Looking for answers
…they uncover a deadly plan.
When he takes a job to prove himself, fate introduces Deputy Marco Rossi to Bella Greene—a small-town beauty terrorized by a mysterious stalker. By nature the handsome lawman is a professional loner working 24/7 with armor around his heart. But as they discover clues leading to the truth, crucial evidence must take priority over the feelings suddenly breaking through his walls.
From Harlequin Intrigue: Seek thrills. Solve crimes. Justice served.
Discover more action-packed stories in The Saving Kelby Creek Series. All books are stand-alone with uplifting endings but were published in the following order:
Book 1: Uncovering Small Town Secrets
Book 2: Searching for Evidence
Book 3: Surviving the Truth
Release date: July 27, 2021
Print pages: 256
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Searching for Evidence
Tyler Anne Snell
If Bella Greene had met the newest hire at the Dawn County Sheriff’s Department six months ago, things would have been much different.
She would have seen the man getting out of his fast-looking car, wearing jeans that were a grace from God and a smile that would have been a knee-wobbler and started the conversation out on a good note. One that might have included some light flirting and mild self-consciousness, considering she wasn’t wearing her usual work clothes but instead a party dress and heels that brought her that much closer to Heaven.
Under different circumstances, she would have been Southern-belle polite, laughed a little at her own misfortune and tried to make a new friend, something she’d been lacking since she’d come back home to Kelby Creek, Alabama.
Under different circumstances.
But the note clutched in her hand, so tightly that her nails bit into her palm around it, had taken whatever her normal reaction might have been and flung it away into the darkening skies above them.
Bella didn’t care that the man looked good—olive complexion with complementary dark eyes, heavy brows, jet-black hair that was styled back and a sharp nose and jawline, all which made her instinctively think of her childhood crush of A.C. Slater from Saved by the Bell—the fact was she didn’t know him.
He was a stranger.
A tall, dark and handsome stranger, but a stranger all the same.
And out beside the county road with the town-limits sign in the distance and a broken-down truck behind her, Bella didn’t want a stranger.
Not after the note she’d found in her tool bag just before he’d pulled over and not after the hang-up calls, anonymous emails and the box from the last few months.
Bella Greene was only for trusting two people right now and she’d been on the way to meet them in the city for a small-business award ceremony before her truck had decided it wanted to strand her just as night was falling with a storm rumbling in the distance.
The man’s voice was deep and low. Strong, smooth. He moved across the two-lane with purpose. When he made it to the dirt shoulder she was standing on, his gaze flitted across her.
She might have thought he was checking her out—she was wearing her party best after all—but then she zoomed her focus out from him and remembered that, while in one hand she had the note, in the other she had a wrench.
A wrench she was holding like a bat, ready to swing.
“I’m assuming you’re having some car trouble?” His gaze swung behind her to the propped-open hood of the old Tacoma she’d purchased after the family business had started making decent money. It was rusted and worn but was a miracle when it came to transporting building materials from the store to a jobsite. Even now it held a truck-bed toolbox filled with nails, screws and plastic shams.
None of which she could use as a good weapon on the fly.
Hence her trusty wrench.
“I’m okay. I’m waiting on my brother to show up,” she lied.
The man didn’t seem convinced. He motioned up and over to the thundercloud, which was getting dangerously close. That and night was not a great combination for a broken-down vehicle in the country.
“Is he getting here soon?”
Bella tightened her grip on the wrench.
She was doing fast math now.
If he came at her, how long would she have to counterattack? How hard and fast could she get the wrench against him to give her the lead?
Bella slid her foot back a little on reflex, trying to strengthen her stance like a little kid readying for someone to come her way during red rover.
The man didn’t miss the move.
His eyes widened a little.
He held out his hand and surprised her with a laugh.
“I’m only asking because the radio just said the storm is moving fast and I know it’s fall but I’ve heard enough tornado talk in the South to be afraid of the possibility of them year-round.” He put his hand into his back pocket and nearly gave her a heart attack as he pulled something out.
Then the object he’d reached for was out in the waning daylight and the logical part of Bella’s brain forced that fear to pause.
It was a badge.
He held it so she could see it.
“It’s also my sworn duty to make sure everyone in the county is as safe as can be.”
“You’re a deputy?”
“The newest at the Dawn County Sheriff’s Department. My first official day is tomorrow but—” he nodded again to the approaching storm “—I thought I’d stop to help.”
This time Bella took a moment to eye the same cloud.
Her brother, Val, and their father, Grant, were nowhere near her. Her mother was far away with her aunt in Huntsville and, as Bella had been keenly aware of recently, her own friend circle had shrunk to acquaintances from growing up. And even those few acquaintances she’d grown apart from since she’d fled town. Then there was Bob Sanders’s tow company half an hour out. And, last she checked, he had prices that were more problematic than his pickup time.
“My name’s Marco. Marco Rossi.”
Bella snapped back to the present and away from her list of people she hadn’t yet called.
Deputy Rossi returned his badge to his back pocket but didn’t make any move to come toward her. In fact he held up his hands in defense before she could respond.
“And, listen, I get it. Creepy guy you don’t know approaching you on the side of the road when your truck is disabled is a bad look. That said, I can’t in good conscience just leave you stranded out here. So I’m going to go back to my car and wait until your ride gets here. But if they can’t or the storm is too quick, I wouldn’t mind at all giving you a ride into town. I mean, Kelby Creek is so small, it’s not like anything is out of the way. Sound good?”
Bella hadn’t expected that. Still, she nodded.
It was all Marco needed.
He said, “All right,” and went back to his car. Instead of getting in it, he leaned against the opposite side and faced the field.
Bella loosened her grip on the wrench.
But not the note.
She was still clutching it when she spoke to her father and Val on the phone, also saying she was going to have to miss the event, and still had it pinned against her palm when the rain started.
It was only after she locked up her truck and approached the deputy that she moved the note to her bag.
“Could you take me to Crisp’s? It’s a restaurant off Main Street.”
Marco was quick to nod. He was also quick to open the passenger-side door for her. Bella caught a scent of cologne that reminded her of the woods as she hesitated in front of him.
“I took a picture of your car, your license plate, and sent it to my dad and brother. I also described you to them and told them your name. I’m supposed to call them in ten minutes, which is how long it should take to get there.”
Marco surprised her again and laughed.
“I can appreciate the caution.”
Bella took a breath and slid into the passenger’s seat.
She settled her bag on the floorboard.
She might not have been holding it in her hand anymore but Bella still felt the weight from it.
And even though she was watching as the rain picked up and hit the windshield, three words written in red ink were as clear in her mind as when she’d first read them.
Hello there, friend.
HE WATCHED AS she got into the car and drove off with the stranger. If the storm hadn’t been approaching, she would have stayed.
He was sure of it.
That’s what it was.
He stood up, the field of grass around him so tall she hadn’t noticed him running toward her after she’d first pulled over.
Then he packed up his bag.
Maybe this was fate’s way of letting him know he’d been reckless. That he shouldn’t have abandoned his plan just because a tempting opportunity had come up.
Maybe it was time to go back to the drawing board altogether.
He sighed into the rain.
No matter the reason, there was no denying the eventual outcome.
Bella Greene was going to be his and nothing, and no one, was going to stop that.
Two weeks later and Marco Rossi was ending a hell of a day.
“Does this town ever have predictable weather?” he asked, peeling his rain-soaked boots off his feet while water collected on his desk chair beneath him.
His partner and desk mate opposite him, Carlos Park, wasn’t faring much better. He mumbled when he spoke, trying his Boy Scout best to dry himself off with some paper towels the sheriff had tossed them on his way out.
“Don’t act like your weather was miles different than ours. You came here from North Carolina, not Switzerland.”
Marco couldn’t fault that truth. Though he was, as his sister often said, a hothead. Which meant when everyone else was trying to stay cool, he was always at an even spicy. He was, after all, Italian. Born in New York to a family who could be traced back all the way to Sicily. If they were still around, Marco was sure he’d be sitting somewhere near them now, still being just as spicy.
But a lot had changed since he was five, in New York and as part of that family.
“Our wild-card weather was more light showers and the occasional ice storm,” he returned. “Not chilly one second, monsoon the next.”
Carlos shook out a sigh.
While Marco had been having a day of it, Carlos seemed to be having a week of it. They might have been partners but the Dawn County Sheriff’s Department had been understaffed since The Flood, the name locals had given to a series of events that had shaken everyone’s faith in the community.
It sounded dramatic because it was.
The extraordinary tale of corruption and crime within town leadership that led to murders and more, making state and national news and leaving a whole lot of mess in its wake.
A by-product of the mess?
Locals still not trusting anyone they didn’t know.
Which was why Marco was having a bad day.
Carlos’s bad luck, however, ran more personal.
“I just don’t get it, man,” he said, all exasperation. “She told me she had a great time and to give her a call if I wanted to do it again and I did and now she’s a phantom.”
That got Marco. He laughed.
“She ghosted you. She’s not a phantom.”
Carlos threw the wad of paper towels he’d collected onto his desk. It landed next to his tray of paperwork. Most of it was old. The interim sheriff and lead detective were trying their best to comb through old cases for one reason or the other. That meant that every deputy in the bullpen had a tray full of files, no matter how uneventful the month had been so far.
“Whatever it is, I’m not a fan,” Carlos said. “I’m going to have to see what Millie thinks. Get a woman’s opinion on what to do next.”
Millie Dean was a name that had made the news less than a year before, along with that of her brother’s. They’d gotten caught in the fallout of The Flood and, thanks in part to Dawn County’s lead detective, Foster Lovett, they’d all survived it. Now Millie had an engagement ring on her finger and the total and utter appreciation and respect of Carlos. Something that, according to Libby at the front desk, wasn’t easily earned.
Carlos pulled his phone out and tried to wipe it down with the already-wet paper towels. It made him grumble again.
“How about we go out for a drink instead?” Marco looked up at the clock on the wall. Their shift had technically ended half an hour ago but helping Mrs. Finnigan get her car looked at had taken longer than either expected, no thanks to the rain.
It had been an odd déjà vu for Marco to find another truck broken down on the side of the road. This time, instead of encountering a woman he still couldn’t get out of his head with a wrench in one hand and deep mistrust in her eyes, they’d been met with a deflated tire and a woman hell-bent on letting them know just how much she hated the Auburn football team.
“You can give me some more fun facts about the town and I can pay you for it in free drinks,” Marco added.
That seemed to do the trick. Carlos perked up.
“You had me at free.”
Marco reached into his gym bag next to his desk and pulled out his tennis shoes. He laughed.
“That’s the second to last thing I said,” he pointed out.
Carlos waved him off.
“And it was the magic word. ...
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