"As if sleeping with the enemy wasn't disastrous enough..."
For Camryn Cox, living a private, purpose-driven, drama-free life is a top priority. And in her opinion, Maverick Woods represents everything opposite of that.
He's social media-famous, ultra fine, and completely irresponsible, making him something like the enemy as far as Camryn is concerned. But everything changes when a surprise moment of passion between the two of them results in a positive pregnancy test.
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“Please leave before I strangle you.”
“Damn. Violence ain’t gotta always be the answer, mamas,” he laughed, making his way to the door before turning back to add, “And besides, if your hands are ever wrapped around my neck, it damn sure ain’t gonna be cause you’re tryna hurt me.”
It was out of pure reflex when I grabbed the closest thing within arms reach and launched it at him, a little bit tickled to watch Maverick dodge the item before he snapped, “Cam, what the fuck?! Were those scissors?”
I shrugged, smirking mischievously as I told him, “Had to make sure my violence didn’t get mistaken for anything else.”
“What if they would’ve stabbed me? Or hell, poked my damn eye out?” he whined. “I could’ve been patch-bound like Slick Rick for the gala fuckin’ around with you.”
The thought alone made me cackle, even more so when I realized, “Considering this old ass artist you booked for us, it would’ve been very onbrand.”
Chuckling a bit himself, Maverick stepped back inside of my office and insisted, “You hatin’ now, but I bet you dinner she’s gonna kill it.”
My eyebrow piqued at his wager. “As in, I’ll UberEats you a meal of choice if you’re right and vice versa? Cause dinner with you, even with you treating, is still not exactly a win.”
“It’s a lotta women out here who would pay good money to have dinner with me, Camryn,” he immediately defended. And while I couldn’t exactly disagree, I also knew where I stood about it, laughing to myself as I rose from behind my desk and replied, “Oh, I’m well aware. And something is truly wrong with them all.”
Instead of responding right away, he took a second to ogle my full look of the day, an outfit I was too stressed to put much time into this morning after waking up to the news about our performer needing to be replaced. But considering the way Maverick slowly scraped his teeth against his bottom lip while sizing me up, you would’ve thought I had on nothing at all. And I was mad at myself for warming up a little in response to his gaze as he finally agreed, “Fine. UberEats then since you can’t even stand to break bread wit’ a nigga.”
Again, I laughed. “Oh my God, why are you acting so butthurt? I mean, do you really think I wanna be the first girl you’re seen out with after your breakup, even platonically? You tryna have the Banksy Boos coming after me too?”
“They ain’t even that bad,” he insisted with a shrug like Lillian’s fan club hadn’t been harassing his ass all over social media since the breakup and like he hadn’t already done something in an attempt to contain some of the harassment.
I had that to lean on when I pointed to the phone in his hand while replying, “Open your newly-private Instagram and tell me that lie again.”
“Aight, so maybe they are wildin’ a little bit,” he admitted. “But I didn’t say dinner had to be at a public place.”
“I know. It’ll be in the privacy of my apartment where I’ll devour fifty dollars worth of some good eats on your dime while binging old episodes of The Bernie Mac Show, alone.”
The way he frowned in response, I assumed he was offended by my desire to exclude him from my plans. But to my surprise, it was… “Fifty dollars? I mean, I know those little convenience fees and shit add up, but damn.”
“All that ballin’ you do for the ‘gram and you’re trippin’ over fifty bucks?” I asked amusedly, crossing my arms over my chest as he answered, “Nah, but you might be when you’re wrong and gotta spend that same amount on me. I know my mama pays you well, but…”
Before he could finish, I cut him off with a gentle shove towards the door. “I’ll see you Saturday at the gala, Maverick.”
“Looking forward to it, Camryn,” he replied with a wink that had my dimples threatening to make an appearance until I saw my boss lurking nearby, sending me on a not at all obvious dash back to my desk as Maverick told her, “Let me know if y’all need anything else, Auntie J.”
With a kiss to her cheek, he disappeared to wherever as she curled into my office. And while I tried my best to make it look like I was working, I assumed Janet was getting ready to call my bluff once she started, “Patiently waiting on the day you two stop playing and get together already.”
Wait a minute… huh?
My face went tight with confusion when I asked, “What two? Me and Maverick?”
Her enthusiastic nod in response made me snort a laugh that turned into much more as I told her, “Oh, Janet. I’m so sorry, but you’ll have to ship us in your dreams cause there is no way in hell I’d ever date that man.”
Like I was being ridiculous, she frowned while asking, “Why not? My nephew is cute!”
This time, it was me nodding as I continued to giggle and agreed, “He is cute. Very cute, and equally annoying.”
“He’s only like that cause he likes you,” Janet reasoned with a grin, though her explanation really only gave more fuel to my giggles.
“What is this? Kindergarten? And why are you so convinced that Maverick likes me as if he wasn’t just in a very serious relationship with someone else a literal two days ago?”
Brushing that off as nothing, Janet insisted, “Lillian was cool and all, but she’s no you.”
Truthfully, I wasn’t in the business of comparison and had no shortage of confidence. But her statement made it way too easy for me to counter, “Tell the rest of America that, and they’ll laugh right in your face the same way I’ve been doing.”
That brought her frown back as I continued, “All of this is irrelevant anyway cause I don’t even like Maverick like that.”
I was stating it as a fact. But for whatever reason, Janet seemed just as sure when she replied, “Camryn, please. The only reason that boy gets under your skin the way he does is because you’re trying so hard not to like him.”
Her assumption felt like a Michael Jordan dunking in Space Jam kind of reach. I tolerated Maverick out of respect for his mother, respect for his family. We could share a room without me attacking him… for five minutes at a time. And maybe when I first started working for the foundation, I might’ve had an insta-crush since he was the kinda fine you only saw on the internet. But all of that stopped once I got to know him and his online persona that was so perfectly disappointing I couldn’t help but laugh as I told Janet, “Trust me, I don’t have to try at all. He makes himself very easy not to like.”
The woman in the stingy hospital bed wasn’t dead. The question for Detective Jesus De La Cruz: did the comatose patient narrowly survive suicide or murder?
Faithful friends paint a picture of a guileless young woman, a victim of both crime and society. Others describe a cold woman with a proclivity for icing interested men with a single look.
Beneath the rhetoric, Cruz unearths a twisted knot of reality and perception. A sex scandal, a jilted lover, a callous director, a rainmaker, and a quid pro quo have Cruz questioning if there is such a thing as an innocent man. Truth is a strong rope, tied in a noose. As he closes in, the knot tightens, but who will pay the price? A killer or a member of Cruz’s own family?
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“She’s not dead.” Cleveland homicide Detective Jesus De La Cruz stood beside the hospital bed, watching the sheet over the woman’s chest rhythmically rise and fall.
“I know she’s not dead. I wouldn’t have ‘MD’ after my name if I couldn’t tell a comatose patient from a dead one.” Dr. Oscar Bollier had the ruffled look of a man above caring what society thought. He normally spoke in a tone underwritten by arrogance. Today, superiority was replaced with something Cruz couldn’t read. It was more than sad; less than desperate.
“So why am I here?”
“Because she shouldn’t be.”
The cop and the doctor met by chance, a wrong room number left on a message. Cruz had been in the bed, the right side of his face doing an imitation of dog food after the bloody night that ended his undercover narcotics career. The doctor took an interest in the cop suffering through alcohol withdrawal. He had been patient, returning daily, throwing a life preserver to the drowning man. Eventually, Cruz grabbed on.
And so, he waited with equal patience for the story of the not-dead woman to unfold.
“Her name is Sophie DeMusa. She’s a senior at Case Western Reserve University and works as a waitress at Three Witches. Do you know it?”
Cruz shook his head.
“It’s one of those hip places on Murray Hill, close to campus. She lives in the apartment below. She was found in her bedroom, nasty cut on her head, and a handful of pills in her stomach.”
The richness of the girl’s Mediterranean heritage showed through the pallor of unconsciousness. Her heart-shaped face featured the sculpted contours of a Greek or Roman maiden. Her eyes tipped up, though, nearly cat like. Exotic. Objectively beautiful.
Beauty was what it was. Not necessarily happy or healthy or stable. Beautiful people killed themselves just as often as the rest of us.
“She didn’t try to kill herself,” Bollier added, reading his mind.
Cruz mentally rolled his eyes. Maybe physically, too.
“She wasn’t the kind to take pills,” Bollier said quickly, a bite in his voice now.
“Pills didn’t cause that wound.” The side of the woman’s head was shaved, the short stubble disrupted by a line of stitches.
“She hit her head on her nightstand.”
When no further explanation came, Cruz waded in. “Since you called me, I assume you think someone other than her put those pills in her belly?”
“Someone had to at least help. She wouldn’t turn to suicide.”
Cruz exhaled slowly, searching for solid footing. If he heard it once, he heard it a hundred times. He wouldn’t do this or she would never do that. Denial was a slow, deep river. “Good people make bad decisions, Oscar. We both lived that truth. I’m sympathetic to the woman’s situation but not hearing anything needing my attention. I’m sorry she did this, but she needs a counselor, not a homicide detective. Call Dr. Edna,” he suggested, referring to Bollier’s psychiatrist friend who had been helpful to him during the Drug Head case. “She’s your better bet.”
“You’re my better bet.” Bollier turned a hundred-thousand watts of ill-tempered doctor on him. “I said she wouldn’t kill herself, you’ll have to take that as fact, and since she wouldn’t, somebody else tried to. She lives in Cleveland, she was found in Cleveland, she’s in the hospital in Cleveland. You, a Cleveland detective, need to do your damn job and find her killer.”
Cruz stood his ground, stamping out the temptation to go toe-to-toe with Bollier. Instead, he probed the reason behind the temper. “Who is she to you?”
“She’s just a girl.” His gaze dropped to her face, his expression softening. “An acquaintance.”
A lie. If anything got to him about his job, it was the number of lies. Big ones, little ones, lies of omission, of exaggeration. The lies were so old, they had their own AARP card.
“Why are you looking at me like that? Stop it. You’re thinking too hard. You’re going to help her.” It wasn’t a question.
First the lie, now an order. Cruz fought the instinct to push back because he respected the asshole doing the pushing. “Look, Oscar, I know you don’t want to hear it, but many suicides or attempts come with a plethora of friends and family who didn’t see it coming. Mental health issues can be overlooked and explained away by the people closest. At least now, you can get her the help she needs.”
“I’m a doctor, you twit. I’ve forgotten more about suicide than you’ll ever know. One five-minute conversation and you’ve made up your mind. You’re not even going to look into the circumstances.” Bollier lifted his chin, exuding dominance and superiority. “In the years we have known each other, I have never asked for you favors or to use your position in anyway. Conversely, you have ‘picked my brain’ on your cases and asked me for connections to help you find the answers. You owe me. The entire department owes me. I’m calling in my marker. You won’t honor your obligation; I’ll call Montoya direct.”
Cruz couldn’t think for the insult coursing through his veins. His mentor, his AA sponsor, was keeping a tally? Threatening to go over his head to homicide’s commander?
“You son of a bitch, you can—” Words flooded him now, articulating where the arrogant fucker could shove his threats. Except, some infinitesimal part of his brain told him anything he said now, he would regret. Or worse, he wouldn’t. “No. I’m not doing this with you. I’m walking away and if you’re as smart as you claim, you won’t follow.” He stalked out the door into the busy corridor.
“She doesn’t have another option.” The pompous, white bread voice followed him down the hall. Nurses and orderlies stared as the words fell on deaf ears. “If you don’t step in, her killer gets away. I know you Jesus De La Cruz. You won’t let that happen. You won’t—”
The doors to the floor closed behind him, cutting off the sermon.
Cruz seethed as he stalked the circuitous route out of the hospital. Never in his thirty-three years on this planet had he so misjudged someone. He’d known from day one Bollier could be an asshole. He’d witnessed it, was entertained by it. Over the years, he fell into the delusion that he was immune from the tirades, that their relationship went deeper than superficial shit. He played the sap, short and simple, sitting bright-eyed and bushy-tailed waiting for the almighty Dr. Oscar Bollier to dispense bits of wisdom.
All things must end.
I learned that lesson the day my mother died.
My step-mother was wicked.
My step-sister, cruel.
It was a relief when I revealed as an Omega because it was a chance to escape.
But it wasn't the end of my troubles.
What happens to Omegas is a secret.
And my troubles had just begun.
"I can save you from one monster, Verity," Lilly said when she accepted me into the program. "But I cannot save you from them all."
True to her word, she saved me from my step-mother.
Then Woodrow entered my life.
And I realized he was the other monster Lilly had warned me about.
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“I take care of the Omegas whom I take through the program. When I look at you, Verity, I see an Omega. Whatever happens, I will be in contact regularly. If you don’t reveal today, you will later, and I won’t have you out there vulnerable. If you need me, I expect you to call me at any time. Am I making myself clear.”
This fierce little Omega was like a lioness protecting a cub.
“Yes, Doctor Brach,” I mumbled.
A wry smile tugged her lips. “Call me Lilly, please.” Her smile faded. “You’re feeling excited, maybe even hopeful. Hold onto that feeling for as long as you can. You were ever doomed to be an Omega, we are merely…playing at god in hastening its approach. There will come a day in the not too distant future when you will curse both me and the program. That day is not this day. I can save you from one monster, Verity. But I cannot save you from them all.”
And with those ominous words, she tapped the interactive desk once more, and my stepmother was shown in.
Lessons. There were always lessons to be learned as we journeyed through life. I didn’t know what today’s lesson was yet, but I knew there was one and that it might be the most important of them all.
Dearly beloved, that’s how it begins. What God has joined together, let no man put asunder; that’s how it ends.
Happily married, wedded bliss and with these rings, we do take; but what happens to happily ever after, when the vows break?
Shelby, Raylan, Chloe, Lynesha, Kerri and Camille have been friends since freshmen year of high school. They’ve been together through college, failed relationships, deaths, and sickness. They've watched each other grow and become business leaders and owners, wives and mothers.
They've survived when most people say, women can't be friends.
Then, all hell breaks loose in each of their marriages.
Secrets, lying, cheating, drugs, alcohol, and temptations prove that not everything is what it seems.
Will the chaos of it all be more than they can take? Find out in part 1 of When the Vows Break
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Atom Ulvan, Left Fist of the Emperor, lived a life of power until a rival family destroyed the Meriwether Clan. Now, on the run across the galaxy, Atom must flee the death behind him and use his unique skill-set to survive.
Intent on hunting down his enemies, his two-year-old daughter Margo might be the only one to stop him. Without her, nothing exists to keep Atom from an all-out war on his betrayers.
Genesis is a space-western odyssey across the galaxy that forces a gun-slinging rogue to balance his life between trying to stay alive and coping with fatherhood on the fly. Hop aboard the One Way Ticket with Atom and Margo as they fly the black in search of redemption, revenge, and a little peace and quiet.
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“I never buried her,” Atom whispered to the ghosts as he sat on the metal stairs, his head in his hands.
He sat in silence, listening to the atmo recycling.
“It’ll pass, girl,” he said without lifting his eyes. Margo cooed in reply. “We just need to find our course. We’ve got a ship and some open skies to get lost in. The Walkers will keep after us, but they won’t ever catch us. I won’t let them.”
Atom lifted his head to look at Margo, and she smiled with childish innocence from where she sat in the middle of the empty cargo hold.
“Admiral of the Cheturian Empire, and all I can salvage is one lousy merch,” he thrust himself to his feet and paced the hold. “I’ve commanded fleets of battleships and carriers, marine armies have dropped on planets at my word. But all that’s gone now, and I’ve commandeered this pile of junk.
“One Way Ticket seems a solid name, though.” His sad laugh echoed through the hold. “I’ll keep it on the books, but I gave her a new brain. I even named that AI Kozue. You’ll understand when you get older.”
Margo toddled over to Atom, and he picked her up. Greedily, he hugged her to his chest, breathing in the scent of her soft, dark ringlets. “You look just like your mother, minus the curl in your hair.
“That you get from me,” he lifted her above his head and smiled, but sorrow lined his eyes. He dropped her to his hip and headed for the stairs.
“I’d say it’s time we plot a course for nowhere. Wanderers we’ll be, just you and me, and the ship makes three,” he sang as he mounted the stairs and danced in folk fashion to the empty bridge. “One little astral family.
“Let’s see if we can’t find ourselves something to keep this crate flying.”
* * *
The stars winked in a lonesome kaleidoscope of pinpricked light. Only the nearest systems moved in the darkness as the One Way Ticket sailed through the void with minimum engine output.
Atom reclined in the pilot’s seat, embracing the silence.
“Where to, Go?” he locked his hands behind his head and smiled down at his daughter/copilot as she sat, with a chubby hand pressed against the plasteel laced canopy, at the nose of the bridge. She looked up and studied his face with a solemn air.
Atom cocked a scruffy eyebrow. “Oh, Fiver, you have so much to learn. I’m not sure how I’m going to raise you proper without your mother.
“The ship will have to be your mother.” He dropped his propped feet from the console and stood. “It’s a poor substitute, but it’ll do. I can’t replace her in my heart, and honest, I don’t feel the need to.
“As long as we stay a step ahead of the knives and pick them off as we find them, I’ll be content.” He scooped Margo up in his arms and held her close. “Not happy, mind you, but content. Happy died with your mother. I’m bound to her memory, and that’s locked in this ship, so I’m married to this ship now.
“We’ll raise you.” He held her back and studied the innocence of her eyes. “Live or die, we’re bound to her memory and the honor of our family. We may be wanderers now, but it’s our duty to carry on the Ulvan name for as long as we have breath to do so.”
Keeping his eyes locked on his daughter, he swept from the bridge. “Kozue, keep us on course, and let me know if anything pops the scans.”
“I’ll do that, Atom,” the ship’s AI replied in a soft feminine voice.
Atom paused in the hatch. The voice belonged to his wife, and while it tugged at his heart, the familiar kept his mind focused. His first order, after initiating a hard burn from his home system, entailed loading every scrap of his wife’s digital footprint into the AI. While it proved a mimicry, the ship’s core absorbed a surprising level of his wife’s consciousness.
“Keep our child safe.” He reached out with his off hand and caressed the wall.
“That I will, dear. And protect yourself as well.”
“Go first, Kozue.” Atom looked down at his daughter as she nuzzled into his chest. “Always protect her first.”
* * *
A red light blipped on the dim bridge.
“Atom,” Kozue murmured, rousing him from a light slumber. Across the room, Margo slept in a cocoon-like hammock.
“What is it?” Atom rubbed sleep from his eyes, sat up, and tossed his blanket back.
“I’m detecting a ship flying in our wake.”
“She’s broadcasting a merchant code, but the vessel is still too far out for scanners to get a good read.”
“I hope she’s just a merch,” Atom muttered as he dressed and hurried to the bridge. “Keep ears on Go for me.”
“I always have ears and eyes on her, Atom.”
Atom jogged through the hallway. Miraculously, the ship gave the illusion of space, despite the structural constraints of every space-faring vessel. Dimly lit, the hallway somehow appeared pleasant rather than cold.
Only a few days out from Greenholm, Atom found himself falling in love with the ship. More than just a memory, she offered a future, a wandering future, but a future nonetheless. The ship offered freedom. She offered a slim chance, a chance to survive, but also a chance to carry on. Admiral of nothing, Atom dictated his own future. No longer beholden to the dictates and mandates of the Cheturian Emperor, he wandered after his own will, free but masterless.
“The ship is closing,” Kozue stated. “Long range scans support the ID tag of a merch, but something in their approach seems off.”
“What do you mean?” Atom dropped into the pilot’s chair and began pulling up information on his two holo-consoles.
“Their pursuit is too precise.”
“That it is.” Atom’s fingers flew through the air even as he scowled at the images hovering before him. “It’s a sloppy disguise. They’re trawling, and so the question sits, are they after me, or just after a ship?”
“They’re looking for a prize. A merch never travels directly in another’s wake, unless in a planetary holding pattern. Even then, most captains worth their air will vary the line by a degree or two.”
“True, I believe this to be a result of erratic waste disposal of merchant ships,” Kozue said, and Atom wondered if he detected a hint of his wife’s wry humor.
“That it is, love. But to these trackers, space is too big to have somebody in my wake accidentally. Talk to their core. Find me a hint of their intent.”
“I imagine they mean to board us.”
“My guess too, but do they mean to capture us or kill us? And if they mean to kill us, why not just drop a torp from a distance and be done with it?”
“My estimation is they want it to look like a pirate raid. A torpedo leaves wreckage floating in the trade lanes that might raise some questions among the royal families.” Kozue brought up schematics and a correspondence log with the pursuing ship. “A derelict with a couple corpses points to pirates, especially if it’s stripped. I believe I have been able to discourse with the Green Anne discretely enough that her crew is unaware of my intentions.”
“What did you find?” Atom rubbed a hand through his ruddy-blond curls and scowled at the information flowing by.
“Six crew. None of them have records in the core. In fact, I can find no record of these people anywhere. I believe we are pursued by ghosts. They may be mercenary, but more likely military. I don’t believe I have ever heard of a merc ship with no record whatsoever.
“Either way, probably indicates they are coming for the kill.”
* * *
Margo sat in the center of the empty hold, alone and playing with a rough metal doll Atom had cobbled together. With concentration, she banged the doll on the rubber flooring and made the doll take impressive leaps into the silence of the hold.
A hiss of equalizing pressure escaped as the outer hold door slid open. Muffled by the inner door, the thumping of the intruders sounded distant. With military proficiency, they overrode the locking mechanism and popped the seal on the inner door. A waft of foreign ship, sweat, and oil slid into the hold as the first pair of invaders crouched just inside the cover of the blast doors with their blaster rifles covering the room.
Margo looked up at the intrusion, curiosity lined her eyes.
Another pair, male and female, stepped beyond the first line in a low crouch. Their weapons swept the empty hold. All four paused to study the lone child sitting in the center of the hold, clutching her makeshift doll protectively.
“This is creepy, Cap.” The first soldier flipped on the personal shield hanging from his belt. “Somethin’ ain’t right.”
“I smell you.” The leader motioned for the rest of his soldiers to activate shields as he slid over to Margo. His eyes and rifle scanned the room in a constant state of motion. As he knelt beside the girl he counted the five hatches, including their point of access, two side hatches, a sealed blast door at the rear, and a final door at the top of a set of metal stairs above the blast door. “Venson, Crede, cover the flank hatches.”
Without a word, the second pair of soldiers drifted over to inspect the floor-level doorways away from the others.
The captain scowled at the shadowy, upper door, even as he knelt beside the girl. His rifle never wavered from the dim recesses beyond, but his eyes flicked to the child.
“What are you doing here, little one?” He scanned the girl and determined no threat. He reached for the girl.
A shot rang out.
Archaic and loud, the gun drew a squeak from Margo as she turned to locate the source. Surprise lit the captain’s face as blood seeped from a hole in his chest. With a grunt he collapsed to the floor, staring in wonder at Margo as his eyes lost focus.
Blaster fire erupted from the five soldiers, focusing on the hatch above. Disregarding the colorful display of death, Atom stepped through the door with a long-barreled pistol in each hand. The energy from the attacking rifle bolts slammed into his shield, swirling with light before absorbing into the shield batteries. Atom squeezed off a careful shot, and another attacker fell before the four remaining soldiers took cover in their doorways.
“You’re bleedin’ nutso, mate,” one of the cringing soldiers yelled from a side hatch. “If you miss, you punch a hole,and then we’re all space dust.”
As the man spoke, Atom made his way down the stairs, pistols at the ready.
“Then I shouldn’t miss,” Atom replied as he fired another shot, and the third soldier dropped.
Breaking into a sprint, he dove through the airlock hatch, and before the soldiers could react, he put a bullet in each of them. The first died with the side of his head painting the airlock wall, but the second lingered a moment with a sucking chest wound. Atom stood over his fallen foe and administered a merciful end before stepping back into the hold.
“Another step, and she dies,” the last soldier yelled as he clutched Margo to his chest with his short assault blaster jammed to her side. Sweat beaded at his forehead. “We’re here for you. I can drop her at the nearest planet and let her live, or I can drop her right here. Your choice.”
Atom eyed the man with disdain.
“She’s ready,” Atom growled. “As am I.”
Fusing childlike innocence and guile beyond her years, Margo reached down and tugged at the rifle muzzle. For an instant, the man’s eyes dropped to the girl. Atom took the opening with a sweeping shot, and the soldier lost his eye.
As graceful as a dancer, Atom stepped forward and lifted Margo from the man’s arms. Then the soldier sank to the ground.
“That proved impressive,” Kozue said.
“I trained my whole life as the Lord High Admiral,” Atom replied, looking over the corpses littering his hold. “It was my place to protect the emperor, and take his head if the time ever came. I never failed.”
“I know this, but that doesn’t alter the impressiveness of what I witnessed firsthand.”
Atom grunted in thanks.
An abusive childhood and an accident in his teens left stallion-shifter, Malcolm Patterson, with a distrust for his father and a lot of holes in his memory. When his dad passes away, Malcolm returns to Horse Mountain to fulfill his obligation to settle his old man’s affairs but finds the shifter community’s near hero-worship of the late doctor disquieting. He’s further shaken to meet a curvy beauty at the funeral who makes his heart gallop and his primal instincts take over.
Suki Marks has been in love with handsome and noble Malcolm Patterson ever since he saved her from bullies who called her an abomination when she was ten. He was the first person to be straight with her about the reasons some people shunned her family and was quick to debunk those prejudices as the ignorant folktales and stupid superstitions they were. Even after Malcolm graduated high school and left town, she couldn’t forget him, but becoming Doctor Patterson’s live-in nurse in his last year of life was a coincidence. She never expected to be named in the wealthy physician’s will.
Malcolm assumed he’d be disinherited, but even from the after-life, his father continues to turn the knife, using his will to set up an elaborate scheme to taint Malcolm's feelings for the woman who might be his fated mate. To make matters worse, a dangerous shifter-purist movement is brewing among a small segment of the Horse Mountain Clan, and they’re determined to prevent Suki from passing on her genes to a new generation. Will Malcolm be able to work through his past in time to secure his and Suki’s future?
Warning: Saving Suki is a smoking hot romance with graphic, put-you-in-the-moment love scenes. If you're offended by sexual language, you might want to consider another book. The book can stand alone without reading the others in the series.
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A sorrowful expression crossed her face and he knew he’d already said too much about his unusual upbringing. As he contemplated a way to lighten the mood again, she found the answer without saying a word, reaching up to her shoulder and placing her hand over his. A squeezing sensation in his chest complimented the haze rolling over his rationality. So many mixed emotions vexed him since his return, especially the anger and regret he’d tried his best to lock away. Her tiny gesture and light touch sent all the pain scurrying. Warmth bloomed over his knuckles and radiated up his arm, gaining intensity and burning the hottest across his torso.
“You’re putting on a brave face, but how are you really holding up?”
Her words pricked at his brain as he breathed in her sumptuous fragrance. “Umm…honestly, if I try to think about my father being gone forever, I feel a bit numb.” As his own words hung in the air, an odd, sour sensation stirred in his stomach. Why the hell did I tell her that?
He hated thinking about his dad. Imagining how things could have been if they’d reconciled seemed useless since he'd never admitted he’d always wanted the old buzzard’s love. He sure as hell didn’t want to talk about his contradictory emotions on the subject, but even still he could hear his stupid mouth dropping more of his secrets like a huge drain sending washed-away filth out of the shower.
“Things were never good between us and during the entire funeral, I felt like a fraud.”
“The parent-child relationship is often a complicated one.” She rested her head on his shoulder while tucking herself in closer to his side, another comforting gesture that somehow had him ready to spill his guts to this woman he barely knew.
“No kidding. I know I’m supposed to be devastated…I can’t seem to muster up much feeling on his passing at all.” Why, why, why! Why can’t I keep my big trap shut around her? She’s going to think I’m a fucking sociopath.
“Perhaps you will when the shock wears off a little,” she replied.
“Maybe, but I doubt it. I know it sounds bad, but my dad wasn’t the man that all those people today thought he was. If they knew half of what he was really like…Shit, I must sound like a huge asshole. I’m sorry. I don’t even know why I’m telling you this stuff.”
She patted his knee. “Because you need to talk to someone and I’m here.”
Wrong! Wrong! If I wanted to dredge up all this bullshit until I choke on it, I’d be talking to Dash and Mama Carol; they know the real deal. Part of him wanted to call it a night if only to end the uncomfortable conversation, but his body wouldn’t cooperate. His heart raced as he swallowed the lump in his throat. Normally, the horse inside him would have been ready to bolt, but at this moment, the damn thing was more like a mule, digging its hooves in and refusing to budge.
“It’s not like I’m happy he’s gone. It’s more like I can’t force myself to feel sad about it.”
In 1996, three-year-old Maisie Matthews is abducted from a holiday resort in Spain. Twenty-three years later, someone is following romantic novelist, Anna Blake.
As Anna tries to discover her stalker’s identity, she finds herself embroiled in the mystery of the missing child. But finding answers only brings more questions and Anna becomes suspicious of the men in her life: Damien Davies, who has a grudge against her; old flame, Ewan Jacobs, who wishes to resume their relationship; and enigmatic Josh Fielding, who has recently moved into the village.
As events escalate and the search becomes a matter of life and death, Anna even doubts the people who are closest to her. Everyone is hiding something. Who is telling the truth?
How does she know Who To Trust?
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Under cover of night, the doctor slipped through the door and into the hospital. The reception area stood eerily empty in the half-gloom. Drink and confectionary machines stood silent as sentries; shuttered shop facades were the only witnesses.
The doctor strode down the deserted hospital corridor, stethoscope bumping in rhythm against the crisp, white coat. Without warning, a whey-faced nurse appeared from around a corner. A brief stab of panic, a slight nod of acknowledgement, then the woman was gone. Nothing to fear. Another turn; another empty space. Not far to go now.
Maternity ward. A moment’s hesitation before peering through the glass. A stroke of luck. The nurses’ station was unmanned. A bolt of elation fired renewed hope. It was possible. The doctor straightened, shoulders back, a figure of authority, before using a key card to gain entry. No-one saw. The murmured hum of voices drifted from the bay at the far end of the ward. Perfect. It was fate; it was meant to be.
The doctor crept into the nearest bay, enveloped in darkness. Only one bed was in use, a grey mound silently sleeping. A wheeled crib stood beside it. The baby girl briefly opened her eyes wide, pools of blue innocence, as the doctor loomed over her. An intake of breath. Waiting … The eyelids fluttered and closed. It had to be now. Slowly, gently, the doctor pushed the crib to the entrance of the bay and peered stealthily around the curtain. The coast was clear. Another deep breath. Now or never.
With a burst of feigned confidence, the doctor wheeled the sleeping infant out of the ward and along the corridor. The hardest bit was done. Swiftly along to a storeroom by the stairs at the rear of the hospital. Empty. A quick glance around. No-one there.
Abandoning the crib behind the door of the storeroom, the doctor cradled the baby, crooning softly. ‘Nearly there, my lovely.’
Down the stairs, the click of shoes beating a guilty tattoo and out into the night …
Later, looking back, I could pinpoint it exactly – a moment of silent recognition, a stab of disquiet. It was then. When it all started.
Driving to Norwich along the A47 in my black Fiesta, the sky benign with Mediterranean blues, I was unaware of what lay ahead. I’d turned off the dual carriageway, following the signs for the city centre and waiting at the first set of traffic lights. Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ was playing on the radio and I was belting it out when the words caught in my throat. That’s when it was – a glimpse of blue in my wing mirror. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the significance. But that was when the fear started and my life changed for ever.
Then, it gave me pause and I adjusted my rear-view mirror for a better look. It was an electric blue Peugeot 206. I frowned, turning my head, craning my neck to see more. A beep from behind jolted me forward, foot twitching against the accelerator pedal. The road was busy and we crawled forward to the next set of lights. Another look in my mirror. Impossible to tell. The Peugeot was about six cars back and in the same lane. I was trying to see if it had a large dent on the nearside front bumper. As the lights changed again, I switched lanes and kept checking my wing mirror. After a few seconds, the Peugeot also pulled out; I could see the dent clearly. It was the same car. And it was following me. Again.
I’d first seen the car last Saturday, driving to Swaffham to visit my parents, noticing it only because they’d bought me one, the same colour and model, for my seventeenth birthday, nine years earlier. Since its sale, two years ago, when I bought my Fiesta, I’d looked out for my trusty, old car. On that occasion, I spotted the dent in the front bumper.
‘Poor Percy!’ I’d exclaimed, the name I’d christened it. ‘Have you had a bit of a bump with your new owner?’
As I reached the drive to my parents’ house, the Peugeot had continued onwards and I’d checked the number plate. It wasn’t Percy. If only I could remember the number. Unfortunately, as soon as I realised it didn’t start with AU, I’d dismissed it from my mind.
I noticed the Peugeot with the dented bumper behind me once again on route to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn where I was taking Edith Swainsthorpe, a client of mine, for a knee x-ray.
‘Obviously belongs to someone local,’ I observed to Edith after telling her the Percy story.
Having spotted the same car twice more that week, always behind me, I began to wonder, with creeping unease, if it was something other than coincidence. I started to look out for it every time I took to the road. Then, today, as I turned off the A47 towards the city, there it was again.
Still I couldn’t quite believe it. Why would anyone be tailing me? It must be a mistake. I clamped down on the first fluttering of panic and decided to use the next set of traffic lights as a test. They were red and I sat in the middle lane, heading for Norwich city centre, planning my move. When the lights turned green, I accelerated and indicated left, nipping in front of the white van beside me with an apologetic wave. My eyes flicked again to the rear-view mirror. The Peugeot had also manoeuvred across the lanes and now sat four cars behind me. I felt a surge of anger towards the unknown driver. Who was he? What did he think he was playing at? My fingers gripped the steering wheel as I pulled out to overtake a cyclist. The Peugeot remained, locked on to the rear of my Fiesta like a guided missile.
What could I do?
Anxiety stiffened my spine as I processed my options. Pull over; let him pass. My mind played out the scenario. The Peugeot might pull in behind, prompting a confrontation. The thought of that held little appeal. Maybe it would continue past me and lie waiting, further ahead – a nerve-tingling game of cat and mouse. I didn’t like that idea either. Another option would be to do nothing, to continue on to Chapelfield’s car park. Wait and see what happened. But car parks are dark, anonymous places where a person might easily disappear. The thought sent my pulse skittering. The remaining choice would be best. Somehow, I would lose him.
A rush of adrenalin, knuckles whitening. Images from film car chases flashed through my head – drivers shooting between cars, avoiding oncoming vehicles, tyres screeching, horns blaring. Don’t be silly, Anna. I wasn’t about to attempt anything like that. It would have to be something more subtle, slipping out of sight somehow before he realised. Think, Anna! The voice in my head sounded urgent, panicky. Despite the air-conditioning, droplets of sweat tickled my brow as I waited for my chance ...
Without indicating, I swung my car left down a tree-lined avenue and then first left again, veering wildly around a parked car and earning an angry blast on the horn from the vehicle coming the other way. I swerved left again and raced to the end of the street preparing to turn right, back to the traffic lights. Cars streamed ahead of me, coming from both directions, forcing me to screech to a halt. Another glance in the mirror. The blue Peugeot was just turning into the street, wary now, maintaining a distance between us, perhaps wondering if he’d been spotted. A tiny gap allowed me to shoot forward and take my place in the steady flow of traffic. This time the lights were green.
‘Come on, come on!’ I exhorted the drivers ahead of me. They were moving so slowly; the lights would change at any moment. Sure enough, the amber light flashed and the car in front of me braked, ready to stop. Then, at the last moment, the driver changed his mind and continued forward, deciding to risk it. As I also sped past, the lights had already changed to red. I checked my mirror; no blue Peugeot.
I exhaled, not realising until then that I’d been holding my breath. Still, my eyes flipped between the rear-view and wing mirrors. At any moment, I expected to see him behind me. Every red traffic light set my heart racing; the wait for a green light felt interminable; the fear he would catch up consumed my thoughts. Another look. No blue Peugeot. I shook my shoulders, trying to relieve the tension. Surely now I was safe.
As my breathing steadied, I started to feel a bit stupid. I’d over-reacted. Nothing in my recent sightings of the blue Peugeot suggested that the driver wished me harm, I reasoned. If he’d wanted to attack, abduct or kill me, there had been opportunities.
My fear had been amplified by panic. That happened. I’d suffered from anxiety for as long as I could remember. It crept up on me, sometimes stealthily but often unexpectedly, sheer, gut-wrenching terror which left my insides squeezed dry and my muscles stiff with knots.
Still, the voice in my head argued, he was definitely following me. Perhaps I should inform the police. Almost immediately, I dismissed the notion. What could they do? No crime had been committed and I had no clue to the identity of the driver. I couldn’t even tell them the registration number. No, I’d be wasting their time. After all, they’d been unable to do anything when Alice Drinkwater, another client, had been burgled while she lay asleep in bed.
‘They just gave me a number – a crime number, I think they called it – and told me they’d let me know if they recovered any of the stolen property,’ Alice wailed over a cup of tea, her many chins shaking with a combination of indignation and distress. ‘As if I’m worried about that. It’s the invasion of my home I’m worried about. I can’t bear to think of someone creeping about, rifling through my things, while I’m tucked up in my bed. I haven’t slept a wink since.’
Poor Alice. She had not been in the village very long and her husband of thirty-six years had recently left her for his PA. I did my best to reassure her, stayed with her while a locksmith changed the locks and put her in touch with the Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinator. Apart from that, there was little, it appeared, anyone could do.
I reached Chapelfield’s car park and reversed into a parking space. The dim, artificial lighting, the rumble of car engines and echoey thumps and rattles did little to soothe my frayed nerves. My mind might insist I was over-reacting but my body still quaked with pent-up fear. As I walked away from my Fiesta, I glanced nervously over my shoulder. The incident had shaken me, no question about it. A flash of blue in my peripheral vision made my heart lurch and muscles tense in anticipation. He was still following me; I hadn’t got away! I slipped through the glass doors and up the staircase leading to House of Fraser before I risked another look behind. No need to panic – it wasn’t him after all, not even a Peugeot.
‘Pull yourself together, Anna!’
An elderly woman walking towards me, laden with bags marked ‘Sale’ in big, red letters, gave me an odd look and I realised I’d uttered the words aloud.
‘Are you alright, love?’ she asked kindly. ‘You look very pale.’
‘I’m fine, thanks.’ I hurried on.
Why would someone be following me? Was he watching for a regular pattern, planning his move, deciding when best to pounce? If so, he’d soon discover I didn’t have a set routine. Most of my time was spent at home writing. I also did occasional, part-time work as a Girl Friday which meant I travelled when and wherever I was needed. These were usually one-off jobs; my writing schedule made me reluctant to commit to anything more regular. Today though, I wasn’t working. I’d driven the twenty-five-mile trip into Norwich for a shopping day with Madison, a close friend from university. A glance at my watch showed I was running late and I quickened my step.
Madison was waiting by the entrance to the café, her stocky frame leaning against the wall in an attitude of resignation. She was dressed casually in jeans and peering at something on her phone. With her shaggy, auburn curls, soulful, brown eyes and bouncy exuberance, she always reminded me of a spaniel puppy and the sight of her brought a smile to my face.
‘At last!’ she exclaimed as she greeted me with a hug. ‘I was wondering if you’d forgotten.’
‘Sorry.’ I clung to her a fraction too long. ‘Let’s get coffee. I’m buying.’
‘Is everything OK?’ Madison’s eyes narrowed as she stepped back. ‘You’re trembling!’
‘I’m fine.’ I flashed another smile, meant to reassure.
Her lips tightened as she watched me fumbling for my purse. Clearly, she wasn’t fooled but she waited until we were sitting at a corner table before interrogating me further.
‘OK,’ she said firmly as I clattered the tray onto the table. ‘What’s happened?’
She frowned, her raised eyebrows indicating disbelief.
‘Honestly, it really is nothing. I’ve probably just over-reacted to something, that’s all.’ As usual, I was reluctant to discuss my fears. I’d had a lot of practice at hiding things. My issues were a weakness I preferred to keep secret.
‘Anna, I’m sorry but I don’t believe you. Tell me what’s happened.’
I gave in. ‘You’re going to think I’m daft … the whole thing seems surreal now. Maybe I was just imagining it.’ I told her of my encounters with the blue Peugeot, concluding with today’s drama.
‘It could just be coincidence,’ Madison said slowly. ‘Have you told the police?’
‘No. It was only today I actually felt like I was being followed. Do you think I should?’
‘Maybe. It’s difficult when you have no evidence …’ She paused. ‘If you see that car parked anywhere near your house, you should definitely ring them … and you need to get the number plate.’
‘No kidding, Sherlock!’
‘Sorry!’ She gave me a rueful look. ‘If someone is following you, do you have any thoughts who it may be? I was listening to a programme on the radio the other week and they were talking about stalkers. Apparently, the majority are known to the victims, often ex-partners. Have you been out with any weirdos recently – anyone you haven’t told me about?’ She looked at me thoughtfully. ‘I know what you’re like. Men always make a beeline for you and you never have the heart to tell them to get lost.’
That was true. I’d even invented an imaginary boyfriend to put them off. Not all took rejection well.
‘You’ve been leading me on all night,’ one lad had sneered just a few weeks ago, slamming his beer glass down on the bar and pushing past me as he shuffled off. ‘Bitch!’
Disquiet at that latest incident came flooding back. What was his name? I couldn’t remember. Dave? That didn’t sound right but it was something like that. I was at a bar in Norwich with a group of friends from my spinning class. One of the girls, Fran, was celebrating her thirtieth birthday. The guy, whoever he was, had spent the evening telling me about his dad who had just been diagnosed with cancer. I’d tried to get away a few times but each time he’d forestalled me.
‘Just hang out with me for a bit longer, babe,’ he pleaded. ‘I don’t have anyone else to talk to and you’re a good listener.’
When he insisted on buying me another drink, I resigned myself to being a sympathetic ear for a little while longer. However, when he snaked his arm around my waist, I pulled away. That’s when I told him about Jeff, my boyfriend in the Marines whom I’d fabricated for just such occasions.
‘Is he here tonight?’ the guy asked belligerently. ‘If not, what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.’ He reached for me again and I spun away, irritated.
‘Sorry. Look, I’m here with friends,’ I said firmly. ‘I really must get back to them.’ He stalked off with a few more choice epithets. Could he have followed me home that night and been doing so ever since? The thought chilled my bones. It was terrifying to think someone I’d met might wish me harm.
‘What about that guy you went out with a while ago? You know, the gorgeous, dark one who was a bit off the rails. What was his name?’ Madison’s voice interrupted my thoughts.
‘Ewan Jacobs.’ I knew who she meant. He was good-looking and definitely wild. Our relationship was erratic, to say the least, and ended when I suspected he was taking drugs. He wasn’t one of my better choices. Now, I put it down to my rebellious phase.
‘Yeah, Ewan. I reckon he’d be the type to hold a grudge. He always acted like the world was against him. Had a bit of temper too … and you did finish with him, not the other way around.’
I filtered through the possibility. ‘No,’ I said, ‘I can’t see it. That was all done and dusted ages ago and I haven’t seen him since we broke up. Anyway,’ I smiled as something occurred to me, ‘it definitely couldn’t be him. You know what he was like. He wouldn’t have been seen dead driving an old, blue Peugeot!’
‘Good point. Well, I suppose it could be some random weirdo.’
‘Cheers for that happy thought.’
‘Sorry.’ She pushed back her chair. ‘Look, let’s go and hit the sales. A bargain will help you forget your troubles.’
My heart wasn’t really in it but I made an effort for Madison’s sake and relaxed as the day wore on. Initially, I found myself scanning fellow shoppers for anyone who might be paying me undue attention but soon wearied of the task. I’d never make a detective, I thought, trudging back to my car, laden with purchases, at the end of the day. Madison insisted on accompanying me to the car park and together we scoured the ranks of cars on the same level of the multi-storey. To my relief, there was no blue Peugeot with a dented bumper.
‘Right,’ said Madison, giving me a farewell hug. ‘If you see that car following you on the way home, I want you to turn around and come straight back to mine. Then we’ll phone the police together.’ She paused and gave me a stern look. ‘And make sure you’re extra vigilant at home too.’
‘Yes Mum.’ I tried for a confident smile but it fell a little short. In truth, my nerves had started jangling as the return journey loomed closer. I threw the bags onto the back seat of the car and slid behind the wheel. ‘I’ll phone when I get home.’
‘Make sure you do.’
Madison watched as her friend folded her tall, curvy frame into the driver’s seat and pushed her long, blonde hair behind her ears. With a final wave, Anna turned the key in the ignition and steered towards the exit.
‘Safe journey home,’ Madison called as the black Fiesta disappeared from view.
Balancing her many shopping bags on one arm, she reached for her phone from the capacious depths of her brown, leather handbag. As usual, prickles of guilt fluttered in her chest as she scrolled through her contacts.
‘Sorry Anna,’ she murmured while she waited for her call to be answered, ‘but it’s for your own good.’