Read an Excerpt
Betrayed by a Kiss
An Unlikely Hero
By Kris Rafferty, Vanessa Mitchell
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Kris Rafferty
All rights reserved.
The night was pitch black and Marnie Somerville was in the middle of nowhere, hands slick with blood, fighting to control the car as she drove it off road. As she careened down the road's embankment into the brush, saplings clawed at her windows, roots whipped the car's undercarriage as she navigated between the large trees, desperate to drive deep enough into the woods to hide from the sedan tailing her. She drove until it was impossible to continue, then killed the engine and waited in the silence. In the dark.
He'd shot her. Marnie pressed her hand to her bloody side and tried not to freak. The guy had to be company-paid muscle. He had access to the boss's office. So why didn't he recognize her? Sure, he'd caught her in her boss's office, elbow-deep in his high-security servers, but the shooter didn't know why or that she knew about the murder. Since when did the company employ a shoot first, ask questions later protocol? She was a highly regarded employee of Whitman Enterprises. She didn't know the shooter, but security personnel had dossiers on all employees that worked in the building. Knowing who she was should have bought wiggle room. At the least, a moment to explain, for shit's sake.
Marnie still couldn't believe he'd shot her. Rage merged with equal parts fear. If the bullet had hit her an inch more center mass, she'd be bleeding out instead of complaining. Damn, but her waist stung like a bitch.
The sedan's headlights came round the bend. She ducked, fearing her car was visible from the road. If he found her, she knew it wouldn't be for a conversation. The guy seemed intent on killing her. Less security guard. More cleaner. Maybe her hacking into the president/CEO's computer had tripped an all hands on deck smackdown. She'd been careful, but breaching his firewall had been messy and what she found was enough to destroy the company. Unfortunately. Information like that warranted a security firewall she hadn't foreseen, so maybe she'd missed something, like spyware that sent a push notification to security. Whatever. She'd screwed up, and now this guy was trying to kill her.
Well, Marnie didn't die easy.
The headlights continued on. She poked her head up, not trusting in luck. The shooter, a brawny guy, suit, blond, regulation haircut, had followed her through the back roads of rural New Hampshire up into the mountains. That screamed motivated, and she could guess why. By now, the company had to know what she took. They'd want the information back, would need it to save the company, and just as importantly, they'd need to hide that it ever existed. Marnie understood all those needs could be met by killing her.
A shiver ran the length of her spine as she remembered the shooter's cold, blue eyes and how they met her gaze — impersonally, as if killing her meant nothing more than a job. What a fool she'd been. How had she missed the absolute evil around her? She'd worked at Whitman Enterprises for three years and hadn't had a clue.
When the headlights extinguished in the far distance, she expelled a deep breath. Exhausted from hours of fending off panic, she dropped her forehead to the steering wheel. So much for going legit. Whitman Enterprises had recruited her out of college when they caught her hacking into their network. Instead of calling the cops, they'd handed her a decent five-figure salary and assigned her a cubicle in the basement. She'd thought they were doing her a solid, like in the movies when young people step over the line and someone wanted to give them a second chance. At the time, she'd thought their decision naive. If she'd wanted, she could have robbed them blind and disappeared into the ether, but their timing had been good. Marnie found herself, for the first time in her life, in the mood to go legit. She'd longed for it. Tried to earn it.
It took three years to work her way into the fraud department, tracking and investigating bad guys, striving to make her bosses happy. Wanting them to feel justified that they'd given her this second chance. It helped that she had an affinity for the job — a regular cyber bloodhound. No one escaped Marnie if she was looking for them. Appropriately, Whitman Enterprises rewarded her with swankier cubicles every year and more pay, a reward, she'd thought, for being a good person. She should have known better. Nothing good ever happened to her unless she was breaking the rules.
Marnie unbuckled and flinched as the belt shot back into its slot over her shoulder. She scanned the area, not seeing much in the darkness, but it didn't reassure her. She'd have to hike the rest of the way, into that darkness, topping off her shitty night, all because she'd just discovered her employer was a shell company for an extortion ring, and an activity log on Whitman's server listed Dane MacLain's current whereabouts and actions.
The last entry was "Urgent. Account manager activated." Activated to do what? She could only guess, and as much as her guess inspired her to disappear, create a new identity, and start over somewhere else, she had to make things right first. MacLain had to be informed the shit had officially hit the fan.
It was so dark in the car's interior, she had to punch the overhead light to see her wound. Peeling back her black sweater, she concluded the graze wasn't pretty — oozing and angry — but it would keep. She punched the light off again before donning her backpack and dragging herself out of the car. The frigid mountain air shocked her slight frame, but she forced herself to ignore it and the pain of ditching her car. Her beautiful car. The shiny new gold Jetta was the first thing she'd bought with legally gotten gains, representing every dream she'd fashioned while living on the streets. Leaving it broke her heart. No, it pissed her off. This whole night was pissing her off. Mostly because she knew it was her fault. She should have known better, been smarter, less naive.
One Doc Marten in front of the other, she followed the GPS tracker through the woods to MacLain's cabin, hating that this was the only way to get there — no roads, just hiking trails. What little bit of a dirt road she'd turned onto was nothing more than a forty-foot stretch of cleared trees, and in the dark, the connecting trails were frequently indistinguishable from animal tracks. Satellite feed was sketchy, but the device was reliable enough to navigate. Terrain sucked. Up, up, up, she hiked over sodden ground cover and rock made slick with freezing moisture. Soon her lungs burned and legs ached as the cold air leached what body heat she had left.
She'd gone soft. And that's what happened when you were more accustomed to sitting at a computer than exploring the great outdoors — when you've gone legit and don't have to look over your shoulder to avoid jail or worse. Going legit turned you as soft as an overripe tomato, and she'd enjoyed every minute of it. Shame wrestled with guilt as she thought about the reports she'd passed up the chain of command. She could blame the company — they'd hidden their motives, lied — but it didn't make her feel any cleaner. She'd uncovered a murder and feared they'd commit another one to cover it up. None of this made any sense. From what she saw in the files, WE was about making money. Extortion. There was no profit in killing your mark, so why did they do it?
Everything had happened so fast back in Whitman's office when the shooter arrived, gun blazing. There'd been no time to wonder why it was happening. It was only after she'd escaped by way of the balcony and she sped away in her Jetta, that facts began to percolate and the why ate at her. WE's activities made her complicit in extortion, burglary, and murder. Why'd they do it?
She'd find out. It's what she did — hunt for the truth. And she'd stop Whitman and make things right. Only then would she be safe, MacLain and his family would be safe, and then she'd build the legit life that still seemed out of reach.
First, she needed to save Dane MacLain. Long-legged, wide-shouldered, muscular, dreamy father of Elizabeth MacLain. He was an ex-cop, yes, but no one was perfect. Other than that, the guy was the full package — kind, strong, kick-ass and responsible. There wasn't a move he'd made in the last two months that didn't impress her. There wasn't a dream she'd had that hadn't been filled with him. It was embarrassing and glorious. Her crushing on him was inevitable, she supposed. Who could submerge themselves in MacLain and not come up covered in his sexy goodness?
He didn't know she existed. Really. Did. Not. Know. It was her job to make sure he didn't as she monitored his life. That didn't stop her from having feelings for him. In fact, it was probably the best way to have feelings for someone. No vulnerability. No consequences. As she trudged through the woods, cripplingly cold, she liked to think she'd be taking this risk for any person, woman or man, but being chased to MacLain made the hardship easier to bear.
Rushing brooks and craggy, root-strewn land made walking difficult. She quickened her step. An hour later, feet dragging, she was near frozen, and a creek stood between her and the direction she needed to go. No way around it, she tiptoed into its icy grip, expletives rolling off her tongue with every precarious, frigid step. Her calf muscles seized and her body went into full shivering mode as the bottom dropped out dramatically, submerging her to her knees. Another step and she sank to her chest, gasping, struggling to move forward. Then the current swept her away.
Submerged, moonlight her only guide to up or down, Marnie flailed to the surface, moving downstream, gasping, trying to breathe. Her backpack, everything was lost as she was bashed against the stony creek bed. Two hands bit into the flesh of her arms and hauled her to the surface. Blinking, wheezing, she saw a man, his face masked by shadow. Her mind did the math.
The shooter had found her.
Without a second thought, Marnie head-butted him, barely registering his shout of pain as hers burst from her lips. His hands didn't loosen. They tightened, crushing her to his chest. With the last of her air, she screamed, found purchase on the creek bed, and kneed him as hard as she could, clawing her way out of his arms. The current grabbed her again. Down she went into the icy water, choking, struggling to regain her footing. The current was too strong, sending her under. Lungs empty, her chest burning, she was blind, drifting with the current. Dying.
Two hands hauled her back up. She sucked in air but had no fight left. She hung from his arms, not resisting as he threw her over his shoulder, making her body expel the water she'd swallowed. He hauled her out of the frigid water. Marnie gathered her strength and punched at his back. He never slowed. She bit him. He swore, arched his back, and tripped. As they fell, he turned his body at the last moment, saving her from most of the damage, and then threw a leg over hers, pinning her to the ground.
"Lady! Will you give it a rest?" Chest heaving, fighting the urge to pass out, she finally got a good look at him. Blue eyes, strong jaw, unforgiving stare, sexy as sin.
"You." She barely recognized her voice.
Dane MacLain in the flesh. Relief and exhaustion bubbled up her throat and came out as an ugly sob. She had to explain but couldn't stop crying. They had to run. If the shooter — he'd find her car. He'd find them.
"Me?" He shook her, his frustration evident. "Lady, who are you?"
Marnie's vision pinpointed to a white light until it disappeared to black and she passed out.
* * *
Soaked through and covered with sleet, Dane kicked the cabin door closed behind them and shivered from the cold. Moonlight streamed inside from the cabin's few windows. Even deep shadows couldn't hide the shabbiness within: wood paneling, storage bins holding necessities lining the walls. No electricity beyond a few solar batteries he used to support his security system, no plumbing, bereft of insulation, it was a glorified tent with a dilapidated couch. It was not a place he liked to linger, but rather a place to crash when he was persona non grata in Manchester.
A few days ago, Joe Folsom, his ex-partner, gave him the heads-up to leave town. Dane's questions were pissing off the brass. Eager to avoid the inside of the Manchester Police Department's interrogation room so close to his flight, he'd come here a few days ago. When it was time to head out as planned, Dane remembered he had active snares set in the woods. In this shit weather, with so little time before his flight, he was kicking himself, but not willing to allow any animal to suffer for his oversight. His scruples saved her life. Pale and limp, she wasn't looking so good. He was worried.
"We'll be warm soon." Please don't die. He laid her on the couch and covered her with wool blankets he kept handy.
A full-body shiver ran the length of him. Now that he no longer carried her, his arms were cramping up. He shook them out, thinking about the hike he'd just completed. The slippery trails had been a bitch, trying to keep his balance, an exercise in resilience. Hellish comparisons from ranger school swirled in his mind, memories that even two tours as an MP in Afghanistan hadn't topped.
He'd wrapped her in his jacket, trying to protect her best he could from the elements, but it clearly hadn't been enough. Not nearly. It took a half an hour of fighting the trails to get here, and she was without the energy to shiver. That, sure as shit, wasn't a good sign.
Kneeling next to the couch, he rubbed her arms and legs under the blankets, hoping friction would heat her skin, get her blood flowing. All the while he fought the feeling that this whole thing was a dream. No one had ever been in the cabin with him. Ever. If he hadn't needed to disable his snares because he was leaving, despite the horrible weather, she'd have drowned, her body discovered by a hiker or someone fishing farther down the mountain. But that hadn't happened. He was able to save her, and it felt good after the failure in his past. He was determined she, his first visitor, would survive the experience.
Dane thought of his scheduled flight to the Cayman Islands. It was boarding in a few hours. He'd been set to run down a link between Jeremy Tuttle, the man who had confessed to killing Dane's wife, and the people truly responsible. Evidence. It had been at a bank in the Cayman Islands where Whitman Enterprises held their corporate accounts. An employee was willing to copy pertinent records for a fee. If Dane could prove the five hundred thousand dollars he'd found in Tuttle's account came from WE, he'd have solid evidence that Tuttle had been paid to confess. He already knew Tuttle hadn't killed Dane's wife. Dane had found video confirmation Tuttle was across town pumping gas at the time, but the security feed was stolen from the evidence locker, along with all the other evidence Dane had scratched together. Without the security feed, Tuttle's confession held up in court.
He'd miss his flight, despite his hunger to put this case behind him, because saving this woman's life came first. It had to. Life was about the living. His case was about the dead. He pressed his cheek to her forehead. She still felt cold. Too cold.
A fire. Dry clothes. He ran through a list of what he needed to keep them alive. She opened her eyes and recognized him. He could see it in her expression. It distracted him enough to stop admiring her and look at her as a cop rather than the randy teen her beauty tapped into.
He didn't know her. He would have remembered that face, that tilt of her nose, sharp jawline and wide, high cheekbones. Stick-straight black hair made him think Asian, maybe, or Latina, he wasn't sure. Her nose wasn't quite aquiline, but it was straight enough to think one of her parents were Caucasian. Her eyes were gorgeous — there was no better word — widely spaced with irises so dark they appeared black. He'd never seen the like. She was afraid, though. He saw that clearly. Four miles from the nearest road, no gear, no jacket, drowning, she had a story to tell.
"You'll be okay." He hoped he was right. He was freezing to death.
Excerpted from Betrayed by a Kiss by Kris Rafferty, Vanessa Mitchell. Copyright © 2016 Kris Rafferty. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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