CAUGHT IN THE CROSSHAIRS
Held hostage on a train, ex-lawyer Morgan Thorsby finds her powers of persuasion failing her for the first time. Former marine sniper Brady Owens is her only hopebut his split-second hesitation on the trigger leaves her wounded. Yet when an obsessed stalker threatens Morgan, Brady steps up. Protecting someone so tough and beautiful is hardly a chore, but Brady pulls back every time they get close. Morgan isn't ready for the connection forming between them, either, but she knows she needs his help. Can Brady capture the culprit in time for Christmas?
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The gun couldn't be real. Could it?
Morgan Thorsby clutched her friend Lacy's arm and scooted back from the gun-wielding man charging onto the MAX light rail train. Brisk, chilling air rushed in behind him as she looked at the silvery gun glinting in the overhead light.
The weapon looked real. Very real.
The man took a step closer. Anger radiated from his body. His breathing was ragged as he made a quick survey of the space, skimming tortured eyes over the few passengers on board this late at night.
Please, God, don't let this be real, Morgan begged, her heart thumping in her chest. She fought to control her fear and studied the man's jittery behavior.
Could he be one of those shooters who'd been pushed beyond his breaking point until he'd decided to randomly kill people? She couldn't just sit here and wait to find out. Her life was in immediate danger and it was up to her to protect herself. She had to do something, but what?
Run. Hide. Fight. The active shooter video she'd viewed at work rushed through her mind. The video taught them not to sit back passively but to run, hide or fight. She couldn't run. She couldn't hide. She could fight. But how? With what?
She searched the train looking for a weapon. Any weapon.
The man's distressed gaze landed on her with a finality that took her breath away.
"He's coming toward us." Lacy grabbed Morgan's hand.
"Don't panic," Morgan said and forced herself to look into the gunman's eyes. She saw no life in the depths. Desperation, panic, yes, but nothing to prove he was alive.
Oh no. No.
She knew this man. She'd seen him in the sea of men and women who'd brought a class-action lawsuit against her family's company, claiming Thorsby Mill had polluted the water and caused cancer in the residents. As the company's attorney at that time, she'd seen the plaintiffs' turmoil day in and day out during the trial.
Plaintiffs who'd threatened her life then and continued to send threatening letters after the mill had been cleared of any wrongdoing. The gunman was one of those people. And that meant he'd come for her. Her alone.
Her heart raced faster. Beating at an unstoppable gallop.
He continued moving, his ragged jeans whispering through the quiet. Step by step, he advanced on her, purpose in each thump of his dirty boots on the metal floor. Hatred spewed from his expression.
Morgan felt time stop. She was aware of Lacy's touch. Of the cold. The icy cold. Her palms starting to sweat. The bag holding a Christmas present for her mother slid from her fingers, the crystal vase falling to the floor. The sound of breaking glass caught his attention, distracting him for a moment. But it all seemed to be happening at the end of a tunnel. In a foggy haze. All except the gun. It was clear and sharp and she could reach out to touch it.
Lacy clutched Morgan's hand tighter, drawing her attention. Lacy didn't deserve to be a party to this. Morgan had to do everything she could to portray strength and confidence for her friend, to ease her fear. Morgan sat up straighter. Firmed her shoulders. Jutted out her jaw and waited for him to act.
Eyes riveted to her, he took the last few steps. He raised the gun. Slowly. Purposefully. He planted it on her temple. The cool steel bit into her skin, and she recoiled in fear.
"Don't back away, Morgan," he said, his voice flat, as if he took hostages every day.
She could smell the sour stench of alcohol radiating from him. The blood drained from her head. She felt weak. Powerless.
"I've come for you. To pay you back. Just like I promised I would in my letter." He glared down on her. "Your stinkin' mill has taken my entire family, and it's time for you to pay."
Anything she said would make him angrier so she didn't speak at all, but waited for his finger to drift to the trigger.
Silence descended on them, coursing through the space, tight, pervasive, building into a frenzy. A pressure cooker ready to erupt.
An announcement carried into the silence, warning that the doors would soon close. His eyes grew wilder, his hold on reality a mere thread. Seconds ticked by, feeling like an hour. Panic threatened to swamp her.
A twisted, mean smile claimed his thin lips as the doors whooshed together, cocooning her inside the car with a killer. The train set off, the side-to-side motion rocking Morgan, but the gunman stood strong, his weapon never wavering.
With the gun at her head, she couldn't form a coherent thought except that she was going to die. She didn't know what he was waiting for, but he simply stood there. Watching. Maybe enjoying her terror. Wanting to make her suffer as his family suffered.
Focus. Now. Figure a way out of this.
The train slowed for the next stop, brakes squealing as they bit into the metal. Doors slid open. A rush of freezing air sliced into the train. There were no passengers waiting on the platform to board. The only other passenger on the train, a man in the back of the car, bolted out the door. Quick, staccato steps took him outside and into the cover of darkness.
The gunman didn't turn. Didn't see. Didn't notice.
Lacy. Morgan could save Lacy the same way.
Morgan forced herself to make eye contact with him. "You're not upset with my friend. Just me. Can she please get off?"
He eyed Lacy for a moment. She cringed. He took a breath and gave the briefest of nods. "Go now. Before I change my mind."
She stood slowly and looked back at Morgan, regret hanging in her eyes.
"Go," Morgan said. "I'll be fine."
"Ha!" he shouted, sending Lacy fleeing. "You'll be as fine as all of my family and friends your greedy family killed."
Morgan ignored his words and kept watch on Lacy as she scurried through the falling snow into the dark shadows of the buildings. Good. She was safe. The car was now empty. If he fired his weapon, she'd be the only one injured.
The doors slid on the track, closing with a thump of finality.
"Now we're alone, and we can get down to business," he said.
Business. Meaning her death.
Time slowed and she was aware of everything around her. The grating of the train as they took a curve. The pungent scent of his alcohol. The unmistakable cloying smell of fear in the air.
"Do you even know who I am?" he sneered.
Morgan wished she could say she knew his name, but the plaintiff list was long and she couldn't identify them all. She knew the truth was plastered on her face so she didn't speak a word.
"You don't know me, do you?" He shifted and pressed the gun deeper into her forehead. "I'm not surprised. Not after your coldhearted representation in the trial."
He huffed out a laugh and ground the gun into her skin, his eyes fixed on hers. "Well, know this, Morgan Thorsby. I'm Craig Shaw and everyone will soon know my name. The minute we reach the last stop, I'm the man who's going to drag you off this train, haul you out to your precious mill and end your life."
Brady Owens listened to the hum of tires as the First Response Squad raced toward MAX's final Yellow Line stop near Portland State University. A 911 call from the train operator who'd been listening into the hostage situation told them the shooter planned to disembark with his hostage at this stop.
"ETA two minutes," team leader Jake Marsh announced from the driver's seat.
"Roger that," Brady said, his pulse ratcheting up at the call to action.
His fellow FRS members sitting on bench seats in the rear of the truck responded with somber affirmatives. Negotiator Archer Reed bowed his head in prayer. He would carry the heaviest duty tonight, talking the gunman down, hopefully preventing the need for Brady's services as the team sniper. Paramedic Darcie Stevens would render aid to the traumatized woman and anyone injured in the incident.
Jake would direct the action and bomb tech Cash Dixon would fill in wherever Jake asked. The only one missing from their six-person emergency response team was their other negotiator, Skyler, who was on her honeymoon.
Brady couldn't imagine any other people he'd want to take with him into the tense situation awaiting them. All team members except Darcie were sworn sheriff's deputies who fulfilled other job responsibilities when they weren't responding to an emergency. Though assigned to the county sheriff's department, they were dispatched to handle negotiations and major emergencies for the entire Portland metro area regardless of county lines.
"We're here." Jake swung their mobile command center the size of a package delivery truck to the curb out of view of the MAX stop.
Even late at night, students would be milling about. The team would contain the shooter in the train and cordon off the area to protect innocent lives. Then Archer would use the train's PA system to communicate with the gunman.
That was the plan. But they had no time to run the scenario, and plans could go wrong.
Curling his .330 Winchester Magnum rifle closer, Brady mentally checked off his steps. Ammo first. Check. Already loaded in his rifle. If he had to shoot, it would be through glass, requiring special ammo to reduce deflection on glass penetration. Extra ammo was in his vest. Scope was fixed and calibrated. Binoculars and laser range finder snug in his pocket. He patted his vest pocket to confirm. He was ready. He could do this.
Jake cut the engine, then joined the team. He glanced at Darryl Collins, the computer tech assigned to their team, who sat behind a console. "We have eyes or ears on the train yet?"
"I'm still working with the MAX tech team to patch us through."
"Well, get 'em. No way we're going in blind." Jake eyed the team, his gaze sharp and focused. "The gunman is not getting off the train with Morgan Thorsby and she's getting out of this alive and well. You got that?"
"You have your assignments." Jake clapped his hands.
Brady slung his rifle over his shoulder and headed into the night, toward the perfect location he'd chosen in a yard abutting an apartment complex. He jogged across the road and slipped through the gate. Resting his arm on a fence post topped with snow, he took a shooting stance. He'd like to get into a more natural position, but that wasn't an option. No problem. He'd made shots in every position imaginable as a Marine Scout Sniper. He sighted in the scope and adjusted for the wind.
"Falcon, in position," he said into his microphone.
"Roger that, Falcon," came Jake's response. "Stand by. Train ETA in one minute. Audio streaming."
With more than one agency responding to the incident, they would use code names when communicating. The group had long ago voted on an animal name for each person. Brady was tagged Falcon, as the bird and he both moved fast. Cash got Termite since they were demolitions experts. Archer, Mockingbird for his soothing voice. And Jake? He had the best name of all. Papa Bear.
"Got eyes and ears, sir," Darryl's voice came over Brady's earpiece.
"Then we're a go, Falcon," Jake said. "TriMet has confirmed the doors will remain closed on this car and Mockingbird is patched through to the train. We'll give Termite time to escort passengers in the other cars to a secured spot, then Mockingbird will take over."
"Roger that, Papa Bear," Brady confirmed. "I'm ready."
But was he ready? He wasn't sure. Not completely, anyway. Not after their last callout, when he'd hesitated to take the shot. He was good with taking extreme measures for hostage-taking criminals and drug dealers, but the prior callout involved a former marine. Brady had felt like he was taking out a family member. Couldn't be helped, though. The man had lost touch with reality. If Brady hadn't acted, the guy would have killed his wife and three sweet children.
Now Brady wasn't sure how he'd react when it came time to pull the trigger.
The train rolled in, the brakes squealing to a stop.
Focus, man. Focus. He fine-tuned his scope and shut out everything around him. The biting wind. The falling snow. The flag flapping on the next building. The sound of Cash moving people out of the line of fire. All of it faded into the background, his eye fixed dead center on his scope.
The occupants of the car came into focus in the crosshairs. Morgan Thorsby was blonde, petite and wearing a trench coat tied over what looked like an expensive suit, but it was the gunman, Craig Shaw, who Brady was most interested in.
Brady adjusted his scope. Sighted on the T-zone of Craig's head.
"I have a target, but no shot. No shot." Brady kept his eyes on the scope, but wouldn't shoot before an attempt was made to end this standoff without loss of life.
"Craig," Archer's voice came over the train's speaker.
Craig's head shot up. "Who's that? How do you know me?"
Brady listened through his earpiece as Archer introduced himself and started the process of talking Craig into surrendering.
Craig seemed to listen, then suddenly pivoted and pounded on the door, the sound reverberating through the silent car. "Open it now or I'll kill Morgan right here!"
"Don't do anything rash, Craig," Archer said over the train's speaker. "We've got all the time in the world to talk this through."
"I don't want to talk," Craig screamed. "I want out of this tin can, now!"
"I'm afraid I don't have the ability to open the doors, Craig." Archer was a tough law enforcement officer. Sharp. Intense, but he also had a soothing way about him and his voice was unhurried and comforting.
"I don't care, man," Craig fired back. "Get these doors open or I will shoot her. I swear I will. You've got five minutes. You hear me? Five minutes. If I'm still locked in here then, she dies."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
High Caliber Holiday is a wonderful Christian suspense novel by Susan Sleeman, who is a master at the genre. The book started off with a bang and the action never let up once! Intrigue, danger, manipulation and a culprit you will never guess are all present. I read this in just one day. Loved it! Looking forward to another Susan Sleeman book.
I enjoyed reading High-Caliber Holiday by Susan Sleeman. This book is a fast paced who done it read. The victim Morgan Thorsby who was born into privilege and currently disowned by her father, now presumes making a life on her on. She works for an office who helps others prepare for job interviews. Morgan loves her new job. Brady Owens grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. He never fit in until he joined the Marines as a sniper. After his tours of duty, he moves to Portland to becomes a member of the First Response Squad as the team sniper. Morgan and Brady's lives become entwined when a crazy man, Craig Shaw tries to kill Morgan on a train. Brady and his team come to her rescue. While Shaw is in jail, red roses and strange notes begin appearing in Morgan's apartment. Brady vows to stay by Morgan's side until the stalker is brought to justice. As they spend more time together, they have a hard time denying their chemistry for each other. The pair have a limited amount of time to figure out who Morgan's stalker is before he kills her.
This is the third book in the "First Responder" series. Susan Sleean did a great job with this book. The suspense was great, and it was hard to put the book down. If you're looking for a page-turner then this is the book for you. I highly recommend it. I got this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
I am hooked on Sleeman’s books!! She so easily interweaves humor, core family values, Christianity, tough emotions and circumstances with a host of warm, endearing characters (like ‘Bessie’). Not to mention the suspenseful plot which fuels this story!! This particular novel features Brady Owens, a former marine sniper who now works as a First Responder. When he learns Morgan Thorsby is being stalked and that her life is threatened, Brady determines to protect her 24/7. Both Brady and Morgan have emotional walls built and they instinctively pull away each time they get close. This does not stop Brady from his hunt for Morgan’s vengeful intruder. He remains focused even as he struggles to keep his heart from getting tangled up along the way. The distress that follows causes both characters to remember their faith and rekindle their trust in God. Such a great read!
HIGH-CALIBER HOLIDAY is the third book in this high-suspense series, but it easily stands alone. I enjoyed getting to know Morgan and Brady and getting reacquainted with the other team members who all interact in this close-knit group of friends who work together in one way or another. I thought this was too cut and dried -- at first -- as the book starts with her threatened death but the bad guy is quickly apprehended... But the stalking continues. Roses. Pictures. It is apparent that her stalker knows her well. And has an vendetta against her. Brady and the police as well as his friends work together to profile the stalker--but who is it? And will they figure it out before time runs out? If you like romantic suspense, you will love Susan Sleeman's books. I couldn't put High-Caliber Holiday down and read it on a Sunday afternoon. My heart went out to Brady, he's been so badly hurt. Morgan was extremely nice and caring--but a bit testy at times. Recommended.
I have loved every Susan Sleeman book I've read and High-Caliber Holiday is no exception. Full of fun, angst, and romance, the story pulls you in from the very beginning... "The gun couldn't be real. Could it?"...and NEVER lets go. Morgan made for a strong heroine who didn't want to need Brady, but did. I just can't say enough good things about this book. ***I received this book from the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review.
As usual, Susan Sleeman wrote a thrilling book with plenty of action. Ex-lawyer, Morgan, is being targeted while Brady Owens, former marine sniper, tries to protect her. This book has danger, fake friends and ultimately love.
This is Susan's 3rd Book in her First Responders Series. She once again has a great story. I thought this Train story was fresh, unique and full of fast pace ideas. Everyone of Susan's Books I have loved. She writes clean romantic suspense books which I love. She comes up with new ideas or places for her stories. she makes you feel like you are right there with the characters every time. If you have not read her books try one, You will not be disapointed. I love them all.
This is book three in the First Responders series. Each are a stand alone book, however they all revolve around the same people. So if you enjoy reading a series and catching up a bit on characters from previous novels then read them in order (Silent Night Standoff and Explosive Alliance), plus they are all good. We meet Morgan Thorsby in an intense situation. She comes from a privileged family, yet is trying to make it on her own. When her independence is threatened can she depend on the handsome sniper, Brady Owens? Will she ever be able to stand on her own or does God have other plans for her? Morgan desperately wants to help other and remain independent but Brady has a way of breaking through her defenses. Brady Owens is from the other side of the tracts. He knows he could never be good enough for someone like Morgan, yet he is drawn to her. Will he be able to solve her problems before it is to late? Can he trust God with his plans for his life? Brady is a strong and determined man who has some issues to deal with too. This novel is full of twist and turns and will keep you guessing till the end. There are some things you may figure out and some you may think you have figured out but will not know for sure till you reach the end. I was given a copy of this novel from the author for my honest opinion.
A friend of mine asked me what I was reading this weekend and I held up the book cover and said, “High-Caliber Holiday.” She looked at me funny and said it didn’t sound like something I’d read. But she was, in fact, wrong. I do enjoy a high-stakes, fast paced romantic suspense that keeps the reader guessing. And book three in Susan Sleeman’s First Responders series delivers. Sniper Brady Owens has begun to doubt himself. After hesitating to take a shot that almost caused an innocent person to become a victim, he’s put in the hot seat once again when a man takes a hostage on the Portland MAX train. And again, he hesitates, leaving the victim wounded. But she is not the usual victim. She is strong, courageous and independent. When Brady’s co-worker urges him to make certain the victim gets home safely after the incident, she finds another shock waiting her at her apartment. It seems former lawyer Morgan Thorsby is the target of more than one person. In fact, the repeated appearances of the roses and notes indicate Morgan has a stalker. As Morgan and Brady work together to figure out who is behind the notes and veiled threats, each of them fights the attraction they feel for the other. Each stuck in their own heads, their own pasts. But with the threats getting more pointed and serious, will they wait too long to tell the other how the feel? Sleeman’s story is full of fast-paced and intense scenes. It’s hard to put this one down. One thing after another stacks on top of another, leaving the reader guessing. Readers of the other books will get to catch up with the FRS team a little, but this is truly Brady’s and Morgan’s story. And a story that speaks to letting go of the past and facing the future. One that gives hope to those who have been hurt in the past and shows that God can give us peace in the present and future. And I can’t wait to read the next FRS team member’s story. Who will it be next? Jake? Archer? Darcie? I admit, I’m looking forward to Darcie’s story the most as there have been hints dropped along the way in the first three books. ***I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest and fair review. All opinions expressed are my own.
An absolutely wonderful suspense novel! The characters are fantastic. I connected with them immediately. Taking center stage in this novel are Morgan Thorsby and Brady Owens. Morgan is the only daughter of a wealthy business owner who has become dissatisfied with that lifestyle and wants to be independent. Brady is a former marine sniper and currently the sniper for the First Responders Squad (FRS). It was great to get updated on all the other members of the FRS. I am thoroughly enjoying getting to know each team member better when they are the focus of one of these books. The action in each book is a stand-alone story. But there is so much interaction within the FRS as they support and work with each other that it is important to read these books in order. The book starts with an adrenaline rush, life threatening situation. Then once we have been given a chance to catch our breath and meet the characters a secondary mystery starts to appear. This mystery is built slowly with a fantastic balance of calm and tension building. It is incredible at keeping the reader’s interest. I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.
This romantic suspense starts out with, "The gun couldn't be real..." With a beginning like this, the reader knows he/she is in for a wild ride in which the author, Susan Sleeman,can push the pedal to the metal , causing the car of chilling intrigue to ratchet up quickly from 0 to over 100 mph. Hopefully, your seat belt in on for the crazy ride as we meet ex-lawyer Morgan Thorsby, who has defended her family's mill against a class action lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges that the mill has dumped poisonous pollutants into the nearby water, causing an abnormal amount of persons to contract virulent cancer. When the First Responders get a call about a gunman on the train, sniper Brady Owens hesitates at the crucial moment. This causes him to feel responsible for the safety of Morgan,who finds herself inexplicably needy, yet pushing Brady away at the same time. Can these two work through the baggage from their past to work together to find the killer and stay safe, or will their being at odds make them a bigger target? I love the way that the First Responders become a little more like one's own extended family with every book Susan writes. The suspense is always intense, always present, waiting to push itself into the foreground of even a relaxing time and shoot up the reader's adrenaline. I loved being able to spend time with past heroes and heroines, and can't wait for the next couple's story. I only hope I have enough calmness to survive the book!! I received this book from the author in exchange for a review.
I've read every book in this series, and I enjoyed High-Caliber Holiday as much as the rest. The fast pace and great characters hooked me from page one. Another great book by Susan Sleeman.
What can I say? I loved this book! I had a hard time putting it down and getting anything else done! The action was so fast-paced that it kept you guessing constantly and, of course, turning pages rapidly! The relationship between Morgan and Brady was so fun to read. I loved how strong Morgan tried to be as she went through, first, being held hostage on a train, and then second, being stalked & almost killed! She's just a former "wealthy lawyer" and doesn't know how to handle all that's happening to her! Brady is a former marine sniper who now works for the First Response Squad and saves her when she's a hostage. I really liked Brady. He was so down to earth and really cared about Morgan but felt "beneath" her because he grew up very poor and had an abusive father. However, he was such a "rock" for Morgan and she could always depend on him. Morgan's wealthy father was a real piece of work and you could see why she wanted to escape him and become independent of him! As the suspense unfolds, he doesn't show any concern for his daughter. This is the 3rd book in this series and I adore all the characters in it! They are cohesive, focused and yet love to joke with each other. However, they watch each other's back, no matter what! Morgan has never seen that type of relationship before so she's a little overcome by it at first but all the First Responders easily win her over with their friendship and caring! As I said, a fantastic book with lots of action that keeps you on the edge of your seat!