by Kristine Mason
About the Book
When the past collides with the present, the only way to ensure the future lies in the ultimate kill…
Naomi McCall is a woman of many secrets. Her family has been murdered and she’s been forced into hiding. No one knows her past or her real name, not even the man she loves.
Jake Tyler, former Marine and the newest recruit to the private criminal investigation agency, CORE, has been in love with a woman who never existed. When he learns about the lies Naomi has weaved, he’s ready to leave her—until an obsessed madman begins sending her explosive messages every hour on the hour.
Innocent people are dying. With their deaths, Naomi’s secrets are revealed and the truth is thrust into the open. All but one. Naomi’s not sure if Jake can handle a truth that will change their lives. But she is certain of one thing—the only way to stop the killer before he takes more lives is to make herself his next victim.
How many narcissists does it take to change a light bulb?
He holds the bulb while the world revolves around him.
“DID YOU FIND her?” He glared at the man he’d overpaid to find the one thing that belonged to him. Rage simmered in the depths of what most men might consider a soul. Not him. Essence, the nonphysical aspect of a person, that which survived after death and all of the other metaphysical, intangible drivel of poets and priests…that kind of shit was for pussies. He had one life to live and he’d live it to the fullest.
Carl Blackborne, the former CIA agent and the investigator he’d forced into his employment, shifted his gaze to the desk. “I’m sorry, sir, but…no. That’s not to say that I didn’t discover any new leads,” he quickly added.
He followed Blackborne’s gaze and looked at the handcrafted replica of the first ship ever built by his great-great-grandfather. Made of gold, and worth over three hundred grand, the piece had been in the family for five generations. “It’s lovely, no?” he asked the investigator and touched the ship’s golden mast.
Blackborne blinked. “Yes. Truly one of a kind, sir.”
“If you break down what’s in your savings and life insurance, it’s worth more than you are.”
“I…I don’t know how to respond to that.”
He ran a manicured finger along the golden stern and wondered if the ship would become damaged if he slammed it against Blackborne’s over-sized head. “Of course you don’t.”
“Sir, if I may, I’ve exhausted—”
“Do you know how old my great-great-grandfather was when he built his first ship?” he asked and touched the life-like sailor standing at the helm of the golden ship. From what he’d been told, his forefather had been a ruthless son of a bitch. He didn’t emulate the man, nor did he worship him. He didn’t have to. Not when he was better than him. More powerful. More coldblooded. More merciless.
“No, sir, I—”
“He was twenty. Twenty,” he repeated, sliding his gaze to Blackborne. “By the time he was twenty-five, he was worth over one million dollars. That was in the mid-1800s. By today’s standards, he would have been worth over twenty-five million. Amazing, no?” He waved a hand, and leaned into his chamois-soft leather office chair. “Over the past one hundred and fifty years, his company has endured many ups and downs. Right now, under my rule, it’s up. I’ve had the foresight to take this company to new places. Literally. My planes, ships and trucks are worldwide. I’ve made this company a household name. Now that’s amazing shit.”
Blackborne rubbed the back of his neck. “Truly amazing, sir. But if you’ll let me explain my new leads.”
He folded his hands and rested them on the luxurious, handcrafted desk. Made of six different kinds of exotic woods, like ebony and Carpathian elm, it too was worth more than Blackborne. “By all means. It’s not like I don’t have anything better to do with my time. Right, Ric?”
Ricco Mancini, his aide-de-camp and most loyal confidant, sat stone faced, his focus on the investigator. “All the time in the world. I see no reason why Blackborne shouldn’t waste yours.”
Clearing his throat, Blackborne nodded. “Understood. Sorry, sir. I’ll make this quick. When I was investigating her past, I came across family lineage that might be of interest. I thought that maybe—”
“How is this a new lead?” Blackborne wasn’t the first investigator he’d hired, and based on the others, he could rattle off the woman’s family tree by heart. Hell, he’d stripped that tree of its leaves and snapped the branches until she no longer had a family.
“Well, it’s not exactly a lead, just a new avenue.”
“My trucks travel down avenues all the time,” he said, finished with Blackborne and their conversation. He’d had high hopes for the investigator. During his previous employment with the CIA, Blackborne had been known to successfully track terrorists and international criminals. Diabolically brilliant men who had the means to hide and, if they’d wanted, never be found. And yet Blackborne couldn’t find a simple woman? Fucking useless idiot.
“I’m not interested in hearing about avenues—at all,” he said. “I paid you a lot of money to bring me—”
“I told you I wasn’t sure if I could find her,” Blackborne countered, his voice rising.
His rage went from simmering to boiling.
No one interrupted him.
No one dared to shout at him.
He slid his gaze to the two men flanking the office’s double doors. Santiago Ramirez, the Columbian he’d taken under his wing over fifteen years ago glared at Blackborne’s back. So did Santiago’s counterpart, former Russian heavyweight boxer, Vlad Aristov. He looked to Ric, whose mouth tilted in the subtlest of smiles. Knowing that the chance of this conversation ending well was slim to none, the sadist would enjoy Blackborne’s faux pas.
“She’s obviously changed her name,” Blackborne continued without apology. “Covered up
paper trails. She has no immediate family, her friends and associates have no idea where she moved to…I’ve bribed several IRS officials and even they couldn’t help me. That’s why I thought if I could—”
“Pull up her family tree?” he asked with an easy smile that in no way matched the raw fury constricting his chest. “It’s a brilliant plan. I wish my other investigators had the foresight to come up with such a unique idea.”
“Thank you, sir.” Blackborne relaxed and grinned, obviously not understanding sarcasm. “I appreciate the compliment.”
He looked to Ric and caught the laughter in his eyes. “What would you need for this brilliant plan of yours?” he asked, transferring his attention to the investigator.
“More money and, of course, more time.”
His last four investigators had given him the same request. They’d eventually come to him empty handed and wound up dead.
“I suggest we expand the scope and not just focus on her family,” Blackborne said, his tone enthusiastic. “The friends and associates I checked with…these were people who knew her, or rather knew of her, when she was in her early twenties. As you know, she went off the grid around the time she turned twenty. I think if I go back further, say into her childhood, and find people she was close to, then maybe—”
He raised a hand. “No.”
Blackborne’s face contorted with confusion. “Sir, we might be able to find a link from her childhood that could lead us to her current whereabouts.”
“Might…could.” He rested an elbow against the leather armrest and cradled his chin between
his index finger and thumb. “If a broke redneck plays the Lotto enough times, he might eventually win. If you give a seasoned whore the money to go to college and educate herself, she could go on to run a Fortune 500 company. Mr. Blackborne, what are the chances of a broke redneck winning the Lotto and a seasoned whore going on to run a Fortune 500 company?”
Blackborne looked to the desk again. “Let me rephrase then, digging into her past may…I
mean, it’s probable…” He scratched his head. “Sir, I can’t guarantee anything, I can only try this route.”
He straightened and opened the desk drawer. “Not interested.” His fingers stroked the AAC Evolution-45 silencer, a weapon ironically used by U.S. Military Anti-Terrorist units. He grasped the handle of the gun. “I know everything about her past. Her preschool teachers, her fourth grade Girl Scout troop leader, who she lost her virginity to during her senior year of high school.” His stomach tightened with anticipation as he pulled the lightweight gun from the drawer and aimed it at Blackborne’s head. “I know everything about her, except where she is now.”
Blackborne staggered back, holding his hands in front of his body. “Please, sir. This investigation—”
“Is over.” He tensed for the slight recoil and pulled the trigger. As if the man had sneezed, a
puffy mist of blood burst from Blackborne’s face before he crumpled to the ground. He slipped the weapon back into the drawer, then pulled out a file from the hidden center console. “Well, that was a disappointment.” He glanced to Ric who, in turn, looked to Santiago and Vlad.
“Get him out of here, then kill his wife and kids,” Ric told the men.
Without a word, Santiago and Vlad picked up Blackborne and took him from the office. When the door closed behind them, Ric rose from his chair. “And the woman?” he asked. “Should I find another investigator?”
“No.” He opened the file and stared at the eight by ten glossy of her. Although not beautiful in the classical sense, she’d caught his attention the moment he’d seen her. While she’d been bustling through the club where she used to work, taking drink orders, he’d pictured her naked, curvy body on his bed, her long, straight brown hair fanning out along his silk sheets as she spread her legs and welcomed him. He had eventually made what he’d imagined into a reality. And after having her once, he’d wanted her again.
Only she hadn’t.
That was her first mistake.
When she ran from him…that was her second.
After he’d found her, he’d tried to be reasonable. He’d tried to give her everything she would ever need, and she’d rejected him.
That was her last mistake.
He always got what he wanted. Always. Growing up with enough money to run a small country,
the world and its contents were his for the taking.
She was his to take.
Ric pressed his hands against the desk and leaned forward. “You’ve spent eight years looking for her. Are you giving up?”
He looked up from the photograph and met Ric’s eyes. Eight years. A lot had happened during that time, and over the years he’d assumed he would eventually grow tired of searching for her. But he hadn’t. She was the one object his money couldn’t buy. The only woman who had walked away from him without a second glance. He never understood why. Quite frankly, he didn’t care whether she wanted him or not. She was a lost possession he wanted found. “Have you ever known me to quit anything?”
“Never.” Ric smiled. “Now what?”
He closed the file, then returned it to the drawer. “Now we do things my way.” He rose from
the chair and walked to the windows. As he looked around the spacious backyard, he found his wife and two children sitting on the lawn having a picnic lunch. “Hiring another investigator isn’t going to cut it. We’ve been down that road one too many times,” he said, and watched grape jelly drop onto his four-year-old son’s pristine white shirt as the boy waved to him.
“And your plan is…?”
“Simple.” He gave his boy a two-finger salute. “If I can’t find her, I’ll make it so she has no choice but to come to me. When I’m finished, she’ll beg me to take her back.”
“Interesting,” Ric said, his voice laced with amusement. “And why would she come to you?”
He smiled, as his wife frowned and worked on their son’s jelly stain. “Because if she doesn’t, I’m going to kill a lot of people.”
I didn’t pick up my first romance novel until I was in my late twenties. Immediately hooked, I read a bazillion books before deciding to write one of my own. After the birth of my first son I needed something to keep my mind from turning to mush, and Sesame Street wasn’t cutting it. While that first book will never see the light of day, something good came from writing it. I realized my passion and found a career I love.
When I’m not writing contemporary romances and dark, romantic suspense novels (or reading them!) I’m chasing after my four kids and two neurotic dogs.
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