When the long-awaited reunion between Risa and her brother, Trenton, ends in tragedy, Risa is riddled with guilt, unable to cope with the responsibility she feels over his death. On leave from the FBI, Risa returns to her former career as an English teacher at a local college, only to see her past and present collide when one of her students, Carson Mercury, turns in an assignment that reads like an eyewitness account of her brother’s murder, with details never revealed publicly.
Alarmed by Carson’s inside knowledge of Trenton’s death, Risa reaches out to her former partner at the FBI. Special Agent Gage Patterson has been working a string of baby kidnappings, but he agrees to help look into Carson’s background. Risa and Gage soon discover their cases might be connected as a string of high-value thefts have occurred at properties where security systems were installed by Carson’s stepfather and children have gone missing. There’s a far more sinister plot at play than they ever imagined, and innocent lives are in danger.
“Riveting! In her signature style, Diann Mills expertly weaves a gripping tale of ever-increasing danger. Captivating, authentic characters along with surprising twists and turns drew me deeper into this engrossing thriller and kept me on the edge of my seat until the last page. I still can’t stop thinking about it!”
~ Elizabeth Goddard, bestselling author of COLD LIGHT OF DAY
Twelve years ago, my younger brother fell into an abyss of drugs and alcohol. He chose his addictions over Mom and Dad—and me. Prayers for healing fell flat, but none of us gave up, proving our belief in unconditional love. Then yesterday he called, and my hopes skyrocketed. Trenton said he missed me and wanted to make amends with his family, beginning with his older sis. We chose to meet at a popular restaurant for a late dinner within walking distance of my apartment.
A knock on my cubicle jolted me back to reality. Gage, my work partner, towered in the entryway and grinned. “Hey, what’s going on?”
The sound of his voice caused me to tingle to my toes. “Thinking.”
“Obviously, you were a million miles away.” His blue-gray eyes bore into mine, the intensity nearly distracting me.
I leaned back in my comfy, ergonomic chair. “My brother called.”
“Trenton? The guy you haven’t seen in years?”
“He wants to meet tonight for dinner, to talk about making amends.”
Gage shook his head. “Risa, he has a record a mile long. He’s planning on manipulating you, squeezing every penny he can get.”
I picked up an old photo of Trenton and me as kids. Dad had snapped it while we were in our tree house. I swiped at a piece of dust, then replaced it beside my photo of Mom and Dad. “I must give him a chance. He’s my brother.”
“What if he’s gotten himself in over his head and needs his FBI agent sis to bail him out?”
I bit into my lower lip. Gage’s words had a level of truth, even if I didn’t want to admit it. “I want to hear him out.”
Gage stepped closer. “I don’t want to see you hurt. Remember three years ago when he called you from a bar demanding money, cursed you until you hung up?” The soft gentleness in his whispered tone said more than friend to friend. “Think about canceling the dinner or let me go with you.”
Emotion rose thick in my throat. “You mean well, and I—” Catching myself, I nearly said love. “I appreciate your concern. But I’ll be fine. Want me to call you afterward?”
He nodded. “I can run by if you need to talk.”
I peered into the face of the man I adored. “I will. Promise.”
I arrived early at the restaurant to meet Trenton, anticipating his contagious smile perfected by an overpaid orthodontist. The phone attempted to keep my attention, but my mind swirled with how I wanted tonight to move forward against the reality of what had happened in the past.
The host approached me. Trenton walked behind him, towering several inches above the short man. I held my breath and stood, not feeling my legs, only my pulse speeding at the sight of my brother.
Trenton chuckled low, the familiar, dazzling, heart-crunching expression that had always touched me with sibling love. Clear brown eyes captured mine. Gone were the dilated pupils and bone-thin body. My brother held out his buff arms, and I rushed into them.
“Risa, you look amazing,” he whispered. “Thanks for seeing me on such short notice.”
“Nothing could have kept me away.” I stepped back, noting the miracle before me. Telling Mom and Dad wasn’t a part of tonight’s plan, but I wished they were here. We’d all be blubbering. I swiped at a tear and feared a humiliating sob would replace my already-fragile composure. “I want to remember this moment forever.” Please stay strong this time.
“Me too, Sis.” He gestured to the booth. “Sit, and let’s talk and eat.”
I slid in and he took the opposite side of the table. A server presented us with menus and asked for our drink order.
“We’ll have two Dr Peppers,” Trenton said.
He remembered my favorite drink. No mention of alcohol. I breathed in deeply to steady myself. I wanted our reunion to be special, not me a weeping mess. “I’ve missed you.”
Trenton cocked his head, and the mischievous brother from days gone by appeared. “I’ve been clean for four months. Working steady and enrolled in night school for the next college term.” He took my hands, and his features grew serious. “But before I say another word, I’m sorry. I promise you, I’ll never hurt you, Mom, or Dad again. Please forgive me for the mess I made of my life and dragging my family through the stench of it.”
I’d heard this before, from his teen years into his twenties. Dare I believe our prayers had been answered? “I forgave you years ago. All we ever wanted for you is a healthy body and mind.”
“Thanks, Sis. I know you’ve heard this ‘I’m sorry’ junk before, but I’m well on my way.”
His words warmed me like a quilt on a chilly night. “I can see it, feel it. Why tell me first instead of Mom and Dad?”
“Great times with you growing up that never left me.”
Memories rushed over me . . . The time we went camping by ourselves and it snowed. Birthdays. Christmases. All the treasured times I believed had vanished into the chasm of addiction.
The server returned with our drinks, and Trenton released my hands.
“Have you decided on your order?” the server said.
Neither of us had picked up our menus, but I often frequented the restaurant and ordered a vegan dish. Trenton opted for their pork chop and fixings.
“And I’ll take the bill.” He pointed at me. “No arguments.”
“My treat when we have dinner again.”
“You were about to tell me something about us.”
He rubbed his palms on the thighs of his jeans. “Two things stand out. The first one happened when I was four, so that made you ten. You were watching me trying to climb an oak tree in the back yard. I was crying because my short legs couldn’t swing high enough. Then I felt your hand on my shoulder. You boosted me up onto the branch. Climbed up with me. No long after that, Dad built us a tree house.”
“I loved that tree house. You had your space and I had mine.”
“What I’ll always remember is what you said to me. ‘Trenton, I’m your big sis. I’ll always help you. I promise.’”
I blinked back the ocean of hopeful tears. “Thanks. I remember our times in the tree house, our private little world.”
“One more reason I contacted you. I was six and you were twelve. For three summers, Mom and Dad put me in swimming lessons, but I couldn’t put my head underwater. Not sure why. You convinced Mom and Dad that you could teach me how to swim. So every day we went to the neighborhood pool, and at the end of two weeks, I was swimming. I trusted you.”
I took a deep breath. Be aware of manipulation, Risa. “Thanks.” I raised a finger. “I remember being a high school junior and this jerk of a guy followed me home. Wouldn’t leave me alone. You punched him in the nose.”
Trenton laughed. “My voice hadn’t changed yet, but I wasn’t going to let him bother you.”
“That’s love, Brother.” Oh, Trenton, let this be for keeps. I’m afraid to believe the nightmare is over.
“And we’ll make many more crazy times together. Do you have plans for Saturday morning? I volunteer at a community center for kids at risk. We have a mixed basketball team, and I could use some help with the girls.”
I shivered. What a blessing to have my brother back. “All I need is a time and place.”
“You never fail me, Sis.” He took a long drink of his Dr Pepper. “Are you writing?”
I grinned. “Dabbling here and there.”
“I never understood why you left a safe job as a college prof and writer to the dangers of the FBI?” He shrugged. “Other than your wild side that you kept more in check than I did.”
“Teaching and writing short stories with a few successful publications failed to fill my adventure deficit. Every time I read about a crime, I wanted to be the one working the case. Dad said I couldn’t create a crime and solve it—I had to be actively involved.”
“Your personality better fits law enforcement. Still married to the FBI?”
I wiggled my shoulders. “Of course. Five years ago, I moved to the Violent Crime Division, specifically Crimes Against Children. It’s stressful and emotional, but protecting children suits me.”
He frowned. “Because of me?”
I blinked. “A little. My main reason is what happened to the little girl who lived across the street from us.”
“Right.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry her death still bothers you. Isn’t there a special team for finding missing kids?”
“Child Abduction Rapid Deployment or CARD. They’re an elite, specialized team, and that’s all they do. That’s not my role, but we often work together.”
“What do you investigate?” Trenton seemed interested in my job, another first.
“My partner and I investigate kidnappings, pedophiles, pornography, online predators, human trafficking, involuntary servitude, parental kidnapping, and any other situation that fell into the ‘violent crimes against children’ bucket.”
“I remember you were the neighborhood babysitter.” He gave me his unforgettable impish grin. “And I also remember how much fun you had learning how to handle a car at high speeds.”
I couldn’t conceal my laughter. “Guess I’m part daredevil. Blame Dad for that. I remember loving to watch him race cars.”
“He’d still be at it if Mom hadn’t insisted his speed-loving days were over.”
“When he taught me to drive, I learned a lot of tricks,” I said.
“He already knew I was danger on wheels and asked Mom to teach me.” He laughed. “Any potential brothers-in-law?”
I waved off his remark. My thoughts swept to Gage. Maybe I had found him, but that was a future conversation. “Nope. My job scares them off. I had more dates during my stint as a dull college professor.”
“You dull? Never. You just haven’t found the right guy. Pray about it, and if there’s a guy good enough for my sis, he’ll appear.”
I startled. “Did you say pray?”
“Think about it. Who but God could have turned me around? Helped me walk away from drugs, alcohol, and so-called friends?”
Even in his good days, Trenton had steered away from mentions of faith. Maybe he had changed. “I don’t know what to say.”
“That’s a first.” He chuckled. “You always had more words in one day than I had in a week. But honestly, no more jail. No more being tossed out of an apartment because I couldn’t pay the rent. No more waking up and not remembering the night before.”
Wow. A true miracle. I swiped at happy tears. “I can’t wait to tell Mom and Dad.”
He leaned over the table as though to tell me a secret. “I’ll do the honors very soon.”
When our food arrived, he asked to say grace. I was so glad our eyes were closed, or he’d have seen a leaky faucet. We chatted through dinner. Laughed about some of the goofy things we’d done as kids. Time seemingly stopped, and my half-full cup of blessings spilled over with joy.
“Will you tell me about your healing journey?” I said.
“You can hear for yourself when I talk to Mom and Dad.” He moistened his lips. “Do you trust me enough to walk you back to your apartment and call them from there? I mean, does your building have a lobby area with a little privacy?”
“It does, but you can call from my apartment. Trenton, they will be incredibly happy.”
“I hope so.”
I was so focused on our conversation that I didn’t think I tasted my favorite dish. We finished and he paid the bill. Outside the restaurant, a few people mingled, and the night sky hosted a half-moon, alerting me to how long Trenton and I had talked. I breathed in thankfulness and expectations for a positive tomorrow. At the crosswalk, we waited for the pedestrian sign to signal our turn.
“How long have you lived in this fancy high-rise?” he said as we ambled across the street.
“Two years. I like the busyness and excitement.”
“It must be in your DNA. One day, I want a small place in the country where it’s quiet.”
“Never for me. I’ll visit you though.” The humid heat mixed with exhaust fumes spiraled around us. “What are you taking in college?”
“Psychology. See if I can’t help a few kids understand life and avoid pitfalls.”
“Incredible. I’m so pro—”
Trenton grabbed my shoulders and thrust me several feet ahead next to the curb. I landed on my side and rolled over. What—?
A horrible thud.
A woman screamed.
Stinging pain radiated up my leg, side, arm, and head. In agony, I managed to roll over and glance at the street.
My brother’s body lay in the intersection, a twisted mass of flesh and blood.
Excerpt from FACING THE ENEMY by DiAnn Mills. Copyright 2023 by DiAnn Mills. Reproduced with permission from DiAnn Mills. All rights reserved.
DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She is a storyteller and creates action-packed, suspense-filled novels to thrill readers. DiAnn believes every breath of life is someone’s story, so why not capture those moments and create a thrilling adventure?
Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests.
DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers, Jerry Jennings Writers Guild, Mystery Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country.
DiAnn has been termed a coffee snob and roasts her own coffee beans. She’s an avid reader, loves to cook, and believes her grandchildren are the smartest kids in the universe. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas.
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