Lexi Sobado is a young woman with a special gift: She's psychic. But even knowing things others don't, Lexi's unable to avoid genuine danger when a stalker focuses his evil on her. As the situation escalates, she must navigate through a sinister web of fear and danger to stay alive.
When the madman forces his way into Lexi's home, she sustains near-fatal injuries. Lexi's survival means she is the only one who can identify the stalker, and she becomes the critical witness who might hold the key to stopping the murderer terrifying the families of Washington's elite intelligence agencies.
Striker Rheas, an ex-Navy SEAL, and his team of expert operators are charged with protecting Lexi. The more time Striker spends on this security assignment, the more trouble he has maintaining the boundaries of professionalism. He knows Lexi is keeping secrets, and protecting her is not going to be an easy task if he's missing vital information...and losing his heart to her.
Somewhere between peril and resolve, Striker must find a way to help Lexi trust. What she hides, what she reveals, and what she uncovers will need to find the perfect balance if she's going to save her own life and stop the killer. And time is running out.
Release date: April 25, 2018
Publisher: Fiona Quinn
Print pages: 363
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Listen to a sample
The black BMW powered straight toward me. Heart pounding, I stomped my brake pedal flush to the floorboard. My chest slammed into the seat belt, snapping my head forward. There wasn’t time to blast the horn, but the scream from my tires was deafening. I gasped in a breath as the BMW idiot threw me a nonchalant wave—his right hand off the wheel—with his left hand pressed to his ear still chatting on his cell phone. Diplomatic license plates. Figures.
Yeah, I didn’t really need an extra shot of adrenaline—like a caffeine IV running straight to my artery—I was already amped.
“Focus, Lexi,” I whispered under my breath, pressing down on the gas. “Follow the plan. Give the letter to Dave. Let him figure this out.” I sent a quick glance down to my purse where a corner of the cream-colored envelope jutted out, then veered my Camry back into the noonday DC gridlock, weaving past the graffitied storefronts. I recognized that the near miss with the BMW guy probably wasn’t his fault. I couldn’t remember the last ten minutes of drive time.
I watched my review mirror as a bike messenger laced between the moving cars on his mission to get the parcel in his bag to the right guy at the right time. Once he handed over his package, he’d be done. Lucky him. Even though I was handing my letter off to Dave, the truth was that wouldn’t be my end point. I wasn’t clear about what an end point would even look like. Safe. It might look like I was safe, that I had my feet back under me. But that thought seemed like it was far out on the horizon; and right now, I was just looking for something to grab on to to keep me afloat.
When I finally parked in front of Dave Murphy’s mid-century brick row house, I sat for a minute, trying to regain my composure. I’d pushed this whole mess to the back burner for as long as I could, but after last night’s nightmare… Well, better to get a detective’s opinion. Dave had handled enough crackpots over his time with the DCPD that he’d have a better grasp of the threat level. Right now, even with all my training, I was scared out of my mind.
I glanced down at my hands. The tremor in them sent the afternoon sunlight dancing off my brand-new engagement and wedding rings. I felt like an imposter wearing them—like a little girl dressed up in her mother’s clothes. I’m too young to be dealing with all this crap, I thought as I shoved my keys into my purse. I pulled my hair into a quick ponytail and stepped out into the February cold. Casting anxious glances up and down the street, I jogged up the stairs to bang on Dave’s front door.
The screen squeaked open almost immediately, as if he’d been standing there waiting for my knock. “Hey, Baby Girl,” he said, stepping out of the way to let me in. Dave had been calling me Baby Girl since I was born, because my parents couldn’t decide on my name, and that was how I was listed on my hospital ankle tag.
“Glad I found you at home.” I walked in and plopped down on the blue gingham couch. It had been here since I could remember. The fabric was threadbare and juice stained by his five-year-old twins. On a cop’s salary, fine furnishings ranked low in priority. Right now—edgy and confused—I appreciated the comfort of familiarity.
Dave shifted into detective mode—hands on hips, eyes scanning me. “Long time, no see.”
“Where are Cathy and the kids?” I asked.
“They’ve got dentist appointments. Did you come to tell us your news?” He lifted his chin to indicate my left hand and settled at the other end of the couch, swiveling until we were face to face.
“Uhm, no.” I twisted my rings, suddenly feeling drained and bereft. What wouldn’t I give to have my husband Angel here? The corners of my mouth tugged down. I willed myself to stay focused on the reason for the visit. My immediate safety had to take priority over my grief.
Dave raised a questioning brow, waiting for me to continue.
“Angel and I got married Wednesday. I’m Lexi Sobado, now.” My voice hitched and tears pressed against my lids. I lowered my lashes, so Dave wouldn’t see. But his eyes had locked onto mine, and he never missed much.
“Married? At your age? No introduction? No wedding invitation? Why isn’t he here with you now?” Dave angled his head to the side and crossed his arms over his middle-aged paunch. “I’d like to meet the guy,” he all but snarled.
Dave probably thought I’d come here because my husband screwed things up already. I pulled the pillow from behind my back and hugged it to me like a shield. “I’m sorry. I should have let you and Cathy know what was going on—I was caught up, and I just...” I stopped to clear my throat. “Angel and I got married at the courthouse and no one came with us. Not even Abuela Rosa.”
“Angel Sobado. He’s kin to Rosa, then?”
I gave the slightest tip of a nod. “Angel is her great-nephew. I couldn’t bring him with me today because he deployed with the Rangers to the Middle East Thursday. That’s why everything happened so fast. He was leaving.” The last word stuck in my throat and choked me.
Dave leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. Lacing his fingers, he tapped his thumbs together. “Huh. That’s a helluva short honeymoon. Married Wednesday. Gone Thursday.” Dave’s tone had dropped an octave and gained a fringe of fatherly concern.
His compassion gave me permission to break down. But those Angel-emotions were mine. Private. Right now, I needed to hold myself in check long enough to get through my mission of handing off the letter. I shifted my feet back and forth over the rug as I glared at my purse.
“Might even explain the expression on your face,” Dave said, narrowing his eyes. He slouched against the arm of the over-stuffed couch.
Stalling wasn’t going to make this any easier. I reached a hesitant hand into my bag, pulled out a plastic Zip-loc holding the envelop, and held it up for Dave. “The expression is because of this,” I said.
Dave took the bag. After a brief glance, he hefted himself to his feet. Over at his desk, he pulled on a pair of Nitrile gloves, then carefully removed the letter.
Dearest India Alexis,
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune!
As fair thou art, my bonnie lass,
So deep in love am I:
And I will love thee still, my dear,
Till a’ your bones are white and dry:
Till a’ your veins gang dry, my dear,
And your skin melt with the sun;
I will luve thee until your heart is still my dear
When the sands of your life shall no more run.
And fare thee weel, my only Luve,
And fare thee weel a while!
And I will come again, my Luve, so I can watch you die.
Dave read the words aloud then stared at me hard; his brows pulled in tight enough that the skin on his forehead accordioned. “What the—”
“Someone shoved the poem under the door to my room, and it’s scaring the bejeezus out of me.” I gripped the pillow tighter.
Dave peered over the top of his reading glasses. “Last night? This morning?”
“Wednesday morning.” I braced when I said it, knowing it would tick Dave off that I didn’t bring this to him immediately. Ever since my dad died, his buddies had stepped in and tried to take over the fathering job, even though I’d be turning twenty in a few days.
True to my expectations, Dave was red-faced and bellowing. “Wednesday? You waited two whole days to tell me you’ve gotten a friggin death threat?”
Yup, this was exactly the response Dad would have given me.
Dave jumped up, pacing across the room. Obviously, he didn’t think this was someone’s idea of a joke. Fear tightened my chest at his confirmation. I had hoped he’d say, “No worries—someone is having fun pranking you,” and then I could go on about my life without the major case of heebie-jeebies that tingled my skin and made me want to run and hide.
“It was our wedding day.” I worked to modulate my voice to sound soft and reasonable. “I only had a few short hours before Angel had to take off. So yeah, I decided to focus on us instead of this.” I motioned toward the paper in his hand.
Dave took in a deep breath, making his nostrils flare. “Okay.” I could almost see his brain shifting gears. “When you first picked up the letter, did you get any vibes?”
“You mean, ESP-wise?”
He nodded stiffly, his eyes hard on me.
Vibes. That wasn’t the word I would have chosen to explain my sensations. “I didn’t hear anything. It was more like an oily substance oozing over me.” I tucked my nose into the soft cloth of the pillow and breathed in the scent of cinnamon fabric freshener. “I vomited.” My voice dropped to a whisper. “It felt like evil and craziness, and I can still smell that stench.” A shiver raced down my spine.
Dave’s lips sealed tightly; he was probably trying to hold back a litany of expletives. Finally, he asked, “That’s all?”
“Did any of your neighbors notice anyone unusual lurking around? Did you check with management and run through the security tapes?”
“Dave, didn’t you hear? My apartment building burned to the ground three weeks ago. I assumed you knew. It was on the news.”
Dave’s eyebrows shot straight up.
“I’ve been living in a motel the Red Cross rented out for all the families displaced by the fire. But to answer your question, no, nobody saw anything, and there were no cameras trained on my motel corridor.” I curled my lips in to keep them from trembling. I was used to holding my emotions in check. I trained myself to present a sweet exterior, a costume of sorts, but right now I was filled to over-flowing, and my mask kept slipping out of place.
“Shit.” Dave ran a hand over his face. “I had no idea. I’m letting your parents down. Apartment burned, married, husband gone, and now a death threat.” His eyes narrowed on me. “Do you think that about covers all of your surprises for me today?”
I paused for a beat. “Yeah, Dave, I think that’s it for today.” Okay, even if he was like family, the way Dave was talking pissed me off. I was frightened. I wanted a hug and his reassurance. What I was getting was… Dave’s brand of love. He wouldn’t be this red-faced and agitated if he wasn’t worried about me. Tears prickled behind my eyelids, blurring my vision.
“Hey, now. Stop. We’ll get to the bottom of this. Did you already let Spyder McGraw know what’s going on?”
I wiped my nose with the back of my wrist. “Spyder’s still off-grid. I have no idea when he’ll get home.”
“Were you assigned a different partner while he’s gone?”
“No, sir. I only ever worked for Spyder—he sort of wanted to keep me a secret.” I still couldn’t believe Mom had sat Dave down and told him all about my apprenticeship with Spyder McGraw. Under Spyder’s tutelage, I was following my dream of becoming an Intelligence Officer, learning to out-think and out-maneuver the bad guys trying to hurt American interests. And like anyone heading toward a life in the intelligence community, my skills needed to go under the radar. Now that my mom had died, only four people—Spyder, the Millers, and Dave—knew that side of my life. I would prefer Dave didn’t know.
“Still, did you consider bringing this to Spyder’s commander? Iniquus would probably give him a heads up. Get a message to him.”
“Iniquus is my last resort. Sure, Spyder told me to talk to them if I ever found myself in trouble.” I sucked in a deep breath of air. “Bottom line? He never wanted them to know I worked for him, well, for them. Safety in anonymity and all that.” My fingers kneaded the stuffing in the pillow. “Besides, I guess I was hoping this would all just go away.”
Dave’s eyes were hard on me. “You know better. Once some psycho’s caught you on his radar, you’re stuck there until someone wins.”
“Okay, so I make sure it’s me who wins.”
“Exactly right.” He considered me for a minute before he asked, “You’ve kept up with your martial arts training?”
“I have a sparring partner who’s pretty good. We rent time at a Do Jang twice a week.”
Dave lowered his head to read over the poem again. He put the letter and envelope back in the Zip-loc and placed it on his mantle. Pulling off his gloves with a snap, he looked down at them. “I hate these things. They give me a rash. Look, I’m going to take this down to the station and open a file. If you get anything else, I want you to bring it to me right away. Understood?”
“This is the only poem, letter, communication of any kind you’ve gotten?”
I nodded. For the first time since I walked into Dave’s house, I became aware of sounds other than our conversation and the thrumming blood behind my eardrums. A football game played on TV. I glanced over as the announcer yelled some gibberish about a first down, then moved my gaze back to Dave. “You must have taken graveyard shift last night,” I said.
He picked up a remote, zapped off the TV, and sent me a raised eyebrow.
“It doesn’t take a psychic. You look like an unmade bed.”
Dave ran a hand over his dark hair, thick on the sides, sparse on top. He hadn’t used a comb today or bothered to shave. He was hanging-out-at-home comfy in jeans and beat-to-hell tennis shoes. It looked like the only thing I was interrupting was the game re-run.
“Double homicide. Turned into a long night up to my ankles in sewage.”
“Yum.” I tried on a smile, but it was plastic and contrived.
Dave narrowed his eyes. “We need to move you. Pronto. It’s priority one. You need to be someplace secure where I can keep better tabs on you.”
“I’ve been looking since the fire, but I haven’t found anything.”
“Would you consider buying?” he asked.
“Yes, actually—I’m looking for a low-cost fixer-upper I can work on to help me get through this year without Angel.” I followed Dave into the hallway. “Diversion, and all that.”
“How about here, in my neighborhood? I could keep a better eye on you—and you won’t be showing up at my door with a suitcase full of surprises.” He grabbed his coat from the closet and shrugged it on. “I’m taking you over to meet my neighbor. She has the other half of her duplex on the market.” He looked over his shoulder at me. “You shouldn’t be running around without a jacket.” He handed me an oversized wool parka that smelled like raking leaves. He kicked a Tonka truck out of the way, and we moved out the front door.
On the front porch, I slid into the shadows and took in the length of the road. No cars, no barking dogs, everything quiet.
Dave glanced back. “Coast is clear.”
I tucked the coat hood up over my ponytail. Screened by Dave’s broad back, I started across the street. Down the road, a car motor revved. I reached under my shirt and pulled out my gun.
A rusty “For Sale by Owner” sign swung from the porch rail. Bare wood peeked through the curling paint. I rocked back on my heels as my skeptical eye took in the turn-of-the-century duplex. “A big snow storm’s heading this way in a few days. You think the roof will hold?” I asked.
Dave gazed up at the roofline. “It’s not in the best of shapes,” he conceded. “But of the houses for sale around here, this one might fit your budget.”
“It’s been on the market awhile?”
“Two-years. So the price tag is bottom-basement.”
“Okay.” I kicked at the sidewalk. “I’m keeping an open mind.”
Dave turned, his gaze following my arm to where I held the Ruger under the fold of my coat. He gripped my shoulders, pushed me toward the ancient oak leaning precariously in front of the house, and scanned up and down the street. His attention back on me, Dave wagged a stern finger. “I didn’t see that. What’s more, you’re going to make damned sure no one else sees that, or you’ll end up in a jail cell.”
I nodded my understanding.
“You been up to the shooting range with Stan lately?” he asked.
“I’m still going once a week with him, as usual,” I said. Stan worked for the DCPD with Dave and had been one of my dad’s poker buddies before Dad was killed in the car accident.
“Good.” He scanned the neighborhood again. “Wait here.”
As Dave clomped up the rickety steps, I holstered the gun. He banged on the door, and a tiny woman with a stooped back and cane pushed open the screen. Her translucent skin, stippled with age spots, creased as she smiled up at Dave.
“Hello, David. What a lovely surprise.” She held the door wide. “Won’t you come in for a cup of tea?”
“I brought a friend to meet you.” Dave gestured toward me, and I climbed the stairs to stand beside him in her living room. She might have been all of five-feet tall. At five-six, I towered over her.
I gently shook her hand, barely clasping her fingers for fear I would break her. She reminded me of my mom’s eggshell porcelain teacups that used to sit on our mantle back at the apartment.
“Mrs. Nelson, Lexi’s interested in seeing the house you have for sale next door.” Dave spoke loudly using staccato, over-enunciated words.
“Oh wonderful, dear.” Mrs. Nelson turned to retrieve a keychain from a basket on her upright piano.
A book of hymns lay open to “Nothing but the Blood.” An omen? A warning? Paranoia, I concluded, taking in a deep breath. Mrs. Nelson reached for her coat on the hall tree, and Dave helped her shrug it on.
“I didn’t like the couple who lived there last,” Mrs. Nelson said, pushing the screen closed behind us and stepping cautiously down the steps with Dave’s protective hand under her elbow. “They left their trash on the porch for the neighborhood dogs to get in to. What a mess, and it smelled gosh awful. I was relieved when they moved.” In a moment, we stood in front of the fixer-upper making up the other side of the duplex. Mrs. Nelson unlocked the door, then turned faded blue eyes on me. “You’re awfully young.” She flipped the switch, flooding the room with light. “Are you married?”
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