The Troublesome Angel by Valerie Hansen released on Nov 08, 2005 is available now for purchase.
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The Troublesome Angel
By Valerie Hansen
Steeple HillCopyright © 2005 Valerie Hansen
All right reserved.
Stacy Lucas couldn't help praying the same thing over and over. "Please, Father, guide my steps and let me be in time. Please, Father..."
Barely two hours had passed since she'd received the emergency call. That was a plus. It would have been even better if she'd been at home in Cave City, instead of leading a searchandrescue seminar hundreds of miles away. The quicker she went to work after a person was discovered missing, the greater the likelihood of success.
She focused her thoughts on the lost child as the small plane circled lower over the lush green hills of the Arkansas Ozarks, preparing to land. The scared little girl would probably hide. Most of them did. That was why Stacy's trained tracking dogs were so essential.
Her friends, Angela and Judy, both rushed across the tarmac to welcome her with hugs as soon as she climbed down out of the Cessna plane. They were babbling so anxiously they drowned each other out.
"Whoa. Take it easy, you two." Stacy stepped back and held up her hands. "Everything'll be fine. You'll see. Just give me a chance to get the dogs out of their crates and we can get started. You have no idea how worried I was when I realized it was your campground I was being sent to."
"We didn't want to bother you. Honest, we didn't," Angela told her. "Especially since — ""
"Hey, don't apologize. I'm glad to be here. When all this is over, we'll have to catch up on old times."
She turned back to the plane and retrieved her gear from the cargo area while she watched the pilot and another man unload her dogs in their lightweight traveling kennels.
As soon as both dog boxes were safely on the ground, Stacy concentrated on her worried friends. "I'll want to know everything about the missing girl. Even the stuff you don't think is important. You can fill me in while we drive back to your place, okay?"
"It isn't going to be that easy," Angela warned.
"Why not?" Stacy was releasing her older searchandrescue dog, Lewis, from his portable kennel. The halfgrown pup, Clark, whined and barked to be let out. As soon as she had both dogs secured on leashes, she looked to her lifelong friends for an answer.
Angela Gardino was short and darkhaired. Blond Judy McKenna was the tallest of the three. Neither seemed eager to fill her in. Stacy frowned. "Well, guys?"
"Because of him." Judy nodded toward the Spring River Campground van parked at the edge of the tarmac.
Stacy shaded her eyes and peered. Tinted windows kept her from seeing inside. "Who is it?"
"The kid's uncle." Angela's voice was strained.
"You'll never guess who he turned out to be."
"Suppose you just tell me."
Angela shook her dark curls and looked to Judy for moral support. "You do it."
"Oh, sure. Hang this on me." Judy bent, patted the eager dogs to stall for time, then straightened with a sigh. "Tell you what. Why don't we all go over to the van and let you see for yourself?"
Stacy was getting exasperated. "Look, is there a little girl lost in the woods, or not?"
"Oh, there is, all right," Angela grumbled.
"Then what are we standing around talking for? Every minute counts." Stacy slung her pack over one shoulder. "Give me a hand with the dogs' crates, will you?"
The other two women were already lifting the cages by themselves. "We'll get these," Judy insisted. "You go on ahead."
"Okay. Just hurry up." Leading the way to the van, Stacy had no trouble attributing most of her old friends' obvious nervousness to the distressing situation of having a helpless child lost from their campground. Thank goodness the local authorities had had the good sense to call in a team of search dogs before the situation deteriorated.
She was barely twenty feet from the beige van when its sliding side door opened and a tall man stepped out. A baseball cap and sunglasses shaded most of his face. The rest of him was dressed far too formally for a trek in the woods, let alone camping. His suit was neatly pressed, his shoes obviously expensive. Something about his bearing reminded her of someone. Who?
The man raised his head. Dark glasses still masked his eyes, and yet... That strong chin! That arrogant mouth! That cynical expression!
Stacy's breath caught. Her stomach knotted. Her eyes widened. Graydon Payne, of all people! No wonder Angela and Judy hadn't wanted to tell her!
"Oh, dear God," she whispered. "What have I done to deserve this?""
Sensing her sudden apprehension, Lewis bristled and growled at the man. Clark, however, seemed oblivious to anything but the exciting chance to meet a new person.
Stacy expertly controlled both dogs as she approached.
The imposing man frowned. "What are you doing here?"
"I'll be coordinating the search efforts for a missing little girl." She squared her shoulders proudly beneath her insulated jacket. "It's what I do now."
"For a living?" He sounded incredulous.
"Parttime, yes," Stacy said. "I suppose that surprises you, doesn't it?"
"It floors me."
"Good." She dropped her pack at his feet.
"Stow that carefully, then help Judy and Angela load the dog crates in the back, will you?"
"I beg your pardon?"
Excerpted from The Troublesome Angel by Valerie Hansen Copyright © 2005 by Valerie Hansen. Excerpted by permission.
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