Kiss Me Deadly

Kiss Me Deadly

Susan Kearney

January 2013 $14.95

ISBN: 978-1-61194-250-7

Dedicated family attorney Amanda "Mandy" Newman may have survived an attempted drowning and, along with co-workers, just won the biggest lottery in history, but before she can collect, the ticket is stolen. Now, her co-workers are being murdered one by one.

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Her luck may have just run out . . .

Dedicated family attorney Amanda "Mandy" Newman may have survived an attempted drowning and, along with co-workers, just won the biggest lottery in history, but before she can collect, the ticket is stolen. Now, her co-workers are being murdered one by one.

She needs help, and that puts her between a rock and a hard man—the brother of a co-worker.

DEA officer Zack Taylor was a one-night stand who'd turned into so much more. Now that his family and Mandy are in danger, he is back in the picture. The attraction between them still simmers; Zack can feel it. But can he resist his desire for her long enough to discover her secret?

With her life on the line, the attraction between them should be kept on ice. After all, under the circumstances, a kiss could be deadly.




Coming soon!


Chapter One

MANDY NEWMAN glanced in her rearview mirror at the pickup truck that had swung around the corner to hug her rear bumper. What was up with him? This same truck had been following her since she’d left her parking garage. Now he was close. Too close.

There was no telling if the tailgater was a drunk or simply a lousy driver, but a rear-end collision wasn’t on her to-do list today. Neither was coping with the rain that made the oil-slick street treacherous. But considering that the Sunshine State’s daily afternoon showers were a fact of life during the summer rainy season, the other driver ought to know better than to follow so close.

Another glance revealed the pickup was still sticking to her rear bumper like a sandspur, the driver revving his motor as if bent on making her sweat. Why wasn’t he hitting his brake, backing off, giving her maneuvering room? Perspiration trickled down her neck, and Mandy flicked up the AC. Fog cleared from her windows. But he was still there.

Damn him for crowding her. For worrying her.

Come on. Keep it together. Surely he was harmless? Not a sicko spoiling for a fender bender.

Keeping a wary eye on her mirror, Mandy tried to shake off the tension in her neck and shoulders. All she had to do was ignore the jerk. Not let her nerves and fatigue from another long day of court set her on edge. Reminding herself that giving in to paranoia was all too easy, especially after these past months of working a mind-numbing number of back-to-back divorce cases, she took several deep breaths. After all, just because her clients often feared their abusive, greedy, and hostile spouses, she didn’t need to let her imagination run amok.

The truck’s driver, a white man with dirty blond hair sticking out from a baseball cap pulled low on his forehead, probably had nothing to do with her or her work. He could simply have poor eyesight... or have forgotten his glasses. Yeah, right. More likely he was a whacked-out junkie or a pervert who got off on scaring women.

Mandy stopped at a red light on South Franklin Street, and he just barely tapped her rear fender. Son of a bitch. Even as she told herself the bump had to be an accident, Mandy checked her door locks.

Sweat beaded on her scalp, and the air conditioning had nothing to do with the shiver of apprehension that had her heart beating triple-time. She needed to get away from him, but changing lanes in the Tampa rush hour traffic that now resembled a parking lot wouldn’t be easy. Not with rumbling delivery trucks and commuters hemming her in. Besides, she only had to drive another five blocks to safety, to her island community where security guards would stop the moron from following her through the gate. Deciding her best option was to keep going, Mandy inched forward, a wary eye on the rearview mirror. Another four blocks, and she’d be safe. Five minutes, and she’d be home free.

After she turned at Channelside Drive onto the Harbour Island Bridge, the traffic gushed as if from an unclogged drain, and she relaxed, tension streaming away from her. The rain seemed to be letting up, the sky lightening and the two-laned bridge pavement shimmered with broken rainbows in the early evening heat. Below Mandy, the Hillsborough River flowed out to Tampa Bay between Harbour and Davis Islands, where a cornucopia of condos, custom homes, and high-end apartments knotted together along the waterfront and sprawled over every spare inch of dirt. As she traversed the bridge, she picked up speed. So did the silver pickup.

One moment she was driving in total control—the next, her car bucked. Good God, the pickup had bumped her. Again.

Bastard. Why was he gunning for her? Who the hell was he? A drunk? Someone trying to rob her? An angry ex-husband of a client? She should have called the cops when she’d noticed him following her. She should have listened to her gut. She should have—

Her car spun sideways. Out of control. Toward the guardrail.

Mandy slammed on the brakes. Bad move. Her tires squealed and skidded on the slick pavement. Clenching the wheel, she fought the spin. But her car careened sideways, smashed into the guardrail. Concrete crumbled. Horns blared.

Her airbag exploded in her face.

She slapped it down, choking on the powder in the air, and opened her eyes. And gasped.

Pitched downward, her car dangled about twenty feet over the water below. Through her front windshield she had a bird’s-eye view of rippling river, of rain drops plunking into the water and muttering a warning. She could be next.

Oh... my... God. She screamed. Started to claw at her seat belt to escape the car before she plummeted.

Somewhere above and behind her, an engine roared. Craning her neck, she glanced over her shoulder, praying that help was coming.

Wrong again.

The silver pickup rammed her car a second time. Fear slicked across her skin. He didn’t want to rob her. He didn’t want to kidnap her. He wanted to kill her.

So she had to stop him. But how? It wasn’t like she had a weapon in her front seat and could pull out a gun and shoot him. Or had a rope handy. So what could she do?

Behind her, the guardrail cracked, and metal pieces rained into the river. Her car slid, teetered. The truck crashed into her again, shoving her vehicle all the way over the lip.

No. Please... no.

She had no time to release her seat belt. No time to escape. No time to pray.

Her car plunged toward the water, flipping, somersaulting through the air. Mandy fought blackness. Nausea. Dizziness. The terror of not knowing up from down.

Bracing her hands on the wheel, holding her breath, closing her eyes, she froze. But even as Mandy’s ears roared and the water rushed up to smack her, she gulped air. She was so not ready to die. She had to survive. For Gabrielle. It was bad enough that her precious baby girl didn’t have a father. She couldn’t lose her mother.

Whatever it took to make it back home to her daughter, she would do. If that meant turning herself into Lara Croft, so be it. If it meant coming up with a plan, she’d be brilliant. If it meant gritting her teeth to avoid biting her tongue, she wouldn’t so much as utter one yelp.

But inside, she howled. She was not going to die. She was not going to die. She was not

Her car punched through the water, slamming the air from her lungs and bruising her, wrenching her. But even in pain, surely she still could swim.

If only the car would float long enough for her to leap into the water. But it didn’t float. She sank with a giant sucking noise, as if the river were taking her to hell.

Cold water cascaded over her, hissing like a deadly sea creature. Blinded in the dark, she felt panic rise up to choke her, and she pounded her palms on the window.

Wait a minute. What was she doing? Dizzy, confused, she finally figured out her car was upside down and sinking toward the river bottom. And she didn’t have the strength to break the glass with her bare hands.

Still, she had options: get out or drown.

Fighting her seat belt, she fumbled, finally released the buckle, and placed her hands above her head to break her fall. She toppled sideways and ended up sitting on the ceiling in a deepening pool of water.

Unable to see, dazed, Mandy groped for the door. She touched smooth leather. Idiot. The handle was upside down from this angle.

Everything’s backwards.

Her fingers finally closed on the handle, and with desperate strength, she yanked, then shoved the door with her shoulder. But it wouldn’t budge. Too much water pressure from outside.

Damn it to hell. She had to get out.

Caught like a crab in a trap, she clawed the door, hammered the window with her fists. Water poured in through cracks. Her air bubbled out. The car kept plunging. Inexorably, with a moan of tortured metal, it settled on the bottom, the roof denting beneath her. Water hissed past her feet, her waist, her neck.

She would not shut down. Or break. She would not quit. Gabby needed her. Besides, she hadn’t scheduled dying into her day planner. And no way in hell was she letting that SOB get away with murder.


Could she escape after the pressure equalized?

Water rose past her chin, and she lunged upward and banged her head. Easy.Ignoring the pain, she tilted her head back, clamped her mouth shut and breathed through her nostrils. She didn’t care if every cell in her body urged her to flee, if she wanted to open the door, she had to remain still, and wait for the water to close over her head.

For Gabby, thankfully safe in her grandmother’s care, Mandy would keep it together. For Gabby, she allowed the water to swallow her alive. For Gabby, she waited for the water to rise, with her nose pressed against the floorboards, gasping in the very last pocket of air.

Water closed over her mouth, nose, and eyes, filled the entire car, draping her in wet blackness.

Now. Make your move now.

Mandy dived down to the handle. Shoved. The door wouldn’t move.

Oxygen dwindling, mind whirring like a propeller, Mandy refused to cry. Every good lawyer had a plan B. And she was a damn good attorney.

Come on. What did she need?



Grabbing the wheel with one hand, the handle with the other, she planted her feet against the door. Licks of pain shooting through her, straining every muscle, she thrust with her back and calves and thighs.

The door gave with a pop.

About damn time.

Rushing out, she banged her shoulder on the doorjamb. Lungs already on fire, head pounding as if she’d drunk too many margaritas, she kicked hard for the surface.

I’m coming, Gabby. Mommy’s coming.

Mandy’s chest ached, but she fought against the urge to open her mouth for air.

Keep kicking.

Overhead, rays of light beckoned with tempting promise. So close. But, so far...



Chapter Two

A HALF HOUR LATER, Mandy had gone from swimming with the fish to being a Florida tourist attraction. Jackson’s Bistro perched over the harbor like a tiered wedding cake, and the diners had abandoned their duck breast, pistachio-encrusted red snapper, oak-grilled steaks, and sushi to stare at her from expansive outdoor decks on every level.

She didn’t like being the focus of hundreds of eyes and tried to ignore her soaked clothes, running mascara, and lack of shoes. Sitting on the bench wrapped in a tablecloth, still shaking, she reminded herself she was lucky to be alive.

Traffic cops had closed off one lane of South Franklin Street and the Coast Guard patrolled the river, directing passing boats away from the area where bridge debris still fell in intermittent whooshes. No police officer had arrived to interview her.

A paramedic had offered a blanket to replace the soggy tablecloth a bystander had given her, then bandaged the cut on her head. She’d waited so long to give her statement that some of the singles crowd had actually returned to their dinners. Shivering, trying to throw off the vestiges of shock, she sipped hot coffee and waited for a uniformed officer to question her.

Mandy didn’t deal well with unexpected delays. She liked her meetings punctual, her files in order, information at her fingertips. She didn’t like anyone messing with her routine—never mind waiting on bureaucracy. So despite the fact that she was shivering more from shock than a wet chill, she made a to-do list. Notify insurance company. Download her schedule from the computer onto a new day planner. Order a new cell phone, credit card, driver’s license, purse, briefcase. Damn. Her life was in her purse. She sighed. At least she had all the information she needed to replace the missing documents on a flash drive and could call it up on her computer. Where the hell was the cop? She was ready to have them pursue and capture the bad guy so she could put this behind her.

Weary, she fought for patience. She yearned to go home, take a hot bath, and hold her daughter. But after a cop had checked with her to make certain no one else had been in her vehicle, he’d instructed her to remain on one of Jackson’s dockside benches. Now, he seemed in no hurry to return.

Mandy tried to calm her trembling and wondered about the man who’d tried to kill her. Why her? Did she know him through her work? Could he be married to one of her clients? When he found out his efforts had failed, would he return?

Don’t go there. The police would identify his vehicle and lock him up. Right now—she had to believe that.

Finally an officer shouldered his way through the gawking diners and approached. "Show’s over, people. Go back to your two-for-one shooters.” Dark-haired, dark-eyed, and thirty pounds overweight, he offered her an irritated look. "Ma’am. I’m Officer Delgado.”

Automatically, she reached for her purse to find a business card, but her purse, checkbook, and briefcase with the once-a-week office pool’s Powerball ticket in it, swam with the fish at the bottom of the Hillsborough River, along with her cell phone. She was damned lucky not to still be there, too.

"Amanda Newman.” To her own ears, her voice sounded raw, as if she’d worn out her vocal cords screaming.

"I know who you are, ma’am.” Officer Delgado’s tone soured, drawing her attention to his expression. Intelligent eyes underscored with dark circles, a boy-next-door round face, and a professional demeanor didn’t quite manage to hide his hostility. "You’re the reason I work two jobs. You’re the reason I only see my kids every other weekend.”

Delgado. The name clicked. She hadn’t recognized her client’s ex-husband in his uniform. Besides, it had been a year since his divorce was final. Mandy had represented his wife, and they’d both been pleased by obtaining a fair resolution that allowed her to avoid working until the youngest child reached kindergarten. As divorces went, theirs hadn’t been particularly ugly. Yet from the hurt in his tone, Officer Delgado clearly resented Mandy’s part in the settlement.

"It wasn’t personal, officer.” Mandy cupped the mug and sipped, the caffeine replacing the adrenaline that had kept her going until now. "I represent clients to the best of my ability.”

"You certainly do.” His tone carried disdain. Not enough for her to complain to his superiors, but enough to let her know he wasn’t sympathetic that she’d almost died.

He glanced up at the bridge and frowned. "I’ll be filling out paperwork for hours.”

Muscles she didn’t know she had ached. Her hair dripped down her cheeks, and she tugged the blanket tighter around her, even as her tone grew fiercer with every word. "Officer Delgado, do you think I ran my car off the bridge to spoil your day? Because if so, I assure you—”

"You lost control of your car in the rain and skidded off the bridge. You’re alive. Ma’am, there’s no need for hysterics.”

Hysterics? She stood, the shock from the accident wearing off as coal-hot anger inflamed her. He had no right to patronize her just because his marriage had failed and she’d represented his wife and had looked out for his children. Some cops genuinely wanted to help people, but this one was on a power trip. "You want to see hysterics? I’ll call Judge Herschell. She’s tight with the mayor, and we’ll see how she likes one of her police officers browbeating a citizen—”

"Sorry, Ms. Newman.” Delgado combed his fingers through his thinning hair. "It’s been a rough day.”

"You’ve had a rough day?” She rolled her eyes. Her evening was shot to hell, the work she’d taken home with her was now grouper reading material. "Some whacko just tried to kill me.”

"Kill you?” Delgado’s glance sharpened. "This wasn’t an accident?”

"Du-uh.” She gestured to the Harbour Island Bridge and the crowd kept back from the edges with yellow police tape. "Someone must have witnessed a guy in a silver truck running me off the bridge.”

He raised an eyebrow. "You’re claiming attempted murder. That’s a serious charge. Right now it looks more like an accident.”

So now he was psychic and knew what had happened? She doubted he had the brains to read skid marks. She spoke through gritted teeth. "I... did... not... drive off the bridge. This was no accident. A truck rammed me three times.”

"You’re certain?”

She gestured to the diners at the restaurant and joggers and dog walkers alongside the bridge. "Someone had to have seen something.”

Like a hostile defendant on the stand, as if every word cost him, Delgado spoke into his shoulder radio. "Anybody talk to any witnesses?”

A voice crackled back. "A cab driver reported a late model silver pickup with a dent—”

"That’s him.”

"—fled the scene.”

He’d gotten away? And now she might never know who he was or why he’d rammed her through the guardrail. Maybe he was some psycho like that kid who’d shot a woman through her front windshield as she drove under the interstate overpass. Or maybe he’d mistaken her for someone else.

Or maybe he disliked her, like Delgado did, because she’d represented his wife in court. But she was still here. Battered, cold, and bruised, she was going home to Gabrielle tonight. As hard as Mandy tried to hold on to that pleasant thought, the idea that her attacker had fled—and might try again—made her stomach knot. Thankfully, nowhere in Tampa was safer than on Harbour Island, where security at the guard shack checked visitor IDs and didn’t allow strangers onto the island.

"Another witness got the license plate number,” an officer on the bridge joined the radio conversation.

After hearing her charge verified, Delgado regarded her with a tad more respect. Her spirits lifted, latching onto the hope that the law might actually catch her attacker—what a concept. But then the same officer added, "The truck was reported stolen last week.”

Damn. The upside was that at least she now had Delgado’s attention. "The truck followed me from my parking garage. Don’t those buildings have security cameras?”

"If he followed you, why didn’t you report him?”

She refrained from rolling her eyes. "I didn’t know he was dangerous until he rammed my car off the bridge.” Out of every cop in the city, why did she have to have represented this one’s wife in divorce court?

"But he followed you from the parking garage.”

She fisted one hand on her hip and wished she hadn’t lost her heels in the swim. She would have enjoyed towering over Delgado but would have to settle for looking him straight in the eye. "Officer, as far as I know, there’s no law against following another car. Besides, it was only for a few blocks. He could have lived on the island, and it could have been coincidence he was going my way. I don’t appreciate you insinuating—”

Delgado held up his hand. "Ma’am. Clearly, more happened here than I previously believed. I shouldn’t have given you any attitude. Your profession won’t stop me from doing my job. Let’s start over.”

She swallowed her ire. Lawyers were pretty much hated by the general population—until they needed one, of course. No one ever seemed to think lawyers wanted justice, that they fought for mothers and children.

"Thank you.” She didn’t know whether he was feeding her a line to prevent her reporting him to his superiors, but he sounded sincere enough for her to force a deep breath and calm down.

Delgado flipped to the next page of his notepad. In addition to noting the parking garage’s location, he wrote down her name, home and work addresses, and phone numbers.

"Can you describe the man you saw driving the truck?”

Mandy closed her eyes and tried to recall details. Memories of hissing black water and the claustrophobic feeling of the river closing over her head caused new tremors to rip through her. With determination, she shut down the images and focused on the guy responsible. "White. Long, stringy blond hair, medium build. He wore a baseball cap. Sorry, that’s not much help. I didn’t get a good look.”

"But you’re certain he wasn’t anyone you know?”

She sighed, wondering how anyone past the age of ten could think in absolutes. "I’m not certain of anything. You’re aware I practice family law and I meet numerous people through my work. Many hate my guts,” she admitted, cutting off another apology from the officer with a shrug. "It comes with the job. For all I know, you could have hired the guy to kill me.”

Delgado laughed.

Glancing up at the bridge, Mandy winced at the sight of more flashing blue and red lights as additional police officers headed their way, along with Department of Transportation workers and a tow truck, yellow light whirring, that blocked one side of the road. Car horns blared as residents turned back into the city, forced to use a different route. Meanwhile, not only had the cops shut down the bridge, the Coast Guard was redirecting river traffic. She wondered if the fine print in her insurance policy covered the likely expense of fishing out her vehicle.

Delgado’s tone warmed a few degrees. "What about your personal life? Any ex-boyfriends after you? Lovers’ spats? Angry husband?”

"None of the above.” Between Gabrielle and work, her every hour was full, and she could prove it with her day planner—if it hadn’t been stashed in her briefcase at the river’s mucky bottom.

"Can you think of any specific cases where opposing counsel’s clients might want you in a watery grave?” Delgado asked.

Often her job turned ugly. When love turned to hate, blame and acrimony flared and any bystander could be caught in the resulting conflagration. It had happened to her—more than once. "Two years ago I put a man reputed to have mob connections in jail. Before the divorce he’d forged his wife’s name, mortgaged all their assets, and placed their joint funds in his name in a Bahamian bank, leaving her bankrupt. When I proved his actions in court, the judge came down hard on him.”

"You think he decided to retaliate... from his jail cell?”

As a gust of chilly wind blew off Tampa Bay, she shrugged and drew the blanket more tightly around her. "He’s appealing and out on bail. Besides, he’s not the only ex-spouse who might be gunning for me.”

"Anything specific come to mind?”

"Only yesterday I arranged for a former client to hide from an abusive ex-husband in a local women’s shelter.”

"Did the spouse fit the description of the guy in the garage?”

"I’ve never met her husband. I’d have no way of knowing for certain which of my clients’ spouses might hold a personal grudge.” At the doubt on his face, she explained, "Look, my firm handles hundreds of cases. Two years ago I received death threats. Last year, in court, an irate husband attacked me, but the bailiff intervened before I was hurt. Since then my clients’ spouses have been better behaved, but several have violent pasts—a stockbroker who battered his wife and a pediatrician accused of child abuse. Even if I gave you a list, it would be so long it wouldn’t do any good.”

"No one in particular sticks out, no one at all?” In his now-respectful tone, Delgado pushed for an answer, but she’d been an attorney too long to divulge information without thinking carefully first.

If she gave the names of the pediatrician and stockbroker, he’d ask for motive and she couldn’t reveal details without violating attorney-client privilege. Yet it wasn’t the women she represented who might want her dead, but their soon-to-be exes.

Yikes. This might get sticky.

"No,” she spoke resolutely, staring at Tampa’s impressive skyline, where lights had begun to wink on as the sun’s last rays disappeared to the west. "No one in particular sticks out.”

Delgado closed his notepad. "I’ll give you a lift home.”

"I’d appreciate it. Thanks.” She wasn’t about to turn down a ride just because of his previous bad manners. In her line of work, she accepted that allegiances shifted, and the cop who might be an eyewitness for a battered spouse might the following week testify against a wife who violated a restraining order. She tried not to hold grudges. Besides, Mandy couldn’t wait to shuck her wet clothes, take a hot shower, and hold her baby.

But as much as she longed to go home, thoughts kept circling like the sea gulls overhead. If Gabby had been in the car with her... oh God. That thought made her suck in a deep breath and close her eyes.

"Ma’am,” Delgado said. "You okay?”

Mandy forced herself to meet the man’s concerned gaze. She couldn’t think about Gabby in that car or she’d fall apart. She nodded.

But she wasn’t okay. Every muscle ached, and she couldn’t stop the tremors that shook her. Meanwhile, she couldn’t stop worrying. Had the attack on the bridge been random or something more sinister? She prayed that she had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Maybe, just maybe, her brush with death was simply the result of really bad luck.



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