From USA TODAY bestselling author Elizabeth Goddard
When hiding is no longer an option,
she must go on the run.
Someone's infiltrated the witness protection program with murder in mind—and Chasey Cook is the next victim. Chasey gave up everything to go into WITSEC, including a budding relationship with deputy US marshal Ben Bradley, but now she must rely on him to shield her. With a ruthless killer tracking them, can Chasey trust Ben with her life…knowing her heart will pay the price?
From Love Inspired Suspense: Courage. Danger. Faith.
A MOUNT SHASTA SECRETS NOVEL
Release date: September 28, 2021
Print pages: 224
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High Stakes Escape
Deputy US Marshal Ben Bradley stared at the covered body being retrieved by the medical examiner, struggling with disbelief. How could this brutal murder have happened here in this comfortable home situated in the quiet middle-class neighborhood in Snohomish, Washington, near Seattle? Minivans were parked in driveways. Kids played safely in their yards or in the park across the street even as fall temperatures quickly shifted colder. This place was supposed to be safe. The resident who had lived there was supposed to be hidden. Anonymous. Protected.
But inside this sheltered haven, a vicious crime had been committed.
He stood outside the crime scene tape with the neighbors who looked on, and he listened to their murmurs, their shock joining his own disbelief. He didn’t have to look at their faces to know he would see a mixture of horror and grief. Tears and suspicions.
At the moment, no children played at the park across the street. They had all been gathered into their homes until it was safe. He could hear the people’s unspoken questions—will the neighborhood ever be the same? Will it ever be safe again?
Unfortunately, he had no way to soothe their fears, no way to tell them that the killer would not return.
After all, the killer had already taken out the only person in witness protection in this neighborhood.
Ben drew in a few calming breaths to slow his pounding heart, and pushed back the confusion and rage that prevented him from moving.
Now it was time to get to work.
Ducking under the yellow tape that established the crime scene perimeter, he approached the officer holding a clipboard. Ben flashed his credentials. The officer arched a brow and handed over the board. Ben signed his name on the scene security log and dutifully stuck to the “path of contamination” as it was called, established to protect evidence and keep the crime scene locked down. He didn’t bother donning plastic booties or gloves like the evidence techs. After all, he had no reason to get close to the body. He wasn’t there to investigate, just to verify...and inform. Inside the house, Ben headed for the man in a Giants ball cap who was writing in a notebook. He assumed this man was the detective, but the cap made him look a little out of place in this scenario.
Ben once again held up his credentials. “Inspector Ben Bradley, US Marshals Service.”
The man continued to write in the notebook then finally eyed Ben. “I’m Detective Wright. What can I do for you?”
“What can you tell me about what’s happened here?”
Wright took his time studying Ben, as if considering how much to share. “You being here... She’s one of yours then.” A statement rather than a question.
Ben’s demeanor sobered even more as he nodded. His very presence seemed to answer all their questions about why she’d been murdered. Anyone in law enforcement knew the US Marshals Service handled the witness protection program.
“Well, that tells me something.” Wright shut his notebook. “Looks like a forced entry, and the rest you can see for yourself.”
Ben glanced around the chaotic scene. Overturned lamps, coffee table and chairs. His heart ached at the thought of her struggle to live. He hated the images that fought for space in his mind, but he couldn’t shut off the way the brutal crime seemed to play across his vision as if it were happening right now. Sheila Redgrave, formerly Shelly Rodman, had fought to the very end. She’d thrown the lamp. Turned over the coffee table as she’d fought to survive. She’d obviously tried to escape through the sliding-glass door that opened into the backyard, but she hadn’t made it. The bloodstained carpet near the door told of her demise.
Grief twisted his insides. Beyond that, he struggled to wrap his mind around it—how could this have happened in this new life where she was supposed to be safe? Oh... Shelly. What did you do? Who did you talk to?
Had Shelly been complicit in her own demise and unintentionally given away her true identity? Or could her death have been a failure on his part? The murder of someone to whom he’d given a new identity and placed in the WITSEC—Witness Security—program weighed on him like nothing else.
“Cause of death?” Ben hadn’t looked at the covered body the medical examiner had wheeled away on a gurney. Maybe he should have, but he hadn’t been able to bring himself to look. Heaviness settled in his gut, and he could barely hold it together.
“The ME will have the final say, of course,” Wright said, “but she suffered two knife wounds, which I suspect were fatal.”
Once again, Ben studied the bloodstained carpet.
“We’ll conduct an investigation. Talk to neighbors and fa—”
Ben held up his hand and stopped the man midsentence. “This is where I step in. Talk to the neighbors and this community who knew Sheila Redgrave, but she doesn’t exist beyond that. Don’t go looking for any family. Do you understand?”
Wright held his notebook under his arm and fisted his hands on his hips. “So you’re certain this has to do with her past.”
Ben shrugged. “I could be wrong. Let me know if you have any local leads.”
He wouldn’t say more. But given that three days ago he’d had to move WITSEC’s Susan Lively from his residence of three years in St. Louis, Missouri—giving her an entirely new identity and new home in Salt Lake City—because Susan had been attacked in her home, Ben’s internal warning system was going off. He was in charge of handling a number of witnesses at any one time, delivering them to trial and then to their new lives. And sometimes, relocating and arranging new identities for those whose original new identities had been compromised.
That rarely happened, and now suddenly two of his witnesses had been discovered.
The detective took in the scene around him again. “Mind letting me know if you discover it’s related to her past? That way we can close the case.”
“Of course. And, Detective, not a word of this. I’ll speak to your superior, as well.” Ben took a step away. “Mind if I look around?”
“Keep to the path if you’re not going to put on the gloves and booties. We might be small-town but we know how to investigate.”
“Of course.” Ben nodded and walked the hallway until he found what he assumed was Sheila’s bedroom. He’d set her up to work as a customer service representative for a credit card company far away from her previous job as a financial assistant to a Wall Street mogul. That way she could continue using her skills but in a safe place.
He found a photograph of Sheila with a guy, his arm wrapped around her shoulders. There was a waterfall behind them. She looked happy and maybe even in love. His heart sank even more. She’d been successfully making a new life and now...this. Ben would let the detective inform the boyfriend. Ben would be the one to tell her aunt and uncle who’d raised her. She’d only spoken to them once since she’d left her old life behind, and that via the marshals’ offices.
They would want to know why, and would probably think that the system had failed their niece. They would not be the only ones who wanted answers. Ben wanted to know why she’d been attacked in her home and murdered. And...he thought the same thing they would think—that he’d failed their niece.
He stepped outside the house and US Deputy Marshal Silas Tate approached, his lips forming a deep frown. “I got here as soon as I could.”
He trusted his fellow deputy Silas.
Ben had asked for help from the Eastern District of California because something was messed up. Though Ben worked out of this district, he could place witnesses anywhere in the country—whatever was required to keep them safe.
“I know.” Unfortunately, not fast enough.
“Do you think this was a hit or something local?”
Ben wasn’t ready to voice his thoughts yet, especially with an audience—including some reporters he saw milling around. He headed for his vehicle and got in.
Silas joined him so they could speak privately, then leaned in. “Given that Susan was attacked three days ago and now Redgrave... I gotta say I’m a little concerned.”
“You and me both.” Ben got on his cell and called his supervisor, Assistant Chief Deputy James Calvin, to request that all the witnesses he’d placed be moved immediately. Maybe he was overreacting, but he didn’t want to risk lives. Better to take precautions.
Ben’s thoughts kept going to one witness in particular—Chasey. Panic rose in his chest. Was he already too late?
The black sedan with dark windows drew her attention as it slowly made its way down the road.
A little too slowly, if anyone asked her. Chasey Cook’s anxiety inched up.
She shook it off as best she could. She was just being paranoid. No one could find her. She continued her jog along the paved trails that wound through the woods in the small park. She took in the grass to her left and pine needles to her right. Across the way and through the trees, she spotted a playground. But at this time of day, kids were just getting out of school. Maybe having an afternoon snack before they took to the playground. There was no one around...no one to see her if she got grabbed.
Stop that! she scolded. She wasn’t going to get grabbed. She was fine. Safe.
Her breaths were steady and even as she breathed in the scent of evergreens and fresh mountain air. Running in small-town northern California with Mt. Shasta visible in the distance was such a different experience than she’d had before, living the big-city life that used to be hers. Until a year ago...
In her peripheral vision, she spotted the black vehicle again—through the trees and far from her.
The sedan has nothing to do me. It’s nothing. I don’t need to worry about anything but enjoying this beautiful day.
If her boss, the dean of the English department at the small community college, hadn’t given his office Friday afternoon off, she wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of daylight in the park. The days were already growing shorter well into autumn. As if to confirm her thoughts, a cold breeze with the hint of an arctic bite wrapped around her. Actually, it felt nice considering she’d worked up a sweat under her light jacket.
The paved trail weaved around the spruce and cedar trees, and Chasey kept waiting for that moment when the tension would drain out of her. A cold rain droplet landed on her face. Her signal to head home. She jogged across the street to the neighborhood where her cozy bungalow was located, only about three blocks down.
No matter how she tried to ignore the sudden paranoia, a shudder crawled over her that she just couldn’t let go.
Paranoid or not, she flipped around to jog backward, checking behind her just in case.
There was that black sedan again.
Why, why, why...
Heart pounding, Chasey ran faster and cut across two yards to head to her house. But she stopped behind the neighbor’s house. She pressed her hands against her thighs and caught her breath. Calmed her nerves.
No...her nerves were not going to calm.
At her neighbor Jill Samson’s house, Chasey moved to the back corner closest to her own property and crouched behind a bush. She remained in the shadows and inched forward enough so that she could peer at the house she’d turned into a home and had grown to love in the last year. She never could have believed she could so quickly embrace a new life, a new identity and find new friends. People to love and care about. And yet, God had given her that.
Was today the day she would lose it all?
Heart pounding, she squeezed her eyes shut. What should I do, Lord? Direct me, guide my path.
The little bungalow she’d decorated herself. That house she’d made into...well, a home, could already be compromised.
She couldn’t let that happen.
And yet, if she went inside, she could be walking into a death trap.
A cold mist filled the air and dusk would be on her soon. If she left now, she would literally be fleeing into the night. She drew in a deep, cold breath.
It was now or never.
She had to face whatever waited for her before Jill or other neighbors inserted themselves into her life and got hurt. Because of her.
She took one step out from behind Jill’s house and waited. Nothing. No gunfire. So she continued forward. Chasey crept over to the back door and unlocked it. Stepping inside, she waited again for a few moments, listening. Silence met her ears.
The scent of her favorite vanilla-honey air freshener filled her nose. The house felt peaceful and still. For the moment, she breathed easier. But she wouldn’t allow herself to be fooled by appearances. Not when her instincts were still screaming that danger was closing in.
Racing through the house, she grabbed her purse and her tablet, grateful that she already had her cell on her. Those were the most essential items. Plus a warmer jacket.
One last look around the place she’d called home...all her thrift shop collections. If the worst had happened and she’d been found, she would probably never be back here again.
Chasey cracked the garage door off the kitchen open.
Pain ignited in her head.
Someone yanked her back into the house by her hair. Screaming, she fell against the kitchen counter as he released her hair. Gasping for breath, she felt the fear ignite her drive to live. A man lunged for her and she ducked away, barely avoiding his grip, then scrambled to the other side of the table, instinctively putting something between them. Sucking in air, she searched the room. What could she use as a weapon?
The lamp she’d found at a secondhand shop was the closest object.
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