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Riley Crane woke up fully dressed, a gun under her pillow, and covered in blood. Even more frightening, she didn’t remember what happened the night before. In fact, she barely remembered the previous three weeks.
An ex-army officer, now a federal agent assigned to the Special Crimes Unit, Riley was a chameleon—a clairvoyant who could blend in with her surroundings, be anyone or anything she chose to be. The SCU’s expert on the occult, she’d been sent to the beachfront cottage on Opal Island by her enigmatic chief, Noah Bishop, to investigate reports of dangerous occult activity.
But that was three weeks ago. Now she’s awoken to discover that she’s got a sexy new man in her life and an unreliable memory, and that the clairvoyant abilities she’s always depended on to protect her are MIA. Worse yet, with SCU resources stretched thinner than ever before, Riley is alone and without backup, feeling her way through a deadly game of blindman’s buff, where no one around her is quite who or what they seem. And a bizarre murder is only the first jarring reminder of how high the stakes really are.
Bishop wants Riley off the case. So does powerful local D.A. Ash Prescott. Both her old retired army buddy Gordon Skinner and Sheriff Jake Ballard believe she can catch a vicious killer. But one of these four men knows exactly what’s going on in this coastal community, and that’s knowledge Riley desperately needs. For what Riley can’t remember is more than enough to cost her her life. This time evil isn’t just closer than she thinks—it’s already there.
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KAY HOOPER is the award-winning author of Sleeping with Fear, Stealing Shadows, and more than ten other novels of suspense and intrigue along with dozens of other books. She lives in North Carolina.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Even before she opened her eyes, Riley Crane was aware of two things. Her pounding head, and the smell of blood.
Neither was all that unusual.
Instinct and training made her lie perfectly still, eyes closed, until she was reasonably sure she was fully awake. She was on her stomach and probably on a bed, she thought. Possibly her own bed. On top of the covers, or at least not covered up.
She opened her eyes a slit, just enough to see. Rumpled covers, pillows. Her rumpled covers and pillows, she decided. Her bed. The nightstand, holding the usual nightstand accessories of lamp, an untidy stack of books, and an alarm clock.
The red numbers announced that it was 2:00 p.m.
Okay, that was unusual. She never slept late, and she never took naps. Plus, while either a headache or the smell of blood was not uncommon in her life, the two together were setting off alarm bells in her mind.
Riley concentrated on listening, her unease growing when she realized that she could hear only on the "normal" level. The faint hum of the air-conditioning. The muffled rumble and crash of the surf out on the beach. A gull screaming as it flew past the house. The sort of stuff the usual everyday sense of hearing could glean automatically without any added concentration or focus.
But nothing else. Try as she might, she couldn't hear the underlying pulse of the house that was made up of things like the water in the plumbing and electricity humming in the lines and the all-but-imperceptible shifting and creaking of seemingly solid wood and stone as wind blew off the ocean and pressed against the building.
She couldn't hear any of it. And that was bad.
Taking the chance, Riley pushed herself up on her elbows and then slid her right hand underneath the pillows. Ahhh . . . at least it was there, right where it was supposed to be. Her hand closed over the reassuring grip of her weapon, and she pulled it out, giving it a quick visual scan.
Clip in, safety on, no round in the chamber. She automatically ejected the clip, checked that it was full, and slid it back into place, then chambered a round, the action quick and smooth after so many years of practice. The gun in her hand felt comfortable. That was right.
But something else was very wrong.
She could see the blood now as well as smell it. It was on her.
Riley rolled and sat up in a single motion, her gaze darting around the bedroom warily. Her bedroom, something she recognized with a sense of familiarity, the reassurance of being where she should be. And it was empty except for her.
Her head was pounding even harder from the quick movements, but she ignored it as she looked down at herself. The hand holding the gun was smeared with dried blood, and when she shifted the weapon to her other hand, she saw that it was as well. On her palms, on the backs of her hands, her forearms, even, she saw, underneath her fingernails.
As far as she could tell, there was no blood on the covers, the pillows. Which meant all the blood on her had dried before she had apparently fallen across the bed fully dressed and gone to sleep. Or passed out. Either way . . .
Blood on her hands. Blood on her light-colored T-shirt. Blood on her faded jeans.
A lot of blood.
Was she hurt? She didn't feel any pain, apart from the throbbing headache. But she did feel a cold, growing fear, because waking up covered with blood could not, by any stretch of the imagination, possibly be a good thing.
She got herself off the bed, a little stiff and more than a little shaky, and moved on bare feet out of the bedroom. Quickly but cautiously, she checked her surroundings to reassure herself that she was alone, that no immediate threat existed here. The second bedroom was neat as a pin and looked as though it hadn't been used recently, which was probably the case; Riley seldom had the sort of guests that required an extra bedroom.
Checking out the remainder of the house was quick work, since most of it consisted of a large open area that was kitchen, dining area, and living room. Clean, but slightly untidy, with books, magazines, newspapers, CDs, and DVDs stacked here and there. The usual clutter of everyday life.
It looked like she'd been using the small dining table as a work surface, since place mats were pushed aside and her laptop carrying case was on one of the chairs. The computer wasn't out, which told her only that she probably hadn't been working on it recently.
The doors were closed and locked. The windows were also closed--it was hot in summer along the South Carolina coast--and locked.
She was alone.
Nevertheless, Riley took her weapon along when she went into her bathroom and checked behind the shower curtain before she locked herself in the relatively small room. Then she suffered another shock when she looked into the mirror above the vanity.
More dried blood was on her face, smeared across her cheek, and some appeared to be matted in her pale hair. Thickly matted.
Her stomach churned, and she stood there for a moment, eyes closed, until the nausea passed. Then she laid her weapon on the vanity and stripped to the skin.
She checked every inch of herself and found nothing. No injury, not even a scratch. It wasn't her blood.
That should have been reassuring. It wasn't. She was covered with blood, and it wasn't hers. Which left her with a hell of a lot of unsettling, potentially terrifying, questions.
What--or who--had bled all over her? What had happened? And why couldn't she remember?
Riley looked down at the crumpled clothing on the floor, then at herself, pale gold with her summer tan, her skin unmarked except for the dried blood on her hands and forearms.
Forearms. Somehow or other, she'd literally been up to her elbows in blood. Jesus.
Ignoring all the training that insisted she call the local authorities before doing another thing, Riley got into the shower. She made the water as hot as she could stand and used plenty of soap, scrubbing away the dried blood. She used a nailbrush to reach the dark slivers of dried blood underneath her fingernails and shampooed her short hair at least twice. Even after it was clean, after she was clean, she stood under the hot water, letting it beat against her shoulders, her neck, her still-sickly pounding head.
What had happened?
She didn't have the faintest clue, that was the hell of it. She had absolutely no memory of how she'd gotten herself covered with blood.
She remembered lots of other things. Almost all the important stuff, really. "Your name is Riley Crane," she muttered aloud, trying to reassure herself that something wasn't terribly wrong. "You're thirty-two years old, single, and a federal agent assigned, these last three years, to the Special Crimes Unit."
Name, rank, serial number--more or less. Knowledge she was certain of.
No amnesia there. She knew who she was. An army brat with four older brothers, she'd grown up all over the world, had a rich and varied education, a wide range of training of a kind few women could claim, and had been able to take care of herself from a very young age. And she knew where she belonged, in the FBI, in the SCU. All that she remembered.
As for her recent life . . .
Christ, what was the last thing she remembered? She vaguely remembered renting the cottage, sort of remembered settling in. Carrying boxes and bags from the car. Putting things away. Walking on the beach. Sitting out on the deck in the darkness at night, feeling the warm ocean breeze on her face and--
Not alone. Somebody out there with her. The vague, fuzzy memory of quiet voices. Hushed laughter. A touch she felt, for a fleeting second, so strongly that she looked down at her hand in bemusement.
And then it was gone.
Try as she might, Riley couldn't remember anything else clearly. It became a confusing jumble in her head. Just flashes, most of which made no sense to her. Faces that were unfamiliar, places she didn't remember being, random snatches of conversations she didn't understand.
Flashes punctuated by jabs of pain in her head.
Blaming the headache for the huge blank space that was her recent past, Riley got out of the shower and dried off. It was just the headache, of course. She'd swallow a few aspirin and get some food into her system, some caffeine into her veins, and then she'd remember. Surely. She wrapped a towel around her and, picking up her weapon again, returned to the bedroom to find fresh clothing.
It struck her, as she opened drawers and checked the closet, that she had been here awhile. She really was settled in, far more so than was her habit. This wasn't her usual living-out-of-a-suitcase jumble. Her clothing was fairly neat in the drawers, hanging in the closet. And it was more than beach vacation clothing.
Casual stuff, yes, but several dressy things as well, from nice slacks and silk blouses to dresses. Even heels and hose.
So, okay. She was here to work, that had to be it. The problem was, she couldn't seem to remember what the job was.
Riley opened one drawer and pulled out an extremely pretty, lacy, sexy bra-and-panty set, and felt her eyebrows rising. Not her usual stuff at all, obviously new, and there was more in the drawer. What the hell kind of job was she here to do, anyway?
That question echoed even stronger in her mind when she also discovered a garter belt.
A garter belt, for crying out loud.
"Jesus, Bishop, what've you got me doing this time?"
3 Years Previously
"I need somebody like you on my team." Noah Bishop, Chief of the FBI Special Crimes Unit, could be persuasive when he wanted to. And he definitely wanted to.
Riley Crane eyed him, her doubt and her wariness obv...
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