Unfortunately, due to tax laws, and the fact that this is only on sale until after the 4th of July holiday, this sale is only available in the US and only inside my store. But you can purchase the ebook for any eReader (Kindle, iBooks, Kobo, Nook, Android, etc.).
If you are unsure whether you’d like to read this book, I’ve included the first three chapters below to help you decide.
Death didn’t break for a holiday weekend. Sometimes the body count actually increased.
So when a crowd formed in the vicinity of one of the Independence Day floats, I wasn’t surprised. In fact, as I jogged toward the disturbance to see if there was anything I could do to help, I was already coming up with a list of possible reasons for the crowd: some sort of dispute had broken out; someone had passed out from heat exhaustion due to the ridiculously high temperature; or, quite possibly, someone had choked on a hot dog.
When I recognized the siren as that of an approaching ambulance and not a police car, I worried the ruckus was the result of one of the latter options. I slowed. I knew the emergency medical techs wouldn’t need the little assistance I could provide.
But I was curious, and not just due to simple human nature. I had seen among the crowd several members of “Samael’s Army,” one of Central Kentucky’s motorcycle clubs, or MCs, as they called themselves. In the Bureau, we called them OMGs—outlaw motorcycle gangs. I was very familiar with the group, as in the two months since being reinstated as special agent for the FBI, I’d spent quite a bit of time studying the local OMGs and their illicit activities. Named for the archangel of death according to Jewish lore, Samael’s Army lived up to the ancient moniker. Everywhere they had gone during the past sixty years, they had developed a reputation for encouraging the sins of men and wreaking havoc. Today, however, they were pretending to be contributing members of Midland, Kentucky, just ordinary folks participating in the small-town holiday parade.
I wove my way through the crowd until I saw two EMTs bent over a female body. Her pale, skinny legs lay still on the dirty blacktop. She was unresponsive, and though one of the EMTs blocked her upper body from my view, it was clear that she had thrown up, and that her body had released her urine and waste. Her right sleeve had slid up, revealing bruises and scarring from her wrist to her elbow joint. And I knew. This girl had overdosed.
Not the best start to a long Fourth of July weekend.
* * *
Erica Marshall, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Louisville division, had been vague on the phone, but if she was resorting to calling me, it must be bad. Before I could meet with her, though, I had a quick errand to run: delivering soda to Carrie Anne and Marti’s snow cone stand.
In actuality, the stand was a Midland Historical Society booth that they had dressed up to double as a snow cone stand. The way Carrie Anne saw it, kids would want snow cones, and that would give her a shot at soliciting donations from parents for much-needed upkeep of the town’s historic structures.
Carrie Anne and Marti, the mother-daughter duo who ran the Julep Hill Inn and Café, were pretty much the welcoming committee, the hospitality committee, and the bereavement committee for the small town of Midland. They also ran the neighborhood watch and kept the gossip mill honest each and every morning when the town gathered at the café for breakfast and/or coffee. And Carrie Anne took it upon herself to keep everyone informed of their responsibility to help keep the town’s historic structures standing.
Carrie Anne and Marti were also my friends. They had taken me in when I arrived in Kentucky the previous spring in an attempt to protect the governor of Kentucky from a bioterrorist, and were then gracious enough to forgive me when that turned into a major shit storm. So today, when they asked me to help with the Fourth of July festivities, I of course said yes.
It was nearing eleven a.m. as I carried a couple of cases of soda past celebrating families and hawkers selling merchandise, and it was already a soupy scorcher of a day, the kind where your sunglasses fog up the moment you walk outside: ninety degrees and eighty percent humidity, with a promise of afternoon thundershowers. Down the street, I could see floats and herds of people lining up for the parade. Several members of Samael’s Army sat on their Harley-Davidsons, revving their throttles to an obnoxious level. Children ran around in red, white, and blue clothes, their cheeks decorated with festive face paint. The air smelled of funnel cakes and deep-fried Twinkies. The entire town had gathered for a day of patriotic festivities.
“Girl,” Marti sang as I approached. “What are you doing in those blue jeans? It’s like a sauna out here.”
I set the sodas on a table and glanced down at my attire. “I wasn’t in the mood to wear my navy slacks and blazer?”
“Shit!” Her blond hair was tied into a messy bun on top of her head. She wore a weather-appropriate thin-strapped tank and short shorts, and even so, perspiration dotted her forehead and nose. “You’re bugging out on me.”
“I have to go in,” I confirmed, staring down at my white T-shirt and boot-cut jeans. Over the white tee, I wore an open, short-sleeved blouse that covered the Glock at my waist. The jeans hid the Sig strapped to my ankle.
Marti started transferring the sodas into the white coolers tucked under the tables. “And I guess you have no idea how long you’ll be?”
“No, but I’ll hurry back if I can.”
The truth was, I was looking forward to getting out into the field. Since I’d been working in the FBI’s Lexington satellite office, I’d been assigned nothing but analyst work—and my six weeks of research into outlaw motorcycle gangs hadn’t amounted to anything other than speculation into possible gun trafficking. Besides, every ounce of information I’d processed had been turned over to Special Agent Marshall, and she’d pretty much ignored me and my emails since I’d started.
Hell, I didn’t even have a partner—for the simple reason that there was no one to partner me with. I was the only agent assigned to the Lexington office. The other two field agents had been transferred out a month ago. But what bothered me most was that with every case the FBI had investigated in Kentucky these last two months—including two major ones in the Central Kentucky area—I had been passed over on the assignment in favor of agents out of the Louisville office. It was clear to me that I was on some sort of unspecified probation, blackballed without explanation or justification.
That was, until the phone call I’d received fifteen minutes ago. Special Agent Marshall had called and asked me to meet her at a hospital in Lexington, twenty minutes away. She said I was needed for my expertise with organized crime, drug trafficking, and OMGs. Frankly, I was surprised that Special Agent Marshall thought I had any expertise—other than surfing the internet. I wasn’t certain she’d even bothered to read any of my intelligence reports.
It didn’t escape my notice that I was being called in on something OMG-related only minutes after witnessing a drug overdose in front of members of an OMG. That was one hell of a coincidence—if I believed in coincidences. Which I didn’t.
“You’re going to miss the parade.” Marti’s bottom lip stuck out in a pout, but then slid into an easy grin.
“I’m sure I’ll survive without it,” I laughed. “Hopefully I’ll be back in time for the cookout.”
“You’d better be. Mom has gone overboard.”
“When does she not?” I asked.
“True.” Marti nodded behind me. “Speak of the devil…”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with this stupid thing,” Carrie Anne said behind me.
I turned to discover she was speaking to Declan O’Roark, who followed her closely as they approached the booth. Instead of his normal sleek business attire, he was wearing a vintage U2 T-shirt and cargo shorts. Two small children—one dark-haired and freckled, the other blond with a suntan most Californians would envy—trailed behind them.
Carrie Anne started banging a metal spoon against the side of a machine sitting on a table beside the booth. “If I don’t get it working real soon, these two munchkins and their friends are going to lose all faith in my ability to create the best snow cones in the South.” She rubbed the head of the blond-haired child, and he ducked out of her reach. Turning back to Declan, she pleaded, “Please help me.”
Declan, a man who could have purchased a million snow cone machines out of the current balance of his checking account, took the spoon out of Carrie Anne’s hand. “Beating the poor machine is not going to help. Why don’t you go…” His smooth, Irish-accented voice trailed off when his eyes found mine. He set the spoon aside and stalked toward me. Smiling, he took my hips as he continued speaking to Carrie Anne. “Why don’t you get your toolbox while I speak to this lovely lady. I’ll make sure you have ice for snow cones within the hour.”
I returned his playful grin, though I was sure my smile was more skeptical. He started to pull me close, but then held me at arm’s length. “Special Agent Fairfax,” he said warily and looked down. “You were in a sundress an hour ago.”
“I’ve been called in.”
His cheeks fell slightly. “I suppose I can save you a nitrate-sicle,” he said, making fun of the hot dogs traditionally served on July fourth.
“I have no idea how long I’ll be. I’m fairly certain the SAC wants to bring me in simply to ruin my holiday weekend plans.” But I secretly hoped I was getting assigned to an actual case.
He moved in closer, not stopping when Marti cleared her throat behind him. When his hand slid to the small of my back and pressed my body closer, I leaned my forehead against his and smiled. “There are children around,” I said.
He kissed me quickly on the lips, then let me go. “Don’t be long. Or I will come looking for you.”
Behind Declan, Carrie Anne set down her toolbox, then sighed. She lifted the metal spoon.
I kissed him again, then backed away. “You’d better help her before she destroys that poor machine.” I threw Declan a low wave, then turned to find my car.
As I was walking away, several motorcycles drove past. Most riders wore black leather vests and red bandanas around their heads or arms. One of the men—a young twenty-something with arms covered in tattoos—saluted me as he passed. I turned and walked backwards while I studied the silver wings that covered the backs of their vests, blood dripping from the left wings—and once more I reminded myself that I didn’t believe in coincidences.
More than two dozen people stood outside the main entrance of the emergency room, smoking and talking on cell phones, and inside, the chairs were full and every registration desk was occupied.
I spotted Special Agent Marshall by the information desk, and she waved me over. After taking in a deep breath, I crossed the room. I had met this woman only once in person since being assigned to work under her.
Dressed in navy slacks, a crisp white blouse, and a navy blazer, she looked every bit the federal agent. She led me over to the only corner in the reception area that wasn’t occupied. “Special Agent Fairfax, you’ve been studying OMGs in the Lexington and Louisville areas. Is that correct?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ve created intelligence files on all OMG activity I could find in the region.” Which she would have known, had she read any of the material I had sent her.
“The Lexington Police Narcotics Enforcement Unit, along with two homicide detectives, are working a case this morning that could be OMG-related. They wish to call on you for intelligence analysis if it leads down the road we all think it will.”
“What road might that be, ma’am?” I asked.
“One that points to OMGs being responsible for a rather large increase in heroin overdoses the past two nights.”
“You think an OMG in Lexington is dealing heroin?” My research and experience told me that the OMGs in this area were involved with buying and selling guns, not drugs.
“You see that man over there with the bandana, Agent?” She nodded over my right shoulder.
I turned slowly and eyed a white man with a brown beard and a bandanna covering his head. He was sitting with a pair of sketchy-looking men, and all of them were wearing leather vests with some sort of patchwork on the left breast. Motorcycle club “cuts,” these vests were called, the term arising from the fact that they usually weren’t actual vests, but rather jackets with the sleeves cut off. Some gangs wore denim cuts on top of leather jackets; these guys wore leather cuts over white or black tees—the same look I’d seen in Midland thirty minutes ago. “Yes.”
“Gray Packstone,” I interrupted. “Vice President of Samael’s Army and son of club President Garrard Packstone.” I turned back to Marshall.
“Impressive, Agent.” She crossed her arms, eyeing me curiously, as if surprised that I was capable of being impressive. “Find out why Gray is here,” she continued. “Who is he with? Who are they waiting on?”
“Okay. Is that it?”
“For now.” Her arms stretched out to the sides. She was dismissing me the way a teacher dismisses a kindergartner—like she’d given me all I could handle.
Instead of turning, I stared back at her, suppressing the smartass grin I wanted to throw at this ridiculous woman. I wanted to ask: You came all the way to Lexington, and had me come all the way to the hospital, just to order me to gather information on Gray Packstone? If she wanted to find out why he was here, why didn’t she just go ask him herself, or throw her badge around and ask hospital personnel? Why did she need me for that? She was here, after all.
While I was at it, I also wanted to say: You suck at your job. You’re inefficient, and power goes to your head. But I didn’t get the chance to say anything, because just then two women busted through the main entrance behind me. One, dressed in a tight red satin dress, was holding the other woman up. The second woman, in a denim mini-skirt and a stained, off-the-shoulder white shirt, could barely stand. Streaks of black mascara ran down her cheeks. The woman in the red dress appeared to be in shock, or—I noted her dilated eyes—more likely high.
It all happened quickly. The woman in the mini-skirt fell to the floor, convulsing. I rushed over, thinking I could help until someone from the hospital could take over. I fell to my knees beside her, held her arms to her sides, and called over my shoulder, “We need help!”
The woman stopped seizing, but she had also stopped breathing. A stream of yellow liquid leaked out one side of her mouth, and her face was already turning blue.
I yelled at the friend, “What did she take?” as I prepared to start CPR.
The friend began backing away, shaking her head, then turned and fled. A couple of nurses, one male and one female, appeared with a gurney. Both wore gloves and masks.
“Don’t touch her,” barked the female nurse. “Back away!”
I did as she ordered. The male nurse knelt beside the woman and stuck a needle in her arm—probably injecting her with naloxone to counter the effects of opioids, I guessed. Then he took the fragile woman by the shoulders, and the female nurse got the girl’s feet, and together they lifted her up onto the gurney. The female nurse immediately began performing CPR while the male nurse wheeled them through the double doors and disappeared.
When they were gone, I turned in a circle and was surprised to find that both Special Agent Marshall and outlaw biker Gray Packstone were gone.
By the information desk were a couple of women dressed in pantsuits—hospital administrators, if I had to guess—who appeared to be gossiping. I approached them and flashed my badge. “Special Agent Brooke Fairfax with the FBI. Can I ask you a couple of questions?”
They traded uncomfortable looks.
“I guess,” the older of the two said, in a deep eastern Kentucky accent.
“The lady that just came in,” I began. “Clearly overdosing on something. You’ve seen a lot like her this weekend?”
They both nodded. I stayed quiet, hoping they would elaborate.
The older woman with the thick accent didn’t disappoint. “Well, I overheard a few of the ER doctors talking. Said there’s clearly been a bad batch of heroin released on the streets this weekend. But the nurses…” She paused.
“What are the nurses saying?” I asked.
“Well, they’re saying this was something more than heroin. That it had to be laced with fentanyl or something.”
“They say anything else interesting?”
The younger woman shifted. “I don’t know if this is interesting or not,” she said, “but I work in registration, and all the talk in there is about the fact that many of the overdoses were from the homeless community downtown, and most, maybe all, of the female patients were prostitutes.”
It was late afternoon when I made it back to the Julep Hill Inn and Café. Midland police had closed down Main Street and the side street where the B&B was located, so I had to park a couple of blocks away and walk to the cozy cottage behind Julep Hill that I rented from Carrie Anne.
Although the parade was long over, the celebration was still in full swing. People had come from all around the state for the Midland parade and street fair, and they intended to enjoy it. July fourth was on a Tuesday this year, which for most people meant a four-day weekend of non-stop grilling, drinking, and fireworks. And it’s only Saturday, I thought.
I kept my head down as I slipped through the crowd and across the back yard that separated the inn from my temporary residence. I was tired and hot, and Special Agent Erica Marshall had ruined any enthusiasm I might have had for the holiday festivities. All I wanted to do was take a cool shower and slip into a pair of silk pajama shorts and a clean tee.
I dropped my gun and holster on a table outside the bathroom, removed the blouse and T-shirt that stuck to me like plastic wrap, and peeled my jeans and panties from my body. When the cool water hit my face and streamed down my arms, chest, and legs, I let out a sigh of relief. After lathering up and then rinsing my hair, I ran conditioner through my long strands, leaving it there as I soaped up the rest of my body with a soothing loofah. That was when I heard a strange sound from inside the cottage.
I straightened, listening for the sound again. Not taking any chances, I looked around for a weapon. I lifted the back scrubber off the shower head and slipped slowly and silently out of the shower, leaving the water running.
When I heard a soft thud in the hallway, I jumped around the corner with the back scrubber raised, ready to strike—and I screamed.
Just before the back scrubber made contact with the intruder’s head, a hand shot up, stopping my forward motion. The intruder twisted my right arm behind my back, trapped my other arm against my body, and pressed my back to his chest. I was pinned, naked and vulnerable.
“I’m afraid you might need to practice your self-defense tactics, Special Agent.” Hot air feathered against my ear and cheek.
My heart thudded against my chest from the initial adrenaline rush of having someone inside my cottage uninvited. I was dripping in water, conditioner, and soap, and my arm ached, thanks to a two-month-old injury put there by Romeo, a confidential human source—and my own personal stalker—when I was working the governor’s bioterrorism case.
I ordered myself to relax. I let my left hand wander backwards to the intruder’s thigh, and rubbed. I felt his body relax slightly as his left hand roamed upward, to my collarbone and then my cheek. He turned my head toward his.
That’s when I pounced. I whipped around and swept his legs from under him. I had him pinned against the hallway rug in under a second, my elbow to his throat.
Declan’s blue eyes darkened like a pending thunderstorm, though his expression looked slightly amused. As soon as I removed my elbow, his hand went to the back of my neck and brought my face and lips to his.
My lips parted, letting his tongue run against my bottom lip and explore. His hands proceeded to explore as well—until a knock at the door interrupted our moment of passion.
I lifted my head to peer down the hallway, directly at the front door. I could see the outline of a person on the other side of the café curtain.
“Declan?” Marti called. “Did you find Brooke?”
I looked down at Declan, then buried my forehead into his neck. Declan placed a hand over my ear nearest to his mouth before he called out in his sexy Irish accent, “Ya! We’ll be right out.” He kissed the side of my head and laughed. “You’re covered in soap, Agent.”
“That’s what you get for sneaking up on me.”
“Glad that’s all I got. You could have done real harm with that… what was it? A back scrubber?”
I giggled into his chest.
He framed my face and kissed me again, then helped me to my feet, not even apologizing when he looked down and took in my naked body.
The urge to dart out of his view was strong, but I forced myself to move slowly as I headed back to my shower.
“What I would give to join you in that shower,” Declan said from the other side of the curtain. “But I promised Marti and Carrie Anne that I would drag you back out to enjoy the festivities if I found you in here hiding.”
“I wasn’t hiding.” I ran my fingers through my hair, squeezing the conditioner from it.
“Oh yeah? You weren’t planning to put your pajamas on and hide out in your bedroom with a glass of wine?”
I finished rinsing and turned off the water. Before I could reach for my towel, Declan opened the curtain and wrapped the towel around me.
“What happened in Lexington?” he asked.
After securing the towel around my body, I reached for a second towel and wrapped my wet hair into a twist on top of my head. “Just an unusual surge in drug overdoses last night. Police are handling it.”
Declan followed me into the bedroom. “Good. Narcotics isn’t your thing.”
I slipped into a red and white sundress, then took the towel from my hair. “True. Except the police and my SAC believe these overdoses are somehow related to a local motorcycle gang. And gangs and organized crime is my thing. Just glad it didn’t ruin my whole day.” I went to Declan, stood on my toes, and placed a kiss on his cheek. “Give me five minutes to dry my hair. I’ll meet you outside?”
“I’ll have a drink ready for you.” He kissed me on the lips one more time before turning and leaving.