16 years earlier
The change happens as suddenly and mysteriously as the dark storm clouds gathering in the perfect blue summer sky above. One minute, there’s sunshine and the next, nothing but impatient snaps of lightning and slow, earth-shaking rumbles of thunder that take her breath away.
Her father is that perfect storm, and that night, he’ll blow her life to pieces.
The thunderstorm was predictable if you were studying the atmosphere, alert to its ever-changing nature. And she’s not so completely wrapped up in mid-teen angst that she doesn’t notice things happening in her family’s stratosphere. She’s always been the sensitive sort to other people’s unspoken pain. So when her father, an FBI agent, announces that he’s a profiler of serial killers for the Behavioral Analysis Unit—the BAU—she assumes his recent somber mood has something to do with this sudden explanation of his career.
But that would’ve been too easy. Instead, she learns, against her will, about the Black Magic Killer, a serial killer whose been her dad’s “case” for the past three years. The case has intensified in recent months, which translates to: the BMK is targeting her father, and by extension, his family.
Her mom. Her brother. And Abby herself.
No one tells her at that moment that the BMK’s main targets are young women. Blond women. Probably because Abby is a young, blond woman and the BMK knows where she lives.
Tonight, her father only explains that, as a precaution, his job wants them to move into a safe house.
“Just until he’s caught,” he reiterates reasonably.
Later, Teige will tell her that he knew serial killers took years to be caught, if they ever actually were.
Twenty-four hours later, they’ll move into what would be the first of ten safe houses—or fortresses, as that was their true nature. She’ll meet Hoss, a United States Marshal and a good friend of their father’s, who will guard her and her older brother, Teige, for many years.
At first, it’s, “Pack what you can carry” and “Leave the rest. We’ll be back. Soon.”
That turns into “You need to be strong” and “The BMK will eventually make the mistake that lets us catch him.”
But she feels like somehow her father’s already done made the biggest one of all by letting this killer into their lives, by being unable to let the case go, by becoming so obsessed with it that the killer became equally so with him.
She doesn’t know, as she lies on the twin mattress in that first sterile house, that the BMK will continue to haunt them for a full seven more years from this moment. That her mom will be gone in two years from a quick-moving breast cancer, or that her father will slowly lose it and become unable to handle his kids or his job.
She has no idea that, seven years later, the BMK will attempt to make her his final victim.
She doesn’t know that he’ll fail, giving her a place in the history books.
The one thing she does know is that it doesn’t feel like there’s any safe haven from the storm she’s expected to ride out.
“This will. Not. Do,” the nineteen-year-old woman who’d been renamed Mary screeched in Abby’s ear for the tenth time since they’d walked into the apartment only moments earlier.
I love my job.
I love my job.
I love my job.
Abby did her best to ignore the hysteria by repeating her new mantra. Many witnesses new to protection were prone to shit like this. They were scared and angry and it was Abby’s job to make them feel comfortable and safe. “Mary—”
Mary whirled around, teeth bared. “Marshal Daniels—”
“Abby,” she said firmly, lowering her voice in a purposeful attempt to get Mary to lower hers. “Mary, no one’s supposed to know I’m a marshal, or that you’re in protection, remember?”
Mary held a pointed fingernail inches from Abby’s face. “Call your boss. Your superior. Call someone. Do you know who I am?”
Yes, Abby did know who Mary had been in her former life, which had ended rather abruptly a week ago. Now, she was a government witness who had a hit out on her from the top-level Russian mobster who used to be her lover, and any number of his associates, before his case went to trial next month. Mary was used to living large, and this one bedroom in the sticks was for shit. “Mary, it’s this or jail. That’s the deal. And trust me, a cell’s way worse than this.”
Mary glared at her, then dropped her bag. “Fucking feds. Fuck you, Abby.”
I love my job.
I love my job.
I love my job.
“Get settled in. I’ll be back later with some groceries.” Abby walked out, shutting the door behind her before Mary could complain anymore. Four days of dealing with this shit was more than enough. Four days of convincing Mary to cut and color her hair, to dress differently, to stop wearing the flashy clothing and high heels. She refused to give up the manicure from hell though, and Abby let her have that, although Mary would soon realize she didn’t have the money to get the acrylic nails done the way she once had.
Crime only paid for a short time, and that was always a rude awakening for most witnesses. Still, could she honestly tell Mary that the FBI would take care of her? No, not in good conscience. The last witness Abby had taken care of had been a short-term case—two months of lockdown in a hotel suite on rotation with two other marshals. The woman had been pressured to turn state’s evidence against her boyfriend, and after she did so, her boyfriend wasn’t convicted because of a technicality.
The marshals kept their end of the bargain and gave her a new identity, but the FBI and the CIA continued to breathe down her neck, pressuring her to turn over more evidence, to get back in touch with him and give them even more instances and details of illegal activity. They threatened her to the point where she was practically overdosing on antidepressants.
In the end, she got too close to her boyfriend. He was now in jail on a life sentence…for murdering her in cold blood.
Maybe Abby was becoming cynical, or maybe she’d seen things like that happen once too often. Either way, she wasn’t happy about her own acceptance.
Once back in her car, she checked her messages. She found one from Jacoby, her former partner on a case who’d turned out to be an FBI profiler, and who’d turned into a good friend. He was checking up on her. So was her brother, Teige, and his girlfriend, Kayla.
They were all always checking up on her, almost daily since last year when a big case landed her in the hospital. Kayla, the woman Abby had protected, was now living with Abby’s brother. They were, in all respects, family. But Kayla’s case had been a success, an anomaly, a way for Abby to utilize her background as the daughter of a legendary FBI profiler of serial killers… A role Abby had always been reluctant to inherit.
Abby understood her father’s obsession with his work, because when she caught a good case, the high was incredible. But since Kayla, the bad ones had been piling up, to the point where she was truly thinking about bailing.
Except she was thirty-two, with skills including weaponry, hiding witnesses and profiling serial killers…and being shot, so not exactly cut out for mainstream work. She’d fielded several offers to write a book based on her experiences with serial killers, “like I’m some kind of serial killer magnet,” she’d complained to Teige and her friend and former partner on Kaya’s case, Jacoby. Neither man had contradicted her.
Still, publishers and agents persisted, no doubt because she was pretty, something she could easily be objective about because, in her world, it didn’t matter to her. In fact, it was mostly a hindrance but she wasn’t going to complain about having blond hair, classic features, and a tall, slim build that drew men like target practice.
But after telling her life story—and probably making herself a target for even more obsessive killers—then what?
That question brought her to one of her favorite bars. It was loud and crowded, and it would force her to stop thinking. A true hole-in-the-wall with a mix of locals, bikers and military, there were nightly fights, lots of making out and ear-splitting music. Abby had been hustling pool here for years.
The motorcycle man sitting in the corner was too big a presence for her not to notice. Plus, he wasn’t a regular, and it was part of her job to clock the faces around her, like Red, the weekday bartender and Tiny, the constant, brick wall of a bouncer at the corner of the bar. Marla and Sam worked this shift, in their denim cut-offs and take-no-shit attitude. Sad man was still at the bar (divorce) and the chain-smoking woman who read palms (badly) at her usual corner table.
She wondered briefly what they called her.
This particular place was half an hour away from her city limits, which she preferred. She didn’t want to see many people she knew well. She wanted acquaintances.
Motorcycle Man stared at her when she got her soda at the bar, kept on staring when she joined in a game of pool with the intention of hustling the three men playing out of their money and smiling the entire time she did so. He joined her a few minutes later, casting a shadow over the men that scared the hell out of them.
He was at least six foot five, well built, and looked like a motorcycle badass. She didn’t see any patches on him but that didn’t mean anything—if he was military, he might not wear them on purpose. “You scared away my business.”
“I didn’t think law enforcement was supposed to hustle innocent civilians out of their hard earned dollars.”
She leaned a hip against the table. “What makes you think I’m law enforcement?”
He smiled. “Honey, I’ve got a nose for trouble.”
“Then why are you here?”
“Because I like trouble a whole lot.”
She rolled her eyes, pushed away from the table and shot until she cleared the balls. “I would’ve won big.”
“Would a kiss make it better?”
“God, that’s the cheesiest line ever.”
“So, that’s a no?” He’d moved close to her, and dammit, he smelled good, like the open road and promises.
After her father had been killed, Abby had gone through her own wild time before finally settling down. Still, that wild child never really retired…she just sat quietly until she saw her opportunity to escape.
“At least tell me your name.”
“I was close—I was going to say Angel.”
She moved close to him, tipped her face up to meet his. His eyes were the same color as the whiskey in her glass and just as warmly seductive. “You need to get some new lines. I hope you kiss better than you flirt.”
His smile was slow and lazy. His kiss was anything but. And yes, for the record, his kiss proved he didn’t need to have any game whatsoever. In fact, she ended up wrapping her arms around his neck and letting him half carry her to a dark corner of the bar as the music pounded around them. Thankfully, she knew they weren’t the only ones getting busy—this was the time of night when hookups ran rampant.
“Seriously, how’d you know who I was?” she asked.
He grinned. “Bartender told me to watch my step around you. Figured that meant you could arrest my ass.”
“I don’t see you wearing a patch.”
“I like to remain unattached.”
She nodded, but didn’t push. Getting answers would mean getting attached, and, like him, that’s exactly what she didn’t want. She only wanted his weight pressing her, his tongue licking the roof of her mouth.
She wanted that tongue everywhere.
He complied. He tasted good, warm and sweet, and his kisses went down as easy as the whiskey. Her hands went under his leather cut, running over the bunched, hard muscles of his shoulders and biceps as they flexed to hold her more tightly. She loved the feeling of being backed against the wall, of being seemingly overpowered (something she could handle because she knew and trusted her own strength and maneuvers to get her out of unwanted situations). Her surroundings also helped.
She moaned into his mouth, and in response, his hand tightened in her hair, keeping her close. The sounds in his chest rumbled, like growls and God, she wanted more.
By last call, the effective end to their makeout session in the dark corner of the bar, she was ready to drag him home with her.
He wanted that as well, murmured, “Take me home and have your way with me, Angel.”
It was only the fact that it was close to three in the morning and time to check on Mary that stopped her. She’d gotten in the habit of checking on unstable witnesses at odd hours. The more unexpected the visits, the more in line the witnesses stayed. Hoss had taught her that. Hoss had been her mentor for a long time, and when he’d been killed in the line of duty, she’d never thought she’d find out that he was the type of man who could’ve been compromised on the job.
Regretfully, she pulled away from Motorcycle Man. “Sorry. I’ve got to go to work.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Night shift?”
“Something like that.”
“Let me take you to dinner,” he said, pulling his cell phone out of his pocket. “Text me your number.”
“Afraid I’ll give you a fake one?” she teased.
“Most definitely. And then I’ll have to waste time hunting you down.” And Abby was pretty sure he actually would try, so she didn’t give him her number at all, then left before he could talk her into staying longer.