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Fatal Judgment
(Book 1—Guardians of Justice)

Revell, ©2011, ISBN 978-0-8007-3456-5
National Readers' Choice Award
Retailers Choice Award finalist
HOLT Medallion finalist

Deputy Marshal Jake Taylor has seen plenty of action as a member of the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group, including a recent stint in Iraq. But he’d much rather go back to that hotbed of trouble than deal with his next assignment: providing protection for federal judge Liz Michaels. His antipathy toward her is just as strong as it was five years ago, when her husband—his best friend—died in a possible suicide. But as Jake works to keep Liz safe, he discovers she’s not a cold-hearted workaholic wedded to nothing but her job, as he expected. Forced to reevaluate his opinion, he also finds himself grappling with a growing attraction. And when it becomes clear that an unknown enemy may want her dead, the stakes go up. Because now both her life—and his heart—are in danger.

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Hannon’s ability to write scenes that cause readers to feel uneasy and to second-guess their safety always makes her stories page-turners. Getting into the head of an overzealous patriot who has cracked under the strain of personal tragedy is riveting.
                                                                         RT Book Reviews

Best-selling author Irene Hannon weaves a wonderful story full of suspense and romance. She captures your attention at page one and doesn’t let it go until long after you’ve finished the book!
                                                                        Suspense Magazine

Fatal Judgment has all the things I love in a romantic suspense. A strong heroine, and a good man, and a tragedy she might not survive. I sat down to start the book before dinner and found I turned the last page before I paused to get up, it’s that good a read. Irene Hannon is a name I love to find, and Fatal Judgment is her storytelling at its best.
                                                                        Dee Henderson




At the vibrating summons from his BlackBerry, Deputy U.S. Marshal Jake Taylor clenched his hands on the steering wheel and stifled a groan. Except for the two hours of semi-restful downtime he’d enjoyed during the flight back to St. Louis from Denver, he’d been operating for almost twenty-four adrenaline-packed hours on high-alert status. His plan had been to head straight for his rented condo, ignore the boxes waiting to be unpacked, and crash.

But a quick glance at caller ID told him that plan was probably toast.

Taking a deep breath, he pressed the talk button and greeted his boss. “Hi, Matt. What’s up?”

“Sorry to call so late. Did I wake you?”

“No. The flight was delayed. I’m on my way home from the airport.”

“You might want to pull over.”

Not good.

A drive-through coffee shop came into view, and Jake swung into the parking lot, grateful for the providential timing and the establishment’s late hours. Since the LED dial on his dashboard clock was inching toward midnight and he suspected sleep wouldn’t be on his agenda in the foreseeable future, a hefty dose of caffeine was in order.

“I’m stopping for some coffee as we speak.” He pulled behind the car already at the order window.

“Good idea. Everything go okay?”

“Yeah. We had it covered. He didn’t even get off a shot.” Arresting a person on the U.S. marshals’ most-wanted list was always dicey. And as Jake had expected, Ray Carlson—whose string of warrants included murder, arson, narcotics trafficking, and firearms and explosives violations—had merited the deployment of a full contingent of deputy marshals from the service’s elite Special Operations Group.

“Good. That’s the way we like arrests to go down. Listen, I hate to pull you into another tough situation before you catch your breath, but Todd just left for Beauregard for some sniper training.”

Meaning Matt thought this job warranted SOG attention. Todd was the only other St. Louis-based member of the select tactical group headquartered in Louisiana.

“What’s the problem?” Jake extracted a small notebook from his pocket and balanced it on the steering wheel, keeping an eye on the car ahead of him.

“There was an attempted murder earlier tonight at the home of a federal judge. The judge’s sister was shot. She’s alive, but it’s not looking good. Until we have a handle on what happened, I want a protective detail on the judge 24/7. I’d like you to head it up.”

Not for the first time, he wished he’d had more time to prep before his transfer to St. Louis. Jake knew few of the judges here that the Marshals Service was charged with protecting. But no sooner had he arrived in town two weeks ago than he’d been called away to work the Carlson arrest. And during his prior six-month deployment to Iraq, he’d been focused on improving that country’s judicial and witness security—and staying alive. Future assignments back home hadn’t been on his radar screen.

“Who’s the judge?” Pen poised, Jake figured he could get the basics from Matt now and fill in the rest later.

“Elizabeth Michaels.”

He stopped breathing.

Liz Michaels? Doug’s wife?

No. It couldn’t be the same person.

Could it?

Even as that question echoed in his mind, he had a sinking feeling he knew the answer.

“Jake? You there?”

“Yeah.” He took a breath. Kept his inflection neutral. “I haven’t done my homework on the Eighth District judges in this area yet, but the name is familiar. I knew an attorney years ago from Jefferson City named Liz Michaels.”

The car in front of Jake moved away from the drive-through window, and he eased forward to place his order.

“Same person. She was in private practice there for quite a while, then served as a state circuit court judge for three years. She was appointed to the federal bench four months ago.”

A muscle in Jake’s jaw clenched as he pressed the mute button on his phone and addressed the barista. “Large Americano. And throw in an extra shot of espresso.”

The silence lengthened as he dug for his wallet, and when Matt spoke again he could tell from his boss’s tone that the man was frowning.

“Is there a problem?”

Yeah. A big one.

He’d rather go back to Iraq than head Liz Michaels’s protective detail.

But there was only one response a professional could give.

“No. No problem.”

“Good. I’ll get you some relief as soon as this thing is sorted out. But I’d like you to stick close for the first twenty-four hours. I’ll send Spence over to assist.”

“Okay. Where is she?”

“St. John’s. It was the closest Level I trauma center. Two police officers are with her in the ER.

They’ll stay there until you arrive. What’s your ETA?”

Jake exited the drive-through and headed toward westbound I-64.

“Ten, fifteen minutes tops.”

“I’ll be in touch.”

The line went dead.

After slipping the BlackBerry back onto his belt, Jake reached for his cup and took a swig of the potent coffee. Then another.

It was going to be a long, unpleasant night.



Discussion Questions
(Warning: Contains Spoilers!)

  1. Liz Michaels tried to help the two people she loved most in the world, and both attempts ended in tragedy. Do you think she was culpable in any way for their demise? Why or why not? Have you ever tried to help someone you loved, only to have the attempt backfire? How did you deal with that?
  1. Jake Taylor formed his opinion of Liz largely based on his best friend’s comments. Have you ever formed an opinion about someone based on second-hand information? How did that affect your relationship of the person when you met them? How did it affect Jake’ relationship with Liz?
  1. What are some of the things Jake learns about Liz that changes his opinion of her?
  1. Jake is upset when he realizes his sister, Alison, kept information from him about her accident—all in the name of protecting him. Do you think his anger was justified? What would you have done in Alison’s situation? Why?
  1. Liz’s sister, Stephanie, had left instructions for her organs to be donated. Have you or a family member left similar instructions? Why? Did any particular Bible passages help you make that decision?
  1. Have you ever lost a family member or someone you cared deeply about to violence? How did that affect your life? How did you cope?
  1. Have you ever lost anyone to suicide? Again, how did that affect your life? How did you cope?
  1. Liz’s husband suffered from depression and a drinking problem, which ultimately led to his demise. How did Liz try to help him? What else might she have tried? At what point in a situation like that is okay to walk away—or is ever okay?
  1. Stephanie was a victim of domestic violence. Yet she stayed with her husband, hoping he would change. Have you ever known anyone who stayed in an abusive situation? What was the outcome? How would you have advised Stephanie? How can a friend support someone in a situation like that?
  1. Despite Jake’s bad memories of intensive care, and despite his less-than-warm feelings toward Liz, he accompanies her to the ICU to say goodbye to her sister. What does this tell you about him?
  1. Jake’s father was a street cop and Liz’s was an attorney. Both Jake and Liz had good relationships with their fathers. What does this say about the influence parents (good and bad) can have on a child’s life choices?
  1. Liz’s faith sustained her through the tough times. Jake’s faltered. Talk about the reasons people might lose their faith in a trying situation. How would you advise them about how to rebuild it?
  1. Does Liz strike you as a workaholic? What’s the difference between that and commitment? What are some of the dangers of giving to much of yourself to any job?
  1. Talk about Martin. Did he strike you as a typical villain? Why or why not? What are some of the things that happened in his life that could have contributed to pushing him over the edge?
  1. Martin hooked up with a group that believed the Constitution and Bill of Rights were being undermined by the very government that created them. Do you think the freedom of Americans is being whittled away? If so, cite some examples. What are some ways responsible citizens can address such concerns?
  1. When Liz doesn’t berate him for his perceived culpability in his wife’s death, but rather listens, accepts and understands, Jake begins to wonder if perhaps God would show him the same mercy. Are those kinds of thoughts often a turning point in a relationship with the Lord? If so, why?
  1. Liz says that a key component of faith is accepting without understanding. Have you ever struggled with that? How do you deal with doubts?
  1. What was your impression of Patricia as a person—her traits and qualities? Do you think she should have acted on her uneasy feelings about her brother sooner? If so, in what way?
  1. What were some of the qualities you admired in Jake? In Liz?
  1. As the story progresses and the attraction between Jake and Liz heats up, Jake struggled to keep a professional distance. Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? Do you think it’s wise to keep your professional and personal life separate? Why or why not?
  1. Did you find Fatal Justice suspenseful? Did you think the plot was well constructed and the characters believable? Talk about your impressions of the book from a literary standpoint—its strengths and weaknesses. If you were the author, would you have done anything differently?