Ranger Courage

The games he plays are deadly...

As chief of police for Harrison University, Avery Madison expects to spend her days buried in administrative paperwork—until a murdered woman is discovered on campus. She asks Texas Ranger Weston Donovan for help. The former football star turned lawman is heartbreakingly handsome, but Avery has put romance on the back burner. Discovering her fiancé's infidelity left her questioning the type of man she chooses.

Weston believes Avery is in danger. The killer left a taunting note addressed specifically to her at the scene, along with the pawn from a chessboard. What Weston can't figure out is why Avery's been targeted. He's determined to protect the courageous woman while keeping their relationship strictly professional. Losing his wife to cancer five years ago nearly destroyed him, and Weston won't risk falling in love again.

When a second woman is murdered and Avery's family is threatened, Weston's worst fears become a reality. The man they're hunting is a monster known only as the Chessmaster. Every move the killer makes is designed to bring Avery deeper into a twisted competition of life and death...one she's not meant to survive.


Chapter One

Thunder rumbled, deep enough to rattle the windows on the patrol car, and the first sprinkles of rain scattered in the wind. Avery Madison calculated she had five minutes to make it home before the storm broke. As luck would have it, one of the perks of being Harrison University’s Chief of Police was a house on the outskirts of campus. Her commute was only four minutes. She longed for fuzzy pajamas and a heaping bowl of ice cream.            

The radio crackled and the night dispatch operator called for her. Avery groaned and picked up the receiver. “It’s a go for Madison.”            

“Chief, we’ve gotten a request for a safety escort from the Fairman Building to the faculty parking lot. The other unit is still handling the fist fight at the fraternity house.”            

“10-4. I’ll handle the escort,” Avery said. Safety escorts were provided as a security measure on campus. Faculty or students could request a police officer to accompany them anywhere on university grounds. Avery swung her patrol car into a parking lot and pulled a U-turn. The ice cream and fuzzy pajamas would have to wait. “What’s the name?”  

“It’s Professor Jenkins, Chief. She’ll be waiting in the north entrance.”            

Lightning streaked across the sky and the raindrops quickened as Avery pulled into the faculty parking lot closest to the Fairman Building. There were a handful of other cars. It was more than she expected on a Friday evening, but maybe some of the professors were preparing for the last stretch of classes before spring break.

Wind carried the scent of damp grass and rain as Avery hurried across the quad to the Fairman Building. Through the glass doors, the lobby glowed with bright fluorescents. No one was standing there. 

Strange. Professor Jenkins always called for an escort when she worked late, and she’d never left an officer waiting before. Avery opened the locked door with her master key. Resting on a couch in the lobby were a worn briefcase and an umbrella.

A muffled thump came from somewhere down the hall.

“Professor Jenkins?” Avery’s voice echoed through the otherwise quiet building, and silence followed. A chill skirted down her spine. Her hand automatically went to her weapon, although she left it in the holster. “Professor Jenkins? It’s Chief Madison.”

Avery held her breath. From somewhere around the corner, there was a faint noise. Was someone…crying? A bolt of lightning streaked across the sky followed by the boom of a transformer exploding. The lights in the building went out. A wailing scream followed, sending Avery’s heart into overdrive.

She pulled her weapon. The university’s emergency generator kicked on. The lights overhead were dim, but sufficient enough to see. Avery moved in the direction of the scream. She forced her breathing to slow, counteracting the adrenaline racing through her veins. Her rubber-soled boots were silent against the floor.

She rounded the corner. A woman was crouched at the end of the corridor, near the stairwell. Avery immediately recognized her. Professor Jenkins’s shoulders shook with the force of silent sobs. She was barefoot. A shoe, the heel broken, lay discarded in the hall.

Avery’s gut clenched. “Professor Jenkins?”

The woman glanced up. She flung her hands out, backing away in a panic. “No, please no. Don’t.”

“Professor Jenkins, it’s Chief Madison with HUPD.” Avery glanced behind her and lowered the weapon, stepping farther into the light. “Ma’am, I’m the police.”

The professor froze and blinked. Recognition flashed across her face. “Chief…”

“What happened?” Avery scanned the other woman. Her clothes were disheveled, although they were intact and she wasn’t bleeding. Another high heel shoe rested on the stairs. Had she fallen?

“I r-r-ran.” Professor Jenkins used the wall to support herself as she rose to a standing position. She swallowed hard. “I-I…”

The professor burst into a fresh wave of sobs. Something—or someone—had clearly terrified the woman.

Avery kept her voice low and comforting. “You’re safe. Everything is going to be okay.”

She reached for the radio at her waist. “Madison to dispatch.”

“Dispatch is a go.”

“I need backup at the Fairman Building ASAP. A medic too.” She glanced behind her at the empty hallway. “The building is not clear. Responding units need to enter with caution.”

Avery’s gaze shifted to the stairwell. No one was there. She took off her jacket and wrapped it around the professor. The entire woman’s body was trembling, and Avery feared she was going into shock. “Are you hurt, ma’am?”

“N-n-not me.” Professor Jenkins grabbed her arm. The nails dug into her skin. “Upstairs c-c-classroom.” Tears ran down her face. “She’s…she’s dead.”

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