Chapter One

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"Your life is in danger, Ms. Brandt," the solid man stated. The U.S. Marshal badge on his chest bore the name Marshall O'Brien.

"I understand that. I thought maybe the police could provide security for me and I could continue on with my life until you catch those guys."

"You figured wrong. Those guys know you can identify them. They aren't totally stupid. This isn't the first crime they have committed. Trust me, they will come for you."

Lilly shivered. She didn't think it was the air conditioning that made her suddenly long for a sweater or jacket. If only she had had time to go home to change out of her shorts and t-shirt. She thrust her hands into the pockets of her shorts and thought of pulling the elastic band from her hair to let her hair flow down her back and provide an added layer of warmth.

The marshal pulled out a chair. "Sit down before you fall down, Ms. Brandt."

"I-I'm fine." The words barely left Lilly's lips before she sank onto one of the hard, wooden chairs.

"I think you scared her, man," mumbled the young police officer who materialized from the edge of Lilly's periphery. He filled a paper cup with water from the cooler against the wall and passed it to her.

"She should be scared," the marshal snapped.

Lilly's hands trembled so violently she used both to lift the little cup to her lips. She took just a tiny sip, hoping it would slide past the lump in her throat.

"Have a seat, Officer Kade. Detective Bradford will join us any minute as well as your chief. Are you okay, Ms. Brandt?" It sounded like O'Brien added the last question as an afterthought.

"Just lovely." Lilly raised her eyes to meet the marshal's gaze.

The door flew open to allow three more men to enter. Don't any women work here? Lilly sure would like to have another female around for moral support. What was the gruff U.S. Marshal doing here anyway? Couldn't the local police handle this case?

"Close the door, Loudon," the oldest of the three men said. His salt-and-pepper hair was cut short in military style, and his brown suit strained to cover his muscular frame.

He crossed the room in two long strides and held his hand out to Lilly. "I'm Chief Adam Marsden. This is Detective Alex Bradford." He paused to nod at the tall, fit, thirty-something dark-haired man. "And this is Officer Doug Loudon." He indicated the uniformed police officer with the pimply face who looked about fifteen. "I see you've already met Officer Tim Kade and Marshal Bill O'Brien."

"Well, sort of." Lilly shook hands with the other men. She looked at the chief. "I was just asking the marshal if it would be possible for you to provide protection so I could continue working. I have bills to pay and things to do."

"Well, life as you knew it is officially over," O'Brien said.

"What?" Lilly's voice came out in a squeak.

"You can lighten up a little," the detective--was it Bradford?--mumbled. He turned kind eyes in Lilly's direction and gave her a small lopsided smile.

"This is serious business," O'Brien boomed.

"I'm well aware of that, but we don't have to terrify our witness."

"Can someone please explain what is going on?" Lilly interjected. "Why is 'life as I knew it' over?"

"Ms. Brandt," Detective Bradford began. "These guys are connected with numerous crimes, and you can identify them. That puts you in grave danger. We can't protect you if you continue to go about your normal routine."

Plain Haven by Susan Lantz Simpson-Chapter OneWhere stories live. Discover now