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Deadly Christmas Secrets: Faith in the Face of Crime (Mission: Rescue Book 4) by [Shirlee McCoy]

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Deadly Christmas Secrets: Faith in the Face of Crime (Mission: Rescue Book 4) Kindle Edition

4.8 out of 5 stars 82 ratings
Part of: Mission: Rescue (8 Books)

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Editorial Reviews

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Tires on gravel.

The sound of a visitor.

An unexpected one, and that made Harper Shelby stop, her back still bent over the shovel, the deep red clay just under its lip.

She didn't get visitors.

Not ever.

And that was the way she liked it. It was the reason she'd bought twenty acres out in the middle of nowhere, and it was the reason she'd stayed there. The cabin had been nothing when she'd moved in—just four walls and a loft, a tiny kitchen meant to be used by hunters. She'd made it into something beautiful—a two-story structure with just enough room for her and her dog. One bedroom upstairs. One bathroom. An office on the lower level. A kitchen that was small but functional. A living area and wood-burning stove that heated the place in the winter.

The kiln at the back of the cleared acre that the cabin sat on.

It had cost a small fortune, but she'd earned a small fortune playing with the clay she pulled from the creek beds on the property. Lydia would have laughed at that if she'd been alive. Harper's older sister had been like that—filled with amusement at life and the people in it. She wouldn't have missed the irony of Harper's new career. No more clean and sterilized office in one of DC's most prestigious graphic design firms. No more climbing the corporate ladder, working to impress a boss, earning a bonus, getting the best clients. No more neat brownstone with all the amenities Harper and Lydia hadn't grown up with. Now Harper shaped clay, molding it into pots and vases and plates that people seemed willing to pay top dollar for. Every one of the pieces was signed with Harper's pseudonym—Ryan A. Harper. Lydia's middle name. Harper's first. A for Amelia, Lyd-ia's daughter. Harper would have chosen Ryan Amelia Harper, but she'd been afraid the news voyeurs would recognize the combination of names and come looking for her.

Too many people wanted to hear Lydia and Amelia's story firsthand, and Harper wasn't willing to tell it. Not to reporters or true-crime writers. Not even to the police. Not anymore. The case was closed, her sister's murderer dead, Amelia presumed dead, too.

Four years was a long time.

Most people had forgotten, but someone hadn't. Someone had sent her a package. It had been shoved into the PO box she kept in a town fifty miles away. It wasn't connected to her new life, her new address or her new property. It was the last vestige of who she'd been, the last connection to her sister's husband, to the friends she'd once had, the busy life she'd once lived. She'd been thinking that it was time to let the box go.

It had been empty every time she'd opened it for the better part of two years. Until this last time.

She'd made the trip the previous day, opened the box and found an envelope shoved inside. She'd opened it with more curiosity than anything. There was no return address. Just a postmark from DC. Inside, she'd found a newspaper clipping—a tiny little section circled. Just a couple of lines about the death of Norman Meyers—a man who'd been convicted of killing Lydia Wilson and her four-year-old daughter, Amelia. There'd been a scrap of fabric, too, a little square of what looked like a pink blanket.

It couldn't have been Amelia's blanket. That had disappeared four years ago, but Harper hadn't been able to shake the sick dread she'd felt looking at those two things. She'd put a call in to the DC homicide detective who'd handled the case. She hadn't heard back from Thomas Willard yet.

She'd planned to give it another day or two and then call again, but the sound of tires on her gravel driveway made her think that Detective Willard might have come to her. Or sent someone to her. A local police officer, maybe?

She left the shovel standing up in the rich, moist earth. This was her favorite creek bed, the colors of the clay rich and vibrant. Soon, though, it would be too cold to dig. Already the ground was hardening. If she didn't harvest what she needed soon, she'd have to wait until spring thaw.

She'd finish collecting today, but first she had to see who was rolling along the road that led to her cabin. She whistled for Picasso but didn't wait for the dog to appear. He loved the woods, loved exploring the thickets and the deer paths. He always returned when she whistled for him, though, and she could hear him bounding along behind her as she headed up the steep path that led to the cabin.

Less than a tenth of a mile, but the incline made going difficult. By the time she reached the edge of the tree line, the sound of tires on gravel had faded. So had the sound of squirrels scurrying around hunting for food. The forest was usually busy this time of year, animals collecting as much food as they could before winter took hold. By mid-December, the landscape went silent and still. Harper did her best work then, snow and ice and heavy gray clouds making her feel as if she was alone in the world.

Until the world intruded.

Once a month, the church ladies came to visit. Last winter, one of the deacons had come to chop wood for her. She hadn't had the heart to tell him that she'd chopped plenty during the summer and fall, so she'd let him do it and then tried to pay him for his efforts. He'd refused to take money, so she'd given him a vase crafted from clay she'd harvested, fired to perfection and then glazed with all the colors of winter.

Picasso halted at the edge of the trees, growling low in his throat, his scruff standing on end. She stopped beside him, touching his head.

"What do you see, Picasso?" she murmured, peering out from between thick pine boughs.

She'd been expecting a police cruiser.

A black Jeep was there instead.

She couldn't see the driver, but no one she knew drove a Jeep. She took a step back, her fingers sliding through Picasso's collar. He might be growling, but if someone got out of the car and offered a treat, he'd be all over that in a heartbeat.

She didn't want the Irish wolfhound anywhere near whoever was driving the Jeep because she had a bad feeling about her visitor, a feeling that said she'd be better off staying in the woods than stepping out where the driver could see her.

The driver's door opened, and a man climbed out. Tall. Very tall. Very muscular. Blond hair. Eyes shielded by sunglasses. He wore dark jeans, a black T-shirt and a jacket with a patch in the shape of a heart stitched to the right shoulder.

A uniform of some sort?

She wasn't going to ask.

She wasn't going to step out from the trees, either. Her property was too far off the beaten path for someone to find his way there accidentally. This guy had come for a purpose. She'd rather have someone else around when she found out what that was. She couldn't call one of the church ladies, and she didn't have any close guy friends. She'd call the sheriff's department. They could send deputies out, and she'd just stay in the woods until they arrived.

She pulled her phone from her coat pocket, watching as the guy took a step away from the Jeep. Picasso barked twice, the happy greeting ringing through the still morning air. The man turned in their direction, scanning the tree line.

She didn't think he could see her through the thick pine boughs, but she took a step back anyway, pulling Picasso with her.

"You can come out," the man called, taking off his sunglasses as if that would somehow make him look less menacing. "I don't bite."

"My dog does," she responded, and he shrugged.

"I've had worse than a dog bite. My name is Logan Fitzgerald. Your brother-in-law sent me."

"My brother-in-law has no idea I'm here," she responded, keeping the pine boughs between them. Despite what she'd said, she would have been very surprised if Picasso took a bite out of anyone. He was a friendly dog, easygoing and funny. He served as a good early-warning system if a bear or mountain lion was around, and she liked to think he'd try to protect her if one came along, but he had yet to have to prove himself.

"Maybe I should rephrase that," Logan said. "Gabe Wilson hired the company I work for to find you."

"Why?"

"He had some information he wanted to share with you.

"I'm not interested."

He cocked his head to the side, and despite the foliage between them, she was sure he was taking in her mud-splattered jeans, her hiking boots, the thick wool coat she wore over her T-shirt. "All right. I'll give him the message for you."

"That's it?"

"He hired us to find you, Harper." He drawled her name, just a bit of a Southern accent in the words. "When he did, he signed a contract stating that if you don't want to be found, you simply have to say so. He gets no address. No phone number. Nothing."

"That doesn't seem like something Gabe would agree to." Her brother-in-law never gave up on anything. He was determined and driven to a fault. At least, he had been four years ago.

"He didn't have a choice. That's the way HEART works."

"HEART?"

"We're a freelance security and hostage rescue team," he responded as if that explained everything. "I'll pass along your message." He slid into the Jeep and would have closed the door, but the sound of an engine drifted from somewhere down the road. He frowned. "You expecting company?"

"No."

"I guess I'll stick around, see who's coming."

"That's not necessary."

"Sure it is." He crossed the distance between them and pulled back the pine bough that hung closest to her face. "But it really isn't necessary for you to keep hiding from me. If I'd wanted to hurt you, I'd have done it by now."

"That's…comforting."

"You know what would be comforting, Harper? The idea that someone who lives out in the middle of nowhere and tromps through the woods every day looking for mud—"

"Clay," she corrected him, and he nodded.

"Clay. What would make me feel comfortable is the idea that this person was carrying a firearm."

"I have bear spray."

"Bear spray isn't going to take down a guy who's a dozen feet away, pointing a gun at you."

"I—"

"Guy's coming fast," he said, cutting her off and moving into the tree line.

"How can you t—?"

Before she could finish the question, a black sedan was racing into view. Picasso barked excitedly. Two visitors was a dream come true. He lunged toward the driveway, breaking from Harper's hold.

She followed without thinking, lunging out into the open, the car barreling down on them.

She had about three seconds to realize it wasn't going to stop, three seconds to think about the fact that whoever was driving had every intention of mowing her down.

And then she was tackled from behind, rolled toward the trees again.

Tires squealed. Someone shouted. Logan?

And then the world exploded, dirt flying up from the ground near her head, dead leaves jumping into the air, dust and debris and the acrid scent of gunfire stinging her nose.

Logan Fitzgerald had a split second to realize he'd been used before the first bullet flew. He didn't like it. Didn't like that he'd been used to find a woman whom someone apparently wanted dead.

Gabe Wilson?

Probably, but Logan didn't have time to think about it. Not now. Later he'd figure things out.

For now, he just had to stay alive, keep Harper alive.

He pulled his handgun, fired a shot into the front windshield of the dark sedan. Not a kill shot, but it was enough to take out the glass, cause a distraction.

He rolled off Harper's prone form and shoved her toward the tree line. "Go!" he shouted, firing another shot, this one in the front tire.

She scrambled into the bushes, her giant dog following along behind her.

The sedan backed up, tires squealing as the driver tried to speed away. Not an easy task with a flat tire, and Logan caught a glimpse of two men. One dark haired. One bald. He fired toward the gunman and saw the bald guy duck as the bullet slammed into what remained of the windshield.

He could have pursued them, shot out another tire, tried to take them both down. This was what he was trained to do—face down the opponent, win. But Harper had run into the woods. He didn't know how far, didn't know if she was out of range of the gunman or close enough to take a stray bullet.

He knew what he wanted to do—pursue the gunman, find out who had hired him, find out why.

He also knew what his boss, Chance Miller, would say—protect the innocent first. Worry about the criminals later.

He'd have been right.

Logan knew it, but he still wanted to hunt the gunmen down.

He holstered his gun and stepped into the trees, the sound of the car thumping along the gravel road ringing through the early morning.

Sunlight streamed in through the tree canopy, glinting off leaves still wet from the previous night's rain. He'd stayed in a tiny bed-and-breakfast at the edge of a national park, waiting for sunrise to come. He hadn't wanted to drive out to Harper's place in the middle of the night. If he'd known he had a tail, he wouldn't have driven out at all.

He scowled, moving down a steep embankment, following a trail of footprints in the damp earth. He could hear a creek babbling, the quiet melody belying the violence that had just occurred.

The car engine died, the thump of tires ceasing.

A door opened. Closed.

Was the gunman pursuing them?

He lost the trail of footprints at a creek that tripped along the base of a deep embankment. A bucket was there, sitting near the water, half filled with red mud.

Clay, Harper had said.

He didn't think it would matter much if they were both dead.

He wanted to call to her, draw her out of her hiding place, but the forest had gone dead silent. Years of working in some of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan had honed his senses. Even now, years after he'd left the military to raise his younger siblings, he knew when trouble was lurking nearby.

He moved cautiously, keeping low as he crossed the creek and searched for footprints in the mucky earth. The scent of dead leaves filled his nose, the late November air slicing through his jacket. He ignored the cold. Ignored everything but his mission—finding Harper Shelby and keeping her alive.

He moved up the embankment, dropping to the ground as leaves crackled behind him. Whoever was coming wasn't being quiet about it. Not Harper. She'd moved like a wraith, disappearing into the forest with barely a sound.

He eased behind a thick oak, adrenaline pumping through him as he waited for his quarry. It didn't take long. A few more loud snaps of branches and crackles of leaves and the bald man appeared, inching his way down toward the creek, his belly hanging over a belt that was cinched so tight, Logan was surprised the guy could breathe.

He could have taken him out then, fired one shot that would bring the guy down for good, but he was more interested in hearing what he had to say and knowing why he was trying to kill Harper.

He waited, counting footsteps as the guy drew closer.

Another few yards and he'd be within reach. Another few feet. The guy moved past the tree where Logan was hiding, completely oblivious to the danger he was in. Not a professional hired gun, that was for sure. Logan had run into his fair share of those during the years he'd been working for HEART. They weren't this careless, and they were never easy to take down.

He waited another heartbeat.

That was all it took. Just that second of waiting, and calm became chaos. The bushes beside the guy moved and Harper's dog burst out, snarling and barking as he tried to bite the bald guy.

The man cursed, raising his weapon, aiming at the dog's head, and then Harper was there, a shovel in hand. She swung hard, the metal end of the tool smacking into the guy's wrist as Logan pulled his weapon and fired. --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.

About the Author

SHIRLEE McCOY 
began writing her first novel when she was a teenager. A busy mother of five, Shirlee is a homeschooling mom by day and an inspirational author by night. She and her husband and children live in the Pacific Northwest and share their house with a dog, two cats and a bird. You can visit her website, www.shirleemccoy.com, or email her at shirlee@shirleemccoy.com. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B00YMWWZR8
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Love Inspired Suspense; Original edition (December 1, 2015)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ December 1, 2015
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 601 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Not Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 224 pages
  • Lending ‏ : ‎ Not Enabled
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.8 out of 5 stars 82 ratings

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