AN EYE FOR AN EYE (Book 2, Heroes of Quantico)
Revell, 2009; ISBN 978-0-8007-3311-7
RITA Award Finalist
Daphne du Maurier Award Finalist
Booksellers’ Best Award Finalist
As a member of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team—the nation’s most elite civilian fighting force—Mark Sanders is used to danger. Psychologist Emily Lawson isn’t. Yet danger abounds when a determined killer shatters their unexpected reunion. But who is the target? And why? As they search for answers, the peril escalates. Will they find the killer before he can complete his mission? Or is this new chapter in their long-ago summertime romance destined to have an unhappy ending?
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RITA-award-winner Hannon’s latest superbly written addition to her Heroes of Quantico series neatly delivers all the thrills and chills of Suzanne Brockmann’s Team Sixteen series with the subtly incorporated faith elements found in Dee Henderson’s books.
The long-anticipated sequel in the Heroes of Quantico series does not disappoint. Hannon continues to bring her own special brand of suspense and romance to this genre. This winning recipe provides readers with characters that are engrossing, a plot filled with unexpected twists and a love story that will melt your heart. The only downside to this terrific novel is that you won’t want to put it down.
RT Book Reviews (Top Pick)
You will be hooked from the first chapter with an explosive start, followed by brilliant pacing through the rest of the story and the perfect balance of suspense, action and romance.
A new queen of suspense joins the ranks of Brandilyn Collins, Terri Blackstock and Dee Henderson...her name is Irene Hannon. This is masterful storytelling.
His quarry was late.
Shading his eyes, the man scanned the deserted jogging path and shifted the rifle cradled in his arms. He couldn’t linger much longer without risking detection. In the past couple of hours he’d already seen a few too many runners and dog walkers, despite the oppressive August heat. But no one had yet ventured anywhere near his concealed position in the woods at the edge of the park.
After studying his quarry’s habits, he’d chosen the time and place with care. And he’d walked through the exercise dozens of times in his mind. Park behind the First Congregational Church, unoccupied on this sultry St. Louis Saturday. Leave the car at the far end of the isolated parking lot, next to the woods that separated church property from the park. Cut through the dense thicket. Wait for his target. Take his shot. Return to the car, slide the rifle back inside the weed-eater box on the back seat. Drive home. Dispose of the gun.
He stroked the sleek steel barrel, the taste of regret sharp on his tongue. He hated the thought of destroying his favorite hunting rifle. But hanging onto it once this job was finished would be too dangerous. His only consolation was that it would end its life doing God’s work.
Shifting his position, he lifted his arm and wipe the sweat from his forehead with the sleeve of his dark green shirt. Then he turned to scan the empty church parking lot, barely visible through the shrubby undergrowth beneath the trees. He hadn’t sought out a house of God as his staging area, but it was fitting. For he was here to follow a directive from the Good Book. To claim an eye for an eye.
And if his quarry didn’t show today...he’d find another time to carry out his mission.
Ten minutes later, as he was about to scrap his plans and head back to his car, his patience was rewarded. A surge of adrenaline shot through him as his target appeared in the distance. He wiped his damp palms on his slacks. Closed his eyes.
Jesus, guide my aim as I do Your work.
Exchanging his cotton gloves for a pair in snug-fitting latex, he lifted the rifle. Fitted the stock against his shoulder. Pinned the figure in his crosshairs.
There was no need to rush. He could do the job at a hundred and fifty yards, but why not wait until a hundred? The closer the target, the better the odds he could finish this in one shot.
Either way, in three minutes, max, the score would be settled. Justice would be done.
Timing and patience were everything—whether hunting animals or people.
* * *
Warmth rose in shimmering waves from the asphalt jogging path, the humidity already stifling at eight o’clock in the morning. A trickle of sweat headed south between Mark Sanders’s shoulder blades, while another tracked down his temple. Without breaking rhythm or slowing his pace, he tilted his head and lifted his arm to wipe the sleeve of his T-shirt across his forehead. The heat was bad, but he’d endured far hotter conditions. A sweltering St. Louis August was no worse than Afghanistan or Iraq or Colombia. And it was far safer.
Safety, however, was a relative term. And he never took it for granted.
Scrutinizing the terrain as he ran, he remained alert for anything out of the ordinary. That drill—an on-the-job necessity—had become a habit in his personal life as well. But the peaceful suburban park gave him little cause for concern. The place was deserted, the typical Saturday crowd sleeping in, lingering over a second cup of coffee or hibernating in air conditioning.
Forty-five minutes ago, as he’d downed a quick glass of juice, Mark had been tempted to follow their lead. Now he was glad he hadn’t. Despite the heat, it felt good to run. To be able to run. Three months ago, when the bullet had ripped through his leg, he hadn’t been sure he’d ever use his jogging shoes again. But thanks to a great surgeon and intensive rehab, he was well on the road to a full recovery. And his short-term assignment to the understaffed St. Louis office, which had liberated him from the torture of temporary desk duty, had been a godsend. In another month, he should be physically ready to rejoin his team in Quantico.
As for mental readiness—that was another question.
Images from the final, fateful moments in the quick shop invaded his consciousness with the ruthless tenacity of an insidious cancer, twisting his gut into a tight, painful knot. As the familiar bleakness settled over him, Mark knew he had to find a way to stop rehashing a past he couldn’t change. To stop second-guessing himself, wondering if there was anything he could have done to prevent the tragedy. The testimony of his partner and witnesses had confirmed he’d followed protocols. The security video had backed that up. Despite the media scrutiny and public outcry, the review board had cleared him of wrongdoing.
Yet nothing changed the bottom line.
He bore full responsibility for the death of an innocent teen.
The bullet had come from his gun.
As a result, for the first time in his twelve years with the FBI, he felt like one of the bad guys instead of one of the good guys.
Until he got past that, Mark knew he couldn’t rejoin the Hostage Rescue Team. He respected his colleagues too much to put them at risk. They were among the most highly-trained and best-equipped tactical personnel in the world, and they didn’t need an operator in their midst whose confidence was anything less than rock solid. The life-and-death situations they dealt with required instant decisions, and Mark wasn’t certain he could deliver on that. Not yet, anyway. And neither was the counselor he’d been required to talk with after the shooting.
In the interim, he’d figured the job in St. Louis would be quiet enough—relative to his usual duties—to give him a chance to regain his perspective. He’d been here six weeks; he had four to go. By then, he should be ready to go back to Quantico. Physically and mentally.
At least he hoped so.
At the moment, however, he needed a distraction from his unsettling thoughts. And the attractive woman who’d appeared in the distance provided one as she strode toward him.
Mark slowed a bit, forcibly compartmentalizing his morose musings as he enjoyed the smooth, easy grace of her stride, the long length of leg showing beneath her hot pink running shorts, the wide expanse of golden skin displayed above her white tank top. Despite the heat, she was walking at a good clip, her blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail, a becoming flush on her cheeks.
Not a bad view for a Saturday morning.
He tried to tame the appreciative grin that tugged at his lips, glad his reflective sunglasses hid his eyes. If he wasn’t careful, she’d catch him ogling her.
As the distance separating them narrowed, Mark shifted his attention to her face. And reduced his speed again. She looked familiar. He was sure he’d seen her before. But where?
And then it registered.
Two decades had elapsed since their parting, but he’d studied enough age-enhanced images to get a feel for how people looked after the passage of years. And in truth, her appearance wasn’t that much different, once you got past the cosmetic changes. Her once-long hair had been cropped to shoulder length, and her angular adolescent build had softened into an appealing womanliness, but her features were the same. Stunning green eyes, classic high cheekbones, firm chin, and supple, expressive lips.
His gaze lingered on her lips.
A guy didn’t forget his first kiss.
He stopped as she prepared to pass him, his restrained grin broadening into a smile.
“Excuse me, ma’am, but I believe we’ve met. Emily Lawson, right?”
The woman’s step faltered as she shot him a startled glance. Easing away from him, she rubbed her palms on her shorts. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I know you.”
If Mark had had any doubts about the woman’s identity, they vanished as soon as she spoke. Her distinctive voice, rich and smooth as warm honey, hadn’t changed one iota.
His smile still in place, Mark removed his sunglasses. “I suppose time hasn’t been as kind to me as it has been to you. You’ve hardly changed in twenty years. But I could never forget the first girl I kissed.”
Emily’s mouth dropped open. “Mark Sanders?”
“I don’t believe this!” Her posture relaxed, and her lips tipped up into a delighted smile as she propped her hands on her hips. “What in the world are you doing here?”
* * *
Frowning in irritation, the man lowered the rifle a few inches and surveyed the scene. Intent on keeping his quarry in his crosshairs, he hadn’t noticed the second person approaching. Now the two of them were engaged in an animated conversation.
At least no one else was in this section of the park yet, he confirmed with a quick scan. He’d prefer to do this with no witnesses, but it didn’t much matter if his target had a companion. He’d be long gone before the police arrived.
Hurting an innocent person, however, wouldn’t be right. He needed to wait for a clean line of sight. A slight shift in their positions was all it would take, and that could happen at any moment.
Fitting the stock snug against his shoulder, he once more aligned his quarry in his scope.
- When Mark and Emily reconnect after many years, it’s as if time has melted away. Have you ever experienced this kind of reunion? What are some reasons this can happen? What might it say about the future of that relationship?
- Do you think the guilt that prompted Mark’s leave from the HRT was valid? How would you advise him to deal with it? Have you ever been in a situation where you tried your best to do the right thing, only to have it backfire? How did you feel? How did you cope?
- Although Mark was a believer when he was young, the bad things he’s seen have turned him away from his faith. How do you reconcile the tragedies and violence in the world with a loving God?
- When Coop tells Mark he’s leaving the HRT, Mark is shocked. The team has always been the center of his partner’s life. But now Coop’s priorities have changed. Why? Have you ever realigned your priorities? What prompted it? Did your faith play a role in that decision?
- Did you consider Dale a “bad guy” in the traditional sense? Why or why not? Have you ever known anyone who had a stress-related breakdown? How did it manifest itself? What can we do to help a friend or family member who is under a lot of stress or pressure?
- Do you think there’s a stigma attached to counseling? If so, why? What are the upsides of seeking third-party help with problems? Have you—or anyone you’ve known—ever had counseling? Talk about that experience.
- Jack Hanley, Emily’s EAP referral, has a serious anger problem. What effect has that had on his life? Have you ever had problems dealing with anger? What are some effective ways to diffuse it before it becomes destructive?
- Emily hosts a radio program for teens who are seeking guidance. The teen years are a particularly vulnerable time of life, and peer pressure can be enormous. What are some ways parents can foster a young person’s independence during this challenging period, yet help them help stay on track?
- Dale was clearly misguided in his efforts to avenge the deaths of his family members, misinterpreting a number of biblical passages. What does scripture teach about justice, vengeance and forgiveness?
- Although she’s a psychologist, Emily finds it hard to take her own advice and remains afraid to risk another heartbreak. Fear can be a powerful force that separates us from others and holds us back from trying new things. Have you ever lost someone or failed at something? How did that affect your behavior going forward?
- Even after two decades, Wren Lake holds a special place in the hearts of Emily and Mark. Do you have a place like that? What made it so memorable?
- Emily thinks she’s created a safe, secure, predictable world for herself—until a gunshot shatters it in a heartbeat. Temporal security, as she realizes, is always an illusion. But her faith helps her carry on. Talk about the power of spiritual security. How can that sustain us through difficult times?
- When Coop asks Mark if he’s ready to go home to Quantico, Mark realizes he’s never thought of it as home. It’s just a place to stay between missions. What makes a place a home? What are the characteristics of a good home? What are some things you can do to right now—today—to make your home a warmer, more nurturing place?
- Emily tells Mark that the journey to faith is rarely a road to Damascus experience. Do you think that’s true? What has your faith journey been like?
- As Emily and Mark pick up their long-ago romance, the spark is evident. But in many relationships the romance fades over time. What are some things partners can do to keep the spark alive? What is the difference between love and romance?
- Near the end of the book, Frank Purcell calls the police after his son notices suspicious-looking activity. Had he not acted quickly, there could have been fatal consequences. Often in today’s world, though, people look the other way in such situations. Why don’t they want to get involved? What guidelines does scripture give us for occasions like this?
- When Mark gets the letter from Jason Wheeler’s parents, he’s overcome by emotion. But he doesn’t want Emily to see his tears. Why do many men consider tears a sign of weakness? How do you view male tear? Why are women’s tears more acceptable than men’s? Do you think this is healthy?
- Emily is clearly committed to her job, her patients and her counseling work at the shelter and with teens. In fact, it consumes her life. Do you think this is healthy? Why or why not? Do you know anyone who’s a workaholic? What are the downsides of this, even if the work is worthwhile? Why is it important to have balance in your life?