Have you added GRAVE SECRETS to your To Be Read books yet? It's coming your way on July 25th - a thriller chock-full of chills, suspense, the Alaskan wilderness, and the steam factor brewing between two opposites joined together like Velcro in their fight for survival. What? You can't peek inside the cover on Amazon while it's on pre-order to read the first few chapters? Well, here they are for your viewing pleasure. Have fun and enjoy!
A Murphy Thriller
Jack Murphy sat tossing pellets to the koi in Marv Lytle’s fishpond. Jack’s Shiloh shepherd lay beside him on the flagstones, trembling with the urge to dive in the pond to catch dinner. “Stay, Sweets. Leave the fish alone.”
Besides being one of Jack’s closest friends, Marv was the chief psychiatric consultant on high profile criminal cases to law enforcement on a national level, which was why Jack needed his help. While there were few things in life that stymied Jack, he feared if he didn’t reach out to Marv, someone close to him might die.
Marv sat quietly while studying Jack. “Out with it, man. You didn’t just come here to feed my fish and drive your dog crazy, so what’s going on?”
“It’s my brother,” Jack sighed, staring down at the patio stones. “I think this time he has really gone off the deep end.”
“So, what? You think he needs a shrink?” Marv popped the lid off a cooler and tossed him a bottle. “I’m listening.”
“There’s not much I can tell you, because I don’t know the specifics.” Twisting the cap off his bottle, Jack took a swallow of beer. “Duke was Special Forces, a career Navy SEAL until about two years ago when his last mission didn’t end well. He lost members of his team and ended up in a veteran’s hospital for three months.”
“And Duke didn’t tell anyone. By the time the family found out, he had quit the SEALS and blocked us from visiting him at the hospital.”
Marv held up a finger. “Indulge me for a minute. Is your father still a military chaplain in Hawaii? I knew him when I was stationed there.”
“He is, although he’ll be retiring in eight months. It was my parents who were notified when Duke was sent stateside to recover.”
“Makes sense,” Marv said. “And do you know the extent of your brother’s injuries?”
“Nothing debilitating in terms of physical injuries, but I think he suffers from PTSD.” Jack leaned forward in his lounge chair, peeling the label from his bottle. “Duke actually seemed to improve for a while. He’s been operating our branch in Dallas for the past year. That is… until he went off the grid a few weeks ago; disappeared into the wilds of Alaska where he’s living in an old army bunker. I think he’s lost his mind and gone for good.”
Marv came out of his chair to pace the flagstones. “I won’t lie to you, Jack. It sounds as if your brother has serious problems, but I can’t make a diagnosis from here.”
“I’m worried he’s suicidal, Marv, a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off. He quit our security business by sending me a goddamn text. Can you believe it? He said he took a job with the forestry service in Alaska instead. Man, something is seriously wrong with him.”
“Okay, so we get him the help he needs.”
“How, Marv, when you’ve just finished saying you can’t make a diagnosis?”
Marv edged his chair closer and sat down again. “Listen, when I was top forensic psychiatrist with the US Army’s Criminal Investigation Division, I had an intern in Hawaii who could perform miracles with patients suffering from PTSD. If I remember correctly, he even worked with your father regarding one of his parishioners. So, he knows your dad and I think your brother’s situation would interest him. Let me give him a call and set some wheels in motion.”
“Duke won’t book a bunch of appointments with a psychiatrist in Hawaii, Marv, if that’s your plan. Hell, he won’t even make time to talk on the internet, not when he doesn’t give a shit about himself.”
“No worries, pal. If Mohammed won’t come to the mountain, we send the mountain to him.”
Jack blew out a breath, almost afraid to hope. He reached in the cooler and brought out a couple more beers, handing one to Marv. “You have something in mind?”
“Maybe.” Marv angled his chin at Sweets. “I think Duke’s loyalty to your dog is going to be key here. Didn’t you tell me she was only on loan to you, that your brother wanted her back for your security operation in Dallas?”
“Yeah, that’s what he said at the time. Duke felt I needed added protection when I was chasing down the Crypt Killer. He brought me Sweets — she’s a kickass police dog — promising if I kept her until I apprehended the serial killer, he would take her back afterward. But she’s like family now and I’d hate to give her up.”
“Sure, but does your brother know that? Give me twenty-four hours to put a plan in motion. I’ll let you know when it’s time to cast your rod and see if Duke takes the bait.”
Marv twisted the cap off his second beer and clinked bottles with Jack. Then he picked up his cell phone and dialed.
Sarina Dunbar hurried along the riverfront of the Potomac, scanning the muddy water and shoreline for any signs of life. Clutching pepper spray in one fist and a three-inch tactical blade with the other, she backed between shipping containers stacked on the pier. She listened to the night sounds while taking shallow breaths. There was nothing but silence. No rumble of cranes loading and unloading cargo ships at this hour. No voices shouting along the docks, and no sounds of her pursuer. Could she possibly be that lucky to lose him in the dark?
What started out as a short walk to a waterside restaurant had taken a chilling turn the moment she heard footfalls echoing hers on the deserted sidewalk. A brief summer downpour had emptied the streets of almost everyone, except for her and the person following her. She caught his reflection in a bay window when she approached the restaurant. He was big, built like an overweight football player. Not good news for a woman in fear for her life.
She knew she was marked for death. Lance had threatened it months ago, trapping her in a hallway at the courthouse after their divorce hearing. He’d bragged about putting a price on her head any scumbag would love to collect. And no one could claim the reward until they brought her to him to rape, torture, and murder himself. “You’re already dead meat, Sarina. You just don’t know it yet.”
The memory faded as she followed the maître d' to a table partially hidden in an alcove. But panic caused her limbs to shake. She almost tumbled sideways when she sat in the chair.
Calm down and don’t be an idiot. Even if Lance’s muscle spots me, what can he do in a crowded restaurant?
He walked through the door seconds later and took a seat at the bar, scanning the room like a mob enforcer searching for his mark. The restaurant manager caught his gaze and stared him down. The jerk clearly appeared out of his element in the ambiance of crystal chandeliers, flocked wallpaper, and fine French cuisine. The man lowered his eyes and hadn’t spotted her yet.
Ham-sized fists wrapped around a pilsner glass. His sidearm bulged beneath the dung-colored sport jacket he wore. It tented the fabric, causing Sarina to wonder if he was an off-duty cop. Nothing would surprise her. Too bad she couldn’t risk calling the police to find out.
She knew her ex-husband had his hands in many pockets, some of them at the topmost levels of government and law enforcement. As a CIA operative high on the food chain, he played the power game well. People jumped to do his bidding whenever he snapped his fingers. Whether he held something over their heads or paid top dollar for their loyalty, the results were always the same. No one denied Lance Schmidt what he wanted and lived to talk about it, except maybe for her, and only as long as her luck held out.
Slipping the coat from her shoulders, she sipped ice water while pretending to study the menu. All the while, her mind worked at warp speed, analyzing and discarding possible escape scenarios until she eliminated all but one.
The wine steward poured a glass of red Bordeaux from the demi-bottle she’d requested. She risked another glance at her pursuer after she ordered a meal. He still seemed oblivious to her location. Now was her chance. After slipping cash under the wine glass, she walked toward the restrooms in the L-shaped hallway off the dining area. Only a few more steps to freedom, the exit sign at the end of the corridor fluorescing red and white. In seconds, she was out the door, the pepper spray and a hunting knife pulled from her tote bag, and running for her life.
Hiding from Lance these past months had taught her important survival skills. One was to be aware of her surroundings. Always know the exits of a building, which she had done on a previous visit to this café. Another was to wear decent footwear. Whenever she wore spike heels, as she did tonight, she carried her cross trainers in the tote bag. She had changed her shoes as soon as the knuckle dragger at the bar lit up her radar like fireworks on the fourth of July.
Her only mistake? Believing the burner phone the District Attorney had given her was untraceable. Lance had to be pinging cell towers to track her whereabouts. It was the only way his goon could find her. Which meant she couldn’t go back to her B&B. He would know that location too.
Her thoughts snapped back to the here and now when she realized someone stood behind her on the pier. She smelled the man before she felt his gun nudge her kidney.
“Unless you're housekeeping’s turndown service, which I doubt, since there ain’t no chocolates on my pillows, drop the weapons before I shoot a hole straight through ya.”
Shit, shit, shit!
She did what he wanted, waiting to feel the pain from a gun blast. He spun her around. This wasn’t the man who followed her from the restaurant. No, this was a vagrant; unwashed, stinking of alcohol and stale sweat. Seeing the grimy finger pointing at her midsection, she realized he didn’t have a gun. She dove for her weapons but he knocked her aside, beating her to the draw. He pocketed them in a ratty army jacket.
“You want’em back? It’s gonna cost ya.” Hands on his hips, he shot her the evil eye. “Come into a man’s bedroom and disturb him, you’re gonna pay for it. I was having a nice snooze ‘til you showed up.”
“Look, I don’t have any money. I left it all at a restaurant to pay for a meal I never got to eat.” She was losing control, felt her lips tremble and pressed her fingers against them. Damn. “I need those weapons because there’s a man back there hunting me down for my ex-husband who wants to kill me.”
“The hell you say.” He moved past her to peer around the corner of a container. He turned back, hissing against her ear. “You wasn’t kidding lady. Someone’s coming. Let’s go.”
He took her by a wrist, zigging and zagging behind machinery and wooden crates until they arrived at a patch of woods. He kept on going, climbing until she thought her legs would give out. He did not stop until they reached a group of tents, cardboard shelters, and fires burning in rusted barrels at the top of a rise. Clothes hung on ropes strung through the trees. Old cars sealed off both ends of a rutted drive. People lay on threadbare mattresses, smoking dope and drinking.
“The name’s Moses. What’s yours?”
He pulled her into one of the tents, dropping a blanket back over the entrance from the ceiling. “You’re safe here with me. Now tell me what happened.”
Two other men sat in the tent, wearing camo gear. Her eyes strayed to the dog tags hanging from chains around all of their necks, the ribbons and medals pinned on Moses' jacket. Adding in the tattoos she saw on the other men's arms, she realized they were former military. Men who had fought to defend this country and then slipped through the cracks upon returning home. Her eyes teared up. It broke her heart. She burst into tears and not just for them, but for herself as well and her current situation. She couldn’t go on, and her story came pouring out.
Moses made tea on a butane stove while the other two indulged in whiskey and blunts. She choked on the smoke until he opened the tent flap before handing her a cup. “So, you’re saying you're supposed to fly outta here tomorrow, but your plane ticket and suitcase are still at that place you’re staying?”
“Yes. I can’t go back there to get them because people are watching. If I get caught, I’ll be taken to my ex-husband and killed.” She felt another tear roll down her cheek and brushed it away. “I’m sorry to be such a crybaby. I guess I’m just scared.”
“You got nothing to worry ‘bout no more, Sarina.” Moses stood, his two friends along with him. One carried a rucksack, the other a flashlight.
Moses turned to her as they headed out the door. “Stay inside until we get back. Then we’ll drive you to the airport.”
She stared at him as if he were ten feet tall and the bravest man she had ever met, because he was. “But, how can I repay you when I have no money?”
“Play it forward, gal. Jus’ play it forward.”
Moses was true to his word. At six a.m. the next morning, she was in the air on a flight to Alaska. Lance Schmidt and the contract on her life be dammed. She'd take her chances with the wilderness. She was better off there than risking the bastard catching her on the streets of Washington D.C., his home turf. At least now she might have a fighting chance at survival.