Thursday’s Throwback with Barbara M. Britton

Jerusalem Rising

In November of 2017, Jerusalem Rising launched. I had taught about Nehemiah’s rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall many times, but I had missed the women in the story. Now, I had a chance to correct that oversight.

The daughters of Shallum helped Nehemiah rebuild the stone wall around the city. What? Women wall builders in Bible Times? Yes, you can find them listed in Nehemiah 3:12. We don’t know the daughters’ names, or how many there were, so I call my faithful duo Adah and Judith.

There is also a nasty woman in the story of Nehemiah. A prophetess, albeit a false prophetess, works against Nehemiah and ultimately God, in her plans to thwart the rebuilding. Her name is Noadiah, and you can find her in Nehemiah 6:14.

Even though my launch was almost four years ago, I am always learning something new about this story and God’s Word.


Blurb

When Adah bat Shallum finds the governor of Judah weeping over the crumbling wall of Jerusalem, she learns the reason for Nehemiah’s unexpected visit—God has called him to rebuild the wall around the City of David.

 Nehemiah challenges the men of Jerusalem to labor on the wall and in return, the names of their fathers will be written in the annals for future generations to cherish. But Adah has one sister and no brothers. Should her father who rules a half-district of Jerusalem be forgotten forever?

Adah bravely vows to rebuild her city’s wall, though she soon discovers that Jerusalem not only has enemies outside of the city, but also within. Can Adah, her sister, and the men they love, honor God’s call? Or will their mission be crushed by the same rocks they hope to raise.

Excerpt: 

Holding the oil lamp before her, Adah strolled toward the mournful sounds. If this were a trap, the deceiver would receive a warmed-oil bath. She passed through the remnants of the gate, by a length of crumbling wall, and inched closer to a figure crouched on the ground. Muttered words grew louder. Was this person in prayer or pain? She kept a safe distance in case the stranger lunged.

 She licked her lips and concentrated on her single word greeting. “Shalom.”

The figure flinched. The weeping halted. No sudden movements came, only a careful rise and a slow turn in her direction.

Her trembling hand held the lamp aloft and sent light gray shadows dancing across a man’s face.

“Daughter of Shallum?”

It couldn’t be.

“Governor?”

What was the governor of Judah doing weeping outside the city in the middle of the night? Did he find some fault with the officials, or with her father and his duties? And if he had fallen, where were the soldiers that had accompanied him on his trip? Sweat pooled above her lip as she balanced the lamp. Should she go and find Nehemiah’s guard? But where would she look? Her mother waited for her return.

Nehemiah brushed off his robes and swiped at the skin beneath his eyes. No salutation came. Chirping crickets continued their unending song.

“Are you hurt?” She blurted as she scanned his garment for the stain of blood.

He shook his head, but his chest shuddered.

She opened and closed a fist, not knowing what to do or say next. Her wandering alone at night, needed an explanation. A man could scout the streets of Jerusalem in the dark…but not an unescorted girl. And not the daughter of a ruler. She swallowed, but the lump in her throat remained. A small cough cleared her windpipe. “I did not mean to disturb you, Governor. My mother could not sleep, so I brought her outside for some night air. She heard someone in distress, so I came to see if I could help.”

He glanced off into the distance. “Your mother is here?”

“I left her beyond the gate.” Would he think her irresponsible? “This section of the city lies within my father’s district.” She looked around as if a crowd of city dwellers encircled their meeting place. “Most people are known to us.”

Nehemiah stepped closer. The flame from the lamp illuminated his finely stitched collar. She lowered the light so as not to irritate his eyes and to show him the respect he deserved. “You are a brave woman.” His praise was filled with the familiar authority she heard at their introduction hours before. “Your compassion knows no end, for you did not turn back at this hour.”

If that were only true. Her mother had sent her to seek the mourner. Left to her own decisions, she would have fled. “My mother deserves your praise. She heard you.” Heat rushed to Adah’s cheeks. “Sometimes I believe God blesses my mother’s hearing since her sight is no more.”

Nehemiah scrutinized her face as if the sun was in full glory. “Is her blindness a burden to you?”

“No.” Adah flinched at her half-truth and stood a bit straighter.

The governor’s stare did not waiver.

“Well, maybe. Some days.” Had she ever admitted this truth before? Not desiring to sound hard hearted, she said, “I love my mother. I would never complain about the extra work.”

The governor nodded. He averted his gaze and pointed toward some crags in the distance. “My father and his father are buried near here.”

She knew the caves of which he spoke, for many tombs were carved out of the same rock.

He continued, “When my brother brought word that Jerusalem wallowed in disrepair, I could not stay away any longer.” Nehemiah pressed a fist to his chest as if he were seeing the destruction of his city for the first time. “God has called me to rebuild the birthplace of my fathers. To resurrect the city of His beloved, David.” He turned to her with a gleam in his eye. “That, daughter of Shallum, is my burden.”


Get your copy!

You can purchase “Jerusalem Rising” on AmazonBarnes and Noble, and wherever books are sold. Ask your library to order a copy for sharing.


About Barbara

Barbara M. Britton lives in Southeast, Wisconsin and loves the snow—when it accumulates under three inches. She is published in Biblical Fiction and loves bringing little-known Bible characters to light in her stories. Her WWI Historical Until June released in 2020. Barb has a nutrition degree from Baylor University but loves to dip healthy strawberries in chocolate. Find out more about Barbara’s books on her website, www.barbarambritton.com.You can also follow Barbara on TwitterBookBubFacebook and Instagram

Tuesday’s Teaser with Kathleen Neely

Tuesday’s Teaser with Kathleen Neely

I have Kathleen Neely here today sharing her new release In Search of True North and giving us a glimpse at her characters. Welcome, Kathleen!


I’m pleased to introduce you to Mallory Rose Carter. Actually, please skip the middle name Rose. Although her mother insisted on the full name, Mallory deplored it.

If I had to describe Mallory in three words, they would be bitter, passive-aggressive, and insecure. I know that sounds like a downer, but please don’t stop reading. It’s a starting place with room to grow. After all, who wants to be remembered for attributes from their teenage years?

As layers of bitterness begin to unfold, Mallory finds hope. When circumstances allow her to be a mother to the child she gave up in her teen years, Mallory discovers a fiercely protective maternal nature. It’s not easy for her to trust. Too many people have failed her. The question Mallory must answer is this—can Brady Donaldson be trusted? Will she allow him to pierce the self-protective armor that she’s worn for a dozen years?

Mallory begins to trade her bitterness for hope. She begins taking responsibility for the past after years of shifting blame. Then the unthinkable happens. Will she lose her son again? You will find the answer in the pages of my novel, In Search of True North.

Secondary characters add so much to a novel. You will meet Samuel, the child Mallory gave up twelve years ago; Brady Donaldson, Samuel’s paternal uncle; Savannah Joy, the sister who continually challenges Mallory; Elliott Moore, Samuel’s biological father and political pundit for a national cable network; Chloe, Mallory’s free-spirited friend; and Liam, whom some might call a beach bum.

I loved writing Liam’s part in Mallory’s story. His role is small but significant. Liam offers a contrast to the life that the Carter family embraced. While Mallory was raised to be goal-driven, Liam embraced living day to day. No competition. No ladder climbing. Just enough industry to support his surfing lifestyle. Samuel thought Liam was way cool!

This story has something for everyone. The overriding themes include overcoming a victim mentality, taking responsibility, and a mother’s love. Added to that, readers will find a sub-theme of astronomy. Mallory teaches Samuel to love the wonders of the heavens through the lens of her homemade telescope. While they take a peek at the stars and planets, here’s a sneak peek for readers.


Excerpt

Excerpt from Chapter 12

Jolene had taken a picture of Samuel on the first day of school each year since kindergarten. Mallory downloaded them from Facebook and kept them in her picture album. That tradition wouldn’t die with Jolene. Her sister probably had a high-end camera, but Mallory’s cell phone would have to do.

She snapped a picture of Samuel with his backpack and another as he entered the school bus. He paused to say something to the driver. Then with a brief wave of his hand, he disappeared from sight. Mallory scanned the seats for one more glimpse. The blinking lights of the school bus stopped as it started in motion, leaving a scent of diesel behind.

What would Elliott think of their son? Would his heart swell with love as Mallory’s did? Would he agree that she had made the right decision? A cold chill sent shivers down her arms. What if she had done as he’d asked? That thought was too horrific to entertain.

Samuel had been in school for a week, long enough for Mallory to realize she needed something to fill those hours. Why not research career options so she could plot out a schedule for her coursework before the spring semester? But today, she’d tackle the laundry. She went upstairs to gather Samuel’s clothes.

As she came down with a laundry basket perched on her hip, the doorbell sounded. The front door got very little use. She peeked out the window to see a man carrying a portfolio. A salesman? Soliciting was prohibited in this neighborhood. Mallory eased the door open a few inches. “Can I help you?”

“Yes, are you Mallory Rose Carter?”

“Yes, I am.” He looked vaguely familiar but she couldn’t place him.

“Legal guardian of Samuel Donaldson?”

“Yes.” This must be someone from Social Services. She opened the door wider. “How can I help you?”

“Is there somewhere we can talk?”

He seemed perfectly safe, but Mallory hesitated inviting him in. She was ready to ask for ID when he motioned toward the porch chairs.

“This would be fine.”

She stepped out and closed the door behind her. “I didn’t catch your name.”

“Jeremy. Jeremy Edwards. I believe you know my wife, Lauren.”

All defenses went on high alert. Mallory fought the urge to run back inside and lock the door between them. She sat straight up in her chair. “Yes, I know Lauren.”

He slowly unzipped the portfolio and removed a burgundy file folder. Then he pulled out a digital recorder from its Velcro holder. “May I record?”

Mallory stood up. “No, you may not. What’s the purpose of your visit?”

“Please have a seat. I’m working on a story and would like to give you an opportunity to confirm or refute the information that I’ve uncovered.” He turned a copy of Samuel’s birth certificate so she could see it.

A pounding drum beat in her ears. Her knees weakened and she eased herself into the chair.

He shuffled through the other pages. “It seems that the signature on this birth certificate has been forged.” He turned two copies of Jolene’s signature for her to see. A marriage certificate and a high school term paper.

Mallory gave him the same response she had given to Samuel. “She had just given birth. Of course, her signature would be sloppier.”

Wordlessly, he turned a photocopy of the information that she had given Lauren at lunch, the bed and breakfast, Airlie Gardens, and Bellamy Mansion. Jeremy held them side by side along with a copy of Mallory’s GED application.

“Where did you get these documents?”

“Journalists always have sources. Everything you say is on the record. This report is from a forensic handwriting expert.” He retrieved a document with columns of data. You can read over his findings, but this…” He pointed toward the closing paragraph. “…shows his summation. The confidence level is 99.04% that this was signed by the same person who signed your GED application.”

Rage built up inside of Mallory. With one quick movement, she swiped the folder from his hands.

His lips turned up in a smirk. “You can keep those. They’re your copies.”

“You’re making inferences that you know nothing about. Even if they had any merit, which they don’t, there’s no story here. No one would care enough for a newspaper to print it.”

He reached into his portfolio and retrieved another paper. As he turned it over, the faces of Samuel and Elliott sat side-by-side. “I think they’ll care.”

Mallory felt the blood rush from her head, certain that it left her pallor white. “The Charlotte Post would never print that.”

“Oh, you’re correct on that. I have a source in Washington that will print it.”

Washington? Not the Washington Post. Suddenly it came to her. “A scandal magazine.” She spit the words out through tight lips.

“Well, that’s not a very complimentary term. Let’s say, a magazine that prints what people love to read.”

Mallory stood. “This meeting’s over.”

“Can you confirm that you falsified the birth certificate of a son you had with Elliott Moore?”

She turned toward the door. “No comment.”

Mallory reached for the doorknob, but stopped short at his next words. “Thank you. I’ll see Elliott Moore tomorrow. We’ll see if he has a comment.”

She would plead and beg, if it would help. But a man who could do this would have no compassion. Her shaking hand barely managed to turn the doorknob. She opened it and stepped inside without looking back. Once the door closed, she locked the deadbolt, then leaned against the wall for support. Mallory took deep breaths trying to regain her composure.

Elliott. She had imagined the scene so many times. Imagined looking into his face and telling him they had a son. In her fairytale imagination, he’d pull her into his arms and thank her for not listening to him. He’d profess his love and they’d ride off into some happily-ever-after world.

She never imagined he’d find out from a low-life reporter looking to make a name and a few bucks by spreading gossip. She couldn’t let that happen. She had to tell him.

Mallory paced in circles trying to form a plan. She could call him, but this kind of news needed a face-to-face encounter. She couldn’t take Samuel, but where could she leave him? Certainly not with Savannah. Was it feasible to drive to Washington and back in a day? And how in the world would she arrange a meeting?

Twelve years ago, her dad pressed her to tell him the father’s name. Mallory had remained silent, determined not to tell anyone it was Elliott. Now her parents would find out. They’d never read that type of magazine, but if the story gained momentum, if it hit the news, Dad would know. All that secrecy twelve years ago and now it had the potential to become nationwide news. Would Alzheimer’s protect her mother from understanding?

Brady. Perhaps he would come and stay overnight. She couldn’t tell him why. But then, if it became news, he’d find out. Everyone would. Mallory lowered herself to the sofa in the family room and cried.

When she calmed her panic, Mallory took a moment to look at the documents. A professional letterhead had the company name of the handwriting expert. With great detail, the report analyzed size, spacing, slant, and pressure. Columns of letters were graphed to compare the letters that were connected and disconnected, wide and narrow loops, and pointed tops. It was irrefutable.

She lifted the photocopy of her scribbled information about Wilmington attractions. Lauren. Her best friend for years. Did she harbor that much bitterness over Mallory’s departure? Enough to ruin three lives? The lunch had been a set-up. An intentional ruse to get her handwriting. Mallory and Elliott may deserve that, but Samuel didn’t. He was the victim of Lauren’s revenge. She surely knew the havoc that she’d set in motion.

Her hands shook as she picked up the receiver of the landline. “Brady, it’s Mallory.”

“Hi, Mallory. Something wrong? You sound upset.”

Mallory attempted to laugh it off. “No, just trying to make some plans. Hey, I have a favor to ask.”

“Sure. What do you need?”

“I need someone to stay with Samuel, hopefully tonight. I have to make a short trip and don’t want to ask my parents.”

“Actually, I’m on the road right now headed in your direction. I have to meet with the project manager. I’ll be happy to stay there tonight.”

“Thanks, Brady. I can have Samuel go to the neighbor’s until you’re finished.”

“No need. My meeting’s tomorrow. I’m headed in today to check things out before the meeting. I had planned to call you later.”

“I’m leaving in about an hour. I’ll leave the door unlocked from the garage. Do you have the garage keycode?”

“Yep. I’m all set.”

Mallory sat down to write a note to Samuel explaining that she needed to see a friend about something important.

I’m so sorry I couldn’t wait until after school. I’m sure you won’t be too disappointed to find your Uncle Brady here.

She left the note with his name on it, written in her sloppy left-handed back slant. She hated her handwriting more each day.


Where to get your copy

You can purchase your copy of In Search of True North at:

https://www.amazon.com/Search-True-North

About Kathleen

Kathleen Neely is a retired elementary principal, and enjoys time with family, visiting her two grandsons, traveling, and reading.

She is the author of The Street Singer, Beauty for Ashes, The Least of These, and In Search of True North. Kathleen won second place in a short story contest through ACFW-VA for her short story “The Missing Piece” and an honorable mention for her story “The Dance”. Both were published in a Christmas anthology. Her novel, The Least of These, was awarded first place in the 2015 Fresh Voices contest through Almost an Author. She has numerous devotions published through Christian Devotions.

Kathleen continues to speak to students about writing and publication processes. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers.

Where to find Kathleen online

Website – www.KathleenNeely.com

Facebook – www.facebook.com/kathy.neely.98

Twitter – https://twitter.com/NeelyKneely3628

Instagram – www.Instagram.com/KathleenNeelyAuthor

Friday’s Feature with Deena Alexander

Today I’m talking with debut Love Inspired Suspense author, Deena Alexander. Please be sure to comment here or on my social media posts for a chance to win a copy of Crime Scene Connection. Deena is giving away 3 copies!! Lucky winners can choose from paperback or e-book. Winners will be contacted Friday, January 15th. (Winners must be in the U.S.)

Welcome, Deena! Let’s get started.

Deena’s Sunroom

We all have our favorite place to write. Can you describe your writing space?

When we moved to Florida, my husband told me to design an office and he’d build it for me. I am so blessed that he is incredibly supportive of my writing. My middle son is working on writing a children’s book, and my youngest is being home-schooled, so I wanted a desk with three work stations, so we could all work together. I have a whiteboard hanging in front of my desk that I use as a story board, and a wall of cubbies for supplies. It’s perfect for me. And when I need quiet time to reflect on what I’m writing, I usually sit in my sunroom. I love the view and often see a variety of wildlife, which is nice from inside.

Deena’s Writing Space

If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?

The best advice anyone ever gave me was just sit down and write your book. It won’t be perfect, but it doesn’t matter. You will make changes every time you read through it, but you can’t get anywhere if you don’t write that first rough draft. I re-wrote Crime Scene Connection at least four or five times before it was contracted. The second piece of advice would be, jump at every opportunity to learn about writing.

What does a day in the life of an author look like for you?nWhat is your writing schedule like?

Ideally, I get up and write first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way. Since my youngest is now home schooled, I usually work with him for a few hours first, then work on some plotting or my story board. After that, I go through and answer any emails I have, do any edits I’m working on, then finally settle down to write. It’s not unusual for me to write in the middle of the night, since I rarely sleep.

If you could do anything else, what would it be?

If I could do anything other than writing, it would be teaching dance, which I did for more than twenty years. I loved working with kids, and I often miss it.

What is your favorite genre of books to read?

I love romantic suspense and cozy mysteries.

Thank you for being here, Deena.

Thank you so much for having me. I’ve enjoyed visiting!


Crime Scene Connection

Deena’s debut novel, Crime Scene Connection is out now. Continue reading for a free chapter excerpt.

Her writing was fiction,

until a killer made the danger very real…

A serial killer’s imitating crime scenes from Addison Keller’s bestselling novel, determined to make her the final victim. But with former police officer Jace Montana and his dog at her side, Addison might just be able to unmask the murderer. With time running out as the killer closes in, she must confront her past and unravel long-buried secrets…and hope they can all escape with their lives.


Get your copy today!

• Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B089RLTK6L/ref=dbsadefrwtbiblvppii0

• Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/crime-scene-connection-deena-alexander/1137144337?ean=9781335404992

• Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/crime-scene-connection

• Harlequin: https://www.harlequin.com/shop/books/9781335404992crime-scene-connection.html

• Books-a-Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Crime-Scene-Connection/Deena-Alexander/9781335404992?id=7951247817213

• Target: https://www.target.com/p/crime-scene-connection-by-deena-alexander-paperback/-/A-80501848

• Indiebound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335404992

• Walmart: https://www.walmart.com/search/search-ng.do?searchquery=9781335404992

• Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/crime-scene-connection/id1517206983?id=1517206983&ign-mpt=uo%3D4

• Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/DeenaAlexanderCrimeSceneConnection?id=FaTpDwAAQBAJ


ONE

“No. Oh no.” Addison Keller scrolled past picture after picture, fear choking her. Oh, God, please don’t let this be happening again.

“What’s wrong?”

She jumped at her agent’s voice and fumbled the phone. “Uh…”

No way could she tell Ron about the email. He was already freaked out enough about the death threats she’d received. “Nothing. Just upset about all of this.”

“Stay where you are. I’ll be there within the hour.”

“No, Ron…wait. I—”

“Listen to me, Addison. This isn’t a joke. I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but a news reporter has already made the connection to you, and the police can’t be far behind. They’ve already questioned you once, about the last murder, do you really want to deal with them again?” The pitch of Ron’s voice increased with the volume.

She scrolled back up to the first image. The email contained twelve photos. In the first two, the victim—if Addison allowed herself to think of the victim as a woman, she’d lose her battle against nausea—was still alive. The other ten had been taken after she was killed, the crime scene all too familiar, since Addison had created it in her novel.

“Ron, I don’t—”

“I’m already in the car, but even in the middle of the night, with no traffic, it’ll still take me an hour to get there.” His heavy breathing faded in and out over the spotty cell phone connection. He muttered something unintelligible. “I’ll never understand why you insist on living all the way out on Long Island.”

She ran a shaky fingertip over the woman’s hair on the computer screen. The same long dark hair as the rest of the victims Addison had conjured up. Guilt hammered her. If she hadn’t written that book, the killer might never have chosen these victims.

“Throw some stuff together. We’ll put you in a hotel somewhere if you don’t want to stay with me.” He ended the call without waiting for a response.

“No, no, no.” Without taking her eyes from the laptop screen, she tossed the phone onto the bed, wrapped her arms around herself and doubled over, tears stinging her eyes. She blinked them back. Crying wouldn’t help. She had to calm down, had to think. Had to remember what had happened when—No. She slammed the door on the memories trying to surface. Remembering her past wouldn’t help. It would only make this nightmare real.

She squinted and pulled the laptop closer. The attention to detail in the photos laid out the crime scene exactly as she’d imagined it. She had no doubt the murder weapon, a small handgun, would be found under the overturned kitchen chair. Right where she had placed it in her book.

Unable to tear her gaze from the screen, she fumbled a hand across the nightstand, knocking over her tea in search of the remote. When her fingers closed around it, she pulled it back and turned on the TV. Breaking News jumped off the screen, slamming into her. She turned up the volume.

“Details are just starting to emerge on the murder that took place earlier tonight in the exclusive suburb…” Yellow crime scene tape stretched across a lawn, and cops moved in and out of the house, creating a beehive of activity.

She tuned out the rest and hit the button to turn off the TV. It didn’t matter. She could, no doubt, describe the exact layout of the kitchen in the house pictured on the screen—even what wasn’t visible in the photographs included with the email.

It was only a matter of time before the police knocked on her door. Again. Only this time, that arrogant detective might do more than just glare at her with suspicion darkening his eyes. This time, he’d most likely arrest her.

A creak tore her attention from the computer screen. It was a sound she knew all too well. The third step had always creaked like that.

And the killer had already made it clear he was coming for her in his previous email. No way was she waiting around to give him a target.

She flung the blanket back, toppling the computer to the side, and launched herself from the bed. No time to get changed. She stuffed her feet into the UGG boots she’d toed off when she came upstairs. Where’d her cell phone go? No idea. Forget it.

She shoved the second-story window open, praying fervently it wouldn’t squeak, swung her legs over, gripped the ledge, then dropped to the ground. Ten feet. That was all the ground she had to cover before the thick woods would swallow her up. She ran. The pounding of her heart and the blood rushing through her head merged together, the thunderous noise drowning out any sounds of possible pursuit.

When she reached the woods, she slid as quietly as possible into the darkness, trying not to disturb the dense underbrush. Leaves crunched beneath her feet, and she fought desperately against the urge to flee. Bumbling through the woods in the dark on the carpet of fallen leaves would only draw the intruder’s attention. Instead, she slipped into the deepest shadows, with a desperate prayer the darkness would conceal her presence and the stranger would leave.

She pressed her back against a huge oak tree, then bent at the waist and braced her hands on her knees. Her chest ached, and she finally dared to take a breath. The salty scent of the sea, usually comforting, only fueled her nausea. She slapped a hand over her nose and mouth. Vomiting now would be a death sentence.

When she’d regained some semblance of control, Addison turned to face the tree. She pressed her forehead against the cool, damp bark. This can’t be happening. Except, it was happening. And if she couldn’t find a way to stop it, she was going to be the final victim of a deranged killer. Heaving in one more deep breath and holding it, Addison peeked around the tree, scraping her forehead on the rough trunk. She winced at the sting.

She couldn’t say for sure the shape silhouetted in her bedroom window was a man, but the broad shoulders gave a distinctly masculine appearance. A shiver crawled up her spine. Whoever it was didn’t seem to be in any hurry to follow her, ignoring the open window she’d obviously escaped through to focus on something in the room.

If it was the police in the house, she should probably go back and talk to them. And say what, that she was responsible for the murder of the woman who died earlier? Just like she was responsible for the woman who was killed last week. And the woman who’d be killed next week and every week thereafter until…

No. She couldn’t go back. Police officers were probably not in the habit of sneaking into people’s houses unannounced, in the wee hours of the morning. And there was a distinct possibility the killer was a cop—or, at the very least, someone close to the investigation. Someone who could be framing her right now while she cowered behind a tree watching him. Oh, please, Lord, help me get out of here alive.

She turned to flee and barreled straight into a broad chest. Her heart stopped and a vise gripped her lungs and squeezed hard.

A large hand covered her mouth before she could let loose the scream welling in her lungs. The man’s hot breath bathed her neck when he whispered, “Please, don’t scream. I’m here to help.”

She nodded, giving up any hope of escaping his grasp.

“We have to get out of here. Now.”

At least that was something they could agree on.

“I’m going to take my hand off your mouth and release you. Please, don’t scream.”

Heaving in a deep, shaky breath through her nose, she held his gaze and nodded again. Shadows concealed his eyes. Who was he? Cop? Accomplice? Murderer? Maybe he was just a good citizen who’d seen her climb out the window while he was prowling the neighborhood dressed all in black, had guessed she was in trouble, and come to her rescue. Yeah, right. She closed her eyes and let her head fall back against the tree.

He released his hold.

The instant his hand left her, she whirled to flee.

He caught her arm and leaned close. “You’re going to get us both killed.”

She chanced a quick glance over her shoulder. The dim light filling her bedroom window was gone, leaving the room in complete darkness. Panic gripped her. Where’d the intruder go?

Her stranger guided her against the tree, angling his body between her and anyone who might enter the woods from the direction of the house. “Connor Bynes sent me.”

Connor? She didn’t know her sister’s husband, but she thought he was in the military or something. Not a cop. That she knew for sure. It didn’t make sense. “Why?”

“I’ll explain later. Somewhere safer.” He surveyed the yard and the house and glanced over his shoulder at the route through the woods her mind begged him to take. Returning his gaze to the yard, he backed away and pulled a handgun from the small of his back, then pressed a finger to his lips.

Like she’d really talk right now.

Keeping the gun aimed past the tree toward the yard, he backed a few steps deeper into the woods and gestured her toward him.

Trust him or not? Was he the answer to her desperate plea for help, or was he a threat? None of this made sense, but neither did standing there waiting for a killer to find her.

A crash broke the unnatural silence of the night, followed by the barking of the neighbor’s Rottweiler.

Addison dropped to a crouch and studied the yard. Moonlight spilled through the trees, the soft sea breeze rippling the leaves and sending shadows skittering across the small patch of back lawn. Hopefully, the motion would be enough to cover their movements as they fled. A deepening shadow at the back of the house caught her attention. Someone?

She only hesitated another second, her gaze focused on the man standing before her, perfectly still, as if he had all night. This wasn’t the time for life-and-death decisions. Once she was somewhere safer, where she could think more clearly, she’d decide what to do. She stood and crept toward him, careful to tread lightly on the dead leaves, every crunch spearing her with a new pang of fear.

He turned and led her deeper into the woods. How on earth did he walk so quietly?

She struggled to keep him in sight and still watch where she was going. A twig beneath her foot snapped, the crack echoing through the night. She froze.

“Go.” With the need for stealth blown, he gestured her ahead of him. “Run.”

A blast of gunfire split the night, the thud of bullets tearing through the brush way too close.

She ran.

A grunt at her back made her pause, a barely perceptible hesitation, but her stranger propelled her forward as he returned fire.

Branches clutched her pajama sleeves, tore the thin fabric, scratched her arms and back, and caught in her hair. Still, she ran, the sound of her stranger’s harsh breaths keeping pace just behind her oddly comforting. The next shot brought a sharp sting as a piece of bark ricocheted into her cheek.


About Deena

Deena Alexander

Deena grew up in a small town on the south shore of eastern Long Island, where she met and married her high school sweetheart. She recently relocated to Florida with her husband, three kids, son-in-law, and four dogs. Now she enjoys long walks in nature all year long, despite the occasional alligator or snake she sometimes encounters. Deena’s love for writing developed when her youngest son was born and didn’t sleep through the night, and she now works full time as a writer and a freelance editor.

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