Tall, lithe Selena McCaffrey turns heads on the streets–and hides an assassin’s knife beneath her clothes. In another life, Selena would have chosen a peaceful career as a painter. But as a child, fate plunged her into a fight for survival–and a trusted father-figure forced her into a life of crime.
Now the feds want Selena to go undercover. Her assignment: break up the criminal empire once run by her protector and mentor. But playing a double game threatens the first good thing she’s ever had with a man–an honest Tulsa cop–and draws Selena into a high-stakes sting filled with deception and shocking violence. Surrounded by danger–and coming closer to uncovering a chilling truth about herself and her past–Selena is about to find out just how much deeper she’ll have to go . . . to get out alive.
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Selena McCaffrey had had one hell of a day.
A .45 gripped loosely in both hands, she sighted on a paper silhouette target seventy-five feet away. She'd emptied the previous magazine center mass in the target's chest. This one was going into the head.
She double-tapped the target--fired two shots in rapid succession--then did it again. The ground around her was littered with brass. In the time since the owner of the shooting range had left her alone to relieve her frustration, the sun had set and the flood lamps had come on, but she didn't feel much better.
The day hadn't started badly. She'd gone for a run that morning and then put in a good six hours at the easel. Then she'd opened her door to find Special Agent King of the FBI on her stoop, and everything had gone to hell.
It sounded so reasonable the way the FBI put it. She had a fourteen-year pseudo-father-daughter relationship with Henry Daniels, better known to her as William Davis, head of an extensive drug operation. He had always intended for her to take over the business someday, and now that he was out of commission, the FBI was pressuring her to fulfill his wish--and in the process, help them shut down the operation once and for all. If she cooperated, they would be willing to forget their list of charges against her. If she didn't . . .
Sweat trickling down her spine, she fired the last of the bullets in the magazine, set the pistol on the table beside her, pulled off the ear protectors, and combed her fingers through her hair. Summer nights in Oklahoma weren't much different from back home in Key West--hot and muggy--though she missed the ocean breezes. In Tulsa the best they could offer was the Arkansas River, sluggish and brown, and the scents of the oil refinery on the west bank. But that was all right. She hadn't come for the weather, and she wasn't staying for it, either.
Clenching her jaw against the curses she wanted to shout into the night, she reached for the box of bullets. A puff of dust rose from the concrete only inches from her hand and she stared at it--and the small neat hole left behind--for an instant. The same instant it took another bullet to glance off the cement and ricochet into the night. Instinctively she dove to the ground, taking cover behind the nearest half wall. From her position she could see her gun on the table--and fewer than ten rounds of ammo in the box beside it. She hadn't had a chance to reload, and the shooter probably knew that.
He couldn't have picked a better place for an attack. The neighborhood was largely industrial, and the people who worked nearby were accustomed to gunfire. Even if anyone was around that late, they wouldn't think to call the police.
Another shot splintered the concrete above her head, showering fragments and dust on her skin. She flinched, and the switchblade in her waistband dug into her skin. With the blade and her extensive martial arts training, she'd always felt confident in any situation, but neither was of any use against an attacker secreted in the darkness. He could kill her, then disappear with no one the wiser.
Damned if she was going to die without a fight.
She shimmied on her belly along the length of the cinder-block wall, stirring up dust. When she reached the far end, she drew a deep breath, murmured a prayer, then eased to a crouch. There was no sound--no heavy breathing, no fumbled reloading, no sirens racing to her assistance. Nothing but the thudding of her own heart.
One, two, three, she counted, then launched herself around the corner toward the table where her weapon lay. Bullets followed, biting into the ground, the cement, the wood posts that supported the overhanging roof. She hit the ground with a thud, rolling, reaching up to grab the pistol and the box of bullets. Relief rushed over her when her blind groping found both. She rolled again, came up on her feet in one fluid movement, then dove once more for the cover of the cinder-block wall.
Her hands were steady as she fed the bullets into the clip. Once the final round was in place, she shoved it into the butt of the pistol, chambered a round, and pushed the remaining ammo into her pocket as she rose onto her knees.
The angle of the shots indicated they'd come from the same location, the wooded hill to the south of the range. Presumably that meant there was only one shooter, and he had a bird's-eye view of the entire area. He knew she was alone, knew her odds of making it to the squat building that fronted the range or to her car in the parking lot beyond were minimal. He could pick her off like a sitting duck.
She was forty feet from the door, and the wall that currently shielded her was the last cover available. The door opened into a hallway that ran the length of the building. On the right at the back was the indoor range, used during the worst of Oklahoma's inhospitable summers and icy winters. At the front was the office and the armory, both heavily secured. She was a fast runner, but not fast enough, not with the shooter's vantage point and the flood lamps that turned darkness into day.
Unless he couldn't see her.
She quickly sighted on the nearest light and fired. The bulb exploded with a pop. She hit a second one, and a third, even as the shooter opened up on her protective cover with a hail of automatic weapon fire.
The instant the last lamp went out, she surged to her feet and made a furious dash for the door. Clods of dirt exploded around her and something hit her arm with enough force to send her staggering against the building. Biting her lip against the pain, she jerked the door open and raced down the dark hall. Wherever the assassin was parked, she had no doubt she could reach her Thunderbird before he made his way down the hill. Seconds were all she needed . . . unless he had an accomplice waiting outside.
She refused to let the thought slow her. Gripping the pistol in one hand, she dug in her pocket for her keys with the other. As she burst outside, she unlocked the car with the remote, yanked the door open, and threw herself inside. The engine roared to life, and the tires squealed wildly as she backed up, then accelerated out of the empty parking lot, barely making the turn onto the street before stomping the gas pedal to the floor.
She'd gone two miles, the speedometer pushing eighty, before the adrenaline rush deserted her. Her foot eased up on the pedal. The throbbing in her left arm was growing too strong to ignore. When she reached back with her right hand, her fingers came away sticky with blood.
In the last seconds her breathing had gone beyond rapid to nothing less than a pant, and her entire body was starting to shake. She turned off the street into a shopping center that was closed for the night, drove around one end to the back, and parked in a loading zone, where tall walls shielded her on three sides. Pressing a tissue to the wound in her arm, she closed her eyes and forced herself to breathe, calmness and control in, fear and pain out. When the trembling had stopped, when her heart rate had returned to some semblance of normal, she reached for her cell phone and dialed one of only two numbers stored in it.
"Tony, this is Selena," she said when he answered, surprised by how calm she sounded. "I was wondering if you could come meet me. I think I've been shot."
The street was quiet when Scott Fleming pulled into his driveway, inching along as the garage door slid up to reveal his wife's SUV. It seemed he always got home late--for him, at least, working for the FBI had never been a forty-hour-a-week job--but this night it was several hours later than usual. No doubt the kids were already tucked into bed. Jen was probably in bed, too, watching Frasier or Cheers on the tube.
He parked his GOV--government-owned vehicle--beside the Lexus, watched the garage door close in the rearview mirror, then climbed out, gathering his briefcase and suit coat. Holding them in one hand, he loosened his tie with the other as he went into the house, where he paused to set the security alarm for the night.
A few dim lights shone downstairs. He walked through the house, turning them off and admiring everything along the way--the leather furniture, the giant-screen television and home theater system, the gourmet kitchen, though Jen was anything but a gourmet cook. He listened to the sound of his footsteps on the imported marble tile and drew his fingertips across the textured surface of the faux-painted wall, then followed his nightly ritual of turning the dimmer switch on the chandelier in the entry, a one-of-a-kind blown-glass thing, until the lights went dark. Then he started up the curving staircase.
The house was a showplace--four thousand square feet of class, taste, and refinement . . . not bad for a man who'd grown up on the wrong side of Memphis, who'd gone hungry through most of his youth, worn ill-fitting hand-me-downs, and been harassed and bullied every single day of his life. It was much more than a home to him. It was a symbol of how far he'd come, of how much he'd achieved.
A symbol, a sly voice whispered in his head, that was slowly crushing him under its weight.
There were four bedrooms on the second floor, along with a game room for the kids, stocked with everything they could possibly need to be entertained. He stopped in Brianne's doorway and watched her sleep for a moment, then did the same across the hall at Brad's room before continuing to the master suite at the end of the corridor.
He never walked into the bedroom without marveling that it was bigger than the entire house where he'd grown up with his parents and two sisters. There was a sitting area with a fireplace, a whirlpool tub in the bathroom big enough for two, a bed big enough for four. His closet was the size of a normal bedroom, and Jen's was even bigger. It was luxurious.
Wasteful, the voice whispered again. Indecent.
He'd been right about Jen. She was curled up on her side in bed, her blond hair falling forward over her face. Like the house, she was a symbol, too--the youngest daughter of an old Oklahoma family that had made its fortune in the oil boom days and secured it with diversified investments. She'd had the kind of upbringing he had never even dreamed about--nannies, private schools, chauffeurs, debutante balls. She'd had her choice of rich, powerful, socially elite suitors, but she'd married him.
Damned if he would give her reason to regret it.
When he shut off the television, she stirred, her blue eyes fluttering open, her smile sleepy. "You're late." She fanned the air with one elegant hand when he sat down next to her. "And a bit ripe, too. What have you been doing?"
"I had a flat."
"And ruined your shirt." She fingered a rip in the white fabric before yawning. "You should have called someone."
"Hey, I can change a flat. And it's just a shirt. I'll get a new one." That was one of the benefits of success--no more hand-me-downs, no patching or making do. When he needed something, he bought it. More importantly, when he wanted something, he bought it. "You go back to sleep, babe. I'm going to take a shower."
She made a kissy-face at him, then snuggled into the covers once more.
He went into the bathroom that was all marble, chrome, and glass, and stripped naked, tossing his shirt in the wastebasket, the rest of his clothes in a pile on the floor. His gold-and-diamond cuff links went into a dish on the counter along with his watch and wedding band, then he stepped into the shower. As the water beat down on him from four separate heads, he thought about the real reason he'd been late getting home. He never told Jen anything she didn't want to know, and he was pretty sure she wouldn't want to know this.
Truth was, they were in deep trouble. He was swimming in debt and about to go under. That night, right or wrong, he'd done something about it.
Sonny Yates's primary place of business was a bar so shabby that it couldn't in fairness be called a dive. It sat in a clearing on the outskirts of Savannah, cypress and weathered shingles sheltered by tall sugar pines, just yards from the banks of a sluggish stream that flowed past the city to join the Savannah River and, soon enough, the Atlantic. There was no sign outside. Customers parked their pickups on sandy dirt littered with crushed shells and pine straw, and they drank away their cares inside the unadorned walls. Anyone looking for food, fancy drinks, or friendly conversation looked elsewhere, and anyone not interested in minding his own business damn sure went somewhere else.
Normally Sonny conducted business from a table in the darkest corner of the bar, his back to the wall, a cell phone on the table in front of him, and a Glock tucked into his belt. Not so that night.
The midnight air hung low and heavy. It was ripe with smells of the mill upriver, the sweet fragrance of pine, the salty tang of distant ocean, the damp and decay of the marsh. Water lapped against the shore, and an occasional fish broke the surface before submerging again.
Four men stood in front of him, shoulder to shoulder. Their breathing was ragged, raspy, and in spite of the rich scents surrounding them, he could smell their fear. Good. They should be afraid.
Sonny stood in the shadows, unmoving. So did J.T., off to his left. Devlin and LeRoy, flanking the four guests, were more restless, swiping at no-see-'ems, tiny little gnats that could eat a man alive, and drying sweat from their faces. Their constant movement emphasized his own lack of it, giving his stillness a more ominous air. Not that much could be more ominous than what he had planned.
Under ordinary circumstances, he would have discussed the situation with Mr. Davis before taking this kind of action, but his calls to Damon Long, Davis's go-between, had gone unanswered, as had his calls to Davis himself. Besides, while he might work for Davis--for the time being--he was still his own boss. He didn't need the old man's permission to deal with thieving employees.