Kamielle is being hunted. With her mob-involved husband on her trail, she goes from Chicago to Oakland and thinks she has finally found peace…until someone tries to kill her. Again.
FBI Agent Michael Carter isn’t looking for a woman to complicate his world. He’s looking for a serial killer who preys on prostitutes during the full moon. What he finds is a woman who seems to have a past she can’t get away from. When she almost dies, he becomes her savior.
Michael looks into Kamielle’s past and finds out her husband is a very dangerous man. As they try to unravel the mystery that has become Kamielle’s life, they find standing together is easier than standing alone, and outrunning the hunter is harder than they expected.
Disclaimer: Contains adult language
Whoever said “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger” had obviously never been on the run for their life. The windshield wipers brushed away the raindrops sparkling from the streetlamps, and while it should have had a calming effect, Oakland at night was kind of scary. Chicago, Denver, and Tucson had seemed more cheerful than this. But maybe it wasn’t the location as much as the reason she was here.
Kamielle wondered when she’d live somewhere that didn’t seem scary. At the rate she was going, probably never. Her life was out of control and she was trying desperately to get it out of the hyper-drive tailspin. So far, it wasn’t working out too well.
Pulling into her wet and dark driveway, Kamielle took a deep breath trying not to think about the horrible day she’d had. Dark driveway? Had the porch light burnt out already?
Even though the large porch holding both entrances to the duplex had a small covering, the driveway did not. The rain was coming down hard and the neighbor’s porch light wasn’t on either, so no help there.
As Kami gathered her leather briefcase and laptop, she thought she saw something move by the bushes next to the porch. Her breath caught in her throat and her heart threatened to beat out of her chest. She stared, unable to tell if anyone was there. A full grown man couldn’t hide behind such short bushes, could he? She waited for a full minute just to be sure.
“Nothing to worry about,” she said. “It’s just the wind and rain. He doesn’t know where you moved. And, if he finds you, just move again.” Not that she wanted to move again.
She locked the doors and sprinted to the porch. The rustling in the bushes turned to a meow and purr and she sighed in relief. Her adopted tomcat trotted over and began rubbing against her legs.
As she headed to the door, she cursed the dead porch light and fumbled for her keys.
“I hope your day was better than mine, Simon.”
The cat was too busy trying to trip her to respond. She dropped her keys and they made a splashing sound as they hit the walkway. Leaning over, hair fell into her eyes and she almost dropped her laptop case.
“Seriously? Of all the lousy damn things to put an end to my perfectly shitty day!”
Bad language had never been allowed in the house while growing up with her parents. Swear words were only used by Frank, Kami’s father. Now, she found cursing at certain times made her feel defiant toward the heartless man. He’d had a horrible drinking problem and a more horrible temper. Her mother, Evelyn, had paid the price. By the time Kami was fifteen, her mother was dead and Frank had gone to prison. Social Services placed her in a foster home. At eighteen she’d moved from Texas to Illinois, running from all the bad memories.
Now she was running again.
She felt the cool metal of the key ring on her fingers and lifted them from the puddle. Once inside her duplex she locked the two deadbolts.
Kami quickly put her stuff away and took off her wet jacket. She was on her way to her bedroom when loud pounding on the front door made her spin and slam her back against the hallway wall. Heart thundering, she stood frozen as the pounding became more insistent. Incoherent yelling followed. She moved silently down the stairs, toward the door, picking up a wooden baseball bat as she went.
“Open the fucking door, you bitch! I know she’s in there! I’ll break it down if I have to!” The voice was slurred. “Karen! If you don’t come out here right now I’m going to come in and get you!”
Karen? Realization dawned on Kami as the voice screamed for Karen a few more times. It had to be a drunk, drugged up Stewart.
When Kami had moved her few items into the house, Stewart had sat on the steps drinking beer and eyeing her legs. The day after, a woman in a purple tube top and black leather mini-skirt came over. She’d introduced herself as Karen and said she lived next door with her boyfriend Stewart; aka: the leg watcher.
Karen had been nice enough and welcomed Kami to the neighborhood. Then she went into a big spiel about keeping doors locked at all times, never sleeping with the windows open, and always knowing who was knocking at the door before you answered it.
As Karen went on and on about how many cars had been stolen, Kami looked her over. You could see her ribs. The tube top was not the best outfit for her figure, or lack of. Not only that, she had healed track marks up both arms.
It’s not that they had become good friends by any means, but in the last few weeks Karen had been coming over about every other day to visit with Kami, drink coffee, and smoke cigarettes. Well, Karen had smoked the cigarettes, a lot of them. She had seemed like she needed someone to talk to and Kami was a good listener. So, Stewart obviously thought Karen was there at ten o’clock at night and it was a good time to come looking for her.
“Karen isn’t here,” Kami said, hands shaking as she gripped the bat. “I don’t know where she is.” She hoped he would listen and go home to sleep it off.
No such luck.
“She’s always over there with you. Talking ‘bout things that are none of your business. Babbling on and on about shit she shouldn’t. I’m gonna teach her a lesson. Then I’m gonna teach you a lesson.” Stewart’s voice made the hair on the back of Kami’s neck stand up.
Her father’s voice used to sound like that right before he hit Evelyn or her with one of his fists or beer bottles. Kami had also heard her husband Thomas’s voice sound like that, once, and that was the day she had decided to leave him. She stood paralyzed next to the door, thinking of things in the past that were better forgotten.
The sound of metal hitting wood brought Kami back to the present. Stewart was beating on the door with something other than his fists.
Dropping the bat and running upstairs, Kami grabbed her car keys. She went out the back door and down the small set of stairs putting her into the grass of the backyard. Her cold and wet nylon-clad feet were the least of her problems as she snuck around the side of the house.
Stewart’s porch light was on now, of course. Luckily for Kami, Stewart was too high and dumb to realize he could get into the house faster by breaking the window instead of trying to hack open the front door with a crowbar. Who did he think he was? Jack Nicholson in “The Shining”?
Kami decided to try and get to her car and drive around until Stewart got tired of pounding on her door and went home to pass out. She hoped he wouldn’t figure out how to break into the house, but she didn’t want to be in there if he did. She couldn’t call the police because then there would be an official report filed and someone could have access to her address.
Stewart stopped, resting his head on the door. Kami wished for the convenience of a new car with automatic door locks she would be able to access from her key chain.
She crept to the passenger side because it was the opposite side Stewart was on. She slipped the key into the door lock and slowly, carefully turned the key. The click was quiet. When she lifted the door handle and pulled the door open, the interior light of the car came on and Stewart spun around like someone had blown a whistle to get his attention.
He jumped off the porch, running at the car with the crowbar like he was getting ready to swing a baseball bat.
Baseball bat. Too bad I left it in the house. I’d at least have something to throw at him.
Kami opened the door the rest of the way and dove into the car. Her skirt made crawling across the center console difficult. She had one hand on the steering wheel, pulling herself into the driver’s seat, while she put the key in the ignition with the other. Her knees were still in the passenger seat when she started the car and shards of glass shot into her face. Stewart reached through the newly broken driver’s side window and grabbed her arm.
“Hi, baby,” he slurred. His eyes were bloodshot and wild looking. “Where’s Karen? If you tell me right now, I might let you off without a really harsh punishment.”
He dragged her partway through the window. The broken glass snagged her nylons and cut her legs. Kami screamed while blindly trying to make contact with her fists to any part of Stewart’s body.
“Let me go! I don’t know where she is! I haven’t seen her in two days!”
The yelling didn’t do any good, especially as Stewart drug her out the window the rest of the way. She landed on her face, bouncing slightly on the concrete of the driveway, tasting blood as the air was knocked out of her.
He rolled her over, sitting on her legs and stomach while covering her mouth and nose with one of his large hands. Kami froze as she tried to breathe and no air would fill her lungs. Her eyes met Stewart’s. Tears ran down her cheeks as the pain and severity of the situation registered.
As he looked down at her, Stewart narrowed his eyes. “You’ve been nothing but a bitch since you moved in. Flaunting that ass of yours in these tight clothes. Convincing my woman she needed to leave me. You’re a meddling bitch and I’m gonna love teaching you a lesson.”
Stewart moved his hand and Kami gulped in a much-needed breath. Then he backhanded her and blackness closed in as she struggled to stay conscious, white lights darting in front of her eyes. She could taste more blood as she took a deep breath and prepared to fight back.
Stewart leaned down and ground his mouth against hers in a sickening kiss. She bucked her hips off the concrete and since Stewart was leaning forward, he lost his balance and somersaulted over her. She jumped up, fighting a wave of nausea and started running across the street.
Unfortunately, she didn’t see the car coming.
She froze as the lights blinded what little eyesight she had left.
The bumper hit her at the knees and sent her sliding over the hood into the windshield. The car stopped as she rolled like a rag doll and landed in the street.
Jon Carter is dangerous, deadly, and always works alone. Hardly anyone knows anything about him except he does the jobs no one else in the CIA can. Then his new boss pairs him with a desk-jockey and former ballerina for an undercover mission to Russia.
Not ready for the fast-paced world of Black Ops, Elana Miller quickly realizes Jon is her only hope for survival. But can she survive the heat of pretending to be his lover or will she get them both killed? When everything goes terribly wrong, Elana has to become the operative she never expected to be.
Running for their lives, the two learn nothing is as it seems and everyone runs out of time before they expect to.
Disclaimer: Contains adult language
Langley, Virginia – September
Jon’s fist slammed into the side of Elana’s head. She knew he pulled the punch even though her cheek went instantly numb and pain spiked into her eye. He hadn’t broken skin anywhere on her body in the week and a half they’d been training. Bruises, though? Oh, she had bruises on top of bruises.
“Damn it, Elana!” Jon stepped back and dropped his head. “I telegraphed that shot from a mile away. You should have blocked it or at least ducked!”
He was barely winded and when he lifted his eyes to hers, Elana saw anger. This was the most emotion she’d seen him show since meeting him three weeks earlier.
“I’m sorry,” she said as she put her hand to her face, wincing.
She traced her fingers over her cheek. This bruise was going to match the one on her thigh from yesterday’s kick boxing debacle. What a joke. She wasn’t cut out for field work.
“That’s going to bruise. Let’s take a break and put some ice on it.”
Jon walked through the archway of the training room, his anger disappearing behind the mask of stone he always wore. He grabbed two bottles of water from the refrigerator and tossed one to Elana.
AJ stopped punching his boxing bag and shouted to Jon. “Hey, Matthews, beating up on women, again?” He laughed when Jon turned to glare at him.
AJ was one of the few people who knew Jon’s real name and what he was capable of. A few months back, he had helped Jon track down a Chicago Mob boss and one of his lackeys, who had been a leak in the FBI. AJ hadn’t actually been in the building when Jon ‘disposed of’ the leak, although AJ knew the outcome.
AJ was the only person in Langley who felt comfortable trying to joke around with Jon.
“Hey, Elana, why don’t you come train with someone who won’t rattle your cage? I’ll take it easy on you and even take you out for dinner and drinks after.” AJ sauntered to where Elana stood holding the cold bottle to her cheek.
“She doesn’t need someone who takes it easy on her, Jensen. She needs someone to push her to be the best she can,” Jon growled.
He took the bottle from Elana, handed her an icepack, took the lid off the water, and handed it back. “Drink.”
“Shit, Jon. You can train her without beating the hell out of her.”
“Would you like it if I didn’t spar all out with you?”
“Fuck, no!” AJ said.
“I’m not going to treat her any differently just because she’s a woman,” Jon said.
Elana glanced between the two men, watching their exchange with curiosity. AJ was only a few inches shorter than Jon. Where AJ had dark eyes and hair, Jon had light brown hair and blue eyes. They were both stunningly gorgeous. AJ exuded charm and an easygoing attitude whereas Jon was as charming as a pillar of concrete.
She smiled at AJ. “How about if I continue to let Jon beat the hell out of me, but I take you up on dinner?”
Before AJ could answer, Jon cut in. “You don’t have time for that. We have a mission to prepare for. Grab your stuff. We’re going to train where you won’t be so distracted.”
AJ laughed, punching Jon on the shoulder. “Whatever. You just want her all to yourself.”
Jon didn’t waste time with a response. He walked to the bench holding his gym bag and tank top. As Jon slipped the tank over his head, AJ mouthed the words “I’ll call you” to Elana. She nodded and grabbed her bag.
“Where are we going?” she asked as Jon opened the door to his SUV in the parking garage of the CIA.
“Your place. I got you a boxing bag and mini-fridge for your spare room.”
“How do you know I have a spare room?”
He started the engine and turned to her. “I know more about you than you think.”
They drove in silence for a few miles as Elana adjusted her long, dark hair in the ponytail it was falling out of. She pondered his words.
Jon glanced at her.
“What more do you know about me?” she asked.
“Elana Estefania Miller. Thirty-one years old. Five foot, nine inches tall. One hundred thirty pounds, clothing size four.” He smiled. “Bra thirty-two C.”
Elana stared at him through her sunglasses then pushed them on her head. “Measurements are not tough to guess.”
Jon stopped for a red light. What poured out of his mouth made Elana feel light-headed.
“Elana Estefania Jefferies-Miller. Mother, Estefania ‘Stefanie’ Jefferies-Miller, deceased. Father, General Joseph Miller. Your father legally changed your last name when you were ten and a half, dropping the Jefferies, after your mother’s funeral. Drunk driving. She’s buried in Iowa, on her family plot.”
Elana stared in stunned silence.
“Rumor is your father never really recovered from her alcohol-induced death. Seems he didn’t want you around much after that. I hear you look a lot like her. Didn’t he send you to Paris for school? Ballet?”
The light changed to green. “I also hear you became quite the accomplished dancer. You were asked to join a traveling troupe that’s well known in Europe. You chose to come to Langley, Virginia and start working for the CIA as a lowly file clerk.”
Elana pulled her glasses down and stared out the window. She pretended what he was saying didn’t mean anything. She’d be damned if he’d see her cry. How was she ever going to be a good agent if she couldn’t control her emotions? How could she fight for her country when she couldn’t stand up for herself?
“Are you here to prove to General Daddy you’re nothing like your mother? Or to yourself?” Jon pulled into a parking space at her condo.
She stared out the window for a few heartbeats then turned to the man who had the power to rip her carefully constructed world apart.
“I would appreciate,” she began in a trembling voice, “if you would stay out of my personal life.” Her voice gained a little more strength. “I’m only going to work with you because I have to.”
Hoping her weak knees would support her, Elana stepped out. She shut the door a little harder than she would under normal circumstances and walked with her head held high. She didn’t care if he followed her or not. With the way he came at her from left field? Preferably not.
Jon watched Elana walk up the stairs to her second floor condo. He was such an ass. He’d meant to politely ask her about her past, maybe share a little about his family in Montana. He’d been making all kinds of mistakes since this summer. Being around his brother, Michael, and Michael’s wife, Kamielle, had turned Jon’s world upside down.
The bachelor, who always wanted to live alone and be alone, suddenly found himself wanting things he couldn’t have. He’d been attracted to Elana from the first moment he’d seen her. He was fighting it. The best way to push her away would be to convince her he was a worthless son of a bitch. Looked like he was off to a good start.
Why had she joined the CIA? She wore her emotions on her sleeve. If Deputy Director Kimball kept her as a field agent, anyone with connections was going to find out her daddy was a Three-Star General. That would make her valuable for ransoms. It made her a liability.
Jon didn’t like caring about her feelings. He didn’t like caring about anything. During the summer he’d come to some realizations about his life: it kind of sucked. His brother had found happiness with a beautiful, amazing woman. Shit, Jon was jealous.
If he planned to survive this mission, help Elana survive, and be at the family ranch for Christmas, he needed to pull his whiny ass together. Emotions got people killed. He was not going to be one of those people. And he would not let Elana be one, either.
Jon jogged up the stairs. He knocked. “Elana, I’m trying to teach you a valuable lesson. You need to learn how to compartmentalize and shut down your emotions.”
The dead-bolt lock clicked.
“Think of how you feel right now. You need to learn to channel your anger, fear, and sadness into something else. Something more deadly. Let’s spar. I’ll show you how good you can be.” Jon leaned his forehead against the door in a moment of relaxation.
He wasn’t one to explain himself. This was Kamielle’s fault. His sister-in-law was trying to get him in touch with his ‘feelings’.
It was time to get Elana ready for the big bad world of CIA tricks. She needed to keep her feelings in check and figure out Jon wasn’t worth spitting on. He’d be a good partner, but that was it. The only way to get her to work the way he needed was to continue acting like a world class asshole. It wasn’t too hard for him to pull off.
He needed privacy for them to finish this conversation. It took him seven seconds to jimmy the door handle lock and six to do the deadbolt.
Elana stood on the other side of the door, eyes wide.
“Listen, girl, I’ve about had it with your shit.”
“What? My shit? What did I do?” Elana asked.
He pulled his tank top out of his shorts and ripped it over his head.
She stared for a moment at the puffy, pink scar on his abdomen. She’d wondered more than once where it had come from yet never felt comfortable enough to ask. Finally, her brain kicked in and she realized Jon was undressing in her living room.
“What are you doing?”
“We’re going to get to know each other a little better and do what we should have done from the beginning. I know a lot more about you than you do me. We’re going to spar. For every point you score, you get to ask me a question. For every point I score, I get to ask you a question. Answers have to be honest and immediate.” He started to circle her.
“What are you talking about?”
Elana couldn’t grasp what was going on. The man who hardly talked had said more to her in the last twenty minutes than he’d said in almost a month.
“You heard me. I don’t like to repeat myself.” Jon lunged.
They landed in a heap next to her coffee table with Jon straddling her waist, holding her arms above her head.
“Point for me,” he said. “First question. Why ballet?”
Elana blinked rapidly. “What are you doing?”
“Answer the question. Those are the rules. If you manage to score a point, you can ask me something.”
She realized this was the only way she could train and learn about the infamous Jon Matthews. She closed her eyes, centering herself. It was something she was learning in Yoga. Finding her Chi or some shit like that.
“Ballet is a way to express yourself with your body when you’re no good at expressing yourself with words.” She opened her eyes.
He tilted his head and released her arms. She took advantage and bucked her hips, attempting to send him over her head. He countered and leaned back. It was exactly what she wanted him to do. When his shoulders were by her knees, she used her legs to pull him down to the floor by his upper body. She had incredibly strong legs after years of dancing. Even Jon, muscular and trained, couldn’t get up because of the awkward angle.
“Point for you,” he panted.
“What’s your real name?”
Jon spun his body, forcing her over to her stomach. He grabbed her right foot and locked in a heel hook. Elana’s muffled sob was stopped by the carpet.
He looked over his shoulder. “We’re changing to ‘yes’ and ‘no’ questions.”
“That’s not fair!” She strained to free her foot. “You can’t change the rules in the middle of the game!”
He released her and jumped up. She flipped herself to her back and scissored her legs at his. Jon jumped in the air as Elana anticipated. She kicked out with her right leg and hit him in the side of the knee.
“Point for me. I get two questions because you cheated on the last one. Is Jon your real first name?”
“Is Matthews your real last name?”
“You already know the answer to that. Of course not.” He backed outside the range of her lethal feet.
Elana stood slowly, testing the weight on her foot after that heel hook. She toed off her shoes and pulled off her shirt so she was in spandex shorts and a sports bra. While he stared, she kicked and hit him on the side of the face.
“Point. Do you like to look at me barely dressed?” She crouched, grinning.
“You definitely distract me.”
“That wasn’t a yes or no answer. Are you changing the rules again?”
“Yes, I like to look at barely dressed women. No, I’m not changing the rules again.”
He rubbed his cheek. She’d gotten in a nice shot. Good thing she’d taken off those tennis shoes otherwise he’d be missing some skin.
Jon kicked out and Elana blocked the shot from hitting her stomach. He countered quickly with an uppercut to her jaw. She staggered backward, more than a little dazed. He straightened and held his hand out.
“Don’t you dare apologize for hitting me,” she wiped blood from her lower lip. “What’s your question?”
“Have you always wanted to work for the CIA?” Jon moved back to his fighting stance.
“No.” Her answer was fast and harsh. Interesting.
Elana went down on one knee as Jon’s foot sailed over her head. She pulled her punch to his crotch so she wouldn’t injure him permanently, although still made contact. He winced and jumped back.
“My point. Do you hate me?” She didn’t breathe as she waited.
“Hate? No. Why would I hate you?”
He knew he’d been a jerk for three weeks and he’d probably crossed the line today by bringing up her mother, except he didn’t think he’d been that bad.
“Just answer yes or no. Stick to the rules you made.”
He took advantage of her locked posture, sweeping his leg and taking her down at the knees. She landed on her coffee table, the wood splintering.
“Have I really been that awful?”
“Is that your point question?” She glared.
“Yes, you’ve been that awful.”
They went on sparring for another twenty minutes. She kept up with him, but he was better. He averaged two questions to every one of hers. They both began to loosen up and the questions became a little more fun. Do you have any pets? Do you like living in Virginia? Do you hate Kimball? Do you like ice cream?
It wasn’t until Elana was straddling Jon’s midsection with his arms pinned under her knees that he got uncomfortable.
“Have you ever slept with someone while on a mission?” She was breathing deeply and had cuts on her from the wood of the table, sweat stinging the wounds.
He went still. “What?”
“You heard me. I don’t like to repeat myself.”
“We’re done.” He sat up and Elana fell off. She lay on the floor looking at the ceiling.
“I find it interesting when you don’t like the way things are going, you just change the rules of the game.”
Jon stood over her. “Life is not a game. What I do is direct things where I want them to go. If you don’t like it, tough shit. Go shower. I’m going to hang up the boxing bag.” He walked toward the spare bedroom.
“You don’t get to boss me around in my own house you jackass. If I take a shower it’s because I want to, not because you told me to!” The man was so infuriating. Finally feeling like she had the guts, Elana said, “And keep out of my personal life. Don’t bring up my family. Ever.”
Jon nodded once and walked into the spare room. She got mad at herself for feeling elated about a silly little nod. Like it was some kind of acceptance from a legend.
And when had he put the boxing bag and mini-fridge in her house and why hadn’t she noticed?
Elana stomped through her bedroom to the master bathroom. Even though she was acting like a child, she didn’t care. She wasn’t ready to be a field agent and she wasn’t in Jon Matthews’s league. Or whatever the hell his name was.