Imposter (Protectors #1)
Chemist Dr. Eve Collins, wrongly accused by the CIA of developing and marketing a chemical weapon, learns she has been set up as a scapegoat by someone seeking to hide his own guilt. That “someone” wants her dead. Her life depends on making no mistakes – like trusting the Central Intelligence agent assigned to her case, a man she’s falling in love with.
CIA Operative John Burke doesn't believe her claim of innocence. When an attempt is made on her life, he believes her accomplice has turned on her. But something doesn't add up about Eve and her role in this crime she's accused of. Burke has too many questions, including - has his judgment been compromised by his fierce attraction to her?
It’s a question Burke asks himself again and again but when he learns Eve’s would-be assassin is close, he goes on the run with her. It's a temporary solution - running will not keep her safe. Burke must find the assassin - or die trying.
Snowbound (The Protectors #2)
When her cover is blown in a criminal operation to apprehend a human trafficker, FBI Special Agent Mallory Burke is put in a car destined for a mountain cabin to be tortured and killed. But a snow storm results in an accident that leaves all but Mallory dead and she finds herself in the midst of the raging storm and in the care of Police Captain Gage Broderick. Mallory's relief that Gage is a cop is short lived. He has secrets of his own.
Gage is haunted by an incident in his recent past. The last thing he wants is to become embroiled in Mallory's investigation - or to feel this powerful attraction to her.
But the lives of twelve women depend on Mallory and Gage working together to stop this man - the women's lives and now Mallory's life. He knows about her. He knows where she is. And he wants her dead.
Pursued (The Protectors #3)
Three Chief Of Police Mitch Turner is finally close to getting the evidence he needs to prosecute crime boss, Christopher Rossington. When Mitch's fiancee, Shelby, is attacked, he must consider the attack wasn't random, but Rossington's attempt to strike out at Mitch. Shelby insists she wasn't targeted but Mitch has questions -- about the attack and now about her . . .
Dr. Shelby Grant appears to be living a fairytale life. She is doing meaningful work at her psychology practice and she's engaged to marry Mitch, the man of her dreams. But all is not as it appears. Nothing Mitch knows about her is the truth. She's been lying to him since the day they met and keeping a secret from him. She lives in fear he will find out what she is hiding.
Her secret, if revealed, will destroy his love for her and will kill them both?
Hide (The Protectors #4)
Allison Sandoval is on the run after discovering the secret her new husband, Rafael, the leader of a South American country, has kept hidden from the world. She must tell what she knows and stop Rafael but she is on her own, physically weakened by his abuse, and she is running out of time.
Zach Corrigan, owner of a Special Ops organization, accepts the job to find Allison, a woman he is told is mentally ill and who suffers from hallucinations and paranoia. But when Zach finds her, something isn't right and after he returns her to her husband, Zach can't get her out of his mind or the belief that he's made a mistake in taking her back.
Zach is determined to right that wrong. What began as a job is turning into something more. With Zach, Allison finds a refuge and something she’d given up on, hope. But Rafael isn't the only one hunting Allison. The CIA wants her too. Zach will do everything in his power to make Allison safe, beginning with finding a place for her to hide. But with enemies all around them, there is no place to hide . . .
Chapter 1 - The Imposter (Protectors #1)
“Richard! Slow down!”
Heart pounding, Eve took her gaze from the road and cut a glance to the driver, Richard, her
Richard didn’t respond. The CD player was blaring. Unlikely he could hear her above Van
Richard had picked up his new Porsche just yesterday. He’d wanted to see what the car could do,
he’d said with a smirk when they started on this road, and hit the gas. Now the road began to slope and
the car gained additional speed. Eve’s gaze went to the speedometer and her breath hitched. Ninety
and climbing. Outside the passenger window, a view of trees and rock-face streaked by in a blur. Her
mouth went dry.
Eve took her gaze from the road and cut a glance to Richard. His focus was trained on the
It wasn't the first time in the last few minutes she’d spotted him looking into the rearview. She
looked around herself but couldn't see anything but the trail of dust the Porsche was kicking up in its
wake. As she faced front again, again, Richard’s focus lifted to the view behind them.
What was going on?
She reached out to lower the volume on the CD to ask him that question when the car swerved
sharply to the right, throwing her toward the passenger door. The seatbelt held firm, preventing what
could have been a nasty impact.
She returned her attention to Richard. Tension was now coming off him in waves. A fine sheen of sweat glistened on his brow. In his eyes, she saw terror.
Eve looked back. A dark sedan was now visible, moving fast and closing the distance between them.
“Richard, what’s going on? Are we being followed?”
Richard didn’t reply, but the Porsche shot forward with a sudden burst of speed. The sedan fell back but was picking up speed. It should have been no match for the Porsche but it continued to gain ground. Just what kind of engine was under the hood of that plain sedan? No ordinary sedan and Eve’s nerves jumped.
Why were they being followed? Who would want to follow them?
The Porsche skidded. Richard steered into the skid. When the tires gained traction, he floored the gas pedal.
This was insane. If Richard and whoever was following them didn't slow down—
The road curved like a hair pin. Richard made a sound, but without breaking speed, drove into it. The rear fishtailed. Eve’s breath caught. Richard cried out. Both his face and his grip on the steering wheel went white as he struggled to get the car under control. Eve’s heart hammered. Each wild beat thundered in her ears.
She turned to him. He was now slumped across the dashboard.
The speedometer read one-hundred-ten. The car raced out of control. Gravel pinged against the car’s underside as the right front tire slid off the narrow strip of asphalt. The edge dropped off in a sheer cliff Eve couldn't see the bottom of.
Another instant and the car would go over.
Eve stared wide-eyed as the car continued to lose purchase. As the tires continued to slide away from the pavement. Was this how her life would end? In a car crash that would not right the wrong committed five years earlier when she had lived while the most precious thing in her world had died?
Tears filled her eyes. She thought back over the last five years to all of the times she’d wished she could go back to that moment and exchange her life for the one that was taken.
But she couldn’t. She could not change the past. Not then and not now . . .
The tires slid. The cliff loomed. The dark abyss drew closer.
Eve grabbed the steering wheel. Her hands were sweating. She latched on and jerked sharply to the right. The car veered away from the edge.
She shoved Richard toward the driver’s door. He was a small, wiry man, but inert, his body was heavy. She grunted, heaved again, and he struck the driver’s door hard. His blond head lolled against the window. He didn’t protest her rough handling of him, not even a moan. Eve would have welcomed a moan. At the least he was unconscious. At the most . . .
She fought off her fears for Richard. If she didn’t stop the car, his condition would cease to matter—to both of them.
She grappled with her seat belt, releasing the catch, then slid onto the console and swung her leg over Richard’s. She kicked his foot off the accelerator and stomped on the brake. The tires screeched as the car skidded, then went into a spin. The landscape of trees and rock face swirled by, then Eve didn’t know if the car was again at the edge about to go over. She couldn't determine up or down. She’d lost her bearings. She maintained her grip on the steering wheel and on the brake, the skin stretched taut over her knuckles, her teeth gritted as she fought to ride out the spin and regain control of the car.
The Porsche rocked to a stop. She was flung forward. Her instinctive grab of the dashboard twisted her wrist but saved her face. Laying her head on her arms, she closed her eyes and gave in to the weakness that had come over her now that the initial adrenaline rush was spent. Her ears were ringing. The car engine was now off and in the silence she could hear herself breathing. Shallow, panting gasps for air that hurt to inhale and exhale. Other than those complaints, she felt fine. Alive.
Richard . . .
She turned to him and shook his shoulder. He didn't respond. She pressed her fingertips to his neck. Her hands were shaking so badly she wasn't sure she’d detect any other movement, but she felt a thready pulse.
She’d bought a bottle of water at the last gas station they’d stopped at. It was in the cup holder. She uncapped it and upended it onto Richard’s face. Water flowed down his shaved cheeks.
Eve tapped the back of her hand against his skin. “Richard.”
He didn't respond. She struck him harder. His cheek reddened. She’d hit him hard enough to mark him, but apparently not enough to rouse him.
“Hang on, Richard,” she murmured.
She turned the key, but the engine didn't start. Her purse . . . where was her purse? She spotted the little envelope bag on the floor board. She fumbled with the snap and yanked out her cell phone. She had to get help.
Where were they? She glanced around the deserted stretch of road. A meadow lay beyond the two lanes of asphalt. Trees and scraggly bushes grew on the grass, amid patches of white and yellow wildflowers. She and Richard had left Manhattan bound for Rowland, a county in Pennsylvania, about an hour ago. They were chemists and they were on their way to a chemist’s conference in Pittsburgh.
Richard had kept to back roads like this one to avoid traffic. Other than the sedan that was no longer in sight, she couldn't remember the last time they came across another car. None were in sight now.
The sun was lowering behind a cluster of oaks. Nightfall was imminent. If this road was rarely traveled in daylight, what was the likelihood of another car coming along at night? With Richard in his present condition, they could not pass the night here. She pushed dark hair back from her face and flipped open the phone.
An instant later she found there was no signal. She hoped that was because she was inside the car. As she was about to go outside and try the phone again, the sedan that had been following them skidded to a halt behind the Porsche.
Both the driver and passenger doors were flung open. Two men charged out. One man was dark-
haired, the other blond. Both wore suits and ties.
Eve wanted to be away from there. She knew nothing about the occupants of that car other than that Richard had been terrified of them. But where to go? She was in the middle of nowhere. The car disabled. Her phone useless. She had no weapon to defend herself and Richard. She’d turned in her
service weapon years ago along with her resignation from the LAPD.
To buy a moment to think, she reached out to engage the automatic door locks. Ineffective if these men were armed, but if not, the locked doors would keep them at bay.
Before she could hit the locks, both her door and Richard’s door were thrown open. The dark haired man peered at Richard. The blond man reached for her.
Eve drew back. “I don’t know who you are or what you want, but Richard needs help. He needs a doctor.”
The dark-haired man glanced over his shoulder at Eve. His eyes, dark brown and deep-set, narrowed to slits. He pressed his lips together, tight enough that a line formed on either side of his mouth. There was no mistaking his anger, though she could not account for it.
The blond man’s soft, doughy features were grim. Eve’s heart pounded. She looked from one man to the other. “Why are you just standing around?” She was afraid she knew, but blurted out anyway. “We need to get Richard to a doctor. Now.”
“Richard is dead,” the dark-haired man said bluntly.
As he stepped back from the open doorway, back from Richard, she glimpsed her business partner, slumped against the black leather seat. His eyes were glazed. There was no mistaking the vacant look in them now and the gray cast to his skin that indicated recent death.
Eve continued to stare at him. She shook her head, not wanting to believe what she was seeing. At any moment she expected him to bounce up and burst into movement. But he did not.
Richard . . .
Tears burned her eyes. She pressed her fingers to them. Her hands trembled. She clenched them briefly in an effort to steady them. The need to know how Richard died weighed on her, along with a terrible sadness. She and Richard had been partners for four years and though that relationship had its ups and downs—was presently down—she felt a loss at his passing. Now was not the time for questions, though, or to mourn. She had to keep it together and see him home.
“Let’s get him into our car,” the dark-haired man said.
The men hooked Richard beneath the arms and legs, and removed him from his vehicle. They hauled him across the asphalt to their own car and stuffed him into the trunk. The act galvanized Eve.
Richard was dead. Why had they moved him?
Eve left the Porsche and stumbled out onto the asphalt. She was still holding her phone and dropped it onto the pavement as she ran to the sedan.
She reached it and seized the lid just as the dark-haired man was about to slam it. “You can’t move Richard’s body. Drive back to the nearest city and send the police.” What was the name of the last place they drove through? She shook her head in frustration. She couldn't recall it. She eyed the two men. “There’s a city about a forty minute drive east of here. Since you were on this road, you would have passed it as well. There’s bound to be a police station there.”
The man slammed the trunk and turned to his companion. “You’d better get going. I’ll be in touch.”
The men acted as if she hadn't spoken. Eve reached out and seized the dark-haired man’s forearm. Beneath the conservative gray suit was hard muscle. Instead of digging into skin, her nails bent. She bit down hard on her back teeth “Did you hear what I said?”
He met her gaze. “Every word. I’m afraid, however, that we will be removing the body.”
She could see the promise in his eyes, and her anger spiked another notch. “Listen to me— ”
“You know me?” She searched her memory, but could not recall ever meeting him. He obviously
knew her though, and though he had yet to harm her, that fact unsettled her, reminded her that this
man and his companion had been following Richard.
Who were these men? Eve’s stomach went as tight as a fist. Her body went cold with apprehension but she knew better than to show it. She crossed her arms and narrowed her gaze on the dark-haired man who appeared to be leading the other man. “I asked you a question.”
“We’ve never met. I’m John Burke.” Burke indicated the man beside him. “This is Michael Lanski. We work for a division of the Central Intelligence Agency.” Burke withdrew a small folder from inside his suit jacket and opened it for her inspection. It was his picture ID. He replaced it, then repeated to Lanski, “Get going.”
Lanski got behind the wheel of the sedan, and Eve’s heart thumped. “Where is he going?” she asked Burke. “Why were you following Richard? What does the CIA want with Richard’s body?”
“We’ll talk on the drive to Rowland,” Burke said. “Let’s go, Dr. Collins.”
Eve narrowed her eyes on Burke. “You know where Richard and I were going?”
Burke gave her a level look. “Oh, yeah. We know a lot of things about you and Richard.”
Eve arched her eyebrows at the cryptic statement. “What is that supposed to mean?”
Before Burke could respond—if he’d intended to—Eve’s attention was drawn by the sedan.
Lanski spun the car in a U-turn then, tires squealing, sped down the road. Dust swirled in the air where the car had been an instant earlier, and Richard was gone.
Again, Eve felt tears burn. She forced them back and confronted Burke. “I asked you what the CIA wants with Richard’s body.”
“And I told you we would talk on the way to Rowland,” Burke said.
The sun had lowered and dusk had descended. In the interval between day and night, there was a stillness, a quiet time. In the silence, Eve became aware of the hum of the Porsche’s engine. She’d thought the car was disabled by the accident, but Burke or Lanski had started it. Obviously, Burke intended that they leave there in Richard’s vehicle.
Eve crossed her arms. “I’m not going anywhere with you, Mr. Burke.”
He braced his hands low on his hips. “Are you thinking to wait out here, hoping another car will come along?”
“Oh, no. I am leaving. You’re not. I’m taking the car. You should have gone with Lanski.” Eve’s cheeks warmed. “This isn’t over. If you won’t tell me what I want to know, I’ll get my answers from your office. I will get Richard’s body released. I will find out why the CIA even knows my name.”
Eve moved past him toward the car.
“You aren’t going anywhere without me.”
She glanced back at Burke. He hadn’t moved, but his eyes had hardened and she knew he meant what he said. He outweighed her by at least seventy pounds and topped her by a good eight inches. Did he intend to use physical force to detain her? On the job, she’d taken down men of his size before. Still, he would need a reason to insist that she accompany him. He was an officer of the law, after all, not a thug.
She raised an eyebrow. “If you want to stop me, you’re going to have to place me under arrest.”
Burke reached into a back pocket and held up a pair of handcuffs.
Eve’s lips tensed briefly. “You have to be out of your mind, Burke. I’m a chemist not a criminal.”
“You set the terms, Doctor. We are going to talk. If I have to arrest you to do that, I will.”
“This is ridiculous. You can’t arrest me without cause.”
“Oh, I have cause.” He leaned in close to her, and his voice lowered to a near whisper. “You’ve
been named in a terrorist plot, Doctor. The charge for committing an offence against your country is
Chapter 1 - Snowbound (Protectors #2)
“So, how does it feel knowing you’re taking your last ride?”
Mallory Burke didn’t respond to the latest comment made by Hugo from behind the wheel of the sedan, refusing to let him bait her. He’d been doing his best to get a reaction out of her since they’d embarked on this journey into the Adirondack mountains of New York State a few hours ago when Hugo had discovered that Mallory wasn't just the new bartender his boss Billy Wilder had hired for his strip club, but an undercover federal agent.
Hugo had called Wilder with that newsflash and Billy had ordered that Mallory be brought to his mountain cabin—pronto.
Though Mallory wasn't responding to Hugo’s running commentary, she was reacting all right.
The gravity of her situation had her heart pounding so hard she wondered if Hugo and his associate, Miles Pratt, the other man in the car, could hear it.
Pratt, seated beside her in the back seat, turned to her and smirked. His unibrow looked like a caterpillar crawling across his forehead. His large bulk took up more than his share of the leather bench seat, wedging Mallory in tight between him and the rear passenger door. The door was locked, though with her hands tied behind her back she wouldn't be able to open it in any case. She was currently working on loosening the knot, but Hugo tied a knot with the skill of a sailor. Lucky for her, she was good at untying knots. This one was just about undone.
The knot wasn't going to be her biggest obstacle to getting away from these bozos. When she did untie her hands, she was going to have to escape into the snow storm outside. As she thought that, the big sedan skidded and the rear fishtailed.
“Fuckin’ snow,” Hugo muttered.
On this, Mallory agreed with him.
Snow or not, there was no way she was going to the cabin. She’d overheard Hugo and Miles say with no small measure of respect—and fear—that the “Don” would be there. Though she wanted to encounter the “Don”—Paul Considine—with a fierceness that had her pulse pounding, she wanted it to be on her terms. Not like this. Not at Considine’s mercy.
Mallory swallowed hard. Hugo and Miles had been taunting her with all of the things they would do to her when they had her at the cabin. Despite her professional training and years of experience with the Bureau, she couldn’t hold back a shudder at the methods of torture they’d described that were specific to her gender. There was no way she could allow these two to touch her and, she had accomplished her assignment, found out what she’d gone undercover to learn and now needed to take that information back to the Bureau. The lives of twelve young women depended on her. Mallory closed her eyes briefly. She could not fail.
Wind rattled her window. Mallory jerked back, nudging Miles. For once, he didn’t comment. He removed his safety belt and leaned forward in his seat. Eyes narrowed, he studied the near whiteout conditions. The wipers swished across the windshield at full speed, clearing snow for an instant before the glass was pelted again and covered.
“Slow down, man,” Miles said.
“No way.” Hugo swiped a hand across his mouth. “It’ll be my head if we don’t get her up there Fast seemed optimistic and foolhardy. They hadn’t come across another car since Hugo had turned down this road. Apparently, others had the good sense to stay away today. Trees that lined this stretch of road swayed, buffeted by the force of the wind. Hugo’s hands, inside brown leather gloves, were clamped around the steering wheel. He was trying to keep the car steady, keep it on the road, Mallory thought as the wind struck the sedan and the car veered off to the right. Just where the road was at this point was a guess. The thick snow clinging to the ground obliterated the road and it was only the line of trees that provided orientation. With the road conditions as treacherous as they were, Mallory might not have to worry about what awaited her at the cabin. She had a more immediate worry that she might not make it out of the sedan alive.
“We need to turn back,” Mallory said. “We can’t go on in this.”
“Hear that, Miles? Little Miss Fed’s got somethin’ to say.” Hugo met her gaze in the rearview mirror and bared his yellow teeth in a smile that made the fine hairs on the back of Mallory’s neck rise. “Save your breath, sweetheart, for when we get to the cabin. You’re gonna need it when you start screaming.”
Mallory wanted to come back with a smart retort, but Hugo’s words struck home and her mouth went dry. Work the knot. Work the knot. She increased the pace on the ropes to a frenzy, twisting and pulling. Perspiration trickled down her brow while she shivered with cold. Panic was setting in and she was losing it. Losing it was the surest way to get herself killed.
She forced herself to stop jerking frantically on the rope. Forced herself to fight back the panic clawing at her. Directing her focus to the task at hand, she went back to working the knot.
Miles had disarmed her, but she could see her gun tucked into the waistband of his black pants. Once she freed her hands . . . done!
She was panting like a racehorse. Adrenaline pumped through her. She would have one chance to grab her gun. One chance. She blocked out the thought of what these two would do to her if she She glanced at Miles. His attention was all on the road. His shoulders hunched as he leaned forward so he was now perched on the end of the seat, clasping the head rest of the unoccupied front passenger seat.
“Slow down, will ya! I can’t see nothin’ but snow!” Miles’s shout was barely audible above the Mallory reached out to grab her gun. The sedan went into a spin. The world swirled crazily as the car whirled like a top. Her screams echoed with those of Miles and Hugo.
The sedan struck something—hard. Mallory was flung forward. The seat belt cut across her chest, cutting off her breath but holding her in place. In a blur of movement, Miles was thrown to the front of the car and through the windshield.
Windows shattered, peppering Mallory with slivers of glass. She screamed. She was dressed in jeans and a jacket which protected her body but her head and face were bare. She swung her arms up and hunched her shoulders to protect herself from the spray of glass.
The sedan crumpled. The crunch of metal blended with Hugo’s pain-filled shrieks and then there was silence.
She’d been holding her breath. She released it in a rush, the sudden surge pounding in her ears. She was alive. She repeated that thought and took another breath. Pain radiated from her right arm, leg and side. Her head hurt. When she lifted it from the seat back, her head swam and her vision grayed. Wind and snow blew in through the shattered windows. The cold air and wet flakes that struck her face revived her. She blinked quickly and fought back the blackness.
She wanted to get out of the car but was pinned by the front seat. The sedan had struck an outcropping of rock and the front of the car had been pushed back on impact. Miles’s body was crushed. There was no doubt that he was dead. Given what she’d learned of his involvement with the twelve women, she wouldn't regret his passing.
Mallory shifted position carefully, testing how deeply she was wedged in. Not as tightly as she feared. Keeping her movements slow, but steady, she raised her arm. She gasped at the pain that shot through her, but took heart in the fact that she was able to move her arm at all.
Gritting her teeth, she levered up on her uninjured arm to free her lower body. Her breath shallowed and perspiration broke out on her forehead as she continued the slow, arduous process of extricating herself.
She was almost completely free when her ankle caught. Again, she cried out when she forced movement, but made another attempt, then another until her foot was clear.
That slight exertion had left her panting. She bolstered her flagging energy. Her cell phone had been confiscated by Hugo before he’d tied her. There was no way to get to the phone the way he was positioned. But Miles also had a phone.
She grunted and pushed the crumpled passenger door but it wouldn't open. Averting her face, Mallory reared back as far as she could in the cramped space and with her uninjured foot, kicked out the few shards of glass that still clung to the rear windshield then climbed out of the car. Outside, the blowing wind was deafening. Miles and Hugo had nabbed her as she’d been leaving the club that morning at the end of her shift. She’d already changed out of the mini skirt and halter top that were part of her outfit while she tended bar and had put on her jacket. She was thankful for that now as the bitter cold stole her breath and burned what felt like a raw wound on her head.
Her ankle balked at supporting her weight and she fell back onto the wide trunk. She needed support—a cane of some kind. Looking about wildly, she saw that improvising a cane wouldn’t be a problem. Thick tree limbs littered the snow covered ground and she retrieved one.
Miles had landed a few feet from the car in a bank of snow that was red with his blood. As she crouched over the fallen man, she saw that his neck was bent at an impossible angle. He was clearly In the short time since she’d left the car, her fingers had stiffened from the cold. She flexed them and blew on them, then began patting Miles down. She found his phone in an outer pocket of his jacket. Broken. Unusable. She let out a frustrated sigh. Her semi-automatic was no longer in the waistband of his trousers. Likely, it had been flung away when he was thrown from the car. She didn't like being defenseless, but she was hardly in a condition to go traipsing into the snow drifts in search of it. It was all she could do to remain on her feet.
The sound of a vehicle approaching rose above the roar of the wind and then a metallic blue van came into view, glowing like a beacon amid all the white. She knew that van. It was one of Billy’s from the bar. Her stomach clenched.
The driver met her gaze and his eyes widened.
Mallory’s breath caught. Staying on the road was not an option. The mountains lay beyond. He couldn't pursue her into them with the van. He’d have to follow on foot and she’d have a chance. Heart hammering, she trudged into the mountains. Her boots sank in the snow. For an instant, the tracks marked her trail but then disappeared beneath fresh snow.
The van slid to a stop. One door slammed. Then another. So there were two of them. Keep moving. Keep moving.
Her jacket was red. The color would make it impossible for her to blend in with her surroundings. The men would spot her easily in all the white. Without breaking pace, she removed it. She wanted to turn the jacket inside out and wear it with the liner exposed but the inner lining was also red. Her long sleeved T-shirt, though, was white. She dropped the jacket into the snow. She was cold and wet in an instant. The T-shirt offered little protection against the biting wind or the icy snow that soaked through the thin cotton fabric and left her shivering.
Snow crunched behind her. She glanced back. The men were giving chase, running toward her, overcoats flapping in the wind, slipping and sliding in their black loafers. The short distance she’d crossed had left her winded, but she increased her pace.
She had nothing to cut the wind that screamed like a banshee or the snow soaking her hair, her clothing and clinging to her eyelashes. She tucked her hair into her collar for what added warmth it could provide then huddled in the shirt. Particles of ice struck her exposed skin. Some of the flesh on her hands was cut from the spray of glass when the car windows shattered and now ice bit like tiny needles.
Another wave of dizziness struck her and she shook her head to clear it. She blinked more snow from her eyes and forced her protesting body to keep moving to increase the distance between her and her pursuers.
She glanced over her shoulder. She couldn't see the men now, but she could still hear them behind her. Hoping to throw them off her trail, she changed direction, moving deeper into the mountains.
Her side burned and each breath became harder to take. Her right leg had become a dead weight, forcing her to drag it and depend more heavily on the cane. Mallory suspected the reason she wasn't feeling intense pain from her ankle was because she was knee-deep in snow and numb from that point down.
She could no longer hear her pursuers. Hadn't heard them for some time. It appeared she’d lost them. Her stomach unclenched in relief.
She could not turn back and risk running into the men and she could not remain out here indefinitely. She needed to take shelter. She needed some time to think and she needed to find a way to communicate with the Bureau.
Focusing on putting one foot in front of the other, she moved on. Eventually, she came to a cabin. Her body seemed to sway toward it, but she ignored the yearning. Entering a cabin could be dangerous. She shuddered, leery of ending up at Billy’s cabin. She would need to take some time to observe the place before approaching to ascertain that the place was not Billy’s.
She needed to find out if the cabin was occupied. There was a large front window, but she couldn't risk exposure from it. A window high on the front door, devoid of curtains, would give her a view of the inside.
Her vision wavered. The snow looked fluffy, untouched up here, thick and welcoming like a blanket. The urge to just lie down on that snow, to sink into it, pulled at her. She shook her head. She blinked and took another step. She had to make it. Just a few steps more.
An overhang kept the snow from falling onto the porch but the snow drift had built on one side and was as high as her thighs. She waded through it toward the door, but stopped short of it, flattening herself against the cabin, letting the sturdy structure take her weight. She rose onto her toes to peer into the window. Her eyes rolled back. She fell against the door then everything went black.
Chapter 1 - Pursued (The Protectors #3)
He was waiting for her outside the clinic. Shelby had no sooner stepped off the crumbling stoop of the faded, pre-second world war building and into the murky light of the one working street lamp when a man grabbed her from behind. She dropped her purse and briefcase onto the sidewalk that was littered with rotting garbage. She managed a startled shriek before he hooked her at the neck, cutting off her voice and his arm clamped around her waist, crushing her against his body.
Shelby clawed at her attacker’s arm. The man wore a light overcoat in deference to the nip in the air on the August night and her attempt to dig her nails into him was futile. She kicked back, striking him in the knee with the heel of her dress pump. He hissed in pain then his grip tightened, squeezing her wind pipe like a vise. She’d thought she couldn't breathe before, but now she couldn't take in any air at all.
No . . . No!
In her mind she shouted that to him, but in reality she wasn’t capable of making any sound other than desperate gasps for air.
Her attacker began dragging her down the sidewalk. She dug her heels into the cracked cement in an attempt to slow him down, but he was stronger and the dim light faded as they left the short street and entered the alley behind the clinic.
“Got a message for you,” the man said.
Shelby froze as a new and entirely different fear rose within her.
He brought his lips to her ear. “Tick. Tock.”
She didn't need to ask who the message was from. Her insides quivered. She whimpered.
“Hey! You, there! What you doin’ to that woman?”
Shelby knew that voice. It was Joseph, the elderly maintenance man from the clinic. Her stomach tightened in fear for Joseph now as well as for herself. Any man sent to deliver this message would be ruthless and would have no qualms about killing Joseph. But, to Shelby’s relief, the man who held her must not have perceived Joseph as a concern. He didn't even spare Joseph a glance. Message delivered, he released her. All of Shelby’s weight had been balanced on him and she fell onto her hands and knees on the stained and broken asphalt. He stepped over her and strolled out of the alley.
“Lady! Lady! You all right?”
Joseph again. Shelby coughed and struggled to get up but couldn't manage to do so. Then Joseph was there in the alley with her. His face, worn and creased like old leather, bent to hers.
“It’s you, Dr. Grant! Dr. Grant are you hurt?” Without waiting for a response, Joseph pulled a cell phone from the shirt pocket of his blue uniform. “I’m calling for an ambulance. You hold on, Dr.
* * *
Chief Of Police Mitchell Turner took the next turn, taking him onto the interstate leading out of Blake County, New York. Cars sped by his SUV making a soft whooshing sound. His police radio was tuned low though he could still make out the nasal voice of the woman working dispatch tonight.
Mitch cast another glance at his rearview. A late model sedan and a compact were still behind him where they’d been since he’d taken the on-ramp and pulled out in front of them. No other vehicles had followed him onto the highway.
Ten minutes later he was still in the clear and turned onto the deserted stretch of road that would take him to his destination. Trees lined both sides of what passed for this road and rose high into the sky but moonlight filtered through the branches, lighting his path. Gravel crunched beneath his tires, making a silent approach impossible if he’d wanted one. He didn’t. He wanted the man he was meeting, Dan Harwick, to know he was on his way.
Harwick was working undercover, investigating Christopher Rossington whose business dealings were a front for organized crime. On the phone earlier today, Harwick sounded . . . tense. A first for the cool-under-fire Harwick. Another first for Harwick was this request for an unscheduled meeting tonight.
Mitch had never known Harwick to alter a plan and it concerned him. Harwick had told Mitch he’d be driving a pickup truck for the meet. Mitch’s headlights illuminated a truck parked at the edge of the road and Mitch was glad to see Harwick inside the vehicle.
Harwick’s cheeks hollowed as he drew deeply on a cigarette and the tip of the smoke glowed red. Mitch flicked the high beams as they’d agreed and pulled up alongside the truck.
Without preamble, Harwick said, “We got trouble, Mitch.”
Harwick met Mitch’s gaze. “Rossington’s got a mole in our investigation.”
Mitch had taken care to keep a tight lid on the investigation, restricting access to information, keeping status strictly need-to-know but he didn’t ask Harwick how he knew about the mole or doubt that it was true. If Harwick said it, it was fact. “What do you know?”
Harwick took another drag on the cigarette then crushed it against the doorframe with a lot more force than was necessary to extinguish it. “Nothing. No face. No name. All I know is that our mole exists.”
Harwick’s anger was palpable. Mitch could well relate. There were only a handful of people working the Rossington case, and Mitch had selected each one of them. The mole could only be someone he knew. He tamped down on his rage for the moment. First things first. “What about you?
How’s your cover?”
“Solid. They’re bringing me in deeper every day. Local business man, my ass.” Harwick sneered. “Fuck, Mitch, this guy is into everything dirty and depraved.” Harwick’s lips thinned. “I want to nail
Rossington by his balls.”
Yeah, Mitch wanted that badly. “We’ll get him, Dan.”
Harwick gave one swift nod.
“I’ll be in touch,” Mitch said.
“What are you going to do about the mole?”
A rush of anger heated Mitch’s face. “I’m going to find that bastard.”
* * *
A 911 call would bring the police. Shelby couldn’t let that happen. She couldn’t let the police find the messenger. If her association with the messenger and the man who sent him was discovered . . . she couldn’t let herself think about the consequences of that without losing her mind. As she sucked air into her starved lungs, she scrambled for a reason to stop Joseph but fear had numbed her ability to think and before she could come up with an excuse, Joseph had made the call.
She had to get out of here before the police arrived. Again, she tried to gain her feet but her arms and legs felt as strong as overcooked noodles.
“Should you be movin’ around, Dr. Grant? Better to stay put, I think,” Joseph said. “You should stay put till the ambulance gets here.”
“I don’t need an ambulance.” Her throat burned from the messenger’s choke hold on her neck and her voice came out raspy, belying her statement.
Deep crevices cut into Joseph’s brow and his eyes narrowed in concern behind wire-rim glasses. But when Shelby continued to struggle, Joseph grasped her arm. “Here let me help you, Dr. Grant.”
Joseph hovered at her side as she ignored pain in her middle where the messenger had squeezed her, and made her way from the alley and back to the street. Her purse and briefcase were in front of the clinic where she’d dropped them. Shelby bit back a moan of pain and bent to snatch up the items. She dug inside for her cell phone. Her hands were shaking so badly the phone slipped in her grasp. She let out a whimper of frustration and fear, then locked her fingers around the phone and sent a text message. One asterisk. The man who’d sent the messenger to her tonight had devised a single star as their signal to meet.
He had to meet with her tonight—now. She had to assuage the anger that had prompted him to send her this warning. She squeezed her eyes shut. She had to drive home the depth of her commitment to him. Though how he could doubt that, doubt her . . .
Shelby opened her eyes and stared at the phone, willing to see an asterisk in response. Praying to see one. Seconds ticked by and the screen remained dark.
Fear filled her and a scream began to build. She bit her lip hard to suppress it, breaking the skin and tasting blood.
“Dr. Grant, you want to call someone?” Joseph said. “The Chief? You’re shaking something awful and no wonder at all. Here, let me call Chief Turner for you.”
Calling the man she was engaged to marry would be the normal thing to do, but Mitch was the last person she wanted to see now.
“No!” In her anxiety, in her panic, the word erupted from her before she could stop it. Joseph’s frown deepened at her vehemence. She swallowed and tried to think, tried to sound sane. She pushed hair back from her face. The strands were damp with perspiration brought on by fear. “No need to call Mitch, Joseph. No need to worry him.” She swallowed. “I just—just want to put this behind me and go home.” Though his intervention had done her more harm than good, she couldn't discount that Joseph had put himself in harm’s way for her. There hadn’t been many people in her life who would do that.
Ignoring her stinging palms, where bits of gravel had cut into them when she’d landed on the ground in the alley, she reached out and clasped Joseph’s arthritic hand. “Thank you. Thank you for everything you did tonight.”
Joseph ducked his head and mumbled something but she didn’t catch the words. Her attention became riveted on an ambulance and the patrol car right behind it that turned onto the street.
Both vehicles screeched to a halt at the curb, sirens blaring, roof lights flashing. Neighborhood residents, no doubt alerted by the wailing sirens, poked their heads out their front doors. Some left the confines of their homes to stand on their lawns and peer across the street while others ventured nearer, taking up positions on the chipped sidewalk and the brown grass in front of the clinic.
A cop and a medic exited their respective vehicles and began closing the distance to Shelby. She didn’t want a report of this incident. She needed to send both the medic and the cop on their way.
As the men reached her, and she was about to do just that, a black SUV she knew all too well pulled in behind the cop car. The driver’s side door was flung open and before the SUV had rocked to a stop, Mitch charged out. Her stomach clenched then dropped.
Mitch was dark-haired and tall with a hard, tough body. Standing above those around him, his eyes, a deep penetrating blue, landed on her. He kept his gaze trained on her as he made his way through the men and women that blocked his path to her.
Shelby tilted her head back to continue to look at him as he stopped in front of her. “I thought you’d be home by now.”
Was she going into shock? Of all the things to say to him, that had to be the most inane. Mitch must have thought so as well because his gaze on her intensified.
“Had a meeting,” he said softly.
He still wore the charcoal-gray suit he’d had on when he’d left for the police station that morning, though the tie was no longer knotted and hung loose on his crisp white shirt. The jacket was open, showing his paddle holster and cell phone on either side of his belt.
His brows were low, his handsome face pulled taut with worry. He lifted a hand to her neck and his gaze hardened. It was obvious by his expression that the skin there was marked. So much for keeping what had happened today from him. Her struggle with the messenger had left marks on her that she would never have been able to hide from Mitch.
Despite the look in his eyes that was now lethal, Mitch wrapped his arms gently around her and drew her against his body. “Are you hurt anywhere else? Did he—”
She didn’t need to clarify what he was asking. She shook her head quickly, hastening to reassure him, of this, at least, and ease his fear. “No.”
Mitch’s hold on her tightened. She ignored the pain in her middle made worse by his fierce grip and wound her arms around him. For just this moment, she gave in to her need for him. Allowed herself the delusion that she was safe. That she wasn’t alone. That what she had with Mitch was real.
He held her for a long time. She let him hold her far longer than she should have, undermining her intention to show him that what happened tonight was not as significant as he believed it was. It was significant, all right. Just not for the reasons Mitch thought.
Finally, he pressed his lips to her brow. He drew back slightly, just enough that he could look at her. “Have you been examined, honey?”
“Just got here myself, sir,” the medic said.
Mitch rubbed his hands up and down her arms, left bare by the sleeveless pale blue dress she wore. Goose bumps had pebbled her skin. He removed his suit jacket and placed it around her. When he tried to pry her cell phone from her cold fingers, Shelby held tighter. If Mitch wondered about her strange attachment to the phone, he didn’t press the issue and let her continue to hold it. With one arm around her, he gently led her to the ambulance.
There was no point denying the medic now. Any hope she’d had of keeping the attack from Mitch was long gone. She’d only draw more attention from him if she didn’t allow the medic to examine her neck and to treat her abraded palms. After, she declined riding on to the hospital for a more thorough examination.
Mitch didn’t look pleased with that. “Honey, you should be seen by a doctor.”
Shelby shook her head. “That’s not necessary.”
At her hoarse voice, his eyes narrowed. He looked about to make a stronger case for a hospital visit then released a breath and let the matter drop. He received instructions from the medic on what to watch for that would suggest a complication from the trauma she’d sustained to her neck, then led her to his vehicle. He positioned her with her side against the passenger seat and with her feet on the running board. Leaving the door open, he stood in front of her. He ran his thumb along her cheek.
“What happened tonight?”
Shelby closed her eyes.
“Take your time.”
He thought she needed time to fight back the trauma of being attacked before she could respond. While that would certainly be believable, what she needed time for was to decide what to tell him. How much to tell him. His touch was gentle, so tender, tears welled in her eyes.
Mitch brought her close again. “Easy, baby. Take it slow.”
Her hands were against his chest, her fingers curled around his shirt. She forced herself to release him and brought her hands together in a tight grip. “There isn’t much to tell.” She cleared her raw throat carefully. “I was leaving the clinic and a man came up behind me.”
Mitch’s body tensed though his arms around her remained gentle. “Take me through it.”
His tone was calm but his eyes were fierce. His gaze remained on hers and fearing that her own gaze was too open just now, she lowered it to her hands. She gave him an edited accounting of the incident, leaving out that the man had spoken to her and what he’d said. She didn't want to mention Joseph but couldn't see a way out of that. Mitch was sure to find out about Joseph and would consider the man a witness. Fear of what Joseph may have seen made the fine hairs on the back of her neck rise.
“Jo-seph called out,” she went on, “and the man who held me released me and ran a-way. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” She needed Mitch to believe that.
He didn’t respond to that but asked instead, “Did you get a look at him?”
“Too dark and he was behind me the entire time.” That, at least, was the truth.
Mitch rubbed her shoulder. “Okay. Don’t worry about that. There are other ways to find this bastard.”
Shelby’s throat tightened. “I just want it to be over.”
She didn’t want Mitch pursuing this but how to deter him? Any logical woman—logical person—would want a violent man off the streets for their own peace of mind as well as to prevent him from hurting anyone else. Added to that, she was a psychologist who counseled survivors of violence. She saw up close how violence devastated lives and had dedicated her career to helping her patients overcome such trauma and resuming their lives. Dealing with violence—living with violence—weren’t foreign to her. She’d known all about the shattering effects of violence long before she’d met any of her patients.
“Chief? Dr. Grant?” Joseph said.
Joseph and Mitch were acquainted from times Mitch had stopped by the clinic to see Shelby.
Mitch kept one arm around Shelby as he turned to greet Joseph. Mitch held out his hand. “Mr.
Bowden. Thank you.”
Joseph shook Mitch’s hand. “I didn't do anything, Chief. I’m just glad I picked that moment to take out the trash.” Joseph shifted position, shuffling his feet in his brown polished shoes. “I overheard you sayin’, Dr. Grant, that you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, like the attack was random. I’m not so sure about that.”
Chapter 1 - Hide (The Protectors #4)
It was now or never. Allison Sandoval took one last glance over her shoulder. The ballroom was
crowded on this Saturday evening, filled with the dignitaries and diplomats who’d gathered to honor
her husband, Rafael, on his last night on U.S. soil. In the morning, he’d be flying back to his native South
America. But he’d be leaving without her.
Rafael was tall and the height advantage gave him a wide view of the room, but the crowd around
him was thick. Allison had been slowly working her way from his side. At any other time, it would be
impossible for her to take more than a step away. He, or one of the men Rafael publicly called her
bodyguards but who were in reality her jailers, always pulled her back. But the men around Rafael
tonight were as tall as he was and Allison took the opportunity to blend in with those milling around
Her grip on the champagne flute stretched the skin tight across her hands as she forced herself
to move slowly, not to make a mad dash for the exit. She was sweating. Could feel perspiration trickling
down her neck, left bare with her hair swept up into an intricate style, and continuing down her spine
beneath the flowing silver gown.
At the door, an elderly man was making his way into the room. He held the door open and
Allison walked by him into the hall. With regret, she bypassed the coat check. Her dress had sleeves
that covered her arms, but the late October air was cold. She’d been out of the States for six months
and in the South American heat. She’d forgotten how cool the nights could get in New York at this time
of year and this year, this part of the state was experiencing unusually frigid weather. Didn’t matter.
She would not retrieve her coat. The place was crawling with security people who missed nothing. She
could not risk anyone suspecting she was about to leave the building.
She’d almost reached one of the Ladies’ rooms on this level of the luxury hotel. Earlier, when
she’d accompanied Rafael on a tour of the building, she’d taken note of where the washrooms were
located, seeking one that wasn’t at the end of a corridor. What she’d found wasn’t ideal, but she’d make
do. She chose the restroom that provided the best access.
She turned down that corridor and kept walking. A door at the end of the hall led to a staircase.
She made her way down the six flights. Her heels clicked against the steps, echoing in the stairwell, and
she glanced back over her shoulder, fearing she would give herself away. But no one came charging
through the door after her.
Rather than take the exit that opened to the lobby, she continued down to the underground
garage. There would be a way to the street from there and freedom.
She dropped the glass of champagne she was still holding in a garbage can and left the hotel.
The cold air hit her and while it stole her breath, it was also bracing. She was a long way from being free
yet, but it was the closest she’d come since marrying Rafael. The last months had been horrific. Tears
sprang to her eyes. She blinked them back but some still fell. She swiped them away, angry with herself
for going back there. For allowing Rafael to torture her even though she wasn’t with him. She had been
strong before. She would be again. She would not let that pain and fear defeat her. As hard as he’d
tried, Rafael hadn’t broken her. Her eyes stung with tears again and again she forced them back. Her
life was not the only one that depended on her getting away from Rafael.
A woman turned to look at her. Allison couldn’t afford to be noticed, to have anyone recall she’d
passed this way. She stepped out from beneath the street lights, went into the shadows cast by the tall
buildings and increased her step as much as she was able.
What she really needed to do was to stop and lean against one of the buildings. She was so tired.
It was a struggle to remain on her feet. The small burst of strength she’d mustered to make her escape
had waned. She was breathing hard, a combination of her body’s weakness and terror. It was the terror
that kept her moving. She couldn’t be caught. If Rafael found her . . . For an instant, fear cut off her
breath. No, she would not be caught and taken back to Rafael. She had to finish this with him. She
could not fail.
She didn’t know how long she’d walked, dragging her feet, when the tall buildings gave way to
smaller structures spaced wider apart. Traffic, both pedestrian and vehicular, was thin here. One of the
small buildings looked to be a factory of some kind. Whatever it was, the place looked deserted for the
weekend. Could she spend the night there? Did she dare stop moving?
The place would be locked but it was possible she could find something in the alley beside the
building to break a window. She winced at doing that but as she shivered in the bitter cold, she tamped
down on her conscience.
Moonlight lit her way into the alley. She bent and got down on the ground. She spotted a wine
bottle, minus the cap. Would the bottle be enough to break the window? She wasn’t sure, but she had
She was about to reach for it, then curled her fingers into her palms. When she reached out would
she find she was mistaken and the bottle wasn’t there, that there wasn’t any bottle at all? She couldn’t
always trust what her own eyes told her. She closed them briefly, afraid this would be one of those
times. But, no. When she forced herself to reach out, her fingers closed around the neck of the bottle.
Her pulse sped up.
Allison left the alley. It was a weekend. No one should be back to work in that building before
Monday. Still, she hesitated. She couldn’t afford to make a wrong move. If she came upon someone
police would be called. Then Rafael. Fear had the back of her neck prickling.
No lights were on inside the building. The building did look closed up tight. She could barely
keep herself upright now in her exhaustion. Her body swayed toward it but she didn’t take a step. She
remained where she was. She faced her reality. As much as she needed somewhere to sleep and to
hide for the night, even if the door was wide open, she couldn’t go into that dark place.
She closed her eyes at her weakness, fighting back tears. She was now shaking and huddling into
herself in a futile attempt to get warm. She went back into the alley, to the small alcove dug into the
side of the building, and went as deep inside it as she could.
* * *
Zach Corrigan was sleeping when the monitor beeped, signaling the secure perimeter around
his place had been breached. He was instantly awake and on full alert. He rolled onto his side and
punched buttons on the small panel in the wall, bringing up a view of the outside. He owned a large
stretch of isolated land in Blake County, New York. A long, unnamed dirt road, bordered by trees, led
only to Zach’s place. Anyone on this road would be coming to see him. Moonlight provided excellent
light tonight, making the lights around the place unnecessary. Zach’s house came into view, a big ranch-
style, as did the extension off the main house that served as the base of operations for his organization.
Behind was a huge pond, currently frozen over. The cameras he had set up at strategic points on the
grounds showed several views of the place. Zach would see his visitors long before they reached his
The vehicle making its way to him was a limousine and though the occupant likely had no idea
he or she was being monitored, there was no attempt to conceal the approach. An assassin wouldn’t
announce his arrival.
It was just shy of two in the morning on a Sunday. Zach’s business didn’t run nine to five and
late callers weren’t unusual. But if this were one of Zach’s government contacts coming to his door
about a mission, they would have called first. Zach’s line of work made it essential that he be cautious.
He made no apology for it.
He tracked the progress of the limousine. Decided to let it proceed. If he’d misjudged his
visitor, he’d soon rectify that.
He slept naked and now put on jeans and a T-shirt. His gun was on his nightstand, always ready.
He secured it at his back, under the shirt, then left the bedroom.
A coffee maker was on a timer set to start at seven a.m. He got the machine going. As the rich
aroma of the strong dark brew filled the air, the monitor beeped again, this time to indicate a presence
on his driveway.
Zach called up the images on the kitchen monitor. Two men emerged from the limousine. One
was built like a brick, clearly muscle for someone, but he stood against the hood of the black car, making
no attempt to follow or shield the other man who moved briskly to Zach’s front door and rang the bell.
Zach filled a mug of coffee for himself and drank a bit before going to the door to meet his
visitor. He opened the door and checked out the muscle. The guy hadn’t moved from the limo. He
stood with his arms folded at his chest, his hands tucked under his arms to ward off the cold.
Zach focused on the man in front of him. His cashmere coat flapped in the breeze. The wind put
color in his cheeks that were sallow and drawn. His eyes looked heavy from lack of sleep. “Help you?”
“Are you Zachary Corrigan?”
Zach clocked the man at around his own age—early thirties. The guy had an accent. South
American. Zach had spent enough time in that region to be able to pinpoint exactly where on the
continent his visitor was from. This man was from a remote area. Zach had learned of a diplomatic visit
to the U.S. from the country’s leader in a bid to secure financial aid. That leader was Rafael Sandoval,
the man now standing here with Zach.
“I’m Corrigan,” Zach said.
The man extended a gloved hand. The leather was of the finest, soft as melted butter.
“I am Rafael Sandoval,” he said. “Mr. Corrigan. I need your help.”
Sandoval’s expression was earnest and desperate. Zach stepped back from the door and led the
other man to the kitchen.
Zach topped up his mug. “Coffee?”
“No, thank you.”
The man didn’t look like he needed the caffeine. He looked about to jump out of his skin. Zach
leaned back against the dark counter. In addition to jobs for Uncle Sam, Zach’s organization also took on
work from other countries and from private clients. “Who sent you to me?”
“Roger Morse told me about you,” Sandoval said.
Sandoval named one of Zach’s government contacts. “What do you need my help with?”
“Mr. Morse does not know the reason I have come to you,” Sandoval added.
Zach narrowed his eyes. “Which is?”
“Before I begin, I must confirm that you are a military man.”
Zach kept his gaze on Sandoval, wondering where this was going. “I’m sure you already got
from Morse that I was a SEAL.”
Sandoval let out a long breath. “I am also a military man. There is a code of honor among us. I
need to ask for your utmost discretion.”
“Why don’t you tell me what this is about?”
Sandoval’s shoulders slumped then he straightened his posture. “I need you to find my wife.”
“I’m not a PI.” Zach wasn’t going to elaborate on what his organization did. His contracts for
the government were classified, sending him and his people into places in all parts of the world where
others couldn’t or wouldn’t go. He maintained the same level of confidentiality for the jobs he took
from private clients.
“I do not need an investigator,” Sandoval said. “I need someone with your skills and your
discretion. I am here in your country in an attempt to secure aid for mine. I cannot let word about my
wife’s disappearance become front page news. I cannot allow the focus to shift away from my country’s
very real need. This is a personal matter. My wife, Allison, and I were attending a gathering in my honor
yesterday evening. It was to be our last night in your country. We were to fly home this morning. One
moment Allison was standing at my side and the next she was gone. I confess I was distracted. An
agreement with your country would mean so much to mine.” Sandoval rubbed his gloved hand back and
forth across his brow with what appeared to be enough force to shred skin. “I was not paying enough
attention to Allison.”
Zach leaned forward. “If your wife was abducted—”
“No. She was not abducted.” Sandoval squeezed his eyes shut so tightly the skin at the corners
puckered. “She walked away.”
Zach pushed off the counter. “Unless your wife is a minor, she’s perfectly free to come and go
as she pleases. There’s nothing I can do for you.”
Sandoval rubbed his brow hard again. “Obviously, she is of legal age. You do not understand.
She must be found.”
Zach repeated his earlier statement. “I’m not a PI. I can recommend a good investigator though
I’m not sure you need one. You have your own people to look for her, my government and law
enforcement would also look for her. You don’t need me.”
“My wife is delicate. Fragile. Law enforcement and government agencies would overwhelm her
when they find her. She must be handled gently.” Sandoval withdrew his wallet and from it a
photograph he held out to Zach. “This is Allison.”
Zach glanced at the picture without taking it. The woman was a stunner. Waves of blond hair
fell to her shoulders. Big eyes in a deep green rather than the blue he expected to go along with all that
fair hair. She was dolled up and dressed to the nines in what looked like a pose for a State photo—wife
of the country’s new president. Zach raised his gaze from the picture and back to Sandoval. “This isn’t
the type of work my organization handles.”
Sandoval ran a shaking hand back through his hair. “My wife is not a well woman.”
The idea of an ill woman out on the streets without help didn’t sit well with Zach, but if she were
sick, why would she leave? There had to be a reason Allison Sandoval had left her husband. Zach eyed
Sandoval and asked him straight out. “Why’d she leave you?”
“It was not deliberate. Allison wandered away from the ballroom last night. She does that if I
do not keep a close watch on her.”
Zach crossed his arms. “What aren’t you telling me?”
Sandoval’s face drew tight in an expression of pain. “My wife suffers from delusions,
hallucinations and paranoia. She cannot determine what is real from what is imagined. She is on
medication but she has been gone since last night and has been without it. And it is so cold to be
outside. She must be found now. She will not survive long on her own.”
Zach frowned. Clearly, the woman needed to be found quickly. He had no doubt he could do
that and a lot faster than if he sent Sandoval on his way to find someone else to do the job. It wasn’t his
usual recovery mission but Allison Sandoval needed to be recovered. Zach addressed Sandoval. “I’ll find her."
Karen Fenech writes contemporary and historical romantic suspense and suspense-mystery. Her novels, originally released in hardcover by Gale under the Five Star Expressions imprint, have received critical acclaim and have been praised by New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors Kat Martin, Maureen Child, and Debra Webb. Her novel BETRAYAL has been translated into Japanese, and her short fiction has been translated into Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian. She lives with her husband and daughter.
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