Title: Love Or Justice (Protect And Serve #1)
Author: Rachel Mannino
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Release Date: November 3, 2015
Laurie Shelton is the only person alive who can identify Hawaii’s most notorious mob boss…
After stumbling into a deadly kidnapping, Laurie’s life is in grave danger, and it falls to US Marshal Dante Stark to keep her safe until she testifies against Kaimi Quamboa—assuming he can be captured.
Dante knows he’ll lose his job if he becomes romantically involved with a witness…
But when he has to comfort her through constant nightmares, he finds it nearly impossible to fight his attraction to the beautiful, strong young woman he is sworn to protect. Laurie feels it too, but aware she’s in a high-stress situation and that when the danger is past she’ll never see Dante again, she tries to ignore his easygoing smile and the security he offers.
Laurie and Dante are forced to flee again…
When Kaimi’s men descend on their hideaway, they escape to a second safe house, only to be tracked down there as well. Dante now knows there’s a mole inside the US Marshal Service, and the only thing left to do is disappear.
Kaimi will never stop looking for Laurie, and if he’s caught, showing up to testify could be the last thing she ever does.
With each choice as dangerous as the next, Dante and Laurie must confront the boundaries of what they’re willing to sacrifice, and which is more important…
Love or Justice.
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Laurie glanced at the folded piece of paper in her hand. She made sure the penthouse suite was on the list of rooms ready for cleaning, then swerved her cleaning cart around, and backed up to the door. With practiced fluidity, she swiped her key card and opened the door wide, ready to prop it open, before she sensed the presence of another person. She looked up. What she saw stopped her cold.
A man with salt and pepper hair stood there. Dressed in a trim, black suit, his long hair dangled to the crisp, white collar of his button-down shirt. His hair thinned on either side of a widow’s peak. Several deep pockmarks dotted each of his tanned and weathered cheeks, accentuating his prominent cheekbones. He looked like any other businessman on the islands, except that extending from his hand was a polished, silver gun, gleaming in the light streaming in from the open doorway.
The man looked at Laurie with a mixture of shock and a little horror, as he waved his gun at her.
A scream caught in Laurie’s throat. She didn’t have time to think before a man standing between her and the gunman ran forward and grabbed her arm. He kicked the door shut, wrapping one thick hand around Laurie’s mouth. He twisted her arm and sparks floated across her vision. The man dragged her into the living room. Laurie’s eyes widened. The closer she got to that gleaming gun, the more she struggled.
The man with the gun stepped forward and pressed the cold metal of the barrel to her forehead.
Laurie gasped, stiffening. Her heart thundered in her chest. She barely breathed. She thought each breath would be her last, and she wondered if it hurt to die.
“Do not scream. Do not move or I will kill you.” He pressed the gun more firmly against her skin.
Laurie saw the coldness in his eyes. They were the color of granite, and just as unyielding. She looked down and away, standing perfectly still.
“What are you doing here? Who sent you?” His voice was like silk with underlying hints of gravel. Laurie said nothing, too terrified to speak.
“Answer him,” the man holding her instructed, twisting her arm.
She cried out in pain.
“I work for the resort.” Her voice squeaked and popped. “The head housekeeper told me you checked out. They said you left, and I had to clean the room for the next guest. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Laurie’s breath came in gasps now. She felt lightheaded. She continued to look down, but a movement beside her caught her attention. Laurie glanced over to see another woman kneeling on the floor. The woman had long, blonde hair, like Laurie’s, but longer, stretching halfway to her waist. Bruises crisscrossed her delicate features. She had a bloodied lip and a cut along her cheek. Her hair was dirty, tousled. There was a rip in her dress above the shoulder and all along the hem. The woman turned her head, casting Laurie a look of deep fear and pity from her hazel eyes.
“Obviously I haven’t checked out. Why would they send you up here?” He leaned forward until he was nose to nose with her, his granite eyes flashing. “I think you’re lying.”
He pressed the gun into Laurie’s skull.
“No, please.” Laurie licked her dry lips and suppressed her urge to call for help. “They make mistakes sometimes. They have two new people at the front desk. They must have made a mistake and checked out the wrong room.”
There was a long pause.
“Please, I’m very sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” Laurie directed her words of apology at the woman she had locked eyes with.
“Help us,” the woman mouthed to Laurie.
Laurie blinked, not understanding. Then she noticed a thin arm circling the young woman’s waist, and two small hands clasped together. The child moved his head into view, resting it against the front of the woman’s waist to catch a glimpse of the new arrival. He was young, Laurie realized. Painfully young.
“I doubt you’re as sorry as you should be.” The man drew back, the unyielding presence of the gun receding. “Who knows you’re here?”
Laurie bit her lip, staring at the little boy in horror. The boy had bruises on his arm and his face. He stared up at Laurie with a vacant expression. Laurie felt like he was staring straight through her. His short blond hair was also unkempt, and he was so thin his tiny wrist bones looked like they would crack if Laurie so much as reached over to take his hand.
“Who knows you’re here?” The gun was back at her temple.
The man pulled the gun away and smacked Laurie hard across her cheek. Laurie cried out as pain exploded in her head. The man behind her grabbed her hair, jerking her face up to look at the man with the gun.
“I radioed that I was on my way up. So, um, my boss, the whole housekeeping staff, and security.” Laurie shivered as she lied, her heart racing. Her boss would know, perhaps some of the other housekeepers, but she hadn’t radioed anyone. Security wouldn’t have any idea where she was.
There was a pause as the man before her thought that over. Laurie could feel his eyes pouring over her face, looking for any signs of a lie.
“Should we take her with us, too?” asked the man holding her.
“We’ve got enough baggage, I think.” The man waved his gun in the direction of the woman and child. Laurie trembled with the unspoken threat…
About The Author
Rachel Mannino is a passionate writer who creates characters and settings that allow readers to explore power dynamics in relationships, the empowerment of women, and the ethical and moral dilemmas love can create in our lives. Rachel also uses her writing skills to raise thousands of dollars for entities that enrich our lives and create community change around the world. She has worked for the Peace Corps; the Humanities Council of Washington, DC; Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company; and the Mayor’s Office of Arts, Tourism and Special Events in Boston, MA. Her first novel, Love or Justice, will be published by Limitless Press in 2016. Her second novel, Fractal, will be published by eTreasures publishing in the spring of 2016. Rachel has a BA in theatre studies and writing, literature, and publishing from Emerson College, and she has used it every day since graduation. She lives with her husband, author Christopher Mannino (http://www.christophermannino.com/), and their adorable dog and cat in College Park, Maryland.