Authors: Tracey V. Bateman
“Shhh!” Raven glared at her sister and turned back to the television.
“There you have it, folks. In the political upset of the year, a candidate that polls favored by a three-to-one margin has withdrawn his name from the race for the senate with only six weeks left until the primary. Matthew Strong’s decision is final, based on personal reasons, which he apparently has no intention of revealing.”
With a sigh, Raven switched off the set. Tense silence reigned in the room and she knew her family was struggling not to ask the question. Finally, she could take the tension no more and she shot to her feet. “Okay, yes. It’s Matthew.”
Matthew?” Her father looked at her over half-glasses.
“Yes.” She rubbed her throbbing temple with the balls of her fingers in an attempt to ease the pressure.
. Regret for what might have been all those years ago shot through her. She hadn’t allowed herself second guesses. No regretting her decision. So why was her heart suddenly about to pound out of her chest?
Love Inspired Suspense
TRACEY V. BATEMAN
lives in Missouri with her husband and their four children. She writes full-time and is active in various roles in her home church. She has won several awards for her writing, and credits God’s grace and a limited number of entries for each win. To relax, she enjoys long talks with her husband, reading, music and hanging out with her kids, who can finally enjoy movies she likes. Tracey loves to encourage everyone to dream big. She believes she is living proof that, with God, nothing is impossible.
Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.
Lovingly dedicated to the memory of my dad,
Rodney Devine Sr., who passed away several
years ago. He always made me feel safe.
Also to the memory of my father-in-law,
George Bateman. I had no doubt that he loved me.
There is no one like this special man, except
perhaps his wonderful son, my husband.
And to my Abba. Father to the fatherless.
God in Heaven. Thank You for adopting
me into Your family.
Thank you for joining me for the third and final book in The Mahoney Sisters series. I never fail to marvel at the love of adoptive parents for their children. Chosen children. Children, who were born to one family, but planted firmly in another. Legally, they are given the same right to the surname and anything their parents have just as though they shared a bloodline.
This is exactly what Jesus does for us. His blood is like an adoption certificate, legally binding us into the family God. We were not God’s original family, but He chose us to become His children. What an awesome gift. We are heirs of salvation. Joint heirs with Jesus.
This is what Raven had to come to understand. That she was part of the Mahoney family just as surely as if she’d been born into Mac Mahoney’s bloodline. He took her as his daughter, raised her as his own, loved her as his own and gave her his name. She
his daughter. All she had to do was come to an understanding of how much Mac loved her. How often do we doubt that God really loves us, that He really wants good things for us? I pray that as you read this book, the “father” love of God spoke to your heart in a special way.
God bless you as you live, move and have your being in Him.
atthew Strong pulled his car into the wooded rest area of the forest reserve and watched a man approach wearing army surplus and tennis shoes. Even from ten feet away, Matthew noticed the grime on his hands. His stringy, greasy hair was held in place by a filthy bandana folded to look like an Indian headband. He sauntered, his shoulders moving with a cocky assurance that grated on Matthew’s nerves.
Fighting to contain his disgust, Matthew pressed the automatic unlock and the man slid onto the tan leather seat, his stench powerful enough to bring down a bear.
“This is the one and only time I’m going to do this,” Matthew said without a greeting. “So if you’re planning any kind of ongoing blackmail, you can forget it now.”
Ray Marx gave him a two-fingered salute as he tugged on the handle and slammed the door, closing them inside. His lips curled in a smug sneer that left Matthew fighting for control. “Really nice of you to meet me. Got a cigarette?”
Without bothering to respond to the ridiculous ques
tion, Matthew pulled an envelope from the pocket on the driver’s side door.
Silently, and for effect, he fingered the bulging manila envelope. Ray’s eyes followed every trail of his thumb in anticipation. His foot tapped in a nervous beat to no discernible rhythm. Anticipation of what? Drugs? More than likely. But Matthew couldn’t worry about that right now. Not when his child’s safety was at stake.
“I see eight years in prison didn’t do you much good. How long did it take to find a fix? An hour?”
“What are you, my parole officer?” Ray reached for the envelope, but Matthew snatched it back.
“We’re going to get a few things settled first.”
“I said all I got to say to you on the phone. Give me the money or I go to the papers. They might be interested in hearing about the daughter you stole from me.”
Anger burned in Matthew. He slid his hand inside his Armani jacket and produced a document. “Are you forgetting this?”
Ray’s eyes narrowed. “What is it?”
“You signed away your rights to her. Remember? The adoption is legal. No court in the country would revoke that. It’s all a matter of public record. I have nothing to hide.”
Matthew watched the drug dealer carefully. There was no emotion in his eyes other than greed and perhaps a trace of anger to see the truth in black and white.
He shrugged. “I was forced into signing.”
“We both know that’s a lie.”
“A lie? I’m truly hurt. And here I’ve been dreaming of the day I get out of prison so I can be a real daddy to my little daughter. Think of all the things I could teach her.”
Matthew clenched his fists to keep from dragging the clown out of his car and pummeling him to within an
inch of his life. But he knew that would do no one any good. Least of all Jamie, his eight-year-old daughter. “But that’s what this little envelope is all about, isn’t it? Your promise to go away and pretend you’ve never heard of my sister, let alone fathered her child.”
“And I thought it was just about a friend helping a friend.”
“Sure you did.”
“Well, if you’re not going to play nice, give me my money and I’ll leave you alone.”
“That’s what I intend to ensure before I hand over a dime.” Matthew narrowed his gaze and stared until Ray squirmed under the intensity. “Do not go near my sister. Is that clear?”
“Yeah, yeah. I got all I needed out of that one, anyway. Give me the cash and let me go.”
Matthew handed over the package.
With his filthy, grease-embedded hands, Ray deliberately opened the envelope and riffled through the cash. Pretending to count. Slow, sly, like the coyote he was. A predator. The dregs of society. Not worth the dirt under Casey’s dainty feet.
Dear, God. Why couldn’t I have protected her from having a relationship with a man like this?
Ray finished counting and looked up. “Just one more time to double-check.” And he started the process again.
Matthew balled his fists. In two seconds he was going to…
Dan Ackerman, Matthew’s semi-retired attorney, shifted forward from the back seat. He slapped down hard on the leather headrest above Ray’s head. The seat shook.
Ray jumped, his Adam’s apple moving up and down in his throat, his eyes shifting in an obvious attempt to suppress a rush of fear.
Grim satisfaction flowed through Matthew.
Dan fixed Ray with a glare that allowed for no more stalling. “You know it’s all there. Get out of here and stay out of Matthew’s sight, if you know what’s good for you.”
Obviously trying to maintain his dignity, Ray slid the money envelope into his dirty army jacket and made smug eye contact with Matthew. “Thanks for the new start. I’ll be seeing you.”
Matthew sprang with the agility of a mountain lion. He grabbed Ray by the scruff of his neck and slammed him against the window.
“If you come near my sister again, I’ll make you wish you’d never heard the name
Do you understand me?”
He felt Dan’s hands on his shoulders. “Matt, don’t give him any ammunition.”
Slowly, Matthew allowed reason to return. The blind rage lifted and he unclenched his fists, releasing handfuls of wrinkled jacket.
“Unlock the safety so he can get out,” Dan said.
Matthew flipped the switch. The coyote slunk against the door, then got brave as the handle gave way beneath his hand.
“Give my girl a hug for me.” He smirked. “Tell her Daddy loves her.”
Fury exploded in Matthew and he went for Ray again, but the coward anticipated the move and jumped out just before Matthew could grab hold. He fled into the woods without looking back.
Dan grabbed Matthew before he could go after the man who had ruined his sister’s life nine years earlier. She had finally come to her senses that night, just before Ray nearly beat her to death. That was also the same
night the police had picked him up on probation violation and new drug charges. But the arrest was made too late to save Casey. The thought of this man back in their lives filled Matthew with rage.
“I’ll kill him!” The image of his battered twenty-year-old sister haunted him. Her bouts with sickness. The revelation that she was carrying her abuser’s child and the knowledge that she wouldn’t, couldn’t, have an abortion.
Casey had delivered the baby, but remained a shell of the girl she’d once been. The last beating had damaged her brain and left her with severely diminished mental capacity, unable to raise a child. Despite the efforts of all the doctors who did their best to fix her, she would never be the same.
Jamie, named after Matthew’s father, was born healthy and wonderful. Matthew had raised her as his own daughter. Now this monster was back, threatening to take his so-called story to the press. Threatening to accuse the Strong family of using their substantial influence to gain his arrest in order to get rid of him—get him out of Casey’s life. Of course, he’d be willing to stay quiet for the right price.
Matthew waited while Dan left the back seat and moved to the front. He was fairly confident Ray would not speak a word about the Strong family. He only hoped he had bluffed the man enough to stay away. But he couldn’t be certain. And that uncertainty was the prompt for his next course of action.
Matthew’s jaw ached from his clenched teeth.
With a glance at his gold watch, Matthew tried to stop his heart from racing. He’d taken care of one problem for today. Now it was time to move on to the next item on his agenda: end his career. He’d been groomed for
public office since the day he was born. Thirty-seven years in the making. Destroyed in five minutes.
“What time is the press conference?” He kept his tone even, though it took a conscious effort to keep a quiver from his voice. He would give a brief statement and take no questions. The subject of his withdrawal wasn’t up for discussion. After this first and only payoff, he would take away Ray’s only ammunition against the Strong family: Jamie.
“Matt, you sure you want to do this?”
Matthew nodded. He felt raw. Spent. Ready to get it over with. “There’s no choice. If I’m not in the public eye, Ray will have no ammunition against me. No one’s going to care enough about my private life to try to hurt my sister or my daughter. It has to be this way.”