Once their paths cross, their fates are sealed.
Sid is a master at solving cold cases. His mind thrives on the challenge. He has a knack for finding elusive clues and piecing the puzzle together, until he starts on the trail of a privileged teenage debutante who in a fit of rage burned down her design studio and brutally murdered her closest competitor.
As the years go by, the case becomes an obsession. Using age progression techniques, he knows the girl has grown into a beautiful woman. He wonders how many others have fallen into her web of deadly deceit.
Sasha is a brilliant interior decorator. Her designs are coveted by the rich and influential. She has a mysterious air. No one knows about her murky past and she’s determined to keep it that way. She survives by relying on no one and avoiding all personal connections. After a break-in at her office brings unwanted police attention, she feels the noose tightening. She must choose between escape and making a stand. To break free, she’ll have to do the unthinkable. She’ll have to learn to trust.
Reader advisory: This book contains references to human trafficking, as well as scenes of rape and physical abuse.
General Release Date: 12th January 2016
Fear pervaded every cell of her body. Alexa’s throat closed, refusing the smoke laden air. Flames raced through the studio, devouring her dreams. Bolt after bolt of custom woven fabric, designed for her new clothing line, gone in the blink of an eye. Her head throbbed from the beating she’d endured at the hands of her protector and guardian. She pushed away the pain and betrayal. Nothing mattered now but survival. Sliding in and out of consciousness, she lay still, biding her time until she could escape.
One last kick to her ribs, and a muttered obscenity, signaled his departure. Her attacker had ripped her files from the cabinet and scattered them along the floor. Her once priceless, ‘one of a kind’, designs were now ruined. He’d taken a sledgehammer to her computer’s hard drive, wrapped it in a bolt of embellished silk and set it ablaze.
She had to get out and that meant curling into a ball and crying her eyes out would have to wait. As she crawled over months of work, once coveted and protected, now discarded to fuel her funeral pyre, her hand slipped on the loose papers, sending her chin scraping across the blood-soaked floor. She dashed away the tears and continued. As she neared the doorway, she had to move Ezzy’s lifeless body from the exit. Alexa took Ezzy by the arm and pulled her farther into the room. Knowing that Ezzy was beyond help didn’t ease the guilt beating at Alexa. Her stomach protested over and over. Bile burned her smoke-scorched throat, her muscles twisted into knots as she fought to keep moving.
Alexa jerked awake, landing hard on the floor beside the single bed in her low-rent apartment. Thousands of miles and ten years later, the bad dreams continued to assault her. The roar of the fire still assaulted her ears. Her lungs still protested the acidic fumes and her stomach still rebelled remembering Ezzy’s mutilated body. Long ago, she’d accepted nightmares were a part of her life. She didn’t have the time or energy to feel sorry for herself. Betrayal and death were always there waiting for a careless moment. She’d vowed to never be careless again.
* * * *
Sid stared at the young girl’s picture taped to his computer screen. It was a tactic he’d used many times while working on cold cases for the FBI. Yet this time was different. He didn’t need the photo front and center to keep Alexa on his mind. She lived there. Awake or asleep, it didn’t matter, her image was burned into his brain.
He had stacks of other cases littering his workspace and thousands of others just a keystroke away. Why this one?
“Hello,” Teague waved his hand in front of Sid’s face, “where’d you go?”
Teague walked over and pulled her photo from the screen. “Missing?”
Sid took the picture and put it back where it had been. His finger lingered over her face. Such a contagious smile and intelligent eyes didn’t fit the horrific crimes she was wanted for.
“It’s a cold case a buddy of mine in New York asked me to review. Don’t worry about it.” His friend had long since consigned it to the hopeless case bin, but Sid continued to track down every lead. For whatever reason, he just couldn’t shake it. He hated to think about the man hours he’d put into finding the girl. All he really had to go by was a fingerprint.
“Pretty little thing. How long ago did she disappear?” Teague was like a Gila monster, once he sank his teeth into something, he never let go.
“Ten years.” She could easily be dead by now. A sixteen-year-old kid wanted by police and living on the streets didn’t have a hell of a lot of opportunities.
“Damn. That’s a long time. Who do you think grabbed her and why is the NBIA pursing this case?”
The National Border Interdiction Agency, his current employer, specialized in crimes originating outside the United States. “This one is off the clock. She’s not a victim. She’s an arsonist and a murderer, or so the theory goes.” How could a child like that brutally beat and ultimately murder her brother’s fiancée, set fire to her family’s garment warehouse then stage the scene in an attempt to fake her own death?
“Any leads?” Teague continued to pursue the matter.
Recently he’d been notified of a new hit on the partial print. Unlike the hundreds before it, this one was practically in his own backyard. It seemed doubtful that a young girl would leave the glitz and glamour of New York City to travel across the country and settle in Arizona, but there were some oddities that had his curiosity aroused.
Teague motioned for him to keep talking.
“Why the hell are you so interested?” Sid wasn’t comfortable talking about this case.
“You’ve been telling me how I need to learn investigative techniques that go beyond a keyboard. Obviously this is something you feel strongly about. You aren’t even getting paid for this, yet you’re still spending your off time on it. Therefore, it must be a doozy. So walk me through how to solve a ten-year-old case.”
Fuck. Why had he believed befriending Teague was a good idea? Although he tried, he couldn’t think of a single reason why he shouldn’t confide in Teague.
“Recently a local interior design firm was broken into. A secretary, a temp on a six-month assignment, phoned it in. A couple of things caused the investigating officer to be suspicious.” He raised his index finger. “First, the temp was supposed to be filling in for a woman on maternity leave. After some digging, he found out there were five secretaries before this one and each had been hired as a six-month temp. And none of them left because they were pregnant.” He raised two fingers. “In fact, everyone associated with the firm is hired temporarily or as a contracted project-based employee.”
“Could just be cheap. If you keep rotating the staff none of them are going to ask for a raise or expect benefits,” Teague suggested.
Sid shrugged. “The owner, a young woman known publically as Sasha, is a big deal. Her designs are the latest craze. Everyone who’s anyone has at least a room decorated by Sasha. She isn’t hurting for money.”
Teague looked at him closely. Sid obviously needed to work on his poker face.
“You and I both know that some of the richest people are the ones that pinch a penny until it screams.”
Sid nodded. “According to the police report, once Sasha arrived, she told the investigator there’d been a misunderstanding. She said her boyfriend, who she refused to identify, had ransacked the office after an argument. She told him she was sure nothing had been taken and was adamant he drop the investigation. The detective didn’t buy it for a minute and ran the prints anyway.”
“Does this Sasha physically match her?” Teague tipped his chin toward the picture.
“The owner of Sasha’s Design is a twenty-six-year-old brunette, about five foot six, who reportedly netted several million last year.”
“So why does she live in a studio apartment in a shitty part of town? According to the DMV, her company owns one delivery van and she personally owns a late-model pickup. Though they are both unencumbered, neither speak of that kind of money. You’d think a young girl earning seven figures would have a few creature comforts.”
Teague nodded. “I’m assuming you’ve had an age progression artist give you a hand.”
Sid hit a few keys on his computer and brought up the sketch. About a year ago, he’d asked for a workup. Sid believed in crossing his t’s and dotting his i’s. His nature dictated he cover every base, though he was sure he wouldn’t need it. This case was never far from his mind. Lately, he’d even been dreaming about her. Not the vibrant teen from the picture, but a very serious young woman. A damsel in distress. The type he always fell for.
Tori lives in the beautiful Sonoran Desert with her loving husband of almost thirty years. She wakes up each morning to the howls of coyotes and the barking of her family dogs wanting to join the fray.
When Tori isn't writing, she's either spending time with her two, wonderful adult children, or creating stained glass art.
She likes her love stories scorching hot. She tries to infuse a fire and passion between her characters that rivals the blazing summer sun that Arizona is known for. Tori encourages you to bask in the heat between the covers of a Dominant/submissive, happily-ever-after, bondage romance.