Three siblings searching for the truth about their family are about to find more than they bargained for....
When Tamara Allistair lost her family, she quickly learned that the only person she could rely on was herself. Now Tamara wants revenge against the man who wronged her. But going after a target with far-reaching connections is a dangerous gamble, and soon Tamara is the one being threatened.
A man with his own share of family issues, ex-marine C. J. MacNamara knows that protecting Tamara is the right thing to do. Keeping her safe is no easy task, but getting her to trust him is an entirely different challenge. As Tamara attempts to right a wrong ten years in the making, C.J. puts his own life on the line to protect the woman who is more worthy of love than anyone he’s ever known.
“Always delivers heart-stopping suspense." —Harlan Coben
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Lisa Gardner is the New York Times bestselling author of fourteen previous novels. Her Detective D. D. Warren novels include Catch Me, Love You More, and the International Thriller of the Year award–winning novel The Neighbor. Her FBI profiler novels include Say Goodbye, Gone, The Killing Hour, The Next Accident, and The Third Victim. She lives with her family in New England, where she is at work on her next novel.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
There are two ways of doing this—?the easy way or the hard way.”
The big man appeared unimpressed. He leaned back in the old wooden chair and crossed arms that were as thick as oak beams over his chest. His eyes carried a dangerous, glassy sheen C.J. knew too well.
He should’ve never let the big man into his bar. It was obvious the guy and his companions had already had a few too many before ever stepping into the Ancient Mariner. Now C.J. got to clean up some other bartender’s mess.
“I don’t gotta do nothing,” the big man said sullenly. He bent his thick neck toward his burly buddies. “Right?”
Twiddly Dee and Twiddly Dumb both nodded.
C.J. forced himself to stand loose and keep the grin on his face. It was Wednesday night, and on a Wednesday night of all nights, he didn’t want a fight in the middle of his joint. But principles were principles, and poor Sheila was still huddled in the corner, terrified, after being pinched by Paul Bunyan here. C.J. didn’t stand for disorderly conduct in his place, and he definitely didn’t stand for any guy manhandling a woman.
As far as C.J. could tell, there was only one thing to do.
“You got two options,” he explained again. “The easy way or the hard way.”
He rolled his neck and shrugged out his shoulders. At five ten and one hundred and sixty pounds, he hardly intimidated the larger man. The regulars in the bar who knew better were quietly placing bets with the people who didn’t know so much. Behind the bar, Gus was unsheathing her knife just to be safe. If these big brutes thought C.J. was harmless, just wait until they saw what Gus could do with a bowie knife.
C.J. wasn’t nervous. He’d faced bigger opponents, tougher opponents, more numerous opponents in his life. At this point, he just wanted these drunkards out of his bar with the least amount of damage possible.
“Okay,” C.J. said at last. “The hard way it is.”
He rolled up his shirtsleeves and assumed a boxer’s stance. “Come on, big fella. I got other customers to flatter.”
Big Fella lumbered out of his chair enthusiastically. Obviously, he hadn’t walked into the Ancient Mariner for the beer.
C.J.’s pulse picked up. He hadn’t been in a brawl for months now, and there was something to be said for a good brawl. Once a marine, always a marine. Semper fi, baby.
The big guy charged, all force and fury. C.J. shook his head and stood his ground. At the last second, he feinted right. Big Fella went crashing headfirst into C.J.’s freshly polished bar.
C.J. winced. “Hell, that’s a hundred dollars’ damage right there.”
Big Fella reeled back and shook his head like a drunken bull. His buddies rose out of their chairs.
“Man, it’s gonna be an expensive night.”
Behind the bar, Gus snorted and said, “You shoulda bought the tranquilizer gun when you had the chance.”
“And miss these Kodak moments? Put some money down on me, Gus. I’m going to need the winnings to cover the damage.”
“Bah,” Gus muttered. “Bar can handle more than that. You, too.”
Twiddly Dee and Twiddly Dumb advanced. C.J. let them crash into the bar once apiece just to be neighborly. After a bit of heavy grunting and fist clenching, the threesome decided for a group rush, costing him two perfectly good tables and one already taped-?together chair. The locals groaned, then cheered as he took a solid right hook, recovered and danced away on the balls of his feet. He knew how to move, take a blow and bounce back up like a human Weeble Wobble. What growing up poor on the streets of L.A. hadn’t taught him, the marines had jammed down his throat in eight weeks of do-?or-?die boot camp.
C.J. got serious. He blocked out the locals’ cheers, Gus’s scowl and Sheila’s concern. He focused on the men before him, the adrenaline throbbing in his veins, along with the small ore of anger that snaked through him on random occasions. The part of him that never forgot the hunger of L.A., or the agony of his mother dying, or his father leaving him that final time for the skies of Indonesia.
C.J. moved. Jab, jab, followed by two feints and a dozen rapid-?fire punches. The three men dropped one, two, three, making loud thuds on his red ?tiled floor.
Thirty seconds later, C.J. stood in the middle of the floor, his breathing slightly heavy as the locals swapped cash, shook their heads at the drunken fools and returned their attention to the small TV set up in the corner. C.J. lingered just to be sure, but Paul Bunyan and his friends remained down for the count. He was half satisfied, half saddened by that. His little sister, Maggie, was right—?he enjoyed fighting too much.
“All right, all right,” Gus grumbled, coming out from behind the bar. “I’ll show them to the door.”
She shuffled her bulk toward the fallen forms, not in any hurry. A Hopi Indian, she was shorter than C.J., but a great deal more imposing. Her thick black hair was liberally streaked with gray and worn in a tight ponytail at the nape of her neck. She never wore jewelry, just the hideous, twisting scars on her face that hinted of untold stories. C.J. had shared the bar with her for almost six years. He had no idea where she came from, what she’d done, or where she might be going. He figured the first time he asked, she’d simply give him her flat black stare, then pack her bags and leave.
Now she leaned over the groaning men and smiled in a way that twisted her scarred face even more grotesquely. One man opened his eyes, gave a little yelp and squeezed them shut again.
“Taking out the trash, Gus?” one of the regulars chortled.
C.J. left the locals to recap the victory and exaggerate the details. He crossed to Sheila, who stood with her arms wrapped around her middle in a stance that reminded him even more of Maggie.
“How you doing, kid?”
She shrugged weakly. Until recently, her primary occupation had been serving as a punching bag for her alcoholic husband. Then, four weeks ago, Mary Campbell from the local church had called C.J., stated Sheila was trying to leave her abusive husband and asked if C.J. would give her a job as a cocktail waitress. He’d agreed instantly, of course. When Sheila had turned out to have no training, he spent Monday walking her through the drill himself. When she’d flinched the first time the bar got too rowdy, he’d harassed his regulars into settling down. When she’d paled at the thought of having to weave in and out of so many men, he’d rearranged the tables so she’d have a wider aisle.
The regulars had been teasing him about it ever since. “Yep, there goes C.J. again, rescuing another damsel, drying another tear. Think if we were blondes he‘d treat us so well?”
“Nope,” C.J. had retorted. “Because you guys would make damn ugly blondes.”
“Don’t let a big bully like that scare you,” C.J. drawled lightly now. “You’re tougher than he is.”
Sheila finally smiled, but it still didn’t reach her eyes. He gave her another moment.
“Want to take the rest of the evening off?”
“I need the money.”
“It’s only one night. Business isn’t that great.”
“I’m fine. Really.”
“Sweetheart, you look like you’re going to faint.”
Her lips thinned. She looked uncertain; then abruptly she squared her shoulders. “I can do it. I . . . ?I need to do it.”
“All right, it was just a suggestion. Prove me wrong. See if I care.”
“I’ll do that.” She slanted him a narrow look. “You didn’t have to fight him. You can’t fight everyone who pinches a woman’s butt.”
“In my bar, yes, I can.”
“I have to learn to handle men like that sooner or later.”
“Fine, next time I’ll hold him and you can beat him up. You are becoming more like my sister, Maggie.” He said that a bit wistfully. He’d always regarded himself as his little sister’s protector, her number one knight in shining armor. Maggie didn’t need him anymore, though. She’d found herself a convicted murderer instead, and C.J. had given up ever understanding women. “So you’re okay?” he quizzed Sheila again, just to be sure.
“Okay, let’s get this show back on the road, then.”
He strode back to the center of the bar, already picking up the shattered chairs.
“Never met a stray dog or troubled woman he didn’t love,” Gus muttered from behind the bar to no one in particular. “He sure ain’t gonna die of old age.”
At one a.m., C.J. closed up shop, kicking the last four regulars out the door. It being Wednesday night, most of the locals had work the next day. Sedona existed thanks to year-?round tourism, a few plush resorts to attract the really rich moths and a solid collection of excellent art galleries. Most of the Ancient Mariner’s clientele were the rugged blue-?collar workers fueling the white-?collar vacations. The Jeep-?tour guides, the hot-air balloon guides, the helicopter pilots. The laundry boys and “customer service representatives” from the various resorts. The kind of people who worked hard looking at how the other half lived and knowing they’d never be them. They worked hard, anyway, and at the end of the day, they wanted to kick back, listen to some good old-?fashioned rock ’n’ roll and enjoy a cold beer.
C.J. had bought the Ancient Mariner with the money he’d saved while in the marines, and he’d kept it a locals’ hangout. The red-?tiled floor was scuffed up and boot-?friendly. Navajo print rugs added warm colors to beat-?up wood walls. The tables and chairs still sported the deeply carved initials of long-?since-?grown reprobates. It was a place for relaxing, telling stories of the New Yorkers who wore designer wool beneath the Arizona sun or the Texans who considered the Red Rocks to be mere pebbles. Guides could brag about how many people they’d stuffed into a hot-air balloon, or how many kids had gotten sick on them that day.
C.J. would shake his head and not believe any of them.
Now he walked to the corner of the room and picked up the TV remote. A news update stated that police still had no leads on the mysterious murder of Spider Wallace, the ignominious cemetery caretaker who’d been gunned down last week in his own graveyard. In other news, Senator George Brennan, Arizona’s fine senator, was rumored to be on the verge of announcing his candidacy for president. He was arriving in Sedona—?his hometown—?next week for a vacation. Insiders predicted he’d declare his intentions then. The old “local boy makes good” angle.
C.J. clicked off the TV. He didn’t care for politics. Death and taxes were enough guaranteed suffering for any man. He placed the remote on top of the TV, stacked the rest of the chairs on the wiped-?down tables and looked around. Gus had finished cleaning the bar and was now closing out the register. Sheila was sweeping the floor.
Everything was under control as it had been last night and the night before that and the night before that. In addition to running the bar, C.J. did some part-?time work as a “bail enforcement officer”—?bounty hunter—?to keep his reflexes sharp. He hadn’t had a case for a while and he could feel it now. He wasn’t unhappy; he was just . . . ?restless. Dissatisfied.
“Are you going home or you gonna stare at us all night?” Gus grumbled.
“I’m going.” He was still standing in his bar, though. He found himself thinking of his father, Max, and that strange year the two of them had whizzed around the globe so Max could conduct his business as “importer-?exporter.” He saw his mother, pale and ethereal, as she’d lain dying in their shabby studio apartment, still loving a man who was too busy traveling to come home.
“Hey, boss man. Get outta here.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
His black convertible Mustang had a five-?liter engine and brand-?new tires. He pulled back the top so the clear, warm night wrapped around him. Crickets chirped. The wind carried the spicy, clean scent of creosote.
He hit the back road hard. An experienced SCCA race driver, he took the first corner at seventy-?five and the third at ninety. In the straightaway, he came close to triple digits, practicing the speed and control he was learning at the tracks, though his grandmother’s voice kept whispering in his ear that this wasn’t the place for it. He found the line of the curving road, double-?clutched for the next corner and hit it at seventy-?five. His tires squealed.
For the first time, headlights appeared behind him—?distant, faint beams.
“Cop?” His foot slipped instantly off the gas, but then he frowned.
The lights were growing in his mirror. Belatedly, he realized that could only mean the car was gaining on him and he was still over ninety. His gaze locked on his mirror. The other car was definitely going really damn fast, probably around a hundred and five, and still hadn’t put on any sirens. The S curves were about to appear.
C.J. downshifted, taking the set of three corners at fifty-?five and hearing his tires squeal. His arms bulged as the car fought him. For an instant, he thought he’d taken the corners too fast and that would be it. He threw his body weight behind his biceps and got his car around the last curve.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid, C.J. What is your problem these days?”
Then he remembered the car behind him. He glanced up. He saw twin headlights dashing wildly. Then he heard the horrible high-?pitched whine of burning rubber spinning off the road.
“Sweetheart, are you all right?”
The voice came from far away. She thought that was odd. She’d been through this drill before, careering off a road in an Arizona night. There weren’t other voices, anyone to offer assistance. There had only been her and the sound of the crickets mourning.
“Come on, come back to me. That’s it, sweetheart. Draw a nice, deep breath of air.”
She opened her eyes. The image took a while to gain substance and form. First the man was hazy; she’d expected that. Maybe he’d have wings and a halo—?who knew what angels really wore? He’d be Shawn or her father. Longing welled up in her throat. Reality cut it back down.
This man wasn’t Shawn. He was too filled out, with the broad shoulders of a man, not a boy. His fingers brushed her cheek, and they were callused.
Immediately, she stiffened. She was alive. She was conscious. She had better pull herself together.
“Take it easy,” the stranger murmured. “I got you.”
Arms curled around her, and hands fumbled with the seat belt still fastened at her waist. She tried to shrink back, but she couldn’t seem to make her body work. She tried to speak, but no sound came out.
Abruptly, she was cradled against a hard chest and lifted into the night.
“Here we go.”
Her head lolled against his shoulder, and the world spun sickeningly. Cool, composed, always professional Tamara Allistair contemplated throwing up on a man she’d never met. Oh, God.
“Honey, we need to get you to a hospital. Lie down right—”
“No.” This time her throat cooperated. She repeated the word more sharply. She’d spent two years in and out of hospitals and physical therapy departments. That was enough time in drafty gowns and sterile rooms for anyone.
There was a moment of silence. She used it to try to calm her stomach and ...
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