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Thanksgiving Protector
 

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Thanksgiving Protector


  PROTECTING THE BABY

  When border patrol agent Kylie Perry’s informant is murdered, she makes good on her promise to raise the woman’s baby girl...but soon becomes the target of a killer. Now Kylie must find a way to juggle motherhood and her work on a joint task force aiming to capture a notorious drug kingpin—and somehow stay alive. Texas Ranger Austin Rivers, who’s partnering with Kylie on the case, is a lone wolf dedicated to his job. Yet as the criminal’s henchmen come after Kylie and her baby, Austin vows to protect them. And as Thanksgiving approaches, the man who never thought he was father material risks everything to save a woman and child who feel like family.

  “I think you need to put that baby in protective custody,” Austin said.

  He glanced away, then back at her. “So you can do your job and get beyond this threat.”

  Kylie couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “So I can do my job?” Was that what mattered the most to him?

  Austin stepped toward them, his hand gestures indicating he was rattled. “Both of you could have died out there.”

  “I know that. Don’t you think I know that?” More than anything she wanted to keep Mercedes safe but the thought of being separated from the baby nearly broke her in half.

  Austin was right, though—something bad could have happened to Mercedes.

  It was clear he was uncomfortable with her new status as a single mother. He just wanted her to be Kylie: unattached, trusted border patrol agent.

  He would have to accept she was a package deal now.

  * * *

  Texas Ranger Holidays: A Season of Danger

  Thanksgiving Protector by Sharon Dunn

  Christmas Double Cross by Jodie Bailey

  Texas Christmas Defender by Elizabeth Goddard

  Ever since she found the Nancy Drew books with the pink covers in her country school library, Sharon Dunn has loved mystery and suspense. Most of her books take place in Montana, where she lives with three nearly grown children and a spastic border collie. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking with her husband enjoying God’s beauty.

  Books by Sharon Dunn

  Love Inspired Suspense

  Texas Ranger Holidays

  Thanksgiving Protector

  Witness Protection

  Top Secret Identity

  Texas K-9 Unit

  Guard Duty

  Dead Ringer

  Night Prey

  Her Guardian

  Broken Trust

  Zero Visibility

  Montana Standoff

  Wilderness Target

  Cold Case Justice

  Mistaken Target

  Fatal Vendetta

  Big Sky Showdown

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  THANKSGIVING PROTECTOR

  Sharon Dunn

  Give thanks to the Lord,

  for He is good and His love endures forever.

  —Psalms 106:1

  This book is dedicated to my Aunt Kathy and Uncle Bill for taking me in all those years ago and being Jesus with skin on. I will always be thankful for your love and wisdom and my life will never be the same because you opened your hearts to me.

  Contents

  CHAPTER ONE

  CHAPTER TWO

  CHAPTER THREE

  CHAPTER FOUR

  CHAPTER FIVE

  CHAPTER SIX

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  CHAPTER NINE

  CHAPTER TEN

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  CHAPTER TWELVE

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN

  CHAPTER SIXTEEN

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

  CHAPTER NINETEEN

  CHAPTER TWENTY

  CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

  DEAR READER

  EXCERPT FROM CHRISTMAS CAPTIVE BY LIZ JOHNSON

  ONE

  Bad things happen at night.

  Border patrol agent Kylie Perry stared through her night vision goggles and repeated the words that had kept her alive every time she went out on patrol at this hour—words that reminded her to be prepared for anything.

  Tonight could be big. All intel pointed to the drug lord Rio Garcia crossing the border into El Paso from Juarez, Mexico. Rumor had it he was coming to seek revenge on his sister, Adriana, who had betrayed him.

  Catching Garcia would be a coup for both the border patrol and the Texas Rangers she was working with tonight.

  With the rushing rumble of the Rio Grande current pressing on her ears, Kylie scanned the high thin grass that surrounded the river.

  A voice burst through the radio. “I’ve got movement at ten o’clock.” Austin Rivers, one of the rangers she was assisting, couldn’t hide his excitement. Apparently, he liked the action as much as she did.

  Kylie’s heart skipped into double time as she turned her head toward where Austin had indicated. She scanned until her view took in one person moving at a rapid pace across the river. That couldn’t be their target. Rio Garcia would have four or five henchmen with him. He never went anywhere without his bodyguards.

  But maybe he was changing tactics.

  “Kylie, let’s see if we can catch him.” Austin’s voice came through the radio. “The rest of you hold your position. This could be nothing.”

  Heart racing, adrenaline surging. Kylie took off running. A moment later, she heard Austin’s footsteps behind her. Her feet pounded the ground. She knew the fastest route to the river. Because of their knowledge of the people, terrain and geography, border patrol was an invaluable asset on these ranger missions.

  The glowing figure disappeared in the tall brush on the American side. One person alone. Who could it be? She couldn’t tell if the yellow glow she’d seen through the night vision goggles had been a man or woman.

  Kylie quickened her pace as she gulped in air.

  As they approached the river, she slowed down and drew her weapon. Austin came up beside her and pulled his gun, as well. She scanned the landscape looking for the solitary figure. Her ears tuned into every sound. Austin pressed close to her, their shoulders nearly touching.

  Minutes passed as the tension bore down on her and twisted her stomach in a knot. The high-wire tension was made worse by the sweat that trickled down Kylie’s neck. Even a November night in this area felt hot to her. She was a Montana girl, born and bred. As much as she loved her job, she wasn’t sure she would ever get used to the desert climate of El Paso.

  Austin whispered as he pivoted and aimed his gun at each sector of the landscape. “Are you sure your informant was right about Garcia coming over tonight in this spot?”

  “All my information from her so far has been golden,” Kylie said.

  Most informants were criminals themselves, men and women on the take wanting money or criminal charges against them dropped. This one was different. Kylie had met Valentina and her six-month-old baby, Mercedes, at her church. When Valentina found out Kylie was a border agent, the young mom had offered Kylie a deal. Valentina would pass vital information to her in exchange for prepaid classes at a community college. Kylie’s boss had readily agreed to the arrangement.

  Kylie admired that Valentina wanted to make a better life for h
erself and her baby.

  The sound of her own breathing surrounded Kylie as fear mingled with anticipation. The goggles turned the bushes and desert an eerie shade of green. It was the iridescent glow of a human on the move that Kylie searched for.

  A tension wove through the silence.

  “Did we lose him?”

  What sounded like fireworks on the US side erupted not far from them. Kylie thought she saw flashes that could be gunfire off to the east. Her heartbeat revved up. Every muscle tensed, ready for action.

  This was it.

  “Maybe that’s the planned distraction your informant told you about.” Austin ran toward the noise. Kylie sprinted to catch up to him.

  According to Valentina, Garcia’s plan was to create a diversion at one of the checkpoints so he and his henchmen could slip unnoticed across this unmarked area. Maybe Garcia had switched up the locations or maybe Garcia had run into trouble from a rival cartel. In any case, they needed to check it out.

  Austin spoke into his radio. “All rangers. Fall in. Sounds like a gunfight out there.”

  Kylie pushed through the brush in the direction of the disruption. She hurried up a trail littered with garbage bags, dirty diapers and hypodermic needles. This was the path the illegals took once they made it across the river, the debris a testament to the danger of their struggle.

  Because she knew the area better, Kylie took the lead as they sprinted across the desert. By the time the ground leveled out, both of them were out of breath. Still, they rushed into the darkness toward the danger. Her goggles picked up nothing human, no yellow glowing figures.

  Several more shots were fired. She flinched at each shot but kept running.

  As if on cue, both of them ducked down into the sagebrush.

  The quiet settled in as they eased forward toward where the ruckus had taken place.

  Her heart racing, Kylie continued to scan for movement. Then she saw it—a body lying on the ground completely still. She edged in closer and flipped up her goggles. She was near enough now to see details illuminated by moonlight. It was a woman, and a familiar tattoo on her forearm caught Kylie’s eye.

  Dread gripped her throat. “I’m going in to identify.”

  “Kylie, no. The area is still hot.”

  Austin’s words echoed in her head. He was right. Yet, she felt compelled to run toward the lifeless body.

  Her feet pounded the hard desert earth. Ignoring protocol, she shone a light on the dead woman lying facedown. She took in the long dark hair, the familiar rose tattoo on the right arm. Gently, she turned over the body. Her heart squeezed tight and all the air left her lungs.

  “Valentina.” Her voice filled with anguish.

  She felt herself go numb inside as her knees buckled. In an instant, Austin was beside her, gripping her arm, holding her up.

  Kylie shone the light on her friend’s face. The letter T, drawn in black marker on her forehead, stained the sweet woman’s lifeless features.

  “Kylie, we need to take cover now.” Austin’s voice seemed to come from a million miles away.

  More gunfire filled the night as Kylie felt herself drowning in pain and confusion. Only Austin’s hand clasping her forearm kept her from falling apart as he dragged her out of the line of fire.

  * * *

  Adrenaline flooded Austin’s body as he pulled Kylie toward the protection of the tall brush. High-pitched rifle shots from a distance pierced the night. Snipers from the Mexican side. Cartels always hired them to take out law enforcement when they were crossing. Rio Garcia had his fingerprints all over this one.

  Austin didn’t know who the fallen woman was, but the death had clearly affected Kylie enough to shake her. More gunfire cut through the night. Judging from the sound, it was a pistol being fired at close range on the American side of the border. It looked like whoever had shot the dead woman was now targeting Kylie and him. Austin’s gaze darted around. What was taking the rest of the ranger team so long?

  They ducked behind some high bushes. At least one henchman and maybe Garcia were out there in the darkness.

  The other rangers must be on their way.

  Austin spoke into his radio. “Requesting air support. Agent Perry and I are under heavy fire. Some at close range. We have a dead civilian female.”

  “Her...her name was Valentina.” Kylie’s voice cracked.

  Kylie knew the dead woman. No wonder she’d fallen apart. That T on the forehead meant traidor, Spanish for traitor. Maybe this was the informant Kylie had placed so much confidence in.

  Another shot whizzed by so close it left his ears ringing. Kylie fell to the ground after him. Her reactions were off, too slow.

  Still listening for shots or other activity around them, he sat up, turned to face her and gripped her shoulder. “Kylie, we’ve got to get these guys. Are you with me...for your friend?”

  She nodded, pulled herself up and clicked her goggles back into place.

  Maybe she hadn’t recovered from the shock of seeing Valentina dead, but Kylie was so well trained that she could go on autopilot if she had to. The truth was he’d requested working with Kylie for the Garcia mission for three reasons.

  First, she was professional. Second, she could be trusted. And third...something about her smile and easy laughter made him look forward to going to work that much more. He and Kylie would never be more than colleagues. He’d written off the possibility of a wife and kids long ago. He could better serve his God and people by being a ranger without attachments. But he could enjoy her company without getting in over his head, couldn’t he?

  He waited until he heard the whir of the Black Hawk blades before moving through the brush in the direction of the gunfire. Only one more shot was fired before the helicopter came into view. Now they had the shooter or shooters on the run.

  A border patrol agent in the chopper used a spotlight to light up the desert and hopefully track the men who had fired at them.

  Kylie kept up with him as the land opened up a bit. Their feet pounded in unison. The spotlight from the chopper revealed men climbing into a car on the American side of the border.

  Out of breath, he slowed his pace. They wouldn’t be able to catch the men on foot. As if on cue, he heard a car pulling up behind them. Ranger Colt Blackthorn stuck his head out the open window.

  “You folks need a ride?”

  The car explained the delay in Colt’s arrival.

  Austin loved that they were such a finely tuned team, that the other rangers knew what the next move would be without being told. Company “E” had sixteen rangers all together. Besides Colt, there were two others on the mission tonight—Brent McCord and Trevor Street, a new hire. Border patrol had provided Kylie and Greg Gunn to assist.

  They jumped in, he in the passenger seat and Kylie in the back. Colt hit the accelerator before Austin had even closed the door. He fastened his seat belt. The SUV gained speed, catching air as they bumped along the desolate terrain.

  Up ahead, the spotlight from the chopper revealed the car they were pursuing had reached the road.

  “They’re headed toward that housing development.” Kylie’s words were iced over with fear.

  Austin clenched his teeth. If these were Garcia’s men, they would think nothing of taking the innocent lives of civilians to get away.

  Commands flew back and forth on the radios. More ground support consisting of Brent, Trevor and Greg moved into place in a second vehicle.

  Colt floored the accelerator. The glowing red taillights of the goons’ car burned through Austin. These men weren’t going to get away, not on his watch. The car took a sharp turn into the housing development. Colt closed the distance between the two cars. The helicopter loomed above them continuing to spotlight the car that probably contained Garcia’s men and maybe even Garcia.

/>   The goon’s car took an abrupt turn and disappeared down an alley.

  The agent in the chopper kept them updated over the radio. “Suspects have vacated the vehicle. Two to the west, one to the east.”

  Colt took the turn so sharply it felt like the car was only traveling on two wheels for an instant. Austin’s body smashed against the door. He unclipped his seat belt even before the SUV came to a full stop behind the abandoned car.

  All three of them jumped out, pulling their handguns from their holsters. No sign of the fugitives. He and Kylie split off to the west while Colt headed in the opposite direction. They moved through the quiet, dark neighborhood.

  People were probably still awake—but they were smart enough to switch their lights off and lock their doors after hearing the helicopter. Residents in border towns knew the drill.

  A dog barked in the distance. The radio chatter told him other units had moved in quickly as backup. More barking. Maybe one of the K-9 units border patrol utilized was searching for the runners.

  Ever alert, he and Kylie slipped along a high wooden fence, both of them turning half circles, weapons drawn. Even with the adrenaline rushing through his system, a strange calm washed over him. He was at his best when the danger level was high. Chalk it up to a childhood that had required constant vigilance in the face of violence, everything he’d been through as a kid made him a good ranger. In his book, he counted that as God’s mercy and justice. Only God could redeem a life like his.

  The fence ended, and they ducked low as they moved along a hedge. The chopper had left them in the dark, spotlighting something several streets away. Probably Colt’s target.

  Austin snapped his head around when a noise off to the side caught his attention. Through his goggles, he saw the yellow glow of a man on the run. He watched as the figure headed toward a house set apart from the others. The blast of a gun penetrated the silence and made Austin’s heart seize up.

  His worst nightmare raised its ugly head. He hated getting civilians involved in this war.

  Please, God, don’t let the innocent die here tonight.

 
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