Plain Truth (Military Investigations)

AMISH COUNTRY SECRETS

When widowed doctor Ella Jacobsen is attacked and left for dead in her children’s clinic, the peace she’s found in Georgia’s Amish country is shattered. Someone is after something in her clinic and wants her out of the way...but what are they looking for? Ella knows only that her life is in the hands of army special agent Zach Swain. Zach can’t resist the vulnerable but headstrong Ella, who stares down danger to care for the people she loves. With one look, the loner soldier goes from investigator to protector. To save Ella, he must uncover the secrets that swirl around the idyllic community. And he needs to do it fast, because Ella is running out of time.

Memories of the attack assailed her.

As she dragged in a breath of fresh air, her head pounded. Overhead, geese honked. If only she could fly away from the chaos like the geese.

Movement caught her eye at the edge of the woods. An animal? Or—

She recognized the danger almost too late. Her heart lurching, she ran for the protection of her house. She tripped and fell as a sound exploded and a flowerpot shattered beside her.

Another shot, and then another.

She scrambled for the door, and Zach was there, pulling her inside to safety, his arms sure and comforting. He pulled her to the floor and slammed the door. “Stay down.”

“A man. In the woods. He had a rifle.”

She saw the tension on his face, and the realization made her tremble with fear. Last night an intruder had broken into her clinic. Today that intruder became a killer.

And the person he wanted to kill was her.

Debby Giusti
is an award-winning Christian author who met and married her military husband at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Together they traveled the world, raised three wonderful children and have now settled in Atlanta, Georgia, where Debby spins tales of mystery and suspense that touch the heart and soul. Visit Debby online at
debbygiusti.com
, blog with her at
seekerville.blogspot.com
and
craftieladiesofromance.blogspot.com
, and email her at
[email protected]
.

Books by Debby Giusti

Love Inspired Suspense

Military Investigations

The Officer’s Secret
The Captain’s Mission
The Colonel’s Daughter
The General’s Secretary
The Soldier’s Sister
The Agent’s Secret Past
Stranded
Person of Interest
Plain Danger
Plain Truth

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PLAIN TRUTH

Debby Giusti

People were bringing children to Jesus that He might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this He became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Then He embraced them and blessed them, placing His hands on them.

—Mark
10:13–16

This book is dedicated to my wonderful grandchildren,
Anna, Robert, John Anthony and William.
You fill my heart with joy!

ONE

D
r. Ella Jacobsen startled with fright as a crash of thunder shook her rural medical clinic. Dropping the invitation she’d been reading for the upcoming medical symposium onto her desk, she glanced out the window as another bolt of lightning lit the night sky. Anticipating the power outage that would surely follow, Ella pulled the Maglite from the bottom drawer of her file cabinet and sighed with frustration as the lights flicked off, leaving her in darkness and fumbling with the switch on the flashlight.

If someone had warned her about how often she’d lose electricity, she might have chosen another location for the pediatric clinic. As it was, after five months, she was committed to the rural farm community near Freemont, Georgia, and to her patients, two of whom had just received IV fluids in her treatment room.

Relieved when the Maglite finally switched on, she followed the arc of light through her clinic to the hallway and peered into the room where the five-year-old twins rested comfortably. Their worry-worn mother, Mary Kate Powers, slept on the chair next to the girls, oblivious to the pummeling rain and howling wind outside.

Ella wouldn’t disturb the young mother’s sleep. Instead, she slipped into her slicker and left her clinic through the side door, heading for the generator that provided a backup power source.

Quin would have called her generator inadequate, but her deceased husband had been prone to point out any number of her shortcomings. Surely eight months after his death was time enough to cease worrying about what Quin thought.

Ella grimaced as the storm exploded around her. Lightning bolted overhead, followed almost instantly by ear-shattering thunder. Rain fell in torrents, stinging her face and drenching her hair. Too late, she pulled the hood of her coat over her head and bent into the wind as she picked her way through the sodden grass to the generator.

Tonight, the tin overhang that usually provided protection from the elements did little to stem the battering rain and buffeting wind. She grabbed the gas can out of the nearby shed and filled the generator’s tank before she flipped the fuel valve to On and pulled out the choke. After pressing the control switch, she grabbed the pull cord and yanked once, then twice.

The engine failed to engage.

She tugged on the cord again and again, then sighed.

A sound caused her to turn. Through the downpour, she watched the headlights of a car race along the two-lane road in front of her property. For half a heartbeat, she wanted to flag down the driver and beg for help. Then she steeled her shoulders and shoved out her chin with resolve. She’d come this far alone, and she wouldn’t waver in her determination to succeed. Although, in spite of her attempt to be self-reliant, a sinking feeling settled in the pit of her stomach as the car disappeared from sight.

Another bolt of lightning flashed across the sky. In the yard, the sign for the Children’s Care Clinic snapped in the wind. She was alone, other than for an exhausted mother and her two daughters in the building. Like it or not, Ella needed to solve her own problems.

Opening the oil cap, she checked the level, making certain it was adequate. Then, after adjusting the choke, she pulled on the cord again...and again...and again.

Her hand cramped with the effort. Stopping to catch her breath, she stretched her fingers and listened to a sound that floated over the storm.

Turning her gaze toward the clinic, she tilted her head as the sound came again.

Was it a cry? No, a scream!

Her heart lurched.

Grabbing the Maglite, she hurried across the slippery, rain-wet grass. Her shoes sank into a patch of Georgia red clay that grabbed like quicksand. Pulling free, she raced to the side door, shook the rain from her hair and stepped inside. Before she was halfway across the office, she stopped short. Someone else was in the room. She narrowed her gaze and raised her flashlight.

A figure bathed in shadow stood over her desk. He raised an even more powerful light that blinded her in its glare. Momentarily frozen in place, she failed to react as he raced toward her and grabbed her shoulder. The crushing strength of his hold made her legs buckle. She dropped to the floor, losing her Maglite in the fall, and crawled on hands and knees to escape his hold.

He kicked her side. She collapsed. He kicked again.

Air whooshed from her lungs.

She rolled over, and caught his foot before he could strike a third blow. Twisting his leg, she forced him off balance.

He cursed.

She grabbed his thigh above his knee and dug her nails into the tender flesh. He raised his right hand. She scooted sideways to avoid the strike, but her reflexes weren’t fast enough. His fist made contact with her neck, below her ear. Her body arched with pain.

His shadowed bulk loomed above her. He drew a weapon from his pocket, aimed and squeezed the trigger.

She screamed, expecting to be killed.

The bullet failed to discharge. Again he tried. And again.

Lightning slashed outside, but all she saw was the glare of his flashlight and the gun that refused to fire.

He growled like an animal, a monster who wanted her dead. Raising his hand, he hurled the weapon against her skull. She screamed in pain, then slipped into darkness, surrounded by a cushion of oblivion.

Thoughts of her patients dragged her back to reality. She blinked her eyes open and listened to his footsteps moving away from her. A door slammed, then another wave of oblivion overtook her. When she came to, panic grabbed at her throat. Worried about Mary Kate and the girls, she knew she had to get help.

Ella inched toward the desk, where she’d left her cell phone. Her head and neck ached. Nausea washed over her. She raised herself far enough off the floor to grab her cell, tapped in 911 and turned to glance over her shoulder, using the light from her phone to scan the darkness.

A body.

No. Please, God, no.

Mary Kate lay in a pool of blood.

“Nine one one.” The operator’s raspy voice sounded in the stillness. “State your emergency.”

“Children’s Care Clinic on Amish Road.” Ella gripped the phone with her trembling hand and forced the words from her mouth. “An...an intruder attacked two women. Send an ambulance.”

“Ma’am, could you—”

Scooting closer, she gasped at the gush of blood from the young woman’s side. Grabbing a towel from the nearby supply cabinet, Ella wadded it into a ball and pressed the thick terry cloth against the wound. With her right hand, she found the carotid artery, grateful to feel a pulse.

“Tell the ambulance to hurry,” she told the operator. “I’ve got a patient who’s bleeding to death.”

“Stay on the line, ma’am. The police and ambulance are on the way.”

Ella wasn’t sure they would arrive in time.

* * *

Criminal Investigation Division Special Agent Zach Swain stood at the side entrance of the rural clinic that led into the doctor’s office and blinked back the memory of another medical facility long ago. A patient lay sprawled on the floor, and a doctor knelt over her, forcing air into her lungs. Fear clenched his gut as he was once again the eight-year-old boy screaming for the doctor to save his mother’s life.

Swallowing down the vision from his past, Zach focused on the swirl of activity before him and the information Officer Van Taylor, a young Freemont cop who had checked Zach’s identification, was continuing to provide.

“Her name’s Ella Jacobsen.” Taylor, tall and lean and midtwenties, pointed to the woman sitting on a straight-backed chair.

“She runs the clinic?” Zach asked.

The cop nodded. “She bought the three-bedroom ranch and attached a clinic to the side of the residence. Local families and some of the Amish who’ve settled in this area appreciate having a doc close at hand.”

An older police sergeant, probably fifty-five, with a receding hairline and bushy brows, stood near the woman. Zach read his name tag: Abrams. The sergeant held an open notebook in his hand.

Zach couldn’t hear their conversation, but he recognized the ashen paleness of the doctor’s face and the bloodstains that covered her blouse and the slicker that lay next to her on the floor.

“She’s a northerner,” the younger officer explained. “Moved here from Pennsylvania and opened this clinic for kids five months ago.”

All of which sounded admirable. “So what happened tonight?” Zach asked.

“The power went out, only it wasn’t the storm that caused the failure.”

Zach raised his brow. “Someone tampered with the line coming to the clinic?”

“Seems that’s what happened. He also fiddled with the spark plug on the generator the doc couldn’t get to start. One of our men got it working until the repairman from the power company restored the main feed.”

“I call that good customer service this far from Freemont.”

Taylor leaned closer and lowered his voice. “The guy on call from the power company is married to Sergeant Abrams’s daughter, so he rushed here to help.”

“Keep it in the family, right?”

The young cop smiled. “In case you’re interested, we took the doc’s prints and collected samples from under her nails.”

Which meant she had tried to defend herself.

Taylor pointed to his supervisor. “Looks like the sergeant is ready to wrap up his questioning, sir, if you want to talk to Dr. Jacobsen.”

Zach nodded in appreciation.

Abrams closed his notebook, said something to the woman and then headed across the room. As he approached, Zach extended his hand and stated his name. “I’m with the Criminal Investigation Division at Fort Rickman, Sergeant Abrams. One of your men notified our office that active duty military personnel were involved in the case.”

The sergeant returned the handshake. “Good to see you, Special Agent Swain. What we know so far is that an intruder attacked Mary Kate Powers, whose twin girls were being treated by the doctor. The woman’s a military spouse. She suffered a gunshot wound to her side and is being transported by ambulance to the hospital at Fort Rickman. Doc Jacobsen tended to her injuries before the EMTs arrived. Saved the woman’s life, according to our emergency personnel.”

Zach glanced again at the doc’s scraped face and disheveled hair. “Looks like the assailant took out his anger on the doctor, as well.”

“She claims to be all right, although she can’t remember much. Probably due to shock.”

“Do you have a motive?”

The sergeant shrugged. “Could be drugs. The doc doesn’t keep much on hand in her clinic, but dopers don’t make good choices.”

“Was the assailant able to access the meds?”

“Negative. Still, that seems the most logical explanation at this point.”

Logical or convenient? Zach wasn’t as easily convinced as the sergeant. “Mind if I talk to her?”

“Be my guest. Corporal Hugh Powers, the wounded woman’s husband, is in one of the treatment rooms. You’re welcome to question him, as well.”

Zach appreciated the cop’s openness to having a military presence in the investigation. As the sergeant and Taylor stepped outside, Zach grabbed a chair and placed it next to the doctor.

She glanced up. Blue eyes rimmed with dark lashes stared at him. Her brow furrowed, and her full lips drooped into a pronounced frown. She scooted back in her chair warily.

Zach introduced himself. “I’m from Fort Rickman. If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask you a few questions.”

“I don’t understand.” Her hand went protectively to her throat. “Why would Fort Rickman be interested in what happened at my clinic?”

Zach eyed the dark mark under her ear and the hair on the side of her head that was matted with blood. “The Criminal Investigations Division is called in when military personnel are injured or involved in a crime.”

“You’re referring to Mary Kate?”

“That’s right. Mary Kate Powers. You were treating her daughters?”

The doc nodded. “They were suffering from a gastrointestinal problem and became dehydrated. I administered IV fluids to rehydrate the girls.”

“Were they in the clinic at the time of the attack?”

“They were asleep, as was their mother.” Ella pointed to the hallway. “The girls were in the first treatment room, on the left. Their stepfather got here before the ambulance. He wanted to check on his wife, since she and the girls had been gone quite a while. He was distraught when he saw her, of course, and called the grandparents. They arrived not long ago and took the children home.”

“Am I correct in assuming the girls weren’t injured?”

“Thankfully, they slept through their mother’s attack.”

“Could you start at the beginning, ma’am?”

She glanced down at her scraped hands. Dried blood stained her fingers. Rust-colored spatters streaked across her shirt. “I’ve been treating the girls for a debilitating disease, called CED, or childhood enzyme deficiency, for the last few months. They’ve improved, but when the gastrointestinal problems started, their mother was concerned. She called and asked if I could see them tonight.”

“Was this a normal occurrence, Doctor?”

She narrowed her gaze as if she didn’t understand the question. “If you mean do I see patients at night, then no, it’s not the norm. But the girls are five years old, Mr. Swain. Their physical and fine motor abilities had been compromised by the disease. Less than two months ago, I was worried about their failure to thrive.”

“You didn’t expect them to live?”

She nodded. “They were becoming increasingly compromised.”

“But you recognized the symptoms and started them on the proper medication?” Zach asked.

“More or less.”

Now he was the one to pause and raise an eyebrow. “Meaning what?”

“Meaning my husband led the team that first identified the condition. I called the research center where he had worked to ensure the protocol he established almost a year ago was still the treatment of choice.”

“And was it?”

“Yes, so after talking to the head of the Harrisburg center, I made changes in the girls’ diets, prescribed the enzyme needed to overcome their deficiency and checked on their progress repeatedly.”

“The girls improved?”

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