By Tee O’Fallon
Serve ’N’ Protect is my eighth published romantic suspense and the first one for which I can’t take full credit for devising the plot. This was a true collaborative effort between me, my editor, and my publisher. For this story, my publisher said: “Hey, Tee. We’d like you to do something a little different this time.” So rather than kick off the book with the hero doing something typically dashing and heroic from the get-go on page one, he’s seriously injured, the result of a direct attempt on his life, and reluctantly forced to seek help from his pretty neighbor. Now when my publisher suggested this plot, she had no idea that the hero of this story would sequentially in the series be a U.S. Secret Service K-9 officer. This wound up being more of a challenge than you’d think.
Unlike Secret Service agents (ala Clint Eastwood’s character, Special Agent Frank Horrigan, in In the Line of Fire) Secret Service K-9 officers are part of that agency’s Uniformed Division. This division’s officers patrol the White House grounds, the Treasury Building, and occasionally provide security for visiting diplomats in the Washington, D.C. area. They don’t typically conduct investigations the way Frank Horrigan did. And so, the challenge: How to devise a reason why someone would try to specifically target and assassinate a Secret Service K-9 officer. Well, there are no spoilers here. If you want to find out the answer to that question, you’ll have to read the book.
To whet your appetite, here’s a sneak peek at Serve ’N’ Protect:
“Hello?” she called out. “Hello?” The only sound came from the dog’s nails on the hardwood floor as he trotted into the hallway. He snorted then dashed back into the living room. Cassidy followed to find the dog pacing back and forth in front of a low coffee table. Then a bare foot came into view.
“Oh my God.” She stared a moment longer, just to be sure.
A man—not John Freeman—lay facedown on the floor next to a stepladder. This man could never be confused with her neighbor. He was larger. Much larger. Well over six feet tall and with thickly muscled shoulders as wide as that Wolf cooktop she’d been drooling over at Hahn’s Appliances.
Using her cane for support and resting her other hand heavily on the table, she knelt beside him. He wore jeans, but his torso was bare, save for a white, blood-tinged bandage wrapped around his waist. Gently, she touched two fingers to the side of his neck and was rewarded with the steady thumping of a pulse.
The dog whimpered then lay down and began licking the man’s face, as if it was trying to wake him up. When that didn’t work, he started whimpering again, his licks becoming more frantic. If a dog’s eyes could look worried, this one’s did. It was clear the animal was extremely protective of this guy, and she needed to tread carefully. Any wrong move could be interpreted as an attack. Just because he hadn’t bitten her yet didn’t mean he still wouldn’t clamp his teeth around one of her protruding body parts.
“Hey,” she whispered, gently placing her hand on the man’s back while keeping one eye on the dog. “I’m not gonna hurt him. I promise.” His skin was cold and clammy with sweat. The bandage had dislodged itself, revealing a long, stitched-up gash. A knife wound?
Instinctively, she looked over her shoulder, expecting some slasher-movie, knife-wielding lunatic to come at her from behind, but there was no one else there. The dog would most likely have alerted her if there had been. Besides, the wounds on this man clearly weren’t inflicted seconds ago.
Some of the stitches had torn free, accounting for the blood but not the guy’s unconscious state. “You’ll be okay. I’m going to call 911.” Cassidy reached into her pocket.
Before she could tug out her phone, the man’s hand shot to her wrist, and she gasped. Her heart pounded faster as feverish, obsidian eyes locked onto hers. “Don’t,” he growled.
“Hey, let me go!” She tried twisting away, but he held fast. For a man in his condition, he had surprising strength. His fingers were like a steel vise, and he was starting to frighten her. With her other hand, she dug her phone from her pocket. “If you let me go, I’ll try to help you. I can call an ambulance.” And the police.
His teeth chattered, and sweat beaded his forehead, calling attention to the long scar disappearing into his close- cropped, jet-black hairline. “Don’t. Call. Anyone.”
“Why not? You’re bleeding.” The scar on his forehead didn’t appear fresh, but whatever injury he’d sustained to his back was oozing blood faster into the gauze.
“Because”—he squeezed his eyes shut, his chest heaving now—“they’ll find me. And kill me.”