It's time to go. Eleven years of enduring emotional abuse from a controlling husband is enough. When the man strangles their son's pet rabbit in front of the boy because he played his music too loud, Sara Garret knows she must take Kendal and leave. The next day, as Sara awaits her husband to get off work in the Trial Services Building on Oceana Naval base -- he won't let her drive or take public transportation -- she meets Chief Petty Officer Chase McCaffrey. She had run into him twice before, and each time he'd been courteous and helpful. When she learns he's heading west on leave, she boldly asks him to take her with him.
Chase just returned from a SEAL Team 12 mission in Malaysia and is taking personal leave to see about his inheritance from his stepfather in Oklahoma . He would be crazy to risk his career by helping the wife of Captain Bartholomew Garret, a stiff-necked JAG prosecutor. But the look in Sara's wounded eyes changes his mind. He spirits her and her son away from a Boy Scout field trip, and they hit the highway...Chase, Sara, Kendal and Jesse, Chase's black Lab.
From the first page, TIME TO RUN gets the adrenaline pumping in sympathy with Sara and Kendal's plight. An Amber alert is sent out and Chase helps Sara change her appearance before they hit a roadblock. It was Sara's intention to go to her birth mother in Texas ; she'd never told Garret she was adopted. But by this time, Chase convinces her she needs more help and offers sanctuary at his ranch until he can get her papers and fix up an old truck for her to use. But then their situation becomes even more complicated. Chase's love of the land taught him by his father and grandfather is overshadowed by the memories of losses he suffered there. He hated his stepfather and left as soon as he could and joined the Navy. To find that Linc had turned the place into a hotbed of white supremist activity doesn't surprise him, but it puts Sara and Ken in even more danger.
Although the plot of TIME TO RUN is exceedingly riveting, the characterization is just as enthralling. Chase's role in SEAL Team 12 is that of a sniper. It's his job to watch the backs of his mates and to take out terrorists, drug lords, and others who threaten peace and safety. It's a job that requires total control and the ability to blank out all feelings. There is no room in a sniper's life for emotion, certainly not love. The time comes when Chase tells Sara just what he does. Can there be any future for them?
Under 300 pages, TIME TO RUN is a fast read, especially as you'll find yourself racing through it from one exciting scene to the next. It's the third novel featuring SEAL Team 12 and my favorite. Chase appeared in the earlier novels in which he was often called Westy. Recurring characters play minor roles in this one, but TIME TO RUN stands very well on its own.
"Melton ... doesn't miss a best in this involving story" - Publishers Weekly
"Melton's compelling protagonises propel the gritty and realistic stroytelling ... Excellent! - Romantic Times BOOKclub Magazine
"This book will twist all of your heartstrings ... you won't be able to put TIME TO RUN down ... a must-read." - FreshFiction.com
"Exceedingly riveting ... enthralling ... you'll find yourself racing through it from one exciting scene to the next ... my favorite." - Romance Reviews Today
"An exciting tale starring a fine lead couple ... fans will enjoy this wonderful thriller." - Midwest Book Review
"Exciting and emotionally moving ... grapping." - Bookloons Reviews
"Edgy contemporary romantic suspense ... emotional firewords as well as some fancy sniper shooting." - Booklist
“How many days does it take to get to Oklahoma?” Sara inquired. Could she endure that many hours with a brooding driver?
“Three days more or less,” he said shortly.
“Why are we going there?” Kendal asked in a sleepy voice. The Dramamine was having its usual effect on him.
“I’ll explain later, honey.” The less Chase knew, the safer it was for all of them. She looked out the window to avoid his curious glance.
Three days! She’d been so focused on getting away that she’d spared little thought as to what it would be like in the hours and days following their departure. Being cooped up that long brought little relief to her nail-biting anxiety.
By the time they pulled into a roadside motel, it was dark and her stomach was rumbling. Chase unlatched his seat belt.
“They’ll want a credit card imprint,” he’d said when she tried to hand him some money. “I’m only gettin’ one room.”
With that, he was gone, notching Sara’s tension to the snapping point. She hadn’t considered that they would have to share a room.
Jesse whined, as eager to get out as she and Kendal were.
Minutes later, Chase reappeared. Guiding them along the shadows, he escorted them to their room, shut the door, and drew the curtains before flicking on the lights. Kendal stumbled sleepily toward the bathroom.
“I’ll be right back,” Chase said. “I’m gonna walk the dog and take a look around.”
As he slipped out again, Sara locked and latched the door. She turned and eyed the double beds. Was this forced intimacy just a means for him to take advantage of her? Surely not. He’d given her no reason to think he’d helped her for any reason other than human decency.
Besides, she knew what she looked like. She’d dressed this way intentionally for years. And for good reason.
Kendal came out of the restroom, looking lost.
“Feeling better, sweetheart?” she asked. She crossed the room to catch his face between her hands. He was almost as tall as she was.
“Where are we going?” he demanded ignoring the question. “Not with him, I hope.”
“No,” she reassured him. “Chief McCaffrey is going to take us as far as Oklahoma,” she explained. “From there we’ll get a ride to Texas.”
“Why? What’s in Texas?”
The time had come to share her burning secret. “My real mother is in Texas. I was adopted, Kendal. Your father doesn’t know that.”
Kendal’s jaw dropped. His gaze flicked over her like he’d never really seen her before. “Cool,” he finally said. A glimmer of hope lit his eyes.
“That’s why this is going to work,” she insisted. “We’re going to start all over again, with new names and everything.”
“But what about all my stuff?” he asked with belated regret. “My PlayStation and my computer?”
“I’ll buy you new stuff,” Sara promised. “After we get settled and I get a job. It isn’t going to be easy, honey,” she admitted. “But it will be better. We’ll make our own decisions. We’ll do whatever we want without constantly having to worry whether we’ll upset your father.”
He gave her a searching look. “You would’ve stayed, wouldn’t you, if Dad hadn’t killed Mr. Whiskers?”
“I couldn’t stand to watch him hurt you,” she admitted.
“But he hurt you all the time.”
He’d noticed, then, despite her efforts to protect him. Hiding her stricken look, she kissed his cheek and moved past him, into the bathroom.
When she reemerged, Kendal was watching TV. Chase knocked on the door, and she went to let him in.
“Spotted a Super K-Mart across the street,” he announced, letting Jesse off the leash. “I’m gonna run over there and get us what we need.”
Sara snatched up her backpack, pulling out two twenty dollar bills. “Take this,” she said, holding them out to him. “I need some scissors and some hair color.” She wanted something in a blond shade. “Maybe we should come with you?”
He took the money, sliding it into his pocket. “Not yet. Stay away from the windows, and keep the door locked,” he instructed. “Oh, and Kendal?”
Kendal lifted wary eyes at him.
“You mind feedin’ the dog for me? His food and bowl are in that plastic bag right there. Don’t forget to give him water.”
“’Kay,” the boy said, slipping off the bed.
With a wink at Sara, Chase was gone, shutting the door behind him.
Reassured by the wink, Sara drew the latch a second time. “I know he sounds rough, honey,” she said, as much for herself as for him, “but he helped us four years ago, back in California, when our car wouldn’t start at the library. Remember that?”
Kendal had been six years old, then. “No,” he said, dropping nuggets into Jesse’s metal bowl.
Sara plopped down on the edge of a bed and watched him carry the water bowl to the bathroom. It was obvious that Kendal didn’t trust the stranger helping them. She couldn’t blame him. Chase had been silently forbidding since his appearance at the park, not exactly the laid-back, considerate gentleman he seemed to be before.
Trust me, no one’s going to hurt you again, Kendal, she swore to herself, watching as he gave the dog his water and petted his broad head.
An hour later, she had to wonder if she’d let him down already. In addition to the sandwiches that they’d wolfed down, Chase had bought a deluxe hair-cutting kit that included an electric shaver.
“We need to cut the boy’s hair,” he’d said to Sara.
She’d been so eager to start coloring her own hair that she’d agreed to his offer to do so. The bathroom door was left ajar, reassuring her farther as she stood before the desk, using the mirror in the room to put dye in her hair.
Entering the bathroom fifteen minutes later, she found Kendal’s hair buzzed down to a smart, military cut.
“All set,” Chase said, whisking the boy’s neck and ears with a brush. Kendal winced at the dusting. Chase pulled the poncho off.
With the look of a wounded animal, Kendal pushed past his mother and went to flop down near the TV and sulk.
“It’ll grow out,” Chase called after him. He sent Sara an apologetic grimace. “Sorry ‘bout that. I should’ve used a different size head,” he muttered.
“That’s okay.” The apology appeased her. Not once in eleven years had Garret ever apologized.
Skirting around Chase, Sara dropped to her knees beside the tub and stuck her head beneath the faucet.
Warm water sluiced by her ears. Yellow-brown dye rushed down the drain. She was conscious of Chase coming to stand behind her.
“You’re missing some,” he observed, and suddenly his hands were cradling her head, angling it under the stream to ensure that all the dye got washed out.
A gasp wedged itself into Sara’s lungs.
He was touching her, and she could feel the strength in his gentle fingers all the way down to her toes.
“All set,” he said, turning the water off for her.
Sara fumbled with the conditioning tube, squirting the white stuff into her palm and rubbing it briskly into her hair.
Before Chase could help her again, she rinsed it out, not bothering to wait the requisite two minutes.
He plopped a towel over her head. She came shakily to her feet, wondering when he intended to step out.
“How do you want your hair cut?” he asked her.
“Oh.” She paused. From beneath the towel she added, “I think I’ll cut it myself.” Although, on second thought, Kendal’s haircut had looked professional.
“Suit yourself,” Chase replied. “Concealment’s what I do for a living. I know how to make you look different,” he added.
Sara wavered. Pulling the towel off her head, she looked at him.
“Trust me,” he said, his blue eyes compelling.
She wanted to. She was dying to put her whole faith in him. If he could just act like the laid-back cowboy who’d rescued her in San Diego instead of this serious, uncommunicative commando.
“All right,” she agreed, taking her chances. She positioned herself before the mirror.
“Color looks good on you,” he said, lifting the comb and drawing the snarls out of her shoulder-length hair.
She thought so, too, but watching him groom her was distracting. He was perhaps just six feet tall, several inches shorter than Garret, but his shoulders were twice as broad, making her seem petite by comparison.
“I was blond as a child,” she admitted. At one time, she’d been told that she resembled Meg Ryan, but that was way back before she’d started planning her escape.
Chase put the comb down and plucked up the scissors. He began by hacking four inches off her hair.
“Just need a place to start,” he explained, with a hint of humor in his eyes.
His fingers slid into her hair, just above her scalp. He tugged and snipped. Three more inches fell away. He repeated the movement, and this time it felt like a caress, which he repeated, over and over again.
Sara relaxed by degrees. In place of her tension came a heightened awareness of him as a male, touching her in a way that Garret had never touched her. It wasn’t meant to be sexual but it made her acutely aware of her femininity.
“You gonna change your name?” he inquired. He seemed to know exactly what he was doing, moving without hesitation, from front to back, snipping off tendrils that drifted toward the floor to layer Kendal’s darker hair.
It wouldn’t hurt to tell him, would it? “Serenity.” she admitted. She’d chosen the name when she’d first considered leaving, right after Kendal’s birth.
The look that he bounced off the mirror went straight through her. “Serenity what?”
“I’d rather not say,” she hedged.
He was silent a second. “Good,” he decided. “It’s smart to be cautious.”
In lieu of issuing more questions, he started twisting strands of her hair and snipping the ends. The shortness of the cut had Sara holding her breath, though she dared not complain. The idea was to change her look completely, and he was definitely doing that.
“Face me now,” he instructed.
She did so, her pulse fluttering as she stood within six inches of him, gaze riveted to his muscle-corded neck and the pulse that thudded steadily at base of it. Drawing a secret breath, she decided that he smelled like fresh cut wood.
“Close your eyes,” he said, going to work on her bangs.
Snip, snip, snip.
She heard the scissors slide onto the sink. Chase ruffled her hair. “You’re done,” he said.
Sara turned toward the mirror. “Oh, my,” she exclaimed, discovering that she looked more like Meg Ryan than ever. She touched the soft, spiky strands by her ears. “How’d you learn to cut hair so well?”
“No barbers in the places I go,” he answered matter-of-factly. “While I clean up in here, why don’t you check out the clothes I bought for you?”
She’d seen the bags that he’d brought back from the Super K-Mart. This was her get-away, and yet he seemed to be handling all the details.
Kendal gaped at her as she stepped from the bathroom. “You look like that movie star,” he commented.
“I don’t know her name.” He went back to watching TV.
Moving past him, Sara spilled the plastic sacks open on the second bed. Oh, no. For a shocked minute she stared at the clothes and accessories that Chase had bought her: shorts from the juniors department, obviously; baby-doll T-shirts in every pastel hue imaginable; two pair of sling sandals, pink and green with sequined flowers on them, and a bag full of make up.
She couldn’t dress like this! She would look like...like a completely different woman, a teenager, practically.
She glanced up as Chase stepped into view, carrying their hair in a sack. He paused by the bed taking in her reaction with a challenging lift to his eyebrows.
“This had to have cost more than forty dollars,” she said, trying to find some way around having to wear what he’d bought.
“End of summer sale,” he countered, eyes narrowing. “Sixty percent off.”
She just looked at him. “So, no refunds then.”
With a nod, she started putting the clothes away. “Kendal’s going to need clothes, too.”
“You can shop for him tomorrow,” Chase said.
Sara drew a deep breath. “You know,” she said, giving rare voice to her opinion, “I wouldn’t have bought these kinds of clothes for myself,” she dared to tell him.
A tiny smile touched the edges of his mouth. “I know. And trust me, ma’am, I don’t get my kicks out of tellin’ you what to wear. But this is what I do for a living. You wear these clothes and no one’s going to recognize you.”
His argument was infuriatingly reasonable. With a sigh of surrender, Sara put the clothes in the bags for the night.
Chase went outside to toss their hair in the dumpster. When he came back in, he grabbed sweatpants from his duffel bag and disappeared into the shower.
Sara went to sit with Kendal. Everything was happening so quickly, yet, at the same time slowly enough to fray her nerves. What if, in the next twenty-four hours, Garret guessed how she’d engineered her flight?
Impossible. He didn’t even know that she knew Chief McCaffrey. How could he guess he’d helped her get away?
The bathroom door yawned open, and Chase materialized on a puff of steam, wearing nothing but a pair of gray sweatpants.
She and Kendal both stared. Sara had never seen a man more powerfully put together. His was the body of a warrior, with muscles that came from daily, rigorous training, and scars suggesting deadly hand-to-hand combat, not to mention a fearsome black tattoo on his left triceps. The rest was golden skin and tawny fur, a combination that left her drymouthed.
He crossed in front of them, heading toward his duffel bag, and his footfalls were undetectable.
He leaned over his bag, and when he straightened again, he was holding a gun in his hand.
Sara gasped, reaching for her son.
“Relax,” Chase told her, keeping it pointed at the floor. He carried it over to his bed, pulled the quilt down and stuffed it under the pillow. “It’s my security blanket.”
He sent her an incredulous look.
“Stupid question,” she acknowledged.
He sprawled with masculine grace upon his stomach, and her gaze slid helplessly to his tattoo. Four skeletons rose from a common grave site. Good heavens.
He was a far cry from the clean cut, starched-shirt officer that she’d married. She’d once imbued Garret with traits that he didn’t posses: fairness and self-control.
What if her evaluation of Chase was equally flawed?