Manhunt (Love Inspired Suspense)

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9780373446537: Manhunt (Love Inspired Suspense)
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CHASING JUSTICE 

A daring escape by a dangerous fugitive puts US marshals Eric Hanning's and Hailey Shelder's careers and lives on the line. With the criminal vowing revenge, Eric feels duty-bound to protect his risk-taking partner. He doesn't agree with her methods, but he's drawn to the single mom who wants to prove she can make it in a demanding job. When her daughter is almost kidnapped, Eric and Hailey go from uneasy partners to a true team. But with floodwaters threatening the town and a killer on the loose, can their newfound trust survive the final showdown that awaits them?

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About the Author:

A British ex-pat, Lisa loves high-stakes stories of mayhem and disaster where you can find made-for-each-other love that always ends in happily ever after. Lisa leads worship with her husband at their church. They have two kids and an all-black Airedale.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The shackled man in the orange jumpsuit sat between US Marshal Hailey Shelder and her new partner. The SUV rumbled down the dark highway at two in the morning while rain pounded on the windshield. It had been raining for days, a torrent that left ranches and farms waterlogged and roadways covered with a sheet of water.

Hailey tapped her foot. The excess adrenaline of a prisoner transfer coursed white-hot in her veins, leaving her wide awake. But all she was doing was sitting in the backseat waiting for...nothing would be great. No activity at all. Just the routine movement of prisoner to airplane, and then they could go home.

Hailey should have been dead asleep in a food coma after her evening watching back-to-back cartoon movies with Kerry that they'd both seen a million times already—not to mention all that popcorn. But she wasn't going to skip her Friday night movie date with her twelve-year-old daughter, not even for a middle-of-the-night fugitive transfer. And definitely not when her ex-husband had Kerry every other weekend.

Half an hour out of town, the SUV pulled into the tiny airfield they used for covert, nighttime prisoner transfers. It was an out-of-the-way airport usually used for scenic tours of central Oregon—tours that strategically circled around the valley where the federal penitentiary was located. The airport was only two buildings and the runway, which was enough for them to make use of. The Marshals Service didn't need the audience a bigger airport would give them.

"I can't believe it's still pouring." Hailey's new partner, Eric Hanning, leaned forward to look around the fugitive. "What is with this state? Is it ever going to stop raining?"

Hailey couldn't stop the little flip of her heart every time he turned those blue eyes in her direction. Even though it was dark in the car, she could still picture them. She shrugged, as if his presence was all the same to her. Maybe if she pretended for long enough it would become true. Besides, it wasn't like they got along.

"Maybe in a week or two." Hailey didn't want him getting his hopes up that the weather would clear. The rainfall had exceeded record amounts days ago, but the Arizona transplant didn't know that.

She and Eric had butted heads at every available opportunity since he'd joined the team. His insistence on learning and then implementing every nuance of procedure was exhausting. At least the difference in their personalities served to defuse whatever attraction was there.

Office lore said Eric Hanning had been transferred from WITSEC. It must have been hard for him to go from something that cushy to a fugitive apprehension task force. But she wasn't going to cut him any slack—that wasn't how their world worked.

Hailey was the only woman on the eight-man team, and she was finally not the rookie anymore. Eric Hanning might shape up to be useless as a field marshal, but he was at least good for getting her out of the lowest spot.

Truthfully, Eric was so good-looking she could barely form sentences when his attention was on her—but she was trying to beat that, because those feelings had gotten her in trouble before. It didn't mean he was anything special, just that God had chosen to give him a face that could've been in movies.

And while Eric was probably a perfectly nice guy, Hailey was done with romantic relationships. Her ex-husband had soured her on even the idea of getting back into all that.

Deputy Marshal Jackson Parker, her coworker and tonight's driver, wound the vehicle between the office and the hangar. Yellow floodlights illuminated the corrugated walls of the building on her side. The prisoner shifted, and Hailey whipped her head back around to look at him. The last thing she wanted was any funny business. This needed to go smooth and easy, because she had every intention of getting home in time for Saturday-morning waffles.

Deputy Marshal Wyatt Ames sat in the front passenger seat. Both he and Parker were big guys, and it was squished enough in the backseat with the fugitive in the middle of Hailey and Eric.

The fugitive didn't move again. The shackles on his wrists and ankles didn't afford him much reach, but he'd still be able to do some damage in such close quarters. And Steve Farrell was notorious for the damage he could do.

His rap sheet was a lengthy list that included assault and murder, and he'd been found in possession of drugs and a stash of deadly weapons big enough to start a coup. He didn't discriminate either. Men, women and children had been left in his wake. In her estimation, he was about a millimeter south of pure scum, but soon he would be off to his permanent stay in the California federal prison system.

Visibility outside was six feet, barely. But a jet on the runway would have been unmistakable. Hailey craned her neck and looked out each of the windows. "It's not here."

Eric lifted his watch so she could see the display. Who even wore a watch these days? Not that she could have gotten to her phone right now with all the gear she had on and the rifle she was holding. The illuminated screen on Eric's watch read 2:07 a.m., so they had another eight minutes until the plane was due.

Eric said, "I'm ready to get this done and get home."

Ames turned back to them from the front passenger seat. "Prisoner transfer cutting into your beauty sleep?"

Parker and Ames both laughed, though their humor had an edge to it, which wasn't surprising. None of them would totally relax until the prisoner was safely on the plane and out of their custody. Hailey didn't react. She knew what it felt like to be on the receiving end of their razzing.

Parker left the engine running and they waited. Five minutes later the radio on the dash crackled to life and the plane's pilot radioed in that they were two minutes out. Hailey heard the transmission echo in her earpiece.

Parker confirmed they were in place and ready. After he said, "Over," he nodded to Ames, who called the office on his cell phone and confirmed they were ready to begin the transfer.

Ames hung up the phone. "Green light."

"Let's get this show on the road." Parker accepted his rifle from Ames, who'd been holding both weapons.

"Seriously, that's the best you can come up with?" Ames asked. "'Let's get this show on the road?'"

Parker sneered. "Excuse me if my mental faculties are otherwise occupied."

"Yeah, it must be tough to have to concentrate on walking the orange jumpsuit from here, to down there." Ames pointed down the runway.

"Let's just go, okay?" Eric was apparently determined to be the voice of reason, but Hailey didn't mind.

She said, "Agreed. If we're going to get drenched anyway, then I'd rather get out now and get on with this."

Parker turned to them, his eyes on the prisoner. "Let's move."

They climbed out and walked to the runway as the four corners of a square, with Steve Farrell in the center. The downpour drowned out all sound except rain hitting the concrete and her jacket. In the distance, the airplane's lights came into view, high in the sky.

Rain poured off the sides of her helmet as Hailey scanned the area, keeping her senses open in case Farrell tried something. Her clothes had gained fifteen pounds of water that penetrated through to the tank top underneath. Even her socks were wet in her boots. When she took off her helmet later, her hair was going to be a giant red fuzz ball.

Out here in the middle of the night Hailey wasn't an individual, but part of a team made of four marshals guarding one fugitive. They had to get the man onto the airplane, and nothing else mattered beyond that, their most important objective. Any help they could call in was half an hour away.

"Go!" On Parker's command they speed-walked the prisoner to the runway. There was no hanging around. This wasn't about any of them. Except in the case of a debilitating injury, each marshal just had to do his or her job. It was a far cry from WITSEC, but getting his cover blown as an inspector for witness protection—by a reporter, no less...well, that hadn't been in the plan either.

Two months now. Two months of his life being upside down. Two months of fugitive apprehension and prisoner transfers. Two months on a team with Hailey Shelder.

He'd denounced romantic relationships altogether after his fiancée had been paralyzed. Because while Eric would have stayed with Sarah forever, she'd pushed him away and refused to believe he still loved her. He'd tried to get her to listen, but eventually he'd been forced to face the fact she didn't want him anymore.

Eric risked a glance across the huddle as they strode to the plane. Hailey was all business, just one of the guys, dressed in the same bulky outfit they all wore. Her gun wasn't even trembling, not like the tiny shift of his. Wasn't she scared? His whole body was shaking, but if asked he'd have claimed it was the rain and the cold. Oregon seasons were killer to a guy who'd lived in Phoenix almost his whole adult life.

Parker yelled, "Let's go! Pick it up!"

They had to get Farrell on that plane.

Eric's earpiece crackled. A voice came on, male. The man instructed the pilot there was a problem and he shouldn't land. The wording was precise, using a code they only employed when there was an imminent threat.

The team shifted. The only one who didn't falter was Parker. "Hold."

The pilot radioed back. "Confirmed." The plane banked left and circled around, flying away from them.

"Huddle up." On Parker's order, they closed in and turned outward. Anyone who approached would have to face one of them, no matter what direction they were coming from.

Ames said, "What's going on? Who was that?" Parker, the former SEAL, shouted over the pounding rain. "We're going back to the vehicle. On my—"

Something bright cut through the darkness, barreling through the air from the tree line. Their SUV exploded.

Eric choked on his gasp. He could see Hailey was itching to run. The fugitive, Farrell, began to laugh.

They were cut off until someone could get there to assist them.

Eric scanned the darkness, but he saw nothing. Even with the light of the SUV engulfed in flames, there was no sign of the threat in the deluge of rain.

The fugitive bobbed from one foot to the other. His orange jumpsuit was drenched and his bulletproof vest was dripping, but he was still a beacon in the night. Someone out there had their eyes on the target. Whoever it was didn't want Farrell on that plane. But were they here to kill him, or help him escape?

A canister hit Eric's foot, and gas began to pour out in a cloud of smoke. "Gas!" Eric called out the warning, but they couldn't get to masks they didn't have. They couldn't even move from their positions.

Two more canisters were tossed at the edges of their huddle and more smoke chugged out of them. The cloud cut off what visibility they'd had and Eric's lungs protested the noxious smell of tear gas. How long could he hold his breath? Hailey coughed, and then Ames did, too. Parker looked like he was still breathing normally. What did they do to SEALs in their training?

Then there was nothing but smoke.

Parker yelled, "Hold!"

Deputy Marshal Ames hit the floor.

Something slammed into Eric's neck. It felt like a tiny rock. He tried to suck in a breath, but the floor swept up and hit him. Gunshots. Parker and Hailey both fell, too.

Eric touched the side of his neck and pulled his gloved hand back, but there was no blood. He could barely breathe. It felt like the time he'd been winded playing paintball. The bruise had been on his sternum for weeks.

Beanbag rounds?

Booted feet crowded around them. He tried to move. The team was all down and the fugitive was laughing full out now, a sickening sound.

Steve Farrell stepped on Eric's stomach on the way over his body. Still laughing, he walked away. Their assailants looked like a swarm of cockroaches to Eric's blurred vision. He wiped away the tears streaming down his face—a product of the gas—and tried to focus.

The assault team was going to disappear into the darkness with an escaped fugitive.

Eric grasped about for his weapon, grabbed it and managed to aim at the man in orange.

One of his teammates fired.

Eric fired, too.

TWO

Just after nine on Friday morning, almost a week after Steve Farrell's escape, Hailey slumped into the back row of the briefing room beside Eric and handed him his coffee. The whiteboard at the front of the room was covered with pictures of Farrell, showcasing his life of crime over the last few years, along with his known associates. Beside it was a map marked with sightings of Farrell that had been called in to the tip line.

No one knew who had helped Farrell escape.

Jonah Rivers, their supervisor and the fugitive apprehension task force team lead, stood at the front of the room. They had another boss, Marshal Wilson Turner, an old-school marshal who oversaw the whole office, but Jonah was the hands-on man.

Jonah stood with his feet hip-width apart and his arms folded. "The blood found on the runway was sent off for testing. We still don't know who hit who, given both Marshal Shelder and Marshal Hanning fired their weapons."

Hailey's cheeks heated. Lying on the ground, thinking she'd been shot in the helmet, she'd realized she was unhurt and tried to do something to help the situation.

Beanbag rounds. Like suddenly it was important for them not to hurt anyone.

And apparently Eric had managed the same thing, because they'd both fired.

Too bad all she'd done was wing someone as they ran away. If she'd even hit the person at all. It could just as easily have been Eric.

Eric shifted beside her. She glanced over at his notebook, where he dutifully recorded everything Jonah was saying. He scratched above his ear with the lid of his pen. Maybe he wouldn't turn out like the rest of them. He did seem more studious than the rough-edged marshals in the room. That could be a good thing.

Eric shifted and pulled out his phone. The display said Aaron. He stopped the vibrating and slid the phone back in his pocket.

"Who was that?" Eric looked up. "Huh?"

"The phone. Who's Aaron?"

"Oh, he's my brother."

Hailey studied Eric. There was no way that was all it had been. She knew for a fact her partner was keeping secrets, but for now, she'd let him be evasive. She couldn't imagine what it would be like to give up everything you had built, and move to a completely new city and start over. Still, WITSEC? That had to have been cool.

Her life had fallen apart in a different way when her marriage ended. She'd been tempted to get herself a new life, but around that time Kerry had been starting school and her dad's construction business was slowing down. Now he only took the odd handyman job to stay busy. It was just how things had worked out, but it meant Hailey had spent her whole life in this one county.

The marshal in front of Hailey raised his hand and said,

"What about the rain?"

Jonah nodded. "They're expecting localized...

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