Sneak Peek – Chapter One
I promised I’d post part of the first chapter of my latest book, The Knight Before Chaos. This is #6 in the Enigma Series. Although there are always some funny parts in this series, the books read like an action adventure. However, this latest book is not only action packed, but laugh out loud funny. I’ve been told it’s Die Hard meets Home Alone. https://amzn.to/2lNoSQ0 is the link to the ebook on Amazon which releases on Tuesday, November 5th. Pre-orders for the next week will be .99.
The Knight Before Chaos – Chapter One
The car skidded on the slick road, causing the three passengers to squeal with childish delight. Captain Chase Hunter did not share in the jovial mood, since he’d been assigned this particular mission of retrieve and rescue for his agent Tessa Scott.
“Awesome,” Sean Patrick, the oldest child, cheered before landing a fist against Chase’s arm. “Where’d you learn to drive like a badass? My mom teach you?”
Chase could feel his brow pinch in irritation at the suggestion the boy’s mom could teach him anything. Well, maybe how to handle three rambunctious kids would have been a good idea. Talk about being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
The snow had started a few hours earlier, flurries at first, and now he could only use the low beams on his car to see the road clearly. He didn’t want to be responsible for kids, especially these kids. He’d rather walk on burning coals with the Taliban in hot pursuit than do this job. Now he could hardly see the road and second-guessed whether or not he’d secured the two in the back in their car seats he’d removed from his agent’s SUV. Sean Patrick was buckled in next to him, but he kept pulling the belt forward to loosen it.
He could imagine slamming into an out-of-control truck after slip-sliding on the freshly fallen snow. The next image was the kids lying facedown in the snow with blood pooling under their heads. Tessa would never forgive him. No. She would kill him if anything happened to her angelic monsters. Even now, he could almost hear the wheels of mischief turning in their underdeveloped brains. Had he ever been in this kind of danger?
“Can we play Christmas music, Chasey?” Heather, the youngest, chirped from the back seat. Before he could answer, she burst into a chorus of “Jingle Bell Rock.” With a glance in the rearview mirror, he could see her moving back and forth in her car seat, the flaps on her unicorn hat flopping with each new verse. Her sweet voice softened him enough to smile.
“Don’t call me Chasey,” he demanded.
Sean Patrick turned to smirk at his little sister. “Yeah, Heather. Call him Badass.”
“I’m tellin’ Mom you said ass,” Daniel, the middle child declared. Chase adjusted the mirror to see him cross his arms on his chest and raise his nose in the air. “Dr. Hunter is more appropriate.”
Sean Patrick mocked him by repeating his words in a baby tone.
“Enough, boys. Call me Chase.”
“The church is up ahead—Chase.” He pointed to the right.
He pulled into the back row where all the other cars had shied away. Even after removing the key, Chase sat for a few seconds and surveyed the surroundings. Spending the last few years in Afghanistan had instilled a heightened sense of awareness of his surroundings. First, he took note of the roof of the church then the cars already parked. When Sean Patrick clicked out of his seat belt, he threw his arm out to hold the young boy in place.
“What?” Sean Patrick lowered his head to mimic the way Chase watched the falling snow. “We’re goin’ to be late,” he informed Chase as the others escaped their restraints.
Chase nodded, opened the door, and quickly moved to the passenger door to assist Heather. The snow had accumulated to at least six inches, and the boys decided a snowball fight was in order. He reached in and lifted the little girl in his arms, but before he could set her feet down, she circled his neck with her arms. Her little face came so close, he couldn’t help but see the resemblance to her mother. The dimples appeared when she smiled and patted his cheek.
“Will you carry me, Chasey? I don’t want to get my boots wet.”
“Spoken like a real diva.” Chase chuckled as he locked the car door. “Boys,” he scolded when Daniel hit him in the back of the head with a snowball. When the wetness fell into his collar, he pivoted and leveled a warning glare at the boy.
“Oops. Sorry, Dr. Hunter. I meant to hit Heather.”
He wanted to be irritated, but Heather cleared away the snow with her little gloved hand. Like her mother, she had him wrapped around her finger.
Sean Patrick darted through the parking lot, periodically kicking up snow and tumbling into the snow, accidently on purpose, Chase guessed. To try and halt the activity would only encourage a lie or more rambunctious behavior. It hadn’t taken him long to evaluate the oldest of Tessa’s kids. This one had mischievous written all over him. He also barked orders to his siblings. The kid might be practicing for an officer position in the Army.
By the time they reached the front door of the church, both boys were splattered with snow. They walked in, stomped their boots on the rug, and peeked into the sanctuary where an organist played “Joy to the World.” He kneeled down to help Heather out of her parka and removed her hat, revealing a lot of smashed strawberry-blonde curls, another likeness to her mother. The temptation to push her hair behind her ears became too great for the soldier as he toyed with one of her curls.
“You look pretty tonight, Heather.” Chase stood, and the little girl slipped her hand into his.
“I don’t want to go in there.” She looked up at him with pleading eyes, round and afraid.
“Why not? Your mom said you’re supposed to sing a song for the play. She’ll be so proud of you. Your grandparents are coming all the way from Tennessee to hear you.”
“I’m not very good.” Her bottom lip stuck out.
“You sang all the way here. You were amazing.”
“Katie Shoemaker says my voice sounds like a rooster crowing.”
A tall girl about Sean Patrick’s age moved to the front of the sanctuary. She smirked at Heather then put her hands under her armpits as she let out a loud crowing sound. Heather came to a screeching halt and leaned into Chase.
“Shut up, Katie Shoe Leather,” Sean Patrick yelled. He pushed his nose up to resemble a pig’s and snorted his way to the front of the church, twisting and turning like a farm animal. Daniel laughed so hard the choir director turned to see about the commotion. The kids already on the stage laughed, too.
Chase’s opinion of Sean Patrick went up considerably.
“Don’t listen to that brat, Heather. She’s jealous of your beauty and talent.” He patted her head then stroked her cheek. “She’s a bully,” he whispered. “Stand up to her.”
“I’m scared,” she mumbled, continuing to stare up at him.
Some of the parents were engrossed in visiting instead of watching their kids get into place for practice. He chewed the inside of his jaw and continued to scope out the sanctuary for problems.
“Boys, come here,” he called to her brothers. They hurried up and hugged their little sister. “Take your sister to her place. I’ll sit here until practice starts. I’ll move to the back in a few minutes. Good job taking up for her, Sean. Proud of you.” The boy puffed out his chest a bit.
Sean Patrick took his sister’s hand. “Come on, Tooki.” He smiled at her as Daniel took her other hand.
“I’ll sit by you and help if you forget your lines.” Daniel shoved his glasses up on his nose.
“Thanks, boys.” Chase scooted into a pew. “I can’t wait to hear your song, Heather.”
She looked over her shoulder and offered a sad but angelic smile.
He gave her a thumbs-up. “Show no fear.”
The mean girl ran up to a beefy young boy in his early teens and whispered in his ear while pointing at Sean Patrick.
“This can’t be good,” Chase mumbled.
The two boys found Heather’s place, but the choir director refused to let Daniel sit with his sister. They both offered some words of encouragement before moving to their seats.
When Daniel started to sit down, the beefy teen jerked the seat back, and Daniel landed on the floor. When Sean Patrick’s face turned to a mask of anger, he jammed a fist into the attacker’s shoulder. Laughter broke out among the other children.
Before Chase could scramble out of the pew, both boys were rolling on the floor, their grunts accompanied by yells of stop by the choir director who took a spill trying to separate them, and other children laughing and urging them on. All the while, the redheaded girl sat with her arms crossed on her chest and an evil smile stretching across her freckled face.
By the time Chase jerked the director up by his collar, the older boy had gotten the upper hand on Sean Patrick. He easily separated the boys and held each at arm’s length. Sean Patrick struggled to get free and land another blow, but the pastor showed up, clapping his hands for order.
“What is going on?” he demanded.
“This guy thinks it’s funny to jerk a chair out from a younger, smaller kid.” Chase released him so fast, the boy staggered back into the pastor.
“Sean Patrick is kind of a bully these days.” The pastor looked down his nose. “Since his mother isn’t around as much, the Scott children are a bit of a handful.”
Chase glanced out at a few of the mothers who appeared to be all ears then back at the pastor. He stuck out his hand. “I’m Chase Hunter, a friend of Mrs. Scott. She asked me to bring them to practice. She is stuck at the airport.”
“I need to speak to Sean Patrick about his behavior for a few minutes.” The pastor pointed to the music director. “Go ahead and get started.”
Sean Patrick stared down at the floor and sighed, probably used to getting called on the carpet.
Chase nodded. “Well I’ll go along to make sure I can inform his mother of the conversation.” The pastor hesitated, and his eyes rounded a little too much for Chase’s liking. He slipped a hand on Sean’s shoulder and squeezed. “We’re buddies, aren’t we, Sean Patrick?” The boy looked up at him in surprise but quickly nodded. “I would be remiss if I didn’t come along.”
“Have it your way. Come on.”
“Aren’t you going to take the other kid?” Chase glanced over at the bigger boy and noticed a smirky grin.
“My son and I will talk about the incident later.”
“He’s your son?” Chase laughed, drawing a frown from the pastor. “Figures. The preacher’s kids are always the worst ones in the church.”
“Excuse me?” the preacher huffed.
Chase laughed again and patted Sean’s shoulder. “No offense. I’m the son of missionaries and a holy terror.” His laughter stopped, and he arched his eyebrow. “Guess I still am. Or so I’m told.”
The introduction to the music cantata began as the pastor motioned for his son to follow after all then led them into a room off the sanctuary. A crash sounded at the far end as the pastor flipped on the lights. An elderly man with a bloody head fell to the floor as two others froze like deer in the headlights. Scattered coins and greenbacks left no doubt as to what had taken place.
Although one man wore a ripped jean jacket, Chase quickly spotted tattoos on his neck and a knife in his hand. The taller one hunched and reached into his tattered coat pocket.
They stumbled back when Chase rushed them. He landed an uppercut to the knife guy’s throat, dropping him to the floor as he elbowed the other’s nose, grabbed his free hand, and twisted it so he dropped to his knees. Chase quickly relieved him of a pistol before pounding him to the floor and placing his boot on his neck.
“Well, you guys are going straight to Hell. Robbing a church at Christmas? What were you thinking?” The knife guy tried to get up but got a swift kick to the gut. “Get me the extension cord over there, Pastor. Will you call 911?” In seconds, the two Christmas burglars were hogtied.
He focused on the injured man as Sean Patrick ran to his side and kneeled by him. “This is Mr. Cooke. He’s my Boy Scout leader.” Sean Patrick’s voice quivered as he spoke. “Is he going to be okay?”
The sound of distant sirens mixed with concerned voices from the sanctuary. Several mothers entered to check things out only to gasp and hurry back to make sure the children remained calm. Police soon arrived, along with paramedics. Chase had already evaluated the injured man and tried to reassure him he would be fine. The paramedics confirmed the good news before the police pulled Chase aside. Two other officers took the would-be burglars out the back door to keep from scaring the children in the choir. He tried to keep an ear tilted toward the boys while the pastor talked to the police.
“That guy is awesome. Where did he learn to do all the kung fu stuff?” The preacher’s kid now engaged Sean Patrick with the appearance they were old buddies. “Who is he?”
Sean shrugged nonchalantly before speaking. “He’s my personal trainer. Teaching me how to fight without fighting. You know. All the ninja training you see on Assassin’s Creed. I think he invented it.”
“No kidding!” The teen stared at Chase in awe.
He asked the police officer to wait a second then moved toward the boys with a deliberate narrowed stare at Sean Patrick. “You boys okay?”
“Yes, sir!” the teen blubbered. “You getting those guys was about the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. You got those guys good.”
Chase shifted his attention to Sean Patrick who watched the police before he turned a challenging gaze toward him. The kid reminded him of himself at about the same age, openly defiant, and unafraid of the consequences. “Sean Patrick?”
“I’m good. Nice moves there, Mr. Badass.”
Chase narrowed his eyes to slits. “Watch your mouth.”
Sean Patrick grinned as he saluted him. “Yes, sir. I was tellin’ Luther you been teaching me some of those moves.” His voice slowed as if he might be trying to send a message.
Chase lowered his head and eyed Luther. The kid wasn’t much different than a green recruit shifting with unease at the scrutiny. He nodded then offered a fist that Sean immediately bumped with his own. “Yeah. He shows a lot of potential.”
The teen eyed the younger boy with a new appreciation. “Sorry about being mean to Daniel earlier and fighting with Sean Patrick. My sister is such a tattletale. Dad says I should take up for her.”
“Tell her to stop making fun of Heather.” Patrick rolled his shoulders and straightened. Chase wasn’t sure if he should laugh or give him an atta boy.
The teen seemed to take offense at the demand. But, to the bully’s credit, he stole a look at Chase, who decided to arch an eyebrow and cross his arms across his chest.
“Sure, Sean.” He stuck out his upturned palm. “No hard feelings.”
Sean slapped it but remained stoic. “No hard feelings.”
The choir director stuck his head in the door and motioned for Chase.
“What’s the problem?” Had Sean Patrick committed an infraction toward another person?
“It’s Heather. She refuses to sing her song unless you and Sean are there to listen. I even let Daniel sit by her, but she’s having none of it.”
“Okay. Be right there.”
Chase eased into the front pew as Sean Patrick took his place on stage. He smiled at Heather and Daniel like a conquering hero, adding a pat on the head to each of them.
The organist played the intro bars, and the director cued Heather when to begin. She waved to Chase, walked up to the microphone that had been lowered for her, and sang “Silent Night” in a sweet little voice. Something inside him lurched, and he touched the spot over his heart. It usually ached when her mother walked into a room. He pictured Tessa when she was a little girl. Why did he feel so powerless around these two females?
One minute he was staring a hole in a burglar and thinking about doing an adjustment in his ability to walk upright, and the next he couldn’t stop smiling at a little curly headed girl with the voice of an angel. He suddenly realized the existence of a God. Being with these children might be a test of endurance and patience, but maybe in a small way he could redeem himself for all the suffering he’d handed out over the years.
When she finished, Chase stood and applauded and cheered. Apparently, the timing in showing admiration needed some work because the music stopped and everyone looked his way. A few of the kids snickered, the director appeared confused, and the organist rolled her eyes. But Heather bowed and curtsied princess style before she stepped cautiously off the stage. She ran to him with outstretched arms. He scooped her up to receive a grateful hug.
“Awesome!” he praised. “You’d better go finish your practice.” When he set her down, she kissed his cheek, and scampered back to her place. “Dear God in Heaven. Help me through this night,” he mumbled.