Authors: Brandilyn Collins
y fingers shook so hard I could barely punch in the numbers. Nine.
My heart refused to beat. It quivered inside my ribs, flushing me with dizziness.
I gripped the phone, smashing it against my ear. One ring.
“Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?”
I couldn’t believe it. I was
“I—this is Shaley O’Connor.” My voice came out in a whisper. “I’ve been kidnapped. Please help me. I’m somewhere in Utah, in a cabin.”
“Are you okay?” The woman sounded so
come get me.”
“We’ll send someone, Shaley. Where were you kidnapped from?”
“Santa Barbara, California.”
The woman hesitated. “You’re Rayne’s daughter?”
“Everyone’s looking for you.”
Of course it would be on the news by now. Still, just to hear people wanted to find me…
“How many people are holding you, Shaley?”
“One man. He says his name is Joshua, but I doubt that’s his real name. It’s—”
“Is he still driving the Ford Explorer?”
I stifled a gasp. They knew that? We’d changed cars
“Okay. Can you stay on the phone?”
“I don’t know the address. How do you know where to come?”
“We can see where you’re calling from. We’ve already got people alerted.”
Oh, thank you, God.
“Please tell my mom I didn’t mean the things he made me say on the phone.” My voice caught. Just the memory of saying those awful words…
I glanced over my shoulder toward the door.
“Where is Joshua right now, Shaley?” “He’s—”
On the other side of the wall, the toilet flushed. I jerked. “I have to go.”
Footsteps in the bathroom. I heard the click of its door opening.
I set down the receiver—too fast. It rattled.
Heart in my throat, I flung myself left toward the closet. Yanked open the door and leaned down. I could hear Joshua coming.
His footsteps carved to a stop at the doorway. “
are you doing?”
I straightened up, gestured toward the closet. “It’s empty. I was hoping to find shoes.”
rittany stood at the kitchen sink, filling a glass with water. Rayne stood beside her, stomach growling. Brittany knew Rayne had eaten nothing since two o’clock Saturday afternoon. Neither had Brittany. But how could they eat now? What if Shaley was going hungry? What kind of person would eat when her best friend couldn’t?
Brittany gave the glass of water to Rayne and slipped an arm around her.
Rayne patted her shoulder. “Why don’t you get some sleep?”
“You know I can’t.” Brittany looked toward the great room. “Where’s Gary?”
“I don’t know. In the den, I think.”
Brittany rubbed her face and sighed. “I feel like…dead. Or like my brain’s been put in someone else’s body. Everything isn’t quite real.”
Footsteps echoed on the great room floor. Hours ago the long rows of wedding chairs had been taken down, but only a few pieces of Ed’s oversize furniture had been carted back in from the estate’s storage shed. Now every sound in the huge room echoed.
“I know.” Rayne took a long drink and set the glass in the sink. “Me too.”
A cell phone went off from the dining room. Brittany froze. It was Agent Scarrow’s—again. It rang all the time. And each time she feared hearing some terrible news. She cocked her head toward the sound.
Rayne caught Brittany’s eye. They both remained still, listening.
“Oh,” the agent said. “That’s great news. Where?”
Rayne and Brittany exchanged wide-eyed looks and hurried out of the kitchen. At the threshold of the dining room they stopped, watching Agent Scarrow’s face for clues. He sat near the end of the long table—his makeshift office—surrounded by files and papers and his laptop. As he talked he jotted in his notebook. He glanced at them and gave them a thumbs-up. Brittany’s heart clutched. What?
She found Rayne’s hand and gripped it.
Agent Scarrow scribbled on and on in his notepad. Brittany waited impatiently, drinking in his words. Something about a call. Local law enforcement sent out. He asked curt questions, then wrote some more.
Please God, please—have they found her?
“All right. Thanks. Get right back to me with updates.” He ended the call and focused on Rayne, speaking rapidly. “Shaley called nine-one-one. She’s in Utah.”
“Oh!” Rayne’s hand flew to her mouth.
For a split second Brittany’s mind tripped over the detail. Shaley was now in
Then crazy joy and relief flooded her body. She rushed forward, hands up, pleading. “Is she okay? Where is she?”
“In a cabin off Highway 125, southwest of Provo. Local law enforcement are on their way to seal off the cabin. Apparently Shaley managed to call while her kidnapper was somewhere else in the house. Sounded like she hung up abruptly when she heard him coming.”
“Can they get to her?” Rayne’s voice sounded tinny.
“The sheriff’s department is cordoning off the property. The FBI’s field office in Salt Lake City is two hours’ drive north. They’ve got a SWAT unit. We’re calling in the unit to handle the situation. These are very highly trained men. They’ll get the job done.”
Questions crammed into Brittany’s mind. So many things could go wrong.
“But those men are
away?” Rayne dug her fingers into her hair. “And that’s once they’re called in and ready to go. Why not have the local police—”
“They’re out in the sticks, near a small town of seven hundred people. Local police don’t have the resources to do what we need. The FBI’s SWAT team will know how to negotiate, how to talk a suspect into giving up. And if they have to, they know how to storm the place and remove Shaley.”
Where was Gary? He should be hearing this. Brittany swiveled toward the great room. “I’ll go tell everyone!”
She ran through the great room, shouting, “They know where Shaley is, they
where she is!” Bedroom doors opened on the second floor. Gary darted out of the den. “What happened?” He ran toward Brittany.
“She called nine-one-one!”
Band members and Ed Schering spilled from their rooms, their footsteps pounding down the two big staircases. Brittany led them all into the dining room. Soon they were grouped around Agent Scarrow and Rayne, questions tumbling from them. He went over the story once again. Rayne held on to Gary, whispering, “God heard our prayers.”
Yes, he did,
Brittany thought. But what would that evil man who’d kidnapped Shaley do when he found himself surrounded by a SWAT team?
Rayne let go of Gary and grabbed Al’s wrist. “How long until they get there?”
“As you mentioned, the team needs to assemble and be briefed on the situation before heading out. It’s a two-hour drive, but they’ll transport to the site in a chopper. So altogether they should be at the cabin within two hours.”
Two hours. That would be six o’clock Pacific time. Tears filled Brittany’s eyes. It was good news. But two hours was an
“They’ll get her, Rayne.” Gary’s voice shook. “They’ll bring Shaley home.”
ringing phone jangled thirty-two-year-old Randy Sullivan from a sound sleep. His arm shot out to snatch up the receiver almost before the first ring stopped. It was an automatic reflex, honed from many nights of being jangled awake.
He pressed the phone to his ear, propped up on one elbow. “Sullivan.”
“We need you here pronto. Mission near Oak City, southwest of Provo.” Bear’s voice—the SWAT unit leader.
The line went dead.
Sullivan heaved out of bed, fully awake.
The bed covers rustled. “You have to go?” His wife’s voice, thick from sleep, filtered through the darkness.
A small intake of breath from Rhonda. No matter how many missions he went on, she always worried. With good reason. “Be careful,” she said.
Randy strode to the bathroom by the light of the corner streetlamp filtering through the bedroom window. He dressed in one minute flat. His uniform and gear were already in the car, ready at a minute’s notice—the military-issued bulletproof vest, the helmet and goggles, the weapons and accessories. Exactly what he took would depend on the mission. At the Stable—his team’s slang for their headquarters—Bear would brief them on the situation.
Before leaving the bedroom, he bent down to kiss his wife’s cheek. She felt warm and smooth. “Love you.”
She reached up, placed a palm against his cheek. “Come back to me.”
Two years ago, one of his team members
Randy hurried down the hall past the room where their two-year-old, Stevie, slept. As he passed the open door, he brushed fingertips against the doorjamb. “Hug you, Stevie,” he whispered.
A moment later, the garage door opened, and Randy started his Bronco and backed out. The neighborhood streets were quiet and empty. Randy drank in the peace. He wouldn’t have it for long.
Within ten minutes he’d reached the Stable. Soon all of the men on his team had showed up.
“Hey, Crooner.” Randy’s nickname was an inside joke, as were all the other men’s. Bear, their team leader, had heard him singing off-key as he worked out one day, and Crooner he became.
“Okay, we’re all here. Heads up, we gotta move.” Bear stood in front of them and next to a flip chart, notes in hand for the mission briefing. The top sheet on the chart showed a hand-drawn view of roads and a small house.
Bear stood six foot four, with the shoulders and chest of a bear—hence his nickname. His thick brown hair finished the image. “You all hear on the news yesterday about Shaley O’Connor’s kidnap just before her parents’ wedding?”
Heard it? Randy’s eyebrows went up.
channel was full of the story.
“We get to go rescue her.”
“You’re kiddin’ me.” Eagle’s beady eyes lit. Murmurs went around the room.
Rayne’s music,” Volt said. Volt—short for voltage—was tall and lean and ran like the wind. A long lightning bolt tattoo jagged down his left arm.
Randy exchanged a meaningful look with Coop, whose nickname
came from his long chicken neck. They both knew what a case like this meant: publicity, and lots of it. They’d better dot every
and cross every
Not that they usually didn’t. But with the national media breathing down your back…
Bear ignored the comments. “She’s in a rural cabin off Highway 125. Held by one HT—calling himself Joshua.” HT—short for hostage taker. “We’ve been informed his real name is Ronald Fledger. Spent a year and a half in prison for stalking Shaley.
“Fledger is fifty-five years old. You may have seen the suspect’s composite on TV. Here’s a look at the real guy, before he got the hair cut off in prison.” Bear handed a copy of Fledger’s mug shot to Rex, who gave it a good look and passed it to Randy.
He studied the picture. Ugly man. Mean-looking small eyes and disgustingly big lips. Randy shook his head. He couldn’t imagine his own child stolen by a man like this.
“And here’s one of Miss O’Connor.” Bear gave a second sheet to Rex.
Randy leaned toward Rex and studied the photo. Same one he’d seen on the news. A close-up. He’d spotted the picture on some grocery store tabloid in the past. Randy gazed at the photo not because he didn’t know what Shaley looked like—he’d seen her face dozens of times—but because he wanted to memorize every detail. To hold those eyes in his memory. This girl’s safety was why he’d been pulled out of bed. Right now she depended on his team and their years of vigorous training—for her life.
“We’ve got the sheriff’s department on the scene.” Bear handed a small stack of papers to Rex. “Each of you, take one. They faxed this map and layout of the cabin and surrounding roads. It’s up here too.” He tapped the flip chart. “Small wooden cabin, porch with two steps. Two levels. Only one door entry—the one on the porch.” He pointed to the spot. “Detached, windowless garage to the left of the cabin.”
Randy’s trained eyes took in the sheet he held in his hands, then the bigger flip-chart view. He noted every window in the cabin, the
measured distance between the house and woods and garage, the proposed location of the command post. Forest was a good thing. Trees meant cover.
For the next five minutes, Bear continued talking. Randy knew the importance of the briefing. All the same he could feel the moments slipping by—and every one had to seem an eternity to Shaley O’Connor.
Hold on, Shaley. We’re coming.
Briefing over, the men hurried to change into their uniforms and pull equipment from their cars. The uniform and boots were camouflage, with a large FBI insignia on the upper arms. Over that went the bulletproof vest, which held numerous pieces of equipment and magazine pouches for extra ammunition.
Randy checked his submachine gun, his main weapon. A waist belt with thigh harness held an extra, smaller gun.
The mission also called for a gas mask, plus eye and ear protection in case they had to throw a flash-bang into the cabin. Those things were so bright and loud that any unprotected person, including Shaley, would be stunned right down to the floor. She’d be blinded for about five seconds. Not the way they wanted to treat any innocent victim, but sometimes they had to do it to catch the bad guy.
Randy would put on his helmet and affix the radio to his ear after reaching the site.
Team assembled and ready, they climbed into a transport vehicle to take them to the waiting chopper.
On the short drive, Randy went over in his mind what was to come. Eight highly trained, excellent marksmen against one out-of-shape fifty-five-year-old man. Sounded like a slam-dunk. But no mission was routine, especially with a hostage involved. You just couldn’t predict what a man might do when he was up against a wall. When his only choices were surrender and jail—or death.
Sometimes they chose death.
And sometimes they took their hostages with them.