Murder has found feisty Hannah Paxton twice—once as a teenaged witness and now, thirty years later, as a juror in a high profile trial. When she starts receiving vicious phone calls and is attacked on a freezing Minnesota night, it seems murder is searching for her again…for the final time.
Wounded cop Jude Brenner, facing forced retirement, is assigned to protect Hannah, unaware that she’s the target of two stalkers. When the stalkers’ agendas intersect, Hannah is caught in the crossfire and Jude is forced to make tough decisions about his future as a cop—and his future with Hannah.
Hannah’s past and present collide, putting both her and Jude’s lives at risk. It’s up to Jude to save Hannah, with a little help from SpongeBob SquarePants. And it’s up to Hannah to save Jude—from a lonely past and an uncertain future.
Setup: Hannah Paxton has called Jude Brenner when she thought she was followed home. Jude drives to her isolated home in the country to investigate.
Jude started to step up onto the small porch that led into the kitchen when his flashlight landed on footprints in the backyard. Like the front, it was mostly untouched, except for two lines of tracks that slashed diagonally through the whiteness, angling across the yard toward the far end of the house, opposite of where he was standing. One set was deeper, made by a shorter person who had to fight to get through a winter’s accumulation of snow. They’d had almost two feet so far that winter and while some had melted, much had settled in the protected space of the backyard. The other set of tracks paralleled the first ones.
They looked like boot prints. Jude tried the house’s doorknob, but it was locked. As he stepped off the deck he sank into the snow but struggled on, putting his foot down to mimic the pattern and get a sense of the height of the person who’d made it. He was just tall enough to clear most of the snow and didn’t have to kick through it the way a shorter woman would. A man had been out here. Someone slightly taller than him.
“Here,” he called softly to the officer.
The officer—a big, husky kid with bright red cheeks—looked at the prints. “Somebody chasing her?”
“Might be.” Jude reached under his coat, pulling out his Glock from the kidney holster and stowing it in his coat pocket. The kid swallowed hard. Jude saw his hand go toward the service revolver in the leather holster. “I’ll go ahead. Don’t do anything unless I tell you, right?” He paused to stare intently at the young giant.
The kid nodded once, glancing back at his partner, another husky giant with equally pink cheeks. “Get an ambulance out here,” Jude said to him. “We might need it.”
He didn’t wait to see if anyone was following instructions. He pushed forward, following the tracks that wavered in his flashlight beam. He tried to ignore the stiffness that soon flared into pain. His boots were keeping his feet dry but the snow was knee-deep on him. Jude felt cold seeping into his bones. It hadn’t been above zero at night for three weeks and it felt like the temperature was fast dropping from the afternoon high of ten above.
Jude tugged off the finger-covering of his right glove-mitten combo, wrapping his hand around the gun in his pocket. His breath steamed out in clouds in front of him. He realized they were getting some help from a light that shone its bright beam into the yard from its position on the back of the house. It probably came on automatically at dusk and shut off in the morning.
He approached the dense shrubbery at the back southwest corner of the yard. The tracks led into what looked like a copse of lilacs or something else with tall, whip-like branches. Jude hesitated then he saw the branches move, shaking snow loose as someone or something cried out. He raised his gun and pushed forward. The patrol officer followed behind, breathing noisily.
Hannah was tangled in the shrub, bloodied by the branches. Her flannel shirt had been ripped open and her jeans had been pulled down roughly. Snow was piled all around her, over her breasts, her stomach and her bare thighs. She was lying limply in the snow, blood trickling slowly from a cut on her forehead. Jude saw her eyes flutter as he knelt next to her.
“Hannah.” Jude fumbled his coat off, tucking the gun back into his holster. He put his jacket around her, pulling her up into his arms. He winced when he felt the cold skin of her back against his relatively warm hands. She looked up at him, her blue eyes wide with shock.
Rage choked him. Jude sat down in the snow and pulled her onto his lap, cradling her as she sobbed brokenly against his chest.