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Excerpt - Out of Time by Shirlee McCoy


Out of Time
by
Shirlee McCoy


Someone plans to disrupt the 175th anniversary celebration of the Battle of the Alamo—and it's Alamo Ranger Susannah Jorgenson's job to stop the culprit. But that means partnering with Levi McDonall, who skipped town years ago with her heart. Levi's now a Texas Ranger, sworn to protect her at any cost, but Susannah knows she'll pay the price if she falls for him again. She has to stay focused on their goals—to eliminate the threat and solve the murder of Levi's captain. But an unknown killer is watching…ready to eliminate them.

Excerpt of chapter one:

Silence told its own story, and Alamo Ranger Susannah Jorgenson listened as she hurried across the bridge that led to the chapel. Darkness had fallen hours ago and the air held a hint of rain. The shadows seemed deeper than usual, the darkness just a little blacker. Or maybe it was simply her imagination that made the Alamo complex seem so forbidding.

Imagination and too many sleepless nights.

Six months since Aaron Simons had attacked her, five months since he was killed in a police standoff just outside of San Antonio, and Susannah was still jumping at shadows. People were starting to notice. Her fellow park rangers were beginning to talk. Her life, the one she'd planned so carefully, the one she'd wanted ever since she was a kid, was slowly unraveling, and she felt helpless to stop it.

She shivered. Not from the cold. Not from the chilly breeze. From the darkness, the silence, the endless echo of her fear as she made her final rounds. She'd never known terror before Aaron. Now, it was her closest friend. Not something she was proud of, but something she acknowledged as she jogged to the chapel and flashed the beam of her light along the corners of the building.

Nothing.

No movement, no sounds, no reason to think she wasn't alone, but she couldn't shake the feeling that she was being watched. That somewhere beyond the beam of her light, danger waited.

Her cell phone rang as she walked into the building, and she jumped, her heart pounding, her pulse racing. Everything out of proportion to the moment. That seemed to be the story of her life lately.

"Hello?" Her voice bounced off the stone walls of the chapel, and something skittered in a dark corner to her right. She turned, her flashlight revealing nothing but tile floor and emptiness.

"Susannah? It's Chad Morran."

"What's up?"

"Just got a call from Captain Ben Fritz with the Texas Rangers."

"Let me guess. He wanted to know about our security plans for the 175th anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo celebration." A soft sound carried through the cavernous room. Rustling papers? Fabric brushing against stone? Susannah cocked her head, listening, but heard nothing but her rapid heartbeat.

"Partially. He also wanted to let me know he's sending a man out to the compound. They want to do a security sweep. See where our areas of weakness are."

"They're assuming we have them."

"Aside from Fort Knox, I doubt there's a place that doesn't. With the 175th anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo coming up, we can't afford to be too careful. The opening ceremony has to go off without a hitch."

"I know." There were more than a few high-level politicians scheduled to speak at a ceremony that would be hosted by the Alamo Planning Committee, and protecting them was the first priority of the Alamo Rangers.

"So you won't mind staying at the compound a little late tonight? You are head of the security team for the event, after all."

"You don't need to convince me, Chad. I'm happy to do it." Though staying alone at the compound after dark had become one of her least favorite things to do.

"Good. Good. Captain Fritz said his man should be there within the hour. I can come and help with the briefing if you want me to, or we can touch base tomorrow before we open."

"No need for you to come. I'll handle things."

"You're sure?" That he would ask made Susannah's cheeks heat.

"It's my job, Chad. If I can't do it, I shouldn't be working here." Something she'd reminded herself of one too many times during the past few months.

"I wasn't implying that you couldn't handle it, Susannah. Just giving you an opportunity to ask for backup if you need it. This event is a big deal. We can't afford to have anything go wrong."

"Nothing will."

She hoped.

She prayed.

But things went wrong all the time.

Good days turned bad in a blink of an eye.

"All right. I'll leave it in your hands, then, and I'll want a full report tomorrow."

"No problem." She slid the phone back in her pocket, did a full sweep of the chapel and of the office area beyond. Nothing, of course. There was never anything. She should be relieved, but all she felt was disgust at herself and her fear.

She ran a hand over her hair and tapped her Stetson against her thigh. What she needed was a little fresh air.

A few minutes outside of the compound listening to the sound of people and the action drifting up from the River Walk and she'd feel more like herself.

"Sure you will," she muttered as she opened the chapel door and stepped straight into a broad, muscular chest.

Someone grabbed her upper arms, holding her in place when she would have fallen.

And she was back in time, hands wrapped around her throat, cutting off air, fetid breath washing over her face. Alcohol and evil and every nightmare come to life.

She gagged, shoving forward into her attacker, pushing her weight into a solid wall of strength as she tried to unbalance him.

"Hey. Calm down. I was just trying to keep you from falling." The soothing tone washed over her, the words rumbling near her ear as the man released his hold and stepped back.

Broad-shouldered.

A wide-brimmed cowboy hat hiding his eyes.

Not Aaron.

Of course, not Aaron.

"Sorry about that. I wasn't expecting anyone to be standing near the door. We're closed for the day, but we'll be open again at seven tomorrow morning." She cleared her throat, wiped a sweaty palm against her khaki slacks.

"No need to apologize. I should have knocked as soon as I got here. I'm Ranger Levi McDonall. My captain said he was going to call and let you know I was on the way."

"Levi McDonall?" Her childhood hero? Her best guy friend? Her first teenage crush?

No way could they be the same.

"That's right. You were told that I'd be coming, weren't you?"

"Just a few minutes ago. Come on in." She hurried into the chapel, trying to pull herself together. This was the Texas Ranger she'd be working with for the next nine days, and she couldn't afford to look like she didn't have things under control.

Didn't have herself under control.

She flipped on a light, turned to face McDonall.

He'd pulled off his hat, and his strong, handsome face was exactly the one she hadn't believed it could be.

Levi McDonall.

Her Levi McDonall.

At least, that's how she'd once thought of him.

He met her gaze, his eyes a richer brown than she'd remembered, his lashes long and thick. He'd changed. Filled out. Gone from brash teenager to confident man.

"Susannah Jorgenson?" He took a step toward her, his eyes reflecting her surprise, his full lips curving into a smile.

"That's right."

"Of course it is. I'd know you anywhere."

"I guess so. I spent the better part of nine years annoying you."

"Annoying? I wouldn't exactly say that." He smiled again, flashing dimples that would have melted the hardest of hearts.

"I'm sure you would if you weren't afraid of sounding rude."

"When have you ever known me to be afraid of that?"

"I haven't known you for years. As a matter of fact, the last time I saw you, you were a teenager with big dreams."

"And the last time I saw you, you had pigtails and braces." He grinned, moving farther into the room, light reflecting off his black hair and simmering in his eyes.

"I never had braces," she responded, not resisting as he pulled her into a bear hug, bracing for what she knew she would feel. Trapped. Panicked.

But the feelings didn't come, and she let herself relax into his embrace, let his warmth seep into her and chase away the chill that had dogged her for the better part of the evening.

"That's better." He stepped back, looked down into her face, his gaze touching her hair, her cheeks, her lips before returning to her eyes.

"What?"

"You were wound up tighter than a caged tiger."

"Not really. I was just—" Afraid of nothing? Jumping at shadows? She couldn't say any of those things. "It's been a long day. I'm ready for it to be over."

"I'll make this as quick as possible, but I can't promise that we won't be here awhile. The Alamo Planning Committee is anxious for security measures to be worked up and in place for the upcoming ceremony. My captain asked me to come by and do a security sweep, check to see if there are any weaknesses that we'll need to address during the event."

"I'll give you a tour. Let you get a feel for the compound. Then, we can go over things in detail." She followed his lead, focusing on the task at hand. Secure the compound for the ceremony. Get through the next nine days. She could make a decision about her future as an Alamo Ranger after that.

"You have some security plans in place already, right?"

"Of course. We've been working on them since we were told the opening ceremony would be held at the Alamo." She led him into the office, gestured for him to take a seat while she pulled a file from her desk. "We can take a look at the plans before we do the tour if you'd like."

"Better to see the place first, I think. I moved back to San Antonio a couple of years ago, but I haven't been to the Alamo since I was a kid. Walking around the compound will familiarize me with it again. That will make visualizing security measures a little easier."

"Let's get started, then." She led him through the chapel and into the compound. Shadows still edged the path, but they seemed less sinister, the silence less ominous.

She wasn't sure she liked what that said about her.

She'd been an Alamo Ranger for four years, and she'd never been afraid to walk the compound alone at night. That she was ate at her, turned her inside out, made her wonder if being a security officer really was what she should be doing. Made her question everything she believed about herself, her goals, her passions.

"You've changed, Susannah." Levi broke into her thoughts, and she met his eyes, saw that he was studying her with an intensity that made her shiver.

"We've both changed."

"We've both matured, sure, but there's something else. Used to be you were bubbly and excitable. Talkative to the point of frustration. Now, you're subdued. Quiet."

"And you're reading a lot into five minutes of reconnecting." She offered a smile that she hoped looked more natural than it felt.

"Maybe, but—"

"It doesn't really matter, does it? We're both here to do a job. How we've changed, why we've changed, if we've changed, none of those things are important." She cut him off, not wanting speculation to lead to a discussion she didn't want to have. Not with Levi. Not with anyone.

"Then we'll call my observation a point of interest and move on. How big is the compound?"

"A little over four acres. The ceremony will take place in the gardens. We'll have a stage set up there."

"And you have enough people on your security team to keep the area protected?"

"Yes. We—" A loud bang shattered the quiet, the discordant sound so completely unexpected Susannah didn't have time to think, didn't have time to panic. She ran, skirting the long barracks, Levi close on her heels. Another bang followed the first, and she changed course, racing toward the sound. A figure lurched out from behind the giant oak that had stood for centuries in the compound, and Susannah called out a warning, her hand on her gun, her body humming with adrenaline.

The intruder didn't heed the warning to freeze, didn't stop bulldozing toward her. Wobbling, but coming fast, knocking into Susannah before she could decide if deadly force was necessary.

She stumbled and went down hard, the pungent scent of alcohol and sweat swirling around her, threatening to drag her back to that night, back into terror.

And then he was gone, pulled up and away, slammed down onto the ground, Levi crouching over him, a gun pressed to his head. "Don't move. Don't even breathe. You okay, Susannah?"

"Fine." She managed to get to her feet, managed to cross the small area that separated them. Managed to do it all without shattering into a million pieces.

But she wanted to shatter.

Wanted to fall into a heap of blubbering fear and let Levi handle the intruder.

"Susie. Suze. You tell him to let me go. You tell him he's got no right to treat me like this." The slurred words, the voice, they were familiar. The alcohol. The sweat. The stumbling, fumbling steps.

Mitch.

She should have known.

She hadn't.

Fear had clouded her judgment, had almost made her pull a weapon she didn't need.

The knowledge was a heavy weight as she crouched next to Mitch and signaled for Levi to let him go.

"You can let him up." Susannah's voice seeped through the haze of Levi's rage as he leaned over her attacker. The acrid scent of alcohol and sweat drifted up from the prone man, mixing with the softer, subtler scent of Susannah's perfume.

Susannah Jorgenson.

He still couldn't quite believe the stunningly beautiful Alamo Ranger he was going to be working with for the next nine days was the knobby-kneed tomboy who'd followed him around when he was a kid.

"He's trespassing on private property." And he'd knocked Susannah to the ground.

"Trespassing? You know I wouldn't do something like that, Susannah." The words were slurred, the man obviously drunk as a skunk.

"You are trespassing, Mitch. And you know it." Susannah nudged Levi's arm away, then helped the man turn over and sit up. Deep wrinkles and hollow cheeks told the story of too much excess. Threadbare clothes and duct-taped shoes told the story of something else. Desperation. Helplessness.

Levi knew the feeling of both those things.

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