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In For The Kill
McClouds & Friends # 11
McClouds & Friends # 11
By: Shannon McKenna
Releasing January 27th, 2015
The risks ex-cop Sam Petrie has taken have turned his life into a train wreck. So he has nothing to lose by doubling down as the elusive Svetlana Ardova’s unwanted bodyguard on a potentially deadly trip to Italy.
Ever since the McClouds rescued Sveti from certain death, her crusade against modern slavery has blazoned a bulls-eye on her chest, but when one of the threats against her almost hits the mark, Sam’s protective instincts go into overdrive. Every lethal obstacle and trap they encounter ups the stakes—and the undeniable heat between them.
Now they’re spiraling in on a deadly and explosive secret—one that could either redeem them or destroy them . . . and the closer they get, the shorter the fuse . . .
Sam Petrie leaned against the wall, arms folded. He stared into the dance floor, careful not to meet anyone’s eyes. He wasn’t here for chitchat. Against every last lingering instinct for self-preservation, he was at another no-holds-barred McCloud Crowd wedding, trolling for a chance to scope out the elusive Svetlana Ardova. She of the big, tragic eyes, the high, pointed tits. And the obscure, inexplicable prejudice against him.
It was almost two years since that kiss in Bruno’s studio. But that event had transformed his schoolboy crush into a full-out obsession.
Which was why he’d snookered himself into accepting the invitation to Aaro and Nina’s wedding. Nina’s pregnancy had derailed it last year, but their twins, Julia and Oksana, were six months old now, so wedding plans had finally gone forward, and the gang was all there. Great food and booze and music. Squealing kids. Everyone dancing, having a good time, being curious about shit that was not their business. While he lurked in the corner, hot-eyed. Staring at Sveti like a panting perv-weasel. It was humbling. He’d locked up many specimens of the kind of obsessed asshole he was now, and rejoiced to see them off the streets.
Sveti was talking to a bevy of hotties in evening gowns, all holding stringed instruments. The Venus Ensemble, aka the eye candy orchestra. Trafficked from Eastern European conservatories, lured by promises of green cards, subsequently embroiled in a deadly scheme involving mind-control drugs and other crazy shit that Sam still didn’t quite believe. Kev McCloud had saved them from an unspeakable fate, and the news coverage had given the group awesome publicity. They’d formed a hot string ensemble and were making money hand over fist.
Hurray. Chalk one up for the good guys.
The Venus Ensemble were stunners, yes, but Sveti blew them away. She was the smallest, even in killer heels, but so perfect. Vivid, in that crimson dress. His eyes hurt from the hyper-stimulation. Tilted hazel eyes over Slavic cheekbones. Full, soft red lips calculated to invoke impure thoughts, and a regal attitude that instantly rebuked said impure thoughts. High, perfect tits. Taut nipples. The sight made his hands tingle. Her hair was twisted into a complicated knot. It looked great, but he liked it better loose. His fingers clenched, remembering that silken floss. He wanted to kiss the heart-shaped port-wine birthmark on her neck. Trace its borders. Study it like a map.
He sidled closer. She was talking in Russian or some dialect thereof. It turned him on, hearing her speak her native language. Then again, it turned him on to hear her talk at all, period.
Aw, fuck it. Even her sullen silences turned him on.
He wrenched his gaze away and stared out at swaying couples. There was Sveti’s date, Josh Cattrell—tall, prosperous, and flushed with champagne. Might or might not be the reason Sveti blew off Sam’s phone calls, texts, e-mails. Any comparisons between Josh and Sam would not be in Sam’s favor at the moment. He’d been too lazy and rebellious to cut his hair lately, and had resorted to yanking his brown mane into a ponytail. He’d shaved last week, for the psych eval, but the shrink’s conclusion had pissed him off so much, he hadn’t bothered since. And he was too thin for his suit, everywhere but the shoulders, which strained at the seams as a result of obsessive workouts. His face looked grim and sunken when he caught it reflected in glass.
Nah, he didn’t stack up well next to Cattrell’s stylish haircut, fresh shave, charming dimples, fake tan. The perfectly cut suit.
Empty-headed dickface. Sam hated him on sight.
Sveti had known Cattrell since she was thirteen. He’d briefly shared her imprisonment, before they’d been rescued from the organ thieves. Most episodes involving McClouds and their pals had an off-the-charts weird factor. Weird usually turned him off, but not when Sveti was involved. It was wrist-thick iron cables, yanking him in.
Josh Cattrell was an ass-bite, flashing his overly whitened teeth at every babe he saw. Sam watched him punch the number of one of the catering staff into his smartphone, whisper in her ear, pat her ass.
This piece of shit was his competition?
The guy turned without missing a beat and held out his arms to Sveti. He pulled her onto the dance floor and dropped his hand to her hip, like he hadn’t just been fondling another woman’s booty. The singer crooned a slow tune as the hand crept lower.
Fuck this shit. Fuck it into lightless oblivion.
The feeling built like steam, hot and dangerous. He didn’t recognize it, or have a strategy for dealing with it. He played it cool with the ladies, as a long string of disgruntled would-be girlfriends would attest. He’d heard plenty about his “commitment issues” over the years. “Man slut” was another phrase they tossed around.
Out, out, out. Get your deranged, unhinged ass out before you do something pointless and stupid. Just fuck off. NOW.
Sveti was too young for him, anyway. Josh was closer to her in age. Not a lot closer, though. Maybe five years younger than Sam’s thirty-three. Maybe only four. Four fucking measly years. Four.
He barreled into someone on his way to the coatroom and mumbled an apology, but the person grabbed his arm. “Hey, Sam.”
It took a few moments to place the guy. Tall, tanned, closely shorn dark hair. It was the nose that finally pegged him. “Oh. Miles.”
The man partly responsible for derailing Sam’s career as homicide detective. Not that he held any grudges. Miles had just been trying to keep himself and his girlfriend alive. But Sam’s involvement in Miles’ bizarre adventures, however slight, had not helped his career prospects.
“I’ve, uh, been meaning to talk to you,” Miles said.
Not. Miles had been busy rolling around on sugar sand beaches with his adoring bride on their protracted, well-deserved honeymoon.
The weirdness of their tale had made the higher-ups nervous and uncomfortable. Which made people want to blame someone. Punish someone. Step right up, Sam. At the ready.
The woo-woo factor had sealed his doom. They’d put him away. Using the excuse of last year’s gunshot wound and the psych evaluations that followed. PTSD, the shrinks said, but that was bullshit. His symptoms weren’t that bad. Sure, he was twitchy and depressed, but so were a lot of people who were out there working. That diagnosis had far more to do with some discreet phone calls from his father to various local politicians who were tight with the police commissioner.
He pushed on past the guy. “Gotta go, Miles. See you around.”
Miles grabbed his arm. “Wait. I just wanted to say, uh, that I appreciate your giving me that heads-up, back when I was fighting for our lives. I haven’t said that to you directly, being out of town so long, and I’ve been wanting to. And you, uh . . . weren’t at our wedding.”
“Yeah.” He’d been in the hospital. Gut shot. Miles looked just too fucking relaxed, tanned, and sexually fulfilled. Choffing all those ripe mangoes, boinking his true love on all those beaches. It stuck in Sam’s craw. “Where have you guys been?” he asked, just to torture himself.
Miles had the grace to look sheepish. “Bali, most recently. We rented this tree house, in a banyan jungle.”
“Sweet,” Petrie said.
“Pretty much. We only came back because Lara, well . . . we’re expecting.” His large Adam’s apple bobbed nervously. “So we wanted to settle into the house. Get ready for the new arrival.”
“Great.” Sam coughed it out like a hair ball. “Congratulations.”
“Thanks,” Miles said. “We’re really excited. But if there was anyone I could talk to, you know, to explain how things really went—”
“God, no. Thanks, but no,” he said hastily.
“Okay.” Miles looked downcast. “Just wish I could help. So what are you doing with yourself these days, anyhow? Still on medical leave?”
Wow, where to begin. Loafing like a slob, when he wasn’t sprinting through the park as if flesh-eating zombies were chasing him. Day trading. Reading Sveti’s anti-trafficking blog. Watching the flesh-crawling adventures she sometimes live-streamed on her viral v-log, following every peep of her Twitter feed. Watching her TED talk, about her own personal journey into anti-trafficking activism. On his computer, tablet, smartphone. Obsessively. Or staring at her Facebook photo gallery. Not that she’d friended him. He’d hacked her account.
“I’ve been evaluating my options,” he hedged.
“I hear you’re getting pressure to join the family business. Some big hedge fund, right?”
Sam was startled. He’d mentioned it in passing to Kev, weeks back. Now here was Miles spouting it back at him. He hadn’t thought they were so interested in his life. Hell, he himself wasn’t that interested in his life. “Yeah, some,” he admitted. “I’d rather slit my own throat.”
Miles’ eyebrow went up. “Why? Do you suck at it?”
“No, I’m good at it. But just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you should be doing it.” He’d gotten dangerously skilled lately at high-tech stalking, for instance.
“I hear you. I’ve got a few unspeakable skills myself these days.”
Shannon McKenna is the New York Times bestselling author of numerous romantic thrillers and several novellas. After a bizarre assortment of jobs, from singing cocktail waitress to medical secretary to strolling madrigal singer, she decided that writing hot romantic suspense suits her best. She lives with her husband and family in a small seaside town in southern Italy.
Write to Shannon at her website www.shannonmckenna.com