"Full of thrills and tension - but smart and human too."
Lee Child, #1 World Wide Bestselling Author of Jack Reacher Thrillers
SHORT READS JESS KIMBALL THRILLER SERIES COLLECTION
“Intricate and Ingenious. Make some coffee. You’ll read all night.” -- Lee Child
Fatal Action contains 5 exciting Jess Kimball Thrillers short reads from USA Today and New York Times Bestselling Author Diane Capri
Includes the USA Today Bestselling Jack in the Green!
Exciting short reads! Investigative Reporter Jess Kimball’s impossible mission to help crime victims continues in this new short reads collection from New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Diane Capri.
Fatal Enemy. Jess Kimball was alone and pregnant as a teenager. She’s not a victim any more.
Fatal Edge. Jess Kimball’s assistant is targeted by a killer.
Fatal Past. Jess Kimball’s past mingles with the past of those buried in the Paris catacombs.
Fatal Heat. Jess Kimball helps a friend find and stop a killer in the deadly Arizona heat.
Jack in the Green. Jess Kimball teams up with two Diane Capri strong female protagonists, Judge Willa Carson and FBI Agent Kim Otto, to bring down a vicious killer.
For fans of Lee Child, Jack Reacher, John Grisham, and James Patterson’s Women's Murder Club
“Full of thrills and tension – but smart and human too.” — Lee Child, #1 World Wide Bestselling Author of Jack Reacher Thrillers
“Expertise shines on every page.” -- Margaret Maron, Edgar, Anthony, Agatha and Macavity Award Winning MWA Past President and Grand Master
"Relentlessly determined to bring justice to an unjust world, Jess Kimball is like a female Jack Reacher, only nicer!" -- Martha Powers, award winning author of Conspiracy of Silence and Death Angel
Release date: September 1, 2021
Print pages: 211
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Fatal Action: Jess Kimball Thrillers Collection
Jess Kimball switched the Glock’s grip to her left hand, raised her right to rub her sore neck and stretched her shoulders. Her body seemed to hum at the cellular level. She felt fatigued, yet buzzingly alert. She hadn’t been in the same room with Richard Martin for more than a dozen years. Worse things than Richard had happened to her since she’d seen him last. He’d find out soon enough that she wasn’t a gullible sixteen-year-old anymore.
Dressed crown to sole in black, sitting as still as the furniture, Jess was indistinguishable from her surroundings. Ambient light was non-existent in the quiet neighborhood, where crime should’ve been non-existent. The microwave clock glowed 3:00:15 a.m. providing the room’s only illumination.
Jess leaned back, ankles crossed, heels propped on the kitchen table, and settled in to wait through the remainder of the third night. A bouquet of Stargazer lilies stood across the room but their fragrant perfume filled the air like oxygen. Richard was allergic to Stargazers. Jess appreciated the subtle torture although she hadn’t planned it.
Man, she hated custody battles; the children always lose. But this custody dispute was different, more vital. She couldn’t refuse to help this time because the victim was Richard Martin’s daughter. Knowing Richard as she did would make the difference between success and failure.
As malevolent a bastard as ever drew breath, Richard was far from stupid. He would try to steal Anna until someone stopped him. If not tonight, then tomorrow or another night soon. Jess felt it, yes. Instinct and preparation had saved her life before. She wouldn’t ignore them now. But hunches were not enough.
Her throat was parched, but she couldn’t risk a trip to the faucet for water. Time seemed stagnant even as the clock reflected 3:10:21 a.m. Combating boredom, her thoughts wandered again to Richard when she’d been in lust with him. Inside the ski mask, her face burned now with a different heat. He’d been her first romance when she was sixteen and seeking love wherever she could find it. She’d felt as treasured as a rare art object for about three weeks. The warning signs were there if only she’d been sophisticated enough to recognize them. She wasn’t. She’d made a significant mistake a long time ago, and it had defined her life evermore.
Undisclosed petty crimes and scandals had blown the Martin family into her town, and serious crimes hastened them away a year later. Richard had turned eighteen as his crimes escalated. He’d have gone to prison. A chill ran through her as she recalled how narrowly she’d escaped his bondage when Richard’s parents rushed him to a new jurisdiction moments before his arrest for grand theft auto.
Jess stretched again, shifted the gun purposefully at 3:12:46 a.m. She noted its heft increasing with the slightest attention paid during the passing seconds. Show yourself, Richard, you coward.
Richard never knew that he’d left her pregnant with Peter. Nor had he cared. Jess’s embarrassed adolescent pride kept the news from him at first. Later, when she realized his miserable domination for what it was, she concealed Peter from Richard and vowed she always would. Not that he’d ever looked back. Jess was grateful for that much.
She’d never told anyone who’d fathered her son. Nor would she. When people asked, she simply said she didn’t know. If pressed for more details, she said she’d been raped by an unknown assailant who was never apprehended, which was technically accurate but not true. She’d been a minor back then and Richard was not, so what he’d done was statutory rape and he’d have gone to jail if anyone had bothered to report his crime. But she’d been a willing participant in his seduction. Still, “rape” described precisely how she felt when Richard tossed her aside like a used rag. Maybe that was when anger’s spark lodged firmly in her gut and flamed whenever Richard’s name was mentioned.
So far, the rape answer had sufficed. No one ever tried to hunt down a man Jess Kimball couldn’t find for herself. People assumed an investigative journalist of her stature, coupled with her national crusade for victims’ rights, made Jess infallible as a prison-trained bloodhound. Which was true.
3:23:07 a.m. How much longer should she wait tonight? At least until dawn. She’d promised Betsy. And then she’d be back tomorrow. Richard had told Betsy he was coming, simply to terrorize her further. Jess would be waiting for as long as it took.
Jess inhaled deeply, drawing the Stargazers’ fragrance into her lungs and remembered how she’d watched Richard’s life from afar. Memories heated her temper and chased away the last of the early morning chill. He’d cut a wide swathe through a long list of gullible girls and later, gullible women. None of them were foolish enough to deliver his child afterward, but each one bore invisible scars Jess could easily discern just the same.
Until seven years ago when Richard seized sexier, younger, naive, sensitive and fragile Betsy. She never stood a chance.
Jess had contacted Betsy back then, tried to warn her before she married him, but Betsy’s inexperience prevailed. Thus began the destructive tango that led them all here.
All these years later, Jess felt grateful to have escaped Richard’s cruelty but guilty, too. Survivor guilt was what the psychologists called it. Irrational perhaps, but real enough. She shrugged; she supposed Richard had to marry someone eventually. He wasn’t a man who’d remain single forever and Jess couldn’t save all the Betsys in the world. She prayed silently, Just this one, please.
Jess wagged her head back and forth and stretched her neck, attempting to push the fatigue and the memories away. But her stress had long ago settled into knots harder than obsidian. She needed to stand, walk out the tension, but she couldn’t risk being discovered. Failure was not an option. Not this time. She tried to focus on something other than her screaming muscles.
She couldn’t keep her gaze from the microwave clock. Only 3:34:17 a.m. Would this night never end?
Betsy had never asked why Jess agreed to help her and thus spared the lies. Betsy didn’t know Richard had fathered a son or that Peter was kidnapped. Betsy presented Jess with a second chance to save Betsy and her daughter before Richard destroyed them as he’d destroyed Jess and Peter. Maybe Betsy had forgotten her worth, but Jess would not. Nor would she allow Richard to harm Peter’s half-sister. Someday his sister’s DNA would help Jess prove Peter’s identity. When she found Peter, he’d have both his sister and his mother.
Jess avoided the ultimate question her son was sure to ask one day: “Why did you put my father in prison?”
At 3:54:17 a.m., as if her thoughts had conjured him, she heard Richard’s heavy tread on the squeaky plank decking. Every nerve stood at attention while she remained as still as the lilies.
Jess pressed the remote button to activate the security camera outside the back door. The night vision would record every moment in an eerie green glow. She’d have the one thing she needed to nail the bastard—evidence.
She blended with the darkness and waited, holding the Glock in her right hand, ready to use it. But not too soon. Jess knew the law inside out. Only when Richard left the premises with Anna would he be guilty of kidnapping. Only then. Not a moment before.
Should she be forced to confront him earlier, he’d claim he wasn’t taking Anna anywhere. A court would agree. Betsy was the custodial parent, but Richard had bought and still owned this house. Technically, he wasn’t trespassing and he could visit whenever he chose. His twisted lies and intimidation had persuaded Betsy to excuse his behavior repeatedly.
Not this time. Jess would have irrefutable evidence and she’d use it effectively, just as she had when he stole that Jaguar all those years ago.
So Jess had to allow Richard to accomplish the crimes he’d come to commit instead of interrupting him in the act as Betsy had done twice before. Kidnapping would send him away for life, if there was any justice at all in the world.
But a just world would have locked Richard Martin up long ago before he raped Jess. A just world would never have taken Peter. The only just world Jess believed in was the one she created herself.
Watching the microwave clock, she timed him. Richard spent exactly twelve seconds forcing the lock and opening the back door. She smiled again. He should have tried his old key. She’d made sure it would work, just in case he proved less predictable than she’d expected. Overconfidence kills, that much she knew. But she knew him better than anyone else. Maybe better than he knew himself.
The security alarm began its incessant bleat the moment Richard opened the door. Jess breathed silently, disturbing the air as little as possible. He had the instincts of an apex predator at the top of the food chain and the top of his game. He would sense her presence if she made the slightest sound.
He crossed the tile to the alarm panel next to the refrigerator. He rapid-punched the six numbers of his wedding date, the code he and Betsy had chosen when he still lived here. Before their bitter divorce.
The alarm stopped well within the window of acceptable Miami PD response time.
He turned toward the next goal of his mission, never glancing in her direction. So predictable.
Arrogance was always Richard’s Achilles’ heel. It simply didn’t occur to him that anyone would be watching. Jess grinned again inside the black ski mask she wore over her head and face.
Richard climbed the stairs and covered the short distance to the first door on the right while Jess watched from the shadows. He paused. The nightlights she’d placed illuminated him enough that the camera would record perfectly.
As if he followed Jess’s script, Richard wore no head covering. He showed his face to avoid frightening his daughter if she awakened, to keep her quiet and not arouse her mother in the room down the hallway. Betsy’s sheer terror tomorrow morning when she found Anna missing was much of what the sadist wanted to accomplish. He wanted Betsy off balance and afraid. Which she was almost all the time.
Every move Richard made reinforced Jess’s sense of justification. She hadn’t been near him since she was a child herself but she was satisfied that he really was the bastard she believed him to be. Reassured, she felt free to follow through without remorse.
Richard glanced around, maybe confirming that Betsy still slept soundly, that Miami PD hadn’t received the silent alarm. After a moment, he opened the door to Anna’s room and crept inside.
He emerged shortly with the sleeping girl in his arms. Anna was dressed in white pajamas. Strawberry curls framed her cherubic face and cascaded down the back of his arm. Partly because she always slept soundly, and partly because Jess had given her a mild sedative before bed, the child didn’t stir. She hated leaving the girl in Richard’s arms even a moment. Jess hoped Anna would never know anything about this evening and would sleep straight through.
Richard eased the door almost closed, leaving it as Betsy had when she saw her daughter last so that she wouldn’t know Anna was gone until she saw the empty bed. Bastard. He descended the stairs in silence but for a stifled sneeze.
Jess waited. Her right hand held the Glock firmly pointed in Richard’s direction. She’d shoot him only if he forced her to. But shoot him, she would. He’d be a fool to believe otherwise.
She knew Richard. If he saw her before she was ready, he would do something stupid. Something that might hurt Anna. The child’s safety was paramount. Jess steadied herself and remained invisible as long as possible.
Richard snuck out the back door and closed it without a sound. Only then did she move.
Jess activated the tiny camera she wore in a pendant around her neck, waited until she heard the creaking boards under his feet and three sneezes in a row before she hurried silently out behind him. A cool breeze brushed across her eyes and lips, the only uncovered parts of her body.
She followed Richard off the property and onto the street where he’d parked a dark SUV. A less arrogant man might have noticed he was being followed. Richard did not. Now. Now he’d taken Anna in the eyes of the law. Jess wasted no time gloating.
He was bent over, placing Anna in the back seat when Jess came up behind him and pressed the Glock briefly to his spine before she widened the distance between them beyond his arm’s reach.
“Move away from the car. Much as I’d like to shoot you…” She allowed her husky voice to trail away. Disuse and fear had stolen the moisture from her mouth, but she refused to acknowledge it. She moved her tongue imperceptibly seeking saliva.
Richard stepped back, cavalierly raised both hands palms out, as if he was play-acting with a child.
“Turn around,” she said, quietly, hoping not to awaken Anna. He complied. He saw the gun, pointed now at his chest. He smirked.
“Smile,” she said, picking up the pendant and pointing the micro camera directly toward him. “A picture’s worth a year of testimony, isn’t it?”
She snapped three photographs of Anna sleeping in the vehicle, too. Each image would be date and time stamped. Evidence. The more, the better.
She’d argued with Betsy and her sister, Bette, for hours about the next part of their plan. Betsy had cried, said she didn’t want her child’s father incarcerated. She wasn’t desperate enough yet.
But Jess knew Betsy would be more desperate later; it was a mistake not to finish this now, once and for all. Richard would never give up as long as he drew free breath. Letting him go was a stupid mistake. Yet this was not her decision to make.
The breeze had picked up force and dried her eyeballs each time it brushed across, yet she refused to blink. Too much could happen in the blink of an eye. Peter was stolen in what seemed just such a quick moment fifteen years ago.
Jess held the gun steady and waited for Richard to make his move. Maybe he would give her the excuse she needed to do what should be done. Could she shoot him if she had to? In a New York second.
Released and alone, Richard would steal his daughter again, not because he loved her, but because he owned her. Anna would never be safe from him. Ever. He should have gone to prison long ago for battering his wife. Or when he stole Anna the last two times. But Betsy had refused to testify against him. Now, Jess had proof when Betsy needed it. But it would have been so much better if Betsy had agreed to Jess’s final solution. Jess knew Richard was a fatal enemy, not a mere opponent.
Richard stared at Jess, wary but unafraid. He seemed to know her, but not recognize her simultaneously. His puzzlement was almost comical.
Jess’s slender frame was indistinguishable from a slight man’s in these clothes. And she held an equalizer pointed at his heart. ...
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