A master of international intrigue, New York Times bestselling author Taylor Stevens introduces a pair of wild cards into the global spy game—a brother and sister who were raised to deceive—and trained to kill . . .
They live in the shadows, Jack and Jill, feuding twins who can never stop running. From earliest memory they’ve been taught to hide, to hunt, to survive. Their prowess is outdone only by Clare, who has always been mentor first and mother second. She trained them in the art of espionage, tested their skills in weaponry, surveillance, and sabotage, and sharpened their minds with nerve-wracking psychological games. As they grew older they came to question her motives, her methods—and her sanity . . .
Now twenty-six years old, the twins are trying to lead normal lives. But when Clare’s off-the-grid safehouse explodes and she goes missing, they’re forced to believe the unthinkable: Their mother’s paranoid delusions have been real all along. To find her, they’ll need to set aside their differences; to survive, they’ll have to draw on every skill she’s trained them to use. A twisted trail leads from the CIA, to the KGB, to an underground network of global assassins where hunters become the hunted. Everyone, it seems, wants them dead—and, for one of the twins, it’s a threat that’s frighteningly familiar and dangerously close to home . . .
Filled with explosive action, suspense, and powerful human drama, Liars’ Paradox is world-class intrigue at its finest.
About the Author
Taylor Stevens is a critically acclaimed, multiple award‑winning, New York Times bestselling author of international thrillers including the breakout hit The Informationist. Best known for high-octane stories populated with fascinating characters in vivid boots-on-the-ground settings, her books have been optioned for film and published in over twenty languages. In addition to writing novels, Stevens shares extensively about the mechanics of storytelling, writing, overcoming adversity, and the details of her journey into publishing at www.taylorstevensbooks.com. She welcomes you to join her.
Read an Excerpt
LOCATION: AUSTIN, TEXAS PASSPORT COUNTRY: USA NAMES: JONATHAN THOMAS SMITH
QUIET GENTRIFIED NEIGHBORHOOD AND A CLOUD-COVERED SKY AT two in the morning, a perfect mix for breaking and entering. Would have been, anyway, if the house itself hadn't been lit up like an Omani oil field, every window eating shadows from the neighboring yards in the same way flare burn-off stole night from the deep desert dunes. So, he sat in his car three houses down, hidden in the dark beneath a thirty-foot live oak, watching the front door and debating the options, none of them good.
Bringing in a target was so much easier if it could be dead.
Or at least unconscious.
Especially this target.
Her cherry-red Tesla angled out from the curb ahead, obnoxious and sloppy, rear end jutting into the street. A hundred thousand dollars of machined luxury squandered on a vodka-downing, pill-popping, cocaine-snorting, foulmouthed waste of talent who was no closer to a degree now than she'd been at twenty-three, because finishing meant the party would end. God forbid.
Shadows passed behind curtains in the lit-up house.
Hints of thump, thump bass bled into the street, just low enough that sleep-deprived citizens wouldn't be inclined to call the cops.
He drummed his fingers in a slow pattern against the steering wheel.
Limited possibilities played to their final ends.
Timing forced him to choose between the hard way and the harder way.
Jacking her car first would be the hard way.
He stepped into early fall air, listened to the city dark, and nudged his door closed.
The neighborhood and the neighborhood dogs ignored him.
He walked to her car, dragged his fingers from tail to nose along the cherry-red curves, and patted the sleek rooftop. The Tesla was how he'd found his party-girl needle so quickly in a haystack of millions — more precisely, a little tracking device stuck up inside its wheel well, which probably, legally, made him a stalker.
He touched the driver's door handle.
The machine opened for the stolen key fob tucked inside his pocket. He popped the hood and trunk, ran a flashlight over empty cargo areas, then let himself in behind the wheel and passed the beam along showroom-clean carpets and spotless leather.
Eight months in and she still hadn't left a pen cap, a scrap of paper, or a whiff of fast food to mar the interior. The OCD-level tidiness made him uneasy in the same way not knowing how she'd paid for the car made him uneasy.
He'd asked her about the money.
She'd brushed him off with typical snide contempt.
He'd let that slide the first time. The second, he'd accused her of working favors, and she, in turn, had told him to go fuck his high horse. But he knew, and she knew that he knew, there was no other way to bring in Tesla-sized money the way working favors did. He should have cared about that, but he didn't, not really.
What made him mad was that she played him for a fool, trying to bend his mind around her little games the way she did to everyone else. As if he didn't know.
He tossed the flashlight aside.
The practical half of him didn't want this job tonight.
The vindictive half really sorta did.
He peeled the boosted car into the street and out of the neighborhood.
Behind him the shadows against the curtains in the thump-thump house were none the wiser. Behind him, the house flared on.
He left the Tesla at the Walmart Supercenter on Anderson and made the time-depleting two-mile return on foot, back to the quiet neighborhood where the target house still lit the street, back to the live-oak shadows and his car, where he pulled the tool bag from the trunk, dropped it onto the rear seat beside the license plates, dug into the bag, hefted a pair of cuffs, and debated. What he really needed was the tranquilizer, but bringing her in unconscious had the potential to turn things to shit real fast.
He zipped the bag closed.
Quiet gentrified neighborhood and a cloud-covered sky at three in the morning, not ideal for a raucous kidnapping but would have to do.
He crawled his wheels forward to where the Tesla had been, left the trunk open and engine running, and headed for the narrow porch, counting steps and counting seconds, amped on excitement and dread.
Three guys lived here, college students at UT Austin. Quick and dirty background checks had given him the basics.
He hadn't looked for more, because more didn't matter — it wasn't the guys he worried about.
In his head the strategy wheel spun.
The front door coursed with beat, drowning any possibility of catching nuance from the other side. He tested the lock. The handle moved freely, sparing him the issue of breaking in or bluffing his way to the other side.
He slipped into the foyer, eyes scanning for movement, ears struggling to hear beyond the bass line, fingers wedging cardboard against the frame to keep the door from closing. He twisted the handle's thumb lock.
Noise trying hard to pass as avant-garde music covered his footfalls.
Three steps took him past a wall segment and into a living room decorated in late bachelor not-give-a-shit. The strategy wheel stopped on unexpected element of surprise.
On the couch to his right, what had been gray shadow against the shades became living bottle-blond color. His target, shirtless, straddled and played lip tango with a half-naked Lothario whose hands wandered in places they didn't belong.
She never heard him. Her guy friend never saw him.
He reacted to the gift without thinking, moving fast, because speed was the only way to maintain the upper hand, leaned in behind her, slapped a cuff on the nearest wrist, grabbed the other, yanked both hands behind her back, and locked her in.
She rotated to free the leg pinned between body and couch cushion and registered his presence in a long, slow blink. She was high. Dulled reflexes would save him.
She rose to strike out.
He got an arm around her waist.
He pulled her off her lover; snatched her shirt, purse, and shoes from off the floor; and hefted her, ass in the air, over his shoulder, his arm around her thighs.
Voice and movement and confusion followed in a jumbled sequence: Lothario scrambling off the couch. Lothario yelling, "Hey, asshole!"
The weight on his shoulder pitched from side to side. His free hand grasped the cuffs, held on to that handle for life, and he swung for the door.
Lothario lunged after them.
The blonde bucked and twisted and hissed, "Put me the fuck down!"
He made it to the entry and the cardboard wedge and over the threshold before Lothario reached him. He snagged the front door, pulled it shut, and kept on moving.
Behind him the locked handle rattled, and Lothario, slowed by the unexpected, gifted him seconds.
He hustled down the sidewalk like a laden drunk, focus narrowed into tunnel vision with the open trunk at the end, counting, counting, counting, only vaguely conscious of anything beyond the rocking weight that crushed him.
He reached the car, dumped her shoulders first into the trunk together with shoes and shirt, and slammed the lid before she could straight-arm block him from shutting it.
The door to the house opened.
Lothario stood on the steps, shotgun in hand.
Jack pointed a finger at him. "This isn't what you think."
A high-pitched Hollywood scream pealed out from the trunk.
Lothario pumped the gun.
Jack dumped himself into the driver's seat, tossed the purse aside, threw the car into reverse, hit the gas, and tore backward toward the nearest corner.
Lothario, in the middle of the road, cut a swarthy, shrinking, headlight- blinded figure.
At the nearest intersection, Jack swung the car around, pointed the nose in the right direction, and drove, jaw clenched, at just over the chest crushingly slow speed limit. The screaming in the trunk turned into swearing.
The swearing turned to threats.
And the threats turned to an attack on the interior of the trunk.
He focused on the road.
The taillights had been reinforced long ago to keep her from kicking them out, and he'd rewired the trunk release for the same reason. Not that he'd known this day would come, but like swiping her spare key fob shortly after she'd bought the car, he'd always been the type to plan ahead.
He turned the radio on and thumbed the volume to max.
Yelling from the back rose louder than the music, every word punctuated by a punch and kick. "You're dead, John. Dead, dead, dead. I will destroy you. Dead!"
He checked mirrors and switched lanes.
Death and destruction were serious considerations. The more immediate concern was getting across the city without drawing unwanted attention.
The assault against the back picked up tempo.
The car rocked with each hit.
He had the package. Delivering it would be a whole different matter. The streets weren't nearly as empty as they'd need to be to keep this up the whole way. He lowered the radio volume and yelled toward the rear. "Shut up for a minute. I'm letting you out. I just need to find a place."
She punched the backseat and kicked the trunk lid and howled.
The mental strategy wheel flung round and round, scanning through options while he crawled along at forty miles an hour.
He passed a strip mall.
The mental pointer seized up and flung right.
He'd hoped to get a little farther into nowhere before uncaging the tiger, but this was as good a place as any. He swung hard into the alley behind the dark storefronts, bumping over speed cushions and into potholes, squeezing between dumpsters and a brick retaining wall that separated commercial from residential.
If death and destruction were in the cards tonight, he wasn't going easy.
Left hand on the wheel, right hand beneath the seat, he released a Baby Eagle, pulled tight into an open space, yanked the emergency brake, and was out and moving before the chassis fully settled.CHAPTER 2
LOCATION: AUSTIN, TEXAS PASSPORT COUNTRY: USA NAMES: JONATHAN THOMAS SMITH
HE STOOD SIX FEET OFF THE TAIL, WEAPON TRAINED ON THE CAR, and popped the trunk remotely. The lid shot open. She followed it up, eyes locked onto his, and slipped to the ground with the grace of a jungle cat leaving a tree.
She was out of the handcuffs, which he'd expected, and still naked from the waste up, which he hadn't. She faced him with a crowbar pulled from beneath the floorboards, and the only thing keeping her from taking a whack at him was the 9mm he pointed in her direction.
She hefted the bar from hand to hand and inched closer.
"You crossed a line tonight," she said. "This wasn't funny."
"Wasn't meant to be funny. Had to be done."
"Sure it did. Where's my car?"
"Walmart on Anderson."
Her lips curled. She growled and swung hard.
He dodged. The swipe cut close to his chest.
He added another foot of space between them.
"Asshole," she said.
She puckered her lips in a sarcastic pout. "Oh, that hurts, coming from a twenty-six-year-old virgin."
"The stuff you don't know."
She crab stepped to his left, looking for an opening.
He tracked her with the gun.
"Where's my purse?"
"I have it."
He nodded toward the front seat.
She took another step toward him.
He said, "Not any closer."
"Or what? You're going to shoot me?"
"If I have to."
She snorted and, with full dramatic flair, raised the crowbar and tossed it at his feet. He tap-danced right to avoid getting hit.
"Keep the purse," she said. "Suits you and your missing pair of balls better than it ever did me." She reached into the trunk for her shirt and shoes and pulled the shirt over her head. "Don't think this is over," she said. "Not even for a minute."
She turned and, barefoot, started walking, package and prize slipping away.
He raised his voice to match the growing distance. "We need to talk."
Her free hand waved him off with a middle finger.
He needed her in the car. Chasing her down wasn't an option unless he was willing to lose teeth or body parts, which he wasn't. The tranquilizer was still a no go. And continuing on without her was definitely out of the question.
He eyed the semiautomatic in his hand: tempting, but also no.
All he had was the truth, and truth had only ever been fuzzy at best.
"Clare called," he said. "She wants to see you."
He counted thirteen seconds before she rotated around.
She stood in the alley, twenty feet down, one hand on her hip, shoes dangling from the other, perfectly frozen while her electric-socket hair caught stray wisps of light.
Jack opened the passenger door and moved aside to make space.
Wordless, she stalked back, staring — glaring — the whole way, until she stood uncomfortably close between him and the car. She said, "What's she want?"
"What do you know?"
He nodded toward her purse on the passenger seat and, wary of every twitch and sigh, never truly able to predict which way she'd flip, said, "Only that I had to get you, and get you to her before three."
She lifted her wrist, fake glanced at a nonexistent watch, and let out a sarcastic gasp. "Well, look at that. It's after three." The glare returned. "You fucked that right up, didn't you?"
"Had plenty of help. I'll be sure to share the credit."
Jill tossed her shoes into the front. "What a good son you are."
"You know I didn't ask for this."
"Didn't turn it down, though, did you?"
He sighed. "Please don't make it worse than it already is."
She said, "Just a poor innocent bystander, clean hands, clean conscience."
He didn't respond.
She notched her voice into mockery. "I had nothing to do with it," she said. "I swear. I was just doing what I was told, because I don't have the stones to tell Clare to fuck off and get someone else to do her dirty work."
He nodded toward her purse again. "Please?"
Her shoulders sagged, her body deflated. She turned for the seat and in that moment of forfeit punched an elbow back hard up into his face.
He shifted out of instinct, but a fractured second too late.
The thrust missed his nose and crunched into his orbital bone.
White pain and fire seared into his head.
She grabbed his wrist and chopped down on him. The Baby Eagle skittered from his hand. She fisted his hair, kneed his groin, hit a jockstrap, and never paused, twisting and jabbing again before he had time to counter. Excruciating, brain-numbing agony ran up his arm, into his shoulder, and brought him to his knees.
He swiped her ankles, pulling her off her feet.
She tumbled onto him, and they rolled in the narrow alley, he struggling to use his weight and height against her, she too nimble, skilled, and aggressive to allow him the upper hand. He scrambled for the weapon.
She climbed on top of him and got to it faster.
Her hands shook for the same reason his lungs screamed.
She pushed the barrel into his chest.
He let go of her neck and froze, caught within the trap of unpredictability.
She might not kill him, but he didn't put it past her to put a few holes in him.
"Clare wants to see us both," he said. "Not just you."
Jill kneed into him, using his stomach for leverage to get to her feet and, for the second time, knocked the wind out of him. She stood over him, thighs scraped bloody, skimpy clothes torn, and lined the sights between his eyes.
He put his palms out in surrender.
Seconds of indecision ticked out long and broken.
"Bang," she said finally. "I win."
The air went out of him in a long exhale.
She said, "But this still isn't over."
She released the magazine, racked the slide, and caught the round. She dropped the bullet on his chest, tossed the weapon pieces onto the backseat and, without another word or even a glance, slipped into the car and slammed the door, leaving him on the pavement, staring into light pollution, alone.
Silence descended, silence and thirst and throbbing pain.
He knocked his head against the asphalt and swore between clenched teeth.
Swore at that damn phone call and its monotone demand. Swore at Clare's inability to value anyone's interests but her own, at her paranoia and delusion, at her insistence they get there immediately, even though she knew full well what short notice would cost him. He swore at his inability to say no.
Jill opened the window, rested her chin on the frame, and looked down. "You look like shit," she said. "We're late. Get in the car."
Jack dragged himself up and dusted off his jeans.
He paused and smiled at her for no other reason than to unnerve her, then retrieved the vehicle plates from the backseat, secured them in place, limped for the front and, wincing, slipped in behind the wheel.
The clock on the dash said 3:18 a.m.
They still had more than an hour of driving.
He smiled again, this time for real.
They were late, and there'd be consequences for being late, and his shoulder was torn to hell, and he'd gotten his ass beat, but, God, that had all been worth every bit of being able to throw her in the trunk.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Liars' Paradox"
Copyright © 2019 Taylor Stevens.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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