We know that you’re longing for the weekend, the good news is that we’re just one day away! The better news is that we have an exclusive excerpt to distract you from your mid-week woes. Today we take a peek inside Virginia Vaughan’s RT Top Pick! Yuletide Abduction, available November 3 — that’s next week, people!
No family should have to deal with a kidnapping at Christmas. When a teen is abducted, FBI Agent Elise Richardson makes it her mission to get Candace home before the holiday. But the task is more complicated than it may seem as it seems Elise has stumbled across a human trafficking ring. Top this off with undeniable chemistry between Elise and Candace’s uncle and we we are in for a wild ride.
To the excerpt!
Elise felt Josh’s weight as he grabbed her arms, threw her to the ground and leaped on top of her, shielding her with his body. The air around them lit with rapid gunfire, screams and the roar of a car engine taking off. Amid all that, Elise heard the rapid beat of Josh’s heart, felt the warmth of his breath on her neck and inhaled the musky scent of his cologne. So why, in the middle of a firefight, was it the feel of his chin stubble against her skin that caused the hairs on her neck to stand on end?
As quickly as those sounds filled the air, they ended until only screams coming from inside the house were audible.
Josh leaped to his feet and rushed back inside. Elise followed him to find a terrified Patti crouched beneath the kitchen table, her eyes wide with fear.
Her hands shook as she clasped them together, trying to stop the overwhelming sobs that racked her body. Josh reached for her and she allowed him to pull her into his comforting embrace. Elise couldn’t help but notice how the woman calmed. Josh and Patti seemed to have a very close relationship. Elise remembered what Patti had said about finding love again with someone she’d known for a long time. Could she have been talking about Josh? It made sense. He’d left the army to help her raise her daughter and she’d had nothing but good things to say about him.
Elise should be happy for them, but instead a twinge of jealousy swept through her as she remembered the way her hair had stood on end or the feel of his touch. What would it feel like to have those strong arms wrapped around her for more than lifesaving benefits?
She shook away those thoughts. Josh and Patti deserved to find happiness with one another…especially after she’d cost each of them a vital part of their lives and left a hole where Max should have been.
She turned her attention back to the practical matters at hand. “Did either of you get a look at the shooter? The make of the car? Anything?”
Patti shook her head. “I didn’t see anything. I was hiding.”
Josh squeezed her hand. “You did the right thing.” He looked at Elise. “I think it was the same car that tried to run you down, but I can’t be certain. I only got a glance.”
“I was thinking the same thing. Regardless, this was no random drive-by shooting. They were targeting us, and I believe it may have something to do with Candace’s disappearance. Someone is trying to stop us from investigating. I think it’s safe to say we’re dealing with more than a runaway situation.”
You owe it to us to find her.
Elise couldn’t get Josh’s words out of her head as the police arrived and started surveying the scene. He was right. She owed this family much for her part in Max’s death. Finding Candace was the least she could do. She only hoped she could uncover what had happened to this girl.
Statistics were not on her side. If Candace had been abducted by the ring she was tracking, then it was likely she had already been moved out of town, out of the vicinity, probably even out of the state. But the trafficking ring wasn’t necessarily what had caused Candace to vanish. There were all kinds of dangers for a young girl to fall into. Josh suspected this teacher, Peter Larkin, and Elise could hardly wait to question him about the girl’s disappearance. Of course, if Candace had indeed been abducted by someone she knew, her chances of survival decreased. Elise hadn’t wanted to tell Josh that, but statistically speaking, Candace’s chances for survival were not good.
The best option for Candace was that she had run away from home, but this family seemed so certain that wasn’t the case. However, Chief Mills seemed convinced that was what had happened. In fact, the missing persons file he’d opened on Candace focused very little on other, more sinister avenues of investigation. She caught the chief’s gaze and saw accusation in his face. This incident would only add to his suspicion that she’d brought this trouble to town with her.
She pulled out her phone and dialed Lin’s number. She needed someone to give her theory some credence and trusted Lin’s discernment.
“It’s not enough,” he told her. “There’s nothing conclusive that this shooting had any connection to the missing girl. It’s just as likely to do with the uncle as it is with her.”
“But it’s the same car that tried to run me over, Lin.”
“And who pulled you out of danger? Think about it, Elise. He was there. They could have been targeting him then and you got in the way.” Lin chuckled. “You do have a way of tripping over danger.”
Elise hadn’t considered that aspect. Josh had stated he was on his way to find her when the car approached her. Was it possible they were targeting him? It seemed a logical angle to follow.
“But why trash my hotel room and steal my files?”
“They didn’t know why you were in town. For all they knew, you could have been investigating whatever he’s involved in. It makes more sense than a human trafficking ring you can’t prove exists is trying to shut you up or scare you off.”
Elise suddenly felt defensive. “Just because I can’t prove it yet doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”
She heard Lin pecking at the keys of his computer. “Let me do a background on the uncle—”
“His name is Josh Adams.”
“Right. Perhaps Uncle Josh has more going on than we know…” She heard him typing again. “Like a Special Forces background.”
She was stunned by that piece of news. “Josh was Special Forces?”
“Yes. The Army Rangers.”
Elise glanced across the yard at Josh, who was giving his statement to one of the officers on the scene.
The Rangers were often called into perilous situations. He could have been part of a dangerous mission or had a high-level clearance. He might have made enemies during his time in the service, enemies that wouldn’t hesitate to use his family against him.
Perhaps Lin was right when he said the man in the car had been after Josh. He’d been nearby when the car tried the same car fired at them. He’d tracked Elise down before anyone else even knew she was in town. He’d been the one to press for the investigation into Candace’s disappearance. He, more than anyone, was adamant that something had happened to his niece. Did he know more than he was letting on? Was he hiding something, something about his time in the military that he couldn’t share?
She gritted her teeth. He’d been vague in the car when she’d asked about his time in the military. And she’d let it pass.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
She flushed with embarrassment, realizing she’d allowed a flash of attraction to someone she hardly knew to cloud her judgment. What would Lin think of her if he knew? She would be a laughingstock at the Bureau.
“Thanks for your help, Lin.”
“Be careful,” he said before hanging up.
Elise slipped her phone into her pocket. At some point, she and Josh were going to have to have a further conversation about his military past.
Josh had been in plenty of firefights in his time with the Rangers, but none that elicited the kind of fear he felt tonight. This wasn’t right. This was a drive-by shooting in his own hometown, at his sister-in-law’s house, involving civilians, people he cared about.
The police surveyed the scene, gathered evidence and took their statements about what had happened, but Josh knew they wouldn’t be much help. He hadn’t got a good look at the car or the inhabitants, and none of Patti’s neighbors reported seeing anything out of the ordinary before the shooting. Josh watched the forensics team pull bullets from the house, the Jeep and Elise’s SUV. Surprisingly, both vehicles still ran, although Daniel was less than thrilled about the damage to his Jeep. Fortunately for Josh, he was more concerned about Patti’s safety. He insisted she not stay at the house alone, and Patti agreed to go stay temporarily with a friend.
When they were gone, Josh inspected the damage and knew they’d been fortunate no one had been hit. Bullet holes lined one side of the house and had busted out the front windows. Those would need to be boarded up before he could leave.
Elise approached him as he was searching through the shed for wood and nails to secure the house.
“I’m heading back to the hotel,” she told him.
He was glad for once that she had her own vehicle because he wasn’t sure he wanted to be alone with her in such close quarters.
“Don’t worry,” she told him. “We’ll find out who did this.”
She reached out to him, but her hand on his arm wasn’t enough to reassure him.
He bit back his anger aimed at her. Why had she gone to Patti’s alone? Had she brought danger to his sister-in-law’s house? And what if he hadn’t been there when the gunfire began? Would she have been killed? Would Patti?
She must have sensed his resistance because she didn’t leave immediately. Instead, she turned to him and said uncertainly, “I want to go to the school tomorrow and interview Larkin.”
As much as he wanted to be there for that, he wasn’t sure he could continue on with Elise if he couldn’t trust her. But he couldn’t give up on finding Candace either and he still needed the FBI resources to do that, especially now that the stakes had been upped by tonight’s shooting.
He needed to remain close to her. Plain and simple. “You shouldn’t be driving. You still have a concussion. Give me a few minutes to board up these windows. Then I’ll drive you back to the hotel.”
“I have my SUV. Plus, I still wanted to stop to get a new computer.”
“Then I’ll follow behind to make sure you get there safely.”
He secured the windows then made sure Elise made it safely to the hotel after a stop at the office-supply store before heading back to his apartment. Tossing his jacket onto a chair, he fell onto his couch. He rubbed his hands over his face, frustration washing over him. He’d been on rough missions before, assignments where the waiting for intel was frustrating and painstakingly difficult, but he’d always been assured that his part of the mission would eventually occur. Now, in this situation, he was on the sidelines. He should be out combing the area for Candace, but without search parameters, he would be hunting futilely. He was as much in the dark about her whereabouts as anyone else and he hated it.
He picked up his phone and dialed the number of his buddy and fellow former army ranger. After the fatal final mission that had decimated their ranger squadron, Colton had lost his faith and fallen hard into drinking and gambling until Josh and the remaining members of their squad joined in an intervention that sent Colton into therapy. He recovered both his faith and his sobriety, but not before he’d lost his ranger status and ultimately left the army. Unlike Josh and others who’d taken jobs in the security industry, Colton had retired to a cattle ranch in Georgia.
“Josh-u-a!” Colton exclaimed when he answered. He had a habit of stretching out Josh’s name into three syllables. Josh grinned at the familiar expression of greeting. When Josh explained the situation involving his missing niece, his brother and even the arrival of the unexpected FBI agent, Colton was quick to offer his assistance. “Do I need to come help with the search?”
“Right now, we don’t even know where we’re searching,” Josh told him, not at all surprised by the offer. His brothers-in-arms remained a close-knit group even though they’d gone their separate ways.
“We’ve all been in situations where we’ve had to work with officials from the various three-letter agencies that we weren’t thrilled with, but we make it work because we have to. Stick with the FBI agent. Don’t let her make a move without you. And remember, Josh, to let God’s word light your way. We know better than most that when you’re moving in the dark, you take it step by step.”
Josh twirled the key he wore on a chain around his neck as a reminder of his ranger days and the command his squad leader always imparted to them from Psalm 119—God’s light is a lamp unto your feet. He will guide our paths always.
He’d repeated that verse whenever things on the mission got patchy, when they couldn’t see the wisdom of their actions, reminding his men that God could see all things no matter how dark the night or how hopeless the situation seemed. God’s guidance was the lamp that lit their paths, one step of faith at a time.
His squad leader had also recited those words to them only hours before the ambush that claimed six members of their squad including him. If God had truly seen that coming, Josh wondered again why He hadn’t stopped it. A single interpreter that had double-crossed them had changed everything. For that matter, why hadn’t God stopped whatever had happened to Candace or acted to prevent Max’s death?
“What I wouldn’t give for a pair of God-centered NVGs,” Josh commented, referring to the night-vision goggles the squad used to see in the dark.
“We have to trust those above us.”
That was the rub and Colton knew it as well as Josh did. They’d trusted those above them…and they’d been left abandoned in the fire.
“Even when we can’t see the big picture,” Colton finished. “Besides, we have a Commander in Chief that will never leave us and never forsake us.”
Josh nodded, understanding Colton was referring to Jesus as Commander in Chief. Josh wished he had a quarter of Colton’s renewed faith.
“I’m six hours away, but I’m on the road the moment you give the word.”
Josh thanked him then hung up, as always feeling better after speaking with Colton. It was a nice reminder that he wasn’t alone, despite how isolated he felt in this life he’d chosen.
When he’d first returned to Westhaven, he’d expected to step right back into his old life, but he was no longer the kid who’d cruised the streets after sunset. He no longer cared about football, a staple of small-town life while he was growing up. And despite stepping back into civilian life, he didn’t feel as if he fit. He was still the square peg being shoved into the round notch. He hadn’t yet been able to recapture the feeling of belonging that he’d had in his youth…or with his ranger team. He was acting a part, the part of a man he thought he should be instead of the man he really was. That man he kept hidden deep, deep inside. No one here would understand that man, the soldier who’d made the choices he’d made or known the consequences he’d faced. No one in Westhaven understood that the danger and risk were not to be feared but just another issue to confront…no one with the possible exception of Elise.
Yuletide Abduction will be available in print and digitally on November 3. Preorder a copy: Amazon | BN | Kobo | iBooks | All Romance | IndieBound. And for more inspirational stories, why not visit our Everything Inspirational page?