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ROMANCE UNDER CONSTRUCTION…
Sick of running into her cheery ex-husband and his new wife, Leslie Petruso accepts a job at the Virgin River branch of Haggerty Construction and takes the high road right out of town. Now she’s got Paul Haggerty’s business running like a well-oiled machine. In fact, things are so busy Paul jumps at the chance to hire an extra set of hands.
Just like Leslie, Conner Danson has been burned by love. But Leslie was disappointed by her relationship going bad, Conner was decimated. He’s got no time for woman…although he spends an awful lot of time pretending not to notice Leslie. And she’s pretty busy “ignoring” the chemistry between them.
According to Conner and Leslie, they have only one thing in common—they’re done with love. But everyone in Virgin River can see that things are heating up at Haggerty Construction. And as far as Paul Haggerty can tell, the best thing he can do is hang on to his hard hat and watch the sparks fly!
Brie Valenzuela finished her large latte and looked into the empty cup. She’d been waiting in this coffee shop for over an hour, trying to look engrossed in her newspaper, but as the time ticked by, she only grew more concerned. The man she was meeting was a witness to a murder and needed a place to hide out. She’d be hooking him up with a place to stay and a job in Virgin River as a favor to one of her colleagues from the Sacramento District Attorney’s office, and when a witness was late in meeting his contact, there was reason to be concerned.
Brie wanted to make a phone call to Sacramento but didn’t want to alarm anyone. Instead, she asked the barista for another latte.
This witness, now known as Conner Danson, had seen a very well-known, high-profile Sacramento businessman shoot another man. Danson had been taking trash out behind his hardware store when it had happened and had seen everything. He’d called the police and become the sole witness to the crime. Thanks to his prompt report, they’d found evidence of blood in the man’s car, though it had been cleaned, but no weapon. DNA tests had proved the blood belonged to the victim. But, shortly after an arrest had been made, Danson’s hardware store had burned to the ground, and a threat had been left on his home phone voice mail: You stayed out of the heat this time, but you won’t slip by us again.
Clearly the suspect, Regis Mathis, a very distinguished pillar of the community, was “connected.”
Brie had served as an Assistant District Attorney with Max, officially Ray Maxwell, some years ago. Max was now the D.A. He’d suspected some trouble with other witnesses’ anonymity and wasn’t sure whether the leak was in his office or the Federal Marshal’s unit. A cautious man, he’d set up his own program. He wasn’t about to take any chances on losing the only witness to a high-profile murder. Virgin River was an excellent option.
It was another twenty minutes before the door opened and a man entered, but her first thought was that he couldn’t possibly be her witness. First of all, he was too young to own a prosperous hardware store that catered to custom builders—this guy was no more than thirty-five. And he was, for lack of a more refined description, hot. At about six-two, he was built like a warhorse, his muscles popping into prominence beneath the white T-shirt under his opened leather jacket. Wide shoulders, narrow hips, low-slung jeans, long legs. Although he wore a very unhappy expression at the moment, his face was perfectly symmetrical—square jaw, straight nose, thick brows and deep, dark blue eyes. He sported a very handsome, sculptured and tightly trimmed mustache and goatee.
He lifted his chin in her direction. She stood and he walked toward her. She opened her arms. “Give me a hug, Conner. Like we’re old friends. I’m Brie Valenzuela.”
He complied a little reluctantly, nearly swallowing her small frame in his embrace. “Nice to meet you,” he said quietly.
“Sit down. I’ll get you a coffee. What’s your pleasure?”
“Just plain old coffee. Black.”
“Got it.” She went to the counter, ordered, collected the coffee and returned. “So,” she said. “We’re about the same age. We could pass for friends from college.”
“I didn’t really go to college,” he said. “One semester.”
“That works. How old are you?”
“Aren’t you kind of young to own a successful business?”
“Used to own,” he said, his expression darkening. “It was my father’s. He died a dozen years ago but I was raised in that store. I took over.”
“I see,” she said. “So, we’re friends from college. You’re up here looking for something a little different after the builder you worked for in Colorado Springs shut down—there’s a complete script of your history in this envelope, though I’m sure Max went over all of it with you.”
He gave a nod. “And gave me my new ID. I picked up the truck this morning in Vacaville.”
“I reserved you a small cabin. Very small, but comfortable. It’s going to be temporary, and that’s fine to say to people. And a friend of mine, Paul Haggerty, is a builder. He’ll give you a job—he can keep you on through summer if necessary. It’s his busy building season. That gives you six months, but you won’t need that much time. I hope.”
“Who knows about me?” he asked her.
“My husband, Mike, and I. And you want Mike to know. He’s not just a small-town cop, he’s a very experienced LAPD detective. Otherwise, you’re completely anonymous. Look, I’m sorry you have to go through this, but on behalf of the state, thank you for agreeing to testify.”
“Lady, don’t thank me. I am out of choices,” he said. “And don’t stand anywhere near me in a thunderstorm because I am a magnet for lightning at this point. My life has gone straight to hell in the past year.”
Brie frowned. “Don’t call me lady,” she said. “My name is Brie and I’m helping you. Show some gratitude. You’re not the only person alive to have some bad luck. I’ve had my share. Now, I have a new cell phone for you. Here’s the number. We gave your sister a new cell phone, as well. The area code for both phones is Colorado Springs and the D.A.’s office is picking up the tab. You won’t get reception in the mountains, forests or town of Virgin River, but while you’re out on construction jobs in clear areas or around here, in Fortuna, you’ll have reception. And,” she said, sliding him the large envelope, “directions to the Riordan cabins and to Paul Haggerty’s office. Also, directions to a little bar and grill in Virgin River—good food. Do not get drunk and spill your guts or you’ll probably just be moving again. If you live that long.”
“I don’t get drunk.”
“More’s the mercy,” she muttered. “If you need anything, call me at this number. Do not call the D.A. He’ll contact you through me. This is serious, Conner. You don’t have any options. Whether you agree to testify or not, the man you witnessed committing murder obviously has the means to have you taken out. The authorities have always suspected he’s that kind of man, even though he appears on the surface to be quite upstanding.”
“Understand something,” he said to Brie. “If it weren’t for my sister and nephews, I might just go up against him because A, I’m that kind of man, and B, I’m a little past caring.”
“Katie could be collateral damage, just being related. Remember, when you speak with your sister, no clues about where you are. Don’t discuss the time zone or weather or landmarks, like redwood groves. There’s no point in taking chances. Let’s get through this whole. Hmm?”
He lifted his coffee cup in a silent toast. “Yeah.”
“Get settled into your cabin. Go see Paul and get your job. When you’re comfortable, I’ll have you to dinner. Maybe talking with Mike will settle your nerves a little.”
“If you had any idea what the past year has been like…”
She put her hand over his in what might appear as a gesture of friendship to the casual observer, but her voice was firm. “I’m sure it’s been hell. Can I just remind you that this is a favor for an old friend? I’m sticking my neck out for the D.A. because he’s a good man and I owe him. We have a mission here. You’re a friend from college, so go the extra mile and try to be pleasant. I don’t need my brother and my close friends wondering why the hell I’d find you a place to live and a job because you’re such an ass! So—”
“Brother?” he asked.
“Yes. I was an A.D.A. in Sacramento, but now I’m freelance up here and I have a husband and a little girl. I came up here to hide out while I was getting ready to testify against a rapist. I stayed after the trial.”
He swallowed audibly. “Rapist, huh? Who’d he rape?”
“Me,” she said. “First he beat the conviction—I was the prosecutor. Then he raped and tried to kill me. So, you can assume I understand some of what you’re going through.”
He was quiet for a long moment. He had been the primary support for his sister and nephews for a few years now. He couldn’t help but wonder how he’d feel if Katie had gone through something like that. It turned his stomach. Finally he swallowed thickly and asked, “Did you get him?”
“Life sentence, no parole.”
“Good for you.”
“This goatee,” she asked, running her fingers over her own upper lip and chin. “Is it new?”
“A slight change was suggested,” he said.
“I see. Well, I understand you’re going to need some time to adjust. Give me a call if you get antsy, but for right now—try to enjoy the area. It’s incredibly beautiful. A man could do worse.”
“Sure,” he said. “And, I’m sorry you had to go through what you had to go through, you know?”
“It was awful. And behind me now, as this will soon be behind you. You can get a fresh start. Um, Conner? You’re not a bad-looking guy, but this wouldn’t be a good time to hook up, if you get my drift.”
“Not a problem,” he said. “Not looking to hook up.”
“Good. I guess,” she said, standing. “Hug me like an old friend.”
He opened his arms. “Thanks,” he said roughly.
Conner followed the directions to Virgin River. Conner Danson had formerly been Danson Conner, owner of Conner’s Hardware, so the name change had been merely a reversal, which was a little easier to get used to than an entirely new one. Danson was an old family name—some ancient great-grandfather. His parents, sister, nephews and ex-wife had always called him Danny. But at work he had been called Con…
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.