Witness, p.1
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       Witness, p.1

           Rachael Orman
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  Copyright 2016 by Rachael Orman

  All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. 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 written permission of the author.

  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

  Witness is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental


  Ella – For helping me get my writing mojo back and editing.

  Theresa – Thanks for beta reading for me!

  Julia – For being a wall to bounce ideas off

  Jacqui – You are just awesome

  Rene Folsom – You always make the best covers! Thanks doll!

  And most importantly, my husband and daughters. You are the world to me!

  Chapter One

  Sighing, I pushed a strand of greasy bleach-blonde hair behind my ear. I missed my natural brown hair. It looked better on me, not to mention it took a lot less upkeep. Although I had plenty of time to waste since I was a waitress at a little diner in the middle of nowhere with no friends.

  It wasn't my choice to be in the crappy little town. It wasn't how I envisioned my life being at thirty. However, stupid choices made at the ripe age of eighteen left me slinging crappy food I couldn’t even stomach.

  “Miss! Miss!” an obnoxious woman yelled from the other side of the room as she waved her arm in the air. Like I could've missed her when there were only two other tables with customers on my side of the diner.

  “How can I help you?” I asked, trying to force a smile.

  “I need a refill,” she said, gesturing to her still half-full glass of sweet tea.

  “I'll be right back.” I sighed and went to get the pitcher. Once I topped her glass off, I went back behind the counter to stare out the front door again. It was how I passed the time I wasn’t running around trying to keep impossible people happy. Dreaming about the life I should’ve been living or, on bad days, the life I used to have.

  I used to work at a pharmacy helping doctors and patients. I enjoyed going to work every day. Enjoyed my life, but that all ended once I got involved with Michele Berto. No, it wasn’t all bad at first, but by the end, I wished I’d never met the man who ruined my life.

  He was tall, dark and handsome. Just what every woman wanted in a man, right? That's what I once thought. Not only was he sexy, but I thought he was the one for me. That we'd be together forever. Then I found out who he really was, and nothing was ever the same. One night and my life as I knew it had been forever and irrevocably altered.

  I'd loved Michele as much as an eighteen-year-old girl knew how to. I'd been blinded by lust and the attention and money he’d spent on me. Being raised by a single mother who worked two jobs to make ends meet left me alone and hungry more often than not. Then, in swept Michele with his thousand-dollar suits and million-dollar cars. He'd spoiled me from the start. Anything I wanted, I got. If I even looked at something for more than a second, it would magically appear at his house or mine the next day as a gift from him. It was so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of money. So easy, in fact, that I didn't see what was right in front of my face. That he wasn't just a rich twenty-year-old, but a Mafioso who was as controlling and violent as he was charismatic.

  Stupid and naïve, I'd fallen for everything he told me. For seven years, I’d lived in a blissful state of blind love. Until I saw something I was never meant to see, only to disappear in the middle of the night with the help of the FBI, then reappear as a new woman in a new town, with a past to hide from. Along with a horrible name change. I’d liked being Alice, but they’d changed it to the much more exotic Allegra, which I didn’t think fit me at all, but no one asked me.

  That'd been five years ago. Five long years of no friends, no family, nothing but a crappy job to pay for a crappy apartment.

  I’d like to say that I’d relaxed, since it had been so long and that I possibly thought I’d gotten away from Michele unscathed. I didn’t. I was still constantly looking over my shoulder. Still afraid to connect with people who would make it hard to leave if I needed to. Not to mention, I still hated the town the FBI had planted me in. The job was absolutely nothing I would’ve ever done in my previous life, which I supposed was why it was such a good place to put me. However, I was miserable, almost hoping someone would find me and take me out just so I didn’t have to keep paying for the sins I didn’t commit and never wanted to be a part of.

  “Miss!” the obnoxious customer from hell yelled again.

  I gritted my teeth and went to her table again. Another refill for an only half-gone drink. Annoying. Drink the whole glass or at least down to the last quarter and I'd be automatically filling it. Still half full, and I didn't think it needed my attention, but what did I know? I was just the hired help having to please the masses and their stupid requests.

  As I returned to my spot, Wendy, the other waitress, strolled over to me and leaned in close.

  “You have got to check out the hunk of man who just sat in my section,” she breathed quietly.

  I glanced over to her side of the restaurant in surprise. I hadn't heard the door chime to announce a new arrival, so he must've come in while I was handling the needy woman.

  My gaze landed on a man in the corner booth. I nearly jumped back when my eyes met his. He was staring right at me as if he'd been waiting for me to notice him. I swallowed around the hard knot that had formed in my throat from the cold, dead stare he gave me.

  I knew that look. I’d seen it many times on the men that hung around Michele. It was the look of a killer.

  His short brown hair was carelessly styled. The five o’clock shadow on his jaw accented the fullness of his bottom lip. His dark slashing eyebrows made his blue eyes stand out even from across the room. Wide, broad shoulders with a matching chest stretched the t-shirt he had on. Bulging biceps and thick, veiny forearms showed he worked out. He was big and imposing… and scary as hell.

  Unconsciously, I took a step backward.

  “He’s hot, right?” Wendy sighed next to me. “Mmm, I could die wrapped in those arms. I bet he’s hung like a horse, too. Look at how big he is everywhere else.”

  “What?” I jumped, having forgotten she was even there. My mind was too busy thinking how long it would take me to make it to my car and whether there was anything I needed badly enough to stop by my place. Nope, nothing. Absolutely nothing in my rundown apartment was worth the time that would be better used to get the hell out of town.

  “Allegra? Are you okay?” Wendy asked when she noticed I had taken half a dozen steps away from where we’d initially stood together.

  “Um. Uh. Yeah,” I said, breaking eye contact with the mysterious man in the corner. “I am, uh, not feeling so, uh, good. My shift is over soon anyway. Can you cover for me?”

  She looked skeptically at me for a long moment. I sighed.

  “Look, the three tables I have are mostly done eating, so you won’t have much to do with them. You can keep the tips, too.” Hell, I would’ve paid her — if I could’ve afford to — in order to get out of there right then.

  “Okay, but you owe me,” she finally agreed.

  I nodded as I tried to discreetly nab my purse from unde
r the counter. She could think I owed her all she wanted, but I doubted I’d ever be in town again, so she’d have a hell of a time collecting. As I walked briskly through the kitchen toward the back door of the restaurant, I slung my purse strap crosswise over my body. Once the back door was open, I broke into a run toward my grey piece of crap car in the back corner of the lot.

  The chef, a.k.a. the manager, was taking a smoke break outside, but only watched me with a raised eyebrow as I ran past. I glanced over my shoulder to see if the stranger was following — he wasn’t — then slammed into something hard enough to force the air from my lungs.

  “Woah, Allegra. Careful,” Sheriff Aaron said, clasping a hand on each of my shoulders to keep me from falling.

  “Sorry about that, Sheriff.” I frowned and stepped back from his grasp.

  The sheriff was a younger man, no more than thirty-five, with dark brown hair and brown eyes. He couldn’t have been more than six foot, since I was five-foot-nine, and he was only slightly taller than me. While I’d tried to lay low and not make many friends since my unexpected move, the sheriff had been a hard one to escape. He always seemed to show up when I least wanted to deal with him.

  “Where are you going in such a rush, sugar?” the sheriff asked.

  “Oh, um, my stomach isn’t feeling so hot.” The lie rolled right off my tongue without a thought.

  “You do look really pale. Let me take you home,” he said, reaching out to touch my cheek.

  I fought the urge to cringe away from the unwanted touch. He was always finding ways to touch me when I’d really rather he didn’t. All I wanted was to get in my car and go. However, the last thing I needed was the local cops following me or drawing unwanted attention my way.

  “I’ll be fine, but thanks, Sheriff Aaron.” I shook my head slightly, taking another step away from him, and closer to my car.

  “You can call me Aaron, Allegra.” He sighed and dropped his hand.

  I refused to call him by his first name without his job title. If I did, I was afraid he’d think it gave him an opening that wasn’t there. There was nothing between us, never would be. Not only was I not attracted or interested in him, but I simply would not risk dropping my guard for a quick roll in the hay. I loved sex and getting off as much as the next person. Or I used to. Since going on the run, though, I found that I was too worried and stressed to even think about it.

  “That's okay, Sheriff. I'm going to go home and lie down,” I lied again trying to get away even as I glanced toward the diner.

  The mystery man was there, leaning a shoulder against the building, blatantly watching me again.

  I felt what little blood had returned to my face drain away. My heart pounded. There was no denying he was watching me. Some part of me had hoped that I’d been mistaken, and he’d simply been looking at two waitresses who were ogling him instead of getting his order when I’d been in the diner.

  “I can't let you drive like this,” Aaron said, grabbing my arm as I swayed.

  “I'll be fine. I just need to go.” I took a step around him and tried to get him to stop touching me, but he tightened his grip marginally.

  “Allegra, stop. You look ready to pass out. If that happens when you are behind the wheel, you could get hurt. What happens if you run into another car? You could injure or kill someone else because you are stubborn. Let me take you home, and I’ll bring you back tomorrow morning to pick up your car when you are feeling better.” Aaron was already moving me around his police cruiser and had the door to the passenger seat open.

  I glanced from him to the diner again, but the man was gone. Finally, I relented and let Aaron put me in his car since I didn’t think he was going to let it go without making a big deal out of it.

  “Thanks,” I muttered as he pulled away from the diner. Staring out the window, I looked for the man, but he was nowhere to be seen. Maybe it had been in my head. Sometimes I was so paranoid. I sighed and rested my head against the window.

  “You really have got to learn to let others help you. We are a small town here, and we are there for each other,” Aaron said, patting my thigh as he drove.

  “I know. I’m just not used to it,” I agreed. Then, since I was locked in the car with him, I figured I might as well try to get some information from him. “So, has there been anything interesting going on lately for you?”

  He glanced at me briefly before turning back to the road. “How so?”

  “Just, you know, any weird violence or crimes that we don’t normally get?” I tried to ask nonchalantly.

  “Why would you ask that?” He risked another look my way.

  “I don’t know. Just trying to make conversation, I guess.” I shrugged.

  “Nope. Nothing unusual around here. Typical calls. Couples fighting, kids getting into trouble because they’re bored. That’s about it,” he answered as he turned into my apartment complex. “Should I be on the lookout for other things?”

  “No. I mean, I don’t think so. What would I know about such things? I’m just a waitress.”

  “Hey, waitresses can have the best leads. They overhear a lot more than most people think,” he said as he parked the car in my normal spot. Creepy that he knew it was my spot. Then again, it was a small town, and everyone knew entirely too much about each other. “Did you hear something from your customers?”

  “Oh, no. Never mind. I am just feeling off. Maybe I’m coming down with something.” I sighed and opened my own door before he could get out.

  “Take care of yourself. I’m only a call away if you need anything. I’ll stop by at eight when I start my shift in the morning to take you to get your car,” he said, climbing out of the car.

  “Okay. Thanks for the ride,” I said before walking to my door. Once I unlocked and opened it, I waved at him and went inside, not sticking around to see if he left.

  I made sure to lock the deadbolt and the knob as well as sliding the chain into place. Then I stuffed a quilt along the bottom of the door and put a chair under the knob for added protection. While I knew making the door harder to open wouldn’t stop someone if they wanted to break in, it might be those extra few seconds that let me escape out a window.

  Feeling a little more secure, I went to my room and started packing a few select items. Without my car, I couldn’t go anywhere. I wouldn’t risk walking back to the diner, even though it wasn’t all that far away. I’d have to wait until the morning, when the sheriff gave me a ride back. I wasn’t supposed to work, so I could just get in my car and go. As long as I survived the night.

  I left the packed bag on the bed, then went to pack up whatever food I could take that wouldn’t spoil. I had no idea where I’d go, but if men with dead eyes were showing up, then anywhere was better than where I was.

  The rest of the evening I paced my tiny apartment watching time slowly pass. Every sound had me jumping and holding my breath, waiting for a window to break or the door to shatter open, but nothing happened. By the time the sun came up, I was shaking from being on edge for so long. My nerves were frayed and I couldn’t wait to get on the road so I could finally start trying to put myself back together.

  I was waiting on the curb when Aaron pulled up, and I jumped in as soon as he stopped.

  “Wow, feeling better this morning?” he asked with a laugh.

  “Yep. I have tons of stuff I need to get done today,” I said, putting my bag in my lap.

  “I’m so glad you’re feeling better. What’s with the bag?” He looked from my face to the bag and back again before he pulled out of the parking lot.

  “Oh, just some stuff I have to drop off for Wendy,” I lied.

  “Mmm,” he hummed, but didn’t question me further. Thankfully, the rest of the ride we were both silent. He parked right behind the diner instead of my car, like I’d hoped he would. “Here you go.”

  “Thank you for the ride,” I said before hopping out and slamming the door. I quickly moved toward my car, keeping my head down.

Hey, don’t you need to take that inside to Wendy?” Aaron shouted out, stopping me in my tracks.

  Fuck. The guy was such a pain in the ass.

  “Oh, right,” I sighed and spun around. It was hard, but I managed not to glare at him for delaying my escape yet again. “See you later.”

  “You know it,” he said with a wink, but didn’t pull away until I opened the back door to the diner.

  I groaned and leaned against the inside of the door.

  “Feeling better?” Mark, the chef-slash-manager asked.

  “Uh, yeah. Much. Sorry I ducked out yesterday, but I didn’t think you’d want someone puking around.” I tried to smile and make up for not explaining myself when I’d run past him the previous day.

  “Well, it’s okay, because apparently Wendy got your bug. She called out, and we need you to cover for her,” he informed me.

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