Lyra Collins thought she was safe, hiding in a sleepy artists' community in Arizona. Having escaped from a cult five years ago, she keeps a low profile, making a living as a sculptor. But when a mysterious man with a dark, dangerous look appears on her doorstep, she knows it's time to run again.
Former lawman, now PI, Dare Lancaster accidentally leads a bunch of fanatical cult members straight to Lyra's door. Now it's up to him to protect her. The danger, as well as their growing attraction, is greater than anything's he's ever faced before.
Neal Barker, the grandson of the first Prophet Jericho, rules the Temple of Light commune unchecked. According to his visions, he and Lyra are destined to produce the new Messiah, so he will stop at nothing to make her his own. Dare soon discovers just how far he's willing to go to safeguard Lyra—and never let her go.
About the Author
Cheyenne McCray is an award-winning, New York Times and USA Today best-selling author who grew up on a ranch in southeastern Arizona and has written over one hundred published novels and novellas. Chey also writes cozy mysteries as Debbie Ries. She delights in creating stories of suspense, love, and redemption with characters and worlds her readers can get lost in.
Chey and her husband live with their two Ragdoll cats and two small dogs in southeastern Arizona where she enjoys going on long walks, traveling around the world, and searching for her next adventure and new ideas, as well as hand embroidering crazy quilts and listening to audiobooks.
Find out more about Chey, how to contact her, and her books at https://cheyennemccray.com.
Read an Excerpt
By Cheyenne McCray
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2007 Cheyenne McCray
All rights reserved.
They'd found her. After all these years they'd found her.
Lyra gripped the plastic grocery bag tight in one fist and swallowed hard as she stood in her doorway and slowly turned to face the tall man on her porch. She hadn't even heard him following her until she'd opened her front door.
He'd called her by her real name. Only The People knew her real name.
"Lyra Collins?" the man repeated in a bass rumble that made her skin tingle. His eyes were shadowed by a Stetson pulled low over his forehead.
Her heart pounded as she took a step backward into her home. Adrenaline surged through her body and she fought a wild urge to run.
And run fast.
The man was frighteningly large, with broad shoulders and a tapered waist leading to lean hips. A black western shirt was tucked into black Wranglers molded to powerful thighs.
She ground her teeth at the thought of the bad guy from the Wild West, dressed all in black, coming to gun her down. Any other day, in any other situation, the whole scene might have been funny. Lyra saw no humor in it now. This handsome bastard was probably a Wild West bad guy, modern-religious style, and he might just have a six-gun hidden somewhere she couldn't see.
The People were relentless.
She moved her free hand to the door frame. She clenched it so tight her nails dug into the splintered wood. Over the stranger's shoulder, she saw neighborhood children playing in the July sunshine-bright street, their laughter and chatter a stark contrast to the fear coursing through her body. Behind the children was the side of the hill where a steep set of concrete steps led down to Main Street. If she had a chance she could make a run for it. Head someplace she could disappear again.
The man frowned. "Are you all right, ma'am?"
Lyra raised her chin. She did her best to gather her composure, battling her fear and more tingles from the rich, deep sound of his voice. She cleared her throat, dismissing his almost hypnotic effect on her. "Who are you?"
"Dare Lancaster." He touched the brim of his hat in a gentlemanly gesture that surprised her — but didn't fool her. "One of your relatives has been trying to get ahold of you, and I thought I'd let you know. A man named Ryan came to my office and said a Neal Barker is trying to find you."
Neal? Oh, my God. So I'm not being foolish or paranoid. I should have known this couldn't last forever!
Blood drained from Lyra's face. She could feel it seeping down her throat and trickling from her body to the stained carpet beneath her feet.
Neal. The Prophet of the Temple of Light.
Her hand crept from the door frame to the canister she kept bracketed there.
"I — I haven't the slightest idea what you're talking about." She started to push the door shut, but the man stuck his booted foot between the door and the jamb.
Terror ripped through Lyra like an ice-cold wind. She dropped the grocery bag and vaguely heard glass shatter and the thump of the bag of dry cat food hitting the carpet. In a movement so fast she surprised herself, Lyra yanked the can of pepper spray out of the holster beside the door and aimed it at the man.
She pressed down on the release as hard as she could and a fine mist sprayed him full in the face.
"Ah, hell." Instead of dropping and writhing on the porch like she'd expected him to, the man merely pinched the bridge of his nose and moved his boot out of the doorway. "A simple no would've been better."
Lyra slammed the door, locked and bolted it, and slid the chain lock into place. Her body trembled so badly she could hardly stand. Her own eyes stung from a bit of the pepper spray that had floated back to her on the light breeze.
Blinking away hot tears, she peeked out the peephole and watched the intimidating man shake his head, pause, then stride to a large black truck parked across the street.
Odd. The People didn't often travel alone, and they didn't give up so easily. They never gave up, in fact. And the men always wore their hair in a long fishtail braid and had goatees. This cowboy must be a hired gun, so to speak.
She stared as the man gave his head one more shake and rubbed his eyes. He grabbed the door frame to climb into his truck. She could see the perfect lines of his powerful form and the graceful, decisive way he moved. No distractions for that cowboy. He seemed too sure of himself to belong to the Temple of Light. Too ... in control.
She blew out a ragged breath, coughing against the pepper spray. Just before hauling himself up and into his truck, the man turned and studied her home for a moment and her heart nearly stopped beating. The way his eyes narrowed and focused made her feel like the door wasn't there at all. That he was looking straight into her soul.
Her heart began pounding and her stomach churned, acid rising up in her throat.
But the man just climbed into his truck and slammed its door shut.
Lyra turned and sagged against the door and dropped the can of spray. She slid down the wood to land on her ass next to the ruined groceries.
The truth struck her full force again, erasing the remnants of gooseflesh with clammy waves of dread.
They'd found her.
Dare's eyes burned like shit as he sat in his truck. If it weren't for his police academy training years ago, he wouldn't have been able to walk straight after a direct hit.
"Well, hell." That hadn't gone exactly as planned. Obviously the woman was scared to death of this Neal Barker. Looked like he'd just have to contact Ryan Holstead and let him know that Neal Barker's "cousin" didn't want to be contacted — if in fact she was the man's relative.
In most situations Dare didn't contact — hell, in all previous cases he hadn't contacted — the client's relative or friend, just left that up to the client. But this time something in Dare's gut had told him to check out Lyra Collins for himself. Something in the sound of the client's voice had nagged at him.
Apparently his gut had been right.
Just who was Barker, and why did his name scare the woman enough for her to shoot Dare with pepper spray?
The laughter of the children playing in the street would have made him smile if his eyes weren't hurting so damn bad. The two girls and two boys scampered away and into the house next door, then the street was quiet.
Dare turned his attention back to the little house that wasn't much more than a hole in the wall along a street that wound around the mountainside. He figured Lyra Collins was watching him and no doubt she'd be calling the cops if he didn't get his ass out of there.
And he was in no mood to talk to cops. The memory of the reason he'd left the force in Tucson was always like a punch to the gut. He rubbed his right shoulder, remembering the incident from seven years ago when he'd let his partner down.
When his partner had died.
Dare had been a private investigator since and only dealt with the police when he had to.
He brought his attention back to Lyra Collins and blinked again from the burn in his eyes. His PI partner, Nick, would have a heyday — Dare would never live down taking a full-in-the-face from a scared mark.
He ground his teeth and grabbed a couple of the tissues from his glove compartment that his housekeeper always insisted he keep on hand. He rubbed the spray the best he could from the corners of his now-watery eyes. If it didn't normally make the sting worse, he'd stop at Manny's Restaurant and wash the crap out of his eyes.
After tossing the tissues aside, he turned the ignition, put the truck in gear, and glanced into his rearview mirror.
Dare frowned. A light brown van rolled up and parked on the canyon side of the street, two car lengths behind him. He recognized the van. It had been behind him as he'd driven up the canyon but had passed him once he'd stopped in front of the woman's house.
There weren't but so many roads up this particular canyon, and the type of vehicle wasn't unusual to the area, so he hadn't thought much else about it.
But now the hair at the nape of his neck told him something was off. He turned off the ignition and watched the van in his rearview mirror. A pair of men in the front seat of the van stared at his truck. Every now and then one of the men would turn and look into the back of the van as if checking something out or speaking to someone.
Dare glanced at his watch. Back at the van. Back to his watch. For a good fifteen minutes, nothing happened and Dare tried to shake off the feeling of wrongness at the same time he puzzled over the woman's reaction. Maybe she was a cheating wife. No — the fear in her eyes had been very real. Could she be an abused wife? Could the man who contacted Dare have been a stalker? Shit. What if she was in the Witness Security Program?
Nothing happened in the van behind him. Maybe he was overreacting. He brought his hand up to the keys still dangling from the ignition and started the truck. After he pulled out, he guided the vehicle down the winding hill.
When he reached Main Street, his skin prickled again. Goddamn. He had to go back and check out that van. Something wasn't right.
After a quick turn, he drove his truck up the street just in time to see men spill out of the van. His experienced gaze raked in their appearances. What the hell? All sported goatees and had long braids that hung straight down their backs. All were in jeans and light brown shirts.
Immediately his cop brain sized up their build, their manner and intent, and the organized, military way they deployed.
His muscles tensed and all his instincts went on full alert. The woman was in trouble — trouble he'd brought to her door.
The men crept toward Lyra Collins's home.
Five of the men broke away and eased down the street, skirting the side yards of the houses, until they reached the alley at the end. They slipped into the back alley.
The other two opened the front gate and started down the short path to Lyra Collins's house.
Lyra's hands shook as she started to clean up the spilled broken glass from the bottle of salad dressing. Mrs. Yosko's dry cat food had scattered across the floor like a mammoth jigsaw puzzle. The bananas and lettuce would surely go bad in no time, as hard as Lyra had dropped them.
What am I thinking? I have to get out of here!
She wouldn't let them take her back to the commune in Oregon. She wouldn't!
Tears came hot and unwelcome as she rushed to clean up the glass, but she couldn't stop them. She'd felt safe for so long now, happy in the small world she'd built for herself in this sleepy artists' community. Now she would have to go on the run again, establish a new identity and a new life.
What about the few friends she'd made? And what about Mrs. Y?
With quick, angry jerks of her arm, Lyra brushed tears from her eyes with the back of her hand. No selfpity. She didn't have room for that or time for it. It didn't matter that this place had become home to her. She'd grab the pack she always kept ready and find a new town to live in. She'd move across the states to some place like Florida. There were definitely places easier to get lost in. Maybe she'd head up the coast to New York City.
She'd have to leave right away, before the man came back, perhaps with more of the cult's members. But first she had to finish cleaning up the broken bottle of salad dressing so the elderly woman who lived with her wouldn't step on any of the glass. Lyra's heart hurt at the thought she'd have to tell Mrs. Yosko goodbye. She'd have to find someone to check in on her.
What about Mrs. Y's medication? Lyra always picked it up for her at the drugstore when she ran out. She even cooked for Mrs. Y. Damn, damn, damn!
The thoughts raced through Lyra's mind as she rushed as fast as she could while she picked up every piece of broken glass and stuffed it into the grocery bag. It took her a few precious moments to do that and run to the kitchen to dispose of it in the garbage can beneath the sink. Her hands shook as she washed them, then rinsed the small amount of pepper spray out of her eyes before quickly rubbing a kitchen towel over her face.
What if the man was sending The People to her home now? She hated how her heart pounded and her head ached from fear. Any moment they would be ready to snatch her and take her back to the Temple of Light.
Lyra hurried upstairs to Mrs. Y's room. She had to say goodbye.
She knocked on the elderly woman's closed door. "It's Linda," Lyra said, raising her voice and using the name people knew her by in Bisbee.
She heard shuffling and the white-haired lady opened the door, her bright red muumuu unbuttoned at the top, showing her yellowed slip. "Did you get the cat food?"
"Dixie's favorite — it's in the kitchen." Lyra felt like she was going to hyperventilate as she did her best to keep her voice calm. "I have to go out of town for a while."
Tears ached at the back of Lyra's eyes again. She'd really grown to love the old lady. Damn, but she'd miss her.
I have to hurry!
Just as Lyra turned to leave, Mrs. Y said in a calm voice, "Don't let them chase you off. You have to stop running."
Shock rippled through Lyra as she met the elderly woman's watery brown eyes. Mrs. Yosko didn't know about Lyra's past. She couldn't. No one in Bisbee did.
"I — I've got to go." Lyra backed out the door, turned, pounded down the stairs and then to the hall toward her room. She passed her worktable, filled with creations she had made from strips of metal cut from old lunch boxes, aluminum cans, and other metal objects.
Her mind spun from what Mrs. Yosko had said to her need to get out of the house as soon as possible. A lump grew in her throat. She would miss her quiet life, but she refused to be caged again, ever, in any way.
And what Neal would do to her ... her stomach roiled and she felt like she was going to puke. Something she'd done many times because of him.
In her room she stuffed her cell phone into a side pocket of the worn army-issue canvas bag that contained a couple of changes of clothing and several tools of her craft. She snatched up a little yellow teddy bear from her bed and a small, flat tin from her bottom dresser drawer. Her hands were shaking even more as she jammed them in the bag before slipping her arms through both straps. She had plenty of cash in her pack — where she kept her stash. She always paid cash or used money orders for everything.
In seconds she was out of her bedroom and running down the hallway toward the living room. What had it been since the cowboy arrived on her doorstep — fifteen minutes, maybe more?
A knock at the front door brought her to a full halt.
Her heart pounded and blood rushed in her ears.
Knocking again. Louder this time.
Lyra started to back up.
Her mind raced and she grabbed the metal bat she kept by the couch. She'd head out the back door to the alley, then swing around and get to the concrete steps leading down the side of the canyon.
Something rammed into the door so hard the old wooden door frame broke with a loud crack and the slide bolt and chain lock tore away from the frame.
No, this can't be happening.
Another slam against the door. Lyra screamed as it was ripped off its hinges and flung against the wall with a loud crash. A piece of her artwork toppled off the wall and tumbled across the floor.
Two men stood in the doorway.
These two she recognized, traveling in a pair like she expected. Like she had seen in her nightmares a hundred times.
Mark and Adam. In her house.
"Lyra." Adam held out his hand and gave an enigmatic smile, as if he hadn't just ripped the front door off its hinges. His light blue eyes were filled with obvious pleasure at having found her. "It's time you returned to the flock. The Prophecy has to be fulfilled."
She stepped back, swallowed hard, and clenched the bat tighter. "I'm not going with you. I'm not the freaking one you want from your stupid Prophecy. Just leave me alone."
Oh, God, I hope Mrs. Yosko stays in her room! She could get hurt!
The two cult members approached Lyra. They wore faded jeans and had on tan shirts. The shirts were made of the same coarse cloth the women were forced to wear for robes.
The cult's members all looked the same. Dressed the same.
"The Prophet is never wrong." Adam's looks became harder, more intense, as he took a larger step toward her and was a mere couple of feet away. "This is your destiny."
Excerpted from Chosen Prey by Cheyenne McCray. Copyright © 2007 Cheyenne McCray. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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