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This book has everything I like! Hot hero, strong heroine, kidnapping, a second chance, set in Alaska, and enough suspense to keep me turning the pages as fast as I can!” –New York Times bestselling author Susan Stoker. 

When Darby O’Roarke wakes up in a strange house with a dead man – with no memory of what happened – she knows who she has to call: FBI Supervisory Special Agent Eban Winters…the man she fell for, and who rejected her, last summer.

A negotiator isn’t supposed to get involved with kidnap victims, and Eban has been trying to avoid the temptation that is Darby O’Roarke ever since they met. One frantic phone call has him racing to Alaska to uncover the truth, but he faces stubborn opposition from the local police, and a growing media frenzy.

Getting Darby released from jail and keeping her safe is his first priority. When another woman is brutally slain, evidence emerges that suggests Darby is being framed, and that the culprit is a vicious serial killer who has eluded the FBI for more than a decade…and, now, the killer has Darby in their sights.


*A Daphne Du Maurier Award For Excellence In Mystery/Romantic Suspense finalist.

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Chapter One

January 26th.

Darby O’Roarke woke slowly. Her heart banged for a few unruly moments before she reminded herself. It was over. She was safe. They couldn’t hurt her anymore.
She winced as the throbbing pain in her head ebbed and flowed. Her vision was foggy with the remnants of some insidious nightmare clinging to the edges of her mind. She clutched the blanket tight around her as the room came into focus. Frowned. This wasn’t her bedroom. This wasn’t her apartment.
Where am I?
Nausea started low in her abdomen and crept along her gut. Panicked, she lifted the covers, inhaling a relieved breath when she saw she was fully dressed. No soreness, either. Her mind flinched away from the direction it had taken. She refused to let those monsters hurt her anymore. They were dead. She wasn’t. She wouldn’t allow their depravity to destroy her.
She forced the feelings away as she stared up at the lofty ceiling. She was living in Fairbanks, Alaska now, not a shack near the equator. She was safe, dammit. On someone’s uncomfortable couch with a woolen blanket thrown over her to ward off the chill.
The drapes were pulled closed revealing only a sliver of dull light. The sun wasn’t up yet, but this far north, in January, that didn’t mean much.
The headache retreated a little. She shivered beneath the blanket as she lay on the lumpy, musty-smelling couch. The walls had fake wood panels, and Christmas baubles hung off a rack of antlers that were mounted over the fireplace. A man’s jacket lay draped over the nearby chair, next to her own green, goose-down parka.
This was Martin Carstairs’s living room, she realized. He’d held a potluck in December and pretty much everyone in the grad student program at the Geophysical Institute and the Department of Geophysics, University of Alaska Fairbanks, had attended, in addition to many of the professors and technical staff.
Slowly, she turned her head and blinked at the gray ashes in the lifeless grate, trying to remember how she’d come to be here as she huddled deeper under the scratchy covering. She’d gone to a Burns Supper last night with other grad students. She remembered dancing with Martin
and a bunch of other friends. Ceilidh dancing. The steps had been intricate and unfamiliar but the atmosphere exhilarating. Unlike the rest of her existence, she’d started to find a rhythm in the rambunctious reels.
It had been fun, and fun was something she didn’t do very often. Even before what had happened last summer, she’d always put her studies first. She’d needed scholarships and grants to stay in school and that reality had always been enough to keep her focused on work. Fun came in a poor second place.
Except...except that being abducted and raped had plunged her into the realization that life really might be too short. Too short to ignore the total absence of pleasure in her existence.
Between Haley Cramer, her friends here at the university, her support group, her therapists, and a couple of beloved FBI negotiators, she’d been figuring out how to get back to being the person she was before her abduction. It wasn’t easy, but she was making progress.
The dance had been very entertaining. Even the haggis had tasted better than she’d anticipated, like the homemade sausage her mother used to make when Darby had been a child. Her glance moved to the table and rested on two glasses, each with a small amount of amber liquid in them. Behind them stood a half empty bottle of twelve-year-old single malt. That explained the weird taste in her mouth and the throb of her temples. The whisky had definitely been less to her liking than the haggis. She wasn’t much of a drinker. Her father had never allowed alcohol in the house, probably because he’d have drowned himself in it years ago given half the chance.
She frowned again. Had Martin invited her over for a drink? Had she accepted?
As much as she tried to force the memory, nothing came to her. It was a black hole.
Had he...?
Did they...?
She wasn’t sure. She didn’t think so. It didn’t feel the same as... Maybe she’d passed out last night? Maybe she’d fallen asleep, and Martin had covered her up with a blanket and gone to bed? How had she gotten here?
Why couldn’t she remember?
She pushed off the couch and stumbled to the washroom. There was enough ambient light penetrating the windows now for her to find her way. Her stomach gurgled, but she didn’t feel as if she was going to throw up. She cupped some water from the tap into her mouth. Relished the
freshness as the cold liquid ran down her throat.
She avoided her reflection in the mirror. Didn’t want to see the outer skin of the freak who resided inside.
Not a freak, Darby. A survivor.
She rolled her eyes at her inner pep talk as she dried her hands on a hand towel. It was always Eban’s voice she heard in her head. No wonder he’d kept her so firmly in the friend zone. No wonder he’d told her to move on.
She knew she had to get over him. It was taking a lot longer than she’d hoped. And now she was thinking about Eban again. About missing him. About wanting him.
She forced him out of her mind as she headed back into the living room. She tied up her unruly hair using the ponytail holder she habitually wore on her wrist. She stood there
uncertainly in the empty room, listening hard.
It was quiet. Too quiet. Not even the hum of the furnace to break the silence. Dawn was finally beginning to brighten the world behind the closed drapes, which meant she was already later than she wanted to be for work.
“Martin?” she called softly.
No reply.
She gnawed her lip. She knew his housemate was away doing field work. Was Martin upstairs asleep? Had he passed out drunk? Or had he already gone into the lab?
She glanced at her watch. Almost ten. Ugh. She needed to head in soon but felt bad leaving without talking to him. She didn’t want things to become awkward. When had she blacked out? At the dance? The idea was mortifying. The grad student community was small and tight knit, and she was already the object of speculation and pity; she didn’t need another black mark of weirdness held against her.
She grabbed the drinking glasses off the table and took
them into the kitchen, dumped them along with the other dirty dishes in the sink.
No dishwasher and clearly Martin was not as good at housekeeping as he was at writing modelling software. She reached for the dish soap, filled up the sink with clean hot water and started to wash the crockery, stacking it neatly on the drainer. Cleaning helped calm her anxiety, and she deliberately made enough noise to wake the dead, hoping to rouse Martin if he was still home.
Her truck sat outside the back window—which explained how she’d gotten here. Martin’s old beater looked like a rusted hulk beside it, plugged in to the block heater via a long orange extension cable so that the engine didn’t freeze in the extreme cold.
Her eyebrows scrunched. She’d never drink and drive— maybe someone else had taken the wheel? Had Martin driven her truck because she’d been too drunk on a thimble-full of whisky to get home? She looked at the glasses she’d brought through from the living room. If so, why give her more alcohol when they got back here?
The fact she couldn’t remember was the most worrisome part of this. Darby liked facts and logic, but nothing was making sense. She dried her hands on the dish towel hanging off the stove and tried not to turn up her nose at the state of the limp rag. This wasn’t her house. The
cleanliness of the kitchen was not her problem.
Martin might have already left, caught a ride with one of the others or walked into the Institute as he often did. Perhaps Darby hadn’t been the only one sleeping over last night? Maybe someone else had been drinking the whisky... That made a lot more sense.
She walked back into the living room and picked up her coat, unsure of what to do. What if Martin was sick?
She chewed her lip, uncertain. Eight months ago, she wouldn’t have had a second thought about yelling up the stairs or waking him. Now she was always second guessing herself, second guessing the consequences.
She squared her shoulders. She’d go upstairs, knock on the door and thank him for use of the couch. Make sure he
was okay. If he wasn’t here, he wouldn’t know, so she wouldn’t need to feel awkward or embarrassed for snooping around uninvited.
Had she made a complete fool of herself last night? It shouldn’t matter so much, but after everything that had happened last summer, her dignity was important to her. Vital even. Right next to her sanity.
She forced herself to move. Her sock-covered feet whispered silently over the polished floorboards.
“Martin?” She bounded noisily up the stairs, wanting to warn the guy she was approaching, especially as he might not be alone.
She hit the top level and realized she had no clue which room was his. She knocked on the first door and eased it slowly open. Inside was a twin bed and two desks crammed in along with gaming chairs. Man, she must have been totally wasted to not even make it up the stairs to the
spare room. She knocked on the second door and it swung open.
A musky scent lingered in the air. She wrinkled her nose. Sweat, dirty laundry, and something else...
“Martin? Are you in here?” She peeked around the wall and spotted the end of a bed. A rumpled duvet covered what looked like the bump of feet, so she was probably in the right spot. The feet didn’t stir, despite all the noise she was making. She took another reluctant step forward and tapped on the wall. “Hey.” She raised her voice. “Thanks for letting me crash here last night. Sorry I passed out on you. As you know, I’m not used to alcohol.”
She forced a laugh. The person in the bed still didn’t move. Didn’t react. Was he okay? She took another step forward and peeked around the edge. Froze.
Martin lay on his back, eyes open, staring at the ceiling. His pale chest was naked except for the hunting knife protruding from it.
Bile rose in her throat.
No, no, no.
Darby slapped her hand over her mouth, swallowed repeatedly and backed away. She whirled and ran down the stairs, catching herself on the railing to prevent herself from falling. She grabbed her coat, stuffed her feet into her snow boots, dashed out of the front door, ignoring the frigid air that stung her wet cheeks. Down the steps, around the side of the house, fumbling to unlock her truck with the key fob that was thankfully in her coat pocket.
She huddled inside the vehicle, breathing hard, and turned the ignition, beyond grateful when the engine started even though the block heater wasn’t plugged in. She slammed it into Reverse but stamped her foot on the brake.
Where would she go?
What about poor Martin?
She couldn’t leave him that way. Oh my God. Martin was dead. Tears blinded her eyes, and she dug a hand into her pocket, relieved to find her phone.
Her hands shook as she brought up recent calls and pressed Quentin Savage, a friend who was also a Unit Chief at the FBI. She closed her eyes. He was going to be so mad with her, so disappointed, so hurt, but at least he’d know what to do.
She froze, glanced at the screen. Somehow, she’d misdialed and Eban Winters was now on the line. But maybe it hadn’t been an accident. Perhaps it was cowardice—the idea of disappointing Quentin or Haley burned like acid in her throat. But so did the thought of driving this man away for good.
“Darby? Are you okay?” Eban asked.
The sound of his voice always made her yearn for his presence. He calmed her. Made her feel safe. Made her feel other things she wanted to explore. But couldn’t. Because he wasn’t interested. He’d made that abundantly clear. And now it was too late.
“Darby.” His voice became more insistent. “Is everything okay?”
Because over the last seven months she’d called him when situations overcame her. When her anxiety was too high to talk to Quentin, or Haley, and the only lifeline she had left was this man with his beautiful voice and reluctant lips. God, he would hate her doing this to him.
She already hated herself.
“Darby?” His tone turned sharp. “Are you there? What’s going on?”
“Eban.” Her voice trembled. Tears flooded her vision. “I think I might have killed someone.

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