Fear The Reaper
Everything was going according to plan . . . until it fell apart in the most spectacular way . . .
Ex-SEAL Ryan "Reaper" Hamilton is well on his way to having it all. His marriage to Kate is finally on solid ground, and his goal of being a K9 trainer with Iniquus's Cerberus team is within reach. Finding a dangerous spy's flash drive (and becoming the object of her twisted, vengeful obsession) was not on his agenda. But that's all it takes to throw his world into chaos.
It's not long before Reaper finds himself fighting for everything he holds dear—his wife, his son, his career . . . his sanity.
When all is said and done, will Reaper and Kate get the happily ever after they deserve? Or will they learn that the good guys don't always win?
Contains mature themes.
Release date: March 24, 2022
Print pages: 400
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Behind the book
Everything was going according to plan…until it fell apart in the most spectacular way…
Ex-SEAL Ryan “Reaper” Hamilton is well on his way to having it all. His marriage to Kate is finally on solid ground, and his goal of being a K9 trainer with Iniquus’s Cerberus team is within reach. Finding a dangerous spy’s flash drive (and becoming the object of her twisted, vengeful obsession) was not on his agenda. But that’s all it takes to throw his world into chaos.
It’s not long before Reaper finds himself fighting for everything he holds dear—his wife, his son, his career…his sanity.
When all is said and done, will Reaper and Kate get the happily ever after they deserve? Or will they learn that the good guys don’t always win?
Fear the REAPER is a tactical K9 action adventure that can be read as a stand alone, as part of the Strike Force series, or as part of the World of Iniquus.
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Fear The Reaper
The clamor of humanity bumped and knocked against the slick glass walls of the airport departure hall. As the babbling volume swelled to overflowing, it swept upward into the rafters where it perched, staring down at the incoming passengers.
The din engulfed Cynthia Dimitrova as soon as the automatic doors mechanically slid wide.
Stepping away from the snow-muffled D.C. morning, boots damp with salty slush, a blast of artificial heat rushed past Cyn, pressing the frigid temperatures back away from the building’s interior.
The gust ruffled through Cyn’s collar-length brown wig, a strand caught in her freshly applied rose-colored lipstick. She stopped to brush the wayward tendril back behind her ear and adjust the strap of her purse higher onto her shoulder.
Cyn inhaled deeply.
To her, airports smelled like sunscreen-scented tourist escapism, the garlicky fatigue of families fulfilling emotional obligations, and the wet wool of business banality.
Banality was the category where she placed herself for today’s flight. This certainly wasn’t about fun. Though, Cyn’s idea of a good time didn’t necessarily line up with that of most people.
To her, fun was edgy, exciting, dangerous.
Mind games were fun.
Power was fun.
Winning was everything.
This? This was a losing situation.
No. Not fun by anyone’s standards. Certainly not Cyn’s. But a favor was a favor. And it would be repaid in time.
She’d make sure of it.
Cyn glanced back at Nia—nineteen, sullen, and much more problematic than Cyn had been led to understand.
Nia would fail today’s test.
And Cyn couldn’t care less. Cyn’s psyche wasn’t built to be nurturing, not even as tradecraft.
What happened to Nia fell heavily on Nia’s shoulders.
Cyn wasn’t responsible for what happened next in this teen’s list of poor life choices.
Bright star? Hardly. Well, at least in this part of the job.
Cyn reached back to the teen’s elbow and pulled her forward, so they walked side by side, and Cyn could keep an eye on her. She looked down at the girl.
Nia was pretty enough.
She liked to wear her hair in two buns on the top of her head, like kitten ears. Artificial lashes fringed Nia’s dark doe eyes. Her lips were soft and full, accented by baby pink lip stain and glitter gloss. The kind of lips that men would fantasize about encircling their hard cocks.
Nia looked like she was just out of middle school—except for her ginormous breasts.
Yes, indeedy, Nia’s most remarkable physical attribute was her enormous boobage that hovered over an otherwise toothpick of a body.
It made her look theatrically top-heavy like she needed the strong hand of a daddy figure to keep her from toppling over.
If a man had a pedophile fetish, Nia was someone to fantasize about and still keep things legal if push came to shove came to grunting orgasm.
Cyn could see why others in their organization might find Nia compelling as a tool. A “screw driver,” Cyn thought with a smirk.
Depending on the guy’s fantasy—with the right clothes, hair, and makeup—Nia could continue exploiting men who liked to think with their dicks. In Cyn’s experience, that was a goodly portion of the male population—gullible when their egos and cocks were stroked, manipulatable when their johnsons thought they’d have an in.
In this circumstance, though, Nia wasn’t using her assets to her advantage. The girl was blanched white, making her sparkle pink blush stand out like two circles of color painted on a discount store doll. Her hand clenched the pull handle of her bag. Unblinking eyes held too wide for too long. Her hostage-like behavior was going to attract attention, if not scrutiny.
Hardly the victim, Nia had asked to take the next step up the rungs of the Prokhorov Family ladder.
Dragging her carry-on bag behind her as she moved into the press of travelers, Cyn’s voice was barely audible, pitched to reach Nia’s ears only. “You’re going to be fine. Complete your task, get on your plane, done.”
“I have to pee,” Nia announced.
“Can it wait until we get through the security check?”
Nia rubbed the flat palm of her free hand over her mouth, her eyes watery. “Probably not.”
Cyn stepped around the guy who had stopped mid-stride, patting frantically at his pockets. She scanned the corridor ahead of them, looking for a sign, pointed, and headed in the direction of the blue triangle skirt icon, jutting out overhead.
Nia’s anxiety was palpable, but Cyn wasn’t going to worry about that. Cyn had a solution hiding in her coat pocket. She didn’t get this far in life by not thinking ahead.
Besides, of all places to be agitated, Cyn reasoned, this was it.
At the airport, anxiety was par for the course.
The thing about airports, Cyn mused as she bustled along with the crowd, was that they were filled with navel-gazers. Everyone was busy with the act of moving from departure to arrival. Little worries felt big. Will the plane be on time? Will I make my connection? Will my bag get there when I do? Will my things be safe?
There were the bigger worries, too. For people who hated to travel, this was a time to confront the phobias that made their flight feel like a game of Russian roulette. Phobic travelers were easy to spot, checking the weather apps for information about turbulence, wringing their hands, and deep breathing—usually with no good effect.
Angling out of the stream of passengers, then rounding into the ladies’ room, Nia jogged down the line of doors.
Cyn took advantage of a free stall that opened up next to her.
Pulling her carry-on in behind her, she locked the door and peeled off her coat.
Almost immediately, the sound of gag-puking came from her right.
Cyn was sure it was Nia.
Absolutely gross. Craven little shit.
Unzipping, Cyn dropped her jeans and panties to her knees. She sat on the toilet seat, still warm from the last occupant. She might as well settle in and wait for Nia’s stomach to empty. The less time spent out in the open where Cyn’s face might be seen and remembered, the better.
Protecting herself from facial recognition was probably overkill for the banality of this drop. But tradecraft had become muscle memory, and best practices should always be applied. One never knew—shit hitting the fan was a truism. It was better to duck any blowback from the crap.
And this unexpected assignment was total crap. Cyn had been handed a coward to field test.
The bathroom walls echoed with the clacking shoes of women coming and going, the whir of the hand dryer, and running water. It sounded like the puking might be done.
Glancing at her watch, Cyn felt the pressure of their time-window narrowing. Cyn didn’t know how long it would take to get through the security check.
Cyn pulled off a length of toilet paper and crumpled it into her hand.
She stood dragging her clothing back into place. Cyn adjusted the padded vest that hugged her under her turtleneck sweater. A costuming prop—good enough to fool the TSA machines and even a pat-down if it were required—added a good thirty pounds or so to her frame. With the majority of the cushioning just under her breasts, it created a menopausal redistribution of weight and aged her about fifteen to twenty years. Cyn was aiming for “early fifties,” the oldest she thought she could get away with.
This was the persona Cyn used when she flew. The brown wig with a Jack Frost-like dusting of gray strands at the crown, the padding, and the proper application of high-tech makeup contouring meant that Cyn matched her fake driver’s license. The license had a “good to go” star in the upper right-hand corner, saying that the department of motor vehicles had approved her identity.
With a last tug to her turtleneck sweater, a smoothing swipe of her hands, everything was in place. The automatic toilet flushed as Cyn reached for the lock, flecking her with bowl spittle.
With a sigh, she moved out of the stall, pushing her carry-on bag—where she’d laid her coat and purse—out in front of her.
After a quick wash of her hands, Cyn slid past the bathroom attendant relining the trashcan.
Cyn turned her face away from the mirror. Habit. Though, her wig’s long bangs did a “bang-up” job hiding her features.
Moving down the rows of stalls, Cyn peeked under the doors looking for Nia’s shoes. There she was in the last stall, her white, thick-soled tennis shoe tapping the ground.
Cyn knocked. “Hey, you okay?”
“Are you ill?”
Teenagers. Miserable freaking creatures. “Come on out. Let’s get your hands washed. I have something that will take the edge off.”
A woman came out of the stall, startled that Cyn was standing right there. She sent Cyn a suspicious glance, then looked toward Nia’s door, and then hard eyes back on Cyn.
The woman looked like she had something in her background. Cop maybe. FBI? It was in the way she squared off, the rigidity of her posture. Crap.
Cyn sniffed a deep breath as she stepped out of the woman’s way. She talked to Nia’s door. “Your therapist said that if you had a panic attack before we fly, you could take a pill. You won’t feel the effects. It’ll just take the edge off.”
The woman moved away.
Nia’s door swung open.
“Jeezis.” Cyn grabbed Nia’s wrist and hissed into her ear. “Get it together. Wash your face, rinse your mouth. This is unacceptable.” Reaching into her pocket, Cyn pulled out a bottle. Pressing her palm into the top, she twisted it and felt annoyance rising when it didn’t give. Cyn looked down at the bottle as Nia pushed past her.
“I don’t want a pill.”
“I didn’t ask you what you wanted, dear.”
The woman who smelled like law enforcement was slow washing her hands. Worried eyes. She’d pulled her lower lip into her mouth to chew on it, making a decision. She looked like she wanted to intervene. She looked like she was choosing her words.
For the most part, cops knew when to mind their own business because who wanted to miss their flight over something inconsequential? Or shoot even for something consequential? If they were off the beat, there was no reason to stretch their neck out to potentially get caught in an unexpected guillotine.
Cyn let her hair fall over her face as she slid a hand down Nia’s arm and sent her a warm, maternal smile. Maternal-ish. Cyn wasn’t mother material. Up until recently, she’d never considered it. Any baby fever she’d been experiencing, Cyn chalked up to hormones and ignored them. Estrogen wasn’t going to crap up her life with diapers and puke. “We’re going to trust your therapist. I want you to feel comfortable. It’s a short flight. Up and then down, okay?” She looked at the childproof mechanism on the screwcap.
Cyn squeezed the sides, twisted, and picked a tiny white pill from the seven that rested inside.
Seven—the normal prescription quantity written for this highly addictive drug.
Seven, Cyn mused, was just enough pills—crushed to a fine powder and mixed into a high-dollar room service meal coupled with a stiff drink or four—that could suppress the respiratory system and make the death look like an accidental overdose.
But that wasn’t necessary information for today.
Nia held out an open palm obediently. She seemed to realize she’d put her toe a little too close to the “you’re screwed” line. Nia popped the pill into her mouth and flashed her hand under the faucet to collect a palmful of water, slurping it down. Nia turned to Cyn, opened her mouth, stuck out a rigid tongue. She swirled it from left to right and up to show that the pill wasn’t being held in her cheek to spit out later.
While Nia was insolent, Cyn recognized that pill check was a practiced move. Cyn wasn’t aware that the girl had ever been institutionalized in a nuthouse.
Someone needed to do better vetting. This was too dangerous a game to play with someone who was mentally unstable.
Who knew, maybe Nia hadn’t learned that step in a psych ward; perhaps, she’d learned that move in juvie—juvie would be better.
Not great. But better.
Reaper Hamilton reached across the back bench of his buddy Striker’s SUV to unbuckle the baby’s car seat.
Fighting the straps, slush from the vehicle’s roof sliding down his collar, Reaper angled the safety seat out.
His wife, Kate, stood out of the snow flurries on the sidewalk in front of the airport’s departure doors. As he walked around the front of the vehicle, Reaper noted the stress tightening the muscles around her mouth as she jostled their ten-month-old son, Zach, in her arms.
Reaper knew that look on her face. The old adage “ignorance is bliss” was a phrase that he often thought about when Kate got that look in her eyes. She was so damned smart, and he loved that about her. Far from the bliss of ignorance, Kate’s level of smarts and her huge sack of factoids meant she was constantly processing…thinking about ramifications. Making a long list of outcomes—ways that things could go wrong. She’d always been that way. It just seemed to have magnified since Reaper’s medical retirement from the military and all the crap he’d put her through these last few years.
Kate jostled baby Zack in one arm as she lifted the other to signal a porter over, then turned to Striker and called out, “Thanks for making the trek out here in this weather.”
Striker—a SEAL buddy from back in the day, and now Reaper’s temporary commander at Iniquus Security—hefted the bags from the cargo hold. “No problem.” Slamming the back hatch down, Striker moved to set the two suitcases onto the sidewalk. “So Reaper’s heading home Sunday, and you’re staying in Boston a while longer?”
Reaper set the car seat with the luggage, then turned to unload Houston from the back.
“Man, that’s a beautiful German shepherd,” a woman crooned as Houston jumped to the sidewalk and shook her coat.
Reaper reached down, adjusted Houston’s service dog vest, and checked the connection on her lead.
Houston ignored Reaper’s efforts as she dragged over to Kate. Houston believed that her first and most important job was keeping baby Zack safe.
Kate and Reaper agreed that Houston had the right priorities.
A nose boop on the baby’s bottom, a tactical sweep of the area, then Houston found her spot, on Reaper’s left side, squatting rather than plunking her butt down on the wet cement.
“After the wedding,” Kate explained to Striker, “all of us bridesmaids have a rental on the ocean for next week. The weather looks glacial up around Boston Harbor, but it’s really about having a pretty view while we hang out, drink wine, and eat raw cookie dough out of the bowl. Girl talk.” She looked at Reaper when she said, “No boys allowed.” She tucked her head to kiss Zack. “Except for Little Guy, of course. He promised not to tattle on us.” She sent a wink Reaper’s way.
“Sounds like you’re set up to have a good time.” Striker turned to Reaper. “Safe travels. Someone will be here to pick you up on Sunday. We’ll meet at baggage claim.”
“Yeah, man, thanks.” Reaper extended his hand for a shake. They had served together many years ago. But a brother was a brother. After they left the service—Striker for family reasons, Reaper for medical ones—Reaper appreciated their ongoing friendship and Striker’s support.
Heck, Reaper was almost a hundred percent sure that the reason he even had his job at Iniquus Security had to do with Striker recommending him.
As Reaper made his way back into the workforce after years of physical and mental agony, and now a new lease on life after experimental interventions released him from the torture chamber inside his head, Reaper wasn’t going to let anything he did tarnish Striker’s golden reputation with Iniquus Command.
Everything was by the book and to SEAL level of perfection. No “I” was left undotted, no “T” left uncrossed.
Dressed in his Iniquus operator’s uniform of a charcoal gray compression shirt and tactical pants, Striker slid back behind the wheel and angled into the slow-moving traffic, headed toward the Iniquus campus.
Reaper turned his focus to the porter. Pulling the printed tickets from his pocket, Reaper handed them over to the guy’s outstretched hand.
Yes, Kate had told him just to put the tickets on his phone. And sure, it would make things more streamlined. But Reaper hated the idea of cell phones. Despised the concept. To him, they posed a clear security hazard. Unless he was ordered to carry one, Reaper had been old school in his communications. By contract with Iniquus, though, Reaper had to be within arm’s reach of his cell phone—fully charged with audible volume—at all times. All times. Even when on R&R.
And by all times, it meant in a waterproof bag on a lanyard around his neck when he was swimming. And fully charged meant Reaper carried two extra batteries in his tactical pants’ pocket.
For most jobs, maybe. Rules were rules, like it or not.
If the world were imploding, Iniquus would need a way to inform and command.
While the porter laced tags through the handles on their cases, Reaper slid his hand over the baby’s damp curls, then tugged Little Guy’s hat over his ears against the frigid wind.
Zack pushed it right back off, ratcheting up his displeasure with a bat of his tiny fist.
Kate sent Reaper the tightest of tight-lipped smiles. He could see that Kate had projected a shit show for their flight to Boston.
Heading north for their friend’s wedding and some time with the old gang, this was supposed to be relaxing.
Kate deserved some fun. It had been a hell of a few years for her.
He wished he could make her feel safe and comfortable, wished she could Zen the hell out.
But then Kate wouldn’t be Kate.
And Reaper loved Kate with every cell in his body.
If he were plotting their relationship on one of Kate’s copious graphs she used when she was a biology teacher, Kate would be the crests and trough that kept their relationship interesting, the late-night debate part, the sobbing over a sad book part, the silky lace and ribbon panties part.
He saw his role more like a straight line (or “longitudinal waves,” as Kate would phrase it). For most of their relationship, he’d considered himself the solid and steady base.
What a crock of shit that was.
Kate didn’t like that “wave” description, anyway. She said it made her sound like she was unstable.
“What would you prefer?” Reaper had asked.
Back when they were dating, back before…everything—younger, less beaten to a pulp—she’d smiled. “I’m not saying I disagree with the concept, just that particular visual… I think of us more as ballroom dancers. There you are—athletic, graceful, supportive. And there’s me, feeling my way around the music with some kicks and twirls.”
He’d laughed and hurt her feelings.
But it had been the idea of him as a graceful dancer that was ridiculous. For a man who had risen to top-tier special ops, SEAL Team Six, he was miserable at trying to find and keep a beat outside of a marching cadence.
And he’d learned over the last few years of hell that it was, in fact, Kate who was the rock, the steadiness.
Reaper just had to make sure that her rock-solid tenacity, her unwavering belief in him—in them—was justified.
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