Standoff at Christmas

Standoff at Christmas

by Margaret Daley

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780373447091
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 12/01/2015
Series: Alaskan Search and Rescue
Edition description: Original
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.60(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Margaret Daley, an award-winning author of eighty-three books, has been married for over forty years and is a firm believer in romance and love. When she isn’t traveling, she’s writing love stories, often with a suspense thread, and corralling her three cats that think they rule her household. To find out more about Margaret visit her website at http://www.margaretdaley.com.

Read an Excerpt

Rachel Hart left the warmth of her office building to trudge through the snow toward the processing center at the Port Aurora Fishery. The lights on in the building beckoned her in the predawn morning. The sun was just rising to the east in Port Aurora, Alaska, and then it would set by three in the afternoon.

She was used to the winters, having lived most of her twenty-eight years in the town, but today she wished the sun would shine for more than six hours. She looked up at the dark clouds rolling in and quickened her pace. An omen?

She lifted her cell phone and listened again to the message from Aunt Betty. "Rachel, I've got to talk to you. Today. Alone. Something's wrong. I don't know what to do. I'm taking my break at nine this morning." Luckily, today was payday, so Rachel could use her position as bookkeeper as an excuse to visit the processing center.

The urgency in her aunt's voice shivered down Rachel's spine. What's wrong? Aunt Betty is always so cheerful and calm. She must have called earlier while Rachel was away from her office.

Entering the building, Rachel walked down the hallway that led to the mail room for the employees who worked in the processing center. It was part of the large break room next to the office where Sean O'Hara managed this part of the company.

When she popped into the break room, Aunt Betty sat at the table with one of the newer employees. "I've got your paychecks." Rachel covered the distance to the two women and handed Betty and Ingrid their checks. "The next one will come with a bonus right before we close down for Christmas." She wanted to pull her aunt out in the hallway and find out what was wrong, but when she looked at the older woman with touches of gray hair around her face, her brown eyes widened and she shook her head slightly.

"I'm just thankful for the extra hours." Aunt Betty opened the envelope, looked at the amount and forced a grin, the corners of her mouth twitching.

In past years the fishery had closed down during the winter months, and the crabs were sent to another plant. Rachel had been thrilled about that part of the fishery's expansion in the last year. So had everyone else, especially Aunt Betty.

"But I'm also excited to have a few weeks off for the holidays." Her hand shaking, Aunt Betty stuck her paycheck in her pocket.

Rachel wanted to ask the other employee to leave but swallowed those words and instead said, "Me, too. Jake Nichols got in late last night for the holidays." She should be excited, but a lot had happened between them since they were teenagers. Jake had been her best friend while growing up, but when he left town eight years ago, they lost touch.

"I know Lawrence is glad to see Jake here, especially after what happened in Anchorage in August." Aunt Betty finished off her coffee.

"What happened?" Ingrid asked, having only recently been hired.

Rachel moved to the mailboxes and began stuffing the envelopes into them, hoping Ingrid left soon. "There was a serial bomber. Jake, a K-9 officer in Anchorage, was working one of the crime sites, searching for survivors or missing people, when the building collapsed on him. He nearly died." And he had made it clear he didn't want her to come see him while he was recovering. That hurt—still did.

Ingrid hugged her arms. "Oh my. Search and rescue is dangerous, but I'm finding out it's even more so here in Alaska with so much wilderness."

"Where are you from?" Rachel asked as she finished her task.

"Seattle."

"That's where Brad Howard's new partner is from."

"Who?"

Rachel paused at the exit. "Peter Rodin. Have you heard of him?"

"He was on the news from time to time," Ingrid said.

Aunt Betty's eyebrows rose. "About what?"

"His foundation gives money to various projects for the city." Ingrid rose and headed toward Rachel. "My break is over."

Relieved the woman was leaving, she moved to the side to let Ingrid pass, while her aunt's expression morphed into the apprehensive look she'd worn when Rachel first came into the break room.

When Aunt Betty remained in her seat, Ingrid said from the hallway, "Aren't you going back to work?"

Her aunt blinked several times. "Yes, I just want Rachel to pass a message on to my sister about this weekend."

Ingrid started toward the end of the hallway but much slower than her usual brisk pace.

As soon as Ingrid turned the corner and disappeared, Rachel moved toward her aunt. "What's going on? I got your message."

Waving to Rachel to come closer, Betty pushed to her feet. "I'm glad Jake is home. He's a police officer. He might know what's going on and help. I need some… " Her aunt's voice faded into the silence.

Rachel heard footsteps and glanced toward the door. Sean O'Hara came into the break room.

"Hello, ladies." Sean's eyes brightened as they took in Rachel. "Ah, payday. That's always a good day around here."

"Yes, it is. I need to get back to work." As a pallor crossed her features, Aunt Betty took her paper cup, crushed it and tossed it into the trash can by the door as she left.

Her concern growing, Rachel watched her leave as though a grizzly bear was hot on her tail. This wasn't like her aunt. What did she want with Jake? What had her scared? She'd get in touch with her later. Maybe she would swing by her house on the way home today. Aunt Betty only lived a mile away from Aunt Linda's, the older of her two aunts, and the one she lived with.

"I saw Jake down the hall. I told him I'd give him the grand tour. I know you two were good friends growing up. You're welcome to come along."

"Jake is here?" He and Sean had been friends in high school, too, so it wasn't that odd.

"Yeah, he couldn't believe all the changes around here. He wants to see the new vessels, processing center and shipping warehouse."

Rachel couldn't shake the worried expression on Aunt Betty's face. This might be her chance to see if she could talk to her on the floor, rather than wait until later. "Make it the short tour. I need to get back to work. Everyone will want their checks."

"I just came inside. It started snowing."

"Right on time, for a change."

Sean chuckled. "Predicting the weather isn't an exact science. But I'll be glad to get home before the hard stuff hits, which shouldn't be until tonight."

Jake Nichols turned as they approached him at the entrance into the large processing room. She took in his tall, muscular build, blue eyes and short black hair—the same and yet something had changed in the last couple of years since she'd visited Anchorage. It had to be the accident that nearly took his life in August.

Jake's look warmed when he saw her. Maybe in the next month they would be able to renew their friendship, and he would come back to Port Aurora more frequently.

"Rachel was in the break room. She thought she would join us like old times." Sean opened the wide double doors into the cavernous space where the fish and shellfish were processed for shipping to the rest of the United States.

Sean began pointing out some of the additional machines and the areas that were expanded this year. Rachel stepped away and glimpsed Aunt Betty decked out in her protective clothing with white hat and long gloves at the end of a conveyor belt. While Sean strolled with Jake to various stations, Rachel hurried toward her aunt. Out of the corner of her eye, Rachel spied Ingrid approaching Aunt Betty. Her aunt locked eyes with Rachel and shook her head. She came to a halt. Suddenly, she felt like she was in the middle of a spy movie, which was ridiculous. Aunt Betty could be melodramatic at times, but usually she was levelheaded.

Ingrid paused next to her aunt and said something. Aunt Betty nodded. Rachel would have to wait to appease her curiosity. She released a long breath and pivoted, searching for Jake and Sean.

She caught up with them near the freezers. "I need to get back to headquarters. It was great seeing you again, Jake. You and your grandfather are supposed to come to dinner tonight. A welcome-home party."

"I'll come with you." Jake slanted his glance briefly toward Aunt Betty.

Did he see that nonverbal exchange between her aunt and her? Jake had always been perceptive, which probably made him a good police officer. Rachel gave Jake a smile, waiting until he shook hands with Sean and joined her before heading out of the processing room. In the hallway leading to the exit, she asked,

"What do you think of the new additions to the fishery?"

"Impressive what has been done in a short time. Gramps told me things were automated and upgraded where they could be. What's in the building next to this one? That's new."

"The shipping warehouse. Everything going by boat to Anchorage is loaded easily when the vessel docks right outside. They even dredged the harbor to allow for bigger ships."

"How much is flown out?"

"Maybe a third—more in the warmer months. Ready?" She peered at Jake as he reached to open the main door. His strong profile had been shaped by the recent events in his life—the lines sharper, adding a hard edge to his features.

His hand on the knob, he peered sideways at her. For a few seconds his gaze trapped hers, and she didn't want to look away.

"Is something wrong with your aunt?"

"I don't know. She called upset, but we haven't had a chance to talk alone yet. I'll stop by after work to see what's going on."

"When she went into the processing room, I said hi to her and she didn't even acknowledge it. She just kept going. I know I've been gone, but that's not like her. She's the first to want to know everything about a person."

"I agree she isn't acting normal." Rachel headed into the lightly falling snow and made her way toward the office building.

She'd make sure Aunt Betty came to dinner. She'd been invited. The storm shouldn't hit full force until after midnight, and if she had to, Aunt Betty could stay at her sister's.

"Why were you at the processing center? I was surprised to see you there."

Jake smiled. "To see you. I saw you entering the building and came to say hi. I hear you were promoted to bookkeeper."

"Yes, which reminds me, I have to finish my rounds and give out the payroll checks. I'll see you tonight."

Midway through the afternoon, Rachel called Sean's office to see if she could talk with Aunt Betty. His secretary told her that her aunt had clocked out early and gone home. Rachel tried Aunt Betty's home number. No answer. She might not be home yet.

When Rachel was ready to leave two hours later, she made the call to her aunt's again, and the phone still rang and rang. Rachel's worry mounted. What if she was sick and couldn't answer it? She had looked pale earlier. And why had she wanted Jake's help?

Rachel hurried to her Jeep and navigated the snow-packed streets to the outskirts of Port Aurora. Aunt Betty's house was on the same road out of town but before Aunt Linda's house. Both her aunts and Lawrence Nichols, Jake's grandfather, loved living a little out from town.

When she reached Aunt Betty's drive, she drove down it and parked in front of the cabin, not far from the shed where her aunt's truck was. She was home.

Rachel made her way to the covered front porch, the wind beginning to pick up and blow the snow around as it fell. Rachel knocked. A minute later she did again.

When Betty didn't come to answer the door, Rachel stepped to the side and peeked into the living room window. She froze at the sight of the chaos inside.

Jake finished getting the supplies for Gramps and strolled toward the checkout at the Port Aurora General Store. It had been good to see Rachel again. Talking to her this morning made him realize he missed their conversations. While in Anchorage, he'd kept himself busy, and he'd let their friendship slip. He should have come back to town before this. Port Aurora had been his home for years until… He shook the image of Celeste from his thoughts and put the items on the counter. Marge, the owner's wife, began ringing up his purchases.

A bell rang, announcing yet another customer coming into the popular store near the harbor. Jake glanced toward the person entering. He stiffened. He'd known he would see Celeste Howard—the woman who broke off their engagement eight years ago—during his extended stay at Gramps's, but he'd hoped not the first day in town.

Their gazes clashed. He gritted his teeth and swiv-eled his attention to Marge to pay for his supplies.

Marge's eyes twinkled. "She always comes in right before Brad leaves work and gets a drink at the café. She usually picks him up." Marge, one of the best gos-sipers in Port Aurora, waited for his response.

He smiled and said, "Thanks. Merry Christmas," then grabbed his bag and started for the exit of the store, which was dripping with Christmas decorations.

Celeste intercepted his departure. "Hi, Jake. It's good to see you again. I heard about your injury. How are you?"

She had meant everything to him at one time, but when he looked at her now, a cold rock hardened in his gut. "I'm fine, as you can see." Then he continued his trek toward the door, welcoming the blast of icy wind as he stepped onto the porch.

The heartache and humiliation of their breakup, done in front of a large audience at their engagement party, still fueled his anger. After his mother had left him with Gramps and gone on her merry way, he'd been wary of forming any deep relationship. First losing his father in a fishing accident and then his mom because she didn't want to be a mother anymore, had left its mark. Rachel's friendship had helped him through those hard times because she had gone through something similar with her own mom. Then when he'd fallen in love with Celeste, it felt so right. But the whole time, she'd been making a play for Brad Howard, the son of the richest man in town, using Jake to make Brad jealous.

Jake climbed into his grandfather's SUV and headed home. He was glad to have gotten that inevitable meeting over with. The earth didn't shake and swallow him because he'd seen her today. He was a different man than the one who had naively fallen for Celeste eight years ago.

In the dark of a winter day, Jake turned down the long drive that led to a cluster of several homes, one being his iv±vti gist/ *st iyi…iti-f J- I grandfather's on a few acres. He shouldn't have stayed in town so long. Although dinner at Linda's wasn't for a few hours, he wanted to spend time with Gramps and help him as much as he could around his place. Gramps, at seventy-three, moved slower and wasn't as energetic as he once was.

When Jake entered his childhood home, Mitch, his black and brown German shepherd, greeted him at the door, his tail wagging. He hadn't been sure how his dog would do, flying in a small plane, but he had been great. He would miss working every day with Mitch when he returned to the Anchorage Police Department. Mitch had been retired early because he'd lost one of his legs in the accident at the bomb site they had been searching.

"Did you miss me?" Jake rubbed him behind his ears.

Mitch barked.

The noise brought Gramps into the entry hall. "Every sound sent Mitch to the window to see if you were coming home."

"I stayed a little longer than I planned. I'm surprised at how much Port Aurora has grown, changed."

"Yes, it's been a harbor of busyness for the past year. Lots of construction in the summer. The roads still okay?"

"Yes. Five or six hours from now they might not be."

"If the storm blows through quickly, they'll have the roads plowed by tomorrow afternoon."

Customer Reviews

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Standoff at Christmas 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
J_Augustine More than 1 year ago
Survival just got harder... Margaret Daley has done it again, this is my favorite book of hers yet! Anchorage is left behind and small-town Alaska is the location of heart-stopping danger and romance. I finished Standoff At Christmas fairly quickly, I just couldn't seem to put it down, but still spent a lot of time trying to puzzle out exactly who was part of it and who wasn't. Margaret Daley is a very talented author and good at keeping readers guessing. I know some of mine were right and some came as real surprises. Having read the entire Alaskan Search And Rescue series I was glad when I found out that Standoff At Christmas was about Jake, and more importantly, his dog Mitch. I was quickly involved in the story, immersed in Margaret Daley's trademark romance and spine-tingling suspense, and the characters soon became friends as I came to care about them. Standoff At Christmas is not only a great holiday read but also a story to enjoy at any time of the year. Don't miss Margaret Daley's thrilling conclusion to an exciting series. (I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my review. All opinions are entirely my own.)
Britney_Adams More than 1 year ago
Standoff at Christmas is another compelling suspense from Margaret Daley! Jake Nichols returns to Port Aurora and discovers that danger is lurking in the sleepy little town. When his childhood friend Rachel Hart finds herself in grave danger, Jake knows he will do anything to protect her. I really enjoyed the suspense of Jake and Rachel’s story! The drama escalates and tension builds, keeping readers on the edge of their seat. A small-town romance riddled with danger, Standoff at Christmas is an exciting romantic suspense! I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. All thoughts expressed are my own.
GrandaddyA More than 1 year ago
Here’s another great addition to Margaret Daley’s Alaskan Search and Rescue series. She keeps the reader on the edge of the seat with this one. It seems suspense-filled action is played out in almost every chapter. I have never been to Alaska but the author’s writing makes me feel like I am right there in the little Alaskan town of Port Aurora. In the span of a year the town had gone from a place where there was almost no need for a police department to one where the department was drastically understaffed to handle the crime wave that had come crashing in. Jake Nichols had come home to recuperate from a life-threatening accident while working as a K-9 officer in Anchorage, only to be caught in the middle of some serious criminal activities that are threatening the life of his childhood friend, Rachel Hart. The town is preparing for Christmas, but the reader starts to wonder who will still be alive to celebrate. The big question in the mind of romantics is what is going to happen with Jake and Rachel. I recommend you read the book to find the answer to that question and also to learn what is happening in this once sleepy (or maybe it was frozen) little town before the criminals appeared on the scene. You will also want to find out who the criminals are. There’s enough suspicion to go around. I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review.
amybooksy More than 1 year ago
Standoff at Christmas is the fourth installment if the Alaskan Search and Rescue series. This is my favorite of the series yet. I loved how the mixture of mystery, action, suspense, and romance with the Holiday feel. A perfect addition for suspense lover. 5 plus stars.
BrittanyMc More than 1 year ago
Standoff at Christmas is part of the Alaskan Search and Rescue series, however, this book can completely stand alone for those who have not read the other books. This story has so much to offer...an unsolved murder, danger, and a small town. Plus, the main characters are best friends who have been relative strangers for eight years due to circumstances and distance. I loved watching their relationship begin to change and attraction begin to develop. Standoff at Christmas is a great combination of action and romance. I like getting into the swing of the Christmas holidays by reading Christmas themed stories and most of the book takes place just before Christmas. I also really enjoyed the small town setting of Port Aurora. Being set in this small town made the mystery of who was behind the murder that much more tense. I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Amigagal More than 1 year ago
Another great romantic suspense by Margaret! There is a murder at the beginning of the book and it just takes off from there! If you have been reading the series by Margaret of the Alaskan Search and Rescue, Jake and his K-9 dog, were serious injured in the previous book. This time, they are the main characters and return to Jake's hometown to recuperate from the injuries sustained in the bomb blast in book #3. Rachel and Jake were best friends in high school but Jake left town when his ex-fiancé broke things off with him 8 years prior. Now, Rachel stumbles on a drug-smuggling ring at her place of employment and that's why her aunt was murdered! There is a lot of action in this book. It's very fast paced and I enjoyed all the characters. As Rachel and Jake grow closer, Rachel is sad because she knows that Jake is going to return to his job in Anchorage. She wants him to stay. However, she doesn't have time to think about it because she's fighting for her life! Jake battles the criminals, the winter weather and his feelings for Rachel.....read it and find out what happens!
poodlelover More than 1 year ago
Standoff at Christmas by Margaret Daley is the fourth in the Alaskan Search and Rescue series. Each is a stand-alone story and for those who read The Protector’s Mission the story line continues for Jake and his K-9 partner, Mitch. Jake nearly died and Mitch was severely injured as they were searching a bomb site in Anchorage for survivors. Jake decides to visit his Gramps in Port Aurora for some rest and relaxation when Jake’s childhood friend Rachel’s aunt is murdered. As a trained K-9 officer, Jake jumps in to help solve the crime. Margaret Daley is gifted and her writing keeps you turning pages and trying to figure out who is the guilty party or is it parties? The thread of forgiveness is woven neatly through the pages. Will Rachel and Jake deal with past hurts and find happiness? It is a beautiful time of year in Port Aurora, Alaska with the bright Christmas lights illuminating the harbor, but there is danger on that harbor! You’ll enjoy this heart-warming homecoming!