Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Book Spotlight & Excerpt: Justice Mission by Lynette Eason

About Justice Mission
Publisher: Love Inspired Suspense; Original edition (April 2, 2019)

Mass Market Paperback: 224 Pages

Caught in a killer’s sights…

Introducing the True Blue K-9 Unit series

After K-9 unit administrative assistant Sophie Walters spots a suspicious stranger lurking at the K-9 graduation, the man kidnaps her—and she barely escapes. With Sophie’s boss missing and someone determined to silence her, NYPD officer Luke Hathaway vows he and his K-9 partner will guard her. But he must keep an emotional distance to ensure this mission ends in justice…not cold-blooded murder.


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EXCERPT:


SPECIAL EXCERPT FROM
Love Inspired® Suspense




Meet the men and women of the NYC K-9 Command Unit and their furry partners as they work to solve a case that hits too close to home.

Read on for a sneak preview of
Justice Mission by Lynette Eason,
the explosive start to the TRUE BLUE K-9 Unit miniseries,
available in April 2019 from Love Inspired Suspense

ONE

Sophie Walters stood back to count the rows of chairs and relished the thought of the upcoming graduation ceremony that would take place shortly in the auditorium near the NYC K-9 Command Unit headquarters where she worked in Forest Hills, Queens. Today, several new four-legged recruits and their handlers would graduate and join the force in keeping New York City safe.
The unit was made up of officers who handled dogs with a variety of specialties. While based out of their office in Queens, the officers were assigned to divisions of the NYPD throughout the five boroughs of New York City where needed.
As the administrative assistant to Chief Jordan Jameson who headed up the NYC K-9 Command Unit, Sophie had a wide range of duties, but she’d be the first to admit, she loved the graduation ceremonies most.
 Hands down, she loved her job and took pride in the fact that she was very good at it. Something the chief often praised her for. “You have an eye for detail and organization, Sophie,” he’d said on more than one occasion. “I don’t know what this place would do without you.”
If only he knew how hard she’d worked to develop that eye for detail. Sophie smiled, her heart grateful for the man who’d taken a chance on a young green college graduate three years ago.
A thud from the back of the auditorium drew her attention to the left-hand corner and she frowned. “Hello? Is someone there?”
Stillness settled over the large room. When nothing more happened and no one announced their presence, she returned her attention to the ceremony preparations.
Something was wrong. Off. But what?
A little prickle at the base of her neck sent shivers down her spine and she turned to assess the area once more. The auditorium chairs sat empty. She’d unlocked all of the doors in case she had some early arrivals, but the place was quiet for now. Quiet as a tomb. Now why would she think that? There’d been no more strange noises and nothing that should spark her unease. But she couldn’t help feeling like someone was watching.
But why?
And who?
“No one,” she muttered. “Quit jumping at shadows.” But something still nagged at her.
Sophie scanned the stage trying to put her finger on it. Six chairs aligned just right on the artificial turf. The podium with the chief’s notes for his presentation within easy reach, the mic was at exactly the right height, the graduation certificates were laid out in alphabetical order on the table…
The table.
She huffed. She’d placed everything on it without putting the black cloth on. Where was her mind this morning?
Definitely on her brother and the attention-stealing phone call she’d received last night. He’d called to tell her he was quitting college to join the Marines.
Seriously? He was nineteen years old. “What does a nineteen-year-old know?” she muttered. Nothing. Which was probably why he wanted to join the Marines.
But who was she to say it was a bad idea? He was right. They were different people with different lives, but she’d been ten years old when their mother had left and she’d taken on the role of mother figure for Trey. For the past fourteen years, he’d looked at her that way. And now he wanted her to just step aside while he made an important decision without discussing it? A small part of her reminded herself that he was technically an adult.
“But I’m the one who attended the parent/teacher conferences when Dad couldn’t get off work,” she muttered. “I’m the one who fixed his snacks and washed his clothes and held him when he got his heart broken by the girl who dumped him his sophomore year of high school.”
Stop it. Let it go for now and do your job.
Sophie removed the black tablecloth from the supply closet in the hallway, then hurried back toward the auditorium, her mind tuned in to the graduation details now.
She pushed through the auditorium door to the right of the stage and stumbled to a halt. A man in a baseball cap and sunglasses stood next to the podium with Chief Jameson’s red remarks folder open.
“Excuse me, what are you doing?” Sophie asked. He’d frozen for a slight second when she entered but closed the folder as she strode toward him. Her low heels clicked on the wooden steps and rang through the empty room. She approached him, intent on rescuing Jordan’s notes if need be. “The ceremony doesn’t start for another forty-five minutes. Did you need help with something?”
“Ah. No.” He turned toward her. “Thanks, but—” He kept his head lowered and she couldn’t make out a thing about his features.
A little niggle of fear curled in her belly and she remembered the loud noise, the feeling of someone watching her. She stopped so suddenly, she actually slid a couple of more inches on the wood floor. Had he been in the auditorium the whole time? Watching her? Waiting for her to leave so he could look through Jordan’s folder?
No, of course not. She was being silly.
“But?” She encouraged him to finish his statement even while she could feel his laser-like stare shooting at her from behind the dark glasses. “Were you looking for something in the folder? It’s just notes for a speech.”
Once again unease shook her. Maybe she wasn’t being so silly after all. Something wasn’t right with this.
Get away from him.
Goose bumps pebbled her arms, and she turned to run. His left hand shot out and closed around her right bicep as his right hand came up, fingers wrapped around the grip of a gun. Sophie screamed when he placed the barrel of the weapon against her head. “Shut up,” he hissed. “Cooperate, and I might let you live.”
A gun. He had a gun pointed at her temple. “What are you doing? Why are you doing this? I don’t have any money on me.” Her shaky voice tumbled from trembling lips. She clamped them down, fighting for control.
His grip tightened. “Go.”
Go? “Where?”
“Out the side door and to the parking lot. Now.”
“Why don’t you go, and I’ll forget this ever happened?”
“Too late for that. You’re coming with me. Now move!”
“You’re kidnapping me?” She squeezed the words out, trying to breathe through her terror.
“I said shut up! I’m not going to prison because of you!”
Still keeping his fingers tight around her upper arm, he gave her a hard shove and Sophie stumbled down the steps of the podium, his grip the only thing that kept her from landing on her face.
Her captor aimed her toward the door, and she had no choice but to follow. Heart thundering in her chest, her gaze jerked around the empty room. No help there. Maybe someone would be in the parking lot?
He pushed the silver bar and the steel door swung out. The gun moved from her head to dig into the center of her back propelling her out onto the asphalt. His other hand snagged the loose bun at the nape of her neck, yanking her head sideways.
She cried out even while she squinted against the glare of the bright morning sun. Normally, her penchant for being early averted a lot of things that could go wrong and usurp her daily schedule. Today, it had placed her in the hands of a dangerous man—and an empty parking lot in Jackson Heights. Where was everyone?
Think, Sophie, think!
A K-9 SUV turned in and she caught a glimpse of the driver. Officer Luke Hathaway sat behind the wheel of the SUV. “Luke!”
 “Shut up!” Her captor jerked her toward a brown sedan with a glance over his shoulder. His grip didn’t loosen until he got to the driver’s side of the vehicle. “Open the door!”
No way. With a burst of strength, she jabbed back with her left elbow. A yell burst from him along with a string of curses. She slipped from his grip for a brief second until he slammed his weapon against the side of her head.
She screamed as pain raced through her and stars danced, threatening to send her into the approaching blackness. Her captor opened the door and shoved her inside before she could gather her wits. She landed halfway on the middle console and halfway in the passenger seat with the gearshift digging into her hip. Head pounding, heart thudding, the blackness faded and she cried out once again as he gave her another hard push, forcing her awkwardly into the passenger seat.
The door slammed.
“Sophie!”
She heard Luke call her name and tried to ignore the nausea climbing into the back of her throat as she grabbed for the passenger door handle. Her captor shot out a hand and grasped her by the hair. “Stay still, or I’ll shoot you now.”
The car roared to life and spun out of the lot.
*
Luke stared in horror as he realized he’d just witnessed Sophie being kidnapped. He pressed the gas and the SUV shot after the fleeing sedan.
Bruno, his K-9 partner seated safely in his spot in the back, barked. “I know, boy,” Luke murmured to the German shepherd. “I’m going after her.” Luke grabbed his radio. “Officer needs backup. I have 207 in progress. Repeat, kidnapping in progress. Sophie Walters, Chief Jameson's assistant is the victim. In pursuit of a brown Buick sedan, license plate Eddie-Larry-Peter-four-seven-five-eight. Closing in on pursuit position.” He gave his location and kept a watch for other cars and innocent bystanders.
Unfortunately, Sophie’s kidnapper didn’t have any such concern. The man swerved to the right and around a parked car, then up on the sidewalk. People scattered like ants. A trash can bounced off the windshield and Luke yanked the wheel to the left to avoid it. Two police cruisers fell in behind him.
Bruno barked again. Luke knew how the dog felt. “Going as fast as I can, buddy.” He lifted the radio once again. “Just hit Ninety-fourth, heading straight for Roosevelt Avenue. Need someone to head him off.” Luke wanted to gun the engine, but he didn’t dare. The streets weren’t packed, but enough innocent people were there to keep him careful.
In and out of traffic, the man drove, even in the wrong lane several times. Luke stayed with him. Backup stayed behind Luke. “He just took a right on Broadway. I’m guessing he’s heading for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Repeat, he’s heading toward the BQE.”
Luke received confirmation that officers were en route to that area. “Come on, come on. Slow down. Run out of gas. Anything.”
But the man kept going. Fortunately, Luke’s siren caught people’s attention so that they moved out of the way. Sure enough, the man merged from Broadway onto the BQE. “Heading in the direction of the Triborough Bridge. Somebody stop this guy, but be careful, he’s got a kidnapping victim with him. Sophie Walters. Civilian employee of the NYPD.”
“Copy that,” came the response.
The driver continued his game of dodge and somehow managed to avoid crashing into anything.
Luke followed, staying far enough behind so as not to miss a sudden turn, but close enough not to lose the guy. With each turn, Luke gave the directions, knowing backup would try to cut the guy off. Unfortunately, with no clear destination, he couldn’t give them clear enough direction.
Where was this guy going? How much longer could he drive like this without killing someone? Tension threaded Luke’s shoulders with knots. The kidnapper took another left, heading for one of the more crowded areas of Astoria. The potential for someone to get hurt had just jumped astronomically. Luke requested the area be cleared immediately but knew it wouldn’t be in time.
The fleeing suspect missed a city bus by a fraction of an inch and Luke barely squeaked past it himself. A young man on a delivery bike slammed into the side of a parked car in his desperate attempt to keep from barreling in front of the speeding sedan. Briefly, Luke hoped the poor cyclist hadn’t broken anything.
Luke braked hard when the sedan swerved. Tires squealing, it headed straight for a fruit stand on the corner. Screams echoed. People ran. The vehicle rammed into the stand, sending produce flying and the owner diving out of the way. Luke screeched to a stop and threw the car into park. He bolted from the driver’s seat and hit the remote button that opened Bruno's area. Bruno leaping out to follow as Luke raced toward the wrecked vehicle in time to see the driver grab Sophie by the arm and pull her from the car.
“Stop! NYPD!” Luke dodged the fleeing crowd and fought his way toward Sophie. “Sophie!”
“Luke!” Her terrified scream spurred him faster. Bruno stayed with him. Backup was right behind him, adding their commands to stop.
Sophie struggled against her captor, and he yanked her hard. She stumbled. Luke closed in, reaching for her. And then the man shoved her away from him. Sophie let out another scream as she flew toward Luke, barreling into him, knocking him off balance.
He fell back, tripping over Bruno, who yelped and scrambled to move out of the way. Luke’s back hit the sidewalk with a breath-stealing thud. Sophie landed on top of him and the last of his air left his lungs. From the corner of his eye, he caught sight of the man disappearing into the nearest building. Officers pounded after him.
Gasping, Luke rolled. “You okay?” he wheezed to Sophie.
She groaned and pressed a hand to her head.
Luke staggered to his feet, then helped her up as other officers rushed past them, going after the kidnapper. Two more slowed as though to check on them and Luke waved them on. They took off and Sophie leaned heavily against him. Bystanders crowded around, asking if they were okay while he held her, trying to discern where she was hurt.
Her usually neat bun had fallen, and her long brown hair lay in disarray across her shoulders. He brushed the strands from her eyes and she blinked up at him. “Talk to me, Sophie. You’re okay, right?”
“Yes. I… Yes,” she whispered. “I…I think so.”
He caught sight of the blood on the side of her head. “Wait a minute. You’re not okay. We need to get you checked out.”
“No, it’s all right. Just give me a minute to catch my breath and let my head stop spinning.”
“You’re hurt. You need a hospital.”
She touched her head with a wince. “No, what I need is to get back to the auditorium. We’ve got a graduation that needs to go on.”
“Sophie—”
“I’m serious. That guy was only after me because I saw him messing with Chief Jameson’s folder on the podium. I want to know what he was doing and if he left something behind that would tell us who he is.” She grimaced. “Then you can go after him again.”
For a moment Luke could only stare at her. She’d been kidnapped, knocked in the head, driven through the city at breakneck speed, and all she could think about was getting back to see what the guy had been up to? “You’re amazing.”
She blinked. “No. I’m mad.”
“All right. Let’s head back to the auditorium then. While we’re riding, you can fill me in on the details.”
“Thank you.”
Luke caught Bruno’s leash, and Sophie followed him—limping slightly—back to his Tahoe where she climbed into the front seat and fastened her seat belt. Luke settled behind the driver’s seat and held the radio to his mouth. “Any sign of the guy who kidnapped Sophie?”
“That’s a negative,” the voice came back at him through the speaker. “He disappeared after officers chased him through the store. We’re still canvassing the area.”
“Ten-four.”
By the time Luke pulled into the parking lot at the auditorium, Sophie had filled him in on everything that had led to her kidnapping. And Luke was inclined to agree with her. This wasn’t just some random snatching. The man at the podium had had a goal—and Luke was itching to figure out what it was.
Another car pulled into the lot.
“Everyone is arriving,” she said. “We need to make this fast so we can stay on schedule.”
“Sophie—”
But she was already out of the car and hurrying—limping—toward the door she’d been forced from about thirty minutes ago.
“The ceremony can start late, you know,” he murmured to her back. With a sigh, he let Bruno out and they followed after Sophie. Inside, he found her surrounded by other officers concerned with her safety. She repeated all of her “I’m shaken up, but fine” reassurances until they accepted the answer even if they didn’t fully believe it.
“Is she really okay?” Officer Zach Jameson asked. A fellow officer with the NYC K-9 Command Unit, Zach was also the youngest brother to Jordan Jameson, the chief. The family resemblance was startling with his brown hair and blue eyes. Luke noted Carter and Noah, the other two Jameson brothers, standing nearby with their K-9s seated at their sides.
“She says she is,” Luke said with a frown. “That’s all I have to go on.”
The Jamesons had made law enforcement their family business and all had arrived to attend the ceremony, then get back to work. Officer Finn Gallagher, another K-9 Command Unit member, stood nearby, green eyes watching. Usually the jovial, outgoing jokester of the group, he now sported tight features and a tense jaw.
Luke nodded to Chief Jameson’s wife, sitting in the front row and glancing at her watch. “Is Katie all right? She looks a little pale.”
Jordan’s wife had her blond hair in a French braid that fell over her right shoulder. Her blue eyes continued to bounce between her watch and the door her husband should have entered at least fifteen minutes ago.
“I noticed that, too, but when I asked, she said she was fine, just feeling a little under the weather and that she and Jordan had an errand to run after the ceremony so she thought she’d just come watch.”
“She’s always been crazy about the dogs,” Luke said. “And Jordan likes having her here.” He glanced around. “Speaking of Jordan, where is he?”
Zach shrugged, blue eyes narrowed as he watched his sister-in-law. “Katie’s wondering that, too. He’s usually here by now, going over his notes or shaking hands—and paws—with the soon-to-be new graduates.”
Sophie broke free of her concerned friends and headed for the stage. Luke and Bruno followed her up the steps and to the podium. “Where’s Jordan?” Luke asked. “Did he say anything about running late?”
“No. At least not before I was snatched.” Her hand shook slightly as she reached for the red folder. “Let’s see what my kidnapper found so fascinating about Jordan’s notes.” She flipped the folder open and an envelope fell to the floor. Frowning, she retrieved it, slipped a finger under the flap and pulled out the paper inside. Her eyes scanned it and she gasped, the color leeching from her cheeks.
“Sophie?” Luke hurried the last few steps to her side, thinking the knock on her head had finally caught up to her. “Are you okay? You need to sit down?”
“No.” She stared at the letter, and Luke frowned. No, she wasn’t okay, or no, she didn’t need to sit down? He stepped behind her to read over her shoulder.
I can’t go on anymore. Please make sure Katie is taken care of. Jordan Jameson.

TWO

Sophie fought to catch her breath. “This reads like a—a—” She couldn’t say it.
“Suicide note,” Luke finished for her, his brows drawn tightly over the bridge of his nose.
“No,” she whispered. “He wouldn’t.” Her eyes met Katie’s. Jordan's wife frowned even though she was too far away to know what was going on.
But one thing was certain. Jordan had too much to live for to take his own life. Just last week Katie had walked into headquarters to meet Jordan for lunch and then suddenly made a mad dash past Sophie’s desk and into the restroom. Concerned, Sophie had followed only to hear Katie throwing up.
“Are you all right?” she’d asked when the woman had finally emerged from the stall and finished with the sink.
Katie had checked under each stall, then turned to Sophie and grinned. “We’re alone so I can tell you that I’m absolutely perfect.”
At first, Sophie could only blink. Then gasp. “You’re pregnant!”
“Shh!” Katie had held a finger to her lips. “I haven’t told anyone yet.”
“What about Jordan?”
“He knows, but no one else. We’re kind of in shock, but it’s thrilling and we’re really just savoring the moment, you know? We plan to tell everyone soon. Probably after the first trimester.”
“Good for you.” Sophie had hugged her friend. “I won’t tell a soul. What did Jordan say when you told him?”
“He was over-the-moon excited.”
“Wouldn’t what? Sophie? Hello?” Noah Jameson’s voice brought Sophie back to the present.
She blinked away the memory and her gaze lifted to meet Luke’s, then slid around the others who’d gathered in front of her, their expressions confused and slightly wary. All except Noah’s. She never could read him.
Sophie passed him the note. Noah read it, his expression shutting down even more, then passed it to his brothers. “You’re right. He wouldn’t.”
“No, he definitely wouldn’t,” Zach said, pulling his phone from his pocket. “I’ll call him, and he’ll straighten this out.” They waited in silence as Zach stood and punched in his brother’s number, blue eyes narrowed. He ran a hand through his hair and pressed the device to his ear, his rising tension adding to the thickness already surrounding them all.
Seconds ticked.
“Answer the phone, Jordan,” Sophie whispered.
But Zach was already lowering the device. “It went straight to voice mail.”
“No,” Sophie said. “That’s not possible. He never turns his phone off. Especially not on a day like this. Straight to voice mail? That scares me a little.” A lot.
“It’s scaring Katie, too,” Noah said with a glance at his sister-in-law, who watched them from her first-row seat in the auditorium. Too far away to hear the conversation, yet close enough to know something serious was going on and Sophie knew they were going to have to fill her in.
As though Sophie’s gaze compelled her, Katie stood and walked toward them. Noah met her in front of the stage. “What is it? You’re all acting weird and being super secretive.”
“Can you call Jordan?” Noah asked.
“Why?”
“We need to know where he is and I’m sure if he’s got his phone on the Do Not Disturb setting for whatever reason, he’ll have it programmed so that you’ll ring right through.”
A door slammed in the back and laughter reached them.
“Let’s move out of the auditorium,” Sophie said. “People are starting to arrive and we’ll have more privacy in the room next door.”
She led the way into a room that held three sofas and a couple of chairs. A full kitchen dominated the back wall to allow for catered events. All of this registered in a nanosecond before they surrounded Katie and waited for her to dial Jordan’s number.
With a frown, Katie did as requested, listened for a moment, then hung up. “It went straight to voice mail.” Her eyes darted from one brother to the next.
Sophie’s nerves tightened, and Katie’s gaze landed on hers. Sophie knew what her friend was thinking. Jordan never turned off his phone. Ever. And if for some reason, he decided to do so, he’d let someone know in advance. Especially in case Katie needed to reach him.
“He’s not answering her either,” Noah murmured. “I don’t believe this. This isn’t good.”
“I have the password to his phone, so I can track it,” Katie said. “He always wants me to be able to locate him if I need to. I’ve never used it before. I’ve never had to.”
“Then I’d say this would be a good time to do it,” Luke said. “Do you mind seeing what you can find out?”
“Of course.” She punched in the digits, then lifted her gaze to meet his and the others who’d gathered around her.
“What is it?” Luke asked. “Can you tell us where he is?”
“Something’s wrong. It says his phone’s offline, but it shouldn’t be. He’s never offline.” Her eyes narrowed. “I’m starting to get really scared. What’s going on?”
Carter shook his head. “We don’t know, but I’ve had enough standing around. I’m going to look for him.”
“Me, too,” Zach said.
“I’m coming, too.” Noah shoved his phone back on his clip and planted his hands on his hips. “But before we run out of here all hasty and unorganized, let’s get a plan of action together.”
Of course that would be Noah’s first thought.
“Wait a minute,” Katie said.
They froze.
“I don’t understand.” Katie looked crossed her arms. “Can someone please explain to me why you’re going to look for Jordan when he should have walked through door way before now?” Katie asked, her voice containing a slightly hysterical edge. “And then tell me why he would have his phone turned off because if you can’t, then something’s really, really wrong.” Worry drew lines across her forehead and at the corners of her mouth. Tears shimmered in her eyes. “I know I keep saying that, but I need to know where he is and if he’s okay. And you guys know something you’re not telling me. Now, please, what is it?”
Sophie bit her lip. “We found a note that seems to indicate he’s in trouble. Everyone is getting ready to go search for him.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“We’re not sure, but we’re going to find out,” Zach said. He put an arm around his sister-in-law’s shoulders. “Let’s go over here a second so we can talk.”
Noah and Carter joined the two off to the side, and Katie gave a sharp cry. Sophie figured they’d told her the contents of the note. Ignoring the need to rush over and comfort her friend, she turned to the others. “Just so I’m clear, I don’t believe Jordan wrote that note for one second, but we can’t take the chance that it’s not real. We have to act as though he did and that he means it.”
Luke nodded. “I agree. But where do we start looking?”
Zach and Katie had returned in time to hear her comment. Katie shook her head, tears streaming down her cheeks. “He wouldn’t kill himself. He didn’t leave that note!”
“We know,” Sophie said. She faced Katie and took her friend’s hands. “We don’t believe it either. Something else is going on and we’re going to find out, okay?”
“Yes. Yes, we are.” Katie lifted her chin and swiped her hands over her face.
“The guy who snatched me was messing with the folder when I walked in,” Sophie said. “Maybe he put the note in there.”
"If that's the case, then we need to find Jordan immediately," Luke said.
 Katie nodded. “Exactly, So, what’s the plan?”
“Was Jordan headed straight here when he left this morning?”
“No,” she sniffed. “He was going to take Snapper out to the Vanderbilt Parkway and run part of the bike path, then go to headquarters to shower and change before coming over here.”
“Vanderbilt Parkway,” Luke said. Also known as the Long Island Motor Parkway. A big part of New York's history, it was a great place to run or ride bikes now that automobiles were banned from it—and he knew it was part of Jordan's daily routine. “Then that’s where we’ll look first.”
“We need to check any of his favorite places, as well,” Sophie said.
 “He had a lot of favorite places,” Katie said. “Not all of them are in Queens.”
Luke nodded. “Then we’re going to need more manpower. Someone call Gavin and fill him in on what’s going on.”
“Today’s his day off,” Sophie said, picturing the tall, dark-haired, brown-eyed handler. Gavin Sutherland was another K-9 officer. His Springer spaniel was well-trained to sniff out explosives. And while they may not need Tommy for that reason, she knew as well as Luke did that Gavin would never forgive them if they didn’t include him in the search for their boss. “We’ll also need to get a BOLO out on Jordan and get his face in front of people as well as notify officers in all the boroughs to be watching for him.”
“No,” Katie said.
Carter raised a brow. “No?”
“You know Jordan. He’d hate that. There’s got to be some other way.”
“But we need to find him fast,” Noah said. “In order to do that, we need as many eyes looking for him as possible.”
“But—”
“They’re right, Katie,” Sophie said softly. “I’m sorry, but they are. I’d rather live with his anger than something really be wrong and we not pull out all the stops.”
“And besides,” Luke said, “that guy was messing with the folder. It’s very possible he’s the one who put that note there. If so, this could be some kind of setup to make it look like Jordan’s going to commit suicide. If that’s the case, then speed is of the essence before…”
Before he was killed.
No one wanted to say it, but everyone sure thought it.
Katie swiped another tear and a heavy sigh escaped her. She finally shook her head and planted her hands on her hips. “Okay. Fine. You’re right. We need as many people looking for him as we can get.”
The brothers nodded.
“All right,” Luke said. “I’m going to see if Dani can trace his vehicle.”
“Good idea,” Sophie said. Danielle Abbott, one of the department’s technical analysts would use the GPS attached to the SUV to get a ping on its location.
“Zach,” Luke said, “you get the BOLO out.” K-9 Officers, Brianne Hayes and Tony Knight stepped forward with Finn. Luke turned to Katie. “Can you make up a list of all of Jordan’s favorite places and give it to these guys?”
“Of course.”
“Once Katie gives you the list,” he said to the others, “divide up. Bruno and I have the Vanderbilt Parkway.”
“And me,” Sophie said. “We can’t have the ceremony without Jordan, so we’ll just postpone it until he can be here.”
“Postpone the ceremony,” Luke said, “but you don’t need to go. You’ve just been through a major trauma.”
Sophie straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin. “Jordan’s my boss, too. I’m as much a part of this department as the rest of you—”
Luke held up a hand. “I’m not saying you’re not.”
“Good. And I might even be able to identify the guy in spite of his ballcap and sunglasses. Maybe. So let’s not waste any more time debating whether I’m going or not.” She headed for the exit, limping slightly.
Luke frowned. “Fine. I’d rather have you with us anyway.”
“Thank you,” she tossed over her shoulder.
“At least then I’ll know you’re safe,” he muttered.
She grimaced but refused to comment. Instead, she prayed as they raced toward Vanderbilt Parkway. It seemed to take forever to reach it in spite of the sirens that moved traffic out of the way.
Dani had quickly gotten back to them, saying the GPS had been disabled on Jordan’s SUV and she wasn’t able to get a location on the vehicle.
“What could possibly be going on with him?” Sophie asked. “Jordan wouldn’t disable the GPS and he didn’t leave that letter, Luke. I think the man who grabbed me did.”
“I’d say that’s a real possibility, but we have to cover all the bases.”
“I know. I’m just saying that I’ve never seen Jordan so low he’d want to take his own life. Sure, he has struggles, but who doesn’t?” She shook her head as she envisioned confronting her brother about his—in her opinion—questionable decision to join the Marines. “But he’s not even close to being suicidal.” Especially with a baby on the way that he was excited about. But that wasn’t her news to share. “There’s something else going on and we need to figure out what it is.”
“What we need to do is find Jordan and let him tell us.”
“Yes. Exactly.”
“Keep in mind, though,” Luke said, “everyone has a dark side they never show the world. A lot of people have a hidden pain that can sometimes overwhelm them and no one in their lives ever suspects.”
Silence fell between them for a moment.
“I know about hidden pain,” Sophie finally said, her tone subdued. “But that doesn’t mean it always leads to suicide.”
“I agree. But sometimes it does—or at least thoughts of it.” His low words had her looking at him more closely.
She had a feeling he was speaking from experience. “Did someone you know commit suicide?”
He blinked. “No, nothing like that. I’ve just worked with a lot of people over the years and I’ve worked a few suicides. People who’ve killed themselves, and their families had no idea they were struggling. I guess what I’m saying is that the face a lot of people show the outside world in no way reflects what’s really going on inside them.”
“Jordan’s not like that.”
“You know him that well?”
“Yes.”
“Huh.”
“What does that mean?” she asked.
“I guess I’m just surprised. We’ve known each other for two years, worked together on a daily basis and I don’t know you like that.”
She gaped. “You’ve never made the effort. Every time you’ve come into the office, you’re like, ‘Hi, how are you?’ And that’s about the extent of it.”
He shut his lips and she wondered if she’d spoken out of turn. Asking him about it would have to wait. Luke pulled into the entrance of the park. “Keep going,” she said. “You know where the bike trail is, right?”
“Yes.”
“I had to come out here on one of Jordan’s afternoons off to get his signature on some papers he’d been waiting on. He was running the trail with Snapper and said he’d come in to the office. It was a gorgeous day so I didn’t mind getting outside. If it had been raining, I’m not sure I would have offered.” She shot him a quick smile.
“Yes, you would have.” At her raised brow, he shrugged. “I’m beginning to get to know you a bit, I think.”
“It doesn’t take long. I’m pretty much an open book.”
“Hmm. Somehow, I wonder.” He cleared his throat. “Did Jordan have a favorite area out here?”
“Just the Parkway. Sometimes he ran, sometimes he biked, but he always had Snapper with him. And while it’s not near here, he also liked to run along the East River.”
“Someone else will check there.” Luke followed her directions to the entrance. While he drove, she took in the vast landscape unfolding before them. Right in the middle of Queens, the wooded area stretched endlessly. “I don’t know, Luke, this place is huge. There’s just too much ground to cover.”
“That’s why so many cops are looking for him.”
Already there were a multitude of law enforcement vehicles in the area. No one questioned one more pulling in. Luke got on the radio and reported his position and requested an update. “No one’s spotted Jordan yet,” he said.
“It’s still early.” She climbed out of the SUV and waited for Luke to release Bruno and join her. “This doesn’t feel right.”
“What do you mean?”
“While I know and understand that we’re following protocol in the way we’re conducting the search, I just feel like we’re on the wrong track and wasting precious time. We need to check that letter for fingerprints. Ones that don’t match ours.”
“It’s in an evidence bag. I’ll get someone to send it over to the lab immediately. Regardless of where Jordan is, that guy kidnapped you and we need to find out who he is.”
‘No kidding.” She bit her lip and glanced around.
“Jordan likes this path a lot,” she said. “Katie says when he needs to be alone, he spends as much time as possible walking, running or biking this trail and praying. She says it calms him and gives him focus.”
Officers talked with those enjoying the warm spring day. One held up his phone and showed a young couple the screen. Jordan’s picture, no doubt. They both shook their heads and the officer’s shoulders slumped slightly, but he nodded and made his way to the next person.
“What is it?” Luke asked her.
“What do you mean?”
“Something’s been bothering you—other than the obvious—since we found the letter,” Luke said. “So, what is it?”
Sophie pressed her lips together, then looked at him. “The handwriting on the letter was Jordan’s.”
He stilled. “Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure. I see it every day. He’s forever writing notes and placing them on my desk.”
Luke stared at her. “Why didn’t you say something earlier?”
“Because I thought we’d have answers by now. I thought we would have found Jordan and he would have explained everything. The fact that we haven’t found him yet scares me to death, because while I don’t believe he’s suicidal, I definitely believe he’s in some kind of serious trouble and time may be running out for him.”
*
The problem was, Luke mostly agreed with her, although he couldn’t deny the little niggling of doubt that wanted to raise its head and demand attention.
He shoved it aside for the moment, slightly ashamed at the flare of uncertainty—and, if he was honest—jealousy of her unwavering loyalty to her boss. It hadn’t taken him long to discover there was a depth to Sophie he wouldn’t have guessed she possessed.
However, just in the last few hours, she’d proven herself a loyal employee—the kind who worked hard because of her innate integrity, not just because she was earning a paycheck. And she was Jordan’s friend as well as his assistant. She would defend those she cared about to the bitter end—including her fierce belief that Jordan wouldn’t kill himself. She’d made that abundantly clear.
And yet, Luke hesitated. While he admired that about Sophie, sometimes loyalty and devotion could blind a person to reality. Sometimes. He wasn’t saying that was the case with Sophie and their boss, but he wasn’t ruling it out either. And a small part of him couldn’t help wondering what it would be like to have someone like Sophie in his corner. For someone to have that kind of unshakable devotion to him.
Bruno jerked at the end of the leash, anxious to do his job. Only Luke didn’t have a job for him to do. Bruno was a cadaver K-9, whose specialty was finding dead bodies, and Jordan wasn’t dead. Luke’s jaw tightened, but he followed after the animal, determined to do his part in locating his boss. He had to keep believing it wasn’t too late. That he wasn’t too late. Please, God, please let us find him—alive—and let there be a reasonable explanation for his disappearance.
For the next two hours, he and the other officers searched the area without success. Jordan wasn’t there. Or at any of his favorite places according to reports coming in.
“Where could he be?” Sophie finally asked on the verge of tears.
Luke’s heart slammed against his chest in empathy with her worry. “I don’t know. Maybe you’re right, though. Maybe we need to sit down with Katie and talk through everything.”
“Like what?”
“Like Jordan’s morning. His schedule. What he said to her before he left? Everything. There’s no detail too small, but I’m pretty confident about one thing.”
“What’s that?” Sophie asked.
“Jordan never made it to the Parkway this morning.”
“Why?”
“Because Bruno didn’t even get a hint of his scent. That means he wasn’t there.”
“Then let’s go.” Sophie hurried to the SUV and Luke climbed behind the wheel after making sure Bruno was settled. He paused.
Sophie frowned. “What are you waiting for?”
“Do you have Katie’s number?”
“Of course.”
“Can you call her? I think we can do this over the phone and it will be faster than going back to the auditorium.”
“Sure. I can put her on speaker.”
Sophie dialed the number. It only made it through half a ring before Katie answered. “Sophie? Did you find him?”
“No, I’m sorry.”
Katie’s muffled sob echoed through the phone’s speaker, and Luke winced. Katie was one of the sweetest people on the planet and he hated she was suffering—that they were all suffering. “I’m here, too, Katie,” Luke said. “Listen, we’re not giving up, so just keep hanging in there, okay? But we think you can help.”
“Yes. Of course.” She sniffed. “Anything. What can I do?”
“Tell me about this morning when you last saw Jordan. What was his mindset like?”
“Um…nothing unusual. He seemed fine. And by fine, he was joking around about some things, talking about where we’d take our next vacation. He was proud of the graduating K-9s and handlers and said what a great addition they would be to the force. He was looking forward to the future,” she said softly. “That note wasn’t from him.”
“I don’t think it was either,” Sophie said, “but did you look at it?”
“No, I didn’t want to. Why?”
“It was his handwriting.”
Katie paused. “Then someone forced him to do it,” she said, her voice low, but firm. “The only way he would write that note is if someone held a gun to his head.” She paused. “Or threatened me.”
“I’d agree with that last part,” Sophie said.
“What time did Jordan leave this morning?” Luke asked.
“Before I did—around 8:30. He took Snapper with him for their run, then was supposed to go straight to headquarters where he was going to use the shower, dress, then head to the auditorium to go over his remarks before the ceremony.”
Luke paused, lips pursed. “Did you see him actually get in the vehicle and drive away?”
She paused. “Um…no. I didn’t.”
“I’ve got an idea,” he said.
“What’s that?”
“I don't think Jordan ever made it to the park to take Vanderbilt Parkway. I’m going to get Finn to bring Abernathy to your house and see if the dog can pick up Jordan’s scent and at least tell us which way he went when he left the house—and whether or not he was on foot or in his vehicle.”
“But the SUV is gone.”
“I know.” That didn’t necessarily mean Jordan was driving it. He kept that to himself. “I’ll meet you there.”
Luke hung up and dialed Finn’s number.
“You find him?” the K-9 officer answered.
“No. Sophie thinks we’re going about this all wrong and I have to say I kind of agree with her.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“Meet me at Jordan’s house with Abernathy. Katie’s going to give us one of the chief’s shirts and you’re going to see how far Abernathy can take you.”
“Not a bad idea. I’ll meet you there in twenty.”
“On the way.”
When Luke neared the Jameson home in Rego Park, all he could do was pray Abernathy and Finn would find something that would give the next step in their search for Jordan. The three-story multifamily building was home to the entire Jameson clan.
“We’ll need to talk to Alexander and Ivy,” Luke said.
Alexander and Ivy Jameson, parents to Noah, Carter, Zach and Jordan, lived on the first floor. Jordan and Katie shared the second floor, and the other brothers, along with Carter’s six-year-old daughter, Ellie, had the large third floor apartment in true Full House fashion. Luke knew Carter’s wife, Ellie’s mother, had died in childbirth, leaving Carter devastated and in need of help with the newborn. The family hadn’t hesitated, jumping right in to do whatever Carter needed.
Luke had often envied the tight-knit family that was so very different from his own. With one brother and a father who blamed him for his mother’s death, Luke kept his distance from them.
“Mr. and Mrs. Jameson are out of town this week visiting relatives in Florida,” Sophie said. “I sure hope we can find Jordan and not have to tell them anything about all of this.”
“Okay. Then that’s the plan for now.”
He parked on the street just as Finn and Abernathy arrived. Katie’s car was already in the driveway. The door opened, and she stepped onto the porch. Luke drew in a deep breath. “All right, let’s do this.”

THREE

Sophie had prayed the entire drive to the Jameson home. Prayed and kept an eye on her phone. Of course it hadn’t rung and no one had called in on the radio to report they’d found Jordan. She climbed out of the SUV and stood beside it while Katie approached Finn, holding a bag in her gloved hands.
“Jordy dropped this shirt on the bathroom floor yesterday when he came in from his run,” Katie said. “I’m a little embarrassed to say that I left it there simply to see how long it would take him to pick it up. It was a private joke. He leaves his clothes on the floor, I leave my towels.” She sniffed and swiped a stray tear, then waved a hand. “Never mind. I’m chattering. I used gloves to put it in the bag so it wouldn’t have my scent on it.”
Abernathy, the eager-to-work yellow Lab, stood at Finn’s side, tail wagging, ears perked, eyes on the bag. The dog’s nose quivered as Finn took the bag. “That was good thinking. Are you sure you aren’t part cop?”
Katie offered him a small smile. “Being married to Jordy has taught me a lot,” she said softly. Tears stood in her eyes. “Please, just find him. I’ll never fuss about him leaving his clothes on the floor again.”
“That’s the plan. Let’s start inside.”
Sophie and Luke followed Katie, Finn and Abernathy inside. Finn pulled on a glove, then opened the bag and removed the shirt. He held it out to Abernathy who shoved his nose in it, over it and around it.
Once he was sure the dog had the scent, Finn let him take the lead even though they knew Jordan wasn’t inside. There was always the hope Abernathy would lead them to some sort of clue.
Sophie frowned. It was such a long shot. Were they were wasting valuable time searching the house when Jordan could be somewhere needing help? But these guys were the best. They did this on a daily basis and would be hyper diligent now that one of their own was missing. She knew this. She could trust them. Sophie kept her lips shut and let the professionals work.
Finally, Abernathy led them to the back door and out into the backyard. K-9 handlers were required to have an outdoor space for their dogs, and this house couldn’t be more perfect. Sophie remembered overhearing a conversation about how Alexander and Ivy bought the multifamily house when their sons were little and rented out the other apartments before giving them to their children when they were ready to live on their own. Even while her mind spun with facts she knew, she kept an eye on Abernathy and Finn.
Finn once again let the dog lead, all of his attention tuned to the canine’s body language. Abernathy covered the back area, then returned to Finn and sat.
“Nothing back here,” Finn said. “Let’s try outside the fence.” The gate opened into the small driveway that ran the length of the house.
The dog led them out into the street and ran a short distance before stopping and looking back at Finn. Sophie and Luke caught up.
“He’s lost the scent,” Finn said, “but I think this means that Jordan and Snapper definitely got in the vehicle and took off.”
“Then where’s the car, and where’s Snapper?” Sophie asked.
Luke shook his head. “Jordan could park that K-9 SUV anywhere and no one would think anything about it other than there was a cop somewhere close by. At least not for a while. We’ve got a BOLO out on it, but people will have to be paying close attention to the license plate.”
“I don’t know,” Sophie said. “Seems to me that might make it even easier to find.”
“Always looking for that silver lining, aren’t you?”
“Keeping hopeful, Luke, that’s all.”
“Good,” Finn said. “We need to stay hopeful. Prayers wouldn’t hurt either.”
“What about security footage?” Luke asked. “Katie probably knows the route Jordan takes every morning. We could check any cameras along that drive.”
“Good idea. As soon as we get that route, I’ll call it in.”
“I know the route,” Sophie said. She rattled it off.
Finn popped his phone from the clip on his belt. “I’ll call it in and we’ll see what Dani can pull,” he said.
While Finn put in the request, Sophie paced. “The longer, he’s missing, the chances of finding him drop,” she muttered. They knew that as well as she did. But she wasn’t really talking to them, just stating a fact and reminding herself that they needed to find him fast. “So, we know he got up, and his plan was to go for a run with Snapper and then go to headquarters to shower and change. On his way to the auditorium, he might have planned to stop somewhere and grab something quick like toast or a bagel.”
“That sounds right,” Katie said. “Only he never made it to the auditorium.”
Actually, they weren’t sure he even made it out of the neighborhood.
They all fell silent until Luke rubbed a hand down his cheek. “There’s nothing more we can do here,” Luke said. “Let’s get back to headquarters. Sophie, would you be willing to go through Jordan’s office and see if anything strikes you as off?”
“Of course.” Sophie looked at Zach, Katie, Noah and Carter. “Do we need to call your parents?”
Noah shook his head. “No, not yet. It’s only been a few hours. I’m not ready to sound the alarm yet.”
“Katie,” Sophie said, “do you want me to come back and stay here with you after I’ve gone through his office?”
“No. I’ll come back to headquarters.” Katie rubbed her arms as though chilled. “I can’t stay here right now.”
“Are you sure?” Sophie stepped forward and pulled the woman out of earshot of the others. “This is super stressful, and you need to rest. Take care of yourself.”
“I know. And I will. But I can’t…stay here and do nothing.”
Sophie understood that. “All right. You can rest on the sofa in Jordan’s office if you need to.”
“If I need to. I just want to be where everyone else is, so I can know the updates as they come in.”
Katie insisted on driving her own vehicle. Sophie didn’t blame her but was worried for her friend. Her pregnant friend whose husband was missing. Sophie ran places and people through her mind, desperately searching for someone who might have a clue where Jordan would be.
“Sophie?” Luke asked “You okay?”
Sophie blinked. And realized she’d been lost in thought the entire ride back to headquarters. She drew in a deep breath. “Yes, sorry. I was just…thinking.”
“Are you in pain?”
“My head hurts and my leg is bruised, but time and some ibuprofen will take care of those issues. I can ignore the discomfort for now.”
“If you’re sure.”
“I’m sure.” With Sophie favoring her bruised leg, they hurried toward the headquarters building. Just inside, her phone rang. She grabbed it from her pocket and checked the screen, then shook her head at Luke. It wasn’t Jordan. His shoulders dropped. “It’s my dad,” she said, lifting the device to her ear. “Hi, Dad.”
“Hey, sweetheart, something kind of weird just happened and I wanted to give you a heads-up.”
“Okay. What’s going on?”
Luke raised a brow and she shrugged.
“Someone just called here looking for you.”
“Looking for me? Who?”
“He said he was a friend from college, that he’d tried calling your number, but when you didn't answer, called me. Then he started asking a lot of personal questions which I declined to answer, of course. He finally cursed and hung up on me. It’s got me worried about you.”
Dread curled in the pit of her stomach, adding to the ball of worry for Jordan that was already there. “Okay, thanks for letting me know. I’ll take care of it.”
“Do you know who it could be?”
“I have an idea.” Her gaze locked on Luke’s. He stood there listening unabashedly. Sophie didn’t care. If she’d wanted privacy, she would have walked into the conference room.
“I have to leave to head for work. It's just an overnight run, but it'll be late tomorrow night before I'm back. You sure it's okay for me to leave?”
A truck driver, he was often gone overnight. As a child, Sophie had wished he could be home more. At this moment, she was glad he was getting out of the city. “I'm sure. I’ll talk to you later, Dad, thanks for letting me know.”
“I’m not going to kid you, Sophie, this scares me.”
“I know. And I promise I’ll take care of it.” She paused. “And if I have trouble doing that, I know people who can help.”
Her father let out a low laugh. “Yeah, I guess you do. Be careful, hon.”
“Always. Have a good trip.”
She hung up and stood silent for a moment while she processed.
“What was that all about?” Luke asked.
“My dad is a long haul trucker and was getting ready to walk out the door for an overnight run when his phone rang.” She told him about the call. “I think it’s probably the guy who tried to kidnap me this morning digging for information.” She shuddered. “What worries me is that he knows my dad's home telephone number. And in order to find that out, he had to know my name—and my dad’s.”
*
Luke definitely didn’t like the sound of that. He shook his head. “I don’t think you should go home. If he knows your name and number—and your father's—he most likely he knows your address, too.”
“Of course he does. I share a house with my dad and brother. But how would he find that out?” Sophie ran a shaky hand over her bun, then straightened it.
“He knows you work for the K-9 unit here in Queens. He may have even been in the auditorium watching you set up, just waiting for a chance to make his move.”
Sophie shuddered. “I did have an eerie sensation of someone watching me. Like someone else was there but didn’t want me to know it.” She paused and frowned. “As I told you, I even heard something but didn’t think much of it.”
“It wouldn't be too hard to figure out who was taken from the auditorium. All he had to do was ask someone.”
“Oh. Right. I should have thought of that.” She fell silent. “Then that means I definitely can’t go home. I have a separate apartment from my brother and father, but it’s still the same house.” A sigh escaped her. “I mean I have no choice. It’s not like I can afford a hotel.”
“I have a better idea,” Luke said.
“What?”
“Would you be willing to stay at my place?”
“Oh.” She chewed her lip.
“Well?”
“I’m thinking.”
“There’s really nothing to think about.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I don’t think you’re safe and I’d like you to come home with Bruno and me until we can find the guy who kidnapped you.” She blinked at him as though having trouble processing his words. “Sophie?” He gave her slight shake, eyes narrowed with concern. “Are you listening?” Had she gone into some kind of shock? A mental overload?
She finally blinked and met his gaze. “I think I’ve had enough for today.”
“I agree. I’ll take you to your place and you can pack a bag. Then we’ll go back to my house.”
“I think that would really inconvenience you. Don’t you have a couple of roommates?”
“Two. Sam and David. The good thing is Sam’s out of the country for a couple of days so you can use his room.”
The fact that she simply nodded told him how worn out she was—and was probably hurting even though she hadn’t said a word about being in pain. “How does some ibuprofen sound?”
“Like a really good idea.”
“You better keep some in your system. You’re going to feel it tomorrow even more.”
“I know. Thanks.”
Luke led the way to his Tahoe and Bruno jumped into his spot in the back. Sophie settled into the passenger seat and buckled up. Bruno leaned forward and settled his snout on her left shoulder, then licked her cheek with a swipe of his long tongue.
Luke gaped. “Bruno!”
“Don’t fuss at him,” Sophie said, wiping her cheek on her shoulder. “It’s sweet. I think he knows I need comforting and is offering it.” She scratched the dog’s ears, and Bruno rolled his eyes to Luke as though gloating in his successful attempt to gain Sophie’s attention.
Luke scowled at the animal, but it didn’t seem to faze the dog. With a huff, Luke pulled from the parking lot and headed for Sophie’s home in Woodside.
It didn’t take long to reach it and he turned onto her street. “Nice house,” he said.
“I like it. It’s been in the family forever. My brother and father live upstairs, and I have the downstairs. Someday, I hope to afford something of my own but for now, this works for me.” She quirked a small smile at him. The first one he’d seen all day. Then she scratched Bruno under his chin. Again. “I’d like a dog,” she said, “but dogs need space to run. I have a yard, but it’s too small for the size dog I'd want.”
“That’s why K-9 officers are required to have a yard.” He smiled. She knew that, of course, but it was small talk. Something to keep her mind on anything but the events of the day—and his off the fact that he was jealous of his dog.
He cleared his throat. “You ready?”
“Sure.”
He and Bruno followed Sophie to the front door of her duplex style home.
Which was cracked open.
She gasped and stepped back.
“That’s not supposed to be open, I’m guessing?” Luke whispered.
“No.”
“Stand back against the wall next to the door. Bruno, stay.” In the blink of an eye, the dog’s demeanor changed at Luke’s command. His ears went up and he was in instant work mode, waiting for the next order. Bruno sat next to Sophie and she placed a hand on his head. Luke pulled his weapon and stood to the side of the door. Using his left hand, he gave the metal door a light shove. It swung inward on well-oiled hinges.
Luke stepped over the threshold and glanced to the right. Kitchen with the stove light on. Living area to the left. Hallway straight ahead with the bathroom at the end and the bedroom to the left. Small and efficient.
And trashed. Sofa cushions lay on the floor along with the lamps that had probably been on the end tables. The intruder hadn’t spared the small buffet in the eating area either and the drawers had been yanked out, dishes crushed onto the hardwood floor.
A loud crash came from the bedroom area and Luke headed down the hallway. “NYPD! Come out of the room, hands where I can see them! Now!”
Silence.
“I’m not playing!” Luke said. “Come out with your hands where I can see them!”
A black-clad figure shot out of the room and slammed into Luke hard enough to knock the breath from him. And his gun from his grip. The weapon hit the floor and skittered across the wood out of reach. Gasping, Luke threw a blind punch that grazed a whiskered jaw.
Bruno growled and lunged forward, snapping at the attacker who stumbled back, tripped and fell with a thud to the wood floor. Only to lurch to his feet and come forward swinging as Bruno moved in. He caught the dog on the ear. Bruno yelped and darted away, shaking his head.
Luke dove after the man and wrapped a hand around an ankle, yanking him back to the floor. Bruno added his displeasure and snapped his teeth in the man’s face.
A foot kicked out and landed a hard blow to Luke’s temple, stunning him. Stars spun in front of his eyes.
Again, the assailant managed to find his feet—and headed for Sophie. She darted away. Bruno barked and launched himself at the man once more, this time closing his teeth around an arm. The pained scream echoed through the apartment.
Luke rolled in time to see Sophie swing a lamp into the man’s chest. The lamp fell, hitting Bruno’s snout before crashing to the floor. The dog flinched and released the attacker who rushed out the door.
Then Bruno was beside Luke, nudging him and whining.
Luke shook his head. While everything had happened in mere seconds, Luke raged that he couldn’t move fast enough. Finally, he made it to his feet while his head spun and nausea curled in his gut. “Sophie!”
“I’m okay.” She rushed to him. “Are you?”
“Fine. I’ve just got to learn to duck.” He grabbed his weapon and raced to the front door in time to see the man hop into a light gray Jeep he’d had double parked four doors down and peel away from the building. Luke slapped a hand against his thigh. He couldn’t see the license plate.
He snagged his phone and called it in with what little information he had. When he hung up, he drew in a deep breath and pressed a hand to his aching head, then turned to Sophie, who now sat on the sofa with Bruno’s big head resting on her knee. She examined the animal’s ear and nose with gentle fingers.
“Is he okay?” Luke asked. “Do I need to get him to the vet?”
“I think he was just stunned, but if you would feel better taking him to the vet, we can do that.”
Luke looked his partner over and sighed with relief when he found nothing concerning. “Good boy, Bruno.” The dog licked his hand, then turned back to Sophie and nudged her hand.
With the danger past, Luke allowed himself to take a moment to simply watch her. She continued to scratch Bruno’s ears, and Luke was hit with the longing to take the dog’s place. A brief flash of the two of them sitting on the couch, watching a movie and sharing a bowl of popcorn held him frozen for a second.
“Luke?” she asked. “You okay?”
He blinked. “Yeah, fine. Officers are on the way.”
“I’m sorry.”
“About what?” He stilled and frowned.
“For not finding a weapon or some way to help you.”
Luke went to her and pulled her into a hug. “It’s okay. I was just worried about you.” And because the feel of her in his arms made his head spin way too much, he released her and stepped back.
“I’m going to call my dad,” she said. “I need to let him know what happened. And I need to call Trey.”
“Of course.”
She dialed her brother’s number, waited, then hung up. “He’s not answering.”
“Try your dad.”
She did, and Luke couldn’t help notice her sigh of relief when he answered on the first ring. “Hey, Dad, I know you're on the road, but I need to let you know someone broke into my place.” Pause. “No, I'm fine. I'm with a friend from the station. Do you know where Trey is?” She shook her head at Luke. “Trey went hiking with friends and won't be back until Saturday,” she said, then went back to the phone and explained the fact that she was going to stay with Luke and his roommates for a while.
Her father said something, and she nodded with a glance at Luke. “I’m sure, Dad. I’ll be safe there and hopefully whoever broke in won’t be back. You still have several dinners in the freezer for when you get back from your run and most of the clothes are washed. Hopefully, by the time you and Trey get back, all of this will be over.”
Luke watched her, considering her words and what they meant.
She hung up and caught his gaze. “What? Why are you looking at me like that?”
“You do a lot for them, don’t you?”
She shrugged. “My dad’s done a lot for me.” She paused. “Don’t you help your family out when they need it?”
“Not really. We don't talk much.”
“Oh. That’s…sad.”
"I know." He cleared his throat. "But forget about that. While I want to hear more about your family, why don’t you start taking inventory? Just don’t touch anything. When the officers get here, they’ll take prints. Ours are on file so they’ll be able to eliminate those.”
She shook her head as her gaze swept the area. “I don’t think he took anything. He just broke everything.”
Luke noticed the shattered flat screen television on the floor. Her iPad and Blu-ray player lay in front of the television stand. Also broken.
“He stomped on them,” she whispered. “Why?” Tears leaked from her eyes and she swiped them away with an angry brush of her fingers. Before Luke could answer or offer more comfort, she leaned over and picked up a figurine from the floor. “This was on my coffee table. He swept it to the floor, but it didn't break which is a relief. A friend gave it to me.” She paused, studying it. “Although, it's worth several hundred dollars. And yet, he left it."
“Which means he was probably looking for something and this wasn’t a random criminal simply after items to sell for easy money.”
She frowned. “But what?”
He nodded to the corner of the room. “Your desk is turned upside down. If this was the same guy who called your father looking for you, then maybe he was searching for something that would tell him how to find you. And when he couldn’t, he took his frustration out on your stuff.”
“Why didn’t he just wait until I got home?" A pause. "Then again, maybe he did. Maybe he was in my bedroom just waiting to…” She shuddered. “I’m so glad you were here.”
Luke’s heart twisted. He went to her again and wrapped his arms around her to pull her into a hug once more. He could put his own feelings on hold and simply offer her comfort. For a moment, she stiffened, then leaned against him.
“I’m sorry, Sophie,” he said softly. “I know this has been a rotten day for you.”
“It’s been even more rotten for Katie,” she mumbled.
“Yeah. I can’t argue with that.” He sighed. And realized he didn’t want to let her go. While he could tell she was finding comfort in the embrace, he realized he was, too. Which made him frown. While she was changing his perception of her, he reminded himself she was still young. Very young.
Bruno nosed in between them and Sophie let out a watery laugh.
“I think he’s feeling left out.” She scratched his neck and the dog sighed his contentment. “All’s right with his world, isn’t it? He’s just happy to be with those he loves and having his ears scratched.”
“Yes, he’s pretty easy to please. Ear scratches, belly rubs and a hug every once in a while.”
“I think everyone could learn a few lessons from this guy,” she said softly.
"Amen to that."
"Did you know we're getting a new dog?"
"Who? You and your family?"
She laughed. "No, the department. Her name's Stella and she's a gift from the Czech Republic. She's supposed to be really special." Bruno licked her cheek and she huffed another choked laugh. "But not as special as you, Bruno, I promise."
Luke’s phone buzzed, and he snatched it to check the screen.
“Who is it?” Sophie asked.
“A group text from Katie. Just wanting an update.”
“Oh.”
While all was right with Bruno’s world, Luke’s was standing on its head. And Katie was growing more and more desperate as time passed without hearing from her husband. Frankly, he couldn’t blame her. Luke closed his eyes and hugged Sophie once again, this time allowing himself to take comfort from her. He said a silent prayer that Katie would get to hold Jordan in the near future.
Please let us find him.



Don’t miss
Justice Mission by Lynette Eason, 
available April 2019 wherever 
Love Inspired Suspense books and ebooks are sold.


Copyright © 2019 by Harlequin Books S.A.


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1 comments:

Sara Strand said...

Thanks for featuring this during the tour!

Sara @ TLC Book Tours

Some of the links in my blog posts, tweets, social media posts, etc. contain “affiliate links.” This means if you click on a link with my affiliate code and purchase an item(s), I will receive an affiliate commission. You won't be charged extra, I'll just receive a small percentage of the purchase price. See my disclosure page here.
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