Love or Justice
by Rachel Mannino
“How do you hunt down a killer when he’s also hunting you?”
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.
Excerpt for Love or Justice
Later that night, David’s false alarm was all Laurie wanted to talk about as they got ready for bed. Laurie sat on her bed, pulling her nightclothes out of her bag.
Dante took out his nightshirt and sweats, laying them beside his sleeping bag. He was determined to sleep in his own bed tonight, no matter what happened. He had been on dangerous ground the last couple of nights, but he mentally committed himself to stopping it tonight.
“I don’t think I could do it. Be away from my husband when I’m about to give birth.” Laurie ran a brush through her hair.
“Lots of people have to, military wives, police wives when their husbands are on long assignments, Marshals Service. It’s just something that happens. Love the man; you have to love the job too.”
“Yeah, I guess, but God that must be hard.”
“It is hard. I’ve seen a lot of men do it. It makes them crazy. David’s doing well with it though. He’s going to be a great Witsec Inspector.”
“Well, he should be doing great with it. Apparently he has the best teacher.” Laurie winked at him.
“Don’t pay any attention to Rick.” Dante shook his head. “He trained me, so if that tells you—”
“Intruder!” Max yelled from downstairs. The sound of several gun shots followed, then return gunfire.
Laurie sucked in a breath, and stared at Dante in shock.
Dante grabbed her, dragging her into the hall. He unlatched the safe room with a swift motion. Without a word, he thrust her in, slamming the door.
As soon as Dante closed the safe room door, David burst through his bedroom door.
“Laurie?” was all David said. Dante pointed to the safe room.
“This way.” Dante got out his gun and moved down the hall.
Dante never expected a gun battle here. He led David to the mouth of the hallway where they crouched down low to the floor. Dante could hear shots and return fire. Max and Cheyn were both still fighting. Dante intended to give them cover.
He gestured to David to cover the left. He crouched close to the right side of the hallway and inched his way forward until he could see out over the living room. Then he ducked back behind the wall. He was just above Max, who was hiding behind a protrusion in the stonewall that housed the fireplace.
Max shot across the room at a man behind the couch.
Dante aimed. When the man popped up again, Dante let off a round. The man flew backward, and lay on the floor. Dante crouched back down again.
He could still hear gunshots coming from the living room below him. He maneuvered himself to see where else Max was aiming. There was another man hiding just outside the door to the patio. The man’s gunfire hit the stone wall with a sharp rapping and the tinkling of broken stone. Dante took aim, but the assailant saw him. Dante ducked behind the wall.
Two more shots came. One to him, the other to Max. The former missed, the second didn’t.
Dante turned back to the scene just in time to see Max crumple to the floor. He took aim at the assailant and fired. The man crumpled to the ground as well.
Dante heard continued gunfire on the left side of the house. He crawled over to David, who shot and then ducked for cover. There was an armed man crouched on the other side of the counter toward the open front door. He used both as an effective shield from the gunfire. Dante took aim, but had to duck as a bullet flew at them, narrowly missing his head.
David returned fire. It caught the man in the neck.
He fell to the floor. All was silent.
“Where’s Cheyn?” Dante glanced down into the kitchen.
“Kitchen floor. He’s bleeding, but I don’t know where he got shot.”
“Any more of them?”
“I don’t think so, I only saw one.”
Dante grabbed his cell phone. He punched the radio button.
“The Hilo safe house has been assaulted. Two officers down. Three assailants dead. Requesting immediate back-up and medical assistance!”
“Copy that, safe house. Back-up and medical assistance is on the way,” responded the voice on the other side of the phone. Dante stuck the phone back in his pocket.
“David, we have to secure the house. I’m going to crawl out to the end of the landing. I need you to cover me.”
When Dante was halfway down the landing, a shot rang out from a part of the kitchen below where David was crouched.
A scream came from the hallway behind Dante. Oh God. Laurie was out of the safe room.
Author Rachel Mannino
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.