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KND Romance of The Week Comes From The Bestselling New Author Behind Alexa Grace’s Deadly Trilogy – An Amazon’s Top 100 Bestsellers in Romantic Suspense, Deadly Deception (Deadly Trilogy) & is Featured in This Free Excerpt!

Last week we announced that Alexa Grace’s Deadly Deception (Deadly Trilogy) is our Romance of the Week and the sponsor of thousands of great bargains in the Romance category: over 200 free titles, over 600 quality 99-centers, and thousands more that you can read for free through the Kindle Lending Library if you have Amazon Prime!

Now we’re back to offer our weekly free Romance excerpt, and if you aren’t among those who have downloaded Deadly Deception (Deadly Trilogy), you’re in for a treat!

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With more than 600 5-star reviews, it’s time for you to discover the bestselling new author behind Alexa Grace’s Deadly Trilogy – Amazon’s #1 rated and #15 bestselling “Romantic Suspense” title!

In Deadly Deception, the trilogy’s second book, enter the disturbing world of illegal adoptions, baby trafficking and murder with new detective Lane Hansen and private investigator Frankie Douglas. (Special Note: Deadly Offerings (Book 1) is FREE)

4.8 stars – 181 Reviews
Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled
Here’s the set-up:
An Amazon’s Top 100 Bestsellers in Romantic Suspense

In Deadly Deception, the second book of Alexa Grace’s Deadly Trilogy, enter the disturbing world of illegal adoptions, baby trafficking and murder with new detective Lane Hansen and private investigator Frankie Douglas.

Lane Hansen has a problem. He needs a woman to portray his wife in an undercover operation and the only females on his team are either very pregnant or built like linebackers. Then he remembers gorgeous P.I. Frankie Douglas — a woman who could take his breath away by her beauty and take him down in 2.5 seconds. Unfortunately, she’s the same woman he treated like a one night stand six months before.

Frankie Douglas has a problem. She wants to rid the world of one baby trafficking killer. The only way to do that is to partner with Lane Hanson, the man who hurt her by disappearing from her life after a night of mind-blowing sex.

 

And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:

 

Chapter One

 

Mandy Morris was the kind of girl a man would want to take home to meet his parents.  But that was not a sentiment shared by her man.  When the college sophomore told the man she thought was the love of her life she was pregnant, things got ugly.  He’d even suggested the baby wasn’t his.  He’d walked away.

It was the toughest decision she’d ever made, but she had given her baby away.  What else could she do?  She had no parents, no baby daddy, no job and two more years of college on a scholarship that was barely enough to cover her expenses.  How could she possibly support a baby?

So why was she standing outside the office of the adoption agency that had supported her financially and adopted out her baby to a loving, wealthy couple who could give her baby everything?

She wanted her baby back. She’d decided she’d move heaven and earth to support and care for him. She’d wasted four long weeks using conventional methods to get an appointment to talk to someone, anyone at the agency, about her change of heart. She wanted her baby back and that was that.  He would be nearly six weeks old by now.  She didn’t want to miss another second of his life.

So she’d resorted to desperate measures.  She’d staked out Dr. Eric Caine’s swanky home outside of Bloomington, Indiana, and then followed him to his office this morning.  She slung her small purse over her shoulder, took a deep breath, and then pushed open his office door.  He was sitting at a huge, L-shaped glass desk in front of a floor-to-ceiling window working on his computer, his back to her.  She walked inside and stood at his desk, and cleared her throat when she realized he had not heard her come in.  He whirled around in his chair, his eyes wide with surprise.

“I didn’t hear anyone come in.  I thought the building was empty.”  His eyes scanned her as if trying to remember her name.

“I’m Mandy Morris.  I was your patient during my pregnancy.”

“That’s right, I remember.  What can I do for you, Mandy?”  He looked at her suspiciously and wondered how in the hell she got into the building which was supposed to be locked down.

Mandy sighed and sat in one of his guest chairs.  “I want you to know how much I appreciate how your adoption agency has supported me during my pregnancy.”

“That’s our job and we’re glad to do it.”  The doctor looked at the door as a man with long, shaggy blonde hair entered the room.  The man nodded to Mandy and sat at the round table in the back of the room.

She watched him then said to the doctor, “I know that I will need to repay you the money you gave me and I will.  I want my baby back.”

The doctor now glared at her, gone was his friendliness from before.  “Mandy, we explained during your orientation, that once you give up your baby to the agency, there is no turning back.”

“I want my baby back,” she insisted.

“You signed our documents relieving yourself as the child’s parent.  He is living in a wonderful home with loving parents.”  He was getting impatient now and began tapping his foot.

“I said I want my baby back.”  Was he hard of hearing or what?

“You’re twenty years old and a college student. Babies have expensive needs. How do you think you can afford to support a baby?”

“I’ll get a job.  I’ll find a way.”

“This is not an emotional decision to make.  Think about it.  Think rationally.  Can you give him the kind of life his new parents can?  I think not.”

“I want my baby back.  And if I need to involve the police, I will.”  She was tired of listening to his crap.  She ached for her baby and she would get him back no matter what she had to do.

“It seems your mind is made up.  There is only one thing I can do.  I’ll call the parents.”  He picked up his cell phone and headed to the hallway outside the office.  The man with the long blonde hair followed him.  Several minutes later both men returned.

“Mandy, this is David,” the doctor said.  “He’s my driver.  I’ve asked him to take you to the home of the couple who adopted your baby boy.  They’ve agreed to give him back to you.”

“Oh, thank you so much, Dr. Caine.”  Tears flowed down her cheeks.  She threw herself into his arms to hug him.  “I promise to pay you back every penny.  I promise.  Thank you so much for doing this for me.”

Dr. Caine patted her on the back and guided her out of his office where she followed his driver.

 

It was an uneasy ride, both of them silent and seemingly deep in thought. They were hours and miles away from Bloomington before Mandy asked, “How much longer?”

David glanced at her for the first time since they started out and said, “Not far.”

She tried to make small talk by asking him how long he’d worked for Dr. Caine.  He didn’t answer.  He just watched the road and drove.  That was fine with her. She wasn’t looking for a new BFF so she ignored him and imagined she’d soon hold her soft, cuddly little boy to her chest.  She smiled at the thought.

It wasn’t long before they left the interstate and were driving a country road leading through the rich farmland the Midwest was known for.  They drove for another hour then David slowed the car and turned onto a dirt lane that led into a wooded area.

“Why are we stopping here?  Where’s the house?”

“This is where the couple agreed to meet us.”  He opened his door and got out then leaned in to say, “Might as well get out and stretch your legs.  They won’t be here for forty-five minutes.”

He walked around the car to open her passenger door and helped her get out.  She stretched her legs and arched slightly to ease the dull pain in her back.  She hated long car rides.

“It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”  She glanced at him as he leaned against the car.

“Yeah. I grew up around here,” he said.  “I used to know every inch of these woods.  See that path over there?  It leads to one of the most beautiful fishing ponds you’ve ever seen.”

“Really?”  Not that she cared, but this was the first friendliness he’d shown her and she wanted to keep things pleasant for the drive back.

“Hey, we’ve got time.  Come on, I’ll show you.”  He headed to the path at the edge of the woods then looked back at her to see if she was following.  When he saw that she was, he waited for her to reach him then turned to walk ahead. “It’s this way.”

They’d walked for what seemed to her to be a couple of miles when she asked him, “How much farther is it?”

“Almost there,” he said.

She trudged forward, clutching her purse to her side, and almost slammed into him when he stopped suddenly.  Her head jerked up.  His expression was odd, his eyes dark and flat.

He pulled out a revolver.  “End of the road, Miss Morris. Turn around.”

“What in the hell are you doing?”  She turned away from him, her body trembling so hard she feared her legs would give out.  She started to ask him why, but the bullet slammed into her head with a loud explosion and darkness clawed at her as she sank to the ground.

David walked to the car, but had to stop several times to throw up.  He attributed his physical reaction to the fact that it was his first kill at close range.  He hadn’t counted on the blood that sprayed onto his face, clothe, and shoes.

It was part of his job, he told himself as he wiped his face and shoes with a towel from his trunk.  This was what he signed up for ten years ago when he assumed bodyguard duties for Dr. Caine.  Serve and protect.  Of course, when he signed up he didn’t know he’d have to kill to protect the lucrative business the doctor had built.

He pulled his cell phone out of his pants pocket and pushed a button on his speed dial.  “It’s done.”  He’d be meeting very soon with Caine.  This turn of events would mean a higher percentage of the profits, whether the doc liked it or not.

 

Frankie Douglas sat under the white wedding tent with the other guests.  It was a beautiful spring day.  She felt the breeze caress her face and flow through her long blonde hair. The sweet scent of the roses in Anne Brandt’s rose garden was incredible and reminded her of the times Anne taught her how to tend the bushes with exquisite care and love.

She’d been to weddings where the bride looked beautiful; but Anne was breathtaking. Her long ivory gown was silk with hand-sewn pearls.  It had an empire waist with a long train. She had a glow about her that seemed to radiate from within. Michael Brandt, the groom, hadn’t taken his eyes off her since she’d arrived at the altar to join him and the minister.  He seemed unaware of the hundred or so guests watching the ceremony. His total focus was on the woman standing before him. Frankie had never seen a couple this much in love.

Although the happy couple had eloped last November, the groom’s mother and Anne’s friend, Daisy, had their own ideas about the celebration of matrimony.  The two would have a formal wedding — period.  Both women loved Anne as the daughter they didn’t have. So the young woman who’d lost her mother years before ended up with two.  They planned the wedding with zeal enjoying every second of the planning.

It’s funny how things happen, she thought.  She was in the hospital last November with a gunshot wound that cut through one side of her shoulder and out the other when Michael wheeled Anne in a wheelchair into her room.  After he introduced them, Anne clasped her hand and thanked her for working to protect her from a serial killer who had his sights on her as his next victim.  She remembered explaining to Anne that it was her job as a private investigator to protect her but Anne would hear none of it.

They’d become fast friends, which was surprising to Frankie, who had never had a female friend nor had she wanted one until Anne.  She and Anne had gotten together at least once a week at Anne’s wind farm or at the Front Page Bar for drinks ever since.  She’d found that she and Anne shared the same off-the-wall sense of humor, a love for Lady Gaga, as well as cravings for junk food when stressed.

The ring bearer pranced up the aisle holding a basket in his mouth that contained a black velvet jeweler’s box inside.  Harley, Anne’s Giant Schnauzer, aimed for Michael and sat in front of him as Michael removed the ring from its box.  Harley then took his place with Hank, Anne’s farm foreman who sat at the end of the first row.

The minister pronounced them husband and wife; the couple kissed then turned toward their guests.  Frankie watched Michael kiss Anne again as he briefly rested his hand on her baby bump, and the guests erupted with applause. She had never met a couple who wanted a baby more.

Frankie joined the rest of the guests as they made their way inside the house for the reception.  She scanned the crowd and saw Lane Hansen, the star of her erotic dreams. Her stupid heart slammed against her chest.

Lane had the dubious distinction of shooting her the year before.  Guns drawn, they’d been creeping down some rickety storm cellar steps to stop a serial killer from killing Anne.  One of the steps gave way under Lane and as he tumbled down the stairs, his gun went off, piercing Frankie’s shoulder.

It had been six months since she’d seen Lane and seeing him now didn’t exactly make her day. In fact, it pissed her off.

After three days of unconsciousness, last November, Frankie had awakened to find six foot five, decidedly gorgeous Deputy Lane Hansen asleep in the chair next to her hospital bed with his hand clasped around hers.  She would learn that he’d spent three days in her hospital room watching, okay more like hovering, over her before she woke up.

When she was released from the hospital, he dropped by her apartment for five straight days equipped with enough food to feed an army. After dinner each night, he’d ignored her protests and insisted on looking at her bullet wound and changing her bandaging.  Then they’d relaxed on her sofa; playing music, watching television, or just talking.

By the third day, though she’d never have admitted it, she was looking forward to his visits.  On the fifth day, after he changed her bandaging, he’d kissed her.  She remembered the moment as if it had just happened.  She’d played it in her mind a million times.

He took her lips tenderly, tentatively exploring her mouth with his tongue.  He broke off the kiss and looked into her eyes as if asking for permission.  She responded by snaking her arms around his neck and pulling him to her.  Then she was kissing him and he was kissing her back, as he swept her off the couch and onto his lap, stroking her with his wonderfully large hands.  His mouth tasted like the wine they’d had for dinner and his scent was a mix of musk and man that was intoxicating.

His kiss deepened; his tongue exploring the inner recesses of her mouth.  A surprising, urgent need flowed through her veins like molten lava. She leaned into him, tightening her arms around his neck and pressing her soft breasts against the hardness of his massive chest.

A heat swept through her as she remembered how he’d carried her to her bedroom and gently eased her down onto the bed. They’d made wild, turbulent love for hours and hours that night and she’d slept in his arms.  In the morning, he was gone.  Just like that.  No good-bye.  Nothing.  Like a ghost, he’d disappeared; leaving her like it’d just been a one night stand.

She was so angry she’d punched his pillow then screeched as pain shot down her arm from her shoulder wound.  Damn him.  She’d broken her own rule of not dating cops and look what had happened.  She’d learned the hard way cops found it way too easy to lie, and obviously, this one found it quite easy just to screw her and leave.

She glared at Lane who stood talking to another cop, who looked familiar. Lane was dressed in a navy suit, white shirt, and red tie looking like he’d just left a photo shoot.  Her stupid heart leapt.

Her first instinct was to leave, but she’d promised Anne she’d stay throughout the reception and dinner.  It was going to be a long night.

 

Lane didn’t see Frankie at first, but rookie Deputy Edward Smith pointed her out.

“Isn’t that your sister, Frankie, over there?”

His eyes followed Ed’s index finger that aimed at one of the most gorgeous women he’d ever seen standing next to Anne Brandt in a low cut, lavender silk dress that provocatively skimmed over her body, ending at her knees revealing her endless long legs.  Damn, had he really forgotten how sexy she was?  He started counting to ten and prayed his arousal was not obvious.

“I told you before.  She’s not my sister.  She told you that at the crime scene so she could get information out of you.”

“Are you doing her?  Because if you’re not, I’m going to be all over her like a dog on a sausage salesman at a dog park.”

“I don’t kiss and tell.  Anyway, I heard she was in a relationship.”  Okay, that was a lie, but he found he didn’t like the idea of Ed Smith or any other man making a move on her.

“I don’t care if she’s in a relationship or not.  He’s not with her, so she’s fair game,” he said as he moved toward her.

Lane clenched his jaw and scowled at him as Ed now stood next to Frankie pulling her into a conversation.  She looked more uncomfortable than pleased and looked toward him.  When their eyes met, she sent him an icy glare.  He needn’t wonder whether or not she was angry with him.  That glare said it all.  Damn it.  He’d screwed up badly with her and had no idea how to fix it.  And he did want to fix it, because he couldn’t get her out of his head, awake or sleeping.  He’d relived making love to her a million times and taken as many cold showers.

If she was haunting him, it was his own damn fault.  What kind of a bastard had he become leaving her after a night of mind-shattering sex?  The truth was, he’d never felt like she made him feel and it scared the crap out of him. So he’d walked away.  And now there was nothing he regretted more.

 

It was the bottom of the eighth inning and Detective Lane Hansen was up to bat.  The pressure swirled around him like a thunderstorm. The bases were loaded with two balls and two strikes. The Cop Team needed a hit or there was a good chance the Fire Fighter Team would win the game.  The Fire Fighters hadn’t beaten the Cops for five years and he certainly didn’t want to be the reason they won.

The pitcher unrolled a curve ball that surged past him and clapped in the catcher’s mitt.  Ball three.  A cell phone went off in the dugout and Ed Smith announced it was Lane’s.  The pitcher aimed another one and Lane’s bat cracked like a whip.  The ball sailed over left field, out of the park.  Lane flew to first base, then raced to second then third following his teammates before him.  The crowd in the bleachers was now standing up and the cheering was ear piercing.  He slid into home base creating a cloud of dust that coated his eyes.  He heard the umpire call the play safe and realized his team surrounded him, patting him hard on the back.  Lane rubbed his eyes and noticed Ed running toward him from the dugout with his cell phone in his hand.

“It’s the sheriff.  A couple of hikers found a body in a wooded area near State Highway 55 off of U.S. 41 close to Kramer. He said for you to get your ass out there ASAP. The crime scene techs are there and the coroner is on his way. Call dispatch for the exact location.”

Lane grabbed his cell out of the deputy’s hand and raced toward his county sheriff department issued SUV. He turned on his lights and sirens and sped out of the parking lot. His adrenalin shot into high gear as it always did when a possible homicide was assigned to him.

He saw flashing lights ahead and knew he’d found the crime scene.  He pulled up behind a patrol car, threw his county sheriff investigator jacket on over his baseball uniform and pushed his small notebook in his back pocket.  He noticed Karen Katz, a crime scene technician, standing near the crime scene investigation van and headed toward her.

“Karen, how’s it going?  What do we have?”

“See for yourself.  Enter over there and stay in the woods and off of the path we’ve got secured with crime scene tape.  Other than the hikers’ shoe impressions, we won’t have any others.  The rain storms we’ve had for the past week washed away any chance of getting the victim’s and the killer’s shoe impressions.  Same goes for tire impressions.  Where’s your partner?”

“Jan is out on maternity leave.”

“Already?  I thought she had a couple of months to go.”

“Twins.  Her doctor put her on bed rest.”

Lane hiked through the brush and soggy earth, his boots making a squishing sound with each step.  He walked as close as he could get to the narrow dirt path which was more mud than dirt.  He was grateful that although it was early evening; there was still enough light so he didn’t need his flashlight.  He noticed two sets of shoe impressions, which were undoubtedly those of the hikers. He pressed onward and hoped he wouldn’t get a raging case of poison ivy like he did the last time they found a body in a wooded area.

Soon he saw a pair of teenaged hikers sitting on a log a short distance from the immediate crime scene talking with a deputy named Sam Hillsen.  They looked like they might be fourteen years old.  One was holding his stomach and looked like he’d either been sick or was getting ready to be sick.  He overheard Sam tell them that their parents were on the way.  He made a mental note to get their names from Sam and schedule an interview with them with their parents present.  Judging from the terrified expression on their faces, he may also need to call in one of the victim advocates or counselors.

He saw Bob Goldberg, another crime scene technician, holding a camera and taking photos of the body and scene.  He carefully inched around the body of a young girl lying face down in the dirt careful not to disturb the scene.  She was fully clothed and a small leather purse lay near her. He wanted to search it for identification, but knew he couldn’t before the Coroner arrived and photos were taken.

He moved closer; the bullet wound at the back of her head was unmistakable. It looked like the gun was shot at point blank range. Lane could see stippling around the wound that had burned onto her skin. The killer could have been as close as three feet from the girl when he fired. He looked around for any sign of a bullet in case it went through the victim.  He saw nothing and assumed the bullet was lodged in her skull.  If so, the medical examiner would recover it from the body during the autopsy.

“I won’t be able to get blood spatter,” said Bob. “Did Karen tell you that we can’t get shoe or tire impressions either?”

“Yeah, I know, thanks to the rain.”

He inched closer to the body and bent down to examine her hands ans wrists.  There were no defensive wounds nor was there any damage to her long fingernails.  He checked the wrists for ligature marks to determine if she came to the scene voluntarily.  There were none.

From what he could see, there was no sign of a struggle, nor were there signs she’d been dragged here.  For what reasons would she follow her killer to this remote area willingly?  And why would someone want to shoot her at point blank range?

He heard someone approaching and turned to see his supervisor, Sheriff Tim Brennan had arrived.

“What’s your initial assessment?”  Tim studied his face as he asked the question.  Lane Hansen had been promoted to detective just five months before and the sheriff still considered Lane a rookie.  He was a smart and perceptive rookie, but a rookie just the same.

“There are no defensive wounds or physical signs that she fought back nor are there any signs she was dragged here.  I think she knew her killer and I think her killer lives in this area now or has lived here in the past.  How else would he even know this place exists?  I don’t think it was a random decision that he lured her here to kill her.”

“Wouldn’t the rain have washed away the drag marks?”

“Not if there’d been a struggle.  The drag marks would have been deep enough so that the rain would fill the indentations in the ground, not washed them away.  The surrounding plants would have been disturbed too.”

“Agree. Find a bullet or casing?”

“No, sir.  Chances are it’s still lodged inside her skull.”

 

Doc Meade arrived and shot a glance over to Lane and Tim before he bent to look at the body.

Lane slipped on his latex gloves as he watched Doc Meade open the girl’s purse as Bob took photos.  Doc handed the purse to Lane, who looked inside and took out a small wallet.  A bank debit card, driver’s license, library card and Indiana University identification card were inside.

“Victim’s name is Mandy Morris, 19 years old, and a student at I.U.  There’s a dorm address on the ID.  The driver’s license lists an address in Bedford that may be her parents’ residence.  I’ll do a computer search for the phone number and contact them first.”  Lane jotted notes on a small pad he’d retrieved from his pocket. Contacting a victim’s parents was his least favorite thing to do, but it had to be done.

“Shit.  She goes to I.U.?  My daughter, Jennifer, is a junior there.”  Tim cringed and pulled his jacket collar up and a chill rushed through his body.  This murder hit too close to home.  How many times had he and his wife, Megan, worried about his only daughter’s safety since she’d moved out of their home to live in a dorm in Bloomington?  He was well aware of the crime statistics related to coeds on college campuses.  On college campuses there are large concentrations of young women who are at greater risk for rape and other forms of sexual assault than women in the general population or in a comparable age group. Therefore, Jennifer’s safety remained on his worry top ten list.

“There’s a cell phone.”  Lane took out a plastic sandwich bag and placed the slim silver cell phone inside.  He’d examine it later for recent calls, etc.  There were no car keys, but that was not a surprise if Mandy Morris lived on campus and walked to her destinations or used public transportation.

The deputy and the crime scene technician gingerly loaded her body on a gurney and headed for the M.E.’s van.  Doc Meade turned to follow them and said, “Lane, I’ll do the autopsy at 10:00 tomorrow morning.  I’ll see you there.”

 

Lane had stopped by his apartment to shower and shave and felt almost human again as he found his cubicle in the bull pen at the Sheriff’s office.  He found his cubicle lined with streamers and colorful confetti to celebrate the Cop Team’s win over the Fire Fighters.

He turned on his computer then searched for the home address listed on Mandy Morris’s driver’s license and found the name of Nelle Morris as the homeowner.  He’d go to Bedford in the morning after the autopsy to talk to Nelle Morris in person, then to Bloomington to talk to Mandy’s friends.

 

At 10:00 a.m. sharp, Doc Meade made the initial Y-shaped incision in the body of Mandy Morris.  Lane didn’t think Doc would find anything of interest in his examination of the victim’s organs.  She was nineteen years old, for Christ’s sake.  Lane’s interest was in the skull where he’d seen the obvious entry of the bullet.

He was feeling queasy and cursed himself for meeting with some buddies from the baseball team at Mom’s Cafe for his usual farm style breakfast which included everything from the kitchen except the sink.  It wasn’t the smartest move just hours prior to an autopsy but it wasn’t his first and he didn’t think eating all that food would matter.  Until now.  It was the combination of the formaldehyde smell and the sickening ripening of the dead body that had the contents of his stomach doing acrobatics. The Vicks VapoRub he’d smeared in each of his nostrils hadn’t helped a bit.  He’d walk into the hallway for some fresh air, but his boss, Sheriff Tim Brennan stood beside him and he didn’t want to give the impression he was the rookie his supervisor thought he was.

The fluorescent lights were old and periodically crackled and blinked as the coroner went through the motions of removing and examining her organs as he spoke into his tape recorder.  Lane’s mind wandered and he was startled when Doc plunked a bullet into a stainless steel bowl and handed it to him.

“I’m no bullet expert, but that sure looks like a .38 hollow point to me.”  Doc wiped the sweat from his brow and glanced at Lane.  “It will be interesting to find out what ATF has to say about it as well as what kind of gun it was shot from.”

Lane put the bullet in a padded envelope to send to ATF for analysis.  He, too, was curious about the make of the gun the killer used.  It would be one more piece to a puzzle he intended to solve to bring justice for the victim and her family.

 

He pulled up to the house and rechecked Mandy Morris’s home address on his notepad.  This was the right place.  The house looked like it was overdue to be condemned with grass and weeds that went to his knees and house paint peeling down to raw wood in places. There was an ancient sofa on the front porch with a can of cigarette butts lying on a table beside it.

He knocked on the front door several times and was getting ready to leave when he heard a female voice on the other side of the door say, “What do you want?”

Not the friendliest greeting, but he could deal. “I’m Detective Lane Hansen and I’m looking for Nelle Morris.”  He held his badge up to the peep hole.

“Yeah, well what do you want with her?”  She barked through the door.

“I have news about her daughter.”

The door flew open and a middle aged woman with scary, wiry gray hair, yellow teeth wearing a stained flowered house dress stood before him holding a glass of what smelled like bourbon.

“That’s funny. I don’t have no daughter,” she said.  “I’ve got a good for nothing niece that my brother left me when he died.  But she ain’t here.”

“Are you Nelle Morris?”

“Who else would you be talking to at this address?”

“Is your niece named Mandy Morris?”

“Yeah, so what?”

“I’m afraid I have some bad news.”

“Then spit it out.  Can’t you see I’m busy?”

“Mandy Morris was found dead yesterday.”

“No kidding.  That’s what she gets for going to college when she should have stayed here and supported her aunt.  She needed to get a damn job to help pay for things around here.  But no.  Her mother filled her with all these ideas that she could be anyone she wanted to be. And she sure didn’t want to be anything like her dear Aunt Nelle.”

Lane just stared at her. He’d just told her that her 19 year old niece had lost her life and this is her response? She was most definitely one of those women devoid of maternal instincts. He clenched his jaw and asked, “When was the last time you saw Mandy?”

“A couple of summers ago.  Just before she got that scholarship and left for college.”  She slurred the word “college” like it was a dirty word.

“And you haven’t heard from her since?”

“Nope and I didn’t expect to hear from that ingrate.  After all I’d done for her too.  Who else would have taken her in after that car accident that killed her parents?”

“Do you know anyone who would want to hurt Mandy?”

“Nope.  If you’re done with your questions, I’m busy,” she said as she pulled a pack of cigarettes out of her dress pocket.  She then stumbled back a couple of steps and slammed the door in his face.

Lane folded his notebook and slipped it in his pocket. As he walked to his car, he thought of Mandy Morris, only nineteen years old, lying face down in the dirt, with a bullet through her head. She’d been so young with her life ahead of her. Her mother had been right.  She could have been anyone she wanted to be.  That her young life was cut so short and her only living relative didn’t give a damn sickened and saddened him at the same time.

His cell vibrated in his jacket pocket. He pulled it out and checked the display.  “Hi, Mom.”

“Hi, sweetie.  How’s my handsome boy? Just calling to see if you can come for supper tonight.  Your dad caught some catfish yesterday and we’re having a fish fry.”

“Not tonight. I’m in Bloomington on a case. I may be here for a couple of days.”

“Lane, there’s another reason I called.  You remember Nancy?  I work with her at Dispatch.  Well, Nancy has a pretty daughter and I thought…”

“Don’t go there again, Mom.  You’re not fixing me up. I thought we had that settled. I don’t need your help in that department.”

“Honey, I respectfully disagree.  You should have made me a grandmother years ago.”

“Seriously, Mom?  This is why you called me?  Because I’m at work and I have a lot to do today.”

“I love you, Lane.”

“Love you too, Mom. Good-bye.”

That was one thing about the Hansen family; love was never in short supply. What his mother didn’t know was the only woman he wanted was one who haunted his dreams.  The one he’d probably never have again.  Not that he’d stop trying.  Seeing Frankie at the wedding had only deepened his resolve.  Now he just needed a plan to make her forgive him and let him back in her bed.

He’d turned the ignition to start his car when the cell buzzed again.

“Hansen,” he answered.

“This is Dr. Meade.  After you left the autopsy, I discovered something that may help your investigation.”

“What’s that?”

“Mandy Morris had given birth within weeks of her death.”

Lane disconnected the call and leaned back in his seat and felt anger wash over him.  He had two immediate thoughts.  The first was how could anyone have killed this girl?  The second was this sick bastard is going down.

Like most cops, he knew the leading cause of death for pregnant women is homicide at the hands of the baby’s father. So finding the baby daddy jumped to first on his agenda.

Lane checked into the Comfort Inn and spent most of his evening eating pizza and making interview plans and appointments for the next day.  He wanted to talk to Mandy’s dorm roommate as well as visit area hospitals to find out where she’d given birth.  He vowed the name of the baby daddy would be his by the end of the next day.

He pulled out the information he’d gotten from the college.  He learned that Mandy Morris was an A or B+ student who was on a scholarship that paid all her expenses as long as she was enrolled in college, taking classes and maintained at least a B average.  Student records revealed she had missed numerous classes this term, though she had not missed even one in the past.

He turned on his laptop to view her bank records.  There were direct deposits of $500 to her checking account every two weeks from F.H.A.A.  Since she was not working and had a scholarship, these deposits made him curious.  There were debit transactions to a grocery store, a pharmacy and small amounts for cash.  There were no payments made to a physician, which he found odd since she was pregnant.  In addition, there were no payments for rent.  Something that popped out was a direct deposit of $10,000 that was made six weeks prior to her death from F.H.A.A.  Who the hell was F.H.A.A. and why were they paying her this much money?

Her phone records revealed she’d made multiple calls to F.H.A.A. The last call was made the day before her death.  Other than that, the only calls she made the month before she died was to a pharmacy, a Pizza King, and a Chinese restaurant.  It seemed odd to him that someone her age had not called or texted any friends.

It was close to midnight when he closed his laptop and turned on the television.  Exhausted, he fell asleep watching a Seinfeld rerun.

He awoke on fire, panting and aroused.  Damn it.  Not again.  He glanced at his phone — 3:00 a.m.  The dreams had started again.  Not that they’d ever stopped.  This one was in erotic Technicolor and started with the back of a dress Frankie was wearing.  The zipper was stuck so he pulled on it, his knuckles rubbing against her satiny skin, the sexual electricity sharp between them.  He plucked a tiny piece of fabric from the zipper teeth and the zipper flowed down easily.

He slid his hands inside her dress and around her waist, pulling her closer to him until he could feel her heat. He pushed the dress to the floor to reveal her perfect naked body.  He turned her around and possessed her mouth in a deep kiss that sent fire shooting through his body down to his toes.  Beads of sweat formed at his temples, the heat becoming unbearable as he pushed her onto the bed, her soft body beneath his hard one.

The dreams were his punishment for leaving her like he did. One night with her and he experienced a sexual explosion like no other.  He’d had sex with a lot of women but none who made him feel like he’d died and gone to heaven.  He always had the control, but with Frankie, he didn’t give a damn who controlled what as long as he was having mind-shattering sex with her.

Lying next to her that night, the realization had branded him that she was the one he might not be able to leave behind and it terrified him.  So he’d held her while she slept and at dawn he slipped out of her bed and out of her life.

When had he become such a bastard?  Why in the hell did he do that?  That was a stupid question with a puzzling answer.  She scared the crap out of him.  With the S.W.A.T. team, he’d crashed through a known and armed drug dealer hideout and had not blinked; but this gorgeous, spunky woman and her effect on him had him shaking in his boots.

Now he’d lost her.  He knew he had.  It was his own damn fault.  He cursed and threw a pillow across the room.  He then got out of bed and headed for the shower — a cold one.

They’ve been warned! Getting personally involved with a partner can put cases and lives at risk. Going undercover as husband and wife, Lane and Frankie struggle to keep their relationship strictly professional as their sizzling passion threatens to burn out of control.

Continued….

Click here to download the entire book: Alexa Grace’s Deadly Deception (Deadly Trilogy) >>>

Kindle Free Book Alert for October 2: 370 brand new Freebies in the last 24 hours added to Our 3,900+ Free Titles sorted by Category, Date Added, Bestselling or Review Rating! plus … Iain Edward Henn’s Disappear (Today’s Sponsor – 99 Cents)

Powered by our magical Kindle free book tool, here are this morning’s latest additions to our 3,900+ Kindle Free Book listings. Occasionally a title will continue to appear on this list for a short time after it is no longer free on Kindle. ALWAYS check the price on Amazon before making a purchase, please! If a book is free, you should see the following: Kindle Price: $0.00
But first, a word from ... Today's Sponsor
The novel's pacing is solid...hooks readers into caring about the chase...

Disappear

by Iain Edward Henn
4.0 stars - 8 reviews
Supports Us with Commissions Earned
Currently FREE for Amazon Prime Members
Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled
Here's the set-up:
On a rain-drenched night, a young husband runs to the corner shop - and never returns.

Eighteen years later, his body reappears.

-Reappears, wearing the same clothes, and on the same street from which he went missing.
-Reappears, and is the victim of a hit/run driver.

He looks exactly the same now as when he vanished.

His widow, Jennifer Parkes, is determined to solve this enigma once and for all.

Other bodies are found, all missing eighteen years. None seem to have aged.

On the trail of a vicious killer, Jennifer and homicide detective Neil Lachlan are drawn into a human minefield of deception and terror; into the depths of a mystery that baffles the police and defies logic. Investigating at the forefront of scientific and medical technologies, they confront a threat that is closer than either of them could ever have imagined.
One Reviewer Notes:
TERRIFIC - a stylish, craftily worded thriller, that just draws you in by the sheer inventiveness of the premiss. In this book Iain Edward Henn has managed to draw upon all the elements that makes for intriguing thriller writing - crossing time, social class, love, loss, indulgence, greed, and - to top it off - pure evil. This is a fantastic read - totally suited to those who like their novels to come jagged, and the with ability to tweak the mind and unsettle the soul.
Martin Treanor
About the Author
Iain Edward Henn has a background in newspaper and magazine publishing. His short suspense fiction has been published by magazines in England, North America, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Australia and New Zealand, and includes Iain Edward Henn has a background in newspaper and magazine publishing. His short suspense fiction has been published by magazines in England, North America, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Australia and New Zealand, and includes 'Private Day,' which has appeared with the Scandinavian University Press. His novel, 'The Delta Chain,' was an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Quarter finalist, and has appeared on the Amazon UK's Mystery and Thrillers lists.
UK CUSTOMERS: Click on the title below to download
Disappear
Each day’s list is sponsored by one paid title. We encourage you to support our sponsors and thank you for considering them.
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Two years have passed since Danny Lynch saw the beast that would alter his life forever...and now, a string of mysterious drownings have brought him to a new town by the ocean.But there is more to the creature than Danny could ever have imagined.And the secret to destroying it may rest in...
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The Origin: (The Sighting Book Two)
By: Christopher Coleman
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Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents is a political essay written by Edmund Burke, an 18th-century political theorist, and philosopher. The essay is dedicated to the topic of nepotism of King George III and the influence of the Court on the House of Commons of Great Britain....
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These introspective tales (described by one critic as "the perfect panacea for minds stressed by life's challenges") feature animals, allegories and melodramas of everyday life. At the center of the stories are tiny creatures (a sparrow, earthworm or paperclip) struggling to make sense of larger...
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Minor Sketches and Reveries
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Our sixth annual edition of Buzz Books: Romance provides substantial prepublication excerpts from forthcoming romance titles. Enjoy access to some of the best romance voices the publishing industry is broadcasting for the upcoming season as you discover new series, catch up with the latest...
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*** Wishing Shelf Awards Finalist ****** Readers' Favorite Finalist ***It's not all tinsel and candy canes for Santa's daughter!Grumpy, workaholic Santa always favored Tina's younger brother, grooming him from birth to fill his boots when he retires. There's just one problem - Nicholas, Jr. hates...
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Stop setting yourself on fire to keep someone else warm. Book 1 - NoxiousBrady and Levi have been together since high school, since before he became famous and started thinking only about himself. Which he should, his football career is everything right now. Brady understands and doesn't mind she's...
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From NY Times Bestselling Author, Angie Fox comes a hauntingly fun holiday taleSouthern girl Verity Long needs a Christmas miracle...Verity is ready to deck the halls, jingle some bells, and maybe, just maybe have a merry Christmas with her boyfriend’s stuffy family. Truly, if she doesn’t extend...
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The gods are gone. Her brother is missing. One retired assassin must confront her past to save his future…Immortal Kat Dubois has traded in her sword for a flask. Hard drinking helps ease the grisly memories of her former trade: an assassin of immortals. She’s perfectly content to spend...
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Fairy tales can come true. But it’s terrifying when it happens to you.Grace James thinks having to wear a hand-me-down uniform while trying to fit into her posh new school in glitzy Orange County is bad, but being followed to class by seven little angry men is worse. The dwarfs believe that Grace...
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The Fairy Tale Thief
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A prince running away from his royal life. A small town librarian struggling to move on from heartbreak...can a snowstorm help this unlikely pair find love? Prince Gabriel “Gabe” Rafferty wants a normal life. At least for six months. That's the deal he's made with his father. Six months of...
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Kindle Free Book Alert for October 2: 370 brand new Freebies in the last 24 hours added to Our 3,900+ Free Titles sorted by Category, Date Added, Bestselling or Review Rating! plus … Iain Edward Henn’s Disappear (Today’s Sponsor – 99 Cents)

Nana Malone’s Sexy in Stilettos is Our eBook of the Day at just $3.99, with 4.2 Stars on 29 Reviews, and Here’s a Free Sample

Here’s the set-up for Nana Malone’s Sexy in Stilettos, just $3.99 on Kindle:

What’s worse than having to watch your sister marry your ex fiancé? How about when that fiancé fires you from the family business?

Hyper-organized, event planner, Jaya Trudeaux is used to doing things by the book and never making waves. It’s a strategy that’s served her well until she finds herself in failure alley with no fiancé, no job and her thirtieth birthday looming. Maybe it’s time to change her methods. Starting with an unlikely date to the wedding from hell.

The only thing that can tie carefree, playboy, Alec Danthers down is his formidable step mother. When she calls him home to help find his wayward brother, he never imagines an uptight, list making, sass-talking woman would make him think about putting down roots.

Can Jaya put the lists down long enough to enjoy the ride that is Alec? Will Alec stop running long enough to recognize true love?

Warning: Sexy, sass talking women will make you laugh, cry and want a pair of killer footwear.

From the reviewers:

I loved both main characters! – Book Lover | 5 reviewers made a similar statement

I read this book in a day and a half! – Sabchild | 7 reviewers made a similar statement

Really enjoyable & casual summer read with fun characters. – Arya Hariharan | 4 reviewers made a similar statement

Hot, hot, hot! That is really all you need to know about this book. But to be fair, it is also funny and sweet, all of the things you should expect from a good rom-com. – danikat

Great read! It’s just a run Romance read and won’t make you hate youself for reading it unlike some other more popular romance reads. – Frellac

I really liked it. The heroine, Jaya has this charming way about her. And the friendships seemed real. I can see me and my girlfriends gabbing like that. The author has a way with dialogue. The hero, Alec seems a little like a jerk in the beginning, but you warm to him as you go on. He doesn’t do anything overt, but maybe I just don’t like that kind of cocky, over-confident guy. Turns out he’s quite fun. – Megan Watson

I’m so glad I picked this one up. I became a fan of Nana Malone after Reluctant Protector. I’m so glad I got in on the free party and picked this one up. Jaya was funny and charming and Alec is that guy we all fantasize about. You know, the super sexy guy your mother told you to stay away from? It’s a light sassy read. Though you can see a hint of the author’s romantic suspense roots with one of the side story lines. I think this is another series so count me in as a fan. – Julie S.

 

Visit Amazon’s Nana Malone Page

Nana’s love of all things romance and adventure started with a tattered romantic suspense she borrowed from her cousin on a sultry summer afternoon in Ghana at a precocious thirteen. She’s been in love with kick butt heroines ever since. With her overactive imagination, and channeling her inner Buffy, it was only a matter a time before she started creating her own characters.

Waiting for her chance at a job as a ninja assassin, Nana, meantime works out her drama, passion and sass with fictional characters every bit as sassy and kick butt as she thinks she is. Though, until that ninja job comes through, you’ll find her acting out scenes for hubby and puppy while catching up on her favorite reality television shows in sunny San Diego.

And here, in the comfort of your own browser, is your free sample of Sexy in Stilettos by Nana Malone:

 


Today’s Kindle Daily Deal — Tuesday, October 2 – Save 88% on Christopher Beha’s Thoughtful and Provocative Novel What Happened to Sophie Wilder; Kindle Daily Teen Deal — Save 89% on Megan Miranda’s Paranormal Novel of Love, Life and Death, Fracture; plus …Sandy Powers’ Passage (Today’s Sponsor)

But first, a word from … Today’s Sponsor

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Passage

by Sandy Powers
4.8 stars – 13 Reviews
Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled
Don’t have a Kindle? Get yours here.

Here’s the set-up:

“”Passage”” is an incredible true story of Grace Balogh and her courage during a turbulent time in American history.

Through her journals, “”Passage”” recounts the struggles of the Great Depression; America fighting two wars: one with unconditional public support and the other with public indifference; the letters from servicemen that are poignant and timeless; and the emergence of a Cold War that pits two ideologies against each other.

Threats to the American way of life prompt the FBI to recruit Grace Balogh as an undercover agent whose job is to infiltrate a cell planning violent overthrow of the United States government. Grace leads this secret life largely unknown to her family and friends.

“”Passage”” takes the reader on a journey into events of the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s that read like the headlines of today.

 

Each day’s Kindle Daily Deal is sponsored by
one paid title on Kindle Nation. We encourage you to support our sponsors and thank you for considering them.

and now … Today’s Kindle Daily Deal!

What Happened to Sophie Wilder by Christopher BehaKindle Daily Deal: What Happened to Sophie Wilder

Living in New York, Charlie Blakeman is struggling to write his second novel when his college love, Sophie Wilder, returns to his life. A decade has past, and she has a wrenching story to tell. When Sophie once again abruptly disappears, Charlie sets out to discover what happened to her.

Kindle Daily Deal Price: $1.99
Learn more

Fracture by Megan MirandaKindle Kids Daily Deal: Fracture

Eleven minutes passed before Delaney Maxwell’s best friend, Decker Phillips, pulled her from an icy lake. She was dead and now is seemingly fine, but scans show significant brain damage. Pulled by strange sensations, Delaney finds herself drawn to the dying. Is her altered brain predicting death, or causing it?

Kindle Daily Deal Price: $1.99
Learn more

Kindle Fire HD Owners’ Favorite Accessories

We’re happy to share this post from another in the Kindle Nation Daily family of sites, Kindle Fire on Kindle Nation Daily, where you can find all things Kindle Fire, every day!


We do our best here at Kindle Fire on Kindle Nation Daily to bring quality content and accessories to your attention, but we thought you might like to hear what your fellow Kindle Fire HD owners are actually buying for a change. Herewith, we present the bestselling KFHD accessories that have been flying off Amazon’s virtual shelves since the KFHD’s launch.

Motorola S305 Bluetooth Stereo Headset w/ Microphone [Black] (4/5 stars, currently priced at $32.76, which is 67% off the regular retail price of $99.99) – From Amazon:

Speakers Deliver Robust Audio Performance The S305 lets you wirelessly stream music from any compatible Bluetooth stereo-capable device… The headphones generate rich, deep sound thanks to two high-quality 30mm speakers. With strong bass and dynamic audio, the headphones render all the highs and mids of your music with superb fidelity. You’ll also enjoy remarkable call clarity without ambient background noise.


MoKo(TM) Slim-fit Folio Cover Case for Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7″ inch Tablet, BLACK [with Automatic Wake/Sleep function, Protective Hardback, Built-in Multi-angle Stand, Integrated Elastic Hand Strap] (4.5/5 stars, currently priced at $15.99, which is 43% off its usual retail price of $27.99) – From Amazon:

Custom designed for [the] Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7″ tablet, this case features a combination of functionality and style. Well built to protect your tablet for the years to come.

The premium quality [polyurethane] boosts a classy look.

Premium quality no-scratch microfiber interior adds comfort and an additional layer of protection.

A built-in stand with three angles: perfect whenever you type an email or watch a movie.

Access to all features and controls. Device can be charged with case closed.

Padded front cover and hard plastic back offer enhanced protection, at front, back, and all CORNERS.


Motorola Wireless Keyboard with Trackpad (4/5 stars, currently priced at $59.90, which is 40% off its usual retail price of $99.99) – From Amazon:

Motorola Wireless Keyboard with Trackpad is an ultra-thin, compact keyboard that easily slips into your briefcase or purse to go wherever you need it. And at under 15 ounces, you’ll barely know it’s there. Plus, you can type the days, weeks and months away without having to recharge. Accomplish more with the integrated trackpad with touchscreen functionality. Swipe and scroll through screens, and pinch, zoom, and rotate your pictures or maps. This full size keyboard makes typing long emails, editing documents, and browsing the web easier. Built in Android shortcut keys make navigating your device a snap. Enjoy working without the hassle of wires. Connect your keyboard to multiple devices so you can be productive in everything you do.


Amazon Kindle PowerFast for Accelerated Charging (3.5/5 stars, currently priced at $9.99, which is 50% off its usual retail price of $19.99) – From Amazon:

  • Official Amazon 9W, 1.8A adapter charges Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ in under 5 hours, Kindle Fire HD 7″ in under 4 hours, and Kindle Fire in under 3 hours
  • Optimized for Kindle tablets: PowerFast is a 9W charger and will charge your Kindle tablets faster than the white 5W Kindle charger will. (Note Kindle e-readers will charge at the same rate regardless of if you use a 5W or 9W charger)
  • Designed for use with the black micro USB cable included with the new Kindle Fire or Kindle Fire HD devices.
  • What’s in the Box: PowerFast Charger & quick start guide
  • Adapter’s prongs conveniently fold for storage and travel

And in case you’ve been wondering, the Kindle Fire HD that’s proven the most popular among buyers so far is the entry-level, 7″ model with 16GB on-board memory, currently priced at $199.

 

Fire owners, be sure to “like” our “Kindle Fire at Kindle Nation Daily” Facebook page for daily tips and great content at great prices – http://www.facebook.com/KindleFire.at.KindleNationDaily

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kindle Nation Daily Horror Readers Alert! Brian James Freeman’s The Painted Darkness … “Dark, Terrifying & Deeply Moving Gem of a Novella. Brian James Freeman Managed to Both Scare me & Move me to Tears” … Over 45 Rave Reviews & Now Just $2.99!

“The tone and building dread reminds me of classic Stephen King. Great velocity and impact, and super creepy. Don’t go in the basement!” — Stewart O’Nan, New York Times bestselling author of The Night Country

The Painted Darkness

by Brian James Freeman

4.5 stars – 55 Reviews
Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled
Or check out the Audible.com version of The Painted Darkness
in its Audible Audio Edition, Unabridged!
Here’s the set-up:

The Painted Darkness: A NovellaWhen Henry was a child, something terrible happened in the woods behind his home, something so shocking he could only express his grief by drawing pictures of what he had witnessed. Eventually Henry’s mind blocked out the bad memories, but he continued to draw, often at night by the light of the moon.

Twenty years later, Henry makes his living by painting his disturbing works of art. He loves his wife and his son and life couldn’t be better… except there’s something not quite right about the old stone farmhouse his family now calls home. There’s something strange living in the cramped cellar, in the maze of pipes that feed the ancient steam boiler.

A winter storm is brewing and soon Henry will learn the true nature of the monster waiting for him down in the darkness. He will battle this demon and, in the process, he may discover what really happened when he was a child and why, in times of trouble, he thinks: I paint against the darkness.

But will Henry learn the truth in time to avoid the terrible fate awaiting him… or will the thing in the cellar get him and his family first?

Written as both a meditation on the art of creation and as an examination of the secret fears we all share, The Painted Darkness is a terrifying look at the true cost we pay when we run from our grief—and what happens when we’re finally forced to confront the monsters we know all too well.

Reviews

“Spooky stuff!” — Richard Matheson, New York Times bestselling author of What Dreams May Come and I Am Legend

“Brian James Freeman’s evocative tale about the dark corners of an artist’s imagination is elegant and haunting.” — David Morrell, New York Times bestselling author of The Shimmer

“The Painted Darkness is a dark, terrifying, and deeply moving gem of a novella. Brian James Freeman managed to both scare me and move me to tears.” — Tess Gerritsen, New York Times bestselling author of The Keepsake

“Wonderfully reminiscent of the quiet horror of Charles L. Grant, The Painted Darkness takes readers on a gently chilly walk through the forest of fears both conscious and subconscious. With Straubian lyricism, Brian James Freeman evokes not only the irrational terrors of childhood, but addresses the roots of creativity and the vital importance of art. A very impressive achievement.” — Bentley Little, award-winning author of The House and His Father’s Son

About The Author

Brian James Freeman sold his first short story when he was fourteen years old and his first novel when he was twenty-four. His short stories, essays, novellas, and novels have been published by Warner Books, Leisure, Cemetery Dance, Borderlands Press, Book-of-the-Month Club, and many others.

His newest book-length work of fiction is The Painted Darkness, which took the Internet by storm during the summer of 2010 and will be published in hardcover in December 2010 by Cemetery Dance Publications. The Painted Darkness was also offered as the “Free eBook of the Month” by WOWIO.com in October 2010, and within two weeks it became the most downloaded title in the program’s history.

Brian’s short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies since 1994 including From the Borderlands (Warner Books), Borderlands 5 (Borderlands Press), Corpse Blossoms (Creeping Hemlock Press), and all six volumes of the acclaimed Shivers anthology series (Cemetery Dance Publications).

Brian is currently the managing editor of Cemetery Dance magazine, where his column “The Final Question” appears. His essays, columns, and interviews have been published in The Stephen King Library Desk Calendar 2009 (Book of the Month Club), The Stephen King Library Desk Calendar 2010 (Book of the Month Club), Jobs in Hell, Hellnotes, and Cemetery Dance.

Brian is also the publisher of Lonely Road Books where he has worked with Stephen King, Guillermo del Toro, Chuck Hogan, Mick Garris, Stewart O’Nan, and other acclaimed authors. You can learn more on the official Lonely Road Books website at LonelyRoadBooks.com

(This is a sponsored post.)

Enjoy This Generous Free Excerpt From KND Thriller of The Week: Sean Black’s Crime Fiction Thriller Lockdown: The First Ryan Lock Novel – 4.4 Stars on 19 Reviews & Just $3.82

Last week we announced that Sean Black’s Crime Fiction Thriller Lockdown: The First Ryan Lock Novel is our Thriller of the Week and the sponsor of thousands of great bargains in the thriller, mystery, and suspense categories: over 200 free titles, over 600 quality 99-centers, and thousands more that you can read for free through the Kindle Lending Library if you have Amazon Prime!

Now we’re back to offer our weekly free Thriller excerpt:

Lockdown: The First Ryan Lock Novel

by Sean Black

4.4 stars – 19 Reviews
Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled
Here’s the set-up:
From the publisher of Lee Child and Tess Gerritsen comes the bestselling debut novel from rising star of crime fiction, Sean Black.
It may be Christmas Eve in New York, but for ex-military bodyguard Ryan Lock it’s business as usual. His task: to protect the CEO of the world’s leading bio-technology company from a group of radical, and highly determined, political activists.
But when a failed assassination attempt leaves the streets of midtown littered with bodies, and hours later the son of the company’s chief research scientist is abducted from his Upper West Side prep school, Lock’s hunt for the boy turns into an explosive game of cat and mouse.

And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:

 

LOCKDOWN

A Ryan Lock Thriller

SEAN BLACK

 

For information about Sean Black and the Ryan Lock series please visit:

www.seanblackbooks.com

www.facebook.com/seanblackthrillers

 

 

Prologue

 

Nobody guards the dead. Once that occurred to Cody, the plan had come together in no time. Drive to the cemetery, dig her up, sling the coffin into the back of the truck, and disappear into the night. Easy. Apart from one tiny hitch.

‘Man, this ground is like concrete.’

Cody glanced over at his companion, the moonlight splitting his face in two. ‘Quit bitching.’

Usually he liked to work alone. But moving a body was a two-man job. No way round it.

‘I ain’t bitching. I’m making an observation.’

‘Well, observations ain’t gonna get this done.’

‘Neither’s digging. We’re gonna need dynamite to get this old witch out of the ground.’

Don was right. They’d picked the worst time of the year. November on the Eastern Seaboard. A bitter winter with the wind coming off a slate grey Atlantic. Freezing the living, as well as the dead.

Spring would have been better. The nights would still have been long, but the ground would have been softer. Thing was, though, they didn’t have a choice. Not as far as Cody was concerned.

The way he saw it, the clock was ticking. Every day lives were being lost. Hundreds, maybe even thousands. No one really knew for sure. And these deaths weren’t peaceful. Not like the one this woman had experienced: slipping gradually away, the fiery edge of pain dulled by drugs, her loved ones around her to say goodbye.

No, these deaths were torturous and lonely. A final spit in the face to cap a miserable existence.

The anger he felt thinking about it rose up in him. He punched down hard on the lip of the blade with the heel of his right boot, and finally found some purchase. Frosted grass gave way to frozen top soil. He stamped down again. The blade dug in another inch. His breath clouded in the freezing night air as he sucked in oxygen and repeated the process.

A full hour later, Don was the first to hit something solid that wasn’t earth. The two men were exhausted, but the clatter of metal meeting wood spurred them on.

Thirty minutes after that they were loading the remains into the back of the truck. Cody made a show of dusting off his gloves as Don pulled down the rear door of the box truck they’d jacked a few hours earlier from a quiet street in Brooklyn.

Don opened the cab door and started to climb in. Halfway up, he stopped and turned back to Cody. ‘Well, we did it,’ he said.

Cody smirked. ‘Are you for real, brother? That was the easy part.’

1

Ryan Lock peered through the floor-to-ceiling windows which fronted the reception area of the Meditech building. Outside, freezing rain was sweeping down Sixth Avenue in sheets, jamming the dozen or so animal rights protestors into a tight knot on the sidewalk opposite.

‘Who the hell stages a demonstration on Christmas Eve?’ the receptionist asked.

‘You mean apart from turkeys?’ Lock said, hunching his jacket up around his shoulders, pushing through the revolving doors and stepping out into the near-Arctic weather.

Three months as head of security for America’s largest pharmaceutical and biotechnology company had left Lock with little patience for the animal rights people, no matter how earnest their cause.

A fresh gust of wind stung Lock’s face. He pulled up the collar of his jacket and scanned the protestors. Front and centre was Gray Stokes, the protestors’ de facto leader. In his early fifties, with a vegan’s bony frame, Stokes stood with his customary smug expression, a loud hailer in one hand, his other hand resting on the handle of a wheelchair.

In the chair sat Stokes’ daughter Janice, a pretty brunette in her mid-twenties, her left leg rendered useless by a rare form of progressive multiple sclerosis. The placard she held in two red-gloved hands had four words etched on it in thick black capital letters: NOT IN MY NAME.

Lock watched as Stokes raise his loud hailer and began to harangue the half-dozen uniformed cops who were there to ensure good order. Closest to Stokes one of the city’s finest, a portly sergeant by the name of Caffrey, made a show of eating a Big Mac, punctuating each bite with stage-whisper yum-yum noises.

Lock registered Stokes’ reaction with interest.

‘Hey, pig, you ever wonder what goes into those things?’ Stokes yelled at Caffrey. ‘Maybe the ALF left some of Grandma in with the rest of the meat back at Mickey D’s.’

Anyone who had picked up a copy of the New York Post or flicked on to a news channel during the past six weeks would have gotten the reference. The manager of a Times Square fast food joint had found the disinterred body of seventy-two-year-old Eleanor Van Straten, matriarch of the Meditech corporation, on the sidewalk outside his establishment.

The link between Mrs Van Straten’s unscheduled appearance so soon after her funeral and the animal rights movement had been a no-brainer. The next day Lock had been invited to head up the Van Stratens’ close protection team.

Lock watched Caffrey slipping the last of his burger back into its

Styrofoam container, and turned his attention back to Stokes.

‘So how come, if God didn’t want us to eat cows, he made them out of meat?’ Caffrey taunted.

The comeback prompted a few snickers from the other cops, and

Stokes to step out from behind the barrier and off the sidewalk.

‘That’s right, buddy, you keep coming,’ Caffrey yelled. ‘You can cool your heels in Rikers for a few hours. Plenty of animals there for you to hang with.’

Lock watched as Stokes eye-balled Caffrey, calculating his next move. The protestors saw arrest as a badge of honor. Lock saw it as a good way to get the company on the news for all the wrong reasons. Speed-walking towards the barrier, Lock’s right hand dropped to the SIG 9mm tucked into his holster. The gesture didn’t go unnoticed by the protestors. Meekly, Stokes stepped back behind the barrier.

Lock checked his watch again. Zero eight fifty. If he was running to schedule, Nicholas Van Straten, Eleanor’s widower, and the company’s new CEO, would be here shortly. Lock’s hand went up to his collar and he pressed down the talk button of his radio. ‘All mobile units from Lock.’

Lock’s earpiece crackled with static, then cleared.

A moment later, the voice of Lock’s second-in-command, Ty Johnson, came back, calm and in control. ‘Go ahead, Ryan.’

‘You got an ETA for me?’

‘Be with you in about two. What kind of reception we got?’

‘Usual sidewalk static.’

‘Principal wants to come in the front.’

‘I’ll make sure we’re clear.’

Lock crossed back to Caffrey, who’d by this time beat a diplomatic retreat to his cruiser. He tapped on the glass and took a moment to enjoy Caffrey’s irritated expression as he cracked the window and the cold air rushed in.

‘We’re bringing him in the front.’

Caffrey rolled his eyes. ‘Ain’t it bad enough that I have half a dozen officers tied down here every freakin’ morning?’

‘Half a billion bucks and a direct line to the mayor, not to mention the US Constitution, says he can walk in the main entrance of his own office if he so desires,’ Lock said, turning on his heel before Caffrey had a chance to respond.

Caffrey shrugged a big deal to Lock’s back and rolled the window back up as four blocks away three blacked-out GMC Yukons fitted with B-7 grade armor and run-flats muscled their way through the morning gridlock, heavy with menace.

 

2

Inside the lead Yukon, Ty Johnson checked his weapon, then the position of the other two vehicles in the side mirror. All good.

Ty gave the signal for his driver to move over into the left-hand median and occupy a lane of oncoming traffic, which was momentarily stopped at a light. Blocking the junction allowed the other two SUVs to move up seamlessly on the inside, so Ty’s vehicle was now at the rear and he could have a clear view when the passengers got out.

Ty popped his head out the window and glanced behind. About half a block back, which in this traffic equated to a good twenty seconds, an up-armored, fire engine red Hummer rolled along.

Inside the Hummer was the CA, or counter-attack team, led by Vic Brand, a former colonel in the US Marines. Ty knew that Lock had resisted their appointment. Normally a CA team was the preserve of the military in ultra-high threat environments, and Lock had felt it was overkill. However, Stafford Van Straten, heir apparent to the family empire and perpetual thorn in Lock’s side, had confused a stint in the Reserve Officer Training Corps when he was at Dartmouth with actual security expertise, and insisted on recruiting them, somehow convincing his father they’d be a useful addition to his security detail.

Lock had no time for Stafford; neither did Ty. And they had even less time for Brand, a man who delighted in regaling the younger men in the CA team with his exploits in Iraq, many of which, Lock had told Ty, were fictitious. Ty, having checked with a few of his former Marine buddies, wasn’t so sure.

The close protection world was full of guys like Brand, serial fantasists who confused talking the talk with walking the walk. To Ty, a good bodyguard was like Lock, the archetypal grey man who blended into the background, emerging only when a threat arose.The way Ty saw it, Brand blended like Marilyn Manson at a Jonas Brothers gig.

Lock watched as the protestors on the street were cleared fifty feet further back by the cops. If one of them made a rush, Lock would have Nicholas Van Straten in the boardroom with his decaf latte and a copy of the Wall Street Journal before they made it to the front door. Unconsciously, his right hand dropped to his side, feeling for the handle of his SIG Sauer 226, as the first Yukon stopped at the entrance.

The front passenger door of the rear vehicle opened first. Lock looked on as Ty made his way round to open the front passenger side of the middle Yukon for the designated bodyguard. As the rest of the personal escort section deployed, spreading out so that they had eyes on a full three hundred and sixty degrees, the clamor from the activists rose in volume.

‘Murderer!’

‘Hey, Van Straten, how many animals you plan on killing today?’ The bodyguard, a lean six foot two Mid-westerner by the name of Croft, opened Nicholas Van Straten’s door, and he stepped out. For a man who got death threats the way most people received junk mail, he looked remarkably composed. His four-man personal escort section had already moved into a closed box formation around him, ready to move him into the building. But Van Straten clearly had other ideas.

Taking a right turn behind the Yukon, he began to walk towards the source of the obscenities emanating from across the way. Lock could feel a surge of adrenalin starting to build as Van Straten embarked on this unscheduled walkabout.

‘Where the hell’s Stafford?’ Nicholas Van Straten asked one of his aides, who appeared to be having difficulty keeping pace as his boss made a beeline for the protestors.

‘I’ve no idea, sir.’

‘He was supposed to be here,’ Van Straten said, with an air of disappointment that didn’t stretch as far as surprise. Evidently, he was used to his son letting him down.

Lock watched as Van Straten confronted Stokes at the barrier. Anxiously, he keyed his mike. ‘Where the hell’s he going?’

A second passed before Ty’s response came back. ‘To meet his public?’

The four-man PES stayed tight around Van Straten. Croft glanced over at Lock as if to say, ‘What the hell do I do now?’

Lock could only offer a shrug in return. This didn’t feature anywhere in the playbook, and he didn’t like it.

‘Sir, if you wouldn’t mind . . .’ Croft’s request trailed off.

‘If I wouldn’t mind what?’

Van Straten seemed to be enjoying the panic emanating from the men around him.

A few yards back the red Hummer was drawing up. Lock could see one of Brand’s men in the front seat raising a gun, an M-16, by way of deterrent. Sighing, Lock keyed his radio again, waiting a beat to make sure that the start of his transmission wouldn’t be cut.

‘Brand from Lock. Tell that moron sitting in front of you to put the show stopper away. In case he hadn’t noticed, we’re in Midtown, not Mosul. If I see it again, he’s gonna find it doing double duty as a butt plug.’

Lock breathed a sigh of relief as he saw the M-16 popping back below the dash.

‘What’s your boss doing? Get him inside that freakin’ building before we have a riot on our hands.’ Caffrey had ambled his way across the street and was talking to Lock.

Static in Lock’s ear, then a message from Ty: ‘He wants to talk to them.’

Lock passed it on, and Caffrey’s expression shifted from disgruntlement to apoplexy.

By the time Van Straten had reached the barrier, Stokes was no more than five feet away. Silence descended as the taunting and threats fell away, the demonstrators thrown by the proximity of their chief hate figure. A cameraman from CNN tried to elbow his way in front of Lock.

‘If you wouldn’t mind stepping back please, sir,’ said Lock, trying to keep his voice even.

‘Who the heck are you to tell me what do to?’

Lock raised his hands, palms open in placation. ‘Sir, I’d really appreciate you moving back,’ he added, simultaneously raking the inside of his right boot all the way down the guy’s shin.

As the camera operator hobbled a retreat, cursing under his breath, Lock turned to watch Van Straten confront Stokes at the barrier.

‘I thought a delegation from your group might like to meet with me this morning,’ Van Straten was saying.

Stokes smiled. ‘You got my message, huh?’

By now, the media had begun to cluster round. A blonde reporter, Carrie Delaney, was first to be heard above the rapid-fire burst of questions. ‘Mr Van Straten, what do you plan on discussing inside?’

Lock caught her eye for a split-second. She made a point of looking away.

A preppy-looking correspondent, with frat boy features and a footballer’s physique, broke in before Van Straten had a chance to answer. ‘Is this a sign that you’re giving in to the extremists?’

Carrie shot the guy a look. Asshole. Lock noticed the guy smiling back. Right back at ya, babe.

Van Straten held up his hands. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have after my meeting with Mr Stokes.’

More bodies pressed in. A man behind Lock was pushed forward by a surge of the growing crowd. Lock pushed him back.

Lock glanced around. It looked like every single assassination attempt ever witnessed, five seconds before it went off. A chaotic scrum of bodies, security caught flatfooted, then, from nowhere, someone making their move.

3

 

Van Straten’s bodyguard, Croft, was stationed at the door which led into the boardroom when Lock stepped out of the elevator.

‘Who’s inside?’

‘Just the old man and Stokes.’

‘You check on them?’

Croft shook his head. ‘The old man didn’t want to be disturbed. Don’t worry, I made sure he sat at the top of the table before I left.’ Lock relaxed a touch. There was a panic button fitted directly under that section. Not that he thought even Stokes would be dumb enough to try something here.

‘Any idea why the boss wanted a sit-down?’ Croft shrugged. ‘Nada.’

‘He didn’t say anything in the car this morning?’

‘Not a word. Just sat in back going through his papers, same as always.’

To be fair to Croft, Lock had found Nicholas Van Straten a tough man to read. Not that he was taciturn or impolite. Far from it, in fact. In contrast to his son, Nicholas Van Straten always seemed to make a point of being overly polite to those who worked for him, sometimes in almost inverse proportion to their seniority in the company.

‘So no one knows what this is about?’ Croft shook his head.

Lock turned to walk back to the elevator as the door to the boardroom opened and Van Straten stepped out.

‘Ah, Ryan, just the man,’ Van Straten said, turning his attention to Lock.

‘Sir?’

‘First of all, I owe you and the rest of your men an apology. I

should have given you some warning of my plans.’

Lock bit back his irritation. ‘That’s quite alright, sir.’

‘It was something of a last-minute decision to open direct discussions with Mr Stokes and his group.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Now, in ten minutes or so Mr Stokes and I will be going back outside to make a joint announcement.’

‘Sir, if I might make a suggestion.’

‘Of course. Please do.’

‘Perhaps if we found somewhere inside the building where you could—’

Van Straten cut him off. ‘Already thought of that, but Missy thought it would be more visual to be out on the steps. Oh, and could you arrange for some coffee to be sent in? No milk. Mr Stokes doesn’t take milk. Something to do with cows finding the process emotionally unsettling.’

‘Right away, sir.’

Van Straten stepped back inside and closed the door, leaving

Lock alone with Croft.

‘Who the hell’s Missy?’ Lock asked.

‘Some gal in the public relations office. The old man put a call in to her about two minutes before you got here.’

‘Terrific,’ Lock said, trying hard to keep the exasperation from his voice. Now security strategy was being dictated by someone who probably thought an IED was a form of contraception.

‘Dude, relax,’ Croft said. ‘Looks like the war’s over.’

Lock stepped in close to Croft. ‘Dude, don’t ever use language like that in my presence again.’

Croft was puzzled. ‘What? I didn’t cuss.’

‘In my book, “relax” beats out any cuss word.’

 

Back outside, word of the sit-down between Gray Stokes and Nicholas Van Straten had got out, drawing even more news crews to the scene. Bystanders and protestors filled the gaps, pilot fish waiting to snatch at whatever morsels of information might float their way.

Lock finished briefing his team stationed on the steps just as Gray Stokes emerged from the entrance, his clenched fist raised in imitation of the black power salute. Next to him, Nicholas Van Straten stared at his feet. A chastened Croft stayed within touching distance of his principal.

‘We did it!’ yelled Stokes, his voice sounding hoarse in the chill air. ‘We’ve won!’

Two protestors whooped as the pack of reporters surged forward. Lock noticed that Croft and Ty, who were flanking Van Straten, were looking nervous as the reporters pushed up against them, jockeying with one another for position.

Lock stepped between Janice in the wheelchair and a reporter squeezing in next to her, worried that she’d be toppled over by the crush of bodies. ‘Folks, if you could give everyone here some space,’ he shouted.

Knowing what Lock had done to the cameraman, those nearest to him hastily made some room.

Van Straten cleared his throat. ‘I’d like to make a short statement if I may. As of midnight tonight, Meditech and all its subsidiaries, alongside those companies we work with in partnership, will no longer engage in testing on animals. There will be a fuller statement released to all media outlets later.’

Before Stokes had the chance to have his say, a volley of questions came at Van Straten. Even in victory, Van Straten was stealing his thunder, and Stokes didn’t seem to be enjoying it one bit. He shifted from foot to foot. ‘I have a statement as well!’ he shouted. But the reporters ignored him, continuing to throw questions at Van Straten.

What’s behind your change in policy, Mr Van Straten?’

‘Have the extremists who desecrated your mother’s memory won here?’

Another question, this one more pertinent to a broad section of the audience at home: ‘What do you think this will do to your company’s share price?’

Van Straten stretched out his arms. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, please. I think it would be rude if you didn’t at least listen to what Mr Stokes has to say on the matter.’

Struggling to keep his cool, Stokes took a single step to the right. Now he was standing directly in front of the Meditech CEO. Now it was his face filling the screens directly behind him, and the millions more around the country.

He raised a bunched right hand to his mouth, theatrically cleared his throat, and waited for silence to descend.

‘Today has been a momentous one for the animal rights movement,’ he began.

But before he could finish the sentence, his neck snapped back. A single .50 calibre bullet had vaporized his head.

 

4

Lock placed himself in front of Croft and drew his weapon, giving Croft time to spin and sling Van Straten so they were back to back. With his left hand, Croft clasped the collar of Van Straten’s shirt, which allowed him to return fire with his right, all the while backing up as fast as he could. Lock remained steadfast among the scrum of bodies as between them Ty and Croft moved Van Straten back inside the building.

Lock looked around for Brand and the rest of the CA team but they were nowhere to be seen. Backing up, he shouted over to Ty,

‘Get him upstairs!’

In front of him, people were scattering in all directions, the crowd parting in a V directly in front of the building as another round was fired, this one catching a male protestor in the chest. He fell, face first, and didn’t move.

A breath of relief for Lock, as out of the corner of his eye he saw the journalist Carrie Delaney hightailing it for a news van parked on the corner.

Turning to his right, Lock saw Janice Stokes sitting in her wheelchair, her mother struggling to get it to move. At the same time, he saw an additional reason for the collective panic.

A red Hummer was careering towards the front of the building at full tilt, its trajectory an unswerving diagonal towards the one person incapable of getting out of its way. Even if the brakes were applied at that instant, the vehicle’s momentum would carry it onwards for at least another two hundred feet. Janice was well within that range.

Lock sprinted forward, his left foot slipping under him as he struggled for traction on the icy steps. Another round flew in, taking out what was left of the glass frontage. Desperately, he tackled Janice from the chair, his momentum carrying them both skidding across the polished stone.

Behind them, the Hummer had started to brake, the wheels locking, its sheer weight carrying it inexorably towards the front of the building and up the steps. Janice’s mother stood motionless as it rolled across Stoke’s body and slammed into her. She flipped into the air, a spinning tangle of limbs, and landed with a thud between the Hummer’s front wheels.

Janice opened her mouth to scream as the Hummer ploughed into the reception area. ‘Mom!’ she yelled, as Lock pulled her under him, his body covering hers.

He twisted his head round to see one of the Hummer’s doors open and Brand emerge. Brand hefted the M-16 in his right hand. He looked around at the devastation wrought by the vehicle and strolled calmly towards Lock, glass crunching under his boots, rifle raised.

Lock rolled away from Janice as a paramedic ran over to them and knelt down next to Janice. The CA team clambered one by one from the Hummer and took up position in the lobby, guns drawn.

Brand reached Lock. ‘I’ll take it from here, buddy.’

Lock felt a surge of anger manifest as bile at the back of his throat. A young woman had just seen her father’s head blown clean off and her mother run over by Brand.

Brand smirked. ‘Relax, Lock, she was a freakin’ tree hugger.’ Lock drew back his right arm and stepped forward. Before

Brand had a chance to duck Lock’s right elbow connected squarely with the side of Brand’s mouth. There was a satisfying crunch as Brand’s head jolted back and blood spurted from the side of his mouth.

‘She was a human being,’ said Lock, hurrying past.

 

5

Suddenly aware of his labored breath, Lock took cover behind a Crown Vic parked fifty feet from the front of the building, making sure to stay a good five feet behind the bodywork so that any fragments of shrapnel zipping off were less likely to find him. Getting too close was called hugging cover. Hugging cover got you killed.

Only ninety seconds had passed between Stokes being hit and him making it here. In a one-sided contact like this, it felt like an eternity.

What was it his father had told him as a ten-year-old when explaining the job of a bodyguard? Hours of boredom, moments of terror.

He glanced over to see Sergeant Caffrey squatting next to him, tight to the cruiser. Lock grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him back a few feet.

‘What the hell are you doing?’

‘You’re too close.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘You want a lecture on appropriate use of cover right now? Just do what I tell you, and stay the hell there.’

Caffrey grimaced, his pasty complexion hued red by a freezing wind and sudden exertion. ‘Man, I’d be working the Bronx if I’d wanted to sign up for this kind of shit.’

‘I think they’re up there,’ Lock said, nodding towards a three story redbrick with a ground-floor Korean deli which squatted among its more refined office block neighbors

‘They? How’d you know there’s more than one of them?’ Caffrey asked, peeking out.

Lock hauled him back in. ‘A lone sniper is either a college kid gone wild who can’t shoot for shit, or someone in the movies. A professional works with a spotter. And these guys are professionals.’

‘You saw them?’ Caffrey asked.

Lock shook his head. ‘Take my word for it. It’s about the only place they can be. The angle of the first shot would have given him the right elevation to take out Stokes above the crowd.’

Lock keyed his radio. ‘Ty?’

‘Go ahead.’

‘Where’s Van Straten?’

‘Tucked up with milk and cookies. What’s the count?’

‘Three down.’

A middle-aged man in a suit broke cover to Lock’s left. Clutching his briefcase, he ducked out from behind a parked car, only making it a few feet before being blown off his feet by the sniper.

‘Correction. Four.’

Automatic rounds chattered from inside the lobby as Brand and his CA team returned fire.

‘OK, so, Ty. You leave Croft with Van Straten and get downstairs. Make sure Brand and the rest of his buddies don’t light up any more of the citizenry.’

‘Will do.’

Lock turned back to Caffrey. ‘What’s the SWAT team’s ETA?’

‘They’ll be here in five. Let’s just sit tight until then.’

‘When they get here, make sure you tell them that I’m on your side.’

‘Where the hell are you going?’

‘To give these assholes the good news,’ said Lock, making for the nearest doorway.

He tucked in tight to the entrance of the building directly opposite Meditech headquarters. Now he was on the same side of the street as the shooters he could inch his way up, building by building, all the while narrowing any possible angle. His only real fear was being taken out by friendly fire from Brand’s trigger-happy cohort.

The sign on the door of the deli had been switched to ‘Closed For Business’. This store didn’t even close for Thanksgiving. Lock now knew for definite that he was in the right place. He tried the handle. It was locked. With the butt of the SIG, he punched out the glass-paneled door and stepped through.

Inside, there was no sign of life. The relative calm was unsettling as sirens whooped and screamed in the street beyond. He walked slowly towards the counter, the fingers of his right hand wrapped around the SIG’s grip, his left hand cupping the bottom.

Behind the counter there was a young woman crouched beneath the register, her hands cuffed with plastic ties, her mouth sealed with gaffer tape. The space was narrow: these places tried to use every available inch for product. As he knelt down, his hand brushed her shoulder, making her jump.

‘It’s fine, you’re gonna be fine,’ he whispered.

He found the edge of the tape with the nail of his thumb.

‘This is going to hurt a little but, please, try not to scream, OK?’ She nodded, her pupils still dilated in terror.

‘I’m gonna pull it off real fast, just like a Band-Aid. One, two, three . . .’

He tore the tape up and right, a yelp half catching in the woman’s throat.

‘My dad’s through there,’ she said, her words coming in short gasps. She nodded towards the corridor, which snaked off from the front of the store to the back. ‘He has a heart condition.’

‘Who else is here?

‘Two men. Upstairs.’

‘You sure?’

‘Yes. They haven’t come down yet.’

‘Where are the stairs?’

She jerked her head back down the corridor towards a brown wood-paneled door.

Lock reached for his Gerber, flipping out the knife into a locked position with a single motion. The woman winced.

‘I’m going to free your hands.’

She seemed to understand, but her body remained tense and stiff as he reached behind her to cut through the plasti-cuffs. At first he thought whoever tied her up must have improvised using some plastic ties they’d found lying around, but now he saw these were the real deal. Military issue of the kind used in places like Iraq where you might have to detain large numbers for a short period. Still, the thin edge of the Gerber’s blade made fast work of cutting through the thick white plastic band.

‘You take care of your father. If you hear shots, get out, but stay on this side of the street.’

Lock stood up and made his way to the door leading to the stairs. He opened it, stepped through, and glanced up. Dust caught at the back of his throat as he moved up the stairs, careful to keep his weight even on each tread. He focused on slowing his breathing as his field of vision, which had unconsciously tunneled, started to clear again. By the time he reached the second floor his heart rate had dropped by twenty beats a minute.

Footsteps thumped above him. Whoever it was, they were in a hurry. He crouched down, his back to the wall, his 226 aimed at a gap between the iron spindles of the railing on the third floor.

There was a sudden movement as someone broke cover above him, the person a blur. Before Lock could get him in his sights, he was gone.

Slowly, he began to edge his way up the final flight of stairs, the SIG out in front of him, index finger resting lightly on the trigger. At the top of the stairs there was a single door, offset six feet to the left. To the right, another door, this one ajar.

He went right first, down the corridor, pushing the door open with the toe of his boot. The room smelt musty and damp. Inside was a desk. Next to that was a solitary filing cabinet. The window was open. It faced on to the back alley. A metal pin was hammered into the frame; a length of blue climbing rope looped through it snaked out into thin air. Lock crossed to it and leaned out, glimpsing what he suspected were the backs of the sniper team as they ran.

He keyed his radio. ‘Ty?’ he whispered.

‘I’m here.’

‘Korean deli half a block down. Second floor.’

‘OK, man, I’ll pass it on.’

With any luck the SWAT team could throw up a four-block perimeter and find them before they had the chance to slip away. New York might provide the ultimate urban camouflage environment for crazies, but even here a heavily perspiring assassin carrying the tools of his trade just might stand out.

Lock walked back down the corridor, stopping at the closed door he’d seen. He took a single step back and lifted his right leg. The door flew open under the impact of his boot.

There was a deafening boom as a shotgun, rigged to the door handle with a length of fishing line, went off. The force of the impact blew Lock back over the railing. He landed heavily on his back, his head smacking off the wall, leaving a dent in the plasterboard. Then everything went black.

 

 

6

A cluster of town cars skulked outside the up-scale apartment block. Engines running, they chugged out a mini smog bank that rolled across the FDR Driveway to the very edge of the East River.

Next to the green-canopied entrance, Natalya Verovsky sheltered under a golf umbrella embossed with a Four Seasons logo. Standing apart from the other au pairs and nannies waiting to collect their charges from the Christmas Eve party, she glanced at her watch. They should be coming out any minute now.

After what seemed an eternity, a gaggle of excited children began to emerge clutching bags of party favors. Last, as usual, was Josh, a loose-limbed seven-year-old with a mop of brown hair. He appeared to be engaged in a comically earnest conversation about the existence of Santa Claus with one of his friends.

Spotting Natalya, Josh broke off mid-conversation with a fleeting ‘Gotta go’ and made a dash towards her.

Normally this was the signal for Natalya to sweep Josh up in a big hug, lifting him off his feet and matching the embrace with a sloppy kiss, which Josh pretended to think was gross, but which she knew he secretly relished. Today, however, she took his hand without a word, even though she knew he disliked having his hand taken more than being kissed.

‘Hey, I’m not a baby,’ he protested.

Natalya said nothing, prompting Josh to look up at her, this faintest of blips on his radar registering immediately. ‘What’s up, Naty?’

Natalya’s voice sharpened. ‘Nothing. Now come on.’ She hurried him towards a town car parked across the street.

As the back door swung open, Josh held back. ‘Why aren’t we walking?’

‘It’s too cold to walk.’

A lie. It was cold. Freezing in fact. But they’d walked home in colder.

‘But I like the cold.’

Natalya’s grip tightened around Josh’s hand. ‘Quick, quick.’

‘Can we have hot chocolate when we get home?’

‘Of course.’ Another lie.

Josh smiled, a victory seemingly won. Natalya knew that his dad hated him having anything sweet before dinner and generally she sided with him, only allowing Josh to sneak some candy as a special treat on Friday afternoons when he’d finished all his homework.

He climbed into the back of the town car. ‘With marshmallows?’

‘Sure,’ said Natalya.

Inside the car, the driver, his face obscured by the partition, pressed down on the horn with the palm of his hand before easing the Mercedes out into traffic. At the end of the block, he made an immediate right down 84th towards 1st Avenue.

Natalya stared straight ahead.

Josh looked at her, his face a pastiche of adult concern. ‘There’s something wrong, isn’t there?’

A dull clunk as the doors either side of them locked. Natalya could see the beginnings of panic in Josh’s eyes now. ‘It’s just so you don’t fall out.’ A third lie.

‘But I’m not going to fall out.’

The lights ahead flipped to green. Natalya reached over to secure Josh’s seatbelt as the car lurched forward to beat the next set of signals. The park was on their right now, the trees barren and stripped of their leaves. They passed a lone jogger, his face set as he leaned into the biting wind.

At 97th, they turned into Central Park, cutting across towards the Upper West Side. By now any pretense that they were heading home was gone.

Josh unclipped his seatbelt and scrambled up on to the seat to stare out of the back window. ‘This isn’t the way,’ he protested, his voice pitching high with concern. ‘Where are we going?’

Natalya did her best to shush him. ‘It’s only for a little while.’

This part, she’d been promised, was true.

‘What’s only for a little while? Where are we going?’ He paused and took a shaky breath. ‘If we don’t go home right now, I’m telling Dad, and he’ll fire your ass.’

The partition window slid down and the driver swiveled round. His hair was cut military-short and flaked with grey at the temples. The black suit he’d been crammed into, to lend the appearance of a chauffeur, looked in danger of tearing under his arms.

‘Take us home!’ Josh screamed at him. ‘Now!’

The driver ignored him. ‘Either you get the little brat to sit down or I will,’ he said to Natalya, pulling aside his jacket to reveal a shoulder holster with a Glock 9mm pistol tucked into it, the handle showing black against his white shirt.

Josh stared at him, the sight of the gun quietening him, boiling down panic to a silent rage.

Beyond the driver, through the clear glass of the windshield, he could see a trademark blue and white NYPD cruiser driving towards them. In a few seconds it would be parallel with them. A

second after that it would be gone.

Sensing that this was his one chance, Josh made a sudden lunge towards the front seat. The driver’s right elbow flew up, catching the top of his forehead with a crack and sending him spinning back into the footwell. ‘Sit the hell down,’ he said, pushing a button on the console, the partition gliding back into place.

Natalya pulled Josh back up on to the seat. A welt was already starting to rise where the driver had caught him. An inch or two lower and he would have crushed the bridge of his nose. Fighting the tears was futile.

His eyes burned into Natalya’s. ‘Why are you doing this?’

As Josh’s sobs came, raw and breathless, Natalya closed her eyes, the knot of quiet dread that had been growing in her stomach for the past few weeks solidifying. Knowing now what she’d denied to herself all this time. That she’d made a terrible mistake.

Feet away from them, the police cruiser sped past. Neither cop gave the town car a second glance.

 

7

Ten minutes after the driver had struck Josh, the partition lowered again and he tossed a backpack in Natalya’s general direction. She opened it with trepidation, even though she’d been told what would be inside.

First item out was a plastic bag emblazoned with a trademark Duane Read blue and red logo. Digging a bit deeper, she retrieved a set of children’s clothes, brand new and in Josh’s size: blue jeans, a white T-shirt and a navy sweatshirt. No cartoon characters, no brand names, no slogans, no distinguishing characteristics of any kind. Plain. Generic. Anonymous. Chosen precisely for those qualities.

‘Look, new clothes,’ Natalya said, doing her best to coax Josh from the far corner of the back seat.

Josh turned his face to Natalya, half-dried tears like glycerine on his cheeks. ‘They suck.’

‘Let’s get you changed, yes?’

‘Why? What for?’

‘Please, Josh.’

Josh glanced towards the partition. ‘Forget it.’

Natalya leaned in closer to him. ‘We don’t want to make him angry again, do we?’

‘Who is he anyway?’ Josh asked. ‘Your boyfriend?’ Natalya bit down on her lip.

‘He is, isn’t he?’

‘It doesn’t matter who he is.’

‘Why are you doing this to me?’

Natalya lowered her voice. ‘Look, I made a mistake. I’m going to try and get you out of this. But right now, I need you to cooperate.’

‘Why should I believe you?’

‘Because you don’t have any choice.’

Finally, after more stalling, Josh got changed. Natalya jammed his party clothes into the backpack, the easy part out of the way. Next, she picked up the bag from the drug store, steeling herself, then put it back down. Unless she was going to pin Josh to the ground to do what she had to do, and risk injuring him in the process, this was going to take careful handling.

‘You look nice in those,’ Natalya said.

‘No I don’t.’

‘They look good.’

None of this was cutting any ice and Natalya could see that Josh was getting jittery again.

He shifted position on the back seat. ‘Can we go home? Please? If you want money my dad can give it to you, but I want to go home.’

‘It’s not that simple.’

‘Why not?’

Natalya pulled a pair of hairdresser’s scissors from the drug store bag.

Josh’s hand shot to his scalp. ‘No. Not my hair.’

The car slowed and pulled to the side of the road, as a car behind blared its horn. The partition fell. This time the driver had the gun in his hand. He pointed it directly at Josh. ‘If I have to pull over one more time, you’ll regret it.’

Shaking, Josh turned his back to Natalya. Legs crossed, she sat behind him, and set to work.

Barely five minutes later the back seat was festooned with long strands of dark brown hair. Josh reached his hand back, ran it through the uneven spikes.

Natalya took Josh’s hand and squeezed it. ‘You can always grow it back. Now, let me tidy it.’

She made some more tiny adjustments, momentarily getting caught up in the task.

‘There. Now you know what would really suit this style?’

‘What?’

‘A different colour.’

‘I guess so,’ Josh said, sounding utterly defeated.

Natalya rummaged in the bag again, sighing as she came up with a plastic bottle of hair dye. Quickly scanning the directions on the back of the bottle, she tutted loudly, then leaned forward and rapped on the partition. ‘I can’t use this now.’

The driver stared at her in the rear-view mirror. ‘Why not?’

‘It needs water. It’ll have to wait.’

‘You sure?’

‘You think I’m stupid?’

She thrust the bottle through the partition, two fingers covering the part of the label which read ‘unique dry application’. The driver grunted, tucked the bottle into his jacket and restarted the car.

‘Don’t worry, I won’t let anything bad happen to you,’ Natalya whispered, putting her arm around Josh.

‘This isn’t bad?’ he demanded.

Natalya pulled him closer and he finally relented, snuggling in to her. Fifteen minutes later he was beginning to doze off, his head resting against Natalya’s shoulder, as the car came to a stop and the driver opened the door, pulling them both out into the cold.

As they stood shivering in a freezing mist of rain, the driver produced a brand-new cordless car vacuum and used it to suck Josh’s hair off the back seat. Someone else would be along later to collect the car.

The area was desolate and semi-industrial, with a road off to the left. They trudged through a sugar coating of powdery snow towards an oversized metal gate which lay smack bang in the middle of a seemingly endless chain-link fence. Cars flitted past in the distance. Other than that they were alone. A man with a gun, Natalya, and the child she’d been charged with looking after and had just so cruelly betrayed.

Natalya looked around, trying to find a point to fix on – a street sign, maybe, or a store – but all she could see was waterfront. Close by she could hear the slurp of waves against a dock.

Everything had changed for her the moment Josh had been hit. Regardless of what was at stake for herself she was determined to make good her mistake. And that meant getting Josh safely home to his father.

She’d have to pick her moment with care, though. There would be no second chance at escape.

They hadn’t driven through any tunnels or over any bridges so she was sure they were still in Manhattan, but it didn’t take a genius to work out that this neighbourhood was a long way from the Upper East Side.

The driver pushed Natalya towards the metal gate with the heel of his hand. ‘Move,’ he grunted.

At the door, a solitary security camera panned round, accompanied by a faint hydraulic whirl. The gate clicked and the driver pushed it open, ushering Natalya and Josh through.

Perched at the end of a pier, a single-engine speedboat was tied up, no one aboard. Painted a dark grey, it sat low in the water. They walked towards it, the driver clambering down into it first, almost losing his footing as a sudden swell rose under the hull. For a split second Natalya considered running, but with the dock stretching thirty feet out into the water she knew they’d never make it in time.

Natalya helped Josh into the boat.

‘Get the rope for me,’ the driver said, pushing Josh down so he’d be out of view of any passing traffic on the river.

Natalya unhooked the stern line from the mooring and threw it back to him. Now was her chance.

The driver waved her forward with his hand as the boat began to inch away from the dock. ‘Quick.’

She hesitated, then caught Josh’s terrified eyes. There was just no way she could leave him. Taking one quick step, she jumped down, the driver catching her hand and half hauling her down into the boat.

The driver gunned the engine and they set off in a wave of spume and diesel oil. Soon the dock was out of sight, a black skyline etched against grey.

Natalya counted off those buildings she recognized. The tower of the Chrysler building. The Empire State. The gaping maw of a breach where the Twin Towers once stood, now replaced by the first nub of the Freedom Tower.

The driver dug into the bag and pulled out the bottle of hair dye. He squinted at the instructions on the back like they were written in Sanskrit. Finally, he looked up at Natalya. ‘Dry application. Bullshit.’ He threw the bottle at Josh. ‘Make sure you rub it in good.’

 

8

Lock woke in a bed in a small room, hooked up to a monitor and some kind of IV. He prayed for morphine, but suspected saline. If he was still in this much pain, it had to be some weak-ass morphine.

He wiggled his toes and fingers, relieved to find that they seemed to be responding. To make sure that it wasn’t some kind of phantom sensation he flipped back the sheet, surprised that he could move so easily, and amused to find that he had an erection. Maybe it was some kind of evolutionary response to a near-death experience. Either that or a full bladder.

He waited for his excitement to subside, conjuring up the most unerotic of images to hasten its demise. No dice. Not even a yoga-emaciated Madonna could shift it. The blinds weren’t closed all the way, and he could glimpse the lights of the city that didn’t sleep beyond the window, getting on just fine without him.

Tentatively, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and, with one hand on the bed rail, stood up. For a second or two the room shifted suddenly, but the sensation quickly abated, and he managed to walk gingerly over to the tiny bathroom.

The man staring back at him from the mirror with a deadpan expression was sporting three-day-old stubble and a close-shaven head. Running his fingers across the top of his skull, he found a set of stitches. Whether it was a wound or the result of an incision wasn’t entirely clear. He touched his fingertips to it. No real pain, but definitely stitches.

His face was puffy, especially around the eyes. His eyes were set blue amid the deathly pallor of the rest of his skin, his pupils like dots.

He took a moment to work back to how he got here. Relief. It was all there. The protestors, Van Straten’s unexpected walkabout, then Lock standing on the steps outside Meditech and the bullet. Correction: bullets. His glimpse of Carrie running for cover. More relief at recalling that. Then him taking on the threat, the young Korean storekeeper tied up, then walking up that staircase, a bang, and a sudden cut to black.

Total recall. He allowed himself a smile at that.

He filled the sink and began to splash his face with cold water, freezing mid-splash as the door opened into the main room. Pressing his back against the wall, he peered out.

In the room, a man in a blue windbreaker looked around, like the empty bed was evidence of some kind of magic trick. For a second, Lock half expected the guy to start shining his Mag light under the covers.

He stepped out of the bathroom, and the guy’s face relaxed into a smile. ‘There you are.’

‘Here I am,’ was all Lock could think to say in reply.

Overcome by a sudden wave of exhaustion, Lock took a step back towards the bed, and stumbled. The man put out a hand, steadying him. ‘Easy there.’

Lock waved him off, keen to get some sheets between him and his visitor. ‘Lemme guess, JTTF?’

The Joint Terrorism Task Force’s field office in Manhattan was based downtown in the Federal Plaza. Composed of members of the FBI, ATF, as well as NYPD, it was charged with dealing with all incidents of domestic terrorism in the five boroughs and beyond. The campaign against Meditech had fallen under its jurisdiction as the animal rights activists had escalated their actions. Lock had liaised with a number of suits from their office, although the man standing in front of him wasn’t one of them, as far as he could recall.

‘John Frisk. Just got transferred over.’

‘Ryan Lock.’

‘Least you can remember your name, that’s a start.’

‘So where’d they transfer you from?’

‘FBI.’

Lock sat back on the bed. Frisk pulled up a chair and sat next to him.

‘You’re a lucky guy. If you’d been hit a couple of inches either side of your plates you’d be toast.’

Lock had been sporting four plates. Two front, and two back, they slid into pouches either side of his ballistic vest to provide additional protection.

Lock smiled. ‘Maybe I should hit Vegas, while I’m still on this hot streak.’

‘Take me with you. I could use the vacation.’

Lock eased his head back on to the pillows and stared at a fixed point on the ceiling. ‘What’d they hit me with?’

‘Twelve-gauge rigged to the door,’ said Frisk.

‘Better that than the alternative, I’m guessing. You pick anyone up yet?’

‘We were hoping you could help us with that one.’

Lock chewed the side of his mouth. ‘Professionals. Both male. Both over six feet. I didn’t get much of a look beyond the back of their heels. What did the crime scene team turn up?’

‘I can’t really say.’

‘That many leads, huh?’

It was Frisk’s turn to suppress a smile. ‘I thought I was the investigator and you were the witness.’

‘Old habits die hard.’

Frisk hesitated for a moment. ‘OK, from what we can gather, as you said, it was a pro job. High-calibre sniper rifle – we’re still working on the exact type, but a fifty cal.’

‘Fifty?’

‘Yup. If they’d rigged that to the door we wouldn’t be having this conversation,’ Frisk said, super-casual.

‘Got that straight,’ said Lock. Having seen what the .50 cal had done to Stokes’ head, Lock knew that no amount of body armor would have saved him.

‘They had the escape route scoped out ahead of time, not much left behind for forensics. No shell casings anywhere to be seen, not like that would have given us much anyway. Plus the room was bleached down before they exited via the window.’

‘What about the shotgun?’ Lock asked, leaning over to reach for a glass of water perched on the locker next to his bed.

Frisk beat him to it and passed it over. ‘Looking to buy themselves a few extra seconds would be my guess.’

Lock grunted in agreement.

‘We traced it to the owner of a house out in Long Island. Place has been vacant since the summer, guy didn’t even know he’d been broken in to.’

‘Did the girl make it?’

‘The girl in the wheelchair?’

Lock nodded, took a sip of water.

‘She’s down on four.’

‘She OK?’

‘Pretty shocked. Knows about as much as you do.’

‘You’ve got some great witnesses lined up by the sounds of it. What was the final count?’

‘Five dead in total.’

‘Five?’

‘Three shot, one run over, and one heart attack.’

A knock at the door. A young African American doctor in her late twenties who looked like she’d been awake about as long as Lock had been unconscious poked her head round. ‘I thought I was pretty clear that I didn’t want my patient disturbed until he was ready.’

‘It was my fault, doc,’ Lock said. ‘I was quizzing Agent Frisk, not the other way round.’

‘Well, if you have any questions, you can always talk to me.’ Lock glanced back to Frisk. ‘Never got to ask Agent Frisk what

my federal prognosis was.’

‘Well, your weapon was legally held, although how the hell you got a concealed carry in the city these days beats me.’

Lock looked skywards to the ceiling. ‘Friends in high places.’

‘And your luck doesn’t end there,’ Frisk continued. ‘Seeing as you never fired a shot, there won’t be any charges. But next time, leave the cavalry charge to the cavalry, OK?’

Lock bristled. He’d been the only one taking on the threat and here was Frisk treating him like some rookie cop. ‘I’d be happy to, if they manage to show up before the final reel. Speaking of which, what’s happening to Brand?’

‘Police department are keen to go to bat on vehicular manslaughter. But the DA’s getting a lot of pressure to go for a lesser charge, or let it slide entirely.’

‘If you speak to anyone in their office you can tell them I’d be happy to step to the plate for the prosecution on that one.’

Frisk raised an eyebrow. ‘You and he not too close, huh?’

‘Different approaches, that’s all.’

‘Oh yeah, and what’s the difference?’

‘Mine’s correct,’ Lock said curtly.

‘Mr Lock really does need his rest,’ the doctor broke in. ‘I’m sure there’ll be plenty of time for you to talk to him tomorrow.’

‘What day is it anyway?’

‘Thursday,’ said Frisk.

‘Wait. I missed Christmas?’

The doctor arched an eyebrow. ‘You got the gift of life.’ Frisk smirked. ‘Sure Santa’ll catch up with you next year.’

‘OK, he really does need his rest now,’ insisted the doctor.

Frisk took the hint and eased out of the room. ‘Don’t go anywhere,’ he said from the door.

When he’d gone, Lock’s hand reached up to his head wound. He ran the tips of his fingers over it, like a kid worrying a scab on his knee.

‘Pretty good-looking scar you’ll have there,’ the doctor said, perching next to him on the bed.

‘You think it’ll make me more attractive to women?’

‘Didn’t realise that was a problem for you.’

‘I’ll take any help I can get.’

‘Mind if I take another look?’

‘Be my guest.’

He bowed his head so she could get a better view.

‘You had a pretty lucky escape.’

‘So everyone keeps saying.’

‘You suffered a slight hemorrhage. We had to drill into your skull in order to take out some fluid. There’s a risk that you might suffer some additional blackouts. Oh, and there have been cases where trauma to this particular area of the brain can result in a raised level of—’

‘You can stop right there, doc. I think I know where you’re heading. So when can I get out of here?’

She stood up. ‘Head trauma’s a serious business. It’d be best if you stayed here for at least the next few days.’

‘Sure thing,’ he said, already planning his escape.

 

 

9

‘Don’t you have a home to go to?’

The doctor was back at the foot of Lock’s bed, busy looking over his chart as he lay back watching the tube. Even this early on in his convalescence he’d made a number of interesting discoveries, the most surprising being that with a sufficiently high dose of morphine daytime soap operas were damn engrossing.

‘Wouldn’t have had you pegged as a big daytime soap fan,’ she mused as Lock flicked the TV to mute, leaving a cleft-chinned Clooney wannabe to slap around an actress whose Botox-blank face ran the gamut of human emotions from A to B and back again.

‘I was waiting for the news to come on.’

‘Sure you were.’ That killer smile again.

‘Are you flirting with me, doc?’

She ignored the question, jotting down an additional note on his chart instead.

‘What are you writing?’ he asked, doing his best to peek.

She angled the chart so he couldn’t see. ‘Do not resuscitate.’ Lock laughed. It hurt.

She edged a smile herself. ‘Sorry, but I get hit on a lot, and I haven’t been home in two days.’

‘Who said I was hitting on you?’

‘You weren’t? OK, now I feel insulted. Anyway, isn’t this all a pointless discussion? You have a girlfriend.’

‘Do I?’

‘Well there’s certainly been a woman putting in a lot of calls since you were admitted. Carrie Delaney ring any bells?’

‘Lots, but unfortunately we’re just good friends.’

‘Unfortunate for you or her?’

‘Probably both.’

‘I see.’

Lock pushed himself up into a sitting position. ‘Y’know, I’d never really thought about it until now, but our jobs have quite a few things in common.’

‘Saving people’s lives?’

‘I was thinking more along the lines of unsociable hours and only getting any real attention when you screw up.’

‘What did you screw up?’ she asked him. ‘Janice Stokes wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t done what you did.’

‘And neither would I.’

She was staring at him now. ‘So why did you?’

‘This is going to sound like a line from a bad movie.’

‘I get lots of those too.’

‘I did it because it’s what I’m trained to do.’

‘So you make a habit of rescuing damsels in distress?’

Lock shook his head. ‘No, just a habit of walking through doors

I shouldn’t. Listen, I didn’t even catch your name.’

‘Dr Robbins.’

‘I meant your first name.’

‘I know you did.’

Over her shoulder, Lock caught a glimpse of Carrie fronting the headline report on the TV. Seeing her hurt worse than getting shot. She was standing outside a green-canopied apartment building, a white-gloved doorman flitting in and out of frame behind her, apparently undecided between discretion and getting his mug on the tube.

‘That your lady friend?’ Dr Robbins asked, following Lock’s gaze to the TV and reading the bottom of the screen.

‘She was. For a time anyway.’

‘Looks too classy for you.’

‘I get that a lot. Would you mind if I . . . ?’

‘Go right ahead,’ said Dr Robbins, stepping out of his way. Lock turned up the volume, catching Carrie mid-sentence.

‘. . . the FBI remaining tight-lipped about this latest twist in the Meditech massacre story which has gripped America. But so far only one fact remains clear: three days after his disappearance, seven-year-old Josh Hulme remains missing.’

The screen cut to a picture of a young white boy with thick brown hair and blue eyes, smiling self-consciously for a family portrait.

Lock moved away from Dr Robbins as she attempted to get a fresh look at the back of his head. ‘What’s this got to do with Meditech?’

‘His father works for them or something.’

Lock felt a jolt of adrenalin. He started to get out of bed, earning a reproachful look from Dr Robbins.

‘I need to make a call.’

‘Fine, but do everyone a favour.’

‘What’s that, doc?’

‘Put on a robe first. Your butt’s hanging out.’

 

 

10

Dressed, and with a baseball cap covering what he’d come to think of as his lobotomy patient look, Lock stepped out into the hall. He still felt a little uncertain on his feet and he remained deliberately unshaven. Looking in the mirror as he’d washed his face, he’d figured that slightly altering his appearance might be no bad thing under the circumstances. Clearly the ‘Massacre in Midtown’, as the press had dubbed it, gleefully unearthing a neat piece of alliteration among the dead, was a first shot rather than a last stand.

Finding a way to call Ty proved tricky. Lock’s cell phone was inconveniently back in the bottom drawer of his desk at Meditech and pay phones seemed to be in short supply. Dr Robbins had told him she could arrange for a phone to be brought to his room for a small charge, but he didn’t want to wait. Finally, he tracked one down on the ground floor, next to the gift shop.

Ty answered on the first buzz.

‘Where’s my fruit basket?’

‘If it ain’t Rip Van Winkle. I was wondering when you were going to surface.’

‘Sleep of the just, man.’

‘I hear you. Good to have you back.’

Lock was grateful for the relief in Ty’s voice. It was comforti