Excerpt of Bound By Duty

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear." Psalm 46: 1-2

Chapter One

She was being watched. Constantly. Every fiber of her being knew it. Lately she felt as though she was the defenseless prey and packs of predators were circling her and her helpless little boy, which was why she’d left Freddy home with a sitter. Were things as bad as they seemed? It was more than possible, and Staff Sergeant Zoe Sullivan shivered despite the warm spring day.
Scanning the busy parking lot as she left the Canyon Air Force Base Exchange with her purchases, Zoe quickly spotted one of the Security Forces investigators. Her pulse jumped and hostility took over her usually amiable spirit. The K-9 cop in a blue beret and camo ABDs was obviously waiting for her. She bit her lip. Nobody cared how innocent she was. Being the half-sister of Boyd Sullivan, the escaped Red Rose Killer, automatically made her a person of interest.
Zoe clenched her teeth. There was no way she could prove herself so why bother trying? She squared her slim shoulders under her off-duty, blue t-shirt and stepped out, heading straight for the security forces man and his imposing K-9, a black and rust-colored Rottweiler.
Clearly he saw her coming because he tensed, feet apart, body braced. In Zoe’s case, five and a half feet was the most height she could muster. The dark-haired Tech Sergeant she was approaching looked to be almost a foot taller.

He gave a slight nod as she drew near and greeted her formally. “Sergeant Sullivan.”
Linc Colson’s firm jaw, broad shoulders and strength of presence were familiar. They had met during a questioning session conducted by Captain Justin Blackwood and Master Sergeant Westley James shortly after her half-brother had escaped from prison.
Zoe stopped and gave the cop an overt onceover, checking his nametag. “Can I help you with something, Sergeant Colson?”
“No, ma’am.”
A cynical smile teased at one corner of her mouth. “Oh? Then why is it always you who are following me? Don’t you ever get a day off?”
“Just doing my job, Sergeant.”
She knew he was right but it galled her to be the object of futile efforts when base Security Forces could have been using their manpower to figure out who at Canyon Air Force Base, CAFB, was really cooperating with Boyd. How long were they going to continue disrupting her life and work? A wryly humorous thought intruded and she chuckled.
Colson stared. The muscular K-9 at his side tensed. “What’s so funny?”
Zoe waved her hands in dismissal as best she could with the canvas grocery tote handles looped over her forearms. “Relax, Sergeant. I wasn’t laughing at you. I was just picturing you guys trying to track me if I was giving flying lessons. How are you at piloting a T-38 in close formation?”
She was relieved to note he was having difficulty containing his own smile. His mouth stayed put but there was no denying a spark in his green eyes.
“I’d wait for you on the ground,” he said. “Or outside the simulator.”
Sobering, Zoe shook her head slowly, light brown ponytail swinging. “I don’t suppose it would do me any good to take an oath that I haven’t seen Boyd since the last time I visited him in prison.”
“That’s not for me to say.”
“No, I don’t suppose it is.” An eyebrow arched above her hazel eyes. “What if it were? Would you be willing to at least give me the benefit of the doubt instead of condemning me outright?”
To her surprise and disappointment he said, “No.”
“So much for the famous air force camaraderie,” Zoe muttered. Louder, she said, “Fine,” shouldered past him and started up the sidewalk toward Base Boulevard.
He turned slightly as she passed. “Those bags look heavy. Why didn’t you call a cab after you bought so much?”
“It’s a beautiful, balmy spring day in the heart of Texas,” she snapped back. “Walking is a pleasure.”
“If you say so.”
Righteous indignation surged and she picked up her pace. She couldn’t stop the base cops from shadowing her but she didn’t have to make it easy. If her conscience hadn’t kept kicking up she would have enjoyed her impromptu plan to ditch this one even more.
Instead of looking back to see how far ahead she was getting, she checked the reflections in the rear window of a bus that was unloading green recruits, probably for a tour of the impressive shopping facilities at the Base Exchange.
It looked as if Sgt. Colson was trailing her by at least a hundred yards. Good. Her smile returned. She shouldered her way through the milling group of men and women gathered on the sidewalk, then ducked in front of the idling bus, keeping it between her and the K-9 cop for as long as she could before darting around the far end of the Exchange and breaking into a run.
The moment she saw the warehouse complex behind the stores she knew exactly what to do next. She slipped between two of them and paused to catch her breath. Yes, the K-9 could track her and would. But in the meantime, she intended to enjoy thwarting his handler for a few minutes. Let Colson wonder where she was and what she was up to. Base personnel had already painted her as a clever criminal; a person to be avoided and mistrusted. A contrary side of her nature insisted on payback.
She ducked around a second corner, tried a side door to one of the warehouse buildings, found it unlocked and bolted through, lowering her sacks of groceries to the floor as she pressed her back to the inside of the steel door.
Breathless, Zoe stared into the darkness of the vast, windowless storage area and waited for her night vision to improve.
This is wrong, her conscience insisted.
Was she finished playing games? Not quite. Leaving behind her purchases she flipped the lock on the door to secure it and began to edge past pallets of boxes stacked in rows, looking for a different exit.
The sudden whirring of a motor stopped her in her tracks. Somebody was raising overhead bay doors at the far end. Light crept below the broad edge of the moving panels. Then they stopped, leaving a gap of about three feet between the floor and the base of the door.
Zoe didn’t move. Hardly breathed. Had Sgt. Colson located her already? Wow, he was good at tracking. Or at least his dog was. She was preparing to step forward and reveal herself – until she realized she wasn’t seeing a K-9.
Instead, a man in camo and combat boots and a woman wearing a skirt and high heels ducked beneath the hanging door. All Zoe could see clearly was their feet and lower legs but it was obvious she’d given Colson too much credit. He hadn’t found her. This was probably nothing more than a lovers’ tryst.
Voices reached her but were too muted to understand. She was about to back away and give the couple privacy when she saw a muzzle flash and heard the reverberation of a gunshot!
Instinct made her duck and cover her ears. Self-preservation kept her down while every hair at the nape of her neck prickled and her body trembled, willing her to run yet keeping her feet leaden. She could barely breathe.
A figure was crumpling to the floor. Zoe could see blood spreading across the back of a reddish-haired woman’s light-colored blouse. The shooter bent over her, his gun at the ready, a black ski mask hiding his features.
Help! She had to get help. Trembling, Zoe pulled her cell phone from the pocket of her PT shorts. Its lighted screen and beeps of dialing were her undoing. As the victim lay still, bleeding and perhaps dying, the assailant straightened, wheeled to face the noise and started to move toward Zoe.
He was coming for her. She was next!