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Author Katie Mettner

Tucked Away by Jan Romes

Today I have the lovely Jan Romes on the blog with her new book, Tucked Away! Everyone knows I'm a huge Jan Romes fan, and this book was no different. It was fun and flirty with an underlying layer of suspense. Read on for the first chapter, and my review! Thanks for another great story, Jan!


Secrets have cloaked Renee Dutten's entire existence. Placed in the New York foster care system as an infant, she was moved from family to family until high school graduation. With a bright future as a hairstylist in a posh salon, fate steps in and pulls the rug out from under her again. An eyewitness to a mob hit, the Federal government becomes her guardian. From foster care to witness protection, with only a semblance of normalcy in between, she now has a higher degree of madness with a new identity as Chloe Barnard, a new address in Ohio, and nothing familiar to cling to. The Feds tuck her away in a campground for the summer, with orders for her to maintain a low profile. Chloe's attempt to be reclusive, falls apart right away when she meets Aidan Gerrod. The attraction is powerful and her willpower is weak. Wanting him with every speck of her being puts both of their lives in jeopardy and becomes the biggest struggle of her life.

Former Air Force Master Sergeant and ex-Intel government contractor, Aidan Gerrod is bitter that physical injuries sidelined his military career and an affair with his boss cost him the Intel job. Thinking a campground is the perfect location to regain his balance and find serenity until he figures out where to go and what to do next, he gets just the opposite. His gorgeous neighbor grabs his attention, but also stirs a lot of drama.

When trouble from their pasts comes knocking, will they face it together? Or will they be forced to go their separate ways to stay alive?

Through shuttered lashes, Renee Dutten watched the tall, overly-thin U. S. Marshal pace back and forth in front of the window, gnawing the same toothpick he’d stuck in his mouth after lunch.

He stopped in front of her and crossed his arms. “You’ll now be known as Chloe Barnard.”

Every nerve in Renee’s body sparked like electrical wires being forced together. If she had a circuit breaker, it would’ve blown. “What?”

“Chloe Barnard,” he repeated.

“No, I got it.” She’d been informed earlier that her future would involve identity reassignment. It still didn’t make things easy to accept. “Give me a moment.” Renee closed her eyes to hold back tears. The rebel inside wanted to scream, “Nooooo. This is not happening.” It would be a waste of her vocal chords, because it was happening and there wasn’t anything she could do about it. She took a series of deep breaths, swallowed the tears, and opened her eyes.


“Not really.” In a way, Renee was thankful for the anxiety filling her head and heart; grateful not to be completely numb from all the physical and mental jockeying around the past year and a half.

“This has to be done to keep you safe.”

“I know.” Renee sighed and did a quick Google search with her phone. “There are at least a dozen Chloe Barnard’s.”

The marshal put up his palms. “I had no input in the name. The details trickle down from my boss’s boss. It’s my job to pass them on.” He moved the toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other. “Look at it this way, when someone hunts for you, they’ll have to sift through them all.”

Renee winced at his use of when instead of if. She tossed the alias around in her head. It would take some getting used to. Studying the Chloe-photos, one in particular caused her to squint. Someone had uploaded a recent picture of her and via computer enhancement, had cropped her long hair and changed it from black to blonde. They also doctored her features to show an eyebrow pierced with a gold ring, and in her lap, sat an orange tabby cat. “A cat?” She moved her head back and forth in amazement. “The physical changes won’t throw anyone off. The cat... Oh, you guys are good.”

“We made a few modifications to go with your new name. We’ll stop somewhere along the way and get the piercing done. You can cut your hair and change the color when you get settled. The cat can remain a prop.” He pulled a toy stuffed feline with a pink nose out of a black canvas bag. “From a distance, it looks real.”

“Yeah, no it doesn’t. Where do you guys get your training? Toys R Us? I’m not toting around a stuffed cat.”

Again, his hands went up. “It wasn’t my idea.”

“A giant N-O to getting my eyebrow pierced. I’m not livestock that needs to be tagged.”

The marshal smirked.

“When I was eight, my foster mom took me to get my ears pierced. It amounted to blunt force trauma with a piercing gun.” Chloe tugged at her earlobe. “To top it off, my ears got infected. I let them grow closed and that’s the way they’ll stay, and all other body parts as well. I could do a clip-on.”

He gave her the sarcastic ‘really’ look and tossed her the cat. “I’ll let you skate on the piercing, but your hair has to change. It’s important, okay?”

“Consider it done.” Renee understood the reasoning behind the cat, although not a stuffed one. The prosecuting attorney had concocted an untruth on her behalf and presented it in court; stating the day she witnessed the horrific slaying of the mob kingpin and his driver, the thing that gave her presence away to the two hit men, had been an allergic reaction to cat hair. The attorney added to the fictitious tale by saying she’d ducked behind a dumpster and encountered a family of felines, which caused her to sneeze several times. The only true part in all of it was the crime itself. She hadn’t crouched behind a dumpster and there were no cats. She’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time. She’d stumbled into the scene, just as the lead thug with cold dark eyes and a deep scar on the meaty part of his cheek, off’d the two men in the black limousine. Her strangled gasp had made the killers spin around. The blare of approaching sirens saved her from kissing the pavement with blood gushing from a gunshot wound. In the scramble to get away, karma landed the murderers smack dab into a circle of police who had their guns drawn for another call. During the trial, the heartless bastards executed her a thousand times with their icy, ruthless eyes. Renee tweaked the bristly whiskers of the toy animal. “The phony cat allergy was in no way relevant to the crime, yet the judge allowed the prosecuting attorney to repeatedly toss it out there during the trial. Everyone in New York thinks cats are as detrimental to my health as the mob.”

“Everything we do, no matter how strange, is crucial.”

“I don’t mean to find fault with those of you trying to keep me from being planted six feet under and pushing up daisies. It’s just hard to grasp how easily it is for you to recreate someone.” Restless, she shifted on the olive-plaid upholstered chair that had a spring coming through the fabric. “What am I supposed to do with myself until this insanity blows over?”

Dark bushy eyebrows bumped together in a half-frown, half-look of surprise. “Blows over? Chloe, it will never blow over. Gangsters are like roaches. You squish one with the heel of your shoe and twenty more move in to take its place.”

“You mean I have to hide forever?” Renee knew the truth before the marshal confirmed it and bitterness rose in her throat.

The marshal stuck the toothpick through the gap in his front teeth. “I’m afraid you’ll never be able to resume your old life as a hairstylist. There are worse things, you know. Bottom line: we have to keep you and your loved ones safe.”

My loved ones? Renee squinted with frustration at the human stick-figure in the drab black suit. It was clear he knew nothing about her, other than what little his boss had shared, and she had a hunch he wanted to keep it that way. “There are worse things? Wow.” The sarcasm just kept coming. “Could you understate my situation a little more?”

“Witness protection sucks.” He lifted his shoulders in a shrug. “Consider the alternative.”

Renee tightened her frown. “Two gangsters who didn’t bother to hide their faces, riddled a limo with bullets, killing both the driver and passenger, and now my existence is forever changed.” She groaned loud and long. “When I lay my head down at night and relive the nightmare over and over, I’ll be doing it in a place I’ve never been before and probably wouldn’t consider living there given the choice.”

The marshal had pushed his sunglasses high up on his head when they’d entered the stuffy motel room in Kentucky. At her whining, he moved the glasses back down into place. “It is what it is. Life isn’t fair. It’s never been fair. My job is to see that you continue to have a life. The Department of Justice has dictated what, where, who, how, and more where you’re concerned. You don’t want to piss them off.”

The hair on the back of Renee’s neck stood on end and goose bumps coated her arms. “Or what?” She fisted her hands. “They don’t own me. They owned my testimony, nothing more.”

Annoyance threaded his tone. “You can’t be that thickheaded.” Fetching his phone from the pocket of his suit coat, he trekked from the window to the bathroom doorway and did a half-turn away as though the stance would provide privacy. “Chet, it’s Fields. She’s being a pain, as you predicted. I thought once she understood the extent of the danger, she’d get on board with the relocation.”

Hellooooo. I can hear what you’re saying. And my name isn’t ‘she’, it’s...Renee swallowed hard...Chloe.

“Talk about a mule with dark hair.” The goon with a badge attached to his belt, tried and failed to muffle a four-letter expletive.

“Real nice, Marshal Fields.”

His beady-eyed gaze darted in her direction. “Chet, I’ve got to go. Yes. I will.” He completed the call and strode across the room to where she sat.

“Did he tell you to muscle me? Or is he sending reinforcements to do it for you?”

“We don’t muscle people we’re trying to help.”

“Whatever.” It was pointless to argue. As he’d stated in no uncertain terms, ‘It is what it is.’ She didn’t have a choice. “I can’t be the only person who’s resisted a new name and new location. I was born Renee Dutten and that’s who I’ll remain, at least in here.” Renee tapped her temple. “You hustled me out of New York, flew me to North Carolina, routed me through Alabama, and now we’re in Ohio. Where to next? Montana? Do they have a shack tucked away in a remote spot, where I’ll live out my days growing my own food and fending off bears?”

Marshal Fields flicked the edge of his phone with his fingernail, as if contemplating making another call to complain. “Movements by air and ground are to throw off any tails.” Tossing the spit-soaked toothpick into the trashcan, he replaced it with a piece of gum. There was a slight tremble in his hand when he offered her a piece.

Renee waved away the gum. “No thanks. I’m good.” She scuffed the toe of her sneaker back and forth on the worn carpet and stated the obvious, “You’re trying to quit smoking.”

His forehead wrinkled. “How’d you know?”

“Geez. You guys aren’t the only ones with superhuman intuition.” Renee moved a wayward strand of hair from her face and stuck it behind her ear.

“Superhuman. Right.”

“You’ve been pacing like a crazy man. You keep a multipack of gum in your pocket. Your hand shook. And you decimated that poor toothpick. All signs your body is in a funk.”

“I could just be a nervous person.”

“You’re not.” She had no idea what he was, but the more she talked, the harder he chewed. “You should get a quit-coach. They can help you forget cigarettes.”

“Who has time for a quit-coach?”

“Are you too busy playing chess with people’s lives?”

Marshal Fields didn’t have to call her an ingrate; his irritated look said it for him. “I’m going to need your phone.”

Renee put the device in a death grip. “You can’t have it.”

He held out his hand. “Give it to me.”

“No way. It has pictures and phone numbers I don’t want to lose.”

“You don’t get the concept of starting over, do you?”

“You’re not getting my phone.”

“Chloe, give it up.”

“The name’s Renee.”

“Chloeeee,” he sternly restated, “don’t make me resort to force.”

Despite his slim build, he had more upper-body strength than she did. He could overpower her without breaking a sweat. “This is the last link to everything familiar.”


Under her breath, she said, “Back away, clown.”

“You have to let me do my job.”

“If the shoe was on the other foot, would you be on board with extinguishing who you were?” On the verge of full-on panic, her voice trembled with desperation, “Don’t tell me you’d go down easy. You’d be lying through your teeth.”

He rubbed the muscles in his right shoulder. “I would fight it tooth and nail, too.”

She mimicked him with, “Exactly!”

Compassion hit his expression for no more than a moment. “You make a good case. I still have a job to do. FYI, your phone should’ve been seized long before now. Someone dropped the ball, big time. Now I have to be the bad guy and take it away.” Again, his hand jutted out. “You can argue until you run out of air, but you’re not keeping your phone.”

The situation was lose-lose no matter how she tried to spin it. Uncurling her hand, she grudgingly laid the device into his waiting palm. “Goodbye, former life. Hello, hell.”

“That’s the spirit. Wait. Not the hell part.” He untied one of his keenly polished dress shoes and stepped out of it.

Renee sat with her mouth ajar when he used the heel of the shoe to smash the phone.

Marshal Fields took a small, clear bag from his pocket and scooped up the many pieces. He stowed the bag in an inner pocket of his jacket.

“You just happened to have a bag handy?”

He didn’t bother to answer.

It was stupid to mourn the loss of a phone, but it felt as if part of her died with it. She sniffed back the tears that threatened to reveal her weak side and lifted her chin. “Mangling the phone doesn’t destroy the data. With digital forensics, all my photos, videos, and messages can be recovered.”

“You don’t say?”

“The bad guys have technical know-how, too.”

“Duh. This isn’t the era of Bonnie and Clyde. Of course, the criminals are high-tech. Why wouldn’t they be? I’ll deposit the remains of your phone on my boss’s desk when I get back. What he does with them from there, is up to him.”

Renee gritted her teeth so hard she had to have bitten through the enamel. “The flippin’ bastards are big on identity theft.”


“They robbed me of mine.”

The marshal’s long sigh of frustration indicated he was losing patience fast.

“Forgive me. You’re trying to facilitate security and I’m being a...mule.” She stretched her neck from side to side in an attempt to ease the ever-growing bloom of tension. “It’s normal for me to fight back. I’ve been doing it in some fashion for years, so accepting my fate doesn’t come without at least a little resistance.”

The federal marshal looked as though he wanted to say something. Instead, he closed his mouth and left whatever it was, unsaid.

“Hmm,” came from Renee as a whimper. “I have no idea why I’m making such a huge issue of this. It’s not like I had a lot to walk away from. My clients have moved on since I’ve been away from the salon for so long. Every set of foster-parents I’ve stayed with, have done the same thing. As soon as the trial began, they relocated to Canada. I was told they couldn’t handle the pressure. I’d wager they were forced to go. And Randy, the guy I dated for a couple months, the guy I thought was the one, decided I put his life in jeopardy. He’s taken up residence in L.A. Rumor has it, that he hooked up with a flashy blonde who drives a BMW and parties with celebrities. Good for him. He obviously wasn’t the one to stick.” She wasn’t sure she’d ever meet anyone who’d stick.

“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry for all you’ve been through and what you’ll go through in the years to come.”

“It’s not your fault.” Renee inhaled a breath of stale air. “On to Montana?”

The marshal retraced his steps to the window and parted the curtains enough to peek out. “You’ll stay in Ohio for now. Should we sense a threat, you might end up in Arkansas.”

Arkansas. Montana. It didn’t matter. She’d been in seclusion for a year and a half, in an apartment not far from where members of the mob hung out. According to the cops, it was the last place the mafia would think to look. They called it their hiding-in-plain-sight strategy.

The assassinations had taken place eighteen months ago, yet the terrifying details of the cold-blooded murders refused to exit her brain. She could still hear deafening gunshots, breaking glass, and the screams of the victims. The killers hadn’t bothered to put silencers on their weapons. In court, she’d been so nervous and frightened, it was a wonder she didn’t faint or throw up. Somehow she managed to squeak out the truth and finger those responsible. Renee closed her eyes again to block out the memory, but the gruesome details appeared behind her eyelids. There had been a lot of blood; so much thick red liquid had splattered inside the car and seeped from the door into a nearby sewer. Renee parted her eyelids to fight against the images. She’d never be able to un-see the tragedy. And the mafia would continue to search for the credible eyewitness who’d put three of their family members behind bars for life. “No mob ties in Ohio?”

“I’m not going to lie. They have connections everywhere,” the marshal said matter-of-factly. “You’re headed to small-town living. It’ll be a stark change in culture, but you’ll be safe there.”

A dozen rebuttals fired through her brain; she voiced only one. “Does the mob have something against small towns?”

“Think about it, Chloe. Small communities are tight-knit. They see and hear everything. It would be harder to pull off a hit.”

A shiver tracked up her spine. “That makes sense. Does the small town I’m going to have a name?”

“I’d rather not say it out loud.”

She dropped her voice to almost a whisper. “Is the room bugged?”

“I doubt it.”

“Then what’s the deal?”

He rubbed his forehead. “Must you fight me at every turn?”

Renee’s resistance crumbled. “Chloe Barnard. That’s me. Forevermore.”

Relief seemed to wash over the marshal. “Thank you.” He raised the handle of the pink suitcase filled with new clothes, shoes and an assortment of toiletries. “We’ll be driving the last leg of the trip, instead of flying.”

“I can’t believe you got me a pink suitcase. In no way does that draw attention.” Chloe couldn’t cut the flow of sarcasm, except now it had a hint of humor. “Do I look like a woman who’d buy or wear anything pink?” She wasn’t exactly a tomboy, yet she wasn’t ultra feminine either.

“I might as well tell you, there’s a pink jogging suit and pink t-shirt in there.” He smirked. “Use them to wash windows, I don’t care. I wasn’t the one who shopped for you.”

“When you get back to your home office, be sure to give the shopper this for me.” Chloe cranked up her middle finger. 

When I heard Jan Romes released a new book I was probably one of the first to grab it off Amazon! I put all my other books aside to read it, and once I started, I couldn't put it down. I walked around the house with my phone in my hand sneaking snippets, and even ordered out for dinner tonight! If that's not an enthralling story I don't know what it is. Chloe doesn't have it easy. She's on the lam from mobsters thanks to the US Government, who aren't real great at keeping a low profile. She immediately catches the attention of her neighbor, Aidan, and sparks fly. She knows better than to get involved with anyone, but his kindness, and hazel eyes, are too much for her to resist now that she's alone in the world. 

All told, I loved this romantic suspense story for it's simplicity in the complicated. In the end, whether we're on the run or we're comfortable in our surroundings, we need other people to survive. Chloe proved that point many times over. She needed to feel normal, loved, and safe, few of which she felt, unless she was with Aidan. The cast of secondary characters were comical and kept the story fresh and funny in typical Jan Romes style. I especially liked how she brought Chloe's past together into her present in a surprising manner. If you're looking for dark suspense you won't find it here, but if you're looking for a relatively clean romance (only a few cuss words and kissing, no sex) then you've come to the right place. If you love well written romance that will make you fall in love with the characters as you read then you'll love Tucked Away!

I give Tucked Away Five Oscar Mayer Hotdogs! 

About The Author

Jan Romes is a hopeless romantic who grew up in northwest Ohio with eight zany siblings. Married to her high school sweetheart for more years than seems

possible, she is also a proud mom, mother-in-law, and grandmother. She likes to read all genres, writes witty contemporary romance and women's fiction, enjoys finding new ways to stay fit and gardens even though she doesn't claim to have a green thumb.

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1 comment

Lisette Brodey said...

I read this book when it came out and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I've always been fascinated by the Witness Protection Program, and Jan has written a wonderfully romantic and suspenseful story using the WP program as a "character." A very fun read!