Tuesday, April 15, 2014

FLOAT
By Roni O'Connell
Release Date: November 12, 2013
Paperback, 258 pages
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / YA

What if your only memory is of who you aren't, not who you are?

Seventeen-year-old Rashelle Santos fights her way out of a coma to find she doesn't remember her life, except for her parents and dog. Brain damage doctors tell her, but Rashelle knows with absolute certainty that Shellie (her nickname) died at the bottom of Kaweah Lake, bequeathing her death memories to Rashelle.

Rashelle leaps into a relationship with Shellie's boyfriend, Aiden Brody, because he stirs her feelings and fills the void within her. As their relationship becomes serious, she questions whom he really loves.

When threats appear in the form of notes stuffed into her locker and calls in the night, Rashelle wonders if she can stay alive long enough to discover who wants her dead, because somewhere out there Shellie's attacker watches and waits to finish what he started.

And what the hell, she wonders, is she deranged or could dead Shellie be lingering to keep her alive?

I read this book in less than a day. The author took me on a path that I didn't need to rest on. My attention was grabbed and we were off. I loved the story-line and how detailed everything was. I could imagine myself there; sitting in the room and watching everything unfold just as it was in the pages.

I could not wait to see how it worked out, so I didn't. Wait, that is. I let myself fall completely and utterly into the story and immersed myself into Rashelle’s world and did not climb out until the very end. At that point I felt so many emotions. Disbelief, shock, surprised, shocked and then the “Ahaa” moment clicked.

O’Connell definitely keeps you guessing and second guessing yourself. She takes you on a roller coaster ride with your emotions.

I have already been suggesting this book to all of my friends and anyone else that might listen to me. My only hope is that other readers enjoy it as much as I did.


Guest Review by: Karin Baker



Roni O’Connell lives with her husband and two dogs high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. She finds inspiration in the forest, wildlife, and lakes around her home.

A former English teacher, Roni enjoys the company of young adults, their spirited opinions, great enthusiasm, and outrageous humor.

When Roni isn't writing novels, you can find her hiking in the forest or contemplating the wonders of nature.


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Monday, April 14, 2014

FLOAT
By Roni O'Connell
Release Date: November 12, 2013
Paperback, 258 pages
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / YA

What if your only memory is of who you aren't, not who you are?

Seventeen-year-old Rashelle Santos fights her way out of a coma to find she doesn't remember her life, except for her parents and dog. Brain damage doctors tell her, but Rashelle knows with absolute certainty that Shellie (her nickname) died at the bottom of Kaweah Lake, bequeathing her death memories to Rashelle.

Rashelle leaps into a relationship with Shellie's boyfriend, Aiden Brody, because he stirs her feelings and fills the void within her. As their relationship becomes serious, she questions whom he really loves.

When threats appear in the form of notes stuffed into her locker and calls in the night, Rashelle wonders if she can stay alive long enough to discover who wants her dead, because somewhere out there Shellie's attacker watches and waits to finish what he started.

And what the hell, she wonders, is she deranged or could dead Shellie be lingering to keep her alive?
FLOAT by Roni O’Connell is a book I went into reading with little expectations, as I normally don’t care for teen mystery/suspense novels. However, I was immensely surprised.

O’Connell’s characters are well developed, the plot is fresh and well fleshed out, and the book is overall very addictive.


I read the entire novel, cover to cover, in two sittings! I loved the blend of fast-paced mystery, romance, and the paranormal twists thrown in gave the book a definite edge.

I was actually tempted to cheat several times and try to see what the ending held, but I was good and made myself read each page. Don’t let yourself cheat – because you will want to! – And will end up missing out on several key plot points.

I was very impressed with Roni O’Connell and will happily agree to read any of her coming books.

Guest Review by: Victoria Lucas



Roni O’Connell lives with her husband and two dogs high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. She finds inspiration in the forest, wildlife, and lakes around her home.

A former English teacher, Roni enjoys the company of young adults, their spirited opinions, great enthusiasm, and outrageous humor.

When Roni isn't writing novels, you can find her hiking in the forest or contemplating the wonders of nature.


Goodreads | Twitter | Facebook 




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Saturday, April 12, 2014

AGAINST THE CLOCK by Charlie Moore

Release Date: March 6, 2014
Paperback, 372 pages
Genre: Mystery / Thriller / Action / Suspense
Shirin Reyes has come out of the cold with a vengeance.

Determined to kill the men responsible for her husband’s death, she finds herself torn between her all-consuming vendetta and the consequences her actions have on those she cares about. 


 Unrelenting.  Unrelenting. Unstoppable. Uncompromising.


 Shirin ruthlessly hunts down each man, working her way to the top, never realizing she has penetrated the inner sanctum of a covert operation - entangled within an explosive web of scandal, treason, murder and government corruption.











1. "Welcome to the black parade" - My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade. 


2. "Somewhere in my car" - Keith Urban – Fuse


3. "Disenchanted" - My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade.


4. "Country on the radio" - Blake Shelton - Based on a true story.


5. "This is how I disappear" - My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade.


6. "Roar" - Katy Perry – Prism


7. "Light speed" - Sound of Guns - What came from fire.


8. "I don't love you" - My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade.


9. "Settin' the world on fire" - Jake Owen - Barefoot blue jean night.


10. "Back of butterflies" - Sound of Guns - What came from fire.


11. "Gonna B Good" - Keith Urban – Fuse


12. "Hell raisin' heat of the summer" - Florida Georgia Line - Here's to the good times.


13. "She's my 11" - Keith Urban - Fuse.


14. "The sharpest lives" - My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade.


15. "The end" - My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade.


16. "My white noise" - Sound of Guns - What came from fire.


17. "Dead!"- My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade.


18. "Bullets in the bloodstream" - Sound of Guns - What came from fire.


19. "Famous last words" - My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade


20. "Alcatraz" Sound of Guns - What came from fire.


21. "Sleep" - My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade.



PROLOGUE

“THE ABSENCE OF PROOF DENIES FACT”

THE BOOK OF SEEKAY




11:38PM

Wind whistled through the lobby as the couple came in from the cold. The heavy
glass door of the hotel entrance swung closed behind them. With it came a finality
that neither of them could ever leave there without being inextricably changed by
what was about to happen.

As they walked together toward a distant bay of elevators, the opulence of the
grand atrium opened up to them. The ceilings were high and the spaces wide.
Each step echoed off the marble floor and bounced back at them as though they
were being followed by invisible doppelgangers.

"I think I've had a little too much to drink," the young lady giggled softly as her
high heels struggled for balance on the polished floor. Her swaying gait was
disguised vaguely under the shelter of the man’s large, muscular arm. A knowing
smile was his quiet reply.

Following the curve of the sweeping atrium, the transformation from the bustling,
dirty city to the chic and exclusive was quickly complete.

"So you own the whole floor?" she asked while entering the elevator. His quiet
smile again told her everything and nothing at the same time.

The lurch of the elevator cabin moving upward caused her to stumble deeper into
his arms, and with another giggle she apologized, promising it was not like her to
drink so much. Finding her footing, she looked deep into his eyes and smiled
shyly. She stepped back and propped herself against the wall as her cheeks
flushed a deep pink.

They had met several hours earlier in a modern cocktail bar which he had
recently purchased, neither of them knowing where it would lead, but each of
them hopeful. He had rescued her from the unwanted advances of a young man
with poofed-up hair, and she had introduced herself as Marisol, a primary school
teacher from Wentworth.

He had watched her intently at the bar several times before. She had always
ordered a Martini, stirred, with two olives and a twist of lime. She would have one
drink, and then she would leave. Never coming with someone, never leaving with
someone. He had noticed her, as he tended to notice most things: as being either
“worthy” or “unworthy” of his time. She was noticeably worthy!

Bill Civic wasn’t an ugly man, but he wasn’t an attractive man either, and he
knew it. He had money, lots of it, but that tended to attract people more like




himself, or worse if it were possible. He didn’t deserve the happiness love could
bring; he'd made peace with that a long time ago, but a small part of him had
kept hoping anyway. When he saw this young lady, Marisol, at the bar, he had
recognized something special in her instantly – felt something special.
Excitement. Nervousness. Anticipation.

Gazing at her now, he devoured her with his deep blue eyes. Not an inch of her
went unnoticed. Her smooth tanned skin hinted at a Thai or Filipino heritage,
while her round green eyes, angular face, and 5’7” frame revealed a European
influence as well. She was thin, not skinny, more like a gymnast; muscular yet
feminine, firm, flexible, and teasing with the potential of what her body could do.

She stood now, leaning back against the rail of the elevator wall, watching him
quizzically as his eyes roamed her body. She felt oddly exposed under his gaze,
and for reasons that puzzled her, she liked it.

Tonight she wore dark beige slacks tight enough to hide no secret, and from the
rear Bill noted that they captured the curve of her buttocks to perfection. The
tailored blouse revealed little of her physique, but with the collar open and the top
three buttons undone, a flash of upper cleavage caught his eye occasionally as
she moved. It made him want to see more. So much more!

The thought of rushing toward her now, pinning her against the wall and
consuming her with the passion that burned deep inside him came at him in
waves. At its peak the desire was almost unbearable. He resisted the urge with
such ferociousness that his hand trembled. He dared not talk or move his lips as
he fought the desire again, for fear they too would twitch uncontrollably.

Bill was a big man with an affinity for business. In his world he was legend.
People feared him. But with this girl… she made him feel weak, helpless, like a
love-struck adolescent. He hated it, but wanted it at the same time. He couldn’t
understand it but gave into it.

His body leaned toward her, his legs making the subconscious adjustments to
step forward. Moving closer, his eyes registered her chest rising and falling,
breathing in and out faster, deeper. Her small, rounded breasts heaved against
the tight blouse that constrained them. The rhythm of her bosoms' rise and fall
fell in time to the pumping of his heart and the blood thumping into his brain. His
vision blurred at the edges, her bottom lip at the core of all things.




He was in front of her now, her hands resting on his chest, drawing him in. Her
lips parted as she lifted her mouth, open, to meet with his. He felt the tickle of her
hot breath on his lips. He breathed her in.



11:41PM

The chime of the elevator gave little warning before the twin doors slid open on
the thirty-second floor. Caught on the verge of their lips embracing, Bill and
Marisol’s senses were brutalized by the explosion of light and sound as six
children in swimming trunks and towels came rushing into the lift. They were
wildly ignorant of the moment they had destroyed, and oblivious to the couple
nestled to the side of the cabin.

Marisol buried her face deep into Bill's chest. He could feel the moistness of her
heavy breaths through the fabric of his shirt. The warmth stirred something deep
inside him. He wondered if she would notice the pounding of his heart as it tried
to hammer its way through the back of his ribcage. Ignoring the loud children, he
gave into the embrace and held her firmly, close to him. In reply, her hand
intertwined with his.

The elevator doors chimed again before opening to the foyer of the thirty-eighth
floor. This was his floor. Leaving the lift behind them, Bill led Marisol down the
hallway as the sounds of the children’s shouts and laughter rose up and quickly
faded, leaving behind a peaceful silence. They didn’t speak at first, their minds
and bodies still engaged and committed to the passion and desire that had
matured between them.

At the end of the corridor stood a large solitary figure – a man, dressed in a dark
suit, his jacket noticeably too large. His facial expressions changed like a statue
trying to scowl. He was of a similar size and build to Bill, but of a very different
skill set. His sunken eyes and overhanging brow gave him a menacing glare, one
he now openly aimed at the young lady clinging to Bill’s side.

The large man stepped forward as Bill and Marisol approached. One of his
calloused hands instinctively slipped inside the folds of his oversized coat. His
movements were in no way discreet.

Bill sensed Marisol tense and pull back, disturbed. Trying to reassure her, he
introduced the man as "Carlo" a trusted member of his security team

"Security team?" she asked, confused.




Bill looked almost embarrassed to discuss it, and shrugged "It's more for my
business partners than for me." Searching for the right words, he said, "We have
a lot of meetings here." He ushered her past Carlo’s menacing glare and
continued, "They can be paranoid sometimes."

Before they could reach the door, Carlo placed his large arm across the breadth of
the entry, an unmistakable, silent narrative with which Bill was all too familiar.
Pride versus mechanism, and Bill knew too well that this man was all
mechanism. He was a machine and given contest, Bill's pride would surely lose.
Carlo did not work for him, he worked for Bill’s business associates, and so for
the duration of their partnership, he would have to endure the embarrassment of
being frisked at his own door. Bill fought the process in his mind for only a
moment. It would end the same each time.

"I'm so sorry, Marisol." Bill said softly, "it's just easier to let him do his job." He
raised his arms to allow Carlo to swipe the small, portable scanning wand over
his body.

“Oh, Bill, maybe it’s better if I go home...” she whispered, her face and body
sobering of the Martinis she’d consumed and the passion they’d shared only
moments before. “This all just seems a little too… weird for me. This…”

“Don't go.” Bill reached for her hand and caught it as she was backing away.
“Marisol, please," he paused, took a step closer, toe to toe, their eyes connecting,
"I think we both know there's something great happening here. Before you let it
go, give me a chance, and if all this is still too weird, if you want to leave, I’ll
understand and call you a cab.”




How could things change so quickly, he thought. This whole conversation felt
alien to Bill. It was like he was only a bystander, detached from any involvement,
watching from a distance. This was not him! He never “asked” for anything, he
simply took it! The thought had occurred to him. He could just take her. This
stone-faced bodyguard wouldn’t say a word; he’d even help him if he needed it.
But after he had his way with her, would she stay? That was what he wanted
after all – for her to stay.

He reached his other hand out to her, hoping she would take it.



11:45PM

"He just returned, sir," Carlo said into the phone.




"Was he alone?" the voice asked.

"No, he had a woman with him."

"Did you search them?"

"Yes, sir, they were both clean."

"Tell me more about this girl."

Carlo paused for a moment, replaying their interaction over in his mind, then
continued, "She was good looking, green eyes, seemed a little tipsy, got spooked
when I was going to search her, tried to leave, but Mr. Civic talked her into
staying. There was nothing on the scanner and nothing of note in her handbag;
keys, purse, condoms, tissues, makeup and an ID card saying she's a primary
school teacher at Wentworth Public."

"Fine."

Carlo was about to disconnect the call, when the voice came back on, "Did you
take a copy of her ID?"

"No, sir." Carlo wondered if he should have, if somehow he had failed in his
duties. "I did install a hidden camera in the lobby downstairs. I have it
transmitting to a recorder in my room. I can search through the video of her
entering with Mr. Civic and forward you the image…"

"That's great work Carlo!" The voice paused, he could hear his boss speaking with
someone else in a muffled tone, then he came back on the line, "There’s a team on
their way to you. It's probably nothing, but I'd like to be certain. Wait for them to
arrive before leaving your station, then get me that image. If anything happens in
the meantime, call me immediately."

"Yes, sir. Consider it done."



11:46PM

"Scotch okay?"

"Sure," Marisol replied from across the room. She stood at the glass sliding doors
overlooking the balcony and the city below it. The city lights sparkled at night,
and from here, from a distance, the streets below looked romantic.




From the thirty-eighth floor everything about the city looked better. Even the dirty
puddles littering footpaths and roads looked more like clean glistening mirrors
reflecting shards of hope and wonder from streetlights and projecting them
upward toward the heavens. It was in stark contrast to the reality she knew, yet
the view still mesmerized her.

Bill watched Marisol step out onto the balcony, then turned to focus on preparing
their drinks. He dropped two large ice cubes into his tumbler and watched them
dance around, clinking against each other as he poured the scotch. He could feel
the warmth of it on the back of his throat even before he took a sip. He topped up
his tumbler and fixed a glass for Marisol.

From the mini bar Bill could see her peering over the handrail. He'd done the
same thing himself many times before, looking down at all the little people,
wondering what their lives must be like. He thought of them scurrying around
trying to make ends meet, providing for their families and playing by the rules,
but rarely being of any real consequence. He thought of them with an odd
indifference, a mild curiosity, held in his mind for a moment and then discarded.
He found no fault in this, just a keen observation of society's hierarchy, and yet
he found himself wondering if Marisol would think less of him because of it.

Marisol came in and closed the sliding door, shaking off the cold as though it
were a physical veil across her shoulders. "Brrrr... it’s cold out there.” She
shivered.

"How do you like the view?" Bill asked, walking toward her.

"It's amazing. It looks completely different from up here."

Bill met her in the middle of the large living room. He offered her the glass of
scotch and raised his own to make a toast.

“To… different perspectives, and to us," he paused, "the beginning of something."
Their glasses clinked together, their eyes met, and a glimmer of their past desires
curled at his lips in the beginning of a smile.

Marisol coughed at the harshness of the scotch as it burned its way down her
throat. "It's good." she sputtered with a hoarse voice. They both laughed openly,
more nervous release than humor, and briefly, just for a moment, some of the
tension between them slipped away.




Caught between breaths, their laughter soon gave way to an awkward silence.
Their minds were trapped by indecision; thoughts, questions, words jumbled in
their heads, their bodies numb of direction. Their eyes were locked on to each
other’s, and a stillness so complete surrounded them that it seemed even the
world had stopped spinning, frozen in time, frozen in that moment.

Bill pushed himself forward, breaking free of the constraints their doubts and
fears had placed on them. His hand cupped the base of her head, and he came in
fast to kiss her. She leaned in to his touch, their lips crushing together with
desire.

The heavy scotch glasses fell at their sides, bouncing off the long-haired rug.
Their hands clawed at each other in a tight embrace. With a guttural growl Bill
lifted her off her feet and buried his face deep into the side of her neck, sucking
and biting. Marisol let go a moan and then a whimper as she pulled him in
harder. Wanting more, needing more.

Her legs wrapped around his waist, gripping their bodies tightly together, grinding
her pelvis hard against him, up and down. She could feel the hardness of him
through their pants.



11:52PM

Their bodies moved as one across the large room. Bill held her buttocks firmly in
his hands, squeezing, kneading, wanting to rip the fabric clean from her flesh.
Her groans spurred him on. He needed to be inside her now. The bedroom too far,
he chose the dining table.

Resting her on the edge, his hands desperately tried to free her of her blouse. His
big hands struggled with the tiny buttons, threatening to rip her shirt to shreds in
anticipation of what hid beneath.

Marisol pulled his face in, kissing him deeply, exploring his mouth, biting his
bottom lip. Her hands rescued him and undid the buttons of her blouse, letting
the folds of the fabric drape across her midriff. Her breasts seemed to push out
against the open shirt with each heavy breath, but still the fabric clung to her,
caught at the edges of each round bosom. They were full and aching to be
touched, the valley between them promising of something magical.

His large hands squeezed at her hips, moved firmly over her stomach, ribs, and
finally rested under the curvature of her breasts. He paused there, in preparation,




in respect, and then his hands gently slipped over the burgeoning apices of her
chest and teasingly rubbed against her hard, erect nipples. They felt like ridged,
small hard-ons under his open palms. He rubbed them, cupping them in his
hands, squeezing gently at first, and then growing firmer in intensity.

He buried his face in the valley of her chest, kissing, licking, sucking, working his
way to the center of her right breast. He took her nipple deep into his mouth,
flicking at it with his tongue. He could feel the vibration of her moaning more
than hear it.

Her hands, at the back of his head pulling him in harder, told him all he needed
to know. He moved to her left breast and captured its nipple between his teeth,
nibbling at it gently.

“Take me, Bill! Take me!” she gasped.

Without stopping he guided Marisol’s hands behind her back and deftly slid the
shirt from her shoulders. It fell in a heap at the small of her back, where he
looped the loose fabric around her hands in a makeshift binding. She gripped it
there tightly, playing along, squeezing in excitement.

With her arms behind her, her breasts were pushed out, up and forward, the
effect totally intoxicating. Bill straightened and kissed her mouth passionately.
His eyes closed for the first time.

Sliding her forward, off the edge of the table, he supported her weight until her
feet touched the ground.

Leaning against the edge of the table, her buttocks pressed against its side for
support as Bill pressed himself closer to her. Loosening his lips from hers, he
worked his way down, from mouth, to neck, to breasts, to stomach, kissing
hungrily, gnawing at her flesh, spurred on by her gasps of pleasure.

He slid to his knees, his hands working at the clasp of her belt, then the button of
her slacks. From the open space of the undone zipper, white cotton panties
flashed at him like a beacon in the night. A small logo of Mickey Mouse at the
center of them caught his eye, and somewhere in the back of his mind, the
innocence and purity of them registered as an all-devouring aphrodisiac,
screaming at him to fuck her in a million different ways!

His fingers wrapped over the edges of her loosened pants and underwear, and
pulled them down, bit by bit. They caught on the curve of her firm buttocks, but




relented quickly under the force of his excitement. Her pelvis became more and
more exposed with each slight tug of her clothing, his mouth exploring each
newly discovered part of her.

At the base of her hips, her pants rose over the mound of her pubic bone. Her
skin was soft and smooth, and perhaps a shade lighter than the rest of her
tanned body. Where pubic hair should have tuffed over the edge of her panties,
there was none. It thrilled him. He dove onto the hairless skin with abandon, his
chin pushing her panties lower and lower as his tongue probed further and
deeper below.

The heat of her excitement met with his chin as his tongue discovered the
beginning of her outer labia. Marisol moaned loudly, encouraging him to keep
going.

He couldn’t wait anymore! His hands tugged at her pants one last time, pulling
them down completely, finally exposing the fullness of her naked groin. The lips of
her vagina were full and moist, the space between them glistening with ethereal
promise.

He stopped, captured for a moment, and then charged forward with his mouth
and tongue, diving into the folds between her legs, vaguely aware of Marisol
crying out in pleasure.

The force of his advance lifted her from her feet and pushed her back across the
polished timber tabletop. Her legs lay slung against his wide shoulders and
trembled under the manipulations of his tongue.

He shaped his tongue wide and flat, moving it up and down, then round and
round, skirting the edges of her clitoris, getting teasingly closer each time until
she trembled to the core. Only then would he move back to the entrance of her,
feeling her inner muscles clenching tight against his tongue with each thrust
inside her.



12:18AM

Marisol screamed out in bliss while Bill suckled at the folds on either side of her
clitoris, bringing her to edge of orgasm, and then backing off. The pleasure built
to higher and higher peaks of ecstasy until her whole body trembled
uncontrollably and her breaths grew ragged. The sensations were incredible.




She wanted to orgasm with a force unparalleled to any other she had felt before.
To feel the power of climactic release, but at the same time she wanted it to never
end, to remain anesthetized to the outside world, forever wrapped in a cocoon of
illicit pleasures.

The sweetness of his touch seemed to reach into every part of her, traversing the
great divide between the physical connection and the emotional, and as her body
moved in rhythm with his, a tear welled at the corner of her eye, rolling secretly
down the side of her cheek.

Bill freed himself of his pants, and before she could gaze at the hardness of his
cock, it was thrust deep inside her. She gasped at the fullness of it entering her.

It felt huge and hard. She wrapped her legs around his waist, pulled him in tight,
and rose up to kiss him. Their mouths collided, open and hungry her tongue
exploring. She could taste herself on his lips and it made her want him even
more.

With each thrust inside her, she gasped loudly, she didn’t know whether to laugh
or cry, but the excitement grew to dizzying heights, and she found herself crying
out loudly as the all consuming waves of orgasm rolled through her. Like a stone
thrown into still waters the ripples reverberated through her, starting at the
center of her core and spreading out in larger concentric circles to touch every
part of her being.

Bill fought the urge to explode inside her. It was near impossible, and as he felt
the internal convulsions of her orgasm grip and squeeze at the head of his penis
he felt himself being pushed ever closer to the point of no return. He wanted to
orgasm too, but not now. There was too much of her he wanted to experience
first. Desperate not to finish, he withdrew from inside her, and collected her into
his arms.

Marisol clung to him loosely, the last ebbs of orgasm giving way to a deep and
relaxing sense of peace.

As Bill carried her to the lounge, every part of her felt new and fresh, tingling with
life. Her senses heightened. She could feel the lounge’s textured fabric against her
naked buttocks, the sound of her hair whisping across her shoulders, and the
masculine smell of Bill’s cologne. Every sensation distinct – and arousing. This
was her escape. And so she clung to it, appreciating it, understanding it for what
it was.




She sat on the edge of the lounge, Bill standing before her. His naked body was
glistening with sweat, all his muscles flexing with evidence of hours spent in the
gym. He looked like a rugged prize fighter, a gladiator. Tough, dangerous and sexy
as hell!

She saw the full extent of his throbbing penis for the first time as it stood upright
and strong, wet with her juices. She gripped its shaft firmly at the base, her hand
barely circling its generous breadth, and she brought her mouth over its engorged
head. Its size alarmed her at first, yet thrilled her at the same time. Her mouth
was barely able to take in the fullness of its head completely.

Bill threw his head back, groaning loudly, giving in to the tremors ripping through
him as Marisol brought him to the brink of orgasm. He wanted to pound his chest
and scream out like Tarzan with a primal dominance that would shake the trees
and scare the lions.

Marisol sensed his urgency, knew his every movement, anticipated his need, and
ran to her bag, deftly opened a condom and unfurling it over his cock. He lifted
her off her feet, thrust himself deep inside her, wedged her against the pillows of
the lounge, pumped rhythmically into her, and exploded into a wild orgasm.

His vision blurred, and black stars twinkled in the back of his mind as he pushed
himself deeper inside her with each thrust forward. The waves of orgasm
crumbled his defenses, opened him to a world of unfamiliar emotions. He could
feel the muscles inside her squeezing around him each time he withdrew from
her, milking him of all his worth.

He found himself laughing loudly with a deep and genuine joy. And then, slowly,
he noticed a warm and welcoming heaviness wash over him. His eyes clouded
over in a soothing white haze, and gently, peacefully, they closed. He fell limp.
Unconscious.

Marisol waited a moment. Assessed him carefully. He didn’t move. His breathing,
deep. He was out.

She freed herself from under him, stood, and looked at him indifferently as he lay
awkwardly on the lounge. The drugged condom still clung to his flaccid penis. The
topical anesthetic inside the condom quickly absorbed through his throbbing,
blood-rich dick had worked faster than she’d thought.

She estimated a 10 to 15 minute window to do what she came for, crawl back
underneath him, become Marisol again, and pretend to wake up when he did.




No one would ever know what had really happened.

Still tingling from the distraction of sex, she felt rejuvenated. Her inner demons
momentarily abated, her mind was clear and focused. She left the room.



12:53AM

She moved quickly through the lavish apartment toward the antique timber
grandfather clock in the study. She knew where it was, and the secrets hidden
within it. That was why she was here.

Standing before it she marveled at how ingenious it was of Bill to hide his secrets
there, hidden from everyone, yet in plain sight. She reached for the glass panel
protecting the clock face and opened it out. It moved stiffly on its hinges. She
made sure not to apply too much pressure for fear of damaging it. She could leave
no sign behind that it had been tampered with.

Before touching the clock hands, she looked carefully inside for laser plates,
strands of hair perched on a ledge, and any other security measure Bill may have
put in place. She could see none.

Her finger touched the large minute hand of the clock, noting that it felt much
sturdier than it looked. She turned it counterclockwise in three full circles. She
heard a faint click sound somewhere in the body of the old clock. Then she
positioned her finger on the hour hand and turned it clockwise for five full
rotations. Another click. Using two hands, she turned both hands of the clock in
the opposite direction at the same time until they met together on the number 12.
A loud clunk.

She pulled the face of the large grandfather clock toward her carefully and
watched as the whole front of the clock appeared to hover out, hinged to the wall
on one side.

Stepping behind the door-like panel, she saw a row of shelves spanning from the
floor to the top of the clock’s enclosure, recessed into the wall space. Piled onto
each shelf were bound manila folders. Each folder had a code number neatly
printed on its spine. She knew which file she needed and selected it from the pile.
Inside it she leafed through the papers, selecting several sheets which looked like
all the others, but which had special significance for her.

She carried the documents to the window directly opposite the clock, moved the
chair from behind the desk and positioned it directly in front of the large window.




She held each document up, pressing it hard against the glass at the top left-
hand corner of the window. She held each document there and paused, to be sure
the camera positioned on the other side of the window would capture a clear
image.

When she was done, she returned the documents to the file and carefully placed
the file back into the recess behind the clock. Before closing the front face of the
old clock, she took one last look inside to be sure nothing was left out of place.

She took a deep breath, donned her “Marisol” persona one more time, and
returned to the living room.



02:19AM

Carlo’s phone vibrated in his side pocket. This was beginning to become an
interesting night, he thought to himself as he brought the phone to his ear.

“I have the photo.” The voice sounded tense. It was unusual. “When the girl
leaves, do not alarm her. Search her bag and person as you did when she first
arrived, but DO NOT spook her. A tracking device is on its way to you now. Can
you slip it in her bag as you search it without her noticing?”

“Yes, sir,” Carlo replied with more confidence than he felt.

“Good. When she’s gone, the team will stay on her. I want you to have a chat with
Mr. Civic about her.”

“I understand, sir.” Carlo thought for a moment and then asked, “How friendly do
you want me to be, sir?”

“Answers are more important to me than our working relationship with Mr. Civic
from this point on.”

“Yes, sir. Understood.”












CHAPTER 1

“LOSS IS THE MOMENT YOU FIND SOMETHING WORTH KEEPING”

THE BOOK OF SEEKAY




10:08am

Trent Barratt looked away from his reflection in the shop window. What he saw
there disgusted him. The small phone in his large hand was almost crushed
between the force of his rage and the depth of his embarrassment. There was little
he could do now but to report his failure.

“We lost her, sir…” he said into the phone.

A steely silence bellowed back at him.

There was more to report, and for a moment he considered keeping it to himself
until he could somehow turn things around, but he was not a coward. He would
admit his errors in full, then he would hunt her down and make her pay for his
humiliation.

He took a deep breath and continued, “Three of my men are down, sir.”

A moment of pause let his failure hang in the air before he heard several loud
smashes on the other end of the phone. The line went dead.

He returned the cell to his pocket and started planning his next step toward
finding her. It troubled him that she had escaped his grasp, and it troubled him
more that she had killed three of his men.

Barratt was seasoned. He'd survived too long in an unforgiving business to have a
false sense of ability. He recognized that he was not the best operative in the field,
but his track record also told him he was better than most. For this woman to
have eluded him, indicated the reports on her ability and her resources were
modest at best. He vowed never to underestimate her again.

But something else bothered him. He had caught a glimpse of her as she was
crouched over one of his men. She was in her late twenties, wore black loose
fitting jeans, and a floppy shirt two sizes too large. She looked homely,
unremarkable at first glance, but he saw in her movements a woman capable of
great speed and agility.

She moved with fluidity uncommon in most people, and she had a sense about
her that screamed of an intense alertness. He understood those traits. He had
them too.

Their eyes had met. There was something familiar in them. Something wild,
hungry and unafraid. He felt challenged by them, and then, behind a flash of
blonde hair, they were gone.




Her face had been a blur, obscured by movement, yet he couldn't shake the
feeling that he knew her.

He had moved toward her, angling to get a better view, trying to get within an
accurate firing range for his pistol, when a car had driven past, obscuring his
view for a moment, and by then she was gone.



10:09AM

Director Selig swept the debris of the shattered phone off the desk, ignoring the
cuts and scrapes on his bare knuckles. Whoever this woman was, she had
managed to stay one step ahead of his team.

As if on cue, a gentle knock came on the closed door, and April, his assistant,
tentatively popped her head inside.

“Is there anything you might need, sir?”

Selig waved absently at the smashed phone strewn on the floor. “A new phone,"
he said dryly. Already lost in thought, he added, "Thank you, April.”

With a nod, she quietly slipped away and returned moments later, unpacking
equipment as she walked.

Selig barely registered his young assistant cleaning away the debris and hooking
up the new phone. When she was gone, he picked up the receiver and made a
call.

“Barratt lost her,” he said into the phone. His voice soft, monotone, barely
concealing the rage that boiled inside him, “We need to get rid of him, then we
need to get that girl.”

Measured carefully, the voice on the other end of the line spoke almost
mechanically, “Barratt is a good operative. We could still use him. It’s time we
seriously consider that this woman is in fact Shirin Reyes.”

“Impossible! She’s out! She's been out for years.” But even as he spoke the words,
Director Selig felt the seeds of doubt spouting in his mind. If this was Reyes, the
danger to his mission, and the risks for himself, were considerably worse than he
could have imagined. Selig fought to control the rage bubbling up in his voice and
took a moment to settle himself before he continued, "Find out who this girl is. If
it is Shirin Reyes, kill her. And don't be nice about it. Just make sure she's dead!"




The voice on the phone, the voice of the man known only as “Smith”, was quiet,
without emotional inflection, "I have good reason to believe this woman is Reyes.
And that she is back in play." The voice paused for effect but continued before
Selig could speak, "I had the agent guarding Bill Civic send me a screenshot from
the security footage."

"And?"

"I believe it was Reyes. The image is dark and grainy, but it was her. I'm sending
you a copy of the photo now," the voice said matter-of-factly.

Director Selig logged into his private email while the voice he knew only as
“Smith” continued. "My man has spoken with Bill Civic, and he claims it was a
girl by the name of Marisol Keplor. She had ID matching that name, sighted by
my security man. Mr. Civic is adamant that this woman was clean. He says he
had been watching her at his club for weeks. I am in the process of collecting
recordings from the club for verification. He is also adamant that nothing had
been touched or taken from his apartment. He says they had sex all night, and
that she left in the early hours of the morning. My security team has confirmed
that. Security cameras have her leaving the apartment at 0400. Her bag, and
person, were searched before entering the apartment, and again when leaving.
There was nothing of note."

The photo had arrived in his email. Smith had been correct; the image was dark
and grainy. Bill Civic was easily identifiable, whereas the girl was not. She was
huddled under his arm, her face hidden.

"I have the image," Selig said into the phone. Leaning closer to the screen he
strained to discern any identifiable features of the woman. "What makes you so
certain this woman is Reyes?"

"It's her."

Selig was not so convinced, but Smith had been a trusted, highly valued colleague
far too long to dismiss his opinion so hastily. Instead, he said, "I'm sending you
another team now. Track her, get me better pictures. We need to ID her quickly.
Keep your man on Civic. I’ll have a forensic team there within the hour to go over
his apartment. If this is Reyes, she had a reason to be there. We need to find out
what it was." He didn't wait for a reply before ending the call.

Director Selig often considered the termination of a conversation as being the
equivalent of solving the problem; he gave an instruction, his command would be




done, his mind would be free to focus on the next task. But this time, terminating
the phone call left him more unsettled than he cared to admit.

Reyes had been an unparalleled agent when she had worked for him. A pain in
the ass, crazy as hell, and the source of many headaches, but she never failed; no
matter the cost. In his world, that level of success was all that mattered.
Regardless of rules, laws or intelligence protocols, success warranted certain
freedoms. Freedoms that he had readily provided her.

But after the death of her husband, her missions grew reckless, her behavior
dangerous. And then, she vanished! He had hoped she was dead but knew better.

It bothered him deeply that if this mystery girl was in fact Shirin Reyes, it would
indicate she had been active for at least several months. But “active” on what?
What was she doing? Who could she be working for?

Rubbing at the stubble forming on his chin, Selig started making mental notes on
the phone calls he would need to make.

If she were truly back and in play, extra precautions would need to be put in
place. Selig grudgingly conceded to himself that perhaps having her husband
killed may not have been one of his best decisions.



10:24AM

Shirin Reyes stepped off the platform. Without looking back at the departing
train, she walked through the terminal gates and out into the crowded streets of
the CBD.

No one was following her, she was sure of it. But for the next hour, she would
navigate her way through a labyrinth of shops, fitting rooms, and glassed store-
front windows before returning to her safe house.

Her blonde wig lay at the bottom of a trash receptacle outside a Starbucks café,
and her handbag, emptied into and deposited in the ladies room. She kept none
of its contents.

The baggy shirt and black jeans she had been wearing were scattered through
various waste bins on her shopping spree through the Grand Plaza.

The guns collected from the dead men were secreted within the pockets of a new
gym bag. Wearing her newly purchased Lycra long-cut shorts, running shoes, and




tight singlet top, she looked like one of many other young ladies on their way
back from the gym.

Her breath had come back quickly, and the adrenaline of the encounter was just
now ebbing slowly away. Sipping a tall, full cream cappuccino, she headed back
to the train depot. Her mind worked quickly over the events of the last few hours.

The ambush had been well executed; a four-man team, three converging on her
from intersecting planes, the fourth she assumed from a higher vantage point.
She had identified two of the three quickly, the third soon after, but too late to
slip free of their sightlines. Deciding to wait for a better opportunity, she let them
get closer to her, steering them toward a busy outdoor café close by.

Hoping to obscure any field of vision for potential snipers or security cameras,
Shirin had ducked under the outdoor canopy, walked through to the middle of
the crowded café, and headed toward a small vacant table.

She paused at the table as a steward deftly cleared it, wiped it over, and set down
new cutlery. She had taken mental note of where her pursuers would be and
prepared herself.

She felt the firm hand on her shoulder before she saw it. It squeezed hard on the
pressure point toward the top of her shoulder joint.

Before the man could whisper in her ear his practiced threats, encouraging her to
do exactly as he said, Shirin thrust her arm up and slightly forward, releasing the
pressure on her nerve. Gripping his wrist with her other hand, she pulled him in
toward her while thrusting her head back violently into his face.

The impact had been fast and hard. She'd felt his nose give way on the back of
her head, and before he could react she had his hand twisted up and out,
opening him up, exposed to the brutal assault on the side of his neck.

Her fist connected with force, and as he buckled under the blow she followed
through with an open palm strike to his throat. The trauma was instant. The
blood flow to his brain stopped. His airway, crushed. He fell, dying.

The second man had pushed his way through the crowded café, only a few feet
away and was drawing his weapon before the first man hit the ground. The
silenced weapon had begun its sharp arc up from the folds of his jacket as Shirin
hurled herself forward.




Her left hand reached for the cutlery on her table, gripping a metal fork while her
right hand parried the gun up and away as she side-stepped fast to her right. She
ducked under his raised arm and thrust forward and up into his neck with the
fork. The first silenced shot bucked in his hand, sending the bullet wildly toward
the sky. Still moving fast around his side, she stabbed the fork into his throat a
second time while continuing to circle around him away from the gun.

His shock lasted only a moment before she left the fork dangling from his flesh,
gripped his head and chin, and twisted vertically with a sickening crunch.

His body crumpled on the spot like a rag doll. He was mid-fall when Shirin caught
the gun hand of the dead man, dislodged the silenced Glock from his grip and
pointed it toward the third man as he stood momentarily stunned.

Four seconds had passed since the first man had gripped her shoulder; two men
were down, the gun in her hand was pointed toward the third man, and the crowd
snapped free from their initial shock and started screaming and scrambling away.
The third gunman seemed uncertain which path to take – to continue after her or
to run.

She gave him little choice and fired the silenced weapon at him quickly while
running at full pace straight toward him.

The first shot missed its mark. The second shot found his collarbone, the third
his bicep, the fourth his gluteus as he turned to run and the fifth ricocheted off
the brick wall inches from his turned face.

Shirin bounded after him, chasing him onto the street. His vision seemed
impaired as he stammered forward reaching out with his unwounded arm. His
gun still gripped awkwardly at the end of his ruined arm. She was close enough
to grab him.

Whack! His body flung forward, twisting and turning in the air. A speeding van
had passed by, missing Shirin by only a foot, the sound of the impact reaching
her moments later, and then the screeching of tires braking on the road, and the
broken body falling, landing 20 feet away on the pavement, completely still.

Tucking the silenced pistol into the waistband of her jeans, Shirin ran toward the
motionless body, hoping her baggy shirt would conceal the shape of the bulky
gun.




He was dead. He would answer none of her questions now. In the distance the
chaos of the café seemed to galvanize into a morbid curiosity. She worked quickly
to search him for any signs of identification or clues as to who he was, and who
had sent him. There were none. Even the labels of his clothes had been removed.
A professional. Although, judging by his momentary hesitation earlier, new to the
field.

Pocketing his gun, she peered into the massing crowd. She looked through them,
searching faces, searching behavior, looking for the telltale signs of other killers
out there coming for her. There were more of them, she was sure.

A big man loomed through the crowd, glanced at the two men dead at the café,
then looked out, beyond the crowd. It was then she had seen his face. Their eyes
had connected from a distance. It was Trent Barratt. She had recognized him
instantly, turned her head, and then, she had left.

Two hours after the ambush, she found herself staring at the empty coffee cup in
her hand as the train pulled to a stop. She exited just as the doors were closing,
her mind still focused on how they had managed to know where she would be and
when she would be there.

Her mind worked quickly over the possibilities. There were not many. Somehow,
they had found her. Somehow, they had followed her. The burning thought in her
mind, was how long had they been following her?

The arrival of Barrett also clung to her consciousness. She could never forget
those eyes. Would never forget that man.

Barratt was muscle, the kind of muscle that made people disappear, and he was
good. In a past life, she had known him well. She wondered if he knew whom he
was hunting.

If they had sent him, it meant they wanted her gone. She had to believe they had
not been watching her long. They wouldn’t take the risk that she would spot them
and run. Barratt didn’t work that way. When he got the target, he worked quickly.
Find them, track them, kill them. That was his way.

Crossing the road to a taxi rank, she considered for a moment what it meant that
Barratt was tracking her. They had found her. And they either knew what she
was doing or were scared of what she might be doing...




Letting them know that she was coming after them had always been part of the
plan, just not so soon.

She had to assume they had found her safe house and the files she had kept
there. It pissed her off that they had gotten to her.

She gave the taxi driver the address of a townhouse in the suburbs. She knew
where they would be now. Time to hurt them.

___



Director Selig sipped instinctively from the cup of coffee on his desk. It was cold.
He couldn’t remember the last time he’d finished a coffee while it was still hot. His
colleagues had joked constantly that when he died they would pour hot coffee on
his grave. His reply was always the same: they’d be dead before him. He wasn’t
joking.

It was nearing 10:30am, and he was expecting his secretive associate to contact
him with an update on the Shirin Reyes/Bill Civic fiasco.

How it had come to pass that he relied so much on a man he had never met and
didn’t really know was still robbing him of sleep each night. But as he grew older,
he was beginning to see the merit of letting someone untraceable and unknown to
him do much of his dirty work.

He had tried to find Smith once. He’d woken in bed with a knife to his throat and
a warning. He’d not tried again.

Instead he had given Smith the tasks he could openly not complete. Over the
years their relationship had garnered many successes. Selig had risen in the
ranks within his agency, and they had both grown very rich in the process.

Selig’s private cell buzzed in his coat pocket. Without the pleasantries, Smith
relayed the latest findings at the apartment.

“Mr. Civic remains resolute in his beliefs regarding this woman. My men believe
him.” Without pause, Smith continued, “The forensic team you sent have found
numerous finger prints throughout the apartment, but at this stage they have not
been able to match any to the prints on file for Reyes. My man did find a
miniature camera fixed to the outside of the office window. Mr. Civic is adamant
that he was not aware of it. Whoever installed it must have rappelled down from




the roof and fixed it to the masonry wall without triggering the sensors on the
glass.”

Selig gripped the cell harder in his palm. He wanted to smash it to pieces. He
knew of several missions where Reyes had used this same technique to monitor
targets in the past. He calmly asked, “What could the camera see?”

"It transmitted wirelessly to a recorder. I’m told the range could be 100 meters,
possibly more. We hacked into the wireless feed. The camera had an
unobstructed view of the entire office. Given its positioning, anything on Mr.
Civics’ desk could be clearly identified. The resolution and automatic zoom would
have allowed the observer to see in finite detail anything that happened in that
room.”

“Tell the forensic team to stop whatever they’re doing. I want that room stripped
clean! Nothing left! Peel off the paint if you have to and look behind it. And I want
Bill Civic either dead or talking!” Selig thumbed the “end call” button hard, looked
at his watch, and stormed out of his office. He had someone to blackmail, and he
was running late.



10:47AM

It took just over twenty minutes in the cab to get out of the city. The young driver
had been talkative at first, his friendly nature infectious, but he soon understood
Shirin’s focused look and silent responses.

She told him to take the next street on the left.

“The street you gave me is the next one after that...” he said, trying to be helpful.

“I know.”

He looked at her and didn’t argue. Her face seemed to have changed in an
instant. Her eyes burned with a concentration that frightened him.

“Drive slowly,” she said calmly, “but don’t stop.”

They traveled down the long street in silence. She glared past the driver, out past
the houses on their right. Her safe house was on the other side of the block,
behind these houses. She could see its roof from the cab in the pockets between
the houses, then, she could see the window of her ensuite, then the bedroom. It




was only a glimpse, but she saw movement in them, then her line of vision to her
townhouse disappeared as the cab continued along the road.

They were inside!

“Okay, turn right at the end, and then right again onto the street I gave you.”

The cab rounded the corner. Shirin saw it straight away. A dark blue van parked
100 meters before her townhouse, on the opposite side of the road. Its windows
were tinted, the antenna coming from its roof unmistakable.

“See that blue van up ahead?”

“Yeah…?”

“I want you to keep driving slowly, and when I tell you to, hit the accelerator and
speed past that van. Got it?”

“You’re really starting to freak me out, lady!”

Shirin looked at him and said “I’ll make it up to you.”

The cab drew closer to the van, she saw movement on the chassis; people were
inside it. Her hand disappeared into her backpack, felt the comforting grip of the
silenced pistol she had taken from one of the dead men at the café.

“Okay, get ready… not yet… Now! Hit it!”

Adam didn’t understand why he listened to her, why he obeyed her so willingly,
but he did. His foot stomped on the accelerator and the cab lurched forward. The
van was only meters away.

In her mind time slowed. She smoothly drew the gun from her bag, Adam’s eyes
grew wide in shock, she struck him hard in the sternum, gripped the wheel, spun
it hard to the left, opened her door, and jumped out. She landed in a full run and
circled around the back of the cab as it continued in its trajectory, veering
straight into the side of the van.

The collision was loud, and it rocked the van sideways. Its right wheels lifted off
the ground for a moment before bouncing back down onto the road. Adam was
stuck behind the wheel of the crumpled taxi, gripping his chest, struggling to
breathe, his eyes wide and bulging.

Shirin crouched low as she circled around the front of the van. There was no
driver behind the wheel. By the time she reached the rear axle, she could hear the




men inside scrambling for their weapons and shouting at each other in
preparation to exit the assaulted van.

Two men flew out of the back barn doors of the van, their guns at the ready. They
looked clearly shaken. Holding their guns tightly, they scanned the unfamiliar
area. They were looking in all directions, confusion painting their every
expression, their guns pointed at the stunned and dazed cab driver. Shirin knew
instantly they were not killers, they were techies.

She came up behind them fast, without hesitation. She shot the first man in the
back of his leg just above the knee and followed through with an elbow to his
head as he fell under his injured leg. She kept rushing forward, and as the
second man spun to face her she delivered a quick bullet to his upper arm, then
used her forward momentum as the powerbase for a flying kick to his sternum.
He was flung backward, connecting hard with the stalled taxi, and sunk slowly to
the tarmac.

Both men lay useless on the road. Their guns out of reach, Shirin wasted no time,
turned, and jumped into the back of the van, gun drawn and ready. There were
no other men inside. Instead a mess of computers and electronic monitoring
equipment littered the inside. The internal access to the driving cabin was
completely blocked. The impact of the taxi into the side of the van left more
damage than she had anticipated.

She searched quickly over the computer towers, looking for portable memory
cards or accessible hard drives. The monitors were off. All internal power seemed
to have been reset from the collision. If there was information to be gained from
the systems in the van, it would take more time than Shirin had.

Jumping from the back of the van, she scooped up the techies’ weapons and
headed for the driver’s side door. As she tucked one of the collected guns into her
waistband, she saw Adam struggling to get out of the cab. His door was jammed
shut from the crumpled front end. Pointing her gun at him as she walked, she
said, “Adam! Stay in the car! Do exactly as they tell you. Tell them everything. If
you don’t, they will kill you.” She stopped, locked eyes with his. “Do you
understand?” He nodded meekly.

Taking her eyes off him, she fired one shot through the window of the van’s
driver’s side door, cleared a larger hole through the shattered glass with her gun,
unlocked the front door, and slid in behind the wheel. The keys were still in the




ignition; standard practice for a quick escape. The engine turned over on the
second attempt. The radio squawked alive.

“Team Theta, check in.”

She recognized the voice instantly. Barratt! She put the van in gear, gunned the
engine, and pulled away from the curb. The front fender of the cab clung
precariously to the side of the van before tumbling free as Shirin did a sharp U-
turn and left the street as she had come.

___



Barratt looked at his watch. They had been there too long, and with nothing to
show for it, he felt the pressure mounting. He ran through the final
communications checks with his team. All was good.

The two-story townhouse had yielded no results. It was frustrating but expected.
This woman was clearly a professional. He didn’t expect her to return here after
the failed ambush in the morning, but it was the only lead left to chase.

At first glance, it looked like any normal suburban home. It was nicely furnished
inside, there were photos on the walls, pot plants growing, knick-knacks on
bookshelves, and even shampoo bottles, toothbrushes, and towels left laying
about. But what Barratt noticed more than these homely artifacts, was that there
was no hair in the brush, no hair in the shower drain, and no fingerprints
anywhere. It was as though the house had been lived in by a ghost.

His team had searched the house vigorously. There was nothing to find. He only
hoped that whoever this woman was, she might return at some point, and then,
he would have her!

He brought the radio transmitter to his mouth and gave the clearance for all
teams to evacuate. This woman had chosen her safe house well. It was in the
middle of a long, quiet street. Any surveillance here would be quickly discovered.
It was the kind of neighborhood where all the neighbors knew each other. He
made a mental note to interview them all if he couldn’t find her within the next
few days.

Looking at his watch again, he gave the final signal for the surveillance van to
swing past and pick him up. He made his way back downstairs.




From his encounter with the woman in the morning, to seeing her safe house first
hand, Barratt knew in his gut that this woman was no ordinary threat; she was of
a caliber he had not seen in years. Not since…

Crash!

Barratt heard it from the top of the stairs. It was from a good distance away, but
it was still loud. He bounded down the stairs. Two of his agents met him at the
door. They had heard it also. Something was wrong. He instructed one of the men
to take up a position by the back door, the other to get a higher vantage point
from upstairs while he took a look outside. He grabbed the transmitter from his
belt and tried to contact his men in the van. There was no response.

Running onto the footpath, he saw instantly but could not believe. The van was
gone, and in its place a taxicab sitting perpendicular in the street with a
crumpled front end, but no van. As he reached the middle of the road, he saw the
back panel and tail lights of the van disappear around the corner.



10:47AM

Shirin sped around the corner. They would find the van eventually, she knew. It
was sure to have a tracking beacon attached somewhere. She didn’t plan to be
around when they did.

She didn’t slow for the next corner but instead skidded deeper into it, accelerating
out of the skid and racing down the long road. She was parallel to the street of
her safe house, on the same road she had arrived with the taxi.

She pulled up outside the house that shared her own house’s back boundary and
was already jumping out of the van before it had stopped moving.

She knew all the people in the properties surrounding her safe house. She knew
them better than their own families, she was sure. This single-story home
belonged to Loren and Dan Francis. They were both at work now. They had no
dog. No external alarm. She raced down the side access, leaped over the six-foot
gate, and skirted the Colorbond side boundary fence until she reached the back of
the block.

She could see one man at the back of her safe house, near the laundry door, and
another upstairs in her bedroom. Both men looked distracted but dangerous.




She deposited her bag in the corner of the side fence and back fence, behind the
trunk of a gum tree. She needed to travel light, and fast. She took one pistol,
tucked it behind her waistband, and leapt up and over the fence.

Her feet landed silently, she rolled, and was up, gun raised, waiting, listening,
watching. She had not been seen yet.

She deposited the gun in her waistband again, and ran straight for the laundry
door. Four strides from the door, she drew her weapon, let loose two bullets into
the lock, and saw them splinter as her foot made contact with the door. It burst
open, with the sound of splitting timber and she dove forward along the ground,
sliding on her side, then rolling onto her back.

The agent near the door had been sideswiped by the force of the imploding door,
his gun was drawn and finding its mark as Shirin sent two bullets in a double tap
to his heart before her body had stopped sliding.

She rolled back to her side, found her feet and in one smooth motion was up and
running toward the stairwell before the dead agent had hit the ground.

Running through the kitchen, she entered low. There was no one there, same for
the dining room. She heard the dull footfalls of the man upstairs heading down.
She turned the corner. A bullet snapped past her and buried itself into the wall.
She fell back instantly and returned fire on instinct as she readjusted her body to
curl and roll out of the line of fire.

The agent retreated back up the stairs. She had little choice. Abandon him and
get out before back-up arrived, or chase him up the stairs and into his waiting
crosshairs.



10:48AM

Barratt ran to the scene to find the driver of the taxi looking dazed and confused.
His two men were sprawled on the street, bleeding, unconscious but alive. They’d
both been shot. It was her!

He tried to reach his two men at the house on the radio. There was no reply.

He could hear the taxi driver trying to get out of the vehicle, pulled his gun,
pointed at him and demanded, “Was it a woman?”




The young driver looked deathly pale from shock. All he could manage was a
muted nod.

Barratt cursed himself. Cursed her. Then headed back to the safe house in a
sprint. She would die for this!







10:49AM

The agent hid in a small alcove near the top of the stairs. He labored to control
his breathing and his nerve. This woman was good. Better than him, he feared.
But he had her now. If she came after him, he would pick her off like a sitting
duck. If she didn't, more back-up would arrive, and then she would die.

He didn't know where Barratt was. Maybe she had gotten to him already. If so, it
was one less thing for him to do. He had his instructions. If Barratt failed again,
kill him.

Sweat formed on his forehead, but he dared not wipe it, his total concentration
was focused on the sounds from downstairs, waiting for the woman to show her
head.

A whisper of air wafted past him. He wasn't sure if he heard it or felt it. Then the
distinct thup thup sounds of a silenced pistol, the dull, wet pain in his neck, and
then, nothing.



10:50AM

Shirin stepped out from the upstairs bedroom. The agent was motionless, dead.
Her bullets had ripped cleanly through the plasterboard internal wall and lodged
into his neck and skull.

He had not heard her exit the bottom floor, climb the lattice to the master
bedroom balcony above.

She moved quickly to the front of the house, stayed clear of the windows, and
peered down into the street from the side. She could hear sirens in the distance.
And Trent Barratt charging across the front lawn toward the door.

She had less than a minute.




___



Barratt threw his radio mic on the ground. There had been no reply from his men
inside. He bulldozed the front door down with his size and speed, then quickly
backed himself against the wall as he surveyed the scene.

Down the long corridor he could see the back door shattered in, bullet holes, and
one of his men lying in a pool of blood.

He ducked his head around the corner quickly. There was no one there. Toward
the stairs, more bullet holes told the story of a gun fight he should have been
there for.

Careful of where he placed his feet, he moved silently around the stairwell.
Nothing made sense to him! Why had she come back? And once she saw the
surveillance, why didn't she just leave?

"You could move, but then I'd have to shoot you." Her voice was calm, almost
relaxed. Barratt froze. It took him a moment to identify where it had come from.
He was out of position to draw his weapon in that direction and get a shot off
without her bullet finding him first. She had out maneuvered him.

Barratt lowered his head. So this was it, he thought. "What next? You shoot me
anyway?"

"No, but I would like to talk. Drop your gun so we can do that."

Barratt did nothing. He stood there. Contemplating which way he preferred to die.

"Drop the gun, turn around, we'll talk, then you can go," Shirin said more
forcefully. "I did not give your men that choice, and in a moment you won't have it
either."

Barratt dropped his pistol. Ready to die, he turned around. His eyes clung to her
face, they registered recognition, then shock, then, he said "Shirin?"

Two wires shot out at him. Hit him hard in the chest. He looked at them, looked

at Shirin, then, 50,000 volts coursed through his body.




Charlie Moore


Charlie Moore was born and raised in Sydney, Australia.
 

He started work on his first full length novel at age 18. When running through final edits for the book, he put it aside; wanting to live and experience some of the adventures his characters were thrust into. He became an accomplished martial artist, winning his first full contact fight by TKO and gaining over 30 medals before retiring from competition. He traveled the globe, got lost in dangerous parts of the world, swam with sharks, jumped out of planes, and became a Private Investigator.

 Resuming his passion for writing, Charlie started ghost writing to build and harness his skill, and in mid-2012 "AGAINST THE CLOCK" was born.

 Charlie now shares his time between rock climbing with his wife, and writing deadly action-packed thrillers.


 


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