This book is currently in review. The campaign has ended.
Back to top

First pages

CHAPTER 1

Danny Fagan never killed anyone on an empty stomach. His motivation was feral and bone-raw; hunger diminished the exhilaration he felt while stalking his prey. After he committed four unsolved murders, Fagan's ritual meal had become an obsession. Dressed in khaki work clothes and a baseball cap, Fagan sauntered out of the Black Kettle coffee shop and lit a cigarette. He inhaled deeply, savoring the blend of nicotine and gravy residue. The sun would be up in half an hour. It was time.

He pulled out a disposal phone and punched in a number. He scanned the parking lot as he spoke. "I'll be at the site in about two hours. Three at the most."

"I'm on my way."

"I want the hole deeper this time," Fagan said coldly.

"I'll take care of it."

He walked down the street to a cargo van he had stolen six days earlier. He stopped and appraised his handiwork, which included a quick paint job and the placement of fictitious signs on the side doors. Plates from an abandoned Ford van completed the makeover. He exhaled on the glass on the driver’s door and drew a cross on the fading moisture. It would be the only monument for his next victim.

He climbed into the back of the van and smiled at a lone homing pigeon cooing from a small cage in the rear corner. His thoughts softened as he opened a tiny wire door. He gently stroked the bird and whispered, "It won't be long now, Oscar." Fagan closed the cage, exchanged his shirt for a camouflage top with a matching hat, then he pulled onto the highway and headed south. Each twist in the road brought him closer to his next victim, increasing his excitement. This would be his first woman.

He thought back to the waitress at the coffee shop. The outline of her bra had been plainly visible through the thin uniform, allowing him to see the faint silhouette of her dark areola beneath the fabric. She had strutted across the floor, hips swaying, breasts jiggling, playing to the men. The woman was a tease. They all were. Yet, her body had aroused him, stoking a discordant mixture of lust and hate. Women did that to him. For as long as he could remember, they had rejected his advances. He tightened his grip on the steering wheel and pressed down on the accelerator.

He passed the Sea Haven Lodge near Santa Cruz, turned onto a dirt road, and wound through several small redwood groves. He reached his destination and pulled into a stand of thick brush. Two cottontail rabbits scampered out of the bushes and bounded away.

Fagan checked his 9mm Sig Sauer, shoved a nylon cord into his pocket, winked at Oscar, and climbed out the rear door. He crept through the trees, his senses vigilant. He came to a trail, grabbed the end of a heavy limb he had cut the previous day, and dragged it across the path. He scanned the area, moved into the shrubs, and sat with his back against a stump.

Satisfied with his covert, Fagan chewed on a toothpick and thought about his target. Heather Coyne was attending a seminar at the lodge, and, each morning, she had used the trail for jogging. He had followed her routine for the last three days, but today he would do more than observe his prey. He had just switched ends of his toothpick when hikers topped a rise on the trail to his left. Two women strode along the path carrying small weights in each hand. Fagan shook his head. "Shit."

The women turned onto another trail and disappeared into the trees. If he saw them again, he would abandon his mission. He searched the path that led to the lodge and felt his pulse quicken at the sight of Heather Coyne in blue sweatpants and a yellow top.

He rose to a crouch, his muscles taut with anticipation.

A lone crow squawked nearby.

His target drew within thirty yards.

Fagan slipped the cord from his pocket and readied himself. At fifteen yards, he focused on his target’s chest. Her large breasts heaved with each stride, the movement accentuating their size. Adrenaline pulsed through him when she passed the shrubs and stopped in front of the limb.

He glanced around—all clear. Swiftly, stealthily, he moved onto the trail and approached the woman just as she bent to grasp the limb.

She let go of the branch, cocked her head, and started to turn.

Fagan slipped the cord around her neck and yanked hard. She opened her mouth to scream, but only a muffled, gurgling sound escaped. She kicked wildly and fell to the ground. He pounced on her and tightened the cord.

Terror flashed across Heather Coyne's face as she thrashed about in a cloud of dust. Her eyes widened into beacons of horror protruding from a reddened, disbelieving face. Spittle bubbled from her mouth and dribbled down her chin.

Fagan straddled her and pulled the cord until she went limp. He hooked his arms under hers and dragged her off the trail, cursing the heel marks left by her sneakers. He lifted her into the van, loosened the cord, and laid her on her back.

Oscar cooed from his cage, an innocent witness.

Fagan exited through a side door and hurried to the trail to cover the heel marks. Satisfied, he went back to the van, got in, and headed toward the highway. Driving through the trees, he visualized salacious pictures of Heather Coyne's heaving breasts. His job was to kill the woman, but he became increasingly aroused as he considered future possibilities. Next time it would be different.

Women had always rejected him. The cruelty had started in high school when young girls, in groups of three or four, laughed about the acne speckled across his face. Over time, the girls blossomed into women, and the laughter turned to whispers. Why wouldn't they accept him the way he was?

Fagan turned onto Highway 9 and drove north. He wound through the mountains for nearly an hour; then, he turned onto an unpaved forestry access road that skirted the border of Big Basin State Park. He followed the rutted track for nearly two miles and then pulled into a grove of trees and stopped next to a blue pickup. Several layers of dry mud covered the bottom half of the vehicle. A man with an unkempt beard sat on the tailgate drinking a beer.

Fagan got out and walked briskly to the rear of the truck. He grabbed the man by his shirt and shoved him backwards. "What the hell's wrong with you? You know we don't drink when we're on a job."

"Christ, man. Do you know how hard that ground is?"

Fagan glared at him. "Don't ever do that again." He grabbed the bottle and started to throw it into the trees, but he turned and tossed it into the pickup bed instead. He knew better than to leave evidence that he, or anyone, had been here. He stepped back. "That pit had better be finished."

Rick wiped sweat from his brow. "I'm done, but it was a tough job."

Fagan checked the surrounding area. "Have you seen anyone?"

"Not a soul."

"Let's get at it."

The two men rolled the woman's body inside a cotton blanket; then, they carried the sagging bundle through the trees to a freshly dug grave. After dropping Heather Coyne's remains into the hole, they grabbed shovels and worked swiftly. When they finished, Fagan removed a redwood sapling from the van and placed it on the center of the grave. They planted the tree and scattered leaves and debris over the area.

After Rick had left, Fagan went to the back of the van and opened Oscar's cage. Speaking softly, he removed the bird and ran his fingers gently over its gray feathers; then, he lifted his arms and set the pigeon free. "Home, Oscar. Go home." The bird soared into the air. After circling several times, Oscar's mysterious homing instinct locked on, and he disappeared over the treetops into a pathless, blue sky.

Fagan drove back to the highway and turned north. Thirty minutes later, he pulled out a disposable phone; then, he retrieved a business card from his pocket. It read:

SCANLAN EQUITY MANAGEMENT

Martin Scanlan

Fagan's original instructions had been to memorize Scanlan's private number, and then destroy the card, but he saw no reason to comply. Why should he? He was too good at what he did. The police would never catch him.

He dialed the number and said, "Finished."

Scanlan asked, "Any problems?"

"None."

Fagan headed for home, which consisted of a double-wide mobile home located on sixty heavily forested acres in the mountains southeast of Pescadero, California. Unknown to anyone but himself, there was a cave on the property he was converting for use as a prepper bunker. He was a loner, he knew it, and that was fine with him. The isolated property fit his life style perfectly. Screw those assholes on the other side of the mountain in Silicon Valley.

As he drove, his thoughts changed and he focused on Heather Coyne. Everything had happened too quickly. Things would be different next time—he would not have to rush.

CHAPTER 2

Kelly Sanborn learned a lot over the last eleven years, but one thing stood out—being a single mother is a tough job. Over time, she had conquered most of the challenges except one: she constantly worried about being able to provide for her small family. After years of struggle, she had finally secured a position capable of producing substantial income. Experienced stockbrokers often had comfortable incomes, but it usually took several years to build a strong customer base. Kelly worked hard to increase her client list, but she was in the early stages of a slow process.

After a prospect hung up on her, she listened to the hollow sound of a dead line for a few seconds; then, she leaned back and ran a hand through auburn hair. Rejection came with the territory, but that did not lessen her distaste for that part of her job. She opened her desk drawer and retrieved a chocolate truffle, her designated "crisis crutch." If Kelly had a worldly power that would allow her to categorize the nutritional value of food, chocolate would immediately vault to the top of the health food list; after all, that is where it belonged.

She picked up a folder as if it were a precious object and focused on the name on the cover: SCANLAN EQUITY MANAGEMENT. Signing an account this large would triple her commissions in a few months. If she did manage to obtain part of Scanlan's business, she planned to buy her son some badly needed clothes, and maybe even get a car that started every day. She reached across her desk for a photo of her eleven-year-old son and smiled at the freckles scattered across Cody's face.

She sighed as she considered her chances of landing the Scanlan account. Over the last six months, she had sent five letters and three profitable trade recommendations to Nathan Rosenberg, Scanlan's top analyst. He had not acknowledged her correspondence or returned any of her phone calls. She slipped off her shoes and rubbed one foot over the other, mulling her strategy. Rosenberg was an important contact, but her biggest hurdle had always been Martin Scanlan. Nothing would happen until she met with the top executive, but his secretary had refused every request for an appointment.

She needed a creative tactic that would demand Scanlan's attention. For the last eighteen months, she had been working on an innovative computerized trading system. She thought the new system would be the key to landing the Scanlan account, but it was also a source of concern. Lacking a final, elusive component, the current version of her software required more work.

Kelly's pessimism eased as bits of random ideas meshed to form a new strategy. She would work overtime to perfect her trading system; then, she would approach Martin Scanlan in a unique manner. It might work.

A burst of laughter startled her. She looked up and saw Zack Nichols, T. J. Halverson, and Eric Bradford throwing a Nerf football back and forth. Kelly had long been annoyed by the trio's puerile antics, and she wondered at what level testosterone poisoning became terminal.

In the past two decades, women had made significant inroads on Wall Street, and in the financial community in general, but not at Boucher & Crittenden, the small regional broker where Kelly worked. Much of the office's traditional, macho atmosphere remained intact.

Halverson walked by her desk. "Hey, Sticks. Having a bad day?"

He had begun calling her by that nickname after she politely declined his request for a date. She ignored the suspender-clad broker and turned her attention to a young black woman walking toward her.

Vanessa Pruitt plopped into a chair. "I just might have some good news." Vanessa hesitated, her smile broadening.

"You're a tease. Do you treat your men this way?"

"Of course. They love it." Vanessa pulled a sheet of paper from a folder. "You, Miss Sanborn, have just been declared the trading performance winner for the last quarter."

Kelly felt a stir of excitement. Over the last six weeks, she had tried a new computerized timing indicator on selected accounts. Even in its fledgling stage, her system had made a difference.

Vanessa patted Kelly's hand. "Mr. Crittenden wants to see you at two o'clock. I'll bet he's going to congratulate you on your performance."

When Kelly entered the president's outer office, Emmett Crittenden's secretary, the office snoop, looked over her reading glasses. "He's expecting you. Go right in."

Crittenden greeted her with his trademark false smile. His mouth curled up at the edges, but his eyes belied the gesture. He returned his attention to papers on his desk. "Shut the door, please."

Kelly had expected to sit in one of two chairs in front of his desk, but they had been moved against a wall.

He seemed to sense her hesitation. Without looking up, he gestured toward a sofa.

Feeling unusually self-conscious, she crossed the room and wondered why she always felt uncomfortable in his office. She took a seat, crossed her legs, and smoothed her skirt.

While waiting, she thought about the man behind the desk, the only son of the founder. Emmett Crittenden appeared to be in his early fifties, and he might have been handsome not too many years ago, but his notorious overindulgence in single malt scotch and rich food had obviously taken a toll. His body had reshaped itself into a portly silhouette and his complexion had turned ruddy.

As the seconds ticked by, Kelly became increasingly nervous and attempted to ease her anxiety by studying various objects around the room. Sensing her maneuver appeared obvious, she shifted her attention to the window. Distant spires of the Golden Gate Bridge loomed beyond the city, piercing a layer of fog like newborn herbage pushing toward the sun. The view had a calming effect.

She turned at a squeak from Crittenden's chair. He leaned forward and steepled his fingers. His eyes sent disturbing signals as his gaze moved down her body. She felt as if her dress were transparent, that his eyes were heat-seeking missiles streaking up her legs, spying on her flesh. She had always considered her legs one of her best physical assets, but she suddenly wished they were not.

Breaking the silence, Crittenden said, "You've been here a year and a half and, frankly, I'm disappointed with your performance."

"But I just won the quarterly portfolio con—"

He waved her off. "It's easy to show a large percentage increase with a small base. It's meaningless. I grade account managers on the commissions they generate." He raised a sheet of paper and used his pen as a pointer. "You're eighteenth out of twenty-one." He tossed the paper on the desk. "Unacceptable."

His declaration jolted her. "It's . . . it's only been ten months since I finished training."

Crittenden leaned forward and glared at her through passionless eyes. "That's enough time for a decent start in this market. We've been in a major bull phase for six years, and the public always jumps in at times like this." He glanced at his report. "Dan Hawkins and Michael Musgrove finished training when you did. Do you want to hear their numbers?" He continued as if he had not expected an answer. "They have signed nearly twice as many new accounts as you have." He broke eye contact and gazed out the window. "I don't think you're going to fit in here."

His direction had taken on a sudden, startling clarity. She clasped her hands and stared at whitened knuckles.

Crittenden continued, "I'm putting you on probation."

My God, she couldn't lose her job. She thought of Cody. How would she provide for her son? Over the years, the fear had burrowed deep inside, awaiting a fragile moment—a moment like this.

Crittenden waited until she looked up. "You have sixty days to bring in fresh capital and generate a substantial growth in commissions. If you don't, I'll have no alternative but to release you."

A tense silence hung over the room.

A frisson of panic gripped her. It seemed as if her entire future depended on her next utterance. She had one chance. "I'm developing a new trading system that is showing dramatic potential. It may even be revolutionary."

Crittenden shook his head. "My God, Sanborn. Every major firm has rocket scientists working on computerized trading programs. The financial magazines are full of ads for that sort of thing. You can't compete with them. You need to concentrate on getting new clients."

"Can I at least tell you about it?"

Crittenden raised his hands, palms facing her. "It's too late."

Desperate now, Kelly sought a new tact. "I've also been working on Scanlan Equity Management. If I can land that account, I—"

"Nobody in this office has ever been able to get any of their business."

"I think I can crack the account."

Crittenden drummed his fingers and eyed her disapprovingly. "How many meetings have you had with Martin Scanlan?"

"I haven't met with him yet but, I expect to soon."

Crittenden shook his head. "That's blue-sky talk and you know it. Besides, there are rumors that Scanlan is having a tough time since the old man died. One of their best analysts quit last week after a big row."

"They still manage a lot of money, and they have a large house account."

"Yes, but you're overlooking the obvious. You're not going to get their business in sixty days. You don't have a chance."

It seemed hopeless when Crittenden crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair. She thought about his reputation for intransigence and sensed the futility of further arguments. He had obviously made up his mind before their appointment.

Kelly stared at the carpet and thought of Cody, the focal point of her life. A lump crept into her throat. After a moment, she looked up and caught him smiling oddly, staring at her legs. She uncrossed her legs, put her knees together, and tugged on the hem of her skirt.

He came from behind his desk. "I've already lost one female broker this year, and there are only two of you left." His voice took on a more conciliatory tone. "It would be a shame to lose another."

Twisting a ring on her finger, Kelly recalled rumors she had heard about a female broker's reluctant involvement with the president and her subsequent departure from the firm. She did not want this man near her.

Crittenden crossed the room, his potbelly bulging, his belt acting as a crude safety net for the protruding flesh. He sank onto the couch next to her.

Kelly leaned away and stared straight ahead. A bead of sweat trickled between her breasts.

"I can see I've been too harsh," he said, his words softer now. "Perhaps there's a way we can work this out."

Warning signs flashed as Crittenden inched toward her.

"W—what do you mean?" She wanted to snatch the words back as soon as they rolled from her lips.

He gestured with his arm as he spoke. "I have a solution for this problem." His hand came down to rest next to her leg in a clumsy, transparent maneuver. "I have discretion over the disposition of several house accounts. Institutional accounts—one quite large." The words came out slow and smooth, honey coated.

Her pulse quickened as her thoughts ran ahead, fearing his direction.

Crittenden said, "Do you realize how much commission a large institutional account can generate in a year?"

The bait.

Of course, she knew. Two or three of those accounts could catapult a broker into a higher tax bracket practically overnight.

His hand moved to her knee.

She flinched at the moist heat flowing through her hosiery, invading her skin.

"If we can work out a certain arrangement, I'll transfer some very important accounts to your desk."

Kelly's stomach churned, the muscles in her neck tightened, and she felt a sheen of sweat erupt on her face. Fighting to maintain control, she focused on Cody and his reliance on her, the sole provider for their small family. She felt herself at the edge of panic—she could not afford to lose her job.

Crittenden's fingertips inched under her skirt.

CHAPTER 3

Kelly was not about to let the manipulating sonofabitch have his way. She jumped to her feet. "Don't you ever touch me again. Do you understand? Never!" She backed across the office, frantically waving a hand behind her, searching for the door that seemed so far away.

Crittenden rose and extended both hands. "Easy, easy. You're overreacting." His voice carried a tone of self-assurance—as if he had been through this before. "If you think about this calmly, you'd realize it could develop into a pleasant and profitable experience."

Anger pushed its way through what little reserve Kelly had left. She spoke loudly, sharply. "You're using your position to gain sexual favors. There's no way in hell that will work with me."

Crittenden's face turned an ugly shade of red as he uttered a string of unintelligible sounds.

Kelly spun around and charged toward the door. Her chest rose and fell in great heaves as she grasped the brass knob.

He shouted, "You can't do it in sixty days, Sanborn. There's no way you—"

"The hell I can't."

She slammed the door and hurried across the main floor, oblivious of her surroundings. The confrontation was over, but she knew her nightmare had only begun.

The phone rang when she reached her desk. Vanessa asked, "Well, did he congratulate you?"

"Not exactly."

"You sound upset. What happened?"

Kelly felt too fragile to attempt an explanation now. "I really have to go. I'll tell you about it Monday." She swept two binders into an open drawer, grabbed her purse, and headed for the door. She took the elevator to the basement garage, then she trudged across an open area toward her car. Lowering her head, she disregarded her usual caution and purposely concentrated on the amplified reports of her heels clicking against the concrete. Her attempt to push the repulsive meeting from her mind failed immediately, and she knew she had experienced a watershed event capable of changing her life.

She searched a row of cars. It was always easy to find Huey; the name Cody had given to her sixteen-year-old car. Not many vehicles featured a shattered passenger window crisscrossed with professional-strength duct tape.

She got in, rested her head against the steering wheel, and replayed Crittenden's final words. She never imagined this kind of thing would happen to her. Eager to be home with her son, she inserted and turned the key.

Nothing.

She tried again. Silence.

How could Huey fail her now? She got out, looked under the hood, and, eventually, spotted a corroded cable that had broken loose from a battery post. She slammed the hood and kicked Huey on the front quarter panel. The heel from her right shoe snapped off and skidded across the concrete.

"Damn!" It seemed as if the entire world had turned against her. She leaned her forehead on Huey's cold roof and fought back tears. Crittenden's words echoed in her mind: "If we can work out a special arrangement." She saw a vision of his naked body bearing down on hers, his sweat flowing over her skin. She shuddered.

Kelly had lost track of the number of times she had seen Huey's front end hoisted by a tow truck. Enduring a familiar routine, she sat in the truck's cab while Huey rumbled along behind, attached by a steel bar and an electrified umbilical cord. Her auto club membership had turned out to be one of life's great bargains.

The truck delivered Huey to a nearby service station, and he was soon fitted with a new cable capable of breathing life back into his aging electrical system. She handed over her slightly past due credit card and worried that it might not be accepted.

She phoned home and told Miyako, her roommate, that she would be late. She walked to her car and ran her fingers over the duct tape on the passenger window. If she signed the Scanlan account, Huey would receive a proper retirement. The thought carried extra baggage—her confrontation with Crittenden.

With the events of the day churning in her mind, she pulled out of the station, anxious to reach her home in Half Moon Bay. She had forgotten it was Friday, getaway day for the city, and vehicles of all kinds clogged the streets. She drove to the Skyway and merged into heavy stop-and-go traffic; then, she maneuvered Huey into the middle lane and competed for asphalt until she connected with Highway 280.

After a difficult commute, she pulled into her driveway and saw her roommate on the lawn. "Hi. Where's Cody?"

Miyako motioned toward the street. "He and Sparky are—"

"I know. They're playing ball." She shook her head at a familiar problem. Every time a ball floated through the air, Cody's concept of time attached itself with grappling hooks and went along for the ride. She encouraged her son's love of sports although it demanded considerable tolerance. Glancing toward the street she asked, "Did he pack?"

"I don't think so."

Kelly frowned. Cody was scheduled to stay at a friend's house overnight, and, then, leave early the next morning on a two-day scouting trip. The friend and his father would arrive in forty minutes. "I'm going to fetch him."

She stepped off the curb and saw two figures walking up the middle of the street. Both wore shorts, but the similarities ended there. Sparky Valentine stood a quarter of an inch over four feet. The dwarf plodded along with a choppy, bowlegged gait that never seemed to go in a straight line. His hair had an ever-increasing number of gray streaks.

Kelly was grateful for the way Sparky balanced the duties of landlord, neighbor, and friend. Moreover, he was a fine mentor for Cody. She had long ago accepted his eccentric, opinionated outbursts and had grown to love him as a member of the family.

Cody's lean frame towered half a foot above his companion. His cap had been shoved back, exposing a shock of blond hair above an affable face. A baseball glove hung from a bat balanced on his shoulder.

She observed Cody's expression as he approached. She had intended to reprimand him for being late, but his face softened her. Though she hated to admit it, he had his father's blue eyes, which were a shade of blue that reminded her of the New Mexico sky. The heavy sprinkling of childhood freckles had begun to lighten and flow into one another. He would be a handsome young man in a few years and he would probably, inadvertently, break the hearts of a few adoring girls along the way.

Cody handed his bat to Sparky and hugged her. "Hi, Mom."

"Don't try to butter me up. You're late."

"Aw, Mom. We were just playing ball."

She glanced at Sparky.

He shrugged and held up his hands as if to surrender. "My fault."

Sparky's way of admitting to minor lapses always disarmed her. Cognizant of shared guilt, she put her arm around Cody's shoulders and started up the street. She turned at the sound of grumbling from behind.

Sparky moaned and repeatedly flexed his right leg. "Good gravy. My whole body aches." He straightened and rubbed his lower back. "My baseball days may be over, but I won’t give up without a fight." He twisted from side to side and grimaced. "You know you're getting old when your joints ache, and you can't find your reading glasses because there're on top of your head."

"But, Sparky, you’re approaching your golden years."

"Whoever coined that phrase was obviously quite senile. You know what a guy once told me about those years? He said they should be called the metal years. You have silver in your hair, gold in your teeth, and lead in your ass."

Kelly could not help but laugh.

"And another thing. When you reach the pinnacle of wisdom, your body starts falling apart." He retrieved a protein bar from his fanny pack and headed next door, mumbling to himself as he went.

Kelly followed Cody into the house and steered him toward the bathroom. "Dan will be here in half an hour. I'll pack some of your things while you jump into the shower."

After a hectic thirty minutes, Kelly walked Cody to Dan's car and hugged him.

He looked up at her as she rubbed the last wet spots from his hair. "I love you, Mom."

Her heart melted. "I love you too." She watched him load his pack into the trunk and felt a pang of loneliness she always experienced when he stayed overnight with a friend. When the car eased from the curb, she waved and yelled, "Have a good time. And be careful." She wondered how many times mothers had said those exact words to departing children.

After Miyako had left to visit a friend, Kelly leaned against the kitchen counter examining her mail. Two bills and a post card. She opened the letter from the utility company, noting that it was not the envelope used for monthly statements. They would cut off her service if she failed to remit within seven business days. With payday more than a week away, she would have to call and request an extension.

She tossed the mail aside, poured a glass of white wine, and carried the beverage to her makeshift office in the dining room. A narrow aisle offered the only free space in the cluttered room. A table and three chairs occupied one wall. Two desks, one equipped with a laptop and one with a desktop computer, took up the entire opposite wall. The laptop was connected to a large monitor, which allowed her to share work with Miyako without changing chairs.

A small sign on her desk read: Hand Over The Chocolate And No One Gets Hurt. Four small black and white fine art photographs covered part of one wall, which were the extent of a hobby she meant to pursue when finances permitted. One day, she hoped to obtain an original Ansel Adams, but that day was nowhere in sight.

Good luck had eluded Kelly over the last few years, but finding Miyako Soral had been providential. They had met while taking night classes. Kelly had studied economics and computer science, and she possessed a stunning memory, especially with numbers. However, she lacked the high-level training required for elaborate program design. Miyako, a freelance programmer, had agreed to help develop the trading system for a percentage of future profits. The arrangement had meshed compatible personalities, and Miyako became a close friend. Kelly felt blessed to have such a loving person look after Cody while she worked in the city. In return, Miyako paid only for her share of food and utilities.

Kelly stood at her desk sipping wine. Her thoughts cycled back to Crittenden, and she could almost feel the heat transferring from his sweaty palm to her skin. She shuddered and drained her glass. After a calming period, she realized she could not continually replay the episode. In that direction lay only fear and indecision. She needed to attack the problem in her usual manner—analytically. She decided to work on a solution after dinner.

She warmed leftover ravioli, made a small salad, poured another glass of wine, and padded down the hall to her bedroom. She propped herself against the headboard and nibbled at her food. She finally pushed the plate aside and listed options on a yellow pad. She could file sexual harassment charges against Crittenden, but it would be his word against hers. He had not actually said he wanted her to have sex, though the implication had been clear. If she did file, they would brand her as a troublemaker and help with new leads would vanish.

Resign? Kelly listed the option although she would not quit, could not quit. Her commission checks were not large, but they should grow over time, especially if her trading system worked as she hoped. Her third option seemed the most prudent. She could blitz the next sixty days to obtain as many new clients as possible. However, the more she thought about this approach, the more she realized it would fail. Except for Scanlan Equity Management, most of her prospects were too small to bring in sufficient trading capital in such a short timeframe.

That left one alternative—sign the Scanlan account. A long shot, but her chances would improve if she could get Martin Scanlan to review a summary of historical trading results made by her software. If her system predicted enough market turns, he might agree to see her. She experienced a positive attitude for the first time since the confrontation and wondered if alcohol had dulled her logic. No one at Boucher & Crittenden had ever landed any of Scanlan's business. How could she possibly succeed where they had failed?


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Dale Brandon's last thriller, Fear Runner, received a favorable review from the prestigious Kirkus Reviews. He attributes the positive review to the novel's ever increasing level of suspense that builds until the final, electrifying conclusion. His novels also include at least one unusual twist. Dale owns a small computer repair company that specializes in helping seniors understand and protect their computers. Besides, writing, he enjoys exploring the back roads of Northern California.

Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
SUSPENSE...I love a book that keeps me on the edge of my seat, so that is how I write. I spend a great deal of effort to create suspense that builds with each passing chapter.
Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
My first three novels had male protagonists. I felt it was time to have a female protagonist, and I very much enjoyed the process of creating her character. She is a struggling, single mother who develops something so valuable that people are willing to do anything to obtain, including murder.
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
Forgiveness is hard, but it can often open a new and enriched life for anyone.

Next in:
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
Jergen County War
WalkingTall meets Colors
Miracle
Not even death could separate their souls.
The Clinic
8 strangers 1 drug trial enough lies to kill