"I could feel her heart beat
even though we were miles away"
Rescued from the only life she had ever known, Alannah Jackson learns what it means to be loved and not controlled. Finally able to let go of her past she begins a new life with the man who has shown her what love is. Faced with the truth, Alannah finds she can never escape her past or who she is. She will never love, only serve.
Roman’s love for Alannah is tested when he finds that she has been slaved by a man just as ruthless as Winston Nelson. Against his better judgement, he accepts Martin Holland’s offer to help retrain Alannah and he begins to question the love they shared. After Martin Holland makes it clear of his intentions, Roman stops at nothing to get her back. There is no room for another man in her life.
Contains adult content 18
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Businessman Cade King has fallen for the wrong woman. She's the daughter of a hitman, and he's the target.
After ten years of living in the shadow of the Irish mob, Gia Callaghan wants nothing more than to escape the darkness of her life. Her burning desire for answers about her past has her constantly plotting new ways to flee. When she comes face-to-face with the one man who might be able to help her, she'll have to decide exactly how much his life is worth.
Cade King's past is littered with questionable choices. He's made more mistakes than he can count, but he vows to be a better man.
When he meets Gia, his structured life turns upside down, and he must decide whether he's truly worthy of redemption. Can he protect a woman whose guard is even higher than his own, or will she end up saving him from himself?
As the tension and chemistry heat up between the two, they'll discover that life isn't always black and white.
A sizzling and suspenseful romance.
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When the Deringer pistol that shot Abraham Lincoln is stolen and ends up in the hands of a Russian military general, covert agent Blake Deco is tasked by the FBI to head to the Balkans to recover the historical weapon. Meanwhile, the United States media is abuzz with news of the mysterious disappearance of Hollywood movie star, Goldie St. Helen.
After Blake’s return from overseas, he receives a tip from a Mexican friend that a drug lord, obsessed with the beautiful actress, is holding her captive in Tijuana. With the help of a reluctant army friend, Blake mounts a daring rescue. What he doesn’t expect is to have feelings for Goldie—or that a killer is hunting them.
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The tall buildings around Washington, D.C.’s 10th Street overshadowed the historic Ford’s Theatre. Though the building had undergone refurbishment both inside and out, it still seemed slightly out of place in modern America. However, that didn’t stop the throngs of tourists visiting the building that June morning as wispy clouds threaded through the cerulean sky.
It was a crowded weekend day when Abraham Lincoln, in his overcoat, and two Union soldiers, their faces covered with bandanas, stepped out of the van. They meandered past the theater’s five historic doorways toward the modern glass entrance. Everyone assumed they were part of a promotion taking place at the museum. It was not uncommon to see park rangers and tour guides dressed in period costumes.
The man behind the Lincoln mask was Rick Walker—at least, that was the name he was currently going by. Highly educated, the thirty-six-year-old professional thief had a penchant for the fast life. If the assignment was a success today, he’d promised his girlfriend a nice holiday.
Two female park rangers stepped forward when Rick and his companions reached the front of the line.
“You have to get in line, sir. Also, you need to get tickets. Kindly remove the mask and bandanas before entering,” one of the park rangers said.
“I do apologize, madam, but I’m in a bit of a hurry,” Rick said. “I don’t think I need a ticket, nor do I have to get in line given who I am.”
“That’s the only way you’re going to get in,” the park ranger said.
“Well, if you insist, madam, and once again, please accept my apologies.” Rick bowed and tipped his hat, then extended a hand to the park ranger, who instinctively took it.
Rick grabbed her wrist tightly and locked it to his own with a steel cuff.
“What are you doing?” the park ranger yelled, trying to jerk her hand away.
“Getting acquainted,” Rick said.
The park ranger reached for the walkie-talkie strapped to her belt, but Rick snatched it away from her. Frantically, she turned to the other park ranger. “Get security!”
One of the two Union soldiers dropped his prop rifle and grabbed the other park ranger’s hand, then cuffed her wrist to his own. He pulled out a real gun tucked under his waistband and aimed it at her.
Rick unbuttoned the jacket of his three-piece suit and brandished the bomb strapped to his chest.
“Bomb! Bomb!” a young teenager in the line shrieked.
Pandemonium broke out as the screams of panic amplified. People ran in every direction. Those who moved slowly were slammed aside, or knocked over.
Rick pulled the ranger cuffed to him aside. “We’re going downstairs, and we’re going to take the Deringer. Obey your president,” he said in a hollow voice.
“Yes, sir,” the park ranger said as beads of sweat formed on her forehead.
They descended by elevator and emptied into an interactive museum. The wealth of history in the dimly lit space featured original artifacts in glass showcases, furniture, statues, murals, and narrative devices. The visitors already in the museum scattered wildly at the sight of a man in a Lincoln mask displaying a bomb strapped to his chest, a park ranger cuffed to his wrist.
“Show’s over, folks,” Rick yelled. “Go!”
The park ranger guided her captors to a section in the museum where the Deringer floated in an oblong glass case capped at both ends with wood. A mural behind it depicted John Wilkes Booth firing a single shot at Abraham Lincoln as he sat in the theater box.
The Union soldier not cuffed to a park ranger took out a glasscutter from his coat pocket and began to cut a circle in the glass. When it popped free, he inserted his hand inside and yanked out the Deringer.
“We’re going to take you with us. Don’t give me trouble. If you behave, you’ll be back home in time for dinner with the family,” Rick said, dragging the park ranger closer to him. “Understand?”
The park ranger nodded once, nervously.
“Excellent,” Rick said.
They exited through the theater’s main door and stepped out into the empty street. The crowd had dispersed. Some had regrouped tensely a few hundred meters away at both ends. “Cheer up—it’s going to be a fun day,” Rick said, walking toward the van.
The park ranger with Rick raised her voice. “Please, please, let us go. I don’t want to die.”
“Well, behave and everything will be fine.” He opened the side, forced her in and jumped in after her. He shut the door after the accomplice had climbed in with the second park ranger.
The van began to move off.
“Hallelujah!” Rick yelled in excitement behind the mask as he sat at the back of the van. He removed the cuff from his wrist and secured the park ranger onto a railing.
“We’ll be arriving in five,” the driver said after a few blocks. “You know what to do.”
“I sure do,” Rick said as he removed the bomb strapped to his chest. Still wearing the mask, he looked at the hostages. “Don’t worry about the bomb, it’s fake.”
He unhooked a tote bag from the wall and began removing the contents. Facing away from the hostages, he removed the Lincoln mask and slipped into casual attire. He hid his face by putting on a red baseball cap and a pair of dark shades then stuffed the costume into the bag and swung it over his shoulder.
Rick looked again at the park rangers. “Look on the bright side—now you get to tell visitors a different story at the museum.”
The Union soldier in the back with him handed over the Deringer, which Rick slipped into the bag.
The driver slowed down and stopped behind a parked car.
“All good outside?” Rick asked.
“Yeah…all good. I parked a few cars behind us,” the driver replied, looking at the side mirror.
“Okay. Nice doing business with you guys.” Rick pulled open a trapdoor in the center of the floorboard, slid out, and slithered under the parked car in front of the van.
The van pulled away from the curb and sped down the street. After a minute, Rick rolled onto the road, got up, and walked toward the park at Judiciary Square on the Red Line and descended into the Metro.
A day later, Rick sat at a café with his eyes glued to the screen of a laptop, drinking a hot latte with his back against the wall. He scanned the faces of everyone who entered. Though he wasn’t expecting trouble, he remained vigilant.
“Is it in yet?” the tall blonde sitting across from him asked.
He scratched the roughness of his stubble as he continued to stare at the screen. “Not yet.”
Moments later, the figures on his account changed. A new deposit had been registered: ten million dollars.
Rick lifted his eyes. “Darling.”
“Remember, we’re in a public place, so don’t scream.”
She leaned forward. “It’s in?”
Rick wriggled his eyebrows. “Pack your bags. We’re going on a holiday, as I promised.”
Dr Beth Nichols thinks she has been held captive by Edwin Evans for about 8 or 9 years now. Amidst her grief she often looks back and thinks about her fiancée Liam; theirs was the greatest romance of all. She lays awake at night staring at the one light bulb that is never switched off, and prays that he is still out there somewhere searching for her...
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MY HEAD IS pounding, and a bright light above ensures I quickly have to close my eyes again. Feeling nauseated, I lie still, using my other senses to try and recognise sounds or a particular aroma which could confirm to me that I am still in the accommodation unit. However, I can hear nothing at all; not even the usual birdsong, and there is an unaccountably earthy, damp smell. Suddenly curious, I fight sickness and confusion to sit up and take note of my surroundings.
I have no idea where I am. I am lying on top of a double bed. It is not the bed where I wrap myself contentedly around Liam. There is a duvet beneath me covered with a surprisingly clean-looking lilac flowery cover, which is complete with matching sheets and pillow cases. There does not seem to be any other furniture. There are no windows, and the bare bulb above my head is the only source of light.
Slightly panicky now and ignoring the increased hammering in my brain, I stand up shakily on the cold, concrete floor. The room is quite small, and I reach the only visible door after taking just a few steps. It is not the sort of door that I could break down. I turn the handle, but it refuses to yield.
I am locked in. I want to scream in fright, but stop myself at the last moment from sliding into rampant hysteria. I reason that whoever is keeping me in the room against my will would not want me making too much noise which might alert searchers to my location. I figure that I need to keep on the right side of my captor.
Dead Man's Hand
What happens when the deck is stacked against you…
From NFL rising-star prospect to wanted fugitive, Calvin Watters is a sadistic African-American Las Vegas debt-collector framed by a murderer who, like the Vegas Police, finds him to be the perfect fall-guy.
…and the cards don't fall your way?
When the brutal slaying of a prominent casino owner is followed by the murder of a well-known bookie, Detective Dale Dayton is thrown into the middle of a highly political case and leads the largest homicide investigation in Vegas in the last twelve years.
What if you're dealt a Dead Man's Hand?
Against his superiors and better judgment, Dayton is willing to give Calvin one last chance. To redeem himself, Calvin must prove his innocence by finding the real killer, while avoiding the LVMPD, as well as protect the woman he loves from a professional assassin hired to silence them.
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This time, it’s not a job.
After proving his innocence as a murder suspect, taking down an assassin, and being an instrumental part in solving a high profile murder, Calvin Watters believes he can finally move on—until Ace Sanders’ prison escape catapults him into action.
This time, it’s personal!
Something has always bothered Detective Dale Dayton about the arrest of Ace Sanders. Call it police intuition, but his inner ‘cop alarm’ keeps twitching. When Dale reopens the case, he’s introduced to new evidence that leads him into a political nightmare.
Who will play the Wild Card to survive?
While Calvin tracks Sanders across continents and into unknown, unfriendly surroundings, Dale remains in Vegas to uncover the truth behind police corruption, prison escapes and hired assassins. But Calvin and Dale must be vigilant, because there’s a deadly, new player in town.
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Calvin Watters laid his head back on the pillow, stretched out his long, muscular, dark-skinned body, then rested his hands behind his head. He released a sigh of pure pleasure, a sound he hadn’t made in a very long time. Calvin felt more relaxed than he had in years. Grabbing the remote, he flipped to ESPN just in time to see an exclusive interview with his former USC teammate, Toby Jenkins.
Rachel climbed into bed beside him wearing a sexy, black Victoria Secret lace and satin slip he’d never seen before, and nuzzled her head on his bare chest. The new, dark lingerie contrasted perfectly with her smooth, pale skin.
She snuggled him tightly, giving him light, butterfly kisses on his arms and rock-hard abdomen. Calvin could feel her warm breath on his skin and it stirred him deep within.
Calvin smiled. “You’re in a good mood tonight.”
She continued to kiss his body, moving upwards towards his neck before planting a deep, passionate, wet kiss on his lips. She gently bit his bottom lip and tugged on it playfully. She pulled away and smiled.
“Wow, what brought that on?” he asked.
“I’m just really happy. And it’s all because of you.”
“I can see that. What did I do?”
“Everything we’ve planned, dreamed about, is coming true.”
Calvin nodded. “It’s not a fairy tale, but even I couldn’t have predicted things would be this good. Did you think a former leg-breaker and ex-hooker would make the perfect couple, the perfect team?”
“Never doubted it for a second.”
Calvin gently touched her chin, tilting Rachel’s head up so that he could look into her electric-blue eyes. The admiration in her gaze was all he needed to know how she felt about him. He loved the way it made him feel.
“You are my knight in shining armor,” she joked, nestling in tight.
Calvin liked the way that felt, too. It hadn’t taken them long to become completely comfortable with each other since that first night. They’d been through so much together in such a short time.
An improbable match made in heaven. They’d both ended up on the streets of Vegas, running away from a troubled past and looking for brighter lights.
Rachel, alone on the streets with no friends or prospects, had turned to prostitution, leaving home and an abusive stepfather.
Calvin believed that had she remained there, without his help, she’d have ended up another statistic. No happy endings, no Cinderella stories on the streets of Vegas. “Pretty Woman” was complete fiction.
Calvin’s downward spiral had started with his career-ending injury at USC. The torn ACL had taken several surgeries just to allow him to walk. He’d lost his full scholarship and fell into a pool of self-denial and self-loathing. He never thought he’d ever get out of that rut.
Their chance meeting turned both their lives around. They’d encouraged each other, and made sure they’d succeed.
Rachel rested her head on Calvin’s chest and released a soft, muffled sigh of complete and intense pleasure. “What’s on?”
“Just an interview with my former college teammate. They’re doing a documentary on Jenkins, how he became a great NFL running back.” Calvin tried not to sound bitter, but how could he not? Even though he’d gotten over it, turned his life around and moved on, there was still a sour taste in his mouth from how it had gone down.
“Wasn’t he your backup at USC?” She watched Jenkins sprinting down the football field on TV.
“Yep. I was the starter, and he sat on the bench watching me break records.He couldn’t carry my jockstrap back then. Now he makes eight million a season for the Chargers. If I hadn’t been so selfish, and had done what was best for the team, that would be me.”
“Please, let’s not get into this again.” Rachel turned her head and looked at Calvin. She smiled and winked, running the back of her fingers down the middle of his chest and underneath the blankets.
“You’re much sexier.”
“I’m over it.”
He wrapped his arms around her and rolled over, pressing his lips firmly against hers. Their bodies melted into each other.
He gently kissed her neck and slid the black satin strap off Rachel’s shoulder, kissing a spray of collar bone freckles, moving his tongue lightly down to her breast, and gently sucking on an erect nipple. He pulled himself back as much as he could, trying to take things slowly, but he had the urge to rip the slip completely off and take Rachel immediately.
A sharp warning buzz from the TV startled him. “We interrupt this regularly scheduled program for a special, emergency news bulletin.”
Calvin ignored the report and returned his attention to his hotter-than-hell girlfriend, ready and waiting. Rachel’s trust and loyalty was all he needed. But in the back of his mind, he had the temporary satisfaction of knowing that Toby Jenkins’ interview was being interrupted. Okay, maybe he wasn’t completely over it.
“This just in—Derek Baxter, a former United States Marine, escaped military confinement and is now on the run.”
The name jolted his bones. Calvin turned and Rachel sat up. He grabbed the remote and raised the volume.
A newscaster appeared on the screen. “Baxter was wanted in connection to the shooting death of a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officer last year. After a week-long man hunt, he was brought into custody by the United States Military, because of an outstanding, special, high-priority warrant against him.”
Rachel let out a low screech. She grabbed Calvin’s arm. “What’s going on?”
Calvin raised his hand to quiet her, so he could hear the report.
“Baxter had been a highly-decorated officer who received two purple-hearts during two military tours. At one time, Derek Baxter was considered the military’s top sniper, elite class, before a being dishonorably discharged in 2005.”
A picture of Baxter flashed on screen. The pale face and dead eyes brought up a storm of emotion. Calvin’s heartbeat quickened.
Rachel put her hand to her mouth. “Oh, my God. That’s the guy who tried to kill us.”
Calvin’s jaw muscles tensed. He swallowed hard. A lump formed in his stomach as pain flared in his chest. Baxter’s picture brought back vivid memories. No matter how much mental weeding Calvin tried to do, that bastard had left a lasting impression.
“Baxter was last seen at an airport in Fallbrook. Local authorities say the ex-marine could be headed anywhere, is armed and considered extremely dangerous. Anyone with information should contact…”
Calvin shut off the TV.
“Fallbrook is in California. Is Baxter coming back for us?” Rachael asked.
Calvin shook his head. “I don’t think so. He wouldn’t do anything that stupid.” But he knew he didn’t sound convincing, because he wasn’t sure. He knew Derek Baxter, had a deep connection with the man, and the professional assassin was capable of anything.
He probably still held a grudge over what Calvin had done to him.
Rachel shook. “We shut down our lives because of that guy. We spent four days locked up, hiding from both the police and that psycho.”
“I can’t do it again.” Tears moistened her eyes.
Calvin reached for her narrow shoulders and pulled her in close.
She buried her head into his chest. He could smell the Jasmine shampoo she used in her sandy-blond hair as her warm tears traced over his skin.
“You don’t have to, Rachel. Baxter isn’t coming back. He’d be crazy to. The whole country is searching for him. He’ll probably disappear and never be heard from again.” But Calvin knew first-hand just how crazy Derek Baxter really was—and he was that crazy.
Rachel pulled away. “Are you sure?”
He looked into her tear-soaked eyes, trying to remain composed.
He felt queasy, his palms sweaty and his breathing labored.
“I’m gonna call Dale.”
He tried not to look or sound worried, but that’s all he felt.
With the death of her father…
Officer Charlene Taylor has received her dream promotion—working Homicide with the LAPD. Her first case is the high-profile murder of Ken Anderson, a playboy UCLA professor with a haunted past. A mafia kingpin, billionaire tycoon, cheated wife and jaded lover are only a few on a long list of suspects, all with motive and opportunity.
…all hope of reconciliation is lost.
Not only does she feel the pressure from media and her boss to solve her first case, but Charlene must also deal with her father’s murderer, the “Celebrity Slayer,” a serial killer who enjoys baiting her with his knowledge of her life and routines.
Can a rookie detective work two high-profile cases and still keep her sanity?
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He pulled the old Honda into the dark, abandoned alley, killed the lights, and cut the engine. Even with the windows up, the stench of urine, vomit, and waste assaulted him. The steady, dismal downpour did nothing to conceal it.
The slow, light drizzle had not diminished the latest LA heat wave, but with its subtropical-Mediterranean climate, rain was a welcomed event.
Parked next to a rusty, dented blue dumpster, Martin Taylor adjusted his Dodger hat, his alert eyes scanning the deserted area.
There was nothing to see except three cinder-block, graffiti-designed walls, as the disinvested buildings had been gutted and vacated. The only sound was the relentless hum of Asian music from the back door of a Chinese takeout restaurant.
He didn’t like it. He was almost trapped within the u-shaped alley, with nowhere to turn his vehicle. He’d thought about backing in because, as it was, any chance of a quick, clean getaway would be impossible. But he needed this lead. Not just for the city, but for his ego.
He checked his watch. He was ten minutes early, so Martin took the time to think about the phone call that had lured him to the area known as Skid Row, in downtown Los Angeles.
He remembered the downtown as it was in the ’70s, when the sites and attractions drew both residents and tourists, but the economic downturn had changed all of that. From where he sat, he could hear the city’s Metro rapid transit system running throughout the night.
Now there was a new threat in town: The Celebrity Slayer, so dubbed by the media.
The serial killer was devastating the city, taking lives and leaving angry, malicious scenes—scenes that also left behind no criminal evidence to sort.
He was killing ‘B’ list celebrities, but his actions, his talents, were anything but ‘B’ list. The LAPD’s resources were running dry trying to find the guy. T, but the media was having a field day. The paparazzi, ETalk, Entertainment Tonight, Radar Online, were playing to the madman’s ego, feeding his narcissistic personality.
He had become a celebrity overnight.
Less than an hour ago, a call had come in on Martin’s cell phone, someone claiming to have pertinent information concerning the
Celebrity Slayer file. He was given this address. But he still couldn’t figure out how a stranger had gotten his unlisted number. That alone chilled him to the bone, but in this day and age, the internet was a highway of information and anyone could get anything. It wasn’t always a positive advancement.
Movement to his left. His eyes moved quickly, darting like a cat pouncing on a mouse.
He threw on the headlights but the beams didn’t cover the side wall. When he saw a form appear out of the shadows and approach the vehicle, Martin rolled down his window and touched his shoulder holster. Then the body moved into the light, and Martin released the grip on his pistol handle.
“What are you doing here?” Martin asked, a look of both concern and surprise registering on his face. He looked around the alley. “Is Charlie here? Did you follow me?”
When his questions went unanswered, Martin felt a strange sensation rise in his chest. Something was wrong, out of place.
That’s when he knew. His neck tingled and the hairs sprung on his arms.
He went for his gun a second too late. The killer had a silenced weapon drawn, and had stuck it through the open window frame.
“It can’t be you.” Martin realized the words came out as more of a statement than a question.
“Where’s the file?” the man asked in a curt voice.
“What file?” Stall him.
But when he looked into the eyes of the deranged killer, Martin Taylor saw that deep in the back of those eyes a hatred darker than night burned, and a homicidal maniac struggled for release.
How could I have missed it?
The last thing he thought before feeling the burning sensation of hot lead was that his daughter was in grave danger.
Jack Gard and Catlyn Lyte become friends in high school. Although he cares for Catlyn, Jack refuses to get into a relationship with Catlyn, due to her age. Then Catlyn is raped and her world is torn apart when Jack sides with his best friend. Devastated, Catlyn flees Newburgh, NY.
25 years later, someone is raping and killing young black females in Jack Gard, Chief of Detectives' hometown. Working against an escalating killer, Jack requests help from a special division of the FBI.
Enter Supervisory Special Agent Catlyn Lyte. She has always done her job well but is wary of working with someone she doesn't trust. Sparks fly between the two officials as Catlyn puts herself in the path of their quarry.
Can two ex-friends bury their differences to solve not only the mystery of the Newburgh Slasher, but also the one that ruined their budding romance 25 years ago?
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Miles Lundy, a decorated detective from New Jersey is a stand-up guy…. on paper. He lands his dream job right out of college and manages to work his way up within the Police department by the time he’s thirty-five despite the odds stacked against him. He eventually marries the love of his life, Shayne and proceeds to make a life for himself and his wife. Miles has knack for trying to always do the right thing. His only vice is his weakness for the ladies. With an addiction to the feminine physique and a reputation for loving, leaving and moving on to the next, drama ensues.
Shayne has managed to look the other way for years when faced with her husband’s indiscretions. But how many second chances does it take to get to fed up? Shayne un covers yet another of Miles' infidelities, but this one proves to be far more damaging than she could have imagined. Slowly, Shayne’s sanity starts to slip away and a Savage is born. Sick of playing the victim, She sets out to seek sweet revenge stopping at nothing to show Miles’ how expensive the cost of screwing over the wrong woman can be. A deadly course of events brings Miles face to face with his sins leaving him waist deep in a web of lies, betrayal and Murder. Will Miles have the strength to fight his demons and be the man that he set out to be, or will karma have something a little different in mind?
Lashae Latimore a fresh new author on the scene, refers to her style of writing as the cross between the vivid storytelling of Mary Monroe and the gritty urban feel of Terri Woods. Using her love for the African American fiction genre as the driving force, Lashae hopes to bring a new flavor to the African American Fiction genre.
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Eastway Academy, a shadowy organization steeped in espionage, values obedience above all else. Although a well-trained agent in his third year, 16-year-old Davy Prince struggles to find his morals when every mission seems to put innocent lives at risk. How will Davy react when sabotage turns an already risky job into an all-out struggle for survival?
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“Camelot is ready. The operation is a go,” a voice crackled through the transceiver in my ear. The mission was being initiated and a part of me was annoyed. Only halfway through my fried chicken, I was still pretty hungry. I hadn’t eaten since the night before, since the plane ride down that morning served no breakfast. Given that I was going to meet with a drug kingpin in a few minutes, the last thing I wanted was for my stomach to be growling.
I sat in the first-floor food court of the Franklin Building, El Paso’s premier commercial block and the headquarters of the global fast-food chain Beef n’ Wings. It was just after noon and the area stirred with visitors eager for their lunch. From my position I could see two other field agents, the only other two in the building. Far off to my right, just outside the crowds and colorful cacophony of restaurants, a hulking teenage boy seemed to have the same idea I had as he snacked on a beef hot dog from one of the stands. He wore a blue hard hat with matching blue overalls and heavy-looking harnesses which clung to his body. At his side he loosely held a squeegee as well as some napkins, presumably for his meal. After taking a big gulp, his lips began to move. It was much too noisy in the food court to pick up any word he was saying naturally, but on the transceiver I could hear him perfectly. “Percival is ready. Let’s get this over with.”
At the booming sound of Leon’s voice, I covered my ear nervously, realizing that there was an elderly couple the next table over. There was a good chance they heard nothing, and an even greater chance that they wouldn’t have cared anyway, but one could never be too careful, especially with jobs in public areas. Far off to my right, near the elevators, a small boy lay crouched in the corner, trying his best to stealthily fiddle with an air vent grate next to him. I was only two years his senior, but people most often mistook him for being far younger. He had long, greasy hair and pale skin, products of his indoorsy lifestyle. Out of the three of us in the building, his T-shirt and shorts were probably the most appropriate for the balmy weather outside. His high-pitched voice rang up in my ear, “Kay’s ready. The grate’s off.”
“Proceed with caution,” a young female voice ordered. It belonged to Mabel, one half of this mission’s ‘Camelot,’ or control center. She and another operative, Charlie, gave orders from a different, undisclosed part of town. On their computers, they watched live feeds of the Franklin Building and the surrounding area taken from security cameras and other hacked equipment.
With the go-ahead, Ozzy checked the area directly around him carefully. Then, he swiftly slipped into the air duct, replacing the grate once inside. I made sure not to look at him directly while he did this, as I didn’t want him to attract unwanted attention. It was at this point I realized that it was my turn to check in. Taking one last swig of soda, I said, “Galahad’s ready. Looking for a visual on the target.”
Our target today pertained to Garret Beauregard, the CEO of Beef n’ Wings himself, whose products I was currently sampling. Since the Academy’s clients are allowed to stay anonymous, we almost never know whom we’re working for or for what reason.
As I scanned the first floor for our very special guest, one final voice rang over the transceiver. This one was female like Mabel’s but much deeper, as well as much more mature, practically adult. “Lancelot is ready. I have a visual of the office,” she said. It was Johanna, who at eighteen was the oldest member of our team. As our sniper, if and when things got ugly, she was the first one to pull the trigger. Even on a crackling transceiver, one could still detect the soft yet ambiguous tone of voice. It was very hard to tell if in the next sentence she was going to compliment you or warn you of your imminent death. “Galahad, the Fisher King’s car was just sent down to the parking lot,” she continued. “He should be in there.”
“Just a sec,” I insisted, practically standing on my seat, trying to look through the ocean of people before me. Then, like the Red Sea obeying Moses, the crowd seemed to thin just long enough for me to spot a bigger-looking man with a white cowboy hat. He, along with a couple of men next to him, wore an expensive-looking suit, not unlike the one I donned that day. “I see him. I have a visual on the Fisher King,” I whispered into my transceiver. “He’s with . . . three other guys. They armed?”
“This is Texas, man,” Charlie replied. “What do you think?”
“Lovely,” I sighed, standing up and throwing away my half-eaten lunch. “He’s headed to the elevator. Permission to pursue?”
“Granted,” Mabel said. Her voice became higher, as it usually did when she knew danger was afoot. “Now hurry up; five men can’t fit in that elevator.”
“Roger,” I responded. Speeding across the food court, I wove my way through the people until I found myself by the shiny elevator doors, standing next to Beauregard and his well-dressed friends. As I waited for the doors to open, I tried my best to avoid eye contact. Beauregard, on an impulse of hospitality, said, “You’re pretty dressed up, sonny. On a hot date?”
I gave one last silent mental grimace before lighting up my face with a bright smile, turning to the wealthy gentleman. Enthusiastically, I spouted, “Haha! Very funny, sir. I’m starting an internship upstairs, so obviously I have to look my very best.”
“Internship? Where?” the CEO pressed.
I produced a crumpled slip of paper from my pocket and read, “Floor thirty-five, room three. It’s with Beef n’ Wings. You know them? The super-famous-surprisingly-nutritious fast-food chain? I love all their meals.”
“Huh,” the president gave a tentative smile. He extended his hand, “Well isn’t this your lucky day? Garret Beauregard, president of Beef n’ Wings, at your service.”
I sucked in, trying to contain all my feigned excitement, “The Garret Beauregard? Founder of Beef n’ Wings? Inventor of the $1.50 menu? Restaurant Monthly’s ninth most powerful man in fast food? David Jones, I’m, like, your biggest fan!” I shook his hand fervently.
Beauregard chuckled, maybe amused by my antics. “I didn’t even know I had fans! Pleasure to meet you, boy.”
“We’re going radio silent on Galahad,” Charlie buzzed in my ear. “Keep on his good side and look for an opening.”
I absentmindedly scratched my ear, switching off my transceiver. My only connection with the rest of my operatives was severed. Now, I was all alone.
The elevator to the right gave a faint ding and the doors quietly spread open. Beauregard, two men from his entourage, and I crammed into the elevator. Just as Mabel had predicted, one of the gentlemen volunteered to stay outside, promising to take the next lift up. Right before the doors shut, I managed to spot Leon, squeegee in hand, breaking from the crowd and departing the building.
As I felt the elevator lift us, there was a twinge of anxiety, realizing that I was now stuck in an enclosed space with three armed men. I was allowed to be nervous. A little nervousness was fine; I was pretending to be a student on his first day as an intern.
“This your first time in the city, blondie?” he asked me, reminding me that I was wearing a blond wig in addition to thick-rimmed glasses to hide my identity.
“You bet!” I said, keeping my enthusiasm high. I brushed my artificial bangs to the side. Out of all the wigs I’d worn over the course of hundreds of missions, this was my least favorite. It was long, got in my eyes, never fit my head right, and suspiciously smelled of cottage cheese. Regardless, wig selection at the Academy was limited, and every one had to be worn once in a while.
“So, you’re from the country, then? Don’t look like much of a country fella . . . which town?”
“Um, it’s a real small town, south of here,” I said, trying my best to stay vague.
“South of El Paso?” Beauregard gave me a very confused look.
“I mean north! Just a little north,” I corrected myself, rubbing my head. “Sorry, my mind’s not working straight today. Still trying to process the fact that I got to meet you.”
“Right, right,” Beauregard nodded understandingly. “Yeah, it’s pretty easy to tell that you’re not south of the border. Be able to smell you a mile away!”
The three men laughed heartily. I forced a light chuckle while the hunger in the pit of my stomach changed to disgust. With another ding we arrived on floor thirty-five and stepped off. For an extravagant fast-food brand, their headquarters looked pretty ordinary. The walls and carpets were white, and the faint but stinging odor of hand sanitizer wafted through the air. “Welcome to where the magic happens!” Beauregard extended his arm toward the lobby, looking like an artist revealing their magnum opus.
“Gee whiz!” I exclaimed.
The president, still flanked by his two men, who I presumed were his bodyguards, approached the front desk and rang the bell, getting the secretary’s attention. “Yes, Mr. Beauregard?”
“Got an intern with me,” the man declared. “His name’s David Jones. I was wondering where I could put him.”
“Intern? Sir, new internships don’t begin until the summer.”
My heart skipped a beat. The moment of truth had arrived. “They said I was a special case when they drove me over here,” I said, injecting myself into the conversation. “Please, just check your computer.”
Marcy shifted her mouse around, making a quick series of clicks. “Okay . . . here it is. David Jones, intern, arriving today . . . ” She looked up at me and then back down to her screen. I whispered a silent prayer to Charlie, the master hacker. A few clicks later, the secretary looked up again. “Yeah, everything looks good. Funny, I don’t remember—”
“Well, everything checks out!” I interrupted. “Where should I go?”
Beauregard gestured to one of his guards. “Samson here will take good care of you, kid. Now, I’ve got a little meeting to go to, but I’ll see you around, okay?”
Not counting on it. “Okay!” I cheerfully chirped. “Oh my gosh, this is all so exciting!”
I followed Samson down a hallway, away from Beauregard and the lobby. He directed me through a door, into a room darker than the hallway. Chairs lined the walls and a vacant table with a picnic cloth sat in the center of the room. “Um, this is where we usually bring interns in the summer. There’d be, like, food on the tables and we’d get someone to give you an introduction. Usually it’s this hot brunette from marketing.”
“Uh-huh,” I absentmindedly nodded, no longer bothering to keep up my fake excitement. As the door closed behind us, I began to fiddle through suit pockets.
Samson, clearly unsure of what to do, continued to ramble. “Yeah, I actually used to be an intern here, once. I was raised right up in Anthony. Wait, where did you say you were from again? ’Cuz I remember—”
Samson’s sentence was cut off as I stabbed a syringe into the side of his throat—one swift and precise movement. As I injected him, the man managed to make a few gargled sounds before collapsing to the floor. I immediately checked for a pulse. Toxins were always difficult, because they needed to be the perfect amount. Too little would have no effect. Too much and you kill the poor guy. After confirming a heartbeat under my fingertips, I quietly dragged him under the table and switched my transceiver back on. “Galahad here. I’m in.”
“Excellent,” I heard Charlie say. “Kay? Do you copy? Time to shine.”
“Roger.” Just as Ozzy’s voice registered in my ear the already dark room went pitch black. I heard the gentle hum of the air conditioning die, leaving a vacuum of silence.
The power to the floor had been cut.
I stepped back into the hallway, listening to the murmurs of confusion in some of the office rooms as I made my way back to the lobby. Beauregard’s office was down the opposing hallway to the right, just out of the view of a befuddled secretary.
“Security cameras are now running on reserve power. We have a visual of you, Galahad. The conference was supposed to last until one thirty, but who knows how Beauregard will react to a blackout. Just get in and get out.”
“Roger, Camelot.” The room itself differed greatly from the rest of what I’d seen from the floor. Looking beyond the expensive chairs and enormous desk you’d expect from an egocentric executive, an array of mounted cattle heads dominated the wall to my right while a single enormous painting was to my left. I thought the latter was actually a pretty nice picture until I realized it depicted a native getting clubbed to death by a settler with the stock of his shotgun. The wall opposing me filtered noon sunlight into the otherwise dark office, making the “art” that occupied the walls cast eerie shadows. I stood for a moment, dumbfounded.
“Galahad, we see you in the office. What’s your status?”
“I’m fine,” I assured, trying to collect myself. “This guy . . . he’s really something, isn’t he?” Trying to ignore the Texan stereotypes around me, I approached Beauregard’s desk and rummaged through the papers left on top of it.
“Find anything?” Mabel asked.
“What do you think?” I said, now making my way to the cabinets. “Why would he just leave it on his desk?”
“I don’t know, maybe he has a bit before going to his conferences,” Charlie suggested. “I mean, have you seen the new Beef n’ Wings commercials? The person who conceived those was clearly high.”
Allowing myself a small chuckle, I furiously tore open every cabinet under and around the desk. All were unlocked and all contained meaningless folders and files; nothing I was concerned with. “The Grail’s not anywhere near the desk,” I said. “Are you sure it’s in here?”
“The intel’s good, I swear,” Mabel retorted, her voice getting excited. “I have the transaction data right in front of me. The pickup isn’t until tomorrow, and it definitely entered that room. Where else could it be?”
Feeling a knot grow in my stomach, I meticulously scanned the room, trying to look in a new perspective as I stood behind the desk. The painting was still horrible, the carpet was the same, and the ceiling was the same. The mounted busts, now to my right, were a different story. As my eyes studied the vacant expressions on the cattle’s faces, it became evident that something was wrong. “One of the heads is crooked.”
“One of the cattle heads is crooked,” I repeated, advancing toward the busts. The more I focused and the closer I got, the clearer it was that my hunch was correct. “The white bull in the center. It must be…” Firmly grasping the horns of the trophy, I began to pull. It was much heavier than I had imagined—causing me to pause to catch my breath at one point while it was halfway out of the wall—but I managed to have the head at my feet within a minute. In its place, I was greeted with a pleasant new surprise. A black, open hole; a gaping wound in the wall. “Can you guys see from your camera what I see?”
“I see it!” Mabel said excitedly, now for the right reasons. “What’s inside?”
My hand reached into the newly opened gap. It wasn’t a built-in compartment, rather a crude cavity created by someone smashing the wall open. As my hand wrapped around an object, I felt my heartbeat quicken. “I have something. Heavy. Leather. Maybe rectangular.”
“Sounds like the Grail to me . . .”
My arm was now almost out of the hole, awkwardly handling the package that had been lodged in the wall. With one final tug, a briefcase slid out of the wall and fell with a soft thud on the carpet. A tepid smile growing on my lips, I brought it over to the desk for a closer inspection in the light. Looking near the handle, my small grin immediately dissipated. “It’s got a lock on it. I repeat, the briefcase has a lock.”
“’Cuz hiding it in the freaking wall wasn’t secure enough for this guy,” Charlie remarked, irritated.
“Yep, there’s a latch here. It needs a three-number code,” I confirmed, examining the mechanism closely.
“Okay, let’s think this through,” Mabel said, now practically panting. “I can . . . I can access old security archives! Yeah! Yeah, maybe one of them has him with the briefcase, and we can zoom in on the numbers . . . ”
Mabel’s thoughts came to an abrupt end when I smashed the briefcase into the corner of the desk, shattering the lock.
“ . . . Or you can do that.”
Taking a deep breath, I opened the case. I was greeted by what we were calling in this mission the Holy Grail, all twenty kilos of it, packed together in six different plastic bags.
“Do we have confirmation?”
“Well, pretty sure this isn’t chicken seasoning,” I commented. “Percival, are you there? It’s time to go.”
Just as I spoke, the office door opened. I turned around, realizing it was Beauregard. The two of us stared at each other, shocked. The room was now dead silent, so quiet that Beauregard could probably hear Mabel buzz, “Green Plan AA-01 has been compromised. Initiate Green Plan AA-07.”
Beauregard was the first to recover from the initial shock. He peeked back into the hallway and, making sure everything was clear, shut the door. “I don’t believe you’re supposed to be in this wing, boy.”
I remained silent, seemingly speechless. Inside I had regained focus, but chose not to show it on the outside. Waiting for him to make his move, I observed his hands and facial expressions, trying to get a read on what he was going to do next.
“Galahad,” Johanna softly crackled on the transceiver. “Get down so I can take a shot. I believe it’s time for the Fisher King to exit our fable.”
“Roger,” I muttered under my breath.
“Well son,” Beauregard sighed, reaching into his coat and pulling out a white pistol. “Sorry ’bout this. Some things are best left secret, hm?”
“Couldn’t agree more,” I said, dropping to my knees.
Just as the president readjusted his aim down at me, the window behind us broke. A dash of crimson burst onto Beauregard’s chest and the man shifted awkwardly. There was a slight pause and a light groan before he collapsed to the floor. Hearing a commotion begin outside from the noise, I hastily grabbed a chair and blocked the door before grabbing the briefcase and waiting by the now-shattered office window. Leon—still dressed as a window washer—descended in a cradle.
“Going down?” he asked, his voice echoing through the transceiver.
“Right,” I nodded. Then I gave one last look around the ransacked room. From the angle I was standing at, only the soles of Beauregard’s expensive shoes were visible as he lay dead on the floor. “Think we’ve done enough here. Let’s go home.”
Clutching the Holy Grail and braving the urban winds outside the building, I descended down to the street, and with it, the promise of escape and safety.
Carrie Ann Benton and Rodney Buchard have been in love since grammar school. Her father, federal judge Horace Benton, has forbidden them to see each other. The reason? Rodney's mother is Mexican, a fact that will hurt Horace's prospects of becoming governor of Arizona--and one day, maybe president of the United States.
The judge needs the money and support of affluent voters--which excludes the likes of a so-called "half-breed" like Rodney. Instead, Horace aligns himself with the state's many powerful cattlemen.
Defying her father's wishes, Carrie continues her secret romance at an undisclosed rendezvous point inside Fire Mountain, unaware that someone is tracking them--someone prepared to end their relationship for good. Meanwhile, Earl, a wealthy cattle baron's son, is duped into following their trail in hopes of professing his love to Carrie and separating her from Rodney once and for all.
After an accidental death, US Marshal Max Greystone arrives to investigate and begins to unravel a twisted web of lies, deceit, and intrigue. Will the truth be uncovered before more people lose their lives?
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