Stars Over Pagosa, Pagosa Cliffs #5

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Summary

Someday your greener pastures will be found under the same stars that saw your blood, sweat, and tears fall. Sheriff Lloyd McConnell's life has been a roller coaster since he was eighteen and came home from Marine Corps Boot Camp to find his girlfriend pregnant with his cousin's baby. Fourteen years later, he has almost everything he wanted as a boy when he told his Great-Uncle Ray he would be the seventh McConnell Sheriff. Now he is living his Uncle Ray's life, including the being alone part. Audra Grean is in Witness Protection with her daughter, on the run from hired assassins after becoming a whistleblower against a major pharmaceutical company. She cost them billions and it cost her, her sight, her grandfather, her fiance, and almost her life five times. The court case is over but the threat may never end... Especially now that she has drawn the attention of a serial killer, masquerading as a friend. Danger has returned to Pagosa Cliffs wearing a friendly face that no one can see past.

Genre:
Romance / Action
Author:
PenumbraMINE
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
39
Rating:
5.0 3 reviews
Age Rating:
16+

Prologue

Someday your greener pastures will be found under the same stars that saw your blood, sweat, and tears fall.


Dr. Nova Celeste wished she could watch her daughter sleeping but she could only see a few feet and without her ridiculously thick glasses, without them nothing was clear. Her sight was the price she paid for doing what was right. Amber’s slight snore came from the fact her nose had been broken when she was twelve, the second time the killers hired by her former employer found them. The worst night of both of their lives because the men Nova was putting in prison didn’t just want her dead, they wanted her made an example of, but the hired assassins hadn’t counted on John or the fact Nova never gave up. She smiled slightly remembering what her grandfather always said about her will power. “You can do anything you put your will into doing, my little star bright, just like your mother and grandmother, but never decide to stop breathing, or that will be it.”

Thinking of her grandfather made her sad. Lester Celeste had been a reservation police officer who had followed his coppery haired Scottish wife as she chased the stars from the VLA to Hawaii to Central America. Their only daughter had followed her mother’s path and it had gotten them both killed by Anarchist rebels trying to kidnap the American astronomers from NASA for ransom. It left Lester with ten-year-old Nova, who was just as brilliant and tenacious as her matriarchs. But his granddaughter Nova was special in another way, her blood. It was the source of her career and her understanding of how blood worked and interacted with pharmaceuticals made her the most sought-after medical research intern at Baylor Medical School and later a target by men who put profit over human lives. When they had come after Nova and Amber the third time, and the old police officer had sacrificed himself so John could get them to safety. John had been shot that time too.

U.S. Marshal John Wolf finished his nightly sweep around the yard and house. Years as a Ranger meant he was as silent as he was deadly when he walked. Tonight, he was glad he chose the Marshal Service over the Texas Rangers. Turning 50 next month, he was ready to retire, all the long years of service to his country were coming to an end because he had finally found a woman who was everything he ever wanted, in spite of being twenty years his junior. Across the bayou from the safe house, he could see the thunderstorm coming in. One last autumn night in Louisiana, one last day in court, then they were going underground and into their happily ever after.

Entering the backdoor, he left his boots by the welcome mat. He saw Nova standing by her daughter’s door, listening to her sleep as she did every night. Nova almost never slept, two to four hours a night only. He watched her wipe a tear and knew she was thinking about one of the last four times assassins tried to collect the forty-million-dollar bounty. Her head tipped slightly. Her partial blindness had heightened all her other senses.

“Hello, John.”

He dropped a kiss on her shoulder. “It wasn’t your fault.”

She turned to look up at him, her fingers traced the scar on his jaw. “It was my fault for not dying the first time... For testifying... for...”

His finger silenced her. “Never apologize for being brave, for doing what no one else had the courage to do... And Amber is an amazing girl, just like her mother.”

She smiled behind his finger, “You’re biased and I love you for it.”

John grinned. “I love you too. Are you going to sleep tonight?”

“I might be persuaded to come to bed for a while.” Then Nova kissed him passionately, before leaning back, “Is that a M&P R8 in your holster or are you glad to see me?”

“Oh honey, I’m packing a bigger caliber than that for you,” John promised as he led her down the hall.

“Mmmm, you make getting shot by you sound so... nice,” she smirked.

“Nice? Just nice? I’ll show you nice.” In mock threat, John pressed her into the bed as she giggled into his mouth then she moaned as he moved to her full breasts. They were his third favorite part of her body. “Damn, these are nice.”

Lifting her head, she taunted, “Nice? Just nice?”

“Yes, very, very nice.” He stood up and stripped quickly, time to enjoy his second favorite part.

Three hours later, John woke alone but still completely sated. “Damn that woman’s gonna kill me,” he muttered happily to himself then he rolled over and picked up his phone to make a call. After calling about the favor he called in for his retirement, he grinned, thinking about how much Nova was going to love Colorado. Outside, the rain was lashing the trees and windows. Thunder rolled like symphony drums in the strobing lightning.

She walked in. “You’re awake.”

“How did you know?”

“The way you’re breathing.” She dropped her robe and climbed back in bed. “The storm took out the internet but I’m ready for tomorrow. I’ve been over all the data from my cloud. I may be blind now, but no one knows that data like I do. Let them put a hundred paid-off doctors on the stand, I’ll disprove them all.”

She curled against his chest as he kissed her hair, thinking how her mind was his first favorite part. She was as brilliant a she was brave. “One more day in court then we are going off to our new lives.”

She looked up at him. “You won’t miss your work?”

“No... I was ready to retire when I met you and I won’t miss it.” John tucked her hair behind her ear. “You made me realize I want more from life than a pension and a wall full of commendations.”

The power went out and he groaned, “I’ll get the generator.”

She kissed him, “Come right back.”

He dressed and went downstairs, Nova heard the back door close as she rose, pulling her light robe on. She went to the window staring out at the lightning, the bright flashes were one of the few things she could still see at a distance, then she noticed the light on the end of the pier was on. In a panic, she grabbed John’s phone and his gun, before slipping through to Amber’s room.

“Baby, wake up.”

“Mommy?” her tired daughter groaned loudly, squinting against the lightning.

Nova pressed her hand over her mouth. “Shhh, listen... I think they’re here.”

Her daughter jumped out of bed and turned her pillow sideways before throwing the blanket back over it before she crouched between the bed and the wall with her mother. “Where’s John?”

“The power went out. He went to turn on the generator but look...” They crawled to the window, “The pier light is still on,” Nova revealed as softly as she could.

“Mom, there’s a boat,” Amber whispered.

Nova pressed John’s phone in her hands. “Text Matt. Tell him they found us again.” Downstairs the door opened and closed. “Go out the closet, and get away from the house, take your motorcycle and get as far away as you can... Go where Matt tells you.”

“Mom, no,” Amber begged.

“I have to find John.” Nova crept silently on the carpet to the door as Amber retreated into the closet and slid open the panel to the passage outside.

Opening a drawer in her bedroom, she pulled John’s silencer out and screwed it on. Nova tiptoed down the servants’ stairs to the kitchen, grateful the century old house had the hidden staircase that opened into the back of the pantry. Listening to a man walking quietly toward the main stairs, she held her breath as he went upstairs. She stalked the second man walking from room to room downstairs. He scuffed the outer edge of one of his feet as he walked. She slipped into a room, unaware a flash of lightning had given her away. Then she heard him hurry toward her, so she crushed herself in the corner beside the bookcase. His breathing was muffled like he was wearing a mask. He took two steps forward and she shot him in the head.. Sprinting down the hall, she was tackled by a second, slamming her temple on the floor. The gun was knocked out of her hand. Dazed, she struggled as he straddled her.

“Hello, Doctor Celeste. Goodbye, Doctor Celeste.” He growled as he began strangling her.

Nova fought with every bit of her strength and everything John had taught her, but the man was much bigger and strong. She was blacking out. A second silenced shot was mixed with the thunder and he dropped on her. She shoved him off sobbing as she gasped for breath, choking.

“John?”

“Mommy.” Amber grabbed her mother, hugging her fiercely. “We gotta go.”

They rushed out into the storm and to the garage. Amber rushed in and got in the car, turning the key. Nothing happened. She went to her dirtbike next. “Mom, they did something to the car and my bike.”

“The boat... do you think you could drive a boat if I told you how?” Nova asked.

“Yes.” Amber sounded so mature and determined for a thirteen-year-old.

They rushed out through the storm to the pier, but Amber stopped under the light, calling out over the wind. “Mom, there’s blood here that hasn’t washed away.”

“Just get in, we have to go,” Nova felt the controls and found the key still in the ignition, the engine started right up. “Amber, are there any ropes? Amber?”

“Throw the gun overboard, Dr. Celeste.” A muffled gruff voice demanded so she did.

“Please... please don’t hurt her.” Nova begged, far away, through the rain she could hear John running toward them, so she shrilly cried out to cover his approach. “Please, I’m sorry... She doesn’t have anything to do with the case... I’ll say whatever you want in court tomorrow if you just let her go. She is just a girl, she doesn’t know anything about the research or the murders of those patients or...”

John tackled the killer, shoving Amber onto the boat, “Go down river!”

The stench of blood mixed with gunpowder mixed with the smell of rain and river as the men wrestled, shooting and stabbing each other.

Amber cried out, “Go, Mom!”

Nova slammed the throttle down as Amber scrambled forward taking the wheel. Craning her neck, she saw the killer shoot John in the face as he collapsed with a knife hilt sticking out of his neck.

“Amber, what happened to John? Amber, did you see what happened to John?”

Her daughter let out a sob, “He’s dead... they killed him... They killed him like grandpa.”

Crying for her fiancé, Nova held her daughter as the boat went downriver. John’s phone chimed with a specific tone. It was his friend Matt.

Amber looked at the message. Her voice was tremulous as she read, “It says, wait at the drawbridge. Matt is sending someone.”

Three days later, Amber stood on the porch and looked around the small goat farm and dairy. The mountains were beautiful but there was still snow at the peaks.

“Amb... I mean, Autumn, honey, come inside and say goodbye to Matt.”

The teen who had been on the run with her mother for three and a half years came in and slumped onto the couch. A new home, a new name, and a new school. She resentfully eyed the FBI agent as the US Marshal talked quietly with her mother in the kitchen. “So where are we this time, Matt?”

The short, stocky FBI agent smiled at her with his unnervingly intense blue eyes, “Welcome to Pagosa Cliffs, Colorado, Autumn Grean.”


Well, TDM graduated Salutatorian by 0.03 points and she got into the Navy Nuclear engineering program with the highest score in her upcoming class. She finished High School during the Coronapocolyse with 50 college credits. She changed her mind about finishing Relic of Time Wars in favor of Pagosa Cliffs. How much can Mama write in six weeks? We shall see...

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