To save innocent lives, they'll have to risk their own.
Self-help superstar Rachel de Luca and Detective Mason Brown have finally given in to their overwhelming attraction to each other, but neither of them is ready to let physical passion turn into full-blown romance, so they carefully maintain an emotional distance. Then a judge's daughter disappears, and Mason has a terrible sense that it's connected to the most recent case they solved together: the abduction of Rachel's assistant.
The discovery of a string of missing womenall young, all troubledseems like a promising lead. But there's no clear connection between the missing girls and the high-profile young woman Mason is trying to find. He realizes that once again he'll have to rely on his own well-honed instincts and Rachel's uncanny capacity to see through people's lies in order to catch a predator and rescue his captives. But can they do it before Rachel becomes his next victim?
About the Author
RITA Award winning, New York Times bestselling author Maggie Shayne has published over 50 novels, including mini-series Wings in the Night (vampires), Secrets of Shadow Falls (suspense) and The Portal (witchcraft). A Wiccan High Priestess, tarot reader, advice columnist and former soap opera writer, Maggie lives in Cortland County, NY, with soulmate Lance and their furry family.
Read an Excerpt
Whitney Point, New York
Okay. Maybe the bullshit I wrote was a little bit true. If you wanted it, you could have it. There was more to it, of course. But that was the basis of every book I'd ever written. And it seemed like my own bullshit was determined to prove itself to me.
I'd wanted my eyesight back, I'd wanted my brother's murder solved, I'd wanted to survive the holidaysliterally, survive the holidays. And I'd wanted Detective Mason Brown.
I pretty much had all of that now. I could still see. No complications, no rejecting of the donor tissue this timebesides on moral grounds, that is. It did come from a serial killermy brother's killerafter all. I had survived the holidays, though it had been a damn close call. The case was solved, sort of. Tommy's killer was dead. Twice now. And his brother, the aforementioned Detective Dreamboat, was in my bed, if only for an hour or two at a time.
I was actually beginning to believe that the messages of my bestselling books (and calendars, coffee mugs, app and upcoming series of imprinted apparel) were valid. I was actually starting to think, as Mason did, that my unoriginal philosophies on positive thinking and deliberate creation were popular because there was some truth to them, that they were more than just regurgitated new age psycho-spiritual babble. And if I were honest with myself, it felt good to believe that. It felt damn good to think I was serving some kind of higher purpose in the world.
I choked on a sarcastic laugh from my inner bitch, and it sounded like a snort. Higher purpose. Right. Still I was warming up to the notion that there was a kernel of truth in there somewhere. For me, that's about as close to a spiritual awakening or an "ah-ha moment" as it's ever gonna get.
So why was I still kinda miserable?
Mason rolled away from me, sat up and bent forward to pull on his jeans. I glanced at the clock on the nightstand10:00 p.m. "This has to be some kind of a land speed record."
He stopped with his hands on his button fly and turned to look back at me. He was the sexiest man in the universe. I am not exaggerating. I didn't know why women didn't swarm him in the streets like adolescents mobbing a Jonas brother. (Yes, that's a dated reference. I'm over thirty. You're lucky I didn't say Hansen.)
Mason leaned over and kissed me nice and slow. "Sorry," he said when I let go of his lips. "But the boys will be home from the movies and"
I held up a hand. "I know, I know. It's just "
"Just what?" He knelt on the bed, his jeans still undone, as he buttoned up his shirt. I thought he could've been on the cover of a steamy novel. Fifty Shades of Brown. Mason Brown, that is.
"I really have to go," he said.
"So go, then. You remember the way, right?"
"Don't be mad."
I sighed, thinking I was acting like a sophomore pouting over her steady, which was stupid, because this was just the way I wanted it. And because I don't even like sophomores.
"Don't be dumb. I'm not mad. You're the world's greatest uncle, and you're also all they have. Besides their grandmother, the queen of cold."
I grinned at him, pleased with myself. By insulting his mother, I'd diverted his attention from my petulant little burst of emotional ickiness. "Go on. Tell Josh and Jeremy I said hi."
He looked at me for a long time, like he was trying to decide whether to say something, or maybe waiting for me to say something more. Then he nodded, kissed me quickly and got up to finish dressing.
"I've got that meeting with the chief tomorrow," he said. "I'll call you right after, tell you what it was about."
New subject. Nice. I was uncomfortable talking about relationship stuff. Heavy stuff. Fortunately, so was he. "I already know what it's about," I said, crawling halfway out of the bed and pulling the little plastic stairs closer. Myrtle, my bulldog, was still snoring, but now she could join me when she was ready. Moving her doggy stairs away from the bed was essential to having good sex. Otherwise she spent the whole time trying to wriggle her way in between us. It was just wrong, you know?
"Yeah? What's it about, then?" he asked, though he already knew what I thought.
"The rumors are true. Chief Subrinsky has decided to retire, and he wants you to be his replacement."
Mason shook his head, sitting down on the edge of the bed to pull on his socks. "I don't think so. This feels different."
He'd already been wined and dined with Chief Sub in the company of a congressman, everyone from the D.A.'s office, the owner of the Press & Sun-Bulletin and the mayor. He was clearly being groomed for the job, even while insisting he didn't want it.
I could've smacked him. It paid six figures. Low six, but still.
"'Feels different,' huh?" I asked. "You're starting to sound like me, Detective Brown."
"There are worse things." He sent me a wink and a killer smile. His damn cheek dimples were my undoing. How did I live for twenty years without once seeing a cheek dimple like that? He pulled me close and did a better job of kissing me goodbye, then dropped me on my pillows and headed for the door. "I'll call you after the lunch."
He closed the bedroom door on his way out. I rolled onto my side, curled up and pulled the covers over my shoulder, while my inner girlie-girl whined that she wished he could spend the whole night.
This is what we both want. It's perfect. Don't go thinking if a little is good, more would be better. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Just leave it alone. Don't screw this up.
I waited until I heard his car leave, then got up, pulled on a robe and crouched beside Myrtle, who was still snoring on the carpeted floor. "I hear brownies and milk calling my name, Myrt. What do you think?"
She perked her ears but did not open her eyes. Not that it would matter if she did. She was blind as a bat.
"You hungry, Myrt? You want to eat?"
Her head came up a microsecond before she sprang to her feet and said, "Snarf!"
I scratched her between the ears. "This is good, right? Just you and me and bedtime brownies. Even if you do have to have the low-fat ones from the gourmet doggy bakery. This is the life, Myrt. This is the life."
I wasn't really convinced, but I figured if I said it often enough I could make it true.
Mason walked into The End Zone in the suit he saved for weddings. Overdressed for a sports bar, but if this turned out to be another part of the unending audition for the chief's job, then it was perfect.
Besides, he'd already worn his funeral suit to a couple of the VIP meals the chief had been dragging him to for the past few weeks.
Grooming him to take over his office when he retired, or so Rachel kept telling him. He hoped to God that wasn't the case. He didn't want the headaches of that much responsibility, the hassles of politics or the boredom of a desk job, no matter how demanding it might be.
And yet, he was raising two boys now. Their father was dead by his own handas were a lot of others, though no one else knew that besides Racheland their mother was in a locked psych unit, after trying to reclaim a bunch of her husband's donated organs. Including the corneas Rachel was currently using.
Yeah, his family was a mess. And yet Rache still hadn't run screaming. Well, she had. A couple of times. Just not from him.
The chief-of-police position would bring a massive pay raise and much longer life expectancy. Didn't he owe it to the kids to take it if he could?
But he couldn't, could he? He'd lied. He'd covered up his brother's crimes and destroyed evidence to protect his surviving family members. He didn't deserve to still be a cop at all, much less chief of police.
He spotted the chief's boxy flat-top silhouette at a table all the way in the back of the bar, swathed in shadows because the big-screen TV closest to it had been turned off. The only tables near it were empty.
Another man, taller and almost painfully thin, sat across from the chief with his body angled toward the wall and his head down. He was trying hard not to be noticed, Mason thought, and wondered why.
The chief caught his eye and waved him over, so Mason made his way to the table, giving the place a once-over on the way. There were only a handful of other customers, and no one seemed to be paying him any undue attention. But the chief's companion was nervous, and that made Mason nervous.
Chief Sub rose and shook Mason's hand, squeezing too hard and pumping too much. It was his standard greeting. The other man looked him up and down but didn't stand, didn't shake.
Mason knew his haggard face, had always thought the man looked twenty years older than he probably was. "Judge Mattheson," he said. "Good to see you again."
"Wish it was under different circumstances," the man replied.
He honestly looked like a stiff wind would carry him a couple of blocks. And old, older than Mason recalled. The guy had to be pushing sixty, but he looked eighty-five.
"What circumstances are we talking about?" Mason walked around the table to take the chair that faced outward, toward the rest of the bar. This was not about any promotion the chief might be thinking about for him. This was something else. Something private, and something dark. He knew all that before he even sat down.
Chief Sub leaned over the table. "Howard's daughter"
"This has to be discreet, Brown." The judge smacked the table to punctuate his interruption and make it seem just a little bit ruder. "You reading me? Discreet, until and unless we have reason not to be."
Howard Mattheson's face was age-spotted to hell and gone up close like this. No, wait, those were the remnants of freckles. He must have been a ginger as a younger man. Little remained of his hair. It was thin and had faded to a colorless shade that couldn't even be called gray. Tough to tell if it had ever been red. "What is it I'm being discreet about?"
A waitress came by to ask Mason what he wanted. He glanced at the drinks in front of the other two. Chief Sub had a Coke, straight up. He wouldn't add anything on the job. Judge Mattheson had what looked and smelled like bourbon, neat. "I don't suppose you have coffee."
"I just brewed a fresh pot."
"You're an angel."
She winked at him and left them alone.
Silence stretched like a rubber band until the chief stopped it from snapping. "Howard?"
"Yeah. All right. It's my daughter, Stephanie Stevie, as she insists on calling herself. She's disappeared."
Mason sat up a little straighter. "How old?"
"And you're not filing a missing persons report because.?"
"Because I'm not convinced this is anything other than a temper tantrum. Look, she was in a car accident last September. Drunk driver. It took her eyesight."
A month after Rachel got hers back. Mason swore silently but didn't interrupt.
"We kept it quiet. We're a private family, Brown. We like our space. I've always tried to keep my job separate from my personal life."
"I respect that, Judge." He slanted a look at the chief. He needed to know what exactly was going on here, and he needed to know now. If there was a twenty-year-old blind girl out there on her own somewhere, they ought to be finding her and hauling her right back home.
Rachel would probably kick his ass for that reaction. He could hear her in his head right then, voice dripping sarcasm like honey. Since when is blind a synonym for helpless? Dumb-ass.
He almost grinned, then bit his lip just in time and pulled out his smartphone to start taking notes. "Give me everything you know, then."
The judge cleared his throat. "She was told two months ago that there was no hope of getting her eyesight back. She didn't take it well. She's furious with the world and everything in it. Moody and morose. She hasn't accepted her blindness, won't even try, and resents the help we've been trying to get for her."
"Help?" Mason asked.
The judge took a sip of his bourbon, set the glass down again and stared into the liquid at the bottom. "Therapy, a personal coach to help her learn how to live with it." He slugged back the last of the bourbon, then held the glass over his head to signal his desire for a refill. "She gives that poor woman so much trouble I'm surprised she hasn't quit."
"That woman have a name?"
"Loren Markovich." Judge Mattheson set his empty glass down, fished a business card from his pocket and put it on the table.
Mason took it and gave it a look. It was one of the judge's own cards, but it had Markovich's name and phone number written on the back. He dropped it into his shirt pocket. The waitress came back with his coffee and another bourbon for the judge, then left without a word.
"Loren took Stevie out near Otsiningo Park the day before yesterday. Told her to walk to the end of the block and back, using her cane."
"Alone?" Mason knew he sounded more shocked by that than he should.
"It's not that big a deal, Mason," Chief Sub told him. "Your friend Rachel could tell you that."
"Well, Rachel could'a done cartwheels to the corner and back, but that's Rachel."
"Who the hell is Rachel?" the judge snapped.
"She's my She helps me with cases from time to time."
"No one else comes in on this, Brown," Mattheson said. "No one."
"We know, Howard." Chief Sub nodded at him to go on.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Our Review, by LITERAL ADDICTION's Pack Alpha - Chelle: *Copy gifted in exchange for an honest review Another incredible installment of the BROWN & DE LUCA series! I utterly adore this series, and I think that this installment was my favorite yet. The arc is getting so much broader, the characters so much deeper, the story so much more thrilling and sweet. When a murder mystery thriller can make you laugh out loud, gasp, shake your head and grin with delight, you know you've found a keeper. :) Fans of the series will be both frustrated and relieved at the romance between Rachel and Mason in Innocent Prey. As usual, they dance around the way they're feeling, but it's so obvious, and both know it, and while you want to slap them to wake up and just admit things already, it's also fun to see them fully realize things towards the end. As usual, the murder mystery is stellar. In an attempt to find a missing blind girl, Rachel and Mason team up to find her and other missing girls and thwart what ends up being a very big, very deep, and very dark operation and cover-up. Rachel's character is finally coming to terms with how special she truly is, and there's a nice preternatural feel to things, as well. Add in Rachel's wit and snark in her Nancy Drewesque amateur sleuthing, and you get many a moment where you will laugh out loud, rail incessantly, and cheer exuberantly. Bottom line, this is an incredible romantic suspense read with upper echelon writing, characters you will absolutely adore, dialogue you will want to quote long after the book is finished, and a story arc that will leave you wanting more immediately. Good thing book #4 isn't too far away... Highly recommended!!
My new go to for in death type series.
OMG! I loved it. I won't rehash the plot and spoil it for you but this is a must buy.
Wonderful story with murder , mystery.. Humor...And romance.?
Have thoroughly enjoed each book and hope to read a lot more about these characters. CB
I just love Rachel and Mason they have this great relationship and I have the next one ready to read. You can't go wrong funny, a little romance and a dog
I love this series, it has suspense, romance & comedy.
Another great installment in the Brown/deLuca series.Read it in a matter of hours,couldn't put it down. I live in the Greater Binghamton area, so that makes me love these books that much more! Preparing to pre-order Deadly Obsession. Can't get enough,keep them coming!