In Ann Christopher's classic novel of suspense, a drug kingpin's vicious crimes spark a DEADLY chain of events…
WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF A DRUG KINGPIN WANTED TO MURDER YOU?
DEA Special Agent Jackson Parker does what it takes to keep vermin off the streets and our kids safe from drugs.
But now the most vicious sociopath he ever brought to justice wants him dead.
And the crossfire between good and evil threatens the intriguing woman Jack desires.
If you love sexy romantic thrillers with explosive surprises and edge-of-your-seat suspense, grab a copy of Deadly Pursuit today!
What the Critics say
"Thrilling. Relentless. Sexy. Romantic suspense for fans of Karen Robards, Lisa Jackson and Karen Rose."
—Eve Silver, National Bestselling Author
"[An] exciting romantic thriller [with a] thrilling conclusion."
—Publisher's Weekly on Deadly Pursuit
"Christopher does not disappoint in her second DEA thriller. There's no shortage of heart-stopping action and explosive encounters. 'Page-turner' is definitely an apt description for this story because the surprises just keep on coming."
—Romantic Times BOOKreviews on Deadly Desires
Read an Excerpt
By ANN CHRISTOPHER
DAFINA BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Sally Young Moore
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLawrenceburg, Indiana
The irritating, nostril-burning smell of cigarette smoke woke Payton Jones from a sound sleep. Or maybe it was Mama's croaking bullfrog voice, or the violent thud as the old bat rolled into Payton's bedroom with enough force to bang the cheap door against the wall, no doubt leaving chip number three million in the puke yellow paint.
"Gitcher lazy ass outta bed. It's one-thirty in the afternoon."
Payton pushed the covers down and cracked a bleary eye open against the bright sunlight streaming in the window above the headboard. Unfortunately, Mama's wheelchair was parked directly ahead, and Mama, wearing her dirty red housecoat and as unavoidable as a sperm whale in a lounge chair, was in it.
Payton groaned. It was too early for this shit.
Muttering, head pounding due to the nine-or was it ten?-Jell-O shooters that went down the pipe last night, Payton dove under the blankets again. This resulted in a smack on the leg sharp enough to clear the sinuses.
"Jesus." Good and awake now, Payton sat up and glared at Mama. "Who put a bee in your freaking bonnet?"
"I put me a list together, for the grocery." An inch-long strip of ash wavered and fell from the end of the cigarette onto Mama's lap, whereupon Mama brushed it onto the white sheet, one inch from Payton's hip. Payton yelped and swiped it to the floor. "Yer gonna need to stop at Walmart, too, and pick up my prescriptions."
"Why can't Al do it?"
"Because Al's working, like you should be."
"I can't find a job," Payton said.
"Helps when you look for one."
Of all the hypocritical bullshit Payton had ever heard, this running thread about looking for a job was the worst. How a woman could take one slight on-the-job hip injury, turn it into worker's comp benefits into perpetuity, and then have the nerve to complain about someone else not looking for a job was something Payton would never understand.
"I've been looking." This, as they both knew, was a lie, more or less, but what was left of Payton's pride required it.
Mama glared, her watery eyes squinched against the cigarette smoke that wafted up into them as she spoke. "You're nothin' but a big disappointment to me, Payton-"
"Shit." Payton got out of bed, stalked over to the closet, and rummaged through shirts and whatnot, scraping the hangers across the bar in the hopes of drowning out this latest recitation on the depths of Mama's disappointment, but the noise didn't help. It never did.
"-a disappointment and a burden. Never gonna amount to anything, as far as I can tell. Dropped out of college. Dishonorable discharge from the army. No job. Out all night at the Argosy, drinking and gambling away the only two cents we got to rub together. What'm I supposed to do with you?"
"Beats the hell outta me," Payton said from the depths of the closet.
Payton had created this whole messed-up situation-no one else to blame there. Living at home in a trailer at twenty-four. Driving a piece of shit car that cost more than it was worth every fill-up. Saddled with the bitch here.
The army had provided two precious years of freedom, but that hadn't worked out in the end.
Blowing through the money from that last job wasn't the smartest thing Payton had ever done, but the blackjack table had been hot that night. For a little while, anyway. Still, betting ten large at once was a bad idea, so there were no real excuses.
Now Payton paid the price every time Mama played that same old broken record-Payton Screws Up: Volume One-and every time Mama swore that Payton would still be living at home decades from now.
Payton almost gagged at the thought.
Over near the bed, the bitch droned on, working up a head of steam, when a miracle occurred.
The phone rang, and it was the special ring tone-the Dixie Chicks' "Not Ready to Make Nice"-announcing that this was an important call, the kind that didn't happen often enough. Payton lunged for the leather jacket perched atop the teetering pile of clothes on the chair, fished the phone out of the pocket, and flipped it open.
"This is Payton."
There was a long pause, and then, "Someone's looking to hire."
The surge of gratitude and relief was almost blinding. "I'm available."
Mama watched with sharp eyes, mouth gaping open and cigarette stub dangling from the edge of her bottom lip by what could only be spit. Trying to look casual, Payton turned and stared out the window to that lousy battered blue car, which seemed to lose a foot or more of its body to rust every day.
"I recommended you."
"That so?" Payton now felt a little wary because Lady Luck generally wasn't this good or this timely. "Who needs me?"
"A friend of Travis."
Thank God. A referral from Travis was as good as gold, better than a personalized note from Oprah.
"So ... you interested?"
Interested? Payton would gladly explore any escape option out of this pit, including an express train straight to the molten center of hell if one pulled up.
"Yeah. I'm interested."
Mount Adams, Washington
"You're wasting my time."
Amara Clarke gave the assistant prosecutor sitting across the table from her a pointed look, just for emphasis, and waited for the inevitable comeback, which didn't arrive immediately. Good. Maybe now she could eat her dinner in something resembling peace. Amara took a quick, desperate bite of the now lukewarm but still delicious chicken and noodles in her bowl, the only food she'd had since the brief recess at one this afternoon.
Katie O'Farrell watched her as she sipped her coffee, glowering and no doubt framing her rebuttal.
Amara didn't bother to hide her impatience; she had dinner to eat and work to do. Flapping a hand at her open laptop, she hoped Katie would take the hint and scram.
"Let's wrap this up. I need to write my closing, and so do you. And I'd like to get home before ice glues my car to the street."
A sheet of rain drove into the window at the end of the booth, chilling the air inside the diner and making the ominous pings that could only mean sleet. Amara shivered, cold down to the marrow of her bones. If only she was home in a bubble-filled tub, breathing in the scent of lavender and letting Calgon take her away. She had better hopes of discovering a cure for cancer by tomorrow, but a girl could dream.
It was nearly ten and she was running on fumes. Her thirty-six-year-old body had started feeling the strain of the trial, which ended its second day today: tired, gritty eyes, empty stomach and a weird combination of sleep-deprived exhaustion and caffeine-driven agitation.
There was no explaining her case of nerves, even to herself. She ate prosecutors for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Thrived in the courtroom like an orchid in a greenhouse.
Why was she so antsy tonight?
The cook, whispered that insidious little voice in the back of her head.
No way, she thought, knowing she was a damn liar.
Taking another bite of noodles, she shot him a glance through her lashes. Being discreet was an unnecessary exercise, though, because he rarely looked at her. When he did look at her, it was with an unfathomable darkness in his eyes that made her feel like something he'd throw in the Dumpster out back.
Standing over at the grill on the other side of the long counter, flipping burgers or whatever it was he did, he had his white-T-shirt-clad, broad-shouldered back to her. This, fortunately, spared her from his cool-eyed disdain, but unfortunately treated her to an unimpeded view of the world's greatest ass, which was encased in faded, baggy jeans but still clearly tight and round.
Her face flamed. She looked away, irritated with her surging hormones.
That ass and that man, whoever the hell he was, had ruined the Twelfth Street Diner for her and, along with it, her trial rituals.
In the old days, she'd finish up after a long session at court and bring her laptop here to her favorite booth, where the hanging lamp over the table provided a soothing light, and the view of the arbor in the park across the street was more relaxing than watching the Travel Channel at home.
She'd order the pork chops and work late into the night, the comings and goings of the other regulars keeping her from the absolute loneliness she felt within the four walls of her house. She'd been well fed, content and as relaxed as a criminal defense attorney ever got.
All that had changed three months ago when he showed up.
Realizing she'd lapsed into staring again, Amara looked away, cleared her throat and tried to focus.
Katie O'Farrell, who was a friendly acquaintance even if she was Amara's current courtroom enemy, lowered her cup and clanked it on the table with unmistakable irritation. "You can't seriously believe I'm wasting your time. The jury's not with you. You should be glad to hear my offer."
"In case you didn't notice, you didn't make any dents in Detective Curtis today."
Amara had noticed, but she hid her scowl. Detective Curtis had emerged from her withering cross-examination smelling like a June rose, yeah, that was true.
It was also true that the we hate you and the horse you rode in on vibe from the jury didn't bode well for her client, Greg Kinney, accused low-level drug dealer and fumbling college student in his spare time. Poor dumb Greg stood better than a fair chance of spending some quality time in the pen, where he probably belonged.
Luckily for Greg, though, he had a U.S. senator for a father, and Daddy Dearest had enough money and sense to hire a good lawyer. Enter Amara.
She wasn't about to let Greg go down without a fight, no matter how stupid he was.
"Excuse me?" Amara slipped into full battle mode, her excess adrenaline fueling her outrage. "I'm supposed to have my client plead guilty and pack his bag for prison on the basis of your little hunch about which side the jury's on? Is this a joke?"
Katie shrugged. "Your client'll never get two years from the judge if he's convicted, and you know it. This is a decent deal."
Maybe. Probably. But Amara hadn't given up yet, nor would she. Tomorrow she'd deliver a closing argument to rival Clarence Darrow's in the Scopes Monkey Trial. Then she'd let the jury decide.
"We're not pleading out."
Katie, practically snarling now, put her elbows on the table and leaned in. "Are you holding out for one year? Is that what this is about? Because-"
"I'm not holding out for anything."
"-I'm not recommending one year. I know how you operate, Amara-"
"I'm not operating."
"-so don't even try it."
"I'm not trying anything."
Amara didn't bother trying to keep the annoyance out of her voice. What'd a person have to do to be left alone around here? Why couldn't she eat and work without harassment? "I don't want a deal of any kind, I'm not holding out for a year, and I am not done with my noodles."
A thick, muscular, brown arm had reached down to take her bowl, and Amara spoke without thinking. Her unnecessarily harsh tone registered with her brain a millisecond before the regret did, but by then it was too late.
Oh, God, it was him.
Flushing hot enough to ignite her own eyebrows, she slowly glanced up. Towering over her stood six and a half feet of masculine perfection and irritation, a man so unspeakably virile he'd make Zena and her band of Amazons look like petite-size zeros.
Thunderstruck, Amara stared like an idiot, her mouth hanging open.
This was the closest she'd ever been to him and she almost needed a shield or lead blanket to deflect some of his unholy chemical effect on her. Things had been bad enough from a distance, but now she could smell him, too, and oh, what a thrill that was. Sandalwood, spices and the fresh, healthy musk of a man who spent hours over steamy pots and pans. Just his scent alone was enough to peak her nipples and get the honey flowing between her thighs, but she still had to assimilate the face and the body.
Like that was possible.
The body was something she'd fantasize about for years to come. A pristine white T-shirt-how did he keep it so white, working in a kitchen?-stretched across broad, square shoulders and a rippling slab of chest and abdomen. One of those starchy chef 's aprons, the kind Martha Stewart wore, had been folded down and tied around his narrow hips.
He had light brown skin and haywire curls the same sandy color. The brows, though, were dark and moody. So were the flashing eyes, which right now were expressing something fierce, like his fierce desire to dump the bowl of noodles on her head.
His five o'clock shadow had gone to seed a week or so ago, but that only added to his attractiveness, his air of surly attitude teetering on the edge of outright menace.
Looking at him gave Amara the kind of violent visceral response she'd never in her life had for anyone else. She wanted him. Had fantasized about his tongue in her mouth and her legs around his waist. Would love to have his scent and stubble marks all over her skin. Needed the slow, deep thrust of his body inside hers.
And then she needed it again. And again.
If he smiled or crooked his finger at her, she, Amara Clarke-defense attorney extraordinaire and fiercely independent woman who prided herself on never needing anyone, didn't believe in casual sex and hadn't had a date in three years or sex in four-would probably follow him into the back room, or the bathroom, or his car, or the nearest hotel, and let him do whatever he damn well wanted to do with her.
Yeah, she wanted him that much.
Their gazes locked and the cook looked her in the eye for only the second or third time ever. His dark brown gaze, so frigid it would no doubt cure the global warming problem if only someone would provide his transport to the Arctic, raked over her face and, in those fleeting milliseconds, one thing was perfectly, brutally clear:
He hated her.
He believed she was a snotty bitch who thought he was a peon well beneath her notice, and he despised her for it. There was no aspect of her that he liked; probably even the buttons down the front of her dress offended him. She had no hope of redemption against such absolute loathing, no possibility of him ever finding anything whatsoever worthwhile about her.
So it was no surprise when he slammed her precious bowl back on the table, turned his broad back on Amara and spoke to Katie.
"Who's the chocolate bunny?" He jerked his head in Amara's direction. "You should teach her some manners."
Oh, man. He was blessed with a naturally low, deep and sexy voice, the kind of voice that would keep a woman up all night with a vibrator in one hand and the receiver in the other if he worked for one of those phone sex hotlines.
Katie didn't miss a beat, smiling up at him with Nancy Reagan-esque adoration. "Amara can't be taught. But I'm happy to be your bunny if you, you know, need one in vanilla."
He grinned at Katie, and Amara seethed with something ugly, almost like jealousy, but then his words registered with her brain. That was a compliment, right? Chocolate bunny? It was also a condescending endearment offensive to anyone with a pair of ovaries, and of course she hated it on principle, but ... did that mean she'd caught his eye?
"Where's Judy?" Katie wondered, referring to their waitress.
"Went home sick," Jack told her, still favoring her with the brilliance of his smile.
Amara tried to recapture his attention. "I-I'm sorry."
He glanced over at Amara, his jaw tightening.
"I just ... I'm really hungry and the noodles are really good, so-"
The irritation vanished and he faced her, one corner of his incredible mouth creeping up into the wicked half smile of a man with one thing on his mind, and it wasn't food. To her utter astonishment, he gave her a pointed and assessing once-over, nearly searing the bodice of her dress off her body with the intensity of his gaze.
That look was about the rudest thing she'd ever experienced in her life.
It was also the sexiest.
"Why didn't you say so, Bunny?" he murmured. "I made the noodles. And I'm happy to let you taste anything of mine whenever you want."
If there was the teeniest doubt in her mind that he was trying to be as obnoxious and insulting as possible, the tiny wink he gave her cleared it up. Amara gaped at him, stammering. Her skin felt so hot it had to be purple by now.
Excerpted from DEADLY PURSUIT by ANN CHRISTOPHER Copyright © 2010 by Sally Young Moore. Excerpted by permission.
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