Thursday’s Throwback with Leeann Betts

Giveaway and Excerpt

A Game is Afoot

Beginning a new series is never easy—particularly when it means the previous one has ended. Saying goodbye to characters we’ve known and loved and argued with is difficult. 

So instead of simply stopping one and starting the other, I came up with the great idea of writing a segue between the two. Actually, it wasn’t my idea—an author I know was asked by their published to write a bridge novella—I simply changed the name.

My first series took place from 2002 through 2006, moving slowly through the months. My main character, Carly Turnquist, was a 50-something forensic accountant, married to a computer programmer. She has two step-children, and two grandchildren, one of whom, in 2006, is six years old.

Fast forward to the present. Her granddaughter, Margie Hanson, a recent graduate of library sciences, inherits a mystery bookstore in Edgewater, Colorado, from her great-aunt who died under mysterious circumstances. Carly and Margie come to Colorado to figure out what happened.

Each book in the four-book series will feature a rare and/or expensive manuscript, contains a phrase from a vintage detective story, and is guaranteed to make you put on your thinking cap.


Excerpt from The Game is Afoot

Chapter 1

Margie grabbed her ringing cell phone and checked the caller ID. Her Great Aunt Rosella. “Hello?”

“Their voices assault my hearing.”

“What are you talking about, Auntie?”

A long sigh. “I already told you.” The older woman’s voice lowered a notch in both volume and timbre. “Their voices assault my—”

“I heard that. Who are you talking about?”

“The voices.”

Margie, newly graduated from Rutgers University with her Masters in Information and Library Sciences, sank back in the lumpy sofa of her off-campus studio apartment. She eyed the cloisonné clock perched beside her recently framed diploma—the clock a graduation gift from her aunt, the diploma the result of six years of diligent study. “Are you hearing voices?”

Three abrupt thumps, and Margie pulled the phone from her ear. What the—? Oh, right. Aunt Rosella often emphasized her displeasure by whacking the nearest tool at hand against the closest hard surface. In this case, her phone likely contacted a table. Or the wall.

“Don’t speak to me like I’m a batty old woman. I’m not hearing voices. At least, not in the way your tone implies.”

“Sorry. Tell me what’s going on.”

“What is going on, as you so eloquently put it, is criminal. And that’s all I’m going to say about the matter until I speak with you face to face.”

Margie unfolded her legs and sat forward. “Are you coming to Maine?” She hadn’t seen the older woman in years, although they chatted several times a year by telephone, and her aunt always remembered her on her birthday and at Christmas. And on the occasion of her graduation, of course. “That’s great. When?”

“I am not coming to you. You will visit me here in Denver. Immediately, if not sooner.”

“But—”

“No buts about it. I have a matter I need you to look into. You have an enquiring mind, child. I’ve always appreciated that about you.”

Margie smiled. “Must have gotten it from you.”

“Pshaw. Just because I own a bookstore dedicated to mysteries doesn’t mean I can solve them. It simply provides me a business reason to read as much as I like.” She chuckled. “But don’t tell the tax man.”

“My lips are sealed.” Margie glanced at the three letters on the coffee table. Job offers. Very good ones, at that. Her dream come true. One at a public library in a small town in Indiana where she’d be librarian, curator, and teacher. The second from a local law firm, where she’d be in charge of the law library and its tomes of precedents and cases. And the third at her alma mater, where she’d be assistant to the chief librarian. The problem was deciding which to accept. “But I can’t leave right now. In fact, I have to choose between—”

“Between helping me or abandoning me to the wolves.”

“Surely it can’t be as bad as that.” Spending her days surrounded by mysteries must be affecting her aunt’s mental processes. “Perhaps I could come out over Thanksgiving?”

“It will be too late by then.” Her aunt sniffed. “Never mind. I suppose there’s nothing you can do anyway. You have a good mind for mysteries, as I said. Not as good as your Grandma Carly’s, though. She’s got a mind like Dame Agatha’s. I’ll call and see if she’s willing to help this old woman.”

Margie shook her head, seeing through her aunt’s play for sympathy. She leafed through the letters. All three graciously gave her a month to decide, leaving her three more weeks before crunch time. Perhaps a quick dash to Denver for a week or so was in order. Getting away from Augusta might free her mind. Give her time and space to analyze her options. Make the best career choice.

And the mention of her grandmother gave her another idea. “How about if I call Grandma Carly and the two of us visit?”

“Oh, that would be grand. You can stay with me in the apartment over the bookstore. The spare room has two single beds ready and waiting for you.”

Interesting how the woman’s concerns immediately translated into vacation mode. Possibly things weren’t so serious—no, she’d said she’d come. “Grandma can make up for my shortcomings, and you can show us around your beloved Denver.”

“Oh, not my Denver, dear. My Edgewater. I never venture into the Mile High City.” Another sniff. “They sell drugs on every corner and call themselves medical dispensaries.” A sigh. “Such wickedness.”

Margie smiled. No doubt her aunt’s little burg also offered marijuana and other previously illicit pleasures, but she’d not spoil the woman’s Pollyanna view of her Edgewater, a tiny city nestled between Denver, Lakewood, and Wheat Ridge. Situated beside a large lake. The park-like atmosphere with its quaint old-style downtown was exactly the Eden-like surrounding her aunt loved.

Margie scrolled to her calendar app. “I’ll call you back to confirm when we’ll arrive, and we’ll plan to stay a week.”

“With your grandmother’s help, that should be plenty of time.”

“Will somebody meet us at the airport?”

“Yes. My nephew, Arthur. You remember him, don’t you?”

Margie’s memory cast back to the far-in-the-past family reunions, recalling a weaselly boy with thick eyeglasses and a sarcastic tongue. Hopefully the years had changed him for the better. “Okay. Let me make arrangements, then I’ll call you with details.”

“Good. And bring the clock I sent you. It’s very important. Do you understand?”

“Okay.” She glanced up at the item again. After unpacking it yesterday, she hadn’t even bothered to wind it up. Just as well, since it would only run out in her suitcase, being a twenty-four-hour mini-version. Decorative, but not very practical. “Anything else?”

“A jar of Maine blueberry jam.”

“Got it.”

A long silence filled her ear, and she wondered whether her aunt had disconnected. Then a rustling sound. Almost as though Aunt Rosella covered the receiver with a hand. To keep her from hearing a conversation in Edgewater? Or to make certain somebody there didn’t hear what she said next?

Neither made sense.

And her aunt’s words only added to her confusion.

“The game is afoot.”


Giveaway: Answer the following question, and we’ll randomly draw from all answers for a print (US only) or ebook copy of The Game is Afoot.

Question: If you could choose your dream job, would it be (a) a librarian in a public library, (b) a small independent bookstore owner, or (c) a publisher. And why?


About Leeann

Leeann Betts writes contemporary suspense, while her real-life persona, Donna Schlachter, pens historical suspense. Together she and Donna have published 50 novellas and full-length novels. They ghostwrite, judge writing contests, edit, facilitate a critique group, and are members of ACFW, Writers on the Rock, CAN, and SinC.

Website: www.LeeannBetts.com Stay connected so you learn about new releases, preorders, and presales, as well as check out featured authors, book reviews, and a little corner of peace. Plus: Receive a free ebook simply for signing up for our free newsletter!

Blog: www.AllBettsAreOff.wordpress.com

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Books: Amazon http://amzn.to/2dHfgCE  and Smashwords: http://bit.ly/2z5ecP8

Thursday’s Throwback with Donna Schlachter

Free chapter excerpt and Giveaway!

Today I have Historical Christian fiction author, Donna Schlachter here to share her novel, Christmas Under the Stars.

This romantic suspense is set in Utah Territory in 1858 at the height of the westward expansion and wagon trains.  Edie is traveling west with her brother to meet up with another brother and his family who went ahead of them. Edie’s father was an itinerant preacher who barely managed to keep his family together. Tom is heading to California to hopefully start a church. Already we can see problems, at least as far as Edie is concerned. And although Tom is attracted to Edie, once he’s introduced to her and hears she shares the same name as the man traveling with her, he assumes they are husband and wife.

Although he didn’t ask for it, Tom is soon appointed as head of their wagon train, and a series of accidents and unfortunate circumstances threaten to sabotage their journey. But are these incidents more than that? Or is someone determined to prevent them from reaching their destination?

Through miscommunication and misunderstandings, Edie and Tom muddle through as best they know how, which is true of many of the emigrants. And the good news is that just like the travelers of the time, they do make it, although a little the worse for wear.

Get your copy!

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2ci5Xqq 

Smashwords: http://bit.ly/2gZATjm


November 1858, Utah Territory
Edie Meredith strives to keep her temper and her tongue under control as she heads west with her brother to California. Raised in an itinerant preacher family, she promises she will never marry a man of the cloth.
 
Tom Aiken, drover of the wagon train, longs to answer his true calling: to preach, and while he realizes not every woman would choose a preacher for a husband, he hopes to soon find his help-meet.
 
Suspicious ‘accidents’ plague their journey. Is someone trying to keep them from reaching their destination? Or will misunderstanding and circumstances keep them apart?


Enter the Giveaway

Leave a comment to be entered into a random drawing for a print copy (US only) or ebook version of Christmas Under the Stars.


Read a chapter excerpt

Tom Aitken strode beside the lead wagon in the train, encouraging on the two lumbering oxen he could hear but not see. “Git on Blue, git on. Brick.” The beasts lowered their heads at the sound of his voice and strained into the traces. Tom grit his teeth against another blast of cold air blowing from the Canadian Rockies.

What had he been thinking, taking a wagon train to Echo at this time of year? He’d focused on the offer of free passage to California. Free, indeed. Might not have cost him any money, but the two-month journey was surely grinding years off his life. 

Digging his hands into his armpits, seeking some warmth, no matter how small, he trudged along, head down, wishing for a heavier coat. Echo was just a few more miles up this canyon. In good weather, a half day’s travel.

In this storm, forever.

As he debated whether to pull the wagon train off the trail and set up camp for the night, a faint cry echoed off the rock walls behind him. He slowed his step, allowing the oxen to pass him, waiting to hear the sound again. Nothing. He pivoted on one foot to trace his steps back, straining to see who was calling and whether they were friend or foe. Having spotted Indians several times over the past week or so, he was determined to stay alert.

Nothing but swirling, blinding snow. Lots of it.

He must have been hearing things. Probably just the wind echoing down off the canyon walls. No doubt where Echo got its name. He turned to face forward and felt someone – or something – press on his shoulder. His right hand on the knife in a sheath at his waist, he whirled around, ready to fight.

The man in the second-to-last wagon stood before him, face white with cold – or fear – and hands raised in surrender. His rough Irish brogue bespoke his heritage, and his coarse woolen coat and muffler his financial status. “I can’t find the Meredith woman.”

“I saw her maybe a ‘alf hour ago, when the wind stopped blowin’ long enough to see me ‘and in front of me face. Me missus remarked then that the lass was looking peaked.”

Tom grit his teeth against the sharp retort rising. Must he be like a mother hen to these travelers? No sooner had the thought crossed his mind than he repented of his hardness of heart. Lord, forgive me. Help her. Please. For her husband’s sake.

His silent prayer done, Tom gestured to his wagon. “Take my place as lead. Keep them straight on the trail. We’ve got just about twelve miles to go.”

The man nodded and Tom stopped, allowing the rest of the train to pass him. Although the rule was that only the very young, very old, and very sick got to ride in the wagons, sometimes folks hitched a ride when they were exhausted.

He sighed, his breath escaping like a puff of smoke from a chimney, carried off on the northerly gale. He’d have to check every wagon that passed to see if she’d climbed aboard.

If she hadn’t – well, he’d pray she was curled up in a pile of quilts rather than consider the alternative.

Tom plowed through a snowdrift nearly up to his chest. Edie Meredith wasn’t in any of the wagons. Her husband, Mark, as leader of the final wagon in the train, had been walking at the head of his team to keep them on the trail and hadn’t noticed when she’d gone missing. Tom stopped the train, and word passed up and down the line until all of the wagons paused. Women-folk and children climbed aboard their wagons to warm up, and the men divided into several groups to go in search of Miss Meredith.

 The man accompanying Tom heaved along behind him, his breath sounding labored in the cold air. Harnesses jingled as the huge oxen shook themselves and got comfortable as they waited, and questions chased him as he traveled the length of the train.

“Found her yet?”

“What was she wearing?”

“Prob’ly find her froze to death.”

Tom shook off this last comment and pressed on. No, he would find her before that happened. He’d noticed the pretty young woman the instant he joined the wagon train, her red hair lighting up into a thousand pinpoints of gold in the afternoon sun. Freckles dotted across the bridge of her nose as she stared at him, a smile creeping across her face.

But that was as far as their relationship was likely to go. The broad-shouldered hulk standing next to her, laying claim to her with his protective attitude and gruff voice was enough to keep any sensible man in his place. No siree, her husband was not to be trifled with. Mark and Edie Meredith. That’s how they were introduced to him. That plus Meredith’s, “She’s spoken for” when she’d smiled and bobbed her head at him, was enough to keep any sane man a sensible distance away. No matter how he might wish the situation could be otherwise.

For now, he would look for her because that was his job. 

And he was good at his job. Rather, his two jobs. Drover by day and preacher by night. Such a strange combination of occupations, he was certain. Still, the good Lord knew what He was doing, and drovering was just until he got to California. Then he would start his own church at the first town that needed him.

Tom peered into the storm, the faint outline of a shadow forming ahead of him, to the side of the trail. As he neared, he could have sworn he heard singing. A soft, lilting melody, like a lullaby.

A few more steps, and he paused over the form on the ground. Already snow gathered on her cheeks, filling in the concave hollows of her eyes, testifying to how cold her skin was that the particles didn’t melt.

He knelt beside her, fearing the worst. In a neat pile beside her, a pair of gloves and a shawl. Her coat unbuttoned, she looked dead.

But there, a slight flare of her nostrils confirmed there was life in her yet. He turned back to the man following him. “Over here. Over here.” 

The man came running, and together they lifted the unconscious woman and carried her to the nearest wagon. She needed warming up, and soon. 

He called to the man he’d put in the lead. “Pull the train over toward the palisades. There should be some caves around here that we can overnight in.”

The men hastened to do his bidding, and the wagon beneath him lurched, throwing him off balance. He landed in a tangle against Miss Meredith and stared into her green eyes, wide open in surprise.

 No doubt about it. She was beautiful. Tendrils of damp hair at her temples decorated her pale skin. But he couldn’t sit here admiring her. She was nearly frozen to death. Her blue lips and white complexion scared him. 

“What do you mean, man? Speak up.”

He was alone in a wagon with a desirable woman who needed his help. 

He unbuttoned his jacket and pulled her to his chest. The sudden chill took his breath away, but he persisted in his ministrations. As the heat flowed from him, he was gratified to note color returning to her lips. 

Her hands pressed against his chest, and he increased his grip on her. She needed warmth now. He’d heard of folks dying in the snow who’d stripped down to their underclothing.

He glanced at the woman now resting quietly in his arms, wishing he was holding her so close, so intimately, for a different reason.       

But she belonged to another.

He had no choice.


About Donna

Donna writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 40 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of several writing communities; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; blogs regularly; and judges in writing contests.

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.