“A truly remarkable tale.” – Night Owl Reviews, Reviewer’s Top Pick
For a psychopath, murder is addictive.
With every remorseful drop of blood spilled, the violent whispers in her head are silenced, but to Adelaide Banvard’s disappointment, only for a short amount of time. Used as an assassin, the schizophrenic monster inside her head grows stronger the longer Christian Wren takes advantage of her demons. Knowing this life will have her behind bars or six feet under, Adelaide wants out by any means necessary in order to save her sanity and her life.
For a federal agent, revenge is even sweeter.
ATF Agent Marcus Grant has declared war on Wren after the death of a fellow agent and forces his way into the weapon manufacturer’s entourage to seek his revenge as an undercover bodyguard. Fully aware that men like Wren never risk getting their hands dirty, Marcus sets his sights on the first woman who has captivated him in a long time, Wren’s personal bodyguard, Adelaide Banvard.
Adelaide realizes the man who can put her behind bars for life is the opportunity she needs to overcome her bloodthirsty desires, but can she convince Marcus she’s not the killer he’s after?
Taking lives was easy, like slipping into a warm bath, and just as pleasurable. With one squeeze of the trigger, Adelaide Banvard’s task would be finished and the schizophrenic monster in her head satisfied. A matter of seconds stood between her and pure ecstasy, but only at the cost of yet another life. She held the 9mm level with Scott’s chest, the weapon rising and falling with his every shaking breath. She struggled to keep the gun raised, her hand sweating against the steel.
Scott had been good, careful, to hide his true identity, but even the best made mistakes. Tense, and looking for an exit, he wouldn’t be able to escape this time. Adelaide swallowed the lump in her throat. She’d been sent to finish the job Christian wouldn’t, to do his dirty work. She’d left him alive for only one reason: she wanted to let him go.
Pathetic, the voice in her head whispered. He’s nothing but a traitor to you. Her monster appeared out of thin air before her, like a night terror while wide-awake. Others saw nothing, but she stared at an all-too-real twin of her true self, only wilder, crazed and eager for blood. With electric blue eyes, the hallucination circled around her, but it kept its cold stare on the prey, waiting for Adelaide to succumb to the inevitable. He will use what he knows against you. You want to pull that trigger.
Unable to get around her muteness, she shook her head, trying to dispel the delusion. It didn’t work. Never did. Her insides tingled with adrenaline. She hated the familiar sensation. The urge to pull the trigger weighed her down. The silence she desperately craved stood in front of her for the first time in weeks. Satisfaction from his death tainted every thought, but the contaminated undertone of her monster nearly drove her mad. Adelaide blinked rapidly, pushing the barrel harder against Scott’s chest. She didn’t want to do this but had no other choice. Her finger tightened against the trigger, but a single word from behind stopped her from getting the peace she desired.
Her monster evaporated just as quickly as it had appeared, but relief didn’t come. She didn’t have to turn around to know who’d spoken and she gripped the ledger she’d taken off of Scott. She knew the voice better than anything else in the world, its tone making her blood pump faster. She listened as Christian Wren walked closer, his footsteps echoing inside the underground parking garage of Wren Industries. Out of the corner of her eye she noted his shoulder-length brown hair pulled back into a ponytail, accentuating every detail of his disappointed expression.
Scott’s shoulders sagged in defeat.
Adelaide had already removed his weapon from his belt and Christian’s ledger from his jacket. Scott wasn’t a threat. She didn’t need to end another life, but she couldn’t explain her hesitation to the man standing beside her. Betrayal warranted death in his opinion.
Scott’s gaze shifted from Christian to the gun aimed at his heart, then to her. “Please,” he whispered. “You don’t want to do this.”
She wanted to tell him she didn’t have a choice, that no other way to silence the voice in her head had been found.
Look at him trying to plead for his life. Her illusion had returned, resting its chin against her shoulder as it steadied Adelaide’s arms with its own. Why would you ever want to give this up? The monster inhaled slowly, seeming to take in the scent of Scott’s fear.
“I never wanted things to get this far,” Christian said, sinking his hands into his pockets. “Who else knows about the ledger?”
Adelaide watched the transformation from pleading victim into hardened cop slide over Scott’s face as she handed the ledger over to Christian. Her breath stuck in her throat at the sight and she understood then Scott would make her kill him.
“You won’t be able to keep this up, Wren. Killing me will only make it worse.”
The corner of Christian’s mouth twitched, almost as if he wanted to smile. Her boss seemed to think Scott’s words over carefully, but not nearly as long as Adelaide wished he would. This wasn’t just his life he’d ruin.
“You didn’t answer my question.” He flipped through the leather-bound book’s pages, waiting for the cop to answer—the cop who’d dared insert himself into their lives, to become a brother in Adelaide’s eyes, only to betray them. “Who else is involved in this little charade of yours?”
“Go to hell.”
“Adelaide,” Christian said.
The cue echoed in her mind.
The lump in her throat returned, the grip on her gun slipping from the sweat building in the palm of her hand. She couldn’t form a single thought. Adelaide tried to squeeze the trigger, but her mind and her body felt disconnected from each other.
“Adelaide,” he repeated. Christian’s voice held a hint of impatience, warning her. This wasn’t the first time she’d had this problem.
He stepped closer to her.
This is what you wanted, isn’t it? Her eyes followed her monster as its arms wrapped around Christian. The hallucination seemed more real to Adelaide than most of the people around her. To be rid of me, to be alone. This is your chance.
They waited for her to make a choice. Adelaide had been a fool to believe Christian would help her after all these years. He’d helped her seek revenge, but had reneged on his promise to let her go. He’d become a coward, using her at every opportunity to keep his hands clean. Her index finger tightened against the trigger gradually. She didn’t owe him anything, but the possibility of finding a cure shook her conviction.
With every intention of dropping her weapon, Adelaide pulled the trigger.
Her vision blurred. The adrenaline rush left her body faster than she thought possible, taking the remnants of her monster with it. She tried to breathe evenly, to see clearly, but nothing worked. As if a tub had been drained of water, she felt another piece of her soul slip away.
Scott sank to the ground, still alive, struggling to breathe. His stomach tightened and relaxed as he tried to speak, moving his lips inaudibly.
She waited, staring down at him as another life began to escape this world with her help. She fought to remain calm on the outside, but her index finger tightened around the trigger once again. The invisible link between her monster and the spilled blood grew stronger with every drop leaking onto the pavement, pulling Adelaide further from freedom.
The last of Scott’s breath left his body in a rush. His head relaxed against the concrete, his eyes left open to haunt Adelaide for the rest of her life.
Scott Lively, undercover ATF agent, lay dead.
“Get his phone,” Christian ordered.
Adelaide refused to move for a moment, wondering what her punishment might be if she disobeyed this time. Despite being sick of the orders, of the commands that made her a slave, she needed him. He’d been the only person able to help her and Christian made sure to remind her every day.
She riffled through the dead man’s coat pocket, finding his cell phone easily. She tried to keep her hands clear of the blood in case the monster hadn’t been fully satisfied, but she couldn’t force herself to look away. Scott’s vacant eyes stared back at her. Adelaide offered the phone to Christian and waited until he turned away to push the dead man’s eyelids closed with the pads of her fingertips.
“Looks like the ADA has been busy,” Christian announced. He handed the phone back to her, the sleeves of his suit brushing against her bare forearm. The contact made her wince.
She stared at the name on the top of the contact list and slowly realized what it meant: Christian Wren had just started a war with the State of California and she’d been caught in the middle.
* * *
Adelaide sat at the unfamiliar bar, sipping her drink and paying little attention to the soccer game displayed above her. She glanced one more time to the man she’d tracked there. Her target sat three stools down, sipping on a drink and waiting for the contact who’d never walk through the bar’s doors.
In a Versace suit, William Roberts didn’t seem to understand just how long ago Scott Lively should have come through those doors, too drunk to see two inches in front of his face. He stole glances at her from the corners of his eyes, interested in more than just staring.
She turned toward the mirror behind the bar, catching a glimpse of her reflection over a row of vodka bottles before turning away. She couldn’t look herself in the eye. Less than an hour ago, she’d been a killer, the invisible stain of Scott’s blood still on her hands and the monster still at the forefront of her mind.
You were always weak, her monster reminded her, drinking an imaginary glass of amber liquid. And you always will be.
She’d heard enough. Adelaide tried to look at herself out of spite, staring directly into her mother’s green eyes. Offset by the white-blonde color of her hair and oval features, those eyes reminded her of a time when she’d been normal. Never having spent long hours in the sun, her skin had paled. Her bottom lip developed slightly fuller than the top, giving her a permanent pout, and some days she wished she’d been as innocent as she looked, void of the monster lurking behind every thought.
You would miss me, it said softly, shifting beside her. It studied the target with a smile on its lips and twirled its frizzed hair between two fingers. He looks like he’d be fun to play with.
From her peripheral vision, Adelaide watched William rise from his stool at the end of the bar and waited for him to approach, eager to finish the job.
William’s expensive shoes scuffed the hardwood floor as he walked toward her. He stopped a stool’s width away, facing her.
“Buy me a drink,” he demanded and glanced at the expensive timepiece across his wrist.
She forced a smile, swinging her legs around to face him as she waved the bartender over. A moment later, a copper-colored bottle and two shot glasses landed on the bar in front of her, but she didn’t make a move.
“Isn’t that a little harsh for a pretty thing like you?” William asked.
She crossed her legs, giving him a view of the scars decorating her thighs.
He took another look at her from toes to head. “What’s your name?”
Adelaide made a point to look at the wedding ring on his left hand in response.
A crooked smile spread across his features as he followed her gaze. “Do you like married men?” William looked back up to see the smile on her face, waiting for an answer. After a few moments, he guessed the game. “You don’t talk much, do you?”
She grabbed the shot glasses, tipped the bottle and filled them, then slugged one back with ease. The whiskey burned as it ran down Adelaide’s throat, but she enjoyed the feeling. She’d have to stop drinking soon. Christian would have something to say if her blood-alcohol level rose higher than the limit.
William grabbed the other glass from the bar and took a sip, spitting it back into the glass. “I hate whiskey.” He gestured to himself. “Are we going to play games all night or do you want to take this show on the road?”
She played with the idea of turning him down for a reaction. William wasn’t the type of man to take rejection lightly, but Adelaide nodded in confirmation. She would play games with him all night if she had to, and he wouldn’t enjoy a single moment.
He leaned forward as if to give her a kiss and whispered into her ear, “I promise not to bite.”
Adelaide sat back on her stool, giving herself room before she did something she’d regret, and poured another shot. She remembered a time when hunting had been her specialty, a sick and twisted type of conditioning, and even though those years were behind her, cravings still got the best of her.
This is going to be fun. Her monster brushed the furthest reaches of her mind with its laugh, reveling in the game. It appeared beside William, running its tongue along his ear. He’d never know what kind of demon hungered for him less than two inches away, but, depending on how the night went, he’d find out.
“What do you say?” William prompted, bringing her attention back to him.
She drank the second shot and nodded again.
He slowly backed away and offered his hand to help her up from the stool. “Then let’s get out of here.”
She didn’t take his hand, standing on her own. As she walked to the door, William held it open for her, giving her the lead. She caught sight of the beautiful Audi parked across the street, knowing the car belonged to William. She wondered where the extra cash came from, how he’d been able to pay for such a luxury, but didn’t have time to get the information out of him nicely. She passed the car in favor of the red bullet bike parked behind it. Her red bullet bike.
“This is yours?” William’s expression showed envy and disbelief at the same time. “You own a Ducati?”
Adelaide loved the adrenaline, loved the feeling as wind tangled her hair and calmed her nerves, briefly silencing the monster in her head.
“I never would’ve guessed.”
She waited for him to mount, but he grabbed her by the waist, pulling her into his chest. Fury bubbled beneath her skin. She allowed no one to touch her.
“Tell me your name.”
Adelaide pushed against his hold, ignoring her instinct to kill the man where he stood. She forced herself to remain calm and shot her monster a wary glance, silently reminding it William had gotten drunk while waiting for a dead man and didn’t possess the judgment to save his own life. She threw a leg over the bike and shook her head instead. There weren’t going to be any names tonight. Giving him an expectant expression, she waited for him to join the party.
“All right.” William swung his leg over the bike. “Don’t go through any puddles. This is a twenty-thousand-dollar suit.”
They raced through the crowded streets of Los Angeles, under the tall buildings of downtown. The dry, oven-like air lodged in her throat, but as they parked in the garage under the five-star hotel, it cooled significantly.
Adelaide dismounted and glanced back to her passenger, almost cracking a smile as she realized William looked ill from the ride.
Gripping his stomach, he followed her lead, pushing himself from the bike. “You know, I’ve never met a woman like you. Maybe this can become something permanent.”
The suggestion turned her stomach. She slowly walked toward the elevator, listening to the click of her thigh-high boots on the concrete and his footsteps confidently behind her.
They entered the elevator together and Adelaide watched as the doors closed slowly, counting the seconds it took for them to meet in the middle.
Without warning, William pushed her up against the wall. His breathing sounded shallow, growing faster as he leaned in to kiss her.
A hiss rushed past her monster’s mouth and Adelaide forced herself to remain calm. Words she hadn’t spoken in nineteen years threatened to escape. Muscles tensing, she turned her head at the last moment before his lips impacted hers and pushed him away gently, resisting her instincts. She didn’t know when her monster would want more. It would be best for William, and her assignment, for him to keep his distance.
“Are you scared?” He leaned in further, wrapping a hand around her back.
Just a little bite, her monster begged, signaling only the beginning of a very long night. The hallucination crept closer to its prey, running its nose along his neck. Its eyes met Adelaide’s. Please?
Adelaide pushed hard against William’s chest and he stumbled back into the corner, giving her some pleasure. She walked forward with the full intention of giving him a sneak preview of the monster underneath the calm exterior, leveraging her hands against the wall on each side of his head.
“Who are you?” he asked, his mouth open in shock.
Adelaide delighted in the fact. Nobody had ever met a woman like her.
The elevator doors slid open and she turned toward the hallway before she could teach her companion a lesson.
A couple, no older than thirty, watched them in surprise. From the style of their clothes they looked to be tourists. Loaded with cameras and sunblock, she imagined these people had never stepped foot in Los Angeles before today.
She imagined what they saw: a blonde in thigh-high boots, denim shorts, a button-down black blouse, scars covering every exposed inch of skin, who’d cornered a middle-aged man in an expensive suit.
The couple smiled nervously, inching their way back from the elevator.
Adelaide gave them her best smile, the one she reserved for cover, and tugged William out onto the floor by his collar. A few feet to the right, she stopped beside the door marked 510 and pulled the hotel key card from her shorts pocket. Sliding the card into the door, she watched the little light turn green.
As the most luxurious the hotel had to offer, the room gave her exactly what she needed in order to reel the ADA in. Rose petals blanketed the floor, a round bed beckoning from the corner as champagne chilled on the dining table. Lined with golds, creams and reds, the decor presented her with the perfect intimate setting.
“This is a little romantic for just one person.” William closed the door behind him and walked toward the alcohol, helping himself. “Expecting company?”
Drink up, Adelaide thought, smiling to herself. You’re paying for it. Through a quick background check neither she nor Christian could discover where William Roberts got his extra income, the cash deposits in his account untraceable. She fully intended to find out whom he worked for, other than the state, and why they wanted the ledger so badly.
Glancing to the other side of the room, she motioned to the bathroom.
William understood the gesture. “Just don’t keep me waiting too long. I’m supposed to be meeting someone.”
Adelaide turned and strode to the bathroom, closing the door behind her. She glanced at the black duffle bag waiting for her on the floor, a gift from Christian. Sitting down on the toilet, she remembered the old days when he’d leave her little presents in between fights in the ring, the fights that left her permanently scarred.
She made herself focus on the task at hand. She yanked her hand away from the ridged scar across her neck she’d unconsciously fingered and pulled the bag closer. She unzipped it. The 9mm that wouldn’t fit in her shorts beckoned for her grip.
But I wanted to use the knife, her monster whined. You never let me have any fun.
An unexpected vibrating noise made Adelaide jump. Reaching past the gun and skimpy lace inside the bag, she removed the phone Christian made her carry. Without a second thought, she answered, bringing the phone to her ear.
“We’re missing a shipment,” he greeted her. “I’ll be there in two minutes.” The line went dead and Adelaide moved quickly, replacing the phone. She fingered the lace before removing the gun from her bag, then made sure it would fire.