Time to Run(6)

By: Marliss Melton

But there was Sara Garret, standing on the edge of the play area, with one hand fisted at her hip, the other raised to shield her eyes from the setting sun. And even with fifty yards between them, he could feel her pull on him, her silent cry for help. He had to know what she wanted from him.

The park was packed with privileged children and their white-collar, upwardly mobile parents enjoying the cooler weather on this second day of fall. It was a whole different cosmos from the world of conspiracy and terror that Chase lived in.

As well it should be, he figured.

The challenge would be not drawing notice to himself. Given the silver hoops in his ears, his goatee and ponytail, that wouldn't be easy. He pulled the bill of his baseball cap down to shield his eyes and got out.

Sauntering toward a bench that was hidden in the shade, he sat down and waited for Sara to see him. He took brief inventory of the children scrambling over the equipment and tried to guess which boy was hers.

He could tell the exact moment that Sara spotted him. Like a jackrabbit spying a predator, she froze, eyes fixed, shoulders tensing. But unlike a rabbit, she didn't dart away. She put one foot in front of the other until she was standing by his bench. Keeping her eyes forward she sat down stiffly.

Chase took wry note of her clothing. Today she wore a dark brown jumper over a white button-up blouse. Was it possible for any woman to have such poor fashion taste?

"Nice evenin'," he noted, breaking the ice for her.

"Yes, it is," she agreed, wetting her lips with a dart of her tongue.

"That your boy?" he asked, following her gaze to where a dark-haired boy, maybe ten years old, sat on a swing, scuffling his toes into the mulch.

Chase had seen the resemblance immediately in the downcast eyes and the curve of the boy's chin. He hid his face behind the bangs growing over his eyes. "What's his name?"

"Kendal. He's the reason that I have to leave," she added quietly.

Leave? Chase swung a startled glance at her, and their gazes collided. He experienced the same cinching sensation in his gut, the same compelling attraction. Her gray-green eyes were incredibly beautiful. At the same time, the pallor in her face assured him that she was serious. So why was she telling him?

"We need a ride out West," she added, urgently. "I have money. I can pay you if you like. Please ... take us with you when you leave for Oklahoma."

All he could do was look at her. "Mrs. Garret—" he began.

"Sara," she corrected him, with a flash of those magnificent eyes.

Obviously, she couldn't stand the sound of her husband's last name. "Sara," he began again, "I can't help you with this."

"I've thought it out," she interrupted, reaching inside the voluminous pocket on the front of her jumper. "Kendal's Boy Scout troop is hiking at Seashore State Park tomorrow." She pulled out a folded flyer. "The place is completely remote. We could slip away from the rest of the Scouts and meet you in the overflow parking lot." She thrust the flyer at him.

Chase unfolded it, took note of the pertinent information—place and time—and handed it back.

"I can't help you," he repeated.

He knew exactly when his message got through. She blinked and turned her face.

He felt like he'd slapped her. Jesus.

He glanced at her son, who'd buried his Converse tennis shoes completely under the mulch.

Shit. Why would she want to leave her privileged lifestyle unless Captain Garret abused both of them?

"There's gotta be an advocacy group that can help you," he insisted quietly. He willed himself to stand up and walk away.

She still wouldn't look at him. Her face was a mask, with tear-bright eyes made of jade. She'd probably exhausted all her options. She didn't strike him as the type to act impulsively, to solicit the help from a perfect stranger.

"Good luck," he told her, not knowing what else to say. He put his hands on his knees and pushed to his feet.

He wished she'd look up at him or at least acknowledge his refusal, but she didn't.

He felt subtly reprimanded, like he had no right to let her down.

With a scowl, he walked away, determined not to feel guilty. He got into his car and slammed the door shut. What the hell did she expect of him? It would ruin his career if he was caught stealing away a JAG officer's wife and kid. His career was all he had.

Sorry, but he couldn't do it, regardless of Sara's strange pull on him. He'd never let a woman get under his skin before. He wasn't about to start now.

Sara dragged her heels. Hiking along the edge of a marsh was pointless when Chief McCaffrey had made it clear he wasn't going to be here. If it weren't for Kendal, who'd loved nature since he was a baby, she would just as soon have stayed home. And unless Kendal managed to muster some enthusiasm himself, this tramp through the woods amounted to wasted time.