2018 Beverley Award Winner
Police sniper Maya Aaron finds herself in the crosshairs of not just one but two madmen. One sends her flowers with secret meanings, the other? He’ll stop at nothing to control her, including framing her for murder.
All she’s ever wanted was to protect the few people she's allowed into her life - by studying Krav Maga, shooting at the range, knife fighting and riding her motorcycle fast.
But when she gives in to former British SAS Officer Duncan’s dominant desires, her stalkers find out and set their sights on destroying him and her friends. Duncan finally feels he's found his 'worth it' and he will battle anyone that gets in his way. But can he survive when she pushes him away?
Maya decides to come out of the shadows, guns blazing, removing her stalker problems once and for all. Can she have a life she never dared dream of and keep everyone safe? When the smoke clears will she have a chance with the man that ignites her soul?
This is a hot and steamy mystery suspense with twists, turns, action, and a happily for now.
"Entry teams are lined up. Team One is primary, you’ve got the front. Team Two, you’re secondary, take the rear. No side doors. By the books, everyone, no showboating. Do you hear me, Sierra and Echo One? I will bench you both if there is a problem."
I listen as the captain continues to brief us. My hands start to sweat in my gloves as the anticipation builds. This was my first call with the Emergency Response Team; I've waited not only the last few grueling weeks for this, but since the day they left me. I need to get my head into the game. I calm my breathing, and press my gloved hand into my watch face pressed against the inside of my wrist.
My partner moves next to me and I look over at him. Only our eyes are visible through all our gear, but I see his hazel eyes focused on me, see his determination. I nod my head and sync my breathing with his. He and I have been a team for years now, mostly off the job, but he helps center me when I'm unfocused.
The squeal of tires draws the team’s attention, some swinging around and taking aim. A large man jumps from an SUV, pushes past the barriers and right up to the captain. I attempt to ignore him and watch the building in the distance that all my focus needs to be on. I can barely make out the hostages through the glass windows. I turn to look at the monitor with a feed from a camera we hijacked from the bank across the street. I can see the hostages lined up preventing us from breaching or shooting. The hostage-taker is standing in the middle of the room, his gun flailing around.
The transport arrives to take us to where we will stage, and the four of us jog to it. Sierra and Echo, as the primaries, will be dropped at the first and closest location. Derek and I get the further but back up position. I jump onto the running board of the transport and grab the rail above my head, my body jerks as it takes off. The weight of my gun strapped to my back comforts me.
I brace for the stop, waiting as the brakes lock up. Team One jumps off and Sierra One leers at me.
"Hey, girly, don't puke on your first gig." His remark makes me want to punch him.
Derek’s gloved hand hits my shoulder and I know what he’s trying to say. The transport takes off again and stops about five hundred yards from where Team One was dropped. We jump off and run into the building, bypassing security and head for the stairwell.
"Let's go, sexy," Derek says as his long legs eat up the steps.
My five-seven, long-legged frame is used to running with gear, so I'm only a step or two behind him. My breathing is controlled and I push the adrenaline overload from earlier into keeping pace and maintaining control. We make the rooftop and push through the door, my sidearm in my hand while Derek has his M4 out. We clear the roof in a pie formation, each of us checking a quadrant. Then we make for the edge of the roof and start setting up.
"Team Two, are you set?" comes across the comm.
"This is Victor, Team Two, we are on the roof and setting up now," Derek informs the captain as I lie down prone to my rifle and start getting ready for the measurements necessary.
Through the airwaves, we can hear the captain talking to someone with a strong British accent, and I then remember the man that ran up as we were getting ready to leave.
"Okay, sexy, how about the Brit that's arguing with Captain?"
"Six hundred yards."
"Pick the next."
"Door to convention center, seven hundred yards. Transport, five hundred yards."
We continue with our data sheet for the shot and I know in my gut that I won't shoot from this distance. Oh hell, who am I kidding? If Carl has his way I'll never shoot. I wasn't supposed to make this team or become the secondary sniper. Derek and I have only been on the force for two years. We were personally asked to join the team, we didn't have to apply. It's not because I'm a woman and they had to fulfill some bureaucratic quota. It's because I'm that good. This is all I've ever wanted to do.
* * *
"All teams, prepare. We will be going hot in fifteen."
I pull back from the scope and drop my head to the roof, my helmet and gear keeps me from smacking my face.
"Hey, Maya, you got this. Don't let the douche talk you out of it. You've always been a better shot than him." Derek’s hand lands on my shoulder and I tense. "Calm down. Focus. Breathe. Accept." He recites the mantra and I lift my head to smile. Of course the balaclava and gear cover it but his eyes twinkle in return.
"Team One, what is your status?"
No answer comes and I know that they are doing their own thing again. Radio silence continues and I return to my scope. I line up with the building entrance and wait for the command. I’ve got this. I know I can shoot from this distance.
"This is Echo, Team One, we went offline for a moment and are now ready."
"You mean to tell me you can't even control your own teams! It's time to call in the real marksmen instead of the cowboys. I have an associate in there. Thank goodness I got the high value out of there," a deep voice comes across the captain's radio.
"Sir, I've asked you several times to step behind the line. My team has it..."
As the captain yells at the interloper, I watch through my scope as the hostage-taker emerges slouched behind a hostage. It’s not a clear shot. At this distance I can't hear what is being said, but the gun is further pressed into the hostage’s neck. The front entry team falls back to protect the hostage.
I focus through the scope and take a look at the hostage. He’s about five-ten, with dark hair and an olive complexion. My gut twists and I see Abba in my eyes.
Focus! Focus, Maya. This is why you do this.
"No clean shot," Sierra says through the comms.
I look again.
"I have a shot but it will be close," I say on a choke. Clearing my throat, I try again. "Captain, I have a tight shot."
"Sierra, how about you?"
"Negative, sir. I don't know what she sees, but she's wrong. There is no clean shot."
That’s twice he’s identified me as a female over the comms, and everyone is silent, waiting for the hammer to drop.
"Sierra, Team One, please remember your radio protocols."
"Captain, Bravo has no shot!" he grits out.
I can hear his teeth clenching over the comms, and I wait and hope.
The hostage-taker hits the hostage in the side of the face with the gun. My vision blurs and I'm taken back. The anger, the pain, and the distance all swell. I will kill him.
"Captain, this is Victor, Team Two, Bravo has a shot," Derek says in frustration.
"Team One, disengage. Bravo, you are now Sierra, Team Two. Prepare."
"Yes, sir." I control my breathing. Three big breaths and I let it all out, then I squeeze the trigger and watch.
I turn as I hear the order given and watch the hostage-taker’s head explode in a fine pink mist of blood and brain matter.
"Who the bloody hell took that shot?" I yell at the captain.
That was an impossible shot for a military trained marksman. I don't know at what distance she was, but I do know it was a lass. When I pulled up earlier to offer my assistance, I saw the smaller person with the group but I never would have pegged her as a woman.
The ERT entry team clears the area and I watch as Raul walks out among the hostages and right up to me. The hostages are being checked over. Emergency personnel are treating the one that was held at gunpoint, his shoulder was nicked by the sniper’s bullet.
After about twenty minutes the team's transport pulls up. They tried to push me back behind the barriers again but because of Raul I got to stay close by. I can't get close enough to the officers, so I watch from our SUV.
"Sierra and Echo, Team Two, head back to the precinct to give your reports, then you're off for the mandatory twenty-four hours. Bravo and Victor, Team One, reports and then my office. I want to know why you changed your position." The captain demands.
"Hey, Williams, drinks at Murphy's later? Bring Aaron." One of the team members asks the tall figure with the woman as they prepare to load up into another transport.
I want to see what she looks like. I want to ask her about the shot. Something keeps me fixated on her. She turns and I see her eyes instantly focus on me. My body tingles and I'm instantly hard. I know it's been a while, but I can't even see this woman's body.
"Hey, Aaron, awesome shot." Another team member thumps her on the back and her eyes soften behind the balaclava. "What was that, like seven hundred yards?"
"Something like that." Her voice is muffled.
I make the decision then and turn to find a cab, leaving the SUV for Raul.
"See you back at the hotel, Raul." I sprint off toward the perimeter, not waiting for his response.
* * *
An hour and a half later I'm about to change my mind when the loud pipes of a Harley draws my attention to the parking lot as a sleek, black V-Rod motorcycle pulls up. The rider swings off the bike and I watch, my eyes bulging with each reveal.
She removes the white helmet with a candy skull on it, pulls her hair free from a band, and long auburn locks fall to mid-back. A shapely arse and long legs are encased in a type of Kevlar riding jeans with cowboy boots. She unzips the leather jacket and turns as I continue to watch. She's in a white t-shirt, her breasts begging to fill my hands. Her expressive forest-green eyes are fringed by a long bang and dark eye lashes. She has pale skin with freckles across her nose and no make-up covering her beauty.
She nods as she walks by me and I almost miss my chance.
"Excuse me, ma'am, can I talk to you about the shot you took tonight?" I ask, not thinking about how it sounds.
Her back stiffens and she steps back on her right foot. Her stance tells me she’s trained.
"I'm sorry. I work for a security company that was at the gala tonight. One of my men was in the convention center. I saw the shot you took. It was amazing. Can I buy you a drink?"
"Someone died and a man was hurt, so, no, it wasn't that amazing. Now, excuse me." She pushes past me with a huff and I grab her arm. The electric shock of touching her almost has me pulling back but I want to feel more of her.
"Please. One drink?"
"Let her go. Now! She isn't interested and never will be." A deep voice says from behind me. I turn to see a cheeky bastard walking up. He is in all leather gear too, so he must have been riding. He is shorter than me and I know I could take him, but I drop her arm and step back. I look over to see another motorcycle parked next to hers.
"I was just asking the lass if she would like a drink."
"Take off, she doesn't drink with anyone." He pushes past her into me.
"Look, tosser, I didn't know she was spoken for." I step back and he closes the distance again. She reaches out and grabs his arm, pulling him back.
"I'm not spoken for, now stop, both of you." Her voice rises slightly.
"I apologize, have a good evening," I tilt my head to her and smell the jasmine and vanilla scent of her. Stepping back, I watch as his arm goes around her shoulder. I hail a cab and wish I met her first as she’s clearly taken.
As the cab pulls away, I watch her with the guy. They talk and she ends up jumping on her motorcycle and leaving without going into the bar. Her motorcycle sails past, weaving in and out of traffic. I want to follow her but know that would make matters worse. I don't want to be with just anyone. I want to finally find my one. I want to know that person is worth it. I want to settle down. Something about her sets my blood on fire. I discreetly adjust myself as I think of her under me, or us on that bike.
I slide my bike in-between traffic, passing the cab he got in. I want to turn and get a look into those eyes again. My body still feels like I touched a live wire. I can't do this. I speed off, slipping into my parking garage with a deep sigh.
Home. My sanctuary.
As I ride the elevator up to my penthouse condo, I lean back against the back wall, the evening rolling through my head.
Carl is no longer Sierra. I am now. That means I'm the primary sniper for the team. I will still be Team Two, but by the end of summer, I will be Team One Sierra. This is a huge step for me. The smile on my face falls when I think of my encounter with Carl after I showered.
Carl yelled at me for taking the shot, and his position. He said it was my fault he was suspended. I found out from Derek that he was actually suspended for leaving his original location for a spot with less visual. The second spot didn't take into account if the hostage-taker stepped out of the building just as he had.
Carl and I used to date back in college and I never wanted to compete against him because I knew he wouldn't be able to handle me being a better shot than him. He’s a male chauvinist who believes women shouldn't be cops. My luck landed us in the same department and then on the same team. D.C. was my home before my life went to hell, and he knew that. Maybe he knew I would come back here and was hoping to get back together. So not happening.
My superiors knew how good I was. With all my extra training, they just wanted to keep me with Metro PD instead of jumping over to Secret Service like I was thinking. I do every extra training at Quantico that I can.
The elevator pings, letting me know I’ve reached my floor, and I step out and walk to my door. Habit has me checking all the shadowy areas and confirming I'm alone before I put in my code to enter my space. I grab the remote for the blinds and open the shades. The view of D.C. at night are the only lights I need for my mood.
I'm restless tonight; my whole body is on fire. I grab the remote from the counter as I pass and click on the sound system. Skillet’s Monster blares through the speakers. I quickly change and then jump onto my treadmill. I run while staring out the windows, looking down at the city that used to mean so much to me. When they were alive this was home. Now it is where I work and just exist.
Out of nowhere I see turquoise blue eyes, dark hair, and a five o'clock shadow I want rubbed over my body. When I pulled up to the bar tonight I didn't see him. But now? Wow! My body sparks again, my breathing increases and not from the running. The song switches to Nickelback’s S.E.X and I think about climbing that hunk of man like a fucking tree and holding on while I take a ride. Oh shit, I need to get laid soon. A complete stranger has me hot. I run harder, trying to ignore the release my body really wants.
I know I've been running for a while when another set of eyes flashes through my mind. My step falters and I almost eat it right there. I grit my teeth through the pain. The hostage’s dark Mediterranean look reminded me of him, but younger. He looked so much like my father, my Abba; I knew he was from the Israeli consulate.
My hands start to tremor just like they did when I held my gun. I can't let this get to me. I jump off the treadmill and walk over to my punching bag. In place of dining room furniture, I’ve set up a work out room. I pull on my gloves and start beating the bag as the one song I need starts pulsing through the speakers. I hit the bag harder, seeing the bomber I have imagined for years staring back at me right before he takes them from me. I swing my leg in a roundhouse and grab the bag as I throw my knees into the bag. I want to kill him even though I know he is already dead. The song continues and I start yelling to it as I continue to take my pain out on the bag. Marilyn Manson’s Beautiful People has been my trigger for years. It is the song I let go to. It comes to an end and I drop my gloved hands to my knees, struggling to regain my breath.
My chest heaves and now that I've reached my limit, maybe I can sleep. I head for the shower and let the water sluice off my body onto the floor. I try to think of anything but the man's face. My head drops and again I'm back there. My father was a demanding man. He wanted me to be different. Better. I learned multiple languages before I was in junior high. I studied Krav Maga and Israeli knife fighting. I might look like my mother with my paler complexion, auburn hair, and green eyes, but I was an Israeli killing machine because of him. I was Abba's little Jewish fighter. He wanted a boy, but he got me instead. If they had lived, would he be disappointed that I didn't become a lawyer?
I feel the burning in my throat and nose, and pull my head up and shut off the water. I step out of the shower, quickly dry my body, and head for the nightstand in my bedroom. Jerking the drawer open, I throw things all over the floor, and reach for the bottle of sleeping pills. I hate taking them but there is no way I'm going to sleep tonight. I pop the pills and lie down.
My last thoughts as the numbness fills my body is of dark hair and turquoise eyes. Why do those eyes look so familiar?