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Deadly Secrets

May 15, 2017

Deadly Series, Book 3

A drug kingpin’s vicious crimes spark a DEADLY chain of events…
WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF A DRUG KINGPIN WANTED TO MURDER YOU?

After spending years under the thumb of his sociopathic boss, Dr. Kerry Randolph desperately wants to repudiate his life of crime.

His goals? To practice medicine. Find peace, if not redemption. Possibly even explore his forbidden attraction to U.S. Attorney Jayne Morrison, the woman responsible for prosecuting him.

Kerry’s only problem? His secret-filled past refuses to die…

If you love sexy romantic thrillers with heart-stopping plot twists and edge-of-your-seat suspense, don’t miss this riveting conclusion to Ann Christopher’s DEADLY series!

“Thrilling. Relentless. Sexy. Romantic suspense for fans of Karen Robards, Lisa Jackson and Karen Rose.”
—Eve Silver, National Bestselling Author

“[An] exciting romantic thriller [with a] thrilling conclusion.”
—Publisher’s Weekly on Deadly Pursuit

What the Critics say

“Thrilling. Relentless. Sexy. Romantic suspense for fans of Karen Robards, Lisa Jackson and Karen Rose.”

—Eve Silver, National Bestselling Author 

 

“[An] exciting romantic thriller [with a] thrilling conclusion.”
Publisher’s Weekly on Deadly Pursuit

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Miami—One Week Ago

“You’re just in time. I think the boss is about to rip Kareem Gregory a new one.”

Henry Gustavson’s heart sank as he stared up at the bearer of this news, a colleague named Albert, who was built like the center for the Dolphins. Henry wasn’t there for any drama. He just wanted to pay his respects, say his goodbyes (he supposed a retirement gift of a gold watch engraved with his years of loyal service was out of the question), make sure the hundred large from that last job had been deposited to his account and get the hell out of Dodge in time for his flight back to Phoenix and Alice. It’d been a couple days, and he didn’t dare stay away much longer what with dementia chomping away at her memory. She might not know him when he got back.

“What’s the problem now?” Henry asked wearily as he stepped inside the massive villa.

Albert led him all the way back to the office, where male voices were audible. “Kareem made an unauthorized trip to the post office this morning.”

Interesting.

They stepped into the bay front office, blended into the background and watched the unfolding scene.

Kareem, who sat in a chair facing the desk and the bay beyond that, didn’t notice them. David Martin, the kingpin of the great hub city of Miami, otherwise known as the Llama on account of his long neck, bulging eyes, pointy ears and fringed hair, held court and sipped his tea (slurping bastard) behind his huge desk.

The Llama put his cup back on the saucer. “And what was the purpose of your visit to the post office, Kareem?”

“Nothing for you to worry about. I have some things to handle back home,” said Kareem.

“We have plans in place,” the Llama said pleasantly. “You’ve commissioned a delightful new synthetic opioid. W-80. Our market testing has gone exceptionally well. Now it’s time for the large-scale manufacturing and distribution.”

“I have some personal business I need to take care of first,” said Kareem.

“Ah.” A light flickered on behind the Llama’s flat eyes. “This is about your wife, Kira. Who walked out on you. And Kerry Randolph. The lieutenant who betrayed you. I believe you like to call them the bitch and the snitch? Am I right?”

“None of your fucking business,” Kareem said smoothly.

Whoa. Henry and Albert exchanged a wide-eyed glance.

“Kareem. My friend.” The Llama smiled, baring oversized white teeth. “Maybe it would be useful to review where we are?”

Kareem shrugged. “Whatever floats your boat.”

“We’re partners. We’ve made a lot of money together.” The Llama paused. “We’ve lost money together. You’ve lost money because you trusted the wrong people in your organization. The final figure was seven million after the seizure, wasn’t it?”

“My lieutenant brought in the feds,” Kareem said through clenched teeth. “Not me.”

“And who hired the lieutenant?”

Kareem’s expression turned stony. “I will take care of my lieutenant. I promise you that.”

“That remains to be seen. I understand that business is business and some occasional losses are to be expected. We build that into the bottom line. But it feels like my half of this partnership has been carrying more than its half of the burden lately.”

Kareem shifted uneasily. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Feral smile from the Llama. “Who overlooked the product lost in the seizure and helped you—on very short notice, I might add—blow up your house and fake your death back in Cincinnati? Who has hidden you for the last six months while we work on our W-80 plans and the rest of the world continues to think you’re dead?”

Kareem looked uncomfortable. “Hang on, now…”

“Shut up.” The Llama sounded softly sinister, as if his vocal cords had been replaced with hissing cobras. “I rescued you, Kareem. When you were betrayed, arrested and jailed, I helped you out of a tight spot and disposed of all your problems. I staged the gas explosion that took care of your house, your incompetent lawyer and your old life. Now everyone thinks you’re dead and the world is your oyster.”

“Yeah, but—”

“I smuggled you down here. I provided you with a new ID and a new online history so you can go back into the world, blend in and implement our plan when the time is right. I arranged for your plastic surgery so you could have a new look. You see that new nose you’re wearing? Those new cheekbones? That pretty cleft chin? I put those there. Those new features belong to me. If I want to use a different moisturizer or shaving cream on that face, that is my right. And now you think you’re going to sneak off like a thief in the night and take care of personal business? I don’t think so.”

There was a long and uncertain silence from Kareem.

“I respect you, man,” he said. “I’d never betray you.”

The Llama tipped his head as he considered this. “Respect and honor are important in our business. We’re men of honor. We have plans in place. You, as a man of honor, would never fail to live up to your half of the deal. So I have nothing to worry about if you go home a little early to tend to some personal business first. Do I?”

Kareem brightened. “Nope.”

“Wonderful!” The Llama stood, stretching to his full wiry height and coming around the desk. Kareem also stood and turned, looking startled when he realized that Henry and Albert had been standing in the back of the room. “Let’s get our lunch. I just want to show you one thing first.”

He pointed to the giant aquarium built into the back wall like a cross section of some jungle.

Henry and Albert, having been through this drill before, stepped aside so Kareem could get a better look.

The Llama slung an arm around Kareem’s shoulders and led him to the glass just as an eight-foot black snake slithered out from behind some rocks. When it arrived at the front of the glass, it raised its head a couple feet, displaying its black lips and tongue.

Kareem flinched.

The Llama looked at him with surprise. “You don’t have any pets?”

“My wife has a beagle.”

“Beagles are companions. A snake like this is more of a statement.”

Kareem watched the snake with avid interest. “What is she?”

“Andromeda is a black mamba,” the Llama said.

Blank look from Kareem.

“Andromeda here is from Ethiopia. I got her from a discreet dealer. They’re the perfect snake. They move up to twelve miles per hour. They defend their territory. They’re very aggressive when threatened. They can bite ten times in a row. They do not back down. A black mamba is the perfect killing machine.” The Llama grinned with those giant teeth. “I also considered a taipan from Australia when I bought Andromeda, but…I’m very happy with my choice.”

“Right,” Kareem said uneasily.

“One drop of Andromeda’s venom is enough to paralyze and kill a man in half an hour. After eating through the victim’s flesh and causing paralysis.” The Llama shuddered dramatically. “Not really the way I want to go out. You?”

Kareem backed up a step and managed a shaky smile. “How about that lunch, man?”

The Llama snapped his fingers.

Albert lunged for Kareem’s waist and caught him from behind.

“What the fuck?” Kareem hollered. “Get your hands off me!”

Albert grunted and turned Kareem to face the Llama.

“I’ll kill you!” Kareem shouted.

The Llama slapped Kareem across the face. “I don’t know how you run your operation in Cincinnati, Kareem, but this is how things go down in Miami.”

“Call your goon off, man!”

Another slap.

Kareem cried out.

The Llama smiled the blankly pleasant have a nice day smile of a dental hygienist or cashier. “I’m feeling generous today. So I’m going to give you a week to wrap up your personal business in Cincinnati. After that, you belong to me. Your face belongs to me and your clothes belong to me. Your new identity, your money and the car you drive…they all belong to me. Every thought, burp, fart, orgasm and breath you have? All mine. Your soul belongs to me. And every single part of you will be all about repaying your debt and implementing your half of our business plan. I expect complete loyalty from you. Do you understand me? You’re not going to mess with me, are you, Kareem?”

“No. No!”

“Because if you mess with me, I’m going to come to Cincinnati to protect my interests.”

Without warning, Kareem laughed, displaying blood-smeared teeth and demonstrating the balls that had made him a kingpin in the Midwest. “You might as well kill me now, you ugly llama. Because I’m going to kill you the first chance I get.”

The Llama’s face twisted into something so dark and evil that someone would need to call in a hundred priests to get rid of it. Then he snapped his fingers again.

Albert carried a struggling Kareem to the recessed steps at the side of the aquarium and started up.

“Wha—what’re you doing, man?” Kareem shouted. “What’re you trying to do?”

The Llama reached into his jacket pocket, produced a tiny remote control, held it up high and clicked it.

The aquarium’s lid hummed and slid open.

“I can’t help you if I’m dead, man!” Kareem’s voice went shrill as he began to sob. “You don’t need to do this, man! Don’t you put me in there! Don’t you put me in there with that snake!”

Albert deftly flipped Kareem.

And dangled him in the tank by his legs.

“No! Nooo!

Kareem flailed frantically, making the leaves shudder.

Andromeda hissed.

“What did you do at the post office, Kareem?”

“I mailed the formula for W-80! For safekeeping!”

“The formula? I thought it was on your phone?”

“I put it on a flash drive!”

“Mailed it to who?”

“Myself! Myself!”

“Is it still on your phone?”

“I deleted it!”

Andromeda hissed again.

Then she reared back, opened her mouth, which was black as hot tar, and struck.

And struck.

And struck.

Kareem covered his face and screamed, a piercing shriek that made the hair rise on Henry’s arms and scalp.

And then, finally, silence.

Still sobbing, Kareem slowly lowered his hands.

Slowly realized there was a glass partition between him and the snake.

“Stop playing!” he yelled, keeping the snake in sight as he swiped a hand across his wet face. “Get me outta here!”

Another deafening hiss, as though someone had punctured a blimp.

Kareem yelped, but the sound was drowned out by the sound of the roaring laughter from the Llama and Albert.

Henry? Not so much. Maybe this magic trick had been interesting once, back when dinosaurs were still eggs waiting to hatch, but Henry was old and tired. He’d had enough.

He watched dispassionately as Albert pulled Kareem out, climbed down and set Kareem back on his wobbly feet.

Kareem roared with rage. “You people think this is funny? You think this shit is a joke?”

But no one was laughing now.

“Well.” The Llama smoothed a sleeve. “Other than today’s unpleasantness, I’ve enjoyed having you as a guest. I’m sorry it had to come to this, Kareem.”

Muscles pulsed in the back of Kareem’s jaw. “You think you’ll get away with treating me like that?”

The Llama smiled. “Go clean up for lunch. You’re stinking up the room. You’ve pissed yourself.”

Startled, Kareem looked down and discovered the wet spot covering his crotch.

Then, to Henry’s astonishment, Kareem stood tall and grinned.

The Llama frowned, looking unsettled.

“Here’s the thing about catching a tiger by the tail, man,” Kareem said quietly. “You can let it go. You can try to hang on to it. You try to kill it. But no matter what you do—that tiger’s gonna fuck you up before it’s all over.”

The Llama stared at him, unblinking.

Kareem turned and walked out with his head held high.

The Llama blinked a time or two, clearly trying to regroup, then cleared his throat. “Tea, Henry?”

Henry braced himself and tried to get a handle on his growing dread.

“I’m good, sir.” Henry summoned his inner Robert De Niro. If De Niro could do calm and cool, so could Henry. Although, to be fair, De Niro had never had to deal with this pointy-eared psychopath who liked to play mind games.

“Sit, sit.” The Llama waved at a chair. “How’s your hip treating you?”

“Like a five-dollar hooker on the Vegas Strip.” As always, Henry ignored the invitation to sit in favor of standing at attention.

The Llama chuckled. “And your heart?”

Henry’s jaw tightened. The curse of the heart attack survivor struck again: being asked about your health every three goddamn minutes. Like the Llama actually cared about his health. Like this was a social call. Please.

“It’s fine, sir.”

“Good, good.” The Llama slurped his tea.

Henry focused on the view of the bay and wished he could go all De Niro as Jake LaMotta in here. Pummeling the Llama would make him feel better. Oh, yes indeed.

“I’m…going to need your help on another job, Henry. A small one.”

“A…small one?” Henry asked. Maybe he was slow, but after all these years it still seemed to him that finding a person, setting up the kill, killing the person and then, finally, covering up the kill was always a big job. Especially when you’d never wanted to be in the killing business in the first place. “Excuse me?”

“Won’t take long.”

Henry took a moment to make sure he had things straight. He thought of his new, hard-earned house in Phoenix, where no one knew how he’d made his money or how much blood (some of it innocent; let’s be honest) he had on his soul. He thought of his age: sixty-four. He thought of how it had been two years since Alice’s dementia diagnosis, which meant that the number of times she’d continue to recognize him was zooming toward single digits, and she’d probably have to go to assisted living soon.

Most of all, he thought of the Llama’s empty promises, the latest and greatest of which was that Henry’s job yesterday had been the last one.

“But…I’m retired now.” Henry realized that a hard edge had crept into his voice, and dialed it back. “Sir.”

Retired?” the Llama said blankly. “Retirement’s not permanent, Henry. If Brett Favre and Michael Phelps can un-retire, so can you.”

“But Albert’s taking over for me. He’s doing great. You said so yourself.”

“There are some things only a master craftsman can handle.”

Henry slowly shook his head. He was not hearing this. This was not happening.

“Besides,” said the Llama, “it’s not a full job. Just a little surveillance.”

With that, Henry’s sanity blew.

“You let me go! You told me I was done! You gave me your word! A deal’s a deal!” Henry paused to gather the worst stone that he, an honorably discharged military man, could throw at anyone. “You're a snake! You belong in the tank with Andromeda! You just gave a speech about honor, but you have no honor!”

The Llama shrugged, looking bewildered. “How much honor do I need in situations where I have all the power?”

That was the moment Henry knew. The whole go with my blessing promise? It was a lie. Always had been, always would be. This monster would no sooner let Henry retire in peace to Phoenix than Gollum would wrap up the Precious and give it to Frodo with a satin bow on top.

The world just didn’t work that way.

And Henry was the fool who hadn’t known that retirement would never be in his future.

The Llama gestured.

Albert edged closer and planted a hand the size of a dinner platter on Henry’s shoulder.

Henry glared up at the giant. Really?

Albert shrugged. “He’s the boss.”

“This can go two ways, Henry,” the Llama said. “Albert snaps your neck right now and dumps you in the bay after dark. It’ll be like you never existed. I’m not a fan of handling things that way. It’s wasteful. The other way is better.”

Henry stared dully, waiting.

“The other way, Henry, is that you go to Cincinnati for me, receive my generous payment, then return to Phoenix until I need you again. Isn’t that a better idea?”

Henry stared at him through the red haze of his bloodlust. He thought about how he’d started out as this man’s private detective twenty years ago, made a wrong choice here, a slippery decision there (the soaring medical bills when his precious son Harry, rest in peace, turned up with leukemia had certainly given Henry a big shove down the wrong path), and wound up as the go-to guy when someone needed killing.

And once there was one killing, the Llama had him by the short hairs.

Once you got in, you never got out.

Only Henry had never wanted in. He’d wanted to work a little extra to put something away for his and Alice’s retirement.

The retirement that, he now saw, would never come.

All because of this rotten SOB.

Much as he wanted to say do it and take the snapped neck option, just so he wouldn’t have to live in fear for another day, he couldn’t do it. What would happen to Alice if he never came back and finished setting up her long-term care? It wasn’t like the neighbor would keep looking in on her forever.

Henry stared at the man who’d just ended his dreams. He wanted to rip those ridiculous ears from that head and shove them up those wide nostrils. He wanted to spit on his dead body and dance barefoot through his blood. He wanted to feed this cancerous turd to his own snake.

Motherfucker.

The choice was clear: die right now, or die in a few years, when his heart got him, and take care of Alice while he could.

“What do you need me to do?” he asked.

The Llama grinned. “I want you to follow our friend Kareem to Cincinnati and make sure he lives up to his end of the bargain. And I want you to find that flash drive.”