New York Times bestselling author Karen Rose returns with a breathtaking novel of suspense in the Cincinnati series—one that crosses the line between danger and desire, and justice and revenge.
Homicide Detective Scarlett Bishop has seen enough bad guys slip through the cracks and innocent victims go unavenged to know that good doesn't always prevail. So far she’s been able to lock away her rage and her vigilante fantasies. That lock is about to break.
Former Army Ranger Marcus O'Bannion is a fierce champion of victims’ rights. His secret past gives him good reason. He believes he’s seen the depths of human depravity, but then his investigation into the murder of a young girl who once asked for his help lures him and Scarlett down a dark, dark road—and straight into the crosshairs of a dangerous, powerful underground ring that deals in human trafficking. To stop them, Scarlett and Marcus have to be just as cunning and just as ruthless. But first they have to make it out alive.
About the Author
Karen Rose is the award-winning, #1 international bestselling author of some twenty novels, including the bestselling Baltimore and Cincinnati series. She has been translated into twenty-three languages and her books have placed on the New York Times, the Sunday Times (UK), and Germany’s der Spiegel bestseller lists.
Read an Excerpt
Tuesday, August 4, 2:45 a.m.
Where is he? He promised he’d be here.
Controlling her panic, Tala looked around, quick, furtive glances. All she saw were the neighborhood residents, going about their business. Of course, at this time of the night, very little of their business was good.
Nobody noticed her. Nobody had followed her. She hoped.
She shrank back into the shadows, deciding to give him another minute. She had to get back before they discovered she’d slipped away. If they hadn’t already.
And if they had . . . her life was over. Maybe literally. And not only her life. She’d risked the lives of every member of her family, too. If she was caught, all of their lives would be forfeit. Yet she’d risked it. Because of the baby.
Everything she did was for that little bundle who smiled and cooed because she wasn’t yet old enough to know how bad the world really was. Tala would sell her soul to keep the baby safe, to keep her from being sucked into this hell—as Tala had been when she was only fourteen years old.
That had been three years ago. Three years that had aged her a lifetime. Three years that had stolen the light from her mother’s eyes and turned her proud father into a shell of a man. Her parents were frozen, powerless, because they feared for their children. Tala understood that. But she also understood that things couldn’t continue as they were. So she’d bided her time, waiting for the perfect moment.
This was about as perfect a moment as she was going to get. Please come. Please.
If he didn’t come, it would all have been for nothing.
A footstep had her spinning around, her eyes frantically searching the darkness as her pounding heart began to race. A man approached, a large man. Tala’s fists tightened and she shifted her weight, preparing to flee in the event it was not the man she expected.
His step was slow. Careful. He lifted his hands, palms up. “It’s me. I won’t hurt you.”
Her heart settled. He had the most beautiful voice. It had been what had drawn her to begin with. She’d heard him singing quietly, sitting by the pond in the park where she was allowed to walk the ridiculous dog whose diamond-studded collar would have fed her family for a year. His voice had been so sweet it had made her want to weep.
And she had. She’d stood that day, listening, the tears streaming down her cheeks. Later, she’d paid for that stolen concert. She’d paid dearly. Still, she’d stopped to listen again when she walked the dog and saw him at the pond. She’d stopped every night for a week. Because that, like this, had been worth the risk. She’d been caught a second time a few nights before. Punished even more viciously.
Still . . . she hadn’t been able to help herself. His song had drawn her, making her reckless. But even as her heart sang mournfully along with him, even when he’d turned to see her standing there, tightly clenching the ridiculous dog’s leash in her fist, even when he’d asked her why she cried . . .
She hadn’t said a word. Not until today.
She hoped she wasn’t making the biggest mistake of her life. Because she was putting her life and the lives of everyone she loved in his hands.
“Yes,” she whispered. “I’m here.”
He came closer, his face still in the shadows. “I’m Marcus,” he said simply. “Tell me why you cry.”
Marcus. She liked his name. Trusted his voice. But now that she was with him, her tongue seemed to be tied in knots. The secret she’d kept for so long . . . It was stuck deep within her. The words would not come. She backed away. “I’m sorry. I . . . can’t.”
“Don’t go. Please.” He took a step closer, keeping his hands in front of him, where she could see them. “What’s your name?”
She swallowed hard. “Tala.”
His lips curved encouragingly. “It’s a pretty name. Why do you cry, Tala?”
“Why do you?” Because he had been. She’d seen his tears when he’d thought no one was watching.
His faint smile faded. “I lost my brother. He was murdered. He was only seventeen.”
She swallowed hard. “My age.”
He nodded. “Will you let me help you, Tala?”
“I . . . I can’t pay you.”
He shook his head. “I don’t need your money. I don’t want it.”
Oh, she thought, suddenly realizing what he did want. Dread overwhelmed her, and she took another step back. Then she stopped, lifted her chin. Made her lips curve in what she knew to be a sensuous way. She reached for the waistband of his black jeans, steeling her voice to be as sexy as she could make it. “I understand,” she purred. “I can make you feel good.”
He blinked, looking shocked. Then horrified. “No.” He took a giant step back. “Stop. You don’t understand. That’s not what I want. I don’t want anything from you. I just want to help you.”
Tala’s hands dropped to her sides. “Why? Why would you help me? I’m no one.”
He shook his head again, slowly. Sadly. “Everyone is someone,” he murmured, then exhaled. “Why do you cry, Tala?”
His voice dipped deep, touched her soul. Made her eyes fill with hot tears. “It’s dangerous,” she whispered. “They’re dangerous. My family will die if I’m found here.”
His dark brows knit together. “Who are you afraid of?”
“The man. His wife. They . . .” She averted her eyes, ashamed. “They own us.”
Marcus shifted, jaw clenching, eyes narrowing. “How? Who?”
At the edge of her vision she saw the glint of moonlight on metal—but she was a split second too late. The flash of fire, the boom of thunder, the burning agony in her stomach, the scrape of asphalt on her face . . .
“Tala!” Marcus was shouting, but his voice was far away. So far away. “Don’t die, dammit. Don’t you die.”
She didn’t want to die. She hadn’t yet lived. Her family . . . She needed him to save her family. She opened her mouth to tell him so. “Help Mala . . .” Her mouth moved but no sound came out. There was not enough air to carry her voice. Say it. Tell him. She forced herself to inhale, forced the word out in an agonized huff: “Malaya.”
And then a second burst of thunder tore the air, followed by the shock of a great weight crushing her. Marcus. He’d been shot, too. Suddenly she could no longer draw even the shallowest breath.
I’m going to die. Her family was going to die. And the man called Marcus . . . he’d only wanted to help her. But now he was going to die, too.
Tuesday, August 4, 2:49 a.m.
Detective Scarlett Bishop left her jacket in her car on purpose. Partly because it was too damned hot and sticky to even consider wearing a stitch more clothing than was absolutely necessary. But mostly so that the weapon holstered under her arm—the Glock she normally kept concealed under a jacket—would be readily seen.
She wasn’t in the mood for any shit tonight.
Taking a look around, she frowned at the sight of the nearly deserted street. On any given night, this was where dealers and prostitutes peddled their wares. But nobody was peddling anything tonight, which made Scarlett uneasy. Something had sent them scurrying into their hidey-holes, and whatever that something had been, it wasn’t likely to have been good.
There was no evidence of the man who’d called her here—asking her to come alone. Normally she would have been suspicious enough to bring backup. But the man’s voice . . . She would admit this to no one but herself, but hearing his voice again after so many months had shaken her soundly. The number on her cell phone’s caller ID was unfamiliar, but she’d never forget his voice, no matter how long she lived. When she’d heard it again on the phone tonight, it had stirred her from a sound sleep to full alertness. Nine months had passed without a single spoken word between them. And why would there have been? Her presence would bring him and his family only pain, remind them of their loss.
But tonight he’d said, “Can you meet me? Alone? Please. As soon as humanly possible.”
“Why?” she’d asked.
“It’s . . . important.”
“All right,” she’d said. “Where?” But he’d already hung up. A second later a text had popped up, specifying this street corner.
The last time he’d called her out of the blue, his information had led her to four dead bodies. So, without hesitation, she’d done as he’d asked. But now he wasn’t here.
The only visible signs of life on the street were the two homeless people eyeing her with unabashed interest from their spot on the stoop of the boarded-up building nearest to where she stood. She took two bottles of water from the trunk of her car, conscious of three other people peeking out from the windows of the building across the street. She handed a bottle to each of the two elderly people tucked up against the building for the night, their belongings in a shared shopping cart. Tommy and Edna were regulars on this corner. She’d known them for years.
“It’s hot,” Scarlett said quietly.
“A real scorcher,” Tommy agreed, his teeth flashing white against his dark skin as he struggled with the bottle’s cap, crowing when he twisted it off. “Whatchu doin’ here this time of night, Miss Scarlett?” he asked, exaggerating his deep drawl as he said her name.
“Tommy,” Scarlett chided gently, glancing up and down the street. Still no sign of her caller. “Whatchu doin’ out here in this heat? You know it’s not good for your heart.”
Tommy sighed dramatically. “My heart’s done for already. It got all trampled on by you, Miss Scarlett, when I asked you to marry me for the very last time.”
Scarlett’s lips curved. Tommy was a rascal, but she genuinely liked him. “If I’d said yes, that really would be bad for your heart. You couldn’t handle me.”
Tommy’s laugh was raspy from a lifetime of smoking. “You’re right ’bout that.” He lifted a finger in warning. “And don’t be telling me to go to the Meadow. I been there three times this week. That pretty Dr. Dani says I’m right as rain.”
The seventy-year-old woman next to him snorted. Edna had lived on the streets of Cincinnati for as long as Scarlett had been a cop. “He’s full of shit, that one is, but he’s telling the truth about the Meadow. He did go this week. Once.”
Scarlett lifted her brows. “And did Dr. Dani say he was right as rain?”
Edna shrugged. “Acid rain, maybe.”
The Meadow was the local shelter and that “pretty Dr. Dani” was Danika Novak, ER doc and sister of Scarlett’s partner, Deacon. Dani volunteered most of her free hours to the shelter and had roped most of their circle of friends into helping her, Scarlett included.
Scarlett shook her head but didn’t push. It wouldn’t do any good. She’d found permanent housing for both Edna and Tommy a couple times over the years, but they always came back to the street. Which was bad for their health but, at times, beneficial to Scarlett’s investigations. The two were a reliable source of information about the neighborhood.
She looked around again, but there was still no sign of the man she’d come to meet. “Have you two heard any trouble tonight?”
Edna hid her water bottle in the deep pocket of the smock she never seemed to be without, then pointed to her left. “You wanna look maybe three alleys down that way, honey. Gunshots. Three of ’em.”
Scarlett’s heart stuttered. “Why didn’t you say so before?” she demanded.
“Because you didn’t ask,” Edna said with a shrug.
“Gunshots happen ’round here,” Tommy added. “We got to the point where we don’t pay them no nevermind unless they’re shootin’ at us.”
Scarlett shoved her temper down. “When was this?”
“A few minutes ago,” Tommy said, “but I don’t know ’xactly when. Don’t got no watch,” he added in a yell, because Scarlett had already started to run, her dread building.
Her phone had rung thirteen minutes ago. If he’d been shot, he could be dead by now. He couldn’t be dead. Please don’t let him be dead.
She skidded to a stop when she got to the alley, her vision drawn first to the motionless body on the ground. It isn’t him. The victim was far too small to be him.
She drew her weapon with one hand, holding her Maglite in the other as she cautiously approached. She swept the beam of her light over the victim, a female who appeared to be of Asian descent. Who was she? And where was he? Another sweep of her light up and down the alley revealed no one else.
Scarlett crouched next to the body, her heart sinking. The victim, who appeared to be in her late teens, lay on her back, dark brown eyes staring up at the sky, wide and unseeing. So young, she thought. Setting the Maglite on the asphalt so that it illuminated the victim’s face, she pulled a glove on to her left hand, keeping her weapon firmly gripped in her right.
Pressing her fingers to the victim’s throat, Scarlett found no pulse, which was no surprise. But the young woman hadn’t been dead long. Her skin was still warm.
Her lower torso was bare, her white polo shirt cut away to just below her breasts.
A bullet had entered three inches below her sternum but, based on the amount of blood on and around the body, it had probably not been immediately fatal. Cause of death was far more likely to have been the small hole in the victim’s left temple. The exit wound behind her right ear was the size of Scarlett’s fist.
The girl had been pretty before someone had taken out a chunk of her head.
Not him. It couldn’t have been him. Scarlett couldn’t believe it. You just don’t want to believe it. Which was fair enough, she supposed. Where was he?
Picking up the flashlight, she ran the beam over the body. Blood had been wiped from the exposed skin of the victim’s midriff, the balled-up and blood-soaked remnant of her torn shirt lying on the ground next to her hip. Someone had attempted first aid.
“He tried to save you,” Scarlett murmured aloud.
Her head jerked up. He was here. The man who’d dominated her thoughts, her dreams. For months. The man who once again had called her out of the blue to the scene of a homicide.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I cried: child aduse, violence against women, sex and labor slavery, serial killers, and psychopaths. Great read!
Great story line that keeps you engaged from start to finish. Characters that you just want to read more about. I hope the series continues.
This was the most suspenseful book Ihave ever read. Just an awesome book with 650 pages! What a bonus. Highly recommend.
Karen Rose has such talent. The way she creates each character to be their own and make you feel like you really know this person is amazing. The book is fast-paced, it doesn't drag the reader down with details, and you have enough information from the past to understand the present. Highly recommend.
Karen Rose delivers another edge of your seat story in Alone In The Dark. Homicide Detective Scarlett Bishop loves her job but its beginning to take a toll. She has seen enough of the bad guys getting away with evil that its starting to effect her outlook on life. Former Army Ranger Marcus O’Bannion is skating a fine line with being on the right side of the law. As his job as the head of the local paper he sees crime escalating in his beloved hometown of Cincinnati. With a small group of trusted friends they seek to even the score on the criminals. Marcus recent investigation has him running into Detective Bishop. They met several months ago and neither has forgotten the other. Scarlet needs Marcus’s contacts to help bring a dangerous group of human traffickers to justice. As Marcus and Scarlet dig deeper into this evil world, their previous attraction becomes all consuming. But those that run the operation will stop at nothing to keep their business flourishing. Alone In The Dark is a pulse pounding, explosive read. It will keep you enthralled till the very end. The chemistry between Marcus and Scarlet is smoking hot and emotional. Another plus is characters from the first book in the Cincinnati series are back for another peak into their lives now. Karen Rose is an auto buy for me.
I first encountered this author's work when I read this books predecessor in the series. It was this huge, chunk of a book, but it was full of all things good for those who enjoy psychological thriller romances or darker romantic suspenses. It gave me the taste for more and particularly more with the team of good guys I encountered in Closer Than You Think so it was not a hard choice to snap up this next book. It naturally follows the last book and establishes the inter-personal relationships from the last book, but would definitely work out of order or alone. And I do need to give a trigger warning if human trafficking, rape, and torture are troublesome for you that you might want to check out something different. Some things are referenced to past actions, but some are quite in the moment. Alright, so this book picks up several months after the big serial killer case involving Faith, her new-found family, other victims, and the newly established law enforcement team between Cincinnati PD and the local FBI. Deacon (hero from previous book)'s partner, CPD Detective Scarlett Bishop gets a call in the wee hours that she is very much needed. This call isn't from her boss, but from the man that she hasn't been able to get off her mind in six months. Marcus O'Bannion (Faith's relation) had been shot while protecting a total stranger from the serial killer. She was fascinated with him and particularly his voice when she sat in his hospital room in the dark and they talked. Now, he is calling her to help with a situation he encountered. Only when Scarlett arrives, it is too late and now instead of a rescue, they have a homicide on their hands. Marcus owns a newspaper and reporters are an issue for Scarlett. She wants to trust Marcus, but she gave her trust in the past and someone dear to her paid the ultimate price. But he is involved now and his connections and skills might bring justice for their victim. Marcus runs a newspaper he inherited from his grandfather, but the paper shields and is the outward arm of his secret and more rewarding work- gaining safety and justice for victims and survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. His latest, Tala, is now dead. She was a human trafficking victim and sold into slavery. Someone followed her to her secret meeting with Marcus and now she is dead. He feels the frustration of not being able to help her and he will find her murderer and rescue her family. And so begins the long twisting road as Marcus, Scarlett, and a host of others descend into the murky and dangerous world of human trafficking and the traffickers can see them coming and will stop at nothing to protect their empire even while wrestling amongst themselves for power and position. Marcus is their target and it’s a race to see who will get to whom first. But along the way, Marcus and Scarlett are forced to confront the darkness of their own pasts and share their secrets with each other as they come together as an investigation team and a couple. This will appear as one huginormous book and very intimidating at the start, but like the one before it, I got vested and it went by like it was barely novel-length. This story was big and had a large cast of characters. It is big because this is like two stories in one. There is a duality to it because on one side there is Marcus and Scarlett with their supporting cast working to solve the murder that blasts open into something much bigger and then on the other side is
****WARNING: This book contains graphic violence and sexual content that is definitely not suitable for readers under the age of 18. Because of the nature of the physical and sexual violence, the content may be uncomfortable for some readers**** ALONE IN THE DARK is a remarkably complex read. I can easily compare it to a dish of lasagna. There are many layers of mystery, intrigue, danger and suspense beautifully and intricately placed. Every layer just as important and vital to the plot as the next. Marcus and Scarlett were perfect for each other. Both having secret past hurts that continue to affect their daily lives, making them stronger yet vulnerable at the same time. Kindred spirits finding shelter in each other’s arms and lives. Scarlett is a strong heroine and I admired her drive and her spirit. Marcus has been through unspeakable tragedies, but it’s those tragedies that have forged his strength and unbending will. I fell for him right alongside Scarlett. I loved the introduction of new characters. Each one complex and mysterious in their own rights. I am hoping for some love connections between a few of them and maybe a kick in the pants for others. What Karen Rose is brilliant at is character development. Her plots are always interesting, but the characters are what make the story, for me. Speaking of characters, Ms. Rose has given us a most evil villain, or should I say villains. Wow. I was amazed and repulsed at the depths of depravity. Many times, it was hard for me to get through the “bad buy” scenes because of the level of pure evil, bordering on insanity. ALONE IN THE DARK is chilling, engaging and a completely worthwhile read. ***I was gifted a paperback ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All conclusions reached are my own***