Lethal Peril

Limited Time
Release Price $0.99

Amazon Kindle Kobo
Amazon Kindle International Google Play
Barnes & Noble Nook Apple iBooks
Paperback

 

Lethal Peril


Her life is in jeopardy…

Heiress Elizabeth Foster is a rebel, living on the fringes of her wealthy family’s influence. Then an alarming subway accident makes her wonder if a killer is really after her. She turns to the one man she trusts, a former SEAL turned bodyguard. He is a childhood friend, and after ten years, she’s back under his protection.

Who has a motive to kill her?

Wyatt Mercer’s new assignment at Stealth Security brings his past back to haunt him. A woman he doesn’t expect appears in his life, and reaches out for his protection. He is sure that she isn’t telling him everything, but when the threats escalate he rises to the challenge of protecting her from a lethal conspiracy.

Can Wyatt rescue her from the claws of greed and power?

The fight against danger keeps Wyatt close, and he discovers a powerful attraction to Elizabeth. Will the forces of greed steal the one woman he desires, and wipe out any chance for a future?

Lethal Peril (Stealth Security Book 2) is a standalone romance with no cliffhanger.

Fans of Kaylea Cross and Misty Evans will enjoy this book!

Stealth Security Series:

Cold Peril (Garrett and Marlene)

Lethal Peril (Wyatt and Beth)

Ruthless Peril (Hunter and Tessa)

And More Coming!

Stealth Security is a Military Romantic Suspense series with ex-Navy SEAL heroes employed as bodyguards to celebrity and VIP clients. Each novel is a standalone romance with no cliffhangers – but the characters you love make appearances in future stories.

Excerpt


Chapter 1

Elizabeth Marie Foster had been born into wealth with the apparent enviable advantages. It wasn’t that she lacked gratitude for her fortune, but more that she’d witnessed the darker side of money and control.

Her father insisted on calling her Elizabeth, but she preferred Beth. She wasn’t some snooty heiress who commanded awe from the masses—quite the opposite. She was a rebel and had been from the time she was a young girl.

Behaving properly and dressing to impress were trappings that boxed her in. At the age of twenty-eight, Beth already had a long list of offenses. Not one of them was noteworthy, taken on its own. But viewed as a whole, the acts had given her a reputation for causing trouble.

Not that Beth cared. She preferred to live on the fringes, to ignore demands, and to be her own woman. Although she hadn’t quite figured out what that was, it definitely was not being the woman that she was expected to be—but one of her own design.

Elizabeth, the only daughter of shipping magnate Stephen Charles Foster, breathed in the brisk Manhattan air. The walk through Central Park had been invigorating. She glanced back at the fall colors of the leaves, dangling from the trees and scattered across the lawn. As a young girl, she’d spent time at the park, frequently in the company of her mother.

But her mother had passed away, a victim of cancer, long before Elizabeth graduated from grade school. To this day she missed her, and the loveliness of the park was a stark reminder of the motherly love that had been taken away much too soon.

Turning toward the street, she focused on her plans for Saturday. She cherished her liberty from the confines of an office, and embraced the relief of being away from her stifling life. In his generosity, her father had given her a job, doing accounting for Foster International. Despite her assumed untrustworthiness, he had faith in her.

Thus Stephen Foster had entrusted his billion-dollar baby to her, allowing her to work in bookkeeping, as part of his accounting team. Not her preference at all. But she hadn’t had the heart to reject his loving gesture. Of any family member, apart from her dearly departed mother, Elizabeth loved her father most. More accurately, she adored him.

Reflection on her employment at Foster tightened her chest and brought tears to her eyes. She brushed them away with the back of her hand. This was no time for sentimentality. What she’d been accused of was beyond the realm of possibility. Yet it was so damn easy for others to believe it of her.

Elizabeth stuffed her hands in her pockets and strode toward Fifth Avenue to catch the subway. She’d remembered to wear a jacket, but not her gloves. Her hand closed around a tiny sketchbook that she carried with her. Drawing caricatures was her hobby, so in the park she’d sketched a couple of the tourists. Such were simple to spot, since they gawked at the scenery—something a New Yorker was not prone to do.

The walk from Central Park to the metro station was short, so didn’t require taking a cab. Elizabeth far preferred walking, in any case. She rarely opted to ride in the family limo, as it was pretentious and claustrophobic. Pedestrians filled the sidewalk, confirmation that she wasn’t alone in her choice to walk instead of ride.

Up ahead, her friend waved both hands in a joyful frenzy, most likely pleased to be out of the office also. Amanda Moreau waited by the subway station, waving her arm for Elizabeth to hurry up. Shopping held an allure for her friend, not that Elizabeth objected. She found plenty to add to her wardrobe during their outings.

While hanging around the newsroom at one of the small daily papers, Elizabeth had recently met Amanda. The friendship had begun with little effort, since they had much in common—especially a sharply condescending attitude toward politics and the crimes of the wealthy.

Elizabeth drew cartoons derived from her observations, satires on political absurdities, while Amanda wrote scathing editorials on similar topics. But their friendship wasn’t limited to the newsroom. In the months since Elizabeth had found her new friend, she’d agreed to various lunches and shopping sprees.

“Hey, Amanda, sorry I’m a little late. I should have picked up my pace in the park.”

“Let me guess. You were sketching and lost track of time?”

Elizabeth raised her hands. “Guilty as charged.”

Amanda looked her over, then grinned. “You wore that great jacket. I’m jealous. Turn around.”

Elizabeth spun in a half-turn, and Amanda pulled on the hem of the bomber jacket. It was pink with black cuffs and hem. On the back was a striking logo, a symbol that had become a trademark of sorts.

“I love this thing,” Amanda said. “The eagle on the back is just so…spectacular. He’s magnificent outlined in rhinestones.”

Slipping off her black leather jacket, Amanda grinned. She dropped her purse to the sidewalk between her feet and reached out her arms. “Okay…trade. I want to trade…just for today.”

Elizabeth laughed. “Sure, why not?” The jacket was silk, a designer fashion personalized with the unique logo. The stylized eagle represented individual freedom, and served as a symbol of Elizabeth’s art. She slipped her sketchbook, phone, and wallet from the pockets, then handed over the treasured garment.

Amanda put on the shiny jacket and Elizabeth donned the leather one, slipping her items into the pockets. Interests weren’t all she had in common with her friend. Amanda was barely five feet two, the same as she, with a similarly small build. And the petite journalist’s hairstyle was a copycat of Elizabeth’s punk look—buzzed around the left ear, long on the right side, with some stray tendrils at the neckline. And her friend had a row of piercings along the curve of one ear, matching hers. Elizabeth couldn’t claim credit for that, since Amanda had worn tiny hoops on that ear when she’d met her.

The identical black hair finished the look. Amanda hefted the strap of her purse over one shoulder, then motioned toward the entrance. “Shall we?”

The subway gave Elizabeth the creeps. It wasn’t the safest way to travel, but she refused to wimp out. After all, thousands of commuters rode the trains each day, so she could too. The stench of the underground and the graffiti magnified the unsettling atmosphere of public transportation.

Crowds parted and moved toward their individual destinations. “We can get off at Madison Avenue,” Amanda said, “exit near Calvin Klein.”

“I need some new jeans,” Elizabeth said. “What you looking for?”

“Hermès has a special on shoes. Maybe I can find a pair to match the bag I snagged last time.”

A group of guys bumped into Amanda, knocking her into Elizabeth, but didn’t acknowledge the collision. Dressed in low-hanging baggy jeans and sloppy shirts, not one of them could have been over the age of sixteen—some high school kids, hanging out.

A tall, bulky dude leered at Elizabeth, and she gave him the stink-eye. Asshole. Sticking close to Amanda, parting the sea of people with an outstretched hand, Elizabeth threaded her way toward the waiting area. The station was busy, and throngs of people pushed them off course.

“Sheesh, we should have taken a taxi,” Amanda said.

Elizabeth caught sight of a man she had noticed earlier, near the entrance. Unlike the other commuters, he focused on Amanda and pushed people aside, coming toward her. The fleeting thought that maybe he admired the jacket vanished when he made a beeline in her direction.

“Amanda, that guy is following us.”

“Who?”

“Don’t look, just keep moving.” Elizabeth grabbed her arm and dragged her forward through a break in the crowd. “He’s some weirdo.”

But it seemed there was more to it. The man wore sunglasses and a ball cap. He was broad-shouldered and appeared intent on something. Elizabeth feared it was Amanda, or maybe both of them. But what idiot would kidnap two women in the middle of a subway station? Then again, this was New York.

Elizabeth moved faster. The waiting area was near; she could see it. Glancing back was a mistake. The pursuer was just a few people behind. Her heart pounded. It made no sense. Some strange guy wouldn’t grab them in broad daylight, or in this dark subway tunnel filled with witnesses.

“We’re late,” Amanda said.

As if to confirm that fact, a mass of people pushed toward the edge, leaning to see if the train was coming. The noise of the subway train drowned out conversation, yet the roar of voices of the waiting passengers blended with its reverberating sound.

“We better get up there,” Elizabeth said, nearly shouting. In the same instant, a frantic crowd swept her friend away, like driftwood at sea. One minute they were together inching ahead, and the next, Amanda was carried forward into the crowd.

Giddy with the fight for the subway train, Elizabeth clung to the assurance that if Amanda got in first that she’d save her a seat. Then the man in the ball cap broke free of the mass of people, like some bizarre superhero, who was stronger than anyone near him.

Elizabeth couldn’t breathe. The air was stifling and the crowd suffocated her. Then the scary man was only inches from her friend. “Amanda,” she screamed, but it was futile. Her friend didn’t look back.

The ground rumbled as the heavy train approached. Elizabeth stood tall to look over the crowd; Amanda was at the edge, close to the rails. The strange man was next to her, as if he might say something. Then he lurched against Amanda, knocking her into open space and onto the tracks.

Elizabeth screamed and thrust her hands into her hair. It was a nightmare. It had to be. Soon she’d wake up to find that she was still in her bed, away from the horror she’d witnessed. Her heart sank to her feet, and on trembling legs she staggered forward.

The crowd had backed away, leaving an open path. Frantically, Elizabeth made her way to the scene and looked down at the tracks, before she thought better of it. Tears streamed down her cheeks, and she hugged her arms around her waist, rocking back and forth as she wailed with distress.

Amanda was dead.

Elizabeth turned and moved away from the disaster, hardly able to see through her burning tears. She bumped into a row of wooden seating. Instead of sitting down, she slumped against the wall and slid to the floor, shivering uncontrollably. Images of the incident flashed through her mind. The man had pushed Amanda. She’d witnessed it; seen it with her own eyes.

Looking up through blurry vision, Elizabeth couldn’t pick the man out of the crowd. Gone. He’s gone. Shock engulfed her, rendering her speechless and preventing her from moving. She reeled with confusion. Why? It was so senseless.

Elizabeth put her hands over her eyes and sobbed. Amanda was gone. It was a tragedy, one that couldn’t be undone. Confusion addled her brain. She scanned her memory, trying to get a grip on what had transpired, but was unable to sift out the truth.

Why would anyone want to kill Amanda?

*****

A cacophony of voices and people moving about drew her attention. Elizabeth had to do something, tell someone. Numbed by the loss of her friend, she stood on shaky legs and returned to the rails, having no concept of how long it had been since the accident.

The police were there, questioning a few people. The crowd had noticeably thinned. She put her hand on the arm of a cop holding a walkie-talkie. He looked down at her and frowned. “Did you see what happened? Did you know the deceased?”

Tears rolled down Elizabeth’s checks. “She was my friend. We were together. Her name is Amanda Moreau. She’s…was a journalist.”

The cop lowered his radio and gave her his attention. “Did she jump?”

Elizabeth shook her head. “No. No.”

“Was she drunk or high?”

“She was…murdered.”

The cop didn’t seem alarmed. “Do you realize what you’re saying?

His disbelief cut though the haze, stirring anger. “Yes. I do. I saw it happen. A man pushed her.”

“And what’s your name?”

“Elizabeth Foster.”

“Lady, I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but do you know there have been over eighty deaths this year alone, from people falling on the metro tracks? Most are suicides, the rest are accidents, as a result of intoxication with alcohol or cocaine.”

Elizabeth glared at him, irritated by his reciting of statistics. “I don’t care. I’m telling you that my friend was pushed.”

“We’ve spoken to the motorman. He didn’t see anyone else. What he did see was a woman’s body plummet to the tracks in front of the train, so he hit the emergency brake and laid on the horn.”

The denial of her allegation infuriated her.

The cop’s gaze hardened. “So where have you been, then…if you saw it happen?”

“I was…over there.” Elizabeth waved her hand toward the wall. “I couldn’t get to her. I couldn’t…do anything.”

After a moment, the cop huffed. “I need you to give a statement, then. Let’s go down to the station.”

He proceeded to escort her to his vehicle, and, considering his attitude, it was surprising that he didn’t cuff her. The cop talked on his radio, letting the station know he was coming in. Elizabeth rested her head against the seat and stared up at nothing.

This was all a horrible mistake. It had to be. She’d known Amanda. The woman didn’t have enemies. She’d worked an entry-level position at a daily paper. Not the stuff notoriety was made from. She hadn’t developed the kind of career that could get her killed.

Elizabeth struggled to recall if Amanda had mentioned anyone in her private life who posed a threat, but came up blank. Amanda dated but wasn’t hooked up with anyone. There was no man who’d abused her or wished her harm. Not that she’d spoken of.

When Elizabeth closed her eyes, the image of her silk bomber jacket filled her mind. Her gut twisted as she recalled the pink, sparkly garment that Amanda had worn to her death. Elizabeth’s eyes flew open. Oh my God. Could that be?

Spotting Elizabeth would have been an easy task, even for a man who hadn’t seen her before. The logo on the jacket was a giveaway. Even those who hadn’t seen Elizabeth’s cartoon drawings recognized the logo. That vector image of an eagle was plastered in news media, on publications that printed her art, and, most prominently, on her jacket.

Amanda had looked enough like Elizabeth to be her twin. From the back: same height, hair color, and style. Both had on jeans and boots. Yet there was one significant difference, the one thing that set them apart—the logo jacket.

Her friend may not have had enemies, but Elizabeth sure did. Playing the role of the rebel hadn’t endeared others to her, even her own family. And recently, she’d been on the outs with them. Yet she couldn’t envision it was sufficient motive to kill.

But the alternative, that the killer had been after Amanda, didn’t ring true. It was more likely, as absurd as it seemed, that the killer had been sent to take out Elizabeth. She shuddered. Her family was wealthy, rich from billions handed down for many generations. Old money garnered from the lucrative shipping industry.

There was no doubt that her family had the resources to remove any person that got in the way of finance. But murder? That was beyond any improprieties she had knowledge of. Yet could she really put it past them?

And who would commit murder…who was that desperate? Certainly not her father. But other than him, Elizabeth considered any family member capable of such a deed. Not personally, of course. But for the right price, a killer could have been hired. A tingle of fear ran up her spine. However incredible, she was unable to brush aside her suspicions.

Elizabeth sat up. The cop glanced over at her, then turned into the parking lot. She needed her lawyer; things were out of hand. Pulling her phone from the pocket of the leather jacket, she dialed the family attorney.

“Who are you calling?”

“My attorney,” Elizabeth said. “I’ll have him meet me at the station. You’ll just have to wait until he arrives.”

The cop clenched his jaw.

“I’m not under arrest, am I?”

“It’s just an interview.” The cop pulled into an open parking space. “You’re the one that’s so anxious to turn this into a murder investigation.”

“Hardly.” Elizabeth glared at him. “But a friend of mine died. I’m not about to keep quiet.”

*****

The police station was no more welcoming than the subway had been. Thomas Stapleton, attorney-at-law, had represented the family for as long as Elizabeth could recall. He was a welcome sight, striding toward her, sporting an expensive leather briefcase. Even on such short notice, he’d managed to arrive in a tailored suit.

“What can I do for you, Elizabeth?”

Thomas didn’t seem all that surprised to find her at the police station. He had been around so long he was like part of the family, thus he knew of her escapades. Yet this went far beyond her mischievous games. This was for real.

Elizabeth gave him the punch line first, letting him know that she’d witnessed a murder. He raised his brows. “We need to speak alone before you agree to an interview.”

The cop reluctantly agreed to let them have an empty office, and Elizabeth proceeded to relay her version of the event. She clarified that the cop asserted the death had been an accident, and was skeptical of her claim that it had been murder.

Having heard the blow-by-blow of what had happened that morning, Thomas expressed concern over her emotional state. After her assurance that she was all right for now, he leaned back in his chair. “I can’t advise you to give a statement at this time. The situation is quite volatile. If you are to be interviewed, it should be in a formal setting where I am present. I’d like to look over all the facts, and the police investigation, before such an interview takes place.”

It wasn’t lost on Elizabeth that her attorney’s first priority was the family’s reputation. Any story that involved Foster International, or any member of the Foster family, spread like wildfire. Mere rumors turned into headlines overnight. An incident involving alleged murder would spiral out of control.

Elizabeth studied her attorney. “So I can count on you to keep this quiet?”

“What do you mean by quiet?”

“I’d rather you not tell anyone just yet.”

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea. Your uncle should be told. He will be furious if something like this is withheld from him.”

Elizabeth shrugged. Martin Foster, her father’s younger brother, would hit the roof when he heard about this. But she needed time. “Yes, but my uncle knows me.” She gave Thomas an impish grin. “He won’t blame you. I promise not to tell him that I called you to the station. I’ll take the fallout for any upset.”

“Elizabeth…”

“Really, I promise. So please, just for a day or two, until I can figure things out. And it’s a given that you won’t relay any of this to my father either.” That last stipulation likely wasn’t necessary, but she had to make sure.

Thomas shook his head. “Against my better judgment. But I need your agreement not to speak to the authorities unless I’m present.”

“Deal.”

“You realize that your uncle will find out anyway, as well as your father?”

“But not immediately. And when it does come up—because I’m sure the police won’t keep a lid on a story like this—you can use your standard line that the family wishes to maintain their privacy.”

Thomas stood and lifted his briefcase from the table. “Okay, but I insist on driving you home.”

*****

Home was a three-story mansion in Manhattan, where Elizabeth had lived with her father for many years. It had five fireplaces, a basement swimming pool, and two gardens. She found no joy in the fact that she had it all to herself.

Other than the maids who came in to clean, or the maintenance man who tended to the upkeep, Elizabeth rambled through the spacious quarters quite alone. The reason saddened her, yet she was at a loss on how to make her life any different than it was.

After Thomas dropped her off, she went up to the rooftop patio to gaze at the scene below. It was one feature of the house that pleased her. Up so high, with a view of the city, Elizabeth was above it all. She often gained perspective on things while lounging on the terrace, alone with her thoughts.

She would have much preferred for her father to join her, but that was no longer possible. Only months before, the sudden onset of Alzheimer’s had taken him away. For his own safety, her loving father Stephen Foster had been placed in a nursing facility with twenty-four-hour care.

Plopping into a cushy patio chair, Elizabeth looked up at the sky. It was a gorgeous shade of eggshell blue with a few wispy clouds slowly drifting, languidly progressing over the city without a care in the world. If only she could claim the same.

Until a week ago, Elizabeth had spent much of her week as an accounting department employee at Foster International, doing her part to keep the books straight. She wasn’t destined to be an accountant, but her father had employed her in that department due to her talent with software and computers.

She’d grown up using computers, so it was no special talent. Or so she claimed. Yet she understood such things better than some, and she tinkered incessantly, playing around with software as a hobby. It was interesting, which was something she needed.

Yet now she’d been removed from that function and her father was locked away in a facility. Elizabeth was acutely aware of her lack of friends. It was to her disadvantage that she’d been somewhat antisocial growing up. It wasn’t that she had a particular dislike of others, but more that she tended to entertain herself. Sketching her cartoons, or plunking around on computer keyboards, occupied too much of her time. Now that she was in dire straits, she suffered a pang of regret about not connecting with anyone else much sooner.

It hadn’t been all bleak. Elizabeth had bonded with Amanda. On reflection, maybe she shouldn’t have, as she was more and more convinced that her friend’s death fell on her shoulders. She could have warned Amanda that hanging around with her could mean trouble. But in her wildest imaginings, Elizabeth hadn’t dreamed such a relationship involved lethal peril.

The wind whipped across the terrace, and Elizabeth wrapped the jacket tighter around her. The transparent panels around the rooftop, intended to block the wind, were inadequate. There were heaters to handle the chill from the rapidly dropping temperature, but she couldn’t muster the initiative to get up and turn them on.

With her feet on the chair, Elizabeth wrapped her arms around her legs and rested her chin on her knees. In the quiet of her rooftop respite, she dug deep for answers. Now that her father was incapacitated, her brother Kyle ran operations at shipping company under her Uncle Martin’s supervision. She had no issue with that, as she certainly didn’t want the duty.

She didn’t have any responsibility for medical decisions concerning her father either, as he had given power of attorney to his brother Martin. Once the illness had been diagnosed, her uncle had taken charge. Not that Elizabeth would have done anything differently. Her father was sick and needed expert care. He was better off in the facility, as he couldn’t be properly cared for at home.

It didn’t matter that no particular duties fell to Elizabeth. Her family had no faith in her, and hadn’t for some time. Only her father gave her credit, probably more than she deserved, for her abilities. But now he barely recognized her when she visited.

There was no one to turn to. It was out of the question to go to her uncle with her dilemma. He wouldn’t listen to her anyway. And her brother was well intended but naïve. The idea that he’d believe that her friend was murdered was ludicrous. He’d accuse her of imagining the whole thing.

Her friend had died, and if Elizabeth’s theory was correct, the incident had some connection to past transgressions. But she had no idea what acts had been significant enough to provoke murder. Yet if the killer was after her, he would soon enough realize his error.

Her life was in danger. She’d told her attorney about the murder, but she’d kept silent about her concern that it was in some way connected to her. If she had breathed a word of that, Thomas would have insisted that she hire a bodyguard. In the past, she’d adamantly refused to be guarded like a prisoner.

Elizabeth had been safe enough in her daily life. But these were unusual circumstances. Hiring a bodyguard wasn’t such a bad idea. The more she pondered it, the more it seemed like the right thing to do. She was in a tight spot and needed help.

There was no one she could turn to—except for one man. Elizabeth pulled out her phone and punched the button for the airlines, before she could change her mind. She booked an early flight for Los Angeles, then went downstairs to pack.