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Fourth in the Kanner Lake Series

The whole thing couldn’t have taken more than sixty seconds.

Bailey hung on to the counter, dazed. If she let go, she’d collapse—and the twitching fingers of the gunman would pull the trigger. The rest of her group huddled in frozen shock.

Dear God, help us! Tell me this is a dream...

The shooter’s teeth clenched. "Anybody who moves is dead."

On a beautiful Saturday morning the nationally read "Scenes and Beans" bloggers gather at Java Joint for a special celebration. Chaos erupts when three gunmen burst in and take them all hostage. One person is shot and dumped outside.

Police Chief Vince Edwards must negotiate with the desperate trio. The gunmen insist on communicating through the “comments” section of the blog—so all the world can hear their story. What they demand, Vince can’t possibly provide. But if he doesn’t, over a dozen beloved Kanner Lake citizens will die.

"... a harrowing hostage drama ... essential reading."
--Library Journal

Chapter 1

Copyright 2010 by Brandilyn Collins
Used by permission of Zondervan

Any man going on this mission wasn’t coming back.

Cluttered kitchen, cluttered head. Kent Wicksell could hardly think straight. It wasn’t supposed to start like this. Dread anticipation pumped through his veins as he faced off with his second son. Vigilante Brad, gunning to take on the world. At twenty-nine, he thought he knew more than anybody.

Kent’s voice seethed. “For the fifteenth time—this job’s for me and Mitch. You are staying home. We ain’t leaving your mother alone.”

They’d been arguing for the past ten minutes. Too long. They needed to get out of there.

Brad stood his ground, face like granite. His cool blue eyes stabbed Kent. “I ain’t staying here.” His voice pulsed low. “I watched over T.J. since he was born, just as much as Mitch has. And I ain’t stopping now.”

Kent surged forward two steps, finger punching the air. “I’m telling you no! I won’t let you—”

Lenora caught his arm. “Stop, Kent! Let him go.”

He turned to her, jaw loosening. She stared back, a terrible, grim determination pressing her lips. Kent’s knees went weak.

No, no, no.

Where had that look on her face come from? Just this morning she’d clutched at the knowledge she wouldn’t be left by herself. “You’d let him go?” Accusation heated Kent’s cheeks. “You’d trade two of your sons for another?”

She held his gaze until her chin trembled. “It’s for T.J.,” she whispered. And she started to cry.

Kent’s heart cracked. T.J.—their youngest son. Once their greatest hope. Smart. Well-liked. Going somewhere in life. Never did drugs.

Four fractured ribs, he’d told them in his weekly phone call from prison two nights ago, his words racked with pain. Eyes swollen almost shut. A broken arm. An innocent eighteen-year-old in prison. Now beaten—just for being there.

Of all three sons, this never should have happened to T.J.

At thirty-three, Mitch still lived at home, bouncing from job to job, in and out of jail on various drug or burglary charges. Meth was his latest drug of choice. Just last night he’d shot up for this special event. To Mitch, the greatest day of his purposeless life had dawned this morning. Rescue his littlest brother, betrayed by injustice. Show the world he was worth something.

As for Brad, he was unpredictable. Angry. In jail twice for beating on girlfriends. A high school drop-out, like his dad.

Brad flicked his eyes from his mother back to Kent, his mouth drawn in a victorious line. “Don’t forget who went with you yesterday on your scouting mission. Don’t forget who took you to a computer in the library and showed you the blog.”

On Main Street in Kanner Lake they’d watched traffic, people. Noted the police station two blocks up from Java Joint coffee shop. They went into the café and ordered coffee and pastries. Sat, nerves taut, at a table, eyes roaming over the big front windows, the layout and size of the place. Kent and Mitch took turns walking down the back hall in search of the bathroom. They’d noticed the other rooms off the hall—a small office, a storage area. The rear door with no glass, a lock and deadbolt ...

Kent fixed his gaze on Lenora, watched her tears fall. It’s for T.J.

No way. She’d lost enough. Brad was not walking out of here and leaving her alone. Kent and Mitch would take Java Joint, just like they’d planned. Kill every person in the place, if they had to. Brad would stay with his mother.

Mitch stormed into the kitchen, a Rambo expression on his gaunt face. Wired for action. His pupils were huge. He swiveled from Brad to Kent. “What’re you doing standing here? We’re late.”

Kent planted his legs apart, hands on his hips. He wasn’t about to lose this battle. Bad way to start the day, and his hostages would soon feel it. His anger was pumping all the higher—and he’d have to let it out on somebody. “Your brother thinks he’s going with us.” He aimed a burning stare at Brad. “I say he’s not.”

Brad’s eyes narrowed. Without a word, without a backward glance at his mother, he snatched up the lightweight jacket he’d brought into the kitchen—a jacket with a bulging, heavy pocket—and stalked out the front door toward the weapon-loaded truck.