As hair-raising as a roller-coaster ride, First Drop skyrockets Zoë Sharp to the top of that exclusive list of suspense writers who are going places fast.
“Sharp’s aim is dead-on—STUNNING.”—Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
After a tour of duty in the British Army, twenty-six year old Charlie Fox has excellent marksmanship and a sixth sense for danger. She also has an ex-lover, Sean, who runs a protection agency and makes her a business offer she can’t refuse: To go to the United States and look after the teenage son of a high-profile computer whiz.
“Today’s best action heroine.”—Lee Child
The assignment should have been a cakewalk. But that was before Charlie and her charge, Trey, visit a Florida amusement park and encounter armed kidnappers who are dead-set on getting their way—and taking Trey with them.
“Intense . . . a nail-biting chase.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer
The last thing anyone expected was a determined attempt on Trey’s life. But soon Charlie discovers that not only has Trey’s father gone missing, Sean and his entire bodyguard team have fallen off the map as well. Now it’s up to Charlie—alone in an unknown territory, with no one she can trust—to protect Trey, and herself, against all imaginable odds….before the enemy strikes again.
“THE MUST-READ HEROINE OF MYSTERY.”—KEN BRUEN
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Zoë Sharp spent most of her childhood living aboard a catamaran on the northwest coast of England. She opted out of mainstream education at the age of twelve and wrote her first novel when she was fifteen. She went through a variety of jobs in her teenage years before becoming a freelance photojournalist in 1988. Zoë lives with her husband in Cumbria, England.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
FIRST DROP (Chapter One)
FOR THE THIRD time that morning I shut my eyes tight in the absolute and certain knowledge that I was just about to die. Around me, people were screaming. Lots of people, but the prospect of dying in company did nothing to alleviate the terror.
My stomach lurched as we started to fall. Actually, fall doesn't begin to describe our horrifying descent. Plummet was more like it. An endless roaring plunge. My hair whipped at my forehead, the sheer punch of the wind pulling my cheeks back to bare my teeth in a final death-mask travesty of a smile.
I just prayed that the expression didn't stay with me post-mortem. Otherwise, although I was unquestionably about to die young, it seemed I was destined not to leave a beautiful corpse.
Then we bottomed out, the rollercoaster squatting into the compression. Before I'd time to be thankful I'd survived another first drop, we crested a small rise and bowled into a left-hander so severe the wheels of the open car I was riding in seemed to bounce right out of their tracks and shimmy sideways toward the outside of the bend. Beyond the token piece of safety railing, it had to be at least fifty feet to the ground.
The coaster was constructed out of what had looked to my dubious eyes like a hastily nailed-together clutch of old railway sleepers. I tried to tell myself they were checked, religiously, every day, that the theme park owners would be fools to let anything happen to their paying customers. But in the back of my mind I could already hear the sober voice-over of the dramatic reconstruction after the accident.
And surely even wooden coasters weren't supposed to rattle and shudder this much? We were vibrating so hard my eyesight was blurred. The graunching of timbers as we thundered over them was like the crepitus of broken bones grinding against each other. I knew without a doubt that the damned thing was shaking itself to pieces right underneath us. I could picture each popping nail.
Another bruising turn, another sudden downward swoop that left me tightening my grip on the handle on the seat back in front of me. The chicken bar. As we'd climbed the first lift hill I'd mentally sworn that, no matter what, I would not give in and grab hold of it. Right now I didn't care.
"Jesus Christ!" I yelped.
In the seat alongside, Trey Pelzner stopped waving his arms in the air and whooping just long enough to throw me the kind of utterly contemptuous glance that only fifteen-year-old boys can truly master.
Oh man, it said. You are so old.
I'd spent the last few days trying to be cool in front of the kid. Trying to be on his level. Trying to be his friend. Someone he really didn't mind hanging out with instead of grudging, enforced company.
Having started to go downhill, things took on a momentum all of their own. Much like a rollercoaster, I suppose. But without the ups.
In this case, the line of cars was grabbed by its final set of brakes and we slowly clattered back into the station. Had we not paid fifty dollars a head for the privilege of getting into the park, torture sessions like this would have been banned by the Geneva Convention.
As soon as the thrills ceased, Trey's animation went with it. He dropped back into morose silence like someone had just unplugged him. If sullen equated to cool, then he was the coolest kid there by miles.
I'd already sussed out enough ride etiquette to know that you were supposed to look bored to tears on the way in and out. It was only during the minute or so of terror that masqueraded as fun were you allowed to squeal and wave your arms. In fact, it was almost obligatory. Holding on for grim death was the ultimate faux pas. In teenage terms, I'd just ordered Pot Noodle at a three-star Michelin restaurant.
The cars stopped, the lap bars unlocked, and we followed the distorted tannoy directions to please exit to the right, being sure to take all our personal belongings with us. I did my best not to snarl at the manically cheery additional instruction that we were to enjoy the rest of our day here at Adventure World, Florida!
We were carefully funneled through the ride-related gift store on the way out. The park's designers had been masters of merchandising as much as the harnessing of kinetic energy. Mostly it seemed that these places were stocked with the same array of hats and shirts as at the other attractions in the park, allowing the wearer to proclaim to the world that they'd ridden and survived.
It wasn't just a kiddy trap, either. I'd noticed people who should have been old enough to know better riding the rides and buying the T-shirts. If age isn't supposed to bring sense it should at least have brought a little dignity.
As for Trey, he seemed determined to flick through every single rack of clothing. Perhaps he'd seen me rubbing the goose bumps on my arms and just wanted to make me stay out of the sun that bit longer. I'd come to Florida told to expect temperatures in the eighties, even in March, but nobody had warned me about the air-conditioning. Every store and restaurant had the dial set so low that if you let your drink stand for long enough, ice formed on the top.
"Hey, I want one of these."
I sighed, moving away from the door with its promise of baking heat just a few feet outside. Trey was near the back of the store by a rack of leather jackets, holding one up by the collar. It was glossy black, with the Adventure World logo beautifully embroidered across the back panel. A lovely piece of work, and no doubt worth every cent of the three hundred and fifty dollar price tag I could see dangling from the cuff. Except for the fact that it was at least four sizes too big.
Before we'd set out from the house that morning, Trey's father, Keith Pelzner, had handed me a folded wedge of cash with the casual instruction that I should buy the boy whatever he wanted.
"Anything?" I'd asked, riffling my thumb across the edges of the bills and realizing just how many of them were hundreds.
He'd shrugged. "Yeah, sure," he'd said, with the air of someone whose current financial status means that large amounts of money can be frittered on an adolescent whim. But even he had paused at the open doubt in my voice, and grinned at me as he'd added, "Within reason."
Now, I eyed Trey for a second to see if he was joking, but there was nothing funny in the mulish scowl. Mind you, the braces he wore to coach his teeth into perfect alignment would probably have been enough to wipe the smile off anyone's face.
"OK," I said, neutral. "Let's see it on."
Trey's glower deepened, but he slipped the jacket off its hanger and climbed into it. Climbed being the operative word. He was a skinny runt of a kid and both of us would have fitted inside the body and still got the zip done up without having to hold our breath first. His fingers never hit the end of the sleeves until he shoved the cuffs right back. Then the leather bunched up round his thin biceps like a Victorian leg-of-mutton costume.
I was careful not to smile, tilting my head on one side as though giving the jacket serious consideration. "Looks a touch on the big side," I offered at last.
Trey sighed, rolling his eyes and shifting his feet like that was the most pathetic excuse he'd ever heard for denying him something so vital. "It's the smallest they've got," he threw back at me, like that settled it.
"Trey, it doesn't fit you," I said, all reasonable. "If you really want a leather jacket, let's look in one of the other--"
The bottom lip came out. The sigh had become a noisy gush. If it wasn't for the rampant teenage acne that peppered his face like woodchip wallpaper, he would have looked about twelve.
"I--want--this--one," he said, speaking very slowly and with great scorn. I'd heard him address the Hispanic maids at the house the same way, obviously taking it for granted that their grasp of English wasn't up to any more than basic cleaning instructions. To my immense disappointment, none of them had ever slapped his legs for it.
I glanced round. Even the assistant was taking notice, I saw, edging out from behind the counter to fuss over straightening a display of polo shirts that was strategically between us and the door. One of the other customers, a youngish good-looking guy in designer Oakley sunglasses and a New York Yankees baseball cap, was two racks down doing a poor job of trying to pretend he wasn't listening in. I moved in close to Trey, stuck my face into his.
"It--doesn't--fit--you," I said between my teeth, matching my delivery to his. "You're not having it."
"Dad said you had to buy me anything I wanted."
"He said within reason," I shot back, aware that for years I'd heard adults in supermarkets talking to their offspring in just the same tone of tightly controlled but thin patience. I'd never really understood it until now. I tried again. "It drowns you and it makes you look like a prat. Put it back."
The word "prat" doesn't have any particular meaning to your average American schoolkid, but he caught the gist and knew I hadn't meant it as a compliment. For a moment I thought we were going to have a major showdown right there. Either that or he was going to lie full length on the ground and beat his fists into the carpet. Instead he glared at me for a second longer, his face starting to flush pink round his collar. I knew I'd beaten him at that point, but at what cost?
He scrabbled out of the jacket as though he suddenly hated the thing, flicked me one last, insolent, knowing look, and deliberately dumped it at my feet. Then he stepped over it and sauntered out of the store.
I waited just long enough to get a grip on my temper, picked the jacket up again and put it back on its hanger on the rail. The assistant came hurrying over to check she wouldn't have to make me pay up under the "you break it, you bought it" rule, but fortunately there was no harm done. On my way out even the guy in the designer shades flashed me a commiserative smile.
I found ...
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