An escape to an idyllic Irish seaside village is about to turn deadly in this riveting new novel by master of romantic suspense Carla Neggers
For marine biologist Julianne Maroney, two weeks in tiny Declan's Cross on the south Irish coast is a chance to heal her broken heart. She doesn't expect to attract the attention of FBI agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan—especially since a Donovan is the reason for her broken heart.
Emma and Colin are in Ireland for their own personal retreat. Colin knows he's a reminder of everything Julianne wants to escape, but something about her trip raises his suspicion. Emma, an art crimes expert, is also on edge. Of all the Irish villages Julianne could choose...why Declan's Cross?
Ten years ago, a thief slipped into a mansion in Declan's Cross. Emma's grandfather, a renowned art detective, investigated, but the art stolen that night has never been recovered and the elusive thief never caught.
From the moment Julianne sets foot on Irish soil, everything goes wrong. The well-connected American diver who invited her to Ireland has disappeared. And now Emma and Colin are in Declan's Cross asking questions.
As a dark conspiracy unfolds amid the breathtaking scenery of Declan's Cross, the race is on to stop a ruthless killer...and the stakes have never been more personal for Emma and Colin.
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Carla Neggers is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 60 novels, novellas and short stories. Her work has been translated into 24 languages and sold in more than 30 countries. She is a popular speaker around the country as well as a founding member of the New England Chapter of RWA, past president of Novelists, Inc., and past vice president of International Thriller Writers. She and her husband live in a house on a hilltop not far from picturesque Quechee Gorge.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Emma Sharpe paused atop a craggy knoll and looked out at the ripples of barren hills, not a house, a road, a car or another person in sight. She didn't know what had become of her hiking partner. Maybe he had stepped up to his midcalves in mud and muck, too, but she doubted it. It wasn't that Colin Donovan wasn't capable of taking a misstep. It was that she'd have heard him cursing if he had.
A fat, woolly sheep stared up at her from the boggy grass as if to say, "You might be an FBI agent back in Boston, but out here in the Irish hills, you're just another hiker with wet feet."
"This is true," Emma said, setting her backpack on the expanse of rough gray rock. "However, I'm prepared. I have dry socks."
She unzipped her pack and dug out a pair of fresh wool socks. The sheep bleated and meandered off, disappearing behind another knoll, one of a series on the windswept ridge on the Beara Peninsula, one of the fingers of land that jutted into the North Atlantic off the southwest coast of Ireland. It had been centuries since these hills were forested. She could see peeks of Kenmare Bay in the distance, its calm waters blue-gray in the midafternoon November light. Across the bay, shrouded in mist but still distinct, were the jagged ridges of the Macgil-licuddy Reeks.
Emma kicked off her shoes, sat on the bare rock ledge and pulled off her wet socks. She glanced down at the narrow valley directly below her, a small lake shimmering in the fading sunlight. She and Colin were five hours into their six-hour hike. With the short November days, they would get back to their car just before dark.
As she put on her dry socks, he came around the knoll where her sheep had disappeared. A light breeze caught the ends of his dark hair, and he had his backpack hooked on one arm as he jumped over the wet spot that had fooled her.
He climbed up onto her knoll and dropped his pack next to hers. "I like having you walk point," he said with a grin.
"No fair. You saw my footprint in the mud."
"I'll never tell."
Emma leaned back against her outstretched arms. She had on a wool hat, her fair hair knotted at the nape of her neck. She had pulled her gloves on and off over the course of the day. She didn't know if Colin had even packed a hat and gloves. He was, she thought, the sexiest man she had ever met. Small scars on his right cheek and by his left eye from fights he said he had won. She had no doubt. He was strongly built, rugged and utterly relentless.
A good man to have on your side in a fight.
She was fit and lean and could handle herself in a fight, and although she wasn't tiny, he could easily carry her up a flight of stairs. In fact, he had, more than once.
They had set out early. For the past two weeks, they had explored the southwest Irish coast on foot and by car, by mutual agreement avoiding talk of arms traffickers, thieves, poison, attempted murder and alligators. Colin would wink at her and say he especially didn't want to talk about alligators, not that he had seen one on his narrow escape from killers in South Florida. Thinking about them had been enough.
By unspoken agreement, he and Emma also avoided talk of their futures with the FBI—or even each other. His months of intense undercover work, in an environment where everyone was a potential enemy, had taken a toll, and he needed this time to be in the present, to be himself.
Emma's needs were simpler. She just wanted to be with him.
It was her life that was complicated.
She sat up straight, noticing that Colin's boots and cargo pants were splattered with mud but not wet like hers. She grinned at him. "You do know I've spent more time hiking the Irish hills than you have, don't you?"
"Beneath that placid exterior beats the heart of a competitive federal agent." He made no move to sit next to her. "Your mishap gives me an excuse to run a hot bath for you when we get back to the cottage."
"Life could be worse. You're not bored, are you?"
"I can go more than two weeks without anyone trying to kill me."
As he stood next to her on her boulder, his smile almost reached his stone-gray eyes. Almost.
He offered her a sip from his water bottle, but she shook her head. He took a long drink as he gazed out at the hills. Except for the occasional baa of the grazing, half-wild sheep, the silence was complete.
"What are you thinking about, Colin?"
"A cold pint and a warm pub. Sounds perfect."
He leaned down and touched the curve of his hand to her cheek. "It's been good being here with you." He winked at her as he stood straight. "Mud and sheep dung and all."
Emma sighed as she slipped back into her trail shoes and tied the laces. "No escaping sheep dung out here, is there? I wasn't distracted when I stepped in the wet spot. I just misjudged. There's a difference."
"But you do have a lot on your mind," Colin said.
She always did. Their jobs with the FBI attested to their different natures. He was an undercover agent. She specialized in art crimes. She was analytical, methodical, detailoriented. He was direct, intuitive, quick and decisive—and independent to a fault. Six weeks ago, he had been assigned to her small team in Boston, if only because the senior agent in charge was determined to rein him in.
Good luck with that, Emma thought. She stood, lifted her backpack and slung it over her shoulders. "The rest of the way is all downhill."
"Have you ever done this hike before?"
She shook her head. "First time."
"It's a good spot," he said, tucking his water bottle in his pack. "I'm glad we did this before I go home."
"Yeah. Me, too."
It was Monday. She had a flight back to Boston on Friday. She'd be at her desk a week from today. Colin had more time before he had to decide what was next for him. Not a lot more time, but he could stay in Ireland for a while longer, without her.
She angled a look at him. "Anything on your mind, Colin?"
"I had an email from Andy in my in-box this morning. He sent it last night. I didn't read it until just now, while I ate an energy bar and admired the view. Reading email is against our hiking rules, I know."
"A sign it's time to get back to work, maybe." Emma gave him a moment but he didn't take the bait and respond, and she let it go. "How are things in Rock Point?"
"Andy says Julianne Maroney is leaving for Ireland tonight."
"Tonight? Isn't that sudden?"
"She's just accepted a marine biology internship in Cork that starts in January. She decided to come for a couple weeks now and get herself sorted out. It's sudden, but that's Julianne."
"So, she's staying in Cork?"
"A village east of Cork. Declan's Cross."
Emma went still as a dozen images came at her at once. A pretty seaside Irish village of brightly colored shops and residences. A romantic mansion with sweeping views of cliffs and sea. Haunting Celtic crosses on a grassy hilltop.
A tight-lipped old Irish sheep farmer.
Her grandfather, Wendell Sharpe, a renowned art detective, pacing in his Dublin office as he admitted he and Sharpe Fine Art Recovery were after a thief they couldn't catch.
A thief, Emma thought, who had first struck in tiny Declan's Cross on a lonely, rainy, dark November night ten years ago.
She'd only become involved in the case four years ago, in the months between her life as Sister Brigid at the coastal Maine convent of the Sisters of the Joyful Heart and her life as a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. She'd worked side by side with her grandfather in Dublin, learning everything he knew.
Wendell Sharpe never told anyone everything. She was aware of Colin's eyes narrowed on her. He wouldn't know about the thief. There was no reason for him to know. She pushed back her thoughts. "Why Declan's Cross, Colin?"
"Just tell me what you know. Please."
"All right." He was plainly suspicious now. "A woman who's launching a marine science research facility in Declan's Cross stopped in Rock Point last week. She and Julianne hit it off. Now Julianne's meeting her there."
"To help with this research facility?"
"Andy doesn't have any details. He hasn't talked to Julianne himself.
"Then who told him?"
"Her brother. Ryan. He's in the Coast Guard, but he's in Rock Point visiting for a few days. He found out from their grandmother. Julianne lives with her."
Rock Point was a small, tight-knit southern Maine fishing village. Everyone knew everyone else's business, but Julianne's short-lived romance with Andy Donovan, third-born of the four Donovan brothers, apparently had come as a surprise, especially since she'd vowed never to get involved with a Donovan. Emma didn't know either Andy or Julianne well. She'd only met Colin in September and was still figuring out who was who in his hometown.
"What's this woman's name?" she asked. "Do we know her?"
"Her name's Lindsey Hargreaves. I don't know her."
Hargreaves. Emma searched her memory but shook her head. "I don't, either. Did she come to Rock Point looking for Julianne?"
"I don't have any details. I just know Julianne's on her way to Ireland."
"And you don't like it."
"Julianne's as smart as they come, but she's impulsive and she's had a rough time lately. She's never been that far from home. I doubt she's been farther than Nova Scotia. Now all of a sudden she's meeting some strange woman in a little Irish village."
"Are you concerned she's running away because of her breakup with Andy?"
"I know she is," Colin said half under his breath. "This trip could be exactly what she needs, but I'd feel better if she wasn't alone."
"We could drive over to Declan's Cross tomorrow," Emma said.
He tilted his head back, eyed her again. "We could, but what's going on? I noticed your look when I mentioned Declan's Cross. Emma, is there a Sharpe connection to this village?" She sighed. "We can talk on the hike back to the car."
* * *
They didn't talk on the hike back to their car or the drive back to their borrowed cottage in the Kerry hills across Kenmare Bay. Colin drove. He'd adjusted quickly to driving on the left, but the high, thick hedges and narrow roads—each with its own quirks—kept him on alert.
He'd known he and Emma wouldn't talk the moment he'd mentioned Declan's Cross and she'd given him that tight look. He liked to joke that he could do deep-cover work because he himself wasn't deep, but Emma was. She had layers of secrets. Sharpe secrets, Sister Brigid secrets, FBI secrets.
He didn't have secrets. He just had stuff he couldn't talk about.
And he had his demons. He'd come to Ireland because of them. His months of undercover work had taken a toll not just on him but on his family and friends—and on Emma, even in the short time they'd known each other. They'd met in September on his brief respite at home in Rock Point.
Then he went away again, and when he came back, he'd brought some of his bad guys with him.
The short version, he thought as he pulled into the gravel driveway of the little stone cottage he and Emma had shared for the past two weeks. He'd stayed here on his own for several days before she couldn't stand it any longer—as she'd put it—and got on a plane in Boston, flew to Shannon, rented a car and found him.
Colin hadn't asked her to turn around and go back to Boston without him.
Maybe he should have.
It was dark now, the wind shifting, turning blustery. He glanced at Emma, but she had already clicked off her seat belt and was slipping out of the car.
He was in no rush. Let her take all the time she needed before she told him about the Sharpes and Declan's Cross. Wendell Sharpe had lived and worked in Dublin for the past fifteen years. Whatever was on her mind likely involved him. Colin had drunk whiskey with old Wendell. Interesting fellow. Maybe not quite the analytical thinker his granddaughter was but definitely a man with secrets.
Colin got out of the car, not minding the spray of cold rain. He grabbed their packs from the back and headed up a pebbled path to the cottage. The front door was painted a glossy blue, a contrast to the gray stone exterior. Finian Bracken, the owner, an Irish priest serving a parish in Rock Point, had told Colin to stay as long as he wanted. They'd become friends over the past few months, maybe as much because of their differences as in spite of them.
Fin couldn't bring himself to stay in the cottage. It was a reminder of his life before the priesthood, when he'd been a successful businessman, a husband and a father. He and his wife had renovated the tiny ruin of a place, adding a bathroom, kitchen, skylights, richly colored fabrics. It had been their refuge, he'd told Colin, a favorite spot to spend time with their two daughters.
Never in Fin's worst nightmares had he imagined he would lose all three of them. Sally, little Kathleen and Mary. They'd drowned seven years ago in a freak sailing accident.
Fin had removed any personal mementoes, but Colin thought he could feel the presence of his friend's lost wife and daughters and the happy times they'd had there.
He set the packs on the tile floor and pulled the door shut behind him. He liked being here. He liked having Emma here. The rest would sort itself out.
He watched her as she got on her knees and carefully, methodically, placed sods of turf in the stone fireplace. Colin liked the smell of burning peat, and a fire would warm up the single room and loft in minutes.
She rolled back onto her heels and stared at the fire as it took hold. Then she glanced up at him, the flames reflecting in her green eyes. "I hate to leave this place," she said.
"Ah, yes." He moved closer to her. "The cold, cruel world awaits."
She stood, and he slipped an arm around her waist, kissed the top of her head. Even her hair smelled like mud, but he didn't mind. She leaned into him. "I thought we'd have a few more nights together here. It's the most romantic cottage ever, isn't it? But we need to go to Declan's Cross, Colin. At least I do."
"There is a Sharpe connection to this village, then."
She eased an arm around his middle, the lingering tentativeness of even two weeks ago gone now. "I've reserved a room at the O'Byrne House Hotel," she said. "It's on the water, right in the village of Declan's Cross."
"That was fast."
"The joys of smartphones."
And she'd had her plan fixed in her mind when they'd arrived back from their hike. "Have you ever been to Declan's Cross?" he asked.
"Once, when I worked with my grandfather in Dublin. I was only there for the day. The O'Byrne House wasn't a hotel then. It was a rambling, boarded-up private home. It opened as a hotel last fall. Apparently its spa is quite nice."
"A spa," Colin said, as if he were translating a foreign language.
"I bet it offers a couple's massage."
"Dream on, Emma."
She grinned. "I ...
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Book Description Mira Books, 2013. Hardcover. Book Condition: Brand New. first edition edition. 320 pages. 9.50x6.25x1.30 inches. In Stock. Bookseller Inventory # zk0778314634
Book Description MIRA, 2013. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110778314634
Book Description MIRA. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 0778314634 New Condition. Bookseller Inventory # NEW7.0336573