Her Christmas Guardian (Love Inspired Suspense Series)

Her Christmas Guardian (Love Inspired Suspense Series)

by Shirlee McCoy

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781460344170
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 12/01/2014
Series: Mission: Rescue
Sold by: HARLEQUIN
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 72,788
File size: 258 KB

About the Author

SHIRLEE McCOY 

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 shirlee@shirleemccoy.com.

Read an Excerpt

I've been found.

The thought shot through Scout Cramer's head, left her breathless, frantic. She veered the shopping cart toward the store exit, her heart pounding, her body vibrating with fear.

In her periphery, a man moved in. Casual in his dark slacks and sport coat, he looked like any other holiday shopper. She wanted so badly to believe he was.

Please, God. Please. Let me be wrong about who he is.

But she didn't think she was.

She thought she was right. Thought that somehow, after nearly three years, everything she'd tried to do for Amber, everything she'd tried to do for herself and Lucy had come to nothing. If she'd been found out, if he'd learned the truth, it was all for nothing. Every lie. Every broken friendship.

All of it.

For nothing.

"Please, God," she whispered as she unhooked Lucy's belt and lifted her from the cart. At just a little over twentyfour pounds, she was tiny for her age, her little arms wrapping snugly around Scout's neck.

"Mommy needs to find the restroom," Scout murmured, afraid to walk out into the parking lot. He'd follow her there. She was sure of it. After that…

What would he do?

Confront her?

Worse?

The store was filled with holiday shoppers, dozens of people crowding into Walmart's long lines, all of them desperate for Christmas bargains.

Would anyone notice if Scout was attacked?

Would anyone intervene?

Maybe, but she didn't plan to stick around long enough to find out.

She glanced at the man, hoping he didn't notice her sideways look. He was still, hovering at the head of an aisle, pretending to look at cans of asparagus.

She pivoted away, hurrying toward a restroom sign and the corridor beyond it. There had to be an emergency exit. She nearly ran to the end of the hall, stopping at double doors marked Employees Only.

What would happen if she walked in?

Would someone call the police? Set off an alarm?

Would she be arrested? If she was, what would happen to Lucy?

She looked at her little girl, smiling into dark brown eyes that were so much like Amber's it hurt to look in them.

"It's going to be okay," she whispered, and she hoped she was right. She'd made a lot of mistakes in her life. She'd done a lot of things she'd regretted, but she'd never regretted her friendship with Amber. She'd never regretted the promise she'd made to her.

Even if she did sometimes wonder if she'd been right to make it.

She glanced over her shoulder. No sign of the guy in the sport jacket. But her skin crawled, and her hair stood on end.

Something wasn't right, and that scared her more than anything else that had happened in the past couple of years.

She pushed the door open, took a step into what must have been an employee break room. No one there. Thank goodness. Just vending machines, a microwave, a refrigerator. Straight across from where she stood, an external door with a small window offered the hope of escape she'd been looking for.

"Everything okay, ma'am?" The voice was so unexpected, she jumped, whirling to face the speaker, her heart in her throat, her arms tightening around Lucy.

Tall.

That was the first impression she got.

Very tall, because she was eye to chest, staring straight at a black wool coat that hung open to reveal a dark purple dress shirt.

She looked up into ocean-blue eyes and a hard, handsome face, took in the black knit cap that almost covered deep red hair, the auburn stubble, the deep circles beneath the man's eyes. He smiled, and his face changed. Not hard any longer. Approachable. The kind of guy a woman might put her trust in.

If she ever put her trust in anyone.

"I'm fine," she managed to say.

"You're in the employee break room," he pointed out, flashing an easy smile. There was nothing easy about the look in his eyes. She was being studied, assessed, filed away for future reference.

"Yes. Well." She glanced around, trying to think of a good excuse for being in a place she shouldn't be. "I was looking for the restroom."

"You passed it."

"I guess I did." Her cheeks heated, but she refused to look away. He hadn't hauled out handcuffs or threatened to arrest her yet, so he probably wasn't a security guard or police officer. She doubted he was working with the man who'd been following her. She'd have noticed him way before she'd noticed the other guy. That dark red hair and lanky height weren't easy to miss. "I'll just go find it."

She sidled past him, moving back into the hall, Lucy's arms still tight around her neck. She'd do anything for her daughter. Anything. Even run away from everything she knew. Give up a job she loved. Say goodbye to friends and never contact them again.

"Are you in some kind of trouble?" the guy asked, following her down the hall.

Was she?

She didn't know, wasn't made for intrigue and danger. She liked quiet predictability. No drama. No muss. Nothing that was even close to trouble. The one time she'd tried to break free, do something wild and reckless and completely different, she'd caused herself enough heartache to last a lifetime.

No more.

Never again.

Except that she had done it again. Gone out on a limb, done something completely out of character. For different reasons, but the results had been the same. Trouble. It was breathing down her neck. She felt it as surely as she felt Lucy's soft breath on her cheek.

"Ma'am?" The man touched her arm, and she jerked back, surprised and a little alarmed. She'd kept mostly to herself since moving to River Valley, Maryland, spent all her time with Lucy or at work. She didn't let people into their world, into the place she'd carved for them. The safe little house in the safe little neighborhood.

"Are you in trouble?" he asked again, shoving his hands in the pockets of his black slacks and taking a step back.

"No," she mumbled even though she wasn't sure. The guy in the sport jacket seemed to have disappeared, and she was beginning to think she'd let her imagination get the better of her. But if she hadn't…?

Then what?

Could she run again?

Did she need to?

"Sure looks like you are to me."

"I'm fine," she insisted, and he nodded solemnly, his blue eyes never leaving her face.

"I'm glad to hear it, ma'am, but just in case you decide you're not—" he pulled a wallet out of his pocket, took a business card from it "—take this. I can help. If you decide you need it."

She took the card. Plain white with black letters and a small blue heart in one corner. "'Daniel Boone Anderson. Hostage Rescue and Extraction Team,'" she read out loud.

He nodded. "That's right."

"I'm not a hostage." She tried to give the card back, but he shoved his hands in his pockets, still eyeing her solemnly.

"That doesn't mean you don't need rescuing," he responded.

"I—"

"Take care of yourself and that baby." He nodded, one quick tilt of his head, and walked off, long legs eating up the ground so quickly he was out of the corridor and around the corner before she could blink.

She shoved the card in her coat pocket.

She wouldn't use it. Couldn't.

She'd promised Amber that she wouldn't tell anyone the truth about Lucy. She'd promised that no matter what happened, she'd keep it to herself. At the time, she'd expected Amber to be around, to help her navigate the world of subterfuge she'd agreed to. The fact that she wasn't didn't change the promise. Scout had an obligation to her friend. Even if she didn't, she had an obligation to herself and to Lucy. She couldn't cower in a store corridor, praying for rescue. She had to take action, do what needed to be done. Face her fear or call for help. One way or another, she needed to get moving.

"Mama! Go!" Lucy cried, impatient, it seemed, with staying in one spot.

"Okay, sweetie. I hear you." She put her shoulders back and her chin up, marched back to the break room as if she owned the place. Walked through the room as if she had every right to be there. Out the door and into the cold November evening. She'd parked close to the store entrance, and she had to walk around the side of the building to get there. Her heart tripped and jumped, the leaves rustling in the trees that lined the parking lot. A shadow moved in her periphery, and she took off, Lucy bouncing on her hip, giggling wildly as they rounded the side of the building.

* * *

The baby was giggling, but the woman looked scared out of her mind. Not that it was any of Daniel Boone Anderson's business. He should have gone back to hunting for the ingredients for pumpkin bread instead of leaving the store and waiting by the employee entrance. The problem was, he hadn't been too into the holidays during the past few years, and the entire store was decked out with tinsel and Christmas trees and wrapping paper. Every aisle had some reminder of the holiday he least liked to celebrate. The best Christmas had been the one right after Kendal's birth. Two months before Lana had walked out and taken their daughter with her.

Not Lana. He could almost hear his deceased wife's voice. The Prophetess Sari. It has been ordained and it will be so.

That had been her mantra when she'd finally contacted him. Six months after he'd returned from Iraq and found their empty apartment—and the note.

But he tried really hard not to think about that.

Four years was a long time to be missing a piece of your heart.

Which was probably why he spent so much time sticking his nose into other people's business and dealing with other people's problems.

He followed the woman around the side of the building, hanging back as she walked to an old station wagon. Nothing fancy, but she didn't seem like the fancy kind. Her jeans were a little too long, their scuffed cuffs dragging along the pavement as she buckled her daughter into a car seat. A long braid hung to the middle of her back. That had been what he'd noticed first—that long fall of golden-blond hair. Then he'd noticed the darkhaired little girl with her dimples and curls. Probably a couple of years younger than Kendal.

She'd turned five a couple of weeks ago.

He imagined her hair had grown long. It was probably straight as a stick, too.

But that was another direction he couldn't let himself go.

All the begging, all the searching, all the resources that were available, and he still hadn't been able to find Kendal. She'd been lost to someone in the cult. Probably someone who'd left it. Knowing Lana, she'd handed their daughter off without a second thought as to the child's welfare.

Boone never stopped thinking about it.

Even in his sleep, he dreamed about his daughter.

He clenched his fist, leaned his shoulder against a brick pillar that supported a narrow portico. Christmas shoppers moved past, hurrying into the store for whatever deal they thought Friday shopping would bring.

He noticed them, tracking their movements in the part of his brain that had been honed by years working long hours deep in enemy territory, but his focus was on the woman and her child. She opened the driver's door, tossed her purse into the vehicle, glanced around as if she was looking for someone.

Maybe whoever she was running from.

He was sure she was running. He'd seen it in her eyes when she'd lifted her daughter from the grocery cart and run toward the restroom—fear, desperation, all the things he saw in the gazes of the people he was hired to rescue.

The station wagon's headlights went on, and the woman backed out of the space. He'd have been wise to let her go and let the whole matter drop, but he'd never been all that wise when it came to things like this.

As a matter of fact, he often got himself in way deeper than he should be. Mostly because the one thing he wanted to accomplish, he hadn't been able to. He couldn't help himself, but he could help others.

Maybe he really did have an overinflated hero syndrome. That was what his coworker Stella said. She also said it was going to get him killed one day. She might be right about that, too, but he'd rather die trying to help someone than live knowing he hadn't.

He waited, watching as the woman drove to the edge of the parking lot. That should have been it—her driving out, Boone walking back into the store and retrieving the cart full of stuff that he'd left in aisle one.

Lights flashed near the edge of the parking lot. A hundred yards away, another set of headlights went on. A third followed, this one even closer to the exit the woman had used.

His heart jumped, adrenaline pumping through him, thoughts flooding in so quickly, he barely had time to process them before he was sprinting across the parking lot. Jumping into his SUV. All three cars were already exiting, and he had to wait for an elderly woman to make her way across the parking lot in front of him.

He made it to the exit as the last car turned east, its taillights disappearing from view. He followed, turning onto a narrow two-lane road that meandered through hilly farmland. A quiet road, nearly empty. Which wasn't good. His car would be easy enough to spot. Whether or not the guy in front of him realized he was being tailed depended on who was in the car.

They were making quite a line. His car, the one in front and two more just ahead of it. Taillights about a quarter mile ahead that he was sure belonged to the woman's station wagon. He wasn't sure where they were heading, but he pulled out his cell phone. One thing he'd learned a long time ago—only a fool headed into trouble without backup.

He never had a chance to call for it. One minute, he was keeping his distance, watching the procession of cars. The next, the car in front of him braked hard. He had a split second to realize what was happening before his windshield exploded, bits of glass flying into his face and dropping onto the dashboard.

He accelerated, adrenaline surging, every cell, every nerve alert.

The next shot took out a front tire. The SUV swerved, sideswiping a tree and nearly taking out a stop sign. He fought for control, yanking the vehicle back onto the road, the ruined tired thumping, the procession of cars pulling farther ahead.

"Not good!" he muttered, the SUV protesting as he tried to pick up speed again.

Not going to happen. The bumpy road and the flat tire weren't a good combination. He jumped out of the SUV, glad he was carrying. He'd been known to leave his Glock at home. Carrying it around made him feel safe, but it also reminded him of loss and heartache. Of a hundred things that he was better off forgetting.

He snagged his cell phone, dialing Jackson's number, hoping that his friend would pick up. In all the years he'd known the guy, there'd been only a handful of times when he hadn't been available.

But then, that was the way the entire team was. There wasn't a member of HEART who wouldn't be willing to drop anything, travel any distance, risk whatever was necessary to help a comrade.

Jackson answered on the second ring. "Hello?"

"It's Boone."

"Yeah. I saw the number," Jackson said drily. "What's up?"

"I need your help."

"With?"

"I've got a situation."

"What kind of situation?" Jackson's tone changed, his words hard-edged and sharp.

"The kind that involves guns and bullets. A woman. A kid. Three cars that are following her," he responded.

"You call the police yet?"

"Probably would have been a good idea, but I'm not used to having police to rely on." He was used to being deep in a foreign country, working in places where the only people he could count on were his team members.

"Where are you?"

"I didn't see the name of the road. It's the first right north of the Walmart you brought me to a few days ago."

"I'll be there in ten."

"Call the police before you leave. I think we're going to—"

The sound of screeching tires split the quiet, and he shoved the phone back into his pocket, racing toward the sound. He'd covered a hundred yards when light burst to life in the distance.

Fire!

His heart jumped, the new surge of adrenaline giving wings to his feet. He sprinted toward the soft glow and the velvety black of the eastern sky, the sound of sirens splitting the night.

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Her Christmas Guardian 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
rhonda1111RL More than 1 year ago
4 STARS A parents worse nightmare something has happened to your child. Both Boone and Scout have a child missing. Her Christmas Guardian is full of drama, action suspense that will keep you glued to the story. Scout Cramer and her daughter notice somebody following them. She makes it to her car and cars follow her and take her daughter. Scout is a single mother. She has lived in the same town for three years. Scout has no family except her three year old daughter. Boone Anderson has had his daughter taken 5 years ago while he was overseas fighting. He can't find his daughter but he helps others reunite with theirs. He notices Scout scared in store and tries to help her. He realizes three cars are following her so he joins in. Scout will do anything to be with her daughter again. Boone convinces his boss that they can help her at no charge and they step in to help protect Scout even from herself so she can be with her daughter. This is the second book in the Mission Rescue series. A few of the characters are back to help Scout. This is a fast read. I wish it was longer story more in depth but it is a good action packed clean story. I hope we get to see more about Boone's past get resolved. I like Shirlee McCoy's writing style. Will read more stories from her in the future. I was given this ebook to read by Net Galley and Harlequin. In return I agreed to give honest review of Her Christmas Guardian.
loriweller1 More than 1 year ago
Her Christmas Guardian is a great, suspenseful, edge of your seat, tinged with romance book. It is a short read but keeps your attention throughout. Scout's daughter is kidnapped and Boone wants to help to locate her. He works for a rescue and location company. He has also had his daughter kidnapped in the past. This story is a story of faith, family, restoration, and progress. I enjoyed it tremendously. I received the book from the author for my honest opinion.
Sailon More than 1 year ago
Suspense filled story with an inspiring and heartfelt theme, Her Christmas Guardian is a sweet but pulse pounding holiday read. Scout's daughter is kidnapped. Boone Anderson, understanding the loss of a child, devotes his services as a member of HEART to bring them back together. Both Scout and Boone have burdens they carry close to their hearts. The story is a powerful testament, showing personal growth and learning to cope with personal loss. I enjoyed the intense situations paired with the heart warming storyline. Shirlee McCoy creates characters with flaws and makes them relatable. I found Her Christmas Guardian a touching holiday read, ringing in the season with a faith inspired novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great Read. Loved the storyline and characters.
Heidi_Reads More than 1 year ago
There was definitely a feeling of desperation in this suspense novel of kidnapping and hostage rescue. I liked the characters and the team that Boone worked with. The sense of connection between Scout and Boone helped make the light romantic feelings between them believable in the midst of a crisis. There were some plot points that felt muddled and didn't quite come together, as well as some decisions made by the police and hostage team that didn't seem realistic. (Thank you to Harlequin and Love Inspired Books for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review)