Scarred from the brutal murder of her fiancé, former UN translator Lyssa Cafferty sleeps with one eye open. Now a serial killer is determined to finish what he started and she's his next target. Desperate to survive, Lyssa seeks protection from the one man with knowledge of her past.
Noah Bradford, a cunning ex-marine, vows to protect Lyssaalong with the secret she keeps from her watchful predator. It soon becomes evident that Noah's growing attraction for Lyssa could distract him from his mission, but only together can they crack the cryptic messages of a killer. With time running out, it's uncertain who will come out unharmedor alive.
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The sting of frozen rain pricked Lyssa Cafferty's cheeks, another attack she couldn't prevent. She hurried from the L station toward her small Chicago apartment. If only she could pull her hood over her head, duck down and avoid the piercing needles of ice on her face, but then she'd lose her peripheral vision.
She couldn't afford to allow comfort to trump safety.
Not now. Not ever.
Instead, she tugged her thrift-store winter coat tighter around her body, the jacket too big but at least warm. She peered over one shoulder then the other, seeing only commuters huddled against the winter wind and racing down Roger's Park streets. No one familiar.
She picked up her pace and pressed on through the blustery weather. Of course, she wouldn't recognize the man out to kill her until she was already dead.
Two years. Two long, horrible years since the night she'd lost Jack, since she'd lost her love, her life and everything that had made the world wonderful.
She couldn't have imagined things would get worse after Jack's murder.
A brilliant, uncatchable psycho had made it his business to find her.
Just his name made her heart stutter with fear and fury. He'd stolen her life.
She paused two blocks from her apartment and, ignoring the cold, stilled. On high alert, her entire body tensed. She struggled to calm the rapid beat of her heart.
Some days she just prayed he'd find her and get it over with. Those were the days when the constant state of fear wore down her soul.
Most days, though, she longed to look him in the eye and kill him for what he'd done to Jack, and to her. For the precious moments she'd lost with the one thing she loved more than herself. The one secret she'd die to protect.
She refused to even let her mind go there. She couldn't contemplate what might have been. Or what could be. Until Archimedes was brought to justice, this was her life. She had to focus on staying alive. At least for one more day.
Lyssa shifted, keeping her movements subtle, scanning each person, each darkened corner, searching for anything out of place, anyone following her. Her gaze flickered back and forth, furtive and cautious. He could be anyone, anywhere.
With each new stretch of building and street, her chest tightened in dreaded anticipation. She hurried past a couple of boarded-up storefronts and still, he wasn't there.
For three hundred and fifty-three days he hadn't been there.
One more day and he hadn't found her.
She tugged her hood lower and raced through the main entrance to her building. She trudged up the stairs, acutely aware of each squeak. A baby cried in apartment 219. At the sound, Lyssa paused, her hand instinctively reaching for the brass doorknob. A wave of despair nearly propelled her to her knees. A shush and a coo, and the baby quieted.
She squeezed her eyes shut against the burning wells in the corners. She couldn't think about the past, or her loss. She had to stay focused.
With careful placement of each step, she padded across the floor, knowing the location of each creak, a skill she worked to perfect every single day. She needed to move silently, invisibly.
Finally, she stopped in front of the small apartment the Justice Department had arranged for her. So-called Witness Security. She wasn't the best witness. She'd only heard the whispers of a madman, but had never seen him. And she certainly wasn't secure.
She was simply the sole survivor of a man who'd killed dozens.
The walnut door to her temporary home appeared exactly as she'd left it, down to the small slip of paper she'd wedged near the hinge. A trick she'd learned. Few would notice it, and as long as the paper didn't move, Lyssa could be confident no one had opened the door.
Safe at last.
She slipped the key into the dead bolt. As she tried to turn it, the key resisted in the lock ever so slightly. At the slight deviation from normal, she hesitated, her instincts firing.
The cold. It could be the cold. The temperature had plummeted twenty degrees today. It probably was the cold.
One hand slipped into her pocket to the phone she carried with her. She hesitated. She couldn't call Gil again. She'd contacted her WitSec handler three times this month already. All false alarms.
The last time, after he'd rushed over to her place, she'd witnessed irritation in his eyes, though he'd tried to hide his reaction. He couldn't understand. She'd been in Chicago almost a year. Too long. She knew in her gut time was running out.
She flipped open her bag with her free hand and gripped the butt of the black-market .45 in her purse. Gil may have read the file, but he didn't comprehend the minute-by-minute fear that stalked her. Archimedes wasn't a typical serial killer. He was smart. He was thorough, and for some reason he had Lyssa in his sights.
Hand tight on the weapon, trigger finger ready, she shoved open the door and stepped across the threshold of a place she could never call home.
The coppery scent of blood strangled her belly.
Gil Masters lay on the ground, dead, in a pool of blood.
Archimedes had found her.
She forced herself to look at Gil's face. Someone had gouged out his eyes. Empty sockets stared unseeing at her, accusing. She didn't want to look lower, but she had to. His shirt had been ripped open, a frame for Archime-des's handiwork.
She froze, unable to look away from the horrifying, familiar symbol carved into his belly.
The curves of the sideways eight dripped with rivulets of blood streaking down his abdomen along his torso, pooling beneath him.
Archimedes had found her. "No. God, no."
She lifted the gun and froze in place.
No sound. No movement. No creak of the floor.
No one was there.
She slowly turned, the muscles in her arms, legs and neck all at the ready. Waiting.
Waiting for the attack to come out of nowhere. Waiting to die.
Each second became an hour. Each inch of movement felt like a mile.
But nothing happened. No heaving breaths, no hand over her mouth. No sadistic whisper in her ear.
She couldn't tell how many seconds had passed when she realized she wasn't going to die. At least not in this moment.
He really wasn't here.
But his message was.
She might not know what meaning infinity had for the killer, but she could read these words.
Blood smeared the wall, the promise indisputable.
No one will come between us. You will be mine.
Her gaze whipped around the apartment, her throat tightened in panic. What if he was watching, just waiting for her to let her guard down?
She had to get out.
She raced into her bedroom and grabbed the jewelry box from the top dresser drawer, digging through it until she pulled out a thin gold chain threaded through her diamond engagement ring. She slipped it around her neck.
Gil would have called her a fool. She didn't care. She wouldn't leave the ring behind.
A door slammed down the hall.
No more time. She yanked open her closet and grabbed a small duffel. The bag she kept packed. Always.
Lyssa heaved it over her shoulder and clutched the ring. "Help me, Jack."
She ran past Gil's body. Guilt pounded in her head. He had a family, a wife, two kids, five and seven years old. A girl and a boy. Witness and handler weren't supposed to get to know each other, but over a year, she had learned things about the man who watched out for her.
"I'm sorry. So sorry," she murmured. She closed her eyes in regret, tore down the stairs and hurried out of the apartment building. She wouldn't be coming back.
Speeding past end-of-the-day commuters, she tried to tame her panting breaths. She rushed up the stairs to the L platform and hopped onto the first southbound train. Her trembling legs refused to hold her. She sank into an empty seat.
The image of Gil's face, the void where his eyes should have been, battered into her memory. She'd never forget.
Lyssa clutched the duffel to her. She had to push Gil aside, cold and heartless as that was. She had to concentrate. She had to survive.
The train rumbled beneath her, the iron supports whizzing past, each second taking her farther from the body of the man who had sworn to protect her, further from the life she'd lived for almost a year.
She knew one thing; this wouldn't be a repeat of the last time Archimedes had found her. This time she would dictate the rules.
She caught sight of an ad for the Atrium Mall from the train's window. A lot of people. Open late.
She had no idea how much time had passed when she walked into the huge shopping center. Crowds milled around her. She let herself breathe again. Archimedes didn't kill in public. Or he hadn't yet. She found a corner table in the food court, near a wall, out of the way. She shoved her hand into her pocket and grabbed the unused, prepaid cell phone.
She dialed but couldn't stop her hands from shaking. She hated the response, hated the show of vulnerability.
Somewhere inside she had to find the strength to do what two years ago she could never have imagined doing.
She didn't bother with 911. They couldn't help.
She dialed a number she'd memorized a year ago.
"Nichols," the voice barked.
The one man she trusted not to betray her.
"He found me again."
Noah Bradford vaulted onto the edge of the roof from the ladder propped against his father's house. The brisk morning air would make it easy to stay alert. He scaled the pitched tile using techniques not so different from an escape he'd engineered in Kazakhstan. At least this time bullets weren't flying past his head.
Donning an elaborate tool belt stuffed with everything from levels to screwdrivers to ratchets and hammers, his brother Chase followed Noah to the satellite system.
Noah knelt to inspect the latest winter storm's hail damage. "Colorado weather is not kind to my toys," he muttered. "No wonder Dad's had so many outages."
Ignoring the fact that he should have found time to repair this months ago, Noah grabbed a small set of tools from his back pocket and quickly adjusted the encryption device while Chase checked out the damaged tiles from the storm.
They'd almost finished before Chase spoke. "You were out of touch for over a month, bro," he accused. "Dad was worried."
Yet another way Noah had let down his dad. He sent Chase a sidelong glance. "I told you, I had business"
"You gave the family a cock-and-bull story that even a child would see through. We're not stupid, Noah. Dad developed pneumonia two weeks ago. We couldn't get ahold of you. You didn't answer your cell. No one from your companies could tell us anything. Not acceptable."
A small screwdriver fell from Noah's normally secure grip, rolled down the roof and tumbled over the side. He let out a sharp curse before snapping the cover over the panel. "I can't talk about it."
He eased to the edge and made his way down the ladder in seconds. Chase followed. "I'm just giving you fair warning. You won't be able to avoid the truth this time. Dad's staging an intervention."
Noah stilled, the muscles at the base of his neck tying into a familiar knot. He looked over at his SUV. He could just leave. His family was better off not knowing about his side job as the Falcon. They knew about his public career. The encryption and software patents he'd developed as a teenager had turned into big business. They'd never understood why he'd left it and home at eighteen for the Marines.
They definitely had no idea that he now worked for an organization that took on tasks the government or military couldn't risk.
Chase slapped his brother's shoulder and the move yanked Noah from the dark memories.
"Come clean," his brother said. "Just like you did when Dad caught you and Mitch sneaking out during high school. Some things aren't worth avoiding."
"And sometimes the truth doesn't make it better," Noah said. "This isn't high school."
Bracing himself, he entered his father's home, past the handicapped ramp that his siblings, Mitch, Chase and Sierra, had installed. Noah had been on a job. By the time he'd returned, all he'd been able to do was write a check.
His mind already searching for a means of escape, he found his way into the living room. "Satellite is fixed.
You've got TV and internet, all encrypted for your supersecret-police consulting."
His father didn't take the bait. Paul Bradford said nothing; he simply quirked an eyebrow while the football game played in the background. Noah squirmed under his dad's focus. He might be in a wheelchair after a gunshot severed his spinal cord, but nothing was wrong with his instincts.
Noah's forefinger scratched at his knuckle. "What?"
His brother Chase shrugged and passed him a longneck bottle with that I-told-you look.
Paul Bradford drummed his fingers on his chair. "I did a little digging"
Noah's hand paused on the way to his mouth, then he took a long gulp. Yeah, he'd been brilliant encouraging his father's interest in computers. Noah knew exactly how he inherited his own tech ability. The idea of setting Dad up with a side business doing investigations had seemed like a perfect way to keep Paul Bradford engaged in lifeand law enforcement. Noah downed half the bottle, the cool liquid sliding down his throat. What a fool. "Your point?"
"I hit a damn brick wall," Paul growled.
At least something had gone right today.
"You want to tell me why I can't find out anything about you, Noah? Short of the vanilla bio you published on the websites of your companies." Paul rolled his chair across the wooden floor, coming a few inches from Noah. "I haven't pried into your life before. Well, that stops now. Exactly what are you into, Noah? How worried should we be?"
His sister, Sierra, saved him from answering. For the moment. She exited the kitchen with a large tray of chips and guacamole, followed by Mitch and his very pregnant wife, Emily. Mitch held Emily's two-year-old son Joshua in his arms while Emily waddled into the living room and settled down on a hard-back chair with a sigh. "I can't get out of that sofa," she said with a smile. "Last time, Mitch had to use a crane to hoist me."
Thankful for something to doanything to avoid answering questionsNoah doled out a plate for Emily. She looked at him in surprise. "Thank you?"
"It's not like our resident man-of-mystery has learned manners," Chase commented. "He's just avoiding Dad's questions."
Noah winced and eyed the door. He should go. This conversation had already strayed too close to truths he couldn't discusssome classified, some, well, they'd just worry. Somethings he'd done he would never talk about. To anyone.
He tugged on his jacket. "I'd better go."
Before he could get to the door, Emily gripped Noah's hand and her sympathetic gaze met his. He really loved his sister-in-law. She saw through more than most. Probably because she'd been to hell and back. "They're worried about you, Noah. You scared them this time. Your dad, too," she mouthed the last few words.
Noah scrubbed his hand over his face. His dad had lost weight from the illness. He looked pale. "I've made sure you can reach me anytime, anywhere," he said, tugging a card from his wallet and handing it to his father. "This number will page me no matter where I am. I designed it myself. I won't be out of touch again."
Paul tucked the card into his shirt pocket. "It's not about that, Noah. It's about the riddle your life has become. What if something had happened to you? How would we ever know?"
"I'm a trained marine. I can take care of myself on a business trip."
"Business trip, my butt," Sierra said under her breath.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Awesome, just awesome! Read the blurb, and read the book!!! Fabulous suspense, wonderful characters, the hero and heroine, Noah and Lyssa, go perfectly together, and the killer will make your skin crawl. The story is great, the characters are great; it’s a real suspense with a bit of romance. Everything feels real, it’s modern, intelligent and it’s as exciting as you can get. I hope it’s the beginning of a new series because I feel several characters should have their own stories. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this book! Thank you Ms. Perini for a great book!
Non stop action very good book