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Her Last Chance (EBOOK)

Her Last Chance (EBOOK)

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A woman being hunted. The agent she betrayed. One chance to save her life.

Somewhere deep in her bones, Josephine Maxwell always knew he’d come back—the attacker who once left her for dead. All those years ago, he created the bold, smart-mouthed survivor she grew up to be. Now he’s back to destroy her.

Even as she fights tooth and nail, one regret nags at her mind. It’s shaped like a tall, handsome FBI agent whom she couldn’t allow past the twisted-barbed-wire defenses strung by her past trauma.

Despite the betrayal that ended things between them, Special Agent-in-Charge Marshall Hayes can’t get Josie out of his mind. Her waif-like figure, big blue eyes, Titanic attitude problem—he hasn’t looked at another woman since.

When Josie’s past comes crashing back into her life, Marsh doesn’t give her a choice about letting him help her. Because he was born and bred to protect. And to catch a serial killer and keep Josie safe, he’ll break every rule—and risk losing his heart all over again.


*Finalist in the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence in Romantic Suspense.

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Chapter One

Her footsteps rapped loudly against Bleecker Street’s bustling sidewalk, her swirling black coat creating an illusion of sophistication that usually amused her. But not right now. Josephine Maxwell kept her head down and her stride firm, only the white-knuckled grip on the handle of her art portfolio betraying her inner apprehension.
Her eyes scanned the street. Fear prickled her skin and crawled up her spine. Fear was weakness. She’d learned that before she’d hit double digits.
Stealing a short, hard breath, she figured she should be used to it by now.
The usual Friday-night cocktail of locals and tourists milled about in every direction, all intent on devouring the vibrant Greenwich Village scene. Trees lined the avenues, the bases of their trunks dressed up in fancy metal grills. The smell of freshly baked bread wafted warm and fragrant on the chill fall breeze. Lights began to glow as the sun started to fade behind Jersey.
And still fear stalked her.
Nothing stood out from any other day except the subtle sensation of being hunted. Danger flickered through her and her heart gave a stutter. She ignored it, pressed down the tendrils of panic and kept on walking—nearly home. Nearly safe.
On the patio of a little Italian restaurant, a swarthy dark-haired man in an expensive business suit stared at her with hunger in his eyes. Never breaking eye contact, he tipped back a bottle of beer and took a long swallow. The action brought a childhood memory sharply into focus and a fine shudder ran through her bones. Uber-confident, the guy raised an eyebrow and curled his tongue suggestively around the top of the bottle. Her stomach somersaulted. For one split second he reminded her of Andrew DeLattio, but thankfully that murdering asshole was dead.
She didn’t flip the guy off. The old Josie would have, but nowadays the concrete backbone she’d constructed over the years had started to disintegrate, leaving her less sure of herself, less bold.
She looked away. What the hell was wrong with men anyway?
The memory of one tall, good-looking federal agent flashed through her mind, but she shut it down, determined to forget the biggest mistake of her life. She didn’t have time for self-pity or regrets. Life was a struggle for survival, so why waste energy with delusions or fantasies of what might have been?
She kept walking. The odor of wet tarmac, exhaust fumes and damp fallen leaves mingled with hot spicy foods from nearby restaurants. Her stomach rumbled, reminding her she’d skipped lunch. But the need to get home, to escape this irrational fear overrode even basic hunger. Her footsteps quickened and the urge to bolt hit her with every instinct she possessed. She walked faster. Turning the corner to her Grove Street apartment, she watched a piece of litter keeping pace with her boots before being swept ahead on a stronger gust of wind. Fighting the breeze, she shifted her unwieldy portfolio to her other hand. It was heavy, but at least the contents had gotten her another commission.
Dusk was starting to take hold. Sinister shadows hovered between parked cars. Dying leaves rustled as they fell from spindly branches. Finally she was home. A siren went off in the distance as she groped in her coat pocket for the key to the main door of the apartment building. She slid a furtive
glance around, saw nothing to justify this uneasy sensation of being watched.
When am I going to stop looking over my shoulder?
Biting back a curse, she shoved her key into the lock and pushed open the heavy black door, wrestling the massive case through the narrow gap.
The lights were off.
A drop of perspiration rolled down her temple. Her hands shook as she turned on the lights and she breathed out a massive sigh of relief when illumination flooded the stairwell. Stepping across the threshold, she closed the door and bent to open her mailbox on the bottom row. A
brush of sound was all the warning she had before someone grabbed her around the neck.
She dropped her portfolio. Mail scattered as her attacker swung her off her feet and whirled her around. Adrenaline surged through her bloodstream, sending her pulse skyrocketing. Her fingers dug into cloth and flesh, and she somehow managed to gather enough purchase to stop
her weight from snapping her own neck. Her legs smashed into the balustrade, shooting pain through her limbs.
Crying out, she gulped a breath as he dumped her to the floor. Her vision blurred. She lay there in shock. Then survival instincts kicked in. She rolled, scrambling away from the whistle of steel that grazed her ear as the knife hit the mosaic tiles with a sharp crack. On hands and knees she snatched up her portfolio, twisted, falling onto her back, using it as a shield from that sharp hunter’s blade. They stared at each other, frozen.
She recognized him.
Recognized the sharp intent in those lifeless silver disks.
Oh, God.
Sickness stirred in her stomach as she stared up at him, helpless. She’d always known he’d come back. Always known. The constricted muscles of her throat choked the breath she so desperately needed as they watched each
other in silence. Predator versus weak, pathetic, useless
Dressed in black, a balaclava covering his features, he crouched beside her, a dark faceless monster. Ice-gray eyes stared from thin slits, reflecting the gleam of the knife he carried in his left hand. He wore surgical gloves that made his flesh look waxy as a corpse. Blood smeared the
Whose blood?
Moving slowly, as if he knew he’d won, the monster lifted the portfolio from her shaky grasp and laid it carefully against the wall beneath the mailboxes. She couldn’t move; just lay there petrified as memories bombarded her.
The predator tilted his head, considering her as if she were already cut and bleeding. He clenched the handle of the knife, strong fingers squeezing the weapon possessively. For all her big mouth and fighting pride she could not move. Because he’d created her all those years ago. He’d created her and now he was back to destroy her.
Without hurry he flicked open the buttons on her coat. Lifted her sweater up and over her breasts and terror welded her to the spot. He cut the material of her bra with a jerk of his wrist.
Nausea threatened, but she forced it back. Cold air flicked over her skin. I can’t survive this twice. The memory of pain crawled over her body like hives. She told her limbs to work, to move, but they wouldn’t obey.
Is this what I’ve been waiting for? For him to come back and finish the job? She flinched as his finger traced a faded scar.
What did he think of his ancient handiwork?
He lifted the knife. She watched as he trailed its razor edge along a furrow of shiny, white scar tissue. From her hipbone, up across her stomach, slowly, over her ribs, bump, bump, bump.
She held her breath. The flat edge of the knife stroked her nipple, and horror, not desire, had it puckering.
His mouth was hidden by the mask but Josie knew he was smiling. Tears formed. Bile burned the lining of her throat. Their eyes locked and she clenched her fists in frustrated rage as he turned the knife upright and let the weight bear down into her chest. Blood pearled. Pain burst along her nerves with excruciating clarity.
Sucking in a gasp, she braced herself. “You promised if I didn’t make a sound you wouldn’t kill me.” Her voice was ragged, air stroking her vocal chords with the sensitivity of barbed wire.
Time suspended between them like a big fat spider on a whisper of silk. The light in his eyes darkened. “You just made a sound.”
She whacked the flat of her hand as hard as she could against his ear and grabbed his knife-hand, pushing it away from her body. She sank her teeth into his wrist, narrowly avoiding getting slashed in the face. His pulse beat solidly against her lips as she clamped her jaws together until
she tasted blood. She didn’t let go.
Her other hand clawed at his eye, her legs finally working as they scrambled for purchase on the slick tile. His body fell against her hip, his breath hot and violent against her cheek. Gouging her sharp fingernails into his eye socket, she scratched at the smooth hard shell of his eyeball. Blood filled her mouth, the taste of him bitter and repugnant on her tongue. Her stomach twisted but she didn’t ease up. If she did, he would kill her.
With a furious roar, he fell back.
Scrambling to her feet, Josie grabbed her portfolio from against the wall and held it in front of her again as a last desperate defense. The predator rubbed a hand over his eyes which glowed with malevolence.
In her nightmares he was immortal, unstoppable, and evil. In reality, he was just another fucking asshole who liked to hurt people. And God help her, right now he wanted to hurt her.


Aesthetically, the seventeenth-century Dutch painting with its fake De Hooch signature left Special Agent in Charge Marshall Hayes colder than a witch’s tit, but even so his chest tightened and his heart rate stepped up a gear. It was only 7:30 p.m. but the place was packed for the grand opening of yet another trendy New York art gallery. The party atmosphere and chattering crowd faded as he took a closer look. Some one jostled his elbow, someone else brushed his ass. He ignored everything except the painting.
It had been stolen a month before the infamous Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum robbery and the two might be linked. The theft had been kept under wraps because the owner didn’t want to look like a moron for hanging artwork worth a fortune on his lounge wall with nothing but an aging German Shepherd for security. It wasn’t even listed on the National Stolen Art File or with Interpol.
Maybe after so many years the thieves had figured the painting was finally safe to fence. Or maybe the thief died and the painting had passed into the hands of a legitimate collector. Marsh didn’t know, but it was his business to find out.
Anticipation tingled over his skin. The suckers who’d opened this gallery had probably been taken for a lot of money. Unless they were involved...
Music beat through the air with the low throb of sex. Cameras exploded in the background like emergency flares. Marsh looked across the room. Gloria Faraday, one of the owners, was air-kissing some woman wearing thin silk on a cold New York night. He vaguely recognized the
new arrival from billboards. Some catwalk model who’d been outed in the tabloids for drug addiction and had just gotten out of rehab.
His mind wandered to another woman with a waif-like figure, big blue eyes and a Titanic attitude problem. He forced the image away. He was working, dammit.
A nipple peeked out of the model’s top, a quick flash of scandal sure to make tomorrow’s gossip pages. With what looked like carefully staged embarrassment, she slipped the silk back in place and moved away from the cameras. Maybe sensing his gaze, she tilted her head and met his eyes. He didn’t smile, but didn’t look away either. She swept him with a look that flickered with interest. Marsh turned away, irritated with his own lack of response to an undeniably attractive woman. And okay, it wasn’t a lack of interest in beautiful women that bothered him, more his obsession with one particular female. His teeth locked as he pushed Josephine out of his mind and reminded himself once again he was on the job—kind of.
The owners, Philip and Gloria Faraday, were British nationals, recently moved from Paris. He didn’t know much about them—yet. Not even if they were husband and wife, siblings, or a couple of hustlers looking for fresh marks in the Big Apple.
Gloria looked early forties, but it was hard to tell exactly in the era of cosmetic age reduction. She wore artfully applied makeup and a garish print blouse. Philip looked younger, dressed down in black jeans and a long-sleeved gray tee. He sported a salt-and-pepper crew cut and dark
glasses even though it was dark outside. Pretentious ass.
Philip slipped through a discreetly hidden door, probably a storage area or maybe where they kept the cash register in a place too upmarket for price tags.
The Faradays owned galleries in London, Paris, Barcelona, Nairobi, Sydney, and Tokyo, and now it seemed they’d decided to head west. Total Mastery NY was a nicely put together concept. Old masters mixed with contemporary artwork to update the classic look. Crusty old portraits hung above funky metallic vases, exquisitely carved side tables complementing the paintings and ceramics. A classy place. Persuading the clientele, you really could buy good taste.
Marsh caught Steve Dancer’s eye through the crowd. He nodded to his associate who returned the look with a familiar light of excitement in his eyes. Game on.
“What do you think of it?” The woman at his side stood on tiptoe and raised her voice over the noise of the crowd.
Damn. He’d forgotten about her.
Lynn Richards was beautiful, charming, and well-bred—
apparently all the right ingredients for the perfect wife. And sexually she did as much for him as the portrait. Her mother had told him that the girl was eager to attend the opening and she knew he was going, so would he take her? Lynn provided good cover so he’d agreed, but she seemed to think they were on a date which made him feel like a freaking pedophile. He did not date children.
She dug her nails harder into his bicep and he winced. He twisted slightly, loosening the girl’s grip without making it obvious. But she clung.
He smiled but it was grim at the edges, reflecting his mood utterly.
“What do you think?” he countered, willing the girl to get an opinion of her own and stop trying to please other people. Why else would she be out with a man old enough to be her father? Although, he wasn’t sure what it said about a man in his position that he’d ended up manipulated by his own mother. Even thinking about it made his jaw clench.
If his elder brother had made it out of the Middle East alive no one would have cared whether or not Marsh got married and produced an heir to the family fortune. But Robert had died in the Iraqi desert and a giant piece of Marsh’s heart had died alongside him on the battlefield. His parents had been shattered.
Marsh’s suggestion to leave everything to the dog pound hadn’t gone over well. He loved his mother. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for her, except get married to some debutante. How in God’s name did he explain that being drugged, handcuffed to a bed and having sex with a woman who hated his guts had been the best experience of his life? One that had altered him forever and made every other encounter pale into insignificance?
A tortured laugh escaped unbidden.
He straightened the cuffs of his tailored jacket and exhaled until his diaphragm collided with his stomach. He was tired of fighting about it.
“I like it.” Lynn flashed him a hesitant smile.
He jumped. Crap. He’d forgotten about her again. She was so incredibly polite she made his teeth ache.
“But I’m not really into art.” Lynn clung to his arm like a limpet mine.
Looking into her innocent young eyes, Marsh struggled not to feel like an annoyed parent. Christ. “Then why did you want to attend tonight?”
A flash of guilt and annoyance moved across her features. He could almost see their mothers clacking like hens as they plotted their matrimonial downfall. How do I get into this shit?
His jacket gaped and Lynn’s startled gaze flew to his holster, concealed beneath the dark wool.
Exasperated, he put his hand on her shoulder, held her gaze. “You know I’m with the FBI, right?”
Eyes as wide as cue balls, she nodded, and he wanted to ask what the hell she was doing with a man she didn’t know, who she couldn’t possibly have anything in common with and who obviously scared the crap out of her?
She was a teenager. What was his excuse?
Sighing with resignation, he looked for Dancer through the
thickening crowd and told himself he wasn’t searching for another face, another blonde simply because he was in New York City and she was part of the art scene. Dancer was propping up a wall, soaking up sparkling champagne within a ring of women all vying for his attention.
Women. Not children.
Lynn followed his gaze and her eyes lit on Special Agent Dancer with a flicker of interest.
Maybe Marsh should introduce them and she could fall head over heels in love with his fellow agent, they could get married and have babies.
The idea brought an unexpected pang of envy curling through his gut. Not for Lynn. For someone else. He squashed the thoughts.
He caught Dancer’s gaze and jerked his head toward the back room. Watch Philip Faraday. With stolen property on the premises no artwork was leaving this building until provenance was proven for each and every piece. They’d decide later whether the Faradays faced criminal charges for handling and attempting to sell stolen goods.
Marsh looked around the gathered celebrities and reporters and braced himself for a general explosion of hysteria. The situation had goatfuck written all over it. Unfortunately his
undercover people hadn’t been able to wrangle an early viewing and he hadn’t wanted to tip the Faradays’ proverbial hand by telling them the FBI wanted to go over their inventory prior to tonight’s big opening.
“Well, well. If it isn’t Marshall Hayes.” A low, hearty rumble called out behind him. “You still chasing bad guys?”
Marsh recognized the voice before he turned to face the newcomer. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse...
“Brook.” He schooled his features into flat lines of polite indifference. “I heard you were back in the country.”
Brook Duvall was the former United States Ambassador to Australia and a newly elected senator with an eye on the next presidential campaign. The prematurely gray–haired politician practiced his perfect smile, but Marsh recognized the shrewd gleam in his eyes.
They’d trained together at the US Naval Academy nearly two decades before. Duvall had been in his final year when Marsh was a sophomore. He’d been a political animal even back then, unashamedly using his contacts and influence to cushion his term in the Navy and launch his career using any leverage he could find.
Marsh had been guarded about his family connections until Duvall had outed him during a training exercise along the Intracoastal. Marsh had worked his balls off to gain the respect of the men under his command and had to redouble the effort once they’d found out he had a five-star
Army general for a father.
They shook hands, the senator’s still cold from being outside and Marsh suddenly let go of his tension. His grudge was a little too insubstantial to hold on to after all these years.
“This is my wife, Pru.” Duvall drew forward a beautifully put-together twin-set and pearls lady. A pale-looking aide hovered behind them, wringing his hands and holding his cell phone like a cherished baby.
“Nice to meet you, ma’am.” Marsh took Pru Duvall’s hand and introduced Lynn to them both, not missing the obvious leer of appreciation lighting the politician’s gaze or the way his fingers lingered on Lynn’s that fraction too long.
Pru smiled and took Lynn’s hand, sliced a look at Marsh that clearly said he should know better than to date a girl too young to drink liquor. Although, strictly, it wasn’t a date. “I believe I went to school with your mother, Lynn.”
For the hell of it, Marsh slipped his arm lightly around Lynn’s shoulders and watched the frost build on the face of
a potential future First Lady. His smile was all teeth. Hers was all lipstick.
But when Lynn melted into him like chocolate on a warm day a pang of regret shot through his conscience.
“You still with the FBI, Marshall?” Brook eyed Lynn’s cleavage, which Marsh hadn’t noticed until that moment. The swell of her breast was now pressed up against his shoulder holster, chafing his skin and interfering with access to his weapon.
If Josephine Maxwell knew she’d turned him into a eunuch she’d laugh her freaking ass off.
“Are you boys doing anything to track down this serial killer attacking women in Manhattan?” Pru’s voice was sharp, striking him from a different angle.
“I’m sure the boys are doing everything they can to apprehend the killer, Mrs. Duvall.” Marsh produced his diplomatic smile. “I’m Special Agent in Charge of the Forgeries and Fine Arts Division. We track stolen artwork.”
“Sounds dangerous.” Pru Duvall snorted derisively.
“Art fraud can be a cover for mobsters and terrorist money-laundering schemes.” Marsh resisted reciting his arrest record and military career.
Brook leaned closer and asked in a rough whisper, “What are you doing here, Marshall?”
Marsh smelled enough bourbon on the senator’s breath to ignite flames and rocked back on his heels. The aide tapped Brook on the shoulder and pointed to a nearby photographer who patiently cradled his camera. Brook and Pru posed for a photograph insisting Lynn and Marsh join them for the shot. Then, instead of moving away and working the room, Brook turned back to him and lowered his voice conspiratorially. “Is this place a front for the mob?” The laugh was hearty and cordial and drew peoples’ attention to their intimate little group.
“Not that I’m aware of.” Yet. Marsh wished to hell he’d come alone. Or forced his way in early, before the gallery opened. But he’d had nothing to go on except an unsubstantiated rumor from an unreliable source. Rumors were a given in the art world. Who’d have thought it might
lead to the biggest break they’d had in a decade?
He let go of Lynn, ashamed of himself for possibly giving her the wrong idea. His attention focused on Gloria Faraday who, with a satisfied smile, was tottering her way through the crowd toward his painting. The painting that might actually be a Vermeer worth millions—a painting that had been stolen from Admiral Chambers, who was an old friend of his father’s.
Gloria reached up to pin a tiny gold heart on the plaque, but Marsh caught her wrist before
she got there. Superfine bones shifted within his grasp.
“Sorry, ma’am. You can’t sell this picture.”
“I beg your pardon?” Judging from the volume, Gloria’s outrage was genuine.
Marsh displayed his shield.
“Special Agent in Charge Hayes with the FBI. This painting is believed to be stolen.” Suddenly, Steve Dancer was beside him, herding people away. “If I need to,” Marsh continued in a quiet voice, “I’ll get a warrant to remove the painting, but if you cooperate—”
“Whaaat!” Gloria shrieked. The blood drained from her face as she looked around at the staring faces of the elite crowd and wobbled slightly in her designer heels.
“Have a seat.” Dancer maneuvered the woman into a nearby chair before she passed out.
Lynn edged away from Marsh, her cheeks flushing bright scarlet, clearly embarrassed to be associated with a public scene. That should put paid to any thoughts of a second date.
Pru put her arm around the girl’s shoulders and patted her gently. “We’ll take you home, dear.” She raised a razor-thin brow at Marsh, her smile glinting with victory. “Looks like your brave FBI agent will be busy for the next little while.”
One side of Marsh’s lips quirked with irritated amusement. Sparring with Pru Duvall was better than dealing with a naïve teenager and a hell of a lot preferable to dealing with Gloria Faraday who was now crying loudly, her makeup tracking down her pasty cheeks.
Prudence leaned close to his ear, perfume thick and cloying, her gaze resting on Gloria’s ashen face.
“Better watch out, Special Agent in Charge Hayes. That one looks dangerous.” Then she was gone, shepherding Lynn out of a side door.

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Customer Reviews

Based on 1 review
Heart-stoppingly Intense

HER LAST CHANCE is filled with intense drama, conflict, intrigue, and suspense. There are elements of violence and passion that will have your heart racing and keep you on the edge of your seat. The mystery surrounding the killer is revealed bit by bit throughout the story and each revelation will most likely surprise you. The relationship between Josie and Marshall is complex and full of twists and turns. As their connection deepens so does the threat to Josie’s safety and Marshall’s intent to keep her safe at all costs. This is a compelling and powerful tale that is sure to draw you in from the very beginning and keep you enthralled until the very thrilling end.