Soooo... back on topic. Kayla really is trying to be a good girl in Flirting With Murder, but between her chaotic love life, rogue assassins on her tail, crazy psychics and a family with more secrets than the Pentagon, it's HARD!!! So, she may occasionally fall off the wagon during her road to recovery, but what a ride. And really, do we want her to be an angel? Where's the fun in that? Karma may have a few things to say about it, but for now being bad is just a little too irresistible. Want a taste? Read on for the first chapter of Step Two:
“Murder is always a mistake. One should never do anything that one cannot talk about after dinner.”
Those two little words haunted my dreams.
Dammit! They were ruining everything.
Bryan had surprised me with an impromptu road trip down to Rocky Point, Mexico and I was actually starting to view my exile to suburbia as something other than the death sentence it had started out as. Four days of salt-scented air, tangy margaritas and extended naked romps with my yummy lawyer-boy was a definite shove in the right direction for my recovery. I was relaxed and tan. Loud noises didn’t make me immediately reach for the gun I no longer carried. The message icon blinking incessantly on my cell sparked zero desire to find out what was going on outside my cocoon.
When my neighbor had parked her minivan in front of my house with a brand new pedophile’s deli menu on the back window (AKA ridiculous stick figures of her ever-expanding brood, complete with names and ages), did I search for my crowbar? Nope. It barely even caused a blip in my pulse.
Hell, I hadn’t caused any accidents on the freeway in weeks. I was practically cured.
And then, in a moment of boredom and weakness I had opened the envelope I’d carelessly tossed aside such a short time ago. Big mistake. Two little words, six letters, two syllables had thrown me right back into the past – kill me.
What was that even supposed to mean?
Dmitri wasn’t prone to theatrics, but even without a signature there was no mistaking the sender. Was he suggesting I figuratively kill him? As if I’d been pining away, wallowing in sorrow since his abrupt departure from my life? As if! Seriously. Pinky-swear.
I was enjoying normalcy as much as an assassin could. A former assassin with the hots for her most recent target, that is. I never claimed to be brilliant, so suck it. The thought of him made my panties too tight… and I wasn’t currently wearing panties. Ex-assassin problems.
But that didn’t mean I was going to let this little game he was playing continue. If it was a game. Why did I insist on overanalyzing everything? My sanity was tenuous at best. I didn’t need someone in my life who kept me constantly on the edge.
Couldn’t I just enjoy a leisurely afternoon by the pool without my past rearing up to bite me in the ass? I mean, I’d resorted to making freaking crafts. Crafts! How much more ‘suburban’ could I get? Damn that Pinterest, I silently cursed, swishing the strips of multi-colored tulle I’d somehow fashioned into a gloriously full, adult-sized tutu around me.
I promise, the silly skirt had been destined for the dump. But as I’d slipped off my wet swimsuit in preparation for going inside to clean up, I had spied it resting forlornly atop the trash bins and couldn’t seem to stop myself from trying it on one last time.
Okay, so I missed my make-believe world sometimes. It happens. It didn’t mean I was going to shoulder my rifle and start picking off arms dealers.
Tank waddled over and flopped on my foot with an exhausted sigh as I rinsed my bikini off with the hose and hung it over a chair to dry. “Yeah, you guys really have it rough. I need to wash the chlorine off,” I told him, bending to rub his chubby belly. “Then, the four of you are getting a bath.”
See – I was completely adapting to “normal”.
My cell started ringing as I walked to the bathroom. Another blocked number. If it was Dmitri I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of knowing what he was doing to me. If it was the CIA, well, I was done with the CIA, too.
I was adjusting the taps to attain the perfect temperature for my intended bubble bath when it sounded like a nuclear bomb exploded in my living room. Momma and the puppies immediately hid behind the toilet. I went into Zen-mode as I spied men in full combat gear file into the tiny hallway.
Close-quarters battle wasn’t my specialty – especially without my trusty knife, or better yet, my gun handy – but they only thought they had the element of surprise. Even outnumbered and underdressed, I had exposed ta-tas on my side.
I gave them a flirty finger wave. “Can I help you boys?”
Men are so easy. Armed and armored, yet the sight of a nice rack stunned them stupid. Or maybe it was the vision of a grown woman wearing nothing but a tutu. Either way, I knew it wouldn’t last long and used the respite to my advantage. The first one went down with my famous roundhouse kick. Not easy in a bathroom the size of an outhouse, I assure you. The second charged, but an uppercut to the chin had his eyes showing nothing but white. Macho or not, the third didn’t stand a chance when my knee connected with his nuts.
Jesus! How many were there? It was like a game of Whack-a-Mole where you knocked them down and yet they just kept coming. My best bet was to run in the opposite direction – to my bedroom – where the reinforced door would hold them off until I could lock and load. But I’d gone soft. I hesitated over leaving my babies alone, and in that instant of indecision was tackled and brought down.
By now, it’s probably obvious I’m not shy. But I wasn’t comfortable with the fact my boob had landed smack dab in the middle of number two’s face. He had better not be enjoying this, or I’d kill him for real.
My wrists were quickly and expertly secured behind my back before rough hands lifted me to my feet. I was waiting for my cue, and when it came I tossed my head back as forcefully as I could. I heard a satisfying crunch and fled for the bedroom. I wasn’t any good to the puppies if I was dead, after all.
I awkwardly maneuvered the lock into place, took two steps forward and came to a halt. “Shit.”
Charles, my former handler, stood serenely at the foot of my bed. His military posture made me wonder how he could look so comfortable with a stick lodged firmly up his ass. I mean, it had to be at least mildly annoying, right? “I’d be impressed if I wasn’t so pissed that you’ve just taken down some of the best recruits we’ve had in years.”
“Shouldn’t that make you more impressed?” I countered.
Charles just shook his head, but I would swear there was a smile in his eyes. “Turn around and let me get you out of those zip ties.”
As soon as I was free, I ran to the door. “My dogs,” I explained over my shoulder.
“Kayla!” His commanding voice still held the power to stop me in my tracks. “Why don’t you put some clothes on?”
I couldn’t help myself. Batting my eyelashes, I said, “Am I making you nervous?”
“Just do it.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t barge into people’s houses if you’re afraid of a little nudity,” I mumbled as I hopped into a pair of Bryan’s boxers that had been tossed on the floor, shimmied out of my do-it-yourself ballerina-at-the-ball project and threw a t-shirt over my head. “Satisfied?”
He gave a curt nod.
All of the men except the uppercut victim were on their feet. “Get out of my way.”
I was surprised when they complied – until, out of the corner of my eye I saw Charles give them the same nod he had given me. I did my best to ignore them all as I raced into the bathroom and dropped to my knees. My little family was huddled in a tiny ball of quivering fear. I forced my fists to relax as I coaxed them into my arms.
With the brood safely, if awkwardly, bundled, I pushed through the firing squad and settled the babies next to me on the couch. “It’s okay,” I assured them. “I’ll always protect you.”
Charles stepped into the room from the hallway, instructing his men to guard the perimeter. As soon as the area cleared of extra bodies he sat in the chair opposite me and expelled a long breath. “At least this little fiasco answered one question I had.”
“Do you want me to guess what it was?”
“Don’t be insubordinate.”
“Since I don’t work for you, that’s not possible.”
“Jesus, Kayla.” He rubbed his hands over his weary face. “I’m here to protect you. Can you cut me some slack?”
I was already shaking my head. “No, Charles, I don’t think I can. You broke into my home and had five men attempt to assault me. My dogs are scared to death and I need a bath. So rewind and try again.”
“David escaped custody.”
“That’s not good.” I surprised myself with how calm my voice sounded. I was even more surprised by how calm I actually was.
“No, it’s definitely not good.”
“Why are you here? Shouldn’t you be tracking him?”
“We are. Our last sighting had him about a mile away… and that was three days ago.”
I started to jump up to pace, but Boo whimpered and I immediately drew them all closer to me. “Why am I just hearing about this now? How long has he been on the run? Do you have a team on my family?” The thought of them in danger caused a sick feeling to rise up from the pit of my belly. “Please tell me you haven’t orchestrated an echo performance of what happened here a few minutes ago. My grandfather has Alzheimer’s and the stress could be very detrimental to his disease.”
“Don’t worry, we thought it best to watch and wait where they’re concerned. But a team is in place to extract them as soon as you give the okay.” He hesitated, but then forged ahead. “And back to your original query, David slipped custody a few days after he was brought in, which you would have known if you’d ever answer your goddamned phone. We weren’t overly concerned at first because he seemed to be continuing his original mission, but then everything changed.”
“What? What changed?”
“Our sources were tracking both David and Dmitri – and their movements were identical. But then David changed course, straight to Phoenix. As far as we know, Dmitri is somewhere in Egypt. The only thing that makes sense is he decided to go for a stationary target first.”
“Me.” It wasn’t a question.
“I need to make a few phone calls.” Claire and her family needed to be warned, as well as Bryan.
“What you need to do is pack a bag and come with me now. We’ll take you to your family and get all of you somewhere safe until we can reel David back in.”
“Please tell me you’re joking.”
“What other option do we have? With the way David slipped away, he has to be getting help from inside the CIA. It only makes sense to take you and your family out of the equation until we have a lock on him.”
It all sounded reasonable. And, if I were anyone other than a former assassin I would have jumped at the opportunity to let the almighty federal government keep my loved ones safe. But I knew The Agency and there was one really big hole in Charles’s plan…
“Are you calling in the Marshals? The FBI?”
“David is one of ours. We clean up our own messes.”
Yeah, except the CIA didn’t have authority to run an op on domestic soil. “So if all this goes to shit, you don’t have any backup. Or, witnesses,” I added.
“We can handle one rogue agent – as long as you’re willing to cooperate.”
“And cooperation means allowing you to hide us all away while you mop up the mess David’s sure to create? What about friends, acquaintances, hell, the teller at my bank? You know he’ll use whoever he can get his hands on to accomplish his goal.” Not even the CIA could protect every person I’d ever come in contact with. And Charles knew I was adamant about my family not knowing who I’d been – which meant he had another plan he was angling for and was counting on me offering up the alternative.
“I’ll admit, we might have some collateral damage,” he hedged.
“Stop, Charles. Just stop. You and I both know the best way to get David is to leave me out in the open. He might be the world’s biggest asshole, but he’s not a stupid asshole. He’ll sniff out any agent within a ten mile radius of me. So, the only way this would work is if he thinks he can get to me directly. Leave me unprotected and he’ll have no reason to harm anyone else,” I concluded.
Charles smiled, then frowned. “Except there’s one flaw in your reasoning – you’ve been unprotected this entire time and David hasn’t made a move to eliminate you.”
“He’s waiting for something.”
And there was the truth I’d been avoiding. “Dmitri,” I whispered, leaving the name of David’s other target unspoken. Charles couldn’t know about Claire and I wasn’t going to be the one to give away her secret.
But David knew. And we had thwarted him once already. He wouldn’t stop with me and Dmitri. No, his ego would demand total vindication from all parties involved in his downfall.
“It’s no secret the two of you developed a particularly close bond over the course of your last mission,” Charles continued. “If Dmitri were to discover you were in danger there’s every reason to believe he would attempt to come to your rescue.”
Charles couldn’t know how true those words were. He was fishing for confirmation. But it would be a cold day in hell before I’d take the bait and admit the full extent of my treasonous affair. “I think you’re wrong. And even if by some twist of fate our Greek arms dealer is harboring even a remote deep, dark affection for me, I have absolutely no way of contacting him to set the trap.”
“We don’t just gather information, Kayla. We’re pretty good at releasing it, too.”
Like so much in my life, I was bored with the conversation. And there was another truth I’d been loath to admit. There was little doubt I would go along with the plan to protect both my true identity and the lives of everyone important to me. What no one needed to know was that I also longed for the excitement. “Do what you have to do to set the wheels in motion. I’m perfectly capable of watching my own six, but I’m counting on you to do everything in your power to keep my family safe.”
“You have my word,” he vowed. Charles stood and began walking toward the door. At the last moment he turned and said, “Do everything in your power to keep yourself safe. Everything. Got it?”
His eye contact was mesmerizing. He knew something he wasn’t telling me – I just needed to figure out which of my many secrets I had to get better at burying. “I will, Charles. I always look out for number one.” He was in the process of quietly shutting the door when I added, “And if you or anyone else ever breaks into my home again, I’ll kill every last one of you. Got it?”
His barely perceptible nod and fleeting half smile was the only indication he had heard my parting threat.
Momma let out a muted growl and I rubbed her back reassuringly. “That’s right. Us momma bears don’t mess around when it comes to protecting our own, do we?”
Momma planted her feet on my chest and gave my chin a quick laving before herding her brood to the kitchen for some post-trauma nourishment. Her unconditional love and support reminded me that not every part of my suburban exile had been a waste.
It also reminded me that I really needed a bath – because things were about to get dirty.
Get the entire story here.