People often either praise or criticize me for the level of realism I bring to my books. I have the same answer for both — hiding your head under the sand and pretending something doesn’t exist, and that you can somehow escape its ugliness, just makes it that much more difficult to face when you inevitably have to. I learned a long time ago to look my demons in the eye and not back down. And I think it would do a massive disservice to my characters and their inspiring abilities to overcome the fears and challenges they face, if those fears and challenges weren’t real ones — ones that either bring real people to their knees, or turn real people into heroes.
NO STRONGER BOND is one of the core stories to display that kind of challenge. Two children who’ve grown up without a traditional family unit of any kind — who’ve learned to trust the woman charged with keeping them safe from the people who killed their mother, and who are virtual strangers to their father, who’s been a world away, fighting, since they were practically babies. The woman who’s vowed to defend them, and her growing inability to separate her job from her emotions, and her love for the children who’ve been placed in her care. A man who wants nothing more than to be a father to children he’s never been allowed to get to know. And a dangerous, psychopathic killer who has turned loose a plague of danger on this fraying family unit. Law Enforcement officers charged with the protection of children often say that’s the most difficult assignment of all, because it’s hard to stay detached enough to do your job. Imagine being charged with the protection of two children at the ages of seven years and just a year old, of watching over them as they grew up over the next five years. Could you stay detached? Moira Wittacre finds it impossible. And when the unthinkable happens, it will change everything she believes about love.
WARNING: This piece contains violence of a difficult and disturbing nature — Reader discretion is advised.
“Child in Danger” – Excerpt from NO STRONGER BOND (Project Prometheus)
“Shh. I’m here, baby. I’m right here.” Moira cradled the little girl in her arms, unable to breathe herself, listening to every labored breath from Lisa’s tiny body. The scarf in her hand was dripping wet with warm blood that squelched over her hand where she pressed it tight to the gaping exit wound in the six-year-old’s chest. “You have to stay awake, honey. I know it hurts, but you have to stay awake. Focus on my voice, okay? Just focus on my voice.”
Moira fought to keep the panic from her voice. She didn’t want to scare Lisa, but she was shaking, inside. This wasn’t supposed to happen. This couldn’t happen. Not again.
With her free hand, Moira brought her cellphone to her ear, speed dial already punched.
“Ambulance, ASAP. Now! Bethesda Elementary. And I need backup guard detail.”
“Trevor’s on his way out, now. EMTs are on their way,” Julia Williams’ clipped tone was tense, but professionally calm — something Moira desperately needed, right now. “I’ll stay on the horn with them.”
Moira didn’t wait to hear any more. Tossing her phone aside, she gently shook the girl in her arms. “C’mon, sweetie. You have to stay awake. Lisa!”
The little girl’s eyes peeled open with clear effort, and her gaze was unfocused and confused. “I’m c-cold….”
“Oh, baby, I know. You just have to hold on. I know it hurts. We’ll get you to the hospital, get you fixed up…” She glanced up, to find Jason standing a foot away, his young face ashen and his terrified, helpless gaze fixed on his little sister as his mouth moved soundlessly. Moira’s heart nearly broke. Oh, god, she had to keep it together. These kids were depending on her.
The sound of a car door slamming, and the wail of sirens, cut through her rising fear, and relief poured through her as she saw a familiar black man racing across the grass, his weapon already drawn, even as the ambulance flew up over the curb and past him, churning up grass and soil as it skidded to a halt.
“Take him to safety. There’s a sniper out there.” She barked the words at Trevor, knowing he’d understand her terse instructions, even as the EMTs loaded Lisa onto a stretcher. She kept hold of the little girl’s hand as they raced for the ambulance, before one of the EMTs stopped her.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but unless you’re family–”
Moira shoved her badge in his face, furious mother bear in full bloom. “Federal Marshall. This child doesn’t leave my sight unless you want to join her on that stretcher. Now quit wasting time and move.”
He swallowed the rest of his objection with a hasty nod, and Moira bolted up into the ambulance beside the stretcher, taking Lisa’s tiny, cold hand in hers again. No way was anyone coming between her and her injured baby. She didn’t give a damn if she didn’t have the same blood — she’d give her life, right now, to trade places with Lisa. Why couldn’t I protect you, baby?