The first time Kate Thurlow laid eyes on Marine Sergeant Grant Jones, he was in a jail cell, had a bruise on his perfect jaw, and was pacing in the holding cage like a panther. His cellmates were huddled up in a corner, trying to stay as far away from the combat-hardened marine as possible.
Kate walked up to the cop behind the desk at the Barton police station. She had the office of the senator of Missouri’s number all ready to go in her phone and was prepared to unleash hell to get billionaire Walker Holbrook’s heir out of jail. Her boss would not be pleased with her if his newly found son, who had been given up for adoption when he was an infant, was stuck in prison for the next ten years. As Walter Holbrook’s executive assistant, Kate was authorized to bring his only living child back to Connecticut by any means necessary. The mayor of this small town was up for reelection in the fall and wanted to cement her legacy. Kate was prepared to write a very generous donation check on behalf of Mr. Holbrook.
“Can I help you, miss?” the cop asked her. He was a large, sweaty middle-aged man, and he noisily ate a sandwich that was dripping all over his uniform. Kate gave him her best smile.
“I’m just here for him.” She indicated the marine in the cell. Grant glared out through the metal bars at her. He looked angry and dangerous.
“The judge is on lunch break,” the officer said. “He’s not hearing cases until this afternoon.”
Kate silently cursed the laid-back attitude of small towns.
“I’m sure this was all a misunderstanding,” she said, trying to project innocence. “Surely we can work something out. Grant did four combat deployments and is a decorated war hero—he earned a Medal of Honor for his service.”
The cop did not look as impressed as Kate hoped he would. Figured.
“I’m only on guard duty, miss. I can’t make these sorts of decisions,” the officer said with a sigh.
“I understand. Maybe I can speak to someone who can make these decisions?”
The officer looked thoughtful. “The chief, but he’s—”
“On lunch break,” Kate finished for him. The officer nodded and took another bite of his sandwich.
“Hey!” Grant called, his voice carrying over. “You. Lady. You work for my birth father?”
“Yes,” she replied.
“I need you to sign my dog out of the pound. They took him, and someone is going to steal him. I’m not leaving without him.”
“You! No talking!” the officer scolded.
“Where do they take the animals you all pick up?” Kate asked him. “I’ll go grab his dog while we wait for the police chief to return.”
“I’m already here,” said a gruff voice. It belonged to a large man with an impressive mustache who was entering the police-station holding area.
“Katherine Thurlow,” Kate introduced herself. “I work for Sergeant Jones’s father. I’ve been sent to collect him.”
“And my dog!” Grant yelled.
“And the dog. Surely this was a simple misunderstanding. A fight in the parking lot—is that right? Boys will be boys,” she said with an airy laugh.
The police chief was not amused. “He beat a man almost to death.”
“Sir!” A female detective ran into the room.
“Yes? What is it?”
“We have an ID on the victim of the beating in the Walmart parking lot.” She looked askance at Kate, who feigned disinterest.
“He’s our person of interest in the Neely abduction,” the detective continued.
“Oh?” Kate said.
“A man in a pickup truck tried to abduct a toddler while her mom was ordering coffee,” the detective explained. “He tried to snatch her right out of the cafe. He’s probably the same man that abducted that other little girl—”
“That’s enough!” the chief barked. “Ms. Thurlow, was it? Your marine needs to be processed. I suggest you come back tomorrow about him. The judge goes golfing on Tuesday, and I highly doubt he will see the case.”
“I see,” Kate said and marched out.
As she was leaving, Grant called after her, “My dog, he’s a corgi. His name is Gus.”
“No yelling in my lockup!” the police chief bellowed as Kate walked out of the police station, heels clicking on the terrazzo floor of the historic building.
“I tried to do this the easy way, but you all didn’t want to cooperate, so now we aren’t playing nice anymore,” she said under her breath. Then she began to call people—powerful people. The first call was to the law firm that represented the Holbrook family. The next was to the senior Missouri senator’s office.
“Yes, you heard me correctly,” she said to the senator’s chief of staff. “Mr. Holbrook’s son apprehended a wanted child kidnapper, and now’s he’s being persecuted for it. He’s a combat veteran and a Medal of Honor recipient. I agree it’s disgraceful. Yes, my next call is to the media. Yes, do call the mayor. I’m sure she would love to hear about this.”
The news media was very interested in the story when she called the major networks. It had been a slow news week, and they were looking for any incident that could be milked for ratings. Finally, she called the rental company to come pick up Grant’s car and authorized a hefty surcharge for their trouble.
Pleased that the big guns were being swung in the direction of the town of Barton, her next order of business was the dog. Grant’s file didn’t mention anything about a corgi, and she should know—she had put together the dossier on Grant for Mr. Holbrook. The East Coast billionaire and his then-girlfriend and now soon-to-be-ex-wife Danielle had given up their infant son for adoption. This occurred years before Jack and Walter Holbrook made it big investing their father’s modest fortune in buying industrial, logistics, and technology companies and turning them into a profitable corporation.
Though she had known the Holbrooks for years, Kate had only started working as his executive assistant a few months before his separation from his wife. In the aftermath of the family tragedy later that same year, Walter relied on and confided in Kate. His estate neighbored her grandmother’s house in the same posh town of New Cardiff, Connecticut, and she and her grandmother practically lived at the Holbrook estate when Walter was in the worst stages of grief.
Kate enjoyed working for Walter. He believed in treating people with respect and holding them to high standards, and the results spoke for themselves in his eleven-figure net worth. He did not mention to her that he had a son floating around, however. It wasn’t until a few months after the tragedy that he had confided in her and begged her to find the lost child. And Kate had found him.
Grant had joined the Marine Corps as soon as he turned eighteen. Besides his adoptive parents, he didn’t seem to have a lot of ties left to Missouri, though he was in jail there now. He had fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Most impressively, he had earned a Medal of Honor for fighting off insurgents trying to drag off a wounded Marine. During the incident, he had been shot five times in the body armor, run out of bullets, and ended up beating one of the fighters to death with his rifle. Message boards about it said that his actions were suicidally crazy. People were stunned he wasn’t killed.
Kate had watched the body cam footage on live leak, and it was a sight to behold. She had no doubt that Grant had done a lot of damage to the alleged child abductor in the Walmart parking lot. But she couldn’t spend any more time musing about Grant. She needed to find the dog. Walter wanted no expense spared to make sure his son was happy and would settle in New Cardiff and work at his company. Not finding this dog was not an option.
Kate jumped in her rental and followed the GPS to the county pound. Walking in, she was met with the furious barking of hundreds of dogs.
“How can we help you?” asked a man in rubber coveralls.
“I’m here looking for my boyfriend’s corgi. I believe the police brought him in here. He goes by the name Gus.”
“Do you have a picture?” the dog-pound worker asked.
“Unfortunately not. The police confiscated the phone with the pictures,” Kate lied. She wished this were Nairobi or Moscow. Then she could simply bribe the man. But in America, people didn’t know what to do with a bribe, so she tried to look innocent and unassuming.
The worker looked at her critically, took in her expensive suit, designer shoes, and ten-thousand-dollar handbag. Then he went to the back and returned with the fattest, roundest corgi puppy Kate had ever seen.
“Hi, Gus Gus!” she cooed. The dog immediately ran to her as if he’d known her his whole life.
“Thank you. That will be twenty dollars for boarding fee.”
“Of course,” Kate said smoothly. “Do you take credit?”
“Nope, cash only.”
She handed the man a twenty and picked up Gus to take him outside.
“Grant is going to be so happy to see you,” she told him. Gus barked. Deciding that she had allowed enough time for higher powers to start twisting the screws on the small-town government, Kate drove back to the police station. She walked back into the building, Gus tucked into an extra bag.
“Just seeing if there is any progress,” she said to the officer. He was eating a bag of chips and turned to look at his computer. Kate took the opportunity to pull Gus out of the bag and hold him up to show Grant. He smiled when he saw the puppy. The grin lit up his face and formed dimples on his cheeks.
“No dogs,” the officer said.
“I thought I told you not to be here,” the police chief said, coming up behind her.
Just then, a plump woman in a suit turned the corner. She was flanked by security guards and several other important-looking people.
“And why isn’t she allowed here, Chief Miller?”
“Mayor,” the police chief said smartly.
“Sergeant Jones is a war hero,” the mayor said. She looked down her nose at the police chief, and he seemed to shrink under her gaze.
Kate silently laughed.
“Furthermore,” the mayor continued, “I hear he captured that child snatcher that has been terrorizing the town. I have the senator calling my office, and all the major news networks are camped out in the town square. Who knows how they even got here that quickly. And now it has come to my attention that you have a hero locked up here like a criminal. Let him out. Now.”