A killer wants to take everything from him…
Blackhawk Security search and rescue operative Holden Marsten will do anything to protect his partner’s widow, especially when he’s the reason the threat has targeted her in the first place. But as Georgia Weller and her two small girls fight to stay alive, the former FBI agent is faced with the same choice that took his partner’s life all those years ago: catch the killer or save the woman he’s always loved.
I’m going to find her, Special Agent Marsten. When you least expect it, I’m going to take her from you. The same way you took everything away from me.
He should’ve answered the damn call. The bastard’s echoing promise pushed Blackhawk Security search and rescue operative Holden Marsten to jog up the dirt driveway of the cottage-style house set off the main road. The voicemail had hit his phone thirteen hours ago after he’d ignored the blocked incoming call, but once he’d taken the time to listen, it’d put him on the first plane to Northfield, Minnesota he could get.
Gravel crunched under his polished shoes, his suit tightening around his chest and arms as he raced toward the front door. The son of a bitch couldn’t have found her already. Not possible.
She and the girls had done exactly as the Bureau had asked when he’d requested they be moved into witness protection before he’d resigned, when he feared he couldn’t protect them anymore. They’d disappeared, kept off the grid, changed their names, and relocated. Only now, she’d become the target. The old wood porch protested under his weight a split second before he twisted and rammed his shoulder into the glossy red door.
Wood splintered around the doorknob under force, and he rushed into darkness. “Georgia!”
He scanned the small front room, took in cast of moonlight across the pale wood flooring, the arrangement of couches and family photos over the fireplace mantel. His heart threatened to beat straight out of his chest the longer silence spread around him. Holden unholstered his Glock and raised it parallel to the floor, the weight familiar in his hands. He wasn’t too late. Couldn’t be too late. The steel warmed in his palms despite the ice settling in his veins as he moved deeper into the house. His shallow breaths filled the emptiness stretching out in front of him. “Faith! Hope!”
He’d done everything he could to keep them safe for more than two years. Hell, Holden hadn’t even known where to find them until twelve hours ago, thanks to Blackhawk Security’s resources and reach. Blackhawk provided top-of-the-line security measures, including cameras, body-heat sensors, motion detectors and more. Whatever the client needed, the firm delivered. Personal protection, investigating, logistical support to the US government, personal recovery. They did it all, and as the newest member to the firm’s growing search and rescue division, Holden finally had the opportunity and the resources to make up for his mistake.
He hadn’t wanted to take the chance of having their location pried from him or to dig up the past for Georgia’s sake, but he couldn’t stay away any longer. There was no way the bastard who’d killed his partner had gotten here before Holden had, but the dread pooling at the base of his spine wouldn’t let up. Jack—his former partner, Georgia’s husband—had taught her and the girls what they needed to know to survive any situation before he’d died. Holden had to believe that, had to believe they’d received at least one of his dozens of messages and voicemails and gotten the hell out of dodge.
A thump registered from the floor above, and he automatically turned toward the stairs leading to the second floor of the house. Cold worked through him.
Someone was in the house.
He took each step slowly, listening for any other signs of movement, but the only sound came from the frantic beat of his heart thudding behind his ears. Shadows shifted across the walls as he hit the second floor.
“Take another step, and I’ll put a bullet straight through your heart.” That voice. Her voice. It came from behind, tunneling straight through the barriers he’d hidden behind to convince himself that sound wasn’t as perfect as he remembered. Even with the threat of violence. “The police are already on their way.”
Holden raised his hands in surrender, the barrel of his weapon pointing straight at the ceiling. He turned slowly. Moonlight pierced through a window above the stairs, highlighting every inch of the woman he’d fought to forget. All that soft, shoulder-length blonde hair, the small birthmark above her upper lip, the sharp angles of her high cheekbones and column of her throat. Hell, she was an angel sent to torment and destroy him, and she’d damn near come close. Too many times. “Georgia.”
“Holden?” His name rushed from her lips on a strong exhale, and she dropped the gun to her side. She ran one hand through the mess of tangled waves cascading over her shoulders. She closed the distance between them, and every cell in his body raised in awareness. Her light vanilla scent threatened to distract him from his reason for coming within a hundred miles of her, Faith, and Hope, but he couldn’t let her get in his head. Not this time. “How did you… What are you doing here?”
“Georgia, listen to me. I don’t have a lot of time to explain.” Holstering his weapon, he clamped both hands on her upper arms, and a rush of gut-wrenching familiarity flooded through him. Lean muscle flexed under his touch as she flinched at the contact, but he couldn’t give it much attention. Not until he knew they were safe. “You’re in danger. You and the girls need to come with me—”
A gunshot exploded.
Pain tore across the top of his shoulder as Holden twisted around, gun raised. Georgia’s scream pierced through the ringing in his ears. Pushing her behind him, he positioned himself between her and the gunman as the dark outline lunged from the darkness. A wall of muscle slammed him backward into the bannister. Air rushed from his lungs as wood cracked under his weight. A hard right hook threw him off balance and forced his eyes to water. Holden hauled his knee into his attacker’s gut and slammed clasped hands down onto the base of the shooter’s neck.
Georgia. Where was Georgia? He scanned the hallway, his throat burning, but there was no sign of her. Had she already gotten the girls and escaped?
Faster than he thought possible, the son of a bitch who’d shot at him locked his arms behind Holden’s calves and launched him over the edge of the bannister. Holden reached out for something—anything—to help break his fall, but it was too late. The stairs blurred in his vision before sickening pain arced through his back and down his legs as he hit the landing below. His lungs froze, paralyzed. He couldn’t think. Couldn’t breathe. Blackness closed in around the edges of his vision, only the vibration of heavy footsteps breaking through the nauseating agony tearing through him.
“I told you I’d find her, Agent Marsten.” The masked outline of his attacker crouched over him. “And now it’s time to keep my promise.”
His fingers tingled for his weapon as the bastard pried it from his hand, and Holden slipped into unconsciousness.
She couldn’t go back.
Georgia Weller clutched Faith’s hand and tightened her hold on Hope pressed against her chest. Knee-high grass threatened to trip her up, but she’d mapped out this escape route thousands of times in her head. She knew every dip in the ground, every fallen tree in her path. Her eyes burned, the image of Holden physically entangled with the man who’d broken into her home fresh. He’d come through Hope’s room. What would’ve happened if the girls hadn’t been sleeping in Georgia’s bed? Would she have gotten to them in time? Didn’t matter. She had to keep going. Had to get them to safety. Had to get as far from the house as she could.
“Almost there, baby. We can make it. We’re almost there. Just a little farther, okay?” She fought to keep the panic out of her voice. Faith’s legs tried to keep up, but her five-year-old was slowing with every step. Two years. No one should’ve known they were here. No one should’ve been able to find them. Least of all Holden Marsten. He’d left them behind when she and the girls had needed him the most, sworn cutting ties would be for the best. But all he’d done is rip another piece of her world apart.
“Mommy, my legs hurt!” Faith’s high-pitched sobs pierced through the hard throb of her heart behind her ears. Her five and three-year-old girls had already been through so much. Burying their father, moving to an entirely new house in a strange city, finding a new normal without Jack, and now running from all of that in the middle of the night. How much more could she possibly ask of them before the trauma caught up? She’d done everything she could to stay strong for them since relocating to Northfield, to give them a mother they deserved, but she hadn’t accounted for Holden showing up in the middle of the night or for someone to take a shot at her. Now, Georgia felt herself sliding closer to the dark edge she’d struggled so hard to overcome once again, and it was too much.
“We’ve got to stay quiet, baby.” She maneuvered them behind one of the large oak trees lining the back of their property to give Faith a chance to catch her breath. Through these woods, they’d be able to reach the neighbor’s barn where Georgia had gotten permission to store an extra vehicle with three overnight bags, a handful of cash, and food that’d last them at least a week.
“Rest for a minute.” Setting Hope onto her feet, she twisted her head back over her shoulder, her heels sinking deep into the soft dirt as she crouched to hide her daughters as best as she could. Sweat built along her hairline, her lungs trying to catch up with the sudden burst of exertion. She swiped tendrils of hair from her forehead with the back of her hand. She’d grabbed the girls from her bed and escaped through the side door of the garage, but from here, she could’ve sworn the back door leading onto their small deck was wide open. Every cell in her body prickled in warning. She still had the gun, the one Jack had given her for protection before he’d died, but she’d never shot anyone before. She hadn’t even gotten the chance to take it to the range in over a year. They had to keep moving. She pulled a sleepy-eyed Hope back into her arms and pushed to her feet. “Time to go.”
“Mommy, I don’t want to run anymore.” Faith’s blonde ponytail caught on the bark of the tree behind her as she stomped one foot.
“You’ve done this before, Faith. We’ve practiced dozens of time. I know you can make it.” Georgia didn’t wait for a response, sliding her hand into Faith’s and tugging her deeper into the woods. One step. Two. A hint of spice and sweat triggered her instincts, and she froze.
“My, my, my. Special Agent Marsten has certainly been holding out on me.” A shadowed figure moved into their path from behind a grouping of trees, and Georgia’s ankle wobbled on a root as she took a step back. A ski mask hid the man’s features but recognition flared at the sound of that voice. This was the intruder who’d taken a shot at them, the one who’d attacked Holden. But did that mean… Dread pooled at the base of her spine. Where was Holden? The outline of a gun registered in his hand as he advanced on them, drawing Georgia’s attention to his side. “How on earth did he ever get the idea of leaving a beautiful thing like you unprotected?”
“Mommy?” Faith’s small hands clasped Georgia’s as they slowly retreated, but there wasn’t anywhere for them to run. She knew the lay of the area better than anyone who’d lived here their entire lives, but the man closing in was obviously faster, stronger, more dangerous.
“It’s okay, baby. I’ve got you.” Her awareness drifted to the gun wedged between her pencil skirt and her low back. Bending at the knees, she set Hope on her feet and positioned herself in front of her girls. Could she get to the gun before he pulled the trigger? She slid her fingers along the side of Hope’s head, closing the distance between her hand and the gun at the small of her back. She was a therapist, specializing in trauma and PTSD therapy. She wasn’t trained for this, but Georgia would do whatever it took to protect what was left of her family. Wrapping her fingers around the gun’s grip, she drew the weapon and took aim as fast as she could, bracing her feet apart for balance. “The police are already on their way. So I suggest you get off my property before I exercise my second amendment rights.”
A low, evil laugh carried to her on the slight hint of breeze, and goosebumps prickled on the back of her neck. “You’re brave, Georgia. I like that, but bravery won’t save you. No one is.”
The gunman raised his weapon. And fired.