When FBI Special Agent Griffin "Decker" Davenport opens his eyes after several days in a coma, there is unfinished business still on his mind. Decker's on the cusp of discovering the mastermind behind a human trafficking case, and he and his partner, Special Agent Kate Coppola, are determined to bring the perpetrator to justice. And they’re about to get a surprising new lead from a very unlikely source.
Eighteen-year-old Mallory Martin and her little sister, Macy, were the victims of an illegal adoption—sold by their addict mother for drugs. But their “benefactor” is not who everyone thinks he is. Mallory has never told his secrets before—the danger to her and her sister has always been too great. But everyone has a limit to what they can endure...
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Cincinnati, Ohio Wednesday, August 12, 5:30 p.m.
Run. Run. Faster. Stop him. Please, God, let me stop him this time.
Kate took the stairs two at a time, her heart beating wildly. But not from the running. It was the fear. Fear so thick that she could smell it. Taste it. Feel it coating her skin as she charged up the stairs that never, ever seemed to end.
Because she knew she’d never stop him. She was always too late.
She reached the door and stopped. Can’t do it. Can’t do this again. Please, don’t make me do this again. But her hand moved as she watched, turning the knob.
Her hand always turned the knob. The door always swung open like it weighed five hundred pounds. Slowly.
Revealing him sitting in her easy chair, his head resting on the brightly colored afghan her grandmother had crocheted just for her when she was six, a mocking smile on his face.
And the barrel of a gun in his mouth. Her gun.
She flinched, closing her eyes a second before the gun went off. Because she knew what would happen. She knew how bad it would—
“Kate?” The voice was muffled but insistent, then became abruptly loud and clear, followed by a soft smack on her cheek. “Kate? Special Agent Coppola, you need to wake up.”
Kate woke with a start, her heart racing faster than it had in the dream. She’d been too late again. But she’d always be too late, because he hadn’t wanted to be stopped.
He’d wanted her to see.
She blinked, her darting gaze taking in the hospital room, the chair in which she sat—fucking uncomfortable—and the deep, rhythmic breathing of the man lying in the bed next to her—Special Agent Griffin Davenport.
But mostly the unusual eyes—one blue and one brown—staring up at her from a woman’s face framed with bold white streaks that contrasted starkly with the rest of her inky black hair. Kate reached out a tentative hand to nudge Dani’s shoulder, just to be sure she wasn’t still dreaming. The shoulder was solid and real.
Kate exhaled sharply. “Dani,” she said, just to hear her own voice. It was raspy, like sandpaper. Like she’d been screaming. Oh God, don’t let me have been screaming.
Dr. Dani Novak spoke calmly, like one might speak to a feral animal. Or a wild-eyed woman just coming out of a nightmare. “Yes. I’m real. And yes, you’re awake.”
She was kneeling in front of Kate, holding the cord to her earbuds in one hand and her laptop in the other while Kate clutched the blanket she’d been knitting to her chest like a shield.
“You nearly lost your computer,” Dani explained in that same calm voice. “I came in as it was slipping off your lap. You were dreaming.”
Kate let the knitting fall to her lap so that she could press her fingertips to her temples. “Yeah,” was all she could muster. She hated waking up from that dream. Hated feeling fuzzy and disoriented. Hated the pounding of her pulse in her ears. Hated that the last thing she’d seen was a man’s head exploding. “Wish you’d come in a few seconds earlier,” she muttered.
Dani made a sympathetic noise. “Me, too. You were . . . talking in your sleep.”
Kate’s eyes widened, a different kind of fear giving her a hard jolt that woke her right up. “What did I say?” Please don’t let it have been too much.
Dani’s voice dropped to a whisper. “Just ‘I’m sorry, Jack. So sorry.’ ”
A single nod set Kate’s mind at ease, because even though she didn’t know Dani all that well, she did know the woman didn’t lie. Dani Novak was the sister of Kate’s close friend and former Bureau partner, Deacon, who was as honest as any man she’d ever met.
Deacon Novak was a rare find—a male colleague who was simply a good friend. And that was all. There had never been a hint of anything else, not even once. The attraction hadn’t been there for either of them, and Kate had been so very glad. She hadn’t needed a lover then. She might never need one again. But she had desperately needed a friend, and Deacon had been one of the best.
When Deacon had transferred to Cincinnati from Baltimore, Kate had missed him—his professional skill along with his sarcasm and blunt honesty. She’d missed her friend. So when a position opened up in Cincinnati, she would have taken it even if it had meant a demotion. Luckily it had been a move up the ladder. She’d told everyone that she’d taken the job because of the promotion, but the real reason she’d chosen Cincinnati out of all the possible transfers was because of Deacon Novak.
They’d no longer work side by side—Deacon had been assigned to a joint task force with Cincinnati PD, while Kate was squarely owned by the FBI’s field office—but just knowing he was close by, that she had a friend watching her back again . . . that was enough.
The news that Deacon had found love here in Cincinnati soon after he’d arrived had made Kate incredibly happy. She’d found her soulmate once upon a time, long before she’d ever met Deacon Novak. Deacon deserved his turn now, and Kate heartily wished him and his fiancОe, Faith, the happiness she’d once known.
But she hoped Deacon and Faith would know their happiness for a whole lot longer than Kate had known hers, because the few years she’d actually been happy wasn’t much in the grand scheme of a life. Heartbroken and lost when she’d moved to Baltimore three years ago, she hadn’t realized how much she’d needed a friend until she’d met Deacon. Now—
Mocking smile, barrel in his mouth, gunshot—
Stop it. Viciously she shoved the image away. But it would be back. It never went far, a nearly constant taunt. But also a constant reminder of exactly how much she needed friends. And pathetically needy as it was, Kate hoped that Deacon’s sister might become one, too.
The Novak siblings had always seemed carved from the same rock, so Kate believed Dani when she murmured, “I don’t think anyone else heard what you said. You were more mumbling than speaking. Are you okay?”
Kate nodded, still shaken from the dream. From the knowledge that she’d spoken in her sleep, when she couldn’t control her words. At least “I’m sorry, Jack” wasn’t so bad. It could have been much worse. At least I didn’t scream.
But was she okay? Hell, no. She might never be okay again.
“I will be,” she lied. Pasting a smile on her face and willing her hands not to tremble, she relieved Dani of the computer and earbuds. “Thanks for saving my piece-of-shit laptop.” She put it on the floor under her chair. “As much as I want a new one, this one can’t break until I’ve at least backed up my notes on the audio files I’ve been transcribing all afternoon.”
Dani shrugged. “The audio file was either finished or it was just a lot of dead air.”
Kate stared at her. “You listened? It was private.”
“Not intentionally.” Remaining calm, Dani grabbed the earbuds’ cord and held up the tail end. “It came unplugged when I grabbed your piece-of-shit computer.”
Now Kate felt bad. “I’m sorry. Thank you again,” she said humbly. “I was being surly. I don’t wake up very nice.”
Dani waved the apology away. “Neither do I. Anyway, all I could hear was static.”
“Because the speaker’s a piece of shit, too,” Kate grumbled, grateful nonetheless that she hadn’t inadvertently shared the contents of an ongoing investigation with every nurse, patient, and family member in the ICU.
“What were you listening to?” Dani asked curiously.
“Recordings he made while he was undercover.” With a quirk of her head, Kate indicated the man in the hospital bed.
Special Agent Griffin Davenport had been placed in an induced coma the week before so that he could heal after a bullet had bruised his lung, cracked a rib, and filled his chest cavity with blood. He’d been in intensive care all that time, a ventilator breathing for him, the steady rise and fall of the man’s massive chest evidence that the machine was doing its job.
Telling Dani that Davenport had made the recordings wasn’t an issue. The man’s cover had been blown sky-high while rounding up a group of human traffickers who’d retaliated by putting him here in ICU. It had been an ER nurse who’d found the envelope full of CDs in a pocket sewn onto the inside of his pants and turned them over to the police.
And truthfully? The contents of the CDs themselves hadn’t been terribly damning so far, and Kate had been listening to them for days.
Only days? Feels like weeks. There had been a lot of thug chatter, but most of it wasn’t anything new. Nothing to warrant Davenport getting shot over, certainly.
“Why you?” Dani asked.
Kate jerked her gaze away from Davenport down to Dani, who was still watching her carefully from her kneeling position. “What do you mean, why me?”
“Why are you listening to his recordings?”
“Because there’s something important on one those CDs.” Of that she was certain. “Davenport took a huge risk trying to get them out.”
The envelope containing the CDs had been addressed to his handler in the event that he was unable to deliver them personally, which, in the end, was exactly what had happened. Except they hadn’t gone to Davenport’s handler, because he was dead, shot by members of the same ring. So Kate had listened while Davenport healed.
“No, I mean why are you listening? There are a lot of agents in that office and Deacon said that you’re one of the bigger fish in the pond now. Why not have a smaller fish do the listening?”
Kate shrugged uncomfortably. “I’m the new kid on the block. A week in the job and I don’t have a caseload yet. Besides, I do have a few of the smaller fish listening, too.”
Dani tilted her head thoughtfully, just like Kate had seen her brother do a thousand times. “Why do you visit every day?” She chuckled at Kate’s look of consternation. “You think the ICU nurses haven’t noticed? You think they didn’t just try to pump me for information the moment I walked in the door?”
That the nurses would ask Dani questions wasn’t a surprise. The woman was an ER doctor in this very hospital, although currently on a leave of absence. That they’d ask about Kate was the mystery. “Pump you for information about what?”
Dani rolled her eyes. “They all but have you two as star-crossed lovers, tragically separated but reunited when he got shot and you raced to his aid.”
Kate’s eyes widened. “You are kidding me, right? Me and Davenport?”
“You do visit every day, Kate.”
That was true. Some of the time she’d listened to the recordings from the privacy of her desk at the Cincinnati Field Office, but she had made a point of visiting him every day. She thought she was the only one who did, and that bothered her. She hated the thought of him being so alone after being deeply undercover. The life of an operative tended to be very lonely.
So sometimes she talked to him about trivial things—the unrelenting heat and humidity, her search for an apartment. A few times she’d shared her frustration at not hearing anything of value on the damn CDs. She’d played him tunes from her iPod and read to him from the book she’d thrown in her carry-on when she’d left for Cincinnati last week. But mostly she simply sat with him and caught up with her knitting while she listened to the recordings he’d risked his life to share.
“I met him for the first time less than an hour before he got shot, and that’s the truth.” She sighed when Dani just waited for more, saying nothing. “Deacon was on the team who breached the traffickers’ compound and he brought me in as one of their snipers.” She’d been in town all of two days, but had jumped at the chance. She didn’t get to use her sharpshooting skills as often as she would have liked, and Deacon’s case had been right up her alley. “I was doing recon and saw Davenport attempting to slip away. He was trying to get the CDs out, but I didn’t know that then. I dropped down on him from a tree.”
Dani moved to sit in the chair beside her, her delighted grin surprising Kate more than the nurses’ gossip. “You dropped him? Took him down? Goddamn, girl. You really are a super-chick. I thought Deacon was exaggerating.”
Kate’s cheeks heated at the praise. “I didn’t actually drop on him. I don’t think I could have taken him down, even from a tree.” Because Griffin Davenport was built like a freaking tank.
“Hell, maybe not even from a helicopter,” Dani murmured. “So what did you do?”
“I landed behind him, stuck my rifle in his back, and took him by surprise. But he wanted to be found, so he cooperated, which was a good thing. I would have hated to have to shoot him. Unfortunately the traffickers didn’t have that concern.”
Dani nodded soberly. “I haven’t had a chance to thank you yet.”
Kate frowned. “For what?”
“For saving Deacon’s life. He was standing next to Davenport when the bullets started flying. If you hadn’t stopped the shooter the way you did, there might be more patients filling these ICU beds. Or bodies in the morgue. So thank you.”
Kate fidgeted. “I was just doing my job. Any of the other agents there would have done it.”
Dani lifted one dark brow. “The way I heard it, none of the other agents there had the skill with a rifle to stop a speeding car half a mile away.”
“Deacon exaggerates,” Kate mumbled, now very uncomfortable even though it was true. She was a skilled shot, but she wasn’t a fathead. “Besides, they were already fleeing the scene by then. I didn’t mean to kill them. I wanted them alive for questioning.” She’d stopped them, but she’d also taken out the shooter and one of his trafficking partners. The only passenger who’d survived knew so little about the trafficking business itself that he was all but useless.
Dani shook her head. “You may have wanted them alive for questioning, but I’m glad my brother is alive period. I owe you one, Kate. Seriously.”
Kate started to laugh it off, but then she realized that Dani Novak really was very serious. “He’s my friend,” she said simply. “I would have done the same for any other agent, but the fact that it was Deacon made it easier to sleep that night.”
Excerpted from "Every Dark Corner"
Copyright © 2017 Karen Rose.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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