Authors: Lori Power
Copyright © 2015 by Lori Power.
All rights reserved.
First Print Edition: August 2015
Limitless Publishing, LLC
Kailua, HI 96734
Formatting: Limitless Publishing
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
Thanks to Bill, Maggie, and Cheryl
for your inspiration and input.
To Garrett for defining Kris.
For Mackenzie for sharing
your incredible imagination.
And always, this book is dedicated to Todd,
the hero in all of my work, despite the Moose!
Table of Contents
The long, black hearse sat in the shade of the leafy willows, unnoticed in the quiet, upscale neighborhood. Like a panther surveying its prey, undercover officer Mitchell Morgan scrutinized the surroundings, ever conscious of the contents in the back.
Parched, Mitchell tilted the water bottle slowly and swallowed, enjoying the moist coolness as it trickled down his throat. Satisfied, he slumped farther in the leather seat, aware of the children in the driveway on the corner, the stooped, elderly man picking weeds in the yard nearby, and the teen across the street who sat hunched over his DS on the front concrete step, looking bored.
The holstered cell next to his leg vibrated an insistent stutter, shattering the serene atmosphere. Mitch spared the screen a brief glance.
Without air conditioning, beads of sweat coasted from his brow, under his shades, and into his eye, stinging and obscuring his vision. He blinked several times to clear the fog and pressed the accept key.
Three quick, muted tones preceded a double click, to indicate a secure line. A small thrill travelled along his nervous system, leaving a wake of gooseflesh.
“Nine-one-three-Q-R-two-two-E-D-U.” Only after he gave his code would dispatch relay the encrypted message.
“Funeral procession to start,” replied a robotic voice. “All pallbearers to the church.”
A long high-pitched tone pierced his ear. He moved the phone away and severed the connection.
He held the phone level with the steering wheel. His thumb smeared across the face of the cell, leaving a greased streak on the screen while his heart slowed. Within an instant his mind refocused to what was to come next. His left hand moved to smooth his beard. Months of building a case and gathering evidence had come down to this moment.
He turned the engine over and banged the heel of his hand on the steering wheel. “Game on.”
So far it had been a hell of a day for Public Relations consultant Lorna Tymchuk. And not in a good way. What had started with a delayed plane due to the fog rolling in off the coast, to a mix-up with her rental, continued to snowball with one thing after another. Of course, the day
still young and could turn around, but since nothing on her schedule had gone as planned yet, she wasn’t holding her breath.
Using the time change to her favor, she flew into Vancouver with the sunrise. Her plan was to rent a car to drive to the pre-arranged meetings with her clients in Burnaby before returning to the downtown core. She would stay overnight and be back home by tomorrow midmorning.
. Making these types of trips is what made her money. She was accustomed to doing this all the time—all over the country. But not today.
Between the blasted fog and traffic, Lorna missed her turnoff, cursed under her breath, and proceeded to the next overpass to backtrack. At this point, she might as well throw the itinerary out the window for all the good it would do her. Traffic stalled and nervous moisture pearled above her lip. At this rate, it would be a near thing for her to make her first appointment on time.
Her gaze veered to the large logo in the center of the steering wheel, which measured wider than her shoulders and all she could see was the arrogant face of the clerk behind the rental counter. “Mix-up.” She huffed and glanced across the long bench seat. With his slicked hair, custom messed in a disarrayed fashion and the five o’clock shadow at six in the morning, Lorna controlled her urge to strangle the clerk with his pencil tie. When she got stuck with a big, dual-wheel diesel truck instead of the sedan, she was sure if she drove over the arrogant rental agent, she wouldn’t even have felt the impact. Determined to never use them again, Lorna reached the tips of her patent leather covered toes towards the gas when traffic began a steady crawl forward.
Every attempt to make up time had failed miserably. She hadn’t even been able to grab a coffee and she could really use one now.
Traffic slowed again for no apparent reason she could see and her foot hovered over the brake. The big diesel growled, reminding Lorna she drove a vehicle fueled by an excessive dose of testosterone.
. “This will be fun to explain to the environmentalist.” MOM Environmental was her first appointment.
The shrill ring of her phone drew her attention from the upcoming turnoff. Her company logo flashed across the display. It could only be her assistant. Lorna activated the hands-free.
“June didn’t get the last e-mail you sent through,” Tia announced without preamble.
Lorna navigated the turn and merged with traffic. “You mean June from Aqua Oil?”
“Is there any other?”
Lorna groaned in anticipation of the drama to come.
“What’s her problem today? I followed up last week and haven’t had a word back on our proposal.” The potential client seemed to be pissed over an e-mail. Or better phrased, the lack of an e-mail. “I think I’m going to have a brain aneurism.”
“June said if she doesn’t hear back from you right away, they’re looking elsewhere.” Tia took an audible breath. “I told her you were out of town, but she—”
“She’s rude.” Knuckles white on the wheel, Lorna pulled to a stop at a set of lights. On days like this, it would be nice to walk away, but tomorrow she’d wake with a fresh attitude and live for the thrill of the hunt all over again. She folded a lock of hair behind her ear. “But she pays the bills. I’ll call her.”
Aqua Oil was notorious for always being in a hurry-up-and-wait situation. Lorna rushed all projects, but June and her team took their sweet time getting back to her with decisions. Despite being the norm for business, Lorna longed for the day when the never-ending wait no longer mattered.
“Lorna. Take me off speaker, I can hardly hear you.” June’s sharp voice could cut glass. “We expected to have our mock ups this week.” June’s high-pitched tone was not softened by the distance.
The conversation continued back and forth for a few minutes. “I’m sorry for the confusion, June; however, I have not—”
“Are you suggesting—?”
“No, no, of course not,” Lorna cut in quickly, anticipating the downturn in the conversation. “I’m not disputing you sent the information through. All I can say is I cannot pretend to understand cyberspace. Sometimes things get lost.”
“I have a sent receipt. It went through.”
June sounded petulant.
. Lorna started to roll her eyes, caught her reflection in the rearview mirror and with a great force of will, adjusted a strained smiled back in place. She had been told people could hear a smile and prayed the theory held true.
“If you can re-send the specifications through today, I will put a rush on the proposal mock-up. I can have something back to you…” Lorna umm-hummed a pause while she did some quick calculations in her head, fingers massaging her temples. She’d be able to get through most of it tonight and send it off to Tia for printing tomorrow. “Say early Thursday.”
“I told Tim we would have something for our planning meeting on Wednesday.”
During the last year, Lorna’s focus had been to obtain a long-term contract from this client. However, the more she got to know the owner, the wearier she became. The need for one solid contract though kept her motivated despite her suspicion Tim was almost bipolar in his mood swings. On occasion the suave owner roamed from the most gentlemanly person, courteous and kind, to explosive and abusive to anyone who did not fulfill his expectations.
At her wits’ end and fighting the melodrama, Lorna kept the safety on the imaginary gun she held to her head. “What time’s your session on Wednesday?”
I’ll get no sleep tonight.
Today she wished her company were a more established, larger PR firm with associates and the leeway to say no and walk away. Perhaps even having someone to shoulder some of the burden sometimes. But she didn’t have those kinds of options at hand.
If I don’t hunt, I don’t eat
“Okay, I sent the file
.” June huffed. “Wednesday, by two-thirty.”
Nearly fifteen minutes later, Lorna whistled her frustration through her teeth and swept a manicured finger across her brow. She pulled over on a side street and telephoned her appointment, the environmentalist, to make her excuse for being late.
Mitchell raced through the maze of residential streets. The mobile buzzed in his palm.
Despite the rush, he had to take this call. Letting the air escape naturally through his nose, he answered in his most casual tone. “Hey.”
“Hey to you, Mikie.”
The luster of her voice reminded him of the black lace thong she wore the night before—kinky and a little bit slippery—and how much he enjoyed the slow way she removed the slip of material.
He shook his head to dislodge the image. “Errand boy for your father.”
“All work and no play makes for no fun at all for little Johnny.”
His body, a traitor to the end, responded and “Little Johnny” jumped to attention at her casual reminder of their recent affair. He wiped a slick palm along his thigh, mentally reminding himself Veronique represented an opportunity—an “in”—whose time had now come to an end.
“Have to do what the boss tells me, darlin’. And right now I gotta go.”
“Mikie, wait.” The pout in her voice was as clear as the blue sky overhead. She was a spoiled child and her over-indulged opinions sought to manipulate. “When will you be by again?”
“Listen, Von, you know if your ol’ man finds out, it’ll be my balls.”
“Ohh…” she purred. “But I’m quite fond of—”
“Gotta go, babe,” Mitch cut in before she could continue. A quick glance at his watch told him he better get a move on.
“But…” She hesitated. “What?”
“Got another call,” he lied. “Might be Chuckie himself. Call me later, babe.”
Mitch pressed End and squinted down at the display to ensure the line cleared. He glanced up in time to catch the red of the stop sign as he whizzed by. His foot eased on the gas when the vehicle entered the intersection. He hovered his boot over the gas, ready to accelerate again. He had yet to pass even one car as he flew through the near-empty streets. The area was basically dead during office hours. He punched up his contacts on the cell. With so little activity in the area, if he were so inclined, he could’ve robbed a half-dozen homes in the vicinity and gotten away with it. No wonder the “family” picked a funeral home in this location. Brilliant.
“Okay, Tia, I better go.” Lorna’s breath heaved as though she had conquered a small mountain. Perhaps she had. At a bare minimum, she’d regained some form of order in her chaotic day.
A quick shoulder check confirmed no on-coming vehicles, so she pulled back out onto the near vacant residential street. Enjoying a moment of peace, she closed her eyes a fraction longer than a blink and enjoyed a well-deserved sigh. Her mind drew out a matrix map of what needed to be done to secure the ad campaign opportunity for Aqua Oil. This presented just the break she needed to finally secure a long-term contract.
Focused on her thoughts and mental to-do notes, Lorna opened her eyes a split second too late. She gripped the steering wheel and squeaked a shrill “No” as both stiletto-clad feet slammed down on the brake. A light floating sensation, likely caused by the lack of air from holding her breath, seemed to take over while she yanked the wheel to the right in an effort to avoid colliding with the long, black hearse.
The crack of metal on metal vibrated through the steering column and all at once she came back into herself. Her body rocked against the seat but with no great whiplash. It would take more than a car to inflict any major injury on a truck this size.
Like twitches of a shredded wire, all of her nerve endings reacted at once. From her toes to the hair on her head, everything stood at attention, waiting, preparing for the next move, not knowing what was to come next.
She slid forward in her seat to peer out over the hood. The truck had T-boned the hearse in the center of the passenger door. She cut the truck’s engine and not a whisper of sound stirred the air within the cab.
The slam of her heart against her ribs and the push of her pulse through her ears shattered the stillness. “Ohmigod.” Her words were hissed. With a shaky hand, she located the hazards, then ran her palms along the seam of her skirt in an effort to regain calm. “Ohmigod.”
The flashers both blinked and clicked in tune to her heartbeat. With great strain, she struggled to get a grip on herself and gulped a deep lungful of air. She straightened her posture and ran a quivering hand over her hair and brushed the wisps back behind her ear.
The hearse moved to the opposite side of the road.