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Tangled Webs (Men of Valor Series #3)

Tangled Webs (Men of Valor Series #3)

by Irene Hannon
Tangled Webs (Men of Valor Series #3)

Tangled Webs (Men of Valor Series #3)

by Irene Hannon

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Overview

Three-Time RITA Award Winner Delivers Another Heart-Stopping Thriller

After a disastrous Middle East mission ends his six-year Army Ranger career, Finn McGregor needs some downtime. A peaceful month in the woods sounds like the perfect way to decompress. But peace isn't on the agenda once he crosses paths with publishing executive Dana Lewis, a neighbor who is nursing wounds of her own. Someone seems bent on disrupting her stay in the lakeside cabin she inherited from her grandfather. As Finn and Dana work together to discover who is behind the disquieting pranks, the incidents begin to take on a menacing tone. And when it becomes apparent Dana's foe may have deadly intent, Finn finds himself back in the thick of the action—ready or not.

Bestselling author Irene Hannon draws readers into a web of psychological suspense where danger lurks in dark corners . . . and keeps them captive until the very last page.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780800724542
Publisher: Baker Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/04/2016
Series: Irene Hannon's Men of Valor Series , #3
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 273,790
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)

About the Author

Irene Hannon is the bestselling and award-winning author of more than fifty novels, including Buried Secrets and Thin Ice, as well as the Heroes of Quantico, Guardians of Justice, and Private Justice series. In addition to many other honors, she is a seven-time finalist for and three-time winner of the prestigious RITA Award from Romance Writers of America. She is also a member of RWA's elite Hall of Fame. Learn more at www.irenehannon.com.

Read an Excerpt

Tangled Webs

A Novel


By Irene Hannon

Revell

Copyright © 2016 Irene Hannon
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8007-2775-8


CHAPTER 1

Maybe his brothers were right.

Maybe this was a mistake.

Gripping his mug of coffee, Finn McGregor pushed through the door of the cabin, into middle-of-the-night darkness. The April air was chilly, but the brush of coolness against his clammy skin eased his jitters a tad.

Funny how the notion of spending four quiet weeks in a secluded cabin had seemed inspired ten days ago but now felt so wrong.

Just as Mac and Lance had predicted.

He huffed out a breath. Okay ... staying in St. Louis until he'd fully wrestled his demons into submission might have been smarter — except he had a decision to make, and trying to do that with his two overprotective big brothers in hover mode had been impossible.

Melting into the shadows of the rustic porch, he took a sip of the strong brew and did a sweep of woods unbrightened by even a sliver of moon. The blackness was absolute ... yet it didn't raise his anxiety level one iota. Darkness had often been his friend. A significant tactical advantage in certain circumstances, in fact. Like the night his unit ...

Hoo. Hoo.

His hand jerked, and hot coffee sloshed over the rim of the mug, burning his fingers.

Shaking off the liquid, he gritted his teeth.

Spooked by an owl.

How dumb was that?

Good thing Mac and Lance weren't here. He could picture them, arms folded in that intimidating pose all the McGregor men had mastered, reminding him that hanging out alone in the middle of nowhere might not be the best game plan at this stage of his recovery.

Too bad.

He was here now, and he wasn't going back — not yet, anyway. Not after two nights. His McGregor ego would never let him admit defeat this fast.

However ... if the quiet and solitude were still too oppressive in a few days, he might make the hour-and-a-half drive back to St. Louis. Despite its remote feel, this part of the Mark Twain National Forest wasn't all that far from the bright lights of the big city he'd called home for the past nine months.

More than likely, though, he just needed a few days to acclimate. The stack of books he'd brought with him should keep him occupied. And he might chop some wood with that ax he'd found in the shed. Nothing beat manual labor for exorcising restless energy.

He lifted the mug and took a swig. Once he settled in, adjusted to the slower pace, and —

"AAAAHHHHH!"

Finn choked on the coffee as a woman's distant scream ripped through the night.

What the ...?!

Still sputtering, he pushed off from the wall, adrenaline surging, every muscle taut.

Five seconds passed.

Ten.

Fifteen.

The owl hooted again.

Twenty.

Yards from where he stood, the underbrush rustled — a foraging rodent or raccoon, no doubt. Nothing sinister.

Thirty seconds.

The forest remained quiet.

Throttling his paranoia, he exhaled and forced his brain to shift into analytical mode.

Fact one: The sound had been distant, and somewhat indistinct.

Fact two: His cabin was surrounded by a national forest more populated by deer than people. As far as he could tell — based on the single narrow gravel lane off the main drag he'd passed before turning onto his own access road — he had only one relatively close human neighbor.

Fact three: This was rural Missouri, not downtown St. Louis or some crime-ridden —

"AAAAHHHH!"

His hand jerked again, sloshing more coffee.

It was a woman's scream. He was not being paranoid. This was not a tray dropping in the base cafeteria that just sounded like an explosion.

This was the real deal.

Another scream propelled him into action. Moving on autopilot, he grabbed his compact Beretta, Ka-Bar knife, and a flashlight from the cabin, left behind the cell phone that didn't work around here anyway, and raced through the woods, every ounce of his dormant training kicking back in.

Several more terrified screams kept his direction true as he zigzagged through trees in early leaf-out stage, the winter-scoured forest floor hosting little undergrowth that would impede his progress.

When he at last emerged into a clearing, breathing harder than he should be after a quarter-mile run, a large, meandering lake stretched before him.

A scream to his right directed his attention to a small cabin perched on a slight rise above the water, a hundred yards away.

Ignoring the protests of his left leg, he sprinted toward the log structure, where light shone from behind curtains in several windows. Not helpful. The element of surprise worked best if you entered in an optimal spot. If he could determine the woman's location ...

As if on cue, another scream pierced the air.

She was in the back of the cabin, left side.

Beretta in hand, he raced toward the log structure, staying in the shadows at the edge of the woods. Too bad he didn't have his trusty M4 — but that kind of equipment wasn't part of his standard issue anymore. Nor would it be again. He might be unclear about a lot of stuff, but that much he knew.

Still, a Beretta could be as deadly as an assault rifle in a shootout, if it came to that.

He hoped it didn't. He wasn't up for a life-and-death battle ... physically or emotionally.

But that was a moot point.

Something bad was going down in this cabin, and ducking out when things got dicey wasn't part of the McGregor DNA.

Bending low, he dashed from the cover of the woods to the structure. Flattening his back against the rough-hewn logs, he eased around the corner, to the rear wall.

All clear.

He crouched lower and edged close to the dim light shining from the window of the room he'd pinpointed. It was open halfway — no wonder the scream had carried in the quiet country air. But the shade was pulled all the way down, and a screen stood between it and him.

Might there be a window open somewhere else that would allow less obvious access?

Circling back to the front of the cabin, he checked every window.

Bingo.

One was cracked.

He pulled his knife out of its sheath, dispensed with the screen, and worked the sash up. A slight tip of the shade revealed that the space on the other side was clear, and he slipped inside — just as another high-pitched scream ricocheted through the house.

Sheathing the blade, he flexed his fingers on the Beretta and slipped noiselessly through the cabin, ticking through the factors in his favor as he psyched himself up for a confrontation that was liable to become violent.

The element of surprise was on his side.

He was armed.

He'd led dozens of successful assault and rescue missions.

No matter what he found on the other side of the door where the woman was being held, he could handle the situation. Would handle it.

Whatever it took.

Finn stopped outside the door. Angled sideways. Smashed his heel below the lock.

The door flew back.

Another scream sliced through the air as he tucked himself beside the frame, pistol in the ready position. He ducked down, muscles coiled as he prepared to spring into action, and looked around the edge.

Froze.

A thirtyish woman with tousled light brown hair was sitting bolt upright in bed, clutching a blanket against her, blinking as if she'd been abruptly awakened from a peaceful slumber and was trying to figure out what was going on.

There was no one else in the room.

She squinted at him, and despite the dim light he knew the instant full consciousness returned. Stark terror widened her eyes, and she shot to her feet, grabbed a cell phone off her nightstand, and dashed for the door in the corner. It banged behind her. A moment later, the lock slammed into place.

Regroup, McGregor.

Sucking in a lungful of air, Finn gave the room a fast sweep.

The covers were jumbled. The pillow was scrunched up. A glass of water and a bottle of aspirin rested on the nightstand.

Conclusion?

There was no emergency here. This woman had simply been having a nightmare.

To make matters worse, he'd broken into her house wielding a gun, exacerbating whatever trauma she was already dealing with.

Stomach clenching, he closed his eyes.

What a colossal mess-up.

And now she was barricaded in the bathroom, calling the cops. Or trying to.

If he was lucky, her cell would be as useless as his was out here.

But whether she got through or not, he had some serious explaining to do.

He holstered his pistol and crossed to the bolted door. "Ma'am?"

No response.

Of course not. She thought he was some thug, up to no good.

Would telling her the simple, honest truth convince her otherwise?

Unlikely — but that was the only strategy that came to mind.

"Ma'am? I'm sorry about frightening you. I'm actually your neighbor, Finn McGregor. I heard screams coming from your cabin and thought you might need help, but it appears you were just having a bad dream. Mark Busch, who owns the adjacent property, can confirm my identity if you want to contact him. In the meantime, I'll take the screen I destroyed getting in, have it fixed in town, and return it tomorrow. I'll also repair your bedroom door. I'm leaving now — but I'll come around back first to let you verify I've left the house. Again ... I apologize."

Beating a hasty retreat, he escaped through the window, unclipping the slashed screen first. Man, he'd done a number on it. If there wasn't a hardware store in Beaumont, he'd have to drive into Potosi to get it fixed.

At least tomorrow was Monday, and the local businesses should be open bright and early.

He circled the cabin, screen in hand, and stopped a few feet away from the bathroom window in the back. She hadn't flipped on the light. Smart. Staying in the dark would allow her to crack the shade and see the exterior without being seen.

"Ma'am? I'm outside now." He set the screen on the ground, pulled the flashlight out of his back pocket, and shined the light on his face, making it easy for her to identify him. That should help calm her.

Or would it?

He hadn't shaved in two days, and while the stubbled bad-boy look might be popular in Hollywood, it could have a negative connotation in this situation. In real life, true bad boys often sported this look too.

He flicked off the light.

"Again, it's Finn McGregor. I'll return your repaired screen tomorrow."

With that, he turned away from the window and trudged back toward his cabin — berating himself every step of the way.

Way to go, buddy. Freak out a woman who's already on edge — and who isn't going to sleep another wink tonight, thanks to you.

But what else could he have done? She had been screaming. And if she had been in trouble, politely knocking on the door and alerting the perpetrator to his presence would have been stupid.

He'd explain that to her tomorrow when he returned her screen — unless she'd locked herself in the house ... or summoned reinforcements ... or hightailed it out of here.

He pushed past a cedar tree, the distinctive scent reminding him of the old chest his mom had inherited from her grandmother. She'd always said the treasured heirloom was a reminder of the importance of family — a value she'd passed on to her three sons. The McGregors always stood shoulder to shoulder in times of trauma or trouble.

The woman in that cabin was obviously in the midst of some kind of trauma too — yet she appeared to be alone.

Had she left a caring family behind, as he had — or did she lack a support system?

And what sort of demons would produce such anguished screams?

He increased his pace as the wind picked up, the chilled air sending a shiver rippling through him.

Neither of those questions would be answered tonight.

But perhaps on his return visit tomorrow, in the safety of daylight and after another sincere apology, he might get a few clues about the background of his young, attractive — and traumatized — neighbor.

Assuming she was still around.

* * *

Dana Lewis lifted her shaking hand and checked her cell again.

No signal.

Raking her fingers through her tangled hair, she huddled on the toilet seat lid. What did she expect? In the four weeks she'd been here, how often had she managed to get a signal in the cabin? Never. Just on the dock down by the lake.

No way was she venturing out there tonight, though. The guy who'd burst into the cabin could be lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce.

Not likely, Dana. He was in your bedroom. If he'd wanted to get to you, he could have.

Yes ... that was true. Plus, he'd made a point of letting her see his face. The light he'd flashed on hadn't illuminated it long, and the shadows had distorted his features, but there'd been no missing the dark auburn hair and wide, muscular shoulders.

Her pulse slowed as the left side of her brain continued to process the situation. He'd told her his name too. And Mark Busch did own the adjacent property. First senior, now junior.

A quick call to him would confirm the man's identity.

As for the excuse the intruder had offered for breaking in — it was credible. The nightmares plagued her less often now, but they cropped up on occasion ... and the one tonight had been bad. It was very possible she'd screamed. Hadn't her big-city neighbors told her they'd heard her cry out on several occasions, despite the soundproofing in the high-rise walls?

But given her remote location, who'd have guessed someone out here would not only hear her but respond?

Clutching her dead phone, she stood and sidled up to the window. A quick crack of the shade confirmed the man was gone.

And unless she wanted to cower in the bathroom all night, she needed to open the door and do a walk-through of the house.

Gathering her courage, she slid the bolt back and pushed the door open.

The room was just as she'd left it — bedclothes disheveled, dim light burning, purse untouched on the chair beside the door. She moved to the window and shut it, flipping the lock.

Then she crossed to the hall door that was hanging on one hinge. Peeked out.

The corridor was deserted.

There was no one in the rest of the house, either. When she came to the screenless window in the living room, she closed and locked it too.

She was as safe as she could be for the rest of the night.

Rotating her stiff shoulders, she returned to the kitchen and peered at the tacky fish-shaped clock that had hung on the wall for as long as she could remember. Two-forty-nine.

Daylight was more than three sleepless hours away.

But between the nightmare and her unexpected visitor, there would be no more slumber for her this night.

Stifling a yawn, she filled a mug with water, added a bag of English breakfast tea, and slid it into the microwave. Might as well get some work done if she was going to be up anyway. She could always take a nap tomorrow if her short night caught up with her.

While she waited for the water to heat, she booted up her laptop, flipped on the adjacent monitor, and padded back down the hall in search of her slippers and the oversized cardigan sweater Pops had always worn.

She found both at the foot of her bed. After shoving her feet into the slippers, she pushed her arms through the rolled-up sleeves of the sweater, fingering a spot that was beginning to unravel.

Kind of like her life of late.

Wrapping her arms around herself, she did a slow pivot in the room, with its knotty pine paneling, handmade log bed crafted from trees grown on this property, and framed serenity prayer attributed to Francis of Assisi that sat on the doily-bedecked pine dresser. At least here, in her refuge, life felt more stable.

Or it had until tonight.

Spirits drooping, she returned to the kitchen as the microwave emitted a high-pitched summons. A soothing cup of hot tea was the perfect antidote to whatever ailed you. That and a warm hug. Or so Mags and Pops used to tell her.

She retrieved the mug from the turntable, dunking the tea bag as she wandered toward her computer. The tea, she had. Warm hugs? In short supply.

Instead of the discouragement that usually accompanied such melancholy thoughts, however, an image of auburn hair and broad shoulders zipped across her mind.

Dana stopped in front of the laptop, frowning. How bizarre was that? She'd seen the man for less than ten seconds and could call up nothing more than a vague impression of him. Plus, he'd broken into her house. With a gun.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Tangled Webs by Irene Hannon. Copyright © 2016 Irene Hannon. Excerpted by permission of Revell.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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