Enjoy this free excerpt from Soldier’s Promise:










Jake Lohmiller raised the binoculars to his eyes and studied the group of women who moved along the rim of the canyon. Wind sent their colorful cotton skirts fluttering, so that they reminded Jake of butterflies, flitting among the wild roses that perfumed the air. The women were gathering rose hips and wild raspberries, the murmur of their voices drifting to him on the wind, their words indistinct.

He shifted his elbow to dislodge a pebble that was digging into his flesh and trained the glasses on the dark-haired woman. Her long, straight black hair, high cheekbones and bronzed skin set her apart from the mostly fair-skinned redheads, blondes and brunettes around her. She seemed out of place not just because of her appearance but because of the way she carried herself. She moved slightly behind the other women, her movements both deliberate and graceful, her bearing wary. Jake sensed a tension in her, like a cat poised to spring.

She stopped at the corner post of a falling-down fence that ran alongside the path the women were following and turned to stare across the high desert landscape of rock, cactus and stunted trees, one hand raised to shield her eyes from the sun’s glare. Jake ducked down behind the rock outcropping he had chosen as his vantage point, though he knew she couldn’t see him. Not at this distance. Not when he had been so well-trained not to give away his position.

He had been in the Curecanti National Recreation Area in southwest Colorado for three days, watching the women, learning their routines and habits and planning his next move. The dark-haired woman turned away and hurried to catch up with the others, and Jake shifted his attention to the oldest woman in the group—a slight, very fair blonde with almost-white hair and light blue eyes. She went by the name Phoenix these days, the latest in a string of names and nicknames she had gone by over the years. He tried to read her mood, to guess what she was thinking or feeling, but at this distance he could tell nothing except that she looked fairly healthy—something that hadn’t been the case the last time he had seen her, she was probably exercising and taking supplements as Kratom liquid extract for it. He clenched his jaw, struggling against the mixture of love and anger that warred in him whenever he thought about her.

He shifted again, focusing this time on the youngest member of the group, and his jaw relaxed. Sophie was growing up to be a pretty young woman, her long, brown hair plaited in a single braid that hung to her shoulder blades. She laughed at something one of the others said, and Jake’s heart clenched, aching at the sound. The last time he had seen her, she had been ten and crying. Four years had changed her in so many ways, but it cheered him to see her looking so happy, especially since he hadn’t expected it—not here.

The women moved on until they were out of the visual field of his binoculars. The silence of the wilderness closed in around him, with only the rattle of the wind in dry tree branches reminding him that he hadn’t suddenly gone deaf. He put away the binoculars, then stretched out on his back, the shadow of the boulder keeping the sun off his face. He ignored the hardness of the dry ground and focused on reviewing all the information he had gathered so far. It was time to complete his mission. He had to make contact with Phoenix and Sophie and persuade them to leave with him. But he had to do it without raising alarm. And preferably without attracting any attention from the local cops.

A shadow fell across his torso, and the crunch of a leather sole on gravel had him lurching to his feet, reaching for the weapon at his side. “Keep your hands where I can see them!” a woman’s voice commanded.

He held his hands out from his sides and stared at the dark-haired woman. Obviously she had left the group and circled around, but how had she managed to sneak up on him? Had he gotten so rusty in the months since he had left his unit in Afghanistan? He must have because, in all the time he had been watching her, he had never noticed the handgun she was aiming at him now.




Enjoy this free excerpt from Murder in Black Canyon:

murder in black canyon

As jobs went, this one paid more than most, Kayla reminded herself as she parked her elektrische scooter at the mouth of the canyon a few miles from the Gunnison River outside of Montrose, Colorado. Small-town private investigators couldn’t be overly picky if they wanted to keep putting food on the table and paying rent, though interceding in family squabbles had to be right up there with photographing philanderers on her list of least-favorite jobs.

Still, this assignment gave her an excuse to get out into the beautiful back-country near Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. She retrieved a small day pack from the back seat of the car and slipped it on, then added a ball cap to shade her face from the intense summer sun. A faint dirt trail marked the path into the canyon, through a windswept landscape of dark green pinion and juniper and the earth tones of sand and gravel and scattered boulders.

A bird called from somewhere in the canyon ahead, the high, trilling call echoing off the rock and sending a shiver up Kayla’s spine. Maybe she should have brought a weapon with her, but she didn’t like to carry the handgun, even though she was licensed to do so. Her work as a private investigator seldom brought her into contact with anyone really threatening. She spent most of her time surveilling cheating spouses and serving the occasional subpoena. Talking to a  twenty-something woman who had decided to camp out in the desert with a bunch of wandering hippies hadn’t struck Kayla as particularly threatening.

But that was before she had visited this place, so isolated and desolate, far from any kind of help or authority. Someone holed up out here could probably get away with almost anything and not be caught. The thought unnerved her more than she liked to admit.

Shaking her head, she hit the button to lock her car and pocketed her keys. The hard part of the job was over – she had tracked down Andi Matheson, wayward adult daughter of Senator Peter Matheson. Now all she had to do was deliver the Senator’s message to the young woman. Whether Andi decided to mend fences with her father was none of Kayla’s business.

Her boots crunched on fine gravel as she set out walking on the well-defined path. Clearly, a lot of feet had trod this trail recently. The group that referred to themselves as simply “The Family” had a permit to camp on this stretch of public land outside the National Park boundaries. They had the area to themselves. No one else wanted to be so far away from things like electricity, running water and paved roads. Her investigation hadn’t turned up much information about the group – only a few blog posts by the leader, a young man whose real name was Daniel Metwater but who went by the title of Prophet. He preached a touchy-feely brand of peace, love, and living off the land that reminded Kayla of stuff she’d seen in movies about sixties-era flower children. Misguided and irresponsible, maybe, but probably harmless.

“Halt. You’re not authorized to enter this area.”

Heart in her throat, Kayla stared at the large man who blocked the path ahead. He had seemingly appeared out of nowhere, but he must have been waiting in the cluster of boulders to the left of the path. He wore baggy camouflage trousers and a green and black camouflage patterned T-shirt stretched over broad shoulders. His full beard and long brown hair made him look like a cross between a biker and an old-testament patriarch. He wasn’t armed, unless you counted the bulging muscles of his biceps, and what might have been a knife in the sheath on his belt. She forced herself to stand tall and look him in the eye. “This is public land,” she said. “Anyone can hike here.”

“We have permission to camp here,” Camo-man said. “You’ll need to walk around our camp. We don’t welcome gawkers.”

What are you hiding that you don’t want me to see? Kayla thought, every sense sharpened. “I’m not here to gawk,” she said. “I came to visit one of your –“ What exactly did she call Andi – a disciple? A member? “A woman who’s with you,” she decided. “Andi Matheson.”

“No one is here by that name.” The man’s eyes revealed as much as a mannequin’s, blank as an unplugged television screen.

“I have information that she is. Or she was until as recently as yesterday, when I saw her with some other members of your group in Montrose.” The women had been leaving a coin operated laundry when Kayla had spotted them, but they had ignored her cries to wait and driven off. She had been on foot and unable to follow them.

“We do not have anyone here by that name,” the man repeated.

So maybe she had changed her name and went by Moon Flower or something equally charming and silly. “I don’t know what she’s calling herself this week but she’s here and I want to talk to her,” Kayla said. “Or satisfy myself that she isn’t here.” She spread her hands wide in a universal gesture of harmlessness. “All I want to do is talk to her. Then I’ll leave, I promise. What you do out here is your business – though I’m pretty sure blocking access to public land, whether you have a permit or not, is illegal. It might even get your permit revoked.” She gave him a hard look to go with her soft words, letting him know she was perfectly willing to make trouble if she needed to.

He hesitated a moment, then nodded. “I’ll need to search you for weapons. We don’t allow instruments of destruction into our haven of peace.”

She was impressed he could deliver such a line with a straight face. “So that knife on your belt doesn’t count?”

He put a hand to the sheath at his side. “This is a ceremonial piece, not a weapon.”

Uh-huh. And she had a “ceremonial” Smith and Wesson back at her home office. But no point arguing with him. “I’m not armed,” she said. “And you’ll just have to take my word for it, because I’m not in the habit of allowing strange men to grope me and if you lay a hand on me I promise I will file assault charges.”

A little more life came into the man’s face at her words, but instead of arguing with her, he turned and walked down the trail. She followed him, curious as to what kind of compound the group had managed to erect in the wilderness.

The man turned into what looked like a dry wash, circled a dense line of trees and emerged in a clearing where a motley collection of travel trailers, RVs, pickup trucks, cars, tents, tarps and other makeshift shelters spread out over about an acre. To Kayla, it looked like a cross between the Girl Scout Jamboree she had attended as a child, and a homeless encampment.

No one paid any attention to her arrival. A dozen or more men and women, and half as many children, wandered among the vehicles and shelters, tending campfires, carrying babies and talking. One man sat cross-legged in front of a van, playing a wooden flute, while two others kicked a soccer ball back and forth.

Kayla spotted Andi with a group of other women by a campfire. She looked just like the picture the Senator had given her – straight blond hair to the middle of her back, heart-shaped face, upturned nose and brilliant blue eyes. She wore a long gauze skirt and a tank top, her slim arms tanned golden from the sun, and she was smiling. Not the picture of the troubled young woman the Senator had painted. Rather, she looked like a model in an advertisement for a line of breezy summer fashions. Or maybe a particularly refreshing wine.

Kayla started across the compound toward the young woman. Camo-man stepped forward as if to intercept her, but her hard stare stopped him. “Andi?” she called. “Andi Matheson?”

The young woman turned toward Kayla, her smile never faltering. “I’m sorry, but I don’t go by that name anymore,” she said. “I’m Asteria now.”

Asteria? Kayla congratulated herself on not wincing. “My name’s Kayla,” she said.

“Do I know you?” Andi/Asteria wrinkled her perfect forehead a fraction of an inch.

“No. Your father asked me to check on you.” Kayla stopped in front of the woman and scrutinized her more closely, already mentally composing her report to the Senator. No bruises. Clear eyes and skin. No weight loss. If anything, she looked a little plumper than in the photos the Senator had provided. In fact…her gaze settled on the rounded bump at the waistband of the skirt. “You’re pregnant,” she blurted.

Andi rubbed one hand across her belly. “My father didn’t tell you? I’m not surprised, but he did know. It’s one of the reasons I left. I didn’t want to raise my child in his corrupt world.”

Interesting that the senator had left out this little detail about his daughter. “He was concerned enough about you to hire me to find you and ask you to get in touch with him,” Kayla said.

Andi’s smile was gone now. “He just wants to try to talk me into getting rid of the baby.” She turned to the two women with her. “My father can’t understand the happiness and contentment I’ve found here with the Prophet and the Family. He’s too mired in his materialistic, power-hungry world to see the truth.”

Dressed similarly to Andi, the other two women stared at Kayla with open hostility. So much for peace and love, Kayla thought. She looked around the compound, aware that pretty much everyone else there had stopped what they were doing to focus on the little exchange around the campfire. Even the flute player had lowered his instrument. Camo-man, however, had disappeared, perhaps slunk back to guard duty on the trail. “This isn’t exactly a garden spot.” She turned back to Andi. “What about the Family attracted you so much?” Senator Matheson was a wealthy man, and his only daughter had been a big part of his lavish lifestyle until a few months ago.

“The Family is a real family,” Andi said. “”We truly care for one another. The Prophet reminds us all to focus on the things in life that are really important and fulfilling and meaningful. Satisfaction isn’t to be found in material wealth, but in living in harmony with nature and focusing on our spiritual well-being.”

“You can’t live on air and spiritual thoughts,” Kayla said. “How do you all support yourselves?”
“We don’t need a lot of money,” Andi said. “The Prophet provides for us.”

Camping on public land was free and they didn’t have any utility bills, but they weren’t living on wild game and desert plants, either – not judging by the smell of onions and celery emanating from a pot over the fire. “You’re telling me your Prophet is footing the bill to feed and clothe all of you?”

“I am blessed to be able to share my worldly goods with my followers.”

The voice that spoke was deep, smooth as chocolate and commanding as any Shakespearean actor. Kayla turned slowly and studied the man striding toward them. Sunlight haloed his figure like a spotlight, burnishing his muscular, bare chest and glinting on his loose, white linen trousers. He had brown curly hair glinting with gold, dark brows, lively eyes, a straight nose and sensuous lips. Kayla swore one of the women behind her sighed and though she had been fully prepared to dislike this so-called “prophet” on sight, she wasn’t immune to his masculine charms.

The man was flat-out gorgeous and potentially lethally sexy. No wonder some women followed him around like puppies. “Daniel Metwater, I presume?” Kayla asked.

“I prefer the humble title of prophet.”

Since when was a prophet humble, but Kayla decided not to argue the point. “I’m Kayla Larimer.” She offered her hand.

He took it, then bent and pressed his mouth to her palm – a warm, and decidedly unnerving gesture. Some women might even think it was sexy, but Kayla thought the move too calculated and more than a little creepy. She jerked her hand away, then silently cursed herself for revealing that he had unsettled her. He smiled, and Kayla’s anger rose. “What’s the idea of stationing a guard to challenge visitors to your camp?” she asked. “After all, you are on public land. Land anyone is free to roam.”

“We’ve had trouble with curiosity seekers and a few people who want to harass us,” Metwater said. “We have a right to protect ourselves.”

“That defense won’t get you very far in court if anything goes south,” she said.

The smile finally faded. “Our policy is to leave other people alone and we ask that they show us the same courtesy.”

One of the few sensible pieces of advice that Kayla’s mother had ever given her was to keep her mouth shut, but Kayla found the temptation to poke at this particular charming snake to be too much. “If you really are having trouble with people harassing you, you should ask from help from local law enforcement,” she said.

“We prefer to solve our own problems, without help from outsiders.”

The mafia probably thought that way, too, but that didn’t make them innocent bystanders who never caused trouble did it?

“I’m not here to make trouble,” she said. “Andi’s father asked me to stop by and make sure she was all right.”

“As you can see, Asteria is fine.”

Kayla turned back to the young woman, who was gazing at Daniel, all limpid-eyed and adoring. “I assume you have a doctor in town?” she asked. “That you’re getting good pre-natal care.”

“I’m being well-cared for,” she said, her eyes still locked to Daniel’s.

“Asteria is an adult and has a right to live as she chooses,” Daniel said. “No one who comes to us is held against their will.”

Nothing Kayla saw contradicted that, but she just didn’t see the attraction. The place, and this man, gave her the creeps. “Your father would love to hear from you,” she told Andi. “And if you need anything, call me.” She held out one of her business cards. When the young woman didn’t reach for it, Andi shoved it into her hand. “Good-bye,” she said, and turned to walk away.

She passed Daniel without looking at him, though the goosebumps that stood out on her skin made her pretty sure he was giving her the evil-eye – or a pacifist prophet’s version of one. She had made it all the way to the edge of the encampment when raised voices froze her in her tracks. The hue and cry rose, not from the camp behind her, but from the trail ahead.

Camo-man appeared around the corner, red-faced and breathless. Behind him came two other men, dragging something heavy between them. Kayla took a few steps toward them and stared in horror at the object on the makeshift litter. Part of the face was gone, and she was pretty sure all the black stuff with the sticky sheen was blood – but she knew the body of a man when she saw one.

A dead man. And she didn’t think he had been dead very long.



Here’s a free excerpt from PhD Protector 9780373699476

What’s the worst thing you would do to protect the ones you love? Would you lie—steal—even kill?
It was a question from a party game, the kind you played over beers with a bunch of buddies, the answers all alcohol-fueled machismo, backed by the knowledge that you would never really have to make those kinds of choices.
Mark Renfro had had to choose. To protect his daughter, his innocent only child, he had lied too many times to count, and though he hadn’t stolen or killed—yet—he had joined with a group of men who were working to kill thousands, maybe even millions of people. They called themselves Patriots, but he knew they were terrorists. They had murdered his wife, and if Mark didn’t do what they wanted, they would kill his daughter, Mandy, as well.
He closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the cool metal of the laboratory hood. Formulas scrolled across his closed eyelids like a particularly boring and technical movie, the complex and intricate calculations of energy transfer and nuclear fusion, pages from textbooks he had read long ago and committed to memory, fragments of scientific papers he had written or read, and columns of computations that lodged in his brain the way phone numbers or the memory of a wonderful meal might take up residence in the brains of others. His photographic memory for all those numbers and calculations had allowed him to breeze though his graduate and undergraduate education and excel at the research that had propelled him to fame and even a little fortune.
All of that worthless, with his wife dead and his daughter far away from him. Amanda had been four when he had last seen her. She’d be five now—a huge chunk of her life he would never get back.
The door to the cabin that had been Mark’s prison for the past year burst open, but Mark didn’t even jump. The people who held him here were fond of such scare tactics as bursting in unannounced, but he was numb to that all now. “Renfro!” The man Mark knew as Cantrell had a big, booming voice. He was always on the verge of shouting. “We brought you a surprise.”
A muffled cry, like that of a wounded animal, made Mark whip around to face Cantrell. But instead of the dog or deer or some other nonhuman victim he had expected to see, he came face-to-face with a furious woman. Her green eyes burned with rage and hatred, and the tangle of auburn hair that fell in front of her face couldn’t obscure the high cheekbones, patrician nose and delicately pointed chin. She was young—midtwenties, he guessed, with a taut, athletic frame, every muscle straining against the man who held her, a baby-faced goon named Scofield. They had taped her mouth and bound her arms behind her, but still she struggled. So far her efforts had earned her a purpling bruise on one cheek and a torn sleeve on her denim jacket.
Mark half rose from his stool, an old, almost forgotten rage burning deep in his chest. “What do you think you’re doing?” he demanded.
“The boss figured you needed some help to speed things along.” Cantrell nodded and Scofield shoved the woman forward. She stumbled into Mark and he had to brace his legs and wrap his arms around her to keep them both from crashing into the lab table. “She’s your new assistant.”
Both men laughed, as if this was the best joke they had heard all year, then they retreated, the locks clicking into place behind them.
Mark still held the woman, though they were both steady on their feet now. It had been so long since he had touched another person, longer still since he had felt a woman’s soft, lithe body beneath his hands. She was almost as tall as he was, with small, firm breasts and gently curved hips, and she smelled like flowers and soap and a world very far away from this remote mountain cabin.
She wrenched away from him and stumbled back, staring at him with eyes filled with hatred. He got the feeling she had no more of an idea why she was here than he did. “Turn around and I’ll untie your hands,” he said. “But you have to promise not to strangle me when I do.”
Her eyes made no such promise, but she turned and presented her hands to him. He clipped through the plastic ties with the pair of nail scissors—all his captors would allow him in terms of sharp objects. Though his kidnappers had provided him with a laboratory full of the most up-to-date equipment, they had been very careful to exclude anything that might be used as a weapon.
Ironic, considering the purpose of the laboratory itself.
He pocketed the nail scissors and the woman brought her hands to the front and rubbed them, wincing, then picked at the corners of the tape on her mouth.
“Trust me, the best way is to just rip it off,” he said. “It still hurts, but you get it over with quickly.”
She hesitated, then did as he suggested and jerked at the silver rectangle of duct tape. “Ah!” She cried out, followed by a string of eloquent curses.
He retreated to his stool in front of the lab bench, fighting the urge to smile. She wouldn’t get the joke, wouldn’t understand how good it was to hear someone else express the sentiments that had filled his mind for months now. “I’m Mark Renfro,” he said. “Who are you?”
“I’m not your assistant,” she said, her voice low and rough. Sexy.
She went back to rubbing her wrists, the movement plumping the cleavage at the scoop neck of her T-shirt. Mark felt a stirring below the belt, his libido rising from the dead, startling him. He had thought himself past such feelings, that part of him burned away by grief and the hopelessness of his situation.
“I didn’t request an assistant,” he said. “That must have been Cantrell’s idea. Or someone higher up the chain of command. I’m sorry they dragged you into this, but I had nothing to do with it.”
“You work for them.” She moved closer, scanning the array of scientific equipment on the table. “You’re their scientist.” The disgust in her voice and on her face showed just what she thought of a man who would do such a thing.
“There’s a difference between being a slave and an employee. I didn’t have any more say about being here than you did.” He glanced at her. “Maybe less. You still haven’t told me your name.”
“Erin. Erin Daniels.”
It didn’t ring a bell.
“You don’t have any idea who I am, do you?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Should I?”
“I don’t know. But I would hate for anyone to associate me with this scum.” She began to move about the one-room cabin, taking in the double bedstead in the corner where Mark slept, the open door beside it that led to the single, windowless bathroom, the three-burner gas range and round-topped refrigerator and chipped porcelain sink on the other side of the room, and the table and two chairs that provided the only other seating, aside from the laboratory stool he currently occupied. Her intelligent eyes scanned, assessed and moved on. She tried the sash on the largest of the cabin’s two windows.
“They’re screwed shut from the outside,” he said. “And there’s reinforced wire over the glass. If you broke a pane, all you would accomplish would be to let in the cold.” He had endured a freezing month right after they took him, when he had tried to cut out one of the panes of glass, in hopes of fashioning a weapon. The glass had shattered and Mark had shivered for weeks before he had persuaded Cantrell that the low temperatures were detrimental to his lab work, and his captors had repaired the pane.
“There must be some way out of here,” Erin said, moving to the back door.
“The doors are locked and dead-bolted from the outside, plus there’s an armed guard out there at all times. The floor is a concrete slab. The gas is shut off, so the stove doesn’t work. They bring in food, unless I’m being punished for something, then I don’t eat.” They had kept him on short rations for a week after the glass-breaking incident.
“If there’s no gas, how do you heat this place?” she asked. “It’s in the forties out there today, but it feels fine in here.”
“There’s electric heat,” he said, pointing to the baseboard heating unit along the side wall. “A solar panel charges a battery for that. If the sun doesn’t shine for a few days then too bad. I had better learn to like working in the cold.” He had spent whole days in bed under the covers in the middle of last winter—he didn’t want to think about going through that again.
“How long have you been here?” Her expression was guarded.
“What month is this?” He had tried to keep track at first, then gave up. What did it matter? His captors weren’t going to let him leave here alive.
“January,” she said. “Today is the ninth.”
“Then I’ve been here over a year,” he said. The weight of all those months rested on his chest like a concrete block. Crushing.
Erin sank into a chair at the table. “Why?” she asked. “What are you doing here?”
He wanted to say “as little as possible” but he could never be sure the guards weren’t listening. He suspected Cantrell or his bosses had the place bugged. She might even be a plant, sent to learn his intentions, though her anger felt very real. Maybe his captors’ paranoia was rubbing off on him. “First, tell me your story,” he said. “How did you end up here? Are you a scientist?”
“No. I’m a teacher.” She straightened a little, as if one of her students might be watching. “I teach math to seventh and eighth graders in Idaho Falls, Idaho.”
“Then what are you doing in the middle of nowhere in western Colorado? Do you know anything about the men who brought you here?” What had she done to end up on the wrong side of a group of terrorists like the Patriots?
“Oh, I know about them all right.” Her expression grew even more grim. “Their leader is my stepfather.”

Enjoy this free excerpt from Christmas Kidnapping: ChristmasKidnapping

Experience had taught Andrea McNeil to trust her first impressions of a man. She had learned to read temperament and tendencies in the set of his shoulders and the shadows in his eyes. Whether they were heroes or the perpetrators of heinous crimes, they all revealed themselves to her as much by their silences as by what they said.
The man who stood before her now radiated both strength and anxiety in the stubborn set of his broad shoulders and the tight line of his square jaw. He wore his blond hair short and neat, his face clean shaven, his posture military straight, though he was dressed in jeans, hiking boots and a button-down shirt and not a uniform. He moved with the raw sensuality of a hunter, muscular shoulders sliding beneath the soft cotton of his shirt, and when his hazel eyes met hers, she saw pride and courage and deep grief.
“All I want you to do is help me remember the face of the man who killed my friend,” he said, before she had even invited him to sit on the sofa across from her chair in her small office just off the main street of Durango, Colorado.
She didn’t allow her face to betray alarm at his statement. This certainly wasn’t the worst thing she had heard from the people who came to her for help. “Please sit down, Agent Prescott, and I’ll tell you a little more about how I work.”
FBI special agent Jack Prescott lowered himself gingerly onto the sofa. He grimaced as he shifted his weight. “Is something wrong?” she asked.
“I’m fine.”
She kept her gaze steady on him, letting him know she wasn’t buying this statement.
He shifted again. “I took a couple of bullets in a firefight a couple of months back,” he said. “The cold bothers me a little.”
The window behind him showed a gentle snowfall, the remnants from the latest winter storm. A man who had been shot—twice—and was still on medical leave probably ought to be home recuperating, but she might as well have told a man like Jack Prescott that he needed to take up knitting and mah-jongg. She didn’t have to read the information sheet he had filled out to know that much about him. Even sitting still across from her, he looked poised to leap into action. She would have bet next month’s rent that he was armed at the moment and that he had called into his office at least once a day every day of his enforced time off.
Her husband, Preston, had been the same way. All his devotion to duty and reckless courage had gotten him in the end was killed.
She focused on Agent Prescott’s paperwork to force the memories back into the locked box where they belonged. Jack Prescott was single, thirty-four years old and a graduate of Columbia with a major in electrical engineering and robotics. Twelve years with the FBI. A letter of commendation. He was in Durango on special assignment and currently on medical leave. He took no medications beyond the antibiotics prescribed for his gunshot wounds, and he had no known allergies. “Tell me about this firefight,” she said. “The one in which you were injured.”
He sat on the edge of the sofa cushion, gripping his knees. “What happened to me doesn’t matter,” he said. “But my friend Gus Mathers was killed in that fight. I saw it happen. I saw who killed him.”
“That would be traumatic for anyone,” she said.
“You don’t understand. I saw the man who killed Gus, but I can’t remember his face.”
“What you’re talking about is upsetting, but it’s not unusual,” she said. “The mind often blocks out the memory of traumatic events as a means of protection.”
He leaned forward, his gaze boring into her, his expression fierce. “You don’t understand. I don’t forget faces. It’s what I do, the way some people remember numbers or have perfect pitch.”
She set aside the clipboard with the paperwork and leaned toward him, letting him know she was focused completely on him. “I’m not sure I understand,” she said.
“I’m what they call a super-recognizer. If I look at someone for even a few seconds, I remember them. I remember supermarket clerks and bus drivers and people I pass on the street. Yet I can’t remember the man who murdered my best friend.”
“Your talent for remembering faces doesn’t exempt you from the usual responses to trauma,” she said. “Your memory of the events may come back with time, or it may never return.”
He set his jaw, the look of a man who was used to forcing the outcome he desired. “The cop who referred me to you said you could hypnotize me—that that might be a way to get the memory to return.”
“I do sometimes use hypnosis in my therapy, but in your case, I don’t believe it would work.”
“Why not?”
Because there are some things even a will as strong as yours can’t make happen, she thought. “Hypnosis requires the subject to relax and surrender to the process,” she said. “In order for me to hypnotize you, you would have to trust me and be willing to surrender control of the situation. You aren’t a man who is used to surrendering, and you haven’t known me long enough to trust me.”
“You’re saying I’m a control freak.”
She smiled at his choice of words. “Your job—your survival and the survival of those who work with you—requires you to control as many variables as possible,” she said. “In this case, your need to control is an asset.” Most of the time.
“I want you to hypnotize me,” he said.
“Consciously wanting to be hypnotized and your conscious mind being willing to relax enough to allow that to happen are two different things,” she said. “I’m certainly willing to attempt hypnotic therapy at some point, but not on a first visit. It’s too soon. Once we have explored the issues that may be causing you to suppress this memory, we may have more success in retrieving it, through hypnosis or by some other means.”
He stood and began to pace, a caged tiger—one with a limp that, even agitated, he tried to disguise. “I don’t need to talk about my feelings,” he said, delivering the words with a sneer. “I don’t need therapy. I know the memory of the man who shot Gus is in my head. I just have to find a way to access that information again.”
“Agent Prescott, please sit down.”
“No. If you can’t help me, I won’t waste any more of your time.”
He turned toward the door. “Please, don’t go,” she called. His agitation and real grief touched her. “I’m willing to try things your way. But I don’t want you to be disappointed if it doesn’t work.”
He sat again, tension still radiating from him, but some of the darkness had gone out of his eyes. “What do I do?”
“You don’t do anything,” she said. “The whole point is to relax and not try to control the situation. Why don’t you start by taking off your shoes and lying back on the couch? Get comfortable.”
He hesitated, then removed his hiking boots and lined them up neatly at the end of the sofa. He lay back, hands at his sides. His feet hung over one end and his shoulders stretched the width of the cushion. There probably wasn’t an ounce of fat on the man, but he had plenty of hard muscle. He wasn’t the type you’d want to meet alone in a dark alley, though maybe a dark bedroom…