Protecting Virginia by Shirlee McCoy
When foster care worker Virginia Johnson inherits her abusive late husband's family home, she's desperate to sell it before Christmas. But a mysterious intruder doesn't want her in the house. Terrified, Virginia turns to her neighbor, Capitol K-9 Unit officer John Forrester, and his four-legged partner, to keep her alive to see the New Year.
Guarding Abigail by Lenora Worth
Capitol K-9 Unit officer Dylan Ralsey's new mission: protect a murdered diplomat's daughter while she's in the nation's capitol. But when an attempt is made on Abigail Wheaton's life, Dylan and his trusty canine partner must keep her safe from a murderer who wants to ruin everyone's holiday.
Capitol K-9 Unit: These lawmen solve the toughest cases with the help of their brave canine partners.
About the Author
began writing her first novel when she was a teenager. A busy mother of five, Shirlee is a homeschooling mom by day and an inspirational author by night. She and her husband and children live in the Pacific Northwest and share their house with a dog, two cats and a bird. You can visit her website, www.shirleemccoy.com, or email her at email@example.com.
Lenora Worth writes for Love Inspired and Love Inspired Suspense. She is a Carol Award finalist and a New York Times, USA Today, and PW bestselling author. She writes Southern stories set in places she loves such as Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. Lenora is married and has two grown children and now lives near the ocean in the Panhandle of Florida. She loves reading, shoe shopping, long walks on the beach, mojitoes and road trips.
Read an Excerpt
The house looked exactly the way Virginia Johnson remembered ita hulking Victorian with a wraparound porch and gingerbread trim. The once-lush lawn had died, the wrought iron fence that separated the yard from the sidewalk was leaning inward, but the ancient oak still stood at the right corner of the property, a tire swing hanging listlessly from its branches.
Even with dead grass and darkened windows, the property was impressive, the beautiful details of the house highlighted by bright winter sun. Most people would have been thrilled to inherit a place like this.
Virginia was horrified.
She walked up the driveway, her throat tight with a hundred memories that she'd rather forget, her hand clamped around the key that had come in the mail three weeks ago. It had been in a package with a letter from a lawyer who'd been trying to reach her for two months, a check for more money than she knew what to do with and the deed to the house.
She hadn't wanted any of it.
She'd torn up the check, tossed the deed and the key in the trash. Would have gone on with her life and pretended her grandmother-in-law, Laurel, hadn't left her everything the Johnson family owned. Except that kids were nosy, and Virginia's job as assistant housemother at All Our Kids Foster Home meant that she lived and worked with children all the time.
Most days, she loved her job. The day little Tommy Benson had taken the letter, torn-up check, key and deed out of the trashcan and delivered them to Virginia's boss, Cassie McCord, Virginia found herself wishing that she worked in a tiny little cubicle in a sales department somewhere. Because Cassie wasn't one to let things go. She couldn't understand why Virginia would let a beautiful home rot.
If you don't want it, why not sell it? she'd asked. You haven't had any time off in three years. Take a couple of weeks off, contact an auction house. Have them auction what you don't want to keep, then you can put the house on the market. Imagine what you could do with the money, how many kids you could help.
The last part had been the catalyst that had changed Virginia's mind. She could do a lot with the money from the estate. She could open another foster home. She could help hundreds of children.
And maybe just maybe going back to the place where she'd nearly died, the place where every one of her dreams had turned into a nightmare, would help her conquer the anxiety and fear that seemed to have taken over her life.
If it didn't kill her first.
She shivered, the late November air cutting through her coat and chilling her to the bone. Her legs felt stiff as she walked up the porch steps. It had been eight years since she'd seen the property, but it hadn't changed much. The door was still brick red, the porch and railing crisp white. The flowered welcome mat had been replaced by a plain black one. If she lifted it, would she see bloodstains on the porch boards?
She gagged at the thought, her hand shaking as she shoved the key in the lock. The door swung open before she could turn the knob, and she jumped back, startled, afraid.
Of what? her rational self whispered. He's not here. Won't ever be here again.
She stepped inside, closed the door behind her, stood there in the foyer the way she had the very first time she'd seen the property. Kevin had been beside her, proud of what he had to offer the woman he'd said he loved.
She gagged again, the scent of blood filling her nose. Only there was no blood. Not on the foyer floor. Not on the cream-colored walls. Someone had washed things down, painted them over, hidden the horror that had happened in a house that should have been filled with love.
"Just get it over with," she muttered, forcing herself to walk down the long hall and into the kitchen. She'd start her itemized list there.
The house had been in the Johnson family for five generations. It was filled to the brim with things that had been passed down from one family member to the next. The line had ended with Kevin's death. There were probably cousins of cousins somewhere, and Virginia wished her grandmother-in-law had found one of them to hand the property and the money over to. Instead, Laurel had passed the property on to Virginia. A guilt offering? It didn't matter. All Virginia wanted to do was get rid of it as quickly as possible.
A floorboard above her head creaked, and she froze, her hand on an old pitcher and bowl set that dated back to the nineteenth century.
"The house settling," she said aloud, the words echoing hollowly in the quiet room.
She knew the old house well, had lived in it for two long years. It creaked. It groaned. It protested its age loudly. Especially in the winter. She knew it, but she was still terrified, her hand shaking as she set the pitcher down.
The floor creaked again, and every fear that haunted her dreams, every terror that woke her from sound sleep, filled her mind. She inhaled. Exhaled. Told herself that she had nothing to be afraid of.
Another board creaked. It sounded like someone walking through the upstairs hallway, heading toward the servants' stairs. The stairs that led straight down into the kitchen.
The door to the stairwell was closed, the old crystal doorknob glinting in the overhead light. She cocked her head to the side and listened to what sounded like the landing at the top of the stairs groaning. Her imagination. It had to be.
She opened the door, because she was tired of always being afraid, always jumping at shadows, always panicking. The stairwell was narrow and dark, the air musty. She glanced up, expecting to see the other door, the one that led into the upstairs hallway.
A man stood on the landing. Tall. Gaunt. Hazel eyes and light brown hair.
"Kevin," she breathed, because he looked so much like her husband had that her heart nearly stopped.
He blinked, smiled a smile that made her skin crawl.
"Ginny," he murmured, and that was all she needed to hear.
She ran to the back door and fumbled with the bolt, sure she heard his footsteps on the stairs, his feet padding on the tile behind her.
She didn't look. Couldn't look.
The bolt slid free, and she yanked the door open, sprinted outside.
"Ginny!" the man called, as she jumped off the porch stairs and raced toward the back edge of the property. "Is this the way you treat a man who gave you everything?"
She screamed, the sound ripping from her throat, screaming again as footsteps pounded behind her.
She made it to the hedge that separated the Johnson property from the one behind it and plunged through winter-dry foliage, branches snagging her hair, ripping at her skin.
Was he behind her? His hand reaching to drag her back?
Impossible! Kevin had died eight years ago!
But someone was there, someone was following.
She shoved through the remainder of the hedge, ran into the open, and he was there. Standing in front of her, his broad form backlit by sunlight, his face hidden in shadows.
She pivoted away, screaming again and again.
He snagged her coat, pulled her backward, and she knew that every nightmare she'd ever had, every horrible memory she'd tried to forget had finally come for her.
The woman was hysterical. No doubt about that. Terrified, too. The last thing Capitol K-9 police officer John Forrester wanted to do was scare her more, but he couldn't let her go. She was obviously running from something or someone, and he didn't want her to run right back into whatever danger she'd fled.
"Calm down," he said, tugging her back another step. "I'm not going to hurt you."
She whirled around, took a swing at his head, her fist just missing his nose.
Beside him his K-9 partner, Samson, growled.
That seemed to get her attention.
She froze, her eyes wide as her gaze dropped to the German shepherd. Samson had subsided, his dark eyes locked on Virginia, his muscles relaxed. Obviously, he didn't see the woman as too much of a threat.
"He's not going to hurt you, either," John assured the woman.
She didn't look convinced, but she wasn't screaming any longer.
"That wasn't you in the house," she said as if that made perfect sense.
"What house?" he asked, eyeing the hedge she'd just torn through. The property on the other side of it had been empty for longer than John had been renting the Hendersons' garage apartment. According to his landlords, the elderly woman who owned the house had moved to an assisted-living facility over a year ago.
"Laurel's," the woman said, her hand trembling as she tucked a strand of light brown hair behind her ear. She looked vaguely familiar, her soft blue eyes sparking a memory that he couldn't quite catch hold of.
"Laurel is your friend?" he prodded, anxious to figure out what was going on and get back to his day off.
"My husband's grandmother. She left me the house, so I guess it's actually mine," she corrected herself.
"And you think someone was in there?"
"Someone was in there. I saw him."
"Your husband maybe?"
"My husband," she said, every word brittle and sharp,
She didn't respond, just fumbled in her pocket and pulled out a cell phone. "I need to call the police."
"I can check things out for you," he offered, because he was there, and because if someone was in the house, the guy would be gone long before the police arrived.
"I don't think that would be safe," she said, worrying her lower lip, her finger hovering over the 9 on her phone. "He could have a weapon or"
"I'm a police officer," he interrupted. "I work for Capitol K-9."
She looked up, her gaze sharp. "Then you know Gavin McCord."
The comment brought back the memory he'd been searching for. Captain Gavin McCord's wedding. His bride and her entourage of foster kids, the quiet woman who'd been with them. He hadn't paid all that much attention to her. She'd been pretty enough, her hair swept into some elaborate style, her dress understated, her shoes sturdy. Nothing showy about her. They might have been introduced. He couldn't remember. He'd been too busy thinking about getting food from the buffet.
"You're Cassie's friend," he said, pulling Samson's lead from his pocket and attaching it to the shepherd's collar.
"Yes. Virginia Johnson. Cassie and I work together at All Our Kids." She glanced at the hedge again, tucking another stray strand of hair behind her ear. Her nervous energy made him antsy. He didn't much like sitting idle when he could be doing something, and right at that moment, he and Samson could be searching for whomever she'd seen.
"Tell you what, Virginia," he said. "Go ahead and call the police while I look around. If there's someone in the house, we're giving him way too much time to get away."
"I hope he does get away," she muttered.
"You want him coming back?" he asked, and she flinched.
"No, but I don't want you killed, either, Officer"
"John Forrester. Stay here. I'll be back soon."
"I'm not waiting out here by myself," she said, moving in behind him as he made his way to the shrubs.
"Then wait at my place." He shoved the keys into her hands, pointing her toward the external staircase that led to his second-floor garage apartment.
"Find!" he said, commanding Samson to move forward.
The Shepherd took off, lunging through the shrubs and out into a pristine yard, nose to the ground, body relaxed. He was trained in apprehension and protection. He knew how to track a suspect, corner him and disarm him if necessary.
He was also good at sensing danger, at knowing when someone was around who didn't belong. Right now, he was focused on a scent trail. Probably Virginia's.
John followed as Samson beelined across the lawn and headed straight toward the large Victorian. The Shepherd bounded up the porch stairs, and stopped at a door. Cracked open, a little wedge of light visible beyond, it looked as if it opened into a kitchen.
"Hold!" he commanded and Samson settled onto his haunches, eyes trained on the door.
John nudged it open, peering into an empty kitchen.
"Find," he commanded, and Samson trotted into the room.
The house lay silent, the air thick with something that made the hair on the back of John's neck stand on end. He'd been in enough dangerous situations to know when he was walking into trouble. He could feel it like a cold breeze brushing against his skin.
Samson sensed it, too. His scruff bristled, his body language changing. No longer relaxed, he sniffed the air and moved toward a doorway to their left. Beyond it, a staircase wound its way to the second floor.
Samson charged up, his well-muscled body moving silently. John moved with him. In sync with the Shepherd's loping gait, muscles tense, every nerve alert, he jogged onto the second-floor landing and into a wide hallway. Seven doors. All closed. Another staircase that led downstairs.
Samson growled, the deep low warning seeming to echo through the hallway.
"Police!" John shouted. "Come on out or I'll send my dog to find you."
There was a flurry of movement below. Fabric rustling, footsteps pounding.
Samson barked, yanking at the lead, tugging John into a full-out run.
A door creaked open as they raced downstairs and into a large foyer.
The front door?
Samson veered away from it, pulling John through the foyer into an old-fashioned parlor.
Cold air filled the room, swirling in from an open door that emptied onto a wraparound porch.
"Find!" John commanded, and Samson raced through the open doorway and out into the crisp winter day, his well-muscled body tense with anticipation.
Someone had been in the house. There was no doubt about that. What he was doing there was something John had every intention of finding out.
He ran down porch steps, Samson bounding in front of him. No hesitation. The dog had the scent, and he'd follow it until they found their quarry. Once he did, the guy was going to be very sorry he'd picked that house.