Renegade Guardian Online - Delores Fossen

Chapter One

Maya Ellison spotted the man the moment she stepped out of the grocery store.

He would have been darn hard to miss, especially since he was leaning against her car. Except he wasn’t just leaning. It was more as if he was lounging while he took in the scenery. Arms folded over his chest. Jeans-clad legs, outstretched and crossed at the ankles.

Waiting.

Maya had no idea who he was. Or what he wanted. But he appeared to be waiting for her.

She walked closer, her steps slow and cautious while she kept her attention nailed to him. Even with the lounging pose, she could tell he was well over six feet tall. Solid build. Dark brown hair that fell slightly long against his neck. Even though he was wearing a black Stetson, the cool October breeze had rifled through what she could see of his hair and had left it rumpled.

He reminded her of an Old West outlaw. And that was the reason she tightened her grip on the infant carrier that held her son, Evan.

The man lifted his head, snagging her gaze, but he said nothing as he pushed himself away from her car. The simple gesture nearly caused her to turn and run back into the store, but Maya reminded herself she was on Main Street, in broad daylight, no less. Plus, this was Spring Hill, a sleepy Texas town that was as close to crime-free as a town could get.

Bad things don’t happen in Spring Hill.

It was the reason she’d moved here. A safe haven to raise her child. She hoped she hadn’t been wrong about that.

“May I help you?” Maya asked, and silently cursed the polite tone. She added a glare for his leaning on her car.

“I’m Slade Becker,” he said, not answering her question. He reached into the pocket of his black jacket and pulled something out. Before Maya could react to the possibility that it might be a gun, he produced a wallet and held it up for her to see.

Not a wallet.

A badge.

She eased a few steps closer so she could get a better look at him and that star shield. It wasn’t a cop’s badge, but now that she had a better look at him, his steel-blue eyes seemed as if they did indeed belong to a cop. He didn’t just look at her. He studied her from the top of her head to her sensible leather walking shoes. Then that gaze went to the carrier.

To Evan.

Because of the way she was holding the carrier and the single plastic bag of groceries, the man could likely only see the top of Evan’s head, which was covered by a blue knit cap. Still, even that seemed intrusive, so she turned, hoping that would shift his gaze off Evan and back to her.

It didn’t.

Maya decided to do something about that. She gave the carrier another adjustment so that it was as far behind her as she could position it. The shift caused her arm to ache, and she wouldn’t be able to stand there long. Not that she intended to do that anyway.

“You’re a U.S. marshal,” she said, making sure she sounded impatient, which she was. Even though it was a beautiful autumn day, she suddenly wanted nothing more than to get home.

And away from this lawman with the haunting blue eyes.

There was something downright unsettling about him, and it didn’t have anything to do with the car-leaning or memorable eye color. Maybe it was his looks. Edgy, along with being drop-dead gorgeous. He was the kind of man she usually avoided but found herself attracted to anyway.

Maya choked back a huff. No way, no how would she feel anything but wariness when it came to this man. She wasn’t at a point in her life where she was looking for a relationship, especially one with a man like this.

“Yeah, I’m a marshal,” Slade confirmed, and the wind had another go at his hair. “You didn’t know I was coming.” It wasn’t a question, nor did he wait for her to answer. “I was on my way out to your house, but I spotted your car in the parking lot and stopped.”

“But why?”

He opened his mouth, maybe to explain why she would have known he was coming or why he was indeed there, but her phone rang. The sweet lullaby ringtone didn’t mesh with the syrupy tension in the air.

Even though she was on an extended leave of absence from her job as a victims’ rights advocate,