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Former hit man Taigen Banvard is desperately tracking the most dangerous prey he’s ever faced: his sister. Fighting demons from his past and lethal threats at every step, he follows the trail to Torrhent Lynd, an escaped convict and the stepdaughter of the man set on using his sister as a personal assassin. With time running out and his sister’s body count rising, can Taigen trust Torrhent long enough to put an end to his nightmares?
Framed and convicted for a murder she didn’t commit, Torrhent Lynd has broken out of prison and is dead-set on getting revenge on her stepfather, the man who set her up. Running from the law and driven to mete out justice of her own, she can’t afford to trust anyone, including Taigen, the fierce and attractive man who might be the only chance she has to get out of this alive.
With the FBI on their trail, a serial killer on the loose, and hired guns looking to silence them both, the two are forced into an uneasy alliance. As they race to settle their scores and fight to stay alive, each drop of blood they shed brings them closer to their targets, and dangerously closer to each other.
Her escape from Bedford Hills had already made headlines.
Torrhent Lynd eyed the convenience store cashier as she shuffled toward the bathroom, keeping her face averted in case his eyes moved from her mug shot on the television. She darted into the dark room with her supplies. With only one stall, a sink and a garbage can, the bathroom offered what she needed but took any remaining dignity she had left.
The voice of a female agent filtered through the thin door from the television.
Dangerous . . . armed . . . FBI.
The door buckled under the weight of being pushed in. “Hey!” A series of thuds assaulted her ears. “We’re closing!”
There hadn’t been anyone but the cashier in the store when she’d come in.
Torrhent leveraged her boot against the bottom of the door, ignoring him. She couldn’t be recognized. She couldn’t go back to Bedford. Not after she’d come this far.
“Hey!” Another round of banging.
“I’ll be out in a minute!”
A scoff leaked through from the other side. “I’m closing in five minutes. You have two.”
The grease stains on her shirt had smeared into a black mess, leaving smudged spots on her arms and hands. She unbuttoned the flannel as delicately as she could, her fingers trembling with the thought of what the truck driver could have done to her if she hadn’t carried a knife. Then again, he’d taken everything that mattered.
Torrhent bent over the sink to wash her face. Her gray eyes were rimmed with countless nights of unease, her hair matted with sweat, heat and dirt. Two days of hitchhiking, sleeping under overpasses, and bathing in convenience store bathrooms had led her to Vegas, but not without cost. Her mind flashed back to what had happened in the truck.
“Someone was definitely watching over you back there.” She confronted her reflection. “Now what are you going to do?”
She took her time washing off the rest of the driver’s touch. The asshole had torn her favorite shirt and taken all her money as payment for giving her a ride. She had nothing but the clothes on her back, the blade in her boot and an empty backpack. She set the backpack on the floor and pulled the knife from her boot. Grabbing a fistful of hair, Torrhent swiped the blade through her frizzed red locks. Then she ran the faucet over her hair and applied the dye she’d stolen off the store’s shelf. When she’d finished, bits of her blistered skin peeked through her now shoulder-length dark hair.
Another round of knocks made her jump. “Hello in there! I don’t have all night.”
She opened the door, finding a teen covered in acne from forehead to chin staring back at her. The cashier.
Without a word, she put on the sunglasses she’d stolen from the corner of the store and pushed past him. Fat drops of water tinted with black hair dye slid down her neck and arms. She brushed it away without another thought. Torrhent swept her pack over her shoulders, cringing from the pain of her sunburned skin. The past two days had been hell.
She caught a customer eyeing her from across the store, his baseball cap hiding most of his features. She kept her head down. Déjà vu pounded against her mind as she studied him. It couldn’t be the same man she’d noticed back in Phoenix. His clothes were different and she could have sworn his mole had been on the opposite side of his face. But something familiar called out to her.
In the background, the pretty agent on the black-and-white television regaled reporters with details of Torrhent’s escape.
She clenched her teeth at the FBI agent’s slanderous statements. Grabbing a couple bags of chips, some water and sunscreen, she forced the supplies into her pack. With no money, if she wanted to eat she had to steal. It was simple. It was easy. She kept her eyes on the floor as she made her way toward the exit. Another two hundred miles stretched ahead of her and she had to get moving.
Behind her, the television showed a smiling picture of her stepfather. She’d gotten life without parole because the bastard had framed her for a murder he committed, and he’d pay dearly for it. The taste of sweet revenge coated her tongue as she stepped out into the hot Nevada desert.
* * *
“I’m sorry, sir. Nobody here has been admitted under that name or fits the description you’ve given.”
“Thank you.” Taigen Banvard ended the long-distance call, releasing the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. Every day brought the same disappointment, but he wouldn’t give up. The blood in his ledger soaked through every page of his life and it seemed nothing could clear the sins from his past except saving the lives his sister destroyed. Hospitals, morgues, shelters. Every lead turned into a dead end. Adelaide Banvard had disappeared, leaving a trail of bodies in her wake, and the skills he’d survived with for so long failed him at every turn.
Taking a deep breath, he plunged back into the club.
The room was dim, lit only by the strobe and spotlights hanging above him. Taigen’s eyes had adjusted hours ago, just as they did every night he wasted away in the hole-in-the-wall.
As he sat back down at his corner booth, a waitress brought him another beer without being asked. The staff had gotten to know him over the past two years and usually brought him anything he wanted, including the woman sashaying toward him slowly. One of his favorites.
Her short black hair spiked in every direction, her white elfish features were pronounced. From Taigen’s guess, she was in her mid-twenties, stood at five-feet-nothing, weighed a buck ten tops. Pretty, but her body had seen better days. Scars decorated her arms and legs, some of them mounds of scar tissue from burns or piercings.
Staring at them now, especially after his recent call to New York, the pale lines reminded him of Adelaide. Aside from the black hair, the two could have been sisters.
She swayed her barely clothed hips. The spotlights danced over her skin. The thigh-high boots she wore fought to stay around her legs, too baggy for her anorexic thighs. She stopped in front of his booth, eyeing him thoughtfully.
Taigen had made his decision the moment he spotted her from across the room. Nodding, he gave her the permission she sought. A wad of cash made its way into his hand and she started to move to the music blasting over the speakers. He watched her, studying her imperfections more than the rhythm of her body, something he found himself doing more and more lately.
Something in the back of his mind pulled his attention elsewhere as she danced for him. The permanent marks mutilating her light skin threatened to bring back memories he didn’t want to deal with. Having spent half his life looking for a serial killer brought back all kinds of stuff like that.
“Hello there?” a voice said.
Taigen looked up, surprised to see the dancer had already finished her routine.
“I ain’t dancing for free.” She held her hand out in anticipation.
He shook his head, clearing thoughts of the past, and thumbed through the stack of ones in his hand. He counted out twenty, flinging them toward her without care as he stood.
She fumbled for the bills, grabbing any she could get her hands on, and glared back at him. The dancer’s green eyes threatened to summon the guilt he thought he’d buried, and traces of it seeped into his chest as he forced himself away from her.
Those eyes brought back too many memories.
Taigen rubbed at the pain in his chest and tried to convince himself it was only the fragmented bullet lodged there that had him short of breath. Moving toward the door as fast as he could, he registered that most of the dancers watched him go. It’s your money they want, he told himself. Nothing more.
“You’re not leaving already, are you, John?”
John Harrington, only one of the aliases he’d used in the past two years.
Taigen stopped halfway to the exit and smiled. He knew that voice and it sure as hell wouldn’t bring back any memories he wanted to forget. Turning, he gave another of his favorites his full attention. “Yeah, got an early day.” He gave her a small smile, too exhausted to make more of an effort. It was the funeral bringing him down, or so he told himself.
She stepped closer to him, her delicious mocha skin glittering with beads of sweat from her performance. The scarlet outfit she wore tonight left very little to the imagination and matched her fingernail polish and lipstick.
He shivered in pleasure, letting his mind get away from him as his pants grew too tight. “But I could use some company until then.” Taigen let her step closer, driving his body against hers.
“I have an idea.” She pushed her cornrows back behind her shoulders as she looked up at him with the deepest brown eyes he’d ever seen. Her fingers walked themselves up his chest, tickling the skin beneath his button-down shirt.
“Yeah?” A thin English accent tinted his words, something he’d inherited from the bastard who’d started this all.
“Why don’t I take the rest of the night off?” she asked, stepping in closer to whisper next to his ear. “That way, you’ll have me the rest of the night, and I’ll be sure to wake you for your early morning.” She showed off the tight muscles in her stomach and legs by taking a step back. There really wasn’t any need. She’d already closed the sale.
“Deal.” He turned without another word and walked toward the exit. She could find her own way. Taigen pushed through a crowd of sweaty bodies to get outside.
The warm night air caressed his skin and he breathed it in deep. The bullet in his chest stung, but the memories of his former life were buried deep. It would take more than pain to make him crack.
“Ready?” the girl asked from behind.
“Yeah.” He exhaled in relief. The world in front of him wasn’t the one he’d left behind, but one he hated just the same. Taigen let her walk in front of him for the three blocks back to his apartment. His eyes followed her backside up the first few steps before his body did, but all too soon they were at his front door and then inside.
Taigen threw his keys onto the table and stripped out of his leather jacket. “Make yourself at home.” He shuffled toward the fridge after flipping the lights on.
The apartment was small, just a one-bedroom and one-bathroom place, but it served its purpose. They’d walked directly into the living room, where his secondhand furniture took residence: a couch, recliner and small coffee table on one side and the kitchen with a bar on the other. There were no decorations, no personal photos of family or friends in sight.
Taigen fished out two beers from the fridge and turned to face his guest.
The outfit his woman of the night had been sporting at the club was gone, replaced by a pair of shorts and a tank top. Her chin tilted upward as he walked across the old wood flooring, and she took the beer from him. “You rearranged the furniture.”
“Needed a change.” He took a seat in the recliner, keeping an eye on her as she set her bottle down on the coffee table.
She smiled at him, but it didn’t reach her eyes. Then again, none of his preferred company really wanted to be with him. They needed money and would do exactly what he wanted to get it. She slowly came to stand in front of the recliner and leaned down to place her hands on each arm of his chair. “Forget the beer.”
Taigen let her lean closer to set her lips against his. The beer in his hand slipped to the floor. The thud against the old hardwood rang loud in his ears, but it didn’t matter. She was just a distraction and, at the moment, she did a damn fine job of it. Shoving his body out of the chair, he led them toward the bedroom, anticipating all the ways in which she would keep his mind off his sister and the funeral he’d been looking forward to.
* * *
Out of breath and trembling, Torrhent bolted upright.
Her heart beat like a hammer, the rhythm running faster than any train. She was sure if anyone had been near, they’d hear it pulsing through her body. The short reprieve into sleep wouldn’t keep her on her feet for long, but she didn’t have any other choice. Deadlines had to be met and she’d already been waiting over a year for her freedom.
She ran her hands over her face and neck, satisfied she was awake and breathing. She stared at the bottom of an overpass, the one she’d become accustomed to for the past two nights. Flat on her back, she tried to regain her composure. “Just a dream,” she whispered, but knew better than that.
It had been her reality for the past year.
Torrhent rubbed the sleep from her eyes. The sound of passing cars overhead cleared her head and she searched the streets to make sure she was, in fact, as alone as she felt.
Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The same cars lined the streets from the night before and the feeling of outside surveillance had slithered away. Safe for the time being.
Droplets, like rain, patted against her shoulders, but the skies were clear. She looked up to find the source. Spots of grease and water from the overpass above stained her clothing. The liquid seeped through the cracks slowly and onto her shirt. Another set of clothes ruined.
Time to move. She had two hours until the meeting with her contact and he wouldn’t wait for her. Document forgers never did.
The summer heat made her miserable, beating against her skin as she emerged from under the overpass. With no wind to cool her, she stripped down to her tank top to avoid heat stroke. The sunburn only made it worse. Taking the elastic band from around her wrist, Torrhent pushed loose strands of uneven hair off her face. Sweat already dripped down her collarbone as she walked down the street, which was growing more crowded by the moment.
She needed those papers so she could get off the grid and make a clean escape. Everything she’d been working for since her incarceration rested on getting five thousand dollars, and the damn truck driver had taken it all away. Pushing deeper into the heart of Los Angeles, Torrhent caught sight of her next target and felt slivers of her anxiety calm.
The man stared down at the newspaper in front of him, waiting for the bus on a sidewalk bench. He wore wire-rimmed glasses, giving him a professional look with his classy suit. He didn’t wear a ring on his left hand. Perfect.
Torrhent pulled a map from her back pocket and unfolded it, looking above her and down the street in both directions. She wasn’t a professional, but with her training and assets she’d take him for everything he was worth. “Excuse me?”
The target looked up in surprise. She’d changed her hair and covered her face with oversized glasses, but the fact that her picture was on the front page of his newspaper made her cringe.
Torrhent forced a smile. “I think I’m lost. Would you mind?” She raised her map slightly, pushing all the pleading she could muster into her smile.
And he took the bait. “What are you looking for?”
She feigned embarrassment with a small laugh. “Well, I don’t really know where I am.”
The businessman stood, towering over Torrhent by more than a foot. His wristwatch said Armani, but she guessed it was a fake. A man who wore Armani wouldn’t wait for a bus in the middle of summer. He pushed his glasses back on his nose as he looked down at the map and pointed. “Where are you trying to go?”
She kept her eyes on him and smiled when his eyes went to the opening in her shirt. Bingo. She leaned into him further, pressing her chest against his arm. “The park if you can believe it. I haven’t quite learned my way around since I got into town.”
He swallowed loudly. The target looked back to the map, shaking his head, and indicated a specific spot with his finger. “Okay. We’re here now.” His voice droned on.
She hadn’t been raised to steal, but desperate times called for desperate measures. Torrhent slowly moved her right hand from the map and to his side. Her heartbeat sped up, just as it always did when she stole. She was getting better though. Slipping her index and middle finger in between the two layers of fabric that made his pants pocket, she felt for the hard ridge of the wallet she needed. She kept her gaze on the map, occasionally looking up to meet the target’s eyes as he spoke. She’d practiced this same technique on dozens of men and an occasional woman. The men were easier, more distracted by the line of her neck than the hand in their pocket. She gave her current target reassuring smiles as he explained how to get to the park and her fingers did their work. Pulling the square leather wallet from his pocket quickly, so he wouldn’t notice, she palmed the item and hid it from view underneath the map. Right under his nose.
“So there you go,” he finished, smiling down at her.
Torrhent hadn’t heard a single word with the pounding of her heart in her ears. “Thank you so much.” She turned to leave, counting her steps as she made her retreat.
She didn’t make it more than ten feet before he called out to her.
Her heart stopped.
She turned back to face him, her chest threatening to explode. She hadn’t been caught yet, but luck never lasted forever.
Half jogging over to her, the target motioned to the map in her hand. “If you’re free later, I’d be more than happy to show you around.”
Torrhent’s heart slowly restarted. She released a breath of relief and felt the smile of victory spreading across her features. Reaching for his arm, she placed a gentle touch on his wrist. The feel of the warm metal of his cufflink warmed her heart. “Sure. I mean, if that’s okay. I don’t want to take up any of your time. You’re obviously a very important man.” She turned up the charade, increasing the pressure on his wrist as she worked to unfasten the cufflink. The metal alone would make her an extra twenty bucks.
It dropped into her hand.
“Not a problem.” He glanced down the street. “That’s my bus.” He pulled a card from his jacket pocket and offered it to her. “I’m Sam. Give me a call.” He gave her a wink and turned when the bus stopped against the curb.
Torrhent watched him board then tore the business card into tiny pieces, dropping it into a wastebasket along the street once the bus took off. She didn’t care if he’d seen. She stared at the cufflink, realizing it wouldn’t be worth more than a dollar at a pawnshop, and threw it on top of the torn business card. She’d always had poor skills when it came to figuring people out. His wallet better have a bigger payoff.
It felt heavy in her pocket, but there were too many witnesses to check it out in the street. There was only one reason a woman would have a man’s wallet and she wasn’t about to attract police attention on purpose. Not yet.
It was Sam. She was sure of it.
With a quick look over her shoulder, Torrhent confirmed her assumption. She ran. She didn’t know where she’d go, only knew she needed to get out of sight before the police showed up.
Her feet slammed into the pavement. She pushed herself harder. Faster. Pedestrians moved out of her way, but near collisions slowed her down. Torrhent’s breath caught in her lungs the longer she ran, but she couldn’t stop. Not yet. She chanced a glance behind her. Sam wasn’t there, but her relief was short-lived. She slammed into something. Hard.
Torrhent hit the pavement, the breath knocked out of her. Searing pain swelled in her chest. She struggled to inhale and her backpack only made it worse, constricting her chest. Trees lining the street swayed above her head and the pain distracted her too much to focus on much else.
“You should watch where you’re going.” A blurry shape bent over her.
Her vision cleared and she realized she hadn’t slammed into something, but someone. Torrhent couldn’t make out any features with the sun shining directly into her eyes, but she didn’t really care. Sam could have already called the cops. They already had her description. They only needed to pinpoint her location. She had to get off the street. She couldn’t be taken into custody.
She pushed herself to her feet, finding a hand waiting to help her. Her breath hitched in her throat when she looked up.
A man, well muscled with tribal tattoos running down his arm, dropped his hand as she brushed herself off. “Harrington.”
“The name’s Harrington. Figured you’d want to know.”
With barely a glance in the guy’s direction, Torrhent made sure Sam hadn’t caught up. She tried to bury the anxiety in her chest, but couldn’t keep the bite out of her bark. “Why the hell do I care?” Her feet and her instincts urged her to run. She had a job to do. She didn’t have time for pointless conversations. But her head wouldn’t stop spinning.
“Well, your hand got up close and personal with my crotch.”
Heat crawled up her face. Two of LA’s finest made their way toward her and Sam wasn’t far behind. “I’m sure you’ll dream about it later.” Torrhent turned her back on him. It was only a bad break that had prevented her from lifting his wallet too.
Rough hands pulled her back.
Harrington flipped her around, their noses inches away from each other as he held on to her arms. “Didn’t get your name.”
Tall and lean, the man wore sunglasses to hide the most important feature of any stranger. Eyes told a lot about a person and this guy wanted to keep his hidden. A passing memory brought on a full sense of déjà vu. Man. Sunglasses. His jawline reminded her of the man back in the convenience store in Vegas. And the one in Phoenix. His grip tightened on her upper arms, but Torrhent had been around dangerous men before. She could handle herself.
“Either get your hands off me”—she nodded toward the approaching police officers—“or I scream.”
He cocked his head slightly to the right, a smile on his face. He looked her up and down, pushing her heartbeat faster. “Bad dye job, dirty clothes and B.O. tell me you won’t take the chance of giving yourself away.” He shoved her away. “Get out of here before I turn you in for attempted pickpocketing.”
She took off.
Ten minutes later, she found safety. At least for the time being.
Small and dark, the mostly empty café provided a perfect place to count the cash she’d lifted from Sam. Only one other patron sat in the far corner, hiding behind a baseball cap as he looked down at his phone. Again, familiarity clawed its way into the front of her mind. I’m losing my mind.
It seemed every man she came into contact with made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. She wasn’t trained for this covert crap. In the span of ten minutes she’d convinced herself two different men had followed her. She eyed the newest one carefully. Maybe they’re working together. Torrhent dislodged the thought. He wouldn’t know where I’d run to . . . would he?
The men her stepfather employed had ways of predicting where targets would run, and he was the type of person to use any means necessary to find her.
Torrhent took a seat next to the window and searched the café for onlookers. She quickly flipped through the wallet. A few credit cards were lined up neatly in their slots, but she wouldn’t touch those. She’d learned her lesson. Removing the cash, she discarded Sam’s wallet onto the floor.
“What can I get you?” a voice said.
Torrhent’s head shot up in surprise. She slid the money beneath her leg and out of sight. “Ah,” she said then picked the first thing she saw on the menu, “I’ll have an egg-white omelet.”
“Anything else? Anything to drink?”
“Just water.” She gave the waitress a close-lipped smirk, waiting for her to take the menu. She slid the cash back out once the woman wandered off, but kept her senses open for anything out of the ordinary. It was only a couple hundred dollars, nothing compared to what the truck driver had robbed her of. She shivered at the thought of that bastard ripping at her clothing and she became all too aware of the knife in her boot. It’d saved her life. Without any real knife training, she’d only been able to swipe at him as she fell out of the semi, but she’d lived. Her life had been more important than the money at the time. Now she wondered if she’d made the right choice as she shoved the bills into her back pocket.
As if she were being watched, Torrhent let her gaze roam over the café again.
The man on the far side of the restaurant, the one in the baseball cap, stared directly at her. She still couldn’t pin him as the guy in Phoenix or Vegas, but something in her gut made her memorize each and every feature of his hidden face for future reference. His clothes. His skin color. He kept the angle of his face down, suddenly entranced with the phone in his hands. Or was it a camera? She’d never considered journalists recognizing her. She should have, considering they were the ones broadcasting her photo across the country.
Her thoughts returned to the man she’d run into in the street. She pictured his tattoos again, the design made up of swirls and points, and shivered. He’d worn sunglasses, but it didn’t prevent her from picturing his eyes as a perfect hue of blue. Torrhent catalogued the details in the back of her mind. Muscular, tall, dangerous, he matched almost everything she looked for.
Harrington. That’s the name he’d given her. She hadn’t pegged him for a Harrington.
She forced her gaze back to the table, unsure if the mystery man’s gaze actually lingered on her or if her paranoia had reached a new alarming level.
The waitress placed her omelet and a large water down on the table. “Is there anything else I can get for you today?” she asked, waiting expectantly.
Torrhent’s mind was frazzled. She barely had enough sense to respond. “N-no, thank you.”
The waitress retreated to the kitchen and Torrhent struggled to control her breathing. As if ants crawled beneath her skin, the feeling of being watched tickled her senses. She took another chance and looked across the café.
She’d convinced herself her paranoia was necessary. It’s what kept her alive so far. Unzipping her pack, she emptied the large glass of water into her bottle, gulped down the omelet and flew out of the little café as fast as she could. The freeway was less than two blocks away. She half ran toward the on-ramp. The secretive glances, the familiarity of his clothes and the way he carried himself, all of it solidified her fear.
Despite having a prison-made hard exterior, some things still set her on edge. The possibility of death, for one. But even worse, having the chance to avenge herself and her mother ripped away.
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