in trouble. If anyone overheard her phone call to her sister, it could make her life even more difficult.

“But you’ve only been in Fort Wayne for three weeks. They can’t have found you so quickly.”

“I don’t know how they found us in Indiana, but they’re here. Someone followed me when I drove mom home from the library.”

“Are you sure they were following you? They could have been going in the same direction.”

“We were definitely being followed, but that’s not the only thing that happened. A man came into the nursing home this afternoon. He wanted to speak to mom.”

She heard her sister’s sharp intake of breath. “Did he see her?”

“He didn’t get anywhere near her. There are strict rules about who can visit the patients.”

“But he knows you’re there?”

“Yes.”

“This isn’t good.” Sophie sounded as worried as Hayley was. “Did you find out who he was?”

“He didn’t tell the receptionist anything about himself, apart from being a phony long-lost cousin. I tried finding someone who could access the security footage, but it’s Sunday. The admin staff won’t be here until tomorrow morning.”

“I’m sorry,” Sophie said. “I shouldn’t have said anything about the dietary supplement to my professor.”

“You’ve found something that could help people with Alzheimer’s. You had to tell him. It’s not your fault he couldn’t be trusted. We’re okay for now, but I’m not taking any chances. We’re leaving tonight.”

“Don’t leave until tomorrow morning. Someone followed me yesterday. I’ve spoken to the owner of a security company because I was worried about you. He’s sending one of his team to Fort Wayne.”

Hayley focused on the vehicles in the parking lot. She wanted to believe Sophie, she really did. But after six weeks of being terrified that someone would find them, she’d had enough.

“I don’t know if we’ve got time to wait for help.”

“You’re safer in the dementia unit than driving on the road.”

“I need to get mom away from here.” Hayley took a deep breath and tried to calm her racing heart. A young woman crossed the parking lot and headed in her direction. “I have to go. I’ll text you when I find somewhere safe to stay.”

Hayley disconnected the call and walked swiftly across to Angelique. “Were you able to download the security footage?”

“I can’t access it, but I’ve called in a favor from another staff member. He’ll be here in an hour.”

“Thank you.” Hayley hugged Angelique.

“You’re welcome, but I don’t know why you can’t go to the police. You haven’t done anything wrong.”

“I can’t risk anything happening to mom. The police won’t do anything until whoever’s following us breaks the law. She could get hurt while I wait for the police to do something.”

Angelique walked back with her to the nursing home. “What are you going to do?”

Hayley looked at the building where she thought they’d be safe. “Pack our bags and leave.”


***

Tank looked at the exterior of Woodview, a nursing home on the outskirts of Fort Wayne. He didn’t usually meet clients at nursing homes, but it didn’t matter. It was no different from a consulate in Taiwan or a hotel in Kabul. When someone needed help, he was paid to look after them.

He glanced at the background information he’d been given. Hayley Elliott was a twenty-eight-year-old nurse who worked in the building in front of him. Her mother, Alice Elliott, was an advanced Alzheimer’s patient at the same facility.

His assignment was simple—bring them back to Montana.

Their seats were booked on the next flight out of Fort Wayne. When they arrived in Bozeman, he’d drive them to Emerald Lake. In five hours, Hayley would be drinking coffee with her sister and mom, sharing stories about their adventure in Indiana.

For him, it was a matter of case closed and onto the next one.

But Hayley Elliott obviously had other ideas. For the last few minutes she’d been throwing suitcases into her car. She was in a hurry.

He glanced at the other vehicles in the parking lot before getting out of his SUV. He didn’t want to scare her, so he made as much noise as he could.

She moved one of the suitcases around, then reached for her jacket.

He was only a few feet away from her but she still hadn’t noticed him. It was no wonder she needed protection. He cleared his throat. “Hayley Elliott? I’m—”

She spun on her feet, her arm stiff and straight.

Damn. He twisted sideways, blocked her with his forearm, but not quick enough to miss the pepper spray aimed at his face.

The pain nearly blinded him. He moved forward, grabbing her as she ran around the side of her car.

Instead of pulling away, she stepped into his arms and kneed him in the groin.

He swore something fierce, turned her around and pushed her against the side of the car, trapping her between the cold metal and his aching body.

“Let me go,” she screamed. “Help! I need help!”

“I am the help,” he ground out. “Your sister sent me.”

Hayley didn’t stop twisting and turning. “You’re lying. Get off me you big oaf.”

“Your sister is Sophie Elliott. She works at Emerald Lake with Ryan Evans.”

“Anyone with half a brain could have looked that up on the Internet. Tell me something the rest of the world doesn’t know.”

“She’s discovered a treatment for people with Alzheimer’s. It’s not patented.”

Hayley stopped moving. She sucked in a lungful of air. “Keep talking.”

“John Fletcher owns the security company where I work. Your sister asked us to bring you and your mom back to Bozeman. If I didn’t think you’d spray me again, I’d give you my phone to call him.”

She relaxed against her car. “I don’t know who John Fletcher is, but I believe you.”

Tank wasn’t taking any chances. He blinked hard, trying to force the spray out of his eyes. “Where’s the pepper spray?”

“I don’t know. You knocked it out of my hand.”

There was no point looking for it. He couldn’t see anything.

“I’m sorry for spraying you.”

He grunted. “Kneeing me in the groin didn’t help, either.”

“Are you okay?”

He let go of her wrists and stepped away from the car. “My face feels like it’s on fire and other parts of my body aren’t much better.” If he rubbed his eyes he’d be in even more pain. He leaned forward, resting his hands on his knees.

“I’ve got some ice inside. You could…you know…”

“I’ll be okay,” he muttered.

“It will help with the swelling.”

Tank didn’t want to think about what his body was doing. “As soon as I can see, I’m taking you and your mom to the airport. We’re going to Bozeman.”

“Not on a plane, we’re not.”

He bit back a reply. “We’re flying to Bozeman tonight.”

“Mom can’t fly. She gets really agitated.”

“How agitated?”

“Enough for the airline staff to stop her getting on a plane. It’s her Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t like the noise the engines make.”

“Is your mom okay traveling in a car?”

“Yes.”

He stood up and held back a groan. “It looks as though we’re switching to plan B. We’ll drive to Bozeman.”

Hayley sighed. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”

Tank frowned. He thought he did, but a five-foot-eight blonde with a can of pepper spray had surprised him.

And that hadn’t happened in years.


***

Hayley squirted another cotton ball with baby shampoo.

“This is ridiculous,” Tank muttered. “We’re wasting time.”

“Stop moving. You can hardly see out of your eyes. If we don’t dissolve the pepper spray, we’ll be here for a lot longer.”

Alice, Hayley’s mom, came to inspect what she was doing to their bodyguard’s face. “You smell lovely.”

Tank opened his eyes and frowned.

Hayley bit back a smile. He did smell nice, but she wasn’t going to comment on what he didn’t want to hear. Convincing him to sit still for long enough to remove the pepper spray had been hard enough. Agreeing with her mom would only make him more irritated.

She moved closer, wiping along his jaw as fast as she could. “Can I ask you a question?”

“If it gets us out of here faster, sure.”

“What’s your name?”

“Tank.”

“Tank?”

He nodded.

“As in the large vehicle used by the Army?”

“Yep.”

“Do you have a last name?”

“Nope.” He winced and closed his eyes as she ran the cotton pad across his nose. “Have you finished yet?”

“Almost. Open your eyes.”

He opened his clear blue eyes and glared at her. “Someone’s looking for you. We need to leave.”

Hayley handed him the bottle of baby shampoo. “I agree—which is why you’re going to wipe your hands and neck while I finish getting mom ready.”

He took the shampoo and started scrubbing. “We’ve got a long couple of days ahead of us. Take everything your mom will need. Where are your clothes?”

“In my car. I packed them earlier today.”

“Did anyone see you?”

“I don’t think so.” She turned to her mom. “Let’s go to the bathroom, Alice.” She helped her mom walk across the room. “We won’t be long, Tank. There’s one more suitcase in the bottom of Alice’s closet. After that, we’re ready to go.”

Her mom patted her hand. “You’re a good girl. Your parents must be very proud of you.”

“They are.” She glanced at Tank, hoping he’d missed her mom’s softly spoken words.

He looked at her with the same deadpan expression he’d worn when she’d first introduced him to her mom.

She kept moving. “My dad used to tell me that one day, my sister Sophie and I would change the world.”

Her mom reached for the door frame, steadying herself for the next part of their journey to the bathroom. “He sounds like a good father.”

Tank pulled the case out of the closet. “I’ll put this in my SUV and get the other bags out of your car. Where are your keys?”

Hayley took them out of her pocket. “The red button unlocks the doors.”

“I’ll be back soon.”

Hayley nodded and turned to her mom. “Ready?”

“What for, dear?”

“I’m taking you to the bathroom.”

Her mom’s face creased into a frown. “I don’t need to go to the bathroom.”

“We’ll be traveling in the car for a long time. Just try for me.”

“Where are we going?”

“We’re driving to Montana.”

Alice looked around her room. “Where did Tank go?”

“He went…you remembered he was here?”

“Of course I remembered. He’s such a nice man.”

Hayley’s eyes misted over. Most of the time her mom couldn’t remember what had happened two minutes ago. Remembering Tank was here, and his name, was important. “Let’s go to the bathroom before he gets back.”

Her mom shuffled forward. “Is he taking us somewhere?”

“We’re going on a car ride, Alice.”

The smile on her mom’s face made Hayley happy, too. Six months ago, her mom could barely move out of bed. The fact that she could now stand on her own and walk short distances was a miracle.

When Tank returned to her mom’s room, they were ready to leave.

Hayley looked at the wheelchair he pushed through the door.

“We need to move quickly.” He held out his arm to her mom and helped her into the seat. “Bring the walker with you, Hayley. There’s enough room for it beside Alice.”

With one last look around her mom’s room, Hayley followed him into the hallway.

Her mom waved at the other residents, looking for all the world like she was going for a Sunday drive. Apart from Tank and Hayley, there was only one other person in the nursing home who knew the truth.

As they passed the main reception desk, Hayley nodded at Angelique. After they left, she’d finalize her mom’s paperwork and let the nursing director know that Hayley wouldn’t be back.

As far as anyone else knew, they were going to live with relatives and enjoy the heat of a warm Florida summer.

She wished it were that simple.


***

Tank pulled into another lane, glancing in his rearview mirror for anyone who might be following them. For the last six miles, Hayley had been telling him about the nursing home and their life in Chicago. He listened to what she said and filled in the gaps with what her sister had told him.

Hayley sighed. “You’re a regular chatterbox, aren’t you?”

Tank almost smiled. In an odd, unintended way, he found her amusing. She was so different from her older sister, Sophie, that he wondered if they were really related.

“Were you in the military?”

He glanced at Hayley. Her mind constantly zigzagged between one subject and the next. “What gave you that idea?”

She turned toward him and grinned.

He looked back at the road, ignoring the pull of attraction between them. She was his client. He was here to do a job, not get sucker punched every time she glanced at him. The baby shampoo must have addled his brain.

“You look like a soldier. Your no-frills hairstyle wouldn’t work on most men, but on you it looks cute.”

“Cute?” He’d been called a lot of things in his life, but cute hadn’t been one of them.

“You’ve got that whole Tarzan meets Rambo thing happening. Wide shoulders, square jaw, killer eyes, and short, dark hair that most women would want to run their hands through.”

It was her dramatic sigh that made him glance at her. “Do you enjoy annoying people?”

“Only the ones who don’t like talking,” she said sweetly. “It’s just as well this is a short-term assignment.”

He didn’t bother replying.

“How many days will it take to drive to Bozeman?”

He glanced in his rearview mirror and Alice smiled back. “Three. I need to be home by Wednesday night. Unless your mom wants to board a plane, we’ll spend most of that time in this SUV.”

“Mom’s got Alzheimer’s,” Hayley whispered. “Stopping every few hours might be okay for you and me, but not for her. She needs lots of bathroom stops and short walks.”

“It can’t be helped.”

“If we share the driving we could go further and have more stops.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Someone followed you in Fort Wayne. They could be behind us, waiting for an opportunity to take us off the road.”

Hayley looked in her side mirror. “I haven’t seen anyone so far.”

“It doesn’t mean they aren’t there.”

“But I’m a good driver. It makes sense to share the driving.”

“I don’t care how good you are. You’re not driving.”

“This could be the longest three days of my life,” she muttered.

Tank was beginning to think the same thing.

“My sister thinks the people following us work for a pharmaceutical company.”

He didn’t reply. There wasn’t enough information to assume the people looking for them were from any company. From what Hayley’s sister had said, more than one person knew about the supplement she’d developed. It didn’t take much to work out what a potential cure for Alzheimer’s would be worth. If the formula got into the wrong hands, no one would be safe.

He checked the GPS, then looked at Hayley. “Before I left Bozeman, Sophie said to ask you about the supplement. Has your mom got enough for the next few weeks?”

Hayley frowned. “I’ve got enough to last another two weeks. But we won’t need to use all of it—we’ll be in Montana in a few days.”

“I’m planning for a worst case scenario. Where is the supplement at the moment?”

“In my black suitcase. I moved it so that it was under another bag in the back.”

“Whatever happens, we can’t let anyone near the supplement.”

“Sophie’s already warned me about that.” She looked at her mom. “Have you done this a lot?”

“More times than I can count.”

“I guess that’s something.”

“It’s not all bad,” he said to lighten Hayley’s mood. “When you reach Bozeman you’ll appreciate home-cooked meals. Eating at roadside diners and gas stations for three days isn’t fun.”

“I never took you for a silver lining type of man.” She picked up her bag and turned to her mom. “Would you like to read a magazine, Alice?”

“That would be lovely. You drive very well, Tank.”

“Thank you.”

Hayley hesitated before handing her mom the magazine.

For the next couple of miles, Hayley didn’t say much. She seemed lost in whatever thoughts were running through her head. By the time they reached their first stop, he could feel her anxiety, the worry of what might happen.

It took more than ten minutes to get Alice back in the SUV, but at least Hayley seemed in a better mood when they returned.

She opened a brown paper bag. “Muffin?”

“No thanks. I had coffee and something to eat while I was waiting for you.”

Alice opened a similar bag in the back seat. “I love surprises,” she said with a smile. When she pulled out her muffin, she sighed. “How did you know chocolate was my favorite?”

Hayley turned to her mom. “Someone told me. I hope you like it.”

Tank looked in his rearview mirror.

Alice bit into her muffin. “It’s lovely.”

Hayley watched her mom for a few more minutes before turning around.

“It will be okay,” he murmured. “Before you know it, we’ll be in Montana.”

“I hope so.” She started eating her muffin but gave up halfway through. “How do you keep working in stressful situations? I haven’t slept a full night since my sister left Chicago.”

“You get used to it, but some things stay with you forever.” He thought about his military career, the assignments that still gave him nightmares. After spending a lot of time looking after Hayley’s older sister, he didn’t want this assignment to be one of those times.

“Sophie said you were her bodyguard. Are you good at your job?”

“I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t.”

“Have you ever killed anyone?”

Tank gripped the steering wheel so hard his fingers turned white. “Only when I didn’t have a choice.”

Hayley’s eyes widened. “How long were you in the military?”

“Twelve years. You see and do a lot of things that are hard to relate to once you’re home.”

She nodded and reached for the hot drink she’d bought. “A few years ago I worked at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago. Some of the patients needed a lot of counseling for PTSD.”

He knew all about post traumatic stress disorder and how it could turn your life upside down. Seven years after he’d left the military, there were still times when he needed to disappear and focus on rebalancing his life. He was lucky he had a boss who understood and was happy to give him the time he needed.

“Did my sister tell you how the patent application for her supplement is going?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know what’s happening. All I know is that she’s in a similar situation to you. Someone is trying to stop her from manufacturing the formula.”

Hayley looked down at her hands. “I worry about Sophie. When dad died we were all devastated, but it seemed to hit her the hardest. When mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, our entire world collapsed. Sophie made plans to make sure mom had the best possible care. We looked for any ground-breaking treatments that could help her, but there was nothing.”

“Is that when she started looking at other medicines?”

“Sort of, but not really.”

He glanced at Hayley. “Meaning?”

“She wasn’t looking for a cure for Alzheimer’s. Sophie was part of a research team at the University of Chicago. They were looking at alternative therapies for people with Down syndrome. Her focus was plant-based therapies. While she was working on that project, she realized there could be significant benefits for people with Alzheimer’s. Both genetic disorders are linked to the same chromosomes in our DNA. Her professor didn’t agree with her, so she stayed after work, experimenting with different combinations of medicinal plants. The supplement I’m giving mom is the result of her research.”

“Do you know the formula?”

He felt the weight of Hayley’s gaze.

“No.” She leaned forward and took her cell phone out of her bag.

“What are you doing?”

“Texting my sister. I want to tell her we’re okay.”

“I’ve already called my boss. He would have called Sophie by now.”

“She’ll be waiting for my text.”

“Contacting her isn’t a good idea.” He looked in his rearview mirror and changed lanes. “Where did you get your phone?”

“I’ve had it for ages. I bought it when mom’s Alzheimer’s got bad. Her caregiver called me if anything happened.”

“Have you ever lost your phone, then found it again?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Think again. It’s important.”

Hayley put her phone on her lap. “No one would have bugged my phone.”

“You’ve been watching too many detective shows from the eighties. It’s a lot easier to install software that gives GPS coordinates of where you are in relation to the receiver.”

She turned off her phone. “You think someone would do that?”

“They must have used some kind of surveillance technology to find you in Fort Wayne. It wouldn’t be most people’s idea of a good place to hide.”

“That’s why I chose it. It’s big enough that people who are new to the area don’t stand out and it’s a beautiful place to live.”

“I’m sure it is. Have you run any diagnostic software on your phone to see which programs are installed?”

“I know how to use the camera, text someone, and use the Internet. The rest of my phone is a mystery.”

“I’ll take a look at it tonight.” He wiped his thumb over the scanner at the bottom of his phone and passed it to Hayley. “For now, use my satellite phone. It’s safer.”

Alice leaned forward and tapped her daughter on her shoulder. “I told you Tank was a nice man.”

“I don’t know how you remember his name, Alice, but I’m glad you do. I’ll tell Sophie we’re all right.”

“Who’s Sophie?”

Hayley stopped tapping on the screen. “You used to know her, Alice.”

Tank looked in his rearview mirror. Alice was upset. He didn’t know how advanced her Alzheimer’s was or what she remembered. But something about Sophie’s name made sense to her. “It’s okay, Alice. Did you enjoy your muffin?”

Alice caught his gaze in the mirror and her face relaxed into a smile. “It was lovely. Where are we going, Tank?”

“We’re going to Bozeman.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever been there.”

Four years ago, neither had he. But fate and a boss who wanted to live close to his brother had changed his life. He hoped Alice and Hayley’s move to Bozeman would give them the same peace he’d found. But looking at the absent smile on Alice’s face, he doubted it.



CHAPTER TWO


Hayley looked at the GPS. “De Forest isn’t far away. We could stay there the night.”

“We can make Mauston. It’s only another hour down the road.”

“No we can’t,” she said as calmly as she could. “We’ve been driving for five hours. It’s time to stop.”

She looked over her shoulder and smiled at her mom. She’d been so good for the first part of their journey. “How are you feeling, Alice?”

“A little tired.”

Hayley looked at Tank. “We need to stop.”

He took a deep breath. “Okay. I’ll find somewhere that’s safe.”

“We haven’t been followed all day.”

“That’s only one of our issues. I don’t want Alice wandering out of the hotel and getting lost or hurt.”

“Mom’s not as mobile as she used to be. We don’t need to worry about her jumping out a window.”

“I hope not.”

They passed a wooden sign welcoming them to De Forest, Wisconsin. Tank slowed down as they drove past each hotel.

“That one looks all right.” Hayley pointed at a hotel with a bright blue sign. The Cherry Inn seemed like the kind of hotel she could afford.

Tank didn’t stop. “It’s too open. All of the vehicles are parked out front, away from the rooms.”

“Isn’t that a good thing? If we find a parking space away from the hotel, no one will know we’re staying there.”

He slowed down for the next hotel. “I want to park close to our room. If we have to move quickly, you might need to help Alice into the SUV. This one looks better.”

There were only three cars parked in front of the hotel.

He stopped in front of the office. “Wait here while I look inside the rooms.”

Hayley nodded and undid her seatbelt. She was looking forward to making sure her mom was settled, then standing under a hot shower. It had been a long day.

While Tank was gone she tidied the front of the car, putting away the magazines and memory cards she’d brought to keep her mom distracted.

The driver’s door opened and Tank sat down. “I’ve booked an apartment with two bedrooms and a front and back door. We can park the SUV outside the apartment.”

He drove around the hotel and parked beside unit thirteen.

“I’m glad you’re not superstitious,” Hayley said as she opened her door.

“Life’s too short. I’ll bring the bags inside while you help Alice.”

By the time Hayley and her mom had unpacked a few clothes, Alice was getting tired.

Hayley went into the living room, looking for Tank. He wasn’t there, so she made sure the front door was locked before walking through the opened back door.

He was standing beside the SUV, talking with someone on his phone. “Hang on a minute. Hayley’s here.” He held the phone away from him. “Is everything okay?”

“I’m going to help mom have a shower. The other door is locked.”

“Do you want anything to eat?”

Hayley shook her head. “We’re okay. The meal we had at the diner was enough.”

“After I’ve finished this call I’ll be in the living room if you need me. Leave your cell phone on the table and I’ll check it for you.”

“Thanks.” She left Tank and headed inside.

Her mom was exhausted. Hopefully, she’d sleep through the night. For the last week, sleeping had been the last thing her mom wanted to do. Hayley wasn’t sure if her sister’s supplement was making her restless or if something else was happening.

Either way, it could be a long night.


***

Hayley turned over in bed. She rubbed her eyes, positive that she’d heard someone whisper her name. She looked at her mom’s bed and frowned.

“Are you awake?”

She turned toward the door. “Tank? Where’s mom?”

“She’s in the living room. I think you’ll want to talk to her.”

Hayley threw her blankets off and jumped out of bed. “What’s happened?”

“She’s okay. She can’t sleep.”

Relief poured through her. She’d been expecting him to tell her that her mom had somehow found a way out of their apartment.

“She remembers your name.”

Hayley picked up her sweatshirt and rushed out of the room. Even with the difference the supplement made in her mom’s life, the times she was fully aware of what was going on were far apart.

Alice turned around and smiled. “Hello, Hayley. You shouldn’t be awake at this time of the morning. I told Tank not to wake you.”

Hayley slowly let out her breath. “I’m glad he did. I like talking to you.”

“That’s very sweet. Come and sit with us. Tank’s telling me about being a security guard.”

Hayley glanced at Tank.

“Sit with your mom. I’ll make everyone a cup of coffee.”

She held her mom’s hand. “Why did you get out of bed?”

“Something’s not right, Hayley. I keep having dreams about you and Sophie. Nothing makes sense.”

“What don’t you understand?”

“Tank told me where we’re going. It’s lovely that we’re visiting Sophie in Montana, but why did she move there? I thought she was happy in Chicago.”

“She was happy, but she wanted a change.”

“It’s such a long way from Chicago. We won’t see her very much.”

Hayley squeezed her mom’s hand. “How would you feel about staying in Montana for a few months?”

“I don’t know if your dad can take that much time off work. It’s a busy time of the year for him.”

Hayley swallowed the lump in her throat. There was no point reminding her mom that her husband had died. It would only upset her and that was the last thing Hayley wanted to do.

“If dad can’t take that much time off work, we could have shorter vacations.”

Her mom nodded. “That might be better. What about Sophie’s apartment? She spent a lot of time painting the rooms and landscaping the garden. It would be a shame to see it empty.”

“I don’t know what she’s doing with her apartment, but knowing Sophie, she’ll have a plan.”

Tank placed three cups of coffee on the table in front of them.

Alice smiled. “My daughters are like chalk and cheese, Tank. Sophie is so organized it’s frightening. Hayley takes after me—we’re a little more spontaneous. Do you remember the time you went to your senior prom, Hayley?”

She nodded and for the first time, hoped her mom didn’t remember the entire story.

“A boy asked Hayley to the prom. It was her first date. Most of the girls had been planning what they’d wear for months, but not Hayley. Sophie kept pestering her about finding a dress.”

“Tank doesn’t want to hear about my senior prom, mom.”

His gaze landed on hers. “It sounds fascinating.”

Hayley gave him what she hoped was an evil glare.

Tank ignored her. “Keep going, Alice.”

“Hayley finally agreed to go shopping for a dress the week before prom. But as you can imagine, most of the dresses were already gone. Her sister started calling the stores further away, but the only dresses available were the ones out of our price range.”

“The story isn’t that interesting,” Hayley said quickly.

“Nonsense. It will give Tank an appreciation of how you make a bad situation better.”

Hayley knew it would do nothing of the sort. Tank didn’t seem to have a sense of humor and he definitely wouldn’t appreciate her dress-finding skills.

Her mom smiled. “As a last resort, Hayley looked in our attic. She found a large suitcase filled with old dresses. My mother must have packed them away because I don’t remember keeping them. Hayley decided she was going to wear one of them to her prom. I’ve never seen Sophie lost for words—she couldn’t believe her sister would wear a dress that was more than thirty years old.”

“She didn’t like the fabric,” Hayley muttered.

“But she did by the end of the week,” Alice said proudly. “Hayley dyed the dress a pretty shade of blue. She pulled the bodice apart and handstitched everything together again. It was one of the loveliest dresses at prom. Do you remember the flowers you picked for your hair?”

Hayley nodded. “I don’t think Mrs. Davito appreciated me taking her roses.”

“She might have been a little annoyed when you chose her prize-winning roses, but she soon forgave you when you helped her weed her garden.”

Hayley looked at Tank. “My date came down with the measles a few days before prom. I went with some of my friends.”

“You had a lovely time.”

Hayley sighed. “I had a wonderful time. Mom, I need to tell you something.”

Her mom frowned. “I hope you still don’t feel guilty about the roses.”

She gripped her mom’s hand. “It’s not the roses. I love you, mom.”

“I know that. I love you, too. Now give me a hug and tell me what’s wrong.”

Hayley wrapped her arms around her mom’s frail shoulders. She pulled her close, desperately holding onto the touch and feel of her mom in her arms.

Alice sighed. “Tell me what’s worrying you.”

Hayley sat back and tried to smile. “Nothing’s wrong. I guess I miss Sophie more than I thought I would.”

“You were always close. It’s only natural that you’d miss your sister. Tank has promised to drive us to Montana as quickly as possible.” Alice held back a yawn. “I should go back to bed—we’ve got a big day ahead of us.”

Hayley stood up, ready to help, but her mom waved her away.

“I can manage on my own. You stay here. Could you pass me my walker, Tank?”

He wheeled the frame close to Alice. “You’re a good man. I’ll see you later.”

Hayley watched her mom walk slowly back to their room. When the bedroom door closed, she looked at Tank. “Thank you for waking me.”

“How often does she remember who you are?”

“Up until two weeks ago, hardly ever. Sophie’s supplement seems to be triggering something in her mind. Mom’s memory doesn’t stay for long, but it’s better than losing her completely.”

“How long has she been taking your sister’s supplement?”

Hayley found a tissue and blew her nose. “About ten months. When her memory started improving, she became really frustrated. We still have days like that.”

“It must be hard.”

“That’s what I think, too. I just need to check on her.” Hayley walked across to their bedroom and slowly opened the door. Her mom was lying in bed, turning her pillow over.

“Is she okay?”

She nodded and closed the door. “Mom seems more relaxed around you.”

“If it makes traveling to Bozeman easier, I’m glad.” He picked up his cup of coffee. “My grandmother had Alzheimer’s disease.”

“She did?”

Tank nodded. “She lived with my family for a couple of years before she died. It’s not easy on anyone.”

“How old were you?”

“Twelve. I had to share my older brother’s bedroom. I don’t think he ever forgave me for invading his space.”

She looked at Tank and smiled. “Older brothers and sisters are like that. Sophie stuck a line of duct tape on the carpet in our room. It was supposed to keep me away from her things.”

“Did it work?”

“For about an hour, but she left the tape on the floor for more than a month.” Hayley thought about her family, the changes that living with someone with Alzheimer’s made. “Before dad died, mom was okay. She did a few strange things, but nothing made us think she had Alzheimer’s. But after dad died her symptoms became a lot worse. Sophie and I looked after her for as long as we could. The hardest decision we had to make was finding a nursing home for her. We felt as though we were letting her down.”

“Was she happy there?”

“I think so. The dementia unit gave her a better quality of life than we could.”

Tank sipped his coffee. “Sophie told me you were working there.”

“It was the easiest way of seeing mom regularly. When she remembered things I’d call Sophie and she’d rush across town. When we started giving her the supplement, we didn’t know what would happen. But it couldn’t have been worse than what Alzheimer’s was doing to her brain.”

“Did you expect it to make a difference?”

She took a deep breath. “No. It seemed too easy. Pharmaceutical companies are spending millions of dollars trying to discover a cure for Alzheimer’s. My sister found a low-cost, natural alternative that everyone can afford. More than forty million people around the world have Alzheimer’s. If her supplement helps people, it could become the miracle treatment of the twenty-first century.”

“I hope it does work for a lot of people.”

“Sophie has still got a long way to go. She can’t commercially produce the supplement until she has the patent. After that, she needs to find a manufacturer.” Hayley looked at her watch. “It’s three o’clock. What time did you want to leave the hotel?”

“If we’re ready by seven we’ll be able to drive as far as Kadoka, South Dakota, today.”

Hayley uncurled her legs and picked up her coffee cup. “I’d better go back to bed, then. Thank you for looking after mom.”

“It’s no problem. Can I ask you something?”

She walked across to their small kitchen and rinsed her mug. “As long as it doesn’t involve a lot of thinking, go ahead.”

“Why do you call your mom by her first name when you’re talking to her?”

“She becomes agitated when I call her mom. It’s only when she’s back with us that she doesn’t mind.”

Tank’s steady blue gaze connected with hers. “She loves you.”

Fresh tears filled Hayley’s eyes. “I know. Goodnight, Tank.”

“Goodnight.”

She headed toward her bedroom. With three hours left before she needed to wake her mom, she didn’t expect to sleep well. She could have stayed awake, read a book, or posted a message on her sister’s website. But she wasn’t sure Tank would approve of the way she updated Sophie on their mom’s progress.

They had a long drive ahead of them tomorrow. Three hours’ sleep was better than nothing, especially if something happened.

She took her sweatshirt off and pulled back the blankets on her bed. Her mom was already sound asleep, lost in the world her mind had created.

Hayley closed her eyes and tried to relax. The person following them hadn’t made an appearance. For now, they were safe.


***

Tank passed Hayley a brown paper bag. He’d left the hotel early to buy everyone breakfast. He would have preferred to eat in the car, but Alice ate faster when Hayley was able to help her.

Hayley opened the bag and pulled out bowls of fresh yogurt and granola, orange juice, and fruit salad. “Did you see anything suspicious?”

“A black cat crossed the road in front of me. Does that count?”

Her eyes widened. “Was that a joke?”

“No.”

“I thought for a minute you had a sense of humor.”

He sipped his coffee. “I keep it well hidden.”

Alice picked up a spoon and looked at her breakfast.

Hayley left a cup of her sister’s supplement in front of her mom. “We’re having breakfast, Alice. Would you like me to help you?”

Alice shook her head, so Hayley picked up her spoon and started eating her bowl of yogurt. “Like this…spoon in, spoon out.” She smiled, encouraging her mom to follow what she was doing.

Alice started eating.

Tank silently watched them. Everything about their breakfast reminded him of his grandma. Someone would start eating and she would follow. When her Alzheimer’s had worsened, they’d spoon-fed her until even that was impossible.

He would have done anything to give her a better quality of life.

When Alice was halfway through breakfast, Hayley glanced at him. “I need to use my laptop.”

He stared at her over the rim of his mug. “Why?”

“I update my sister’s website each day. It’s the safest way I have of letting her know how mom’s doing.”

“You put the information on a website for the whole world to see?” He didn’t want to tell her she was crazy, but she was. “If anyone realizes how important that information could be, you’ll have more than a pharmaceutical company after you. Every two-bit criminal will be looking for you.”

“It’s encrypted.”

He swallowed his coffee before he choked. “You know about encryption?”

“It was the only safe way to send data across the Internet. Sophie designed a recruitment website. She doesn’t advertise jobs, but we do have some good advice for people looking for work.”

“And how is that supposed to tell her how your mom is?”

“We have secure pages that only we can see. I add comments to her posts. We developed a code for each test result she needs. It works really well.”

“Do you need to add your mom’s results today? We’ll be in Bozeman soon—you can tell your sister in person.”

“I could leave it, but Sophie will be worried.”

“She knows this isn’t a normal situation.”

Hayley glanced at her laptop. She’d left it on the end of the dining table. “Will you be speaking to your boss today?”

He nodded. Alice looked as though she’d forgotten what she was doing. He picked up his spoon and dipped it into his bowl. “Like this, Alice.”

She sent him an absent smile, then followed what he was doing.

Hayley glanced at him before continuing to eat her own breakfast. “As long as your boss lets Sophie know we’re okay, I don’t suppose another day or two will matter.”

“I’d sooner do that than have someone track you via your laptop. Is your cell phone still turned off?”

“I haven’t touched my phone since you looked at it.” Hayley held the glass of supplement toward her mom. “Do you want me to drive for a few hours today?”

“I’m happy to drive.”

She finished helping her mom, then put the glass on the table. “You look tired. Did you get any sleep after I went to bed?”

“I don’t need a lot of sleep.”

Hayley didn’t say anything, but her look said plenty.

He hadn’t slept well for the last ten years. Another night wasn’t going to make any difference.

“Let me know if you change your mind.”

While they finished their breakfast he took another look at the map on his satellite phone. If anyone was following them, they’d know exactly where they were going. There were only two ways to get to Bozeman by road, and they didn’t have time for the scenic route.

The company he worked for was expecting them to arrive in Montana tomorrow afternoon. If that didn’t happen, a search team would be sent to find them. In all the years he’d been working with Fletcher Security, he’d only needed help once. This job wouldn’t become the second.

Alice nibbled her way through her breakfast until nothing was left. Four hours ago she’d been animated and full of life. When she’d woken, her personality had disappeared behind the fog of Alzheimer’s.

Hayley put their spoons inside the empty plastic bowls. “Are you okay staying with Alice while I brush my teeth?”

He nodded. “As soon as you’re ready, we’ll leave.”

While Hayley was gone, he cleared their apartment of the gear they’d brought inside.

Alice watched him move around the apartment, checking under sofas and chairs for anything they’d forgotten.

“Tank?”

He slowly looked over the top of the sofa.

Alice’s blue eyes stared back at him. “Are we going to be all right?”

“You know who I am?”

“You make sense.”

He took a deep breath. Alice’s softly spoken words touched something deep inside him, something he tried not to think about. “We’ll be okay. I’ll look after you.”

She smiled in the slow way he was becoming used to. “We should leave. I can’t protect Hayley.”

“You don’t need to. I’ll protect all of us.” He walked across to Alice and helped her to her feet.

“Are you sure?”

“As sure as I’ll ever be,” he whispered. And before he took a single step with Alice, the sound of a gunshot filled the still morning air.


***

Hayley frowned from the back seat of the SUV. “It was a car backfiring.”

“It doesn’t matter. You didn’t listen to me.”

“But I told you it was a car. We didn’t need to crawl under the table.”

The reflection of Tank’s cool blue gaze stared at her from the rearview mirror.

“Would you be less grumpy if I promised to listen to you next time?”

“It only takes one mistake and someone could get hurt.”

For the last half hour, Tank hadn’t been happy. When the car had backfired, she’d come out of the bathroom with her toothbrush in her hand and a mouthful of paste. Tank had yelled, telling her to get down.

Instead of listening to him, she’d stood in the middle of the room, staring at her mom as she hid under the dining table. Tank hadn’t been impressed.

She looked over her shoulder at the empty road behind them. “No one’s following us. Did your boss say anything when you called him?”

“John doesn’t know who’s looking for you. The best thing we can do is drive to Bozeman as quickly as possible.”

Her mom patted her hand. “Tank means well. You should do what he says.”

Hayley ignored their seriously annoyed bodyguard and focused on her mom. “Tell me about Tank.”

Alice frowned. “Don’t you know who he is?”

“I do. I just want to know what you remember.” Hayley took her notebook out of her bag and waited for her mom.

“Tank’s looking after us. You have to trust him.” Alice took a magazine out of the pocket in front of her and looked at the pictures.

Hayley knew the chance of her mom saying anything more was remote, but she wasn’t giving up. “When did you first meet Tank?”

Alice looked up from her magazine and frowned. “At the nursing home. He had to wash his face.”

Hayley listened to her mom and what she remembered of the last twenty-four hours. It was surprisingly more than she’d expected.

As Tank drove from one small town to another, they looked at her mom’s memory cards, sung her favorite songs, and talked about the things that had happened only in Alice’s imagination.

Five hours and four bathroom stops later, Hayley was ready for lunch and a walk. “Can we stop soon, Tank?”

He glanced at the GPS. “Sioux City is half an hour away—we’ll stop there for lunch. How’s Alice?”

Hayley looked at her mom. “Sound asleep. Has anyone been following us?”

“Not that I could see.”

She leaned forward and stretched her arms. “You must have been bored with our conversation.”

“I don’t mind listening to you and your mom.”

Hayley smiled. “What about our singing?”

“It was a bit rough in places.”

She laughed at the humor lurking in his voice. “I thought everyone from Montana would like Glen Campbell.”

“They might, but I’m not from Montana.”

“I thought…I guess I assumed you’d always lived in Big Sky country.”

“I was born in Atlantic City. We moved around a lot.”

“Sounds lonely.”

Tank didn’t reply.

She stared at the back of his head, wondering what had made him into the man he’d become. “Do you have a good relationship with your brother?”

“David was five years older than me. He died a few years ago.”

“I’m sorry.” Hayley tried to think of something to say, but nothing seemed more important than losing a brother.

“Tell me about the music,” Tank said quietly.

She looked at him and wondered why he didn’t want to talk about his family. “Music therapy is an important part of mom’s day. Apart from enjoying country music, she remembers all the words to Glen Campbell’s songs.”

“My grandmother played the piano. She’d sit for hours, playing one song after another.”

“What did she like the most?”

She loved musicals—My Fair Lady was her favorite.”

Alice whispered something in her sleep.

Hayley rearranged the blanket around her mom’s shoulders and waited for her to settle. “It must have been hard to see your grandma slipping away from you.”

“She didn’t know who we were. She forgot how to wash, how to walk, and how to use the bathroom. It was harder on mom and dad.”

“I know what you mean. A few months ago, mom couldn’t talk for longer than a few minutes. The supplement has made a huge difference. We’ll have to take it with us when we have lunch. I don’t want to leave it in the SUV.”

“I wouldn’t want you to, either.” Tank handed her his phone. “We’re getting close to Sioux City. Look on the Internet for somewhere we can eat. I’ll put the address into the GPS when you’re ready.”

“What sort of food do you like?”

“Anything that isn’t vegetarian.”

“Why doesn’t that surprise me.” She tapped the screen. After a quick search she found the Southern Hills Mall. “How do you feel about eating at a mall? There’ll be lots of food choices.”

“I’d prefer somewhere less obvious.”

“There’ll be other people eating there. It might be better being part of a crowd instead of on our own.”

“Sioux City is bigger than most of the towns we’ve driven through. We’ll have people around us wherever we go.”

“The mall might be better for mom. We could use their bathrooms and have a look at the stores while we stretch our legs. No one’s going to look twice at us.”

Tank glanced in the rearview mirror. “Okay, but you can’t use any credit cards and no public Internet connections.”

Hayley was tempted to say, yes sir, but after his reluctance to eat in the mall she was worried he’d change his mind. “We’ll be as fast as we can.”

Tank’s gaze locked on hers.

“I promise.”



CHAPTER THREE


Hayley stood beside her mom outside Riddle’s Jewelry store.

After lunch they’d visited the mall’s restrooms and were heading back to the SUV. Halfway along the walkway, Alice saw a glittering display of jewelry and hadn’t moved from the front of the store.

Hayley glanced at Tank, waiting for him to tell them to keep moving.

He shrugged and looked around them. “Another few minutes won’t hurt.”

Before they’d left the parking lot, they’d put her mom’s supplement into one of Tank’s backpacks. With his hands resting on the shoulder straps, he almost looked like any other person in the mall.

Alice’s walker moved slowly forward. She looked at a display of rings and sighed.

“Which one do you like the best?” Hayley asked her mom.

Alice pointed to a large, sparkling solitaire at the back of the display. “That one. It’s beautiful.”

Hayley agreed with her mom. It was easily the prettiest in the window. She pointed to another one in the front. “What about the ring with the pink stone? Do you like that as well?”

“It’s lovely. Nathaniel wouldn’t buy me an engagement ring with a colored stone. It had to be a diamond.”

Alice let go of her walker and held out her hand, showing Hayley her ring.

She admired the solitaire diamond, then brought Alice’s hand back to the frame. “It’s beautiful. Your husband has great taste.”

“Is Nathaniel coming home for dinner soon?” Alice looked around the mall. “We’re not at home.”

“We’ll be home soon. We’ve just had lunch with Tank.”

The worry on Alice’s face melted away. “Where is he now?”

“Right behind us.”

Alice looked over her shoulder and smiled.

Tank waved back and Hayley sighed. He might look rough and rugged, but he had a big heart.

She took another step forward, hoping her mom followed and didn’t get distracted by more jewelry. A sign further along the wide walkway pointed to the exit.

“Let’s go to Tank’s SUV— ”

A loud shout and the sound of running feet filled the mall.

Hayley looked over her shoulder, wondering what was going on. Before she had a chance to see anything, Tank fell sideways and someone crashed into her back. She tried regaining her balance, but she was pushed forward, dragged toward the exit.

She grabbed hold of the man’s arms, twisting against the tight grip that was getting tighter. She yelled for Tank, screaming at the top of her lungs.

They were halfway down the corridor that led to the parking lot. The man couldn’t drag her outside. If he threw her into a vehicle, she might never see her mom or sister again.

Hayley thought of Tank and the pepper spray in her pocket.

She’d done self-defense classes with her sister. Their instructor had shown them what to do.

When the man stopped to push his way through the doors, she ignored the voice screaming inside her, telling her to get away.

Taking a deep breath, she dropped the weight of her body close to the floor.

His split second of surprise was all she needed. Yanking an arm free, she spun around, punching him hard and fast in his throat.

He let go of her and staggered backward.

Hayley pivoted, striking the side of his kneecap with her heel. Ignoring his howl of pain, she lunged forward again, kicking his groin as if it were a wooden door.

He staggered backward and she ran into the main corridor, frantically looking for Tank and her mom.

A security guard rushed toward her. “Are you all right?”

“A man tried to kidnap me. He’s down there.” Hayley pointed to the corridor and searched for Tank.

The guard yelled something over his shoulder and ran past her.

She couldn’t see her mom or Tank; couldn’t see anything except the worried faces of the people around her.

Another man in a uniform ran toward her. “Come with me. I’ll take you to the medical center.”

She wasn’t going anywhere with someone she didn’t know. “I need to find my mom.”

“Another security guard has taken her to a doctor.”

Hayley looked around the mall. “I don’t believe you.” She put her hand in her pocket and held onto her pepper spray. No one would get near her again.

“Hayley?”

She turned around and rushed toward Tank. Blood dripped down the side of his face, splashing a red tide of color against his shirt. “Are you okay?”

“I’ll survive. Are you hurt?”

She shook her head.

“Let’s go.”

He held her arm and ran toward an elevator. The guard followed them and Tank pushed the button for the second floor.

Is mom all right?” She took a handful of tissues out of her pocket. “Hold still.” Tank didn’t move while she held the tissues over the gash on the side of his head.

“She got more of a fright than anything. Oww, that hurts.”

“It’s supposed to stop the bleeding. You need stitches.”

If Tank’s face wasn’t pale before, it definitely was now. “I’ll be okay. I’ve got some butterfly clips in my first-aid kit.”

“Butterfly clips won’t help.” She looked at the open wound before replacing the tissues against his head. “You need antibiotics and pain relief. Between the cut and the bruising, you’re going to have a huge headache.”


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