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Excerpt - Secret Agent Father by Laura Scott

Secret Agent Father
by
Laura Scott


He has a son?

Although he's never met the boy who arrives on his doorstep, undercover DEA agent Alex McCade can't deny the truth. The four-year-old is his child, and—like father, like son—little Cody has landed himself in the middle of a dangerous situation. Shelby Jacobson, Cody's aunt, tells Alex that Cody is the only one who can identify his mother's killer. So now the killer is after them both. With his newfound family in danger, Alex will do anything to keep Cody—and Cody's beautiful aunt—safely by his side.

Excerpt of chapter one:

"I made a terrible mistake," her sister Trina said in a low voice, her expression bleak. "I need you to take Cody."

Shelby Jacobson shivered from the desperation in her sister's tone as much as the sharp March wind blowing off the rocky shores of Lake Michigan. Her gaze fell upon her four-and-a-half-year-old nephew, huddled with Trina. Beneath the hood of Cody's coat, his bright green eyes were wide and frightened within his pale face.

Instinctively she knelt down before him, holding out her arms. Cody broke away from his mother, flinging himself at Shelby, burying his face against her chest. She crushed him close, frowning at Trina over his head.

"Of course I'll take him. But why? What's going on? Why did you drag me out of bed and ask me to come down to the marina at four-thirty in the morning?"

Trina didn't flinch under her glare, but Shelby saw a flash of unmistakable regret flicker across her sister's eyes. Trina thrust a piece of paper into Shelby's hand, along with a cell phone. "Here. When you get to the car, call Alex. Once he knows about Cody, he'll protect him. Whatever you do, don't go back to your place, that's the first place he'll look."

Shelby glanced at the note in her hand, her frozen mind trying to untangle Trina's request. She'd assumed, from Trina's frantic call, that her sister and husband had had another fight. But this sounded much more ominous. "I don't understand. Who will look for us? And who's Alex?"

For a long moment Trina stared at her, and then motioned to Cody, still buried deep in her arms. "Alex was my contact. He's also Cody's real father. Let's go. We don't have much time."

Stunned, Shelby gaped at her sister. What? Her contact? Cody's real father? What about Trina's husband, Stephan Kirkland? She cast her memory back in time. Trina had married Stephan a few months after Cody had been born. Of course, she, like everyone else had assumed Cody was Stephan's son.

"Does Stephan know?" Shelby bit back the urge to ask about Cody's biological father, conscious of little ears.

Trina nodded, but kept looking around the deserted marina as if expecting someone to show up. "Stephan isn't listed as Cody's father on his birth certificate. And he can't help. But Alex can. Keep Cody safe, Shelby. Promise me you'll keep him safe."

"Safe from what? Did something happen? Why would you have a 'contact'? Are you some sort of undercover agent?" Zillions more questions whirled in her mind.

Trina waved an impatient hand. "No, I'm not an agent. And none of this matters right now. We have to hurry. Cody's in danger. All I need from you is to keep my son safe. Will you do that for me? Please?"

It wasn't like her sister to beg. "Of course." Shelby loved Cody more than anyone on this earth. He attended Shelby's Little Lambs Day Care Center for preschool and stayed overnight at Shelby's more often than not. The thought of Cody being in danger made her feel sick to her stomach. She couldn't bear it. Was her sister overreacting? Trina tended toward the dramatic. "I'll keep him safe, but I'm sure we can work this out together. We can go to the police for help."

Trina shook her head. "No. You have to leave now. Don't trust anyone, especially the police. Promise me you'll call Alex. That number is a secure line and you need to use that phone. Tell him it's been twelve nights since I've seen him last, that way he'll know I sent you. Don't call anyone but Alex. Understand?"

"No, I don't understand. Why can't you call Alex? Why can't we all go together?" Stubbornly, she stayed where she was, refusing to budge even though Trina's tension was palpable.

"I am coming with you. But if we get separated…don't come after me. Grab Cody and run. Let's go, we need to hurry."

Giving in to her sister's urgent fear, Shelby quickly shoved the phone and scrap of paper into her jacket pocket, and hoisted Cody up into her arms. Deeply thankful that Trina was coming with them, she turned to head back toward the brightly illuminated parking lot. Trina fell into step alongside Shelby, her gaze still intently sweeping the area.

"Please tell me what's going on," Shelby begged. "Why are you and Cody in danger?"

"It's safer for you if I don't explain," Trina whispered. "I've made a terrible mistake, but Alex will know what to do. He knows what's going on."

She wanted to ask more, but decided to wait until they were safely on their way. They were over halfway to her car when Trina sucked in a sharp breath.

"What?" Shelby shifted Cody's weight in her arms, trying to look past his bulky coat to see whatever had caused Trina's sound of distress.

"Run, Shelby! Don't stop for anything. Do you hear? Don't stop no matter what happens." Trina paused momentarily to brush a hand over her son's head, then veered to the right and sprinted in the opposite direction from the parking lot, heading back toward the wooden walkways leading to the rest of the boats suspended in their raised slips for the winter.

"No! Wait! Don't go. Come with us—" Too late. Shelby's eyes widened in horror, her feet glued to the dock as she saw a figure dart into view from behind one of the outbuildings heading straight for Trina. The figure lifted his arm and a sharp retort split the air.

A gun! He was shooting at Trina!

Instinct pulled at her to help her sister, but she remembered what Trina had told her. Shelby clutched Cody tight and surged into high gear, running for the safety of her car as fast as she could with the added burden of Cody's weight in her arms.

Cody began to cry. She whispered words of comfort between panting breaths. They were near the parking lot. She wanted to glance back to see what happened to Trina, but didn't dare. Had the gunman followed Trina? Or was he right now coming up behind them? She strained to listen, but could only hear the whistling wind.

Braced for the pain of a bullet, she bit back a sob and shifted Cody to the side, groping for her keys. Jamming her thumb on the key fob, she unlocked the door and scooted Cody into the passenger seat. She slid behind the wheel, twisting the key in the ignition. She yanked the gearshift into Drive, while she craned her neck around, to search for her sister.

Along the shore, two figures continued to run. The smaller one stayed several yards in front of the larger one. Shelby gasped, when the larger figure pointed his weapon at Trina. Another gunshot ripped through the air.

The smaller figure went down. And didn't move.

"No!" Sobbing, Shelby gunned the engine and swerved out of the marina parking lot, nicking the edge of a nearby light pole. Fear that the gunman would now turn his attention toward her and Cody fueled her panicked desire to get away. She fumbled in her coat pocket for the phone Trina had given her. She dialed 9-1-1, telling the operator that someone was badly hurt down at the lakeshore.

When the dispatcher pressed for more information, she sobbed, "Just go!"

Her careful wording hadn't fooled the little boy beside her. Tears streamed down his face. "Aunt Shelby, is Mama hurt?"

She swiped the dampness from her own eyes and struggled with what to tell him. He was only four-and-a-half years old. He should be home asleep instead of running for his life from a man with a gun. Her heart hammered in her chest. She took a deep breath to steady herself. She needed every ounce of courage she possessed. His safety depended on her.

"Yes. But the police are on their way to help her." She prayed it wasn't already too late.

Dear Lord, protect Trina. Please keep her safe.

Solemn green eyes regarded her steadily, breaking her heart. "Did the bad man get her?"

The bad man? A chill slithered down her spine and she clenched the steering wheel to keep her hands from shaking. She wished, more than anything, that Trina had told her exactly what was going on. "Did you see the bad man, Cody?" Could this be why his life was in danger?

He nodded, silent tears streaking down his cheeks.

No! Was this Trina's mistake? Allowing the bad man to see Cody? Her stomach clenched with fear. She pulled her nephew close within the circle of her arm. He buried his face in her side and she held him tight.

"It's okay, Cody. I love you. Everything is going to be just fine. We're safe. God will protect us." She kept her foot hard on the accelerator, speeding through the early morning darkness, taking various turns and changing direction often, in case the gunman had friends who might come after her. At this hour, the streets were empty. After she was certain no one had followed and that she and Cody were safe, she headed toward the main highway.

Don't go to your apartment, that's the first place he'll look. Call Alex. Don't trust anyone, even the police. Only Alex. Understand?

Careful not to jostle Cody, she pulled the slip of paper from her pocket, and divided her attention between the road and the scribbled note. The handwriting wasn't Trina's, but a deep, bold stroke of a pen, with the name Alex McCade and a local phone number.

She had no idea who Alex McCade was—other than Cody's father—but Trina seemed to think he would keep them safe. Trina had sacrificed herself to help them escape, so she had no choice but to trust Trina's judgment. With renewed hope, she glanced at her nephew, nestled against her side.

"Don't worry, Cody. Everything is going to be fine. We're going to find a man who can help us."

Alex McCade prowled the length of his room, rhythmically squeezing a palm-sized foam ball in his right hand. The throbbing pain in his arm often kept him up at night, until he thought he might scream in sheer frustration, but he wouldn't give up his efforts to rebuild the damaged muscles. The bottle of narcotics sat unopened on his nightstand. No matter how intense the agony in his arm, he refused to take them.

After a few minutes of pacing, the wave of pain receded to a tolerable ache. With a sigh, he paused before the sliding glass doors to stare outside where dawn peeked over the horizon.

Deep in the north woods of Wisconsin, there were no city lights to distract the eye from the wonder of nature. A blanket of fresh snow from the most recent March snowstorm covered the ground and coated the trees, illuminating the area around his sister's rustic bed-and-breakfast with a peaceful glow. A perfect, secluded area to recover in.

His sister, Kayla, had welcomed him with open arms. Things were quiet here, she didn't do as much business during the long winter months.

The muscles in his right forearm seized up, the intense agony making him gasp. The foam ball fell from his numb fingers and he clutched above his wrist with his left hand, massaging the injured muscles into relaxing again. Every time he exercised his damaged arm, the same thing happened. The muscles would spasm painfully, forcing him to abandon his exercise regimen.

Helplessly, Alex stared down at the numerous surgical scars that crisscrossed his right arm from wrist to elbow. He didn't want to admit the plastic surgeon who'd spent long hours reconstructing his damaged muscles and tendons might be right. That his gun hand might never return to one-hundred percent. He should be grateful that he hadn't lost the arm completely, yet it was difficult to remain appreciative when his career, his reason for living, teetered on the brink of collapse.

The muscles in his arm loosened and he breathed a sigh of relief. Bending down, he picked up the foam ball and this time, kept it in his left hand. To strengthen the muscles, he opened and closed his fingers, squeezing tight. If he couldn't use his right arm, he'd build up his left. Anything to get him off medical leave and back on duty.

He needed to finish the case that continued to haunt him. For personal reasons of his own, he'd dedicated his life to being a DEA agent. For this case, they'd joined forces with the coast guard, in an effort to identify the mastermind behind the drug trafficking from Canada through the Great Lakes down to Chicago. Working undercover, he knew he was close the cracking the case before he'd been jumped by two men with knives. During his attempt to get away, they'd slashed his arm to ribbons and it had been too late to replace him. His coast guard partner, Rafe DeSilva, was doing his best to pick up the thread of the investigation.

Five years of work might be lost forever if he couldn't get back in the field soon.

He desperately needed to bring the brain behind the drug smuggling operation to justice. To do that, he needed to train the muscles in his left hand to become his dominant one. He didn't want to sacrifice his career for nothing.

His private secure cell phone rang. Startled, he dropped his foam ball in his haste to reach for the phone. Gritting his teeth, he forced himself to use his left hand as he warily answered. "Hello?"

"Is this Alex McCade?"

The female voice didn't sound quite right, considering the number indicated the call was from Trina Kirkland, his contact within the Jacobson Marina and shipping business. "Who's this? Who gave you this phone?"

"Trina gave it to me. I'm supposed to tell you it's been twelve nights since she saw Alex last. She also said Alex would help us—me." There was a brief pause and he heard the woman's voice break as if she were struggling to hold back tears. "Please tell me you're Alex McCade."

"Yes, this is Alex." Whoever this woman was, she knew the code phrase he had always used with Trina. What had happened? What had gone wrong?

"I need your help. It's a matter of life and death."

Life and death? His gut tightened with anticipation. Followed by a wave of guilt. He was currently on medical leave. If she was legit, he'd need this woman to talk to Rafe. He shoved the helplessness aside. "I'm going to put you in touch with Rafe, he's with the coast guard."

"No!" Her voice rose to a hysterical pitch. "Trina told me to call you. Only you. No one else. There was a man with a gun. I need your help, please!"

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