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Cold Wicked Lies (PAPERBACK)

Cold Wicked Lies (PAPERBACK)

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Cold Wicked Lies is a propulsive thriller wrapped in a searing hot romance.” —Lisa Regan, USA Today and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Crime Fiction Author.

In an effort to halt an armed standoff, FBI negotiator Charlotte Blood tries to unravel the mystery of a young woman’s death on a remote mountainside. Pity she has to fight her stubborn, sexy, Hostage Rescue Team counterpart every step of the way.

As a highly skilled operative, HRT leader Payne Novak doesn’t have time to play detective or make nice with killers who flout the law. His focus is getting inside the compound and ending the siege as quickly as possible.

Forced to work together, the battle-hardened HRT team leader and the quietly determined negotiator figure out they might have more in common than they anticipated.

As the clock ticks, Charlotte discovers there are some dangers she can’t talk her way out of, and the race to unearth long-buried lies becomes a matter of survival for everyone on the mountain.


*Finalist in the Holt Medallion and the Vivian Contest in Romantic Suspense.

Read a Sample

Chapter One

TJ slipped out of the tunnel and into the woods he’d spent his whole life exploring, carefully avoiding the cameras he’d helped set up a decade earlier. For years, staying safe, staying off the grid had been the only thing that mattered to his family. Then the heartbreaking and unexpected loss of his mother in the spring had taught him that no matter how carefully they planned and protected themselves, there was no guarantee of survival. And, however much they tried to avoid it, the world, with all its inherent danger, was coming for them.
This quiet remote region of Washington State was drawing commercial loggers and environmental protesters, and the threat of conflict that had always seemed so compelling yet
abstract in the past was now becoming a tangible reality. TJ didn’t want conflict, but he was prepared. Only one problem...
His breath froze on a rough exhale, forming a cloud that rose up to join the mist shrouding the treetops. A stick cracked under his boot, and a deer snapped up its head, startled, then bounced away, crashing through the thick scrub. TJ cursed himself for not paying attention to where he was putting his feet. Distraction was dangerous.
He didn’t want to be seen by anyone except the person he’d come to meet. Couldn’t risk being found out. Not yet. Wasn’t ready to give her up, even though his dad would flail him alive if he found out what TJ had been up to all summer.
Through the woods and down the steep-sided gully to the almost dried up stream bed that marked the edge of Harrison property. TJ glanced up at the sign warning trespassers to keep away or risk being shot. It was no idle threat.
He stepped over the narrow trickle of water—a small act of rebellion. He wasn’t supposed to leave Harrison land. Not without permission from his father.
TJ didn’t doubt his father’s love, but the man was overprotective. At eighteen, TJ was old enough to make his own choices.
He climbed the opposite bank with a silent tread, his heart skipping a beat as he thought about the girl he’d come to meet. He held his breath as he crested the top of the rise and looked down the steep wooded hillside.
He slowly drew the icy air into his lungs as his mind grappled with disappointment. She wasn’t there.
He frowned. He was twenty minutes late because he hadn’t been able to get away without someone seeing him. Had she given up on him?
Every Wednesday for months they’d secretly met up and spent a morning together—hiking his favorite trails, spotting wildlife. They’d even snuck away to the movies once when his father had gone into the city. It had been the first time TJ had ever been to a cinema, and it had been overwhelming—not the noise or the scents or the giant screen, but the feel of Kayla’s lips beneath his. The sweet taste of her. It was the first time he’d kissed a girl, and it
turned out kissing Kayla was addictive.
He wanted to see her so he could kiss her again.
Where was she? He couldn’t call her. He didn’t carry a cell phone—even if the government didn’t track a person’s whereabouts with them, they were useless in these mountains.
TJ made his way carefully through the deep green conifers, keeping to the shadows. Maybe that’s what Kayla was doing, staying concealed until he showed himself.
There were more people than ever roaming these remote mountains. The numbers had exploded in May when some Canadian told everyone he’d seen a Sasquatch in the old growth forest north of here—where the loggers were supposedly headed next.
TJ didn’t want the trees cut down, but his dad had told him to keep out of it. To not draw any attention to their compound or the people who lived quietly inside.
TJ forced himself not to hurry, scanning the surroundings for anyone else on the mountain. He didn’t want to be punished and confined if someone from home spotted him. He didn’t want to be banned from ever seeing Kayla again.
TJ reached the tree where they’d arranged to meet—a massive, damaged Douglas-fir that had escaped the logger’s axe and saved this section of the forest. It was home to a breeding pair of rare Northern Spotted Owls. The environmentalists had scored a major victory for their cause when the endangered birds had been discovered.
The owls were the reason he and Kayla had met. They’d both come to watch the baby birds test out their fledgling wings and had ended up spying on one another as well. She’d been sketching the first time he’d seen her, long hair constantly falling across one side of her face.
More than six months of weekly meetings later, and TJ desperately wished he could see her for more than a few short hours each week. He wanted to be with her constantly. Soon, the snow would be too deep for even these stolen moments—the first big dump was late this year, and TJ took it as a sign of approval of their relationship from up above.
He swallowed the lump of frustrated longing that mixed with the familiar excitement in his blood. He leaned against the big, old, fat tree, the rough bark pressing into his spine. The angry chatter of squirrels and call of mountain birds floated on the cool, sharp air.
He’d been toying with leaving home, joining Kayla in her fight to protect the forest and creatures living within it. She had a tent, and he had a little money put aside. He knew she was traveling with a friend, but they could make it work. His family had money—cash and gold— buried in locations none of the others knew about. He could take a little, enough to live on. It was his as much as it was his father’s.
But his dad had warned him that the end of days was getting closer, and they had to be ready to defend themselves. TJ clenched his jaw. What about Kayla? Who’d protect her?
TJ wouldn’t leave her to die, not when he could offer her safety. He didn’t care what the others said about not accepting strays into their fold. His mother had been letting in strangers for as long as TJ could remember. Most were distant relatives, and they all had to promise to contribute and abide by his father’s rules. His parents had never turned anyone away. Why should TJ have to turn away the one person he cared about besides his father?
Assuming Kayla wanted to come with him...
He shoved his hands in his pockets and hunched his shoulders. If she didn’t want to live in the compound, would she wait in her camp for him until spring? Would she be okay? Or would she be forced to move on to a place where he’d never find her again?
The idea of losing her was like a sledgehammer to his chest.
Should he abandon the only home he’d ever known, the only security they had from the upcoming apocalypse? Maybe. Maybe for this girl—who’d never survive without him. If she wanted him to join her...
He glanced down the mountain, wondering if she’d already left and he’d missed her. A tiny flash of red caught his eye. He took a step forward. Then another. Kayla had a red wool cap that exact shade... Had she dropped it?
She was never late. Had she come and gone and maybe left a note with the hat, knowing he’d find it?
He moved faster, careful of the roots and loose rocks, the uneven footing. When he reached the hat, he saw it was simply that, a wooly hat with no note attached. He picked it up, confused.
It looked similar to the one Kayla usually wore, but he didn’t spend a lot of time looking at her hat when her face was so close.
He looked around and caught sight of an object that looked unnatural and out of place in the shadows of the woods.
His feet moved him in that direction, a moment of prescience flowing over him as he dodged around the wide skirts of a western hemlock. This was bad. He knew it was bad even before the shape elongated into a human arm. The rest of the person came into view as he moved closer.
His mouth crumbled to dust, and his throat constricted so tightly the air became trapped in his lungs.
Don’t look, don’t look!
But his brain demanded answers.
The body of a young woman wearing hiking boots, unzipped jeans, and a green t-shirt that had been lifted to reveal a naked breast lay in the dirt and pine needles. Her coat was discarded a few feet away. She looked cold. The thought rattled around his shattered brain like a loose piece
of bone.
A mop of dark hair covered the woman’s features, and her face was turned away from him. She was the same size as Kayla. His Kayla.
Tears swam in his eyes, and he took another step closer, knowing he should check for a pulse, even though he didn’t want to cross the line from denial to truth.
He didn’t want to touch her.
He didn’t want to see her face.
Didn’t want it to be true.
He crouched beside the body and couldn’t resist pulling the t-shirt down over the girl’s chest, out of respect. His fingers shook as he noticed cuts and abrasions on her torso and on her neck and face.
He forced himself to press his fingers to the side of her throat where her pulse usually fluttered shyly against fragile flesh. Her skin felt inert and alien, not warm and soft or vibrant the way Kayla usually felt when he touched her. He withdrew his fingers quickly, rubbing them on the side of his jeans as a horrified wave of repulsion raced over his shoulders, up his nape and scalp, into his throat which burned.
He recognized the t-shirt, but he still couldn’t bring himself to move the dark hair off her face and see her beautiful features clouded in death. His hand hovered over her forehead.
The snap of a twig warned him he was not alone.
“What have you done? Get away from her!”
TJ looked up into the angry eyes of a US Fish & Wildlife officer. It was only as the officer started to grapple with his holster for his weapon that TJ realized how this would look.
No way was he going to prison for something he hadn’t done, not when the world was going to end soon. He’d be trapped in a system where he would surely die. He whipped out his own 9mm handgun and pointed it at the surprised law enforcement officer.
“You’ve got it wrong. I found her like this.” TJ’s voice came out guttural and harsh.
“Sure, kid.” The wildlife officer’s upper lip curled. “Why don’t you put the gun away, and we’ll talk about it.”
But TJ saw the truth in the man’s eyes. He was already convinced TJ had killed Kayla. TJ started backing away through the branches of the trees.
“Don’t follow me,” TJ warned, then turned and sprinted, faster than a mule deer, dodging through the trees up the slope. This time he didn’t worry about his footing or being quiet. If he was caught, he’d die in jail, and no one would ever believe he’d found Kayla already gone.
Tears half-blinded him. It had to be Kayla. Who else would be up here? He squeezed the woolen cap he still held in his hands, realizing he still carried it with him.
His throat wanted to close, but he forced his mouth wide to gulp down oxygen he needed to get back to the compound. To safety. He tossed the hat away and, with it, the hope of a future with the woman he’d fallen in love with.
The wildlife officer shouted behind him. TJ leapt the stream and made it up the opposite bank, sliding on the icy ground a couple of times before launching himself over the top.
“Stop! Federal Wildlife Officer. Stop! You goddamn sonofabitch.”
TJ didn’t slow. The Feds would lock him up and throw away the key without ever giving him the chance to defend himself. Who was ever gonna believe an outsider like him?
No one, that’s who.
He ran to the only safety he’d ever known, chest bellowing, making no effort to hide from the cameras this time, in fact, making damn sure whoever was on guard duty could see him and hear him coming and open the main goddamned door.
A hundred yards from the entrance, TJ heard the squeal of steel hinges in desperate need of some WD40.
“Hold it right there!” the wildlife officer behind him screamed.
TJ heard the sound of a bullet striking the reinforced steel of the main entrance at the same time he felt the sting of a ricochet across his cheek. Another inch, and he’d have been blinded. He launched himself through the door as one of the guards returned fire.
“Don’t!” TJ wheezed. “Don’t shoot. He’s a Fed.”
The sound of the high-power rifle cut through the air, and TJ knew it was already too late. There was no way the guard would miss at this range.
They’d been preparing for the revolution his whole life. TJ had just brought it to the door.

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