Authors: Sandra Robbins
“The decoys aren’t what they seem.”
When a gunshot victim dies in front of Betsy Michaels, his last words make her a killer’s next target. The undercover agent investigating the murder is none other than Mark Webber, the man who’d broken her heart. Now she has to trust him with her life.
Mark feels duty bound to protect Betsy from the drug smugglers responsible for his partner’s death. Yet every time he looks at her, he’s reminded of the choices he made that hurt Betsy to the core. And despite their rekindled attraction, this time the danger isn’t just to their hearts.
The near accident with the car had left Betsy with more than a few scrapes and scratches. Her skin prickled in fear at the thought that she’d almost been run over.
She’d never felt that scared before, and she hoped she never would again. Her inability to respond to the immediate danger baffled her. Why hadn’t she jumped out of the way instead of standing in the street like a frightened animal, not knowing which way to turn? If it hadn’t been for Mark, she might be dead now.
She stopped at the door of Mark’s car and stared back at him. No matter what she thought about Mark on a personal level, she had to admit his law enforcement training had served him well. He had reacted like a trained professional, and she owed him a debt of gratitude. Maybe her gratitude would help her overcome the hurt he’d inflicted on her in the past. Then again, maybe nothing could change how she felt. Only time would tell.
Books by Sandra Robbins
Love Inspired Suspense
a former teacher and principal in the Tennessee public schools, is a full-time writer for the Christian market. She is married to her college sweetheart, and they have four children and five grandchildren. As a child, Sandra accepted Jesus as her Savior and has depended on Him to guide her throughout her life.
While working as a principal, Sandra came in contact with many individuals who were so burdened with problems that they found it difficult to function in their everyday lives. Her writing ministry grew out of the need for hope that she saw in the lives of those around her.
It is her prayer that God will use her words to plant seeds of hope in the lives of her readers. Her greatest desire is that many will come to know the peace she draws from her life verse, Isaiah 40:31. “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.”
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace,
whose mind is stayed on thee: because he
trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the Lord forever:
for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.
To my family,
whose encouragement keeps me writing
shriek much like the distress cry of a black-crowned night heron pierced the morning quiet.
Atop one of the tall sand dunes at Springer’s Point, Betsy Michaels turned from studying the ocean below and peered behind her at the gnarled oaks of the maritime forest, the last one on Ocracoke Island. A shout from somewhere beyond the forest’s edge echoed on the cold wind, and she squinted at the sandy trail leading back through the trees.
She listened for a few seconds and then relaxed. It was only the wind blowing through the trees. She turned back toward the ocean but whirled around again when the crack of two rapid gunshots split the early morning air.
Anger replaced the fear she’d felt moments ago. Guns weren’t allowed in the 120-acre protected sanctuary of the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust. She unzipped her fanny pack and pulled out her cell phone. Before she could punch in the number of the Ocracoke sheriff’s office, a man stumbled from the thick growth of the forest and reeled toward her.
Blood covered the front of his shirt. He held out a hand toward her. Terrified, Betsy took a step backward. The man hobbled another step before he sank to his knees. “P-please…” he mumbled “…h-help me.”
Betsy hesitated a moment, then rushed forward. Horrified, she grabbed his arms and eased him to the ground.
“I’ll call the sheriff’s office for help.” She punched in the first number of the island headquarters where her brother and brother-in-law worked as deputies.
He grimaced with pain and tried to raise his head. “Caught me…”
Betsy’s heart pounded at the thought of impending danger. “Is someone following you?”
His hand clutched at her unzipped fanny pack. “Tell him…”
Betsy glanced over her shoulder and scanned the thick trees before she turned back to the man. His hand drifted from her fanny pack to the ground. “Don’t talk,” she said. “I’ll get help for you.”
Her sister-in-law, Lisa Michaels, answered on the first ring. “Sheriff’s office.”
“Lisa, it’s Betsy. I’m at Springer’s Point with a man who’s been shot. He needs help right away.”
“I’m notifying EMTs and deputies right now. Stay on the phone with me until they get there. Is it a bad wound?”
“I think so, but…”
The man tugged at her arm. “Decoys,” he whispered.
Betsy frowned and glanced across the inlet. Duck hunting season was months away. There were no decoys in sight today. She shook her head. “Hush. Save your strength.”
He gritted his teeth and grasped her arm. “Tell him…decoys…not what they seem.”
“Tell who?” Her heart lurched at the life fading from his eyes. She bent closer. “Can you hear me?” His chest heaved one last breath, and his body stilled. She nudged his shoulder. “Don’t give up. Help will be here soon.” When he didn’t answer, she pressed her fingers to his wrist but felt no pulse. She clasped his hand in hers and closed her eyes. “Oh, God, please don’t let this man die. Give him the strength to hold on until help arrives.”
“Betsy? What’s going on?” Lisa’s voice startled her and her eyes flew open.
Her hand shook as she raised the phone to her ear. “I think he’s dead.” The thought sent a wave of panic flooding through her. Whoever shot him could be watching her this very moment. She cast a frightened look over her shoulder. “Where are those EMTs?”
“They’re in the parking area. They’re heading down the trail now, but it’s quite a hike to the Point. Are you doing okay?”
Another cold wind blew in from the ocean and Betsy shivered. “I am, but I wish they’d hurry.”
“Hey!” a voice yelled. “What are you doing?”
Betsy jumped to her feet and spun to see who had called out. A man stood at the edge of the forest. She gripped her cell phone tighter. “Lisa, a man just came out of the forest.”
“Who is he?”
Betsy squinted in an effort to make out his features. At this distance, she could only determine he was tall. “I don’t know, but he looks threatening. Are Brock and Scott behind the EMTs?”
“They’re both on duty today and are on their way. What’s the man doing now?”
Before Betsy could speak, the man charged in her direction. “He’s coming toward me.”
“Get out of there, Betsy. Now!”
Two options flashed into Betsy’s head. Make a run on the trail through the forest or slide down the steep dunes to the small inlet beach below. But she’d never make it through the tangle of flowering yucca and sea oxeye that covered the dunes.
“There’s nowhere to go!”
“Does he have a gun?”
“I don’t see one.” The tactics she’d learned in her self-defense class rushed through her head. Taking a deep breath, Betsy planted her feet in a wide stance and held up her hand. “Stop where you are,” she yelled. “I’m on the phone with the police. They’ll be here any minute.”
The man stopped, then inched forward. He shook his head in disbelief. “Betsy?”
Shivers ran up her spine at the sound of the voice from the past. “Mark?” she gasped. “Mark Webber? Is it really you?”
Moments ago, Betsy had thought her heart would burst with fear, but it was nothing compared to the way it raced at the sight of the man she’d tried to erase from her memory. Her first thought was of how glad she was to see him, but that changed in an instant to suspicion. She glanced behind her in hopes the EMTs were close.
“W-what are you doing on Ocracoke?”
He frowned. “I’ll tell you later. You said you called the police.” He glanced at the man at her feet. “How is he?”
“I think he’s dead.”
He rubbed his hand across his head as she remembered seeing him do in the past. Then his dark hair had been thick, but now it was close-cropped and spiked. His former clean-shaven look was gone, and in its place he sported a beard consisting of a thin line of hair extended from his sideburns and along his jawline into a pencil mustache. But the biggest surprise was the spiked leather cuff bracelet he wore and the silver stud in one ear.
He knelt beside the man and checked his pulse before he pushed to his feet. “You’re right. He’s dead. We’d better wait for the police and let them sort this whole thing out.”
Betsy’s eyes grew wide at the lack of emotion in Mark’s words. What was the matter with him? A man lay dead at their feet, and he acted like it was just a normal day. She glanced down at the dead man again and clenched her fists at her side. Her heart constricted at the thought that somewhere this man had family who had no idea what had happened. Maybe Mark didn’t care that a man had lost his life, but she did. But then she’d learned long ago that Mark didn’t care for anyone but himself.
Betsy wanted to scream at him, to demand he tell her what had brought him to Springer’s Point this morning and why he looked like a rap star who had just stepped offstage. Before she could confront him, he turned his back, walked to the edge of dunes, and stared at the water below. She glanced down at the cell phone in her hand and brought it back to her ear.