Pinned inside her wrecked car, Rachel Simon is powerless to stop her son's abduction. Unless she can come up with one million dollars, Joey won't survive until Christmas. With her son's life hanging in the balance, Rachel turns to the one lawman who can help her. His own painful past still shadowing him, Detective Nick Butler is determined not to fail. Racing against a ticking clock, Nick will have to put all his investigative skills to the test if mother and son are to be reunitedand then perhaps he might have a chance at the redeeming power of love.
About the Author
Laura Scott is honored to write for the Love Inspired Suspense line, where a reader can find a heartwarming journey of faith amid the thrilling danger. She lives with her husband of twenty-five years and has two children, a daughter and a son, who are both in college. She works as a critical-care nurse during the day at a large level-one trauma center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and spends her spare time writing romance. Visit Laura at www.laurascottbooks.com.
Read an Excerpt
"Ms. Simon, wait! I have a letter for you."
Rachel Simon, CEO of Simon Inc., froze, despite the fact that she was running late for her nine-o'clock meeting. The sick feeling in her stomach swelled with dread as she forced herself to turn and face the receptionist.
"Here you go," Carrie Freeman said with a wide smile.
Rachel stared at the thin envelope with her name typed neatly on the front, the dread congealing into a mass of fear. The letter looked exactly like the one she'd received in her mailbox at home last night, and she instinctively knew there was another threat inside. She swallowed hard and took the envelope from the receptionist, being careful to hold it along the edges. Then she cleared her throat. "Who dropped this off for me, Carrie?"
"I don't know It was sitting on my desk chair when I came back from the restroom. There was a sticky note, telling me to deliver it to you first thing."
Rachel tried hard to keep her fear from showing as she cast a worried gaze around the lobby. Was the person who had left the note watching her right now? "Do you still have the sticky note?" she asked.
Carrie's expression turned perplexed. "I tossed it in the trash bin." Rachel glanced over the receptionist's shoulder at the large stainless-steel trash container standing near the lobby door. "Do you want me to go through the garbage to find it?" Carrie's tone indicated she wasn't thrilled with the idea of pawing in the trash although Rachel knew she would if asked.
As much as she wanted to see the note, she shook her head. Asking Carrie to search through the bin would only bring unwanted attention to herself. She wasn't ready to go public with the weird phone calls and the threatening letter she'd received. The last thing she needed was some sort of leak to the media, as if her company hadn't been through the wringer already.
"No thanks, just curious to see if I recognized the handwriting, that's all. Thanks again, Carrie."
Rachel turned back toward the elevators, her mind focused on the contents of the letter rather than on her upcoming meeting with the two top research scientists in her pharmaceutical company.
The ride to the tenth floor, where her office suite was located, seemed to take forever. She smiled and chatted with various employees as if the envelope in her hand didn't matter.
"Good morning, Rachel," her senior administrative assistant, Edith Goodman, said as she entered through the glass doors. "Dr. Gardener and Dr. Errol are waiting for you in the conference room."
"I'm sorry, but please tell Josie and Karl that I'll need to reschedule our meeting."
Surprise flashed in Edith's eyes, but she quickly nodded and crossed over to the conference room next to Rachel's office. As her assistant delivered the news to the two researchers, Rachel ducked inside her office and closed the door, dropping the envelope on her desk as if it might burn her fingers.
She didn't have any gloves, so she put another piece of paper over the envelope and used her letter opener to slice beneath the flap. Inside was a single piece of paper with a computer-printed message, exactly like the one she'd received at home. Her stomach knotted with anxiety as she carefully opened the paper and read the short message.
"You will scream in agony, suffering for your past mistakes."
She shivered, the words searing into her mind. She opened her purse and drew out the letter she'd received last night, when she and her son, Joey, had come home from basketball practice. The wording was similar, yet different.
"You will repay your debt of betrayal."
The two letters, spread out side by side on her desk, seemed to mock her. She couldn't ignore the threat any longer, not when she knew, with grim certainty, the source of the veiled threat.
The only person she'd ever betrayed was her ex-husband, former State Senator Anthony Caruso. A few months after they were married, the joy of discovering she was pregnant was marred by learning Anthony had ties to organized crime. At first she couldn't believe he was involved in anything illegal. She was embarrassed that the man she'd fallen in love with was nothing more than an illusion. His fake charm covered a black soul.
All too soon, Anthony was openly talking about his Mafia association as if nothing she did could touch him.
But he'd been wrong. She'd lived in fear for months, but one night, he'd lost control and hit her hard enough to give her a black eye and a minor concussion. The evidence of physical abuse, along with her father's moneyand the fact that her father's best friend was a judgehelped her buy her freedom.
And Joey's, too. She received sole custody of their son and a no-contact order. Joey was nine years old now, and she was eternally grateful Anthony hadn't seen his son since Joey's first birthday.
But since Anthony's untimely death last year during a crime bust, it was obvious he couldn't have sent these letters. So who had? She could only assume they'd come from someone inside the Chicago Mafia. Most likely from Anthony's uncle, Frankie Caruso.
She buried her face in her hands and fought the rising wave of helplessness. How long would she continue to pay for her naive mistake of marrying Anthony? This past year, since her ex-husband's death, she'd thought she was finally safe. But now it seemed the Mafia wasn't going to leave her alone.
Taking several deep breaths, she did her best to control her fear. When she raised her head, she knew she had to take action. With trembling fingers, she went through her files to find the business card of a Chicago police detective who'd questioned her about Anthony last year. She needed to talk to someone who knew the truth about Anthony. Someone who understood how deeply infiltrated the Mafia was in this city.
Someone who would believe herlike Detective Nick Butler. They'd only met a few times, but she remembered him well. He was tall, broad shouldered with light brown hair and amazing blue eyes. In so many ways, Nick was the complete opposite of her ex-husband.
To be honest, Detective Butler hadn't been very happy with her last year during his investigation of Anthony, but that knowledge wasn't enough to stop her from picking up her phone and making the call.
If there was one thing she knew about Detective Butler, it was that he sincerely cared about justice. He'd worked against the Mafia before. She could only hope that he wouldn't turn his back on her now.
Nick stared at the various reports spread over his desk as he tried to figure out a way to breathe new life into his deadend cases. With his partner out on medical leave and the upcoming holidays, he hadn't been assigned anything new. But working their old cases felt pretty much like beating his head against a brick wall.
When his phone rang, he answered it absently. "Detective Butler."
"Good morning, Detective. I don't know if you remember me, but my name is Rachel Simon."
Nick straightened in his chair, his instincts on full alert. "Of course, I remember you, Ms. Simon. How are you and your son, Joey, doing?"
"Fine. Well, sort of fine. I, uh, have a problem I'd like to discuss with you. I think it's linked to your past investigation
The subtle reference to the Mafia wasn't lost on him. He was surprised to hear from Rachel after all this time, yet he couldn't ignore the underlying hint of fear in her tone. He rose to his feet and glanced at his watch. "I can meet you now, if that works."
"That would be great. Do you remember where my office is located?"
"Yes. I can be there in fifteen minutes."
After ending the call, Nick slid his cell phone into his pocket and strode to the door. He remembered Rachel Simon very well, as he'd questioned her last year related to a missing-person's case. Her ex-husband had been the prime suspect in the twenty-two-year-old model's disappearance.
Rachel hadn't been much help to his investigation, because she claimed she hadn't seen or spoken to her husband in seven years. Which, based on the divorce settlement and the no-contact order he'd uncovered, was likely true. But at the time he'd felt certain she was holding back on him, that she knew far more about her ex-husband's connection to the Mafia than she'd let on. And even then, her fear of her ex had been palpable.
Ironic how she'd contacted him now that she needed his assistance. And he couldn't deny being curious as to what was going on.
The ride to the office building of Simon Inc. took less than his allotted fifteen minutes. He walked into the lobby and smiled at the perky redhead sitting behind the receptionist desk. "Good morning, I'm here to see Ms. Simon."
"Yes, she mentioned you were coming." The redhead wore a name tag that identified her as Carrie Freeman and she was young enough to make him feel ancient at thirty-seven. "Just take these elevators here to the tenth floor."
"Thanks." He pushed the elevator button, already knowing Rachel's office was on the tenth floor. Once he arrived up there, he was greeted warmly by Rachel's assistant, Edith Goodman. A far cry from the last time he'd been here, when the sixty-something-year-old had protected her boss like a mama bear hovering over her cub.
"Rachel's waiting for you in her office," Edith said. "Is there something I can get for you, Detective? Coffee? Soft drink?"
"Coffee would be great."
"Black, no sugar, correct?"
He shouldn't have been surprised she remembered, considering Edith Goodman ruled Rachel's office with an iron fist. "That's right."
Rachel's office door was open, and she met him halfway, offering her hand as he strolled toward her. "Detective, thanks for coming on such short notice."
Her slender fingers were firm as they gripped his. She was as beautiful as he remembered, with her sleek blond hair framing her face and distinctive green eyes. But despite her smile, dark shadows hovered in her eyes. "I have to admit, I was intrigued by your call."
Her smile faded, and she waited until Edith had handed him a mug of coffee, before inviting him inside her office. "Please, have a seat."
He sat in the chair facing hers, and his gaze immediately landed on the two pieces of paper lying on her desk. They'd been turned toward him. He took a sip from the steaming mug before setting his coffee aside. He leaned forward and read the messages.
"You will repay your debt of betrayal."
"You will scream in agony, suffering for your past mistakes."
The threats were all too real and his protective instincts jumped to the forefront. He was angry at the idea of Rachel being stalked by some lunatic. He lifted his gaze to meet hers. "Who sent these to you?" he demanded roughly.
"Isn't it obvious?" Rachel scowled and crossed her arms protectively across her chest.
"Not to me," he said, striving for patience. "An ex-boyfriend? A disgruntled employee? You must have some idea."
Her scowl deepened. "I don't have a boyfriend, ex or otherwise, and a disgruntled employee would more likely try to sue me rather than send threats. I've received a few phone calls, too. The caller never speaks, but I can hear heavy breathing on the other end of the phone. Don't you see?" She spread her hands over the letters. "These have to be from someone within the Mafia."
He stared at her for a long moment, trying to figure out what was going on in her mind. Their last interaction hadn't been entirely cordial, since she'd avoided discussing anything related to her husband's ties to the Mafia. He sat back and reached for his coffee mug. "So you're admitting that Anthony Caruso was involved with the Mafia?"
Her cheeks turned pink and she avoided his gaze as if embarrassed. "I told you that much a year ago," she said defensively.
"But you claimed you didn't know any details," he reminded her.
"Look, Detective, my goal last year was to do whatever was necessary to protect my son. And I never lied to you about that missing woman. At the time we spoke I hadn't seen Anthony in seven years, so I had no idea who he was seeing or who he was associating with."
"But you knew what he was capable of," Nick said, capturing her gaze with his.
She stared at him for a long moment before breaking the connection. And when she spoke, her voice was so soft he could barely hear her. "Yes. I knew exactly what he was capable of. I believe he murdered that woman. But my belief is a far cry from actual hard-core evidence. There was nothing that I knew that would have helped your case."
The simple admission helped squelch his lingering anger. He was a bit ashamed that he'd spent time rehashing the past instead of moving forward. He caught sight of the photo of her son, Joey, that was displayed proudly on her desk. The kid had blond hair, green eyes and a smile that matched his mother's. Nick could understand her need to keep silent if it meant protecting her child.
For a moment, he thought about how much he missed his wife and daughter. He would have done anything to protect them, too. But unfortunately, they both died in a terrible car accident two years ago. And while he knew they were in a much better place in heaven, he still missed them every day.
He pushed the painful memories aside. "Okay, maybe someone within the Mafia sent them, but at this point, we don't have any proof. We can't go after anyone in the syndicate without evidence. I'll take these notes and have them dusted for prints. Maybe that'll give us a place to start."
She grimaced. "Well, to be perfectly honest, the first one probably won't help much. I treated it normally since I had no idea that it was a threat. The second letter I was very careful with, although the envelope was handled by my receptionist." She went on to describe in detail how she'd received the letters.
He made notes in his notebook. "Do you remember when the phone calls came in?" he asked. "Was there a common number?"
"The calls came from a blocked number, and they started three days ago."
Three phone calls and two written threats in the past three days. Hard to tell if the danger was escalating. He'd known some stalkers who called their victims twenty or thirty times a day. These messages seemed to be aimed at keeping Rachel off balance and afraid. "You haven't noticed anyone following you? Or watching you?"
"No. Nothing like that." Her gaze rested on her son's photograph. "Right now, the threats are centered on me, but I called you because I need to be sure Joey is safe."
"I understand. I'll see what we can get from these letters, but at this point, our hands are tied." As much as he wanted to order protection for her, they needed more than just her suspicion that the Mafia was behind the threats. He took out his business card and slid it across the desk. "I want you to be extra vigilant. If you see anything suspicious, please call me on my personal phone regardless of the time of day or night."
She took the card and nodded. "Thank you."
He rose to his feet, wishing there was more that could be done. After donning a pair of gloves, he placed both notes and the envelopes in a plastic evidence bag, even though he knew the odds of getting a decent set of prints were slim. And they'd have to get Rachel's fingerprints as well as the receptionist's on file to cross match them.
Having a new case to work on would help keep him busy. But first he needed to see what the forensic team came up with. Otherwise, he'd have nothing to go on, which wouldn't help keep Rachel and her son safe.
And he wasn't about to lose another mother and child on his watch.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Her Mistletoe Protector by Laura Scott Rachel Simon is CEO of the company and they do produce drugs. The latest is one for diabetes and after a few years things turn up that put the company in turmoil. She had started to get threatening letters and just before her son Joey was kidnapped she had called on the detective that had helped previously with her ex husband's case. Problem was he wasn't there when the accident happened. The kidnappers demand a millions and it's up to her to get it fast and she learns more things. Many leads arise that have her turning towards the Mafia that want her son but others that are helping say it's someone in her company. Very action packed and a light romance and danger. Love how Nick is able to help protect her as they both have feelings for one another. Through the whole book there is a lot of faith and hope and praying to God along with talk of always talking to him. Loved learning of the woods and deer information that is brought up. I won this book in a facebook holiday bash and giveaway from the author.
An interesting love story. I liked the book because I enjoy aspects of the Christian romance genre, but I didn’t like it enough to recommend it to someone else. I wouldn’t tell anyone not to read it, though. It was predictable because we know what happens in a romance novel between the two main characters, but other events in the story were thrilling and kept me guessing. It was very suspenseful and interesting, yet the characters lacked depth and the sequence of events left me wanting more information. I felt like I was only skimming the surface when I came to understand what was going on. What does a mistletoe have to do with anything? I mean, I know that a mistletoe is a Christmas thing, but nothing was mentioned about a mistletoe in the book. Maybe if the title is “The Mistletoe Protector”, there should be at least one paragraph related to a mistletoe.