Shield of Refuge (In the Line of Fire, Book 3) (Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense #125)

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9780373443154: Shield of Refuge (In the Line of Fire, Book 3) (Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense #125)

No on saw the kidnapping—but her.

Except...there's no evidence the crime ever happened.

Officer Garrett Matthews is assigned to keep the "eyewitness," Amber Scott, out of trouble. Like his colleagues, he doesn't believe her claim. Yet when he notices a mysterious car tailing the beautiful party planner, he starts to suspect Amber's story is true. Soon Garrett finds himself getting dangerously close to the sweet lady who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. And protecting her becomes more than just a job—it's now a matter of life and death.

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Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Amber Scott rushed into the Victorian Inn with the bottom tier of the anniversary cake. The other layers and tools were already inside and prepped for assembly. She only had a few minutes to put this cake together and get the other one to her friend's wedding shower across town.

Thanks to her assistant going home sick midafter-noon, Amber was running behind on everything. She'd had several last-minute customers looking for just the right costume for the harvest party at the senior center. Her grandmother's friends were thrilled with the changes Amber had made to Nana's bakery and with her determination to keep the business alive.

She squeezed the bag of icing, piping the finishing touches to the bottom layer, then placed the six-inch heart layer on top of the base cake and piped a reverse-scroll design to cover the seam between the two cakes. After a final inspection, Amber left the invoice with the headwaiter and rushed out to her van.

A white car with a portable police beacon on top— like those she'd seen on reruns of T.V. cop shows—had pulled up behind the parked cars. The odd thing was, the beacon wasn't lit.

In a hurry to get to her friend's wedding shower, Amber pressed the sliding-door opener on the key fob, set her decorating kit into the gap, and rearranged the boxes of supplies and favors so the shower cake wouldn't slide around and get damaged.

After a quick study of the officer's haphazard parking job, Amber determined it was parked too close for her to back out. Her breathing quickened as she thought of asking him to move a little.

She didn't like cops.

Just wait patiently until he's gone.

She grabbed the gift bag for the shower and set it on the passenger's seat and glanced at the policeman as he talked to the driver of a yellow SUV. He nodded toward his car, then grabbed the car door and yanked it open.

Amber felt a sudden chill.

The cop pulled the driver out of the vehicle. She looked young and pretty... and vulnerable.

Amber heard the woman protest, though she wasn't exactly sure what she'd said. Watching the confrontation through the tinted windows, Amber wondered if the two knew each other.

The officer looked as if he was whispering in her ear, and Amber began to believe it was true.

Suddenly he grabbed her arm and pulled her to the unmarked car and the woman struggled to get away. She was wearing athletic pants and one of those tight-fitting tops with a hood that she'd seen the volleyball players wear into the shop. The door of the yellow SUV stood wide open.

Amber's heart raced as the officer struggled to get the cuffs on the girl. She jumped into the driver's seat, closed and locked the doors, trying to avoid bringing any attention to herself.

She searched for her cell phone. Not finding it on the console, she reached for her purse, hoping she'd dropped it in there. Her eyes darted nervously from the purse to the confrontation outside.

They must know each other. If not, why wasn't she yelling? Or running? Something was wrong.

The girl freed one arm and took a swing at him. He lunged back, and the two rolled against the car as he fought to pull her other arm back into the cuffs. The struggle untucked his uniform shirt and the fabric billowed in the cold breeze. She screamed, and he snapped his hand over her mouth, pressing something into the small of her back. The handcuffed woman arched her back, then went limp. He gave her a final shove into the car, pushed her feet inside and closed the door. He hurried to the other side, stumbling at the trunk.

Amber was stunned. Was he a real officer? She tried to ward away the sick feeling in her stomach. If he was a real officer, she would be crazy to confront him. Not with her past. She had just put her problems behind her. She didn't need to dig up trouble now.

While history told her to mind her own business, the new faith she'd found in God told her this wasn't what it looked like. God, what should I do?

She quickly replayed the incident in her mind. She realized she'd never seen an officer cover someone's mouth. He was crazy to use a bare hand. His uniform looked like those on the costume racks in her shop: baggy enough to fit any build, light, flimsy fabric to go over a coat or sweatshirt. And he didn't have a gun belt or radio, or any of the official-looking things Amber remembered from when police visited the dorms.

Her heart seemed to be following her racing brain, trying to keep pace. She was breathing fast. She looked over her shoulder as the police officer pulled the bubble light into the car and sped away.

Be with that girl, God. Protect her....

After several encounters with the police in her freshman year, she really didn't like talking to the police. She had to call. But what would she say? If it was police brutality, would they even believe her, or would they accuse her of false reporting? Were the underage drinking charges, fake ID and running from the police still on her record?

Just call, before it's too late, she told herself. She found her phone, dialed 911 and pressed the send button before she chickened out again.

I can't let this happen. I can stop him from hurting her.

She backed out of the diagonal parking space trying to juggle her phone and shift gears, hoping she could find the car and help the woman. She glanced around. Not seeing it, she pressed the speaker phone.

"911 operator, what's your emergency?"

"I'm outside the Victorian Inn just off the University Campus. I just saw a police officer push a woman into an unmarked car. Only I don't think he's really an officer."

The woman didn't respond, and Amber wondered if they'd been disconnected. "Did you hear me?"

"Yes, I'm sending an officer to check it out," the woman said, slightly rattled. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. I don't think he saw me."

Her mind was playing games with her. Like the e-mail she'd received this afternoon with the geometric designs. The designs had been spinning like a pinwheel in a tornado, which was supposedly a sign of intense stress. The design hadn't been moving at all.

She had blown off the psychological analysis of the e-mail as nothing more than an optical illusion.

Now here she was witnessing a crime and calling the cops. Seeing a police officer pushing a woman into an unmarked car just wasn't right. The police were going to think she'd lost her mind. Right now, she would agree.

She started to hang up, then thought again about the girl.

Of course she was right to call the police. She'd already missed her chance to stop the assault. Maybe it wasn't too late....

"What is your current location?" The operator pulled Amber's attention back to the bizarre events that she'd just witnessed.

"I'm at—" she had to rethink her delivery instructions "—The Victorian Inn is on University and... Elm. I delivered a cake there," she started to explain before realizing that wasn't important. "The crime happened there, now the car is a few blocks ahead of me. He turned on Maple." She pressed on the gas. "When I came out... of the inn, I mean... I heard a man ordering a young woman to get out of her car. They struggled, and then she just went limp and he stuffed her into the backseat and took off."

"Your name?"

"Amber..." Her past mistakes haunted her. It was too late to back away now. She took off after the car. "Did you hear what I said?"

"Yes, Amber, I'm sending officers to talk to you."

"He's turned again. He's heading north on... just a minute, here comes a street sign."

"He's moving?" the operator squeaked, forcing calm to her voice. "Are you following him?"

"Yes, I told you, he drove away, with the girl..." Amber said, struggling with whether to speed up and catch them, or keep her distance. If she caught up to them, what then?

"Amber, did you get a license number before he took off?"

She pressed the gas. "Other than it was from here in Colorado, no, but I could catch up to him. Are you saying he really wasn't an officer?"

"We're still trying to determine that. I've dispatched any available units. Give me your current location, then pull to the side of the road and stop."

"He just turned left on... Cherry Pit Avenue."

Amber had already entered the intersection. She slowed down to make the turn. "Where'd he go?"

She glanced right and left searching for him. Sirens warbled from all directions. They'd probably scared him. Where could he have disappeared to in a residential area like this? She searched for open garages or alleys where he could have hidden.

The sirens were getting louder. She looked up just in time to see a silver vehicle cross in front of her. She slammed on the brakes and straightened her arms, pressing her hands into the steering wheel as she heard the crunch and scrape of her van hitting the back fender.

The SUV spun in slow motion, police lights flashing, sirens screeching. Then the silver vehicle tipped up on two wheels, flipped over to its roof and twirled like a top.

Amber screamed as her van fishtailed before coming to a stop at the opposite curb. "Oh, no.... I hit him! Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, please let him be okay. Let him be okay, please. Help! 911, send help, fast!"

The woman who had hit him jumped out of her van and ran toward his police cruiser. He smelled fumes, turned and saw gasoline flowing toward him.

Hanging upside down from the seatbelt, Garrett Matthews looked out the window to see a woman's legs in black tights and black suede fashion boots. She kicked the shards of glass aside with her boots, then dropped to the ground, a black-and-turquoise patterned dress floating over her knees.

"You've got to get out. There's gas gushing out all over," she said frantically.

He glanced at her, disoriented, then pressed the button on the mike. "Dispatch, Officer four-six-three involved in two-car rollover accident at intersection of—" he glanced around "—where are we?" he said to the woman.

"Just get out of there!" she yelled. "I'm still on with 911, they're sending help." She took a deep breath and coughed from the fumes. "Come on, we need to get you out."

...

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