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Once Stalked

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Once Stalked



Blake Pierce

Blake Pierce is author of the bestselling RILEY PAGE mystery series, which includes ten books (and counting). Blake Pierce is also the author of the MACKENZIE WHITE mystery series, comprising six books (and counting); of the AVERY BLACK mystery series, comprising five books; and of the new KERI LOCKE mystery series, comprising four books (and counting).

An avid reader and lifelong fan of the mystery and thriller genres, Blake loves to hear from you, so please feel free to visit www.blakepierceauthor.com to learn more and stay in touch.

ONCE GONE (Book #1)
ONCE TAKEN (Book #2)
ONCE LURED (Book #4)
ONCE PINED (Book #6)
ONCE COLD (Book #8)
ONCE LOST (Book #10)
CAUSE TO RUN (Book #2)


Colonel Dutch Adams looked at his watch as he strode through Fort Nash Mowat, and saw that the time was 0500 hours on the dot. It was a brisk, dusky April morning in Southern California, and all appeared as it should.

He heard a woman’s voice yell out sharply …

“The garrison commander is present!”

He turned in time to see a training platoon snap to attention at the female drill sergeant’s command. Col. Adams paused to return their salute and continued on his way. He walked a little faster than before, hoping not to attract the attention of other drill sergeants. He didn’t want to interrupt more training platoons as they gathered in their formation areas.

His face twitched a little. After all these years, he still wasn’t quite used to hearing female voices snapping out commands. Even the sight of mixed-gender platoons sometimes startled him a little. The Army had definitely changed since his own days as a teenaged recruit. He didn’t like many of those changes.

As he continued on his way, he heard the barking voices of other drill sergeants, both male and female, calling their platoons into formation.

They don’t have much punch anymore, he thought.

He could never forget the abuse spewed by his own drill sergeant so many years ago – the savage invectives against family and ancestry, the insults and obscenities.

He smiled a little. That bastard Sergeant Driscoll!

Driscoll died many years ago, Col. Adams recalled – not in combat as he’d surely have preferred, but of a stroke brought on by hypertension. In those days, sky high blood pressure had been an occupational hazard of drill sergeants.

Col. Adams would never forget Driscoll, and as far as Adams was concerned, that was how things should be. A drill sergeant ought to make an indelible imprint on a soldier’s mind for the rest of his life. He ought to present a living example of the worst kind of hell a soldier’s life had to offer. Sergeant Driscoll had definitely had that kind of lifelong impact on Col. Adams. Were the trainers under his command here at Fort Nash Mowat likely to leave that kind of impression on their recruits?

Col. Adams doubted it.

Too damn much political correctness, he thought.

Softness was now even written into the Army’s training manual …

“Stress created by physical or verbal abuse is non-productive and prohibited.”

He scoffed as he thought of the words.

“What a load of crap,” he murmured under his breath.

But the Army had been moving in this direction since the 1990s. He knew he ought to be used to it by now. But he never would be.

Anyway, he wouldn’t have to deal with it much longer. He was a year away from retirement, and his final ambition was to make brigadier general before then.

Suddenly, Adams was distracted from his musings by a puzzling sight.

The recruits of Platoon #6 were milling around aimlessly in their formation area, some doing calisthenics, others just idly talking among themselves.

Col. Adams stopped in his tracks and yelled.

“Soldiers! Where the hell’s your sergeant?”

Flustered, the recruits jumped to attention and saluted.

“At ease,” Adams said. “Is somebody going to answer my goddamn question?”

A female recruit spoke up.

“We don’t know Sergeant Worthing’s whereabouts, sir.”

Adams could hardly believe his ears.

“What do you mean, you don’t know?” he demanded.

“He never showed up for formation, sir.”

Adams growled under his breath.

This didn’t sound like Sergeant Clifford Worthing at all. In fact, Worthing was one of the few drill sergeants that Adams had any real use for. He was a real hard-ass of the old school – or at least he wanted to be. He often came to Adams’s office to complain about how the rules reined him in.

Even so, Adams knew that Worthing bent the rules as much as he could. Sometimes the recruits complained about his rigorous demands and verbal abuse. Those complaints pleased Adams.

But where was Worthing right now?

Adams waded among the recruits into the barracks, passing between the rows of beds until he got to Worthing’s office.

He knocked sharply on the door.

“Worthing, are you in there?”

No one replied.

“Worthing, this is your CO, and if you’re in there, you’d damn sure better answer me.”

Again no one replied.

Adams turned the doorknob and pushed the door open.

The office was immaculately neat – and no one was there.

Where the hell did he go? Adams wondered.

Did Worthing even show up on the base at all this morning?

Then Adams noticed the NO SMOKING sign on the office wall.

He remembered that Sergeant Worthing was a smoker.

Had the drill instructor just stepped out for a smoke?

“Naw, it can’t be,” Adams grumbled aloud.

It didn’t make sense.

Even so, Adams stepped out of the office and headed for the back door of the barracks.

He opened the door and stood staring into the early morning light.

He didn’t have to look long or hard.

Sergeant Worthing was crouched with his back against the barracks wall, a burned-out cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

“Worthing, what the hell …?” Adams snarled.

Then he recoiled at what he saw.

At Adams’s eye level was a large dark wet blotch on the wall.

From that blotch, a continuous smear trailed down to where Worthing was crouched.

Then Adams saw the dark hole in the middle of Worthing’s head.

It was a bullet wound.

The entry wound was tiny, but the exit wound had taken off much of the back of Worthing’s skull. The man had been shot dead, standing there smoking an early morning cigarette. The shot had been so clean that the drill sergeant had died instantly. Even the cigarette had remained in his mouth undisturbed.

“Jesus Christ,” Adams murmured. “Not again.”

He looked all around. A large empty field stretched out behind the barracks. The shot had been fired from some great distance. That meant it had been fired by a skilled marksman.

Adams shook his head with disbelief.

His life, he knew, was about to become complicated – and extremely aggravating.


Riley Paige stood looking out an open window of her townhouse. It was a lovely spring day, one of those storybook days with birds singing and flowers blooming. The air smelled fresh and clean. And yet a lurking darkness kept tugging at her.

She had the strange feeling that all this beauty was somehow terribly fragile.

That’s why she kept her hands hanging at her sides, as if she were in a shop full of delicate china, and a single wrong move might break something lovely and expensive. Or maybe it was as if this perfect afternoon were just a paper-thin illusion that would fall away at the touch of a hand only to reveal …

What? Riley wondered.

The darkness of a world full of pain and terror and evil?

Or the darkness that lurked inside her own mind – the darkness of too many ugly thoughts and secrets?

A girlish voice interrupted Riley’s musings.

“What are you thinking about, Mom?”

Riley turned around. She realized that she’d momentarily forgotten the other people in her living room.

The girl who had spoken was Jilly, the skinny thirteen-year-old Riley was in the process of trying to adopt.

“Nothing,” Riley said in reply.

Her handsome former neighbor Blaine Hildreth smiled at her.

“You certainly seemed to be far away,” he said.

Blaine had just arrived at Riley’s home with his teenaged daughter, Crystal.


Riley said, “I guess I was just wondering where April is.”

It was a matter of some concern. Riley’s fifteen-year-old daughter hadn’t come home from school yet. Didn’t April know that they had plans to go to Blaine’s restaurant for dinner shortly?

Crystal and Jilly grinned at each other mischievously.

“Oh, she’ll be here soon,” Jilly said.

“Any minute now, I’ll bet,” Crystal added.

Riley wondered what the girls knew that she didn’t know. She hoped April wasn’t in some sort of trouble. April had gone through a rebellious phase and had endured a lot of trauma a few months ago. But she seemed to be doing much better now.

Then Riley looked at the others and realized something.

“Blaine, Crystal – I haven’t asked if you wanted something to drink. I have some ginger ale. And bourbon if you’d like that, Blaine.”

“Ginger ale would be nice, thank you,” Blaine said.

“For me too, please,” Crystal said.

Jilly started to get up from her chair.

“I’ll go get some,” Jilly said.

“Oh, no, you don’t need to,” Riley said. “I’ll get it.”

Riley headed straight to the kitchen, rather pleased to have something like this to do. Serving refreshments would normally be the job of Gabriela, Riley’s live-in Guatemalan housekeeper. But Gabriela had the day off and was visiting friends. Gabriela sometimes made Riley feel spoiled, and it was nice be able to fetch drinks for a change. It also kept Riley’s mind focused on the pleasant present.

She poured glasses of ginger ale for Crystal and Blaine, and also for herself and Jilly.

As she carried the tray with the drinks back into the living room, Riley heard the front door open. Then she heard April’s voice talking to someone she’d brought in with her.

Riley was handing out the drinks when April came in, followed by a boy about April’s age. She looked surprised to see Blaine and Crystal.

“Oh!” April said with a gasp. “I didn’t expect – ”

Then April reddened with embarrassment.

“Omigod, I completely forgot! We were going out tonight! I’m so sorry!”

Jilly and Crystal were giggling. Now Riley understood the reason for their amusement. They knew already that April had a new boyfriend, and that she’d probably forgotten all about dinner because she was so preoccupied with him.

I remember what that was like, Riley thought, wistfully remembering her own adolescent crushes.

Pleased that April had brought him over to introduce him, Riley eyed the boy quickly. She immediately liked what she saw. Like April, he was tall, gangly, and rather awkward looking. He had bright red hair, freckles, sparkling blue eyes, and a goofy, amiable smile.

April said, “Mom, this is Liam Schweppe. Liam, this is my mom.”

Liam offered Riley his hand to shake.

“Very pleased to meet you, Ms. Paige,” he said.

His voice had an amusing teenaged-boy squawk to it that made Riley smile.

“You can call me Riley,” she said.

April said, “Mom, Liam’s – ”

April stopped short, apparently not ready to say “my new boyfriend.”

Instead she said, “He’s captain of the high school chess team.”

Riley’s amusement was growing by the minute.

“So you’re teaching April to play chess, I take it,” she said.

“I’m trying,” Liam said.

Riley couldn’t help but chuckle a little. She was a pretty good chess player herself, and for years she’d been trying to get April interested in the game. But April had always rolled her eyes at the idea and considered chess to be perfectly uncool – a “mom thing” that couldn’t possibly interest her.

Her attitude seemed to have changed now that a cute boy was involved.

Riley invited Liam to come and sit down with the others.

She told him, “I’d offer you something to drink, but we’re all just getting ready to head out to dinner.”

“The dinner that April forgot about,” Liam said, his grin widening a little.

“That’s right,” Riley said. “Why don’t you come too?”

April’s blush deepened.

“Oh, Mom …” she began.

“‘Oh, Mom’ what?” Riley said.

“I’m sure Liam’s got other plans,” April said.

Riley laughed. She was obviously getting into “uncool mom” territory again. It seemed that April was ready to introduce Liam to her, but a family dinner was rushing things as far as she was concerned.

“What do you think, Liam?” Riley asked.

“Sounds great, thanks,” Liam said. “Where are we going?”

“Blaine’s Grill,” Riley said.

Liam’s eyes lit up with excitement.

“Oh, wow! I’ve heard great things about that place!”

It was Blaine Hildreth’s turn to grin.

“Thanks,” he said to Liam. “I’m Blaine. I own the restaurant.”

Liam laughed.

“Cooler and cooler!” he said.

“Come on, let’s all get going,” Riley said.


A little while later, Riley was enjoying a delicious dinner with April, Jilly, Blaine, Crystal, and Liam. They were all sitting on the patio at Blaine’s Grill, enjoying the lovely weather as well as the wonderful food.

Riley was talking about chess with Liam, discussing middle-game planning tactics. She was impressed by his knowledge of the game. She wondered how well she’d do in a game against him. She guessed that she’d probably lose. She was a good player, but he was already the captain of a high school chess team and he was still a sophomore. Besides, she’d had few opportunities to play the game lately.

He must be really good, she figured.

The thought pleased her a lot. Riley knew that April was brighter than she realized, and it was good that she had a boyfriend who challenged her.

As she and Liam talked, Riley found herself wondering just where this thing between him and April was going. There were just two months left of the school year. Would they part ways and lose interest in each other? Riley hoped not.

“What are you doing this summer, Liam?” Riley asked.

“Going to chess camp,” Liam said. “Actually, I’m going to be a junior coach. I’ve been trying to talk April into coming too.”

Riley glanced over at April.

“Why don’t you go, April?” she asked.

April blushed again.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I was thinking about soccer camp. That might be more my speed. I’d probably be in way over my head at chess camp.”

“Oh, no, you won’t be!” Liam said. “There will be players from all levels – including some who are just starting to learn the game, like you. And it’s right here in Fredericksburg, so you wouldn’t have to leave home.”

“I’ll think about it,” April said. “Right now I just want to focus on my grades.”

Riley was glad Liam didn’t seem to be distracting April from school. Still, Riley wished she’d consider going to the chess camp. But she knew she’d better not push it. That might turn it into another “uncool mom thing.” It was best to leave it up to Liam to persuade her if he could.

Anyway, Riley was pleased to see April look so happy. Dark-haired with hazel eyes like Riley’s own, sometimes April looked astonishingly grown up. Riley remembered that she’d chosen April’s name because it was her own favorite month. And it was her favorite month because of days just like this.

Blaine looked up from his meal at Riley.

He said, “So tell us about this award you’re going to get tomorrow, Riley.”

It was Riley’s turn to blush a little.

“It’s no big deal,” she said.

Jilly let out a squeal of protest.

“It is so a big deal!” Jilly said. “It’s called the Award of Perseverance, and she’s getting it because of that cold case she just solved. The boss of the whole FBI is going to give it to her.”

Blaine’s eyes widened.

“You mean Director Milner himself?” he said.

Riley was feeling truly awkward and self-conscious now.

She laughed nervously.

“That’s not as impressive as it sounds,” she said. “It’s not a big trip for him to come to Quantico. He works right over in DC, you know.”

Blaine’s mouth dropped open with amazement.

Jilly said, “Blaine, April and I are getting out of school to see her get it. You and Crystal ought to come too.”

Blaine and Crystal both said they’d love to come.

“OK, then,” Riley said, still feeling embarrassed. “I hope it doesn’t bore you. Anyway, that’s not the biggest event tomorrow. Jilly’s the star of the school play tomorrow night. That’s a much bigger deal.”

Now Jilly was blushing.

“I’m not the star, Mom,” she said.

Riley laughed at Jilly’s sudden coyness.

“Well, you’re playing one of the title roles. You’re Persephone in a play called Demeter and Persephone. Why don’t you tell us the story?”

Jilly started telling the story of the Greek myth – shyly at first, but getting more enthusiastic about it as she continued. Riley felt more and more pleased. One of her girls was learning to play chess; the other was excited about Greek mythology.

Maybe things are looking up, she thought.

Her efforts at marriage and family had been troubled at best. Recently she’d made a bad mistake, trying to let her ex-husband, Ryan, back into the girls’ lives and her own. Ryan had proved to be as incapable of commitment as ever.

But now?

Riley looked over at Blaine, and realized that he was already looking at her. He was smiling, and she smiled back. There was definitely a spark between them. They’d even danced and kissed during a date last month – their only one-on-one date so far. But Riley cringed a little inside as she remembered how awkwardly it had ended – with her running off to work on a case.

Blaine seemed to have forgiven her.

But where were things going between them?

Again, that lurking darkness welled up inside Riley.

Sooner or later, this happy illusion of family and friendship could give way to the reality of evil – to murder and cruelty and human monsters.

And she had a feeling, deep inside, that it was going to happen very soon.


Sitting in the front row of the auditorium at Quantico, Riley felt terribly ill at ease. She’d faced down countless vicious killers without losing her composure. But right now, she felt on the verge of outright panic.

FBI Director Gavin Milner stood at the podium at the front of the big room. He was speaking of Riley’s long career – especially the case that she was being honored for, the cold case of the so-called “Matchbook Killer.”

Riley was struck by the distinguished baritone purr of his voice. She’d rarely spoken with Director Milner, but she liked him. He was a slight, dapper little man with a flawlessly neat mustache. Riley thought he looked and sounded more like a dean of some fine arts school than the head of the nation’s most elite law enforcement organization.

Riley hadn’t been listening to his actual words very well. She was much too nervous and self-conscious as it was. But now that he seemed to be nearing the end of his speech, Riley paid more attention.

Milner said, “We all know of Special Agent Riley Paige’s courage, intelligence, and grace under pressure. She’s been honored for all these qualities in the past. But we are here today to honor her for something different – her long-term tenacity, her determination not to leave justice undone. Because of her efforts, a killer who claimed three victims twenty-five years ago faces justice at last. We all owe her a debt of gratitude for her service – and for her example.”

He smiled, looking straight at her. He picked up the box with the award in it.

That’s my cue, Riley thought.

Her legs felt wobbly as she got up from her chair and made her way up onto the stage.

She stepped to the side of the podium and Milner hung the Medal of Perseverance by a ribbon around her neck.

It felt surprisingly heavy.

Strange, Riley thought. The others didn’t feel like this.

She’d received three other such awards over the years – the Shield of Bravery, and Medals of Valor and Meritorious Achievement.

But this one felt heavier – and different.

It felt almost wrong somehow.

Riley wasn’t sure just why.

FBI Director Gavin Milner patted Riley on the shoulder and chuckled a little.

He said to Riley in a near-whisper …

“Something to add to your collection, eh?”

Riley laughed nervously and shook the director’s hand.

The people in the auditorium burst into a round of applause.

Again with a chuckle and in a near-whisper, Director Milner said, “It’s time to face your public.”

Riley turned around and was rather overcome by what she saw.


There were more people in the auditorium than she’d realized. And every face was familiar – a friend, a family member, a colleague, or someone she’d helped or saved in the line of duty.

They were all on their feet, smiling and clapping.

Riley’s throat caught, and tears formed in her eyes.

They all believe in me so much.

She felt grateful and humble – but she also felt a spasm of guilt.

What would these same people think of her if they knew all of her darkest secrets?

They knew nothing about her current relationship with a savage but brilliant killer who had escaped from Sing Sing. They certainly didn’t suspect that the criminal had helped her solve several cases. And they couldn’t possibly know how hopelessly entwined Riley’s own life was with Shane Hatcher’s.

Riley almost shuddered at the thought.

No wonder this medal felt heavier than the others.

No, I don’t deserve this, Riley thought.

But what was she going to do – turn around and give it back to Director Milner?

Instead, she managed to smile and utter a few words of appreciation. Then she stepped carefully down off the stage.


A few moments later, Riley was in a large, crowded room that had been set up with refreshments. It looked like most of the people who had been in the auditorium were here. She was the center of a swirl of activity as everyone took turns congratulating her. She was grateful for the stabilizing presence of Director Milner, who stood right beside her.

In the first wave of well-wishers were colleagues – fellow field agents, specialists, administrators, and office workers.

Most of them were visibly happy for her. For example, Sam Flores, the nerdish head of the Quantico technical analysis team, gave her a silent thumbs-up and a thoroughly sincere smile and moved on.

But Riley also had her share of enemies, and they were here as well. The youngest was Emily Creighton, a fairly inexperienced agent who fancied herself to be Riley’s rival. Riley had called her out on a rookie mistake a few months back, and Creighton had resented her ever since.

When it came Creighton’s turn to congratulate Riley, the younger agent forced a smile through her clenched teeth, shook her hand, mumbled “Congratulations,” and wandered away.

A few more colleagues came and went before Special Agent in Charge Carl Walder stepped toward Riley. Babyish both in appearance and behavior, Walder was Riley’s idea of the ultimate bureaucrat. She was always at odds with him, and he with her. In fact, he’d suspended and even fired her on a few occasions.

But right now Riley was amused by his expression of cringing goodwill toward her. With Director Milner standing beside her, Walder didn’t dare show anything but feigned respect.

His hand was damp and cold as he shook hers, and she noticed beads of sweat on his forehead.

“A well-deserved honor, Agent Paige,” he said in a shaky voice. “We are honored to have you on the force.”

Then Walder shook hands with the FBI director.

“So good of you to join us, Director Milner,” Walder said.

“My pleasure,” Director Milner said.

Riley watched the director’s face. Did she notice a slight smirk as he nodded at Walder? She couldn’t be sure. But she knew that Walder didn’t command a whole lot of respect in the Bureau, neither by his subordinates nor by his superiors.

After the last of her Quantico colleagues congratulated her, the next wave of well-wishers stirred up powerful emotions for Riley. They were people she’d met in the line of duty – family members of murder victims, or people she’d saved from becoming victims. Riley hadn’t expected them to be here, especially not so many of them.

The first was a frail, elderly man that she’d rescued from an insane poisoner last January. He took hold of Riley’s hand with both of his and tearfully said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” over and over again.

Riley couldn’t help but cry herself.

Then came Lester and Eunice Pennington and their teenaged daughter, Tiffany. In February, Tiffany’s older sister, Lois, had been murdered by a sick young man. Riley hadn’t seen the Penningtons since she’d solved their case. Riley could hardly believe they were here. She remembered them as distraught and grief-stricken. But they were smiling through their tears, happy for Riley and grateful for the justice she had given them.

As Riley exchanged emotional handclasps with them, she wondered how much more of this she could take without fleeing the room in tears.

Finally came Paula Steen, the elderly mother of a girl who had been killed twenty-five years ago in the case that Riley was being honored for today.

Riley felt truly overwhelmed now.

She and Paula had been in touch for many years now, talking by phone on every anniversary of her daughter’s death.

Paula’s presence here today took Riley completely off guard.

She clasped Paula’s hands, trying not to break down uncontrollably.

“Paula, thank you for coming,” she managed to stammer through her tears. “I hope we can still stay in touch.”

Paula’s smile was radiant, and she wasn’t crying at all.

“Oh, I’ll keep calling once a year as always, I promise,” Paula said. “As long as I’m still in this world, anyway. Now that you’ve caught Tilda’s killer, I feel ready to move on – to join her and my husband. They’ve been waiting for me for a long time. Thank you so much.”

Riley felt a sudden pain deep inside.

Paula was thanking her for the peace she now felt – thanking her for allowing her to die at long last.

It was too much for Riley to process.

She simply couldn’t speak.

Instead, she clumsily kissed Paula on the cheek, and the elderly woman walked away.

People were leaving now, and the room was markedly less crowded.

But the ones who most mattered to her were still here. Blaine, Crystal, Jilly, April, and Gabriela had stood nearby watching her this whole time. Riley felt especially good about the look of pride on Gabriela’s face.

She also saw that the girls were smiling, while Blaine’s expression was one of awed admiration. Riley hoped that this whole ceremony didn’t intimidate him or scare him off.

Coming toward her were three people whose faces she was especially happy to see. One was her longtime partner, Bill Jeffreys. Standing right beside him was Lucy Vargas, an eager and promising young agent who looked up to Riley as a mentor. Next to her was Jake Crivaro.

Riley was surprised to see Jake. He’d been her partner years ago and had long since retired. He’d come out of retirement just to help her on the Matchbook Killer case, which had haunted him for years.

“Jake!” Riley said. “What are you doing here?”

The short, barrel-chested man let out a raspy laugh.

“Hey, what kind of welcome is that?”

Riley laughed a little too and hugged him.

“You know what I meant,” she said.

After all, Jake had headed back to his apartment in Florida as soon as the case was over. She was glad he was back, even if it was a lot sooner than she’d expected.

“I wouldn’t have missed this for the world,” Jake said.

Riley felt a renewed wave of guilt as she hugged Bill.

“Bill, Jake – this isn’t fair.”

“What isn’t fair?” Bill asked.

“My getting this award. You two did as much work as I did.”

Lucy took her turn to hug Riley.

“Sure, it’s fair,” Lucy said. “Director Milner mentioned them. He gave them credit too.”

Bill nodded and said, “And we wouldn’t have done anything at all if you weren’t so damned stubborn about reopening the case.”

Riley smiled. It was true, of course. She’d reopened the case when nobody else had thought it was possible to solve.

Suddenly she felt a new wave of confusion over what had just happened.

She looked around and said to Bill, Jake, and Lucy, “All these people – how did they know about this?”

Lucy said, “Well, it was in the news, of course.”

That was true, but it didn’t explain things as far as Riley was concerned. Her award had been announced in tiny news items that scarcely anyone would have noticed unless they were looking for it already.

Then Riley noticed a sly grin on Bill’s face.

He contacted people! Riley realized.

He may not have reached out to every single person from her past, but he’d put the wheels in motion.

She was startled by the contradictory emotions she felt.

Of course she was grateful to Bill for making sure that this day was nothing short of extraordinary.

But to her surprise, she was angry too.

Without seeming to realize it, Bill had set an emotional ambush for her.

Worst of all, he had made her cry.

But she reminded herself that he’d done it out of friendship and respect.

She said to him, “You and I are going to have a little talk about this later.”

Bill smiled and nodded.

“I’m sure we will,” he said.

Riley turned toward her waiting family and friends, but she was stopped in her tracks by her boss, Team Chief Brent Meredith. The big man with black, angular features didn’t appear to be in a celebratory mood.

He said, “Paige, Jeffreys, Vargas – I need to see you in my office right away.”

Without another word, Meredith walked out of the room.

Riley’s heart sank as she headed over to Blaine, Gabriela, and the girls to tell them to wait a little while for her.

She remembered that lurking sense of darkness she had felt over dinner yesterday.

It’s here, she thought.

Some new evil was about to enter her life.

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