Hearts in the Crosshairs

Hearts in the Crosshairs

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by Susan Page Davis

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She came for her inaugural address—and found herself dodging bullets, instead. Newly elected Maine governor Jillian Goff doesn't know why someone wants to kill her. But she knows they came close. Too close. Enter Dave Hutchins. A member of the state's Executive Protection Unit, Dave's mission is to protect the governor and find the would-be assassin. See more details below


She came for her inaugural address—and found herself dodging bullets, instead. Newly elected Maine governor Jillian Goff doesn't know why someone wants to kill her. But she knows they came close. Too close. Enter Dave Hutchins. A member of the state's Executive Protection Unit, Dave's mission is to protect the governor and find the would-be assassin. Without getting emotionally involved. Yet the more time Dave spends with Jillian, the less he can imagine ever leaving her side. Not with her life—and his heart—caught in the crosshairs.

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Steeple Hill Books
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Love Inspired Suspense Series
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Governor Jillian Goff pulled on dark knit gloves as she walked across the lobby of the statehouse flanked by the president of the Maine Senate and two Executive Protection Unit officers. Another security officer opened the door, and she stepped out into the bright, cold January day. The sky overhead, between the Capitol and the state office building, shone a vivid blue. Several hundred people had crowded into the limited space. Jillian waved as she walked across the paving stones to the microphones, touched that so many had come out to see her just minutes after she took the oath of office.

She smiled and looked into the television camera with the red light. "I want to thank all of you, the people of Maine, for choosing me as your new governor. The past few months have been hectic, but they've been good preparation for what's ahead. Together we can bring Maine into a productive new era. I look forward to—"

A muffled crack made her freeze. Something zinged past her ear, and a small, sharp object struck her cheek.

Someone seized her shoulders from behind and shoved her down behind the bank of microphones.

"Steady, ma'am. Keep still until we secure the area."

She'd only been governor for fifteen minutes, and an officer from the EPU was holding her against the cold stone pavement before the door of the Capitol. Her right cheek stung. People shouted and scrambled about. A puff of white vapor formed in the air each time she let out a shallow breath. Her pulse thudded in her temples, and her knee hurt, folded beneath her on the freezing stone.

She turned her head, but that wasn't much better. Her cheekbone contacted with the icy pavement and sheshivered. "W-what happened?"

"Shooter. Are you all right?"


Jillian swallowed hard. This morning, the chief officer of the Maine State Police, Colonel Gideon Smith, had urged her to wear a bulletproof vest beneath her coat during the press conference, and she had laughed at him. "When was the last time a Maine governor was attacked?"

"I take your safety seriously, ma'am," Smith had replied.

I should have listened to him.

Another man came and kneeled beside her.

"Are you all right, ma'am?"

"I think so." The cheek that was pressed against the stone still stung.

"We're going to help you up and get you inside. We'll take you right up to your office. Do you understand?"

She nodded. She could hear the surge of the crowd and shouts in the distance.

"All right, then." The weight on her back lifted as the man who had hovered over her straightened, and she struggled to her knees.

"Quickly, now." The officers pulled her up and urged her toward the main door. A few photographers ran alongside and snapped pictures. Inside, a dozen people huddled against the walls, staring at her. Policemen surrounded her on all sides—plainclothesmen of the EPU, uniformed state troopers and Capitol security officers—but still she felt exposed. Anyone could have walked into the building before the press conference. She looked ahead, searching for things out of place, for people who didn't belong.

Six officers squeezed into the elevator with her. The rest headed for the stairs. So far, the emergency plan was functioning just as they'd laid it out to her a few weeks earlier.

"You're bleeding, ma'am," said one of the female detectives.

Jillian pulled off her gloves and touched her right cheek gingerly, then drew her hand away and looked at it. Her fingertips were stained with blood.

"I don't think it's serious."

"We'll have your doctor come look at it immediately," the tall detective on her other side said.

When they emerged on the floor above, Colonel Smith waited by the elevator, panting.

"Governor Goff! I'm so sorry." He took her elbow and guided her swiftly through the outer office and into the inner sanctum. Her private office. She'd only been in it a few times, during the last governor's term. Half a dozen EPU members and four uniformed troopers followed and took up positions at every door and window. Several more were ordered to stand guard in the outer office. The main door closed, and Smith locked it.

"Have a seat, ma'am. We'll get you out of here as quickly as possible, but not until we've secured the area."

"I understand." Jillian's chest tightened as she walked toward the huge walnut desk. At least her calf-length skirt and wool coat covered her trembling knees. She sank into the padded leather chair behind the desk and lowered her head into her hands. She winced as she touched her cheek again.

Smith held out a clean white handkerchief. "I'm sorry, Governor. We've called for your physician. She'll be here momentarily."

Jillian raised her chin. "I'm fine, Colonel. Just find out who did this."

Detective Dave Hutchins hurried to the Executive Protection Unit's afternoon briefing. The first attempt on a sitting Maine governor's life in many years promised to keep the unit busy.

"Were you there this morning?" Detective Penny Thurlow asked as he slid into a chair beside her.

"No," Dave said, "but I've seen it on TV at least ten times."

Penny nodded. "Me too. An assassination attempt on inauguration day. Unheard of."

Lieutenant Wilson, their immediate boss, briefed the officers. Heads turned as Colonel Gideon Smith, head of the Maine State Police, entered and took a seat near the door. Wilson wound down his spiel and nodded at Smith. "And now I'll let the colonel take the floor."

The officers sat up straighter as Smith walked to the lectern. "Men—and women—" he nodded deferentially to Penny and Stephanie Drake, the two female detectives in the unit"—I want to commend you and your colleagues for your exemplary performance today. Thanks to this unit, the governor of Maine is safe and sound at the Blaine House and will begin her official duties on schedule. It's up to you to keep the governor and her family safe, and to find out who made the attempt on her life. I don't need to tell you that this investigation is priority one for your unit. Any resources within my reach are at your disposal. Carry on."

The colonel turned on his heel and left the room. Dave glanced over at Penny. "Bet he wishes he was still doing field work, not pushing paper."

She nodded. "I'm on duty at the governor's office tomorrow. Can't wait."

Lieutenant Wilson resumed his place behind the lectern and opened a folder. "Assignments have been juggled due to this incident. We don't know yet who fired at the governor this morning. That means we've got to dig deeper into her past than any of her political opponents did during the last year, and that's pretty deep. We'll also reconstruct the shooting. We're reasonably sure this wasn't a sniping. The bullet came from the level of the crowd."

Dave leaned forward to listen, curious to know where he would fit into the aftermath.

"The Inaugural Ball has been canceled." A murmur spread across the room, and Wilson held up one hand. "It's unprecedented, but the governor's advisors were adamant. She should not go out in public until the situation is under control. So, those who drew duty for that event will have different assignments for tonight."

He named the officers who were currently on duty at the governor's mansion and assigned a new shift to relieve them. "The officers personally guarding Governor Goff will stagger their hours to preserve continuity. We don't want to leave any leeway for someone who's looking for a chance to get at the governor. We're also increasing manpower to guard her until further notice, so expect some overtime. We'll draw on state troopers for extra guards around the Blaine House as long as we feel it's warranted."

Dave drew duty investigating the shooting—his strong suit. But he envied the officers who would guard Jillian Goff. Not only did she carry herself with an air of sophisticated charm— class, Dave thought—but her file said she was intelligent and a gifted attorney. Since her husband's death, she'd thrown herself into the legislative process. He had to admire that.

He left the duty room, eager to get on with his assignment: interviewing Jillian's partners at the Waterville law firm where she had practiced before the election. Half a dozen other detectives would conduct interviews elsewhere, and their collective findings would give them a picture of the governor's relationships with the people closest to her.

The half-hour drive gave him time to think about the shooting. None of the officers on duty that morning had seen the gunman—the shooter had melted into the crowd.

How could it be that no one had seen the weapon or noticed the person who fired it? He clenched his hands on the steering wheel of his pickup. Easy. Every eye was on the glamorous new governor. The shooter had done the deed—not well, or he would have hit Jillian—and then stood his ground as part of the appalled audience. When the people panicked and fell back, away from the Capitol's public entrance, the person who wielded the gun went with them.

The shooter must have eased toward the fringe of the crowd. As soon as the ranks broke, he'd walked away to a vehicle parked on a side street or maybe down on State Street. Not in the Capitol complex parking lots, and not in the state employees' garage half a block up the street. Officers had secured those areas quickly and taken names and license plate numbers of everyone who left after the shooting. The massive job had taken hours, and a lot of people were unhappy about the delays.

Dave pulled into the parking lot at the office of Dandridge, Scribner, Harris & Goff. The partners were expecting him. They introduced themselves and took him into a conference room with a long, polished table.

"Terrible thing," said Martin Dandridge, the gray-haired senior partner. He offered Dave coffee, which he declined.

Margaret Harris, golden-haired and tanned, smiled at him, but the smile wavered. "When will the police know who did this?"

"We're doing everything we can." Dave studied her face. "I understand the governor's late husband, Brendon Goff, was also a member of this firm."

"Yes." Ms. Harris's mouth skewed into a grimace. "It was awful when Brendon died. He and Jillian met in law school. After a few years working with public prosecutors, they applied here together, and we brought them into the firm at the same time. Brilliant young couple."

"They were with us for five years or so before Brendon decided to run for Senate," Dandridge said. He shook his head. "Such a pity. If I'd known he was going to get himself killed, I'd have advised him to give up skiing. But he loved it. And you never know, do you? You just never know."

The other partners murmured their assent.

Dave cleared his throat. "So Jillian stepped into his seat in the Senate and then won reelection."

"Correct," said Dandridge. "And now our shining junior partner is governor of Maine. I can hardly believe it."

The third partner, Jon Scribner, leaned forward. "We took this morning off to go to Augusta and see her sworn in."

"So you were all there?" Dave looked around at the three of them.

Margaret nodded. "We closed the office for the day. We only came in this afternoon because you called. Poor Jillian." She shook her head. "I tried to call her a couple of hours ago, but they wouldn't put my call through."

"The governor is under very close guard," Dave said.

"Well, that's good, I suppose."

Dave eyed them keenly. All had been at the scene of the shooting. And all knew Jillian well. How well? Well enough to want her dead?

Jillian ate dinner in the family dining room with her mother and her personal assistant, Naomi Plante. The guards outnumbered the diners, which she found disconcerting. Her mother, however, chattered on uninhibited as the staff served their meal.

Jillian realized she would have to get used to being waited on. She'd lived alone since Brendon died, eating a majority of her meals out of the microwave, so the hovering domestic staff put her a little on edge. Once the meal was over, she could retire to her private rooms with her mother, away from the watchful eyes. But even then, the security guards and staff would be only steps away.

She had hardly eaten all day, and she found the food delicious. Menu planning was one of the duties she had decided to delegate to her assistant. Sometime soon she'd have to talk to Naomi about meals, but right now, other thoughts occupied her.

Her mother might think she could distract her by talking about the décor, the food and the next week's schedule, but Jillian's mind kept skipping back to the shooting. Who wanted to kill her? Every time she recalled the morning's events, her bewilderment morphed into anger. She took a deep breath and focused on her mother.

"It's such a pity they canceled your ball."

"Oh, I know," Naomi said quickly. "You bought such a beautiful dress, Mrs. Clark." She turned to Jillian. "And your gown! Will you ever wear it?"

Jillian shrugged. "There'll be another event." She chuckled. "I never was much of a dancer, anyway."

"Oh, but I love to dance," Naomi protested.

Jillian did feel a bit of regret for her mother's sake and Naomi's. Both had talked about the ball for weeks. Naomi bought her gown the day after election day, as soon as the ball was a sure thing. So much for the sure thing. It would have been the most prestigious event of Naomi's life, Jillian realized. Her mother's desolation, however, seemed more a cover for her anxiety about Jillian's welfare.

"Well, I'm glad they're looking after you," Vera said. "If that means no ball for you, then I guess we just stay home and turn into pumpkins. But it's such a waste. So many people booked rooms in town and bought special clothes. And all that food!"

"That's true," Jillian said. "I wish I could do something about that. I suggested a brief appearance, but the police said getting me there for a few minutes would be as risky as a full evening out, and the organizers felt they should cancel it outright."

Her mother's shoulders drooped. "I do hope they can keep you safe, Jillian."

"They're trained for that, Mom."

They lingered over dessert and coffee without mentioning her narrow escape again. The lead officer on duty entered the dining room and approached her.

"Ma'am, Detective David Hutchins is here. He's one of the chief investigators of the incident. Would you like to see him now?"

"Certainly." Jillian pushed back her chair. "Show him into my private office upstairs, please." She wondered if that was the proper place for an interview with a police officer. Maybe she should take him into one of the public rooms across the hall—the sunroom or James G. Blaine's old study, for instance. But the windows in those rooms fronted on Capitol Street.

Even inside the well-guarded house, she felt vulnerable. This morning's incident had shaken her more than she'd admitted to anyone.

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