Authors: J. T. Geissinger
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Romance, #Fantasy, #Paranormal
Also in J.T. Geissinger’s Night Prowler series
Edge of Oblivion
Edge of Darkness
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Text copyright © 2014 J.T. Geissinger, Inc.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle
Library of Congress Control Number: 2013954788
To Jay, for proving that love at first sight and happily-ever-afters are things that happen in real life, too.
Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.
Excerpt from the
New York Times
, Sunday, May 17, 20—
THE ENEMY AMONG US
By Senior War Correspondent Jack Dolan
. . . indeed, not only is it the duty of every citizen of this great country to fight back against such insidious evil, but also it is the duty of all mankind. For if we allow our fear to weaken our resolve, if we allow misguided empathy for these avowed human-haters to turn us away from the righteous path of self-defense, we will quickly find ourselves facing the plight of so many other species who have walked this Earth before us:
We are at war. To deny this fact is to deny the obvious. We are at war with a cunning, ruthless enemy, whose numbers are far fewer but whose resolve—and capacity for cruelty—is far greater than our own. But even more dangerous than our enemy is the war we fight among ourselves. If we cannot come together as a race to protect our way of life and our continued existence on this Earth, the family of Man will be lost, devoured not only by our enemy, but by our own cowardice.
It is time to put rhetoric aside. It is time for the divisiveness to end. It is time to
. If we are to survive this plague that has befallen us, this pestilence of unholy predators who care nothing for our cultures or our history, least of all our lives, we must put aside any sentimental feeling and push back. We must treat the Shifter plague like a newly discovered strain of bacteria that is sweeping the earth, killing us mercilessly. For that is what these predators are: a plague. And like a plague, they will devour everything in their path unless we find a cure.
I know the cure.
It lies in courage and cohesiveness, in the knowledge that human life is sacred, in the willingness to do whatever it takes to survive.
As a species
, we must be willing to do whatever it takes. We cannot allow the majesty of Bach and Beethoven, Michelangelo and Mozart, Shakespeare and Shubert, and even the simple beauty of a Starbucks Frappuccino to be wiped out for all time by the single-minded, devastating hunger of a bacterium. Nor can we allow a few dissenting voices among us to make us shrink from our right and duty to defend ourselves.
I call on you now—as an American, as a citizen of this planet, and as a member of the human race—to join me in supporting our President in his efforts to protect this great nation and our way of life. Write to your congressperson and urge him or her to sign into law the amendments strengthening the Alien and Sedition Acts, and to reconsider the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 that failed to become law during the 110th Congress.
Let us join hands as a nation and a people, and walk forward together to face this dire threat to humanity. The time for discourse is over.
Now, my fellow patriots, it’s time to fight.
Something was blocking her shot. Something
Squatting on the trash-littered street with her back braced against the smoking metal skeleton of a burned-out delivery truck outside the sprawling, gothic Mercado Municipal building in downtown Manaus, Jacqueline “Jack” Dolan glanced up from her camera and squinted against the brilliant scarlet rays of the setting sun.
The thing blocking the shot was a man. A tall, broad-shouldered
hulk of a man, unmoving, silhouetted in black against the light.
. He was ruining her picture!
Irritation stabbed through her gut, sharp as knives. She had to have pictures to accompany the article, and she was in prime position to get some amazing shots of the mayhem occurring inside the popular market, which on any given day saw tens of thousands of visitors flood the massive structure that housed row upon row of food vendors. Meat and fish, olives and wine, poultry and fruit, and every kind of exotic spice—everything and anything could be found there. Covering over twelve thousand square meters of the city, it was the main wholesale distribution center for thousands of restaurants in central Brazil, and a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.
It was also currently engulfed in flames. From within, irregular bursts of gunfire from automatic weapons echoed like cannon fire.
With a muttered curse, Jack waved an impatient hand overhead, indicating he should move.
He didn’t. In fact, he stood so still he didn’t even seem to be breathing.
She lowered the camera and shaded her eyes from the glare of the setting sun to inspect this unmoving hulk more closely.
He was about twenty yards away on the opposite side of the street, directly in front of the market’s entrance. A steady stream of people screaming in panic were shoving and pushing their way out of the market from the open double doors behind him, but he stood as unperturbed as a rock in a riverbed, immovable, ignoring everything around him.
What the hell is he doing?
Her eyes focused on his face, and Jack realized what he was doing was staring straight back at her.
From years of habit, she mentally catalogued the pertinent details for later recall. Dark hair curling down to the collar of his shirt, sun-darkened skin, a hard, unshaven jaw. Lips overfull for a man, a nose that was once straight but had obviously been broken and carelessly repaired. And huge, as she first noticed—six foot five, six foot six, broad-shouldered, and muscular.
But Jesus—what a pair of searing eyes this hulk had. Brilliant yellow-green, heart-stoppingly piercing, as if he could see straight down into her soul. Staring out from that glowering, handsome face, his eyes glowed hot and translucent, like an emerald backlit by the sun. They telegraphed anger. Anger, intelligence, and dangerous intent.
A jolt of something sharp and electric sizzled through her, straight down to her toes.
Her first thought was:
Holy shit, that is one scary-beautiful man.
Her next, a millisecond later:
Get the hell out of my shot, asshole!
She waved her hand in another frantic “move it” gesture, this time more aggressively. It also helpfully featured her middle finger, the international sign for “you, sir, are a douche.”
It didn’t work. Jack groaned in exasperation and shot to her feet. Time to change vantage points.
Just as she was about to turn away, an odd noise arrested her. Over the din of screams and shattering glass and gunfire, she heard a high-pitched roar, a rumbling that accelerated and grew louder, echoing off the buildings. It came from behind her—
Jack turned the opposite direction and didn’t even have time to gasp in horror as a Humvee, mere yards away, barreled down the narrow street toward her.
I’m going to kill that guy.
Stupid. So damn stupid. Almost ten years of being embedded with military units all over the world in the most dangerous war zones and she was going to get flattened by a Humvee because she was too busy staring at some hot guy. Her entire body tensed—
Then she was flying through the air, hit hard from the side.
She landed on her back on the sidewalk with such force all the breath was knocked from her lungs. Her head cracked against the cement. She saw stars. Pain flared throughout her body, and everything went black.
When she opened her eyes again, the hulk was bending over her with his hands flattened on the ground on either side of her head, glaring down into her face.
“Are you oblivious, or just plain stupid?” he snapped. It was more of a growl, pitched low and rumbly, his English tinged with the lilting accent of Portuguese. Normally Jack would have found this kind of voice incredibly sexy. At the moment, she found it—and him—infuriating.
“You’re the one who’s oblivious! What the hell were you doing just standing there in the middle of everything?” She attempted to sit up, and fireworks erupted in her vision. Wincing, she pushed him aside, and brought a hand to her forehead.
“Just sit here for a minute and breathe. You hit your head pretty hard.”
The hulk crouched in front of her with his big hand spread in a determined “stay” gesture, looking at her in that strange way he’d been before. She had an odd, fleeting feeling that he knew her somehow . . . and didn’t like her. She pushed that aside because if they’d met somewhere before, she’d
He wasn’t the kind of man a woman would forget.
“I’m perfectly fine,” she said through gritted teeth, willing it to be true. Even though she felt bruises already forming on her shoulders, back, and behind, and there was a worrisome buzzing in her ears and a metallic taste on her tongue, she wasn’t about to let on, especially to the Incredible Irritating Hulk. Who just happened to appear by her side . . .
“How did you . . .” Jack glanced back across the street to the spot where he’d been standing moments ago, and shook her head to clear it. “What just happened?”
He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “You got clipped by that Humvee.”
Across the street the massive dun-colored military vehicle was parked in front of the market, flanked by two more that had just arrived. Uniformed personnel in flak jackets and helmets, with rifles slung over their shoulders, had taken up positions around the cars and were attempting to direct the fleeing crowd. A line of city police vehicles roared up the other end of the street, lights flashing, sirens screaming, and Jack realized she and the hulk were probably about to get caught right in the middle of a firefight with the hoodlums inside the market who’d started the fire.
The question of how she’d landed relatively unscathed in her present spot on the hard sidewalk after being hit by a five-thousand-pound, seven-foot-wide vehicle became instantly insignificant because it was showtime.
She grinned, sat up straight, grabbed her Canon—which thankfully had remained in one piece on its strap around her neck—and, as the police cars screeched to a stop and disgorged dozens of armed officers who swarmed the entrance to the market, started shooting.
Then she was flying through the air again, but this time she was being carried. By the Incredible Irritating Hulk, no less.
“What the—put me
!” she shouted, just as a deafening volley of gunfire burst overhead. The stone façade of the building behind them erupted in a spray of pulverized cement as bullets tore through the brick, and she was pelted in the face with glass from the picture window beside it that exploded into a million tiny, jagged shards. Cursing, she turned her head and hid in the hulk’s neck.
The hulk tightened his arms around her and shot forward in a burst of speed so fast it left her head spinning, her stomach far behind.
In a few seconds it was over and she was being lowered to the ground. In the distance lingered the sound of gunfire and shouting. An acrid haze of smoke tainted the twilight sky, first yellow, then shifting, charcoal gray.
Breathless, her legs not altogether onboard with the task of supporting her weight, Jack looked around. It took a moment before the world settled and she regained her bearings. They were in an alley, deserted except for a skinny orange cat nosing through a pile of garbage beside a Dumpster. At the end of the alley were a fire escape and three unmarked doors. The air smelled like urine and rotting trash and the soft, ripe decay of the tropics.
The hulk snapped, “You have a death wish or something?”
“No, I have a
job to do
.” Jack shoved her hair out of her eyes and glared at him. The bangs she was trying to grow out had escaped from her ponytail and were fluttering everywhere. “And you just interfered with that!”
“Actually, I just saved your life!”
He didn’t look too happy about that. In fact, he looked as if he was very much regretting it. A muscle worked in his hard jaw as those green eyes flashed and burned.
“Nobody asked for your help! I’m not some damsel in distress; I’ve been in a hell of a lot worse spots than that and lived.” Just because her head was still spinning, and she was still pissed about the Humvee, she added a surly, “Prince Charming.”
He crossed his arms over his broad chest and stood there scowling at her. Dressed all in black—boots, jeans, tight T-shirt, leather cuff around one wrist—with those bulging muscles and that bad attitude, he looked exactly like the type of man a normal woman wouldn’t want to be alone with in a deserted alley of a dangerous city as the sun went down and the shadows crawled hungrily up the walls.
But Jack wasn’t a “normal” woman. She refused to be intimidated, refused to be prey. If this guy wanted to tussle, he’d be in for a big surprise because she had a license to carry a concealed weapon. What she had tucked into the waistband of her pants at the small of her back would pretty much guarantee she’d win if they went toe to toe.
She put her hands on her hips and stared right back at him.
You want a piece of me, big boy? Bring it!
For some strange reason, he looked as if he was going to laugh. He pressed his lips together, causing a dimple to flash in his cheek. His eyes grew amused. He cocked his head and gave her a swift, assessing once-over, his gaze equal parts heated and shrewd, then announced, “You’re bleeding . . . Snow White.”
In spite of herself, Jack’s lips twisted, threatening to turn to a smile.
To cover her amusement, she said coolly, “Skin jokes. Nice.”
Because she was a redhead, and Irish on both parents’ sides, Jack had skin the color of milk. She detested it, in part because even casual sun exposure made her burn and her job demanded she was out in the sun regularly, which in turn meant she spent a good portion of her life either peeling or covered in a thick layer of sunblock, and in part because she thought it made her look delicate and fragile, and those were two of the last things she wanted to look like, or was.
If she looked like what she felt like inside, Jack would be a weird transgender hybrid of Xena Warrior Princess, John Wayne, Lisbeth Salander, and Elmer Fudd.
In his sandpaper voice, the hulk said, “You’re right, that was rude. How ’bout I make it up to you by buying you a drink?” and Jack wasn’t sure if she should cut and run, or just brandish her weapon and tell him to get the hell out of her face. Judging by his dizzying mood swings, he was a little off in the head.
But a tiny little part of her—a forgotten, neglected part—wanted to sit next to him on a barstool and drink in all that masculine sexiness, in addition to drinking a few shots of vodka, which might do wonders for her throbbing cheek and her still slightly spinning head.
She debated longer than she should have. Eventually logic won.
“Thanks, but I’ll pass. I’ve got to get back to work.”
She wondered briefly how he’d run so fast so far, then wondered if she had a mild concussion from her head versus the cement. Which would explain a lot, including the urge to have a drink with a big, growly stranger who exuded equal doses of danger and sex appeal, and had all the charm of an open grave.
“You’re a reporter,” he said flatly, glancing down at her camera and the laminated press badge clipped to the strap. Something in his tone telegraphed his disapproval.
His gaze found hers again, and it was dark. “This is no place for you. It’s too dangerous.”
She bristled. “Why, because I’m a girl?”
He regarded her with pinched lips, looking as if he was trying not to say something nasty. He drew in a measured breath, then said, “No, because Brazil is one of the most dangerous places in the world for reporters. They get killed here regularly, men and women equally. Especially now, with all the unrest. Or hadn’t you heard?”
There was a kind of dare in the question, and Jack found herself more and more irritated by and interested in the hulk. Whose name she didn’t know.
She stood there looking at him a moment, sticky from the humidity, acutely aware of the way the material of her damp T-shirt was clinging to her breasts.