Thursday, October 19, 2017

Excerpt reveal: Desert Kill Switch, by Mark S. Bacon


Front cover - Full Cover DKS v3 (1)Title
: Desert Kill Switch
Genre: Mystery
Author: Mark S. Bacon
Publisher: Black Opal Books
Find out more on Amazon
About the Book:
Set against the backdrop of Nostalgia City, an Arizona retro theme park that recreates, in meticulous detail, an entire small town from the 1970s, Desert Kill Switch features stressed-out ex-cop Lyle Deming.
Deming, a cab driver for Nostalgia City, finds himself in strange circumstances when he discovers a bullet-riddled body next to a mint-condition ’70s vintage Pontiac Firebird on an empty desert road. Stranger still, when Lyle returns to the scene with sheriff’s deputies, the car is gone—and so is the body. Could this somehow be tied to Nostalgia City?
Nostalgia City VP Kate Sorensen, a former college basketball star, is in Nevada on park business when she gets mixed up with Al Busick, a sleazy Vegas auto dealer who puts hidden “kill switches” in cars he sells. Miss your payment by a few days—and your car dies. But when Busick is murdered and Kate becomes the prime suspect, Lyle arrives to help his tall, blonde, not-quite-girlfriend. As they plow through a twisted tangle of suspects and motives, Lyle and Kate soon realize that the best way to clear Kate’s name is to find out who killed Busick.
Turns out there were a number of people who might’ve wanted Busick dead. But when a video implicating Kate appears, along with a ransom demand, things take a deadly serious turn. Blackmail, murder, and a lengthy list of potential killers: hardly a wholesome or inviting image for Nostalgia City.
As the tension ratchets up, Kate and Lyle find themselves in increasing danger. Against a ticking clock and scorching desert heat, Lyle and Kate launch a pulse-quickening quest to clear Kate’s name, find the dead body, and figure out how a million-dollar antique Italian sports car fits in this deadly game. But time is running out—and it’s all fun and games…till someone loses his life.
Author Mark S. Bacon 5052 - smlrAbout the Author: Mark Bacon began his career as a newspaper reporter in Southern California covering crime and city beats. As a writer, his work has appeared on television and in radio, magazines, newspapers, websites and fiction and nonfiction books. He and his wife, Anne, live in Reno with their golden retriever, Willow. Bacon is also the author of Death in Nostalgia City.

Desert Kill Switch
By Mark S. Bacon
Chapter 59
Lyle didn’t know if Sergei had a gun or not.  If he didn’t, maybe Lyle had a chance.  But the Chechen stood a half head taller and looked like he had seventy-five pounds on Lyle.  He walked slowly over to Sergei.  Shit he’s big.  But maybe.
Before Lyle came within ten feet of Sergei, the Chechen reached behind him and pulled out a large-caliber semi-auto.  Lyle continued his stroll in a large circle, heading back toward the Mustang.
“Okay if I get out of the sun?”
Sergei motioned with the barrel of the gun.  The car door was already open.  Lyle sat in the driver’s seat and watched through the windshield as Sergei wandered along the road.  He turned his back to Lyle, looking off the pavement to the dirt trail.
Lyle reached down, under the dashboard, and felt around for the wires he’d been working on.  He twisted two bare wires together then slowly put his hand on the ignition,  the key still in place.  He turned it hard.  As the engine burst into life, Lyle threw the car into gear, crushed the gas pedal, and the car’s nine-inch-wide tires grabbed the pavement.  The Mustang sprang forward, the driver’s door slamming shut.   Sergei spun around and saw the car racing toward him.  He started to bring up the pistol but seemed to realize the car would smash him whether he fired or not.  He leaped toward the side of the road, like a base runner diving face-first into home plate.  The Mustang’s bumper caught the bottom of his legs and spun him halfway around before he hit the sand.
Lyle jammed on the brakes and jumped out.  Sergei lay on the sand, groaning and clutching his left ankle.  Lyle seized the gun and ejected the magazine and the round in the chamber.  He threw all of them as far as he could into the brush. Sergei couldn’t stand so Lyle patted him down on the ground.  He found Sergei’s cell phone, dropped it on the pavement, and stomped on it before throwing it into the desert.
Dashing back to the Mustang, Lyle saw one of their suitcases and a string of clothes along the pavement behind the car.  The trunk lid had remained open after the Chechen’s search.  He grabbed the clothes and stuffed them into the suitcase.  Before tossing the case in the trunk, he opened a hidden compartment near one of the taillights and pulled out two handguns.
Like a thoroughbred, the Mustang was eager to run, its twin exhausts grumbling.  Lyle gave it gas and the high-powered American fishtailed when it hit the dirt road, then righted itself and dug in.  Lyle knew his dust tail would advertise his arrival, so speed was essential.  But the Ford Mustang was not made for dirt roads.  Four hundred horsepower is only as good as the traction.  Lyle turned the wheel left and right to avoid ruts and keep the rear wheels on the ground.  When he heard gun shots, he thought he was too late.
* * *
Kate touched the boulder to steady herself and almost pulled her hand away when she felt its heat.  Nina tucked her small body into the ravine and kept her head below the level of their temporary fortress.  Kate could see Alex and Viktor walking slowly toward them, holding their guns, ready to fire again.  She ducked as low as she could.
“We come out there and kill you, woman,” Alex said as he advanced.  “Then we just throw your body in desert.”
When Kate raised her head again she sighted down the barrel of a .38—the gun she’d taken from Viktor’s shop coat the day before.  She fired.
One of her shots just grazed Viktor’s shoulder, the other thudded into the side of the SUV, but she got the reaction she wanted.  Both men looked on in terror.  Alex returned one shot that missed by six feet and the Chechens scampered over the rocks and back to safety behind their Suburban.
“Where’d you get the gun?” Nina asked, holding her ears.
“Took it from them yesterday,” Kate said.  “Stay down.”
Kate knew she had only three shots left.  If they just traded shots, she’d be defenseless soon.  A ridge off to their right could give one of the Chechens cover to circle around behind her and Nina.  Just a matter of time.  Maybe if she fired at the Suburban they might decide it was too much trouble, too dangerous, and drive away.  Dream on, lady
Blam, the shooting started again.  Kate ducked until she realized the Chechens weren’t firing.  She looked to her left and saw Lyle’s Mustang kicking up dust as it tore down the road spitting bullets. Staying behind the Suburban protected the Chechens from Kate’s shots, but exposed them to Lyle’s fire.  Kate stuck her head up and fired twice.  Lyle, too far away to be accurate, drove with one hand and fired with the other.  But it was too much for the Chechens.  Alex and Viktor got in the car and pulled out so fast they looked like actors in a Keystone Cops film.  Kate stood up and waved at Lyle as he came to a stop where the Suburban had been.  She still held the .38 when Lyle walked up.
“You okay?” Lyle said, stepping around the sagebrush.
“Yes,” Kate said expelling a big breath. “We’re glad to see you.” She gave Lyle a bear hug and held her head close to his for a moment.
“They were like, going to leave us in the desert,” Nina said coming out from behind the boulders.  “Alex and Viktor, you should have killed them.” Nina’s face glowed red from anger, fear, or the sun.  Maybe all three.  They walked to Lyle’s car, Nina holding her blouse closed with one hand.
Lyle pointed to the revolver in Kate’s hand.  “I assume that’s the gun you took from Stark’s guys yesterday.”
“Yeah, that idiot Alex didn’t even search my purse.  Women don’t carry guns, do they?”

Monday, October 9, 2017

Chapter reveal: The Guardian, by Anna del Mar




Name: Anna del Mar
Book TitleThe Guardian
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Publisher: Mermaid Press
Find out more:
Amazon / Kobo / Nook

Chapter One

Jade
Flying had never been my definition of fun and yet here I was, with my stomach stuck in my throat, traveling across Africa in a dilapidated, single-engine plane that rode a lot like a moped in the sky. According to our rakish South African pilot, the six-seater had rolled out of the factory in 1956, thirty long years before I’d been born, in a century far, far away. I could’ve done without the trivia tidbit. I was the sort that worried about metal fatigue. But I’d made it to Africa at last. Africa!
Three other passengers crammed with me in the sputtering little plane, a gaggle of excited grad students of about my age with some impressive academic credentials. They were on their way to work as research assistants at the private wildlife conservation reserve that was also my destination. Loud, chatty, and excited, they looked alike. They were perky, enthusiastic, and all blonde to some degree, a quirky fluke that, in my current state of jetlag, struck me as a little funny.
I was decent at identifying wildlife species, but terrible with names, so I made an effort to keep my traveling companions straight. Short-bob Sarah and curly-haired Lara sat in the seats directly behind mine. Like me, they were new to Tanzania. Poor pony-tailed Cara was jammed in the very back seat between loads of supplies. She’d been working at the reserve for the last year and was returning to the station after a break in Arusha.
In the three hours since I’d met my traveling companions, I’d learned a lot. Talk about information overload. Sarah was a Rhodes Scholar, shrewd and observant, kind of like me. The big difference between us was that she was also charming, totally unlike me.
Lara had confessed to being a card-carrying member of MENSA. Holy Cow. Talk about nuclear brain power. As to Cara, she hemmed and hawed about her gigantic student loans, but at the tender age of twenty-nine, she’d already published in several journals and staring at her bright future required heavy-duty shades. Sarah, Lara, and Cara. I giggled inside. What were the odds?
From the moment the women hopped in the plane, they’d slammed me with a crushing wave of friendliness that defied the loner in me. Sarah kept telling me that I looked familiar, but she didn’t put two and two together, which was fine and dandy by me. Not even our pilot, Peter Drake, knew who I was.
Incidentally, he was also blond, and the owner of an impressive set of surfer curls he wielded with panty-melting capabilities. I’d paid him double to fly me without asking questions and he’d been more than agreeable to bend to the will of the mighty dollar.
Anonymity was my preferred MO. Even though my face was on the Nat Geo channel a couple times a month, my job was way easier when I flew under the radar. I liked working alone and I hated when the attention focused on me instead of my work. Honestly? I wasn’t exactly amiable—or particularly sociable for that matter, a tendency I’d cemented during the first shitty fourteen years of my life.
But thanks to a belated set of kickass adoptive parents who’d checkmated me into manners, culture, and higher education, these days I passed as a semi-civilized creature. Now I just had to ignore my terror of flying, suppress the jetlagged witch I’d become somewhere over the tropic of Cancer, and do my best to fit in, even though, technically, I was the only brunette in the plane.
“Fasten your seatbelts, ladies,” the pilot announced in his melodious accent—definitely sexy. “We’re beginning our descent.”
The little plane punched down through the clouds and hit a patch of turbulence, courtesy of some wicked afternoon thermal currents. I clutched my backpack, dug my nails into the nylon, and tried very hard to keep my lunch down.
“Look ahead,” our pilot shouted. “We are officially in the reserve’s air space. Over to the north, you can get a glimpse of the twin lakes that give the Pacha Ziwa Reserve its name.”
I took in the glimmer of the long, finger-like lakes on the horizon, twin mirrors sparkling in the savanna’s endless expanse. The headache blooming behind my eyes lifted. My spirits soared. I’d been dreaming about the Serengeti since I was a little girl. Not even the jetlag could suppress the sheer joy that swelled in my chest.
“We’re in luck.” The pilot shot his million-dollar grin in my direction. “Beneath us you’ll see your welcoming committee, a big ass giraffe of the Maasai variety, as indicated by its distinctive starred blotches.”
I pressed my nose to the window and scanned the ground. Several other giraffes appeared around the first, long necks randomly popping out from between the trees. Keeping my eyes on the bush below, I unzipped my backpack and groped for my camera. Fighting for focus, I began to shoot.
Sarah squealed. “There are like seven giraffes!”
“No, look, there’s more!” Lara counted aloud. “Twenty-two to be precise.”
Fan-freaking-tastic. A huge smile hijacked my lips. Click, click, click. This was why I’d come to Africa, to see these animals in their natural environments, to share my wonder with the world, and to help protect the last few places on earth where the wild still roamed.
The landing strip was a grassy line carved onto a landscape of plains and brush. The pilot buzzed by the first time around, to clear the zebras from the runway. Pretty surreal. Laughter bubbled up my throat. On the second try, we landed safely, despite a couple of rough bounces. The girls cheered. Okay, fine, I cheered too.
When the plane finally stopped, I took a deep breath and combed my fingers through my hair in an effort to look presentable to the powers that be. It only took a sec. I’d gone hair-minimal for this trip, chopping off my long mane. Even then, my bangs fell right back over my brow, because that was the kind of hair I’d gotten in the hair lottery, bone-straight and dense.
I hung the camera strap from my neck, opened the door, and unfolded from my seat. My knees cracked as I climbed down from the aircraft. I felt like hugging the poor old plane and thanking it for holding itself together long enough to get me to the reserve. But I refrained from the impulse. No need to flaunt my addled brain in public just yet.
A pair of tan Land Rovers materialized from around the bend, rattling and sliding over a dirt track, pushing through the scattering herd of zebras as they drove our way. Not unlike the zebras, the girls took off, whipping out their cells and snapping selfies, with Cara leading the way and acting like the resident tour guide.
“Here comes our ring master.” Peter came to stand next to me and perched his Aviators on the top of his head, tracking the Land Rovers’ approach with a pair of huge brown eyes. “Lucky you. The boss himself is heading your welcoming committee. You get to meet the reserve’s game warden right from the start.”
I squinted at the truck, but the sun’s glare prevented me from seeing the man inside. There hadn’t been a lot of information about him on the website—a name, no pictures. I’d been intrigued about that.
In Africa, for many years, game wardens had been the custodians of private hunting reserves that had their roots in troubled Colonial times. But these days, the concept had evolved and at this huge reserve set aside for the study and conservation of animals, the game warden led the rangers who protected the wildlife and facilitated cutting edge research. According to my sources, during his two-year stint at Pacha Ziwa, this game warden had impressed with his performance.
“Hey.” Peter tugged on my arm and pressed a business card into my hand. “I’m here at least once a week. If you get sick of this place, if you ever need a ride, or want some cool aerial shots, I’m your guy.” He winked. “First three hours are free for you.”
God. Why did wasps and flirts always home in on me? The business card creased between my fingers. Peter was nice on the eyes, sure, and that accent had the potential to tickle my G-spot, but I hadn’t come to Africa for pleasure. I was here for work—in, out, no dudes, no complications.
With a screech of brakes, the Land Rovers parked next to us. The driver of the nearest truck stepped out, slammed the door, and sauntered toward us, scanning the airstrip and carrying a very handsome automatic rifle.
Niiiice.
It wasn’t only his top-of-the-line carbine that caught my attention, a lovingly maintained M4 different from the AK47 I’d expected to see on the ground in Africa. Or the way he held the weapon, pointed down in the low-ready position, both hands cradling the beauty to his chest like a pampered lover. It was the powerful vibes his body gave out and the systematic way in which he scanned our surroundings from behind mirrored shades, vigilant—focused and ready.
Warrior alert. My body snapped to attention. Here was a top-of-the-line soldier if I’d ever seen one. And then there was…well…the rest of him. And what a nice rest of him it was. Yes, sir. I was in the presence of hunkiness, which was very bad news for the Jade who’d come to Africa for work. Work, I repeated in my mind like a mantra. Not pleasure.
But a girl could look, right? No harm in appreciating a prime specimen, especially as he turned on his heel and methodically inspected the grounds, giving me the benefits of 360-degree views of his fine, fit body.
The guy was tall, even for a girl as tall as I was, somewhere in the neighborhood of six-four. It was hard not to notice the definition of his flexed arms beneath the rolled-up sleeves of his tan bush shirt. It was also impossible to miss the way in which his shapely ass fit perfectly into olive cargos. From one athlete to another, I appreciated the view of his finely built glutes, especially as they were mounted on a pair of muscular thighs that also impressed.
Work. Are you freaking listening, Jade? Not pleasure. I’d had a little trouble with adrenaline-driven hook ups early on in my career, but now I was over my addiction to bad boys and firmly established in the thinking zone.
The man strode over to us with feline grace, confident and yet cautious, fully engaged in a multi-level recon. Oh, yes. From his style to his weapons and down to his Oakley Jury mirrored sunglasses, he fit the profile. This guy had special ops written all over.
His gaze fell on the girls wandering among the zebra herd. His lips pressed together to amplify a severe, eyebrow-clashing frown. This soldier? He liked his order.
“Hey, Zeke,” he called out to the man climbing down from the other Rover. “Would you mind rounding up the arrivals before somebody gets kicked in the gut?”
“Sure thing.” The man named Zeke took off after the women.
The game warden’s polarized glasses aimed at me. “Ma’am.” He touched the rim of his wide-brimmed Tilley, then turned to Peter and extended a hand as huge as a lion’s paw. “Drake.” His veined, sun-bronzed forearm flexed as he shook the pilot’s hand with a firm grip.
“Matthias, my friend,” Peter said, trying to hide a wince behind a smile. “Good news. I have three new bushels of fresh quality grass or you today.”
Fresh grass? My spine snapped at attention. The cocky ass pilot could only count me as fresh grass if he included poison ivy in his botanical classifications.
Easy, Jade. A surly bitch lived inside of me, a highly reactive broad who’d come of age in a man’s world and had been put down one too many times for having a V instead of a dick. She wanted to have a go at the arrogant fool, but I held back and took a deep breath. I might need a triple shot of patience today.
The game warden’s perfectly proportioned lips thinned. I didn’t know the guy at all, but my bet was that he didn’t like Peter’s tone either. He looked at the card I held in my hand, leveled his gaze on the pilot, and spoke in a low, gravelly voice that reminded me of fast water tumbling over rocks. “Do I have to remind you that we’re a research outfit and not a dating site?”
“Nothing wrong with getting a jump on the crowd.” Peter chuckled nervously then turned to me. “Matthias here is the king of this jungle. He always aims for the windpipe, but his roar is worse than his bite.”
“Is that so?” Matthias glanced in my direction. “Allow me to warn you about the great predators among us.”
Man. I’d stepped right into a pissing contest and I didn’t like it. I’d served my time with dudes like these. I didn’t need a warning from anyone and I knew how to take care of myself.
“Whoa.” I fanned my hand under my nose. “This place reeks.”
“Excuse me?” Both Matthias and Peter looked at me in puzzlement.
“Testosterone.” I wrinkled my nose and made a show of grimacing. “It stinks, big time.”
“Let me guess.” The game warden’s lips twitched. “You’re the smartass who sits at the back of the class making snarky comments?”
I raised my chin and smirked. “Only when required.”
He parked those shades on my face a little too long. “Why is your face familiar?”
“No clue,” I said. “Why is your face not familiar?”
Under his hat’s wide rim, his eyebrows clashed. “What do you mean?”
“No picture,” I said. “On the website?”
“Ah.” His mouth set into that maddening straight line.
“Not photogenic.”
“Is that so?” I lifted my camera and focused on his face.
Click. “Problem fixed.”
His eyes were hidden beneath the shades but his strong jaw tightened ever so slightly. Oops. I’d known the guy for three minutes and I’d already rankled him. Way to go, Jade.
Peter let out a shrill laugh. “Matthias, my man, I think you’ve just met your match. She’s gonna be a joy to manage.”
“Manage who? Me?” The surly bitch almost bust out of control. “Back off, buddy. That’s not his job.”
“Well, unfortunately, it is my job,” Matthias said. “Not that I enjoy agreeing with Drake on anything, but managing people is the downfall of my job description.”
“Then by all means,” I said, aiming to nip whatever the hell this was on the spot. “Let’s rewrite the part of it that pertains to me.”
The mirrored shades lit me up. “You’re a funny firecracker.”
I sneered at my own reflection. “And you haven’t seen my sparklers yet.”
His well-defined lips came up in a smirk that wasn’t a smile so much as a dare. It implied that his mouth had no problem adapting to his moods and was capable of great range, not to mention delicious improvisation. A tingle of excitement pebbled my skin and prickled my most contractible parts. He’d have no trouble seeing my sparklers and doubling down on his own pyrotechnics.
“I bet your sparklers would be something to see.”
Matthias’s smirk widened into the kind of challenge I had trouble resisting, on account of my faulty DNA. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I heard the whoosh of a fire starting. The game warden? Not a safe bet, not if I was going to keep to my professional resolutions. I tried a mental dip in a glacial lake.
“What’s with the big guns?” Peter gestured to Matthias’s weapon. “And why are you in such a particularly ramped-up mood today?”
Matthias shades kept me in the crosshairs. Hard to know what someone’s thinking when you can’t see his eyes. Whereas I, I had no choice but to keep my chin up and my gaze leveled on him. He took his sweet time before he finally quit staring at me.
“Did you see anything from up there?” he demanded, shifting his attention to Peter. “Trucks? Helos? Tracks?”
“Nothing.” Peter sobered. “Trouble with poachers again?”
Matthias’s gaze skimmed the bush. “Somebody shot at our rhinos yesterday.”
Holy shit. I could totally understand the warden’s edgy mood now. The reserve’s black rhinos were an endangered species. I started to take mental notes right away. I’d been on the ground for less than five minutes and I already had a story in the works.
“Damn those poachers.” Peter swore under his breath.
“Did they get any?”
“It ain’t gonna happen,” Matthias said. “Not under my watch. We chased the sons of bitches all the way to the reserve’s fucking boundary.” He flashed me an apologetic glance. “Sorry about my French, ma’am.”
“No worries,” I said. “I’m fucking fluent in the same kind of French.”
“Good to know.” His lips twitched again, but the smile never fully realized. It stayed smothered beneath the pile of worries that deepened the vertical lines permanently etched between his eyebrows. When I thought about the rhinos, I couldn’t blame him.
“Jesus, they’re getting brash.” Peter shook his head.
“Sudanese rebels, you think?”
Matthias lifted a brawny shoulder. “Probable.”
“Those fuckers poach the animals, trade the goods, and buy weapons,” Peter explained to me as if I hadn’t done my homework before I came out. “In between, they murder, abduct, rape, and pillage.”
“I’ve heard.” The sarcasm in my tone rolled right over Peter’s head.
“I hope you get the poachers,” he said to Matthias.
“Count on it.” This time, when the game warden’s jaw tightened, a muscle twitched on the side of his face. I didn’t know much about him, but I believed him.
“Mind if I stay the night?” Peter asked.
“We’re tight,” Matthias said. “A bunk at the ranger’s camp is all I’ve got.”
“I’ll take it.”
“Then make yourself useful.”
Matthias whirled on his heel, stuck his fingers in his mouth, and let out a whistle that chiseled my brain and resuscitated my headache. At the end of the airstrip, Zeke signaled with a hand in the air. He and the women started in our direction.
Peter and Matthias got busy unloading the plane. The game warden had a lot of questions for Peter. He wanted to know what the pilot had seen from the air and if he’d heard anything about poachers in the area. I helped unload, happy to melt into the background, listening to the in-depth interrogation.
As soon as the luggage was loaded on the trucks, Peter climbed back in the cockpit, restarted the plane, and drove it over to an old metal hangar that stood nearby. Matthias rearranged the supplies in the back of the Rover, slammed shut the trunk, and turned to me. A bunch of questions glimmered in his eyes, but he didn’t get to ask them, because Zeke and the women joined us.
“Hey, Matthias.” Cara fluttered her long eyelashes, all sweetness and smiles. “Miss me?”
“Welcome back.” Matthias ignored Cara’s flirting and went straight to business. “Ladies, please, let’s get the formalities out of the way so we can get out of here before the mosquitoes come out for dinner.”
The women bunched up around Matthias, eager and excited. I slung my backpack over my shoulder and leaned against the truck, happy to speed things along. Mosquitoes always seemed to crave my sweet Spanish blood. Despite the course of preventative antibiotics I was taking, I didn’t want to test the limits of modern medicine and contract malaria or some other nasty bug during my first day in Africa.
“For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Matthias Hawking. I’m the game warden here, which makes me chief of security as well.”
“Are you American?” Sarah interrupted him right away.
“I am.” He inclined his head. “I’m from Montana.”
“Yay.” Lara clapped her hands. “Viva the USA. Love the rugged west.”
“What’s a guy from Montana doing all the way out here?” Sarah asked, demonstrating curiosity that matched mine.
“Can’t a guy get a job in Africa?”
Not for anything, but he sounded a little defensive to me.
“Ex-military,” I spoke my thoughts aloud, not one of my finest habits. “Muscle for hire?”
His mouth curled into a sneer capable of freezing the tropics. “So now you think I’m a goddamn mercenary?”
“Just a theory.” My spidey senses were all agog. “But I’ve heard you’re doing a good job here. Care to clarify your bio?” “Not really.” He turned his attention to the other women. “I’d like to introduce you to my associate, Zeke Logocho, one of the best rangers in Africa.”
He slapped a paw on his companion’s shoulder, a tall, dark, muscularly lanky fellow sporting high cheeks, a bony, meandering nose, and a wide, benign smile. One could’ve driven a small truck through the gap in his front teeth. Zeke was talking to someone on his headset, but he waved at us.
“If I’m not around, Zeke is your man.” Matthias grabbed a tablet from the Rover’s front seat and tapped on a list, eyes shifting from the screen to the girls standing next to me. “So, right, introductions. You must be…Sarah Stevens from Cal Tech?”
Sarah’s blue eyes brightened. “That’s me all right.”
“Welcome to the reserve.” He shook her hand and moved on to the next woman. “And you have to be Lara Quinones, from Harvard.”
“Glad to meet you.” Lara pumped his hand, back straight, tight curls shaking around her head with enthusiastic vehemence.
Matthias turned to me. I was pretty sure he’d left me for last to punish me for giving him attitude. I would’ve preferred to have this particular conversation in private, but his stare was fixed on his tablet and he never saw the request in my eyes.
“That means that you are…let’s see…” Matthias took off his glasses, scrolled down his list once more and looked up in triumph. “Pat Schumer, from Stanford.”
Those eyes. The color. They were so unusual. I guess they could be called hazel mostly, but a rim of bright amber speckled with darker flecks surrounded the black pupil like a ring of fire. The gold in his irises echoed the reddish glint in the closely-cropped, straight-trimmed stubble that edged his jaw, adding power and intensity to a sun-bronzed face that needed absolutely no help in the power and intensity department.
Next to me, I felt the wind shift as the girls gasped in unison. Then his gaze met mine and the women disappeared, and so did the airstrip, hell, the whole of Africa vanished from my map. Direct hit.
The fire in his stare went straight to the center of my brain, overloaded my logic circuits, and connected. My body clenched in all the right places and his body pulled on me like a freaking magnet. It wasn’t a one-way thing. He stared at me as if I were a particularly delicious ingredient to the twelve-course meal he was planning.
Oh, no. No way. Cool it Jade. No more bad boys in my future. I’d made that mistake before, because—as my true mom liked to theorize—I’d learned my sexual habits from some very bad examples. My blood ran hotter than the pits of hell, and the scalding flow plunged me straight into the no-thinking zone. It wasn’t as if I believed in love at first sight. That was a bunch of fried baloney. But lust at first sight? Yeah, it happened. To me.
But I’d learned my lesson and this new and improved version of Jade didn’t react to a pair of hazel eyes as if she’d been stricken by a bolt of lust, or act on her body’s hyperactive sexual cues, or engage in gratuitous erotic exploration. She didn’t toe the line to the point of disaster, mix personal with professional, or sleep with strangers, either.
Heads up, Jade. I tried to blink Matthias off my retina. Eyes like his should be strictly prohibited on a face like that. Get it under control. Enough with the hunkiness already.
“She’s not Pat,” Sarah said before I could speak up for myself, something I was usually very good at. “Pat’s flight got delayed in Amsterdam. She won’t be arriving until tomorrow.”
His stare returned to scan me. Whatever warmth I imagined I’d seen in his eyes was gone, transformed into cold, calculated intensity. “If you’re not Pat Schumer, then who the hell are you?”
Uh-oh. Somewhere, somehow, somebody had dropped the ball. “Your director didn’t tell you?”
His eyebrows clashed over his nose. “Tell me what?”
“Her name is Jade,” Sarah volunteered in an obvious bid to try to help. “Jade, you know, like her earrings?”
She caught one of my earrings between her fingers, a green jade stone carved into the stylized figure of an elephant. The antique pendants had been a gift from my parents on the cataclysmic occasion of my adoption at the ripe age of fourteen. My parents had “Jade-proofed” the earrings, commissioning a custom-designed mount capable of withstanding “Jade-force winds.” Since then, I’d worn them almost every day of my life, even while I was out in the field.
“J-a-d-e,” Sarah pealed. “Easy to remember. Her earrings match the color of her eyes.”
Matthias’s gaze lingered over my face before he decided on the spot that I wasn’t supposed to be here. “I’m gonna tell you right now.” Aggravation whetted his voice. “We don’t do tours of our research facilities and you need special permission to be here.”
“I have authorization,” I said, hoping and praying I was right. “Call your director.”
“Answer me first.” He’d rather give orders that take them.
“Who are you?”
No way around this. I stuck out my hand. “My name is
Jade Romo.”
“Hang on.” Matthias blinked blankly several times, but he didn’t take my hand. “Did you say Jade Romo?”
“Yes.” I dropped my hand to my side and dug my nails in my palm.
“From Mission Protect,” he said flatly. “The Jade Romo?”
“In the flesh.”
The girls gasped in unison. Zeke stared, his mouth slowly expanding into a silly grin on his face. My hopes for negotiating some sort of anonymity clause with the station’s powers that be died under their gawks. The tension that straightened Matthias’s mouth and sparkled in his eyes anchored the most intimidating scowl I’d ever come across. Something curdled in my stomach and I felt a little sick. His stare was all steel and fire as he uttered the word that shoved him to the top of my shit list.
“Goddamnit.”
This was going to be a wild ride.

Dead Cold by Jennifer Chase



Title: DEAD COLD
Author: Jennifer Chase
Publisher: JEC Press
Pages: 326
Genre: Crime Thriller

BOOK BLURB: 

What happens when one California community has a disturbing spike in homicides? It catapults cops into a deadly game of murder. Frozen human body parts hideously displayed at the crime scenes offers a horrifying interpretation that only a sadistic serial killer could design—and execute.

On the hunt for a complex serial killer, vigilante detective Emily Stone must face her most daring case yet. Stone’s proven top-notch profiling skills and forensic expertise may not be enough this time.

Young and ambitious, Detective Danny Starr, catches the homicide cases and discovers that it will test everything he knows about police work and the criminal mind. Can he handle these escalating cases or will the police department have to call in reinforcements—the FBI.

Emily Stone’s covert team pushes with extreme urgency to unravel the grisly clues, while keeping their identities hidden from the police. With one last-ditch effort, Stone dangles someone she loves as bait to draw out the killer. She then forces the killer out of their comfort zone with her partner Rick Lopez, and with help from a longtime friend Jordan Smith. A revelation of the serial killer’s identity leaves the team with volatile emotions that could destroy them.

The killer continues to taunt and expertly manipulate the police, as well as Stone’s team, and as they run out of time—they leave behind everyone and everything—in Dead Cold.

ORDER YOUR COPY:

Amazon



First Chapter:

ESCAPE WAS IMPOSSIBLE. TEARS STREAMED down her face as she sat in the darkness and waited for the man to return. There was no other choice—but to wait.
She hadn’t eaten anything in three days and had only a limited amount of water—her strength continued to fade with every hour. With her wrists and ankles secured with duct tape, her skin stung with pain every time she struggled to move. At least the man had peeled the tape from her eyes and mouth so that she could see something besides pitch-blackness.
Even if she could escape, the only way to safety was jumping into the frigid water, but she could not swim and would drown before ever reaching the shore.
The only thing thirteen-year-old Kayla Swanson thought about was home. Fond memories flashed through her mind of her parents, her little brother, and her dog Charlie. She was never going to see them again. Their smiling faces were forever etched in Kayla’s mind, and she constantly held them close to her heart.  
The boat rocked, and seemed to sway more violently as the tide flooded in and out of the harbor. Kayla could hear a consistent clanking noise above her as the boat rolled back and forth. The sound had a hypnotic quality, and kept her mind on something else besides when the man would return and what he would do next. 
Her lips were dry and cracked as she bordered on dehydration. Even her tears dried on her cheeks, leaving her skin stiff and drawn. Her body began to shake, not only from fear, but also because of the extreme exhaustion and the constant dampness all around her.
The boat rocked more, but this time it shifted from the opposite sides. Kayla heard soft footsteps above, which she knew wasn’t her captor’s heavy walk. She strained her eyes in the darkness and thought she saw a thin shadow stealthily move along the upper deck.
Was it a ghost?
Kayla remembered a television series where a team of people hunted ghosts and they had said that ghosts could occupy any type of space, house, property, and even a boat.
She blinked her eyes several times and hoped that she could catch a glimpse of the ghost again. With every ounce of declining strength, Kayla scooted her body closer to the narrow stairs leading to the upper deck.
Painfully craning her neck, she strained to see something up in the darkness.
The dark shadowed areas played tricks on her eyes—it was there, then it wasn’t.
She waited for several minutes.
Nothing appeared.
The only sounds she heard were the usual boat noises she had grown accustomed to hearing. Whatever she thought she heard was gone now. It was most likely her imagination trying to give her some hope and a few moments break from her dire circumstances.
As she relaxed her shoulders and leaned back against the wall, the reality of her world pressing down hard. Tears streamed down her face. She tasted the saltiness that settled around her mouth. Her last moments were approaching, and there was nothing she could do.
Kayla felt her pulse relax and a strange peacefulness overcame her—even if it was for only a moment. It was an overwhelming calm that gave her strength for what was next.
He was coming back.
She closed her eyes, but the only thing that came to mind was the man who had grabbed her.
His dark eyes.
His hefty strength groping at her body.
His horrible sour breath.
He fixated on everything about Kayla. She had the feeling that he had watched her for some time. There was a familiarity in his words as he secured her. The violent struggle that ensued ultimately led to the helplessness she now felt waiting in the darkness.
A light swishing noise made Kayla quickly open her eyes and look up.
There it was again, something darting around the boat. It was the ghost she saw earlier of what appeared to be a small, slim body moving swiftly around the upper deck. 
It was not her captor, because he was heavyset and moved differently. He would not care if Kayla heard him or not. This apparition seemed to move with caution and ease.
Guardian angel came to Kayla’s mind. She had always seen pretty paintings and movies with angels as beautiful feminine creatures.
Was that her guardian angel?
Kayla would soon get her answer.
“Kayla,” whispered a woman’s voice. There was almost a musical quality to it.
The girl sat stunned, not moving, and unable to respond at first.
Again, “Kayla?” the voice asked softly.
She opened her mouth and tried to speak, but nothing came out. Kayla hadn’t realized that she hadn’t spoken for two days, and it was difficult to make a sound.
“Yes—” she barely replied.
A concerned woman’s face appeared at the top of the steps. She was beautiful with wet, shoulder-length blonde hair and dark eyes. Dressed in a dark wetsuit, she moved like a Ninja with grace and purpose. She wore some type of earpiece like the Secret Service who protect the president.
“Kayla, are you okay?” she asked with concern.
“I—I think so.”
“Let’s get you out of here,” the woman said and then spoke quietly into her small microphone, “I’ve got her, and she’s okay.”
She easily jumped down into the cabin and began to free Kayla from her restraints. It took some manipulation to tear away layers of duct tape.
“Who are you?” Kayla asked.
“I’m here to rescue you,” she said. “Don’t worry everything is going to be okay now.”
Kayla didn’t hear any other voices or cops moving around above. It was just this woman. She was confused, but curious by her unknown rescuer.
“Who are you?” Kayla asked again.
“It’s not important.”
“Yes, yes, it is to me,” she insisted.
The woman finally freed Kayla’s hands and ankles, and then looked directly at her.
Kayla saw more depth in her eyes than anyone she had ever met. There was a determination and fierceness reflected in a strong presence of the woman. It was something that Kayla had never experienced before with any of the adults that she knew.
“I’m Emily,” the woman reluctantly answered. “Can you walk?”
Kayla nodded.
Emily helped the girl up and guided her to move up the ladder, then quickly followed.
Kayla stood on the deck as the boat bobbed and weaved. She could see that it was docked at the very end of the outer harbor and close to the shore. The thought of being in the water made her shiver as the wind picked up speed, battering her face and body.
Emily turned to Kayla. “We’re going to get you to the dock area and the police will meet you there and take you home.”
Kayla fiercely shook her head.
“It’s okay, honey. I’ll be with you, and it’s only a short distance away.”
“No, no, I can’t swim,” Kayla pleaded, but her words seemed to disappear in the wind.
The tide picked up the intensity of the wind blowing harder against the boat. The fog encroached over the dim lighting of the harbor, which made any nighttime visibility disappear and reappear in strange increments.
The boat rocked and Kayla had a difficult time keeping her footing. Both Emily and Kayla fought to keep their balance and not catapult head first into the water.
Kayla turned her head and saw the heavyset man climb aboard from a dingy at the other side of the boat. 
“Emily!” Kayla screamed.
It gave Emily just enough time to push the girl to safety and ready herself for the assault. Kayla landed hard on her backside but managed to push herself into a small crevice to keep from sliding back and forth.
Kayla could do nothing except watch as Emily received a powerful blow from her captor. She went down and slid several feet but wasn’t deterred as she readied herself for the next attack. Amazingly, Emily stood her ground, hands ready, and pushed the man backward. The instant that the kidnapper was off balance, Emily went in for the attack, punching and kicking him in the stomach and groin areas. The heavy man went down hard. He lay moaning on the deck. She couldn’t hear what he said because of the gusts of wind, but his expression was extreme anger and his mouth made ugly shapes as he spoke.
Kayla had never seen anything like it before. Everything going on around her felt more like a nightmare than real life—except for the blonde-haired woman who had come to her rescue. She watched as Emily quickly wrapped some type of plastic ties around the man’s ankles and feet.  After making sure that he was secured, Emily turned to Kayla.
Emily gestured for Kayla to join her. She said something, but Kayla couldn’t hear her. Emily grabbed a life preserver from a wooden compartment along the deck.
“C’mon,” she said. 
The boat seemed to buck and fight against the tide, water splashing onto the deck.
Emily moved carefully making her way to Kayla. “C’mon, we have to go.” She slipped the girl’s arms through life preserver and fastened it across her chest. Turning away, Emily said into her microphone, “We’re on our way. ETA five minutes.”
Kayla watched the water slosh and churn all around the boat. It made her legs even weaker and her mouth dryer. She glanced at the bad man still lying on his side struggling to release himself from the ties and spitting out seawater. He still frightened her even though he couldn’t get to her.
Kayla stood on the deck paralyzed with fear, hypnotized by the unpredictable water.
Emily took her hand. “I won’t let go. I promise.”
A large splash of water slapped Kayla’s face. It brought her into a more terrified state and a mental paralysis gripped her body. Her knees locked and her feet glued themselves to the deck. Kayla couldn’t jump into the water. She would rather wait for a boat to rescue her, but she knew that it wasn’t possible. Something about Emily’s face told her that it was the only way—and she didn’t want to ask questions to why.
Emily kneeled, took Kayla’s shoulders and said, “You can do this. I’m with you every step of the way.”
Kayla knew that Emily told her the truth, but her body didn’t want to cooperate. “I can’t!” she yelled.
“You can do it!” Emily insisted.
Kayla looked back at the bad man and remembered everything he had done to her—the terror, the threats, and the disgusting abuse.
She looked down at the water and hesitated.
Emily took a couple of steps down the ladder into the water. “C’mon, Kayla,” she urged.
Kayla moved slowly and felt the boat rock sharply. She caught herself before falling and held her breath. Looking at the boat docks through the fog, she knew that she had to jump into the frigid water to make it to shore.
Emily took another step down toward the water, then another and submerged herself. She held to the last rung of the ladder waiting for Kayla.
“I’m right here. You can do this, Kayla,” she urged. “C’mon.”
Kayla knew that she didn’t want to be on the boat anymore and wanted to put the entire terrifying experience behind her. She trusted Emily even though she wasn’t completely sure why.
She moved closer to the ladder and slowly put her foot onto the next rung. Water continued to splash into her face. She shivered from the cold, but knew that it was only a little bit farther to freedom.
“That’s it—keep going,” Emily coaxed.
Kayla took a deep breath, let it out, and eased herself into the water.
The temperature was shocking to her body. She thrashed for a moment with the anxiety of drowning, but the life vest held her head above the water.
“It’s okay, you’re fine,” Emily insisted. “Put your arms around my neck.”
Kayla clung to Emily as they slowly swam away from the boat. Kayla glanced back expecting to see the heavyset man coming after them, but no one appeared. She thought it looked like a ghost ship in the fog.
Turning her focus back to Emily, she concentrated on the dock as they eased closer. The numbness in her legs and back outweighed her fear of drowning. She knew that she was finally safe.  
Several consecutive waves smacked their faces, but Emily kept a strong steady pace.
Kayla coughed and choked on the water that flooded into her mouth. Her face stung like tiny needles piercing her cheeks. She kept her arms tightly around Emily’s neck and could feel Emily’s heavy breathing as she pulled them closer to safety. 
The thick fog continued to float across the harbor. It blanketed most of the boats and made the masts invisible.
A tall figure stood on the dock about six feet from the entrance. He had something in his arms. Kayla shook with fear, her imagination reeling her back to her captor.
The man moved quickly forward and helped them out of the water. He then wrapped Kayla in a warm thick blanket. His eyes were kind, his face stern, and he reminded Kayla of a police officer she once met in her neighborhood.
Breathless, Emily said, “Kayla, wait right here. The police are coming and they will take you home. Okay?”
“But—” her teeth chattered. “But—what about you?”
Emily smiled. “Don’t worry about me. You were very brave. I told you that you could do it.”
Police sirens wailed in the distance.
Both Emily and the man looked in the distance where red lights flashed—cars approaching fast.
“Why can’t you take me home?” Kayla asked.
Emily let out a sigh. “The police will be here in minutes. It’s their job to make sure that you’re okay, and they will take you home.”
The couple turned to leave. Kayla knew that they were like secret agents or undercover superheroes, and they had to leave because they didn’t want anyone to know their identities.
“Wait,” Kayla said.
Emily turned and looked at her.
“Thank you, Emily. I’ll never forget you,” she said, wanting to remember the details of Emily’s face.
She smiled and then hurried away.
Kayla stood on the dock and watched the couple disappear into the fog until she couldn’t see them anymore.
The sirens approached at high speed.
Three police cars turned down the street leading through the harbor entrance. Their headlights focused on Kayla shivering, wet, and waiting for them.