Case File: Canyon Creek, Wyoming by Paula Graves - Fiction
What was supposed to be a quiet vacation in scenic Wyoming turned deadly when Hannah Cooper became the target of a serial killer. Although she survived the attack, the ordeal was far from over. But she wasn't alone. Not when Riley Patterson appointed himself her protector.
Beneath Riley's strapping, solemn exterior hid a hard-driving sheriff who would stop at nothing to catch a killer. He promised Hannah safety, but it was the danger he posed that drew her in. Riley was as much a mystery as the man who sought to take her life. Trapped on his ranch, with no one but each other to trust, only justice could set them free...and possibly separate them forever.
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The flashing blue light in the rearview mirror came out of nowhere, cutting through the cool shadows of the waning afternoon. Hannah Cooper glanced at the rental car's speedometer needle, which hovered just under sixty. The speed limit was sixty-five on this stretch of Wyoming's Highway 287, so she wasn't speeding.
Maybe he just wanted her to move aside to make it easier to pass her on the two-lane highway. She edged the Pontiac toward the narrow shoulder, but the car behind her slowed as well, making no attempt to go around her. The driver waved out the window for her to pull all the way over.
Damn it. She released a slow breath and looked for somewhere to pull to the side. The highway shoulder barely existed on this stretch of winding road, the grassy edge rising quickly to meet the dense stand of pines lining the highway. Hannah spotted a widening of the shoulder a few yards ahead. She slowed and pulled over, cutting the engine.
Tamping down a nervous flutter in her belly, she lowered the window with one hand while pulling her wallet from her purse with the other. Outside the window, footsteps approached. She turned to face the lawman. "Is something wrong?"
She got a brief glimpse of weathered jeans and a shiny silver belt buckle before the man's hand—snugly tucked into latex gloves—whipped up into the window and sprayed something wet and stinging in her face.
Her gasp of surprise drew a spray of fiery heat into her mouth and throat, and her eyes slammed closed, acid tears seeping from between her lids. Pepper spray, she realized, gagging as fire filled her lungs with every wheezing breath. Coughing, she tried to reorient herself in a world turned upside down.
She felt a rough hand on the back of her neck, pushing her forward toward the steering wheel with a sharp thrust. She threw herself sideways, avoiding all but a glancing blow of her cheekbone against the steering wheel. The shock of pain faded quickly compared to the lingering agony of the pepper spray. Panic rose as she felt the man's hand groping for her again.
Don't ever let them get you out of the car.
The warning that filled her foggy mind spoke in her brother Aaron's voice. Aaron, the cop, who never let pass any opportunity to give her advice about personal safety.
If they get you out of your car, you're dead.
The man's hand tangled briefly in her hair then retreated. A soft snapping sound outside the car made her jerk her head toward the open window, and she forced her eyelids open, blinking hard to clear her blurry vision. Through a film of white-hot pain, she saw her assailant's right hand sliding something black and metallic from a side holster.
It snagged coming out of the holster, giving her the distraction she needed. Spotting his left hand resting on the car-door frame for balance, she rammed her elbow on to the back of his hand, crushing his fingers against the door. Something hard and metallic cracked against her elbow bone—a ring? It sent pain jarring up her arm, but she ignored it as he spat out a loud curse and pulled his hand free, just as she'd hoped.
She turned the key in the ignition. The rented Pontiac G6 roared to life and she jerked it into Drive, ramming the accelerator pedal to the floor.
The Pontiac shimmied across the sandy ground, the right back wheel teetering precariously along the edge of the dipping shoulder, but she muscled it back on to the highway and pointed its nose toward the long stretch of road ahead.
She groped on the seat next to her for the bottle of water she'd picked up from a vending machine at a gas station a few miles back....