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Dusty stifled a yawn and deployed the Harley's kickstand. The handlebar clock said 5:15, and beside it, the temperature gauge registered seventy-two muggy degrees. He shook his head and hoped weatherman Marty Bass was wrong about thunderstorms in the forecast, because if he wasn't, more than this morning's search and rescue mission—SAR for short—was in jeopardy. It meant he'd have to put off fixing the roof. Again. And that meant new mattresses for the boys who called The Last Chance their home.
Grumbling under his breath, he stowed his helmet, and after squeezing rain from his ponytail, pulled up the hood of his sweatshirt, soaked clean through by the deluge that had chased him halfway around the Baltimore Beltway.
Dusty shouldered his way through the tunnel of waterlogged branches that canopied the footpath. If he'd stopped for a sack of burgers from the twenty-four-hour McDonald's on North Howard, his stomach wouldn't be groaning now. But then, he wouldn't have beaten the morning gridlock, either. Tradeoffs. Lately, they seemed to dominate every facet of his life.
A fat raindrop oozed from a leaf and landed on the tip of his nose, then slid to the blacktopped footpath where it gleamed like a new dime. Up ahead, the blue and red strobes of emergency vehicles sliced through the gray mist, and the whoop of sirens silenced the usual chirp of tree frogs and crickets. If that didn't lend gritty balance to the postcard-pretty sight, Dusty didn't know what did.
He passed two stern-faced cops, interviewing a guy in a baggy orange jogging suit. "Shadow is the best-behaved dog I've ever owned," he heard the guy say, "but he spotted something over there ..." The man pointed to a break in the tree line, "and went completely off his nut."
Dusty took note of the German shepherd's stance—ears pricked forward and tail straight out—as it stared at the spot, some twenty yards away.
"Probably just a squirrel or something," the owner said, "but with the story of that young girl, I figured—"
"We appreciate the tip, sir," the tallest officer said. He tucked a tablet into his shirt pocket while his partner returned the guy's driver's license. "Don't worry, if we need anything more, we know how to get in touch." He gave the pocket flap a pat.
In other words, Dusty thought, hit the road, dude, so we can get to work. The jogger took the hint and led his dog across the parking lot as Dusty joined the small circle of SAR workers already assembled. Jones, this mission's Operation Leader, quickly brought them up to speed: Melissa Logan, age sixteen, hadn't been home since the night of her prom. Last seen a few miles west of the park, her disappearance had sparked an intensive dawn-to-dusk manhunt that left everyone scratching their heads. And when the jogger's shepherd started acting spooky, the dominos began to fall, starting with its owner's 9-1-1 call and ending with another search, here.
"It's been nearly a week since she went missing," Jones warned, "so prepare yourselves."
Meaning, dead or alive, Melissa Logan wouldn't look very pretty, even in her fancy prom gown.
They all knew the drill, but Jones went over it, anyway. "Let's try not to make too big a mess, stomping through the underbrush, shall we?"
Because the cops will need every scrap of evidence to catch the animal who did this.
Next, came the OL's reminder to double-check field packs for standard equipment: Compass, knife, matches and rope, sterile dressing and bandages, bottled water, space blanket, and metal mirror. Memory of the time he'd needed the snake-bite kit faded as the sound of surgical gloves, snapping into place, went around the circle.
The team field tested their radios and counted off, starting with Dusty and ending with Honor Mackenzie, the best rescue dog trainer he'd ever worked with. Today, she'd brought Rerun, instead of the more experienced Rowdy. His gut—and those dark circles under Honor's sad eyes—told him something bad had happened to the personable Golden Retriever that had earned awards, a fan page on Facebook, and the respect of every team member, two-legged and four. Maybe later he'd ask her about that....
"You volunteers," Jones said, "pair up with somebody who's wearing a pack."
Technically, they were all volunteers, but SAR personnel had earned their certs by putting in long, grueling hours of training, while the rest—friends and family of the girl, mostly—had probably never done anything like this before.
"And you with packs," Jones continued, "double-check to make sure your partners are wearing gloves, too." He met Dusty's eyes. "Parker, you want to start us off with a prayer?"
As chaplain of the local fire department, he was expected to ask God's blessing on the mission, and Dusty had never let them down.
Today? He couldn't think of a single thing to say, and he didn't have a clue why. Didn't need to open his eyes, either, to know that the team—even guys who weren't particularly religious—needed him to find the right words to fit this circumstance.
Two empty seconds ticked by: Zero.
Four seconds: Zip.
And because they continued to stand there, waiting in the prickly silence, Dusty launched into a bland, one-size-fits-all-occasions petition. "Father," he began, "we ask your blessing on those assembled. Show us, Lord, the signs that will lead to Melissa. Let us find her alive, suffering only exhaustion and exposure. And if...."
He paused, searching his mind for words that would help them cope when they found something more ominous, instead.
No one could read his thoughts, so why had he chosen if rather than when?
When the answer refused to materialize, Dusty lifted his head and exhaled a deep breath. "And now, if you'll join me in reciting the first responders' prayer...."
"Father in Heaven," they said together, "please make me strong when others are weak, brave when others are afraid, and vigilant when others are distracted by chaos. Provide comfort and companionship to my family when I must be away. Serve beside me and protect me as I seek to protect others."
A dozen "Amens" echoed around the tight circle, followed by a few "Thank-yous" and "Good job, Dustys." Then, nodding and muttering, the crew marched forward, some poking at the ground with sticks, others employing a slow slide-kick method to keep from stepping on evidence that might lead to the missing girl.
A few minutes into the search, a soft voice near Dusty's elbow said, "Mind if I follow you?"
Young and wide-eyed, her expression told him she belonged with the "never did anything like this before" group. He had a notion to ask, "Why do I get stuck with all the newbies?" Instead, he said, "Does Jones have your contact info?"
He gave her a quick once-over. Wasn't likely she'd keep up with him on legs that short, but even if she did, her to-the-point answer gave him hope that she wouldn't hammer him with inane chatter.
"Move slowly and steadily, and stay a yard behind me and to my right." So I can keep an eye on you. "And if you see anything, point it out to me and do not touch it."
There was something in her trembly tone, in her worried eyes, that told him she had a link to the missing girl. He started to ask about the connection when the toe of his boot tapped against something. One hand up to stop her, he took a knee and parted the weeds ...
... and revealed a glittery high-heeled shoe. Six inches to its left, he saw the mate, and a few yards ahead of that, the once-pretty young woman who'd worn them to her prom.
Rising slowly, he radioed his location, then backpedaled, taking care to match every footfall to the boot print he'd left in the damp grass. He'd almost forgotten his tiny, human shadow, until she stepped up beside him.
"Oh, God," came her shaky whisper. "Oh, no...."
Jones's voice crackled through the radio. "Roger that, Parker. Keep a clean scene. I'll point the cops your way."
Dusty reholstered his handset, then inspected his temporary partner's face. "You okay?"
She swallowed, hard enough that he heard it, then croaked out, "I'm fine."
But she wasn't, as evidenced by her wavering voice and ashen complexion. He saw her knees buckle, and knew if he didn't do something fast, she'd fall, right where she stood. One hand gripping each of her upper arms, he held tight as she knelt in the wet grass, then sat back on her heels and combed rain-dampened fingers through her hair. Five seconds of silence ticked by before she whispered, "Her name is Missy Logan. Melissa. Melissa Logan." Eyes closed, she lifted her face to the grey clouds overhead. "She's one of my students. English. Art. And Art History, too."
She hardly looked old enough to be in high school, let alone teach in one. When she met his eyes, he knew she hadn't chosen the profession for monetary reasons. The pain glittering in the big brown orbs told him that Missy Logan had meant something to her. Maybe she'd mentored the girl. Dusty would have asked if that was the case, if Jones and half a dozen SAR members hadn't jogged up right then.
The OL groaned, wincing with deep pain when he saw the teenager's broken, bloody remains.
"Oh, man," echoed another, grimacing.
The teacher got to her feet as Dusty said, "This young lady says the girl is one of her students."
"Was her student, you mean," said a voice Dusty didn't recognize. He looked over his shoulder, intent on aiming the stink-eye at the rude bozo. When he turned face-forward again, she was gone, no doubt pulled aside by one of the investigators now swarming the scene.
Jones waved his team closer to hear his usual "how to handle stupid reporter questions" lecture. Then, one by one, SAR personnel were rounded up and questioned by the FBI agents assigned to the missing girl's case. Working in twos, the agents made fast work of taking statements, handing out business cards, and securing each team member's promise to call the Baltimore field office with details that might come to mind later. Halfway through his own interview, Dusty's stomach began to churn. He blamed it on lack of sleep. The midnight pizza, devoured while helping one of his boys study for finals. The disturbing sight of the girl who'd never go home again.
He'd been at this for years. Melissa Logan hadn't been his first "find." So why the jitters and sweaty palms? Dusty stuffed an agent's card into his pocket and promised to call if anything came to mind an hour or even a day from now. Then he walked away, stifling a frustrated groan as he slapped a palm to the back of his neck. Why didn't any of the mind-over-matter tricks that helped his pals cope with stuff like this ever work for him?
Leaning his backside against a tree, he pulled a bottle of water from his pack and unscrewed the cap. With any luck, it would settle his roiling gut. Staring through the rippled plastic as he gulped, the scene took on a hazy, surreal look. What he wouldn't give for the images to blur that way tonight, tomorrow, every night for weeks as the images flashed in his dreams.
"Idiot," he muttered. For one thing, a guy had to sleep in order to dream, and he couldn't remember the last time he'd slept more than an hour or two at a stretch.
He glanced at his watch. In half an hour, Mitch would load the Last Chance boys into the van and drive them to Our Daily Bread, where they'd spend the day stocking shelves, cleaning, peeling potatoes, and doing dishes. If Dusty left right now, he might just get ahead of the traffic snarl on 695, and catch a few Z's before joining them.
Stuffing the water bottle back into his pack, he jogged toward his Harley, and nearly collided with the two agents who'd interviewed him. They were with the pretty young teacher now. She clutched both blue surgical gloves in one hand as she stood, head down, nodding. He followed Agent One's line of vision; he, too, had noticed that she was trembling all the way down to her soaked sneakers. Give the kid a break, he wanted to say. Because if the morning had been this tough on him, how much more had it affected a first-timer?
As he got closer, Dusty overheard Agent Two ask about her teaching credentials while One pecked data from her driver's license into his iPhone. She'd earned a few points back there—for keeping up with him, for not asking inane questions, but mostly, for not falling apart when she got that first gruesome eyeful of the girl's battered body. He gave her a few more points now, for holding it together under the agents' onslaught: How long had she known Missy? Had she heard of any bad blood between Melissa and other students or teachers? Was she aware of boyfriend problems? As a chaperone at the prom, did she believe alcohol or drugs played a role in the girl's disappearance and death? Would she be willing to help them access school records, saving the time it would take them to get in touch with Missy's parents by other means?
"Yes, yes, of course," she said, "but you need to know that Missy is...." She shook her head and pressed her fingertips into her temples. "... was an only child. And that her father died, just last spring."
Agent Number Two returned her license. "Is that right?"
She glanced toward the grassy hill where they'd found Melissa. "Well," she said, standing as tall as her five-foot-something frame would allow, "Mrs. Logan has barely had time to adjust to being a widow, and now...." Those sad, dark eyes darted back to the knoll, where the narrow strip of yellow plastic flapped in the breeze.
And now this, he finished silently.
She cleared her throat. "I just thought you should know, so that you can take it into consideration. When you could break the news to Missy's mom, I mean."
Before he'd nearly stumbled over the body, her cheeks had glowed with vitality. Now, it reminded him of that delicate porcelain serving platter his mom dragged out when it was her turn to host bridge club. Dusty had a feeling that stubbornness, mostly, was the only thing keeping the poor kid conscious and upright. He stepped up beside her, thinking to catch her if she passed out.
Agent One said, "We're finished with your interview, sir."
It wasn't the first time he'd been branded by the hot glare of a cop, and he met it with one of his own. "I'm here for moral support."
The agents exchanged a "What's his problem?" expression, then shrugged.
"What did Mr. Logan die of?" Agent Two asked the teacher.
"Bone cancer. It was a very long and painful illness. I remember how hard Missy took it when his doctors were forced to put him into a drug-induced coma."
"Why did they have to put him in a coma?" asked One.
"Because the slightest movement, even the weight of his own body, shattered bones, and none of the drugs were powerful enough to ease his pain." She cringed, as if the memory hurt her, too. "Mrs. Logan is a librarian. I don't remember which branch, only that it's somewhere in Baltimore County. I ran into her in the hall at school, when she came to get some things from Missy's locker. She told me that she'd taken a leave of absence, and that she was waiting for a sorority sister to let her know if she could drive down from New York, to stay with her while ... well, while ... you know."
Now Dusty cringed, too. While the cops looked for her little girl.
She shook her head again and started over. "I'm not sure if her friend is still in town, but I do remember hearing at Mr. Logan's funeral that she doesn't have family nearby." On the heels of a deep breath, she took a step forward. "If you think it'll help, I'm happy to sit with her while ... when...."
When you tell her that her little girl was slaughtered?
Dusty ground his molars together. If he ever got his hands on the animal who—
"Will you go to her house? To break the bad news, I mean? Or will it be necessary to make her come to your office?"
Dusty didn't hear the agent's answer, because his cell phone rang. Mitch Carlisle, the caller ID block said. Turning, he took a few steps away to answer the call from his assistant pastor at the halfway house. "Think you'll be back before we leave," the younger man asked, "or should we head on over to the soup kitchen without you?"
Dusty glanced over his shoulder, thinking he'd offer to tag along with the teacher, wherever the agents decided to break the bad news to the girl's widowed mom, but she was gone. "Hold on a sec, Mitch," he said, taking the phone from his ear. "Where'd she go?" he asked Agent One.
"Home. To feed her cat, I think she said," he answered before turning back to his partner.
Excerpted from A Man of Honor by Loree Lough. Copyright © 2012 Loree Lough. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted May 29, 2014
An Amazing Story of Second Chances and Hope.
This is the third book in The First Responders series. I loved this one so much I need to read the other two books. It is an amazing story of love and loss, second chances and hope. It has suspense and romance. It will make you laugh and cry so make sure you have kleenex handy. I loved every minute of this book and I hated to see it end.
Posted May 23, 2013
WHAT A WONDERFUL BOOK!!!! WHAT A WONDERFUL SERIES AND AUTHOR!!!!
This book kept me throughout the book had me staying up late to finish!!!
Each in the series can be read alone; but the best is to read 1 thru 3!! You won't be sorry!!!
Posted September 28, 2012
I just finished reading Loree Lough's latest in the First Responders Series, A Man of Honor. Loree has a talent for keeping me on the edge of my seat, and this book was no exception.
Dusty is on a search and rescue (SAR) mission when a pretty and young volunteer is paired with him who obviously must have known the victim they expect to find. Sure enough, it turns out Grace is the dead girl's teacher. Maybe she isn't as young as she looks, but she's still pretty.
Dusty is one of those bleeding hearts who takes in boys in trouble. He currently has eleven living with him in a house targeted by a gang who is giving him and the boys one last chance to either join the gang or get out. Dusty won't allow the first option and doesn't have much choice about the second. Where could they go?
Grace is another bleeding heart, volunteering to go with the police to give word to the mother of the victim--who had just months previous lost her husband and now had to be told her only child was gone, too. Grace also sort of mothers an odd girl in her class who doesn't look like much--messy, definitely not style conscious, antisocial, and bounced from one foster home to another.
It's inevitable these two do-gooders will get together--isn't it? Or is it? Tell me, Loree--is there another sequel? Please?
Posted September 12, 2012
This was an exceptional read - omgosh, everytime that I finished one book of this series, the next one was even better! I so admire all the first responders in this book and in real life-esp. those that were there during 9-11. They serve with courage and a desire to protect those they serve if it means putting their lives on the line. The dogs that the first responders, train to be part of the team, are awesome,too-there were many dog heroes as there were people heroes in 9-11.
This is a beautiful story of love, hope, faith,courage, forgiveness,and honor! Thank you, Loree- for this awesome book-I loved it!
Posted September 11, 2012
Dusty Parker is a man most would look at twice and wonder who he really is. On the outside, he's a big, muscle bound, tattooed, diamond pierced ear, Harley riding, pony-tailed man. But it's who he is on the inside that really matters and it matters a lot to the foster teenage boys he's raising in The Last Chance home. He is a part-time pastor and part-time Search and Rescue worker with a true heart of gold. Despite the fact he has what some would consider a colored past, Dusty tries to do all he can to give the boys he's helping to raise make lives for themselves where they wouldn't have had any hope.
A chance encounter on a recent Search and Rescue case for a teenage girl missing from prom, leads Dusty to work with a volunteer. She turns out to be the teacher of the missing girl and can identify her before the police can. Turns out that Grace Sinclair is an inner city school teacher with her own colored past. Yet Grace truly lives up to her name, offering the gift of grace to those she meets, from Molly Logan, the grieving parent of the missing teenage girl, to offering up her 30-acre ranch home when gang members threaten the boys staying with Dusty. Does God have a plan for both of them to use their pasts to create a new brighter future?
In the latest novel from Loree Lough, in her First Responder Series, A Man of Honor takes us into a different character than we have known before. Dusty's past comes from a tragic experience during 9/11 that costs him his career. He also has received a discharge from the Marines due to not being able to follow strict orders. Grace is also suffering from tragic circumstances surrounding the loss of someone in 9/11 as well, but it's her ability to care for others that makes her so admirable and attractive to Dusty. In the midst of this compelling story we find that local gang wants to induct the boys, Dusty is trying to save into his gang and if Dusty keeps him waiting much longer, he will make sure that his message is received loud and clear.
I received A Man of Honor compliments of Abingdon Press and Pump Up Your Book Tours for my honest review. I've read every single novel in Loree's First Responder Series and they are truly addicting because of how well she creates her characters. She doesn't make them perfect, but uniquely flawed so they can become believable and wind their way into our hearts like family. In A Man of Honor, you find yourself rooting for Dusty and Grace as much as the boys and girls they care for despite all the odds against them. There's even an appearance from Honor Mackenzie, the top SARs trainer from book 2. The best part about this series of books, is that Loree brings old and new characters together and blends them perfectly to create a story you'll fall in love with. I rate this one a 5 out of 5 stars and look forward to many more in this amazing series!
Posted August 12, 2012
A Man of Honor by Loree Lough
First Responders Series Book 3
Pastor Dusty Parker had come a long ways from where he once was. From living dangerous and reckless….as if it didn’t matter if he lived or died….to opening Last Chance after becoming a Pastor. Between the eleven boys, keeping up the old home they live in and having to put up with the gang leader, Gonzo, who wanted his boys in his gang….Dusty found a beautiful distraction from life while on a SAR mission.
Teacher Grace Sinclair went on the mission to look for one of her students who disappeared the week before. The handsome man she partnered with made it clear he didn’t like newbies, she never even learned his name. And yet they found each other once again and were pulled together like magnets. And she loved his Last Chance boys as well.
This is the third book in the series and I would recommend reading the first two if you enjoy “seeing” the whole story. This book don’t shy away from the real life facts. Not everything always turns up bright and happy. Loree has brought these characters to life so well that I shed many tears while reading and many smiles over the antics of the Last Chance boys. Be prepared for the unexpected.These books are more about real life situations more than romance. There is an underlying romance but the life of First Responders, real life, is the stronger theme.
**Received through NetGalley for review
Posted August 5, 2012
Loree Lough in her new book, “A Man of Honor” Book Three in the First Responders Series published by Abingdon Press brings us into the lives of Dusty Parker and Grace Sinclair.
From the back cover: Dusty and Grace find love together, but will it be enough to pull them through tragedy?
On a steamy spring morning, Dusty Parker—part-time pastor, part-time search-and-rescue team member, and full-time administrator of a school for troubled boys—joins the search for a missing teenage girl. He partners with volunteer and inner-city school teacher Grace Sinclair, and what they find bonds them in ways neither could have expected.
As they begin to build their lives together, a visitor from the past causes Dusty and Grace to further open their hearts and home. But a threat is looming on their seemingly perfect lives and in one terrifying night, everything changes.
Dusty is the administrator of a school for troubled boys that is home to eleven boys that he cares for deeply. On the other hand there is Gonzo, the gang leader, he doesn’t care for the boys, only as new recruits for his gang. Dusty and Gonzo are in conflict that needs to be resolved. Dusty is part of the search-and-rescue team and when a teenage girl goes missing he is called in to help search. It is at this time that he meets Grace, inner-city school teacher, and romance blossoms. ”A Man of Honor” is filled with tension and many twist and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The story is about child prostitution, those who are in it and those that are trying to get them out of it. Ms. Lough has managed to weave the romance between Dusty and Grace in such a way that it just captivates you. She makes you care for all the characters and their journey. This is also just plain fun and exciting as well. Don’t start this book late at night because it will cost you sleep.
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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Abingdon Press. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Posted August 3, 2012
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"A Man of Honor" by Loree Lough was the third book in the series (The First Responders Series) and a very good inspiring read that I thoroughly enjoyed. I found this novel to be not only beautiful but also powerful. Be ready for many twist and turns that kept me on the edge of my seat and I did find myself laughing at a lot as the story progressed.
How this author got these two people together was simply a work of art. Dusty Parker was not only a pastor, a search and rescue team member, but also in charge of eleven troubled teen boys that he cared for deeply..then there was a gang leader(Gonzo) who also wanted Dusty's boys in his gang. Grace Sinclair was a teacher...and one of her students(Melissa) had disappeared and ended up dead and this is where these two (Dusty & Grace) meet up and you will get the answer to the question...Was this 'love at first sight?' Will there be test in this relationship? Now, this is where I say you must pick up this excellent "Man of Honor" to see how this author gets this story out because the end will be a real test that only if you read "A Man of Honor" will you find out if...'Grace could do it!'
The characters were really all very very good..making this story so believable and powerful...Dusty, Melissa, Grace, Mitch, Gavin, Derek, Lucille, Matt, Honor,Montel, Cody, Trevor, Molly Logan, Kylie, Uncle Mike, Joe, Frank Benedict,Jesse Vaugh, Dom, Destor, Jack, Billy, Axel, Nick, Tony, Nestor, Miller, Shipley,Isaacs, Gonzo, Randi Fletcher, Ethan, Austin, Keith,and Agent Spencer Pastor Nolt, Mercy, Amanda, Dr. Applegate, Anita, Conner, Adam Miller, Blake, Flynn, Mr. Miller, Dr.Peterson, Marianai, Brigid and Tucker.
"A Man of Honor" showed much love, faith, humor, death and even tears. If you are in for a excellent read I would recommend this one for you.
Posted October 4, 2012
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