Authors: Robin Perini
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Text copyright ©2011 Robin Perini
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Montlake Romance
P.O. Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV 89140
In loving memory of my grandmothers, Gennie Carder and Hazel Perini Brown—to fulfill a very special promise. Their belief in me never faltered; their confidence in me never faded; their faith in me never wavered. My love and gratitude for them is never-ending.
Seventeen Years Ago
She hurt too much to cry.
At the slam of the screen door, Jane burrowed her head under her lanky arms. Her ten-year-old body shrank beneath the lopsided kitchen table, its cheap pine scarred and rotten with age. Her heart pounded as she swallowed down the sobs. Quiet. She must be quiet. Mama said so.
Slowly she closed her eyes and let her mind drift to another place, the safe place she visited when things got too bad. Her body floated on the cool water in her dreams. Protected, safe.
For a fleeting moment, the pain went away.
Please, don’t let him come back.
As if in answer to her prayer, the heavy footsteps didn’t cross the scuffed linoleum toward her. Instead, they lumbered down the front porch. A loud tumble followed by a sharp curse echoed through the rickety shack she and her mother called home.
When the diesel engine cranked to life, Jane gulped back the relief.
He’d left. For now.
“Mama?” She barely recognized the muffled whisper through her bruised and swollen lips. With a groan she tried to sit up, but the second she raised her head, sharp pain scissored through her arms and legs. She fell back with a whimper and fought to stop a scream from escaping her. Mama would cry, and he’d hurt them enough tonight.
“I’m sorry…I tried to stop him, Mama. I tried to do my job.”
The wind beat against the gray wood walls, and she could almost feel the house sway around her. She waited for the soft shuffle of her mother’s footsteps to pad down the hallway. Tonight would be better than most. The whiskey bottles were empty.
She shoved her hair out of her face and blinked against the darkening of the room. The aches had settled to a dull throb. Gingerly Jane straightened and rose, her eyes squinting as she eased down the hallway. “Mama?”
One step, then another, then another.
Her feet slipped on something wet and cold and dark. She stumbled forward. Her mother lay at a strange angle on the floor, her blond hair plastered against her head, stained red with blood.
“Mama!” Jane fell to her knees. “Mama?”
She barely recognized her mother’s face, one eye nearly swollen closed, her cheek multi-colored black and purple.
Her mother’s eyelids flickered. “Jane?”
She tugged at her nightgown, using the thin cotton to wipe away the blood oozing from her mother’s injuries, but they kept bleeding. “What can I do, Mama? What?”
A gurgling sound echoed from her mother’s chest. “Too late.”
“Shh.” Her mother’s voice was a bare whisper, and Jane leaned forward, her ear right next to her mother’s lips. “It’s okay. Better this way.” She tugged in another shallow breath. “Leave. Do what we planned. Change who you are.”
Jane fell against her mother’s breast, the red blood soaking the polyester that her mother had pretended was silk. “I can’t.”
“You will.” The words were so quiet. Her mother raised a hand and gripped Jane’s chin. “Don’t be like me. Be strong, like the jasmine growing in the windowsill. Never count on anyone.”
A gasp for air shook her mother’s broken body. The deathly cold fingers tightened, hurting Jane’s bruised jaw. “Never let them inside…your heart.”
Her mother shuddered. Her hand dropped, and the wheezing from her chest went silent.
Her eyes stayed open.
Trembling, Jane hauled her mother’s hand back to her chin.
“Mama, please. Wake up,” she whispered.
But tug after tug wouldn’t wake her. And Jane knew.
She scooted away, huddling in the corner of her mother’s bedroom, splinters digging into her heels, until the final rays of sun sliced through the window’s blinds. “I’m sorry, Mama. I tried to protect you. I tried. But he was too strong.”
She buried her face in her arms. She didn’t move. Didn’t weep. A chill wrapped around her heart.
She hurt too much to cry.
The trigger felt right.
The sight was zeroed in, the balance perfect. The Remington 700/40 fit her body and her mind like an old friend she could trust, and Jasmine “Jazz” Parker didn’t trust easily. But she and this rifle were connected in a way a lover, friend, or family could never be. The Remington would never let her down.
The only hitch—she didn’t have an ideal shot at the kidnapper. Not yet, anyway.
Sweat beaded her brow in the Colorado midmorning sun. Without taking her gaze from her target, she wiped away the perspiration. Every second counted, and she had to stay ready. Negotiations had fallen apart hours ago and the ending seemed inevitable. To save the governor’s daughter, Jazz would excise the five-year-old girl’s captor.
Jazz shifted, relieving the pressure against her knees, the stiffness in her hips, but the rifle remained steady. She centered her sight on the small break in the window.
Having focused through the high-powered Leupold scope for hours, she waited for an opportunity for the scumbag’s blond head to move into range. They all made a mistake sooner or later. His face or the back of his head, she didn’t care, but she needed a clear shot through to the medulla oblongata. The kill had to be clean; the man had to crumple with no time to think and no reflex to pull the trigger.
“Blue Four, have you acquired the target?”
The question came through her earpiece loud and clear, but she spoke quietly into the microphone. “Negative.”
“Blue Two, what is target’s position?”
“Zone Two, pacing. He’s carrying the girl, a gun at her head, a Bowie on the southeast corner table. He’s nervous, unpredictable.”
Jazz could trust Gabe Montgomery’s assessment of the situation. He, unlike his brother, Luke, she could count on. And what was Luke doing in her head anyway? Now was
the time to be thinking about the one guy she should never have let near her.
“Blue Two to Blue Leader.” Gabe’s voice filtered through the communications system. “He’s on the move again. Going toward Zone One. I repeat. He’s headed to Zone One.”