Innocent Prey (A Brown and de Luca Novel)

To save innocent lives, they’ll have to risk their own.

Self-help superstar Rachel de Luca and Detective Mason Brown
have finally given in to their overwhelming attraction to each other, but
neither of them is ready to let physical passion turn into full-blown romance,
so they carefully maintain an emotional distance. Then a judge’s daughter
disappears, and Mason has a terrible sense that it’s connected to the most
recent case they solved together: the abduction of Rachel’s assistant.

The discovery of a string of missing women—all young, all
troubled—seems like a promising lead. But there’s no clear connection between
the missing girls and the high-profile young woman Mason is trying to find. He
realizes that once again he’ll have to rely on his own well-honed instincts and
Rachel’s uncanny capacity to see through people’s lies in order to catch a
predator and rescue his captives. But can they do it before Rachel becomes his
next victim?

Praise for the novels of Maggie Shayne

“A tasty, tension-packed read.”

Publishers Weekly
Thicker Than

“Tense…frightening…a page-turner in the best

RT Book Reviews
Colder Than Ice

“Mystery and danger abound in
Darker than Midnight,
fast-paced, chilling thrill read that will keep readers turning the pages long
after bedtime….
Suspense, mystery, danger and passion—
no one does them
better than Maggie Shayne.”

Romance Reviews
Darker than Midnight
[winner of a Perfect 10 award]

“Maggie Shayne is better than chocolate.
She satisfies
every wicked craving.”

New York Times
bestselling author Suzanne Forster

“Shayne’s haunting tale is intricately woven… A moving mix of
high suspense and romance, this haunting Halloween thriller
propel readers to bolt their doors at night.”

Publishers Weekly
The Gingerbread Man

“[A] gripping story of small-town secrets. The suspense will
keep you guessing. The characters will steal your heart.”

New York Times
bestselling author
Lisa Gardner
The Gingerbread Man

Kiss of the Shadow Man
is] a crackerjack novel of romantic

RT Book Reviews

“Shayne crafts a convincing world, tweaking vampire legends
just enough to draw fresh blood.”

Demon’s Kiss

“This story will have readers on the edge of their seats
and begging for more.”

RT Book Reviews
Twilight Fulfilled

Also by Maggie Shayne

Brown and De Luca Novels



The Portal




Secrets of Shadow Falls








Wings in the Night
















Look for Maggie Shayne’s next novel


available soon from Harlequin MIRA


Near Taos, New Mexico

alle didn’t think he knew—until he held out the test-kit wand and pointed firmly at the bucket in the corner that had been her only toilet for the past ten months.

Ten months, as near as she could figure. It must be getting close to her nineteenth birthday, and she had no reason to think she wouldn’t still be here for her twentieth. She hadn’t kept track of the days until after the first week or so, when she’d realized he was going to keep her alive, at least for a while. She’d never expected that she might be rescued. There was no one to come and save her, no one even to notice she was gone. The first time she woke up and was almost unable to remember what day it was, she knew she was going to have to start marking time somehow. Now she kept track of the days in the dust
underneath the bed. He couldn’t wriggle under that far even if he wanted to, the fat fucking pig.

It was a nice bed. The nicest thing in the tiny basement dungeon. But that was only because he was so often in it. She wasn’t supposed to sleep in it herself, though. She was only allowed into the bed to service him. Her bed was a dog bed. A circular one, with a single blanket, at the foot of the plush bed. In the other two corners were her bucket toilet and her shower: an ordinary cold water spigot set high in the wall, with a drain in the concrete floor underneath it.

If she slept in the bed, he would know. He always knew. And he would punish her. He would snap her ankles and wrists into the shackles attached to the wall, and he would torture her for a little while. Hot wax. A lit cigarette. Whips and paddles and clothespins. It wasn’t sexy. It wasn’t a turn-on. It wasn’t about pleasure or surrender or any of that stuff people who consider themselves sexually adventurous fantasize about. It was horrible. It was a nightmare. It was a living hell. Pain wasn’t pleasure. Pain was just pain. And this guy wasn’t Christian Grey. He was a sick, perverted bastard who enjoyed hurting and humiliating women.

And now she was pregnant. And he knew. Somehow he knew.

“I—I don’t have to go, sir.” She always had to address him as “sir.” Or “master.”

“Did I give you permission to speak?”

She kept her eyes lowered, shook her head to answer and took the wand from him. Then she squatted over the disgusting bucket he only emptied when it suited him and peed on the wand, praying it would somehow lie to him. Keep her secret.

He took it from her, and she stood submissively in front of him, head down, resisting the urge to hug her short satin bathrobe around her, because that would be considered insubordination. To cover herself in his presence was a huge offense. There was no sash to the robe. She wasn’t allowed to wear anything else unless he told her to, although there were clothes in a plastic bin under the bed. He bought them for her all the time and sometimes had her dress up in them. But mostly she lived in the short robe.

After a minute he sighed heavily and shoved the wand under her downturned head so she could read the results for herself. She’d already known, but somehow seeing the plus sign made it worse. She couldn’t bear the thought of what he might do with a baby. What was she going to do?

“Well, you’ve been a good girl,” he said. “You hear me? You’ve been a good girl. But I’m gonna have to let you go now.”

She brought her head up fast, eyes widening, then quickly lowered it again.

“Why don’t you pack your things while I make a phone call? Here.” He pulled a plastic trash bag from his pocket. He often had one on him. He liked to smother her until she passed out sometimes. After almost dying once or twice, she’d started faking it. But he wasn’t easy to fool. She had to wait until the black spots started popping into her eyes to make it convincing.

“You... You’re letting me go?” she whispered, daring to meet his eyes again, briefly.

He smiled and nodded, reaching out to stroke her coarse curls. “Yes. Now pack.”

Her heart jumped in her chest, but she took the bag from him. She didn’t want anything he’d given her, but she wasn’t going to tell him that. It would offend him. He might change his mind. Oh, God, it was over. It was finally over.

She knelt and pulled the plastic tub out from beneath the bed, scooped everything out of it in one big armful and then rose and dropped the clothes on the bed. Quickly, she opened the bag and began shoving the clothing into it, while he stood behind her with his cell phone. She could hear the tones when he tapped the keys, and then the ringing.

She heard someone answer, and then a sound that made her heart clench tight as the cold steel of what she knew was a gun barrel pressed against the back of her head.

“I’m gonna need another girl,” he said to the person on the phone.

And that was the last thing she ever heard.

Binghamton, New York

“It’s time for you to face it, Stephanie. You’re never going to see again.”

It had been two months since she’d heard those words from the dire-voiced doctor she imagined looked like an undertaker. And they were still replaying in her mind every time she let herself drift.

Coaching sessions were one of those times.

Stevie had once believed that there was always hope, unless you were talking to a corpse. Well, Dr. Langley had talked to her just as if he were talking to a corpse that day. No hope, he’d said. No way it can happen, he’d said. It was time to begin accepting that this was her new way of life, he’d said. And it was like the light in her heart just blinked out.
No hope.

Everything she’d ever believed about the world, about herself, about everything, blinked out with it.
No hope.
A dark curtain lowered itself across the stage of her life. She felt its weight as if she’d been standing right beneath it. It was heavy and cold and black, and she didn’t think she was going to be able to keep going.

“There are a lot of blind people who live productive, fulfilling lives,” Dr. Undertaker had said. “It’s only one sense out of five. You have four more to fall back on.”

“Look at Rachel de Luca,” her mother had added.

“Fuck Rachel de Luca” had been her reply. It had shocked her to hear herself sound that dark. And it had shocked her mother, too.

That had been two months ago, and now it was May and her days were still as dark as her nights. She spent her mornings in one-on-one therapy with her shrink and group therapy with a bunch of other disabled people. Paraplegics, vets missing limbs, that sort of thing. No other blind people, though. And in the afternoons she had lessons with her coach, Loren Markovich, a mid-forties pain-in-the-ass who was constantly quoting self-help authors to her. Rachel de Luca had been one of
suggestions. The self-help author who’d been blind for twenty-some-odd years. Stevie’s mom and her blindness coach had been shoving de Luca’s self-help audio books down her throat since the accident. And she’d listened to them, eagerly sucking up the notion that she could change her reality. She’d believed it. She’d been sure she could positive-think her way out of this endless night. It had worked for the author, after all.

It made Stevie want to vomit. Anyone who would say she had created her own blindness was an ignorant fuckwit. Who the hell would
to be blind?

Personally, she hated Rachel de Luca. Partly for the stupid message she’d wanted so badly to believe in, but mostly for getting the miracle Stevie wanted so much for herself. The one her gloom-and-doom doctor said she was never going to have. Rachel de Luca got her eyesight back. Stevie hated her for that.

She also hated her shrink, her therapy group and her blindness coach. Yes, there was a rational part of her mind that figured she ought to be grateful her father could afford to buy her all this help. But she didn’t want it. It was all geared toward learning to live with being blind. Toward accepting it. And she would
do that.

She was twenty years old. Her life stretched out ahead of her like an endless black pit. She didn’t want this. She just didn’t want it. She figured she’d give it a year, if she could stand it that long. It had been eight months already. So four more. Maybe she would even stretch it to five, because a Halloween suicide had a nice sense of flair to it.

But dammit, she wanted to see Jake again before then. See him. That was a joke. She’d never
him again. But she wanted to be with him. Not that it mattered. He wouldn’t even answer her calls. Not that she blamed him.

“Stephanie, are you listening at all?” Loren asked.

Stevie turned her head slightly toward her coach. It was pleasantly warm outside, early May sun pouring down and bouncing off the sidewalk. They were practicing walking with the white cane. She felt like a sideshow freak, walking along beside Otsiningo Park, waving the stupid thing and tapping it to keep track of where the sidewalk was, probably weaving like a drunk. God, she hated this.

“I’m listening.”

“You need to stop drifting off into your own world,” Loren said. “You have to start keeping your senses attuned to what’s going on around you.”

“I know. You’ve told me a hundred times. A thousand.”

“Then why aren’t you doing it?”

She shrugged. “I’m sorry. I’ll try harder. What did you say?”

“I know it’s not easy,” Loren said.

“You don’t know anything, Loren. No one can, unless they’re blind, too. I don’t care how many people you coach or how often you walk through the city with your eyes closed, you don’t know. Stop saying you do.”

Loren let her breath out in a rush; then she was quiet for a moment. “You know, eventually, you’re going to have to stop feeling sorry for yourself and start living again.”

“Really? ’Cause I don’t think I
have to
do anything. I think I can pretty much do what I want. It’s my life.” Deep down inside, Stevie winced at how bitchy she was being. But she squelched the feeling. She had a right to be angry. Her life had been stolen by a drunk driver.

Loren didn’t reply and Stevie figured she’d pissed her off and didn’t care. But she supposed she had to cooperate if she wanted to get home and hide in her room for a while. Maybe try to call Jake again. “Just repeat your last instruction, will you? I want to get this damned session over with.”

She could feel her coach’s anger rise up a little bit. And then she felt it vanish again. That was weird. When she spoke, Loren’s tone was calm, if a little bit cool. “Walk to the end of the block. Find the corner. Don’t step off the sidewalk into the street, and
don’t even think about
walking around the corner out of sight. Just locate the corner using your senses and your cane. Then turn around and come back here. Count your steps so you know how to find me. There’s a bench to your right. That’s where I’ll be waiting.”

Loren wanted her to go
Panic seeped into Stevie’s veins. “I’m sorry I snapped at you.” She said it even though she knew the apology was too little, too late.

“I’m not mad at you, honey,” Loren said softly. “This is not a punishment. It’s time for you to test your wings, just a little bit.”

“I’m not ready.”

“It’s a hundred feet, Stephanie.”

“I don’t care. I don’t want to do this.”

Loren moved, and Stephanie heard her, knew she was sitting down on the bench she’d mentioned.

“Go,” Loren said. “I’ll be right here waiting. I’ll watch every step you take.”

“You don’t even care how scared I am, do you?” Stevie accused.

“Of course I care. But that fear isn’t going to go away until you face it and beat it. Stephanie, you can do this. You’re strong. You’re not helpless. Now go.”

Stevie bit her tongue before the words
I hate you
could emerge. Yes, she was acting like a ten-year-old. She didn’t care. She was furious. And terrified.


She tapped the sidewalk to get herself lined up, finding where it ended and the grass began on the right, and then she started walking, keeping herself in that area, so others could pass by her, if there were any others. She was so focused on staying aligned and walking straight, and so afraid of walking into something, that she barely noticed people approaching until they walked or jogged past her, and it startled her every single time. But she kept going. She kept going until she felt the sidewalk make a right angle. Then she took a few more steps forward, tapping to make sure. Yes, the sidewalk ended; she could feel the curb. She imagined stepping off that small drop by accident, figured she could easily break an ankle. It would fix Loren’s ass if she did, wouldn’t it? Her father would fire her for sure.

But with Stevie’s luck, her replacement would probably be worse.

Carefully, she turned around, 180 degrees, tapping her way back to the inside edge, where the sidewalk turned. She lifted her head, facing the direction she’d come from, hoping like hell Loren was looking, and flipped her off, then pivoted 45 degrees and walked around the corner, out of Loren’s sight.

Let her panic and come chasing after me,
she thought.
Let her suffer a few seconds for pushing me so damn hard and making me do what I wasn’t ready to do.
She tapped about ten steps, expecting to hear Loren come running after her. Instead she heard a vehicle stop very near her. She heard its door open, and footsteps coming toward her. A chill went up her spine, and she turned all the way around and began tapping back the way she’d come, toward the corner. But a pair of very strong arms snapped around her, and one hand covered her mouth. She fumbled for her cell phone, then dropped it as she was yanked off the sidewalk and thrown into a vehicle. A door slammed closed, and the vehicle lurched into motion as she scrambled from the floor up onto a bench seat, her hands patting the area all around her to get her bearings.

“What’s happening?” she shouted. “What is this? Who are you?”

No answer. She felt her way to the side of the vehicle, running her hands over the seat, then the inside of the door in search of a handle. When she found it and started yanking on it, it wouldn’t budge, but she knew by then that this was bigger than a car. It was a van. She was in the back of a van. It took a corner hard, damn near rocking up on two wheels, and she was slammed into the other side, cracking her head on metal. There didn’t seem to be any glass. No windows. No one could see her.

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