Vanished- The New Rulebook Christian Suspense Series- Book #4, page 1
Vanished- The New Rulebook Series (Book 4)
A CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIAN ROMANTIC SUSPENSE SERIES
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A CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIAN ROMANTIC SUSPENSE SERIES
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“I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life: no one comes to the Father but through Me.”-JESUS (John 14:6)
To Jesus- The Greatest Storyteller.
Lord, Your stories are still changing lives more than two thousand years later!
“The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.” Psalm 145:18
Fifteen years after the Towers’ star-studded wedding…
Captain Robert Towers of the Silver Stone Police Department (SSPD) bowed his head, crossed his fingers on his thighs, and waited at the airplane hangar door. His bulletproof vest bulged beneath his simple long-sleeve shirt and black pants. He swallowed and exhaled long, gazing at the misty cloud of warm vapor his exhale formed which quickly dissipated. His heart thudded, and his thoughts rotated between anxiety about his dangerous, secret mission and hurt.
Any minute now, he would be airborne. But he didn’t have to check the time to know he had missed both times he typically called her. His wife, Ruby, must be sound asleep now since it was almost five a.m.
Lord, was this truly necessary? Surely, they could’ve found someone else just as qualified as I am? But the mission’s short fuse nature and the narrow time window convinced him otherwise. He was it.
This wasn’t how he saw today going. Leaving his family abruptly—for an undeclared destination, toward an unclear, potentially global threat—without his wife’s knowledge.
Just great. He huffed.
Ruby will never forgive him for leaving like this. He surely wouldn’t forgive himself either after he had enough time to think about it. Right now, he moved on instinct and at command.
What about our girl?
A lump formed in his throat. The best gift God gave them—apart from each other—was safe at home in her bed, cared for, and he dared not keep up this track of thought or his love for Ruby and their baby girl would make him turn right around and call this mission quits.
This was the hardest thing he’d ever done, no comparison. Running into his daughter when he’d sneaked into the house earlier to obtain his dental records for identification, should things go south, was harder than dropping her off on her first day at school.
That day, he’d nearly turned to scoop her up and take her back home. His heart-wrenching pain from this morning felt like a knife twisting his gut. Looking into her eyes and walking out of the house, unable to tell her she may not see him for a while, tortured his soul.
As for Ruby, he could have woken her. But he knew his heart. One look at her, sleeping peacefully, and he would turn down this assignment—which he couldn’t do when all were counting on him.
So he sent their daughter upstairs to keep his credentials and grab the dental records off the armoire drawer for him, which she’d done gladly. He preferred doing this old school and had refused to allow his dentist to store his records online for safety precautions. Then he smiled, recalling that Ruby had called him out on it, calling him old school.
“Captain Towers?” A fully-suited, clean-shaven male soldier saluted him.
Robert spun in the twilight and stood, facing the tarmac with the soldier’s back turned to it. “Yes?” The soldier held out a duffel bag, and Robert took it, set it on the ground, and examined its contents. A thick hat. Fiber-free safety gloves. Specialized sunglasses. Specially designed and equipped brown tools jacket. A couple of mini flashlights. And specialized boots. Just what he’d requested.
He slid the hat on his head. The modified Special Forces gloves he was handed encased his fingers, followed by the boots whose slings he inspected to ensure they were tied strongly. Then he straightened, his heart and thoughts still hooked on his family far away.
A loud chopper whirled close by on the tarmac, and another idled about eight hundred feet from the first. He could hardly believe they would lift him off from this location. Last time he checked, this airport was so secure, it was reserved almost exclusively, except in a few instances, for Presidential use.
“Sir, we’re ready.” The soldier peered at his black-rimmed watch under dim lighting. “Are you?” He eyed Robert with a curiously uplifted brow, zipping up his jacket.
Robert wasn’t sure whether doubt or simply the fact that they were in different arms of protection services led to the question. In any case, it only served to shoot the doubt deeper in his heart.
Truth be told, he wanted to cuddle with his family, tell them he loved them and was not leaving them for no reason. The soldier wanted his response so he couldn’t keep stalling while his emotions battled. This wasn’t the time to second guess. No. Not at all.
If the Director for National Security (DNS) found him to be the one man for this job, then he would go without question. Moreover, the little prep time they had was already spent speed-training him today, although he had felt guilty mentally rehearsing his orders while eating lunch with his wife. He had tried to stay engaged but found it impossible. He hoped she wouldn’t mind.
If only he knew all the details about this potentially dangerous mission.... A couple of hitches made it frustrating. For starters, nothing about it was certain. No identified threat, no word to his family, and no guarantee of returning alive, a small voice reminded him.
“But You, Lord, are a shield around me,” he turned away slightly and whispered in prayer. Believing it bolstered his faith. He will succeed. And as the director put it, “Succeed, or don’t bother returning, because it will be too late.”
The grim prediction sealed his resolve. “Yes. I’m ready.” He stood, shoulders held square.
They shook hands. “God be with you then,” the soldier said and handed him his remaining instructions.
Robert held on a bit longer. “Protect my family.” His grip involuntarily tightened on the man’s shoulder. He’d never depended on others, but God alone, to keep those he loved safe.
“We will. Every minute,” the soldier assured with a nod and spun toward the ground-level stretch of the office building he’d exited.
Lord Jesus, please keep Ruby and our daughter safe. Thank You, Lord. Believing God to do so was not another choice, it was his only sure choice since, even with the best of intentions, man could fail. H
“But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15
A few hours earlier…
Ruby Towers slipped off her Haflinger aqua-green slippers and swung her feet a couple of inches onto their bed. She dimmed the lights, struggled to read a short story on her e-reader, but couldn’t focus so she set it down next to the lamp and sighed. Clearly, she was distracted. Her day had been busy, but not busy enough not to notice that Robert, her husband, didn’t call her since their lunch date. And it was getting late. Having tried his number thrice—the final attempt an hour ago—and being handed off to voicemail, she chose not to redial again. He’ll call. Her eyes narrowed when doubt nibbled at her.
She glanced at the wall clock, drawing up her long cream-colored comforter from beside the foot of the bed—10:59 p.m., it read, ticking closer to the last night hour. And yet, Robert had not contacted her. He’d said he had daylong meetings scheduled, but this was unusual. Not a text message. Not the usual call around nine p.m. to pray together by phone if he was going to work all night. And not the goodnight kiss he would blow to her through social media in case she checked it instead.
Weird. But she had sensed something was off with Robert earlier. He’d seemed fine when he left the house. Then at lunch, he became abrupt, barely cracked two stiff, carved-off-a-rock smiles—if she counted the one he gave her at the door when they met before settling to eat.
She’d boiled it down to a hard day at work.… But this wasn’t his normal tough-day attitude. Matter of fact, he’d tell her when he was pushing through an impossible day. She twisted the comforter through her fingers, more confusion spinning through her. A splintering pain sliced across her head. She reached over and popped an Aleve, gulping it down with the full eight-ounce, micro bottled water, a constant on the bedside lamp table.
Did I offend him? If so, how? She sighed and used the remote programmed into her phone to switch off the bedroom light, grateful for the electronic updates Robert made for her in their home ten years ago. Love for him flooded her heart, and she stared at the phone, tempted to press Call.
A couple of moments passed. Then she set it down and faced the window. He’d be back by the morning if he was working late tonight, and they could sort out their differences then—just like they always had. Hard as she tried, she just couldn’t recall when they’d fought so badly that they refused to talk. If it’d happened, she didn’t remember.
They’d talked through their miscarriage of the first pregnancy, hard as it was. They’d cried together about their loss, then shared their joyful surprise when she became pregnant the following month, leading to the birth of their only child. Not even her company’s slight brush with the risk of bankruptcy four years ago, when a large-value shipment got damaged from a tornado at Eastern Shore, had been enough to make them cross. They’d avoided the D-word from day one, and she wasn’t willing to start contemplating divorce on year fifteen.
She just couldn’t recall when or how things went wrong between them. She rehearsed the previous day in her mind. It had been routine, or so she thought. They’d joked and laughed. Things had seemed normal enough. So what was the fuss—or lack of it—about?
Robert even avoided looking in her direction while they ate lunch at the restaurant—an anomaly for him. His feet had wagged incessantly beneath the table as he leaned an elbow on it, and his answers were “hmmm” to most of what she shared. She’d never felt more “monologued” and ignored.
Which left her wondering, was he in a hurry to be elsewhere—with someone else? The thought sent her heart fluttering. She stiffened. She wouldn’t go there. It never worked well for anyone in a marriage. She’d just pray then discuss things with him when he arrived home. She would not overthink it. Would not.
Whatever the problem was, she hoped Robert didn’t believe it was insurmountable or that he had to deal with it on his own. “Enough for the day is the problem thereof”, popped into her mind. All right, Lord Jesus, I’m going to sleep, trusting You. She slid beneath the plush king-size comforter they shared and slept off.
But she was wrong about Robert.
Lilac sheets caressed Ruby’s cheeks as she stirred awake to the aroma of hot toast and fresh coffee, wafting up from downstairs. She peeled back the fluffy cream comforter and yielded to the tug of a grumbling belly. The cool drizzle amid clear skies outside the parted bedroom window, coupled with petrichor—the earthy scent of rain falling on dry soil—filtered through and warmed her insides.
She rubbed her eyes and smiled. Spring had arrived. Though it had been officially spring for some few weeks, winter’s grip on the weather held on through May, and the ice finally thawed.
Fifteen years gone by and it was still a rare joy spotting clarity on rainy spring days, especially in early June. This spring was clearer than most in her memory, a pleasant occurrence. She began imagining how her spring garden will sweetly blossom. If last year was any indication, they’d grow sufficient fresh produce to last them a few months, God willing. They might even outgrow last year’s veggies by one-third. They had fed on the tomatoes of their final harvest until Christmas. Yawning, she wished for a repeat success. Though her eyelids still drooped, she needed to get up and start her day, so she urged herself to stand.
She drew in a full breath, and her fingers swung over the comforter to Robert’s side of the bed, searching, feeling for him. How odd to have his usual snore silent all night. Maybe he finally found a solution after all these years. She chuckled, snapped back her hand, and pulled her hair into a secure bun. Its now-brittle ends reminded her aplenty that she was now in her forties, so she eased up on her second knot, loosening the base a little.
She poked a hand over for Robert, reaching farther this time. She was half-reminiscing, when she patted the pillow, noting how much daylight was already visible outside. Late-morning time, maybe? Clearly, today, she’d overslept.
“Robert?” Her hand struck the unoccupied pillow, and she frowned, twisting her head to see.
He did come back in the wee hours, didn’t he? She pursed her lips, missing his bedtime and morning kisses especially now. Having heard no rustle while she slept, Ruby remembered how he said—before their day had turned sour—that he’d bring home something special. So she’d waited up when he didn’t call. She even tried to read, but slept off. Now, eager to know her random special gift—and to resolve their issues—she rose fully and looked completely at his side.
It stared back, empty. The large comforter was unruffled on his side of the bed. His laid-out spare uniform remained as she’d placed it before bedtime. But his badge—which he’d left home with—rested atop the uniform. Though a weekend, her family’s life followed a planned routine since their careers weren’t. She, with her courier service business, and Robert as a police captain, made sure work was a daily affair, even on weekends. They scheduled vacations and made sure to unwind at those times.
Sighting the empty pillow, then the badge, she bit her lip. “So he did come home last night,” she muttered to herself.
“Robert?” Confused, she called out loudly toward the bathroom as she clutched her nightgown and approached it barefooted. She also needed to pee so she entered and swept the bathtub curtains aside. No one was there. She used the bathroom, flushed, and washed her hands, spreading Robert’s light blue spring jacket from the closet over her shoulder. She washed her face, brushed her teeth, and changed into a gray T-shirt and blue jeans. Then she creamed her hands. She’d come back up in a bit to shower. First, she wished to see her husband.
Ruby made her way out of the bedroom and down the stairs, certain he was the one making the tasteful fragrant breakfast. The aroma she’d caught upstairs was too good not to be his doing. “Robert?”
Instead, music blared from their teen dau
“Gracious.” Ruby curved to the lower set of steps, stemming her upset. Robert would usually have asked their daughter to tune it down by now, especially considering that Ruby was still sleeping.
She swung the doors wide, pressing one hand to her ear to shield her eardrums at the sudden blast.
“Ritz!” She struggled to be heard above the noise. “Ritz Towers!” A bob of dark-brown curly hair held up in a neat bun, and brown eyes surrounded by a circular ring of her father’s green eyes, peered back.
“A bit loud, Mommy?” The girl winced, stretched her hand to the radio, and turned the volume down to what she considered low—Ruby’s high—while searching for her earplugs. Then she rested her art book on her pillow.
Ruby wouldn’t yell above the noise. But why would Robert not have cautioned Ritz before now? “Sweetie pie, did you say, a bit? I couldn’t hear myself, let alone anything else. Your ears won’t thank you for this when you get older.”
Ruby released her breath in an effort to stay calm. “I’ve told you several times to keep the volume down, especially in the morning. I was just asleep. That’s why we gave you the downstairs bedroom.” Even though they wished her closer upstairs like when she was little.
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