In Safe Hands
Search & Rescue #4
October 4, 2016
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But one wrong move ended their future before it could begin.
Now he'll do whatever it takes to keep her safe,
Even if that means turning against one of his own.
As a member of the Field County Sheriff's Department, Chris Jennings is used to having it rough. The Colorado Rockies aren't for the weak-of-spirit, but he's devoted his life to upholding the law—and to protecting the one woman he knows he can never have. He'll do whatever it takes to keep her safe.
Daisy Little has lived in agoraphobic terror for over eight years. Trapped within a prison of her own making, she watches time pass through her bedroom window. Daisy knows she'll never be a part of the world...until the day she becomes the sole witness of a terrible crime that may finally tear the Search & Rescue brotherhood apart for good.
Daisy woke with a start.
Her heart was pounding, but she hadn’t had a nightmare—that she could remember, at least. Lying perfectly still, staring through the darkness, Daisy listened. It was quiet. So quiet, in fact, that it was almost eerie. Her heart rate took off at a gallop again, and she slid out of bed. Glancing at the glowing clock numbers, she sighed. She hadn’t even been asleep for an hour. Tomorrow was going to be painful.
Her bare feet were silent as she padded toward the window, listening for a repeat of whatever sound had woken her. There was nothing, though. Even the wind had taken a short, rare hiatus. It was strange not hearing the howling gusts battering at the house. Daisy had become so accustomed to that sound that the absence of it made her feel like the world was holding its breath.
With one knee on the window seat, she leaned forward and looked outside. Fog spread over the neighborhood, hiding all but the most basic shapes of the houses across the street. With a shiver, she moved away from the window. Trying to guess what might be out there, hiding in the mist, would only make her nerves worse.
She stood in the middle of her bedroom. If she tried to go back to bed, she’d just lie awake and jump at every faint sound. There’d be no way she could concentrate on a book, either, so reading was out. A run it was, then.
After turning on her bedside lamp, she moved over to her dresser and picked out a sports bra and some shorts. As she started pulling the oversized sleep shirt over her head, a muffled thump from downstairs made her freeze.
The fabric was still bunched around her face, blinding her, and she yanked it back into place. If she was going to be investigating mysterious noises, she wasn’t about to do it almost naked.
I imagined it, she tried to reassure her frantic brain. No one is downstairs. The windows are sealed shut, and the door has a bazillion locks on it. There’s no way someone could be downstairs. If someone’s here, then that means this house isn’t safe, and that means… The floor tilted, and she swayed as her room began to gray around the edges.
“Stop!” she whispered fiercely. It wouldn’t help anything if she talked herself into a panic attack. She started to move toward her bedside table, where her phone sat, but then she paused. Who would she call? Chris, to tell him she might have heard a noise? The sheriff? Daisy actually snorted out loud, imagining Rob Coughlin’s reaction.
Before she called in reinforcements, she needed to make sure there really had been a noise, and that the noise had been caused by something dangerous. Tentatively, Daisy moved toward the hall, stopping in the doorway to try to peer through the darkness. All she saw were shadows.
Her heart tripped faster as she made her way to the stairs, carefully lowering her weight on each step so as not to make a noise. At the bottom, the doorway into the exercise room loomed. This was her sanctuary, her safe place. Tonight, though, it didn’t feel safe.
Forcing herself to move, she pushed open the exercise room door and stopped abruptly. The windowless space wasn’t shadowed and dim like the hall and the stairs—it was pure blackness.
Cursing herself for not grabbing the flashlight out of her nightstand, she reached along the wall and switched on the lights. The overheads blinded her for a few seconds, turning the exercise equipment into strange, overexposed shapes. Daisy blinked rapidly, twisting so she could see all corners, and the room came into focus. Her gaze darted around, searching for anything out of place—or anyone, full stop. Everything looked as it always did, but something made the room seem wrong. The equipment was too still, too quiet, and the light too bright, casting harsh shadows. She’d always loved this room, and its unexpected eeriness felt like the betrayal of a close friend.
Giving in to the growing urge to escape, she returned to the hall. As she checked each area, she continued turning on lights—the study, living room, dining room, and kitchen. With each flick of a switch, she held her breath until the new room came into focus and proved to be intruder-free. Every window was secured, and the front door locks were fully engaged. Despite all that, Daisy couldn’t relax. The house, this home in which she’d spent so many years, was suddenly a hostile stranger.
Trying to rein in her runaway imagination, she returned to the kitchen. The house was an inanimate building, she reminded herself firmly. Any emotions she felt from it came from her own mind. She leaned against the counter, suddenly and completely exhausted as the adrenaline started to leave her system. The sound hadn’t been an intruder. It could’ve come from outside or from her stressed, overtired brain. As soon as that thought occurred to her, she pushed it away, not willing to accept that she was hearing sounds that weren’t there.
Despite the limp-noodle state of her limbs, she knew sleep would be elusive. Instead of doing her planned run, she headed for the bathroom and skipped straight to the post-workout shower. The water was almost painfully hot as it needled her scalp. Tilting her head back, Daisy closed her eyes and tried to let all the residual fear run down the drain.
When she’s not writing, KATIE RUGGLE rides horses, shoots guns, and travels to warm places where she can SCUBA dive. Graduating from the Police Academy, Katie received her ice-rescue certification and can attest that the reservoirs in the Colorado Mountains really are that cold. While she still misses her off-the-grid, solar- and wind-powered house in the Rocky Mountains, she now lives in Rochester, Minnesota near her family.
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