2-in-1: Dark and Devious & Midnight Ecstasies by Christy Poff by Christy Poff - Read Online

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Dark and Devious - Suspense/Thriller - Erotic Romance - Explicit Jeremy Payne's name describes his life - he's close to no one because they seem to suffer from being near him. He escapes to Oregon for peace and quiet though his past always haunts him. Sapphire Knight is running from hers thanks to a contract on her life. In her time in protective custody, she learns the truth. Can love and honesty overcome the dark and devious forces attacking both their lives? Or will one man's hatred win out? Midnight Ecstasies - Suspense/Thriller - Erotic Romance - Explicit Carl Sandeford is the successful head of emergency medicine in Charleston. He has a gorgeous wife and a great life while he is a silent partner in a club catering to sexual fantasies. Cassie Sandeford, a successful interior artist, designed all of the fantasy suites at Midnight Ecstasies, her husband's other interest. They enjoy a life others can only dream of or would maybe kill for. A serial killer has different intentions for the club's guest list and the owners. Will their midnight ecstasies fulfill their fantasies or become fatal nightmares?
Published: Torrid Books on
ISBN: 9781633555945
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2-in-1 - Christy Poff

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Page 1 of 1

Love

Dark and Devious

by

Christy Poff

Prologue

He gazed at the breakers pounding the jagged coastline below him. The sheer power of the surf calmed him, a strange thing to anyone else but him. His life had spun out of control in a raging torrent of emotions but he lived with it—he had to.

Several years had passed since the day one man’s sadistic desires ruined his life. Since the night it happened, he’d been a loner—a virtual recluse—dreading anyone getting close. In his line of work, relationships proved fatal. In fact, his name—Payne—described him to a tee because he felt he’d inflicted more pain on those close to him than anyone else.

Life as a DEA agent had taken him around the world several times. He’d spent over a year deep in the Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia, been deep undercover in the American arm of a Columbian drug lord’s operation in Miami plus sting operations in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.

Miami changed his life forever.

He’d met up with his college sweetheart and for a while, he lived a somewhat normal life. Unfortunately, the Columbian’s brother decided he wasn’t happy with Payne’s part in his brother’s execution.

Enriquez had his soldiers abduct Payne, determined to make him pay and pay dearly. After the men beat Payne, they dumped his body, a note attached to his shirt.

This is your final warning.

He walked out of the hospital a week later, calling Melissa to apologize for dropping out of sight the way he had. They agreed to meet at one of the exclusive restaurants at the marina for dinner, Jeremy Payne trying to figure out how to explain things to her. After dinner, he told her but it took Melissa a bit to take it all in. Shaking her head, she got up to leave asking him not to follow her though promising to call him.

Jeremy watched her leave and froze. Near the entrance stood one of Enriquez’s soldiers—one of those who’d beaten their boss’ warning into him. He saw the man leave, an evil smile on his face. Jeremy ran out of the restaurant seeing Melissa by her car. He yelled to her but the sound of a passing ship’s horn drowned his scream out.

Helplessly he watched her car blow up, killing her instantly.

Jeremy Payne slipped into depression, unable to go to her funeral and pretty useless to anyone who’d come to depend on him. The harsh realization of what his job entailed hit him like an out-of-control freight train. He’d become poison, no longer able to operate undercover for the DEA due to Enriquez’s vendetta and unable to partner with anyone because of the constant threat and price on his head.

His superiors came up with a solution. By the time the wheels set into motion, Jeremy Payne had become a member of an elite covert group whose members didn’t even know their counterpart’s identities unless—on extremely rare instances—they worked together. He liked the idea of working alone and the freedom his new position gave him. At any time, he could be given an assignment with any agency inside the international intelligence community and he would carry it out without hesitation.

Given money to set up his life somewhere, he bought a lighthouse in the area of Coos Bay, Oregon. Peaceful and quiet, it gave him what he needed to retain his sanity while keeping anyone he’d ever cared about safe even though he’d gone so far as to break off ties with his family. His orders came over a Blackberry, the account based in Washington. His new life created a shadow to the rest of the world, Payne happy though he missed one thing—the one thing he couldn’t risk having. Suffering loss like that once had been more than enough and, as long as Jeremy Payne seemed dead to the world, he’d live with the sacrifice.

I have no choice.

* * * *

He felt the familiar vibration of the Blackberry and read the message.

Proceed to Langley for briefing.

Jeremy called his pilot and had him get the Lear ready. He packed an overnight bag, made sure his home was secure then set the alarm and locked the door. He walked across the drive to the carriage house and slid the key into the ignition of his black 2005 Aston Martin DB9—his only real luxury bought at his choosing.

The plane came as part of the package given him when he set up his new identity. He had been given orders to tell no one where he’d chosen to settle down and he, in turn, gave his pilot orders to take care of the flight logs so no one could trace the flights back to this area of Oregon. His pilot, Charlie Wagoner, had been a bush pilot before flying Air America in Southeast Asia. Knowing how Black Ops worked, he could hide their comings and goings without a problem and kept Payne’s secret without question. The fact he always briefed his assignments in Southeastern Virginia helped keep his movements under the radar as well.

After Payne set up his cover as a man living a quiet reclusive life in the Pacific Northwest, he decided to spend some of the money he won playing cards in various casinos instead of investing it. I deserve one luxury in my lifetime if I can’t have anything else. His car became his baby, one female he could love without her being murdered.

On the flight to Virginia, he read a book by his favorite author, W.E.B. Griffin. He’d started reading the series about the Philadelphia Police Department then lost himself in the one about the military followed by the another dealing with the Marine Corps. Now, he started the first book of Griffin’s latest series dealing with the President.

Somewhere over the Midwest, he dozed off. Charlie woke him about fifteen minutes before he set the plane down at Langley AFB in Virginia. Washing his face, he prepared to go see where his life would be taken with the latest assignment.

Thanks, Charlie.

Anytime, Jere. Good luck on this one.

Thanks, Jeremy said. I’ll call you when I’m ready to return.

I’ll put her in for maintenance while we’re here.

Good idea. See ya later.

Jeremy left the plane, immediately got into a waiting Humvee and rode away. The driver took him to a hangar where another larger plane waited. Several men stood off to the side at a high table looking over what appeared to be maps and photos. Jeremy took a quick glance at them, the information never to be forgotten thanks to a photographic memory, one talent that had always served him well.

Ah, Payne, right on time, one said.

John, good to see you.

You know the others so we’ll forget formalities.

Payne nodded toward the other men, knowing them from prior assignments.

What’s the job?

We have a diplomat being held in Warsaw. Radical extremists abducted him with hopes of swaying a key vote at the United Nations. You have to get him out and to New York before the vote takes place on Monday.

That gives me five, six days at best to accomplish it.

Unfortunately. We’re having you flown into the capital where you’ll pick up a car and proceed to where we’re sure they’re holding him.

It sounds way too easy.

That’s why we called you. Intel has been sketchy but according to what we’ve gathered, he’s been moved.

Lovely.

Your usual requests have been taken care of and are on board the plane already. Your passport is in the name of George Bonder, international financial consultant. We’ve supplied money, credit cards and documentation.

Weapons?

When you get to your hotel. One of the ministers in the Polish intelligence community will meet you in the hotel café to give you the latest on the situation and any inside help you may need.

Now, give me the lowdown—why me on what appears to be a simple extraction the Seals or Special Forces could do?

Threats have been received stating he won’t make it to the council session in New York. This needs your expertise in protection.

Wonderful.

Jere, this vote is crucial. He must be there in order for...

Jeremy put his hand up, not wanting to know any more. He shook John’s hand, nodded again to the others and boarded the Gulfstream. Moments later, the pilot taxied down the runway and took off.

Jeremy sat back, settling in for another long flight. He closed his eyes and went over everything they’d discussed, remembering the photos. He began to formulate a plan flexible enough to be altered at a moment’s notice. Ah, the life of a covert op...

* * * *

Sapphire Knight sat behind her computer, her mind blank. Since coming to Coos Bay, Oregon, she hadn’t written a decent sentence to save her life. She loved the area, just not the reason she’d come to live in it.

Her life had changed drastically one night in New York, forcing her to make a move she prayed wouldn’t be permanent. She missed her family but, for now, things had to remain like this.

Her sisters, Jade and Ruby, sent her letters letting her know about the family but, by the time Sapphire received them, the news had aged a week or two after going through secure channels and Federal red tape. She loved hearing how the catering business fared, considering it had been over six months since she had anything to actually do with it. She’d been fortunate to do something successful and financially secure while doing what she really loved—writing. Jade ran it with an iron skillet, so to speak while Ruby operated the restaurant in the same building with their father and step-mother.

Sapphire looked at the screen cursing then outside noticing the beautiful sunset and decided to take a walk in order to clear her head so she could work on the screenplay she’d been trying to finish for several days. Fortunately, even in her situation, she could still write under her name and remain safe even though everything she sent to the producer had to go through channels before he got her work.

The story going around New York and some other places told how Sapphire had suffered a complete breakdown, her doctors sending her to an undisclosed location in order for her to rest and recuperate. Email eased the situation considerably considering several years before, she would have had to give up her profession completely. Thank God for small blessings and technology.

Pulling her jacket closed to ward off the chill from the Sound, she walked toward a lighthouse a short distance north of her. She usually went this way for several reasons—one being the hunk who owned the light. She wanted to talk to him but, from what she could tell, his schedule had him leaving at a moment’s notice with an indefinite return. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he was a spy.

She gazed at the sunset then looked up to see the light had been turned on. She couldn’t see him, but with the intensity of the beam, she understood. She’d meet up with him sooner or later—she hoped.

Chapter 1

Jeremy Payne’s flight landed and he picked up the car waiting for him. He drove to the hotel, the concierge giving him a large envelope and a message.

Your party’s waiting for you in the restaurant. If you’d like, I’ll have your bags taken to your room.

I only have the one. I’ll keep it with me.

As you wish, sir.

Payne nodded then went into the restaurant where a well-dressed man waved to catch his attention.

Mister Bonder, over here.

Jeremy joined him, the men shaking hands.

A drink, sir? the waiter asked.

Vodka tonic, thanks, Jeremy said.

I took the liberty of ordering for you. Our menus here are exotic if one’s not used to the cuisine. The kitchen is preparing you a medium cooked prime rib with the usual American additions.

Thanks, I appreciate it. I’ve had the food here before and we didn’t get along.

I see, the man said. He slid a newspaper across the table to Jeremy. There’s been activity in the north. From the extent, we surmise they are protecting the target because that area is peaceful and sides with the government. The Rebels feel if they nest themselves in the center of it, no one will do anything against them.

Sounds like the Sandinistas.

Exactly.

Then this is what I need, Jeremy stated, writing a quick list.

You can’t be serious. You intend to...

Halo jump, yes, Jeremy said. In quick with no disturbance. I can take him to a rendezvous point and we get him out with little if any gunfire exchanged.

When?

Tomorrow night, Jeremy said. Once I look at the pictures I requested, I’ll know better where I want the pick-up point set.

They said you were good. I didn’t believe them.

Wait until the vote’s over to be a believer.

Nervous?

Superstitious.

* * * *

The Halo jump the next evening went like clockwork. Jeremy made his way from the drop point near a small village to the tiny house where the diplomat had been reportedly held. Before approaching the small rundown building, he scanned the area finding no guards—no evidence of the small town being in the center of a high-profile kidnapping. Slowly, he made his way to the darkest side of the house, took a deep breath hoping he had good intelligence and there had been no mistakes, then peered inside through the dirty window. His target sat on a cot in the corner of the room, handcuffed to it and under the sleepy eye of one guard.

Jeremy checked his lock pick kit, finding his handcuff key. Pulling it out, he slid it between his watchband and arm then crept to the front door. For being a politically charged situation, he expected more than one guard. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up, telling him what he already sensed. Something’s wrong.

Cautiously, he entered the building and deftly took out the one man standing between him and his quarry. Once the guard lay dead, Jeremy sat the man in the chair making him appear to be sleeping as he had been a few minutes earlier. He quickly went over to the diplomat, unlocked the handcuff on his wrist and led him out of the building and into the woods surrounding the small village.

I’m here to get you to New York, he told the man who nodded. Are there any other guards?

No, the man answered. They left the one when their group took off.

When?

Early this morning.

What’s going on?

They figured I’m a frail old man who wouldn’t give them trouble.

Are you up to traveling a short distance to where we’re scheduled to meet the helicopter?

Yes, I think so, Mister...

No names—it’s easier that way.

* * * *

Thirty-six hours later, Jeremy escorted the diplomat through customs at JFK in New York. After they made their way to the extraction point and had been flown out of the area, they headed straight to the airport boarding a plane to Berlin. They’d flown in from Toronto, taking several commercial flights from Warsaw in order to discourage anyone from following them or making another attempt to abduct or maybe murder the diplomat.

You’re a very cautious man, I see.

It’s habit, Jeremy quietly said.

A good one. I appreciate everything you’ve done.

I did my job, sir.

Admirably.

Jeremy shook his hand once the man’s protection shifted to other Federal agents, his job done. He crossed the airport to the private terminal where the Gulfstream waited to fly him back to Langley where he’d debrief before having a doctor examine him. After a day or two, he’d be boarding his private jet to fly home.

He stopped at a newsstand, picking up the latest copy of USAToday. He paid for it then walked down the concourse to meet his pilot. While he walked, he scanned the headlines, startled when he felt something sharp jabbed into his side.

Keep walking, a man with a Colombian accent ordered.

Whoa, friend, I don’t think you want to do this, Jeremy said quietly. He couldn’t reach for his Sig nestled in its holster thanks to his assailant being on that side of him.

Señor Enriquez sends a message—he still hasn’t forgotten.

Neither have I, Payne said, his mind racing. I’ve stayed out of...

"He wants you dead, mi amigo, the man hissed. You should never have come back to New York."

What does that mean?

You entered his territory and he doesn’t like that.

His territory?

You should know he’s moving up the East Coast—I thought you knew everything.

Obviously not.

From Colombia to Canada—Señor Enriquez controls it all.

Greedy son of a bitch, isn’t he?

Jeremy gulped, feeling the blade enter his side. His hand quickly went over his attacker’s holding tight while he slowly dropped to his knees taking the Colombian with him. He tasted blood, fearing the worst.

Tell your boss I feel the same.

But you’re already there while he has a long life ahead of him—something you stole from his brother.

Jeremy looked his assailant in the eye, tasting more blood. His grip tightened, needing to keep pressure on the point of entry where the knife cut into him. He knew removing it would only serve to make matters worse—exactly what Enriquez counted on.

Freeze, a deep voice ordered.

Jeremy inwardly sighed with relief. The voice belonged to the Gulfstream’s pilot and a good friend. Thank God the pilots carry...

The Colombian started, giving Jeremy the chance to move a bit.

This has nothing to do with you, Señor.

It most certainly does, Henry stated. You kill him, I lose my paycheck. If that happens, who’s going to put my ten kids through school?

"Lo siento, Señor, but my boss will not appreciate my leaving this unfinished."

And I told you...

A quiet shot sped through the air embedding itself in the Colombian’s brain. He fell over dead, his hand still between Jeremy’s and the hilt of the knife.

Henry Darnell—a six foot five black ex-college all-star center from UCLA and very good at his job—put his gun in his belt while crossing the polished floor to get to Jeremy.

Jeremy gasped, shaking from chills overtaking his body. Shock threatened to overwhelm his rapidly weakening body, his mind fighting to remain alert. He saw Henry looming over him, glad to know he could die in peace. He gulped air, feeling blood in his mouth after he coughed.

I’m going to pull the knife out.

No, just get me out of here.

But...

I don’t want to die here.

You won’t if I have anything to do with things, Henry assured him. Hold on...

Henry carefully lifted Jeremy from the floor and took him the remainder of the short distance to the plane. Once on board, Henry and the steward worked to stop the bleeding. Gil Farrell brought linen napkins from the galley plus got a huge pitcher of water.

Gil took a look, shaking his head.

I saw things like this in Desert Storm. This is worse than I’ve ever seen. We’ve got to get him to an OR.

Can you stabilize him long enough for me to fly to Langley?

I’ll do what I can but...

Then do it. We can’t afford NYPD getting hold of this.

I suggest we get going, Gil said, Henry leaving them to go to the cockpit.

Jeremy whispered something, Gil bending down to hear him if he repeated it.

C-c-cold...

Gil reached over to the couch, pulling down a blanket and covering Jeremy.

Don’t worry, sir. We’re...

I can’t feel anything.

As soon as we’re in the air, I’m going to remove the knife. I’m sorry if I hurt you more but it’s the best way under the circumstances.

Whatever, Jeremy said. It’s over. The Colombian finally won.

No, I’m not letting you die—not on my watch, Gil assured him. Mister Payne?

Jeremy had lapsed off.

It’s probably for the best, Gil told himself. He moved the blanket out of his way, took a deep breath before placing his hand on the hilt then pulled the knife out as carefully as the situation warranted. As soon as he did, he quickly applied direct pressure to the wound in order to stave off more bleeding.

A short time into the flight, Henry came back to learn the latest on Payne’s condition.

I’ve put her on auto-pilot, he assured Gil. How’s he doing?

He’s unconscious. I think I’ve stopped the bleeding or at least eased it some. Can you arrange for a trauma team to meet us?

Already talked to Langley. They’re on standby waiting for our arrival.

Good, Gil said. I wrapped the knife in a napkin. I figure they’ll want to examine it.

More than likely.

How much longer before we land?

Twenty minutes.

Okay, because he needs help yesterday. He’s feverish again and is experiencing numbness. If he makes it through this, I’ll...

Don’t say it, Henry said.

Gil understood, quietly thinking if Payne survived, it’d be a miracle. No one he’d ever treated survived something like this.

I’ll let the medics know, Henry said, standing up before he returned to the cockpit where he sat behind the controls and prayed.

* * * *

At the same time on the opposite end of the continent, an eerie phenomenon occurred, one foreseeing a change in someone’s life. A complete stranger sitting in her home in Coos Bay, Oregon felt a sharp pain in the exact spot Payne had been stabbed. She cried out, no one hearing her.

As quickly as it hit her, the pain stopped though she continued to feel a dull ache for a while afterward. Over the next several hours, she continued experiencing pains though not as sharp as the original. She assumed she’d pulled a muscle reaching for something, forgetting about it and continuing with what she had been doing.

Chapter 2

As soon as possible after one of the government’s private jets landed at Langley, a trauma team immediately went to work treating Jeremy Payne to save his life. One of the elite agents serving the United States, they couldn’t afford to have anything go wrong. He had to be saved.

I’m Doctor Jim Lyons. We’re set up in one.

He needs immediate surgery. The guy put a good six inches of metal into him.

Do you have the knife?

I gave it to your nurse.

I want to see it then I want it sent to Trace to make sure there’re no surprises.

Yes, Doctor Lyons, a nurse said. She handed him the knife wrapped in what had once been a white linen napkin, now a bloody rag. He saw the length of the blade, relieved it had straight edges instead of serrated which would have caused more damage. He didn’t like the color of the blood on the blade, glad he ordered it to the trace lab. He hoped they’d get an answer to him sooner rather than later. Thank God we have a good lab.

He started antibiotics, injecting them directly into Jeremy’s bloodstream.

Jere, if you can hear me, it’s Jim, he said. We’ll get you through this. I hope...

Doctor, you’ll want to see this.

Lyons went to see what she wanted to show him, Lyons fit to be tied.

Get Trace on the phone and tell them I need to know what the blade was dipped in—yesterday!

Yes, Doctor.

A few minutes later, she raced in with the report. Reading it, Lyons shook his head.

Damn it! he cursed.

Sir? an intern asked.

He’s been poisoned, Lyons declared while furiously writing on the report. Go to the pharmacy and bring this back STAT. Make sure they know we’re nearly out of time.

Yes, Doctor Lyons, she said, running past him to the door.

Lyons started issuing orders, his team working like a well-oiled machine. The moment the nurse returned from the pharmacy with the antidote to the poison and handed it to him, Lyons injected it into Jeremy’s other arm.

Doctor, he’s convulsing, an intern yelled.

Give me an anti-convulsant in the IV drip.

What about everything else?

Right now, we have to do anything and everything we can to counteract the poison. Keep pressure on his side so he doesn’t start bleeding again.

Yes, Doctor Lyons.

Lyons knew he had taken a chance by ordering the additional medicine but Jeremy Payne teetered on the brink of life and death. At this point, treatment could go either way. Please, God, keep him with us...

Jeremy’s body calmed enough that Lyons felt they could transfer him to surgery. Quickly the team moved him—time precious.

* * * *

Surgery on Jeremy Payne’s knife injury proceeded like a textbook case—a surgeon’s dream which if not careful, could turn into a nightmare. Because of the nature of the operation, Lyons had taken no chances having called in another colleague to assist.

Doctor, pressure’s dropping and heartbeat’s erratic.

Lyons cursed, grateful for taking precautions.

Jeremy, don’t do this, he urged before he started barking orders to the surgical team. Doctor Taylor continued working on the surgical repair while Lyons fought to keep their patient alive.

A nurse confirmed his order for an injection into Jeremy’s IV in order to even his heart rate and bring his dropping blood pressure up. He nodded and she injected it into the drip. Lyons waited, watching for any reactions.

Heart rate is dropping fast, pressure is still low, a nurse advised. Doctor, we’re losing him.

Get me epinephrine STAT, he ordered.

The moment Payne flat-lined, an intern performed CPR trying to jumpstart his heart. Lyons injected the epinephrine directly into Jeremy’s heart, praying for his friend’s life.

The heart monitor started a rhythmic beating, his blood pressure rising. Slowly, their patient stabilized, Lyons relieved.

How’s his side?

Almost done, Taylor advised.

Good, Lyons said. He took Jeremy’s chart, updating it then writing further instructions for the recovery room staff and ICU. Signing off, he closed the notebook, handing it to one of the nurses. He looked back at Jeremy hoping for the best while knowing they had not cleared the woods yet. They still had to contend with the aftereffects of the poison the assailant had used.

Moments later, a team wheeled Jeremy Payne into recovery where he would be under constant watch until he came out of the anesthesia. As soon as that occurred, they would take him immediately to intensive care and continue monitoring his progress.

Lyons had read about the poison used knowing they dealt with one made from plants indigenous to Columbia. Rare and potent, they’d been lucky to detect it as early as they did. He’d have to commend Charlie and Gil for their quick actions and the instinct to save the knife.

He walked out of the operating room rubbing his neck. They’d worked on Payne for a short while compared to other surgeries but it had been just as exhausting—mentally and physically.

* * * *

The next twenty-four hours of Jeremy’s life turned into the worst. He’d been transferred to intensive care unconscious and in critical condition. Lyons checked on his condition every hour, concerned about Jeremy’s state. He knew Jeremy should have been awake by now but something held him back. He considered the possibility the poison could be stronger than the antidote but they had to continue with that treatment or Jeremy wouldn’t have survived this long. Did I miss anything?

Near midnight, he walked into the nurse’s area where they monitored the ICU patients.

Any change?

No, Doctor Lyons, he’s...

Suddenly, the monitors went crazy warning of problems with his patient. Lyons looked at the screen then through the window to see Jeremy in convulsions. He ran into his patient ordering another injection of the antidote be administered into the IV drip.

The nurse acknowledged the order while he checked vitals. He listened to Jeremy’s heart, the rate up more than he felt comfortable with.

Without warning, Jeremy’s convulsions became more violent, his head moving from side to side while he gasped for air. Pain etched his ruggedly handsome face, a trickle of blood appearing at his nose.

Damn it, Jere, don’t do this!

Do you want epinephrine?

No, we used it before, he said. I don’t want to...

Jeremy screamed. In agonizing pain, his fingers curled into tight fists. Lyons held Jeremy down so he wouldn’t hurt himself while praying the drug would take effect. Finally, Jeremy calmed, his vitals stabilizing.

Thank God, Lyons whispered. Relieved the drug had taken effect, Lyons eased his grip on Jeremy’s shoulders then stood back.

He should be all right, he advised the nurse. Keep me advised of any changes and call me immediately if it’s bad. I think he will sleep peacefully and if what I’ve read is true, he’ll be fighting us to get out of bed and leave.

Yes, Doctor, the nurse said, smiling.

* * * *

Sapphire felt sick, her stomach upset for hours. She drank hot tea hoping it would help but it didn’t. She couldn’t understand why. In all her life, she’d never felt this sick and she tried to remember what she’d eaten in the last several hours. Nothing different...

When the sick feelings eased, she went back to her computer and worked on the screenplay. Finally, she’d been able to work on it without any mental blocks or other problems. If she kept at her current pace, she’d have it finished by weeks’ end. That’s if I don’t still feel rotten.

Half an hour later, she completed the scene she’d been working on, saved it to her flash drive and shut down her computer. Rubbing her neck, she walked into the kitchen to pour another cup of tea. She went to take a sip from the mug seconds before she dropped it—the mug shattering while tea spilled over the floor. A sharp pain shot through her and she fell to the floor shaking uncontrollably. As quickly as the attack came on, it stopped.

Lord, what the hell is wrong with me?

Sapphire went to bed having no idea what caused the mysterious illness that went away as quickly as it came about. When she woke the next morning, she felt fine as if nothing had happened so she attributed it to a twenty-four hour bug and forgot about it.

Because she’d had a good start on the next scene of her screenplay, she dove into her writing and didn’t quit until late afternoon. The first clue she’d forgotten about time came when she needed to turn on a light. Smiling, she got up from the desk and grabbed a sweater before going outside to take her evening walk.

Again she went toward the lighthouse, hoping she might see the mysterious owner. She looked around disappointed. It appeared he hadn’t been home for several days because newspapers piled up near the door and a package had obviously been sitting on the porch that long as well. She’d seen it a day or two before and the wrapping seemed to be damp from what she could tell.

She collected the newspapers and slipped them between the inside and outside doors then picked up the box and took it home intending to give it to him when he returned. At least I might get to talk to him...

* * * *

Did you deliver the package?

Yes.

Then why haven’t we heard anything? You guaranteed me a report days ago.

I don’t know.

Find out.

Yes, sir.

Word of the million-dollar contract filtered through the ranks of every criminal organization after the initial issuance in the Enriquez organization. One smart lieutenant thought he’d found out where their target lived and sent a package to the man’s address in a sleepy town in Oregon. Once he opened it, Jeremy Payne would be history—a small yet powerful bomb doing its job.

The device had been delivered but there had been no reports of it going off. Sanchez watched the local news and read the newspapers front page to back seeing nothing. He drove by the lighthouse and saw it still standing in one piece. What had gone wrong?

Three days had passed since he’d dropped it off. Something had to have gone wrong. Did I deliver it to the wrong man? Sanchez paced, knowing his boss would not be pleased at the turn of events. He couldn’t afford to be wrong—Enriquez adamant in his orders. Yes, the boss wanted Payne dead but he needed his revenge to remain on a personal level even though he’d issued a very public contract—strange but true.

Sanchez continued his vigil while acting like a tourist looking for peace and quiet. He couldn’t leave Coos Bay without answers—the right ones.

* * * *

How did it go in New York?

Not good.

Why?

Our man lost. We have no clue about the target.

You’re right—it’s not good. I want Payne dead.

The payout is very enticing.

But it’s not doing what I expected. I figured this would have been over days ago.

He could very well be dead for all we know. No one could find his body and he didn’t receive medical treatment anywhere in New York City.

I want to see the body, Enriquez stated emphatically.

Yes, sir, the other man said, I’ll see to it personally.

Enriquez waited for the man to leave the room. Once alone, he let his emotions surface, his fist pounding the top of his desk. Why is it so damned difficult to get rid of one man? Two tries and his enemy had survived both, he figured. He couldn’t afford to believe in success until he saw proof.

Trying to get Jeremy Payne out of his life took several years—time not well spent, only wasted when he could have been concentrating on more important things—not that avenging his brother’s murder didn’t take priority.

Jorge Enriquez needed the capability to conduct business without the threat of Jeremy Payne looming in the background or being in the way. Payne and his agency, along with the entire United States Justice Department plus law enforcement on the international level, had become huge thorns in his side. All he desired from life—to conduct his business like any other professional. With Payne alive, he couldn’t do that.

A high-profile meeting had been set to take place in Thailand. Enriquez needed to protect his interests in the Golden Triangle and hoped to increase his status on all fronts. If by some luck his million-dollar incentive had been successful, he’d be able to attend without a problem.

He slammed his fist into the desk again, ignoring the pain.

Success is mine but only if Payne is dead.

* * * *

Jeremy finally awoke, cautiously looking around him to see if he could tell where he’d been taken. The last thing he recalled, he’d been walking down the concourse at JFK to the private flight lounge. A strange man approached him and sank a knife into his side.

From Señor Enriquez.

Jeremy didn’t remember much afterwards. Now, he lay in what he figured to be a hospital room but where, he wouldn’t begin to think about.

Ah, I see you’ve decided to rejoin the living, a familiar voice said.

Jim? Where the hell... I’m at Langley, aren’t I?

Yes, Jim Lyons assured him. Henry and Gil did what they could for you then flew you direct to me.

Bring me up to speed.

Doctor James Lyons took a deep breath before going into a detailed explanation of Jeremy Payne’s last seventy-two hours.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Nope. We analyzed the poison and found an exotic twist added to it. We had to administer the antidote twice because of the chemical make-up. His chemist designed it to override the first dose and require a second. He counted on us using one dose and you dying before we figured things out. You have Gil to thank for holding onto the knife so it could be examined.

Damn!

You kept us on our toes for a long while.

Sorry to bother.

The bother would have come if you’d died on me which I might add, you damned near did twice.

Shit!

Your boss wants to talk to you as soon as you are up to it.

Why am I not surprised? Jeremy asked.

When I operate on one of his best...

Don’t kid yourself, Jim. I’m nothing special.

Listen, friend, Lyons started, the last thing I want is to have one of my closest friends dying on my watch. If you feel the need, do it somewhere where I’m not.

Affirmative, Jeremy said.

I’ll let you take it easy before the next round of tests start. I’ll be back later.

See ya, Jeremy said. Oh, Jim?

Yes?

Thanks.

Anytime.

An hour later, the director walked into Jeremy’s room. John Mankin stood tall, a stocky man who easily intimidated those who did not see his true personality—a caring family man and good friend. He