Five for Friday – Savage Transformation

Five for Friday time. Ready?

Prologue

New York, New York.

Four months ago.

The woman stared at Marshall Rourke, her expression both guarded and menacing. Don’t try it, her clear amber eyes said. Don’t even think about it. What “it” was, Marshall didn’t know, but he’d bet his left testicle it’d be fun finding out. Fun and dangerous. Probably painful too. A grin pulled at the corner of his mouth. He didn’t mind danger. And when it came down to it, a little bit of pain wasn’t too bad either. A certain type of pain, that was.

He studied the still image on his laptop, his grin stretching wider. This one would bite. Of that, he had little doubt. In both the metaphorical and literal sense of the word. Frozen in millions of vivid coloured pixels on his computer’s screen, the woman stared back at him, those striking light brown eyes of hers sharp and piercing despite the fuzziness of the photograph and the distance from which it was taken.

She stood in a busy city street, surrounded by pedestrians dressed in an array of business suits, jeans and short summer dresses. She could be standing in any big city in the world, but the short note accompanying the image told him she was in Sydney, Australia.

Marshall raised his eyebrows. That was not where he expected her to be.

He ran a slow inspection over the distance-blurred image, noting the confident straightness of her shoulders, the slim but athletic frame, the confident way she held the Glock 9mm in her hand.

She wouldn’t be easy to capture. He didn’t need to read the short dossier attached to know that.

He dragged his cursor over the image, zooming in on her face. Something about her eyes intrigued him. They were intelligent, almost arrogant, but somehow haunted as well. Like she’d witnessed events more than one lone female should, and had made her judgment.

He thought of the Glock, held so loosely in her long, slender fingers, of the menacing expression on her face. Of the coiled tension in her slim frame. What type of judgment had she cast to cause her to become what she let the world see?

Flicking his gaze to the printout beside his laptop, he scanned the dossier he’d already committed to memory. Family. Foster family she no longer had contact with. Relationships. None of any significance. There was one close girlfriend living in the small island state of Tasmania and one ex-lover living on the opposite side of Australia in Perth, but that was it. There was no one she was close to in Sydney. No real weakness to exploit.

Marshall rubbed his jaw, a distant part of his mind noting the stubble there. He’d have to shave before the hunt began, otherwise he’d look like an animal by the time it was done.

The absurdity of the thought struck him and he chuckled, returning his attention to his laptop’s screen and the woman on it.

How long would it take for Einar to hunt her down?

Marshall narrowed his eyes. It would be fast. The bastard never wasted time when hunting prey. The question was, would Marshall be able to find her faster?

He let his gaze move over her, noting the subtle feminine curves beneath the utilitarian suit, the glossy softness of her chestnut-brown hair, the fullness of her bottom lip. What would that lip feel like against his own? Between his teeth?

Something tightened in the pit of his gut and he scowled. He had to stay focused on the task, no matter how appealing her petite little package. Scowl growing deeper, he closed his laptop and stood, picking up his own Glock as he crossed his private suite to stare out the large window overlooking Central Park West. He knew what she looked like and he knew where she was. That was all he needed. Now he just had to get to her.

First.

 

Chapter One

Launceston, Tasmania. The bottom of Australia.

Sydney Detective, Jackie Huddart stood motionless in the swarming, laughing, shouting, jostling airport-terminal crowd and cursed her best friend. She wished she had her gun. Not that she wanted to shoot someone, although the creep with the wandering hands and bad body odor walking behind her as she’d disembarked from the plane would have been her first choice. No, she wanted her gun because it kept her temper under control. And right at this very moment, her temper was well and truly on its way to snapping. Why the hell had she let Delanie organise her flight home? Delanie couldn’t organise a booze-up in a brewery.

Maybe your bad temper has nothing to do with Del? Maybe what you really wanted to do was stay in Sydney and track down who killed Detective Vischka?

A sudden image of the murdered detective flashed through Jackie’s head, followed just as quickly by an image of Vischka’s hulking bear of a partner, Detective Peter Thomas.

She released a sigh and hitched her bag higher up her shoulder. Detective Peter Thomas would find Vischka’s killer, of that Jackie had no doubt. Not just because that’s what the homicide detective did—his arrest rate was phenomenal—but because he and Vischka had been more than just partners on the force. When you killed a cop’s lover, you could start counting down your days.

Besides, if she started poking her nose around in a homicide case, she’d have to start dodging questions she wasn’t willing to answer.

Fixing her sights on the closest car rental kiosk, she began shoving her five-foot-three, one-hundred-and-fourteen-pound, wringing-wet frame through the horde of arriving and departing passengers and their grinning, hugging associates. She’d hire a compact and get out of Dodge, or in this case, Launceston, immediately. She didn’t have anything against the city, but when she’d agreed to come home—home. Such a dangerous concept—she hadn’t expected to be stood-up by her best friend.

Casting a quick look around the busy airport terminal, she shook her head. God alone knew where Delanie was. Probably buying another pair of shoes. Or getting her bikini line waxed. The life of a test consumer/shopper was not, if anything, boring.

Finally reaching the rental desk, Jackie crossed her arms on the counter and blew at her fringe. “I’ll take whatever you have that’s cheap and will get me to Pyengana without breaking down.”

The clerk raised her overly plucked eyebrows. “Pyengana? Why would anyone want to go to Pyengana?”

Jackie ground her teeth. Even in Tasmania the small coastal town of three hundred souls was derided. It was known in the state for its historic cheese factory. It was known on the mainland for one thing only: the last possible sighting of the very extinct thylacine. The Tasmanian tiger, an animal of ancient beauty and mystery, now just a symbol of Australia’s barbaric past.

As if the clerk read Jackie’s mind, she pursed her lips in a condescending smirk. “Going hunting, are we?”

Jackie bit back a low growl. Damn. It was a good thing she didn’t have her gun. “No,” she stated calmly. “Going home actually. To a funeral.”

Bright red heat flooded the clerk’s face. She stared at Jackie, mouth opening and closing like a drowning fish for a few moments, before she dropped her head and focused her entire attention on her computer terminal. “I have a Mazda convertible that I can do for the same fee as a compact. GPS unit and premium insurance free of charge.” She darted Jackie a quick, furtive look. “Special offer today.”

Jackie smiled, letting the woman see her teeth. “That would be lovely, thank you.”

It would take an hour and forty minutes to drive to Pyengana from here. One hour and forty minutes through some of the most lush and beautiful terrain on the planet. As tempting as it was however, she couldn’t risk putting the top down. That level of concentrated sensory exposure would call to the very spirit within her. The one she’d spent the last twenty years trying to suppress. She couldn’t risk that. It was too dangerous. Too—

“Heya, Huddart!” A loud but somehow husky voice called behind her. “What the bloody hell are you doing renting a car?”

Jackie chuckled. Rolling her eyes, she turned away from the clerk to watch a tall, willowy redhead weave her way through the crowd still amassed in the airport terminal. Well, weave probably wasn’t the correct word. The crowd seemed to melt away from the redhead’s path, the men gazing at her as she passed by, the women scanning her five-foot-nine frame for any sign of cellulite the snug denim short shorts and an even snugger white T-shirt she wore may reveal. Of which, there was none. Delanie McKenzie was every inch perfect.

She was also every inch the perfect pain in the arse, and Jackie’s best friend since they were little girls with scraped knees and snotty noses.

“What the bloody hell am I doing renting a car?” Jackie cocked an eyebrow at her friend and folded her arms across her chest. “Maybe it has something to do with the fact my ride left me in the lurch.”

Delanie laughed, the sound full and throaty and completely contagious. “Not in the lurch. I’m here, aren’t I?”

Jackie hitched her bag farther up her shoulder and gave her friend a pointed look before going up onto tip-toe to kiss her cheek. “Two hours late.”

Delanie kissed her cheek back before straightening. “And you expected differently?”

With a snort, Jackie shook her head. “I should have known better.”

Delanie grinned, her wide mouth stretching wider to reveal white, perfectly even teeth. “Yes, you should have. But I’m here now. Ready to hit the road?”

“Only if I’m driving.”

Delanie laughed. “Of course you’re driving. I’ve just had my nails done and I so very much miss your blatant disregard of the posted speed limit.”

Jackie laughed. “I do not speed.”

Delanie chortled. “No. Of course not. That’s why you came first in your driving skills component at the police academy, correct?” She nodded at the clerk behind Jackie. “Sorry. We won’t be needing you.” Giving Jackie a quick grin, she threaded her bag over her shoulder. “I’ll go get the car. Grab us a latte each from the cafe, will you? I need a caffeine hit before we get on the road.”

She turned on her heel and made her way back into the fray, once again parting the crowd like Moses parting the Red Sea. Jackie watched her go for a while, realizing how much she’d missed her friend since moving to Sydney. Delanie was a perfect example of ADD, and so extroverted she made a puppy Fox Terrier look calm, but she was honest and loyal and knew all of Jackie’s secrets. All of them.

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