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He’ll sacrifice everything to be her savior, but will she be his downfall?

“Michael Stone has earned his spot in my top three romance heroes!” ~ Reader review

**Winner of the Heart of Excellence Ancient Romance City Writers award for Best Romantic Suspense!

Arlington, VA


The grandfather clock in the corner chimed, its deep baritone vibrating under a sheet of protective plastic. The antique clock, unlike the west wall of Michael Stone’s home office, had escaped damage when the bullets flew. If only his chest had been as lucky.

Michael stopped sanding the section of Sheetrock in front of him to rub the scar under his shirt. For the sixth time in as many months, he was patching and sanding holes, trying to cover up the past. But just like the drywall dust that had infiltrated every corner of his office, reminders of the hostage incident infiltrated every corner of his mind.

The edge of one of the filled bullet holes was ridged. Another had sunk. He should just knock them out and start over. He should do the same with the memories.

Julia. Conrad. Raissi. The names swirled in his brain, making his gut clench and his forehead sweat. No matter how many times he cut out and patched the holes, betrayal, obligation, and failure rose from the dust to mock him.

Starting on the ridged patch, he gritted his teeth as the sandpaper chewed up the dried mud and dust fell to the ground. Time, he told himself, as the grandfather clock chimed again. I just need more time.

Using his shirt sleeve to wipe the sweat from his forehead, he pushed the past behind the carefully constructed wall he’d built in his mind. He should have been at Ella’s school, watching her parade around, all smiles and six-year-old self-confidence in her Wonder Woman costume instead of trying to fix something that couldn’t be fixed.

Halloween had become so dangerous Ella’s school had decided to put on a trunk-or-treat, complete with parade, to keep the students protected. The fact that kids had lost the freedom to enjoy trick or treating saddened Michael. It saddened him even more that he was loathe to go watch his niece enjoy the substitute version because he couldn’t go anywhere in public without a battalion of security. As Deputy Director of the CIA and brother-in-law to the next president—if the pre-election day polls were accurate—his autonomy no longer existed.

These days, it didn’t matter if you were an adult or a kid. Freedom was a precious commodity choked off by criminals and terrorists.

Goddamn terrorists.

Throwing the sandpaper down on the tarp at his feet, he headed for his desk. A week’s worth of newspapers covered one corner. His stuffed briefcase lay next to them. The European Directorate was waiting for his signature on a dozen different projects.

Michael wheeled his office chair out and sat down hard. He booted up his laptop, drumming a staccato on the top of his desk with his fingers as he waited for the opening screen to ask for his password. Before it could flash the message, his attention was drawn back to the wall. Raissi’s smirking face danced over the holes.

Adrenaline buzzed in his veins as he shut the laptop with a firm snap. No way was he getting any work done tonight. He should call Kinnick, his bodyguard and sparring partner, and hit the gym. Fighting was the only way he’d found to jack the energy and the memories from his psyche.

He’d taken up mixed martial arts which combined kickboxing with the two other phases of combat—takedowns and submission holds. Fights required all three types of skills, and knowing which phase would give you an advantage over your opponent gave you control of the fight.

Even outside the ring, control was power.

Thad Pennington, Republican candidate for U.S. President, was mere days and percentage points away from taking control of the White House. He’d already offered Michael directorship of the CIA after the election, but Michael had turned him down. Unlike a majority of D.C.’s political pundits, he didn’t want his legacy handed to him on anything other than merit.

Thad was also Ella’s father. A father on the campaign trail and missing the Halloween festivities. Yet another reason Michael should have been at Ella’s school. She needed a substitute father more and more while her biological one pursued the dream of power.

Across the room, Raissi’s face faded into poorly patched bullet holes once again, standing out in bas-relief from the smooth surface surrounding them. A heavy, burning sensation tugged at Michael’s chest. Letting out his breath, he rocked his chair back and forth, his fingers absently probing his scar.

Holes. His life was full of them. Work, social life, family. His goddamn chest. And every time he patched one, it seemed to have the opposite effect. The holes kept getting bigger, spreading like a disease.

The phone on his desk rang, jolting him out of his thoughts. A vacation from them was such a relief, he snagged the receiver without looking at the ID.



It was only two syllables, but his sister’s high-pitched voice, cracking with strain, brought him up straight. “What is it, Ruthie?”

She sobbed and the hair on the back of his neck rose. “It’s Ella. She’s…gone.” Another sob. “Kidnapped. We don’t know who’s got her. Oh, Michael, what are they doing to my baby?”

The world screeched to a halt. As the next beat of his heart echoed inside his head, he rose from the chair, his body kicking into phase one of combat.


Washington D.C. suburbs

Brigit Kent unlocked the door to her loft, dropped her overnight bag on the floor inside, and flipped on the lights. After traveling nonstop in Europe for the past week, she wanted a hot shower, a pint of Cherry Garcia, and a couple hours of BBC America.

On the kitchen counter she found a basket stuffed with various fruits and chocolates, an official Department of Homeland Security ID badge with her photo and name on it, and a note from her assistant Truman Gunn.

Welcome back to your home away from home. JOE secured your assignment with Homeland. I’ll catch you up on all the spiffy details first thing tomorrow. White House, eight o’clock. Wear the suit.


P.S. TiVo’d Dr. Who for you.

Brigit shed her Burberry trench coat, unwrapped a Godiva and popped it in her mouth. JOE stood for Jolly Old England, Truman’s nickname for her employer, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service. The Department of Homeland Security thought they were getting a freelance consultant on domestic terrorism, and they were, but while she was working for Homeland, SIS had an undercover job for her.

What neither SIS nor Homeland realized was Brigit had her own agenda while she was in Washington.

She pulled the Cherry Garcia from the freezer and kicked off her boots in the living room. She flipped on the TV, anxious to catch up on her favorite show. Before she could find the TiVo remote, though, a breaking story on Headline News caught her eye. Eleanor Pennington, the daughter of Republican nominee Thad Pennington, had been kidnapped.

Frowning, Brigit turned up the volume and sat on the edge of the couch. A reporter on the scene at Eleanor’s school reported scant details before summoning several people nearby to give eyewitness accounts.

Gooseflesh rose on Brigit’s arms as she listened. No one had actually seen the girl being kidnapped, but she had disappeared from a school function out from under the watchful eyes of adults and Secret Service agents. No contact from the kidnapper had been made except a single phone call—Eleanor’s voice crying for her mother.

Proof of life.

A tremor went down Brigit’s spine and the little girl in her head cried out, the old nightmare of a locked door and the fire surfacing. Her gaze darted to the photo next to the TV. She and her younger sister, Tory, were grinning at the camera, arms thrown around each other’s neck in childhood abandon. A different proof of life.

As if her body had a will of its own, Brigit rose from the edge of the couch and returned the ice cream to the freezer. She slipped on her trench and slid her sore feet back into her boots before retrieving her handgun from her overnight bag and heading for the door. At the last minute, she went back to the kitchen counter and grabbed the Homeland badge. That and the kidnapping had just made her assignment for SIS a slam dunk.

Leaving the lights on in the loft, she closed and locked the door behind her, slipping her handgun into the pocket of her trench coat.

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He makes the rules. She breaks them.

**An Amazon bestseller in Romance and Romantic Suspense in 2010! An espionage and Military Romance bestseller!

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ “Lawson Vaughn is now my fantasy boyfriend.” ~ Reader review

The betrayal began at four-o-three a.m. in an abandoned two-story farmhouse ten kilometers southwest of Paris.

Betrayal was an old friend of Zara Morgan’s. Her mother betrayed her talent and prima-ballerina status to marry a millionaire. Her father, in turn, betrayed her mother by having an affair with the stock market as well as another woman. At fourteen years of age, Zara’s own body betrayed her youth, training, and determination, leaving her with a ruptured Achilles tendon and the shattered dream of restoring her mother’s honor in the world of dance.

So when the guileless tone of Alexandrov Dmitri’s voice raised the hair on the back of her neck, the foreign intelligence officer recognized the sound of betrayal, the feel of it in her bones, even before her brain processed his words coming through the small speaker of her laptop. Tim Owens, her friend and fellow CIA operative, had been betrayed by the most-wanted criminal in Europe.

Zara knew you couldn’t defeat betrayal by wishing on a star, praying to God or pretending it didn’t exist, and as the next few minutes ticked by, her pulse throbbed in a synchronized dance with fear. She could sit in the specially equipped gray van hidden alongside a row of trees and let the coming hours play out like a mise en scène inside the farmhouse, or she could place a call for help.

At four-o-five, she called Langley.

An hour later as she waited in the airless van for the cavalry to arrive, she speculated at the reason for her racing pulse. It wasn’t just Dmitri. When Commander Lawson Vaughn arrived with his rescue team, betrayal would again be her friend. She could feel that in her bones too.

Vaughn was all the things she wasn’t. Older, experienced, solid as granite and tempered like fine steel. Disciplined. Intense. Deadly.

The first time she’d seen him at the Agency’s training camp in Virginia, she was two days from graduating from the Farm. He was between rescue missions. He’d seen her watching him as he practiced hand-to-hand combat with another man on his team. The piercing assessment in his return gaze left a cellular imprint in Zara’s body she couldn’t shake. Didn’t want to. His intense eyes haunted her even now, months later, a thousand miles away from that moment.

From the speaker Dmitri’s bored voice turned sharper, more demanding. He tired of the game he himself had initiated. “Tell me where my merchandise is, Agent Owens, or I will break the bones in each and every finger you have.”

Zara gripped the console bolted to the floor and leaned toward the small speaker. A ball of fear pinged around her stomach.

“Your porn library?” Tim’s voice held measured sarcasm. Sarcasm Zara appreciated. It told her Tim was still mentally strong enough to fight. “Or your collection of feather boas?”

The sucking sound of a fist hitting soft flesh rang in the van and she flinched. Tim’s groan filled her ears and she resisted the urge to throw her hands over them like she had done as a child when her parents’ raised voices had sent her running to her room. How could this happen? How could this simple, straightforward field assignment go so horribly wrong?

Power, greed, lust…the basic motivators of betrayal were the same for fathers, mothers, and criminals alike.

Dmitri chuckled. “Your agents stole my missiles.” He paused, and in Zara’s mind, she saw him taking a draw off the ever-present Dutch cigarette between his lips. She could hear him exhale. “I want them back and you know where they are.”

No, he doesn’t. Zara knew a rich Saudi prince expected Dmitri to deliver the cache of smart missiles and the technology to build more in less than six hours. Dmitri was under the gun, and now so was Tim, but Tim didn’t know the whereabouts of the missiles.

He and Zara had been hunting down a turncoat spy in the Paris Embassy. An asset had led them to the farmhouse with the promise of evidence. Instead of finding the informant waiting for him, however, Tim had found Dmitri, a black market arms dealer the U.S. had been trying to arrest for months.

Trying and failing.

In the van, sweat soaked the back of Zara’s white shirt. Her boss didn’t want the French involved in Tim’s rescue for reasons beyond her clearance level, so he’d called in Pegasus, the CIA’s paramilitary team. Although the five-man squad had been on assignment in Germany, Vaughn had assured her Pegasus would arrive before sunrise.

Zara checked her watch. Sunrise was less than fifteen minutes away.

Fifteen minutes.

The speaker popped as Dmitri snapped his fingers. “Break his fingers.” Another draw on his cigarette. “Slowly.”

Zara dug her fingernails into the console’s cheap laminate as the sounds of a scuffle and the clear ring of popping bone echoed through the receiver. Tim’s cry of pain froze her blood and the ball of fear in Zara’s stomach grew. As a young girl, her mother’s sobs on the other side of her bedroom wall had triggered the same feeling. Helplessness.

She stared at the speaker, her heart in her throat. Where was Team Pegasus? Where was Lawson?

Sitting in the cramped van beside Zara, Annette Newton reached across the mess of wires and gadgets and squeezed Zara’s arm. “There’s nothing we can do, Zara.”

An FBI analyst who worked with the CIA’s counterterrorism team on European operations, Annette had come along to record the informant’s information for French Intelligence as well as the CIA. Now she was recording Tim’s torture.

Zara rubbed her stomach and motioned at Annette’s matching laptop. “Call Pegasus again. Hurry.”

As Annette placed the secure call, Zara looked at the picture of Dmitri taped to the side of her computer screen. The ice-blue eyes stared back at her, mocking her inexperience. Even before Tim had walked into the trap, Dmitri had garnered the Number One wanted position on Zara’s personal list of international bad guys. His criminal network inside Paris and throughout Europe was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent people and yet he was as elusive as the smoke from his cigarette. While Tim had kept Zara in the background learning to cultivate assets, she’d become obsessed with the terrorist no one could catch.

Now Dmitri had fallen into her lap, but she would gladly let him walk away if she could save Tim.

You won’t get away with this, she challenged his image. I won’t let you.

Annette caught Zara’s eye. “No answer. They must be out of range.”

Another cracking noise issued from the speaker. Another scream of pain.

“Out of range?” Zara’s heart beat like a bird trapped inside her chest. “They should be in the field by now. How they can be out of range?”

Annette remained calm in the face of Zara’s frustration. “The satellite might be down due to the storms throughout Europe or the signal is being blocked by the French.”

French Intelligence wanted Dmitri as bad as the U.S. did. Or so they claimed. “FI okayed our presence. Why would they block our communications?”

“Maybe it’s not FI. Could be the National Police or gendarmerie. French agencies are a lot like ours. They don’t always play well together and they certainly don’t play with us. It happens.”

Zara rubbed her stomach again as she heard another of Tim’s fingers pop. She wanted to scream along with him. “I shouldn’t be letting this happen. I should do something to stop Dmitri. Flynn would.”

Conrad Flynn, the new Director of Operations, was a god in the international spy world. A god always on her case, drilling her to be assertive but not too aggressive. It was a tightrope every spook danced on. A rope strung hair-trigger-tight for spooks like Zara in Flynn’s secret army.

Annette fingered the keys on her laptop. “Director Flynn has years of fieldwork and experience with guys like Dmitri. You don’t.”

Flynn had plucked Zara from the other Farm graduates and put her through several weeks of his own special training program. She was one of Flynn’s new army of spies. An army few people, including Annette, knew anything about due to the delicacy of the job. “Flynn trained me. I should know how to get Tim out of this situation…”

Dmitri’s voice hissed from the speaker and both women fell quiet. “If you do not tell me what I need to know, I will shoot you and leave you for the rats to eat. They start with your eyeballs and your testicles…” His voice trailed off and amused laughter of the men in the room filtered through. “Think about it, Agent Owens. You have five minutes before you become rat meat.”

Five minutes? Zara glanced at her watch. Ten agonizing minutes to sunrise. Dmitri now planned to kill Tim, not just torture him.

In five minutes.

Closing her eyes, she offered up a prayer to her god of a boss back at Langley. She needed to channel Flynn and she needed to do it now. Move, his voice commanded in her head. Take control.

But how? What would he do in this situation? The three point triangle he always preached appeared in Zara’s mind—delude, deceive, distract. Her eyes flew open.

The only way to defeat betrayal was to meet it head on. She would have to distract Dmitri until Vaughn arrived. Glancing at her watch, she set the timer. Then she reached behind her for the gun in the waistband of her pants.

Annette raised an eyebrow and Zara pointed at the satellite phone. “Keep trying Vaughn.”

As she checked the clip in the compact SIG Sauer 9 millimeter, she scrambled to the end of the van, grabbing a bug bot—one of the tiny microphones the CIA’s geek squad handed out like candy—from a cache of electronic equipment by the door.

Annette swiveled her chair to follow Zara’s path. “Where are you going?”

“Vaughn said he’d be in position by sunrise, but Tim doesn’t have that long. I’m going to distract Dmitri until Pegasus gets here.”

Annette’s forehead creased in a frown. “And get yourself and Agent Owens killed in the process?”

“You got a better idea?”

“Yeah, wait for Vaughn.”

Zara shook her head. “Tim’s as good as dead right now if I wait. We don’t even know for sure Vaughn and his group are in the field. I won’t risk Tim’s life because of a nonfunctioning satellite dish or a pissing match between Sûreté Nationale and French Intelligence.” She pushed open the van door. “I have to do something and I have to do it now.”


Closing the door on Annette’s high-strung voice, she slipped out into the shadowed countryside.

The manic bird continued to beat against her rib cage. She leaned her back against the van for a moment, trying to draw in a deep breath. Was she about to make matters worse?

How could they get any worse?

Ignoring her jack-hammering heart, she secured the bug bot in the lining of her bra and buttoned the top two buttons of her shirt. A storm moving in from the west buffeted her with wind. Strands of hair whipped around her face as the air cooled her back where the sweat-soaked shirt clung to her skin. Shoving the stray hair behind her ear, she scanned the horizon and wondered if this was her first and last mission for the CIA. Wondered if she could save Tim or if they’d both end up rat meat.

Zara secured her gun back in her waistband before swinging her leg over her motorcycle sitting next to the van. She kick-started the engine and shot out of the woods headed for the farmhouse. It was time for a personal face off with betrayal.


At five fifty-six a.m. Lieutenant Commander Lawson Vaughn pulled himself forward another inch on the ground and listened to a dove welcome the approaching sunrise with a low call. The night was not yet in full retreat, and in five minutes—technically four minutes and ten seconds—Lawson and his four-man squad were going to use the fading darkness and the approaching storm to take the terrorists in the rambling white farmhouse by surprise.

Rescuing a hostage was delicate work done with a sledgehammer. Time-consuming preparation for split-second decision making. Careful, deliberate negotiations laying a trail for guns and brute force.

In his career, Lawson had saved fourteen men, six women, three children and half a dozen bystanders. He kept track of those he lost too. Some people couldn’t be rescued, couldn’t be saved, no matter how hard he tried. The towers fell before his plane touched down. The cancer spread during the third course of treatment. The person had a death wish.

Every rescue op contained variables. Some were controllable and he could plan for those. Relentless training covered the rest. What delicacy couldn’t handle, the sledgehammer would.

Team Pegasus had already completed the delicate part of this mission, moving through the field south of the house with deliberate care. Each man had become a shadow in the night as they covered a half mile of dense trees, checking every inch for tripwires and infrared alarms. Now within a few yards of the house, they had found nothing except a one-man security patrol walking the grounds.

Careless of you, Dmitri. A spot between Lawson’s shoulder blades twitched. Alexandrov Dmitri was nothing if not paranoid. The terrorist did not make mistakes when it came to security. So why had he seemingly failed to do so this time? Why pick an abandoned farmhouse in the middle of rolling hills to take a spy hostage instead of driving thirty miles farther south to his compound?

The cricket chorus was dwindling, and the first streak of sunrise broke the horizon even as the storm moved in. Dark clouds hung just above the horizon and the wind had kicked up hard enough to bend the trees over Lawson’s head. At this point, it was a waste of time to analyze Alexandrov Dmitri’s poor decision-making skills. The plan was straightforward. The suits in the States and here on the ground in France had concurred on all the important facts. Pegasus was activated.

In four minutes, Lawson had to get his men into the farmhouse, cover the CIA asset and arrest Dmitri. Agent Morgan’s intel report stated there were four terrorists inside with Owens. Now one was out doing guard duty, leaving Dmitri, his lieutenant and another man inside. Even if Dmitri had something up his sleeve, Team Pegasus was skilled and experienced. Neutralizing four terrorists would be a simple takedown.

In his peripheral vision, Lawson saw his point man, Johnny Quick, retreat several feet and tuck his body into the shadows of the barn as Dmitri’s security patrol sat on the porch step and lit a cigarette. The barn’s floodlight illuminated the drive and a portion of the house. After a moment, Johnny gave him the clear sign. Lawson’s other men, Teddy, Rooster and C.J., waited impatiently for his command. Like him, they were raring to go, even though the last mission was only hours behind them. Every dove call, every blip of his digital watch, fine-tuned Lawson’s attention.

Above the rustling tree leaves, he heard the drum of a motorcycle engine. The guard on the porch heard it too, rising to his feet as the cigarette dangled from his mouth and his rifle came up. Ten seconds later, a finely tuned Ducati shot up the road with a woman driving it. Strands of long blonde hair blew out behind her as she ignored the driveway, hopped the ditch and jerked the bike into an abrupt skid ten feet from the cigarette-smoking terrorist’s feet.

The cigarette fell and the rifle locked into place.

“Dmitri!” Her voice echoed off the house and into the woods as she killed the bike. She dropped the kickstand and raised her hands in the air.

Zara. The sledgehammer landed right between Lawson’s shoulder blades.

Zara had no time to think or plan what was coming. The guard’s gun was trained on her. She ignored him and his command to fall to her knees as she kept her focus on the living room picture window and yelled again. “Dmitri! I know where your missiles are. I’ll take you to them.”

The guard grabbed her by the back of her shirt and pulled her away from the bike. She let him push her to her knees, the end of his AK-47 digging painfully into her back. He yanked her gun from her waistband and ejected the clip. It bounced on the ground to her left.

A second later, the door to the farmhouse opened and Dmitri stood in its frame, his face in shadows.

Cold fear ran over Zara’s skin like gooseflesh. He said nothing, nor did his lieutenant behind him. For several heartbeats, she knelt rigid, willing him to take her bait.

A modicum of guarded relief flooded through her when he ambled down the porch steps in his expensive Italian loafers. But the relief changed course as he crossed the yard to stand in front of her, the paleness of his eyes evident even in the half-gray light of the approaching sunrise. His gaze cut to the road behind her, to her Ducati and back to her face.

Through the years, Zara had perfected a myriad of personas to deal with her family, the press, the public at large. Like the different ringtones on her cell phone, she had one for her father, one for the coworker who made a pass at her in the halls of Langley, one for the psychiatrist who administered lie detector tests. It was a crucial skill in her line of work.

Dialing up her impersonal, model-spy face, she willed her voice to stay calm, sound cool. “I know where your weapons are. I’ll take you to the cache myself.” She paused before offering him the key to success. “If we leave now, you can make your deadline to your buyer.”

Dmitri said nothing, only cocked his head a millimeter to the side, studying her as if she were a curious oddity. Strands of his dark hair rose and fell on the wind. His gaze flickered over her, lingering for the briefest of seconds on the gold chain around her neck before lazily climbing back to her face. Another slight nod and the guard hauled her to her feet.

“Are you a complete fool?” he said in French.

It wasn’t the question she was expecting, but she didn’t miss a beat. Seconds were passing. “Non,” she answered him face-to-face. She switched to English. They would do this negotiation on her terms. “And neither are you. Accept my offer and let’s get out of here. Prince Abkhahar will not wait one minute past the deadline.”

Dmitri’s gaze bore into hers. He switched to English as well. “Do you know how much I hate Americans? American women. American spies.” He spit on the ground at her feet.

Thunder boomed in the distance and Zara jumped. A flicker of amusement danced in the madman’s eyes. She used the gall it ignited in her stomach to stay focused. “Business is business. Abkhahar needs those missiles to funnel to Hezbollah. You fail to deliver them and he’ll kill you. If you’re ever going to be the ruling tycoon in the international world of black arms dealers, you need this deal to go down smoothly and on time.” She met his gaze without flinching. “I can make it happen.”

“Tell me where the cache is, and you can go free with your comrade.”

She didn’t actually know where the cache was. Even if she had, Dmitri would never let her and Tim go once he had the location. “I take you to it or there’s no deal.”

He stepped forward, his face far too close for comfort. He was handsome in that French bad-boy way. Many women found the combination of devilish looks and cruelty appealing. Zara found it repulsive. “Do you know who I am, spook?”

Terrorist. Assassin. Certifiable nutcase. A ruthless businessman who enjoyed the sport of killing whether it was to further his political agenda, his philosophical views or just for the act itself. He loved cat-and-mouse games, toying with his prey until it was exhausted mentally and physically before he lost interest and finally had it killed. Rarely did he pull the trigger himself unless it was to purge one of his own men. He didn’t trust many people and occasionally, even those in his inner circle were eliminated without hesitation.

Yes, Zara thought, I know exactly who you are.

But she also knew who she was.

She raised her chin a notch. “You’re wasting time. Deal or no deal?”

The corner of his mouth lifted in a comma at the challenge. Seconds ticked by in unison with the beat of her heart, but this time when the thunder boomed again, closer, she didn’t move a muscle.

Dmitri snapped his fingers at his gun-toting guard. “Bring the car around.”

“Let’s take my bike. It’s faster.” She motioned at the others. “Your men can follow in the car.”

Dmitri glanced at her bike and did an abrupt nod of his head, but her success was again short-lived. “Bring me Owens,” he said to his lieutenant. The man left the doorway.

The hair on the back of her neck stood up again. Her bones vibrated. “Why?”

This time Dmitri smiled fully. He reached out a finger and touched the chain at her neck. “A little game I like to play.”

Tim staggered down the porch stairs in front of Dmitri’s lieutenant and another guard. His hands were tied behind his back. His face was bruised, haggard. When his eyes met hers, she saw a spark of admiration mixed with surprise but he shook his head at her in disbelief.

He doesn’t believe I can pull this off.

Glancing at Dmitri, Zara could see he was thinking the same thing. He pulled a heavy black gun out of his shoulder holster and held it out to her, butt-end. “Kill him,” he ordered.

The model-agent persona faltered. Dmitri was demanding she exterminate his witness. He was ordering her to kill her senior case officer. As a wave of panic threatened to undo her, her Farm training kicked in. If I can just grab his gun…

Dmitri’s guard cleared his throat, reminding Zara his rifle was locked on her chest. Her gaze flew to Tim’s and true panic squeezed itself like a python around her heart.

Her mouth dry, she forced her attention back to Dmitri. Flynn’s advice rang in her head. Don’t let him make this personal. Stay detached. “I don’t play games.”

With swift movements, Dmitri grabbed her hand and smacked the gun into it. Then he twisted her around, wrapping his left arm around her rib cage and slamming her back against his chest. He turned their bodies in unison, pulling the gun up to aim at Tim.

The contact was brutal and she jerked hard, but Dmitri’s arm was a vise. He rested his head next to hers as lightning cracked above them. The smell of cigarettes, expensive cologne, and male sweat mixed in her nose. His hand closed around hers, forcing the gun to point at Tim’s head.

“Let me help you,” he murmured in her ear, seductive as a lover. “Ready?” He trapped her finger on the trigger. “One, two—”

Beep. Beep. Beep. The timer on Zara’s watch went off.

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Can Colton keep Shelby alive, or will he put them both in the crossfire and lose her forever?

In this fifth book in the SEALs of Shadow Force series, Colton and Shelby face family issues, a serial killer bent on revenge, second chances, and are joined by Connor and Sabrina from Fatal Love!

“The love scenes were smokin’ hot!”


Colton swung back into the kitchen, two shirts in hand. He eyed the buttons on her blouse. “You need a hand getting that off?”

For a second, Shelby wasn’t sure if he was serious or just teasing. The look in his eyes—the same heat from before—told her he was serious all right.

Dead serious.

He wanted to unbutton her blouse and help her out of it.

Not because he was being nice or thought she couldn’t work the buttons on her shirt.

Evil man. “Just because my leg is screwed up doesn’t mean I can’t dress myself.”

He tossed the fresh shirt on the table, then reached out to finger the collar of her blouse. “Was thinking more about the undressing part. Can you do it on your own?”

Her nipples hardened and she licked her lips. “Is that part of my therapy? Showing you I can unbutton my shirt?”

A wicked grin lit his face. “I need to do a full evaluation of what you can and can’t handle.”

The desire pulsing at the base of her spine moved lower. At the same time, she undid the top button.

This was such a bad idea, but this is what they did—teased, played, and had fun. Until the fun was over and reality came calling.

When it was just the two of them, they were perfect together. As soon as her family, friends, or job entered the picture, there was nothing but anger, hurt, and arguing.

As if he could see the mental war going on in her head, he upped the ante—he shucked off his own shirt.

And oh, my. What a beautiful man he was, even with the scars crisscrossing his chest and belly. His broad shoulders bunched as he wadded up the coffee-stained shirt and tossed it on the table, his steely gaze once again challenging her in a totally different way.

Her hand went to the second button on her blouse, toying with it, watching the effect the promise of something more had on him. He knew as well as she did that nothing good could come from them lowering their defenses and seeking comfort in each other’s arms, but hell if that had ever stopped either of them from giving in to their passion.

Sex with Colton had always been good—not just good, great. Eighteen months was a long time to go without that kind of pleasure, without him, yet she hadn’t even considered hooking up with anyone else. Couldn’t consider starting over with someone new.

Jaya had tried setting her up more than once. Shelby appreciated her friend’s compassion and determination, but most times, she never even made it to the first date. Same with her mom, pushing her toward Daniel. A good man, but no one else was Colton.

Even now, he knew she needed to control the flow and pace of this dance with the devil. She was no amateur—she knew the price of crossing the point of no return with him. He wasn’t about to push her into anything. This was her choice. All he was doing was putting it out there. Offering to make her a very happy woman for a few hours.

Was she willing to let him?

Her body screamed yes, yes, yes. Goading, demanding. It remembered all too well how amazing he could make her feel.

Her heart, though…that was an altogether different thing. Wait, wait, wait, it cried. It didn’t want to be hurt again.

Because surrendering her body to Colton was one thing, but she couldn’t separate her heart from it. If she plunged into heedless abandon with him, her heart would pay the price.

Logic attempted to marry the two, reminding her that a drop-dead gorgeous man, one who wanted to protect her and maybe still loved her, was standing there in front of her, half-naked and willing to do anything she wanted.

Shelby was no fool. She reached for him.

He caught her hand, intertwining his fingers with hers, and once again went to his knees in front of her.

A rush of pure, unadulterated power ran through her veins. Having this man—a former SEAL and the most incredible lover a gal could ask for—kneel in front of her was as thrilling as any moment she’d ever had on the beauty pageant circuit, as intoxicating as any case she’d ever worked for the FBI. He was hers. All hers. He might have teased her relentlessly about being a beauty queen, but he loved giving her anything she wanted.

Right now, she wanted him.

And he knew it.

Slowly, she drew him toward her, leaning down to offer a kiss to seal her pact with the devil.


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Time travel, sexy soul mates and one disturbing bad guy

He’s after a killer…and she’s the prime suspect.


Their souls are bound for all eternity…

For a thousand years, cursed, immortal priestess Keva Moon Water has protected the descendants of her lost tribe. When the last remaining family members are killed in a ritualistic mass murder that Keva survives, she becomes the prime suspect in the FBI’s investigation.

Special Agent Rife St. Claire is a decorated profiler and expert in ritualistic killings. Haunted by the murder of his mother when he was only thirteen, he’s now driven to protect the innocent.

When he finds himself falling hard for the beautiful survivor, his job—as well as his heart—is in danger. Incriminating evidence points to Keva as the killer and she’s willing to go to great lengths to prove her innocence and awaken Rife’s memories of their love affair that started a war and bound their souls together for all eternity.


Genre | Paranormal Romance | Ghost Mystery | Mystery Thriller & Suspense


Enjoy this excerpt!

Present Day

Wolf River, Oregon

Hundreds of Virgin Marys stared at Rife St. Cloud from every surface inside the old church, their serene eyes in direct contrast to the bloody bodies of the six dead women at his feet.

Staring at a grisly multiple homicide and running on less than four hours of sleep, Rife slid his car keys into the worn pocket of his jeans and wondered what he was doing back in Wolf River. What he was doing on the West Coast in general. This is what I get for taking a vacation.

Vacation or not, his mind automatically registered the stats of the six women as crime scene techs buzzed around them. All Native American with matching tribal tattoos depicting a quarter moon over waves above their left breast. All early to late twenties. Stab wounds and an assortment of symbols carved into the skins of five of the bodies who were staged to circle a sixth.

A ritualistic killer. Rife eyed the various wounds and estimated the depth and number of marks on each woman. Or just a disorganized one trying to cover his tracks?

A heaviness knocked him in the chest. During the past five years as a profiler for the FBI, he’d seen a lot of brutality, but he never got used to the sight of murder victims, especially women and children.

The killer’s weapon, a wicked-looking knife, lay on the stomach of the female in the center. Beautiful, even in death, the woman’s skin, sharp cheekbones and dark hair spoke of pure ancestry. Chinook? Makah? Tribes existed throughout Oregon, but few pure bloods lived in Wolf River. Unlike the others, she had only one small carving on her breast, in the shape of flames. Thin, bloody lines intertwined and partially encircled her tattoo as if a fire were about to consume it. While she appeared to be the same age as the others, her tat was faded and showed an old wound—a single, shallow white scar cut through the center of the quarter moon.

The knife rested with its bloody tip pointing at her pubic hair. The killer’s signature?

James Chee, Wolf River’s police chief and only detective, snapped on latex gloves as he bent down to study the body. He’d had far more sleep than Rife, even though it was just before three on a Sunday morning. Pressing his fingers against her throat, Chee double checked for a pulse. “EMTs called it,” he mumbled, more to himself than Rife. “But I have to be sure.”

After a full fifteen seconds, he shook his head and lifted the knife off her stomach with two fingers, examining the ornate hilt. “Definitely not a spree killing. The wheel-spoke pattern with this one in the middle suggests a ritual of some sort.” His heavy sigh conveyed grief and pity. “Could be a hate crime. Possibly premeditated.”

Rife sunk his left hand into his other pocket. “Ritualistic killings are always premeditated.”

Chee bagged the knife and continued to examine it through the clear plastic. “No signs of forced entry or even much of a struggle. Suggests they knew the killer.”

Keeping his hands in his pockets, Rife examined the central figure in closer detail. Thick eyelashes balanced her long nose. Her throat showed several old bruises. Had someone tried to choke her previous to tonight’s killing? “Cause of death?”

Chee shook his head, the gray braid hanging down his back moving as he studied the woman along with Rife. His finger pointed to the flames. “Keva only has one obvious wound and not a mortal one. Coroner will have to call it.”

“Keva? You knew her?”

“Keva Moon Water. Owned the church and the grounds. Set it up as a sanctuary for some of her women kin from what I understand.”

Rife shifted his attention to the room, ignoring the crime scene techs marking blood splatter and snapping photos. He shouldn’t be here. At the crime scene or in his home town at all. But when a mass murder happened under Chee’s nose, and his grandson was sleeping—or not sleeping, as the case were—in the spare room in his cabin, Rife was going to be pressed into action. At least unofficial action. Truth was, he didn’t really mind. Anything was better than twiddling his thumbs. Killers didn’t do vacations and neither did Rife.

The usual trappings of the Catholic religion were missing, save the Madonnas, stained glass windows and the Saints carved in stone behind what had once been the pulpit. Instead, the immense room displayed the ingredients of a normal home: sofa, chairs, flat-screen. Plants with yellowing leaves lined an antique buffet. A women’s magazine lay open on a coffee table as if its owner had simply got up to answer the phone or get a soda. A stack of paperbacks stood next to a chair, patiently waiting to be read. One corner of the room was set up as an office, complete with computer, fax and several printers.

“They kept to themselves up here,” Chee continued unprompted. “The closest neighbors live half a mile away and gossiped about vandalism. Kids, probably. They thought she was a witch, gave her grief, but she never turned them in.”

A witch who collected Madonnas. Rife’s eyes went back and forth between the beautiful dark-haired woman and the solemn dark-eyed Virgins. From the primitive hand-carved wooden statues to the detailed oil painting in the nave, the Madonnas crossed the spectrum of antiquity and worth. In the mix, native artifacts stood out in bas relief. “Who called it in?”

Chee’s already narrowed eyes tightened. He pointed to a cell phone bagged as evidence and lying on a nearby table. “One of our gals here. Dialed 911, but only got part of the address out before the line was disconnected. Dispatch is county-run, but the woman working the phones put two and two together with the location of our one and only cell phone tower and the partial address. The bodies were still warm when I got here, but we were too late. They were all dead.”

The mew of a cat caught Rife’s attention. A fat gray tabby circled a pole as tall as Rife and carved from a cedar log. Rubbing against the totem, the feline made another circle before sitting on its haunches and staring at him. Rife’s gaze ran up the totem which depicted three females: a child raising her mother up above her head, and the mother in turn raising a grandmother above her. A fat raven head with enormous eyes and open beak topped the totem. A thunderbird. Traditional Northwest Coast art.

The mix of Native art with traditional Catholicism didn’t surprise him. Whether Indian or Virgin Mary, the thread was the same—the wisdom and power of women.

“A ritual killing in a church,” Rife murmured, jingling his keys. “Guess our guy’s not afraid of damnation.” The bastard also wasn’t interested in the numerous artifacts or computer equipment. Rife locked eyes with the cat. If only she could talk. “Sexual assault?”

“Not obvious.” Chee rose and paced around the other women, pointing at the symbols with his free hand. “From the amount of blood, our killer carved them premortem, but lack of struggle indicates they didn’t fight. Sure would like to know why.”

“Drugged, my guess.”

“Lot of that these days, even in this backwoods part of the world, but all of them?”

“Just be sure your techs bag all the cups, pop cans and glasses as evidence.”

The old man grunted with what Rife understood to be an acknowledgment before scrutinizing the naked bodies again. “What about the symbols? What do they mean?”

Glancing down, unease stirred Rife’s gut. The symbols in question were ancient. Too ancient for him, even with his extensive knowledge of native languages and religions. What bothered him more was the fact that disorganized criminals didn’t perform organized ritualistic killings.

Chee replaced the knife, examining the direction of the tip. “The killer sending us a message?”

Rife shrugged. “Who understands the mind of a killer?”

“You do, Mr. Profiler. That’s why I called you even before my CSU team unpacked their equipment.”

“It’s Special Agent to you,” he shot back with no enthusiasm. “And as you might recall, I’m supposed to be on vacation.”

“Yeah? How much wood you need to chop in August?”

Rife ignored the goad and the fact that Chee, like everyone else in Wolf River, knew every move he made. This wasn’t Virginia; this was his grandfather’s town. James Chee’s town. Rife had to get used to that.

Chee stepped outside the circle of death and handed the knife to a young officer to be added to the growing pile of evidence. He called out to a CSU tech hustling by, “You get a close up of Keva’s tattoo?”

“Six angles,” the female photographer replied. The click of her camera echoed in the high-ceilinged room as she shot pictures of an old communion table that now held an assortment of primitive Virgins. “You ever see a collection like this, Chief? Some of this is museum-grade stuff.”

Sadness warred with Rife’s unease as he stared down at Keva. Maybe it was the Madonnas. Maybe it was the fact that the women here were native like him. No matter that his training insisted he stay detached, this crime felt personal. The woman in the center of the circle was dead at the hands of a sick murderer. The Madonna Killer. He could see the headline in the Wolf River Sentinel now.

Who are you, Keva Moon Water? As usual, he found himself more interested in the victim than the criminal. A vague sense of recognition rippled through him. His grandfather knew her, but had never mentioned her, and Rife knew he’d never met her on any of his trips home to Wolf River. She certainly hadn’t grown up in town or gone to the dilapidated school house he had attended all those years ago. He had an excellent memory and would recognize her if she’d been part of the town’s landscape during his childhood. So why did he feel that ripple? Who was she? What sacrifices had she made to provide this sanctuary for her relatives and why did they need one? What had she, or her family, done to attract a violent, sadistic person?

Even as he turned the questions over in his mind, the real question nagging at him surfaced like a dead body floating to the top of a lake. When will I finally stop the killers that prey on the innocent?

To hell with vacation. He pulled his hands out of his pockets. “I’ll help however I can, Grandpops.”

The cat cried again in the corner of the room as if giving her approval. Rife ignored her and the light that brightened Chee’s dark eyes. He focused on Keva’s tattoo. Moon Water, he thought, again trying to place why that name rang a bell.

A muscle under her tat spasmed. Blinking, Rife told himself it was only the body’s natural response as death set in. Either that or he needed sleep. Nothing new about that.

But when he saw it spasm again, his gaze shot to her face. Her eyelids twitched and the ripple turned into a wave of pure adrenaline. “Holy shit,” he whispered.

Dropping down beside her, his fingers found a pulse at the base of her throat. As faint as the beat of butterfly wings, it stirred under his touch. He glanced up at Chee. “You said she was dead.”

“She is.” Chee’s eyes were wide as he stared at Keva. “You saw me double check her.”

Keva’s full lips parted, and Rife’s heart jumped with hope as she drew in a weak, shaky breath. Her eyes fluttered open.

“Get your EMTs back in here.” He smiled into the soft, Virgin-like eyes of Keva Moon Water. “She’s alive. Very, very alive.”

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New release for September! And, I’m in Facebook jail… 😲

Hello beautiful readers! Are you ready for fall reading? I’m excited to tell you about the new Schock Sisters Mystery series, the first of which releases this month!

But first… some not so great news. I’m in Facebook jail.

Facebook has disabled my Misty Evans Author page, stating I’ve violated ad policy. It’s happening to many authors, unfortunately. Since I had NO ads running at the time they did this, I figured it was a goof and I’d be able to appeal and have my account reinstated. They sent me an email, telling me it was their mistake, sorry for the inconvenience, and got me back up and running.

However, within 24 hours, they not only disabled my Misty Evans Author Page again, they shut down my business account entirely and the ability to do anything from my personal page as well! So ALL of my pages and groups are disabled to me, including both author pages, and my holistic health biz.

I can’t post in any of my groups although at times, I can like and comment (not always). If I use my phone or tablet, I can sometimes get a post through to my author page via Instagram, and my assistant can as well.

Again, not always, and I suspect at some point, FB may disable that feature too. 🙁 I’ve been able to post ONE thing to my personal timeline. That’s it.

I can sometimes get messages through. Please note that if you send me a direct message, I may or may not be able to reply. Please email me instead at .

I’ve appealed numerous times in the past two weeks and been told I can no longer appeal, the decision is final. I’m hopeful that if I wait a week or so, I can contact someone with actual power and not the party-line “can’t help you bc your account is disabled” reply. They will not tell me which ad violated their policy, and since I’ve been running ads for years and never had this, I’m at a loss.

Going forward, I just want to say that I love my fans and I’ll continue to work on getting my account enabled so we can keep interacting on Facebook. For now, you can chat with me via email, here on the blog, through my newsletter, BookBub, and on Instagram and Twitter. Both Amazon and Goodreads have feeds to the blog too.

Now for the GOOD NEWS!!

1st Shock, Schock Sisters Mystery Series, Book 1 releases here on my direct buy site on September 17th AND you SAVE a dollar off the retail price. Then it will move to Kindle Unlimited on the 27th. If you read on Nook, Kobo, or Apple Books, you’ll need to purchase the ePub here on the direct buy site BEFORE September 25th, since it will be taken down in order for Adrienne and I to move it into KU.

October 15th, 2nd Strike, Schock Sisters Mystery Series, Book 2, releases (same setup, you can get it here first in ePub or mobi for a dollar cheaper!) and then it will move into KU on the 24th.

November 19th will be Third Tango, Schock Sisters Mystery Series, Book 3, releasing here first and then moving into KU.

For my pen name, Nyx Halliwell, I ALSO have three more releases this year—September, October, November! Hop over to my Nyx website to learn all about those paranormal cozy mysteries featuring small-town amateur sleuths, magic, and talking cats!

Thank you SO much for your support through the years! It’s very troubling to me about the Facebook problem, but some things are out of my control. Please connect with me here, or through the other platforms listed above.

Love and light to all! Happy reading,