Tessa Lancaster worked for her uncle in the Japanese mafia until she was sent to prison for a murder she didn’t commit. Now, after finding God behind bars, she takes odd jobs as a bodyguard to keep her distance from the family business.
In A Dangerous Stage, the second book in Camy Tang’s Protection for Hire series, Tessa gets caught up in the web of lies surrounding a shady singing competition. Hired by one of the contestants, she works with Charles Britton—the lawyer who sent her to prison—to discover the dark figures manipulating the contest from behind the scenes.
Tessa’s abilities will be tested like never before as she’s forced to balance the safety of her client’s family and her deepening relationship with Charles. In the midst of the chaos, she holds on to her faith to keep her safe and bring down the shadowy organization.
About the Author
Camy Tang grew up in Hawaii and now lives in San Jose, California with her engineer husband and rambunctious dog. She was a biologist researcher, but these days she is surgically attached to her computer, writing full-time. In her spare time, she is a staff worker for her church youth group, and she leads one of the worship teams for Sunday service. She won the Carol Book of the Year award with her novel Sushi for One? Follow Camy online at www.camytang.com
Read an Excerpt
A Dangerous StageProtection for Hire
By Camy Tang
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2012 Camy Tang
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTessa Lancaster checked in her car's rearview mirror and spotted the headlights of the slightly battered black pickup truck again. Yup, they were definitely being followed.
And the person doing it was really bad at it.
He'd nearly crunched into her rear bumper when he'd had to jam on the gas through an intersection in order to keep up with them after the light turned from yellow to red. It had given Tessa a good view of his face—coarse and red, almost as fiery as his short, spiky hair, with a mean sneer that curled the thin mustache on his upper lip. A second man was in the passenger seat, but Tessa had only gotten a fleeting glimpse of a broad face and dark hair.
She turned to Erica, who was sitting in the passenger seat. "Don't turn around to look, but I think your ex-boyfriend is behind us."
Erica bit her lip and paled so much Tessa worried she might throw up. "How'd he find us? How'd he know we were going to the bus station tonight?"
"I don't think he knew," Tessa said, switching lanes aggressively and causing a cacophony of car horns behind her. "He might have followed us from Wings."
"How did he know we were at the women's shelter? Wings didn't tell him we were there, did they?"
"No, they don't do that." Tessa yanked hard on the wheel of her ancient Toyota, nicknamed Gramps, and sent the car into a tire-squealing left turn just in front of a wave of traffic from the opposite direction.
"Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh!" Erica grabbed onto the door handle with both hands.
As they zipped away, they heard another blare of car horns, but Dan's black pickup was left stranded in the left turn lane, unable to follow them.
The rather neat maneuver—if Tessa did say so herself—had awakened Emily, who was strapped in her car seat in the back, and she sent up a wail. Erica turned to soothe her daughter. "It's all right, honey. Tessa's just trying out for the Indy 500."
A flash of headlights made Tessa glance in her rearview mirror again. "I don't think we lost him though." Dan had managed to swerve his left turn between two oncoming cars—making one driver slam on the brakes—and now roared down the street trying to catch up with them. Subtlety was not Dan's middle name.
"What are you going to do?" Erica's voice had a low tremor, a remnant of her fear of Dan and his flying fists. The young hairstylist still had yellowing around her cheek and left eye from the last time she'd seen him.
"Erica, I am going to get you and Emily on that bus tonight," Tessa said firmly. "I promise you that."
She considered the situation. Dan had possibly figured out they were heading to the bus depot, since she had left Wings domestic abuse shelter heading northwest. But when she'd begun suspecting they were being followed, she'd pulled four right turns in a row to confirm. Dan had followed each turn.
After that last left turn, they were now heading southwest. Right toward the Caltrain station.
Perfect. That's where Dan would assume they were heading.
But first Tessa had to make sure Erica and Emily were safe.
She could totally see Dan charging into a wild car chase in the middle of San Francisco, but she didn't want her passengers in the car if that happened. Yet this was the middle of the city. Where could she drop them off where they'd be safe?
"Erica, get into the backseat with Emily," Tessa said, "and unbuckle her from the car seat."
"What are you going to do?" Erica's elbow clocked Tessa in the temple as she scrambled between the front seats.
"I can get far enough ahead of Dan to make a right turn." Tessa checked out the street signs. Yes, she was now on Fourth Street. "It'll give us a couple seconds where he won't be able to see us. When I stop the car, I want you to get out fast—and I mean fast—and run into the In-N-Out with Emily. Hopefully by the time Dan turns the corner, you'll be inside the restaurant, and I'll be driving down the street, and he'll never know you're not with me in the car."
Tessa floored Gramps's accelerator, and he responded with a hack and a wheeze from his ancient engine before picking up the pace. She wove in and out of the cars on Fourth Street, a wide, straight shot toward the Caltrain station. Dan tried to catch up, but his larger truck had a harder time maneuvering into the small spaces between the cars. He attempted to muscle his way in a few times, but the drivers were reluctant to let him in, so he had to move slowly in order to not take out someone's front bumper. Tessa zipped Gramps farther away from him.
"Are you ready?" Tessa glanced in her rearview mirror at Erica's tense face. She'd dragged Emily into her lap.
"Yes." Erica reached for the door handle.
Tessa cut across two lanes of traffic and swerved right toward the new In-N-Out Burger, which flashed bright and new since it had opened off of Fourth and Brannan a few weeks ago. She slammed on the brakes, earning her a car-horn blast from the SUV behind her who had to swerve around her to continue down the street. "Go!" she shouted to Erica.
Erica was already out the door, her daughter in her arms, before Gramps even came to a complete stop. She slammed the door shut behind her and raced toward the bright lights of the building, which was filled to the brim with people. She instantly blended in with the other twentysomethings who were grabbing a quick bite in the late evening.
Tessa threw Gramps in gear and jerked away from the curb. About a second and a half later, she saw Dan's pickup turn the corner onto Brannan and head toward her.
She cruised down the street, making a few turns to head toward the Union Square Park area. As she drove, she dialed 9-1-1 on her cell phone.
"Nine-one-one, what's your emergency?" The woman sounded faintly bored.
Tessa injected as much theatrical fear as she could into her voice. "Please, help me! I think someone's following me. I'm nearing the corner of Maiden Lane and Grant Avenue." She didn't disconnect the call but tossed the prepaid phone onto the passenger seat so she could concentrate on her driving.
She turned onto Maiden Lane, a narrow one-way street bordered by tall buildings that housed boutiques and art galleries, heading toward the Gambit, a small nightclub and bar that opened a few months ago. She passed the restaurant, which was fronted by a line of people waiting to get in. Colored lights flickered out from the open doorway. The deep bass of a dance beat made Gramps's steel frame shudder as Tessa drove by.
She slowed as Dan's pickup turned onto Maiden Lane. When he was only a couple car lengths behind her, she sped up toward the intersection of Grant and Maiden.
Then she swerved the car sideways in the middle of the street and came to a halt.
Dan was too close to stop. His brakes squealed a split second before his truck rammed into the tiny Corolla.
The impact made Tessa jolt in her seat while her seat belt sliced into her torso like a sword blade. She couldn't breathe for a few seconds, her stomach crushed with pain.
She came to her senses before Dan did. She was staring at the steering wheel and out the front window, where she could see she'd hit a lamppost at the corner of Maiden and Grant. The white steel pole looked a bit slanted from where it rose out of her car's front bumper.
But she remained in the car, waiting.
Dan seemed to take forever to finally get out of his car. Tessa grabbed her head, pretending to be dazed, as she heard his car door open and then slam shut.
Then she heard a second car door slam. That's right—a second person was with Dan. She'd been so focused on her driving she had forgotten he'd had a passenger.
Dan yanked open her car door so hard it rocked on its squeaking hinges. He grabbed at her shirt to pull her out of the car, but her seat belt was still firmly fastened, and it dug into her already bruised stomach with a sharp snap. She winced.
Cussing, he hit her, a jab to her cheek.
But she had seen him crank his arm back and had been able to roll with it, reducing the impact so that it felt more like a hammer than an anvil. Regardless, it still made her cry out as his fist crunched into her face. Breath hissed between her teeth as the pain radiated out from her cheek.
Dan reached across her and hit the button to unfasten her seat belt, untangling her from the strap to drag her out of the Corolla. "Where is she?" he roared, spit flying in Tessa's face.
"Hey," said a man's voice over his shoulder.
Oh no. Tessa glanced over to see a young man dressed in black slacks and a silk shirt, obviously one of the people who'd been in line to get into the Gambit. He approached Dan warily. "Let her go, man."
Tessa wondered if Dan would let her go to engage with the Good Samaritan, but his fists tightened on the fabric of her T-shirt, and he glanced back toward his truck.
It didn't look like the collision had done much damage to the front of his truck, aside from a frowning front bumper. Tessa got a look at Dan's passenger now and saw not one but two people.
One was a burly man, black goatee and long black hair that he flipped out of his eyes. She noted the gesture.
The other was a woman who sported a gigantic black eye, cut lip, and hair mussed as if it had been grabbed by a meaty fist. What was surprising was that she was dressed in a cream-colored business jacket and matching skirt, a crumpled white silk blouse underneath. She limped on Italian leather heels next to the burly man, her thin arm firmly in his grasp.
They'd beaten this woman up. And brought her with them in the truck. Tessa's jaw clenched tight.
The burly man tossed the woman aside onto the street, where she lay exhausted on the asphalt. He then approached the Good Samaritan and shot his hand out to punch the guy in the nose.
Blood spurted as the young man whirled away, staggering and grabbing his face.
No, Tessa wasn't going to stand for this. She grasped at Dan's hands, which were still full of her shirt.
He removed one hand to slap her across the face.
The blow, coming on top of the other blow to the same cheek, rocked her more than she expected. Maybe because she hadn't been sparring as much for the past sixteen months as she had when she was in prison. She'd gotten soft. She blinked away the stars in her vision and took advantage of the opening Dan gave her by slamming the heel of her hand into his nose.
His other hand released her shirt, and he jerked back a half step. She followed up with a knee to his groin, a fist to his kidney, and an elbow to the back of his exposed head as he folded in half. He dropped to the ground.
Her elbow stung from where it had collided with his skull. She shook it off and turned to face Dan's sidekick.
He approached her with more caution than Dan had, his fists up. He moved like a boxer, and he had the shoulders of one. She brought her fists up as he took a swing at her, testing her, and she easily dodged him. He took another swing, this time more forceful, and she ducked, feeling the air whooshing against her skin as his knuckles just missed her temple.
He took a third shot at her, a beefy uppercut, but as his hand retracted, his long hair fell over his eye. Tessa took advantage of his impaired vision and snapped her leg up in a front kick that slipped between his upheld hands and collided squarely with his jaw.
He reeled backward, his eyelids already starting to fold as her blow knocked him for a loop. She advanced with him, swinging in a reverse roundhouse kick that caught him hard in the temple. He was unconscious even before he dropped to the ground with a satisfying smack, his entire body limp.
Tessa's hands shook with adrenaline, and the entire left side of her face was a swollen mass of throbbing pain. She stumbled as she walked toward the woman in the business suit. "Are you all right?"
The woman looked up at her through her one good eye and nodded numbly.
"You're okay now." Tessa looked up as a few people from the crowd that had been gathered in front of the Gambit approached her.
"Are you okay?" asked a young blonde woman with a short silver skirt and glittery purple top. "The police are on their way. People called 9-1-1 as soon as the cars crashed."
Tessa remembered the 9-1-1 call on her phone—which was probably somewhere on the floorboard of the wrecked car—and figured they'd probably be here soon. "Did anyone call the club manager?"
"I saw the bouncer head inside," the woman said.
At that moment, a short, stocky Japanese man pushed his way out of the club doors and rushed toward them. His black Hugo Boss suit made him almost invisible in the darkness of the narrow street, but Tessa recognized him.
"Itchy," she said as he drew near, "I was hoping you would be here."
Especially since the Gambit was owned by her uncle Teruo Ota, leader of the San Francisco yakuza—the Japanese mafia—and her cousin Ichiro always liked going to their uncle's newest clubs. She'd deliberately avoided her family connections in the twelve months since she'd gotten shot by a Chinese Triad assassin, because she wanted to be legitimate and didn't want to be dependent on her uncle's money or resources. But right now, she could use Itchy's help.
"When the bouncer told me about an Asian girl taking on two guys, I knew it had to be you, Tess." Itchy's deceptively sleepy eyes took in Tessa's aching face and the woman's black eye. "What happened?"
"Those two guys were tailing me."
"Oh, that completely explains why your face is purple and you wrecked my dad's car in front of the Gambit."
"I wrecked the Corolla in front of the Gambit because I knew there would be at least one kobun here who could lend me a car." Tessa hoped none of the onlookers knew that kobun was Japanese for a yakuza member.
Itchy rolled his eyes. "You really think someone's going to lend you a car after you did this?" He flung his arm out toward the smashed Corolla.
"I've got a single mother and her daughter stranded at the In-N-Out on Brennan. I have to go get them so they can make their bus tonight."
"Erica Parker," the woman croaked.
Tessa regarded her with narrowed eyes for a long moment. "Who are you?"
"Charlotte Quilly. I'm Joseph Tucker's admin."
"Wait a minute. Joseph Tucker? Erica's lawyer?" Then the pieces fell into place. "You're the one who messed up and sent those papers to Erica's home address rather than to the Wings shelter."
The woman drew in a sharp breath, looking offended. "How was I to know it was going to be an issue?"
This Charlotte Quilly was the reason Erica had to escape on that bus tonight. Erica's abusive ex-boyfriend, Dan, had opened the envelope from her lawyer, which contained copies of documents Erica had signed a couple weeks ago, and discovered that his girlfriend—formerly his punching bag—had inherited a cool ten thousand dollars from a great-aunt. He'd been scouring San Francisco trying to find Erica ever since.
"It wasn't my fault," Charlotte insisted. "I've sent papers to the wrong addresses before, and it's never been a problem."
"They beat you up to get you to tell them where Erica was staying," Tessa said, her voice neutral. "Then they followed us from Wings."
Tessa supposed she shouldn't blame the woman. Most people who had been tortured this way would give up the address of anyone, even a single mother staying at a domestic violence shelter. Tessa's new faith in Christ demanded she give grace the way grace had been given to her. She had beat up plenty of people for her uncle, and God had still forgiven her.
And she guessed that Charlotte wouldn't mess up an address again anytime soon.
The police finally arrived with flashing lights and solemn beeps from their squad cars. They parked a few feet from the accident and the men's prone bodies.
Itchy groaned. "You had to wreck in front of Uncle's club, didn't you?"
"They're not going inside the club. All the witnesses are out here. Besides, Erica's and Emily's lives were in danger. I had to take care of these guys somehow."
While waiting for the police to take her statement, she crawled onto the seat of her totaled car and rummaged for her cell phone, which had disconnected after the dispatcher ended the 9-1-1 call at some point. She straightened, tugging her shirt down over her briefly exposed lower back. She then called to check on Erica.
"We're fine!" The young woman had to shout a little to be heard over the noise inside the In-N-Out. "We're snacking on fries at an inside table."
"This might take a few more minutes," Tessa said, "but we'll make your bus tonight."
Excerpted from A Dangerous Stage by Camy Tang Copyright © 2012 by Camy Tang . Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.