Robin Garrett raced down the empty sidewalk. Away from slowly awakening town.
A bullet sparked off the lamppost beside her head. She ducked, skidded on the wet pavement, then pushed her legs harder. Humidity hung in the air, leftover from the rain that let up an hour ago. An hour ago when she’d resisted her broken heart and decided to sip her home-brewed coffee in the quiet, pre-dawn of the park instead of wallowing at home.
Pounding feet splashed behind her. Murderer’s feet.
Unnoticed on the secluded park bench, Robin had witnessed him kill someone. Execute the woman. Dropping her coffee mug had turned his sights on Robin and now he planned to kill her. Unless she could get to Jeremy’s fishing hole. Where he usually spent his Saturday mornings. Unless he’d changed his plans, too.
Her breath came in short gasps. She couldn’t force air out of her lungs. Couldn’t get any more in. Her legs bent like rubber as she hit the wooden planks that led across the marshy wetlands just outside Wisconsin’s Horicon National Wildlife Refuge. Her hands cramped into fists as her body fought off hyperventilation. Pin pricks bit into her cheeks. Laughter echoed behind her.
Robin’s head buzzed, but she raced on. Jeremy would be professional. As a police officer, he had to be. Of course he would protect her.
Or he could throw her rejection of his marriage proposal back in her face. Not give her time to explain anything before her life ended.
She stumbled down three wooden steps to the landing, bringing her under the trees and giving her an unobstructed view of the pond. Below, Jeremy stood on the bank, fishing line in the water, cooler by his feet. Relaxed. Oblivious. Handsome. Was he also armed? Did she bring danger here just to get them both killed?
Down the wooden steps she ran. Darkness edged her vision and she gasped as her toe caught an uneven plank. She somersaulted the rest of the way down the steps, headed straight toward the pond. Each moment she expected a bullet to sear her skin. Angry words from the man she still loved to penetrate her heart. Anything except silence as she plowed into the muddy water.
She raised her mouth enough to haul in breath after breath. Her head swam and her ears whooshed. Her limbs shook.
“Robin?” A muscled arm wrapped around her shoulders, keeping her nearly submerged. A bolt of panic struck before the voice registered.
“Are you hurt?” he whispered. Beside her in the water, he had his gun drawn, worried eyes darting from her to their surroundings. Surroundings that seemed oddly quiet. Where had her pursuer gone?
“Why were you running?” Jeremy tucked her close to him, his voice a mere breath on her ear.
Her heart ached. Why had she thought it would be better to let him go? “I just wanted to drink my coffee in the park. Then he killed….” The words choked her.
“And you saw.” Jeremy’s jaw tightened. He held her tighter. “I’ll keep you safe.”
“Coming here just made you an easier target.” The murderer’s disembodied voice seemed to come from all around them, but the snap of a twig revealed his location to their right. Hidden in the trees, another few feet and he would have a clear shot at them.
Jeremy motioned for her to slide into the cattails to their left. Her waterlogged jeans leadened her legs. Brown slime oozed around her fingers. Jeremy kept a hand on her back, forcing her to move through the water like a frog. The grasses shifted around them. A toad croaked as it hopped up the bank.
Faint rustling to their right indicated the killer’s stealthy movements to get them within his sights. Where could they hide? The wooden stairs and freedom were a mere five feet in front of them, but the open path would make them prime targets.
Jeremy gripped her elbow, pointing to a culvert gully she hadn’t noticed under the stairs. He motioned her toward the three foot drop and she realized he meant to leave her there while he confronted the killer alone. She shook her head, digging her fingers into his arm.
“Coming out to play?” The killer appeared from around a tree ten feet to their right.
Jeremy hauled himself out of the marsh and rolled them both into the gully as bullets kicked up the dirt around them.
“You need to get out of here.” He gripped her upper arm with his free hand, guiding her through the gully and toward the stairs. “Let me handle this.”
“He’ll kill you.” The reason she feared to marry him in the first place.
He dashed a finger along her cheek. “I love you, too.”
“Give yourself up, woman!” The killer neared, but his words gave Robin an idea.
“He wants me,” Robin whispered. “You circle behind him.”
“Robin,” Jeremy growled.
“I love you, too.” She gave him a wink and noisily raced for the safety below the wooden stairs.
Bullets sprayed the gully wall to her left. Three feet to the steps. Two. The killer loomed above and behind her. One foot to go.
“Hey!” Jeremy’s shout made her stumble. Face plant in the mud. “Drop the weapon.”
Gunfire. Shouts. Scuffling sounds came from above her. Robin jumped to her feet, ready to fight for the man she loved. Ducked as a handgun sailed over her head. Jeremy’s or the killers?
She peeked over the gulley edge to see the men wrestling on the ground, fighting over a second handgun. The killer pulled a blade from his belt with his free hand.
“Knife!” Robin snagged the loose gun, aimed. Had no shot, so she fired into the air.
The men froze. Then Jeremy landed a punch to the side of the killer’s head. The man went limp and Jeremy stuffed the handgun in the back of his jeans before flipping the killer onto his stomach and planting a knee in the man’s back.
“Got any rope on you, Annie Oakley?” Jeremy glanced at her. Brown hair matted with mud. His left eye swelling closed. Water dripping from his square shoulders. Aye, but he still looked like the handsomest of heroes.
“Just this.” She scrambled up beside him, handed him the gun.
“I’ve got some in my gear.” He holstered the weapon.
“Thank you,” she infused the words with as much gratitude and apology as possible.
A rakish grin slowly moved from his lips all the way to his one visible, twinkling eye. She gripped his wet shirtfront and pulled him in for a quick kiss. One that promised him her heart forever.
A Chicagoland native, she lives along Lake Michigan’s Wisconsin shoreline with her husband and their two young sons. Her first historical romantic suspense, published by Heritage Beacon Fiction, will release in April 2022.
Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads, Bookbub, and Amazon.