Friday’s Feature with Sarah Hamaker

Interview, Excerpt, and Giveaway!

A family in danger…a U.S. Marshal sworn to protect.
 
U.S. Marshal Chalissa Manning has been running from her past and God for most of her life. When she meets widower Titus Davis and his son, Sam, her well-built defenses begin to crumble. But someone is targeting Titus and Sam, and it’s up to Chalissa to both protect them and to find out who is behind the attacks. 
 
As the threats pile up, will Chalissa be able to keep the family she’s grown to love safe?

 

Today I have Sarah Hamaker sharing her newest release, Protecting Her Witness. Sarah has generously offered to giveaway 2 e-books of Protecting Her Witness. All you have to do is comment here or on any of my social media posts about her newest release. 2 lucky winners will be chosen and notified by Sarah!

Welcome to my blog today, Sarah. It’s great to have you back!

If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?

Keep writing. Seriously, it’s so important for writers to write, even if there’s no publishing contract. Write something every day, and when you finish one book, start another one. Your writing time is different from your editing time, so make sure you prioritize writing time.

What does a day in the life of an author look like for you? What is your writing schedule like? 

Last year, I realized I had been going about this writing thing all wrong—and this after I’ve published several traditional and indie books! I needed to make sure my writing time was first, not the leftovers of my day. So I started getting up earlier and being at my computer by 7:30 each day for at least 45 minutes or so of writing time. I don’t check email or do anything but open my Word program and write. That has helped me to get more words down faster—and hopefully, that will translate into more published works!

If you could do anything else, what would it be?

To be honest, I’m doing what I love to do. I’ve always wanted to be a writer and I’ve been bless that’s what I am. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing. But if I couldn’t write for some reason, I’d probably work in a museum or even a cemetery—I loved to visit cemeteries when I was a kid (still do!). Reading tombstones of those long-dead people fired my imagination—who were they? What did they do? How did they live? Who loved them? Questions the writer inside me wanted to answer, and perhaps I do a little bit with my books.

What is your favorite genre of books to read?

I love to read what I write—romantic suspense like Lynette Eason, Natalie Walters, Lisa Harris, Irene Hannon. That’s one reason I love doing my podcast—I get to talk to all my favorite Christian romantic suspense authors! I also enjoy historical World War I mystery series like those by Charles Todd, Gilded Age mysteries like those by Victoria Thompson, and general crime and suspense fiction. For nonfiction, I like biographies and history, depending on what catches my interest. I listen to a lot of audio books too.

What issue or problem do you think your readers will relate to?

In Protecting His Witness, the child of the hero is on the autism spectrum. While I don’t have any bio children on the spectrum, we have had a few foster children with autism, and I wanted to portray an autistic child in a relatable, real way. Because it’s a spectrum, kids on it have a wide range of challenges and abilities, and I hope that this small insight into one such kid will help people understand autism a little bit better.



Read an Excerpt from Chapter 1

Chapter 1

U.S. Marshal Chalissa Manning settled into a steady pace as she ran the gravel loop ringing Burke Lake. She noted the mile marker as she swerved around a mom power-walking while pushing a jogging stroller. Whitney Houston belted “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” into her earbuds, the pulsating beat from 1980s hit in rhythm with her stride. Saturday morning sunlight streamed through the trees lining the pathway. Another mile marker flashed by. Good, she was on pace to finish a 5K run in nineteen minutes. 

She enjoyed running, loved being wrapped in her own world while the miles zipped by. So far, her transfer from the St. Louis, Missouri, office to Arlington, Virginia, had gone smoothly. After four years in St. Louis, she’d been ready for a different city and more challenging opportunities in her career with the U.S. Marshal’s Witness Protection Service. For her, the career clock ticked a little louder, given she had become a Marshal shortly before her thirtieth birthday, while most of her colleagues had entered the service directly after college graduation. Her previous work with troubled youth in residential treatment centers had made her a good fit for witness protection, but being older than most of the other newbies meant she had more to prove—and less time to do it if she wanted to make the Marshals her career. Which she did.

“Help!” A male voice shouted as Chalissa came up on the marina parking lot. “My son’s missing!”

Without hesitation, she veered off the path and into the parking lot, stopping her music and pulling her earbuds out. Several groups of people stood in small clusters near the fishing pier. A tall man wearing jeans and a long-sleeved flannel shirt topped by a vest with multiple pockets approached one of the clusters, his voice raised enough for Chalissa to hear. 

“Have you seen my son?” The group shook their heads collectively, and the man moved onto another group, asking the same question and receiving the same reply.

Chalissa jogged up to him and touched his arm as the man turned away from the group. “Sir? Maybe I can help you?”

The man whipped around so fast he nearly bumped into her. “My son’s gone. He was here just a few minutes ago,” his voice cracked. He swallowed hard, then continued. “I’ve got to find him.”

“Okay, we’ll find him. Tell me your name.” Chalissa pitched her voice low and soothing to project calm in the midst of this man’s personal storm.

“Titus. Titus Davis.” Mr. Davis started to walk away, but Chalissa plucked at his sleeve to bring him to a halt.

“Mr. Davis, my name is Chalissa Manning.” She waited until she had his attention once more. “I’m with the U.S. Marshal Service.” 

She pointed to indicate her cropped leggings and baggy t-shirt. “I’m obviously not here on official Marshal business, but let me help you find your son.”

“You’re with the Marshals?” Mr. Davis’s shoulders relaxed a little at her nod. “Thank goodness.”

“Have you called the police?” 

“No.” He shot a hand through his hair, sending the brown strands every-which-way, but didn’t volunteer any more information. 

“How long would you estimate your son’s been missing?” Chalissa took her phone out of its arm band and opened the notes app. 

“Five minutes.” Mr. Davis had returned his gaze to scanning the area. 

“Mr. Davis.” Chalissa waited until the man looked at her. He had a very attractive face, with its strong jawline and short-cropped beard. Chalissa mentally shook her head. The man had a son, which meant he either had a wife or a significant other. “I know you want to look for your son, but these questions will help us find him.”

“I’m really worried.” Mr. Davis swiped at his eyes. “He’s only seven and on the spectrum.”

“He has autism?” She blurted out her question before thinking, as memories slammed into her. 

“Yes, it’s not severe, but it does impact the way Sam interacts with people,” Mr. Davis said. “He doesn’t read social cues well, and can be too trusting.”

“In what way?” A vision of Brandon engaging cashiers, dog walkers, and anyone else who came to his attention zipped across her mind.

“If someone asked Sam to help him look for a lost puppy, he’d do it in a flash.” He rubbed his chin. “Even though we’ve discussed the dangers of going off with a stranger over and over again. Listen, I really need to go look for him.”

Chalissa shook her head as if the movement could clear her mind from thoughts of Brandon, but the pain was just as sharp as it had been sixteen years ago. But Brandon wasn’t here, and Sam needed her help. “Please bear with me. The more info I can gather, the quicker we can involve more people in looking for your son.”

Her words succeeded in stopping him from walking away but he balanced lightly on the balls of his feet, ready to leave in an instant. Better get on with her questions. “What was Sam wearing?”

“He had on jeans, sneakers, a long-sleeved blue t-shirt, and a bright orange fishing vest.”

She jotted down the description. “Hair, eye color, height?”

“His hair is a little lighter brown than mine,” Mr. Davis gestured to his head. “His eyes are brown and he wears glasses. They’re bright green, the kind that wrap all the way around the back of his head. And he’s about yay big.” He held out his hand to indicate close to three feet.

“Thank you, that’s very helpful. Where did you last see him?”

“It was down by the pier.” He pointed to the fishing pier. “We had set up to fish—see the blue camping chairs about midway down on the left side?”

“I see them.” She noted the location, then added the information to her notes. 

“Sam realized he’d dropped his favorite lure. He’d been holding it along with his pole as we walked from the car to the pier.” Mr. Davis drew in a breath. “We’re parked right there.” He nodded toward a late model, dark blue crossover SUV in a parking space a few feet away. “I didn’t see the need to walk with him.”

Chalissa visually measured the distance from the chairs to the SUV—about fifty feet. 

“He’s nearly eight, and we’ve been working on him doing things by himself because…”

“A boy needs his independence,” she finished the thought for him.

“Yeah,” he agreed.

“But you watched him all the way to the car?” 

“Yes. I saw him pick up the lure—it was on the ground right by the back passenger-side door, where he must have dropped as he got out of the car.” 

Mr. Davis closed his eyes briefly, pain etched into the lines of his face. “Then I got a text. I only looked away for a few seconds.”

“From your wife?” As soon as the words left her mouth, Chalissa wanted them back. At least her voice had sounded brisk, professional, and not inquiring.

“No.” Mr. Davis looked away. “My wife, Sam’s mom, died when he was a baby.”

She winced for pouring more pain on an already painful situation. “I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you.” He squared his shoulders. “I read the text, and when I looked up again, Sam wasn’t there.”

“You didn’t answer the text?” 

“It was spam.” His gaze locked with hers. “You don’t think it was sent on purpose to distract me from Sam? Let me show you.” He pulled out his phone and brought up the text. As she read the short message, he continued, “It was something about my credit card account, but my credit card company doesn’t communicate that sort of information by text.”

“Thanks.” The text had standard spam language, but given the timing, she noted the sender’s number just in case. “Where have you looked for your son?” 

“All around here.”

“Excuse me?” An older man wearing the brown uniform of a park employee approached them. “Are you the father with the missing boy?”

“Yes, I’m Titus Davis.”

“Nathan Wiltshire.” He turned toward Chalissa. “And you are?”

“Chalissa Manning, U.S. Marshal.” She shook his hand. “I left my official ID in my vehicle, but while running on the trail, I heard Mr. Davis calling for help.” She held up her phone. “I’ve taken down all the pertinent information about what happened, including a description of Sam, age seven. If you’ll give me your contact info, I’ll send it to you to disperse to the park employees.”

Mr. Wiltshire rattled off his phone number. “That will make things easier.”

“I have to look for Sam,” Mr. Davis said. “I can’t just stand around doing nothing.”

The park employee shook his head. “It’s best if you stay here, in case Sam comes back on his own.” He held up a hand as Mr. Davis opened his mouth. “I know how difficult a request that is. If it were my son, I’d want to be searching the grounds too. But it really is best if you leave the search to park workers and the police.”

“You’ve called the police?” Chalissa asked.

“Yes, as soon as I heard the boy was missing.” A shadow passed over Mr. Wiltshire’s face. “Another Northern Virginia park had a similar incident about five years ago and the Northern Virginia Park Authority management made the decision that any time a child was reported missing on park grounds, the police would be brought in immediately.”

Chalissa heard the sorrow behind the words and hoped Mr. Davis hadn’t picked up on the inflection. That incident probably hadn’t turned out well, but there was no need for Mr. Davis to start imagining anything darker than he already was.

The other man extended his hand to Mr. Davis, who shook it impatiently. “Hang tight. I’ll, keep you updated. I’m going to make sure everyone is looking for your son.” 

As the park employee walked away, Chalissa turned back to the father. “Is there anyone I can call for you?” 

“Call?” His eyes widened. “No, I’ll take care of it. Excuse me.”

She watched him move toward his vehicle, fear and concern slumping his shoulders. The knot in the pit of her stomach tightened even more. She could relate to how terrified Mr. Davis must be feeling, how helpless, particularly since his missing son had special needs. For a moment, the temptation to cry out to God to save Sam, to not let Brandon’s fate befall him, overwhelmed her. But personal experience had confirmed God didn’t answer her prayers.

# # #

Hanging onto his control by a wire as thin as the fishing line on his rod, Titus leaned his back against the rear bumper of his SUV. Tremors shook his hands and it took him three tries to select the right number to call. 

“Mac here.”

U.S. Marshal James “Mac” MacIntire’s familiar, crisp greeting nearly made Titus cry out in relief. “It’s Titus. Sam is missing.”

“What happened?”

Titus quickly recounted the events of the morning. “The park has started a search and called in the local police.”

“Could Sam be playing a game?” Mac’s question irritated Titus. 

His son knew better than to play a game like this, but he bit his tongue to prevent himself from taking out his fear on Mac. “I don’t think so. Sam usually follows the rules.”

“Did you and Sam run into anyone you know at the park?” 

“No.” Titus could hear the fear in his own voice. “With the trial coming up in a couple of weeks…” He let the thought trail off, knowing Mac would understand.

“You did the right thing in calling me.” 

“Mr. Davis?”

Titus raised his head and met the direct gaze of Chalissa Manning, a serious expression stamped on her face. “Hold a minute, Mac.” He put the phone down.

“The police have arrived.” She pointed over her shoulder to where a trio of officers made their way through the crowd toward him. “I’ll brief them while you finish your call.”

“Thanks.” Titus put the phone back to his ear as she moved toward the officers. “The police are here.”

“Good. Who was that you were talking to just now?”

“Chalissa Manning. A jogger on the path who heard me shouting for Sam. She offered to help. She said she was a U.S. Marshal, but she didn’t have any identification on her.” The tranquility and compassion in her eyes as she questioned him had done much to calm him during those first few moments of panic at the realization Sam was missing. 

“You didn’t say anything?” Mac’s question stung.

“Of course not,” Titus snapped. “I merely gave her the information necessary to find Sam.” He lowered his voice, his gaze seeking out Chalissa, where she stood talking to the police. “I certainly didn’t blurt out I’m in witness protection.”

“Good. We do have a new inspector who arrived last week from the St. Louis office, but I haven’t met him or her yet.” Mac cleared his throat. “Unfortunately, I’m four hours away in southwestern Virginia, but let me check with the office on the new inspector. If it is this Chalissa Manning, I’ll call and brief her, so she can take over as your point-of-contact during the search.”

“Okay.” 

“For now, follow protocol and don’t say a word to anyone about your being in WITSEC.”

“Got it.” Titus ended the call as Chalissa waved him over. As he walked toward the group of officers, the same prayer looped over and over in his mind. Please God, keep Sam safe. Don’t let him be hurt because of me.


About Sarah

Sarah Hamaker has been spinning stories since she was a child. While she’s had two traditionally published nonfiction books, her heart is writing romantic suspense. You can find a list of her books, listen to her podcast, “The Romantic Side of Suspense,” and connect with Sarah at sarahhamakerfiction.com.