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The Lawman's Honor by Linda Goodnight released on Feb 18, 2014 is available now for purchase.
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New York Times and USA Today Bestseller, Linda Goodnight is the winner of the RITA and other highly acclaimed awards for her emotional fiction. Active in orphan ministry, this former nurse and teacher enjoys writing fiction that carries a message of hope and light in a sometimes dark world. A country girl, she lives in Oklahoma. Readers may contact her through her website: www.lindagoodnight.comExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The rain had started a few miles back. On a moonless black night on an unfamiliar rural road, a man could easily get lost. Heath Monroe had a feeling he might have done exactly that.
He cast a cautious eye at the sky, at jagged streaks of lightning in approaching clouds. This section of the Ozarks was in for a storm. Hopefully, he could find the little town of Whisper Falls before the worst of it struck.
Heath was weary from the long drive, and his GPS had long ago stopped telling the truth. When he'd pulled off for gasoline at a tiny whistle-stop community no bigger than a convenience store and a handful of houses, he'd grabbed some junk food to hold him over. He'd eaten worse and certainly gone longer without healthy food. The friendly woman at the store assured him he was headed in the right direction.
"Keep going until you see the turnoff," she'd said. "It's kind of hard to see at night but there's a little green sign."
A muscle in his left shoulder had tightened and the pain now ran up the side of his neck. Heath exhaled through his lips, eager to find that road sign.
But it wasn't only the drive making him weary. He was soul weary, the only reason he could think of for his sudden decision to exchange a job he'd loved for work in a small Ozark town. He was tired of the constant travel, the short-circuited relationships that were over before they had a chance, and worst of all, the feeling that he was trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon.
And yet, he was driven to keep fighting. His father had taught him that. Never give up. Right the wrongs. Fight the fight. He was an army of one. One man could change the world.
Heath took a hand from the wheel to touch the badge in his pants pocket. His father's life mattered and Heath aimed to carry the torch. Had carried it for a lot of years. The new assignment was different but the overriding mission remained the same.
Thunder rumbled in the distance.
"Couldn't be too much farther." He'd give Mom and Holt a call as soon as he hit town. They'd both be worried, his brother as much as his mother. After all the places he'd been, the training he'd received and all his successful missions, Mom still feared he'd end up like his father.
He hoped she was wrong, but he couldn't count on it.
Cassie Blackwell hunched over the steering wheel and squinted through the rain-lashed windshield. Wind buffeted the dependable little Nissan as a clap of thunder vibrated through Cassie's bones. She shivered, though the heater pumped out plenty of clammy warmth. Her eyes burned from staring into the pitch-black night lit only by the pale wash of headlights and the frequent, unpredictable lightning.
In the last ten minutes, the storm had gotten progressively worse. Scary bad.
Like blue laser fingers, lightning suddenly splayed across the ominous clouds. As if the skies had opened, rain fell in sheets, loud and unnerving. The lightning was quickly sucked back into the swirling masses overhead, into a blackness so deep Cassie couldn't tell for sure where she was.
This looked bad. Real bad. Tornado season was upon them and though she was no meteorologist, she understood tornadic thunderstorms. Texans cut their teeth on tornados, and a half dozen years in the Ozarks couldn't erase a lifetime of experience.
Through the deluge, she spotted the car ahead. One lone vehicle other than hers crawled through the night, clinging to the curvy mountain roadway. It reminded Cassie of a commercial in which the tires had grown tiger claws to grip the pavement. Tonight her Nissan needed claws.
If a tornado fell out of those ominous clouds, she didn't know what she'd do. There was no ditch, no storm shelter, no houses for miles, other than her own still a dozen miles ahead.
Her eyes had started to burn from the strain of peering into the astonishing blackness. The air was sticky, a harbinger. Small hail ping-ponged off the hood and bounced in the headlights like popcorn on the blacktop. Her windshield wipers kept up a rhythmic whap-whap to battle the sluicing rain, a battle they couldn't win tonight.
She punched on the radio, hoping for weather reports. Static, intensified by sizzles of lightning, filled the car. She turned off the useless noise. Whatever the weather, she would have to ride it out.
Normally, Cassie loved thunderstorms. The clean smell, the invigorating wind, the sudden burst of cold wetness. Most of all she enjoyed the wild, showy side of nature, the power of an awesome God. She liked to sit on the ranch's front porch and watch the storms move over the mountains, to wrap in a blanket and sip a cup of hot tea and dream of the one and only time she and Darrell had gotten to do that very thing together. Before they married. Before he was gone.
Lightning flared in the sky for scant seconds. Cassie noticed the car again, its watery red taillights barely discernible through the deep black curtain of heavy rain. She watched the lights waver and then fishtail crazily as the driver lost control.
"Jesus!" Cassie cried, a prayer for the driver. The lightning disappeared as quickly as it had come. In the blackness, she didn't know if the car had righted itself or if even now, the driver plunged down an incline into the thick woods...or worse, into one of the canyons.
She dared not speed up, lest she, too, lose control. The road curved sharply ahead where she'd last seen the other vehicle. She crept forward, a prayer on her lips, her eyes wide and scratchy as she tried to make out the exact spot where she'd seen the driver lose control.
There. Cassie decelerated and tapped her brake. To her right and fifty feet down into a deep ravine she spotted the faint impression of light. Dread in her gut, heart racing, she pulled as far to the side of the road as possible and stopped. The rain still came in drenching torrents. Storm or not, she had to do something. Someone could be hurt.
Cell phones were great when they worked, which was rarely the case in remote areas like this one. In this storm she had serious doubts, but she quickly pressed 911 anyway. When nothing happened, she fired a text to her brother and another to Police Chief JoEtta Farnsworth in the nearest town, Whisper Falls. Maybe, just maybe, the text could get through the storm.
Then, she did what she had to do. Flashlight in hand, she leaped out into the wild, raging night and plunged down the brushy incline toward the accident.
In seconds she was drenched. Brush grabbed at her naked legs, ripping flesh. Of all the crummy times to wear a skirt. Slipping and sliding, Cassie stumbled once on a fallen tree her light hadn't picked up. A bolt of lightning, blue with fire, had her up and scurrying faster. Old leaves mushy with rain squished beneath her pretty new heels, a gift from her mother from only yesterday.
Through the noisy storm, she heard the rumble of a motor. The vehicle, which she now saw was a smaller SUV, was still running, the headlights eerie in the deep, tangled woods.
Cassie ran to the driver's side and pounded on the window. "Hello. Are you all right? Hello!"
A dark form slumped over the steering wheel. Shaking now, from both cold and anxiety, Cassie pulled at the back door. Locked. Frustrated, she banged on the driver's window.
"Wake up. Wake up." She prayed he wasn't dead. The last dead person she'd seen had been her husband.
Darrell's lifeless face flashed in her mental viewer. She shook her head to dispel the image.
Shivering, face dripping rain, hair plastered against her skull and vision skewed by the torrent, she shined the flashlight toward the ground, searching for anything to break out a window. Finding a thick branch, she heaved it against the back passenger glass. Nothing other than a jarred wrist for her efforts.
She hurried to the front of the car. The windshield had spider-webbed in the crash but hadn't given way. It was weak. She could possibly break through the glass, much as she disliked the idea of exposing the injured driver to a flood of rain. She started around the car to the passenger's side. Better to break the windshield out on the side farthest from the driver.
Behind her, the driver's door popped. In a burst of adrenaline, Cassie whirled toward the sound. The dark woods were eerie and she was alone. Her flashlight picked out a man's hand and wrist on the armrest. A watch glowed green in the darkness right before the arm fell, limp.
Cassie hurried to the door and pulled, but the door had opened as far as it could. Only a few inches. Her fingers fumbled around inside the door and found the locks, popping them.
"Thank You, Lord."
She yanked the back door open and crawled inside, shivering at the interior warmth and the sudden, wonderful cessation of rain. Rain dripped all over the nice leather interior, but that was the least of her worries.
She shook the broad shoulder in front of her. "Can you hear me?"
He mumbled something.
Cassie shined the flashlight at the side of his face and scrambled over the seat, leaving a trail of water.
The man's face turned slightly toward her. "What-?"
"Where are you hurt?"
He must be addled, concussed or...something. She owned a beauty salon. What did she know about injuries other than sunburn from too much time in the tanning beds?
"Do you think you can walk? I have my car up on the road. I can take you to a doctor." Dr. Ron, the only physician in Whisper Falls, was accustomed to being awakened in the night for emergencies.
He shook his head. "My leg."
What about his leg? Was it broken? Crushed? Were bones sticking out? The last, grizzly thought rattled her nerves but bones or not, she was his only help.
Using the flashlight, Cassie started at the top of his head and began a slow perusal of the driver. "I can't see that well, but let me check you over. I texted for help. I don't know if I had reception though. The storm."
He nodded, his jaw tight and lines of pain radiating from his lips all the way into the stretched cords of his neck. His was a manly face with wide, chiseled jawbones and deep-set eyes. She couldn't tell the color but she could see the pain and confusion. He was addled, no doubt about it.
She'd never been much for facial hair but his suited. A wisp of whiskers above his lip and on his chin. Just a little, just enough to make a woman notice. Not that she was noticing in a situation like this.
"Forgive the intrusion," she murmured, not sure if he heard or understood, but her vision was limited. His medium-length dark hair could easily conceal a wound. She had no choice but to touch him. "Are you bleeding anywhere?"
Her fingers scanned the back of his head, up and over to the forehead. There. A knot the size of a softball along his left temple. "You've hit your head."
She pulled her fingers back and shined the light on them. No blood. She breathed a sigh of relief. No blood suited her fine.
"My leg," he said again and attempted a slight shift in the seat.
Cassie aimed the light lower, searching in the dimness. "I can't see."
He reached above his head and snapped on the dome light. He wasn't as addled as she'd thought. She hadn't thought of that.
Cassie blinked against the brightness. "Thanks."
Or maybe he was. "You missed the curve and hit a tree." That was the short version.
"My leg. What happened?"
"I can't tell. I think it might be stuck. Can you move it at all?" Beneath the dash was a crumpled mess of metal and wires. She didn't want to think about his leg underneath that weight.
"Does it hurt?"
He paused as if having to think about the question. "I don't think so."
Strange answer. Either it did or it didn't.
She shined the light in his face. Glazed eyes barely blinked.
Okay, this was not good. The man had a head injury and couldn't get out of the car. And it was likely her text hadn't gone through.
Thunder rumbled. Rain kept up a steady swoosh. Flashes of lightning radiated through the night sky.
She did not want to make that trip back up to the road.
"Will you be all right while I go to my car and try to call again? I left my cell up there." Stupid decision but water and cell phones didn't mix. She should know. She'd knocked one into the shampoo bowl before and that had cost a pretty penny to replace. "With the storm moving on, I might be able to get through."
As Cassie pulled at the passenger door, an iron grip manacled her wrist. She whipped around. "What's your name?"
She stared down at his fingers. For a wounded man, he was strong! "I'm Cassie. What's yours?"
There again the hint that he was more injured than he let on.
"You've had an accident." Gently she wiggled her wrist but he held fast. "What's your name?"
Not a bad idea to know in case he went unconscious again before emergency help arrived. You could never tell about head injuries.
"Monroe." Did his voice sound slurred? "Heath Monroe."
It fit him. Masculine. Strong. She tugged against his powerful grip. "You can turn loose now." Slowly, he shook his head.
"Cassie." The way he said it sent a little tremor down her spine. He moistened his lips and swallowed. "Don't go."
His fingers went slack. Definitely addled.
"Hang tight, Heath, I'll be right back. Promise."
As good as her word, she was back in minutes. This time she'd tucked her cell phone inside a plastic shopping bag and brought it along. Just in case.
By the time she returned, he'd removed his seat belt and was rummaging in the console. The deployed air bag draped over his lap like an enormous melted marshmallow. Maybe that explained his confusion. An air bag packed a wallop.
She slammed the door, grateful to be inside again. The wet cold seeped into her bones.
"I made contact with my brother. He knows the area. He'll get help and bring them here."
The man's head dropped back against the headrest, eyes drifting closed. Whatever he'd been rummaging for was forgotten. He was still as pale as toothpaste. "Good."
"It could take a while. We're deep in the woods."
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