July 28, 2016 by Valerie Ullmer
Featuring Viviana MacKade’s New Release Guns For Angels
From a rich bedroom, a murder is ordered.
She had to die. Yoga instructor Ann Holloway’s sunny life is wrecked when a group of men break into her apartment and kill her sister. A rough, broody stranger snatches her from the killers’ jaw, but she has no clue about who these people were or the reasons behind the attack.
He was too scarred to really live. Burned-out former Marine and leader of the Team, Mark Carson thought he was doing a teammate an easy favor by picking up a couple of girls. How wrong. When his friend is killed, shadows build over the Team’s loyalty, and Ann’s life starts meaning more than his own, Mark is thrown into a different game. Now it’s personal.
From NY to sunny Miami, Ann and Mark run into a maze of lie, betrayal, and death, where love is the only, terrifying certainty.
And when truth unravels, they will risk all to survive.
Ann swallowed hard.
“The window crashed, probably in the bedroom, and the door sprang open. Mary shouted at me to run. I was close to the kitchen window, so I went down the fire escape and I started running. I heard them behind me, I think they tried to shoot at me but maybe it was just my imagination, it wasn’t noisy like in the movies. I didn’t stop to see if Mary was with me. I was sure she was, she’s always with me when we’re in trouble but…”
Ann pressed a hand on her mouth, shut her eyes against the memory.
“Did you see anyone?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Ah, just a glimpse of one of the men. Tall, I guess. He wore black from head to toe and… he had blond hair, in a ponytail. I’m sorry.”
Mark looked at the window for a long moment. “Mouse had better tell me something more.”
He started to get up, but she stretched a hand over his arm, hard and tanned granite. Surprise at that touch shone in his eyes and it was gone a breath after, but he sat again.
“I told you what you wanted to know,” she said. “I have questions, too.”
“We’ll keep you alive. It’s enough.”
“I’ve just lost my sister.” The meaning of her words bit at her eyes and she had to battle away tears. “There are people trying to kill me and I’m in a terribly bad motel with a man who’s helping me, but in a very rude way. You must see that I need more than your name.”
“Bad motel owners don’t ask questions, this one was too drunk to even see my face. That’s why we’re here.”
“That’s not what I asked and I’m running short of patience myself, Mark.”
She had meant to be at least a little intimidating, but the low rumbling shaking in his chest sounded like a laugh. It was a good sound, given the circumstances.
He scratched his chin, taking some time before the answer. “The Boss calls us the Team. We help people.”
“I thought the police was all about that.”
“Sometimes you can’t call the police. Sometimes you don’t want to.”
“Why wouldn’t you call the police if you’re in trouble?”
“People have reasons. Bottom line is, they’re in trouble, we help them, they pay us.”
“How do Mary and I fit into this?”
“Mouse called me. He knew your sister and–”
“How? I’ve never heard her talking about a Mouse. Not a person called Mouse, anyway. Is that his real name? He must have had such a hard time in school.”
Mark’s voice was dangerously controlled. “When I talk, you don’t.”
Ann mouthed a sorry, gestured zipping her mouth. “I was still in New York after our last case. He worried about a friend of his, Mary. He asked me to see that she and her sister were safe.”
“Safe from what?”
“It looks like your sister stuck her nose into something she shouldn’t have. Mouse convinced her to disappear for a while. We’ll rendezvous in Savannah.”
Ann nodded. “So, you help people, you’re borderline outlaws, and you’re difficult to find. You guys are the A-Team. Hey, stop glaring at me, I didn’t mean to insult you! The A-Team was very cool, and they always won.”
“Let’s go before I hand you over.”
“I’m sure you’d love that. There’s just one tiny problem: you don’t know who they are.” Ann got off the bed, and stretched her legs before she stood in front of him, hands on her hips. “I want to know who did this to Mary, who dared to hurt my sister, break into my home and kick me out of it. You’re officially hired.”
He stood, towering over her and nodded. She had the feeling that from a man like Mark Carson, a nod was all she needed.
WHEN MARK OPENED the curtains, older memories mingled with what shone in front of his eyes. Light rose fast from the ocean, pushed by an overzealous sun; soon, that yellow ball would emerge and conquer the fading darkness.
He’d been woken up many times by it, and by the heat seeping through his body, rusted after a night on the beach.
Once again that morning, the Floridian sun-his sun-beckoned at him with its burning halo like an old friend. And like an old friend, Mark nodded with a little smile before turning his back to it.
“Ann?” he called gently, prodding at her calf with his knuckles.
She emerged from under the pillow in all her sweet languor, with hair that looked a lot like the sun’s crown of light, her frown still full of sleep. “Yes,” she murmured. “Gimme five.”
She waddled to the bathroom, a blond baby doe still learning how to walk.
Mark sat at the table, took the clip off his gun. He heard his own body shouting insults at him for the night before – enough with sleeping wrapped around her! Yeah, well, his body had better shut up, for he wasn’t gonna stop.
He punched the voice away and got on with checking the gun. It was a soothing process: the gentle friction of the slide coming off, the wiping, reassembling the pieces back together. The trigger clicked, clean and ready for action, the clip slid in place, ammo filled his pockets. He could have done it with his eyes closed. In fact, he’d done this in places so full of death, so empty of hope, that the hotel room was a paradise. Their mess was nothing compared to what he’d been through in the years of duty.
But Ann… for her it was all new. She’d lived a normal life, ups and downs, bad hair days, common tragedies and happiness.
In the past week she’d seen her sister disappear, coped with her death, saw a man murdered and almost died a couple of times. She found out that her sister had been lying to her all along.
And there she was, minutes after dawn, getting ready to go with him, not knowing what she would find next. Still able to smile, to hope, to fight without losing kindness and warmth. Feeding his own faith.
Ann walked out the bathroom, chased her tennis shoes out from under the bed with movements still awkward with sleep.
She made him want to believe her, believe the buzz in his brain droning that yes, he could see the end of this crap and lose himself in her. The thought enticed him, dangerous and sweet.
She stood in front of him, hair in a ponytail and a tight smile on her lips.
“You ready?” he asked without meeting her eyes. “Sure.” She wasn’t, as she hadn’t been from day one, but she would soldier through it all one more time. With the right training, she would have made a great Marine. Pride for his angel inflated his chest, made him feel stronger, invincible. “It’s not gonna be dangerous,” he said. Riding that wave of confidence, he dared looking at her.
“Good. I’m not eager to put your teaching to the test.” She took a long breath. “Let’s go?”
He nodded, but didn’t move.
She would be so beautiful on white sand, her ivory skin kissed by the sun, wearing a small red bikini and a white hat with a gigantic brim. He would take her to unknown paradises, stop at every secluded beach all the way up to Georgia. He remembered the spots where a boy and a girl could really turn the heat up on a summer night.
His fingers reached up for her, skimming the elegant neck and his thumb brushing her lips.
She froze. Her lips parted, waiting for him. Wanting him. All of his body tensed as the built-in alarms in his head went off. He stepped away, secured his gun in the holster and locked away all that useless dreaming and need.
As soon as the door closed, Ann’s head rose. “Mark?” she called in a whisper.
Mark took in a long breath – he had never heard a more beautiful sound. “Are you okay?”
“A little numb, but yes. What do we do now?”
“Can you walk?”
“I think so.”
“When they come to get us, I’ll distract them. Remember what I taught you? About fighting? Do it, get out of here and call the boys.”
“I’m not going anywhere without you.”
“You do what I say, understand?” he shouted under his breath. “It’s an order, Ann: get free, run and call. They’ll know what to do.”
The door handle turned.
Like an abandoned marionette, Ann let her head fall down, tried to relax.
“Only three of you?” Mark scoffed. “Come on! Tell me at least it’s two for me and one for the girl.”
Okay, Ann thought, she only had to win against one. No, not win, but sneak away. She could do it, she’d been taught by the best.
The air thickened, or maybe nerves were choking her.
Keeping her chest from rising and falling like pistons on a racing car was wearying. She heard struggles from where Mark was, felt a presence in front of her. Blood rushed back in her hands in a warm wave when a blade cut the tape on her wrists.
Still, afraid, her senses wide open to every shift of the air, every change in the sounds, she dreaded the moment when she would have had to do something.
And the shout came. “Now!”
COMING SOON on Kobo and Nook.