Many congrats to Jessica Hughes, the winner of the Raptor 6 Kindle HDX Giveaway done in partnership with LitFuse Media! Jessica – please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with your info.
The serialized novel (actually the equivalent of two full-length novels) is coming to e-readers everywhere July 4th. Here is the first-ever SNEAK PEEK at the opening page of the teaser, “Overkill: The Beginning.”
Las Vegas, Nevada
27 April – 1950 Hours
Tonight, I die.
A shot cracked the night. Sparks zinged off a Dumpster as she sprinted past it. Blood pounded against her temples as she raced through the dark stench. She skidded and slapped her hand against a brick building to slingshot around a corner. She pushed off, the texture roughing her palm. She stumbled but caught traction. A split-second glance into the ebony tapestry revealed nothing. The dark alleys of Sin City refused to lift the hem of their darkness, refused to show her who or what pursued her. But she could feel it. Feel them.
And she’d never doubted that instinct. Not now. Not five years ago.
“Quit staring,” she whispered to herself, her pulse whooshing in her ears. “Go.” Jessica Herring threw herself around. Tumbled into a steel bin overflowing with rotting food and boxes. She shoved away, but not before the Dumpster lashed out, searing her cheek with the cut of a flattened box. Pain flashed across her face.
It was nothing compared to what they would do if they caught her. If she didn’t get back in enough time. . . She sprinted down the narrow sliver of space between two multistoried buildings. Splashed the puddles of rainwater. Ducked into a corner for a moment to breathe, to get her bearings.
She peeked out, careful to stay within the shadows, and surveyed the lit street. Cars rolled past, slowing at a red light.
Lights. Lights. Lights. Too many! She’d be spotted immediately.
A large black Suburban lumbered onto the street.
Jessie yanked back, hauling in a hard breath as she flattened herself against the wall. Bricks dug into her shoulders. Chest heaving from the hard run the last couple of miles, she rested her head but watched the road at the same time. A breeze scampered across her shoulders, breathing a chill past the tank top and down her spine.
This was it.
Live to survive one disaster, only to die in another.
Right. Because that’s just how life worked.
Heavy thuds gave pursuit, hammering. Shouting. Screaming her stupidity for stopping.
Waited too long. The men had caught up, racing toward her from the rear of the buildings.
Jessie eyed the roof of the alcove. Feet on the wall in front of her and arms behind her, she shimmied up. Her leaden legs threatened to defy her attempts, but she commanded obedience. Just had to get back to the apartment. She pressed her spine against the ceiling and prayed this was enough to conceal her. Buy her some time.
Three men ran past her hiding spot, skating to a stop in the open street.
Arms trembling, she waited. Go on. Keep moving.
If she dropped now, they’d see and hear her.
Jessie gritted her teeth. Steeled her aching limbs.
That black SUV returned, sliding to a stop in front of the men.
“Anything?” a male voice asked.
“Nothing,” one said. Another, “Lost her.”
“Find her. He wants her dead!”
Feeling’s mutual, Jessie thought as her arms bounced under the strain. She slumped, her shoulder ramming into the brick. She only allowed a grunt to escape before catching herself. Waited to make sure she hadn’t alerted them to her presence, that there was enough noise with the traffic that they didn’t hear her.
The men went in opposite directions.
Jessie dropped to her feet, muscles taut as she worked to temper the sound her boots made in the dirty alcove where pamphlets, dust, and rock swirled. She shot a glance around before stepping into the open again.
She jogged back to the end of the alley. Banked right and headed in the direction of her apartment. Slow down. Look natural. She hadn’t been as careful as she’d thought. What had she done to give herself away?
Okay, chatting with Candice was probably a bad idea. But they hid their identity. There wasn’t anything to track them back.
She trotted out onto the main street. Too bad she wasn’t wearing something she could shed. Change her appearance.
Jessie felt the smile before she realized she’d put it on her face. “Hey, Bardo.” The African American loping toward her, his pants hanging practically on his hips and his boxers exposed, grinned, his head back in that gangsta way of his. But Bardo. . .Bardo was cool. He looked out for her.
One side of his full lips lifted into a smile. “How my babe?” The thing with Bardo, he considered every girl who walked the streets—those who did it professionally and those who didn’t—his. And he looked out for his.And right now, even though she’d hooked up with him once or twice in the last couple of years, it was better to be with Bardo and his brothers than to be alone. Hide in a crowd.
Behind her, tires squalled.
She swallowed. Held the question. Gave a sidelong glance, begging God not to let it be them. The beams of the Suburban struck them. Snap!
“You in trouble, Church Girl?”
Jessie spun back to him, widened her eyes.
“Go,” Bardo said, brandishing a gun. “We got this.”
Hope surged. Then deflated. She couldn’t put them in this kind of trouble. “I. . .they’re dangerous, Bardo.” She glanced at the SUV—stopped now. The thugs were deploying again.
“Go!” Bardo pushed her behind him, muttering something about someone stepping in on his girls in his ’hood.
Guilt chugged through her veins, as thick and heady as some of the drugs she’d fallen into living in Sin City. Tears blurred her vision as the sound of guns exploded. She jerked with the violence of the noise intruding on the busy night.
The peppering of bullets and the wail of sirens threw Jessie around. She sprinted. Ran her heart out. Prayed—When had she last done that? Really prayed?—God wouldn’t let Bardo die for her stupidity. Awareness shot through her. She spotted her apartment building. Took the stairs two at a time.
“Is that you, Jamie?”
Her landlady’s singsong voice trailed through the hallway, but Jessie hurried. Let herself into the apartment that she, as Jamie Hendricks, had rented two years ago, after her restless journey dropped her in this forsaken city. Forsaken just like her. She slapped the deadbolt. Flung the chain lock. Poor excuses for security, she knew. No wasting time to put a chair in front of it. Wouldn’t work. They’d bust in one way or another.
No, she had more important things to worry about.
Flung herself around. Stared at the wall with van Gogh’s The Starry Night on it. Cheaply printed and bought at a craft store. But her favorite. The heavens were endless, free. That’s what she wanted. To be free.
“Yeah, free of this freakin’ nightmare,” Jessie muttered as she walked to the kitchenette, climbed on the counter, and reached into the thin gap between the cabinet and wall. She gripped the laptop and pulled it out. Turning it over, she verified the burner phone was still taped to it. When a roach scampered across her hand, she flicked her wrist, sending the pest across the room.
Jessie hustled to the window, unlocked it, and pulled it open. Wait. She glanced at the van Gogh. Then to the carpet. Saw a mark.
Heart in her throat, she rushed to the tufted chair spilling its filling and moved it to the wall. Adjusted the table and lamp. Stood back. Assessed it. Craned her neck.
She lifted the Gideon Bible and set it on the rickety end table someone had thrown in the Dumpster.
He’d know, right? He’d know it was a clue.
An ache, a five-year-old ache burned in her chest. Jessie grabbed the Bic pen from the kitchen counter. Raced to the Bible. Scribbled in it. May it be a lamp unto your boots. . .
Jessie snapped the cover shut. Dropped it on the table. Raced to the window, laptop beneath her arm. Powering on the burner phone as she folded herself through the small window, Jessie prayed she could make the call in time. She rushed around the landing and down the steps. The call connected. Her boots thudded against the rear parking lot as she heard the thunderous crack of her door breaking. She sprinted across the parking lot.
An ungodly force punched the air from her open mouth. Thrust her forward. Face first into a puddle. Splash! Only as a strange warmth spread across her back and she realized she was paralyzed, Jessie knew she had been right: Tonight, I die.
27 April – 2015 Hours
“Hey, Calamari.” Annie Palermo used the back of her hand to brush away the strands of hair that had sprung free from her hasty updo. “Usual?”
Eyes like a brownie—with warm caramel inside—held hers. Samuel Caliguari’s grin never left his face when she was around. Even when she called him by the absurd nickname. “You know it.” The former Navy SEAL had it going on in all the right places—including his heart. Perfect in every sense of the word: handsome, a dozen inches taller than her own five-five height, short-cropped black hair. A slight cleft in his square jaw. Rugged. Dangerous.
Too dangerous. He can dig up every secret you’re protecting.
Sobered, Annie focused on crafting his cheeseburger sub, a Green Dot Sub Shop specialty.
“Sam.” Owner and manager, Jeff Conwell, emerged from the kitchen. “How’s it going?”
“How’s your brother?”
While the two caught up—as they did every time Sam came into the shop, which was often, and not because of the subs but because of his appetite for Annie—she layered on the lettuce and tomatoes. No olives. Her hand slid over the container of black slices and on to the mayo, and. . .slid right back again to the olives. Head down, she stole a glance to make sure he wasn’t looking. Eyes on Sam, she dropped one olive onto his sub. Lathered the thing in mayo and marinara. Ew! His order still made her want to throw up a little in the back of her throat, but you didn’t argue with the owner’s best friend, who was a man who’d been trained to kill.
Annie wrapped the sub in paper then cradled it in a red basket with Sam’s favorite barbecue chips. She placed it on the tray before moving on to the next customer, guilt hanging over her like a giddy concoction. Hates olives. We’ll see. She’d bet he wouldn’t even taste it. Even the most macho men could be such wimps when it came to healthy food.
Minutes fell off the clock, Jeff and Sam still talking. Annie buried herself in her job. If Sam did notice the olive. . .oh, he’d kill her!
Maybe something needed washing in the back. She headed that way, her ears burning. Only the drone of the evening news and chatter in the small shop made it back to her. She slipped through the back and waited.
“Ashland,” Jeff called, using the pseudonym Annie adopted for life in Manson. “Need a hand—”
Metal groaned against vinyl in a massive protest. Clearly the sound of a chair scooting back—hard. “Augh!”
Annie froze, a smile pulling against her effort to fake ignorance.
A long gagging noise came next. As if someone had unleashed a demon out front.
“Sam,” Jeff called out. “You okay?”