Authors: Kaylea Cross
Copyright © 2009 by Kari Walker
First published in 2010
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Ben seemed remote, but she sensed something
seething beneath his composed exterior. Whatever was going on in his head, he had to have something more on his mind than her disappearance.
“You seem upset,” she ventured, not knowing what to make of it. If anyone should be upset, shouldn't it be her?
An awful silence met her words. It expanded until it filled the room and pressed in on her.
“Upset?” he said finally, then shrugged. “I'm not upset. I'm just trying to figure out why you'd fall off the face of the earth
when bad shit started happening.”
She licked her lips, not liking what he was inferring. Something else must have happened that she didn't know about. “I don't know what I can say that will make you believe me,” she began, stomach squeezing tighter when he didn't even glance at her. Despair filled her. “I called you because I need your help.”
He set her BlackBerry on the side table next to him and regarded her dispassionately. “That's nice.”
His remote expression jangled her nerves. What had happened to make him look at her like that?
“You want me to trust you, Sam?”
She frowned. “Of course I do.”
“You're a bright girl, so I'm sure you can understand why that's not going to happen. But if you want to try to earn my trust, I'm game.” He tilted his dark head, pale eyes glittering a challenge in the lamp light. “You can start by taking off all your clothes.”
“Ms. Cross writes well, with smoothness and polish, and her ability to create sub plots means that she makes a [stalker] theme refreshing. Go for it— this is a super read.”
~Between the Lines WRDF Review
“Truly one of the most remarkable stories I have read. Kudos to Ms. Cross for a story well told.”
~Graded “A” by Simply Romance Reviews
OUT OF HER LEAGUE
is a tantalizing story that has well-developed characters plus lots of mystery, suspense of the ever-present stalker. Ms. Cross’ description of settings brings the locations to life and reveals even more about the characters. Her smooth, easy-flowing writing is a joy to read, AND the love scenes are truly love scenes, not just sex— ah!”
~Rated 4.5 books by Long and Short Reviews
“Clearly written with an eye on the commercial potential of today's more explicit romance fiction,
OUT OF HER LEAGUE
is a bona fide page-turner, peppered with profanity and violence, and with a slow, but steady, progression to several steamy sex scenes... Cross’ prose is spare, fast-paced and evocative, with enough narrative hooks and violent jolts to snare even those who profess to deride this kind of fiction.”
~Peace Arch News
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
No Turning Back
COPYRIGHT (C) 2009 by Kari Walker
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
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Cover Art by
The Wild Rose Press
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First Crimson Rose Edition, 2010
Print ISBN 1-60154-719-6
Published in the United States of America
Late September, Baghdad, Iraq
When either the CIA or a terrorist cell was targeting you, you were having a very bad day.
Sam was in serious goddamn trouble. The life and death kind.
With an uneasy glance around the hotel room she now knew was bugged, she studied the manila envelope clutched in her damp hands. She'd found it shoved under her usual computer terminal at the internet cafe fifteen minutes ago. It bore her name on the top, written with a red felt-tipped pen.
Like her day could get any worse?
First, she and her teammate Ben had found the transmitters hidden in her place. Then, she'd relayed her suspicions about their Iraqi informant Fahdi to her boss, legendary CIA operative Luke Hutchinson. A few minutes after that awkward conversation, she'd planted a tracking device on Fahdi and left the office for a badly needed break. She'd headed to the internet cafe for a hot drink while she checked e-mail in relative privacy, and the envelope had been under the keyboard of the machine she'd sat down at. Sam had no idea how it had gotten there or who it was from, but sensed whatever it contained was going to be bad, so she hadn't opened it. Though she hadn't seen anything else suspicious, she was sure someone had been watching her, so she'd high-tailed it home. Not that she was any safer here, she admitted, standing rigid in the middle of the place she'd called home for the past four months.
The thin envelope suddenly felt like it was made of lead instead of paper. She had a really bad feeling she wasn't going to like whatever was inside. Swallowing her dread, she opened it anyway and pulled out the contents. Color photos filled her hand.
Sam laid them on her desk and lifted a shaky hand to her mouth. Dear God. They were all of her, shot with a powerful telephoto lens, from her meeting with Fahdi and his wife. Her eyes skipped to the cryptic note clutched in her nerveless fingers.
We know what you've done. We will contact you with a meeting time and location. Come alone. Tell no one. You are being watched.
The blood pounded in her ears. Her stomach knotted. They knew what she'd done? What did that mean? Panic swirled in her head. Fahdi. Had to be. Whatever he was involved in, they thought she was, too.
Her gaze darted about her cozy living quarters and she wondered if someone was watching her right now.
The place was finished in soothing taupes and creams, and she'd always loved coming home to relax. Not anymore. She and Ben might not have found all the devices. She wasn't safe here. Not with whoever was closing in on her out there, waiting. She had to leave. Right now, even though she had nowhere to go.
Sam stuffed the pictures back into the envelope. Running to her bedroom, she flung open the closet and wrenched her clothes off the hangers, shoving them into the backpack with the envelope. The seconds ticked by like a timer on a bomb. Perspiration prickled her skin as her heart rattled in her chest.
In the bathroom, she cleared the shelf above the sink with a sweep of her arm and dumped everything in the bag, then ran to the kitchen and snatched the picture of her and her cousin Neveah hanging on the fridge. They'd been brought up together and were closer than sisters. Sam wasn't going to leave that behind, especially after Neveah's letter had mysteriously disappeared. She'd noticed that this morning, along with the fact that someone had been into the hard drive of her laptop. Add in the transmitters and she had every right to be paranoid. But the envelope of pictures changed everything.
The sudden shrill of her cell phone made her jump, but she didn't dare answer it. As of right now, she had to cut contact with everyone until she figured out what was going on.
The crawling sensation on the back of her neck was an ominous warning as she ran for the door, snagging her laptop on the way. She had sensitive information in it, and couldn't leave it behind in case it fell into the wrong hands. Someone had been into it once already.
You are being watched.
The menacing words sent a shiver down her spine. She'd first detected the surveillance weeks ago while walking home from the market one night, but had convinced herself she was being paranoid. Now that someone had followed her to the cafe and left the package, she wished she hadn't dismissed her intuition so quickly. Whoever was after her had to be close.
Whether it was the CIA or a terrorist cell didn't matter a damn right now. Gut instinct told her if she stayed where she was, they'd kill her.
Get out. Now.
Heart pounding like a jackhammer, Sam rushed out of the room. Her shaking fingers fumbled with the key in the lock as she turned the dead bolt in the hallway, then shoved it into her pocket and ran for the stairwell.
It seemed to take forever to run down the five flights of concrete steps. She wasn't moving fast enough. Whoever was looking for her could be here already. She had to get out while she still could, hide somewhere and decide what the hell to do next. With no other plan, she tore down the stairs and into the underground parking garage. The heavy metal door banged shut behind her and echoed through the cavernous space like a shotgun blast. She cringed at the noise and couldn't help a nervous glance around her to see if anyone was there. Empty.
The sudden silence unnerved her. Her compact, silver rental car sat in its usual spot close to the elevator. Staring at it, her heart tripped. What if someone had planted a bomb in it? The building had security, but it wasn't impossible for someone to sneak around here and not get caught.
Since half the building was occupied by US intelligence staff and civilian contractors, it made for a pretty ideal target. Considering who she worked for, she ranked right up there for interested terrorist groups, and that could also explain why someone had been tailing and threatening her. With anti-US sentiment at an all time high in Iraq and throughout much of the Middle East, it wasn't much of a leap to imagine someone trying to blow her up to make a statement.
Not with the kind of week she'd had.
She eyed her vehicle. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but she wasn't going to bet her life on the fact no one had tampered with it. Probably wasn't safe to take her car anyway, even if no one had rigged it. All they'd have to do was tag her license plate and bingo, Samarra Wallace on a platter.
Her mind whirled as she reviewed her options. Going on foot was too risky. Even with her titian-red hair tucked under her headscarf, anyone looking for her would notice the color right away if they got close enough. That left public transit. She didn't want to get on a bus because it would put too many eyes on her. So a taxi it was.
Spinning around, she raced for a side door and exited into the sunlight scorching the parking lot. The heat slapped her in the face and sucked the air out of her lungs. She'd have thought she'd be used to the climate by now, but every time she left the cool of her air conditioned building it hit her. Hefting her backpack strap up higher across her right shoulder, she tightened her grip on the laptop case.
At a brisk pace, she aimed for the sidewalk of the main street in front of her building. She made sure to keep her head up high and tried not to appear nervous, even though she desperately wanted to glance around to make sure no one was following her. Last thing she needed was to draw any more attention to herself than she inadvertently had already.
As soon as she got in the cab, she'd check her BlackBerry for new e-mails. If the same people had broken into her place earlier and accessed her laptop, maybe whoever was hunting her had sent another message. Or maybe someone from the team had tried to contact her. Best she could hope for at this point was a clue that would help her figure out if it was safe to contact her boss Luke—
A sudden explosion ripped the quiet apart.
Sam swallowed a yelp and hit the ground, instinctively covering her head with both arms as the deafening boom tore through the air. The concussion reverberated in her chest and shook the ground.