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Key Witness (Love Inspired Suspense\The Security Experts) Mass Market Paperback – February 5, 2013

Book 1 of 3 in the Security Experts Series

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About the Author

Christy Barritt loves stories and has been writing them for as long as she can remember. When she’s not working on books, Christy writes articles for various publications. She’s also a frequent speaker at various writers groups, women’s luncheons and church events. She’s married to Scott, a teacher. They have two sons, two dogs and a houseplant named Martha. For more information, visit her website at: www.christybarritt.com. 

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

"Everyone down! Any quick moves and we'll shoot. Understand?"

Elle Philips dropped onto the marble floor of the bank. The contents of her purse scattered everywhere as she hit the ground, but she didn't care. She remained frozen, not wanting to draw attention to herself.

At the sound of approaching footsteps, her heart rate quickened. She raised her head, just enough to take a quick inventory of the situation. Two men. Black masks. Guns.

Elle knew that only two tellers were working right now, and that the manager had just left for a late lunch—Elle had passed him on her way in. Three other customers had also sunk to the floor. A frail-looking older woman, a college-aged girl and Denton. The dark-haired man had been in line behind her today. She knew Denton's name, only because they often came to the bank on the same days, same times. Over the weeks, they'd been flirtatious as they passed time in line.

Today, they'd only begun their casual teasing of each other when the robbers had burst through the doors of StoneCrest Bank on General Booth Blvd. in Virginia Beach, Virginia. At the moment, Elle glanced at Denton. He sat only a few feet away. His perceptive eyes met hers, silently communicating the urgency of the situation. Something about his calm gaze made her racing heart slow for a moment.

The shorter of the two robbers locked the glass doors at the front of the bank. He then stepped between the customers, the barrel of his gun bouncing against his black pants. The second robber, the one who'd ordered everyone to the ground, rushed toward the tellers, a bag in hand. "If you do what we say, no one will get hurt."

The first robber—Shortie, Elle nicknamed him—kicked Elle's purse back to her, sending more lipstick and pens rolling everywhere. "Give me your cell phones. If anyone even tries to call the police, I'll…I'll kill you."

A shudder ripped down Elle's spine, and her hands trembled as she riffled through her purse. Most of the contents lay askew, but her cell phone remained lodged in one of the deep pockets, refusing to budge. The device seemed to hang on tighter as Shortie loomed over her.

"Come on, lady!"

Finally, she jerked the phone from its hideout. Its metal burned in her hands, reminding her that this was her lifeline to the outside world. If only she could call the police…

No, let them get their money and get out of here, she told herself. Be compliant. That's what security experts always said. If only she weren't so bad at embracing compliance. Still, she was levelheaded enough to know when to back off.

She shoved her phone into Shortie's gloved hand. He grunted as he snatched it from her. Once all the phones were collected in a black bag, the man laid them on the counter at the center of the bank.

Julie, the young teller behind the counter, raised her hands in the air. Her eyes stretched wide with fear. "Whatever you want. Just don't hurt anyone."

The other robber, the ringleader, Elle thought, shoved his gun at the teller. "I want all of the money in your drawer. If the police show up right now, you'll be the first one I take out."

Just do what they say, Elle prayed. Then maybe they would leave. The police could come and get some fingerprints and take eyewitness accounts. The justice system would be the heroes when they tracked down the robbers. Elle prayed that no one would try to be heroic and end up making the situation worse for all of them.

"What are you doing?" Ringleader shouted at Julie.

Elle wanted nothing more than to lay a steady hand on the young woman's shoulder and encourage her to just do what the man said. Instead, Elle hunkered down on the cool floor, her back against the wall. The best thing she could do would be to remain quiet and unseen.

Shortie paced over to her, his job obviously to guard the customers as Ringleader grabbed the money.

Elle tried to remember each detail so she could tell the police when they arrived. She soaked in the robbers' demeanors, their clipped words, the color of their eyes. As a campaign manager for her father's senate reelection bid, she was paid to pay attention to details. Shortie's gaze darted toward Elle, and she sucked in a breath, waiting to see what he would do.

Don't make this any worse than it has to be, buddy.

He waved his gun at her, and Elle noticed his hand trembling. The man was a novice at this. Was that a good or bad thing? The other man, Ringleader, didn't seem nervous at all.

"I need more money than that. Open the other drawers!" Ringleader leaned toward Julie, his gun aimed at her temple.

Julie shook her head, tears glimmering in her eyes. "I can't. I don't have their keys!"

"What do you mean, you don't have their keys? Can't you get them?"

"Only the branch manager has access to all the keys. You have to have them to open the drawers." Tears glistened in her eyes.

"You're messing with me! Just get the keys, give me the money and nobody gets hurt."

Denton's strong, steady voice broke through the mayhem. "Can I see if I can help her?"

Shortie pointed his gun at him. "You know something about banks?"

Denton raised his hands. "No, but I want to help. You're making her nervous. Maybe I can help her open the drawer."

The gun trembled in Shortie's hands. "I want you to stay right where you are."

"I just don't want anyone to get hurt." Denton's gaze remained level and even.

Elle had to admire Denton's calm demeanor. She glanced at him again, at the chisel of his features, at the dark hair that formed the shadow of a beard across his face. Dark, thick hair. Tall, broad form. Put it all together, and he was the picture-perfect definition of a heartbreaker.

Elle noted that Denton wasn't wearing his customary suit and tie today. Instead, he'd donned a black jacket over a T-shirt and jeans. In all of their casual conversation, Elle had never thought to ask him what he did for a living. Perhaps he was in law enforcement of some sort? How else could he be so calm in this situation?

Ringleader pointed his gun at the other teller. "Put your money in now!" The teller filled his bag, but then he turned his attention back to Julie. "Figure out how I can get more money." He reached over and grabbed Elle's arm, pulling her to her feet. The gun went to her head. "Do it now or she dies."

Elle gasped and trembles overtook her.

"Calm down," Denton said. He still leaned against the wall, his knees propped up, his voice and movement as calm and controlled as if he were merely talking everyone else through a training exercise. "Let her go."

Ringleader paced over to him, Elle in tow. "Are you in charge here? I didn't think so. You're going to be next if you don't keep your mouth shut."

Elle's throat burned. She was acutely aware of the gun at her temple. One accidental jerk of the finger and she'd be dead, just like that.

There was so much she still wanted to do, needed to do. Life came into an odd and complete clarity when the end appeared close enough to touch. Her necklace, the one her grandmother gave her before she passed, seemed to sear into her skin at the moment. It reminded her that she'd made a promise to her grandmother that she still needed to fulfill.

"I'm telling you—I can't get into the other drawers or the vault. They're all locked, and I don't have the keys. The manager's out to lunch." Sweat glistened across Julie's forehead.

Something hard hit Elle in the face. She blanched before sinking to her knees. The robber quickly pulled her right back up. Her legs would hardly hold her. It didn't matter. Ringleader held her up by her coat collar.

Her cheek throbbed from where the man had pistol-whipped her. Tears rushed to her eyes as pain continued to send shocks through her.

"That's only the start of what's going to happen if you don't get me more money." The man's hot breath hit her cheek, along with a splattering of spittle.

"Boss, you said no one would get hurt," Shortie said.

"I've got this. You shut your mouth and keep the crowd under control."

"Let me—let me…let me search my manager's desk, see if I can find any keys," the second teller said.

Ringleader pushed Elle back to the ground. She stumbled until she hit the wall and sank to the floor. Her hand went to her cheek, and she felt moisture there. Blood? Tears? Both?

Denton looked over at her, his eyes full of concern. "Are you okay?" he mouthed.

She nodded, grateful to be alive. But how much longer would that be the case? The robbers were obviously losing it, getting out of control. This whole situation could spiral into something much bigger than even they had planned.

"Thank you," she whispered back.

The men were pacing now, as if trying to figure out what to do next.

"Good gravy, you didn't know the manager was gone for lunch?" Ringleader let out an expletive and stared at his partner in crime.

"He usually goes earlier."

"Usually isn't good enough." He turned back to Julie. "You need to figure out a plan B."

"Me? Me? How am I supposed to figure out a plan B?" Panic claimed her voice, her limbs.

"You have to know another way to get into that vault."

Julie's head swung back and forth. "Not without a key and a code."

Ringleader cocked the gun at her. "Think a little harder."

She half moaned, half screamed. "I've been trying. I have. There's nothing I can do!"

The gun fired. Elle screamed as Julie disappeared from sight, sinking below the counter.

Denton jumped to his feet. Elle slapped her hand over her mouth, disbelief filling her.

Julie. The robber had just shot Julie.

She lifted a prayer as tears rushed to her eyes. The seriousness of the situation hit her at full force. This was bad. Really bad.

"Stay down!" Ringleader swung around, his gun aimed at the crowd, as if telling them that any one of them could be next.

Elle's gaze flew to the potted plant beside her. She'd seen something fly from the man's belt when he swung around. Her eyes widened when she spotted a cell phone there. Had the robber's cell phone really just flown off his belt and into the plant?

Elle glanced back up at him. He didn't seem to notice the device had slipped off. If she reached her hand out just a little, she could grab it.

But if he caught her, what would he do? Slap her again? Something worse? The thought of Julie flashed through her mind.

She glanced over and saw Denton staring at her. He'd obviously noticed the phone also. What was he trying to tell her? To forget about it? To grab it? What was the right thing to do? She wrestled with her choice. Flexed her fingers. Glanced back up at the robbers. They all seemed distracted by the second teller fumbling through her boss's desk.

This was Elle's chance.

She willed herself to move quickly and without notice, for her motions to be as fluid as flowing water. Before she could second-guess herself, she extended her hand. She grabbed the phone and slipped it into her coat pocket.

Her gaze darted around the room. No one appeared to see her…except Denton. His furrowed eyebrows showed his apprehension.

At least she'd now have some proof of who these men were. Maybe it would help the police put them behind bars.

Elle reached into her pocket and opened the phone. She held her breath, afraid of making any noise or drawing attention to what she was doing. Her heart rate slowed a moment when no one seemed to notice her. She felt the buttons until she found 9-1-1. She prayed the man wouldn't notice his phone was gone, that he wouldn't realize Elle had taken it.

"Any of you want to be next?" Ringleader's voice didn't rise in pitch. He sounded so detached at the moment that Elle felt a chill race through her.

"She's dead. Is she dead? Did you kill her?" Shortie's voice, on the other hand, rose in panic. "What are you doing?"

"They're going to pay!"

As the minutes stretched on, Elle watched the two men pace and listened to them mutter. Every second Julie was without medical care put the woman more at risk. Elle wished more than anything she could go check on the teller, that she could give the robbers the money so they'd be gone.

The phone burned in her pocket.

Had the dispatcher heard what was going on? Had they sent help?

Elle prayed that the answer was yes.

Shortie looked at the front door. "Do you hear that? Sirens. We've got to run before they get here, man! The police are right around the corner."

Ringleader grabbed his bag of cash and darted to the door.

Elle breathed a sigh of relief. He hadn't noticed his cell phone. No one else had been hurt.

Just as the robbers stepped out the front door, the Ringleader reached for his waistline. Felt the empty space where his phone was. Then he looked up. Looked at Elle. He knew she had his phone. She'd been closest to him. Certainly, her gaze held telltale guilt. The robber's eyes narrowed before he pulled his finger across his throat.

Elle sucked in a breath. He was going to find her. And when he did, he would kill her.

Mark Denton saw the robber make the throat-slitting motion as he ran from the bank.

He looked over at the raven-haired beauty and saw that her face had gone ghost-white.

What Elle had done had been incredibly risky, but she may have just saved all of their lives—at least the life of the bank teller.

With the men gone, Denton jumped from the floor and propelled himself over the counter. The bank teller had been shot in the stomach. Blood stained her shirt. Denton took off his jacket and placed it over the wound to stop the bleeding.

"Someone wave the ambulance inside. She needs help. Now!"

Elle rushed to the door. She paused momentarily at it, as if she were afraid the robbers might be waiting on the other side for her. But she stepped outside anyway.

Denton already admired her spunk and guts. Not everyone would have handled themselves so well in a situation like this. Denton, a former SEAL, now worked special operations for a Department of Defense contractor, and even he'd been thrown off-kilter some. He knew moves that could have taken down the robbers, but there were two of them and they had guns. Plus, there were too many people who could have been casualties if something went wrong. He'd taken the restrained approach. He hoped it had been the right one.

"It's going to be okay," he told the teller. Her eyes drifted shut, as if she were losing consciousness. He had to keep her lucid until the paramedics got in here.
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Product Details

  • Series: Love Inspired Suspense\The Security Experts
  • Mass Market Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Love Inspired (February 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037344527X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0373445271
  • Product Dimensions: 4.1 x 0.6 x 6.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,822,207 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

USA Today has called Christy Barritt's books "scary, funny, passionate, and quirky."

Christy writes both mystery and romantic suspense novels that are clean with underlying messages of faith. Her books have won the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Suspense and Mystery, have been twice nominated for the Romantic Times' Reviewers' Choice Award, and have finaled for both a Carol Award and Foreword Magazine's Book of the Year.

She's married to her Prince Charming, a man who thinks she's hilarious--but only when she's not trying to be. Christy's a self-proclaimed klutz, an avid music lover who's known for spontaneously bursting into song, and a road trip aficionado.

When she's not working or spending time with her family, she enjoys singing, playing the guitar, and exploring small, unsuspecting towns where people have no idea how accident prone she is.

Christy is most well-known for her Love Inspired Suspense novels, as well as her Squeaky Clean Mystery series. She currently has 23 books published.

For more information, visit her website at: www.christybarritt.com.

Customer Reviews

I will tell you Mark Denton is absolutely hero worthy.
Christina
Key Witness is the first of Christy Barritt's Security Experts series with Harlequin's Love Inspired Suspense.
Anne Baxter Campbell
Every page is riveted with twists and turns and that kept me turning pages.
Jo Huddleston

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Anne Baxter Campbell on March 6, 2013
Format: Mass Market Paperback
If you enjoy romantic suspense, this book is well written and well worth your time to read. Key Witness is the first of Christy Barritt's Security Experts series with Harlequin's Love Inspired Suspense.

Elle Phillips watches in horror as a bank robbery becomes an apparently senseless murder case as well. Her quick thinking in using the robber's cell phone brings the police, but it also seems to make her the target of further incidences.

Her wealthy father, Senator Phillips, hires another witness to the robbery/murder to safeguard his precious daughter, Mark Denton, a security expert.

Sparks fly--between Mark and Elle, that is. Suspicions and deadly encounters abound.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Emilie Hendryx on March 2, 2013
Format: Mass Market Paperback
When I received this book, I was excited to start it and, once I had, it was extremely difficult to put down!

Following footsteps of Elle Philips, a politicians daughter and campaign manager, we she her first real interaction with Mark Denton in the worst-case scenario possible, a bank robbery. When Denton is hired to protect Elle, the two are thrown into one dire circumstance after another. This time together with Denton is exactly what Elle is not looking for - close proximity with a handsome man.

Get ready for an action packed, adrenaline laced ride with Elle and Denton! No only will you be kept guessing until the end, you will also find yourself drawn to the complex characters Christy has created in Elle and Denton. They come alive and their story will compel you just as the robbers plot will keep you guessing to the very end.

It's not very often that you can find a book that keeps surprising you, but Key Witness is that book! You won't be able to put this down and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys suspense laced with sweet romance.

***
This review was originally published on my blog at: [...]
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Susan Simpson on February 2, 2013
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Key Witness by Christy Barritt is truly a page turner. The reader is thrown into the action from the very first line when Elle Philips finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her innocent trip to the bank turns her from customer to witness of an armed robbery. One horrifying event follows another, and Elle finds herself the target of revenge. Former Navy SEAL bodyguard, Mark Denton, makes it his mission to keep Elle safe and loses his heart in the process.

Who are the perpetrators of so much evil? Why is Elle their target? Can Denton keep Elle safe? Will Elle and Denton be able to trust and give their hearts to each other?

Reading Key Witness is genuinely a nail-biting, heart-pounding experience that will keep the reader hyperventilating until the last page. Five stars, Christy. You've done it again!!

Susan Simpson, author of Ginger and the Bully
[...]
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sharon A. Lavy on March 4, 2013
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Christy Barritt has to be my hands down favorite Christian mystery writer. I have come to expect that by the time I finish the story I will think I know the characters. Key Witness did not disappoint me.

The solution to the problems in this story are not obvious on page one so Christy keeps me reading and turning the pages. Ellie had to learn to face her fears. Her father had to reevaluate his priorities. I find I have to do this myself from time to time.

A very good read by an awesome writer. I highly recommend it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By R. Solomon on February 23, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
This is the second Christy Barritt book I've read, and I was not disappointed. Key Witness had plenty of the romance I love, and was jam-packed full of suspense from the very first sentence.

I read it straight through. The thought of putting it down never crossed my mind and I look forward to her next novel.

***Book provided free for review. The above is my honest opinion.***
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Avid reader on February 12, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I love Christian mysteries...especially the Love Inspired Suspense series! This is one of the best! The only reason I didn't give it a five-star rating is that I don't believe there is such a thing as perfection..either in books or in people. There was only one perfect being...that was Jesus.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By TS Mathews on February 19, 2013
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
Elle Phillips is doing her normal weekly bank visit when things go terribly wrong. There are two masked men yelling and waving guns and before they can be stopped they shoot one of the bank tellers. When Elle sees one of the robbers has unknowingly dropped his cell phone she takes a risk by grabbing it and dialing 911. When the lead robber realizes what she has done he threatens to kill her as he is running away.

Mark Denton, a former Navy Seal works for Iron, Inc. an elite paramilitary security firm who hires only the best of the best. There are former FBI, CIA, and Special Ops along with other members of law enforcement. Denton was at the bank that day when the robbers showed up. But he wasn't the one to save the day; it was the beautiful young woman he had previously seen at the bank.

When Sen. Phillips comes to pick up Elle from the police station where she is giving her statement, he recognizes Denton from a previous security job so he asks Denton he will be willing to be Elle's bodyguard. Guarding a former beauty queen with brains instead of fluff, how could he possibly say no?

When Elle starts getting threatening texts and phone calls it seems the bank robbers have found her. But when people around her are being killed Denton knows that this goes way beyond a mere bank robbery gone wrong. Will he figure out who is behind all the killings before they get the one thing Denton cannot part with...ELLE??

In this chilling suspense filled Love Inspired novel Christy proves what an exceptional writer she is. This is a rock-your world ride that will have you guessing until the very end who the evil mastermind is behind this terrifying plot against the beautiful Elle Phillips.
This is the first book I have read in Christy's Security Experts Series, but after reading this I went back and bought the first one too. Thanks Christy for creating a terrific book that was impossible to put down.
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